There are some great games on tap this weekend for those of you who are sentimental about the NFL and like tradition and rivalry.
The Chicago Bears take on the Miami Dolphins tonight on Thursday Night Football. Those of you who are old enough will certainly remember the famed December 2, 1985 Monday Night classic when Dan Marino and the Dolphins derailed the unstoppable Bears 46 defense and ruined their perfect season.
One of this year's Super Bowl favorites, the Green Bay Packers, take their show on the road as the Minnesota Vikings will make on last desperate attempt to argue that they are still relevant this year. This NFC North matchup is one of the older, more intense rivalries in the NFL. Forget Brett Favre, Brad Childress and the Vikings circus. They've been playing this home and home series long before either of those two has anything to do with a pigskin. The first game between these two rivals in Green Bay in week 7 was a thrilling 28-24 wing for the Pack ending with us all on the edge of our seats.
The Oakland Raiders travel across the country to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. There are men across America in their 40's and 50's reliving their youths just reading that. You don't need to be old enough to remember the Immaculate Reception, how about the Raiders walking into Heinz field last year in week 13 and sticking a dagger in the collective hears of 61,820 fans as Brad Gradkowski directed the silver and black into the end zone for three 4th quarter touch downs leaving town with a 27-24 victory.
The New York Giants take will take a bus ride down the New Jersey Turnpike to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. You can circle November 20, 1960, the day that Chuck Bednarik leveled Frank Gifford and this rivalry has become only more intense since. With Michael Vick making like Super Man last week and the Giants fresh off being the virgin the Dallas Cowboys decided to sacrifice, this NFC East matchup is for the division lead.
But the matchup I'm looking forward to the most is the Manning vs. Brady. I've lost count how many times these two foes have squared off, my perception is that they seem to play as much as teams in the same division.
Remember earlier in Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts career when they couldn't beat the New England Patriots? Bill Belichick was dropping lineman into coverage, using only two lineman, playing zero coverage, sending now one and using an umbrella blanket, etc. In those game, anything that you could physically do with 11 men on the defensive side of the field the Pats did. In fact, the lessons that Peyton learned in those games probably made him the dynamic player that we know today. You may be able to keep Manning down for a quarter, maybe two, but come the third quarter when he's had time to figure out when you are scheming, not only is he able to beat it, but he knows what new wrinkle you are going to throw at him later in the 4th quarter and he beats that too. Times have sure changed as Manning has now won five of his past six games against the Patriots, and while he doesn't have his usual cast of characters because of injury, you would be a fool to count Manning out as the Patriots don't exactly have the defense they once did either.
Tom Brady appears to be back to 100% from his 2008 injury now. If he's not, opponents are going to have some extraordinarily difficult problems defending the Pats going forward. Last week Brady and Co. put up 39 points on one of the best defenses in the league embarrassing legendary defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and his Pittsburgh Steelers squad.
Assuming the weather isn't awful; I don't think anyone expects much defense in this one, but you can look for defense to ultimately be the difference on this game.
Colts defensive lineman Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have always been a handful, and now the Colts have added rookie Jerry Hughes to the mix too. Bill Belichick even joked that given his age and failing eyesight, it was hard to distinguish them on film because they're just one fast blur across the screen.
"It's kind of scary when they're all that good and they all look the same," Belichick said. "It's a very fast, athletic group and you certainly have to be aware of those guys. They can strip sack you and ruin the game on one play if you're not careful."
Offensive tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer are going to need to play as well as they did against the Steelers for the Patriots to have a chance. They need to give Brady time to deliver the ball, because if he has it, he'll pick the Colts apart just like his counterpart. But it's late in the game where the money is on the line when Freeney and Mathis usually do their damage. As anyone who has watched the many epic Pats-Colts showdowns knows, Freeney has had some pretty good games against Matt Light. And last year, Mathis was a beast from the opposite side.
How many times have we seen a team driving on the Colts at the end of the game to tie or go ahead where Freeney and Mathis, who may have been held in check all night, put the fire out on a big third or fourth down with a sack. Either they have another gear they can go to or the opposing lineman play at a tired fourth quarter speed while they seem to catch a second wind. Whatever the case, Mathis and Freeney have an uncanny ability to put a stamp on the envelope after Peyton Manning provides a winning messages, stuffs it in an envelope, seals and addresses it.
My take: Look for Colts defense to come up big late as another classic between these two rivals gets recorded in the archives.
Either way, these two Hall of Fame QB's aren't getting any younger and who knows how many more of these we will see. Enjoy it while you can, you're going to miss it when it's gone. - Mike Cardano
Mike Cardano is the founder of Around the Horn Baseball & Xtra Point Football.
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