Steelers look to keep rolling against Browns

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2004

Now comes the hard part for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After knocking off the NFL's last two unbeaten teams, they go on the road against a division foe and traditional rival.

Fortunately, Bill Cowher knows it. So he told his team as it heads for Cleveland on Sunday what a lot of euphoric fans don't understand: even after knocking off New England and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks, it's clear the Steelers aren't close to a title.

''We have been anointed nothing,'' Cowher said. ''We are in a what-have-you-done-lately-for-me business and it can change weekly. It is not a concern as long as we don't get caught up in it and we won't, trust me.''

Minnesota (5-3) at Green Bay (4-4)

A vital game in the NFC North.

The Vikings have lost two straight, conjuring up visions of previous second-half fades, including last year, when they started 6-0, then lost seven of their last 10. Green Bay, coming off its bye week, has won three straight after a 1-4 start that included three successive losses at Lambeau Field.

The obvious reason for Minnesota's problems has been the absence of All-Pro receiver Randy Moss, who probably will miss his second straight game with a hamstring pull after token appearances in the previous two. A good omen for the Packers: over the last four seasons, they are 27-9 in games played in November, December and January.

Philadelphia (7-1) at Dallas (3-5) (Monday night)

The Eagles can look to New England for a good omen after the 27-3 loss last week in Pittsburgh.

The Patriots, despite the absence of several injured players, played their best game of the season after the loss to the Steelers. The reason: The pressure of being unbeaten builds in every team and it should be off now in Philadelphia despite a lot of talk radio yapping.

''This is the only team I can ever remember having that I can't get to respond in the right way, no matter how hard I try,'' Bill Parcells said after the Cowboys were embarrassed in Cincinnati. ''I feel like I'm having trouble with elementary things. Either I'm not communicating right or they're not paying enough attention. One of the two, and I assume it's me.''

Seattle (5-3) at St. Louis (4-4)

Mike Martz sounded like Parcells after the Rams lost to the Patriots. Except that he put more blame on his team and less on himself.

In any case, the Rams really need this game a win ties them for the NFC West lead and gives them a tiebreaker because they rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win in Seattle. But a victory by the Seahawks gives them a solid hold on a division with only two legitimate contenders.

Baltimore (5-3) at New York Jets (6-2)

QB Quincy Carter starts for the injured Chad Pennington for New York. That might not be a bad thing against Baltimore's defense: Carter hardly fits the Jets' West Coast offense, but his mobility could slow down Baltimore's pass rush, especially if Curtis Martin can get some yards on the ground.

Look for Jamal Lewis to run, too.

''He needs to carry the ball more,'' coach Brian Billick said after Lewis carried just 22 times in his first game back from suspension. ''Anytime he doesn't have the ball 25 times, probably it's something we've got to go back and check.''

Tampa Bay (3-5) at Atlanta (6-2)

This is probably the last shot anyone in the NFC South has at denying the Falcons the division title. If they win this game, they'll be four games up depending on what New Orleans does, and the Saints don't look like a team that can challenge for anything.

The Bucs might contend if Brian Griese continues to play the way he has since taking over as Tampa's quarterback. His passer rating of 106.9 is fourth in the league and his presence allowed the Bucs to do what they have done rarely, win a 34-31 shootout last week against high-scoring but defensively deprived Kansas City.

Detroit (4-4) at Jacksonville (5-3)

Third-year man David Garrard starts for the Jags at quarterback for the injured Byron Leftwich and could set himself up for some future earnings if he performs. Some people in the league think he's a first-rate prospect.

The Lions remain a work in progress and their youth is showing. But they're in the NFC North race if Green Bay beats Minnesota and they win this game, they are in a three-way tie with the Packers and Vikings, not a bad position for a team that's been so down the last few years.

Buffalo (3-5) at New England (7-1)

New England's loss two weeks ago removed the burden of its 21-game winning streak.

Even with a plethora of injuries, the Pats played what Bill Belichick called their best game of the season in St. Louis. The 18-point margin was greater than all but one during the streak, and that one was a 31-0 win over the Bills in the last regular-season game of 2003.

Buffalo's offense clearly has been improved with the insertion of Willis McGahee at running back for Travis Henry. McGahee has three 100-yard games in three starts, including 132 last week in the win over the Jets.

Houston (4-4) at Indianapolis (5-3)

Houston is a lot like Detroit and in the same position. If the Texans win here and the Jaguars lose, they are in a three-way tie for the AFC South lead.

A win by the Texans is not implausible if they can somehow control Peyton Manning, whose 26 first-half touchdown passes put him on pace to break Dan Marino's 20-year-old single-season record of 48. The Colts' always-suspect defense held Minnesota to 292 yards Monday night, but the special teams were leaky, so Indy needed Mike Vanderjagt's field goal in the final seconds to end a two-game losing streak.

New York Giants (5-3) at Arizona (3-5)

This game has all the signs of a win for the Cardinals. The Giants lost dismally last week; even in their best years they have had trouble in Arizona; the Cardinals are almost always competitive at home; and Michael Strahan is lost for the season. So is Keith Washington, New York's other starting defensive end.

Chicago (3-5) at Tennessee (3-5)

The Bears are fired up over their upset of the Giants, a game in which Craig Krenzel made fewer mistakes than Kurt Warner. They also got 110 yards rushing from Anthony Thomas, who had become a forgotten man behind Thomas Jones.

Kansas City (3-5) at New Orleans (3-5)

The Chiefs are allowing 26 points a game, the Saints are giving up 29. The Chiefs have an outstanding offense even if Priest Holmes (questionable, knee) doesn't play, and the Saints have a good one, so expect lots of points.

Cincinnati (3-5) at Washington (3-5)

The Bengals dismantled Dallas so easily that Bill Parcells went into another tirade. Carson Palmer is progressing slowly, like most young QBs not named Roethlisberger.

Carolina (1-7) at San Francisco (1-7)

The Panthers probably have lost more key players than anyone in the NFL. Thus a Super Bowl season is followed by one victory at the halfway mark because they have lost the likes of Steve Smith, Kris Jenkins, DeShaun Foster and Stephen Davis.

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