You'd call the Steelers giant killers, except they are now giants themselves, with a giant for a quarterback. On Sunday they ended the Patriots' 21game winning streak. Now they have a chance to take down the last undefeated team, the Eagles, who are going into Pittsburgh's Heinz Field as favorites, just as New England did.
Why is Philly favored? For the same reasons the Patriots were--a superstar quarterback and a crafty defensive strategist who should be an overmatch for a rookie quarterback such as Ben Roethlisberger. Tom Brady has been a miracle worker for New England, but the Steelers' swarm got to him. I hate to belittle a magnificent victory for Pittsburgh, but Brady was playing with half a deck.
Running back Corey Dillon was inactive with a thigh injury, the wideout corps was thin, one tackle was missing and in the second half the other tackle spot was manned by a backup too. Good luck trying to hold off the Steelers' maniac edge rushers with jayvee tackles.
Well, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb more or less has his troops in order, with the exception of running back Brian Westbrook, who missed the game against the Ravens on Sunday with a cracked rib. Dorsey Levens has had a great career, but McNabb is not going to hold the Pittsburgh linebackers with play fakes to Levens. And Levens is not about to carry the running game Philly needs to blunt the Steelers' rush. McNabb failed to convert any of his first seven third-down situations on Sunday, and it took some heavy muscle work by wideout Terrell Owens to bail him out.
The matchup of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, with his complicated blitz and coverage packages, against Big Ben, the rookie, doesn't seem fair. I heard the same thing about Bill Belichick's schemes last week, but without varsity cornerbacks--both New England starters were out for most of the game--you can't manufacture coverage out of thin air.
The 6'5", 242-pound Roethlisberger is riding high, in a kind of rookie euphoria, and sooner or later he'll have a downer, just as Daunte Culpepper had against the Giants on Sunday. Nothing seems to confuse Roethlisberger, though. He seems impervious to the rush. I'll ride with the hot quarterback, and take the Steelers in ... gosh, it will be an upset, won't it?
The Patriots are favored in St. Louis, but you don't want to go into the Eddie Dome with a banged-up secondary. The Rams will win it.
Beware the Hawk, that vicious gale-force wind that whips through Buffalo. Kindly present a running game or go home if the winds are blowing as they were on Sunday, up to 40 mph. The Bills have a running back in Travis Henry and now another in Willis McGahee. But the Jets have Curtis Martin, whom they will surely need, as they squeeze out a tough one against the Bills. Oakland is due for a rebound, but not on the road against the Panthers--Carolina is the pick.
The Vikings and the Colts might set total yardage and points records for a Monday-nighter. Hold the opposition to a three-and-out series, and you've broken service and will probably win. Stop the other team twice and it's a blowout. The Colts win on more service breaks. Finally, the Cowboys keep it going in Cincinnati and the Chiefs do the same in Tampa. -- Paul Zimmerman
Last week: 7--2 Season: 44--29