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:
Kansas City @ St. Louis – Sunday 11/5, 1:00pm
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
In the great vineyard of NFL games, many vines are rotting away this week with the bad match-ups the scheduler has us slated to see. But we manage to weed through the raisins and come up with a few sweet grapes for everyone to enjoy. So let’s start with our first good contest this weekend, the Chiefs vs. the Rams.
The Rams are the Chardonnay of this game, as quick on the field as the wine is on the palate. They sport an aerial attack ranked #4 in the NFL, and the ability to put points on the board as the #9 scoring offense. But it’s not surprising, really. With players like Marc Bulger, Tory Holt, and a resurgent Issac Bruce, the Rams can move the ball quickly and can pose a number of headaches for opposing defenses. Holt stands alone atop the WR scoring chart with 7 TDs already this season, but he’ll have to look as sharp as he has all season to put up solid numbers as he has to face the #7 defense. But with help like Bulger, who has almost thrown for 2,000 yards already this season, and Issac Bruce who after an injury plagued 2005, has bounced back with solid numbers through 7 games – so much so that he is only 4 catches behind his entire 2005 total. And while Kansas City’s defense is a concern, the Rams are just the team who can move the ball on them, no matter what their defense is ranked.
The Chiefs are the Merlot of the match-up, as full-bodied and smooth as the wine is. ‘Full-bodied’, because they have one of the NFL’s toughest RBs, Larry Johnson pounding the ball at opponents. With 172 carries, LJ is the second most worked RB in the entire NFL – and he’s paying dividends with 8 TDs so far and a solid 644 yards. And almost no QB is as smooth as Damon Huard has been since taking over for the injured Trent Green. Huard now sports one of only 3 QB ratings above 100 in the league, with only the previously mentioned Bulger, and the Eagles McNabb ahead of him. And look for more success for the Chief’s big guns against a St. Louis D that ranks an abysmal #27 against the run, and a not-much-better #21 against the pass.
Like fine wines, both these teams are slowly aging into solid teams this season. They both find themselves at 4-3, but right in the thick of it in their respective divisions. The Rams are tied with a struggling Seattle team in the NFC West, and the Chiefs are only a game behind San Diego and Denver in the AFC West. The game is really a must-win for Kansas City who is really struggling to try and stay in the hunt for a playoff berth against their tough divisional opponents; while the Rams are a little luckier in that they don’t face divisional opponents nearly as talented.
Well, like any fine wine, be it Chardonnay or Merlot, always promises a good finish – and we don’t expect any less from this game.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore – Sunday 11/5, 1:00pm
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Divisional rivalries are always fun match-ups, and the first meeting between the Bengals and the Ravens this year promises to be a good one. This is another of your classic old school / new school contests, pitting the tough defense of Baltimore against the big-play talent of the Cincy offense.
And we say ‘big-play talent’ because the Bengals haven’t quite lived up to their early season expectations in explosiveness. QB Carson Palmer has looked respectable as the #7 ranked passer in terms of both QB rating and passing yardage. WR Chad Johnson has the ability to play as flashy as his gold fronts, but looked a little lack-luster in the early going. He’s come on as of late, and with T.J. Houshmandzadeh playing hot enough that opposing defensives have finally been forced to cover him, that only helps Johnson get back in the swing of things. Rudi Johnson is certainly a talent at RB, too. So why is the Cincy offense only #18 in the league in offensive yardage? Well, they just aren’t getting production from anyone besides their big names really. But not to fear, they still show enough flashes of their big-strike capabilities to rank #11 in scoring in the NFL.
Baltimore is the old-school, punishing defensive squad that makes you want to reach for a bottle of Advil just watching the game, let alone facing them on the gridiron. Baltimore’s #3 overall ranked D is going to give the Bengals O everything it can handle and more. #1 in the NFL against the run, Baltimore promises to make it a long day for Rudi Johnson and Rudi Johnson fantasy owners alike. When a team is only giving up 66 yards a game on the ground, you can bet that the Bengals will be relying on their passing attack to try and break the Ravens secondary. But that’s not a given either, with the Baltimore passing D ranking a respectable #16 and CB Chris McAlister and S Dawan Landry both tied for 2nd on the NFL’s interception list with 3 a piece.
Look – this one is simple. Either Cincy’s offense beats the Ravens defense, or it doesn’t. Either Cincy shows they can take the AFC North away from the punishing Ravens, or they drop back 2 games and give themselves that much bigger a hole to climb out of to challenge for the division title. The winner of this game becomes the early favorite to win the AFC North, and the loser will focus all of their attention on some Thanksgiving revenge. And revenge, unlike turkey with gravy, is a dish best supped cold.
Indianapolis @ New England – Sunday 11/5, 8:15pm
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
The Colts are the cream of the NFL right now, sporting one of the two 7-0 records, and the #2 offense in the league. Payton Manning is no small part of that. He’s #1 in passer rating, #2 in TDs with 15, and only 2 interceptions on the season. But like the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band’s lead singer, Billy Shears, Manning needs a little help from his friends. It’s a goof thing he has friends like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Both in the NFL’s Top 10 WRs, Manning just has to love having these guys around. Harrison is the go-to guy when Manning needs the tough yards, and his 44 receptions and 553 yards, not to mention 3 TDs, proves that he can still get it done. And while teams concentrate on stopping Harrison, Manning’s other buddy Reggie Wayne breaks their backs on the big play. Wayne’s 38 catches have gone for 642 yards (#2 in the NFL) and 5 TDs to boot. The Patriots #11 ranked defense will certainly have its work cut out for it against that crew, especially since their weak spot right now seems to be the pass, managing only a #23 rank against the pass.
Tom Brady and the Pats are no slouches, though. The Patriots have fought their way to a 6-1 record themselves, and Brady has managed to stay near the top of the QB rankings at #8; and with his WRs slow to come around, that’s no small feat. The Pats don’t sport a single WR in the top FORTY, so for Brady to throw for 2 shy of 1600 yards in an amazing accomplishment. Heck, the Pats running game isn’t exactly sporting any studs either. RBs Lawrence Maroney and Corey Dillon are #29, and #33 on the RB list. And neither has above 400 yards yet. For fantasy owners, this offense is a bust, except for Brady. But for and NFL team, they have a bunch of WRs they can spread passes around to, and their two headed running attack is formidable when you add both Maroney and Dillon’s numbers together.
Indy managed to finally break out of their losing ways by beating the Patriots last year en-route to the playoffs. But they have to beat the Pats again to not only stay unbeaten, but hold home field advantage through the playoffs. For their part, the Pats have struggled at times and still managed to put up 6 big wins. And one more tough win against Indy could be their ticket back to AFC dominance.
So call it Colts vs. Pats. Call it Manning vs. Brady. Whatever you call it, we call it one heck of a football game.