For those who enjoyed less noise and trash talk than usual in the NFL last weekend, forget about it. The New York Jets are back.
Coming off a bye with a five-game winning string and tied for the best record in the league, the Jets have every right to brag. While they praise today's opponent at the Meadowlands, the Packers, there's been no drop-off in confidence among the Jets since they were away.
Asked about defending the run against a pass-heavy team such as Green Bay, which ranks eighth through the air but 20th on the ground and is without starting running back Ryan Grant, Jets coach Rex Ryan's eyes lit up.
"We'll allow you to run it. If that's what you want to do, go for it," Ryan says. "If you think you can beat us that way, I'm all for it."
Naturally: New York ranks seventh against the run, and even that isn't so accurate, Ryan claims.
"We gave up a couple big runs to their quarterback," he says of the Jets' win over Denver before their bye, "which I think is a little bit misleading when you look at it statistically. That's fine. We'll take the same game plan. Let them run it. That doesn't bother us one bit."
Not much seems to bother the Jets, who won against the Broncos despite their sloppiest game of the season, one in which Mark Sanchez threw his first two interceptions of the year.
"Especially this last game, I was just getting away from some of the fundamentals, holding the ball in one hand, getting my feet set," Sanchez says. "I was pleased with the way we rallied and won the game, but just ball security issues last game, because up to that point I was doing pretty well. You get right back on track and this is a good week to start."
The Packers, 4-3 and tied for the NFC North lead with Chicago, hope they got started on a long run of success by beating Brett Favre and the archrival Vikings last weekend. QB Aaron Rodgers expects it, starting with himself.
"I'm always confident as far as doing fine," Rodgers says. "Obviously, I'd like to play a little bit better as we move into the second half of the season here. Last week was a big win for us. We did some better things on offense. Obviously, we're still not exactly where we want to be yet. ... I just think that there is a sense of urgency personally. I need to start to play a little bit better."
Also today, it's Pittsburgh at New Orleans, Tennessee at San Diego, Minnesota at New England, Seattle at Oakland, Tampa Bay at Arizona, Buffalo at Kansas City, Miami at Cincinnati, Washington at Detroit, Carolina at St. Louis, and Jacksonville at Dallas.
The NFL's international series continues today with a matchup the league can't brag much about, Denver vs. San Francisco at London.
Monday night features an AFC South meeting for first place between Houston and Indianapolis.
Off this week are Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, and the New York Giants.
Houston (4-2) at Indianapolis (4-2)
The Texans got rid of their hangover against the Colts with a season-opening romp. They could put Indy in a deep hole by winning this one.
To do so, the Texans must shore up a pass defense that ranks dead last and is yielding nearly 320 yards a game. Houston might have a chance to do that because Peyton Manning's receiving corps has been diminished by injuries. Then again, Indy could bring Marvin Harrison out of retirement and Manning might find him for two scores.
at New Orleans (4-3)
The Super Bowl champs are struggling. Just what they don't need is a matchup with the NFL's most physical team, which won the previous Super Bowl.
Yet here come the Steelers into New Orleans, where the Saints come off a lopsided loss to Cleveland — Cleveland? — and have the kind of problems the Steelers feast on.
With Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas injured (neither looks likely to play today), the Saints haven't run the ball consistently and haven't been as effective beating pressure with screens, swing passes and check-downs. That has forced Drew Brees to be more conventional, and when a defense expects passes — in Pittsburgh's case, it might not even matter what is expected — that spells trouble.
"The disappointing part is you haven't seen the complete team since Week 2 when Reggie went down," Saints linebacker Scott Shanle says. "It absolutely has an effect. I mean, we do a good job of having guys who are backups come in and play good football, but there's a reason why Reggie Bush is Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas has done what he's done."
Seattle (4-2) at Oakland (3-4)
A chance for both teams to prove they belong in the playoff conversation. Seattle can take a strong hold on the NFC West with a second straight road win; the Seahawks are one of the league's best home teams and still have five games at Qwest Field.
Raiders fans don't need any help getting up for — or dressing up for — Halloween. But that 59-14 romp past Denver has sent them beyond giddy. If they can stop Seattle's rushing game, the Raiders could prosper.
Tampa Bay (4-2) at Arizona (3-3)
Two more teams looking for validation, with the Buccaneers in far better position to do so. Arizona has almost exhausted the QB supply and couldn't have been sloppier in losing at Seattle last Sunday. Tampa is as set as could be with Josh Freeman at quarterback, and is particularly efficient late in games, when it has scored 39 of its 98 points. The Bucs are a plus-6 in turnover margin, while the Cardinals trail in the NFC at minus-7.
Bucs free safety Cody Grimm goes up against his father, assistant head coach Russ Grimm, and brother Chad, the Cardinals' quality control coach.
Buffalo (0-6) at Kansas City (4-2)
After a 37-34 OT loss at Baltimore, the Bills feel they are making progress toward that elusive first victory. Then again, they blew a big lead in a very short time against the Ravens, then made critical mistakes at the end to fall again.
Buffalo has the worst run defense in football. The Chiefs, behind Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles and a quickly developing offensive line, merely have the best rushing attack. A 300-yard ground assault could be in the offing.
Miami (3-3) at Cincinnati (2-4)
Let's see, the Dolphins have won all three road games (OK, they've dropped all three at home). They feel they got jobbed last Sunday against Pittsburgh, so they're angry. And they can get after the quarterback, with 17 sacks, including six by Cameron Wake.
Cincinnati found the offensive touch at Atlanta, but has lost three straight and key cornerback Johnathan Joseph is plagued by an ankle injury. Brandon Marshall might have a big day if the Bengals can't manufacture a pass rush; they have only six sacks.
Washington (4-3) at Detroit (1-5)
If the Redskins sleepwalk against the Lions they'll miss a strong opportunity to enhance their standing in the NFC. Detroit has scored more points than it has allowed, 146-140, and is 1-1 at home, scoring 76 points. With QB Matthew Stafford expected back from a shoulder injury, the Lions carry some optimism as they come off a bye week.
Washington got four interceptions by DeAngelo Hall last week and forced six turnovers, yet won only 17-14 at Chicago. Donovan McNabb has thrown at least a touchdown and an interception in each of last five games.
Minnesota (2-4) at New England (5-1)
Whether Brett Favre continues his consecutive starts streak (291 for regular season) or sits out, this is a difficult assignment for the bruised (physically and mentally) Vikings. Maybe Randy Moss returning to the place he asked out of earlier this season will inspire Minnesota, which has a relatively easy schedule following this trip.
"If you let stuff like that take a toll on you, you're mentally weak in the first place, and this probably isn't the game for you," Vikings All-Pro DE Jared Allen said. "Our games are going to have a lot of ups and downs, and right now, we're obviously in a valley, so we're trying to get up into a peak."
It's tough to peak against the Patriots, who seem to be hitting their stride, and could be too much for a struggling NFC team with a battered 41-year-old quarterback.
Carolina (1-5) at St. Louis (3-4)
The Panthers finally got a victory, beating self-destructive San Francisco last week. They could be without main running back DeAngelo Williams (foot), and the Rams' career rushing leader, Steven Jackson, had surgery on a broken ring finger on Monday.
St. Louis is showing a decent pass rush led by DE James Hall with 61/2; sacks. The Panthers are very vulnerable in that area, allowing 18 sacks already.
Jacksonville (3-4) at Dallas (1-5)
It's become easy to write off the Cowboys, who will be without Tony Romo for most of the rest of the season. Dallas has dropped to beyond disappointing with its inability to make or stop big plays — tackling in the open field has been a particular problem — and penchant for turnovers and penalties.
Still, the Jaguars aren't much better and have lost 11 fumbles. Their minus-10 turnover margin is worst in the league.
Tennessee (5-2) at San Diego (2-5)
If the Chargers really are this bad, the Titans' physical defense and opportunistic ways will expose San Diego's deficiencies rather quickly. San Diego has the most giveaways in the AFC (18) and most fumbles lost in the league (12). Tennessee has the most takeaways (18) and interceptions (12) in the NFL.
The Titans play nice tunes in road games, too, going 3-0 away from Music City. San Diego is the only team Titans coach Jeff Fisher hasn't beaten.
Denver (2-5) vs. San Francisco (1-6) at London
Not much of a classic for the NFL's international series. The last time these teams met on a neutral field in a game that counted, the 49ers won the Super Bowl 55-10 in New Orleans in 1990. Denver yielded 59 points at home to Oakland last week.
Not that any of those numbers mean much with these two also-rans when they face off in London at Wembley. Hopefully, the huge crowd won't get turned off to "American football."