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 Fantasy PRE-Wind podcast), and our “Side Lines” sport-toon (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), 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:
– Thursday 11/11, 8:20 p.m., NFL Network
Ahhhh … Thursday night out takes on a new meaning for the next eight weeks, as the fifth day of the week gets adopted once again as a football night. So it’s no surprise that the NFL set up a “Game to Watch” to kick off Thursday Night Football. There is one word to use that can describe this game: mirror. We have mirror images of quarterbacks drafted in 2008 and slinging their way to the top of the NFL. We have two head coaches early in their head coaching career, finding success in their respective divisions. And finally, we have two teams that find themselves the first in the league to be forced into an extremely short week of prep and then thrust into the national spotlight. With little time for game planning, this contest is made all the more difficult by the fact they rarely meet, which will push both players and coaches to the test – a test that is sure to be graded by football fans and critics this Thursday night.
Football isn’t always a game that can be measured in only statistics, but
Matt Ryan’s (1,949 yards, 13 TD, 5 INT) 17-1 record at home is one stat that certainly weighs on opponents’ minds. In order to grow by one number in the win column, Ryan will utilize a healthy
Roddy White (58 receptions, 796 yards, n5 TD) ad
Michael Turner (694 yards, 5 TD) to help him move the ball. Head Coach
Mike Smith’s offensive unit has been solid all year, as evidenced by their 24.5 points per game (ranking them 10th in the NFL in scoring), but this team isn’t 6-2 based solely on their offensive success. The Falcons defense is every bit as much as responsible for this team sitting atop the NFC South. Speedy veteran
John Abraham (17 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 INT) has six of the units 16 sacks, and paired with
William Moore (29 tackles, 3 INT, 1 forced fumble) and his three interceptions, this ball hawking unit has shown the ability to put opposing quarterbacks on their backs, as well as snatched their balls from the air, week in and week out.
Baltimore, just like Atlanta, finds themselves in a tight division race amongst some tough competition. But the “purple and black” are widely considered one of the AFC’s top teams right now.
Joe Flacco (1,917 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT) is establishing himself as an emerging leader in the AFC, and
Anquan Boldin (40 receptions, 546 yards, 5 TD) and
Derrick Mason (30 receptions, 399 yards, 2 TD) are showing little signs of wear and tear in the “Over 30 Club”. Meanwhile, Flacco’s draft classmate,
Ray Rice (606 yards, 2 TD) is another member of the offense that makes opponents defensive coordinators cringe. As they have for the last decade, the defensive unit consistently remains in the Top 10 in every important category. Ray Lewis (68 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and
Haloti Ngata (43 tackles, 5 sacks) lead a squad that allows a mere 17 points per game – something that might give Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan problems, even in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome.
Immediately following his team’s win Sunday, Falcons coach Mike Smith and his staff went to the team complex to break down film and begin installing the game plan for Thursday night. Ravens coach
John Harbaugh had similar time limitations, but his team also must deal with a flight to Atlanta. It’s a very short week, and one fraught with pitfalls for both teams. So while the game plans and the play might not be as slick as we normally expect from these two squads, the little bit of chaos the short week throws into the mix of these two teams is just an added reason to love this game – a game that makes it a perfect “Game to Watch.”
Jets @ Cleveland
– Sunday 11/14, 1 p.m., CBS
Players are the glitz and glamour of the NFL. Kids want to be them, young ladies want to be close to them – it’s as simple as that. When you get a bit older though, you find yourself indentifying less and less with the players and more and more like the one leading from the side line – the head coach. You end up coaching your kids through life’s up and downs, you coach your junior coworkers on how to stay awake through three-hour-long meetings and you even coach your neighbor on how he should weed and feed his lawn. So it makes sense that while the players are exciting to watch, as we get older we realize just how much effect a head coach in the NFL has on his team. Take one of this Sunday’s matchups, where two head coaches square off from blue collar towns. Both coaches are a little bit scrappy and don’t mind ruffling feathers. Both have ties to the Jets, and both also have ties to none other than coaching legend Buddy Ryan. That’s right – it’s time for a little bit of Jets versus Browns action. And while many think we are crazy for picking a “Game to Watch” that features Cleveland, we say it’s long overdue. Let us coach you why …
OK, Cleveland may not be knocking on the playoff door quite yet. However, coach
Eric Mangini has made general manager Mike Holmgren a little more comfortable in his leather office chair with two huge wins in the past two weeks. First, the Browns triumph over last year’s Super Bowl Champ, the New Orleans Saints, holding one of the NFL’s best offenses in check, and then last week against offensive powerhouse New England and former boss Bill Belichick, Cleveland shuts down Tom Brady. And who is Mangini doing it with? A gutsy rookie quarterback in
Colt McCoy (529 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), a virtual no name at running back in
Peyton Hillis (644 yards, 7 TD) and a tight end approaching 30 years old in
Ben Watson (31 receptions, 360 yards, 2 TD). All those players may have gone unnoticed on your fantasy draft day, but they are all getting some respect with this team’s most current wins. Defensively is where the Ryan comes in for the Browns, but not Buddy. Defensive Coordinator
Rob Ryan heads up a unit that allows less than 20 points a game believe it or not, even if they do manage to give up yardage on a regular basis. Players like
Scott Fujita (50 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and
Marcus Bernard (13 tackles, 4.5 sacks) are giving Ryan, and the Browns name, the most respect the team has gotten in years. “Man-genius” has a general manager, critics and many fans looking over his shoulder, which we are sure gets him fired up – and the thought of revenge against a Jets organization that gave Mangini the boot just might just be another way to stoke the fire from within.
Born five minutes apart from his brother, Jets head coach
Rex Ryan leads a team that dodged a bullet last week in Detroit. Any good team is going to have ups and downs, but the good ones like the Jets keep fighting and find ways to win. Quarterback
Mark Sanchez (1,692 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT) has not shown many signs of a sophomore slump and has been successful in using
Braylon Edwards (25 receptions, 453 yards, 5 TD) and
Santonio Holmes (15 receptions, 245 yards) as a duo to rack up yards. Veteran
LaDainian Tomlinson (599 yards, 5 TD) has proved his critics wrong and shown he has plenty of game left, and seems primed to do all he can to keep this team at the top of the division in the AFC East. Even if Tomlinson’s age should start catching up with him,
Shonn Greene (391 yards, 1 TD) makes a dynamic running duo with Tomlinson. On the other side of the ball,
Shaun Ellis (22 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble) and the third-ranked defense in the NFL has racked up 17 sacks and five interceptions – which should be no surprise when someone from the Ryan family tree is at the helm of the team.
If your idea of football is a lot of flashy offense like an Indianapolis and New Orleans matchup, this isn’t going to be the game for you. But if you’re the blue collar type, looking for the scrappy defenses with a generous amount of attitude, then indeed we think you’ve found your “Game to Watch,” and we’re not Ryan … err… lyin’.
– Sunday 11/14, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Remember the Will Smith blockbuster “Independence Day”? It was a classic sci-fi movie, complete with aliens, spaceships and the impending destruction of the human race. But more than that, it was a classic matchup of beings with incredible offensive powers in pitched battle with people who might not have the weaponry of their attackers, but have the heart to put forth an impressive defense and make their last stand. Hmm … come to think of it – that’s exactly the plot of the New England and Pittsburgh game this Sunday night.
The New England Patriots sport a dazzling display of weaponry, from the speedy rushing attack of running back
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (385 yards, 6 TD) to the cannon arm of quarterback
Tom Brady (1,826 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT). Opposing teams are also forced to deal with the receiving of
Wes Welker (44 receptions, 355 yards, 3 TD) and the red zone threat of rookie tight end
Aaron Hernandez (34 receptions, 436 yards, 2 TD). All of those offensive weapons are directed by head coach
Bill Belichick, which makes that impressive array of weapons even more deadly when combined together according to his plan for NFL domination. But don’t think the Patriots are lacking any defensive capabilities;
Jerod Mayo (96 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) is the NFL’s leading tackler, even if the Patriot defense has slipped into the bottom third of the league in most categories.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may not be able to generate the offense New England can, but they aren’t without their effective weapons. The return of quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger (917 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT) was a much needed boost to “Steeltown’s” attack, but maybe more important is the threat of
Rashard Mendenhall (702 yards, 7 TD) who leads a punishing rushing attack. The duo of
Mike Wallace (22 receptions, 507 yards, 5 TD) and
Hines Ward (30 receptions, 375 yards, 4 TD) give the Steelers a viable aerial threat as well. But let’s face it – the strength of the Steelers is their stalwart defense, especially their truly dominant linebacker corps.
James Harrison (55 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) is so disruptive to the opposition that many teams simply can’t mount a strong enough attack to do any damage. Even if teams can somehow avoid Harrison, they have to deal with
Lawrence Timmons (78 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 1 forced fumble) and
LaMarr Woodley (27 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles). On the backs of their linebacking corps, the “Black and Gold” only allow 15.4 points a game, making them the hardest team to score upon in the entire NFL.
So this Sunday night, we all get treated to a remake of “Independence Day,” NFL style. We have the omnipotent offense of the Patriots versus the dominant defense of the Steelers. And just like in any good movie, the final outcome will be in doubt right up until the end of the game. So be prepared to see some spectacular special effects, including amazing catches, punishing hits and speedy ground assaults. In the end, the winner will be the team that shows the greatest heart in the face of adversity. Well, that or whichever team Jeff Goldblum is rooting for …