Articles By Mark Ross

Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-vs-san-francisco-49ers-preview-and-prediction
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A pair of California teams with different playoff aspirations will present NFL fans with some holiday entertainment Saturday evening when the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers face off on CBS. The Chargers (8-6) desperately need a win to stay in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the AFC, while the 49ers (7-7) have already been eliminated form postseason contention.

 

San Diego trails Pittsburgh and Baltimore by a game for one of the two Wild Card berths and has been hit by the injury bug at the worst time possible. The Chargers will be without their top wide receiver (Keenan Allen) and possibly their No. 1 running back (Ryan Mathews), while quarterback Philip Rivers has been dealing with some injuries of his own.

 

For San Francisco, injuries have had a significant impact on this season’s results, while the other prevailing storyline has been the uncertainty regarding head coach Jim Harbaugh’s future with the team. An offense that ranks 27th in the league has certainly added to the 49ers’ woes, and this unit could be really thin in the backfield on Saturday because of the latest rash of injures.

 

This is just the fourth meeting between these Sunshine State teams. San Diego is a perfect 3-0 against San Francisco with the last matchup occurring four years ago (Chargers 34-7).

 

San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers

 

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: San Francisco -1

 

San Diego’s Key to Victory: Cobble Together a Running Game

Top wide receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone, ankle) has already been ruled out for this game and there’s a good chance running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) may not be able to play either. Combine that with a battered and bruised (chest, back) Philip Rivers and this offense is hurting. The easiest way to help Rivers would be to run the ball effectively. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done as the Chargers have averaged less than 60 yards rushing over their past three games. Branden Oliver has had his moments (215 yards rushing in consecutive starts against the Jets and Raiders), but his effectiveness has diminished greatly since then. Oliver and Donald Brown and maybe even veteran Ronnie Brown need to figure out a way to generate some sort of a ground game to, at minimum, take some of the burden off of their quarterback. Rivers is as tough as they come, but his production has slipped recently with just seven touchdown passes in his last six games (and three of those coming in one contest). Although he won’t admit it, it’s perfectly understandable to assume that the punishment Rivers has endured during the season has taken its toll recently. To make matters worse, he won’t have his leading receiver for this game either. Whether it’s using the committee approach or riding the hot hand, the Chargers need to run the ball (and effectively) against the 49ers. Their playoff hopes, not to mention the health of their quarterback, depend on it.

 

San Francisco’s Key to Victory: Relish Spoiler Role

After three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, the 49ers will be sitting this postseason out. Most of the attention has shifted to Jim Harbaugh’s future and his next destination (Michigan? Jets? Raiders?) should he and the team decide to part ways. However, San Francisco could still have an impact on how the playoffs shape up with games remaining against San Diego and Arizona. The Chargers need a win just to stay in the postseason discussion, while the Cardinals have already wrapped up a playoff spot, but could still need a final victory to hold off the Seahawks for the NFC West crown, which could come with a first-round bye. The 49ers have had to deal with injuries (and other off-the-field circumstances) to key defenders all season long and the offense (27th in yards, 28th in points per game) has not picked up the slack. However, this is still a proud team that can make a strong statement these next two weeks and I am pretty sure the Chargers aren’t expecting the 49ers to just roll over either. Whether this is Harbaugh’s second-to-last game coaching San Francisco remains to be seen, but as competitive and fiery as he is, I fully expect him to go down swinging either way. And just as they have done for these past four seasons, the 49ers should follow their coach’s example and view Saturday’s game as the first of two opportunities to put their stamp on how this season turns out.

 

Final Analysis

 

San Diego definitely needs this one more, but the Chargers aren’t anywhere near full strength. San Francisco has been playing shorthanded all season and could be really thin in the backfield. Even though the 49ers are the ones who have already been eliminated from playoff contention, I expect for Jim Harbaugh to get his team to embrace its spoiler role and come out fired up and ready to play. San Diego’s offense has been consistently more productive than San Francisco’s, but this unit also is extremely banged up and won’t be whole. Both offenses will struggle to get much going, but the 49ers’ defense puts the clamps on Philip Rivers and company and hand the Chargers a devastating (and potential season-ending) loss.

 
Prediction: San Francisco 20, San Diego 17
Teaser:
San Diego Chargers vs. San Francisco 49ers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-vs-washington-redskins-preview-and-prediction-2014
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The NFL Network’s early Christmas present on Saturday pits the slumping Philadelphia Eagles against the dysfunctional Washington Redskins. The Eagles (9-5) are in must-win mode following last week’s disappointing 38-27 home loss to the Cowboys. The Redskins (3-11) are merely playing the string out with the beleaguered Robert Griffin III back in at quarterback.

 

Currently a game behind Dallas (10-4), Philadelphia’s playoff hopes are centered around beating Washington this week and the Giants the following with the Cowboys losing either to the Colts on Sunday or these Redskins in Week 17. This is by far the easier path, as the Eagles trail the Lions (current NFC North leader), Packers and Seahawks (all 10-4) for the NFC’s two Wild Card spots.

 

Philadelphia has beaten Washington three straight times, the most recent coming at home in Week 3. The Eagles won 37-34 behind 325 yards and three touchdowns from Nick Foles, who hasn’t played since Week 9 because of a broken collarbone. Kirk Cousins threw for 427 yards and three scores (with an interception) in a losing effort, but he was benched in Week 7 and hasn’t gotten back on the field since.   

 

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

 

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Philadelphia -8.5

 

Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Clean it Up

Since a convincing 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving, the Eagles have dropped back-to-back games at home to the Seahawks and Cowboys. Seattle’s defense dominated Philadelphia in Week 14 and the Eagles couldn’t get out of their own way against the Cowboys last week. While the offense has struggled recently, rushing for 132 yards in the past two games combined, a more concerning trend has been the sloppy play. Entering Week 16, Philadelphia is No. 1 in the NFL in giveaways with 33. Twelve of these have come in the past five games alone, and the Eagles have gone just 2-3 during this stretch. The defense made a living earlier this season on takeaways, but that production has tapered off. Philadelphia’s turnover margin is minus-three over its last five games. Fortunately for the Eagles, Washington has not done a good job protecting the football (25 giveaways) or taking it away from the other team (16 turnovers forced). Everyone knows that quarterback Mark Sanchez is prone to the occasional mistake, which is why it’s critical that the rest of the team does its part when it comes to ball security. Philadelphia’s margin for error is already razor thin based on its position in the standings. The Eagles can ill afford any mistakes, especially of the self-inflicted variety.

 

Washington’s Key to Victory: Win the QB Competition

Colt McCoy was placed on injured reserve because of a neck injury, so head coach Jay Gruden is (begrudgingly) going back to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. No matter how you slice it, it’s been a lost season for RG3. Whether or not this is the beginning of the end of his time with the Redskins remains to be seen, but there’s no question he could really use a strong finish. A good first step towards that goal would be to post some nice numbers against a Philadelphia defense that has been kind to QBs this season. The Eagles have allowed two or more TD passes to 12 different QBs in 14 total games. While this list is fronted by names like Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, it also includes “lesser” signal-callers like now-backup Chad Henne, rookie Zach Mettenberger and Kick Cousins, Griffin’s teammate who tossed three TD passes against Philadelphia in Week 3. As bad as Griffin’s season has been, he couldn’t have asked for a much better matchup to fuel a strong finish. It’s now on him to execute the offense and take advantage of a generous pass defense. The Redskins also could win the QB battle if Mark Sanchez’ production continues to slip. The Eagles are 3-3 since Sanchez replaced an injured Nick Foles, and his numbers have failed to impress. As the starter, he has thrown eight touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions while completing just 61.2 percent of his passes. He has really struggled recently, with more picks (3) than TDs (2) in his last two games combined (both losses), along with just 348 yards passing and a 56.3 completion rate. Sanchez has a reputation for being somewhat turnover-prone, but the onus is on Washington’s defense to take advantage. Simply put, the Redskins needs to force Sanchez into some mistakes or else pin their hopes on a re-occurrence of the infamous “butt fumble.”

 

Final Analysis

 

For Philadelphia, it’s pretty simple. The Eagles need to win their next two games and hope that the Cowboys slip up at least once, as the NFC East will likely send just one team to the playoffs. Washington just wants this season to end, as the Redskins have some serious soul-searching to do and some tough questions that must be answered this offseason. Robert Griffin III wants to make a good impression these last two games, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that he can be the miracle elixir for a team as bad as this Washington squad. A motivated Philadelphia team takes care of its pre-Christmas business by dispatching with a Redskins team that’s already checked out for the holidays.

 
Prediction: Philadelphia 31, Washington 20
Teaser:
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/camellia-bowl-preview-and-prediction-bowling-green-vs-south-alabama
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The first-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl between Bowling Green and South Alabama also represents the first-ever postseason appearance for one of FBS’ newest programs. Played in the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., this is the newest iteration of the Camellia Bowl, a postseason game whose ties go back to Louisiana and California.

 

For Bowling Green (7-6), this is the Falcons’ third straight postseason invite and 12th overall. Last season, Bowling Green won the Mid-American Conference championship under Dave Clawson, who departed for Wake Forest prior to the bowl game. Clawson was replaced by Dino Babers, who was the head coach at FCS member Eastern Illinois.

 

Babers’ first season in Bowling Green featured a home win over Big Ten member Indiana and a second straight MAC East Division title. However, the Falcons ended their regular season with back-to-back losses to Toledo and Ball State before getting demolished 51-17 by Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game.

 

A win over South Alabama would not only put an end to Bowling Green’s losing streak, it also would be the school’s first bowl victory since 2004. The Falcons have lost their past four bowl games, including last season’s 30-27 setback to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Bowl.

 

For South Alabama (6-6), this will be the program’s first-ever bowl game, which is pretty impressive considering the Jaguars are in their sixth season of existence and just their second as a full-fledged FBS member. Joey Jones led his team to a 6-6 mark last season, but South Alabama was passed over for a bowl game.

 

This season the Jaguars opened up with a road win over MAC member Kent State, held their own in losses to Mississippi State and South Carolina, and nearly took down Navy at home to close out their slate. South Alabama finished 5-3 in the Sun Belt, part of a three-way tie for fourth place, and is one victory away from capping off the program’s most successful season.

 

Although a new bowl game to the FBS ranks, the Camellia Bowl has a shared history that dates all the way back to 1948. Hardin-Simmons defeated Wichita (now Wichita State University) 49-12 in the Camellia Bowl in Lafayette, La., on Dec. 30, 1948. The Camellia Bowl also was the name of the NAIA championship game (1961-64), as well as one of the four season-ending games from 1962-75 for what is now known as Division II. All of these games were played in Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, Calif.

 

Prior to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the last game called by this name was the Division I-AA (now FCS) Championship Game played between Boise State and Eastern Kentucky in Sacramento on Dec. 20, 1980. The Broncos won that game 31-29.

 

Bowling Green vs. South Alabama


Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 20 at 9:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: South Alabama -3

 

Bowling Green’s Key to Victory: Get Off the Field on 3rd Down


Last season, the Falcons were 10th in the nation in total defense, a big reason why they won 10 games and their first MAC title since 1992. Unfortunately, Bowling Green’s defense has taken several steps back this season, as the Falcons are ranked 122nd out of 128 FBS teams in yards allowed per game (499.6). After holding opponents to a 35.3 percent conversion rate (29th) on third downs in 2013, the Falcons have allowed teams to convert 43.5 percent of their attempts this fall. That number jumps to well over 50 percent (54.9) in their six losses. Another byproduct of their struggles in this category is time of possession. In their last three games – losses to Toledo, Ball State and to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game – Bowling Green’s defense has been on the field for more than 109 minutes or 61 percent of total game time. Fortunately for Dino Babers’ team, South Alabama’s offense has had their own issues converting on third down. The Jaguars have converted just 36.4 percent of their third down conversions and haven’t fared that better in wins (38.3). The Falcons’ defense needs to minimize the amount of time it’s on the field. Stopping South Alabama on third down would be a huge first step in that direction.


South Alabama’s Key to Victory: Take Care of the Football


On the season, the Jaguars’ turnover margin isn’t that bad. They have committed just four more (24) than they have forced (20). However, a closer look at the numbers shows that South Alabama has regressed drastically in this category over the second half of its schedule, which has carried over to its results. In their first seven games the Jaguars turned the ball over a total of eight times. They went 5-2 during this stretch. Since that point, however, South Alabama has coughed it up 16 times in five games, a big reason why the Jaguars are in the midst of a 1-4 slump. Joey Jones’ team doesn’t jump out at you statistically in any one category, which means South Alabama plays with a rather thin margin for error. This is especially the case against a team like Bowling Green, whose plus-seven turnover margin is tied for the seventh-best mark nationally. The Jaguars need to keep both hands on the ball if they want to increase their chances of making the most of their first-ever bowl appearance.

 

Final Analysis

 

Bowling Green won a division title, but it got trounced in the conference championship game and didn’t beat a single team that finished with a winning record. South Alabama won’t qualify in that respect either, but the Jaguars are hoping to make the most of their first-ever bowl appearance. Joey Jones’ team is new to FCS competition, but not necessarily success. The Jaguars technically were bowl-eligible last season at 6-6; they just weren’t selected to fill one of the Sun Belt’s bids. The Falcons are more established as a program, but the Jaguars are the ones motivated to make their first big splash on the FCS level. And playing a de facto home game in Montgomery certainly doesn’t hurt their chances of accomplishing this goal either.

 

Prediction: South Alabama 27, Bowling Green 24
Teaser:
Camellia Bowl Preview and Prediction: Bowling Green vs. South Alabama
Post date: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/new-orleans-bowl-preview-and-prediction-nevada-vs-ul-lafayette
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The 2014 bowl season will kick off in the Big Easy with UL Lafayette taking on Nevada in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. This marks the fourth straight season UL Lafayette will end its season playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as the Ragin’ Cajuns have won the past three New Orleans Bowls. For Nevada this represents the Wolf Pack’s ninth bowl invite in the past 10 years.

 

UL Lafayette (8-4) is in search of its fourth straight nine-win season under coach Mark Hudspeth, who is sure to get a look for one of the current openings among the Power 5 schools. The Ragin’ Cajuns are a perfect 3-0 in bowl games under Hudspeth, with all three victories coming in the New Orleans Bowl. UL Lafayette beat Tulane 24-21 last season with its previous two New Orleans Bowl victories coming against East Carolina (43-34, 2012) and San Diego State (32-30, ’11).

 

Nevada (7-5) is back in a bowl game after last season’s 4-8 record ended a streak of eight consecutive postseason appearances. In his second season as head coach of the Wolf Pack since taking over for Hall of Famer Chris Ault, Brian Polian is hoping to snap the team’s two-game losing streak in bowls. Nevada’s last victory in a bowl game was a 20-13 win over Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011.

 

This will be just the second game ever between UL Lafayette and Nevada. The Wolf Pack defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns 38-14 on their own turf (Reno, Nev.) back on Sept. 2, 1995 when both programs were in the Big West Conference.

 

Nevada vs. UL Lafayette

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: UL Lafayette -1

 

Nevada’s Key to Victory: Unleash Cody Fajardo


A senior, the New Orleans Bowl will represent Fajardo’s 43rd and final career start as the starting quarterback. One of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation; Fajardo is one of two players (Colin Kaepernick) in FBS history with 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career. This season, he’s 25th nationally in total offense (280.9 ypg) with 997 yards rushing (most on the team) and 2,374 yards passing, while accounting for 31 total touchdowns (18 passing, 13 rushing). He’s clearly the engine that makes the Wolf Pack’s offense hum and no doubt would like to end his run with the team on a winning note. Fajardo did not perform well in his previous two bowl games, both losses, so he has one final chance to change this part of his collegiate resume. Fajardo may be a California native, but he’s hoping to be a big hit in New Orleans in his final game for the Wolf Pack.

 

UL Lafayette’s Key to Victory: Stay Grounded


The Ragin’ Cajuns have made plenty of noise on the ground this season. They enter this game ranked 25th in FBS in rushing offense at 229.4 yards rushing per game. The big ground-gainer has been Elijah McGuire. A sophomore, McGuire is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and put up 265 on the ground in a win over Arkansas State. McGuire has been complemented in the running game by senior Alonzo Harris (737 yards, 12 TDs) and quarterback Terrance Broadway (4.9 ypc). Whoever ever carries the ball for UL Lafayette should find success against a Nevada rushing defense that’s given up nearly 180 yards per game. The Wolf Pack have really struggled in this department recently, as each of their past three opponents have run for at least 200 yards, including 342 by Air Force. An effective running game also could help the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense by eating up clock and also keeping Cody Fajardo and Nevada’s offense off of the field, limiting their opportunities. Sometimes a team’s best defense can be its offense. If that indeed is the case, expect UL Lafayette to stay grounded against the Wolf Pack. 

 

Final Analysis

 

Not surprisingly, UL Lafayette has made itself at home in the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in and won each of the past three “minor” bowl games played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mark Hudspeth’s team actually has a lot of confidence playing in the Big Easy, but Nevada doesn’t figure to be intimidated. More importantly, the Wolf Pack have Cody Fajardo, one of the nation’s most productive dual-threat quarterbacks, who just needs a bowl victory to polish off his impressive resume. UL Lafayette has home-field advantage and a potent rushing attack, but Nevada has the best player. In his final game for the Wolf Pack, I’ll take Fajardo to overcome the Cajuns’ home cooking and finish his collegiate career on a winning note.

 

Prediction: Nevada 34, UL Lafayette 31
Teaser:
New Orleans Bowl Preview and Prediction: Nevada vs. UL Lafayette
Post date: Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-chicago-bears-preview-and-prediction
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Teams with identical records, but completely opposite agendas will finish off Week 15 when the New Orleans Saints take on the Chicago Bears on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” With a win the Saints, despite entering tonight 5-8, would take over first place in the NFC South. The Bears also are 5-8, but have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

 

Teams that should have two of the more explosive offenses in the NFL have struggled at times while getting minimal support from their defense. New Orleans is second to last in total defense and 30th in scoring, while Chicago checks in at No. 28 (tied w/ Cincinnati entering Week 15) and has given up the most points of any team.

 

Drew Brees and the Saints are just 2-4 on the road, but they did beat the Bears at Soldier Field last season 26-18 in early October. Jay Cutler’s team has won just two of its six home games and is coming off of a 41-28 defeat to the Cowboys last week.

 

New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears

 

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: New Orleans -3

 

New Orleans’ Key to Victory: Be the Aggressor

The Saints are 5-8, but a win would put them in the driver's seat in the NFC South. These two teams play each other next week, but the Saints’ first goal is to win tonight. To do that, Drew Brees and the offense need to take full advantage of the worst scoring defense in the NFL. Chicago is giving up 29.1 points per game and has allowed 75 total over its last two contests. The Bears also surrendered 106 points to the Patriots and Packers in back-to-back losses earlier in the season. New Orleans’ offense has had its own issues, but it’s still third in yards per game (421.0), so that shouldn’t be a problem tonight against Chicago’s overmatched defense. The key is making sure these yards count, which is why the combination of head coach/play-caller Sean Payton and Brees need to stay aggressive when they have the ball. Take the deep shots down the field, unleash tight end Jimmy Graham across the middle, and complement the passing with a healthy dose of Mark Ingram. Brees, whose 12 interceptions have him tied for sixth, also needs to make sure he takes care of the football. As long as the Saints execute on offense, the points should come, and in bunches. And New Orleans will want all the points it can get, considering its own defense is giving up nearly 28 a game.

 

Chicago’s Key to Victory: Roll Out the Welcome Matt

It’s been a disappointing second season for Marc Trestman’s Bears. The offense hasn’t been as explosive as it was last season and the defense has been one gigantic mess. Even with all of the defensive issues, the main fall guy this season has been quarterback Jay Cutler. After signing a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension ($54 million guaranteed) before the season, more was expected of Cutler. He hasn’t exactly responded, as he leads the NFL with 21 turnovers (15 INTs, league-high tying six fumbles). To make matters worse, Cutler will be without his favorite target, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering rib and lung injuries in last week’s loss to Dallas. With so much ire directed towards Cutler right now, Trestman’s wisest course of action may be to let his dynamic, dual-threat running back take over. In a lost season for the team, Matt Forté is having another Pro Bowl-caliber campaign. Forté is third in the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,578 thanks in large part to his 86 receptions, which have him tied for fourth. He is averaging 121.4 total yards per game, has scored nine total touchdowns and lost just two fumbles in 300 total touches. New Orleans has struggled defending the run all season, allowing 133.5 yards rushing per game, so it may be in Chicago’s best interests to have Cutler get the ball, either on a handoff or via the pass, to Forté early and often. There are other playmakers, like wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, but based on the numbers, it’s pretty clear that running back has been this offense’s, well, Forté this season.

 

Final Analysis

 

If this season had played out like many had predicted, tonight’s game would carry a lot more importance. As it stands now, however, New Orleans has much more to play for than Chicago. The Saints are still alive for a division title despite their poor record, while the Bears just want this nightmare of a season to end. There are still two games left after this one, and unfortunately, I don’t see a happy ending in store for Marc Trestman’s beaten down team. Tonight Drew Brees joins the list of quarterbacks who have carved up an overmatched defense, a theme Bears fans have become all too familiar with.

 
Prediction: New Orleans 38, Chicago 27
Teaser:
New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 15, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-vs-san-diego-chargers-preview-and-prediction-2014
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Playoff paths could be determined later this afternoon when the Denver Broncos take on the San Diego Chargers on CBS. For the Broncos (10-3), it’s pretty simple – a win clinches a fourth straight AFC West title. The Chargers (8-5) meanwhile may need to win to just stay in the postseason discussion. Entering today’s action, eight teams were separated by one game in the fight for the two Wild Card spots in the AFC.

 

Denver has won six of the past seven meetings against its longtime division rival and four out of the last five played in San Diego. The Broncos beat the Chargers 35-21 in Week 8 behind three Peyton Manning-to-Emmanuel Sanders touchdowns and 109 yards rushing from Ronnie Hillman, who has missed the past four games with a foot sprain.

 

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

 

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Denver -4.5

 

Denver’s Key to Victory: Stick to the Script

Don’t look now, but the pass-happy Broncos have become a running team. Since losing in St. Louis 22-7 in Week 11, Denver has thrown for 596 yards and run for 548 over its past three games (all wins). Two weeks ago, the Broncos had more yards on the ground (214) than through the air (174) in their 29-16 win in Kansas City and last week, Peyton Manning’s streak of 51 straight games with a touchdown pass came to an end in a 24-17 victory over Buffalo. C.J. Anderson has been the catalyst behind the Denver’s rejuvenated running game, totaling 365 yards rushing and four touchdowns over the last three games. San Diego enters this game 14th in the NFL against the run (108.4 ypg) and gave up 139 on the ground in its Week 8 loss in Denver. The Broncos can still cause plenty of damage through the air, but they also have shown they can beat teams without relying on Manning’s arm. With the playoffs looming and the success it has already produced, there’s no reason to veer from the run-heavy approach now. Not to mention the possibility of an effective running game giving a future Hall of Fame quarterback an off-balance defense to operate against.

 

 

San Diego’s Key to Victory: Take the Offensive

Even with Denver’s recent run-heavy game plan, the Broncos are still capable of putting points on the scoreboard. Denver enters this afternoon’s game ranked fifth in the league with 29.6 points per game. Contrast that to San Diego, who is tied for 14th at 22.5. The Chargers are 7-0 when they score at least 22 points and 8-1 when totaling at least 300 yards of offense. Ironically, the one game they lost was a 35-21 Week 8 decision to the Broncos, but San Diego also was outgained 425-306 in that contest. The Chargers’ running game has struggled, totaling 224 yards rushing in the last four games combined, but that may not matter considering Denver’s defense ranks second (72.8 ypg) in this department. Instead, the best plan of attack may be to let Philip Rivers air it out with Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal on the receiving end of his throws. In all seven games in which San Diego has scored 22 or more points this season, Rivers has had at least 250 yards passing. Just because the Broncos aren’t throwing the ball over the field doesn’t mean the Chargers have to stay grounded.

 

Final Analysis

 

Denver’s playoff path is pretty straightforward – win and the Broncos are in as AFC West champions. San Diego’s is a little more complicated, as the Chargers may need to win out to secure one of the Wild Card spots with so many teams bunched together. There’s no dispute the Chargers need this game more, but the Broncos have had their number lately and also have found a new way to win games. C.J. Anderson and the running game does most of the heavy lifting, but Peyton Manning deals the finishing touch, as the Broncos deal the Chargers’ playoff hopes a big blow and win a fourth straight division title in the process.

 
Prediction: Denver 27, San Diego 23
Teaser:
Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction-2014
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More than just first place in the NFC East is at stake when the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles tonight on NBC. The Eagles (9-4) currently hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys (9-4) for the division lead, thanks to their 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving. What’s more, the loser of this game could be on the outside looking in at a Wild Card spot, depending on the outcome of Seattle and Detroit’s (both also 9-4 entering today) games.

 

It was just a little more than two weeks ago when Philadelphia manhandled Dallas 33-10 at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving. The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in all facets of that game, but came down to earth last week, losing 24-14 at home to the Seahawks. Dallas, on the other hand, bounced back from its Turkey Day thrashing with a dominating 41-28 road win in Chicago.

 

Last December, Philadelphia beat Dallas 24-22 at Lincoln Financial Field in the regular-season finale. The Eagles had already clinched the NFC East title prior to that game, while the loss put Dallas at 8-8 for a third straight season.

 

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles

 

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Philadelphia -3.5

 

Dallas’ Key to Victory: Forget Thanksgiving

Nothing went right for the Cowboys in the 33-10 loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving. Not only were they outgained 464 to 267 on offense, the 10 points scored were a season-worst while the 33 allowed were the most Dallas’ defense had given up. Two Tony Romo interceptions and a Cole Beasley fumble in Cowboys territory certainly didn’t help, but one of the surprising outcomes of that game was how the Eagles won the battle up front. Philadelphia’s defense not only held NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to a season-low 73 yards, the unit also sacked Tony Romo four times. Fortunately, Dallas’ young, but extremely talented, offensive line bounced back strong last Thursday against the Bears, as Murray rushed for 179 yards and Romo was sacked just once in the 41-28 road win. The key tonight will be for all of the Cowboys, but especially the offensive line, to forget about what went wrong two weeks ago against these Eagles and focus instead on what they did right last week.

 

Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Remember Thanksgiving

The Eagles had gained more yards and scored more points in a game prior to their 33-10 demolition of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but this was their best, all-around performance against a team with a winning record. Philadelphia outrushed Dallas 356 to 93, limiting DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s No. 1 rusher to a season-low 73 yards. The defense also produced three takeaways and held the Cowboys to just 267 yards of total offense. Unfortunately, the Eagles followed that up with a dud, losing to Seattle 24-14 at home last week. The Seahawks dominated time of possession (41:56) and the defense did the rest, limiting Philadelphia’s offense to nine first downs and 139 total yards on 45 plays. The yardage and first down totals were the fewest in Chip Kelly’s tenure as the Eagles’ head coach. Fortunately for Philadelphia, Dallas’ defense isn’t near as fearsome as Seattle’s “Legion of Boom,” and the Eagles are a little more than two weeks removed from dominating the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Facing a familiar foe may be just what the Eagles need to start soaring again.

 

Final Analysis

 

Dallas and Philadelphia have the same record, but the Eagles have a win over the Cowboys already in their back pocket and are a perfect 3-0 against NFC East foes. The Cowboys need this win more, but whichever team loses could face a challenging path to one of the two Wild Card spots. Philadelphia is coming off of a tough loss, but Seattle has a much tougher defense than what Dallas will bring to Lincoln Financial Field. Even if the Eagles aren’t able to bottle up DeMarco Murray like they did on Thanksgiving, they should be able to muster enough offense to earn the critical season sweep of the Cowboys and put them one win away from securing a second straight division crown.

 
Prediction: Philadelphia 31, Dallas 27
Teaser:
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
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Don’t underestimate the significance of today’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns on FOX. Yes, it’s Johnny Manziel’s much-anticipated (and equally debated) first NFL start, but the Bengals (8-4-1) also need a win to keep the Steelers and Ravens (both 8-5) at bay for at least another week. For the Browns (7-6), their situation is a little more desperate – they need a win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

 

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Cleveland -1.5

 

Make no mistake, all eyes will be on Manziel, the flamboyant, media lightning rod who replaces an ineffective Brian Hoyer. What Cleveland’s offense will look like with Manziel at the helm is anyone’s guess, but keep in mind that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was in Washington when Robert Griffin III was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.

 

If anyone knows how to construct an offense around a quarterback with dual-threat abilities it’s Shanahan. It will be up to Manziel to execute the game plan and make the right decisions, particularly when to use his mobility to extend a play in the pocket or to try and gain as much yards with his legs out of it.

 

On the other side, Cincinnati’s defense no doubt wants to get after Manziel, and not necessarily to sack him. The thought is that any pressure placed on the rookie would either cause him to try to force a throw down field or make him so uncomfortable that he starts bailing early, essentially turning the Browns into a run-only offense.

 

The potential downside to this strategy, however, is twofold. One, the Bengals’ defense is dead last in the league in sacks with 15. The second part is that Manziel, similar to Griffin, had a reputation for making something out of nothing in college and certainly possesses the ability (i.e., athleticism and instinct) to make plays with his legs. And any success he has in doing so early will only increase his confidence as the game progresses.

 

And speaking of confidence, Cleveland did beat Cincinnati 24-3 on the road back in Week 10. The Browns outgained the Bengals 368 to 165 in that game and also intercepted Andy Dalton three times. Three different running backs scored a touchdown for Cleveland and whether it’s Manziel or Isaiah Crowell or Terrance West, the Browns need to try and replicate that success today on the ground against a defense that gave up 193 yards rushing to the Steelers last week.

 

Cincinnati may want to take a page out of Cleveland’s playbook for this matchup, as the Bengals have decided to turn to rookie Jeremy Hill as their primary running back. Hill, a second-round pick from LSU, who had been pushed into starting duty earlier because of injuries suffered by Giovani Bernard, does have two 150-yard games to his credit and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

 

Hill’s production is needed, as it would free up Bernard to be a threat in the passing game, especially since All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green is facing a tough matchup against Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Haden limited Green to just three catches (on 10 targets) for 23 yards in their first meeting.

 

All of the buzz surrounding this game may be centered on Manziel, but I just don’t think Johnny Football is quite ready for the NFL stage. Cincinnati’s defense bounces back from last week’s second-half collapse against Pittsburgh by introducing the rookie to the big leagues. A balanced offensive attack led by Dalton and Hill does the rest, as the Bengals maintain their AFC North lead by putting an end to Cleveland’s own postseason dreams.

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 17

 

Teaser:
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
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For many fantasy leagues, Week 15 also is championship week. Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through all of the injury reports that are out there, including these key RBs and QBs.

 

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders

Probable – Knee/Ankle
Charles is showing the wear and tear that adds up over a long season. After dealing with some swelling in his knee, he’s added swelling in his ankle to the list. He was rested on Wednesday, eased back into practice on Thursday, but was a full go on Friday and is Probable. There seems to be no concerns regarding his availability, so he should be safe to employ as a RB1. After being held in check by Denver (35 yds. rushing), Charles bounced back with 111 total yards and two touchdowns last week against Arizona. The Raiders have been a good matchup for fantasy RBs this season, so Charles should be able to pay off for his owners at the best time possible.

 
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins

Probable – Back
Manning has the longest active streak of consecutive regular-season games started (164), so anytime he even shows up on the injury report, it’s news. However, Manning’s streak will remain intact at least another week, as he was able to practice some every day despite the back issue, and is listed as Probable. The real question is should you start the younger Manning on your fantasy team? Odell Beckham Jr. has been a beast lately and Washington has given up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs, including a robust 40.1 to Manning back in Week 4. So I would certainly consider it.

 

Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Probable – Groin
Foster was held out of practice on Wednesday, but was a full go by Friday and is listed as Probable. He rushed for 127 yards last week against Jacksonville and went for 109 and two touchdowns in the first game against Indianapolis back in Week 6. Foster is a must-start RB1.

 

Colt McCoy, QB, Washington Redskins at New York Giants

­Questionable – Neck
McCoy may be listed as Questionable, but the team has already said he’s been cleared to play and will start today against the Giants. He suffered the injury (aggravated nerve) late last week and wasn’t able to finish the game. McCoy was limited in practice both Wednesday and Thursday, adding to the speculation that the embattled Robert Griffin III would get another chance after all. But McCoy was cleared Friday when he took part in a full practice. McCoy may be starting for the Redskins, but he should not be starting for your fantasy team.

 

Already Ruled Out:

 

Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars – Robinson was placed on injured reserve earlier this week because of a foot sprain, ending what was a solid campaign. With Robinson sidelined, Toby Gerhart (Probable, Ankle), Jordan Todman and rookie Storm Johnson will handle the workload. In other words, it’s the dreaded RBBC and to make matters worse, the Jaguars are playing the Ravens, who have given up the fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs this season. Avoid at all costs.

Teaser:
Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Eli Manning, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Colt McCoy
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
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A trio of running backs are dealing with hip injuries entering Week 15. Are any of these bad enough to keep a key Packer, Panther or Brown ball carrier from playing?

 

Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Probable – Hip; Doubtful – Hand
Williams missed last week because of a broken bone in his hand and he’s probably another week away from returning. He’s listed as Doubtful, but there’s no reason to really expect him to play. Stewart was limited earlier in the week by a hip injury, but got two full practices in and is listed as Probable. He will get the start again and all he did last week was torch the Saints for 155 yards and a touchdown. Not sure he can repeat those numbers, but he has another appealing matchup this week in Tampa Bay. Stewart is certainly flex-worthy and could suffice as a RB2, depending on your other options. Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whitaker probably won’t get enough touches to merit serious fantasy consideration.

 

Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills

Probable – Hip
Lacy is dealing with a hip injury that not only limited his practice participation, it had the player suggesting earlier this week that perhaps sitting a game out would be in his best interests. As it stands, Lacy is listed as Probable, so it looks like he will be out there today. However, it’s reasonable to expect Lacy and James Starks to share the carries, which would mean fewer touches. Lacy was facing a tough matchup to begin with, as the Bills are giving up the third-fewest fantasy points to RBs. If you want to stick with Lacy, you should be fine, but he’s nothing more than a RB2 this week and probably more along the lines of a solid flex play because of the combination of his hip injury and unfavorable matchup.

 

Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Questionable – Hip
As expected, Crowell played last week despite being Questionable. He finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Even more important, Crowell escaped no worse for the wear, as he’s listed Probable for today’s game. Crowell is still splitting the carries with Terrance West, but he remains the Browns’ most productive back and could see even more running space today because of the switch to Johnny Manziel at quarterback. The Bengals have given up the second-most fantasy points to opposing RBs, so Crowell makes for an intriguing RB2 option this week.

 

Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins

Questionable – Ankle
Vereen remains limited by an ankle injury and is listed as Questionable. He played last week under the same set of circumstances and produced a grand total of 31 yards on four touches against San Diego. Vereen was put in the flex category last week and there’s no reason to change that for today’s game against the Dolphins.

 
Already Ruled Out:

 

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers – Newton suffered two back fractures in a car accident on Tuesday and the question now is has he played his last game of this season? Derek Anderson will start in Newton’s absence and could be flyer-worthy as a QB2 because of his appealing matchup against the Buccaneers. Anderson’s presence also should mean more work for the running backs, namely Jonathan Stewart, as Anderson is not near as mobile as Newton.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart, Isaiah Crowell, Cam Newton
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
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Body:

Some banged-up running backs are on tap for Week 15’s later slate of games. Are of any of these ball carriers in danger of not suiting up?

 

C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson RBs, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

Probable – Ankle; Out – Groin; Questionable – Foot; Probable – Knee
So many Bronco ball carriers on the injury report. Where to start? How about with Ball, who on Saturday was placed on injured reserve to make room for linebacker Danny Trevathan. Hillman (right) has missed the past four games himself, but he was able to practice on a limited basis this week and is listed as Questionable. Even if Hillman plays, his role figures to be limited because of the emergence of Anderson, who’s dealing with an ankle injury but is Probable and will get the start today. Hillman’s return could impact Thompson’s workload, but he wasn’t really getting enough work to merit serious fantasy consideration in the first place. Anderson is the Bronco back that matters here, a top-10 starting option in our book.

 

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

Questionable – Ankle
Mathews suffered an ankle injury late in the first half of last week’s game against New England and wound up with just two carries after that. He wasn’t able to practice at all this week, so while he may be listed as Questionable, I think it’s safe to put “Very” in front of that. If Mathews can’t go, then Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Ronnie Brown would take care of the backfield work. Oliver impressed earlier in the season when Mathews was dealing with a knee sprain, but he has cooled considerably, which is why it would be more of a committee approach this afternoon against Denver. With the later kickoff (4:05 p.m. ET) and so much at stake, I wouldn’t count on having Mathews available and I probably wouldn’t give much consideration to any of his replacement options either.

 

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

Probable – Back
Lynch didn’t practice on Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and a full go on Friday. In other words, it was a normal week for the Seahawks’ workhorse. He’s listed as Probable and there’s no way he’s missing the rematch against his team’s archrival. Lynch rushed for 104 yards against the 49ers on Thanksgiving just a few weeks ago and even though San Francisco’s defense has continued to play well, Lynch remains a must-start RB1, who’s entrenched in our top 10.

 

Reggie Bush, RBs, Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings

Questionable – Ankle
Bush can’t catch a break. After playing in his first game since Week 10, he’s not only back on the injury report; his status also is Questionable once again. The coaching staff probably chose to limit Bush in practice to protect his body, but this has become an all too common refrain for him. He is expected to play, but the only way I would even consider using him would be as a flex, and that’s only after checking all other available options first.

Teaser:
Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Ryan Mathews, C.J. Anderson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
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Julio Jones went off on Monday night, but a hip injury has him Questionable entering Week 15. Andre Johnson suffered a concussion last week and it looks like he hasn’t been completely cleared quite yet. Here’s the latest on their injury situations and some other key WRs.

 

Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Questionable – Concussion
This one could come down to the wire. Johnson left last week’s game after suffering a concussion and as of Saturday, he was still working his way through the league-mandated tests. He did participate in practice on Friday, which is a positive sign, but he’s listed as Questionable and whether he plays or not will be determined by how he does with the necessary tests. If Johnson does get cleared to play, you should go ahead and start him, in spite of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s lack of consistency (6 TD passes in Week 13, 0 in Week 14).

 

Harry Douglas, Julio Jones and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Probable – Foot; Questionable – Hip; Probable – Ankle
Falcon wide receivers have made frequent appearances on injury reports this season and Week 15 is no exception. The big concern here lies with Jones, who is coming off a franchise-record 250 yards receiving Monday night against Green Bay. As impressive as he was, Jones wasn’t able to finish the game due to a hip pointer. The issue prevented him from practicing, but he is listed as Questionable. Head coach Mike Smith called Jones a game-time decision, but he also added that he wants “the doctors and the people to say” that his All-Pro wide receiver is OK to play. Fortunately, word should come down well before kickoff (1 p.m. ET), so Jones’ owners can wait until making a final decision. If Jones doesn’t play both Douglas and White’s fantasy values would go up. White would become an even more appealing WR2, while Douglas could creep into WR3 territory because of the matchup against a generous Steelers defense.

 

Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Probable – Knee
There seems to be some confusion with Smith’s official status, but we’re going with what the Ravens’ site lists, which is Probable. However, if reports from practice are true, Smith did not look like someone ready to play, appearing “gimpy and uncomfortable” running routes on an injured knee. What’s more, Smith didn’t see a single target last week, so it’s possible that even if he does play that he could either be on a snap count and/or go catch-less yet again. Put it all together and it sounds like too much risk to assume in a week with so much on the line. If you’re going to trust a Raven named Smith this week, make it Steve Sr.

 

DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Questionable – Shin
Jackson didn’t play last week, but there’s a chance he could get on the field today. He’s listed as Questionable after practicing on a limited basis, a designation that head coach Jay Gruden echoed when he put the odds of Jackson playing at 50-50. Even if Jackson does play, he’s not an appealing fantasy option, especially with Colt McCoy, who doesn’t have the strongest arm, set to get another start at quarterback.

 
Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, WRs, New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins

Questionable – Thigh; Questionable – Shoulder
For the second straight week both Edelman and LaFell were limited in practice, both are listed as Questionable for today’s game and both are expected to play. This duo combined for 12 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown last week against San Diego, with Edelman (8-141-1) accounting for most of the damage. Edelman is more appealing than LaFell as a fantasy option because of his PPR potential, but neither should be viewed as anything more than a low-end WR2 or safer WR3/flex option.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Julio Jones, Andre Johnson, Torrey Smith, DeSean Jackson
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
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There are just four later afternoon games on the Week 15 docket, but these matchups feature some pretty important wide receivers. Be sure to read the latest information on these situations before finalizing your lineup.

 
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings

Probable – Ankle
I don’t think anyone’s surprised to see Johnson remain on the injury report. I also would be even more surprised if he didn’t play today, considering he got in two full practices and is listed as Probable. If you have Johnson on your team, you have the easy part – start him. It’s the Vikings’ secondary that has the tough assignment.

 
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

Probable – Ankle
Thomas joined teammate C.J. Anderson in nursing their ankle injuries on the sidelines during Wednesday’s practice, but both were full participants on Friday. Thomas is listed as Probable and he will play this afternoon. Thomas may not admit it, but it’s safe to say the ankle was an issue last week when he caught a season-low two passes for 11 yards. Even with the uncertainty regarding the condition of his ankle, Thomas is an elite WR1 that must be started. Maybe it helps to know that he caught eight balls for 105 yards the first time he faced the Chargers?

 
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans vs. New York Jets

Questionable – Hand
Wright didn’t play last week after cracking a bone in his right hand during practice. He was a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but wasn’t able to take part on Friday. Anytime a player’s participation decreases by the end of the week, it’s not a good sign. Wright is Questionable, but I would place the odds of him not playing better than those of him suiting up. Regardless, the Titans are a mess right now, especially at quarterback. Jake Locker, who was the initial starter, is back in there after rookie Zach Mettenberger suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Locker was replaced for a variety of reasons, but his return hasn’t really done anything to jumpstart this offense. In short, I would be very wary of trusting any Titan offensive player on my fantasy team.

 

Percy Harvin, WR, New York Jets at Tennessee Titans

Questionable – Ankle
After reportedly being seen on crutches following last week’s game, Harvin has shown some remarkable improvement. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, but was able to do enough work on Friday to earn him a Questionable designation. There’s no guarantee Harvin will play and between the later kickoff (4:05 p.m. ET), inconsistent production and questions concerning QB Geno Smith, there’s really no reason to have Harvin in your starting lineup. Are you going to put your season’s fate in Harvin’s “questionable” hands?

 
Already Ruled Out:

 

Brandon Marshall, WRs, Chicago Bears – Marshall was taken off the field on a stretcher last week and immediately to a hospital after suffering rib and lung injuries on a hit during the Bears’ loss to the Cowboys. He did get out of the hospital earlier this week, but his season is over after being placed on injured reserve. Alshon Jeffery already was a WR1 before Marshall’s injury, which does present an opportunity to Marquess Wilson. However, with Chicago not playing until Monday night, there’s no real reason to take a chance on Wilson this week, unless he’s your Marshall replacement.

Teaser:
Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson, Kendall Wright, Percy Harvin
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
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It’s Week 15, which means every game truly counts from there out. Fortunately for Julius Thomas owners, they should get their big tight end back on the field today, while Greg Olsen must navigate a quarterback switch. Here’s the TE injury rundown for today’s games.

 

Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Probable – Knee
Olsen was Questionable last week and he caught 10 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. The knee is still an issue, but he was a full practice participant on Friday and is listed as Probable. Even with the Panthers starting Derek Anderson at quarterback in place of an injured Cam Newton, Olsen’s production shouldn’t dip that much. He’s still a must-start TE1.

 

Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

Probable – Ankle
After missing the past two games, Thomas was in uniform last week against the Bills, but he never played a single snap. That should change today, as he was able to get in a full practice on Friday and is listed as Probable. Thomas’ return could help jumpstart a passing game that’s taken a back seat to the ground game lately, while also taking some pressure off of teammate Demaryius Thomas, who is dealing with his own ankle injury. Despite missing three games, Julius Thomas is still the No. 6 scoring fantasy TE and is tied with Jordy Nelson for the most TD catches in the NFL (12). You probably already know this, but Thomas must be started if he’s on your team.

 

Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

Questionable – Hamstring/Knee
Clay was able to return last week after missing the past two games and caught two passes for 41 yards. However, he’s not over his injuries, which continue to limit him in practice and have him listed as Questionable today. Again with Clay, it’s more the up-and-down production than health issues that put him in the “do not bother with” category.

 

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns

Questionable – Toe
Gresham didn’t appear on the injury report until Thursday, but this toe injury was bad enough to hold him out on Friday. He’s listed as Questionable, but the decline in activity is always a disconcerting sign. Gresham’s starting because Tyler Eifert is on IR, so it’s not like Gresham has mass fantasy appeal either. There’s no reason for Gresham to be on your roster, let alone started.

 

Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets at Tennessee Titans

Probable – Concussion
Amaro was a full practice participant on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. He will return from a two-game absence this afternoon. If you want to use Amaro in your lineup, relying on Geno Smith to get him the ball enough to put some useful statistics together, you go right ahead.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, Charles Clay, Jermaine Gresham
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
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Andrew Luck is the leading fantasy scorer and he leads off Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings for Week 15, but it’s the signal-callers from the NFC South that have our attention. Matt Ryan tossed four touchdowns and posted a season-best 39.3 fantasy points on Monday night against Green Bay and could be in for another big game Sunday when Atlanta hosts Pittsburgh. As impressive as Ryan’s outing was, it wasn’t the top-scoring effort among QBs. That honor goes to Cam Newton, who accounted for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 pass) in the Panthers’ 41-10 rout of the Saints. Newton would have been a top-10 option this week, but he sustained two fractures in his lower back in a car accident on Tuesday. Head coach Ron Rivera announced on Wednesday that Derek Anderson would start in Newton's place against Tampa Bay on Sunday. And speaking of the Saints, Drew Brees and company look to rebound Monday night in Chicago when they go up against the NFL’s most generous defense. New Orleans hasn’t been much better defensively, so this should be a nice matchup for Jay Cutler too.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K

 

2014 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Quarterbacks

 

RankPlayerTeamOpp
1Andrew LuckINDvs. HOU
2Peyton ManningDENat SD
3Aaron RodgersGBat BUF
4Drew BreesNOat CHI (Mon.)
5Tom BradyNEvs. MIA
6Matt RyanATLvs. PIT
7Ben RoethlisbergerPITat ATL
8Matthew StaffordDETvs. MIN
9Jay CutlerCHIvs. NO (Mon.)
10Russell WilsonSEAvs. SF
11Philip RiversSDvs. DEN
12Tony RomoDALat PHI
13Mark SanchezPHIvs. DAL
14Eli ManningNYGvs. WAS
15Joe FlaccoBALvs. JAC
16Ryan TannehillMIAat NE
17Andy DaltonCINat CLE
18Johnny ManzielCLEvs. CIN
19Kyle OrtonBUFvs. GB
20Ryan FitzpatrickHOUat IND
21Derek AndersonCARvs. TB
22Colin KaepernickSFat SEA
23Alex SmithKCvs. OAK
24Blake BortlesJACat BAL
25Derek CarrOAKat KC
26Jake LockerTENvs. NYJ

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

 

Need more fantasy help? Visit www.FantasyRundown.com.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014 Quarterback Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 06:30
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Le’Veon Bell is on a historic run right now, so it’s only fitting that he lead off Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings for Week 15. Bell has gone over 200 yards from scrimmage in three straight games; something that hasn’t been done since Hall of Walter Payton accomplished the feat in 1977. During this stretch, Bell has rushed for 484 yards (6.1 ypc), caught 16 passes for 227 yards and scored five total touchdowns. His 44.5 fantasy points last week were not only the most by a RB, but the most by any player. Bell is now the leading fantasy scorer at his position, passing DeMarco Murray, and the good times may not be over just yet. Next up for Bell is a matchup with Atlanta. The Falcons are dead last in the NFL in total defense and also are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing RBs.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K

 

2014 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Running Backs

 

RankPlayerTeamOpp
1Le'Veon BellPITat ATL
2Arian FosterHOUat IND
3Jamaal CharlesKCvs. OAK
4Matt ForteCHIvs. NO (Mon.)
5DeMarco MurrayDALat PHI
6LeSean McCoyPHIvs. DAL
7C.J. AndersonDENat SD
8Justin ForsettBALvs. JAC
9Marshawn LynchSEAvs. SF
10Eddie LacyGBat BUF
11Joique BellDETvs. MIN
12Alfred MorrisWASat NYG
13Mark IngramNOat CHI (Mon.)
14Chris IvoryNYJat TEN
15Rashad JenningsNYGvs. WAS
16Latavius MurrayOAKat KC
17Isaiah CrowellCLEvs. CIN
18LeGarrette BlountNEvs. MIA
19Jeremy HillCINat CLE
20Daniel HerronINDvs. HOU
21Fred JacksonBUFvs. GB
22Ryan MathewsSDvs. DEN
23Jonathan StewartCARvs. TB
24Steven JacksonATLvs. PIT
25Lamar MillerMIAat NE
26Tre MasonSTLvs. ARI (Thurs.)
27Giovani BernardCINat CLE
28Terrance WestCLEvs. CIN
29Chris JohnsonNYJat TEN
30Andre WilliamsNYGvs. WAS
31Doug MartinTBat CAR
32Frank GoreSFat SEA
33Shane VereenNEvs. MIA
34Matt AsiataMINat DET
35Bishop SankeyTENvs. NYJ
36Toby GerhartJACat BAL
37Trent RichardsonINDvs. HOU
38Reggie BushDETvs. MIN
39Kerwynn WilliamsARIat STL (Thurs.)
40Darren SprolesPHIvs. DAL
41Pierre ThomasNOat CHI (Mon.)
42Stepfan TaylorARIat STL (Thurs.)
43Ben TateMINat DET
44Charles SimsTBat CAR
45James StarksGBat BUF
46Juwan ThompsonDENat SD
47Alfred BlueHOUat IND
48Bernard PierceBALvs. JAC

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

 

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Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014 Running Back Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 06:30
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2014-wide-receiver-rankings-week-15
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Julio Jones set the pace last week, but even his record-setting performance wasn’t enough to knock Antonio Brown from atop Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings for Week 15. Jones was unstoppable on Monday night against the Packers, setting a Falcons single-game record with 250 yards (11 rec.) and a touchdown. Jones left the game early after injuring his hip, but at this point we’re not too concerned, hence his No. 6 ranking. Jones wasn’t the only wide receiver who filled the stat sheet last week either. A total of four wideouts scored 30 or more fantasy points, including A.J. Green. Injuries have impacted Green’s production for much of this season, but he looked plenty healthy against Pittsburgh, torching the Steelers for 11 catches and 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown. Green will face a little tougher matchup this Sunday against Cleveland’s Joe Haden, but he’s still a borderline top-10 option. And as far as Brown is concerned, he’s still leading his position in fantasy points and the NFL in receptions (105), while ranking second in both yards (1,375) and touchdown catches (11). It should be business as usual for Brown, as the Steelers will be in Atlanta to take on the Falcons’ 32nd-ranked defense.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K

 

2014 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Wide Receivers

 

RankPlayerTeamOpp
1Antonio BrownPITat ATL
2Calvin JohnsonDETvs. MIN
3Demaryius ThomasDENat SD
4Jordy NelsonGBat BUF
5Odell Beckham Jr.NYGvs. WAS
6Julio JonesATLvs. PIT
7Dez BryantDALat PHI
8T.Y. HiltonINDvs. HOU
9Alshon JefferyCHIvs. NO (Mon.)
10Emmanuel SandersDENat SD
11A.J. GreenCINat CLE
12Jeremy MaclinPHIvs. DAL
13Mike EvansTBat CAR
14Randall CobbGBat BUF
15Josh GordonCLEvs. CIN
16DeAndre HopkinsHOUat IND
17Roddy WhiteATLvs. PIT
18Kelvin BenjaminCARvs. TB
19Sammy WatkinsBUFvs. GB
20Julian EdelmanNEvs. MIA
21Jordan MatthewsPHIvs. DAL
22Keenan AllenSDvs. DEN
23Golden TateDETvs. MIN
24Brandon LaFellNEvs. MIA
25Kenny StillsNOat CHI (Mon.)
26Steve SmithBALvs. JAC
27Vincent JacksonTBat CAR
28Mike WallaceMIAat NE
29Marques ColstonNOat CHI (Mon.)
30Andre JohnsonHOUat IND
31Eric DeckerNYJat TEN
32Martavis BryantPITat ATL
33DeSean JacksonWASat NYG
34Donte MoncriefINDvs. HOU
35Pierre GarconWASat NYG
36Anquan BoldinSFat SEA
37Larry FitzgeraldARIat STL (Thurs.)
38Torrey SmithBALvs. JAC
39Jarvis LandryMIAat NE
40Marqise LeeJACat BAL
41Charles JohnsonMINat DET
42Marquess WilsonCHIvs. NO (Mon.)
43Nate WashingtonTENvs. NYJ
44Malcom FloydSDvs. DEN
45Kendall WrightTENvs. NYJ
46Robert WoodsBUFvs. GB
47Doug BaldwinSEAvs. SF
48Michael FloydARIat STL (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

 

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Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014 Wide Receiver Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 06:30
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2014-tight-end-rankings-week-15
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It’s been a slow couple of games for Jimmy Graham, but it’s going to take a lot more to knock him from his lofty perch on Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings for Week 15. Graham has a total of three catches in his last two games combined, but he’s still third at his position in fantasy points and checks in at No. 2 this week. Graham should bounce back Monday night against Chicago, whose defense is allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing TEs. Speaking of the Bears, Martellus Bennett tied for top scoring honors (with Oakland’s Mychal Rivera) at his position last week, catching 12 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Cowboys. With Brandon Marshall out for the rest of the season, Bennett could be in line for even more targets from here out.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K

 

2014 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Tight Ends

 

RankPlayerTeamOpp
1Rob GronkowskiNEvs. MIA
2Jimmy GrahamNOat CHI (Mon.)
3Julius ThomasDENat SD
4Martellus BennettCHIvs. NO (Mon.)
5Greg OlsenCARvs. TB
6Antonio GatesSDvs. DEN
7Delanie WalkerTENvs. NYJ
8Larry DonnellNYGvs. WAS
9Travis KelceKCvs. OAK
10Jason WittenDALat PHI
11Coby FleenerINDvs. HOU
12Jared CookSTLvs. ARI (Thurs.)
13Jordan ReedWASat NYG
14Dwayne AllenINDvs. HOU
15Heath MillerPITat ATL
16Jordan CameronCLEvs. CIN
17Zach ErtzPHIvs. DAL
18Mychal RiveraOAKat KC
19Kyle RudolphMINat DET
20Charles ClayMIAat NE
21Owen DanielsBALvs. JAC
22Scott ChandlerBUFvs. GB
23Vernon DavisSFat SEA
24Jermaine GreshamCINat CLE

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

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Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014 Tight End Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 06:30
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2014-kicker-rankings-week-15
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Adam Vinatieri has yet to miss a kick this season, which is a good enough reason by itself to have him lead off Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Kicker Rankings for Week 15. Vinatieri will turn 42 years old later this month and is on the verge of finishing up his 19th season in the NFL, yet you could make the argument he’s getting better with age. Vinatieri is second among kickers in fantasy points, tied for second in scoring and is fourth in made field goals (27). But what’s been most impressive about Vinatieri this season is that he’s the only kicker in the league who has been successful on every kick (27-for-27 FGs, 44-for-44 PATs) he’s attempted in 2014. Not bad for someone who’s played this game for two decades, no?

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K

 

2014 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Kickers

 

RankPlayerTeamOpp
1Adam VinatieriINDvs. HOU
2Stephen GostkowskiNEvs. MIA
3Cody ParkeyPHIvs. DAL
4Steven HauschkaSEAvs. SF
5Mason CrosbyGBat BUF
6Justin TuckerBALvs. JAC
7Matt BryantATLvs. PIT
8Shaun SuishamPITat ATL
9Dan BaileyDALat PHI
10Matt PraterDETvs. MIN
11Connor BarthDENat SD
12Dan CarpenterBUFvs. GB
13Nick NovakSDvs. DEN
14Caleb SturgisMIAat NE
15Randy BullockHOUat IND
16Phil DawsonSFat SEA

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

KICKER SCORING
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014 Kicker Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 06:30
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2014-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-15
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The St. Louis Rams have posted back-to-back shutouts, an impressive performance that earns them a spot near the top of Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Defense/Special Teams Rankings for Week 15. The Rams haven’t given up a point in three weeks, having shut out the Raiders and Redskins by a combined score of 76-0. This DST also has racked up 13 sacks, seven takeaways (5 INTs, 2 fumbles) and two touchdowns during this span. St. Louis is another strong option this week against Arizona, but don’t sleep on the Cardinals, the No. 5 fantasy DST this season. Elsewhere, Seattle’s defense has really started playing like defending Super Bowl champions recently. The Seahawks’ DST has scored double-digit fantasy points in three straight games and on Sunday hosts a reeling San Francisco team, which is why the champs check in at No. 1 this week.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K

 

2014 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings — Defense/Special Teams

 

RankPlayerOpp
1Seattle Seahawksvs. SF
2St. Louis Ramsvs. ARI
3Baltimore Ravensvs. JAC
4Detroit Lionsvs. MIN
5Arizona Cardinalsat STL (Thurs.)
6New England Patriotsvs. MIA
7New York Giantsvs. WAS
8Philadelphia Eaglesvs. DAL
9Denver Broncosat SD
10Cleveland Brownsvs. CIN
11Kansas City Chiefsvs. OAK
12Buffalo Billsvs. GB
13New York Jetsat TEN
14San Francisco 49ersat SEA
15Houston Texansat IND
16Minnesota Vikingsat DET

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

DEFENSIVE SCORING
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

 

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Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014 Defense/Special Teams Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, NFC, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-vs-green-bay-packers-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Week 14 wraps up with a battle of division leaders, as the Atlanta Falcons will take on the Green Bay Packers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Despite a 5-7 record the Falcons are leading the NFC South over the Saints (5-8) on the strength of a 4-0 record in divisional play, while the Packers (9-3) are battling the Lions (9-4) for the top spot in the NFC North. Green Bay also is the hottest team in the NFL, winners of four in a row, and is undefeated (6-0) at Lambeau Field.

 

This matchup features two of the more potent offenses, while both defenses rank closer to the bottom, statistically speaking. The last time Atlanta and Green Bay played each other was a year ago. In Week 14 last season, the Falcons enjoyed an 11-point halftime lead at Lambeau over a Packers team that was without an injured Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). Green Bay’s defense stiffened in the second half, and Matt Flynn capitalized on an early fourth-quarter fumble by Matt Ryan, putting the Packers ahead for good with a short touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Quarless.

 

Without that 22-21 victory over Atlanta, Green Bay’s 2013 season pretty much would have been over. Prior to that game, the Packers had gone 0-3-1 without Rodgers under center. The come-from-behind win against Atlanta allowed Green Bay to even its record at 6-6-1. The Packers would go on to win two of their final three games, including a Week 17 33-28 victory in Chicago, which gave the Packers (8-7-1) the NFC North crown over the Bears (8-8). Without that win over Atlanta, Green Bay not only wouldn’t have won the division title, it also would have been shut out of the playoffs because Dallas (8-8) would have earned the second Wild Card berth.

 

Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers

 

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Green Bay -13

 

Atlanta’s Key to Victory: Fight Fire with Fire

The Falcons are coming off of their most impressive and surprising win of the season, a 29-18 victory at home against Arizona. The Cardinals entered Week 13 tied with Denver and New England for the best record (9-2) in the NFL and with a defense that had given up more than 20 points just once. Atlanta changed both of these statistics, as the Falcons jumped out to a 17-0 lead and pretty much outplayed the favored Cardinals in all facets of the game. The 29-18 victory kept Atlanta in first place in the NFC South, as the Falcons piled up 500 total yards of offense against one of the league’s better defenses. This week Atlanta faces a new challenge in trying to beat Green Bay at home. The Packers are second in the league in scoring and have been unstoppable at home. They are averaging 40.8 points per game at Lambeau Field and have beaten opponents by an average of 23 points. If the Falcons have any hopes of overcoming these trends, they will need to try and match Green Bay’s offensive firepower. Atlanta torched Arizona for 358 yards passing and that should be the goal tonight too. Statistically, the Packers’ defense has done a pretty good against the pass (235.4 ypg, 11th), but cornerback Sam Shields may not play due to a concussion and this unit has had some trouble against teams with potent passing attacks. Provided Roddy White returns after missing last week because of an ankle injury, the Falcons will definitely have some weapons to attack Green Bay’s secondary with, most notably Julio Jones. And any success through the air should help a running game take advantage of the Packers’ true defensive weak spot – stopping the run. Green Bay is 28th against the run, giving up 4.5 yards per carry and 132.3 yards per game. Atlanta rushed for 142 yards last week against a Cardinals defense that still ranks among the best in that category. Regardless of whether it’s through the air or on the ground, the Falcons will need to be offensive tonight if they have any hope of beating the Packers on their own turf.

 

 

Green Bay’s Key to Victory: Stay the Course

As far as the Packers are concerned, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies. Green Bay has won four in a row and eight of nine behind an MVP-caliber performance from Aaron Rodgers. The 2011 MVP, Rodgers is well on his way to winning a second. The league’s highest-rated passer (118.6), Rodgers has thrown 32 touchdown passes and just three interceptions, despite leading the way in yards per attempt (8.75). He’s been flawless (20 TDs, 0 INTs) at home, a big reason why the Packers are 6-0 at Lambeau. Green Bay beat New England 26-21 last week behind 478 yards of offense, while holding the Patriots to just 320 yards. The Packers’ defense has had its issues and the statistics aren’t that impressive, but this unit has been playing much better recently. Since a 44-23 Week 8 loss in New Orleans, Green Bay’s defense has given up an average of 19 points per game during its four-game winning streak. The bottom line is with Rodgers playing as well as he has, the Packers don’t need their defense to completely shut down opponents. Even with a running game that’s been inconsistent at times, Green Bay continues to win at an impressive clip. It’s pretty clear that the game plan is working right now, so there’s certainly no reason to change it up against the Falcons tonight.

 

Final Analysis

 

Credit to Atlanta for proving a lot of people wrong in handily beating Arizona last week. And even though the Falcons enter tonight two games below .500, they are in the driver's seat to win the NFC South, which would get them into the playoffs. However, much will happen between now and the end of the regular season, and with tonight’s matchup against the NFL’s hottest team, the Falcons need to focus on the “now.” Speaking of “now,” Green Bay is on a serious roll and the Packers have been especially tough at home. Matt Ryan is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, but Aaron Rodgers is making a strong case for his second MVP award. Offense should take center stage tonight, and there’s no one in the league doing that better right now than Rodgers and company.

 
Prediction: Green Bay 37, Atlanta 24
Teaser:
Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 8, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-vs-denver-broncos-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Buffalo Bills will try and improve their playoff standing when they take on the Denver Broncos this afternoon on CBS. The Bills (7-5) have three teams ahead of them in the AFC Wild Card pecking order while the Broncos (9-3) have an outside shot of wrapping up a playoff spot, depending on the outcome of numerous other games

 

Buffalo is part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for the second Wild Card spot with San Diego (8-4) claiming the other. The Bills are behind the Dolphins (better winning percentage in divisional play) and Chiefs (better winning percentage in conference games), thanks in part to losses to each the past two weeks. Buffalo’s remaining slate is not easy with Green Bay on tap next week and back-to-back road games on opposite sides of the country (Oakland then New England) to finish things up. The Bills need to win just to keep pace with the pack, but face a tough test this afternoon against a Broncos team that’s undefeated at home.

 

Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos

 

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Denver -10

 

Buffalo’s Key to Victory: Get Offensive

The Bills rank among the top 10 in the NFL in the four major defensive categories. They are second in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and fifth in both total (312.4 ypg) and passing (216.1 ypg) defense. Buffalo also leads the league with 48 sacks and has collected 20 in the past four games alone. All of this is well and good, especially going against a Peyton Manning-led Denver offense that’s fifth in both yards (413.9) and points (30.1) per game, but the Bills will still need to find a way to score some points. After all, the Broncos are 6-0 this season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, averaging 35.3 points per game. Buffalo is 17th in the league in scoring at 17 points per game and has scored more than 35 points just twice. Both of those games were against the 2-10 Jets. The Bills have done a little better job putting points on the board on the road (21.8 ppg), but Denver’s low-water mark at home so far is the 24 it scored in a Week 2 win over Kansas City. Since that game, the Broncos have put up 41 on the Cardinals, 42 on the 49ers, 35 on the Chargers, and 39 on the Dolphins. Buffalo’s defense is capable of limiting any team’s offense, but it will be difficult for them to completely shut down Manning and the Broncos. And that’s just part of the battle, as the Bills’ offense will still need to cobble some scoring drives together and do so against a Denver defense that has given up less than 23 points per game at home.

 

Denver’s Key to Victory: Stay Balanced

The Broncos have the luxury of a future Hall of Fame quarterback running their offense, but that doesn’t mean they at their best when Peyton Manning is throwing the ball all over the field. In each of Denver’s three losses, the Broncos’ offensive game plan was extremely pass-heavy. Against Seattle, Manning attempted 49 passes compared to 20 rushes. The pass vs. run distribution was even more lopsided against New England (57/17) and St. Louis (54/10). For whatever reason, the 22-7 loss to the Rams three weeks ago must have served as a tipping point because Denver has since recommitted to the run in a big way. In Week 12 against Miami, it was a 50/50 split and then last week the Broncos ran the ball 10 more times than they passed it. And in those two games, all the team did was rush for 415 yards, dominate time of possession and, most importantly, beat a pair of playoff-contending teams. In fact, this run-heavy approach fueled a fourth-quarter comeback against the Dolphins and allowed the Broncos to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes against the Chiefs. Running back C.J. Anderson, who was buried on the depth chart earlier this season, has been the catalyst for Denver’s rejuvenated ground attack (335 yards rushing in the last two games) and there’s no reason to deviate from that approach now. Buffalo’s defense has been tough against the run (96.3 ypg), but the Broncos’ offensive line is playing exceptionally well and Anderson has been punishing opponents on the ground. Manning is perfectly capable of beating teams by himself, but as this season has showed, it’s not always in the Broncos’ best interests to rely on that strategy. And as far as the Bills’ defense is concerned, facing a potent, two-dimensional offense run by a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the road certainly does not bode well for their interests.

 

Final Analysis

 

Buffalo is in the thick of the Wild Card chase and has one of the NFL’s toughest defenses. Denver is positioned to not only win its fourth straight AFC West crown, but also to wind up with one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. On paper, the Bills appear equipped to keep Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense in check. However, that was before Denver recommitted to the run, as C.J. Anderson has jumpstarted a rushing attack that’s piled up more than 400 yards in the last two games. Buffalo has had issues scoring points all season and this won’t get any easier against a Broncos defense that’s been pretty stingy at home. Going up against a future Hall of Fame quarterback is just one of the challenges facing the Bills, who will come up short in their attempt to hand the Broncos their first loss at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

 
Prediction: Denver 27, Buffalo 17
Teaser:
Buffalo Bills vs. Denver Broncos Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 7, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction
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Playoff positioning will be at stake when the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles get together this afternoon on FOX. The Seahawks (8-4) are one game behind the Cardinals for the lead in the NFC West and currently maintain a slight edge over the other Wild Card contenders. Even with a loss, the Eagles (9-3) would still be ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East thanks to an unblemished (3-0) record in divisional play.

 

Both teams enter this afternoon’s game having won their past two contests and four out of five. Seattle has looked more like the defending Super Bowl champions of late, beating divisional rivals Arizona and San Francisco by a combined score of 38-6. Philadelphia is coming off of a convincing 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving and are 6-0 at home this season.

 

Seattle Seahawks vs. Philadelphia Eagles

 

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Philadelphia -1

 

Seattle’s Key to Victory: Stop Shady

After getting off to a slow start LeSean “Shady” McCoy has gotten it going. The reigning rushing champion, McCoy is coming off of a season-high 159 yards on the ground last week against Dallas and has four 100-yard efforts over his last seven games. That’s after not rushing for more than 81 yards in each of his first five games. A big-play threat whenever he touches the ball, Philadelphia is 6-1 when McCoy goes over 100 total yards. It’s not like the Eagles can’t win when McCoy doesn’t have a good game, but his presence in Chip Kelly’s offense shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Seahawks are fifth in the league in rushing defense and have given up more than 64 yards rushing only once in their last five games. If Seattle can bottle up McCoy that would put more pressure on Mark Sanchez to make plays from the pocket. Since taking over for an injured Nick Foles, Sanchez has directed Philadelphia to a 3-1 record as the starter, but he’s still prone to the occasional mistake (eight turnovers vs. nine total TDs) and isn’t always the most accurate (63.4 percent completion rate this season) with his throws. Kelly’s offensive system may be quarterback-friendly, but Sanchez vs. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” could be one ugly matchup. And that’s exactly what the Seahawks are hoping for.

 

Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Beat Seattle at its Own Game

One of the hallmarks of Seattle’s defense last season was the unit’s ability to create turnovers. The Seahawks were first in the NFL in takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover margin (plus-20). After forcing just five takeaways in their first six games (3-3 record), business has picked up for Pete Carroll’s defense to the tune of 13 turnovers forced over the past six contests. Not surprisingly, the defending Super Bowl champions have gone 5-1 during this stretch. While the Eagles’ defense will never be mistaken for the “Legion of Boom,” Philadelphia’s defense has fared pretty well in this category this season. The Eagles have collected 22 takeaways thus far, which is four more than the Seahawks’ total and places them in a tie for fifth in the league. What’s more, Chip Kelly’s team has made the most of its takeaways, as the Eagles have scored six defensive touchdowns. Contrast that to Seattle, which has gotten just two scores from its defense. Philadelphia’s success carries over to special teams as well, which has accounted for four touchdowns and five blocked kicks. The Seahawks have two blocked kicks, but no special teams scores. Statistically speaking, Seattle’s defense is ranked No. 1 in the league in yards allowed and third in points. Philadelphia’s defense is 24th and tied for 19th in those same categories. However, similar to what the Seahawks did last season, the Eagles’ defense has made a healthy living off of turnovers this season. Maintaining that edge this afternoon could be key to Philadelphia’s chances of winning, especially considering how good a job Seattle does with ball security (9 giveaways, tied for second-fewest) compared to the Eagles (league-worst 28).

 

Final Analysis

 

A potential playoff preview? Perhaps, but right now the focus of these two teams is to just get into the postseason. Philadelphia is a little more secure in that respect, but Seattle is the defending champions and appears to be rounding into form at the right time. Coming off of dominating victories over Arizona and San Francisco, the Seahawks are a team no one wants to face now, let alone in January. The Eagles have the edge over the Cowboys in the NFC East, but also are in the mix for one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. Philadelphia is undefeated at home and has more offensive firepower, but I’ll take my chances with the “Legion of Boom” against Mark Sanchez, regardless of where the game is played. 

 
Prediction: Seattle 27, Philadelphia 23
Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 7, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-vs-cincinnati-bengals-preview-and-prediction-2014
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The AFC North race takes center stage this afternoon when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals get together on CBS. The Bengals (8-3-1) currently lead the NFL’s most competitive division, with the Steelers (7-5) falling in between the Ravens and Browns as it relates to playoff pecking order.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Cincinnati -3.5

 

As the AFC playoff picture stands right now, Cincinnati would be the only team in. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland are part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for one Wild Card berth, which is why divisional matchups like this will be so critical from here out.

 

This is the first of two Bengals vs. Steelers matchups between now and the end of the regular season. And while the Week 17 return date in Pittsburgh could end up being a winner-take-all situation, this game is just as important. A win would not only give the Bengals some breathing room between them and potentially the rest of the division, it also would give the Steelers a loss they can ill afford.

 

Since getting manhandled by Cleveland 24-3 at home in Week 10, Cincinnati has won three in a row, all on the road. Improved defensive play (12.0 ppg, 280.3 ypg) has been a factor during this streak, as has the return of two key offensive weapons (A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard) from injury.

 

Offense has been Pittsburgh’s calling card this season, as the Steelers rank third in the league in yards (417.3) and eighth in points (26.7) per game. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have been putting up huge numbers, but the problem has been the defense has given up its fair share too. Last week, Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes as New Orleans piled up nearly 400 yards in its 35-32 victory in the Steel City.

 

While Pittsburgh’s offense vs. Cincinnati’s defense is probably the key matchup, don’t overlook the Bengals’ offense. With Green and Bernard back in the fold, Andy Dalton has plenty of weapons at his disposal and this Steelers defense is not exactly the Steel Curtain of old.

 

The AFC North is the only division in the NFL with four winning teams, but Cincinnati is the team that’s been most consistent. The Bengals’ defense appears to be rounding into form and I think it will be the difference in what should be a typical AFC North matchup – physical, intense and likely to come down to the wire.

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24
Teaser:
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 7, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, undefined, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-vs-miami-dolphins-preview-and-prediction
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It’s only Week 14, but in many ways this matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins on CBS may as well be viewed as a playoff-elimination game in the AFC. The Dolphins and Ravens both enter today’s game at 7-5, part of a group of six teams with the same record. Miami is currently the leader of this pack, thanks to a series of tiebreakers. With so many teams bunched together, neither Miami nor Baltimore can afford a loss at this point, especially considering neither is leading their respective division.

 

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Miami -2.5

 

Baltimore is looking to regroup following last week’s 34-33 home loss to San Diego. John Harbaugh’s Ravens led by 10 with 6:13 to go in the fourth quarter, but the Chargers scored the game-winning touchdown with just 38 seconds left. Miami on the other hand needed a 10-point fourth quarter comeback of its own to avoid disaster Monday night in the Big Apple against the Jets. Even though the Jets ran roughshod over the Dolphins (277 yards rushing), Caleb Sturgis’ 26-yard field goal with 1:57 on the clock saved Joe Philbin’s team from an embarrassing loss that could have basically wrecked Miami’s playoff aspirations.

 

The key to this game may be how each offense attacks the other’s perceived weak spot on defense. For Baltimore this means taking advantage of a Miami run defense that’s giving up nearly 120 yards per game. Justin Forsett has been a revelation for the Ravens this season, already over 1,000 yards rushing and leading all running backs with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Forsett is dealing with a knee issue, but he said he expects to play so he can get a shot at a defense that has surrendered 478 yards on the ground in its last two games.

 

Baltimore’s recent troubles on defense have come through the air. The Ravens gave up 420 yards passing and three touchdowns to Drew Brees two weeks ago, followed by 383 yards and three scores to Philip Rivers. Miami’s not known for throwing the ball all over the field, but Ryan Tannehill has been extremely efficient lately. He has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each of the past five games. Last week also marked the first game all season in which Tannehill didn’t throw at least one touchdown pass.

 

The Dolphins have been pretty tough at home this season, having already defeated the Patriots and shutting out the Chargers while losing to the Packers on a last-second touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers. The Ravens have experienced some highs (beating the Saints) and lows (losing 43-23 to the Steelers) on the road and their passing game has been inconsistent, while the defense has had to deal with the occasional breakdown or lapse in execution.

 

Baltimore probably needs this win more considering it is part of the highly competitive AFC North, but Miami has been more consistent over the past few months. This game will be close, but Tannehill makes enough plays in the second half and a late defensive stop will be enough to help the Dolphins maintain possession of a Wild Card berth, for at least one more week.

 

Prediction: Miami 24, Baltimore 20
Teaser:
Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 7, 2014 - 09:00

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