As the election looms large this week, the NFL provides some much needed relief from the petty name-calling and fact-stretching of the politcos we all have had to endure the past few weeks. Football is a great equalizer, reminding us that regardless of our affiliations with different teams or different parties, we can all come together for a good head-mashing, arm-breaking, leg-twisting game of football. Week 9 is full of strong games and including two marquee match ups on Sunday and Monday nights.
THE 1PM DOCKET
|Miller's having a career year.|
The Steelers come into New York winners of two straight. The Giants haven't looked as sharp offensively the past few weeks, but have still managed to win four in a row. This game matches two gunslingers in Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and two strong top ten offenses.
For the Steelers, it's very simple. Their offensive line has been at the heart of their struggles in recent years. They will attempt to run the ball so as to keep DE Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul from impacting the game in the Steelers backfield. The last time the Steelers bested the Giants, Jerome Bettis was in their backfield. Recently, Pittsburgh may have found his clone, RB Jonathan Dwyer, who has two straight performances of 100-plus yards. However, Dwyer's quad issue will likely sideline him Sunday, meaning Isaac Redman would start. He'll be rushing against a Giants defense yielding 4.6 yards per carry. Expect the Steelers to try to control the clock with sustained drives of runs and short passes. Redman hasn't met with much success this year as a workhorse back, and Roethlisberger has yet to make fewer than 30 pass attempts in a game, so expect the Steelers to throw a lot. Roethlisberger will hope to exploit a Giants secondary that has allowed 12 passing touchdowns. His last meeting with the G-men saw him toss four interceptions, and the opportunistic Giants have forced 16 picks this season.
The Giants have found depth at their RB position with Ahmad Bradshaw's health always in question. Andre Brown has added five rushing TDs to Bradshaw's four, but they'll hard-pressed to find pay dirt against a Steelers defense that has allowed just four rushing touchdowns all season. Manning comes off of two subpar performances, but for his career versus Pittsburgh has completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown three touchdowns versus one interception. Expect the Giants to use the shotgun quite often, and use their bevy of talented receivers to expose the Pittsburgh secondary. The Steelers may have trounced the Redskins, but a lot of that score reflected the dropped passes that stalled Redskins' drives and helped the Steelers push through.
Fantasy wise, both teams are eighth best in keeping opposing runners from hurting them. The Steelers know winning comes with a successful ground attack. Redman is at best a flex play with his 2.54 yards per attempt average. However, he's fantastic after contact, and will test the Giants with no less than 15 carries. Touchdowns have eluded Steelers backs, and Heath Miller's six touchdowns are testament to the Steelers passing prowess in the Red Zone. Miller should be a regular fantasy fixture in your lineup. The Giants have given up just one TD to opposing TEs, but that is likely to change this week. The Steelers held A. J. Green to one catch (it was a TD), so expect Hakeem Nicks to have minimal impact in this one. Instead, Martellus Bennet is a likely TD target as well as Victor Cruz, who should be in your lineup every week. Both quarterbacks will get plenty of opportunities to unload and this could be a high yardage affair. The Giants are known to lay ducks at home, but this game brings extra motivation after the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy. The Steelers offensive line will haunt them here, and even with Roethlisberger's mobility, the Giants are likely to get a key turnover that makes the difference.
GIANTS 20, STEELERS 17
DENVER @ CINCINNATI
There probably was no more profound confirmation of the Broncos place among top AFC contenders than their dismantling of New Orleans at Invesco at Mile High last week. The Bengals come off their Bye Week having lost three straight, and now have only one divisional win.
After averaging 110 yards per game in September, the Bengals rushing attack has slowed, managing just 78 yards per contest in October. BenJarvus Green-Ellis hasn't seen his opportunities dwindle so much, but his yards per carry has fallen to 3.4. It will be crucial for the Bengals offense to establish a ground game and bleed time away from Peyton Manning and the Broncos third ranked offense. Green-Ellis has yet to produce 100 yards rushing in any game this season, and thus it's likely Denver will try to take away the passing attack with their eighth ranked secondary, allowing Green-Ellis more leeway. However, keep an eye on RB Cedric Peerman. In his third season, Peerman has rushed the ball only seven times but is averaging nearly 12 yards per tote. He also has caught all eight passes thrown his way for 76 yards. His one touch against Pittsburgh went for five yards and a touchdown. He's not fantasy worthy at this point, but only sheer stubbornness on the behalf of Marvin Lewis would keep him from getting some more opportunities against the Broncos. Quarterback Andy Dalton has played well enough to keep this team competitive. His game against the Steelers was his worst of the season, so expect a well-rested Dalton to seek out A.J. Green early and often, and tuck the ball underneath to Andrew Hawkins for key chain movement.
For Denver, it's going to be simple. Attack a Bengals' secondary, that although opportunistic, has given up at least 11 pass plays over 20 yards in the last three games. With Willis McGahee averaging 4.5 yards per carry, he and Ronnie Hillman are able to sit on a lead.
Fantasy wise, the tight ends are going up against the third and sixth worst defenses in yielding points to that position. For Cincinnati, which throws a lot anyway, they will let Dalton fire away, and Denver has given up six touchdowns to that position. Jermaine Gresham is strong play for 60 yards and touchdown. The choice between Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen is tough, but Dreessen has been the Red Zone target Manning has sought most. For his career, McGahee averaged 3.3 yards per carry, but in his last meeting with Cincinnati, he chewed up 101 yards on 28 carries and scored. The Bengals give up 4.4 yards per carry and are ranked 22nd. Put McGahee's in your lineup this week for certain. Demaryius Thomas is the likeliest of big-play targets and should be in for a strong 100 yard day. You remember what Philip Rivers did to the Denver defense just two weeks ago, and while Denver gives up 213 only passing yards per game, they are allowing a 60 percent completion rate and have yielded 13 touchdowns. Dalton gets a slight edge over Manning because McGahee will take opportunities from Manning's tally. Don't be afraid to start Dalton this week at home as he'll likely get 30-plus passing attempts.
Earlier this week, Cincinnati was getting 3.5 points at home. While their sack numbers dropped from 16 in September to just seven in October, the Denver line has not kept Manning from taking some shots. The Bengals are healthy and will force a few key turnovers. I predict they upset the Broncos this week at home.
CINCINNATI 27, BRONCOS 23
BALTIMORE @ CLEVELAND
The Ravens last met Cleveland just a few short weeks ago, and ended with a six point victory, much as this blog had projected. So what has changed? For one, Cornerback Joe Haden has returned. Second, the Browns have won a second game by shutting down a Chargers offense capable of a lot more than their 25th ranking.
In their first meeting, Cleveland RB Trent Richardson bested his counter-part Ray Rice by delivering 104 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Rice was held to 96 total yards from scrimmage. For the Browns, Richardson will be given ample opportunity to repeat those numbers, and should have another 22-25 attempts from scrimmage. The Ravens rush defense has yielded nine rushing touchdowns already, one less than they allowed all last season. Baltimore will stack the box to make every attempt to stop him, so I'm not keen on a 100-yard performance. However, Richardson will get every opportunity to score as Baltimore is the fifth worst fantasy defense against opposing running backs. Brandon Weeden threw 52 times in their first meeting, but don't think Pat Shurmur wouldn't prefer to lower that number down to the mid-30's. No Browns receiver found the end zone the first time around, but this time the Ravens will have to account for Josh Gordon. The new Browns receiving leader is averaging 22.3 yards per catch and has delivered touchdowns in three of the last four games. He should pick up another end zone tally this weekend. Greg Little is a big body who is likely to get the most targets again, but with suspect hands, might find red zone targets scarce.
|Boldin has been a Browns' killer.|
The Browns failed to score a touchdown through the air last time these two teams met. That will change this time, but it won't be enough to stop a rested Ravens team, and a better performance from Ray Rice. The Ravens will shift back to a Rice-first, pass second offense. Joe Flacco is 9-0 against the Browns, and even with road woes going into this game, Joe Flacco's numbers should be strong enough with his 25-30 attempts and 275 yards and a touchdown to hold off the Browns.
RAVENS 24, BROWNS 19
ARIZONA @ GREEN BAY
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line has sunk so low that they've almost given up enough sacks and QB pressures for an entire year in just half a season. Between the two of them, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have been sacked 39 times, or on 11 percent of their drop-backs. The Cardinals virtually abandoned the running game last week against San Francisco, leaving RB LaRod Stephens-Howling with just six yards on eight carries. William Powell saw zero carries last week, something that won't be repeated against the Packers in Green Bay. Green Bay is suffering too. Their running game hasn't been the same since they lost Cedric Benson to the return I.R. The loss of WR Jordy Nelson to a hamstring injury has made running their spread offense nearly impossible. Wide receiver Donald Driver filled in last week and did catch a touchdown pass, but only had two balls throw his way.
With John Skelton under center, expect the Cardinals to throw quick outs and slants in an effort to get the ball out early and set up delayed runs and screens. The Packers defense is fast on the rise, allowing just 58 percent of all passes to be completed against them, and just 104 ground yards per game. Skelton will attempt to get Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and even Early Doucet involved from the very start. Ace CB Tramon Williams will likely match wits against Fitzgerald, and considering what Cecil Shorts did to the Green Bay secondary last week, expect Fitzgerald to attempt some downfield plays. Certainly Skelton is no worse QB than Blaine Gabbert; the question is only whether his offensive front can hold against a Packers defensive front now tied for the league lead in sacks with 26.
The Packers simply want to get their offense in rhythm, and will throw their way down the field. Much like the Patriots used the short passing game as a substitution for the rush, the Packers will draw the corners and safeties in, but then unload James Jones or Randall Cobb deep. Should Jordy Nelson play, they may spare his hamstring the fly route, but he'll get plenty or curl and slant patterns. Running back Alex Green could matter more in this one than you might think. Once the Packers get the lead, they'll want to give their duo of Green and James Starks some looks to bleed the clock. Arizona's rush defense, ranked 14th just a few short weeks ago has plummeted to 21st, and is now giving up over four yards per carry and 120 yards per contest. This may be Green's best week as a fill-in if you need someone, as I see 60-70 yards and a touchdown in mop-up duty. Green Bay's line has nearly as many problems as Arizona's having yielded 28 sacks so far, and Arizona's defense is tied with the Packers sack total.
With Skelton under center, Arizona's offensive line iniquities will be less forgivable, and the Packers will take advantage. Keep an eye on Jordy Nelson's status as he's been held out of practice but will test his hamstring Friday. If he plays, expect Rodgers to be good for 280 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Without him, expect a closer game. Fitzgerald should give you 10 targets easily and 70-80 yards. Randall Cobb figures to be another six targets in the slot, with Jones using his presence on the outer half of the field for 80 yards of his own. Expect one sack too many on Arizona's side, and Alex Green to seal the deal.
PACKERS 27, CARDINALS 14
CHICAGO @ TENNESSEE
This game is bad news for those of you expecting Chris Johnson's numbers to return to decent. Johnson last faced the Bears when he was a rookie in 2008 and was held to 0.57 yards per carry. One could make the argument that this team's offensive line is worse and that the Bears number one ranked rush defense is better. They are yielding just 78 yards per game, and may simply render this Tennessee running game useless. However, if Tennessee was paying attention, Carolina continued to plow ahead with runs regardless of success, and in turn, found enough yardage to give QB Cam Newton time to make plays. While QB Matt Hasselbeck won't be scurrying by anyone with his feet, he does own a 64 percent completion rate and a career 61.6 percent rate against the Bears. The best way for Tennessee to beat Chicago's 18th ranked pass defense is to use all of the receivers at their disposal, spread the field and set up the best match-ups to exploit.
Chicago's Matt Forte has had a down year in terms of scoring, but that doesn't mean he's any less effective. He and Brandon Marshall comprise the air and ground attack of this 26th ranked offense. With Tennessee giving up 139 yards per contest, you can bet Forte will see a heavy workload, and not just on the ground. The Titans have given up 424 receiving yards to RBs, second worst in all of football. Thus Forte is a top fantasy play, and Marshall isn't far behind him as this may be a big offensive day for the Bears. The biggest danger for an upset sits with the Bears offensive line woes and Cutler's carelessness with the football. Cutler was sacked six times against the Panthers, a team that had generated just 14 overall in the six games. Tennessee has generated just 11 sacks in eight contests.
Tennessee won't be able to get to Cutler much, and they won't have to. They'll be pressed back onto their heels by the Bears rushing attack. Forte will get you 130 total yards from scrimmage at least one touchdown. Brandon Marshall will find 90 yards of his own, but will cede his touchdown to Kellen Davis, who should be a greater factor this game considering the Titans have given up eight passing TDs to opposing tight ends. For the Titans, Johnson might manage 50 yards total. His best chance to make something happen will be in catching the overly aggressive pursuit of the Bears in a blitz. Expect Matt Hasselbeck to have to throw 35-40 times to keep this game competitive. And look for Damian Williams in the end zone, as he has the most TD receptions of any Titans receiver with Hasselbeck under center. After demanding a trade and facing the Bears pass rush, Jared Cook owners are likely in for a long day. He'll be forced to stay home more often than not, and may cede more receptions to Craig Stevens.
With Tennessee getting just 3.5 at home, unless Jay Cutler goes into a post Halloween candy stupor, the Bears should be able to control this game start to finish.
BEARS 31, TITANS 19
|Err on the side of Davone Bess this week.|
Even without QB Ryan Tannehill, the Miami Dolphins seemed poised to make a playoff run. Matt Moore will start his first game of the season Sunday, and is possibly the best backup QB in the league. He'll face one of the tougher pass defenses in the league as the Colts boast the seventh ranked air defense, giving up just 213 yards per game. However, they have allowed 13 passing touchdowns and a completion rate of nearly 65 percent. Moore is likely to play the role of game manager, while handing the ball off a lot to RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. Thomas appears to have won back the favor of his owners, as in three of the last four games he's nearly split carries with Bush. Also note that for the third time in four games the Dolphins attempted 29 or more rushing attempts. Expect to see at least 30 against the 27th ranked rushing defense of Indy, which is giving up 137 yards per game. Expect Brian Hartline to also see his share of targets on the outside, but it will be Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano that top out in this one. Of Moore's 17 career passing TDs with Miami, Fasano and Bess have combined for nine.
The Colts now have a two-headed monster in their backfield. Though Vick Ballard made a spectacular diving touchdown off an Andrew Luck screen, both he and starting RB Donald Brown have a combined eight total catches between them. Miami's rushing defense is ranked third, so expect that Andrew Luck will spread the field, attacking Miami's 27th ranked pass defense. However, though they've ceded lots of yardage, the Dolphins have allowed just 8 passing TDs and a 56.5 percent completion rate. Reggie Wayne may be Luck's favorite target, but in six games against the Dolphins Wayne has never scored and has managed an average of just three receptions and around 28 yards. So don't be surprised if the Dolphins double-team Wayne and leave Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton as the higher fantasy scorers. Wayne should still pull 50-60 yards receiving or so, but that's by sheer opportunity.
The Dolphins will simply rush their way to victory, assuming Matt Moore can avoid the interceptions that Andrew Luck is likely to provide. Miami DE Cameron Wake is going to harass Luck a good part of the day, and even with his mobility, Luck will find that his limited rushing attack keeps him in third and long situations, making it tough to mount sustained drives for points.
DOLPHINS 21, COLTS 12
BUFFALO @ HOUSTON
Just two short weeks ago the Houston Texans defense was seventh on the list of fantasy points leaders for the week. This week they line up against a Buffalo team that may run the ball well, but don't do much else. Texans RB Arian Foster will be the focal point mostly of the Bills defense, which allows six yards per carry. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, arguably the Bills best lineman, is questionable with an ankle, and without him, the prospects of stopping Foster look even more bleak. Expect Foster will get at least the same amount of carries he did against Baltimore (19), though I'd expect it to be more in the range of 23-25. His backup, Ben Tate, is still battling a hamstring problem, meaning Foster should pick up a couple of extra carries. The rest will land in the hands of Justin Forsett, the once hot commodity for the Seattle Seahawks. Foster should get you a couple of touchdowns, and over 120 yards on the ground. Forsett will likely see 6-8 carries to change pace, and will add 30-35 yards of his own. Odds are good on a short plunge TD, but FB James Casey could get that look as well. Matt Schaub has faced the Bills just once and he completed 73.5 percent of his passes with a line of 25-of-34 for 268 with two interceptions. Buffalo's pass defense is only slightly better than their rush defense, so look for Schaub to attempt fewer than 25 passes, with Andre Johnson getting five of those for 80 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the only position the Bills have slowed down is tight end, and with Owen Daniels fighting through a hamstring injury, I expect WR Kevin Walter play a larger role, as well as TE Garrett Graham. Look for Walters to end the day with 6-7 receptions for 55 yards.
The Bills come off their Bye having been surprised by their prize off-season acquisition and former Texan Mario Williams breaking the news he had wrist surgery during their time off and never really wanted out of Houston. Williams is practicing and is expected to play. Certainly, there's extra motivation here going up against his former team.
For Buffalo, they're going to have to press the running game of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller against the Texans third-ranked defense. That won't add up to much, as the Texans yield just 83 yards per contest and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown. The Bills should note that Ray Rice averaged 4.7 yards per game against the Texans, but the running game became an afterthought after the Houston took a commanding lead. The Bills run a spread offense, often from the shotgun, and when you consider Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked just eight times this season, they'll trust that line to keep even the likes of Houston sack specialist J.J. Watt at bay. If that happens, this game could get interesting because the last team that kept Watt away was Green Bay, and they were able to command the air game and take Houston out of their offense. The Bills won't be shy about trying to get Steve Johnson and Donald Jones involved. Johnson is the primary target, and Fitzpatrick is not afraid to use him all over the field. I expect anywhere from 10-13 targets for Johnson on the day, which likely will result in 70 yards and six receptions. Scott Chandler should give you another five catch day and could add a touchdown. However, I think that while Fitzpatrick can make the game close, his offense will likely become one-dimensional very fast, and with no defense behind them, the Bills will again fall behind and make the mistakes that leave little doubt to this one.
TEXANS 38, BILLS 13
|Newton put up just one TD vs.|
Washington last year.
Quarterback Cam Newton set the standard for mobile quarterbacks in the NFL last year with a record-breaking year. Now along comes his protégé, Robert Griffin III, who isn't quite on his pace, but has turned the offense of the 3-5 Redskins into a defensive coordinator's nightmare.
Offensively, the Panthers lack of depth at the wide receiver position will be augmented with the absence of WR Brandon LaFell, who had started to come into his own the last few games with seven catches, 141 yards and a TD in the last two games. Louis Murphy and rookies Kealoha Pilares or Joe Adams will see more time. Murphy is a veteran presence but has butterfingers. Pilares had one big reception this year that went for a touchdown, but in the wry tradition Carolina has of rewarding success, hasn't been thrown to again. Steve Smith will see double teams this weekend, as the Redskins haven't been a sack-heavy defense since the losses of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo. Instead they'll like try to get Newton into long throwing situations and have different players acting as a QB spy. This likely means more passes to RB Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert out of the backfield. Tolbert leads all Panthers' RBs in receiving yards with 101 on 16 catches and is a solid PPR play here. Jonathan Stewart should see 15 carries for close to 80 yards and four receptions for another 30 yards. Pencil him in for a rushing touchdown. However, this Carolina team has managed just 45 rushing first downs, and Washington is strongest in the trenches. Thus, Newton is likely going to have to control this game, and he couldn't pick a better time than against the worst ranked secondary in the NFL. Even with the Redskins trying to remove him from the game, I like Steve Smith this week. He put up over 100 yards on Chicago, and I see a banner day for him even with extra players trying to take him out. Greg Olsen should be a solid play as the Redskins give up the second most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. He'll deliver with a seven catch for 65 yards and a touchdown.
The Redskins push on offense really starts and ends with RB Alfred Morris. Carolina yields 114 yards per contest on the ground, and while they've been stronger lately against the run, they have allowed three running backs to break the 100-yard plateau. Morris will likely do the same. When Morris isn't positioning Washington for short yardage situations, he'll make big plays of his own. He has provided 23 rushes of greater than 10 yards, second best in the league. Washington is still missing Pierre Garcon, leaving Santana Moss again to lead the receiving charge. He's scored four times in four weeks, and is averaging 39 yards receiving per game. Wide receiver Josh Morgan has the deep speed necessary should Griffin go for a big play.
Newton's second season hasn't gone as expected, and without LaFell, the Panthers are going to be short handed. The Redskins have little besides Morris and Griffin, but that's like saying the Miami Heat have little after LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Carolina has never won in Washingotn before, but I expect Newton to be extra motivated going against Griffin and he'll make a few extra plays with his legs that change the outcome.
PANTHERS 24, REDSKINS 21
DETROIT @ JACKSONVILLE
The improved Detroit defense and sudden life from their offense should give Detroit fans comfort that this one won't be the nail biter last week's matchup with the Seahawks turned out to be. After all, Jacksonville's offense and defense are ranked in the bottom third, and Matthew Stafford is coming off what is arguably his best effort to the season. However, Detroit has only handled Jacksonville once in their last four meetings, and the scrappy Jags played the Packers tough.
Blaine Gabbert had his strongest day as a pro against the Packers, throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown. Cecil Shorts has become the surprise of the Jags offense, averaging over 20 yards per catch. As Detroit loses veteran FS Louis Delmas again to injury, you can bet the deep ball will be on this offense's agenda. Though Detroit's defense yields just 214 yards through the air per game, they have given up 10 passing touchdowns, and four have gone to tight ends. So expect that Marcedes Lewis may find the end zone, and may have a surprisingly good day. Running back Rashad Jennings may get you some strong overall yardage totals, but the Lions have been shutting down strong runners all year long, including Matt Forte and Chris Johnson. Don't expect much from Jennings on the ground.
For Stafford, the goal is to get a lead on the road and make Blaine Gabbert prove his Green Bay outing wasn't one and done. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson averages over 90 yards each game, but his lack of scoring has put a damper on the fantasy season for owners who invested in him early. He'll go up against talented veteran corner Rashean Mathis. Mathis has been known to be pretty aggressive and can bite on pump fakes, and that means Johnson will finally find the end zone. The Lions also acquired WR Mike Thomas from the Jaguars this week in an odd trade which in some ways suggests they don't have full confidence that their youthful depth at the WR position. Perhaps they're looking to add some motivation for Titus Young, who has had two solid weeks of production. I wouldn't expect much from Thomas, but I also wouldn't be shocked if he gets a chance to score against his former mates at the expense of Young. Starting running back Mikel Leshoure has averaged four yards per carry this season but has just one touchdown. You can add another one to his tally this week, though Stafford will employ the use of Joique Bell nearly as often on screens.
Detroit finally has things moving in a positive direction. Expect that to continue with Calvin Johnson taking advantage of this 23rd ranked Jacksonville secondary for his second score and his fourth 100-yard afternoon. With Titus Young also bringing in another day of six catches and 70 yards, the Detroit offense will open up on this Jags defense and carry a lead into the fourth quarter for their second straight win.
LIONS 27, JAGUARS 17
THE 4PM DOCKET
TAMPA BAY @ OAKLAND
This game has all the makings of a shootout, with both passing offenses on the rise. The receivers group of Tampa Bay has suddenly become a dynamic deep-play trio that can score from anywhere on the field. Vincent Jackson struggled last week against the tough Minnesota secondary, but should find things easier against an Oakland team he's faced ten times in his career and scored four times against. Both Jackson and Mike Williams are big bodies, and Oakland has had trouble with those kinds of receivers (see Demaryius Thomas 103 yards, Malcom Floyd's 66 yards and a touchdown or Roddy White 72 yards and score). Both these guys can cause issues, and QB Josh Freeman will have time against a barely existent Oakland pass rush that has generated just 10 sacks all year. Oakland's rushing defense has clamped down recently on runners, so expect RB Doug Martin might give you 65-70 yards, but little else. In terms of fantasy, Josh Freeman has been in the top five of fantasy QBs in standard scoring leagues for three straight weeks. This could easily give him a fourth, as the Raiders are not immune to the big play and have given up 12 passing touchdowns.
Carson Palmer has been playing at a top level, while very quietly Denarius Moore has been putting up an All-Pro caliber season. He's scored a touchdown in the last three games and though he has just 26 receptions, is averaging over 16 yards per catch. He's tied with seven players for ninth overall with six plays over 20 yards. However, a lot is going to ride on Darren McFadden and possibly WR3 man Rod Streater. McFadden has had two 100-yard days. Not surprisingly, in both those game Oakland won. Tampa Bay is coming off a week where they gave up over 100 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson, and even with the long break, I expect McFadden to end up close to the century mark. Where Streater comes in is that Oakland has a bunch of finesse receivers and him. At 6'3", 200 pounds, Streater is much more a prototypical physical player. If you saw what Hakeem Nicks or Leonard Hankerson did, you'll get that just like Oakland, Tampa has trouble with bigger physical types. So don't be shocked if Streater ends up with 3-4 targets but for big yardage, like over 70., and he could find the end zone.
The Bucs have been rolling, and though both teams are putrid in third down conversions and putting together sustained drives, after a big win in Minnesota, the Bucs are likely to keep in going in Oakland.
BUCCANEERS 20, OAKLAND 17
MINNESOTA @ SEATTLE
Seattle is the fifth ranked defense against the run. Adrian Peterson is now leading the league in rushing yards gained. Only Frank Gore managed over 100 yards against Seattle on the ground. If Peterson can't get things going, then QB Christian Ponder will have to, and in the past four games he has thrown seven interceptions. The Seahawks are on a two-game slide of their own, and Russell Wilson has two turnovers during that stretch, but more importantly, has completed just 58 percent of his passes. Marshawn Lynch ranks second in rushing yards, just behind Peterson, and he'll be facing a Minnesota team that just allowed Doug Martin to drop 214 total yards on them, including 135 on the ground.
When it comes to quarterbacks, originally I'd have said Ponder is who you stick with here. But it's Wilson that has been more likely to make big plays when necessary. Even against an experienced secondary like Minnesota's, Sidney Rice might vanish, but Wilson will find Golden Tate and TE Zach Miller. Doug Baldwin also returns, and he could factor in the sense that he'll make sure Tate has single coverage. Top wide outs have struggled against the Vikings, but the next man down, has not. Expect Tate to grab a touchdown and add 40 yards to boot making him a nice WR2 for your team this week. Both runners are in your lineups, but I expect Lynch to top out of the two. Neither QB will be fantastic, but I'll defer to Wilson who'll finish with just over 200 yards and two scores.
Don't expect a lot of scoring in this one. Seattle has averaged 18 points in their three home games thus far. The Vikings have averaged almost 20 on the road. Both average way under the league average of 39 percent on third down conversions. Special teams will matter in this one, and the Vikings and Percy Harvin have a slight edge there, because Pete Carroll's Seahawks are among the worst in stopping punt returns. But that's where the edge ends and as long as Seattle can prevent too much damage from Harvin in the kicking game, they'll hold onto this one at home.
SEAHAWKS 20, VIKINGS 14
SUNDAY NIGHT GAME
DALLAS @ ATLANTA
To review the numbers on Dallas is to try to bottle a sense of chaos. While being ranked in the top ten for both offense and defense, the Cowboys have also minus-11 give/take differential and have been outscored by 25 points. They have the fourth ranked defense but have given up 32 more points than Atlanta's 20th ranked defense. They have the seventh ranked offense, but have scored 64 less points than Atlanta's 12th ranked offense. So how and why are many pundits choosing Dallas over Atlanta?
At some point they figure the talent on this roster will gel and create a big game. I'm not one who believes it has anything to do with that. I believe they have a serious coaching issue, and injury losses such as MLB Sean Lee can't simply be wished away. Where Dallas might have a shot is that Atlanta's defense is ranked 23rd in average yards given up per play. Tony Romo certainly has the weapons to exploit that, but you should expect Atlanta to sit back in pass coverage and try to add to Romo's tally of 13 interceptions this year while hoping DE John Abraham can stir the pot in Romo's backfield.
With DeMarco Murray still ailing, Felix Jones and Philip Tanner once again man the Cowboys rushing attack. Last week, that got you a total of 19 rushing yards against the Giants. Atlanta's rush defense can be exploited though, as they give up five yards per carry. Jones isn't a between-the-tackles-runner, so expect Tanner to get more than the two rushes he received last week, which can only hurt Jones' numbers on the ground. With both WRs Dez Bryant (hip) and Kevin Ogletree (hamstring) limited in practice, most of the onus will fall on Jason Witten and Miles Austin to help Romo move this offense. Both Bryant and Ogletree are expected to play, and I could see Ogletree sneaking a touchdown pass, but I'm not looking to these two for much more. Unfortunately for Dallas, Atlanta is strongest against the pass, meaning yardage totals for Austin will probably top out at 75-80 yards but he will provide a touchdown. Witten will provide 40 yards and a possible score as well.
Atlanta's Michael Turner has faced the Cowboys twice, managing just over 57 yards in 20 carries. While he's a crucial part of the offense, the Falcons run less than 40 percent of the time, and will do everything to make sure Romo and the Cowboys find themselves behind again. The Cowboys drafted Morris Claiborne and signed Brandon Carr to help improve their 23rd ranked secondary of 2011 and it has worked. That won't stop Dirk Koetter from giving Matt Ryan 35-40 attempts. Ryan might only complete half of them, but with Tony Gonzalez trolling the middle of the field where newly signed MLB Ernie Sims will be, expect he'll Gonzo to reach the 50 catch mark for his 15th straight season Sunday. Roddy White will likely spar with Morris Claiborne, leaving Julio Jones to work on the veteran Carr, who has been exploited the last several games underneath. Jones will get you eight or nine grabs for close to 90 yards. Harry Douglas is likely expected to return, but that just adds another weapon, along with WR Drew Davis, who saw his first action last week. Look for White to get a chance to outduel the rookie Claiborne on a big play and deliver a key touchdown.
Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan emphatically stated this week his team had to win this one. At 3-4 that's not necessarily true, but it's not a factor of desire. It has been a case of making too many mistakes.
There's a reason these Falcons are 7-0, and it's because at key points in the game they make plays where the Cowboys don't. That won't change Sunday terms of fantasy, Josh Freeman has been in the top five of fantasy QBs in standard scoring leagues for three straight weeks, as Mike Nolan's ever morphing defense keeps Romo in check.
ATLANTA 24, DALLAS 22
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
PHILADELPHIA @ NEW ORLEANS
What could be the swan song of Michael Vick brings him to the Big Easy in what most would have thought to be a key match-up for both these teams to begin their playoff run. Now it's important for other reasons. Vick (and Andy Reid) are fighting to keep their jobs, and in some ways Vick gets a gift from the NFL Gods --- a chance to go against the worst ranked defense in the NFL to show he still has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. You talk about luck mixing at the right time with opportunity. For the Saints, Joe Vitt has been back now a couple of weeks, and may have had a chance to right a sinking ship. However, they were drubbed by Denver last weekend, and the Saints playoff hopes are on life support.
Though LeSean McCoy hasn't been tearing off huge chunks of yardage, he still leads the Eagles with five touchdowns and is their top weapon of choice. The Saints will concern themselves with shutting down McCoy and allowing Vick to throw more, with the hope he'll continue his turnover trend. Vick comes off a game where he didn't turn the ball over at all, but he also was held to 191 yards passing and a touchdown. Against this defense, Vick will find Jeremy Maclin for good chunks of yardage and at least one touchdown. New Orleans is among the worst at giving up average yards per pass, and I expect DeSean Jackson to use his speed to take advantage of it with a couple of deep bombs.
However, Drew Brees and this top rated passing offense will continue to throw at will. With Darren Sproles out this game, expect a bigger role from Pierre Thomas, who'll become a bigger part of the passing game. Both the Saints and Eagles guard Tight Ends well, but Jimmy Graham is returning to health, and is not easily guarded by just one safety. Wide receiver Marques Colston is your top play here as he's been in the top ten fantasy receivers three of the last five weeks and in three games versus the Eagles has found the end zone three times.
The Big Easy won't be easy for the Eagles. Expect a high scoring affair, but as we know, the more Michael Vick throws, the more likely he is to give the ball away. With a minus-9 turnover differential, the Eagles will give New Orleans all they can handle, and the underrated Pierre Thomas and top flight QB Drew Brees will be the difference.
SAINTS 34, EAGLES 29