They Know each other well, they socialize in the off-season, they play in the same golf tournaments. The Giants are mostly Jersey guys, while the Jets hang out on Long Island, but the two teams have New York City in common, and I wonder how many phone calls this week have started out, "Hey, tell me how you defensed the Rams."
St. Louis completes its New York double-dip with a game against the Jets this Sunday, and wouldn't everybody love to handle the Rams the way the Giants did last week? O.K., New York lost by a point, but it had St. Louis on the ropes after knocking running back Marshall Faulk out of the game and sacking Kurt Warner a half-dozen times. If not for some very picky officials' calls down the stretch, the Giants would have pulled off the upset.
New York changed the game from a track meet, the Rams' specialty on their St. Louis speedway, into a street fight. It's to the Rams' credit that their defense played this kind of hard, nasty football, too. But anybody facing them would prefer that kind of action to one of those whoosh, whoosh types of things.
The Giants didn't throw a lot of blitzes at St. Louis, as Philly did in the season opener. They blitzed selectively, relying on their front four to generate the pressure. This worked mainly because the Rams' coaching staff sent out right tackle Ryan Tucker to go one-on-one with one of the league's premier pass rushers, Michael Strahan, even though Tucker had a separated left shoulder and a cast on his broken right hand. If not for Strahan's four sacks and a half-dozen or so pressures, this would have worked out fine.
The Giants limited St. Louis's yards after the catch with precise tackling, just as the Bucs did against the Rams in the NFC Championship Game two years ago. St. Louis gave up on the idea of sending its wideouts deep against New York's speedy cornerbacks and instead ran them on crossing patterns, which produced the most significant gains. Still, one touchdown and three field goals is slim pickings for this high-powered offense, and the question is, can the Jets' defense be equally effective?
The Jets played two games against the Dolphins on Sunday. In the first half they got pasted 17-0. Then in less than four minutes after intermission they put together a touchdown drive, forced a fumble on Miami's first play and scored a touchdown on the next play. Suddenly they were right back in the game. Their defense came alive; the Dolphins for some reason abandoned the run, which had worked so well; the Jets put together one more touchdown drive; and that was all New York needed.
The Jets have been pounded by the run all year, but St. Louis will probably be minus Faulk. New York hasn't been getting many sacks, either, but if the Rams try to get by with a battered tackle again, Warner could feel some heat. Plus the game will be in New Jersey, on grass, which isn't St. Louis's preferred surface. Do I have the guts to pick an upset, to call this the Rams' first loss of the season? Maybe if I hadn't gotten hammered on my picks last weekend I would, but at this point I'm gun-shy. The Rams will take it.
I like the Giants, coming off the heart-breaker, to beat the Eagles in the Monday-nighter, even though Philly is nicely rested after its bye week. Why? Because New York has won the last nine games in this series. The Giants have the Eagles' number.
Pittsburgh's heavy run-to-pass ratio is made-to-order for Tampa Bay, so the Bucs should win in a low-scorer. Green Bay has had mixed success in the Metrodome, but as long as its defense continues to be sound, I'll take the Packers over the Vikings. An upset of Baltimore could make Cleveland's season, but the Ravens will be in a nasty mood and will get the win. Denver, trying desperately to find another wideout to complement Rod Smith, has had problems, but I'll give the Broncos the nod in San Diego.
Finally, here's my upset, and I'm sorry if it doesn't thrill you, but it's the best I can do: Arizona will beat Kansas City in the desert, where strange things have been known to happen.