Saturday, December 10, 2011

NFL WEEK 14 PREVIEWS

THE 1:00PM DOCKET

TAMPA BAY @ JACKSONVILLE
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.

BUCCANEERS 20, JAGUARS 14

KANSAS CITY @ NEW YORK JETS
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.

JETS 23, CHIEFS 13
 

HOUSTON @ CINCINNATI
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.

BENGALS 21, HOUSTON 17

MINNESOTA @ DETROIT
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. 
 
LIONS 28, VIKINGS 17
 

INDIANAPOLIS @ BALTIMORE
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.

RAVENS 31, COLTS 14


NEW ORLEANS @ TENNESSEE
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. 

SAINTS 21, TITANS 19


PHILADELPHIA @ MIAMI
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.

DOLPHINS 22, EAGLES 17


ATLANTA @ CAROLINA
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.

FALCONS 24, PANTHERS 20


NEW ENGLAND @ WASHINGTON
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.

PATRIOTS 31, REDSKINS 21


THE 4:05 DOCKET 

CHICAGO @ DENVER
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. 

DENVER 16, CHICAGO 10


SAN FRANCISCO @ ARIZONA
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


THE 4:15 DOCKET

BUFFALO @ SAN DIEGO
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.

SAN DIEGO 34, BUFFALO 23


OAKLAND @ GREEN BAY
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.

GREEN BAY 41, RAIDERS 27


THE SUNDAY NIGHT GAME

NEW YORK GIANTS @ DALLAS
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.

GIANTS 23, COWBOYS 20


THE MONDAY NIGHT GAME

ST. LOUIS @ SEATTLE
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.

SEAHAWKS 21, RAMS 7