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You can argue that Georgia is responsible for two of the most impressive performances by an SEC team this season. No team has looked better than the Bulldogs did on Oct. 11, when they shut out Missouri 34–0 in Columbia. Or last Saturday, when they rolled to a surprisingly easy 34–7 victory over Auburn.
That’s what makes this team’s overall record of 8–2 so maddening. The same team that held Missouri and Auburn to a combined seven points — and also beat Clemson (at full strength) by 24 points and scored 63 points at Kentucky — lost head-scratching games to South Carolina and Florida.
Georgia is clearly good enough to beat any team in the nation but has been unable to play with a sense of urgency on a week-in and week-out basis. There are a lot of teams with the talent to play well against the elite teams on their schedule, but it takes a certain type of mental toughness to handle the weekly grind of an SEC schedule. And it’s not like the Bulldogs are in the SEC West, where you might play three or four top-10 teams in a span of four or five weeks. Georgia’s schedule has been relatively kind — yet Mark Richt’s team still has managed to stub its toe on more than one occasion.
Despite these puzzling setbacks, Georgia is not completely out of the CFB picture. The win over Auburn could vault the Bulldogs — ranked No. 15 last week — back into the top-10. A win over surging Georgia Tech (which has won the ACC Coastal) would add another quality win to the Bulldogs’ résumé. If Missouri loses one of its final two games — at Tennessee and vs. Arkansas — Georgia will find itself back in the SEC Championship Game for the third time in four years. And SEC Champion, even with two losses, will be an attractive candidate for the selection committee.
That all sounds good, but Georgia has yet to show enough consistency to give us reason to believe it can string together two more wins against quality opponents.
Florida announced coach Will Muschamp would not return in 2015 after Saturday’s loss to South Carolina, which dropped the Gators to 5-4 with two games remaining in 2014. Muschamp will stay on the sidelines for the remainder of the regular season. Athletic director Jeremy Foley hired Muschamp after a stint as an assistant at Texas in 2011. Muschamp went 7-6 in his first year at Florida and finished 11-2 in 2012. However, the Gators stumbled to a 4-8 mark last season and needs a win over Eastern Kentucky or Florida State to play in a bowl this year.
Listen to the Florida coaching search podcast:
13 Candidates to Replace Will Muschamp at Florida
Justin Fuente, Head Coach, Memphis
Fuente inherited a roster and program in need of significant repair. Three years later, Memphis is one of the front-runners to win the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers went 3-21 in the two seasons prior to Fuente’s arrival but improved to 4-8 in his first year and 3-9 in 2013. In his third year, Fuente already has Memphis bowl-eligible for the first time since 2008, and the Tigers could claim a share of the conference title if they win their final two regular season games. Considering how far the program has progressed in three seasons, Fuente should be a hot commodity for Power 5 openings this offseason. And Fuente’s background on offense certainly has to intrigue Foley after Florida’s struggles on that side of the ball under Muschamp.
Hugh Freeze, Head Coach, Ole Miss
Before we dive into Freeze’s background, it’s important to note Freeze has a good job and is an Oxford native. Considering his ties to Oxford and background in Mississippi, Freeze won’t be too eager to leave Ole Miss. However, Florida is a bigger job and certainly has more resources. Freeze has been a winner at each of his stops, including one year at Arkansas State (10-2), two seasons at Lambuth (20-5) and now three years with Ole Miss (23-13). Freeze’s background on offense certainly has to be intriguing to Florida. Again, a longshot Freeze takes the job, but he’s quickly emerging as one of the top coaches in the SEC.
Mike Gundy, Head Coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy is in a good spot at his alma mater and is 82-43 since taking over as Oklahoma State’s head coach in 2005. The Cowboys have played in eight consecutive bowl games and finished No. 3 nationally in 2011. However, Gundy has showed interest in other jobs in previous years, and reports have indicated there could be some friction with athletic director Mike Holder. Combine Gundy’s background on offense, consistent winning in Stillwater and perhaps some uncertainty in the athletic department, and it’s easy to see why the former Oklahoma State quarterback could be interested in other high-profile jobs.
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
Whether it’s a college or NFL job, Harbaugh’s name is expected to be a popular one in coaching searches this offseason. Harbaugh is probably more of an option at Michigan than Florida, but the former NFL quarterback should draw plenty of interest after he transformed Stanford into a top-five team in just four years (2007-10). And prior to his stint at Stanford, Harbaugh went 29-6 at San Diego (2004-06). Harbaugh is 41-15 in four seasons with the 49ers, but there is plenty of uncertainty regarding his future after this season in San Francisco.
Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth is ready for a promotion after a successful four-year stint at UL Lafayette. The former Mississippi State assistant is 34-15 in four years with the Ragin’ Cajuns and has the program on track to earn their fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Prior to his current stint at UL Lafayette and two years at Mississippi State, Hudspeth went 66-21 from 2002-08 at North Alabama. Hudspeth signed a six-year contract extension in June, but his track record of success, energetic personality and ability to recruit will no doubt be attractive to any Power 5 program with an opening.
Jim McElwain, Head Coach, Colorado State
McElwain is a former Nick Saban assistant, but even if that works against him in this coaching search, he’s still a proven head coach with a background on offense. Under McElwain’s watch, Colorado State is 21-15 overall and is 9-1 with a chance to win the Mountain West in 2014. Prior to the last three years with the Rams, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-11, had a one-year stint at Fresno State (2007) and a short stop with the Raiders in 2006. McElwain is a rising star in the coaching ranks but has a hefty $7.5 million buyout.
Chad Morris, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Foley went the coordinator route with Muschamp and it backfired. Will that factor into Morris being considered a candidate? Morris is one of the nation’s highest-paid assistants and is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. The Texas native has never been a head coach on the FBS level, but his offenses at Clemson were among the best in the ACC and averaged 40.2 points per game in 2013. Morris would be a splashy hire for a program looking to upgrade its offense. However, the lack of head coaching experience may steer Florida in a different direction.
Dan Mullen, Head Coach, Mississippi State
Many reports have indicated Mullen won’t be a candidate due to a questionable relationship with athletic director Jeremy Foley. However, Mullen has elevated Mississippi State during his six seasons in Starkville, which culminated in Mississippi State owning the No. 1 spot in college football’s playoff rankings for the first three weeks. Mullen is 45-29 since taking over the Bulldogs’ head coaching position in 2009 and has guided the program to four consecutive bowl games. Mullen worked under former Florida coach Urban Meyer from 2005-08 and has previous stops as an assistant at Utah, Bowling Green and Notre Dame.
Pat Narduzzi, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
As evidenced by passing on the UConn job last offseason, Narduzzi’s is in no hurry to leave East Lansing. But if Florida calls, Narduzzi’s interest level would figure to be significantly higher. The Ohio native is regarded as one of - if not No. 1 - top assistant coaches in college football. Narduzzi joined coach Mark Dantonio’s staff in 2007 and has developed an elite defense during his tenure in East Lansing. Michigan State led the nation by limiting opponents to just 4.0 yards per play last season, and the Spartans ranked first in the Big Ten in scoring defense from 2012-13. Prior to taking over the controls for Michigan State’s defense, Narduzzi worked on Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati (2004-06) and had stints as an assistant at Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Rhode Island.
Dan Quinn, Defensive Coordinator, Seattle Seahawks
Quinn is regarded as a rising star in the assistant ranks and has a previous stop at Florida on his resume from 2011-12. The New Jersey native has worked with Pete Carroll in Seattle in 2010 and from 2013-14. Quinn does not have head coaching experience and has only spent two years coaching at a FBS program.
Rich Rodriguez, Head Coach, Arizona
Rodriguez was a bad fit at Michigan, but he’s been a proven winner at every previous coaching stop. And Rodriguez is a name garnering plenty of interest in the rumor mill already, as he has Arizona at 8-2 and alive in the Pac-12 South title mix this year. Prior to the last three seasons with the Wildcats, Rodriguez went 15-22 at Michigan but was 60-26 at West Virginia. In addition to his proven track record, here’s something else that should make Foley very interested: Rodriguez is considered one of the nation’s top offensive minds.
Steve Spurrier, Head Coach, South Carolina
Spurrier has already said he plans to return to South Carolina in 2015, but if his alma mater called, he would have to at least listen. Spurrier is 82-44 with the Gamecocks and went 122-27-1 at Florida from 1990-2001. Spurrier would be a short-term solution as he will be 70 by the start of the 2015 season.
Bob Stoops, Head Coach, Oklahoma
Stoops already has a great job and would have to face his brother (Mark) once a year if he bolted Oklahoma for Florida. Most believe Stoops won't bolt Oklahoma for Gainesville, but he’s a former Florida assistant and has spent 16 years with the Sooners – is it time for change? Stoops has been a model of consistency with Oklahoma, but the program has slipped some in recent years. Again, Stoops is a longshot, but he’s a name to watch during this coaching search. Even if Stoops is going to say no, Foley would be wise to at least place a call to Norman.
Other Names to Watch
Tom Herman, Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Despite losing quarterback Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury in fall practice, Ohio State’s offense hasn’t missed a beat this year. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has emerged as the Big Ten’s top quarterback under Herman’s direction, and the Buckeyes are averaging 6.9 yards per play in conference games. The Ohio native has worked under coach Urban Meyer since 2012 and called the plays at Texas State (2005-06), Rice (2007-08) and Iowa State (2009-11). Herman also is a member of Mensa International. A rising star, but Herman is probably more likely to land a Group of 5 school as a head coach than Florida.
Doc Holliday, Head Coach, Marshall
Regarded as an excellent recruiter and has ties to the state of Florida. Holliday is 37-24 at Marshall but was only 27-24 prior to the start of 2014.
Ruffin McNeill, Head Coach, East Carolina
McNeill is 35-25 in five seasons at East Carolina – his alma mater. Even though McNeill has done a good job in Greenville, he’s an unlikely fit in Gainesville.
Greg Schiano, former Rutgers and NFL coach
Schiano was fired in Tampa Bay after two seasons but had a successful tenure at Rutgers. The defensive-minded coach is a longshot for Florida. However, he could land at another FBS program for the 2015 season.
Mike Shanahan, former NFL coach
Shanahan is probably a realistic candidate for open NFL jobs this offseason, but his name has popped up in some reports for college vacancies. Shanahan worked at Florida from 1980-83. However, he hasn’t worked on the collegiate level since that four-year stint. A longshot to take the job in Gainesville.
Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama
After striking out with a former Nick Saban assistant (Muschamp), it’s unlikely Foley goes in that direction again.
Charlie Strong, Head Coach, Texas
Strong already has a great job – maybe the best in college football. He’s not leaving Austin after one season.
Matt Wells, Head Coach, Utah State
Wells has continued to build off former coach Gary Andersen’s success at Utah State. Despite dealing with significant injuries at the quarterback position the last two years, the Aggies are 17-8 under Wells’ direction.
Why do boxers swish and spit out water instead of drinking it? — Jim Brigman, Jacksonville, Fla.
We posed this question to a guy who’s done a lot of swishing and spitting over the years, 49-year-old boxing legend Bernard Hopkins. Here’s what he told us: “Because our mouths can become dry in the ring, and a lot of times you just want to get your mouth moist enough to be able to continue to the next round. We do swallow some water, though, and spit the rest.”
Are there any outdoor games planned for the NHL season? — Joe Rush, St. Paul, Minn.
The NHL Winter Classic — an outdoor hockey game played at an iconic stadium on New Year’s Day — has become one of the highlights of the sports calendar. The 2015 Classic is set for New Year’s Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and will feature the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals. In addition, the NHL is launching a proposed “Stadium Series” with a game at San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21, 2015, featuring the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
Florida has announced coach Will Muschamp won't return to Gainesville in 2015. The move comes after the Gators lost to South Carolina 23-20 in overtime in Week 12. Muschamp is expected to coach the last two games of the regular season for Florida.
Muschamp went 27-20 in four years at Florida but missed out on a bowl appearance last season with a 4-8 mark.
The Gators were just 17-15 in SEC play under Muschamp and struggled to find answers on offense over the last four years.
Muschamp Out at End of Regular Season; Foley to Begin Search for Next Gators Head Coach http://t.co/ymTl3WbOBn— GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) November 16, 2014
Full statement from athletics director Jeremy Foley: pic.twitter.com/hYVmorQQMK— GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) November 16, 2014
Full statement from Will Muschamp: pic.twitter.com/PyafZHRC9j— GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) November 16, 2014
The sport’s bid at returned relevance has become laser-focused on the instant highlight, every week, during every race. It’s tried to embed the best parts of its most TV-friendly races — restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega — into the season’s every moment and tried to scrub itself of cumulative, long-developing events like a season-long championship or a too-long green flag run.
Those restrictor plate races are sold on the premise that tight racing with no ability for faster cars or better drivers to separate from the field produces surprising results. It can be wildly exciting due to the tight confines and constant potential for on-track disaster. The nature of the races even gives the sport’s back-running teams a chance to win. They often produce the random.
NASCAR has bet that imposing more randomness in its other races, and the season as a whole, is the best way to stir instant interest from both its die-hard fan base and the casual one that has largely averted its gaze in the last decade. It’s a bet — and perhaps something of an impossible last grasp — that today’s sports fan wants to see something noteworthy any and every time they see a NASCAR event.
But the price may be the sport’s authenticity.
Look no farther than the championship model culminating Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. For the first time, the sport has reset its point standings at four scheduled times during the last 10 races of the 36-race schedule. The manual adjustments have drawn championship-hopeful drivers closer and also excluded ones who didn’t perform at the prescribed times — typically with little regard of prior performance.
The changes are creating more do-or-die theatrics at more points late in the season than ever before. There have been fights. There has been foolish on-track behavior. And there has certainly been hard-nosed, good racing. It’s been a lot of instant gratification for fans hoping for drama. But the system is flawed, and it’s rewarding less those who challenge weekly for wins and more those who have either raced more conservatively or are just not as fast. Those who stood out in 2014 — drivers like Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. among others who tallied 71 percent of the season’s wins — have already been excluded from the championship.
Meanwhile Ryan Newman, winless in 2014 and credited with just four top-5 finishes in 35 tries, is one good finish from walking away with the season championship, as are Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.
Harvick and Logano are by far the most worthy of the candidates for the title — Hamlin has only a win to his name this year and the series’ 10th-best average finish — but only Logano had a small semblance of comfort in last week’s final championship-qualifying race at Phoenix. Harvick faced a must-win situation despite having four wins to his name and the fourth-most top-5 finishes.
Making it worse is that Newman secured spot with a dirty move in the season’s penultimate race that knocked Kyle Larson into the wall on the final lap and secured Newman an 11th-place finish. Any other credible racing series would have penalized Newman for the blatant take-out move — it’s specious to argue Newman was even close to racing Larson for the spot at the time — but NASCAR celebrated it. If we’re drawing stick-and-ball equivalents, the move was akin to a basketball team winning a game with a last-second open layup after committing an obvious, yet uncalled foul to take possession and then watching as NBA executives herald the move as true-to-the-roots basketball.
As much as NASCAR is about contact and close racing, it can’t be expected to remain sustainable if even basic tenets of competitive automobile racing are ignored.
More damaging than the championship process, however, may be how the officiating has grown across the board to reflect the interests of marketing the sport instead of fair and authentic regulation. The most visible part of that is the influx of questionable application of caution flags during race events. Andrew Maness, author of the blog RacingNomics, noted recently that cautions for on-track debris are happening at a rate in the last decade typically double and occasionally triple of the previous decade.
Is this era of NASCAR with better car quality control than ever really putting more dangerous pieces on the track? Or are officials using the vague explanation to continually tighten racing and produce more restarts?
It’s hard to see how it’s not that latter.
The result is races that are artificially close and results that are more random. It’s a cheap thrill, a clickbait-type finish.
In recent weeks, the formula has seemingly worked. Ratings for NASCAR’s third- and second-to-last Chase races posted four-year highs and the total viewer count appears to be the highest since 2011.
But clickbait on the Internet — those links posted on social media and other places with eye-grabbing headlines that often link to articles without substance — often draws those cheap clicks before users learn that what they’re reading isn’t what they expected. After a while, a reader starts to tune out that particular source.
Will viewers eventually sour on NASCAR because of its preference for the now, and not the real? When every race finishes with a late restart, and every championship battle is built around a flawed system of identifying the best in favor the random, won’t that expectation of the wild start to feel like the normal? What happens when artificially tight racing becomes uninspiring and expected?
Sports need to be grounded in moments that naturally and organically produce dramatic and memorable moments. In its embrace of the instant, NASCAR is walking a path far from those roots.
Follow @GeoffreyMiller on Twitter.
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Sunday’s slate of action will end with a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff matchup when the New England Patriots face the Indianapolis Colts on NBC. The Patriots (7-2) easily defeated the Colts (6-3) 43-22 in last season’s meeting, as Tom Brady is riding a four-game winning streak over Indianapolis. Two of those victories have come against Andrew Luck (twice), while the others were with Dan Orlovsky and Peyton Manning at quarterback. But all four of those games were played at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Brady is 0–1 on the road at Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008, and has a 3–2 career record in Indianapolis. Overall, Brady is 11–4 against the Colts — who shared the AFC East division with the Patriots until realignment in 2002.
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Indianapolis -2.5
Three Things to Watch
|New England 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs CIN||W 43 - 17||Recap|
|10/12||@ BUF||W 37 - 22||Recap|
|10/16||vs NYJ||W 27 - 25||Recap|
|10/26||vs CHI||W 51 - 23||Recap|
|11/2||vs DEN||W 43 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ IND||W 42 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||vs DET||W 34 - 9||Recap|
|11/30||@ GB||L 21 - 26||Recap|
1. Measuring Stick for Luck
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck can take an important step in his development by playing well against a team that has proved to be his nemesis thus far in his career. In an admittedly small sample size, Luck has had a lowly 51.6 completion percentage with seven interceptions in two games against New England with a passer rating of 58.2 — Luck's worst rating against any team he's faced more than once. In last season's 43–22 playoff loss to New England, Luck completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and threw four crippling interceptions. Like his predecessor in Indy, Luck's ultimate reputation will be based in part on how he performs against the Patriots, and early returns indicate that any coronation of Luck as the clear successor to Brady/Manning is a bit premature. "This team is going as far as Andrew goes," said Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. The jury's still out on just how far that will be.
|Indianapolis 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs BAL||W 20 - 13||Recap|
|10/9||@ HOU||W 33 - 28||Recap|
|10/19||vs CIN||W 27 - 0||Recap|
|10/26||@ PIT||L 34 - 51||Recap|
|11/3||@ NYG||W 40 - 24||Recap|
|11/16||vs NE||L 20 - 42||Recap|
|11/23||vs JAC||W 23 - 3||Recap|
|11/30||vs WAS||W 49 - 27||Recap|
2. Pressuring Brady
The Colts' ability to plant Tom Brady on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf will be a key indicator of success in this matchup. Indy has 24 sacks on the season and will need to muss Brady's hair a bit to disrupt what has become a well-oiled offensive machine. If they don't, it will be a long day for the Indianapolis defense, which has surrendered 31 passing plays of at least 20 yards and ranks 27th with an average of 263.6 passing yards allowed. "They blitz quite a bit more than most of the teams that we've played, which is going to be, I would say, a very critical factor in the game, our ability to handle that," New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. If the Colts can't get to Brady, it could be a big-play fest for the Patriots.
3. P-men on a Roll
The Patriots have had many impressive runs during the Brady-Belichick era, but their current five-game winning streak ranks among the best stretches of football in recent Patriots history. New England is averaging 40.2 points over those five games, handily winning the turnover battle (10-1) during that stretch. Superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski has helped spearhead the run with 36 catches for 516 yards and five scores in that span. Brady's touchdown-to-interception ratio for the last five games? A tidy 18-to-1. He has a staggering 63 completions in his last two outings alone. The Patriots have to be licking their chops in anticipation of facing an Indianapolis defense that is susceptible to big plays. Defensively, the Patriots have 18 takeaways, while Indy has turned it over 15 times. The Colts simply can't help the Patriots in any way with turnovers or penalties if they want to keep it close.
The Patriots are overdue for a bad performance, but a high-profile Sunday night game coming off of a bye week is not a likely spot for a letdown. Andrew Luck and the Colts offense will move the football, but look for an ill-timed turnover or two to turn the game in New England's favor. The Patriots' roll continues.
Prediction: New England 31, Indianapolis 28
The NFC’s best record will be on the line this afternoon when the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals face off on FOX. Entering this season, few if any would have predicted Jim Caldwell’s Lions (7-2) would be in first place in the NFC North this far into the schedule or that Bruce Arians’ Cardinals (8-1) would not only have a two-game lead in the NFC West, but also boast the NFL’s best record.
Leading surprising first-place teams is not the only thing Caldwell and Arians have in common either. Both have won Super Bowls as offensive coordinators (Caldwell with Baltimore in the 2012 season, Arians with Pittsburgh in ‘08) and are former Indianapolis head coaches as well. Caldwell took over for Tony Dungy in 2009 and went 26-22 in three seasons, including an appearance in Super Bowl XLIV in his first season. Caldwell was fired after the 2011 season and replaced by Chuck Pagano, who brought in Arians as his offensive coordinator. In 2012, Arians served as interim head coach while Pagano battled cancer, leading the Colts to a 9-3 record and earning AP Coach of the Year honors in the process. Despite their shared history, this will be the first meeting between Caldwell and Arians as head coaches.
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Arizona -1
Three Things to Watch
|Detroit 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs BUF||L 14 - 17||Recap|
|10/12||@ MIN||W 17 - 3||Recap|
|10/19||vs NO||W 24 - 23||Recap|
|10/26||@ ATL||W 22 - 21||Recap|
|11/9||vs MIA||W 20 - 16||Recap|
|11/16||@ ARI||L 6 - 14||Recap|
|11/23||@ NE||L 9 - 34||Recap|
|11/27||vs CHI||W 34 - 17||Recap|
1. Drew Stanton’s Second Starting Stint
Arizona’s come-from-behind divisional win over St. Louis last week was somewhat bittersweet. At the start of the fourth quarter, Carson Palmer’s left knee appeared to give way when he dropped back to pass. He was eventually carted off the field and later diagnosed with a torn ACL. Drew Stanton replaced Palmer and promptly threw a go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Brown in the Cardinals’ next series. With Palmer on injured reserve and done for the season, this is now Stanton’s team. The pressure is on the seven-year pro to finish what Palmer started – win the NFC West and take this team deep into the playoffs. Stanton has started seven games in his career, but three of those came earlier this year when Palmer was sidelined by a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder. Stanton went 2-1 in those games, beating the Giants and 49ers before losing big to the Broncos in Denver. For the season, Stanton is completing less than half of his passes (46 of 93) for 614 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Stanton hasn’t been asked by Arians to do too much in the pocket, but he’s made plays when he’s needed to and, more importantly, he’s taken care of the football (no turnovers). Arizona has a very good defense and a productive running game powered by Andre Ellington, but much of its success moving forward also will depend on the quality of play it gets from Stanton. And to that end, he better be at the top of his game this afternoon against a Detroit defense that’s ranked No. 1 in the league in both yards and points allowed.
|Arizona 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ DEN||L 20 - 41||Recap|
|10/12||vs WAS||W 30 - 20||Recap|
|10/19||@ OAK||W 24 - 13||Recap|
|10/26||vs PHI||W 24 - 20||Recap|
|11/2||@ DAL||W 28 - 17||Recap|
|11/9||vs STL||W 31 - 14||Recap|
|11/16||vs DET||W 14 - 6||Recap|
|11/23||@ SEA||L 3 - 19||Recap|
2. Ground to Gain?
Besides the aforementioned coaching ties, another thing Detroit and Arizona have in common is what has transpired on the ground. The Lions are No. 2 in the NFL in rushing defense (71.3 ypg) with the Cardinals close behind (78.6). Both teams have allowed just one opponent to rush for more than 100 yards and the most either has given up to a running back is 84. On the flip side, both teams also have had trouble establishing their own running games. Detroit is second to last in the league (77.8 ypg) in rushing offense with Arizona not faring much better at 29th (83.6). In summary, neither team has given much ground this season nor have they gained much. Will either side of this coin flip this afternoon or it will be more of the status quo?
3. Saving the Best for Last
A big reason why Detroit and Arizona are a combined 15-3 entering Week 11 is that both have excelled in late-game situations. The Lions have won four games in a row, with the last three by a combined six points courtesy of fourth-quarter comebacks. The Cardinals have orchestrated three fourth-quarter comebacks of their own, two of which featured the game-winning points within the final three minutes. Detroit did yield an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead at home in its 17-14 Week 5 loss to Buffalo, but the Lions haven’t lost since. In Week 6, two touchdowns in the final 3:38 served as the final points in a 24-23 win over New Orleans at home. Next was a 12-point fourth quarter capped off by a 48-yard field goal with no time left to edge Atlanta 22-21 in London. Then last week, an 11-yard Matthew Stafford-to-Theo Riddick touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining produced a 20-16 win over Miami. The Lions have worked their late-game magic both at home and on the road, while Arizona’s three comebacks have all been at University of Phoenix Stadium. Both teams are certainly no stranger when it comes to late-game heroics, so it will be interesting to see which one gains the upper hand should this afternoon’s proceedings develop into a nip-and-tuck affair through three quarters. And considering just 1.5 points separate these teams when it comes to overall point differential, that’s an entirely plausible scenario.
Detroit hasn’t enjoyed this much success since 1954, while Arizona has seized control of what many perceive to be the NFL’s toughest division, despite having to deal with a rash of injuries. Both the Lions and Cardinals have relied heavily on their defenses, so don’t be surprised if this is a low-scoring affair. Arizona has to carry on without Carson Palmer, but Drew Stanton more than held his own during a three-game starting stint earlier this season. Detroit may seem to have the advantage offensively because of the quarterback situation, but the Cardinals are undefeated at home and Bruce Arians has been pushing the right buttons all season. I don’t expect that to change this afternoon, even with a backup quarterback going up against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense.
Prediction: Arizona 20, Detroit 17
Points could be plentiful at Lambeau Field when the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers get together this afternoon on FOX. The Eagles (7-2) are fourth in the league in scoring at 31 points per game with the Packers (6-3) just a tick behind (30.8). Last week alone they outscored their opponents 100-65.
Philadelphia is percentage points ahead of Dallas (on bye this week) for the top spot in the NFC East while Green Bay trails NFC North leader Detroit by one game. The Eagles are coming off of a season-high 45 points in their Monday night win against Carolina, which also was Mark Sanchez’ first start in place of an injured Nick Foles.
The Packers are a perfect 4-0 at home following a dominating 55-14 victory over the archrival Bears. Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the first half against a helpless Chicago defense. Green Bay’s offense has been clicking lately, averaging 419 yards and 36 points over the past four games.
From a coaching standpoint, Chip Kelly is 1-0 against Mike McCarthy courtesy of a 27-13 victory at Lambeau last season. Foles tossed three touchdown passes in the win, but this game is more remembered because it was the first one Aaron Rodgers missed after breaking his collarbone the previous week. Seneca Wallace started in place of Rodgers, but he left after just one series with a groin injury, giving way to Scott Tolzien. In his first NFL action, Tolzien finished with 280 yards passing, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Green Bay -6.5
|Philadelphia 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs STL||W 34 - 28||Recap|
|10/12||vs NYG||W 27 - 0||Recap|
|10/26||@ ARI||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/2||@ HOU||W 31 - 21||Recap|
|11/10||vs CAR||W 45 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ GB||L 20 - 53||Recap|
|11/23||vs TEN||W 43 - 24||Recap|
|11/27||@ DAL||W 33 - 10||Recap|
Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Offensive Balance
On Monday night against the Panthers, Mark Sanchez completed just one of his first eight pass attempts, but eventually got it going. He finished with 332 yards passing and two touchdowns in the easy 45-21 victory. The 45 points were a season high, despite the fact that Philadelphia had just 37 yards rushing. While Sanchez’ final line looked impressive, he struggled with his accuracy (20-of-38 passing), mishandled two shotgun snaps and got a lot of help from both the defense (5 takeaways, 9 sacks, INT returned for a TD) and special teams (punt return TD).
One of the reasons why Chip Kelly’s offense has worked so well his first two seasons in the NFL is that it’s fueled by tempo and play-calling more than who is under center. The Eagles are fourth in the league in scoring and tied for seventh in offensive plays per game (71) even though they are second to last in time of possession (26:55). Kelly uses a diverse and creative running game to keep defenses off balance, and it is imperative Philadelphia runs the ball against Green Bay for several reasons. First and foremost, the more production the Eagles get on the ground from LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk, the better for Sanchez. From the offensive line to the tight ends, this is by far the best supporting cast Sanchez has had around him as a pro, so why not put it to use? Second, even though Philadelphia isn’t known for time-consuming drives, success running the ball should translate into more scoring opportunities, which would then put more pressure on Green Bay’s offense to respond. It also, to a degree, would reduce the amount of time Aaron Rodgers and company would be able to possess the ball. Lastly, the Eagles need to stay committed to the run because the Packers have done a poor job stopping it this season. Green Bay enters this game 30th in the league in rushing defense and this is after holding Chicago to 55 yards last Sunday. Prior to that game the Packers yielded 193 on the ground to New Orleans and have already given up 200-plus twice (Seattle and the Bears in their first meeting). Sanchez did just fine in his first start, but there’s no reason for Philadelphia’s offense to, well, run solely through him.
|Green Bay 2014 Schedule|
|10/2||vs MIN||W 42 - 10||Recap|
|10/12||@ MIA||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|10/19||vs CAR||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|10/26||@ NO||L 23 - 44||Recap|
|11/9||vs CHI||W 55 - 14||Recap|
|11/16||vs PHI||W 53 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||@ MIN||W 24 - 21||Recap|
|11/30||vs NE||W 26 - 21||Recap|
Green Bay’s Key to Victory: Protect the Franchise
While Philadelphia managed its transition from Nick Foles to Mark Sanchez (at least for one game) under center seamlessly, there’s no question that the most important player on Green Bay’s roster, let alone the offense, is its No. 1 quarterback. Aaron Rodgers has been the MVP of both the regular season (2011) and the Super Bowl (XLV) and he is the career leader in passer rating (106.2). He’s 64-32 as a starter (39-11 at home) and if there was ever any doubt as to how much Rodgers means to the success of this team, look no further than last season. In 2013, the Packers got off to a 5-2 start and entered its Week 9 Monday night home date with the Bears on a four-game winning streak. But Chicago linebacker Shea McClellin sacked Rodgers in the first series, causing him to leave the game. Green Bay lost 27-20, but the real damage had already been done, as Rodgers was diagnosed with a broken collarbone. Beginning with the Monday night loss to the Bears, the Packers went 2-5-1 during Rodgers’ absence. He returned for the regular-season finale against the Bears and threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 46 seconds left to give Green Bay its third straight division title. With Rodgers under center, the Packers are a legitimate NFC and Super Bowl contender, regardless of how poorly the defense is playing or how little support he gets from the running game. Rodgers is a mobile quarterback capable of extending plays in the pocket and picking up yards on the ground when called upon, but he still needs his offensive line to give him time to find a receiver down field and to keep him upright. He has been sacked 20 times in nine games, but nine of those have come in the team’s losses to the Seahawks, Lions and Saints. Philadelphia has made a living putting pressure on the quarterback this season, ranking second in the NFL in sacks with 32. The Eagles sacked Cam Newton nine times on Monday night and have forced 16 (9 fumbles, 7 INTs) takeaways. Kelly’s Chip Kelly’s defense has been very opportunistic with those turnovers (six defensive touchdowns), but this unit also has given up a fair amount of big plays too. For Green Bay’s offense, it all starts under center, which is the one spot on the field Packer fans don’t want to see Matt Flynn. Unless of course their team is up 45-7 in the third quarter.
Unless the weather takes a drastic change for the worse (expected to be cold, but no precipitation or significant wind), this should be a fairly high-scoring affair. Yes, Chip Kelly is employing a backup quarterback, but Mark Sanchez is just part of the equation when it comes to Philadelphia’s up-tempo, creative offense. On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers is the engine that makes Mike McCarthy’s system hum and it’s hard to see this Eagles defense keep the Packers in check all game long. Defense will still play a part, especially if one unit is able to create some turnovers and chip in a big play or two of its own, but in the end this game could come down to which team has to settle for field goals instead of six points. The Lambeau Field tundra may not be frozen just yet, but the Packers are 32-3 in their last 35 regular-season games that Rodgers has started. The Eagles will put up a fight, but R-E-L-A-X Packer fans, your QB’s got this.
Prediction: Green Bay 34, Philadelphia 26
Saturday’s game between Wisconsin and Nebraska was billed as one of the best head-to-head running back matchups of the season. However, the highly anticipated duel between two Heisman candidates was a one-sided blowout in favor of Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.
Gordon earned Athlon Sports Week 12 Player of the Week honors by gashing the Cornhuskers for an FBS single-game rushing record of 408 yards. The junior’s performance led Wisconsin to a critical 59-24 victory over Nebraska and placed the Badgers in command of the Big Ten West Division.
Gordon needed only 25 carries to rush for 408 yards and did not record a touch in the fourth quarter. He also averaged a healthy 16.3 yards per carry and recorded four plays of 40 rushing yards or more.
In 10 games this year, Gordon has 1,909 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. He also has 11 receptions for 83 yards and two scores.
Gordon was on the radar in the Heisman race throughout the season, but the junior should firmly rank among the nation’s top three candidates after a monster performance in a key win over Nebraska.
Defensive Player of the Week: Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
With an unbeaten season and 25-game winning streak hanging in the balance, Ramsey and the Florida State defense stepped up with another strong second-half performance. The sophomore safety was dominant in the 30-26 victory over Miami, finishing with three tackles (one for a loss), one forced fumble, one interception, four pass breakups and a blocked extra point. Ramsey’s interception sealed the victory against the Hurricanes, elevating Florida State to its 26th consecutive victory and its fifth win in a row over Miami. The sophomore also had an impact beyond the box score, as he pressured Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya throughout the fourth quarter and disrupted a handful of plays. Ramsey was already regarded as one of the top safeties in college football heading into this season, but the sophomore is elevating his performance to an even higher level as Florida State looks to earn a spot in college football’s four-team playoff.
Coordinator of the Week: Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia
The performance of Georgia’s defense in Saturday night’s 34-7 is exactly why coach Mark Richt brought Pruitt to Athens after one year at Florida State. In last year’s loss to the Tigers, the Bulldogs allowed 43 points and 566 yards. But under Pruitt’s direction, Georgia’s defense put the clamps on one of the nation’s top offenses. Auburn entered Week 12 averaging 37.3 points in SEC games and averaged seven yards per play this year. The Bulldogs allowed a score on the Tigers’ first drive of the game, but Pruitt’s group pitched a shutout the rest of the way and held one of the nation’s most explosive offenses to just 292 total yards. Auburn had 93 yards on its first two drives but managed just 68 on its next seven. The win over the Tigers was critical to keeping Georgia’s SEC East title hopes alive, and Pruitt’s defense delivered against one of the nation’s top offenses.
Freshman of the Week: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett ensured Ohio State avoided a letdown one week after a huge road win at Michigan State. The redshirt freshman guided the Buckeyes to a 31-24 victory over Minnesota in frigid conditions at TCF Bank Stadium. Barrett completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards and three scores and added 189 rushing yards and one touchdown. He opened Ohio State’s scoring by reaching the endzone on a 86-yard run, which was the longest rush by a quarterback in school history. Barrett has accounted for 38 total touchdowns this year, breaking a record set by Braxton Miller (36) last season.
Tennessee may not have their tight end on Monday night, but Detroit is expected to get three big targets back for its Week 11 showdown against Arizona. Oh and Calvin Johnson will play too.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Mon.)
Questionable – Concussion
Walker left last week’s game against Baltimore with a concussion after taking a big hit following a catch. He didn’t practice at all Wednesday or Thursday, but did get a limited session in on Friday. He’s listed as Questionable and reports are Walker still has to pass one more test to be cleared to play. Walker is the Titans’ most productive pass-catcher and a top-10 fantasy TE, but the combination of him not being completely cleared just yet and playing on a Monday night is more than enough reason to at least have a Plan B ready.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Probable - Ankle
Johnson returned from his three-game absence by catching seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown last Sunday. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but that was more a precaution, as he was back at it on Thursday and Friday. He’s Probable and there’s no doubt that he will be out there today. This is an intriguing matchup against a talented, athletic and physical Cardinals secondary, but he’s still a must-start WR1, as evidenced by our ranking him No. 4 this week.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Seattle Seahawks
Probable – Ribs
Kelce’s still on the injury report, but he once again was a full go at practice and is listed as Probable. He didn’t do much of anything (2 rec., 19 yds.) last week, but could be in line for even more snaps today because Anthony Fasano is Questionable with a bruised knee. Even if Fasano ends up on the field, Kelce is the Chiefs target you want, especially considering the Seahawks have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing TEs this season. A top-10 fantasy TE with a top-10 matchup. What more could you ask for?
Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew, TEs, Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Probable – Hamstring; Probable – Ankle; Probable – Foot
From no healthy tight ends to too many? That appears to be the case for the Lions, as Ebron, Fauria and Pettigrew, who have missed a combined 11 games this season, all practiced to some degree and are listed as Probable. If there’s a leader among this group, it’s probably Ebron, the team’s first-round pick, but his production has been inconsistent to the say the least. Fauria is a legitimate red-zone threat, but that’s also pretty much the only area of the field where the Lions use him, while Pettigrew is basically a blocking TE who catches the occasional pass. Ebron carries the most upside and potential, but probably still needs to show a little more before he becomes starting material, unless you want to take a chance on him as a TE2. I wouldn’t bother with Fauria or Pettigrew.
Week 11’s NFC North tilt between Minnesota and Chicago features a trio of pass-catchers who show up on the injury report. Will the Vikings and Bears have all of their weapons today?
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
Probable – Ribs
Bennett played last week despite being listed as Questionable, so the mere fact he’s Probable pretty much means he’ll be out there again today. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but was a full participant on Friday, which is another strong signal he will play. Bennett clearly didn’t look like himself against the Packers last week, but he’s still an integral part of an offense that really needs a strong showing. He may not be 100 percent, but Bennett needs to stay in your lineup because he’s been a pretty safe TE1 this entire season.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
Probable – Ankle
Among the many things that did not go right for the Bears last week against the Packers, was when Marshall re-aggravated his ankle injury. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but he was out there some both Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable and has yet to miss a game because of this bothersome ankle, so there’s no reason to expect that to change, especially with the Bears desperately needing a win. The Vikings’ defense has been solid this season against the pass, but as long as he plays, you’ve got to start Marshall.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Probable – Abdomen/Groin
Rudolph underwent surgery for a sports hernia on Sept. 23, but after taking part in practice in some capacity every day this week it looks like he’s finally ready to return. Rudolph hasn’t played since Week 3 and didn’t have the greatest stats (10-96-1) prior to his injury, but this is a guy who was viewed as a top-10 fantasy TE entering this season. He should definitely be owned, but don’t be surprised if the Vikings decide to ease him back into action. It’s probably best to leave Rudolph on your bench one more week and see how he fares today.
Already Ruled Out:
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns – Cameron suffered a concussion in Week 8 and is still working his way back. He didn’t practice at all this week and has been ruled out for a third straight game. I would still hold on to Cameron at least until something more definitive comes out regarding his status.
San Diego and Denver will welcome back a couple of rushers in Week 11, but Detroit may be down one of its ball carriers today. Here are some key injuries to pay attention to involving the later games.
Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson, RBs, Denver Broncos at St. Louis Rams
Probable – Groin; Out – Foot; Probable – Knee
The Broncos’ backfield has been in motion recently and it’s set to take another turn today. Hillman has not only been ruled out for today’s game because of a foot sprain, but he’s also expected to miss at least one more. In the meantime, Ball (right) appears a safe bet to return after missing the past five games with a groin strain. But Ball is not the Denver back getting all of the attention this week. No that honor belongs to C.J. Anderson, who worked his way back up the depth chart and came up big (163 total yards, TD) last week. Anderson is the hot hand and the healthiest of the Bronco backs, but that is not a guarantee he will get the bulk of the carries. Ball was the starter entering the season and is a second-round draft pick. Anderson will probably get the majority of the carries today, but it’s best to err on the side of the caution and treat him as a RB2. Ball meanwhile is probably more of a flex flyer because of the time he missed and the uncertainty surrounding his workload. That leaves Thompson, who could end up being the one most affected by this RB roulette, especially if Anderson or Ball gets the goal-line work. For this week, Anderson carries the most upside, Ball the most intrigue and Thompson is probably odd man out.
Ryan Mathews, RBs, San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders
Probable – Knee
Mathews was a full participant every day of practice and is listed as Probable. He is expected to play for the first time since Week 2 and will get the start. Mathews’ return leaves Donald Brown and Branden Oliver to fight for the leftovers. I expect the Chargers to use Oliver similar to how they used Danny Woodhead (on IR) last season, primarily as a receiver out of the backfield. This could make Oliver an intriguing flex option in PPR leagues. Mathews immediately goes back to RB2 status, especially based on his matchup this afternoon against the winless Raiders. I don’t think Brown will see enough touches to merit any fantasy consideration.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. Detroit Lions
Probable – Foot
The coaching staff is wisely limiting Ellington’s practice time, as the Cardinals need their workhorse to stay healthy, especially with Drew Stanton taking over at quarterback for an injured Carson Palmer. Ellington is Probable, so he will be out there today. And even though the Lions are the No. 1 defense in the NFL, Ellington has earned his RB1 status.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Questionable – Ankle
Bush left last week’s game early after re-aggravating a bothersome ankle injury and didn’t practice at all this week. Even though he’s looking (highly) doubtful, the Lions have yet to rule him out officially, listing him as Questionable. If he plays, he will not be anywhere near 100 percent, so that alone is enough reason to leave Bush on your bench. Joique Bell will continue to carry the load for the Lions, while Theo Riddick has more or less taken over Bush’s role. It’s a very tough matchup against a strong Cardinals defense, but Bell remains a low-end RB2 while Riddick is a decent flex candidate.
Already Ruled Out:
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Foles is out for several more weeks with a broken collarbone. Mark Sanchez will make his second start and is coming off of a solid showing (322-2-0) in the Monday night win over the Panthers. Sanchez is certainly QB2-worthy today in what could end up being a shootout against Green Bay, and depending on your options, he could even be QB1 material.
The Giants will finally have their No. 1 RB back in the starting lineup for Week 11, but that’s not the case for the Bengals. Meanwhile, New Orleans’ and San Francisco’s top rushers are banged up, but both are fully expected to play today.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Knee
Jennings practiced, albeit on a limited basis, every day this week and is listed as Probable. So barring a setback leading up to kickoff (1 p.m. ET), Jennings should be back after missing the past four games with a MCL sprain. Jennings’ return pushes rookie Andre Williams to a complementary role, but it doesn’t make him irrelevant. Head coach Tom Coughlin already has said that he doesn’t intend for Jennings to handle a full workload in his first game back, so Williams should get some carries. Still, Jennings is more established and needs to be in your starting lineup. Williams remains flex-worthy, especially with Peyton Hillis going on injured reserve due to a concussion he suffered last week.
Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, RBs, New Orleans Saints vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Probable – Shoulder; Out – Arm; Out – Rib/Shoulder
Despite all the injuries in the Saints’ backfield, the situation is pretty straightforward. Robinson and Thomas will miss yet another game, while Ingram, who is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, is listed as Probable and is a pretty safe bet for at least 20-25 carries today. Ingram has posted three straight 100-yard rushing games, pretty much cementing his status as a must-start RB1. With Robinson and Thomas out, Travaris Cadet figures to get some touches, making him a flex option, particularly in PPR leagues.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants
Probable – Hip
Gore was limited in practice on Wednesday, but was a full go on Thursday and Friday. The veteran is dealing with a hip injury, but he’s listed as Probable and should be fairly busy today against the Giants. Gore is coming off of one of his stronger efforts (81 yds., TD), and has now gotten at least 14 carries in six of the past seven games. The Giants coughed up 140 yards rushing and four touchdowns last week to Marshawn Lynch, so it’s no surprise that they are allowing the most fantasy points to opposing RBs. Gore’s production has left something to be desired this season, but he’s a borderline top-10 RB this week because of his plum matchup. Backup Carlos Hyde also should see some carries, but his touches and production have been so inconsistent it’s probably best to not have to rely on him, even as a flex.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Probable – Ankle; Probable – Foot
It has been a rough season for the Panthers’ backfield, as every running back that has been on the roster has been hurt at one point or another. Stewart was limited in practice this week by an ankle injury, while Williams missed the first two days with a foot injury. However, both were full participants on Friday, are listed as Probable and expected to play. This duo combined for 67 yards rushing on 24 carries on Monday night against Philadelphia, and has scored a total of two touchdowns this season (both belonging to Stewart). There’s no clear-cut workhorse here and it’s really hard to endorse either as a flex option because of the lack of production. If you’re desperate, I would lean towards Stewart over Williams, but you’re probably better off steering clear from this situation.
Already Ruled Out:
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals – Bernard has yet to return to practice while dealing with multiple injuries, so it’s no surprise that the Bengals ruled him out on Friday. Bernard will miss his third straight game, leaving Jeremy Hill and Cedric Peerman to carry the load. Hill disappointed (12 att., 55 yds.) last week against Cleveland, but the rookie from LSU remains a solid RB2 option today versus New Orleans. Peerman is listed on the injury report with a knee issue, but he’s Probable and expected to play. Peerman could be flyer-worthy as a flex option, but only in deeper leagues.
Houston will be without its workhorse for Week 11, but Seattle’s bruising back is fully expected to play. Here are some other key backfield injuries to know about before finalizing your lineup.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Calf/Rib
Lynch didn’t practice at all until Friday, but head coach Pete Carroll said that’s because his workhorse is “just banged-up.” This is understandable considering Lynch punished the Giants for 140 yards rushing and four touchdowns last week. Lynch is listed as Questionable, but there’s no reason to be concerned here. The Seahawks need every yard they can get from their big back against a pretty tough Kansas City defense at home. Lynch is a must-start RB1 firmly entrenched among the top 5 this week and perhaps the rest of the season.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Ankle
The Redskins are coming off of their bye, so it’s possible that Griffin is as healthy as he’s been this season. He was a full go at practice every day and is listed as Probable. He not only will get the start, but RG3 also is a borderline QB1 this week against a Bucs defense that’s giving up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing signal-callers. If you have stuck with RG3 this long, this may be the week that patience pays off.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Probable – Back
McKinnon was the Vikings’ third-round pick in May and all the rookie has done is lead the team in rushing since Adrian Peterson was placed on the exempt list. McKinnon apparently tweaked some sort of lower back injury on Wednesday, but after being limited on Thursday he was a full practice participant on Friday. He is listed as Probable so there’s no reason to not expect him to play. McKinnon should probably be started if he’s on your roster as the Vikings are facing a reeling Bears defense, but just remember that Matt Asiata has been filling the role of the goal-line back (i.e. touchdown vulture), which could impact McKinnon’s potential.
Josh McCown, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Washington Redskins
Probable – Back
McCown suffered a thumb injury in Week 3 and was replaced by Mike Glennon as the Bucs’ starter. After going just 1-4 with Glennon under center, head coach Lovie Smith named McCown the starter prior to last week’s game. Tampa Bay lost again, but McCown posted by far his best numbers (301-2-2) of the season. McCown appears on the injury report with a back issue, but he was a full practice participant and is listed as Probable. The Bucs are a bad team, but this isn’t a bad matchup for McCown, who is worthy of QB2 consideration this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans – Foster injured his groin two weeks ago, but Houston was on bye last week so the expectation was that he would be ready in Week 11. Well Foster didn’t practice at all and even though he was listed as Questionable on Friday, the Texans downgraded Foster to Out on Saturday. With Foster inactive, sixth-round pick Alfred Blue will get the start. Blue filled in for an injured Foster earlier this season, rushing for 78 yards on 13 carries (6.0 ypc) vs. the Giants. Blue may not be Foster, but his workload as the Texans’ starter is enough to view him as a RB2, especially against a Cleveland defense that has struggled against the run.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Martin returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday and Friday, but the team has already ruled him Out for Week 11. This will be the third straight game Martin has missed with an ankle injury, but it’s also safe to say that the team has decided to move on with Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims. Rainey got the start last week, but he wasn’t able to get much going (14 yds. rushing, 41 receiving). Sims, the Bucs’ third-round pick in May, made his much-awaited NFL debut and wound up with a team-high eight carries, but only 23 yards rushing and he also lost a fumble. Rainey may have missed an opportunity to seize the starting job, as it appears the coaching staff wants to see what Sims can do. Both should get touches, but it may take another game or two to figure out how the workload is going to be split. For now, it’s wisest to view Rainey and Sims as risky RB2s and a little safer flex options.
Minnesota’s Dan Lehman went viral during Saturday’s game against Ohio State. Lehman is a sideline staffer for coach Jerry Kill, and Lehman decided to eat an ice cream bar at the start of the second half.
Eating an ice cream bar is totally fine, but Lehman was enjoying the dessert in a game played in the snow and with temperatures around 20 degrees.
This is definitely a peak moment in Big Ten history.
Here's a Minnesota assistant coach enjoying an ice cream treat in 20-degree weather pic.twitter.com/P0x1cxBUQk— Andy Reid (@misterAndyReid) November 15, 2014
Kansas receiver Nigel King provided one of the top catches of the year in Saturday’s game against TCU.
With Kansas leading 20-17 in the third quarter, King caught a pass off a deflection and tipped it back to himself for a touchdown.
Check out King’s crazy tipped pass and reception for a score against TCU:
Which one player in the NBA, NFL or MLB has spent the most years with one team? I’m thinking it’s either Derek Jeter or Tom Brady. — Nelson Jimenez, Stamford, Conn.
Jeter’s not a bad guess; he holds the Yankees’ record for most games in pinstripes with 2,747, over 20 seasons. But in terms of total seasons...
• Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (23 years)
• Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (23 years)
• Jason Hanson, Detroit Lions (21 years)
• John Stockton, Utah Jazz (19 years)
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee vs. Kentucky ($7400)
Mr. Dobbs was magnificent in his last outing with 467 total yards and five total touchdowns. He is a spectacular runner and could make plenty of big plays against Kentucky.
2) QB Treon Harris, Florida vs South Carolina ($4800)
Harris showed his running ability with 49 yards rushing and two scores last week against Vandy. He has a nice match up this week with a South Carolina defense that is really struggling to stop opponents.
1) RB Aaron Green, TCU vs. Kansas ($5200)
Green filled in nicely for BJ Catalon last week with 171 yards and a score against Kansas State. Green could have a huge day against Kansas with or without Catalon on the field.
2) RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State vs. Minnesota ($5600)
Elliott had 154 yards rushing and two scores last week against Michigan State. He could run wild against Minnesota and comes in at a juicy price. Ride this Buckeye.
3) RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee vs. Kentucky ($4700)
Hurd had 183 total yards and a score in his last game against South Carolina. He could find plenty of room to run against a Kentucky defense that is on the decline recently.
4) RB Wayne Gallman, Clemson vs. Georgia Tech ($4300)
Gallman has back to back games over 100 yards rushing and comes in at a ridiculously low price. He appears to be an outstanding punt option this week.
1) WR Mike Williams, Clemson vs. Georgia Tech ($5800)
DeShaun Watson loves to throw to Mr. Williams. He averaged 116 yards and scored four touchdowns in the three games that Watson started earlier in the season. We like this Tiger this week.
2) WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona vs. Washington ($4600)
Jones comes in this week at a dirt cheap price after a bad game last week. A bounce back effort might be in the cards against Washington.
3) WR Devin Smith, Ohio State vs. Minnesota ($4300)
Smith has scored three times in the last two weeks and is a big play waiting to happen for Ohio State. Another trip to the end zone could be in line for Smith against Minnesota.
4) WR Kaelin Clay, Utah vs. Stanford ($3200)
Clay is a big time play maker and is about all Utah has left at the wide out position due to injuries. He is very cheap this week and could easily exceed value.
1) TE David Grinnage, NC State vs. Wake Forest ($3000)
Grinnage has scored a touchdown in three of the last four games and could score against versus a soft Wake Forest defense.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Matt Davis, SMU vs. USF ($6600)
Davis showed off his rushing prowess last week with 181 yards and two scores versus Tulsa. He could have another big day on the ground against a soft South Florida defense. High risk, high reward here folks.
1) RB Marlon Mack, USF vs. SMU ($4400)
Mack will be facing the 115th ranked rush defense in the country. Expect him to see plenty of huge holes to run through and pile up the yards.
2) RB Antoinne Jimmerson, North Texas vs. UTEP ($4000)
Jimmerson had a nice game last week against FAU and will be facing the 74th ranked rush defense this week. A score or two seem within reach this week.
3) RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State vs. Texas ($4400)
Hill filled in nicely for Desmond Roland last week and could see a ton of carries this week with Roland questionable to play. The Texas rush defense is ranked 84th in the nation and could give up a few big plays to the speedy Hill.
1) WR Andre Davis, USF vs. SMU ($5400)
The SMU pass defense is ranked 112nd and is just pathetic. Look for Davis to have a big game and easily reach value.
2) WR Devante Davis, UNLV vs. BYU ($4900)
Davis is a stud fantasy WR who returned from injury last week and racked up 114 yards and a score against Air Force. He looks like a must play at this price!
3) WR Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M vs. Missouri ($4600)
Reynolds had 88 yards and two scores in last week’s upset over Auburn. He was targeted often by Kyle Allen and that could continue this week versus Missouri.
4) WR Chris Conley, Georgia vs. Auburn ($4200)
Conley scored twice last week against Kentucky and will be going against the 99th ranked pass defense of Auburn. He could have another productive night against the Tigers.
1) TE Josiah Price, Michigan State vs. Maryland ($3500)
Price has scored in three of the last four games. He looks to be a solid option against the Terrapins.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Marshawn Lynch was in vintage “Beast Mode” last week, but it's the workhorse who won't be playing on Sunday that's grabbing all of the attention as it relates to Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings for Week 11. Arian Foster injured his groin two weeks ago, but the Texans were on bye last week. With a week to recover, the expectation was that Foster would be good to go on Sunday against a Cleveland defense that is 28th in the NFL in rushing defense. Unfortunately, that's not the case as Foster was unable to practice at all and on Saturday the Texans downgraded him from Questionable to Out. Rookie Alfred Blue will get the start in Foster's place and while he's not as talented and explosive (or experienced) as Foster, he should still make for a decent RB2 this week. Some other key running backs are expected to return this week from prolonged absences due to injury, including Rashad Jennings (MCL sprain), Ryan Mathews (MCL sprain) and Montee Ball (groin strain).
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.
2014 NFL Week 11 Fantasy Football Rankings — Running Backs
Teams on bye: Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville, New York Jets
Updated at 1 p.m. CT on 11/15/14 to reflect the news that Arian Foster will not play on Sunday. Alfred Blue (No. 22) will get the start in Foster's place.
|1||Matt Forte||CHI||vs. MIN|
|2||Marshawn Lynch||SEA||at KC|
|3||Jamaal Charles||KC||vs. SEA|
|4||Le'Veon Bell||PIT||at TEN (Mon.)|
|5||Mark Ingram||NO||vs. CIN|
|6||Eddie Lacy||GB||vs. PHI|
|7||Alfred Morris||WAS||vs. TB|
|8||LeSean McCoy||PHI||at GB|
|9||Andre Ellington||ARI||vs. DET|
|10||Ahmad Bradshaw||IND||vs. NE|
|11||Frank Gore||SF||at NYG|
|12||Shane Vereen||NE||at IND|
|13||Jeremy Hill||CIN||at NO|
|14||Rashad Jennings||NYG||vs. SF|
|15||Steven Jackson||ATL||at CAR|
|16||Jerick McKinnon||MIN||at CHI|
|17||C.J. Anderson||DEN||at STL|
|18||Ryan Mathews||SD||vs. OAK|
|19||Terrance West||CLE||vs. HOU|
|20||Joique Bell||DET||at ARI|
|21||Lamar Miller||MIA||vs. BUF (Thurs.)|
|22||Alfred Blue||HOU||at CLE|
|23||Ben Tate||CLE||vs. HOU|
|24||Trent Richardson||IND||vs. NE|
|25||Tre Mason||STL||vs. DEN|
|26||Bishop Sankey||TEN||vs. PIT (Mon.)|
|27||Jonathan Stewart||CAR||vs. ATL|
|28||Montee Ball||DEN||at STL|
|29||Darren Sproles||PHI||at GB|
|30||Branden Oliver||SD||vs. OAK|
|31||Bobby Rainey||TB||at WAS|
|32||Darren McFadden||OAK||at SD|
|33||Matt Asiata||MIN||at CHI|
|34||Jonas Gray||NE||at IND|
|35||Bryce Brown||BUF||at MIA (Thurs.)|
|36||Charles Sims||TB||at WAS|
|37||Carlos Hyde||SF||at NYG|
|38||DeAngelo Williams||CAR||vs. ATL|
|39||Andre Williams||NYG||vs. SF|
|40||Isaiah Crowell||CLE||vs. HOU|
|41||Theo Riddick||DET||at ARI|
|42||Anthony Dixon||BUF||at MIA (Thurs.)|
|43||Benny Cunningham||STL||vs. DEN|
|44||Knile Davis||KC||vs. SEA|
|45||Roy Helu||WAS||vs. TB|
|46||Travaris Cadet||NO||vs. CIN|
|47||Juwan Thompson||DEN||at STL|
|48||Reggie Bush||DET||at ARI|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
Need more fantasy help? Visit www.FantasyRundown.com.
Is it true that the NFL will require the next Super Bowl halftime performer to pay the league for the chance to play? — Tim Johnson, Phoenix, Ariz.
Not if Katy Perry gets her way, which she usually does. The pop princess and social media phenom (she has more than 58 million Twitter followers) was tabbed for music’s most high-profile gig over fellow finalists Coldplay and Rihanna, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled by reports that this year’s performer would have to pay to play. During her memorable stint as a guest picker on ESPN's GameDay college football preview show, Perry said she’s “not the kind of girl who would pay to play the Super Bowl,” a sentiment she reportedly shared with the other finalists. The NFL doesn’t need more bad PR, nor is the league short on cash, so expect them to withdraw their request for compensation quietly.
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Geoffrey is at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where a batch of storylines lead the series up to the season finale Ford 400. Among them: NASCAR CEO Brian France amending the sport’s domestic violence policy, NASCAR’s changing tune (again) on winning versus consistency, Kevin Harvick’s championship mind games and Carl Edwards’ last ride with Roush Fenway Racing.
France: NASCAR amending domestic violence policy
A little more than a year ago, Travis Kvapil was arrested in North Carolina after assaulting his wife in their Mooresville home. He was held overnight in jail and eventually agreed to a plea deal in the case — admitting that he had, in fact, assaulted his wife.
Kvapil both raced the weekend after his arrest and never faced further punishment from his team or NASCAR after the plea agreement.
Kvapil’s case was brought to light again this week after fellow driver Kurt Busch was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend. Busch has vehemently denied the accusation and hasn’t been charged by police handling the case in Dover, Del., but the incident has sparked discussion about sanctions from NASCAR as the legal part of the process plays out in the wake of the NFL’s handling of domestic violence cases earlier in the year.
According to NASCAR CEO Brian France, that external pressure has led NASCAR to revise its policy for drivers involved in such incidents.
“What’s not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awareness on domestic abuse and violence,” France said. “You can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that’s not going to be tolerated.”
In other words, NASCAR has seen the backlash the NFL took and decided that now is the time to hold drivers accountable if they assault wives or girlfriends. For Kvapil, timing is everything.
France also insisted that NASCAR would wait for more in Busch’s case before acting — despite a U.S. representative in California issuing a statement Friday criticizing NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing for not excluding Busch from participation after last week’s accusations.
“We ought to have a process that gets to the bottom of the facts before anybody does anything,” France said.
NASCAR changes tune on winning and consistency
It’s hardly a secret that Ryan Newman’s presence at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a championship-eligible driver is a thorn in NASCAR’s early season “winning-is-everything” mantra. It was just 10 months ago that Brian France announced the radically overhauled Chase for the Sprint Cup that was supposed to make the championship all but out of reach for drivers who post consistent finishes but don’t win.
“This is different,” France said of the new system in January. “Everything is focused around winning, and that is exactly what our fans want.”
Newman hasn’t won a race in 2014, yet is a 400-mile race away from winning the season championship should be beat the combination of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to the finish line. France was asked about Newman’s opportunity during a rare press conference Friday at the track and dialed back the party line.
“The question is do we have the right balance, and I would say unmistakably that we do,” France said. “I think that wanting to win events has taken on an undeniable importance. At the same time, there ought to be room for teams that do it every week and be consistent.”
Based on how hard NASCAR pushed the idea that winning is the only thing that matters early in the 2014 season, any concession otherwise gives the appearance that the sport’s officials are more happy to follow the sport’s current winds than acknowledge that a new system isn’t working as originally hyped. France did say that more tweaks to the title fight for the 2015 edition aren’t out of question.
“We reserve the right if there’s a modest thing that we might make an adjustment on,” France said.
Harvick has plan for championship success
Kevin Harvick started in with some mind games at the first opportunity this week, critiquing Joey Logano for his assistance of Brad Keselowski at the finish of last month’s Talladega race. Harvick was adamant that moves like that — Logano blocked for Keselowski heavily on the last lap — would be rectified with some sort of on-track karma.
But Harvick, a prohibitive favorite in Sunday’s race with Logano an equal or close second, insisted that he’s not aiming for Logano in Sunday’s race. Instead, he’s got a plan that involves only the efforts of his No. 4 team.
“I’d plan it out by just kicking their butt all day and not having to race anybody,” Harvick said. “I’m hoping for just like last week.”
Harvick dominated a week ago at Phoenix with an untouchably fast car. His win sealed his route to Homestead. But is there a driver that his team has singled-out as the one to beat in order to win the title?
“Oh, that’s a good question,” Harvick said, smiling and seemingly aware of the weight his next words may carry.
He treaded lightly.
“I think right now it’s just about doing what we have to do ourselves,” Harvick said. “I think if we do what we need to do ourselves, that puts us in a better position than worrying about who else we need to beat.”
The weekend started to plan. Harvick qualified fifth for Sunday’s race, better than all of the other Chase drivers.
Gordon proposes Chase drivers use alternate point system
Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday night’s race with a lap 180.747 mph in Friday night’s three-round qualifying session. Had he earned a single point more than Ryan Newman in the third round of the Chase, it would have been a significant feather in the four-time champion’s cap as he vied for the title this weekend.
Instead, Gordon is out of contention. As a result, he’s uniquely qualified to discuss the merits of the new Chase format. He was asked what he’d do differently.
“I think it’s a good system, number one,” Gordon said. “I like how important it is to win, how that moves you from one round to the next.”
But he also offered a tweak: Use a point system for Chase drivers that ranks them independent of non-qualified drivers.
“This would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s system would essentially offer points to drivers in the Chase relative only to other drivers in the Chase. For example, in a 16-driver Chase the top-finishing Chase driver would earn 16 points, second-best in the Chase would earn 15th, third would earn 14, and so on. It wouldn’t matter if the best-finishing Chase driver won and the second-best finished 20th — it would only matter how each Chase driver finished among the others who were qualified.
“You should be racing (Chase drivers),” Gordon said. “Not those guys and all of the other competitors out there. I think you’ve earned that right.”
Gordon would maintain the rule that drivers who win get advanced to the next round — a reward for winning — and the elimination points.
Edwards set for final drive with Roush Fenway Racing
Sunday marks the end a relationship spanning over a decade for Carl Edwards and longtime team owner Jack Roush. Edwards, 35, is leaving Roush-Fenway Racing’s No. 99 car for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 in 2015.
“This has been such a great ride,” Edwards said. “I made a lot of great friends, and basically Jack has made a NASCAR career for me. I want to honor that by performing well.”
Edwards made his first NASCAR national series in the Truck Series in 2002 for Mike Mittler, but found full-time work with Roush’s truck team starting in 2003. He won the 2007 Nationwide Series championship driving for Roush and lost the 2011 Sprint Cup title on a tiebreaker after finishing even with Tony Stewart. Before Sunday’s race, Edwards will have tallied 669 starts for Roush and scored 67 total wins and 262 top-5 finishes.
Edwards isn’t the only driver facing a final green flag with a team this weekend. Trevor Bayne (moving to Roush Fenway Racing) will make his final start with Wood Brothers Racing and Marcos Ambrose (returning to native Australia and the V8 Supercars Championship) will drive for the last time in Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 9.
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Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 14:
• In case you're looking for gift ideas for Paulina Gretzky's baby with Dustin Johnson, she has a gift registry.
• Speaking of Cutler, some really dumb Bears fans got snookered by The Onion.
• Turns out MLB and the feds tag-teamed on Biogenesis.
• Cal's fake punt attempt went horribly wrong.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Florida State puts its 25-game winning streak and No. 3 spot in college football’s playoff standings on the line Saturday night with a trip to Miami. The Seminoles have controlled this rivalry over the last few years, but the Hurricanes have improved in coach Al Golden’s fourth year and have a three-game winning streak entering Saturday night’s matchup
Replicating the effort and performance from one season to the next is an impossible task. Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is still among the best in the nation and should have a good shot to repeat if it wins out and makes the four-team playoff. The Seminoles have question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, yet have won four out of their last five games by at least 11 points.
Miami’s three losses in 2014 came against quality teams (Nebraska, Georgia Tech and Louisville), but this team has benefited from playing in the Coastal Division – the weaker of the ACC divisions. However, the Hurricanes are just one of three teams that rank inside of the top 10 nationally in total offense and total defense in terms of yards per play. Defense was a huge point of criticism in Miami early in the year, but this unit has played better in recent weeks, and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya leads the ACC in quarterback rating.
Miami owns a slight 29-27 edge in the overall series against Florida State. However, the Seminoles have claimed four in a row over the Hurricanes and seven out of the last nine in the series.
Florida State at Miami
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -2.5
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Stop Miami RB Duke Johnson
Johnson suffered a season-ending leg injury in last year’s matchup against Florida State and started the year with four games of less than 100 yards. However, the junior has been nearly unstoppable over the last five games. Johnson has 843 rushing yards in his last five contests, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. The Seminoles rank seventh in the ACC against the run, giving up 135.7 yards per game. In conference-only matchups, Florida State’s numbers are better, allowing just 108.8 yards per game through six ACC games. The Seminoles aren’t strong on the interior as they were last season, especially with the loss of tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Miami’s offensive line has also experienced its share of injuries, and starting left tackle Ereck Flowers is questionable due to a knee injury. The formula for a Hurricanes victory is simple. Johnson needs to have a huge performance and keep Florida State’s offense on the sideline. If Johnson has success, it should open up play-action passes for quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Miami’s Key to Victory: Limit the Big Plays from Florida State’s Offense
The Seminoles averaged 51.6 points per game last season but have dipped to 37.9 in 2014. Why the drop in production? It starts up front with the offensive line. Center Austin Barron has missed the last four games due to an arm injury but could return for action on Saturday. That’s good news for a group averaging just four yards per carry in 2014. In addition to Barron’s return, the Seminoles will be at full strength in the backfield on Saturday night. Running back Dalvin Cook suffered a hip injury against Virginia but is expected to play. Backfield mate Mario Pender has missed three games in a row due to injury and is also expected to be at full strength. Starter Karlos Williams is averaging 4.4 yards per carry but expect to see plenty of Cook and Pender on Saturday night. Quarterback Jameis Winston has carried more of the offensive workload with a struggling offensive line and rushing attack, and the sophomore has 11 interceptions through 294 attempts. Winston threw for 325 yards and two picks in last year’s game against Miami. The Hurricanes have allowed only nine passing plays of 30 yards or more this year and that trend needs to continue on Saturday. Limit the big plays by Florida State and force Winston and his receivers to work the ball down the field in small chunks.
As evidenced on the stat sheet and on film, Miami has improved this year. This is a huge game for recruiting purposes in Florida, and it’s also a chance for Golden to show how far the Hurricanes have come over the last four years. Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013. But that’s not a huge issue. This Seminoles’ team still has a lot of talent and has an edge in that department on Saturday night. Miami keeps it close with Johnson’s running and limits Florida State’s overall possessions by controlling the clock. However, the Seminoles have the better quarterback and a recent edge in this rivalry. Florida State wins by a touchdown and extends its winning streak to 26 games.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Miami 27
Due to conference realignment, Arkansas and LSU won’t meet on Black Friday anymore, but the rivalry between these two schools still exists with the annual Battle for the Boot. And this year’s meeting still has plenty of intrigue, as the Razorbacks are searching for their first SEC win under coach Bret Bielema, while LSU is looking to bounce back after a tough loss against Alabama in overtime last Saturday.
The series between Arkansas and LSU has produced several close games in recent memory. The Razorbacks have lost four out of the last five meetings to the Tigers, but last year’s matchup was only a four-point win for LSU. And very little has separated these two programs in their annual matchup, as eight out of the last nine games were decided by a touchdown or less. Most of Arkansas’ home matchups against LSU in recent years have been played in Little Rock, but this season’s game takes place in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks have not defeated the Tigers in Fayetteville since 1992 and trail in the overall series 36-20-2.
LSU at Arkansas
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas -2
Arkansas’ Key to Victory: Stop the Run
The key to beating LSU is to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Arkansas is allowing 168 rushing yards per game but has held opponents to just three rushing scores in five home contests. The Razorbacks have allowed three consecutive opponents to rush for at least 128 yards, with Georgia torching Arkansas for 207 yards on 39 attempts. LSU leads the SEC in rushing attempts (494) and averages 4.5 yards per attempt. The Tigers feature four players with at least 260 rushing yards, but true freshman Leonard Fournette is the team’s best option (736 yards). Fournette will challenge a good Arkansas defensive front, and stopping the true freshman will play a huge role in how this game is decided. Quarterback Anthony Jennings has yet to complete more than 50 percent of his throws in a game against Power 5 opponents and has completed only eight passes in back-to-back games. Arkansas needs to load the box and stop Fournette, which will force Jennings to take to the air to win this matchup.
LSU’s Key to Victory: Get Arkansas into Third-and-Long Situations
It may sound like a broken record in the keys to victory for both teams, but Arkansas and LSU are very similar in terms of style of play on offense. The Razorbacks boast a massive offensive line and average 248.2 yards per game on the ground. Junior Jonathan Williams leads the team with 877 yards, but sophomore Alex Collins isn’t far behind with 840 yards. Both players have 10 rushing touchdowns. Considering Arkansas has made strides on defense this year and owns one of the SEC’s best rushing attacks, why hasn’t this team won a game in conference play? The answer isn’t as simple as the passing attack, but the Razorbacks need more through the air. Quarterback Brandon Allen has been a better player at home (61% completion percentage to 54% on road) and has struggled on third downs with more than seven yards to go (17 of 38 for 270 yards and three picks). Arkansas wants to establish its rushing attack, but it also needs Allen to hit a few throws to keep the defense off balance. LSU’s defense has played better in recent weeks, and stopping the Razorbacks’ rushing attack and forcing Allen into obvious passing situations would give Les Miles’ team an edge on the scoreboard.
Arkansas has been on the doorstep of a couple of conference wins this year. The Razorbacks lost in overtime to Texas A&M, lost by a point to Alabama and was defeated by a touchdown at Mississippi State – the No. 1 team in the playoff rankings. LSU has rebounded from a slow start in SEC play, but the Tigers are coming off an emotional, hard-hitting game against Alabama. Everything points to an Arkansas victory. Will the Tigers win another crazy, last-minute affair under Les Miles? Nothing in this game would be a surprise, but the guess here is the Razorbacks break through and win their first SEC game under Bielema.