Saturday, September 29, 2012

NFL WEEK 4 – MATCHUP & BREAKDOWNS


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 1PM DOCKET

CAROLINA @ ATLANTA
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.

FALCONS 24, PANTHERS 17


NEW ENGLAND @ BUFFALO
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.

PATRIOTS 24, BILLS 14


MINNESOTA @ DETROIT
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.

VIKINGS 27, LIONS 21


SAN DIEGO @ KANSAS CITY
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.

CHIEFS 26, CHARGERS 22


SEATTLE @ ST. LOUIS
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.
RAMS 14, SEAHAWKS 10


SAN FRANCISCO @ NEW YORK JETS
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


TENNESSEE @HOUSTON
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.

TEXANS 34, TENNESSEE 17



This man looks different somehow
MIAMI @ ARIZONA
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.

CARDINALS 23, MIAMI 10


THE 4PM DOCKET

CINCINNATI @ JACKSONVILLE
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.

BENGALS 28, JAGUARS 17


OAKLAND @ DENVER
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.

BRONCOS 27, RAIDERS 14


NEW ORLEANS @ GREEN BAY
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.

PACKERS 38, SAINTS 28


WASHINGTON @ TAMPA BAY
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.

BUCCANEERS 30, REDSKINS 26


SUNDAY NIGHT GAME

Reid  has a tough decision coming
NEW YORK GIANTS @ PHILADELPHIA
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.

GIANTS 37, EAGLES 34


MONDAY NIGHT GAME

CHICAGO @ DALLAS
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.

COWBOYS 20, BEARS 13