I love having Jerry Jones around, as the presence of an engaging villain always energizes things. Conversely, when the Cowboys owner said, “The facts are I really do think, the way things have rolled out, I’m getting to do some of the best work that I’ve done, relatively speaking in my career, over these last several years," I mean, what the what, right? Should be noted that, since taking over as general manager, Dallas is 133-133 (that’s a .500 record for you math scholars), and firing Rob Ryan this offseason might have been one of the dumbest personnel moves in recent memory. Also, you can’t say, “The facts are,” followed by the phrase “I think.” That’s a paradox! But sure Jer, you’re kicking tail and taking names, my friend.
Last week’s record: 11-4 2013 record: 109-53. Not only still in first in the clutch rankings, but my boy John Halpin and I rank in the top-5 “experts” category. I’m just happy I can go to my grave knowing I laid the smackdown on Mike Ditka in a football-themed arena.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
The lowdown: The Steelers dug themselves an early hole, stumbling out of the gate to an 0-4 mark. Quietly, Pittsburgh has inserted itself back into the playoff conversation, albeit in a peripheral position, winning four of its last six ballgames. Cincinnati sits atop the division at 7-4, yet the Bengals are extremely vulnerable with a plethora of defensive injuries and Andy Dalton’s, ahem, Andy Dalton-ness. Considering Pittsburgh has four divisional matchups in the next six weeks, the AFC North title is in the realm of possibility.
Not that such an aspiration will be a cake walk. The Steelers rushing attack has been nonexistent, evidenced in the backfield’s 76.5 yards per outing (third-worst in the NFL). The ground game has presented similar issues on defense, as Pittsburgh, historically strong against terrain endeavors, is allowing over 125 yards per contest (26th in the league). Moreover, Pittsburgh’s greatest asset this moment, Ben Roethlisberger, faces a stream of formidable defenses down the stretch. If the Steel City does indeed go dancing in January, it will have been rightfully earned.
In theory, a similar case could be made for the Brownies, entering this rivalry matchup with the same record as the Black and Yellow. Cleveland does flaunt a top-five resistance, allowing a slender 306.5 yards per outing, and Chris Ogbonnaya has injected life into a dormant backfield. Ultimately, Jason Campbell will decide the fruition of this club. In his first few starts, Campbell provided stability to an offense desperately lacking permanence under the direction of Brandon Weeden, giving hope that Campbell could game manage the Browns to relevancy. The Bengals exposed this success as ephemeral last week, forcing Campbell to check-down on seemingly every passing play. While he doesn’t need to be transcendent, Cleveland will need more from its QB in order to make noise in the final third of the season.
Line: Cleveland -1, 41.5 points
Fantasy impact: Antonio Brown has been a break-out star for the Steel City, bringing in a league-high 74 balls and posting 95.2 yards per game (fourth-best in the league). Alas, can’t put my conviction in Brown knowing the shadow of Joe Haden looms. As Haden’s shut-down of A.J. Green (two receptions, seven yards) is still fresh in my mind, view Brown as a high-risk insertion this weekend. In a related note, after one wayward Dalton throw last Sunday, Green looked more depressed than the football team that went to Applebee’s. Remember that commercial? After losing in the high school playoffs, the squad makes a pit stop at America’s neighborhood grill? Talk about a kick in the groin. Heartbreaking enough to have your gridiron dreams dashed; it’s another dimension of misery going to Applebee’s. And if that doesn’t sum up the frustration of watching Dalton, I’m not sure what will.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Steelers win if… Le’Veon Bell awakens from his mid-season slumber, Pittsburgh secondary puts the clamps down on Josh Gordon.
The Browns win if… Any chance Haden can double as Cleveland’s quarterback? No? Well then…
Prediction: Steelers 20, Browns 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions
The lowdown: Break up the Bucs! Back-to-back Tampa victories now give Greg Schiano a whopping…three Ws in the last 16 games. But yeah, Josh Freeman was the problem.
I’m torn on Mike Glennon. His stat line proclaims an impressive 11-4 TD-to-INT ratio and his accord with receivers is improving, connecting on 71.6 percent of his passes in the past three weeks. Accounting for Tampa’s running-back roulette with injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James, not bad production for a third-round rookie.
On the other side of that coin, I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, yet Glennon doesn’t pass the eye test. He’s sneaking by on a dink-n-dunk approach, confirmed by 6.19 yards per attempt, with only Alex Smith holding a lower figure among starting field generals. Additionally, his two wins came against a Dolphins team in its first game from the Incognito nonsense and a Falcons squad that, well, stinks. The Detroit defense, especially the front seven, is dangerous, yet it can be exploited from the sky. This matchup should serve as a litmus test on Glennon’s progress.
Lot of fervor emitting from Detroit, focusing on the Lions’ perceived inexcusable loss to the “lowly” Steelers. The Lions remain in the NFC North driver’s seat, but I would hardly classify this roster among the NFL’s top-tiered teams. Since the end of September, Detroit is .500, the secondary is yielding the third-most yards and, following its initial fortune, the running game has stalled. The duo of Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford is enough firepower in itself to make the Lions imposing, but the collective effort of the roster needs to be elevated in order for Detroit to do damage in January.
Line: Detroit -9.5, 48.5 points
Fantasy impact: Nate Burleson makes his triumphant return from that tragic pizza-related car accident for the Lions in Week 12. (Connected: I love Burleson’s DiGorno pitch, but c’mon, who is going to recognize Nate Burleson? Pretty sure the majority of Detroit fans wouldn’t be able to identify the man sans jersey.) Admittedly, Burleson lacks the pizzazz of the usual flyer label, yet he’s also a more sound investment than the usual sleeper. The Motor City has continued to struggle in its search for a complement to Calvin Johnson, and someone has to reap some targets outside of Megatron. Available in 97 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, Burleson warrants the roster stash.
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Buccaneers win if… Glennon can wreck a weak Lions secondary, Bobby Rainey duplicates his production from last week.
The Lions win if… Megatron stays off Revis Island, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell right the ship.
Prediction: Lions 24, Buccaneers 16
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
The lowdown: Christian Ponder in Lambeau! Footage of this performance could double as a PSA for quarterback awareness. And if sounds hyperbolic, a glance around the NFC North, where Ponder, Scott Tolzien and Josh McCown will start this weekend, should drive home this contagion.
Minnesota’s problems go deeper than the signal caller. The Vikings are allowing 280 passing yards per game, fourth-most in the NFL. Antoine Winfield’s departure and Harrison Smith’s injury have depleted the secondary unit, yet a lack of pressure of up front has taken its toll as well. Though Adrian Peterson is having a strong individual season, Minnesota ranks 17th in rushing, a moderate standing considering the team makes its bones on the ground. And while the Ponder/Josh Freeman/Matt Cassel trifecta from quarterback hell would be a disaster on most squads, the offensive line’s permeable nature hasn’t helped.
It won’t get easier this week, as the Packers’ 31 sacks are the forth-most in the NFC. Although Tolzien has been decent in his abbreviated appearances (more on this in a moment), Green Bay would prefer not to lean on the backup’s results as its catalyst. The attainment of the Cheeseheads’ front seven, combined with a hand from running back Eddie Lacy (92.1 rush yards per game in his last seven outings), will go ways in assisting Green Bay endure the storm until Aaron Rodgers returns.
Line: Green Bay -5, 43.5 points
Fantasy impact: Normally tossing three passes to the wrong team prohibits endorsement the following week. Given the circumstance (a third-stringer making his first NFL start), environment (in New York) and opponent (the G-Men’s top-10 defense) he was thrust into, I think we can make an exception for Green Bay’s Tolzien. Aside from the trio of turnovers, the Wisconsin product fared well, hitting 70.6 percent of his intended receivers for 339 yards. Moreover, Tolzien went 6-for-6 on throws over 15 yards, only the fourth time since 2006 such a feat was accomplished.
Following the endeavor that was the Giants secondary, Minnesota and its 30th-ranked defense should offer a respite for Tolzien. As Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Dalton are on bye (although in fairness, I think both Bengals fans and fantasy owners are in need of a timeout from the Red Rifle), the Packers arm is a viable option in Week 12.
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Vikings win if… Peterson puts up a 200-yard, three-touchdown conquest, Tolzien struggles.
The Packers win if… Again, Ponder in Lambeau! Keeping that in mind…
Prediction: Packers 21, Vikings 17
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
The lowdown: Letdown game, anybody? It helps the Chiefs will be working in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium, one of the few home-field advantages left in the NFL. To boot, a veteran like Alex Smith at the helm will help calm the waters following last week’s gut-check.
What will be interesting is the response from the Kansas City defense. Peyton Manning did whatever he wanted against the top-ranked AFC defense last week; of course, Manning usually has his way with opposing resistances (at least during the regular season, AM I RIGHT?!?!), so can’t be too critical on the Chiefs’ performance. Furthermore, in the NFL’s equilibrium state, there’s nothing aberrational over a defense that’s promoted a 9-1 record.
Yet before last week’s meeting with Manning, Kansas City was the beneficiary of favorable quarterback clashes, facing the likes of Jeff Tuel, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Fitzpatrick in its previous five games. In the midst of a career revival, Philip Rivers is echelons above this submissive group. His targets, lacking league-wide recognition, are more than an ambitious band. Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs struggle more than expected on Sunday.
Line: Kansas City -5, 41.5 points
Fantasy impact: Ryan Mathews is in the center of one of the hottest streaks of his career, averaging 86.4 yards per game over the past five weeks. Before you confuse this as backing, a few detriments are holding the 26-year-old back from fantasy dependability this week. Danny Woodhead’s arrival has subtracted Mathews from the receiving arena, possessing a meager 10 receptions on the season. End-zone excursions have also been a shortcoming, crossing the goal line only twice this campaign. Toss in a rendezvous with a Kansas City defense handing out only 13.8 points per game and there are too many ominous clouds to paint a sunny forecast. Keep Mathews on the pine.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Chargers win if… Rivers and Antonio Gates challenge the middle of the field, Jamaal Charles fails to cash in on iffy SD defense.
The Chiefs win if… Smith keeps Rivers off the gridiron, we get more baby Andy Reid look-alike photos. Granted, this has nothing to do with the outcome, but we ALL win when such pictures emerge.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Chargers 24
Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams
The lowdown: McCown! Clemens! Who said the NFL is a quarterback-based league? Oh, everybody? Well, then…these teams are kind of S.O.L., aren’t they?
In fairness, McCown has been relatively competent, notching five touchdowns and zero turnovers in relief of Jay Cutler, and has maintained a semblance of continuity, which is the most important aspect of a backup arm. However, any claims that the Bears might be better off with McCown are absurd. The 34-year-old is connecting on just 60.4 percent of passes (which would rank in the bottom third of QBs if he qualified) and the Chicago offense lacks the explosiveness that it possesses under Cutler. McCown’s respectable numbers are also a correlation to the opposition’s focus on Matt Forte, almost daring McCown to throw. Though he doesn’t have the mistakes that Cutler’s occasionally prone to, McCown’s limitations outweigh his ball security.
As for the Rams, they are not as bad as their 4-6 record may convey. The defense is one of the more daunting units in the NFC, the receiving corps is filled with viable options and rookie Zac Stacy is looking like the real deal. If/when this team gets a quarterback not named Sam Bradford, watch out.
Line: St. Louis -1, 45.5 points
Fantasy impact: I know the storm that tormented the Midwest puts an asterisk on Sunday’s clash with Baltimore, but in case you needed any more reason to doubt Chicago’s front line, Ray Rice’s performance should do the trick. The Bears are giving up the second-most rushing yards at 133.9 per game, and their allowance of 26.7 points ranks 26th in the league. St. Louis isn’t the fiercest of foes, but look for St. Louis’ Stacy to go nuts on the vulnerable Chicago vanguard.
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Bears win if… McCown continues his error-free ways, Stacy can’t get going.
The Rams win if… Chicago front seven can’t plug its leaks, Tavon Austin adds some love from the special teams.
Prediction: Bears 23, Rams 21
Carolina Panthers at Miami Dolphins
The lowdown: I have mixed emotions on Monday night’s wild ending. Clearly it was a blown call, and let’s just say I know someone that might have had a lot of Monopoly money on the Pats covering. Then again, you saw that epic Bill Belichick presser after the game, right? Anyone who can make the Hoodie go into such a catatonic state is doing the Lord’s work.
It’s hard not to be a believer in Cam Newton at this juncture. What he’s accomplishing with zero help from his receiving corps in the NFL’s pass-happy landscape is mind-blowing. Sorry, I love me some Steve Smith, but at this stage in his career, he should be nothing more than a third wideout. The stats tell a different tale, as the 34-year old has been targeted a monstrous 82 times. DeAngelo Williams has borne some of the offensive responsibility, and Carolina’s defensive dexterity has supplied plenty of breathing room to operate. Still, make no mistake: as Newton goes, so goes Carolina.
Let’s put aside the Incognito nonsense for a moment. Not trying to trivialize that predicament, it’s just that knucklehead’s media storm isn’t the sole glitch for this squad. The Dolphins have lost five of its last seven games, and after a strong start, second-year arm Ryan Tannehill’s development has stagnated. I’m spitballing here, Tannehill’s efforts might be improved if Mike Wallace would pull his head out of the sand (44 receptions, 534 yards, one touchdown…and “sand” is not the word I wanted to use). Theoretically, Miami is still alive in the Wild Card hunt, but time is running out to turn its fate around.
Line: Carolina -4.5, 41 points
Fantasy impact: Don’t be fooled by Charles Clay’s latest conquest (six catches, 90 yards, touchdown in Week 11). Before his matchup with the Chargers, the Miami tight end was held to 87 yards in his previous four games. Expect Clay to come down to earth versus the top-ranked Carolina defense.
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Panthers win if… The Carolina D impedes Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas from any success on the ground, Newton takes care of the pigskin.
The Dolphins win if… Just a thought, but wouldn’t it be sweet justice if the NFL released Jonathan Martin from Miami, and each Miami opponent would sign Martin here on out? Not only could Martin give the 411 on the Dolphins’ playbook, his mere presence on the sideline would be a consistent reminder to Joe Philbin that his job is as good as done.
Prediction: Panthers 24, Dolphins 21
New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens
The lowdown: In spite of laying on the canvass bruised and bloodied, the Ravens haven’t heard the bell quiet yet. The offensive line is in shambles, encumbering the production of Ray Rice and the running game (27th in rushing), and while Joe Flacco is money in the postseason, he’s laboring this fall, owning more turnovers than touchdowns. (Basically, the bizarro Peyton Manning.)
What’s keeping Baltimore afloat is a newfound defensive tenacity. Aside from its Week 1 failure at Denver, the resistance is allowing a mere 18.1 points per contest. Elvis Dumervil has assimilated nicely with the Ravens, registering 8 ½ sacks, while Terrell Suggs is causing his usual amount of chaos (nine sacks). Combined with the sagacity of veteran Daryl Smith (86 tackles, 2 ½ sacks, two fumbles, two picks), the Baltimore defense is living up to its historical billing.
Until last week, the same could be said for the Jets. Such a statement now seems ridiculous, given a boilerplate Bills offense put up a 37 spot on Gang Green in Week 11. New York is still suffocating adversaries to a league-low 73.2 rushing yards, yet, after initialing holding its ground, the loss of Darrelle Revis is starting to show in the secondary. At 5-5, the Jets have a comparatively easy schedule down the stretch in terms of quarterback challengers; nevertheless, their protection against the pass is in dire need of improvement.
Speaking of upgrades, how’s that Geno-Smith-over-Mark-Sanchez move looking at the moment? Say what you want about the Sanchize, and Lord knows we have, but Geno’s not looking too hot either, finding the end zone 11 times versus 20 turnovers. If only New York had its hands on a young quarterback who was a proven, selfless leader with decent mobility, you know?
Line: Baltimore -4, 39 points
Fantasy impact: The Ravens offense has facilitated fantasy defenses a field day this campaign, a trend that should continue as Baltimore’s 27th-ranked rushing attack squares off against Gang Green’s NFL-best ground opposition. Plus it’s been quite some time – all of two quarters- since Average Joe Flacco tossed a pick-six. Cat’s due to assist another house call.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Jets win if… Chris Ivory can find room to run, the front seven contains Rice.
The Ravens win if… Flacco keeps his throws to those wearing purple, Geno continues to play hot potato with the football.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Jets 10
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
The lowdown: To think there’s a chance the Texans will be drafting before the Jaguars. Not exactly what was imagined for Houston in 2013.
Speaking of the Texans, Andre Johnson knows a thing or two about bad quarterbacking, considering he’s worked with the immortal likes of David Carr, Tony Banks, Dave Ragone and Sage Rosenfels. So when the normally-equable Johnson loses his cool on Matt Schaub, that should illustrate the utter disarray of the Houston situation under center. Also, are we sure that Wade Phillips wasn’t secretly coaching the Texans on Sunday? Because switching from Case Keenum to Schaub was one of the most questionable coaching calls all season.
Keenum gets the starting call this week against a Jaguars team allowing 31.8 points per game, second-most in the NFL. For Jacksonville, the offensive woes will likely continue against a Houston defense retaining opponents to a league-low 286 total yards per contest. On the bright side, Tampa’s consecutive wins put the Jags atop the Jadeveon Clowney Sweepstakes, so there’s that.
Line: Houston -10, 43.5 points
Fantasy impact: Despite dealing with cracked ribs, Ben Tate is making the most of his opportunity as Houston’s primary back, evidenced by 117 total yards against the Raiders last Sunday. The offensive line has been immune to the rest of the Texans’ woes, serving as one of the best run-blocking units in the league and reinforcing Tate’s worth for the rest of the fall. Tate is a must-start this weekend versus a Jaguars front seven surrendering a league-high 139.1 yards per game.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Texans win if… The only time we see Schaub is on the sidelines, Maurice Jones-Drew’s nightmare season persists.
The Jaguars win if… Let’s be honest, a Jacksonville win is really a loss. And if such a statement ever applied to a team, it’s the Jags.
Prediction: Texans 30, Jaguars 9
Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders
The lowdown: Hey, another encounter of backup quarterbacks! Sad thing is the position has never been safer, with various rule iterations through the past 10 years designed to make field generals borderline untouchable. Have the supernatural-like physiques of defenders made the position forever unsafe, or do today’s arms lack the fortitude of yesteryear? (Pause) Sports Reporters will be right back.
Tennessee has lost five of its past six games, and Jake Locker’s absence will only prolong this ineptitude. Meanwhile, the Raiders are keeping Pryor on the bench in favor of former walk-on Matt McGloin. The Titans defense has been solid this year, and the Raiders running game has shown signs of life, yet without sustainable presences under center, hard to conjure excitement for these squads.
Line: Oakland -1, 41.5 points
Fantasy impact: Delanie Walker had a season-high 91 yards against the Colts, but it was far from an aberration. The Tennessee tight end has made trips to pay dirt in three of the past four games and has five touchdowns on the season. More importantly, Walker has played a bigger role in the Titans offense since Ryan Fitzpatrick took over the reins, garnering 18 targets in the past two weeks. Facing a Raiders defense that’s vulnerable over the middle, Walker, owned in 16.4 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, is an astute play.
TV: CBS – 4:05 PM EST
The Titans win if… Fitzpatrick goes to town on Oakland’s 25th-ranked pass defense, Chris Johnson does his Dr. Jekyll impersonation.
The Raiders win if… Rashad Jennings stretches his hot streak another week (113.3 yards per outing in the last three games), Chris Johnson’s Mr. Hyde appears.
Prediction: Titans 28, Raiders 20
Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals
The lowdown: At the time of writing, over 75 percent of FOXSports.com Pick ’Em entries have the Colts coming out on top opposed to 58 percent of media experts going with the Cardinals. While I’m usually a champion of the people, this illustrates the misconception of the current state of affairs for both teams.
Reggie Wayne’s injury has drastically altered the Colts offense, as the receiving corps’ failure to step up in the venerable wideout’s exodus has made Indy borderline one dimensional. The defense, stout in the beginning of the 2013 campaign, is giving up 30.5 points per game in its last four contests. Oh, and the team wasted a first-round pick on a player that’s notched as many TMZ tapes as touchdowns.
The Horseshoes have a stranglehold on the AFC South, and a generous late-season schedule (Tennessee, a beat-up Cincinnati squad, Houston, Kansas City, Jacksonville) won’t provide too many problems. Unfortunately, for a team hoping to make noise in the playoffs, the Colts have a plethora of problems at hand.
On the other end of that spectrum is the Cardinals. The offense is not the most aesthetically-pleasing of watches, and the offensive line’s troubles have burdened the running game. Conversely, the emergence of receiver Michael Floyd has given Arizona its much-awaited complementary target to Larry Fitzgerald, and since the return of All-Pro linebacker Daryl Washington, the defense has been one of the best in the league. I know Carson Palmer doesn’t instill much confidence, but don’t be surprised if the Cardinals are fighting for the final Wild Card spot in December.
Line: Arizona -1.5, 45 points
Fantasy impact: A chaste, self-effacing man would not boast of his candidacy for Fleener a few weeks ago and reservedly take pride in his work. Loyal readers of this column know I’m not this type of guy. Hell, I once swaggered down the court in a co-ed intramural league after swatting a girl’s shot. In my defense, she broke my heart the year before, so it was only rational to break her confidence in the mid-range jumper.
ANYWAY, Fleener has cashed in on Wayne’s absence, registering 15 catches for 204 yards in his last three games. Just as important have been the amplified looks from Luck in his direction, recording 20 targets in the past two games. Still available in 51 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, Fleener should capitalize on an Arizona squad relinquishing the most fantasy points to the tight end position in 2013.
TV: CBS – 4:05 PM EST
The Colts win if… Donald Brown alleviates some of the offensive burden from Luck, Palmer’s interception trials (15 on the season) rear its ugly head.
The Cardinals win if… Andre Ellington’s receiving prowess gives the Cards a third option in the passing arena, the Colts fail to muster much on the ground.
Prediction: Cardinals 33, Colts 24
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
The lowdown:Along with the release of terrible Vince Vaughn movies and aimless debates over the merits of the BCS, New York heating up following a stumble out of the gates has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. This year’s revival started earlier than usual, with the Giants entering as winners of their last four contests. Of course, the sooner-than-expected hot streak was needed in the worsts of ways, given the Giants’ shortcomings in the first six games.
Two developments have spurred this turnaround. The first involves the play of Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl MVP was abysmal during the six-game drought, hitting just 53.7 percent of his intended targets with 17 turnovers versus nine scores. While he hasn’t been finding the end zone at an elevated rate in the past month (three touchdowns in last four games), he’s at least curtailed his security issues, losing the rock only twice in this span. Combined with his improved rapport toward his receiving corps (63 completion percentage), Manning has gone from team detriment back to his normal role as leader of the offensive attack.
Also helping matters has been the defiance of the Giants’ resistance. In its past four victories, the New York D has surrendered a meager 47 points. The front seven is holding the opposition to 98 yards per contest (seventh-best in the NFL) and the secondary has been just as stout, stifling passing games to 6.5 yards per attempt (fifth-lowest in the league).
This defensive aptitude will be put to the test against an explosive Cowboys strike. Under the direction of Tony Romo, the Cowboys are posting 27.4 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL. Most of these feats can be traced back to the 33-year-old arm, who’s enjoying a career-year with 21 touchdowns (third-most in the NFL) with a modest six picks. Romo’s excelled this year in spreading the pigskin around, as Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams have each been targeted 50-plus times on the season. As the rookie Williams further assimilates into the offense, one could make the case that the aerial assault has never been better in Romo’s eight-year tenure as Dallas starter.
Line: New York -2.5, 45.5 points
Fantasy impact: The Dallas secondary is giving up a league-worst 329.9 yards per game and coming off a 49-17 beatdown at the hands of the Saints. There’s also an 82.4 percent chance that Monte Kiffin has retired and a cardboard cutout is calling the defensive shots for the Cowboys. And if that’s the case, promote the silhouette to GM. Can’t do a worse job than Jerry Jones has done in the role, right? If you have a Giants receiving entity, plug them in your lineup.
TV: FOX – 4:25 PM EST
The Cowboys win if… Romo stays within himself, DeMarco Murray sees 15-plus touches, Eli’s “Manning Face” makes its triumphant return.
The Giants win if… Manning keeps the turnovers to a minimum, Andre Brown gets it done on the ground, Romo throws one of those debilitating late-game interceptions that leads to a week’s worth of, “Is Romo an ELITE QUARTERBACK?!?!?!?” discussions that makes you want to scratch your face off…
Prediction: Giants 23, Cowboys 20
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
The lowdown: Call me crazy, but I think this Manning guy is going to make it.
It may come off as nitpicking, yet the Broncos do have genuine problems. Von Miller has been shaky since his league-sanctioned sabbatical, lacking consistency and failing to pressure the opposing backfield. Denver’s secondary remains a mess, conceding 279 passing yards per game (fifth-most). Worse, defensive leader Champ Bailey is starting to loss his battle with Father Time, as injuries and age have robbed the perennial Pro Bowler of his speed. The offense is a juggernaut, yet the merit of the Broncos D needs to up the ante in the upcoming weeks.
A journey to Foxborough will provide a gauge of this unit’s worth. Using the first half of the season to build rapport and assimilate his neophyte receivers, Tom Brady and the offense is starting to hit on all cylinders. Backing this venture is the return of running back Shane Vereen, evidenced in Vereen’s eight receptions against the Panthers. The New England defense is a battered crew, and Stevan Ridley’s butterfingers continue to plague the backfield, yet the Pats are heading in the right direction as winter approaches.
Line: Denver -2.5, 54 points
Fantasy impact: Aaron Dobson is still available in a shocking amount of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues. Dobson’s not the primary target in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back in tow, but the rookie is still a major part of the offensive attack, illustrated in seven looks against Carolina. Against a weak Denver secondary, look for Dobson to be a fantasy force.
TV: NBC – 8:30 PM EST
The Broncos win if… Knowshon Moreno lays the smackdown on a vulnerable New England front seven, Peyton keeps Brady on the sidelines.
The Patriots win if… Did you know Peyton is 6-11 vs. the Pats during the regular season? I know, I was surprised Manning had six wins too.
Prediction: Patriots 35, Broncos 33
San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
The lowdown: In terms of mobility, RG3 has shaken off the early-season rust, averaging 45.5 yards on the terrain in his last six games (compared to an output of 18 yards per contest in four September outings). Coupled with a submission of 278.7 yards per contest in November, things seem to be turning around for the former Heisman winner.
Unfortunately, this is a false assumption. The Washington signal caller owns as many turnovers as touchdowns (14 apiece). In truth, this ratio could be ghastlier: only four of Griffin’s 10 fumbles have been lost. Worse, RG3’s production is more of a derivative of a generous schedule (porous secondaries in San Diego, Minnesota and Philly) rather than his own accord. His rapport with the Washington wideouts remains shaky (59.7 completion percentage, 21st in the league), and taking on a Niners defense that has bested most of its competition won’t improve that figure. Washington’s defense is in worse of states, yet in his current presentation, Washington won’t go far with Griffin at the helm.
Not that Colin Kaepernick has been much better. Since his Week 1 success against the Packers, CK has 11 turnovers against 11 scores. Luckily for Kaepernick, he’s aided by a rushing game that’s posting over 140 yards per game (fifth-best in the NFL) and a defense, with Aldon Smith back, that is starting to find its mojo. Defensive coordinators across the league have caught on to the run-option attack of San Fran, yet Kaepernick merely needs to be adequate to keep the Niners Super Bowl bound.
Line: San Francisco -5, 47 points
Fantasy impact: With Jordan Reed out, Fred Davis – remember him? –regains his roto relevancy. The Niners are stringent over the middle, yet that should not impede Davis from seeing seven-plus targets in his direction. In deeper formats, Davis merits a look.
TV: ESPN – 8:30 PM EST
The 49ers win if… Frank Gore and the SF rushing game continue their display, CK stays steady with the pigskin.
The Fightin’ Shanahans win if… RG3 posts a video game-like performance, Kaepernick is forced into ill-advised throws.
Prediction: 49ers 28, Fightin’ Shanahans 20
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall