No doubt this week all coaches in the NFL are looking at the calendars and seeing where they can fit some more “me” time into their brutal schedule. Coaches’ wives the world over are clenching their teeth ever harder at the toll such a lifestyle demands.
Bills at Steelers - Buffalo finally gets their “Hope of the Future” quarterback returning to the field, and as long as E.J. Manuel keeps it on the ground and works out the rust in his arm slowly and deliberately the Bills have a good chance to get a rare win in one of the toughest stops on the road.
Although Pittsburgh has not lost to the Bills at home since the days of Bradshaw, Swann, Stallworth, and a few other guys you may have heard about, they also have as thin, injured, old and weak a defense as they have seen since the retirement of Ernie Stautner.
It’s not at all Pittsburgh-like for the Steelers’ defense to be next to last against the run and, what do you know, Buffalo is running it with the best of them. The Pittsburgh offensive line is also not in the best of shape to face a pretty decent pass rushing scheme from the Bills, so relying on Big Ben to generate all the offense is going to force them to come up short yet again…but it’s all they’ve really got.
Jaguars at Titans - Jacksonville followed up their trip to London, England for a home loss to San Francisco two weeks ago with a bye week and now they hit the road to Nashville. At this rate, no one will know (or likely care) when they return to Florida again.
About 25 years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals had a year when they began 0-8 and miraculously finished 8-8, and that’s the kind of turnaround the Jaguars are talking about. Of course, they’re probably talking just to themselves because nobody in Jacksonville seems to be listening any more.
I suppose it’s hard to blame them. When their star receiver Justin Blackmon apparently cannot stay sober long enough to cash a game check, what is there to be enthusiastic about. Now he won’t have that problem. Let’s hope he gets the help he so desperately needs.
This game boils down to the fact that Tennessee loves to run the football and Jacksonville cannot stop the run. While the Titans haven’t been very good at it, it’s their bread and butter so they stick with it. Last week (finally!) Chris Johnson broke through for one of his biggest games in years. If he’s really in a groove, this is a defense he can overwhelm.
Tennessee is nobody’s idea of a juggernaut and divisional rivalry games are nearly always competitive, but once the home team gets a lead, it’s hard to see how they lose it.
Panthers at 49ers - Finally we get to a worthy Game of the Day candidate and it should be a hot ticket. Carolina is a surging team and lately they are making it a habit to win by double digits. With San Francisco coming off their bye week, they have had plenty of time to prepare for the challenge Cam Newton will bring their way.
The Niners, too, have their own winning streak going and they are putting at least 30 on the board every time, so the scoreboard figures to get a workout. Both offenses feature excellent ground games, but Carolina remains shaky in the air.
The equation calculates in the Niners’ favor: at home, rested, with a better defense and a more balanced offense; equals - anything can happen. (Of course, it’s the NFL! Where you’re always one injury away from catastrophe.)
Texans at Cardinals - In Houston you just have to soldier on, and there’s no more experienced coach in the game today than Wade Phillips. While he’s often a splendid defensive coordinator, his record in the big chair is decidedly heavy in the loss column. This one may add a pound or two.
If he’s paid any attention to the offense, Phillips should just unleash Case Keenum and let him throw it down the field all day. With his two splendid running backs hobbling, what choice is there? Freedom’s often just another word for nothing left to lose (or at least that’s what Bobby McGee told me).
Arizona just put their bye week behind them, so here’s hoping the explosive rushing game that they developed right before Halloween didn’t get scared and run away. (It worries me that Carson Palmer’s apparently brought his dreaded Bengals Curse with him.)
Broncos at Chargers - San Diego, and mostly Philip Rivers, will pull out all the stops in their effort to take Denver down and give themselves at least a shot at a postseason berth. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning continues his assault on the NFL record book, leading the league in points and yardage half way to the end of the season. The San Diego defense is exactly the sort of victim he’s waited two weeks to mug. When scoring a shootout, take the one who hits the most and misses least, and that’d be Sheriff Manning.
Cowboys at Saints - Speaking of blowing up scoreboards and things, between Tony Romo and Drew Brees there may be 1,000 yards gained through the air before this one is through. Since Game of the Day was just taken, and because this is the Sunday night NBC special, let’s call it the Game of the Week.
New Orleans took a big hit in their loss to the Jets but remain well in the lead in their division. However, another home loss (coupled with a Carolina road win) would create a great deal of interest as the season plays itself out, and no small amount of anxiety in Saintland.
Without Darren Sproles, there’s a chance for Carolina to win. But with the Brees blowing steadily at home, there’s not much reason to expect the Saints to lose.
Dolphins at Buccaneers - Since the “Queen of Mean” is unavailable to suit up for either cheerleading unit, the bad vibes will just have to keep resonating off these respective coaching staffs.
Tampa Bay has been inching itself closer to a win and given all the bullets recently fired at the Miami staff, this has Monday Night Football upset written all over it.
Tampa Bay deserves at least one win this year while Florida football deserves a whole lot better from its professionals from here to the end of time.