WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This is the first meeting between these two teams since the Giants upset the unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2007 season. New York comes in without injured RB Ahmad Bradshaw and WR Hakeem Nicks, which means that RB Brandon Jacobs must step up. Giants QB Eli Manning has been super all season, with the exception of the loss to Seattle when he committed three turnovers. He faces the NFL’s worst pass defense, one that has struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and one that is weak at safety with James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown. If given time, Manning should have time to find WRs Mario Manningham or Victor Cruz on deep posts and sideline routes.
On defense, the Giants figure to have DBs Antrel Rolle and Corey Webster rotating on Pats WR Wes Welker, but they better be mindful that Patriots QB Tom Brady has thrown 27 touchdown passes to his tight ends since 2010. Brady struggled against the Steelers’ press coverage last Sunday and New England doesn’t have much of a running game. There is no doubt that Brady doesn’t have much confidence in WR Chad Ochocinco. The Giants’ pass rush (NFL-high 26 sacks) could prove to be too much for Brady, just like it was in Arizona when an 18-0 season ended with a 17-14 loss.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Both head coaches were ultra kind to each other this week and there’s no questioning the fact that Belichick has fond memories of his 13 seasons with the Giants as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator. He tells FOX’s Jimmy Johnson as much during a Sunday pregame show interview. Since Coughlin’s team upset the unbeaten Patriots at the end of the 2007 season, Belichick has failed to win another playoff game. In fact, his last championship season was 2004.
It is interesting to note that Manning of late has been playing like the quarterback who played such mistake-free football during that four-game playoff run in 2007. Manning has thrown for 2,127 yards, 13 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and has a 102.1 rating — more than 20 points above his career rating of 80.2 coming into the season. He has been interception-free in four of seven games, with a three-interception performance in a home loss to the Seahawks the only questionable game of the season. The Giants had five turnovers that day, but are plus-7 in their other six games.
The Giants were forced to put special teams player Justin Tyron on IR this week with a broken arm. In fact, Tyron played more than two quarters with the injury and finished last week’s Dolphins game with a key tackle of Reggie Bush on a fourth-quarter punt that pinned the Dolphins at their own 16 in the 20-17 win.
Green Bay at San Diego, 4:15 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Chargers are six-point underdogs at home and it seems unlikely that their defense can slow down Aaron Rodgers and the unbeaten Packers. San Diego plans to run Mike Tolbert and hope that QB Philip Rivers can stay away from costly interceptions (NFL-high 13 turnovers) and maintain possession of the ball. Packers CB Charles Woodson figures to stick with San Diego TE Antonio Gates, who usually is double-covered. The Chargers probably won’t have WR Malcom Floyd or RB Ryan Mathews for this game. The Packers’ pass defense will get back Sam Shields and outside LB Frank Zombo.
Look for Rodgers, who has already thrown 20 TD passes this season, to attack either Chargers CB Antoine Cason or rookie Marcus Gilchrist and stay away from Quentin Jammer. San Diego has struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and if they are forced to blitz Rodgers, it could be a long day for the Chargers considering the depth of the Packers’ receiving corps and the rapid development of Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Rodgers has six 300-yard passing games this season, only one short of Brett Favre’s single-season team record. Rodgers could set a league record today with an eighth straight game of having a passer rating of at least 110 — he is tied with Hall of Famer Steve Young, who had a seven-game streak in 1994 when Rodgers was a 10-year-old in Chico cheering for his beloved San Francisco 49ers.
It is no surprise that most San Diego fans and talk radio experts are screaming for the heads of coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith for the Chargers’ 4-3 start. But just about everything that can go wrong has for the Chargers, starting with Monday night’s center snap to so many injuries that Jackson and Gates rarely practice, plus running back Ryan Mathews can’t stay on the field. Owner Dean Spanos understands the situation and barring a total collapse both men should be safe.
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, a disciple of late Jim Johnson, the former Eagles defensive coordinator who loved blitzing, has shown teams that you can survive — maybe not win — by not blitzing Aaron Rodgers. Ken Flajole, the Rams’ defensive coordinator, said that Rodgers “has gotten better every year and beaten pressure with the quick throws, I think people are going to dial the pressure back on him a little bit and be more willing to play coverage. They are saying, ‘Hey, listen. This guy recognizes pressure. He’s going to get the ball out fast and pressure’s not going to get home.’ ” There is no doubt that Rodgers has the ability to beat single coverage deep.
St. Louis at Arizona, 4:15 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Rams QB Sam Bradford says he wants to play today and it all depends on how well he moves on his left ankle, one that suffered a high ankle sprain, in pregame warm-ups. The coaching staff wants him to play if he can move and protect himself.
The Cardinals apparently will start QB John Skelton, who was 2-2 as a starter last season. Starter Kevin Kolb is hampered with a turf toe. The Cardinals have won eight of the last nine games in this series. The Rams don’t have a cornerback who can stick with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, who has caught 12 TDs against St. Louis.
This game should feature a heavy dose of Arizona RB Beanie Wells vs. St. Louis RB Steven Jackson, who rushed for over 150 yards in the win over the Saints last Sunday. The Cardinals have struggled against the run lately. The stadium roof will be open today, something that rarely happened when Kurt Warner was the quarterback here.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Bradford actually took some shotgun snaps on Thursday and his left ankle is out of the protective boot, although he does have a brace protecting the ankle. He said he’s looking forward to playing with new WR Brandon Lloyd.
The Cardinals have a lot invested in Kolb, having sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in 2012 to the Eagles for him. Then they signed Kolb to a five-year, $63 million deal. They are just hoping that Kolb can improve his play this season, so he will be more effective next season.
No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson became the first Cardinal since Vai Sikahema in 1986 to return two punts for touchdowns in the same season. Sikahema and Ollie Matson hold the franchise career record with three. “That’s my No. 1 love — punt returns,” said Peterson, who starred at LSU last season. “I told my guys at the beginning of the week, ‘All I ask for is give me five yards and meet me in the end zone.’ ”
The Cardinals have won just three of their past 18 games. They had a seven-game losing streak last season, and they currently have a six-game streak.
OTHER SUNDAY GAMES
NY Jets at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET: Bills coach Chan Gailey has never beaten the Jets in what is an early AFC East showdown game. Buffalo is coming off a 10-sack game in last week’s shutout of the hapless Redskins. Jets QB Mark Sanchez better be careful because the Bills are plus-9 in the turnover department, led by safeties George Wilson and Jarius Byrd. This could be a high-scoring game if the Bills can protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick from the Jets’ blitzes and also keep RB Fred Jackson in the flow. Rex Ryan’s team is winless on the road this season, plus the latest news is that Ryan plays a Boston lawyer who happens to be a Patriots fan in a new Adam Sandler movie.
Cleveland at Houston, 1 p.m. ET: The Texans catch the Browns once again without RB Peyton Hillis, whose hamstring problems reared up again on Friday. This should put Hillis into an even deeper funk with no new money in sight. It means that Cleveland’s running game will be in the hands of Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton, who was signed Tuesday. Houston WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) will be a game-time decision, but it makes sense to rest him with a bye two weeks away. Wade Phillips has turned Houston’s defense around; it ranks third overall and fifth against the pass. The Texans’ running game of Arian Foster and Ben Tate (both have more than 500 yards rushing) could prove too much for Cleveland, which is allowing 127 rushing yards a game. Houston has never been 6-3.
Miami at Kansas City, 1 p.m. ET: The Chiefs have won four straight after looking like one of the NFL’s worst teams in the first two weekends of the season. They are 9-2 at Arrowhead since last season. The Dolphins are winless and now must deal with Chiefs rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin, who had a TD catch in his first home game and gives QB Matt Cassel another target besides Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs are using a running bac-by-committee with Jackie Battle helping Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster. The Dolphins are playing better, but they just can’t seem to finish games.
Denver at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. ET: Raiders QB Carson Palmer says he knows his new team’s playbook, plus he and some of the receivers worked out during the bye week, hoping to find a rhythm against the two-win Broncos. Palmer will have to survive without RB Darren McFadden, who has a foot injury. Michael Bush will start with Taiwan Jones in relief. The Broncos have their own headaches, trying to help QB Tim Tebow with more shotgun and spread formations, but their roster lacks depth and a lot of playmakers. Raider fans wanted Terrell Owens, but Hue Jackson opted for another Bengals’ castoff in WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Cincinnati at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m. ET: The surprising Bengals are 3-1 on the road this season and seek their fifth straight win (last done in 1988) with rookie QB Andy Dalton. The Titans are still waiting for Chris Johnson (he needs 100 to reach 5,000 rushing yards) to get into gear and coach Mike Munchak has been so frustrated with his production that Javon Ringer will continue to get some carries. Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck has played remarkably well and has been injury-free this season, keeping No. 1 pick Jake Locker on the bench.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh, 8:20 p.m. ET: This is a huge showdown game as the Ravens look for their first sweep of the Steelers since 2006. Baltimore needs it in order to finally host a playoff game, something it hasn’t done since the 2003 season. Pittsburgh committed seven turnovers in the 35-7 loss on opening weekend in Baltimore, but Ben Roethlisberger has been on fire during four-game winning streak, throwing for 11 TDs while completing 67 percent of his attempts. Joe Flacco’s offense has been struggling, although he did throw for three TDs in the Week 1 win. Look for Terrell Suggs to take advantage of the right side of Pittsburgh’s O-line.