Here’s a breakdown of the TV schedule for Sunday in NFL Week 9…
EARLY (1 PM ET)
The early time slot features a good game on each network that will get shown to most of the country, at least those not stuck with any of the five clunkers listed further below. You have NY Jets-Buffalo on CBS and Tampa Bay-New Orleans on Fox, both with significant divisional implications. For the Jets, a win here would set them up for a showdown game next Sunday night against the Patriots and signal they are all the way back in the AFC East race, while the Bills want to show their homefield win over New England was no fluke. Buffalo has the offensive weapons to cause a lot of problems for Rex Ryan’s defense, with Fred Jackson establishing the run and opening things up for Ryan Fitzpatrick. If it becomes a shootout, Fitzgerald trumps Mark Sanchez. But if it becomes about game management, give a nod to the Jets signal-caller and the ability of someone like Darrelle Revis to make a game-changing play looms even larger. I think the Jets will commit to establishing the run with Shonn Greene, controlling their tempo and letting their reservoir of big-game experience bring this one home.
Tampa beat New Orleans earlier in the season, but I’ve been disappointed with the consistency of the Bucs. Not just Josh Freeman, because I think a little sophomore slump isn’t unexpected or all that alarming. I’m thinking more of the defensive line. They have not controlled games the way I thought they would, as young talent like Gerald McCoy looks to emerge and establish itself. New Orleans has its own problems. Like last season, Drew Brees’ interceptions have been up and that finally bit them in the stunning loss at St. Louis last Sunday. That’s a byproduct of the failure to have a consistent running game, and the Saints need to at least make the Bucs respect the run. Whether they do or not here, I think Brees will be ready to have a big game at home, but over the long haul, New Orleans can’t be so one-dimensional.
A brief comment on the other five early games…
Cleveland-Houston: Until Andre Johnson gets back and gives the Texan offense its explosive capacity, there’s always the possibility of an upset, but come on—this is a Browns team that had to win a 6-3 game over Seattle two weeks ago at home.
Miami-Kansas City: KC is in the classic letdown spot after the exciting win over San Diego on Monday Night and I would expect them to be a little sluggish. But the Dolphins can’t be trusted in any situation.
SF-Washington: Another game where the question is the focus of the favorite. The big issue with the Niners is how they’re going to handle the responsibility of being a road fave in spots like this. The next level of testing has come.
Seattle-Dallas: As bad as Dallas looked on Sunday night in Philadelphia, think about the Seahawks, who have lost that aforementioned ugly game in Cleveland and last week lost to Cincinnati at home 34-12—granted, a couple late TDs made the game appear a bigger blowout than it was, but it still shows this is an ideal spot to get well and for Tony Romo to do what he does best—help out his Fantasy owners against a bad team.
Atlanta-Indianapolis: The Colts remain a disgrace to the NFL and living here in Baltimore, I can attest there’s much joy over that, as the wounds of the 1983 under-the-cover-of-darkness franchise relocation still stings.
LATE (4 PM ET)
It’s also a good package of late games, with Fox splitting its national coverage on more or less an East-West basis, with NY Giants-New England and Green Bay-San Diego. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be in Foxboro, and it’s a test game for both teams. The Giants have a two-game lead in the NFC East, but this is the beginning of a tough schedule stretch. The Patriots looked terrible last week in Pittsburgh, although they did register five sacks and did a decent job defending the run. I want to see if the defensive line can continue to improve here, especially with New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw limited by a foot injury. For Green Bay-San Diego, this seems like a spot where the Packers are ripe to get beat. They haven’t really played a complete football game in a while and have flirted with danger. As frustrating a team as the Chargers can be, they have the talent to match up with Green Bay in a scoring race. With the caveat that running back Ryan Matthews needs to be in the lineup, I think Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers trade blows in a back-and-forth duel that San Diego ultimately pulls out.
A brief comment on the three other late games…
St. Louis-Arizona: The Rams fulfilled their season goal of winning one game. Now this is just an ugly NFC West battle.
Denver-Oakland: Tim Tebow gets another shot for Denver, and I suspect this ends as badly as last week’s did. Look for the Raider defensive front to cause him problems and Carson Palmer should at least be in synch enough by now to get some points on the board for Oakland.
Cincinnati-Tennessee: This one is interesting, because the Bengals are now right there in the AFC North with Pittsburgh & Baltimore, but they have to keep their focus on the road for a second straight week, against an opponent who’s bad enough to overlook, but good enough to spring a home upset. The Titans already beat the Ravens here, and I think they do the same to Cincy.
PRIME-TIME (8:20 ET)
Baltimore-Pittsburgh (NBC): The Steelers-Ravens might be the hottest rivalry in all of sports right now, with the number of big games they’ve played over the last 3 ½ years, the hatred that exists between the two and the tense nature of their games. One game that wasn’t tense was Baltimore’s 35-7 Week 1 thrashing and I’m sure that will be on Pittsburgh’s mind. Mike Tomlin seems to have a running game going at least respectably and Ben Roethlisberger is really dialed in right now. Baltimore, on the other hand, is playing about as bad as a talented team is capable of playing right now. I expect the rivalry and Pittsburgh’s resurgence to snap them to life on Sunday night, but even with the Steeler talent deficiencies, Tomlin gets his team ready to go and Pittsburgh again gets Baltimore’s number in a big game.