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 other articles, the Betbot, or the Last Row, or our myriad posts in the Tank. We’re just like you, though. We love a good football game, no matter who’s playing.
All times Eastern:
Chicago @ Pittsburgh – Sunday 12/11, 1:00pm
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Two teams that pride themselves on hard-hitting, punishing defenses make up our first Game to Watch this week – the Chicago Bears go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bears sport the leagues best defense, #1 in overall yards against, #1 in points against, #2 vs. the pass, and #7 vs. the run. Good lord, these guys are stacked on D. LB Brian Urlacher leads the team in tackles, already with 93 on the season (74 solo !!). CB Charles Tillman isn’t far behind with 76 tackles of his own, and 4 interceptions (1 for a TD) to boot. S Mike Brown (72 tackles, 3 ints) and LB Lance Briggs (83 tackles) are also fun to watch as they punish opposing offenses. This defense is about as good as you can possibly get, and their numbers rival the defense of their “SuperBowl Shuffle” year. About the only thing that’s holding the Bears back from crushing the rest of the NFC underfoot like a bug, is the fact that they *STILL* can seem to find a solid QB to run the offense. Rookie Kyle Orton hasn’t put up number for anyone to be envious of – especially his 9 TD to 13 Int. ratio. Orton isn’t a guy that you envision leading a team to a SuperBowl, but when you have a defense this good, does it really matter? (Shades of Trent Dilfer anyone?)
Pittsburgh is no slouch on defense either, #10 overall, #4 vs. the run, and #11 in points against. About the only part of their D this isn’t faring so well is the pass D – only #21 in the league, but it’s not so much due to poor secondary play as it is that they are just sooo darn hard to run on! Teams simply pass a lot against them because they have to. (Don’t forget the boys from Steeltown have also had more games against the NFL’s best passing offenses than, arguably anyone.) S Troy Polamolu gets the media hype, and don’t get me wrong, he’s a solid player and a fun guy to watch (69 tackles, 2 ints, 3 sacks), but his counterpart at Safety is having an equally good year – Chris Hope has racked up 83 tackles to go along with his 3 ints. The Steelers certainly have a better QB leading their squad, with Ben Roethlisberger being the #3 QB in QB rating this year, behind only P. Manning, and Palmer – and that’s pretty darn good company.
If you’re looking for offense, there are other games out there to watch. But if you want to see two tough teams duke it out like the 12th round of a Rocky fight, you can’t do much better than this one.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina – Sunday 12/11, 1:00pm
Bank of America Stadium, , NC
Here it is – the battle for the NFC South in a nutshell. Whoever wins should take the division. Carolina at 9-3 is favored over 8-4 Tampa Bay, and it’s no wonder. Tampa started out hot, but then QB Brian Greise, fathered by former NFL QB (and mega-annoying announcer) Don Greise, went down to injury. In steps Chris Simms, fathered by former NFL QB (and mega-annoying announcer) Phil Simms, and Tampa stumbles, but doesn’t fall.
Sure, 3 of the 4 TB losses came after Simms took the helm, but his TD to Int. ratio is practically equal to Greise – in fact it’s actually better by a few decimal places. So why the fall-off in Tampa Bay’s win production? Simple – look at their 1st 4 opponents (all wins for TB): Min, Buf, GB, Det. OUCH! No wonder these guys started out hot. Their defense keeps them in games, and even Greise (or Simms) couldn’t screw anything up against those 4 teams. (Remember that although Min has been playing well as of late, they were one of the NFL’s worse at the start of this season.
Carolina is a hard team to figure out. They only have 3 losses, which should tell you they are pretty darn good. But 2 of those 3 losses were to Green Bay and New Orleans. That’s like watching my mom box Mike Tyson twice, and not only win twice, but Mike’s the one with the gnawed-on ear. Truly embarrassing losses for this team that make you wonder how good they really are. They squeak by Arizona, Detroit, and Buffalo – more evidence that this team just isn’t as good as their record indicates. But then they go out and kill Tampa Bay in their first meeting 34-14. They also beat a tough Atlanta team 24-6. So let’s see what Jake Delhomme can do against his second Tampa Bay match-up with the assistance of his super-stud WR Steve Smith, and see if the Panthers can really prove they belong at the top of the NFC South ladder.
Both of these teams have had easy schedules, and both sport over-inflated records due to those easy schedules. This is one to watch just so we can finally tell which of these two is a contender and which is the pretender. It is “winner take all” in a Battle Royale between the Bucs and the Cats. And the winner gets an all-expense paid trip to an early playoff loss if they don’t step up their game – and in a hurry.
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville – Sunday 12/11, 1:00pm
ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, FL
This one was an easy pick. Everyone wants to watch the Colts every week. You either hate them and want to see them fall flat on their face, or you love them and want to see them go all the way. (…Or you’re a member of the 1972 undefeated Dolphins squad, and you show your classlessness by celebrating when another team can’t equal their accomplishments.) No matter which set of people you fall into, you just know you want to watch this one.
Peyton Manning leads his offense into the teeth of the Jaguars defense – #5 overall in the NFL. Manning is the NFL’s #1 passer in terms of QB ranking, #5 in passing yards, and #2 in passing TDs. But it’s not as if Manning has to shoulder the load alone. His supporting cast includes: Edgerrin James – #2 in rushing yards in the NFL, only 41 yards behind leader Shawn Alexander, and #3 in rushing TDs with a dozen on the year; Marvin Harrison (#12 in receiving yardage, and tied for #1 in receiving TDs); and Reggie Wayne (#11 in receiving yardage). Toss in the fact that the Colts also sport the NFL’s #3 overall ranked defense, and you’re beginning to see why the Colts are undefeated.
The Jaguars aren’t a push-over, though. #5 overall, #5 in points against, #4 in run defense, you get the picture. Their only “weak” spot is that they are only #14 in pass defense – still pretty darn good no matter how you slice it. The Jags biggest problem is the injury to Byron Leftwich, which has David Garrard starting at QB for the Jags. Garrard’s two starts have been two wins for the Jags, but beating Arizona and Cleveland won’t get you much respect around the league. It doesn’t hurt that their #1 RB “Fragile Fred” Taylor is out again, but backup Greg Jones has been shouldering the load admirably. Jimmy Smith is tops on an average receiving corps, but the Jags need more production out of them to be successful against the Colts.
Upon first blush, this seems like a Colts win, but the Jags are a tough team and would like nothing better than to be the guys who ruined the Colts perfect season. And the Colts know what’s on the line, so don’t expect them to take this one easy. Are you ready for some football, people? Heck ya!
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