This afternoon, the NFL has a slate of four games for our viewing pleasure, all with a distinctive western theme of sorts.
We get to see Alex Smith lead Andy Reid's Chiefs into the University of Phoenix to take on Drew Stanton and the reeling Arizona Cardinals. The Chiefs have lost two in a row and will be hoping to regain their last season form by riding Jamaal Charles to victory against the injury-depleted Cardinals, who will be missing Tyrann Mathieu and will hope that Patrick Peterson recovers from giving up a career day to Julio Jones last week. The oft-maligned Alex Smith, who has never lived down his draft position compared to the second QB taken in 2005, will be hoping that his WR corps will stop being a trivia question (as in, "This NFL team's WR corps has fewer TD receptions than J.J. Watt, a DE") and finally score some points. Bruce Arians will be hoping to right the listing ship and silence questions as to whether the Cardinals' recent collapse will lead to them missing the playoffs after having a three-game lead in the NFCW. Recent injuries to Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington make rookie Drew Stanton's job that much harder, but Arians continues to argue that Stanton can "take [them] where [they] want to go." Drew Stanton will be facing Dontari Poe, Justin Houston, and Tamba Hali and hoping to get better (any?) production from Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Stepfan Taylor, while Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery will be hoping to catch their first TDs of the season against Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker, and Antonio Cromartie. Greg Gumbel and Trent Green will be calling the game on CBS for those in the Phoenix and Kansas City markets, as well as apparent Chiefs-Cards passionate fanbases in Eugene, Oregon, Norfolk, Virginia, and Reno, Nevada.
Also in action will be the AFCW-leading Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning's fivehead, Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, but missing Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. They will be hosting Kyle Orton and the surprising Buffalo Bills, who, at 7-5 and coming off a two-game win streak, are tied with the Miami Dolphins (except for tiebreakers, which I won't get into) for second in the AFC East behind the New England Patriots. The Bills boast Fort Worth's own Fred Jackson and Sammy Watkins and have seemingly benefited from an early decision to bench E.J. Manuel. They've also gotten a lot of production from our former defensive standout Mario Williams, former Clots' bust Jerry Hughes, former Bengals' disappointment Keith Rivers, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. The Bills' offense can't hope to keep up with the Broncos' offense, so there will be a lot of pressure on the Bills' D to decrease the Broncos' 304.4 passing YPG, 413.9 total YPG, 30.1 PPG, and 45.7% 3-down conversion rate if they are to have any hope of going into Sports Authority Field at Mile High and coming out with a win. If you live in the Rockies, western New York, Nashville, Bowling Green (KY), Tampa Bay, or eastern Louisiana, you'll get to watch Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon call the game on CBS.
The NFL's most unpopular HC, Jim Harbaugh, (most unpopular owner is almost certainly Dan Snyder) will be heading across the Bay to the land of Raider Nation hoping to resurrect what has been a lifeless and bog standard 49ers season by playing against the lovable losers that are the Oakland Raiders. After getting publicly humiliated against the Seahawks last season and racking up a horrific three points against the Legion of Boom and a not-champion-quality Seahawks, what 49ers fans haven't leapt off the bandwagon will be hoping that Colin Kaepernick can regain the form that led to the team jettisoning the aforementioned Alex Smith. PFF noted that even when the 49ers were winning and the national media was fawning all over them, Kaepernick remained an uninspiring QB, so don't count on it. The presence of Anquan Boldin, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, and a defense highlighted by Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Chris Borland, and Antoine Bethea hasn't been able to change the fact that they are -14 in point differential and 1-3 in the division. However, if there's ever a team to get your hopes back up against, it's the Raiders. Raider Nation deserves better--much better. Perhaps the NFL's most passionate fanbase, Raiders fans have been experiencing years of discontent. They may have hit upon their QB of the future in 2nd round draft pick Derek Carr, younger brother of our first QB David Carr, and have a living backup QB in our former Matt Schaub (a QB with a pulse is always better than one without, so that's a plus, y'all), but Carr lacks weapons and experience. Charles Woodson wasn't off the mark when he remarked earlier in the season that the Raiders "suck." The Raiders have since won a game, embarrassing the uninspired Chiefs, bringing their current mark to 1-11, putting them in pole position for the first pick in each round of the 2015 NFL Draft. That's not what Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis had in mind at the start of the season. The team parted ways with HC Dennis Allen, handing over the interim reins to Tony Sparano, who coached his roster of overpriced aging faltering vets, including our former Ninja, Antonio Smith, Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Tuck, and Carlos Rogers, and young players who need to develop, including Menelik Watson, Denico Autry, Khalil Mack, and Sio Moore, to a win over the Chiefs and then the worst blowout loss in the league against the Rams. It's a tossup as to which team has the better QB, but we know which team has the better stadium, and we will be hoping fans of both teams are able to enjoy the rivalry without descending into violence. Much of California, southern Oregon, and western Nevada will get to watch the game called by Chris Myers and Ronde Barber on Fox.
Finally, the Seahawks (and Taima) will be flying cross-country to take on the Eagles (and Swoop). The Legion of Boom carried this team to the Lombardi Trophy last season, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor getting woefully overlooked in favor of the talented and mouthier Richard Sherman. They haven't looked as shut-down as they did in 2013, having lost several games at home. Seattle is 8-4, and second in the NFCW behind the Cardinals, but ahead of their loathed rivals, the 49ers. They will be hoping to embarrass Chip Kelly and the Eagles, much like they did Harbaugh's crew last week, yet Kelly has his Eagles leading the NFCE at 9-3 and 0.5 games ahead of the Cowboys, despite having lost the underwhelming Nick Foles to a clavicle injury and being forced to play Mark Sanchez (yes, he of the butt fumble) for roughly half the season. The Seahawks have been engulfed in controversy all year, with rumors of rifts between Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin, between Marshawn Lynch and Pete Carroll, between Lynch and the front office, between Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin, between Taima and her handlers, between the team's black players and Wilson, and between Wilson and the other 52 players on the roster. The Eagles, other than Cary Williams publicly criticizing his HC for making the team practice, and dealing with season-ending injuries to our former captain DeMeco Ryans and Todd Herremans and having only had Evan Mathis for five games this season, are clicking on all cylinders. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be calling this game on Fox, viewable to almost the entire country, except for those in the Denver, Phoenix, and northern California markets.
A usual exhortation to be respectful of one another, of course, and to enjoy the show. These should be doozies.