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The stretch from Thursday evening to Saturday night was perhaps one of the most meaningful stretches for the national championship and Heisman races we've seen this season.
The three days and three key games also showed that meaningful doesn’t always go with dramatic.
Baylor started slow Thursday against Oklahoma before the Sooners’ mismanagement of the end of he second quarter allowed the Bears to pile on a pair of touchdowns. Baylor won by 29.
Alabama and LSU played tight in the first half, but the Crimson Tide again leaned on its line and efficient offense to put away LSU by 21.
Stanford did the same against Oregon while stifling quarterback Marcus Mariota to rearrange the Heisman race. The Ducks blocked a punt in the fourth quarter and recovered an onside kick for a six-point margin, but Thursday’s game was never really that close.
Even if the week didn’t bring wild, back-and-forth action from the top games, teams like Texas and Arizona State got all they could handle on the road in victories that will keep their conference championship hopes alive.
Three and Out: Week 11 Recap
Three Things We Learned from Alabama 38, LSU 17
The Alabama defense is as good as ever. Maybe we didn’t need any more confirmation of Alabama’s defense, considering the Tide entered Saturday allowing 36 total points to teams without Johnny Manziel at quarterback. Still, the Alabama defense further proved why the Tide remain the national title favorite. Linebacker Tana Patrick had the play of the game early by stripping J.C. Copeland at the goal line in the first quarter at least until the next play of the game when the defense held LSU to four-and-out after Odell Beckham’s 82-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. LSU’s tailbacks rushed for only 74, and Alabama battered quarterback Zach Mettenberger for four sacks.
McCarron will be the story, but this was Yeldon’s game. AJ McCarron played himself into the Heisman mix if he wasn’t there already by completing 14 of 20 passes for 179 yards with three touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon had just as important a game. Yeldon rushed for 133 yards on 25 carries, with 104 yards of that and two touchdowns in the second half. McCarron may be the Heisman contender, but Yeldon and the Alabama offensive line — considered a liability in the preseason — took over as the Tide opened their lead in the second half.
Saban got a little crazy. Alabama coach Nick Saban may have tipped his hand that LSU is his major prize during the season. Saban reacted with unbridled joy (for him) by jumping into the arms of McCarron after the game, but the signs that LSU was a little different for Saban were clear early on. Alabama called for a fake punt from its own 41 when the game was tied in the third quarter. After the conversion, Alabama took the lead for good. The Tide also tried to build on the lead with a flea flicker that fell incomplete. This wasn’t the highest form of football trickery, but it was out of character for Alabama.
Related: What We Learned from Baylor, Stanford Wins
Moving the Chains
Wisconsin. The Badgers entered the week at No. 24 in the BCS, a ranking that looks more and more preposterous each week. The Badgers shoul continue to move up after defeating BYU 27-17 in an odd November non-conference game against the independent Cougars. After a slow start against Iowa last week, Wisconsin did what it does best against BYU: James White and Melvin Gordon rushed for a combined 227 yards and two touchdowns while the defense was only the second this season to hold BYU to fewer than 400 yards in a game.
Arizona State in the fourth quarter. The big question coming out of Thursday night was how could Stanford lose to Utah? Arizona State found out how as the Utes nearly took out another Pac-12 title hopeful. Arizona State trailed 19-7 entering the fourth quarter as Utah sacked quarterback Taylor Kelly six times. Kelly came back to lead two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter, and the defense intercepted Travis Wilson on the final two possessions to stay in the lead for the Pac-12 South.
Ed Orgeron, USC. The Trojans demolished Cal 62-28 to move to 4-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron as USC remains in the Pac-12 South race. USC, who lost 62-41 to Arizona State in Lane Kiffin’s final game, trails the Sun Devils by a game in the South, but both teams still have to face UCLA. The Trojans’ offense is much improved, but USC also tied an NCAA record with three punts returned for touchdowns against the Bears. Against Cal, quarterback Cody Kessler completed 14 of 17 passes giving him an 81.5-percent completion rate in the last two games. Orgeron may not be the next USC coach, but he may get a second crack at a head coaching job after his dismal tenure at Ole Miss.
Miami. No Duke Johnson, no Phillip Dorsett and no indications of a team that started 7-0. After losing in a rout to Florida State and losing its top offensive player last week, Miami looked deflated in a 42-24 loss to Virginia Tech that opens up the ACC Coastal Division. Miami’s special teams were a disaster as the Hurricanes fumbled on a punt return and a kickoff return and turned the ball over when punter Pat O’Donnell was down on a low snap. Virginia Tech scored on each gaffe. Without Johnson, Miami rushed for 28 yards in the loss.
Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s slim hope of winning 10 games and getting into the BCS mix ended with a 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh as the Panthers finished the job from 2012. Tommy Rees had two second-half interceptions as Pittsburgh outscored the Irish 21-7 after halftime.
Michigan’s run game ... again. Someone needs to remind Michigan the cloud of dust is supposed to move three yards forward. A week after Michigan State pushed Michigan back 48 yards on the ground, Nebraska did the same for 21 yards, giving Michigan minus-69 rushing yards in the last two games. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has been sacked 14 times in two weeks but outside of those sacks, Michigan has rushed for 30 yards on 50 carries in the last two games.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Hobbled by a knee injury, Mariota was less mobile in the 26-20 loss to Stanford, but even a healthy Mariota would have had trouble against the Cardinal defense Thursday night. Mariota finished 20 of 34 for 250 yards with two touchdowns, but he fumbled three times, losing one. The loss and his off game reshuffles the Heisman race for the remainder of the season.
Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty was out of sync early against the Oklahoma pressure, but he still finished with five total touchdowns, including two rushing touchdowns. Petty had a season-low 249 yards of total offense, but he finished where it counted with an unblemished record.
Myles Jack, UCLA. Let’s go ahead and put him on a dark horse list for 2014 or 2015. The Bruins’ freshman linebacker was a treat for anyone who stayed up late on the East Coast. Jack finished with eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble, but the twist was an offensive package that resulted in a 66-yard touchdown run in UCLA’s 31-26 win over Arizona. Jack led UCLA in rushing with 120 yards on six carries.
6. Interceptions thrown by Wake Forest against Florida State. Florida State needed little out of Jameis Winston this week thanks to the Wake Forest quarterbacks. Tanner Price and Tyler Cameron threw six interceptions in their first 10 attempts in a 59-3 loss to FSU. Wake added a seventh turnover when freshman Jalen Ramsey returned a fumble for a touchdown.
11. Completed passes/offensive touchdowns for Auburn in the last two weeks. Say this for Auburn: The Tigers know their offensive identity. In SEC road routs of Arkansas and Tennessee, Auburn has had as many offensive touchdowns as completed passes (11). Auburn rushed for 444 yards against Tennessee, led by quarterback Nick Marshall’s 214 yards and running back Tre Mason’s 117. Marshall only needed to complete 3 of 7 passes for 35 yards for Auburn to beat Tennessee 55-23.
Plus-1. Houston’s turnover margin against UCF. Even in a 19-14 loss to UCF, Houston managed to stay on the right side of the turnover margin as the Cougars have in every game this season. Houston quarterback John O’Korn threw two interceptions, but UCF had turnovers on its first two possessions and a second fumble in the third quarter. Houston’s plus-2.33 mark per game would rank fourth all-time if the season ended today.
Buried on the Depth Chart
Kapri Bibbs’ 300-yard day. Colorado State all-name running back Kapri Bibbs rushed for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-17 win over Nevada. Bibbs’ 312-yard effort is the second most in a game this season and most for a tailback. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch rushed for 316 against Central Michigan on Oct. 19.
Bad English. Eastern Michigan coach Ron English was fired for the rare offense of “inappropriate language” Friday. Under interim coach Stan Parrish, the Eagles defeated Western Michigan 35-32 the next day.
Old Dominion’s FBS win. Old Dominion, set to join Conference USA in 2015, defeated its first FBS opponent with a 59-38 win over Idaho. The Monarchs have one of the best passing attacks at the FCS level as junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke passed for 533 yards against the Vandals.
Three Old Names that Suddenly Became Relevant
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Scott Shafer, Syracuse
First-Year Coaches With a Ton of Work Ahead
Dave Doeren, NC State
Sonny Dykes, Cal
Brian Polian, Nevada
Dang, They’re Good
Dang, They’re Bad
Best Non-Saturday Games Next Week
Ball State at Northern Illinois (Wednesday)
Georgia Tech at Clemson (Thursday)
Washington at UCLA (Friday)
Best Games Saturday
Stanford at USC
Oklahoma State at Texas
Michigan State at Nebraska
Emmitt Smith. The NFL’s all-time rushing leader was a sophomore at Florida the last time the Gators lost to Vanderbilt. To find a name on the last Vanderbilt team to win in Gainesville, you’d have to find a figure more obscure: How about Vanderbilt coach Doby Bartling, who led the Commodores to their last win there in 1945. Vanderbilt defeated Florida 34-17 on Saturday to end a 20-game winless streak at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Danny Wuerffel. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw two touchdown passes against Appalachian State to move ahead of the former Florida quarterback in career touchdown passes in the SEC. Murray holds SEC career records for passing touchdowns (115), passing yards (12,568) and total offense (12,896).
Still Alive for Conference Titles
Texas. True, Texas would have remain in Big 12 contention if the Longhorns lost in Morgantown, but maintaining an unblemished league record has to be good for Texas’ psyche. The Longhorns defeated West Virginia 47-40 in Texas’ second overtime game in school history to set up another key game next week against Oklahoma State. Texas had five takeaways, sacked West Virginia quarterbacks six times and knocked starting QB Clint Trickett out of the game, but still ended up in overtime. West Virginia had three touchdown drives of less than 60 yards to threaten Texas’ undefeated Big 12 record.
Nebraska. This hasn’t been a fun year for Bo Pelini at Nebraska between the loses to UCLA and Minnesota, leaked audio disparaging Nebraska fans and his brother being fired at FAU. But Nebraska can still reach the Big Ten title game after slogging its way to a 17-13 win over Michigan. The Cornhuskers defense has struggled for most of the season, but they took advantage of Michigan’s inept run game. The story, though, may be Tommy Armstrong, who started again in place of beat up starting quarterback Taylor Martinez. Armstrong went 11 of 19 for 139 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions as he moved to 4-0 in the Big Ten as a starter.
Duke. The Blue Devils remain in contention for the ACC Coastal after a 38-20 win over NC State. The Wolfpack took a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but Duke scored 21 points in 26 seconds thanks to freshman safety DeVon Edwards returning a pair of interceptions (from two different quarterbacks) for touchdowns. Duke is 3-2 in the ACC with a matchup against slumping Miami next week.
Three Teams that Will Be Fun to Watch Down the Stretch
Auburn. Not even the most optimistic Auburn fan could have pegged the Tigers at 9-1 with the SEC West still up for grabs in the middle of November. Auburn rushed for 444 yards and five touchdowns in the 55-23 win over Tennessee to give the Tigers a chance to win the West against rivals Georgia and Alabama in the final two games of the season.
Kansas State. Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State are in Big 12 title contention, and all played Kansas State early in the season. That’s not a coincidence. Kansas State has recovered from its shaky start to the season, which included a loss to North Dakota State. After a 49-26 win at Texas Tech, Kansas State is playing as well as any team in the Big 12. No matter the quarterback, Kansas State had a vintage Bill Snyder performance. K-State only needed 76 passing yards to beat Texas Tech, instead running for 292 yards and five touchdowns against the Red Raiders. John Hubert had his best game of the season (23 carries, 258 yards, one touchdown), and the defense capitalized on three turnovers. With home games against TCU and Oklahoma and road date with Kansas remaining, an eight-win regular season isn’t out of the question.
Minnesota. The Gophers are still in contention for the Big Ten Legends division, and there’s plenty of reason to take Minnesota seriously. The Gophers are off next week but finish with Wisconsin (Nov. 23) and at Michigan State (Nov. 30). Credit the hot streak to the backfield of quarterback Philip Nelson and David Cobb. Nelson has accounted for 10 total touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games, and Cobb has rushed for 566 yards in that span.
It’s Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better
Florida. On paper, Florida’s easiest route to a bowl game was to defeat Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern to get to six wins. With a 34-13 loss to the Commodores, the Gators need to get two wins against Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Florida State to extend their bowl streak to 23 seasons. Florida last missed a bowl game in 1990 when the Gators were under NCAA sanctions. Florida is also looking at its first losing season since going 0-10-1 in 1979.
Texas Tech. The 7-0 start is a distant memory. The Red Raiders won’t play in Lubbock again until next season, closing out the home schedule with losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State by a combined score of 101-60. The freshman quarterbacks, impressive to start the season, have struggled the last two weeks. Coach Kliff Kingsbury benched Davis Webb (13 of 20, 79 yards) for Baker Mayfield, who threw two interceptions and was sacked twice against K-State. The defense has been a mess as well, not a good sign when the final two games are against Baylor in Arlington and Texas in Austin.
Arkansas. In some ways, things may be getting better for Arkansas as the Razorbacks scored 17 points against Auburn and 24 points against Ole Miss on Saturday. Before that, the Razorbacks scored 17 points combined against Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. Still, Arkansas has lost seven in a row and started 0-6 in the SEC, the Hogs’ first 0-6 start in league play since doing so in the Southwest Conference in 1990.
Alabama proved it’s the No. 1 team in the SEC — and the nation — with an impressive 38-17 win over LSU on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Vanderbilt beat Florida with surprising ease in Gainesville; Auburn ran past Tennessee in Knoxville; Missouri rolled past undermanned Kentucky in Lexington; and Ole Miss handled Arkansas in Oxford.
SEC Week 11 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Nick Marshall, Auburn
On the Tigers’ first possession against Tennessee, Gus Malzahn called four straight pass plays. The result was a punt. Wisely, Malzahn decided to let Marshall’s legs do the work. The electric quarterback rushed for 214 yards on only 14 carries (15.3 ypc) as the Tigers racked up 444 rushing yards in a 55-23 win in Knoxville. Marshall now has three games with a least 100 yards rushing and three games with at least 200 yards passing — including one when he accomplished both, at Texas A&M
Defensive Player of the Week: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Mosley was a force for an Alabama defense that limited LSU to a season-low 284 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s 38-17 win in Tuscaloosa. Mosley, a senior linebacker, recorded a game-high 12 tackles (including 1.5 for a loss) and had two pass break-ups to spearhead the Bama defense. He leads the Tide in tackles with 71 — 23 more than anyone else on the team.
Team of the Week: Vanderbilt
Despite gaining only 183 total offense, Vanderbilt dominated Florida wire-to-wire en route to its first win over the Gators since 1988 and first win in Gainesville since 1945. The Commodores’ 31-17 victory was keyed by a defense that forced four turnovers and sacked Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy five times. Vanderbilt’s first three touchdown drives — all set up by Murphy interceptions — went for 10, 22 and 4 yards. Then, after Florida cut the deficit to 24-10 midway through the third quarter, the Dores marched 87 yards on 17 plays on a drive that was capped off by Jerron Seymour’s third touchdown of the game. The Commodores are now 5-4 overall and need one win to become bowl-eligible for the third straight season.
Coordinator of the Week: Kirby Smart, Alabama
For the first time since mid-September, Alabama gave up more than 10 points in a game. That’s the bad news (and that’s a stretch). The good news? LSU averaged a season-low 5.3 yards per play, netted just 43 yards rushing and only scored three points in the second half. After giving up a field goal on LSU’s first drive of the third quarter, the Alabama defense took over, allowing only 35 yards on LSU final three possessions. In nine games, Alabama has allowed a total of 11 touchdowns and is giving up 10.6 points per game.
Freshman of the Week: Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk made the most of what could be his final start of the 2013 season. The Ohio native completed 17-of-18 passes for 203 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in Missouri’s 48-17 win at Kentucky. Four of Mauk’s five TD tosses went to sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught seven passes for 100 yards to go along with his four scores. Mauk, who is 3-1 as the starter, is expected to give way to senior James Franklin when the Tigers return to action in two weeks.
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1||1||9-0, 6-0||W, LSU 38-17||at Miss. State|
|2||3||9-1, 5-1||W, Tennessee 55-23||Georgia|
|3||4||8-2, 4-2||W, Miss. State 51-41||Bye|
|5||6||9-1, 5-1||W, Kentucky 48-17||Bye|
|6||7||6-3, 4-2||W, App. State 45-6||at Auburn|
|7||8||6-3, 3-3||W, Arkanas 34-24||Troy|
|8||2||7-3, 3-3||L, Alabama 38-17||Bye|
|9||10||5-4, 2-4||W, Florida 34-17||Kentucky|
|10||9||4-5, 3-4||L, Vanderbilt 34-17||at South Carolina|
|11||11||4-6, 1-5||L, Auburn 55-23||Bye|
|12||12||4-5, 1-4||L, Texas A&M 51-41||Alabama|
|13||13||2-7, 0-5||L, Missouri 48-17||at Vanderbilt|
|14||14||3-7, 0-6||L, Ole Miss 34-24||Bye|
The NFC’s hottest two teams go head-to-head when the Carolina Panthers square off with the San Francisco 49ers at 4:05 p.m. ET on FOX. This is a matchup of second-place teams, as the Panthers (5-3) trail the Saints by one game in the NFC South and the 49ers (6-2) are behind the Seahawks by a game and a half in the NFC West.
The Panthers have won four games in a row behind a more efficient Cam Newton and one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, while the 49ers have rattled off five wins a row by dominating teams on both sides of the ball and thanks to more consistent play from Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco is averaging 34.8 points per game during this streak and has outscored opponents by 22.6 points per contest.
These two teams have played each other 17 times with Carolina leading 10-7 in the series. The Panthers have won the last three meetings, but this will be Newton’s first game against the 49ers and likewise Kaepernick’s first versus Carolina.
3 Things to Watch
Cam vs. CK
When it comes to the evolution of the quarterback position in the NFL, two of the first names that come to mind are Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick, both members of the 2011 draft class. After being the No. 1 overall pick of that draft, Newton has helped usher in the new era of dynamic, athletic, dual-threat signal-callers. The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year his first season, Newton has developed as both a passer and decision maker and has taken his game to a new level this season. Through eight games, Newton is completing a personal-best 64.4 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has been even sharper over his last four outings, posting a completion percentage of 72.3 with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. While he may not be running as much as he did in his first two seasons, Newton still is making things happen with his legs. He is averaging 4.6 yards per carry with four rushing touchdowns, three of those coming in his last four games. Kaepernick went in the second round of the ’11 draft, 35 picks after Newton and had to wait even longer to get on the field. His first significant action didn’t come until midway through last season when he took over for an injured Alex Smith. Once Kaepernick got the job, however, he never looked back, going 5-2 in the regular season, leading the 49ers to the NFC West crown. But where Kaepernick really shined was in the playoffs, starting with a game to remember in the NFC Divisional round against Green Bay. Against the Packers, Kaepernick broke the NFL single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 181. He also threw for 263 yards and had a total of four touchdowns in the win. Even though San Francisco came up short against Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII, the future seemed incredibly bright for the newest dual-threat quarterback to burst onto the scene. This season started great for Kaepernick, throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 1 victory over Green Bay, but he has struggled to replicate that sort of statistical success. For the season, Kaepernick is completing just 57.1 percent of his passes (62.4 in 2012) and has accounted for a total of 12 touchdowns (9 pass, 3 rush) with nine turnovers (5 INTs, 4 fumbles). The good news is Kaepernick has played better during the 49ers’ current five-game winning streak. He has nine total touchdowns (6 pass, 3 rush) and just three turnovers (INT, 2 fumbles) in his last five outings. Even though Newton has been more productive and efficient so far this season, Kaepernick is just as capable of breaking out at any point. The bottom line is these two quarterbacks are similar in many ways and it will be interesting to see which one puts together the better performance this afternoon.
San Francisco may have the reputation as being one of the NFL’s nastiest defenses, but Carolina’s unit is putting up better numbers this season. Both are ranked in the top six in the league in yards and points allowed. The Panthers are second in rushing defense (79.1 ypg), while the 49ers are ranked 11th (104.6 ypg). A total of 0.3 yards per game separates the two teams when it comes to passing defense and both are giving up fewer than 18.2 points per game. The Panthers have allowed 20 points or more in a game just twice all season, while the 49ers have surrendered an average of 12.2 points per contest during their five-game winning streak. Both defenses have star power at every level and each is capable of completely taking a game over. If there is any weakness to either defense it’s getting to the quarterback, as neither team ranks near the league leaders in sacks. Both offenses do a solid job of protecting the quarterback, so if one defense is able to pressure the pocket this afternoon it could be a determining factor. Otherwise, if you like defensive football this could be the type of game for you because if both units are at the top of their games, points may be hard to come by at Candlestick Park.
Offensive Supporting Cast
As talented and explosive as Newton and Kaepernick are, they cannot be asked to do it all on offense, especially against two of the top defenses in the NFL. Each quarterback will need their teammates to step up, whether that is in the running game or as a receiver. San Francisco is No. 1 in the league in rushing offense right now at 153 yards per game, while Carolina is eighth (130.1 ypg). Newton and Kaepernick haven’t been as busy running the ball as they were last year, which means more carries for the backs. DeAngelo Williams is the Panthers’ leading rusher with 519 yards, but he gets plenty of support from Mike Tolbert, who is tied for the team lead with four rushing touchdowns, and Jonathan Stewart, who made his season debut last week after undergoing offseason ankle surgery. For the 49ers, Frank Gore continues to get the job done, as he’s seventh in the league in rushing (618 yards) and has scored seven times on the ground. Neither offense has been prolific in the passing game with Carolina at 202.6 yards per game and San Francisco last in the NFL at 189.9. That doesn’t mean either offense doesn’t have any playmakers, however, as wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell and tight end Greg Olsen serve as Newton’s top targets. Kaepernick has leaned heavily on wideout Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis this season, as the two have combined for more than half (67) of the 49ers’ receptions (114), more than two thirds of the yards (1,069 of 1,587) and all nine touchdown catches. A big reason for this has been the absence of Michael Crabtree, the team’s top pass-catcher last season, who tore his Achilles in late March. Crabtree could be back in a few weeks, but the offense is expected to have veteran Mario Manningham in the starting lineup this afternoon. Manningham tore his ACL late last season and while he’s not as talented, explosive or productive as Crabtree, his return should help boost a passing attack that needs more reliable options. Whether it’s a Panther or a 49er, someone other than the quarterback will need to step up and make a big play, pick up a key first down or provide some sort of meaningful contribution to help put their team in position to win. Because in a game like this with seemingly evenly matched teams and strong defenses, one key play or drive could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Carolina Key Player: Steve Smith, WR
The veteran Smith has been the Panthers’ top wide receiver for more than a decade. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and total touchdowns, and quarterback Cam Newton has relied on him heavily since coming into the NFL in 2011. Smith also is 34 years old and playing in his 13th season, and his numbers have been down across the board thus far. He is leading the team in catches with 36, but he has just 387 yards receiving and three touchdowns. His season-high for catches in a game is six (Week 1) and his best yardage total has been only 69 (Week 7). These are the not the numbers of a No. 1 wide receiver, especially not the caliber of Smith. Newton has been on fire recently, completing better than 72 percent of his passes and he has done most of this without Smith’s assistance. This needs to change if the Panthers want to beat the defending NFC champions on their home turf and in the process send a message to the rest of the NFL that they are a team to be feared. After all, Smith’s penchant for trash talk is well known. Instead of just talking a big game, it’s time for him to follow through with one on the field too.
San Francisco Key Player: Aldon Smith, LB
The 49ers have arguably the top linebacking corps in the NFL. Led by Patrick Willis, the group also features fellow All-Pros NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Smith. A pass-rushing specialist, Smith amassed 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons, the most of any player in NFL history. He leads the team in that category again this season with 4.5 and he has done so in just three games. Smith has been out of action since Week 3 so he could seek treatment for his substance-abuse issues. He was suspended by the team during this time, and while he still may have to deal with the NFL in regards to additional punishment stemming from his various legal matters, Smith was re-activated from the non-football illness list on Tuesday and is expected to be on the field this afternoon. While the priority is on Smith getting his life in order and staying clean and sober, his return should energize a defense that has struggled to pressure the quarterback consistently. As well as the defense has played during this five-game winning streak, allowing just 12.2 points per game, the unit has a total of five sacks in the past four contests. Remember, Smith has 4.5 by himself in three games this season and racked up 5.5 in a single contest last season against Chicago. Who knows how much better this defense can get now that it has its sack-master back?
Cam Newton has his Panthers above .500 for the first time in his career, but he’s not doing it alone. Carolina’s defense is third in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points, and quickly establishing its own reputation.
San Francisco has won five games in a row in dominating fashion and has done this without a huge contribution from Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers are coming off of a bye and are getting some major reinforcements with several players returning, most notably All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith.
To me, this is a game of similar, evenly matched teams that are where they are thanks in large part to their defenses. Newton has never been more efficient running the offense, and his numbers show this. I also truly believe that Carolina is a legitimate playoff contender in the NFC. However, San Francisco is red hot right now and that’s without Kaepernick being at his best. The 49ers are more seasoned and battle tested than the Panthers and I think that will be the difference in what I expect to be a back-and-forth, physical, grind-it-out type of game.
In the end, Kaepernick flashes some of his 2012 postseason form on a key scoring drive in the fourth quarter and the 49ers get significant contributions from the cavalry, namely Smith. Newton holds his own and the Panthers show they are a worthy potential challenger to the 49ers’ throne, but the defending NFC champs make it six victories in a row by taking care of business at home.
San Francisco 23, Carolina 20
Tony Romo and the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face Drew Brees and the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints in tonight's key intra-conference matchup on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" at 8:30 pm ET. The Cowboys (5-4) are still looking for a statement win after dropping a close game to Peyton Manning and the Broncos a few weeks ago, while the Saints (6-2) look to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
3 Things to Watch
If you like offense then you're sure to like this game, in which the ball will be chucked up and down the field for 60 minutes. Drew Brees is second in the NFL in passing yards with 2,672 and Tony Romo is fifth with 2,553, while both rank in the top eight in pass attempts. Both signal-callers, along with Peyton Manning, are the only quarterbacks with at least 20 touchdown passes, and both are among only five with a quarterback rating over 100.0 on the season. As a result of their success, each has a pass-catcher in the top 10 in the NFL in yards, receptions and touchdowns. Both tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Dez Bryant have proved to be big-play threats, as Graham has 11 catches of 20+ yards and Bryant has seven. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these teams can put up points. Dallas has already scored 30 or more points on five different occasions, while the Saints have registered more the 26 points in six straight games. The Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in points per game with 28.6 and the Saints are seventh, averaging 27 points per contest.
Saints' Injury Report
After a tough loss to the Jets last week, New Orleans headed home from New York a battered and bruised football team. On their injury report Jimmy Graham (foot, elbow), Marques Colston (knee), Jahri Evans (hip), Malcolm Jenkins (knee), Roman Harper (knee), David Hawthorne (toe), Curtis Lofton (hamstring, ankle), and Cameron Jordan (ankle) are all listed as questionable this week. Seven of these players are starters and all are key contributors. Noteworthy among these are Colston and Graham, who have managed to practice every day this week, albeit on a limited basis. If there's any week for the Cowboys to face this Saints, this appears to be the most advantageous.
Struggling Rushing Attacks
The ground game is not where these two teams excel. The Saints make use of four backs, each having received 20 carries; however, they only have two rushing touchdowns as a team. In fact, rookie Khiry Robinson is the only back with a rushing touchdown, while the more well-known names of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram have averaged just 3.4 yards per carry as a group and none have registered a rush of over 20 yards. For Dallas, DeMarco Murray is clearly the lead back as he has more than double the amount of carries of anyone else on the team. However, the Cowboys really haven't gone to him as much as they need to. Murray broke open for a 27-yard run on Dallas' opening drive last week against Minnesota and proceed to get three more carries the rest of the game. Head coach Jason Garrett can't ignore Murray's impressive 4.9 yards per carry average, especially against a Saints defense that has given up 4.9 yards per rush this year.
Key Player for New Orleans: Kenny Stills, WR
With injuries possibly hampering tight end Jimmy Graham (foot/elbow) and wide receiver Marques Colston (knee) the young wide receiver will need to continue to step up. Over the last three weeks, Stills has three receiving touchdowns and has developed a good rapport with quarterback Drew Brees.
Key Player for Dallas: DeMarcus Ware, LB
The Cowboys gladly welcome back their best defensive weapon. Ware missed the last three games with an injured quad that appears to have healed up enough for him to return for tonight’s matchup with the Saints. The key to stopping Drew Brees is putting pressure in his face, as his completion percentage falls 25.1 percent and his quarterback rating drops 42 points when he's blitzed.
The Saints are banged up, especially on the defensive end, while Dallas gets DeMarcus Ware back. I think this is the week Tony Romo takes down one of the NFC's best teams and the Cowboys officially arrive as a serious contender in the NFC.
Dallas 31, New Orleans 28
The Saints should have their sparkplug back for tonight’s primetime matchup, while the Texans and Buccaneers will have to make do without their workhorses in Week 10, if not longer. Here are those and some other injured running backs you need to know about.
Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys
Sproles posted just one catch for two yards last week against the Jets before leaving the game with a concussion. The good news is that he practiced all week, has been cleared to return and is listed as Probable for tonight’s game. Sproles has been somewhat inconsistent this season, but his versatility and role in the Saints’ explosive offense is enough to keep him in your lineup, especially in PPR leagues. The Cowboys are second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed and this could be a fairly high-scoring affair. Sproles’ return doesn’t impact Pierre Thomas (right) that much, but it could mean fewer touches for Mark Ingram, who is averaging 2.4 yards per carry and carries little fantasy value at this point.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Jones-Drew was limited in practice Friday, which is not a good thing, because of a knee issue, but he is listed as Probable on the injury report. Unless something changes, MJD should be out there, but it’s been a struggle for him this season. Although he has been able to stay healthy after playing in just six games last season, MJD has just two touchdowns and is averaging 3.2 yards per carry. The Titans have struggled some against the run (122.5 ypg), but there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest MJD will break out this week. His ceiling is probably set at RB2 with RB3/RB4/flex-type production more likely.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants vs. Oakland Raiders
Jacobs’ hamstring injury must be really bad because not only has he missed the past two games, he is still listed as Doubtful for today’s game despite the fact the Giants are coming off of a bye. Honestly, at this point Jacobs may be droppable, especially since Andre Brown is expected to make his season debut after breaking his leg in the final preseason game. Expect Brown to be fairly active today against the Raiders with Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox possibly figuring in. Brown is the Giant running back you want to own.
Already Ruled Out
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans – This is the big one, as Foster has already been ruled out and there have been reports he may need season-ending surgery on his back. He apparently suffered the injury in the first series of last week’s game against Indianapolis, and he looks to miss at least a few more games, if not the rest of the season. Ben Tate is playing with four broken ribs, but he is Probable and should get the majority of the carries with undrafted rookie Dennis Johnson providing the occasional breather. For now, hold pat with Foster, but be sure you have a plan B (or C) on your roster. As long as Tate can play with the broken ribs, he looks the part of a reasonably safe RB2 with upside.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – After missing the past two games because of a shoulder injury, Tampa Bay placed Martin on season-ending injured reserve this week. Martin is now droppable in any league except a keeper/dynasty, as Mike James will remain the starter. James went for 158 yards rushing against Seattle last week and on Monday night faces a Miami defense that has given up nine rushing touchdowns. James is a RB2 option for the rest of the season and could possibly move into RB1 territory if he continues to produce and has a good matchup.
Beast Mode could be unleashed in Atlanta, while a rookie running back is aiming for a third straight 100-yard game in Week 10. What other injured running backs do you need to keep an eye on before setting your lineup?
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Lynch is still listed on the injury report with a knee injury, but he is Probable and will play in the rematch of last season’s NFC Divisional round matchup with the Falcons. Lynch rumbled for 125 yards last week against Tampa Bay and is a RB1 this week going up against a Falcons defense that is giving up more than 116 yards rushing per game.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams at Indianapolis Colts
Stacy has put together back-to-back impressive performances, rushing for a total of 261 yards in his last two games. He is listed on the injury report with a foot issue, but he practiced fully on Friday and is Probable for today’s game. Stacy may be a rookie, but he’s all but secured nothing less than RB2 status from here out. In fact, he could make it three 100-yard games in a row today considering the Colts are near the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense at 124.9 yards per game.
Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts vs. St. Louis Rams
Richardson didn’t practice at all on Wednesday because of an ankle injury, but he was able to put in a full session on Friday. Although Questionable, head coach Chuck Pagano expects him to play. Unfortunately, questionable also can be used to describe Richardson’s production since being traded to the Colts. In six games he is averaging less than 42 yards rushing per game and has scored two touchdowns. The coaching staff also may be losing patience with Richardson, as he carried the ball just eight times last week against Houston. Donald Brown is very much a factor when it comes to the Colts’ backfield, so it’s just a matter of can you stomach the potential of another poor performance from Richardson this week?
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. Houston Texans
Mendenhall missed the Cardinals’ Week 8 win over Atlanta with a turf toe injury, but he was able to heal during the team’s bye week and not only is he Probable for today’s home game, he is expected to start. That said, rookie Andre Ellington posted 154 yards rushing in that victory against the Falcons, and he figures to see the majority of the touches moving forward. Mendenhall won’t be completely shut out and could even post a decent game here or there, but his fantasy potential is limited, while Ellington’s speed, explosiveness and big-play ability (80-yard TD run vs. Atlanta) makes him the Cardinal back you want on your roster.
Already Ruled Out
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders – McFadden will miss at least one game after re-aggravating a hamstring injury last week against Philadelphia. Rashad Jennings will get the start in McFadden’s place and posted 102 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Eagles. Jennings is a RB2/RB3/flex option against the Giants today.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants – Wilson was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, ending his season. He hasn’t played since suffering a scary neck injury in Week 5 and this really is just the final chapter in what has been a disappointing sophomore season. Unless you have him in a dynasty or keeper league, it’s time to cut ties with Wilson, if you have haven’t done so already.
A quartet of wide receivers coming off of bye still isn’t at 100 percent entering their Week 10 matchup. Are they and any other key wideouts in danger of not playing today?
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants vs. Oakland Raiders
Cruz suffered a neck injury on Oct. 27 against Philadelphia, but he was able to return and finish the game. While it seemed to be nothing of concern at the time, especially with the Giants on bye last week, Cruz drew plenty of attention when he missed practice on Wednesday and then was spotted in a red, non-contact jersey on Thursday. He was back in there on Friday, however, and declared himself “good to go” to reporters then. The team has him listed as Probable, so unless something changes before kickoff, you need to have Eli Manning’s top target in your lineup.
Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, WRs, Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
The Lions were on bye last week, but Johnson’s knee injury apparently is still bothering him some. He (right) practiced in a limited capacity each day this week and is Probable for this key NFC North matchup. Remember, Megatron is coming off of a monster 14-catch, 329-yard effort in his last game and he’s had a week to rest. He will not miss this game against a division rival and obviously Johnson must be in your lineup. Burleson, on the other hand, returned to practice for the first time since breaking his forearm in a car accident in September. Burleson is close to getting back out there, but it won’t happen this week, meaning Kris Durham will remain the Lions’ No. 2 wide receiver and a possible WR3/WR4/flex option this week.
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Coming off of a bye, Shorts is still dealing with a groin injury. However, he did practice on Friday and is listed as Probable to face the Titans. With Justin Blackmon suspended indefinitely, Shorts should expect to see the 12+ targets he averaged earlier in the season when Blackmon was, once again, suspended. Shorts is a borderline WR1, as the only thing really holding him back is quarterback play. Mike Brown also has a golden opportunity as he is expected to start opposite Shorts with Blackmon out of the picture. Brown is a wait-and-see option for now, but don’t forget how productive Shorts and Blackmon were together for a brief period of time.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Indianapolis Colts vs. St. Louis Rams
Heyward-Bey didn’t take advantage of his first game filling in for an injured Reggie Wayne last week, as he got hurt himself early against the Texans. DHB sustained what at the time was believed to be a concussion, but instead ended up being a shoulder injury. He practiced all week and is listed as Probable, so the shoulder doesn’t appear to be a big issue. While sliding into a starting slot opposite T.Y. Hilton is no doubt appealing, it doesn’t guarantee Heyward-Bey immediately becomes an every-week fantasy starter either. The potential is there, but DHB has been teasing us with his speed and talent since he came into the league as the seventh overall selection of the 2009 draft.
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks
White is listed as Questionable, but he ramped up his practice activity this week and has said he is hopeful of returning to the field today. While he would obviously provide a boost to the Falcons’ passing game, there is no guarantee he will be able to produce right away. For one, White has been a shell of himself all season and today’s matchup with Seattle’s physical secondary isn’t ideal. Here’s hoping that White will look more like his old self before the end of the season, but Harry Douglas remains the Falcon wide receiver to own and start.
Denver is coming off of its bye and should have all of its offensive weapons available for its Week 10 contest, while a key Cowboy wide receiver is dealing with a back issue. Which injured wideouts can you start with confidence today?
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
The Broncos are coming off of their bye, but Welker’s lingering ankle injury was still enough of an issue to keep him from being a full-go at practice until Friday. Still, he’s listed as Probable, so it would be a shock if he wasn’t on the field against the Chargers. Welker leads all wide receivers with nine touchdown catches and even though he’s yet to post a 100-yard game this season, he’s a must-start if you own him.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, WRs, Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
Bryant (right) missed some practice time this week with a back issue, but he was a participant on Friday and it didn’t seem to be bothering him then. The team has said they believe Bryant’s issue is a muscle-related and not a disk problem and he is Probable for tonight’s primetime matchup with New Orleans. Bryant is a must-start, while the same can’t be said of Austin, who is Doubtful once again because of a hamstring injury. Austin is an after-thought at this point, with Terrance Williams replacing him as the starter opposite Bryant.
Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys
Listed as Questionable headed into last week’s game, Colston was deactivated prior to kickoff versus the Jets. He is Questionable yet again this week, but he was able to participate in practice on a limited basis. While it looks likely he could return, this doesn’t mean that Colston should do the same for your lineup. Despite the numbers that Drew Brees has been able to put up, Colston has just 27 catches and one touchdown on the season. Brees has been able to rely on the likes of Jimmy Graham, rookie Kenny Stills and, in the past two games, Lance Moore, to get the job done in the passing game. Brees appears to have moved on from Colston and you should probably do the same.
Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
Once again, Royal did not practice all week and is listed as Questionable on the injury report. However, this has been the case for the past two games, which were sandwiched by the Chargers’ bye, and not only did he end up playing, he caught a touchdown in each contest. Royal is typically a hit-or-miss player, and even though he’s at less than 100 percent, he appears to be in the midst of one of his hot streaks. It’s your call if you want to see if he can keep it up for another week, just don’t be surprised if Royal doesn’t come through.
Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, WRs, Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers
Two of the Bills’ 2013 draft picks got hurt last week in the loss to Kansas City. Woods sustained an ankle injury and Goodwin hurt his hamstring. Woods did not practice all week and is considered Doubtful while Goodwin was a full go on Friday and is Probable. Even with the expected return of quarterback EJ Manuel, the safest Bill wide receiver to employ right now is Stevie Johnson. Woods has been too up-and-down in recent weeks and could end up not playing at all, while Goodwin just doesn’t get enough targets to count on for consistent production.
One NFC North team is slated to get its starting quarterback back in Week 10, while another begins life without theirs. Elsewhere, a rookie signal-caller who should see his first action in more than a month is just one of the many quarterback injury situations covered here.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions
Cutler missed the Monday night game, but he returned to practice on Wednesday, is listed as Probable and is expected to start today. Josh McCown filled in quite well for Cutler in the win against Green Bay, but head coach Marc Trestman has said all along that Cutler is his starter. Cutler will be looking to redeem himself after turning the ball over four times against Detroit in Week 4 loss, and this is a Lions defense that’s 26th in the NFL against the pass. Cutler may not be a must-start QB this week, but he’s certainly capable of producing like one.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders at New York Giants
Pryor left last week’s loss to Philadelphia in the fourth quarter after injuring his knee, but it appears to be a minor thing. He practiced fully all week, is listed as Probable and should be good to face the Giants. If anything, the bigger concern with Pryor has to do with his performance. Prior to departing the game against the Eagles, he had thrown two interceptions and didn’t have a single touchdown. He has a total of seven interceptions in his last three games with just two touchdowns. The Giants’ defense has been playing better lately and is coming off of a bye, while the Raiders had to make the dreaded cross-country flight from the West coast for an early (1 p.m. ET) kickoff. There’s no reason to not start Pryor, but you may want to temper your expectations and double-check your available options.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers
For the first time since injuring his knee in Week 5, Manuel will start at quarterback for the Bills. The rookie missed four games with an LCL sprain, but he made it through his first full week of practice since the injury just fine and is Probable to face the Steelers. Pittsburgh set franchise records for both points (55) and yards (610) allowed in last week’s loss to New England, but that doesn’t make Manuel an absolute, must-start. He hasn’t played in more than a month and is working with a banged-up wide receiving corps. Manuel has struggled with his accuracy at times and enters this game with five touchdown passes and three interceptions. He appears to have a bright future, but for now the best course of action would probably be to let Manuel develop his game on your bench.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers
Vick was able to practice on a limited basis this week, but he’s listed as Doubtful and there is no reason to expect him to return. Not with Nick Foles coming off of a record-tying seven touchdown passes against Oakland. Chances are the Eagles will wait until after their bye in Week 12 to re-evaluate Vick and the starting quarterback situation. For now, if you have Foles you may as well ride his hot hand and see what he can do against a Green Bay team that doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers under center and a defense that is allowing more than 250 yards passing per game with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – Rodgers (above) will miss at least three games because of a broken collarbone sustained on Monday night against Chicago. Seneca Wallace will get the call, at least for the time being. Wallace didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in relief of Rodgers against Chicago, so unless you have no other options, there is no reason to give him much consideration, despite today’s matchup with the NFL’s worst defense (Philadelphia). That doesn't mean there aren't any potential replacement options for Rodgers on the waiver wire.
A pair of tight ends named Graham appears on the Week 10 injury report. Here’s the latest on their playing status and a few other injury situations to make you aware of.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys
In two games playing with a bad foot, Graham has caught 12 passes for 153 yards and four touchdowns. So while he is listed as Questionable yet again this week, there is no reason to not expect him to play against Dallas. In fact, at this point, the bigger surprise would be if he didn’t catch a touchdown pass against the Cowboys.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Gresham is dealing with a groin injury that kept him out of practice both Thursday and Friday. He is listed as Questionable but head coach Marvin Lewis has said he expects his tight end to be fine to play the Ravens. The Bengals have an interesting situation at tight end, as Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert have basically been splitting the targets. With this timeshare in effect, it makes it very had to rely on either as a fantasy starter, but should Gresham not play today, this could be just the opportunity Eifert has been waiting for to bust out. If you own either, pay close attention to any updates prior to the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.
Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans at Arizona Cardinals
Filling in for an injured Owen Daniels (broken leg), Graham showed up on the injury report this week with a thigh issue. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, but back to a full go by Friday, so his Probable designation appears in line. Graham has three touchdown catches on the season, but none since Week 4, so he doesn’t come without risk. That said, Case Keenum has thrown the ball very well since becoming the Texans’ starting quarterback and the Cardinals are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends so this just may be the week to take a flyer on Graham.
In Case You Missed It….
Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers – Not surprisingly, the Packers placed Finley on injured reserve, ending his season. Finely’s healthy recovery from his spinal injury is secondary to his football playing status right now. Andrew Quarless will be Green Bay’s starting tight end the rest of the way, but he has yet to really produce and with Aaron Rodgers expected to miss at least three games, there’s really no reason to even keep Quarless on your radar.
UCLA won a critical Pac-12 South elimination game in Tucson. The USC Trojans quietly have won three straight and looked impressive against Cal. And Arizona State survived a scare in Salt Lake City.
But Week 11 in the Pac-12 belonged to Stanford. David Shaw's bunch put together what is arguably the most impressive performance by any team in the nation when it handled Oregon with surprising ease on Thursday night.
There will be an obvious theme in this week's Pac-12 superlatives.
Offensive Player of the Week: Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
The Cardinal's win over Oregon was decidedly defensive but Gaffney literally carried his offense on Thursday night. He set a Stanford single-game record by rushing 45 times, breaking Tommy Vardell's previous record of 39 attempts set in 1991. Gaffney finished with 157 yards and a touchdown and caught one pass for 15 yards. It was the Stanford tailback's fourth straight 100-yard effort, his third straight game with at least 145 yards and his fifth straight game with a rushing touchdown.
Defensive Player of the Week: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Skov is one of the nation's best leaders and proved it in a big way for the second straight year against Oregon. He posted nine tackles, two tackles for loss and forced two fumbles for a defense that has done now twice what no one else in the nation can seem to do — stop Oregon. The Ducks posted season lows in yards (312), yards per play (5.4 ypp), points (20) and first downs (17). Skov had 10 tackles against the Ducks last season.
Team of the Week: Stanford
There are plenty of big stories out West this weekend but none can compare to the clinic Stanford put on Thursday night against Oregon. For the second straight season, the physical running game and suffocating defense kept the Ducks grounded. The Cardinal pounded the Ducks defense 66 times for 274 yards on the ground while the defense shutdown a banged-up Marcus Mariota. Stanford now has wins over five ranked teams, including every other top Pac-12 contender (Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington, Oregon State) with a trip to USC coming up next.
Coordinator of the Week: Derek Mason, Stanford
If the Cardinal defense continues on its torrid pace over the final month of the season, Mason might be a lock for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach. Stanford totally stuffed the Ducks, holding Oregon scoreless for the first 50 minutes of play on Thursday night. Mason's unit held OU to less than 100 yards rushing (62) for the first time since LSU held the Ducks to 95 yards in the 2011 season opener. Stanford has 15 sacks in the last three games and has given up a total of 42 points to Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State combined over that span.
Freshman of the Week: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
In a key road division win, UCLA star freshman linebacker Myles Jack posted one of the most impressive stat lines of the season. He is 14th in the league in tackles and fourth among freshmen after posting eight tackles, one for loss, in addition to forcing fumble against a stellar Arizona rushing attack. But what made this performance special was the fact that he played both ways, rushing six times for 120 yards and a 66-yard touchdown. It was an old-school performance and maybe Jim L. Mora has found a stopgap for his depleted running back corps. Jack may have put himself in the lead for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year with his performance on the road Saturday night.
Pac-12 Post-Week 11 Power Rankings:
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||This Week||Next Week|
|1||(2)||8-1, 6-1||W, Oregon, 26-20||at USC|
|2||(1)||8-1, 5-1||L, Stanford, 26-20||Utah|
|3||(3)||7-2, 5-1||W, Utah, 20-19||Oregon St|
|4||(4)||7-2, 4-2||W, Arizona, 31-26||Washington|
|5||(5)||6-3, 3-3||W, Colorado, 59-7||at UCLA|
|6||(6)||7-3, 4-2||W, Cal, 62-28||Stanford|
|7||(7)||6-3, 4-2||Bye||at Arizona St|
|8||(8)||6-3, 3-3||L, UCLA, 31-26||Washington St|
|9||(9)||4-5, 1-5||L, Arizona St, 20-19||at Oregon|
|10||(10)||4-5, 2-4||Bye||at Arizona|
|11||(11)||3-5, 0-5||L, Washington, 59-7||Cal|
|12||(12)||1-9, 0-7||L, USC, 62-28||at Colorado|
It’s been a disappointing year in Gainesville, as Florida’s 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt likely means the Gators will be home for the bowl season. And barring an upset against South Carolina or Florida State, Florida is headed for a losing record.
However, if there was a bright spot during Saturday’s loss, freshman receiver Ahmad Fulwood made an impressive catch in the fourth quarter. Fulwood caught a deflected pass off a Vanderbilt defensive back’s foot, and the freshman got his feet down in the endzone just in time for the touchdown catch.
Missouri running back Russell Hansbrough made one of the top plays of Week 11, hurdling a Kentucky defender on a fourth-down run in the first half.
Hansbrough ended up with a 15-yard gain on the play, which was one of a few highlight reel plays by Missouri in the 48-17 victory over the Wildcats.
Minnesota is one of the best storylines of the 2013 season. The Golden Gophers improved to 8-2 with a 24-10 win over Penn State on Saturday, and coach Jerry Kill celebrated with the team in the locker room by showcasing a few dance moves.
Since returning to the team after a short medical leave, Kill has been coaching from the press box for the last few games. However, the formula continues to work, as Minnesota has won four consecutive contests:
Miami has a huge Coastal Division showdown against Virginia Tech on Saturday night, and the Hurricanes unveiled a new alternate uniform for the showdown:
Here's a closeup of the new helmet. pic.twitter.com/eMuCchcNHN— Miami Hurricanes (@hurricanesports) November 9, 2013
Eastern Michigan fired coach Ron English a day before the program’s matchup against Western Michigan. English was 11-46 in his tenure with the Eagles.
Although English’s record was 11-46, Eastern Michigan is arguably the toughest job in the nation. The Eagles went 6-6 in 2011, which was the program’s non-losing season since 1995.
English’s win/loss record certainly factored into his dismissal. However, audio from a recent team meeting was the final straw in his tenure.
Here’s the statement from the school:
There's also audio of English's rant that prompted his dismissal (contains some inappropriate language)
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota entered Thursday night’s game against Stanford as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. However, the sophomore left Stanford with a major dent in his resume.
Mariota completed 20 of 34 passes for 250 yards and two scores. However, most of his damage came after the result was no longer in doubt.
The sophomore did not throw an interception, which extended his mistake-free streak in 2013 to 259 passes.
However, a big problem for Mariota was his mobility against Stanford’s aggressive defense. Mariota rushed for -16 yards and never seemed comfortable when trying to escape the pressure.
Was Mariota dealing with a knee injury? It seems that was the case, as reports before the game indicated the sophomore has a partial sprain of his MCL.
Source with knowledge of situation tells me Marcus Mariota has a partial sprain of his MCL #GoDucks— Collin Harmon (@Collin_Harmon) November 8, 2013
With over a week to heal before a home game against Utah, Mariota should be fine for next Saturday’s game against Utah.
Assuming Mariota is 100 percent, Oregon should finish 11-1 and play in a BCS bowl.
Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU Cougars travel to Madison to take on Gary Andersen and the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on ESPN at 3:30 pm ET. Gary Andersen has seen BYU before. Many times before, actually. When he was at Utah State, Andersen coached against the Cougars in all four of his seasons. He compiled a 1-3 record; however, all of his losses were at Provo where BYU enjoys a great home field advantage. This time, he gets the Cougars to travel across the country to take on his ranked Badgers team in the hostile environment of Camp Randall. BYU is on a five-game winning streak, yet outside of Texas, they have yet to register a truly impressive win. The Badgers also have a nice win streak going, one of three games that started after their seven-point loss at Ohio State. This is the second all-time meeting between the two teams as the Cougars beat the Badgers in 1980 by a score of 28-3 at Camp Randall.
Three Things to Watch
Taysom Hill's arm
Hill is renowned for his rushing abilities. Currently, he is the second-leading rusher among quarterbacks with 841 yards on the ground, which includes an impressive 5.9 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. As defenses have started to game plan against Hill running wild, the young quarterback has found a new way to keep defensive coordinators up late at night. Over BYU's five-game winning streak, Hill has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,455 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hill is ranked No. 6 in college football in total offense and he will need to continue his polished passing as Wisconsin boasts the No. 5 rushing defense in the nation.
Melvin Gordon's legs
Is there as reliable a running back in college football as Wisconsin's Gordon? Gordon has rushed for over 140 yards in six games this season, including a season-high 192 yards against Arizona State. The sophomore tailback currently ranks as the nation's seventh ranked rusher, even with noticeably less carries than his peers. Among rushers with over 900 yards this year, Gordon is the only one with less than 125 carries. His staggering 8.7 rushing yards per carry ties him with Lache Seastrunk for No. 1 nationally. Gordon has yet to rush for fewer than 140 yards at home, but it's worth noting that he failed to crack the 80-yard mark against Iowa and Ohio State. The Cougars defense shouldn't be taken lightly as they allow 145.3 rushing yards per game, which puts them at No. 42 in the country.
This will likely decide the game. BYU wants to turn this game into a fast-paced shootout, while Wisconsin wants to make it a ground-and-pound slugfest. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who faced BYU several times as the head coach at Utah State, told reporters this week, "We can't get into a momentum game of ups and downs. We have to be steady-Eddie just like we were last week." Indeed, quarterback Joel Stave simply doesn't possess the abilities to be anything more than the game manager that he has been this year, especially with top weapon Jared Abbrederis questionable for the game after he suffered a rib injury midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s win over Iowa. Wisconsin will look to slow things down with Gordon and James White, while the Cougars will look to speed things up with the dual-threat Hill and explosive RB Jamaal Williams and WR Cody Hoffman. Wisconsin's defense will look to shut down BYU on third-downs and in the red zone, which happen to be two of the Badgers' defense biggest strengths. Wisconsin has only allowed eight touchdowns in 21 red zone attempts, while BYU has scored 19 touchdowns on 39 red zone attempts. BYU has the nation's 100th ranked third-down offense, converting only 34 percent of the time. The doesn't line up well against a Wisconsin defense that is fourth in the NCAA in third-down defense, allowing a first down only 29 percent of the time.
Key Player: Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
As mentioned, Taysom Hill will have to beat Wisconsin with his arm. He will look toward his favorite target WR Cody Hoffman, who leads the Cougars with 29 receptions and is averaging an explosive 18.1 yards per reception. The 6'4" Hoffman is a huge goal-line threat that can help BYU overcome its poor redzone play. He has battled injuries this year, so his numbers aren't up to his usual standard. He caught 100 balls last year for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wisconsin doesn't have anyone on the back end that can match his raw athleticism and talent.
Gary Andersen knows this BYU program too well for them to pull any surprises on him. I think the Wisconsin defense will be ready for everything it sees, and the Badgers will plow threw the Cougars up front, controlling the line on each side of the ball.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, BYU 15
Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Ann Arbor to face off against Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines in this conference battle at the Big House at 3:30 pm ET on ABC. The emotional states of Nebraska and Michigan players could not be more different after last week. The Cornhuskers beat Northwestern on a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jacob Westerkamp as time expired. On the other hand, the Wolverines scored six points and put up just 168 yards of offense against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. The loss dropped Michigan out of a position to play in the Big Ten Championship, while Nebraska stayed alive in the Legends Division of the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers will once again be without starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is now battling a hip pointer and a shoulder injury, after being sidelined for two games earlier this season with turf toe.
3 Things to Watch
That's the amount of rushing yards Michigan had last week against Michigan State. It's the lowest rushing output in the program's lengthy history. Gardner had -46 rushing yards thanks in large part to the fact that the NCAA counts sacks as negative rushing yards. On the designed runs for Gardner, he rushed 11 times for three yards, including four negative rushes. Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for just 20 yards on eight carries. Michigan only had five rushing attempts in the second half, and the only drive the Wolverines moved the ball into Michigan State territory in the second half ended with a Devin Gardner interception. Perhaps they can revitalize themselves on the ground against a Nebraska defense that allowed Northwestern RB Treyvon Green to rush for 149 yards and three touchdowns and QB Kain Colter to rush for 86 yards.
Offensive Line Play
After last week, many believe that the proud tradition of a strong offensive line hasn't been lived up to this year at Michigan. While they did struggle last week in allowing Devin Gardner to be sacked eight times, outside of that game, Michigan has only allowed 12 sacks in seven games. The Wolverines are led by All-American tackle Taylor Lewan and, while they have had some issues with chemistry and communication, this is still a talented bunch capable of shutting down an opposing pass rush. Where the Michigan line has struggled has been in opening holes in the run game. The Wolverines are 10th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging just 154.9 yards per game. The Cornhuskers don't have as a talented of a front seven as Michigan State; however, they have some nice pieces that could cause Michigan some problems. Look for an impact from defensive end Randy Gregory, a versatile 6'6" end that has recorded three sacks in the last three games. Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis loves to move Gregory all around the field and will do so often to keep him from being matched up with Lewan. If Lewan is able to contain Gregory, then Nebraska will need its leading sacker, freshman Avery Moss, to make some big plays. In the other camp, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has to be licking his chops at the idea of sending pressure on a vulnerable Nebraska line. The Cornhuskers were severely hurt by the injury to All-Big Ten guard Spencer Long and will be forced to shuffle things even more with the recent injury to the other guard Jake Cotton. Both injuries have forced inexperienced players to grow up fast and are a large reason why Nebraska allows nearly four and a half sacks per contest.
Freshman quarterback at The Big House
Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the United States with a capacity of 109,901. That's no easy atmosphere for an experience quarterback to undertake, much less redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. Armstrong has experienced nothing like the road atmosphere in Ann Arbor as his only road start in his career came against Purdue. In that game he went six for 18 for 43 yards and three interceptions. It was the first of two straight games in which the young quarterback has thrown three interceptions. Nebraska has won just seven of 15 games away from Lincoln since the start 2011, while the Wolverines are undefeated at home under Brady Hoke.
Key Player: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
This junior has been beyond impressive in 2013. He currently ranks sixth in the entire nation in rushing yards with 1,108 and is second among top 15 rushers with a 7.1 yards per carry average. Abdullah has gone over the 100-yard mark in seven of his eight games this year, including a 225-yard performance against Illinois. His only game under 100 yards? That was when he rushed for 98 yards on 23 carries against UCLA. He's averaging nearly 161 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play. Last year against the Wolverines, Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Michigan's offense looked terrible last week. But then again, so did Nebraska and Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Cornhuskers may have gotten a win, but they did against a Northwestern team that hasn't won a game since September 21. Let's chalk Michigan's struggles up to the stifling Michigan State defense. Nebraska doesn't have anything close to resembling what Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have built in East Lansing; however, they do have the nation's No. 4 ranked pass defense. Nebraska wins this game if they can pounce on Michigan early with a turnover, get a quick lead and take the air out of the ball the rest of the game. Forget it. Devin Gardner and the Wolverines are too tough at home and they offense that scores 37.9 points per game will show up in full force.
Prediction: Michigan 31, Nebraska 20
SEC heavyweights Alabama and LSU will collide on Saturday night with conference and national title implications. The 2013 meeting between the Crimson Tide and Tigers will be the fifth straight matchup where both programs rank among the top 15 teams in the Associated Press poll.
Even though Alabama has managed to lose twice in November and win the national title in back-to-back seasons, the Crimson Tide’s margin of error is a little smaller this year. Florida State and Ohio State are unlikely to lose a game in the regular season, while Baylor crossed one hurdle in its quest to finish 12-0 by beating Oklahoma on Thursday night.
With two losses, LSU has a chance to play spoiler on Saturday night. The Tigers are out of the BCS title picture and need a lot of help just to get back into the SEC Championship discussion. The pressure to win is clearly with Alabama, while LSU can play with nothing to lose.
Since 2010, Alabama has lost only five games. However, two of those defeats came at the hands of LSU. The Tigers won 24-21 in Baton Rouge in 2010 and 9-6 in Tuscaloosa in 2011. Alabama coach Nick Saban is 4-3 against LSU during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
In the overall series, Alabama holds a 47-25-5 edge over LSU.
LSU at Alabama
Kickoff: 8 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama – 12.5
Three Things to Watch
LSU’s wide receivers vs. Alabama’s secondary
Alabama’s secondary had to replace two key players coming into 2013 (safety Robert Lester and cornerback Dee Milliner), but this unit is still holding opponents to 197 passing yards per game in SEC contests. The Crimson Tide allowed 464 passing yards and five touchdown tosses to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. However, Alabama has allowed just one other touchdown pass in SEC play this season. Coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart are still trying to find the right mix at cornerback, as sophomore Bradley Sylve is dealing with a high ankle sprain and may not play against LSU. If Sylve is out, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones will fight to start opposite of senior Deion Belue. This will be the biggest challenge for Alabama’s secondary since the Texas A&M matchup. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham form one of the nation’s best receiver duos, catching 106 passes for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. Just how valuable are Landry and Beckham? LSU quarterbacks have completed 153 passes this year. Landry and Beckham have caught 106 of their passes. If LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has time to throw, Landry and Beckham should be able to make plays against Alabama’s secondary.
LSU’s rush defense
It’s a bit uncharacteristic to see LSU ranked No. 8 in the SEC (conference-only games) against the run. However, that’s what happens when ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan leave early for the NFL, and seniors Lavar Edwards, Josh Downs and Chancey Aghayere expire their eligibility. The Tigers essentially have a new two-deep on the defensive line this year, and there’s not a senior in the rotation. Opponents are averaging 4.4 yards per carry against LSU this season, but this line has held offenses to just seven rushing scores. Alabama’s offensive line has started to jell over the last few games, and the Crimson Tide average 6.9 yards per carry in SEC-only games. Running back T.J. Yeldon is the workhorse, but Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and Jalston Fowler could all see time on Saturday night. Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is always crucial when these two teams meet. Can LSU’s defense match Alabama’s strength at the point of attack?
LSU RB Jeremy Hill vs. Alabama’s rush defense
Alabama’s rush defense has been nearly impenetrable once again in 2013. The Crimson Tide are holding opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns in SEC games. LSU’s offensive line is solid but has room to improve. The Tigers have allowed 12 sacks in SEC games, and the line has paved the way for rushers to average 4.2 yards per carry in conference-only matchups. Hill is the team’s leading rusher (922 yards), and it’s critical for the sophomore to help LSU’s offense stay out of long-distance situations on second or third down. If Hill is contained, the Tigers will have their hands full trying to move the ball on Alabama.
Key Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger is one of the nation’s most-improved quarterbacks this season. After throwing for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, the senior is completing 65.4 percent of his passes and already has 19 passing scores. Mettenberger has just seven interceptions in 2013 but five picks have come in the last two games. In last year’s matchup, the senior threw for 298 yards and one touchdown. Can Mettenberger repeat that performance in 2013? LSU needs a similar output this year to have a shot at the upset.
Most of this preview has focused on LSU for one reason: the Tigers need a near-perfect effort to pull off the upset. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron should be able to take advantage of the Tigers secondary, which ranks ninth in SEC games by allowing 250.4 yards per game. With McCarron playing at a high level, and the Crimson Tide owning an edge in the trenches, LSU’s defense will have its hands full on Saturday night. The Tigers battle and trade a few punches with Alabama for a half. However, the Crimson Tide is the better team and pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 31, LSU 20
Virginia Tech and Miami meet on Saturday night hoping to bounce back after disappointing results last week. The Hurricanes lost 41-14 to rival Florida State, and the Hokies lost 34-27 at Boston College. Despite both teams losing, the Coastal Division title outlook didn’t change much. Duke and Georgia Tech are within striking distance, but Miami can take command of the division with a win on Saturday.
Virginia Tech started the season with a loss to Alabama in Atlanta, but the Hokies rebounded with six consecutive victories. However, since beating Pittsburgh 19-9, Virginia Tech has lost its last two games. Turnovers have been a huge problem the last two weeks for the Hokies, but they will be taking on a Miami team shorthanded on offense with the loss of running back Duke Johnson. The sophomore suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Florida State last week and was on pace to easily rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2013.
For the first time since 1993-94, these two teams will meet in Miami for consecutive seasons. Virginia Tech lost 30-12 at Miami last year, but the Hokies have claimed five out of the last seven in this series.
Virginia Tech at Miami
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Miami -6.5
Three Things to Watch
Miami’s passing offense vs. Virginia Tech’s secondary
Through five ACC games, Virginia Tech’s secondary has been outstanding. The Hokies are allowing just 161.6 yards per game through the air, and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 47.7 percent of their throws. With Duke Johnson sidelined, the Hurricanes will ask more of quarterback Stephen Morris on Saturday night. The senior suffered an ankle injury early in the season, but he appears to be 100 percent after throwing for 192 yards and two scores against Florida State. In last year’s meeting, Morris threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns but completed only 46.4 percent of his passes. The Hokies are overflowing with depth in the secondary, especially with the return of senior Antone Exum from a knee injury. With Exum, Kyle Fuller and freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech has four cornerbacks that could start for a majority of the top 25 teams in the latest release of the BCS standings. Safeties Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett are steady performers and have four interceptions this year. Morris has been inconsistent at times in 2013, and he won’t have receiver Phillip Dorsett back from injury. Even though Dallas Crawford is a capable replacement for Duke Johnson, it’s fair to wonder if Morris might press a little with the absence of Miami’s top back. In a game with very little separating these two teams, any turnover from Morris will be costly.
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas
Which Thomas will Virginia Tech have on Saturday night? Is it the version that tossed a combined six picks against Duke and Boston College? Or is it the quarterback that threw five touchdowns to zero interceptions in a three-game conference stretch earlier this year? Although Thomas has to play better, the senior needs more from his supporting cast. The Hokies are averaging only 2.3 yards per carry in ACC games, with Trey Edmunds leading the team with 447 yards in nine games. Receivers Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn lead the team in receptions, but neither is averaging more than 13 yards per catch. Miami’s defense isn’t among the best in the ACC. However, this unit has improved since last season and has forced 21 turnovers this year. If the Hurricanes can force a couple of turnovers and put Thomas into third-and-long situations, it could be another long night for Virginia Tech’s offense.
Turnovers and special teams
With Virginia Tech’s struggles on offense, and Miami playing without running back Duke Johnson, both teams won’t have much margin for error. The Hurricanes rank second in the ACC with 21 forced turnovers, while the Hokies have lost 15 turnovers. Both starting quarterbacks have struggled at times with interceptions, and any mistakes by either could be costly. Johnson’s absence will also be felt on special teams, as the sophomore averaged 28.3 yards per return this year. Freshmen Stacy Coley and Artie Burns could fill Johnson’s role on kickoffs. Both teams have been inconsistent on field goals, as Matt Goudis has connected on 6 of 10 attempts for Miami this year, while Virginia Tech’s Cody Journell is 10 of 16. Don’t be surprised if a key play on special teams or late turnover decides this game.
Key Player: Dallas Crawford, RB, Miami
With Duke Johnson sidelined, Crawford will assume the No. 1 role in the Miami backfield. Crawford has been solid this year, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 67 attempts. The sophomore faces a Virginia Tech defense allowing just 102.7 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Stephen Morris is solid, but the Hurricanes need balance on offense. Crawford won’t find a ton of running room against Virginia Tech. But the sophomore has to record at least 75 yards and needs to convert on any third-and-short situations for Miami’s offense.
The mission for Miami is simple: Win out and get a rematch with Florida State in the ACC Championship. The Hurricanes would be a significant underdog to the Seminoles in a rematch, but Miami has yet to play for the ACC Championship. It’s time for the program to take that step. Virginia Tech’s defense will keep this game close, but the Hokies’ offense sputters in the second half, allowing the Hurricanes to do just enough to score a key conference win.
Prediction: Miami 24, Virginia Tech 20
Locks of the Week
Continue to ride the Jacksonville spotted gravy train, no matter how big the number. Well, anything short of a 28-point number at Denver…
Titans (-13) vs. Jaguars
Third-year Tennessee coach Mike Munchak has two black-eye losses — to then-winless Indy in 2011 and then-one-win J-Ville last season.
Steelers (-3) vs. Bills
Buffalo’s Mario Williams has recorded four sacks in two games, both as a member of the Houston Texans, against Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Straight Up Upsets
These tiny numbers could pay off huge dividends with upsets on Sunday in games that are essentially pick-ems.
Ravens (+1) vs. Bengals
Andy Dalton is 1–3 against Baltimore, with his only win coming in a meaningless Week 17 game last season, after the Ravens had already clinched the AFC North division.
Lions (+1) at Bears
Detroit devoured Chicago, 40–32, in Week 4. That, however, was the Lions first win over the Bears since Oct. 2011.
Eagles (+1) at Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury will likely hurt Title Town in the win column, starting this week against Chip Kelly’s Philly cheese steaks.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on absolutely all the action.
Colts (-9.5) vs. Rams
Andrew Luck has a 10–2 record at home in Lucas Oil Stadium; the Rams are 4–7–1 on the road under Jeff Fisher.
Giants (-7) vs. Raiders
The Black Hole ventures East to take on Big Blue in a game that could provide a nice INT over-under side bet.
Broncos (-7) at Chargers
Peyton Manning beat the Bolts twice last season, but has struggled against Diego in the past, including a six-INT game in 2007.
Saints (-6.5) vs. Cowboys
Sean Payton was Tony Romo’s quarterbacks coach from 2003-05. Will the student be the teacher in New Orleans?
49ers (-6) vs. Panthers
This dual-threat shootout between Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton could be a highlight-reel cut tape when the dirt settles.
Seahawks (-5.5) at Falcons
The Dirty Birds beat the Hawks, 30–28, in the NFC Divisional Playoffs last season. But that was a completely different ATL squad.
Cardinals (-3) vs. Texans
After two tough losses at K.C. and to Indy, the legend of Case Keenum continues to grow.
Monday Night Moolah
Monday night time is the right time to double up the weekend’s winnings or bounce back from the weekend’s losses.
Buccaneers (+2.5) vs. Dolphins
With the Miami locker room being bullied by the national media all week, Tampa Bay could be in line for its first win of a staph-infected season.
1. Johnson hopes for no Phoenix repeat
There’s plenty in Jimmie Johnson’s career that the five-time champion would love to repeat. Championships, Daytona 500 wins and beating other drivers in side-by-side duels all probably make the cut.
But Johnson’s race at Phoenix International Raceway a year ago this week? Well, that’s one result that is awfully forgettable.
Johnson had driven from 24th to inside the top 10, holding par with championship challenger Brad Keselowski, when he felt his right front tire go soft exiting Turn 4. The car was suddenly uncontrollable and Johnson smacked the outside wall. The damage to the car was severe — he spent many laps in the garage getting repairs — but the damage in the point standings was worse.
Johnson ceded 27 points to Keselowski that day and left for the final race with a deficit that proved insurmountable.
“I’m just not going to put my guard down,” Johnson said this week. “We need to go into Phoenix and race well.”
He finished second in the spring race.
2. Will Phoenix be Chase’s splitting point?Is this the weekend when we see the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings break for one driver or another? Or will NASCAR get its desired ‘Game 7 moment’ in next week’s season finale?
The 2013 version of the Chase has remained knotted, somewhat improbably, through its first eight races. Even when there have been problems, the teams of Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have rallied. Both conservatively emerged from the expected wildcard that is Talladega unscathed. All told, Johnson and Kenseth have combined for four wins, 11 top 5s and 13 top 10s in the 16 Chase starts between them.
The difference in the standings with two races left is a polite seven points.
More problems for Johnson like he had one year ago would certainly break things open, but so would another Kenseth Phoenix crash (fall race, 2011). But can we actually expect that?
Both drivers were top-10 finishers in the spring race, and both seem to be racing at a comfortable limit that’s been good enough to push the rest of the field further and further away as the postseason heads for a close. That cushion has led to both teams making few massive mistakes and finding ways to recover from the small ones.
Anything can happen, sure, but this Chase is leaving the impression that it won’t reveal its true identity until the end. It’s a fitting identity, really, seeing as both drivers are often masters of making their most decisive moves when the checkered flag nears — not when the engines are just getting fired.
3. Extreme advantage of track position gave Edwards spring Phoenix win It’s no secret that Carl Edwards all but had the February race at Phoenix International Raceway won when he left pit road first during the race’s final round of pit stops on Lap 238. He, like every other driver and team, knew the advantage that the race leader had in the Gen-6 car’s second race.
“The biggest thing that helped us was our pit crew,” Edwards said this week. “We had awesome pit stops and kept coming out three or four spots ahead of where we were running and that ultimately is what won us the race.”
The advantage of track position, of course, is nothing new in NASCAR.
But at Phoenix in the spring? The edge was simply absurd. It showed in the number of passes for the lead under green flag conditions. In total, there were just two during the race with the last one coming when Brad Keselowski passed Mark Martin on Lap 127 of the 312-lap race.
Look for that knowledge to greatly affect pit road strategy on Sunday.
4. New left side tires could be weekend’s curveball
Part of Edwards’ strategy — and that of several other drivers — included numerous two-tire pit stops in the spring race for new rubber on the right side only. The left side tires simply weren’t wearing enough to warrant a replacement in the name of handling improvement.
Thanks to a new left side tire construction that Goodyear is bringing to Phoenix for Sunday’s race, that could certainly change. Hopefully, it will change the lack of passing at the front, too.
The tire supplier held a test session at the track in September with five drivers. That test led Goodyear to bring a left side compound that the brand says “is designed to give the cars more grip” and is closer in construction to tires used one the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
All three NASCAR national series racing this weekend — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck — will use the same tires.
5. Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer, one year later
With less than two laps left to decide the winner of the fall race at Phoenix a year ago, Kevin Harvick look destined for victory lane in the same weekend reports surfaced of his departure for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Johnson’s in-race problems and Keselowski’s newfound point lead was going to dominate the post-race chatter.
Then Jeff Gordon swerved right.
Gordon rammed into Clint Bowyer, sending both careening into the outside wall while collecting the bystanders of Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. It was an intentional crash by Gordon, supposed payback for slights that Bowyer had leveled previously on-track. It led to the season’s most-talked about story when Bowyer sprinted to the garage area seeking Gordon and a fight that broken out among crew members.
Tensions have cooled in the relationship between the two drivers — neither have had run-ins during competition in 2013 — but it’s fair to say the relationship still appears icy.
What’s that mean at Phoenix? Probably nothing. Bowyer, already suffering from the PR blowback of his team’s actions at Richmond in September, has been unwilling to rock many boats and hasn’t been much of a Chase contender. He’s had plenty of chances to deliver a payback to Gordon and hasn’t done so.
Still, the moment will be a cornerstone of this weekend’s race coverage as broadcasters recall the moment — and probably hope for another.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Nov. 8.
• Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory had a mock impromptu wedding with her tennis player boyfriend on Ellen. Seems like an excuse to link to a Kaley slideshow.
• Triumph of the Nerds: Stanford players showed up to the postgame presser wearing nerd glasses.
• You were probably watching college football last night, but Adrian Peterson was in full beast mode.
• Meanwhile, Baylor dinged up Big Game Bob's reputation even further, although the Bears didn't come out unscathed.
• LSU fullback JC Copeland fell in the shower, suffered a concussion, and referred to himself as Luscious Brown. Don't tell Roger Goodell; he'll outlaw postgame showers.
• Vijay Singh's lawyer has made a rather explosive allegation about PGA Tour drug testing. Could get interesting.
• George Brett went nuclear on an autograph-seeker. Read the story before you judge Brett too harshly.
• New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has a good sense of humor. He's going to need it.
• Fresh off making history, NASCAR driver Darrell Wallace Jr. showed he truly belongs in the sport by smacking a competitor.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears kick off the second half of their schedules with a key NFC North matchup at Soldier Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. This game will help break up the three-way tie for first in the division, as Matthew Stafford and the Lions (5-3) are in search of the season sweep over the Bears (5-3).
This also is an important game as each team will be looking to take advantage of Aaron Rodgers’ injury (broken collarbone, out a minimum of three weeks) by either keeping pace with the Packers (5-3) or taking the lead in their division outright. The Detroit-Chicago rivalry dates back to 1930 with the Bears leading the all-time series 96-66-5. While the Lions are looking for the season sweep in 2013, the Bears have won seven of the past nine meetings, which goes back to when Stafford made his NFL debut after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
3 Things to Watch
After sustaining a groin injury in the Week 7 loss to Washington, Jay Cutler was initially expected to miss between three to four weeks. Someone apparently forgot to tell him this, however, as Cutler returned to practice on Thursday and is expected to get the start at home against Detroit. Josh McCown filled in admirably for Cutler in the Bears’ unexpected win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field this past Monday night, throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. However, first-year head coach Marc Trestman said all along that as long as Cutler was medically cleared to play he would be the starter. If anything, this gives Cutler a chance to redeem himself for his worst performance of the season when he turned the ball over four times (3 INTs, fumble) in the 40-32 loss in Detroit back in Week 4. Turnovers were a huge part of this game, as the teams combined for a total of seven. Cutler’s four miscues resulted in 17 points for the Lions and helped put the Bears behind by 21 entering the fourth quarter. Cutler has an 8:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the four wins he has been a part of this season. In losses that ratio changes to 4:6. It’s rather simplistic, but the Bears need Cutler to be at the top of his game despite his injury-induced layoff and to protect the football on Sunday. If Cutler falters against the Lions a second time then Trestman may have an unintended quarterback controversy on his hands, at least from a media perspective.
Reggie Bush and Matt Forté are versatile running backs that can make plays after taking a handoff or as a receiver out of the backfield. They are both among the top 10 in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and total touches, meaning they are pivotal to their respective team’s offensive game plan. This was clearly the case back in Week 4 when each posted more than 100 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Bush was the star on the ground, rushing for a season-high 139 yards on 18 carries (7.7 ypc), including a 37-yard touchdown run. Forté finished with fewer yards (95), but his highlight play was a 53-yard TD run and he was productive when he ran it, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Both also were targeted six times in the passing game. Each defense is allowing more than 100 yards rushing per game with the Bears ranking near the bottom of the league at 127.5 yards per contest. Forté is coming off a 125-yard effort on Monday night against a Green Bay defense that is a top-five unit against the run. The Lions and the Bears both need their dynamic backs to produce to help open up the playbook and take some of the pressure off of the quarterbacks and the passing game. Whichever back “wins” the yardage battle on Sunday could very well end up with the W by game’s end too.
Who Roars Loudest on D?
Statistically speaking, these two defenses are very similar. They are separated by 0.1 yards per game in total defense and less than four points per game in scoring defense. The Lions have fared better against the run (108.5 ypg) than the Bears (127.5) with the Monsters of the Midway having the advantage (253.6 to 272.5 ypg) versus the pass. Chicago actually outgained Detroit (417 to 387) on offense in their first meeting back in Week 4, but the Lions made the most of four Cutler turnovers and sacked him three times to help secure the victory. Pressuring the quarterback has actually been a problem for both defenses this season. Entering the Monday night game against Green Bay, Chicago had a total of nine sacks in seven games. That was before the Bears racked up five sacks against the Packers, including one in the first quarter by Shea McCllelin that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone. No doubt Ndamukong Suh and company would love to get their hands on Cutler again, but the Lions also need to find a way to do a better job in pass defense. When he wasn’t getting sacked, Cutler carved up the Lions’ secondary with 22 completions to his wide receivers and tight end for 295 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side, the Bears have been hit by hard on injuries to its front seven and a patchwork defensive line and inexperienced linebacking corps needs to improve its run defense. The Bears beat the Packers on Monday night despite surrendering 190 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Between pressuring the pocket and learning from past mistakes, keep an eye out on Sunday to which defense makes the most noise on the field.
Detroit Key Player: Calvin Johnson, WR
It pretty much goes without saying that Johnson is “key” to Detroit’s offensive success. After all not only is he the NFL’s single-season receiving leader (1,964 yards), he came eight yards shy of breaking the single-game mark with 329 yards on 14 catches in Week 8. Megatron is indisputably the best wide receiver in the league and he is quickly securing his place as one of the greatest to ever play the position. That said, his career numbers against Chicago don’t exactly stand out. In 12 games, Johnson has recorded 57 catches for 845 yards and five touchdowns against the Bears. That’s less than an average of five receptions per game and only 70.4 yards per contest, including just two 100-yard efforts in those 12 games. Johnson was held to just four catches for 44 yards in the first meeting, which is one of the reasons why quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 23 of 35 passes for 242 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Chicago has a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, but Johnson has shown on more than one occasion he can take his game to another level. One of those types of efforts against the Bears would no doubt go a long way towards securing the season sweep and at least a share of first place in the NFC North.
Chicago Key Player: Khaseem Greene, LB
With Nick Roach leaving via free agency, Brian Urlacher retiring and Lance Briggs entering his 11th season, the Bears knew they had to add some new blood to their linebacking corps. The changes started with the additions of D.J. Williams and James Anderson in free agency followed by the selections of Jon Bostic (second round) and Greene (fourth) in April’s draft. The plan was to bring the former Florida and Rutgers standouts along slowly, but that changed after Williams was lost for the season in Week 6 due to a torn pectoral muscle followed by Briggs sustaining a shoulder injury a week later. Bostic and Greene were thrust into the starting lineup and, as can be expected, the rookies have experienced their share of growing pains. Greene is especially important because he is filling in for Briggs at weak-side linebacker. Briggs led the Bears with 13 tackles in the first game against the Lions and Greene needs to be just as active and involved on Sunday while also showing he’s a quick study. Greene and Bostic were drafted in hopes they would develop into the next great Bear linebackers. Unfortunately, injuries have thrust them both into the fire earlier than expected, meaning the future is now for the duo.
In one play on Monday night, the outlook of the NFC North changed entirely when Aaron Rodgers was driven into the Lambeau Field turf by Shea McCllelin. Not only did Chicago’s win over Green Bay create a three-way tie for first place in the division, it opened up at least a three-week window for the Bears and Lions to try and separate themselves from a Rodgers-less Packers team. So needless to say, this could be a season-defining game for these two teams.
Both teams are enjoying modest one-game winning streaks, but the Bears appear to have the momentum following their big Monday night victory at Lambeau Field, while the Lions are coming off of their bye. Chicago also will have Jay Cutler back under center for the first time since injuring his groin in Week 7. Cutler played poorly in the Week 4 meeting with the Lions, and after backup Josh McCown led the team to victory over the Packers, he no doubt wants to show everyone why he’s the No. 1 signal-caller in the Windy City.
The Lions are among the most explosive offenses in the NFL led by the trio of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, but the defense remains a question mark and has been very up and down, especially in the secondary. The Lions’ Week 4 victory was due in large part to Cutler’s four turnovers and I don’t see a repeat on Sunday. First-year head coach Marc Trestman leans on running back Matt Forté early to help ease Cutler back into the flow, but the quarterback makes some key throws late to help the Bears earn a season split against the Lions and stake their claim as the top team in the NFC North.
Chicago 31, Detroit 27