Friday, October 14, 2011



Atlanta is now 2-3 and could easily be 1-4 if not perhaps for the Eagles losing Michael Vick late in the game and Jeremy Maclin dropping a sure first down in the waning seconds of their Week 2 victory. Julio Jones is going to miss Sunday’s matchup, though he disappeared during last week’s meeting with the Packers, and Harry Douglas is likely to fill his role. The Panthers haven’t been able to stop anybody’s running game, so you can expect Michael Turner to be a good play here. Although Cam Newton is likely to put up a good chunk of yards and points on Atlanta’s 28th ranked pass defense, fantasy owners might consider starting the Atlanta’s defense/special teams anyway. Carolina has given up two touchdowns on kick returns, and Eric Weems returned both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown last year. Besides, Atlanta has been without John Abraham, one of their key pass rushers, and his absence was felt tremendously against Green Bay. There’s a chance he plays Sunday, though as of this writing he is questionable. I’ve jumped off the Matt Ryan bandwagon. He doesn’t look comfortable lately in this offense, and while I think Turner is good for 100 yards and a score, the Carolina offense is just clicking on too many cylinders for Atlanta to catch up.


The Eagles are such a mess that last week their defense actually went out on a fourth down and short play in waning minutes of the final quarter knowing Ryan Fitzpatrick was not going to snap the football and jumped off sides. It would be easy to push all the blame on the defense, but the Eagles are ranked 24th in red zone efficiency, undermining their third overall offensive play efficiency ranking (rankings provided by Pro Football Weekly). Now they get the Redskins, a team that is just as puzzling at 3-1. The teams split last year’s series: Kevin Kolb started the first game, a Redskins victory, and Michael Vick started the second game, a 59-28 beat down in Washington. What has made the Redskins better this year is line play. They’ve yielded just eight sacks, and are averaging 4.1 yards per rushing play. The defense has been stout against the run, and has allowed just six touchdowns, equal to the Baltimore Ravens. Fred Davis has reminded people there are other tight ends after Chris Cooley, and Santana Moss has found a nice chemistry with Rex Grossman. When healthy, Ryan Torain is a locomotive, tough to stop once he gets going, and he’s the likely starter Sunday. Problem is, if you were to rank Torain on an injury risk scale of one to 10 he would come out a 35. The other problem is he’s in a Mike Shanahan backfield, and though the coach has had a man-crush on Torain since he drafted him in Denver, Roy Helu could easily see a good share of carries. Regardless, the Eagles defensive line is so beaten up they could have Tim Worley running and gain plenty.  Running back LeSean McCoy had 17 catches in their two games last year, and I expect Vick to use McCoy in the short passing game to limit his turnovers against a tough Redskins pass defense. And just when the Redskins press forward, they’ll unleash DeSean Jackson downfield. The weapons are all there for Vick, he’s just got to pray his line can protect him.  I can’t see an Andy Reid team allowing this one to slip by.  This is a must-win the Eagles will have.


It's hard to know which Giants team will show up; the team that made a bold comeback in the fourth quarter against Arizona, or the one that got smacked in their home stadium against an improving Seattle club. And does it matter? The storied history between these two franchises goes back to one Scott Norwood, whose wide right field goal in the final seconds allowed the Giants to win Super Bowl XXV. It was the only Super Bowl to end on a missed field goal, and the last Super Bowl the Bills would appear in after running the gamut of four straight appearances, four straight losses. At present, Buffalo is clicking on all cylinders. Despite giving up almost 500 yards against the Eagles, the Bills forced five turnovers and for the year and are an AFC best plus-11 in the give/take column. However, the Giants have shown that they are capable of surprise, both good and bad, and this could rebound game for them. On offense, Ahmad Bradshaw has yet to hit 100 yards rushing on the season, a feat he did only once in the first five weeks last year. Brandon Jacobs sat out practice again on Thursday, so Bradshaw should get more opportunities here. On defense, Justin Tuck is out until Week 7, as he’s decided to rest his neck in hopes it will heal. Osi Umenyiora has been limited in practice by his knee, but has been playing. The once tough front seven has been gashed in three straight games by the likes of LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells and last week, Marshawn Lynch, to the tune 364 yards the past three games. Now they get Fred Jackson, running behind a Bills front five that has paved the way to 5.0 yards per carry for their entire rushing offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been efficient and smart with the football. The loss of Donald Jones certainly won’t help his cause, if for no other reason than it provides more coverage on Steve Johnson. Jackson should get a combined 125 yards and a touchdown, and even though Eli Manning has the fourth best quarterback rating, I've watched too many of the Giants games to trust him.


The surprising Bengals are as big a part of the NFC North race as any other team, coming off back-to-back fourth quarter stunners, one over the Bills. Now they host an Indianapolis team whose offense has and continues to steadily improve with Curtis Painter at the helm. While this hasn't affected the outcome of any games, the Colts might be on their way to preventing themselves from winning the Andrew Luck lotto. Painter was ridiculously efficient in the first half against the Chiefs, going 12-of-17 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest problem is the Colts defense, which has been plagued by injuries, and has allowed nearly a 50 percent third down conversion rate. Joseph Addai is expected to miss Sunday's game, leaving the perpetually ineffective Donald Brown and rookie Delone Carter to handle rushing duties. Dallas Clark has become a fantasy afterthought, and even though I'm not admonishing my loss of patience, Painter’s progression with the offense is to Clark’s benefit. Meanwhile, the Bengals defense is the NFL's best in yard allowed per game, having forced five fumbles and one interception.  However, they have allowed a hundred yards to a receiver three out of five games.  They’ve had trouble with bigger physical receivers, so their goal will be to stop Pierre Garcon, who is averaging a league second-best 22.1 yards per catch and has scored no less the twice each game Painter has been under center. To prevent a Colts victory, the Bengals will have to do what Kansas City did in the second half last week; prevent the Colts offense from stepping on the field. That means Cedric Benson should get at least 20-25 carries, and expect another short passing attack involving Jermaine Gresham and Jerome Simpson.  Because they can control the ground, they can control the clock and Cincinnati will take care of business at home.


For the third time in five weeks, the Steelers will face a top running back from 2010. Maurice Jones-Drew has had few good games against the Steelers, the best of which was in a 2007 playoff upset, which the media is still rubbing in the Mike Tomlin’s face. Coming off a game where they limited struggling running great Chris Johnson to just 51 yards, Jones-Drew will be more effective in the short passing game. The Steelers secondary has improved to maintain the best passing defense yardage wise in the league. Meanwhile, an injured Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a five-touchdown game, his first ever. Prior to this game, Roethlisberger had turned the ball over nine times by himself. He’ll be tested again as cornerback Rashean Mathis has intercepted Roethlisberger six times, returning two of them for touchdowns. He’ll likely be assigned the Steelers leading receiver, Mike Wallace, now second best for yards in the league. Hines Ward has five TDs for his career against the Jags, and had seven receptions the last time these two teams met in 2008. Rashard Mendenhall will start for the Steelers, who are hoping he learned something from watching Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer last week. The Steelers have struggled in the past to push back the Jags defensive front seven, and this  Jags defense hasn’t allowed 100-yard rusher this season. The advantage goes to the Steelers simply because of Blaine Gabbert’s inexperience, and Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz schemes should create enough confusion for the Steelers to force Gabbert into granting them their first interception of the season.


A few months ago, this game was a blip on the schedule, not a battle between two first place teams with ramifications for future playoff seeding. Detroit’s defense has consistently challenged the offense, putting them in repeated deficits only to watch from the sidelines as Matthew Stafford and company pull another come-from-behind miracle. For San Francisco, Frank Gore’s awakening has launched the team to a new strata, moving them from the 29th ranked rushing attack to 11th in just two short weeks. In turn, the passing game has followed suit, increasing its yardage per game from under 150 per game to over 180. Though the 49ers passing game doesn’t scare defenses, if Detroit has a weakness, it’s their back four, which has benefited from an aggressive line that has delivered nine sacks, and the fourth lowest yards per attempt against them of 6.3. They also have seven interceptions. Though it would appear Gore should be a top fantasy back this week, as San Francisco is running at a 53 percent clip. However, keep in mind Detroit has allowed just a single 100-yard rusher this year, and only one rushing touchdown. San Francisco has been even tougher on running backs, yielding just 77 yards from scrimmage per game, and Jahvid Best, coming off his best game will find it tough going Sunday. No matter, Calvin Johnson has been unstoppable, scoring touchdowns in each of the first five weeks.  The 49ers also haven’t had it easier with speedy receivers. Both DeSean Jackson and Miles Austin torched the San Francisco secondary, and thus I have a hunch rookie Titus Young’s presence may be felt in this one. This is likely to be a sloppy game, as both teams are among the most penalized in the league, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Detroit will have problems putting the 49ers away. With little running game, they’ll have to throw a lot (they do so 62 percent of the time) and Detroit has slowly been yielding time of possession in huge ways. Their first three games they dominated with six to seven extra minutes for possession time. The last two games Detroit has held the ball for less than 45 total minutes. If Alex Smith can continue to protect the football as he has in spite of being sacked 14 times, this game will come down to the wire.


The only good news for St. Louis is they had a Bye week to hopefully gain some health and perspective. Their lone weapon, Steven Jackson, should be good to go, but will face a top five Green Bay rushing defense. Green Bay’s pass defense is one of the worst, a growing trend it seems among NFL powerhouse offensive teams, and yet this is where the Rams struggle most. Green Bay is averaging 300 passing yards  per game, and St. Louis can’t even remember what it’s like to reach the 200 yard plateau. Sam Bradford’s first and only 300-yard game this year came against the Giants. In that game, Denario Alexander led all receivers with 122 yards on three receptions. The Rams were still woefully inefficient on third down (5-for-17) and lost time of possession by nearly ten minutes. Good luck getting many opportunities to hold the ball against the second best rated offense in terms of play efficiency. Aaron Rodgers has only faced St. Louis once, and that was in 2009.  He posted a 13-for-23, 269 yards and two touchdowns line. He also ran one in. Expect a similar line Sunday, with Ryan Grant and James Starks sharing the load on the ground. Each could figure in, reducing the overall ranking of the other. Regardless, Green Bay at home should be a laugher.


Matt Schaub is 0-2 against the Ravens and has managed to complete only 50 percent of his passes against them. Without his best weapon last week, wide receiver Andre Johnson, Schaub managed less than that, even while tallying 416 yards and two scores.  He's also nursing a sore shoulder, so Houston would prefer not to throw that much, but the question will be just how many yards Arian Foster can put up against a Ravens defense allowing just 72.5 yards per game. The Ravens are similarly situated, and would prefer to hand Ray Rice the reins and let Joe Flacco picks his spots, particularly after the Jet/Ravens debacle, which saw neither quarterback put on a display to remember. Flacco is now completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes, and has now turned the ball over three times in the last three games. Rice leads the Ravens in rushing and receiving, making Anquan Boldin a early season disappointment for fantasy owners with a mere 15 receptions. Still searching for the replacement for Derrick Mason, TE Ed Dickson has taken on a more prominent role in the offense. He has nine receptions and 96 yards in the past two contests, but has found the end zone only once. Jacoby Jones and Owen Daniels will have to figure in, on early drive passing plays, and Foster as well as Rice should make great PPR plays. Houston’s loss of Mario Williams figures in, and the Ravens take this one at home.


It’s a good time for a healthier Cleveland to come off the BYE. Peyton Hillis hasn’t been quite the back he was last year, and he’s taken a lot of heat recently after missing a game with strep throat, but expect 20-25 carries from Hillis against the Raider front seven, as they’ve yielded 123.4 yards per game on the ground. However, one of the reasons they were able to defeat Houston was keeping Arian Foster less than 100 yards on the ground, and reigning big plays to the wide outs. Foster had over 100 yards receiving, and Joel Dreesen beat them for a long touchdown, but they were able to make Houston fairly one dimensional. Colt McCoy had two strong performances in a row Weeks 2 and 3, bringing the Browns back from the brink of defeat in the final seconds against the Dolphins. In their loss to the Titans, McCoy threw for a career best 350 yards, spreading the ball around to 12 different receivers. The other Browns victory was against Indianapolis, leaving this writer doubting that Cleveland has a prayer in this one. Where they do have a shot is their defense. The improved secondary, now ranked fourth in yards given up per game is led by young defensive backs Joe Haden and T. J. Ward. They haven’t faced much competition and won’t get a heavy passing offense here to test them. Oakland is ranked 22nd in passing offense, and relies heavily on team stud Darren McFadden, who leads the NFL in rushing yards after five weeks. He’s coming off his least productive performance against the Texans, where he was held under 100 yards for the second straight game. He’ll be a huge factor in this game, in both rushing and the passing game. Darius Heyward-Bey has started to make himself a nuisance to defenses as he’s recorded two solid games of 115 and 99 yards receiving in a row. Receivers that can stretch the field have given the Browns trouble in the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oakland try to strike deep early.



This game has the feel of that first time a little brother is big enough to step onto a court with his older sibling. Big brother has been around the block, has experience and knows when to draw on it. Little brother shows some shockingly deft moves, and na├»vely believes no mountain is too tall. Raheem Morris versus Sean Payton. Drew Brees against Josh Freeman. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot of talent, but is still a team without an identity. Is this a run first team led by LeGarrette Blount, or is it short-passing game led by the composed steady play of Josh Freeman? The Buccaneers may be 3-2, but they haven’t played consistently on either side of the ball. The defense, which last year gave up less than 20 points per contest and finished seventh against the pass, has declined into a mediocre defense period. The Saints also feel like they’re trying to find their identity. Even with injuries like Marques Colston and a suspension to starting DE Will Smith, they’ve found ways to win. New Orleans has had great success in Raymond James Stadium winning the last two games by a combined score of 51-13. Though the Saints deep threat Devery Henderson might play Sunday, his calf strain could prevent him from doing what he does best. Nevertheless, the Tampa Bay offense just hasn’t found enough of itself yet and the defense, generally playing Cover 2, will have to deal with new stud TE Jimmy Graham. The only thing Tampa Bay has going for it is emotion after suffering a franchise worst beating to San Francisco. That alone may keep the game close for awhile.


This should be the most entertaining game on the schedule. The difference between these two teams comes down to defense, and their oft spoken about quarterbacks. New England has won the last three meetings between these two clubs, dating all the way back to 1999. Tony Romo could do a lot to silence his critics with a victory in Gillette Sunday. His record is 0-1 against New England, a game in which he threw for 189 yards, two scores and a pick. However, he's going up against the worst passing defense in the NFL, and looks to have both Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the field and healthy for the first time since Week 1. This will only add to the likelihood of Jason Witten being single covered, and we know how successful that will be. He's a top five TE this week. Dallas has to contend with the Patriots top passing offense in the country and a surprisingly enhanced rushing offense, something nobody has worried about when facing the Patriots for years. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has scored three touchdowns in the past two games accumulating over 200 yards rushing while doing so. He practiced Friday, which means even though he's questionable, he should play. Wes Welker has been a one-man wrecking machine, and likely will draw some sort of shadow coverage from a veteran like Terence Newman. This means the Cowboys linebackers and safeties will get a two-tiered attack of tight ends Aaron Hernandez (ironically listed as probable though he was limited in practices this week) and Rob Gronkowski. I have a suspicion that the concern for Welker and the middle of the field will leave Deion Branch to have a solid day on the outside. The key to the game is Felix Jones, who hasn't performed yet at the level the Cowboys had hoped for. He's had a shoulder injury a good part of the year, and we've seen in the past how that injury could reduce a certain Dallas runner named Emmitt Smith at times. Jones has to carry the ball 20 times for Dallas to win this game. If he can keep the Patriots off balance up front, this secondary is so terrible, the Cowboys should be able to move the chains fairly easily and get some long sustained drives. DeMarcus Ware should be able to get some pressure on Tom Brady. I think Romo protects the ball this time, and the Cowboys eke an upset in Gillette for the first time.




You think Adrian Peterson would be lathering at the mouth considering the yardage Jahvid Best laid on the Bears this past Monday night. However, Peterson was able to do little last year against the Bears, providing only 51 yards in a Brett Favre-led offense, and missing the second game with an injury. However, his history against the Bears is better than that in 2009, where he scored three rushing touchdowns and carried the ball 49 times for 176 yards. Coming off a short week, as surly as Chicago might be, they're going to have a heck of a time stopping a healthy Peterson from having a big day. Matt Forte provided 38 carries for 161 yards against Minnesota last year, but failed to reach the end zone. He, too, has picked it up as of late, but the Minnesota rushing defense is a lot stronger than the likes of Detroit and Carolina. The Vikings secondary is improving, but is still allowing over 270 yards passing. Jay Cutler is developing a chemistry with TE Kellen Davis, who has two touchdowns in the past three games. Unfortunately for Cutler, he's without many weapons, leaving his gunslinger style short of ammunition. Donovan McNabb has hardly figured into the scoring for the Vikings, so it's a matter of Peterson versus Forte. Forte is a more integral part of the passing game, and seeing how much trouble the Vikings had with Mike Tolbert receiving the ball out of the Chargers backfield, and LeGarrette Blount, Forte could give them problems. Keep an eye on Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe, as the Bears have relinquished five of their seven passing touchdowns to tight ends. With Julius Peppers out, Charles Tillman hurting, and both starting safeties, Brandon Merriweather and Chris Harris benched, I'm inclined to pick Minnesota even with the Bear at home.


The Monday Night Preview and my fantasy Top 5s will be up tomorrow.