By: Matt Kroeger
This Sunday’s game between the Colts and Pats has me predictably over-the-top excited. I am, SHOCKINGLY, a Colts fan. This is the game you clear you see on the schedule at the beginning of the season and clear your calendar for. It is always a dramatic game, one full of history. The Patriots are our mortal enemies and have been over the course of my lifetime. There are many, many fighting points between the two groups: Manning vs. Brady (the biggie), undefeated seasons, Spygate, passing records, Super Bowl rings, intense playoff games, Marvin Harrison’s inexplicable shooting, injuries (this year at least). What this all boils down to is a serious rivalry between two sports families, a rivalry that leads me to type the following sentences: I hope Brady gets his face smashed into the grass on Sunday. I hope he throws five interceptions and fumbles the ball away another three times. I hope Peyton torches that defense for six TDs…in the first half. I hope Belichick cries. I hope Wes Welker gets his bell rung by our third-string safety. I hope a Pats fan gets arrested for running onto the field only to be dragged off on a stretcher because Jeff Saturday pancakes him. I hope Tony Dungy is positively elated with that creepy smile of his on Sunday Night Football, while Rodney Harrison appears noticeably pissed off, leaving Dan Patrick to clumsily break the tension and awkwardly segue into a commercial break.
Now some might think those statements are horrible. “Why would you wish so much malice on them!” It’s nothing personal (well, sort of). It’s just the nature of sports. It’s a rivalry. That’s what you do. I wouldn’t hold it against Patriots fans if they felt the same way about me, just like I would expect them not to hold those comments against me. We can despise each other’s teams while still respecting the competition. Rivalries are what make sports infinitely more entertaining.
But here’s what I really wanted to get at. No one in the sports media openly shows their personal fandom. Reporters, writers, anchors…none of them have a team. Or at least they don’t show it. Rooting for your team is what makes sports so fun, yet these media types are told to remain completely objective and neutral. I understand the rationality for it, but c’mon! Have an opinion! Instead, they all act like Sports is a Biology textbook that they need to study intently before a final exam. Everything is analytical and watered down. There’s no passion.
I want to know who these guys are cheering for. One thing that makes ESPN writer Bill Simmons so interesting is that he openly admits his fan biases. No one holds it against him because he still retains a fair, objective point of view. In fact, I respect him more. He EMBRACES the fan side of it–something you never see anywhere else. Now, I’m not saying that all media members need to go crazy and channel their inner Lou Holtz by blindly supporting their team at all times (that wouldn’t make you a true fan anyway). I just want to see why you’re watching the game to begin with. I still want all the fair and balanced analysis, but when something great or disappointing or surprising or whatever happens for YOUR team, let’s see some emotion. I don’t think that is too much to ask.
QB: Troy Smith (SF). The former Heisman-winner has put up back-to-back 115+ QB rating games, and more importantly, won both of them. San Franciscans (and Mike Singletary) rejoice! Finally, a competent QB! I had a soft side towards Alex Smith, but when you need to make a change, you need to make a change. I liked the fact that that Troy threw for 356 yards and 1 TD last week on only 28 passes. I like that he is mobile. I like that he is under control (no picks). The Bucs are great against the pass statistically, but I think their record is a little misleading. Six wins against Cleveland, Carolina (twice), Cincy, St. Louis, and Arizona. Those five teams have a combined record of 13-32. They’re hanging tough and shocking the world, but I wouldn’t let my expectations get carried away for them.
Other options: Michael Vick (PHI), Kyle Orton (DEN), Tom Brady (NE)
(Last week: Eli Manning vs. DAL…33-48, 373 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT)
RB: Jamal Charles (KC). Charles sort of slips under the radar sometimes, but he is averaging six yards per carry. That is freaking impressive. And he catches balls out of the backfield. Somehow Charles only has three total touchdowns. He may match that number this week alone against the Cardinals. The Cards are 28th against the run and are just miserable all-around, yet they have three wins and are still in the division race. Remarkable. These guys need to draft a quarterback desperately. But back to Charles: it shocks me that Haley doesn’t give him more opportunities. I guess that’s the downside of a tandem-back strategy.
Other options: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (NE), Cedric Benson (CIN), Felix Jones (DAL)
(Last week: Foster vs. JAC…15 rush, 56 yds, 1 TD)
WR: Greg Jennings (GB). Jennings has been on fire the past four weeks: 25 grabs, 368 yards and 3 TDs. Interestingly, he’s reverted back to elite receiver status only after his teammates went down with injuries. Can we really say that he is elite, then? Regardless, I wrote on Ducks that I felt like this was Favre’s last game as he will either be a) injured, b) benched for poor performance during a blowout, or c) benched for week 12 after a loss that nudges the Vikings out of playoff contention. Either way, I like the Packers’ players’ fantasy odds this week, sort of like a milder version of the Eagles’ performances in week 10.
Other options: Dwayne Bowe (KC, who I owe an apology for doubting earlier in the year), Jacob Tamme (IND), Malcom Floyd (SD)
(Last week: Mike Wallace vs. NE…8 catch, 136 yds, 2 TD)
QB: Jay Cutler (CHI). Dolphins are sixth against the pass and are at home, plus Cutler is unpredictable. And don’t think that o-line fixed itself in two games; the Bears played the Bills and Vikings, both of which are bad teams. So there.
Other candidates: Peyton Manning (IND), Brett Favre (MIN), David Garrard (JAC)
(Last week: Flacco vs. ATL…22-34, 215 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT)
RB: Rashard Mendenall (PIT). This is a major blow to my fantasy team. Ben Roethlisberger is single-handedly crippling my team, and he isn’t even on it. I was afraid this would happen. The Steelers looked like a dominant team before he got there. They ran the ball, and they ran it WELL. Mendenhall was piling up yardage, and the team was controlling the ball. They went 3-1 pre-Ben, and probably should’ve gone undefeated.
Now? The Steelers have gone 3-2 since Ben’s return, but they lucked into the Dolphins win. Still, Mendenhall is slowly being fazed out of the offense; Ben is the primary focus on offense now. After a brutal loss to the Patriots, my question is: why not stick with what works? Run the ball. Instead, Tomlin is channeling his inner-Wade Philips and allowing the quarterback to overshadow a successful running game. Sucks for me.
Other candidates: Ronnie Brown (MIA), Matt Forte (CHI), Brandon Jackson (GB)
(Last week: Gore vs. STL…22 rush, 87 yds, 1 TD, 3 catch, 67 yds)
WR: Mike Williams (SEA). What a great story…that I have to sour. I love that he has reincarnated himself in Seattle under his college coach and worked his way back on the field in a big way. Eleven catches for 145 yards last week is nothing to scoff at. The problem I have with Williams, though, is that he has had three great games this season, but the other six have been HORRIBLE showings (look it up). He is inconsistent. Whether that inconsistency is a result of Hasselbeck’s play or not doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t a steady fantasy option. Plus, those three breakout games came against crappy defenses (Arizona twice and Chicago). I think the Saints are going to shut him down again this week.
Other options: Pierre “Slippery Fingers” Garcon (IND), Kevin Walter (HOU), Roddy White (ATL)
(Last week: Santana Moss vs. PHI…3 catch, 28 yds)