The Raiders and the Patriots are very similar teams. Both teams feel that they’re underachieving in the season, yet both teams are still in it for a first round bye. The game began with both teams playing solid defense on the first drive, and then the Patriots began to play like they’re capable of playing on offense gaining chunk plays in the middle of the field. This was still a game at halftime with the Patriots up 21-7. After halftime, the Patriots switched to man defense since the Raiders were missing Ammar Dayani and Taqi Baig. The Raiders had no answer as they struggled to move the ball down the field. We discussed previously that the Raiders were the highest scoring team in the league, but in recent weeks, the drop-bug has hit them once again and they have been putrid (only 4 TDs in the last 2 games).
Ali Haroon did a great job once again spreading the ball on offense with Farhan, Abuzar & Ali Merali all had 4 or more receptions. Mikael Ratansi & Mujahid Hemani both contributed with TDs (2 for Mik, 1 for Muj). It will be interesting to see if the Patriots employ the man defense more often this season. Two teams seemed to have switch to a man-defense scheme, trusting their individual skill; it’ll be a gutsy call, but one that may prove fruitful.
After the Patriots win, the standings are as close as it can get, and beyond the Steelers, any team can rearrange themselves from 2-6. Only 3 games remaining in the regular season, and the Raiders have already seen themselves drop from the 2nd seed to the 4th seed. If the Raiders lose to the Giants next week couple with a Cardinals win, the Raider will drop to the 6th seed. The Patriots are still vying for the 2nd seed and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. They may not want to look too far ahead, but they face the Bengals for the final game of the season, a match-up that could decide the bye between the two teams.
We’re glad that we don’t have any game tape for this one – this game was U-G-L-Y. But this is the type of grind-it-out game that we can expect from most teams as we near the playoffs. Both teams played man defense, and it seemed that the Giants had a tough time in the offense acclimating Shaneali Kara. We expect that to change over the next few games as Shaneali has been known to find pay-dirt more often than not. The Giants man-defense wasn’t terrible in this one, as they only allowed 1 second-half TD on a tipped ball to Areeb Khan, and Said was 10/24 in this game (with 4 TDs, and no INTs).
We suspected in the power rankings that the Cardinals may switch to man defense since it worked well the previous week, and it worked beautifully against the Giants. The Cardinals held Taleb to 9/29 with 4 INTs and we’d venture to guess that this is his worst performance of his career. Khaleel Kassam was a stand-out on defense as he took on the challenge against Shaneali Kara and held him to one catch. Khaleel had 1 INT, and could have had a much bigger day as he dropped 2 would-be INTs, and a long TD pass in the second half. Said Samater also had a big game defensively, stopping Mujtaba from his torrid pace; limiting him to just 3 receptions (on what seemed like double digit targets). Said also had 2 INTs in the game, and Omar Khamissa was responsible for the other interception. This was the first shut-out this season.
Heading into this game, the Bengals were trailing the Steelers by 2 games in the standings. With a win, the Bengals could pull within one game, and have a legitimate shot at the #1 seed if they were to run the table. The Steelers were missing their starting QB, and early on, they were getting by just fine. Captain Ahmed Al-Waili QB’d, his first attempt since Week 1 of the season, and in his first drive, he threw the longest pass of his career which was hauled in amongst two defender by Muzammil Rizvi. After that, Hamood struggled at QB as a lot of his passes weren’t crisp, and usually lacking direction. The Bengals are also without Hisham Ali for the rest of the season, and started Danial who filled in admirably. Danial showed great poise in the pocket, and was uber-efficient in the first half. His receivers were getting open for him with Ali Raza Rizvi (Offensive Player of the Week) being the biggest beneficiary. The Steelers cycled through receivers as Muzammil Rizvi also gave it a try, and after one successful drive, he realized QB’ing is much harder than it looks. Ultimately, Ali Jessa started QB’ing, and was brilliant. The Bengals were up 42-14 at one point in this game, and were up 42-21 with 7 minutes to go in the game.
The switch to Ali Jessa was a key one for the Steelers, as after early drives by Hamood and Shiny, their offense really bogged down. Ali Jessa moved the offense quickly, and outside of 1 INT thrown, he was flawless. On the Bengals side, this was a game that was won. However, some stingy D by the Steelers, and some boneheaded plays cost them the W. The Bengals were still up 42-35 with less than 2 minutes to go, and Danial Ali threw a ball towards the end zone and Alla Al-Salem made a clutch interception. It was an unneeded throw on 2nd down for the Bengals. On the ensuing drive, Mohamed Railey made a great diving catch on second down to put the Steelers in great position. The drive was finished off on a shoe-string catch by Ahmed Al-Waili and eventually ending the game in a tie. This was one of the best games of the year; emotions ran high, great plays were made on both sides, and ultimately there wasn’t much separating the two teams.