Week 15 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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Fantasy Pick Ups Du Jour

On September 8th, 1992, I woke up at 7:00 AM, showered, got dressed, ate some French toast, posed for way too many pictures in front of the house, and left for my very first day of kindergarten. Since then, I’ve been blessed enough to finish high school, graduate from college, and spend a year and a half working for the man. Two days before my first day of kindergarten, Brett Favre embarked on a journey that finally came to a close this past weekend. Say what you want about him (who hasn’t?), but when this wild ride mercifully comes to an end and all the dust settles, Favre will go down as one of the most memorable quarterbacks of all time. Maybe these past 5 years have permanently tainted his legacy, and maybe we need these next 5 years to forget about him until he gets inducted into the hall of fame, but there’s little doubt that he will be one of those guys that we end up telling our grandchildren about. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think we’ll miss him when he’s gone for good. At the very least, ESPN and John Madden will. 

Aside from the streak coming to an end, it was a fairly uneventful weekend. Considering the Sal Alosi tripping scandal is the only other thing in the NFL that anyone seems interested in talking about, I’m going to use this time to look ahead to Week 15 and beyond. If you’re in a bind and need to make a desperation play; if your roster is full of Patriots who won’t be playing the last 2 weeks of the season, or if you have the roster space to grab someone “just in case;” here are 25 guys owned in less than 25% of leagues that could play a key role in the fantasy playoffs:

25 Under 25

Mike Thomas (24.8%)

He certainly didn’t do you any favors if you played him last week, but with 2 games remaining against the worst pass defenses in the league, he’s likely to redeem himself down the stretch.

Tony Moeaki (23.9%)

If Cassel’s (lack of) appendix keeps him out of any more games, his value plummets considerably, but if Cassel is back, there’s a good chance Moeaki ends up as a top 10 TE the rest of the way.

Tashard Choice (22.3%)
Jon Kitna (18.4%)

Their season is finished, so it’s highly unlikely Romo will make an end-of-season cameo, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys shut down Felix Jones in the near future to avoid any sort of devastating knee injuries. Dallas is still playing for Garrett’s job, however, and scoring fairly well in the process, so these replacements should have considerable value.

Louis Murphy (21.3%)
Jacoby Ford (11.9%)
Jason Campbell (6.7%)

I don’t exactly foresee the Raiders making a run to the playoffs, and if they do, it will probably make Darren McFadden owners very happy, but with slim playoff hopes and games remaining against Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City, I think the passing game should have a decent three week stretch.

Keiland Williams (17.4%)

Ryan Torain has proven himself about as capable of staying on the field as Reggie Bush. And even if Torain somehow makes it through the next 3 weeks, Keiland figures to get some work as a 3rd down back.

Jeff Reed (15.0%)

He hasn’t missed a field goal since the Steelers cut him. Interestingly enough, Suisham (2.3%) hasn’t missed since the Steelers signed him.

Matt Hasselbeck (14.3%)

Who he’ll be throwing to is anybody’s best guess, but with the NFC West still completely up for grabs and absolutely no one in Seattle who can reliably rush the ball, there are much worse QB options. That reminds me…

Anthony Dixon (9.3%)
Alex Smith (6.7%)
Josh Morgan (2.5%)

You don’t want any of these guys this week against the Chargers, but if your playoffs go into week 16 and 17, they should score liberally against the Rams and Cardinals. Morgan’s value increases from worthless to slightly less than worthless with Alex Smith being back, because he might accidentally score a touchdown, but the Anthony Dixon recommendation isn’t completely based in dumb luck, as he and Westbrook have been perfectly splitting touches the past 2 weeks.

Rashad Jennings (13.2%)

He has a touchdown and at least 50 yards in each of the past 3 weeks, but you want to pick him up on the off chance that the Jaguars beat the Colts this weekend, clinch the AFC South, and rest Maurice Jones-Drew for the final two weeks of the season. And trust me, you want the guy getting the bulk of the carries against the Redskins and Texans.

Cardinals D/ST (12.4%)

They’re a top 5 option against the Panthers this weekend, and they’re at least a reasonable play in the final two weeks against Dallas and San Francisco.

Mohamed Massaquoi (10.0%)

Kind of sad that he’s the 2nd best fantasy option in Cleveland at this point, but he stands to score at least once or twice in a slew of games in which the Browns will be primarily playing from behind.

Billy Cundiff (9.6%)

He’s hit 15 of 16 field goals since Week 4. At least he’s a better option than Rob Bironas these days.

Jordan Shipley (4.0%)

There are very few slot receivers in the league that you can count on, but if you’re desperate for 3 catches for 25 yards and a slim chance at a touchdown, Shipley’s your man.

Blair White (3.5%)
Javarris James (2.8%)

If Austin Collie continues to miss games, White and James continue to be worth starting in virtually all formats, as the Colts are fighting for a playoff spot instead of backing into one for the first time in several seasons.

Anthony Armstrong (3.4%)

He’s led the Redskins in receiving yards in 4 of their past 6 games, so you can probably rely on him to get at least half a dozen targets. Whether he does anything with them is a different story.

Bo Scaife (3.3%)
Kerry Collins (1.3%)

Collins has thrown for 8 TDs this season, and Scaife has been on the receiving end of 3 of them. Ed Dickson didn’t do a thing against the Texans last week, and they’re STILL allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Both are solid options this weekend, and may very well have some value in their final games against Indianapolis and Kansas City.

Earl Bennett (2.7%)

Picking a Bears wide receiver is like trying to pick a Packers running back, but if you insist on owning someone facing the Vikings, Jets, and Packers to finish the season, I think you’re better off with Earl Bennett than Johnny Knox.

Eliminator Suggestions:

If you’re still alive in your suicide pool, it’s hardly thanks to me. After another 3-1 week, my record for the season is now 43-13. It’s not great, but it’s damn sure good enough to win the NFC West. I went off the board from my suggestions this past week because I had already used the best four and ended up lucking out a win with the Jaguars. Three of these four picks are sure to win, and I hope you’re able to avoid the dud.

#4. Indianapolis over Jacksonville

This marks the 5th time I’ve recommended the Colts in this section under the “Peyton Manning won’t let them lose this game” theory. I’m pretty sure they’ve lost every time I put them in here, and considering the Colts have knocked my Chiefs out of the playoffs in 3 of our past 4 trips to the playoffs (which encompasses 16 years of sadness), I’d be perfectly happy if I were jinxing them. But seriously, there’s no way the Colts lose this game, right? They’re effectively eliminated from the playoffs if they lose this game. If Peyton can’t pull it together for this one, I’ll have to start wondering whether or not he’ll break Favre’s streak. Colts 30-24.

#3. Atlanta over Seattle

Strange but true: Only 2 of Seattle’s 13 games have been decided by less than 12 points, each of which was an early season win over a team which has evolved into a legitimate contender (San Diego and Chicago). The moral of that story is that in more than the majority of their games, they’ve either been blown out or they’ve won in blow out fashion. Do you honestly think they’ll blow out the Falcons? (Sidebar: I’m sure Atlanta is well aware that if they lose this game, there’s a strong possibility they’ll be going back on the road with a 12-4 record to Seattle on wild card weekend to face the 8-8 Seahawks. Forget helmet to helmet hits, this is the problem Goodell should have fixed mid-season.) Falcons 28-14.

#2. Tampa Bay over Detroit

Josh Freeman is 0-5 against teams with winning records, and 8-0 against teams with losing records. The Lions definitely have a losing record…and they’ll be starting Drew Stanton again. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Bucs 31-6

#1. San Diego over San Francisco

I don’t know what the power ranking “experts” are looking at when they rank San Diego 12th, but I have them 3rd right now. You may think that’s crazy, but if you put them on a neutral field against any team other than New England or Atlanta, they’re absolutely the favorite right now, are they not? You could argue that against the Steelers, Eagles, or Giants it would be a toss-up, but they’re at least a top 6 team. If it weren’t for a few special team screw ups early in the season, they could be sitting at 11-2 or better right now. You want to put that team at home against an NFC West team and not spot the NFC West team 30 points? Ridiculous. Chargers by 9 might be the easiest bet of the entire season. Chargers 42-10.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week

Buffalo (+5) over Miami

This pick didn’t work out so well last week with the Vikings getting routed by the Giants, but I’m still well over .500 with these picks on the season, and it seems like I’ve been picking the Bills in half of those games. I have no idea how the Dolphins beat the Jets while averaging less than 2.5 yards per play, but that won’t fly against the Bills. Stevie Johnson has been fairly invisible since dropping that ball against the Steelers, but I think he makes a grand re-appearance in Miami this weekend against a Dolphins team that simply doesn’t win games at home. It should be a low scoring game as these teams rank worst and 3rd worst in the AFC in scoring, but I like the Bills to win by a Lindell boot. Bills 20-17.

Check back next week when I’ll break down the NFL playoff scenarios with 2 games remaining, and hopefully have something more interesting to write about than a strength and conditioning coach’s knee.

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Week 12 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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On the 12th Week of Football, My True Love Gave To Me….

Another weekend of football has come and gone, and so has another week’s worth of (insert player coming off of a great victory) for MVP discussions. I’ll never understand why the media insists on attempting to give out end-of-season awards well before the season has ended. Remember back in September when we started engraving the offensive rookie of the year award with Jahvid Best’s name? He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 2 and his average YPC for the season is worse than all 45 qualified running backs not named Chester Taylor. With an extra two months of watching games under our belts, I’m still not sure whether the Offensive ROY award should go to Sam Bradford, Mike Williams, or Dez Bryant; but I do know it shouldn’t go to Jahvid Best.

If there’s anything that the BCS does right, it’s that it doesn’t come out until the season is more than 50% complete, giving it a theoretically large enough sample size to pass accurate judgment. The NFL coverage certainly didn’t wait that long to begin its revolving door of well-publicized MVP candidates. After Week 7, the talking heads started worshipping Eli Manning and the 5-2 New York Football Giants. The following week, the Giants had a bye, and everyone shifted their love and adoration to Darren McFadden. In Week 9, the Packers crushed the Cowboys on Sunday night and Aaron Rodgers was thrust into the MVP discussions. Heaven forbid we forget about last week’s bid by Michael Vick to apparently become the greatest player in the history of the world. And now today, I go to espn.com to see a front page story advertising Philip Rivers as the new MVP candidate. I think it’s about time the NFL comes up with some sort of committee or computer system to rank the candidates for the end of season awards, because this is getting out of hand.

Rather than writing ad nauseum about why I don’t think Rivers deserves it, I’ll simply state my major grievance: too many losses. I hate to admit it, but I like Philip Rivers, and if you want to argue that he should be the offensive player of the year, I would at least put him in consideration at this point with Arian Foster and Roddy White. But I simply can’t support Rivers for MVP, especially since they would have fewer losses if he would have played like an MVP candidate at the end of games against Kansas City, Seattle, and Oakland. You can blame the special teams all you want, but if Rivers were really an MVP, he wins at least one of those games, if not all three. You can have the passing figures that come from playing from behind, but I’ll take the game winning drives by Josh Freeman or Mark Sanchez over the back-breaking 4th quarter debacles by Rivers.

The last time the NFL MVP’s team suffered more than 4 losses was in 2002. The Chargers lost 5 of their first 7 games and still have a couple of difficult games on their schedule. However, If they win out to get to 11-5, and he continues to put up Marino-like numbers, there’s at least a viable possibility he gets the award; but as was my case last week with Vick, let’s reserve judgment until the end of the season to see if things play out the way they almost need to in order for him to be a real candidate.

Lest you think I simply hate on anyone who plays well, I’ll give you my list of players on the teams with 3 or fewer losses who are legitimate MVP candidates.

Off the board: Chicago (7-3): Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher?

Their MVP sure as hell isn’t Jay Cutler or Matt Forte. It probably isn’t worth thinking about because even if the Bears inexplicably win out, the award would almost certainly go to a representative from another team, but it’s worth noting for the 3rd consecutive week that the Bears haven’t allowed an opposing team to score more than 23 points in a game yet this season, and now stand as the only team which can make that claim. The irony is that they allowed an average of 23.4 ppg last season, so you almost have to give the credit to either the big defensive end free agent acquisition or the face-of-the-franchise linebacker who missed 98% of last season with an injury.

#10. Baltimore Ravens (7-3): Joe Flacco – 206/330, 2433 yards, 16 TD, 7 INT.
#9. Tampa Bay (7-3): Josh Freeman – 177/290, 2099 yards, 14 TD, 5 INT. 236 rushing yards.
#8. New York Jets (8-2): Mark Sanchez – 185/336, 2306 yards, 15 TD, 7 INT.

One of these teams is bound to finish with 12 wins, which means one of these quarterbacks is bound to be an MVP candidate. Let’s deal with Tampa Bay first. They still have games against Baltimore, Atlanta, and New Orleans, so multiple losses are likely. Unlike Chicago, however, if Tampa Bay were to win out against a very difficult schedule or even win the NFC South with a 12-4 record, I think you absolutely have to consider Freeman. I doubt many people even expected the Buccaneers to win 4 games, yet Freeman has already orchestrated 4 game-winning 4th quarter drives and came up just short of a 5th on the road against the Falcons. I still don’t really believe in Tampa Bay, because only one of their 7 wins has come against a team that currently has more than 3 wins, and that was a miracle win against the 4-6 Rams, but if they do the unthinkable down the stretch, Bill Simmons and I will be chanting “Jaaaash Freeman for MVP!”

Everyone was expecting the Ravens and Jets to do well this season, so Flacco and Sanchez don’t have the underdog appeal that Freeman has, but they have similar stats and have similarly been leading their teams well in the 4th quarter of close games. Playing in New York and coming from USC, Sanchez obviously gets much more publicity than the other two guys, but I lump these three guys together as one under rated quarterback who is probably going to finish top 4 in the MVP voting despite not making the Pro Bowl.

#7. Philadelphia (7-3): Michael Vick – 120/191, 1608 yards, 11 TD, 0 INT. 375 rushing yards, 5 TD.

If he plays well against the Bears this week…
If he tears up the Texans next week…
If he stays healthy…
If he doesn’t start throwing interceptions…
If the Eagles win at least 4 of their final 6 games…

He’s like the bizarro Boise State Broncos in that he’s significantly behind other people in the “standings,” but he really controls his own destiny. There are a lot of ifs, but that game against the Redskins last week apparently put him in such good favors with everyone in the league that as long as he doesn’t crap the bed one week and plays well in the games that he should, he’s got a good shot. I just don’t think there’s any way that happens.

#6. Pittsburgh (7-3): James Harrison – 69 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 INT, 5 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
#5. Green Bay (7-3): Clay Matthews – 36 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT (TD), 1 forced fumble

A defensive player hasn’t been given the MVP award in 24 years, but neither of these teams is 7-3 if not for these game-changing linebackers. Harrison’s numbers are a little better, but since the refs are out to get him and because he has Polamalu also wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, I like Matthews better. There are a handful of guys on defense who single-handedly command your attention whether you’re a player, coach, or spectator, and these are two of them.

#4. New Orleans (7-3): Drew Brees – 290/417, 2969 yards, 22 TD, 14 INT.

If it weren’t for all the interceptions, he’d be higher on the list, and the Saints would be at least 9-1. Unfortunately, he isn’t, and neither are they.

#3. Atlanta (8-2): Matt Ryan – 212/338, 2265 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT.

Another Flacco/Freeman type of guy whose numbers won’t blow you away, yet he simply carries his team to victory. This is what we all expected from him last year with the addition of Tony Gonzalez, but with Turner banged up for much of the season, opposing defenses were able to focus on stopping the passing game. With Turner staying healthy thus far, the entire offense has looked healthy enough to mix it up and move the ball at will. I’d rather have Flacco or Freeman, but Matty Ice is the one who will most likely finish the season on a 12-4 team.

#2. Indianapolis (6-4): Peyton Manning – Stats don’t matter (286/438, 3059 yards, 20 TD, 7 INT.)

He’s the only person in NFL history with 4 or more MVP awards, so he’s automatically a top 5 candidate, even if the team already has 4 losses, and the whole “He’s never done more with less!” argument is really gaining steam. If the Colts can overcome the heartbreakers they’ve already suffered and finish the season 5-1, I think it’s infinitely more likely that an 11-5 Peyton Manning wins the MVP than an 11-5 Philip Rivers.

#1. New England (8-2): Tom Brady – 215/329, 2362 yards, 19 TD, 4 INT.

The ideal description of an MVP: Best player on the best team in the league; a team that would probably be out of the playoff picture without him.

One last thing before I jump into Eliminator picks: I apologize if you played Randy Moss this past weekend, but I still think he’s a buy-low candidate for the rest of the season. Rusty Smith is going to be starting this weekend against the worst pass defense in the NFL, and he threw it in Moss’ direction on 3 of his first 4 attempts on Sunday. Bad QBs continuously throw balls to good wide receivers; it’s why Owens, Fitzgerald, Marshall, Ochocinco, and Calvin Johnson are each in the top 10 in the league in targets. I’m pretty sure he’ll keep trying to force the ball to Moss, and while he might get picked off in the process, if you force something long enough, you’ll eventually score. Just ask Roethlisberger.

Eliminator Suggestions:

Dincher lost his bid for perfection last week by blatantly refusing to read my post and picking the Bengals over the Bills, even though Buffalo was my upset pick and he still had the Chargers available to use. Very disappointing. At least my roommate is still one of the 7,850 people still alive in the ESPN Eliminator Challenge. I hope he keeps it up so I have an excuse to keep making suggestions. I lost my #4 pick last week in the form of the Tennessee Titans and fell to 35-9 on the season. It’s going to be a tough week…

This week’s picks brought to you by Paul Rudd:

#4. New England @ Detroit

“You nicknamed me Pistol, and I just called you…’Joben’…it means nothing…I don’t…I’m drunk…I’m gonna call a cab.” – Peter Klaven. I can feel myself wavering on this pick, but I can’t stop myself from going with it. According to my power rankings, it’s the best team in the league against the 29th best team in the league. That should be the easiest pick ever. So why am I worried about picking the road team in a short week game? I’m just going to lock this in and run away.

#3. New York Jets vs. Cincinnati

“Of course it’s horrible. It’s suffering and it’s pain and it’s…You know, you lose weight and then you put back on weight…but that’s just love.” – David in 40 Year Old Virgin. I think that pretty much sums up how every die hard Jets fan has felt by the end of each of their past 6 games, but Mark Sanchez has found ways to win most of those games. Meanwhile, I would imagine most Bengals fans are thinking: “I dated this woman…wait. Let me rephrase that. I dated this whore for like two years…and then she stomped all over my heart.” It’s been a long, long time since 2005 and 2006 Carson Palmer was in town. I’ll take the most clutch QB of the season over the least clutch QB of the past 4 seasons every time.

#2. Indianapolis vs. San Diego

“They’ve done studies you know. 60% of the time it works every time.” – Brian Fantana. Peyton Manning after a loss + home + night game = a Colts win.

#1. Cleveland vs. Carolina

“Why did you put ‘presence’ in quotes? Are you implying that we aren’t here?” – Danny in Role Models. I legitimately think Oregon could beat the Panthers right now. I can’t wait to see what Peyton Hillis does in this game.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week:

Buffalo +6 vs. Pittsburgh

I can’t decide if this line is deceptively high or deceptively low, but either way, I feel pretty good about Buffalo for the 2nd consecutive week. In their past 5 games, the Bills have won twice, lost twice in overtime to potential playoff teams, and somehow lost a game in which both teams had 3 touchdowns, no safeties, and no field goals. They haven’t lost by more than 3 points since Week 5, and Fitzpatrick and Johnson have connected for at least 8 receptions and 137 yards in 3 of their past 5 games. Are you really going to bet against a team on a hot streak at home? Not to mention I’ve nailed 6 consecutive upset picks. If I had actually bet those games on the money line, I would be buying much nicer Christmas gifts this year.

Fantasy League Standings:

#1. Miller’s Chiefs (8-3) 1317 points
#2. Montgomery’s Rams (7-4) 1185 points
#3. Meyers’ Cowboys (7-4) 1169 points
#4. Garland’s Giants (7-4) 1166 points
#5. Duncan’s Packers (6-5) 1248 points
#6. Nelson’s Steelers (6-5) 1184 points

~~~~~~~~~~Playoff Cut Line~~~~~~~~~~

#7. Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-5) 1056 points
#8. A’s Bengals (5-6) 1258 points
#9. Gideon’s Bears (5-6) 1138 points
#10. Yelen’s Texans (5-6) 961 points
#11. Dincher’s Dolphins (4-7) 1221 points
#12. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (4-7) 1175 points
#13. Travelpiece’s 49ers (4-7) 1119 points
#14. Damn’s Bills (3-8) 902 points

Don’t look now, but Mr. Yelen has taken 3 straight weeks against the lowest scoring team in the league and turned them into an accidental late-season playoff push. Realistically, I think Damn, Travelpiece, O’Neill, and Yelen are finished. I’m not giving up on Dincher’s team yet, though. Of his remaining games, 2 of them are against teams standing directly in between him and 6th place in the standings. If he’s able to beat me this week he’s still got a shot (and let’s face it, I owe him one…ever since I beat him by 0.3 points, I’ve been undefeated and he hadn’t won a game until this past week.) He doesn’t quite control his own destiny, but he’s 4th in the league in scoring and would probably be 2nd or 3rd after 3 straight wins, which would almost assure him the edge in a tie-breaker. There are several games in our league this week that will go a long way to determine whether or not 7-7 is a viable playoff record.

********Games of the Week********

~~~~~~~~Blowout of the Week~~~~~~~~

Montgomery’s Rams (7-4) over Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-5)

Suggested Line-Ups:

StL: Orton, Gore, Rice, Hightower, Megatron, Ward, Keller, Bears D, Crosby

Vs.

SD: Freeman, Blount, Jacobs, St. Johnson, Jennings, Holmes, H. Miller, Raiders D, Scobee

Harshbarger put up serious numbers last week, but they came almost entirely from his wide receivers (100.5 of his 137.4 points). You can’t count on that kind of production from wide receivers. If you don’t believe me, go ask Dincher: his wide receivers looked great at the beginning of the season, but nowadays he can barely buy a receiving touchdown. And it’s not as if Harshbarger can expect much production out of Freeman or Blount against the Ravens this week, so he’s going to have to rely on Steve Johnson to bail him out and keep his playoff hopes alive again. That isn’t exactly promising. Still, I’d like this pick a lot better if Montgomery could upgrade from Hightower to anything, but at the moment, that’s his best option. Final: StL 129-89.

~~~~~~~~Upset of the Week~~~~~~~~

I don’t like to write about the same team in back to back weeks. You would think this severely limits my options, but until this week, it wasn’t a problem. Last week I said my team would be upset (I was wrong) and I said O’Neill’s team would beat Dincher’s team in the game of the week (also wrong), so even though I definitely think Dincher will upset me and that O’Neill will upset Meyers, I’m going to have to talk myself into another game altogether. Being that I’ve already picked my Blowout and have my Game of the Week in mind, I’ve only got 3 options left, and I’m not convinced there’s an upset in any of them. In light of this fact, I will do 2 games of the week, with one in the traditional breakdown style, and the other in the 5 reasons & an X-Factor Upset style.

~~~~~~~~Game(s) of the Week~~~~~~~~

Duncan’s Packers (6-5) vs. Garland’s Giants (7-4)

Suggested Line-Ups:

GB: Cassel, Mendenhall, Benson, TB Williams, Boldin, Rice, Gates, Titans D, Rackers

Vs.

NYG: Eli Manning, CJ2K, S. Jackson, Bryant, Maclin, Crabtree, Hernandez, Rams D, Akers

The loser certainly isn’t out of it, but I think this is a Win And You’re In type of game between the 2 teams I predicted to finish atop the NFC in the preseason.

Breakdown:

QB: If you’re Garland, I don’t care what the projections say, you have to go with Eli. I’m sure the experts are afraid he’ll be less effective with Manningham and Hagan as his top options, but playing against the 29th ranked defense should help significantly. Regardless of who he’s throwing to, he’s still going to throw it 30+ times like he has in 9 of his 10 games thus far this season. Regardless of what my upset pick says, you have to realistically assume the Bills will struggle against one of the best teams in the NFL. At least for Duncan there’s no dilemma. With the way Cassel has been playing the past 3 weeks and the way the Seahawks have been defending the pass all season, he’s a borderline must-start even if your second option wasn’t on the IR. My gut says Cassel has a better day than Manning, but it won’t be by much. Slight edge: Duncan.

RB: This is no contest. Mendenhall should do well against the Bills, but Benson is going to be eaten alive on Thursday night by the Jets D. For Garland, if Steven Jackson is ever going to have a top tier running back type of game, this is the week against the hapless Broncos. And if the Titans are going to try to control the ball in any way, shape, or form, Chris Johnson is going to get at least 25 touches…unless he cuts a few drives short by breaking them for long scores. I imagine Jackson outscores Mendenhall and Benson by himself, so Duncan is basically going to have to make up elsewhere for what Chris Johnson does here. That’s no small task. Huge edge: Garland.

WR: In my suggested line-ups, I omitted Miles Austin from Duncan’s squad and Brandon Marshall from Garland’s, and this wasn’t a mistake. As far as Austin is concerned, the Cowboys are playing against New Orleans, which is easily the worst thing you want to see as a fantasy wide receiver. Put it this way: the Seahawks wide receivers scored 44.6 fantasy points against them last week and they’ll STILL the #1 defense; that’s how good they’ve been against the deep ball to this point in the season. Combine that with the fact that Kitna just hasn’t been looking Austin’s way as much as you would hope, and I think Duncan would be better off without him in the line-up. Some people would kill for Austin right about now, but when you can start Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, and Anquan Boldin and still have Johnny Knox on the bench, who needs to play a struggling wide receiver against the best fantasy secondary? For Garland, I like benching Marshall for two reasons: the obvious being that he’s been pitiful lately and is questionable to even play, the not so obvious reason being that it gives him the opportunity to play Michael Crabtree…on Monday night. Duncan keeps finding ways to lose on Monday night, so if you’re capable of playing someone in the last game of the week against him, you have to do it. Oh by the way, Duncan’s wide receivers should outscore Garland’s by about a dozen.

TE/Def: Duncan has 2 injured Charger tight ends and a Titans D that is likely to get blown out by Houston this week. Ick. I’ll lean towards the Ravens. Edge: Garland.

Final: It’ll come down to how much Chris Johnson can do, but seeing as how I think he’ll have a great game, I think Garland ekes this one out and takes over 1st place in the NFC. NYG 117-112.

Nelson’s Steelers (6-5) over Yelen’s Texans (5-6)

Suggested Line-Ups:

PIT: Vick, McFadden, Wells, Washington, Colston, Wallace, Witten, Steelers D, Vinatieri

Vs.

HOU: Roethlisberger, Bradshaw, Woodhead, Thomas, White, Massaquoi, Z. Miller, Eagles D, Feely

I think more than any other game this week, this game dictates whether 8-6 or 7-7 will be good enough to advance to the playoffs. If Nelson wins, there will be at least 5 and possibly even 7 teams in our league with at least 7 wins, which makes it incredibly unlikely that a .500 record will cut the mustard. If Yelen wins and a few other games fall into the right places, we could conceivably be heading into next week with 4 teams at 8-4, 6 teams at 6-6, and Dincher lurking at 5-7, and from there it’s anybody’s ball game…except for Damn…his ball game is long gone. Come to the draft next year. Douche.

Allow me to give you 5 reasons why I think 8-6 is our playoff cut line once again:

#1. Mike Wallace nullifies Roethlisberger’s scoring.

Ben has 12 touchdown passes this season: 6 of them have gone to Mike Wallace. Your hopes of winning are significantly diminished when you can’t really count on your quarterback to outscore one of your opponent’s wide receivers.

#2. Yelen’s token white receiver won’t do anything.

Rumor has it Collie is out again this weekend, so Blair White is probably a sexier option than Brian Hartline, but neither guy can be counted on for more than 6 points this weekend.

#3. Darren McFadden will bounce back.

He struggled in his past two games against Pittsburgh and Kansas City, but he will be heavily relied upon to carry them to victory against the Dolphins.

#4. Mohamed Massaquoi isn’t going to play that well.

If a guy like Calvin Johnson or Roddy White goes down with an injury, it’s safe to assume that some other receiver on the team will see a significant increase in targets. When a guy like Josh Cribbs who was 5th on his team in targets goes down with an injury, it’s silly to assume the guy who was 4th on the team in targets is going to put up significantly better numbers than he has all season. Cleveland is going to win, but it’s going to be because of Peyton Hillis.

#5. Marques Colston will terrorize Dallas.

The Cowboys may be winning games now, but they still aren’t doing much to slow down opposing wide receivers. Big turkey day for Marques.

X-Factor: Michael Vick. Duh.

Final: Yelen’s streak of only needing 80 points to win will come to an abrupt halt. Pit: 111-87.