NFL Game Capsules
By Dalton Del Don
RotoWire Staff Writer
Denver (+1) at Houston, Thursday 8:15 p.m
Comments: The Broncos have looked extremely impressive at times this season, like last week's 41-7 drubbing of the Chiefs; however, they've also looked really bad as well, like the back-to-back losses to the Bears and Raiders before that. Most of the time, the poor efforts coincided with being on the road, and this week's short week should make traveling only more difficult. Jay Cutler's home/road splits reflect as much, as he's posted a 12:5 TD:INT ratio at home but a 5:6 TD:INT ratio while on the road. His 64.1 completion percentage and 7.9 YPA reveal a quarterback who's going to be special regardless of venue in the future, but for now, he remains a little too inconsistent. While Javon Walker's (knee) season was a loss, Brandon Marshall has emerged as a truly elite option at wide receiver. Forget his terrific hands, speed and strength, Marshall is also a fantastic downfield blocker and is going to enter 2008 as a top-15 fantasy WR. Travis Henry may have beaten the NFL to avoid suspension, but he can't shake a knee injury that has severely limited his explosiveness and ability to cut. As a result, Selvin Young is the Broncos' best option at running back, as the rookie has gotten an impressive 5.7 YPC on the year. Henry has had four plays that have gone for 20 yards or more this season, while Young has six such plays despite 93 fewer touches. Young has a favorable matchup Thursday, as Houston has allowed 4.5 YPC and 13 rushing scores this season…The Texans' 6-7 record isn't very impressive, but they are 4-2 at home and are a much better team with Andre Johnson in the lineup. Johnson has averaged 6.8 catches, 102.8 yards and 1.0 TD per game this season and is clearly one of the most gifted athletes in the NFL. Houston dominated a good Tampa Bay team last week despite Matt Schaub's absence, as Sage Rosenfels (7.1 YPA) has been solid while replacing him this year. Despite the big names in the secondary, Denver cornerbacks have allowed 7.3 YPA and 21 scores through the air this year, so Rosenfels has a good matchup Thursday. However, the Broncos' front seven has allowed 4.5 YPC (third most in the league) and 14 runs of 20 yards or more (second most in the league), so Houston may focus on its ground game instead. With Ahman Green (knee) on the IR and Ron Dayne (ankle) badly hobbled, undrafted rookie Darius Walker gets his first start in the backfield, and he looked capable enough during his first NFL action last week against the Bucs. Since he's a solid pass catcher, and there's little competition for touches, Walker makes for a sneaky fantasy play this week. Mario Williams has 5.5 sacks over the last four games, bringing his season total to 9.5. Houston officially made the right choice in selecting him over Reggie Bush, who plays the most easily replaceable position on the football field. The Broncos enter with more stars, but they'll leave with a loss, as the home team prevails.
Predictions: Jay Cutler throws for 250 yards and scoring strikes to Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler, while Selvin Young totals 130 yards and runs in a TD. Darius Walker answers with 100 yards combined and reaches paydirt, while Sage Rosenfels adds 230 passing yards with TDs to Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, as Houston comes out on top.
Cincinnati (-8.5) at San Francisco, Saturday 8:15 p.m.
Comments: Both teams entered the season with playoff aspirations; instead, San Francisco is one of only two NFC teams already eliminated from the postseason, and the Bengals won't be participating during January for the 16th time in the last 17 years. Cincinnati has won two of its past three games - and the defense has held opponents without an offensive touchdown in both wins - but make no mistake, this is not a good football team. Weather contributed last week, but Carson Palmer has gotten just 5.1 YPA with a 0:2 TD:INT ratio over the last two contests. His YPA (7.0) and 17 interceptions this season are the worst marks of his career since his rookie season. The Bengals are just 1-5 on the road this year and should not be giving 8.5 points to USC, let alone an NFL team when away from home…San Francisco has played unwatchable football the past two weeks, but their defense isn't quite as bad as most suspect (6.9 YPA, 3.8 YPC). Rookie Patrick Willis leads the NFL in tackles, while Nate Clements has proven to be worth his big contract. Trent Dilfer (concussion) is out Saturday, but it's unclear why Shaun Hill wasn't given an opportunity earlier anyway. Hill was an immediate upgrade last week, completing 81.5 percent of his passes while getting 6.7 YPA (Dilfer got 5.3 YPA this year). Hill is a complete unknown, but he didn't look totally incapable during his relief work last week. Additionally, Frank Gore might be the best offensive player on the field Saturday, as he's averaged 147.3 yards from scrimmage over the past three games while playing for a historically bad offense. Both Hill and Gore have terrific matchups Saturday, as the Bengals' defense has allowed 24 scores through the air (third worst in the league) and 4.2 YPC on the year.
Predictions: Carson Palmer throws for 240 yards and TDs to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, while Rudi Johnson runs for 75 yards and a score. Shaun Hill answers with 220 yards passing and finds Arnaz Battle and Vernon Davis in the end zone, while Frank Gore adds 140 total yards with a score of his own, as San Francisco pulls off the upset. 49ers 24-21.
Comments: With the Cardinals and Saints both sitting at 6-7 and one game behind the wild card leading Vikings, Sunday's matchup should have a playoff atmosphere, as both teams are in must-win mode. Both also come in banged up, with Reggie Bush (knee) out and Anquan Boldin hampered by a toe injury. Larry Fitzgerald (groin) is also hobbled, but he's a tough competitor and figures to again give it a go Sunday. He has six touchdown catches over his last four games. Kurt Warner has been extremely touchdown and turnover prone of late, throwing for 12 TDs over the past five games but eight INTs over the last three contests. His 8.1 YPA mark for his career is a truly elite number, and he gets a highly favorable matchup this week, as the Saints' secondary has been torched this season for an NFL-worst 8.0 YPA…The Saints are a tough team to get a handle on, as the only thing they've been consistent with this season is their inconsistency. New Orleans is just 2-4 at home, but Arizona doesn't travel well (2-5). While the Saints' struggles on defense have been documented, their offense enters ranked sixth in the league, getting 353.8 yards per game. Drew Brees has an 8:1 TD:INT ratio over the past three games, getting 7.7 YPA in the process. Despite a significantly lower YPA this season (6.7) compared to last (8.0) and throwing just one TD pass through the first five weeks of the season, he has just three fewer touchdown tosses this year (23) than he did in all of 2006, and there are three games left on the schedule. Arizona's secondary has been solid this year, but they've been more beatable as the injuries have set in throughout the year. Aaron Stecker doesn't offer the versatility in the passing game like Bush did, but his ability to decisively hit the hole actually may be an improvement for New Orleans' ground game.
Predictions: Kurt Warner throws for 300 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns, with Larry Fitzgerald (twice) and Bryant Johnson the recipients. Edgerrin James runs for 70 yards without a score, while Aaron Stecker responds with 110 rushing yards and a TD. Drew Brees adds 280 yards passing with scoring strikes to Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, as the home team prevails. Saints 30-24.
Atlanta (+12.5) at Tampa Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Over the past few days, the Falcons have been embarrassed on national television, found out their former quarterback Michael Vick has been sentenced to 23 months in prison and had their head coach abruptly resign. Quitting with just three games left in the season is one thing; not even addressing your players on the way out is quite another. It's safe to say Bobby Petrino won't be sniffing an NFL job ever again, and it's also doubtful he'll ever have respect in the locker room, whether it is at the collegiate or high school level. Atlanta is 1-5 on the road this year, and it's always an even more difficult task to travel after playing on Monday night. They are clearly one of the three worst teams in the league, but it's almost certain the players will rally around new head coach Emmitt Thomas, if only to spite Petrino, so expect an impassioned effort from Atlanta Sunday. Roddy White has been fantasy football's most valuable receiver over the past three weeks, but he has a difficult matchup against the Bucs this week…While Atlanta has suffered through an abysmal season, Tampa Bay can clinch the NFC South with a win Sunday. They are 5-1 at home and should get Jeff Garcia back. Luke McCown was solid in his stead, but Garcia should have a nice day against a suspect Falcons secondary (7.2 YPA). Even after recently turning 36 years old, Joey Galloway is still one of the five fastest players in the league. Earnest Graham has been one of the most important pickups in fantasy football this season, rushing for six scores over the past four games. He should have another big game this week.
Predictions: Chris Redman struggles while finally playing against a good secondary, resulting in numerous sacks, just 170 passing yards and no TDs. Atlanta's ground game is equally shut down, while Earnest Graham totals 120 yards with two touchdowns. Jeff Garcia adds 220 passing yards with a long scoring strike to Joey Galloway, as Tampa Bay rolls. Buccaneers 27-6.
Baltimore (-3.5) at Miami, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: At 0-13, the Dolphins have put the history books ahead of the future by turning back to Cleo Lemon at quarterback, starting him over rookie John Beck. Miami's current 16-game losing is actually only the eighth longest in league history, but they've been especially brutal of late. The Dolphins have averaged just 9.5 points over the last five games while allowing a staggering 39.0 PPG over the last two contests. Their defense has been ravaged by injuries, and the running back position hasn't stayed healthy all year either. Lemon may be an upgrade over Beck right now, but his 5.3 YPA and 3:9 TD:turnover ratio this year reveal a poor quarterback. Samkon Gado scored two touchdowns last week, but Jesse Chatman (ankle) has vowed to return this week. The one area Miami has excelled this season is run blocking, but unfortunately, Baltimore enters with the league's best run defense (2.8 YPC)…After a 13-3 2006 season, the Ravens enter Sunday in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. The secondary has particularly struggled - their 7.7 YPA against ranks third worst in the NFL, while their 13 pass plays of 40 yards or more allowed is second worst in the league. To make matters worse, Chris McAlister was recently placed on injured reserve. However, Miami's secondary has been even worse (7.8 YPA), so Baltimore's passing game should have some success this week. The Dolphins' 16 rushing scores allowed also rank second worst in the league, so Willis McGahee should have a field day. If there's only one team in the NFL that Baltimore should be laying points to on the road, it's Miami.
Predictions: Cleo Lemon has a poor outing, resulting in 175 passing yards, multiple picks and a TD to Derek Hagan. The Dolphins' ground game is stuffed, while Willis McGahee runs for 110 yards and a TD. Kyle Boller adds 200 passing yards with a scoring strike to Derrick Mason, as Baltimore comes out on top. Ravens 20-13.
Buffalo (+5.5) at Cleveland, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Formally moribund franchises, the Bills and Browns face off in matchup with playoff consequences Sunday. To put it into perspective, the Bills opened the season as 100-1 long shots to win the Super Bowl, while the Browns' odds were 65-1. Buffalo is 6-2 over the last eight games, losing only to the Patriots and in Jacksonville. However, they don't have one single impressive victory on their resume and haven't fared too well against good competition. Still, they have a sound special teams unit, an improving Trent Edwards at quarterback and an emerging star in Marshawn Lynch out of the backfield. The Browns have ceded the most passing scores (27) in the NFL this year, and their run defense (4.6 YPC) isn't any better. Lynch should have a big game Sunday, especially with the possibility of snow in the forecast…Cleveland hasn't lost at home since Week 1 and enters with the league's ninth ranked offensive unit. Derek Anderson has had a terrific season, but he's slowed down some over the second half of the season. He got 8.2 YPA over the season's first eight games but has gotten just 6.4 YPA since. Still, having Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow at his disposal certainly helps, and Jamal Lewis has resurrected his career as well. Lewis has totaled nine touchdowns over the past six games. Despite inclement weather, expect a high-scoring affair Sunday, with homefield being the difference maker.
Predictions: Trent Edwards throws for 230 yards and two TDs to Lee Evans, while Marshawn Lynch adds 125 total yards and a TD run of his own. Jamal Lewis counters with 90 yards and a score, while Derek Anderson contributes 270 passing yards with TD tosses to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, as Cleveland inches closer to the postseason. Browns 27-24.
Green Bay (-10.5) at St. Louis, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: While the Packers come in as one of the NFC's best teams, the Rams enter one of the worst, with a 3-10 record. They do play better at home and are likely to get Marc Bulger back, but St. Louis has had major trouble on both sides of the ball this season. Bulger's had the worst season of his career, getting just 6.4 YPA with a 6:12 TD:INT ratio; he's also taken a whopping 29 sacks over just nine games played. Green Bay has a good defense, so the Rams' offensive unit is likely to struggle again Sunday…In almost any other season, the Packers' 11-2 record would be much more noticeable; instead, they look like the NFL's fourth best team in 2007. Still, it's quite an impressive squad, led by Brett Favre's career-year (8.0 YPA). Moreover, Ryan Grant leads the NFL in rushing since taking over starting RB duties seven weeks ago. In fact, this has been the year of the undrafted running back, as just last week the league saw four of its seven rushing leaders come from undrafted free agents. Over the last four games, Grant is averaging an impressive 5.6 YPC with four rushing scores; he has two highly favorable upcoming matchups as well, so Grant has become one of the most important players in fantasy football. Greg Jennings is also having a fantastic season, averaging 17.7 yards per catch. Despite just 46 receptions, Jennings has also hauled in 11 touchdowns this year and should torch a beatable Rams secondary this week.
Predictions: Marc Bulger suits up, resulting in 180 passing yards and a TD to Torry Holt. Steven Jackson totals 100 yards but the end zone eludes him, while Ryan Grant runs for 100 yards with a score. Brett Favre adds 270 yards with scoring strikes to Donald Driver and Greg Jennings (twice), as Green Bay wins in a rout. Packers 31-13.
Jacksonville (+4) at Pittsburgh, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Both teams enter with identical 9-4 records, but homefield figures to be a major factor. The early forecast for Sunday calls for 30-degree temperatures with a chance of snow. While Jacksonville is a physical team, any squad from Florida can't be looking forward to those conditions. The Jaguars rank sixth in scoring defense (17.6 PPG), but that's largely been due to stepping up inside the red zone. Their 7.1 YPA and 3.9 YPC allowed are both very average numbers. Still, they have forced 26 turnovers - a solid amount. David Garrard has really stepped up his game this season (7.7 YPA, 13:1 TD:INT ratio) and has developed a nice rapport with Reggie Williams. Fred Taylor has also impressed, rushing for 340 yards (7.4 YPC) over the past three games. However, the Steelers' defense is stout, even with the loss of Aaron Smith (biceps), so all Jaguars offensive players should probably be benched in fantasy leagues…A victory Sunday would make the Steelers a perfect 8-0 at home this season, and Troy Polamalu's (knee) likely return only helps. However, Ben Roethlisberger has sat out practice this week with a sore shoulder, and he hasn't topped 200 passing yards in any of his last four games. He's still expected to play Sunday, but his status needs to be monitored. The Jaguars are no pushovers, but the Steelers are just too tough at home.
Predictions: David Garrard throws for 160 yards with a TD to Reggie Williams, while the Jaguars' ground game is mostly stagnant, although Maurice Jones-Drew gets a goal line score. Willie Parker responds with 70 rushing yards but Najeh Davenport gets the TD run. Ben Roethlisberger throws for 230 yards and TDs to Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, as Pittsburgh wins it. Steelers 24-17.
New York Jets (+23.5) at New England, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: A huge mismatch on paper, the 3-10 Jets travel to play the 13-0 Patriots Sunday in matchup featuring the two teams that spawned "Spygate." New York is just 1-5 on the road this season and ranks in the bottom five in both total defense and offense. Kellen Clemens has gotten 6.5 YPA with a 4:7 TD:INT ratio in six games since taking over starting quarterback duties. The Patriots' defense has proven to be vulnerable of late, but that's typically occurred more so on the ground than through the air, and Thomas Jones is unlikely to be able to take advantage of that. However, weather is the great equalizer, and Sunday calls for snow flurries and high-winds in Foxborough…Five teams have opened a season 13-0, but just one started with 14 straight victories, so the Patriots will try to match the 1972 Dolphins' record-setting start to a season with a victory Sunday. All the Spygate talk gets tiresome, but there might be a very real motivational factor here, as the Patriots are so good, any extra incentive turns them into unstoppable. With Eric Mangini becoming the Fredo Corleone to Bill Belichick, it's possible New England will run up the score like never seen before if given the opportunity Sunday. Frequent fourth down and two-point conversion attempts should not be ruled out. New England can clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win or Indianapolis loss this week, and the Patriots are most certainly not going to look past this Jets team.
Predictions: Kellen Clemens and the entire Jets offense struggles mightily, resulting in three turnovers and zero touchdown drives. Field goals, however, do prevent the shutout. Tom Brady responds with 320 passing yards and four touchdown tosses, with Randy Moss (twice), Wes Welker and Ben Watson the recipients. Laurence Maroney adds 70 yards and a TD run of his own, as New England gets its revenge. Patriots 41-6.
Seattle (-7.5) at Carolina, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Over the last few seasons, Carolina has to be toward the top of the list of disappointing teams. Most of the blame for this year falls on the offensive side of the ball, and specifically the quarterback position. As a team, the Panthers are getting 5.6 YPA - the second worst mark in the league. Over the past 10 games, Carolina has just eight scores through the air, which is how many Jake Delhomme threw in just three games before succumbing to injury. The starter for Sunday remains a mystery, as Matt Moore may replace Vinny Testaverde. Either way, Steve Smith's fantasy value has been crushed this season, and Seattle enters with one of the best secondaries in the game. They've held opposing QBs to a 10:20 TD:INT ratio, which is easily the best in the NFL. Julius Peppers has also been a massive disappointment, as he's been held to just 19 quarterback pressures and his three sacks rank 77th in the league. He's too often held up at the line scrimmage by one blocker and is costing himself a lot of money with his contract expiring next year. Carolina has an NFL-low 16 total sacks, and six of those came in one game against San Francisco…Seattle's Patrick Kerney, meanwhile, leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks. He has 10 QB takedowns over the Seahawks' last five games - all victories. Despite a 9-4 record, Seattle still gets largely ignored when elite teams of the NFL are discussed. Maybe it's because they aren't a great road team and haven't beaten a squad with a winning record since Week 1. Still, they have a good defense and a dynamic passing attack, and it's not their fault they play in the worst division in football.
Predictions: Matt Moore gets the start for Carolina, resulting in a couple of picks, 180 passing yards and a TD to Steve Smith. DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams combine for 100 yards and a score, while Shaun Alexander runs for 60 yards and a short TD. Matt Hasselbeck adds 260 yards passing with TDs to Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, as Carolina falls to 1-6 at home. Seahawks 24-17.
Tennessee (-4) at Kansas City, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Chiefs come in riding a six-game losing streak, with Arrowhead no longer an intimidating place to play. After Priest Holmes set a then league-record for touchdowns just a few years back, Kansas City enters play Sunday with the NFL's worst rushing attack (80.2 YPG). The defense hasn't been terrible, but their front seven is one of the easiest to run on in the league (4.4 YPC). Brodie Croyle has gotten just 5.9 YPA, suggesting he's nowhere near being ready to help at the quarterback position. Kolby Smith has been a little banged up, but he figures to get the start in Kansas City's backfield Sunday, although that comes against a stout Titans' defense…Tennessee's playoff chances likely ended after blowing a 17-3 fourth quarter lead to the Chargers last week, which was done in spectacular fashion. After holding San Diego to 166 yards of offense through 57 minutes, the Titans allowed 175 yards between the final 2:24 of regulation and overtime. They'll likely bounce back with a fine defensive effort and strong game from LenDale White against the lowly Chiefs, but Vince Young's play has become a major long-term concern. His 7:16 TD:INT ratio is the worst in the league, and he's running with far less success this season. A change at offensive coordinator may be in the cards over the offseason.
Predictions: Brodie Croyle throws for just 180 yards but finds Tony Gonzalez in the back of the end zone. Kolby Smith runs for 60 yards without a score, while LenDale White responds with 110 rushing yards and hits paydirt. Vince Young adds 190 passing yards with a scoring strike to Justin Gage, as Tennessee wins it. Titans 20-13.
Indianapolis (-10.5) at Oakland, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: While the Colts look to become the first team to register at least 12 wins in five consecutive seasons, the Raiders will attempt to avoid losing at least 10 games for the fifth consecutive year. Oakland has the worst record in the NFL since 2003 (19-58), and while they've made progress on the offensive side of the ball this season, their defense has taken a step back from last year's unit. Their secondary has limited opponents to just 10 passing TDs, but it's also allowed a poor 7.6 YPA. Their run defense, on the other hand, is the worst in the league, allowing NFL-worsts 4.8 YPC and 21 rushing scores. Josh McCown figures to get the start Sunday, while JaMarcus Russell is in line to see action for the second time this season. His task won't be easy, as Indianapolis comes in with perhaps the best pass defense in the league…Peyton Manning has bounced back from a small midseason lull with three straight huge games, posting an 11:1 TD:INT ratio with 10.4 YPA over that span. He threw four scores last week in Baltimore on just 13 completions, epitomizing efficiency. Anthony Gonzalez has emerged as a more than capable No. 2 wide receiver, as it's become increasingly unlikely to see Marvin Harrison during the regular season. With Oakland as this week's opponent, however, Joseph Addai may be the center of Indy's game plan. His 4.1 YPC for the season is a little disappointing, but Addai has more than made up for it with 14 touchdowns already. He should shred the Raiders' soft defensive interior Sunday. Indianapolis can clinch the AFC South with a win or a Jacksonville loss.
Predictions: Josh McCown and JaMarcus Russell total 190 passing yards but no touchdowns, while Justin Fargas plays through an injury, resulting in 90 yards combined with a TD run. Joseph Addai counters with 150 yards and two TDs, while Peyton Manning adds 240 passing yards with scoring strikes to Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez, as Indy triumphs. Colts 31-13.
Detroit (+10) at San Diego, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: After boldly predicting a 10-win season, Jon Kitna looked like a prophet when Detroit opened the year 6-2. However, since then the team has dropped five straight, and double-digit wins has become unreachable. Detroit's defense ranks 31st in the league (371.2 YPG), and they've allowed a staggering 35.7 points per game over the last three contests. Despite playing for an offense skewed heavily toward the pass, Jon Kitna hasn't thrown multiple TDs in a game in more than a month. Detroit struggles on the road - especially outdoors - and the Chargers enter with an NFL-leading 22 interceptions, which could spell disaster for this turnover-prone Lions team…San Diego will be without Shawne Merriman, and Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are banged up as well. It's expected that both offensive players will be available, but Billy Volek will start at QB for San Diego if Rivers can't go. The offense is likely to center around LaDainian Tomlinson anyway, as he's totaled 370 yards with four TDs over the past two contests and gets a beatable Lions' run defense Sunday. With the team likely to jump out to an early lead and incentive to keep Rivers out of the fire, Tomlinson should be in store for monstrous numbers. San Diego can clinch the AFC West with a win.
Predictions: Jon Kitna takes multiple sacks, throws two interceptions and finds Calvin Johnson for a score. Kevin Jones totals 80 yards with a TD run, while LaDainian Tomlinson answers with 150 combined yards and two touchdowns. Philip Rivers adds 200 passing yards with scoring strikes to Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers, as San Diego wins handily. Chargers 31-17.
Philadelphia (+10.5) at Dallas, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: With a 5-8 record and a difficult upcoming schedule, it's safe to say the season hasn't gone as planned in Philadelphia. The Eagles travel to Dallas Sunday looking to avoid their fourth straight loss, and the task certainly won't be easy. Brian Westbrook is the most dynamic running back in the game and is an unquestionable top-three fantasy commodity. However, Donovan McNabb has struggled in his recovery from knee surgery. The 7.0 YPA and 60.4 completion percentage are OK, but the fact he's thrown for multiple scores in just two games all season speaks volumes, especially in such a QB-friendly system as Any Reid's. The Eagles are 0-5 in games decided by four points or fewer, suggesting their record could look quite different if a few balls bounced different ways. Still, Philadelphia isn't even close to being in the same class as this Dallas team…Because the Patriots and the Colts are two of the better teams of recent memory, it's easy to overlook just how tremendous the 2007 Cowboys have been. A fairly easy schedule - which comes with the territory of playing in the NFC - has contributed, but the Cowboys have won seven in a row, are likely to finish 15-1 and have an unbelievable net YPA of 2.2. Tony Romo is on pace to finish with 46 touchdowns, Terrell Owens looks unguardable at times, and Marion Barber is one of the five best backs in the league. They also have a tremendous option over the middle in Jason Witten, who led the NFL with 18 targets last week. Since he's also a terrific blocker, Witten is one of the most underrated players in the game. Dallas' secondary is also better (6.4 YPA, 16:18 TD:INT ratio) than the somewhat skewed overall numbers indicate. The Cowboys can clinch a first round bye with a win Sunday.
Predictions: Donovan McNabb throws for 225 yards and a TD to Kevin Curtis, while Brian Westbrook totals 120 yards with a score. Tony Romo responds with 280 passing yards and TDs to Terrell Owens (twice) and Jason Witten. Marion Barber runs for 80 yards with a touchdown, as Dallas continues to impress. Cowboys 34-17.
Washington (+4.5) at New York Giants, Sunday 8:15 p.m.
Comments: The Redskins stopped a four-game losing skid with a win last Thursday and now have 10 days to prepare for the division rival Giants. However, Washington doesn't excel at any one particular aspect, and Todd Collins' immediate success is unlikely to carry over, since he has a career YPA of 6.5. Clinton Portis has averaged a paltry 2.6 YPC over the past four games, and he has more fumbles lost (two) than he does touchdowns (one) over that span as well. Chris Cooley might be the team's best offensive weapon, and look for him to attack the Giants' secondary - the weak spot of the defensive unit…New York is 9-2 after starting the season with back-to-back losses. However, they can't be taken too seriously, since they are 0-4 when facing opponents with winning records this year. There's something to be said about taking care of inferior opposition, and the Giants have done that by going 9-0 versus teams with losing records, but with Eli Manning crumbling against elite competition, this team lacks upside to go deep into the playoffs. The Giants are really strong on both the offensive and defensive line, as they excel at run blocking and pressuring the quarterback. It's an important aspect of the game, revealing a how team with a signal caller getting 6.5 YPA can be 9-4. The Giants force opponents into negative pass plays (interceptions and sacks) on an NFL-best 12.4 percent of attempts. Still, anyone suggesting they can be the team to beat the Patriots (Week 17) is flat-out delusional.
Predictions: Todd Collins is constantly under duress, resulting in just 180 passing yards with a lone TD to Chris Cooley. Clinton Portis is bottled up, while Brandon Jacobs rebounds from last week's poor performance with 120 rushing yards and a touchdown. Eli Manning throws for 220 yards and finds Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer for scores, as New York clinches a playoff berth. Giants 24-13.
Chicago (+10) at Minnesota, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The free-falling Bears turn to Kyle Orton at quarterback but face a tough opponent in Minnesota Monday night. Orton won't get a lot of help, as Chicago enters with the 29th ranked defense and 31st ranked rushing offense. Since the Vikings have allowed just 3.0 YPC on the season and an average of just 47.6 yards on the ground in their last five home games, Chicago is going to have to rely on its quarterback Monday. With Brian Griese proving once and for all he's not the future at the position, Orton gets his second shot as Bears' starter, but he's hardly inspiring. Known better for his off-the-field habits and ridiculous neck beard, Orton has completed just 51.6 percent of his passes and gotten a microscopic 5.1 YPA during 15 career starts. His 9:18 TD:turnover ratio isn't too good either. In a hostile environment, the Vikings' defenders are licking their chops…Minnesota has outscored its last three opponents by a combined score of 110-34 and enters riding a four-game winning streak. Tarvaris Jackson has shown signs of improvement, which is especially important as opposing teams put more and more defenders in the box in an attempt to stop the league's best rushing attack. Adrian Peterson was shockingly held to just three yards on 14 carries last week, but he's still getting 6.1 YPC on the year, and the Bears can be ran on after injuries have ravaged their interior line. Look for Peterson to bounce back with a big game in the spotlight Monday night. There might not be a team in football with a better offensive and defensive line combo than the Vikings.
Predictions: Kyle Orton and the Bears' rushing attack are both shut down, resulting in only field goals for Chicago's offense. Adrian Peterson responds with 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Chester Taylor adds 70 yards as well. Tarvaris Jackson throws for a modest 150 yards and finds Sidney Rice for a score, as Minnesota wins in a blowout. Vikings 30-6.
Article first appeared 12/12/07