Can you imagine if the NFL had its version of Rivalry Week? The must-see nature of the sport does not necessitate such sponsorship, but it sure would be riveting. Ravens-Steelers. Seahawks-49ers. Brady-Manning. Jaguars-Bye Week. Forget adding another Thursday night showcase or two more regular-season games, Roger; make this your schedule alteration.
This week: 3-0 Last week: 8-5-1 2013 record: 117-58-1 Still first in clutch rankings, fourth in overall expert standings. By the way, I don’t do this to gloat. Before we posted these stats, the amount of comments concerning the “lack of accountability” in my predictions was astonishing, so this is our way of showing we aren’t totally full of it. Also, definitely lied about the bragging part.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns
The lowdown: Two wins in three weeks? Break up the Jags! Of course, the W over Houston renounced control of the No. 1 pick in April’s Draft. Only Jacksonville can find a way to lose in victory.
In spite of this recent boon, Jacksonville is still last in scoring, averaging 12.9 points per game. Maurice Jones-Drew has been better as of late (more on this in a moment), but Justin Blackmon’s suspension has hamstrung an already-limited offense. The defense hasn’t been a pillar of excellence by any means either, allowing 29.5 points per outing, third-most in the league. Hate to be Debbie Downer, yet it could be another three years before this franchise finds a veil of intimidation. Right in time for its move to London!
The fat lady isn’t singing, but she’s getting those pipes ready for Cleveland’s playoff hopes. Even with a defense confining opponents to 306.1 total yards (fourth-best in the NFL), the Brownies have lost five of their last six ballgames. After initially inserting a semblance of continuity, Jason Campbell regressed to the type of production that’s expected from a journeyman backup. Worse, a concussion has sidelined Campbell, forcing Cleveland to dust the cobwebs off Brandon Weeden. Call me crazy, but I don’t see the 30-year-old signal caller being the answer. Well, unless the question is, “What was the worst first-round duo of draft picks in NFL history?” In that case, Weeden’s your guy.
There is hope for the franchise: Josh Gordon has proven to be the real deal at receiver, the offensive line is a sturdy unit and the aforementioned resistance is deep. Don’t be surprised if the Browns are a division competitor in 2014.
Line: Cleveland -7, 40.5 points
Fantasy impact: Following a horrific first half of the season, Maurice Jones-Drew has regained fantasy relevance in November, with three touchdowns, 148 rushing yards and 14 receptions for 105 receiving yards. Not exactly a harvest or anything near Jones-Drew’s feats from a few seasons ago, but like A.J. Hawks says when trimming his eyebrows, “Hey, every little bit helps!” (Seriously, that man is a monster. Of course, he’s also married to Laura Quinn while I’m routinely shot-down at bars, so perhaps I shouldn’t be flinging arrows.) This modest success could be coming to an end, as the Browns ranks fourth in total defense, holding opponents to the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Only view the Jacksonville back as a Flex play in deep leagues.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Jaguars win if… MJD can burst through the Cleveland front seven, Weeden does Weeden-like things…but do the Jags REALLY want to win this rodeo?
The Browns win if… The Browns strangle Chad Henne, Chris Ogbonnaya takes advantage of a Jacksonville defense giving up over 133 yards per game.
Prediction: Browns 17, Jaguars 13
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
The lowdown: Noted this point in last week’s rundown, but it bears repeating: I think America is giving the Colts more credit than warranted. True, Indianapolis has a stranglehold on the division at 7-4 and boasts impressive wins over Denver, Seattle and San Francisco. However, since knocking off the Seahawks on October 6, the Colts are merely .500, featuring two smackdowns at the hands of the Rams and Cardinals. Injuries have decimated the defense, and the offense has been paralyzed with the loss of Reggie Wayne (breakdown below). The Colts should still make the playoffs, but don’t envision the Horseshoes going far.
The Titans might take umbrage to “division stranglehold” statement. At 5-6, Tennessee harbors postseason aspirations of its own, holding the final AFC Wild Card spot entering Week 13. The Nashville club would rather book its January itinerary as the AFC South champ, a dream more than in its grasp. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been deft in replacement of Jake Locker, and the maligned Chris Johnson has awakened from his 2013 slumber in November (84.8 yards per game, four scores). The defense has stumbled after a strong start, and Tennessee has lost five of its last seven outings. Nevertheless, the Titans have more than enough firepower to give the Colts a run for their money.
Line: Indianapolis -4, 45.5 points
Fantasy impact: The NFL’s infamous parity generates its share of head-scratching performances, making the process of drawing judgments from a single contest a risky undertaking. Alas, my condemnation on starting Andrew Luck stems from his displays in the absence of Wayne. Without his primary target, the Colts QB is hitting just 55.6 percent of his passes, making five trips to pay dirt versus four interceptions. In the seven games with Wayne’s services, Luck owned a 60.7 completion percentage with 10 touchdowns and just three picks.
Some of these struggles are a correlation of Trent Richardson’s output, or should we say lack thereof (28 carries, 59 yards in the last four weeks), and the failure of the Colts receiving corps to rise up in Wayne’s void hasn’t helped. (Speaking of receivers, owner Jim Irsay should line up for Indy in the slot, given he’s the only Colt able to get separation!…Too soon? C’mon they had been living apart for 10 years! Ok, back on topic…) Luck’s aptitude, combined with the collective apathy of the AFC South, is more than enough to lead Indianapolis to the playoffs. Unfortunately, this sentiment won’t appear in the box scores, especially this weekend against a Titans defense holding opponents to the fourth-lowest point total among arms. Keep Luck on the pine.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Colts win if… Indy can shut down Johnson, Donald Brown goes nuts on a so-so Tennessee rush defense.
The Titans win if… Luck’s rapport with his receivers continues to be a work in progress, Colts rush game fails to get going.
Prediction: Colts 24, Titans 17
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
The lowdown: It’s easy to overlook the two-win Vikings, with its porous defense and Christian Ponder’s Christian Ponder-ness. However, the Bears enter in a vulnerable state. The season-ending injury to Henry Melton and Julius Pepper’s losing battle to Father Time has decimated the Chicago front line, verified by a league-worst 145.2 rushing yards per game. This could be an issue, considering the Bears are taking on Adrian Peterson.
The Windy City offense has shown signs of life under the direction of backup Josh McCown, who has been efficient in relief of Jay Cutler. Matt Forte is having a career year under Marc Trestman’s attack, and Alshon Jeffery has surpassed expectations as a complementary receiver to become Chicago’s 1B target next to Brandon Marshall. As the Minnesota resistance has been a turnstile this fall (401 total yards per game, third-most in the league), Chicago will need to light up the scoreboard to negate its woes on defense.
Line: Pick ‘Em, 50 points
Fantasy impact: Martellus Bennett is quietly putting together a solid campaign, on pace for career-highs in receptions and yards, with his five touchdowns already tying a personal-best. Bennett’s prosperity should continue this weekend against a Vikings defense that’s vulnerable over the middle, conceding the fifth-most fantasy points to the position in the NFL. And since I have nothing else to add, what’s up with the NFC North? Detroit falls to lowly Tampa, Chicago ends up on the business end of a 42-12 beatdown, and, despite facing fourth-stringer Matt Flynn, Minnesota could only manage a tie against rival Green Bay. More like the Black and BOOOO division, AM I RIGHT?
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Bears win if… Forte keeps AP off the field, McCown stays strong with the rock (just two turnovers this year).
The Vikings win if… Peterson goes for 200-plus, Ponder…sorry, I know the Chicago defense is something awful, but c’mon, it’s Christian Ponder….
Prediction: Bears 33, Vikings 23
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
The lowdown: The Jets have to draft a quarterback, right? There’s been at least 20 times this season where New York receivers have looked at each other with, “Was that supposed to be to you?” expressions.
Chris Ivory is likely down for the count this weekend with an ankle sprain, bequeathing the Gang Green touches to Bilal Powell. Granted, there could be trepidation in giving the nod to Powell in the theory that the Dolphins could stuff the box to force Smith to make plays. While Geno has been dreadful this year (11 touchdowns, 22 turnovers), this has been a common stance against the Jets offense, one that hasn’t stopped Powell and Ivory from a top-10 standing at 127 rushing yards per game. For the Jets to come out on top, Powell will need a big day.
Put the Richie Incognito mess on the backburner for a second. Even accounting for the loss of two offensive linemen, the Dolphins have been nothing to write home since September. Following three straight wins to start the 2013 campaign, Miami has lost six of its past eight. (And it should be noted that one of those wins was a derivative of an Andy Dalton performance that conjured visions of a monkey tossing a Nerf football at a zoo.) Mike Wallace is finally assimilating into the offense, and Miami’s 5-6 record has them competing for a Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to support such a push. The Jets certainly aren’t a paragon of consistency, yet the Dolphins have been one of the worst teams in the NFL the past two months.
Line: New York -2, 40 points
Fantasy impact: Daniel Thomas is likely M.I.A. for the rest of the season, moving Mike Gillislee up Miami’s running back ranks. Lamar Miller is the main benefactor from this development; it also should be noted that Miller has a whopping 27 yards in the last three games. In case you missed it, the Dolphins offensive line is going through a bit of a quagmire at the moment, leaving the running game susceptible. On the other hand, if Miller fails to snap out of his funk, look for Gillislee, a fifth-round rookie from Florida with deceptive explosiveness, to get a chance to shine.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Dolphins win if… Ryan Tannehill takes it to a Jets defense ranked 22nd against the past, Geno continues to play hot potato with the pigskin.
The Jets win if… The top-ranked rush resistance keeps Miller at bay, Powell is able to take some of the offensive responsibility off Smith.
Prediction: Jets 14, Dolphins 10
Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles
The lowdown: Since All-Pro linebacker Daryl Washington’s return from a substance-abuse suspension, the Cardinals defense has stonewalled their opponents, allowing 19.1 points in the past seven games. This resistance has been particularly stout against the rush, as Arizona is giving up a conference-low 81.3 yards per outing. Assisting Washington in this armament have been Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and John Abraham. Such pressure has bestowed the secondary to attack with a feast-or-famine approach, evidenced by the unit’s 15 interceptions on the year (second only to Seattle in the NFC). This group is led by playmakers Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Combined, the defense’s admission of 317.1 yards per contest is seventh-best in the NFL.
Arizona’s suffocating of adversaries has given more than enough breathing room for Carson Palmer and company. In his third stop in four years, the former Pro Bowler has been far from formidable, owning more turnovers (17) than touchdowns (16). However, given the Cardinals dealt with the putridness of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer last season, Palmer has instilled a sense of continuity on the offense. Moreover, the emergence of second-year wideout Michael Floyd has finally given Arizona a complement to Larry Fitzgerald in the receiving arena. If Andre Ellington continues to develop in the rushing game, watch out.
Offense has not been a problem for the Eagles, with Kelly’s up-tempo attack ranking fourth in total yards at a 412.4 mark. While many perceive this strategy to be facilitated by the air, in truth it’s the endeavors on the soil that act as catalyst. Directed by LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia is averaging 150.6 rushing yards per game, second-best in the NFL.
Alas, as good as McCoy has been, it’s the stylings of Nick Foles that have propelled the Eagles to three straight victories. The second-year arm out of Arizona has a whopping 17 scores versus one turnover in his abbreviated appearances in 2013, and his accuracy and mobility have proved perfect for Philly’s scheme. With Foles at the helm, the Eagles have one of the more dynamic assaults in the NFC.
Nevertheless, for the Eagles to capture the NFC East, the collective effort of the defense will need to improve. Philadelphia is conceding nearly 418 total yards per game, second-worst in the NFL. The D has been especially generous to opposing field generals, yielding a league-high 300 yards per contest. Though the Eagles don’t need to turn into the ’85 Bears, they will need to alleviate some of these issues if they plan on making noise in January.
Line: Philadelphia -3, 48.5 points
Fantasy impact: This will knock your socks off, assuming you have them on: Michael Floyd has 155 more yards than the venerable Fitzgerald this fall. Fitzgerald is still the primary bull’s-eye, evidenced by team-highs in 91 targets (compared to Floyd’s 75) and eight scores (three for Floyd), yet it’s clear that Arizona has found its long-awaited complement in the receiving arena.
It may seem like a no-brainer to give the go-ahead to a guy flaunting 297 yards in his last two contests, although Floyd is only in 17.7 percent of FOXSports.com starting lineups. Make sure your roster is assembled with the Notre Dame product in a starring role, as the Cardinals face a Philadelphia secondary that is relinquishing a league-high 300.1 passing yards per game.
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Cardinals win if… Arizona secondary can keep Foles grounded, Palmer, Ellington and Mendenhall do work on a Philadelphia defense giving up 417.9 total yards (second-worst in the league).
The Eagles win if… Philly wins the battle in the trenches, Palmer gets careless in the passing game (15 interceptions, third-most in the NFL).
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Eagles 23
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
The lowdown: The best part of Tampa’s three-game winning streak? No, not that, for the first time in years, there’s a glimmer of hope for the Buccaneers. It means another season of Greg Schiano! More lying about staph infections, rigging captaincy voting, alienating franchise stars, filling his roster with ex-Rutgers players and just his overall repulsiveness. In short, a writer’s dream.
In a non-facetious tone, the Buccaneers’ Mike Glennon is making a case for Tampa to bypass on a quarterback in the early stages of April’s draft, a sentiment that was up in the air a mere two weeks ago. Glennon, a third-round rookie, has connected on 70.5 percent of his air forays in November for seven touchdowns and only one pick. That he’s accomplished such numbers without any assistance from a beat-up backfield is further testament to his execution. Tampa’s defense has more than enough playmakers, meaning if Glennon can solidify the quarterback position, the Buccaneers might be closer to relevancy than you think.
Carolina knows a thing or two about defense, as the Panthers enter as the league’s top unit at 13.7 points allowed per game. Headlined by reigning Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly, the front seven is holding adversaries to 81.5 rushing yards per game, third-lowest in the NFL. The Panthers secondary is more than carrying its weight, ranking seventh in pass defense at 215.9 yards per contest and giving up a conference-low nine touchdown throws. Cam Newton has garnered attention for his maturation under center, but it’s the Panthers’ D that has served as the team’s foundation in its 8-3 start.
Line: Carolina -8, 42 points
Fantasy impact: Love me some Steve Smith, and the amount of looks he’s received (90 targets) suggest the five-time Pro Bowler justifies a start. Have to give the no-go on that thought process, as Smith could be voyaging to Revis Island. Only start in deeper formats.
TV: FOX – 1:00 PM EST
The Panthers win if… Carolina forces Glennon into trouble, Bobby Rainey can’t get going.
The Buccaneers win if… Carolina’s rushing attack fails to muster much against Tampa’s top-10 ground defense, Newton falls into potential trap game.
Prediction: Panthers 24, Buccaneers 10
New England Patriots at Houston Texans
The lowdown: Shhhhhhh, New England’s tiptoeing its way into the AFC’s top seed. The lack of connection between Tom Brady and his receivers that was so evident in the first quarter of the year has vastly improved, helped by the returns of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Stevan Ridley has been afflicted with Butterfingers Syndrome, seen in three fumbles in the past three games, yet Shane Vereen’s development has annulled this problem. Even the secondary, historically the Achilles’ heel of the Pats, has been sound this season, ranking ninth against the pass.
Regrettably for New England, the front seven is in shambles. Granted, last week’s concession of 280 rushing yards could have been the upshot of focusing on Denver’s air attack. Nevertheless, with Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly out for the season, New England’s rush resistance is anything but, allowing 139.7 yards per game (second-worst in the NFL).
This problem pales in comparison to the burdens of the Texans. Following back-to-back wins to start the season, Houston has dropped nine straight, including losses to the lowly Raiders and Jaguars. Somewhat astonishingly, Houston still ranks first in total yards allowed, highlighting the precarious spots the offense has put their defensive counterparts in. As a corollary, expect the Texans to be searching for a new arm this offseason, and possibly a new coach.
Line: New England -9, 47 points
Fantasy impact: I need Google to create an unrelated research path-block application. Can’t tell you how much time is wasted when exploring a fantasy entity leads to an allied topic before spiraling out of control into the depths of the Internet. For example, after investigating some facts on Houston’s Dennis Johnson, I wanted to double-check my memory on Dennis Johnson the basketball great. This guided me to the Wikipedia page of the Austin Toros, whom Johnson coached briefly before he passed. Speaking of Austin, I wondered if PBS would be running Austin City Limits in the near future, which directed me to Charlie Rose’s best interviews, piloting to Yasser Arafat…and bam, there went 30 minutes of my day.
Anyway, Ben Tate is dealing with a handful of injuries (ribs, toe, ankle), and though Gary Kubiak stated Tate will remain the No. 1 back for Houston, anticipate Johnson to see more action as the year winds down. An undrafted rookie from Arkansas, Johnson made the most of his opportunity last week against Jacksonville, racking up 87 yards on 15 touches. Even though New England is getting torched on the soil (139.7 yards per game, second-most in the league), Johnson doesn’t call for a starting spot in Week 13. Nevertheless, make sure he’s on your roster for the fantasy homestretch.
TV: CBS – 1:00 PM EST
The Patriots win if… New England halts the terrain pursuits of Tate and Johnson, Wade Phillips continues to secretly coach the Texans. At least that’s my theory for why Gary Kubiak has made so many questionable coaching calls this season.
The Texans win if… Man, can you imagine if the Texans get the No. 1 pick, pairing J.J. Watt with Jadeveon Clowney? True, the Texans need a quarterback in the worst of ways, but hey, we can dream.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Texans 16
Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills
The lowdown: If you’re reading this section, you are some type of degenerate gambler. I have friends in both Atlanta and Buffalo who don’t care about this game. To quote my buddy Dave, who lives outside the ATL, “The Falcons play who this week?” Oh, and did we mention this game will be held in the lifeless Rogers Centre in Toronto? Actually, that might be this contest’s saving grace, if only for the 8.7 percent chance that Rob Ford shows up.
Line: Buffalo -3.5, 47.5 points
Fantasy impact: The Dirty Birds are averaging a meager 14.8 points per game in their five-game losing streak, and although Steven Jackson and Roddy White have returned, the offensive line’s porous nature paints an ominous forecast. It’s not as if the Bills are entering on a tear either, winning only twice in the past eight weeks. However, don’t misconstrue this as an upshot of Buffalo’s defense, which boasts a fiery front seven and an advantageous secondary. Owned in just 11.5 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, the Bills defense is a safer pick than imagined.
TV: FOX – 4:05 PM EST
The Falcons win if… Matt Ryan cuts down on the picks (nine interceptions in the past five games), Jackson crushes a Bills defense allowing 118.8 rushing yards per game.
The Bills win if… EJ Manuel, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson exploit a Falcons defense that’s giving up over 380 yards per game (27th in the league)…honestly, how great would a Ford appearance be?
Prediction: Bills 33, Falcons 24
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
The lowdown: Think what this Rams team could be capable of with a decent field general. The defense is loaded with studs like Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis, Chris Long and Janoris Jenkins. Zac Stacy is looking like highway robbery as a fifth-round pick, averaging 88.6 rushing yards in his past seven games. Tavon Austin is starting to live up to his preeminent reputation, and the receiving corps is extremely deep. I know Sam Bradford wasn’t terrible before going down this season, although I doubt he’s the one to lead the Rams into the future. With such a talented roster, hopefully St. Louis snags one of the plethora of college QBs coming out this spring.
Speaking of quarterback troubles, don’t be shocked if the Niners are in the mix this offseason for a new man at the helm of their ship. Defensive coordinators have adjusted to Colin Kaepernick, and San Francisco has been unable to answer. Granted, the Niners are a ground-first attack, a scheme that has led to 135 rushing yards per game (fourth-best in the NFL) and one that’s fueled by Kaepernick’s mobility. However, CK has been weak with the ball with 11 turnovers, and is hitting just 56.7 percent of his passes (31st out of 34 qualifying QBs).
Kaepernick did have a strong outing against Washington last week (15-for-24, 235 passing yards, three scores…although it would have been a bigger deal if he failed against Washington’s shaky D) and has shown flashes of brilliance. To stay in the NFC playoff race, similar performances are essential from the San Fran signal caller.
Line: San Francisco -8, 42.5 points
Fantasy impact: Kaepernick’s inconsistency has been the main story emitting from the San Fran offense, but Vernon Davis’ bounce-back campaign is just as noteworthy. In the wake of 2012’s subpar showing (41 receptions, 548 yards, five touchdowns), the Niners tight end is enjoying a career year in his eighth professional season, averaging a personal-best 62.3 yards per game and voyaging to the Promised Land nine times.
Conversely, there are a few clouds on his horizon. While Davis persists as San Francisco’s primary target, the returns of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will take a dent into Davis’ opportunities. Worse, Week 13 adversary St. Louis has been stringent over the middle, permitting the sixth-fewest points to tight ends this year. Understand a majority of owners will stick with Davis despite this matchup. Just be aware of decreased contributions from the 29-year-old on Sunday.
TV: FOX – 4:05 PM EST
The 49ers win if… The Niners front seven can keep Stacy under wraps, Frank Gore shakes off back-to-back no-shows.
The Rams win if… Kaepernick’s turnover problems emerge, Austin is able to find some room in a strong-but-susceptible San Fran secondary.
Prediction: 49ers 21, Rams 17
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
The lowdown: To chalk a team’s 9-0 start strictly to luck is nonsense, especially in the league’s aforementioned balanced competitive atmosphere. Yet given that, before their Week 11 encounter with Peyton Manning, Kansas City’s opponents were Jeff Tuel, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Fitzpatrick in their previous five games, it’s fair to question the merit of the Chiefs defense after consecutive no-shows against Manning and Philip Rivers. The remaining itinerary supplies a rematch with Manning and Rivers and dates with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Even though the latter two are working in depleted offenses, both are more than capable of inflicting damage. Don’t be surprised if KC stumbles into the playoffs.
As for the Broncos, let’s not fret about last week’s stumble. Sure, Denver’s secondary is getting pummeled to the tune of 283 passing yards per game, and the offensive line’s erosion is starting to show, and Manning falling short to Brady, again, and on the big stage, again, makes you wonder…sorry, where was I going with this?
Line: Denver -5.5, 49.5 points
Fantasy impact: Understand the top fantasy defense is playing in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium, but I’d sit the 2000 Ravens against this Broncos offense. Even in deeper leagues, keep the Chiefs D on the bench.
TV: CBS – 4:25 PM EST
The Chiefs win if… Jamaal Charles submits a video game-like performance, KC defense brings the heat on Manning.
The Broncos win if… Manning gets back on track, the KC offense struggles to keep up with Denver’s high-octane ways.
Prediction: Broncos 30, Chiefs 20
Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers
The lowdown: Believed to be dead in the water with injuries to Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, the Bengals have maintained their stoutness in the wake of their stars’ absence, ranking sixth against the pass (211.1 yards) and 10th versus the run (102 yards). Vontaze Burfict, a second-year undrafted linebacker from Arizona State, has carried the defense with the All-Pro Atkins out, leading the NFL with 118 tackles, with end Carlos Dunlap contributing seven sacks to the cause.
While the Cincinnati D is holding up its end of the bargain, it’s the Who-Dey offense that has caused many a raised eyebrow. Andy Dalton continues to connect with players wearing the wrong jersey, with eight interceptions in the last three games. Just as frustrating has been his inability with throws past 10 yards. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard have provided one of the better one-two punches in the AFC, yet for the Bengals to capture the AFC North, Dalton will need to curtail the miscues in the final month.
The Chargers are on the opposite end of the offensive spectrum, as the Philip Rivers’ Rejuvenation heads into December. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is flaunting career-bests in yards per game and completion percentage, showcasing he’s far from being put out to pasture. In his fourth year in the league, Ryan Mathews is finally showing signs of dependability, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, with Danny Woodhead proving to be a viable change-of-pace back (59 receptions, seven touchdowns). Moreover, third-round pick Keenan Allen is showcasing the talents of a No. 1 wideout, posting 88.4 yards per game over the last eight weeks. The San Diego defense remains a work in progress and the schedule is unkind in December (Cincy, Denver, Kansas City). Nonetheless, with a revitalized Rivers, no one wants a piece of the Lightning Bolts down the stretch.
Line: San Diego -1, 48.5 points
Fantasy impact: Which Dalton persona will manifest for owners this weekend: “Agent Orange,” responsible for nine turnovers and a game-ending safety in his last three games, or the “Red Rifle,” who has found the end zone 16 times in the past six contests? I’m leaning toward the latter, with Cincinnati taking on a San Diego team that ranks 27th in total passing defense. Besides, Dalton can’t continue to be this bad, right?
TV: CBS – 4:25 PM EST
The Chargers win if… Mathews and Woodhead keep the Bengals on their toes, the “EST team traveling West” theory manifests.
The Bengals win if… For real, can we at least confirm Dalton is not colorblind? No? Well then…
Prediction: Chargers 17, Bengals 14
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
The lowdown: What’s worse: that these teams, believed to be playoff contenders, enter with 4-7 and 3-8 records, or that, technically, they both can realistically reach said postseason thanks to the NFC East? Trick question – both are equally pathetic. (Just kidding, Dallas fans. Look for the Cowboys to run away with the division in December.)
I brought this up last week, but it seems apropos: have the G-Men exhausted their strength just to reach this juncture? I know this sounds like the nonsense you often hear on sports talk radio, but considering the Giants have preached, and rightfully so, the importance of hitting one’s stride during their Super Bowl runs, it’s a fair debate.
If the Giants do hope on making a winter run, it will be on the ground. Andre Brown’s return has proven a stimulus for a dormant Giants attack. Since returning from a preseason knee injury, the vagabond running back (cut five times before latching on with the G-Men) has 308 rushing yards in the last three weeks. Aside from a Week 15 date with the Seahawks, New York’s December schedule is filled with defenses that have been kind to opposing backs. With Eli Manning and his receivers failing to get on the same page, any hopes of a late-season push will derive from Brown’s output.
In regards to the, “Should RG3 be playing?” debate: from my limited interactions with the man, Ahmad Brooks does not seem prone to B.S. pontifications. The fact that Washington and Griffin have failed to respond to this outlook is telling in itself.
Line: New York -1.5, 46 points
Fantasy impact: A few readers have suggested if Manning warrants a play against Washington’s horrific defense. Though it’s certainly a friendly positional matchup, with no teams on bye, there are enough serviceable arms available to avoid the Giants quarterback. While Manning has reduced his turnovers, his struggles to find the end zone endure. Only give Eli the nod in two-quarterback formats.
TV: NBC – 8:30 PM EST
The Giants win if… Brown torches Washington defense, Giants front line swallows RG3.
The Fightin’ Shanahans win if… Alfred Morris keeps the Giants offense off the field, no further RG3 clubhouse rumors emit. Seriously fellas, this is borderline junior-high gossip. Knock it off.
Prediction: Fightin’ Shanahans 21, Giants 20
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
The lowdown: Alright, a decent Monday night game! Thank the gridiron gods, because Mondays after holiday weekends are the worst.
The Emerald City has been the definition of home-field advantage the past two years, but I think the Saints enter as the NFL’s best team. The New Orleans running game is suddenly turning into a sturdy complement to Drew Brees and the passing attack, while Rob Ryan has transformed the defense into an advantageous unit. As long as the receiving corps can stay healthy, look for the Saints to be marching toward the Meadowlands in February.
Even with the hits to the Seattle secondary, the Seahawks remain a formidable bunch. Besides, this group’s performance derives from the pressure up front, a sentiment that holds true heading into this matchup. Additionally, a look at Seattle’s final four opponents (Niners, Giants, Cardinals, Rams) does not render an awe-inspiring arm. It may lack the intimidation that it possessed in the fall, but the Seahawks defense remains an elite bunch.
Finally, should we really be surprised by these Seattle accusations? Not like Pete Carroll has a history of shadiness or anything.
Line: Seattle -5, 47.5 points
Fantasy impact: Golden Tate leads the Hawks in receptions, yards and touchdowns, and did post a 100-yard performance on November 10. Still, handing Tate a start this week could render iffy results. In two of his past three games, Tate has failed to surpass the 30-yard barrier, receiving just seven targets in the two no-shows. Furthermore, Seattle’s Monday night foray against New Orleans should be a defensive affair, as the Saints’ 17.8 points per game is fifth-best in the league. Tate warrants a roster spot, but not in your starting lineup in Week 13.
TV: ESPN – 8:30 PM EST
The Seahawks win if… Marshawn Lynch keeps Brees off the field, Russell Wilson dinks-and-dunks his way through Saints defense.
The Saints win if… Brees in prime time. Enough said…
Prediction: Saints 30, Seahawks 24
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