With the Cleveland Browns on a bye this week, it'll be one of the few weeks of the season where we can't ridicule our team. Instead, we can sit back and watch some other games, assuming you don't mind being a casual football fan at times. Here are a few games to note this week, including matches from the AFC North:
MORNING / AFTERNOON GAMES SEEN IN CLEVELAND
BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS (CBS - 1:00 PM)
These two teams met earlier in the season in a very competitive game; one that legitimized the Bengals as a contender this season. A little under a month ago, Carson Palmer hit Andre Caldwell for a touchdown with 22 seconds remaining, giving the Bengals a 17-14 win. The real reason the Bengals won the game? RB Cedric Benson did the unthinkable -- he ran for over 100 yards against the Ravens defense. That snapped an amazing 40-game streak in which the Ravens had not allowed a 100+ yard rusher. Compare that to the Browns, who could probably make a run at giving up a 100+ yard rusher for 40 consecutive games.
Right now, the Bengals are leading the division with a 5-2 record. However, their competition is not too far behind. The Steelers are also 5-2, while the Ravens are 4-3. Cincinnati has a division win over all three AFC North opponents, but one loss to Baltimore could swing the momentum the other way. We don't like to cheer for divisional opponents, but I'll usually be more include to root for the Bengals against the Steelers or Ravens.
ARIZONA CARDINALS VS. CHICAGO BEARS (FOX - 1:00 PM)
Remember what happened the last time these two teams met? It was back in the year 2006.
After leading 23-3 in the fourth quarter and making QB Rex Grossman look pathetic all game, the Bears rallied thanks to defensive touchdowns and a return from Devin Hester in one of the most shocking comebacks in recent memory.
This time around, it's different players though. The Bears are quarterbacked by the overrated Jay Cutler, while the Cardinals are led by veteran Kurt Warner. The defending NFC Champions are coming off of an upsetting loss to the Carolina Panthers, while the Bears are coming off of a poorly-played victory blowout against the Browns.
Warner almost always bounces back from a terrible game with one in which he'll tear a defense apart. This week, I think the Bears' defense gets torched like they did two weeks ago against Carson Palmer.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS VS. NEW YORK GIANTS (CBS - 4:15 PM)
This is the first time these two teams will face off since the Eli Manning / Philip Rivers situation in 2004. That's when Manning did not want to play for the Chargers, so he was dealt to the Giants, which paved the way for Rivers going to San Diego.
After beating up on some easier opponents early on in the season, the Giants have lost three in a row to fall to 5-3 and third in their division behind the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Meanwhile, the Chargers have to smell opportunity. They gained ground on the first-place Denver Broncos last week and are in the hunt for a wildcard spot. When you're in the same division as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders, you could almost make a case that you're receiving a four-game handicap. With that said, the Chargers have not really "clicked" the past few years, as they've failed to move themselves from the "potential" category to the "elite category." The Giants need better production in too many areas. Ultimately, more production should be coming from Manning.
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
HOUSTON TEXANS VS. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: The Colts are the only unbeaten team remaining in the AFC, but they are running into the red-hot Houston Texans. After starting the season 2-3, the Texans have ripped off three straight wins. Quietly, QB Matt Schaub is having a breakout season, really proving why the Texans gave up what they did to get him from the Atlanta Falcons several years back.
MIAMI DOLPHINS VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: The Wildcat formation has beaten the Patriots before, could it happen again? The Dolphins have started to flow better since Chad Pennington's injury, and I think it's the stronger commitment to the Wildcat.
DALLAS COWBOYS VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: The NFC East match-ups will always get prime time billing, but for good reason -- they are usually fairly competitive match-ups. Right now, the Eagles and the Cowboys are the two teams rolling in the East. The Cowboys have improved thanks to the emergence of WR Miles Austin. For the Eagles, will Michael Vick continue taking a limited role in the offense, or will it expand at some point this season? Sunday Night Football.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS VS. DENVER BRONCOS: I feel like I'm still not giving the Broncos any respect. After losing for the first time last week to the Baltimore Ravens, it won't get any easier against the Steelers' defense. The Steelers have won four straight and will be looking to capitalize on whichever team loses the Bengals/Ravens match. Monday Night Football.