Eagles look up against it

  • By: David John
  • Last Updated: October 5 2012, 14:53 BST

Philadelphia could struggle to make an impact on the road at Pittsburgh in the NFL on Sunday night.

Vick: Faces a tough test against the Steelers defense

Philadelphia at Pittsbugh (1800 BST)

The Eagles sit atop the the NFC East at 3-1 after the New York Giants missed a late field goal to hand them victory last Sunday night.

But the crown sits awkwardly at the moment as they have scored 66 points while allowing 83 as Michael Vick and his Kevlar vest continue to show little more than streaky form.

They could struggle to make it to 4-1 on Sunday when they travel to Heinz Field as a refreshed Steelers side coming off a bye week merit support giving up a field goal on the handicap.

The home side will be boosted by the return of three of their most important players - Troy Polamalu and James Harrison on the defensive side of the ball and running back Rashard Medenhall.

The latter is playing his first football since tearing a cruciate ligament back in January. It would be a lot to expect him to be at concert pitch but he should at least give the Eagles defense another element to think about.

The lack of any discernible ground game so far has meant quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has gone to the air and they have averaged 284.3 yards passing per game - compared to an average of just 65 yards rushing.

But a 68.3 percent pass completion rate and a quarterback rating at home of 125.1 - the second best in the NFL - shows a good level of protection of the football, something which has not always been at the top of Roethlisberger's agenda.

The speedy downfield threat of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace continues to develop nicely but it is with Vick where this game will be won by the Steelers.

He has tried to limit the number of savage hits his body has taken by trying to convert into more of a pocket passer but his offensive line has not done much of a job in protection so far as 12 sacks and six interceptions suggest.

He is likely to have his work cut out again agianst the fifth-ranked defense that has just added two of its best players to the line-up again.

It all adds up to making Pittsburgh the pick.

Denver at New England (2125)

Arguably the two best quarterbacks since the turn of the century - Peyton Manning and Tom Brady - have enjoyed some memorable showdowns and the pair meet once more in Sunday's second live game on Sky Sports.

Brady remains at the helm in New England while Manning has returned to action in a Denver jersey this season where he has made a positive start at 2-2 all things considered following multiple neck surgeries.

The two losses have come against Atlanta and Houston, who both remain unbeaten, while last week's 37-6 romp at home against Oakland saw Manning in vintage form as he completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

This is going to be a sterner test still as Manning in his time with Indianapolis always seemed to find Pats head coach Bill Belichick and his defensive scheming a headache.

But the New England's defense of years gone by was much more efficient and Manning should have some opportunities to make plays against a secondary that has been guilty of some shocking errors already.

It is Brady and the offense though who will determine how far this team goes over the longer term as the alarm bells were sounding heading into last week's game at Buffalo with the team stood at 1-2.

But a 52-28 success thanks to an explosive second half has them back on course in an iffy AFC East which still sees them as hot favourites to take the title.

Brady has retained his tremendous accuracy and savvy in the pocket but a good deal of his success can be put down to a much-improved running game.

The performances of Stevan Ridley and free agent pick-up Brandon Bolden have meant Brady has been able to enjoy a little less pressure before he throws as defenses have had to stay honest to the ground game.

Both had over 100 yards last week but I think that Ridley in particular could be less productive against a very solid Broncos defensive unit.

They have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season - Houston's Arian Foster - as the likes of Michael Turner, Darren McFadden and the Pittsburgh duo Jon Dwyer and Isaac Redman have struggled to make an impact.

Ridley may be on the upgrade but he has not struck me as a player who will rip off a long run - the shiftier Bolden is far more likely in that department - and his longest effort to date in his career so far is 33 yards.

A key to the Broncos halting Brady will be keeping the run game in check so Ridley could suffer again as he managed just 21 yards against them in the play-offs last season.

The bet then is to go low of Ridley's rushing yards at 75.5 with Ladbrokes.

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