Meet hard-hitting linebacker James Harrison
The sputtering New York Jets have little reason for festive cheer this weekend, as they prepare to take on a dominant Pittsburgh Steelers defence led by one of the more controversial hitmen in the NFL today in James Harrison.
Harrison is known to dish out the occasional dodgy tackle like Roy Keane in his prime and he boasts the kind of nasty streak that makes Joey Barton look like a choirboy. That is not the kind of combination you would take home to meet your mother!
He is also prone to making outlandish comments on a regular basis. He twice refused to attend Super Bowl celebrations at the White House as Presidents Bush and Obama only invited the Steelers because they were winners.
The Pro Bowl outside linebacker has been a busy boy this season. He has been every quarterback's worst nightmare, cementing his status as one of the best pass-rushing threats in the NFL with 10 sacks. When you look at that aspect of his game, there are few who have been better over the past three or four years.
James Harrison's tackle on Mohamed Massaquoi landed him a £48,000 fine. Photo: AP
But Harrison, who has even delivered big blows to fans in recent years (available on YouTube), has also come under intense scrutiny from the league office for continued helmet-to-helmet hits which have either left opponents dizzy and reeling or literally out for the count on the field.
In one game against the Cleveland Browns earlier this season, Harrison delivered a high tackle on Mohamed Massaquoi and followed that up later in the same game by knocking Joshua Cribbs unconscious with another dangerous hit.
That led to one of the most ridiculous comments in recent sports history when Harrison said he "didn't want to injure opponents but just put them to sleep for a little while."
Harrison has been fined four times this season for a total of $125,000 (£80,000) and as he is determined not to change his aggressive style, I can see more financial punishment coming in the future.
The former NFL Europe star claims he is being victimised by the league office and their officials on Sundays. But I would argue he has deserved every one of his fines to date, having dished out such questionable hits in a time of heightened awareness of head injuries in the NFL.
The Steelers will publicly support their man, of course, and will also reiterate each and every weekend that player safety in the NFL is an absolute priority. But if he is completely honest with himself, head coach Mike Tomlin is probably loving the fact Harrison is so wound up by all the fines coming out of his pay packet this season.
Harrison is certainly an angry man right now and I think he plays his best football when he feels the world and his wife are against him. The Steelers would be wise to tap into that anger for the remainder of the 2010 campaign.
The target of that anger this Sunday night will be the Jets who, at the start of this season, were talking a good game, having been the focus of national media attention over the summer.
Colourful head coach Rex Ryan and his band of merry men were the subject of the highly-acclaimed, fly-on-the-wall Hard Knocks series and in that show they were happy to portray themselves as the best team this year.
When New York opened the year with nine wins and just two losses, there were some who were willing to believe Ryan's proclamation. There were others who pointed to the fact the Jets had laboured to what should have been relatively comfortable wins over the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, suggesting this team talked a much better game than they played.
The non-believers will be patting themselves smugly on the back following the past couple of weeks.
The Jets have been awful, scoring just nine points in embarrassing division losses to the New England Patriots (45-3) and Miami Dolphins (10-6). Those defeats dropped the Big Apple outfit back into the pack with just three weeks of the regular season remaining and they are, by no means, guaranteed of what once looked like a nailed-on playoff berth.
And it leaves Ryan with this sobering thought - in 13 outings this season his club has only twice beaten a team that currently boasts a winning record.
Pittsburgh are going to be one of the tougher teams to knock out of the January playoffs as they are physical on both sides of the ball.
But it is that Harrison-led defence - which also features playmakers in the form of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and long-haired, hard-hitting safety Troy Polamalu - that will give the Jets a real headache on Sunday.
Mark Sanchez has struggled badly in recent games. Photo: AP
Mark Sanchez is struggling at quarterback for the Jets and is low on confidence. That is not the best time to be facing an angry pass-rusher like Harrison and a swarming Pittsburgh defence.
The Steelers are playing the better football of these two teams at the moment and I fancy them to inflict further misery on the slumping Jets. I don't mind if Harrison has a big game (I actually think he is exciting to watch), I just wish he would play within the rules and keep his mouth shut a bit more.
If he doesn't, he might be making another charitable donation at Christmas, thanks to a timely intervention from the NFL's disciplinary department.
Week 15 on BBC 5 live sports extra
Before the Jets-Steelers showdown, Arlo White and I will bring listeners the first part of our double-header from 1745 GMT on Sunday. And it is a real cracker as the New Orleans Saints visit the Baltimore Ravens.
The defending Super Bowl champion Saints have quietly won six games in a row and it's about time we all started seriously considering them repeating their 2009 success in Texas in February.
Any team that features offensive weaponry in the form of quarterback Drew Brees, running back Reggie Bush and wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore has a chance to win every game. And look at New Orleans' recent form - in their last five games they have scored 34, 34, 30, 34 and 31 points.
The Ravens have exciting weapons of their own in quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason, but their Ray Lewis-led defence had a letdown last week against Houston and must rebound in a hurry against the Saints.
This has all the makings of a classic game and I just about give the edge to the Saints at the moment - but there is very little between two very good teams who will feature in the playoffs in January.