Saturday, December 29, 2012

NFL WEEK 17 - MATCHUPS & BREAKDOWNS


For those of you competing in Week 17, I suggest you find a new commissioner.  All kidding aside, this is the week that can be amongst the most heartbreaking when all of your hard work might come down to a decision of any head coach to rest a particular player, try out other guys who have been promoted from the practice squad due to injury, and generally screw around with the entire consistency of a football game.  Thus, even with the analysis below, your first tier of players are generally on teams that have something to play for; teams playing for home field advantage, teams sitting on the cusp of a playoff berth.   The next tier is the second stringers you know are likely to fill in on those teams that don’t want to risk losing a player to injury.  For example, Atlanta has no reason to keep their starters in and with the automatic bye could essentially give injured players two weeks rest to get ready for their first playoff game.  Teams like Baltimore and Cincinnati, who coincidentally face each other, cannot improve their seeding much by winning or losing, and thus starters on these teams could be limited to a half or action or even less. 

If you'd prefer to hear my thoughts, I appeared on the Twitter Fantasy Roundtable this past Wednesday night so you can hear some of my thoughts on the season and on Week 17.  It was my first live show in two years, and it felt good to be back at it with the likes of great minds like Jim Day, Allie Fontana and Ric Serritella of NFLDraftBible.com. 

THE 1PM DOCKET
TAMPA BAY @ ATLANTA
What might have been an interesting game had the Buccaneers defense stopped pressuring Josh Freeman and the offensive unit to score over 30 points weekly to compete now becomes an evaluation game for Greg Schiano and his staff.  On the flip side, Mike Smith attempts to prime his team for a game two weeks away so they won’t make another early exit from the playoffs.  Smith has insisted his team will play to win the game, which means almost nothing because what franchise enters a game with the intent to lose.  Don’t be surprised if both Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan experiment with different looks or sets as a dry run for their divisional game on January 12 or 13. 



Jacquizz Rodgers could have more carries
Matt Ryan keys this offense now.  No amount of Michael Turner can save them from a bad outing from Ryan.  The Buccaneers are ranked dead last against the pass, giving up 303 yards per game and allowing an opposing completion rate of 65.5 percent.  Ryan has thrown nine touchdowns against one interception in the last three games resulting in 19, 22, and 29 fantasy points respectively in that span.  In their first match up, a 24-23 Atlanta victory, Ryan completed 26 of his 32 passes for 353 yards.  There’s no reason to think that Atlanta won’t throw earlier this game using the air game to set up the ground game against Tampa’s top rated rush defense.  This game could see Michael Turner when necessary, but should the Falcons open up the kind of lead they’re capable of, Jacquizz Rodgers should see more carries, particularly as the game moves on.  In their previous meeting he ran 10 times for 49 yards and touchdown, while Turner was snuffed to just 17 yards on 13 carries.  Turner did score the winning touchdown, but at age 30, there’s a good chance he’ll be among the key personnel to step out early.  Rodgers also has 45 receptions on the season, and though he has just seven targets the last three games, he could easily top out at 100 yards from scrimmage this weekend.  Julio Jones has been firing on all cylinders the last few weeks, and against a Tampa secondary that’s prone to giving up big plays like the 80 yard TD he dropped on them at Raymond James Stadium, look for good early returns from Jones again.  Roddy White is fighting through a knee issue, and though he might make the field, the likelihood is Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez will get a greater load.  Don’t buy into the idea that because Gonzalez is older he’ll sit this one out.  Gonzalez is a competitor and seeing how the Buccaneers are the fifth worst defense against opposing tight ends, expect Gonzalez to bring in a first half TD, and maybe take a load off in the second half.

The Buccaneers have nothing to lose this game.  Thus, I expect the playbook to be opened with reckless abandon.  Expect Doug Martin to give you another 100-yard output, and Josh Freeman to make Vincent Jackson the single season record holder of receiving yards for Tampa Bay.  Mike Williams has also become a end zone maven the past couple of weeks scoring three times in the past four contests.  Between the two of them, Jackson and Williams have 68 targets in the past three weeks, so depending on which Josh Freeman shows up will determine how good their day is.  Atlanta has a very athletic and aggressive secondary.  It will be minus William Moore, meaning Thomas DeCoud will have to make smart decisions alongside veteran Chris Hope to keep Freeman from unloading deep on them.  The Falcons have allowed only one TE to score against them, so Dallas Clark might get you some yardage, but don’t lean heavily on him this week.
Regardless of the game’s meaning, Atlanta has the personnel to overwhelm Tampa Bay early and then take control of the clock.  If Tampa Bay can’t get Matt Ryan out of his rhythm early, and with just 25 sacks on the year, odds are Tampa Bay will struggle to get a pass rush, the Buccaneers could be in for a long day.

FALCONS 27, BUCCANEERS 17


NEW YORK JETS @ BUFFALO BILLS
After failing to score an offensive touchdown in the pre-season until the final game, the Jets unloaded on the Bills in Week 1, putting up 48 points.  Ironically, the QB that engineered that one pre-season touchdown was Greg McElroy, this week’s intended starter until his concussion.  Thus, Mark Sanchez gets another chance to show whether he has any future with the Jets Sunday.  However, the Bills’ defense has improved moving to 22nd overall and 13th against the pass since that time.  Even in their 55-17 drubbing at the hands of Seattle, they gave up zero passing touchdowns, and succumbed to their tackling deficiencies and offensive inequity. 

The Jets passing game is in turmoil.  With rumors swirling around the mishandling of Tim Tebow, along with an offensive line that allowed McElroy to be sacked 11 times in one game versus San Diego, it’s hard to figure that the Jets will be solid road warriors.  With their wide receiver depth down to Clyde Gates and Jeremy Kerley, and Jeff Cumberland at tight end, the Bills are likely to have another solid game against the pass again.  Where the Jets can have success is on the ground against a Bills rushing defense allowing 5.1 yards per carry and 146.7 yards per game.  Shonn Greene has been putting on his typical end of the year show, putting up double digit fantasy points two of the last three weeks.  He also has three rushing TDs during that time.  Expect the Jets to involve him to the tune of 20-25 carries against the Bills.  Bilal Powell will also get his share, but he’ll also have Joe McKnight interfering with him having a big impact kind of day.  Mark Sanchez is playing for a place in the NFL next year, so he’ll take his share of looks down field even with his depleted receivers group. Kerley is likely to be double-teamed, and regardless of a decent showing last week, using Gates as a flex play has too much risk associated with it.  The Bills have given up just five passing TDs to tight ends, so Cumberland, while viable for some good yardage, seems like a stretch to find pay dirt

It's Spiller time.
The Bills have C. J. Spiller at the forefront of their rushing attack again.  Chan Gailey seems to have realized that Spiller is a potent weapon, as Spiller tied the most carries he’s had all season last week with 22 rushes against the Dolphins.  Against that top ten rush defense he put in 173 total yards from scrimmage.  Against the Jet 27th ranked unit he should be better.  For the year, Spiller is averaging an absurd near seven yards per carry.  In Week 1, he levied 169 rushing yards and a touchdown in their first meeting, and should eclipse 150 total yards from scrimmage this weekend.  Stevie Johnson is the only credible receiving threat the Bills have, though Curtis Modkins has been working T. J. Graham into the game plan more and more.  Graham’s had 22 targets the past three weeks.  With Antonio Cromartie likely to blanker Johnson, Graham should seen another 6-7 chances minimum.  Dorin Dickerson replaces the injured Scott Chandler and had eight targets last week, resulting in four catches for 54 yards.  Of the 19 touchdowns the Jets have surrendered through the air, seven have gone to opposing tight ends.  Considering QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s propensity to look for Chandler in the red zone this year, Dickerson becomes a sneaky fill-in play even though he reinjured his ankle last weekend.  He’s still listed as probable this week.
There’s no reason the Bills shouldn’t be able to end their three game skid this Sunday. The Jets are awash with QB issues, an injured receiving corps and little leadership to seen.  While Fitzpatrick’s propensity to turn the ball over is high, the Bills should be able to ride Spiller’s shoulders while stacking their line to stop the Jets rushing attack.

BILLS 19, JETS 12


CINCINNATI @ BALTIMORE
Ravens QB Joe Flacco averages almost three less yards per attempt on the road, making for some uneasy games along the Ravens bumpy road to being AFC North Champions. Bengals QB Andy Dalton has hit a bit of a cold skid down the stretch.  Yet whether either will play a full game for a contest that has no major repercussions on the playoff seeding remains to be seen.  The Ravens will move to a three seed if they win and New England loses.  Should that scenario actually happen, they would host this same Bengals team next weekend.  Thus, this game wreaks of danger for fantasy owners counting on the solid RB play of Ray Rice and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  Both should see limited action and carries.  The same goes for the likes of Anquan Boldin, who is fighting off a shoulder problem, and though questionable could easily be rested for the entire game. 
Pierce has sleeper potential Week 17

Cincinnati’s defense is on the rise.  Not only have the Bengals gone six straight games without giving up 300 total yards of offense, they’ve forced 14 turnovers during that span, and have allowed only 100 yards total rushing yards once.  Ray Rice is coming off a tremendous week with 158 total yards from scrimmage and a touchdown reception, the Ravens can ill afford to lose him to a freak occurrence on the football field.  Thus, expect John Harbaugh to limit his carries to 10-12 at most, with Bernard Pierce likely to pick up the slack.  The Bengals yield four yards per carry but barely give up 100 rushing yards per contest.  Pierce is coming off a 14 carry, 12- yard performance against the Giants, career highs on both tallies.  Playing Rice could yield some decent numbers, but again, it’s fraught with risk and if you’re deep at RB, you can consider replacing him.  Torrey Smith scored his first TD last week in the past six weeks.  His quiet spell corresponded to several two games of one and two fantasy points respectively in Weeks 13 and 14.  However, this game is a better match-up for Smith because Boldin is likely sitting the pine.  Smith should see a good chunk of attention and targets, with Jacoby Jones also filling in.  Jones has good down field speed, and could also be used to stretch the field.  Dennis Pitta has three touchdown catches in the past four games, and caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against Cincy in Week 1.  However, the Bengals have yielded just four other passing scores to tight ends since then, and with the increased prowess of the Bengals secondary, Pitta isn't a great plya here though he could spurn some decent yardage.
The Bengals’ Green-Ellis might cede some carries to Cedric Peerman, who for the season has averaged 7.9 yards per carry for his 31 carries.  Green-Ellis comes off a subpar effort at Pittsburgh, but against the Steelers defense, few running backs fare well.  His two previous games yielded 16, and nine fantasy points respectively, and the question will be whether the ‘law firm’ will be rested.  My guess is he will be.  Dalton has turned the ball over five times the past three games, so I expect he may get a full game to work on some things against an average Baltimore secondary.  Certainly, the Bengals would like to exit the regular season on a high note after beating the Steelers.  In front of their home crowd this game may mean more to them, and thus A. J. Green will get his shot at a solid load of work.  I wouldn’t shy away from using him here.  He’s capable of putting up double-digit fantasy points in a half.  Marvin Jones is likely to see even more targets this week.  He’s coming off his best game of the season, and the Bengals need his additional hands ready for the post-season.  He’s a solid start for another 5-7 catches and 60 yards with at least one red zone target. 

Neither team has much to play for except to set the tone for the playoffs.  The Ravens have had the Bengals number winning the last four meetings.  This week is likely to be a game played with a little less intensity, but the Bengals are going to want to set a tone for a deeper playoff run.  Expect Dalton to play better, Peerman to have an impact on the game with 75 total yards from scrimmage, and Marvin Jones to be a difference maker.

BENGALS 21, RAVENS 17


CHICAGO @ DETROIT
Chicago has seen the kind of monumental slide that could cost Lovie Smith his job.  This week there is no doubt that Chicago will do everything in their power to win this game.  Matt Forte reinjured his ankle in last week’s contest with the Cardinals but is listed as probable.  Considering that Chicago has to win here, I’d be willing to risk Forte as a starter.  Before departing Sunday’s game he compiled 88 yards rushing on just 12 carries and added a touchdown.  This week he faces a Detroit front seven yielding 4.5 yards per carry and 116 yards per contest.  Khalil Bell will spell Forte for a few series, but Forte is almost guaranteed 17-20 touches from scrimmage.  The other can’t miss player you have to go with is Brandon Marshall.  Even with Jay Cutler’s inadequacies, Marshall has been a guaranteed double-digit fantasy start weekly.  Only five games did he fail to provide that type of output, and try as they may, Detroit will not be able to stop him again.  In their first meeting, Marshall caught six passes on 10 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown.  You can expect augmented targets this week in such a dire scenario.  Alshon Jeffery will also see a heavier workload though Jeffery has caught less than half his targets for the year.

Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is not only looking to become the first QB to pass for 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, but will go on to set the passing attempts record as he’ll be the first player to cross 700 for a season.  Unfortunately, that won’t change the outcome for the Lions, which will finish the season at least six games under .500.  For a player attempting that many passes, it’s rare to find so few touchdowns.  Stafford has managed to complete just 17 for touchdowns this season and only five of those have landed in the hands of Calvin Johnson.  The Bears shut down Johnson earlier this season (three receptions 34 yards) and they still boast the sixth best secondary unit giving up just over 211 yards per game.  However, Megatron has been on an unprecedented tear lately, putting up eight straight games of 100-plus yards and four touchdowns.  The banged up Bears secondary will hope to disrupt Johnson enough that their pass rush gets to Stafford.  Otherwise, another strong day seems to be in the works.  What has changed for the Bears defense is that they are surrendering rushing yards in larger chunks since Brian Urlacher went down.  Urlacher hasn’t participated in practice this week, meaning Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell should get enough carries to justify a RB2/FLEX play.  Leshoure has been a TD maven, scoring in five touchdowns in the past six weeks.  Bell continues to put up solid yardage totals, and is third overall on the team with 50 receptions.

The Bears are 4-3 on the road, and Detroit is a hapless 2-5 at home.  While Stafford will get the record and possibly provide Megatron with the first ever 2,000 yard receiver, the one-dimensional Lions (rushing just 33.8 percent of the time) aren’t likely to outdo a desperate Bears team.  Megatron needs just 108 yards receiving, but I don’t think Tim Jennings or Charles Tillman, banged up or not, will allow this to happen.  I see Johnson with 85 yards and maybe even two scores, but the Bears Marshall will be as clutch as ever while Forte grinds through his ankle problems for a strong 85-yards and two touchdowns. 


BEARS 27, LIONS 17


HOUSTON @ INDIANAPOLIS
With Houston in danger of losing a bye week option and home field until the final round of the playoffs, the Texans will look to come out fast like they did a few weeks ago, though they must resolve to find more red zone points.  Houston was just one of five converting red zone opportunities to touchdowns in their previous 29-17 victory, and while Indianapolis can’t really change their fate, they sure want to play a better game on the final match of the season.
Andrew Luck has the Colts offense functioning well.  However, for all his adroitness, Luck has completed only 54 percent of his passes and has just four games where he hasn’t been intercepted.  Playoff caliber football is all about avoiding crucial errors, and this game will be a warm up.  Depending on how the game goes will likely determine how long the starters go here, but my gut says Luck plays the entire game unless his knee flares up.  That being said, Donnie Avery is not expected to play, and that makes T. Y. Hilton a solid start this weekend.  Five of the past six weeks, Houston has given up over 340 total yards of offense.  They’ve also relinquished several hundred yard rushers including Vick Ballard during that time.  Ballard will see a minimum of 18-20 carries Sunday, and if past experience is any indicator, he should provide close to a 100 total yards from scrimmage. Reggie Wayne is an obvious must start.

Houston’s loss of Arian Foster last week to an irregular heartbeat would be a concern if you had heard something more about it this week.  Foster will return to the starting lineup, and will key an offense that has lost some of its physicality recently.  The Texans have just two offensive touchdowns in their last three and half games according to the Houston Chronicle.  Foster put up 165 rushing yards when last these two teams met, and the Colts defense hasn’t gotten any better at slowing opposing runners.  Ranked 30th and yielding over five yards per carry, expect Foster to put up a big game in this important situation.  Ben Tate appears to have returned to the RB2 position as Justin Forsett has one carry the past two weeks.  Defer to Tate if you want as Foster could get some rest if he’s Houston’s able to get a big lead.  I wouldn’t expect 27 carries this week from Foster, but 20 isn’t out of the question.  Matt Schaub has just one touchdown pass in the past three weeks.  That should change here, as the Texans will certainly want to keep Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels sharp for next week.  The Colts allow 23 points per contest to wide receivers – only six teams are worse.  Johnson could easily finish with 100 yards and a score, but Schaub may only attempt 20 passes the entire game.


Expect a big day from Houston’s rushing attack, but the Colts won’t be so easy to get rid of.  However, I’ll defer to the Texans defensive unit to pull itself together in this game and cause Luck a crucial turnover.

TEXANS 24, COLTS 21


CAROLINA @ NEW ORLEANS
The Panthers have won three straight and not necessarily against inferior competition.  Now they face the same Saints team they upset in Week 2 as Cam Newton tore apart the Saints for 25 fantasy points.  Steve Smith had 104 yards receiving and DeAngelo Williams rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown in 35-27 victory.  Drew Brees and company now get to deliver some payback at the Superdome, a place that Panthers haven’t won since 2008.  Both teams are playing for pride, though Panthers coach Ron Rivera could be coaching for his job.

Drew Brees has put together back-to-back 29 point weeks for fantasy owners, and though he put up just 19 against Carolina in Week 2, the Saints have averaged over 35 points in two of their last three wins against the Panthers in New Orleans.  The Saints attempted 38 rushes of their 91 plays against Dallas, and you can expect that number might even slightly increase here.  Mark Ingram has been providing solid running between the tackles and has three touchdowns in his last four games.  Pierre Thomas has been ruled out so expect Darren Sproles to pick up the slack on the outside, and continue his onslaught via inside screens and flat passes.  He had a season high 13 receptions against Carolina in Week 2, and though New Orleans would prefer to air it out more, Sproles could still see eight targets before the game is over.  Marques Colston faces a tough match-up here, as Carolina is eighth best in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers.  It’s hard to sit him unless you have better options, but Carolina held he and Lance Moore to a total of five receptions last game. Colston’s TD drought has now reached four games, but while you might worry about him here, the Panthers have allowed passing scores to the likes of Roddy White, Jon Baldwin and Mike Williams, all tall and bulkier receivers.  I expect Colston to get at least one TD grab, with Jimmy Graham catching another.

As for Carolina, they actually play better on the road.  Newton is a must start, as is DeAngelo Williams, who has had two straight weeks of double-digit fantasy output.  He continues to get the bulk of the carries, even if that means only 10-12 per game.  The Saints are the second worst fantasy rushing defense, and give up five yards per tote.  Running back Jonathan Stewart is questionable, but I wouldn’t take that risk here.  Even before Stewart got hurt Williams had taken back his spot atop the depth chart.  Steve Smith is another veteran you have to start against this 31st ranked secondary.  They’ve given up 31 passing touchdowns in all and 223 first downs.  On the Twitter Fantasy Roundtable this week, I picked Greg Olsen as a player who should give you good numbers this week.  Olsen has three weeks of five, five and 11 fantasy points respectively and two touchdown receptions in his last four games.  The Saints shut him down in Week 2, but the rapport he has since developed with Cam Newton has made him the sixth best fantasy TE in ESPN standard scoring leagues.

This one feels like a shootout.  Though Brees seems more apt to make the costly mistake this season, his last three games he’s thrown eight touchdowns against just two interceptions.  The Panthers will put up a good show, but much like they did against Dallas last week, the Saints will simply out last the Panthers.
SAINTS 34, PANTHERS 31


Yes, this guy might save your season.
PHILADELPHIA @ NEW YORK GIANTS
For his career, Michael Vick has given the Giants fits.  He’s 6-2 in eight games, completing 61 percent of his passes with six TDs against three INTs.  Is he worth starting here on the eve of possibly Andy Reid’s last game?  You bet he is.  LeSean McCoy saw the majority of carries last week, although one has to wonder why they wouldn’t further audition Bryce Brown here, particularly seeing that his problem isn’t really running, it’s ball protection.  Even against the rival Giants, McCoy’s carries might be tapered so Brown can get more work in this one.  Besides, Brown has put up two monstrous performances against Carolina and Dallas, totaling 347 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see a complete split of the workload.  Jeremy Maclin is likely to see the bulk of the targets, but don’t forget Brent Celek.  Vick will target him and only five teams have given up more receptions to opposing tight ends than the Giants.


The Eagles defense is ranked eleventh against the pass, the one thing that might be considered the Giants strength.  Eli Manning is 7-10 against the Eagles lifetime, and has completed less than 60 percent of his throws against their secondary.  The Giants have been in a slide, especially on offense.  Manning has five touchdowns against four interceptions in the last three games and with Hakeem Nicks hurt, Victor Cruz is coming off his two worst games this season.  However, Cruz did haunt Philadelphia in Week 3 for nine receptions for 109 yards and a score.  He’s likely to see a decent workload in this must win game for the Giants, but it’s Domenik Hixon that has been on the roll lately.  When healthy, Hixon has proven stealthy when trolling opposing backfields and has 11 receptions and 146 yards with two touchdowns in his last three.  The Eagles have relinquished just four passing touchdowns to opposing tight ends, so as much as the Giants will want more from Martellus Bennett, he’s a riskier play here.  The running game is likely to still feature the veteran Ahmad Bradshaw here.  David Wilson’s early fumble problems are still going to linger in the back of Tom Coughlin’s mind, so don’t expect much more than what you’ve seen of Wilson the past two games; 6-7 carries tops.
Vick’s mobility could again force the Giants to be more cautious and their secondary is vulnerable to big plays as seen last week against Baltimore.  The Giants offense appears out of sync, and it’s hard to believe that will correct itself now.

EAGLES 24, GIANTS 13

CLEVELAND @ PITTSBURGH
Any thought given to starting a Browns player in your lineup this week went out the window with the announcement that Cleveland will start third string QB Thad Lewis.  Talk about throwing a kid into the fire, eh?  With Trent Richardson already sitting out due to an ankle problem and 2010 second round bust Montario Hardesty stepping in for a full load, Lewis can look forward to a fairly long day.  The former Duke University QB has spent time working his way up from the practice squads to make his way into the NFL.  His senior year at Duke, Lewis averaged over seven yards per attempt, threw 20 touchdowns against eight interceptions and compiled over 3300 yards passing.  Lewis is not the fastest scrambler in the world, but he is mobile and not afraid to run the ball right through the middle of the line.  The Steelers still have the second best rushing defense, and it’s unlikely Hardesty will get much going.  The Steelers are going to let Lewis try to beat them. 


Thaddeus Lewis get his first start

The Steelers get a chance to redeem their loss at Cleveland and finish their season at 8-8.  Ben Roethlisberger has had three interceptions in the past two games, two of which have cost the Steelers a victory.  The other was returned for a TD.  The Steelers running situation is as crazy as ever, with Jonathan Dwyer likely to start, but either of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and/or Chris Rainey to get a few carries.  While Dwyer got the majority of carries last week, Mendenhall still outgained him.  Both could tally solid totals against Cleveland’s 19th ranked rush defense, but anything more than a flex start is ill-advised.  Mike Wallace is out this game, making Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders decent plays.  Heath Miller is on the IR as well, so veteran Leonard Pope could play a role, but it’s likely that throws his direction will be minimal.

With both teams battered and little known about Lewis, this game could easily be low scoring and close.  The Steelers have the advantage in the rushing attack and will finally see first round draft pick OL David DeCastro.  What difference this will make in either of the passing or rushing games has yet to be determined because Willie Colon, their top run blocker is out.  The Steelers are likely to blitz Lewis a considerable amount and try to cause a turnover, something that has eluded them much of the year. 

STEELERS 17, BROWNS 7


JACKSONVILLE @ TENNESSEE
Tennessee leads the league in points allowed, having given up 451 points in 15 games.  The Jaguars have lost five straight and have managed to score 20 or more points just five times all year.  It’s the battle of two erratic quarterbacks and something’s got to give.

Chad Henne’s last victory as a starter came in his first start this season against these Titans.  Henne threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-19 victory.  Since then, things have regressed, with even more injuries befalling the Jaguars. Montell Owens has done a respectable job behind an offensive line that has helped lead the Jags 30th ranked rushing attack.  In the past three games, Owens has averaged over five yards per carry and has caught just about everything thrown his way.  With Cecil Shorts joining a bevy of other cast members on the I.R., Justin Blackmon and Jordan Shipley become Henne’s prime targets.  No one has given up more touchdowns to opposing tight ends than the Titans, which should make Marcedes Lewis a decent play, but one with heavy risk since he’s had zero touchdowns since Week 11 and two weeks of zero points in the last three.  It’s not the kind of gamble I’d make unless I was truly desperate.  Both the Titans and Jaguars yield an average of 16 fantasy points to opposing QBs, so you’re probably looking at average numbers for both.  

Tennessee’s Jake Locker has thrown two touchdowns against four interceptions the past three weeks, but he’s also rushed for an added 120-plus yards and a TD.  Chris Johnson has basically gone MIA since the bye week.  Johnson had one fierce output in Week 15 against the Jets where he scored his lone touchdown since the break, but other than that he’s had three games under 60 yards rushing while still toting the rock an average of 14 times per game.  Kenny Britt has been Locker’s lone target of consistency.  He has three touchdowns in the last five games, and in the last meeting against Indy went for 143 receiving yards.  He’s the only receiver I’d consider of this group as a flex play.

Even on a bad ankle, Chris Johnson should have a better game than he did against Jacksonville the first time around when he was held 80 yards rushing on 21 carries.  Locker has enough mobility to avoid what little pass rush the Jaguars can muster, and while Justin Blackmon may have another solid start, I’d count on Britt to add his fifth touchdown of the year.  Johnson will add another, and that should be enough to keep the pesky Jaguars from sweeping the season series.

TITANS 20, JAGUARS 10


THE 4:25 PM DOCKET

KANSAS CITY @ DENVER
If Denver wins they clinch home field advantage for the divisional round of the playoffs and a bye.  The Chiefs are playing to see if anyone else besides Jamaal Charles remembers how to score a touchdown.

The Broncos are the fifth best defense against opposing fantasy rushers this year, making Jamaal Charles a calculated risk for Week 17.  There’s a mantra that you should always start your studs, and in this case, the mantra would be true. Charles put 103 yards rushing up against Denver in Week 12.  He’ll get the yeoman’s share of carries again, but I wouldn’t count out Peyton Hillis getting any red zone carries against his former club.  Brady Quinn has managed four interceptions and zero touchdowns in the last three games and all signs point to this game just being worse.  The Broncos are among the tops in the NFL with 48 sacks and 20 forced fumbles.  Their pass defense is ranked seventh and allows opposing QBs to complete less than 58 percent of their passes.  With the likes of Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster as his top targets, don’t expect much from the passing offense.  Tony Moeaki suffered a concussion last week and is questionable for Sunday’s game.  That means Steve Maneri could fill in and with Quinn’s tendency to focus on the middle of the field, he may top out at 4 receptions before the game’s over.  No team has yielded more fantasy points per week to TEs than Denver.
The Broncos are rolling offensively and Peyton Manning has all of his weapons at his disposal.  Eric Decker has two weeks of just under 20 fantasy points in a row.  However, the Chiefs had no answer for Demaryius Thomas the last time out and again he’ll figure in on a scoring play.  Knowshon Moreno will get plenty of carries, with an occasional spell by Ronnie Hillman, but Moreno has put up 315 rushing yards and two touchdowns in three short weeks.  Should this game get out of hand early, Moreno could be rested as he’s still fighting through some sore ribs.  The Chiefs allowed Jacob Tamme to get into the end zone in Week 12.  I wouldn’t expect a great many targets for either him or Joel Dreessen, though Dreessen is a big possibility with any red zone possession the Broncos have.

At Denver, the Broncos should have an early lead that should allow for some of the guys fighting through injury to get some rest.

BRONCOS 31, CHIEFS 14


GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA
The last time Adrian Peterson met the Green Bay defense he ran over them, around them and through them for over 200 yards rushing.  If he repeats that performance he’ll not only put Minnesota in a good position to make the playoffs but he’ll be the new all time single season rushing yards leader.  While the Packers defense has improved, it has done so against the likes of Detroit, Chicago and Tennessee.  They still give up 4.4 yards per carry. Peterson will be playing through an abdominal strain, so it begs the question of just how good will he be?  No doubt Minnesota is going to ride their top talent in hopes they can at least gain admittance to the January dance, but Christian Ponder has only one other dance partner of any significance and that’s TE Kyle Rudolph.  Since the Week 11 bye, Rudolph has 17 receptions for 167 yards and three touchdowns to lead Minnesota.  Though Green Bay allows less than six fantasy points per contest to opposing TEs, Rudolph is a must start because of the amount of targets he’ll likely see.  Jerome Simpson has likewise been targeted plenty but that hasn’t resulted in any fantasy production.  The only receiver you might take your chances with is Jarius Wright, who is a boom or bust candidate, but averages the most receiving yards per game of Minnesota’s remaining receivers with 36.7.

Rudolph has been leading Ponder's sleigh for
some time.
Green Bay is going to pull all the stops out.  Alex Green returns from injury, meaning Ryan Grant might fall to the RB2 spot behind him.  However, Grant owns a 4.49 yards per carry average against the Vikings for his career and has two rushing touchdowns in eight games against them.  You’re not looking at the Packers though for their ground game.  Randall Cobb is questionable but likely to play, and Jordy Nelson is probable.  That means we might get a look at all four of the Packers receivers in one game.  That would probably relegate James Jones back a notch, with Randall Cobb also working for three and four receiver sets.  Aaron Rodgers will throw often and run an occasional draw or counter just to keep Minnesota on their toes.  While the Vikings' secondary is improved, Antoine Winfield isn’t fully healthy, and the Packers pose too many threats, and I haven’t even mentioned Jermichael Finley, who has averaged 52 yards receiving per game against the Vikings and has two scores in five contests.  When in doubt, go with the healthy guys, meaning Jennings, Jones and Nelson.  Cobb is relegated to the bench unless you hear he practiced Friday.
Peterson will put up another 100 yards rushing, but he’ll fall short of the record, and the Vikings improbable late season surge will end.

PACKERS 27, VIKINGS 18

MIAMI @ NEW ENGLAND
This is one of those cases where owners might use Miami’s close game against the Patriots just four short weeks ago as a measurement for how this game will go. 

Don’t.

New England may have had a few missteps along the way, but the last time the Pats lost to the ‘Fins in New England was 2008 when Matt Cassel was under center for an injured Tom Brady.  The Dolphins have allowed just one wide receiver into the end zone the past three games, but don’t let that keep you from starting Wes Welker against his former club.  Though Brandon Lloyd has 28 targets in two weeks, this is not a game you want him starting for your team.  His chemistry with Brady has improved but the Dolphins have been ferocious against receivers, allowing an average 14.7 points against them, and Miami shut him down the first game to just 10 yards on one catch.  The Dolphins also haven’t allowed an opposing TE into the end zone this year during any away games.  That’s going change depending on who actually plays for New England this week.  Both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are listed as questionable, though we know Brady will lean on Gronkowski if he’s healthy.  Stevan Ridley had 71 yards rushing on 19 carries with a TD in Week 13.  I expect he’ll see a bulk of the carries here with a touch of Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen.  Danny Woodhead becomes a risky wild card play with the possibility of both tight ends being healthy, so check the injury report this weekend.

The Dolphins struggled running against New England in Week 13, but Reggie Bush is finally healthy again.  He’ll make a difference in the passing game for certain and is too valuable to sit now that Daniel Thomas is sidelined.  Lamar Miller should get some extra action as a change of pace back.  He has fantastic speed and for the season is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.  Davone Bess is out for the game Sunday, leaving Brian Hartline as a solid play against New England’s 29th ranked passing defense.  Rishard Matthews will likely fill the other side.  The Patriots are also dreadful against tight ends, giving up the second most yardage in the NFL to that position.  Anthony Fasano has recently seen his targets increase to 15 in the last three games.  He could very well be a bigger part of Sunday’s game plan even though New England held Fasano to just one catch in Week 13.

Expect New England to pounce on Miami fast and furious, forcing Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill to have to beat them through the air.  The Dolphins should try to run the football but New England’s 12th ranked defense will be up to the task.  Bush should manage 60 rushing yards and Miller could add 30-40 more, but unless one of them gets things moving early, New England will easily take this game.
PATRIOTS 33, DOLPHINS 13


OAKLAND @SAN DIEGO
The Oakland Raiders organization witnessed how the New York Jets do things and decided to have their own game of leapfrog as well, and so Terrelle Pryor will send Matt Leinart back to the bench for a chance to show what he can do.  Pryor has one completed pass for his career, that to Marcel Reece last week against Carolina.  Besides that, the QB was a highly coveted athlete out of high school who had a fairly strong career at Ohio State.  In 2010, he led all Big Ten passers in touchdowns and passing yards.  He finished his three year career at OSU with the second best passer rating in Big Ten history.  So don’t expect that because Pryor’s under center that Darren McFadden will star in a conservatively called football game featuring Marcel Reece as his best supporting actor.  Dennis Allen is likely to let the kid show what he can do.  The knock on Pryor has been his mechanics so his start means a downgrade for just about everyone Oakland.  The Chargers defense is ranked eleventh overall, and fourth against the run.  Darren McFadden managed just 2.1 yards against the Chargers in the opener.  For the year, both Reece and Mike Goodson have a greater yards per carry than McFadden, with Goodson leading the team with 6.2 per carry.  He also has caught all 16 balls thrown his way.  No one has noticed, so you shouldn’t get all excited either.  Brandon Myers is the team’s leader in receptions, and with a young QB, he may be the most obvious play here if you’re stuck making one.  Oakland's offense will be challenged to make any significant plays in this one.

Can he be worse than 
JaMarcus Russell?
The Chargers offense has fallen on hard times as both Ryan Mathews and Malcom Floyd will finish the season on the I.R. Philip Rivers has thrown six touchdowns with no interceptions in his last three, though he’s lost two more fumbles.  He should find the road fairly easy going against a 22nd Raiders unit allowing opposing QBs to complete 65 percent of their passes.  Though the Raiders defense has climbed nine spots in the overall rankings since two weeks ago (from 30th to 21st), they have given up 419 total points, 26 touchdowns through the air.  Denario Alexander has found a nice chemistry with Rivers and he and Antonio Gates are worth a start here.  Gates has two straight weeks of finding the end zone, and the Raiders have allowed eight passing scores to tight ends.  Jackie Battle has ascended to the RB1 position by default, with Ronnie Brown continuing to be this team’s Joique Bell.  Brown has actually eclipsed Gates for second most receptions on the team.   

Week 1 saw the Chargers take advantage of the Raiders botched special teams play on the punting unit.  This week, the Chargers should be a solid defensive play against an eager Terrelle Pryor.  Rivers should also make Alexander a top ten receiver this week.

CHARGERS 21, RAIDERS 13


ST. LOUIS @ SEATTLE
A Seattle win not only secures their playoff seeding but coupled with a San Francisco loss crowns them NFC West Champions.  However, the last time these two teams met, Russell Wilson had his worst output of the season.  The Rams intercepted Wilson three times, and he finished with one lousy fantasy point.  Things have changed since then.  Russell Wilson has been stellar the last few weeks, registering 20-plus fantasy points three of the last four weeks.  He has turned the ball over just twice in the last five games.  He’ll face a Rams defense that has rounded into form giving up just 77 points in the last five games.   

The Rams have won four of five, plenty of which falls on the shoulders of Steven Jackson returning to form and the steady play of QB Sam Bradford.  Though he averages slightly more yards per play on the road, Bradford is also more turnover prone, and his match-up against Seattle’s fourth ranked defense is not a good one.  However, Jackson hasn’t had less than 13 carries since the bye, and he’s excelled even against better defenses, putting up 101 yards against San Francisco during Week 10.  So ride Jackson again.  Lance Kendricks has two touchdowns that past two weeks, and though Seattle is the best fantasy defense against WRs, they are average against TEs.  With DB Richard Sherman winning his appeal, he and Brandon Browner will make Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens’ days less than desirable.  I’d be willing to slide Danny Amendola into my lineup though, particularly in PPR leagues.

The Rams are one of the few defenses that have given up more rushing TDs (17) than passing TDs (15).  However, I’m not benching Wilson against a top pass rushing defense, as Wilson’s mobility provides for added output.  Remember, just two weeks ago, Wilson ran for three scores.  Marshawn Lynch is also in top form and even against a 16th ranked Rams rush defense, he's been as reliable as ever, scoring in all but six games this season.  Doug Baldwin was the difference maker last week, and though he could have a big impact on this one, I’d stick with Sidney Rice, as bigger receivers have made larger strides against the Rams secondary.


This is a different Seattle team featuring my vote for ROTY Russell Wilson.  Lynch could easily be an MVP candidate as well.  Those two weapons alone mean the Rams are likely to depart Seattle sleepless.
SEAHAWKS 22, RAMS 13


ARIZONA @ SAN FRANCISCO
Brian Hoyer becomes the latest starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals in what could be Ken Whisenhunt’s final game as head coach.  At least for Larry Fitzgerald owners, assuming you’re in the championship (not), Hoyer’s arrive signifies a return to more normalcy.  In his short outing last week, Hoyer helped Fitzgerald out to his first 100 yards receiving game since Week 3 and second one all year.  Hoyer realizes he’s standing in front of an offensive line that has given up 56 sacks, the most in the NFL, but he has nothing to lose.  The Arizona rushing game of Larod Stephens-Howling, Chris Beanie Wells and William Powell is a lost cause, managing 77 yards per contest.  Hoyer will have to throw and thus both Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts should provide decent yardage.  Keep an eye on WR3 Michael Floyd, as San Francisco has given up just four passing TDs at home, but half went to third receivers.  Floyd had six receptions against a tough Bears secondary last week and could make an impact in this game as well.


For San Francisco, a win secures their division and leaves them a ray of hope for home field advantage though it’s unlikely.  The Arizona defense has been a staunch one against the pass, so Frank Gore will once again highlight this offense.  In their first meeting, Gore was held to just 55 yards rushing while Alex Smith threw three touchdown passes.  It was Smith’s last full game behind center, and new QB Colin Kaepernick gets a chance to calm uneasy 49ers’ fans souls against Arizona’s third best secondary.  Randy Moss has seen an uptick in targets due to Mario Manningham’s injury, but I’d caution against any wide-eyed expectations.  Moss has 26 receptions for the entire season, and has had trouble getting separation and finding the football.  Michael Crabtree will again be the focus of Arizona’s secondary, which features veteran safety Adrian Wilson trolling the outfield. Kaepernick will find Crabtree enough for you to start him comfortably.  A sneakier play if you’re beset with injury would be Delanie Walker.  Walker doesn’t put up huge fantasy tallies, but has two touchdowns in the last two games.  With Vernon Davis questionable due to a concussion, not to mention Davis' tallies dropping to almost nothing since Kaepernick moved under center, Walker is a probable red zone target.
This game will become about the defenses and mistakes, and Brian Hoyer is more likely to make the big one.  This angry 49ers team is going to come out hot and attempt to put all of the pressure on Hoyer.  The Cardinals, who have scored zero offensive touchdowns in three of the last four games will falter against this tough 49ers defense.

49ERS 24, CARDINALS 10


SUNDAY NIGHT GAME


DALLAS @ WASHINGTON
Tony Romo gets another opportunity to hush his critics, for at least another week anyway.  Romo has been outstanding the past four weeks, throwing ten touchdowns against one interception.  Since the Week 5 bye he hasn’t put up anything less than 12 fantasy points, and the last time he faced the Redskins, he had his second highest output of the year.  Dez Bryant has been unstoppable, scoring 10 times in seven games and averaging 139 receiving yards per week.  He’ll likely face as many double teams as Washington can muster, leaving Jason Witten to continue his yardage assault and Miles Austin for another possible 60 yards and a touchdown.  The Redskins have allowed just on 100-yard rusher on their home turf and that was Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 13.  Still, DeMarco Murray is crucial for Tony Romo’s play-action to succeed, so I expect he’ll get a full load of anywhere between 15-20 carries as long as he doesn’t lose another fumble at a crucial point of the game.  Keep in mind that though Murray didn’t play last time, running against Washington has been pretty futile this season.  Only five teams have totaled more than 100 total rushing yards against the ‘Skins this season.

Robert Griffin tallied his third 300-yard passing game against the Cowboys at Dallas just five weeks ago.  It was his second highest fantasy output of the year.  The key though for Dallas has to be shutting down Alfred Morris.  Morris managed 113 rushing yards and a touchdown against them in their first meeting, and when Morris goes well, the Pistol offense is potent.  Griffin didn’t need to run in their first meeting, going seven times for 29 yards.  After his recent knee injury, it appears he's limited in that capacity.  But that won’t stop Griffin from using his veteran receivers against a Dallas pass defense that has struggled to deploy a serious pass rush and has just seven interceptions on the season.  When healthy, Pierre Garcon has been a monster.  In the last five weeks, Garcon has had no less than four catches and 65 yards, and has three touchdown receptions.  With a vulnerable secondary, Garcon is an obvious play.  Less obvious is Santana Moss, who has been a consistent red zone target.  While the 33-year-old veteran isn’t breaking any yardage records, he’s been a stalwart nuisance to opposing defenses, posting eight touchdown receptions, his highest tally since 2005.

F
or Dallas to win this game, the defense will have to make a play.  Morris Claiborne will likely draw Garcon as an assignment, and though he’s had just one interception all year and struggled with health, he could be crucial to keeping the Redskins passing offense from making big plays.  Brandon Carr has started to make his presence felt with two interceptions in the last three games.  Griffin is still a rookie, and though he hasn’t played like it, he’s never had this kind of situation against this kind of a naturally talented team.  With Washington’s secondary reeling and surrendering big plays consistently, the Cowboys will eke out a victory in Washington.

COWBOYS 23, REDSKINS 21