There is nothing in sports, and seldom in life, that gets me as fired up as a big game.
It doesn’t matter the sport. From the moment you wake up, the blood is flowing. You try to focus on whatever task at hand, but all your mind can wander to are the sights and sounds of gametime. Your team has a chance to do something special today, and you know it. You can feel it. You’re ready to live and die on every play. This isn’t like any ordinary game day, this is a big one.
There are big games all around us. This week, three local football teams, Warsaw, Manchester and Triton, will play their biggest game of the season: a sectional championship game with a spot in regionals on the line. Girls basketball starts this week, and while conference games and the playoffs are still some time away, it’s crucial to get off to a strong start and build some confidence, making these early contests, you guessed it, big games.
There are plenty of big games in professional sports this week too. The World Series rolls on, with the Diamondbacks searching for their first title in over 20 years and the Rangers looking to reach that glory for the first time. With stakes this high, every pitch is the most important of each player’s lives. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
We’re approaching the halfway point of the NFL season, meaning every game gets bigger than the last for teams who still have a chance at the playoffs. We’ll get to them later. I’ve got a few bones to pick.
You may be wondering to yourself, “why is he bringing all of this up?” I haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel with anything I’ve said so far, but there is a reason I wanted to talk about big games this week in particular. That’s because this Saturday will be my biggest game as a fan in quite some time.
On Saturday afternoon, the No. 14 Missouri Tigers will head into Athens, Georgia for a meeting with the No. 1 Bulldogs. A win in this one would allow the Tigers to continue to control their own destiny not only in the SEC, but in the College Football Playoff. By all units of measurement, this is the biggest game for Missouri in a decade.
Now, I know we’re in northern Indiana and there’s not too many people that are living and dying by the Missouri Tigers. However, I’m the sports editor of this newspaper and will write about whatever I want, so please bear with me. Mizzou had its bye week last week so all I’ve been able to think about for nearly two weeks is this game. That’s what worries me.
My track record for big games has not been the best. I’ve only seen one of my favorite American sports teams win a championship, the White Sox in 2005. They haven’t exactly been tearing it up since. I did celebrate when the Blackhawks won their three Stanley Cups, but my hockey expertise was nowhere near where it is now when the team is in the middle of a rebuild. The last big game the Bears were in resulted in the infamous double-doink and me sending perhaps the most depressing picture of all time to my buddies. I still don’t know why I did that. Maybe I thought they’d comfort me during my lowest moment. I should have been smarter.
I’m putting all of this bad juju out into the open to acknowledge and expel it. Saturday will be different. The Missouri Tigers WILL win this game. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. The second you start to doubt, you’ve already lost.
So to all of my friends who read this column every week, I have just one thing to say to you: If you need me for any reason at all on Saturday afternoon, find someone else. I’ll be locked in and watching my biggest game of the year.
Quick hitters for the first week of November:
I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween. My girlfriend and I carved pumpkins and watched the original Halloween while eating sweets on Saturday night. It was nice.
I’m in a crummy mood today because I just remembered I should be going to see Dune 2 this weekend but will be waiting until March because of the strike delaying it. I support the actors and writers and hope they are compensated fairly, but dang do I want to see that movie.
Sticking with the world of cinema, I spent my last evening before basketball season watching all 3.5 hours of The Irishman. In my opinion, this is Scorsese’s best movie since The Departed. Seeing De Niro, Pachino and Peschi share the screen together is a sight to behold.
Thanks to the Bills and Ravens blowing covers in insane and bizarre ways last week, I was forced to stomach a third straight week of not covering. It’s starting to weigh on me a bit, but I will not fold.
Let’s get back on track.
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5)
I had a pretty good feeling that the Titans were going to upset the Falcons at home next week, but I had no idea Will Levis was going to go off for four long touchdown passes in a very impressive debut. The Steelers were not so impressive in last week’s loss to the Jaguars, and to make matters worse, quarterback Kenny Pickett left the game with a rib injury. With such a quick turnaround, it’s not crazy to think Pickett is going to be uncomfortable if he does play, while Pittsburgh will have to go to Mitch Trubisky if he doesn’t. I would assume the Titans go back to Levis after that performance even if Ryan Tannehill is healthy again, and I think he takes advantage of a Pittsburgh team that seems to be figuring out a lot right now.
The Pick: Titans +2.5
SUNDAY MORNING SCHNITZEL
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
The NFL makes its long awaited debut in Frankfort, Germany on Sunday morning. The Dolphins continued to pick up wins against teams at or near the bottom of the standings with Sunday’s victory over the Patriots, while the Chiefs continue to be the most confusing team in football in terms of covering the spread, at least for me. I can’t seem to figure Kansas City out, but there’s no doubt when the Chiefs have it going they are a top team in football. This is a huge game for Miami, as the Phins are trying to get rid of the stigma that they can’t take down top teams. In this case, I think they get it done.
The Pick: Dolphins +1.5
1 O’CLOCK SUNDAY
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints (-7.5)
The Bears have already announced that Tyson Bagent will stay in the starting lineup for this one with Justin Fields still injured. Bagent had quite the “welcome to the NFL” moment on Sunday Night Football last week in a loss to the Chargers. The Saints offense looked the best it has all season long in its win over the Colts last weekend, with everybody getting involved and points piling up. New Orleans, despite being 4-4, is tied for first place in its division and is going to be playing meaningful football for the foreseeable future. The Bears are not. While I don’t believe the Saints’ offensive issues are completely fixed, they certainly have less issues than Chicago currently. Alvin Kamara is going to have a huge game. Uncertain if Montez Sweat makes his first appearance for the Bears.
The Pick: Saints -7.5
Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
I didn’t think the Seahawks would be in first place in the NFC West at any point this season with the way the Niners started off the year, but that’s exactly where Pete Carroll’s group finds themselves heading into this game with the Ravens. Baltimore picked up yet another win on Sunday against the Cardinals, but blew their cover in an incredible way in the process. Lamar Jackson has been absolutely unreal against NFC teams in his career, only dropping one game. While I’m not sure he drops this one, I think the Seahawks have been playing some great football this season and keep this one close.
The Pick: Seahawks +5.5
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (-3)
The Rams are starting to look like a team that is not as good as I once thought. Matthew Stafford suffered an injured thumb in last week’s loss to Dallas and is questionable to return in this one. The Packers are getting worse and worse by the week it feels like, and there hasn’t been much to cheer about in quite some time up in Green Bay. The Packers haven’t scored a touchdown in their last 10 first-half quarters and Jordan Love seems to be regressing. Even if Matthew Stafford isn’t 100% in this one, and the Rams do have problems of their own, I think they’re able to get more done offensively than the Packers are.
The Pick: Rams +3
Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons (-4.5)
Brutal news out of Minnesota this week, as Kirk Cousins, who had been playing perhaps the best football of his career this season, is lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Cousins had never even missed a game in his 12-year career before the freak injury. On Tuesday, Minnesota traded for Joshua Dobbs from Arizona to fill in. Rookie Jaren Hall also has a chance to start. Atlanta had a quarterback issue of its own last week, as Desmond Ridder was benched at halftime for Taylor Heinicke. Head coach Arthur Smith announced on Wednesday that Ridder would not return to the starting lineup, opening the door for Heinicke to make his first start of the year. The Falcons have had the same problem all year long: plenty of great skill guys but nobody to get them the ball. Does this QB controversy make this problem even worse? Maybe, but I still think Atlanta gets it done with everything the Vikings are dealing with.
The Pick: Falcons -4.5
Washington Commanders at New England Patriots (-3.5)
The Commanders seem to save their good performances for the Eagles, as Washington plays Philly very well but struggles against everyone else. The Patriots are coming off a loss to the Dolphins, but New England hung around in that game for longer than I expected. Even with Washington beginning the process of selling players by moving Montez Sweat to the Bears, I still think this is a team that can show up and dominate on any given Sunday. That being said, there’s still that side of Washington that has shown up in a few inopportune times this year. While I don’t necessarily think New England is good, they’ve figured some things out in recent weeks.
The Pick: Patriots -3.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Houston Texans (-3)
The Texans struggled mightily coming off of a bye last week, losing to the Panthers to give Carolina its first win of the year. The Buccaneers showed fight on Thursday night against Buffalo, but the Bucs look like another team that enjoyed a hot start but is coming back down to earth. Even with that said, this is a game I think Tampa Bay can win. While Houston is certainly not as bad of a team as people expected them to be this year, they aren’t exactly a playoff contender either. Baker Mayfield and company get back on track with a road victory here.
The Pick: Buccaneers +3
Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns (-7.5)
The Cardinals, thanks to Carolina’s win, now possess the pole position for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft. Arizona seems to want to solidify this new development, shipping away starting QB Josh Dobbs to the Vikings and turning to rookie Clayton Tune. The Browns were mere moments away from coming away with a road victory last week in Seattle, but could not come up with one last stop after a turnover. The quarterback room is a mess in Cleveland right now, and while the Cardinals are very frisky and find a way to cover games they shouldn’t (last week), the uncertainty of a rookie QB making his first start for a bad team against a good defense is too much for me to look past.
The Pick: Browns -7.5
LATE AFTERNOON SLATE
Indianapolis Colts (-3) at Carolina Panthers
The Colts desperately need a win in this one, having lost three in a row and quickly falling out of playoff contention. The Panthers picked up a much needed first win of the season against the Texans on Sunday, scoring 15 points in the win and not getting into the end zone. While Gardner Minshew has had some highs and lows since coming in for an injured Anthony Richardson, the quarterback has gotten some good things done offensively for Indy. While the Panthers D showed up last week, it’ll be a tougher task this time around.
The Pick: Colts -3
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
This is one of the biggest games of the week and of the season thus far. As Dallas and Philly will be battling for superiority in the NFC East. The Cowboys have looked very good since their primetime loss to the Niners a few weeks ago, while the Eagles currently boast the best record in football and have been the most consistent team in the league. Despite Philaelphia’s successes, the team hasn’t reached the highs of last year’s NFC champion squad just yet. That being said, I do think they are a better team with the Cowboys right now. Even though that is the case, Dallas has figured out some things on offense the last couple of weeks, getting star receiver Ceedee Lamb more involved. Don’t ask me why, but I think the Cowboys get a monkey off of their back this week.
The Pick: Cowboys +3
New York Giants at Las Vegas Raiders (-1.5)
What a week for the Raiders. The team fired head coach Josh McDaniels and announced Aiden O’Connell will take over as the starting quarterback this week. It’s probably a necessary breath of fresh air for Vegas, who are not going anywhere any time soon. The Giants don’t seem to be going anywhere either, but at least there’s some stability in New York currently. This to me actually seems like a spot where the Raiders could figure it out under a new head coach and light a fire, but the offense is so bad that I just can’t see it happening. The G-Men don’t exactly boast an amazing offense either. You’d be okay skipping this game.
The Pick: Giants +1.5
WAITIN’ ALL DAY FOR A SUNDAY NIGHT
Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals (-1.5)
These two teams have had quite a history over the past couple of seasons. Of course, the Bengals knocked Buffalo out of the playoffs last year a few weeks after the scary Demar Hamlin incident. Going into this week though, the Bengals are officially back, having dominated the Niners last week to finally get above .500. The Bills got back into the win column on Thursday against the Buccaneers, but only won by six when they should have won by 20. I do think the Bills are figuring things out and will be in the playoffs in a few months, they are not playing the better football out of these two teams right now. Cincinnati is rolling and will continue to do so against Buffalo.
The Pick: Bengals -1.5
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) at New York Jets
The Chargers looked like the team we all expected them to look like on Sunday night against the Bears, putting together a dominant four quarters to earn a win. The Jets did the opposite, looking horrible for four quarters before putting it together on the final drive and in overtime to stun the Giants with a last-second win. New York is winning important games and will have a chance to make the playoffs this year, but I think this is a game that they struggle to keep up offensively in. While the New York defense has looked incredible at times this year, the Chargers have a top offense in the league. Even if LA is able to get into the end zone a few times, I’m not sure the Jets can do the same.
The Pick: Chargers -3
On bye week: 49ers, Broncos, Jaguars, Lions
I’m feeling good this week. This is the slate where I return to glory with a winning week. It’s about time.
Last Week’s Record: 7-8-1
Season Record: 61-45-3