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 other articles, the Betbot, or the Last Row, or our myriad posts in the Tank. We’re just like you, though. We love a good football game, no matter who’s playing.
All times Eastern:
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati – Sunday 10/23, 1:00pm
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Normally, we would have expected that by week seven in the NFL the Bengals would be busy finding ways to self-destruct on a weekly basis – but not this year. Everyone knew they had an explosive offense. Everyone knew that had an improved defense. (Pretty much) Everyone thought Carson Palmer could really do some good things behind center this year. And all those things were true. And one more thing was certain – when you looked at the schedule in the beginning of the year, you saw this game with the Steelers on the schedule and you thought to yourself, “Hmmm – that’s an interesting match-up, the AFC North division leaders vs. the circa-.500 upstarts with a young QB at their helm trying to climb into a playoff spot. That looks like it could be a good game.” Only trouble is, you were thinking the vaunted Steelers would be the division leaders, and the .500 upstarts would be the traditionally inept Cincinnati Bengals. You also figured the young QB would have been Palmer, but it’s Ben Roethlisberger that turns out to be the upstart’s young leader. The former-Bungles bring a league near-best record of 5-1 into this game, while Pittsburgh is the team hovering around the .500 mark and come into week seven at 3-2.
But this game has more than just a match-up between the AFC North front-runners. You have the top 2 rated QBs in the entire NFL matching up this week (Roethlisberger #1 at 123.8 and Palmer #2 at 113.6). Both are facing some middle-of-the-road passing defenses (Cincy at #15 and Pitt at #17), which should mean we will see some decent aerial action in this contest. You also have a match-up in two of the NFL’s best WRs this year, pitting Cincy’s Chad Johnson (5 TDs so far) against a slightly-bruised Hines Ward (4 TDs to date) – again pointing to some aerial fireworks. Don’t forget each team has a solid runner, Rudi Johnson in Cincy and Willie Parker/Jerome Bettis in Steeltown. Rudi is the most talented of the three, but he also faces the better run defense in the Steelers. Parker and Bettis, who aren’t in the top 5 RBs unlike Johnson, get to face the softer middle-of-the-NFL run defense of the Bengals. And let’s face it – the winner here probably has to be the favorite to take the AFC North. All of that in one game = big fun. [By the way, all of that in one game also makes it hard to tell who will come out on top, but we’ll pick the Steelers in a squeaker.]
San Diego @ Philadelphia – Sunday 10/23, 1:00pm
Lincoln Financial Field (“The Linc”), Philadelphia, PA
Ok, everyone knows that the writers of this column are Eagles fans, but just because the Eagles are playing doesn’t mean we blindly tag that as one of the “Games to Watch” for the week. No siree, Bob. (It’s just a figure of speak… I wasn’t speaking to any Bob in particular. If you’re forcing us to pick a Bob, we’ll be forced to choose Bob Crane – because who doesn’t love a guy who can play the lovable Capt. Hogan in Hogan’s Heroes, and then turn right around and film his kinky sex life?) No – we don’t pick this game because the Eagles are in it – we pick it because these two teams are at a crossroads in their seasons. The Eagles at 3-2 are 3rd in the NFC East at this point, and another loss this early in the season will certainly hurt any chances of ending up with Home Field advantage throughout the playoffs – and would drop them into the NFC East basement, most likely, giving them a big hole to climb out of as we near the mid-point of the season. The Chargers are 3-3, and a team that seems to vacillate between being a real threat (like they were in wins against the defending-Super Bowl Champion Pats, one of the best offenses in the NFL so far this year in the New Jersey Giants, and an Oakland team with some offensive firepower) and being a speed-bump on other teams rise to the top (as they were against Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Denver).
We have to give a slight edge to San Diego in this game. Their three losses have all been by 4 points or less, while their wins have been by 13, 22, and 24 points. The Bolts main offensive-weapon, LaDainian Tomlinson, has been the best player in the NFL over the past few weeks, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. In fact, San Diego finally realized just how important it is to keep the ball in LT’s hands, so much so that they are rushing him, throwing passes to him, and even having him throw a couple of TD passes so far this year. The Eagles started out the season fairly hot, but injuries to Donovan McNabb, David Akers, N.D. Kalu, Darwin Walker, Tra Thomas, etc., etc. have been taking their toll on the pre-season NFC Champion favorites. And unlike San Diego, who has been finding more and more ways to get LaDainian involved in their offense, the Eagles have been utilizing an amazing weapon in RB Bryan Westbrook, less and less. (And having the injured Donovan McNabb pass on 80% of the downs probably isn’t the best strategy to employ, either.) For the Eagles to make this a “game to watch”, Coach Andy Reid will be forced to admit he has to run the ball more, and find ways to get Westbrook involved. Thankfully, we think he will, and this game will prove to be a hard-fought contest with the victor rising in the power rankings, and the loser digging themselves a mid-season hole that they might not be able to climb out of – in essence a game that will make or break either team’s season. Hot damn, are you ready for some football?!?
Dallas @ Seattle – Sunday 10/23, 4:15pm
Qwest Field, Seattle, WA
Our third and final Game To Watch this week focuses on an NFC match-up between two division leaders, the Dallas Cowboys (at 4-2 in the cat-bird seat of the NFC East) and the Seattle Seahawks (at 4-2 firmly in the lead of a weak NFC West). Both teams are looking like playoff squads to this point in the season, but doing it in different ways. Seattle has been getting great rushing from Shaun Alexander (currently leading the NFL in rushing yards), while Matt Hasslebeck has been forced to spread passes around due to the rash of injuries to the Seahawks receiving corps. The Cowboys have surged behind the arm of Drew Bledsoe and the (not so?) fleet feet of Terry Glenn. Speaking of Glenn, she is 4th in the NFL in receiving yards and apparently back in Coach Bill Parcells’ graces, regardless of gender or orientation (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). However, their run game has suffered from some minor injuries to “Orange” Julius Jones and lackluster run-blocking on the o-line. (You know who you are Flozell Adams and Larry Allen!)
But both teams have even had their no-so-bright spots shining in recent play. Joe Jurevicius has been a beacon for the Seattle passing game, catching everything thrown his way, and out-muscling d-backs – maybe even Mike Holmgren will see that Jurevicius is a better receiver than most of the guys he trots out every week. I’d say that the guy has earned himself a starting spot, but Holmgren is likely to stubborn to let that happen… and besides, the Seahawks really don’t like a WR who can actually CATCH the ball. They prefer guys who couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a pig-skin (really cow-hide, those liars!). But we digress… Allan and Adams apparently remembered that they were extremely large, angry men during their game against the Eagles, and the run game has picked up a bit – even if it has to be done by Anthony “A-Train” Thomas. But with Flozell down last week to a season-ending knee injury, we’ll have to see how Dallas’ o-line bounces back and if they can support the run.
Both teams sport solid defenses, with Dallas and Seattle both in the top-15 (Dallas #7, Seattle #13). Dallas has a slight edge in run defense, and the pass defenses are almost identical for both teams. But Dallas’ run-D will be challenged by Shaun Alexander, early and often in this contest – and that’s a battle we think Alexander the Great can win. That just leaves it up to Seattle’s young secondary (CB Andre Dyson, CB Marcus Trufant, SS Michael Boulware, and FS Ken Hamlin – Dyson being the old man of the group with this being his 5th year in the NFL) to limit Dallas’ aerial attack and give Seattle’s D-line time to get to Bledsoe. Keyshawn Johnson has also shown he’s susceptible to letting the ball pop out on a big hit (It’s happened 2 weeks in a row now) – so if they can force a timely fumble, that might be all Alexander needs to make Dallas pay.
We like Seattle in this contest, only because Alexander is scorching opposing defenses so badly as of late, and we actually think the Seattle passing game is improved with a guy like Jurevicius’ talent in their lineup. Toss in the season-ending injury to Flozell Adams, and we think Bledsoe could see more pressure than he has the last few weeks. We think all these signs point to a Seattle win, but in a closely contested match against
America ’s Texas’ Team. (Sorry Texans – but you know it’s true.)
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