Still trying to get over the U.S. losing out in its bid for El Cupo Worldo 2022. That hurts. Losing to Qatar. Crooked FIFA people. I’m just regurgitating random words I’ve seen in the many reactions already circulating the web. All I know is that Qatar put together one hell of a promo video. I don’t care if we had Bill Clinton or not, these stadiums in Qatar (which I’m sure won’t quite turn out) look pretty bad ass. But, really, how upset can you be about losing out on a soccer game in 12 years?
There’s always futbol americano. Last week we focused on NFC match-ups. Sifting through the NFC’s contenders, and the Falcons emerged as the big winners. The AFC took a bit of a backseat, but this week, if it wasn’t for two marquee AFC divisional games, it might be the worst week of games we’ve seen all year. I struggle to come up with something that could hold my attention. The Eagles game tonight has the potential for some fireworks. I’ve decided to exercise on Sunday instead of watching the early games. In the afternoon, maybe I can talk myself into Colts/Cowboys. Some morbid fascination there. But, other than that, it’s all about the prime time games for week 13.
It starts Sunday night with Baltimore hosting the Steelers for first place in the AFC North. Both teams are 8-3. Unless you are really high on the Chargers, both of these teams are also probably in your AFC top-4. It’s a rematch of an early season game that the Ravens won 17-14 in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger was not yet back for the Steelers, and Charlie Batch was quite gruesome in his stead. The Steelers were right there, though, leading the game into the final minute. While the game is important to both teams, it could mean the difference between a 2 and 5 seed, the Steelers probably need it a bit more because of that early season loss. Some factors…
Roethlisberger is going to have to play well in this one for the Steelers to come out on top. Pittsburgh has been pounding the running game, and I’m sure they’ll try Sunday night, but the Ravens held Mendenhall to 3.2 yards a carry in the first meeting. How much of that was because they weren’t worried about Batch remains to be seen. Pittsburgh has some talent at WR, but they also have some issues in pass protection, so they need to find the right balance. Big Ben has to strike when he has the chance.
Ray Rice where are you? I’m sure someone in your fantasy league has sounded this call, but it was especially true in the first Steelers game. Nine touches for 29 yards. I don’t think any back in the league is going to have consistent success against the Steelers defense, but if Rice could break one or two long gains, it could mean the difference. Fred Jackson’s long TD catch and run against Pittsburgh last week almost turned that game for Buffalo.
Hitting. These games are always close, and the intensity of the rivalry is easy to see. These teams have played some especially violent games in their recent past, and I wonder with the new focus on hitting and head injuries if there will be a slightly different feel to this one. Steelers linebacker James Harrison has now been fined 125,000 dollars this season, but I have a feeling they aren’t going to get him to change his style of play, not against the Ravens.
The other big game doesn’t happen until Monday night, but we’ll talk about it now. If there is a match-up that equals Steelers/Ravens in terms of fan hatred for the opposing side, I imagine Jets/Patriots is well up on the list. The recent history here, Belichick, Mangini, even Danny Woodhead has combined with the Jets’ quick rise to make this a twice a year blockbuster game. Both of these teams sit at 9-2 atop the AFC East. And, like the other game, they met earlier in the season with the Jets coming out on top in the Meadowlands. It’s been the only big game this year where New England didn’t rise to the occasion. Some thoughts…
I’ll borrow this point from JCK. Talking to him yesterday he mentioned the difference in star power for these teams. If you go position by position, the Jets would easily come out on top. After Tom Brady you have to reach to call any Patriot a star, and this kind of anonymous football appears to be where New England is most comfortable. I think it also speaks to the cavernous gap between Sanchez and Brady. Point being, if you have one dominant player, it’s nice when he’s a QB.
The Jets have the glamorous defense here, but the Patriots unit is the one I’d say is facing the pressure. The Jets earlier in the year held Brady to one of his lesser games this season. In recent weeks, Revis has been Revis, and the Jets actually look deserving of some of the hype. It’s unlikely the Pats offense will get into the upper 20s or 30s. And so, their defense is going to have to get some stops. They got run over in the 2nd half of the first meeting and the Jets cruised to a win. With LT and the whole Jets running game looking a little haggard, I’d say the focus is shutting down Edwards and Holmes. No big plays and force Sanchez to be consistently good, don’t let him hit one big play.
Vegas has both these games being basically too close to call. The Ravens get the 3 points for being at home, and the Patriots get and extra 1/2 point, maybe because they seem to be just that much better at home than other teams, but there’s no definitive meaning in the point spread like there is in tonight’s Eagles game*. It’s hard to imagine a sweep in either instance here, and I certainly don’t like the Jets on the road. If I was picking winners I’d take both home teams, but you probably won’t see either of these games in my picks tomorrow.
*Big Dub H is officially taking Philadelphia (-8.5) vs. Houston tonight in Pick ‘Em.