Let’s get Sunday’s NFL TV plans lined up for Week 8.
EARLY WINDOW (1 PM ET)
Miami–NY Giants (CBS)
I know CBS’ early card isn’t the most attractive on the board, but was it really necessary to inflict the Dolphins on most of the country? This is a mismatch on every level. Miami’s soft on the defensive line, and the New York offensive line, while having been less than its usual self this season is still more than capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. Vontae Davis still has a hamstring problem on the corner and creates a problem for Miami trying to match up with Mario Manningham. And the Fish offensive line remains woeful, while the Giants continue to pressure the quarterback from the edge, even with the on-again, off-again health status of Justin Tuck and Osi Umeyiora. As if all this weren’t enough, the Giants are at home, with a difficult schedule stretch ahead of them. New York wins this one going away.
Other early games…
Jacksonville-Houston: Both of these teams showed a lot last week, particularly Jacksonville in their upset of Baltimore on Monday Night. Now the Jags have a chance to play their way back into the AFC South race. Andre Johnson is still going to be out, so the matchup problems the Jags might have had in the secondary won’t take place. But Houston won’t shy away from putting the ball in the hands of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the way Baltimore lost track of Ray Rice. Houston gets the win.
Indianapolis-Tennessee: The AFC South’s lesser half hooks up in Nashville and I really see no reason to think anything positive about Indianapolis until they prove otherwise. Tennessee played a very poor football game last week against Houston and has every right to be disappointed. Indy has been a disgrace to the NFL and loses another one here.
Minnesota-Carolina: I kind of like the Vikings in this spot. Minnesota showed some feistiness in the way they battled back against Green Bay and getting Adrian Peterson established is a great way to keep Cam Newton off the field. The downside for the Vikings is that their strength of using Jared Allen to pressure the pocket from the edge can turn into a weakness if (when?) Newton breaks containment. If Carolina’s focused and ready to go they have the better team and homefield advantage, but I’m looking for the Panthers to be a little too high on themselves after the win over Washington, while Minnesota’s hungry for a W.
Arizona-Baltimore: The Ravens on paper should have no problem exploiting the Cardinal pass defense for big plays and then letting the running game open up for Ray Rice. Baltimore should also have no problem making Arizona one-dimensional by taking away the ground game, a task made even easier by Beanie Wells’ persistent injury problems. Just like the Ravens should have had no problem dispatching Jacksonville on Monday Night…
New Orleans-St. Louis: How ugly can this one get? New Orleans has had the equivalent of two straight bye weeks between this and the Indy game last Sunday night. Actually even better, because they have been the kind of bye weeks you actually get credited with a victory in.
LATE WINDOW (4:15 ET)
New England-Pittsburgh (CBS)
The game of the day in the Steel City and the one where we finally find out what to make of both teams. Is the New England defense really able to match up in a situation where they can’t count on Tom Brady hanging 400 yards on the board? Can Pittsburgh beat a genuinely good team? We know the Patriots are good, but are wondering if they can really be Super Bowl-caliber with this defense. We know the Steelers are competent, but are wondering if they’re playoff-caliber or more. We find out here. My skepticism over Pittsburgh is on the pages of this blog, and while I give them more credit than most might for taking care of business against the league’s lesser lights, I still don’t see how they can match up with all of New England’s options in the passing game. The Patriots are too good at getting people open and Brady too brilliant at finding them. Ben Roethlisberger is more than capable of hooking up with Hines Ward and on the deep ball to Mike Wallace, but if it becomes an up-and-down the field game, Big Ben won’t keep pace. And unlike past Pittsburgh teams, I don’t see this one playing smashmouth successfully. New England wins decisively.
The Bills play their annual game in Toronto and face a reeling Redskin team under the watchful eye of lead Fox analyst Troy Aikman (Joe Buck gets another week off after the World Series). The ‘Skins have lost Tim Hightower and Chris Cooley for the season and they’ve lost their last two games to Carolina and Philly, looking rather mediocre in the process. Buffalo is coming off a bye week and Ryan Fitzpatrick is rested and ready to exploit a defense that looked surprisingly vulnerable in Charlotte last week. Even assuming a better game from the Washington defense you figure they’ll still need to score 24-28 points to win, and has anyone seen evidence that’s going to happen? I’m a Redskin fan, so if you have seen evidence, please by all means, write me. Please.
Detroit-Denver: The reports are that Matthew Stafford is healthy, but even if he isn’t the Lion passing game can abuse this secondary. Shaun Hill did a more than capable job in Stafford’s stead a year ago and I see him stepping in smoothly here. This whole Tim Tebow mania, pro and con has to stop. I’m highly skeptical he can be an effective quarterback in the NFL and rallying to beat the Dolphins hardly changes my mind. I also think that I’ve been known to be wrong and now is as good a time as any for John Fox to find out if Tebow can play. This entire ridiculous mania comes from people liking or hating him because he’s a pro-life evangelical Christian. Look, I have political and religious views like anyone else (if it matters, which it shouldn’t, I’m a pro-life Catholic and traditionalist Democrat).And I think those beliefs are more important than sports, but I also think it’s appropriate to let people play the game—to let the kids play, as they might say on the Bad News Bears. To let them dance, as they might say on Footloose. To just get along, as Rodney King might say. You get the point. How about those of us who will never meet Tebow just give an opinion on him as a football player? And on that basis, the mania has no reason to exist, because this is pretty pedestrian football situation.
Cleveland-San Francisco: The Browns still don’t have a running game, even after their stirring 6-3 win over Seattle last Sunday. I do like Colt McCoy, even given his erratic performances, mainly because he has no ground support nor pass protection. As long as the Niners continue to play high-percentage football by running with Frank Gore and letting Alex Smith build a passing game around hitting tight end Vernon Davis, another win will be coming to the Bay Area.
Cincinnati-Seattle: The Bengals are playing consistently but a road trip here could present problems, if only because Qwest Field gets awfully loud and Andy Dalton is still a rookie quarterback. If Dalton doesn’t get rattled and just lets the Cincy defense do the work, the Bengals will win. If the Seahawks get 2-3 picks, they’ll win.
SUNDAY NIGHT: Dallas-Philadelphia (8:20 ET, NBC)
A must-win matchup for the prime-time show, as the Eagles are 2-4 and starting a stretch of three straight home games. Dallas is 3-3, and while it’s not must-win, there’s not a ton of room for error either. Both of the offenses would seem to have the matchup advantage. If Dallas brings Demarcus Ware on blitz packages, Michael Vick could break it all down with his running ability, either by scrambling for the yardage directly or making a big play through improvisational routes. If you go to the other side, the Eagle defense is having problems generally and now they have to account for Demarco Murray who ran wild against St. Louis last week. I’m going with the Eagles based on home field here and the fact I’d like to see Murray produce against a real defense before giving him too much credit.