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.
Atlanta @ Carolina
Sunday 12/4, 1:00 – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
This NFC South match-up is quickly becoming one of the more interesting rivalries in the NFC, as these two teams are constantly battling for supremacy in the NFC South. The Falcons (7-4) ride into North Carolina with a history of beating down the Panthers (8-3), including winning 9 of their last 10 games against Carolina. Carolina has been unable to contain Michael Vick, including a televised Sunday night game a few years ago when Vick, only one game back from a broken leg, ran for 141 yards and a score on a Panther team bound for the super bowl. In addition, the 2002 Falcons beat the Panthers twice by a combined score of 71-0.
This is the first of two games these teams will play against each other this season, and with only a game separating the two for first place, winning a head-to-head game will go a long way towards deciding who wins the NFC South (tip: it won’t be the Saints). It sure is a nice story to write that the Falcons own the Panthers, but does that really mean anything come Sunday? Carolina comes into the game with a stout defense but a lot of questions on offense, while Atlanta features a good offense but very little defense. Normally this game would point to a low scoring, tough game with a playoff style atmosphere; but unless the Panthers have suddenly figured out a way to stop Vick I’m looking for a bunch of fantasy goodies coming from this game. Carolina should be able to exploit the weak Atlanta defense and Vick will be able to repeatedly fire back, using both his legs and his Crumpler.
Match-up to watch: CAR WR Steve Smith vs. ATL CB DeAngelo Hall – Hall has been trying desperately to establish his reputation as a shut-down corner in the league, but so far the results have been mixed. Here are the raw stats for the opponent’s #1 WR in each Atlanta game this year:
DET/R. Williams: 3-55-1
Will the Delhomme-Smith connection be in full force on Sunday afternoon?
Dallas @ New York Giants
Sunday 12/4, 1:00 – Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
The last time these teams met late in the season with the NFC East division on the line was what, five years ago? The only fantasy players left over from that season are Tiki Barber and Amani Toomer, which goes a long way to explaining why both of these franchises have been only marginal playoff contenders (at best) in recent years. Not so this time, as the Cowboys (7-4) and the Giants (7-4) are controlling the division by taking advantage of Philly’s fall from grace. In a conference where the only alpha male is a Seattle team with a history of laying down in big games, the winner of the Cowboys-Giants game on Sunday has to be considered a legitimate super bowl contender. Not that either team appears to want to go to the super bowl, with recent games plagued by:
· Turnovers – ok, so does the pass to Champ Bailey mean Drew Bledsoe is back to his old habits or can he get this under control before January? Will Eli Manning throw up some more picks in the red zone like the first meeting between these teams? Here’s a tip, Eli, stop backpedaling before closing your eyes and chucking it up.
· Penalties – I watched the Giants-Seattle game last week and I’m almost sure I heard Darryl Johnston tapping calculator keys trying to figure out how many false start penalties got called against New York. Sadly, Tony Siragusa’s attempt to help keep count failed when he ran out of fingers.
· Special Teams – Giants kicker Jay Feely will by “feely-ing” (har har) some heat if he keeps up last week’s endgame problems. Not that TV viewers around the nation didn’t enjoy watching Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan mistakenly celebrate missed field goals…on two different attempts. Of course if Feely was on the Cowboys, Bill Parcells would have cut him on Monday morning. Dallas is on what, their 28th kicker this season? Rumor has it that Parcells was recently seen nodding his head while watching The Garbage Picking, Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon in the film room on Tuesday. Not that we want to get too ahead of ourselves, Bill may have just been appreciating Tony Danza’s distinguished performance.
When they met earlier this season in Dallas, 60 minutes wasn’t long enough to figure out a winner. So expect a late season NFC East smack down, sure to include a lot of violence. In summary, we’ve got: the division on the line, two teams that appear evenly matched, and lots of violence. You are so there.
Interesting side bet: The Battle of the Runnin’ Barbers: I’m sure Dallas fans would love to see them establish any kind of running game but that will be tough against a stingy New York run defense playing at home. Julius Jones looks like he’s still hobbled, leaving Marion Barber to help carry the load, especially in the red zone according to Parcells’ quixotic time-sharing arrangement. Tiki Barber, on the other hand, should be expected to perform nicely against the soft underbelly of the Cowboys defense, and on paper it looks like his fantasy numbers will dominate Marion. Just remember, 100 yards don’t mean a thing if the other RB plunges it in a couple times, and Tiki isn’t exactly a goal line specialist.
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
Sunday 12/4, 1:00 – Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Keeping with the theme of “who woulda thunk it” – when was the last time Cincinnati was this involved in a division race in week 13 of the season? All I know is that the Bengals (8-3) are top dog in an AFC North division ripe for the picking now that the Steelers (7-4) have spent the last two weeks struggling to score points. By all accounts this Bengals team is better than the Steelers this year, but for their one weak spot that plays right into Pittsburgh’s hands (or feet, as it turns out). Run Defense. If there is one team in the league that has the skills and the attitude to exploit a weak run defense, it’s Pittsburgh. Not only do they have a three-headed running situation sure to drive fantasy owners into a hissyfit, they truly enjoy running the ball as often as possible, especially at home in early December. I anticipate that the Bengals’ defense, which has given up 4.5 yards per rush so far this season, will be more than happy to oblige Bill Cowher’s game plan, which will involve more “pounding the rock” than a prison work camp.
This game is huge for Cincinnati. To be blunt, this is a team that has earned its 8 wins by beating up on some pretty weak competition this year. It’s not their fault, you play who the schedule says you play, and the Bengals have looked really good in the process. In particular, Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson have been getting serious press all season long. But each time they’ve had a chance to get some respect by playing a conference game against a team with a winning record (Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis), they’ve walked off the field with a loss. In Week 7 this Steelers team marched into Ohio and racked up 221 rushing yards while beating Cincy down 27-13. So Marvin Lewis has a lot of material for the pre-game pep talk, which is sure to involve a lot of “dey don’t respect us”. But what’s even more precious about this game is that the Bengals can pretty much put away the AFC North with a win. A quick look at the remaining schedule shows even more craptastic teams down the stretch: Cleveland, @Detroit, Buffalo, @Kansas City. Beating the Steelers on Sunday means the Bengals only have to win three of their remaining games to clinch – does any remaining game outside of Missouri even remotely look like a problem?
And now to break out the winter football cliché for the first time this season: “it may be cold in Pittsburgh this weekend, but the heat will definitely be on the Steelers”. This looks like the perfect match-up for Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who can continue to heal is surgically repaired knee while turning around to hand the ball to Jerome Bettis and co. Can they control the clock, keep Palmer off the field, and knot up the AFC North with 4 games to play? It may be their best chance to get into the playoffs this year. A loss would put them at 7-5 and on the outside looking in for the AFC playoffs, with Cincinnati controlling the division and teams like Jacksonville and San Diego looking down from the wild card spots. A win would tie them with Cincinnati and control the division tie-breaker, and their future schedule contains only one difficult game, against Chicago.
Hair Bear: I’m really enjoying the emergence of Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu, but someone really needs to speak to him about that thing on the back of his neck:
1. It looks awful. Just ridiculously awful.
2. It’s disgusting. Who wants somebody else’s nappy hair in their face? It’s like playing shirts and skins with a guy who doesn’t shower.
3. The hair seems to be all anyone wants to talk about, which is a shame because he’s a really good player.
4. It’s not like the whole “long hair sticking out from the back of the helmet” thing is unique. There must be 2 dozen jokers in the league with some sort of wig covering their jersey.
5. It’s only a matter of time before the league puts a stop to this. Seriously, how can a league stop Jake Plummer from modifying his uniform to pay tribute to Pat Tillman, and stop Peyton Manning from wearing black cleats in tribute to Johnny Unitas, yet allow this many defensive backs run around looking like Cousin Itt?
Enough is enough. Polamalu could improve his image AND avoid the inevitable argument with league officials if he just tucked that junk into a hair net.