- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

The league’s best rushing offense against the league’s best run defense - the New York Giants being the former and the Baltimore Ravens the latter.

“The only way to stop somebody like that is to run into them full speed,” Ray Lewis said of New York’s 264-pound Brandon Jacobs, who is fourth in the league in rushing and averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

“The name of football is hit or be hit. So the bottom line, I don’t care how big his size is. Football is football. And when you strap on your chin strap I don’t care how big you are, deal with whoever has the ball and let life take care of itself. You know what I’m saying?”

Jacobs does.

“I wouldn’t want him to think any other way,” he said.

The Giants, who started with a relatively easy schedule, are coming off a difficult stretch: at Pittsburgh, home vs. Dallas and at Philadelphia. They passed the exam, winning all three to open a two-game lead in an NFC East that was supposed to be the most competitive division in the NFL.

The surprising Ravens have moved into a tie with Pittsburgh for first in the AFC North. Rookie QB Joe Flacco hasn’t thrown an interception in his last four games.

In other games Sunday:

San Diego (4-5) at Pittsburgh (6-3): The Steelers fell into a tie with Baltimore by losing at home to Indianapolis last week when Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, two that were extremely costly. Roethlisberger took full responsibility, declining to blame an injured shoulder.

“The good thing is it’s not the end of the season,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ll come back.”

Tennessee (9-0) at Jacksonville (4-5): Normally, this would be a tough spot for the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

But the Jaguars, despite a 38-14 victory last week over winless Detroit, are struggling both on the field and off. Coach Jack Del Rio deactivated defensive leader Mike Peterson last week after sending him home from practice earlier in the week.

Houston (3-6) at Indianapolis (5-4): The Colts have beaten two good teams, the Patriots and Steelers, to secure a solid spot in the AFC wild card chase, though catching the Titans in the AFC South seems too big a task.

Peyton Manning did his usual in bringing Indianapolis back from a 17-7 deficit in Pittsburgh last week, and the defensive star was 266-pound rookie defensive tackle Eric Foster, the kind of quick, undersized defender Tony Dungy has always prized.

Chicago (5-4) at Green Bay (4-5): The Bears are hoping Kyle Orton can come back from his sprained ankle after Rex Grossman played quarterback last week against the Titans. But they have other problems - their usually ferocious pass rush has produced just five sacks in the last four games.

A lot of people now think the Packers were wrong not to welcome back Brett Favre because Aaron Rodgers’ learning curve has slowed. But that’s second-guessing. All young quarterbacks go through ups and downs and the Packers were planning for the future as much as for this year when they went with Rodgers and then signed him to a long-term deal.

Minnesota (5-4) at Tampa Bay (6-3): Adrian Peterson now leads the NFL in rushing and his 192 yards were the primary reason the Vikings edged the Packers last week.

But it’s unlikely Peterson will get 192 against Tampa Bay, which is allowing just 99 per game. The Bucs also have back a new/old offensive weapon: running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, the 2005 offensive rookie of the year, who has missed the last 13 months with a knee injury.

Denver (5-4) at Atlanta (6-3): The Falcons, one of three teams in the NFC South at 6-3 or better, would probably love to be in the AFC West, where the struggling Broncos lead despite a leaky defense and a series of injuries to running backs. The usually potent running game now depends on Tatum Bell, back for his second stint with Denver; fullback Peyton Hillis; recently promoted P.J. Pope; and just-signed Alex Haynes.

Detroit (0-9) at Carolina (7-2): The Lions are looking ready to make a serious run at 0-16. How else to explain throwing in an out-of-shape Daunte Culpepper against Jacksonville last week? He remains the starter.

The Panthers could be making a run at home-field advantage in the NFC. They are just one game behind the Giants, who have a tough finishing schedule. Carolina gets a shot at the Giants on Dec. 21 in the Meadowlands.

Philadelphia (5-4) at Cincinnati (1-8): The Bengals finally won against Jacksonville two weeks ago and then had a bye. So are they refreshed or have they lost momentum? It probably doesn’t matter.

Every game is a must-win for the Eagles, who are three games behind in the NFC East after losing to the Giants last week. They are 0-3 against NFC East rivals, so that means they have tiebreaker problems in a crowded wild card race with a half-dozen other teams.

Arizona (6-3) at Seattle (2-7): The Cardinals haven’t had a home playoff game since 1947, when they were in Chicago. But they are likely to be the first NFL team to clinch a division this season and guarantee themselves a home game because they are four games ahead of all three NFC West opponents with seven games to go. That’s important: The Cardinals are 4-0 at home, 2-3 on the road, with the away wins over St. Louis and San Francisco, two of their woeful division rivals.

Oakland (2-7) at Miami (5-4): Imagine if Al Davis had hired Bill Parcells to run his franchise. The way the Tuna has resurrected the Dolphins, the Raiders might be contenders in the weak AFC West. The Dolphins, with Parcells protege Tony Sparano coaching, are contending in the much more competitive East thanks in part to the signing of Chad Pennington, who was cut loose by the Jets when they traded for Brett Favre.

New Orleans (4-5) at Kansas City (1-8): Drew Brees has 2,985 yards and may be on course to break Dan Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 yards passing. But the Saints’ record shows how deceptive yards can be - teams that are behind a lot throw a lot. But not, perhaps, to Jeremy Shockey, with whom Brees got into a sideline tiff last week during a loss in Atlanta.

St. Louis (2-7) at San Francisco (2-7): Mike Singletary got within 2 1/2 yards of his first coaching win in Arizona on Monday night, and then he and offensive coordinator Mike Martz complained the officials spotted the ball wrong on the final play of the game, a run attempt at a winning touchdown that got stuffed.

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