Who’s ready for some football?!?! Here’s a rundown of Week 11’s slate…
Last Week’s Record: 8-6 (Dang, my bad.) 2013 Season Record: 98-49 (Still first in the clutch rankings! Definitely using this as a pick-up line at the bars this weekend.)
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
The lowdown: New York has made its bones, both offensively and defensively, on the ground this fall, somewhat of a paradox given the team is named “the Jets.” Hampered by a hamstring ailment through the first third of the season, running back Chris Ivory has come on strong as of late, posting 139 yards on a modest 18 carries against his former team in Gang Green’s 26-20 victory over New Orleans. The contributions of Ivory, Bilal Powell and the occasional scamper from Geno Smith, combined with a sturdy offensive line, has the Jets averaging 129 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the AFC.
Even more impressive have been the feats of the defense. Projected to struggle with the loss of All-Pro Darrelle Revis, New York has been one of the best units in the league, holding the opposition to just 325.2 total yards per contest (eight-best in the NFL) and giving up a league-low 73.8 yards per game. Adding nine-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed this week, even as a part-time player, should reinforce this stalwartness.
Unfortunately, for the Jets to be taken seriously as a playoff threat, Smith will need to be more reliable under center. Through nine games, the rookie signal caller has 11 total touchdowns versus 16 turnovers and is hitting a meager 58.1 percent of his intended targets (26th in the league). The Jets are deep enough where Smith doesn’t need to necessarily lead the team to victory, demonstrated in New York’s upset of the Saints (8-for-19, 115 yards, zero turnovers), putting all the more emphasis on pigskin security.
The Bills can empathize with these quarterback woes. Buffalo’s 3-7 record is not necessarily indicative of the roster’s virtue. The defensive front seven, headlined by sackmaster Mario Williams and Rookie of the Year candidate Kiko Alonso, has been giving the opposition nightmares, and despite C.J. Spiller’s injury troubles, only Oakland is averaging more yards on the ground in the AFC than the Bills’ 140.7 yards per game.
This execution has been nullified by the stylings of EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel, also known as the Trifecta from Quarterback Purgatory. (Not to be confused with the Trifecta from Quarterback Hell, featuring the 2012 Arizona Cardinals.) Buffalo arms have a collective 72.1 QB rating, fourth-lowest in the NFL, and are one of only six squads averaging less than 200 passing yards per game. Obviously Manuel’s absence has deterred growth in the offense, but the Florida State product hasn’t been effective in his abbreviated time, connecting on 56.6 percent of his attempts and possessing just as many turnovers as touchdowns (six apiece). For the sake of the Bills Mafia, perhaps my favorite fan base in the professional ranks, Manuel needs to gets his act together. Such progression could make Buffalo a division dark horse in 2014.
Line: Buffalo -1, 41 points
Fantasy impact: The Jets defense is the popular pick in this matchup, and one that I don’t disagree with. In that same reference, the Bills, owned in just 15.8 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, is an incisive play, as the New York offense is enabling the fourth-highest output for fantasy defenses on the year thanks to Geno’s turnovers. Given the game is in Ralph Wilson Stadium, not the biggest of leaps to imagine those troubles to continue.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Bills win if… The front seven rattles Geno, Manuel minimizes his mistakes.
The Jets win if… Ivory and Powell control the clock, Rex Ryan tries to upstage his brother Rob by drinking with fans before the game.
Prediction: Bills 20, Jets 17
Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears
The lowdown: Any hopes of a Ray Rice revival would have come against a depleted Cincinnati defense that was missing four of its Opening Day starters. Looks like those aspirations were extinguished. The Baltimore back finished with a whopping…30 yards on 18 carries. For you math scholars, that computes to 1.7 yards per carry.
While I usually would employ the infamous, “You’re not…you’re not good, Al. You stink,” line from Caddyshack, the Ravens’ porous offensive line deserves the blame for this output. Rice is barely touching the rock before being met by two adversaries in the backfield on every rushing play. Tecmo Bo Jackson couldn’t work under such conditions…ok, he probably could, but I think you get the point.
Averaging just 2.7 yards per play against the Bengals last week and ranking 29th in total yards per game on the season, it’s clear that the Ravens offense is stuck in neutral. Without the assistance of Rice, Joe Flacco has been abysmal, with 12 touchdowns versus 13 turnovers. A look at the AFC North standings indicates the Ravens are alive for the division crown, but with the offense showing zero signs of life, don’t expect Baltimore to defend its championship come January.
Aaron Rodgers’ injury bestowed an opportunity for Chicago to seize the Black and Blue throne last weekend. This call went unanswered, as the Lions edged the Bears in a 21-19 nail-biter. Worse, Jay Cutler seemed to re-aggravate his groin injury (and if you’re a fellow guy, that’s got to make you wince). I hate applying the “must-win” label on a mid-November battle, yet with loses in four of its last six games, Chicago needs this victory to stay relevant in the NFC playoff discussion.
One bright spot for the Bears has been the development of second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery. Following an unexceptional start, Jeffery has been one of the best wideouts in the league, bringing in 631 yards over his last six games. Jeffery’s emergence, paired with Brandon Marshall, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte, has conferred Chicago with an unparalleled aptitude in the receiving ranks. The Bears have their backs against the wall with Cutler likely out, yet these aerial targets will maintain a level of offensive stability in his absence.
Line: Chicago -2.5, 46 points
Fantasy impact: Since the beatdown suffered at the hands of the Broncos in Week 1 (49-27), the Ravens are holding opponents to 17.5 points per game. The run game has been suffocated thanks to a front seven led by Daryl Smith, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and Lardarius Webb and James Ihedigbo have fixed the holes in the secondary. Josh McCown will be under center for the Bears, and though he’s been decent in relief this season, still owns a career mark of 44 touchdowns to 58 turnovers, making Baltimore a must-play in Week 11.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Ravens win if… Rice and/or Flacco awaken the offense from its slumber, defense contains Forte.
The Bears win if… McCown runs an efficient offense, Flacco does Flacco things.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Bears 23
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
The lowdown: Pet peeve: announcers of this ballgame try to add extra gravitas, like the “Battle of Ohio” actually means something. As a resident of the Buckeye State, let me reassure America that no one in Cleveland or Cincinnati considers this a “rivalry.” The Queen City is too apathetic toward the Bengals to build up much fervor, while the Mistake by the Lake would list the Steelers, growing economy and diabetes as their chief adversaries.
In its first game without All-Pro Geno Atkins, the Bengals defense held firm, holding the Ravens to a paltry 2.7 yards per play. Although the resistance is riddled with injuries, the bigger question mark for Cincinnati remains the performance from its quarterback. Andy Dalton has seven turnovers and a safety in his last two games, single-handedly submarining the team’s fortunes in that span. The Who-Deys control their own destiny, but if the Red Rifle continues to play hot potato with the pigskin, it will be another one-and-done for Marvin Lewis and his squad in January.
Infamously known for its troubles under center, Jason Campbell has instilled a degree of competency at the position for Cleveland, throwing for five touchdowns and zero picks in his two appearances at quarterback. At 4-5, the Browns remain on the outside looking in regarding the AFC playoff picture, but Campbell’s moxie and solidarity, along with an inflexible defense, will make the Browns a hindrance down the stretch. And if Cleveland can get any support from its running game (averaging 3.7 yards per attempt, 27th in the league)? It sounds absurd, but the Brownies could find themselves in the division hunt.
Line: Cincinnati -5.5, 42.5 points
Fantasy impact: It’s an intriguing play, especially with Dalton’s performance the last two weeks inspiring comparisons to Paul Crewe. (And not Burt Reynolds’ rendition of the character, but Adam Sandler’s “abiding by the Wardon’s demand to throw the game” version. Cut to every Bengals fan nodding in agreement.) There’s certainly upside in this pick, but after two lackluster showings, I think the Cincinnati offense shows up on Sunday.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Bengals win if… Gio Bernard continues his Barry Sanders Lite impersonation; Dalton stops throwing it to the wrong team.
The Browns win if… Campbell keeps up the good work, Cleveland secondary shuts down A.J. Green.
Prediction: Bengals 28, Browns 24
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
The lowdown: Amidst the Robert Griffin III-Mike Shanahan spat this summer, a few college buddies and I put $20 each into a “When will RG3 be thrown under the bus?” pool. (Seriously, this happened. In a related note, seven of the 10 of us are single.) Though the consensus was Week 8, we weren’t too far off, as someone in the Washington organization clearly leaked info to former franchise star Darrell Green about Griffin’s leadership, leading to national headlines this week.
Admittedly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the way RG3 conducted his business this offseason…but c’mon on. I would never point fingers, MIKE SHANAHAN, yet seems like the former Heisman winner deserves some leeway after Shanahan and the team jeopardized Griffin’s health during last season’s playoffs. And though Griffin has been inconsistent in return from knee injury, he’s far from the catalyst for Washington’s suffering. The defense is allowing a conference-high 31.9 points per game, and while the offensive line has been strong in the run game, the same cannot be said for the pass protection. Of course, look for these “leadership” issues to dissipate if Washington notches a few wins in its belt.
Philadelphia appears to be running on all cylinders, notching four wins in its last six contests. More importantly, the Eagles have found an identity and a sense of continuity in second-year arm Nick Foles, who has been nothing short of magnificent (17 total touchdowns, one turnover). LeSean McCoy seems to be shaking off the rust after a slow November, and the defense, while not to be confused with the ’85 Bears, is making strides is tightening up its holes. Philly is tied for the division lead with Dallas, but the big “MO” is clearly in the City of Brotherly Love’s corner.
Line: Philadelphia -3, 52.5 points
Fantasy impact: As long as Foles remains under center for Philly, and Lord knows why Chip Kelly fails to publically commit to him unless he loves jostling the media (and in that case, I’m all for it), Riley Cooper will be a top-25 receiver. Aside from a hiccup against the Giants (two receptions, 13 yards), the Eagles wideout has been dominant since the end of September, posting 462 yards and six touchdowns in the past five games. The good times should continue against a Washington defense that’s, well, awful, allowing over 290 receiving yards per game. Available in over 72 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, Cooper is an asset that will help you down the fantasy homestretch.
TV: FOX – 1:00 EST PM
The Eagles win if… Foles continues his air dominance, the Philly D forces RG3 into a few ill-advised decisions.
The Fightin’ Shanahans win if… “And with Foles dealing with a concussion, it appears Matt Barkley is warming up on the sidelines…”
Prediction: Eagles 35, Fightin’ Shanahans 24
Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers
The lowdown: I’m not buying the notion that Detroit’s first place standing is strictly a matter of providence. Yes, the Lions have benefited from injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, and Christian Ponder’s, ahem, Christian Ponderness. Nevertheless, Motown certainly has enough merit in its own right to warrant its standing. Matthew Stafford is averaging over 315 yards per game, third-most in the NFL. Having that Calvin Johnson guy helps this cause, with Megatron pulling in a league-best 113 yards per contest. And for the first time in Stafford’s tenure in the Motor City, the Lions have a viable rushing attack, with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell providing a 1-2 punch out of the backfield. This arsenal of weapons has Detroit turning in 26.4 points per game, seventh-highest in the NFL.
The Steelers fall on the other end of the scoring spectrum, managing only 19.9 points per game, 25th in the league. The running game’s struggles could be pinpointed to the rushing attack, putting forth 80.6 yards per contest. Le’Veon Bell has displayed sparkles of flash, finding the Promised Land four times in six games and averaging 87.5 total yards per outing. Unfortunately, the Michigan State rookie owns a middling 3.3 yards per carry, 39th in the league. Pittsburgh’s aging defense hasn’t helped matters, and the receiving corps has missed Mike Wallace more than expected, but as the ground game is the foundation of the Steel City offense, the rushing delays are in need of immediate repair.
Line: Detroit -1, 47.5 points
Fantasy impact: Heath Miller snagged a lone pass last week for six yards and has found the end zone just once this fall. Moreover, it’s clear that Miller’s not 100 percent from offseason knee surgery.
On the bright side, the Steelers tight end has been targeted 35 times in the last six games, illustrating the two-time Pro Bowler is very much a part of Pittsburgh’s aerial attack. The Lions have been stout against opposing tight ends this year, but they’re far from an impermeable shield. Don’t be surprised if Miller does some damage in the Lions-Steelers box score.
TV: FOX – 1:00 EST PM
The Steelers win if… Big Ben and Bell keep Stafford and company off the field, the Pittsburgh defense bends but doesn’t break.
The Lions win if… Stafford and Johnson take advantage of Pittsburgh’s vulnerable secondary, the Lions force Roethlisberger out of the pocket early and often.
Prediction: Steelers 23, Lions 21
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The lowdown: Week 10’s shortcoming was Atlanta’s sixth loss in the last seven games. While the offensive line has been an abomination, it’s a bit of a cop-out, as the Falcons problems go way behind its front line. With Roddy White and Julio Jones on the shelf for most of the year, mixed with Father Time starting to win his battle over Tony Gonzalez, Matt Ryan has been neutralized. Not helping the cause is a league-worst rushing scheme (64.3 yards per game), providing further burden to the Dirty Birds QB. Oh, and did we mention that the Falcons are giving up 27.9 points a game (fourth-most in the NFL), meaning Ryan’s aerial endeavors have become comprised?
To Atlanta’s credit, the franchise had averaged over 11 wins per campaign under coach Mike Smith, so let’s chalk this season up as an anomaly. Nevertheless, with the Saints and Panthers on the rise, the Falcons have lost their despotic rule over the NFC South division. With serious voids to fill on both sides of the ball, a major roster renovation could hit Atlanta this offseason.
As for the Buccaneers…well, they’re down to their third and fourth-string running backs and Mike Glennon has shown to be WAY over his head, ranking 32nd in pass yards per attempt. On the plus side, the defense has been relatively sound, and last week’s win gives head coach Greg Schiano…drum roll please…two victories in his last 15 games! Also, is there a more Buccaneers story than the scoreboard operator tipping the Dolphins to the ensuing trick play to Donald Penn? Well, you know, other than the staph infections, quarterback mutiny and alleged captain voting fraud? I’m going to miss the Schiano Era.
Line: Atlanta -1, 43.5 points
Fantasy impact: We’ve mentioned it in this space before, but it bears repeating: like a baseball closer, getting the opportunity constitutes 90 percent of a running back’s value. Keeping this sentiment in mind, Bobby Rainey steps into the spotlight with Mike James and Doug Martin donzo for the season. Undrafted in 2012 out of Western Kentucky, Rainey runs tough despite his Lilliputian stature. In limited action in relief of James on Monday night, Rainey racked up 45 yards on eight carries with a touchdown. Though Brian Leonard is expected to see time in Tampa as well, look for Rainey to garner the majority of rushing attempts, making him worthy of a roster spot.
TV: FOX – 1:00 EST PM
The Falcons win if… Steven Jackson submits a decent day, Falcons defense forces Glennon to go long in the passing game.
The Buccaneers win if… Rainey and Leonard prove a formidable force, Dar…I’m sorry, I can’t help thinking “Ryan vs. Glennon,” meaning…
Prediction: Falcons 27, Buccaneers 13
Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars
The lowdown: The Cards have quietly placed themselves into the NFC playoff mix at 5-4. The return of All-Pro linebacker Daryl Washington has transformed an already-formidable defense into one of the league’s more threatening units. Arizona is tyrannizing opponents to 86.9 rushing yards per game (third-best in the NFL), and although the secondary is relinquishing its share of yards, its feast-or-famine approach has equated to 12 picks (Carolina and Seattle rank first with 13).
Yet if the Cardinals want to continue their march to January, miscues from their own quarterback will need to be reduced. Carson Palmer’s 15 interceptions are the second-most in the NFL, and his rapport with his stable of targets has failed to improve as the season has progressed. It’s also disconcerting that Palmer has self-confessed to his disorientation with Bruce Arians’ offense, embarrassing considering rookie Andrew Luck had no issues with the same scheme a year ago. Andre Ellington is emerging as a versatile back, and Michael Floyd is starting to become the complementary receiver the team envisioned for Larry Fitzgerald. However, if Palmer can’t improve his accuracy, the Cards’ playoff run will stall out.
And just in case anybody believes last week’s victory has put some spring in the Jaguars’ step, the team remains last in total offense, rush defense, points scored and points against. Worse, the city of Jacksonville voted to approve $43 million in stadium upgrades this week. You know what could have elevated the field’s liveliness for only $450,000? TIM TEBOW! (I’m just kidding, I just wanted to pen that so someone writes how I’m an idiot in the comment section.)
Line: Arizona -7, 41 points
Fantasy impact: Let’s go with Palmer. That’s right, he of 17 turnovers. This may seem like a curious choice, as only two teams are on bye this week and, you know, it’s Carson Palmer. Combined with my much-ridiculed contention that I don’t see what all the Kate Upton fuss is about, the astute reader may be questioning my sanity. My two counters:
1. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
2. Palmer faces a Jacksonville team that is conceding the third-most points to fantasy quarterbacks. To his own merit, Palmer has tossed two touchdowns in three of his past four contests, and the ineptitude of the Cardinals rushing attack will keep the offensive emphasis on the air game. For those dealing with injuries, give Palmer a whirl.
TV: FOX – 1:00 EST PM
The Cardinals win if… Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall exploit Jacksonville’s rush defense, the Arizona defense keeps Maurice Jones-Drew contained.
The Jaguars win if… They lose and the Bucs win, putting Jacksonville in control for the No. 1 pick.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Jaguars 16
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
The lowdown: I swear, Houston has the most deceiving 2-7 record in the history of football. Case Keenum has been impressive in his abbreviated appearances, averaging 274 yards per game with seven touchdowns and zero picks (albeit with two fumbles). The defense is oppressing opponents to a league-low 280 yards per contest, and even with Arian Foster out, Ben Tate is one of the best backups at running back, keeping the powerful Texans rushing game afloat. Matt Schaub’s early-season errors didn’t help, yet in the parity of the NFL, sometimes things just don’t go your way. Look for Houston to rebound in 2014.
That said…did anyone else watch the end of the Texans-Cardinals soiree? The way Wade Phillips was squinting into the scoreboard, it looked like the coach was mystified that there wasn’t a fifth quarter to be played. “The game’s over? Dadgummit, I’da known that, I woulda called a few more pass plays!” As an – alleged – gambler, so glad to have Wade back in my life.
Speaking of betting ventures, I’m usually against making high-stakes wagers. HOWEVAH, if one was to embark down this road, the Raiders might be starting Matt McGloin under center against a Houston pass defense smothering sky assaults to a league-low 166.6 yards per outing. And McGloin’s backfield help for the afternoon? Rashad Jennings. So, I’m not saying….just saying. (WINK)
Line: Houston -7.5 points, 41.5 points
Fantasy impact: DeAndre Hopkins will be a popular waiver-wire add this week thanks to six catches off 11 targets against a tough Cardinals secondary. Not trying to rain on this parade: I’m all aboard the Keenum Express, I generally like Hopkins and the Raiders just gave up seven touchdowns two weeks ago. Sadly, what I can’t get behind is Hopkins’ lack of production prior to Week 10. The rookie from Clemson had an uninspiring 13 catches in his previous five games with only one end-zone excursion. Some of this could be chalked up to the trials of Schaub, yet the stability is not there to insert in your lineup. If Hopkins is available, feel free to utilize a roster spot on the Houston wideout, just not warranting of starting status.
TV: CBS – 1:00 EST PM
The Texans win if… Tate is able to bust through a parsimonious Raiders rush defense (seventh in the NFL at 98.4 yards per game), Houston defense hassles McGloin.
The Raiders win if… Remember when Tyler Wilson was supposed to be the quarterback of the future for the Silver and Black? Now the team is reduced to starting a former walk-on rather than Wilson. Are we sure Al Davis is still not making draft picks for the organization?
Prediction: Texans 17, Raiders 10
San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
The lowdown: Please don’t misconstrue this as backing on the nonsense that’s stricken the Dolphins clubhouse, but I’m in the minority of people who think Miami isn’t a total mess going forward. Seemingly not the safest of pronouncements given the Fins performance last Monday night, although that was somewhat to be expected in their first game without Richie Incognito. Provided a few days to return to relative normalcy, imagine to see a more focused Dolphins squad this Sunday.
With Incognito and Jonathan Martin gone, the spotlight turns on Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Although Miami ranks 25th in rushing, the effectiveness has been better than the numbers proclaim, averaging 4.0 yards per carry (17th in the NFL). Ryan Tannehill is making strides in his second year, but with his rapport hitting a wall with Mike Wallace, Miller and Thomas will be looked to take some of the load off the passing game. Against a Chargers defense conceding 394.1 yards per game (fourth-highest in the NFL), Miller and Thomas have a platform to shine.
San Diego is 4-5, yet four of its losses have been by eight points or less. Philip Rivers has prolonged his hot start, hitting 71.6 percent of his intended targets and averaging a career-best 299 yards per game. Lending a hand to Rivers has been the revival of Antonio Gates (52 receptions, 612 yards) and emergence of neophyte Keenan Allen (38 grabs, 568 yards). Expect a tad of regression in the second half, but once believed to be a fading arm, Rivers has reinserted himself as one of the game’s most skillful artisans.
Line: San Diego -1, 45.5 points
Fantasy impact: Danny Woodhead is not coming off the greatest of games, finishing last week’s loss to Denver with just 44 total yards, although this blow was softened by four receptions and a trip to pay dirt. Look for the diminutive rusher to bounce back against the Dolphins, who are giving up the fourth-most points to the position in 2013. I suppose there’s a bit of trepidation that the San Diego offense may stall under the “West Coast team traveling East” affliction, yet Woodhead should be free from this constraint, evidenced in his 61 targets on the season (second-most on the club). Plus, Anne Hathaway was seen rocking a Woodhead uni this week, so you’d think some type of goodwill is headed his way.
TV: CBS – 4:05 PM EST
The Chargers win if… Rivers keeps the Dolphins secondary on its toes, San Diego defense causes trouble against a vulnerable Miami line.
The Dolphins win if… The Chargers running game fails to give any assistance to Rivers, Tannehill delivers against SD’s porous pass defense.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Chargers 17
San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
The lowdown: It’s unfair to label the 49ers as a disappointment. If the season ended today, San Fran would earn a postseason berth and present as a daunting foe. Conversely, the Niners have seen an unexpected amount of obstacles in their path to the Meadowlands. San Francisco has struggled against playoff-caliber teams, getting embarrassed by Seattle and Indianapolis and losing a close struggle to Carolina last week. All-Pro Aldon Smith has missed the majority of the fall to deal with a substance-abuse problem. Both sides of the ball have seen a startling amount of injuries. These wounds have particularly been damaging to the receiving corps, evidenced in the unit’s league-low 187.6 yards per game.
It won’t be much easier this week, as the Niners take on a renovated and revived New Orleans defense. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has energized a dormant resistance into one conceding a mere 18.1 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL. The biggest upgrade has been the performance of the secondary. Following last campaign’s concession of 292.6 yards per outing (second-worst in football), the Saints now rank third in the league, holding opponents to 199.9 yards per contest. Perennially overshadowed by the high-octane offense, the New Orleans D is making noise of its own.
But make no mistake, the Saints are still powered by the aerial stylings of Brees and the offense. In his eighth year with the Bayou Boys, Brees has never been better, averaging 340.4 yards per game (second-best in his career) with only seven interceptions in 363 attempts. His rapport with tight end Jimmy Graham is unparalleled, and with the assimilation of deep-threat Kenny Stills, the Saints may just be scratching the service of their passing potential. The x-factor in this attack is the running game. Dormant for the first half of the year, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles exploded on Sunday night, combining for 244 rushing yards and three trips to pay dirt. Better yet, this trio added 115 yards and two touchdowns in the receiving game. Given the Saints entered as one of the worst terrain assaults in the league, the output has to be viewed as an aberration at the moment. If this harvest can be somewhat maintained? Watch out.
Line: New Orleans -3, 47.5 points
Fantasy impact: Promise, I’m not stating this to be a contrarian or to kindle reaction…but, isn’t it kind of odd that not a single media entity has questioned if the Niners traded the right quarterback last offseason? Think of the yield Colin Kaepernick would have returned after his strong showing in the playoffs, and at 29, it’s not like Alex Smith is that old.
I guarantee you this: such a proposition has definitely crossed Jim Harbaugh’s mind. Since Kaepernick’s auspicious season opener (412 passing yards, three scores), the third-year arm has severely regressed, owning more turnovers (10) than touchdowns (nine). Kaepernick’s 56.4 completion percentage ranks 29th in the NFL and is a major drop-off from last season’s 62.4 mark. Even his terrain prowess has taken a hit, averaging 5.8 yards per rush compared to 2012’s 6.6 figure.
Certainly this is not entirely Kaepernick’s fault, as the offensive line and receiving corps have been dealing with injuries. Alas, don’t look for things to improve this weekend in the Big Easy. An energized New Orleans defense is relinquishing the third-fewest fantasy points to field generals this season, and it’s concession of 18.1 points is fifth-best in the NFL. Keep Kaepernick on the pine.
TV: FOX – 4:25 PM EST
The 49ers win if… Kapernick delivers a sound and steady performance, the Niners limit Graham over the middle, Ryan skips the game in order to party on Bourbon Street.
The Saints win if… Thomas, Sproles and Ingram keep up the backfield dexterity, Kaepernick’s struggles continue.
Prediction: Saints 33, 49ers 31
Green Bay Packers at New York Giants
The lowdown: This game looked a lot better in August, didn’t it?
Not to say it’s lacking significance. Despite a 3-6 mark, the G-Men are very much a part of the NFC East race, winning its past three games and starting to get its backfield back in shape. The New York defense ranks 11th in the NFL in total yards, and Eli Manning, after being negligent with the rock in the first third of the season, has only turned the ball over once in the last three games. The only negative upshot from this improvement: Tom Coughlin’s sideline rages have decreased dramatically. As a non-partisan observer, if Coughlin’s remaining calm, what incentive do I have to watch the Giants?
Staying with this objective remarks, listen up, Cheeseheads: we all feel bad that Aaron Rodgers went down, but your wailing is becoming intolerable. Oh, so you’ve had to watch consecutive subpar games under center? Buffalo fans haven’t seen quarterback gallentry since Doug Flutie. Cincinnati backers just observed Dalton sink the Bengals with seven turnovers and a safety in the past two weeks. The Browns…well, there’s not enough space to properly document the Browns’ plight, but I think you get the picture.
You’ve enjoyed a nice 20-year run at signal caller. It’s time to encounter the anguish of watching an ill-equipped arm helm your roster with stoicism. Now maybe you’ll understand the tribulations suffered by your fellow NFL tribes.
Cheer up, Packers fans. Given your Black-and-Blue brethren are starting Josh McCown and Christian Ponder this week, it could be worse.
Line: New York -5, 41.5 points
Fantasy impact: Usually relying on a third-string quarterback is a harbinger of dark skies – shrewd analysis, I know – yet the move from Seneca Wallace to Scott Tolzien is a positive development for Packers receivers. Unlike Wallace, Tolzien has the capability of throwing a pass over 10 yards, and displayed a reasonable cognizance for one in his first NFL game.
Enter Jarrett Boykin, who hauled in eight catches for 112 yards in Week 10, and now has 89 yards or more in three of the past four contests. More importantly, Boykin was targeted a team-high 13 times against the Eagles. Despite its 3-6 record, the G-Men have been solid versus the pass this season, ranking 11th in the league at 226.9 yards allowed. Nevertheless, look for plenty of pigskins in Boykin’s direction, and for the 24-year-old to make the most of these opportunities.
TV: FOX – 4:25 PM EST
The Packers win if… Eddie Lacy shoulders the offensive responsibility, Manning’s turnovers resurface.
The Giants win if… New York front seven hassles Tolzien…also worth noting the Packers are a hit away from Matt Flynn taking the field.
Prediction: Giants 30, Packers 20
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
The lowdown: Seattle, already the conference favorite, is getting Percy Harvin back this week. That sound you heard was the rest of the NFC sighing.
On paper, it looks like the Seahawks have grappled in the air, ranking 24th in passing. In truth, Seattle has recorded early leads so often this season that passing plays have become superfluous. The team’s standing as the best rushing unit in the NFL at 153.4 rushing yards per game seconds this sentiment.
But as much love as Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have received, and rightfully so, Seattle is a squad based on its defensive virtues. The resistance is squashing opponents to 15.9 points per game, third-best in the NFL. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas highlight a secondary that’s holding field generals to a 70.4 QB rating, second-best in the league. In today’s pass-happy offensive landscape, the Seahawks’ air defiance presents a rare impediment for challengers, one that could lead to a Super Bowl berth.
For the Vikings, the team’s enduring quarterback issues have not become any clearer, the secondary has been one of the worst in football, its franchise star will likely be traded in the offseason, and its owner has been exposed as a loathsome, petty thief. Other than that, good times in Minnesota this fall! At least you guys have Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, right?
Line: Seattle -13, 45 points
Fantasy impact: John Carlson had a fine display in replacement of fellow Fightin’ Irish product Kyle Rudolph last week, grabbing all seven looks his way for 98 yards and a score. Unfortunately, it will be tough sledding for Carlson to replicate this output. The Seahawks are restraining tight ends to under six fantasy points a game. Also, Christian Ponder in Seattle? NOOOOOOOOO thanks.
TV: FOX – 4:25 PM EST
The Seahawks win if… Lynch maintains his workload without showing signs of wear-n-tear, Wilson abuses a Minnesota secondary surrendering the fourth-most yards in the league.
The Vikings win if… Again, Christian Ponder IN Seattle? No way, cowboy…
Prediction: Seahawks 35, Vikings 14
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
The lowdown: The team’s success has been predicated by Jamaal Charles and a league-best defense, and there’s nothing wrong with these tenets serving as a club’s foundation. What will be interesting to see is how Alex Smith performs if the Chiefs find themselves behind. The former Niners quarterback has been superb for Kansas City, securing the rock and proving to be a paragon of the “game manager” archetype. Alas, the Chiefs have not had to rely on the aptitude of his arm thus far. How Smith executes if/when Kansas City comes to this circumstance will determine how far the team can go in January.
The Chiefs have received gruff for its schedule (more on this in a moment), yet Denver’s itinerary has been a relative walk in the park as well. Only one of the Broncos’ nine opponents has a winning record entering Week 11. That adversary? Indianapolis, who knocked off Denver in Week 7. Throw in Peyton Manning’s, um, “questionable” performances in past big games, don’t be surprised if this contest is closer than believed.
Line: Denver -9.5, 49.5 points
Fantasy impact: Their schedule has been easier than Saturday morning, yet the Chiefs’ league-best 12.3 points per game is legit. (Yeah, that’s right, “Saturday morning.” There’s nothing relaxing about Sunday: you’re exhausted from the weekend’s activities, Monday is hanging over you, you likely have family or church obligations and, God forbid if it’s a non-football Sunday, because those are SUPER boring. I’ll take the excitement and promise of Saturday over Sunday, thanks.) Knowshon Moreno is seeing a lot of love in the receiving arena, notching 35 targets in the last five games, but has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry over the past month. With Peyton Manning’s hitch in his step, the Chiefs could be storming the backfield early and often. As an upshot, Moreno may be collateral damage. Only start in the flex position or in deeper formats.
TV: NBC – 8:30 PM EST
The Chiefs win if… Smith plays off a Denver defense giving up the third-most passing yards in the league, the KC defense bothers a potentially-hobbled Manning.
The Broncos win if… Charles can’t get going, Manning’s dink-n-dunk approach destroys Kansas City.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Chiefs 20
New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers
The lowdown: As czar of sports nicknames, I’m putting my foot down on “Riverboat Ron” Rivera. There’s only one “Riverboat Gambler,” and it’s not Rivera, he of the 19-22 career mark. Plus, how do you not go for it on 4th down when you have Cam Newton under center?
Speaking of Newton, count me as a Doubting Thomas turned believer in the Carolina QB. What he’s been able to accomplish with the Panthers with only the admirable-but-elderly Steve Smith as a target is nothing short of stellar. Luke Kuechly and the Carolina defense has garnered the attention for the team’s 6-3 start, but Newton’s consistency and maturity has been the real story in Charlotte this season.
The Carolina resistance will be under the spotlight though on Monday night, taking on a rejuvenated Tom Brady. The two-time MVP is still hitting a career-low 57.1 percent of his passes and is on pace for his lowest scoring output since 2001. Conversely, for the first time in 2013, the Patriots receiving corps is near full strength. Moreover, the handful of rookie receivers seems to be finally assimilating into the offense. Shane Vereen’s return to a beleaguered backfield will go ways in shoring up the offense, but don’t be shocked if Brady looks like the All-Pro of old against one of the best defensive units in the NFL.
Line: Carolina -1, 46.5 points
Fantasy impact: Available in 74 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, Aaron Dobson has emerged as a feasible No. 1 target for Brady in the receiving ranks. A second-round pick out of Marshall, Dobson is coming off his best game as a pro, hauling in five passes for 130 yards and two trips to pay dirt. Better yet, Dobson was targeted nine times on the day. With Danny Amendola’s vulnerability, the Patriots need Dobson to continue to develop as a dependable bull’s-eye. It will be an endeavor against Carolina’s secondary, yet look for balls in Dobson’s direction early and often.
TV: ESPN – 8:30 PM EST
The Panthers win if… Newton submits one of those video game-like performances, the Carolina defense keeps Brady at bay.
The Patriots win if… Riverboat Ron versus The Hoodie? That’s what I thought…