Hello fellow Sharks! From now until 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), our new “Sine 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:
This is always one of our favorite times of the year; leaves falling, bonfire parties, and of course the NFL is in full swing. It’s a stress-free time before the craziness of Thanksgiving and Christmas bludgeon us into holiday submission – well at least for many of us. This is the point in the NFL season when almost no one is completely out of the playoff race, but soon will be if they don’t string together a few wins, or stave off challenges from tough divisional opponents. The entire NFL is near its boiling point; stress from division rivalries, standings, and how their defenses can withstand challenges from a formidable foe have them steamed. But they aren’t the only ones who get stressed out this time of year – with so many games to watch, you could get stressed out yourself. That’s why we (Braun and Dolfi) promise to help you turn your steam into a sauna and hand you a metaphorical relaxing beverage to relax all your cares away*; we’ll pick the best match-ups of the week for you.
*[Editor’s Note: FantasySharks.com and Braun/Dolfi only promise to take away the stress of picking the best ‘Games to Watch’ each week, and in no way, shape, or form is responsible for eliminating stress due to the home mortgage crisis, the recent loss of your job, or the fact that your oldest daughter is dating a guy named “Bulldog”, who drives a Camaro and has a full back tattoo that reads ‘Pain is Love’.]
– Sunday 11/9,
Flashback to week one; the Packers no longer have Brett Favre and we are all wondering how Aaron Rodgers can hope to fill his shoes, but thankfully youngster RB Ryan Grant is raring to go; the Vikings have fantasy stud Adrian Peterson anchoring their offense, but we are wondewring if he’ll get hit by the dreaded ‘Sophomore Slump’ (which is a worse fear for fantasy owners than the ‘Freshman Fifteen’ was for your high school sweetheart’s waistline); and the Vikings have high hopes for Tavaris Jackson to succeed since the focus would be on the Vikes run game. Flash forward to week 10; here we are, just past the midpoint – and there are some answers to those questions from these two teams that just a month and a half ago were considered contenders. One thing hasn’t changed: both still are contenders in the wide-open NFC North at 4-4, just a game behind Chicago. Let us run down the answers to some of our questions about these two teams, and what other questions might arise for the loser of this match-up.
It took a mere two weeks before the “Year of Tavaris” Jackson came to a close. The answer to the Vikings needs at quarterback became an immediate question when the team went 0-2. Enter journeyman vet Gus Frerotte (1468yd / 8TD / 8int) as the man under center. Since he has taken over, the team has gone 4-2, all the while throwing touchdown passes to the likes of WRs Bernard Berrian (30rec / 621yd / 4TD) and Bobby Wade (33rec / 363yd). Of course, the backbone of this offense lies on the ground and in the person of Adrian Peterson (823yd / 6TD), who has had five 100-yard rushing games this season. While he may not be carrying some fantasy teams by himself, as he did last year, we’d hardly call that a ‘Sophomore Slump’. Heck, it’s hard to argue with the success of a run game averaging 130+ yards a game. On the defensive side, whether you agree with personnel decisions or not – statistics don’t lie. It appears the acquisition of Jarred Allen has made the entire Vikings defensive better, bolstering a defense that is 2nd in the league against the run.
Stress could be Aaron Rodgers middle name. First he was asked to step into a near impossible situation in replacing one of the faces of the NFL, Brett Favre. Then he was asked to lead the Pack back to the playoffs, at least in the minds of the Packer faithful. Even though he has 1982 yards passing and 13 TD’s, the scrutiny put upon him since before week one is a bit unfair. At 4-4, Green Bay fans were hoping for a repeat of last years domination of the NFC North – that’s not happening in this year’s NFC North, but at least the playoffs are still a solid possibility. WRs Greg Jennings and Donald Driver (a collective 1230 yards and 7 TD) are as good of a one two punch as any in the league. On the ground, although missing some consistency, Ryan Grant (550 yards / 1 TD) is the go to option, and can be a threat if the offensive line can spring him free. On the opposite side, the defense has struggled against the run (which may be good news for Peterson), but though the air, they limit opposing quarterbacks to 180 yards a game. And that was even with starter Al Harris sidelined for 4 of their 8 games thus far.
With both teams 4-4 and only one game behind the division leading Bears, this game becomes a must-win division game. The jury will still be out on whether Rodgers can lead the Pack to the playoffs, and the Vikings will still have work to do, regardless of who wins this game. But we KNOW Aaron Rodgers is a solid replacement for Favre, and we KNOW Adrian Peterson isn’t slumping except in minds of fantasy owners asking him to get 3 TDs a week. And while it won’t be an easy task at the HHH dome for the winner, the ultimate question on who gets an easier shot at a division title will indeed be answered. So settle back, and watch this divisional drama unfold. And on the commercials don’t be afraid to find that ex-sweetheart on Facebook and see if her ‘Freshman Fifteen’ turned into the ‘Thirty-Something Thirty-Something’. You know you want to. 😉
Buffalo @ New England – Sunday 11/9,
Well, by now you know that Barack Obama is our new President-Elect, having scored a decisive victory on a platform promising change. And while change may be exactly what our country needs right now, it’s not always the solution. Take the two teams involved in this intra-divisional tussle; one of them has changed for the good this year, moving up the ranks from AFC speed bump to AFC playoff contender; the other squad changed from a playoff lock to a team that is in a dogfight in its own division.
The Buffalo Bills changed from a minor blip on many AFC team’s radar to a real contender this year. Sure, we all knew RB Marshawn Lynch (466yd / 6TD) was the real deal. But the real change for Buffalo came in the passing game. QB Trent Edwards (1725yd / 6TD / 5int) has been exceeding expectations all year, and even a mild concussion in week four hasn’t slowed him down much. And like a seasoned veteran, Edwards isn’t locking into one receiver, but is spreading the ball around. So while WRs Lee Evans, Josh Reed, and TE Robert Royal might not have numbers putting them at the top of the receiver stat columns, they have amassed a combined 85 receptions, 1725 yards, and 4 TDs; and that’s NOT counting Marshawn Lynch’s contributions to the pass game. The Bills defense is ranked in the top 3rd of the league in overall yardage allowed, scoring, and run defense. Heck, even the weakest part of their defense, their pass defense, is ranked in the top half of the league. Like the receiving corps, the Bills defense likes to share the workload when it comes to sacks, with TEN different players recording a sack so far on this squad. But nowhere is ‘good change’ more evident in Buffalo than in the standings. Sitting at 5-3, and deadlocked for the division lead with the Patriots and Jets, this team is a serious AFC playoff contender this season. Even if they can’t pull out their own division this year, a wildcard berth is not out of the question for this team. Changes like that, the fans in Buffalo can easily get behind.
New England is facing changes this year as well. Unfortunately for them, change for them was a ‘bad change’ that came early in week one, when QB Tom Brady was lost for the year due to injury. That injury has reverberated loudly through almost every aspect of the Patriots this year. Obviously the receiving corps numbers have fallen off, but WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker have battled back from adversity and managed to combine for solid numbers (94rec / 1039yd / 5TD combined). QB Matt Cassel (1566yd / 7TD / 7int) hasn’t lived up to Brady’s numbers, but could you really expect him to? He’s done a decent job stepping into (arguably) the NFL’s biggest shoes from last season. The ‘bad changes’ haven’t just been limited to the passing game, however. The running game in New England is the NFL’s most convoluted RBBC squad we’ve ever seen (and that includes every Mike Shanahan Denver offense over the past decade). RBs Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Lamont Jordan, and new-comer BenJarvis Green-Ellis have combined for a VERY nice total of 1019 yards and 9 TDs, but all of them have been banged up and out of the line-up at some point. The Pats defense actually has to work this year as well, without the huge leads that Brady used to give the team. And while they have managed to stay in the top half of the NFL in overall defense, the aging, but crafty vets on this team are the NFL’s 9th best team at keeping opponents from scoring – giving up just 18.8 points a contest. But no where is the Pats ‘bad change’ more evident than in THEIR record. Identical to Buffalo, their 5-3 record has to be a disappointment to both team and fans of New England, especially after going 16-0 in regular season play last year. Thankfully for the Pats, down does not mean out – not by a long shot.
So both teams come into this game having to deal with changes; one team with an abundance of good changes, the other with an abundance of bad changes. Change isn’t always what an NFL team needs. But change is what both of these teams will face after this game. One will keep themselves at least tied for the AFC East lead, the other will find themselves falling behind not only in the division, but in the AFC wildcard race as well. So while some change is good, like changing the channel when your wife thinks that ‘Project Runway’ reruns on Sunday afternoon are an acceptable use of the TV, losing this game would be a very bad change for one of these squads. The only thing that won’t change when this one is over is that it will still be one of the ‘Games to Watch’ this week.
– Sunday 11/9,
We’re not going to beat around the bush and tell you why this is an exciting game to watch. If you are any kind of NFL fan, you know why already – it will just go unsaid. If for some reason you are reading this is because you want to surprise your significant other with an order of Chinese Spare-Ribs, the remote control, and a ripped up Honey-Do list, and don’t know what game to put on for them… this is the one – trust us. (Also, trust us that he doesn’t know which blouse looks better on you, what color the dining room should be painted to convey a feeling of warmth, or what the appropriate gift is for the 13th anniversary… but we digress…)
Believe it or not…the Giants are at a crossroads. They look dominating, but they also did up until the midway point of the season last year, when they were 6-2, one game off of that mark this year. From that point, they went 4-4, but peaked during the playoff run that ended up to be historical. Which Giants do we see from here on in? Many expect to see the Eli Manning (1735yd / 12TD / 5int) that has shown leadership and confidence since winning the super bowl last year and carried it into this season (and improved greatly in keeping interceptions to a minimum). Many expect to see the tip-toeing Brandon Jacobs (680yd / 7TD) get fed the ball and rumble downhill toward the end zone. (The Cowboy’s Patrick Crayton said that tip-toe comment – not us. Jacobs always seems to be trying to level someone from what we see…) Still more expect to see WRs Plaxico Burress and Steve Smith (a combined 718yd / 4TD) make the opposition pay via the passing game.. Coaching gurus might even say that the Giants success will continue on how balanced their offense is (they’ve run 501 plays this year; 250 of them have been the run; 251 on the pass). We are leaning toward the fact that the defense is the overwhelming cog in the Giants machine – stifling opponents (allowing less than 16 points a game) and still able to generate substantial pressure on opposing QBs even after losing their top two pass rushers from their Super Bowl run (tallying an amazing 30 sacks so far and ranking as the #2 team in that regard this year). Regardless of the reason, the Giants are arguably one of the best, if not
the best, in the NFL. The only negative we can really point out about this team is that they played the easiest part of their schedule up front, and now the real work in defending their championship really begins.
Philadelphia had it’s way in the NFC east for a long time pushing aside weaker teams. The past few years, they’ve found themselves lacking that consistency of domination they had in the first part of the new millennium. In fact, lack of consistency has been the Eagles biggest problem in 2008 so far. QB Donovan McNabb (2178yd / 10 TD / 4int) flourishes often in an offense where the ball is spread out to a multitude of WRs/RBs/TEs. Now if Donny Mac could string together FOUR solid quarters, instead of just three every game, the Eagles would really be scary on offense. Rookie DeSean Jackson (34rec / 525yd / 1TD) is the only Eagle WR to crack the 20 catch mark, a rarity in an offense where the QB has throw for 182 completions already – not to mention his contributions to a punt return team that lacked any kind of explosiveness in the last two seasons. The ground game (which for the Eagles includes short passes out of the backfield) has been strong, when injury has not played a role. RB Brian Westbrook (422ru yd / 6ru TD / 26rec / 174rec yd / 2rec TD) is truly one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons, even in the hands of a coach that seems to outthink himself at times. On the defensive side, the Eagles rank in the top 10 of all categories of note, and have been able to continue their solid defensive play from last season, even adding a key piece in CB Asante Samuel in the offseason. The boys from the City of Brotherly Love have been showing a lot of love to opposing QBs, by quietly becoming the 4th best team in the NFL at getting up-come-and-personal with 27 sacks. The Birds have been playing desperate, and they’ll need to against the division leading Giants.
Well, the true NFL fan knows why this is a ‘Game to Watch’. But if you are trying to score those ‘cool girlfriend/wife points’, don’t worry about trying to win your man’s admiration by clicking on Cold Case, Family Guy, or even The Simpsons; all of those will be re-run at some point. Any guy that didn’t star in a summer-stock performance of H.M.S. Pinafore wants to be glued to the set watching this game – trust us. Would we steer you wrong? (And you can’t count that time we told you to throw bacon on the cereal – it honestly sounded good at the time. Hmm – come to think of it, it sounds like it deserves a second chance… now go watch the Giants / Eagles NFC East clash while we fry up a couple strips to toss on our Captain Crunch*.)
*[Editor’s Note: FantasySharks.com and the Office of the Surgeon General urge you not to put bacon on your cereal. Additionally, they urge you not to consider bacon as one of the four food groups, as Braun and Dolfi obviously do.]