BOSTON // As the NFL season hits its fourth weekend of the season with today's action we can begin to sort out the young guns from the old hands, and see if perennial contenders can live the with new challengers. In a battle of the undefeated, the Jets (3-0) take on the Saints (3-0) with New York's defence sure to challenge New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees with blitzes he does not see coming.
The Saints lead the league in scoring (40 points per game), while the Jets have the second best defence (conceding 11 points per game). Something has got to give, and expect it to be the Jets because the Saints can run, pass and defend. The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) may be defending champions but they are in danger of losing three consecutive games for the first time in three years. They entertain San Diego (2-1), who, in Philip Rivers, have one of the league's top passers.
The Steelers are 13-0 against San Diego in Pittsburgh, but they cannot rely on past history because they have been outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter of their last two games. Pittsburgh has yet to find a running game and they must do today, or the Chargers will break a road losing steak dating back to 1971. The Baltimore Ravens (3-0) have the most prolific attack in the AFC. This is ably backed up by one of the most physical defences. So far they have pushed around three lesser opponents but the New England Patriots (2-1) present a different challenge.
The Ravens have the kind of aggressive defence and pounding running game to wear down New England, but the Patriots have Tom Brady and Randy Moss and a defence that has played surprisingly well despite having lost five of last year's starters. What will hurt though is a sixth, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, will be limited at best with a bad ankle. Look for the Ravens to fly. The surprise package the Denver Broncos (3-0) get their first real test against the Dallas Cowboys (2-1) after facing three cupcake opponents.
This will be a more bitter test and one in which they will give up more points in one game than they have in the previous three (16). Both teams can run the ball and the one that does it best will win. Expect it to be the Cowboys. Around the rest of the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts (3-0) should have too much for the Seahawks (1-2), especially if Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is still out through injury.
The New York Giants (3-0) should not even have to make the flight to Kansas City (0-3) to beat the Chiefs. Just the threat of their defence showing up at Arrowhead Stadium is enough to clinch a victory. The Detroit Lions (1-2) are pumped after winning their first game in more than a year but the party will not continue when the Chicago Bears (2-1) remind them how far they are from the play-offs.
And the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) will remind the Cleveland Browns (0-3) how lucky they are that this is not Premier League Football, where you can get relegated. Buffalo (1-2) make the long journey to Miami (0-3) in a make or break game for the Dolphins. With as good a defence as the Dolphins have, it is hard to believe they have yet to win. That should end against the Bills.
The St Louis Rams (0-3) will continue their imitation of last year's winless Lions when they get spanked by the 49ers (2-1) in San Francisco. Washington Redskins' (1-2) coach Jim Zorn will save his job for another week but only because he is facing winless Tampa Bay (0-3). The disappointing Houston Texans (1-2), a pre-season darkhorse to make the play-offs, get should healthy against the Oakland Raiders (1-2), who insist on trying to win with hapless quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who a week ago threw for one yard in the second-half.
The desperate Tennessee Titans (0-3) have to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) or their season is over. It will not be. Brett Favre says there is nothing personal in tomorrow night's Minnesota game against the Packers (2-1) but Green Bay are the team that forced him into life as a vagabond after pushing him into retirement after 17 NFL seasons. Favre returns with a strong Vikings (3-0) team that can run the ball, has one of the best defences in football and is armed with a quarterback who can make a play when he has to, and never has he wanted to more than in this game.