NFL Week 6 preview
MUST WIN SUNDAY
As we head into Week 6, there’s more than a few teams that have nervous laughs, teams that at the start of the season figured they’d be rolling along as planned and not having to fight for survival so early in the season.
We’re not talking about teams that have gone belly up like the Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins, three teams that have not managed a victory and are already out of the running in their respective divisions.
They all may need a win, a moral victory, but it wouldn’t do a thing to change their season around.
At 1-4, the Eagles, of course, are as desperate for a victory this weekend as any team but seeing as they were tabbed last week as the ‘Must Win’ team, we’re not about to anoint them two weeks in a row even thought they are in more dire straights as they line up Sunday against a hated rival in the Washington Redskins.
No, instead we’ll turn to Monday night’s game where the New York Jets are a wounded team having lost three in a row to sit at 2-3 in the AFC East. The Jets came into the season as one of the AFC’s Super Bowl contenders and except for their second half against the Dallas Cowboys in their season opener, have not looked anything like a championship team. They were fortunate to win that game and the next time out they hammered the terrible Jacksonville Jaguars 32-3.
Since then they have lost three consecutive road games at Oakland, Baltimore and New England and now get a gift when they return home as they face the winless Dolphins.
The Jets desperately need to restore their mojo. A loss coupled with wins by Buffalo and New England and it could be all she wrote.
THREE GAMES TO WATCH
NINERS AT LIONS
This is a game featuring two division leaders and two teams that are exceeding all expectations. The 49ers figured to be an improved team due to the switch to Jim Harbaugh as their head coach but now they are 4-1 and coming off an impressive 48-3 beating administered to Tampa Bay. The Lions, meanwhile, are the Cinderella team of 2011 as they are 5-0 on the season and haven’t dropped a game since a 24-20 loss to the Bears last Dec. 5. Since then, including the four pre-season games, they have gone 13-0. One year ago at this time the two teams were a combined 1-9.
TEXANS AT RAVENS
The 3-1 Ravens are looking to flex their defensive muscle and are well rested following a bye week. This is their third game of the season at home where they are 2-0 after beating Pittsburgh 35-7 and the New York Jets 34-17. Now they get a Texans team that is again teasing and confounding their fans, bad game routine. Still, they are 3-2 and on paper are the team to beat in the AFC South. The Texans are without their best wide receiver in Andre Johnson and best defensive player in pass rusher Mario Williams. The Ravens, meanwhile, are getting a lot of injured players back. Houston’s in tough.
COWBOYS AT PATRIOTS
A Super Bowl preview? Perhaps. The Cowboys are coming off a much-needed bye week following their shocking collapse against the Lions which was fueled by another terrible fourth quarter performance from quarterback Tony Romo. His ribs should now be healthy but his psyche may well still be battered. The Patriots have been racking up the points and yards with ridiculous ease but their defence hasn’t shown an ability to stop anybody. Tom Brady is next to unbeatable at home — he’s won 30 regular season games in a row — and that streak doesn’t look as if it will end this week.
HEAD TO HEAD MATCHUPS
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson vs. 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers
There is no better receiver right now than the Lions Calvin Johnson who has nine touchdown catches in five games. At 6-foot-5 and with a terrific vertical leap, Johnson can go up and get ‘em and that’s the way QB Matthew Stafford throws them to his talented receiver. Rogers, meanwhile, has more size than most corners and is not intimidated by a receiver that has the skills of Johnson. On the season he has three picks including one he returned 31 yards for a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen vs. Bears offensive tackle Ja’Marcus Webb
The Vikings don’t have a whole lot to shout about this season as they are off to a dreary 1-4 starts. But when they play a division rival it brings out there best. To date Allen has been the Vikings best defensive player and he leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks. Webb is the unfortunate tackle that has to put the brakes on Allen’s relentless pass rush. Unfortunately, the Bears have been dreadful in pass protection and have allowed 18 sacks.
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten vs. Patriots safety Patrick Chung
Witten has become QB Tony Romo’s go-to-guy in both receptions with 27 and yards with 366. He has also caught one touchdown pass. Romo will look for Witten on short routes over the middle and often is his second option. But he also has the speed and ability to break a long one as he has at least one reception for 20-plus yards in each of the Cowboys four games this season. Chung, meanwhile, gives up a lot of size but plays an up-tempo game and is by far the Patriots top safety on the team.
Adrian Peterson, RB Vikings.
It’s taken a while but now Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (pictured below) is hitting his stride. Last week against Arizona, Peterson gained 122 yards rushing on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns in the Vikings victory. In his career against the Bears (seven games), Peterson has rushed for 784 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots.
Tom Brady and Wes Welker have been making headlines almost every game for the Patriots but in case anybody forgot about their running game, BenJarvus Green-Ellis came through with a career high 136 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns in last week’s victory over the Jets. On the season he has gained 333 yards and has scored five touchdowns.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers.
Nobody knew what to expect from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last week against Tennessee as he played with a swollen and injured left foot. Big Ben responded by tossing five TD passes. This week he faces a terrible Jacksonville teams that has almost zero pass rush which should provide Roethlisberger with another productive afternoon.
BY THE NUMBERS
7 The number of consecutive victories the San Francisco 49ers have posted against the Detroit Lions.
260 The number of rushing yards gained by St. Louis RB Steven Jackson in his past
two games against the Green Bay Packers.
3-1 The career record of the Buffalo Bills when they play the New York Giants on the road.
110 The number of scrimmage yards needed by Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew to reach 8,000 in his career.
30 The number of consecutive regular season home victories recorded by New England quarterback Tom Brady.
BE A SURVIVOR
Like most of the other saps last week I took the Giants in my survivor pool and was kicked to the curb by the Seattle Seahawks. No regrets, though, as the Giants were clearly the best play and if they had a rematch this week I’d take the Giants again. But that’s why they play the games. This week offers some mismatches as Pittsburgh should hammer Jacksonville, who now look to be the worst team in the league, and the Packers could probably sit all their starters and still beat the Rams. If you’ve already taken those teams, the Bengals look like a good bet at home to the Colts while Monday night the struggling Jets should right themselves against the no quarterback Miami Dolphins.
ROB LONGLEY’S YOU BET
Favourites and overs. Together they are the undoing of bookmakers this season as the bettors have been getting the best of it the past few weeks. Despite a steady inflation of the numbers each week, the over clicked at 9-4 last week and line makers can’t seem to find a total high enough. “Even when we set (the over-under) in the 50s, they are going over,” says Todd Fuhrman, the senior race and sports book analyst for Caesar’s Palace in Vegas ... Lucky’s Casino in Vegas has an interesting prop wager regarding the two remaining undefeated teams and their chances of going undefeated. The Packers are obviously the better option at 7-1 while the Lions are 16-1. The two teams meet on U.S. Thanksgiving in the Motor City ...
Fuhrman on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton: “The guy is a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to cover numbers dating back to his Auburn days.” ... Not only have the Buffalo Bills gone over the total in all five of their games so far, they are doing so by an average of 11.2 points per game. The Giants have also gone over in all five of their games, the big reason why today’s number is 50 ... The Giants are 31/2-point favourites at home but beware the underdog Bills who are 8-3-1 in their past 12 as road puppies ... It’s not so much that favourites are covering, it’s that the popular favourites are doing so. Fair to say the books would certainly prefer the Packers take a week off running it up big on opponents. This week, Green Bay is a 141/2-point choice over the St. Louis Rams.