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), or our column (Brain and Braun), 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:
BOUNS – Thanksgiving Day Game to Watch
Denver @ Kansas City – Thursday 11/23, 8:00pm
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
While not going into our usual in-depth look, we couldn’t leave you without a game to watch while you are letting all that turkey and stuffing settle in your distended stomach…
This is the Turkey Day game to watch, not only because of guys like Larry Johnson, Javon Wlaker, the RBBC of the Denver ‘Bells’, and Tony Gonzalez (who is expected to play, by the way) – but because it pits two tough division rivals against each other in a game to try and keep pace with the San Diego Chargers, who are currently one of the more feared teams in the entire league. And even though the Broncos and the Chiefs are #2 and #3 in their division, it’s probably the best division in football, and they are both in the front of the pack for an AFC wildcard berth.
So sit back, unbutton that button on your now-too-tight pants, and throw some left-over turkey and stuffing on a roll (trust on that one), and get your fill of the Thanksgiving tradition of watching football while you see if you can increase your waistline by more than 5 inches.
San Francisco @ St. Louis – Sunday 11/26, 1:00pm
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
Please take this true / false quiz to test your football knowledge:
T or F St. Louis went from 4-1 to 4-6 in 5 weeks.
T or F SF is second in the NFC West.
T or F SF just won a big division game against 1st place Seattle.
T or F St. Louis is coming off their most dismal performance of the season.
T or F If you can substitute Onion Rings for Fries, you do it under any circumstance.
If you answered TRUE to the first four, then you know your football. However you are probably in shock like the rest of the people who knew those tidbits. The sheer fact that San Fran has a shot at the post season is crazier than wasting your time on a salad when you are at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The 49ers started off the season as the worst defense in the NFL. They gave up a ton of points and a ton of yardage to boot. But over their past few weeks, they have seen those numbers improve. San Fran enters this game with the 22nd ranked defense, even if they still are the worst scoring D in the nation, giving up 26.5 points a game. But even their scoring D is much better, it’s just that they gave up SOOOO many points early in the season; the average is still out of whack. In their last 3 wins, the 49ers have only given up 20 points in 3 games. And THAT is a big, big improvement. Some of that defensive improvement should be credited to their improved offense. QB Alex Smith is in the top half of the league in both QB rating, and in TDs. And that’s actually pretty good considering he only has a single receiver in the top FORTY in the league, Antonio Bryant. The real reason that San Fran’s offense has improved those is their run-blocking, and the play of RB Frank Gore. Gore is now #2 in the entire NFL in rushing yardage, already topping the century mark (1043 yards), and just 2 yards behind league-leader Larry Johnson. His 5.5 yard-per-carry average is the best in the NFL if you look at players who have at least 85 carries for the season. That has allowed San Fran to slow the tempo of their previously frenetic games, keep their defense off the field and rested, and put points on the board. All in all, the 49ers are a MUCH better team than the one that started the season.
St. Louis is seeing the exact opposite happen to them. They started out with the 4-1 record, and then proceeded to blow 5 straight, to end up with a dismal 4-6 record, and even more dismal play as of late. Marc Bulger has slipped to the #8 QB in terms of rating, and #9 in terms of scoring. And Bulger looked very bad in his last 2 games, not scoring a single TD and not even throwing for 200 yards a game. WR Tory Holt, once on the top of the WR heap, has tumbled to a disappointing 12th in yardage, even if he is still tied for #2 in scoring with 7 TDs through 10 games. RB Steven Jackson isn’t living up to what many fantasy owners expected either. After open the season with 2 hundred-plus games, he hasn’t cracked the century mark again all season. This slide isn’t all bad play by the Rams, though. They have had one of the toughest schedules in football over their 5-game slide, playing division leader Seattle twice, San Diego, Kansas City, and even a resurgent Carolina Panthers squad.
This game is so important for both of these teams, we don’t know how it can’t be good. San Fran needs the win to stay ahead of St. Louis in the race for playoff spots, and a win also lets them keep pace with division leader Seattle. More importantly, it would make people really stand up and take notice of just how much this club has improved over their first 10 games. For St. Louis, they need to stop this downward spiral before it’s too late. They had a very tough schedule, it’s true, but you need to find a way to win some of those games if you want to make the playoffs. And with some very winnable games left on their schedule, they could climb back into the thick of the wildcard hunt as well. This game really has the feeling of a make-or-break game for these two squads, with the loser having a good shot at a playoff berth, and the loser going home early.
As for the test above….if you answered false to one or more of the above statements, it’s ok. Don’t get bent out of shape. You can always switch to watching the NBA and see how many multi-million dollar athletes manage to get tattoos that look substandard to the quality of work you’d get in a place like Attica.
New Orleans @ Atlanta – Sunday 11/26, 1:00pm
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Some people think Nostradamus was a prophet. Some think he was just this weird dude that wrote a whole bunch of vague predictions and people’s desperate attempts to apply them to real world events makes it look like he knew what the heck he was talking about. We figure, he was probably just some guy who turned to writing predictions because he wasn’t able to get in on the ground floor of fantasy football gambling.
Can’t you see it? Old dude, maybe no one around to chitchat with who’s worth his intellect, lots of money… he’d be one great bookie to convince you to bet, all by looking at the stars (people flip coins to pick which teams to bet on, are his ways he came up with predictions any different if he was picking NFL teams?).
If you take a close look at some of his work, we actually believe he DID try to make some football predictions. For example quatrain 6:
The eye of Ravenna will be forsaken,
when his wings will fail at his feet.
The two of Bresse will have made a constitution
for Turin and Vercelli, which the French will trample underfoot.
Would seem to indicate that the Ravenna (Ravens?) will fail to make the playoffs, and the play of Bresse (Drew Brees?) will help the French (New Orleans?) trample teams underfoot on the way to a playoff berth. As for Turin and Vercelli, we’ll have to scan the rosters of teams New Orleans has defeated this year and see if we can find any more spooky similarities in Nostradamus’ predictions.
Back to real life now… The Saints started the season on fire, going 5-1 in their first six games. But over their last four, they are a disappointing 1-3 and have lost their undisputed lead of the NFC South. Atlanta hasn’t fared much better, dropping three straight, especially when two of those teams were Detroit and Cleveland. Their 5-5 record is now only good enough for 3rd in the division, and their NFL best rushing attack hasn’t looked nearly as good as it did earlier in the season. Both teams need to play better on defense than their #17 (New Orleans) and #20 (Atlanta) overall defense ratings, if they hope to win the division.
The Saints Drew Brees has played solid all season, even putting up a 500-yard outing this past week, but he’ll have to continue to have success for the Saints to have a chance. The New Orleans running game has left a lot to be desired, with Duece McAllister only managing the #25 spot on the rushing yardage board. Rookie Marques Colston is certainly the surprise of the season for the Saints, if not for the whole NFL. The kid has been great, especially considering that teams key on the Saints passing O, since they don’t have to worry much about bayou-boys lackluster run game.
The Falcons need to get more consistent play from Michael Vick. He hasn’t gotten a single 300-yard passing game all season, and actually only has two games of more than 200-yards. That’s just flat-out sad for an NFL starter. He ranks #25 in QB efficiency, and it shows. Sure his rushing ability puts him at #16 among NFL rushers, even only carrying the ball 83 times – but teams are spying Vick heavily now, and can defend against both Vick and RB Warrick Dunn while doing so. Unless Vick can start throwing the ball, with any kind of consistency at all, every game is a roll of the dice for Atlanta, and they’ll find themselves losing more than they are winning. Dunn has been solid all season, but the WR corps leaves a lot to be desired as well. It’s a tough row to hoe for the men-in-black, but if they want to prove they have what it takes to climb back into the race, they have to put away New Orleans.
Right now the planets are aligned for those people who SWORE that Carolina would win the division. Can one of these two teams change that fortune and beat out Carolina for the division crown? It’s going to start Sunday for one of them, if it can happen at all. Listen, we don’t know if our interpretation of Nostradamus’ 6th quatrain is at all accurate, but we imagine a guy who was living in France during the Renaissance better go with New Orleans over Atlanta or risk heresy.
Chicago @ New England – Sunday 11/26, 8:15pm
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” He titled his novel thus, because it was about a writer who goes home and finds that he has alienated all of his family and friends with things he has written about them, and they drive him from his home in exile. Once outcast, he goes in search of his own identity – a search that takes him to many cities around the world.
What does that Literature class novel have to do with this game? Well, for one, while both of these teams can (and will) go home again, maybe they would rather not. The Patriots only losses have come at Foxboro, and they sport a losing record at home (2-3). The Bears only loss came at home to them in Chicago. Both teams have been perfect on the road – and both teams have been in search of their identity. They both found out hey were excellent on defense – Chicago #1 overall and #1 in scoring D as well, and New England #4 overall and #2 in scoring defense, and they found that out by beating many other NFL teams in many cities around the globe (or at least in America).
But you didn’t need a literary allusion to tell you this one was gonna’ be good… two division leaders, an AFC vs. NFC battle, two very tough defenses, two offenses that seem to be able to get the job done when they have to, do we even have to go on?!?
The 7-3 Patriots have stumbled, losing two of their last three, but looked better in that third game when they put away a banged up Green Bay squad. Tom Brady is still one of the NFL’s best signal callers, and he’s stayed in the top ten in terms of QB rating to prove that – even with only one of his receivers in the top FORTY (and that’s his TE Big Ben Watson at #38). And no RB ranked over #27 – Laurence Maroney is 27th overall, and Corey Dillon is 30th overall. But, together they combine to add up to the #8 rushing team in the NFL – so it’s not as bad as it might seem on the surface if you are looking for studs and not finding them, at least on offense.
Chicago’s offense has been a little better in terms of big names this year – well at least one of them anyway. Thomas Jones is the #7 RB in the NFL in terms of yardage, and he’s been a work-horse for the Bears, keeping the clock moving, keeping their defense rested, and moving the chains. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that Rex Grossman surprised everyone (including his own mother, we bet) by becoming a decent NFL QB. He’s in the top 12 or so in terms of yardage, and is tied for 3rd with 18 passing TDs – not bad for a guy that looked like he had the makings of becoming a career clipboard-holder just a short time ago.
This game comes down to who’s offense can put up a big play or two and then help keep the clock moving to assist their defense in putting the stranglehold on their opponents. We know the two defenses will play solid, that’s not even a question. And while Brady is certainly a better tactician than Grossman, he’s struggled with an erratic group of journeyman WRs this season, or at least they are playing like journeyman WRs. So it could be anyone’s game.
Maybe even more simply, this game could come down to: “You can’t go home again.” With the way the Bears have played on the road, and the way the Pats have played at home, New England is at the disadvantage here, trying to win in Foxboro. And if they lose another one on their own field, to go to 2-4 inside their home stadium, the Foxboro fans just may chase them out in exile.