Pittsburgh @ Chicago
People have acknowledged that the Brian Urlacher injury is huge. But they haven’t admitted why. The Urlacher injury is huge because it means Chicago’s season is over. Urlacher can be a vociferous run defender but his greatest value is in pass coverage. With the Bears already in somewhat of a limbo at safety (they rotate starting safeties the way Hugh Heffner rotates playmates), having the slower and more reactionary Hunter Hillenmeyer holding down the middle of the field is potentially costly.
The Steelers, by the way, are no longer a running team. They ranked 22nd on the ground last season and won the Super Bowl behind the heroics of Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers. It’s okay, Pittsburgh fans, with that defense, your team can still be considered “tough” and “blue collar” and whatever politically correct football purist terms people like to use these days. But the bottom line is this is a passing offense.
Cleveland @ Denver
Is Week 2 too early for a game to have major draft implications? These are two teams jockeying for positioning in the top five for next April. Yes, Denver’s defense played surprisingly well against Cincinnati. And yes, the Broncos will probably look good again this week against a putrid Browns offense (an offense that, with Jamal Lewis, has a running game that’s really more a walking game). But check back in October on Denver’s D.
New York Giants @ Dallas
The Cowboys are expecting 104,000 spectators for their first regular season game in Jerry Jones’s new palace. That’s not insignificant.
Neither are the issues with the ultra-luminous television board. But you just know NBC is going to beat that story to death. The over/under on number of mentions about the possibility of a punt hitting the television board is 15 (For the record, should Al Michaels mention it before a punt, during a punt and after that same punt, that would count as three times.)
As for this matchup itself, whichever team runs the ball most effectively will likely finish better off in final standings. Whether that translates specifically to Sunday night remains to be seen. We hear so much about New York’s three-pronged rushing attack – and rightfully so – but it’s Dallas that actually has the better backfield. Marion Barber is a superb closer. Felix Jones is a homerun threat. And Tashard Choice is potentially a poor man’s ’06 LaDainian Tomlinson (which is still star status).
Indianapolis @ Miami
For as long as I live, whenever I see this matchup my mind will instantly race back to the 2000 Wild Card game when Dolphins bruiser Lamar Smith carried the ball 40 times for 209 yards. It was one of the greatest performances of all-time.
With Bob Sanders out, Miami might be able to broach the 200-yard mark on the ground again this week. But the Dolphins can’t win if they lose the turnover battle (ditto for just about all of the other 31 teams). They gave up possession four times against Atlanta, which leaves them just nine turnovers away from matching their total for all of last season.
The Colts offensive line has serious issues. On a typical NFL team, slow-footed left tackle Charlie Johnson would be a utility backup. Here, he’s playing ahead of disappointing former second-round pick Tony Ugoh (who looked like a Pro Bowler at times as a rookie but hasn’t been the same since knee problems).
Indy is clearly the better team, but in honor of Lamar Smith, and in honor of the near-upsets from last week’s Monday night contests, the prediction is the Dolphins to eke out a victory on the ground.