Pancakes In the Age of Enlightenment- Why Don't You Take a Napa?

LEADING OFF

You So Crazy!!

In a 17 week season, it’s hard to discern where exactly the halfway point of the NFL season is. I think officially it was Wednesday. So I am going to go ahead and declare that we are at the halfway point! To celebrate, in addition to running down all of this week’s games, I’ll also name each team’s first half MVP this week, as voted upon by me. Are you ready? It’s time, it’s time, it’s time for WEEK NINE!

DETROIT LIONS (3-4) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-5)
1PM Eastern, FOX

The Storyline
As disappointing as the Lions have been this year, at least they’re not the Vikings. The Purple Headed Warriors’ nightmare season got worse last week when they lost QB Daunte Culpepper for the remainder of the year with a mangled knee. The Lions hope to take advantage, and win a building they’ve lost in every year dating back to 1997.

Key Questions
What’s new Vikings’ QB Brad Johnson’s life story?
Johnson has been in the league a long time, and had lots of highs and lows. He was drafted by the Vikings in 1992, despite being a backup at Florida State. He became the Vikings’ starter in 1996, and remained their starter until he was injured in the second game of the 98 season. Randall Cunningham took his place, led the Vikings to a 15-1 record, and that was the end of Johnson in Minnesota. He was then traded to Washington, and made the Pro Bowl in 1999. In 2000, he got injured again, lost his starting job to Jeff George, and left for Tampa. He won a Super Bowl in Tampa in 2002, but was benched 2 years later. Now he’s back with the Vikings, will probably be their starter for the rest of the year, and the circle of life is complete.

Who’s playing quarterback for the Lions this week?
That would be everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Joey Harrington. Jeff Garcia apparently remembered that his leg is still broken this week, and he will be unable to bring his wacky, flipping the ball in the air to nobody in the 4th quarter of a tie ballgame stylings to the field this week. Lions’ WR Roy Williams gave Joey a huge vote of confidence when he told the Detroit Free Press this week, “know the fans of Detroit don’t have any faith in him, but I think that this team does. We have no choice but to.” Yeah!

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Vikings have won 6 straight against the Lions. However, if there’s any time the Lions will get over on the Vikings, it’s now. The loss of Culpepper looks like the blow that will finally cause the bottom to fall out of this team, even though Brad Johnson is an adequate replacement. The Lions have a defense that can force opponents into mistakes, and the Vikings have been happy to oblige in that area this year. This will be a close game. The Lions need to run the ball effectively, and use their defense to create good field position in order to win. I think they’ll be able to do that against the Vikings, and come out of the Metrodome with a win for the first time in 8 years.

LIONS 20, VIKINGS 17

First Half MVPs
Lions
Dre Bly, CB- The Lions’ offense has been a disaster this year, but the defense has kept the team competitive. Bly is one of the better corners in the game, and has picked off 4 passes this year. Unfortunately for the Lions, Bly is going to be out 3-4 weeks following wrist surgery.

Vikings
Daunte Culpepper, QB- He’s maintained his cool and his class throughout a miserable season. He is out the rest of the year, and may have played his last game as a Viking.


Forgot About Dre? Not Me.

OAKLAND RAIDERS (3-4) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-3)
1 PM Eastern, CBS

The Storyline
This is one of the league’s best rivalries, and it’s made better by the fact that both teams really need this game. The Raiders have bounced back from a 1-4 start to win two in a row, and they can pull even with the Chiefs with a win here. The Chiefs have owned the Raiders in recent years though, and have beaten Oakland 5 straight, including a 23-17 win on the Raiders’ home turf in Week 2 of this season.

Key Questions
Is Randy Moss going to play this week?
Randy is listed as questionable, still recovering from injuries to his ribs, groin, and pelvis. With those injuries, it doesn’t look like Randy will be getting any lovin’ any time soon. I’m talkin’ DOWNtown!

Trent Green might not play, Whaa????
Yes, it’s true. Dick Vermiel said today that his quarterback may not play this week. Green’s father passed away this week, and Green has been away from the team attending funeral services. Vermeil told the KC Star regarding Green, “I just want to see how he feels,” Vermeil said, “and I think go from there.” If Trent does not play, Todd Collins, the quarterback, not the cocktail, will start. Collins hasn’t started a game since 1997 with Buffalo. Oh, and Priest Holmes may be limited this week after suffering head trauma in last week’s game. He has been cleared by a neurologist to play, but how much work he’ll get is anybody’s guess.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
In the standings, these teams are only a game apart. In reality, the Chiefs are a much better team. When these teams met in Week 2, the Chiefs just kind of wore out the Raiders, never dealing them a real knockout blow, but just outlasting them. The Raiders were able to go toe to toe with the Chiefs for 3 quarters, but then their offense just kind of petered out once the Raiders abandoned the run. They’ve made more of an effort to balance their offense in recent weeks, but it’s not going to be enough to get them a win here. The Raiders are 2-12 against the AFC West in the last 3 seasons, 3-16 on the road during that time, and most importantly, 0-5 against the Chiefs. That all adds up to a Chiefs win.

CHIEFS 31, RAIDERS 24

First Half MVPs
Raiders
Derrick Burgess, DE- The Raiders defense was a joke last year, but Burgess’ arrival from Philadelphia this off season has changed that. His total of 7 sacks is one off the NFL lead, and is already 3 more than anybody on the Raiders had in 04.

Chiefs
Priest Holmes, RB- The Chiefs’ passing game has been sporadic this year, so more than ever, Holmes is the guy the Chiefs turn to when they absolutely need to make a play. He has shared a large portion of the workload with Larry Johnson this year, but he’s found the end zone 7 times, and is still the most dangerous weapon the Chiefs have.

TENNESSEE TITANS (2-6) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (2-5)

The Storyline
Yeesh. This is going to be a very bad game. The Titans are spending a year in the flophouse known as Salary Cap Hell, and have a 2-6 record to show for it. Cleveland is finding out that rebuilding isn’t as fun as it looks, and this could be the week you see Trent “Why Did Baltimore Get Rid of Trent Dilfer?”Dilfer get sent to the bench by his 4th NFL team.

Key Questions
How are the Titans handling their little manchild, Pacman Jones?
The Titans have assigned DT Albert Haynesworth to be Pacman’s mentor and confidant. It was the idea of LB Keith Bulluck, who felt that Haynesworth and Jones have a lot in common. Haynesworth, like Jones, came into the league with the reputation of being a talented player with an attitude problem. Haynesworth told a Nashville reporter, “I made things harder on myself than they had to be. Pac is kind of in the same situation.”

Are the Browns going to bench Trent Dilfer?
Browns fans are salivating for Romeo Crennel to give Akron alum Charlie Frye the keys to the Browns’ offense. Crennel has maintained though that at this point, Dilfer remains his guy. On the subject, Crennel said this week, “I am going to stay with Trent here and see how it goes and whenever I feel it is time to put the rookie in, then that is when I will.”

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Despite seemingly all laws of logic and physics, somebody is going to win this game. At this point, the Titans seem like a little more of an NFL caliber team than the Browns, at least offensively they do. I think the Browns are due for a whuppin, so this week seems like as good a time as any.

TITANS 30, BROWNS 14

First Half MVPs
Titans
Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE- Vanden Bosch came over from Arizona in the offseason, and has become the biggest force on the Titans’ defense. His 8 sacks are tied for the NFL lead. Coming into this season, he had only 4 sacks in his three year career. He’s also been staunch against the run, recording 5 stuffs.

Browns
Andra Davis, LB- The only thing keeping the Browns competitive is their defense, and Davis is the heart of that defense. His 78 tackles ranks 4th in the NFL.

ATLANTA FALCONS (5-2) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-4)
1 PM Eastern, FOX,

The Storyline
The Falcons are locked in a 3 team scrum for the NFC South title. They head to Miami to take on a Dolphin team that has performed pretty well under new coach Nick Saban, and with an unexpected win here and there, maybe one in this game, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they can find themselves in the AFC East race.

Key Questions
Are the Falcons going to have TJ Duckett available this week?
Early in the week, it looked like they would. However, he still has not practiced this week, so it’s looking more and more like he won’t be able to go on Sunday. He’s an important piece of the Falcons offense. Warrick Dunn is most effective when he has a limited workload. The Falcons depend on Duckett to carry about 10 times a game and keep Dunn fresh.

Can Ronnie and Ricky coexist in the Dolphins backfield?
Of course they can. One trend in the league right now is that you are seeing a lot of teams rely on 2 running backs instead of only one. Atlanta has Dunn and Duckett, Denver has Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson, KC has Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson, Pittsburgh has Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis. It makes sense. A fresh running back is more effective than a tired running back. If you have two good running backs, and the Dolphins do, why not give them both a chance to carry the ball?

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
This won’t be an easy game for the Falcons. They tend to struggle on the road, winning only 7 out of 18 away from the Georgia Dome in the last 3 seasons. On top of that, the Dolphins are making progress, and have evolved into a team that has a productive, balanced offense, and a defense that will keep them in games. That said, the Falcons are the better team, and they’ll use a combination of a strong running game and an opportunistic defense to grind out a win.

FALCONS 24, DOLPHINS 21

First Half MVPs
Falcons
Warrick Dunn, RB- Michael Vick this, Michael Vick that. Dunn is the guy that has carried the Falcons’ offense on his back this year. His 732 rushing yards ranks 4th in the league, ahead of LaDanian Tomlinson. He is also averaging 5.4 yards per carry, tops among starting running backs.

Dolphins
Zach Thomas, LB- He could be the top defensive player in the league. He leads the NFL with 88 tackles, has 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and is tied for 3rd in the league with 6 “stuffs”, or tackles behind the line of scrimmage.


No Hype, Just Hits

CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-2) AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-2)
1 PM Eastern, FOX

The Storyline
A share of first place in the NFC South is at stake in this game. These are two teams that lately have seemed to be headed in opposite directions. The Panthers in the right direction, the Bucs, well, they lost to the Niners last week.

Key Questions
How can the Panthers get their running game Going?
Carolina’s averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. Stephen Davis looks like he’s ready to be sent to the glue factory. What you’ll probably see in coming weeks is the phasing in of DeShaun Foster as the team’s feature back. He’s always been a fumbler though, and he may not be an improvement over Davis. If Foster struggles, maybe Nick Goings gets a chance? He started 8 games for Carolina last year when both Davis and Foster were injured, rushed for 821 yards, and caught 45 passes.

How soon before we see Tim Rattay as the Bucs’ QB?
If the Bucs drop another one this week, it will be real soon, as in, probably next week. Chris Simms was bad last year when he got a chance to start, and he’s been bad this year when he’s gotten a chance to start. Rattay has started 16 NFL games with a horrible 49ers team, and actually hasn’t looked all that bad. You better believe that if Jon Gruden thinks he gives them the best chance to win, he’ll be in there as soon as he grasps the basics of the offense.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Take a look at the teams the Bucs have beaten so far, (Minnesota, Buffalo, Green Bay, Detroit, Miami) and their 5-2 mark becomes a lot less impressive. Then look at the fact that they’ve lost to the Jets and 49ers, and it’s plainly obvious that this team is not as good as it’s record. Throw in that they are 2-10 against their own division since 03, and have lost 4 straight against Carolina, and it’s pretty obvious who is going to win this game.

PANTHERS 30, BUCS 17

First Half MVPs
Panthers
Steve Smith, WR- Smith missed last season with an injury, but has come back in a big way. He is the NFL’s leading receiver with 797 yards. He has scored 8 touchdowns, and is one of the leading candidates for league MVP.

Bucs
Joey Galloway, WR- Galloway has been the only consistent weapon the Bucs have on offense. He came on strong at the end of last year, and it’s carried over to this season. He ranks sixth in the league with 648 yards receiving, and has found the end zone 5 times this year. DE Simeon Rice has also played well, but you don’t win any kind of awards when your team suspends you for disciplinary reasons.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-2) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-5)
1 PM Eastern, CBS

The Storyline
The Bengals bounced back nicely from a tough defeat against the Steelers, and enter this game on top of the AFC North. They meet a Ravens team that gave it all they had on Monday Night against those same Steelers, but came up just short.

Key Questions
After a fan ran out on the field last week and caught Brett Favre’s sixth interception of the game, what are the Bengals going to do to improve security at Paul Brown Stadium?
Extra security guards will be hired. Anyone who runs on the field will be shot in the head, then beaten and tortured.

Is this the week Jamal Lewis returns to form?
Lewis has rushed for over 100 yards against the Bengals 7 times. He showed a little bit of life in Monday’s loss to the Steelers. Don’t be surprised if he has a decent game this week. Or, if you like surprises, go ahead and be surprised. That’s fine with me.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Ravens showed a lot of heart last Monday Night. They left it all out on the field, and almost came away with a huge upset. So they aren’t lacking heart. What they are lacking is talent on the offensive side of the ball, and the Bengals have plenty of that, on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati will do what they do: force turnovers, capitalize with points, and win.

BENGALS 24, RAVENS 14

First Half MVPs
Bengals
Chad Johnson, WR- There’s plenty of candidates here. CB Deltha O’Neal has 6 interceptions, rookie MLB Odell Thurman has been a revelation, and QB Carson Palmer has lived up to all the hype. But when you think of the Bengals, you think immediately of Chad Johnson. He’s the guy other teams gameplan to stop, and they can’t do it. He ranks 4th in the league with 717 receiving yards, and has 5 TDs.

Ravens
Ray Lewis, LB- This is almost by default. The Ravens defense puts up good numbers, and they definitely talk a good game, but they don’t make plays that change the momentum of the game and put the team in a position to win. Lewis is the face of the team, good or bad, and he, along with the team, seems to be fading.

HOUSTON TEXANS (1-6) AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-3)
1 PM Eastern, CBS

The Storyline
Houston finally broke through with their first win of the season last week, becoming the last NFL team to visit the winners’ circle this year. The Jaguars had a long, silent flight home from St. Louis after dropping a game to a Rams team that is very banged up and can’t keep its head coaches out of the hospital.

Key Questions
Is Domanick Davis going to play this week?
Probably not. He’s now listed as questionable after being listed as probable earlier in the week with inflamed knees. With Davis out, that leaves the responsibility of winning the game with the enchanted right arm of David Carr, who is facing the NFL’s fifth ranked pass defense. Good luck with that.

What’s the mood around the Jaguars these days?
Not so good. The team has been playing hardball with the city of Jacksonville over stadium advertising revenue, and has been threatening to leave Jacksonville because they feel they cannot be profitable in such a small market. Fans are losing interest in a mediocre on-field product. The Jags were supposed to be a playoff team this year, but so far they have stumbled through the season with a 4-3 record, with their most recent game being a loss to a decimated Rams team they should have no business losing to.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
When these teams last met, Byron Leftwich passed for 35 yards, Domanick Davis ran for 150, and the Texans shut out the Jags 21-0 to sweep the season series. But that was last year, and this year’s a lot difference. The Texans have the worst run defense in the NFL, and Fred Taylor is going to run all over them.

JAGUARS 28, TEXANS 16

First Half MVPs

Texans
Domanick Davis, RB- The only guy on this team that’s earning his paycheck. He has 547 rushing yards, and that’s more than Curtis Martin, Priest Holmes, Corey Dillon, and Jamal Lewis. Houston’s offense is bad, without Davis, it would be much, much worse.

Jaguars
Reggie Hayward, DE- Defense is the Jaguars’ strength, and Hayward has made the biggest impact on that unit this year. He had 10 ½ sacks with Denver last year, and he’s continued to put pressure on QBs this year, leading the team with 5 ½ sacks.


Lone Star

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-4) AT NY JETS (2-5)

The Storyline
It has to suck to be a Chargers’ fan this year. You know that talentwise, you have one of the best teams in the league. You know because you’ve seen how good they can be. You’ve seen them absolutely wax the two time defending Super Bowl Champs in their own house. You’ve seen them blow out the Giants, possibly the best team in the NFC. The Chargers are very, very good. And yet, they are 4-4. The Bears have a better record than they do. The good news is, their early schedule has been murder, and things will get easier, beginning with a game against the woeful Jets this week. The same Jets that ended their season by beating them 20-17 in an overtime playoff game last year.

Key Questions
Are one of the Chargers’ quarterbacks going to end up in the Jets’ Oompa Loompa uniforms next year?
It’s very possible. The Jets are going to be in the market for a new quarterback next year. It’s looking more and more like they are going to cut bait with Chad Pennington, and either Drew Brees, who will be a free agent after this season, or his backup, Phillip Rivers, may be in the Jets’ plans. One of them will quarterback the Chargers next year. The other could be quarterbacking the Jets.

Who is going to be running the show for the Jets this week?
Probably Vinny Testaverde. Jets’ coach Herman Edwards will avoid playing Brooks Bollinger if there is any possible way for him to do it. Vinny had to leave the Jets’ last game with a calf injury, but he’s had a bye week to rest it and should be ready to go this week.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Jets beat the Chargers in the playoffs last year because they were able to move the ball effectively by running the ball with Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan, and got efficient passing out of Chad Pennington. Pennington is out for the season now, Jordan is in Oakland, and Martin is half the player he was last year. The Jets were able to hold LaDanian Tomlinson under 100 yards twice last year, and may be able to do it again this year. But the Chargers can beat you a lot of other ways, and the Jets can’t beat you any way right now.

CHARGERS 31, JETS 16

First Half MVPs

Chargers
LaDanian Tomlinson, RB- The man is the closest I’ve seen to Walter Payton, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give a running back. Walter Payton pinched my ass once, and it was the highlight of my life. Tomlinson has not pinched my ass, but he has rushed for 728 yards and 10 TDs, caught 25 passes for 218 yards, and has thrown 3 TD passes in 3 pass attempts.

Jets
Jonathan Vilma, LB- Vilma is one of the best linebackers in the game. He leads the league with 62 solo tackles, and has 5 stuffs.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5-2) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (2-5)
4:05 PM Eastern, FOX

The Storyline
The Cardinals are making yet another change at QB, and have decided to go back to Kurt Warner, despite the fact that both of their victories this year have come with Josh McCown under center. This seemingly is a mismatch, but the Seahawks are well aware that this game could be a trap game for them. A win in the desert would go a long way towards solidifying their grip on the NFC West.

Key Questions
What the hell is Dennis Green doing?
Green is making his fifth quarterback change in the last 14 games. This time, he’s replacing Josh McCown with Kurt Warner, after replacing Warner with McCown earlier in the year. Interestingly enough, Green has suggested that the problem isn’t with his quarterbacks, but with him. “I just haven’t been doing a very good job,” Green said. “I’ve said that before and I’m getting tired of saying it, to be honest with you. The Cards’ record with McCown is 2-2, with Warner it’s 0-3. Why would you bench the guy you’ve done okay with for the guy you’ve never won with? Why, I ask you?

Are the Seahawks the best team in the NFC?
Most people don’t think about them in that way. Part of that is because they are tucked away in the Pacific Northwest. Part of it is because most people forget they are in the NFC. I spend 6-8 hours writing an NFL football column every week and I forget they are in the NFC. They do, in fact, play in the NFC now, and they may be representing it in the Super Bowl this year. They seem like the most balanced team in the conference, and there isn’t any glaring weakness. They have the best running back in the game, they have a good quarterback and good receivers, and the defense is serviceable. They are the most solid team in the conference at this point.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
These teams met in Seattle earlier this season, and it was a massacre. Shaun Alexander ran for 140 yards and the Seahawks throttled the Cards 37-12. That doesn’t mean the Hawks will take Arizona lightly. The Cards beat Seattle in the desert last year in a game that saw Alexander rush for only 57 yards, and Matt Hasselbeck complete 14 of 41 passes, and throw 4 picks. This looks like a different Seattle team though, and it’s a different Arizona team. Arizona won that game largely because Emmitt Smith ran for 106 yards. The Cards couldn’t get a 100 yard rusher this year if the other team played with 7 guys. Seahawks roll again.

SEAHAWKS 33, CARDINALS 16

First Half MVPs

Seahawks
Shaun Alexander, RB- Alexander is doing what he does every year, run for a lot of yards (776), and a lot of touchdowns (12). He is the walrus on this team, and he is going to get paid something fierce when he becomes a free agent after this year, if not by the Seahawks, then by somebody else.

Cardinals
Anquan Boldin/Larry Fitzgerald, WRs- These young wideouts share the MVP award, because they’ve both been great, and their numbers are mirror images. Boldin has 616 yards receiving, Fitzgerald has 611. Fitzgerald has 4 TDs, Boldin has 3. Honorable mention goes to DE Bertrand Berry, who continues to be one of the game’s most feared pass rushers with 7 sacks this year.

CHICAGO BEARS (4-3) V. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-6) AT BATON ROUGE, LA

The Storyline
The Bears can wrap up their first NFC North title with a win in Saints’ owner Tom Benson’s favorite town in the whole wide world, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A win would give the Bears 5 on the year, which surely is more than the Lions, Packers, or Vikings will win this year, separately or combined.

Key Questions
Is Muhsin Muhammad unhappy?
Muhammad, who led the NFL in receiving yards with Carolina last year, called out a Chicago reporter who had written that Muhammad’s body language suggest he is unhappy with the lack of passes being thrown to him, and frustrated with rookie QB Kyle Orton. “How do you know how to read body language, is there a school for that?”, Muhammad asked the hapless reporter half-jokingly during a press conference. In reality, Muhammad is a team guy, and lends the offense an air of respectability. He’ll be fine as long as the team keeps winning.

How popular is Saints’ owner Tom Benson in Louisiana?
About as popular as the ebola virus. Benson sent an email to commissioner Paul Tagliabue earlier this week saying that his trip accompanying the Saints to Baton Rouge last week was “a complete disaster” and that he feared he or his family could have been “severely injured or killed” due to the “nonexistent security”. Benson was jeered and threatened by angry fans after the Saints’ loss in Baton Rouge last week. He is a pariah in Louisiana because of the widely held belief that he is using the destruction of Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to get his team out of New Orleans and into San Antonio or Los Angeles. Some have gone so far as to compare Benson to a looter, taking advantage of the misery of the situation.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
It looks like the wheels have done come off the Saints. If the Bears can come in and just do what they’re known for, play tough defense, and low risk-low mistake offense, the Saints will have a meltdown at some point that will cost them the game. The Bears have shown this year that they know how to win, the Saints have shown they know how to lose, so the outcome should be good for the Bears.

BEARS 20, SAINTS 17

First Half MVPs

Bears
Brian Urlacher, LB- Urlacher has faded from the national radar, mostly due to injuries and substandard play the last couple of seasons. This year, he’s back in a big way. The Bears are winning because of their defense, and Urlacher has been sublime. He leads the team with 61 tackles, has 6 sacks from the linebacker position, and has 4 stuffs. RB Thomas Jones is a close second here. He is averaging over 100 yards rushing a game, and has scored 6 touchdowns.

Saints
Donte Stallworth, WR- He truly has been the only bright spot in what’s been a lost season for the Saints. With Joe Horn injured much of the year, Stallworth has emerged as a major league threat. He is on pace for a 1000 yard receiving season.


America’s Team

NY GIANTS (5-2) AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-5)
4:05 PM Eastern, FOX

The Storyline
Both of these teams are feeling really good about themselves right now. The Giants sit atop the NFC after annihilating the Redskins 36-0 last week. The Niners pulled an inspired game out of nowhere last week, handing the Bucs only their second loss of the season.

Key Questions
What’s Eli Manning’s dirty little secret?
He has started 14 NFL games, but has yet to win on the road. That is, unless you count that game when they played the Saints in the Meadowlands, and spraypainted “SAINTS” in the end zone. God, that was gay.

Who is Cody Pickett?
Cody Pickett is the guy that will be playing quarterback for SF this week. He has been playing on kickoff coverage for the Niners this year, and started the season as the team’s 4th string quarterback. As a teenager, he was a rodeo star in his native Idaho. He may be dismayed to find that there won’t be a barrel for him to jump into when Michael Strahan is running after him trying to gore him on Sunday.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Even if you throw out that SF is starting its 4th string quarterback, you still have the fact that the Niners are the only team in the league giving up more than 300 passing yards a game. The Giants hung 36 on a Redskins team that is still the #1 pass defense in the league, so you can do the math here.

GIANTS 38, NINERS 17

First Half MVPs
Giants
Tiki Barber, RB- There’s a lot of guys having great seasons on this team, but Tiki is averaging over 5 yards a carry, and that’s the main reason why Eli looks so good, and why Plaxico Burress has had such a great first half. Opposing teams gameplan to stop Tiki, that gives the Giants’ passing game a lot of room to operate.

Niners
Bryant Young, DE- Young has been playing end for the Niners for a long, long time. At 33 years old, he is having his best season ever. He is tied for the NFL lead with 8 sacks on the season, and seems a sure bet to eclipse his career high of 11 ½ set in 1999.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (5-2) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-6)
The Storyline
The 2005 season is proving to be a grim finale to the Brett Favre era in Green Bay. He was picked off 5 times last week, and the Packers are 1-6. They welcome a Steeler team that may be relying heavily on two guys that have not played in a competitive football game in a long time in running back Duce Staley and quarterback Charlie Batch.

Key Questions
How does Packers’ coach Mike Sherman feel about cell phones?
He loves them. Or not. He ended a press conference earlier this week when a reporter’s cell phone ringing had the audacity to be heard in the background of his ex cathedra speech outlining the global significance of the performance of his 1-6 team. He stormed away from the podium, berating the reporters on how they should at least respect each other, even if they don’t respect him. Whatever, weirdo.

The Steelers are starting Charlie Batch this week?
Yes, the thawing process was successful, and Batch will return as an NFL starting quarterback after being in suspended animation since 2001. Batch urinated for half an hour, then vomited in horror when somebody explained to him who Kevin Federline was. He felt a lot better, however, when he learned he hadn’t missed any new episodes of The Sopranos.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
This is going to be a tight game. The Packers didn’t get blown out on the road by the Bengals last week, and they certainly aren’t going to get blown out at home by a team that is starting Charlie Batch at QB. Favre will give it everything he has, like he does every week, but it is very very hard to win if you can’t run the ball effectively at the end of the game. The Packers can’t do that, the Steelers can, and that’s why Pittsburgh will escape with a victory.

STEELERS 30, PACKERS 23

First Half MVPs
Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger, QB- His team does not believe they can lose when he’s their quarterback, and in the end, that’s exactly what you want in a quarterback. He averages 9.1 yards per pass attempt, far and away the best out of NFL starting QBs (Jake Delhomme is second at 8.4). He is the highest rated starting QB in the league in passer efficiency, and has the best TD/INT ratio of all starting QBs. What more can you ask?

Packers
Brett Favre, QB- He isn’t having a very good year, but really, he’s been the Packers MVP since the day he first took a snap in a Packer uniform. This franchise is going to be lost without him, for a while.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-3) AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (4-3)
The Storyline
This game could mark the rebirth of a storied franchise that’s been dead for a long time now. The Redskins host division rival Philadelphia in prime time, and there will be close to 100,000 Redskin fans who’ve waited a long time for their team to return to its former glory to back them up. But it’s also a match up of two teams coming off very bad defeats last week. The Redskins were exposed big time in a 36-0 loss to the Giants, and the Eagles are in turmoil again after a lopsided loss to Denver. Both teams have to have this game.

Key Questions
How close are we to the Terrell Owens meltdown we’ve known was coming since July?
Oh, it’s getting closer. This week, TO had a chat with ESPN’s Michael Irvin. The gist of the conversation was, he’d rather have Brett Favre at quarterback than Donovan McNabb, McNabb is milking an injury that a guy like Favre would play through without complaining, that McNabb is holding the team back, and capped it by saying that the Eagles were a classless organization for not recognizing his 100th career TD reception.

Is Redskins RB Clinton Portis even weirder than TO?
Yes. Last week, he showed up for an interview session wearing an afro wig, gold teeth, a mask, and a cape, and said he was Jerome from Southeastern DC. This week, he wore an orange wig, a fake Rollie Fingers moustache, and let it be known that Jerome was no longer, and that he now was to be addressed as “Dr. Don’t Know”. Dr. Don’t Know said that Jerome had died from complications from a panic attack, and that “Southeast Jerome never traveled back with us from New York, and I’m kind of disappointed because I thought he had an amazing upside.”
No, I’m not making any of this up.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Here we have Team A, who does nothing but throw the ball, playing on the road against Team B with the best pass defense in the league. Based on that, you would say it’s a no-brainer that Team B is going to win this game. However, Team B had a HUGE game last week against the Giants, and didn’t show up for it. Team A has won 4 straight division titles, and you don’t do that without knowing how to beat the teams in your own division when the chips are down. And, most importantly, Team A has won 7 in a row against Team B. I take Team A, the Eagles. Unless TO, who is listed as questionable, doesn’t play. Then all bets are off.

EAGLES 28, REDSKINS 21

First Half MVPs
Eagles
Terrell Owens, WR- The man has 763 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns, how can you give it to anybody but him? That said, the guy is an unmitigated fool, and I say that not because his words and behavior are offensive to me. They aren’t. With as f’ed up as the world is today, if you can’t find anything better to worry about than what somebody who catches a football for a living has to say, then you should start watching more CNN and less ESPN.

He’s a fool because by not keeping his mouth shut and letting his considerable skills do the talking for him, he’s only costing himself money. He’s only making himself less attractive to potential employers who want to pay him a lot of money, and give him that new contract he wants so badly, but are afraid to because he makes them afraid to. I like Terrell Owens. I like that you can tell that beneath all of his bullshit, winning is the most important thing to him. But dude, are you trying to put yourself out of business or what?

And you just KNOW he’s going to call Donovan McNabb an Uncle Tom or something to that affect any day now. You can just feel it.

Redskins
Santana Moss, WR- Moss is averaging 111 receiving yards a game, and has scored 5 touchdowns for a team that could barely manage 5 touchdowns put together last year. He has been the difference between the Redskins being what they were last year, and being the playoff contender they have looked like so far this year.


Santana’s Been Supernatural This Year

And of course, we have the Monday Night Battle of Mageddo between the Colts and Pats. Want to know my thoughts on that game? Then you’ll have to read Monday Morning Pancakes.

In the meantime, these guys have byes this week, but they deserve recognition too as their team’s first half MVPs.

Bills
Willis McGahee, RB- McGahee is the NFL’s second leading rusher with 790 yards, and he’s done it against defenses that know he is the only guy on the Bills’ offense they need to worry about.

Cowboys
Drew Bledsoe, QB- Up to this point, Bledsoe has been everything the Cowboys hoped he would be, and more. He, Terry Glenn, and Keyshawn Johnson have been the stars in the Cowboys’ “I Love the 90s” offense that has put this team in playoff contention this year.

Broncos
Matt Lepsis, Ben Hamilton, Tom Nalen, Cooper Carlisle, George Foster, O Line- Every single year the Broncos are right at the top of the league in rushing, and they do it with a different running back every year.

Rams
Steven Jackson, RB- In his second season in the league, Jackson has emerged as one of the best at his position. He is averaging close to 5 yards a carry, and has racked up 659 rushing yards and 6 TDs. He’s also a receiving threat out of the backfield, catching 26 passes this year, including 2 touchdown receptions. The Rams’ receiving corps has been banged up this year, and they are playing with their backup QB, so the offensive load has been placed on Jackson’s shoulders, and he’s responded.

PIMPS UP HOS DOWN
That’ll do it for this week. We’ll get together again on Monday, your homework is to read:

Tierney runs down the shopping lists of Quadruple A, uh, I mean, National League teams.

Patrick is a better man than me. He likes Theo Epstein. I hate his guts. Because I’m jealous.

Rogers hits the panic button on 2 of my fantasy running backs, Cadillac and Westbrook.

Phillip Ciprotti has an NBA Preview that OWNS. Why is it that people at this site write SO much more engaging pieces than people that get paid to do it? Is it because we have more space and less editors? No, I think it’s just because we’re awesome and they suck.

Okay then have a great weekend see you Monday.