Friday, November 18, 2011

WEEK 11 PREVIEWS

Week 11 is here, and I'll have my thoughts on the Thursday night 'Miracle on Mile-High Street' later. Four teams are on the Bye this week, including the Houston Texans, who received about the only news worse than a car crash containing both Arian Foster and Ben Tate. There is a strong likelihood it will be up to Matt Leinart to lead Houston to the promised land. In this case, the promised land would seem to be their couches in mid January.



TAMPA BAY @ GREEN BAY
Occasionally you come across a game such as this and the word ‘blowout’ is so clearly emblazoned upon it that it almost scares you. Have you overlooked the potential of an upset? Is there some corner of this matchup’s world you haven't dusted? This is one of those matchups. The Green Bay Packers are coming off a 45-7 bludgeoning of the Minnesota Vikings Monday night, and the short week won’t make one bit of difference. Green Bay’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, putting up 90 points in their last two victories. Tampa Bay is struggling with creating a pass rush and has seen their rushing and passing offense regress. The only way the Buccaneers can win this game is to have LeGarrette Blount carry the ball over 20 times. He's done so only two times this year, both victories, but is facing a Packers rush defense that limited Adrian Peterson to 51 yards. Kregg Lumpkin, now the backup behind Blount, led all Tampa Bay receivers last week with five receptions, pointing the fact that either Josh Freeman is getting a bit gun shy with his injured thumb, or he now thinks Lumpkin is the second coming of Kevin Faulk. I’m going with the former there, as two of the last three games Freeman averaged under six yards per pass. Freeman has faced Green Bay just once back in 2009. During that game he went 14-for-31 for 205 yards and three touchdowns, while the Bucs’ defense forced three interceptions and a blocked punt. In the past three weeks, the Tampa Bay defense has forced three turnovers and allowed 88 points. They have yielded six rushing touchdowns and eight scores to running backs. I like James Starks to actually find pay dirt this week, in addition to Aaron Rodgers eating up the 28th ranked Tampa Bay defense.

PACKERS 34, BUCCANEERS 17


CINCINNATI @ BALTIMORE
Both teams are coming off important losses. Cincinnati’s was important because it came at the hand of their AFC North rival Steelers. For Baltimore, they were the second high profile victim of the Seattle Seahawks, and for the third time this year had a giant let down after a big victory. Last week, Joe Flacco attempted 52 passes while Ray Rice got just five carries. Not sure what goes into a game plan for John Harbaugh these days, but just five carries for Rice doesn’t seem like a plan – it seems like an improvisational sketch. Rice did throw his first touchdown though, which at least kept fantasy owners from having a stroke and provided defensive coordinators with one more thing they might have to consider when Baltimore sets up in the red zone. For either team, controlling time of possession and mistakes will determine this game’s winner. They split their season series last year and not surprisingly, whichever QB turned the ball over more lost the game. Ray Rice averaged about 82 yards per contest and scored once against the Bengals in 2010. You’re never going to bench Rice period, but against this Bengals defense, his most likely contribution could be passes out of the backfield. Cedric Benson was a bust against Baltimore in 2010 but a boom in 2009. Don’t expect a lot from him as Baltimore will likely push hard to stop the run after Marshawn Lynch lit them up, preferring to let Andy Dalton beat them. The bad news for the Ravens is that they managed just one sack against Seattle and one against Pittsburgh. Dalton’s line is much better than both those teams, having given up 13 sacks all year. Though the Ravens have only yielded four passing touchdowns for the season, three have come in the past five weeks. If the Bengals can keep Dalton upright, and A.J. Green plays (he’s questionable as of this writing) the Bengals could take this one. Green has just two receptions against AFC North opponents this year. However, both are for greater than 30 yards and both were touchdowns. This week, I’m defaulting on the side of the Ravens at home, with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta playing solid roles, and Rice putting up over 100 yards of offense.

BALTIMORE 17, CINCINNATI 12


DALLAS @ WASHINGTON
The Cowboys have won two of the last three games they played in Washington, all of them low scoring. In only one of them, the 2008 game, did they produce a 100-yard rusher. Enter DeMarco Murray, one of the reasons the Cowboys find themselves in the playoff hunt again, and perhaps an indirect reason for the offense looking playoff ready. Since Murray became the full-time starter, Romo has thrown eight touchdowns versus one interception. In the previous five games he had thrown eight touchdowns but six interceptions. My thought is Dallas’ play-action is being taken more seriously. The Washington rush defense has faltered over 10 spots in the rankings during their five game losing streak, while the pass defense has been pretty stout. In fact, during the five game slide, no team’s top receiver found the end zone. The five passing scores broke down as follows: three scores went to TEs, one to a fullback and one to No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell, the only wide receiver to score at his position. Jason Witten should be a top target this weekend, while the Redskins focus on holding Dez Bryant in check. Meanwhile, the one highlight to Rex Grossman’s return was the play of rookie Leonard Hankerson, and he was lost for the season with a labrum tear right after he delivered his first 100 yard receiving day. The Redskins aren’t finding much luck, and you aren’t going to be able to predict which running back Shanahan favors this weekend.

COWBOYS 17, REDSKINS 14


BUFFALO @ MIAMI
The once ‘playoff bound’ Bills head to Miami at probably the worst time as the Dolphins have won two straight on the play of their defense, Matt Moore and Reggie Bush. What seemed like an easy win for the Bills just a few weeks ago now has significant meaning if they hope to stay in the playoff race. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown eight interceptions in just four weeks. Steve Johnson has been all but absent around the goal line and word is his ailing shoulder could actually sideline him this week. That leaves just David Nelson and Naaman Roosevelt as the healthy receivers on this team. Perhaps even more problematic is the loss of staring center Eric Wood for the year. With starting LT Demetreus Bell and his backup Chris Hairston both uncertain for Sunday, the Bills line shakeup has made things all the more ambiguous for a team that had a clear identity their first five weeks. Fred Jackson's impact will be important, though he's likely to get less rushing yardage and be an increased threat in the passing game. Expect the lack of receivers to augment Scott Chandler to a decent TE play if you've had underperformers like Marcedes Lewis at that spot. For Miami, Brandon Marshall has 20 targets the past two weeks, resulting in 204 yards and score. With the Bills secondary likely missing S George Wilson this week, Moore will be looking downfield quite a bit Sunday. Anthony Fasano may play a bigger role but he's not a guy to rely on even with increased targets. Reggie Bush has been getting the ball inside the red zone more often (two touchdowns in two weeks) but keep in mind that last week was the first time since late October that Daniel Thomas outpaced Bush in attempts 17 to 14. That will likely continue, and as Thomas' hamstring returns to full health, he'll likely cut into Bush's red zone carries too. Bush will still be a great PPR option and against the Bills will serve you well again. The Dolphins are on a high, and still a struggling team on third downs and in the red zone, but with the Bills offense and defense both hobbled, they should run their win streak to three.

DOLPHINS 23, BILLS 21


OAKLAND @ MINNESOTA
The Oakland Raiders find themselves back atop the AFC West after their offense trounced the San Diego Chargers. Carson Palmer looks poised to take this offense to new levels, and Michael Bush has picked up where Darren McFadden left off, with Oakland ranked fourth in rushing offense. However, for as many yards as they gain, they give up. The Raiders rush defense has struggled, though they've only allowed 100-yard performances to Fred Jackson and Willis McGahee. Part of that has to do with the fact that Oakland has been tied or led going into the fourth quarter in six of their nine games. The Vikings have been blown out three times, and led three of their first four games going into the final fifteen minutes only to see the game squandered away by an offense that has managed just two fourth quarter touchdowns.  The addition of Palmer has matured Denarius Moore into a star in the making, and  Besides Adrian Peterson, few have made plays when they've been warranted. Christian Ponder has faced the Super Bowl Champs two of his first three starts, hardly a body of work to judge a rookie on. But except for last week's game, he's looked pretty good. Michael Jenkins had been one of his top targets, but surprisingly tied with him in the last three weeks is Devin Aromashodu. No one has been able to understand why Aromashodu, a 6' 2", 201-pounder hasn't made more waves in the NFL. Of course, of his 30 targets, Aromashodu has hauled in just seven, making his receiving percentage the worst on the team at just 23 percent. In this matchup, Peterson should top 20 carries, and should also see more receptions out of the backfield. The Vikings RT Sean Loadholt got eaten alive by Clay Matthews, who registered two sacks in the game. He'll have to contend with Oakland's SLB Kameron Wimbley, who has five sacks in the last two games. Oakland's line which has kept every QB they've had upright, now faces off against Jared Allen, who will challenge second year man Jared Valdheer in one of the key matchups of the game. Whoever protects the ball the best and keeps their ground game going should hold on for the victory. I'm giving Palmer a slight edge with his veteran leadership, and his receiving corpsand even though I expect Peterson to get 100-plus yards and score, I think this game goes the Raiders.

RAIDERS 23, VIKINGS 21


JACKSONVILLE @ CLEVELAND
Wow could this one be a yawner. Maurice Jones-Drew comes to Cleveland fresh off his second 100-yard performance in three games, and third one for the year. To say he is the only thing that makes this team run is a bit a 'pun-ny', but Blaine Gabbert and the passing offense are averaging an abysmal 122 yards per games, and now face a Cleveland defense that is the NFL's best against the pass. Cleveland's Colt McCoy led the Browns into field goal range and what appeared to be a victory over the St. Louis Rams, only to watch Phil Dawson shank a 22 yard field goal wide left. The Browns faithful might not even care so much about a victory anymore as getting to see a touchdown. The last home touchdown the Browns offense scored happened prior the Week 5 Bye. Both teams are even in the give/take column at zero for the year, and with hardly any running game to speak of, McCoy can be expected to shoulder the load. He's coming off his best game this year, where he completed 20-of-27 passes for 218 yards, but failed to throw a TD pass against one of the lesser defenses in St. Louis. This was because he was just 2-of-5 in the red zone with one fumble, and didn't take one shot into the end zone on their closing drive. Think the coaching staff are being extra cautious? Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi will be a welcome return, though Greg Little has filled in nicely since his injury. Though there's a possibility you'll see Montario Hardesty, most likely it will be Chris Ogbonnaya again in the backfield, and he won't muster much against the Jacksonville front seven. McCoy isn't the best passer, but Jacksonville's loss of CB Rashean Mathis means Will Middleton will have to keep Massaquoi or Little in check. Jones-Drew should have a big day, but Jacksonville has won just one road game (against Indy) and Gabbert won't be able to do enough against this defense should the Browns stop Jones-Drew.

BROWNS 13, JAGUARS 10


CAROLINA @ DETROIT
What once was projected to be a high-scoring aerial show has turned into what would seem to be a ground matchup. Matthew Stafford owners should be worried as the fracture in his right index finger appears to be hampering his throws. The two interceptions he threw Sunday that were returned for touchdowns just didn't get to their targets with any zip or accuracy. When you consider that Jahvid Best isn't yet ready to return, this would appear to be a good time to highlight Maurice Morris, who is averaging 4.6 yards per attempt in his last four games. Naturally, Stafford's hand problem didn't prevent his coaches, which currently call the least amount of rushes in the NFL (just 36 percent of the time) from allowing him to attempt a career high 63 pass attempts anyway. A telling number from this game was that Calvin Johnson had caught over 63 percent of the pass attempts throw his way by Stafford this year. On Sunday, he caught just seven of 19 passes, or 37 percent. Again, accuracy might be an issue. For Carolina, Cam Newton was diagnosed with shoulder fatigue. Not exactly a shocking diagnosis for a rookie who is on pace for over 550 attempts and would have been near the end of his season already last year. DeAngelo Williams leads all Carolina rushers with 83 attempts, but it is Jonathan Stewart who has seven rushing touchdowns and a 5.4 yard per carry average. With both rush defenses ranked 27th and 28th respectively, the difference will be who can stop the other team's measly ground game, without turning it over. The difference is Detroit is a plus-9 for the season and their pass defense has stepped up to fourth best.

DETROIT 24, CAROLINA 14


THE 4:05 PM DOCKET

SEATTLE @ ST. LOUIS
Why should you be optimistic about Sam Bradford if you’re a Rams fan? Here’s why. Prior to his injury, he had only one game where he had averaged over seven yards per pass and hadn’t gone a single game completing over 60 percent of his passes, that is, if you don’t include the actual Green Bay game when he got injured. Since his return from injury, Bradford has two straight games of over 60 percent completions with one of those topping seven yards per attempt. What this means is Bradford has either gotten better protection, or he’s learning how to release the ball quicker for more yards down the field. Either way, his wide receivers are nothing to write home about sans Brandon Lloyd, so you can hope they get him a decent offensive lineman and wide receiver for Christmas. Seattle comes to town after another shocking upset, one in which they dismantled the Baltimore Ravens on both sides of the ball. Marshawn Lynch has two 100-yard performances this year, which he saved for two of the toughest running defenses on their schedule. This leaves fantasy owners and experts alike with furrowed brows and shrugged shoulders when asked what Lynch come the trade deadline. This week seems to be a no-brainer that you’re starting him, especially considering he’s up against the worst rushing defense in the league, and the Seahawks as a team average better than a yard extra per carry on the road. Then you look at the fact that their passing game averages almost two yards less per attempt on the road (7.6 to 5.9), the line has given up 21 sacks away from Century Link Field, and that besides the Houston Texans, the Seahawks are the NFL's worst team in terms of time of possession. Essentially, that gives you an idea of how Seattle game plans on the road; they emphasize the run, and try to get the ground game going, only to commit penalties that put them in longer third down situations forcing them to look further downfield, which in turn results in sacks on the quarterback. The difference here is the Rams have allowed 32 sacks and earned 22, and have only two interceptions on the year. They also just added starting CB Al Harris to the IR with a torn ACL. Both runners are smart plays this week, but Seattle’s defense is playing better and have never allowed Jackson to rush for 100 yards against them in 14 attempts. Marshawn Lynch leads the way.

SEAHAWKS 21, RAMS 17


ARIZONA @ SAN FRANCISCO
John Skelton is 2-0 as a starter this year, which has me stuttering as I write, which I d-d-didn’t th-think that was p-p-p-possible. Kevin Kolb still has been limited with his bad toe and foot, so it appears Skelton will be under center Sunday at Candlestick. Skelton has thrown for over 530 yards in two games and three touchdown passes, but he’s also been intercepted twice and fumbled once. Beanie Wells is still fighting through the swelling in his knee, but started practicing again Thursday. He’ll face an uphill challenge Sunday, as San Francisco yields 73.2 rushing yards per game. That likely means he’ll be used to keep balance, but expectations will be placed on Skelton to move the ball. Larry Fitzgerald has erupted like a small volcano since Skelton took over, posting 11 receptions of 25 targets for 186 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, both Early Doucet and Andre Roberts have become fantasy useful again, with Roberts garnering two straight games with 55 yards receiving and 14 targets. Doucet has 10 targets, with eight receptions, 102 yards and a touchdown. However, Skelton’s experience in San Francisco last year was less than hospitable, as he tallied just 14-of-25 for 92 yards, a touchdown, one interception and was sacked four times before abdicating his position to Richard Bartel. On the other side of things, San Francisco has swept the season series the past two years, allowing no greater than 16 points in any of the four games. Alex Smith posted his second best QB rating in the 49ers home victory against the Cardinals, throwing for 276 yards and two touchdowns, and has shown real growth this year in his understanding of what he needs to do to win football games. Frank Gore is expected back for this game, though he may share more carries with Kendall Hunter because of his sprained knee. Gore only had five carries against Arizona last year, but ran for a whopping ten yards per touch. If that’s any sign of what could happen Sunday, plan on Gore wracking up good yardage against Arizona’s 21st ranked rush defense, but taper expectations for a full workload. While Michael Crabtree leads all receivers in targets, seven of Smith's 11 passing touchdowns are nearly evenly divided between Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Only Davis is worth playing in terms of consistent fantasy points. Special teams could play a huge role as both Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie Patrick Peterson have returns for touchdowns. The San Francisco defense will make Wells life tough, and though Skelton might have a good passing day, time of possession with go San Francisco’s way, and so will the game.

SAN FRANCISCO 21, ARIZONA 10


THE 4:15 DOCKET

TENNESSEE @ ATLANTA
Michael Turner has faced the Titans only twice, both times when he was a member of the San Diego Chargers. Since his days as a backup at San Diego, Turner’s gone on to a rather illustrious career, starring as the Atlanta battering ram. Though Turner failed to get his most important yard in overtime last week against the Saints, he’s averaging 4.4 yards per attempt and has seven rushing touchdowns for the season. He’ll be pitted against a Titans defense that has clamped down on the likes of Cedric Benson and Ray Rice, then also gave up 100-yard performances to Arian Foster and Ben Tate (same game) and Jonathan Dwyer, the Steelers third string running back. In Atlanta, Turner will be set to try to control the game and keep the Tennessee's minimal pass rush at bay. That means more first down passes from Matt Ryan (his largest number of attempts are on first down) with Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers mixed in. Keep in mind, Matt Ryan has already been sacked 20 times this year. That’s more sacks registered in the Atlanta backfield on Ryan than he had all of his rookie and sophomore years, and last year, he was sacked a total of 23 times. So expect a lot of those short early passes to be aimed at Tony Gonzalez. Matt Hasselbeck, on the other hand, has been dropped just 13 times. It certainly won’t hurt him that Chris Johnson has two straight games averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, including 130-yard performance last week versus Carolina. The Titans offense hasn’t quite been the same since the loss of Kenny Britt, but Damian Williams has started to make his claim to the top receiver position, adding nine receptions in the past two games for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Williams has led the team in targets during that time with 14. Johnson will try to find his groove, but he’s much more likely to be effective catching out of the backfield as the Falcons haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all year. Most likely it will have to be Hasselbeck, Williams and Jared Cook, who had eight targets just two weeks ago. Atlanta’s defense is too tough, and the Titans commit too many penalties to take this one on the road.

FALCONS 23, TITANS 14


SAN DIEGO @ CHICAGO
This is the time of year the Bears relish warm weather teams coming into town. However, in this case, they might reconsider. Over the course of his career when Philip Rivers has traveled to weather-related cities in November, December, and January, he is 10-4, with two of those losses being during the playoffs in January. The margins of victory were closer, but Rivers plays better the more the year moves on…..usually. Forget blaming the Chargers woes on just Rivers. The offensive line could qualify for veterans benefits. Kris Dielman is now on the IR after being knocked silly last week. Marcus McNeill is out, as is Louis Vasquez. Against Oakland, the Chargers managed just 75 total yards rushing; this is Oakland mind you, a rush defense who has laid out the red carpet for most rushing offenses to the tune of 140 yards per game. On the other side of things, the Bears appear to be hitting their stride. While Matt Forte was finally held under 100 total yards of offense, it was more because he had less opportunities. Jay Cutler has found old Vanderbilt friend Earl Bennett a trusted soldier, giving him two straight games of five or more targets and over 80 yards receiving. But give credit to a vastly improved Bears defense, which just the past three games has nine interceptions, three fumble recoveries, four sacks and 21 passes defensed. Cutler needed to complete just nine passes of 19 attempts to beat Detroit handily. This week, they face a patchwork line that allowed Rivers to be hit on 30 of his 47 pass attempts. Forte will star again at home, as San Diego’s pass defense is their strength, so expect a higher dose of carries, and a stronger PPR game than in Detroit. If Rivers gets time, the Chicago secondary can be exposed, as they were by Calvin Johnson and Devery Henderson earlier in the season. Both had touchdowns of 70-plus yards. This makes Vincent Jackson still worth playing as he is a huge deep threat, as is rookie WR Vincent Brown. The two Vinces could give the Bears secondary a rough day if the Chargers play to Rivers strength, which is getting rid of the ball quickly on short quick routes. Expect more running plays too, making Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert mid-range fantasy options. What is likely though from this reorganized line is chaotic running lanes, Julius Peppers exacting some pain on Philip Rivers, and Chargers mistake prone offense struggling. Eventually, the San Diego defense will wear down from being out on the field too often.

BEARS 24, CHARGERS 19


SUNDAY NIGHT GAME

PHILADELPHIA @ NEW YORK GIANTS
There was a headline a some point regarding the Eagles that stated, “Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen.” I’d venture to say that to fall you had to have gotten up in the first place. The Eagles just never got up. Michael Vick is nursing broken ribs and could likely give way to Vince Young. Young has thrown one pass this year and that was an interception. Jeremy Maclin has hamstring and shoulder problems and might help the team more by resting and getting healthy. Neither are guys you’d want to chance this week from a fantasy perspective. LeSean McCoy has already put up 100 yards rushing against this defense in Week 3. Sure, it stinks when as a coach both teams know who should generate your offense, but in this case, if Andy Reid doesn’t highlight McCoy and steps to the podium to take the blame for another loss, most of the reporters in the room might simply agree with him. Young has only faced the G-men once, and that was in Tennessee back in 2006. At that time, Young dined on the Giants defense for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns, and an additional 69 rushing yard with a score. Decision-making has plagued Vince Young’s career, and if Andy Reid can get him to run whenever there’s a question about throwing a ball into coverage, he has the ability to make this game interesting. DeSean Jackson has something to prove, but then again, he’s had that all year long and has been a liability as often as an asset. As for the Giants, remember when I wrote that Eli Manning’s passer rating might decline some but that it didn’t really matter, I was keeping him. Well he’s still in the top five in passer rating, has added 561 more passing yards, four touchdowns, three picks and while posting a passer rating somewhere in the mid 80’s. He’s also thrown 79 more times, something I love in my fantasy quarterbacks. With Ahmad Bradshaw out and Brandon Jacobs still struggling to make four yards per carry, expect Manning to attack this vaunted Eagles secondary again through the air. In the Week 3 matchup, Manning threw four touchdowns, two of which found Victor Cruz. Danny Ware should again be good for eight to ten rushes making him a viable Flex play in deep leagues against an Eagles rushing defense giving up 120 yards per game. Though I never like betting against a desperate team sporting a new QB, barring Vince Young becoming Albert Einstein in the pocket, the Giants will force Young to make a few ill-advised turnovers and that’ll be the difference in this one.

GIANTS 27, EAGLES 23


MONDAY NIGHT GAME

KANSAS CITY @ NEW ENGLAND
Tyler Palko is starting for Matt Cassel, who was lost for the year last week. He’s never started a game and has a career total of 13 pass attempts. Their starting rusher, Jackie Battle has begun ceding carries to Dexter McCluster. The Chiefs pass rush is almost non-existent with only nine sacks, the lowest tally in the NFL. The Chiefs secondary is their strength, but both Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers were limited at practice this week and aren’t 100 percent. Start every Patriot you own, and even go out and find some people to put on the field in Patriot uniforms and then draft them for your fantasy team. The only thing Palko has going for him is two huge targets in Dwayne Bowe, and freshman Jonathan Baldwin, who had one of the best catches of the season negated last week due to off-setting penalties. New England's secondary is terrible, so expect Palko to at least try to take some deep shots down the field. Tom Brady has faced the Chiefs four times and is 3-1 against them. However, the last game he saw this team resulted in a season ending knee injury thanks to safety Bernard Pollard. Brady won’t have forgotten it, and with the Pats set to take command of their division, this one won’t be close on Monday Night.

PATRIOTS 38, CHIEFS 13