NFL Football Column: Fantasy Impact
NFL Week 11
The bad news? Those two accounted for 50% of the ATS winners.
I am forever hopeful the games will play out in a more predictable fashion this week. Here are my picks for Week 11 in the National Football League, with an emphasis on how each team's Fantasy stars should impact the games.
Minus running back Fred Jackson, the Bills look to snap a three-game skid. Buffalo has at least been competitive lately. The Bills fell 35-34 at home to Tennessee on Oct. 21 and 21-9 at Houston on Nov. 14. On Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted in the end zone with 28 seconds left in a 37-31 defeat at New England. Expect a big game from C.J. Spiller, but it will take more than that for the Bills to win this one.
ATS: Dolphins +2.5
With Michael Vick's status in doubt due to a concussion, embattled Eagles coach Andy Reid is expected to turn to rookie Nick Foles in an effort to end the longest losing streak of his tenure against RGIII and the rested Redskins on Sunday. Washington still sports a terrible pass defense, and Foles should flourish. Expect LeSean McCoy to take on a bigger role also with Vick sidelined.
Yes, the 'Skins are rested, but they do not play their best football at home. While Robert Griffin III should find success rolling out with controlled passing, the key is Alfred Morris. A solid rushing performance is needed here to get the win. Look for a very close game that could go either way.
ATS: Eagles +3.5
New York is on the verge of losing four consecutive games for the first time since dropping six straight in 2007, and much of the blame has fallen on the right arm of the struggling Mark Sanchez. Maybe not so much struggling as he is just not a good NFL QB. Period. He finished 9 of 22 for 124 yards and an interception while losing a fumble for the third straight week in last Sunday's 28-7 loss at Seattle. Sanchez has completed an NFL-worst 52.0 percent of his passes. The Jets deserve better than this overhyped former USC QB.
Sam Bradford had another strong game last week, finishing 26 of 39 for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He completed a long pass to Danny Amendola in overtime that would have set up the potential winning touchdown, but it was called back due to a penalty. He'll face a Jets team that is sixth in the NFL against the pass allowing 203.8 yards per game but also ranks 30th giving up an average of 145.0 rushing yards. New York allowed 174 yards rushing last week, and that's good news for Rams running back Steven Jackson, who finished with season highs of 29 carries and 101 yards with a touchdown against the 49ers. The Rams are playing hard, and should take this one at home.
The Bengals would appear to have a favorable schedule over the next few weeks, beginning with Sunday's visit to the beleaguered Chiefs. Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdowns while helping his team end a four-game losing streak last week, and the Bengals' defense forced four turnovers and sacked Eli four times. A.J. Green should easily be the best player on the field as the Bengals are squarely in the hunt for the playoffs.
The Chiefs have dropped six in a row. Kansas City has been outscored 157-78 during the losing streak, its longest in a single season since a seven-game slide in 2008. KC has produced 16 points or fewer in each of their last five games. With Brady Quinn not yet cleared to return from a concussion, the Chiefs will start Matt Cassel again Sunday. Jamaal Charles is again the Chiefs' only hope of not getting embarassed.
Maurice Jones-Drew's continued absence surely hasn't helped the Jaguars, who won't have their All-Pro running back for the fourth consecutive game. Starting in place of Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings has compiled just 131 yards on 40 carries over the last three weeks. In addition to getting a better performance from QB Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars will likely need to step up their efforts against the run Sunday. Jacksonville is allowing an average of 137.4 rushing yards and has surrendered 14 TDs on the ground, the second-most in the league.
The Texans aim for a fifth consecutive victory over the visiting Jaguars. Giving up averages of 281.6 yards and 15.9 points to rank second and third in the league, the Texans made things especially difficult on the Jaguars during a 27-7 road win back in September, holding them to a franchise-low 117 yards. Houston has outscored Jacksonville by an average of 13.5 points during its run in this series, and Arian Foster will impact this game to make sure that average margin of victory goes up.
Far from full strength despite a week off, the Packers can win a fifth straight game Sunday as it visits Detroit, who can't afford many more disappointments if they plan on returning to the playoffs. Recent history favors Green Bay, which is 11-1 against the Lions under coach Mike McCarthy. The bye week was sorely needed, with the likes of Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson already injured, not to mention Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga all getting hurt against the Cardinals. While Woodson (collarbone) remains sidelined, Bulaga (hip) became the 11th Packer to be placed on injured reserve Monday. Matthews (hamstring) was ruled out for this game and it does not appear Jennings (groin) will return, though Nelson (ankle) is practicing and should play. Expect Aaron Rodgers to continue connecting with impact players Randall Cobb and James Jones.
The Lions lead the league with 307.3 passing yards per game, and Calvin Johnson is coming off his finest performance of the season with 12 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. Still, Detroit is getting off to slow starts and can't afford to fall too far behind in this one.
With Cleveland mired in another losing season, the Browns should look at the remainder of this year as a chance to get some good work in for their young playmakers. Josh Gordon is emerging as an elite WR, and Trent Richardson continues to impress. This team is just good enough to potentially keep this one close---but, Browns CB Joe Haden was downgraded to a missed practice Thursday after being limited by an oblique injury on Wednesday. No Haden or a limited Haden likely means a non-cover for Cleveland.
Dallas, meanwhile, is trying to win consecutive games for the first time this season after a 38-23 victory at Philadelphia last weekend. Felix Jones ran for 62 yards and a TD in that game and could make a fifth straight start Sunday in place of DeMarco Murray (foot). Jones has a combined 202 yards in the last two games and is facing a Cleveland run defense which ranks 27th, allowing 132.2 yards per contest. Expect Tony Romo and Miles Austin to provide the impact plays here needed to get the win for Big D.
The Bucs didn't need a big performance from Josh Freeman to beat the Panthers in September. Given his recent efforts, however, Freeman seems likely to play a bigger role in this week's rematch. The Buccaneers quarterback will try to lead his team to its first four-game win streak in four years Sunday in Charlotte. Doug Martin is 138 yards away from becoming the 11th player in Bucs history to rush for 1,000 yards, and the fourth to do so as a rookie. Martin had 95 yards on 24 carries in the first matchup with Carolina.
The Panthers come in having lost six of seven and a 36-14 defeat to Denver on Sunday led to another change, as the team fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy the next day. Carolina let go general manager Marty Hurney on Oct. 22. Cam Newton is starting to play better, but this Carolina team is in turmoil. They have little chance of slowing down the league's 3rd best offense.
The Arizona O line made strides in the team's last game Nov. 4, giving up only two sacks in a 31-17 loss at Green Bay. John Skelton threw for 306 yards with a TD and INT for the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald, who caught six passes for 74 yards with a touchdown, has one 100-yard receiving game on the season and that came in Week 3. Now they get to face an angry Atlanta team.
The host Falcons look to get back to their winning ways Sunday against a Cardinals team that's trying to avoid a second six-game skid in as many seasons. Atlanta ranks 20th in the league allowing 365.6 yards per game, and it will try for a better defensive performance against an Arizona team that is 31st in total offense at 295.4 yards a contest and scoring at 16.0 points. The Cardinals are last in the league with 76.2 yards per game on the ground. The Falcons must run the ball here to balance the passing game. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are the keys.
Looking to continue its recent domination in November, New Orleans tries for a season-best third consecutive win Sunday as it visits the struggling Raiders. Running the ball often seems to make a world of difference for the Saints, who have gone 27-4 since the start of 2010 when their backs get at least 21 carries compared to 1-9 with 20 or fewer. Though it looked like the Saints (4-5) could be in for a long year after opening 0-4, they suddenly find themselves on the verge of getting back to .500 thanks to the running game. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are the keys to a Saints win here--not Drew Brees. Darren Sproles should be back for this one, but the Saints would be wise not to rely on him too much by abandoning the true run game.Raiders running back Darren McFadden, meanwhile, could miss a second straight game with a sprained ankle. RB Marcel Reece could produce some surprising numbers here, and QB Carson Palmer should have his way against this New Orleans defense. Still, I think the Raiders play hard but come up short in the end.
Philip Rivers is 5-1 visiting the Broncos following a 29-24 victory last year, but the Chargers' signal-caller has been awful in the fourth quarter this season with a 56.5 passer rating and a league-worst six INTs. Still, Denver's secondary will have to keep an eye on Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who has all four of his TDs - he caught a season-best two against Denver - in the last four games. Gates is one TD shy of matching Lance Alworth for the team record with 81. Chargers back Ryan Mathews is questionable after missing practice on Wednesday with a stiff neck. He ran for 74 in last month's loss to Denver after averaging 127.3 in his first three games in this divisional matchup.Peyton Manning and the Broncos can take a firm grip of the division lead - and put a huge dent in the Chargers' playoff chances - with its first season sweep in this series in seven years. While Manning is a making a strong case for an unprecedented fifth MVP - he owns the league's best passer rating (108.0) and is completing a career-best 69.7 percent of his passes - he's definitely not doing it alone. The Broncos, who have the league's sixth-ranked defense, have 12 sacks in the last two contests and are allowing 18.8 points per game during the winning streak. Denver's special teams have also come up big lately with Trindon Holliday returning kicks for TDs in each of the last two games. Don't expect San Diego to get out to the big lead this time like they did at home. This game boils down to the two QBs. Manning is on fire, while Rivers should be fired.
While its defense remains a big concern, New England has no such issues on offense, a unit that leads the NFL in points (33.2) and yards per game (430.3). The Patriots have averaged 37.0 points during a three-game win streak that has them in position for a fourth straight AFC East title. Tom Brady didn't have his best performance on Sunday, completing 23 of 38 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. But the two-time MVP completed at least 60 percent of his passes for the 10th straight game. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to be one of Brady's favorite targets, with 17 catches for 255 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games. The Patriots have also found success on the ground, rushing for 400 yards during their winning streak. Stevan Ridley has come on strong with 225 yards and two TDs on 37 carries in his last two games. New England has won two straight at home against the Colts, including last year's 31-24 victory. A seven point NE victory over last year's Colts team leads me to think this year's version of the Colts keeps it close.
Baltimore has won 11 straight AFC North games and looks to make it 12 straight on Sunday night. Despite missing some key pieces on defense, the offense has been balanced. Joe Flacco must play mistake-free against this #1 rated pass defense, while Ray Rice should be the difference maker on the ground.
If the Steelers are going to take control of the AFC North on Sunday night at Heinz Field, they must do something they haven't accomplished since Ben Roethlisberger joined the NFL: beat the Ravens without him. It will be Byron Leftwich trying to move them into a first-place tie because Roethlisberger has been ruled out. Pittsburgh is 0-4 against the Ravens without Big Ben since the star quarterback's 2004 rookie season.That leaves Pittsburgh relying on a quarterback who hasn't made a start since 2009 with Tampa Bay and hasn't won one since Oct. 6, 2006, while with Jacksonville. Leftwich has since gone 0-6 as a starter. The Steelers must run the ball well and get a big game out of their defense to keep this one low scoring and close. I think they will.
As for the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick may be under center if Alex Smith can't go. Kaepernick is a very versatile QB who can pull it down and run it at any time. Much like the Bears gameplan, the 'Niners should look to run the ball with Frank Gore and rely on its defense to hold down the Bears. In what should be a low scoring affair, I think SF has enough to win this one by a TD.
ATS: 49ers -5
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