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Games to Watch – Week 16

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:

Well, here we are with Christmas just around the corner and lots of playoff spots still up in the air. And we get the unenviable task of picking out just three games that you just won’t want to miss. Well, we know which teams are likely to be naughty, and which match-ups are nice, so we made our three choices and we checked them twice. (Actually, we only had to check them once; picking great games this weekend is like picking the top three of the Victoria’s Secret underwear models – you aren’t sure which three are really the absolute ‘best’, but you’re darn sure going to enjoy spending a weekend looking at them.) But before we get to this week’s games, we give you our Christmas Gift to all of you – a little poem we like to call:

The Day Before Sunday

—————————–

‘Twas a few days before week 16, when all through the league

All the players were stirring, ignoring their fatigue;

The cleats were hung by the lockers with care,

In hopes that the playoffs soon would be there;

The fans were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of post-season play danced in their heads;

And Deion Sanders in his ‘kerchief, and we in our caps,

Had just settled down for our Sunday pre-game naps,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

We sprang from our Barcaloungers to see what was the matter.

Away to the window we flew like a flash,

Like an angry linebacker, delivering a forearm smash.

The sun on the top of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of game-day to objects below,

When, what to our wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature horse-trailer, and a broadcaster shaped like a sphere,

That sport-coated old driver, made our hearts gladden,

We knew in a moment it must be John Madden.

More rapid than eagles his All-Madden-Team they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Fletcher! now, Ruud! now, Porter and Lewis!

On, Peppers! on Tuck! on, Polamalu – let’s do this!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now bash away! crash away! smash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, they toss them up to the sky,

So up to the house-top the All-Madden-Team they flew,

With the horse-trailer full of NFL action, and John Madden, too.

And then, in a twinkling, we heard above the ceiling

The jawing and taunting of each player kneeling.

As we drew in our hands, like an offensive line stud,

Down the chimney John Madden came with a thud.

He was dressed all in polyester, from his head to his foot,

His makeup team had him caked with power and what may have been soot;

A bundle of NFL action he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a lineman delivering a smack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his jowls how merry!

His chins were like a series of hills, his nose like a cherry!

His mouth smiled and uttered a “WHOA!”,

And the hair on his head was as white as the snow;

Thinking of the great match-ups he held gritted his teeth,

And the studio lights encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and quite a large belly,

That shook, when he chuckled like a turducken full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a giant among men,

Football was to him, what space was to John Glenn;

A wink of his eye and his over-sized head,

He respected that our team colors we bled;

He spoke several words, but complete sentences in short supply,

He eyed all our snacks; then turned as he spied our pizza pie,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, gave us the low-down on all of the pros;

He sprang to his horse-trailer, to his All-Madden-Team gave a whistle,

And tossed them some steaks, which they ate (including gristle)!

But we heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Boom!”, “Whap!”, and “Pow!”, and “see you all Sunday Night!”

[Editor’s Note: All comments about John Madden, the NFL, and any professional players are made solely by the authors and are not endorsed in any way by FantasySharks.com. We sincerely hope that the various law firms employed by Mr. Madden, the NFL, and any players will refrain from suing Dolfi and Braun in the spirit of Christmas, Chanukah,

Kwanza

, and any other holidays celebrated at this time of year. Braun and Dolfi assured us all characterizations were made with love and affection, or at least that’s what their lawyers told us. –sigh– Happy Holidays to all the readers and litigators who enjoy ‘Games to Watch’.]

Pittsburgh

@

Tennessee

– Sunday 12/21,

1:00pm

Some of you might remember a 1979 flick called ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ about a man (Dustin Hoffman) who fights in court to keep custody of his son. Well, our first match-up this weekend is like ‘Defense vs. Defense’ – a story about two teams that fight on the field for the #1 seed in the AFC. Seriously, how can you NOT like this match-up if you are a fan of smash-mouth football?!?

The Steelers come into this game as the undisputed #1 defense in football. Not only do the ‘Stillers’ hold their opposition to the lowest total yardage in the NFL on average (20 yards less than their nearest defensive rival), but they hold their opponents to an amazing 13.7ppg. And keep in mind that the Steelers put up these numbers not only playing in the tough AFC North, but also having to play the very tough NFC East as their out-of-conference games this year. To think that the Black and Gold have held some of the NFL’s best to under 14 points on average is a staggering accomplishment in an age of football where offense is king, and defense is treated by all but the most die-hard fans as an unfortunate necessity, rather than a selling-point. We’ve talked all year about how the linebacking corps of James Farrior, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley is tops in the league in their defensive numbers – a SICK 261 tackles, 30 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 10 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions combined. And that’s not even counting the leader of this defense – the always dangerous Troy Polamalu and his 7 interceptions. But the Steelers can’t simply stop others from scoring; they need to put points on the board themselves – a job which falls squarely on the shoulders of QB Ben Roethlisberger (2862yd / 15TD / 12int). Big Ben has been banged around all year long, but is putting up decent numbers, even if his interception to TD ratio is a bit higher than he or the Steeltown faithful would like. But while WRs Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Nate Washington have been solidly workman-like, the Steelers would rather let their defense keep the games close and pound away at opponents with their two-headed rushing attack of Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore, who have combined for 1484 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs. If the offense can even be mildly successful, the defense guarantees the Steelers will be in this game until the final whistle.

The Titans aren’t exactly defensive slackers, though. Tennessee ranks just a few places behind Pittsburgh in terms of total yardage allowed (4th best in the NFL), and are second only to the Steelers in points against, giving up just 14.1 points a contest. And while the Titan defense might be a hair behind Pittsburgh’s D, don’t tell that to Albert Haynesworth and his 8.5 sacks, or to Cortland Finnegan and his 5 interceptions (one for a 99 yard TD return). But even if the Titans are a step behind the Steelers on D, they are two or three steps ahead when it comes to their ground game. RBs Chris Johnson and LenDale White might be the NFL’s most dangerous offensive backfield – combining for an astounding 1859 yards rushing, and TWENTY-TWO rushing TDs. The combination of their very solid defense and (arguably) the NFL’s best rushing tandem, is why the Titans are #1 in the AFC right now, and favorites to win this game. Heck, with a ground game like that, QB Kerry Collins (2461yd / 11TD / 7int) just has to refrain from doing anything stupid and the Titans win games. Collins’ favorite target is his TE Bo Scaife (53rec / 528yd / 2TD), while his WRs are largely unused – as you can tell when the #1 WR on the team is Justin Gage with just 29 catches on the season. But who needs passing when you sport a run game that piles up around 150 yards a game, and runs with both speed (Johnson) and power (White).

Well, this one is simple. Whoever’s defense plays up to their current level wins. And the Steelers have the tougher job against that very punishing Titans’ run game. And whoever wins this game, gives themselves a very nice early Christmas present – the #1 seed in the AFC. A Tennessee win guarantees them home-field advantage through the playoffs, while a Pittsburgh win would only require them to beat the hapless Browns at home next week to clinch the #1 seed. So it comes down to two teams that play the same style ball, and who don’t particularly like each other very much, coming face-to-face to show who is the best in the AFC this season. Trust us, this game isn’t going to be a ‘Rotato’ under your NFL tree – it’s gonna’ be a holiday treat, we promise.

[Editor Note: Again – the opinions in this column are not necessarily the thoughts of this website. Under no circumstances is FantasySharks.com suggesting you should not purchase the Rotato or any of the other fine products put out by the Storeshop companies. –sigh– All I want for Christmas is that Dolfi and Braun don’t rack up any more legal bills.]

Atlanta

@

Minnesota

– Sunday 12/21,

4:15pm

Remember when the Star Wars franchise decided to make Luke and Leia brother and sister? Sure, it was an interesting plot twist, but when you thought back to the original film and started remembering how Luke was attracted to Leia and then Leia kissing Luke… well, it just felt weird. We think its weird the way the season is playing out for Atlanta and Minnesota, since you might see this game two weeks from now as a repeat – but it’s a good weird, and not the creepy weird with which George Lucas surprised us. A win for the Vikes could wrap up the division, and Atlanta needs to win to keep their playoff hopes alive for the final NFC Wildcard spot.

As we’ve said in the past, Atlanta is a surprise to many; you wouldn’t think that the Falcons would have this much success offensively with a rookie quarterback and a rookie coach. Facts are the facts though, and QB Matt Ryan (3146yd / 14TD / 9int) is putting up numbers that has him in the top twelve in the league among QBs – and a solid contender for the NFL’s “Rookie of the Year”. Ryan’s success has helped recently named pro-bowler WR Roddy White (82rec / 1310yd / 6TD) become and household name (and fantasy owners’ dream). However, some of Ryan’s success must be attributed to the fact that teams can’t focus their attention on the pass game when they need to focus on the #1 ranked rushing attack in the league. Another recently named pro-bowler RB Michael Turner (1421yd / 15TD) will test a solid Minnesota defensive front this weekend. The Falcons D tends to give up sizable yardage to their opponents, but tighten up around the goal line – as evidenced by their 11th ranked scoring defense (20.1ppg). Keep an eye on DE John Abraham, who is 3rd in the league in sacks this season with an impressive 15.5 so far this season. So, it’s do-or-die for Atlanta this week; they need to be able to run the ball against the NFL’s best run defense this week (a tough order), or rely on a rookie signal-caller to lead them to victory through the air – a tough choice and a tough game for Atlanta.

The Vikings had everyone saying last week “Uh oh… here we go. QB Gus Frerotte is out, Tavaris Jackson is going to wreck the season.” Well, lo and behold, we get a seemingly improved Jackson from the one we saw earlier this season, who leads his team to a 35-14 win over Arizona – basically, stunning a good chunk of NFL fans. With Gus Frerotte back in limited practice, it seems Coach Brad Childress has options – but he has said he will stick with Jackson for this very important game. Regardless who the Vikes line up at quarterback, the first option is to use stud running back Adrian Peterson (1581yd / 9TD), who leads the 3rd ranked rushing attack in the NFL. WRs Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, and a surprisingly effective fantasy surprise TE Visanthe Shiancoe splitting the receiving duties pretty equally (combining for 119rec / 1820yd / 13TD on the year). As long as the receiving game can keep the Atlanta D honest, Peterson should be able to pile up some yards on the Falcons. Defensively, even without Pat Williams (44tkl / 1sack), the Viking defense allows the least amount of rushing yards league wide (just 71.2 yards per game), and will give Michael Turner a heck of a challenge this Sunday. (A Vikings victory

should be able to lock up the NFC North with a win here, although should they lose their last game and Chicago win out, it could go down to the 3rd or 4th tie-breaker to decide the division.)

This game might not be the best on the dial, but it has everything you are looking for in a week 16 game – two passionate teams needing a win; a game that not only will have a major impact on either one of these teams making the playoffs, but for quite a few NFC teams (the Eagles, Cowboys, and Buccaneers are all directly affected by this game). Don’t stick a fork in either of these teams before game time… because neither of them is done (at least before 7pm Sunday). Both need a win, and neither can afford a loss – that makes for great football, while a tie between these two would be just like kissing your sister – weird. Just ask Luke. 😉

Carolina

@ New York Giants – Sunday 12/21,

8:15pm

Whenever Hollywood rolls out a new blockbuster, like “The Spirit”, they always have a big preview night for all the Hollywood elite to get together and see whether the film will ultimately succeed or fail. Well, this match-up between the Giants and the Panthers reminds us a lot of a Hollywood premier. No, it doesn’t have any drunken starlets making a trip down the red carpet more difficult than navigating the Bering Straight in a rowboat, but we do get to see some of the NFL’s elite players who will be getting together to see whether each of these teams might ultimately succeed or fail – in becoming the NFC’s Super Bowl representative. Is this game really a preview of the NFC Championship game? People sure are billing it that way… but although these two have great records, they are going in different directions the past few weeks. Carolina has been coming on strong the past few weeks, demolishing a tough Tampa Bay D and locking-down a high-flying Denver offense, coming away with two big wins. The Giants were looking like the class of the NFC, only dropping one game the entire season, until dropping back-to-back games against divisional opponents Philly and Dallas.

Carolina is one of the quietest teams to make it to 11-3, and a game away from being the number one seed come playoff time. An NFC South that many thought could be one of the weaker divisions this year has become one of the NFL’s best, with Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta all capable of making the playoffs. QB Jake Delhomme (2853yd / 14TD / 12int) has showed little ill-effects from his off-season surgery, and WR Steve Smith (70rec / 1240yd / 6TD) is showing once again he’s the apple of Delhomme’s eye (err…should we say ‘apple of his arm’??). But really, Carolina doesn’t ask much from the passing game except to keep the opposition on their toes and allow the run game and defense to win games. The Panthers sport a one/two punch of RB DeAngelo Williams (1229yd / 14TD) and rookie Jonathan Stewart (751yd / 9TD). Carolina has faced the Giants only 4 times in their history, but none of those match-ups has the luster of this game. The solid Panther D is allowing only 18.9ppg – ranking them 6th best in the NFL in keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. Defensive studs like LB Julius Peppers (12.5 sacks, 6th best in the NFL) and LB Jon Beason (whose 122 tackles is second best in the entire league) are a big reason why the Carolina D is one of the top ten in the league this year and will try to keep NFL golden-boy Eli Manning and company on their losing streak.

A few weeks ago when we touted Philly and NYG as a great ‘Game to Watch’, we said: “Believe it or not…the Giants are at a crossroads. They look dominating, but they also did up until the midway point of the season last year.” That game Big Blue was without WR Plaxico Burress (now suspended for the season), and the Eagles said the Giants were much easier to defend. Last week, the absence of RB Brandon Jacobs compounded the Giants problems and may have proved that without EARTH (Jacobs – 1002yd / 12TD), WIND and FIRE struggle (Derrick Ward 733yd / 2TD and Ahmad Bradshaw 327yd / 1TD). From this point on, QB Eli Manning (2938yd / 20TD / 10int) has shown leadership and confidence since winning the Super Bowl last year and carried it into this season, but that confidence will be tested this week, as per the coaching staff and the thousands of New York fans see it. Others state that the defense is the overwhelming cog to opponents (as they have allowed on average just 17.6 points a game – 4th best in the league). Defensive standouts like DE Justin Tuck (12sacks / 8tkl for loss) and Antonio Pierce (leading the team in tackles) need the rest of the NFL’s 4th ranked run defense to step up and shut down a Carolina ground game among the best in the NFL. The Giants are arguably one of the best teams in the NFL – but they need to stop their recent skid in a hurry if they hope to make their lives a lot easier come playoff time.

So when this big “NFC Championship” preview night is over, we’ll not only see which of these teams will have clinched home-field advantage through the playoffs, but we might be seeing a preview of the eventual NFC rep to the ‘big dance’. The loser will still be in the playoffs, but will know that to win it all, they have to go through the home field of whoever already beat them in one of the most-hyped games this season. Does New York halt its slide? Does Carolina prove that they have been ignored as an NFC powerhouse for too long this season? The tag lines for the game are out there. The elite will meet to decide the winner. And we’ll all be treated to a big NFC championship preview.

Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us here at FantasySharks.com !!

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.