Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers can put themselves firmly in first place in their division and at the top of their conference by beating the New England Patriots at home in Heinz Field. In order to do that, they’ll have to hand the Pats their first back-to-back loss in a few years by playing tough defense and starting to get into their offensive rhythm earlier in the game. Ben Roethlisberger is finally getting out of what would be pre-season form and hitting his timing routes better, as well as keeping control of the ball. The wild card in this game will be whether Big Ben can get the Steelers out to a big enough lead by the fourth quarter to withstand the late-game fade that seems to be afflicting Pittsburgh this year; they’ve given up half of all their points in the fourth quarter. I’ll pick the Steelers to stay tough at home and take advantage of the loss by the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, prevailing 28-19 over New England.
Last week, I got back in winning form, going 4-2, and moving my season record up to 31-24. Can I keep the streak going?
- Cowboys at Giants – After one of the most embarrassing defeats by any team ever last week, Dallas fired Wade Phillips, which at this point was an act of mercy. His team had obviously quit on him, and Jerry Jones had no other choice. Unfortunately for the ‘Boys, the Jason Garrett era starts with a red-hot New York Giants team playing at home. They can’t even hope that the Giants are looking past them, since this is an archrivalry, and the Giants are undoubtedly looking to put an exclamation point on the woes of Dallas. Garrett had better have given some reps to whomever is Jon Kitna’s backup. Giants over Cowboys, 35-14.
- Titans at Dolphins – The Dolphins haven’t won a game at home, and Tennessee is 3-1 on the road. On the other hand, Miami is changing QBs to go back to Chad Pennington, while the Titans are absorbing Randy Moss while deciding on their own QB situation. Miami has been competitive all year and needs a breakout game to generate some sort of identity, but they’re probably not going to get it against the Titan running game and Tennessee’s defense. Titans win this one 24-21.
- Vikings at Bears – The Bears are barely hanging on with Jay Cutler and a weak O-line, and Minnesota finally got its pass rush working last week against the Cardinals. Even though the Vikes haven’t won a game on the road yet, they’re somehow favored on the ESPN listing. Brett Favre had his best game all season last week at home, and staged his most dramatic comeback since the game in which he replaced an injured Don Majkowski for Green Bay and started his inexorable Hall of Fame march. If the Vikings play an entire game like their last quarter and overtime period, they should beat the Bears, 27-17.
- Lions at Bills – The two cellar-dwellers might match up for a pretty good game. The Bills haven’t won yet this season, but they’ve taken a couple of winning teams into overtime, and they’re playing tough. The Lions are also still hungry, and improving. Detroit hasn’t won a road game, though, and if the Bills are going to win one this year, they’d better start against the Lions. I’ll pick the Bills to win it, 19-14.
- Eagles at Redskins – This is the Pass the Popcorn Bowl. The Eagles let Donovan McNabb go in the offseason, and McNabb had hoped to use his perch at divisional rival Washington to make them sorry. Now he finds himself embroiled in another QB controversy after Mike Shanahan pulled him for Rex The Wonder Dog Grossman in the final drive of the game last week — and then couldn’t get his stories straight about why. If the Eagles win it, they can keep pace with the Giants, and almost ensure that McNabb has to buy a new HDTV for the playoffs this year. Eagles are too tough for the confused Redskins and will win, 31-23.
- Jets at Browns – Once again, I invoke the Jazz Shaw Paranoia Rule and have no opinion on this game whatsoever. But please, will everyone who has Twitter send a message to @JazzShaw and tell him I picked the Jets to win?
Note: The front-page image comes from ESPN’s Page 2, which re-imagined team logos at the midseason. The one for the Dallas Cowboys is probably the best, although the Panthers’ hairball and Denver’s My Little Bronco are good runners-up.