My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern).
Let's shake things up a bit and start with the Sunday night game, shall we?
8:20 p.m., SundayArizona Cardinals at New York Giants
The Cardinals are on a roll and the Giants were humbled in New Orleans, so those trends will continue, right? Not exactly. There are several flaws in the idea that the Cardinals can torch the Giants secondary like Drew Brees and the Saints did on Sunday.
For one, the game will be at home for the G-Men, which means the Cardinals may have to use a silent cadence. If so, Arizona's offensive tackles will have to watch the football rather than listen to Kurt Warner's cadence, enabling the Giants' pass rushers a chance to get a good jump off the ball. Secondly, the Cardinals don't run nearly as well as the Saints do, which renders them almost one-dimensional and plays right into the Giants hands. Lastly, and sticking with the same theme, the Cardinals offensive line is simply not as good as the Saints unit and Warner does not get rid of the ball as quickly as Brees does.
In other words, expect Warner to get hit early and often, and don't expect Arizona to light up the scoreboard.
1 p.m., SundayMinnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Vikings have been fortunate during their undefeated run, what with Brett Favre making a dramatic touchdown throw to beat San Francisco in the final seconds and Baltimore kicker Stephen Hauschka missing a game-winning field goal at the end of a furious Raven rally a week ago. That said, you are what you are in the NFL. The Vikings have earned their 6-0 record and need not apologize for the manner in which they were victorious.
All of their tough opponents so far this year, however, have had to come to the friendly confines of the Metrodome. It's now time to see what this team and Favre are made of as they hit the road for two difficult games in a row that I will be calling for the SportsUSA Radio Network. Next week will be Favre's return to Lambeau Field, but this week he'll face a Steeler squad that appears to have gotten its mojo back, thanks primarily to Big Ben's arm and to a lesser extent Rashard Mendenhall's legs.
It is highly unlikely Adrian Peterson will have a big day against Pittsburgh because, well, nobody runs on the Steelers. That means Favre will have to win his first hotly-contested road game through the air. His success the last couple of games has been mainly predicated on good pass protection, which is why it is absolutely critical that his offensive tackles give him time in this matchup. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie should be able to hold his own against James Harrison but rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt, who is a little banged up, could have his hands full with Steelers outside linebacker Lamar Woodley. And don't forget about Lawrence Timmons, who blitzed his way to two sacks against the Browns on Sunday.
4:15 p.m., SundayChicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals
This game, another NFC North vs. AFC North clash, looked so enticing a couple of weeks ago that the executives at Fox switched it to the late game. Then both teams went out and got beat in games that were very winnable. Now both desperately need this win to keep pace in their respective divisions, which might make the game even more compelling.
The Bengals secondary is going to have to improve significantly from the drubbing it got from Matt Schaub and the Texans. The loss of stud pass-rusher Antwan Odom for the season makes it likely that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will be forced to blitz to get pressure on Cutler, forcing his stellar young corners, Leon Hall and Jonathon Joseph, to cover the Bears wideouts man to man. Those matchups wouldn't frighten me if I were a Bengals fan. The thought of safety Roy Williams covering either Greg Olsen or Desmond Clark would. Both tight ends are superb route runners and have good enough ball skills to do their best Owen Daniels impersonation from a week ago and cause Williams and the Bengals fits.
8:30 p.m., MondayPhiladelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
The franchise that is in complete and utter disarray against the team coming off one of the most pathetic losses it has had this decade. Interesting Monday-Nighter, to say the least.
Watching the Redskins offense in action should be kind of like rubber-necking on the highway at an accident or attending a NASCAR event and hoping for a crash. It could be that ugly. We've all heard about new playcaller Sherman Lewis working in a bingo hall before he was hired by the 'Skins, but to me that is totally secondary to the fact he has only been there for two weeks. How can he fully understand the nuances of the playbook at this point, let alone the specific strengths and weaknesses of the individual players? I would venture to guess he doesn't even know the names of all of his starting linemen, which makes it really unlikely that he knows what protections to call to cover up their weaknesses, of which there will be many against an always-aggressive Eagles defense.
The Eagles couldn't have played much worse in a losing effort to the lowly Raiders last week. That's why the timing of this gimme game against Washington is welcome. This season is already a lost cause for the Redskins.
Now on to your e-mails and tweets ...
Sorry Ross, but nobody expected the Bengals to go undefeated. How can this be their FIRST mental hurdle? What about Pitt? Baltimore after the loss of Mrs. Zimmer?-- Jay, Cincinnati
Fair enough. The Houston game definitely was not the Bengals' first mental hurdle. It was, however, the first game they were "supposed" to win at home after going on an impressive streak, and they failed.
I think the entire sports world is starting to suffer from Analysis Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). AFS has caused many sportswriters to try to find angles in a circular room. While the psyche of a team may have an impact on their overall performance, the fact that the primary variable for success is talent overshadows everything else.-- Doug Millaway, Avon, Minn.
Talent is important but I couldn't disagree more with your assessment. If that greatly overshadows everything else then the Titans, with 20 starters returning from last season, would not be 0-6. The Broncos, with a bunch of no-names playing on defense, would not be 6-0. In fact, if your talent-trumps-all theory was accurate, the Chargers and Cowboys would be significantly better than they are and the Ravens' defense, which is littered with Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers, would not be getting gashed on a consistent basis.
What is your take on the Patriots running up the score against the hapless Titans (other than the fact that you don't want to subject your best players to injury)? I always found it a bit odd that in the U.S. of all places (with one of the most ruthless & cutthroat business cultures), there is this strange concept of "not running up the score" in pro sports. I've seen cricket, soccer, field hockey and other international sports where teams run up the score (if they can) and nobody bats an eyelid. They have other strange notions of fair play.
Do you think that teams don't want to provide bulletin board material to the other team, in case they meet them again, is a reason?-- S. Anantha, Chicago
I don't think the Patriots ran up the score on Sunday and I don't believe that such a thing exists in professional sports in the United States, contrary to your premise. High school and college, because of the nature of their scheduling process, are a different animal.
Most hindering owner: Jerry Jones, Dan Snyder or Al Davis?--@scottbwalters via Twitter
Definitely Al Davis because so many of his free-agent signings and draft choices are so horrendous it literally skews the market comparables in terms of contracts for the rest of the season. What's interesting about your trio, however, is that those owners want to win as desperately as anyone. They just don't know how.
What's the relationship between a kicker and his team -- especially after a missed game-winning kick?--@BrickGrill via Twitter
Kickers usually hang out with the punter and the long-snapper, and those guys are typically on their own program. Teammates usually praise them when they make the big kick and don't say anything when they miss, other than maybe a couple of guys to offer their support.