As I begin the Week Seventeen Installment of the Match-Up Mania, I must apologize. Last week, I failed you. There’s no other way to put it.
If you look in the Week Four edition of the MuM, I commented regarding the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, “If this game is on the week’s docket, it will always be regarded as a game that cannot be missed”. I went on saying that regardless of injury, ” . . .in the past . . . unexpected heroes rose to make a difference “. In my defense, when I wrote this, I thought that former Chicago Bear, Jimmy Clausen was still to be the starter. As it would turn out Ryan Mallet, former Texan, who like Clausen would be one of three quarterbacks to start games for two different teams in 2015, stepped in at the helm in this Week Sixteen faceoff. (The third quarterback on the list being Brandon Weeden, who started in Houston after a brief stent in Dallas)
Not only did this game actually end up competitive with a final score of 20-16, the Ravens, who have suffered more injuries on their roster than there are installments in the Star Wars movie franchise, upset Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The disappointment here for me isn’t that the Steelers may miss the playoffs with 10 wins, it’s that all I had to do was stick to my fundamental belief that I always list Pittsburgh and Baltimore as a game you should glue yourself to a chair and watch and you may have do so.
Much like NFL kickers, especially Josh Scobee who missed two field goal attempts to propel the Ravens past the Steelers in their 1st round of 2015, Don Cheadle should inform me of that I was a disappointment. That I only “had one job to do”. And I am not above criticism . . . I’m officially video chastising myself as I did Scobee:
On to the final regular season MuM of 2015.
Vikings v. Packers
This game is the de facto NFC North Division Championship. I’ve been hinting that this race between Minnesota and Green Bay could come down to this, but the stakes aren’t quite as high as I first thought because the loser will still walk away with a consolation prize in the form of Wild Card spot heading into the tournament.
As in any rematch scenario, what is different leading into this match compared to the original one could hold the key to victory. In this case, the Vikings defense is healthier than they were in the first pairing and have a lot of their stars back in the lineup such as linebacker Anthony Barr, while the Packers have been struggling to put points on the board on offense. Is it injuries on the Cheesehead O-line? Is Rodgers hurt but coping with pain? There’s more conspiracy here than one might find searching for aliens. But one thing that is more factual than photos of Sasquatch is that Aaron Rodgers and the Lords on Lambeau have declined in December despite winning 3-4 games. In light of this, the Vikings victory isn’t a specter as preposterous as the Loch Ness Monster, but rather as real as a one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater.
So while this 2015 incarnation of the Vikings isn’t as good as the similar named squads of the 60s and 70s who made it to 3 Super Bowls, if Minnesota can slow Eddie Lacy and make Rodgers the only dimension on offense while Teddy Bridgewater manages the game as he did against the Bears and Giants over the past two weeks, this will be a thriller to watch.
Jets v. Bills
The Jets situation is very clear. With the Cheifs having clinched the 5th spot after winning nine straight games and the Steelers likely to go to 10-6 since they play the Browns to finish the season, they must beat Buffalo in order to finish the path to the postseason. Despite all that drama on the outcome, the story line thickens the plot even more so. Even with Buffalo mathematically eliminated from the tournament, former New York Head Coach Rex Ryan would love nothing more than to play spoiler for his old team while wearing the headset with a new one. And to the Bills credit, a gaggle of injuries is arguably the only thing keeping his crew home come the playoffs.
Tyrod Taylor has outperformed expectations being the driver to circle wagons at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Sammy Watkins has backed his hyped in demanding getting the ball more. With all the drama that crept up during the season, the Bills, on paper, are never an easy out.
Unfortunately, it could be argued that the worst thing that could have happened to Rex while also making rookie Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles a Coach of the Year candidate is Geno Smith getting punched in the face in the offseason by a teammate and breaking his jaw. The Ryan Fitzpatrick Frenzy is a catalyst that allows all facets of the Jets to easily outperform a vengeance play regardless of how the 1st contest between these foes in 2015 ended.
Texans v. Jags
Among players who are most likely to fear JJ Watt for the rest of their lives, I give you Blake Bortles. Of the five games the two have played against one another, only once did Bortles managed to leave without being sacked by the versatile 99 of the Houston Texans. Now, with nothing to play for, the Jags and their 3rd year gunslinger can only play spoiler with miles of help.
Sure, Allen Robinson and Julius Thomas have done great things catching passes, but I don’t expect them to do all that well when this team will likely use only their front four to stop the run and wait for the pass so Bortles can make enough mistakes to cancel out the production he will get in a single dimension offense. I can some up this game with this quote by the man Watt himself.
Colts v. Titans
I know I said that the Titans wouldn’t make the MuM again this year some time ago, but technically speaking, the contest occurs in 2016. Besides, Tennessee is only in place based on the ten-game parlay that even the most degenerate gambling addict that the Colts need to hit in order to eclipse the House Texans as the AFC South Champion. The good news is that with the Broncos winning Monday night to conclude Week Sixteen, they have one game down. The problem is that several scenarios that are highly unlikely such as Miami beating New England, Cincinnati losing to Baltimore, or Pittsburgh facing a second upset in a row at the hands of Cleveland. Compared to some of those outcomes beating the Titans seems downright reasonable.
In fairness, last time they battled each other, the Titans were a failed two-point conversion away from tying the football game when the clock ran down.
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