My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern)
Sunday 1 p.m.San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
This game features the two best running backs so far this season -- Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, and in the prep work I've done to call thisgame for the SportsUSA Radio Network, I think it's going to be extremely difficult for either to get uncorked Sunday.
Even though the Vikings have shown a small crack of vulnerability in the Williams Wall over the first couple of weeks, they are still the No. 1 defense against the run three years running. The Niners, meanwhile, are No. 1 in the NFL over the past nine games in stuffing the opponent's efforts to run the ball on first down. Couple that with Peterson being held to three yards on 14 carries when he faced San Francisco in 2007, and it becomes clear this game will be decided by which quarterback makes some plays in the passing game.
So Shaun Hill vs. Brett Favre. Hill has proven his worth to head coach Mike Singletary and every other member of the Niners with his 9-3 record as a starter. Favre, on the other hand, is coming off a very accurate day in Detroit and has yet to throw an interception this season. His decision-making against a gambler like San Francisco cornerback Nate Clements could be the difference.
Sunday 4:15 p.m.Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell is only comfortable when throwing off play-action after the running game has established itself. That run threat allows guys like tight end Zach Miller to get wide open and cleans up the reads for Russell. So it is on the Oakland line sans Robert Gallery to establish the run against a Broncos defense that has been surprisingly stout. In fact, Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is an early favorite for assistant coach of the year based on what his unit has done through two games with a bunch of guys like Ryan McBean, Mario Haggan and others you haven't heard of. Until now, I guess.
Sunday 8:20 p.m.Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals
The key to this game will be the Colts defense, particularly the front seven. That unit was bludgeoned by Miami on Monday for 239 yards rushing on 49 attempts. All told, the Dolphins ran 84 offensive plays to the Colts' 35. That's ridiculous. Now Indy has to try to recover during a short week and on the road again. Less than ideal, to say the least.
The Cards like to chuck the ball, but if there were ever a game in which coach Ken Whisenhunt should take running backs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells for a spin, this would be it. The Dolphins had the right formula for success by playing keep away against the Colts, but they didn't finish the deal. The Cards have more explosive playmakers who can make the scoring grabs that Miami receiver Ted Ginn could not.
Monday 8:30 p.m.Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys
Similar to San Francisco-Minnesota, this game will also come down to quarterbacks. It won't be about which one makes a bigger play but rather which one makes fewer mistakes. The interception-prone Jake Delhomme and Tony Romo have already cost their teams a game and neither can afford to have another costly turnover night..
Now for your questions via e-mail and Twitter ...
Why is everyone ripping Eric Mangini for fining a player for taking a bottle of water from the hotel without paying for it? I know it is a petty theft, but it was still a theft. That fine is not going to bankrupt a player but it is hopefully enough to get his attention. Anyone who complains about athletes (or celebrities, or politicians, or whoever) acting like rules don't apply to them should appreciate an authority figure finally taking action over a small transgression so that hopefully the larger ones don't happen. If I were caught stealing on a business trip, no matter how small, I would expect to lose my job. I think Mangini is right on here.--Pete, Niagara Falls
I'm all for accountability, but fining a guy over $1,700 because he forgot to pay his incidentals is a bit much. Calling it theft or stealing is a stretch. Unlike regular business travelers who lay down a credit card for incidentals, NFL players never even check in to a hotel. Their room keys are just handed to them. So if they don't remember to pay for their incidentals after pre-game meals, the team is caught holding the bag. I think deducting the cost of the water from his next paycheck and maybe a small fine would have been appropriate.
Ummm, Matt Ryan was drafted in to a pretty good situation? Atlanta was teetering on becoming a completely dysfunctional franchise at the time they drafted Ryan.--Joe Caggiano, Boiling Springs, Pa.
I got a lot of Matt Ryan e-mails about my Wednesday column focusing on quarterbacks who have effectively won the lottery. No, Ryan didn't win the lottery, but he did get drafted by a team with a true No. 1 wideout, a stud running back brought in via free agency, and a young, physical offensive line. It could have been much worse. Ask Matthew Stafford.
There is a standard claim that all commentators make at some point in a game like the Colts had on Monday night: "The defense is exhausted because they have been on the field for a long, long time." My question is: Why doesn't that same thing apply to the offensive line of the opposing team? Their front line has been on the field for the same amount of time, working just as hard. I just don't understand. Could you enlighten me, please? --Bob, Indianapolis
Good question. Defense takes more energy, especially for the linemen. They have to run to the ball on every play, and whether they are trying to hold up against double teams in the running game or rushing the passer, they expend a tremendous amount of effort. It's a big reason most teams rotate defensive linemen as much as they can.
What do you think the NFL execs said to Bill Devaney to get the Rams not to take Mark Sanchez in the draft? I know the league prefers him in NYC rather than boring St. Louis. What did the commish give the Rams?--Jesse Rodriguez, Los Angeles
You gotta love the conspiracy theorists. Give me a break! It never happened. Devaney wanted to see if Marc Bulger still had it. Furthermore, Mark Sanchez would not be playing nearly as well if he had landed in St. Louis.
once cut after training camp, how long do guys stay in shape to chase the NFL dream--@unclwiggly68, via Twitter
It depends on the guy, obviously. Some players lack discipline and get out of shape right away. Others will stay in peak condition right up until the following season in the hope of another opportunity.
Hey Ross, wondering if you've spent time watchin ur old cohorts on the skin's line. How badly is thomas injury gonna hurt?--@ScudDaHistorian, via Twitter
Randy Thomas is one of the best guards I ever played with. The problem is he is so infrequently healthy. His loss is a big one because the right guard has most of the one-on-ones in that offense and both Chad Rinehart and Will Montgomery are unknowns.