Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens
Ray Rice –
Rice was a complete monster last week in Cleveland. He provided a solid reminder that he’s incredibly valuable even in non-points per reception formats. This week, Rice has an even easier matchup against the soon-to-be the 0-16 Colts. Rice needs to continue to put up big combined yardage totals, but more importantly continue to find the endzone. Rice has probably the best blend of situation and talent out of any running back in the NFL. He receives 90 percent of all the rushing attempts, he gets all the targets out of the backfield, and he’s the undisputed goal line back. Being used in all three of these aspects would make any back a high pick, never mind the fact that Rice is a top talent on his own accord. The bottom line is if Rice stays on his current pace he will find himself in the Top 2 pick discussion with the likes of Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers
Steve Smith –
The way that the S.S. Carolina started the season it looked as though he would finish as the No. 1 wide receiver at the year’s conclusion. Smith has fallen off a bit in production, though his overall yardage total still remains very high. Smith needs to get back to 100-plus yard games, though. Smith also needs to find pay dirt on a more regular basis to bump his value in 2012. Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Josh Johnson showed that the Falcons weakness is definitely their secondary. Sooner or later defenses will be forced to fully respect Cam Newton’s escape ability and try to limit his rushing totals. If the Falcons attempt to contain Newton, the deep ball will open up even further for Smith. Look for the chemistry between Newton and Smith to continue to flourish and Smith’s draft position for 2012 to become extremely debatable. Smith could arguably return to being viewed as a Top 10 receiver.
Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton –
A.J. Green would not be anywhere near the caliber receiver he’s been in 2011 if the Bengals did not take Dalton in the second round of 2011 draft. Dalton has been perhaps the biggest surprise rookie out of the 2011 draft. We expected great things out such rookies as Julio Jones, Cam Newton and Mark Ingram. But no one had Dalton pegged to walk into the volatile quarterback situation in Cincinnati and earn Rookie of the Year chatter. But he did, and his 2012 value will reflect his rookie success. Dalton will most likely be drafted as a No. 2 quarterback in 2012 with the hopes of perhaps maturing into a borderline starting fantasy contributor. The Texans offer a large level of competition, and this game will provide us with yet another reference tool for measuring Dalton’s value for 2012. As long as Dalton continues to show us that he can perform well no matter the level of defensive talent he’ll continue his rise. The reasoning behind that would be because Dalton has to play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in 25 percent of his games each and every season. Even against an improved Texans defense, look for the rookie to outperform expectations once again and continue to climb the rankings ladder for next season.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson –
Johnson could take the rest of the season off and still have enough statistical output to be taken in the first round of next year’s draft. Though he has cooled off from his hot start, the numbers are still elite. The last time that the Lions went up against the Vikings, Johnson stiff armed his way to two touchdowns. Expect more of the same for him here in week 14. Johnson could single-handedly win owners a playoff match here. Start him with the expectations of 100-plus yards and at least one score. But if you’re playing against Johnson this week, don’t be shocked when you check the stat sheet and see that he finished with three scores. The next three games will provide us with a glimpse of how much space there will be between Johnson, as the No. 1 wide receiver, and the No. 2 ranked receiver. Even if Johnson doesn’t show up big for the rest of the season he has still earned his spot as first-round pick. Having big games to finish the season, though, could move him from the end of the first round to a possible fifth or sixth overall selection.