Let the Real Fun Begin

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Prepare For a Wild Wild Card Weekend

After a roller coaster of a season, we’ve reached the part of the year which makes 99% of would-be prognosticators hang their heads in shame: looking back on pre-season NFL predictions. I’ve discovered that if I had just repeated my 2009 pre-season NFL predictions as my 2010 pre-season NFL predictions, I would have gotten eight of the twelve playoff teams correct, including five of the division winners.

Instead, I went and made new predictions at the beginning of this season and got seven of the twelve playoff teams correct, only two of which were the correct division winners (Indianapolis and Kansas City). Of the teams that received a first round bye, New England was the only one I even had making the playoffs, and I had them as a wild card team behind the Jets. I could still technically get my Super Bowl prediction right (Green Bay over Indianapolis), but it doesn’t look promising. What an embarrassment. Good thing I don’t have to stick with the picks I made in August, because it’s going to be difficult for Dallas to make it to the NFC Championship game.

Every year, I have lofty aspirations of going 11-0 against the spread in the playoffs. If memory serves correctly, I’ve never even made it through Wild Card weekend unscathed. Last season, I lost the first game of the playoffs, even though I had Bengals (-3) over Jets pegged as my lock of the weekend. Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since last January, and I’m ready to start this year off with four winners.

Saturday 4:30 ET: Seattle (+10.5) vs. New Orleans

In 4 of the past 5 seasons, there has been at least one division winner generally perceived as un-deserving of a home game against a superior team that ended up winning that game. In 2006, a 12-4 Jacksonville team went into 10-6 New England and got slaughtered. In 2007, Dallas went into Seattle and Romo’s career as a holder for field goals abruptly ended. In 2009, Saturday proved to be quite a shocker as 9-7 Arizona and 8-8 San Diego held serve at home against 11-5 Atlanta and 12-4 Indianapolis, respectively. And last year, the Cardinals did it again with a somewhat surprising home win over Green Bay. Statistically, none of these games made any sense, and comparatively, this potential upset makes less sense than any of them, but I’m confidently filing this pick under “crazy shit always happens on wild card weekend.”

Score: NO 24-21.

Saturday 8:00 ET: Indianapolis (-2.5) vs. New York

I’m going to throw a lot of stats at you, but here’s the point: the key to the Jets’ success is getting pressure on the quarterback and keeping pressure off of Sanchez.

1) In the four games this season in which they’ve allowed 21+ points (2-2 record), the Jets have averaged just two sacks per game and allowed 2.5 passing TDs per game.

2) Peyton Manning was only sacked once every 43 passing attempts, best among starting QBs, and only trailed Tom Brady in terms of passing TDs this season.

3) Prior to Week 17’s game against Brian Brohm and Levi Brown, the not-as-good-as-advertised Jets pass defense had been allowing three pass TDs for every ball it intercepted.

4) Since starting the season on fire, Mark Sanchez has had a TD/INT ratio of 8/13; and those numbers would be significantly worse if he hadn’t had the luxury of facing the Texans in Week 11.

5) Among the 31 starting quarterbacks who qualified, Mark Sanchez had the 27th best passer rating. Even I don’t know how to calculate passer rating, but when you’re sandwiched between guys like Chad Henne, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, and Jimmy Clausen, it can’t be a good thing.

6) The Jets allowed 13.4 points per game at home, but allowed 24.6 points per game on the road.

I could go on, but the moral of the story is that the Jets defense has been over-rated since the day it signed Antonio Cromartie, it has been over-matched on the road, it struggles against QBs who don’t take sacks, and it doesn’t have a quarterback competent enough to make up for its shortcomings. Also, you never bet against Peyton Manning

Score: IND 31-17.

Sunday 1:00 ET: Kansas City (+3) vs. Baltimore

As a Chiefs fan, this is the match-up I was hoping for. Lest you think I’m full of shit and have only in the past few hours talked myself into this pick, here’s the twitter dialogue I had going on December 26th with the only other Chiefs fan I know in the world:

Alex: @kerrancejames for some strange reason, I have a really good feeling about us in the playoffs. Unlike ’03 when we got blasted

Me: @ppbbww I think our best path to the Super Bowl is as a 4 seed against BLT in 1st round and NE in the semis. We can’t run on PIT or NYJ.

Me: @ppbbww But we definitely have some 2007-08 Arizona Cardinals “why not us?!” potential going on. No one will be giving us any chance.

Alex: @kerrancejames if pit is w/o Troy I wouldn’t mind them, but I agree. #chiefswill

Me: @ppbbww there’s no way Troy won’t go in the playoffs, especially if they get a first round bye. I think they’re the best of the AFC 6. #gag

I only added that last tweet as foreshadowing for next week when I pick the Steelers over the Colts regardless of the line.

I like the Chiefs for four major reasons:

1) In games against teams in the top half of the league in rushing yards, the Ravens have allowed over 100 yards per game. Only one of those teams ranked in the top six in rushing (NYJ – 116 rush yards vs. BAL in Week 1), and the Chiefs had the top rushing offense in the NFL by a somewhat considerable margin.

2) Despite getting smoked by Oakland in Week 17, the Chiefs finished the regular season with a home record of 7-1 and an average score of 24 – 14.75. Despite getting to play @ Carolina, the Ravens finished the regular season with a road record of 5-3 and an average score of 21.1 – 17.25.

3) He’s had a great passer rating since starting out the season with a TD/INT ratio of 1/5, but if he’s been on your fantasy team or you live within 50 miles of Baltimore and have been forced to watch all their games, you’ve probably noticed that Flacco hasn’t been as good as his numbers and has taken a lot of sacks leading up to a game against the AFC’s sack leader, Tamba Hali.

4) ESPN will undoubtedly try to sell you on the fact that Cassel has never played in the playoffs and that Flacco has won three road playoff games in his brief career, but he certainly wasn’t responsible for any of those wins. In five career games in the playoffs (all on the road), Flacco’s numbers are 57 completions on 120 attempts (47.5%) for 660 yards, 1 TD, and 6 INT.

Ray Rice has had two amazing games this season and a whole slew of mediocre performances. If the front four can hold him in check, the Chiefs should be able to win a game that may very well have 70+ rush attempts and fewer than 40 pass attempts.

Score: KC 20-17.

Sunday 4:30 ET: Green Bay (+3) @ Philadelphia

After all the stats I’ve been throwing around, this one is just a gut call. I really think it should be a PK, so I’m taking the points. Just for good measure, I’ll add one stat that makes me lean towards Green Bay: Since Week 8, despite losing three games, the Packers have an average margin of victory of 13 points per game, and have held opponents to just 11.6 points per game. Of course, only one of those games was against a team that can score in bunches like the Eagles (New England), but I think the Packers pass D is good enough and opposing teams have been figuring out Michael Vick well enough that they’ll be able to stay in this game just long enough for Aaron Rodgers to do something horribly un-clutch, such as his OT sack/fumble last year in the playoffs.

Score: PHI 28-27.

Fantasy Suggestions

In case you’re doing a playoff scramble (Gridiron Playoff Challenge with ESPN), I’ll let you know who I see as the 5 best options at each position for Wild Card Weekend.

In order from best to “worst”

QB: P. Manning, D. Brees, M. Vick, A. Rodgers, M. Cassel

RB: P. Thomas, J. Charles, L. McCoy, L. Tomlinson, R. Rice

WR: G. Jennings, P. Garcon (Wayne on Revis Island), M. Colston, S. Holmes, D. Bowe

TE: J. Tamme, J. Graham, T. Moeaki, T. Heap, D. Keller

DEF: New Orleans, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Baltimore, Kansas City

 

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Week 17 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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It All Comes Down To This

If you’re still playing fantasy football this weekend, I’d like to congratulate you for making it to the championship in a real man’s league. No offense to the leagues that only go through Week 16 because the commissioner got screwed over by starting Peyton Manning in Week 17 one too many times, but playing through the entire regular season is one of the things that makes a fantasy league great. In fact, in honor of the end of the season, here’s my list of the 10 things (in no particular order) that every fantasy league should have:

#1. Week 17 Playoffs

I understand the major argument against it, and that the majority of the complaining this year will come from owners who relied heavily upon Eagles and Patriots to lead them to the championship, but Week 17 should be a requirement in all fantasy leagues because it actually makes you think about your options. I also love Week 17 Championships because it allows everyone in your league one extra week of regular season action. No matter how bad your team is, you should get to play for 14 weeks.

#2. Live Auction Draft

If you’re still doing online snake drafts, you’re missing out on the best part of fantasy football. If you don’t believe me on the Auction part, just try an auction draft next season and see if you don’t refuse to ever do a snake draft again. As far as the Live part is concerned, this past season I got my league set up with the draft day package at Dave & Buster’s, and it was amazing.

No guarantees their deal will stay the same next season, but for a grand total of $25 (less than $2 per person!), we were given our own over-sized room to draft in, a fantasy draft magazine for each person, a 10% discount on all non-alcohol purchases, a $10 game card which you can use at a later date, and probably more than I can’t even remember. I guarantee they make back their money on your alcohol purchases, but look into it for next season. If your draft day isn’t one of the 10 most memorable days of your calendar year, you need a new commissioner.

#3. Free Agent Acquisition Budget

Similar to my auction draft argument, if you don’t believe me, just try it out in one of your leagues next season and see if you don’t get hooked. In the league that I’ve been running for the past 5 years, we’ve tried just about everything with the waiver wire, and FAAB is clearly the way to go. A waiver wire based on inverse order of league standings unfairly benefits owners who get off to a slow start. Having no waiver wire unfairly benefits the people in your league who can wake up or stay up until 4 AM on Tuesday morning. FAAB is by far the fairest free agent acquisition process, especially if your league manager allows FAAB to be incorporated into trades, because someone will inevitably use up all their money by Week 5 and desperately want some more.

The only downside to FAAB is that you can’t make emergency pick-ups at 12:55 on Sunday afternoon if one of your key guys ends up not playing, but if you spent the entire season waiting until Sunday afternoon to find out whether or not you needed to replace Antonio Gates, you probably didn’t make the playoffs anyway. I set my league’s FAAB up so that it processes every Wednesday and Saturday at 11 PM EST, and we didn’t seem to have any problems.

#4. A Fair and Dedicated League Manager

You don’t need someone who writes a weekly several thousand word blog post about the NFL, but trying to play in a fantasy league with a commissioner who doesn’t know or care what he’s doing is like trying to ride a ship without a captain. It’s also crucial that you don’t have a douche bag for a league manager. With the position comes a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. If your commissioner changes league rules mid-season or vetoes trades for no good reason, it’s time to overthrow the dictator.

#5. 12 or 14 Teams

Anything less than 12 teams results in everyone having an all-star team; anything more than 14 teams results in someone having to play Carson Palmer on a regular basis. This rule transcends football and applies to all fantasy sports: the number of teams in your fantasy league should equal roughly 40% of the number of teams in the actual league your scoring is based upon. I have no idea how fantasy Nascar, Golf, or Soccer works, but I’m willing to bet this rule applies to them as well.

#6. Fractional Points

There’s no good reason why 9 rushing yards should count for 0 points while the 10th counts for a full point. In my league this season, we had multiple games decided by less than half a point. Every single yard should matter, even if it’s the negative rushing yard or two that your quarterback tallies in the box score by taking knees at the end of the game.

#7. A Group of Friends

Having a close knit group of friends in your fantasy league makes it more fun, usually means more communication/trading, and it keeps everyone in the league honest. I usually end up playing in at least half a dozen leagues each season, but the only one I ever pay more than 5 minutes of attention to per week is the league I’m in with my college buddies. It’s just more enjoyable when you play against people you know.

#8. Keepers

The number of keepers and the price for keeping them is open for debate, but if you want to keep your league together for multiple seasons and if you want more than 25% of your owners to care about the league beyond Week 10, you need to have keepers. The solution I’ve come up with for an auction keeper league is that you keep guys based on the price they were drafted at the previous season with a tier-based tax imposed to keep guys from drafting Peyton Hillis for $1 and then keeping him for that price for the next 8 years. It’s a bit complicated, but that’s the joy of being a commissioner with a BS degree in Mathematics.

#9. Stat Categories That Make Sense

I highly doubt we’ll ever agree on a standard scoring system, but it’s important that your league doesn’t have ridiculous stat categories. Yes, it is every owner’s responsibility to understand the scoring system before the draft, but there’s no reason that a guy like Devin Hester or Jacoby Ford should be a top 10 option at WR. If you want return yards to count, then petition ESPN to add the option for a KR/PR roster spot next season.

#10. Money on the Line

It’s a simple fact of life: if you want people to care about something, make them put money on it. I prefer to have 60% of the pot reserved for the league champion and the other 40% rewarded throughout the season for highest score each week, best regular season record, and a few other random things determined before the season begins. It gives every owner something to play for every week.

Bonus: Negative QB points for INT Returns

If this ever becomes an option, you have to make it part of your league. There’s no way an end-of-the-game-hail-mary-interception should count against a fantasy QB just as much as a Pick Six does. I’ve been arguing this point all season to no avail, but I will continue to fight the good fight.

Week 17 Rules to Live By

If you haven’t yet figured it out, setting your fantasy roster is all about playing the odds, and this is true in Week 17 more so than any other. I have 5 rules to follow in Week 17. Undoubtedly, there are a few guys who will break these rules, but I would rather play it safe than try to find the outliers.

Rule #1: Don’t play starters from teams that have clinched a specific playoff spot.

Usually this applies to much more than 2 teams, but as much as you can help it, you don’t want to play Eagles (NFC #3) or Patriots (AFC #1), so if I have options, I’m avoiding McCoy, Maclin, Celek, Brady, Law Firm, Woodhead, Welker, and Gronkowski.

Rule #2: Don’t play banged up guys from teams that have nothing to play for.

This applies to Eagles, Patriots, and players from the 16 teams that are eliminated from the playoffs. If I have other viable options, I wouldn’t want to play the following guys who are questionable or doubtful as of Thursday: Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Owen Daniels, Jonathan Stewart, Knowshon Moreno, Jermaine Gresham, Malcom Floyd, Deion Branch, Jahvid Best, Jon Kitna, Aaron Hernandez, Peyton Hillis, Anthony Dixon, Antonio Gates, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Darren McFadden, Anthony Fasano, Brett Favre, Ben Watson, Roy Williams, Drew Stanton, or David Nelson.

Rule #3: Play as many guys fighting for a playoff spot as you can.

If there were still several weeks to be played, you maybe consider benching Aaron Rodgers against the Bears, but in Week 17 he’s easily a top 5 option at QB along with the Manning brothers, Joe Flacco, and Sam Bradford. Yes, Week 17 fantasy football is a completely different ball game. If I extend it to the 10 best options at QB, it would include Brees, Rivers, Grossman, Freeman, and Big Ben, so I’m not necessarily suggesting you play Bradford over any of those guys, but I propose you have to think about it because of the urgency with which my Top 5 are playing against poor pass defenses. When in doubt, go with the guy you absolutely know will be in the game in the 4th quarter (barring injury).

Rule #4: Don’t bank on guys who have been back-ups all season.

Rashad Jennings didn’t do a damn thing last week against a terrible defense, and I consider him one of the better back-ups in the league. I know it’s somehow tempting to get cute with guys like Chaz Whitehurst, Trent Edwards, or more likely Kevin Kolb, but it’s much safer to play a guy who has been taking snaps all season. Maybe Michael Vick’s back-up outscores a guy like Jason Campbell or Chad Henne, but I’d rather have the guys with 300+ pass attempts playing in grudge matches with division rivals.

Rule #5: Don’t Over Think It.

I’m sure you have money on the line, but your hair is much more valuable than your league’s grand prize, so don’t tear it all out trying to decide which Mike Williams you should play (Tampa Bay’s, for the record). Celebrate the New Year with a loved one and just sit back on Sunday and see what happens, knowing that you never had any control over the number of touches Matt Forte gets.

Eliminator Suggestions

There are 562 people left in ESPN’s Eliminator Challenge, and I don’t even have that many readers, so I highly doubt any of you are relying upon this for survival, but I’ve come this far, so I might as well give it one more week. I went 1-3 last week. I legitimately think that’s the first time I was below .500 since the beginning of last season. How terribly disappointing. I’m now 47-17 for the season and would need to go 4-0 this week just to get back to 75% on the season. Doesn’t seem overwhelmingly promising when you consider this is historically the 2nd most unpredictable weekend of the entire season.

#4. New York Jets over Buffalo

Despite recently winning a game in Pittsburgh, the Jets are limping into the playoffs on legs and feet so badly crippled that even Rex Ryan wouldn’t touch them. They need this game for the sake of their own confidence.

#3. Indianapolis over Tennessee

Peyton Manning hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2001. He isn’t exactly the most clutch playoff QB of all-time, but he almost always gets them there, and won’t fail to do so in this game.

#2. Baltimore over Cincinnati

The Bengals beat the Ravens back in Week 2. You probably don’t remember that, but I guarantee Ray Lewis and company do. There’s no way the Ravens come out flat at home in a revenge game with a shot at a first round bye.

#1. Atlanta over Carolina

It’s rather amusing that because Atlanta lost on Monday night, they’re now favored by at least 10 more points than they would have been if they won. Win a game at home against the worst team in the NFL and you clinch home-field advantage through the NFC championship? I’ll take that team any day.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week

Chicago (+10) over Green Bay

Okay, I don’t actually think the Bears will win this game, but I just wanted to point out how absurd this line is, and the fact that I’m still not going to put any money on it because Week 17 is that unpredictable. Good luck to all in your Championship games and in your favorite teams’ playoff games, unless your favorite team is playing against my Chiefs. Happy New Year!

 

Week 16 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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MVP Candidates, Playoff Picture, Starts & Sits, Eliminator Picks, and more…

While you were watching the amazing game between the Eagles and Giants, I was stuck in the DC market with the Redskins game on Fox, so naturally, I watched the entirety of the Jaguars/Colts game on CBS. After seeing Austin Collie suffer his 3rd concussion in 7 weeks, my first thought was “God damn it, Reggie Ray!” If you’ve never been drunk enough to sit through “Not Another Teen Movie” on Comedy Central at 2:00 in the morning, you frankly aren’t missing much. It’s essentially a less comical spin-off of the “Scary Movie” franchise, but instead of making fun of horror movies, it’s a parody of cheesy films about high school. I only bring it up because there’s a character in the movie named Reggie Ray whose sole purpose in the film is to suffer concussions. Here’s a brief clip from the film. I’ll warn you: the audio isn’t synched properly, there’s some profanity, and there may or may not be some exposed breasts. 

My second thought was that this guy’s career is effectively finished. Troy Aikman and Steve Young had about as many concussions as they had touchdown passes in their hall of fame caliber careers, but when it comes to injury risks, there’s a fine line between throwing the ball and having it thrown to you. Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me; Knock me out of a game three times with head injuries in a span of two months, and I’ll be hesitant to get hung out to dry on any ball ever again. Austin Collie will be back, and maybe even yet this season, but will he ever be as good as he was for the first half of the year? Unless he’s the bravest son of a bitch to ever lace up a pair of cleats, he’s bound to be a little gun shy for the rest of his career, is he not? The shame of the matter is that his multiple injuries have nothing to do with the “headhunter” hits that the league has been cracking down on. There’s nothing that the league can do to prevent these fluke injuries aside from reverting to the 30s, or whenever the hell it was that forward passes were illegal. It’s good to see they’re penalizing and fining the cheap shots, but don’t be surprised if one of these inadvertent knees to the helmet results in a nationally televised death on the field within the next year or two.

MVP Candidates

I need to update the list of MVP candidates that I compiled in my Week 12 preview. Back then, I was able to come up with a dozen guys who could conceivably win the MVP if all the right pieces fell into place. Five weeks later, it might be a stretch to consider more than 2 guys for the award, but I think the following 8 guys still have at least a remote possibility of winning it. The major criterion that I use is that he must be the most valuable player to his playoff team. At season’s end, this one requirement will narrow down the maximum possible number of MVP candidates to 12, and usually single-handedly ends up narrowing it down to 9 or fewer candidates. Is there one player from a team like the Bears, Jaguars, Jets, Giants, or (insert NFC West winner) that ten voters would unanimously agree the team could not win without? I highly doubt it. If you can’t decide whether Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher is the most important player in Chicago, how can you consider either of them for most valuable player in the league?

Once it’s down to a list of less than a dozen possible candidates, the way to determine the rightful winner is by deciding which team would be most screwed if you replace the MVP candidate with a below average player at his position and put that team on a neutral field against an above average defense. Spoiler alert: all the candidates are QBs, so for argument’s sake, let’s say the QB in consideration is replaced by Carson Palmer and the team is placed on a neutral field against the Miami Dolphins. Whose team suffers the most? Using that logic, I’ve narrowed it down to these 8 guys:

”Game Managers” who won’t win the award, but whose teams would be sub .500 without them

#8. Joe Flacco (280/451, 3395 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT)

When the most recent player news update puts the following spin on him, he’s not exactly the best player in the league, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s had a solid season: “At this point we know what Flacco is; a steady performer who fares much better when he isn’t forced to be the focal point of the offense.”

#7. Matt Cassel (227/383, 2687 yards, 24 TD, 5 INT)

Two years ago, I was furious that we gave this guy a $60+ million contract, and I still wasn’t much of a fan of his until just recently, but Cassel has quietly put together a solid season. The Chiefs had 67 yards of total offense without him a week ago. This past Sunday, 11 days after an appendectomy, he leads them to a 14 point road victory against a team fighting for a playoff spot. It may be a homer pick, but they’re clearly a worse team without him in the game, and he has the 2nd best TD/INT ratio in the NFL.

#6. Matt Ryan (320/510, 3321 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT)

He’s having the type of year I think most of us expected him to have last year, and he’s leading one of the 2 best teams in the league, but I think he’s a fairly average quarterback. His overall stats and consistency are comparable to Josh Freeman’s, which is far from a negative statement, but it’s also far from MVP worthy. If the Falcons weren’t 12-2, he wouldn’t even be in the consideration.

Guys with stats that demonstrate their team’s lack of a rushing attack

#5. Drew Brees (391/571, 4122 yards, 31 TD, 19 INT)

The Saints are nothing without him, but he’s thrown way too many interceptions.

#4. Philip Rivers (309/464, 4141 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT)

I still don’t think he deserves it at all, but if he plays phenomenally in their final 2 games and they get a little help from Kansas City to sneak into the playoffs, something needs to be said for the guy who single-handedly kept them in the playoff hunt while averaging nearly 9 yards per pass attempt. You put Carson Palmer on that team with Malcom Floyd and Legadu Naanee and they’d be 3-11 at best.

#3. Peyton Manning (407/608, 4257 yards, 28 TD, 15 INT)

I saw a graphic during the first half of the Colts/Jaguars game that said Peyton Manning had passed his previous career high in passing attempts for the season. That’s jaw dropping stuff. He’s played in every single game since the start of the 1998 season. He’s thrown for 4000+ yards in 11 of the past 12 seasons. He’s had one of the best regular season careers for a QB in NFL history…and less than 85% of the way through this season, he’s already surpassed his career high in passing attempts. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of Kobe Bryant setting a new career high in field goal attempts during the 69th game of their 82 game season. You expect me to believe that Carson Palmer could effectively replace Peyton Manning in a season where he’s busting his ass like never before? He’s going to finish the season with his lowest passer rating in almost a decade, but if he can carry this broken and battered team into the playoffs again, it might be the most impressive season of his career.

Legitimate Candidates

#2. Michael Vick (208/329, 2755 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT ; 613 rush yards, 8 TD)

Believe me, I know the arguments against him, because before Week 12 I was completely opposed to the idea of him winning the MVP. But I’ve been converted. It’s absurd that every pro-Vick argument has to begin with “If you can ignore his off-the-field issues,” but if we can ignore that Kobe raped that girl in Colorado (2 Kobe references in 1 NFL blog post?), I think we can begin to forgive Vick too. I understand that he’s at the top of your 10 Most Wanted list if you’re involved with PETA or are in any way more obsessed with dogs than you are with the NFL, but he’s made life changes, and from an on-the-field standpoint, it’s impossible to deny that he’s one of the two most valuable players in the league. Before Week 12, I made a list of ifs that Vick had to fulfill throughout the rest of the season in order to even be considered for the award. So long as he doesn’t get injured or completely shit the bed against the Vikings and/or Cowboys, he will have passed all those tests with flying colors. He’ll have only played for 74% of Philadelphia’s season if he finishes it out uninjured, but his 74% has been better than the vast majority of others’ 100%. There’s no chance in hell the Eagles are 10-4 without him.

#1. Tom Brady (299/449, 3561 yards, 31 TD, 4 INT)

As I said 4 weeks ago: “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.” Since then, he’s beaten solid pass defenses like the Jets, Bears, and Packers by merely averaging nearly 40 points per game without throwing a single interception. He’s been damn near perfect this season and remains the best candidate for league MVP unless something crazy happens.

Playoff Picture

As I promised at the end of last week’s post, here are the playoff scenarios with 2 weeks to go. Half of the league is very simple, and a good portion of the rest of the league controls its own destiny to make the playoffs, but it’s the 6 teams who basically need to win out and get some help that make things interesting.

Clinched a playoff spot (4):
Atlanta
Chicago
New England
Pittsburgh

Clinches a playoff spot by winning 1 of final 2 games (4):
Philadelphia
New Orleans
Baltimore
New York Jets

Clinches a playoff spot by winning both remaining games (6):
New York Giants
St. Louis
Seattle
Green Bay
Kansas City
Indianapolis

Potential Spoilers (6):
Jacksonville – Win AFC South if they win one game and Indianapolis loses both remaining games OR win both games and Indianapolis loses one game. Also could earn wild card berth with 2 wins, 1 loss by Chargers, and 2 losses by either Baltimore or New York Jets.
San Diego – Win AFC West if they win one game and Kansas City loses both remaining games OR win both games and Kansas City loses one game. Also could earn wild card berth with 2 wins and 2 losses by Baltimore.
Oakland – Must win remaining games AND have Kansas City lose remaining games AND San Diego lose a game.
Tennessee – Must win remaining games AND have Jacksonville lose remaining games AND Indianapolis lose remaining games.
San Francisco – Must win remaining games AND have St. Louis beat Seattle OR Seattle lose to Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay – Must win remaining games AND have New Orleans lose to Atlanta OR New York Giants lose remaining games AND Green Bay lose to Chicago.

Better luck next year (12):
Washington
Dallas
Minnesota
Detroit
Carolina
Arizona
Miami
Buffalo
Cleveland
Cincinnati
Houston
Denver

A Rock and a Hard Place

Here’s a new segment before I wrap up with my eliminator and upset picks. I’ll go through each game on the schedule for Week 16 and suggest one player that’s usually a starter but you maybe consider benching if you have a plethora of options and one player you maybe consider playing if you’re in a bind.

Carolina @ Pittsburgh

Maybe Bench: Jonathan Stewart. The Steelers have the #1 Rush D in the NFL, and no other team is even close to them. I don’t care if it’s Chris Johnson or Arian Foster, you at least consider benching any running back against the Steelers. If you have 2 other starting running backs on your roster, you probably shouldn’t play Stewart.
Maybe Play: Emmanuel Sanders. 13 targets this past week against the Jets? He even had Revis on him for some of those plays. He’s quietly become a Davone Bess type of slot receiver for the Steelers, and considering he used to be a kick returner, you know he’s got the speed to score if he gets the ball in his hands. In 3 of the 4 weeks before they shut down John Skelton, Carolina had been allowing #3 WR options like Houshmanzadeh, Robiskie, and Morrah to put up some of their best numbers of the season, so I like Sanders. For what it’s worth, each of the past 2 weeks, I’ve gone all-in on a wide receiver on Thursday night: Pierre Garcon (6 receptions for 93 yards and 2 TDs) and Vincent Jackson (5 receptions for 112 yards and 3 TDs); and this is where I’m planting my flag this Thursday.

Dallas @ Arizona

Maybe Bench: All Cardinal running back options. You’re probably pissed off at all of them after horrific games this past week against an awful Panthers D, but the Cowboys will stack the box and make Skelton beat them, so I don’t know how they do any better this weekend.
Maybe Play: Tashard Choice. He received slightly more carries and targets than Felix Jones this past weekend, and I think the Cowboys will continue to phase Felix out of the picture in order to make sure he doesn’t suffer some sort of catastrophic injury. And for the record, you want the #1 RB option vs. Arizona.

New England @ Buffalo

Maybe Bench: Deion Branch. You can’t bench Brady or Welker because they’re Brady and Welker, but if you have a flex option comparable to Branch, I would go with him, because against an awful Bills rush D, it should be a Law Firm and Woodhead kind of day.
Maybe Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Matt Flynn reminded us that New England’s pass D isn’t all that great, and Fitzpatrick played reasonably well against them back in Week 3.

New York Jets @ Chicago

Maybe Bench: Ladanian Tomlinson. Hasn’t scored a TD since week 6, and Chicago has the 2nd best rush D in the league.
Maybe Play: Greg Olsen. The Jets have allowed a TD to opposing TE in 4 of their past 7 games. It’s not overwhelmingly promising, but I frankly wouldn’t be playing anyone on either of these teams aside from their D/ST if I can help it.

Baltimore @ Cleveland

Maybe Bench: Joe Flacco. He isn’t as good on the road as he is at home, and the Browns have really been shutting down opposing quarterbacks for the past month.
Maybe Play: Ben Watson. He was the most targeted receiver in McCoy’s return, and opposing tight ends have been having their way with Baltimore for the past month.

Tennessee @ Kansas City

Maybe Bench: Thomas Jones. Trust me. He peaked in weeks 2-7 and hasn’t done much of anything since, aside from a few vulture TDs. He still gets tons of touches for unknown reasons, but he’s hardly a viable fantasy option against anything resembling an average rush D.
Maybe Play: Kenny Britt. Collins targeted him 9 times last week and didn’t even look anyone else’s way more than 4 times. He’s got the opportunities and athleticism to make a significant impact in this game.

San Francisco @ St. Louis

Maybe Bench: Steven Jackson. When they played in Week 10, Jackson had one of the best games for a running back against the 49ers this season. However, they haven’t allowed an individual to rush for 100 yards against them yet this season. You’d have to have a few really good options in order to even consider benching him, but he’s maybe the 13th best RB best option this week.
Maybe Play: Danny Amendola. The 49ers are pretty weak against the pass, and Amendola has the most targets and receptions of anyone on the Rams roster by a significant margin.

Detroit @ Miami

Maybe Bench: Brandon Pettigrew. Aside from the major gaffe against Ben Watson and Jake Delhomme, the Dolphins have been fairly solid against TE all season, and Pettigrew’s only received 3 targets in each of the past 2 games.
Maybe Play: Detroit’s D/ST. Chad Henne isn’t very good, and Miami hasn’t been running the ball anywhere near as well as they should.

Washington @ Jacksonville

Maybe Bench: ??? I can’t in good faith recommend benching any regular fantasy starts in this game, since both defenses are awful.
Maybe Play: David Garrard. The Redskins secondary was actually doing relatively well for the past month until Kitna went for 300 yards and 2 TDs against them. Something isn’t quite right with MJD, so the Jaguars should put their playoff hopes on Garrard’s arm on a regular basis against Washington.

Indianapolis @ Oakland

Maybe Bench: Zach Miller. He’s shown signs of life in the past two weeks, but really hasn’t done much of anything since Week 7. I don’t know why owners are constantly tempted to start him.
Maybe Play: Donald Brown. They run the ball less than most teams in the NFL, but he ran it well last week against the Jaguars, and the Raiders rush defense is far from the best.

Houston @ Denver

Maybe Bench: Knowshon Moreno. No guarantees he even plays anyway, but the Texans’ defense has been pretty respectable against the rush this season.
Maybe Play: Tim Tebow. You’d have to be pretty desperate, but playing any starting QB against the Houston Texans is a pretty smart desperation move.

San Diego @ Cincinnati

Maybe Bench: Everyone in Cincinnati’s pass game. Hopefully you’re not dumb enough to start Palmer anyway, but you can’t trust any Bengals wide receivers to do anything this week. The Chargers are allowing fewer than 1 passing TD per game, and have held 8 of their 15 opponents under 200 passing yards. I guarantee there is much better potential on your waiver wire.
Maybe Play: Cedric Benson. I imagine most experts will be down on Benson this week and with good reason. Yes, the Chargers rush defense is solid, but Benson had relatively good games at home against the Steelers and Ravens. He is evidently one of those rare running backs with interesting home/road splits. In 7 games on the road, Benson has rushed for 338 yards (48 per game) and 2 TDs. In 7 games at home, Benson has rushed for 668 yards (95 per game) and 5 TDs. Since the Bengals are playing at home, he might be worth a flex start, or even a #2 RB if you’re hurting.

New York Giants @ Green Bay

Maybe Bench: Eli Manning. Green Bay has been relatively shutting down opposing quarterbacks for 2 months now, and in what is bound to be a frigid game, I imagine the Giants will rely rather heavily on Brahmad Bracobs to carry the load. I just don’t see a whole lot of upside with Eli this week.
Maybe Play: Donald Driver. The Giants have a good pass D, but the yardage that they allow primarily goes to opposing wide receivers. If Rodgers is back, I think Jennings should be a safe play, and Driver is a sneaky one.

Seattle @ Tampa Bay

Maybe Bench: Kellen Winslow. For all their faults, the Seahawks are in the top third of the league in defending opposing tight ends…and it’s not as if Kellen Winslow has been a must-start this season anyway.
Maybe Play: Marshawn Lynch. I think he’s a decent #2 RB option this week against a Bucs rush defense that has allowed at least 88 rushing yards in all but 1 game this season, and that has allowed 180+ rushing yards in back to back weeks against teams in the bottom third of the league at rushing. I think you want the guy getting the bulk of the carries against that front four.

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

Maybe Bench: Both defenses. This seems like another high scoring game, especially for the Eagles. Each defense probably ends up getting negative points.
Maybe Play: Visanthe Shiancoe. Philly has allowed opposing tight ends to haul in 10 TDs this season. He’s been worthless for the majority of the season, but he might do something on Sunday night.

New Orleans @ Atlanta

Maybe Bench: Any and all Saints running backs. I don’t trust any of them to actually get a majority of the carries, and the Falcons rush D is slightly above average anyway.
Maybe Play: Jimmy Graham. With the running backs likely to have a rough day and the Falcons secondary about as pass friendly as Steve Nash, virtually every Saints receiving option is worth consideration, including the tight end that made two touchdown grabs this past weekend.

Eliminator Suggestions

I went 3-1 for what feels like the 7th consecutive week, and I’m now 46-14 for the season. If you’ve been basing your eliminator life on my picks, there’s a remote possibility you’re still alive. If you’ve been making parlay bets based on my picks, I almost certainly owe you a lot of money. Having just broken down the playoff scenarios and determined some starts and sits for each game on the NFL slate, I think I’m pretty well prepared and long overdue for a 4-0 week.

#4. Jacksonville over Washington

Don’t be fooled by Rex Grossman’s performance last week; that was the first time Washington scored more than 20 points since that fateful Monday night that Vick destroyed them. Garrard and Jones-Drew against the Redskins’ last place defense should be more than enough to keep Jacksonville in the playoff picture. Jaguars 31-17.

#3.Philadelphia over Minnesota

Philadelphia fans are getting cockier than Boston/New England fans were from 2002-2008 and I would love nothing more than to see them lose this game, but there’s simply no chance the Vikings win a game in Philly without any real QB. They just don’t have the pieces necessary to outscore Michael Vick. Eagles 41-24.

#2. San Diego over Cincinnati

If the Chiefs win at 1:00, the Chargers will desperately need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Chiefs lose at 1:00, the Chargers will be playing their asses to try to take over first place in the AFC West with one game left to play. Either way, the urgency on the Chargers sideline will astronomically outweigh the Bengals’ desire to win a game for a coach that won’t be back next season. Chargers 35-14.

#1. Pittsburgh over Carolina

For the 2nd straight week, I’ve got the Thursday night game pegged as the most predictably lopsided game of the week. The Steelers move one step closer to locking up a first round bye with a victory, and the Panthers just won the only game left on their schedule that they had any chance of winning (unless Atlanta beats New Orleans and decides to rest their entire team because they’ll have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and Carolina somehow wins that game 3-0.) On top of what the teams have to play for, Carolina can’t throw the ball and Pittsburgh doesn’t let anyone run the ball. The only question is whether or not the Steelers will cover the 13.5 point spread. Steelers 38-13.

The Commish’s NFL Upset Special

Cleveland +3.5 over Baltimore

So what if it doesn’t meet my 4 point underdog standard? It’s still a significant upset at this point in the season. I like Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis, and the Browns defense to keep Ray Rice from getting into any sort of fantasy playoff rhythm. It should be a tight, low-scoring game, and for whatever reason, I think Colt McCoy avoids committing the costly turnover. Browns 17-14.

Week 13 NFL & Fantasy Preview

7 Comments

Rough Day to be a Johnson

For Andre, Stevie, and Chris, it was their most talked about weekend of the season, and certainly not in a good way.

Andre
In light of the penalty handed down by the NFL on Monday evening, Andre will be the one dominating the headlines and talking heads programs leading up to the Texans’ Thursday night game against Philadelphia. Unless you’re one of the 26 Texans fans in the world or you’re in the 10% minority of the fantasy football world that owns Andre Johnson, you’re more than likely scratching your head and wondering why he wasn’t penalized further.

In a league that has spent the past several weeks enforcing penalties and fines for headshots, including fining James Harrison over $125,000 thus far for multiple separate incidents of leading with his helmet, Andre Johnson faces no suspension and was fined only $25,000 for ripping off the helmet of an opposing player and going Manny Pacquiao on his face. Do you even realize how insignificant that fine is? Dude makes $5,525,000 per season. $25,000 isn’t even half of one percent of his salary! Percentage-wise, if you make $45,000 per year, that would be a fine of just over $200. Roger Goodell essentially gave Andre Johnson a speeding ticket for an aggravated assault.

While I don’t think the punishment fits the crime, I’m glad he did it. As a wide receiver, Cortland Finnegan’s endgame in every game is to piss you off by any means necessary. Darrelle Revis will piss you off, but that’s because he’s so damn good that you can’t get free from him. Hines Ward has a history of making dirty hits on run blocks, but he’s well-respected around the league nonetheless because he’s been such a great and humble receiver for his entire career. Cortland Finnegan is just a dick who literally wants to be known as the dirtiest player in the league. This is the 3rd time he’s been fined already this season, and all 3 times were for dirty plays. Who isn’t rooting for that guy to get his ass kicked? He deserves no respect.

I’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Black Ops lately, so let me finish the Andre/Finnegan rant with a video gaming metaphor. There are guys that piss you off but they gain your respect because they’re simply better than you are, and then there are those guys who piss you off because they camp in corners with shotguns, use glitches on maps, and incessantly task trash on the microphone. If you met the first in person, you would probably shake his hand, admit defeat, and maybe even form a friendship. If you met the second in person, you would want to punch him in the head, and I’m glad Andre did.

Stevie
Bad things tend to happen to people who insist on using a nickname. From 2003 to 2007, Chad Johnson had at least 87 receptions, 1274 yards, and 7 touchdowns in each season. Since legally changing his name to Ochocinco before the 2008 season, he’s averaged 62.5 receptions, 793.5 yards, and 6.5 TDs. What happened, eight five? Terry “Tank” Johnson and Adam “Pacman” Jones may have had more disciplinary issues than any other players in the league. Michael Vick insisted on being known as Mike…or perhaps it was the other way around…either way, things really hit the fan for him shortly thereafter. And now we have Stevie Johnson.

You see, 2 weeks ago Steve Johnson was one of the better feel good stories in the league: a 7th round draft pick out of Kentucky who spent the past 2 years wasting away on the bench, unable to even crack the starting line-up for one of the worst offensive attacks in the NFL, all of a sudden gets his shot and more than makes the most of it to the tune of roughly 73 yards and a TD per game. But I noticed during the Steelers game that the announcers had begun to call him Stevie, and he promptly went out and dropped 5 passes, including the game winning TD in overtime. What kind of grown man insists on being known as Stevie anyway? Steve Largent. Steve Owen. Steve Van Buren. Steve Young. Those are football names. Stevie Johnson? Sounds like he should be running routes with Buster Davis, catching (zero) passes from Rusty Smith, and throwing blocks for Cadillac Williams and Beanie Wells on a winless team.

However, what’s really disappointing to see is the people poking fun at Stevie’s reaction after the game, in which he cried out to God in anguish. Maybe his tweet was misinterpreted and it was almost certainly ill-advised, but who among us hasn’t blamed a higher power for things even more trivial than this? I’m willing to bet there are atheists who have blamed God for finishing off their already miserable day with a traffic jam. I’m not trying to turn into the “Leave Britney alone” guy, but seriously, leave Stevie alone. If you’ve been on twitter for more than 5 minutes, I’m sure you’ve made some regrettable tweets as well. Rather than harassing him like everyone else, I actually e-mailed him words of encouragement, because that’s clearly what he needed. He needs to be able to put this thing behind him and move onto this week’s game against the Vikings, and so do we.

Chris
7 carries for 5 yards?! Are you kidding me? Frank Gore BROKE HIS HIP, came back into the game, and carried the ball twice for 9 yards before calling it a season. This is outrageous, and I don’t even have CJ2K on any of my fantasy teams. There is no excuse for putting up Tim Hightower numbers against a defense that had been allowing opposing teams to run for 108 yards per game, especially when it should have been the Chris Johnson show all day with Rusty Smith at quarterback. It’s not as if the Texans jumped out to an insurmountable lead to limit Tennessee’s ability to run the ball; before Houston took a 14-0 lead late in the 2nd quarter, the Titans had given Johnson 3 carries while giving Rusty Smith 10 pass attempts. That is inexcusable. Add this misuse of Chris Johnson to the list of reasons why Jeff Fisher should be fired.

Power Rankings
This may or may not be the last time I post my power rankings this season, but now that we’re entering the final third of the season, the timing feels right.

The Not So Luck-y Division:
32. Carolina

Who would’ve thought that a team would get worse by getting rid of Jake Delhomme? With Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen clearly not working out, this team’s #1 concern heading into next year has to be at quarterback. I have to wonder whether or not they’ll actually take Andrew Luck, though. They need a sure thing, and I’m not so sure they can afford to run the risk of Luck not panning out. I’d love to see a three team trade before the draft…something like the Eagles giving up Kolb and their 1st rounder for the #1 pick and then turning around and dealing it to the Cardinals for Adrian Wilson and a 2nd rounder. I have no idea if it’s even remotely feasible, but Andrew Luck deserves better than Carolina.

Great Receiver; Bad Record:
31. Cincinnati
30. Detroit
29. Buffalo
28. Denver
27. Arizona
26. Dallas

These are the teams making it difficult to gamble this year. The only truly bad team in the league is Carolina. If it weren’t for Dwayne Bowe and Roddy White playing like Jerry Rice and Cris Carter this year, the six best wide receivers in the NFL would arguably be Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Larry Fitzgerald, and Miles Austin. Any one of those guys can single-handedly change the outcome of the game, and they play on 6 of the 7 teams in the league with the worst record. Look at the lines this week: Cin +7, Det +3.5, Buf +6, Den +8, Dal +5, and Ari +3. How are we supposed to bet against them with any degree of confidence when you just know that one of those guys is going to score a garbage time touchdown to cover the 6 points that 3-8 and 2-9 teams have to get? Brutal.

Fading Fast:
25. Washington
24. Seattle
23. Tennessee
22. Oakland
21. Houston

At one point or another during the course of the season, I had each of these teams ranked in the top 15, but they’ve each been falling apart ever since. Despite how poorly they’ve all been playing, Washington is the only one that’s 2 full games out of 1st place in their division. What a ridiculous season.

Frisky Four Win Squads:
20. San Francisco
19. Cleveland
18. Minnesota

I cannot believe San Francisco is within a game of making the playoffs. You can piss and moan about TCU not getting a shot at the BCS title game, but there are at least a dozen teams that are better than them. You can’t possibly convince me that the 49ers deserve to make the playoffs, which mathematically asserts that they are better than 20 of the other 31 teams in the league. Better than 12 teams? Sure. But there’s no way they’re better than the other 2 teams in this category, and yet it’s virtually impossible for Cleveland or Minnesota to make the playoffs. It’s sad that Minnesota could go 9-7 and would have less of a shot at making the playoffs than the 49ers would if they get to 7-9. Regardless of their personal playoffs picture, each of these teams has the potential to destroy the playoffs hopes of several others, and should all finish out the season with a 3-2 record.

Feel Good Stories:
17. St. Louis
16. Tampa Bay

At this point last year, both of these teams were 1-10. With 5 games left to play, they’ve each already won 4 more games than they did all of last season. In all likelihood, they’ve both been benefitting from an extremely favorable schedule and have been playing a little over their heads, but if you’re not rooting for Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman, I’m not sure what you’re rooting for.

Not Quite There Yet:
15. Miami
14. Jacksonville
13. Kansas City

They each still have a playoff pulse and they each have the pieces to make a run at it, but you just get the feeling that they’re each going to come up a little short. Jacksonville still plays @ Indianapolis. Kansas City still plays @ San Diego. Miami has a lot of ground to make up and still plays @ New England and @ New York Jets. The Chiefs and Jaguars might both finish 10-6 and miss the playoffs. Shame they aren’t in the NFC West.

All for One and Four for Three?
12. Chicago
11. New York Giants
10. Green Bay
9. Philadelphia

Under the assumption that the NFC West has to send a team to the playoffs and that the Falcons and Saints will occupy the NFC South crown and a wild card spot in one order or the other, here are your four teams fighting for the remaining three NFC playoff spots. Can you pinpoint the city that will be sending thousands of pieces of hate mail to Roger Goodell after their team misses the playoffs despite winning 2 more games than the NFC West champ?

Michael Myers
8. Indianapolis
7. San Diego

No matter what you do to them, they just won’t die, and until proven otherwise, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t survive until the end of the movie.

And the Favorite Is…
6. New Orleans
5. Pittsburgh
4. Atlanta
3. New York Jets
2. Baltimore
1. New England

Each of these teams is getting 7-1 or longer odds to win the Super Bowl, which means that if you’re thoroughly convinced that someone in this group is going to win it all but you don’t know who, just bet $100 on each of them and you’re guaranteed to win at least $200.

Eliminator Suggestions:

With my roommate forgetting to make a pick until after the 1:00 games had started, therefore being forced to rely on the Oakland Raiders, everyone in our group is officially eliminated. But, because I enjoy this segment of the post as much as I do, and on the off chance that I gain a reader who’s still alive and needs some advice, I’m going to keep it going and hopefully improve on my 38-10 record.

#4. Indianapolis over Dallas

Reason for this pick: Peyton Manning defied all odds last week by losing at home, following a loss, on a Sunday night…he never does any of those things, let alone all three of them. There’s no way he lets the Colts lose a 3rd consecutive game. Last week was an anomaly against the hottest team in the league. They’ll bounce back. Colts by 7.

#3. Seattle over Carolina

Reason for this pick: Well, I, uh, found Carolina on the schedule, and just, sort of, you know, picked the other team. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Seahawks by 10.

#2. Philadelphia over Houston

Reason for this pick: Too much drama in Houston, the game means too much to Philadelphia, and against a dreadfully bad secondary, it’s time for Vick to re-enter those MVP discussions. Eagles by 17.

#1. San Diego over Oakland

Reason for this pick: One of the most impressive teams of the past 5 weeks against the worst team of the past 2 weeks. The Raiders are bi-polar, and right now, they’re on a low. Ride it while it’s hot. Chargers by 24.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week:

Cleveland +4.5 over Miami

Thanks to Stevie Wonder’s butter fingers, I missed my upset pick last week, snapping my 6 game winning streak. No matter; I’ll just close the season on a 5 game winning streak. For the second time this season, I’m taking the Browns as my upset pick, and for the second time I’m offering the disclaimer that this pick will be replaced by Washington +7 over the Giants if Jake Delhomme is starting over Colt McCoy. There’s a stat in baseball called VORP that I’ve never taken the time to fully understand, but I believe it measures how much more value you bring to your team by being in the game instead of your replacement player. I assume they can’t really measure this in football because the sample size is 10% what it is in baseball, but I guarantee Colt McCoy would be in the top 5 in the NFL if they did, and he isn’t even yet anywhere near as good as he should be; that’s just how bad Jake Delhomme is. With Colt in there alongside Peyton Hillis, you have someone who can pass efficiently or scramble effectively as the team gradually moves the ball down the field. He’s not going to blow you away or throw many deep balls, but he isn’t going to throw a killer interception either. He makes smart plays to give you the best chance that he can. With Delhomme in there, you’re basically spotting the other team 14+ points because of the brutal interceptions that he throws in every game. With Colt McCoy in there, you can hang with and possibly beat teams with a better record than you. With Jake Delhomme in there, you damn near lose to the Panthers at home.

Fantasy League Standings

#1. Miller’s Chiefs (9-3) 1498 points
#2. Montgomery’s Rams (8-4) 1299 points
#3. Garland’s Giants (8-4) 1246 points
#4. Meyers’ Cowboys (7-5) 1280 points
#5. Nelson’s Steelers (7-5) 1278 points
#6. Duncan’s Packers (6-6) 1321 points
~~~~~~~~~~Playoff Cut Line~~~~~~~~~~
#7. Gideon’s Bears (6-6) 1268 points
#8. Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-6) 1155 points
#9. A’s Bengals (5-7) 1325 points
#10. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (5-7) 1299 points
#11. Yelen’s Texans (5-7) 1033 points
#12. Dincher’s Dolphins (4-8) 1321 points
#13. Travelpiece’s 49ers (4-8) 1230 points
#14. Damn’s Bills (4-8) 979 points

With 2 games left in our regular season, 5 teams with 7+ wins, and 2 of the 6-6 teams playing each other next week, it’s been determined that it will take at least a 7-7 record to make the playoffs, and it’s still reasonably possible that 1 team with an 8-6 record would finish on the outside looking in. That being the case, Dincher, Travelpiece, and Damn have each officially been eliminated from the playoffs, and I’m the only one to have clinched a playoff spot. Kauffman, O’Neill, and Yelen are 1 loss away from elimination, Montgomery and Garland are a win away from a playoff spot, and our other 5 teams are hovering right in the middle where anything can happen. I’ll be interested to see if any of the 10 teams fighting for the final 5 spots will be offering great keeper options to Damn or Dincher in exchange for a maximum of 5 weeks worth of great guys who are almost certainly too expensive to keep next year, like Peyton Manning, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, or Andre Johnson. I’d be perfectly content with not having to worry about facing any of those names in the playoffs. I doubt anyone makes a move this week, but next week when we’ll probably have 4 or 5 teams fighting for 1 or 2 spots, I bet a couple of those guys start making some serious offers, and I can almost guarantee there will be some ridiculous trade accepted that I’ll have to veto.

Instead of upsets or blowouts, I’ll just be breaking down…

The Most Important Games of the Week

3rd Most Important: Montgomery’s Rams (8-4) vs. Garland’s Giants (8-4)

Projected Line-Ups:

StL: Orton, Rice, Ivory, Moore, Megatron, Ward, Keller, Bears D, Crosby

Vs.

NYG: E. Manning, CJ2K, S. Jackson, Maclin, Bryant, Marshall, Graham, Rams D, Akers

What’s on the Line:
The winner clinches a playoff spot and enters the driver’s seat for 1st place in the NFC and an all-important 1st round bye in the playoffs. But it’s definitely possible that the loser clinches a playoff spot as well, which is why this game has a lot of appeal, but isn’t really important to the other 12 teams in the league.

Montgomery:
With his win over Harshbarger last week, Montgomery broke his 3 game losing streak, but Frank Gore suffered a broken hip. He’s been mostly playing without his 2nd best wide receiver for the past several weeks, and will now be without his best running back for the rest of his season, however much longer it may last. Talk about a team stumbling to the finish line. But because he jumped out to a 7-1 record, he still has a shot at a first round bye. This would be the equivalent of the Steelers having the #2 seed in the AFC without Mendenhall and Hines Ward. Does that team win a conference semi game against San Diego, New York, Baltimore, or Indianapolis? Maybe, but they’re a severe underdog to make the Super Bowl. Anyway, the only way he misses out on the playoffs at this point is if he loses his remaining games, Harshbarger wins his remaining games and outscores Montgomery by 144 in the process, and several other things happen. He can limp into the playoffs, but I don’t see how he limps his way to the championship, so there’s a good chance I just found the strongest candidate for a MJD trade, because his team is all of a sudden a force to be reckoned with again if he’s able to fill the hole left by Frank Gore.

Garland:
By the way, with Eli Manning, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin all going up against bottom 5 defenses, there’s a good chance Garland leads the league in scoring this week, and an even better chance that he wins this game in landslide fashion.

Final:
NFC Champ NYG: 157-102.

2nd Most Important: Miller’s Chiefs (9-3) vs. Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-6)

Projected Line-Ups:

KC: Flacco, Foster, Moreno, Forte, Bowe, Fitzgerald, Gonzalez, Jets D, Bryant

Vs.

SD: Freeman, Jacobs, Blount, Stevie J, Welker, Jennings, Moeaki, Cardinals D, Scobee

What’s on the Line:
A KC win officially locks up the AFC regular season championship and a first round bye, and considering my 200 point cushion over the other 2 guys who could potentially get to 10 wins, all but clinches 1st place in the regular season and the $20 prize that comes with it. It would also effectively eliminate Harshbarger from playoff contention, or at the very least make it impossible for an 8 win team to miss the playoffs.
A Harshbarger win would leave first place in the league up for grabs until next weekend and would keep him alive in the playoff race despite starting the season 2-4, just like the actual Chargers.

Miller:
#1. As has been the case for the majority of the season, I’ll be relying on Arian Foster to carry me to victory, and since the Texans play on Thursday night, I’ll know early whether or not I have a good shot at winning this one.
#2. I’m a little concerned with Flacco against the Steelers on Sunday night because the Steelers have a great defense and Flacco hasn’t exactly had much success in prime time games in his brief career, but his TD/INT ratio at home this season is 10/1, so much like Matt Ryan, I have to presume I can continue to count on him at home until proven otherwise.
#3. There’s no way Forte repeats his Week 1 performance against the Lions, but against the 30th ranked fantasy rush defense, it’s hard to believe he completely lets me down and scores less than 10 points, as he has already done 5 times this season. ESPN’s projection of 90 rushing yards, 3 receptions for 30 yards and a TD is surprisingly about what I’m expecting as well. Very rarely do we agree.
#4. Is there any way to stop Dwayne Bowe? Dear Lord.
#5. -3 for the Jets D? They must be factoring in the great field position the Pats will inevitably have all night since Sanchez can’t throw in the cold or the wind and they’re calling for both in Boston on Monday night.

Harshbarger:
#1. Welker or Holmes? Given what I just said about Sanchez and the way Brady’s been playing the past 3 or 4 weeks, I would lean towards Welker. But because he waited on him through the 4 game suspension, because he’s been playing well for the past 4 weeks, because he never takes my advice, and because he still feels some weird Pittsburgh connection to Santonio Holmes, I’m sure he’ll play him, and I’ll be glad.
#2. Josh Freeman is projected for more points than he’s scored yet this season, and against a respectable Falcons D. If he’s going to venture outside of the 16.3-21.9 fantasy point range he’s been in for 8 consecutive weeks, I think he’ll go low.
#3. Please refer to any other post in which I’ve written about Harshbarger’s team for my thoughts on his pathetic running back situation. A word to the wise in future seasons: if you’re going to focus on either running backs or wide receivers during the draft and just deal with the others in free agency, it’s been obvious for years that you bank on running backs and hope on wide receivers. Considering the scarcity of good running backs and the intrinsic inconsistency of the wide receiver position, I don’t understand why the best running backs are only marginally more valued on draft day than the best wide receivers.
#4. Whether he plays the Raiders against the Chargers or the Cardinals against the Rams, at least I can count on Harshbarger’s D to play as poorly as mine is projected to.
#5. If I lose because of Tony Moeaki, you better believe I’ll be thankful…and also surprised.

Final:
Even though I always seem to make the playoffs, I think after this 133-97 victory, this will be my first 10 win season in our league’s 5 year history.

Most Important Game: Gideon’s Bears (6-6) vs. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (5-7)

Projected Line-Ups:

Chi: Brady, B. Jackson, McCoy, Goodson, Smith 1.0, J. Ford, Winslow, Chargers D, Bironas

Vs.

TB: Rivers, Charles, Hillis, T. Jones, Amendola, S. Moss, Tamme, Giants D, Tynes

What’s on the Line:
A Gideon win eliminates O’Neill and keeps him in control of his own destiny en route to next week’s showdown with Duncan.
An O’Neill win keeps his slim playoff hopes alive, damages but doesn’t quite destroy Gideon’s playoff hopes, and further opens the door for Harshbarger or Kauffman to sneak into the playoffs if they win out.

Gideon:
QB. Brady might be working with a short field for most of the night and have a good looking game with mediocre passing yards, or he could end up being victimized by the Jets defense.
RB. Brandon Jackson should be heavily involved in salting away a big win over the 49ers, or he could end up being shut down by a 49ers defense that held the Cardinals to 13 rushing yards. Goodson’s been good, but he’s increasingly splitting carries with Stewart and may very well be taken out of any game by the end of the 1st quarter if the Panthers are getting crushed.
WR. Steve Smith hasn’t been Steve Smith in a game yet this season and Jacoby Ford has been as unpredictable as the rest of Oakland.

O’Neill:
QB. Everyone is in love with Philip Rivers, but we saw last week what happens to his fantasy numbers if the Chargers get out to a big lead before he’s predominantly involved in the touchdowns, and with the Chargers favored by 2 touchdowns this week, his effectiveness may be neutralized.
RB. I love Kansas City’s running backs and Denver’s rush defense is awful, but what happens if the Broncos miraculously jump out to a 35-0 lead against us again? (By the way, if there’s any team in the league that shouldn’t be deferring to the second half when they win the coin toss, it’s the Chiefs, and yet Haley continuously does it. Between that and our unabashed and indefensible commitment to Thomas Jones, I’ve grown frustrated with some of the decision making on this 7-4 squad because I know it’s going to cost us a crucial game down the stretch)
WR. Neither Moss is reliable for anything other than frustration. Who could have guessed before the season began that Amendola would be starting on this roster?

Result:
Anything can happen. I legitimately have no idea what to expect, aside from a great game from Peyton Hillis and a solid game from LeSean McCoy, which all but guarantees they’ll both play miserably. The only prediction I’ll make is that I end up paying more attention to this game on Sunday than any other in our league, including my own.

 

Week 11 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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Ron Mexico for MVP? Really?

Everybody needs to calm down about Michael Vick. He is a special talent and a unique quarterback who is playing his type of game better than anyone since Randall Cunningham, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you he didn’t have a great game or that he hasn’t been having a much better season than anyone could have possibly expected. However, there are a few things we need to think about before everyone hands him the NFL MVP, if it isn’t already too late: 

#1. The Redskins secondary is terrible.

Matt Stafford threw for 4 TDs against them. Matt Schaub threw for 500 yards and 3 TDs against them. The only reason opposing quarterbacks aren’t averaging a QB rating of 100+ against them is because of the time Jay Cutler threw the ball to DeAngelo Hall 4 times. Even if the Redskins had a remotely respectable defense, it was raining all night which makes it even more difficult for the defense to find the footing to react to quick moves by guys like Vick and Jackson. Even Jerome Harrison ran for 10 yards per carry and over 100 yards against them. They just weren’t keeping up with anyone in green and white.

#2. Look at who he’s played against.

I don’t particularly like to play the “look at who they’ve played against” card when trying to determine power rankings and whether or not an entire team is better than another entire team, but with individual offensive players, it’s a little more legitimate to take a look at the defenses they’ve competed against. When looking at the Eagles’ schedule, make sure you look at who Michael Vick actually played against, because his ribs injury got him out of playing against the likes of Atlanta and Tennessee. The best team he’s played an entire game against was the Colts in Week 9, they aren’t even in the top 50% of the NFL against the pass, and he had a relatively mediocre game. If he can put up respectable numbers against the Giants and the Bears in the next 2 weeks, I will do a complete 360 and at least say he’s probably worth the hype this year, but let’s wait until he plays more than a couple of full games and plays them against decent teams before we name him Top Dog (abuser) in the NFL.

#3. It was just the capstone to a statistically crazy week.

Prior to this weekend, there were a total of 13 performances by quarterbacks in which they scored 30 or more fantasy points (based on my league’s scoring system), which averages out to 1.44 per week. This weekend there were 9 such games. Every team scored at least 12 points, which hadn’t happened in a week yet this season. In Week 1, there were 585 points scored. Even though there were 4 teams on a bye this week, there were 727 points scored. That’s insane. Last year the average amount of points scored in a game was just over 42, whereas this past week the average was just under 52. I mean, come on: Troy Smith threw for 356 yards and Matt effing Cassel threw for 469 yards and 4 TDs. It was just one of those crazy stat-padding weeks across the board where all the right strengths matched up with all the right weaknesses, culminating in one of the top 5 QBs in the NFC going up against the worst secondary in the NFC on Monday night.

In light of all the hoopla over the Sunday and Monday night games, here are a few things I realized on Sunday afternoon which really flew under the radar:

The Cleveland Browns are possibly the best 3-6 team in the history of the league.

8 of their 9 games have come against potential playoff teams, and they’ve played all of them tough except for one game where they just came out flat and never really had a shot on the road in Colt McCoy’s first career game against a Steelers team coming off a bye and celebrating the triumphant return of their persuasive messiah. The Vikings and 49ers are sitting at 3-6 as well, but they have just been absolutely disappointing, whereas the Browns have played more competitively than any of us expected. If they continue to play with the vigor that we’ve seen thus far, they might be sitting at 8-6 after a 5 game stretch against some very average opponents.

Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman continue to find ways to win games.

The Jets have not looked good since Week 4, but they’ve managed to go 4-1 since then. Josh Freeman hasn’t thrown for more than 280 yards in a game yet this season, but the Bucs are somehow 6-3. If you’re starting a new franchise today, these guys are going somewhere in the top 6 with Rivers, Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco, and yet they’re both behind Kyle Orton and Carson Palmer in fantasy point production? If there are 2 changes that need to be made to the quarterback position in fantasy football, it’s that you need to be credited points for wins and that throwing a pick six needs to count against you big time. I say a win is worth 7 points and that the yardage and touchdowns coming from interceptions should count against you just as much as passing yardage and touchdowns count for you. I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Sanchez and Freeman each have 6+ wins and half a dozen or less interceptions, and there is no way they should be ranked behind Carson Palmer’s 2 wins and 11 interceptions, 3 of which have been returned for a TD.

Randy Moss had 1 catch for 26 yards.

In a week where virtually every team had an amazing offensive game, I just wanted to point out what a pathetic game he had in his first affair with the Titans. If you need help in a fantasy league, see if you can’t buy low on Moss, because 4 of his next 5 games are against Jacksonville (29th against the pass), Washington (31st against the pass), and 2 games against the Texans (last in the NFL against the pass). He’s going to have multiple games with multiple touchdowns and 125+ yards in the next few weeks. Having him on your team may be the difference between winning your league and finishing in 8th place.

Power Rankings

It’s been several weeks since I posted my power rankings, so here they are without any commentary. If you’d like to argue my rankings, that’s why you’re allowed to comment, and I encourage it.

Hopelessly out of it:
32. Carolina
31. Cincinnati
30. Buffalo
29. Detroit
28. Denver
27. Dallas

Would be hopelessly out of it if they were in the AFC:
26. Arizona
25. Washington
24. Seattle
23. San Francisco

Definitely going to win a few more games:
22. Cleveland
21. Houston
20. St. Louis
19. Minnesota

Surprisingly still contending:
18. Chicago
17. Kansas City
16. Tampa Bay
15. Jacksonville
14. Miami
13. Tennessee
12. Oakland

They always find a way:
11. San Diego
10. New York Giants
9. Indianapolis

One of them has to make the Super Bowl:
8. New Orleans
7. Green Bay
6. Atlanta
5. Philadelphia

One of them has to win the Super Bowl:
4. Pittsburgh
3. New York Jets
2. Baltimore
1. New England

Eliminator Suggestions:

With those power rankings in mind, let’s see if I can’t recommend some good ones this week. I missed the Cowboys/Giants game last week, but who didn’t? At least I had them at #3 and was able to sell most of you on Tampa and Indy. After last week’s performance, I’m now 32-8. Not half bad. I’ll try to get it up to 36-8, though.

#4. Tennessee vs. Washington

As I said 3 weeks ago: ”I’m late to this party, but Jeff Fisher owns the NFC, and should destroy Washington when they play his Titans in week 11.” It helps that Washington played like a JV squad on Monday night and will also be playing on short rest for this game. This is definitely one of Moss’s aforementioned huge games.

#3. Pittsburgh vs. Oakland

This is me still not buying into Oakland. This is the start of their slide into a 7-9 season. This is a West Coast team playing a 1:00 game. This is Rashard Mendenhall against a pathetic rush defense. This is Pittsburgh wanting to prove they’re a dominant defense regardless of Sunday night’s performance. This is Nnamdi Asomugha playing through pain and trailing Mike Wallace by a step on a couple of deep balls. This is Roethlisberger’s return to excellence. This is not Sparta.

#2. San Diego vs. Denver

I could try to continue to sell you on the fact that home teams following a bye week are now 12-3 this season, but instead I’ll just tell you that as a fan of an AFC West team who’s been forced to watch San Diego win the division for what feels like 67 consecutive seasons, I know that this is a game they will not lose. Everybody else in the gambling world has been struggling immensely with the AFC West, but I’ve been absolutely nailing it since Week 4, including 3 of my 5 upset picks, and not only will San Diego win this game, but they’ll cover the 9.5 spread. Seriously, they’re going to win this thing like 42-17.

#1. New Orleans vs. Seattle

I cannot make heads or tails of this Seahawks team because their performance from week to week is the flip of a coin. What I do know is that they run the ball poorly and they are terrible against the pass. If they have a strength, it’s either when Hasselbeck decides to play well or when Leon Washington returns multiple kickoffs for touchdowns. Unfortunately for Seattle and fortunately for anyone who still has New Orleans available to choose this week, those special teams plays are completely unpredictable and the Saints are one of the best teams in the league against the pass. They are also one of the most proficient passing teams in the league, so they should be able to stop Hasselbeck; the Seahawks run game should stop itself; and Brees should be able to pick apart the defense at will. Did I mention New Orleans is a home team following a bye week?! I won’t get to use that line for another 46 weeks, so enjoy it while it lasts. FYI: New Orleans eliminated me several weeks ago and is more than likely responsible for the eliminator deaths of more people than any other team in the NFL, but if you can ignore the fact that they inexplicably lost to Arizona and Cleveland and damn near lost at home to Carolina, you have to go with them. They’re getting hot and they’re well rested and I wish I had saved them until now.

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the Week:

Buffalo +5.5 @ Cincinnati

Bill Simmons has taken credit for the “Law of Gus” as of late, but I actually tweeted him about it back before Week 2: “A word to the wise, including @sportsguy33 and @MatthewBerryTMR, Gus Johnson is announcing the Jax/SD game. +7.5 sounds pretty good.” Now, I was wrong, and San Diego beat the pants off of Jacksonville, but the games he’s been announcing the past several weeks have all come right down to the wire. I remember turning on the Bills/Chiefs game maybe 2 minutes into the first quarter and realizing that not only was Dexter McCluster not playing, but Gus Johnson was announcing the game. Had I known those 2 things 10 minutes earlier, I would’ve bet many many dollars on Buffalo +7.5. Oh well. If you don’t know who Gus Johnson is, you should be ashamed of yourself, and you should watch at least these 3 clips, if not every single Gus Johnson clip on youtube:

If that shit doesn’t get you pumped about college basketball, especially the 3rd one when Crawford hit the 3 at the end of the 1st overtime, you just don’t have a pulse and probably shouldn’t read anything that I have to write between January and April.

Well guess what? Gus Johnson is announcing this game, so it’s all but guaranteed to be a nail biter. Even before I knew that, I was strongly considering making this my upset pick just because of how much I hate Carson Palmer. But then I was thinking this might be a classic game for Carson Palmer to pad his stats against a bad team to somehow end the season as a top 6 QB in the AFC. But I gotta go with Gus. I can already hear it: 15 seconds to play…Fitzpatrick’s going to have to hurry…he drops back…fires…for the end ZONE…AND STEVE JOHNSON MAKES THE LEAPING GRAB!!!…The Bills take a 3 point lead with 7 seconds to play!…*insert Gus Johnson cackle*

Fantasy League Standings:

#1. Miller’s Chiefs (7-3) 1173.2 points
#2. Montgomery’s Rams (7-3) 1081 points
#3. Duncan’s Packers (6-4) 1144.6 points
#4. Nelson’s Steelers (6-4) 1057.1 points
#5. Garland’s Giants (6-4) 1050.6 points
#6. Meyers’ Cowboys (6-4) 1047.4 points

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

#7. A’s Bengals (5-5) 1136.5 points
#8. Gideon’s Bears (5-5) 1037.2 points
#9. Harshbarger’s Chargers (5-5) 919 points
#10. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (4-6) 1062.5 points
#11. Yelen’s Texans (4-6) 841.9 points
#12. Dincher’s Dolphins (3-7) 1089.2 points
#13. Travelpiece’s 49ers (3-7) 1013.5 points
#14. Damn’s Bills (3-7) 823.2 points

Four games left in the regular season, and the last place team could still technically finish in first place. As is usually the case for us at this point in the season, it’s looking like 8 may be the magic number to get into the playoffs, so even if you’re sitting at .500, you’re still in pretty decent shape. Since we’ve reached the point in the season where every game is critical for everyone, I thought about doing the same thing as I did last year by adding 1 game to each category, but I’m going to wait 1 more week.

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

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

Duncan’s Packers (6-4) over Travelpiece’s 49ers (3-7)

Projected Line-ups:

GB: Young, Benson, Mendenhall, M. Williams, Austin, Boldin, Gates, Titans D, Rackers

Vs.

SF: Kitna, Best, Green-Ellis, Mason, Ochocinco, Lloyd, Boss, 49ers D, Gould

He’s not going to be happy with me for picking him to win the blowout, especially since the person I predicted to win the blowout last week ended up scoring 21 less points than anyone else in the league, and also since I decided to pick him here only because I have to pick a blowout game and this is the one I hated the least, but this pick is all about the match-ups. Each of Travelpiece’s 3 wide receivers are going up against a top 7 defense while Duncan’s quarterback and 2 running backs are going up against defenses that can’t stop anyone. If Gates is able to go this week, I’ll feel an awful lot better about this pick, but either way, I’m fairly confident Duncan’s team should win comfortably.

Final score: GB 129-102.

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

A’s Bengals (5-5) over Miller’s Chiefs (7-3)

Projected Line-ups:

Cin: Brees, Tomlinson, Addai, Wayne, Harvin, R. White, V. Davis, Packers D, Longwell

Vs.

KC: Flacco, Foster, Moreno, Garcon, Bowe, Fitzgerald, Gresham, Jets D, Bryant

It’s not just in the NFL that my Upset picks have been incredible this year; my upset picks in our league are 8-1 thus far, so either my 6 game winning streak or my recent roll with upset picks is going to come to end. Here’s why I think it’ll be the former of the two…

5 Reasons:

#1. Drew Brees vs. Seattle.

I’ll even leave Jay Cutler’s below average performance in this statistic, but if you take out the games against Alex Smith and Derek Anderson/Max Hall, because counting them as quarterbacks is like counting fruit by the foot as a daily serving of fruit, Seattle is allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for 323.5 yards, 1.83 TD, and 0.5 INT per game. Brees still hasn’t had one of those amazing fantasy games we came to expect from him once in a while last season and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll see any games like that this season, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him go for 330 yards and 4 TDs this weekend.

#2. Dwayne Bowe can’t possibly keep this up.

He’s averaging 90.8 yards and 1.8 TDs per game for the past 5 weeks, but I really don’t think he’s THAT good. Last week’s game against Denver was an anomaly, and as a Chiefs fan, I sincerely hope we never see Matt Cassel’s number of passing attempts more than double the team’s rushing attempts again, though I’ll certainly be thankful if last week’s garbage time performance causes teams to actually respect the passing game and open up the rushing game. I realize Arizona has been pretty pathetic against the pass, but considering KC only has one legitimate wide receiver, I suspect the Cards will have Rodgers-Cromartie blanket Bowe while Antrel Rolle provides support over the top. If my boys are going to win, they’re going to have to take advantage of a Cardinals rush defense that’s 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed and tied for 30th in the league in rushing touchdowns allowed. If there’s any passing attack at all, I assume it will come in the form of Tony Moeaki and screen/short passes to Charles and Jones. Long story short, Bowe will have a mediocre game at best.

#3. Reggie Wayne vs. New England…and Austin Collie?

Wayne hasn’t missed a game since 2003, so I’m not too concerned/hopeful about his questionable designation at this point in the week. Similar to what I wrote about Tom Brady last week, reports of Reggie Wayne’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. He’s 2nd in the league in receptions, 4th in targets, and 5th in yards. The main thing that determines whether or not he plays well is whether or not Austin Collie is on the field. Jeremy Maclin plays much better when Desean Jackson is on the field, and the same is the case for Reggie Wayne when Austin Collie is on the field. He hasn’t exactly had a fruitful career against the Patriots, but if Collie is back in action, I expect big things from Wayne this weekend.

#4. Joe Flacco vs. the Panthers.

Believe it or not, Carolina has not allowed an opposing QB to register 25 fantasy points in a game yet this season, and I just don’t feel good about this match up. Flacco has been very Freeman-ish in that he doesn’t lose games for his team (except for that 4 interception game against the Bengals), and he doesn’t win games for your fantasy team so much as he consistently puts up slightly above average numbers to at least give you a chance to win. Well, Freeman didn’t exactly light up the Panthers in his 2 games against them, and the Ravens are much more of a run first team than the Buccaneers, so I expect Flacco’s numbers will be even less stellar than Freeman’s 22 point games against the Panthers have been.

#5. Roddy White.

Do I really need to say anything else? Dude’s been amazing.

X-Factor: Can Joseph Addai “shoulder” the load?

With the exception of Addai, everyone in Kauffman’s starting line-up is ranked in the top 9 at their respective position, including the #1 defense, #1 kicker, and #2 tight end; a trio which is a much bigger deal than most would give it credit for since it virtually handicaps him 10-15 points in any given week in the QB/RB/WR match-ups. The last time Kauffman and I faced each other, Addai and Tomlinson each had what still stands as their best performance of the season, and the Addai performance really came out of nowhere considering he didn’t even score 5 points the previous week. Well, it’s now been over a month since Joseph Addai was even on the field, so it would really be a surprise if he plays and has a great game. If he gets on the field, Addai has averaged 57 rushing yards, 31 receiving yards, and 1 TD in 5 career games against the Patriots, and in most of those games, the Patriots rushing defense was much more formidable. If Addai misses his 4th consecutive game with a shoulder injury, Kauffman will either have to play Jerome Harrison or try to pick up and play Keiland Williams, neither of which could possibly perform as well as they did this past Monday.

Final score: With expected poor performances from Flacco and Bowe and with my best running back playing against my only defense, there’s almost no chance I have another type of week that has led me to the top of our standings and the top of the points scored category. Meanwhile, Kauffman’s team should score in bunches whether or not Addai plays. Score: Cin 141-106.

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

Dincher’s Dolphins (3-7) vs. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (4-6)

Projected Line-ups:

Mia: Manning, Peterson, Jones-Drew, M. Williams, Floyd, Gaffney, Heap, Browns D, Carpenter

Vs.

TB: Rivers, Charles, Hillis, Edwards, R. Moss, S. Moss, Tamme, Falcons D, Tynes

Two teams in the Bottom 5 in the standings? Why the hell is this the game of the week? I’m glad you asked. These guys are at the bottom of the standings, but they’re #4 and #6 in points scored, respectively. One of these 2 teams is going to win out and make the playoffs. It happens every season in our league, and I would strongly prefer not to face any of them in a one and done format. Not only do I suspect the winner will make a run to the playoffs, but it’s pretty apparent that the loser is all but eliminated from contention, so this is a huge game (as opposed to the other battle between 3-7 and 4-6 teams, which is basically a battle for last place).

Breakdown:

QB: How am I supposed to choose between Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers? You might as well be asking whether I’d rather have a million dollars or a million dollars. I’ll take Rivers because he’s the guy at home in a prime-time must-win game, but it’s possible that both quarterbacks put up 35 points this week. Slight edge: O’Neill.

RB: (I’ll start out with a tangent. Thomas Jones is terrible. As Chiefs fans, O’Neill and I got whiff of this fact several weeks before most people, including Todd Haley and Charlie Weis. He continues to play because he’s loved in the locker room for his work ethic and his leadership skills, but it’s become apparent at this point that Jamaal Charles is the significantly better running back, and would probably be a top 3 fantasy guy if he were getting more than 45% of the touches, kind of like Beanie Wells vs. Tim Hightower last season. But until it becomes more obvious to more people that Charles is in charge, O’Neill feels an obligation to begrudgingly keep both guys in his line-up for fear that Jones gets the goal line touches (and inevitably gets stuffed 4 times in a row). Personally, I would start the Moss posse at WR and Braylon Edwards at the flex and put Thomas Jones on the bench. I understand it’s safer to play both running backs because you know that Jones is going to get his touches and there’s no guarantee that Edwards even gets a target. Here’s my view though: if Thomas Jones has a terrible game and you start him, it kills your fantasy team and probably your favorite team as well. If you bench him and he has a great game, at least you can take solace in the fact that the Chiefs should win the game. Back to the breakdown.) I love Jamaal Charles against the worst fantasy rushing defense in the league, and Peyton Hillis is a fucking monster. He’s the only back in the league to score 12 or more fantasy points in every game this season. Meanwhile, Dincher has two of the three running backs who were most coveted going into the season and are still among the best running backs in the league, but they’re going against a pair of tough rush defenses. Peterson and MJD have each had 3 really solid performances in their past 4 games, and they are arguably the most consistent fantasy running backs of the past few seasons, so I suspect they’ll more than hold their own against the tough defenses, but in this particular week, I’d rather have the guys who aren’t necessarily household names. Edge: O’Neill.

WR: Dincher has three no-name guys playing against really good pass defenses, while if he takes my advice, O’Neill would be playing a couple of Mosses and a Braylon Edwards, 2 of which are going against awful pass defenses. I’m going to argue that since I think Washington, Denver, and Seattle will be playing from behind all game, their receivers should get a lot of looks and will at least put up numbers that are comparable to Randy Moss’s and Braylon Edwards’s huge games. Edge: O’Neill.

TE/Def: Jacob Tamme is the best tight end in the league since taking over for Dallas Clark, and I expect the Bears and Dolphins to score under 40 on Thursday night which bodes well for the Dolphins D. Todd Heap has been one of the best tight ends in the league in the past 5 weeks, but I think the Browns/Jaguars game is going to be one of those weird slugfests that we see every now and then between two teams who aren’t considered offensive juggernauts, so I can’t feel too good about Dincher’s defense. Edge: O’Neill

Outcome: Looks like I have O’Neill winning in every category, and considering he’s a game ahead of Dincher in the standings, he was already the favorite to make a late season run to the playoffs, so look out NFC: between Garland and O’Neill making late season runs, the top 6 teams in that conference are going to really be beating each other up to the point that a third AFC team might be able to sneak into the playoffs, even though it is clearly the inferior conference. Final score: TB 137-108.