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Teams that follow similar blueprints will face off against each other when Pittsburgh takes on Carolina tonight on NBC. The Steelers (1-1) and Panthers (2-0) are somewhat carbon copies in that they are defensive-oriented teams who have big quarterbacks calling the shots on offense. Pittsburgh is coming off of a lopsided road loss to AFC North rival Baltimore, while Carolina stifled Detroit’s offense last week to seize control of the NFC South.
This is just the sixth meeting all-time between these two teams. After losing the first matchup, Pittsburgh has won the past four by an average margin of 21 points. The last meeting was back in 2010 when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 320 yards and a touchdown in the easy 27-3 home victory. This will be Cam Newton’s first time facing the Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Carolina -3.5
Three Things to Watch
|Pittsburgh 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs CLE||W 30 - 27||Recap|
|9/11||@ BAL||L 6 - 26||Recap|
|9/21||@ CAR||W 37 - 19||Recap|
|9/28||vs TB||L 24 - 27||Recap|
1. Getting Defensive
Pittsburgh’s reputation as a defensive team is well known, going all the way back to the days of the original Steel Curtain. However, the Steelers’ defense has slipped somewhat in recent seasons and is off to another slow start in 2014. Carolina meanwhile broke through defensively in a big way in 2013, finishing second in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. The Panthers have built on this success, holding their first two opponents (Buccaneers and Lions) to less than 294 yards and 10.5 points per game. While Pittsburgh has undergone a youth movement on defense, Carolina has a front seven that matches up with any in the league, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Luke Kuechly. With the Panthers’ defense playing as well as it has and given Carolina’s issues on offense, this figures to be a low-scoring game. The defenses will likely dictate the outcome and while it may be too much to expect Pittsburgh to out-perform Carolina’s defense on its own turf; the Steelers still need to make enough plays on that side of the ball to give their offense a fighting chance.
|Carolina 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||@ TB||W 20 - 14||Recap|
|9/14||vs DET||W 24 - 7||Recap|
|9/21||vs PIT||L 19 - 37||Recap|
|9/28||@ BAL||L 10 - 38||Recap|
2. Cam Can’t Do It All Alone
Carolina has a championship-caliber defense, there’s no disputing that, but in order for this team to be considered a legitimate contender in the NFC, the offense will have do its part. And with apologies to Derek Anderson, the success of the offense falls on the shoulders of one player – Cam Newton. After missing the season opener with bruised ribs, Newton returned and helped lead his team to a convincing 24-7 victory over Detroit. Working behind a retooled offensive line and throwing to a practically brand-new receiving corps, Newton completed 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown. The bigger concern with Newton right now is making sure his bruised ribs don’t get any worse. One way to do this is to not ask him to not make as many plays with his legs. Against the Lions, Newton ran the ball just four time for 19 yards. Unfortunately, that was good enough for second on the team and he also was sacked five times. Starting running back DeAngelo Williams didn’t play last week because of a thigh injury and Jonathan Stewart managed just 37 yards rushing on 15 carries in his absence. Through two games, Panther running backs have combined for 135 yards rushing on 49 carries. That’s an average of less than three yards (2.8 ypc to be exact) per attempt. That’s not going to get the job done, even against a team like Pittsburgh, who gave up 157 yards on the ground to Baltimore last week. Carolina’s offensive line is a work in progress and the receiving corps also needs more time to gel and develop chemistry. That means it is critical that the Panthers’ running game picks up some of the slack. And without asking an already banged-up quarterback to do the heavy lifting.
3. Molding the Steelers’ Offense
In the season opener, Pittsburgh piled up 503 yards of offense and 30 points behind its superstar trio of Ben Roethlisberger (365 yards passing), Le’Veon Bell (197 total yards, including 109 rushing), and Antonio Brown (five receptions for 116 yards and a TD). Compare that to last week’s offensive output against Baltimore (301 yards, two field goals), as the Ravens pushed the Steelers around up front on both sides of the ball. The 26-6 score could have been much worse considering Baltimore had to settle for field goals on four separate trips into the red zone. Comparatively speaking, Pittsburgh’s collection of offensive weapons is better than Carolina’s. The problem is the Steelers have a much tougher task ahead of them in trying to solve and move the ball against the Panthers’ stout defense. Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown will lead the charge, but supporting players like wide receiver Markus Wheaton, tight end Heath Miller, running back LeGarrette Blount and of course the offensive line, will have to do their part as well. Pittsburgh could receive an additional boost with the expected debut of veteran wideout Lance Moore and the possible return of all-purpose back Dri Archer. The bottom line is that points figure to be hard to come by tonight, so Big Ben and company need to make the most of their limited opportunities if they want any chance of leaving Bank of America Stadium with a win.
Pittsburgh and Carolina are mirror images of each other in many ways, so this should be an entertaining cross-conference matchup. The Panthers have become one of the toughest teams to beat at home, thanks in large part to a stingy defense. The Steelers are coming off of a tough divisional loss on the road, and even though the extra rest gained from playing a Thursday night game will benefit them, I don’t believe this is the best timing for them to play the Panthers. Pittsburgh will continue to get better as the season progresses, as a young defense continues to gel and the offense finds its rhythm. But as far as tonight goes, Carolina’s defense is just too tough and Cam Newton and the offense make just enough plays to stay perfect on the season.
Prediction: Carolina 24, Pittsburgh 20
The possibility of Dak Prescott was interesting enough: A dynamic run-pass threat who could become the top quarterback in Mississippi State’s limited history at the position.
On Saturday, he made that — and more — a reality.
Prescott redefined Mississippi State’s recent history with a 34-29 win over LSU, ending a 15-game losing streak to ranked teams and 11-game losing streak in Baton Rouge.
Prescott completed 15-of-24 passes for 268 yards with two touchdowns against LSU to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors. The Louisiana native also rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Behind Prescott, Mississippi State put up 570 yards on LSU, the most of the Les Miles era for the Tigers.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Gionni Paul, Utah
Patience paid off in a few of ways for Utah linebacker Gionni Paul. First, Paul sat out all of 2013 after his transfer after two seasons for Miami. Then, he missed Utah’s first two games with a broken foot sustained in spring. By the end of the day Saturday, he needed a lengthy rain delay to make his return official. Paul finished with 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in a 26-10 win over Michigan.
National Freshman and Big 12 Player of the Week: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
Before Saturday, Oklahoma’s running back position the subject of questions. Not anymore. Five-star freshman Joe Mixon is suspended for the entire season. Keith Ford is out with a hairline fracture in his right fibula. With Oklahoma low on numbers, Perine only put up one of the best rushing performances for Oklahoma in several years.
Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries in a 45-33 win over West Virginia. Perine had the first 200-yard rushing game for the Sooners since DeMarco Murray in 2010 and the fourth-best rushing total for a freshman in OU history. Perine was a fringe top-250 prospect and the No. 30 recruit in Texas out of Pflugerville Hendrickson in the class of 2014.
National Coordinator of the Week: Lane Kiffin, Alabama
Kiffin’s impact on the Alabama offense came to full fruition in the second half of a 42-21 win over Florida. Despite early turnover woes, Alabama finished with 645 total yards against one of the SEC’s best defenses. Quarterback Blake Sims had the second-best passing day in school history with 445 yards, and for the first time in school history, Alabama had a 400-yard passer, 200-yard receiver (Amari Cooper) and 100-yard rusher (Derrick Henry). Alabama has eclipsed 500 total yards in every game of Kiffin’s tenure.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas completed 7-of-18 passes for 125 yards with a touchdown in a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. Thomas also rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Big Ten: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries and caught a touchdown pass in a 41-31 win over Miami.
Pac-12: Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was 47-of-73 for 520 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in a 49-45 win over Cal. Solomon completed a 47-yard Hail Mary to cap a 36-point fourth quarter to beat the Bears.
American: East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden was 30-of-48 for 438 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in a 70-31 win over North Carolina.
Conference USA: Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 27-of-43 passes for 430 yards with five touchdowns in a 45-42 win over defending C-USA champion Rice.
MAC: Toledo running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in a 34-23 win over Ball State.
Mountain West: Boise State running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in a 34-9 win over UL Lafayette.
Sun Belt: Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a 28-6 win over South Alabama.
Independents: BYU quarterback Taysom Hill completed 13-of-23 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns in a 41-33 win over Virginia. He also rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Back, shoulder, thigh and ankle are the injuries that several high-profile quarterbacks are dealing with entering Week 3. Are any of these injuries severe enough to threaten their playing status?
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Probable – Back
Kaepernick first appeared on the injury report Thursday, but he was a full practice participant then and also on Friday. He’s listed as Probable so there doesn’t appear to be much to his back issue. What’s of more concern, however, is how does Kaepernick bounce back following last week’s home loss to Chicago in which his four turnovers helped the Bears overcome a 17-0 deficit? Arizona’s defense has been pretty stout early on, so it may be wishful thinking to expect Kaepernick to perform like a QB1 this week too.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams
Probable – Back
Romo underwent back surgery this offseason, so anytime that part of his body shows up on the injury report, it’s going to draw some attention. However, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for concern. After sitting out Wednesday’s practice due to tightness in his back, he was a full participant on Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable and it would be a mild surprise if he doesn’t suit up against the Rams. The Cowboys have been effective running the ball thus far, which has limited Romo’s numbers. But unless you have a better option, you should start this Cowboy.
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers
Questionable - Shoulder
Palmer was somewhat of a surprise late scratch last week because of a shoulder injury. What has since been described as a bruised nerve in his right shoulder continues to be a hindrance, as not only is Palmer listed as Questionable for the second straight game, head coach Bruce Arians has already said that Drew Stanton will get the start this afternoon against San Francisco. So even if Palmer does play, it will be as Stanton’s backup. My advice is simple: ignore Cardinal QBs this week.
Shaun Hill, QB, St. Louis Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys
Questionable – Thigh
Hill didn’t play last week and he’s Questionable again with the same thigh injury. He did make some progress in that he was able to do some things in practice, but he will most likely be a “game-time decision” once more. For now, count on Austin Davis to make his second consecutive start and continue to stay away from any and all Ram QBs.
QBs Already Ruled Out:
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins – RGIII dislocated his ankle last week and while there was no fracture, it’s not known when he will be able to return to the field. Kirk Cousins will take over and, depending on whom you ask, is considered to be a better fit for Jay Gruden’s system. Cousins impressed (250-2-0) last week after RGIII went down and it’s possible he could provide borderline QB1 production. This week’s start against Philadelphia, in what could be a high-scoring contest, is a good barometer game to gauge Cousins’ fantasy potential moving forward.
Another popular running back will play in Week 3 despite a foot injury, while another attempts to give it a go just a week after suffering a high ankle sprain. Those are just some of the running back injuries covered below.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Foot
The torn tendon in his foot is still an issue, but Ellington has yet to miss a game and was even able to practice on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. After being Questionable last week, Ellington is listed as Probable, so he’s definitely a RB2/flex candidate. The only real question comes down to how many touches will Ellington get? Last week he totaled 101 yards on 16 touches (15 rush, 1 catch), but it was Jonathan Dwyer who got into the end zone. Dwyer has been placed on the reserve/non-football injury list stemming from his recent arrest on assault charges, so he won’t be a factor anytime soon. Hopefully this will be the week that Arians trusts Ellington with a bigger workload.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins
Questionable – Ankle
From “out indefinitely” to practicing to Questionable. It’s already been quite the whirlwind for Charles and his owners, who watched their stud leave last week’s game against Denver in the Chiefs’ first series. Diagnosed with the dreaded high ankle sprain, Charles made a surprise return to practice on Thursday and was back at it on Friday. He’s listed as Questionable for this afternoon’s game, but no one really expected his shot of playing this week to be 50-50 in the first place after the initial prognosis. Still with the late kickoff and, more importantly, the presence of one Knile Davis, I would err on the side of caution when it comes to Charles this week and try and make do without him in your lineup.
Joique Bell, RB, Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers
Probable – Knee
Whatever Bell’s knee injury is, it was serious enough to limit him in practice the entire week. However, he did practice enough to earn the Proabable designation, so there should be no real trepidation in rolling Bell out today as your RB2/RB3/flex. After two games, Bell is seeing more touches than backfield mate Reggie Bush and today’s matchup with Green Bay could develop into a high-scoring affair.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts
Probable – Foot
Gerhart increased his practice participation each day this week, so he should be good to go today. He’s listed as Probable and maybe a matchup with the Colts will help Gerhart finally get on track. After two games, Gerhart has rushed for 50 yards on 25 carries (2.0 ypc). He’s no more than a “safe” flex option until he shows a little more consistent production.
RBs Already Ruled Out:
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints – Off to a terrific start (143 yards, 3 TDs), Ingram broke his hand last week and underwent surgery to repair the damage. He’s expected to miss at least a month. In the meantime, while Pierre Thomas’ role as the primary pass-catching back doesn’t figure to change, Khiry Robinson should see an increase in his workload. Thomas is already flex-worthy, especially in PPR leagues, but Robinson could enter that territory himself, if not higher, if he can step in and replace Ingram’s production.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers – Mathews is expected to miss at least a month after spraining his MCL last week. Danny Woodhead will maintain his role as a receiving threat out of the backfield while Donald Brown should get most of Mathews’ carries. If Brown is able to produce, he could develop into a reliable RB2/flex option.
Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins – Moreno is out at least a few weeks after dislocating his elbow early last week against Buffalo. He is hoping to return following the team’s Week 5 bye. For now, the starting job will go to Lamar Miller, who hurt his ankle against the Bills, but does not appear on the injury report. Miller’s stock dropped after Moreno exploded in Week 1, but he’ll get a second chance to show he’s capable of providing similar production.
Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns – Tate sprained his knee in Week 1 and hopes to return following the team’s Week 4 bye. In the meantime, rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell will handle the backfield duties. Both are averaging at least 4.8 yards per carry, but West is seeing the bulk of the carries, making him the more appealing fantasy option. Crowell is capable of flex production, but he’s also risky because of the uncertainty related to his workload.
One workhorse running back out West is ready for Week 3 while another playing on the East Coast is dealing with a hamstring injury. Here are the running back injuries you need to know before setting your lineup.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos
Probable – Back
Lynch is on the injury report with a back issue, but he’s listed as Probable and was a full participant in practice both Thursday and Friday. There’s no way he’s missing this Super Bowl rematch and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in your starting lineup.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans at New York Giants
Questionable – Hamstring
After being limited in practice all week, the Texans have listed Foster Questionable with a hamstring injury. Head coach Bill O’Brien talked about limiting Foster’s practice reps after registering 55 carries in the first two games, but this appears to be something more than just giving his workhorse some rest. Foster already has 241 rushing yards, so his status leading up to kickoff is something that should be watched carefully. Remember, a Questionable designation puts the player’s chances of playing at 50-50.
Bernard Pierce, RB, Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Questionable – Thigh
Pierce was added to the injury report on Thursday when he was limited in practice due to a thigh injury. He practiced in full on Friday, but be careful and don't take his Questionable designation too lightly. One thing Pierce could have in his favor is while he has dealt with his share of injuries in two-plus seasons, he’s yet to miss a game. If Pierce does play he’s in the RB2/flex discussion against a Browns team that’s allowing 150.5 rushing yards per game. If Pierce doesn’t go, Justin Forsett would see the bulk of the carries, putting him in flex territory.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders
Questionable – Shoulder
Vereen was only a limited participant this week at practice and is listed as Questionable for today’s game with Oakland. While his shoulder injury doesn’t appear to be serious, it’s worth noting that after getting 12 touches in the opener, he saw just six last week, as Stevan Ridley carried the load (25 att.). Not saying that Bill Belichick has committed to Ridley as his workhorse, but the fact that the Patriots were successful running the ball last week coupled with Vereen’s shoulder injury is enough to at least downgrade Vereen to flex consideration this week with slightly more upside in PPR leagues.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Questionable – Thigh
Williams was made inactive prior to last week’s game because of a thigh injury, but he clarified his situation earlier this week and said it’s a hamstring issue he’s dealing with. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s enough of an issue that it continues to limit him in practice and has him listed as Questionable for the second straight week. But after taking reps with the first team on Friday, the Panthers are hopeful they will have their starting running back for tonight’s game against Pittsburgh. Even if Williams does suit up, he’s a risky play given the late kickoff and his health concerns, even if the Steelers have struggled to defend the run thus far.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Oakland Raiders at New England Patriots
Questionable – Hand
Jones-Drew missed last week’s game, but he returned to practice this week. He is wearing extra protection on his surgically repaired right hand, but was able to get some work in on Thursday and Friday, which increases his chances of playing. Even with the Questionable tag, I wouldn’t rush to get MJD back into your lineup. There’s no telling how his injured hand will respond should he even play, and don’t forget he had just 11 yards rushing in Week 1. Darren McFadden may not have put up huge numbers, but the Raiders seem perfectly content to let him handle the workload. That said, I’m not ready to trust any Raider offensive player in my starting lineup, with the exception of wide receiver James Jones.
A Cowboy wide receiver with a bum shoulder and a Bengal wideout with a bad toe are both planning on being on the field in Week 3. Here’s the latest on those wide receiver injury situations and more.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams
Questionable – Shoulder
Bryant injured his shoulder last week against Tennessee yet finished the game with 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He missed one day of practice, was limited the other two and is listed as Questionable, but Bryant said he’ll be “ready to roll” on Sunday and who am I to not believe him? Unless something changes before kickoff (1 p.m. ET), leave Bryant in your starting lineup and hope he can pick up where he left things off last week.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans
Probable – Toe
After missing practice time last week because of a foot issue, Green didn’t even make it through the first quarter against Atlanta after suffering what has been called a turf toe injury. Initially his chances of playing this week did not look good, but Green was a full practice participant on both Thursday and Friday. His Probable designation is a good indicator he will play and other than doing a courtesy check before kickoff to make sure he’s active, I think you need to have one of the NFL’s best wide receivers in your lineup.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys
Questionable – Knee
Austin left last week’s game early with a knee injury and missed all of practice this week. He’s listed as Questionable, but I would be surprised if he plays and even more surprised if anyone was willing to trust the second-year pro at this point. All he’s done in the first two games is catch three passes for 34 yards, and all of that came in Week 1. A disappointment as a rookie last season, it’s probably past time to quit waiting on Austin and take a chance on someone else instead.
Already Ruled Out:
Odell Beckham, New York Giants – Beckham’s NFL debut will have to wait at least one more week, as a lingering hamstring issue will sideline him for a third straight game. Jerrel Jernigan (foot) was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, leaving Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle as the primary wide receivers. Cruz and Randle should be rostered, but given the Giants’ offensive struggles it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in either right now.
Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals’ No. 2 wide receiver is still recovering from foot surgery. The hope is he will be back following the Week 4 bye. With A.J. Green also dealing with an injury, Mohamed Sanu could be a sneaky pickup.
Jacksonville’s depth chart at wide receiver remains a volatile situation entering Week 3. Here’s the latest on that situation and other wideouts around the league.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders
Probable – Back
Edelman was limited in practice this week with some sort of back issue, but his Probable designation is a strong indicator he will play. Tom Brady’s favorite target, Edelman is a solid WR2 option with the upside for WR1 production if the Raiders’ defense continues to struggle and Brady decides to air it out.
Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Cecil Shorts, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts
Probable – Ankle; Probable – Hamstring
Hurns turned his ankle last week and while he missed some practice time, he’s listed as Probable to face the Colts. Lee has already been ruled Out because of a hamstring injury, the same type of injury that has prevented Shorts from getting on the field this season. That it is until today, as it appears Shorts will finally make his season debut as he’s listed as Probable and indications are he will start. Shorts was the Jaguars’ top wide receiver last season and he should reclaim that role fairly quickly. Since a huge first quarter in the opener, Hurns has been very quiet. It’s risky trusting either, but I have more confidence in Shorts, who at worst should be a reliable WR3/flex option.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Probable – Chest
Patterson is dealing with a chest injury similar to what he had last season. The good news is this injury didn’t cause him to miss a game in 2013, and that’s the expectation for this week too, as he’s listed as Probable. Patterson was a popular breakout candidate entering this season and delivered on that promise with 102 yards rushing in the opener, but he’s yet to have much impact as a wide receiver. Hopefully that will change starting this week now that the Vikings will have to do without running back Adrian Peterson for the foreseeable future. Patterson is a safe, every-week WR2 with the upside to enter WR1 territory.
T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks, WRs, Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Probable – Groin; Questionable – Illness
Hilton is on the injury report with a groin issue, but he’s listed as Probable so there’s little doubt he won’t play. Nicks is listed as Questionable, as illness caused him to miss some practice time, but unless it’s something serious, he should be out there too. Reggie Wayne has regained his status as Andrew Luck’s favorite target, but there’s plenty of room for Hilton and Nicks to produce. Hilton’s role seems to be a little more defined right now, so for this week he is the safer WR3/flex option.
San Francisco and Cleveland may both be without their starting tight ends for Week 3. Are there any other big targets who may not play today?
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers at Buffalo Bills
Probable – Hamstring
The hamstring issue is still there, as it limited Gates’ practice participation on Thursday. However, he was a full go on Friday, is listed as Probable and oh yeah, he’s coming off of a three-touchdown performance against the defending Super Bowl champions. Do I really need to say anything more?
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Questionable – Ankle/Knee
Davis left last week’s game with what was reported to be an ankle injury, but apparently he’s also dealing with a knee issue. Those two injuries combined with the fact he didn’t practice at all this week and his Questionable designation and it sounds like a backup plan is in order. The late afternoon kickoff only reinforces this strategy, as waiting until after the 1 p.m. ET games start to make a decision could end up shrinking your replacement pool even more.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens
Questionable – Shoulder
As was expected, Cameron missed last week because of the shoulder injury he re-aggravated in the opener. He is listed as Questionable, but was able to return to practice in a limited capacity. Cameron will be a game-time decision again. It’s an early game, but I wouldn’t include Cameron in your game plan this week unless you simply don’t have another option.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders
Probable – Knee
Here’s that man again. Yes, he’s on the injury report. Yes, he’s listed as Probable. And yes he will play barring something unforeseen happening in warmups. But for Gronkowski, it still comes down to how much playing time he will get. After seeing limited snaps in Week 1, his total actually decreased in Week 2. He did catch a TD in the opener, but those who took a chance on him in the draft are hoping for much more than just four catches and around 40 yards per game. Depending on your options, you may want see if a trip to the bench is what Gronk needs to get him going.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Questionable – Abdomen
Rudolph practiced all week, but in a limited capacity due to an abdomen injury. He’s listed as Questionable for today’s game and his owners would be wise to check on his status before the 1 p.m. ET kickoff to make sure he’s playing.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Knee
He’s yet to miss a game, but it’s pretty clear that Clay is not at 100 percent. He’s shown up on the injury report several times with a knee issue that has impacted his practice participation and earned him a Questionable designation. A pleasant surprise last season, Clay has nine catches for 58 yards through two games. While he may remain in the Dolphins’ starting lineup, he probably shouldn’t be in yours unless it’s as a TE2.
Already Ruled Out:
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Rams – Eifert dislocated his elbow in the opener and is on injured reserve with a designation to return. The soonest he will be back on the field is Week 10. Jermaine Gresham will take Eifert’s place in the starting lineup and is TE2 material and could be a borderline TE1 option depending on the matchup.
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis went on the injured reserve/designated for return list earlier this week because of a high ankle sprain. Unless you have an IR spot and/or are smitten with Lewis, there’s no reason to hold onto him or even stash him away on your roster.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins – Reed will be out an extended period of time due to a hamstring injury. Niles Paul has replaced Reed in the starting lineup and has already thrust himself into TE1 consideration following his eight-catch, 99-yard effort that also included a touchdown last week against Jacksonville.
A trio of wide receivers are Questionable for the Monday night finale in Week 3, while a couple of others may not be on the field when action kicks off this afternoon. Read all the latest information on these injury situations and others below.
Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, WRs, Chicago Bears at New York Jets (Mon.)
Questionable – Hamstring; Questionable – Ankle
Just like last week, Jeffery and Marshall are Questionable. But last week there definitely was more concern one or both would miss the game against San Francisco than there is entering their Monday night matchup with the Jets. And last week both not only played, each also contributed to the comeback win over the 49ers, especially Marshall (3 TD catches). The hamstring and ankle continue to be an issue for the duo, but both were able to practice to some degree. Based on what happened last week, I would be surprised if both didn’t at least start the game. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk in keeping them in your lineup though. For one, the Monday night factor alone means you pretty much have to make up your mind before this game is even played. That said, New York’s suspect secondary is certainly an appealing matchup for these two rangy targets, so as long as you understand the risk and are OK with it, I would grin and (ahem) bear it with Jeffery and Marshall.
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers at Buffalo Bills
Questionable - Groin
Allen was added to the injury report following Thursday’s practice after injuring his groin. He was limited on Friday and is listed as Questionable to face the Bills. Allen has gotten off to a slow start, but the Chargers’ first games have been against Arizona and Seattle, arguably two of the top secondaries in the NFL. Unless this injury gets worse, Allen’s numbers should only get better. Keep an eye on his status leading up to kickoff (1 p.m. ET), but if he plays, I would keep Allen in my lineup.
Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets vs. Chicago Bears (Mon.)
Questionable - Hamstring
Decker has contributed immediately to his new team, leading the Jets in every receiving category, so they can ill afford to be without him. A hamstring injury kept him out of practice until Saturday and has him officially listed as Questionable for the Monday night game. Most likely, Decker will be a game-time decision, but if you have him on your roster you need to make the decision sooner. Even though Decker is the Jets’ No. 1 wide receiver, he’s not putting up huge (9-137-1) numbers. If you have the depth, it might be best to leave Decker on your bench this week just in case he’s unable to go on Monday night.
Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills vs. San Diego Chargers
Probable – Ribs; Probable – Ankle
EJ Manuel’s top two targets both appear on the injury report this week. Watkins still hasn’t completely recovered from the bruised ribs he suffered during the preseason, while Woods has been dealing with an ankle injury. Both are listed as Probable although Woods was only a limited participant in practice on Friday. Watkins is the more appealing fantasy option and the rookie enjoyed a breakout game (8-117-1) last week. Watkins is a clear-cut WR2 option, but I would exercise extreme caution with Woods. He’s only caught five passes for 83 yards thus far and it’s possible his ankle flares up during warmups or the coaching staff decides to sit him. At best, Woods is no more than a flex option in deeper leagues.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
Questionable – Shoulder
Jackson left last week’s game early with a shoulder injury and is considered Questionable for today’s game. He was able to practice some, which helps his chances, and there’s the added motivation of playing against his former team who unceremoniously dumped him this offseason. Even if he plays, Jackson figures to be limited while his impact with his new team has been minimal thus far. There’s nothing wrong with waiting to make a decision, but if you do decide to roll with Jackson be sure to temper your expectations.
The College Football Playoff era has plenty of uncertainties, but here is one thing we can say for sure: East Carolina has the inside track on claiming a major bowl game.
The BCS busters are a thing of the past, which is just fine for East Carolina.
In the past, a team outside of the power conference would have to go undefeated to find its way to a major bowl game. Not anymore.
The Pirates just have to be the best-looking team outside of the Power 5, and East Carolina is putting on a convincing show.
The Pirates of the American Athletic Conference demolished North Carolina 70-41 for their second consecutive win over an ACC team. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech 28-21 a week ago and suffered its only loss by 10 at South Carolina on Sept. 6.
The Playoff selection committee’s top-ranked team from the Group of 5 is guaranteed a berth in the Orange, Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowl.
East Carolina is the only team from the so-called Group of 5 (the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt) with a pair of wins over teams from power conferences.
These weren’t gimmes, either. Other teams in contention for the New Year's Six bowl slot will have trouble matching East Carolina's pair of wins against ACC Coastal contenders, one of which is two weeks removed from a win at Ohio State.
Against North Carolina, East Carolina put on offensive showcase. Former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil has brought the Air Raid to his alma mater with help from 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, another Lubbock import.
The offense was at its best Saturday as veteran Shane Carden completed 30-of-48 passes for 438 yards for four touchdowns and an interception against the Tar Heels. Only one scoring drive — a fourth-quarter TD drive in 4:14 — exceeded three minutes.
Mind you, East Carolina’s quick strike offense was missing leading receiver Cam Worthy, who was suspended for two games for violating the school’s code of student conduct.
This comes a week after East Carolina had a rare 400-yard passing game against Virginia Tech as Carden went 23-of-47 for 427 yards with three touchdowns against the Hokies.
Numbers like that may make a decision easy on the committee determining the New Year’s Six games. Not only does East Carolina have the best case for one of those big-time bowls, the Pirates don’t have many true rivals for the spot.
BYU is ranked and outside of the Power 5 structure, but independence means the Cougars have no such guarantees in the postseason outside of the Miami Beach Bowl.
At the end of the day Saturday, only Marshall and Cincinnati likely will be the only undefeated teams in the Group of 5. East Carolina will face Cincinnati on Nov. 13. Marshall could flirt with an undefeated season given a weaker schedule and no games against the Power 5. It’s also worth noting Conference USA is 11-1 against the American, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
Perhaps East Carolina will be tripped up in a conference schedule that includes Cincinnati and UCF (but not Houston). A year ago, East Carolina lost in an upset to Tulane and then to Marshall to lose a spot in the C-USA title game.
For now, though, East Carolina is poised for its best season in school history.
|Group of 5 wins over Power 5|
East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21
East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41
Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7
Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42
Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15
Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17
Utah State 36, Wake Forest 34
Colorado State 31, Colorado 17
Nevada 24, Washington State 13
ULM 17, Wake Forest 10
Utah receiver Kaelin Clay has quickly emerged as one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous return men in 2014.
And Clay had a huge punt return for a touchdown during the first half of Saturday’s game against Michigan, and the senior decided to add a little flair by striking the Heisman pose.
Credit Clay for an awesome return – but let’s hold off on the Heisman:
Utah player strikes Heisman pose after scoring touchdown at the Big House - http://t.co/IiQkehevhe— For The Win (@ForTheWin) September 20, 2014
As expected, Michigan State handled Eastern Michigan without too much trouble on Saturday.
The Spartans rotated several players into action and were able to rest the starters thanks to a huge lead.
The Eagles are rebuilding under first-year coach Chris Creighton, and this is a program that ranks near the bottom of the FBS in most preseason projections.
EMU provided one of the low-lights of Week 4 with this failed snap. Major, major fail here by the Eagles.
Virginia Tech’s upset win over Ohio State looks more and more like a fluke after the Hokies’ 27-24 loss to Georgia Tech.
Virginia Tech’s overall performance against the Yellow Jackets was sloppy, but there was an unusual highlight by the offense in the second half.
Running back Marshawn Williams rushed for 10 yards but lost control of the ball.
However, quarterback Michael Brewer happened to be in the right place at the right time, picking up the fumble for a touchdown.
Strange day in Blacksburg:
fumble scoop and touchdown for michael brewer https://t.co/6Q3Ty6aJNH— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 20, 2014
Cracking any list of prolific Pittsburgh running backs deserves note, and James Conner is on his way to putting his name with a few greats.
Pittsburgh's sophomore back continued a hot start to surpass Heisman winner Tony Dorsett’s start in 1973 and Craig “Ironhead” Heyward for the best starts for a tailback in Pitt history. Conner rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in the first half against Iowa.
His 643 rushing yards through four games is the hottest start in four games in Pittsburgh history. Entering Saturday, Conner already shattered the school record for the best three-game start in school history, outpacing Tony Dorsett’s 487 yards through three games as a freshman in 1973.
Through 3.5 games, Conner is averaging 183 rushing yards per game. Stretch that over 13 games (12 games, plus a bowl) and Conner would outpace Dorsett’s 2,150 yards from his Heisman-winning season in 1976.
Conner’s start to 2014 goes back to his career-best performance against Bowling Green in the bowl game last season.
|James Conner: Last Five Games|
|Dec. 26||Bowling Green||26||229||1|
|Sept. 5||Boston College||35||213||1|
*through first half
Iowa’s offense got a spark in the second half from backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, which included this bomb to receiver Damond Powell.
Powell is one of Iowa’s fastest receivers and clearly beat the defense on this route.
While Powell’s speed and Beathard’s throw were nice, neither were as awesome as Powell’s one-handed grab to give Iowa a huge momentum boost in the third quarter.
This Green Bay vs. Detroit divisional pairing has shootout written all over it, as Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford will be flinging footballs all over Ford Field Sunday afternoon on FOX. The Packers arrive in Motown carrying some momentum thanks to their somewhat miraculous 31–24 comeback win over the Jets that allowed the Pack to avoid the dreaded 0–2 start. Meanwhile, the Lions, who looked impressive in toying with the Giants in a 35–14 Week 1 win, limp home following a thrashing at the hands of the Panthers in Charlotte. A narrative has yet to take hold in the wide-open NFC North, where all four teams are 1–1, but the winner of this one has an opportunity for a tiny bit of separation.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Detroit -6.5
Three Things to Watch
|Green Bay 2014 Schedule|
|9/4||@ SEA||L 16 - 36||Recap|
|9/14||vs NYJ||W 31 - 24||Recap|
|9/21||@ DET||L 7 - 19||Recap|
|9/28||@ CHI||W 38 - 17||Recap|
1. Ground Games Stuck in Neutral
Neither team has mounted anything resembling an effective rushing attack so far in this young NFL season. The respective rushing leaders — Eddie Lacy for the Packers (77 yards) and Joique Bell for the Lions (87 yards) — have yet to crack the century mark after two games. The Lions rank 28th in the NFL in rushing at 73.0 yards per game, while the Packers are only two spots better at 26th, with 80.0 yards per game. The good news for the Lions is that the Packers defense has been unable to stop the run, allowing 176.5 rushing yards per game to rank 31st in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Lions are second in the NFL in run defense, surrendering 57.5 yards per game so far. If Detroit can press this advantage and establish the ground game, its offensive options should open up considerably.
|Detroit 2014 Schedule|
|9/8||vs NYG||W 35 - 14||Recap|
|9/14||@ CAR||L 7 - 24||Recap|
|9/21||vs GB||W 19 - 7||Recap|
|9/28||@ NYJ||W 24 - 17||Recap|
2. Jordy and Megatron
The NFL’s current two leaders in receiving yardage will be on the field for this one. Yes, one of them is Calvin Johnson. No, he's not No. 1. That would be Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, who has 292 receiving yards in two games, including a nine-catch, 209-yard shredding of the Jets secondary during the Packers' comeback win. Aaron Rodgers targeted Nelson 16 times on Sunday, the most attention he has ever lavished on one receiver in a single game. And Nelson did his part, averaging 9.7 yards after the catch. It's early, but Nelson is on pace for a 144-catch, 2,336-yard season and is staking his claim to be the second-best receiver in the NFC. Johnson remains the gold standard among receivers, but Nelson could be in the process of making history for the Green and Gold.
3. Will Tate Be Golden?
The Lions acquired Golden Tate during the offseason to provide Megatron and the Lions offense with a complementary piece, one that would relieve the pressure on Johnson and give quarterback Matthew Stafford another target. The Panthers proved last Sunday that taking Tate away as an option is an effective approach to stopping the Lions offense, primarily in the sense that it forces an over-reliance on Johnson. "When you can take away the other reads and guys who can hurt you on offense, it does kind of make you one-dimensional," Panthers safety Thomas DeCoud said. "And then they are going to try and feed their big receiver, their big target and now we can key in on that and be ready." Look for Stafford to try to find Tate in an attempt to open up other facets of the offense.
The Panthers provided a blueprint for beating the Lions, turning them into a one-dimensional offense. While that dimension — throw the ball up and let Megatron go get it — can be effective, the Lions must get production from the ground game to relieve pressure off of the Matthew Stafford-Calving Johnson combo. Aaron Rodgers remains an unstoppable force, but the Packers have been similarly one-dimensional, relying on frequent Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson hookups to bail them out. Whichever team shows more diversity has the upper hand, and given the Pack's lack of a run defense, that team could be the Lions.
Prediction: Detroit 31, Green Bay 28
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the entire game against Clemson on Saturday night. Earlier in the week, Winston was suspended for the first half of the Week 4 showdown against the Tigers, but the school released a statement on Friday night with an updated suspension. According to the statement from interim president Garnett S. Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox, this is the result of the ongoing investigation into Winston's use of inappropriate language on campus.
Sophomore Sean Maguire will start in place of Winston, and this will be his first taste of extended action with the Seminoles.
Maguire has completed 16 of 26 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in his career in Tallahassee. However, Maguire has never started a game or played a meaningful snap.
Winston’s suspension is a potential game-changer for Saturday night’s matchup. Florida State was a heavy favorite (around 20 points) prior to the suspension, but most still considered the Seminoles at least a two-touchdown favorite with Winston sidelined for a half.
With Winston sidelined for the full game, Florida State’s margin for error is considerably smaller.
Maguire is capable of winning this game, especially if the offensive line and rushing attack (Karlos Williams and Mario Pender) can control the pace of the game.
Clemson’s defensive line is among the best in the nation, but the Tigers are allowing 167.5 yards on the ground per game through two contests.
Although coach Jimbo Fisher seems comfortable with Maguire at the helm, expect a different approach on offense for the Seminoles.
Maguire doesn’t need to go out and win the game for Florida State. With a strong defense and capable talent around him, Maguire just needs to manage the game and limit his mistakes.
For Clemson, this is a huge chance to score an upset win. The Tigers were considered the biggest challenger to Florida State in the Atlantic this preseason, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team can steal a victory in Tallahassee.
Clemson’s chances of winning have increased with Winston out for the full game, but the Tigers still have to overcome a team that features one of the nation’s top pass defenses, along with a front seven that is healthy with the return of tackle Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample.
Clemson-Florida State is arguably the biggest game in the ACC this year. And with Winston sidelined, the matchup went from likely being a one-sided affair to a toss-up. Can the Tigers capitalize? Or will the Seminoles win and remain the No. 1 team in the nation?
And Winston’s suspension brings up an interesting scenario. What if Florida State loses to Clemson but still wins the division and finishes 12-1? Would that be enough to get into college football’s playoff? How will Winston’s suspension factor in the committee’s evaluation of the Seminoles?
Jameis Winston will not play at all tomorrow vs. Clemson, FSU just announced. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/i6Rt0UgPMU— Natalie Pierre (@Natalie_Pierre) September 20, 2014
Each week, Geoffrey Miller's "Five Things to Watch" will help you catch up on the biggest stories on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' upcoming race weekend. This week, the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup heads north to Loudon, N.H., where Brad Keselowski is downplaying his role as favorite, championship darkhorse Aric Almirola is trying to dig out of a hole and Hendrick Motorsports looks to capitalize on lessons learned from a New Hampshire test session.
Despite win and recent success, Keselowski remains pensive about the Chase
Brad Keselowski nailed down his spot in the second round of NASCAR’s new Chase format with last Sunday’s win at Chicagoland Speedway. It was a big win and strong statement, and leaves the next two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway as non-impactful testing events for his race team.
They won’t be laden with car experiments, however.
“The only thing we would experiment is with something that has the potential to break,” Keselowski said. “Other than that, I don’t see anything, no crazy ideas because you want to stay in a rhythm and work with the pieces you know and not get lost.”
That rhythm is important for Keselowski. Friday at New Hampshire he reiterated what he said last week – that the second round of races in the Chase will prove to be the biggest hurdle for teams hoping to make it all the way to Homestead. He views Kansas – with the new pavement and often unsteady tires – and Talladega as major wildcard races. Those events are two of three that will select the eight drivers for NASCAR’s semi-final round of races.
“I think that should be called the heartbreak round because it’s gonna break someone’s heart in the sense that a really good team will probably not make it through that bracket because of the random factor of Talladega and Kansas,”
But there is good news for Keselowski: each of the first six tracks in the Chase – including all three in his “heartbreak round” – have seen his No. 2 go home a winner within the last two years.
Keselowski’s “cop out” explanation for Stewart case wrong-minded
Also on Friday, Keselowski was asked about this week’s development in the Tony Stewart case – namely that the Ontario County, N.Y., district attorney has chosen to forward it to a grand jury. That grand jury will decide if Stewart should face charges for his role in the incident that killed fellow sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9.
Keselowski disagreed with the D.A.’s choice to forward the case, and hinted that he felt it was a sleazy decision.
“It kind of feels a little bit like a cop-out that they sent it to the grand jury,” Keselowski said. “But I think everybody is wishing Tony the best and supporting him, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
I’m not sure I could disagree more.
Some background: In New York, state law requires a grand jury – 23 people selected at random from the general public – to establish via an indictment if felony charges can be tried in court against an individual. The district attorney has two decisions when a case arrives at his/her desk: to request a grand jury examines evidence against state law, or to shelve the case because evidence doesn’t bear out wrongdoing. The former has happened in the Stewart case.
From my vantage point, nearly everyone in Ontario County seems to be operating in a fashion that will leave the fewest number of unanswered questions. In a story like this – both with the tragic, unnecessary death of Ward and the national stature of Stewart – leaving no stone unturned is most appropriate. It seems that all involved are being deliberate with their duties and making sure that any accusations of unfairness against either party can only be left unfounded.
Keselowski obviously believes Stewart didn’t break a single New York state law during the incident, which is both Keselowski’s right and what may be the final decision. But this isn’t a situation as cut-and-dry as a speeding ticket.
This case involves the death of another human. It’s also a case that, at this point, is carrying enough evidence that both a sheriff and a district attorney both believe may be enough to warrant some level of charge(s) against Stewart.
Such a result would be unfortunate for Stewart. But it would be the result of a very fair and due process – or the very thing that Keselowski advocated for in the days immediately following the crash.
"The dust has to settle before anyone can have really a full opinion on it," Keselowski said on August 12. "Right now I don't even think everybody has all the facts. We have to get to that level first."
We should do that just that – let the dust settle and the grand jury decide.
NHMS will leave several drivers in the Chase danger zone
Who’s in, and who’s out?
Just over 700 miles remain in the next two races before four drivers will see their Chase candles extinguished.
We know, obviously, that Keselowski won’t be one of them. But beyond that? Only one driver – Aric Almirola – sits on the really hot seat. After blowing an engine while racing inside the top 5 at Chicago, Almirola is 52 points out of first and 23 points out of 12th. He’ll have to make up ground this weekend on 12th to have any semblance of advancing after Dover.
Should he go the other way, the mathematical cutoff after New Hampshire will be 47 points behind 12th.
Wondering what happens when four drivers get booted from the Chase after next week’s event at Dover? Each of the four will be unceremoniously stripped of the yellow Chase numbers and stickers adorning their cars and then categorized in the regular Sprint Cup point standings based on their season-to-date point total.
Up for grabs among non-Chasers? Fifth-place money in the standings after Homestead.
Expectations gone, Hendrick Motorsports hopes for New Hampshire improvement
All four teams at Hendrick Motorsports opted to test at New Hampshire ahead of the July Sprint Cup race at the circuit, and the timing was admittedly curious because getting ready for a strong Chase race performance would be the primary objective. The problem with that goal is that progression in setups never ends at the Cup level and even a span of just over eight weeks between race dates could render lessons learned during a test useless.
The test’s timing, however, now has the chance to seem prodigious.
Hendrick endured a pretty horrible day at NHMS in July as only car started in the top 10 (Kasey Kahne, 10th) and only one finished there (Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10th). Jimmie Johnson crashed and Jeff Gordon, who fell as deep as 35th before rallying to lead 19 laps, finished 26th after running out of fuel during a green-white-checker finish.
With that mess in the past, Hendrick should have been able to sort all that went wrong for Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne compared to what went right for Gordon – before the fuel issue, of course.
Corey Lajoie gets first Sprint Cup start
Corey Lajoie signed a driver development deal with Richard Petty Motorsports just after the Coca-Cola 600 – in 2013. The plan was to get Lajoie to full-time status in the Nationwide Series this year should sponsorship be found, and things looked promising after he won three of five ARCA starts last season.
The sponsor – and the ride – never materialized.
Instead, Lajoie has made just three national series starts – one in the Nationwide Series and two in the Camping World Truck Series. Otherwise, he’s been a free agent and that led to an opportunity to race this weekend in Randy Humphrey’s No. 77. It marks Lajoie’s first Cup start.
Lajoie – son of the two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy – made his first laps in a Cup car during Friday practice at NHMS and was 39th fastest at 132.245 mph.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Locks of the Week
Three of the worst teams in the league will struggle to stay in the game against three teams with playoff aspirations.
Patriots (-14) vs. Raiders
Sorry, Derek Carr. Since 2001, Bill Belichick has a 14–5 record against rookie quarterbacks, with none of those losses coming at home.
Colts (-7) at Jaguars
Last season, Indy stomped out J-Ville by a combined score of 67–13. This season, the Jags have been outscored by a combined 75–27.
Cowboys (-1) at Rams
The Michael Sam Bowl is pretty much a pick ‘em. It’s always risky betting on Tony Romo and Co., but this is one the Boys should win.
Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs have Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks going up against inconsistent, albeit talented, young defenses.
Packers (+2.5) at Lions
Olivia Munn’s man, Aaron Rodgers, has not lost to the Lions since an ugly 7–3 defeat at Detroit in Week 14 of 2010.
Giants (+2.5) vs. Texans
Eli Manning has thrown two INTs in both games — both losses — he’s played this year.
Debatable quarterback play has two road teams getting bigger numbers than they deserve. They may not win but they won’t get blown out.
Titans (+7) at Bengals
Jake Locker is playing for his future, while Andy Dalton has already been to the playoffs three times and inked a $96-million extension.
Redskins (+6.5) at Eagles
The Kirk Cousins Era begins with a division showdown with Chip Kelly’s comeback kids. Oh, and DeSean Jackson really, really wants revenge.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on absolutely all the action.
Saints (-10) vs. Vikings
Remember when BountyGate nearly knocked Brett Favre out of the league?
Seahawks (-5) vs. Broncos
Too soon. Too soon.
Dolphins (-4) vs. Chiefs
Neither team has established its identity for 2014.
49ers (-3) at Cardinals
Jim Harbaugh is 5–1 against these NFC West division foes.
Panthers (-3) vs. Steelers
The battle of 6’5”, 240-plus-pound quarterbacks could be a shootout.
Bills (-2.5) vs. Chargers
Bet against West Coast teams playing 1 p.m. Eastern Time kickoffs.
Ravens (-1.5) at Browns
The original Jim Browns take on the expansion Courtney Browns.
Monday Night Moolah
Double down on this weekend’s winnings or get back from this weekend’s losses with a Monday night party.
Bears (+3) at Jets
Smokin’ Jay Cutler aims to shine in prime time for the second straight week.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 19:
• This one's burning up the interwebs today: Falcons-Bucs highlights called by Jim Ross.
• This is cool: Time-lapse video of Levi's Stadium being built.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Alabama opens SEC play with a visit from a Florida team that needed overtime to knock off an improving Kentucky squad last Saturday. These two programs are two of the SEC’s best jobs, and the Gators and Crimson Tide combined for five national titles during the BCS era. And with the level of recruiting at Alabama and Florida, there’s plenty of four and five-star athletes and players on display in Tuscaloosa. Even though both teams recruit at a similar level, the on-field production in recent years is slanted in favor of Alabama. Florida needs a big win - and Saturday's game is a big opportunity - to erase some of the bad memories from last year's 4-8 record.
We can’t mention Florida and Alabama and overlook the coaching matchup. It’s a matchup of the teacher versus the pupil, as Nick Saban squares off against former assistant Will Muschamp. Saban is 1-0 against Muschamp, and this year’s matchup has extra importance for Florida after a disappointing 4-8 record last year. Muschamp sits squarely on the hot seat in 2014 and a win over Alabama would be huge for his future and overall momentum of the program.
Alabama leads the all-time series against Florida 22-14. The last meeting between these two teams was Oct. 1, 2011, with the Crimson Tide winning 38-10.
Florida vs. Alabama
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida’s Run Defense
The Gators haven’t played a gauntlet of offenses in 2014, but the defense has yet to allow a rushing score or 100-yard game. Kentucky’s backfield was limited to just 81 yards on 33 carries, while Eastern Michigan was held to 80 yards on 34 attempts. Good numbers, but what do they mean? Saturday should provide the answers for Florida, as Alabama owns one of the nation’s deepest backfields and ranks No. 18 nationally by averaging 270.3 rushing yards per game. Crimson Tide rushers are averaging 6.2 yards per rush, with T.J. Yeldon (225) and Derrick Henry (209) a tough thunder-and-lightning combination. The Gators allowed 142.4 rushing yards per game in 2013 and return six starters from last year’s front seven, including standout rush end Dante Fowler and lineman Jonathan Bullard. Florida’s defensive front is the best Alabama has played so far this year. If the Gators can find a way to slow down Henry and Yeldon, the emphasis on the offense shifts to quarterback Blake Sims.
2. Amari Cooper vs. Vernon Hargreaves III
Individual matchups are always difficult to watch from the couch, but this game features the No. 1 receiver in the nation (Cooper) against arguably the No. 1 cornerback (Hargreaves III). Cooper leads the nation with 33 receptions and has 454 yards and two scores so far this year. As a true freshman last year, Hargreaves III recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups, while earning third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press. Hargreaves III has broke up five passes this season and will challenge Cooper (assuming these two players are matched against each other). If Hargreaves III shadows Cooper, which receiver steps up for Alabama? Will tight end O.J. Howard record his first catch of the year? Or will the Crimson Tide ask more of Christion Jones and DeAndrew White (if he’s healthy and able to play)?
3. The Quarterbacks
Quarterback play is always under the spotlight, but the performance of Florida’s Jeff Driskel and Alabama’s Blake Sims is under extra scrutiny on Saturday. Driskel missed nearly all of 2013 due to a leg injury, and his performance in 2014 could be the difference in the Gators winning the SEC East or finishing fourth. In two appearances this year, Driskel is completing 63.6 percent of his throws and has four touchdowns to just one interception on 88 attempts. The junior’s mobility was expected to be utilized under new coordinator Kurt Roper, but Driskel has just seven carries so far. Could that change on Saturday? Sims edged Jacob Coker for the starting job in August and has performed well so far. The senior is completing 75 percent of his throws and has tossed four touchdowns on 48 completions. Sims has tossed only one pick and has 102 rushing yards through three games. Considering Alabama’s strength on defense and deep stable of running backs, Sims won’t need a huge effort for the Crimson Tide to win. However, Sims can’t afford to make mistakes and allow Florida to hang around. The mindset under center has to be different for the Gators: Driskel needs to have a big game in order to leave Tuscaloosa with the victory.
A low-scoring game should be expected on Saturday. Both teams average over 33 minutes in time of possession, so the drives and overall opportunities for the offenses will be at a premium. Florida’s up-tempo attack could give Alabama’s defense fits after the struggles of the Crimson Tide against Oklahoma and West Virginia. However, Nick Saban’s secondary will benefit from a healthy Eddie Jackson at cornerback, and the sophomore has a good one-on-one battle ahead against Florida receiver Demarcus Robinson. Expect Florida to challenge Alabama’s rushing attack and force Blake Sims to win this one through the air. The Crimson Tide’s passing game may not have a huge day in terms of statistics, but Sims and Cooper hit on enough plays to keep the Gators’ defense from loading up the box. Alabama controls the pace and flow of the game from the first snap, with Florida tacking on a late score to cover the spread.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Florida 17
Mississippi State and LSU open SEC play with an intriguing and critical conference matchup in Baton Rouge on Saturday night. This game likely will be overshadowed nationally by Florida-Alabama and Florida State-Clemson, but the meeting between the Bulldogs and Tigers could end up being one of the best games of Week 4.
One game should never define a coach’s tenure at a program, but Saturday’s game is a huge opportunity for Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen. In six seasons, Mullen is 39-28 and has guided the Bulldogs to four consecutive bowl appearances. Expectations are always high at a SEC program. But realistically, it’s tough to consistently win big at Mississippi State – especially with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M are top 10 teams. Mullen is doing a good job at one of the SEC’s toughest jobs, but the Pennsylvania native has yet to beat a team ranked in the top 10. Again, expectation levels for each fan are different, but while Mullen is doing a good job in Starkville, it’s time to take the next step as a program and beat one of the top programs in the SEC.
Players depart, new starters emerge and LSU doesn’t miss a beat. That’s the theme in Baton Rouge under Les Miles, as the Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive years. Even though the win over Wisconsin was a solid non-conference victory, how much did we learn about LSU against a one-dimensional offense? And it’s hard to read too much into the Tigers’ blowout wins over ULM and Sam Houston State.
LSU has not lost to Mississippi State since 1999. But the Bulldogs have not won in Baton Rouge since 1991.
Mississippi State at LSU
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. MSU’s Front Seven vs. LSU’s Rushing Attack
Mississippi State’s upset hopes likely rest on its ability to stop the run. LSU’s offensive line is a veteran group that ranks among the best in the SEC. The Tigers boast a solid yards per carry (4.3), and the offense is averaging 226.3 rushing yards per game. Also, LSU is tied for third in the SEC with seven rushes of 20 or more yards. Five Tigers have at least 20 rushes, with Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette leading the way as the team’s top options. Hilliard and Fournette will test a Mississippi State defense that has allowed just one rushing score on 103 attempts. The Bulldogs rank No. 2 in the SEC against the run and are holding opponents to 2.3 yards per carry. Additionally, Mississippi State leads the SEC with 29 tackles for a loss, and there’s no shortage of depth up front, headlined by end Preston Smith and tackles P.J. Jones and Chris Jones. If the Bulldogs can stop LSU’s power (and run-first offense), then this forces extra pressure on quarterback Anthony Jennings.
2. LSU’s Big-Play Passing Offense
Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris were locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback job in the preseason, and both players were expected to play early in the year to sort out the No. 1 spot. But after three games, Anthony Jennings has seized control of the starting job. So far, Jennings has produced a mixed bag of results. The good: Averaging 20.9 yards per completion. The bad: Completing only 51.9 percent of throws. If LSU establishes its ground attack, Jennings will have ample opportunities to hit big plays downfield to top target Travin Dural (30.8 ypc). However, what if the Tigers can’t get anything going on the ground and Jennings has to win it through the air? Is he ready to do that in his fifth career start? Big plays are always a positive for any offense. Can Jennings show consistency to move the ball downfield in smaller chunks if the Bulldogs play deep to prevent the big play?
3. LSU’s Defense vs. Dak Prescott
The growth of LSU’s defense is something to monitor over the course of 2014. The Tigers lost a couple of key players from last year’s unit, including both starting defensive tackles. But so far, this defense hasn’t missed a beat. LSU has not allowed a point in 147:24 minutes of game action and is limiting opponents to just 3.5 yards per play. This defense is young (only three projected seniors in the lineup) but incredibly talented. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will be the best quarterback the Tigers have played this year, so this is a much tougher test than the Wisconsin, Sam Houston State and ULM offenses. Prescott is the catalyst for the Bulldogs’ offense, averaging 323 yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns in three contests. The junior isn’t the only weapon on offense for Mullen, as receiver Jameon Lewis and running back Josh Robinson provide plenty of big-play ability.
LSU has been impressive so far this year, but this is the first real test for Les Miles’ team. Mississippi State’s offense has more balance than Wisconsin, and quarterback Dak Prescott will test the Tigers’ stout run defense and secondary. If the Bulldogs are going to break through with a big win, this is the perfect opportunity. However, even though Mississippi State’s rush defense should be able to hold its own against LSU, the Tigers will find a way to win this game in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: LSU 27, Mississippi State 20
Florida State’s ACC title defense begins on Saturday night, as the Seminoles host Clemson in one of the conference’s emerging rivalries. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team opened the year with a closer-than-expected win over Oklahoma State and cruised to an easy win over Citadel in Week 2.
A win over Clemson would give Florida State an early commanding lead in the Atlantic Division, and allow Fisher and his team to cross one of the few hurdles on a schedule that is considered one of the most favorable in the nation.
Fisher would prefer the focus of Week 4 to be strictly on Clemson-Florida State, but instead, he’s dealing with a controversy surrounding quarterback Jameis Winston. The sophomore was suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game due to inappropriate comments made on campus earlier in the week. And on Friday night, the defending heisman winner was suspended for the entire game. Sophomore Sean Maguire will start in place of Winston, but the Seminoles are still a 16-point favorite over the Tigers.
Florida State has won three out of the last four meetings against Clemson. The Tigers have not won in Tallahassee since 2006.
Clemson at Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Sean Maguire's Debut
With Jameis Winston suspended for the entire game, how will coach Jimbo Fisher approach Sean Maguire’s first start? Will the Seminoles attempt to use up as much clock as possible in order to limit Clemson’s opportunities without Winston in the lineup? Or will Fisher allow Maguire to have the full playbook at his disposal? Maguire has been solid in limited action (16 of 26 for 144 yards and two scores), but this is the biggest test of his career. Luckily for Maguire, he has one of the nation’s top supporting casts at his disposal. Karlos Williams and Mario Pender headline a deep backfield, receiver Rashad Greene is averaging 18.9 yards per reception, and the offensive line features five senior starters. Maguire doesn’t need to win this game on his own, as simply managing the offense and limiting mistakes would be enough for Florida State.
2. Florida State’s Defense
Without Winston, every other unit on Florida State’s team has to step up. The defense held an explosive Clemson offense to just 14 points last year, and the Tigers will have their hands full with the Seminoles once again. Coordinator Chad Morris is breaking in a new quarterback (Cole Stoudt), has a committee of options at running back, and no longer has Sammy Watkins or Martavis Bryant at receiver. But Morris is one of the nation’s best play-callers, and Clemson is averaging 6.1 yards per play through two contests. Stoudt threw for 302 yards against South Carolina State but struggled against Georgia (16 of 29, 144 yards). Freshman Deshaun Watson will also see time under center and could see more snaps if Stoudt struggles early. Freshman Artavis Scott is emerging as one of the top targets at receiver, while four running backs have at least 10 carries in 2014. Florida State’s defense is under the direction of a new coordinator (Charles Kelly), but this unit returns a good chunk of its core from last year’s title team. Can Clemson’s offense pickup where it left off against South Carolina State? Or is this unit closer to the offense that struggled to get on track against Georgia? Defensive tackle was arguably the biggest concern for the Seminoles this preseason, and injuries hit the position hard against Citadel. However, all signs point to Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample playing on Saturday night, which is bad news for a suspect Clemson offensive line.
3. Florida State’s OL vs. Clemson’s DL
This is a matchup of strength versus strength. Florida State’s line features five senior starters, while Clemson’s starting four on the defensive front is also comprised of seniors. In last year’s matchup, the Tigers recorded six tackles for a loss and three sacks against the Seminoles. If Clemson wants to pull off the upset, it needs to up those totals in 2014 and limit the pressure on its secondary. Winston torched the Tigers for 444 yards last year, and regardless of who is under center for Florida State, a similar theme could play out if end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett don’t win the battle at the point of attack.
Will Florida State be aggressive or play it safe with Maguire under center? As long as Maguire doesn’t make a huge mistake and put the Seminoles in a deficit, the Seminoles should cruise in the second half to a convincing win. Clemson has the necessary talent to pull an upset but several factors have to go its way. The Tigers were a better team last year and was easily handled by the Seminoles in Death Valley. Without Winston, the door is open for Clemson to hang around in this game. Even with Maguire making his first start, Florida State has simply too much talent to lose on Saturday night.
Prediction: Florida State 30, Clemson 20
I really wanted to take Mizzou (-10) and Washington (-14) last weekend but couldn’t pull the trigger and it cost me… again.
I am teetering around .500 and need a big week to bounce back. The good news is Mitch Light (27-18-1) has been crushing the Top 25 (below), while I have had a winning record each week in Top 25 picks (25-20-1).
I'm going to shake it up this week and only address the big games (and a few others) and see if it works.
Last Week: 3-4
Florida (+15) at Alabama
The Tide is a better team; there is no arguing that. But this game would have to be pretty high scoring for Alabama to cover the spread. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel operates a type of offense that has worked against Bama in the past, and the Tide is 0-3 against the number this season. Alabama wins easily — by 10 points. Prediction: Florida +15
Oklahoma (-7) at West Virginia
This game has gotten a lot more run nationally than expected and lends me to believe that Oklahoma will be ready. The Sooners should dominate the line of scrimmage and has the secondary to slow down the WVU passing attack. Seven doesn’t feel like enough points here at all. Everyone is taking the Mountaineers, so I am going the other way. Prediction: Oklahoma -7
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Mississippi St (+10) at LSU
Historically, State has struggled mightily in Baton Rouge and against LSU overall. But this is Dan Mullen’s best team and the Tigers are extremely young. Additionally, LSU hasn’t faced an opposing quarterback that is even in the same conversation as Dak Prescott. LSU wins with some Les Miles magic late but it will be a battle to the end. Prediction: Mississippi State +10
Indiana (+13.5) at Missouri
Very quietly, the Mizzou Tigers have blown out two quality opponents and covered the spread the last two weeks. Indiana is a nice team — better than the Sam Houston States of the world — but the Tigers operate on a different level along both lines of scrimmage and at quarterback. Mizzou big against an IU team that is winless against the number this year. Predictions: Mizzou -13.5
N. Illinois (+13.5) at Arkansas
There will be a lot of rushing yards in this game and the over is looking nice (65). Arkansas should dominate the line of scrimmage exactly the way it did last weekend against Texas Tech. Look for a similar score as well — something in that 49-28 range. Prediction: Arkansas -13.5
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Clemson (+16) at Florida St|
|Oregon (-24) at Wazzu|
|Florida (+15) at Alabama|
|Oklahoma (-7) at W. Virginia|
|Texas A&M (-33.5) at SMU|
|Mississippi St (+10) at LSU|
|E. Michigan (+45) at Michigan St|
|Troy (+41) at Georgia|
|S. Carolina (-21.5) at Vanderbilt|
|Indiana (+13.5) at Missouri|
|B. Green (+27) at Wisconsin|
|Virginia (+14) at BYU|
|Miami (+7) at Nebraska|
There’s plenty of history between Miami and Nebraska, but when these two teams play on Saturday night, the focus will shift to 2014 and two programs that are looking to reclaim their place among college football’s elite.
After going 9-3 in back-to-back years from 2004-05, Miami is just 57-44 since 2006 (and 72-50 if you include 2004-05). Nebraska saw its share of ups and downs since 2004, including a 5-6 mark ('04) and a 5-7 record in 2007. However, the Cornhuskers have fared much better in its overall mark, recording an 84-46 mark since the start of the 2004 season.
A win on Saturday night won’t move Miami or Nebraska back to the top of college football’s elite. But this game has plenty of importance for both programs as a key non-conference matchup, as well as a good barometer test before conference play begins in full.
The all-time series is tied at five between Nebraska and Miami. The last meeting was in the 2001 Rose Bowl, with the Hurricanes winning 37-14.
Miami at Nebraska
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Nebraska -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
As simple as it sounds, this is where the game could be won or lost. Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong are two quarterbacks with bright futures. However, both quarterbacks are still developing, and with a tight game expected, a mistake or two could be magnified. Kaaya – a true freshman – has thrown for 693 yards and seven touchdowns on 45 completions. Kaaya is coming off his best performance of 2014 (342 yards, four scores) and faces a Nebraska secondary that has allowed just two passing touchdowns. Of course, the Cornhuskers haven’t exactly faced the gauntlet of quarterbacks, but the secondary is limiting opponents to just 9.4 yards per completion. On the other sideline, Armstrong is off to a fast start, completing 43 passes for 773 yards and seven scores. The sophomore has only one interception and has been an effective runner (258 yards, 9.6 ypc). Considering Armstrong’s experience and growth from 2013 to 2014, the edge at quarterback should go to Nebraska. Can Kaaya pickup where he left off against Arkansas State? Or will the Cornhuskers’ defense simply be too much?
2. Improvement for Miami’s defense?
The Hurricanes struggled mightily on defense last year. But through three games, there’s some optimism in Coral Gables for some improvement on the stat sheet in 2014. Miami is allowing only 19.3 points per game through three weeks, a significant step forward after giving up 26.8 in 2013. The Hurricanes are also allowing 3.7 yards per play, a major improvement after allowing 5.8 last year. And Mark D’Onofrio’s group has been tougher against the run so far, giving up just 2.0 yards per rush after giving up 4.4 last year. Considering Miami was big favorites in two out of its three games, it’s tough to read too much into these stats. However, the addition of junior college recruit Calvin Heurtelou, along with the steady play of senior linebacker Denzel Perryman has made Miami’s front seven a tougher matchup for opposing offenses. But will that hold true on Saturday? Nebraska’s offensive line and rushing attack will be the best Miami has played this year. Can running back Ameer Abdullah find rushing lanes? Or will the Hurricanes hold the Cornhuskers to less than three yards per carry?
3. Ameer Abdullah vs. Duke Johnson
Normally, we would devote one of the three keys to breaking down a matchup, but let’s give some attention to the battle at running back on Saturday night. Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson were both popular selections on preseason All-America teams, and neither have done anything to dispel the notion they will finish with high accolades this year. Johnson is returning from a leg injury that ended his 2013 season early, but the junior has yet to show any rust. In three games, Johnson is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and has scored twice. Abdullah has already provided one of the year’s highlight plays by taking a short reception for a 58-yard score to beat McNeese State. The senior ranks second among Big Ten rushers by averaging 132.0 yards per game and leads the conference with 17 runs of 10 or more yards. Watching two of the nation’s top 10 running backs makes the Nebraska-Miami matchup one of the key reasons to tune in on Saturday night.
In terms of name value, it doesn’t get much better than Nebraska and Miami. While both programs have dropped in national hierarchy in recent years, this game still has plenty of intrigue. The battle between Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah will produce plenty of highlights, but quarterback play and defense will decide this one. Can Kaaya be trusted to win a huge road test? Will Miami’s defense revert to its old form against a good offense? For the Cornhuskers, can Armstrong continue his solid start to the season? With this game in Lincoln, combined with an edge at quarterback, Nebraska should win this one by a touchdown or 10 points.