Saturday, November 17, 2012


NFL WEEK 11 – MATCHUPS & BREAKDOWNS

Week 11 of the 2012 season will likely go down as the end to the storybook seasons of several franchises.  The teams, and even fans, that began this year starry-eyed and perhaps received a taste of early success now have to handle the realities that befall all who engage in a 16-game season.  Arizona, St. Louis, Miami and Washington are four teams which have had their perspectives reverse themselves; from being inside to being out, from looking down to looking up.  They’re not completely eliminated, but their respective directions do not make anyone optimistic.  However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be mined for fantasy value down the stretch.  In fact, some of the best performances late will come from players on non-playoff teams, simply because they’ll play out the season in its entirety while playoff teams will often rest their starters.

THE 1PM DOCKET

 ARIZONA @ ATLANTA
The Falcons need Turner to return to form
The Cardinals travel to Atlanta in an attempt to revive a once-promising season. There are only 31 teams in NFL history that started 4-0 and didn’t make the playoffs.  Already looking up at San Francisco who has a vice grip on the division lead, the Cardinals now are aiming for Wild Card possibilities and face an Atlanta Falcons team coming off their first loss of the season.
Since his 102 yards showing against Dallas in Week 8, Michael Turner has managed a combined average of 2.28 yards per carry for the last three games.  Because the Cardinals rank 24th against the run and yield 4.2 yards per carry, Atlanta will attack where Arizona is weakest and get Turner involved again, especially since the Cardinals are ranked second against the pass.  Matt Ryan has turned the ball over just once in the past three contests, and has completed approximately 70 percent of his passes during that time frame.  This is one game that is a concern in terms of his fantasy output.  Motivation aside after losing their first game, only seven teams give up less fantasy points to QBs than Arizona.  Expect Arizona to take a bend-don’t-break attitude against Atlanta’s prolific pass offense, which should allow Roddy White and Julio Jones solid days.  Arizona CB Patrick Peterson has been struggling, but I still expect his matchup against White gives Julio Jones the best chance for the biggest day – eight receptions for 110 yards and a TD.  White should also get you 6-7 grabs for 85-90 yards, but the running game will cut into his numbers.  Tony Gonzalez has just one career TD against the Cardinals which have allowed just three of the 13 passing TDs given up to opposing Tight ends.  That doesn’t mean you’re sitting him, but you’re tempering expectations.  In PPR leagues, Jacquizz Rodgers should post decent numbers again, and might see more rushes if Turner struggles again.

For Arizona’s offensive line, D’Anthony Batiste was supposed to hold the fort at left tackle after Levi Brown went down for the season.  He’s failed and will be replaced by a rookie this week in Nate Potter.  That move alone could define this game, as when John Skelton has had time to throw, he’s shown glimpses of being able to lead an offense.  The last two games Skelton’s averaged over 290 yards passing, and he’s likely to have to throw 30-35 times to keep Arizona competitive.  The Cardinals rushing attack is ranked worst in the league.  When you look at William Powell’s overall body of work this year, his demotion is puzzling, even though he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry for the season.  However, LaRod Stephens-Howling will likely get the full load of carries.  Against Atlanta’s poor run defense that should amount to at least 60-70 yards on 15-17 attempts.  Larry Fitzgerald should have a decent game as he has the best chemistry with Skelton, but don’t forget about the 10 catches on 18 targets the past two weeks that Michael Floyd has.  He’s starting to cut into the load of each receiver, and could overtake Andre Roberts, who is going to move to the slot in three receiver sets.  You can play each with the realization that 5-6 catches is likely their ceiling with Fitzgerald getting the red zone looks.

Atlanta hasn’t lost two straight since December 2009, and with Arizona struggling at converting third downs (30%) and a new left tackle, expect John Abraham to make Skelton’s day difficult, and the Falcons will do just enough to beat a pesky Cardinals team.
ATLANTA 24, ARIZONA 14


GREEN BAY @ DETROIT
Simply put, the Packers have owned the Lions, beating them in all but two meetings since 2003.  In their last meeting in 2011, the Packers rested Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn stepped in and threw a historic six touchdowns, while Detroit QB Matthew Stafford threw for over 500 yards and five touchdowns of his own. 

Detroit comes into this meeting with their playoff hopes fading fast.  While still amassing yards, Stafford has thrown just 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions, and no one has been more connected to his decline than Calvin Johnson.  Johnson has just two touchdowns this year, and if any two players need each other to snap out of it simultaneously, it’s these two.  Though he’s only been on the winning side once, Johnson has 10 touchdowns in nine games against Green Bay, and even with their improved secondary play, he’ll be a worthy stud as always.  Mikel Leshoure, who averages four yards per tote, will get 12-15 attempts, but Jim Schwartz has hardly dedicated himself to running the football.  Detroit runs two plays for every run, which explains their league-leading 401 passing attempts.  Thus, Stafford will give Johnson his 12-13 looks, but the Lions won’t forget their Week 16 meeting last year where Brandon Pettigrew put up 116 yards on seven catches.  Titus Young also adds another solid option, and I wouldn’t be shy about starting him in this one.

For all of Detroit’s improvements on defense, including their ninth ranking against the pas, they’ve given up one more passing touchdown than Green Bay’s 20th ranked unit and allow 66 percent of opposing passes to reach their targets.  The Packers offense expects to welcome back Jordy Nelson, who scorched Detroit for three touchdowns on 162 yards receiving in their last contest.  Randall Cobb’s last three games have lifted him to new status as no ordinary slot receiver in the Packers offense.  He has 16 grabs for 154 yards and five TDs.  He and James Jones are still viable plays as there’s no telling how close to 100 percent Nelson hamstring will be.  James Starks and Alex Green with split carries, but will likely hold little more than some decent yardage totals for owners.

This should be a big game for both quarterbacks on the turf of Ford’s Field.  Without Clay Mathews, the Packers lack of pass rush could compromise their secondary, making this shootout a closer matchup.  However, Stafford just hasn’t been himself this year, and with Green Bay favored by just three, I’d stick with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.


PACKERS 34, LIONS 27

CLEVELAND @ DALLAS
The Cowboys are on a long list of disappointments this season.  However, they’re still 4-5, and with the Giants losing two straight, find themselves still in the race for the NFC East.  At 2-7, the Browns are playing for next year’s possibility.  That could mean a lot more experimentation as the season progresses, particularly among the wide receivers.  Against Dallas, ranked seventh overall against the pass, the Browns’ mediocre receivers corps will be challenged to move the chains.  Josh Gordon has taken over as the yardage and TD leader, but neither he nor Greg Little have caught more than 55 percent of their targets.  This week Joshua Cribbs complained about his role with the offense.  For his career Cribbs has appeared in 117 games and started 31 of those.  His contributions on special teams are well known, but he’s added just 106 catches for 1152 receiving yards and seven touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns on the heels of 719 yards on 124 carries.  To say he’s been under-utilized isn’t quite true – it’s more to the point that he hasn’t delivered the way the Browns had hoped as a receiver.  Whether his outcry means anything more than simple discontent in a locker room of a losing team is hard to know, but the only player you can consider this week is Trent Richardson, who has 100-yard outputs in his last two contests, not to mention six receptions and a touchdown.  Brandon Weeden has been a heck of a lot better on the road, but this is not a match-up I’d be enthused about.

The Cowboys defense had its best game against Philadelphia a week ago, and Tony Romo has had two straight weeks of over 70 percent completion rating and no turnovers.  DeMarco Murray has been downgraded to doubtful for Sunday, so again Felix Jones has primary running duties.  He has averaged over four yards per carry with 25 total carries in his last two games, and has eight receptions for 92 yards and a score.  However, only four teams have less rushing attempts than Dallas, and though this contest provides ample opportunity for a ball-control offense, Jones won’t get more than 18 carries.  That still should result in over 100 yards rushing and his added receptions should make him a strong RB2 play.  Miles Austin is likely to be shadowed by CB Joe Haden, and that means Dez Bryant will get more possibilities in the passing game.  Jason Witten has been heating up as of late, with 33 catches in three games, but still has just one touchdown.  Cleveland has been tough in the middle of the field, so a score for Witten is unlikely. Last week, Kevin Ogletree caught his first TD since Week 1, and has seen his time on the field dwindle between his nagging hamstring and substitutions.  He’s not someone to rely on this week.

The Cowboys have to be hungry, but they aren’t a cohesive enough unit to cover eight points against the Browns in Cleveland.
COWBOYS 21, BROWNS 14


JACKSONVILLE @ HOUSTON
The Jaguars last meeting with Houston in Everbank Stadium ended in a 27-7 defeat.  Neither team threw the ball with any success; one team because it wasn’t necessary, the other because they simply couldn’t.  Things haven’t changed that much.  Houston’s Arian Foster continues to be among the most dominant players at his position and he’ll again be in for a strong output, even as Jacksonville attempts to remove him from the game.  I expect he’ll be held under 100 yards but could easily score twice.  Andre Johnson has been among one of the bigger fantasy disappointments, but this game he won’t be held down.  Though they’ve given up just nine passing TDs, seven have gone to wide receivers, so expect Johnson to end up with 100-plus yards receiving and a score.  Owen Daniels is questionable with a hip injury, so check his status, but he’s more likely to play than not.  However, I’m not pegging him for high marks in this one.

The Jags Blaine Gabbert still can’t fire well under pressure.  With Rashad Jennings failing to provide any spark in the rushing attack, Gabbert is likely to face a stout Houston rush that will make finding his only strong receiving threat, Cecil Shorts, a challenge.  Michael Spurlock might be an x-factor here, in that he’s become a competent short yardage receiver who can make plays.  If Gabbert is looking to get rid of the ball quickly, he’s a slot guy who can assist there and offer a nice sleeper play.  However, even as a division match-up, unless Houston has a complete meltdown, they should move to 8-2.
TEXANS 35, JAGUARS 13
PHILADELPHIA @ WASHINGTON
The Eagles faithful get their first game with Nick Foles as a starter and perhaps a glimpse into the future of the franchise.  Perhaps, but let’s not get too far ahead ourselves.  Foles first action of the season revealed some promise but reminded us that he’s a work in progress.  The Redksins have lost three straight after a strong 3-3 start, mostly because their once stout run defense has been pushed around at the line scrimmage by both the Steelers and Giants, and instead of finishing drives with touchdowns, they’ve been settling for field goals.

LeSean McCoy will be the horse Philadelphia bets on to carry the load, but he’ll still be loading up against the Redskins strength. McCoy has just one career rushing touchdown against the Redskins, and you should expect his rushing totals might hover around 60 yards.  Where he is likely to make up ground is on short passes and screens which are the kind of plays rookie QBs often run early on in their first game.  The Redskins passing defense is ranked 30th, and is such a liability that they’ll have to account for DeSean Jackson everywhere on the field.  Foles has shown no shyness about lobbing a ball and having his receiver get it, and I expect Jackson will be the most likely target of a few of these passes.  Otherwise, keep an eye on Brent Celek and Clay Harbor.  Tight ends are usually the biggest check down options for quarterbacks, and expect the Foles will have trouble with his progressions.  Each received three targets last game, and were prime targets on second down and short yardage.  Jeremy Maclin will be targeted 4-5 times, but as an outside receiver, Foles will have the most trouble getting him the ball consistently.

Garcon returns this week for the Redskins
The Redskins finally return Pierre Garcon to the starting lineup, and the Eagles have been unable to keep the first option receivers out of the end zone, so expect Robert Griffin III to get Garcon reintroduced to the football as soon as possible.  Alfred Morris still holds the keys to the Redskins success, and the Eagles give up 113 rushing yards per game.  Griffin should have time with the Eagles minimal pass rush, so a few shots down the field to Garcon and Leonard Hankerson are not out of the question.  Santana Moss last scored against the Eagles in 2009, and has just two touchdowns against them in 13 games.  He’ll get his share of short targets, but don’t expect big numbers.

In the end, these are two of the most penalized offenses in the league.  But with Foles under center, the possibilities for mistakes increase two-fold.  Add to that Philadelphia’s terrible special teams play, and the Redskins should get their fourth win of the season.

REDSKINS 23, EAGLES 13

Sanu is working himself into more targets

CINCINNATI @ KANSAS CITY
A case could easily be made for an upset here.  The Bengals have lost two of their last three meetings at Arrowhead Stadium, and their defense is suspect enough that one mistake at a crucial time could push Kansas City to their first home win.

The Chiefs still don’t utilize Jamaal Charles to his fullest extent, and yet he’s still been successful.  After dropping 100 rushing yards on a tough Steelers unit, Charles would seem to be shoe-in for that kind of game against Cincinnati.  However, he wasn’t even targeted for a pass against the Steelers, while Peyton Hillis carried 10 times and received one screen attempt.  Shaun Draughn was simply relegated to special teams duties.  This three-headed monster could make a long day for Cincinnati if utilized, as Matt Cassel has enough big play possibility with Dwayne Bowe to make just enough passes to keep things alive. Bowe should be in your lineup here for at least four receptions and 80 yards.  Tony Moeki had six targets against the Steelers, and of all matchups the Bengals offer him an upside play as there are only four teams that have allowed opposing tight ends to score more fantasy points.  However, Brian Daboll’s game plans have rarely featured the tight end, and though I think Moeaki will get another 4-5 targets, it may not merit you using him as a bye week play.

The Bengals Andy Dalton returned to form last week against the Giants, and delivered four touchdowns with just 199 yards passing.  The Chiefs passing defense is their strength, and CB Brandon Flowers will be tested to keep A. J. Green from taking over the game.  Keep an eye on Mohamed Sanu, who is threatening to cut into Andrew Hawkins load, and has all but removed Armon Binns from the field.  The Chiefs have given up one third of their passing touchdowns to tight ends, and Jermaine Gresham’s numbers have continued to rise.  He’s going to be a solid start this weekend against a touch KC pass defense, particularly in the red zone.  Nobody has stepped up for Cincy in the rushing game, but if you invested in BenJarvus Green-Ellis based on his opportunities, he should be worth 75-80 yards here.

This has the makings of an upset.  Arrowhead is a tough place to win, and prior to the Giants game, Andy Dalton had thrown five interceptions in the three previous games. If Kansas City utilizes the personnel they have right, this game could come down to a field goal.

CHIEFS 23, BENGALS 20



NEW YORK JETS @ ST. LOUIS
This is one game begging for you to insert both these defenses into your lineup.  The Jets are negative two on the give/take and have been outscored by 53 points for the season.  The Rams are minus three and have a negative point differential of 49.  In three games the Jets have failed to score ten points, and in five they’ve failed to make it to 20.  The Jets Shonn Greene averages less than four yards per haul, and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford are among the bottom ranked QBs for big pass plays.  However, I’m more partial toward using the Rams D/ST then trusting the Jets for anything.

Sam Bradford is coming off arguably one of his best games in recent memory, having thrown for 275 yards and two touchdown strikes against San Francisco, forcing a tie game.  Against the Jets, he may not have to throw, as New York’s rush defense is in shambles, yielding 4.4 per carry and 145 yards per game.  This should allow both Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson plenty of running lanes.  Jackson comes off his best rushing day of the season and against a top rated rush defense, posting 101 yards and a score.  The return of Danny Amendola helps this unit plenty, and now deep threat Chris Givens will return to the fold.  The Jets pass defense is their strength, but still Amendola will get six catches for 75 yards.  While Givens will get another shot deep, the Jets have been a disaster at guarding tight ends.  Thus Lance Kendricks becomes a sleeper play of mine for five receptions 55 yards and his second touchdown of the season.

The Jets offense should generate some big plays against the Rams as Jeremy Kerley is among the top twenty with six big play catches.  He and Stephen Hill provide an inconsistent, if unspectacular one-two punch.  Dustin Keller will be targeted anywhere from 5-7 times and will get some decent yardage, but the Rams have allowed just three touchdowns to be caught by opposing tight ends.  Keller has the likeliest percentage to get a TD pass from Sanchez in the red zone, but both teams are fairly inefficient on third downs, so there will be few drives that get them there.
The Jets are turning the ball over profusely these days, and on their second road trip West in two weeks, things aren’t likely to improve.

RAMS 17, JETS 10
TAMPA BAY @ CAROLINA
Since their Week 5 bye, the Buccaneers have averaged almost 36 points per game.  It’s almost as if you could hear Greg Schiano turn to Mike Sullivan and as if permeated by Russell Crowe’s character Maximus from Gladiator said, “At my signal, unleash hell.”  Josh Freeman has thrown for three touchdowns in three of five games.  That didn’t happen in the first four games once.  Doug Martin has benefited as well, as he’s eclipsed 100 yards twice since the bye week whereas he hadn’t breached that barrier at all prior. 

Meanwhile, the Panthers are mired in basically the same statistical season Newton had a year ago, but Steve Smith is a year older, and the loss of his touchdowns from a year ago has rendered the team challenged in the scoring department, averaging seven points less per game than last year.  While Brandon LaFell has developed into a more viable threat, the Panthers are still seeking consistency in their passing attack.  The Panthers have a three-headed rushing monster in Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.  That doesn’t even include Cam Newton, the best of the bunch with 5.6 yards per carry average on 63 carries.
Tampa Bay’s top rated run defense will be challenged by Stewart and Williams who own a 6.11 and 4.9 yards per carry average against the Bucs.  However, it is more likely this game falls on Newton.  Expect Newton to be active, rolling out and putting himself in position to scramble should there be nowhere to throw.  Newton will provide quality fantasy numbers – 220-plus passing yards and two passing TDs.  Newton will try to exploit Steve Smith’s matchup with Eric Wright, and if there ever was a game where Smith is a must start, this is it.  Expect at least 10 targets and eight grabs for over 100 yards.  Greg Olsen has become the receptions leader on the team with 43, and will work over the safeties for a touchdown as well.  However, this Bucs defense stuffs runs 21 percent of the time will likely hold the Panthers rushing attack in check while delivering a blow of their own via Doug Martin, who managed 95 yards in the first meeting.  Josh Freeman will continue his growth with another 250-plus yards and will specifically exploit Mike Williams matchup with Panthers DB Captain Munnerlyn for a 60 yards and score.  Tiquan Underwood has two touchdowns in the last four games, and he’s more likely to play a role than Dallas Clark, as the Panthers have a tough linebackers’ group. 

The Buccaneers are a playoff contender.  While they’ll make Newton, Smith and Olsen worthy fantasy starts, they won’t be able to score enough to keep up with the high-flying Buccaneers.

BUCCANEERS 27, PANTHERS 17


THE 4PM DOCKET


SAN DIEGO @ DENVER
Fantasy wise this game seems to be filled with promise considering the 35-point second half Denver put on the Chargers’ defense Week 6.  However, when it comes to predicting the result, Denver tops out in every way. 

First, Denver’s defense improved to sixth overall, while growing their offense to the third spot in the league.  While San Diego has played strong enough defense to be labeled seventh best, they’ve struggled against better offensive teams (i.e. New Orleans, Tampa Bay).  Ryan Mathews faces the tenth ranked Denver rushing defense, giving up 3.6 yards per carry. Mathews’ potential is huge, particularly in the passing game, but his ill-timed fumbles have put a stigma on him so much so that Ronnie Brown ranks second on the team with 35 receptions.  If anything, Philip Rivers strongest possibility lies in WR Denario Alexander.  Malcom Floyd will line up against potent Denver DB Champ Bailey, leaving  Alexander and Antonio Gates to be the difference makers.  Alexander comes off a season-best, 134-yard performance against Tampa Bay, but he’s lacked consistency for his career, mostly due to injury. Gone are the days where Gates will provide 100 yards receiving, but he’s managed two straight games with TD receptions, and he’ll likely cause problems for Denver’s deep secondary again.  Pencil in Gates for six receptions and 75-80 yards with a score.

Willis McGahee won’t likely meet with much success against San Diego.  The Chargers yield just 3.6 yards per carry and only 83 yards per game.  That means 50-60 yards on the ground and another four reception for McGahee.  However, the Chargers will be focused on stopping Eric Decker, who grabbed six balls for 98 yards and a touchdown in their first meeting.  The Chargers don’t give up too many big plays, so temper expectations for Demaryius Thomas, whose chance of a touchdown come from his own athletic ability after the catch.  Jacob Tamme isn’t likely to play in this one, so Joel Dreessen becomes the de facto tight end and red zone target.  Manning has thrown four of his 21 TDs to Dreessen, and he’ll have an active role in Sunday’s game as he did in Week 6. 

I like the Denver defense at home, particularly against Rivers, who has looked mechanically sloppy in the past few weeks.  Peyton Manning isn’t likely to have the kind of game he did last time, but 245 yards and two touchdowns isn’t out of the question. 

BRONCOS 21, CHARGERS 17
INDIANAPOLIS @ NEW ENGLAND
Whether fans have realized it or not, the light has gone on for Colts QB Andrew Luck.  Prior to Week 8, Luck was completing less than 60 percent of his passes.  The last three weeks has seen him grow that to nearly 70 percent of his attempts while throwing three touchdowns against one interception.  He’s also added two rushing touchdowns.  The Patriots escaped Buffalo last week, and their defense has truly become a sieve, but the addition of Aqib Talib, expected to line up at CB this week, could bring some desperately needed secondary assistance.

Bruce Arians will attempt to get this offense clicking early on, using veterans Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery to take advantage of a New England secondary still likely to be missing safety Patrick Chung.  Avery has just one career appearance against New England, and it was a career six-catch, 163-yards, one touchdown performance in 2008.  Wayne has been stellar and in ten games versus the Patriots has 55 receptions for 734 yards and five scores.  Belichick will try to double Wayne, which might limit his entrance into the end zone, but that just makes Avery prime for a strong day, and T.Y Hilton a possible deep target for a quick score.  The Patriots are strong against the run, but I expect Arians to use the pass here to loosen up New England’s quality front seven.  Dwayne Allen should be a solid TE play as only four teams give up more fantasy points to tight ends, and the Pats have allowed six passing scores to that position.
Tom Brady isn’t the same quarterback when he’s under pressure, but the Indianapolis defense is averaging barely two sacks a game, not to mention yielding 4.7 yards per carry and 120 rushing yards per game.  Bill Belichick understands that stopping Luck is the key for the Pats, and for a change it will be the Patriots attempting a more ball-control offense.  Wes Welker is questionable with a bad ankle, possibly removing one more target from Brady’s stable, and that means Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead could share 30 carries this weekend.  Naturally, Ridley will be see 18-20 of those, and should be able to post RB1 numbers.  Both New England tight ends are questionable, though Aaron Hernandez isn’t expected to play.  That leaves Rob Gronkowski to test a Colts secondary that has the least amount of points given up to opposing tight ends.  Gronk is an every week start, and in two games against Indianapolis has put up 68 yards and two scores.  Expect something like 3-4 receptions for 40 yards and a score with an uptick if Welker can’t go.  Brandon Lloyd should have another 7-8 looks this week and a score, and don’t be shocked if Deion Branch figures in, but he’s not someone to invest in fantasy wise.

If this game was in Indianapolis, I could make a case for an upset, but Bill Belichick has found way to undo strong quarterbacks in his house.  Add the fact that Luck is a rookie, and I see one too many mistakes from Luck, leading to a strong Patriots showing. 

PATRIOTS 31, COLTS 17


NEW ORLEANS @ OAKLAND
The most surprising element in New Orleans has been the arrival of Chris Ivory, who has turned the imbalanced offense of the Saints into a newly leveled onslaught.  Ivory is averaging 7.1 yards per carry in 17 carries and has scored twice.  Against Oakland, a team bereft of a rushing attack, it won’t matter if they have a lead or not – the Raiders are going to be emulating a New Orleans offense.  Thus this game has all the possibility for two top five performances from the quarterbacks.


Ivory's numbers will correct.
For the Raiders, Carson Palmer is on a career pace this season, but it has been at the expense of victories.  The Raiders have often fallen behind and Palmer’s success has come out of necessity just to stay competitive.  Palmer has thrown for 782 yards and six touchdowns in his last two matchups.  Marcel Reece will get the bulk of the rushes and owns a 4.6 yards per carry average for his career.  However, he’s never carried more than eight times in a game, so even against the Saints 31st ranked defense expect not more than 12 carries.  However, a touchdown plunge isn’t out of the question.  Tony Gonzalez cut the Saints defense apart, meaning Brandon Myers, Oakland’s receptions leader, could be even more involved in their game plan this week.  Myers had five more receptions against the Ravens, and seeing how the Saints protected the end zone of both Julio Jones and Roddy White, Myers could easily find pay dirt. Darius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore should provide good yardage for fantasy purposes, but Moore is your most likely TD recipient, as he leads the team in red zone targets. 

Expect the Saints to forge as strong a lead as possible to force Palmer into his one-dimensional offense and thus create the conditions for turnovers.  The Raiders will be most concerned with Jimmy Graham, who has returned to health and delivered four touchdowns in the past three games.  Marques Colston is by far Brees’ top target, delivering six touchdowns in the last five games.  However, Lance Moore has been the yardage eater, delivering 60-plus yards in four of the last five contests.  The Raiders are not immune to the deep ball, and Devery Henderson is due.  He’ll get his shot and score putting up one of his three-catch, 85 yards and TD performances.  Chris Ivory’s yardage numbers are bound to correct, and averaging 7-8 carries, expect no more than 35-40 yards on Sunday. 

SAINTS 38, RAIDERS 27

SUNDAY NIGHT
BALTIMORE @ PITTSBURGH
What could have been a more easily predictable matchup was flipped on its head when Byron Leftwich took over at quarterback.  The Steelers return Rashard Mendenhall to the starting lineup, but his history against Baltimore isn’t married to success.  Last year he had a combined 25 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown in two games.  This year, the Ravens defense in the bottom third, 26th against the run, and there’s no doubt the Ravens will fill the box to prevent Mendenhall from beating them.  Thus, expect Leftwich to be passing on early downs in an attempt to buy himself extra time for his long delivery.  Without WR Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders will become a key player for the Steelers to move the chains.  Along with Heath Miller, each will be targeted for shorter pass plays to keep drives moving.  Expect the Steelers to want to lead this game, and that means they’ll take an early shot deep Mike Wallace and perhaps more than once.  If the Steelers can get the lead, they can hold it. Expect Wallace to end up with one big play and a few more catches, making him a four catch, 90 yard guy with a score.  Sanders will like see 7-8 grabs for 60 and Miller around the same numbers for 45.

Joe Flacco’s home versus road success this year is heavily disparate.  At home, Flacco looks like an elite player, complete 62 percent of his passes, averaging over nine yards per attempt and posting a 10:3 touchdown to interception ratio.  On the road, Flacco’s completing 52 percent of his passes, has a 5.3 yards per attempt with three touchdowns versus four interceptions.  It’s not surprising the Ravens two losses are both on the road, and for them to win, Ray Rice will be pressed into having another strong game.  For his career he’s averaged 4.14 yards per carry against the Steelers and has three total scores in seven regular season games.  Torrey Smith was the hero of their last meeting in Heinz Field, catching a TD with just eight seconds remaining. He’s by far their most dangerous receiver, and he’ll be matched with Ike Taylor in a duel by which Smith will find it hard to put up good numbers. Don’t be surprised to see five catches for 55 yards and a score.  Dennis Pitta gave the Steelers fits last year and put up seven catches for 91 yards in two games.  He won’t be a great fantasy play but will be crucial in some clutch situations.  Anquan Boldin will likely find the end zone, but be challenged for much else.

This game would have appeared to be the Steelers to lose a few short weeks ago.  The Steelers defense is again the best in the NFL, but their offense may put them in some tenuous situations if not by turnover, by simply losing the field position battle.  Leftwich just doesn’t have the mobility to deal with this kind of rivalry and to make plays when he needs to.

RAVENS 21, STEELERS 16



MONDAY NIGHT
CHICAGO @ SAN FRANCISCO

Two of the top defenses meet on Monday night in what could be a preview of the NFC Championship game. The Bears come off just their second loss of the season, while San Francisco escaped with a tie after a penalty negated what could have been a St. Louis victory drive in overtime.

The biggest concern for Chicago is their recent spate of yardage allowed against the run.  The Bears are now giving up 4.2 yards per carry and have ceded a 100-yard rusher in two consecutive games.  Granted those two rushers were Chris Johnson and Arian Foster, but Frank Gore is having a resurgent year in San Francisco and is third among all starting rushers with over 5.4 yards per carry.  Gore has averaged 17 carries and around 85 yards in his three games against the Bears, and with Alex Smith on the heels of a concussion, expect as many carries as he can handle.  One hundred ten yards and a touchdown could easily be within Gore’s range Sunday night, making him just the third RB to score on the Bears this season.  The Bears concede the most yardage on short and intermediate plays, which means you can expect a healthy Mario Manningham to be targeted quite a bit, and Micheal Crabtree to again play a prominent role.  Tight end Vernon Davis will face a tough test, and with the Bears giving up the third fewest fantasy points to that position, expect more average fantasy numbers in the realm of four catches and 40 yards.

Jay Cutler is out for this contest, leaving Jason Campbell as a very reliable fill-in.  In fact, my contention is that having Cutler’s sloppy mechanics on the sideline might give the Bears the best chance of pulling out a victory.  Though Campbell is 0-2 against the 49ers, both those games came behind the offensive lines of two pretty lousy teams.  His line offensive line might not be a whole lot better, but his weapons certainly are.  Matt Forte has three rushing touchdowns for the year, but has yet to score on the end of pass play. The 49ers have been the cruelest in terms of giving up fantasy points to opposing rushers, and Forte’s yardage totals could be compromised here.  However, with Campbell under center expect them to work him in with shorter passes initially, meaning Forte will finally add more receptions to his season and perhaps his first touchdown reception.  The Niners have had struggles with big physical talents in the passing game, and Brandon Marshall will be a tough cover.  I expect he’ll be targeted as often as possible, meaning 12-13 for 95-100 yards and at least one score. Alshon Jeffrey returns, and he’ll be used early on in an attempt to loosen coverage on Marshall and establish him as a credible threat.  Expect 6-7 targets, four grabs and 55 yards or so.

Special teams could be crucial.  Chicago has not scored on a punt or kickoff return this season, a rarity for a Devin Hester-led unit.  The 49ers gave up their lone kick return touchdown in Week 1 against Green Bay, but since then have locked the door.  San Francisco also has a speedy weapon of their own in Ted Ginn.

Forte has a meager two yards per carry average for his career against the 49ers.  Without him, the Bears still have a big play threat, but will have trouble sustaining effective drives.  Overall, the 49ers offense is the difference, and even though it will be low scoring, Alex Smith will deliver a big NFC victory.


49ers 19, BEARS 13