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Games to Watch – Week 4

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.

Week 4 is upon us, and even though a full month of NFL action will soon be under our belts, that doesn’t mean we can’t feast on three divisional rivalries this weekend. We serve you up the best three games on the schedule, cook up the storylines that make this matchups tasty and finish it all off with a dollop of humor. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

All times Eastern:

Baltimore
@
Pittsburgh
– Sunday 10/3,
1 p.m.,
CBS

There are a few things in life you can always count on, no matter what: death, taxes, and women lying about how much they spent at the mall.* Well, the NFL is pretty similar in that it has a few things you can count on, each and every season. You can always count on a referee deciding at least one game (can someone say San Diego against Denver last year?), you can always expect ticket prices to go up to our beloved games ($150 for a ticket has become the norm) and you can also count on division rivalries to be more intense than a regular run-of-the-mill game. It’s the final dependable NFL occurrence which makes it easy to pick the first of our “Games to Watch.” The intense, historical and emotional rivalry between Ying and Yang, Dark and Light, Good and Evil drives our first matchup – the Steelers and the Ravens. (Who’s good? Who’s evil? Who knows? We are leaving that question best answered by our loyal, subjective readers.)

*[Editor’s Note: Please feel free to file your complaints about any possible sexist remarks Chris or Tom might have made with our all-female legal council, Barrett, Winslow and Habbermeier. They are available every day from
8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
, unless they are unavoidably detained (typically, at the mall)]

Pittsburgh fans have themselves a question wrapped in an enigma (if that is even possible) – could the Steelers possibly go 4-0 without
Ben Roethlisberger? With a defense that has given up a mere 11 points a game (leading the NFL),
James Harrison (23 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles),
Troy Polamalu (15 tackles) and company have given fits to Atlanta, Tennessee and Tampa Bay in the first three weeks of the season – buying what many had considered a “suspect” quarterback position plenty of leeway. Whether it was the injured
Denis Dixon (254 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) or veteran
Charlie Batch (211 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT), the quarterback position had few expectations from fans in Steel City, but with solid work from their supporting cast of
Mike Wallace (7 receptions, 187 yards, 2 TD),
Hines Ward (10 receptions, 151 yards, 1 TD) and workhorse
Rashard Mendenhall (332 yards, 2 TD), the offense has at least been effective enough to move the ball and put (a few) points on the board and walk away with wins – even if the offensive MVP right now is probably
Jeff Reed (8 FG, 6 PAT). On Sunday, Steeltown’s first divisional game of the year comes to visit – a team looking to put the 3-0 Steelers in their place, a team Pittsburgh has dominated 19 out of 28 times since 1996 and the first team of the season that might give Pittsburgh a run for their money.

Baltimore has to be realizing this isn’t going to be a game like last week at home versus Cleveland. It’s going to probably be more like the first game of the season against the Jets. Whoever they ticked off at the NFL scheduling office (three division games in the first four weeks), set them up for a doozy here in Week 4, but no one in Baltimore is giving away the game just yet. Last Sunday,
Joe Flacco (664 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT) finally got the offensive rhythm going for the Ravens, finding his new favorite target
Anquan Boldin (20 receptions, 287 yards, 3 TD) for three touchdowns and handing the rock to
Ray Rice (210 rushing yards, 10 receptions, 65 receiving yards) for an 80-yard showing on the ground. Yes, it seems signs of life on offense have emerged in Baltimore. However, the known strength of the Ravens organization is its defense, which leads the NFL in average yards against with a mere 244 total a game. And even though they won’t be in the friendly confines of M & T Bank Stadium, veterans
Ray Lewis (21 tackles, 1 sack) and
Terrell Suggs (18 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) are going to be fired up to take on their division rivals, and attempting to hold Pittsburgh to as few yards as possible.

Can you count on heartburn from Egg Fu Young? Sure, it’s a pretty safe bet. Can you assume that when you are grilling on a summer weekend that all your buddies will want cheese on their burger? Except for your buddy Frank who is lactose intolerant, you know they will. But for a lock-it-in, sure thing this weekend, you can bet this black and purple rivalry will be one of the hardest hitting of Week 4 – and you can take that to the bank!

Washington
@
Philadelphia
– Sunday 10/3,
4:15 p.m.,

FOX

Sometimes things in life are unavoidable. That car in the supermarket parking lot pulls out in front of you suddenly, and the next thing you know you’re kissing the airbag in your new Ford F-150. Or maybe you told your wife you’d cut the lawn on Saturday, but a record rainfall and the subsequent flooding put the kibosh on that plan. Or maybe you’re a Hollywood actor marrying a Hollywood actress – well, you just know divorce is right around the corner no matter what anyone says. Well, when the schedule makers had
Donovan McNabb returning to Philadelphia in Week 4, you just know every single sports writer, talk-show host and fan was going to be talking about how he would be received at Lincoln Financial Field. Luckily, it won’t be snowing, so we can eliminate the media from bringing up any snowball throwing incidents involving Santa Claus. Now if the talking heads in the media would just spend a little more time talking about the teams, and less about the sports world’s hate-hate relationship with the Philadelphia fans, we’d all be focusing on what a great game this should be.

Donovan McNabb (833 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) returns to Philadelphia much the same quarterback he was when he left – he isn’t going to throw a lot of picks, won’t hurt your team with major errors and still has some escapability in the pocket. Unfortunately for McNabb, he doesn’t have the same talent level around him.
Clinton
Portis (140 yards, 2 TD) hasn’t been a stud running back for a few seasons now, and word-around-town has people watching for
Ryan Torain (46 yards) to see more of the rock.
Santana Moss (22 receptions, 290 yards, 1 TD) is clearly McNabb’s favorite and most reliable target, and his affinity for hitting tight ends has
Chris Cooley (14 receptions, 197 yards, 1 TD) on pace for a career year. The 1-2 Redskins could be 3-0 if it wasn’t for their lackluster defense, which is currently giving up more yards per game than any other NFL team – a dubious distinction that might have them drop to 1-3 if they can’t contain the Eagles explosive offense.

Kevin Kolb was the heir-apparent to McNabb, but his game-one concussion and the subsequent outstanding play of backup
Michael Vick (750 passing yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 170 rushing yards, 1 TD) had Vick winning the spot as top dog.** Vick inherits McNabb’s team, and his cast of excellent young offensive receiving talent, like wide receivers
DeSean Jackson (13 receptions, 318 yards, 2 TD) and
Jeremy Maclin (11 receptions, 147 yards, 4 TD) as well as running back LeSean
McCoy (209 yards, 4 TD) who is an excellent receiver out of the backfield (11 recpetions, 62 yards) as well. The only loser in the switch from Kolb to Vick has been tight end
Brent Celek (9 receptions, 101 yards), who is just one of Vick’s options rather than Kolb’s main option. Philadelphia’s defense started out very shaky this season, giving up huge chunks of yardage to the Lions and Packers, but managed to completely shut down Jacksonville in Week 3. If
Trent Cole (18 tackles, 3 sacks) and
Juqua Parker (5 tackles, 4 sacks) can get pressure on McNabb behind a suspect Washington offensive line, the Eagles could make this a rout. If they can’t, McNabb might top the 300-yard mark in his return to the land of cheesesteaks.

So while the media talk has surrounded how the fans will treat McNabb, it’s much more important how the Eagles defense treats him. In the dog-eat-dog world** of the NFL, whichever defense wins best of show** is likely to be the deciding factor. And in this NFC East battle win-loss records and statistical rankings have traditionally meant very little. In the end, it all comes down to which defense will be able to focus their intensity for one afternoon, and keep the opposition’s quarterback from making plays – not whether McNabb is still convinced that Philadelphia fans never liked him, even if his No. 5 jersey was the most purchased piece of Philadelphia sports apparel for the better part of a decade.

**[Editor’s Note: PETA and SPCA supporters should also feel free to file their complaints about any possible canine jokes Chris or Tom might have made with our legal council, Barrett, Winslow and Habbermeier. Sorry, everyone – we try to keep these guys on a short leash.]

New England
@
Miami
– Monday 10/4,
8:30 p.m.,
ESPN

For our third game this week, our selection came to us in an epiphany. Tom came over to Chris’ house to pick him up for our weekly staff meeting at FantasySharks headquarters. When Tom walked in, Chris was dressed and ready to go, watching a classic on SPIKE TV –
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ah, what a classic. We ended up killing an extra hour watching the final shootout before heading over to the office. On the way over, Chris brought up, “We need a third game for this week … and there aren’t tons to pick from.” Silence was in the car as we both were trying to decide on the third ‘Game of the Week,’ but the conversation just kept coming back to the classic Newman and Redford movie we just watched. Then it hit us like bullets riddled Butch and Sundance’s bodies. What’s the best part of all Westerns? Why, the shootout of course. Shootout, Games to Watch, shootout, Games to Watch … BAM! It was obvious, great offenses against so-so defenses – a perfect shootout! And then our choice was obvious – the Monday night meeting in Miami between the Dolphins and Patriots.

The Patriots basically subscribe to a new mission statement: “
Praise the Offense, Pray for the Defense.” Defensively, there isn’t a category worth mentioning that puts them in the top half of the NFL – something that irks
Jerod Mayo (27 tackles, 1 sack) and the rest of his crew who haven’t had this unfortunate distinction in nearly a decade. Fortunately, the offense leads the league in average points per game (ranked first with 30 points per game).
Tom Brady (758 yards, 8 TD, 2 INT) basically has a cannon for an arm and seeks out
Wes Welker (18 receptions, 147 yards, 3 TD),
Randy Moss (9 receptions, 139 yards, 3 TD) and even rookie
Aaron Hernandez (13 receptions, 211 yards). On the ground, an injured running back corps currently has established
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (139 yards, 1 TD) as the go-to guy, and he hasn’t disappointed – last week racking up 98 yards and had a touchdown against the Bills. Yes, the Patriot offense is high-powered, and don’t expect them to slow down for Miami.

The Dolphins might not have as big a name under center, but the up-and-coming
Chad Henne (659 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) is making a mark for himself, even if many fans and critics alike are waiting to see if his success is simply a flash-in-the-pan. It certainly has helped Henne that a true No. 1 receiver has been acquired this year by Miami, and
Brandon Marshall (22 receptions, 290 yards, 1 TD) is certainly keeping defenses honest. Taking the heat off of Henne is the platoon at running back with
Ronnie Brown (199 rushing yards, 1 TD) and
Ricky Williams (120 yards), who thus far this season, have split the number of carries almost exactly in half. As for the Miami defense,
Cameron Wake (8 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) and his cohorts are giving up over 100 yards a game on the ground (117 yards per game), but can be a bit stinger in the air (currently ranked ninth with 193 yards per game). Don’t expect the pass defense to hold Brady down to those kinds of numbers, though.

Two great offenses, two great … well two solid … er r… one decent defense – it’s as simple as that. We’re thinking this one could be a nice shootout like
Unforgiven,
Shane or basically anything with John Wayne in it. We don’t know what Vinnie thinks, but it could be an over bet all the way. And while the offense is certainly going to take center stage in this contest, the AFC East rivalry should fire up both defenses enough to get a few good licks in.

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