NFL Pregame Ritual

Originally Published: November 26, 2009
By Toby Mergler | Special to Page 2

Welcome back to the Pregame Ritual. On Friday, we give thanks for the internet. Specifically, for internet shopping, which allows us to avoid the enormous cults offering a collective mass monetary sacrifice to the retail gods at strip malls across America. If you are reading this on your IPhone while waiting in line for two hours to purchase something we just bought online in 90 seconds, we just want to say -- Suckaaaas!.

Here is a look at Sunday's action:

Three key games to watch

Indianapolis at Houston (1 p.m. ET)

Peyton Manning has been so good this year that all other thoughts regarding the Colts often disappear into the shadows created by the great quarterback's radiant sun. For instance, we knew the defense had been playing well, but we didn't realize they have allowed the fewest points in the league. The key to their success? Dancing. Broadcasting the team's pre-kickoff boogie sessions would be a great way to break through the all-Peyton coverage. Whatever pregame show hired Don Cornelius as a sideline reporter to cover the festivities would get more eyeballs guaranteed.

Arizona at Tennessee (4:15 p.m.)

The Titans' resurrection is in itself startling, but the fact that they are doing it with what's basically a high school offense is even more incredible. Quarterback draws, slow moving drag routes, running the option with your two fastest guys -- it's seen every Friday night on modest fields in small towns across the country. We've never been to a Titans' game, but we assume there are teenagers constantly making out behind the snack stands and Vince Young is named Prom King at every halftime.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore (8:20 p.m.)

Check out this column in the Baltimore Sun. Peter Schmuck actually argues that there is a conspiracy being committed for the local team. Oh my goodness, I've never seen anything like this before. Is Baltimore located in the mythical "Simpsons" land of Rand McNally, where they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people? It's a refreshing take and a welcome variation on the "everyone is out to get us" mentality adapted by many fans in the NFL. Either way, it looks like the Ravens are certainly getting more help this week, as the Steelers will be playing without Troy Polamalu and with a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger, the two most vital players on their team.

Play we'd like to see

This week we just want to see as many fake field goals as possible. Eric Mangini really opened the door for field goals to be faked last week when he called for the trick play at the end of the first half, got the first down…and then immediately kicked a field goal on the next play. It was so bizarre that we couldn't help but love it and would like to see coaches really start pushing the limits on these plays. Try it on second down or from you own 30. Or maybe fake them on back-to-back attempts. Heck, just sign Hunter Smith and build it into your base package. It's worth trying. Chances are decent the other side will panic and you'll at least cause the other team to burn a timeout. Besides, if you're a team like Oakland, aren't you already conceding a down when you drop back to pass anyways?

Fine, I'll ask

Five questions about Sunday's Minnesota-Chicago game (All-Quarterbacks edition):

• Given the local media's heavy criticism of him, it is possible Jay Cutler has gone from being the next Brett Favre to the next Donovan McNabb?

• If the Vikings finish 15-1, is there enough crow in the world to feed all the Green Bay fans who killed Favre over his "best team I've ever played on" comment? More importantly, is there enough tissues to dry their tears?

• With flex scheduling upon us, will all future Bears' opponents try to ask NBC to make the contest a night game?

• Will Brett Favre sees how much Jay Cutler needs it and eschew the postgame handshake in favor of a big hug?

•If so, will they just recreate the "it's not your fault" scene from "Good Will Hunting" right out on the field?

Storyline we care about

Jon Runyan to retire, run for Congress. If successful, Runyan may be able to change the whole tone of Washington. President Obama famously plays a lot of basketball, but how will he respond when Runyon and Heath Shuler are leading pick-up football games right out there on the National Mall? After all, football is America's most popular game, there's no way the President will want to be shown up. Perhaps that's how a deal on health care will be reached. President Obama will grant a few concessions in order to keep Shuler and Runyon from interfering with his precious hoops games. Crazier things have happened in politics after all.

Storyline we don't care about

Mangini says Lions faked injuries. Easy there Browns and Lions. Your game last week was great and all and we really appreciate the entertainment, but we're not really interested in a feud between you two. People may tune in for a fight between Screech and the dude from "Welcome Back Kotter," but no one is sticking around for the postfight press conference. There's a reason for that. When good teams fight, it's riveting. When bad teams fight, it's just sad.

Patrick Swayze's pep talk

Swayze's action movies were undeniably awesome, and his recent passing 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. "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." -- Johnny Castle, "Dirty Dancing" What is happening in Tennessee is absolutely amazing. A team that had shown zero signs of fight or heart has been lead back from the dead by a guy that had been heavily branded with a scarlet "Q" for quitter and a legendary coach who had been all but fired by the local fans and media. It's a great story, perhaps bound for Hollywood one day. It could star Derek Luke as Vince Young, Omar Epps as Chris Johnson (he'll have to wear a wig, but he's required to be in every sports movie), Danny McBride as Jeff Fisher and Robin Williams as Jeff Fischer's moustache. They could call it "Winners Sometimes Quit."

Most important fantasy players

Matt Ryan: The Falcons play the Buccaneers this week, who just fired their defensive coordinator less than three months after firing their offensive coordinator. The turmoil in Tampa Bay combined with their general putridity makes Ryan a candidate for a big day. We'd start Captain Hook against the Bucs at this point.

Thomas Jones: Both Jones and Cedric Benson have excelled after leaving the Bears. We hope Matt Forte and his 3.3 YPC is renting right now.

Sidney Rice: We're not sure who is the miracle worker -- Rice or Brett Favre -- but somehow the duo has combined to both become fantasy must-starts.

Rock Cartwright: Remember how revolutionary and amazing the live episode of "Roc" was back in 1992? How they showed the day's paper on the camera beforehand and Charles Dutton told us anything could happen! That's how exciting it is to get a quality starting running back like Cartwright on the waiver wire this late in the fantasy season. Now if only his success can last longer than that of the similarly named TV show.

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