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First place in the AFC West and the top seed in the playoffs are on the line this afternoon when the Denver Broncos face the Kansas City Chiefs at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. The Broncos and Chiefs are currently tied for the best record in the AFC at 9-2, with Denver holding the tiebreaker edge over Kansas City by virtue of their 27-17 win two weeks ago.
For the first time all season, both teams are coming off of losses, as Denver and Peyton Manning tied a franchise record by blowing a 24-point halftime lead to New England last week before losing in overtime, 34-31. Kansas City’s 41-38 loss to San Diego last Sunday was its second loss in a row and the first at home all season for Alex Smith and company. Now the Chiefs look to bounce back and snap a three-game losing streak to their division rivals in the process.
3 Things to Watch
You Look Familiar…
It was just two weeks ago that Denver and Kansas City faced each other. At that time, the Chiefs were the only remaining undefeated team (9-0), while the Broncos had just one loss (8-1). The Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead at home in the first quarter and never really looked back. Denver would go on to win 27-17 behind 323 yards passing by Peyton Manning. The 27 points were, at the time, the most allowed by Kansas City’s defense, which didn’t record a single sack of Manning. On offense, the Chiefs out-gained the Broncos 144 to 104 on the ground, but struggled to find their rhythm in the passing game. Alex Smith had one more touchdown pass (2 to 1) than Manning, but nearly 100 fewer yards and he was sacked three times. Each team lost a fumble and drew their share of yellow flags. The teams combined for 22 penalties for 135 yards, with the Broncos (13 for 82 yards) being the bigger culprit. Outside of the score and total yardage (Denver 427, Kansas City 344), there was very little separation between them, statistically speaking. First downs were even (24 apiece), the total number of plays was very close (76 to 73) and just 14 seconds separated the Broncos (29:53) and Chiefs (30:07) in time of possession. In the end, the Broncos were just a little more efficient and productive in the passing game, which combined with the Chiefs’ inability to get to Manning, resulted in Denver staying perfect at home and moving into first place in the AFC West.
Bumps and Bruises
Last week was tough for both Denver and Kansas City, and not just because they both lost after leading at halftime. Several key players for both teams sustained injuries, and their potential absences or limited capacities could greatly impact this game. For the Broncos, the biggest concern is running back Knowshon Moreno, who gashed the Patriots for a career-high 224 yards last week, but left the stadium on crutches after sustaining a bone bruise to his right ankle. Despite the initial concern, Moreno did return to practice on Thursday and Friday and is expected to play. The status of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a little more uncertain. Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder against the Patriots, which caused him to leave the game and not return. His absence was one of the catalysts that helped fuel the Patriots’ second-half comeback. He was limited in Friday’s practice and is considered questionable to play this afternoon. The Broncos could get a boost, however, with the return of tight end Julius Thomas and cornerback Champ Bailey. Thomas was held out of last week’s game because of a knee injury, but is currently on track to play, while Bailey is expected to be back in the lineup for the first time since re-aggravating a foot injury back in Week 7. Kansas City’s defense, however, may not be as fortunate when it comes to its banged-up personnel. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hail both left last week’s game against San Diego with injuries. Hali sprained his ankle, but he has insisted that he will play. Houston, meanwhile, dislocated his elbow and reportedly could miss up to three weeks. The Chiefs entered Week 13 with an NFL-leading 37 sacks. Houston (11 sacks, tied for third in the NFL) and Hali (9, tied for 10th) are responsible for 20 of them. Kansas City didn’t record a single sack or quarterback hit on Peyton Manning in the first game two weeks ago. This task only figures to get harder without Houston and if Hail ends up being limited. For example, even though Houston didn’t have a sack in the first game, he led the Chiefs with 10 total tackles (9 solo). Injuries are just part of the game, especially at this point in the season, but it appears that the Broncos are the healthier team entering this key contest.
Which Defense Bounces Back Best?
Through the first nine games, Kansas City’s defense had allowed no more than 17 points and 283 yards passing. In their last two games, losses to the Broncos and Chargers, the Chiefs have given up an average of 34 points per game and 355 yards through the air. Last week, Philip Rivers carved up the pass defense for nearly 400 yards (392) and three touchdowns. Peyton Manning threw for 323 against Kansas City the first time, and the Chiefs will be without their most productive pass-rusher (Justin Houston) this afternoon. One way or the other, the Chiefs’ defense needs to fix what’s been ailing it the past two weeks. For Denver’s defense, it was a tale of two halves last week in New England. After shutting out the Patriots in the first half and doing everything right, the wheels came completely off in the final two quarters. Top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder on the final play of the first half and didn’t return. The Broncos’ defense wasn’t the same after that, as Tom Brady completed 81 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to help send the game into overtime. A couple of untimely turnovers certainly didn’t help matters, but no doubt interim head coach Jack Del Rio and his staff spent a lot of time this week trying to figure out what went wrong, especially in pass coverage. Both defenses had their moments in the Week 11 meeting and now it’s up to both units to quickly put last week’s disastrous performances behind and focus on the task ahead. This isn’t basketball, but whichever defense “wins” the rebound battle this afternoon will likely leave Arrowhead Stadium victorious.
Denver Key Player: Montee Ball, RB
Knowshon Moreno was the man and then some last week against New England, rushing for 224 yards and a touchdown. Alas, it wasn’t enough as the Broncos blew a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 34-31 in overtime. On top of that, the 37 carries Moreno had took their toll, as he left Gillette Stadium on crutches after sustaining a bone bruise to his right ankle. Moreno is expected to play this afternoon, but the situation brought to light one of the Broncos’ biggest concerns entering the stretch run – not overworking their No. 1 back. That’s where Ball, and to a degree either C.J. Anderson or Ronnie Hillman, are supposed to come in. Ball, Denver’s second-round pick in April’s draft, has contributed more as the season has gone on, including three rushing touchdowns over his last four games. However, ball security remains an issue for the rookie, as he’s lost three fumbles. The latest was rather costly, as Ball fumbled on a screen pass on the Broncos’ first possession of the second half after New England scored its first touchdown. The Patriots turned that fumble into a touchdown just six plays later, cutting a 24-point lead to just 10 in less than 10 minutes. Ball’s fumble is not the only reason why the Broncos lost last week. However, with the wear and tear adding up on Moreno, it’s critical that the rookie show the coaching staff, and Peyton Manning for that matter, that he can get the job done when his number is called. If Ball can’t be counted on in the regular season, what do you think will happen in the playoffs?
Kansas City Key Player: Alex Smith, QB
When surrendering 17 or fewer points, the Chiefs are 9-0 this season. This is a good thing, considering the Chiefs are scoring less than 25 points per game. Kansas City has put more than 28 on the scoreboard two times this season, with one of those being the 41-38 loss to San Diego last week. Contrast that to Denver, who has scored fewer than 28 points once, when the Broncos beat the Chiefs 27-17 two weeks ago. Smith is known for being more of a game manager than a risk-taker, but as the Chiefs have found out the past two weeks, there will be some games where the defense can’t be expected to do all of the heavy lifting. Kansas City’s offense is powered by running back Jamaal Charles, but Smith has to be able to hold his own when he’s going up against quarterbacks like Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers, especially come playoff time. In the last two games, both Kansas City losses, Smith threw for a combined total of 524 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Manning and Rivers combined for 715 yards passing, four touchdowns and no picks. Kansas City out-rushed both Denver and San Diego, and yet still lost both games – by 10 points to the Broncos and three to the Chargers. The Chiefs’ defense was a big reason why they got out to a 9-0 start. It’s now Smith’s and the offense’s turn to lead the way.
Having just played each other two weeks ago, Denver and Kansas City probably spent more time this week figuring out what went wrong last week than on game planning for each other. There’s no doubt both teams are still feeling the pain from last Sunday’s disappointing (to put it mildly) losses. A strong case could be made that the Broncos’ second-half collapse was more devastating than the Chiefs’ late defensive lapses against the Chargers, but one or the way other, each team must move on.
Denver won the first meeting two weeks ago behind the passing of Peyton Manning and a stellar performance from the offensive line and running backs in pass protection. Kansas City’s disruptive pass rush never laid a hand on Manning, which gave him more than enough time to find the open man down field. Pressuring the quarterback could play another big part in this afternoon’s game, as Denver’s All-Pro linebacker Von Miller has been a difference-maker since his return from suspension, while Kansas City’s productive pass rush won’t be at 100 percent with Justin Houston sidelined and Tamba Hail likely limited.
Last week’s loss to the Patriots was definitely a hard one for the Broncos to digest, but this is a veteran team that knows full well there’s still business to take care of. Meanwhile, I think the inexperienced Chiefs are still learning how to deal with adversity, and the offense hasn’t shown an ability to completely pick up the slack while the defense has struggled these past two weeks. In the end, the growing pains for the Chiefs continue, as the Broncos pull ahead in the AFC West and the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Denver 30, Kansas City 20
The Week 13 injury report is littered with the names of key running backs. Athlon Sports has the latest information on the ones you need to know about.
Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (Mon.)
Sproles (ankle) was held out of last week’s game against Atlanta, which was played on a Thursday. The extra rest seemed to have paid off, as he was a full participant in practice this week and is considered Probable for the Monday night showdown with the Seahawks. Seattle’s defense is tough, especially at home, so this isn’t the best of matchups for Sproles. Still, with this versatility as a receiver and his obvious chemistry with Drew Brees, Sproles should be a fairly safe flex option.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Moreno left last week’s loss in New England on crutches after sustaining a bone bruise to his right ankle. He was limited in practice at the start of the week, but showed marked improvement by Friday’s session. Moreno is listed as Probable and expected to play in this key afternoon matchup with Kansas City. He is coming off of a monster game (224 yards rushing, TD) against the Patriots, so if you have Moreno you’re starting him. Don’t expect to see 37 carries this week again, however, as the Broncos will probably limit Moreno’s workload to make sure he’s as fresh as possible for the playoffs.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
Stacy sustained a concussion last week against Chicago, but not before he rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. He practiced fully on Friday, has passed all the necessary tests and has been cleared to return. He is listed as Probable and expected to play this afternoon. The matchup with San Francisco is far from ideal, but Stacy has been too productive (410 yards rushing, 4 TDs in last four games) lately to really consider benching him. If anything, just view Stacy as a RB2 this week when setting your lineup.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Mathews is dealing with a hamstring issue, but he practiced fully on Friday and is listed as Probable. It’s been a curious season for Mathews, who has just four total touchdowns and three 100-yard rushing games. He’s scored a short touchdown in two of his past three outings and sandwiched those around 127 yards rushing against Miami. Danny Woodhead is very much a factor in the Chargers’ backfield, which probably caps Mathews’ potential as a RB2 this week.
Already Ruled Out
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants – Listed as Questionable entering last week’s game because of a knee injury, Jacobs rushed for 75 yards on nine carries in the loss to Dallas. Whether it happened during the game or sometime after, Jacobs apparently re-aggravated the knee injury, as he’s already been declared Out against Washington. Andre Brown figures to be quite busy against a Redskins defense that has given up 13 rushing touchdowns and the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins – Thomas is out for the rest of the season because of an ankle injury, which means (hopefully) that Lamar Miller finally gets his chance at being a lead back. Miller’s usage this season has been somewhat sporadic, as it appears that the coaching stuff is reluctant to rely on him. Miller’s had his flashes (105 yards rushing vs. Cincinnati in Week 9), but he’s totaled just 21 carries over his last three games. Even though Miller has a golden opportunity in front of him, he faces a tough matchup this week in the Jets, the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense. Owners should be excited about Miller’s potential moving forward, but need to temper that enthusiasm this week.
Even with three games on Thanksgiving Day, there’s still a full slate of Week 13 action today. Here are some wide receiver injuries you need to know about before setting your starting lineup.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
A quadriceps injury limited Marshall in practice, but he is listed as Probable for today’s game in Minnesota. Marshall hasn’t missed a beat with Josh McCown at quarterback in place of Jay Cutler. In McCown’s three starts, Marshall has averaged nearly 12 targets per game and has turned those into a total of 21 catches for 363 yards and four touchdowns. Regardless of who is under center for the Bears, Marshall is locked in as a WR1.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles
The shoulder is still enough of an issue to limit him in practice, but there’s been nothing wrong with Floyd come game day. He’s caught 13 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown in his last two outings. Sure, you would love to see more touchdowns, but as along as Floyd is getting the targets (18 in the last two games), he should probably be in your lineup, even with an injured shoulder. Floyd is Probable to play the Eagles and with a matchup like that you pretty much have to roll the dice and see what happens.
Cecil Shorts and Mike Brown, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns
Shorts’ groin issue continues to limit him in practice, but he is considered Probable to face the Browns. Last week Shorts saw 11 targets against Houston, so he should be plenty busy today, though he will be matched up with Cleveland’s shutdown cornerback Joe Haden. Brown missed last week’s game because of a shoulder injury and he’s looking like a game-time decision for this one. He is listed as Questionable, but unless you have no other options, there’s no reason to wait and see if Brown will play.
Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, WRs, New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins
Holmes just can’t seem to stay healthy. After missing five games because of a hamstring injury, Holmes played in the past two contests. His production, however, was minimal (12 receptions, 83 yards combined), and it appears that his hamstring is an issue once again. Holmes was limited in practice on Wednesday and then missed the next two days. Rex Ryan has already voiced his concern regarding Holmes’ availability against Miami. Holmes is listed as Questionable, but his status won’t be known until game time. With the Jets’ issues on offense and at quarterback right now, I wouldn’t wait that long to make up your mind. Bench Holmes and save yourself the disappointment later. As far as Kerley goes, he also is expected to be a game-time decision, as he’s missed the last two games with a dislocated elbow. Again, there’s nothing to get excited about when it comes to the Jets’ passing game right now and Kerley’s potential return doesn’t change this.
Already Ruled Out
Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots – Dobson played just two snaps in the second half last week against Denver and it appears that a foot injury is to blame. It’s an injury that kept the rookie out of practice this week and he’s already been ruled out for this afternoon’s game against Houston. Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola are the top two pass-catching threats for the Patriots, with Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen falling in behind somewhere. I wouldn’t expect too much from Kenbrell Thompkins this week, even with Dobson sidelined.
One NFC West team gets its top wide receiver back in Week 13 while another will most likely be without theirs. Elsewhere, Buffalo should have its top pass-catching duo for its game in Toronto while a Giant wideout appears ready to return after missing last week.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams
Crabtree doesn’t even appear on the injury report this week, as he’s expected to make his season debut against the Rams. The 49ers’ leading receiver last season, Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon in late March and has been working hard to get back to the field. Even though he’s expected to play, his snaps will be limited so it’s hard to envision him making much of an impact fantasy-wise. If you have room, there’s nothing wrong with stashing Crabtree, just don’t be surprised if it takes a week or two for him to round into form.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants at Washington
Despite proclaiming that he will “surely play,” Nicks ended up being a late scratch last week because of his abdominal strain. Whatever the reasoning behind the decision, the rest appears to have benefitted Nicks. He was able to practice in some capacity all week and is considered Probable for tonight’s matchup with Washington. Nicks’ struggles have been documented (42 rec., 0 TDs), but the Redskins are 27th in the NFL in passing defense and 31st in points allowed, so maybe this will be the game he finally breaks through.
Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, WRs, Buffalo Bills vs. Atlanta Falcons (Toronto)
Johnson (groin) and Woods (ankle) both missed the Bills’ last game, but that came in Week 11 as they were on bye last week. The extra rest seemed to help both wideouts, as they are considered Probable for the Bills’ annual appearance in Toronto. Atlanta has struggled against the pass all season, so this appears to be a good matchup for Johnson and Woods. Johnson remains ahead of Woods in the pecking order and in terms of fantasy rankings, at least for now. For this week, I would put Johnson near the end of the WR2 options and Woods among the middle of the WR3 tier.
Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Royal has been dealing with a toe injury for well over a month. While it’s impacted his practice time, it never cost him a game, despite always being listed as Questionable. Last week, Royal added a chest injury to his ailments and it looks like this one will cost him at least one game. Royal was downgraded from Questionable to Doubtful on Saturday, which is all you need to know. Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown figure to be Philip Rivers’ top two wideouts against Cincinnati with Seyi Ajirotutu and Lavelle Hawkins potentially seeing more playing time. Allen is the only Charger wide receiver you need to pay attention to.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. New Orleans Saints (Mon.)
Harvin made his season debut two weeks ago against Minnesota with the Seahawks on bye last week. Unfortunately, it appears that Harvin’s surgically repaired hip isn’t quite ready to handle the load of practicing and playing, as he is considered Doubtful to play on Monday night. Harvin is experiencing continuing soreness and the team is choosing to play it safe for the time being. Hopefully you weren’t counting on Harvin to be an impact performer this week anyways.
Quarterbacks appear to be healthy for the most part entering today’s Week 13 action. The same can’t be said as it relates to the tight end position, however.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Gates missed some practice time with a hamstring injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is considered Probable for this afternoon’s home game. Gates has been a top-10 fantasy TE this season and even with the occasional explosive play by backup Ladarius Green, Gates remains one of Philip Rivers’ favorite targets. The Bengals have done pretty well against tight ends, but that’s no reason to shy away from Gates.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Thomas was held out of last week’s game because of a knee injury and he’s not back to 100 percent just yet. He was limited in practice all week, which is why he’s listed as Questionable. He was able to practice, in a limited fashion, all week so he appears to have a good chance of playing, as long as there are no setbacks. The Broncos-Chiefs game is in the afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET) and considering he didn’t play last week, a little more caution is probably warranted this time around with Thomas. As long as he’s not ruled out before kickoff, I think it’s safe to stick with Thomas, but I would have a Plan B (Jacob Tamme perhaps?) ready just in case.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots at Houston Texans
Gronkowski was listed as Probable last week, so it’s a little curious to see him Questionable for today’s game in Houston. However, this is the Patriots we are talking about, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to be concerned. Roll with Gronk as you usually do, as he’s caught a touchdown pass in three straight games.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills (Toronto)
The future Hall of Famer has been limited in practice because of a toe injury, but he has yet to miss a game. Gonzalez is officially listed as Questionable but I don’t think he would make the long trip up north if he wasn’t intending to play. Even though Gonzalez has just four touchdown catches this season, he’s still solidly within the top 10 in fantasy scoring at his position. The numbers may not be as a big every week, but Gonzalez still carries TE1 potential and needs to be in your starting lineup.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins vs. New York Giants
Reed missed last week’s game because of a concussion and it appears he’s not quite out of the woods yet. He’s listed as Questionable on the injury report, but the team seems optimistic about his chances of playing. With some uncertainty regarding his status, as well as the late (8:30 p.m. ET) game slot, it would probably be wise to keep Reed on your bench for at least another week and go with another tight end.
Not Playing Today
Jason Campbell, QB, Cleveland Browns – Campbell sustained a concussion last week against Pittsburgh and has already been ruled out. Brandon Weeden will start against Jacksonville in Campbell’s place and even with a matchup against the Jaguars; it is hard for me to endorse Weeden, even for 2-QB leagues.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears – Cutler will miss a third straight game because of an ankle injury, giving Josh McCown another start. Cutler does hope to return for the Week 14 Monday night game against Dallas, but a lot could happen between now and then. For today, McCown will get his shot at a Minnesota defense that is giving up the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Last week, McCown threw for 352 yards, two touchdowns and an interception (first of the season) in the loss to St. Louis. The bye weeks are over, but I have no problem if you want to give McCown another shot, especially in 2-QB leagues.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings – Rudolph remains sidelined with a fractured foot, which leaves John Carlson as the starter. Carlson has been productive to some degree during Rudolph’s absence and has an appealing matchup this week in Chicago. The Bears are allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends, so Carlson looks pretty good as TE2 option.
Will injuries to Matt Forté or Adrian Peterson keep either from their head-to-head matchup today? Those aren’t the only running back injuries Athlon Sports is keeping an eye on in Week 13.
Matt Forté, RB, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Forté left last week’s game with a hyperextended knee, but he was able to return and finish things. The knee doesn’t really appear to be an issue, as he’s listed as Probable for today’s game with Minnesota. Forté is the No. 2 scoring running back in all of fantasy, so he needs to be in your lineup. Especially against a Vikings defense that is surrendering the third-most fantasy points to RBs.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears
Peterson’s groin is still sore, but he got in a full practice session on Friday and appears ready to go. He is listed as Probable and there’s no probably to it – he has to be in your lineup. Chicago’s run defense is a mess right now, as the Bears have given up an average of 194 yards rushing per game over their last four contests. Peterson had 146 on the ground last week against Green Bay, so the fact that he’s not 100 percent shouldn’t even enter into your thought process.
Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carolina’s trio of running backs all are listed as Questionable on this week’s injury report. Of the three, Williams appears to be the most uncertain because of a quad contusion that has held him out of practice all week. Stewart (ankle) and Tolbert (knee) are also nursing injuries, but they were able to practice to some degree. If Williams can’t go, Stewart would get the start with Tolbert getting his usual work in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Although Williams’ absence would mean one less mouth to feed, it’s still a crowded backfield, especially when you take into consideration Cam Newton’s ability to run the ball. As far as this week goes, I would stay away from Williams and rank Stewart slightly better than Tolbert. If he gets the start, Stewart looks to be a pretty solid flex play with the potential to provide RB2 production. At best, Tolbert is a flex option.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots
Tate has been playing with broken ribs for several weeks now and has yet to miss a game. He’s Probable for this afternoon’s visit from New England, and the only real concern with Tate is that he had just one yard on seven carries last week against Jacksonville. All Tate owners can hope is that last week was the exception and not the rule. As long as he gets his typical workload, Tate should provide RB2 production.
Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins
Ivory injured his ankle on his first carry last week, which impacted his effectiveness against Baltimore. He finished with nine carries for 35 yards rushing, although he did have a long of 17 yards. He was limited earlier in the week, but practiced fully on Friday and is listed as Probable. He should play against the Dolphins, but if he is limited or suffers any sort of setback, Ivory figures to lose carries to Bilal Powell. Ivory is still the Jet running back to own/start, but just be sure you understand the situation before plugging him in your lineup.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles
Ellington injured his knee during Thursday’s practice and wasn’t able to participate at all on Friday because of it. He is considered Questionable and will be a game-time decision to face the Eagles. Ellington certainly carries a lot of appeal, as he possesses big-play ability because of his speed, but his value has been limited because of the presence of veteran Rashard Mendenhall in the Cardinals’ backfield. Because of his uncertainty for today’s game, it’s probably safest to steer clear of Ellington all together. Mendenhall could see a bump in his production with Ellington out, but even against the Eagles, I don’t see Mendenhall being any more than a possible RB2 option.
Nick Marshall’s deflected touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis to beat Georgia stood as perhaps the best play in Auburn history. One of the biggest plays in SEC lore.
When fans tell the story of the 2013 Auburn season, Marshall to Louis (via the hands of a Georgia player) will be No. 2.
Chris Davis set off mayhem at Jordan-Hare Stadium by returning Alabama’s failed last-second 57-yard field goal attempt from the back of Auburn end zone to Alabama’s end zone for a 34-28 win to topple the No. 1 Crimson Tide.
Auburn clinches a spot in the SEC Championship Game, but that’s secondary. Auburn has clinched a spot among one of the most miraculous teams in college football history.
Between Marshall’s miracle pass to beat Georgia and Davis’ runback to beat Alabama, Auburn has produced the equivalent of Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary and the Bluegrass Miracle in a span of three weeks.
The win may cost Alabama a bid at a third consecutive national championship while giving Auburn an outside shot at claiming its own bid to extend the SEC title streak to eight.
But all of that is conjecture at this point. Auburn’s 2013 season place as the most charmed years in college football history isn’t in doubt.
Three Things We Learned From Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Auburn will make a compelling case for the BCS Championship Game. Ohio State and Florida State remain undefeated, but look for the conversation to begin about Auburn leap-frogging one of them in the event of an SEC championship (Auburn AD Jay Jacobs is already lobbying). Precedent says that talk is hokum. No one-loss team has ever jumped an undefeated major conference team for a title spot in BCS history. Then again, two teams from the same conference facing each other in a rematch for the title would have been ludicrious before 2011. Auburn has the lone loss of the three teams (35-21 at LSU). But Auburn also entered the week with the toughest schedule of any of those three teams. The Tigers began the week with the 38th-ranked schedule and a 4-1 record against the top 30, according to the Sagarin ratings. Ohio State’s schedule was ranked 67th; Florida State’s was ranked 76th. The rankings following Auburn's win over No. 1 Alabama combined with Florida State's and Ohio State's best wins (Wisconsin and Clemson) slipping in stature will be worth watching. But Auburn still trailed the top three in the BCS by nearly a tenth of a point, a significant amount with two weeks left in the season.
|Auburn||Florida State||Ohio State|
|Wins over teams with winning records||Alabama, Arkansas State, Georgia, Ole Miss, Texas A&M||Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, Miami||Buffalo, Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, San Diego State, Wisconsin|
|Wins over current BCS top 25||Alabama, Texas A&M||Clemson||Wisconsin|
|Final game||Missouri||Duke||Michigan State|
Alabama, for the first time in a long time, was mistake-prone. From beginning to end, special teams were an issue for the Crimson Tide, down to the game-winning runback. Alabama punter Cody Mandell dropped a punt in the first quarter, and Cade Foster stutter-stepped on his first of three missed field goals. Nick Saban’s lack of confidence in special teams spilled into the fourth quarter when he elected to run his offense on fourth-and-1 from the Auburn 13 (T.J. Yeldon was stuffed for no gain). Alabama forced a three and out and got the ball at the Auburn 27 but again came up short when Foster’s field goal was blocked. On the final play of the game, rather than taking a for overtime, Alabama sent out a freshman kicker with one career kick for a 57-yard attempt.
Auburn is a miracle team. Auburn isn’t in the SEC Championship Game simply because it’s lucky. The Tigers are a definite top five or better team, but they’ve had their good fortune beyond the miracle plays to beat Georgia and Alabama. Auburn has taken advantage of just about every play on the razor’s edge in the final month of the season. Against Alabama, Nick Marshall completed his final touchdown pass just a toe short of the line of scrimmage. Marshall ran to his left on an option play, switched the football from one hand to another and was just short of the line when he found Sammy Coates open for the game-tying 39-yard touchdown. And on the final drive, officials put one second back on the clock when T.J. Yeldon ran out of bounds. Of course, Auburn fans would be cursing officials if Adam Griffith converts the 57-yard field goal, but the endgame was Davis’ miracle touchdown.
Sometimes, a top-five matchup doesn’t live up to the hype. But in Auburn-Alabama’s case on Saturday, the Iron Bowl lived up to its top-five billing, with the Tigers stunning the Crimson Tide on a last-second missed field goal return for a touchdown.
After Alabama was awarded one second on the clock on review, Adam Griffith attempted a 56-yard field goal (his first of the night). However, Griffith’s kick was off line, which allowed Auburn’s Chris Davis to catch the attempt and return 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The field goal return for a touchdown sends Auburn to the SEC Championship and ends – at least for now – Alabama’s national title hopes.
Is this play one of the best in college football history? Considering everything that was on the line and in a huge rivalry, it certainly ranks among the top plays in recent memory:
Ohio State still has a chance for a spot in the national championship game, even if Michigan did everything it could (in regulation) to end those hopes.
A game that began with a bit of nastiness — a fracas early in the second quarter that resulted in three ejections and two obscene gestures for the Ann Arbor crowd — ended in fireworks.
After battling back from a 14-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, Michigan elected to go for a two-point conversion after the final touchdown. Rather than playing for overtime, Michigan rode the momentum of a back-and-forth game with its rival to go for the win.
The result was an Ohio State interception to keep the Buckeyes unbeaten and in championship game contention. The 42-41 Ohio State win was the second one-point win in the history of the rivalry and the first since Michigan won 17-16 in 1926. The rivalry has ended in a tie four times.
With Florida State throttling Florida 37-7 in Gainesville, Ohio State likely remains a spot behind the Seminoles in the BCS standings. All eyes in Columbus, though, will remain on Alabama and Auburn today before the Buckeyes prepare for Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Three Things We Learned From Ohio State 42, Michigan 41
Ohio State’s backfield is something special. This isn’t a new revelation, but it took nearly the entire season for a high-profile performance like this out of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde as a tandem. Blame the Big Ten schedule. Blame the early season injury (Miller) and suspension (Hyde). The duo gashed Michigan’s defense up the middle all day with Hyde rushing for 226 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries and Miller rushing for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Michigan kept coming back against the Ohio State defense, but anytime the Buckeyes needed to move the ball, Hyde and Miller delivered. After a slow start, Miller still finished 6 of 15 passing for 133 yards with two touchdowns and interceptions. Given the way the Heisman race has self-destructed in recent weeks, one has to wonder how Miller or Hyde would have fared if both played all season. The duo that averaged 379 rushing yards and 8.8 yards per carry will face a Michigan State defense that’s allowed 100 rushing yards in a game only two times this season.
Ohio State’s defense came up when it mattered ... and that’s about it. When the Buckeyes make a case for the BCS Championship Game, they won’t point to Saturday’s defense. Ohio State entered the game ranked fourth in a lackluster Big Ten in total defense before allowing 603 yards to Michigan. Devin Gardner and his supporting cast have shown this potential, but what makes for exciting rivalry week football didn’t make for a resounding statement for the Buckeyes. Ohio State opened a 35-21 lead entering the fourth quarter before three Michigan scoring drives in the fourth quarter set up the potential go-ahead two-point attempt. Stops where hard to find as Ohio State allowed Michigan to score on touchdown drives of 99, 83 and 84 yards.
Michigan finally took some chances ... and failed. The Wolverines have not been the most risky team in the Big Ten this season, but that changed against Ohio State. The most prominent example was the decision to go for a two-point conversion to take a lead in the final 32 seconds rather than going for a game-tying extra point. Brady Hoke and Al Borges called for a pass play to Devin Gardner’s right with three receivers stacked in the formation. Top receivers Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon were covered when Gardner went for Drew Dileo. The window was tight, and freshman Tyvis Powell jumped in front of Dileo for the interception. Earlier in the game, Hoke also elected to go with his offense on a fourth-and-2 from the Ohio State 14. The conversion failed, and Ohio State scored on the ensuing drive. Michigan is only two weeks removed from kicking two sub-30-yard field goals in regulation against Northwestern, so it will be interesting to see what happens next time Hoke is in risky or conservative play call situation.
Michigan-Ohio State is one of college football’s top rivalries, so it’s no surprise there were a few scuffles between the two teams on Saturday.
However, things got a little ugly in the first half, as punches were thrown in a confrontation between the Wolverines and Buckeyes on Saturday.
Three players – Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson and Marcus Hall, along with Michigan’s Royce Jenkins-Stone – were ejected, with Hall saluting the crowd with a double bird as he left the field.
Below is a video of the fight, followed by Hall’s salute to the Big House:
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was expected to be in high demand this offseason, as the Alabama native was mentioned for potential openings at USC or in the NFL.
But Sumlin’s name can be eliminated for any job openings, as the school announced a new six-year contract on Saturday for the second-year coach.
In two years in College Station, Sumlin has guided the Aggies to a 19-5 record, with a Cotton Bowl victory last season.
Sumlin may lose quarterback Johnny Manziel to the NFL this offseason, but Texas A&M has recruited well and played a handful of freshmen on both sides of the ball in 2013.
Athletic director Eric Hyman released this statement to announce Sumlin’s new contract:
“Coach Sumlin has demonstrated why he is considered among the nation’s elite football coaches. His coaching and recruiting abilities are only secondary to his integrity, class and passion for his student-athletes and this University,” Hyman said. “Texas A&M is making a sincere commitment to Kevin. We are fortunate that he is committed to remain an Aggie for a long time to come, and we are excited about what the future has in store.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is squarely on the hot seat after Saturday’s loss to Iowa. But Pelini’s job doesn’t appear to be in any danger, as athletic director Shawn Eichorst offered his support for the embattled coach on Saturday.
Eichorst has been silent this year in regards to Pelini’s job status. But his statement on Saturday should put to rest Pelini’s job status – at least until the bowl game is over.
Below is Eichorst's statement that was released on Saturday morning:
“My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices. However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska — that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family. We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.”
The annual meeting between South Carolina and Clemson for bragging rights in the Palmetto State always has plenty of intrigue, but there’s a little more at stake in 2013 when these two teams take the field.
For the first time in this rivalry’s history, both programs are ranked as top-10 teams in the Associated Press poll. This year’s meeting is also the third consecutive matchup where South Carolina and Clemson both rank as top-25 teams.
Over the last three years, these two programs have been among the most successful teams in college football. Clemson is 31-7 during that span and has one ACC Championship. South Carolina is 31-6 over the last three years, and if Missouri loses to Texas A&M on Saturday night, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship next weekend.
Recent history has favored South Carolina in this series. The Gamecocks have won the last four games over Clemson, including a 27-17 matchup in Death Valley last year.
Clemson’s last win in this series came in 2008, while its last victory at South Carolina occurred in 2007.
South Carolina has won each of the last four games in this series by at least 10 points.
Clemson at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: South Carolina – 5
Clemson’s Key to Victory: Protect QB Tajh Boyd
Clemson leads the ACC in total offense, averaging 518.3 yards per game in conference-only action. The Tigers rank third in the ACC with an average 6.3 yards per play and have scored at least 30 points eight times this season. All of those numbers sound great on paper, but Clemson has been unable to replicate those totals against South Carolina in recent years. In the last four meetings against the Gamecocks, the Tigers have not scored more than 17 points. A big problem for Clemson has been pass protection. In last year’s meeting, South Carolina sacked quarterback Tajh Boyd six times and held the signal-caller to just 183 yards passing on 11 completions. In two starts against the Gamecocks, Boyd has completed just 41.5 percent of his passes. However, considering Boyd has been sacked 11 times in the last two meetings, the senior has to have more help. The Tigers have allowed 27 sacks in 11 games this year, and with South Carolina’s defensive line one of the best in the SEC, the offensive line has to have their best performance of the season.
South Carolina’s Key to Victory: Establish the run with Mike Davis
If South Carolina is able to establish its ground game against Clemson, the Gamecocks will be able to control the tempo and pace of the game. Running back Mike Davis did not play in last week’s game against Coastal Carolina, but the sophomore is expected to be in the lineup on Saturday night. Davis is one of the SEC’s top running backs, recording 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns on 179 attempts. He is also a valuable weapon out of the backfield, catching 30 passes for 332 yards. Davis isn’t the only runner for South Carolina, as Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds are capable options, while quarterback Connor Shaw is averaging 10 carries a game. Clemson has been slightly susceptible to the run this season, allowing an average of 3.8 yards per carry on 445 attempts. The Tigers allowed the last three opponents to reach the 100-yard mark, including 248 to Georgia Tech. However, Clemson held Boston College to 94 yards, and Florida State averaged 3.2 yards per carry on 38 attempts on Oct. 19. South Carolina’s offense can match the Tigers in a shootout, but Steve Spurrier wouldn’t mind if the Gamecocks control the clock and keep Tajh Boyd on the sidelines.
Key Player: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd is arguably one of the top-10 players in Clemson’s history. In his three seasons under center, the Tigers are 31-7 with an ACC Championship, along with a BCS bowl appearance against West Virginia. While Boyd has been one of Clemson’s best players in school history, there’s one thing missing: A win over South Carolina. The senior hasn’t played particularly well against the Gamecocks, but he needs more help from his supporting cast. Boyd doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards on Saturday night, but the senior has to have a standout performance for Clemson to win against their in-state rivals.
Balance and pass protection are crucial for Clemson’s offense on Saturday night. The Tigers need to open running lanes for running back Roderick McDowell, and Boyd has to connect with receiver Sammy Watkins on a few big passing plays. If Clemson goes pass heavy or has no run threat, South Carolina's defensive line will be able to control the line of scrimmage. The Gamecocks allowed only nine passing scores in the SEC, while holding opponents to 58.5 passes completed. Although Clemson has struggled in this series over the last four years, the Tigers are in good shape to challenge South Carolina. But even with an explosive offense and a determination to end the four-game losing streak, Clemson falls short on Saturday night. The Gamecocks control the clock, and quarterback Connor Shaw does just enough to earn South Carolina’s fifth win in a row over its in-state rival.
Prediction: South Carolina 30, Clemson 24
Florida-Florida State is usually one of the most-anticipated matchups in the Sunshine State each year. But the luster and interest has clearly eroded away from this season’s meeting.
Florida State needs two wins to play for the national championship, while Florida is in the midst of the school’s worst season since a 0-10-1 record in 1979.
The Seminoles have one of the deepest rosters in the nation, led by Heisman Trophy frontrunner in quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as a defense that continues to get better with each snap. Florida State has scored 40 points in every game this year, and the defense has allowed just 125 points in 11 contests.
Injuries have played a role in Florida’s struggles this year, as the Gators have lost a handful of players – including quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, running back Matt Jones and linebacker Antonio Morrison – to season-ending injuries. Although injuries are to blame, Will Muschamp and the coaching staff deserves criticism for the poor performance of this team. Florida recruits as well as any team in the nation, and even with some critical injuries, losing to a FCS team should never happen in Gainesville.
The Seminoles are a heavy favorite, and the outcome of this year’s meeting isn’t really in question. However, an in-state rivalry always brings out the best in the underdog, and the Gators would like nothing more than to spoil Florida State’s national championship hopes.
Florida State has won two out of the last three meetings against Florida. However, the Gators won 37-26 over the Seminoles in Tallahassee last season.
Florida has won seven out of the last nine meetings against Florida State.
Florida State at Florida
Kickoff: Noon ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State –27
Florida’s Key to Victory: Establish the run and control the clock
Florida’s quarterback situation is up in the air for Saturday’s game. Tyler Murphy stepped into the starting lineup after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season against Tennessee. Murphy threw for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns in his nine appearances this year, while third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg has made two starts in a row while Murphy sat out with an injured shoulder. Mornhinweg has thrown for 229 yards on 24 completions this year but averaged only 8.7 yards per completion in last week’s loss to Georgia Southern. Time of possession can be an overrated statistic in college football. However, Florida leads the SEC by averaging 34:16 in time of possession each week. Controlling the clock and limiting the possessions of Florida State’s offense would seem to be the only hope the Gators have of winning. Running back Kelvin Taylor has been a bright spot for this offense, rushing for 483 yards on 105 attempts. The Seminoles struggled at times to stop the run earlier this year, but this unit has not allowed a team to rush for more than 150 yards in each of the last four games. And Florida State has not allowed a rushing touchdown since a 49-17 victory over NC State on Oct. 26. It’s not an easy assignment against an aggressive defense, but the Gators have to plan for a run-heavy approach on Saturday.
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Win the turnover battle
It’s a simple key to the game, but it matters more when playing on the road against a wounded underdog. Florida doesn’t have the horses to hang with Florida State in this matchup, and the Seminoles can't give the Gators any opportunity to hang around. The Gators’ offense has not scored more than 20 points in each of their last six games and is averaging just 4.7 yards per play. The only way for Florida to win this game is if Florida State commits a few turnovers, which allows the Gators to convert those into easy points. If the Seminoles have a clean performance with few mistakes, the outcome won’t be in question by the fourth quarter.
Key Player: Skyler Mornhinweg, QB, Florida
There’s a huge gap in terms of production from the two starting quarterbacks on Saturday. For Florida State, Jameis Winston is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has thrown for 3,163 yards and 32 touchdowns in 11 starts. Mornhinweg started the season as Florida’s No. 3 quarterback and has thrown for 229 yards in two starts. The freshman has a difficult assignment this Saturday against Florida State’s defense, which leads the nation in interceptions. Even though the Gators need production from Mornhinweg, the freshman can’t force any throws or make any mistakes. Florida’s margin for error is small, and a bad performance from Mornhinweg will only make the Gators’ upset hopes even smaller.
With nothing to lose, Florida should empty the playbook, use any trick plays it has in the bag and use everything it has to pull off the upset. However, that’s easier said than done. The edge in talent is clearly on the Florida State sideline, and the Seminoles appear to be on a mission to get to Pasadena. While rivalry games often bring out the best in an underdog, Florida doesn’t have the firepower to stick around for all four quarters. The Gators’ best hope at an upset is to shorten the game with a strong rushing attack, which would limit the possessions for Florida State’s offense. Florida hangs around for a half, but the Seminoles pull away in the third quarter.
Prediction: Florida State 45, Florida 10
Missouri and Texas A&M are old Big 12 rivals, but these two teams are set to meet in a critical SEC contest on Saturday night.
Texas A&M’s loss to LSU was a huge setback to the Aggies’ BCS bowl hopes, but a win over Missouri would put Kevin Sumlin’s team back in contention for one of college football’s premier postseason destinations.
Missouri has been one of the most-improved teams in the nation this year. Coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat after a 5-7 mark last season, but the Tigers have rebounded with a 10-1 record and are one win away from playing for the SEC Championship.
These two teams have met 13 times, with one appearance as SEC opponents. Texas A&M holds an 8-5 series edge over the Tigers. Missouri’s last victory against the Aggies occurred in 2011. The last three meetings in this series were in College Station, and the Tigers won the last matchup in Columbia (2007).
Texas A&M at Missouri
Kickoff: 7:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Missouri -4.5
Missouri’s Key to Victory: Contain Johnny Manziel
Despite LSU’s success last week, stopping Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is no easy task. The Tigers held Manziel to 224 passing yards and limited the sophomore to just 54 yards on the ground. Manziel has made significant progress as a passer this season, as the sophomore is completing 69.1 percent of his throws and has tossed 32 touchdowns (up from 26 last year). Manziel torched Missouri’s defense for 372 passing yards and three scores last season, while recording 67 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Can the Tigers replicate LSU’s gameplan and contain Manziel? Missouri has the defensive line to match what LSU has been able to do over the last two years, but the secondary isn’t quite on the same level. And after a subpar performance last week, Manziel and Texas A&M will be motivated to rebound. Missouri’s secondary has allowed only eight passing scores in SEC play this year, but Georgia’s Aaron Murray and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw produced solid outings against this defense. Keeping Manziel in the pocket and limiting the big plays – especially to receiver Mike Evans – will be one of the keys for coordinator Dave Steckel.
Texas A&M’s Key to Victory: Stop Missouri’s rushing attack
Stopping the run has been a season-long issue for Texas A&M. The Aggies allowed 324 rushing yards in last week’s loss to LSU, and two other opponents topped the 300-yard mark against this defense in 2013. The season totals don’t paint a better picture for coach Kevin Sumlin, as Texas A&M is last in the SEC against the run, allowing an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The Aggies have some youth and inexperience in the front seven, so this unit is in transition in 2013. However, until Texas A&M can get stops, opposing teams will continue to exploit the front seven. Missouri averages 238 rushing yards per game, with three players recording over 500 yards this year. Henry Josey leads the team with 855 yards, but Russell Hansbrough (6.3 ypc) and Marcus Murphy (7.0 ypc) will contribute. Even though Texas A&M’s offense is among the best in the nation, winning on Saturday night will be a challenge if the defense fails to slow down Missouri’s ground attack. If the Tigers hit their season average on the ground, Missouri will be headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship next week.
Key Player: Missouri CB E.J. Gaines
Gaines and fellow cornerback Randy Ponder likely won’t matchup against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans for the full game, but the Aggies have plenty of other weapons that allow Manziel to spread the ball around. Gaines is an underrated defender in the SEC, as the senior had 34 starts under his belt and has seven career interceptions. Even if Missouri’s defensive line succeeds in keeping Manziel in the pocket, the sophomore is capable of picking apart the Tigers’ secondary. Gaines and the rest of the defensive backfield may give up a few big plays, but this group has to limit the damage – and force a turnover or two.
What a difference a year makes. Coming into 2013, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat, and there were plenty of doubters about whether or not this program was ready to compete for a SEC title. A year later, the Tigers are just one win away from a trip to Atlanta. Texas A&M won 59-29 over Missouri last season, but this is a much-improved team. The Tigers use their ground attack to control the clock, while the defense makes just enough timely plays to clinch the SEC East title.
Prediction: Missouri 34, Texas A&M 31
LSU was a huge favorite for Saturday’s game against Arkansas, but the Tigers needed a late fourth-quarter score to beat the Razorbacks.
Trailing 27-21 late in the fourth quarter, receiver Jarvis Landry caught a 32-yard pass from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, which set up a 37-yard field goal by kicker Colby Delahoussaye.
Landry’s 32-yard catch was crucial to getting the field goal, but the junior’s ridiculous grab might be one of the best of the year:
The SEC West title is on the line this Saturday when Alabama and Auburn meet in the 78th Iron Bowl. While the immediate prize for the winner on Saturday is a trip to Atlanta, this game also has major national title implications.
Alabama is in the driver’s seat to finish No. 1 in the BCS standings with wins over Auburn and the SEC East champion. The Tigers need a lot of help to get into the national championship, but a win over Alabama would position Auburn ahead of any other one-loss team if losses knock Ohio State or Florida State out of the top three spots.
How high have the stakes been in this rivalry in recent years? The winner of the last four Iron Bowls went on to win the national championship. The Crimson Tide has won three out of the last four BCS titles, with Auburn’s championship coming in 2010.
While Alabama has been the standard in college football over the last six seasons, Auburn has only one year (2010) of more than nine victories in that span. Behind first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers are one of the most-improved teams in the nation. Former coach Gene Chizik recruited plenty of talent to Auburn, but Malzahn and his staff have done a better job of developing and maximizing the talent on the roster in 2013.
Alabama has claimed wins in four out of the last five meetings with Auburn. The Crimson Tide has won two in a row at Auburn, including a 42-14 victory in 2011. Alabama has dominated the Tigers over the last two years, winning the two meetings by a combined score of 91-14.
Auburn’s last victory over Alabama came in 2010, as Cam Newton guided the Tigers to a 28-27 win in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama owns a 42-34-1 series edge over Auburn.
Alabama at Auburn
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -10.5
Three Things to Watch
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
In his first season as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Marshall hasn’t necessarily been the most prolific passer in the SEC, but he’s been the perfect fit to run Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall has not attempted more than 25 passes in five out of the last six games. The junior has tossed only five interceptions on 185 attempts and is completing 58.4 percent of his throws. While Marshall has proven he can deliver through the air with the game on the line (Mississippi State and Georgia), the junior is at his best when he can use his mobility. Marshall has rushed for 823 yards (6.7 ypc) on 123 attempts this season. The junior has executed Malzahn’s spread attack nearly to perfection this year, and his speed and mobility will be a challenge for Alabama’s defense. Under Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart, mobile quarterbacks have provided the most headaches for the Crimson Tide. Earlier this season, Johnny Manziel led a Texas A&M offense that averaged 8.9 yards per play against Alabama’s defense. Can Auburn use a similar approach on Saturday? Marshall isn’t as dynamic as Manziel, but the junior is averaging 6.7 yards per carry this season.
Alabama’s run defense
As mentioned in the previous section, Marshall’s ability to execute Auburn’s spread offense and zone read plays are critical to the Tigers’ upset hopes. But perhaps an even bigger obstacle is Alabama’s run defense. The Crimson Tide rank fourth nationally against the run, limiting opponents to just three yards a carry. Alabama has held its last three opponents to 93 or less rushing yards, while Tennessee (28 attempts) is the last team to gain 100 rushing yards against Nick Saban’s defense. Establishing the run sets the table for Auburn’s offense. In the last two meetings against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have rushed for only 170 yards and no touchdowns on 67 attempts. Not only is Marshall crucial to the outcome of this game, but Tre Mason also needs a big performance. Mason is averaging 104.8 yards per game this year and has four 100-yard performances out of his last five games. Alabama will likely stack the line of scrimmage and force Marshall to throw to win. If the Crimson Tide continues to stuff the run like they have all season, Auburn’s offense will have a tough time maintaining drives on Saturday afternoon.
Auburn’s defense vs. Alabama’s offense
Alabama’s offense doesn’t get the national recognition that its defense does, but the Crimson Tide average 7.3 yards per play and rank second in SEC by averaging 490.9 yards per game. Auburn’s defense has made strides under new coordinator Ellis Johnson, but the Tigers rank 13th in the SEC against the pass, eighth against the run and six SEC opponents have scored at least 20 points this year. Alabama’s offense is one of the nation’s most-balanced attacks in the nation, averaging 233.3 yards per game through the air and 211.5 a contest on the ground. Quarterback AJ McCarron rarely throws interceptions (five in 2013), and the senior is completing 68.6 percent of his throws. Auburn’s secondary has allowed 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more, which ranks last in the SEC. Considering the Tigers have allowed their last two opponents to complete at least 64 percent of their passes, getting pressure on McCarron is critical to stopping Alabama’s offense. But a pass rush isn’t going to be enough, as Auburn has to match the Crimson Tide’s physical approach in the trenches. Alabama’s running backs – led by T.J. Yeldon – are arguably the best group in the nation. If Yeldon and backup Kenyan Drake get on track, McCarron’s play-action passes to receivers Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones will provide big plays for the Crimson Tide’s offense.
Key Player: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
We devoted an entire section of this game preview to Marshall, and the junior is getting another mention in the key player tag. It’s not easy to pin the hopes of winning on one player, but Marshall is the x-factor. If the junior is able to have success on Auburn’s designed runs, the Tigers can keep Alabama’s defense off balance. However, if the Tigers’ rushing attack is contained, Marshall will have to throw 30-40 times to win. Although Marshall has made plays in the passing game all year, Auburn would clearly prefer not to have the junior quarterback throw more than 20-25 times on Saturday.
With both teams ranked in the top five of the BCS standings, this season’s meeting is arguably one of the biggest in this rivalry’s history. There’s no shortage of storylines and national implications, as the winner of this game is headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship. Not only is the SEC West title on the line, the Crimson Tide needs to win to stay atop the BCS standings. Auburn’s 2013 season is no fluke. The Tigers are a much-improved team and will give Alabama’s defense all it can handle. However, the Crimson Tide makes the necessary adjustments at halftime, which contains the Tigers’ offense in the second half. Home field advantage helps Auburn trade punches with Alabama through the first three quarters. But Alabama finds a way to pull away in the fourth quarter, sending the Crimson Tide to Atlanta for the fourth time in six seasons.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 20
Ohio State and Michigan are moving in opposite directions this season. The Buckeyes are in the midst of a nation-best 22-game winning streak, while the Wolverines have lost four conference games and rank only above Northwestern in the Legends Division.
The Wolverines lost 24-21 to Iowa last week, marking the fourth time in five games that Michigan has fallen to Iowa. In the loss, Michigan wasted a 21-7 halftime lead, as the Hawkeyes stormed back to win 24-21.
The Buckeyes have yet to lose a game under Urban Meyer. Their biggest scare this season came against Wisconsin, a game they won 31-24 in Week 5.
Michigan owns a 58–44–6 edge in the overall series against Ohio State. The Buckeyes have claimed the eight of the last nine games against the Wolverines, including a 26-21 victory in Columbus last year. Michigan is hoping for its biggest upset in the rivalry since it was a 17-point underdog and beat Ohio State 13-9 at home in 1996.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/11/27/5952538/ohio-state-michigan-preview-capsule.html#storylink=cpy
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Kickoff: 12:00 ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Ohio State -14.5
Ohio State’s Key to Victory: Establish Carlos Hyde
Hyde ran for 114 yards against Indiana last week to become the first Buckeyes' running back to get over 1,000 yards in a season since 2008. He has posted six straight 100-yard games, highlighted by his 246 yards and four touchdowns against Illinois. Hyde has five multi-touchdown games and has been the bell cow for Ohio State since returning from his three-game suspension. Hyde should be able to find open holes against Michigan as the Wolverines have let each of their last four opponents rush for over 140 yards.
Michigan’s Key to Victory: Contain the Buckeyes' front
The Wolverines will likely have to figure out a way to block standout LB Ryan Shazier to have any success on offense. And if that happens, it would be surprising. Michigan has struggled to protect Devin Gardner in the passing game and to open up holes in the running game. In fact, the Wolverines have rushing performances of -48 and -21 rushing yards in two separate games this season. Michigan's offensive line has allowed the 13th most sacks in the nation with 32 sacks allowed. On the other hand, Ohio State is tied for second in the country with 36 team sacks. Shazier, the defense's captain, is one of the best linebackers in college football. The Butkus Award finalist leads the Big Ten with 108 tackles, 19.5 for losses and four forced fumbles.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/11/27/5952538/ohio-state-michigan-preview-capsule.html#storylink=cpy
Key Player: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Despite missing three games, this is the most dynamic player in the Big Ten. Miller has accounted for 2,364 all-purpose yards, including 24 total touchdowns. Miller is unquestionably the only player on the field that's capable of carrying his team to victory. The junior will be involved in every facet of the Buckeyes' offense and will need to make a few big plays for Ohio State to finish a second straight regular season undefeated.
Rivalry games are also closer than expected. With this game being in The Big House, Michigan shouldn't be short on emotion or incentive to win. Even so, Ohio State has the superior playmakers and better coaching to get the job done. The Buckeyes have been extremely consistent this season, while the Wolverines have been unpredictable from week to week. Simply put, I trust the strength of Ohio State's front seven on defense, along with Braxton Miller on offense, more than I trust a shaky Wolverines offense.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan 24
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line. Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Washington State helped me out last week in a big way as I went 3-1 in my Picks of the Week. First, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Second, I didn't find much I liked this week, in fact, I would recommend staying away from rivalry games in general. But if you must, here is what I came up with...
2013 Record Against the Spread: 38-29-1 (3-1 last week)
Week 14 Picks of the Week:
Ohio State (-14.5) at Michigan
Normally, I would suggest staying away from rivalry games, as this weekend is a bad one to make big moves. And the Wolverines are a much better team at home than on the road. However, Ohio State is eying a BCS national title and will not be stopped by a reeling Michigan team that has lost three of the last four. Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier and Urban Meyer will not be denied and this one could get ugly. Prediction: Ohio State -14.5
Boston College (-2) at Syracuse
I nearly pulled the trigger on BC last week in a pick 'em with Maryland. The win over the Terps gave the Eagles four straight on the back of star ball carrier Andre Williams. Syracuse has lost two straight by a combined 76-19 and has struggled to move the ball over the last month. Boston College knows it has a Heisman candidate in Williams and should feed him the ball enough to cover the two-point spread. Prediction: Boston College -2
Minnesota (-15) at Michigan State
The Gophers struggled in a big way to move the ball against a solid defense at home in Wisconsin last week. They mustered zero offensive points and only 185 yards in the loss and now Minnesota is on the road on Senior Day against the nation's top-rated defense. The Spartans will celebrate an extraordinary class of senior defenders in style with another dominating performance. Prediction: Michigan State -15
Florida State (-27.5) at Florida
Picking the Gators to lose by more than four touchdowns at home seems downright illogical. But there is no way Florida will score points and, since Jameis Winston is going to start, it doesn't appear the once-vaunted Gators defense will be able to slow FSU's offense. The Noles have won by 64, 56 and 56 points in their last three games, so four touchdowns against the worst Florida team in four decades shouldn't be much of a challenge. Prediction: Florida State -27.5
Arkansas (+24.5) at LSU
The Tigers are fresh off of the best performance of their season and are facing a team that has been completely uncompetitive against the SEC. The Hogs have been outgunned by 142.3 yards per game in SEC play and lost by at least 10 points in every game except last week's overtime setback to Mississippi State. LSU should have no issue stopping the Razorbacks' one-dimensional offense and won't have any issue moving the ball. Prediction: LSU -24.5
Top 25 Picks Against the Spread:
Note: games with FCS opponents won't be included each week
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|No. 1 Alabama (-11) at No. 4 Auburn|
|No. 2 Florida St (-27.5) at Florida|
|No. 3 Ohio St (-15) at Michigan|
|No. 21 Texas A&M (+5) at No. 5 Missouri|
|No. 6 Clemson (+5.5) at No. 10 South Carolina|
|No. 25 Notre Dame (+14) at No. 8 Stanford|
|No. 9 Baylor (-13.5) at TCU|
|Minnesota (+15) at No. 11 Michigan St|
|Arizona (+12.5) at No. 12 Arizona St|
|Oregon St (+21) at No. 13 Oregon|
|Penn St (+24) at No. 15 Wisconsin|
|No. 16 Fresno St (-7.5) at San Jose St|
|Arkansas (+24.5) at No. 17 LSU|
|USF (+27) at No. 19 UCF|
|No. 22 UCLA (+3.5) at No. 23 USC|
|No. 24 Duke (+5.5) at North Carolina|
The Heisman ceremony is two weeks away, and the field is in disarray.
Meanwhile, the field for other position awards is starting to narrow as the season-long voting for many of these awards has been whittled to finalists.
While we love prognosticating who will win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, we also love the glut of postseason awards that go to each position, each with a nod to the game’s history from Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker to Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe to Ray Guy and Lou Groza.
Everyone tracks the progress in the Heisman race, but Athlon Sports will try to keep an eye on who will take home college football’s positional awards.
Here’s our look at the “other” trophies through the 13th week of the season.
The majority of winners for college football’s position awards will be announced Dec. 12 on the College Football Awards Show on ESPN.
Maxwell (Player of the Year)
Our leader: Alabama’s AJ McCarron
The Maxwell Award recipient tends to differ from the Heisman winner in recent seasons (exceptions: Cam Newton in 2010 and Tim Tebow in 2007), though both technically award the top player in the nation. Voters have tended to pick career achievers for this award, so McCarron may be the favorite.
Finalists:Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Biggest snub: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Losses last week by Baylor, Texas A&M and Oregon helped separate Winston from the pack in on-field achievements. Winston now leads the nation in pass efficiency and remains second in yards per attempt. His 32 touchdowns is tied for third nationally.
Finalists:Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Biggest snub: Clemson’s Tajh Boyd
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Both Carey and Andre Williams are deserving, but Carey’s consistency gets the nod. He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in each game he’s played this season, including 206 and four touchdowns against Oregon last week.
Finalists: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Boston College’s Andre Williams
Biggest snub: Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews
Biletnikoff (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Texas A&M’s Mike Evans
Ask the Iron Bowl participants for their vote: Evans had 279 yards and a touchdown against Alabama and 287 yards and four touchdowns against Auburn.
Others: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins
Biggest snub: Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews
Mackey (Top tight end)
Our leader: Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro
Amaro remains a snub for the award presumably because he doesn’t always line up as a classic tight end in Texas Tech’s wide open offense. Still, 92 receptions for 1,157 yards with six touchdowns is more than enough to merit attention at a position that’s diminished in prominence in recent years.
Finalists: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Biggest snub: Amaro
Outland (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
The Outland has tended to to award offensive linemen. In the last 10 years, LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh are the only defensive players to win the award. Aaron Donald is making a late push, but Cyril Richardson would be our pick if Baylor can rebound from the rout to Oklahoma State to beat TCU and Texas.
Finalists: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
Biggest snub: Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio
Nagurski (Defensive player of the year)
Our leader: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley
Another award where Aaron Donald has (finally) gained national attention in recent weeks. Still, the SEC players here — C.J. Mosley and Michael Sam — have opportunities for signature games. Mosley vs. the Auburn run game could clinch it for the Alabama linebacker.
Finalists: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Missouri’s Michael Sam
Biggest snub: UCLA’s Anthony Barr
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Mosley
Finalists: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Missouri’s Michael Sam
Biggest snub: BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Butkus (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Mosley
Finalists: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov
Biggest snub: Wisconsin’s Chris Borland
Thorpe (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard
Dennard had nine tackles and an interception in the rout of Northwestern last week. Braxton Miller will be wise to avoid him in the Big Ten title game.
Finalists: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner
Biggest snub: Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Lou Groza (Top kicker)
Our leader: Texas’ Anthony Fera
Fera, the Penn State transfer, is 17 of 18 this season, including 4 of 5 from at least 40 yards out.
Others: Florida State’s Robert Aguayo, Texas’ Anthony Fera, USF’s Marvin Kloss
Biggest snub: Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin
Ray Guy (Top punter)
Our leader: Memphis’ Tom Hornsey
Memphis is second in the nation in net punting, led by Hornsey’s 45.5 yards per kick.
Finalists: Memphis’ Tom Hornsey, Texas A&M’s Drew Kaser, Purdue’s Cody Webster
Biggest snub: Alabama's Cody Mandell
Freshman of the year
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
An easy choice for Winston, who remains the frontrunner for the Heisman.
Others: Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, UCLA's Myles Jack
Coach of the year
Our leader: Auburn’s Gus Malzahn
The Tigers have gone from three wins to No. 4 in the BCS with a chance to reach the BCS Championship Game. No matter the outcome of this season, Malzahn has orchestrated one of the best single-season turnarounds in college football history.
Others: Baylor’s Art Briles, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel
Broyles Award (Top assistant)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi
The phone for the coordinator of the nation’s top defense is about to to start ringing. He’ll have his pick of head coaching jobs by the end of the season.
Others: LSU’s Cam Cameron, Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama’s Kirby Smart, Oklahoma State’s Glenn Spencer
The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day slate of action ends with a tasty matchup of AFC North archrivals, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will meet up again at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. While Mike Tomlin’s Steelers and John Harbaugh’s Ravens both sit at 5-6, certainly not where they intended to be entering this season, they are part of the five-team jumble for the final AFC Wild Card spot and just two games behind the division-leading Bengals (7-4).
Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings with the Ravens, the most recent being a 19-16 victory in Week 7. The three-point victory is fitting, considering eight of the last 10 regular-season games have been decided by that exact margin. The Steelers hold a 20-15 edge in the all-time series during the regular season.
4 Things to Watch
When Last We Met
Entering Week 7, Pittsburgh (1-4) had finally gotten into the win column the previous week with a 19-6 victory over the Jets on the road. Baltimore was at 3-3 after dropping a 19-17 decision to Green Bay at home. On a Sunday night at Heinz Field, the defenses more or less dictated things, which is not unusual when the Steelers and Ravens get together. The home team struck first, Ben Roethlisberger connecting with tight end Heath Miller on a short touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. The teams settled for field goals from there, with Shaun Suisham and Justin Tucker each connecting on three apiece to make the score 16-9 Steelers with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense finally put a sustained drive together, culminating with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark and a tie game with less than two minutes to go. Emmanuel Sanders put the Steelers in good field position on the ensuing kickoff, taking it from deep in his own end zone for 44 yards. Starting from his own 37-yard-line, Big Ben led his team 39 yards in seven plays, setting up Suisham for the 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Statistically speaking, the game was pretty even in terms of total yards, first downs and time of possession. The Steelers had the lone turnover, a Miller fumble, but were able to overcome that and win their second straight game after starting the season 0-4. The Ravens, meanwhile, missed a golden opportunity to put their archrivals into a huge hole while also keeping pace with Cincinnati, who was 5-2 after Week 7.
Since Week 7
Baltimore went on bye the week after the loss to Pittsburgh, but the break didn’t help solve the Ravens’ offensive issues. A disappointing showing at Cleveland in Week 9 extended their losing streak to three games before bouncing back with a big overtime win over division-leading Cincinnati in Week 10. The momentum was short lived, however, as the Ravens fell to the Bears on the road the following Sunday in a game that was delayed nearly two hours due to severe weather. The roller-coaster ride continued last week with Baltimore’s defense smothering Geno Smith and the Jets for a comfortable 19-3 victory at home. The Ravens’ defense has done its part most of the season, holding opponents to just 16.8 points per game over the last four with seven takeaways. The offense, however, hasn’t returned the favor. Baltimore averaged just 274 yards and 19.3 points per game, while committing eight turnovers during this same four-game span. The running game has been an issue all season, as the Ravens rank 27th in the NFL in rushing offense, but Joe Flacco hasn’t exactly lit up defenses either. Pittsburgh meanwhile, was unable to build off of its Week 7 victory over Baltimore, as the Steelers made the trek across country to face the Raiders and put themselves into a 21-3 halftime hole they couldn’t crawl out of. The next week was even worse, getting drilled by New England 55-31 in Foxboro, Mass., in a game in which Pittsburgh set franchise records for most points and yards (610) allowed. The Steelers have since turned things around, however, winning their last three by an average margin of 13 points. The offense, behind Ben Roethlisberger, has been more productive and taken care of the ball (1 turnover in last three games), while the defense has had more moments of looking like the Steel Curtain of old. Take out one bad first half (27 PA) against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in Week 11 and the Steelers’ defense has given up a total of 21 points in 10 quarters. The Steelers are starting to click on both sides of the ball, and as a result have gone 5-2 since a 0-4 start and are very much alive for a postseason berth.
Things are usually pretty physical when the Steelers and Ravens get together, but that doesn’t mean that either team has had much success playing that way this season. Both rank near the bottom of the NFL in rushing offense, with the Ravens coming in at 27th (81.7 ypg) and the Steelers 30th (77.3 ypg). Ray Rice finally posted his first 100-yard game of the season two weeks ago when he went for 131 against Chicago, but he’s still averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and has scored a total of four touchdowns. Pittsburgh rookie Le’Veon Bell has played in two fewer games than Rice (8 to 10) and has fewer carries (143 to 156), yet he has five more yards rushing (455 than 450) and the same number of touchdowns as the Pro Bowler. In fact, Bell’s best game came against Baltimore in Week 7, when he rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries. The Steelers out-rushed the Ravens in that game 141 to 82, and this category should factor into tonight’s game too. Pittsburgh’s success against Baltimore on the ground was somewhat surprising; considering the Ravens have been pretty strong against the run all season. Baltimore is 11th in the league in rushing defense (102.6 ypg) and has given up a grand total of one rushing touchdown so far. The Steelers have had their issues stopping the run, as they rank 23rd in the league (118.8 ypg) and have surrendered 13 rushing touchdowns. However, as the first meeting showed, how things look on paper don’t always play out on the field, especially when it’s these two teams. Either way, whichever team can gain an edge in the battle of the trenches tonight should be well positioned to walk away with the win.
Key Matchup: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Joe Flacco
Even though these are two defensive-minded teams, the connection between the quarterbacks is pretty much unavoidable. Both have led their teams to Super Bowl wins, both are paid like franchise quarterbacks, and both have received their share of criticism. From a numbers standpoint, Roethlisberger is lapping Flacco this season, as Big Ben leads in all statistical categories. He has been buoyed by some big games lately, with 11 touchdown passes and two performances of 367 yards passing or more over his last four games. Flacco has struggled in the afterglow of last season’s Super Bowl championship and since signing his lucrative contract extension. He has the same number of touchdown passes as interceptions (14 apiece) and he is averaging less than 250 yards passing per game. He has surpassed his per-game average just once over his last five outings and Flacco has thrown at least one interception in each of his last four games. It’s no stretch to say that Roethlisberger has all the momentum headed into tonight’s game, but Flacco has already proven that he’s capable of playing at a high level when it matters the most. Tonight may not be the Super Bowl, but both teams need their quarterbacks to bring their “A” game if they want to stay in the thick of the postseason race in the AFC.
It’s somewhat ironic that two teams that really don’t like each other will play on Thanksgiving Day. However, it’s NFL fans that should be thankful for getting a heated rivalry like Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore as the final course of the NFL’s Turkey Day tripleheader. The fact that the two teams are tied at 5-6 and in the thick of the chase for the final AFC Wild Card spot only makes it even more appetizing.
The Steelers have turned things around in a big way since starting 0-4, and would love to beat the archrival Ravens a third straight time. On the other hand, Baltimore would like to put an end to both of Pittsburgh’s winning streaks (Seelers have won their last three games, as well as two in a row over the Ravens), while also staying within striking distance of AFC North-leading Cincinnati.
Call it a Super Bowl hangover or the result of a lot of offseason changes; the Ravens are not the same team that won the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February. The Steelers meanwhile have seemed to find their second wind after their disastrous start, and appear to be peaking at the right time. It will be another instant classic, but Ben Roethlisberger and company find a way to claim their fourth straight win and bragging rights over the defending Super Bowl champions with a sweep.
Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 17
Week 13 of NFL action gets started with a Thanksgiving Day tripleheader. With the fantasy playoffs right around the corner, these three early games (Green Bay at Detroit, Oakland at Dallas and Pittsburgh at Baltimore) could be critical to getting your team off to a good start. Before you dig into your turkey and dressing, here is the latest on some key injured players.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys
McFadden has missed the past three games because of a hamstring injury, but he will be back on the field today. Although McFadden will play, he won’t take back his starting role. Instead he will share the carries with Rashad Jennings, who has averaged 138.3 total yards per game over his last four. From a fantasy standpoint, Jennings is probably the safer option, but the timeshare with McFadden could impact his production potential. The silver lining for both Raider backs is that Dallas is giving up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Not knowing how the workload is going to be shared, I would place Jennings in the RB2 category with McFadden a consideration at flex, depending on your other options.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers
Johnson (above), who has been dealing with a lingering knee injury for most of the season, did not practice on Tuesday, the Lions’ only real session this week. But before you choke on that drumstick, there have been no indications from the All-Pro or the team that he is any danger of missing today’s game. If anything, the rest was probably a precaution given the short turnaround, as he is listed as Probable on the injury report. Besides, even at less than 100 percent, all Johnson has done is post 861 yards receiving over his past five games. That’s the most over a five-game span in the regular season in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Johnson missed the first game against Green Bay because of the knee injury, I would be willing to bet my slice of pumpkin pie he won’t miss this one.
Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys
Moore missed last week’s game because of a shoulder injury and he didn’t participate in either Monday’s walkthrough or Tuesday’s practice. That alone made him very questionable to begin with, but the Raiders removed any doubt on Wednesday when Moore was declared out for a second straight game. Rod Streater filled in for Moore last week as Matt McGloin's No. 1 target and he will probably do the same today. It could be worth taking a flyer on Streater, who has done well with McGloin under center and considering the fact that Dallas is second to last in the league in passing defense.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Sidelined since breaking his collarbone on Nov. 4, Rodgers returned to practice on Tuesday, albeit in a limited capacity. While that is certainly a step in the right direction, Mike McCarthy put an end to any hopes that Packer fans may have had of their MVP returning on Thanksgiving Day, as the head coach named Matt Flynn the starter against Detroit. Flynn probably earned the nod over Scott Tolzien due to his impressive fourth-quarter and overtime showing (21-of-36, 218-1-0) last week against Minnesota. The Lions aren't exactly shutting opponents' passing games down, so depending on your appetite for risk-taking, Flynn could be a possible starting option, although I would say more for 2-QB leagues rather than standard or shallow ones.
The Dallas Cowboys look to keep pace in the NFC East when they host the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving Day at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS. Jason Garrett’s Cowboys (6-5) are coming off last week’s 24-21 victory on the road over the New York Giants which put them into a first-place tie with the Eagles. Dennis Allen’s Raiders (4-7) have already matched last season’s win total, but are just 1-4 on the road this season.
One of the annual Thanksgiving Day hosts, along with Detroit, Dallas is 28-16-1 on the holiday. Oakland is 3-3 on Turkey Day, with its last such appearance coming in 2009 against Dallas. The Cowboys won that game 24-7 behind 309 yards passing and three touchdowns from Tony Romo. The Raiders still lead the all-time series 6-4.
3 Things to Watch
Cowboys’ Porous Defense
The Cowboys are likely regretting letting defensive coordinator Rob Ryan leave. Dallas currently ranks dead last in total defense, surrendering a hefty 432.2 yards per game. This unit has struggled in both pass coverage and against the run. The Cowboys are 31st in pass defense (298.5 ypg), and 30th in rushing defense (133.6 ypg). To be fair, the Cowboys have battled injuries to key players. DeMarcus Ware was injured for a three-game-stretch in the middle of the season. While Ware is back, Dallas will once again be without defensive captain and interception leader linebacker Sean Lee. Lee has been out since Week 10 with a hamstring injury. Dallas appears lost without its stabilizing force, missing assignments and playing less disciplined football. Five different quarterbacks have thrown for 400 yards against the Cowboys. Dallas is 1-4 in such games. Dallas has also allowed a 100-yard rusher in three straight games. Several players have had career days against the Cowboys this year including Mark Ingram’s 145 yards rushing, Andre Brown’s’ 127 rushing yards, and Calvin Johnson’s 329 yards receiving.
Raiders’ Rush Defense
Oakland has been impressive this year in stopping the run, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns. The Raiders are eighth in the NFL in rush defense, giving up just 99.1 yards per game. They’ve prevented backs from making big plays, surrendering an NFL-best one rush of more than 20 yards. Impressively, the Raiders have faced five Pro Bowl running backs and held each under 100 yards rushing. In fact, Andre Brown’s 115-yard performance in Week 10 was the only time this season that a back has topped 100 yards rushing against Oakland.
Pro Bowl Running Backs vs. Oakland's Rushing Defense in 2013
|LeSean McCoy, PHI||12||44|
|Chris Johnson, TEN||20||73|
|Jamaal Charles, KC||22||78|
|Alfred Morris, WAS||16||71|
|Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX||10||27|
The performances against McCoy, Morris and Charles are particularly notable as all three rank in the top five of the league in rushing. For McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, it was his lowest output of the season.
Matt McGloin vs. Dallas Pass Rush
McGloin could be the best story in the NFL this year. The former walk-on and undrafted product out of Penn State, beat out veteran Matt Flynn for the backup job in Oakland. Following an injury to Terrelle Pryor, McGloin got his first NFL start two weeks ago against Houston. The rookie signal-caller led the Raiders to a 28-23 victory, throwing for 197 yards and three touchdowns. His second start wasn’t nearly as impressive, as he threw for 260 yards along with one touchdown and an interception. Most importantly, with Pryor healthy once again, head coach Dennis Allen has chosen to stick with McGloin. It will be interesting to see how the young quarterback will fare on a national stage at AT&T Stadium. Look for the Raiders to try to get him comfortable early by calling for short, rhythm-building completions. The key to his success could be how he handles a fearsome Dallas pass rush. In addition to perennial All-Pro DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys boast a fearsome front with fellow linemen George Selvie (6.0 sacks) and Jason Hatcher (9.0 sacks).
Key Player for Oakland: Rashad Jennings, RB
The Raiders haven’t been able to depend on the injury-prone Darren McFadden during his tenure in Oakland. Thankfully, Jennings has picked up the slack. Jennings has taken the role of lead back the last four weeks. In those four games, he’s rushed for 413 yards and two touchdowns. He has already recorded two 100-yard rushing performances. Over the past four weeks, the 28-year-old leads the NFL with 553 total yards from scrimmage, and sports a 5.65 yard per carry average. McFadden is set to return following a three-game absence, but Jennings will be rewarded for his recent play with the start against Dallas.
Key Player for Dallas: Tony Romo, QB
Perhaps no quarterback takes more criticism than Romo. Despite his critics, Romo is eighth in the NFL in yards passing (2,915) and fourth in touchdown passes (23). For those who claim Romo struggles with turnovers, it should be noted that his seven interceptions are less than Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Romo should be able to slice up the Raiders’ 25th-ranked pass defense.
Matt McGloin has done a nice job in relief of Terrelle Pryor as Oakland’s starting quarterback. However, his potential to make big plays is limited. The Raiders will have to pound the ball and control the clock to win this one. Dallas’ defense hasn’t been great this year, but the Cowboys have faced some of the best quarterbacks in the league. If Tony Romo can build an early lead for the Cowboys, the pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware should be able to pin their ears back and turn McGloin’s Thanksgiving afternoon into a disaster.
Dallas 30, Oakland 20
Week 13 not only marks the end of the bye weeks, it also signals the beginning of the stretch run, and that is especially the case as it relates to fantasy football. With the playoffs starting as early as this week (depending on the set up of your league), time is running out for those teams who need to make a move to secure their spot in the postseason.
Last week, it was players like Josh Gordon, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Jamaal Charles and Knowshon Moreno who brought smiles to their owners' faces. Gordon led all fantasy scorers with his 14-catch, 237-yard, TD effort against Pittsburgh. Rivers and Brady were the cream of the quarterback crop, as each threw for at least 344 yards (Rivers had 392) and three touchdowns.
The ground game was dominated by Charles and Moreno. Charles posted 157 total yards, including 115 on the ground, while Moreno gashed the Patriots for 224 and a touchdown. Denver and Kansas City will face off again for the second time in three weeks, and these two backs will obviously play a huge role. Moreno sustained a pretty nasty bone bruise last week, so his status is something worth keeping an eye on this week.
The Week 13 action gets started with the Thanksgiving Day tripleheader, and these early games will help set the tone. If you have any Baltimore, Dallas, Green Bay, Oakland or Pittsburgh players on your roster, you have to decide whether you are going to start them this week and then hope they can get your team out of the gates quickly. Strong showings on Thursday would certainly make for a more relaxing and enjoyable holiday weekend, no?
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any website can give you.
2013 NFL Week 13 Fantasy Football Positional Rankings
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points
Quarterbacks playing conference opponents for a second time this season spearhead the top three on Athlon Sports' fantasy football Week 13 rankings at the position this week.
Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is atop the quarterback ranks, having thrown for multiple touchdowns the last three games and in five of the last six. His last game under 22 points was Week 5 at NFC North rival Green Bay (16.4) — this week’s opponent.
It was just two weeks ago that Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos handed the Kansas City Chiefs their first loss. Manning had his lowest-scoring outing of the season against the AFC West rival (18.9), and followed it up last week with a new low — 16 at New England. The Chiefs followed up limiting Manning to under 20 by surrendering over 33 points to another AFC West rival last week — San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
Carolina's Cam Newton had 31.8 points against Tampa Bay on the road in Week 8, and is coming off back-to-back games of 22.1 and 32.6 points.
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any website can give you.
2013 NFL Week 13 Fantasy Football Rankings — Quarterbacks
|1||Matthew Stafford||DET||vs. GB (Thurs.)|
|2||Peyton Manning||DEN||at KC|
|3||Cam Newton||CAR||vs. TB|
|4||Tony Romo||DAL||vs. OAK (Thurs.)|
|5||Drew Brees||NO||at SEA (Mon.)|
|6||Nick Foles||PHI||vs. ARI|
|7||Josh McCown||CHI||at MIN|
|8||Andy Dalton||CIN||at SD|
|9||Tom Brady||NE||at HOU|
|10||Russell Wilson||SEA||vs. NO (Mon.)|
|11||Andrew Luck||IND||vs. TEN|
|12||Philip Rivers||SD||vs. CIN|
|13||Robert Griffin III||WAS||vs. NYG|
|14||Matt Ryan||ATL||at BUF|
|15||Alex Smith||KC||vs. DEN|
|16||Colin Kaepernick||SF||vs. STL|
|17||Ryan Fitzpatrick||TEN||at IND|
|18||Carson Palmer||ARI||at PHI|
|19||Eli Manning||NYG||at WAS|
|20||Ben Roethlisberger||PIT||at BAL (Thurs.)|
|21||EJ Manuel||BUF||vs. ATL|
|22||Ryan Tannehill||MIA||at NYJ|
|23||Christian Ponder||MIN||vs. CHI|
|24||Mike Glennon||TB||at CAR|
|25||Matt Flynn||GB||at DET (Thurs.)|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
Additional Week 13 Positional Rankings