Friday, November 9, 2007

Five That Matter 11/11/07

Every Friday, Alex and Zac come together and pick the five games that they feel best advance the epic story that is the NFL season, and point out the important football and narrative implications of each game.

Eagles vs. Washington (Whenever Portis feels like putting on his "footbal player" costume)

On paper, this matchup seems meaningless, but I haven’t given up on the Redskins yet. After looking lost following their shaming at the hands of the Patriots (a team that seems to have their hands in every storyline this season), I was pleased to note the return of the Clinton Portis, Interrupted to the Redskins last week, as the delightfully unhinged running back gave a mid week interview as “Choo Choo,” the team dance instructor. Say what you will about Portis and his characters, but there is no back after LT2 and Purple Jesus with a better blend of speed and power. Having played all season with tension (the unfortunate side effect of the defiance of chemistry that I’ve come to respect in the Redskins), perhaps what this team could use most is Portis’s revelation that this is, after all, a game, and games should be fun. If the team can loosen its playbook to allow a cadre of legitimately explosive athletes to find their rhythm, there’s still plenty of time for the Redskins to emerge from their premature graves, still incomprehensibly defiant of traditional definitions of “team,” but now carrying an understanding (thanks to Portis and his many faces) of just how ridiculous those definitions are.

Jaguars vs. Titans (1PM)

Watching the Jaguars at the beginning of the season was a study of precision; watching them now is like watching a car after its been in an accident. The structure of what once was a beautiful machine is still there, but the functionality is all but gone. Somewhere, on a recliner, Byron Leftwich is laughing at what he must feel is karmic payback, as Jack Del Rio’s perfect game manager, David Garrard, has been left on the sidelines thanks to injury, forcing Del Rio to turn to Quinn Gray. If Del Rio expelled Leftwich for refusing to tame the raw power of his arm in order to perfect the Jaguars’ weaponry of attrition, then the coach must be dying as he watches Quinn Gray’s inability to harness his physical gifts for anything other than sheer panic. True, Garrard was nobody’s elite quarterback, but he played such a focused, mistake-free game that teams who gave him an opening were made to pay. Now, opponents simply stack the box and dare Gray to become a man in front of them, something Gray has refused to do up to this point. Pundits have two wild card teams from the AFC South, but with the Browns playing the kind of offensive football that inspires an entire team, I’m not so certain anymore, and a loss here would all but bury the Jaguars in a grave too deep to escape when Garrard returns.

If the Jaguars have won with rigid consistency, the Titans have done the exact opposite, scraping up victories each week by means and methods unseen the week before. Early on, many thought this team would fail because it lacked explosive playmakers; now they may go to the playoffs because of that supposed “need.” The Titans play with the kind of creativity that can only be found in freedom from the boundaries of having “stars” and “playmakers.” Instead of relying on playmakers, the Titans create them, something they can do thanks to their faith in the best line play this side of the Pats or Colts. On offense, Lendale “Goodburger” White has found his lost step behind Tennessee’s front five, and a defensive line that nobody can pick out of a lineup gives up fewer rush yards than any other unit in football.

As such, this matchup is a meeting of the unconventional, which makes it worthwhile. Given that nobody has been able to stop the juggernaut of the Patriots playing their game, it remains to be seen whether or not either one of these dissimilar styles, each diametrically opposed to the other, could potentially stand in their way. On Sunday, boundless creativity will meet brutal consistency, and the winner will become the “other” of the AFC playoffs.

Colts at Chargers (8:15 PM)

The outcome of this game comes down to three questions:

Gun to your head: Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers?
Gun to your head: Bob Sanders or Shawne Merriman (and his pointy, pointy head)?
Gun to your head: Who'll provide more yards, LT or the Indy o-line?

I don't get the Chargers. I don't get how they can look so good one week, beat the Texans like they stole something and erase a good 15 minutes of Matt Schaub's short-term memory, and then look so awful the next against a Vikings team that a) can't pass b) can't defend the pass and c) has an offense limited to one player (albeit the most dynamic player in football).

Maybe it's all a clever ruse to set up a statement game against the defending Super Bowl Champs.

The Colts need to bounce back from the semi-inexplicable fourth quarter collapse against the Patriots. Forget the excuses—they had that game in hand. If they can't put away the Bolts…well. How are they ever going to beat the Pats in the AFC Championship game?

Browns at Steelers (10 AM Los Angeles time)

Hooray for the Service Economy Bowl, also known as the race for the AFC North. Seriously? Have two other cities been as screwed by globalization as Cleveland and Pittsburgh?

Why it matters: The Browns are winning. Were it not for a last second time out, spook the kicker missed field goal against the Raiders, they'd be tied with the Steelers for the lead. As someone else has probably noted, this is contrary to the laws of physics. Their defense is terrible, but their offense—the same offense that traded their starting quarterback after an embarrassing Week 1 loss to the Steelers—is putting up massive amounts of points. Derek Anderson (Frankenquarterback) is boosting his free agent value every time he throws down field to Braylon Edwards. He's playing like a man playing for his job, which he is. They beat a lot of crappy teams to get here…but then again so did the Steelers.

The Steelers have looked dominating all season, particularly on defense. It's not hard to look dominating on defense when you're playing the 49ers, and Charlie Frye. This game is the closest they've come to matching up against a fully functional offense and will tell us a lot about how this team matches up with, say offensive juggernauts like the Pats.

Throw in some mutual hatred, a dash of heartwarming underdog, and you've got yourself a game. Oh, and Zac has all our AdSense money riding on the Browns. All $23 of it. Go Browns.

Cowboys vs. Giants (4:15 PM)

Lost in the haze of the mini Super Bowl last week was the fact that there are two \very good teams fighting to stake their claim as the class of the NFC, the “other sister” of football for the past several years. This Sunday, the Cowboys, who are slowly reclaiming their mantle of “America’s Team,” take on the Giants, a team fighting to overcome its own history even as it surges ahead of its competition. Stacked against this unstoppable force of the Dallas offense is the immovable object that has been the Giants defense. There may not be a scarier pass rush in the league, as the team is able to hit from all sides and every point on the field. After two embarrassing weeks early in the season that had everyone declaring the team dead to rights, the Giants seem to have discovered that they have only themselves on which they can rely; everyone else, the fans, the media, their former teammates, stands with teeth bared, ready to tear them to shreds should they fail. In many ways, this unit represents an NFC incarnation of the Patriots and their “me against the world” mentality, making them equal parts unlikable and dangerous to play.

For the Cowboys, this is the last step in their reclamation of the NFC East. Make no mistakes, this offense is still firing on all cylinders, but it is the defense that should garner the most attention this week, particularly with the addition of Tank Johnson, the brutal centerpiece to a 3-4 defense that looks a little more aggressive each week. It was the Cowboys who initially tried to send the Giants into a tailspin by striking them down in week one. A victory here would crush the head of the snake at Dallas’s heel.

The contrasts of this game will be interesting to say the least. The unyielding aggression of the Giants front seven versus the giddy destruction of Marion Barber v.3.0, the quiet consistency of Witten versus the unmitigated joys and rages of Shockey, and the joyful exuberance of Tony Romo versus the long repressed anger of Eli Manning (if there’s a serial killer under center in the league, Eli’s my pick) will all serve as interesting point-counterpoints in a game that will determine which of these teams will be playing in week one of the playoffs.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Is Clinton Portis trying to look like "Miss" Jay from America's Next Top Model? These are the questions America wants answers to, Z.Soto.