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The Week Ahead

Forty-Niners Preview:
San Francisco 49ers (1-3) vs Indianapolis Colts (4-0)

All but the most masochistic 49er fans should take a "bye" from the TV set this Sunday. With the team still reeling from their internationally televised embarrassment against the lowly Cardinals, a match-up with the undefeated Colts looks like a schedule maker's sick joke. Though it might be nice to watch top pick Alex Smith get a full game's worth of reps, it looks like Mike Nolan is simply throwing his youngster to the wolves, hoping he can gain some valuable experience against a top team before their week off.

SF has stumbled to a 1-3 record, and despite a fast start by the defense in last week's loss, they've been showing signs of a bad team getting worse. Careless penalties. Injuries. Horrible blocking. Blown assignments. And now a rookie QB taking over the reigns. Players are giving all the right quotes to the media, but the coach is going to have a tough time keeping spirits high if the Niners end up on the receiving end of yet another severe beating. The team gets their bye following this game, so it's imperative that they at least show some fight... even if no one outside the locker room thinks a win is possible.

For the Colts, they are undergoing something of an identity shift. In the past, everyone knew them solely for their version of the triplets: QB Peyton Manning, WR Marvin Harrison and RB Edgerrin James. Consistently one of the league's most threatening offensive teams, last year saw Manning and crew set the all-time record for touchdown passes in a season. Observers were somewhat surprised, then, when Indianapolis opened up this season with a 4 game win streak fueled almost entirely by their defense.

The big story there is Dwight Freeney, the undersized-but-super-quick 4th year defensive end who has been regularly setting up camp in opposing backfields. Considering the sad state of the 49ers offensive line, Freeney could have his biggest day yet. However, it's actually the Indianapolis secondary -- led by another super-fast youngster, 2nd year safety Bob Sanders -- that may be the real reason for the Colts' newfound defensive swagger. Indianapolis is allowing only 6.5 points per game -- by far the best in the league -- and with all the questions surrounding San Francisco's ability to move the ball, don't expect that ranking to change much this weekend. That the Colts seemed to rediscover their offense in last week's 31-10 blowout of the Titans can't be a good sign for the hometown club either.

Indianapolis is a championship caliber team firing on all cylinders. San Francisco is a bad team stuck in neutral... or even reverse. Two squads at opposite ends of the NFL spectrum. This ain't gonna be pretty.


Raiders Preview:
Oakland (1-3) has their bye this week, allowing Randy Moss to focus entirely on smoothing out his over-pronounced forehead wrinkles. (Don't look so concerned Randy, everything's gonna be alright!)

Their next scheduled game is at home against reigning AFC West champion San Diego (2-2).

Week Five NFL Picks:

Carolina Panthers 24 @ Arizona Cardinals 20
New England Patriots 21 @ Atlanta Falcons 27
Miami Dolphins 23 @ Buffalo Bills 16
Chicago Bears 16 @ Cleveland Browns 17
Washington Redskins 20 @ Denver Broncos 13
Baltimore Ravens 13 @ Detroit Lions 16
New Orleans Saints 27 @ Green Bay Packers 19
Tennessee Titans 13 @ Houston Texans 24
Indianapolis Colts 33 @ San Francisco 49ers 9
Cincinnati Bengals 30 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 20
Philadelphia Eagles 31 @ Dallas Cowboys 17
Seattle Seahawks 20 @ St. Louis Rams 28
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16 @ New York Jets 6
MNF: Pittsburgh Steelers 27 @ San Diego Chargers 23

Season To Date: 40-18 (.690)