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.
Wow there are some awful games this weekend! Here are 3 games that are 10 times as interesting as the Chicago-Cleveland tussle that fans in those cities will have to sleep through. This might be a good Sunday to re-arrange that sock drawer. All times Eastern:
New England @ Atlanta – Sunday 10/9, 1:00
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
This is literally the only 1:00 game that’s even remotely interesting. Luckily for us we’ve got a couple of subplots in Atlanta that are worth tuning in for. First, New England (2-2) has a lot to answer for after the absolute pounding they took from the Chargers last week. The mainstream press has been crucifying the Patriots – all of a sudden Bill Belichick isn’t a genius, they have too many injuries, and Tom Brady is an overrated system QB who can’t keep from losing his cool. I wouldn’t bury New England just yet – the rest of their division is trying desperately to make the NFC North look competitive. And yet I do have to wonder how their starting QB could allow himself to get baited by the likes of Marty Schottenheimer.
Meanwhile, Atlanta’s starting QB is injured again. The Falcons (3-1) cannot afford to lose Michael Vick for too long, but I’m thinking he’s healthy enough to start on Sunday. Whether or not he finishes the game is another matter entirely. Belichick has literally made a career out of taking QBs out of their element, and the best way to slow Vick down is to beat the stuffing out of him. Still, I have to wonder if the injury-riddled Patriots defense can implement whatever game plan he comes up with. It will be an interesting match-up to see if New England can plug the holes in the run defense that LaDainian Tomlinson blew up last weekend, because Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett will be in full effect.
When the Patriots have the ball, I’ll be watching the activity on the left side of their offensive line, where rookies Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur got thoroughly embarrassed against San Diego. This week they take on Brady Smith and Chad Lavalais on the high motor Falcons defensive line. If Atlanta’s defense does one thing well, it’s rush the passer – look for some tight end help on that side of the line and some Corey Dillon inside rushing to cool their jets. This is a big day for Dillon, who hasn’t been that impressive so far this season – if he can’t get it going on the ground Tom Brady better chill out and change back into Superman or he’s going to get his head taken off.
Philadelphia @ Dallas – Sunday 10/9, 4:15
Texas Stadium, Irving, TX
This game will be an interesting test of how much this match-up has become a rivalry. On paper the Eagles (3-1) should be mopping the floor with the Cowboys (2-2) but Dallas may just get up a little higher for this game. The biggest area where Dallas has to improve their game is in the defensive secondary, where the cornerback play hasn’t gotten much better than last year. If SS Roy Williams doesn’t get his act together and stop cheating on the run then this game is going to be over in a hurry because Eagles QB Donovan McNabb is going to light these guys up. I’ll be watching to see how well uber-rookie Demarcus Ware covers speedy Eagles receivers like LJ Smith and Brian Westbrook. Ware has shown a ton of athletic ability this season but Westbrook is a different player than Ware has seen so far. Also, if Dallas can use their young speed to put some quick pressure on McNabb then the Eagles will dump into slant passes and hitches where Williams can go head hunting.
On the other side of the ball, Julius Jones absolutely must rise to the occasion here. The strength of the Eagles’ defense is in confusing and pressuring the QB, and when the QB is Drew Bledsoe that’s a recipe for disaster. I’ve taken the liberty of editing Drew Bledsoe’s “awareness” rating in my Madden ’06 game, reducing it to 0. Exactly how is it that Drew refuses to check down to his receivers or notice when the pocket is collapsing? The good news for Dallas is that Kansas City showed the league some power running schemes that the Eagles had trouble with early in last week’s game. The bad news is that the Cowboys offensive line has looked really bad so far. It will be interesting to see if the OL can exploit the thin defensive tackle position on Philly’s line – Paul Grasmanis is done for the year again and Darwin Walker may not be able to go. If JJ can get some momentum he’ll wear the Eagles down, force SS Michael Lewis up to help, and let Bledsoe get single coverage downfield. JJ will also be the key to picking up blitzing Eagles like Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins – if he can’t protect Bledsoe it may be Romo-time before long.
The biggest one-on-one subplot is going to be Roy Wiliams against Terrell Owens. Remember that last year in Dallas, Owens beat Williams badly on two separate plays for touchdowns, the second of which had Al Michaels erupting into his microphone “How do you let TO get THAT OPEN!” But later in the season at Philly, Williams had the last laugh as he brutally ended TO’s season with his patented horse collar tackle. I’m interested in seeing how TO reacts to his first big shot from Roy – I guarantee the hit will put Owens in another time zone. And of course there’s always the question of which star TO will decide to celebrate on should he score a touchdown – last year Owens torched the Cowboys for 3 TDs in Big D.
Pittsburgh @ San Diego – Monday 10/10, 9:00
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
This game should go a long way towards determining the balance of power in the AFC. At the end of week 5, Indianapolis will be 5-0 after beating up on rookie Alex Smith and the 49ers. Both the Steelers (2-1) and the Chargers (2-2) need this win to stay with the Colts. Because of the bye week, we have a neat scenario here where both of these teams played their last game against New England. Pittsburgh lost their game but took out both Matt Light and Rodney Harrison, softening up the Patriots for San Diego. Even though the Charges handily defeated New England, since they played a completely different team from Pittsburgh there isn’t much we can learn before the two teams face off on Monday.
The strength of the Steelers offense butts heads against the strength of the Chargers defense – Willie Parker and the return of Duce Staley will test the strong San Diego rush defense early and often. Will Chargers defensive linemen like rookie Luis Castillo be able to get into the backfield against the strong Pittsburgh offensive line? Instead of a rookie at left guard, this week Castillo gets perennial pro bowler Alan Faneca – a big difference. Hines Ward is nursing a sore hammy but says he’ll be ready to play. That’s good news for Ben Roethlisberger because San Diego can be beat through the air – Ward and Antawn Randle-El will need to bring their best games here – I expect to see some successful deep routes from Randle-El. Just hold onto the ball Antawn! Hines Ward reacted like Randle-El tossed him a hand grenade two weeks ago, and the Steelers can’t afford to turn the ball over on amateur plays like that. They’re going to need to score often because the San Diego offense is clicking.
Last week the Chargers decided to finally unleash LaDainian Tomlinson on the NFL, and of course LT responded by gashing the Patriots for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers have been stout against the run this year so this should be a great match-up. One question I’d like to find the answer to is “Who for the Steelers is going to cover Antonio Gates?” Pittsburgh has a great safety in Troy Polamalu, but I think of him more as a run support guy. He also has the worst hair this side of Jimmy Snuka, but that’s only a problem if the Chargers plan to start Roddy Piper, which I haven’t confirmed yet. I have to say that I don’t like this whole mullet situation in football. Over the weekend we saw some poor kid from Michigan St. run back a TD with a raccoon under his helmet. Can somebody please tell these people that they’re on TV? Seriously, I want Sam Ryan to explain to Polamalu that he looks like a tool out there. Anyway, I’m not counting on him being able to cover Gates, which could spell trouble for Pittsburgh.
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