Commentary

NFL Pregame Ritual (Week 13)

Originally Published: December 4, 2009
By Toby Mergler | Special to Page 2

Welcome back to the Pregame Ritual. After an uninspiring Thursday game, which was so bad it might have violated NAFTA, Sunday can't get here soon enough.

Here is a look at this week's action:

Three key games to watch

Tennessee at Indianapolis (1 p.m. ET)

Another week, another desperate team for the Colts to face. Over the past five weeks, Indianapolis has played San Francisco, New England, Baltimore and Houston twice. Besides the Pats (who actually had the most to prove), each team was fighting for its playoff life entering the game, and each time the Colts trailed in the fourth quarter before furiously rallying back to win, crushing their opponent's spirit along the way. That's just cruel, man. Peyton Manning is now like a cop who creates a speed trap a mile outside of Disney World. When he catches someone doing even just five miles over the limit, he gives them a ticket, impounds the car and steals the kids' entry passes. Instead of riding Space Mountain, the family rides a bus back home while Peyton cackles, eats another bear claw and waits for his next victim.

Dallas at New York Giants (4:15 p.m. ET)

Wade Phillips made headlines this week by talking about the general lack of respect he receives, and he has a point. It is curious that a guy who's 30-13 as head coach of the Cowboys is perpetually on the hot seat. Perhaps it's because Jerry Jones is attracted to outlaws (remember, he acquired both Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson), and the mild-mannered Phillips just isn't cut from that cloth. As winning apparently isn't enough to keep your job in Dallas, the Cowboys should consider taking on the motto "Just sin, baby."

Minnesota at Arizona (8:20 p.m. ET)

Darnell Dockett took to Twitter this week to tell all "unloyal" Cardinals fans to make as much noise as possible or "stay ur ass at home!" Umm, we are talking about the same Cardinals who used to average around 35,000 fans in a 73,000-seat stadium, right? The ones who were widely outdrawn by Arizona State squads that weren't exactly powerhouses? The team that has had two winning seasons since moving to Arizona more than 20 years ago? With blackouts all over the league and a franchise that doesn't have a storied history of success, perhaps it would be a better idea to roll out the red carpet and hope that people continue to walk down it rather than returning to the days when people only went to games because all the empty seats provided an excellent reflection to tan by.

Play we'd like to see

In each of the past two weeks, we've seen game-winning passes with no time left on the clock, which hadn't happened in the NFL since 1970. We're completely addicted now and need to see more. It doesn't matter what teams are involved; when that last snap occurs, nothing will tear us away from the television. Tiger Woods could kick down the door and demand to give us an interview, and we still wouldn't budge until the game was over.

Fine, I'll ask

Five questions about Sunday's Oakland-Pittsburgh game:

• What's more likely: Al Davis giving up control over the Raiders' personnel like some fans have asked him to, or him revealing himself to be a lizard person like in the original "V" miniseries?

• After a neurosurgeon said Ben Roethlisberger shouldn't play last week, why on earth are Hines Ward and other players even having a debate on the subject in the locker room?

• Did Mike Tomlin really need to address how he came up with the term "unleash hell" at a press conference earlier this week? Doesn't the process just consist of watching "Gladiator," quoting "Gladiator," and continuing to look exactly like Omar Epps?

• Does JaMarcus Russell study game tape of how Vince Young used to conduct himself on the bench, to try to pick up clues on how he might bounce back as well?

• Is the Raiders' defense actually too simple, or do they just make giving up tons of points look really easy?

Storyline we care about

NFL changes return-to-play rules

It's very commendable that the league is taking these steps to help protect the players from themselves, but at the same time, could they possibly suspend all talk of expanding the regular season to 17 or 18 games until after the season? There's been much chatter on the topic recently, even as guys like Kurt Warner, Roethlisberger, Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook struggle to bounce back and finish a 16-game season. Let's give it some time. Passing a rule aimed at limiting players' injuries while at the same time discussing increasing the number of violent collisions by 12 percent (two more games) is like a heavy guy telling you all about his diet while shoving two more trays of brownies into the oven. Maybe he is trying to lose weight, but it's hard to believe him while he's simultaneously cooking up junk food.

Storyline we don't care about

Michael Vick returns to Atlanta

Kudos to everyone in Atlanta. There are neither protests nor celebrations planned for Vick's first game back at the Georgia Dome. They are giving him exactly as much attention as a seldom-used backup quarterback deserves: none.

Patrick Swayze's pep talk

Swayze's action movies were undeniably awesome, and his passing earlier this year was incredibly sad. In a small attempt to pay tribute, we'll relay some of his words of wisdom in this space each week in an effort to fire up a particular player or team.

"C'mon! We're all going to die, die standing up!"
-- Jed Eckert, "Red Dawn"

The Cleveland Browns have been a mess all season, and at 1-10, they seemingly have nothing left to play for. However, due to a scheduling quirk, the Browns play four of their last five games at home, and we're willing to bet that season-ticket holders didn't plop down hefty down payments last spring to watch a dead team sleepwalk through half of their home games. The Browns have shown signs of life lately, taking the Lions down to the last play in an instant classic and then nearly beating the division-leading Bengals last week. Just like a group of small-town boys facing the entire Russian army, let's hope the Browns build on this momentum and don't go down without a fight.

Most important fantasy players

Frank Gore: Gore wrecked shop in his last game against the Seahawks, totaling over 200 yards and two touchdowns. While strong follow-up performances can be difficult in Seattle (Nirvana's "In Utero" has not stood up well), if Gore gets even half these numbers, his owners will be happy.

Chad Ochocinco: Ocho told reporters he'd like to see the Bengals throw the ball 50 times this week. If Marvin Lewis agreed to do so, but told Ocho he'd subtract one pass for every tweet Ocho sends during the week, do you think he'd stop using Twitter, or would he just use it even more to complain about not getting the ball?

Philip Rivers: Rivers has become an elite quarterback, even though he's tossed more jump balls in his career than Joey Crawford. He should dominate in Cleveland this week.

Antonio Gates: Gates should also have a big week against the Browns, but even if he tanks, he deserves praise for sucker-punching the super-annoying guy bugging him about his fantasy team on Episode 4 of "The League." If they had an open casting call for that role on a Sunday, so many NFL players would jump at the opportunity to smack a fantasy player that quarterbacks would have to play defense and special teams as well.

Enjoy Week 13, everyone.

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Toby Mergler is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., who has previously written for MLB.com, Fanball and the Virginia Law Weekly. He can be reached at tobymergler@gmail.com.

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