A look at the games most of the country will see on Sunday..
Tennessee-Pittsburgh (1 ET, CBS)
More observers, the Notebook included, have come to believe that not only is Pittsburgh no longer a real Super Bowl contender, but that this is just a very mediocre team. The running game is non-existent, the pass protection lousy and the secondary a mess on the corners. James Harrison is now out, removing one weapon from the team’s Big Five—the four linebackers plus Troy Polamulu. Having said all that, Tennessee is a flawed team themselves, lacking the receivers to exploit Pittsburgh’s secondary problems and having both safeties injured. The guess here is that while the Titans do run the ball with Chris Johnson and make some plays in the passing game, Ben Roethlisberger is able to pick on that Tennessee secondary underneath to Heath Miller and Hines Ward and eventually open up some strikes to Mike Wallace to steal a close win.
Philadelphia-Buffalo (1 ET, Fox)
There’s no real national game in this time slot and even Joe Buck is AWOL for Fox this Sunday, pulling duty in the American League Championship Series. While his partner Troy Aikman will be calling the Seattle-NY Giants game, that’s only being shown to the Northeast. This is the game with the most significance in the standings, as the Eagles try desperately to turn their season around and the Bills try to re-establish respect after kicking a game away in Cincinnati. Injuries are an issue here for both sides, as Philly defensive end Trent Cole is out and Buffalo’s linebackers are beat up. I was never as high on Philadelphia as the national media was, so I’m not quite as down on them now. They’ve lost some tough games, but the matchup here works for them. Buffalo doesn’t have the pass rushers to knock Michael Vick down and the Eagles can pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick from the defensive end spot with Jason Babin. The Birds right the ship with a big win in Buffalo.
NY Jets-New England (4 ET, CBS)
After New York’s losses to Oakland and Baltimore the last two weeks, being physically manhandled in the process, they are a decisive nine-point underdog in this much-anticipated showdown in Foxboro. The Jets do get center Nick Mangold back and that, along with injury problems to Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis on the defensive, might give Rex Ryan’s team a chance at establishing a running game. That’s something that needs to happen, because for all of Mark Sanchez’s virtues, he’s not going to carry an offense by himself. New England’s defense is considerably beat up, although considering the way they played when they were healthy, I’m not sure that it matters all that much. The Patriots will win because of homefield, the revenge factor, Tom Brady and the Jets’ own injury problems, but both of these Super Bowl hopefuls have a lot of questions to answer the rest of the way. For the Jets, a third straight loss would certainly add to the urgency to find answers.
Green Bay-Atlanta (8:20 ET, NBC)
The Notebook was on the “Green Bay Is Unstoppable” bandwagon before the rest of the country and the Las Vegas odds on the Pack’s Super Bowl chances have dropped from 6-1 to 7-2 in the first four weeks. I’ve also been on the “Atlanta Is Overrated” bandwagon since the season’s outset. Given all that, I’m certainly not going to pick against Green Bay. But let’s play devil’s advocate and consider that the Packer pass defense has not played well this year, free safety Nick Collins is out and both elite corners, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are banged up. Atlanta’s got very good weapons to work with in Roddy White and fast-developing rookie Julio Jones and there’s no reason to think Matt Ryan can’t have a good day throwing the ball. If that happens, the Falcons will at least be in the game and then it’s up to defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards to keep after Aaron Rodgers and at least provide some disruption to the Packer passing game. Can that scenario happen? Sure. Would I bet on it? No.