This Sunday's Steelers-Bengals matchup is important for a number of reasons: a W would probably put Pittsburgh within a single victory of a playoff-spot; a loss for Cincinnatti would effectively eliminate them from any playoff discussion; our defense could maintain the necessary confidence and edge that will be necessary to compete in Foxboro the following week; and perhaps most importantly, favorable matchups for our offense could potentially allow Pittsburgh to get back on track after multiple sub-par showings in the month of November.
NBC's Sunday Night game is hardly the only intriguing matchup however. In fact, there's a number of games with far greater playoff implications in both conferences.
- Buffalo at Washington
Bunch of things in play here, the most important being that the 'Skins will take to the field for the first time without Sean Taylor as a member of their football team. Joe Gibbs appropriately sent his team home on Monday after hearing the news about Taylor, then did the same on Tuesday when Taylor passed away. Despite the short-week of practice, I'd expect Washington to come out and play their most physical, spirited game of the year. Buffalo experienced a tragedy within their family themselves earlier in the year, when Kevin Everett was lost to a spinal injury. The Bills had a hard time against the Steelers the following week, but I wouldn't be surprised if the 'Skins were able to put together a complete football game this Sunday in Taylor's honor. For one, it looks as if the punk-ass pieces of shit who are guilty of this heinous crime have been arrested and are in police custody. This of course does not signal the end of the case - far from it in fact - but at least the Redskins organization has some preliminary information about the incident and can resume focusing on football as best they can without feeling totally in the dark about what went down last Sunday evening.
Storylines about the Taylor tragedy aside, it's do-or-die for both teams. A victory Sunday would level the Skins' record at .500 before they embark on a 3-game stretch against Chicago, NYG, and Minnesota - three of their competitors for WC spots in the NFC. A loss for Buffalo eliminates them. With Trent Edwards back at QB for the Bills, and Marshawn Lynch out, I'm expecting the Redskins defense to play an incredible game on the defensive side of the ball in honor of their team-leader and over-all best defensive player, Sean Taylor.
- Texans at Titans
For the sake of the Steelers, it'd be nice if Houston could win at Tennessee this Sunday, which would put both the Texans and the Titans at 6-6. After looking like a legit force earlier in the year, the Titans have struggled this past month, especially when Albert Haynesworth hasn't been able to go. The defense got torched last week against Cincinnati, and despite throwing the ball fairly well for the past several weeks, Vince Young is still not getting much help from his WRs and is turning the ball over far too often.
- Browns at Cardinals
This may be the game of the week (unless you're a Colts or Jags fan). Arizona's loss last week left me scratching my head. After consecutive wins against Detroit and Cincinnati, Arizona's defense allowed a pathetic San Francisco offense to march all over them last Sunday. 37 points to a Trent Dilfer-led team...at home! Very, very disappointing stuff for the Cardinals. Here's where new head coach Ken Whisenhunt earns his paycheck though. After missing a fairly game-winning FG, then fumbling away the game in OT, Arizona teams of yesteryear might not be able to recover for the remainder of the season. A win this week however against the surging Browns puts them back in managable shape in both the NFC West, and the NFC Wild Card picture.
Meanwhile, the one thing missing from the Brownies resume is a respectable road victory. Sorry, beating the Ravens this year doesn't count, at least not as much as some might think. By the way, for as well as Cleveland has played, can you believe they yieled 33 points to Baltimore? What's going to happen this week against Arizona? We'll see, there should be plenty of fireworks from both offenses. If Kurt Warner can protect the football, I think Arizona wins this game, and people suddenly become less high on the Browns than they presently are.
- Buccaneers at Saints
Doubt too many of you guys care about this game, but again, huge game in the NFC. I'll leave it at this: Tampa Bay has a chance to go into New Orleans and prove the NFC is not a 2-horse race. New Orleans has a chance to prove they're one of the more dangerous 5-6 teams in NFL history.
- Giants at Bears
I most certainly will not be tuning into this one - I find the Bears abhorrently unwatchable, and no, I will not watch a game to see one player touch the ball 5-6 times - but I am curious to find out whether the Giants are entering one of the tailspins that inevitably creep their way into every Tom Coughlin coached season.
- Lions at Vikings
What the hell, why is all but one pivotal matchup this weekend in the NFC? Ah yes, because there's no bottom feeders, just a massive pool of mediocre teams vying for that 6th spot in the NFC, which should sadly be attainable with 8 wins. Lions are done with a loss this week - it would be their 4th straight with Dallas and road trips to SD and GB still left on the docket. Vikings are...wait, this is a waste of time, neither of these teams have any chance of making noise in the playoffs, even if they do get their ticket punched.
- Jaguars at Colts
I refuse to talk about either of these football teams unless we are playing them. The Steelers get their shot at Jacksonville in several weeks, so we control our own destiny over them for potential playoff seeding. I'll never cheer for Peyton Manning, so I guess go Jags?!?
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