Friday, October 21, 2011

WEEK 7 PREVIEWS

The Tim Tebow era begins, bringing the NFL savior Denver fans have been crying for...maybe?  Certainly, it's a good week for him to be a savior.  But if we're going to pray for good charm, let's do so for James Harrison, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor during his physical earlier this week.  Here's wishing you a quick and speedy recovery!

THE 1PM DOCKET

DENVER @ MIAMI
Let's begin with the game everyone is talking about.  Tim Tebow takes the 1-4 Broncos and the hopes of the entire Denver faithful into Sun Life Stadium against the wishes of the experts and perhaps even his own coaches.  If there ever was a game to start this era, this is it.  Set in South Florida, nearby home of Tebow's alma mater, in addition to coming off the Bye Week, it may not matter that Tebow will complete around 50 percent of his passes.  His ability to run and extend plays could give the Dolphins' already taxed 28th-ranked pass defense fits.  However, the Broncos trade of Brandon Lloyd takes away the most reliable hands  Tebow had, and he'll likely have to throw, as the Dolphins run defense is now ranked 12th.  Denver has managed just two rushing touchdowns, and one of those was by Tebow last week.  Miami will send Daniel Thomas into the Denver line early and often, and try to take the pressure off Matt Moore and his unreliable wide receivers.  Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush practiced Thursday, giving the Dolphins a chance to put up some points.  Eddie Royal returns for Denver at a crucial time, and the perpetually injured DeMaryius Thomas might play as well.  However, if I was betting on a receiver, it would be Eric Decker, who will reassure fantasy owners faith he can maintain his new WR1 status.  Tebow ends up a top ten fantasy QB this week and pulls out the victory.
BRONCOS 24, DOLPHINS 21


HOUSTON @ TENNESSEE
Both teams are looking to regain their grip of the AFC South lead.  Both teams feature top flight running backs which have had their seasons hampered in one way or another.  Both teams lost their top receiver to injury.  For the Texans, Arian Foster comes off two subpar rushing games, averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt.  The last time he was in Tennessee, Foster managed just 15 yards on 11 carries in a game that dropped the Texans out of playoff contention.  The Texans have lost two straight, and it’s no secret their offense hasn’t been the same since Andre Johnson’s hamstring injury.  Foster’s season has been injury-plagued, between his hamstring and now aching quadriceps, and the last two games, one against a lowly Raiders rush defense have shown he’s not healthy.  The Titans will key on stopping Foster, so although he’ll get opportunities, he won’t be a top runner this weekend.  The Titans have yet to give up a pass play of longer than 45 yards, and have yielded just one rushing score.  Look for a heavy dose of Foster, especially in the passing game with Kevin Walter getting his share of underneath routes.  However, Owen Daniels should be a big play, as he's tied for most targets on the team and the Titans have given up three touchdown receptions to tight ends the last two games.   The Titans will push to give Chris Johnson as many touches as they can and take advantage of the void left by DE Mario Williams  and S Dominique Barber by making Nate Washington a deep target.  Considering Baltimore had two passing plays longer than 50 yards, Washington should have a big day.  Jared Cook could figure more in the passing game, but he's not considered an every down TE, so taper expectations.  Craig Stevens could vulture a red zone TD.

TITANS 20, TEXANS 17


SEATTLE @ CLEVELAND
The Browns are preparing for Charlie Whitehurst to make his first start of the season in Cleveland, which should be music to their 4th ranked secondary's ears, particularly after reading Mike Sando's blog on ESPN.  For his career, Whitehurst has completed just under 58 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and three interceptions.  Doug Baldwin leads the Seahawks in receiving yardage and passing plays over twenty yards.  In the one and one-half quarters Whitehurst played against New York, he targeted Baldwin six times, which included a 27-yard TD strike.  Marshawn Lynch should be a top ten play with the Browns giving up nearly 130 rushing yards per game.  He hasn't surpassed 20 carries for a game yet this year, but with Whitehurst under center, expect him to come close this week.  Cleveland's Montario Hardesty will likely see the most carries of his short career, as Peyton Hillis suffered a hamstring pull against the Oakland Raiders.  He'll find the road tough going as Seattle is now yielding less than 100 yards per contest and the Browns have yet to spring a runner for a play longer than 24 yards.  Colt McCoy certainly has a nice TD/INT ratio, but he's also completing just 55 percent of his passes.  You'd like to think that Mohamed Massaquoi could take advantage of the Seahawks losing CB Marcus Truffant to the IR, but the Browns have just one play longer than 50 yards, and just eight longer than 20.  Even on the road, across the country, at a 1pm start time, the Seahawks take this one fairly easily.

SEAHAWKS 23, CLEVELAND 10


WASHINGTON @ CAROLINA
John Beck gets his first start since 2007, when he went 0-5.  Nothing he's done since then has been remarkable, except having been named to be in the hunt for making a team here or there.  Even though Washington is on the road, if there was a first team a QB like Beck would want to face, it could be the Panthers.  Injuries have robbed them of their once stout defense, and the offensive line recently lost one of their best linemen in Jeff Otah who was placed on IR.  The Panthers, once a bastion of running excellence, are now ranked 13th in rushing offense and most of that ranking has been obtained by Cam Newton’s scrambling ability.  Both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have under 50 attempts for the season, pushing them into afterthought status even with both of them gaining over four yards per attempt.  This puts a lot of the onus on Newton to make plays, and his October has perhaps seen him trying to do too much.  His QB rating has slipped to a 71 for the month and he’s added five interceptions against three touchdowns.  Either way, he’s facing a Redskins defense ranked sixth overall in yards given up per game, and third in points allowed (16.6).  The pass rush of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan has delivered 17 total sacks in five games, and only one quarterback has posted a QB rating above 80.  Ryan Torain should be a shoe-in for 100 yards and a score except that Tim Hightower practiced Thursday so it’s possible Torain gets a majority of the carries except on third down and in the red zone where Hightower could vulture some attempts.  Fred Davis no longer has the competition of Chris Cooley, as Cooley is fighting just to stay off of the IR.  Davis is likely a huge target of Beck this week, as is Tim Hightower because Beck averaged 5.22 per pass attempt the last time he saw any action.  Granted, he was a rookie, but he’s not known for having a cannon arm.  He won’t need it much this week, and as long as he protects the ball, Washington wins this one on the road.

REDSKINS 16, PANTHERS 10


ATLANTA @ DETROIT
Detroit has lost Jahvid Best for the foreseeable future, no matter how much Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan frame it.  You might remember his college career was cut short by a massive concussion, so there’s little doubt in light of the NFL’s recent focus on treating concussions more dutifully that Best will be held out this week at least.  With the discovery that James Harrison has a brain tumor, the Lions RB depth is thin, and they will turn to Maurice Morris who is no stranger to stepping in for teams.  He’ll be used mostly to keep some balance, as the Lions throw at a 63 percent clip, among the highest in the league.  The Lions will attempt to jump out early against Atlanta’s 28th-ranked pass defense in order to take away Atlanta’s running game.  This means Calvin Johnson will get back to his scoring ways, as both Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes give up nine inches of height in their matchups with Johnson.  The task will likely be Grimes’, reputed to be one of the most physical corners in the league.  Though time of possession hasn’t been a concern of the Lions due to their big strike ability, this game it should be.  The Lions gave up 203 yards rushing to the 49ers in their first loss of the season, and Atlanta, likely minus rookie Julio Jones, will attempt to follow that blueprint.  Michael Turner will get another day of 20-plus carries, and along with Jason Snelling, pack a potent one-two punch that can bleed the clock and allow Matt Ryan to use play action to buy some extra time against the Detroit pass rush.  Roddy White should see a red zone target or two.  One telling stat: in Atlanta's three wins, only once has Matt Ryan attempted more than 30 passes.  In all of their losses he did.  And although Turner is averaging almost a yard less per carry on the road, he’ll post top five numbers this week.  I don’t think it will be enough to beat Detroit.  Lions win at home in a squeaker.

LIONS 24, FALCONS 21


SAN DIEGO @ NEW YOUR JETS
The last time these two teams met, Shonn Greene ran for 128 yard in a 17-14 playoff win nearly two years ago.  San Diego, probably the healthiest they’ve been since Week 1, is expecting Antonio Gates back even though he has yet to practice this week.  However, in all likelihood, Norv Turner will likely opt for a strong ground attack, led by Ryan Mathews and bolstered by bruiser Mike Tolbert as the game wears on.  The Jets have faltered stopping the run, and are now ranked near the bottom allowing 128 yards per game.  At the same time, their secondary and pass rush are among the best, and thus their fifth ranking.  The Chargers have also been careless with the football, particularly Philip Rivers, who sports an uncharacteristic seven interceptions versus six touchdowns.  Still, the Jets face no small task stopping a San Diego offense that has yet to be held under 20 points, while their own offense was outscored 98­-62 during their winless three-game road trip before dismissing the Dolphins.  Jets Coach Rex Ryan gave the Chargers plenty of bulletin board material this week, and the Chargers will come in determined to make a statement.  Mathews should put on a nice display, making him a strong candidate for the top five this week.  With a divided locker room, Mark Sanchez will have to take charge and push New York to a win against the fourth best defense in the NFL.  The only reasons that San Diego won't run away with this game is the travel and their propensity to turn the ball over.

SAN DIEGO 23, JETS 19


CHICAGO @ TAMPA BAY (@ WEMBLEY STADIUM)
This will be the fifth NFL regular season NFL game played overseas in London.  The last time Tampa Bay traveled to London was in 2009 and they were stomped 35-7 by a far superior New England Patriots team.  For the Bears, this marks their first time traveling to London since 1991, and their first trip to the UK since 1997.  Matt Forte has kicked things into high gear for the Bears since their Week 3 loss to the Packers, averaging 6.4 yards per carry since that first game.  In each of the Bears’ wins, Forte carried the ball 16-plus times.  In their losses, he only carried above 10 times once.  On the flip side, LeGarrette Blount is out with a knee injury, relegating the starting duties to Earnest Graham.  Graham was effective last week against the Saints to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry.  Josh Freeman put in his best QB rating of the season as well, and faces a Chicago pass defense floundering at 25th.  Freeman also recorded his longest play from scrimmage this year, a 65-yard TD strike to Arrelious Benn.  However, Freeman owns more interceptions than touchdowns, and before intercepting Drew Brees three times last week, the Bucs were a -1 in the give/take column.  Surprisingly, Jay Cutler has protected the ball well this year, yielding a 2:1 ratio in touchdowns to interceptions.  With both these teams in the bottom third of the league on defense, people are expecting a shootout.  I expect otherwise.  Only one team has been penalized more than Tampa Bay and that’s the Oakland Raiders.  The Bears aren’t far behind that as only four teams beat them out for more penalties.  With the travel involved, I expect a far from neat contest.  Yes the Bucs defense was gashed by the likes of Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore, but Michael Turner managed a pittance against them, and so did the likes of Jahvid Best and Mark Ingram.  Solid line play appears to be the difference, and Chicago’s line has been pretty good in terms of helping Forte succeed.  The Bears will rely on him again on Sunday, and he could be the difference, but they'll have to overcome their inefficiency on third down (just 30 percent).  With two jetlagged teams trying to hold time of possession, Freeman and his ability to improvise will be the difference in a game of mostly field goals.

BUCCANEERS 16, BEARS 13


THE 4:15pm DOCKET

KANSAS CITY @ OAKLAND
A second Carson Palmer era begins in of all places Oakland.  Palmer has had about six whole days to swallow the Oakland play book, and will likely have just the basics to choose from.  The last time Palmer faced the Chiefs, he was at Riverfront, leading the Bengals to a 17-10 victory where he completed 17-of-25 passes for 139 yards, two scores and an interception.  The Chiefs will be looking to push Palmer to the forefront because the Raiders have league-leading Darren McFadden heading up the charge, and he’ll be facing the 21st ranked rushing defense, yielding 119.6 yards per game.  The Raiders rushing defense mirrors Kansas City, as they are also yielding over 110 yards per contest, and will face newly promoted Jackie Battle, who is coming off what could be a breakout performance against the Colts.  His 19 attempts in Week 5 were more than half his total attempts for his career until that point.  Battle should get plenty of shots at the Oakland defense, which will likely be focused on taking away Dwayne Bowe, who has fared decently against them in the past.  This time he’ll matchup with Sanford Routt, who had a big interception return for a touchdown against Matt Cassel last year that sealed the Raiders 31-10 victory at Arrowhead.  I still like Bowe to have a big day.  However, if Palmer can show even the slightest command of the offense with even one deep strike to the likes of Darius Heyward-Bey, that alone will give the Chiefs reason to worry.  At home, Oakland takes this one, but not by much.

RAIDERS 21, CHIEFS 20


PITTSBURGH @ ARIZONA
The last times these two teams met in Arizona was September 2007 and the Cardinals delivered the Steelers a 21-14 loss.  The Steelers have been a Jekyll/Hyde team, playing physical football at home and running over their opponents, while getting slapped around on the road.  Ben Roethlisberger’s QB rating is just over 70 away from the confines of Heinz Field, a stark contrast to his 116 rating at home.  The same goes for their rushing attack, averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt versus over five when home.  Ken Whisenhunt promised this week the Cardinals offense would improve, and my expectation is that Beanie Wells will be an important part of the offense but only after Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals utilize what Whisenhunt knows of this Steelers team.  Don’t be surprised if he tries to spread out the Steelers defense and isolate good matchups to attack the number one rated pass defense.  This might be limited by the loss of Todd Heap, who may sit this week with his bad hamstring.  Expect a few early shots downfield to Larry Fitzgerald to get Kolb going, with Wells cleaning up on shorter second and third downs.  Early Doucet could play a key part in the goal line offense, as the Steelers yielded touchdowns to both Jason Hill and Damian Williams, the alternative options for both the Jags and Titans.  The Steelers should make Rashard Mendenhall a solid play as Arizona is ranked 20th in both rush and pass yards per game, and on the road, the Steelers will want Ben to do less and control the game.  If the Cardinals can stop Mendenhall, they’ll be able to focus on blitzing the banged up Pittsburgh line, and possibly turn Pittsburgh back toward their early season turnover ways.  I think Mendenhall has another big day, and this game does its best to resemble last week’s Steelers victory against Jacksonville.

STEELERS 20, CARDINALS 13


GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA
Just a few years ago, this was a marquee matchup, pitting the old master Brett Favre against his young Jedi apprentice, Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers has since supplanted his mentor, tossing 17 touchdowns in the first six weeks, and is one of only six quarterbacks to tally that number or higher to start a season.  He also has yet to garner a passer rating under 111.  Last year, in what was likely the final matchup between Favre and Rodgers, Rodgers threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-3 blowout.  The only thing that will be different this year is Christian Ponder under center, and the unknown entity that he is.  If there’s something to be said about Ponder that could make this game interesting it’s that in the two fourth quarter drives he commanded last week, both went eight plays or more and he targeted eight different receivers.  The common denominator in all of his completed passes – most were short throws under 10 yards.  The Packers defense excels in the one area Minnesota’s offense has had success: against the run.  The Minnesota defense is weakest against the Packers’ strength: the pass.  Adrian Peterson will get you an average day of yards simply because of opportunities.  Expect Visanthe Shiancoe to see a number of balls come his way as well.  Green Bay’s biggest worry is the loss of Chad Clifton to injury, leaving Marshall Newhouse matched against Jared Allen.  Nevertheless, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones will be featured quite often as the Packers improve to 7-0.  This may be the first week Jermichael Finley isn’t a top fantasy tight end.  The Vikings have not given up a passing score to a tight end all season. 

PACKERS 34, VIKINGS 21


ST. LOUIS @ DALLAS
The only thing in common between these two teams is that they are finding ways to lose.  The difference is Dallas has a ton of talent, a line that can protect Tony Romo, an emerging talent at running back in DeMarco Murray, and a wide receiver group that should eventually brag another 1,000 yard receiving duo.  What Dallas does best is passing, and at home expect Jason Garrett to come out firing and try to remove all hope the Rams have of making Steven Jackson a primary weapon.  Murray is likely the starter as Felix Jones is out with a high ankle sprain, and although Murray averaged just 3.2 yards per carry against New England, he appeared poised to break one at any moment.  The Cowboys now get the Rams, who can’t stop anyone from running anywhere.  If they give Murray 15 carries or more, there is no reason he shouldn’t put up solid fantasy numbers, 75 yards and a first rushing TD.  A. J. Feeley will start this week, as Sam Bradford also has a high ankle sprain, and although he’s the first to throw to new Ram Brandon Lloyd, the Cowboys defense is best against the run, 14th against the pass, and Feeley’s last success came almost 10 years ago.

COWBOYS 31, RAMS 10


SUNDAY NIGHT 8:30pm GAME

INDIANAPOLIS @ NEW ORLEANS
What was supposed to be a ratings spectacle is now little more than a passing glance.  However, it might surprise you that Curtis Painter has a QB rating of 93, better than Matt Schaub, better than Ben Roethlisberger, better than Philip Rivers and better than Michael Vick.  No, the offense isn’t great, but it’s the defense that is dismal.  Undersized and speedy has served the Colts to the tune of 136.7 yards per game allowed rushing, third worst in the league, and 256 yards per game in the air (18th).  The Colts can’t run the football, tallying only 100 or more total rushing yards just once this season.  Painter has a bevy of weapons, with Pierre Garcon being his favorite, but passing the ball is not what Indianapolis would prefer to do here.  Drew Brees has too many ways to score, and although he’s been turnover prone this year on the road which has led to the Saints being a minus seven for the year in the give/take, a healthy Marques Colston and a slightly hobbled Jimmy Graham provide enough weaponry against the Colts before they start to worry about before you add Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and deep threat Devery Henderson.

SAINTS 31, COLTS 13


MONDAY NIGHT GAME

BALTIMORE @ JACKSONVILLE
For the second week in a row, Blaine Gabbert leads the Jaguars up against an AFC North foe known for their defense.  This time he’s at home, but that will matter little.  After taking the first eight meetings between these two teams, the Jags have won just one game in the last eight.  The Steelers sacked Gabbert five times, and Baltimore has 15 sacks in just five games.  If anything, the difference this week will be whether Baltimore can become more efficient on offense.  They are ranked 29th in offensive red zone efficiency by Pro Football Weekly, six spots behind the Jaguars, converting only 37 percent of those possessions into touchdowns.  However, a closer look at the numbers also reveals that Jacksonville has had just seven red zone possessions all year long.  Things won’t get much better.  In his only game against Baltimore, Maurice Jones-Drew managed only 78 yards on 23 carries, and he may find even less success here.  Blaine Gabbert is completing under 50 percent of his passes, and has just four TD passes but just two interceptions.  Keep an eye on Jason Hill, who Gabbert has found in the end zone the past two weeks.  Hill is leading the team in average yards per reception at 17.1 and has the second most yardage.   Ray Rice has never faced Jackonsville, but considering his line is stronger, he’s more involved in the offense -- he’s second in receiving yards, third in targets -- there’s reason to think Rice has a big day.  However, Rice has struggled on grass, averaging 3.3 yards per carry this year and last.  As a note, TE Ed Dickson is now second on the team in targets with 35, though he’s only been able to haul in 18 of them.  The Steelers Heath Miller was target a team high six times against Jacksonville and caught four balls.  Dickson should get some nice opportunities Sunday.  Baltimore takes this one because of their defense.

RAVENS 20, JAGUARS 7