Thursday, December 22, 2011


Dear Readers,

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog this year.  I'm down with a little knee surgery and have not really been able to function clearly enough to put some solid predictions on paper.  Hopefully tomorrow I can put down some Saturday previews, but as this is a one man operation, I hope you'll beg my pardon if I don't.

Wishing you the best of luck in your fantasy championship.  Foster and Tate are solid plays.  Yates may put up some decent numbers as well, but if you've got someone better, you're staying with them.  Not recommending any Colts in this one, even at home, though if you spent a high pick on Reggie Wayne, you're playing him because you have to.

Best wishes for the holidays.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday Night - T&R

It was a calculated risk. After the Baltimore Ravens dropped a game in San Diego, the Steelers decision to play Ben Roethlisberger was all about taking destiny in their own hands as well as the division lead.  It was a bad one.  The pundits are saying that any Ben Roethlisberger was better than the other options the Steelers had.  This game hearkened me back to a previous Bay Area game in 2007 when Roethlisberger returned early from an appendectomy, only to throw four interceptions in a 20-13 loss.  Limited by his lack of movement and agility, Roethlisberger's passing ability was grounded and the Steelers gained little by his playing except a risk of his greater injury.  As it turned out, the Steelers gained exactly the same yesterday, and no one knows what the effect was yesterday.  Hindsight may be 20-20, but exactly why are NFL teams employing second and third string quarterbacks if their intention is to sit them in the exact situations for which they're being paid.  Not only that, I saw Dennis Dixon fully dressed Monday night.  Wasn't this the same Dennis Dixon that led the Steelers to a 3-1 record while the rapscallion Roethlisberger was serving a four games suspension?  Wasn't this the Dennis Dixon that his chance at a perfect 4-0 ended in only the final seconds of the game against Baltimore?  This is a case of either seriously bad player assessment or bad coaching.  If Charlie Batch is worse than another four turnover day from Big Ben, then why is he being paid hundred of thousands of dollars?  For advice?  Out of loyalty?  It is dismaying to say the least.  If you're Pittsburgh, I can understand wanting the first round bye and playing for such, but it didn't take a football analyst to see how hobbled Roethlisberger was prior to kickoff.  If the Steelers were too worried that neither Batch or Dixon could play in this regular season match up, just what does that say about them if Ben's ankle injury worsens and he misses a playoff game.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  In the meanwhile, one has to recognize the greatness of the San Francisco rush defense this year after 14 games without a single rushing touchdown.  It still would take great effort to keep Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and/or the Ram's Steven Jackson from being the first.  And just for fun, check out my prediction on Frank Gore's output for this game.... I said 16 for 67 and a score.  Scarily, he had 18 for 65 and a score.  Maybe I should buy a lotto ticket.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


We wish Wade Phillips a speedy recovery from surgery this week, and we also wish Sam Hurd would have learned that he’s making enough money and had enough of a future to not join the other knucklenuts in jail who have squandered their careers.  Hurd has absolutely denied the charges that he was dealing to anyone within the NFL....he just needed that much cocaine and weed to celebrate New Year's.


Attempting to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Bengals couldn’t ask for a better road matchup than the beaten down Rams. QB Sam Bradford did not practice again, as well as A.J. Feeley, leaving Kellen Clemens or Tom Brandstater as the option at quarterback.  As if that wasn’t problem enough, the Rams lost starting fullback Brit Miller to the IR with a knee injury.  All this adds up more reasons why the Rams will struggle to score.  Steven Jackson hasn’t put up 100 yards since the Cleveland game five weeks ago, and I don’t like his chances here, even at home.  The Bengals have been a top ten rushing defense the entire year, and even with a hobbled Manny Lawson in the middle, they’ll be keying on Jackson.  Cedric Benson’s back kept him limited in practice, but he should be good to go on Sunday.  He’s had two 20-plus carry days in the past three weeks, and as long as his back doesn’t act up prior to kickoff, expect another one here.  The whole right side of the Bengals line will be patchwork, as RG Bobbie Williams is now on the I.R. and RT Andre Smith is fight an ankle problem.  Nevertheless, I still think Benson will be a top ten back when all is said and done.  The Rams secondary has actually been a strength of theirs, though some of that is because teams don’t need to throw when you’re giving up nearly 157 rushing yards per game.  Expect Cincinnati to employ a similar strategy to what the Falcons did this week, with QB Andy Dalton searching for A. J. Green trolling deep in the secondary, and Jermaine Gresham underneath.  Jerome Simpson’s knee might not yet be fully healed as four weeks ago he had 13 targets in a 152 yard game against Baltimore.  The last two weeks he’s had just nine, and only two receptions, thus tread cautiously.  At home Cincy would roll – on the road, it’ll still be a relatively easy victory.


The Giants are coming off a thrilling victory over the Cowboys in Dallas, and Eli Manning has been playing about as well as the Giants could hope, putting up 400 yards last week against what was the 14th best pass defense in the league.  The Redskins secondary sits at 13th, after having succumbed to a Tom Brady-esque, 14-point fourth quarter.  Normally, you’d give this game to the Giants easily.  However, December has never been Eli’s best month, and DEs Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are both nursing injuries.  Umenyiora is unlikely to play while Tuck is a game-time decision.  The Giants secondary is ranked 29th, their rushing defense 22nd, a reminder why the Redskins beat this team earlier this year.  Roy Helu will key the Redskins' offense, which would much rather see QB Rex Grossman as a complimentary passer than leader.  Helu has had no less than 23 attempts the last three weeks, and you can expect 25 here for 110 yards and score.  Santana Moss has thrived against his division rivals, but not on the road.  In the past two meetings in New York, Moss has a total of four catches for 30 yards.  I don’t expect his numbers to be that bad, particularly versus this secondary, against which he put up 6 catches for 76 yards during the game in Washington.  He was targeted nine times last week, yet only grabbed three balls, so don’t expect much more than one big play for a TD, and/or a total of 70 yards.  The guy to keep an eye on is Donte Stallworth, who has flirted with success before only to continually set himself back.  Last week he had four receptions on six targets for 96 yards.  The Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw should be a bit healthier this week but is still likely at best to split carries with Brandon Jacobs after Jacobs mashed Dallas for his first 100-yard game of the year. With a passing attack that has 15 plays over 40 yards, the most in the league, don’t expect more than 20 carries total between the two of them.  Where Bradshaw could increase his output is on screens and flat passes, assuming D. J. Ware isn’t called in a as a third down back.  Eli Manning’s going to have a three touchdown day against this defense, and even though the game will be close much of the way, the Giants should pull away in the fourth quarter.


Even with his calf strain, Matt Hasselbeck is expected to play Sunday, but if I’m in my playoffs, even against a pitiful team like the Colts I’m not starting him.  Jake Locker is a flea’s breath away from being giving the reins for good, and all it would take is a slight aggravation for Locker to spell him for the game.  This is especially good news for Chris Johnson, who has three 100-yard games in the past five.  The Saints shut Johnson down, but the defense of Indianapolis is in such shambles this year, that even the Titans rebuilt offensive line should reap success against them.  I see Johnson as a top five pick this week, adding 125 yards and two scores.  Damian Williams was again the target leader for the Titans with ten last week but managed just two catches.  However, those two catches went for 62 yards.  He’s still the top look here, particularly since Nate Washington did not practice earlier this week because of his bad ankle, but he’s no better than a WR3.  For the Colts, Dan Orlovsky struggled against the Ravens defense, and was sacked four times.  He won’t see that kind of pass rush against the Titans, as they have just 24 sacks this year.  Thus, Pierre Garcon (24 targets in the past two games) is a sneaky play this week as the Titans have given up 46 plays of 20 yards or greater.   I like the Colts to actually make this a game, but their defense is just too inept to keep them in it, their offense too inefficient in the red zone, and Johnson will bleed the clock when it matters most.


The NFC West champs are suddenly climbing out of their hole and are a win away from .500.  However, they’re 2-4 on the road this year, and now face a Chicago defense that has given up 46 points in their last four home games.  Chicago is not the team they were just four weeks ago.  Since then, they lost Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and now find themselves amidst the swirling investigative winds surrounding the arrest of WR Sam Hurd on drug trafficking charges.  How much of a distraction it will be depends on who was involved within the organization that we don’t yet know about.  No doubt this is a new black eye on the Bears facial image, as it has been reported the feds seized a list of clients that were spending plenty on drugs within the NFL, and speculation is going to be rampant that someone within the Bears locker room might be one of those.  Marion Barber has added another blemish to the team, after arguably costing them both the Denver game and the game against Kansas City.  Barber refused to speak to reporters until today, and now the question is how much trust Lovie Smith is going to put in this guy with Kahlil Bell chomping at the bit.  Bell put up 64 yards of total offense, rushing nine times for 40 yards and catching five balls for 24.  I think Barber sees less touches this week because of it, and that makes Bell a possible flex play going forward.  That leaves Caleb Hanie and a weak wide receivers group to attack Seattle’s 14th ranked pass defense. Since Hanie took over, only WR Johnny Knox has managed more than 50 yards receiving and he’s done so in two of the three games, all of which have been losses.  The Seahawks game plan will be to continue to run with Marshawn Lynch, the NFL’s leading rusher the past six weeks, keep the game shorter and close, and have QB Tarvaris Jackson take less risks with shorter passes to Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.   Chicago is likely missing Safety Major Wright, so a deep shot isn’t out of the question either, and Tate has the speed to make that happen.  Lynch is worth 80-85 yards here, as he’s a great after-contact runner, but don’t expect much scoring.  Seattle’s defense and special teams make another strong play here this week, but don’t forget about the Bears’ unit either.  They just happen to have Devin Hester, the all-time NFL leader in returns for touchdowns.


The loss of the type of WR Greg Jennings is would be disastrous for most other units, but not the Packers.  Last week, QB Aaron Rodgers made little used TE Ryan Taylor the ninth player he’s thrown a touchdown pass to this year.  Ryan Grant is coming off his best day in years, putting up two touchdowns, and with James Starks likely out Sunday, Grant is going to get his share of carries against a Chiefs rushing defense allowing almost 133 yards per game.  I like him to continue here as the Chiefs are allowing the fifth highest average fantasy points for opposing running backs at 19.5 per game, while allowing opposing QBs just 13 points weekly.  Meanwhile, the Chiefs unveil interim coach Romeo Crennel and newly acquired Kyle Orton at the QB spot.  Remember, Orton knows the Packers well, having played in Chicago for several years.  He also faced the Packers earlier this year for Denver, going 22 –of-32 for 273 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.  Orton being behind center makes Dwayne Bowe a top play this week against a Green Bay defense allowing an average of 24 fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Dexter McCluster is still the only Chief’s runner averaging over four yards per carry, yet Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones will likely get some carries.  Crennel has a strong secondary to play with, and without Jennings, Crennel’s biggest concern will be to take away Jordy Nelson, who is in the midst of a breakout season.  If Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers can hold their own in occasional man coverage, then maybe the Chiefs can generate some pressure on Rodgers.  However, Rodgers has been so solid, that even if the Chiefs get some hits on him, he’s still likely to find the open man, which again could be Randall Cobb in the slot.  Orton should make this game competitive, and I could see an upset here.  However, Orton’s still a little too turnover prone, and against the Packers, that’s not something you can overcome.


Arian Foster and Ben Tate have to be dreaming of yardage counters and celebration dances early this holiday season.  Carolina’s 23rd ranked rushing defense is coming to town, along with their third worst tally of allowing 15 rushing touchdowns.  It’s not that T.J. Yates won’t throw the ball this game – it’s more that he may not have to.  Houston is only one of four teams that run more than they throw, so Foster is good for at least 20 carries Sunday.  I also expect two touchdowns, one from the ground and one from the air, with Tate also garnering 60 yards or so.  Owen Daniels will get his share of targets, but it’s likely that someone like Foster or Joel Dreessen will get the touchdown pass.  By the way, since Yates stepped in three weeks ago, he has targeted Dreessen four times in the red zone, second best on the team behind the now injured Kevin Walter.  Cam Newton will have his hands full, as the Texans defense has really solidified under Wade Phillips, who is recovering from surgery, something I have a feeling will simply motivate these Texans.  Even without DE Mario Williams, the Texans have generated 36 sacks, tied for sixth best in the league.  I expect they’ll get their fare share of pressure on Newton, forcing him to use his legs more often.  This should give Cam some added bonus points from his rushing yards, but I fear his passing yardage could be among the lowest for him this year.  Ron Rivera will likely try to exploit matchups, favoring CB Kareem Jackson over Jonathan Joseph in an attempt to get Steve Smith the ball more often and deeper down field.  Smith has gone three weeks without seeing the end zone.  Newton may be forced to target  Brandon Lefell, who was named the other starting wideout over Legedu Naanee in early December.  Neither has managed much, with Lafell grabbing 10 balls the past three weeks for 138 yards, while Naanee has seven receptions for 74 yards and a score.  I’d expect more from Lafell here, though I wouldn’t bank on either.  Newton will make some plays with his feet, and probably add another rushing touchdown, but Houston’s running attack should own the day.


Dolphins QB Matt Moore and LT Jake Long were back at practice Thursday, so the odds are good they’ll play Sunday.  However, the last time Miami won at Buffalo later than October was back in 2001.  With free agency shifting teams so much, I’m not so much a believer the weather factor matters so much to the Dolphins.  Thus, this will come down to who protects the ball as temperatures will be in the 30’s with a chance of snow.  I’ve mentioned the growth of Reggie Bush, and I believe in him this week.  First, Bush is getting carries at almost a 2-to-1 pace versus Daniel Thomas.  Second, the Dolphins are a slightly better running team on the road, and markedly better on turf.  Last, the Bills have given up 313 rushing yards the past two games at home.  Start Bush with confidence.  The Bill have also had trouble pressuring opposing quarterbacks, with a league worst 19 sacks.  That means Moore will have time to find Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, should Miami stop killing their own drives with bad fumbles.  The Dolphins haven’t given up 100 yards rushing to a team in each of the last five weeks, so expect the best part of C.J. Spiller’s day may be catching screens.  The Dolphins pass rush will do their best to hide their inept 25th ranked secondary, but Ryan Fitzpatrick with still make Steve Johnson a good play, as the Dolphins give up an average of 21 points to opposing WRs.  However, I think that Miami’s defense isn’t about to have two bad weeks in a row, and I’m taking the Dolphins to force Fitzpatrick into a few bad throws, while Moore works some magic to Anthony Fasano inside the red zone.


Adrian Peterson should provide a strong test to the Saints' 15th ranked rushing defense.  The Saintsh ave prevented opponents from 100 yards of rushing offense four out of the last five weeks, and that includes shutting down a hot Chris Johnson.  Peterson has missed two weeks with a high ankle sprain, so his load could be shared with Toby Gerhart (19 carries, 90 yards last week) and Percy Harvin (four carries for 40 yards).  Christian Ponder is also expected to return, though Joe Webb adds an exciting element to the offense, and scrambled for 109 yards on his own last week.  Have the Vikings found a new version of  Kordell “Slash” Stewart?  Ponder has four interception his last two games and has thrown nine through the last five.  If he commits any turnovers on Sunday, the New Orleans offense will make him pay.  The beat up Minnesota secondary will have their hands full containing Marques Colston and big TE Jimmy Graham.  Graham’s been quiet as of late, and the Vikings do a pretty decent job against opposing tight ends, so keep an eye on Lance Moore underneath, and of course Devery Henderson deep.  Mark Ingram is doubtful with the turf toe injury, but that just gives Brees more chances to throw, which is what he’ll do.  The Saints should seize the lead, try to remove Adrian Peterson from the game, and focus on sacking Ponder.  New Orleans wins big.



Detroit running back Kevin Smith tested his bad ankle in practice and is likely to try to play through the pain when the Lions visit Oakland Sunday.  Against the Raiders 29th ranked defense, I’d still want a healthier guy but I might give him a shot as a flex player depending on my options.  One thing it does do is immediately halve Maurice Morris’ value.  Matthew Stafford is coming off another solid half of a game again, wherein he led the Lions to a big lead in the first quarter, then failed to do much but watch his defense lose their grip on the lead.  Generally, Stafford and his crew have been slow starters, finding their rhythm in the second half.  I’m sure Jim Schwartz would just like to get a full 60 minutes from him at some point this season.  Ndamukong Suh returns after serving a two-game suspension, to help bolster the defense, though truth be told, Suh or no Suh, the Lions have hardly stopped the rush all year.  For the Raiders, Michael Bush has slowed down, possibly due to the defensive competition in Green Bay, Miami and Chicago, but also because he already has 38 more carries than his career high.  The last three games, Bush has averaged 2.89 yards per carry, and for all the yards the Lions relinquish, they are ninth best at yielding fantasy points to opposing runners.  In the end, for the Raiders to end their two game skid, Carson Palmer is going to have to protect the football, something that is appreciably hard to do when all five of your wide receivers are listed on the injury report, and one is guaranteed to miss Sunday (Jacoby Ford).  Not surprising that during this run, Palmer has a 3:6 TD to interception ratio.  The Raiders also must nip their penalty problem in the bud – they are worst in the league.  Detroit isn’t much better, but with weapons like Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew, this team has a little more room to maneuver, and in this case a little too much fire power.



By Sunday, It’ll have been ten days since Colt McCoy was allowed to wander back into a football game without having been tested correctly for a concussion after a James Harrison hit left him seeing stars.  After shutting tight end Ben Watson down for the year after his third concussion, McCoy won’t even make the trip to Arizona, leaving Seneca Wallace to step in with just Thaddeus Lewis as his backup.  In the 18 games Wallace has started, he’s posted a record of 6-12.  He’s completed 60.5 percent of his passes for his career, with 29 touchdowns against 16 interceptions.  Wallace has won just one game where he attempted more than 25 passes so Peyton Hills should be featured.  He’ll have a new FB leading him in the backfield in Eddie Williams, signed off the practice squad to replace Owen Marecic.  This could mean more erratic play from the Cleveland rushers.  Watson’s loss is a big one for Cleveland’s passing game, as he was second on the team in targets and receiving yards, a pretty big indication of the Browns’ struggle in the passing game.  The Brown challenge will be to shut down a hot Arizona team that has won three straight, two of which were against Dallas and San Francisco.  According to, John Skelton is likely to get the start, but Kevin Kolb could be a game-time decision.  Larry Fitzgerald will be of primary concern, and is expected to match up with Joe Haden, who likely has redemption on his mind after slipping against Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, the result of which was an 79-yard touchdown.  Beanie Wells will carry the Arizona offense, and should see 20-25 touches.  The difference maker could be Wallace, who offers a lot of mobility even as a 31 year-old veteran.  I think Skelton will make his share of mistakes, and it’s going to keep this game tight until the final quarter.


The NFL itself couldn’t design a game more enticing if they tried.  Tom Brady leads the vaunted Patriots offense into Denver, where Tim Tebow and the AFC West division leaders await.  For Denver, no matter how you paint it, Willis McGahee and Tebow will have to control this game on the ground to win.  The Patriots are giving up just over 107 yards up per contest, and the Broncos are now averaging over 156.  The problem is Tebow and company lead the NFL in three-and-outs, and as a result the Broncos are 23rd in yards per game while being 26th in time of possession.  Yet Tebow has manufactured wins in close games and in shootouts, and has a passer rating of 110.4 in the fourth quarter.  As most fantasy players have noticed, with Demaryius Thomas’ health has come some production, and the shoddy New England secondary has more to concern themselves with than just Eric Decker after Thomas’s three touchdowns the past two weeks.  However, Tebow’s luck has run out.  He’ll face an elite team that’s healthy for the first time.  Tom Brady will do what he does, attack with a short to mid-range passing game, and even with the improved Broncos defense, fantasy wise they’re yielding the seventh most points on average to opposing QBs.  The Broncos pass defense will be tested to contain Rob Gronkowski, who broke the single season touchdown reception record for a tight end with is 15th TD reception last week.  The Broncos linebackers are a talented group, and paired and with veteran safety Brian Dawkins (questionable with a neck injury), Gronkowski will face one of his toughest challenges this year.  A stiffer test for Denver will be stopping Wes Welker, who added his fourth 100 reception season of the five he’s been with New England, and who put up eight receptions for 86 yards with a touchdown the last time these teams met at Invesco in 2009.  The key player here could be NFL interception leader Kyle Arrington, especially with Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung doubtful for Sunday.  Tebow has a history of occasionally locking onto his target early, and Arrington’s quick instincts could make for an important game-changer.  Bill Belichick is infamous for taking any misdirected spotlight and pointing it right back on his team.  As porous as his secondary has been, he’s going to make John Fox’s job harder with some kind of surprise, and the turnover differential will decide this game.


Though this could easily be billed as the Jets secondary versus the speedy wide receivers of the Eagles, the passing game will likely be hidden in the shadows of the teams high-caliber running games.  LeSean McCoy hasn’t been racking up the yardage like he was earlier in the season, he’s been scoring in droves, putting up five rushing TDs in the past five weeks.  He’s also added 23 receptions during that span for 126 yards and a touchdown making him a PPR gem.  Shonn Greene has picked up his play, along with the Jets offensive line, carrying the ball 59 times for 295 yards in the past three weeks.  He also added four touchdown runs.  He’s not much for catching the ball if LaDainian Tomlinson is healthy, but Greene still has 12 receptions in those three games for 96 additional yards.  With their pass defenses being their strength, Michael Vick’s ability to rush from the pocket could alter the game in the Eagles favor.  Certainly, Mark Sanchez is going to have to spread the ball around more than he has (Plaxico Burress didn’t catch a ball last week), as he hasn’t surpassed 200 yards for the last three weeks.  However, he has a 7:1 touchdown to interception ratio during those same three games, a key for the Jets winning streak.  With Vick’s tendency to turn the ball over, and the Jets pushing for a playoff run, I’m sticking with Rex Ryan’s team.



Are the Chargers for real?  That question will be answered this Sunday when they take on the Ravens third ranked defense Sunday night.  Philip Rivers seems to have flipped his Tebow switch, and has the Chargers winners of two straight.  Just three short weeks ago, Rivers had 15 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.  Since them he’s throw seven touchdowns and zero picks.  In the last two weeks he’s completed 46-of-61 passes, a stunning 75 percent completion rate.  Yes, it was against Jacksonville and Buffalo, but Baltimore’s secondary has shown vulnerabilities to deep strikes and tough passing teams.  Ryan Mathews has helped add a much needed balance on the ground the Chargers haven’t had since LaDainian Tomlinson’s departure.  Mathews has three straight games rushing for over 100 yards, and a powerful December in which he has averaged 6.8 yards per carry so far.  Even against the Ravens, I still think the Chargers will try to extend the edge and run Mathews to the sidelines where he averages over five yards per carry.  However, they’re going to have to play much more physically than they’ve had to recently, as Ray Lewis is expected to return.  Terrell Suggs will impose his presence on this injury-riddled Chargers line, as he has 13 sacks, over half of which have come in the last three weeks.  On the other side of the ball, John Harbaugh has seen fit to get Ray Rice more involved in their game plans and the results have been a four game winning streak in which Rice has carried 20 or more times all four games.  He’s scored four rushing touchdowns during the streak, while adding 16 catches for 123 yards.  Raven’s QB Joe Flacco has put up three games of 100-plus QB rating in this four-game span, and has thrown five touchdowns against two interceptions.  “Joe Cool” will have to be that on the road, and I think Torrey Smith continues to challenge the Chargers secondary.  The Ravens defense slows down Rivers this time, and the Chargers lose this one by seven.


If you were to ask me what the Steelers should do when it comes to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, I would tell them to sit him.  High ankle sprains are set-back type injuries that once re-injured can cause longer and longer delays in healing (see Michael Turner’s high ankle sprain in 2009).  This game means more to the Steelers than the 49ers, though the 49ers could help seal a first round bye if they get to 12 wins.  The Steelers have the post-season to think of, and a further aggravation of this ankle could be disastrous to their season.  That being said, Roethlisberger has certainly earned the moniker “toughest QB in the game”, and he is likely to test his metal if he can at all.  Without him, this is the 49ers game to lose.  Rashard Mendenhall will get the lion’s share of carries, with Ike Redman being used in short and goal line situations.  Center Maurkice Pouncey suffered an ankle injury the same night Roethlisberger did, and this could be a big loss for Pittsburgh if he’s unable to go.  The 49ers rush defense is the heart of this team, and the Steelers will attempt to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, even more so with Roethlisberger sidelined in an attempt to give QB Charlie Batch more play-action capability.  The Steelers’ defense will be without LB James Harrison, who is serving a suspension for his illegal hit on Browns QB Colt McCoy.  However, Lamar Woodley is expected to play, and he is by far their best pass rusher.  Defensively, it is Frank Gore that the Steelers will have to slow down.  If the 49ers get Gore going, the Steelers will be in for a long night.  Gore will likely have a line of something like 16 carries for 67 yards and a score, but with Troy Polomalu out of practice Friday with his hamstring, Gore might find 100 yards possible.  The game will likely be one of field goals, one San Francisco should win if Batch is under center.  If Roethlisberger is able to go with any level of consistency, the Steelers will go after the 49ers 18th ranked secondary and extend the field of play with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.  As of now, assume it’s Batch, and the 49ers will win an ugly one.

 49ERS 16, STEELERS 12

Thursday, December 15, 2011



The Cowboys travel to One Buccaneer Place, the site of Raymond James Stadium and the first of our Saturday games to give us yet another chance to miss an NFL game unless your cable company gets the NFL network.  The Cowboys have lost two straight games in the fourth quarter, yet surprisingly, Tony Romo hasn’t been blamed (at least not in full) for either of them.  He faces a Tampa Bay team giving up almost 29 points per game, and ranked 26th versus the pass.  He's a great play this weekend.  If you witnessed last week’s game you know that the Cowboys fortunes may have changed with the loss of DeMarco Murray, who broke his ankle and is done for the year.  Perhaps the rest (and maybe the loss of the starting job) woke Felix Jones up.  All he did in returning to full-time action was put up 106 rushing yards, and added six receptions for 31 additional yards.  It was just the third 100-yard rushing performance of his career.  The Buccaneers, who have been anything but reliable against the run, should expect to see Jones top 15 carries in order to soften up Tampa Bay’s secondary for play-action passes.  Miles Austin’s return has definitely spelled fewer opportunities for Laurent Robinson, who has had 11 targets the past two games after having double that for the two games prior to that.  However, Romo trusts Robinson, particularly around the goal, so I'd stick him in your lineup.  Jason Witten pretty much vanished in the Giants game, but it would be odd if he were to do so again.  The Tampa 2 defense should leave the middle of the field open, an area that Witten can exploit.  Dez Bryant is also an obvious start here.  For Tampa Bay, Josh Freeman practiced this week, hopefully progressing his shoulder back to close to 100 percent. Mike Williams is back on pace to break his reception total of 65 from last year, but where he’s been a disappointment has been his three touchdowns.  LeGarrette Blount has never faced Dallas, but you saw what Brandon Jacobs did last week, and Steven Jackson was able to put up 70 yards on 18 carries and a score.  I like Blount to have a good day.  Arrelious Benn was unable to practice with his concussion, so that’s one less likely target vulture for Williams and Kellen Winslow. Winslow has two scores against the Cowboys in the past two games and he seems due for one here.  Williams and Blount are must starts, though I’d stay away from Freeman due to shoulder problems and his tendency to throw interceptions.  This is a no nonsense game for the Cowboys -- they are in desperate need of a win.  On that alone, (and with a slightly more talented team) the Cowboys take this one by a field goal.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The last time these two teams met they were going in completely different directions.  The Jaguars won the game 13-7, making them 1-1 on the season, a season they’d finish 11-5.  The Falcons were being quarterbacked by Joey Harrington, and finished 4-12.  The Jaguars are coming off their first win in the Mel Tucker interim regime, one in which their defense got the assist to the offense putting up 12 points of their own.  However, the equation for the Jags is simple: keep the game close, make few mistakes, and eke out a football game.  Sans last Sunday’s blowout win over the Buccaneers, the Jaguars have won their other three games by a combined 21 points.  Maurice Jones-Drew comes off his best game of the year fantasy wise, and one of the best of the season, lifting this 32nd ranked offense on his shoulders.  Jones-Drew has put up only three 100-yard rushing performances this season, yet has only had one game where he has carried less than 18 times, making him among the most consistent backs this season.  Against the Falcons fifth-ranked rushing defense, Blaine Gabbert is going to have to face down the Falcons pass rush led by veteran John Abraham and Sean Weatherspoon (each with four sacks) and pick apart the Falcons 21st ranked secondary.  Problem is Gabbert has few weapons to choose from, and the one guy it seems the Jaguars want to give more time to, rookie Cecil Shorts, is fighting a hamstring injury of his own.  Meanwhile, the Falcons offense clicked again versus the Panthers, and Matt Ryan tossed four scores.  Their job is to get ahead in this game by 10-13 points and let Michael Turner do the rest.  Turner, who carried 21 times on Sunday appears to be healthy again, though he’s listed as questionable for tomorrow.  On just four days rest, you might want to taper your expectations of a 20 carry day, and expect a sprinkling of Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.  I expect some sloppy play on a Thursday night game, but that Ryan will get Roddy White involved early, and try to get the lead.  Tony Gonzalez should garner some looks and decent yardage, but I don't expect the end zone here.  I like the physical White to have a decent game, 75 yards and a score, and Ryan to give you a 200 yards a couple of touchdowns and a turnover or two.  I’m not as high on Julio Jones in this matchup.  Turner should get around 17-18 carries, and Rodgers will take it from there.  The Jags Jones-Drew has only faced Atlanta once in 2007.  The Falcons aren't as strong a defense at home as on the road, but even if they were a stone wall against runners, Jones-Drew is NFL rushing leader and this is no time to get cute.  He’s the only Jaguar you play.



As a writer, people often read you’re fiction material and sooner or later someone will come back with some criticism that sounds something like this: ‘no one would ever do that.’  As a writer, you inevitably think to yourself, ‘but they do.’ 

Would anyone have believed what happened in Denver Sunday night if you hadn’t seen it for yourself?  What about in Dallas?  For reasons that are beyond comprehension, players like Marion Barber do run out of bounds with just barely over two minutes left in the game and a lead firm in hand.  Special teams do allow a kick to be blocked right after it was made seconds after a time out was called. 

The NFL is not only larger than life; it’s occasionally larger than fiction.

The MVP of this game might be Special Teams’ Coach Brian Schneider, who had Doug Baldwin, their leading receiver, move in to rush punter Donnie Jones against newly inserted DB Chris Smith.   Baldwin exploded into the backfield untouched and didn’t block the punt so much as nearly swallow it whole.  The ball caromed up into Michael Robinson’s hands and it was 6-0 early on.   As for the Rams, no one will accuse Sam Bradford of ever being soft.  The Rams QB has been hit often and hard, as he was Monday night.  Nice to see Steven Jackson get his fourth touchdown of the season after it appeared Cadillac Williams would vulture one away.  Jackson has long played hard and run with reckless abandon for the hapless Rams.  He’s certainly earned getting to see paydirt once in awhile.

Brandon Jacobs saved his best for last, which was great for my bench tally, but not so good for my fantasy psyche.  Ahmad Bradshaw apparently missed a curfew and found himself sitting the pine well into the second quarter, leaving Jacobs to not only get his share of carries but to plunge into the end zone early in the second quarter.  It was one of two he’d score, not to mention adding 106 yards.  It was Jacobs’ best performance of the year at 5.3 yards per carry and came against the ninth best rushing defense.  Having Bradshaw on your team is a dilemma the likes of which even Sudoku masters might not solve.  Let’s face it, Bradshaw hasn’t been very good this year behind the Giants rebuilt line.  Now he’s borderline healthy, with more foot issues, yet he could easily be the leading ball carrier on that team for the next three games assuming he actually follows the team rules.  Next is Washington, which Bradshaw managed just 44 yards against in the first week of the season.  Meanwhile, with DeMarco Murray going down, Felix Jones did his best to remind everyone why he was considered the heir apparent runner for Dallas.  In his second drive, he almost shook Jason Pierre-Paul out of his shoulder pads, and then accelerated past him before he knew what happened. Tampa Bay. Philadelphia and New York remain on their schedule, which leaves Felix some very good matchups to close out the year.

The Chargers aren’t going quietly into the good night, as it seems to be Norv Turner’s and Philip Rivers’ desire to create a movie-like ending to each year.  Ryan Mathews continues to rush with a purpose, and put up over five yards per carry against the Bills.  Ryan Fitzpatrick managed just 176 yards passing, 116 of which ended up in Steven Johnson’s hands.  The rest seemed to end up in the hands of the Chargers’ defensive backs.  Two interceptions for Fitzpatrick, and one for backup Tyler Thigpen and Buffalo’s playoff season is lost.  C. J. Spiller wasn’t bad until you consider the day Maurice Jones-Drew put up against the Chargers the week prior, or what Willis McGahee did the week before that.  Now, it’s not really fair to compare Spiller to Jones-Drew or McGahee considering what those two guys mean to their respective offenses and their known talents.  However, it does give you an idea of how much Curtis Modkins trusts Spiller at this time. Spiller got just 12 attempts.       

What’s really scary is that the Green Bay defense is forcing turnovers now in key situations.  They may be giving up lots of yards, but they aren’t giving up lots of points.  Since holding Minnesota to seven points in their second meeting of the year, Green Bay has allowed 26, 15, 35 and 16 points respectively.  The 35 spot came from the now NFC East leading Giants.  So besides that game, the Packers have allowed an average of 16 points per game in the other four games against Tampa Bay, Detroit, Oakland and Minnesota.  During that five game span they’ve forced 13 turnovers, including 11 interceptions.  If Green Bay’s defense can make these kind of big plays with this kind of offense, just who in the AFC is going to keep up with them?  As has been his nature in the past, Ryan Grant put up a strong late season game, albeit against Oakland’s lackluster run defense.  It was his first multi-score game since December 2009.  For Oakland fans, if you had questions about who was going to win your division, your last two ducks have answered that question.  It’s the team led by that dude who has taken the NFL by storm.  I’m sure I’ll find his name here somewhere.

The Cardinals are the team that you almost never want to pick against when you’re in a winner’s pool.  They always a pull a couple of games out that you don’t expect them to, and for many viewers this was one of them.  Ironically, it was again John Skelton, who seems to have a “no guts, no glory” attitude about the game.  It gets him into trouble sometimes, but it also allows him to not overthink things.  After fumbling away his third possession while trying to scramble, Skelton tossed a 60-yard strike to Early Doucet on his very next pass.  Then, after the 49ers made it a 19-7 game, the very next drive, Skelton delivered a strike to Larry Fitzgerald to close the gap to 19-14.  I’m not saying he’s the caliber of a starting QB in the NFL….at least not yet.  But when you talk about a project that might be worth developing, Skelton does make an occasional argument he’s one of those.  With Kevin Kolb’s status uncertain for Sunday’s game versus Cleveland, it’s very possible we’ll all get to see Skelton’s development continue.  After all, this was a big game to take from San Francisco.

I can’t explain it.  For sports fans, this is the kind of thing that gets passed down in the oral tradition of football families and creates new religions.  Those who say the Almighty has a hand in it, I laugh and say why?  Those who say the Almighty wouldn’t dare intervene in something as mundane as this, I say why not?  The only issue I take with such statements isn’t for what they mean for the winning team.  It’s what they mean for the losing team.  Are we going to say the Almighty made Marion Barber particularly clueless on this one night?  Maybe Barber’s always been that way, but if Tim Tebow was divined to win for some reason, then Barber was divined to fail.  Nevertheless, Tim Tebow has a heavenly QB rating of 110.4 in the fourth quarter, making him third best in the NFL.  The Denver Post is ranking him as the fifth best quarterback in the league even though is 117 yards per game passing puts him even behind Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert.  No bias there Denver.  However, his 7-1 record makes the point all but inarguable.  Next victim – The Patriots?

Baltimore got a warm-up game (as if they needed one) before they travel West to meet up with the suddenly hot San Diego Chargers.  Not surprising¸ Ray Rice had his second 100-yard rushing performance in a row, and put up his tenth rushing touchdown on the board. The performance put him over the 1,000 yard mark for the third straight year.  However, Rice’s six receptions put him at 62 for the year, one last year’s tally of 63, and only 16 behind his career high of 78 with three games to go.  On the other side of the ball, Baltimore’s defense has allowed a total of 26 points in the last three games, and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since their Week 11 game against Cincinnati.  As the Colts attempt to prevent equaling the Detroit Lions 0-16 2008 season, it’s hard to imagine they won’t.  Forget about the offense.  The defense is so injured/terrible it’s hard to believe that if you’re Chris Johnson, you’re not foaming at the mouth after what Ray Rice did on the first drive Sunday.  Facing a fresh Indy defense in the first series, Rice carried the ball five times, tallying 32 of the 40 yards gained on that scoring drive, with only one run under five yards.  The Colts have given up 18 rushing scores, only one better than league worst Tampa Bay.  The only way the Colts compete is if their rushing defense tightens up, prevents Tennessee from gaining easy ground yards and keeps Johnson out of the end zone.  Good luck.

In his second game as Head Coach, Mel Tucker saw his defense score twice, and saw Blaine Gabbert post his second straight game with a QB rating over 70, which for Gabbert is saying something this year.  Maurice Jones-Drew was an animal, scoring four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving.  It was his biggest output of the year, as well as the week’s best.  Jacksonville caused seven turnovers in the game, by far their biggest output of the season, and this team that was at an even zero in the give/take just became plus-5.  Considering what they pulled on Baltimore earlier in the season, the Atlanta Falcons would be wise to keep their eyes focused straight ahead.  Josh Freeman didn’t exactly appear to be at full strength.  While Freeman has throw interceptions all year, his line of 16-of-30 for 181 yards and six yards per attempt is low for him. 

I had said I had given up on Matt Ryan as a fantasy QB, which naturally meant he’d go and have a season-best day.  Even though he tossed four touchdown strikes, I still don’t love him.  Julio Jones took a 15-yard crossing route 75 yards and Ryan nearly missed a wide-open Roddy White in the end zone.  In other words, a shorter pass went for a big touchdown, and White saved Ryan from himself.  It’s ironic that on my one remaining fantasy playoff team I have Ryan as my backup to Cam Newton, and have a huge decision to make.  It’s nice to see Julio Jones back to full strength which was apparent on that 75 yards slant play.  Once he kicked it into gear there was no one going to catch him, meaning his hamstring is fine.  Much like things were earlier this year, Carolina took a big lead only to have their defense capitulate in the final period.  History does indeed repeat itself.

Just as Miami started to add a glimmer of light to their season the team turned around and gave one up to the Eagles.  Matt Moore, who hadn’t thrown but one interception in the last five games, threw a big one that set up the Eagles for an easy score.  In turn, Moore suffered a concussion, so his status is up in the air this weekend against Buffalo.  Jake Long was lost with a back injury, something the Dolphins offensive line certainly didn’t need, especially now that Reggie Bush recorded his second straight 100-yard game.  Yes, that’s right, Reggie Bush.  I had to triple check that statistic, but I’ve been saying we’re seeing something a lot different from him lately.  Though Miami held LeSean McCoy to just 38 rushing yards and 71 yards total, he scored twice, which was basically the difference in the game.  Miami pressured Michael Vick and overall it was just a few mistakes that changed the game’s outcome.  However, that outcome ended Tony Sparano’s tenure in South Beach.  He’ll be taking his talents somewhere else.  The Dolphins get Buffalo next, and that could mean another good day for Reggie Bush.  Track both Moore’s and Long’s status throughout the week.

I’m still not sure how Detroit played their way out of the mess they were in.  Or maybe it was Minnesota that played themselves out of a win, but I’m certain the play that occurred in the final seconds of the game down on the Detroit one yard line left the referees so baffled they couldn’t pull their penalty flags after DeAndre Levy clearly grabbed Joe Webb’s facemask.  Webb helped lead an improbable comeback after Christian Ponder committed his seventh turnover in two weeks only to have the ball knocked from his hands one yard away from victory.  Percy Harvin now has three straight games with over 100 total yards from scrimmage and four straight with a touchdown.   He has some good matchups including New Orleans 30th ranked secondary, Chicago’s 28th ranked pass defense, and Washington.  If Adrian Peterson remains hobbled, Harvin’s role will continue to be accentuated, no matter what the matchup. 

This game turned out close as I thought it would, and Rex Grossman certainly didn’t disappoint fantasy owners.  The saddest part of the game was that final interception wherein Santana Moss seemed to tip the ball, then throw it almost directly into Jerod Mayo’s hands at the nine yard line.  It wasn’t like Grossman fired a rifle shot into Moss’ hands at close range.  If anything Grossman soft-tossed the ball to avoid the Umpire, and Moss just couldn’t handle it. The big question is why Grossman wouldn’t just fire it out of the end zone at that point, seeing that a defender was draped over Moss’ back.  Of note, Roy Helu had his third straight game with 23-plus carries and over 100 yards rushing.  LB London Fletcher leads the NFL in tackles after another 10 on Sunday.  For the Patriots, Tom Brady threw three touchdowns for the fifth time this year and his first interception in five games. Do I really need to say anything about the record-setting Rob Gronkowski?

Mark Ingram’s turf toe kept him from this game, and the Saints Pierre Thomas and Christopher Ivory averaged just 3.94 yards per carry.  However, Drew Brees, who has struggled on the road, found Marques Colston twice in six minutes in the fourth quarter.  In terms of big plays, Jimmy Graham was absent for his second straight week, clearly announcing that he’s not a full strength.  Jake Locker continues to make my case that the Titans have nothing to lose playing him from this point forward, and considering the Titans post season hopes just faded in the last week or so.  Locker’s only mistake may have been not releasing the football in the final few seconds.  Instead he took a sack, something that with no time left you just can’t do.  Heck, toss the ball straight in the air if you have to.  You’re in the red zone and just yards from winning the game.  Nate Washington became the leading receiver for Tennessee, but keep in mind this took place with Locker at the helm. The only way to know if the receivers will shift significantly in importance will be determined if Locker is the starter next week as well. 

It may indeed be the year of the improbable quarterback.  T.J. Yates not only kept the Texans competitive, he delivered his first 300-yard game and brought the Texans back from a 16-3 deficit.  As predicted, Arian Foster didn’t get nearly the load he did the week prior, but this could have been a result of being down 16-3 in the second half.  Ben Tate led the Texans in rushing yardage, but the problem for Tate again is that he fumbled inside the red zone, something that will ruin a lot of his value in the near future.  Sure, the Texans have clinched their division, but the final three games are games you want to use to carry your momentum into the playoffs.  Andy Dalton was efficient again, but the fact is the Bengals offense failed to finish off drives and was one of three in the red zone. I’m afraid Dalton’s candidacy for ROTY is disappearing faster than Samkon Gado’s NFL career.

Todd Haley received his walking papers this week after the Chiefs were held to three points for the first three quarters of the game.   Tyler Palko completed 50 percent of his passes, and six of those 16 completions went to Dwayne Bowe.   Keep in mind, while Bowe might have been a WR1 in fantasy prior to Palko’s arrival, he hasn’t scored since Week 5.  Bowe should be at best kept as a WR2, understanding the Chiefs are going to struggle to put up points. Dustin Keller led all Jets receivers in targets, which isn’t saying a whole lot considering his target total was five.  Plaxico Burress was held without a catch for only the second time this year.  Shonn Greene scored his fourth touchdown in two weeks and this time added 129 yards to boot.  Up until three weeks ago, Greene had averaged 3.8 yards per carry for the first 11 weeks of the season.  The last three games Greene has average five yards per carry.  Even LaDainian Tomlinson got into the act playing for  just the second time in a month adding  a touchdown reception, his second of the year.  The Jets get Philadelphia next, giving Shonn Greene yet another solid matchup where he could easily put up 100 yards for the third straight game.

There's on old adage that say to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.  Ben Roethlisberger might have taken that a bit too far.  You never really want to see a quarterback's body turned laterally as he still looks downfield to throw, exposing himself to pass rushers from either side.  Well, that's what happened, and the moment I saw the DL Scott Paxson hit him low as another defender got him high, I said season ender.  The fact that he was walking on the sideline at all was amazing.  The fact that he played again, didn't hurt himself more and didn't cost the Steelers a victory may be a miracle bigger than even Tim Tebow can produce.  There's a darn good chance he won't play Monday in San Francisco.  High ankle sprains often need more healing time than a break itself, and once the shoe was removed and he was iced, the swelling was probably extreme.  Right now, Roethlisberger is listed as day-to-day, something that reeks of showmanship so the 49ers have to plan for him.  For Cleveland, Chris Ogbonnaya achieved in two carries what Peyton Hillis couldn’t in ten.  However, don’t go getting too excited though as 28 of his 31 yards came on a third-and-20 concession draw play against a nickel package and he just happened to get the allotted yardage needed to keep the drive alive.  Cleveland isn’t about to abandon Hillis yet, but I am beginning to wonder about Montario Hardesty, who has shown next to nothing.  As for Colt McCoy, the kid has guts and is a competitor, and I wouldn’t throw in the towel on him at all yet.

Saturday, December 10, 2011



For the 3-9 Jacksonville Jaguars and 4-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2011 is a season lost in terms of playoff hopes.  However, interim Jacksonville Head Coach Mel Tucker may be in the midst of a working audition, so they’ll be no letting up on his watch.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t meant a whole lot for the Jacksonville offense.  Coming off a short week, against Tampa Bay’s porous run defense (tied for 26th in the league) Maurice Jones-Drew will get a chance to heap onto his NFL leading yards total and should produce at least one score.  However, if the Buccaneers were watching what San Diego did Monday night, they’ll know that pressuring Jags QB Blaine Gabbert forces a lot of bad things to happen to the Jaguars passing game.  Gabbert’s target and reception leader last week was Jones-Drew, followed by the recently healthier TE Marcedes Lewis.  Mike Thomas led all wide receivers with two catches for 21 yards, but more often than not seemed to be uninterested, particularly in contact during his returns.  He averaged just 3.7 yards per punt return, underscoring Jacksonville’s need for someone else to be bringing back punts.   If Tampa Bay takes  Jones-Drew out of the game, or minimizes his damage, they will win.  Problem for Tampa Bay is they’ve got some serious problems of their own. Quarterback Josh Freeman was limited in practice Wednesday with his shoulder, but now is now slated to start barring any setbacks.  Last week, Tampa Bay made it into the red zone only once, instead settling for field goals on four stalled drives caused mostly by penalties.  Second year man Dezmon Briscoe may only have four touchdown catches for his career, yet three of them have come this season in the past six weeks, two in the past three games.  Consistency is his biggest problem and why he’s on many waiver wires.  Mike Williams managed 97 yards against the decent Carolina pass defense, but with Freeman back his window of opportunity expands, even though Jacksonville is the fifth best defense in yielding fantasy points to wide receivers.  LeGarrette Blount struggled to put up yards against Carolina’s 27th ranked rush defense, adding question to your mind as to whether you can afford to play him.  After all, Mossis Madu had greater success in his eight carries for 25 yards than Blount did in his 11 for 19 yards.  Stick with Blount, as he wasn’t limited in practice, and hope Madu doesn’t cut into his carries.  Regardless, this is a low scoring battle, with the likely winner being Buccaneers.


Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko landed his first touchdown pass of the season, but it took a 38-yard Hail Mary and a bad deflection to get it.  Meanwhile, Kyle Orton was limited in practice because of his newly injured index finger, but is poised to take over the minute his health returns.   That should tell you all you need to know about the state of the Chiefs offense.  Dexter McCluster is still the most efficient runner on the team, even though Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle garnered 16 and 11 carries against the Bears respectively.  Both Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston are averaging over five receptions per game since Palko took over, but neither has found the end zone.  They’ll be tested further in that regard against the Jets secondary ranked seventh, with a league low 11 passing TDs allowed.  The Chiefs defense has been playing well, but they’ll find Mark Sanchez a little more challenging than Caleb Hanie.  Last week, Sanchez mounted one long drive in the middle of the fourth quarter, resulting in a 30 yard touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes.  Then the Jets defense unleashed fury against Redskins QB Rex Grossman, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Jets on the Redskins nine-yard line.  Shonn Greene delivered two of his three touchdowns in the final five minutes, and added 88 yards on 22 carries.  The Jets dedication to the run will be even more essential against the 25th rush defense of Kansas City.  While the Chiefs are in the top ten of defenses giving up least fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, they are in the bottom ten giving up points to opposing runners.  The key for Sanchez will again be avoiding the ‘glory’ pass that results in a bad interception.  His 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio has been crucial to the Jets two game winning streak.  I’m sticking with the highly targeted Dustin Keller as the best of Sanchez’s options seeing that KC gives up the fifth most point to opposing tight ends.  I contend that Keller scores as Greene delivers another 20-plus carry game, while Palko makes one more error than Sanchez and it’s costly.


The Texans enter this game hoping that the loss of Andre Johnson once again doesn’t spell doom for their playoff run.  However, the circumstances under which Johnson is out are much more dire.  The Texans are down to backup QB T. J. Yates, who although he completed less than half of his passing attempts, managed only to lose one fumble.  He played within himself, allowing Arian Foster and the Texans defense to do the rest.  Houston has signed Jake Delhomme, and word is the Texans’ staff was not only impressed with how he threw the ball, but also the fact he appeared to be in great physical shape.  Should Yates falter, they have a capable backup with playoff experience behind him.  Houston is 4-2 on the road, and a good reason why is the elevated play of their defense.  They have three more sacks and three more interceptions on the road, resulting in their two defensive touchdowns of the year.  Foster will get called upon again to carry the load, but might cede carries to Ben Tate this week considering his heavy 31 carry workload last week.  So expect a little more Tate, but much the same from the Texans offense.  Enter rookie Andy Dalton, who is coming off an 11-for-25 performance at Pittsburgh, and finds himself now in need of a victory after three straight division losses. Both offenses feature lines yielding near league best totals in sacks allowed, but that could change if developing LT Andre Smith is unable to go Sunday.  He was limited in practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. Running back Cedric Benson has slowed to a less than four yards per carry average, managing just one game over four yards per carry in his last seven, and that was against Cleveland.  He’ll have a much tougher road to hoe against the Texans, who are third best in points allowed against opposing fantasy running backs.   They’ve allowed just two 100-yard rushing performances by a single runner this year, and only five games where they yielded over 100 total yards rushing.  A.J. Green has been virtually unstoppable all year long, and though the Texans have given up just 12 passing TDs, big, physical receivers have given this secondary the most trouble.  I have Green pegged for number 13.  Jermaine Gresham, who has 22 targets in the last three games, should also get his fair share of looks and provide decent yardage, much like Tony Gonzalez did last week.  The Bengals have committed six turnovers in the past three games while only forcing two.  Thus, Dalton will have to be mistake free against this Houston team that is plus-12 in the give/take column.  Though the Bengals have just six interceptions on the year, I like this secondary to lure Yates into an early turnover, and the Bengals to pull out a close one.


Who knew that removing Adrian Peterson from the lineup would inspire a whole new high-powered throwing offense under the leadership of Christian Ponder?  Ponder finished as the fifth best fantasy quarterback for the week, while Peterson’s fill-in, Toby Gerhart, managed 91 yards on 21 carries.  However, neither may play Sunday as Peterson was back at practice Thursday (in a limited capacity) while Ponder has not practiced this week with a hip pointer.  If Ponder is unable to practice Friday, Joe Webb would like slide into the starting slot, shifting this game tremendously toward the Lions.  Webb has started just two NFL games, and ironically, his second one was against the Lions in Detroit, a 20-13 loss.  The Lions could use a bit of luck right now, seeing that they’ve lost three of four.  Matthew Stafford has eight touchdowns versus 13 interceptions during that time, and just as Detroit’s running game was being revitalized by RB Kevin Smith, injuries knocked him from the starting ranks again.  Maurice Morris is likely to start in his place, though the Lions have seemed less inclined to place more of the game plan on his shoulders. Both teams have had a minus-4 differential in turnovers the past four games, and both teams have featured almost complimentary one-sided offenses.  Should Peterson return, he would be facing the 22nd ranked rushing defense.  Ironically, the Lions are only giving up an average of just over 14 points to rushers in standard scoring, meaning a hobbled Peterson might not be as good a play as it seems.  The difference in this game is that the Lions aren’t likely to be down 17 points by halftime.  Thus, Maurice Morris should be a decent play (75 total yards or one touchdown) against a hurting Minnesota front seven that gave up over 100 yards at home to Denver RB Willis McGahee just two weeks after relinquishing another 100-yard game to Oakland’s Michael Bush.  It would seem Detroit’s once opportunistic defense would attack Webb, and do everything they could to double team WR Percy Harvin.  Meanwhile, Stafford’s biggest worry would only be DE Jared Allen, who has promised the Vikings will spoil the Lions day.  Check this weekend for their status’ particularly Peterson who is a game-time decision, but if Ponder can’t go, the Detroit defense should be able to control Harvin, while Calvin Johnson, who scored twice at Minnesota in Week 3, will have a strong day exposing the porous Vikings secondary. 

Indianapolis QB Dan Orlovsky proved he can kill point spreads.  He just hasn’t proved he can win a football game.  Granted, it was his first start in over three year and he did complete 30 of 37 passes for over 350 yards and two touchdowns, but now Orlovsky gets the Ravens, who are second versus the rush, fifth against the pass, and have one of the best pass rushes in the league.  The Colts running game has proven all but useless, managing just 3.2 yards per attempt against New England this past week.  With Delone Carter continuing to fumble away his reps in game, Donald Brown should start, and Joseph Addai will get some work, but won’t matter much in terms of the ground game.  Pierre Garcon seems to have found yet another backup QB who likes his size and speed, as Garcon had his first 100-yard outing since Week 5.  The Ravens only concern would be allowing Orlovsky too much time to get the ball downfield to Garcon and to Austin Collie, who has begun to make his presence felt within the offense.  He has 23 grabs in the past five games, and seven last week.  Ray Rice had a career best 204 yards rushing, and should be a top play again against Colts unit giving up 144 yards per game and the third most points to opposing fantasy running backs.  The Colts aren’t much better against receivers, yielding the fifth most points, but since the Ravens loss where Joe Flacco attempted 52 passes, his attempts have not exceeded 27, and have held at 23 the past two weeks.  Expect him to fire a couple downfield to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but Rice should carry the offense and the day.


Whether the Titans can beat New Orleans will come down to a simple question of which Titans team shows up:  the one that can control the ball offensively with Chris Johnson eating up clock and yards while alleviating pressure from QB Matt Hasselbeck as they did against Carolina and Buffalo, or the one that turns the ball over twice, gets mauled at the line of scrimmage, and is forced to rely on their elder statesman QB for their scoring output as they did versus Atlanta.  The one thing the Titans have going for them is that though Drew Brees’ numbers are sensational this season, he’s still quite a different QB at home versus on the road, as well as on grass versus turf.  In his four games on grass this year he’s thrown just seven touchdowns versus six interceptions, and has just 10 touchdown strikes in road games versus eight interceptions.  In other words, his turnover probability is higher, and Tennessee hasn’t lost a game this year where they won the turnover battle.  If anything, the Titans rush defense has been the unit faltering as of late, which should make Saints RB Mark Ingram eager to play, but he sat out practice part of the week again with a bad toe.  Ingram’s been plagued with foot problems all year, and now this turf toe injury could make Pierre Thomas the starter Sunday.  Expect a huge does of Jimmy Graham after last week’s subpar numbers, as Tennessee is sixth worst against the position.  The Saints will have to stop Johnson and the Titans running game, which has steadily been climbing from worst in the league just two weeks ago to 28th presently.  They won’t succeed entirely.  The Saints will attempt to jump out to a big lead to nullify Johnson, who should tally around 85 yards and a touchdown.  The Saints have lost their last two meetings to the Titans, and I think they’re in for a tough game here. 


Michael Vick returns somewhat healthy physically while no one can know the state of WR DeSean Jackson mentally.  What seemed to be a terrific first week fantasy playoff matchup for LeSean McCoy has turned sour, as the Dolphins held the Raiders to just 46 yards rushing after holding the Dallas Cowboys to just 85 total rushing yards the week prior.  The Dolphins rush defense is now ranked fifth after sitting at 14 just five short weeks ago and is yielding under 94  yards per contest.  The Dolphins secondary hasn’t been their strength, but with Jeremy Maclin still very much in question, who does Vick have to rely besides McCoy and Brent Celek.  Jason Avant and Riley Cooper are there, but not totally reliable, and Vick may have concerns about running out of the pocket with haste anytime soon.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins have been churning out offense, with Reggie Bush developing into a very strong play on Sunday, and Matt Moore finding Brandon Marshall and Anthony Fasano more regularly.  In his last three games Moore’s completed 60 percent of his passes (46-of-77) for five touchdown and zero interceptions.  Philadelphia’s pass defense is still superior to their rush defense, but they can’t sleep on Moore.  The wild card in this game is Vick, as you might remember what Tim Tebow did to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter and overtime of their Week 6 loss.  I think Vick gets some ground yards, and may even hit Jackson for a big play strike, but this is a more composed and poised Miami team.  With plenty of whispers going around that many of the Eagles have thrown in the towel, the Dolphins are apt to make McCoy’s day on the ground very arduous, leaving Vick with little to do but try to make plays.  That hasn’t been the Eagles recipe for winning.


Two NFC South foes meet for the second time this year, and they would appear to have completely different things at stake.  For Atlanta, their 7-5 record puts them at the top of the hunt for one of the two Wild Card spots.  To keep pace they need to accentuate their strengths, which happens to be Carolina’s Achilles heel: the rush.  Carolina is giving 132.5 yards per game and is ranked as the sixth worst rushing defense.  This made the news out of Atlanta that Michael Turner’s groin had limited him earlier in the week a bit disquieting.  However, since then all signs point to him being healthy enough that he's going to start.  It’s hard not to think with the Saints tightening their lead on the division, that if Turner doesn’t need a walker, he’d be out there.  His last three games against the Panthers have rushing stat lines of: 28/112/3, 17/67/1, and most recently 27/139/2.  Turner is second in the league in terms of carries, fourth in yards, tied for sixth in touchdowns, and tied for fourth in most rushes over 20 yards.  His importance to this game cannot be understated, as Matt Ryan had been inconsistent against good pass defenses.  Carolina is 10th best against opposing wide receivers in terms of fantasy points, and though Julio Jones is probable, his hamstring still isn't at full strength.  Jones missed the first matchup in which Carolina held Roddy White to just two catches and 21 yards, while TE Tony Gonzalez had just three grabs for 29 yards.  Earlier this week I railed against Carolina continuing to grind Cam Newton into the proverbial football wall when they're sitting at 4-8.  However, if the Panthers win out, and get some help, they could conceivably make the playoffs.  Regardless, Newton did not fare so well in his October meeting in Atlanta, throwing three interceptions and his second lowest passing yards tally of the season… at the time.  As I pointed out in my T&R last week, Newton's passing numbers are declining.  Atlanta's rushing defense is ranked third, and on any given day, DeAngelo Stewart (that's DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) will divide carries near equally, though Stewart owns a three-to-one ratio in receptions.  With Newton vulturing scores on the ground these days, I don't think either of these guys has a great day.  Steve Smith still has value, but I would only trust the rookie QB for a strong showing this week.  It really comes down to Newton and whether Carolina can stop Turner.  I don't think they can, though I think it will be a lot closer this time around.


The last time the Patriots traveled to Fed Ex Field was in 2003, and a much younger Tom Brady was beaten after a three interception performance.  He exacted revenge four years later at Gillette with a 52-7 beat down where he threw for three scores and rushed for two others.  This game should prove to fall somewhere in the middle.  The Redskins QB Rex Grossman certainly isn't afraid of hurling the football (at just about anybody it seems at times), the question is who he really has left.  With TE Fred Davis now suspended the last four games of the season for breaking the NFL's substance abuse policy, Grossman loses his top target last week, and the Redskins overall receptions leader.  It appears that RB Roy Helu has become the undisputed runner for the 'Skins because only Helu carried the ball against the Jets, something a Shanahan backfield hasn't witnessed since the days of Terrelle Davis and the Sony Discman.  While the Patriots are an improved defensive unit against the run, they still give up over 100 yards per game.  So if Helu has back-to-back 100-yard games and is the only one running, you do the math.  Where this gets interesting is the passing game for Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney.   Both should see some downfield looks, as the Pats have managed just 27 sacks on the year, and give up 300 yards per contest.  However, since Moss returned he has 19 targets versus Gaffney's 10.  To make matters worse for New England, most of their secondary, S Patrick Chung and CBs Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington are listed as questionable (course sometimes Belichick lists his entire team that way and who am I to argue) with various leg and shoulder ailments.  Tom Brady isn't wanton for targets to throw the ball, but the problem still remains that the Patriots timing-based, short passing game has been exposed because of a lack of a deep threat.  This should mean that Brady will unleash a few deep tosses to Deion Branch, just to loosen up this talented Redskins secondary, which has given up just 14 passing touchdowns, sixth best in the league.  Just as RB Shane Vereen was starting to see field time he went down with an injury, so BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be left to counter-balance the Patriots throw-first offense.  He's the only play of the New England crew, as even with Stevan Ridley carrying more times versus the Jets, around the goal line Green-Ellis has three scores the past two weeks.  I like him for one against the Skins to complement a couple of Brady touchdowns split between Rob Gronkowski and finally healthy Aaron Hernandez.  Helu should have a nice day, particularly for PPR leagues, you’re playing Santana Moss, and even Grossman isn't someone to shy away from here.  Even so, New England should cover.



Two weeks ago, the Bears seemed to have everything going right for them.  Six weeks ago, the Broncos were an afterthought.  It's a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad NFL.  Last week, Tim Tebow changed the dialogue from him being a fluke, to work-in-progress.  He completed 10 of just 15 passes, but this time those counted for 202 yards and two touchdowns.  Sure he continues to run into depleted teams without their best players, but he has been flawless in his care of the football.  With Willis McGahee getting healthier by the day, the Bears eighth ranked rushing defense will be tested to keep him in check.  Safety Major Wright has been scratched for this game, leaving woebegone former Patriot Brandon Merriweather to step in.  The Bears lost Matt Forte to a knee injury, and with Jay Cutler already considering the I.R., are now closing in on a must-win situation.  Caleb Hanie has been forced to learn Mike Martz's complicated offense on the fly, and has six interceptions versus two touchdowns in just two games.  More disconcerting, however, might be the fact that the Bears managed zero conversions of 11 third downs last week.  Hanie has targeted WR Johnny Knox 18 times in the two games he's been under center, and when you consider that Minnesota scored on big plays of 52 and 48 yards last week, I wouldn't be surprised to see Martz throw caution to the wind and try to do anything to break out of the Bears scoring funk. Khalil Bell might not get the start, but he's the most effective back they have – he just has to protect the football.  We know Tebow will find Eric Decker when he has to, but he's not likely to throw any more this game than he would prior.  With the Denver faithful in a Tebow-like trance, the Bears desperation is likely to reach a crescendo after this game. 


Kevin Kolb will try to end what has been over two seasons of domination by the 49ers.  For the past five games, the Cardinals have managed to put up over 10 points just once on San Francisco.  Beanie Wells, whose myriad of issues worsened this week when it was reported he had added both a thumb and knee issue to his already sore hamstring, is listed as probable, and if you've hung with him this far, you're likely stuck hanging with him again.  He has the toughest matchup he could have, as the 49ers haven't yielded a rushing touchdown this year to date, and are the top rated rush defense allowing 72 yards per contest.  One benefit that Wells has in this case besides that fact he's home is that 49ers ILB Patrick Willis will miss this game with a hamstring strain.  The loss of Willis is huge, as he's second on the team in tackles with 71, led the league in tackles in 2007 and 2009, and finished 10th last year.  Kolb will have to protect the ball against the aggressive and opportunistic 49ers defense if Arizona is to stay in the game.  The one area San Francisco is vulnerable is deep, and in their last game both wideouts, Andre Roberts and Larry Fitzgerald hauled in passes of longer than 20 yards.  The 49ers have been cruising, sans a bumpy game against the Ravens.  Frank Gore will again be the focal point of the offense, and averages over 18 carries per game at a 4.4 clip for the year, but ups that by over a yard on the road at 5.7.  News is Arizona's pass defense isn't so hot, and Alex Smith is coming off of one his best days ever against the Rams eighth rated pass defense.  Keep an eye on Michael Crabtree again around the end zone. This will be a tougher game for San Francisco to pull out.

49ers 21, CARDINAL 20


It was really hard not to root for the Bills this year, and their slide has made the word 'wings' and not 'Bills' the word most associated with Buffalo again.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has had two solid games behind center, with four touchdowns against no interceptions and 552 yards passing.  But there's only so much you can do when your teams' line is no longer keeping the pass rush away and your receivers drop or fumble the ball at key times.  C.J. Spiller has his biggest opportunity to cement his name with the Bills franchise and made no small case for it last week.  Spiller ran 14 times for 83 yards and a score, and had a second score called back on a penalty.  Steve Johnson continues to be Fitzpatrick's favorite target, and scored again for the second straight week.  With Scott Chandler out, Johnson should only see his targets increase, though Fitzpatrick did not hesitate to get Chandler's replacement Mike Caussin, involved right away.  However, Spiller should be a key here against a declining Chargers rush defense.  Buffalo would like nothing more than to control the clock against this explosive Chargers offense.  George Wilson returns for the Bills, boosting their pass defense, and perhaps zapping a bit of Antonio Gates' value.  However, Gates is a TE stud and you're playing studs at this point.  Ryan Mathews could be geared for another big day against a Bills defense allowing 129 ground yards per game.  He's coming off two gargantuan weeks which saw Mathews carry 35 total times for 249 yards and a score.  That's a 7.1 ypc average.  Philip Rivers seems to have found a rhythm, making Vincent Jackson a strong play, and even Malcom Floyd worth your consideration.  Wilson's return for the Bills is a big deal, but I think this shootout favors the Chargers.


In order to prevent Denver from running away with the division, Hue Jackson finds himself charged with doing something no one has been able to do – stopping Aaron Rodgers.  It can't be put any simpler than that.  The Packers don't run, and hardly make an excuse for it.  Even against the Raiders shoddy rush defense yielding over 141 yards per game, don't expect Ryan Grant to see more than 15 carries.  For the third time in four years, WR Greg Jennings ranks among the top ten NFL receivers and is fourth best of fantasy wide-outs.  That doesn't even take into account Jordy Nelson, who is having a career year, or their big man in the middle, TE Jermichael Finley.  The Raiders will be forced to compete while missing their big name receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford.  That Green Bay's least efficient defense managed to avoid Darren McFadden is fortuitous, but they'll still have to contend with Michael Bush who himself is passing every previous benchmark in his career.  However, he appears to have slowed the past few games, and it's possible the season is beginning to take its toll.  He was only given ten carries against Miami, but that had more to do with the Raiders self-destructing so early that they were way behind before they could blink.  That rest might have done him some good, because he'll have to get a lot done on the ground for Carson Palmer to be effective in the air.  Once in flight, the ball will likely find the healthier and more reliable Chaz Schilens, though a deep ball is bound to be hurled toward Darius Heyward-Bey at least once.   You play Jennings no matter the matchup, but I like Nelson to have a big day, and we might even see Randall Cobb on a few plays, as the Raiders have had their problems with smaller and quicker slot receivers.  Bush runs well but the improving Green Bay defense forces another Carson Palmer interception and the Packers win by 14.



It's Eli Manning and Tony Romo, and this time it's personal.  No, it's not really, but it sounded much more dramatic.  Both quarterbacks are playing at a high level.  There's just one big difference between them:  Eli Manning carries this franchise now on his shoulders, while the Cowboys as an organization can't decide if they trust Tony Romo.  It just goes to show what a good message board and some bad media hype can do to a player, as Romo, while not having tremendous playoff success, is a three time Pro Bowl quarterback who amassed 4,000-plus yards passing two of his last three healthy years.  He'll likely surpass that mark again.  His receiving corps is finally healthy, as Miles Austin will start for the first time in four weeks opposite the as not yet consistent Dez Bryant.  However, Dallas needs DeMarco Murray  running before the passing game will to gel.  In last week's loss against Arizona, Murray carried only 12 times for 38 yards.  Felix Jones spelled him and found 36 yards on six carries.  Needless to say, the Cowboys put up just 75 rushing yards and lost.  In Week 7, Murray carried just eight times and the Cowboys produced just 85 rushing yards.  They lost.  Whether this recent loss is a reflection of FB Tony Fiammetta's absence for an illness is hard to know, but for Dallas to be effective, Murray or Jones has to carry the ball 15-20 times and Dallas has to manufacture over 100 yards of rushing offense.  This takes the pressure off Romo, and allows Jason Witten to head downfield on play-action instead of staying home.  Against the Giants, the fourth worst team in yielding fantasy points to opposing tight ends, Witten is a strong play.  It's hard to know how close to 100 percent Miles Austin is, but at home he hasn't fared as well against the Giants as he has on the road. For the Giants Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are both banged up, but the Giants managed barely 90 yards rushing per game.   Bradshaw is still expected to get the majority of carries but he’s not an easy play to make.  Though he didn't score, last year Bradshaw appeared to have Dallas' number, carrying 44 times in two games for 179 yards, along with eight total receptions for 84 more.  He could garner somewhere in the neighborhood of 60  yards, but red zone carries will likely go to Jacobs due to Bradshaw’s health.  Mario Manningham is a likely return Sunday, but he won't surplant Hakeem Nicks and new star Victor Cruz.   Cruz has never faced Dallas, but Nicks has, putting up 14 catches, 190 yards and two scores in last year's series.  I expect he'll play a big role on the Sunday Night stage.  I'm taking the Giants to at minimum cover because DeMarcus Ware is questionable with a neck stinger, and Manning seems to elevate in the spotlight – almost the opposite now of his counterpart Tony Romo.



Seattle QB Tarvaris Jackson says he’s finally healthy in recovering from the torn pectoral muscle he suffered in Week 5.  He no longer has Sidney Rice, but has an array of wide receivers that can make him dangerous, and oh, he’s playing against the Rams defense.  Marshawn Lynch has been playing about as well as Seattle could have hoped.  Now they’re just wondering if they could get this as a consistent, all-year-long kind of thing.  Lynch ended up among the top five fantasy running backs last week with his 148-yard performance against Philadelphia.  Now he gets St. Louis, who he dropped 88 yards and a touchdown on three short weeks ago.  In terms of defense against the run, the Rams are actually worse than Philadelphia.  Doug Baldwin, whose season started on such high notes only to get sidetracked by injuries of his own, hasn’t done a whole lot to separate himself as a future leading wide out for the Seahawks.  However, Golden Tate, their 2010 second round pick out of Notre Dame better known for getting his hand caught in a Doughnut Shop, seems to be coming around.  He’s scored twice in the past two weeks, and made a terrific catch in the back of the end zone against the Eagles last week, one of his four for the day.  Former Raider TE Zach Miller, finally made his presence felt in a game with two grabs for 53 yards last week, leading all Seahawks.  He was considered a future star when he first appeared on the scene, but since replacing the injured John Carlson in Seattle hasn’t quite come around.  Don’t expect much more here but a few looks.  For St. Louis, the season is a wash.  Steven Jackson, the lone highlight of a wretched display of football this year, is not a top play against the Seahawks, if for no other  reason than there’s just no one else the defense needs to focus on when it comes to this offense.  Sure, the Rams have a receiving gem now in Brandon Lloyd.  There’s just no one to get him the football.  With Sam Bradford’s bad ankle and A.J. Feeley’s thumb, this week’s starter is either second year man Tom Brandstater or career backup Kellen Clemens.  Clemens has limited mobility and arm strength, and in his eight starts in New York in 2007, he completed a little over 50 percent of his passes with five touchdowns but ten interceptions.  Seattle’s likely to do anything to keep Jackson from beating them, forcing St. Louis, one of the most fractious offensive line units, to play long down situations.  Lynch is a solid RB2 for the day, and Jackson will get you middling numbers.  The Seattle defense should have another good week.