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 “Side 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:
Each year as December hits, some of us lose our passion just a bit with distractions. If you are reading this, you LOVE the NFL; you schedule the day around games, eat healthy Saturday because you know you’ll be eating junk on Sunday, brown bag it during the week to have some extra cash for betting on the games, etc – you get the idea. Come December though, maybe you’re out of your fantasy league with a bad record, maybe your favorite NFL team is out of contention for a playoff spot, maybe you just finally got an ulcer from all of that bad food, and (more than likely) your wife or girlfriend expects you to go Christmas shopping with them, so you can ‘help’ – i.e. open your wallet. We hear you, it’s a tough month that some of you face here in December – we’ve felt your pain many times ourselves.
But, don’t give up hope just yet. This week brings old rivalries, expansion team dominance, and even a bit of grind-it-out, old school football. This is another great NFL week, with some top-notch games you just can’t miss if you are a fan of the sport at all. So, that leaves you with just two obvious choices. One, hand the wife your credit card and tell her to go hog wild Christmas shopping on her own, which almost guarantees you’ll be buying your lovely bride a very expensive piece of jewelry AND that you will need to go looking for a second job come January. Two, tell the wife that you simply refuse to go shopping and there is nothing she can do about it, which almost guarantees a cheap Christmas since you’ll most likely be single AND that you’ll need to go looking for a second job come January to pay for that costly divorce lawyer.
We advocate choosing the less obvious choice #3; tell your wife you really wanted to stay home and watch the game, but you’d be far too lonely without her company so she should stay home with you and do her shopping on-line, which means she’ll think you are a sensitive twenty-first century man AND you’ll be able to monitor her spending and steer her away from sites like Diamonds.com. (Hey, we’re smarter than we look.) 😉 Now that we’ve taken the heat off of you, it’s time to relax and get watching the ‘Games to Watch’. Enjoy!
– Sunday 12/7,
Ever have a buddy who has an older or younger brother who they seem to compete with in almost everything? On the surface, the two probably seem a lot alike, but when you get to know them, they couldn’t be more different and so they end up always trying to one-up each other. And they never get tired of telling the other one about their victories, either. Well, that’s exactly what we have is this game. Two teams that one the surface look a lot alike. Both teams have won more Super Bowls than any other team (along with San Fran), winning 5 times each. Both teams have been on a recent hot streak, stringing together three wins in each of their last three contests. Both teams are making a late season push for the playoffs – with the Steelers currently leading the AFC North, and the Cowboys in a dogfight for an NFC Wildcard berth. Oh, and fans of both teams seem to LOVE to tell you about each of their Super Bowl wins, in detail, regardless of how long ago it was. But under the surface, these teams could be more different – and that’s why this rivalry of storied franchises is one you won’t want to miss.
Dallas is the flashy, loud-talking, darling of the NFL and media that focuses their team around a strong throwing arm, and tries to put up loads of points and worry about defense after that. Their antics seem to land them in the headlines week after week – whether it’s a WR who thinks he should be getting more than 50% of the offense geared toward getting him touches, or a defensive back who likes to engage in drunken brawls with his own bodyguard, or even an owner that is drawn to the limelight like a moth to a bug zapper, and looks like a walking ad against plastic surgery. But you can’t argue with their recent success. After looking like one of the NFC powerhouses in the early going, the Cowboys faltered with four losses in six games, including dropping two divisional games and a bad loss to the hapless Rams. But with QB Tony Romo (2559yd / 21TD / 8int) back from injury and leading the NFL in passer efficiency, the Cowboys have won three straight, including a tough divisional win over the ‘Skins. RB Marion Barber (870ru yd / 7ru TD / 47rec / 366rec yd / 2rec TD) is an integral part of the Dallas offense, but has to find a way to do a better job of hanging onto the ball – his 6 fumbles are something Dallas will need to see less of if they want to make the playoffs this season. WR Terrell Owens (52rec / 816yd / 8TD) is the big play man for the offense, but doesn’t lead the team in receptions. That honor belongs to all-pro TE Jason Witten (58rec / 709yd / 3TD), who has been the go-to guy for Romo this season. The Dallas defense looked shaky in the early going, giving up some big yardage and point totals to some good offensive squads early on (like the Giants and pre-collapse Eagles), but they have managed to climb back into the top ten in overall defense (9th) and rushing defense (10th). Even their pass defense is just outside of the top ten at #11, which could improve even further with the return of Adam Jones (“Pac Man” to you and us) this week – who still leads the club in passes broken up, even though he’s been suspended for the past six games.
Pittsburgh is the blue-collar, hard-working, nothing flashy team that seems to always build their team around a great defense, and don’t worry about the fact that they aren’t the most explosive football team in the league – relying on defense and smash-mouth football to keep them in contention every year (as you can see by their dismal #24 ranking in total offense). Sure, QB Ben Roethlisberger (2412yd / 13TD / 12int) can throw the ball when he needs to, but he’s been banged up all year, and isn’t counted on to win many games on his own. Their usually solid running game has slipped a bit this year, due to RB Willie Parker (572yd / 4TD) being banged up for much of the season (missing five games so far this season). RB Mewelde Moore (499yd / 5TD) has been stepping up his game lately, though, and if the two of these guys could be healthy and split carries, the Steelers offense could really start to ram the ball down the opposition’s throats. WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes have put up solid numbers combining for 100 receptions, 1349 yards, and 9 TDs. But the real heart of this team is the league’s #1 ranked defense – leading the NFL in every facet of the defensive categories. Tops in overall yardage allowed, points allowed (14.2ppg), passing yards allowed (a mere 166.8 ypg), and rushing yards allowed (an amazing 71.2 ypg), this is a squad that can literally shut the opposition down – holding their opponents to 10 points or less in 50% of the games they played this season. And with two guys like LBs James Harrison (14 sacks) and LaMar Woodley (11.5 sacks) in double-digit sacks, is no surprise that the Steelers are #1 in the NFL in sacks as well (42).
So there you have it – a classic offense/defense match-up; a classic battle between two the NFL’s most recognizable franchises; a classic battle between good and evil (except that like Chuck Norris, ‘Good Guys Wear Black’); heck, even a classic battle between styles, both of play and behavior; but most of all, a classic match-up between (arguably) two of the most successful franchises in sports history. The winner of the game puts themselves on the fast-track to the playoffs. The loser starts to wonder if they might be watching the playoff on TV from the comfort of their Italian kid-leather theater seating, instead of the game-day side lines. Oh, and (as if either set of fans needed it), the winner gets ANOTHER chance to brag about how great their franchise is. The rest of us just get treated to one heck of a battle of ex-champions, and one heck of a great football game.
– Sunday 12/7,
If you live in the Big Apple, you’re either a Jets fan or a Giants Fan – there isn’t any in-between (or you are not really a fan at all). In the Bay Area, it’s Raider Nation or a “Niners” follower. People who are 50 miles beyond the ‘Outer Loop’ don’t realize how this game has the same feel for Washington/Baltimore fans – if you live around there you either bleed maroon and yellow, or purple and black. Both teams still have playoff hopes, but one seems on an upswing, while the other has stumbled as of late… but this game could turn the tide for either side. And while you might not be a fan of the maroon and yellow or the purple and black, if you’re a fan of defensive struggles, you’ll love the ‘black and blue’ that will result when these two defensive juggernauts clash this weekend in the “Battle for the Beltway”.
The Redskins come off a very poor outing against the Giants (very reminiscent of their opening game of the season) after a month of bad games, escaping with a 3 point win against Seattle. It’s a tale of praise for the defense and prayer for the offense. Honestly, we are still trying to figure out how you can have the second highest rusher in the league with Clinton Portis and his 1228 yards and 7 touchdowns and still manage a mere 17 points a game on average – the 4th WORST in the league. Coach Jim Zorn has implemented a west coast offense that has had some success with QB Jason Campbell (2560yd / 10TD / 4int) behind center. Campbell has done a solid job of avoiding turnovers, and looking for WR Santana Moss (57rec / 828yd / 5TD) and TE Chris Cooley (66rec / 701yd / 1TD), who’s 66 receptions are the 9th best in the NFL among all players this year. The slumping offense hopes to turn it around this week with the help of a defense that has limited opponents to less than 18 points on average (6th best in the NFL at 18.5ppg), as well as meager 90.8 rushing yards per game and 192.2 passing yards per game (both 7th best in the NFL). LB London Fletcher is one of only seven NFL players to have topped the 100 tackle mark this season, so expect to see plenty of his name on your flat-screen during this contest. All of that adds up to the Redskins being in this game right to the end, with their defense putting pressure (and the game) on Raven Joe Flacco’s shoulders.
At the beginning of the season, Baltimore was not considered to be a big threat on offense because they were starting a rookie quarterback, especially under a rookie coach – a combination that usually doesn’t bode well for teams. Coach John Harbaugh’s smartest move wasn’t his work with his young QB, though. He followed the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and kept defensive coordinator Rex Ryan on staff to lead the dominating defense that the Ravens have had the past several years – a smart move, indeed. That being said, you still have to put points up to win games, and rookie-of-the-year candidate QB Joe Flacco (2276yd / 12TD / 9int) has been a pleasant surprise to both the Ravens and fantasy owners this season, using the experience of WRs Derrick Mason (62rec / 811yd / 3 TD) and Mark Clayton (28rec / 475yd / 3TD) to put up enough yards to surpass almost half the other quarterbacks in the league. Obviously the defense keeps Baltimore in games helping out Flacco, but a strong ground game centered around RBs Willis McGahee (489yd / 5TD) and second-year man Le’Ron McClain (545yd / 6TD) makes for a very balanced offense that while it isn’t the most explosive in the league, it keeps opponents from keying on the young starting QB. The Ravens D is again one of the top squads in the league, ranking near the top of every major defensive category. They only allow a scant 15.8ppg, third best in the league, and their run and pass defense is ranked 3rd and 2nd (respectively). Of course, LB Ray Lewis leads them in tackles (84 tackles / 1 sack / 3int), but keep an eye on Safety Ed Reed who has returned two of his three interceptions for TDs this year (including the NFL’s all time longest interceptions return of 108 yards). With all of those positives going for them, Baltimore finds itself holding onto the 6th seed in the AFC, trailing the Steelers by just a game, and a bunch of momentum heading into this Christmas.
Let the “Battle for the Beltway” begin; winner gets a run at a January game; loser might spiral into having its final game of the season in December. Bragging rights for the Chesapeake area are on, and you just know this one is going to be close all day long. Don’t be afraid to run out and get yourself some steamed crabs liberally seasoned with Old Bay – the cracking of the shells won’t interfere with the bone crunching defensive hits; we promise.
– Monday 12/8,
At first blush, this match-up might sound about as exciting as a Hugh Grant wedding flick, or maybe even three solid hours of CSPAN coverage of the U.S. Senate floor*. Ok – a bit harsh, but these two teams have quietly put together strong 9-3 records to lead their division, and sit atop the NFC Wildcard race as well, all without the benefit of any offensive studs. (Relax DeAngelo Williams’ fans – we just mean he really wasn’t considered a stud at the start of this season). These squads both play the same style of game – a dominant defense and a strong ground game on the offensive side. Don’t be fooled by the week six score of 27-3 in which the Bucs dominated at home… this is a whole new ball game, and the NFC South division title has a good chance of being decided on the outcome of this game.
*Seriously, of all the uses they could put stationary cameras to, who thought watching the Senate floor would be a good use of one? Heck – put a stationary one in Grand Central Station instead. At least you’d get to see some colorful pan-handlers or maybe a mugging.
Tampa Bay has not lost a game in over a month and hopes to continue their streak this week in Carolina. They are not the flashiest offense in the league, and continue to win games by allowing just 16.7 points a game on average. Few teams have the offensive firepower to light it up against Tampa (even the high-scoring Saints have struggled against the Bucs in their two meetings this year), and while LB Barrett Ruud has become the centerpiece of this Bucs D, 12-year veteran CB Ronde Barber shows they still have the right mix of youth and experience to hold down offenses. Statistically, Tampa Bay ranks as one of the best defenses in the NFL, holding opponents to a paltry 16.7ppg, which allows its offense more wiggle room than many other teams in the NFL. This isn’t to take away from its offense though – Jeff Garcia (1902yd / 8TD / 3int) has played intelligently behind center, with just three interceptions this year (tops among starting QBs in the NFL). Garcia often looks to his solid pair of WRs, Antonio Bryant (57rec / 736yd / 3TD) and Ike Hilliard (36rec / 331yd / 4TD), when he goes to the air. This team likes to pound the ball, though, and has a three-headed monster in veteran RBs Warrick Dunn (640yd / 2TD) and Earnest Graham (563yd / 4TD), and back-from-injury Carnell Williams who already has contributed with a TD to start his year off. While this offense isn’t flashy, it certainly has bite.
Carolina has another dominating defense, but an offense that knows how to put up some points up on the board. Tied for the league lead in touchdowns, RB DeAngelo Williams (995ru yd / 112rec yd / 13 total TD) isn’t just a solo back in Carolina (pretty solid stats for a guy who splits time), and gets help from RB James Stewart (586yd / 6TD) handling about 1/3 of the touches in the backfield. The signal-caller of this club is none other than QB Jake Delhomme (2427yd / 12TD / 9int) who has a knack for finding the open man, like WRs Steve Smith (52rec / 958yd / 4TD) and Muhsin Muhammad (47rec / 651yd / 4TD). And let’s not skip over that Panthers defense – which ranks 7th best in the NFL in points against (19.3ppg) and just outside the top ten in total yards against (313.3ypg). LB Jon Beason (103 tackles / 3int) is not only the NFL’s 4th best tackler so far this season, but he leads his team in interceptions. And opposing offensive lines would be well advised to watch veteran DE Julius Peppers, who leads the Panthers with 11 sacks on the season, tied for 7th in the league.
This game is one where you should expect a ground attack galore from both teams. It’s also one where you are going to see another pair of hard-hitting defenses squaring off – with nothing less than the NFC South division title on the line. While the vanquished will lose valuable ground in the NFC South, they won’t be out of the NFC Wildcard hunt. The victor not only sets themselves up as the likely division champ, but potentially the #2 seed in the NFC as well. Too much is on the line with both teams for this one to be anything but great – so expect a doosy in North Carolina this Monday.