Sunday, 1 p.m.New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Neither one of these presumptive Super Bowl contenders is playing very good football right now. The Giants followed their somewhat acceptable loss to the New Orleans Saints with an uninspired defeat at home against the Arizona Cardinals, causing genuine concern in the Big Apple. The Eagles somehow lost to the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago before beating the Redskins on Monday night thanks to some Washington miscues and a couple of big plays by speedster DeSean Jackson.
The G-Men still have a score to settle with the Birds thanks to their playoff loss last January, but to get retribution they need to get back to their dominating ways up front on both sides of the football. The New York defensive line, once thought to be the deepest and best unit in the league, needs to get back to harassing quarterbacks, starting this week with Donovan McNabb. The Eagles offensive line has been average at best this season. If there is ever a time where Osi Umenyiora and company can come alive, it's Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
On the other side, the Giants well-regarded offensive line has not been as efficient the past two games as in recent years. This group should still feel the sting of those two short-yardage plays from last year's postseason when Eagles tackles Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley jacked up the interior linemen and stopped the Giants. As usual, this NFC East matchup will come down to a battle of the trenches.
Sunday, 4:15 p.m.Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
I'm more than a little excited to go to Lambeau Field on Sunday to call this game for SportsUSA Radio. Is it bad that I'm actually more interested in how Brett Favre is treated by the Packer faithful than by the game itself? Will there be cheers, jeers or dead silence? It's almost like a bizarre social experiment.
Packers safety Nick Collins told me this week on Sirius NFL Radio that he thinks the crowd will be split 50/50 between Favre lovers and Favre haters. I'm not sure I agree, but no matter what reception Favre gets, how he handles his emotions could be the tale of the tape. He'll be facing a fast rising Packers defense that is now the No. 3 ranked unit in the league and hasn't given up a touchdown in 10 quarters. If Favre tries to do too much, savvy corners Al Harris and Charles Woodson will make him pay.
Much has been made of the way Jared Allen and the Vikings ravaged the Packers pass protection unit in Week 4 to the tune of eight sacks, including 4.5 for Allen. What hasn't been said is that Aaron Rodgers needs to do a better job getting rid of the football. His line should be aided by playing at home instead of inside the noisy Metrodome.
Monday, 8:30 p.m.Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
The Falcons secondary couldn't contain Cowboys wideout Miles Austin on Sunday, even though they knew he had become Tony Romo's go-to guy. That's discouraging when you consider they face Drew Brees and the Saints offensive juggernaut Monday night. The Falcons knew they had some defensive questions coming into the season, and placing three of their top 13 defenders on injured reserve (DT Peria Jerry, S William Moore, CB Brian Williams) doesn't help.
That's why the Falcons best chance in this game is to get back to their roots and establish Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and the running game. In addition to playing keep away, it is absolutely vital that they get pressure on Brees without bringing extra defenders and sacrificing coverage. That means Falcon defensive linemen John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, and even Jonathan Babineaux need to have the game of their lives.
Your e-mails and tweets ...
Ross, first, love your column; its great to see that your transition has been so successful. Regarding owner involvement in team matters, I would offer that it is ludicrous to imagine any CEO of any organization not to have a say in the operations. It should come as no surprise to any fan that this occurs. Ask any fantasy owner to pony up their $20 and then tell them that someone else will be making selected critical personnel decision, and see what happens. Anyway, keep up the great work, and by the way, please report back to One Bills Drive, they really need help!--Rob George, Buffalo, N.Y.
I understand where you are coming from, but I think the mark of a good business owner or CEO is the ability to hire and delegate effectively. In other words, it is important that some of the owners who are heavily involved with the football operations of their teams recognize what it is that they don't know. Just because you are an oil tycoon or a marketing maven does not mean you know how to evaluate offensive guards.
I wish you would also do a similar piece on the negative impacts of a completely absent owner. There is no sense of accountability in Cleveland and no "owner" who is seen as recognizing the pain of the fan base. We would be ecstatic to see an owner at the Browns games -- even a shot of them in a box, let alone on the sidelines.--Marty, Cleveland
That's an interesting observation, though I don't really understand how a television shot showing Randy Lerner would appease the fan base. And I disagree in terms of accountability. Lerner hired Eric Mangini to be the head coach and then subsequently hired George Kokinis to be the general manager. So Lerner is accountable but he is the owner and can therefore do whatever he wants, for better or worse.
When you were playing how did you, or your colleagues, react towards teammates who repeatedly committed silly (and avoidable) penalties on the field?--Cameron Flores, Scotland
There is usually nothing said when a player commits a penalty because typically he already feels bad about it himself and there is no need to rub salt in the wounds. Pro football is a very individual business, so guys are mostly concerned with taking care of their individual responsibilities. That said, if it were a chronic thing, one of the leaders of the team would probably step in and say something to the individual.
We know that baseball pitchers pay attention to who's behind the plate, but do football teams plan for certain officiating crews? Like their coaches telling the o-line that holding won't be called much, or coaches calling wide-receiver routes with a "pick" because a particular official doesn't call offensive interference?--Jim, St. Louis
It depends on the team, but the better organizations, like the Patriots, study the different officiating crews and give the players a full report during the week on what that crews' tendencies are so that players know what to expect in the game. The Times-Picayune recently did a nice piece on this after building a database of every penalty called in last year's regular season.
Is playing on the road in the NFL as hard as conventional wisdom claims? Do players hate going on the road?--@JosephKrueger via Twitter
I don't think players hate it, but there is no doubt the preference is to stay at home to avoid the travel and have the home crowd's support. The only thing really different about a road game is the crowd noise and the impact that can have on the offense.
What happens if a player is traded before his teams bye week to a team who already had theirs, does he get paid for 17 weeks?--@nunyabz via Twitter
Yes, he does. In fact, I had two bye weeks in 2002 after I was released by Washington and picked up on waivers by Dallas, which was pretty cool.