“Six upcoming games that are of the utmost interest – TO ME.”
1. FALCONS (4-0) AT REDSKINS (2-2)
The Falcons’ Matt Ryan leads the NFL with a 112.1 passer rating, but the Redskins will be looking to ice “Matty Ice,” ice, baby and put the game on the shoulders of their own star quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Last week, another chapter was added to “The Legend of RG III” as the rookie led a last-ditch, come-from-behind victory in Tampa Bay. With the ‘Skins trailing 22-21 and :56 seconds showing on the clock, Griffin shredded the Bucs defense while marching 56 yards to set up Bily Cundiff’s game-winning field goal. Griffin demonstrated that while Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano’s defense might know how to attack an opposition’s “Victory Formation”, this unit still needs a little work when it comes to stopping a 2-minute drill.
This game was a “thriller,” which is appropriate since RG III wears a single glove to honor one of his childhood heroes, Michael Jackson. Wearing a single glove might strike many as odd, but at least Griffin doesn’t line up wearing a fedora. As far as heroes go, “The King of Pop” is a pretty good one to have. He sold a gazillion records and moonwalked like a champ. Rumor has it that in the future, RG III will be saluting other Jacksons, and I don’t mean Tito, Germaine, Jackie, and Marlon. No, next month, Griffin will wear an eye patch as a gesture of respect to Samuel L. Jackson. December sneak preview: Mahalia Jackson, but as of yet, no indication of what RG III will be wearing.
The Redskins are making strides, but I still think the Falcons will “beat it” out of the nation’s capital with a win.
VK Pick: Falcons
2. BRONCOS (2-2) at PATRIOTS (2-2)
Slowly but surely, Peyton Manning seems to be settling into his new role as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Two weeks ago in a Denver loss, Manning set a career high with 26 incompletions. But last week, he missed only 8 throws as the Broncos stomped Oakland. One reason for the improvement: he’s getting into a groove with his new teammates. Another reason: he averaged barely 5 yards per completion against the Raiders. At that range, it’s pretty hard to miss.
Manning will probably air it out a few times this week when he renews his rivalry with “frenemy” Tom Brady. The head-to-head battles between these future Hall of Famers have produced some classic high drama in the past, but by a significant margin, it’s advantage: Brady. There have been 12 previous Brady-Manning meetings, and the Pats quarterback has won 8 of them (6 during the regular season; 2 in the postseason).
Brady and the Patriots appear to be back in the groove, as they avoided their first 3 game losing streak in 10 years by scoring 45 points during the second half of a 52-28 beat down of the Bills. During his daily press conference, Bill Belichick was asked how he intended to stop Manning, but as usual, the Patriots shared only a few low-volume grunts with reporters. Let’s face it, when it comes to spilling secrets, Belichick is no Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Brady vs. Manning will certainly feature more “zingers” than last week’s first Presidential debate. The key will be which team’s pass rush is able to accumulate the most “gotcha moments.”
VK Pick: Patriots
3. TEXANS (4-0) AT JETS (2-2)
Speaking of the upcoming election, Jets owner Woody Johnson is a proud Romney supporter. This is most likely the only thing that Johnson has in common with Creed lead singer Scott Alan Stapp. Johnson obviously isn’t troubled by Romney’s thoughts about the “47%,” but he has to be concerned that Mark Sanchez’s completion percentage is hovering near 47%. Sanchez is the only quarterback in the NFL who has completed less than 50% of his passes and his 69.6 passer rating has fans chanting “Tee-bow, Tee-bow.” These fans may have a point. After all, Tim Tebow has completed 100% of his attempts — he’s thrown one pass and he completed it. Against the 49ers last week, Tebow threw his first pass of the season and was right on target to Dedrick Epps for a 9 yard gain. Unfortunately, Epps fumbled the ball and the 49ers recovered.
During a recent concert, Justin Beiber threw up twice. On the big stage at MetLife Stadium, the Jets coughed up the football three times. But one positive sign of New York’s shutout loss to San Francisco was that Jets fans finally saw first-hand how well the Wildcat can work with a running quarterback at the helm. The negative side was that it was the 49ers, not the Jets, who successfully deployed the formation. Niners’ backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick came in during the 2nd quarter, took a direct snap, and ran 7 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Kaepernick gained 50 yards on 5 carries. Tebow ran twice and gained zero yards.
Houston’s defense has allowed the fewest points in the NFL. Last week, the Texans hammered the Tennessee Titans, who were formerly the Houston Oilers. This week, they’re like to do the same against the Jets, who were once the New York Titans. Coincidence — or part of some kind of cosmic grand design? You be the judge.
VK Pick: Texans
4. TITANS (1-3) AT VIKINGS (1-3)
The Titans can take heart in Chris Johnson’s return to form last week. Johnson had carried 33 times for 45 yards in the season’s first 3 games, causing fantasy football owners everywhere to set their hair on fire. But against the two-fisted Texans defense, Johnson rushed for 141 yards in 25 carries. Despite his early struggles this season and a lackluster 2011 campaign, Johnson has managed to surge ahead of Pete Johnson to become the 4th best rushing Johnson in NFL history. The all-time Johnson list:
John Henry Johnson 6803
Larry Johnson 6223
Rudi Johnson 5979
CHRIS JOHNSON 5831
Pete Johnson 5626
Hall of Famer John Henry has topped all Johnsons since 1966 but Chris is the only active Johnson on the all-time list. This means that if he has truly rediscovered his mojo, he’s a sure bet to become the all-time rushing leader among Johnsons. Once he accomplishes this feat, he’s certain to be the #1 Johnson for many years to come.
Don’t look now, but the Vikings own a share of first place in the NFC North and have already matched their 2011 win total. Although they haven’t really overpowered anyone, they keep finding ways to win. Last week, they got a 105 yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Percy Harvin and a 77 yard punt return for a touchdown by Marcus Sherels.
Although the current Vikings are far removed from frosty Metropolitan Stadium during the glory days of Bud Grant and Joe Kapp, a Vault Keeper tribute to Kapp and the Vikings of yesteryear couldn’t be timelier than right now. The gutsy Kapp was one of the great Steve Sabol’s favorite players, and he’s featured prominently in one of Steve’s finest films, MORE THAN A GAME. Here’s a glimpse of the master at his best.
VK Pick: Vikings
5. EAGLES (3-1) AT STEELERS (1-2)
No one really expected that “Mob Doctor” and “Guys With Kids” would be hit shows, and with the former already canceled and the latter on the verge of extinction, both shows lived up to their low expectations. But the Steelers sluggish start defies rational explanation. Perhaps they’ll be rejuvenated coming off a bye week to face the Eagles in The Battle of The Keystone State.
Although The Battle hasn’t been played out all that frequently since the AFL-NFL merger, this interstate rivalry dates back to 1933 (when the NFL’s Pittsburgh franchise was called the Pirates) and the Eagles hold the lead, 46-27-3. But few people know that in 1943, when World War II made a significant impact on the NFL, the Eagles and Steelers actually combined franchises to form an aggregation known as the “Steagles”. Despite an uneasy alliance between these two teams, the Steagles 5-4-1 record was the first winning season for either franchise.
The 2012 Eagles are the first team in league history to have its first 3 wins in a row decided by 2 points or less. This arcane statistic provides some insight into just how lucky this season’s Birds have been. Last week, the Eagles barely escaped a last-second loss to the Giants when Lawrence Tynes whiffed on a 54 yard field goal attempt. Tynes actually got two tries at the game-winning kick, as Reid called a timeout just as Tynes launched a shot that was way off the mark. If only Reid hadn’t made the predictable decision to “ice the kicker,” the Eagles could have kneeled down to wrap it all up. But Tynes got another chance, and Reid had the look of a man who had dropped a forkful of potatoes au gratin on his lap at a fancy restaurant. Tynes came very close on the do-over, but Reid no doubt exited the field thinking that “icing the kicker” is a good idea, when it’s actually not.
As Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said after the game, “I don’t believe in icing the kicker. You let him kick and if it’s in, it’s in…we got to end the tradition.” If only NFL head coaches would pay attention to what Vick is saying, which is essentially “Que Sera, Sera”.
VK Pick: Steelers
6. CHARGERS (3-1) AT SAINTS (0-4)
It’s starting to look like old times in New Orleans, as the Saints are once again being referred to as “the winless Saints” and alas, even “the hapless Saints.” They were hapless when Billy Kilmer was their quarterback, fer Pete’s sake. But the focus this weekend will be on Drew Brees. Not only will Brees be facing the team that coldly discarded him, he’s also poised to break Johnny Unitas’ record of throwing at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games. Things have worked out wonderfully for Brees since he joined the Saints in 2006 and he’s now on the verge of breaking a record that was once considered as unlikely to be broken as Joe Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.
I suppose it’s possible that the Chargers could gather themselves to prevent Brees from breaking the record. After all, Johnny U finished out his career in San Diego, but he didn’t exactly go out in a blaze of glory. In his lone season with the Chargers, one of the game’s greatest players started just 4 games, and lost 3 of them while posting a feeble passer rating of 40.0. No, the Chargers aren’t about to “win this one for Johnny U.” Besides, San Diego’s mediocre pass defense is no match for Brees, who has accounted for 11 of the Saints’ 12 touchdowns this year (10 passing, 1 rushing).
Johnny Unitas changed pro football in so many ways, but records are made to be broken, and Brees will break this one in a big way.
VK Pick: Saints