Fantasy Football is, for all intents and purposes, over for the 2004 season. Scant few teams remain, and those that do are the crï¿½me de la crï¿½me or the lucky ones. This week will resolve most fantasy league championships, as owners look back on the hurrahs and faux pasï¿½ of the season that is all but history.
Keeper leagues will begin determining who their hold over players will be, and redraft leagues will be tossed aside, bitter memories for some, sweat sensations for others. For all football fans, the end of fantasy season means the beginning of playoff season, where the process is repeated once more, only this time for real.
With two weeks left in the regular season, the NFL still has numerous questions to answer before the playoff brackets are set. In the AFC there is a dogfight amongst four teams for one final wild card spot. The New York Jets control their destiny, needing only a win to lock in the other wildcard spot. The Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Colts all need a series of events to occur to slip into the final wildcard spot and a shot at postseason glory.
This has been a season of record-breaking streaks. It began with the Patriots, who set an NFL record for consecutive wins going back to the 2003 season. Ben Roethlisberger has carried the streakerï¿½s torch for the Steelers, setting a rookie record for wins to start a career that is still counting at twelve. San Diego has won eight straight and suddenly Drew Brees is ensconced as the quarterback instead of just holding a spot for Phillip Rivers.
The Indianapolis Colts are on a seven game tear, with Peyton Manning nearing a feat few thought would occurï¿½breaking Dan Marinoï¿½s single season touchdown pass record of 48. Manning has slowed recently, but needs only one touchdown pass this week against San Diego to tie the record. Two touchdown passes and heï¿½ll hold the record all by himself. The Chargerï¿½s and Marty Schottenheimer are determined not to be a footnote in that historical marker. If they are, it is likely theyï¿½ll lose the game as well. You know what that means, donï¿½t you? It makes this game the
Great White Shark Game of the Week ï¿½ San Diego Chargers @ Indianapolis Colts
Sunday. December 26th @ 1PM ET on CBS
This game becomes the tale of two quarterbacks. One, Peyton Manning, already has a bust being cast and a place being made in Canton, Ohio. This season he is almost certain to break a record many thought untouchable. Manning also leads the NFL this season as the top rated starting quarterback, and is the only one in the NFL to calls his own plays and audibles.
The Colts quest for greatness is reminiscent of the Dolphins of the 80ï¿½s and 90ï¿½s. Led by prolific passer Marino, the Dolphins could never quite get over the hump and win a Super Bowl. Manning is determined not to be another side note, ala Marino, Fouts, Tarkington et al. Coach Tony Dungy has the Colts defense coming around, and whoever wins this battle gains the third seed and an outside shot at a bye week in the AFC bracket.
San Diego is again playing the role of Cinderella, although the Buffalo Bills would like to go from understudy to starring role. The Chargers began the season with expectations of grooming Phillip Rivers for the starting quarterback position. Someone forgot to tell Drew Brees. Almost discarded after being benched on several occasions last year, Brees has come into his own, in a big way and at just the right time. Brees is the second-highest rated passer in the AFC behind Manning and tied with Donovan McNabb for third best of starters in the NFL. Brees has completed over 65% of his pass attempts for 24 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions, and brings the Chargers into the RCA dome on an eight-game roll.
Shark Sighting ï¿½ Although most of the attention will be on the matchup at quarterback, the game may very well hinge on two of the best runningbacks in the NFL with San Diegoï¿½s Tomlinson and the Coltsï¿½ Edgerrin James. James is the second leading rusher behind Curtis Martin and part of a balanced offense that averages 36.9 points per game. Tomlinson has battled through painful hamstring injuries early in the season and is healthy just when the Chargers need him most. The Chargers defense is one of the stingiest against the run, but donï¿½t expect a low scoring affair.
Whale of a Game ï¿½ New England Patriots @ New York Jets
Sunday, December 26th @ 4pm ET on CBS
Just one week ago the New England Patriots had all but locked up the second seed in the AFC and a first round bye. That spot is in jeopardy after a loss to lowly Miami in the Monday Night Football game. The Patriots need to regroup this week, but the New York Jets arenï¿½t going to make it easy in their house. The Jets need a victory this week to clinch a wildcard spot and a berth in the playoffs, and there is no team theyï¿½d rather clinch against than division rival New England. Curtis Martin, making good on his promise of a 1500-yard rushing season, leads the NFL with 1511 yards and has added 12 touchdowns so far. Throw an improved Jets defense into the mix and a hostile Meadowlands crowd and the Patriots have their work cut out for them.
In the Patriots defense, they were probably looking past the lowly Dolphins to this key AFC matchup. Corey Dillon, who is five yards shy of breaking his own career rushing mark and also has 12 touchdowns, leads the Patriots. Field General Tom Brady is still one of the top clutch passers in the game, and the patchwork New England defense will look to shore things up after allowing the Dolphins back into the game last week.
Shark Sighting ï¿½ Donï¿½t expect another poor outing from Tom Brady, who matched a career-worst four interceptions last week against Miami, including one in the final three minutes that set up a score and eventual win for the Dolphins. Neither should you expect a high-scoring game however, as the blustery cold winter will affect the passing game.
Another Whale of a Game Baltimore Raven @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, December 26th at 1PM ET on CBS
Dï¿½jï¿½ vu comes to down for Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the form of the Baltimore Ravens. Roethlisberger began his career in Baltimore against the Ravens when then starter Tommy Maddox was knocked out of the game by the Raven defense. That was the last time the Steelers lost, and we all know what streak began the following week.
The Ravens are in desperate need of a win to remain in the playoff hunt, but face a Pittsburgh team that has revenge on its mind and a first round bye within its grasp. Although the Ravens have won seven of their last twelve road games, they have never beaten the Steelers twice in the same season. Todd Heap is back and Kyle Boller seems to be improving, but the Ravens will be without star running back Jamal Lewis, who is out with an ankle sprain suffered in Baltimoreï¿½s 30-10 win against Dallas.
Shark Sighting – Jerome Bettis will continue to fill in for the injured Duce Staley. Bettis has had a stellar season in relief of Staley, rushing for 824 yards and 13 touchdowns. The aging Bus continues to roll and could be the difference in this bitter battle between AFC rivals.