John Madden
John Madden
Is this Pats' soft spot?
By John Madden

New England at Pittsburgh
In today's NFL parity has become reality and the fact is most of the good teams aren't good enough to be dominant and most of the bad teams aren't bad enough to be doormats. Everything is kind of in the middle and the exception is probably the New England Patriots. You can't say that a team that hasn't lost in over a year -- they have won two out of the last three Super Bowls -- isn't a dominant team. Now having said that just the law of averages would tell you that they are going to lose somewhere down the road.

I'm not saying that this game is the game the Patriots lose but Pittsburgh will play you tough, they will play tough defense against you, they are throwing the ball well, running the ball with Duce Staley and Ben Roethlisberger looks like he is the real deal and is playing well. He will be faced with a challenge, he will have to stay in the pocket and get to his second and third reads because the Patriots will take away that first read and make you work a little harder to get the ball down the field.

If you look at the streak the Patriots have been on and break down each game, you have to say it's not what you do in the first three quarters of a game, it always comes down to the last couple of possessions, the offense scores on the last two possessions or their defense stops you on the last couple of drives, that is where the Patriots streak is going to end, whoever can make the plays on the last couple of drives against them.

Indianapolis at Kansas City
This could be another game like last year's Divisional playoff game where neither team punts. The offenses are so good, the Kansas City Chiefs are good offensively and their strength is their running game but the real strength is their offensive line. This line is the best in NFL and when you have that you are going to move the ball and score some points.

That offense is going up against the Indianapolis Colts whose defense is not very good. Of course they are playing the Colts, which means that they will face the offense that is very good with a defense that is not very good for the Chiefs.

This game has to be a shoot-out, both teams have to go in saying they know to win they will have to score at least 30 points.

New York Giants at Minnesota
The New York Giants are going on the road with their 4-2 record to visit the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings who are led by Daunte Culpepper. He is having a great year and is so big and so strong, he weighs 265 pounds, so you can scheme against him and say you are going to blitz him and get after him, you get a free hitter across the line of scrimmage and the next thing you know he bounces right off of Culpepper and he is free to run or throw the football. He is such a weapon because of his ability to make plays. Those things tend to take away the aggressiveness of the defense and the defensive line. Now having said all of those things, I think they are going to miss Randy Moss more than most people think!

I know that they won the game two weeks ago that he didn't play in the second half and I know that they won last week, but he is such a big part of what they do. When he is in the game the defense has to put two guys over on his side as well as run the safety deep so that he doesn't get behind you. So without him the defense is going to be a little more free to do things like spy on Culpepper and protect against the run.

The Giants have a lot of weapons on offense with Tiki Barber running and Kurt Warner throwing against this Viking defense, which isn't a particularly good defense, could make for a long day for the Vikings.

If you look back to last season the Vikings got off to a great start and then the wheels kind of came off, so you wonder if that's around the corner and the Giants are the type of team that can go into Minnesota and take care of business.

Baltimore at Philadelphia
This is a match-up of the team that almost had Terrell Owens and the team that ended up with the prize. I talked to Terrell earlier in the season and asked him what he thought it would be like to play against the Baltimore Ravens and he says it's no big deal because he was never there and he knew he was never going to go there and he told them that. Terrell maintains that they are making it out to be more than it is.

It looks like Brian Westbrook is going to be out for a couple of weeks and on the exterior that might look like a thing but they always seem to find a guy that can run the ball. I think just when you think they don't have something they are going to find something. Look at Reuben Droughns in Denver this guy started the season as a fullback and now has three consecutive 100 yard games.

This game is still about Donovan McNabb! He not only is the biggest passing threat he also is the biggest running threat and when you start to think you don't have to worry about the run you had better be accounting for McNabb. Somewhere in the game he is going to tuck the ball and make a big play with his feet.

Atlanta at Denver
This is a battle of two teams that going into last week, both looked like they were on a roll and kind of sputtered. The Denver Broncos were taken out of their game by the Cincinnati Bengals. They were never able to get their running game going and that then led them to not being able to do the things that they like to do like bootlegging and rolling Jake Plummer out. On defense Champ Bailey, who is the best cornerback in the league, had a really bad game and gave up a couple of big plays. He is a really proud guy and owned up to the bad game and then went on to say that he felt sorry for the guy that he was going to see this week because he is going to be back with a vengeance.

On the other side Mike Vick also had his problems last week, he only completed 7 of 21 pass attempts and were blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs who had been struggling offensively. Their defense just couldn't find a stop and they are going to have to take a 180-degree turn to come out on top of the Broncos.

Miami at New York Jets
One thing you have to remember about the Miami Dolphins is they do have a good defense and not only a good defense but a proud defense! Sometimes we tend to look at a team and their offense. That is what I think we have done with the Dolphins, they lose Ricky Williams, they lose David Boston, they can't figure out who they want to be their quarterback and in all of that you overlook their defense and in this league as long as you have a good defense, you are always in the game.

The strength of this Dolphins defense starts with their secondary and in particular Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. When you have good corners, that opens up a lot of options for your defense. If you trust them to go 1-on-1 then you free up your safeties to come up to the line of scrimmage. When you can do that then that frees up your linebackers to be more aggressive and when you can do that then you can be more aggressive with your defensive line. So when the Dolphins get their defense going that is how it all unfolds.

Offensively the problems are as I said earlier all of the losses start to add up. Coming into the season you evaluate what it is that you are going to be as a team and the Dolphins thought they were going to be a good running team with a good defense and now they are just a good defense. When you are built the way the Dolphins are built you have to figure out a way to run the ball. They can't put the pressure on Jay Fiedler, he is not going to be Peyton Manning. Somewhere along the line the plays that they get on defense and special teams are going to have to be scores in order for them to win.

This game is a rivalry game that is played out twice a year and when you meet that often you get to know each other pretty well. I have found in games like this things that you can do against some teams you aren't able to do against a rival you see so frequently. The tendency then is to become a little more conservative and maybe give a little more credit to the your opponent than they deserve. You remember playing against a better team than you are facing on that day and you play against ghosts. You remember games from years ago like Ricky Williams running all over you and you begin to defend against ghosts of the past.

You can also listen to me on Sirius NFL Radio on Friday and Monday afternoons on the Afternoon Blitz and Sunday mornings on the Sirius NFL Tailgate Show.
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