Saturday, September 29, 2012


The Bye Weeks are upon us. This week, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts get to lick their wounds, collect themselves and figure out a game plan for attacking their remaining schedule. You should begin doing the same thing. During my years writing at the various websites, strength of schedule articles were an important aspect of fantasy strategy. However, I was vehemently against putting out any such article for the first few weeks of the season. Since free agency became such a huge aspect of the off-season in addition to the draft, any strength article in the first few weeks of a season was based on last year's team. You could hold a mirror up to virtually any team in the NFL back in the 1970's and they would look pretty much the same the next season. These days from one season to another the off-season allowed each team to rework themselves with a facelift, boob job and tummy tuck, and become hardly recognizable. After this week, we reach the quarter point in the season. Start examining how teams are playing and what they're doing well. For the Steelers and Colts, their Bye comes very early, which means the next 13 weeks are going to be very long, particularly if things don't change for the better.


The 1-2 Panthers head into Atlanta to face the third highest scoring team in the league. Last week the Falcons traveled 3,000 miles to thoroughly dismantle an optimistic San Diego team that had started 2-0. Only Houston shares the distinction with Atlanta of being a plus-46 in point differential between point for and against, and the Carolina defense appears to be easy fodder. Ranked 24th and giving up 383 yards per contest, the Panthers are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.2% of their passes against them. Though they're ranked 18th in yards allowed through the air and have only given up three passing touchdowns, Carolina is minus six in the give/take and have registered just five sacks. I don't think Dirk Koetter's offense will look to strike quickly. They'll attempt slowing the pace with methodical drives to keep Cam Newton off the field. Even with concerns about RB Michael Turner's 3.7 yards per carry, a Carolina run defense giving up 139.3 means Turner will get his chance to carry the load. Turner has normally been a much better runner at home. In last year's home matchup versus Carolina, he tallied 27 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be given 20 plus carries here, though I don't expect quite as heavy a return as Atlanta's offensive line has allowed nearly 20 percent of their runs to come up short of the line scrimmage. The Panthers had no answer for Julio Jones and Roddy White last year, as the tandem put up three scores in their second meeting. They'll be the focal point of Sean McDermott and the Panthers defense. Tony Gonzalez should continue his scoring ways, and Harry Douglas could easily figure in. Jacquizz Rodgers should get you decent numbers for PPR leagues. He had five receptions last week, and now leads all running backs with eight targets. Expect some screen and misdirection to him, and expect Matt Ryan's day to be a little less involved. Turner will get you his first 100-yard output and a score. As for Carolina, Cam Newton faces an Atlanta defense that has allowed only two passing touchdowns and is allowing just 207 yards per game. Jonathan Stewart is key to the Panthers attack this week, as Atlanta's 24th ranked rushing defense has yielded five yards per carry and four scores. He's probable, and ably carried the ball for 5.1 yards per carry against Atlanta last year, not to mention 5.7 yards on the road. DeAngelo Williams' 3.8 yards per touch isn't getting it done, though he'll be in to spell Stewart for a few series. Expect a heavy dose of Stewart and Newton on the ground, with Newton making a few big plays downfield to Greg Olsen, who I like for a touchdown here, and Steve Smith. Newton will have to play big and prevent the Falcons secondary, which leads the league with seven picks, from taking him off his game. Newton's pressing right now and I see Atlanta holding on at home.


The last time Tom Brady brought his Patriots into Buffalo, they were 2-0, off to another fine start for the 2011 season. Though Brady delivered four touchdown passes, the Bills defense harried and harassed him, forcing four interceptions and the Bills triumphed for only second time over the Patriots in the Tom Brady era 34-31.

Fred Jackson's return would be crucial
This year, things haven't gone quite as smooth. Numbers wise, the Patriots are a better defensive team than they have been in some time, but offensively they have faltered. Stevan Ridley hasn't fared badly, averaging 4.5 yards from scrimmage in 52 carries. Brady's completing nearly 67 percent of his passes, and Wes Welker is now leading the team in receiving yardage with 251, meaning he's probably return to Bill Belichick's good graces. The problem is that the Patriots wanted to run a two-tight end set offense, and the loss of Aaron Hernandez has thrown a wrench into the works. The Patriots went out and signed Kellen Winslow Jr. as a cure that problem, but Winslow hasn't been known in the past for his blocking ability. Certainly, he hasn't had the kind of team ethic the Pats employ either, so to what success they'll use him remains to be seen. The Bills enter this game with greater problems. Both Fred Jackson and C. J. Spiller are questionable though Coach Chan Gailey says they both have a fifty percent chance to play. Tashard Choice has played his role of fill-in, and last week managed 91 yards on 20 carries for a 4.6 average. The game plan for the Bills would normally be simple – keep Brady and the Pats offense off the field. However, rushing against the Pats, which was never easy to begin with, has gotten tougher. The Pats have are giving up just 3.3 yards per carry and have stuffed over twelve percent of the runs against them behind the line. The Patriots pass defense is still their weakness, though to be fair they've faced Arizona's revived passing attack with Larry Fitzgerald and Baltimore's offense, which is ranked among the tops. Ryan Fitzpatrick will attempt to do what he did last year – run an efficient West Coast offense with short passes to Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones. Both were effective last year and will make solid plays at home. Jackson has had three weeks to rest, and seems the more likely runner to make an appearance, but he practiced Wednesday and reported having pain. He's a risky play, and one that is only warranted if you don't have anyone else. The Bills were unable to sack Brady at all last year, and instead fell into a lot of zone coverage. It won't work again this year, and if Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams are unable to pressure Brady, the Patriots should handle the Bills on the road. I like West Welker to see his targets increase, as well as Rob Gronkowski, who is questionable with a hip. If he plays, Gronk will find the end zone again as the middle is a weakness for Buffalo. The Patriots will attempt to grab a lead early and let Ridley take it from there. I think they'll manage just that, with Brandon Lloyd, now the leading target getter on the team, finding the end zone for the first time. Ridley's yardage will be in the 70's and he'll add a touchdown. Choice is a good play for a flex, but only if Jackson and/or Spiller can't go. Check the injury report. I like the Bills improved defense, but not enough to recommend they'll cause the Patriots to lose a third straight.


The Vikings have lost three straight to Detroit, including last year's 34-28 lapse where Detroit scored 21 first quarter points, leaving Christian Ponder and company not much choice but to abandon their impeded running game (sans the injured Adrian Peterson) and fire away at Detroit's secondary. Detroit's secondary hasn't improved much. Even with Chris Houston's return to the defensive backfield, the Tennessee Titans picked apart Detroit on deep passes to Nate Washington and Jared Cook. Even more detrimental to the Lions has been their special teams play which has given up four returns for touchdowns already. Ponder has yet to throw an interception, and it'll take that kind of game again to beat Detroit on their home turf. Mikel LeShoure will likely have top billing as Detroit's rushing threat, but will find the road tougher going. There are better options this week, as victory will have to come via Matthew Stafford's arm. Stafford has been interception prone from initially what appeared to be bad decision-making, but it seems he's struggling to play through a hip/glute injury. How healthy and accurate he is will be the deciding factor because Minnesota's secondary is complying with opposing quarterbacks, allowing 70 percent of their passes to be successful. That means strong days from Brandon Pettigrew and a lot of looks for Calvin Johnson, though he might not top out as the best receiver for Detroit this week. Minnesota has held Johnson scoreless in three of the last four outings, including their last matchup where he recorded three receptions for 29 yards. Considering Titus Young has hardly figured in (you may have noticed him quit on a few of his routes midway – not the way to a coach's heart), Nate Burleson could see added looks this week. He saw 12 targets last week, and has 20 in two of their first three games. Adrian Peterson managed just 3.4 yards per carry last week. That tally will improve this game and he'll give you 100-plus rushing yards and a touchdown. Detroit is not playing particularly well right now, and their special teams have been a disaster. That means Percy Harvin could have added value and I'd play the Minnesota defense/special teams unit this game. Harvin will be the difference maker in this one, along with the return of Jerome Simpson and the Vikings continue the Lions struggles.


It was a 23-20 overtime win by the Chiefs in Kansas City that was the second of a six game skid during San Diego's tumultuous 2011 season. In that game, though San Diego's QB Philip Rivers threw for 369 yards, he did not throw a touchdown. Flash forward to this past week, where now missing Vincent Jackson and the depth once provided by Patrick Crayton and Vincent Brown, Rivers threw for173 yards and zero touchdowns in a home game against Atlanta. His running game was supposed to be bolstered by the return of injury and fumble prone Ryan Mathews. However, Mathews again fumbled inside the 10, and now the entire San Diego faithful, including the front office, is decrying future rushing opportunities in crucial situations. One gets the feeling looking at the Chargers, whose attempt to turn the acquisition of WR Robert Meachem into the coming of a new younger and stronger Vincent Jackson; who is witnessing the decline of arguably the most historic tight end of this decade, Antonio Gates, without any way to replace him; and senses that this 2-1 team is already getting desperate. Whether or not the supposed demotion of Mathews from goal line duty is talk or serious still means that former Chief Jackie Battle's intrinsic value increases. Battle's still not a full-time answer, but he could become the goal line vulture and might split the load this week. Enter Kansas City, the team that was 0-2 until they stunned New Orleans in the Superdome last Sunday. Last time these two teams met, Jamaal Charles was on the sideline. Prior to this meeting, the last time San Diego faced him in Kansas City was opening week of 2010, and Charles lit into the Chargers for 92 yards and a score on 11 carries, as well as a receiving touchdown. He'll have the same kind of success again, even against a Chargers defense ranked fourth currently against the run. Their competition has been the Raiders, Titans and Falcons – all of which are teams with running games languishing at 31st, 32nd and 25th respectively. Charles will be active in both the passing and running games, and he'll open up the field for Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin to make an impact. Also keep an active eye on Shaun Draughn, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the season through 107 carries. Rivers will make a splash or two with Malcom Floyd (his leading target) and Antonio Gates will get his yardage, but whether they know it not San Diego needs to run the football. To that end, Battle and Mathews are your best plays here. Newly signed Nick Novak will replace Nate Kaeding for at least this game, as Kaeding injured his groin, and he and Ryan Succop make good plays considering their teams' red zone inefficiency. The teams have split the season series for the last two years with the home team taking it. The Chiefs will continue the trend.


Seattle comes off one of the most controversial wins of all time, wherein Golden Tate got credit for what looked like a sure interception by Packers defensive back M. D. Jennings. St. Louis struggled to get anything going against Chicago, and exposed further the injured offensive line of the Rams. The Seahawks have won 13 of 14 against St. Louis, including the last three straight. Seattle's strategy is to limit what rookie QB Russell Wilson has to do and let the playmakers drive the offense. That means another 20-30 carries for Marshawn Lynch, who already has 72 through three games and while managing a 4.2 yards per carry average. Ironically, the Rams 21st ranked defense has caused problems for their rushing opponents, stuffing over 12 percent of the runs they face, and managing to prevent 100 rushing yards in two of their three games. Sidney Rice leads the Seahawks with 14 targets and eight catches, but it is Golden Tate who has two touchdowns and 106 yards to lead the passing game where it counts. For the Rams, their running game has been atrocious. The injuries appear to have taken a toll on Steven Jackson, who is eking out just 3.4 yards per carry, and is likely to cede more activity to surprise seventh rounder Daryl Richardson. Richardson was only given four carries last week, because Jeff Fisher's team fell behind and chose to attack Chicago's secondary from the start. The Rams are running the ball only 39 percent of the time and against Seattle won't find life easier. I'd sit Jackson this week because Bradford and company are going to have to throw. Danny Amendola is far and away the leader of this receiving group with 34 targets, but he isn't a guy who can make a whole lot happen. He's got solid hands and decent speed, and makes up for his height and speed deficiencies with precise routes. He'll be worth a play, but Lance Kendricks and Brandon Gibson will have to step up in a huge way to force the secondary to respect the deep ball. Seattle's given up just two scores through the air, both to wide outs, so I'm erring on Gibson getting into the end zone. The St. Louis defense will have to be the difference maker, and unlike last year where they were 31st against aerial assaults, they're ranked 16th this year, having relinquished just two passing TDs themselves. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan has re-invigorated the Rams secondary and they've picked off five passes this season already. I see another turnover in their future, and even with the trouble stopping Lynch, this one comes down to a turnover that the Rams force from the rookie Wilson.

Now that San Francisco QB Alex Smith has throw his first interception in 249 passes, not to mention having the 49ers falling to 1-8 all time against Minnesota in the Twin Cities, will he press? After all, the Jets are without star CB Darrelle Revis for the rest of the season, and the temptation would be to come out throwing against the weak Jets secondary. Along with the Jets 22nd ranked offense, it might make sense to simply launch a fast strike to gain the early advantage. It would be a mistake. The 49ers' schedule makers have given them their second straight road game traveling across the country. The 49ers best weapon is the short passing game with TE Vernon Davis, set up by the inimitable Frank Gore, who was abandoned last week to the team's detriment. The Jets have given up four rushing touchdowns in three games and are yielding a 4.6 average to opposing runners. Gore is averaging 5.4 yards per tally and has two scores. It's a marriage that Jim Harbaugh would be wise to support, and you fantasy players should too. There will be more opportunities for Mario Manningham and Randy Moss with Michael Crabtree drawing the coverage of CB Antonio Cromartie. Smith should have plenty of time to throw, as the Jets have only sacked opponents 2.9 percent of the time, a near league low. Expect a lot from Davis in the middle of the field and a solid game from Manningham. However, Gore should return to form in this game with 100 yards on the ground and at least one touchdown. Mark Sanchez is completing just fifty percent of his passes and 36 percent in the fourth quarter. Several weeks ago, I noted Bilal Powell's numbers and now it seems implausible that Shonn Greene will continue to get the heavy workload the way things are going. Even worse is the fact that Greene, who was supposed to be a solid pass-catching back, has two receptions on the year to Powell's three. Neither is a good play here, and while Santonio Holmes will get some yardage, I expect wide out Jeremy Kerley, who has had two plays for over 40 yards in consecutive games, to have a bigger impact. Wide receiver Stephen Hill is doubtful while TE Dustin Keller's nagging hamstring is making him unlikely for Sunday as well. That leaves Chaz Schilens as the WR3 and TE Jeff Cumberland just to mix things up. San Francisco will control the tempo of this one and return home with a close victory.

49ers 19, JETS 16

Houston is 14-6 all time against Tennessee and lost their last meeting 23-22 on the final week of last season. However, the Texans were already locked for the playoff and rested their starters. A year later, the Texans are 3-0 and have so undoubtedly beaten up the competition that this game looks like a shoe-in for them to move to 4-0. Last week, Texans QB Matt Schaub completed just 17 of his 30 passes, but four of those were for touchdowns. This week he might not even have to throw, as Tennessee gives up 150 yards on the ground weekly, in addition to the 312 yards passing in each contest. On the ground, the Titans give up 4.6 yards per carry, meaning we'll see a huge does of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Foster, though averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, already has three rushing touchdowns, not to mention eight catches for 36 yards and a score. Tate has just 25 carries but has 106 yards rushing. He's managing 4.2 yards per carry average and has two rushing TDs. Both are worthy of starts against Tennessee. The Titans have given up a league worst 51 first downs through the air and 113 points. So expect to see Owen Daniels, now the leading target of this offense, get his yards. Andre Johnson has two scores and 212 yards from scrimmage. He'll likely factor in with a score as well. The Titans will attempt to get RB Chris Johnson out of his funk, and perhaps the return of Javon Ringer help. Ringer is likely to get a good share of looks in his season debut with Johnson averaging 1.4 yards per carry. Jake Locker has done well in completing 64 percent of his passes, but now faces a pass defense that is holding opposing quarterbacks to just over fifty percent completions. Locker can use his feet and will have to so as to avoid Houston's pass rush. Kenny Britt hasn't yet made himself known this season, and this could be a big game for him, especially with TE Jared Cook questionable. If Cook plays, I like for him for a late score, and I like Ringer to get decent PPR numbers. But the Texans are likely to take this one early on. Look for Schaub to throw for about 220 yards and two scores, with Foster adding two more.


This man looks different somehow
Has Arizona QB Kevin Kolb found the Lord? One has to wonder as Kolb seems to be born-again, taking the reins from John Skelton and leading Arizona on a final drive to win versus Seattle.  He followed that up with an efficient game in upsetting the Patriots at New England. In Week Three, Kolb took on the team that traded him and reminded them why that had been a big deal in the first place. In this matchup, where Miami's defense is strong, Arizona is weak. Miami is the third best rushing defense in the league, and the fourth best rushing offense. Arizona can't run the ball at all, and their rushing defense has been a problem. With a healthy Reggie Bush Miami could exploit the Cardinals and take the pressure of their rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. But with Bush's questionable knee, Miami's rushing game slides down a notch. Daniel Thomas will get a chance to prove that last week's 19 rushes for 69 yards and a score was no fluke, and Lamar Miller might see more touches as he is the big play threat on the ground. Arizona's rush defense is yielding a decent numbers of yards at 106 per game, but is giving up just 3.9 yards per carry and hasn't allowed a touchdown on the ground. Both team's passing offenses have floundered, managing under 200 yards per game. Ryan Tannehill has just one passing touchdown, and is completing a rookie-like 52.9% of his throws. One has to wonder if Arizona could control Brady at home just how well Tannehill will do on the road. My guess is not well, and I expect Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Miller to remove the chains more on Kolb and let him unleash Larry Fitzgerald even further against Miami's 25th ranked passing defense. Andre Roberts should also get a share of looks as Arizona's defense will present their offense with plenty of good field position. Running back Beanie Wells is on the IR with turf toe, further bewildering me as to why I thought he'd become less injury prone and become a better back this year. Ryan Williams will get a shot at Miami's tough front seven, though I expect his catches out of the backfield to produce more fruit for your team. Arizona is moving to 4-0 as the Cinderella team of 2012.



The development of Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton has hardly been comparable to the learning curve of Jaguars Blaine Gabbert. Dalton is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, the main beneficiary of which is A. J. Green who has 21 receptions 311 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side, Gabbert is managing 5.9 yards per attempt, completing just fifty percent of his passes and the main beneficiary is Cecil Shorts, who has 154 and two scores, or about the same yardage as Cincinnati's number three receiver Armon Binns. The reason this game isn't so cut and dried is that Cincinnati's defense is one of the worst run-stopping defenses in the league. Yielding a ridiculous 155 yards per game at 5.8 yards per carry, Maurice Jones-Drew, who in their last meeting feasted on them for 85 yards and a TD on just 19 carries, will put up a chair to the table again. Jones-Drew is coming off a 28 rush, 177 yards day against Indianapolis. While Cincinnati's rush defense is bad, Jacksonville is ranked just one rung higher at 30th. They're giving up 154 yards per contest, leaving BenJarvus Green-Ellis almost no excuse if he doesn't find some running room Sunday. Since both teams should be able to run, it will come down to which team can stop their opponent's passing game. Gabbert's game plan will be to somehow get Laurent Robinson back into the swing of things after he disappeared last week in Washington. Unfortunately, the Jaguars should expect this from Robinson, who though he was brought in to be a number one receiver, he's barely a number two for his career. Shorts has shown the ability to stretch the field, but it seems so clear the Mike Mularkey and his crew doesn't yet trust Gabbert that rarely will you see any balls thrown with authority downfield. With Cincinnati's pass rush delivering sacks on 9.6% of all dropbacks, Gabbert will again have to show he can stand tall in the pocket without making any mistakes. The pass rush will force less action from TE Marcedes Lewis who will have to stay at home in the passing game, making him a pass in your starting lineup. Jones-Drew will eat well, but won't taste victory, as Dalton delivers another 275 yard performance and two more touchdowns. Cincinnati wins its third straight against the Jaguars.


No doubt Oakland is on a high after preventing an 0-3 start to their season by beating up the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final two quarters of play last weekend. Carson Palmer's fine day boosted Oakland's passing offense to eighth overall in the NFL and lifted his completion rate to over 62 percent. However, for Denver to win, something they haven't done against the Raiders at home in four years, Palmer isn't their problem. They simply must eliminate RB Darren McFadden from gaining traction. McFadden is Oakland's leading rusher and second leading receiver in terms of yards. He's the leading pass target this year with 27 thrown his way. Last game in Denver he rushed for 150 yards against the Broncos. With Mike Goodson and Brandon Myers questionable and Darius Heyward-Bey out for Sunday's contest, McFadden is likely to play even a larger role. Myers is expected to play, and the only other receivers would be Derek Hagan and Denarius Moore.  Taiwan Jones could finally see some action out of the backfield. He's a Darren Sproles type guy – speedy, small and hard to find. The Denver Broncos come into Sunday's game on the heels of a failed comeback attempt versus Houston. Peyton Manning threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Willis McGahee managed just 36 yards on 11 carries last week, though he's averaged over 5.4 yards per carry against Oakland in his career. Oakland has given up six passing TDs, including three to tight ends. Start Jacob Tamme with comfort. Demaryius Thomas leads Denver in receiving touchdowns, and I like the big, speedy playmaker to have one against the Raiders. The Raiders have just three sacks so far, and the lack of pass rush against Manning will end their winning streak at Mile High. Manning will give you 300 yards passing, and a couple of scores, while Palmer is pressured to move the ball around, but won't be effective. Play McFadden again and you will be rewarded. Other than that, Denver puts this one away rather easily.


Can Aaron Rodgers and the Packers really be floundering this much? Sure, they should be 2-1 after a game was taken away from them on the final play. However, Seattle kept their already inconsistent offense off the field. My take on the Green Bay offense is that they seem to have gotten caught up in making every play a big play. Rodgers is an effective thrower, but the amount of deep passes they've been making has short-changed a bunch of their drives in the name of trying to win games instantaneously. Against this worst ranked New Orleans defense, they might actually be able to do that, but it will pay to be methodical, as New Orleans still sports the tenth best offense in the NFL. The better news for the Packers is that New Orleans can't run worth a lick and the Packers have the best pass defense in the league right now. However the teams have similar problems on offense. Saints QB Drew Brees needs time to throw, if for no other reason than he gives up a few inches in height and can't see as well with pass rushers in his face. Now he faces a Green Bay defense that has 12 sacks already. Aaron Rodgers needs protection to find his outside deep threats and he's being sacked 12 percent of the time. Both Green Bay and New Orleans are likely to give their running game's a shot to alleviate some of that problem. Cedric Benson should find good ground against the Saints 32nd ranked rush defense, and he's good for 75-85 rushing yards, and another 20 or so receiving. However, the red zone is still an area I expect John Kuhn to get his shots in, limiting Benson's value. The Saints backfield is a mess, with Pierre Thomas being their most reliable all-around back. However, seeing how Golden Tate's speed was a problem for the Packers, expect RB Darren Sproles to have an active role. Jimmy Graham has great value here as he is as consistent as they come and Green Bay has given up two of their five TDs to tight ends. In this one, Rodgers finally gets some decent protection, meaning Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson finally deliver on some fantasy promise. Devery Henderson has been a thorn in prior meetings, and I don't doubt Brees will take a shot at him in this one. There should be a good number of fireworks, but in the end, the Packers defense will be the difference.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ranked first against the run and worst against the pass, a dichotomy that has their defense ranked 26th overall. Offenses are only running 26 percent of the time against them though, and the offenses they have faced: the Panthers, Giants and Cowboys, are pass heavy teams, so it's hard to measure if Tampa is that good, or they have simply face bad rushing teams. Enter Washington, a semi-clone of Carolina, with a quarterback in Robert Griffin III who may be the best athlete on the field at any given time; then add to that newly discovered Alfred Morris, averaging 4.3 yards per tote while adding three rushing touchdowns. Washington's best receiver, Pierre Garcon, is questionable with a foot injury, leaving Leonard Hankerson's star to continue to rise. He had seven targets last week, bringing his total the last two games to 10. Washington's defense, now ranked 30th, is pretty banged up, and Griffin knows they're going to put up a decent amount of points to win. Josh Freeman, who had a horrible day in Dallas, has a shot to redeem himself. He's still committing turnovers far too frequently, while still searching for a consistent target. Vincent Jackson is a big play receiver. However, the frequency with which he catches the ball is low (27 targets, just 10 catches). Mike Williams has struggled getting open and is not consistent enough for Freeman on a weekly basis. Greg Schiano's team hasn't used the tight end much, though it might behoove him to here as tight ends have scored in every game against the Redskins. Dallas Clark should be set free this game and could provide a good sleeper play for the week. Freeman with have to throw, as RB Doug Martin this week will struggle again. He struggled with a 2.8 yards per carry against Dallas and Washington is allowing just 92 rushing yards per game. Griffin has had three very solid games, and he'll be another solid fantasy play, but with the Redskins defense such a mess right now, Freeman will do just enough with the combination of Clark and Jackson to win at home.



Reid  has a tough decision coming
Is this Michael Vick's last stand? The Eagles have committed a league high 12 turnovers and Vick is responsible for nine of them. All of it points to something an analyst said early on this year that I thought was spot on. Vick's not a very good anticipator. He's reactionary. Vick has shown time and again he misreads defenses (see Arizona's red zone safety blitz that resulted in a touchdown the other way last weekend). Now he'll face the unrelenting pass rush of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul that hasn't really gotten out of the gate yet.  And while the local Philly journalists see the Eagles receiver matching up to the Giants equally, I don't quite see it that way. First Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and now Ramses Barden make for a heck of a more consistent group that Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant. Second, their quarterbacks who get them the ball couldn't be more different. Eli Manning has proven time and again he's a clutch thrower. He's completing 66% of his passes, 62.5% in the fourth quarter, and over 80 percent on third down and less than three yards. The Giants biggest problem is that they aren't a sustained drive kind of team. They have quick strike ability from anywhere on the field, and even against the much better defense of the Eagles, Manning has shown he's not afraid to take a chance on a big play. In last year's matchup, Manning tossed four touchdowns on 16-of-23 passing, and the Giants defeated Philly at home 29-16. The Giants must pressure Vick more to win, something they've done repeatedly in the past. For the Eagles, LeSean McCoy has had the Giants number and is still the Eagles best weapon. Maclin returns this game, and he's Vick's most reliable receiver besides TE Brent Celek. He's fared well against the Giants, and should be in your lineup Sunday. However, Vick has never beaten the Giants since joining the Eagles (it was Vince Young who did), and he'll have to use his legs and protect the football to do it in primetime. I don't see it happening, and QB Nick Foles may make his first appearance.



This Monday night matchup pits two teams with beleaguered quarterbacks trying to find an identity. The Bears are 9-13 all time against the Cowboys, though the teams have split the last four with the Bears winning their last game in Dallas 27-20 behind three touchdown passes by Jay Cutler. Yet the Bears haven't been themselves since they lost RB Matt Forte.  Michael Bush has done an admirable job filling in, just like he did in Oakland. The problem is he just doesn't give you that big play credibility that Forte does. For receivers, the Bears bring in a much upgraded unit, led by Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery. Where the Bears struggle begins with Cutler and ends with the offensive line. Cutler's completing just 52 percent of his passes and has been sacked 12 times. He's thrown six interceptions versus three touchdowns, and his happy feet in the pocket often cause him to take chances with his throws. Dallas has a bevy of weapons, none of which have been really working for them except WR Miles Austin. Supposed future star Dez Bryant has 13 catches for 164 yards but hasn't scored. Veteran TE Jason Witten is still fighting to get back his health after having his spleen bruised, and he has just 8 receptions on 21 targets. Lastly, Jason Garrett can't seem to figure out just how often he wants to use DeMarco Murray. In their opener against the Giants, Murray carried 20 times for well over 100 yards. Week Two saw just 12 carries for Murray as they abandoned the run when Seattle opened up their lead. Last week, Murray ran 18 times in their victory over Tampa Bay. Felix Jones has just two carries on the year, so Dallas isn't resting Murray much either. And while I think Chicago's defense will stuff Murray multiple times making him a tough play here, QB Tony Romo will have opportunities with his 13th ranked passing offense to pick apart the Bears secondary. I like Austin to have a big game against Chicago, tallying near 100 yards and a touchdown. Jason Witten will also factor in. For the Bears, Kellen Davis will likely have to stay at home, as Cutler's porous offensive front struggles to keep DeMarcus Ware out of his periphery. Bush will factor for about 50 yards only, and Cutler will spend the night running.


Friday, September 28, 2012



The zebras came bounding down, eager to return to their natural habitat. Sounds like something out of a National Geographic special, but in this case you know I'm speaking about the NFL officials, who for the first time were cheered for the job they do. Heck, most were probably happy to see a game finish in less than four hours so that DVRs could finish the job recording it. Those who write and prognosticate football games know it's anything but an exact science. In this case, it's clear the true NFL officials were following my blog, because they apparently liked my script for this game and made it happen. The Browns showed up in a big way, holding Ray Rice scoreless and to less than 100 all-purpose yards while keeping him out of the end zone. Joe Flacco found that the way into the end zone was through the air, though he did score the first rushing TD against Cleveland's defense this year. Imagine if the Browns had CB Joe Haden, who has to be kicking himself for getting suspended for weeks 2-5. This Browns team, though 0-4 this season, is on the rise. We watched rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden stand tall in the pocket, and lead long sustained drives, despite starting with horrible field position all night long. Much like Minnesota, the Browns are in need of someone who can catch. Any time you see a box score that involves a receiver getting 10 targets and only four catches, you can surmise that either the QB has big accuracy issues, or the receivers just aren't great at catching the ball. While Weeden still occasionally misfires, his top receiver Greg Little may have the size and ability, but just doesn't have the hands. He dropped a few more passes, bringing his tally to at least 11 this year. Mohamed Massaquoi missed the game, but no one in Cleveland can be sure which M&M will show up. For all the pressure and lack of receivers, Weeden was sacked just once, and engineered drives of 94 yards, 53 yards and 48 yards. He also led the Browns on a possible game-tying drive from his own 10 yard line to the Ravens 33. However, his final pass had way too much gusto, the sign of rookie over-eagerness perhaps, and the Browns fell just short. The Ravens biggest concern was they were held to just three offensively-generated points in the second half, while Flacco's completion percentage in the clutch time of the fourth quarter is 57.9%, excluding last night's tally which saw Flacco complete three of six passes. Torrey Smith found the end zone for his second straight game, and even though Anquan Boldin led the way, Smith is slowly beginning to flourish in Cam Cameron's offense. New guy to start monitoring is RB Bernard Pierce, who while spelling Rice, rushed eight times for 48 yards. He's Rice's handcuff for sure, and showings like this might give him a few more touches per week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012



The Ravens and Browns get the benefit of three whole days rest (he wrote with sarcasm) before clashing in a key early AFC North matchup. For the 0-3 Browns, this is their second division foe in three weeks, and Pat Shurmur knows that if the Browns are even dreaming of a Wild Card spot, things have to change now. The Ravens survived a physical test at home, and it's still questionable whether the field goal as time ran out was indeed good. However, in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, the Ravens are 8-0 against the Browns. On a regular Sunday game, that record would like go to 9-0. However, the short week, the added travel, a division matchup and Joe Flacco's history against

Ray Rice has been the Browns nemesis
Cleveland from a year ago make this one a lot closer than some might think. While the Ravens defeated Cleveland in both games last year by a combined 44-24, the Ravens passing game managed just 158 yards at Cleveland Browns stadium and zero touchdowns.  In Baltimore it wasn't much better, 11-of-24 132 2/1.  The loss of CB Joe Haden will hurt Cleveland here, and his fill-in, Dimitri Patterson, will have to do better, because the way to the end zone against the Browns has been through the air. The Browns have yet to give up a rushing touchdown in 2012. The Browns will attempt to keep it that way, as Ray Rice is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns. He has eaten Cleveland and last year tallied 291 rushing yards, 58 more receiving yards and a rushing and receiving touchdown in 2011. Cleveland's front seven led by tackling machine D'Qwell Jackson and rookie Craig Robertson will be tasked with making sure Rice doesn't beat them. With this young defense giving up 122 yards on the ground, they'll hope Rice is tired. I expect Rice to deliver another solid performance. On the flip side, Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden will have to limit mistakes and feed Trent Richardson the ball to keep Baltimore's pass rush at bay. Richardson's still recovering from his knee surgery, which has shown in his somewhat uneven play. He's averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and with Baltimore yielding 111 yards per game, he seems like a solid play. However, the play is high risk, as three days of rest (if that) could make his balky knee slow him down. I'm taking that gamble on opportunity alone that I believe will result in a touchdown plunge. Mohamed Massaquoi has been ruled out for this game, making Weeden's job that much harder. Greg Little will get a load of opportunities to make his presence known on national television, and he'll do so against Baltimore's 28th ranked pass defense. Baltimore CB Lardarius Webb is fighting through a knee issue, and was picked apart by the New England receivers. Look for more work for rookies Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon on short routes to try to take advantage. Unfortunately for Cleveland, their offense is reliant on the rookies, and with a wily veteran like safety Ed Reed trolling the middle of the field, Weeden will find himself overmatched. However, on a short week, I'm taking Cleveland and the 12 points.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL WEEK 3 – T&R (thoughts & revelations)

Icing the kicker – it may be one of my greatest pet peeves of football.  Sunday may have been a case study in why or why not to do such a thing.  The idea behind this exercise in psychology is to call a last second time out just as the opposing team is about to snap the ball for a winning field goal try.  Joe Philbin did just that and cost his Dolphins a chance at winning the game.  Just as Philbin told the referee to call timeout, the Jets snapped the ball, and the Dolphins promptly blocked Nick Folk’s attempt. 

Picture courtesy of the Miami Herald
owever the timeout was honored, the Jets reset, and Folk split the uprights.  Game over.   Just about seven hours later, Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker lined up for a 27-yard attempt against New England.  Bill Belichick called timeout as Tucker split the uprights.  So they lined up and re-kicked.  And he missed…..made it.  Or did he?  The kick appeared to sail just over the right upright, and the play was oddly enough ruled unreviewable.  Regardless, icing the kicker is one of those things that wastes time.  These guys are professional athletes, and I would bet that for the one time this timeout forces the kicker to get into his own head enough to shank a field goal, there are 95 others where it has no affect, and those four other times, the coach hurts his own cause.  If the only thing a coach can do to affect the outcome is call timeout to enact some mental curse on a kicker, then he hasn’t done his job for the day.
At one point, the color announcer for the game stated that Frank Gore needed more carries.  Fantasy players screamed Gore needed more carries.  One can imagine Gore himself in the huddle hearing the play calls and saying, “is coach seeing the game I’m having?”  The holes were large and if they weren’t there, Gore created them by running over people.  The resurgent Frank Gore kept running to a 5.1 yards per carry average, yet he was given just 12 carries.  Meanwhile, Alex Smith was given 35 attempts, and though he didn’t play badly, he was unable to lead his team back to victory.  Perhaps it was the speed of the game, for this one was played at a breakneck playoff pace.  From the opening drive, the Vikings came out and punched San Francisco in the mouth.  That may have stunned Jim Harbaugh, who for the first time in recent memory got out-coached, and the Vikings won their fifth straight over the 49ers at the Dome.  The 49ers shut down Adrian Peterson and kept him from breaking tackles.  In fact, the 49ers might be the best tackling defense in the NFC.  However, this was a game to note for Christian Ponder, who in last week’s T&R I mentioned was now worth owning in fantasy.  This game may have been his coming out game that puts the league on notice.  Ponder is fast, and deceptively so, as the 49ers found out in the middle of the second quarter when a pass play broke down and Ponder tucked the ball and 23-yards later dove into the end zone, scoring the first rushing touchdown of the year against San Francisco.  While he didn’t average fantastic yards per attempt by any means, he played within himself, didn't turn the ball over (though he did get away with one Donte Whitner dropped), and made due with his limited arsenal of weapons.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was some experts sleeper picks at the position (not necessarily mine) still isn’t tallying big yardage totals, but two red zone touchdowns, including a fourth and one reception in the back of the end zone should put him on your radar.  Perhaps the most disappointing day of all was had by WR Randy Moss, who had only two receptions on his six targets.  He dropped one, and was missed for a touchdown on another.  With Erin Henderson out with a concussion, LB Jasper Brinkley filled in admirably for Minnesota's leading tackler registering four tackles and a hit on Alex Smith.

The Bears defense proved again they're at the heart and soul of this team, snuffing out any decent field position the Rams got from Chicago's offensive inefficiency.  Jay Cutler was better, but his footwork mechanics are sloppy.  He's jumpy in the pocket, and way too often throws off his back foot.  He's a terrific athlete, whereby he can even make some of those throws, and can even scramble as he showed in the fourth quarter when he scampered for 21 yards.  But the problem with Cutler hasn't changed much.  Besides his porous offensive protection, Cutler insists on relying on his athletic talents rather than using them in cohesion with good footwork and mechanics.  The result is a game like this, where he should have had better numbers.  It's my take on why he's an average quarterback, and may never be an elite QB in the pros.  The Bears did attempt to get Devin Hester involved in this game, and he found himself wide open in the end zone, only to mistime his jump on Cutler's corner throw.  Cutler again threw it off his back foot, but it was accurate enough.  Lastly, it's hard to blame Ram's QB Sam Bradford for being unable to get the Rams in the end zone.  The Bears secondary, led Sunday by Tim Jennings, easily handled the St. Louis receiving corps.  At least two of the Bears six sacks were caused by the secondary.  St. Louis has a great possession receiver in Danny Amendola, but they have no ability to stretch the field, and it's going to hurt them in all phases, particularly the running game.  Steven Jackson had just 11 carries, making a total of just 20 in the past two games, partly because of a hurt groin.  Yet, Daryl Richardson had only four carries, so it wasn't only about Jackson's injury.  St. Louis is desperate for someone that can threaten a secondary deep.

Just when things looked like they were turning up for C.J. Spiller, the worries about his size reared their ugly head.  Spiller sprained his AC joint and is likely to miss 2-3 weeks.  Luckily enough for Buffalo, Fred Jackson is expected to return this weekend, in what can only be deemed yet another shockingly quick recovery this year for an athlete with a knee injury.  Cleveland sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first time all season Sunday, the first time they’ve had less than two sacks all season.  Though he had a subpar rushing day, Trent Richardson caught six passes for 24 yards and still found the end zone.   Mohamed Massaquoi, who tallied his third highest  yardage tally of his career last week, sloughed back into his fantasy void, with just one reception.  Greg Little also disappeared in this game, which didn’t help Cleveland’s bid to come from behind.  The Browns are 0-3 for the second time in the last three seasons.  Cleveland has little time to regroup as they’ll head to Baltimore for a game this Thursday.

Doug Martin got another 19 carries, and his yards per carry was just 2.8.  LeGarrette Blount got just four carries for 19 yards.  Neither was productive, and neither is going to get moving when their quarterback  only manages 110 yards passing for the game.  That’s the kind of yardage Aaron Rodgers used to make when he sneezed.  Vincent Jackson had one catch.  Mike Williams had two.  They threw to Dallas Clark just once.  The Bucs offense was three of 15 on third down.  That was the good news.  Freeman averaged just three crummy yards per toss.  Perhaps the best news for the Cowboys was the Miles Austin and Dez Bryant finally held their respective places as the top two Dallas receivers.  Tony Romo forced a few throws that he probably shouldn’t have, but I’d prefer a quarterback who occasionally pushes the envelope then simply checks down to the most easily identifiable target.  This was a sloppy game.

Ghosts of last year returned as the Colts took a 14-3 lead into halftime and again their defense let them down.  With under a minute to play, Cecil Shorts took a mid-range post pattern the distance, and in one play added more than half to Blain Gabbert’s total passing yards.  The throw turned out to be a greatly timed one, though it originally looked like it barely had enough mustard to be intercepted.  Maurice Jones-Drew rounds out the top five in fantasy backs with a stellar week of 177 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, and 16 more receiving yards.    While T.Y. Hilton caught his first career touchdown pass and ended up with over 100 yards receiving, it was again Reggie Wayne with eight receptions and 88 yards.  That’s now three straight contests with six or more catches from Wayne and no less than 70 yards.  With Andrew Luck continuing  to show he’s the real deal at quarterback and with the fact Wayne has missed just three games in his entire career (his rookie season) his fantasy value is solid.  Those that picked up Donnie Avery were none too pleased to see Hilton strolling into the end zone.  Yet Avery has never been a consistent every week guy, and he should be approached as a riskier play week to week.  Perhaps the biggest dud so far on the Colts offense is Donald Brown, who caught his first pass this past week.  At least it went for 39 yards, but remember, Bruce Arians offensive scheme is geared to attack downfield.  Brown will continue to get his share of carries, but those that invested in him for PPR purposes might consider trading, using the idea his targets will increase.  I remain dubious.  By the way, Austin Collie was lost again for the year.  That means T.Y. Hilton's value could rise quite a bit as the year progresses.

The consistency of the New York Jets offense is startling, and not in a good way.  Shonn Greene continues to be a runner who can barely scrape over three yards per carry.  Bilal Powell outrushed him again and on less carries.  Powell may end up being the Jets runner to get now.  My guess is the coaches are going to give him more and more looks so long as he keeps the ball secure.  Santonio Holmes cracked 100 yards receiving, something he hasn’t done since November of 2010.  However, the wheels might be coming off the Jets defense as Darrelle Revis was lost for the year after tearing the ACL in his left knee.  

This is not an injury the Jets defense can afford
The Jets defense is already ranked 28th in rush defense.  Removing Revis from the pass defense is likely to put that 10th ranked unit into decline as well.  Miami lost Reggie Bush to a knee injury though there was no structural damage, so they're hoping he'll return this weekend.  However, his loss was Daniel Thomas’ owners gains.  The running back that made Joe Philbin ‘queasy’ on HARD KNOCKS scored his first rushing TD of the year, and added 80 all-purpose yards.  Wide receiver Brian Hartline sunk back to mediocrity, a factor that may be less about him and more about this offense.  However, this is just another case where Hartline was highlighted for fantasy players with a big blinking neon sign that says ‘Bye Week Play.’

Welcome to the rail elimination pool players.  My bet is a good majority looked at this week at thought this was a perfect game to key on.  New Orleans led 24-6, but as a lot of high-powered offenses are finding out this year, without a running game, it’s hard to keep control of the ball.  The Saints didn’t score the rest of the game, and didn’t manage a single second half drive of more than five plays.  Jamaal Charles tore apart a Saints defense that couldn’t stop a three-legged sloth with fumble problems.  As of now, the Saints defense is yielding over 477 yards per game.  Who knows if it’s focus from everything that went down in the off-season, or if Steve Spagnuolo is trying to make square pegs fit in round holes.  Whatever the reason, this defense is beyond porous, and Drew Brees is finding out he can’t simply throw his way to victory this year.  Jimmy Graham caught his third touchdown in as many games, though the Chiefs did a fantastic job keeping him in check, and held the entire Saints offense to just two catches in the middle of the field.  It is important to note that for the first time all year Darren Sproles led all rushers.  This simply muddies any picture fantasy owners are trying to paint when it comes to the Saints rushing attack. Mark Ingram, the Saints first round pick just a year ago has virtually disappeared.

In a year where most of us expected to be talking about Matthew Stafford, Stafford has been struggling.  On top of his struggles, he left this game before the comeback that Steve Sabol might have dubbed the Comeback Miracle in Music Town
.  Shaun Hill, who is now solid waiver wire fodder for those of you heading into the bye weeks with little QB depth, tossed two miraculous touchdowns in the final two minutes forcing an improbable overtime, made even more improbable by a fourth down QB sneak that Jim Schwartz says was never supposed to happen.  Of course, by Jim Schwartz saying that he is throwing his center and backup quarterback under the bus.  And this writer finds it very hard to believe that backup QB Hill decided at the line of scrimmage to suddenly tap his center on the back, signaling a snap if he was told not to.  If it had been Stafford that have done it, maybe I buy it.  But this looks like Schwartz protecting himself from what might was an incredibly risky, winner-take-all call.  It failed, and Schwartz should own up to it, not blame someone else.  I think it’s clear that Mikel LeShoure is going to be the lead runner in Detroit, if not right away, in the very near future. The second year man recorded his first 100-yard rushing game, and added four receptions and touchdown.  Keep an eye on Stafford’s status, but this is one case where Calvin Johnson’s value won’t suffer if Hill becomes the quarterback.  Hill is a veteran journeyman, and he’s purely capable of putting up good numbers.  He’s a career 62 percent passer with 41 touchdowns against 23 interceptions.  Detroit CB Chris Houston returned for his first game of the year, but it didn’t help much.  For Tennessee, there’s no doubt Jake Locker can appreciate the return of big play threat Kenny Britt, if for no other reason than he takes the heat off of smaller burners like Nate Washington, affording them single coverage for a 71-yard touchdown later in the game.  The other hope is that it further helps to open up the running game, because no one has fallen as far and as fast as Chris Johnson has.  Fourteen carries, one catch, and a total of 29 yards.  Jared Cook caught his first touchdown of the year and amassed 77 receiving yards.  Is this the start of his breakout campaign?  This may not be the time to pose that questions, as Tennessee heads to Reliant Stadium next week to face the Texans and their second best overall defense.

It wasn't his best game, but give Robert Griffin III his credit as well as the Redskin's defense for erasing a 24-7 as lead as they approached halftime.  The Redskins scored 17 unanswered points and tied the game by the fourth quarter.  It wasn’t his prettiest game, but he threw one touchdown, ran for another, and didn’t have an interception (though did lost a fumble).  Roy Helu has seemingly been removed from the running game and is now solely a PPR specialist for any team.  He had three catches on three targets for 20 yards.  He hasn’t had a carry the last two games, and for the season has two rushes total.  Leonard Hankerson had another solid game of four catches on seven targets for 46 yards.  He appears to be on his way up the depth chart.  As for the Bengals, they may have one of the most complete and exciting wide receiver groups of the last few years, and the majority of them have played less than two years.  Rookie Mohamed Sanu threw the game’s opening touchdown to second year man A.J. Green.  Andrew Hawkins, in his second year, had two grabs but turned that into 66 yards.  Rookie Armon Binns showed his speed on a 48-yard touchdown run.  Marvin Lewis may have the next greatest show of turf developing in front of him, and with Jay Gruden at the helm, we could be witnessing the birth of something very exciting in Cincinnati.  And in fantasy, I think QB Andy Dalton’s stock is very quickly on the rise.

People were already talking about how big the Cardinals win over Seattle appeared after the Seahawks disposed of Dallas, but now that they’ve toppled Green Bay (albeit doubtfully), the Cardinals look like a favorite to win the NFC West.  The problem the Cardinals still have is that the quarterback position is still undefined for Ken Whisnehunt. I mean, can any of us legitimately say that we are certain John Skelton won’t be under center in the near future?  Though QB Kevin Kolb looked like the player Arizona traded to get over a year ago, we know he has been brittle and has lacked a certain fire since he came to Arizona.  For that reason alone, you can invest a waiver wire pick if you want depth, but I’d tread cautiously even though I liked what I saw.  Running back Ryan Williams got himself back in his coach’s good graces with a 13 rush, 83 yard tally.  As for the Eagles, Michael Vick certainly is turning heads and it isn’t because he’s doing anything right.  The fumble that went for a touchdown was simply another case of Vick not reading the possibility of a safety blitz.  Philadelphia fans can at least thank Andy Reid and company for having the foresight to draft a quarterback this year in Nick Foles.  Whether or not he’s ready or able to do the job against first string units remains to be seen, but his chance is coming soon.  Rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson led all Eagles receivers on the day filling in for the injured Jeremy Maclin.   When Maclin returns he’ll be relegated to slot duties and passing down situations, so monitor how he’s to be employed once Maclin returns.

It wasn't too long ago in Steelers history that Ben Roethlisberger made it clear he wanted the new offense under Bruce Arians to become a more passer-friendly attack.  Now under Todd Haley, the Steelers offense resembles nothing of what it was even four years ago, and the team is steadily declining.  Roethlisberger has the distinction of being the Pittsburgh quarterback who has the most games of 300 or more passing yards under his belt with 21.  And his record in those 21 games of passing brilliance: 12-9.  That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for throwing as often as the Steelers do.  Simply put, the Steelers waltzed into Oakland and looked as if they assumed the game was theirs.  They didn't lay a paw on Raiders QB Carson Palmer, who tore them apart in the second half.  And as I alluded to in the preview, the Steelers could be hurt on the ground.  Darren McFadden became just the fifth runner to post 100 yards or more against the Steelers in the last five seasons.  The best news is that if you're the owner of Roethlisberger in fantasy, you can truly say he has arrived.  Even with RB Rashard Mendenhall likely to make his first appearance after the bye week in Week Four, this offensive line won't make things easier for the ground game.  Mike Wallace's value is also solidly intact.  The truth is, the Steelers just aren't very good right now.  As for fantasy owners of McFadden, his game was a deep sigh of relief.  I still don't love Palmer overall, because I think the lack of multiple sacks on Palmer, a QB who had gone down 10 times in the first two weeks, was more a factor of the Steelers problematic pass rush. 

The game did come down to Matt Schaub and he delivered in a big way, tossing four touchdown passes to four different receivers.  Schaub owners shouldn't get too excited though.  This is still a rush first offense, designed around the talents of RB Arian Foster and his protégé Ben Tate.  Before Sunday, Schaub had one touchdown pass in his first two games, and while I'd expect the passing offense to gain more traction as the season wears on, you may find Schaub's attempts in the red zone will be limited with such a ground arsenal.  For Denver, Eric Decker posted just his second 100-yard performance, and I expect him to get more involved in moving the chains.  If you remember how much Peyton Manning used Austin Collie prior to Collie's concussion problems, this could be Decker; not a lot of touchdowns, but good yardage and decent PPR value.  Willis McGahee suffered a rib injury, which for anyone who owns him is a relief, because as long as it doesn't involve his knees, there's a chance he'll return quickly.  You can consider picking up Brandon Stokley in deep leagues for a WR3.  Stokley's receptions have increased each game, peaking with his six catch, 73 yard and a touchdown performance Sunday.  Keep in mind Stokley is 36, and that could be a factor as we reach the season's end in terms of fatigue.

I think it's become clear that the Atlanta Falcons defense is for real, but it doesn't help when you're leading sack artist gets into trouble with the law.  John Abraham for some reason would not leave the scene where there was a reported jumper threatening to leap off a roof.  He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of obstruction of justice.  Don't know if Abraham wanted to play hero, but he certainly has been an important part of a Falcons ranked eighth against the pass, and fourth in points allowed.  Thomas Decoud has three interceptions in three games, and Atlanta leagues the league with seven already; it's no surprise they're a plus-10 in the give/take this season.  Matt Ryan, one of my pre-season favorite quarterbacks to wait on while drafting the rest of you team, has had a terrific start, with eight touchdowns and one interception.  He's also completing 72 percent of his passes, in large part due to the consistency of TE Tony Gonzalez, who has caught 21 or 28 passes thrown his way.  San Diego we knew was in trouble when they couldn't convert against Oakland in a second half where their average field position began in Oakland territory.  Ryan Mathews had a little rust in his return, fumbling away a ball, but he did average 4.4 yards per carry.  Jackie Battle may see more carries in the near term, though I don't feel like he's a long term answer, based on how many years he's had opportunities and failed to excel.  Last year he had his career high tally of 149 carries, but barely scraped four yards per touch.  The question that remains to be answered is was that Battle or a lousy Chiefs line.  Mathews will get more and more carries as his health returns, and will become a bigger part of the passing attack, especially with Robert Meachem adding little so far.

I don’t think anyone watching this game came out of it without a slightly sick feeling in their stomach.  We know both of these teams are for real and are going to be around when the big dance rolls around.  However, it is important to note that unless you are in a league that award six points for a passing touchdown, Tom Brady has yet to give you 20 fantasy points.  He has yet to be ranked in the top ten, much less the top five.  He gets the Bills next, a team he is 18-2 against all time, and has thrown 46 TDs against 17 interceptions.  Meanwhile, Torrey Smith had an inspirational game, deciding to play the day his brother died in a tragic motorcycle accident.  He had just six receptions but for 127 yards and two touchdowns.  I don’t mean to be insensitive or downplay what Smith did, but why did it take a tragedy like this for him to step up and do what he’s been capable of all year long?  Prior to the game, Smith had 108 yards and four receptions for the season.  By the way, Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta  has been in the top ten tight ends two of three weeks, and hasn’t had less than 50 yards receiving in a week.  He’s the seventh best fantasy tight end overall.


Mike McCarthy made fantastic 2nd half adjustments
I haven’t been one to pick on the refereeing this season.  It is simply one of those exercises in futility as each team has had to deal with the league’s impertinence in being willing to work with the professional referees.  However, this game may have been one of the worst officiated games ever.  Forget about all the ridiculous pass interference calls that were and weren’t called.  The final play of the game was not only called wrong, but was then upheld wrong.  It so upset Jon Gruden, that he actually stated Green Bay shouldn’t have to fly 6,000 miles home on such a bad call.  Problem is the entire contiguous United States is only 3,000 miles.   Nevertheless, you can’t take away from Seattle their eight first half sacks, holding Aaron Rodgers to under 100 yards passing in the first half, to zero points in the first half, and the list goes on.  Seattle’s front four have put the NFC West on notice, and strangely enough with the Arizona at 3-0, the Western division may be the strongest division in the NFC.  However, head coach Mike McCarthy gave us all a demonstration of second half adjustments.  He gave up the deep passing game altogether.  He put Aaron Rodgers under center and ran Cedric Benson repeatedly.  Benson, who had two carries in the first half.  He finished the game with 17, and a combined 64 yards and a touchdown.
  That may be the lone highlight for Green Bay in this mess; they’ve found a running back for the near future.  Fantasy players ready to panic on Aaron Rodgers might have reason to, but only if next week goes as badly.  So far, the Packers have played three top ten defenses in the first three weeks.   Russell Wilson managed a pretty awful 10 completions in 21 attempts, and got the benefit of a roughing the passer call that nullified an interception. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012



Reggie Bush looked like a new man in 2011
Football is more than simply a numbers game.  Sure, for skills players carries and targets equal opportunity and yards after a carry or reception create a value for such opportunity.  The statistic does bear some weight.

If Andre Johnson gets 11 targets one week, that's 11 opportunities to make plays.  However, if he catches only three of them and gains just 17 yards, well, how are we going to judge that?  For comparison, say Dwayne Bowe receives seven targets, but catches all seven, two of which were for touchdowns, now we have a measurable problem.  Statistically, Bowe was a much better receiver that week.  But is he a better receiver to own from a fantasy standpoint overall?  We can look at the past overall numbers and say with pretty good certainty, no, he's not.  But numbers don't tell us everything.  Many times, it is simply about watching a game and seeing what a player is capable of.  Because a lot of times, by the time someone of the expert ilk tells you to go pick up Danny Amendola, well duh, he's gone.  After all, how many fantasy footballers missed his 15 catch, 160 yard game Amendola put up last week? The key was to get Amendola after Week One or even late in your draft.  Another case is that of Reggie Bush.  Many pundits simply relied on the numbers to call Bush’s 2011 season an anomaly.  After all, he had been in the league five years, had never carried more than 160 times in a season, had injury issues, and averaged 3.98 yards per carry up until 2011.  However, if you had kept an eye on Bush last year, you realized something was different.  He no longer danced at the line of scrimmage.  He had bulked a bit.  He was hitting the hole hard and fast, and taking on contact.  This was a completely different runner, and you need to know so prior to drafting 2012. 

All of us try to make our arguments cohesive using numbers to bolster our argument.  However, it can't be all about numbers and the analysis below uses a heavy dose of both.


ff Fisher’s team heads to Chicago, already vastly improved from a season before.  For one thing, they’re 1-1, when last year their first win didn’t come until the last week of October when they shocked the New Orleans Saints.  This week they’ll come up against a well-rested Bears team that is recovering from what could only be called a sloppy performance last Thursday evening in Green Bay.  The Bears have won the last three meetings between these two teams and are 4-1 in games after which QB Jay Cutler throws two or more interceptions.  At present, the teams are mirror opposites.  The Rams are ranked 24th defensively, as is their pass defense, but have four interceptions.  They’re giving up nearly 5.5 yards per carry against opposing rushers, and are allowing a third down conversion rate of just over 36 percent.  The Bears are likely without Matt Forte again, who did not practice Thursday.  They re-signed RB Khalil Bell to bolster their group, but you can expect Michael Bush to have good value in this game.  However, for the Bears offense, this game is about Cutler and his offensive line, the group he was seen barking at regularly on national television a week ago.  The line is giving up sacks at a rate of 12% on passing attempts, second worst only to the Bengals.  It’ll be up to this group to protect Cutler so he can find his number one target, Brandon Marshall and keep the chains moving.  St. Louis QB Sam Bradford has been playing turnover-free ball but may have to shoulder more of the burden as the Bears pass defense is their weakest element, ranked 26th overall.  Danny Amendola comes off a monster game against the Redskins, and they’ll be moving him around all day to try to exploit the right matchups.  Brandon Gibson leads all Rams wide receivers with two scores, but he may not figure considering the Rams success has come a short passing game that requires Bradford spend less time in the pocket with the football.  With RB Steven Jackson’s sore groin, even if he plays you can expect less carries  from him and more from Daryl Richardson, who was having a fine day last Sunday until his ill-timed fumble.  That fumble may also produce some opportunities for Isaiah Pead, making the RB situation messy.  Start Cutler, who will rebound as he normally does after a turnover-laden game.  He’ll attack using Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who’ll be good for a short TD throw.  However, it’s more likely they use Devin Hester or Earl Bennett, with Hester being set up in space to make a play.  The St. Louis line, which is fighting through some injuries, will have a hard time keep this Chicago defense (with 8 sacks already) from registering a few more.



C.J. Spiller takes his league-leading rushing tally into Cleveland where the Browns are ranked 15th against the run, giving up 115 yards per contest.  Spiller will have ample opportunity here, as the Browns sport a young and opportunistic secondary, and in their last three meetings with the Browns, no Bills wide receiver has scored a touchdown except David Nelson in last year's 13-6 win.  Nelson’s out for the season, making QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s weapons even more limited.  Stevie Johnson is Fitzpatrick’s go-to receiver, but out of his 15 targets, he’s managed only six catches.  His speed is still a factor, as the Browns were unable to take away Cincinnati’s big weapons fully.  He’s a good play this week for 80 yards and a score.  However, for the Bills to win, Donald Jones has to step up to keep the Browns secondary from just stacking the box to stop Spiller.  The Browns haven’t exactly been scoring machines against Buffalo either.  In their last three meetings, kicker Phil Dawson has nine field goals, and already the Browns are worst in red zone efficiency making Dawson a strong play.  Browns QB Brandon Weeden comes off a strong 322-yard, two touchdown performance against the Bengals, but shouldn’t be forced to do more than is necessary here.  Trent Richardson has an ideal matchup as the Bills 24th ranked rushing defense is giving up 134 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.  Brad Childress knows how to use stud running backs, and Richardson should see no less than 25 carries.  Richardson should have an easy 100 yards on the ground, and the Cleveland defense should be able to force the turnover-prone Fitzpatrick (18 INTS on the road dating back to last year) into a mistake or two.


The Buccaneers have lost their last four meeting with the Cowboys and have won just once on Dallas’ home turf.  However, this will be their first journey to Cowboys Stadium.  Tony Romo is 31-19 lifetime and 3-0 against Tampa Bay.  His offense welcomes the 31st ranked defense giving up 452 yards per game.  The only Cowboy this game doesn't seem to match up well for is RB DeMarco Murray.  As bad as the Bucs secondary is, they're ranked third in run stopping, giving up 52 yards per contest and an average carry of 2.7 yards.  Of course, they've played against two very suspect rushing attacks, that of the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers.  Murray, who's averaging 5.5 yards per scamper will get his share of carries, but taper expectations, as Romo will run the spread offense well against this Bucs team, making Mile Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten all viable plays.  Even Kevin Ogletree warrants a consideration in deep leagues.  Where Tampa Bay could make some waves is with Doug Martin, who although averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, faces a Dallas front seven yielding 4.6 yards per run.  There was hope in Tampa Bay that QB Josh Freeman would have a rebound season.  So far, the numbers don't parlay into that happening.  The Buccaneers have the third fewest passing first downs with just 18, and are completing just 52.6 percent of their passes.  Vincent Jackson has one of Tampa Bay's three touchdown receptions, but as usual, he's been targeted over double the amount of his catches (20:9).  The most consistent receivers for Tampa Bay have been TE Dallas Clark and FB Erik Lorig.  Both Martellus Bennett and Anthony McCoy scored against this Dallas defense, and I expect Clark to here.  As for the outcome, the only concern for choosing Dallas is they are without their starting center, Phil Costa.  That could throw a real wrench into the Dallas offense.  Why I’m betting a Jerry Jones team will be more professional than to let something like that affect things, I don’t know.  But if that doesn’t throw them off, it won't be close.


The consensus pick as currently the best team in the NFL, the 49ers head east for an early kickoff date at Mall of America Field (the Metrodome) where they've lost four straight dating back to 1994.  Last time they faced the Vikings it was 2009 and Brett Favre was holding the reins.  He led the Vikings to victory over San Francisco 27-24 on his vaunted heave to Greg Lewis in the end zone with just 12 ticks remaining on the clock.  San Francisco could be in for a letdown here, and the focus of this game will be the rushing attacks of both clubs.  The newly-built Adrian Peterson leads Minnesota rushers with a 4.4 yards per carry average and two rushing touchdowns, both of which came in Week One.  On the flip side, Frank Gore has had a resurgence to start the year, averaging 6.1 yards per touch running behind the 49ers front five, and has two scores of his own.  Both defenses are stout against the run, with Minnesota having held both Maurice Jones-Drew and Donald Brown in check.  They have yielded zero rushing touchdowns the first two games and are holding opposing runners to just 3.1 yards per carry.  However, they will be without LB Erin Henderson Sunday, who has a concussion.  San Francisco also has prevented anyone from scoring a rushing touchdown, while holding opponents to 63 total yards per game and a 3.2 ypc. It likely will come down to the quarterbacks, and which of Alex Smith or Christian Ponder do you believe in.  For me, it's Smith, who hasn't committed a turnover dating back to November of last year.  While both teams' weapons are limited, the depth of Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis is just too much for this Minnesota secondary, who has played against two quarterbacks with little experience between them (Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck).  Ponder is much more likely to fold under the San Francisco pressure, and turnovers will change the outcome.  Temper numbers for both runners to 80-90 yards with Gore a favorite to post slightly bigger tallies.  I like Randy Moss to have a good day versus his former team, while Percy Harvin puts up some good receiving totals 50-60 yards, 15 rushing yards and a score. 

49ERS 17,  VIKINGS 13

Both teams are 0-2 and both teams come with coaches who are known for creating stellar defenses.  Yet neither team's defense has gelled just yet.  Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs head coach, fashioned strong defenses at New England and Kansas City, while New Orleans defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo of Giants defensive design fame has a defense ranked worst in the league.  How in the world though Matt Cassel and the Kansas City offense can keep up with Drew Brees and New Orleans in this game is beyond me.  The Saints have 51 first downs, the league's best tally, and have scored 59 points.  However, there are several glaring issues with the Saints offense as well.  First, while they're averaging 5.3 yards per carry (I did a double-take too) they are rushing just 26 percent of the time.  The other surprise is that Drew Brees is completing just 54.5 percent of his passes and averaging a measly 6.5 yards per attempt; not very Brees-like.  Brees also has been picked off four times in just two games, nearly one third the amount of all the interceptions he threw last season.  At this rate he'd throw 32 interceptions, a number he hasn't ever come close to in his entire career.  In fact, Brees hasn't had a season where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns since 2003.  One thing's for certain, if New Orleans doesn't add a few more running plays against the Chiefs 27th ranked rush defense, they're crazy.  Pierre Thomas is averaging almost 10 yards every time he runs the football, and he should have a bigger role this Sunday.  Jimmy Graham has been entirely consistent and will continue to be as the Chiefs middle has allowed Scott Chandler and Tony Gonzalez to score.  Graham is even tougher to cover, and may draw some double teams, but I doubt they can deny him here.  Marques Colston is fighting through foot problems, which could make returning receiver Devery Henderson and Lance Moore better plays.  Word came down earlier this week that Jamaal Charles was suffering knee pain, but it turns out it's a bruised knee rather than a setback to his surgically repaired knee.  Charles draws a fantastic matchup against the Saints worst ranked rushing defense.  He's a solid start this week for both regular and PPR formats.  Dwayne Bowe will challenge this secondary, but only if his offensive line keeps QB Matt Cassel upright.  He's been sacked eight times, nearly 10 percent of all drop backs.  Bowe is already hit or miss, catching about half his targets, but I think Dexter McCluster and Jon Baldwin could have a larger impact as they're a speedier combo.  Either way, the Saints are likely to send the Chiefs home 0-3.


What should scream rebound game for Matthew Stafford will less be determined by his arm and more be determined by whether Detroit can balance their offense.  Much like the Saints, the Lions are averaging 82.5 yards per game, and are running approximately 35 percent of the time.  This has allowed teams to play off the line more, with less concern Detroit can beat them on the ground.  Enter RB Mikel LeShoure, a tough physical runner who had a strong pre-season.  He returns from suspension and injury this week.  With he and RB Kevin Smith in the backfield against a Tennessee rushing defense that yields 155 yards per game and ceded 23 rushing first downs (only one team worse), Detroit could finally find the balance they're looking for.  That means that even when working QB Matthew Stafford from the shotgun, the Titans will have to give the running game its due.  Thus, WR Calvin Johnson should be in for his first touchdown reception.  Also keep an eye on Brandon Pettigrew as a solid play this week as the Titans were destroyed by Chargers' tight end Dante Rosario and both New England tight ends.  Tennessee's offense has been nearly as inefficient as their defense, but none has fared worse than RB Chris Johnson.  His contract malaise has carried over into this season, as he's managing just 2.1 yards per carry, and he's had just 17 rushes thus far.  But with Rashad Jennings still out with an elbow problem, there's little depth behind him.  No doubt offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is going to want to keep Stafford off the field and control the tempo.  To that end his offensive line has a shot to give Johnson his first solid rushing day against Detroit's 17th ranked rushing defense yielding 4.2 per carry.  They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher yet, but last week Frank Gore did punch some holes during the 49ers win.  Where Detroit's defense has been vulnerable is the short passing game.  The Lions pass rush is sacking opposing QBs at an 11.1 percent rate, and it would behoove Titans QB Jake Locker to throw shorter passes to Jared Cook and Damian Williams and work controlled drives.  Last week, San Diego derailed Locker to just a 5.8 yards per attempt.  With Detroit's pass rush and Tennessee's lack of consistent line play, Detroit will take this one on the road.



The Jags are 7-15 all time in their series against their division foe, but have won the last two matchups.  This time it is a whole new Colts team they visit at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck has a luxury that Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert has never had, a receivers group led by a pro-bowler named Reggie Wayne.  At age 33, Wayne has another quarterback with a golden arm in his midst and he has taken advantage to the tune of 15 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown in two games.  He's been so stellar the first two weeks, along with the play of rising star WR Donnie Avery (12 receptions, 148 yards, 1TD) that RB Donald Brown, originally drafted because he was a multi-dimensional back with good hands, has yet to receive a pass.  He has just two targets, a representation of Bruce Arians downfield style of offense.  Thus, Brown's PPR value continues to drop.  For the Colts defense, they'll be looking for a way to stop Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who has compiled 283 yards rushing and two touchdowns in their last two meetings.  The Colts have given up seven touchdowns, three via ground, while the Jaguars have yet to score using a running play.  The Colts have faced the Bears and Vikings, and while Matt Forte and Michael Bush tallied 120 yards and three scores, Adrian Peterson was unable to get much going against them.  Perhaps Greg Manusky's hybrid 3-4 defense is starting to gel with some of the veterans, and though the Colts have registered six sacks, they're still not forcing turnovers, as they're a minus three for the year.  If Mike Mularkey has his way, Jones-Drew will do a lot of the heavy lifting on the road, and Marcedes Lewis and Laurent Robinson will make their plays when called upon.  In the end, without LB Daryl Smith healthy, the Jags rushing defense, sitting at 31st currently, will give Brown his first shot at 100 yards.  Jags QB Gabbert sunk back to his old ways against a fierce Texans defense last week, and though the Colts aren't the same beast, their pass rush with Robert Mathis and maybe Dwight Freeney (questionable with an ankle) will again force Gabbert to make plays quickly.  Take the Colts at home in a close one.


This game will identify which two versions of these teams are for real.  Is it the Week One Jets who poured it on against Buffalo scoring 41 points? Or is it the team that looked completely incapable against the Steelers in a 27-10 defeat.  Are the Dolphins a team-in-progress with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, who'll throw three interceptions because of questionable decisions, or are they a juggernaut running team behind their veteran Reggie Bush who can control the tempo of a game and keep the opposing defense on their heels?  Let's be honest; we can't be sure that Rex Ryan has enough faith in Mark Sanchez to allow him 30 throws in a game very often, and we know Joe Philbin would prefer to have Tannehill ease his way into the leadership role.  Both teams would like to control the line of scrimmage.  So far only the Dolphins defense has been doing it, having given up just 53 yards per game on the ground.  Houston's Arian Foster, besides his two TD runs, set up by turnovers, was shut down by the Dolphins, and Oakland's Darren McFadden fared worse.  Thus, Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell are not going to find things easier down south.  That means it's up to Sanchez, and maybe Tim Tebow to put together a victory.  Miami's weakness is their secondary, so I expect a lot of Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley down the field, along with Dustin Keller, who's been fighting a hamstring injury.  Remember, Keller was the Jets receiving leader last year with 65 receptions and five scores.  Should he remain inactive, this game is up to Tannehill's to lose.  The Miami receivers group isn't as deep as Pittsburgh's, but slot man Davone Bess and outside receiver Brian Hartline, can provide enough support to move the chains while Bush, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry against New York last year, puts them to the test.  The return of Darrelle Revis means that I'm not starting any Miami receivers this week, and Anthony Fasano could easily figure in, but Sanchez has only won once in Miami and was heavily dependent on Keller, his missing tight end.


These teams haven’t seen one another since 2008, and the Bengals have won two straight.  However, these teams don’t resemble those units in the slightest.  Since then, Mike Shanahan has taken over, recruited a new quarterback, new running backs, and snatched a key free agent receiver.  Robert Griffin III has been nothing short of phenomenal in his first two games, completing almost 71 percent of his passes, while adding two rushing touchdowns to his three passing TDs.  Cincinnati comes off a win against Cleveland.  Andy Dalton continued to spread the ball around to keep the Browns off balance.  He may not have as hard a time against Washington as the Redskins defense has been brutalized, losing starting two key starers: LB Brian Orakpo and DE Adam Carriker.  And while the Redskins have the 10th rated defense, they’ve played against teams that have run against them just 28 percent of the time.  Though the Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t anything special in terms of style, this week could be quite important.  Considering how successful RGIII has been, Green-Ellis' job will be to eat up clock and preserve drives.  He’ll see at least 25 carries unless the Redskins put the game out of hand early.  That, too, is possible, because even though Cincinnati’s rush defense is giving up 126 yards per game (ranked 19th), they are yielding 5.5 yards per carry. That’s music to Alfred Morris’s ears, as he’s the first running back since Terrelle Davis to be given such responsiblility in a Shanhan system.  Out of the 72 rushing attempts by the Redskins this year, Morris and RGIII have 64.  Trent Richardson chomped on the Bengals for 109 yards on just 19 carries, so Morris is a strong play.  Griffin is missing his key weapon in Pierre Garcon, but that didn’t stop him from hitting five different receivers last week.  If Mohamed Massaquoi can take a bite out of the Bengals secondary, so can Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss, though the most disruptive force could be Leonard Hankerson.  However, I wouldn’t play him as anything but a flex because of the high risk.  Washington’s defense couldn’t slow down the Rams’ Amendola, meaning Andrew Hawkins could be in for a great day.  However, I’d take the Cincinnati and the points in this one.




These aren’t your father’s Cardinals that’s for sure.  A week after stunning the Pats in Gillette stadium, the Cardinals find themselves hosting the 2-0 Eagles favored by 3.5 points.  Ironically enough, Kevin Kolb finds himself back in the saddle just in time to face the team that traded.  Last year, Arizona traveled to Philly in November and upset the Eagles on their home turf 21-17.  Larry Fitzgerald took control of the game almost single-handedly, grabbing seven balls for 146 yards and two touchdowns.   However, that was with John Skelton hurling the rock.  Kolb has not shown nearly the type of fearlessness Skelton has, and thus, Fitzgerald’s numbers are likely to suffer here against a team allowing opponents to complete just 44.2 percent of their passes.  Where Philadelphia is vulnerable is where Arizona is weakest.  The Eagles are ranked 15th against the run, and give up 105 yards per contest.  Starting running back Ryan Williams could cede more carries to Beanie Wells after fumbling the ball away in the final minutes of last week’s game against the Patriots.  Wells won’t have a whole lot of running room against this Philly defensive front that shut down Trent Richardson and Ray Rice.  The only question with the Eagles is can they stop turning the ball over.  My guess is no, and without Jeremy Maclin playing and more injuries to the offensive line, LeSean McCoy is the only Eagle I have confidence in this week.   The Eagles have lost three of the last four games by no more than seven points, and this will be a similar affair.  It will be ugly, with turnovers from the overly aggressive Michael Vick, and the often tentative Kolb, but I like Arizona in a squeaker.


The Chargers have made it look fairly easy thus far, disposing of Oakland and Tennessee as if they were gnats being waved away on their road to this game.  Atlanta has been impregnable and unstoppable, and is 7-1 all time against the Chargers.  Matt Ryan has never lost to Philip Rivers, and has started this year by throwing five touchdown versus zero interceptions.  The big test for Atlanta comes with the return of San Diego’s Ryan Mathews, who is listed as questionable but expected to suit up.  Without Mathews, the Chargers rushing attack has been abysmal, averaging 3.1 yards per carry and just 90 yards per game.  Atlanta’s running game isn’t what it used to be, with no back averaging more than three yards per carry, but the truth is they haven’t had to.  The real question is San Diego’s defense, which have shut down both Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden on the ground resulting in their rating of best rushing defense in the NFL.  They’re barely yielding 42 yards per game, but have faced teams that have only run the 28 percent of the time against them.  Atlanta’s line will give them a much bigger test, and the three-headed monster of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez is nothing like they’ve seen from their first two contests.  Atlanta’s 15th ranked pass defense has been pressuring the QB well, with six sacks in two games, yet both defenses are allowing opposing quarterbacks to find open receivers at over a 70 percent clip.  While Rivers will covet the return of Antonio Gates, and use Malcom Floyd to the best of his ability, the only way San Diego holds off Atlanta is if Ryan Mathews has a big day and Matt Ryan commits too many mistakes.  I don’t see it happening even with Mathews getting you about 90 total yards of offense and a first score.


The Steelers are 12-13 all time against the Oakland Raiders, and 3-6 all time at the Oakland Coliseum.  However, the Steelers come into this game still hurting, with starters LB James Harrison, FS Troy Polomalu, and RB Rashard Mendenhall out for this week.  What used to be the Steelers vaunted weapon, the trap rushing attack, has failed to jump start under Todd Haley’s new offense, and is ranked 30th overall.  However, the passing attack has converted 100 percent of its third downs with three or less yards to go, and despite averaging 2.4 yards per rush against the Jets last week, converted eight of 15 third downs, while averaging 8.5 yards per pass play.  Isaac Redman has just two more carries than Jonathan Dwyer for the season, but both are healthy.  Redman seems like the biggest contender for the most carries against the Raiders. Oakland’s secondary has lost Shawntae Spencer this week to an ankle injury, and both Richard Seymour and Rolando McClain are questionable.  Where the Raiders can excel against Pittsburgh is on the ground.  The Steelers have given up just 16 passing first downs, among the lowest in the league, and QB Carson Palmer has a career 4-8 record against the Steelers with a pass completion rate of just 57 percent.  I like the Raiders to attempt to attack Pittsburgh deep, where one-on-one they have shown vulnerability in the past.  That means a shot or two to Denarius Moore.  However, with few weapons and Palmer struggling to complete 60 percent of his passes overall while being sacked 10 times, this game is the Steelers to lose.  The travel will make it closer than it should be.


If San Francisco is the pundits consensus darling of the NFL, Houston is her closest cousin.  Forget the Texans offense, which is powered by the thundering ground game that is RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.  Houston’s defense has simply been unrelenting.  They’re ranked first overall, giving up just 196 yards per game, a number that usually is reserved for most great passing defenses.  They’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 50 percent of their passes, are sacking them almost 10 percent of the time they drop back, and have ceded just 17 total points.  They enter the Mile High City 1-2 all time against Denver, with the last game being decided in the final minutes of the fourth quarter by none other than “Mr. Victory” Tim Tebow.

Which Peyton Manning
will show up this weekend?
Their host for this game is Peyton Manning, who is 16-2 lifetime against Houston, and has so far been a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, with his week possibly deciding which spirit purveys him more consistently.  In Week One, Mr. Hyde, a vicious, precise and fearless attacker, carved the Steelers defense consistently and threw two touchdowns without turning it over.  In Week Two, Dr. Jekyll’s kindness overtook him, and in three straight drives he prescribed a victory for the Atlanta Falcons early with three interceptions.  Where Houston’s defense may be most vulnerable is the run game, because though they’re giving up just 72 yards a game, runners average 4.4 yards per touch.  The two teams they’ve played, Miami and Jacksonville, averaged 4.2 and 4.6 yards per carry respectively.  Behind the Denver line, veteran runner Willis McGahee is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, no doubt in part due to the inherent threat having Manning behind center imposes.  Houston is likely to keep their secondary tight on Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, forcing this young tandem to play physical and get separation.  This should allow McGahee a solid starts as an RB2 on any fantasy team.  Manning will have some opportunities, but in this case Houston’s defense is playing so well right now.  Thomas is a big receiver that can be a difference maker, but he’s not there yet, and Manning will have to take what the defense gives him.  Matt Schaub is likely to be the difference maker, as Denver’s defense is squashing opposing rushers to just 2.6 yards per carry and have allowed just one total rushing TD.  Arian Foster has had decent success in Denver, but Schaub will have to be efficient and avoid turnovers to win this matchup.  I see offensive coordinator Rick Dennison trying to grab and early lead with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels downfield, with Daniels giving solid fantasy number (7-10 receptions, 75 yards), and then trying to ground it out.  Schaub has average over nine yards per attempt in the thin Denver air, and he’ll succeed in vanquishing Manning for just the third time.



Baltimore will try to forget this moment Sunday.
This rematch of the AFC Championship game brings Baltimore back to the bittersweet confines of Gillette stadium where a missed field goal was the difference between a shot at the Super Bowl, and Baltimore’s return home.  This time the Ravens return with one their defensive leaders LB Terrell Suggs recovering from injury, and their defense, though they’ve made some big plays, isn’t the same.  Currently ranked 27th, although they’ve relinquished just 37 points to opponents, they’re giving up 275 yards per game through the air, and an additional 129 on the ground.  Their secondary have three interceptions, two by the ageless Ed Reed.  They’ll have to be up to the task of stopping the recurring nemesis that is Tom Brady.  This time Brady will be without one of his key weapons, hybrid TE/FB Aaron Hernandez, and Stevan Ridley has replaced hard-nosed BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  New England has struggled to find any rhythm, and it’s reflected in their red zone struggles, where they’re ranked in the bottom third in efficiency inside the 20.  Stephen Gostkowski is a top five kicker this week, and with Hernandez absent, Wes Welker should play a much larger role than the one he has been playing, bench jockey.  Baltimore will get a taste of this rising New England defense, led by young rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, along with veteran finds Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo.  Ray Rice is not getting as many carries as usual, and in this case, New England’s has stifled their opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry.  For Baltimore to win, they’ll need Rice to get at least 25 carries, and Joe Flacco will have to exploit the match-up problems Torrey Smith caused New England last year.  The Pats will go no huddle, with Brady occasionally trying for a big strike with Brandon Lloyd (if healthy – he’s questionable) to keep Baltimore honest.  However, Gronkowski is in for a big day.  For Baltimore, start Joe Flacco even against this defense.  Why?  Believe it or not, though he’s 0-2 against New England in the regular season, Flacco has completed nearly 66 percent of his passes against with four TD strikes and only one interception.  He’ll be precise, using veteran Anquan Boldin and new favorite target Dennis Pitta.  Rice will be a decent PPR play, but temper rushing expectations to about 60 yards.  In the end, though New England’s offense is declining, Brady is 4-0 against the Ravens and seems to step up in big games.  He’s not a great fantasy option, (275 yards, a touchdown and an interception) but he tends to be the difference.


No one thought this would be as good a matchup as it has shaped up to be.  While Green Bay looked more Green-Bay-like 10 days ago on Thursday night, the short week for Chicago after losing Matt Forte in additional to having to head north to Wisconsin made for a very sloppy win.  Seattle dismantled Dallas as an afterthought, with Marshawn Lynch leading the way.  The last time these two teams met it was 2009, and to give you an idea of just how different a team Green Bay was, they won 48-10 but behind the strength of four rushing touchdowns.  The Packers have employed RB Cedric Benson in an attempt to re-focus their ground assault, but it has yet to reap any real benefits, with Benson managing just 3.4 yards per carry, and zero touchdowns.  The good news for Aaron Rodgers and company is that Greg Jennings is finally healthy.  This is also good news for Jordy Nelson, who although shifty, is not the kind of physical guy that can shake double teams.  He’ll score his first touchdown of the season, and Jermichael Finley will help open up the middle of the field so Benson can get his first TD as well.  Green Bay’s rushing defense has been pretty soft, but they’ll tighten up the line and push the mobile Russell Wilson to beat them.  With Green Bay sacking quarterbacks a whopping 17 percent of the time, Wilson will have to scramble too often.  Wide receiver Doug Baldwin did not practice and may not play, leaving Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to outwit the Green Bay secondary.  I like Robert Turbin to find a bigger role in this game as a PPR specialist, as you expect Pete Carroll to keep Wilson measured with controlled with shorter throws.  It won’t be enough to keep up with Green Bay, both defensively and offensively.  I’d start Lynch and Benson as a flex. Start Rodgers who is 8-1 against NFC West teams and 3-0 lifetime against Seattle with a QB rating over 122.  Packers return to form and take one from Seattle.