New England at Pittsburgh
On Sunday the Steelers rendered the Ravens' defense ineffective for the third time this season. If I were Pittsburgh's coaches, I'd keep Amos Zereoue, a slashing runner who's at the top of his game, as the starter and bring in Jerome Bettis late, when the Patriots' legs are tired. The combination of Zereoue and Kordell Stewart can wear out a defense trying to chase them, and Stewart is a Donovan McNabb clone, doing great damage throwing on the go.
The Patriots, however, represent the un-chartable element. They play at their highest level when the pressure is greatest. They staged an impossible comeback against the Raiders, pulling out too many big plays to count, in miserable conditions. Tom Brady is a blood-and-guts quarterback who squeezes out first downs almost through sheer force of will. Troy Brown is a money receiver and the no names, wideout David Patten and reserve tight end Jermaine Wiggins, each had the game of his life against Oakland.
I'd favor the Patriots if their opponent, no matter how much of a talent edge it held, showed the slightest tendency to relax, but the Steelers are tough guys, too, with wide receiver Hines Ward one of the most intense.
Pittsburgh takes it in a slugfest.
Philadelphia at St. Louis
In the season opener the Eagles took the Rams into overtime and held them to a pair of field goals after halftime. That, however, was with a healthy Troy Vincent, a Pro Bowl corner. He had a brilliant afternoon, picking off a pass and limiting St. Louis receivers to two catches for 13 yards when he was in man coverage. Now he's nursing a groin strain, and his status is day-to-day. The one place you don't want to be hobbled when you're facing the Greatest Show on Turf is in the secondary. The last time the teams met, Philly messed up Kurt Warner's timing by blitzing its defensive backs from the corners, dropping two linebackers for underneath coverage. The Eagles were effective until they tired late.
This time Philadelphia will have a new monster to contend with—the St. Louis defense, including right end Grant Wistrom, who missed the opener with a bad knee. He pursues hard down the line, and I'd guess that the Eagles will test him with misdirection and reverses. I expect McNabb to attack with his scrambles and throws on the move, but everybody knows that. I figure the Rams will spy him with their strong safety, Adam Archuleta, but McNabb will get his yards. I just think that the Rams will get more of them.
St. Louis is the pick.