Forecasting the Top Five Games of Week Eight

Game of the Week Dallas Cowboys (5-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3): If I would have told you at the beginning of the season that one of these teams had the No.1 ranked defense in the league, you would have easily picked the vaunted unit of the Buccaneers. You would have guessed wrong.

It's the Boys' which are the No.1 defense in the league, while Tampa Bay is just pretending.


The Buccaneers defense, which some have ranked among the top five of All-Time, has already been ripped for 171 yards rushing and 212 yards rushing a piece against Carolina and San Francisco. Offenses don't fear this unit anymore. The blueprint is out there; if you punch this team in the mouth, they will eventually wear down.


Clearly, it's time for the Buccaneers to get back their aura of invincibility on defense. Every defending Super Bowl championship team since Denver in 1998 has struggled to put together a strong season following its triumphant glory.


The Broncos followed up their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with a disastrous 6-10 campaign in 1999. The Rams barely made the playoffs as a sixth seed in 2000, after flying to a 6-0 start. Injuries to Warner and Marshall Faulk hurt them mid-way through the season. The Ravens limped to a 3-3 start to the season after looking like an unstoppable team in its first four games. The Patriots went 3-4 last year and eventually missed the playoffs.


What will Tampa Bay's response be?


Prediction: The Buccaneers are a proud team, so you have to believe that they will mount a strong response to last week's embarrassing loss to the 49ers. The Cowboys are a solid team and Parcells has gotten them to stop making critical mistakes. However, they will be hard pressed to run the ball on Tampa Bay like other teams have. Without the threat of a strong running game, Tampa Bay's pass rush should be fierce. Quincy Carter will struggle to make plays all day long.


Cowboys: 14

Buccaneers: 23


Game Two


Buffalo Bills (4-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-0): Whether they are getting all of the breaks or not, Kansas City is 7-0 and the team to beat in the NFL. The defense is much improved from a year ago, when it was the worst unit in the NFL. The offense hasn't clicked the way it did last year, but it is still an explosive group that has averaged 29.7 points per game this season. Led by Dante Hall, the Chiefs have the best special teams in the league.


Still, at some point, they will lose a game. The Bills may be the team to knock them off their perch. After struggling to run the ball all season long, Buffalo finally found its footing against Washington, gaining close to 200 yards on the ground. Travis Henry looked sharp and quick in his cuts, and the Buffalo offensive line was able to physically dominate the Redskins up front.

If the Chiefs have one glaring weakness, it is the team's run defense, which has been gashed by
Baltimore, Denver and Green Bay this season. If the Bills can establish the running game, Bledsoe will be able to use play-action to hold the pass rush in check.


Prediction: How well the Bills' defense matches up against the Chiefs' offense will decide this game. Ranked third in the NFL, Buffalo has been very good against the pass all year and decent against the run. The Bills should have the balance on offense to have success against Kansas City's defense, but that won't make a difference unless the Buffalo defense doesn't hold its own, especially against Priest Holmes. Ultimately, the Bills will do just enough on both sides of the ball to get out of Arrowhead Stadium with a crucial victory.


Bills- 27

Chiefs- 20


Game Three


St. Louis Rams (4-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4): This is practically the Steelers' last stand. With a loss to the Rams on Sunday, they will be very hard pressed to finish out the season with a 7-2 record, which is what it will probably take to win the AFC North.


The Rams seem to match up perfectly with Pittsburgh. Marc Bulger leads a Rams' passing attack which ranks first in the NFL and the Steelers' secondary is susceptible against a good passing attack. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers offense has yet to establish any rhythm because the offensive line is in shambles and the running game has been unproductive.


Prediction: The Steelers seem to be grasping for straws. Bill Cowher renamed Jerome Bettis as his starting running back for this weekend's game, which indicates that the team will try to regain its smash-mouth running style from years past. However, Bettis is running on fumes and the Steelers' offensive line is struggling to run block. The Rams defensive end duo of Grant Wistrom and Leonard Little should be able to create havoc off the edges, leaving Tommy Maddox with no time to pass the ball.


Rams- 24

Steelers- 14


Game Four


New York Jets (2-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3): The game itself may not be an appealing matchup but the subplots imbedded within this game are worth keeping track of. For one, has Donovan McNabb's precipitous drop as one of the league's top quarterbacks been an illusion for the first six games of the season or is it reality? McNabb seems to have lost all of his confidence. His passer rating ranks dead last in the NFL and he is not the scrambling threat that he's been in the past.

With McNabb's struggles, the entire Eagles offense has been awful. Without the strong play of its defense,
Philadelphia would be a 0-6 team.

The Jets have won two straight games after going winless in its first four games. With Chad Pennington's return to the lineup within the next week, this team has a second chance to make a push towards the playoffs.


Prediction: It's tough to tell if New York is really back on track as a football team or if they are team that will still finish with a losing record when it's all said and done. True, the Jets win against Buffalo was impressive but they barely squeaked by Houston last week. It's going to be tough sledding for the Jets against Philly in this game because the Eagles' defense has played at a dominant level. The Jets will struggle to run the ball and they will sink as a result.


Jets- 10

Eagles- 17


Game Five


New York Giants (2-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-0): As is the case for Pittsburgh, this is also a "last stand" performance for the Giants, which has underachieved all season long. The Giants can't seem to move the ball on offense because the offensive line has had issues picking up the blitz all season long. As a result, the defense's solid play over the last three weeks has been for not.

The Vikings may be the most impressive team in the league, not just because they haven't lost a game, but because they has blown out virtually every team on its schedule.
Minnesota made the case that they are for real by outlasting the Broncos a week ago. With two more wins at home, one of which is against the Packers next week, the Vikings will have a stranglehold on the NFC North.


Prediction: It's tough to see the chinks on Minnesota's armor. Defensive coordinator George O'Leary has done a great job of masking the defense's weaknesses by using various alignments so offenses can't get a read on how to attack it. It also doesn't hurt to play with a lead, which is what the defense has had the fortune of being able to do all year long. Look for the Vikings to keep it going against a deflated Giants team.


Giants- 21

Vikings- 27


Last Week's Record: 3-2


Overall Record: 8-2







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