Articles By Mark Ross

Path: /college-football/military-bowl-preview-and-prediction-cincinnati-vs-virginia-tech

On paper, the battle lines are clearly drawn when it comes to this season's Military Bowl matchup between Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., will serve as the backdrop for a game featuring the classic contrast in styles – the Bearcats’ potent offense vs. the Hokies’ stingy defense.


Cincinnati (9-3) claimed its third conference title in four seasons, tying Memphis and UCF for the top spot in the American Athletic Conference at 7-1. Tommy Tuberville has led the Bearcats to back-to-back nine-win seasons, as this season’s team weathered an early three-game losing streak and has since reeled off seven straight victories.


This will be Cincinnati’s sixth straight bowl appearance. The Bearcats have gone 2-3 thus far, including a 20-7 loss to Virginia Tech in the 2009 Orange Bowl. This also makes it three straight seasons Cincinnati has faced an ACC team in its bowl game. The Bearcats played an ACC foe in each of the past two Belk Bowls – beating Duke in 2012 and losing to North Carolina last season.


Virginia Tech (6-6) meanwhile needed every win it could muster just to keep the nation’s second-longest bowl streak (22 seasons) alive. A perennial contender in the ACC under Frank Beamer, the Hokies picked up one of the biggest non-conference wins of the season when they upset Ohio State 35-21 in the Horseshoe in early September.


Unfortunately that high was followed by many lows, starting with a home loss to East Carolina, as Virginia Tech’s offense struggled to produce consistent points. A three-game losing streak in mid-October ended any thoughts of winning another Coastal Division title, but the cruelest blow of all came in late November in a 6-3 double overtime loss at Wake Forest.


Still, give credit to Beamer’s team for continuing its dominance over in-state rival Virginia, as the Hokies’ 24-20 home win not only secured the Commonwealth Cup for an 11th straight season, it also got them bowl eligible.


The Hokies are just 9-12 in bowl games under Beamer, including last season’s Sun Bowl loss to UCLA.


Including the 2009 Orange Bowl, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech have played each other 10 times. The series is split 5-5 with the Bearcats claiming the most recent victory – 27-24 over the Hokies in September 2012 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.


Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Cincinnati -3


Cincinnati’s Key to Victory: Gunner-ing it on Offense


The Bearcats enter this game 26th in the nation in scoring at 35.4 points per game. Most of this damage has come through the air via the right arm of quarterback Gunner Kiel. An elite prospect that started his career at Notre Dame (after committing to Indiana and then LSU), Kiel has blossomed as a sophomore signal-caller. He’s tied for ninth nationally with 30 touchdown passes and has thrown for more than 3,000 yards. He’s done a good job of spreading the wealth, as six different Bearcats have caught 20 or more passes and eight have hauled in a touchdown. This approach could pay off against Virginia Tech’s defense, which has fared well against the pass. The Hokies are 14th in the nation in passing defense, holding opponents to a 47.6 percent completion rate (third). They haven’t picked off a bunch of passes (10 INTs) though and have been somewhat susceptible to the big play. Virginia Tech has allowed 17 passing plays of 30 or more yards and nine of 40-plus. Still, Cincinnati needs Kiel to continue to have success throwing the ball because the Bearcats’ running game has been inconsistent. Also, as good as the Hokies’ defense has been (20.4 ppg, 17th), the offense is averaging less than 24 points per game. The more success Kiel has throwing against the Hokies, the better for a Cincinnati defense that has had plenty of issues of its own.


Virginia Tech’s Key to Victory: Get Offensive

The only reason the Hokies are playing in their 22nd straight bowl game is because their defense was good enough to win six games. Actually, this defense was good enough to win even more games; it’s just that the offense had trouble scoring points. Even though Virginia Tech held opponents to just 20.4 points per game, the Hokies only outscored teams by 35 points, or less than three per game. Injuries took their toll on the running game, a facet that was a strength during Tech’s best seasons, and Texas Tech transfer quarterback Michael Brewer has struggled because of a combination of turnovers (14 INTs), a lack of proven playmakers on the outside and inconsistent pass protection (31 sacks allowed). If Virginia Tech’s defense does its part, which it has all season, then it stands to reason the offense won’t need to score that many points to put the Hokies in a position to win. Hopefully Brewer and the rest of the offense are using the time off and extra practices to iron out the kinks and find some sort of rhythm and cohesion. It’s not like the offense is expected to carry this team in the first place and it sure would be disheartening to see another stellar defensive performance from coordinator Bud Foster’s unit wasted on a stage like this.


Final Analysis


Strictly from an offense vs. defense standpoint, Cincinnati’s O doesn’t seem to quite match up against Virginia Tech’s D. However, a big reason why the Hokies are 6-6 is because their offense has offered minimal support. How else can you explain how the same team that beat Ohio State on the road manages just one field goal in a double overtime loss to Wake Forest? Virginia Tech is certainly no stranger to this stage, playing in its 22nd straight bowl game, but postseason success (9-12) has been tough to come by for Frank Beamer’s team. The Hokies’ D is nasty, but their offense is atrocious and I think Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats have just enough balance to beat a one-dimensional team. 


Prediction: Cincinnati 23, Virginia Tech 17
Military Bowl Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
Post date: Wednesday, December 24, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/heart-dallas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-illinois-vs-louisiana-tech

A pair of surprising postseason participants will get the post-Christmas bowl action going when Illinois and Louisiana Tech meet up in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. After each program won just four games in 2013, neither the Fighting Illini nor the Bulldogs were picked by many to earn a bowl invite this fall. Now they have an opportunity to cap off successful seasons with a win in the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas.


For Illinois (6-6) head coach Tim Beckman, the bowl game will hopefully serve as a springboard for even better things in 2015. After going 6-18 with just one Big Ten win (1-15) in his first two seasons in Champaign, Beckman entered this fall squarely on the hot seat.


The Illini struggled to open up conference play, losing their first three, but rebounded to post three victories in their final five Big Ten games. More importantly, a 47-43 win in Northwestern on Nov. 29 gave Illinois that critical sixth victory.


As a result, Beckman has Illinois in a bowl game for the first time since it beat UCLA 20-14 in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.


That’s also the last season Louisiana Tech (8-5) was in a bowl game, losing 31-24 to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Bulldogs actually went 9-3 in 2012 under Sonny Dykes, but wound up not playing in a bowl after initially declining an invitation from the Independence Bowl before being left out of the mix altogether.


Dykes left to become California’s new head coach just two days after the bowl fiasco. Skip Holtz replaced Dykes and Louisiana Tech stumbled to a 4-8 record last season. Holtz has turned things around this season, winning eight games and Conference USA’s West Division.


The Bulldogs came up short against Marshall in the C-USA Conference Championship Game, but still have a shot at nine wins. That’s something that’s been accomplished by this program just twice over the past 30 seasons.


This will be the second time these two schools have met. Louisiana Tech beat Illinois 52-24 in Champaign back on Sept. 22, 2012. It was the fourth game in Beckman’s tenure with the Fighting Illini.


Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 26 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Louisiana Tech -6


Illinois’ Key to Victory: Get Wes Lunt Going


Big things were expected of Oklahoma transfer Wes Lunt entering his first season as the Fighting Illini’s starting quarterback. The sophomore got off to a great start, leading Illinois to a 3-1 record in non-conference play before injuries derailed his season. Lunt has played in just three of the past eight games due to a leg injury, and the Illini’s offense has suffered. For the season, Lunt has 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions, compared to backup Reilly O’Toole’s nine scoring strikes and seven picks. All six of Illinois’ most productive offensive games (yardage-wise) have been in ones Lunt has started, with an average of 444 total yards per game. Also, in the six games Lunt finished (replaced by O’Toole in the Jan. 22 win over Penn State), he averaged 313.8 passing yards per game. Considering the Illini are ranked near the bottom nationally in rushing offense (117.1 ypg, 3.7 ypc), they need to get the most out of their passing game. Lunt hasn’t played since Nov. 22, so hopefully the month off will be all the time he needs to get back to full strength and get his game back to where it was in September.

Louisiana Tech’s Key to Victory: Apply Heavy Dose of Kenneth Dixon


Dixon, a junior, leads the Bulldogs with 1,236 rushing yards while his 21 rushing touchdowns have him tied for fifth among FBS players. Over three seasons, Dixon has averaged 5.7 yards per carry with 59 total touchdowns (52 rushing). Louisiana Tech has a fairly productive passing attack (252.6 ypg, 29 TDs, 3 INTs), but the weak spot on Illinois’ defense this season has been stopping the run. The Fighting Illini are 123rd out of 128 FBS teams in rushing defense, allowing nearly 250 yards on the ground per game. Opponents are averaging 5.1 yards per carry and have scored 28 rushing touchdowns. Five teams (all from the Big Ten) have run for at least 296 yards against Illinois, including 458 by Nebraska. Dixon may not be as feared as the Cornhuskers’ Ameer Abdullah (208 yards, 3 TDs vs. Illinois) or Doak Walker Award winner Melvin Gordon (175, 4), but he’s gotten the job done for the Bulldogs for three seasons. Louisiana Tech would be wise to give the ball to Dixon and see what he can do against one of the nation’s worst rushing defenses.


Final Analysis


Tim Beckman got Illinois back to a bowl game, but barely. The Fighting Illini needed to win their last two games just to get bowl eligible. This team still has its share of holes, especially when it comes to defending the run. Louisiana Tech won eight games in the regular season, but also lost to FCS member Northwestern State and in overtime to Old Dominion. The Bulldogs came up short versus Marshall in the C-USA Championship Game, but they more than held their own against a team that has lost just once. Louisiana Tech’s defense has shown remarkable improvement under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz, and Skip Holtz’ team can do some damage on offense as well. Beckman may finally have Illinois going in the right direction, but I don’t think his Fighting Illini will be able to hang with a deeper, more balanced Bulldogs squad.


Prediction: Louisiana Tech 34, Illinois 24
Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview and Prediction: Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech
Post date: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/bitcoin-st-petersburg-bowl-preview-and-prediction-nc-state-vs-ucf

Teams that were in drastically different positions a year ago will wrap up their seasons on the same field when NC State takes on UCF in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. Less than a year removed from its Fiesta Bowl triumph, the Knights are looking for their fourth straight postseason win while the Wolf Pack are back in a bowl game a season after going winless in ACC play.


It’s been quite the run for UCF (9-3) under head coach George O’Leary. A win over NC State would give the Knights their fourth 10-win season over the past five. Although it didn’t come with another prime bowl invite, UCF did defend its American Athletic Conference title, finishing 7-1 and claiming a share of the crown along with Memphis and Cincinnati.


The Knights are still reveling in last season’s 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and have won their past three postseason games overall. This also will be their third appearance in the St. Petersburg Bowl. UCF lost to Rutgers in the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl and beat Ball State in the ‘12 edition.


On the other side, Dave Doeren has NC State (7-5) back in a bowl game after more than doubling his win total from his 3-9 debut season in Raleigh. The Wolfpack went 0-8 in the ACC last season and got off to another tough start this fall with four straight losses. But they turned things around late, winning three of their last four including a 35-7 thumping of rival North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


NC State’s last postseason appearance came in 2012 when the Wolfpack lost to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl. That game was played in the Commodores’ hometown of Nashville, Tenn., while this game in St. Petersburg, Fla., is just down the road from Orlando, UCF’s home.


This will be the third matchup between these two programs, with each winning on the other’s home field. The most recent meeting took place early in the 2010 season when NC State beat UCF 28-21 in Orlando.


NC State vs. UCF

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: UCF -2


NC State’s Key to Victory: Establish the Run


In his first season with the Wolfpack, Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett has put together a solid season. He has 22 touchdown passes and just five interceptions, but this offense has been most successful when the emphasis has been on running the football. Brissett is second on the team with 498 yards rushing, one of four players with at least 282. Shadrach Thornton leads the way with 811 yards (5.5 ypc) and nine touchdowns, 271 of those coming in back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and North Carolina. In NC State’s three ACC wins the Wolfpack had more than twice as many rushing yards (871) than passing (335). In their five conference losses, the split was 606 rushing vs. 1,004 passing. Dave Doeren runs a spread offense, but this NC State offense has been at its best employing the old-school approach of simply trying to cram the football down your opponent’s throat. Whether it will work against UCF’s stout rushing defense (5th in FBS) remains to be seen, but given the results, you certainly can’t fault the Wolfpack for at least trying.


UCF’s Key to Victory: Play to Your Strength


Blake Bortles isn’t the only player missing from last season’s Fiesta Bowl championship team, but he and 1,100-yard rusher Storm Johnson are arguably the two biggest losses on offense. Yet, the Knights successfully defended their conference title and are on the verge of another 10-win season. A pretty good defensive team last season, George O’Leary’s unit has taken things to a whole different level this fall. UCF finished 2013 29th in the nation in total defense. This season the Knights enter this game ranked third, behind only Clemson and Penn State. They have been difficult to run on (97.4 ypg, 5th) and have allowed just three teams (Missouri, UConn and East Carolina) to score 30 or more points. UCF has forced 27 turnovers (18 INTs) and features one of the nation’s top defenders in senior linebacker Terrance Plummer. Sophomore Justin Holman has done a respectable job replacing Bortles at quarterback and the Knights have experienced playmakers at wide receiver, but this team has been able to build on the success of last season behind a stout defense. UCF’s strength (stopping the run) seems to play into NC State’s (running the ball), so as long as the offense puts some drives together and takes care of the ball (28 giveaways), the Knights shouldn’t need many points to pick up their 10th win of the season. Of course that’s what happens when you are giving up fewer than 18 per game.


Final Analysis


Former UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is just up the road toiling for the Jacksonville Jaguars, while his Knights continue to take care of business. George O’Leary has put together a program with staying power, even if it’s in a non-Power 5 conference. This Knights team is built around defense, which should prove to be a tough test for NC State’s run-heavy approach. It’s not the Fiesta Bowl in primetime, but UCF’s postseason success continues as the Knights shut down the Wolfpack in their de facto home game at Tropicana Field. 


Prediction: UCF 23, NC State 17
St. Petersburg Bowl Preview and Prediction: NC State vs. UCF
Post date: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/quick-lane-bowl-preview-and-prediction-rutgers-vs-north-carolina

Points should not be in short supply when Rutgers and North Carolina square off in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. Essentially a retooled version of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with Power 5 conference tie-ins, Ford Field will feature a pair of defenses that combined are giving up more than 900 yards and nearly 70 points per game.


Making the move from the American Athletic Conference to the much more competitive Big Ten, many expected Rutgers to finish at the bottom of its division and well out of postseason consideration. Instead Kyle Flood made it three bowl invites in three seasons, as the Scarlet Knights (7-5) knocked off Michigan and Maryland on their way to a fourth-place finish (3-5) in the Big Ten’s East Division.


Next up for Flood is to get his first bowl victory. Rutgers lost to Virginia Tech 13-10 in overtime in the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl and 29-19 to Notre Dame in last season’s Pinstripe Bowl. Those two losses ended a streak of five straight bowl wins under former head coach Greg Schiano.


Expectations for North Carolina (6-6) entering the fall were considerably higher, but another slow start doomed the Tar Heels’ ACC Coastal Division title hopes. A four-game losing streak forced Larry Fedora’s team to put together another strong second half just to get bowl eligible.


Fedora is 21-16 in three seasons in Chapel Hill, which isn’t that bad considering what he has had deal with off of the field. A bowl game ban in 2012, which was the final product of the Butch Davis era, is the only thing keeping Fedora from a third straight postseason appearance as Carolina’s head coach.


Instead, Fedora will look to improve his bowl record with the Tar Heels to 2-0. North Carolina beat Cincinnati 39-17 in last season’s Belk Bowl to conclude a 6-1 run to finish out the 2013 campaign.


This represents the seventh meeting between these two schools. Rutgers and North Carolina have split the previous six mtachups, the last being a 24-22 Tar Heels victory in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2011. That was Schiano’s final season with the Scarlet Knights.


Rutgers vs. North Carolina

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 26 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: North Carolina -3


Rutgers’ Key to Victory: Take Advantage of Bad North Carolina D


The Scarlet Knights are not an offensive powerhouse by any means. They rank 84th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten in total offense (378.8 ypg) and 89th and ninth in scoring offense (25.6 ppg). Rutgers has scored 38 or more points four times, but it also was held to a total of 54 points in its five Big Ten losses. However, the Scarlet Knights’ offensive inefficiency does not compare to North Carolina’s defensive struggles. The Tar Heels are 118th in total defense (495.7 ypg), 119th in scoring defense (38.9 ppg), 117th in rushing defense (232.2 ypg), and 108th in passing defense (263.5 ypg). There’s no way to sugarcoat it, this defense has been horrendous. Five different teams have scored 43 or more points on North Carolina, including 70 by East Carolina. As bad as the Heels’ defense has been, it’s still up to Rutgers to take advantage of this seemingly favorable matchup. This means that quarterback Gary Nova needs to avoid the turnovers that have plagued his career and give junior wide receiver Leonte Carroo (1,043 yds. 10 TDs), a chance to operate against a secondary that has already allowed 28 passing plays of 30 yards or more. The Knights also may be able to get their young running backs going on the ground too. Whatever the game plan, Rutgers needs to figure out a way to generate some points or run the risk of being the only offense to not enjoy success against one of the nation’s worst defenses.


North Carolina’s Key to Victory: Put Together a Complete Game


Given the Tar Heels’ preseason expectations, it’s perfectly fine to label this season a disappointment. Defense has been a major problem for Larry Fedora’s team all season, but so has consistency. North Carolina has looked pretty bad, as it did in a 70-41 loss at East Carolina followed up by a 50-35 thrashing at Clemson, but it’s also had its moments. The Tar Heels hung with Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., before falling 50-43, beat ACC Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech and thumped Duke 45-20 in Durham. And of course they followed up that huge win by laying an absolute egg against NC State (35-7 home loss) to close out their slate. As poorly as the defense has performed, this offense (34.3 ppg, 3rd in the ACC and 35th nationally) is capable of scoring enough points to win shootouts (see Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, even Notre Dame). If junior quarterback Marquise Williams can continue his solid play (300.6 ypg of total offense, 19th in FBS), the Tar Heels should be able to do some things against Rutgers’ defense, which hasn’t exactly shut opponents down. However, the defense will need to rise to the occasion as well, and a contribution on special teams, a strength last season, certainly wouldn’t hurt. Coincidentally, the circumstances surrounding this game are similar to those of last season. Last November, Carolina lost its regular-season finale to finish 6-6 and everyone was wondering which team would show up for the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati. Well, the Tar Heels put together one of their best all-around efforts, with offense, defense and special teams all making sizeable contributions in their convincing 39-17 victory over the Bearcats. Will there be a repeat performance against the Scarlet Knights?


Final Analysis


Rutgers has the better record, but the Scarlet Knights’ signature win this season was a come-from-behind victory at Maryland to close out the regular season. Otherwise, Kyle Flood’s team has defeated just one other bowl team (Navy) while getting thumped by the Big Ten’s better teams. For all of its defensive woes, North Carolina still won six games, including victories over ACC Coastal Division champion Georgia Tech and Duke. The Tar Heels beat four bowl teams (Pittsburgh, San Diego State) and nearly took down Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. North Carolina’s defense has had trouble stopping anyone this fall, but I am not convinced that Rutgers has enough offensive firepower to take full advantage of this matchup. On the other hand, I do think Larry Fedora’s offense will be effective against the Scarlet Knights’ defense with dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams being the difference-maker in the end. There should be no lack of offensive fireworks at Ford Field as the Tar Heels have just enough firepower to outlast the Scarlet Knights in a back-and-forth, highly entertaining affair in the Motor City.


Prediction: North Carolina 34, Rutgers 30
Quick Lane Bowl Preview and Prediction: Rutgers vs. North Carolina
Post date: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/bahamas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-central-michigan-vs-western-kentucky

The inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl will reunite Central Michigan and Western Kentucky as postseason foes, but don’t expect either team to complain. From a destination standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than Nassau in the Bahamas, even if the game takes place on Christmas Eve.


Two seasons ago, the Chippewas and Hilltoppers met in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit to finish out the 2012 season. Central Michigan used a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Western Kentucky 24-21, as both teams finished 7-6. The rematch could feature even more points, as the two teams are combining to average nearly 70 per game.


Most of that damage has been done by the Hilltoppers (7-5), who are sixth in the nation in scoring (44.0 ppg) in their first season under former Louisville quarterback Jeff Brohm. Western Kentucky is coming off of a 67-point effort in its overtime win at Marshall, which put an end to the Thundering Herd’s dreams of going undefeated, and has scored 45 or more points five other times. The Hilltoppers finished in a three-way tie in Conference USA’s East Division with a 4-4 record.


This is just Western Kentucky’s second bowl appearance despite the fact they went 8-4 under current Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino last season.


Central Michigan (7-5) also is back in the postseason for the first time since beating the Hilltoppers two seasons ago in Detroit. The Chippewas went 6-6 last season, but were not selected to fill one of the Mid-American Conference’s bowl slots. With a win in the Bahamas, Dan Enos’ team would finish with the most victories in a season since CMU went 12-2 in 2009 under Butch Jones, who is now the head coach at Tennessee.


Unlike Western Kentucky, Central Michigan has gotten it done with defense this season. The Chippewas are 16th in the nation in total (331.2 ypg) and 32nd in scoring (23.2 ppg) defense.


The 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is the only other time these two schools have met on the gridiron.


Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky

Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Western Kentucky -4


Central Michigan’s Key to Victory: Get Off to Fast Start

The Chippewas have outscored opponents 101-36 in the first quarter. Not surprisingly they are 6-2 in games in which they have led after the first 15 minutes. From then on, Central Michigan has been outscored 242-201 over the final three periods. Fortunately, the Chippewas have done a good job maintaining leads, going 5-0 when up at halftime. More of a defensive-oriented team, they have not been successful when having to playing catch up, posting a 1-4 mark when trailing at the half. Fast starts are important, but especially against a high-scoring team like Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are averaging 44 points per game, with much of that damage coming in the first half. WKU has outscored opponents 310-213 in the first half, which means on average it has an eight-point lead (26-18) at halftime. The Hilltoppers haven’t been that great at protecting leads (4-3 when up at halftime), but they possess considerably more offensive firepower than the Chippewas. Even if Central Michigan’s defense is successful in slowing down WKU’s high-powered attack, it’s critical that the Chippewas take the fight to the Hilltoppers and get out to an early lead because this is not the type of team they want to have to mount a comeback against.

Western Kentucky’s Key to Victory: Brandon Doughty’s Arm

A senior, Doughty leads the nation with 4,344 yards passing and 44 touchdowns. He’s completed 67.5 percent of his passes (ninth in FBS), thrown just 10 interceptions in 510 attempts (third) and his 163.6 passer rating is fifth nationally. Doughty is a big reason why the Hilltoppers are sixth both in total (525.3 ypg) and scoring (44.0 ppg) offense and third in passing (365.0 ypg). Western Kentucky obviously is a team that leans on its passing offense, and when Doughty has been on, he’s been near perfect. In the Hilltoppers’ seven wins, Doughty’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is a sparkling 32:3, compared to 12:7 in the five losses. Central Michigan enters this game with one of the nation’s top defenses, statistically speaking. The Chippewas are allowing just over 23 points per game and have limited passing attacks to 211.4 yards per game while intercepting 14 passes (versus 19 TD passes allowed). As well as this defense has played, it has yet to face a passing offense as prolific as Western Kentucky’s. And Doughty is just one part of the problem; as seven different Hilltoppers have caught at least 23 passes and nine have two or more touchdown receptions. Only one team (Louisiana Tech) has really been able to shut down Doughty (134-1-4 in 59-10 loss) this season, which does not bode well for Central Michigan’s defense.


Final Analysis


Two teams with opposite strengths. Central Michigan has gotten the job with defense, while Western Kentucky has lit up the scoreboard this fall. Dan Enos’ team is back in a bowl game and beat Purdue earlier this season, but the Boilermakers went just 3-9 and other than a road win over eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois, the Chippewas haven’t defeated an FCS team with a winning record. The Hilltoppers have wins over three bowl teams, including MAC member Bowling Green and previously undefeated Marshall. Central Michigan’s defense has been solid, but it has yet to face an offense like Western Kentucky’s. Brandon Doughty shows why he’s one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, as the Hilltoppers overwhelm the Chippewas to exact a little revenge from two years ago and earn the program’s first-ever bowl victory in the process.


Prediction: Western Kentucky 37, Central Michigan 27
Bahamas Bowl Preview and Prediction: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
Post date: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-vs-cincinnati-bengals-preview-and-prediction

Week 16 of the NFL season concludes with a battle of AFC division leaders as the Denver Broncos are set to take on the Cincinnati Bengals on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Broncos (11-3) have already clinched their fourth straight AFC West title and could secure a first-round bye with a victory tonight. The Bengals (9-4-1) are trying to hold off the Steelers (10-5) for the AFC North crown, but more importantly a win would guarantee a fourth straight playoff berth.


Denver has won four in a row behind a rejuvenated running game and Peyton Manning is 8-0 in his career against Cincinnati. The Bengals have won four out of five (all on the road), but haven’t fared too well in primetime this season. Cincinnati got blasted by New England 43-17 on Sunday night in Week 5 and was embarrassed 24-3 by Cleveland at home on Thursday night in Week 10.


Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals


Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Denver -3.5


Denver’s Key to Victory: Don’t Forget About Peyton

The Broncos have won four in a row and they have done it in a somewhat unusual way. Instead of riding Peyton Manning’s right arm, Denver has been content with punishing teams on the ground. The Broncos have 659 yards rushing and nearly as many rushing touchdowns (five) as passing (seven) over the past four games. C.J. Anderson has been a revelation, but the grind may be getting to him as he’s averaged 2.9 yards per carry over the last two games. Meanwhile, Manning has seen his attempts and completions drop in each of the past five games. Whether it’s injury-related (has been dealing with a thigh issue) or there’s more to the reports of diminished arm strength with the weather turning colder, Denver has relied less on its future Hall of Fame signal-caller lately. However, tonight may be a perfect opportunity to change things up, considering Manning is 8-0 in his career against Cincinnati with a 20:5 TD-to-INT ratio and a passer rating of 106.8. The Bengals are 11th in the NFL in passing defense, but they will have their hands full against Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and the rest of Denver’s pass-catchers. The running game has worked recently, but the Broncos have enjoyed a fair amount of success through the air too. Perhaps tonight they should take a page out of their old playbook?


Cincinnati’s Key to Victory: Is Andy Dalton Ready for Primetime?

The Bengals have leaned on Jeremy Hill recently, and the second-round pick out of LSU has responded. In the last five games alone, Hill has rushed for 473 yards on 91 carries with three touchdowns. For the season, he’s averaging five yards per carry and has shown that he can handle a heavy workload (18.2 carries per game during this span). However, Denver’s defense has really clamped down on the run this season. The Broncos are second only to the Lions in rushing defense, giving up 71.6 yards per game. Only one rusher (Tre Mason) has gone over 100 yards on the ground against them and they have allowed just 67 yards per game over the last four contests. With Hill’s seemingly tough matchup, Cincinnati will need Andy Dalton to make more plays through the air to try and loosen up Denver’s defense. Unfortunately, Dalton has not played his best when he’s been in the national spotlight. His playoff struggles (0-3, 1 TD, 6 INTs) have been well documented, but he’s also just 2-6 in his career in primetime (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights) games. When the stadium lights are on, Dalton’s production goes down – 53.6 percent completion rate, 199.1 yards passing per game and as many interceptions (8) as total touchdowns (7 pass, 1 rush). The Bengals are on doorstep of their fourth consecutive playoff berth, a first for this franchise, but for this team to have any success in January, Dalton needs to play better when the stakes are highest. What better practice than tonight against one of AFC’s top teams?


Final Analysis


Denver has already punched its playoff ticket and now is just playing for a bye and home-field advantage. Cincinnati can get in with a win tonight, which would certainly take some pressure off prior to Sunday’s division-deciding finale in Pittsburgh. The Bengals have won four of their last five because of their defense and a bruising running game, but they had all sorts of issues against the Steelers, an offensive team in the mold of the Broncos, and are matched up against one of the NFL’s stingiest rushing defenses tonight. Peyton Manning has been rather ordinary lately, but he’s still a future Hall of Famer while Andy Dalton has not held up well in primetime settings. Denver sticks to its recent script (running the ball, playing tough defense) with a few deviations courtesy of No. 18, as the Broncos wrap up a first-round bye, setting the stage for a massive Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh showdown Sunday in the Steel City.

Prediction: Denver 27, Cincinnati 20
Denver Broncos vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 22, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-vs-new-orleans-saints-preview-and-prediction-2014

Forget the records, whichever team wins the NFC South is going to the playoffs, which makes today’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints on FOX the most important of their respective seasons.


The Saints (6-8) are in the driver’s seat and can clinch the division title with a win at home and a loss by the Panthers. The Falcons (5-9) trail the Saints by a game, but a win would give them the season sweep and a 5-0 record in divisional play. Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on this one.


Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints


Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: New Orleans -6.5


New Orleans moved back into first place in the mediocre NFC South with a 31-15 victory on Monday night against a reeling Chicago team. Drew Brees (375-3-0) had little trouble carving up an overmatched Bears secondary, and the Saints sealed Jay Cutler’s fate with three interceptions.


Now the hope is that the Saints that can put together a similar performance at home against the Falcons, a thought that seemed ludicrous not too long ago. Usually near unbeatable in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans is looking to snap a four-game losing streak there.


Since beating Green Bay 44-23 in Week 8, the Saints have lost at home to the 49ers (in overtime), Bengals, Ravens and Panthers. Carolina drubbed New Orleans 41-10 two weeks ago, as the Panthers put up 497 yards of total offense.


Atlanta’s offense can be perceived as being even more potent than Carolina’s, but New Orleans could catch a break if Julio Jones is unable to play because of a hip injury. Jones is Matt Ryan’s favorite and most dangerous target, and his absence would be a huge blow.


The Falcons beat the Saints 37-34 in overtime way back in Week 1, a game that featured 1,040 yards of total offense. Ryan and Brees combined for 788 yards passing, four touchdowns and one interception (Brees) and Jones led all players with seven catches for 116 yards.


If Jones can’t go, Roddy White and Harry Douglas will need to pick up the slack against a New Orleans pass defense that’s had trouble with teams who like to air it out (Green Bay, Pittsburgh). For the Saints, Monday night was a welcome sight in that All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham got back in the act with five catches for 87 yards. He had totaled just three grabs for 25 yards in the prior two games combined. Graham led the team with eight receptions (82 yards) in the first meeting against Atlanta, and it’s a safe bet he will be targeted often as he looks to take advantage of the NFL’s worst pass defense.


With these two pass-heavy offenses, the ground game often takes a back seat. Both defenses have been susceptible to the run, but neither offense appears to have much appetite for taking the air out of the football. The Falcons’ running game may be under a little more pressure to produce, however, especially if Jones is unable to play.


New Orleans is in first place, but Atlanta also is in control of its playoff destiny. The NFC South is only getting one team into the playoffs and it could be the team that wins today.  


The Saints were the popular pick to make it to the playoffs entering this season, and their path sets up nicely with the final two games at home. It hasn’t been easy, especially at home, but New Orleans shows Atlanta why the Superdome is still one of the best home-field advantages in the league and gets a step closer to another division title in the process.


Prediction: New Orleans 31, Atlanta 24


Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-vs-dallas-cowboys-preview-and-prediction

A pair of 10-4 teams at two different points on the playoff path will intersect when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Dallas Cowboys later today on CBS. The Colts have already clinched their second straight AFC South title, while the Cowboys can win the NFC East with a win at home.


Dallas took over control of the division with a 38-27 win in Philadelphia last week, and now just needs one more victory to end its postseason drought following the Eagles' shocking loss to the Redskins on Saturday. The Eagles control all of the tiebreakers, but the Cowboys would need to lose today and next week to Washington to give Philadelphia any hope. And even then the Eagles would still need to beat the Giants on the road next Sunday to force the tiebreaker.


The Cowboys may be without DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, who is trying to play just days after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand. With Murray leading the way, Dallas has used its running game to not only move the ball, but also control the clock, and the Cowboys may be forced to rely on backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar if Murray can’t play.


Indianapolis Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys


Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Dallas -3


Indianapolis’ Key to Victory: Pass with Purpose

No team has attempted more passes than the Colts, which is why Andrew Luck leads the league in both yards (4,492) and touchdowns (38). The secret to Indianapolis’ success is pretty straightforward – a lot of Luck. With 10 wins, no one can really argue with the Colts’ approach, although it does have some downsides. For one, teams that lean heavily towards the pass can be easier to defend, although Indianapolis’ offensive statistics portray a different tale. However, throwing the ball a lot does open up the possibility for more mistakes. Case in point, over the past four games Luck has thrown four picks and lost four fumbles, accounting for more than half of the team’s 13 turnovers during this span. Despite posting a minus-six turnover margin during this stretch, the Colts went 4-0 because they scored nearly 29 points per game. For all of Dallas’ success this season, the defense is giving up nearly 250 yards passing per game and has allowed 20 touchdown passes. Luck and the Colts will be able to take their deep shots against the Cowboys’ defense, they just need to be careful to not take too many chances through the air. Dallas’ offense could be shorthanded both in the backfield and up front, and the last thing Indianapolis would want to do is give Tony Romo and company extra possessions. The Colts have been able to overcome their mistakes recently, but with the playoffs looming now is the perfect time to focus on ball security and cleaning up other things. With Indianapolis’ playoff ticket already punched, the focus these next two weeks should be on laying the groundwork so the Colts can be successful come January.


Dallas’ Key to Victory: Take a Page out of Indianapolis’ Playbook

The Cowboys have made a living this season out of running the ball. Behind DeMarco Murray, they have the third-most productive ground game (146.6 ypg) and have used that to control the clock. Dallas is second only to Pittsburgh in time of possession (32:50). However, the Cowboys could be without the NFL’s leading rusher this afternoon (trying to play through a broken hand) and their offensive line is pretty banged up too. If Murray can’t go or is limited, the burden falls on Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar to pick up the slack, and this may be too much to ask of them, especially if the line isn’t at 100 percent. So instead of focusing on running the ball, perhaps Dallas should let Tony Romo do his best Andrew Luck impression and air it out a little more. For one, Indianapolis is 19th in the league in passing defense (240.6 ypg) with 21 touchdown passes allowed and just 12 interceptions. Secondly, the Colts’ best cover guy, cornerback Vontae Davis, is dealing with a groin injury, which has caused him to miss a game and could impact his effectiveness this afternoon. A limited Davis is a good sign for Dez Bryant and the other Cowboy wide receivers. Lastly, it’s not like Romo has been a bad passer this season. He’s second in the league in passer rating (110.4) and is tied for seventh in TD passes with 28, even though he’s 22nd in attempts. Romo has thrown just eight interceptions all season and a total of two over his last six games. Dallas hasn’t needed Romo to throw the ball a lot, but health concerns and matchup are just two reasons to at least consider changing things up against Indianapolis.


Final Analysis


All of the attention entering this one has been on the health of DeMarco Murray’s left hand, and rightfully so. However, even if Dallas has to go without the NFL’s leading rusher, I think the Cowboys have enough depth in their backfield to weather Murray’s absence. In fact, I think Dallas’ best course of action should Murray not play is to open up the playbook and have Tony Romo throw it more than usual. Andrew Luck may be the league’s most prolific passer, but Romo has weapons of his own to use, namely Dez Bryant, and could be facing an Indianapolis secondary that’s not at full strength. The Colts don’t really need to win this game, whereas this victory would mean everything to the Cowboys. Behind an impressive aerial attack, Dallas ends its four-season playoff with a big win at home.

Prediction: Dallas 31, Indianapolis 27
Indianapolis Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-16-fantasy-football-injury-updates-cam-newton-eddie-lacy-jamaal-charles-arian-foster

Carolina should have their field general back for Week 16, but New England’s backfield is at anything but 100 percent. Other RB injuries we’re tracking include Eddie Lacy’s eye, Jamaal Charles knee/ankle and Arian Foster’s groin, or is it his hip?


Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Probable – Eye
Last week it was a hip issue, now it’s some sort of eye irritation that Lacy is dealing with. He was a limited participant in practice, but that could be precautionary more than anything. The key is that he was Probable last week and is Probable again today. Lacy will be out there and considering what he did last week against a tough Buffalo defense (97 yards rushing, TD), he’s a must-start RB1 for today’s game against a much more generous Buccaneers D.

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers vs. Cleveland Browns

Probable – Back
Less than two weeks removed from a car accident in which he sustained two back fractures, it looks like Super Cam will be back on the field. Newton was limited on Wednesday, but a full participant both Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. All indications are that Newton will get the start against the Browns. Newton’s injury is similar to what Tony Romo went through earlier, so his quick recovery isn’t unheard of. Still it’s tough to gauge just how effective Newton will be and if the injuries will result in him running less. The Browns have been pretty stingy against QBs in fantasy, so it’s safe to at least temper expectations when it comes to Newton.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers

Probable – Knee/Ankle
Charles was limited on Wednesday, but a full go both Thursday and Friday. Between this and his Probable designation, he’s safe to employ as usual. It should be an entertaining matchup between Charles and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, a pair of must-start RB1s that should put up some pretty nice numbers.


Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens

Probable – Hip
Different injury, but same story for Foster. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and a full go on Friday. He’s listed with a hip injury, as opposed to last week’s groin issue, but the important piece of information is he’s Probable. Case Keenum, who rejoined the Texans after Ryan Fitzpatrck and Tom Savage went down with injuries, will be making the start, which means Foster should be plenty busy. The Ravens have allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs, but you start Foster regardless of matchup.


LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen, RBs, New England Patriots at New York Jets

Out – Shoulder; Questionable – Ankle
The Patriots’ backfield duo was limited in practice all week by injuries and when the injury report came out on Friday, were each listed as Questionable. However, Blount was ruled out Saturday night, meaning Jonas Gray will handle the bulk of the carries. Gray did rush for 201 yards several weeks ago, but before you get too excited about his prospects, just remember who his head coach is. Also as bad as the Jets have been, the defense has still done a pretty good against the run, so it’s likely New England will focus on the passing game today. Even with the roles a little more defined following Blount's deactivation, it's probably safest to view Gray and Vereen as flex options this week.

Matt Asiata, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

Probable – Foot
Asiata was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Probable and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of concern with his foot injury. Asiata has taken over as the Vikings’ lead rusher, but his primary value comes in his nose for the end zone (7 rushing touchdowns), although he has caught three or more passes in six straight games. Miami’s rushing defense has been struggling lately, so this at least appears to be a good matchup for Asiata. I would still put Asiata's ceiling as a RB2 at best, considering he’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry.


DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Cleveland Browns

Questionable – Hand
Williams missed a second straight game last week because of a broken bone in his hand and it’s likely he won’t be on the field today either. Williams was able to practice some, but head coach Ron Rivera has already declared Jonathan Stewart the starter and said Williams would probably only be used in an “emergency.” Stewart’s clearly in the RB2 conversation, as he has put up 230 yards rushing the last two weeks. In fact, Cam Newton’s expected return today could mean even more carries for Stewart. Williams meanwhile shouldn’t even be on your radar at this point.

Week 16 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Cam Newton, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-16-injury-updates-demarco-murray-peyton-manning-marshawn-lynch-rashad

The most important injury everyone’s keeping an eye on for Week 16 is DeMarco Murray’s hand. Will the Cowboys have their leading rusher this afternoon? And what’s been bothering Peyton Manning?


Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Mon.)

Questionable – Thigh
Manning was limited in practice this week by a thigh injury and is listed as Questionable. However, barring something unforeseen happening between today and Monday night, Manning will be out there against the Bengals. The only games Manning has ever missed in his career is when he sat out the 2011 season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery. Manning’s numbers have been pretty ordinary lately (average of 12.1 fantasy points over last three games), but some of that is due to the effectiveness of C.J. Anderson running the ball. He also has been dealing with this thigh injury for a few weeks and last week he was battling some sickness. As long as Manning plays, he’s a must-start QB1.


DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts

Questionable – Hand
Will he or won’t he? That’s what everyone wants to know regarding the NFL’s leading rusher. Murray had surgery earlier this week to have screws and a protective plate inserted to protect his broken left hand. He practiced on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday, and is officially considered Questionable. He will be a game-time decision and apparently the final decision will be made by Murray himself. Several people, including owner Jerry Jones, have stated they believe Murray will play. There are still concerns regarding Murray’s effectiveness with an injured left hand, not to mention the concern that his workload may be reduced. With a guy as important as Murray, it’s worth waiting as long as possible before setting your lineup. With this being a later afternoon kickoff (4:25 p.m. ET) that means making sure you have a viable backup plan in place, but for now I would lean towards keeping Murray in the lineup. For what it’s worth, I prefer Joseph Randle over Lance Dunbar in terms of fantasy potential, especially if Murray doesn’t play. Randle would likely take over the rushing duties, while Dunbar could see enough targets to merit flex consideration in deep PPR leagues.


Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Probable – Back
Same routine for Lynch, who’s being rested earlier in the week to save some wear and tear on his body. He’s listed as Probable and will be plenty busy tonight against the Cardinals. It should be pointed out that Arizona held Lynch to just 39 yards rushing the first time these two teams played, but Lynch is a must-start RB1 regardless of matchup.


C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills at Oakland Raiders

Probable – Shoulder
Spiller has missed the past seven games because of a broken collarbone, but he was activated from injured reserve earlier this week and is expected to play today. Spiller wasn’t that productive before the injury, so it’s very risky to expect much from him in his first game back after a long absence. Chances are the Bills will ease Spiller back into action, meaning Fred Jackson will continue to see the lion’s share of touches. There’s no reason to rush Spiller back into your lineup or even to run out and pick him up if he’s on your waiver wire.

Already Ruled Out:


Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants – Jennings’ injury-plagued debut season with the Giants continues, as a nagging ankle injury will keep him from playing today. He’s rushed for eight yards in the last two games combined, so it’s possible he won’t be seen on the field again this season. In Jennings’ absence, rookie Andre Williams will get another start. Williams has thrived in this role before, but the Rams are a tough defense. Williams can be employed since he’s likely to see 20 touches, but he’s probably nothing more than a flex option because of the matchup.

Fantasy Football Week 16 Injury Updates: DeMarco Murray, Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch, Rashad Jennings
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-16-injury-updates-julio-jones-julian-edelman-calvin-johnson-percy

Julio Jones is a game-time decision for the big Week 16 showdown in New Orleans because of a hip injury. Will he miss a second straight game? Here’s the latest on Jones and some other key WR injures for the early kickoffs.

Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, WRs, New England Patriots at New York Jets

Out – Thigh/Concussion; Questionable – Shoulder
Both Edelman and LaFell were limited in practice once again, but only one made the trip to the Big Apple. Edelman was downgraded to Out on Saturday night, which could result in more looks for LaFell, who is officially Questionable, but expected to play. The Jets' weakness on defense has been against the pass, so LaFell, Rob Gronkowski and even Shane Vereen out of the backfield could be very busy. The combination of Edelman's absence and the appealing matchup is enough for me to bump up LaFell to the back end of WR2 territory.

Harry Douglas, Julio Jones and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans

Probable – Foot; Questionable – Hip; Probable – Knee
Even though Douglas and White missed some practice time, both are listed as Probable and should be good to go today. Jones is the one generating the most attention, as he didn’t practice at all for the second straight week. He sat out last Sunday, so another week of no practice is certainly concerning. Jones will be a game-time decision, so owners should have plenty of time to make other plans before the 1 p.m. ET games kick off. Even if Jones plays, you have to figure he will be limited, but he probably should still be started. Just be sure to have a backup plan ready to go. Along those lines, Douglas could once again benefit from Jones’ absence, increasing his fantasy appeal.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears

Probable – Ankle
The only reason Johnson even shows up here is because he’s Megatron. He was a practice participant to some degree every day this week and is listed as Probable. The Bears’ secondary hasn’t been able to stop anyone lately, so Johnson could very well repeat his Thanksgiving Day (11-146-2) performance. It’s a good week to have Megatron on your team.


Percy Harvin, WR, New York Jets vs. New England Patriots

Probable – Ankle
Harvin made a somewhat miraculous return last week, but had minimal impact (1 rush, 10 yards,3 targets, 0 receptions) on the Jets’ win against the Titans. He was a limited practice participant both Thursday and Friday, and his Probable designation is a pretty strong sign he will play. Harvin did have a big game (6-124-1) a couple of weeks ago, but those performances have been few and far between. If you want to use him as a WR3 or flex, go ahead, but just be prepared to be disappointed.

Fantasy Football Week 16 Injury Updates: Julio Jones, Julian Edelman, Calvin Johnson, Percy Harvin
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-16-fantasy-football-injury-updates-deandre-hopkins-andre-johnson-kyle-rudolph-greg

Houston’s starting a third-string quarterback and its top two wide receivers are on the injury report entering Week 16. What you need to know about this situation as well as the condition of some of Minnesota’s top targets.


DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson, WRs, Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens

Questionable – Ankle; Probable – Concussion
Hopkins was described by head coach Bill O’Brien as “day-to-day” earlier this week. The troubling thing is that he wasn’t able to practice at all. Hopkins will be a game-time decision, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on him being available. Johnson meanwhile is still listed on the injury report with a concussion. He didn’t play last week, but the fact he’s Probable seems to indicate Johnson will be back. Hopkins’ potential absence helps Johnson’s fantasy appeal, but keep in mind that Case Keenum is starting at quarterback for the injury-ravaged Texans. Keenum was re-signed this week, so that’s not exactly a ringing vote of confidence.  In Hopkins’ case, I would look at other options to fill his spot, and I would think long and hard before inserting Johnson in as anything more than a WR3/flex.


Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

Doubtful – Ankle/Knee
It has pretty much been a lost season for Rudolph. He missed six games because of a sports hernia and now is dealing with an ankle/knee injury. He led the Vikings with seven grabs last week, but he was only able to practice on a limited basis on Friday. He’s listed as Doubtful, and it’s probably best to just move on at this point.


Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins

Probable – Hamstring
Jennings has been bothered by a couple of ailments during the season. A hamstring issue impacted his practice participation this week, but he was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable. Jennings hasn’t put up huge numbers in 2014, but he does have three touchdown catches over his last four games. He could be worth consideration as a WR3 or flex option.

Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins vs. Minnesota Vikings

Probable – Hamstring/Knee
Unlike most players, Clay actually seems to be getting healthier as the season winds down. After being Questionable last week and playing, Clay is Probable for today’s game. He caught six passes for 59 yards against the Patriots last week, which were his second-highest totals of the season in each category. This speaks to Clay’s inconsistency, as he also has just two touchdown catches. Unless you’re in a 2-TE league, I wouldn’t bother with this Dolphin.

Week 16 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-16-fantasy-football-injury-updates-ty-hilton-emmanuel-sanders-demaryius-thomas-julius

Some pretty big matchups on tap for later Sunday and Monday night in Week 16. Indianapolis may be without its No. 1 WR, while Denver’s pass-catching corps is now dealing with illness on top of injury.


Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, WRs, Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals (Mon.)

Questionable – Illness; Probable – Ankle
Illness normally doesn’t merit inclusion, but for Sanders we will make an exception. He was excused from practice on Saturday because of flu-like symptoms, but at this point there’s no real concern regarding Sanders’ availability for Monday night. However, if the sickness lingers, Sanders could be limited and he’s already facing a pretty tough matchup to begin with. The Bengals have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to WRs this season. Thomas meanwhile is good to go after practicing in full this week. He’s Probable and is a must-start WR1. Sanders should probably be viewed as a WR2 with upside this week because of his illness and the matchup.


T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys

Questionable – Hamstring
Hilton did not practice this week because of a hamstring issue and is listed as Questionable. However, several beat reporters have already opined that they don’t think Hilton will play, and the fact that the Colts have already clinched the AFC South and a playoff spot only increases that likelihood. In other words, there’s no reason for Hilton to play and risk aggravating his hamstring injury. At best, Hilton will be a game-time decision, but I wouldn’t count on having him in my lineup today.


Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals (Mon.)

Probable – Ankle
As expected, Thomas returned last week after missing two games because of an ankle injury. He had just one catch for 30 yards, but he was a full participant in practice this week, so he’s definitely good to go on Monday night. Thomas is a must-start whenever he plays, but he could be even more productive this week depending on the health of Emmanuel Sanders, who’s dealing with some sickness.


Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks

Probable – Knee
Fitzgerald has played in the past two games since missing Weeks 12 and 13 because of a knee injury. He was a full practice participant both Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable, so it’s a pretty safe bet he will play. Fitzgerald led the team with seven catches last Thursday, but those went for just 30 yards and he hasn’t caught a touchdown since Week 8. There’s also the small matter of tonight’s matchup against the Legion of Boom and the fact that third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley will be starting. It hasn’t been a great season for Fitzgerald in the first place, so there’s no reason to rely on him this week.

Week 16 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: T.Y Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas
Post date: Sunday, December 21, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-16-fantasy-football-injury-updates-frank-gore-philip-rivers-carlos-hyde-ryan-mathews

Week 16 offers a holiday treat with two games on Saturday. The only game that’s really worth paying attention to injury-wise is San Diego vs. San Francisco. Get caught up to speed below.


Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers (Sat.)

Probable – Chest/Back
With Keenan Allen and Ryan Mathews already ruled out, it’s only fitting that Rivers shows up on the injury report too. Not surprisingly, the grind of a long season is starting to take its toll, as Rivers is pretty banged up. He missed practice on Wednesday because of chest and back injuries, with the latter reportedly worse than anyone’s letting on. However, he was a full participant on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. Rivers will get the start, but considering he’s thrown seven touchdown passes in the last six games (and three of those came in one contest) and the 49ers are among the stingiest (sixth-fewest fantasy points allowed to QBs) pass defenses, I’m not sure I would place my championship hopes in his hands.


Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers vs. San Diego Chargers (Sat.)

Questionable – Concussion
Gore was able to practice on a limited basis Thursday and Friday, so that certainly bodes well for his chances of playing. He’s listed as Questionable, however don’t forget that he will need to pass the necessary concussion-related tests before he’s completely cleared to play. The short week certainly complicates this, but the feeling is that he will be out there against the Chargers. The 49ers certainly could use him with Carlos Hyde already ruled out. Backing up Gore is journeyman Alfonso Smith and recently signed Phillip Tanner. If Gore does play, he should see plenty of touches, making him worthy of flex consideration at minimum. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about his prospects of busting out and definitely would make sure Gore is active before putting him in the lineup.


Already Ruled Out:


Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers – Hyde underwent an MRI earlier this week for his back and ankle and apparently the team didn’t like what they saw. He was held out of practice and has been ruled out for tonight’s game. Frank Gore’s starting job is safe, assuming he plays (concussion), with Alfonso Smith and maybe even Phillip Tanner lining up behind him. Gore’s status aside, are you going to trust Smith or Tanner? I didn’t think so.


Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers – Mathews was Questionable last week because of an ankle injury, but no one was surprised he didn’t play since he didn’t practice. Same routine this week, except for the fact the Chargers have already ruled Mathews out for tonight’s game against San Francisco. Branden Oliver and Donald Brown will probably get most of the work, but Ronnie Brown is hanging around too. Between a timeshare of some sort and the fact that the 49ers have done a decent job against the run, it’s probably best to stick to Sunday/Monday for your starting RBs this week.


Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers – Last week’s loss to Denver was especially costly for Allen, who not only injured his ankle, he also broke his collarbone. Chances are we’ve seen the last of Allen for this season, unless the Chargers make the playoffs, but even then I’m not sure. Of course, the focus here is on this week, as Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal could see more targets in Allen’s absence. Gates of course is a must-start TE1 and I can endorse Floyd as a WR3/flex with upside. I can’t really get behind Royal, who’s very streaky, and don’t see any need to mess with any other Charger WR or TE.

Week 16 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Frank Gore, Philip Rivers, Carlos Hyde, Ryan Mathews, Keenan Allen
Post date: Saturday, December 20, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-vs-washington-redskins-preview-and-prediction-2014

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
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-vs-san-francisco-49ers-preview-and-prediction

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
San Diego Chargers vs. San Francisco 49ers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/camellia-bowl-preview-and-prediction-bowling-green-vs-south-alabama

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
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

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
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

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
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

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
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

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
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/cincinnati-bengals-vs-cleveland-browns-preview-and-prediction

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


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-eli-manning-jamaal-charles-arian-foster-colt-mccoy

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.

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
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-15-injury-updates-eddie-lacy-jonathan-stewart-isaiah-crowell-cam

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.

Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart, Isaiah Crowell, Cam Newton
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-ryan-mathews-cj-anderson-marshawn-lynch-reggie-bush

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.

Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Ryan Mathews, C.J. Anderson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30