GAMES EVEN YOUR MOMMA WOULD WATCH
At least once a season, there is one schedule of games that feature competitions between high-caliber, playoff-bound teams. These games will strongly define the mid-and late-season favorites. What's more, that same schedule treats viewers to second-tier, x-factor squads who few prognosticators picked to be in the running. These surprise teams are capable of making the kind of noise that warrants attention by the first-tier teams. Then there are games between marginal franchises, desparately hoping to avoid that fifth and playoff-hope-crushing loss.
Folks, Sunday's games will have all this and more. I'll start with what I estimate to be the Must See Game o' the Week and continue the list in descending order of importance.
(Who needs baseball? World Series, shmorld series. Gimme the NFL. Now that I think of Major League Baseball, shouldn't overseas teams be brought in to play in this "world" series? Why aren't Olympians called "world champions" if they actually best competitors from the rest of the planet? Now we know this doesn't apply to American rules football; the Rhine Fire and Cologne Centurions would get decimated by the "world champion" Patriots. I was just wondering. And digressing.)
Speaking of Brady and company, they headline this week's first Game Even Your Momma Would Watch...
New England (6-0) at Pittsburgh (5-1)
If there's one game clearly not to miss, it's this Clash of the AFC Titans. The Steelers step into this game, having had an extra week to watch game film of New England. Sure, the New York Jets had the same luxury and lost, but I feel better about Pitt's chances. The Steelers, on a four game winning streak, look to be one of the few teams balanced and talented enought to knock the Patriots from their ridiculous 21-game winning streak. I like their running game behind Duce "Philly Who?" Staley and Jerome "1st and Goal" Bettis, their receiving corps of Plaxico "Don't Laugh, it's What Mom Named Me" Burress and Hines "57" Ward. Most of all, Big Ben Roethliswigginberger looks to be solid gold. He has the smarts to hit hot reads, the accuracy to go long if necessary, and the strength to break defensive line arm tackles. And then there's the 6th-ranked Pittsburgh defense, one of the least-penalized in the NFL. I think they can produce some three-and-outs by stopping Patriots running back Corey Dillon and pressuring their Handsome Boy quarterback Tom Brady.
That said, I'm picking New England. C'mon, can you ever bet against a team that hasn't lost since Jimmy Carter was in office? Herman Edwards, Jets coach, expressed this week that it was his team's errors that brought the loss against the Patrios. Funny, that was the same thing Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy remarked following his team's defeat in this season's opening game. Pittsburgh will lose because, at some critical juncture you will make a mistake (be it missing a wide-open receiver on your team's last play like Jets QB Chad Pennington or fumbling like Colts RB Edgerrin James at the goal line). Hey, it might be a sack and fumble by Big Ben, it may be as "insignificant" as an easy touchdown pass dropped. This Patriot team doesn't blow opponents out of the water. They don't have to. They just hand you the rope and let you hang yourself.
To further the pressure on the Steelers, they have to win Sunday to stay a step ahead in the AFC North from a lil' team from the City of Crabcakes...
Baltimore (4-2) at Philadelphia (6-0)
For sheer entertainment value, this game can't be topped. On one stage, for one contest, you get all this:
1. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense vs. McNabb, Owens, and the Eagles offense
2. Kyle Boller, with no Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, or left tackle Jonathan Ogden vs. the Javon Kearse and the Eagles defense (minus Brian Westbrook)
3. A really good 4-2 team vs. an undefeated, Super Bowl favorite 6-0 team.
Only this Sunday game provides one of the stingiest, opportunistic defenses challenged by an multifaceted offense; then on alternate series you can watch a completely anemic quarterback attempt to complete passes against a defense earning 23 sacks this season.
And then there's Ray Lewis vs. Terrell Owens. Sure, the odds of T.O. going across the middle, into Ray's Gonna Hit You territory are slim, but the mere idea of it happening is enough to keep even your momma glued to the screen. Surely somebody's going to get barkin' and shovin', and that's when this could turn into Jimmy Snuka vs. Tony Atlas. (Yes, I'm dating myself with that reference.) If I'm Terrell Owens, I take a moment to watch Laveranues Coles get pasted by Sir Ray on Monday Night Football on a crossing route and imagine how long Coles felt that hit.. With Owens' recent anti-Ravens comments, on top of his public disdain with playing in Baltimore, I suspect Owens should be on the lookout for his personal safety.
The strange thing about Terrell Owens is that hardly anyone outside of teammates like him, and coaches gameplan defenses agaisnt him, yet for this season, no one can stop him from getting open. And with "Chunky Soup" Mc Nabb more accurate than ever, the balls are getting to T.O. when and how they should. The results are dramatic. Sports Illustrated just dedicated a whole article to how dangerous this offense has become in one season. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/football/nfl/10/26/bc.fbn.eagles.bigplays.ap/index.html
For the Ravens, I really don't know how they win this game without offensive points. Chester Taylor at running back isn't bad, but in Buffalo he didn't remind anyone of Jailbait Lewis. Less than 100 yards through the air won't cut it against the high-scoring Eagles offense. I'd be happy to entertain any theories on what Boller and the boys can effectively do to win this game.
Another aside: Am I reading the NFL news straight? Facing a tough schedule with a marginal-at-best quarterback and without their Pro Bowl running back, the Ravens don't make any waiver pickups at wide receiver? But they bring back who-dat wideout Patrick Johnson? What, Antonio Bryant, Quincy Morgan and Jerry Rice weren't good enough for Baltimore?
The Eagles are the better balanced team (even without injured Brian Westbrook), and woe to the Ravens if their defense doesn't score two touchdowns. The Egos continue undefeated.
Atlanta (5-2) at Denver (5-2)
Talk about two teams looking to right a once-steady ship. The Falcons are coming of a shellacking by Kansas City 56-10, where their league-leading rush defense gave up a record eight touchdowns on the ground. Fantasy Fraud Michael Vick was a pitiful 7 of 21 for a Boller-like 119 yards. Egad.
Denver, on the other hand, fell at home on Monday Night Football to previously one-win Cincinnati, allowing big talkin' wideout Chad Johnson to torch Champ Bailey and the highly ranked Denver defense for 149 yards. Sure, Denver's running game still shines (Reuben Droughns ran for 110), but the offense failed on 9 of 15 3rd down conversions. (And as Madden keeps reminding me on my PlayStation, "3rd downs are a keeper stat!") Jake Plummer didn't perform well either, tossing two interceptions and getting sacked three times.
But in proper perspective, that was just one game. But this Sunday's game is a Must See because, for Denver, a loss to Atlanta and a win by the 4-3 SanDiego SuperChargers (who face the weak Oakland Raiders) tightens the AFC West. The Falcons own the NFC South--for now--so a loss for Atlanta wouldn't be as damaging. But the Atlanta faithful (as well as most fantasy football owners) are wondering what in the name of Steve Bartkowski is wrong with Vick. He went from Mr. Excitement to Mr. Invisible in just one season. We're still waiting to see the now-healthy Vick light up the league as the advanced billing advertised.
I think the Denver defense had an off night, and won't give a repeate performance. Even with the untimely loss of preseason stud Quentin Griffin, Denver avenges the Monday night embarrassment with a win at home by pressuring Vick, who inexpliably remains cemented to the pocket. Get out and run, man! Get me some fantasy points!
Jacksonville (5-2) at Houston (3-3)
Division games = always fun. Yes, I know Houston is a .500 team and seems to annually pique casual fans' interest with a couple of victories only to slip into midseason mediocrity. Consider my interest nonetheless piqued. This game features the favorite preseason pick Jaguars against the upstart Texans. I like this game because it features the top 10 Houston offense, led by David Carr and Andre Johnson against a Jaguars D that (relatively speaking) contained the Indianapolis Colts. I like that Jacksonville manages weekly last-minute wins with a one-legged quarterback. (Leftwich is working hard to become the next Steve McNair.) And it's Houston who, with a win, could go 2-0 in their division and tie Indy for second place in the AFC South. They'd end up a mere one game behind Jacksonville.
The deeper team wins here, and that's the Jaguars. They'll win this one, and begin pulling away with their division lead. Let me add that I like the Texans as a young, hungry team, though I rarely get to see them play. Or it could be a natural reflex from hating that other Texas team.
NFL Season Pass viewers may want to tune in to the Green Bay (3-4) at Washington (2-4), Detroit (4-2) at Dallas (2-4) and Cincinnati (2-4) at Tennessee (2-5) games to see one of these four-loss squads scramble to salvage their season. Cincinnati is in the worst position, having four losses--three of them in their division; Washington isn't much better with 2 losses to Sábado Gigante and the Cowchips. Green Bay has their work cut out for them, with the surprising Detroit Lions in better position for an NFC wild card birth in the NFC North. There's no guarantee that a fifth loss ends the season, but it would take a surprise (bigger than a Ashlee Simpson/Milli Vanilli Karaoke CD) to not fall into the category of NFL Have-Nots. The winners here are Washington, Detoit, and Tennessee. That's right, I said Tennessee.
Rounding out the weekend is the equivalent of Twinkie filler, courtesy games between Arizona (2-4) at Buffalo (1-5), San Francisco (1-5) at Chicago (1-5), the once-mighty Carolina (1-5) at Seattle (3-3), and Oakland (2-5) at San Diego (4-3). Monday Night Football will get some low ratings since it features Miami (1-6) at New York Jets (5-1). Emitt "Ponce DeLeon" Smith and the Cardinals win, while paper champion Seattle pulls out a victory . I also like San Diego and the Jets to win easily.
I won't be able to see most of the above action, as I'll be in attendance at FedEx Field for the Skins/Packers game. If you see anyone on TV with a huge afro and futuristic sunglasses, that's me. I look forward to a good episodes next week of NFL Primetime and Inside the NFL.
What's my pick for the Redskins game? Word on the street is that LaVar Arrington will play, despite reinjuring himself during the bye week. That should make the Skins defense--now ranked #1--all the better against an explosive Packers offense. Did y'all see them humiliate Parcells' boys Sunday? Took their manhood. I had Dallas fans writing me for comfort. Now that's a loss.
Washington wins, 24-21. I know I'm dreaming that the Skins' offense can score 24 points, but the Packers defense has given up the most points in the league, 172, next to the Saints and Raiders (191 and 181 respectively). Surely, surely Portis can run for 100 and Coles can get two touchdowns. And remember what I mentioned last week: if Brunell screws up, put in Patrick Ramsey.