The Pro Football Notebook

November 14, 2010 6:00 AM

NFL Gameday: Brett's Last Stand

BrettFavresLastStand.jpgMinnesota goes to Chicago today (1 ET, Fox) and it's time for the old gunslinger to put on his holster and make his last stand in the NFC North corral. Brett Favre's Vikings are 3-5, still breathing after his 446-yard effort in last week's comeback win against Arizona. Now they face a game they absolutely have to win. The Bears are sitting on 5-3, while the Packers--whom Minnesota plays next Sunday--are 6-3. The Vikes need to win both these week and next to have any shot in the North. To even keep alive for the playoffs, they at least need to beat the Bears and close the gap on second place. Can they do it?

Chicago's been struggling since a 3-0 start and pass protection has been a major problem for Jay Cutler. This game is going to be a battle defined by the defensive ends. Minnesota's tandem of Ray Edwards and Jared Allen has underachieved this year, but has the talent to make life miserable for the Bear quarterback. Chicago's offense, designed by Mike Martz, has no real running game, so any pressure on Cutler renders the Bears impotent. It's defense where Chicago has to make up for that. They have their own duo of Julius Peppers and the unsung Israel Idjonjie, having a good year in his own right. Both Favre and Cutler can be interception machines if the protection collapses around them and both can be touchdown machines if they get time. The difference is that whatever similarities in style, there's a huge gap in the track records of the two flamethrowers. And the Vikings have a real running game with Adrian Peterson to fall back on. That's why I like Minnesota to keep their hopes alive with a 27-16 win.

The late-afternoon game most of the country sees is going to be Cowboys-Giants from the Meadowlands. It's part of NFC East Showdown Week, with the Eagles-Redskins going on Monday Night and was supposed to be a big game in the playoff race rather than the coaching debut of Jason Garrett. The Giants are riding high at 6-2 and in first place, but it hasn't been all peaches and cream for Tom Coughlin. Injuries have been a problem on the offensive line and caused reshuffling. First it was center Shaun O'Hara, now tackle David Diehl is out. Give Coughlin huge credit for moving his team forward. His 2007 Super Bowl championship team had great stability up front, with all five starters going a perfect 80-for-80 in combined regular season starts. The fact he's successfully met the challenge this year and still produced a team observers believe is the NFC's best has to make him a candidate for Coach of the Year. As for this game, it's tough to evaluate--it's really about whether Dallas is interested in playing or not. If they're not, it's over by halftime. If they are, it's over by midway through the fourth quarter. If you were looking for a late Sunday afternoon to do some yardwork before early darkness sets in or take the wife/girlfriend out for dinner, this is a good spot to do it in. Just make sure it's an early date though, because the Sunday Night fare is juicy indeed.

New England goes to Pittsburgh for the NBC game. It's the most visible part of showdowns between the AFC's East & North divisions. Earlier in the day, the Jets play Cleveland. The Browns have playing well of late, running the ball with Peyton Hillis and getting after the quarterback. I do believe the Jets shut down Colt McCoy and get enough points to hold on to their share of first in the East, and shifting the pressure to the rival Patriots to hold serve. Bill Belichick's defense was beaten badly on the ground last week by Hillis and the Browns and the Steelers will surely work to exploit that. But Pittsburgh lost tackle Max Starks for the season and has to do the same sort of shuffling that Coughlin's done in New York. It's going to be tough for the Patriots to win this game on the road. Ben Roethlisberger has more big-play possibilities with Mike Wallace on the outside than Brady does in the post-Randy Moss offense. The Patriots need to make it the kind of yardstick-to-yardstick game that Brady excels at managing. Even here though, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamulu is the kind of defensive game-changer that New England lacks. If anyone can successfully pull off the parlay of first getting the tempo set in their favor, then executing it with inferior talent and doing it on the road, it's Belichick and Brady. But I think they come up a bit short here, 20-17.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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