MUST WIN SUNDAY
Usually we go with a team that finds itself in something of a desperate situation. But not this week. Instead, we’ll go with a team that is 2-0 and favoured to win the suddenly not-so-mighty AFC South. With Peyton Manning out of action and the Indianapolis Ciolts going nowhere with ancient Kerry Collins at quarterback, the road to a division title is wide and smooth for the talented Texans.
The Texans, though, may have more at stake in this week’s matchup against the 1-1 New Orleans Saints. In their first two games, Houston beat the headless Colts and then the we-can’t-win-at-home Dolphins. So Sunday will provide their first stern test.
Houston has been down this road before where they thought they had the goods to be among the best and time and again came up short. If they are lacking in anything, it’s confidence so a victory over a quality opponent like the Saints would go a long way in establishing that goal.
If they lose to Drew Brees and company in the Big Easy, it would set them back on their heels and that is not where they’d want to be as following the Saints they face Pittsburgh, Oakland and Baltimore, a very tough stretch of games.
Once again, it’s a put-up-or-shut-up game for the Texans.
-- The Patriots’ Tom Brady has thrown for 940 yards in his first two games which is simply off the charts. Last week against the Chargers, Brady went 31-for-40 for 423 yards and three touchdowns. Now he’ll be looking for more of the same against the Bills. With 282 passing yards on Sunday, Brady can surpass Kurt Warner (1,221 yards in 2000) for the most passing yards in NFL history through a team’s first three games.
-- In the New-England-San Diego game last week at Foxborough, the Patriots decided to double-team Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. That just opened the door for their gifted wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who had 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Both the number of catches and yards were career highs for the athletic, 6-foot-5 receiver. This week, San Diego goes against a terrible Chiefs team and it should be easy pickings for the Philip Rivers to Jackson combo.
-- Running back Fred Jackson doesn’t seem to get all the respect in the world, he just gets the ball and delivers the goods. Last week, in the Bill’s thrilling come-from-behind win over Oakland, Jackson lugged the rock 15 times and produced 117 yards and two touchdowns. Often, how he goes, the Bills go. When Jackson is able to rush for 100-plus yards, the Bills have gone 8-1. Here’s a thought: Give him the ball.
1. Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters vs. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul
The Eagles lost to the Falcons last week but not because of the play of Peters, their giant offensive tackle. In the game against the Falcons, Peters put on a clinic of how to run block, how to pull out and block downfield and how to protect the quarterback. This week he’ll have his hands full going up against the Giants Pierre-Paul. In the first two games, Pierre-Paul has registered eight solo tackles and 2.5 sacks. The Giants are hurting defensively and need to pressure Michael Vick to pull out a win.
2. Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber vs. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez
This is a clash of 30 years of NFL experience as both Barber and Gonzalez have put in 15 years, Gonzalez ranks fifth on the NFL’s career receptions list with 1,081 catches and is considered the best tight end to have ever played the game. “Gonzalez is a Hall of Fame tight end and he’s going to find a way to get open no matter who I put on him,” Bucs defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said this week. Most of the responsibility will fall on Barber, who has started 185 consecutive games.
3. Texans OLB Mario Williams vs. Saints offensive line
At 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, Mario Williams was a terrific rushing defensive end. Now, he is like trying to stop a hurricane as he has been placed in the rush linebacker position under Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 defence. In his first two games, Williams has had two sacks, one forced fumble and one pass deflected. He is now operating in a freelance position much the same as Clay Matthews of the Packers and DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys. So lots of luck to the Saints’ O-line.
THREE YOU’RE GONNA WANT TO WATCH
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
You can’t win them all, can you? If you happen to be New England and you’re playing Buffalo the answer is ye,s as the Patriots are on a 15-game win streak against the Bills. Still, the Bills come into this game with some sense of hope as their offence has unexpectedly piled up the points after they crushed Kansas City 41-7 in the opener and then had the big comeback in a 38-35 victory over Oakland last week. The question is, can they keep that production up against the Pats’ defence? On that scale the Pats should be worried as they have given up both a lot of yards and points in their two victories. New England also has Tom Brady and the Bills job is to figure out a way to keep him off the field. If they don’t, he’ll shred them apart. He has 940 yards passing after two games. Yikes!
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
This is a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game which was won by the Packers 21-14 at frozen Soldier Field. The Packers won two of the three games played last year and four of the past six. It is also a rematch of the infamous Jay Cutler injury suffered in the first half of the NFC Championship game. Cutler tried to play in the third quarter but couldn’t due to a knee injury. But there were a lot of NFL players and fans who believed Cutler had quit on his team. This season the Bears are 1-1 and the only people quitting on Cutler appear to be his offensive line that has allowed 11 sacks. That fits right into the mitts of the sack-happy Packers who should be hounding Cutler the entire afternoon. Here’s a stat that throws more dirt on Cutler’s grave — in the past two years against the Pack he has four touchdown passes against 11 interceptions.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
This is the Monday nighter featuring two fierce rivals. It also features a surprise as after two weeks the Redskins are 2-0 and nobody figured on that. Nobody figured that to happen due to the fact they are led by quarterback Rex Grossman. But guess who’s having the last laugh? After two games, Grossman is 46-for-77 for 596 yards with four touchdown passes and two interceptions. Nobody’s talking Super Bowl in Washington but that will change if they knock off the hated Cowboys. Dallas, meanwhile, figures to give Tony Romo the start, despite the fact he suffered a cracked rib and punctured lung in last week’s overtime victory against the 49ers. Who knows how long he’ll last.
BY THE NUMBERS
15 -- The number of consecutive times that the New England Patriots have defeated the Buffalo Bills.
22 -- Since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990, 22 teams started 0-2 and still qualified for the postseason. However, 17 teams have started 0-2 in the past two seasons, and none have made the playoffs.
29 -- Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 29 consecutive games, including the first two games in 2011. With a touchdown pass against the Texans, Brees can tie Dan Marino (30) for the third-most consecutive games with a touchdown pass in NFL history.
100 -- With 100 rushing yards against New Orleans on Sunday, Houston running back Ben Tate can join Cadillac Williams as the only running backs in NFL history to gain at least 100 yards in each of their first three career games.
9 -- The number of turnovers the Kansas City Chiefs have committed in their first two games. Last year they had 14 all season.
BE A SURVIVOR
I pitched a shutout last week, going 3-for-3 with Pittsburgh, the Jets and the Bills. Either I’m on a roll or due for a fall. A big part of lasting in these pools is zeroing in and identifying which teams are the bottom feeders and right now there isn’t a worse team to be found than the Kansas City Chiefs. They have been crushed the first two weeks, losing 41-7 at home to Buffalo and 48-3 on the road in Detroit. Now they are in San Diego against the Chargers. We’ll take Philip Rivers and San Diego. If you want to go with something a little risky, why not take Carolina at home against Jacksonville? Cam Newton has looked terrific in his first two starts while Jacksonville is switching quarterbacks. The Lions also look good against Minnesota and the relic otherwise known as Donovan McNabb.