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), or our column (Brain and Braun), 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:
San Diego @ Baltimore – Sunday 9/31, 1:00pm
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Why save the best for last? Let’s start you off this weekend with a game that could easily turn into the best game of the day.
A match-up between the #1 and #2 defenses in the league is always going to be a good game, but even more-so between these two defensive powerhouses because they each have the tools on offense to score as well.
San Diego sports one of the leagues most feared rushers in LaDanian Tomlinson, averaging over 100 yards a game and 1.5 TDs a game to this point in the season. They also have the league’s best pass-catching Tight End (with apologies to Tony Gonzalez fans) in Antonio Gates, who leads the Chargers in receiving yards this year, and caught 1100 yards of passes last year (a truly amazing feat for an NFL TE). San Diego’s offense as a whole clocks in at #3 overall, averaging 389 yards a game, and #1 in scoring offense at a whopping 33.5 points a game. But to be fair, it’s not like the Bolts have faced the leagues toughest D’s in Tennessee and Oakland. San Diego will prove a lot this weekend if Phillip Rivers can mount a successful offense again the truly tough Baltimore D.
Baltimore, as always, is standing on their backs of their defense in order to win games. Their D has been great so far, but they haven’t really been tested yet this year facing Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Cleveland so far. This weekend will give them a real test against one of the league’s best rushers, and they can introduce Mr. Rivers to what a real NFL sack feels like, something he hasn’t really felt facing the Raiders and the Tuxedos…err Titans. For Baltimore, their problem has been their offense, and that’s still their weak spot this year. Picking up Steve McNair went a long way in shoring up the revolving door they’ve had a QB, but they still don’t look like an offensive unit to be feared, regardless of their #10 team scoring rank. They won’t get the chances they’ve had against the poor defenses they have faced so far, so time for Brian Billick to show that his offense can do it against the NFLs #1 ranked D. (Especially considering Billick has been living off his ‘offensive genius’ reputation for 8 years now, without actually ever producing a competent offense…)
Fact: Both defenses are great.
Fact: Both offenses have hurdles to overcome, Phillip Rivers on San Diego, and the coaching of Brian Billick on Baltimore.
Fact: T.O. would *still* have been the focus of the media if he was unsure of which aftershave to wear, let alone a possible suicide attempt.
Fact: This is gonna’ be one great game.
New England @ Cincinnati – Sunday 9/31, 4:15pm
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
This game is one to watch this weekend, because it can answer some big questions in the NFL this year. A Cincy win would make them really the team to beat in the AFC North, and give Steelers fans something to really worry about. It would also let the NFL know that New England is living more on reputation than ability this season – since they’ve looked suspect at times, especially with the lack of passing production, and a defense that hasn’t looked nearly as good as it has in the past. A Pats win would let the NFL know that it’s not time to write them off just yet, and reports of their possible demise have been greatly exaggerated. It would also let the NFL know that the Bengals still may not have turned that corner to become of the the NFL’s elite.
Carson Palmer has looked great in coming back from injury, currently #8 in passer rating in the NFL – pretty darn good for a guy who people were worried about even being able to start the season on time. Rudi Johnson has looked top notch as well, #4 in total rushing yards, and tied for the lead in rushing TDs with 3. And with New England only having a middle of the road running defense, and an even worse passing defense, unless the Pats hit Cincy early and often, it could be a long day for the New Englanders.
Tom Brady hasn’t looked like himself lately, but maybe that’s to be expected when your #1 WR holds out, and you sport the NFL’s 20th passer rating. So far New England’s rushing offense has been carrying the load for this team, behind the twin headed ball-toting of Corey Dillon and rookie Lawrence Maroney. Cincinnati has been playing decent defense this year, but if New England is going to show that they deserve their 2-1 record thus far, now is the time to do it. Cincy only ranks in the middle of NFL defenses, so this should give us an idea of just how potent the Pats offense can be.
Look – we aren’t going to sugar coat it; this game could turn out to be lopsided, and most likely in the Bengals favor. But it’s worth watching just to see which of these AFC teams is going to be the one people fear facing this season the most.
Seattle @ Chicago – Sunday 9/31, 8:15pm
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
This game is going to be another good one to watch this weekend. This game features a match-up of two 3-0 teams. It’s also a showdown between two division leaders. Heck, it’s even a contest between two top-10 defenses.
Ok, let’s start with the surprising Chicago Bears. Well, it’s not really fair to call the Bears surprising. Many expected them to win their division in convincing fashion. Everyone knew they would have one of the NFL’s best defenses, too. What is surprising, is the Bears having the 6th ranked offense, in both yards-per-game AND scoring. And what’s even more surprising is the play of Rex Grossman – who currently sits at #5 in passer rating, #5 in passing yards, AND tied for #3 in passing TDs. Grossman has been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this year, and everyone keeps waiting to see him come back to earth, but so far it hasn’t happened. Grossman will get tested a bit against the Seattle #9 ranked D, but even if he should falter, the Chicago defense will keep him in the game – especially with the Seahawks biggest weapon Shawn Alexander sidelined due to a broken foot. (Capt. Obvious says: ‘Broken feet are bad for NFL running backs.’)
Seattle is certainly hurt by the loss of 2005 NFL MVP Shawn Alexander, but their passing offense has been more productive as a result, last week putting up 5 receiving TDs (even if it was against the hapless Giants passing D, which appears to be about as solid as T.O.’s mental state these days). But this week will give Seattle a chance to ‘test themselves against adversity’, as football coaches seem to love saying in press conferences and pep talks. That may just prove too tall a task for Matt Hasslebeck and back-up RB Maurice Morris, especially against the Bears and their #4 ranked D, though.
In the end, this game will only be a prelude to when these two teams meet again – in the NFL playoffs. And THAT is reason enough to see this game.