It might have taken a little longer during my 3rd campaign of writing the Match-Up Mania, but at some point each season, I have to dust off the “Law of Any Given Sunday” narrative. Going into Week Fourteen and with all the stuff we’ve seen from the fraudulent Falcons taking Atlanta from 5-0 to losing six of the last seven games to the Kansas City Chiefs surging to six straight wins after opening 1-5 and all the little quarterback injury, missed field goal, free play Hail Mary insanity in between I definitely could have broken it out sooner. The Law of Any Given Sunday states that anything can happen on the field to defy critics and quash whatever was meant to be.
The Week Thirteen game between the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the New England Patriots is this axiom made real. 21 points in gifts off of an interception return and special teams blunders by Foxboro’s finest from which Philly managed to walk away victorious where defeat was inevitable. I’ve sounded off that Tom Brady is not the MVP candidate Cam Newtown is several times, but when the dust settled on the 35-28 loss by the Pats and I heard the words “declining Brady” used, and it lowered the bar in my mind for sports analysts in a whole new way. I’m not a Patriots fan, but does no one remember what happened when they lost to the Chiefs 41-14 in 2014 Week Four? Doom was professed and people called Brady done. Then he and his squad went 13-2 with three of those matches being the road through the post season to Super Bowl.
To sum my sentiment up here, I have been critical of Tom Brady in the past. I think he is a more-than capable quarterback in a sophisticated system who has had fantastic support from solid offensive supporting cast and great defenses. I think he gets more credit than he may deserve at times because he’s got that golden boy look and is the one who has the letters QB next to his name on the roster. But I have never been so arrogant as to call him bad — and I’ve definitely never been foolish enough to ever imply that he is “done” or “declining”. And I’m pretty sure that if he or any Bostonian heard you, the reaction would be something like this:
If the Patriots from this point on go to repeat as NFL Champions in Super Bowl XL, you will only have yourself to blame, Tom Brady haters. . . rest assured that I will be blaming you for fueling someone who may very well be the angriest player in football with the motivation to pull it off.
On to the MuM.
Vikings v. Cardinals
The Vikings seem to fail test after test to propel themselves past the Packers for tops in the NFC North. After the loss to Green Bay head-to-head, the Cheeseheads have done their part losing to the Bears to keep Minnesota in the race. But Teddy Bridgewater failing to take the reins passing against Seattle when Adrian Peterson and the running game were neutralized means that now, the Vikings must upset the 2nd best team in the conference to stay atop the division.
Carson Palmer is field general of an offense performing at a level that makes him a longshot candidate for offensive player of the year or possibly MVP honors if people are that ticked off by Cam Newton celebrating touchdowns. And that’s not even mentioning a defense that has reminded us time and again they are not to be trifled with.
I tell the Vikings fans out there that their chances are slim, but it might be best for them to take this attitude to avoid despair.
If they do win this game, that is the kind of galvanization that leads teams to the kind of run that leads to the realization of the impossible dream. But let’s not go crazy here . . . the Cards clean up.
Steelers v. Bengals
This is unquestionably the best contest of the week on paper. With both these teams among the more complete in the league, it’s no surprise that there are seeding implications on both sides. Andy Dalton in his 5th year in the league is having his single best NFL season. Perhaps that’s due to help he and AJ Green have gotten in the passing game from Tyler Eifert doing an amazing job in year three as the tight end. With a solid running committee and an excellent defense, there is no tangible weakness for the Bengals. If they lose, they are likely to beat themselves as evidenced in their 1st of their two losses occurring against the limited Houston Texans. But in this game, they have the opportunity to send to Steelers over the cliff as king of the hill in the AFC North.
OK — so I don’t see the Ginja Ninja shouting out, “THIS IS CINCY!!” but you get the point.
But with Big Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback throwing to what could possibly the best arsenal receiving in his career, excellent run support from DeAngelo Williams and a still-solid defense, it’s not an easy win for the Stripe Hype. It could even be argued that the Steelers would have won the first 2015 contest if Ben didn’t throw 2 late-game interceptions in back-to-back drives.
The Bengals need to keep their record at 2 losses to assure ascension to a first round bye while Pittsburgh is playing catch-up to a streaking Kansas City Chiefs team from storming into the AFC Wild Card race while also trying to fly past the New York Jets.
Colts v. Jags
This game is huge in the confines of the AFC South. The Jags fight to stay alive from a desperation perspective. Not to mention, after Jason Myers missed 2 kicks handing Indianapolis the win last time they met, I have the feeling that the Jags have revenge in mind in a fashion similar to this:
Truth is, the Colts will have a chance to correct last week’s loss to the Steelers with the Texans hosting the Patriots in Houston and likely handing the Colts a 2 game lead with three weeks left.
The X-factor for me is simple. . . Blake Bortles’ ability to manage the game will determine the Jags prospects for victory. If Bortles fumbles the ball or throws an interception more than once, I don’t see a Matt Hasselbeck Colts team making enough mistakes to keep Jacksonville in the game.
Saints v Bucs
I’ve no reason to believe that the Bucs will make the playoffs, but that’s more due to the weak schedule remaining for the Defending Conference Champion Seattle Seahawks who currently hold the 6th spot in the NFC. That being said, rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is doing his part to not only inject himself into the rookie of the year conversation, but keep the saddle strapped on as the ride the dark horse for their
The Saints were close to defeating the undefeated against the Carolina Panthers, but ended up showing that even at half-speed, the Panthers were the better team. The Bucs will be playing hard from minute one and may just put the ‘S’ in sweep and make New Orleans the “Ain’ts” in doing so.
Pats v. Texans
I will be personally attending this game in Houston for one reason alone. As someone who has professed that a JJ Watt man-crush is a requirement to credible NFL fanhood, it’s not a mystery. I wish to see what Watt will do against a Bill Belichick scheme. The Pats’ strategy is always to take away an opponent’s greatest asset and dare you to win another way. While that may mean DeAndre Hopkins won’t have as many catches, how does one slow Watt, let alone stop him. Is it as simple as double teams? Will it be a series of chips from different directions? It will either be trench warfare at its finest or JJ Watt will welcome Tom Brady as a meal that is a change of pace from Thanksgiving leftovers.
Overall, I don’t picture the Texans winning this game, but the first step for an upset would be for Watt and the front seven to wreak havoc in the backfield and force Brady to throw into mistakes. But at the end of the day, Houston would have to score points eventually. . . and that would be their demise.
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