Pancakes In the Age of Enlightenment- You're Entering the No Pants Zone

LEADING OFF

I have 2 cousins, 9 years old and 5 years old. I really can’t think of one public figure whose death would impact them more than Eddie Guerrero’s.

It sounds f’ed up, I know this, but it’s true. In their world, the biggest celebrities they know are cartoon characters, wrestlers, and sports stars. I’m guessing the 5 year old wouldn’t know Tom Cruise from Julio Cruz. But he knows Eddie Guerrero. He watched him every Friday night, he plays with his Eddie Guerrero action figure, and he knows the words to his theme song. I’m guessing there are more than a few kids like him.

Spongebob Squarepants can’t die. Sports stars can die but I really can’t think of one whose passing would be a blip on their radar screen. They watch them play football or baseball, but there’s no emotional connection. With Eddie, there was an emotional connection, because they knew Eddie.

They knew him because who Eddie Guerrero, was on TV was who we was in real life. Eddie Guerrero’s wrestling character wasn’t “Hulk” or “Rock” or “Undertaker”. Eddie Guerrero’s character was Eddie Guerrero. Every week they could see Eddie Guerrero’s personality coming through their TV, and from that, they knew him. They knew him as a crazy, funny, immensely talented man who was good sometimes, bad sometimes, but always, always, so obviously loved what he was doing in a way that only little kids love the things they enjoy doing. And isn’t that exactly what he was in real life?? So yeah, they knew him.

Now a man they knew very well is gone forever, and they will miss him.

He was a larger than life character and a central figure in the minds of lots of kids. But, unlike Spongebob Squarepants, Yu Gi Oh, or any of the other players in their inner monologue, he was also flesh and blood, a real person with very real problems, and now he’s dead. For some of them, his passing is their introduction to the very concept of death, and they’ll remember it.

So, whether, you know it or not, what happened last weekend was important. If you have kids who are young boys, or have members of your families that are young boys, chances are that this mattered to them, a lot.

WEEK ELEVEN

ARIZONA CARDINALS (2-7) AT ST. LOUIS RAMS (4-5)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Rams favored by 9 1/2
The Storyline
Cards’ QB Kurt Warner makes his return to the place where he was once the ringmaster of the Greatest Show on Turf. Doot doot- doo doo- doo doo doo- dooo dooo dooot.

All Eyes On
Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals-
What kind of reception will Warner receive when he makes his first start in St. Louis wearing an enemy uniform? His replacement, Mark Bulger, hopes it’s a good one. Bulger told reporters this week; “I’m sure everyone’s going to be favorable, and they should be. He did a lot of things for this community and this team. There’s no reason to boo him. Only in Pittsburgh, where I’m from, they used to boo people when they left, for no reason.” And if you’re Tommy Maddox, they also boo your children and desecrate the graves of your ancestors, while you’re still on the team.

“Disgusted Veteran”, ?, Rams-
This week, a Sports Illustrated article quoted an unnamed “disgusted veteran” on the Rams as saying, “We have three (former) No. 1 picks at (defensive) tackle, and those guys are killing us. They’re not playing hard, and they can’t stop anybody. It’s horrible.” Those three former number one picks would by Ryan Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy, and Damione Lewis. These comments were made after Shaun Alexander ripped the Rams for 165 rushing yards and 3 TD’s in last week’s season killing loss to the Seahawks.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Well, let’s see. We have a team that’s 1-19 on the road in the last 3 years, playing on the road against a team that’s 17-3 at home in that same time. When these teams met in Tempe earlier in the year, the Cardinals were powerless against the run, giving up over 5 yards a carry. They haven’t shown any improvement in that area since. Stephen Jackson has a big game and the Rams roll.

RAMS 31, CARDINALS 20

This Season’s Defining Moment
Cardinals
This was supposed to be the season things turned around in Arizona. In their opening game, the Cardinals were right there with the Giants, trailing 21-19 on the road in the third quarter. Willie Ponder then ran back a kickoff 95 yards for a TD, and later in the game, Chad Morton took a punt back 52 yards for another TD, and the Cards lost 42-19. Since then, it’s been bad times.

Rams
Last year, the Rams beat their chief division rival Seattle 3 times. They headed into their Week 5 home game with the Seahawks with the two teams tied at 2-2 on top the NFC West. Mike Martz missed a couple days of practice with the heart infection that would soon sideline him for the season, and the Seahawks scored at will against the Rams, topping them 37-31. Since then, the Seahawks have pulled away in the NFC West, and the Rams have floundered.


Kurt Returns to the Loo This Week

DETROIT LIONS (4-5) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (6-3)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Cowboys favored by 8

The Storyline
The cosmos reapportioned the Cowboys’ Monday Night karma a few nights ago when Andy Reid inexplicably had Donovan McNabb throw a sideline route with a little over 2 minutes remaining and the Eagles holding a 6 point lead. While intelligence is not always rewarded in this world, stupidity is consistently punished, the pass was picked off and the Cowboys won 21-20. This of course, made up for the Santana Moss debacle the Cowboys suffered in their loss to the Redskins earlier in the year. The Lions kept the faintest of playoff hopes alive with a win over Arizona last week, but their assignment is a lot tougher this week.

All Eyes On
Jeff Garcia, QB, Lions-
Despite not sucking last week, Joey Harrington is NOT the Lions’ starting quarterback. According to what Steve Mariucci said earlier this week, if he is healthy, Garcia is the starter, and Harrington is the backup. Garcia has taken about half the snaps in practice this week, and it is very possible that he could be starting on Sunday.

Julius Jones, RB, Cowboys-
After missing the last 3 games with an ankle injury, Julius Jones was back and available for Monday’s game. Available, but not used very much. Marion Barber started and got the bulk of the carries. That could change this week. Bill Parcells has indicated that he is leaning toward starting Jones this week. That doesn’t mean that Barber won’t still be getting a significant amount of carries. Parcells told reporters, “I told you I am going to use all those guys. Don’t give one guy the ball 40 times, if I’ve got an option. If I don’t have any option sometimes, you have to do it.”

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Last year, the Lions picked off Vinny Testaverde three times, but still lost to the Cowboys 31-21 because they couldn’t get any kind of a running game going, rushing for only 39 yards on the day. They haven’t upgraded that part of their offense since then, so they’ll probably have trouble running the ball again this time. The Lions are no better than mediocre in every phase of the game, and that’s not good enough to win on the road against a good Dallas team.

COWBOYS 28, LIONS 13

This Season’s Defining Moment
Lions
The Lions were one of the teams picked by a lot of people who don’t know what they are talking about to be good this year. Not me though:

(from 9/8/05 Pancakes Column)
“As for the Lions, yeah they have 4 exciting young position players, but last I checked you only play with one ball. The quarterback is the guy that touches that ball on every play, and the Lions quarterback is not good. If this isn’t a 7-9 team, I don’t know what is.”

After a Week One 17-3 win over the Packers, it looked like the douchebags were right, and I was wrong. Then they got trounced 38-6 by the Bears in Week Two, and since then, everyone, including most importantly the Lions themselves, know that these are still the same old Lions.

Cowboys
What better moment to pick than Roy Williams’ improbable touchdown return to beat the Eagles in their own house last week? It was the knockout punch to the 4 time defending NFC East champs, and put the Cowboys in the best position of anyone to take their spot.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (6-3) AT TENNESSEE TITANS (2-7)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Jaguars favored by 4

The Storyline
Jacksonville has been fattening its win total by beating up on some tomato cans the last few weeks, and this week doesn’t look to be any different. The Jags hope to solidify their grip on an AFC Wildcard berth by taking care of business on the road against a Titans team that has dropped 4 in a row and 6 out of their last 7.

All Eyes On
Matt Jones, WR, Jaguars-
The Jags took a lot of heat for drafting this converted quarterback in the first round, but after a slow start, Jones is beginning to pay dividends. He had 117 receiving yards and a TD in last week’s win over Baltimore, and has 24 catches for 285 yards and 3 TDs on the season. He trails Jimmy Smith by only 8 catches for the team lead in receptions.

Drew Bennett, WR, Titans-
Bennett has been out for a while after having thumb surgery, but the Titans offense may be getting its best receiver back soon. He has had the pins that were inserted in his thumb removed, and practiced this week wearing a protective brace on it. If he shows he can catch the ball wearing the brace, he will be in the gameplan for this week.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
I’m done waiting for the Titans to snap out of it and win a game. I’ve picked them against some bad teams the last few weeks (Arizona, Oakland, Cleveland), and all they do is keep making me look bad, and that will not stand. The Jaguars have the best pass defense in the league right now, and the Titans aren’t going to beat anyone with their running game. As usual, the Jags will get just enough offense to get the win.

JAGUARS 23, TITANS 19

This Season’s Defining Moment
Jaguars
Yeah, it was against Tommy Maddox, not Ben Roethlisberger, but Rashean Mathis’ 41 yard interception return TD in overtime against the Steelers made the huge statement that Jacksonville can come into your house and beat you, no matter who you are. The big boys of the AFC all know that heading into the playoffs.

Titans
The Titans had the then-undefeated Bengals on the ropes, leading them 17-10 late in the third quarter of their Week Six tilt. Then Steve McNair was picked off by rookie LB Odell Thurman for a TD, tying the game and killing the Titans momentum. The Titans lost the game and their chance to pull to 3-3, and they haven’t won since.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-7) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (5-4)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Patriots favored by 9 1/2

The Storyline
The Patriots got a huge win at Miami last week, and despite all the injuries they’ve had on defense, and ineffectiveness in their running game, and losing both of their coordinators from last year, they are still on top of the AFC East. However, a loss at home to the Saints, and it will be time to crack each other’s skulls open, and feast on the goo inside.

All Eyes On
Tom Benson, Owner, Saints-
Lately, Benson has surprisingly seemed to pull an about face on his desire to get the Saints out of Louisiana permanently after this season. Now, it appears that he and the league want to keep the team in the state, and the NFL is willing to help him out in order to keep the team in the state. The help would go beyond financial assistance, it would also include incentives to free agents that other teams would not enjoy, but the Saints would, to try and level the playing field for the Saints in the free agent market next year. Among these incentives could be things like crediting a player that signs with the Saints an extra year of NFL service counting towards the league’s pension plan.

Russ Hochstein, C, Patriots-
The Patriots injury plague has spread to the offensive line. They lost starting center Dan Koppen for the season with a shoulder injury last week, and now, Hochstein will take his place. Hochstein hasn’t started a game since early last season, and even then he started at guard, not center.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Teams have been throwing the ball less against the Saints than against any other NFL team. Know why? It’s so easy to run the ball on them, that’s why. Fortunately for the Saints, the Patriots rank 29th in the league in rushing offense, so they won’t be totally eviscerated. The Saints will try to attack the Patriots secondary, as everybody has been able to do this year, and may even have some success doing it. But still, this is the Saints playing on the road against the Patriots. Come on now.

PATRIOTS 27, SAINTS 15

This Season’s Defining Moment
Saints
The Saints were undefeated, America’s Team, and media darlings. For one week. Then, they played a “home” game on Monday Night at the Meadowlands against the Giants. The pathetic spray painting of “SAINTS” in the end zone was the only indication that this was a home game. The NFL pissed off the Saints by making the game into a bizarre cross between the Super Bowl and a post 9/11 type benefit, with QB Aaron Brooks saying, “They made this seem like the Super Bowl. We played a team that outplayed us today, but it was way overdone. Setting up a stage, traveling out here, was uncalled for.” The Saints came out flat, got drilled, and have won only one time since.

Patriots
Two-time defending Super Bowl Champs aren’t supposed to lose 41-17 at home. But that’s what the Patriots did in Week Four against the Chargers. Any air of invincibility the team had left poofed into thin air, and they haven’t gotten it back since then.


Brady Will Have His Hand’s Under a Different Pair of Buttcheeks This Week

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-5) AT NY GIANTS (6-3)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Giants favored by 7
The Storyline
The Eagles’ tumultuous season became a lost cause when they blew a 20-7 lead late in the game and lost the Cowboys 21-20 last Monday Night. Now, they are without their quarterback, Donovan McNabb for this game and probably for the rest of the season. Not that the Giants are in much better shape. They lost at home to the Vikings last week, and that’s not easy to do. But they do have that 6-3 record, so a win this week and all will be forgiven.

All Eyes On
Mike McMahon, QB, Eagles-
With McNabb out of the year, McMahon is getting the first crack at taking his spot for the remainder of the season. He hasn’t started a game since 2002, when as a youngster with the Lions, he had the unfortunate assignment of trying to lead a truly awful Marty Morningwheg coached team to victory. He has athletic ability to spare, and if nothing else will be exciting to watch. His career record as a starter is 1-6. In the lone win, he threw for 241 yards and ran for 74 and a TD.

Giants Psyche
For the second time this year, the Giants have a death to avenge. This time it’s part owner Robert Tisch, who passed away of a brain tumor at age 79 this week. This is after Wellington Mara, team patriarch, who had been involved with the team almost since its inception in the 20s, passed away earlier this year.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
It’s hard to say how the Eagles’ offense will look with Mike McMahon running it. It probably will not be as bad as you might think. McMahon is an exciting player with great physical tools, and he may surprise some people. The Eagles are just a mess right now though, and in collapsing and losing that game last week, they showed that a lot of what TO kept saying about his quarterback and his coach may have been true. The bottom has dropped out, and the descent down the toilet continues this week.

GIANTS 28, EAGLES 20

This Season’s Defining Moment
Eagles
The defining moment of the Eagles’ season didn’t occur on the field. It was the ridiculous Drew Rosenhaus press conference. Jerry McDipshit’s huffing and puffing put a perfect capstone on the bizarre melodrama that has scuttled the Eagles’ season.

Giants
Eli Manning threw a touchdown pass to Amani Toomer with 5 seconds remaining to beat the Broncos 24-23. It was the difference between the Giants being a 3-3 team, and a team that many think is the best in the NFC. Of course, if this season turns out bad, you will be able to point to a different defining moment, and it will be last week, when special teams meltdowns led to the Giants losing at home to a Vikings team they have no business losing to.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-2) AT CHICAGO BEARS (6-3)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Panthers favored by 3

The Storyline
All of a sudden, you don’t hear snickers and chuckles after the sentence, “The Bears are in first place”. They are 6-3, have a dominant defense, and with a win over the Panthers this week, have to be seen as one of the top teams in the NFC. The Panthers don’t have to prove they are one of the NFC’s best, everyone knows that they are. They caught a break last week when the Falcons slipped on a green and yellow banana peel losing at home to Green Bay. They can stay on top of the NFC South with a win.

All Eyes On
Ken Lucas, CB, Panthers-
Lucas caused a bit of a stir when he made comments following the Panthers 30-3 win over the Jets last Sunday that seemed to imply that the Jets quit in the game. What he actually said was “It’s good when you can get a team to quit on you.” Coach John Fox doesn’t like comments like that, and he called Jets coach Herman Edwards this week to explain the comments (Lucas was actually referring to the fact that the Jets stopped throwing the ball towards the end of the game), and addressed the comments with the Panthers on Monday.

Olin Kreutz, Fred Miller, Drunken Gun Enthusiasts, Bears-
A bizarre situation has been unfolding in Chicago. Last week, Fred Miller showed up to Halas Hall with a broken jaw. He said that he got it from falling in his house. In an odd case of synchronicity, or stigmata, Olin Kreutz showed up that same day with a nasty bruise on his head. Soon, the truth was revealed. And the truth was that Miller had broken his jaw by slamming it into Olin Kreutz’s fist. Apparently, the two went on a team outing to an FBI gun range. After the gun shootin’ was done, a barbeque was held, where alcohol may or may not have been served depending on who you talk to. I’m going to make a guess that it was. One thing led to another, and another led to Kreutz punching Miller in the face. Now, the FBI is trying to cover its tracks, saying alcohol is not allowed at the facility, because they are obviously embarrassed that taxpayer dollars are being used to buy liquor for pro football players at a gun range.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Carolina’s a bad matchup for the Bears. The Bears’ entire offense is predicated on their ability to run the ball, and the Panthers rank 2nd in the league against the run. If the Bears can’t run, they can’t win. Once the frustration of not being able to run the ball sets in, the Bears will have to go to the pass. That’s when Carolina’s defense starts forcing mistakes out of rookie QB Kyle Orton, and those mistakes will lead to points for the Panthers, and a big win.

PANTHERS 30, BEARS 16

This Season’s Defining Moment
Panthers
A lot of people think the Bears’ record is a product of an easy schedule, and they’re probably right, but the Panthers BCS rating isn’t that high either. Of their seven wins, 5 have come against a murderers row of Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit, Minnesota, and the Jets. They also have losses to New Orleans and Miami. Their defining moment will come when they face Atlanta in Week 13, a game that will likely play a huge role in determining which of those 2 playoff bound teams gets a first round bye.

Bears
Their defining moment is this week, against the Panthers. Any mention of the Bears being 6-3 is immediately followed by, “Yeah but they haven’t beaten anybody good”, and they haven’t. A win over Carolina changes all that.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-6) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-6)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Browns favored by 2 1/2

The Storyline
Towards the end of the NFL season, there are a whole lot of games that they should just cancel. This is probably one of them. Uh, what else, a battle of rookie head coaches, TO THE DEATH! There, happy?

All Eyes On
Sage Rosenfels, QB, Dolphins-
Gus Frerotte has a sprained index finger, and that means that Rosenfels could be getting his first NFL start this week. Rosenfels was a seventh round pick of the Redskins in 2002, and has thrown 49 passes in his NFL career.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Browns-
Edwards has been quite chirpy this week. Not only has he let it be known that it is time, in his estimation, for him to get the ball more, but he also went on the radio this week and accused the Dolphins of lying to him before this year’s draft and using him as a “pawn”. Edwards says he was contacted by the Dolphins in April and told that the Dolphins wanted to select him with the second overall pick in the draft. In reality, they may have just been using him as leverage in negotiations with Ronnie Brown, who they ended up taking with that pick.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Browns rank 28th in the league against the run, and the Dolphins have a pair of running backs that take advantage of that. Plus, the Dolphins are stepping down in class after playing the Patriots tight last week, so, let’s go with Miami here.

DOLPHINS 21, BROWNS 13

This Season’s Defining Moment
Dolphins
The Dolphins were 2-1 heading into week 4, and were driving for what could have been the go-ahead touchdown at Buffalo in a 20-14 game. Ronnie Brown caught a pass from Gus Frerotte over the middle, and fumbled on the Bills 18 yard line. The Bills ran out the clock, the Dolphins lost, and have only won one game since then.

Browns
It hasn’t been a great season for the Browns, but they’ve played hard every week. When Trent Dilfer hooked up with Steve Heiden for a 60 yard TD to salt away a win at Lambeau in Week 2, the Browns shed the laughingstock label they acquired last year.


Braylon Wants to Start Inhalin, Some Catches

OAKLAND RAIDERS (3-6) AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (5-4)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Redskins favored by 6

The Storyline
Last week the Redskins lost a heartbreaker to the Bucs, and it hurt their playoff chances badly. They can’t afford to drop this home game to the Raiders.

All Eyes On
Randy Moss, WR, Raiders-
Geez, Randy has been behaving himself this year hasn’t he? If you ask me, he’s due to start popping off riiiight abouuuuuuutt…..
“”Am I here, or not here? No, I’m not here. I mean, T.O. could be good here with the Raiders, but I don’t think with his baggage and everything he’s been through, and my baggage and what I’ve been through, I don’t think that would work. As far as being compared … we don’t even have a relationship. No communication.”
That was Moss’ response when asked by ESPN whether he would want Terrell Owens to join the Raiders. When asked about his relationship with his coach, Norv Turner, he said nothing and shook his head.

Sean Taylor, S, Redskins-
Part of the reason the Redskins struggled so much against the Bucs’ passing game last week was due to the absence of Taylor, who has been hampered by an ankle sprain the last few weeks. He is listed as probable for this week’s game. Against the Raiders’ dangerous passing attack, the Redskins will need him.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Redskins have a reputation of being a good defensive team, but lately, they haven’t been good on defense. Good defenses don’t give up 36 points to teams quarterbacked by Chris Simms. However, I think that the difference in this game will be the balance of the Redskins’ offense. While everyone knows the Raiders bread and butter is their passing game, the Redskins are able to keep you off balance, and can hurt you with either the run or the pass. I think this week it will be Clinton Portis and the running game that make the difference for the Redskins. Finally, don’t forget that the Raiders are only 3-17 on the road since 03. The Redskins will get a win they need very badly.

REDSKINS 26, RAIDERS 24

This Season’s Defining Moment
Raiders
This was supposed to be a playoff season for the Raiders. When the Chiefs came into Oakland in Week 2, and beat the Raiders in workman like fashion 23-17, it was clear that the 0-2 Raiders were really the same team they have consistently been in recent years, a team that has been on the bitch end of all of their division rivalries.

Redskins
Week Two saw one of the craziest finishes to a Monday Night game I’ve ever seen. Down 13-0 at Dallas with 4 minutes remaining, the Redskins were done. Then, out of nowhere, Mark Brunell completes two bombs to Santana Moss that both go for TDs, and the Skins win 14-13. From then on, they knew this season would be different than what most of the last 13 seasons in Washington have been.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-3) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (6-3)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Falcons favored by 6

The Storyline
Atlanta’s unlikely home loss to Green Bay has turned this into a very pivotal game not only in the NFC South race, but also in the NFC Wildcard race. Tampa had been left for dead by lots of people, including everyone who did IP Sports Radio last Friday. But they pulled out a huge win at home and find themselves right back in the thick of the playoff chase.

All Eyes On
Cadillac Williams, RB, Bucs-
Williams returned from injury three weeks ago, and has sucked really bad since. He has averaged only 2 yards a carry since his hiatus. He insists he is healthy though, and his lack of production is due to a slump, not due to injury. He told the Tampa Tribune this week, “”I’m good. I’m not going to use my foot as an excuse. I’m just playing poorly right now. I’m just in a slump right now; I’m looking to do a whole lot better.”

Warrick Dunn, RB, Falcons-
Meanwhile, a guy that used to be the Bucs running back way back when is having a banner season with the Falcons. Dunn is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and that’s second only to Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Dunn feels he has gotten better with age (he is 30). He told the St. Petersburg Times this week, “I’m a different runner than I used to be. I’m patient. I understand defenses a lot better. I can see things a lot better. My overall understanding of the game is better. Also, you learn how to take care of your body and get ready to play on Sunday.”

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Atlanta is almost exclusively a running team, and Tampa has the 5th best defense in the league against the run. Tampa is going to give the Falcons a hell of a game. But, the Bucs are only 7-13 on the road since 03, and 4-9 against their own division. Poop will meet fan in Atlanta if they lose 2 in a row at home, and Jim Mora Jr. is too good a coach to let that happen, so I think they’ll find a way to win.

FALCONS 26, BUCS 20

This Season’s Defining Moment
Bucs
Why not last week’s win over the Redskins? The Bucs entered that game having lost 3 out of their last 4, including bad, bad, BAD losses to the Jets and Niners. With a minute remaining in last week’s game, the Bucs scored what looked like it would be a game tying touchdown with a minute remaining. An offside penalty on the extra point moved the ball to the one yard line, from where the Bucs elected to risk losing the game right then and there and go for the 2 point conversion and the win. They succeeded, and won 36-35, and possibly giving their season a new lease on life.

Falcons
After last week’s debacle against Green Bay, the jury’s still out on this team. Their 2 remaining games against division rival Carolina will tell the tale of their season.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7-2) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-7)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, No line currently

The Storyline
Looking at the records of these teams, this game looks like a mismatch. But, the Steelers will be starting their third string QB, Tommy Maddox, who has struggled mightily this year. Can he pull it together and keep the Steelers on top in the AFC North?

All Eyes On
Tommy Maddox, QB, Steelers-
How uncomfortable are the Steelers with Maddox (32.6 QB rating in 4 games this year) as their starting quarterback? Well, the hot rumor this week was that WR Antwaan Randle El, who hasn’t taken a snap at quarterback in the NFL (despite being a standout quarterback at Indiana), would line up as the Steelers’ starting QB this week. That’s not going to happen, but if Maddox is struggling, you never know what may happen. Randle El threw a 51 yard touchdown pass on a reverse last week.

Ravens Fans-
Ravens “faithful” have been selling their season ticket seats for this game en masse to Steeler fans, in protest of the team’s terrible start. It is estimated that 10-15 thousand tickets have been put for sale for this game by Ravens’ season ticket holders.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
It really doesn’t matter who is playing QB for the Steelers. The Ravens played the Steelers very tough three weeks ago in a 20-19 loss at Heinz Field, but since then, the heart has gone out of this team. The Steelers grind out wins like a machine, and they’ll do that easily this week.

STEELERS 27, RAVENS 10

This Season’s Defining Moment
Steelers
Week Seven in Cincinnati was supposed to be a coronation for the Bengals as the new kings of the AFC North. Someone forgot to tell the Steelers. They thrashed the Bengals 27-13 behind 131 rushing yards from Willie Parker, and served notice that they are still the best team in the division.

Ravens
The 2-4 Ravens knew that it was win or else when they took on the Steelers on Halloween Night. They gave it everything they had, and led 19-17 with 3 ½ minutes left to play. But the vaunted Raven defense couldn’t keep Ben Roethlisberger from leading the Steelers to a game winning field goal, effectively ending the Ravens’ season.


Is a Return to QB Too Much of a Stretch for Randle El?

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-2) AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-7)
4:05 PM Eastern, FOX, Seahawks favored by 13

The Storyline
The Seahawks pretty much sewed up an NFC West title with their win over the Rams last week. With an easy remaining schedule, they are in the drivers’ seat to nail down home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

All Eyes On
Ray Rhodes, Defensive Coordinator, Seahawks-
Unless you’ve just got back from vacation on Jupiter, you know that Teddy Bruschi is back on the field after suffering a stroke last off season. You probably don’t know that Rhodes had a stroke too, a mere 2 months ago. That hasn’t stopped him from continuing to work as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Seahawks have also taken a lot of steps to make sure that Rhodes does not overwork himself. He does not travel with the team to away games, but he is still heavily involved in drawing up the defensive game plan. Head coach Mike Holmgren told reporters about a conversation he had with Rhodes recently, “He said, `Mike, why don’t you let me come to the games?’ And I said, `Because you can’t come to the games right now.’ And he said, `It’s just as bad when I’m watching it at home. I have TiVo.’ “.
Ken Dorsey, QB, Niners-
Spin the wheel…make the deal…Dorsey is the Niners QB this week. He can’t do any worse than last week’s starter, Cody Pickett, who completed ONE pass in the entire game against the Bears. The Niners have changed their starting QB 4 times in the last 6 games.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
About the only thing the Niners have going for them in this game is that the Seahawks are only 5-9 on grass going back to 03, and only 8-12 on the road during that time (vs. 18-3 at home, and 21-6 on turf). That’s not going to save them.

SEAHAWKS 33, NINERS 10

This Season’s Defining Moment
Seahawks
Last year the Hawks lost to the division rival Rams three times. They exorcised last year’s demons when they went into the Edward Jones Dome, and beat the Rams 37-31. The Seahawks were 2-2 heading into that game. The win put them over the hump, and they’ve been unbeaten since then.

49ers
The Niners played pretty inspired football at the beginning of the season. They won their opener 28-25 against the Rams, and lost by only a field goal to the Cowboys in Week 3. In Week 4, they played the Cardinals in Mexico City, with a chance to even their record. They broke out to a 14-0 lead, then the offense went into a vapor lock that it hasn’t come out of since then, and lost 31-14.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-0) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-2)
4:05 PM Eastern, CBS, Colts favored by 6

The Storyline
This is the game of the week. Both of these teams have Super Bowl aspirations, and both know there’s a good chance they will see each other again in January.

All Eyes On
Tony Dungy, Head Coach, Colts-
Dungy’s not a fiery coach, and he sometimes plays too conservatively for some people’s tastes, but you can’t argue with the results he’s produced this year. When Dungy took the team over following the 2001 season, he inherited a team that finished dead last in the NFL in defense the year before. Now, the defense ranks fourth in the league. Dungy can win the regular season, there’s no question about that. He’s done it in Tampa and now in Indy. Will this be the year he shows he can win a Super Bowl too?

Bengals Licensed Apparel
The Bengals are the HOT team in the NFL. Sales of Cincinnati Bengals merchandise have increased 200% this year according to SportsScan Info. They now rank 6th in the league in that department, ahead of teams who have traditionally been strong in that area like the Bears, Raiders, Falcons, and Cowboys.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Bengals are giving up close to 5 yards a carry on defense. You can’t do that and beat a team like the Colts. Aside from that, the Bengals had another chance to prove themselves against one of the AFC’s big boys when the Steelers came to town a few weeks ago, and they dropped the ball. The Colts are a much better team than the Steelers are. Edgerrin James will have a huge game, and the Colts will come out of Paul Brown Stadium with a 10-0 record. Larry Csonka and Bob Griese begin chewing on each other’s fingernails.

COLTS 31, BENGALS 19

This Season’s Defining Moment
Colts
Did you know that the Colts historically have had trouble beating the Patriots? I know, I know, I had no idea either. They put that demon to rest a couple of weeks ago, when they put the hurt on New England on a Monday Night in Foxboro, 40-21.

Bengals
If the Bengals are going to make their statement during the regular season, this is the time to do it. They missed an earlier chance when they lost at home to the Steelers. That will be forgotten if they can be the first team to beat the Colts this season. If not, their Week 13 trip to Pittsburgh is a must win if they are to be seen as a serious Super Bowl contender.

NY JETS (2-7) AT DENVER BRONCOS (7-2)
4:15 PM Eastern, CBS, Broncos favored by 13

The Storyline
The Broncos get a breather this week before two tough road games at Dallas and KC. They face a Jets team that is a serious contender in the Matt Leinart sweepstakes.

All Eyes On
Herm Edwards, Head Coach, Jets-
Earlier this week, there was a rumor that people close to Edwards had said he would quit the Jets after this year, and seek to be released from the remaining 2 years of his contract. The thinking was that Edwards was eyeing what is expected to be a vacancy in Kansas City after Dick Vermiel re-re-re retires following this season. Edwards vehemently denied those rumors, telling reporters this week, “Maybe I didn’t say it loud enough or hard enough, but I’m going to be here as long as I can be here. Hopefully, I can be here my whole career. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Jake Plummer, QB, Broncos-
Some people, not me, but some people, are starting to use “Jake Plummer” and “MVP” in the same sentence. Plummer is the 6th highest rated passer in the NFL, with a 93.5 rating. The key to his success this year has been that he has played virtually mistake-free. He has thrown only 3 interceptions all year, and has been sacked only 10 times.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
To paraphrase Clubber Lang, my prediction for the Jets, PAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!!

BRONCOS 30, JETS 9

This Season’s Defining Moment
Jets
The Jets lost a lot more than a game to the Jaguars in Week 3. They went down in defeat, 26-20 in OT, but in that game they also lost their #1 quarterback, Chad Pennington, and their #2 quarterback, Jay Fiedler, for the season. The rest of the season has been a lost cause, with the Jets shuffling between a too-old Vinny Testaverde, and a too-bad Brooks Bollinger at quarterback.

Broncos
The Broncos have gotten off to fast starts, only to fade down the stretch before. When they suffered a last second defeat to the Giants in Week 7, it looked like 2005 could turn into a rerun of 2004. The Broncos put that notion to rest the next week, when they crushed Eagles, who still had TO, 49-21.


Will Herman Kiss New York Goodbye?

BUFFALO BILLS (4-5) AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-4)
4:15 PM Eastern, CBS, Chargers favored by 11

The Storyline
With the Patriots dynasty teetering and tottering, the Bills are only 1 game off the pace in the AFC East. They hope to remain in striking distance with a win over a Chargers team that is running out of time if it is going to make the move they look capable of making.

All Eyes On
JP Losman, QB, Bills-
The Bills anointed Losman their quarterback of the future without having seen him throw a pass in an NFL game. They pulled the plug on him early in the season when his poor play made it painfully clear that handing the team over to him was the wrong decision. He was back on the field last week after Kelly Holcomb left with a concussion, and he looked a lot better. With Holcomb still feeling the effects of his smash in the noggin, it’s looking like Losman will start again this week. The Chargers have the top ranked rushing defense in the league, so if the Bills are to have a chance to win, Losman will have to produce.

Cam Cameron, Offensive Coordinator, Chargers-
Cameron is the architect of an offense that has not only maximized the considerable talents of LaDanian Tomlinson, but has also made a star out of Antonio Gates, and saved the career of Drew Brees. Now, it is heavily rumored that Cameron could be the head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 2006.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Bills are giving up 5 yards a carry. They are playing against LaDanian Tomlinson this week. They can start JP Losman, JH Christ, or whoever at quarterback, they’re not going to win if LT is leaving cleat marks all over them.

CHARGERS 31, BILLS 13

This Season’s Defining Moment
Bills
The Bills had a chance to go 4-3 when they traveled to Oakland in Week 6. Instead, the let Lamont Jordan run for 122 yards against them, and they got crushed by a very mediocre Raiders team, 38-17. You can’t really take a team that lost 38-17 to the Raiders seriously now can you?

Chargers
When the Chargers go on the road to meet the Redskins next week, both teams will go into that game with realistic Wild Card hopes. Only one of those teams is coming out of that game with realistic Wild Card hopes.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (5-4) AT HOUSTON TEXANS (1-8)
8:30 PM Eastern, ESPN, Chiefs favored by 7

The Storyline
The Chiefs’ playoff push took a huge hit last week when they lost to the Bills. On paper, they should get back on track this week. But football is not played on paper, it’s played inside television sets. And, did you know that the Chiefs used to be known as the Texans? Oh, it’s damn true. They were one of the charter franchises of the old AFL, and were known as the Dallas Texans. While we’re on the subject, the Jets used to be called the Titans. What a world, what a world.

All Eyes On
Priest Holmes, RB, Chiefs-
Holmes is out of the year with a spinal injury, and it could mean the end of his great career. He’s scheduled to undergo more tests to assess the danger playing football would put him in, and discuss it with his family. He wants to play, but it may not be the best thing for him to do. If he does have to retire, is he a Hall of Famer? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Bob McNair, Owner, Texans-
The Texans are a team that needs to start over. Decisions need to be made on QB David Carr, Head Coach Dom Capers, and GM Charlie Casserly. Those decisions are McNair’s to make. Casserly maintains that this team is better than 1-8. Okay, if they are, then is that Capers’ fault? Is it Carr’s fault? With each loss, you start hearing names like Jimmy Johnson be thrown around in the Houston papers more and more.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
I expect the Magnificent Three on the Sunday Night crew to spend most of the night talking about David Carr, saying something in the ilk of “It’s not his fault”, “He’s a good quarterback”, Blah blah, shut up.

CHIEFS 30, TEXANS 10

This Season’s Defining Moment
Chiefs
If the Chiefs didn’t get a touchdown from Larry Johnson with 5 seconds remaining to beat the Raiders two weeks ago, they would be 4-5, on a 3 game losing streak, and DONE.

Texans
The Texans were supposed to contend for a playoff berth this year. When they went into Buffalo on opening day, and got 70 yards and 3 interceptions from David Carr in a 22-7 loss, it was clear that they wouldn’t be contending for a playoff berth.


Next Stop, Canton?

DEEZ IS GEEZ

That’s a wrap until Monday! Say hello to my little friends:

Tierney has a DVD review.

Patrick has thoughts on Eddie.

Rev Sick brings the UFC.

Aaaand I’m spent.