Friday, November 11, 2011


In an odd scheduling twist, there are no Byes this week. All 16 teams will see action.


DeMarco Murray has reinvigorated a lost Dallas running game pretty much single-handedly. Just four weeks ago the Cowboys averaged 85 yards per game. Now they average 121. Not good news for a Bills rush defense ranked 20th in the league. It’s not surprising in the three games Murray was the starting runner back, the Cowboys have won if he surpassed 100 yards. At the same time their rushing offense improved, their rushing defense has faltered. Cowboys ILB Sean Lee hopes to play with his broken wrist, but he’ll be facing Fred Jackson, who is third best in the NFL in rushing yards with 803, and with only one good hand, he might not return with a lot of value. Jackson’s a fast starter, averaging over six yards per carry average in his first ten attempts, so the game will hinge on Buffalo’s ability to get him started. For the Cowboys, their biggest problems are that they have fumbled third most times in the league and they have been inconsistent on third down converting just 35 percent, including a three-for-ten performance at Philadelphia. With Miles Austin going down for another two to four weeks with a second hamstring issue, Laurent Robinson will continue his added workload, and Murray becomes a top fantasy play. Jason Witten has four touchdowns in the last five games making him a must play, even against what could be this year’s best safety George Wilson.  In their last two road games, both losses, the Bills have surrendered an average of 163 rushing yards. This game is the first of three road games in a row for Buffalo who are just 1-2 away from home. The Cowboys must win now to stay in the playoff hunt.


In a division where none of the teams have scored more points than they’ve given up, the Denver Broncos come off a big upset win in Oakland and finds themselves just one game back from the division lead. Bookending four big wins, the Chiefs have laid some tremendous eggs, including last week’s 31-3 loss to the winless Dolphins. Sure it was off a Monday night victory, but the let down against Miami underscores a serious focus issue with Todd Haley’s team. Against San Diego, the Chiefs prevented Philip Rivers from throwing a single touchdown, and gave up just three points for the two drives San Diego began from inside the Chiefs 30-yard line. Against Miami, the Chiefs allowed Matt Moore a career game with three touchdown passes, two to TE Anthony Fasano. Which Kansas City defense will show up? This week provides a unique challenge as the Chiefs have to stop not just Willis McGahee, who has had a career resurgence in John Fox’s offense, but Tim Tebow who added 100 yards rushing of his own last week against Oakland. The Chiefs haven’t faltered since the loss of Jamaal Charles, still averaging 123 rushing yards per game. Jackie Battle has done a yeoman’s job filling in. averaging over four yards a carry, something Knowshon Moreno dreams of. Dwayne Bowe has come on lately with 16 catches in three games, but his fifty percent reception rate and lack of recent touchdowns is more a reflection on Matt Cassel and the lack of weapons this offense has. Cassel has to be the difference if Kansas City is to win. He’ll get his chance, as Jackie Battle is not a game-changer, while Bowe and Steve Breaston can be. Jon Baldwin also has great size and speed, and could see a couple of red zone targets. Tebow and McGahee will make this game interesting, and Tebow is still a good fantasy play, but I’m taking the Kansas City defense at home, and Cassel to step up.


The Saints have taken two of the last three in the Georgia Dome. Drew Brees is the closest thing we've had to the greatest show on turf since the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams. He completes 74 percent of his passes and has 14 touchdown passes against just five interceptions on suerpficial sufaces. Jimmy Graham is back to health, and can be expected to play a big role. His 82 targets put him 10 ahead of Darren Sproles and nearly double the next wide receiver, Marques Colston, who has 47. Lance Moore may be on the shelf with a hamstring, and Colston didn't factor in last year's seasons split, so we will see more of the ever-vanishing Robert Meachem and deep threat Devery Henderson. Meachem is the likely fill-in here, as last year he torched the Falcons for 10 catches and 101 yards. Atlanta comes off their best offensive output of the season against the arguably the league's worst defense. Roddy White had eight receptions for 112 yards and two scores against the Saints in 2010 and has 19 targets in the past two games. He will have to factor in order to keep the Saints from stacking the box against Michael Turner, especially with Julio Jones questionable with a hamstring injury. The Saints biggest concern will be Turner, who has found paydirt four of the last five games, and has averaged nearly 92 yards. Also watch for Jacquizz Rodgers, who received 10 carries against Indy. Turner should get another 20-25 touches, and will put up 100 yards at home. However, it's Brees versus Matt Ryan, and Ryan can't win that battle. New Orleans will deliver the Falcons their first loss in four games.


Chris Johnson had over 100 all purpose yards last week against the Bengals, but still only managed 14 carries, giving you an idea of how much faith Tennessee has in him right now. Tennessee is now throwing the ball 62 percent of the time, an unenviable task considering their receivers . Johnson gets second favorable matchup in three weeks, drawing a Carolina defense that is giving up 127.7 yards per game. With Cam Newton firing at will against whoever he plays, the Titans will need to keep Carolina's offense off the field. Tennessee has done a fantastic job protecting Matt Hasselbeck, so though you can expect more carries this week for Johnson, don’t be surprised if Hasselbeck throws the ball 30 plus times, taking advantage of that protection. Newton and company only rank eighth in rushing offense because Cam adds approximately 39 yards rushing per game average. Steve Smith has found a terrific chemistry with Newton, and Tennessee's Jason McCourty will have a tough time against the wily veteran. Tennessee has also had problems covering tight ends and slot guys, giving up TDs to the likes of Andre Caldwell, Joel Dreesen and Benjamin Watson. So don't be surprised to see Greg Olsen, who is second on the team with 53 targets be a solid play. Tennessee's defense has been tough, and the Carolina defense porous, making this one a lot closer than it should be.


The Steelers have won eight of the last 10 matchups between these two teams, including sweeping the season series last year. The growth in the Steelers offensive line should give Rashard Mendenhall some decent running lanes, though don’t expect the Steelers to back away from what’s been working for them this year, and that’s the pass. Even though Mendenhall managed 165 total rushing yards and one score in their two meetings last year, the Cincy rush defense is improved currently ranked second. Emmanuel Sanders is out again, this time after a knee surgery. Thus expect Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace to see a plethora of opportunities come their way with a sprinkle of Hines Ward for good measure. The Bengals will continue to rely on A. J. Green, especially after witnessing the Steelers deep coverage go to pieces several times, including on the Ravens final touchdown. Also, Jermaine Gresham did not suit up for practice Thursday, a bad sign if he’s a tight end you were counting on. Cedric Benson has not fared well against the Steelers. Last year he averaged 2.8 yards per carry, the exact same average he put up in 2008. He’ll need to do better than that to keep the Steelers rush off of Andy Dalton. Expect the Steelers to blitz Dalton a lot in an attempt to frazzle him into turnovers. Meanwhile, the Bengals will try to prevent the Steelers from continuing their over 50 percent third down conversion rate. At plus-4 for the season in the takeaway column, turnovers will play a huge role in this one. Dalton has won five straight and has thrown nine TDs against five interceptions during that stretch. He’ll have to be pretty darn perfect to win this one, but he won’t be.


Both offenses rank in the bottom third for yards per game and points scored. Where the two teams differ is St. Louis’s defense is in the bottom third for yards per game allowed, while Cleveland is ranked sixth. That ranking is a reflection of a superior pass defense that aids in just a 38.9 percent opponents third down conversion rate, and one that doesn’t get attacked nearly as often due to a subpar rushing defense. Steven Jackson should be able to take advantage of Cleveland even on the grass field of Cleveland Browns stadium, which should occasionally give Sam Bradford time to throw. Make no mistake about it, Bradford has looked terrible this year, mostly due to the lack of time in the pocket. It’s crucial Bradford find some rhythm this week, as he’s been clobbered this year and risks losing confidence and catching the David Carr syndrome. Brandon Lloyd has been with the team just three weeks and is now four targets behind the leader, Brandon Gibson. Expect Bradford to look for his veteran presence a lot Sunday against the strong Cleveland secondary. For Cleveland, rookie Greg Little has taken over as Colt McCoy’s favorite weapon, and while he’s not a big fantasy play yet, word is Cleveland likes him and the growth seems to be apparent. Little is a guy to monitor for sleeper status next year, particularly if his receiving percentage increases and turns into some scores. Montario Hardesty isn’t expected back by Sunday, leaving Chris Ogbonnaya to carry the load. His modest 3.0 yards per carry average wasn’t able to shorten any downs for McCoy, who spent last Sunday running for his life. This won’t change on Sunday, and without a running game or Mohamed Massaquoi, who was sent home from practice Thursday with his concussion, McCoy will find himself again running.


What used to be a strong divisional matchup comes down to essentially two rookie quarterbacks: Blaine Gabbert, who has been a sack dummy 22 times this year, and Curtis Painter, who had all of eight passing attempts in his first two seasons. Painter hasn’t done that badly when you consider he had to learn the entire no-huddle, high-paced offense the Colts generally institute. However, word is he’s slow to see the field, and has relied almost exclusively on Pierre Garcon, who has been the only Colt player worthy of any fantasy attention. Delone Carter hasn’t been awful, but will face a tough Jaguars front seven ranked eleventh in the NFL. The Jags offense isn’t much better, sans Maurice Jones-Drew, who has continued to run as well as any of the top backs in the game, but for some reason has seen his receptions disintegrate. He has just 12 receptions of 20 targets, which might be a greater referendum on Gabbert than it is Jones-Drew. MJD also hasn’t managed 100 yards in the Jaguars last two games at Indianapolis. It is likely Indianapolis could actually compete in this game as their speedy pass rush could force Gabbert into some costly errors. With Gabbert hardly a threat, Indy will attempt to load up on stopping Jones-Drew. If Jack Del Rio is smart, and no one has openly accused him of that, he’ll throw on early down situations in the beginning stages of the game, and then use a refreshed, post Bye week Jones-Drew as much as possible. The Jags should get a lead and let their defense clean up.


Perhaps Mike Shanahan picked up Tashard Choice just to mess around with fantasy owners. Or perhaps it was because since he lost Tim Hightower for the season, he’s watched a rushing offense once ranked eighth in Week 5 fall to 28th now. Roy Helu hasn’t exactly been effective rushing the football, but his 14 catches for 105 yards in Week 8 is hard to ignore. PPR mavens should be willing to play this guy against the likes of Miami whose 27th ranked pass defense is as much responsible for the Dolphins putrid record as anything. Daniel Thomas is supposed to return this week to a larger role for the Dolphins but expect Sparano to still tread lightly because he’s suffering a nagging hamstring problem. Truth is, the way Reggie Bush has erupted the past two games for 195 rushing yards and a touchdown, maybe Sparano has figured out how to involve Bush as an integral part of the offense. Matt Moore delivered his finest professional performance, rushing when necessary to avoid the pressure, and delivering three touchdown passes, two to Anthony Fasano (Fasano now has three TDs in the last three weeks though I caution playing him. His total receptions don’t make him worthy of a waiver wire pickup). When the Redskins were off to a 3-1 start, their three victories included 14 sacks. In their five losses, they tallied just 11 sacks. Pressure will be a key to getting Matt Moore out of sync and into turnover mode. Meanwhile, John Beck needs to find someone besides Fred Davis to target, and needs to attempt some downfield throws. Beck’s longest pass is 32 yards, which certainly won’t loosen up the Miami secondary. Based on Bush’s numbers the last couple of weeks and the fact Moore was not sacked last week, there’s reason to believe the Dolphins offensive line is improving. The Redskins just don’t have enough offensive talent to hold off Moore if he continues to be efficient. Here’s to hoping Miami fans.


How do you stop a team with not one, but two running backs heading for 1,000 yard seasons? Perhaps that’s exactly the question the Buccaneers were asking this week when they picked up Albert Haynesworth off of waivers. Haynesworth used to be a tremendous presence in the middle of the field, and with Gerald McCoy lost for the season, the Buccaneers rushing defense needed someone to help stop up the running lanes. The Bucs will have to as Houston is one of only three teams in the NFL that runs more than they pass. With top weapon Andre Johnson still on the shelf, the Texans attempt to rush as at the struggling Bucs line. Heck, last week the Saints put up 195 rushing yards on Tampa Bay’s defense, and Sean Peyton isn’t exactly sure what a running back does. On the side, the Bucs have LeGarrette Blount back and healthy, but it won’t get any easier playing the fourth best rushing defense. With QB Josh Freeman’s inconsistency becoming a theme for him this season, Blount is the one true weapon this team can rely who could turn the Texans on their side. The only way Tampa Bay wins this game is protect Freeman (something they’ve done incredibly well all season long) and get LeGarrette Blount to push the Texans back on their heels. Freeman may be able to extend plays with his legs, but he’s averaging just 6.53 yards per attempt, and against a Houston secondary partly responsible for their plus-7 give/take ratio, he’s going to have to be more accurate than he’s been. Expect solid days from Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and expect another Houston win.


Every game against Philadelphia now reeks of an upset, but this one feels like it should be easy. John Skelton leads the Cardinals into town, coming off another Patrick Peterson-spawned victory. Beanie Wells managed just 20 yards on 10 carries with his bad knee, and against St. Louis that’s a sign that Armageddon is just around the corner. Philadelphia isn’t quite as bad, but they aren’t much better, seeing how they just recently invited Matt Forte to a 133 yard day. The Eagles secondary hasn’t exactly been as advertised either, and now they have to deal with power receiver Larry Fitzgerald and rising presence Early Doucet, who now is just four receptions behind the aforementioned team leader. The Eagles have LeSean McCoy playing at his best level, but will only continue to function as well as Michael Vick does. Not surprisingly, in their three wins, Vick has just one interception. In their five losses, he has eight. Arizona doesn’t have but six interceptions for the year. Vick has the weapons and should find Brent Celek available against linebacker or safety coverage, with Jason Avant often drawing single matchups. But where Arizona is softest is the run, having given up 11 rushing TDs, and an average of 118 yards per game. Vick would be wise to set McCoy up for as many opportunities as he can, and take some liberties of his own running the football. With Skelton at the helm, the Eagles defensive front should garner good pressure and control the game most of the way.



Does this game scare anyone besides me? Maybe? Here's why. In their two losses the Ravens managed under 50 yards rushing. Both games were on the road, and both games involved teams with top 15 rush defenses at the time. The other interesting tidbit is that the Ravens rushing game declines precipitously as they pass 10 rushing attempts dropping from 5.3 yards per attempt, to 3.4, to under 3 and then to 1.4 should they cross 31 carries. Their fourth quarter average yardage is 2.7 per rush. Enter Seattle, at home, with a rush defense ranked 13th. Marshawn Lynch has had a resurgence lately, and they actually held time of possession edge in two of their last three games. If Seattle can prevent the Baltimore running game from getting out to a quick start, they might be able to put the game on Joe Flacco's shoulders, and Flacco has been prone to mistakes. However, Seattle's problems go pretty deep. They lost top flight cornerback Marcus Truffant for the season, as well as CB Walter Thurmond, leaving their secondary depth challenged. Tight end John Carlson was also lost for the year leaving the former Raider Zach Miller to star, and he hasn't. They have generated almost zero pass rush this year, and they are also one of the top teams penalized in the league. With all that working against them, Tarvaris Jackson has to make betters decisions and quick ones, as Baltimore's defense will keep him his toes. However, if his line can protect him even slightly, he has weapons in Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and newly activated Deon Butler to expose the Ravens secondary, which has given up a lot of yardage recently. Honestly, I don't think the Seahawks can get out of their own way enough to take down the Ravens.




One of three marquee matchups in the afternoon, the Giants have been the team I’ve been warning everyone about. Their front four, when healthy, is as solid as any in the league. Their secondary has improved, particularly Aaron Ross. Ross who has already tied his career mark with three interceptions, has 27 tackles and is on pace to have his best year as a pro. His 21 solo stops nearly best his entire 25 solo tackles of last year. In their two losses, the Giants team rushing yardage failed to register 100, leading to just two third down conversions in their 22 attempts in those two games. San Francisco’s formula for success is a strong rushing attack, balanced out by smart short to intermediate passes, resulting in long sustained drives. Whether they culminate with touchdowns or field goals, the 49ers are content to make their drives result in points and eat the clock. They are third best in time of possession, averaging 31:18 per game when the league average is 30. Both teams feature a bona fide pass rush, but the difference is Eli Manning will have to make plays in order for the Giants to succeed. Hakeem Nicks is expected to play after practicing Thursday, and against San Francisco’s 22nd ranked pass defense will be used to stretch the field if his hamstring is healthy. Brandon Jacobs has killed the 49ers in the past, and will certainly get his share of carries with Ahmad Bradshaw nursing a broken foot. But Jacobs wasn’t quite as beaten up as he’s become, and the 49ers defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all year. I like Jacobs to change that Sunday with a rushing touchdown, but it won’t be enough. The 49ers defense will put Manning into many third and long situations, and their pass rush will force Eli into a couple of harried turnovers, which will be the difference in the game.

49ERS 19, GIANTS 14

Chicago finds themselves a couple of games back of Detroit, and in need of a big division win to move themselves into Wild Card contention. It’s hard to believe that as successful as Matt Forte has been, he’s scored just three times. He has 10 runs longer than 20 yards and five receptions longer than 20 yards. In their Week 5 loss to Detroit, Jahvid Best stomped 163 yards out on the Bears defense. Since then, the Bears haven’t allowed a 100-yard back, including the likes of Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. Maurice Morris certainly isn’t either of those guys, and this Chicago rushing defense that was giving up 125 yards per game is now averaging 110. The Lions hit the Bye week on a high note, after dismantling the Broncos on the heels of two straight losses. The Lions will continue to exploit the Bears secondary with the height and strength of Calvin Johnson. Johnson put 130 yards and a touchdown against the Bears at Ford Field, but has been held in check in Chicago in the past, scoring just one TD in four games and managing just one game over 100 yards receiving. Titus Young is a necessary part of the conversation when discussing Matthew Stafford’s other targets as Nate Burleson isn’t a long term answer, and Brandon Pettigrew is now fifth overall in targets of all NFL tight ends. Chicago will likely play a ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ defense, worrying less about Maurice Morris and more about the Lions passing game. Especially when you consider the Bears have managed just 15 sacks on the year. Jay Cutler has five touchdown passes against two interceptions during this three game win streak and just one lost fumble. Cutler will have to avoid the turnover as the Lions are the most opportunistic and pressure oriented of defenses. Thus Chicago will want to put the ball in Forte’s hands as much as possible, and at home he’ll deliver a top notch game. The Bears defense will do just enough to make Detroit’s one-dimensional offense work against them and Cutler will continue to make big throws on key downs to the likes of Earl Bennett.



In a strange case of role reversal, this can be the game that Mark Sanchez truly breaks out. The third year starter has weapons galore on the outside to choose from in Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Jerome Kerley and has Dustin Keller in the middle. In two of the three games against the Patriots last year Sanchez threw three touchdowns, including their playoff victory in January. Earlier this year, Sanchez was average throwing 16-of -26 for 166 and two scores in a 30-21 loss. Though Shonn Greene hasn't intimidated nor pleased most of the Jets faithful this year, he's run better as of late, carrying for 186 yards on 39 carries for a 4.76 average. Sanchez is primed for a big day and Dustin Keller, who has seen 15 targets in the past two games, a team high, will figure in big. Tom Brady may have bevy of solid hands to throw to, including two top flight tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but he has no downfiled threat. The hole left by Randy Moss has never been filled, and Wes Welker just isn't big enough to be a consistent deep threat. And while the running game has improved this year, no one seems to believe it can be relied on to carry a game. Now the Patriots come to the new Meadowlands to face a Jets defense that has one weakness: stopping the run. The Jets secondary is not afraid to man up and play aggressive bump and run, knowing that Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are two of the best at their position. Meanwhile the moment Stevan Ridley showed he might be ready for prime time with 10 carries for 97 yards and touchdown, he was summarily removed from the offensive scheme. He's had just 13 carries since then and has been a non-factor. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has managed just 61 yards in the past two games and hasn't scored since early October. The Jets will exercise their demons of earlier this year and outplay New England on both sides of the ball.



The last time these two teams met, Christian Ponder was starting his first NFL game. The Vikings lost by six points. Consider that for a moment if you will; His first NFL start against the reigning champs and with about six minutes left, he's got a chance to be the victor. Stunning as it might seem, I'm going to make a case for an upset. This same Vikings unit that scored barely 16 points per week under Donovan McNabb put up ten fourth quarter points and has averaged 25 since Ponder's ascension to starter. In his second week, Ponder not only improved his completion rate to above 60 percent and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, but the Vikings won. Now he gets his second shot at the Packers in three weeks, and all signs point to this being a closer matchup than is being predicted. Both pass defenses struggle, ranked 29th and 31st respectively. However, Adrian Peterson has fared well against the Packers, already ripping off 175 yards in their first meeting, and 131 yards the last time he was Lambeau Field. Christian Ponder becomes a sleeper play, though you wish he had just one more solid target on offense. Visanthe Shiancoe has scored touchdowns in three of the last five games against Green Bay, including one the Vikings Week 7 loss to the Packers. Expect him to play a role on Monday. High temperature is expected in the 50's with a good chance of rain. The Vikings Peterson will have another solid day, so I'm taking the Vikings to cover easily. But I'm going one step further and saying Green Bay overlooks this game has their first loss of the year in a stunner. P.S. – play Greg Jennings as he leads the NFL in targets.