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:
Carolina @ Cincinnati – Sunday 10/22, 1:00pm
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
“It was the best of NFL Sundays, it was the worst of NFL Sundays…”, that is how we are going to start our ‘Games to Watch’ column this week. We’re subtitling this first game, “A Tale of Two Receivers”.
Let’s begin our story looking at the WR from the country, the sleepy Carolina countryside. Inside the Carolina Panthers locker room sits the subject of our attention, Panthers’ WR Steve Smith. His QB Jake Delhomme sits nearby, trying to figure out a way to improve upon his #15 QB rating, a difficult task with an underperforming running game not able to help take the pressure off him or Smith. After a dismal start, Smith is trying to fight off injury to bring his team back from the basement of the NFC South. With the help of his scrappy quarterback who has heart of a lion (and six touchdowns and over 1,300 yards passing to date), the tough receiver tries to demonstrate that this team was certainly down, but not out. He hopes that his story culminates in playoff berth for his team and himself. But now it comes down to a receiver with something to prove; to prove that his team should once again move into playoff consideration as they were before the season began and to prove that he is the man to get them there.
At that very moment a similar story unfolds with our receiver from the industrious rust belt city, Cincinnati. Similar emotions are churning in the belly of the flashy city WR Chad Johnson as he sits in the Bengals’ locker room. His stalwart quarterback, Carson Palmer, also sits nearby – but he thinks not of his team’s running game (which is doing decently behind the running of Rudi Johnson), but of his own injury which sidelined him for the playoffs, cost his team a shot at the Superbowl, and seems to be slowing him this season. The likable and flashy Johnson tries to convince the city of Cincinnati to not lose hope just yet. Not in his ability to perform in the big game, nor in his team’s ability to better their performance from last year. It’s not an easy sell, with Palmer looking not quite himself, and Johnson not looking at all like the dominating receiver he was last year (just 1 TD so far, and not a single 100-yard game). This team’s story comes down to a receiver digging deep to search for what thousands want to see; a Cincinnati team at the top of the AFC North.
Okay…enough of the literary melodrama. Besides, the heirs of Charles Dickens tell us that he is doing somersaults in his grave. Bottom line, Carolina has been hot since Smith’s return. Cincinnati comes off of a bye week with both Johnson and the Cincy team trying to demonstrate they are still a powerhouse in the AFC. Sunday afternoon, a much larger portion of this story will be written. “It is a far, far better thing that the NFL does, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better shot at the playoffs that one of these teams go to than I have ever known.”
[Special thanks to the Estate of the late Charles Dickens for agreeing NOT to sue us… this time.]
Minnesota @ Seattle – Sunday 10/22, 4:15pm
Qwest Field, Seattle, WA
They’re not really sleepless in Seattle, although we’ll bet the Shawn Alexander injury has at least a few fans taking melatonin. Some of us really thought they would end up at 3-2 last week, but they thrilled us with a finish that lived up to the prediction that the Seattle @ St. Louis game was a “game to watch”. Since the ‘Hawks did us that solid, how could we leave them out of this week’s column? But honestly, it would have been one of our GtW even if they didn’t slip us $50 right before press time.
The Seahawks have jumped out to the NFC West lead, even though it may have not been behind stellar play (they’ve struggled at times in almost all their games, with the only real “blowout” coming against the Giants), and the team is 4-1. They are also on the verge of their best start in team history, which isn’t completely surprising, but just how they are doing it is. Of course we expected a strong run game from the Seattle squad, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. Matt Hasselbeck (1122 yards and 9 TD’s to date) has led this group in with the absence of Shaun Alexander (due back in early November) and has kept the team in the win column.
Any defense that can keep an NFL offense to 16 yards rushing total (like the Vikings did to Detroit two weeks ago) is one that has a good shot at being in the thick of things come December. In fact, the Vikings D has scored 3 touchdowns themselves, just ONE LESS than the Vikings Offense. Further, the two Viking losses have been by a combined 8 points total. This defense will keep their team in the game up until the last minute, and with Shawn Alexander out for another couple weeks, the Seahawks will really need to look sharp against this bunch.
Looking over the two coaches, we get an Old School vs. New School matchup. Mike Holmgren has this Seattle team off to another good start, and Holmgren is certainly a guy who’s been around the block. He’s been to the big dance and was crowned. He isn’t falling prey to the jinx that Super Bowl teams bomb the next year…..at least not yet. In Brad Childress, we have the new kid on the block who is off to a pretty good start. He’s an offensive mind, but the Vikes are doing it all on defense these days. As the #5 squad overall, it’s kept them in every game, and allowed them to post a respectable 3-2 record so far.
Old School vs. New School, Offense vs. Defense; Sunday answers which of these two is the pretender and which is the contender.
New York Giants @ Dallas – Monday 9/23, 8:30pm
Texas Stadium, Dallas, TX
Welcome to T.O. Scrutiny Part II !! Yeah, we know – everyone says they are sick of T.O., but honestly… he’s like one of those bad horror movies. Now matter when you think you’ve had enough of the guy, he’s still popping up during the next scene. So just settle back, relax, and let us guide you through one more week of the T.O. Show.
T.O. got torn to shreds by both the media and the Philadelphia Eagles in Dallas’ last big challenge. He looked bad, dropping balls that were right in his hands without and Eagle in sight, screaming at his receivers’ coach on the sidelines, screaming at his QB to throw him the ball – even if he didn’t hang on to it when he did, and generally making it easy pickings for the media to paint him as the poster child for self-destruction. But, oh, what a difference a week makes – especially when it’s against the hapless Texans. Dallas (and T.O.) started out VERY slow, with the Texans looking like the better team at halftime, but the second half T.O. snags 3 TDs, he’s smiling, he’s loving Bledsoe, he’s loving Parcells, he’s loving the media, and most importantly loving himself more than ever.
This week we really get to see if T.O. and the Cowboys offense have really turned the corner and made nice. They go up against NFC rivals, the New York Giants – and this will be the perfect test for them. The Giants always play Dallas tough, so the Cowboys can’t slack, but the Giants D is soft this year. They’re giving up 320 yards a game, and 21 points or so a contest – numbers that the Cowboys should be able to exploit IF they really are back on track. If they stumble here though, then stick a fork in them – the NFC East is just too tough, and more than that, it will just re-summon the ‘evil’ T.O., which isn’t going to help the Cowboys one bit.
For the Giants part, Eli Manning, Tiki Barber, and the Giants offense is what’s keeping them in the race right now. Dallas’ D is no slouch, so the Gi’nts are going to need all of their offensive stars to step up. That is easier said than done, especially on the road in Dallas. But if they can’t get up for this game, then this will begin the Giants fade into obscurity for this season. Thankfully, with the #2 offense in the league right now, second only to Philly, Eli Manning has the weapons around him to look good again, even when he throws off his back foot 4 or 5 times a game.
We’d like to tell you that the game cameras won’t be focused on T.O. the entire game, but we’d be lying. When coaches start getting fired instead of the players who mouthed off to them… well, that’s just what the NFL has become. And, in spite of the public’s lip-service that they hate antics like T.O.’s, they’ve proven they are OK with almost any behavior… as long as the team is winning. Everyone wants to watch this one to be ready to cheer T.O. as hero, or damn him as goat – and who would we be if we didn’t point you to the circus tent this Monday night?