REVENGE. HOWSWEET the word. Sweeter yet is a weekend that promises not one, not two, butthree classic get-even games.
The Bengals visitthe Steelers, who knocked them out of the playoffs last year in the wild-cardround and wrecked the knee of their fine quarterback, Carson Palmer. TheBengals, who had won the AFC North, know in their hearts that with Palmer inthat game they would have beaten Pittsburgh. Hell, even with Jon Kitna runningthe offense, they took a lead into halftime and made things uncomfortable.
Every time theBengals saw the Steelers move up the postseason ladder, finally holding theSuper Bowl trophy, they fumed at what might have been. Now Cincinnati visitsPittsburgh with Palmer fully functional after a remarkably short rehab.
Likewise, theGiants know in their hearts that they should have whipped the Seahawks, theother team to reach Super Bowl XL. They met in Seattle in late November. NewYork blew three potential game-winning field goals, including two in overtime.The noise in Qwest Field was deafening. The Giants had 16 penalties, 11 of themfor false starts. The next day Seattle coach Mike Holmgren awarded a game ballto the Seahawks fans who had made all that noise.
Just wait, saidthe Giants. Wait till they come to our place and get an earful of our fans.Well, the teams are playing again on Sunday, but the schedule maker sent themback to Qwest Field rather than to the Meadowlands.
The Patriotspushed the Broncos all over Mile High in the divisional playoffs last year,outgaining Denver 420 yards to 286. What cost New England the game? Demonturnovers, five of them--plus eight penalties. On Sunday the Patriots and theBroncos meet, in Foxborough this time.
These days NewEngland is leaning more on its pounding running game, at least until TomBrady's accuracy returns. But Denver's offense is in disarray, and the Broncosare already thinking about using rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, who hasn'ttaken an NFL snap. The Patriots will win big.
So will theBengals--well, not big, but they'll upset the Steelers. Passion will be onCincy's side. The Bengals can rush the passer. They can run the ball. AndPalmer has regained his status as one of the league's superiorquarterbacks.
You can tell thatteam emotion is guiding my choices this week. So let's make it three for threeand give the Giants the upset. Seattle will go after right cornerback SamMadison, just as Philadelphia did last week. New York might have to lift him ifit gets too bad. But I think New York's defense, which was comatose for much ofthe Eagles game, will put too much heat on a Seahawks line that sorely missesleft guard Steve Hutchinson. The Giants get their payback.
I keep thinkingthe Bears are playing over their heads and are ready for a fall. It could comein Minnesota this weekend, but I'll still swing with favored Chicago. I've diedwith the Panthers two straight weeks. No time to get off them now, so I'll giveCarolina the nod at Tampa Bay. The Jaguars are the kind of roughneck team thatcan give the Colts trouble, but not on the fast track in Indy. Colts to win it.The Saints are on a mission this year and will be back in the Superdome, butI'll still ride with Atlanta and its magnificent running game on Monday night.Arizona will handle the new, conservative Rams in the desert, and Buffalo,which is playing everyone tough these days, will beat the Jets up north.
Dr. Z writes forthe Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.
MICHAEL HICKEY/WIREIMAGE.COM (BENGALS)
PASSION PLAY The Cincy defense has extra incentive against AFC North rival Pittsburgh.
AL TIELEMANS (GIANTS)
NOISY Plaxico Burress and the Giants have to tune out Seattle's fans.