Never mind that the No. 1 seed is at stake, with the winner of this game likely to win out, take their first-round bye, and get to play at home until the Super Bowl.
Don't concern yourself with seeing whether or not the Titans can plug the hole left by the enormous Albert Haynesworth.
Don't bother watching the matchup between two cagey veteran quarterbacks, who both have a solid reputation as excellent game managers.
No, the marque matchup this week will be down field, between the linebackers and the end zone.
I'm talking about Hines Ward vs. Cortland Finnegan. the Smile vs. the Smile Junior. Trash and Smash.
Ward, already well known in football circles as one of—if not THE—most physical receivers in the game, meets his understudy on the defensive side of the ball: at 5'10 " and 188 pounds, Finnegan brings the wood on every play and is rapidly building a reputation as a cornerback who cannot be ignored.
“He’s a great player, there’s no question,” Ward said. “He brings a lot of attitude towards the game and he’s a Pro Bowl player, which is well deserved. It’s just going to be another match-up, another challenge for us receivers as we step out on the field.”
But Ward is no slouch; at 6"0" and 205lbs, he plays the game MUCH bigger. Forget where he is on the field, and you will quickly find yourself earning a lesson in physics and gravity.
“With Hines, you’ve definitely got to keep your head on a swivel. He’s going to come after you,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “He’s physical when he has the ball, and he’s physical without the ball.
"He’s the type of football player you would want on your team. He’s gonna bring it, talk the talk and walk the walk and try and take people out. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
No doubt, then, that Finnegan is eager to test himself against arguably the most complete receiver in the game.
“We’ve got to bring our big-boy pads this week," Finnegan said. "They’re a really good football team. Hines Ward, for myself, that’s something I really look forward to. He’s a great receiver.”
Finnegan is so looking forward to the matchup that he plans on seeking Ward out prior to the game to introduce himself and chew the fat a little bit, apparently to ensure that Ward knows who he is come game time.
When asked about the potential matchup of these two hard hitters, Bulluck replied, “I think that Cort has a good sense of how to keep himself in control, because if you thought Derrick Mason was a handful, Hines Ward will definitely give you everything that you want,”...
“I think Cortland is aware of that and he’ll be prepared for that matchup on Sunday. As feisty or whatever you guys think Cortland is, Hines is times 10.”
Bulluck is referring, of course, to the personal foul penalties Finnegan incurred earlier in the season against Baltimore, when he was flagged twice for jaw-jacking with Derrick Mason, a former Titan. Bulluck was even seen shoving Finnegan away from one of the altercations in an attempt to keep it from escalating any further.
For his part, Finnegan has no plans to change a thing.
“I don’t know. We’ll see on Sunday. I would assume it’s going to be all you can eat on words and definitely on play,” Finnegan said. “I guess it’s going to be a fun time. He’s definitely a great player I look up to. So it’s going to be fun for the both of us.”
Depends on what your definition of fun is, Cortland. If bumps, bruises, and three days of rehab are your idea of fun, then this is sure to be a hoot.
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