Saturday, December 3, 2011

NFL WEEK 13 PREVIEWS

Ah, Week 13.  For Jack Del Rio, thirteen was indeed unlucky.  For some other teams, the passing of time into December means better things ahead, and others it is a harbinger of worry. 

THE 1:00PM DOCKET

KANSAS CITY @ CHICAGO

Most fans will look at Kansas City’s situation, and curse their failure to make the post-season (as is likely) on Tyler Palko.   True, he had some ill-advised throws, but some of thosee just reveal a lack of chemistry that will change with time.  The Bears won’t make it easy though for the Chiefs to iron those wrinkles out this week.  At home, the Bears defense has forced six extra turnovers, and has added six extra sacks.  Palko will be hard-pressed considering his lack of running game to find his targets.  However, the Chiefs would be well-advised to give Palko some leeway, as the Bears are 30th overall preventing the pass allowing 270 yards per game.  Dwayne Bowe owners shouldn’t be concerned because he’s been posting good numbers since Matt Cassel’s injury, has 20 targets in the past two games, and against the Steelers added seven more catches for 69 yards. On the other side of things, Chicago has their own quarterback woes, as Caleb Hanie’s three first half interceptions gave Oakland enough push to win the ball game.  It was Hanie’s first start, and in the two key games he’s played, he’s made enough plays to keep things close (the other game was the playoff game versus Green Bay last year).  The play calling last week didn’t assist in that effort, as every drive except two for the first three and one-half quarters of play began with a first down run.  That kind of predictability won’t help Matt Forte, who has been ceding more carries to Marion Barber lately, particularly in the red zone.  However, Forte still is getting his receiving opportunities with 10 targets last week, resulting in six receptions.  Barber may simply be fresher, but against this Chiefs’ defense ranked 26th against the run, I’d consider Barber a nice flex option and start Forte. With the loss of Jake Cutler, consider Earl Bennett’s value equivalent to the current housing market – it’s falling fast.  Johnny Knox had 10 targets of his own against Oakland including an 81 yard touchdown.  Hanie won’t find it easy going against the Chief’s cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers, so expect a good dose of Forte with a look to Kellen Davis or Matt Spaeth in the red zone.  The Bears have much more depth, and should take this one pretty handily.

BEARS 23, CHIEFS 10


ATLANTA @ HOUSTON
Matt Ryan has been en fuego as we see in suburban white-bred America say because it sounds cool and we like to think we can speak Spanish.  He has two 300-yard games in his past three and hasn’t thrown for less than 240 yards since the Bye week.  He also has posted a 9:2 touchdown to interception ratio.  In turn, the Falcons offense is getting the kind of output that was expected when the season began, scoring no less than 23 points in those last three contests.  However, don’t get too excited here.  Three of the last four pass defenses he faced were in the bottom third of the NFL, and the Texans are one of the best, giving up just 176 yards per contest.  The Falcons Michael Turner also will have to ground it out against Houston’s fourth ranked rushing defense.  The Falcons would love to see him carry the ball at least 20 times because Atlanta has lost just once when Turner carried 19 times or more.  With Tyler Yates seeing his first action as a starter, the Falcons can expect a few costly mistakes, shortening the field for them which should be the difference.  Arian Foster and Ben Tate will get as many carries as they can handle, even against the Atlanta’s second best rush defense.  The Falcons have only allowed seven rushing TDs this season, so they’ll be tested against Foster, who has met the end zone each of the last five games rushing, and has led the Texans in targets the last three weeks.  Where Atlanta is vulnerable is their secondary, so keep Andre Johnson in your lineup and pray that the Texans line that has allowed just 16 sacks gives Yates that extra split second to find Johnson streaking open.  I normally would recommend Owen Daniels especially with a rookie under center, but the Falcons are giving up the third least amount of fantasy points to opposing tight ends.  Take Atlanta, as they’ll win by four.

FALCONS 17, TEXANS 13


TENNESSEE @ BUFFALO
If there ever was a more despicable touchdown dance I have yet to see it. Steve Johnson’s display in the Jets end zone was the thing suspensions should be made of.  Lest we forget that a moment to celebrate does not impose itself on someone else’s misfortune, or in this case Plaxico Burress’ sole method of providing for his family, karma itself paid him back with the stupid penalty he received and a giant Bills loss.  This becomes a huge game for both of these clubs, as the Titans sit at 6-5 and with Houston’s injury issues suddenly are the object in the rearview mirror for the Texans.  Buffalo’s youth showed sent them under .500 for the year; still, the Wild Card opportunity exists.  Matt Hasselbeck may be wearing down for the Titans, as the past two games he’s managed just 47 completions on 86 attempts for 503 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions; this against two secondaries ranked below 23.  Chris Johnson had his best game of the season in an 190-yard outburst, so Buffalo feels like a solid for him here.  However, I’m not overly enthusiastic because of the seesaw he’s been on all year long, and the Bills haven’t allowed any runner to gain 100 yards in their building this year.  Without George Wilson again, the Bills will still be weaker in the secondary, and Damian Williams has five touchdowns in the last seven games, with four of those coming in the red zone.  The Bills will rely on C.J. Spiller, who managed a paltry 2.8 yards per carry in last week’s dust-up against the Jets.  He’ll get plenty of chances against the Titans, who are giving up 124 rushing yards per game but only five rushing scores.  So I’d expect at least four to five receptions considering the play of Tennessee’s secondary.  Scott Chandler has 11 receptions and 121 yards in the past two games and gets his value augmented once again as only four teams have giving up more points to tight ends than the Titans.  The key to this game will be turnovers, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had his first game without an interception since Week 11, should fare well at home with the returning health of his receivers.  I like Buffalo to win in December.

BILLS 27, TITANS 24


OAKLAND @ MIAMI
It was a sad week in Oakland with the passing of far too young Chester McGlockton, which is only compounded by the fact that LB Rolando McClain was arrested for firing a gun and pointing it at a man’s head.  I don’t think that’s what Hue Jackson meant when he said he wanted his team to be intimidating.  So if you’re Oakland, probably the last team you want to run into is the Dolphins, which have gone 3-1 under Matt Moore’s recent surge.  He has seven touchdowns against just one interception and has posted just one game in the last four where he hasn’t completed over 60 percent of his passes, that against Dallas last week.  The Dolphins are vulnerable to the pass rush, having given up 34 sacks, so the suddenly inspired Reggie Bush becomes a good RB2 play, particularly in PPR leagues.  Oakland yields 135 yards per contest, and Bush averages a now career best 4.3 yards per carry for 100 plus carries.   Brandon Marshall seems to have his biggest output against superior pass defenses:  see his 5/103/1 line against the Jets or his 6 receptions for 109 yards against the Jets so I'm a little worried about him here.  For the Raiders, Carson Palmer hasn’t been too shabby himself.  Even with the late scratch of Denarius Moore last week, Palmer was able to hit Marcel Reece and Louis Murphy for big plays to set up a big day for Sebastian Janikowski.   Oakland is the most penalized team in the NFL, and on the road they’ll have to play a tighter game to beat the suddenly tough Dolphins.  Michael Bush will find the road much rougher against Miami’s seventh best rush defense, so I expect a bigger day from Palmer, especially with safety Yeremiah Bell now listed as doubtful.   Denarius Moore is your best play here as he had six receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns since Palmer became the starter.  However, I’m taking Miami at home and Reggie Bush to win the battle of the Bushes.

DOLPHINS 23, RAIDERS 17

CINCINNATI @ PITTSBURGH
The Steelers post Bye week malaise against the Chiefs has a lot of people questioning whether they should be worried about the Bengals.  They should be.  A.J. Green is back to health – the same Green that caught a touchdown pass against them as he injured his knee – and Andy Dalton will take a few deep shots early as Cincy tries to grab an early advantage on the road.  However, slot man Andrew Hawkins, brother of safety Artrell, has made inroads for his own case as a threat.  He’s a shifty slot receiver of all of five-feet-seven, and has had 11 catches on 15 targets against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland, three of the NFL’s best pass defenses.  Jermaine Gresham also has added 33 targets in the past five weeks, putting him in line recently with TE talent such as Dustin Keller and Tony Gonzalez.  He’s not quite in that conversation, and the Steelers have defended TEs well this year, giving up just four scores, but Gresham is beginning to make his case as a dangerous weapon.  The Steelers offense might look the same to Cincinnati, but it’s the defense that should concern them. The Steelers intercepted Dalton twice and held him to a 5.7 yard per attempt.  You might say, so what?  Well, they did that without LBs James Harrison and Lamar Woodley, both of whom are expected on the field Sunday.  Andy Dalton has been sacked just 16 times and in the first game the Steelers barely touched him.  It’s likely to be different this time around.  A key for Pittsburgh will be trying to loosen up the Bengals pass defense with Rashard Mendenhall, who they claim will get more carries this week.  I’m not buying it.  He had two touchdowns in their first meeting but managed just 44 yards.  I still expect the Steelers to be a pass first team, even with Mike Wallace’s recent disappearance.  The secret is out on his speed and it appears he’s being double-teamed quite often, with the benefactor being Antonio Brown.  Jerricho Cotchery scored against the Bengals Week 10, but his stature in the lineup will drop with the health of Emmanuel Sanders.  I’m just not buying Dalton is yet able to march into Pittsburgh and get this victory….yet.  He will soon enough.

STEELERS 27, BENGALS 17


CAROLINA @ TAMPA BAY
Cam Newton’s yardage totals make it appear that he’s physically all right, but perhaps mentally the long season is taking its toll.  Since Newton reported shoulder fatigue three weeks ago, he has two games without a touchdown pass and five interceptions in the three games since.  His QB ratings for two of those games are under 70.  With this in mind, one would think Ron Rivera would want to lift the pressure from Cam Newton’s shoulders against Tampa Bay’s 30th ranked rush defense giving up 140 yards each game.  That doesn’t mean Steve Smith should be forgotten as Tampa Bay has given up 19 passing touchdowns.  DeAngelo Williams gets the edge on the ground when it comes to carries amassing 25 carries for 142 yards and two scores in the last two games, while Jonathan Stewart garnered nine receptions for 99 yards in those same contests, making him a PPR superior.  Defensively, the Panthers have caused six turnovers in the last three games, making the turnover-prone Josh Freeman appear like welcome prey.  However, for the Panthers to get to Freeman, they’ll have to stop late-peaking LeGarrette Blount, who has two 100-yard performances in a row, and last year put up 91 yards and a touchdown against them.  Another strong play this week comes in the form of Mike Williams, who has two scores in the last two games.  In December 2010 through early January 2011, Williams scored five of his 11 total touchdowns adding 20 receptions and 267 yards.  These two players would seem to get better as December rolls around, and this is a prime matchup for them.  Freeman is the concern, as the Tampa Bay's five game slide coincides with a run where the Buccaneers QB hasn’t put up a game with more touchdowns than interceptions.  All indicators point to this being a Panther upset, but I expect the surging Blount to run as much as they can to prevent the Panthers from using Newton’s dynamic style to subdue them.   Freeman will get Kellen Winslow involved in the short passing game, as he done the past two games to the tune of 14 receptions and 184 yards.  Give the points and take Tampa at home.

BUCCANEERS 24, PANTHERS 20


NEW YORK JETS @ WASHINGTON
Sometimes the just the presence of a receiver on the field can make the difference for a team’s offense.  The return of Santana Moss, who saw his first action for the first time since week since Week 6, means that the Jets pas defense has to now decide who they prefer CB Darrelle Revis blanket.  Last week Moss only caught four balls for 29 yards, but his presence allowed Anthony Armstrong to draw single coverage and Rex Grossman found him for a 50-yard touchdown strike.  Jabar Gaffney will also draw his share of attention.  Fred Davis has to get high consideration, if for no other reason than he leads the team in receptions and Davis has made his presence known at the end of the past two seasons.  In 2009, he put up 15 receptions for 147 yards and four scores in December.  Last year, for all of his health issues, he managed two touchdowns on four grabs to close out the final two games of 2010 season.  Regardless of the weapons, this game will be about the quarterbacks.  The Redskins have thrown 18 interceptions, a league high tally, of which Grossman is responsible for 15.  The Jets have taken away 13 passes from the opposition, and Revis leads the team with four.  Grossman has to protect the ball for the Redskins to win.  Roy Helu should be in line for a good amount of carries and receptions, but Mike Shanahan makes any running back a gamble.  For all the talk of the Jets defense, in the end this team will go as far as Mark Sanchez takes them.  Even against the likes of the Bills struggling rushing defense, the Jets managed a total of 138 rushing yards, and that was their second highest tally of the year.  Santonio Holmes collected a solid paycheck in signing with the Jets a few years ago, but this year hasn’t delivered.  In fact, Holmes is failing to lead the receiving corps in any of the important categories.  He’s third on the team in terms of targets, second in touchdowns behind Plaxico Burress’ scores, and is behind Dustin Keller in receptions and yards after the catch.   The lack of the big play has haunted the Jets all year long, as their longest pass play belongs to LaDainian Tomlinson, and their longest run is 24 yards.  Redskins safety LeRon Landry is out with Oshiomogho Atogwe still questionable and DeJon Gomes probable, meaning the ‘Skins defense is thin at the deep position.  I’m will to take a desperate Jets team on the road with a late Grossman turnover the difference.

JETS 20, REDSKINS 14

DENVER @ MINNESOTA
The stars just seem to be aligning for Tim Tebow to continue his improbable winning ways while completing just 46.5% of his passes.  To give you an idea of how fortunate this situation has been, he faced Oakland without a ready QB; he faced the Jets without Tomlinson and RB Shonn Greene was knocked out on the first series;  now he gets Minnesota without what is arguably the best runner in the league, Adrian Peterson.  Peterson will miss another game with his high ankle sprain, leaving Toby Gerhart to fend against a Denver defense that’s been beating running backs to a pulp since Tebow took over.  Willis McGahee will be once again featured in this option offense, and his 4.8 per carry tally for the season is only bested by four other runners in the league with a minimum of 100 carries.  On defense, Von Miller, who is listed as questionable with a thumb injury, has been a man possessed.  He now has 10.5 sacks, and will face one of Minnesota’s weakest lineman, Phil Loadholt.  Christian Ponder is becoming the victim of the lack of weapons.  Percy Harvin, who was limited Friday due to illness, is speculated to be suffering migraines again, something that haunted him most of last season.  He’s done his best to lift this Vikings team on his back, now ranking third on the team with 33 rushes and first with 51 receptions.  Michael Jenkins has had one of his better campaigns, but he’s just not a man who can stretch the field and at times has had suspect hands.  Devin Aromashodu doesn’t appear to be the answer, as he’s caught just nine of his 39 targets for such an abysmal receiving percentage there’s no point in writing it.  My guess is TE Visanthe Shiancoe will get more chances when you consider the Denver cornerbacks are still among the best.  The slow starting Vikings have been down 17 points by halftime their last two games, while the Broncos have never seen a deficit they fear.  The Vikings are the fifth best rushing defense, but both E.J. and Erin Henderson are slow by injuries, so if Von Miller is healthy enough to go, take Denver to continue this improbable streak.

BRONCOS 13, VIKINGS 10


INDIANAPOLIS @ NEW ENGLAND
The point spread and the fact this was originally scheduled as a prime-time matchup but was moved for fear of boredom tells you all you need to know.  There isn’t a Patriot I’d want to bench, even with the Colts yielding just four touchdowns to tight ends, the Patriots best receiving threats.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis makes a sneaky good play this week, and not just because he pushed a couple across the goal line last week.  Indianapolis has given up a league-leading 15 rushing scores, tied with Carolina, and even though Bill Belichick doesn’t have the mercy gene, the Patriots will take the lead and do their share of running making even Danny Woodhead worth considering if you’re desperate. The Patriots are now, after all, the 15th best rushing offense.  The wild card in this game is new Colts starter Dan Orlovsky.  Ironically, Orlovsky hasn’t won a single game he started, and was 0-7 overall in games Detroit the in 2008.  Of course, this was the season Detroit couldn’t stop an uphill marching tortoise, and there was little he could do except what he did.  He threw eight touchdowns, and most of them were to Calvin Johnson, so I’d be willing to start Reggie Wayne this game, as well as Pierre Garcon.  Don’t be surprised if the Colts go for broke with Orlovsky.  He doesn’t have fantastic accuracy or arm strength, but the six-foot-five, 230-pound QB heads a Colts offense with nothing to lose.  Donald Brown has lifted himself from obscurity to outpace Joseph Addai and Delone Carter recently, but it’s still nothing to get so excited about against New England’s now 12th ranked rushing defense.  Strangely enough, as bad as the Patriots pass defense has been, CB Kyle Arrington leads the NFL with seven interceptions.  He may get his eighth and the Patriots will take this one but not as handily as some might expect.  I’ll take the 20 point spread, as in Orlovsky’s seven starts his worse loss was in his first ever start against the Packers.  They Lions lost by 23.

PATRIOTS 35, COLTS 21


ST. LOUIS @ SAN FRANCISCO
Steven Jackson poses little risk to break the San Francisco defensive wall that hasn’t allowed a single touchdown this year.  The best St. Louis can hope for is that Sam Bradford hooks up with Brandon Lloyd for a few deep scores early and holds off Frank Gore.  The Rams have the highest fumble tally (23) in the league of which they’ve lost 12.  They are converting just 28.7% of their third down conversions, and only Jacksonville has scored less offensive touchdowns.  They’re yielding 5.1 yards per carry, and Frank Gore should highlight a rushing attack that should also feature Kendall Hunter for a few carries.  Michael Crabtree hasn’t seen much of the end zone but that should change this week as he’s had good success against the Rams, hauling in two touchdowns last year in their two meetings.  So play him and Gore, who I expect is likely to get his first receiving touchdown this week as the Rams secondary has held TEs to an average of just 2.9 points.  Also to note, the Rams have allowed seven returns for touchdowns.  As if you need any more motivation, this is a strong game for the 49ers defense/special teams unit.

49ERS 20, RAMS 10


THE 4:05 GAME

BALTIMORE @ CLEVELAND
If the kickoff time messes with you at just five minutes after four o’clock, the matchup won’t.  Baltimore comes off a huge win against San Francisco, though to be fair it was the 49ers fourth cross country trek of the year, and at some point there’s only so much of that a team can take.  Ray Rice, who should be the focal point for both teams, is only averaging 16 carries a game, something that probably disturbs the Baltimore faithful as much as it does Rice’s fantasy owners.  On the other hand, Joe Flacco is now averaging 37 attempts per game, up seven attempts per game from last year.  But Flacco is just 2-3 on the road and his 7.52 yards per attempt drops to 5.89 out of the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium.  Against this defense, you can likely put Torrey Smith on hold, as when Flacco isn’t turning to Rice, he’ll rely on the veteran presence of Anquan Boldin to move the chains.  I suspect Ricky Williams may get some extra field time this game, due to 29th ranked rushing defense.  And just as Baltimore’s running game is a big hit for this game, I’m not jumping from the Peyton Hillis train either.  Hillis put up 144 yards in last season’s opener against the Ravens in Baltimore.  He wasn’t as strong at home in their second meeting, but Hillis has had plenty of rest, and the fatigue that’s hitting other players now is not likely his.  His fresh legs and the number of carries Cleveland will need him to have is why you risk him as a RB2 or RB3 this week.  Colt McCoy has only faced Baltimore once, and his three interceptions in his first matchup versus Baltimore also added to Hillis’ woes.  Baltimore has given up just three rushing scores, but a mistimed turnover by Flacco will lead to a short field at least once for the Brownies.  McCoy had four straight games completing over 63% of his passes until last week’s Cincy game, and Cleveland is now over 40 percent on third down conversions, slightly better than the Ravens.  Greg Little has taken over as the Brown’s top receiver, but Little’s focus will have to be spot on, as dropped balls have plagued him, though he found the end zone finally last week for the first time.  The biggest problem for Cleveland is they’ve registered just 22 sacks this season.  Bet they’re wishing they hadn’t lost Kamerion Wimbley right now, as the pick they used on Phil Taylor hasn’t helped the rushing defense as much as they might have hoped.  Still, this division matchup could come down to the wire.

RAVENS 23, CLEVLAND 19

THE 4:15 DOCKET

DALLAS @ ARIZONA
Dallas has lost their last two trips to Tempe, and this is the fourth straight times these two teams meet in Arizona.  Tony Romo didn’t play in the last year’s game.  However, his last trip there in 2008 saw him throw three scores in a terrific performance that was soured by Dallas’ dreadful special teams.  Arizona gives up an average of 22 points to wide receivers this year, and though you might lean toward Dez Bryant, I’m going with the man I said would be the difference maker against Miami, and that’s Laurent Robinson.  In the last five games he has 31 targets, most on the team and has scored six touchdowns.  It’s a career year for Robinson and against Arizona, I'd continue to ride that train.  DeMarco Murray has certainly helped the Dallas sell their play-action, as he’s managed two 100-yard performances in the last four games, but has scored just once.  He should get close to 100 yards against and a score against Arizona.  Beanie Wells also continues his career year, but has struggled against Dallas in the past.  Regardless, you have to go with him at home and hope a Romo mistake sets him up for a short score.  Kevin Kolb returns for the Cardinals, which may not make Larry Fitzgerald owners happy.  Remember, Fitzgerald had four touchdowns with John Skelton under center, and Kolb’s last four starts yielded a 3:5 touchdown to interception ratio.  The Dallas secondary is missing safety Gerald Sensabaugh and CB Mike Jenkins is fighting a hamstring injury.  Thus, Kolb should be able to get Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts involved early.  However, the biggest plus could be Todd Heap if he returns.  The Cowboys are among the worst at defending tight ends this year, and the middle of the field will get some good matchups for Heap or even Jeff King if need be, though King isn’t worthy of a start.  This game should fall easily for Dallas, but it’s a scare game, as on the road they’re 2-3.  However, LT Levi Brown of Arizona has been credit with allowing 10.5 sacks this year, and facing LB DeMarcus Ware will only serve to augment that number.  The five game win streak will move to six, and I’m going to eschew my initial fears and watch Dallas cover.

COWBOYS 27, CARDINALS 17


GREEN BAY @ NEW YORK
Perhaps the last possible stumbling block between the Packers and a perfect season, it falls once again on the New York Giants to take down another, um….giant.  The last time these teams faced each other in the regular season Aaron Rodgers dumped 404 yards passing on them and four passing scores.  The Packers are riddled with injuries along their front five, and that is part of the reason Rodgers has been dropped 27 times.   Packer receiver Jordy Nelson now leads the Packers with a career high nine touchdowns, and in just 11 games this year he’s passed all of his previous year totals.  I'd still lean toward Greg Jennings, but Nelson is clearly the WR2 of this team.  John Kuhn is the Packers leading scorer on the ground with four touchdowns to give you an idea of how much Green Bay avoids rushing the football.  If Rodgers has time, this one won’t be so close, and I expect the Packers to push Jermichael Finley into the secondary and get him back on the board as top tight end this week.  That’s a challenge for New York, who is without DL Osi Umenyiora.  Thus, Giants’ Justin Tuck will have to master this mish-mosh Packers line and pressure Rodgers into some miscues.  Meanwhile, Ahmad Bradshaw returns to boost a Giants league-low rushing offense.  The Giants average less than 90 yards a game, and will have to get something going on the ground to keep Rodgers sidelined.  He’s the only back worth using, as Brandon Jacobs has only one game with over four yards per carry in his last five.  There’s just nothing left in that tank except maybe a fortuitous one-yard plunge should the situation arrive.  Mario Manningham will sit again, making Victor Cruz again a huge threat.  He’s now the fourth ranked fantasy receiver in terms of points, and is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards.  Don’t forget about Hakeem Nicks who received 12 targets last week to equal Cruz.  Eli Manning should be in your starting lineup as well, as he could have had even more than 406 yards if the Giants could catch the ball.  The difference in this game is the fact that while the Packers have been giving up yards, they are now leading the NFL in takeaways, having added nine since the Bye while committing just two.  The Giants last week were accused of quitting in the midst of a playoff run.  I think Tom Coughlin’s team blinks first.

PACKERS 38, GIANTS 31


SUNDAY NIGHT GAME

DETROIT @ NEW ORLEANS
Detroit is 4-1 this year on the road, beating the likes of Dallas, Tampa Bay, Denver and Minnesota.  Now comes their stiffest test, as their tendency to fall behind won’t be met with chances for a comeback against a Saints offense that converts 53.3 percent of their third down conversions.  Detroit has also given up no less than 27 points in each of their games since the Bye.  Compounding the problem is that New Orleans, a team that runs just 38 percent of the time, is now eighth best at it.  Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas is a formidable tandem, and Darren Sproles is a difference maker, averaging over 6 yards per carry.  Jimmy Graham is tied with Giants receiver Victor Cruz for fourth most yards in the NFL.  Join that with his eight touchdowns and he’s become the most offensively dominant tight end in the NFL.  Keep an eye on Lance Moore, who has scored four times in the last four games, and is truly the team’s best possession receiver for third down passes.  He won’t get the kind of targets the Marques Colston or Graham will, but he makes the most of his snaps.  Detroit is the counter to the Saints in the sense they are the best team at stopping third down plays, allowing just a 28 percent conversion rate.  The Lions were a plus-13 just five weeks ago in the give/take column, but Matthew Stafford has been firing passes at everyone equally these days, compiling a 7:9 touchdown to interception ratio since the Bye and now they're plus-6.  However, with New Orleans giving up 254 yards a game and being turnover prone themselves (minus-3 for the year) Detroit has every opportunity to hang in this one.  Surprise back-from-the-grave runner Kevin Smith has another high ankle sprain, but thinks he’ll play Sunday, which means I’m still keeping Maurice Morris active if I’m in need of a runner.  New Orleans still gives up 117 yards per game, and Detroit is going to have to find a way to bleed some clock at some point. Calvin Johnson is a must play of course, but a sneaky play for your TE this week is Tony Scheffler.  Scheffler has 16 receptions and five scores on the year, but two TD receptions in the past three games, and three of his four scores have been red zone targets.   December is Drew Brees’ worst month career wise, and Detroit is in a must-win situation really, so I’m taking Detroit and the nine.

SAINTS 31, LIONS 27

MONDAY NIGHT GAME

SAN DIEGO @ JACKSONVILLE
We all know the story here.  Philip Rivers has led the Chargers to another vaunted season of passing prowess with one exception – he now has six fourth quarter interceptions leading to what has become a six game slide after a 4-1 start.  Meanwhile, it’s the dawning of a new era in Jacksonville, who has new ownership, and a new interim head coach in Mel Tucker, who replaces Jack Del Rio.  The Jags have the lowest scoring offense in the NFL, and Blaine Gabbert hasn’t developed as fast as the South Florida faithful would have hoped.  However, he’s had little talent around him sans Maurice Jones-Drew.  In perhaps a message to WR Mike Thomas, Jason Hill was summarily cut this week, leaving newbies Cecil Shorts and Jarett Dillard to fill in as wide receivers for Dirk Koetter’s new offense.  The one player to eye this game is Marcedes Lewis, who has found himself on the end of 23 targets and 11 receptions the past two games.  Expect him to be involved as the Chargers have allowed six passing scores to tight ends this year.  However, most of the responsibility will be on Jones-Drew again, who hasn’t disappointed this year in terms of yardage, and should gain plenty against San Diego’s 25th ranked front seven.  San Diego’s line is falling apart each day, even with Ryan Mathews having a very productive year.  I expect the Chargers to attempt to get the ball rolling on Mathews' shoulders, even against a Jags defense yielding just 111 yards per game rushing.  Vincent Jackson continues to be a boom or bust guy, and against the fourth best secondary in the league, I fear bust again.  However, the loss of Rashean Mathis hasn’t completely been felt yet, and with Antonio Gates trolling the middle of the field, and Malcom Floyd likely to return, prospects are a little less bleak.  Vincent Brown has 23 targets the last three games, but the problem is he’s caught just nine of them.  Don’t be so inclined to throw him out there in this matchup.  Talent wise, San Diego should bury the Jaguars, but renewed faith and a new coach added to the Chargers turnover happy ways have me thinking upset.

JAGUARS 16, CHARGERS 13