The Once-Over: Week 9
With attention spans dwindling, we forgo full game-by-game previews to give you the essentials you need to know about every contest this glorious NFL weekend. We call it The Once-Over.
The Early Games
Green Bay (4-3) at Tampa Bay (0-7): After being handed an emotional loss last week by Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers could sure use a break on their schedule. They've already enjoyed their bye week, but a game against Tampa Bay is almost as good. Aaron Rodgers should have plenty of time to throw the ball as only two teams have fewer sacks than the Buccaneers
Josh Freeman, Tampa's quarterback of the future, has finally had his number called and is now the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers. Green Bay is ranked 7th in passing yards allowed, so Freeman might find his first game as a starter an unpleasant experience.
Pick: Green Bay
Arizona (4-3) at Chicago (4-3): Kurt Warner was picked off five times and had six total turnovers last week and has seemed impatient at times this season. Defenses are sitting back and making the Cardinals beat them on the ground -- which is a good strategy since Arizona is the worst rushing team in the league.
Matt Forte had a much-needed coming out party last week as he rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He's going to face a tough run defense in Arizona, but Carolina showed ways last week to get it done on the ground. The Cardinals are much more susceptible through the air. Devin Hester and Jay Cutler should enjoy connecting a few times on Sunday.
Washington (2-5) at Atlanta (4-3): Jason Campbell is going to have to deal with some added pressure coming in on the pass rush from Atlanta. The Falcons have made good use of the safety blitz to get more pressure on the quarterback and Campbell isn't the most accurate passer when he's on the run. Clinton Portis will need to find a way to brutalize the 23rd-ranked run defense or the Redskins will have trouble moving the ball all afternoon.
Matt Ryan hasn't been sharp over the last three weeks and whispers of a sophomore slump are growing louder by the minute. Only one team has given up fewer passing yards than Washington, so Ryan is going to have work very hard to beat this team through the air. Luckily for the Falcons, Michael Turner broke out of his funk last week and rushed for 151 yards. He'll be needed on Sunday for the Falcons to win.
Baltimore (4-3) at Cincinnati (5-2): Do the Ravens miss Rex Ryan and his defensive leadership or are the players that make up the nucleus of the defense aging and becoming less effective? It's a question we won't likely answer, but there is a reason why the Ravens were a top-2 defense in yards per game allowed and takeaway margin in 2008 and they are barely middle of the pack this season.
Cedric Benson embarrassed the Ravens defense in their first meeting this season, becoming the first running back in 40 games to rush for 100-plus yards. He broke off 120 yards in Week 5 mainly because his blockers were able to tie up the Ravens linebackers so Benson could get free into the secondary. He must be able to do that again this Sunday for the Bengals to win.
Miami (3-4) at New England (5-2): Miami, and their use of the Wildcat offense, gave New England fits in their first meeting of 2008. But, as you would expect from a great coach, Bill Belichick found a way to overcome the Wildcat in their second meeting last season. Belichick and his Patriots are coming off of a bye week and had extra time to prepare for this Dolphins offense. Expect them to keep Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams contained and pushed back towards the middle of the field where the Patriots defense can help.
You always have to fear the big-play ability of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. But now Sam Aiken is showing that he can produce from the No. 3 spot, especially with his run after the catch abilities. Tom Brady should throw well against the 21st-ranked Miami pass defense.
Pick: New England
Kansas City (1-6) at Jacksonville (3-4): This is a chance for Jamaal Charles to show the Chiefs that he should be the No. 1 running back, no matter what happens to Larry Johnson after his one-game suspension. Charles should shine against the Jaguars' 23rd-ranked run defense.
The best player on the field this Sunday will be Maurice Jones-Drew. He's a great after-initial-contact runner and has prime time explosiveness. But the Jaguars need to get him the ball more frequently and as early in the game as possible. Last week, MJD didn't touch the ball until the 5:50 mark in the 2nd quarter.
Houston (5-3) at Indianapolis (7-0): Now that Ryan Moats has emerged as a between-the-tackles runner to compliment Steve Slaton's outside abilities, Houston could really test the Colts' run-stopping ability. And, if neither Slaton or Moats can get going, the Texans have a guy at quarterback that can do just about anything Peyton Manning can. With the defensive backfield of the Colts depleted, Matt Schaub could have a big day.
No matter what defenses do to stop Reggie Wayne -- whether it's double coverage or designing schemes specifically to stop him -- he seems to overcome the obstacle. Wayne is a true No. 1 receiver who can line up anywhere and run any route. And when Manning can't get him the ball in the end zone, Joseph Addai finds ways to connect.
The Late Games
Detroit (1-6) at Seattle (2-5): The Lions have dropped 15 straight road games, and even though Seattle has only two wins this season, it's never an easy place to play. Matthew Stafford needs to put his poor performance from last week behind him and prove to everyone that his knee is healed.
Seattle is having offensive line issues -- so much so that John Carlson is going to be asked to give up a few pass routes to stay back and block for Matt Hasselbeck. If this protection strategy works, Hasselbeck could have a field day against a beat up Lions secondary.
Carolina (3-4) at New Orleans (7-0): Julius Peppers has six sacks over his last four games and he'll need to keep pressure on Drew Brees all afternoon for the Panthers to have a chance. The Falcons showed last week that Brees could be rattled. When Carolina is on offense their power running game could shine, and it'll need to perform well. The duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart ran all over the top-ranked rush defense last week and should see success on Sunday.
Believe it or not, the Panthers have won six straight games at the Superdome. Carolina's top-ranked pass defense matches up well against Brees and his myriad weapons on offense. In the end, the Saints will show why they're the best team in football right now.
Pick: New Orleans
Tennessee (1-6) at San Francisco (3-4): Vince Young didn't hurt his football team last week after taking over as the Titans starting quarterback. He'll need to continue playing as close to mistake-free as possible and Chris Johnson will need to find a way to break away from the league's second-best rush defense.
Now that Alex Smith has Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis firing on all cylinders, head coach Mike Singletary may allow the offense to be opened up a bit. Week 9 is a good time to air it out as no team in the NFL has allowed more passing yards this season than Tennessee.
Pick: San Francisco
San Diego (4-3) at New York Giants (5-3): LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't returned to be the runner he was three years ago, but he has steadily improved as the season has progressed. But Phillip Rivers should be the star this week as the Giants have given up an average of 37.3 points per game over the last three games -- a weakened secondary to blame for a lot of the opposing points.
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw should be able to run at will against this 27th-ranked run defense of San Diego. And that's fantastic news since Eli Manning hasn't been the same quarterback since his foot injury.
Pick: San Diego
Sunday Night Football
Dallas (5-2) at Philadelphia (5-2): Tony Romo may still be hearing the chatter of an annoying negative-Nellie among his receiving corps, but that's about the only issue with the offense in Dallas right now. Miles Austin has been absolutely incredible since taking over as the No. 2 receiver and Marion Barber seems to be getting better and better each week.
Brian Westbrook will return from a concussion to play in this rivalry game and that should take some of the heat off of Donovan McNabb. What should really excite the Eagles on offense this week is the weakness in the Cowboys' secondary of giving up the big play. No team has a more exciting deep-route tandem than Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.
Monday Night Football
Pittsburgh (5-2) at Denver (6-1): Pittsburgh may move their new pass-first offensive scheme back to a heavy run option, at least until they've slowed down the Denver pass rush by using Rashard Mendenhall. Once the Steelers have established the run, look for Ben Roethlisberger to open up and show the Broncos why he's the third-ranked passer in the NFL with 2,062 passing yards.
Kyle Orton had trouble throwing deep against Baltimore last week and his pass protection was suspect. The Steelers are better on defense against the pass than the Ravens and are the top-ranked run defense in the league. That's not great news for Knowshon Moreno who hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game yet this season.