Player I’ll Be Watching This Weekend
Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle, Denver (number 94). All season, the Seahawks at some point in every game have asked Marshawn Lynch to take over the game on offense, and he’s usually succeeded. Lynch loves physicality. “I want to hit you,’’ he said this week. You can tell he loves that aspect of the game, and Sunday night the mountainous but quicker-than-he-looks Knighton will be the prime beef in his way. Knighton shocked the Patriots with three tackles of zero yards or fewer, and a crucial third-quarter sack of Tom Brady on fourth down. You can tell, talking to the Seahawks this week, that they know a key matchup will be Max Unger (a middling player against the rush) holding off Knighton, who will be trying to play smashmouth with Lynch. I’ll be watching the match closely Sunday night.
Sound Bite of the Week
“Well, being from Oakland, all I know about him is he punched people. That’s my type of person.”
—Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, on offensive line coach Tom Cable, who was accused as the Raiders head coach of punching an assistant coach on his staff.
That’s not just Sound Bite of the Week. It might be Sound Bite of the Year.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching This Weekend
1. The weather. So … the NFL dodged a very large bullet, unless the Polar Vortex pays an unexpected visit to the States this weekend. Seems that by the moment, the weather forecast for Sunday is getting lovelier. The Weather Channel says the high Sunday during the day will be 48, with temps about 44 and winds of 9 mph at kickoff Sunday evening. That, folks, is amazing—especially considering three days before the kick, at exactly the same time, the wind-chill temperature was 19. The effect? Peyton Manning will be unaffected by the weather, barring the 20-percent rain chance actually turns into a downpour that evening.
2. Saturday night behavior. It’s been a long time since there was a news story of any substance the night before the game. Eleven years ago, Raiders center Barret Robbins disappeared into Mexico and began the precipitous and calamitous Oakland slide to irrelevance. Seattle and Denver seem to have smart guys with little risk of screwing up their teams’ chances in the biggest game of their lives. But I’ll be interested in seeing Sunday morning that the 106 players eligible to play all made it back to bed in a timely manner in Jersey City on Saturday night.
3. Pete Carroll’s redemption. Twenty years ago this year, he had his lone season as a first-time head coach. Carroll doesn’t have fond memories of it. The Jets started 6-5, lost their last five games, and Leon Hess made one of the dubious calls in NFL coach-search history, replacing the energetic Carroll with the just-fired coach of the Eagles, Rich Kotite. A 4-28 run ensued. This week, Carroll practiced at the Giants’ facility, just across the parking lot from Met Life Stadium, the new place, which replaced the old place, Giants Stadium, on the same property. He didn’t seem emotional about it. I get a feeling Carroll will want to leave his mark back in the Meadowlands.
4. Russell Wilson making his own name. He just turned 25 two months ago, and Wilson is less than three years removed from being the second baseman for the Class A Asheville Tourists. But Wilson does not enter this game aiming low. “I want to change the game,’’ Wilson said Thursday. “If you think about it, there’s a difference between being good and being great and changing the game.” Listen to him, and watch him, and you actually believe he can do it—whatever “changing the game” means.
5. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014. I’ll be one of 46 voters hidden away in the Hall voting process for seven hours or so Saturday. I have no idea what to expect. It’ll be interesting to see if Walter Jones is as much of a likely enshrinee in his first year as I assume he is. All over the ballot of 15 modern finalists and two senior candidates (Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey) are guys who deserve to be in. But a maximum of five modern candidates can make it—so we’ll see if that’s Charles Haley or Michael Strahan (or both), Marvin Harrison or Tim Brown or Andre Reed (or any combination), or Tony Dungy or Eddie DeBartolo (or both). There are close races everywhere I look. The class will be announced Saturday night on NFL Network.
6. Ray Guy. He’ll be a huge headline Saturday night, whether he makes the Hall or not. Guy is the Oakland punter who has tremendous emotional support not just from Raider Nation but also from Special Teams Nation.
7. The Sapp-Strahan feud. Wake me when this is over please. Warren Sapp hates Michael Strahan, and it colors what he says about him, and can we please move on to something of even minor significance? Please?
8. The NFL in Los Angeles. You have our attention, Stan Kroenke.
9. Mike Vick’s future. Vick said this week he’ll certainly be starting somewhere in 2014. I think that’s possible but hardly certain. Trying to figure who would bring him in as a likely starter, and I can’t find a team. Compete for the starting job, yes. Guaranteed, no.
10. NFL Honors. No suspense about the MVP—it’ll be Peyton Manning’s, in a walk—but lots of suspense elsewhere. Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt? Luke Kuechly?), both rookie awards (my bets: Eddie Lacy on offense, Sheldon Richardson on defense), and coach of the year (my guess: Ron Rivera). A fun year for the awards, with lots of close races.