Friday, October 28, 2011

NFL WEEK 8 PREVIEWS

As we reach the halfway point of the season, now comes the time when the pretenders reveal themselves and the contenders strut their stuff.  Several games this week will verify or nullify the power rankings of many experts.  For fantasy owners, you’ve got six more games to get your team situated for a playoff run.  It is crunch time.

THE 1:00PM DOCKET


INDIANAPOLIS @ TENNESSEE
Both teams are coming off two horrendous losses, Indianapolis because of the score differential, Tennessee because of the importance of the game.   The Titans offense is just struggling.  Since WR Kenny Britt went on the I.R., Tennessee is averaging less than 200 yards passing per contest.  Chris Johnson has seen his yards per carry totals plummet this year, perhaps a hangover from the lockout and subsequent holdout.  However, it might be more than that.  Anyone who has watched Johnson knows that this year he’s looked like he’s lost a step.  His recognition and acceleration to the hole has been awkward at best.  After signing that huge $53 million deal, you think there’s going to be some heat on Johnson if he doesn’t perform this week?  Perhaps even more disconcerting about the Titans, there is only one team with less total plays run in the league and that team is the San Francisco 49ers.  Problem is, the 49ers had a Bye week.  The Titans haven’t yet.  What that means simply is that Tennessee has very few sustained drives, as they ranked 30th overall in time of possession.  If this isn’t the week to right that ship, none is.  The Colts defense was simply obliterated by the Saints to the tune of 61 points and 557 yards of total offense.  Tennessee doesn’t quite have the weapons that New Orleans does, but Donnie Avery was signed for games like this.  For the first time, Avery has his health, and with Damian Williams suffering from a concussion, Avery could play a key role in stretching out the Colts 23rd ranked pass defense.  For his career he’s averaged 12.6 yards per reception.  If you own Johnson, you’re playing him because he’s got probably his best matchup of the season, as well as Javon Ringer, who will no doubt spell Johnson if he doesn’t start reeling off some big gains.  Curtis Painter had been improving steadily until he came up against tough road games against the Bengals and Saints defenses.  Pierre Garcon will no doubt see a bunch of deep targets.  Delone Carter might appear like a solid play against the Titans 24th ranked rushing defense, until you realize that they were ranked 10th until they face Houston.

TITANS 23, COLTS 14


JACKSONVILLE @ HOUSTON
Coming off a huge defensive victory at home, the offensively challenged Jaguars head to Houston, now the sole leader of the AFC South.  Go back three years and this game might have been dubbed a shootout of sorts.  Now, two top ten defenses are going to try to clamp down on two superior offensive lines and two marquee running backs.  Jacksonville pulled a huge number on the Ravens offensive front, holding Ray Rice to 28 yards and causing his first fumble since 2009.  Now they’ll be challenged by Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the first running back tandem in Texans history to each tally 100-yards rushing in a single game.  The Texans allowed Foster and Tate a total of 40 carries, and were rewarded with 219 rushing yards.  For the Jaguars to win, they’ll have to find a way to shut down Foster and place the impetus on QB Matt Schaub to win the game.  It’s very possible, as the Jags have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season.  Schaub is coming off his best game this season, where he garnered a QB rating of 147.7 and could have Andre Johnson on the field, though it's doubtful.  He’s a game-time decision.  For the Jaguars offense, Mike Sims-Walker has returned to his previous franchise and in his second week back could make an impact if he and Blaine Gabbert can find the same page.  Jason Hill had eight targets last week and seems to be Gabbert’s favorite target, but Sims-Walker is by and far the biggest red zone target Gabbert will have besides TE disappointment Marcedes Lewis.  Maurice Jones-Drew will see at least 20 carries and should have a decent shot at 100 yards.  He’s not scoring touchdowns but has been very consistent averaging around 97 yards a game.  If this game was in Jacksonville, it might be a different story, but on the turf surface of Reliant, you can rely on the Texans.

TEXANS 24, JAGUARS 12


ARIZONA @ BALTIMORE
The Cardinals would probably opt for facing a pack of unfed lions rather than head into Baltimore after the Ravens dropped a game where they were physically mashed.  The Cardinals are about to become the Ravens punching dummy.  Ray Rice will get a lot more carries than the eight he got last week, but the Arizona front seven has held its own, particularly against weaker offensive fronts.  Only one rusher has over 100 yards against them and that’s Adrian Peterson.  Baltimore is pretty strong up front, and Bryant McKinnie has made a lot of difference this year at the left tackle spot.  The difference in this game could be Joe Flacco and how he rebounds afternoon other subpar performance and growing perception he’s not able to lead this team.  I expect Rice will see a lot of short passes in an attempt to get Flacco on an early roll, before he tosses his share of strikes to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.  Woe to Kevin Kolb, who can’t be excited about having to play this game without Beanie Wells.  Wells is again unlikely to play, and against the Ravens would have it rough anyway, but a balanced attack could delay some of the Ravens blitz tendencies.  If there is a weakness to Baltimore, it may be their secondary, and if Kolb can get some time, there’s always Larry Fitzgerald to cause problems downfield.  Of the four passing touchdowns the Ravens have allowed, half have been for strikes of over 30 yards.  Regardless, this should be a great day for the Ravens defense and Ray Rice.|

BALTIMORE 27, CARDINALS 10


NEW ORLEANS @ ST. LOUIS
How is it that a team with Steven Jackson as their primary runner is rushing the ball only 36 percent of the time?  This may underscore one of several problems St. Louis has.  Jackson hasn’t exactly been the measure of NFL durability, and perhaps that explains his lack of a 20-carry game yet this season.  So even though he’s averaging 4.9 per carry, he’s seeing less rushing attempts.  This combined with the fact St. Louis has given up the second most sacks in the league, no doubt also a reflection of their lack of wide receiver threats (Brandon Lloyd’s six catches last Sunday gave him over one-third the total tally of any other receiver on the team), makes for another one-sided affair.  The Rams will attempt early down passes to assist backup quarterback A.J. Feeley from having to stare down the Saints blitz package, and will try to involve Jackson as much as possible.  However, if the Rams are going to score, it will likely be through the air as New Orleans has allowed just five rushing TDs verus 12 passing scores.  While  Drew Brees’ hasn’t been nearly as good away from home, the Edward Jones Dome will feel very close to it.  Brees hasn’t throw a single interception indoors this year, and on turf, his ratio is 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions.  Pierre Thomas is a nice play here with Mark Ingram sitting the pine after bruising his heel, and Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham should make their mark.  However, I think it’s Thomas who surprises with a big rushing score and a TD reception.  He would be my sleeper play of the week.

SAINTS 34, RAMS 7


MINNESOTA
@ CAROLINA
This is another one of those games that seems fit for Adrian Peterson to go off on a running binge.  Well slow down one second there, son.  Adrian Peterson averages nearly a yard less per carry on the road this year as well as on grass.  The last time Minnesota visited Carolina was 2009 and surprising 11-2 Vikings got beaten 26-7, yielding 20 points in the final quarter.  Peterson managed just 35 yards on 12 carries, though he did score a touchdown.  Of course, Christian Ponder isn’t Brett Favre, and this Carolina defense isn’t quite as good as that one was.  Peterson will certainly tally more than 12 carries and should get his second road touchdown of the year.  However, Carolina’s pass defense has improved to 12th on the season, and my guess is that they’ll be willing to risk man coverage against the likes of Ponder if it means preventing Peterson from consistently churning out yardage.  Cam Newton continues his impressive rookie season, but his October has been a little chillier than September.  His QB rating has dropped from 85 to 81, and he’s thrown one more interception than touchdown in October.  Where the difference has come in is Newton’s ability to run.  The problem is that his style of play has come at the expense of two very strong running backs, neither of which has had a game of 15 carries or more.  Only DeAngelo Williams has 100 yards from scrimmage in a game this year, but he doesn’t have a single carry inside the ten-yard line.  Newton will throw early and often to try to score early and take Minnesota away from their own ground game.  He should have no problem finding Steve Smith open yet again.  However, he’ll have to look away from the middle of the field as Minnesota has given up just one touchdown to a TE and that was last week to Jermichael Finley.  Expect more targets to Legedu Naanee and Brandon Lefell this week.  The game will come down to Christian Ponder, who will take advantage of a Panthers secondary that has been scorched for four passing touchdowns over 45 yards.  Michael Jenkins and Percy Harvin will both see paydirt this week as Minnesota shocks the Carolina faithful at Bank of America Stadium.

VIKINGS 24, PANTHERS 21


MIAMI @ NEW YORK GIANTS
Five minutes does not make a football game, unless of course you’re the Miami Dolphins and you’re up against the Denver Broncos new wunderkind quarterback.  Things can’t get much worse for Tony Sparano’s group, as Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush have still been limited in practice, as has.  Matt Moore has sore ribs from being sacked eight times in two games.  The Dolphins would prefer to try to run against the Giants front seven, which is expected to welcome back Justin Tuck, as the Giants are giving up over 127 yards per game on the ground.  For the Giants, Eli Manning, for all of his inconsistency, he is the fourth rated QB in the league.  He’s thrown 11 touchdowns against five interceptions, and in his last two starts has tallied over 700 yards passing, three touchdowns and three interceptions.  Jake Ballard has become the one consistent target he looks for besides Hakeem Nicks, though in the past two games Mario Manningham has 17 targets and 10 receptions.  Cold weather has never suited the Dolphins, who are another team in for a long day in the Meadowlands.  Ahmad Bradshaw, coming off a career best 3-touchdown day, will again see the workload on the ground as Brandon Jacobs continues to deal with a swollen knee.  It’s a nice day for Bradshaw, but even a nicer day for Manning.

GIANTS 27, DOLPHINS 14


THE 4:05PM DOCKET

NEW ENGLAND @ PITTSBURGH
This might be a game the Steelers might prefer not be at Heinz Field.  Tom Brady has is 6-1 all time against them, including two AFC Championship wins in the Steel City.  The last time Pittsburgh beat the Patriots with Brady was in 2004 after scoring 21 points in the first quarter.  There’s no doubt this is a quarterback friendly game.  Both QBs make their teammates better, but the truth is Brady doesn’t need a stud receiver to lift his offense on his shoulders.  In the past names like Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney and David Givens had factored in against the Steelers, and even with their league best pass defense, the Steelers have been so predictable to Bill Belichick that the games have hardly seemed fair.  The Patriots defense, ranked near the bottom this year, has found ways to confuse Roethlisberger, who is 2-4 against the Patriot,s but whose regular season numbers against them aren’t shabby: 96 of 166, 10 touchdowns versus two interceptions.  However he owns a 58 percent completion rate and just 7.02 yards per attempt.  The Patriots blueprint is simple; spread the Steelers out and pick them apart in favorable matchups.  This time, I believe they do that and actually run Sunday.  Averaging 124 yards per game, the Patriots rushing offense will do what they do best; provide the Steelers with any extra weapon they can to cast doubt in their minds.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis will get more attempts than expected, and Wes Welker, who is virtually un-coverable, may draw man coverage, leaving Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski to draw favorable matchups.  The Steelers will pass a lot against this league worst pass defense in an attempt to open up the box for Rashard Mendenhall.  The Steelers will likely be without Hines Ward, so Antonio Brown, who is quickly rising on the targets list, should be in for a good game.  If the Steelers can get on top early they can access their blitz package.  Thus I expect a big toss early to Mike Wallace to test the safeties of the New England secondary.  Everything has to go right for the Steelers to win, and it likely won’t.

PATRIOTS 34, STEELERS 28


WASHINGTON @ BUFFALO
John Beck wasn’t stellar in his debut as the Redskins starter, but he played strong, and without Tim Hightower for the rest of the season, he’ll have to step up again.  The Bills defense, though ranked 30th against the pass and run, has been one of the most opportunistic in the league.  They are plus-11 in turnover ratio and second in the league with 12 interceptions.  Safety George Wilson has been a possessed man, appearing all over the field, leading the team in tackles, interceptions and passes defensed.  The Redskins backfield now turns again to Shanahan favorite Ryan Torain, with Roy Helu sprinkled in for good measure, particularly after Ahmad Bradshaw ate the Bills rushing defense for three scores and over 100 yards.  Surprisingly, only Bradshaw and Cedric Benson have earned 100-yard status against Buffalo, even though the Bills are yielding almost 138 yards per contest on the ground.  Without Santana Moss, the Redskins will target Jabar Gaffney outside, and team receiving leader Fred Davis.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has three interceptions in the past two games, and against the Redskins secondary that has just four interceptions all year, his job is to protect the football and get quick short passes away while avoiding the pass rush of Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo.  Thus, Fred Jackson should get a decent number of looks in the passing game, as well as Scott Chandler, who has had just two catches in the last two games.  Unfortunately, for the Redskins, Beck will have to make some plays, and the Bills secondary will lure him into a key turnover late.

BILLS 27, REDSKINS 13


DETROIT @ DENVER
The Lions have showed some cracks in the armor, and that includes another chink to Matthew Stafford, who limped off the field again Sunday.  The problem with the Lions, besides the fact they lost Jahvid Best a week after having his best game as a pro, is that the offense continues to play lousy in the first quarter.  Though Stafford actually completes over 61 percent of his passes in the first, his passer rating is an abysmal 62.1 while he averages just 4.79 per pass.  Now they head to Denver, the home of a rejuventated Broncos franchise with Tim Tebow at the helm.  The Broncos rushing offense has improved greatly with Willis McGahee directing it.  However, he is out this week, leaving Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball the opportunity to get more playing time.  This could be Moreno’s last shot, before Denver invests elsewhere, because The Lions rushing defense has made first string runners stars the last three weeks to the tune of 64 carries, 373 yards (a 5.8 average).  If Moreno is a no-show on Sunday, he’s have to do more than Tebowism to continue in his coach’s good graces.  John Fox is likely to rely on the rush, including some by Tebow himself to move the chains.   Daniel Fells will likely be a bailout target for Tebow, with an occasional target to Demaryius Thomas.  I like Denver’s chances to surprise the reeling Lions, especially with a wounded Stafford.  If Tebow protects the ball, expect a shocker.

BRONCOS 18, LIONS 14


THE 4:15PM DOCKET

CLEVELAND @ SAN FRANCISCO
This has all the makings of an offensive dud.  Peyton Hillis reported being sore post practice Wednesday which means we could see another day of plodding from Montario Hardesty. The receiving threats on Cleveland are already limited as both Mohamed Massaquoi and Ben Watson are still feeling the ill effects of lingering concussions.  Coming off the Bye week, the 49ers defense has to be licking its chops at seeing a Cleveland team that averages just 3.3 yards per carry and a league worst 5.5 per pass attempt.  In return, Cleveland’s strong pass defense faces an Alex Smith-led offense that would rather put the ball in the hands of Frank Gore against the Browns 19th ranked rush defense than throw on a secondary tied for best in the league.  Thus, Gore is the key for the 49ers, and he’s coming off three straight games of over 120 yards rushing.  Delanie Walker has become a new red zone target of Smith, as he has two scores in the last two games.   His last TD was in the final two minutes of the 49ers upset win over Detroit, so he could figure in as well.  Gore will stake the 49ers to a lead, and that’s all they will need because Cleveland has just one game where they have won coming from behind.

49ERS 17, BROWNS 7


CINCINATTI @ SEATTLE
With Cedric Benson finally serving his one game suspension, Bernard Scott was a league- wide fantasy pickup.  Yet Scott is averaging just 2.8 per carry this year and the Seattle defense has been squashing teams to the tune of a league best 3.1 yards per touch.  Where the Seahawks falter is on offense.  With injuries now abounding at crucial skill positions – Tarvaris Jackson at QB, Marshawn Lynch at RB – they are in the bottom five in their down efficiency at just over 30 percent.  Lynch may return Sunday, and he’ll be crucial to the Seahawks ground game.  Charlie Whitehurst hasn’t taken many strides forward, and against Cincy’s fifth rated pass defense, it probably won’t get much better.  Andy Dalton should have some good field position to deal with but Seattle is in the top ten in defensive red zone efficiency.  So my bet is Mike Nugent gets a lot of opportunities, and A. J. Green adds a big play touchdown.

BENGALS 16, SEAHAWKS 6


SUNDAY NIGHT – 8:20 pm

DALLAS @ PHILADELPHIA
The story of this game should be the Dallas defense, which has steadily improved and nearly took one from the Patriots in Gillette stadium just a few weeks ago.  They held Tom Brady to his second lowest tally of the season, while handcuffing the New England running game to 101 total yards.  Meanwhile, Dallas may have an invigorated rushing attack in the form of DeMarco Murray, who reeled off a record 253 yards on the ground.  He gets to go up against Philadelphia's 23rd ranked rushing defense as a bonus.  On the flipside, Eagles DE Trent Cole returns, and that in itself could help some of Philadelphia's defensive issues up front.  Cole has averaged over 50 tackles per season the past five years and almost 10 sacks per season.  He had three sacks before injuring his calf in Week Four against the 49ers.  The quarterbacks of both teams have been turnover prone, but Vick has elevated the Eagles to near equality of their Pennsylvania rival Steelers as one of the worst in the league.  So whichever QB limit bad decisions and costly mistakes will likely win this one.  Jason Witten has been as consistent a target as Romo has ever had this year, leading the team with 36 receptions.  He thrives against the Eagles, having scored four touchdowns in their last four matchups while hauling in 24 passes for 234 yards.  Romo's chemistry with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin has been inconsistent, but might not matter if Murray can pull an encore performance of their game against St. Louis.  Sooner than latter I expect Bryant to break out in a huge way.  LeSean McCoy has played only three games against the Cowboys and has never scored, but his tally in last year's foray was 16 carries on 149 yards.  Taper expectations this time around, but expect him to get his share of targets. Jeremy Maclin has been heating up with 26 targets and 18 receptions in the last three games.  However, Dallas has caused six turnovers in the past two games, Romo has been a better quarterback away than at home, and the Eagles defense is still a question mark.

COWBOYS 34, EAGLES 31


MONDAY NIGHT – 8:30 pm

SAN DIEGO @ KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs have won three straight, and have rushed for 103 yards, 194 yards, and 139 yards respectively in those three victories, lifting their rushing offense's rank to 7th best in the league.  They've caused seven turnovers (six against the Raiders alone) while turning the ball over just twice.  Matt Cassel hasn't quite found a groove this year except perhaps for the game against Indianapolis, though in the last three games he has connected with Dwayne Bowe for 18 receptions, 315 yards and three scores. Jackie Battle now has the starting job, and is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, though most of that came in one game, and he is sharing time with Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster.  Also, Le'Ron McClain got his first goal-to-go touchdown run last week.  They'll face a Chargers rush defense that has slipped to 21st overall, giving up 121 yards per game.  San Diego has won three of the last four at Arrowhead, though the games haven't always been easy.  Last year, the heavily favored Chargers traveled Midwest in the first weeks of the season and were upset 21-14.  Speculation has begun floating that something is wrong with Philip Rivers.  He has tossed nine interceptions versus seven touchdowns, and the turnovers have come at costly times.  His yards per attempt which had been close to nine per throw has dropped to under eight, the lowest since 2007.  Scary enough, he’s completing almost 65 percent of his passes and still that’s his lowest tally also since 2007.  He now comes off his worst game of the season where he posted a QB rating of 51.4. Antonio Gates is going to be limited the rest of the season with his foot problem, and the Chiefs secondary is no slouch.  Mike Tolbert remains questionable with his hamstring, and the Bolts have lost starting guard Chris Dielman to a concussion.  All this adds up to is a bad scenario for San Diego.  The Chiefs picked Rivers off twice in the Week Three game in San Diego, so Ryan Mathews becomes crucial for them to have a chance, and he’s behind a banged up line.  KC won’t let them escape this time.

CHIEFS 20, CHARGERS 17