Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I was 12-1 this weekend, and 12-2 total in terms of predicting the winner.  Believe it or not, I don't check point spreads before I write these things -- I don't like to be swayed by anything.

For a quarter there it looked as if Todd Haley might outcoach Bill Belichick, as the Chiefs offense looked poised and full of surprises. They moved the ball within the 20’s with what seemed to be little effort. They ran the wildcat, shifted formations, and moved into the hurry-up. The defense did its part too, sacking Tom Brady four times in the first half, once stripping him of the ball. And they managed just three points. From that point forward, Tom Brady led his offense to 34- unanswered points. Deion Branch was lost due to a hamstring problem, so Brady turned to his trusty tight ends to keep the team moving. Rob Gronkowski had just four receptions, but two resulted in big touchdowns and he gained 96 yards. Running back Shane Vereen joined the NFL season in Week 11, getting his first eight carries, which resulted in 39 yards and a touchdown, but don't go relying on any Patriots running back too soon. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still the dominant runner, and I use the word dominant lightly, by nearly a three-to-one margin. One thing that is clear, the Patriots are missing having a deep threat guy like Randy Moss around, and with Deion Branch as inconsistent as ever, this offense is finding it harder to be the chain movers they once were. The Patriots were just four of 13 on third down conversions, and have now had four straight performances where they've converted less than 40 percent on third downs.  Tyler Palko outgunned Brady in terms of yards, and at least that's good news for Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston owners.  Haley isn't putting the reins on Palko in terms of letting him sling it.

Though he wasn’t Einstein in the pocket, and he did make some ill-advised throws, Vince Young was a rock, playing through his mistakes and leading the Eagles past the Giants. Eli Manning is getting a lot of grief for being just seven of 17 in the first half even though drives were consistently stymied by dropped balls and a torrid pass rush that forced Manning to rush throws all night long. Jake Ballard just had one of those games where for some reason nothing in the coordination department was working. He dropped three balls that hit him in the hands, and during one route he slipped on a crossing route, planted his arm and injured his elbow. Victor Cruz remains Manning's most solid threat. He put up 162 yards receiving and a score. That’s his third 100-plus yard performance and combined with three other performances of 90-plus yards, he’s now the top Giants receiver in yards, and in fantasy points. For the G-men, these are the kinds of losses that worry Giants fans and should. Unable to run the ball for any considerable yardage, while adding another RB to the injury report (D.J. Ware), Kevin Gilbride’s offense was stifled over and over. The Cowboys have closed the gap fast, so mark December 11 on your calendars for the first meeting of these two teams with major implications division implications.

San Diego’s defense did what they could to keep the game close, but three second half turnovers, including two interceptions by Philip Rivers again in the fourth quarter undid any chances for the Chargers to upset the Bears. However, the loss took a toll on the Bears too, who lost Jay Cutler for the rest of the regular season to a broken thumb. Cutler will have surgery this week. That means Caleb Hanie from this point forward, who for his career has attempted 14 regular season passes, completing eight. Last year in the NFC Championship, Hanie had to step in for the injured Cutler , and he brought the Bears to within seven points of the Packers with just minutes left in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, Hanie’s two interceptions ended the chance for a Super Bowl run. Now the team will have to rely on the third year pro again. With the defense playing so well, there’s a chance Hanie can get away with a few extra novice mistakes. However, he’s going to have to make better decisions and understand his limitations to keep the Bears competitive. Ironically, there's a QB in Denver that knows their system, and the Broncos are going to get nothing for him in the off-season.  Does Chicago dare call Kyle Orton? Probably not, as the pain on both sides with his departure was palpable, but the reasoning is there. With Hanie, Earl Bennett’s fantasy value is likely to take a hit, as the chemistry between he and Cutler was clear. Matt Forte becomes even more important, as does Marion Barber and tight ends Matt Spaeth and Kellen Davis. For San Diego, Vincent Brown disappeared in the offense this week, as rookies often do, with just one catch on four targets. However this also could signify that Antonio Gates’ health is improving as he was again a top fantasy tight end this week.

Arizona quarterback John Skelton visited San Francisco for the second time as a starter and for the second straight time at Candlestick he was picked off three times and benched for Richard Bartel. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for him returning to the great northwest again anytime soon. The 49ers are 9-1 and are all but assured a lock on the NFC West with a five game lead over nearest division foe Seattle who sits at 4-6. If the 49ers, in their fourth trip across the country, can deliver a Thanksgiving win at Baltimore, they will have won a share of the division title for the first time since 2002. Beanie Wells managed over four yards per carry, which was impressive against the 49ers league-best rushing defense considering his knee problem. Oddly enough, Arizona attempted just 11 rushes, even though they were down just 9-0 at halftime. It’s understandable that you might not want to run into the mouth of the Lion, but to put your offensive game plan so heavily reliant on the Skelton is to be a deer who stands and grazes right in front of him. For Alex Smith, this was his first game this year where he attempted over 35 passes, and his 53 percent completion rate reflected the fact that this game was not the style of football that suits him. In fact, in the 10 games prior to yesterday, when Smith had attempted more than 35 passes, the 49ers were 1-9. However, he did win this game, and averaged seven yards per pass, something that may signify that Smith is beginning to reach the promise once shown him. Either way, the 49ers need Frank Gore to be fully healthy again and soon.

Matt Hasselbeck’s elbow sprain allowed the Titans fans their first look at Jake Locker, and Locker didn’t disappoint. Down 23-3 in the middle of the third quarter, Marc Mariani set the Titans up with their best field position of the day at the Falcons 48-yard line and just two plays later Locker delivered a 40-yard strike to Nate Washington to cut the deficit to 23-10. Two drives later, after Michael Turner lost a fumble, Locker drove the team 84 yards for a second score. He didn’t get to take the field again. Mike Munchak has already quelled any idea of a quarterback controversy, but Tennessee is 2-4 in their last six. At 5-5, yes they are still in the race, but with Chris Johnson proving once again that this isn't a fluke of season but a really bad one, and the Titans still committing penalties galore, is there really hope this team can pull itself out of this .500 funk? I mean, Hasselbeck was struggling prior to the injury and finished with a QB rating under 50. He's been a huge part of this team being competitive, but since their big win against Baltimore, Tennessee hasn't come close to defeating a team over .500 until yesterday, and close doesn't really describe this game. Hasselbeck's elbow will determine most if Locker is to keep playing, but a new shot of enthusiasm and youth sometimes does wonders. It has for the Broncos.

Summing up this football game is like trying to summarize a plot-less television show like Saturday Night live. Marshawn Lynch continued to run well and the Seattle defense continued it's strong showing, holding Steven Jackson to 42 yards on 15 carries. The defenses combined for nine sacks and five turnovers. Neither team sustained more than one drive longer than six plays, and the longest completion was thrown by WR Sidney Rice. Tarvaris Jackson threw two ugly interceptions, which led to the only seven points St. Louis could manage, but other than that, the Rams ceded possession by 10 minutes, and managed just 3.7 yards per pass. Brandon Lloyd managed five receptions for 67 yards and a score, which wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't been targeted 14 times. Seattle improved to 4-6, and their schedule is slightly favorable, as the next six games they face teams with a combined record of 28-32. Marshawn Lynch remains a back to target if you're trade deadline hasn't passed.

Earlier this year, word on rookie Torrey Smith was that not only was he dropping balls, but he was having trouble grasping the playbook. Well, this is why you should never judge a team too early in the season. Smith has grown into not only a viable weapon, but his 20.3 yards per reception has him ranked second in the NFL behind only Malcom Floyd. His five receiving touchdowns have him tied with names like Jermichael Finley, Victor Cruz, and Steve Smith (CAR). He might be even more valuable if he wasn't on the Ravens, a team that's rarely going to have someone like Joe Flacco attempting 35 passes a game. Nevertheless, it's safe to assume if he continues to pull in balls like he has been, he'll be targeted heavily next year by fantasy owners. Cedric Benson put up two rushing touchdowns on Sunday, a third of the entire total now allowed by the Ravens rushing defense. Some of this might be attributed to Ray Lewis missing in the middle for this game. Andy Dalton has proven he'll keep the Bengals competitive in any game, but the rookie in him reared its head as two second half interceptions led to 14 points for the Ravens. Jerome Simpson had his third 100-yard receiving performance of the year, and is now the most targeted receiver on the Bengals with 70. One has to think had A.J. Green been active for Sunday's contest the outcome might have been different.

The Bleacher report marked the day that Jessica Simpson showed up to a game wearing her pink Tony Romo shirt as the Number Four worst moment of his career. I actually believe it was his worst, because that’s when all the hate for him seemed to start. Well, he almost added another one Sunday. However, this time Mike Shanahan bailed him out. In overtime, Romo nearly pulled his best imitation of former Michigan star Chris Webber, requesting a timeout he didn’t have. Had Mike Shanahan not called a timeout also, the Cowboys would have been penalized 15 making a 39-yard field goal attempt 54 yards. Looks like Christmas came early for the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray may not have cracked the 100-yard barrier, but he led the team in receptions with six. He’s becoming an all-purpose fantasy back and his draft value for next year is on the rise. Of course the fact that I’m talking about the 2012 values of fantasy players might fall under those people that need to get a life according to Jabar Gaffney. I’m not going to kill myself though. Gaffney’s season-best game was marred by his Twitter messages, yet his value does get a boost with Rex Grossman under center. Tony Romo is now 18-2 in November, making him only the second quarterback to mark that record for his first 20 games in November. The man he joins is Otto Graham.

For three quarters the Oakland Raiders played defense. It was the fourth and final one they had trouble with. Darius Heyward-Bey’s concussion seemed to coincide with a sudden shakeup, and before they knew it, Minnesota was knocking on the door down 27-21 and with the ball. With Carson Palmer at the helm, any mistake made by the Vikings turned into points the other way. Michael Bush continues to rumble his way to his best season yet, and the only time Chaz Schilens seems to turn up in the box score is when he’s catching a touchdown. Keep in mind if you have Bush without Darren McFadden, you should be looking to deal him (and should have been). His carries are likely to be about one-third of what they are when McFadden returns. The Vikings lost Adrian Peterson to a high ankle sprain, and that means he’ll likely miss at least two games, maybe more. That means Percy Harvin is likely to see even more carries and Toby Gerhart suddenly becomes worth owning again.

For the third straight week, Miami’s defense kept the opposing offense without a touchdown. And for the third straight week, Miami won. This week’s victim was the Buffalo Bills, who have gone from vaunted consistent offense to injured, hapless and panicky offense. With offensive line woes already well known, the Bills added to their second half misery Sunday when Fred Jackson went down with a calf injury. With all the injuries to their wide receivers, I expected David Nelson to perform. He didn’t, getting blanketed for one catch in for attempts. Meanwhile, Matt Moore had thrown three touchdowns to three different receivers by halftime. Reggie Bush continued his second half surge with another red zone touchdown run even though Daniel Thomas led the team with 50 yards on 15 carries. Anthony Fassano caught his third touchdown in as many games, and still no one will think any differently about it if you don’t grab him off the fantasy waiver wire. The Bills have fallen hard, a lot of which can be attributed to injuries to a once stalwart offensive line that gave Ryan Fitzpatrick lots of time, and what appears to be Fitzpatrick’s inability to deal with the pressure that came with a big contract. Up until his October 28 signing, Fitzpatrick had thrown six interceptions all year. In the four games since then, he’s throw eight.

Here I thought division rival Minnesota would show up just a few weeks ago in Green Bay and give them a real challenge, and Tampa Bay meanwhile would arrive frustrated and watch the Packers simply add to that. Well, Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount were full of surprises Sunday, as Blount ground out 100-plus yards on the ground, including an incredible 54-yard run where he was hit by every Packer on the field, including those on the bench, and still scored. Wide receiver Mike Williams decided to make just his second appearance in the end zone since Week 1, while Kellen Winslow put up 132 receiving yards on nine catches. Freeman tossed another couple of interceptions, bringing this year’s tally to 15. He’s on pace to break his career high of 18. Green Bay seemed to be celebrating some sort of holiday where no-name players get opportunities to score. B. J. Raji, Tom Crabtree, John Kuhn and Jordy Nelson score the Packers’ five touchdowns, while Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and even Mason Crosby just watched in dismay. Fine, maybe they weren’t dismayed but a lot of us who own them were. Aaron Rodgers was harassed most of the day and ended up fleeing the pocket five times to the tune of 28 yards and added his 10th straight game with a QB rating over 100. One thing to note is that the Packers may have lost James Starks for a few games with a knee injury. That means Ryan Grant will suddenly take on a larger role, and against Detroit’s 27th ranked rush defense, he has a very favorable matchup.

Kevin Smith outdid everyone’s expectations, and perhaps he should thank Keiland Williams for it. Williams got one rushing attempt which he used to remind the Detroit coaching staff of his fumbling problem, and next thing you know, Smith was rushing for 140 yards and two scores making the Detroit fan base forget whatever that running back's name is with the concussion problem. While Maurice Morris was relatively ineffective, Smith rattled off runs of 43, 19 and 13 yards, and crossed the goal line for two scores. Matthew Stafford’s busted index finger was all but forgotten after two early interceptions as he rebounded with five touchdown passes, none to Calvin Johnson. Johnson, who leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns, went his second straight game without a score, meaning you should feel like trading him to me. Cam Newton had a respectable game despite throwing four more interceptions. Steve Smith was targeted ten times and caught five for 42 yards and touchdown. Jonathan Stewart hauled in all six of his targets for 87 yards. He now has 10 receptions in the past two games, giving him 33 for the year. Greg Olsen had nine balls thrown his way but converted only three to catches, disappointing when you consider Jeremy Shockey did not play.

Maurice Jones-Drew had 87 yards rushing and scored a touchdown, but in the end, was outshone by Chris Ogbonnaya, who managed 115 yards on a Jacksonville front seven that shut down Ray Rice. For the second week in a row, Greg Little led all Cleveland receivers with targets, yardage and receptions, but he still has yet to find the end zone. The Cleveland pass defense held Blaine Gabbert to just 5.1 yards per attempt, most of which went to Marcedes Lewis, who finally joined the party this week with a team-leading seven catches on 11 targets. Gabbert had a shot to win the Jags the game but his final pass into the end zone to Mike Thomas was broken up as time expired. Monitor the Browns’ injury situation to assess whether Ogbonnaya will get the start this week, but against the Cincinnati defense, you might consider a different matchup. Jacksonville welcomes division foe Houston.