The blog for Week 10 is finally here.
THE 1PM DOCKET
NEW YORK GIANTS @ CINCINNATI
While the Giants have lost just once in the last five games, the Bengals have been on a slide after once appearing to be entrenched as an AFC North playoff contender. However, there are disturbingly similar trends are emerging with both franchises. Just two weeks ago, the Giants had the second ranked offense in the NFL and their defense was ranked 24th. Heading into Sunday, their offense has slipped to eleventh overall and their defense 25th. Prior to their game versus Pittsburgh, the Bengals had the 15th ranked defense and 10th ranked offense. Now those rankings are 20th and 17th respectively.
Where the two teams differ is the ability to sustain drives and run the football. The Giants 15th ranked rushing offense averages nearly 110 yards per contest. While the Bengals stepped up against the Broncos last week, they allowed 122 yards to Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer, and allowed Miami RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas rushing touchdowns. Ahmad Bradshaw's foot problems have resurfaced, and while he's been limited in practice, he's likely to play. However, Andre Brown now leads the team with six rushing touchdowns and is the better choice for fantasy owners even if Bradshaw is still likely to receive more carries. This week choose Brown and his 10 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown over Bradshaw's 18 carries and 85 yards, assuming Bradshaw is healthy enough to go. The Giants pass 58 percent of the time and have the third best fantasy receiver this year in Victor Cruz. The Bengals have relinquished five TD receptions to TEs, and I expect Martellus Bennett to get you 75 yards and a TD reception. Cruz will get you 70-80 yards, and Hakeem Nicks, who is still suffering swelling in his knee will continue his disappointing season. The Giants will try to run, and run a lot, and spare Eli Manning's arm, which has lately lost some zing according to Greg Cosell.
The Bengals Andy Dalton has recently struggled with reads, and teams have been leaping all over him, working to confuse the second year QB and cause turnovers. In his last three games, Dalton has thrown five interceptions. Now he faces a Giants secondary that while vulnerable, has picked off 17 passes, while sacking opposing QBs 25 times. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is not likely to meet with much success here. He's averaging just 3.4 yards per carry at home, and hasn't come close to 100 yards rushing in a game since Week 1 against Baltimore. His lack of line movement on early downs will continue to leave the Bengals facing longer third downs, and the Bengals are the second worst team in the NFL at converting third downs, at 29.4 percent. Expect Dalton to throw on earlier downs to avoid the potent Giants pass rush, and he'll be targeting A. J. Green as often as he can. Wide receivers, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate have been figuring into more plays lately, which only hurts the numbers for Armon Binns and Andrew Hawkins. Jermaine Gresham has a tough matchup this week and won't do much for you.
The Giants will run the ball with success, Eli will toss a touchdown and the Giants defense help get New York back on track.
GIANTS 23, BENGALS 14
TENNESSEE @ MIAMI
In this past week's T &R, I recommended benching Chris Johnson, even though empirically all evidence points to a huge positive change in his season. He's now raised his average yards per carry to five and has 736 yards rushing, good for sixth for overall in the league. He also has 23 receptions for 132 yards. On top of those numbers, he became the first runner to gain over 100 yards against the Bears defense this year. So why not play Johnson this week? Besides the fact Miami has been solid against the run this year giving up just 84 yards per game, Jake Locker is returning as quarterback this week. That may be a good thing to some, but the big-armed QB has had his issues making accurate throws. During the three games Locker played, Johnson averaged .73 yards per carry. It won', be that bad, but Miami will stack the box and dare Locker to throw, even with their 30th ranked secondary. With Locker under center, expect Kendall Wright and Jared Cook's numbers to be solid. Kenny Britt only got to play one game with him. I expect his size will make him an attractive target and against Miami's defensive backfield, and therefore think if Locker has even decent accuracy on his throws, Britt is likely to post his best game of the year. I'm looking for seven catches for 110 yards and 1TD.
Tennessee's rushing defense gives up 4.4 yards per carry, and if Miami has their way, they'd prefer to use the two-headed monster of Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. Bush hasn't quite been the same since knee injury, but he's still set to have a strong day. Tight End Anthony Fasano has never put up huge numbers, but this week he faces the worst defense in the league against opposing tight ends. They've given up 63 receptions and eight touchdowns to that position and Fasano has no competition in the middle of the field. He's not Jimmy Graham, but he'll help your score-sheet. Brian Hartline should also be in line for some strong yards, but keep in mind QB Ryan Tannehill has thrown just five touchdowns all year. The Dolphins will keep a lot of their scoring on the ground.
Locker's return might motivate Tennessee initially, and it certainly does give them a big arm again, but he's too inconsistent and any mistakes will be costly with a defense that has allowed the most points in the NFL.
MIAMI 24, TENNESSEE 16
ATLANTA @ NEW ORLEANS
How does one make a case for the Saints at 3-5 overturning the perfect 8-0 Atlanta Falcons? Well let's give it a try, shall we?
It's not that the Falcons can't compete with the New Orleans offense, but a shoot-out is not the way they'd like to see this game turn into in the Superdome. For Atlanta, the key is being able to take time off the clocks and score after long drives. The bad news for the Falcons is their rushing attack is ranked 25th in the NFL, averaging 98 yards per game. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are going to be an integral part of Dirk Koetter's attack. The Saints returned now interim head coach Joe Vitt just last week. They are 1-1 since his return and in just his second game back, the Saints defense held Philadelphia to just 13 points, sacked Michael Vick seven times, and they ran 20 plays in the Red Zone for negative 24 yards. The key is Turner, who has underperformed in recent games against New Orleans, though he's been better in the Superdome. Expect Turner to see close to 20 carries and 85-90 yards. They'll want to test the Saints front seven which has been allowing 5.3 yards per touch. Matt Ryan has struggled with 59 percent completion rate against New Orleans, but the Saints won't be able to hold Roddy White and Julio Jones from making a big impact. Last year they both managed over 100 yards each in the series' second game, and I would ink them for each to manage close to that again. Tony Gonzalez has just two scores in nine games against the Saints, but both have come in the last two years. Think 65 yards and at best a touchdown.
The Saints still have a formidable offense. Even without the services of specialty RB Darren Sproles, last week they put up their second highest team rushing tally of the year. The Saints worst offensive output came against Denver, which has a defense on the rise, but other than that one game, they haven't scored less than 24 points in any others. Drew Brees is 10-3 against Atlanta for his career, with a near 68 percent completion rate. The Saints pass at nearly a 3-to-1 ratio over the run, and with 22 passing touchdowns to his credit, Brees will attack Atlanta's secondary constantly. Chris Ivory might get a chance to reprise his active role in the backfield, particularly against Atlanta's weak rush defense. However, neither he nor Pierre Thomas is going to be healthy for your fantasy team lineup because of the sheer volume of players back there. If I had to make a choice, I'd still defer to Thomas because of his pass-catching abilities. Marques Colston has been virtually unstoppable when it comes to the Falcons secondary, and that means Asante Samuel will attempt to slow him down. Both Colston and Jimmy Graham are in your lineup without a second thought. Lance Moore will get some solid yardage, and Devery Henderson will get a shot deep.
The case can be made for a New Orleans victory. Atlanta is the least penalized team in the league right now and they find ways to win. For New Orleans to emerge victorious, they have to play smart, slow down Turner and pressure Ryan with the same voracity with which they sought out Vick. I'm taking Joe Vitt's newly invigorated linebackers to hold down the fort, as Drew Brees provides 330 yards passing and three touchdowns.
NEW ORLEANS 37, ATLANTA 35
DETROIT @ MINNESOTA
The once surprising and promising season has turned on a dime for Leslie Frazier's Vikings. Injuries certainly have assisted their steep decline. However, even before the team lost starting RCB Chris Cook to the I.R. the Vikings pass defense gave up its two largest passing totals against Arizona and Tampa Bay. Antoine Winfield has been fighting through a knee issue, and he'll be faced with the toughest assignment around when he matches up against Detroit's WR Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. On the other side, the Vikings offense has crashed, with the lack of efficient weapons now glaringly visible in Christian Ponder's stable. So defenses are now blitzing him like a German WWII offensive. Ponder has been dropped 14 times in the last four games, after being taken down just nine times in the first five, and adding WR Percy Harvin to the sideline makes this winning this game virtually unattainable.
The Lions offense is ranked second, and after displaying a rushing attack that put up four rushing scores last week against the Jaguars, expect Jim Schwartz to dedicate more to his running game this time around than the meager 14 carries his running backs received in Week 4. Mikel Leshoure has proven durable enough this year to handle anywhere between 12-16 carries per game. Joique Bell added 13 carries to his tally last week, but the game was already quite out of hand. Bell has tended to be a third down back and check-down receiver for Matthew Stafford this year, but I think in this game you could see his role augment some. The Vikings rush defense has fallen to 18th, and have allowed opposing running backs to score in four straight games.
Detroit's defense is improved and will stack the line as best they can to keep Adrian Peterson in check. He'll still get 20 carries and close to one hundred yards and a touchdown, but he can't do it all. Ponder's top receiver will likely be Jerome Simpson, who seems to show up for one great game a year. However, I expect his total yardage won't exceed 70. Without Harvin returning kicks, Detroit's D/ST is a much better fantasy play against a Minnesota team that has turned the ball over an average of 2.4 times the last five games. The Vikings beat the Lions for the first time in four games six weeks ago by shutting down Megatron and preventing the pass happy lions from any big plays. That won't happen this week. Last year, Titus Young stung the Vikings as they were keeping Megatron in check in their second series game, while Brandon Pettigrew cost them in the first one. Young has missed practice this week, meaning Ryan Broyles, who already has seen an increase in targets, will be a nice sleeper. Stafford should play better than his earlier foray, providing 275 yards and two touchdowns. Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew make very strong plays. Expect no less than seven catches from each of them, and Johnson will score again.
LIONS 27, VIKINGS 13
BUFFALO @ NEW ENGLAND
In a meeting that favors the Patriots in so many measurable ways, perhaps the most telling is that the Bills haven't won in New England since the year 2000. Buffalo is allowing the most third down conversions in the league, and the only team that converts third downs better than New England is Pittsburgh. The last time these two teams met it was close for a half, and then Buffalo rubbed the lamp the wrong way and Tom Brady's genie converted six drives in a row for touchdowns. How much luckier can the Patriots get than it just so happens no team has given up more long passing plays than they, and yet they're playing the one quarterback who has had big issues hitting the deep pass.
The loss of Patriots' RB Brandon Bolden to a PED suspension this week can only make Stevan Ridley owners smile. In the last game, Ridley carried 22 times for 106 yards and two scores. Shane Vereen gets a huge boost with Bolden out for another four weeks. He's a scat back, who is shiftier and quicker than Ridley, and will likely spell Ridley a few series per game. Only four teams have given up more yards to tight ends than the Bills, and while Aaron Hernandez practiced Friday, Rob Gronkowski is geared for another big performance. Expect Wes Welker to get a lot of underneath routes and yardage. He hasn't had less than six catches and 50 yards against the Bills the last three games, and in one of those he tallied over 200 receiving yards. I expect Tom Brady and the Patriots to show no mercy early. They're going to strike with Gronkowski and take a few shots downfield with Brandon Lloyd to blow this one open early. They'll then rely on Ridley, Vereen and Danny Woodhead once again.
For the Bills to have any shot, they have to control the clock, and that means dedicating themselves not to Ryan Fitzpatrick running a spread offense, or even a hurry-up. They need Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to move the line against the Patriots seventh ranked run defense. Between the two of them, they had just five receptions in the first meeting. When the Bills upset New England in Buffalo last year, Fred Jackson was handling the majority of the load and he alone had five catches for 87 yards. Expect at some point for Buffalo to realize that Spiller's speed is a huge asset as a receiver as much as a runner, and feed him some more passes. This would be the game I bank on both of them seeing more than the five catches they had Week 4. Tight end Scott Chandler had plenty of action the last game, scoring two touchdowns and providing 62 yards of offense. Naturally, when the Bills throw, you're relying on Stevie Johnson, and he'll come through this game with at least 80 yards. Donald Jones caught a 68-yard TD in the last meeting, but he's an inconsistent performer, and at best a decent flex option because there's a big chance Buffalo will be throwing by the second half.
Unfortunately for Buffalo and owners of the Bills' rushing attack, the Patriots will score early and force them by the second half to divest themselves of running the ball often. Tom Brady is in for another three touchdown day, but his yardage won't like eclipse 300 because of the success they can find on the ground.
PATRIOTS 32, BILLS 24
SAN DIEGO @ TAMPA BAY
How many times have you come across a top ranked rush defense with a disastrous pass defense and they were part of the same team? Welcome to Tampa Bay, where the once 1-3 Buccaneers are now 4-4. The Bucs offense has kicked into high gear ever since they began attacking downfield, not only to the benefit of Josh Freeman, but to Doug Martin as well. Prior to the Bye Week the Bucs offense barely managed a total of 300 yards per game the first four games. Since the Bye, Tampa has averaged well over 400 yards of total offense, and hasn't scored less than 28 points in any given game. And as bad as their pass defense has been in yielding easy yardage, only two teams have more interceptions than Tampa Bay. San Diego has proven they can beat the teams they should. Unfortunately those teams have a combined record of 8-25.
San Diego's rushing attack should be their strength. Yet the best they've been able to muster is ranking 19th so far with an average of 106 yards per game. Instead, Philip Rivers, who has had just one 300-yard performance this season, is going to get his opportunity to throw a lot more, as the Bucs give up a scarce 77 yards rushing per game. Rivers hasn't been able to keep the ball out of opponents' hands, and turning the ball over to this hot offense is a giant no-no. While Ryan Matthews averages 4.4 yards per carry, he has found the end zone only once, and has yet to break the 100-yard barrier. He might help you in PPR leagues slightly, but this week is not the week to count on Mathews. Jackie Battle could also get some opportunities as those backs that have scored against the Chargers (Alfred Morris, Adrian Peterson, Andre Brown) have been more physical runners. However, Rivers will have to throw and considering Tampa Bay gives up 321 yards on average through the air, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, and newest member Denario Alexander each get consideration. Eddie Royal has fallen out of favor somewhat with the San Diego staff because of his injury prone nature. However, speedier receivers have taken Tampa Bay to task, so don't be shocked if he steals a touchdown reception.
Tampa Bay Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan has moved the ball by having Freeman throw on first down and thus shortening his yardage for second and third downs, allowing him to expand his play choices. At home, Freeman's posted a QB passer rating of 104, and against the Chargers, he's also going to have to heave the ball. Expect early throws down the field, and a heavy load for Doug Martin. However, Martin won't find as much success against San Diego's fourth ranked rushing defense, so pencil Freeman in for another 290 yards and two touchdowns, with Vincent Jackson striking back at his old team for all he's worth. It's a strong day for Jackson, giving him another TD reception and over 100 yards.
BUCCANEERS 27, CHARGERS 20
DENVER @ CAROLINA
The Carolina Panthers picked up a win on the road last week. Now, they return home to face arguably one of the strongest offenses in the AFC. Peyton Manning has thrown three touchdown passes in five straight games, and the Broncos haven't scored fewer than 30 points in four of the last five. Cam Newton comes off his one of his better performances, and Carolina may be finally beginning to use the rushing attack they invested so heavily in.
Denver's strength is obviously its passing attack, but that won't stop John Fox from exploiting his former team where they're weakest, on the ground. Willis McGahee is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has four touchdowns. His second, Ronnie Hillman, has yet to score, but is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Manning likes to run the shotgun and keep things moving, but don't be surprised if the rushing attack plays a bigger part in this game. McGahee has no less than 17 carries in the last three games, and will likely be handed another 20 on Sunday. Manning will distribute the ball underneath where Carolina has been most vulnerable and move the ball for McGahee to finish things off. Rookie CB Josh Norman gets the unenviable task of trying to keep WR Demaryius Thomas in check. Thomas has 24 receptions in the past four games for over 400 yards and two touchdowns. However, it is Captain Munnerlyn who is giving up almost seven inches to Eric Decker, and Decker has scored seven times in the last five games. Expect another strong game from Decker moving the chains to the tune of 75 yards and another touchdown.
Cam Newton has been hard to figure this year, though if you look at the numbers, you realize that by the end of last season, the high passing yardage games had vanished, and he was struggling just like he is this year to complete 60 percent of his passes. The Broncos will use their 10th ranked secondary, most notably the now overrated Champ Bailey to try to take away WR Steve Smith. Where Newton can make waves is with Greg Olsen in the middle of the field. The Broncos have given up six of their 14 touchdown passes to opposing Tight Ends, and are third worst in yielding fantasy points to that position. Ron Rivera's been paying more attention to his running backs, and no doubt would like to control time of possession here. Jonathan Stewart's been getting the lion's share of carries but it has been everyone else finding the end zone. Tread lightly as Stewart hasn't had more than 17 carries all season long, while both he and DeAngelo Williams are averaging less than four yards per carry.
There's no reason to think that Denver won't continue on its way through Carolina with little issue. Both defenses have improved, but Denver's offense is too loaded with offensive possibilities. They're one of the most efficient teams on both sides of the ball, while Cam Newton is still trying to find his comfort level in his second year in the NFL.
BRONCOS 28, PANTHERS 17
OAKLAND @ BALTIMORE
The Raiders loss to Tampa Bay was more costly than just one loss. While Carson Palmer continued to play at a high level, he lost both RBs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson to injury. Also a casualty of this game was TE Brandon Myers, who is also likely out for Sunday. Starting in the backfield this game will likely be RB Taiwan Jones with Marcel Reece, the hybrid FB/TE filling in on third downs and as a Red Zone target. Jones has good speed and shiftiness, but he lacks size to move the pile. Against the Ravens 28th ranked defense, yardage is available, but you should expect the lean to end up Reece's way when all is said and done. Jones will likely get 8-10 reps, but unless he breaks a big run, he'll give you Willie Parker type statistics. Baltimore's defense has been shattered by injuries, and thus has barely pressured opposing QBs this year, while Palmer has only been sacked 14 times. He'll have time to find Denarius Moore downfield for a few solid attempts, though Darius Heyward-Bey and Rod Streater could play key roles if Oakland is to keep possession.
The Ravens offense has sputtered, putting up less than 300 total yards in three of the last four, and watching them the past few weeks, has made everyone wonder where was the same team that put up no fewer than 23 points in the first four weeks. Besides Ray Rice, who is an automatic start, as well as WR Torrey Smith, it's hard to have faith that Joe Flacco can get this team turned around, even though they're 6-2. However, November has consistently been among Flacco's best months since he's been a starter, and this Oakland pass defense allows 245 yards per contest with a 65 percent completion rate. Their run defense has been stronger except against stronger offensive lines. Baltimore has a solid front five, and Rice should be looking at a big day, not to mention being the center of the game plan.
Smith will lead all receivers again, and I expect Bernard Pierce to get another 7-10 touches in relief of Rice. Thirty yards rushing is likely all you'll get fantasy wise. TE Dennis Pitta should offer a TD possibility in the Red Zone, where the Raiders are allowing opponents to score touchdowns 60 percent of the time.
Even though Palmer is 9-4 for his career against the Ravens, the Raiders aren't likely to take this one in Baltimore. Flacco will have a much better day than he has in awhile, and Ray Rice will lead the way again.
RAVENS 21, RAIDERS 10
THE 4PM DOCKET
DALLAS @ PHILADELPHIA
If s could use one word to describe the seasons each of these two teams are having, that word would likely be excruciating. The Eagles are in the midst of a huge identity crisis, and have basically thrown in the towel on this season and on Andy Reid. The Cowboys are having much the same problem, with even past Dallas Hall-of-Famers now expressing their thoughts that Jerry Jones should hire a real GM and get the heck out of the way. Both teams came into the season with running backs that had the potential for huge seasons. Yet for some reason, both DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy seemed to be relegated to second fiddle behind each head coach's desire to throw the ball downfield. Both quarterbacks are having subpar seasons with massive turnover issues. And both teams have top ten offenses, and pretty solid defenses.
However, the Eagles offensive line is a mess right now, and Michael Vick continues to be assaulted on the field in ways that might make him feel safer in prison. Last week, the Saints dropped him seven times, and the Eagles offense managed a negative yardage total inside the Red Zone. LeSean McCoy is going to be a huge focal point of this game, mainly because Reid can no longer rely on Vick and the Cowboys know McCoy's the one player that could kill them. In their two games last year, he carried the ball 43 times and scored twice. Expect him to tally at least 20-25 carries, and post a few more receptions. Vick's 14 turnovers lead the league, so I expect the team to lay off some of the attempts through the air to fill McCoy's pocket. Expect a line of something like 18-for-30 for 210 yards and a touchdown to the likes of TE Brent Celek. I don't have high hopes for the rest of the receivers, except DeSean Jackson, who averages over 22 yards per catch against Dallas, and might land you a big TD play.
Last year, the Eagles snuffed out the Cowboys in sweeping the season series, holding the Cowboys to just seven points in each game. They blanketed the Cowboys top receiving threats while limited their running game to a pittance. This year, the Cowboys running attack is a mess, held back by Murray's injury, and the lack of patience for the ground game. Tony Romo has the most interceptions in the league with 13, and Dez Bryant has been a disappointment to be kind. Jason Witten doesn't average a lot of yards for his career versus Philly, but has scored in seven of 17 games. Jason Garrett's on the hot seat, so expect Romo to lean on his tight end a bit. He'll likely give you 5-6 receptions for 45-50 yards and a score. Felix Jones will also see 10-12 rushes and 4-5 targets. I like him to give the Cowboys a big play score against the same Philly team that let Jacquizz Rodgers bolt for 43 yards, and Chris Ivory add a 22 yard TD run. The rest will be up to Miles Austin, who should provide quality WR2 numbers.
It's hard to argue with the pundits that the Dallas pass rush plus Michael Vick's turnovers equal a losing equation for the Eagles. Romo will likely find he has time considering how absent the Eagles sackers have been, and keep an eye on Lance Dunbar, who looks like he's surpassed Philip Tanner on the depth chart.
COWBOYS 20, EAGLES 13
NEW YORK JETS @ SEATTLE
You know that statistic pundits love to give to you the audience about coaches and their records coming off a Bye? They never tell you when the guy just can't get it together after a break. Rex Ryan is 1-2, so hopefully New Yorkers have that curiosity fix on strange and useless statistics settled for the day.
Surprisingly, the Jets head coach is still there, even amidst calls for Tim Tebow, a quarterback they unwittingly traded for but aren't willing to use, New York heads to the Great Northwest to face a team that appears to have been created from their initial mold. Russell Wilson wasn't considered a shoe-in to be an NFL starter, but after his terrific pre-season was expected to keep the ball protected while making plays when he could. Anchored by a strong runner Marshawn Lynch, and a punishing defense, Pete Carroll now has the type of team Rex Ryan wishes for.
The Jets have a solid pass defense, yielding only 206 yards per game, and just nine passing touchdowns. However, they are an abysmal 29th against the rush, giving up 141 yards each game and 4.4 per carry. Lynch knows the Jets and the division well having sewed his oats originally in Buffalo. He'll get a chance to do what surprisingly only two other backs have done this year against the Jets; cross 100 yards. Lynch is second in the NFL in rushing yards, and has the third most yards after contact (YAC). He'll get ample opportunity against New York to play the kind of ball control game Carroll wants. Even they're not successful on the ground, Wilson is facing a Jets pass rush that's managed just 12 sacks all season, and a secondary bereft of its best talent due to injury. This week Antonio Cromartie promised that the Jets would make the playoffs, so the onus is on him to shut down Sidney Rice and keep him from having an effect on the game. He'll be semi successful. Golden Tate seems to be relishing his role as the second man, because he's headed toward becoming their top receiver. He leads the team with five TD receptions and is second on the team with 40 targets, and last week had two of them while Minnesota focused on Rice. Tight end Zach Miller is up against a Jets team that has allowed six passing TDs of nine to go to opposing tight ends. However, Miller nor Anthony McCoy have been playing a reliable role in the passing offense
The Jets will try to get their rushing attack going against the eleventh best rush-stoppers and fourth best defense overall. For Mark Sanchez to be successful, Shonn Greene has to at least present the case he's a credible threat. He's been better in the last few weeks, and you know he's watching the game tape from last week to see how Adrian Peterson rushed for 182 yards, but before you get too excited, remember he's Shonn Greene. There are much better matchups out there this week than this one. When Sanchez throws, he'll be aiming for Jeremy Kerley and Tight End Dustin Keller. Since his return to health, Keller has 14 receptions, over 140 yards and a touchdown in two games. He's Sanchez's favorite target and will be integral in the game.
The Jets will go a long way to proving their mental toughness if they pull this one out in Seattle. Unlike several divisions, this one is in play, and a Jets victory could got a long way to reinvigorating Cromartie's claims with the New York fans. Call me dubious. Marshawn Lynch will put up 85-90 yards and a couple of scores, while the Seattle defense harries Mark Sanchez for a fairly unproductive day. I don't expect Russell Wilson to put up great numbers in what is likely to be a low-scoring affair. SEAHAWKS 13, JETS 9
ST. LOUIS @ SAN FRANCISCO
The Rams offense has only put up 20 or more points twice this year. They have relied on strong defense and taking advantage of other teams' mistakes to keep them in ball games. However, eight games in and the holes missing from a complete playoff package team are becoming evident. Against the Patriots two weeks ago, the Rams offense sputtered, and unable to string together any serious threats, the Ram defense was overcome and gave up over 400 yards of offense. It was the second straight week of the defensive woes brought on by offensive iniquity. The Rams now meet San Francisco in two of the next four games, and coming off their bye sport a defense that hasn't yield more than six points in four of the last five games. The Rams will be watching the tape from the Seattle game to see how Marshawn Lynch managed to post 100-yard day against the 49ers, only the second back to do so this year. With a line that has struggled, both Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson will find the road rocky. San Francisco has given up just two rushing touchdowns, making a ground touchdown very unlikely. To give you an idea of how bad the Rams passing attack is, Danny Amendola might return after missing four games and he still leads the team in receptions with 32. He was questionable after being limited on Friday, so even if he does play, his likely totals sit with 6-7 grabs and 70 yards. Chris Givens has only 13 catches, yet has amassed 323 yards, and hasn't just become the biggest deep play guy on St. Louis, but the scariest one in the NFL right now. He has five pass receptions of 50 or more yards and has one in five consecutive weeks.
Though Bye Weeks are helpful, sometimes they come at inopportune times. Alex Smith's last game saw him complete 18-of-19 passes for a near perfect passer rating. Randy Moss recalled his legs and moves from years earlier, and took a short out pass for a 47-yard touchdown. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter played complementary roles, and for the third game in a row, tight end Vernon Davis was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps that is the crowning moment of Smith's growth; the fact that Davis doesn't have to be the only guy he can find in his field of vision because he's right in front of him. Smith is spreading the ball around and doing it well, and with Gore healthy, this game seems to be another easy victory for San Francisco. Their D/ST unit is going to make Sam Bradford's day very difficult. Harbaugh will probably keep the offense simple. They'll run as much as they can and try to set up shorter distances for a controlled passing game. Don't expect a huge day from any of their receivers, but I do expect Davis to be more integral this game in the passing attack as the Rams have been kind to opposing tight ends. Alex Smith is likely to give you barely 200 yards passing and a touchdown.
Gore, Hunter and the defense does the work, and the Rams find themselves falling further out of contention.
49ers 23, RAMS 7
HOUSTON @ CHICAGO
Aside from RB Arian Foster, perhaps no injury could be more impactful to this team than the loss of TE Owen Daniels. Daniels ranks fourth among all tight ends with 478 receiving yards and has more touchdowns than all others except Rob Gronkowski. His loss means TE Garrett Graham, will have to fill that void. Graham has just 15 targets all year, but has nine in the past three games and seven of his ten total receptions with a touchdown in that same time span. Arian Foster will get a yeoman's load with Ben Tate ruled out, and though the Bears are currently ranked sixth against the run, they give up 4.3 yards per carry. Andre Johnson's role in this game is more critical as a deep threat and chain mover, as he's their most reliable hands in long situations. Kevin Walter is having a revival of sorts with 21 catches for 307 yards and two scores, but is at best a WR3. Because of Daniels' injury though, you could do worse. Look, the Bears are going to blanket Johnson like teams do Megatron and push Matt Schaub to beat them.
The Bears defense is the primary reason this team is sitting pretty at 7-1, but over the last three weeks they've given up two straight games of over 100 yards rushing offense, and two weeks where passing offenses have ripped off 240 plus yards. Two of the last five games have seen them give up over 400 yards of offense to opponents, those of Dallas and of all teams Carolina. This could be a reckoning for the Bears. Jay Cutler has led the Bears to a comeback victory over the Panthers, and he does have great natural ability. However, as I've mentioned in prior analysis, he's not exactly Peyton or Eli Manning, or even Frank Reich for that matter. Matt Forte will carry the load for Chicago, and is more likely to earn his yards off of receptions than rushing. He's second on the team with 20 catches, behind Brandon Marshall of course. Marshall is so far and away the Cutler's guy that Houston is likely to double him as often as possible. Earl Bennett hasn't been nearly as active this year with just 16 catches, but could see a lot more work in this one.
Buckle yourselves up for a hard fought defensive football game. The NFC has pretty much spanked the AFC around this year, but this game will come down to which QB makes the fewest mistakes and which defense gives up the big play. Even though the Bears have made it through half the season allowing just 120 points, or 15 per game, Houston isn't going to have the same problems they had with Green Bay. I expect both starting tailbacks to have a lot of carries, but returning average yardage totals and both will likely score. No one's been able to stop Brandon Marshall, and even with Cuttler tossing the rock, I expect he'll finish with 10 catches and close to 100 yards. However, I think Schaub is the better QB, Foster is the better runner, and J.J. Watt the better sack specialist.
TEXANS 22, BEARS 17
KANSAS CITY @ PITTSBURGH
Looking at it on the surface, this game would appear to be a snoozer, especially since Todd Haley, the Steelers offensive coordinator, worked for the Chiefs as their head coach just one year ago. However, Romeo Crennel spent the Chiefs bye week stepping away from defensive coordinator duties, which he handed over to Gary Gibbs. The team then waived free agent pickup Sanford Routt, the corner they expect to fill Brandon Carr's role. How the Chiefs and and even more so, the Steelers, react to the Chiefs defense under Gibbs will do a lot in determining the future of Romeo Crennel.
For now, the 1-7 Chiefs have been a blundering mess of ill-timed penalties and turnovers. Jamaal Charles is set to play after sustaining a neck injury in Week 9, but since his 140 yards rushing in Baltimore in early October, he's managed just 83 yards on 29 carries and hasn't scored. While he'll get every opportunity to correct his recent slump, the Chiefs know they have to get the ground game moving on. Should Charles struggle, Shaun Draughn and Peyton Hills will get some carries, rendering Charles a disappointment. Jamaal Charles should finish with 12-14 carries and 65 yards. Matt Cassel defeated Pittsburgh the last time he faced them in 2009, so he is familiar with the kind of things Pittsburgh will throw at him. However, you just have to doubt that he has enough weaponry to take care of business without the Steelers assisting him in some ways. Dwayne Bowe is a sneakier play here and I would use him. Steelers DB Ike Taylor will be charged with shutting down Bowe, but has been known to get beat deep or commit muggings when he can't make a play. Bowe will be used, and the Steelers pass rush hasn't exactly pressured opposing in quarterbacks to making too many mistakes.
Meanwhile, the Steelers find themselves suddenly deep at the RB position after three straight 100-yard performances by runners Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. Starting RB Rashard Mendenhall has already been ruled out, as has WR Antonio Brown. Not looking to make this game close, Todd Haley's offense is going to try to strike at the confidence of the Chiefs , and take them out early. That means Mike Wallace will test CB Brandon Flowers early. Heath Miller is automatically back in your lineup, and will finish Monday with eight grabs. Expect Isaac Redman to start under center, but with he and Dwyer healthy, know that Dwyer will cut into his load substantially. Emmanuel Sanders and veteran wide out Jericho Cotchery will replace Brown.
Expect the Steelers to attack and make the Chiefs remember why they hired Todd Haley to begin with. Opportunities will be there for Charles, and even Bowe or Baldwin, but the Steelers number one defense at home in November will be just too tough.
STEELERS 27, CHIEFS 17