The Peninsula’s three marquee NFL connections occupy this week’s three prime television slots in as large a November weekend as pro football gets.
Start with Sunday’s 4:15 p.m., game, where Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo of Kecoughtan High and the New England Patriots host the New York Giants in a collision of 5-2 division leaders.
The Patriots rank last among the league’s 32 teams in total defense, allowing 424.1 yards per game. But much like last season, those yards haven’t always translated to points – New England allows 22.9 per game, a respectable 16th in the NFL.
Mayo, the NFL’s leading tackler last season and the defense’s co-captain, missed the Patriots’ victories over the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys with a knee injury before returning in Sunday’s road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He did not start and was credited with only two tackles.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes called defensive signals in Mayo’s place, even when Mayo was in the game. Always a team-first type, Mayo told ESPN.com he was fine with the switch.
“I always say whatever the coaches want to do … I'm willing to do,” he said. “I'm not really one to go against the grain.”
If the Patriots are to emerge as Super Bowl contenders, they’ll need Mayo healthy and in good form. The Giants and Eli Manning boast the league’s No. 4 passing offense, hardly an ideal matchup for the NFL’s worst passing defense – New England allows 323.1 yards in the air per game, 34 more than any other team.
But with Mayo having another week of practice, and the Patriots playing at home, where they’re unbeaten, here’s guessing they move to 6-2 halfway through the regular season.
NBC’s Sunday night game is the week’s best: the Baltimore Ravens at Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers in a rivalry that is arguably the NFL’s most bruising.
Baltimore and Pittsburgh rank 1-2 in total defense, 2-3 in scoring defense, which is fine by Tomlin, the Denbigh High graduate and former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator.
The Ravens embarrassed the Steelers in the season-opener, 35-7. But Pittsburgh (6-2) has won four straight and leads the Ravens (5-2) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) by a half-game in the AFC North.
“Defensively, it’s their same core of guys,” Tomlin said at his weekly news conference, referring to the likes of end Terrell Suggs, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. “They are playing great, not good, great. …
“They are slaying people and we (were) a part of that. … They are playing extremely fast, they are really talented, they know what they are doing and they are very rarely out of place. They have uniquely talented people at every level of their defense. They are the best in the world right now.”
Pittsburgh is unbeaten at home and coming off its most impressive victory, over New England. But with defensive linchpins such as James Harrison (broken orbital bone) and LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) doubtful, you have to wonder if the Steelers have two consecutive playoff-caliber performances in the tank.
In case you were wondering, Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a rookie from Hampton High and Virginia Tech, has yet to play this season.
While Baltimore and Pittsburgh are sage bets to make the playoffs, Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles are iffy.
Philadelphia (3-4) endured an early-season, four-game losing streak and trails the Giants by two games in the NFC East. After routing the Dallas Cowboys 34-7 last Sunday night, the Eagles take the Monday night stage against the Chicago Bears (4-3).
The Dallas victory was by far Vick’s best effort of 2011. The Newport News native threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 50 yards on seven carries and, perhaps most important, avoided the turnovers that have nagged him this season.
Philly leads the NFL in rushing at 179.9 yards per game, while Chicago ranks 31st in yards per carry allowed (5.2). So figure on a steady dose of LeSean McCoy, with Vick as the occasional wild card, as the Eagles win their third straight.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Vick told reporters after the Dallas contest. “This is a win to be proud about … and so we deserve to take a moment to reflect and enjoy this, but at the same time understand our position.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDPCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun