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Games to Watch – Week 14

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:

at Jacksonville
– Sunday 12/12, 1 p.m., CBS

Let’s go back to September … If we would have said to you, “We think Indianapolis and Dallas will both have a shot at the playoffs this year,” you’d probably shrug, thank us for stating the obvious and move on. If we said, “I think Jacksonville and Oakland will be in the playoffs this year,” you’d probably choke on the ring bologna in your mouth or spit your beer halfway across the room. But go figure … the Jaguars and the Raiders are in the thick of it all with just four short weeks to go. It’s been a while since both teams were mentioned seriously as playoff contenders, but for both of these teams, a win in this game makes a statement to the rest of the conference.

Jacksonville not only keeps the division lead with a win this week, they keep some distance between themselves and the recently-slumping Colts (even with Peyton Manning’s bounce-back game against Tennessee this week). The formula is simple – grind it out with one of the best running backs in the NFL,
Maurice Jones-Drew (1,177 yards, 4 TD) who is coming off of five straight 100-yard games. However, a playoff-contending team needs more than one plan of attack … and in the second half of the season,
David Garrard (1,982 yards, 17 TD, 11 ITN) has been a Top 5 passer in the league. Pepper in tight end
Marcedes Lewis (41 receptions, 517 yards, 8 TD) wide receiver
Mike Thomas (56 receptions, 649 yards, 3 TD) and you quickly realize there is more than a one-dimensional threat from the AFC South leader.

Oakland is a surprise contender in a league that is showing more balance than any time in the last decade. And speaking of balance, it basically is the definition of the Raiders … either that or indecision. At quarterback,
Jason Campbell (1,438 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT) and
Bruce Gradkowski (1,059 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT) are at opposite ends of the revolving door, but between the two they have amassed 2,500 yards passing and 13 touchdowns – not bad for a team that was a laughingstock at the position last year.
Daren McFadden (870 yards, 5 TD) and
Michael Bush (453 yards, 5 TD) tandem the running back position with 1,300 yards and five touchdowns a piece. Finally, catching the ball has been a toss-up between tight end
Zach Miller (38 receptions, 481 yards, 4 TD) and wide receiver
Louis Murphy (30 receptions, 471 yards, 1 TD) – with a mere 10 yards difference after 12 full weeks in the books. This team is all about balance, but even with a very balanced 6-6 record, this team is in contention for the playoffs for the first time in five long years, and with a defense that is in the Top 10 in the league in passing defense. Their 36 sacks as a unit leads the league, and defensive tackle
Tommy Kelly (46 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and company look to continue that this week.

Who’d-a thunk it?!? The Raiders and Jaguars both in the thick of everything … in December?!? Do yourself a favor, dial up CBS on your satellite or cable and get ready to see two playoff-potential teams face off for one doozie of a game. This is a hidden gem on the schedule – and you can take that to the bank.

New England
at Chicago
– Sunday 12/12, 4:15 p.m., CBS

This is going to sound like a joke to start, but this was an actual event in the offices … Last week, Tony Holm comes in on Friday and says to the whole office “Merry Christmas everyone! Today we’re going out as a staff to lunch … my treat!” (If you could see the staff members, you’d realize that this is no small endeavor, but we digress.) Twenty-seven staff in the office that day and it’s a safe bet that less than six have under a 40-inch waist. That being said, Tony is a sharp business man – so what better place to take those with a “healthy” appetite to none other than “The Scoundrel Buffet?” Long story short, this is one of those buffets that has everything. You got, conservatively speaking, 4,000 side dishes – but there are gems on there, too, like NY Strip Steaks and Snow Crab Legs. That buffet is quite a bit like this week’s NFL schedule … quite a bit of “side dishes” and one or two “main entrees.” The main entree we serve to you right now could easily fill you up as the best game to watch – a matchup of two playoff bound teams to satisfy your savory palate. We’re talking New England, we’re talking Chicago, and we are talking about one heck of a “Game to Watch.”

What is left to be said about
Tom Brady (3,029 yards, 27 TD, 4 INT) and the New England Patriots after last Monday night’s game? If Brady wants to pass,
Wes Welker (72 receptions, 672 yards, 7 TD) and
Aaron Hernandez (39 receptions, 513 yards, 4 TD) are on the receiving end and they can find both the end zone and the yards. If the Patriots want to keep it on the ground,
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (699 yards, 11 TD) or fan-favorite
Danny Woodhead (355 yards, 3 TD) rumble down the field. Even
Deion Branch (36 receptions, 497 yards, 4 TD) has become a fantasy threat again under
Bill Belichick’s offense. Heck, even with a defense giving up too many yards and scores, the Patriots’ defensive unit has a knack for grabbing turnovers, as evidenced by their 18 interceptions –
Devin McCourty (64 tackles, 6 INT) with a half-dozen of them alone. The only intangible that could play a possible role in this matchup this week is New England having to face a tough defense on a short week after a very emotional win the week before – much the same trap the Philadelphia Eagles fell into when they faced the Bears a few weeks ago and came up short.

There are still many who refuse to believe the Chicago Bears are the real deal. Offensively, although ranked on the low side,
Jay Cutler (2,545 yards, 17 TD, 10 INT) is certainly becoming very astute under offensive coordinator, Mike Martz. Running back
Matt Forte (748 rushing yards, 5 TD; 36 receptions, 389 yards, 3 TD) has proved to be as dangerous a receiver as he is a runner, and Johnny Knox
(43 receptions, 774 yards, 2 TD) is on pace to get his first 1,000-yard season of his career. But as underwhelming as many critics feel this offense can be – defensively, the team might be one of the best in the game today. They give up on average only 16 points a contest, are relentless in their pursuit of the opposition’s quarterback (25 sacks as a team), and opportunistic when they force quarterbacks into poor throws (16 interceptions).
Lance Briggs (65 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery) and
Brian Urlacher (94 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 3 fumble recoveries) are having career years as well, and have elevated the play of this defense to, dare we say, the best since Super Bowl XLI.

Satisfy your taste for the good stuff. Look across the NFL schedule for this week and you might see a side dish like steamed green beans (Cleveland and Buffalo) or instant mashed potatoes (Seattle and San Francisco) – but we say grab yourself a double helping of Filet Mignon with this game instead. It should be plenty to fill you up … but if you’re in the mood for desert, then our final “Game to Watch” just might do the trick …

at Dallas
– Sunday 12/12, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Like you, we can’t resist certain movies when we stumble across them while flipping channels late at night – regardless of how many times we’ve seen them. Just last night, “Reservoir Dogs” was on the late movie on some cable channel. What a great flick. You’ve got some great people playing their roles so well – like Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen and Steve Buscemi. You’ve got a completely chaotic situation where a jewelry heist goes horribly wrong, with several bad guys and cops getting killed, and then Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Pink and Mr. Orange all trying to figure out who the rat is – with all of them ending up fatally shot, except Mr. Pink. In the end, nothing goes according to plan for any of them. Heck, the whole movie sounds a lot like the Eagles and Cowboys game this Sunday night.

On the Eagles side of the field, you’ve got the back story of an early season chaotic mess of a quarterback situation, with
Kevin Kolb (1,035 yards, 6 TD, 4 INT) starting the season as quarterback, getting hurt,
Michael Vick (2,243 yards, 15 TD, 2 INT) stepping in and playing well, coach
Andy Reid saying Kolb will start when healthy, then starting Vick anyway, then Vick getting hurt, Kolb taking over for a few games, and finally back to Vick as the starter. Whew … it doesn’t get much more chaotic than that. And like Reservoir Dogs, Philadelphia has a great cast of characters playing their roles well – from speedster
DeSean Jackson (38 receptions, 762 yards, 5 TD) to red zone threat
Jeremy Maclin (56 receptions, 820 yards, 8 TD) to budding fantasy stud running back
LeSean McCoy (823 rushing yards, 7 TD; 67 receptions, 534 yards, 2 TD). The Eagles defense hasn’t seen things go much according to plan, though – they’ve played solid at times, especially when
Asante Samuel (23 tackles, 7 INT, 1 fumble recovery) isn’t injured, but they are giving up tons of touchdowns when the opposition gets into the red zone – something that will have to change against a Cowboys squad showing some offensive life in the past few weeks.

On the Cowboys side of the field, you’ve got the back story of a chaotic season where they are expected to be Super Bowl contenders, but after committing a slew of errors and penalties, they are out of the playoff picture early, costing ex-head coach
Wade Phillips his job, and they watch their starting quarterback
Tony Romo (1,605 yards, 11 TD, 7 INT) break a collarbone, and
Jon Kitna (1,703 yards/11 TD, 8 INT) lead the Cowboys back into relevance as a team primed to upset some other playoff hopefuls even if they won’t be going to the big dance themselves. Wow … maybe Philadelphia’s quarterback situation wasn’t so chaotic after all. But the Cowboys aren’t without their own bunch of quality performances from their role players – from the steady performance of
Miles Austin (56 receptions, 804 yards, 5 TD) to the rushing attack of
Felix Jones (531 yards) and
Tashard Choice (138 yards, 2 TD), who are both averaging four yards a carry or better when they are actually given the rock. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their most explosive threat, rookie
Dez Bryant (45 receptions, 561 yards, 6 TD) is done for the year with a broken ankle. Like the Eagles’ defense, the defensive plans of Dallas haven’t gone according to plan either. Even though a solid defense seems like it should be easy with talent like
DeMarcus Ware (48 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery) on the field, the Cowboys are next to last in the league in keeping teams off the scoreboard – allowing a horrendous 28 points per game. New head coach
Jason Garrett needs to worry less about his offense and more about stopping the opposition, especially facing the NFL’s No. 2 scoring offense this weekend in the Eagles.

This game was put late in the schedule by the NFL bigwigs, with everyone figuring these two teams would be duking it out for the NFC East title. Except in this most chaotic of NFL seasons, the division-leading Eagles face a Cowboys squad in danger of not even posting a winning record, let alone a playoff-worthy record. But there are plenty of individual role players who will keep this one interesting right up until the final gun … and one thing is certain, between these two bitter rivals, things almost never go as planned – making this a great capper for this week’s “Games to Watch.”

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