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Games to Watch – Week 1

Hello
fellow Sharks! From now right up through Week 17, we’ll be giving our insight
as to which games are the ‘games to watch’ each week. This is a heavy burden,
as we know a lot of you have Sunday Ticket, too much free time, and an
addiction to premium brews like Natty Lite or Yuengling. A lot of you know us
from our weekly podcast on this site (the Week in Review podcast), and our
“Side Lines” sport-toon (every Mon, Wed, Fri), or maybe one of our posts in the
Tank. We’re just like you, though. We love a good football game, no matter
who’s playing.
All
times Eastern:

You’ve hooked up your grill’s final propane tank of the
summer; Labor Day has come and gone; your fantasy draft was completed a week or
two ago; you’ve called DirectTV to get the HD package. Everything is in place.

You know you’re ready for it, and we are too, so welcome
back to “Games to Watch”, 2009 style!!!

For those of you new to the column, each week we do your couch-potato
homework for you – selecting the best games on the docket and giving good
reason that the ‘honey-do’ list should get done the day before. We’ll do our
best to pick games in different time slots, to keep the picture-in-picture swapping
to a minimum, but we’ll pick three great games for you each week. (And you can
take THAT to the bank.) So get your PDA ready (or for those old-school-ers out
there; pencil and paper) and mark down the following games. Heck, set your Tivo
from your phone – because these are three you just won’t want to miss in the
NFL’s opening week.

Tennessee

@

Pittsburgh

– Thursday 9/10,

8:30pm

Some of the best rivalries in the NFL typically involve two
teams from the same division; Chicago
and Green Bay, Cleveland
and Pittsburgh, Dallas
and anyone in the NFC East. Sometimes they move out of the division and are
simply in the same conference (Pats and Colts for example). There is another rivalry
budding and it is drawing a great deal of attention – and not just because it
is the first game to open up the NFL Season. We’re talking Steelers vs. Titans;
Tomlin vs. Fisher; heart-wrencher vs. heartbreaker (who’s who in that we are
still trying to figure out… it just sounded good when we proofread it).

Coming off of their 2nd Super Bowl win of the
decade, the Steelers look poised to make another run at the title. The strength
of the Black and Gold? Easy – a punishing, no-holds barred defense. Names like LBs
James Farrior and James Harrison, and S Troy Polamalu are the leaders of a
defense that consistently ranks in the top of most NFL defensive categories. Offensively,
the boys from Steel City
might not be the flashiest in the NFL, but they get the job done. It starts
with Big Ben Roethlisberger (3301yd / 17TD in 2008), who at age 27 has
accomplished more than most QBs who have ever played the game. At running back,
veteran RB Willie Parker (791yd / 5TD) has been promised by Mike Tomlin to be
the main go-to guy on the ground, but the youngster Rashard Mendenhall will
almost certainly get his share of playing time this year. WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes (who
combined for 1914yd / 136rec /12TD) were the nuclear warheads of the team’s
battle plan when they took to the air, and for many fantasy owners’ wallets.

The Titans have to be bitter; they basically rolled over the
Steelers in week 16 last year, laying a 31–14 beating on them, and securing
home field advantage in the playoffs, which didn’t last very long as they blew
a relatively easy game against the Baltimore Ravens. They watched as a team
they dominated weeks earlier was eventually crowned champions. All while the
Titans stewed; waiting for the long off-season to be over and take another run
at the Steelers and that elusive Lombardi Trophy. Speaking of running…it is one
of the things they do best with Chris Johnson (1228yd / 9TD) and LenDale White
(773yd / 15TD) in the backfield of a run-them-over rushing offense. Journeyman QB
vet Kerry Collins (2676yd / 12TD) still holds the keys to the Titan offense,
and if he struggles he might be using those keys to warm up the bus before this
one is over. WR Justin Gage (651yd / 34rec / 6TD) leads a lack-luster WR corps
that hurts this team more than helps it.
The Titan defense should still be solid, but a Darius Hayward-less squad
leaves question marks at a position that has been the cornerstone of the
Titan’s success as of late. But the
Titan’s return most of their top 10 last ranked defense, so don’t expect them
to be any less dangerous in 2009.

You know where to be Thursday night… with the Black Eyed
Peas and Tim McGraw watching what should be one heck of a heavyweight bout Everyone finds it tough to believe that one of
these teams are going to go 0-1, but barring one of those pesky ties, that’s
exactly what is going to happen. Who
comes out on top in this one? Is it the
‘Stillers’ who look like they are playing better right now, or the Titans
fueled by bitterness and hate from how last year ended? You know we will ALL be tuning in to find
out.

Philadelphia

@

Carolina

– Sunday 9/13,

1:00pm

For those of you who live in or near NYC, you know what a
headache it can be to get tickets to a Broadway show. Most of us (et al, those that don’t have a
wallet lined with a dozen ‘C notes’) are forced to hit the TKTS booth and buy
whatever is available for the day at 1/2 price. In Detroit
this season, you might see at TKTS booth for the Lions, and you certainly might
also see one in Jacksonville where
they’ll be putting tarps on a good chunk of the upper deck. But in Carolina
you won’t see any of this as they are on a mission to repeat last year’s feat
and sell out every game.

Sure – we realize this isn’t the super-marquee Broadway match-up
that you might have hoped for, but honestly, this game will give us a TON of
answers about two NFC teams that have done nothing but give us questions in the
off- and pre-seasons – the Panthers and the Eagles. (Side note: Even though Michael Vick won’t be
playing in this game due to his suspension, we are setting the over/under on
how many times he is mentioned in the telecast at 9.)

The Panthers have had their ups and downs since the end of
the 2008 regular season. On the good side, they still retain one of the best
one-two punches on the ground with RBs DeAngelo Williams (1515yd / 18TD in ’08)
and Jonathan Stewart (836yd / 10TD). This ground attack frees up QB Jake
Delhomme (3288yd / 15TD) and WR Steve Smith (1421yd / 6TD) to look for the long
ball to the end zone. On the bad side, the uneasiness from the off-again
on-again relationship with key defensive lineman Julius Peppers (14.5 sacks in
’08) has been at the very least a media distraction, and a sour taste in the
mouth of a defense that is trying to help Carolina rebound from its divisional
round playoff loss last year. And the Panthers are one of those scary ‘bend but
don’t break’ defenses, letting teams seemingly move the ball effectively until
the get near the goal line – as evidenced by their average states in yardage
allowed, but their top 12 spot in scoring defense.

The Eagles come into this season after a hot streak going
into last year’s playoffs as they reached the NFC Championship game last year.
The chances of them even making the playoffs were less than 20% going into the
final day of the season, but the often harshly judged Donovan McNabb (3916yd /
23TD) led the team to victory over the Cowboys and the birds rallied to go deep
into the post-season. McNabb isn’t who the Philly fans need to worry about
though; it’s the rest of the team that bears some question marks. 2nd year WR DeSean Jackson (912yd /
2TD) looks to have a breakout year, and although aging RB Brian Westbrook
(936yd / 9TD) hasn’t taken a single snap in the preseason after having ankle
surgery, he’ll be ready to go in the opener.
Throw in the much publicized injury-problems to the Philly offensive
front, and we don’t know if we’ll see the explosive Eagles from the end of last
season, or the bumbling inefficiency we saw from them during their fiasco of a
pre-season. Defensively, with the off-season passing of longtime respected
coordinator Jim Johnson, his understudy Sean McDermont takes the leading role,
which could spell joy or heartbreak for the City of Brotherly
love. The Eagles have 9 of 11 starters returning to the #3 ranked D from 2008,
but with serious questions about their Linebackers, and worries about a now
Dawkin-less secondary all critics’ eyes will be on the defense this year. If you give any credibility to the NY Post,
and other national media outlets, some have this team crowned as a contender
for the Lombardi Trophy. If you listen
to some Philly sports-radio, you’d think this team ranks right above the
hapless Lions. Which is the real deal
Eagles? This game will give us a lot of
those answers.

So get ready for the ‘Shakedown in Charlotte’ (By the way,
NFL lawyers, we have that name copy written – so please have the accounting
dept. make out the checks to ‘Brains and Braun, Inc.’.) These teams have played 5 times with the Birds
winning 4 of the 5, but the only win by the Panthers was the most important – in
the NFC Championship game in 2003. If you don’t already have them, you won’t get
cheap tickets for this one. But the show you are going to see is worth full
price. Enjoy.

Buffalo @ New England – Monday 9/14,

7:00pm

NFL Wars: Episode VI –
Return of the NFL Jedi

The Emperor (of New England, Tom
Brady), Darth Vader (Bill Belichick) and the forces of the Empire (the New
England Patriots) are building a new, indestructible Death Star (i.e. SuperBowl
challenger). Meanwhile, Han Solo
(Marshawn Lynch) has been imprisoned (or at least suspended for four games),
and Luke Skywalker (Terrell Owens) has sent R2D2 and C3PO (Kita and Monique,
his assistants from his truly awful reality TV show) to try and free him.
Princess Leia (sorry Trent Edwards, but you should have seen this coming) –
disguised as a bounty hunter (quarterback) – and Chewbacca (Fred Jackson) go
along as well. The final battle takes place on the moon of Endor (basically the
same as Foxboro), with its natural inhabitants, the Ewoks (sorry New Englanders
– we call it like we see it), getting underfoot (but on the side of the Empire
this time). Will Darth Vader and the dark side overcome the rebels and take
over the NFL universe?!? (Well, for at least one week…)

The Patriots try to return to domination of the NFL Empire
with the return of Jedi QB Tom Brady, who missed all of 2008 due to
injury. Darth Belichick and the Pats
were still almost good enough with Matt Cassel at the helm in relief, but let’s
face it – everyone knew Brady was the key to their success. With Brady’s return to health, the Pats and
their fans are expecting big things as he tries to reignite an offense with penultimate
weapons like WRs Randy Moss (1,008yd / 69rec / 11TD) and Wes Welker (1,165yd /
11rec / 3TD). The running game is a mess
of a committee approach, with RBs Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor expected to take
the majority of the snaps, but Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney still in the
mix. The offensive line looked shaky at
times in the pre-season, but all reports out of Foxboro point to Brady’s
protection being ready for the regular season.
The Defense loses some key names to retirement (LB Tedy Bruschi and S
Rodney Harrison) and surprising trades (DE Richard Seymour), but what they now
lack in veteran leadership, they replace with the speed and raw talent of
youth. And this divisional match-up in
week one should be a good test for this now young defense. Keep your eyes on
the CB situation, because the play of rookie Darrius Butler and 7th
year man Leigh Bodden could well tell us whether the 2009 Pats will look like
the Pats of old, or if they’ll struggle to prevent the deep ball (especially
being matched up against a playmaker like T.O.).

The Bills try and finally get over the hump and see some
post-season play in 2009. They started
out on fire in 2008 (4-0), rolling up four straight wins, but with QB Trent
Edwards (2,699yd / 11TD) suffering a concussion in week 5, the wheels came off
the Bills bus, and they never got things started again, finishing a
disappointing 7-9. Edwards looked great in those first four contests, throwing
4 TDs to just 2 interceptions, but the effects of his concussion didn’t do him
any favors as he went on to throw another 4 TDs in his next five starts, while
giving up a whopping 8 interceptions. WR
Lee Edwards (1,017yd / 63rec / 3TD) still managed a solid season even with the erratic
play of Edwards, but he finally gets some help in 2009 – in the form of one of
the NFL’s most talented, and least desired, WRs – Terrell Owens (1,052yd /
69rec / 10TD). While T.O. has been
locker-room poison to several clubs now (San Fran, Philly, and Dallas), the
Bills desperation to get back to the SuperBowl while 90-year old owner Ralph
Wilson is still around to see it, drove them to risk harmony for the undeniable
talent he brings to the table. The running
game is without starter Marshawn Lynch (suspended), but Fred Jackson (571yd /
3TD) has been solid in relief of Lynch in the past, and the Bills are counting
on his 5ypc career average to keep the run game solid. The Bills D is average in every sense of the
word. They were right around the 14/15/16
mark in every major defensive category in 2008, which means the Bills chances
for success rise and fall on the backs (and the arm) of the offense.

And while we get to see the return of two Jedi masters in
their respective fields, QB Brady and WR T.O., it will likely be the play of
the Pats D and the Bills D that ultimately decides this game. You have to like the Pats to win this one,
but heck… if the Ewoks could help topple the Empire, why don’t T.O. and Edwards
have a chance to topple the Belichick dynasty?

Well, there you have it – three games you simply can’t miss
to open up the 2009 season. So settle
back into the loving embrace of your Barcalounger, crack open a cold one (or
eight), and get ready for three great games over three days.

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.