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:
Look, you can’t have a multitude of great games every week in the NFL. It’s like going to Kansas City and saying every steakhouse is going to be as good as the Golden Ox. So some of you might have flipped through your on-screen TV Guide (ain’t technology grand?) and decided that you didn’t see much to interest you this weekend – especially with six teams sitting out on their bye week. Ok, you might not have seen many games to rival the blockbuster offensive battles we’ve seen over the past few weeks, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll spot two amazing defensive battles and one track meet in the making. Remember, if at first blush you don’t see any great games to watch on the schedule, that just means two things: 1) Great defense games are just as exciting to real football fans; 2) Braun and Dolfi can find the hidden little gems that, like the Golden Ox, didn’t move downtown, but are still out in the stockyards…waiting to entertain.
– Sunday 9/28,
Usually the ‘Old Timers Game’ takes place in a different sport, and at a different time of year… but here we are in week 4 of the NFL and wouldn’t you know we find the NFL’s version of the same game? We have two quarterbacks who are well past their prime looking for one last shot at stardom… and no, we’re not talking about the latest football players pimping themselves out on ‘Dancing With The Stars’.
Minnesota faltered in its first two contests this season, but bounced back against the Carolina Panthers last week with a new man under center. The man known to many as ‘Fre-Rotten’*, Gus Frerotte, has seemingly steadied the Viking long ship. Frerotte didn’t put up spectacular numbers in his first game as starter (204yds and 1 TD), but under his watch the team got their first win – and to many critics of the slow Minnesota start, that accomplishment was all that counts. Fortunately, it doesn’t all rest on that “old timer’s” back. He gets more than a little help from his ‘young whipper-snapper’ of a RB, second-year stud Adrian Peterson (340yds / 1 TD), who is averaging over 110 yards a game and is the #2 rusher in the NFL right now. Backup RB Chester Taylor (81yds) is a change-of-pace back with talent that can be dangerous in his own right. The air game has only taken off this past week, with WR Bernard Berrian (117yds this season) leading the receiving corps. Defensively, DE Jared Allen has gotten a sack in each of the last two games after a slow start, but the standout through the first three games has been MLB E.J. Henderson. Henderson has amassed 23 tackles (20 solo), 5 tackles for loss, and a sack so far this season, and is a force to be reckoned with on the Minnesota D. As a whole, the defense is ranked 3rd in rushing defense, giving up a measly 70.3ypg, 7th in overall defense (280.7ypg), and 8th in scoring defense (17.3ppg).
* [Editor’s Note: The nickname was coined in a Washington Newspaper when Mr. Frerotte was the starting QB of the Redskins franchise and is in no way an invention of any FantasySharks.com writer or the opinion of the owners of this website. We have now fulfilled our obligation as spelled out in a very nasty letter from the offices of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale, and Dorr LLP.]
From one old timer to another, QB Kerry Collins has taken the reins of the Titan offense and taking them to the top of the AFC South. Collins (382yds / 2TD) took control of the offense in the wake of an injury to Vince Young, and what recent reports have hinted at as an odd mental state. At 35, Collins probably doesn’t mind keeping the rock on the ground (which makes him a perfect signal-caller for Tennessee) with another ‘running-back-by-committee’ approach using Chris Johnson (276yds) and LenDale White (148yds / 4 TD). Collins uses that 35,000 yard arm looking for the likes of TE Bo Scaife (137yds / 1 TD) and Justin McCareins (99yds). WR Justin Gage (7 receptions for 84yds and 1TD in 2 games) missed last week’s contest, but gives Collins an additional target this week against the Vikes. On the flip side of the ball, the #1 ranked defense in points allowed per game (9.7), has certainly helped argue the case that the Titans need to be mentioned as contenders in the AFC. Their #3 pass defense has produced 7 interceptions over 3 games, due to the play of CB Cortland Finnegan (4int) and FS Michael Griffin (3int).
Ok, quick quiz time… Who remembers when there wasn’t any internet, when cell phones were the size of shoe boxes, and AM stations actually used to be hip? Come on – raise your hands. Well, you aren’t the only ones – Frerotte and Collins do, too. But you don’t need to be old enough to remember when the SuperFriends TV show had heroes in training Marvin, Wendy, and Wonder Dog (instead of the Wonder Twins and their monkey Gleek) to enjoy a smash-mouth contest between two of the NFL’s best defenses. Expect the score to be low, but big hits to be high, low, and everywhere in between in this AFC/NFC showdown.
– Sunday 9/28,
We aren’t hunters. We know that some of you enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn to sit in the cold for hours on end, in the hopes of glimpsing that buck sporting a 10-point rack. Maybe some of you even hope to bag the family that holiday turkey we Americans prize so highly. We choose to sleep in, grab a couple of cold slices of pizza for breakfast, and settle into our Barcaloungers to watch several hours of NFL pre-game programming. But while we freely admit we know little about the sport of hunting, we do know there are two ways to shoot something. You either take aim with an accurate weapon, taking out your target with a single well-placed shot, or you use something like a shotgun – and just spray the target with a bunch of buckshot, knowing that at least some of it will hit the mark. This game takes the shotgun approach. Both teams throw a variety of offensive weapons at their opponents, knowing full well that some (if not all) will eventually find the mark.
San Francisco has improved their offense to the #11 overall squad in the NFL (342ypg) and #10 in scoring (25.7ppg) in 2008, much because of the outstanding play by QB J.T. O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan has a 104.6 QB rating through the first three weeks, making him the 4th most efficient NFL signal-caller so far, and putting him above some of the NFL’s elite like Romo, Brees, McNabb, Favre, and Manning (both of them). Sure his QB stats aren’t gaudy (705yds passing, 3TD, and just 1 interception), but his steady play has completely opened up a San Fran offense that struggled at times last year. One of the prime beneficiaries of O’Sullivan’s solid play is RB Frank Gore (averaging 95.7ypg and totaling 3TDs in the 49ers three games). Teams haven’t been able to pile guys in the box against Gore with the passing game keeping them honest. Gore has also been a solid receiving target for San Fran, leading the team with 13 catches and racking up 125 yards in receptions. But it’s not all Gore – the 49ers have plenty of receivers to make opposing defenses pay, like WRs Bryant Johnson (10 catches for 151 yards), Arnaz Battle (8 for 82yds), and a resurgent Issac Bruce (6 for 172yds – leading the team in receiving yards). Heck, even TE Vernon Davis is a threat, even if the Niners have only found him four times so far this season.
New Orleans brings no less buckshot to the hunt than San Fran does. The Saints’ offense reads like a laundry list of NFL offensive leaders. QB Drew Brees (980yds / 5TDs) leads the NFL with almost 1,000 yards – and that’s just in three games! RB Reggie Bush is a decent enough rusher (152yds / 1TD), but his real value has been as one of Brees’ main receiving targets (26 catches for 250 yards and 2TDs). Heck, Bush is even involved in the New Orleans special teams, already scoring yet another TD on a 55-yard punt return. RB Pierre Thomas is the goal line back for the Saints, already punching in 3 rushing TDs to go along with his 75 yards this season. WRs Devery Henderson (5 catches for 132yds and 1TD), David Patten (8 for 106yds / 1TD), and Robert Meachum (3 for 105yds / 1TD) make for a formidable receiving corps even *without* outstanding WR Marquez Colston (out for week 4) and TE Jeremy Shockey (out 3-6 weeks with sports hernia surgery).
Neither team does a great job keeping other teams off the scoreboard, with the 49ers giving up over three touchdowns a game (22.0ppg) and New Orleans just under four TDs a game (27.7ppg). The Saints are near the bottom of the league in passing defense (ranked 29th and giving up a whopping 258.7ypg) and run defense (22nd among NFL squads). The Niners sport a decent defense (tied for 9th in overall yardage allowed) who’s strength is their #7 passing D – allowing just over 160 yards a game through the air. But just because the 49ers have the better defense doesn’t point to them winning the contest – New Orleans has already shown it can pass against solid secondaries, like Tampa Bay and Washington, and will put that San Fran defensive backfield to the test. Frisco has the better D for sure, but it just might not matter against the NFL’s top passing team.
We aren’t sure of a lot of things. We aren’t sure why women ask men if they look fat. We aren’t sure how anyone can stomach an hour of “Grey’s Anatomy”. We aren’t sure why one can of soda is 1 and 1/3 serving. And we sure as heck don’t know which of these two teams will win, but we *DO* know the approach both teams will take. Both will throw a slew of offense against the other team, enough to keep even the most offensive-happy fans glued to the TV for fear of missing a highlight-reel worthy play. And with this many weapons blasting away at the other side, we know you’ll see more than a few players hit the mark. So take a shot on this game – we promise it’ll be an offense lover’s bull’s-eye.
– Monday 9/29,
After wasting time watching the ‘David Blaine: Dive of Death’ special (we plan on suing ABC to give us an hour back on our life), it dawned on us that many of you probably suffered the same as we did. So it’s perfectly understandable that you now want to be very selective on what to watch. Well, we bring you a game that not only will be worth watching, but won’t leave you hanging like some emo pseudo-magician with an inflated degree of self-importance. And the only dives you’ll see are some diving tackles and possibly yourself diving for the last hot wing – right before that ingrate son of yours can get his grubby little mitts on it.
Baltimore is in the process of bouncing back from their dismal 5-11 season last year. Their team has been a mainstay of top NFL defenses for as long as most of us can remember, and this year is no exception. Ranked #1 in total yards against (just 161.5ypg), #3 in rushing defense, #1 in passing defense, and #2 in points allowed (only 10 points a game) – this is a defense to be reckoned with. And we could go on and on about possibly the best linebacking corps in all of football (Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, and Terrell Suggs), not to mention a secondary sporting guys like FS Ed Reed and CBs Samari Rolle and Chris McAllister (4 interceptions between them in 2 games). You all know how great the Ravens’ D is, but the offense put together by first year coach John Harbaugh has been opening some eyes this year – with a cast of characters who aren’t household names just yet. At quarterback, rookie Joe Flacco hasn’t necessarily lit up the scoreboard after two games (129ypg, 2 INT, and 0 passing TD), but he has managed to avoid rookie mistakes that could cost his team the game. And Flacco’s 2-0 start makes him only the 3rd rookie QB since 1970 to open a season 2-0. (The other two were John Elway and Ryan Leaf – only time will tell who he more resembles.) The running game is anchored by RB Le’Ron McClain (152yds / 2TDs) and RB Ray Rice (85yds), but has managed to be the workhorses of the Ravens’ offense thus far. The most recognizable names on this offense have been the receivers, but the aerial attack has been relatively quiet as Flacco is still learning the nuances of the NFL passing game. Only WR Derrick Mason (8 catches for 86 yards) has been a factor at all. TE Todd Heap has started out slow, but it’s not easy bouncing back from an injury – especially with a rookie under center.
Pittsburgh has a bit of regrouping to do after an awful outing by its offensive line in attempting to protect QB Ben Roethlisberger (447yds / 3TDs) from a swarming Eagles defense last week. (Speaking of ‘Dives of Death’, Ben Roethlisberger looked more beat up than David Blaine did – and Big Ben’s injuries were no illusion). Providing the O-line can keep the Ravens’ pass rush from sidelining Roethlisberger, the team would love to air it out more – feeding WRs Hines Ward (169yds / 3TDs) and Santonio Holmes (145 yds). However, it’s the ground game that is usually the Steelers’ bread and butter. They’ll be without the “bread” this week not having RB Willie Parker (263yds / 3TDs) and will turn to the “butter” – rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall (28yds) getting his first chance to start and show the Pittsburgh faithful what he can do as the heir apparent to Parker. Of course the Steelers will be counting on their defense to do the real damage in this game – and with the #2 defense in total yards against (234.0ypg), #3 scoring D (12.7ppg), and the #2 run defense (not even giving up 65 yards a game on the ground) they are every bit the equal of the Ravens’ tough D. LB James Farrior leads the team in tackles (17 total), and seven different players have chipped in on the pass rush, totaling 10 sacks in just 3 games. SS Troy Polamalu already has 3 picks this year, and should have a field day punishing the Baltimore receivers who dare to catch a ball anywhere near him.
Look, being realistic, it’s a division rivalry and you have two teams that are fighting to be at the top of it. Both are trying to establish themselves as a team to beat in the AFC. Will it be a game of the year? If you love the big offensive plays, you’re likely to be disappointed in this contest. But if you like defense, this one should have it all for you – two division rivals, two of the NFL’s best defenses in all aspects of the game, and two teams who don’t like each other even a little bit squaring off on Monday night. When you look at it that way, how can this not be a ‘Game to Watch’? So head down to your local watering hole and grab some suds with the guys, this one’s gonna’ be a lesson in pain for both teams. Oh, and don’t bother firing up the Tivo to record any David Blaine in the future – just record this game instead and watch two teams perform magic on defense while they try and pull a rabbit out of their hat on offense.