After putting together this NFL Week Four Edition of The Student of the Game’s Match-Up Mania, it has come to my attention that I have had the Chiefs on all my installments thus far. I just wanted to state for the record that I am not a fan of the Kansas City franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I have the respect that any NFL connoisseur would for the organization. The Hunt family, Derrick Thomas, Joe Montana’s 2nd team, Priest Holmes, among others, are all entities that at least indirectly impacted the NFL as I’ve watched it in my lifetime. But as the 2015 season goes so far, there have been significant learning moments where the Arrowhead has been present.
They were there to show us in Week One that the Texans’ offense is completely mediocre while in Week Two they let us know that the Broncos’ defense is dangerous. But in Week Three. . . OK — so they got dominated in that game, but I had least had you there to see the end of the streak for contests without touchdowns to a wide receiver. What I can promise you is that I will not feature them in Week Five. If you look at the schedule ahead of time, you will see why . . . #Bears
Ravens v. Steelers
For those new to reading the MuM, if this game is on the week’s docket, it will always be regarded as a game that cannot be missed. I can appreciate that Ben Roethlisberger’s injury means to some that this meeting’s outcome seems a clear cut Raven victory. But there have been injuries galore leading up to previous pairings in the past and unexpected heroes rose to make a difference. Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch have both been difference makers off the bench for the Steelers, why can’t Michael Vick make an impact as a back-up quarterback for Big Ben here? To that same end, Ravens’ rookies like Torey Smith and Dennis Pitta had their names brought to the forefront via this rivalry making game-changing plays to claw their squad away with a victory.
Who is missing from the lineup in this game doesn’t seem to affect its intense atmosphere. When Pittsburgh paragon Heines Ward retired ,this rivalry wasn’t tamed. When Ray Lewis retired, this rivalry wasn’t tamed. What reason do I have to think that this battle will be any less ferocious with Tory Polamalu retired, Haloti Ngata shipped out, or Terrell Suggs and Roethlisberger missing from action?
Heath Miller at tight end and Antonio Brown at receiver are a great one-two combo for the Steelers. That’s why Vick may have a chance throwing the ball some. Also, the Pittsburgh run game without Maurkice Pouncey on the O-line and Le’Veon Bell or DeAngelo Williams carrying the football has done fantastic things to keep this team balanced so far. For success in life without Big Ben, it must continue to do that and more. Best of all, after hiccups in Week One this Pitt crew is remembering that defense is still a tradition in that town — even without Dick LeBeau coaching. These factors are signs that all may not be lost.
Baltimore still has a Hall of Fame caliber pass catcher in Steve Smith and a formidable run game featuring Justin Forsett. Both players have temperaments to raise not only their own game, but the performance of their teammates around them in tough outings as this. If Joe Flacco can ride this wave of motivation and channel it into more precise passing in big moments, they can regain control of their season and start to right the ship on a course to the post season Cinderella story.
The key here for Baltimore will be to take away the ground attack from the Steelers. This may sound like a difficult task with as solid as the current run game is. Keeping this game from ending quickly and preventing the big plays must happen for the Steelers defense. Flacco can’t be allowed to become the field general he was in the 2013 playoffs — turnover free. If that happens, I see the Steel City leaving this game quite rusted.
Chiefs v. Bengals
Both of these squads are teams mired in speculation. When it comes to the Bengals, all parts of that roster appear as lethal to an opponent as the tigers for which they are named. All parts, of course, except for their red-headed rifler, Andy Dalton. Even with a solid Defense, the awesome AJ Green as a top-flight receiver, and Giovani Bernard as their versatile running back, no one can look past the four consecutive 1st -round playoff exits where Dalton was at the helm. Playing in the AFC North wins no sympathy. Posting 4-0 in the past 4 outings against the rival Ravens wins no sympathy. Even in the regular season with this team playing solid football, there is no belief.
The same can be said for the Cheifs. 1-2 going into this contest, they are an unfortunate fumble away from being 2-1. I have no reason to completely rule out that the King of the Checkdown, Alex Smith, can lead his team to some sort of post season placement this season with the help of their solid defense and underrated all-purpose weapon, Jamaal Charles. Not to mention, their newest weapon Jeremy Maclin managed to do last week what no other Kansas City wide receiver could for 21 previous games — score a touchdown.
I see this as a chess match that will come down to which offense is more successful at being balanced. I’ve concluded that with games before and often said that the team with more running yards will win. But here, the teams with the most success passing will bring home the ‘W’. Since Dalton has the great Green at his disposal, I give Cincy the edge.
Jags vs. Colts
Wait — what just happened here?! Did I really just add the Jacksonville Jaguars to the MuM? I can assure you that the use of any illicit drugs weren’t present in this decision. Some of the decisions that Indy’s Andrew Luck has made with the football in the past three weeks, I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I was one of those guys who was sweating bullets when the rookie field general Marcus Mariota led his Tennessee Titans down the field to get the last-minute six that put them within two points of overtime and making me look foolish having declared, “the Colts will not lose this game”.
Being said, the intense pressure of 0-3 is no longer on the table for the horseshoe-helmeted heroes. That leaves the threat of a lack of urgency against a scrappy Jags squad that dumped the now-exposed pretenders of south Florida, the Miami Dolphins. In light of these circumstances, this games has Star Wars’ Alliance General Admiral Akbar all over it . . . IT’S A TRAP!
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