NFL Playoff Predictions

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And Then There Were Eight

Aside from the fact that my Chiefs lost, Wild Card Weekend featured a phenomenal slew of games, and I expect more of the same starting this Saturday in Pittsburgh. I went 3-1 last weekend, and probably would have gone 4-0 if the refs had whistled that blatant defensive pass interference against the Jets at the four yard line late in the 4th quarter. My dreams of going 11-0 in the playoffs have ended yet again, but I’ll take a ten win post-season. Here’s who I’m taking this weekend and why:

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

Why 2010 says Pittsburgh will win this game:

These teams are virtually mirror images of each other, so I don’t have much aside from a theory that something is wrong with Flacco. I can’t remember him throwing a deep ball in the past month. Just fewer than 50% of his passing yards in the past five games have gone to tight ends, running backs, and fullbacks; and more often than not, you can’t dink and dunk your way to a win over the Steelers. Flacco has taken 34 sacks in the past ten weeks and Pittsburgh is the last team you want to face when you’re already battered and bruised.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger seems to get stronger with each injury he takes. He’s averaging 285+ yards per game with an 11/2 TD/INT ratio in the past eight weeks, and has even rushed for two TDs during that span of time. Combine Ben’s resurgence with Flacco’s drop off and the fact that the Steelers both rush the ball and stop the rush much better than the Ravens, and it just feels like the Steelers are bound to win this grudge match.

Why history says Baltimore will lose this game:

– Since expanding to eight divisions in 2002, there have been ten occurrences of division rivals facing off in the playoffs. The home/road split is 50/50, but the Steelers are 3-0 in those games.

– 27 of the past 32 teams to compete for a conference championship finished the regular season 16th or better in the “sacks recorded” category. Baltimore finished the season tied for 27th in sacks.

– 31 of the past 32 teams to make it past the divisional round forced at least 24 turnovers during the regular season. Baltimore only forced 22 this season.

Everything about this game screams Steelers by one possession, so unless you can get great odds on the Steelers winning by exactly three points, your gambling dollars would probably be better off elsewhere. Final prediction: Steelers 20-14.

Seattle @ Chicago (-10)

Why 2010 says Chicago will win this game:

Before you overlook the season the Seahawks had and just assume they’re riding a “nobody believed in us!” wave in light of last week’s game against the Saints, there are a lot of things you need to consider.

First of all, the Bears are a much better team than they were in October when they lost three out of four games, including a game against Seattle. Since their Week 8 bye when Lovie Smith mixed up the offensive line to finally provide a small amount of pass protection for Cutler, the Bears have gone 7-2, with those two losses coming against likely Super Bowl candidates (Green Bay and New England). In October, Cutler was taking 6.3 sacks per game. Since then, he’s taking 2.7 sacks per game, and it’s not as if the Seahawks’ front four has been shutting down opposing quarterbacks.

The Seahawks were 2-6 on the road this season. Yes, one of those two wins came at Chicago three months ago, but that was when Chicago was at the lowest point of their season, and it was the game following the Seahawks’ bye week.

Fast stats: In games in which Matt Forte has 75 or more yards from scrimmage, the Bears are 8-1. In the Bears’ final three games, Forte averaged 139.3 yards from scrimmage per game. The Seahawks allowed just under 120 rushing yards per game during the regular season. On the road, the Seahawks allowed 29.3 points and 395.8 yards per game to their opponents, each of which would be good for worst in the league if they had had the same porous defense at home.

Why history says Seattle will lose this game:

– Going back as far as 1997 before growing weary of digging up old stats, only six teams in the past 14 years have made the playoffs while allowing more points than they’ve scored, and all six of those teams failed to make it to the conference championship game. Not only did the Seahawks get outscored by their opponents this season, but they were outscored by 97 points.

– 31 of the past 32 teams to make it past the divisional round forced at least 24 turnovers during the regular season. Seattle only forced 21 this season.

– The Seahawks have lost seven consecutive road playoff games.

If this game were being played in Seattle or if it were being played three months ago, maybe this is a different story, but the Bears have grown into a legitimate Super Bowl contender over the course of their past nine games, and should have no problem in this one. Final prediction: Bears 34-13.

New York @ New England (-9)

Why 2010 says New England will win this game:

Have you seen them play?! Since losing to Cleveland in Week 9, they’ve won eight straight and have scored at least 31 points in each of those games. They’re winning those games by an average of three touchdowns. In those eight games, they forced 24 turnovers and had more defensive touchdowns (four) than their offense had turnovers (one). Meanwhile, the Jets have barely looked like a playoff team since the 2010 calendar flipped to December. I don’t even need to be reminded that the Patriots beat the Jets by 42 in Foxboro to know that they are the vastly superior team.

Why History says New York will lose this game:

– The NFL MVP has played on Conference Championship Weekend in 19 of the past 23 years. Is anyone still arguing for Vick, Manning, or Rivers over Brady for MVP? Didn’t think so.

– Five of the past eight teams to lead the NFL in scoring during the regular season made it at least as far as the “final four,” and New England outscored every other team by at least 11 touchdowns.

– Teams that spend more time talking shit in the media and on twitter than they spend preparing for the task at hand end up losing the game at least 125% of the time. It’s a scientific fact.

The only real question is whether or not you should lay the points with the Pats. I would. Final prediction: New England 31-20.

Green Bay (+2.5) @ Atlanta

Why 2010 says Green Bay will win this game:

The whole “Matt Ryan is a Greek God at home” angle is being blown completely out of proportion. Four of the Falcons home games this season were against San Francisco, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Carolina, so let’s go ahead and throw those games out to leave Atlanta at 3-1 at home against legitimate competition.

Their one loss came to New Orleans. If LeGarrette Blount doesn’t get stuffed four straight times, Atlanta loses the game against Tampa Bay. If the Falcons don’t get the benefit of three calls on a last minute game-winning drive necessary to come back against a team that had all of about 17 yards in the first half, Atlanta loses the game against Baltimore. That leaves the three point win over Green Bay, and if you think Rodgers and company haven’t been improving since that game, you’re out of your mind.

Keep in mind that going into the season, Green Bay was one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl (please ignore the fact that Dallas was also one of these so-called favorites.) They are peaking right now and are about as healthy as they have been since the pre-season. This game should be a shootout, and in my opinion, Aaron Rodgers is more well-groomed for that type of game than Matt Ryan.

Why History says Atlanta will lose this game:

– In four of the past five years, at least two home teams have lost in the divisional round, and six seeds have won four of the past five games against one seeds. It’s like the 12 seed corollary in March Madness. More often than not, at least one 12 seed ends up winning, and more often than not, at least one team that played on Wild Card weekend ends up playing for a conference championship. If you’re with me on the first three picks, this is the de facto upset game.

– 27 of the past 32 teams to compete for a conference championship finished the regular season 16th or better in the “sacks recorded” category. Atlanta finished the season tied for 20th in sacks.

– Face it, Green Bay @ Chicago is the game Roger Goodell wants to see. Chicago @ Atlanta has about as much allure as San Francisco Giants vs. Texas Rangers did.

Not only does my gut say Green Bay will win this game, but I think it will be a route. My gambling spidey sense says this game is staying at Atl -2.5 just to convince people to put the Falcons in a three team tease at +7.5 with Chicago (pick) and New England (+1.5)…and the obvious three team teasers always fail. Final prediction: Green Bay 41-24.

If you’re playing in a fantasy playoff scramble, here are the players I see as the 4 best options at each position this week (from best to worst, left to right):

QB: Rodgers, Brady, Roethlisberger, Cutler

RB: Turner, Forte, Mendenhall, Green-Ellis

WR: W. Welker, M. Wallace, G. Jennings, M. Williams

TE: T. Heap, H. Miller, R. Gronkowski, T. Gonzalez

Def: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, New England

 

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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.

 

Week 10 NFL Preview

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Dear Carson Palmer, I’m Sorry…Sort Of…

I’ve never gotten the impression that a girlfriend was cheating on me, but if I had such a hunch, there are a number of steps I would take to confirm the suspicion before making such a claim. I suppose I would decide to approach her with an accusation if I felt I had a laundry list of evidence against her after having observed and interpreted her actions and mannerisms and asking friends and family to do the same. If she denied any wrongdoing, I would apologize, but I would also stay on my toes and remain wary until she re-proves herself trustworthy to me over an extended period of time. 

It is with that same skepticism that I offer an apology to Carson Palmer. Since the pre-season, I feel like I’ve been crouched in a closet waiting to jump out with a pointed finger and an “I knew it!” exclamation after catching Carson in an act of indiscretion. I almost made my leap after the Tampa Bay game in which he threw a pick six and two costly late-in-the-4th-quarter interceptions to lose on a last second field goal, but I wanted to wait until I had indisputable evidence of worthlessness. After his pathetic performance against Miami, I brought some friends into the closet with me so I could have multiple eyewitnesses to confirm my suspicions against Pittsburgh. But it didn’t happen. And now I have no case. I could point out that 44% of his yards and 50% of his TDs came in the 4th quarter while Pittsburgh was blatantly playing the Cover 2 defense, which anyone who’s ever played a game of Madden could tell you leaves gaping holes 7-15 yards down the field along the sidelines, but I’ll just admit that he played better than I expected. But you listen here, Carson: you might be able to eke your way through this next week against Indianapolis before torching a Buffalo team that has 1 interception this whole season, but after that – after you play three straight games against the Jets, Saints, and Steelers – I’ll be waiting with an “I told you so” grin from ear to ear.

Aside from the fact that Palmer didn’t throw 4 interceptions in the first half, I had a really solid week’s worth of predictions in Week 9. I was 4 for 4 in my eliminator suggestions, crushed my Browns upset pick, correctly predicted the Chiefs would lose in Oakland followed by people jumping off their bandwagon, nailed all 4 of my fantasy league predictions, and even all of my predictions within the fantasy league picks were good. I don’t usually do anywhere near that well, so I had to brag there for a second.

Since I’m not allowed to rant about Carson Palmer for a little while, I need a new topic. Did anyone actually watch the Cowboys/Packers game? Better question: Did anyone other than me actually think the game would be competitive? The Cowboys are atrocious. I’m sick of seeing them. I’m sick of hearing about them. But we’ve only just begun to watch their demise, because they still have 3 prime time games on their schedule, and those of us without the NFL package know we’ll be stuck watching them on Fox in the afternoon at least 2 or 3 other times as well. I realize they were supposed to be the cream of the crop in the NFC this year, but they clearly aren’t, and I really wish we didn’t still have to be subjected to watching them get destroyed by New Orleans and Philadelphia on national television. The real issue is that they’re getting 6 prime time games this season while there are 6 teams (Tampa Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Cleveland, and Buffalo) who don’t even get 1, and all of them are playing significantly better football than Dallas.

Now that we’re more than half way through the regular season, we have a pretty good idea which teams are good or are at least worth watching, and consequently we should be able to decide which games we want to see in prime time. Why can’t the NFL nominate 3 games for the Sunday night game, 3 games for the Monday night game, and let the public decide what they want to watch? How does this not maximize ratings? (Note: No need to conduct a vote for the Thursday night game since each team needs more than a week’s notice to prepare for the short week a Thursday night game necessitates. Not to mention only 8% of the nation has the NFL network anyway. I would actually argue they should get rid of the Thursday night game altogether and play a late Monday night game featuring West Coast teams if you insist on an additional prime time game, but that’s an argument for another day.) With New England/Pittsburgh and Philadelphia/Washington on the prime time slate this week, I’ll start my complaining with Week 11. Denver @ San Diego on Monday night? Who is voting for that game if it’s going up against some combination of Green Bay/Minnesota, Washington/Tennessee, Oakland/Pittsburgh, Houston/New York Jets, and Indianapolis/New England? The week after that we’re stuck with San Francisco @ Arizona when we could have Minnesota/Washington, Tampa Bay/Baltimore, Tennessee/Houston, Green Bay/Atlanta, or Miami/Oakland. Maybe this voting system results in Peyton Manning or Brett Favre on Monday night 12+ times per season, but I would rather watch the greatest quarterbacks of our generation a dozen times than watch the Dallas Cowboys not even pretend to care half a dozen times.

Moving forward to Week 10, my “teams playing at home following a bye week” theory is back with a vengeance after Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cleveland won at home after a Week 8 bye. Teams in those situations are now 9-2, with the 2 losses coming in the form of a horrible Cowboys team against a formidable Titans team, and a Jets team that can’t move the ball in cold weather playing against my pre-season Super Bowl pick. I think this is more than just coincidence. So, which teams fit the bill this week, you ask? Denver vs. Kansas City, San Francisco vs. St. Louis, Washington vs. Philadelphia, and Jacksonville vs. Houston. The Chiefs will absolutely lose that game (yet still finish the season 10-6 which will hopefully be enough to hold off the Chargers who will hopefully suffer their 6th loss of the season in Week 12 against Indianapolis), and we’re 2 wins away from the part of the season where I predicted that the 49ers suddenly become the most media-loved 4-6 team in NFL history. So, in my eyes 2 of those 4 games are all but locks, and I see no reason why a bi-polar Jacksonville squad can’t win at home against a bi-polar Houston squad; nor do I see any reason why a theoretically motivated Redskins team can’t beat an Eagles team in the middle of a Colts/Giants sandwich. And then next week, San Diego and New Orleans come off of byes to face Denver and Seattle at home, respectively. By season’s end, we may end up with teams playing at home following a bye recording a 15-2 record, and I hope I still remember that by Week 5 of next season. Unfortunately, none of the 4 teams from this week are underdogs by 4 or more points, so I can’t make any of them my Upset Pick of the Week.

If for some reason you’re only able to dedicate attention to 1 of the 14 games this weekend, might I suggest Minnesota @ Chicago? Trivia time: 3 teams in the NFL have yet to allow an opponent to score 24 or more points in a game this season. Can you name them? The New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Chicago Bears. It might be tempting to think the Vikings should easily handle the Bears, who can’t move the ball at all, but both of those teams have been playing in close low-scoring games every single week, so it should be a nail biter. The Bears have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NFL (so difficult that this game at home against the Vikings is the one I think they’re most likely to win, and I don’t even think they’ll win it), so if Chicago wins, it almost eliminates both of these teams’ playoff hopes. However, if the Vikings pull off the road victory, they move to 4-5 and have a chance in the following week to pull within a game of the Packers in the NFC North, and then finish the season with a fairly easy schedule. Considering I bet $25 on Minnesota +700 to win the NFC Championship, this game is by far the most intriguing of the week in my opinion. (Honorable mention for New York Jets @ Cleveland as the Browns have looked like more of a Super Bowl contender than the Jets in the past 3 weeks.)

Eliminator Suggestions:

My 4 weekly Eliminator recommendations are now 29-7 after this past week’s perfect record, however, it’s going to be pretty tough to make 4 picks this week. Of the 11 lines that have been announced thus far, 9 of them feature spreads of a field goal or less, which would seem to indicate a lot of really close games. It never actually plays out that way, but it does mean that it’s tough to make outright predictions. Of the 7 teams I have at the top of my power rankings, 2 are on byes, 4 play each other, and the other might lose in Cleveland. Nevertheless, I think I’ve still got a good quartet for you…

#4 San Francisco vs. St. Louis

I like the Rams. I really do. Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford haven’t been the best fantasy options by any means, but they’ve been perfectly serviceable guys that have kept the Rams relevant beyond Week 9 for the first time in 5 seasons, unless you count ‘They might finish 0-16’ chatter as relevant. But they’re winless on the road thus far this season, and I suspect that won’t change in San Francisco following the 49ers bye. And considering their remaining schedule, I also suspect they won’t win again this season unless they pull a fast one on my Chiefs in Week 15.

#3 New York Giants vs. Dallas

When your team is one of the worst in the league at stopping the run or rushing the passer and you promote your DL coach to Defensive Coordinator, you aren’t even polishing shit, you’re just shitting on shit. In other news, for the 6th consecutive week, the Giants face a team that can’t pass block or defend the pass. Good thing 5 of their last 7 games are against teams that are at least remotely competent in those categories or else they might have gone 14-2 and made a deep run into the playoffs based solely on the self-belief that they’re a great team.

#2 Tampa Bay vs. Carolina

The Bucs at least competed last week against the Falcons, and they’ve been playing well against bad teams this season. Do you even realize who the Panthers will be starting on offense this weekend? Matt Moore’s season is over and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both banged up. Even with those 3 guys in the line-up, they were averaging 10.1 points per game. No one else is average less than 16. The Colts scored the fewest points in a 16 game season with a grand total of 143 in 1991, and I think the Panthers are a few shutouts away from making a run at that trophy.

#1 Indianapolis vs. Cincinnati

Speaking of the Colts, they have recorded 3 sacks in each of their last 3 games, and they’ve held the last 3 quarterbacks they’ve faced to an average of 225 yards, 1 TD, and 1 Int. Those figures for Carson Palmer, combined with the pedestrian numbers we’ve come to expect from Cedric Benson this season won’t be enough to keep the Bungles within 10 points of a Colts team that’s 44-7 at home since 2004 and hasn’t lost 2 straight regular season games in over 2 seasons (unless you count the end of last season when they weren’t playing their starters…which I don’t).

The Commish’s NFL Upset Pick of the Week:

New England +4.5 @ Pittsburgh

It’s the only game aside from my 4 eliminator picks that even meets the +4 requirement unless the Browns or Redskins slip from 3 to 4 by kickoff, both of which I believe will win their games. Belichick’s teams always bounce back well from losses, having lost consecutive games only once in the past 4 years, and the Steelers will be playing on short rest while New England never even showed up to play this past weekend. The strange thing about these teams is that neither of them have particularly impressive stats aside from a good turnover ratio and a very solid Steelers rush defense. My thought on this one is that the teams are so closely matched (#1 and #3 in my power rankings) that it should come down to the wire, and Roethlisberger has yet to show me that he’s back to his old self enough to finish out a game against a tough team. Hell, against a pathetic Bengals team, he was only responsible for 22 yards and an interception in the entire 2nd half, and they completely took the ball out of his hand after the interception when they needed another score to put the game away. Brady hasn’t been great this year, but I’d rather have him in the clutch right now.

Fantasy League Standings:

#1. Montgomery’s Rams (7-2) 967.4 points
#2. Miller’s Chiefs (6-3) 1027.3 points
#3. Duncan’s Packers (6-3) 1040.2 points
#4. Meyers’ Cowboys (6-3) 935.7 points
#5. Nelson’s Steelers (6-3) 935.6 points
#6. A’s Bengals (5-4) 1028.5 points
#7. Garland’s Giants (5-4) 919.2 points
#8. Harshbarger’s Chargers (5-4) 835.6 points
#9. Gideon’s Bears (4-5) 915.2 points
#10. Dincher’s Dolphins (3-6) 970.3 points
#11. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (3-6) 954.9 points
#12. Yelen’s Texans (3-6) 736.7 points
#13. Travelpiece’s 49ers (2-7) 882.9 points
#14. Damn’s Bills (2-7) 696.5 points

With 5 weeks left to play, there still isn’t anything clear in our standings, although we do finally have 3 teams to top the 1,000 point mark. I predicted that my team and Duncan’s team would win the respective conferences, so I’m not overwhelmingly surprised to see us near the top of the points category. A’s Bengals, on the other hand, have been an unexpectedly consistent point scorer. I think everyone had the Packers D pegged as a fantasy killer considering the Packers were expected to be a run and gun kind of team, consistently winning games by scores of 38-34, but somehow they’re the #1 defense, and Brandon Lloyd is randomly the #4 WR. I guess good things happen when you have Drew Brees on your fantasy team. The only other thing in the standings worth noting is that Dincher lost again, dropping his 6th consecutive game, and 5th straight since the Maurice Jones-Drew trade. Since he stole MJD from me in the 11th hour of trade talks with Damn, I’ve gone 5-0. If nothing else, that’s ironic. It’s not as if Dincher’s team hasn’t been scoring points (this past week’s 60 point effort notwithstanding), he’s just been unlucky with his opponents lately. I think there’s still time for him to turn it around and crack the top 6, but he better start turning soon.

Fantasy Match-ups of the Week

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

Harshbarger’s Chargers (5-4) over Yelen’s Texans (3-6)

Suggested Line-Ups:

SD: Freeman, Blount, Jacobs, Holmes, St. Johnson, Welker, Moeaki, Buccaneers D, C. Barth

Vs.

Hou: Roethlisberger, Bradshaw, Stewart?, Smith 2.0, M. Thomas, B. White, Celek, Eagles D, Feely

Without a #2 RB and with a couple of afterthought wide receiving options, Yelen serves as another sacrificial lamb in Harshbarger’s quest for the playoffs. Whether you view it as an opportunity to control your own destiny or as a bummer of a way to end a fantasy season, Harshbarger’s final 4 games are against 4 of the top 6 teams in our league, and he hasn’t done himself many favors in the point scoring department in order to win any playoff tiebreakers. Nevertheless, by Week 2, I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him sitting at 6-4, but by the time Freeman and Blount have had their way with Carolina, that’s exactly where he’ll be.

Final score: 108-81.

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

Garland’s Giants (5-4) over Meyers’ Cowboys (6-3)

Suggested Line-Ups:

NYG: E. Manning, CJ2K, St. Jackson, D. Bryant, J. Maclin, B. Marshall, Hernandez, Ravens D, Akers

Vs.

Dal: Garrard, Turner, F. Jackson, D. Jackson, D. Bess, T.O., Shiancoe, Lions D, Folk

This could have been the game of the week if I was more confident that the winner of the game of the week could serve as the upset of the week. But I’m not. So let’s find 5 reasons why I think Garland starts making his run towards the top of the NFC standings.

#1. Eli Manning strikes again.

He’s had 6 pretty good games and 2 really bad games, and I’m not sure how this one would fall into the bad category. In the last game against Dallas (which was literally 1 game ago for the Giants?), he threw for 306 yards and 4 touchdowns, and it’s not as if the Cowboys have gotten any better since then.

#2. No Aaron Rodgers.

Some crucial piece of Meyers’ team has been on a bye for what feels like each of the past 37 weeks, and now it’s Rodgers’ turn. Coming off a bye at home against the worst secondary in the NFL, David Garrard could potentially be a top 10 fantasy QB this week, but I’m not buying it. I think the Jags win, but I think it’s the MJD show.

#3. Brandon Marshall is due.

He’s 4th in the NFL in targets and only has 1 touchdown. Only one other player in the top 25 in targets is lacking multiple touchdowns, and I have a feeling Miami will be playing from behind. Translation: Marshall will get a dozen targets, 6-10 receptions, and will break one of them for a score.

#4. Chris Johnson is due.

If I believe in Brandon Marshall, then I sure as hell believe in the best running back in the NFL coming off of a bye week.

#5. Bad week for Turner.

It’s my theory that running backs don’t do very well on short weeks. I have no evidence to support this theory, but I do have evidence that Turner has had his share of poor performances already this season, and I feel as though he’s going to struggle against the Ravens.

X-Factor: Eagles wide receivers

If Maclin outplays Jackson or if they virtually break even, this should end favorably for Garland. My only fear is that Meyers could squeak out a win if D Jax outscores Maclin by 20.

Final: It should be another high scoring affair for both of these teams, but with Garland at full strength and Meyers without Rodgers and the Saints D combining for 60 points, I have to assume Garland pulls it off. Score: NYG 119-107.

~~~~~~~Game of the Week~~~~~~~

Gideon’s Bears (4-5) @ Montgomery’s Rams (7-2)

Suggested Line-Ups:

Chi: Brady, McCoy, F. Jones, Nicks, Smith 1.0, Jac. Jones, Winslow, Chiefs D, Bironas

Vs.

StL: Orton, Gore, Rice, Megatron, Thomas, Ward, Keller, Giants D, Reed

If Montgomery wins, he remains at least 2 games on the good side of the playoff cut line with 4 weeks left to play and nearly assures himself a spot in the playoffs while Gideon would move into a situation in which winning all of his remaining games might not even be enough to get him to the playoffs. (Speaking of playoffs, I still need a good nickname for the 6 guys that get to compete in our postseason. Maybe someday my blog will get enough attention that I could get sponsors, because I like the sounds of the Yuengling 6-Pack.) However, if Gideon pulls off the upset, the NFC standings get all muddied up with 5 teams sitting somewhere between 7-3 and 5-5. At least it should be a good game to decide which of those scenarios is in play.

Breakdown:

QB: I think the Patriots and Broncos both win this week, and both teams are going up against good rush defenses, which means if they’re going to win, it’s going to have to be the quarterbacks. I do think Orton will have a slightly better day because Denver throws the ball without ceasing, so he’s bound to rack up more yardage than Brady. Slight edge: Montgomery.

(Sidebar: Did you know Brady is ranked 9th among fantasy quarterbacks and 6th in QB rating? Does that seem high to anyone else based on the lack of love he’s getting this year? Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. True, he hasn’t thrown for 300 yards in a game yet this season, but he has thrown for a TD in every game, and has 0 turnovers in 6 of his 8 games. When guys like Bill Simmons overreact to Patriot losses by saying that Colt McCoy (176 yards, 0 passing TDs) outplayed Tom Brady (224 yards, 2 passing TDs), I have to wonder why they don’t put the blame on the lack of a competent defense or running game. New England is the 2nd highest scoring team in the NFL, and yet everyone hates Brady. New England is the bizarro San Diego Chargers where the team is under .500 and people are seriously talking about Philip Rivers for MVP. I don’t understand it. Is it because of Brady’s hair? It has to be, because he’s still a great quarterback.)

RB: For Montgomery, Rice and Gore are both going up against respectable rushing defenses. With the added rest of a bye week and playing in a game I’m pretty sure they should win, I think Gore will have a really solid game. Because he’s facing the better foe on short rest and because McGahee has gotten double digit looks in his last four games, I’m going to assume Ray Rice has a fairly average day. 36 points is my rough estimate for the combo (23 and 13 if I must be specific.) For Gideon, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if McCoy matches or surpasses Gore’s production, but Felix Jones is a fantasy liability. Much like Roy Williams, he showed signs of life for 2 weeks, and has been completely unserviceable since then. But with the last of the bye weeks upon us, Gideon has no other choice but to play Felix in lieu of Brandon Jackson. This could be his death knell. Edge: Montgomery.

WR: With Stafford likely out for the remainder of the season, it should be interesting to see if Megatron is able to still produce at all with Drew Stanton at the helm. Stanton has thrown all of 1 TD in the past 2 years…but it was an 87 yard pass to Calvin Johnson in Week 6. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I think it was an anomaly, and that the entire Lions passing game is going to struggle mightily against a statistically solid Bills secondary.

With Austin Collie out with a concussion and Roy Williams effectively out due to worthlessness, Montgomery is forced to start Demaryius Thomas, who hasn’t done anything since his Week 2 surprise. This basically leaves him to put all his chickens in Hines Ward’s basket, which is a basket that has only contained 6 receptions for 25 yards and a TD in the past 2 weeks. Yikes. This is where Gideon should definitely make up for having to play Felix Jones, because Hakeem Nicks is going to destroy the Cowboys again, and I’m pretty sure the only way Carolina will move the ball on Sunday is by having their third string QB just chuck the ball downfield to Steve Smith, which is bound to work at least once. Anything Jacoby Jones does is just gravy. Big edge: Gideon.

TE: Despite making 3 more receptions than Dustin Keller to date, Kellen Winslow has been pretty worthless this season. I guess that’s what happens when you’re the only tight end in the league with more than 31 targets without a touchdown. He DID have his 2nd best game of the season against the Panthers earlier this season, and the Panthers DO give up a lot of points to opposing tight ends, but Keller is facing an even more tight end friendly defense, so until Winslow actually catches a ball in the end zone, I really can’t credit him too many points. Edge: Montgomery.

D/K: I don’t like the defense or kickers on either of these teams. Play the waiver wire. End of story.

Final: I’m rooting for Gideon and I don’t care who knows it, but it should be a really close game, and Montgomery finds ways to win these tight affairs while Gideon finds way to lose them. Score: StL 112-109.