Hell, some of you were probably hoping that I had been banned from writing altogether. Now, I'm not going to toot my own horn, but I am the guy that for two years has received e-mail and message board threats due to my yearly column predicting the season-ending Steeler injury of the year. I almost got a cease-and-desist order filed against this site because of my perceived "defamation" of the now-deceased Wesley Willis. And if my column from last year honoring the highlights of the message board folk had been published, I probably would have been run out of town faster than you can say Cliff Stoudt.
You must understand, however, that it was all in the name of pure fun. I would never want any Steeler (except Alonzo Jackson) to come under any sort of serious season-ending injury. The column, in poor taste albeit, was out to prove a point: As a fan, my predictions have absolutely no bearing on what happens during a season. Lucky hats and charmed towels aside, if someone on this team is going to get hurt, they will. And it won't be because myself (Troy Polamalu) or someone else predicted it.
So, I'm back. So is the Girl Apple, or shall I say Mrs. Apple. And I shall because she's currently standing behind me as I write this. Super Fan Pappy Fried Chicken will return this season after holding out last year. Cowboy Matt and Jason the Bronco Fan will make infrequent but timely appearances. Jason is currently sailing the high seas and Cowboy Matt is off making a porno flick. Well, perhaps not a porno flick, although that's one of the few employment opportunities available to a Dallas Cowboy fan.
Nevertheless, tradition holds true for WAP (Wednesday Apple Pie) as it is time to announce the 2005 Edition of the Games Of The Week. As you know, the "GOTW" (as we shall refer it to for the rest of the column) highlights the "Apple Pix Six" - the six most important match-ups of the week. As my rules state, the GOTW follows the selections made before the pre-season up until the final quarter of season. That way I can either call myself a genius for picking the best game of the week three months early or blame someone else for my own self-importance (insert Pete Prisco joke here).
Before I get into the games, let me refresh your memories with the rules:
The Games Of The Week
Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons get a chance for a little revenge while Michael Vick tries to put his terrible NFC Championship performance behind him. Anyone think that he's any more accurate this year? Don't bet on it.
Week 2: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts - The Colts can look back at both losses to the Jaguars as small blemishes on an otherwise fantastic regular season, but these Jags sure had Peyton Manning's number. If the Colts think they can walk away with the AFC South again, they will have to do it by at least splitting the season series with Team Prisco.
Week 3: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers - Since 1997, the Patriots are 4 - 3 against the Steelers. But as we all know, stats are misleading, given what happened in the two most important games between these two franchises.
Week 4: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens - Last season, the Ravens stole a victory away from the Jets, but a late season collapse by the purple birdies left Jets fans cheering in January and Ravens fans getting defensive about Kyle Boller. Both teams made important changes this off-season, the Ravens getting Derrick Mason and the Jets getting rid of Paul Hackett.
Week 5: Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers - San Diego gets its first Monday Night game since 1996. The Steelers have the unfortunate prospect of being their opponent. Last season Cincinnati thrashed Denver when ABC returned to the city that Boomer built for the first time in a decade. Will Pittsburgh suffer the same fate?
Week 6: St. Louis Rams at Indianapolis Colts - For those who aren't fans of defense, this game will serve as a very early Christmas gift.
Week 7: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings - Will the Vikings finally overtake the Packers as the kings of the NFC North? Or will the Pack continue to defy the odds and send a ridiculously weak team to the playoffs as the North's sacrificial lamb?
Week 8: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers - The Panthers finished the 2004 season blistering hot, barely missing the playoffs after such a terrible start. The Vikings are an early favorite to be the NFC representative, a sacrificial lamb, to the Super Bowl. Something will have to give.
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots - No need to comment on what everyone already understands.
Week 10: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks - Last season, these two teams fought down to the wire trying to give away the NFC West division title. So regardless of who wins this game, the mediocre NFC West will once again come down to the final weeks.
Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts - For my money, this is the most attractive game of the year on the Steelers schedule. The last time these two teams met, the Steelers frustrated Peyton Manning and shut down an ailing Edge James. But, that was in Pittsburgh and we all know how poorly the Colts play outdoors. This time the Colts have the turf.
Week 13: New York Jets at New England Patriots - Kevin Mawae was on record saying that he felt the Patriots never beat the Jets last season but in fact the Jets beat themselves. Well, he may be one of the best centers in the game, but no one ever said he was smart.
Week 14: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos - It seems like ages ago that the Broncos were dominating the AFC. It also seems like ages ago when the Ravens could be considered a true Super Bowl threat. Then why might I ask do both of these teams continue to have the media on their bandwagon?
Week 15: San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts - Last year these two teams gave fans one of the most entertaining games of the season. We can only hope for an encore performance.
Week 16: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos - In the wide open AFC West, this game could wrap up a playoff spot for either team. And who doesn't like watching the snowy football games in Denver?
Week 17: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers - Something tells me that this game will also determine a playoff spot. Something also tells me that there will be a different GOTW when we finally get around to it.
- Isn't it odd that the two most vocal possible holdouts decided to show up at their respective training camps? That's right, T.O. and Javon Walker made it after screaming and crying about their contract situations. It's even odder that the quietest possible holdout didn't show up. Perhaps Hines Ward should have spoken up sooner.
- Is it just me or is there something awfully strange about these so-called negotiations? You'd think the two sides would have worked harder at a deal than they did? Right?
- For my money the Oakland Raiders are going to have one scary offense. They won't be able to stop anyone, but adding Randy Moss to that talented wide receiver mix was a coup in the off-season. And that guy named Lamont Jordan finally gives the Raider Nation a go-to running back.
- Call me one of the few that feels the Jets should have cut Curtis Martin and kept Lamont Jordan. Not only is Jordan younger and stronger, but also he can hit the home run. Ol' Curtis is only hitting singles and doubles nowadays.
- A comment about the games I chose this year. ABC got a very healthy dose of attractive match-ups this season. I chose five of those games and could have picked many more. Some of the fun that I didn't pick? Week 8 (Baltimore at Pittsburgh), Week 16 (New England at NY Jets) and Week 11 (Minnesota at Green Bay).
- Anybody who worries about Big Ben having a sophomore jinx is sniffing in the wrong direction. The real jinx will be whether the Steelers running game will survive the training camp and whether it will be effective at all this season. Holding out Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis and Verron Haynes was more than just a warning sign, it was practically an admission that something is not right in the stable.
- Although I'll get to my predictions later, I'm going to say at this moment the Steelers go 12 - 4 on the season, the losses coming at Houston, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Minnesota. Yes, I did say Houston. That's a trap game if I ever saw one.
- I do reserve the right to change my above prediction.