A pair of tops seeds Clash in Week 16...
Two heavyweight battles made for football and fans alike will commence today, with the two winners likely to be pegged the odds on favorite to represent their respective conference in this season Superbowl finale. New York, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee, four teams that run the ball, play solid defense, and are filled with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Today's matchups will undoubtedly be a treat for all.
The Steelers number one overall ranked defense will be put to a hefty test today facing the Titans running game. The Titans boast the first set of running backs to be tagged 'Smash N Dash' and these two have yet to disappoint this Season. Running backs Chris Johnsonand LenDale White have combined to rush for 1,859-yards and combined to score 22 rushing touchdowns. While the running game has been healthy this season, the Titans also have a very capable defense that can swallow its opponents. This season Tennessee is ranked 4th overall on defense its been their pass coverage that has worked best. With a front line bringing pressure with 38 sacks this season, players like defensive backs Courtland Finneganand Michael Griffin have benefited with 5 interceptions each.
The Titans will rely heavily on their two-horse running game to keep the pressure off savvy veteran quarterback Kerry Collins. Collins will be asked to manage the offense, minimize the mistakes, and keep the chains moving. The Steelers will likely counter with 8 and 9 in the box and force lots of pressure on the Titans pass game. The Titans would like to do much of the same when the Steelers have the ball, but with defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth (8 sacks) and Kyle Vanden Bosch(4 sacks,3 forced fumbles) out with injuries, that could be a tough test to pass today. No question the Steelers will take advantage and take their shots downfield.
This will be a close one today, but the Steelers offense should be able to make a few more plays than the Titans.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Titans 17.
The Panthers have not looked flashy and have not appeared dominant on defense at any time this season, but what they have done consistently is run the ball. With the other 'Smash N Dash' (DeAngleo Williamsand Jonathan Stewart), the Panthers have rolled up 1,980-yards on the ground and scored 23 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has been steady, but not great this season, but with these two wheels (Williams and Stewart) rolling well, Delhomme has not had to be. Perhaps the catalyst on offense for the Cats has to be Steve Smith (70 receptions 1,240-yards, 6 touchdowns). When Delhomme has been in a groove and finding number 89, Smith has been unstoppable.
The Giants on the other hand have used a bruising three-headed-monster running game led by the man-child running back Brandon Jacobs. With Earth (Jacobs), Wind (Derrick Ward), and Fire (Ahmad Bradshaw) totaling 2,062-yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, the Giants make little secret of what they like to do and how they win football games. Quarterback Eli Manning has been sort of a fantasy football enigma; he keeps winning, but its never pretty. This season Manning has only passed for 300-yards and thrown more than 40 passes in a game just once this season, again proving that the Giants success comes through the running game. The Giants have one of the leagues top running games, but they have also found success with one of the leagues top defensive units. The Giants can bring pressure with 40 sacks this season and their number four ranked run defense can make it tough to run the ball.
This matchup has the same makeup of its AFC predecessor, the running games will be at a premium and both quarterbacks need to manage their offenses and eliminate mistakes. While the Giants will have Jacobs back for tonight's clash, the defense could have trouble slowing down Smash N Dash. Expect nothing less than big plays and bigger hits.
Delhomme won't be a hero, but he'll get the ball to his playmaker, Steve Smith and Panthers secondary should be able to cover the Giants deep threats.
Prediction: Panthers 28, Giants 20.
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By David G. Ortega