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Pats Get First Real Test On Sunday
October 10, 2008 - John Whittaker
Sunday night, Matt Cassel gets his midterm examination.
After five weeks, we know Cassel will beat mediocre teams and fall victim to trap games against teams that traditionally play the Pats tough. In other words, he's equal to at least half the mediocre quarterbacks in the league.
The Pats were a Super Bowl caliber team before Tom Brady's knee shredded like a wet paper towel. Now, the quarterback position is a bigger unknown than the Dow Jones final resting place.
But, on Sunday night, on NBC, Cassel gets the chance to show Patriots fans if he can take the team deep into the playoffs. With the Pats schedule this year, Cassel should win 10 games and win the AFC East. The playoffs are a pretty decent bet right now. Scott Pioli needs to know if Cassel is capable of more.
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Quarterback isn't the only question mark to be looking at Sunday night, though. Here are my three keys to this game:
1. Can the offensive line snap out of its funk and protect Cassel? Going back to the Baltimore game last season, the Patriots offensive line has played poorly. They've had trouble with speed rushers coming from the outside, they can't adjust blocking schemes and pick up blitzes and haven't been able to open up consistent holes in the running game. Against San Diego, they will need to play better for the Patriots to have a chance.
2. Will Laurence Maroney finally play like a first-rounder? Right now, LaMont Jordan should be the starting running back. He has the best yards-per-carry, runs with the most leverage of any back on the roster and can pick up a blitz almost as well as Kevin Faulk can. But, he has no home-run speed. Maroney does. And, with Marion Barber III, his fellow Minnesota backfield mate, tearing up defenses in Dallas, it's about time Maroney stepped up with a good game against a good defense. His time in New England might be running short if he doesn't.
3. Can the linebackers tackle anyone? The biggest fault I saw in the Miami debacle was that the linebackers couldn't tackle anyone. Sure, they hadn't seen the single-wing offense since high school. There's no way the Wildcat offense showed up on Bill Belichick's videotapes - even the illegal ones. Their problem wasn't that they didn't know what was coming. When they got their hands on Ronnie Brown, Patriots tacklers slid off like Brown bathed in butter the night before. Jarrod Mayo will be a stud, but he needs to start maturing, like now. And, old warhorses like Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel have to stick it to LaDanian Tomlinson whenever they can on Sunday. I don't care how he's played the last three weeks, I'm still petrified of LDT, and the linebackers have to take him out of the game early Sunday night.
On to the rest of the games:
Chicago at Atlanta: It's time to do the Bears Hula - remember the old SNL skit with Chris Farley - Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears. Take a deep breath, and …. Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears.
If you can't take a hint, I'm taking Chicago.
Teska's Take: Atlanta: Kind of a toss-up game, but if you show me two straight really good games from Kyle Orton, and I'll show you a liar. I'll take Ryan at home.
Miami at Houston: These teams confuse me more than long division. Miami beats the Patriots and then wins again last week - though they had looked terrible other than those two games. Houston takes it to the Colts before coughing up the lead late. Both teams have a little more talent than they're given credit for, and have quarterbacks who seem to make a costly mistake at the worst times. Playing a hunch, I see the Texans neutering the Fins' Wildcat offense and winning on Sunday.
Sir Cumference's Take: Miami: Houston is finding ways to lose games while Miami is finding ways to win them. Also, that ending last week had to hurt Rosenfels' confidence, and he's clearly their best QB. Miami is my dog of the week at +145.
Baltimore at Indianapolis: Hey Peyton, how's life on the other side of the fence? Things are a bit harder when you have a crappy offensive line, one useful wide receiver and a defense that got lucky to stop Sage Rosenfels on Sunday, isn't it? I'm picking Baltimore - because Ray Lewis might hurt me if I don't.
Seriously, does anyone else look at old Ray Ray and think of the middle linebacker from The Program? I can just see Ray Ray inching toward the line of scrimmage Sunday and saying to Joseph Addai: "Hey, you poo-butt mother______er, you're the guy who shot my mother, aren't you?" He continues busting chops this weekend, and the Ravens win by a late field goal.
Teska's Take: Indianapolis: Considering they've only played two good quarters of football all season, this is a tough call. I think I could run for 100 yards against that defense. They have more no-name starters than the Cowboys cheerleaders have birth control pills.
Detroit at Minnesota: Before the season, I was ecstatic when I grabbed Roy Williams in the 10th round of my fantasy football draft. Now, I'm cursing my ""good" luck. It's funny how your perspective changes after five weeks and a switch to Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. Now, I can't give Williams away, and he's too "good" to release. At least there isn't any money involved.
Gus Frerotte wins another game Sunday for the Vikes, though I don't think it should count in the division standings since they're not playing an NFL team. Memo to the Ford Family - I just got a call from St. Mary's School of the Lousy Football Teams. Homecoming is in two weeks, and they want to know if the Lions are available on Friday night. They really want to win homecoming. Consider it done. Do it for the kids. Consider it community service - it's the least you can do for all the pain you've put Detroit fans through over the years.
Sir Cumference's Take: Minnesota: Detroit might not be able to win the Big Ten.
Oakland at New Orleans: New Orleans is exhibit A why the artist known as players' coaches rarely have winning football teams. The Saints are imaginative on offense, have playmakers all over the field, and the players love Sean Payton. And, you can't count on them to win any game. Sunday night's game was a microcosm of what I'm talking about -- who loses a game where you return two kicks for touchdowns? The Saints - because they can't play defense when it counts, can't stop committing bad penalties that extend opponents drives or kill their own, and couldn't see the handwriting on the wall with Martin Grammatica. Seriously, who didn't know that guy's career was over five years ago? What genius in the Saints front office didn't have NFL Sunday Ticket for the last five years? Or, were you on a five-year bender? Wait, I got it - Morten Andersen wasn't available? Hey Mickey Loomis, here's a tip - Scott Norwood's still on the market. I think he'll come kick for you. He's good from 47 yards, or is he? Sorry Bills fans -- too soon?
All that said, I'm still taking the Saints. Oakland really sucks.
Teska's Take: New Orleans: I am suddenly realizing there are a lot of TERRIBLE teams in the NFL. I have absolutely not idea how New Orleans lost on Monday night. They should get a win here in a revenge sort of game.
Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets: I don't know if Cincinnati will ever win a game this season. Seriously, I think I agree with Chad Johnson Cinco -- the more criminals, the better. With that in mind, sign up Kimball Anders, Bam Morris, Nate Newton, O.J., Odell Thurman, trade for Steve Smith and Terrell Owens, sign Kyle Turley, and start winning some games. Since none of those guys are on the Bengals roster this week, the Jets win.
Teska's Take: New York Jets: I don't see how Cincinnatti loses to go 0-6. But the Jets are coming off a bye week, and thats scary. Can Marvin Lewis get the worst coach of the year award?
Carolina at Tampa Bay: Since these teams are mirror images of each other, Carolina wins because they have better, and younger, personnel. Jake Delhomme finally stepped up with a better-than-average game last week, and it appears he's finally in sync with Steve Smith. I'm not sure what to make of Tampa other than this -- at some point, the Bucs have to give Jon Gruden a real quarterback. I can see him channeling his inner Woody Hayes and strangling Brian Griese or Jeff Garcia any day now.
Sir Cumference's Take: Tampa Bay: Now these are two teams that can play the game. I think Carolina's stronger at QB, but the Bucs are at home which favors them. Tough call, but in what may be a huge game in terms of who wins the NFC South I'll go with the home side.
St. Louis at Washington: Cue the Mortal Kombat voice, please. Jim Zorn … wins.
With that settled, how about Monday's episode of How I Met Your Mother? Interesting and all, but I'm starting to have a couple of problems with the show. 1. What the heck happened to the introductions with the kids at the start of the show. It was always an entertaining intro, and its absence is noticeable. 2. I swear to God the writer's strike is still on and they're not telling us, because a lot of what made the show funny in the first two seasons have disappeared in the last season and three episodes. No broings on around town. No suit up. Barney's not even ripping Ted for being engaged. It's character neuteration, and I don't' like it. 3. Does anyone believe there are no issues with Marshal and Lily being married and living with Ted. This can't be worked into the show at all? 4. When did Barney stop going to Foxy Boxing, the Lusty Leopard and laser tag? That was half of what made the show fun. In short - GET OFF THE STICK, you so-called writers. Good grief. Where were we?
Teska's Take: St. Louis: I guess you could call this my upset of the week. I expected the Skins to lose to the Cowboys. I expected them to lose to the Eagles. Now I'm more or less coerced into expecting them to lose....to the Rams? Crap....
Jacksonville at Denver: Ummmmmmmmm ….. I'm taking Jacksonville. I don't know why. I have no logic for this pick, and nothing funny to say about it. Let's move on.
Sir Cumference's Pick: Jacksonville: I don't trust Denver at all, especially against a team that can control the ball and play decent defense. The Broncos' ability to drop 30+ points on even a decent defense is the only reason Jax isn't my dog of the week, but I still think the Jags might be a decent play at +160.
Dallas at Arizona: Dallas might be the shakiest 4-1 team I've seen this side of New England, and I think Arizona comes out fired up again this week and wins in a shoot-out. Kurt Warner won't want to retire after this game - though Tony Romo might need to think good and hard about his relationship with Jessica Simpson after this game.
Sir Cumference's Pick: Dallas: I'm not sure what I could possibly say about this game, other than 'Dallas is much better'.
Philadelphia at San Francisco: J.T. O'Sullivan, meet Jim Johnson's blitzkrieg defense. Need I say more?
Sir Cumference's Take: Philadelphia: See above, replace 'Dallas' with 'Philly'.
Teska's Take: Philadelphia: Tough draw for the 9ers. They COULD have won last week nad now they face a hungry Eagles team. If the Eagles lose, however, I'll start calling them the Beagles.
Green Bay at Seattle: I have no faith in Green Bay right now. None. Ding dong, the Aaron Rodgers for President movement is dead. Really dead. It doesn't matter who they start at quarterback in this game, though, because Seattle probably won't score more than 6 points. Green Bay wins by default.
Teska's Take: Seattle: What team is Holmgren coaching? I think after this week, Green Bay fans will be wanting Brett Favre back. Rodgers struggles again and throws a couple picks while Brett earns a win for Jets
New England at San Diego: I hate going with untested quarterbacks on the road, but I'm picking this game based on the coaches. Bill Belichick will outcoach Norv -- okay, color me master of the obvious with that prediction -- and the Pats win an ugly one. It feels like a 17-14 game, with the Pats winning on a long Stephen Gostkowski field goal in the last four minutes.
Sir Cumference's Take: San Diego: I'm actually going out on a slight limb here and saying that this one could get very ugly, very quickly. I never like a team playing the second of back-to-back games on the opposite coast, and jumping from SF to SD is like going from Rookie to All-Madden.
N.Y. Giants at Cleveland: You have to feel sorry for Browns fans. You really do. You wait years for your team to make Monday Night Football, only to have them 1-4 coming in and playing the undefeated Super Bowl champs. I'm going to go out on a limb, though, and pick the Browns. Monday has TRAP GAME written all over it. In fact, that's how ESPN should promote this game -- At 8:30 on ESPN, it's the Trap Game. The Giants have little to play for, and the Browns' season is on the line. Can Derek Anderson save his job? Is Jamal Lewis done? Are Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow overrated, self-indulgent crap? Find out tonight after SportsCenter.
For one night, the Browns live up to last season and put a smile on the face of Chris Kinsler, our region editor and resident silly Browns Fan.
Sir Cumference's Take: N.Y. Giants: They couldn't have made this line high enough for me to like the Browns, even coming off a bye. I'm sure the bye helped them, but is there any real reason to think Cleveland is better than Seattle? This is unprecedented for me, but NYG -9 is my #1A lock of the week, along with the 'Skins.
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