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.
Tampa Bay @ New England
Saturday 12/17, 1:30 – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
It’s the most wonderful time……of the year. Pro football is back on Saturdays, to the consternation of wives and girlfriends everywhere. What would a games to watch column be if it didn’t remind you to make sure your tail is on the couch this Saturday for a couple NFL games? The first game on the docket is an unusual Bucs-Pats match-up, as Tampa Bay (9-4) travels north to face New England (8-5), and in the winter no less. The Bucs should be lucky as the “wintry mix” set to nail Massachusetts should be long gone by game time on Saturday, although the 40 degree temperature won’t please the south Floridians. Let me say here that “wintry mix” is the worst possible weather for just about anything. Snow is fine because it’s light, rain is fine because it’s not icy. Wintry mix is slippery, heavy, wet, and miserable – no doubt it is the invention of The Snow Miser.
As for the game, we’re hearing a lot of nonsense about the Pats “being back” and how that crafty Bill Belichick tricked everyone by resting his nicked up starters so that they can spring their mojo on the AFC in the playoffs. “An entire legion of my best troops awaits them,” Belichick smirks as he holds his entire RB unit out of practice, “I’m afraid Corey Dillon will be quite operational by the time the Jacksonville Jaguars arrive!” Have we gone so completely ga-ga for Belichick’s magic dust that we ignore the facts?
1. The Patriots haven’t beaten a team with a winning record in over two months, and only once all season if you discount the Matt Schaub Falcons they squeaked by on October 9th.
2. Their defense is still absolutely dreadful, one of the worst 5 units in the league.
3. The only reason they’ve clinched a playoff spot is by being in the worst division in the NFL, a division without a single NFL-caliber QB except for Tom Brady.
Peter King, whose Monday Morning QB column is equal parts enjoyable and frustrating, went so far as to rank the Patriots 3rd in his power rankings this week. Peter, the Patriots aren’t one of the 10 best teams in the league.
On the other hand, Tampa Bay is coming off a big win against Carolina last week and finds themselves in the NFC South catbird seat. Normally I’d say that the Bucs would crush the Patriots – except that the weather will be cold and the still-inexperienced Chris Simms will be lining up under center. If there’s one thing Belichick has made a career out of doing, it’s scaring the crap out of green QBs. JP Losman didn’t stand a chance last week, and you can bet that Simms will be feeling pressure all day long. The key to this game is how Jon Gruden outlines his offensive game plan to protect his QB. Cadillac Williams should be able to run all over the soft Patriots run defense, and that can cool off the Patriots pass rush and/or set up some deep balls to Joey Galloway. Of course, I could have said the same thing about Willis McGahee last week, so what do I know? Well, I know that the Bucs defense doesn’t rot like the Bills defense, so the Patriots won’t be controlling the ball for 42 minutes again this week – Williams should have plenty of opportunities.
You’ll want to tune in to this game to hear the announcers highlight the Patriots injury problems and gush over how they’ve battled through adversity, and Brady is such a great leader, and blah blah blah. You’ll kick off a nice, long football weekend laughing at grown men exaggerating a 16-3 win over the New York Jets.
Kansas City @ New York Giants
Saturday 12/17, 5:00 – Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Suh – suh – suh – Saturday naaahight!
Suh – suh – suh – Saturday naaahight!
With apologies to the Bay City Rollers, we’re kicking off our evening match-up with the Chiefs (8-5) headed to New Jersey to face the Giants (9-4). One of either KC or San Diego is going to get jobbed for a playoff spot this year thanks to a tough schedule that features the resurgent NFC East and the tough AFC West. Both of them even had to play the Eagles with McNabb and Owens still in the lineup. Meanwhile, the Giants, who are in the same division as the Eagles, got to play a Philly team featuring the offensive stylings of Mike McMahon and Billy McMullen, the QB/WR equivalent of a dinner at McDonalds.
If there’s one person in the NFL who’s going to cry about having a tough schedule it will be Dick Vermeil, mostly because that’s his wont. Last week’s game against Dallas must have been a 3-box weep-fest on the trip back to KC because the Chiefs wasted another monster game from Larry Johnson in a week where both of their wild card competitors lost. I’m tearing up just writing that. Normally we’d expect the sledding to be a little tougher against a stout Giants defense in the cold northeast on Sunday evening. But it will be interesting to see if the loss of LB Antonio Pierce and DT William Joseph will hinder the G-men in their attempt to keep LJ from racking up a 7th straight 100-yard game. Plus, without Pierce I would expect the Chiefs to use Tony Gonzalez down the middle a bit more. Simply put, the Chiefs must have this game to keep their playoff hopes alive. Jacksonville and Pittsburgh are going to practically waltz into the playoffs with their ridiculously easy schedules down the stretch while KC gets San Diego next week and Cincinnati in week 17. Just in case the Chiefs lose, look into picking up some KMB or PG stock, there may be a run on tissues.
This is a big game for Eli Manning. The story on talk radio this week has been whether or not Manning has the mojo necessary to lead the Giants to the super bowl. Last week against Philadelphia he nearly single-handedly blew the game with a couple of late interceptions, giving him 15 picks on the year, giving the lowly Eagles a comeback that took the game into overtime, and giving New York fans a serious case of agita. He’s going to have to get that nonsense under control if the Giants are going to make a championship run, and the sooner the better with the Cowboys nipping at their heels in the NFC East. The Chiefs cannot stop the deep pass, will this be the week that Jonathan Carter or David Tyree becomes the deep threat New York fans dreamed of during the pre-season? Carter dropped a 50-yarder against the Seahawks after Manning dropped it right into his bread basket in stride. Hey guy, your QB is on the ropes here, how about not going stone hands on him? One must assume that Plaxico Burress will also have his way with the Chiefs secondary, which is good because Manning’s pocket presence follows a simple algorithm:
If (pressure) then
Here’s an interesting sub-plot: In last week’s game the Eagles tried to ice Jay Feely in overtime by playing the kicker’s missed FG attempts against Seattle on the jumbotron. Tiki Barber made a snide comment about things like that only happening in Philadelphia. That may be true, but I hope we get to find out on Saturday if Lawrence Tynes gets a late FG opportunity this week after botching a 41-yard game tying kick against Dallas last week. I’d love for that kind of production to become the norm for jumbotron operators – seriously, these poor guys sit up there playing highlights and birthday announcements all game long, let them have some fun.
San Diego @ Indianapolis
Sunday 12/18, 1:00 – RCA Dome, Indianapolis, IN
The Chargers (8-5) are absolutely kicking themselves for blowing a game to the Dolphins last week, especially considering that their schedule from here on out involves these Colts (13-0) followed by Kansas City and Denver. Let’s just say that Pittsburgh’s schedule against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Detroit is a little less difficult. San Diego is in a very tough spot here. The Colts really look impressive, combining a balanced, powerful offense with a high motor defense, especially on the fast track in the RCA dome. Peyton Manning’s low output to start the season is a distant memory now; the last time the Colts failed to score 26 points was September 25th. To make matters worse, the Chargers defense is a bit, ah, friendly towards wide receivers and the Colts have a couple of fine wideouts in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. The question on everyone’s minds is whether or not Tony Dungy will rest his starters now that Indy has the AFC locked up, or whether Dungy will play his starters in pursuit of the first perfect NFL season in 33 years. I expect that Dungy will play Manning, Edgerrin James, and the other marquee names for most of the game, especially against a pretty good team in San Diego. But should the Colts jump out to a big lead you’ll be seeing a whole bunch of Jim Sorgi, so make sure you turn on the TV promptly at 1:00.
The biggest problem for San Diego’s offense is going to be sticking with the LaDainian Tomlinson game plan. I have to expect that Manning is going to light up the Chargers secondary early and often, will the Chargers have the patience to keep pounding LT if they’re down by 14 points? Or better yet for San Diego fans (and LT fantasy owners), will the Chargers be able to get LT going early enough that they are able to keep Manning and the Colts off the field? If there is one area where the Colts ARE below average, it’s their rush defense. So we may be seeing a whole lot of Marty-ball if the Chargers defense can rise to the occasion and put the screws to Indy early enough.
Another interesting sub-plot: In the pre-season there was a lot of talk in the shark tank forums about whether Manning or Tomlinson should be the first pick in the draft. Any fantasy player who considers himself a “shark” would take Tomlinson, and there really shouldn’t be a discussion about it. But that doesn’t mean we can take a trip down memory lane this week when both of these players meet in the same game. It must be frustrating for LT owners to know that he’s carrying their team all season only to run into a tough match-up like Indy during the fantasy playoffs. Yeah, I’m really crying in my beer for you guys.