This week we start a new weekly feature here at Cincy Jungle. Plenty of other writers here keep us informed on what the Bengals are doing. But what about the division rivals? There is an old saying, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. So let's keep a really close eye on what the enemy is up to, shall we?
Mojokong will likely have his preview of our week two game against the Ravens up soon, so I won't cover them this week, or any of the other rivals when we play them. So for this week I'll only look at the Steelers and the Browns games this weekend.
Last year the Browns were horrid. This year, they do look a little bit better, but unfortunately for Cleveland fans, not very much so. I watched about half of the Browns @ Buccaneers game on Game Rewind, and that was all I could take. Talk about slop-ball! That was two nearly-inept teams playing so badly that it made my eyes hurt. Oh there were moments of good play, both on defense and offense, for both teams, but my overall impression was not favorable to either team. Jake Delhomme is exactly what I remember him being from all those years in Carolina. He's a leader, an experienced field general, and an all-around pretty good guy off the field. But he's also inaccurate, unreliable, and mistake-prone. He always was, in fact. He was especially bad in this way in the 2008 playoffs and through 2009, but it wasn't that it was something he'd never been before, it was just that he quickly became even worse than he'd been before. Seneca Wallace is still a wildcat/option-type quarterback with probably somewhere around half the skill of Vince Young. Maybe that's a bit harsh, maybe it's 2/3rds, but he's still not the guy to carry a poor team on his back all the way to the Super Bowl. And unfortunately, most of the rest of the team is pretty poor.
The Browns had no business losing last week. As bad as Delhomme was at times, Tampa was worse. But they shot their own foot off multiple times. Delhomme threw two INTs and probably at least two or three more passes that should have been picked off. Even then, the Browns had probably half a dozen opportunities to save him. After Jake's first INT, Freeman threw a TD. That ball was a ricochet that literally was about three millimeters from a pick and touchback. Had the DB caught the ball instead of letting it bounce off his hands, the game would have gone completely differently. In the second-half, Peyton Hillis fumbles in the red zone. He holds onto that ball and again we have a different outcome.
But Kansas City really had no real business winning last weekend. They won because of a couple of things. One, San Diego came out flat, overconfident, and stupid. Two, their special teams rang up a 94-yard punt return for a TD. Three, their defense looked pretty stinking good, especially for what everybody thought was a pretty low talent-level area of the team. It's probably underrated in the talent department, but not THAT much. Romeo Crennel may have sucked as a head coach but he's now proven twice that he's a very good DC.
And this is Romeo's first return to Cleveland since Randy Lerner cut him loose. If you think he doesn't want to make this into a statement game, you don't know jack about football. Oh, he'll say all the right things in the media this week. He'll be nice, conciliatory, polite, "it's just one game" sorta crap. And there's about a 95% chance that the exact opposite is true.
With Hillis having an AP-scale case of the dropsies, Delhomme hurt and unreliable even when he's not, and a fired up KC defense, I don't see any way Cleveland can win this unless their defense or special teams do lots of scoring for them. Neither team has a great offense, and both teams have a decent defense, so I could see a low-scoring defensive struggle. I could also see a blowout in KC's favor. I don't foresee a Browns-Lions-2009 type of shootout. So with all that in mind, I'm going to take KC by at least a TD. I'll say 21-13 Kansas City.
Last week, I'll admit it, I cheered for the Steelers with all my heart. That's what happens when the team you hate #2 overall plays the team you hate #1 overall (Atlanta Falcons). It also helped assuage my pain from watching the Pats beat up on the Bengals to flip channels over and watch two teams I hate beat the crap outta each other and play rather poorly in the process. This week, we're back to normal. The Steelers can't help either of my two favorite teams in any fashion save to lose. Hopefully they'll oblige us in this regard.
Last weekend they played a decent Falcons team at home. They had their crowd behind them. They had Troy Polamalu back healthy. They had Dennis Dixon in there with very little game film for the Falcons to study. They had a fairly healthy OL. These were all positives that helped their team. This weekend they play on the road with the crowd against them. They still have Troy, but Dixon has more film available for the Titans to look at. Their OL took a major hit last week with the loss of Max Starks. It was already bad enough to make Swiss cheese look solid. Now it's even worse. Just ouch. They won, but their D barely pulled it off, they played a very conservative gameplan and they were only one bad coaching decision (4th-and-less-than-1 in the red zone and you don't go for it? Whatever happened to Herm Edwards "You play to win the game!"??) away from losing anyway.
The Titans, on the other hand, took a bad Raiders team to the woodshed and beat the crap out of them. Their DL took the Raiders OL and treated them like tackling dummies. The secondary wasn't great, but it was decent. Their offense looked good, but I think a large part of that was how inept the Raiders were rather than how good the Titans were. We need more evidence before we can really make a solid conclusion here. It's hard to evaluate the Titans going in because of the quality of their previous opponent, but they looked pretty good. But Chris Johnson is (for now, at least) the best running back in football. Sorry AP, but you aren't even in the ballpark anymore. Still, he can't do it alone. If the OL doesn't open holes and/or the passing game doesn't push back the safeties he'll very likely lose his 100-yard game streak. Then again, as Rashard Mendenhall showed last week, that one big play can happen at any time, and all CJ needs is one crease and maybe one missed tackle and he's off on a 80 yard scamper for another TD. Worse, Casey Hampton may not play, and that would hurt the Steeler DL, at least to some degree. Probably not crippling, but its still yet another injury concern that could come back to bite them. Vince Young appears to be improving to some degree, but he's no Brees/Brady and the Steeler defense is very very good. On the other hand, the Titans' defense is also very good, and the Steeler offense looked flat-out putrid last week. With a hobbled OL and a team that racked up two sacks and an outright TON of hurries and hits, Dixon will either be beat to a pulp or running for his life all day long. Or maybe both. And while the Titan's WR corp is nothing particularly special, it's at least decent these days. Young was pretty accurate last weekend with a 76.5% completion rate. Most of those were him putting the ball in the right place, not his receivers covering for him by making incredible catches.
Add it all up and with the home crowd I have to expect the Titans to win. I would still be quite surprised to see a complete blowout. The Steelers will keep it close and may even pull it out. But Dixon will have to play a LOT better to pull it off and I don't see that happening. Unless he does it all with his legs, that is, because he will be running for his life at least once a drive. Probably even more frequently than that. I'm going to go with 27-16 Titans.