The calendar has flipped to November, baseball has ended (only 14 weeks until pitchers and catchers report!), the furnace is on, and there is frost on the grass. All sure signs that football will rule my TV for the next couple months. Three games will hold most of my attention this weekend. Some thoughts below.
Game One: Manchester United at Arsenal, 8:45 AM EDT Saturday. When I say football, I mean all kinds of football. I’ll be fighting the girls for the TV tomorrow morning, as this is the biggest game of the still-young season in the English Premier League. The teams are level on points, although Arsenal have a game in hand (That means they’re tied for first, but ManU has played one more game, if you don’t speak soccerese). Both teams come into the match in top form. Arsenal have looked awesome, scoring nearly at will in every game except for last week’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool (In soccer, a road tie against a good team is considered a very good result). ManU has been scoring nearly as often as the Gunners, but have only allowed four goals, to Arsenal’s seven, in the Premiership. The defending champs were expected to be a step or two ahead of Arsenal this year, given the Arse’s youth and the fact ManU practice voodoo, cannibalism, and several other forms of pure evil. Arsenal got two big wins over the Red Devils last year, including the epic match last January when Thierry Henry headed home the winner in the final minute of play, and they’re a much better team this year. If they can continue to make up for the loss of Robin Van Persie up front, expect another victory for the North London side. Arsenal 2, Manchester United 1.
Game Two: Nebraska at Kansas, 12:30 EDT Saturday. Two years ago, I did a celebratory lap through my home as KU pounded the Huskers to get their first win in the series since 1968. I had given up hope, after two close calls during my days in Lawrence, that KU would ever beat Nebraska in football. Then, magically, it happened. Last year, KU should have won in Lincoln, losing in overtime when a missed PAT in regulation would have given them the win. Things just keep getting stranger, as the Jayhawks enter this year’s game as 19 point favorites. Nearly three touchdown favorites over Nebraska? Dogs and cats living together!
You might think that with Nebraska’s poor record and nation’s worst rushing defense I would feel rather confident about sitting in front of the TV for three plus hours and watching my ‘Hawks extract a little more revenge for three decades of blowouts. I’m not. Strangely, this has turned into a classic trap game, falling between last week’s historic win in College Station and next week’s showdown in Stillwater. There’s also some mental resistance to the idea that we should have an easy time with Nebraska. I know times change, but all those years of watching the <span style=”font-style:italic;”>We Backs</span> and <span style=”font-style:italic;”>Black Shirts</span> treat my alma mater like a high school JV team left some scars. The faster Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp run all over the Huskers the better. I’ll be happy with a three point win and a 9-0 record. Kansas 35 Nebraska 10
Game Three: New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts, 4:15 PM EST Sunday (Don’t forget to change your clocks!). Have you heard about this game? Not much talk about it. The 8-0 Pats come to the Dome to battle the 7-0 Colts, who have owned them over the past two seasons. I think most people accepted that the teams were 1A and 1B coming into the season. The Pats have clearly created some distance, but I don’t think that gap is has broad as some others would have you believe. First, the difference between the Colts and the league’s third-best team, Dallas, is staggering. So trying to draw conclusions about this week’s game from New England’s beat-down of the Cowboys last month is just silly. Second, the Colts defense is really good. Really, really good. It will be the best defense the Pats have faced this season (and let’s be honest: they haven’t exactly faced a murderers row of D’s so far. Even Dallas’, which is statistically good, is wildly inconsistent and pretty much sat out the second half of the Pats game.). Finally, the Colts both understand how to play the Pats and lack the fear of them the rest of the league has. If last year’s AFC title game taught them anything, it’s that you can come back on the Pats.
With all that said, I still expect the Pats to win. They’re healthier (Marvin Harrison remains a big question), firing on all cylinders, and have every intangible in their favor. (Quick aside: how stupid is it that they are allegedly pounding teams to get back at the league for punishing them for spygate? It’s like they’re saying, “How dare you catch us cheating and then penalize us for it!” I think the whole scandal was way overblown [Everyone is doing it on some level. The Pats were probably far more refined in the practice and dumb enough to get caught. Let’s not pretend they were the first or only team to try this and that it’s not still going on in every stadium in the league.] Their childish response is soiling their reputation far more than the actual crime.) I see this game getting nasty, because both teams need to be physical on defense. Tom Brady traditionally does better in nasty games than Peyton Manning does. I think the Pats will throw everything at rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh, who has performed exceptionally well so far this season, and that may be the difference. I expect the Pats to win, but should the Colts pull it out, I wouldn’t call it the huge upset some others will see it as.
New England 31 Indianapolis 27
Seems like some solid material for a wrap-up post on Monday, no?