Call this get-even week. November is the big month for rematches, and no fewer than five of them come up this Sunday.
On Oct. 21 the Browns upset the Ravens 24-14 in Cleveland in a game that made a double statement. It showed that the Browns could compete with anybody and that Baltimore, whose record leveled off at 3-3, was in trouble. Now the teams meet again in Baltimore, and I've got to go with the Ravens for the simple reason that Cleveland's defense is worn out. Over the last four games opposing teams have run off an average of slightly more than 80 plays per game. The defense has been on the field too long, and it showed on Sunday when the Steelers rode the Bus down the field to set up the winning field goal in overtime. Offensively the Browns couldn't mount a serious drive in the last quarter. Pittsburgh's corners were sitting on the short routes, defying Tim Couch to go downfield. Then when he looked deep, the rush was on him too quickly.
The Dolphins, after blowing a 17-0 halftime lead against the Jets at the Meadowlands on Oct. 14, get a chance to avenge that loss, in Miami. Since then New York has won three of four, and the Dolphins have won three straight. Both teams have undergone personality changes. The Jets defense had been at the bottom of the league against the rush but was tougher against the run in victories over the Saints and the Chiefs. The book on Miami was: Make Jay Fiedler beat you with his arm. That's exactly what he did, against the Seahawks, Panthers and Colts. In the first meeting with the Jets, the Dolphins curiously gave up on their running game in the second half. I don't think that'll happen this time: Miami to break a seven-game jinx against New York and win it on the ground.
The Jaguars forced four turnovers and beat the Steelers in a Jacksonville rainstorm in their season opener. On dry footing, though, with the pass rushers getting traction, I don't see the Jaguars holding off that Pittsburgh jailbreak. The Steelers get their revenge.
The Eagles crushed the Cowboys 40-18 in Philly on Sept. 30.1 don't think it'll be that bad this time in Dallas, but Ryan Leaf isn't ready for the kind of schemes that Jim Johnson's defense will throw at him. I see an Eagles win, thanks to about four Cowboys turnovers.
Finally, and it isn't really fair to pick this game, but it follows the rematch theme, so I'm kind of pinned. The 49ers beat the Panthers by 10 in San Francisco on Oct. 7. I'll go way out on a limb and pick the Niners to win the rematch. Still, you never know when a team will get tired of being shoved around and rise in a fury. This has been the year for it.
Then there's the rematch hanging over from last season, when the Giants shocked everyone by beating the Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship Game. New York's ability to score big made some sense because Minnesota's secondary was severely depleted, but the shutout came from nowhere. All the Vikings' big guns were silent, just as they have been the last two games, blowout losses to the Buccaneers and Eagles. Those games, however, were on the road, and at home Minnesota still can be dangerous—assuming the Vikings haven't packed it in for the season. I like John Fox's defense in this matchup. I'll go with the Giants in a low-scoring affair.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, coming off that glorious win over the Raiders, has never faced the Hawk, the terrible Buffalo wind. The Bills load up against Shaun Alexander, the Hawk blows Hasselbeck's passes into the arms of thankful defenders, and Buffalo gets its win.
The Saints have lost two in a row since their upset of the Rams, and they showed some shockingly sloppy defense against the Niners in the first half on Sunday. Still, they moved the ball, so I've got to like New Orleans at home over the Colts. Look for the Broncos to cool off the resurgent Redskins, and for the Bucs to lock in on the Bears' succession of five-yard hitch passes and get the win.