Ravens at Chargers (4:15 PM)
Call me crazy, but I think we saw last week that we’re dealing with a completely new vision for the Ravens, one that has them embracing the thrills that Joe Flacco was built to bring. Act like you’re not excited for an offense with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice lighting fire to the grass. Meanwhile, I have no clue what the hell we’re dealing with regarding the Chargers. Certainly, this squad still performs like an incomplete team, getting picked on in the secondary and exposing Philip Rivers to too much pressure for their offense to click. Still, there’s no denying that, when the game was on the line on Monday, this offense functioned on a level matched only by a much more experienced Patriots squad. If that continues to develop, it may not matter what sort of secondary weaknesses this team has; they’ll score too many points for it to matter.
Raiders at Chiefs (1:00 PM)
Yes, I realize I’m probably the only person who has this game on a must-watch list. Still, I can’t be the only one who watched the Raiders play last week and wondered whether or not this defense, thanks to the addition of Richard Seymour, became sneaky great all of a sudden. Combine that with the tantalizing possibility of JaMarcus Russell’s maturation, and I’ll be watching at least one more week to see if this might be the real dark horse for playoff contention in the AFC.
Saints at Eagles (1:00 PM)
But only if McNabb is healthy. A shootout in which Kevin Kolb is holding a pistol sounds more like a firing range to me.
Seahawks at 49ers (4:05 PM)
Forget everything you heard: The NFC West could be the most fun-to-watch division in football. The Cardinals proved last season that grace and flair can still win big. Meanwhile, the Seahawks still have the offense that is most interesting to me thanks to its reliance on both flights of fancy and discarded veterans (Nate Burleson is going to haunt the dreams of those who drafted Housh in fantasy leagues, myself included). The wild card for all of this to work, then, is the 49ers, who last week proved that Mike Singletary’s stubborn, angry clinging to the tenets upon which the league was built is a heartbeat that can sustain, not a distraction. With the Cardinals and Seahawks both using flashy names and aerial trickery to make names for themselves, the division needs the 49ers to succeed, if only to act as a foil to the divisional matchups and give the NFC west credibility as more than a sideshow. This game will go a long way toward showing whether this division is an island unto itself or an exotic locale on the global landscape of the NFL.
Patriots at Jets (1:00 PM)
Readers of TiT (and if you’re still here, kudos to you for sticking with this erratic behavior for three long years) know that I love the Jets and despise the Patriots. My hate for the Pats has been detailed on this blog too many times to properly express here, but suffice to say that I hate them for their soulless identity, and the perfection with which their dispassionate scheme is executed on the field. It’s underhanded tactics (the support of Randy Moss’s poor work ethic, the condoning of Rodney Harrison’s existence) masquerading as the “right way” for the league. It’s a perfect hatred, really, founded in equal parts of respect and (I’m not alone in this; the thrill surrounding the Brady injury revealed what everyone who didn’t live in New England really thought).
So I’m thrilled to see the bloodless coaching of Eric Mangini replaced by Rex Ryan. In the end, the only way the Jets were ever going to beat the Pats wasn’t by imitating the “right way,” but instead by embracing the wrong way. I’m happy that Tom Brady is back under center, because Rex Ryan is going to see to it that he gets hit, whether or not he’s completing passes. I’m glad that Kerry Rhodes is talking, and while we’re at it: No, Anthony Smith is not a relevant example. Anthony Smith was a kid running his mouth; Kerry Rhodes has beaten Brady before, and can do it again. To beat this team, you either execute their plan better than they do (practically impossible over the last decade) or you create a plan that is so mean, so angry, and so fueled by passion that the wheels of their finely tuned machine come right off. When the Patriots were the evil empire, stomping around and winning by any means necessary, I was enthralled by this rivalry. Now that I’m rooting for the swaggering bully in this matchup, I have to say that it’s fun to be the bad guy.