Much like yesterday's college slate, this week's SPF schedule features teams looking towards the season's end and where they want to be at that point. Teams know that the season is half over at this point and they need to be making their final pushes.
The best teams are figuring out how to keep climbing towards a Super Bowl, while those in the middle want to stay in the playoff chase.
The worst teams have started to move towards an assessment process. Next year is dead ahead, and their rosters need to be evaulated now for an effective off season.
Indianapolis at Carolina
The Colts seem prepared for Carolina. They just went against a very similar team in Jacksonville. The only disadvantage the Colts have is playing last on Monday night while the Panthers are coming off of a bye.
However, Carolina is still without Jake Delhomme for the rest of the season, and Jake's backup, David Carr, will now sit in favor of 43 year old Vinny Testaverde who was signed a few weeks ago. Listening to Fox discuss the QB situation and QBs in question talk about their own roles, it's pretty clear that everyone is on the same page.
It does say volumes about how important Delhomme is to this team. With a healthy Delhomme, Carolina might be favored to win. Without him, that seems unlikely.
NY Giants at Miami
Be happy, Dolphins fans - the truth will set you free! The internal analysis by Wayne Huizenga should turn the franchise around in the future. Buried in that story is Huizenga's admission that hiring Dave Wanstedt was a mistake. That means that Huizenga realizes that the talent window the Jimmy Johnson created has closed and that the team needs the best people managing its rebuilding process.
Huizenga also wouldn't criticize the hiring of Nick Saban. That's shows smarts and honesty as well. Saban is the easy fall guy for the franchise, but he must have been saying behind the scene what Huizenga didn't want to hear - the Dolphins needed to be rebuilt.
Wayne is on the fence with GM Randy Mueller and Cam Cameron. Although it is true that neither guy is totally responsible for the current mess, neither guy has helped to get them out of it.
Listening to this clip as Cameron talks about the Dolphins game today against the Giants, SPF still feels strongly that he isn't the guy. Nice enough, but without any true vision for running an important NFL team with such a glorious history.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Lonnie Wheeler is desperate about the Steelers. He chronicles how the Steelers have stolen every bit of meager thunder the Bengals have been able to generate in the last ten years or so.
SPF has ridden the Bengals all year, and we still think that there is a better than average chance that they could turn a corner towards the playoffs. It would have to start with this game.
As one listens to coach Marvin Lewis discuss last week's win agains the Jets, you can hear some relief. Unfortunately, this week also highlighted one of the Bengals main problems - off the field player issues. Suspended WR Chris Henry returned to practice this week. You can hear Carson Palmer's investment in this guy because he gives him so many weapons.
Cincy is at home. Time to make long time suffering guys like Wheeler happy again.
Oakland at Tennessee
Vince Young is ready for action, and the Titans made it through last week without having him. Now, it is time for this team to start rolling towards the playoffs. The Colts and the Patriots might be the class of the AFC, but the Titans are nipping at their heels, maybe not this year, but next.
This team needs to take the momentum of Vince Young returning and win big against Oakland. They should do just that.
Cleveland at St. Louis
Listening to Scott Linehan discussing Steven Jackson's return from injury demonstrates how far he's come as a coach this season - at least from a demeanor standpoint. It's hard to imagine that a winless team's coach could be lauded for his approach, but Linehan walked into a bad situation - a veteran team on the way down.
Linehan needs to make sure he doesn't lose the ear of Jackson or Marc Bulger. Those are two blocks the Rams can build around for the future.
A win against Cleveland isn't out of the question. Cleveland does not have an overpowering defense while the Rams' defense has been fairly effective all season. Listening to Linehan, a win going into their bye week may just be his way of beginning to turn the corner.
Jacksonville at Tampa Bay
This is SPF's most interesting game to watch. Both of these teams are coming off of disappointing losses. The Bucs couldn't take care of business in Detroit despite dominating the game statistically. Gruden seems resolute in discussing the loss to the Lions because he knows that the Bucs are still in the thick of things in the NFC South. However, the Bucs need to show that they can win against good teams.
Watching clips from Jack Del Rio's post game press conference following his team's devastating loss to the Colts, one can finally see a chink in his armor. Despite his almost effusive overconfidence, Del Rio has to know that he has built merely a very good team in a division and conference that demands a great team.
Now, Jax has a very inexperienced Quinn Gray at QB. The Jags might rally around Gray, but there is only so much this Floirda A&M product can do. As Jeff Garcia points out gingerly, defenses tend to feast on QBs with simplified game plans.
The Bucs should win this game in a rout. They are at home with a great defense to rattle Gray. If so, the Bucs continue to stay ahead of the NFC South pack. If so, Jax is in real trouble. The same pattern is developing in the Del Rio era - promise followed by mediocrity.
Houston at San Diego
Much like the Jags, Kubiak's Texans are just good enough to lose to the better teams in the league. The uncertainty they faced leading into their game in San Diego over the fires in California serves as a metaphor for this team's overall direction. Kubiak brushed off his QB situaition that has suddenly grown muddled when Sage Rosenfels lit up the Titans in the 4th quarter last week. He is still standing behind Matt Schaub when he's healthy.
This is the right move. Rosenfels is not a long term NFL starter. The Titans were way up and had a late game let down to provide him with some padded stats.
San Diego is suddenly back as a vogue pick in the AFC after some early season struggles, but Norv Turner is not a Super Bowl winning coach. Kubiak and the Texans are supposedly in the best division in football. The AFC West is decidedly mediocre. A win in San Diego would go a long way towards answering questions about the Texans under Kubiak.
Whether owner Bob McNair wants to admit it or not, his super valuable franchise continues to circle the drain as an on field product. Kubiak and his leadership group needs to be on as short of a leash as Wayne Huizenga has the Dolphins on.
New Orleans at San Francisco
SPF's theme for the Saints before the season began was consistency. This is a franchise that has never been able to handle success. The jury is still out on this season. The Saints are starting to improve with a lot of football left to play.
Every week is important, but this week's game in SF seems particularly so. The Niners are down, way down, but they have enough smarts to beat any team. The Saints should take them down handily, and they need to do so. Listening to Drew Brees discuss the Saints diversified backfield gives more hope that enough adjustments have been made to make up for the loss of Deuce.
Watching coach Sean Payton discussing the trip out west shows SPF that he sees the game's importance. We also notice that the Saints backdrop features the recognition that the Saints are this season's defending NFC South champs. They need to start remembering it and acting like it.
Washington at New England
Whether listening to coach Joe Gibbs or the Redskins players discussing today's game against the dominating Patriots, it seems to SPF that this team has the right frame of mind. They are approaching this game with the proper humility and focus.
The Redskins are a few offensive tweaks from being a Super Bowl contender. Because this week is their first pressure-free game (no one expects them to win), maybe it is an opportunity to open things up a bit.
SPF predicts a possible upset. The Patriots have the Colts on their mind right now. The Redskins can change the course of their season with a win.
Bye: Atlanta, Dallas
These teams need them for different reasons. Atlanta needs to regroup and face the second half with Petrino fully in charge of the franchise. Dallas just needs to reflect on their fine record and how they can keep building this year's team into a Super Bowl winner.