Ross Tucker
Friday January 1st, 2010

My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern).

Sunday 1 p.m. Pittsburgh Steelers at Miami Dolphins

I would be remiss not to encourage you to watch the San Francisco 49ers taking on the St. Louis Rams in this time slot. It is a good chance to see if the 7-8 Niners can have their first non-losing season since 2002 as well as take a look at the Rams to see if they are making any progress or should just be excited about the chance to possibly draft Ndamukong Suh. I hear the color commentator for that game on FOX is pretty solid as well. Some fella named Ross.

But if you aren't compelled to watch that one and don't feel the need to watch the Vikings likely hammer the Giants, I would keep my eyes on the Pittsburgh-Miami matchup. The Dolphins have come from behind two weeks in a row only to fail to make the necessary plays in the end to get the victory. The real problem is falling behind to begin with and they still aren't getting good enough play from their secondary or a consistent pass rush to slow down opposing passing attacks. That's not good news with Ben Roethlisberger coming to town as he has been outstanding in leading his team to back-to-back victories over a pair of teams that should be in the playoffs. The Packers are already in and all the Ravens need to do is dispatch those pesky Raiders. The problem for the Steelers is that those two big wins might be a case of too little too late.

Sunday 4:15 p.m. Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

To most of the country, this game is about playoff seeding and little else. As somebody that grew up near Philadelphia and played for the Cowboys, I know better. Both of these teams desperately want to be NFC East champs, host their opening playoff game, and have a chance, especially in Philly's case, of a first-round bye. But aside from all that this is the Eagles vs. the Cowboys and to these two teams and their respective fanbases that means everything.

It will be interesting to see how close to the vest these teams play this game with the looming possibility of a rematch on the horizon. If one of the coaching staffs identifies a tendency and sees something they really feel like they can exploit, do you waste that this week or save it for down the line? My guess is both teams will pull out all of the stops in order to have a playoff home game.

These are two of the hotter teams in the NFL right now, both capable of going on an extended January run. Ultimately these two franchises will deem this season a success or failure based upon how long that run goes, not who gets to wear the division champ t-shirt all offseason. Keep an eye on the tight ends in this matchup, Brent Celek of the Eagles and Jason Witten of the Cowboys. They are two of the best in the business.

Sunday 8:20 p.m. Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets

The Jets couldn't possibly lose a "win and you're in" game at home against a team playing a pretty meaningless game, could they? All you need to do is ask any Jets fan that question and they will be quick to point out that these are, after all, the Jets. As a result, they are not taking anything for granted, least of which a battle against a tough 10-win team in the Giants Stadium finale.

The problem for the Jets is the Bengals aren't necessarily considering this game to be pointless. In fact, if the Patriots lose to the Texans earlier in the day the Bengals may play their starters in order to secure the third seed. So that means Jets fans are in the awkward position of rooting for the Patriots to win.

Either way, the Jets need to continue their recipe for success which is pounding the football with Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, behind the best offensive line in the NFL. That also helps to minimize the mistakes of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez because he isn't asked to do as much. Defensively the Jets will sell out to stop the run and continue to have Darrelle Revis track Chad Ochocinco all over the field.

Time to delve into this week's mailbag ...

Do you really believe the Raiders were that good this season or was it just the unprofessional play of the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers and Broncos? These four teams played like the outcome didn't matter and were just there to collect a paycheck. These four NFL teams should apologize to their fans and return their money. --Luis Segura, Manteca, Calif.

The Raiders are proof why nobody should try to bet NFL games. They won four games where they had no shot and lost several others, some badly, to teams they probably should have beat. But as far as what you said about them having those four quality wins, that is no fluke. If they only had one or maybe two like that you could put it into that category. But not four. Tom Cable has done a good job with this team and hopefully Al Davis has the sense to bring him back next year.

Ross, if indeed Mike Shanahan becomes the new Redskins coach, I suppose he will bring the vaunted zone blocking scheme he used to run in Denver. If so, what kind of lineman are better suited for this kind of scheme and what made it so successful back in Denver? --Ethan Sloan, El Centro, Calif.

I am pretty sure Shanahan will want to run the zone blocking scheme and have it led by an assistant like Alex Gibbs, Rick Dennison, or even Jeff Jagodzinski. Either way, the scheme works best when the linemen are leaner and quicker so that they can make the critical cut-off blocks on the backside of those runs that lead to the gaping holes.

Ross, I was reading about the Saints' "goal sheet" and they had some lofty goals on there this year. Question, do all teams have goal sheets and if so, do they all put "win the division," "first-round bye" and "win the Super Bowl" on there, or do the really bad teams put realistic things, like "win eight games"? --David Poole, Tupelo, Miss.

For a downtrodden team, the goals are probably more modest but every team at least talks about making the playoffs. If you haven't made the playoffs in a long time, Super Bowl talk seems kind of silly and the guys don't really buy it. But given the way new teams always sneak into the postseason out of nowhere, that seems like a tangible goal to anyone.

If Wade Phillips is fired at the end of the season, do you see Bill Cowher anywhere near Dallas? --@clockard122 via Twitter

I highly doubt it. Cowher wants to have final say over personnel which is a problem because so does Jerry Jones.

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