CHIEFS at COLTS,Saturday
It's just too patto say that you can beat Indianapolis if you keep running the ball. Cincinnatitried it and lost because the Bengals didn't go about it the right way. Theyrelied on quickness, trapping and running outside. That played right into theColts' hands, because their defense--small, to be sure--is also quick. Theteams that hurt Indy have big mushers up front who manhandle the Colts, asJacksonville did (375 yards on the ground). K.C. is very solid in the middle ofits O-line, and the Chiefs have the kind of punishing runner, Larry Johnson,who can give Indianapolis real trouble.
The Coltsregained an offensive weapon that was missing in three December losses: DallasClark, the "move" tight end, who was out with a knee injury. He playsthe slot and can catch the short check-down or kill a zone by sprinting downthe seam for serious yardage. K.C. has good bookend pass rushers in rookieTamba Hali and Jared Allen, but Peyton Manning will be throwing quickly, onrhythm, and completing his share of passes.
Can the Chiefshang with the Colts? I don't think so, especially if quarterback Trent Greenhas to bail out the offense. He has looked shaky down the stretch. Colts 31,Chiefs 20
January 8, 2007
COWBOYS atSEAHAWKS, Saturday
Seattle optimistsmight say that this will be the week their team pulls its game together, withquarterback Matt Hasselbeck ending his scattershot play and running back ShaunAlexander putting up the big numbers that set the tone for the attack. Fine, itcould happen. But what about the defense? It's had the late-season blahs. SanFrancisco beat the Seahawks twice, averaging 403 yards. Arizona beat them with27 points and 345 yards, big numbers for that team. Dallas has moved the ball,even on its worst days.
The Cowboys'problems have been turnovers and other forms of erratic play. But here's aweird thing about them: During their recent funky period, they did their bestwork away from Dallas. In their last two road games, against the Giants and theFalcons, the Cowboys were at the top of their game, winning both. They playbetter when they leave the Texas Stadium pressure cooker. I think Dallas willpull its defense together and force a few turnovers. If the noise at QwestField doesn't get them, the Cowboys will go to a max protect system and givequarterback Tony Romo time to put up enough points to get them their upset.Cowboys 23, Seahawks 20
JETS at PATRIOTS,Sunday
Eric Mangini isnot what you'd call a blitz-happy coach. But when his Jets beat New England inFoxborough on Nov. 12, he and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton turned theblitzers loose on Tom Brady. Now, since Mangini is a cerebral type, you knowthat's exactly what he won't do this time. Brady will see a different look, andI won't be surprised if New England, noting the moderate success that even poorOakland had on the ground against New York, comes out with two tight ends,wham-blocks inside and pounds the ball on the ground.
I think Jetspasser Chad Pennington will see a different look from the game in November aswell, but he is locked into a certain type of offense: the quick, rhythm throwsthat put the onus on his fine set of receivers, including Laveranues Coles andJerricho Cotchery, to make the tough catches and turn small gains into decentones. I don't think the Pats' rush will give him time for longer throws. TheJets will win if they can control New England's running. The Patriots will winif they have success on the ground to set up Brady's play-action passes--and ifthey hold New York's receivers to minimal gains. I lean toward the home team.Patriots 17, Jets 13
GIANTS at EAGLES,Sunday
Jeff Garcia andthe Philadelphia passing game have been functional, but the springboard to thisteam's late success has been a crushing running attack. The key to it is themiddle three of guards Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews and center JamaalJackson--big bruisers who are not nifty-footed in the Denver or Atlanta stylebut are heavy thumpers. When things get clogged, the Eagles move their attackto the perimeter and get fine blocking from right tackle Jon Runyan and tightend L.J. Smith, paving the way for Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter.
Unless runningback Tiki Barber is spectacular again, the Giants are an uninspired lot. Phillydefensive coordinator Jim Johnson will bring as many men into the box as hefeels necessary to stop Barber and let quarterback Eli Manning try to beat hisdefense. Manning did that in a late-game comeback in September, but he hadAmani Toomer and a healthy Jeremy Shockey to catch his passes then, and hewon't this time. Eagles 31, Giants 17
Z SAYS, SHE SAYS
Watch model Brooklyn Decker and Dr. Z go head-to-headat SI.com/NFL.