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:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… well… yeah; it’s Christmas, but its “do or die” for MANY teams. It’s time to put up or shut up as teams make their final push to get at least one week of extra play, contract bonuses, and a chance at playoff glory. This week there is more than just one awesome game, so settle back with your Hot Toddy (btw… we never encourage ordering one of those out loud), put your feet up in the recliner, and make sure you already took the dog out, so you don’t have to miss any of this weeks ‘Games to Watch’!
– Sunday 12/9,
When these two teams met in week two of last year, it was more like a David and Goliath match-up; Tennessee was not even seen as an up and coming team at that point (Vince Young was just getting his first shot at playing) and San Diego was basically running the ball down everyone’s throat as Marty Schottenheimer used Tomlinson to destroy the running defenses of opponents. A little more than a year later, everything has balanced out, their records are the same, and the playoffs are in reach of both.
With a win, SD can clinch the AFC West division with an 8-5 record (yes – the AFC West is not the division it once was). They don’t necessarily have gleaming rankings in either the offense or defensive categories (22nd in offensive yards, and 20th in defensive yards held), but after starting the season 1-3, the team has had a resurgence since game 4 going 7-2. RB
LaDainian Tomlinson (1049 yards and 11 TD) is not having a career year like 2006, but remains the backbone of the offense. QB
Phillip Rivers (2458 yards and 15 TD) has struggled at times, but is successful when he turns to TE
Antonio Gates (833 yards and 8 TD) – often scoring when the opposing defenses hold Tomlinson.
however at 7-5 is trying to keep up with other AFC teams fighting for a wildcard spot. They are one game out of the wildcard race and showing that the AFC South is THE cream of the crop when it comes to divisions in the AFC. After coming off of a Rookie of the Year season, QB
Vince Young (1911 yards and 7 TD) has taken the fall during team losses (14 INT this season – doubling his TD output), but has also gotten some credit during wins (like last week when he went 21-31 for 240+ yards and 2 TD). At times the team has turned to what is becoming the ever-popular (and to fantasy owners, ever-dreaded) ‘running back by committee” approach, using RBs
LenDale White (754 yards and 6 TD) and
Chris Brown (388 yards and 2 TD) to keep the ball on the ground.
Two scrappy teams with high hopes at the beginning of the season are staking their claims to the NFL postseason. A loss by either drops them back in their bid for the post-season. Sometimes, a single game can be the one that vaults a team into the rank of playoff contender; sometimes a single game can expose your flaws for the world to see and leave you on the outside looking in. And THAT is what makes this a great ‘Game to Watch’.
– Sunday 12/9,
Nothing makes a better game to watch than a good ol’ fashion spite rivalry between division foes. So while it might not be a game with a ton of playoff implications, we’ll pick Philly and
(and even though this same match-up has played out 145 times in the teams’ history, it still makes for exciting TV). There is certainly no love lost between these squads, and Philly (while not mathematically out of the playoff picture) looks like the only role they’ll be good for late this season is spoiler – and they would *love* to add to the Giants woes. The Eagles would love some revenge for the beating they took at the hands of
earlier this year, including 12 sacks – tying an NFL record.
Eli Manning (2571 yards and 17 TD) came back from a dismal performance against
to win on the road in
last week. The whipping boy of the Giants silenced his critics… for at least one week.
Now on the road in Philly, he will face another tough defense, and will depend this week on RB Brandon Jacobs (599 yards and 2 TD) who returns from injury. Even though the turnstile at RB has hindered this team, their receiving corps has remained healthy, with WR
Plaxico Burress (764 yards and 9 TD) and TE
Jeremy Shockey (597 yards and 3 TD) fielding most of the balls Manning as put up for play. On defense, the 7th ranked team in yards is led by DE
Osi Umenyiora (11 sacks – 6 of them in that earlier contest with Philly) and LB
Antonio Pierce (82 tackles), and held
to just 3 points at their previous meeting.
is a true enigma this season. They have looked like contenders, like when they gave
everything that the Pats could handle, and narrowly missed upsetting the NFL’s only undefeated team on their home field. They have also looked like pretenders, like they did earlier in the year against the Giants, and some close losses that left many analysts scratching their heads to figure out just what Eagles head-coach Andy Reid was doing. The return of QB
Donovan McNabb (2329 yards and 13 TD) looks like it may have come a week too late for the birds, but a win keeps alive their slim shot at a wildcard appearance. And even though coach Reid seems to think McNabb is the key to this team’s success, the *real* lynchpin of this franchise is RB
Brian Westbrook who’s 994 yards and 7 TDs on the ground are nicely complimented by his 604 yards and 4 TD’s through the air. WR
Kevin Curtis has quietly slipped into the top 12 in receiving yards this year and is a very welcome addition to a team that badly needed receiving talent. Overall, the team is ranked 5th in average total offensive yards; probably a surprise to many of you, especially when you see a record of 5-7.
The Giants are looking to lock up a wildcard spot in the NFC. The Eagles (and about 6 other teams) are hoping that the home team pulls out a big win here, knocking down the 5th ranked team in the NFC. And don’t think that earlier debacle in week 4 won’t factor into this game.
If the Giants can pressure McNabb and contain Westbrook, they have this one in the bag – unless Eli Manning insists on throwing the ball off his back foot as is his long time M.O. No matter what happens, we’re sure these two will enjoy wishing each other a “Season’s Beatings”.
– Sunday 12/9,
For our final ‘Game to Watch’ we faced a dilemma; a match-up between two of the AFC’s best in Pittsburgh and New England, or pick a Sunday night tussle between the Ravens (who almost knocked off the undefeated Patriots last week against another AFC giant, the Colts. In the end, we picked the Steelers/Pats game for more than a few reasons, not least among them that this will be the last time the Pats are tested until week 17 – as they face doormats Jets and Dolphins the next two weeks.
This game reminds us of that Christmas special, ‘The Year Without a Santa Claus’. Oh, you might not remember the name of the special, but you remember the main characters – Heat Miser and Snow Miser.
has been like the Heat Miser this season, blazing a path to the AFC playoffs – which was a bit of a surprise considering their long-time head coach Bill Cowher retired, and
Mike Tomlin took over the reigns – a newcomer to the ranks of NFL head-coaches. But the heat doesn’t end there for this team… QB
Ben Roethlisberger has been hot this season – 3rd best in the NFL in TD passes, ahead of guys like Manning and Favre, and 4th best in QB efficiency (one of only 4 QBs to post a QB rating of over 100 for the season so far). RB
Willie Parker has done his part to turn up the heat on the opposition as well; his 1093 rushing yards is second best in the entire NFL, even if he hasn’t found the end zone very often this season. But maybe the most scorching aspect of this team is their perennially good defense. The Steelers have been far-and-away the best defense in the NFL this year. Ranked #1 in overall defense, ranked #1 in scoring D (giving up only 12.9 points a game), #1 in pass defense… wow! Is there *anything* these guys aren’t tops in?? Oh yeah, rushing defense where their 76.8 average is good enough for only 2nd best in the league. But the similarities to the hot-headed Heat Miser don’t end with their talent. Like the Heat Miser, the Steelers also seem to lose their cool at the worst times this year, blowing their cool and dropping a game to the lowly Jets (who’s only other wins came in their 2 games against winless Miami) and almost dropping a game to the Dolphins as well – squeaking out a 3-0 victory.
Are we crazy? The red hot Patriots aren’t the heat Miser?!? Nope, just the opposite –
is the Snow Miser in this battle. Not because they haven’t put up scorching numbers themselves, but because they are the quintessence of cool – especially under pressure. That cool-headed focus may start with Coach
Bill Belichick, but it’s most apparent in QB
Tom Brady. While Brady’s #1 ranked 3696 yards are 10% higher than anyone else in the NFL, and his 41 TDs show that he can coolly scan the field for the open man, it’s his demeanor under pressure that’s most impressive. With games in the balance, and an undefeated season hanging in the balance, Brady seemingly sweats ice-cubes – and his #1 ranking in QB efficiency doesn’t hurt, either. WR
Randy Moss has been hot all year, but we credit his success to NOT being the hot-headed malcontent he was in
– and keeping his cool on the
sidelines has paid off. His 17 TDs are tops in the NFL and his 1129 receiving yards are top 3 as well. WRs
Wes Welker (896 yards and 7TDs) and
Donte` Stallworth (631 yards and 3 TDs) certainly have been cool customers in the NFL’s top-ranked offense, as well. Their defense has been stopping teams cold all season, as evidenced by their top 6 ranking or better in all major defensive categories. But
’s cool under pressure style isn’t the only reason they play Snow Miser this week. It’s also because the Pats have cooled off considerably themselves in the past few weeks. After nearly dropping consecutive games to Philly and
, the Pats have to play better against the Steelers or face their first loss of the year.
So there ya’ have it – it’s a show down between two of the AFC’s best, and could very well be a preview of one of the AFC playoff games. The Heat Miser Steelers will look to melt Brady’s icy demeanor, while the Snow Miser Patriots look to cool off Big Ben and the boys from ‘Steeltown’. And whenever cold and hot mix you’re bound to see some thunder and lightning. So sit back, get out your hot wings and a frosty mug of your favorite beverage, and watch the NFL’s Heat Miser / Snow Miser Showdown – it’ll be every bit as entertaining as the holiday special, but with a lot less singing and a lot more tackling.