Welcome my fantasy brethren to another edition of The Prognosticator. May it excel where others have failed. A couple of quick points this week before we get into the games. This is the time of the year where the temperatures fall, the ball gets harder and the winds start to howl in the NFL and weather most definitely starts to play a factor when deciding your fantasy lineups. Keep in mind that the Giants and Jets will tend to start running the ball more and their FG kickers will start missing more FG’s because of their home field. The same goes for the Bills and even the Browns. It is no accident that cold weather teams are built around a running game because they will be forced to rely on it more in the coming weeks. Use that to your advantage and make a move for a Lee Suggs type player that you don’t have to pay much for as there will be more opportunity for him to shine in the coming weeks. Make sure you now start paying attention to the weather reports around the league on Sunday morning and adjust your lineups accordingly for wind and the elements. Don’t be the one that is caught off guard as there’s opportunity in the next week or three to make some brilliant game winning last minute substitutions, before your opposition catches on to the weather factor.
For those that have followed the progno over the years, you’ll know I used to hand out weekly awards for the star and lackluster performances of the upcoming weekend. Some have asked what happened to them. I didn’t have a real reason for taking them out so they’re back in! Weekly I’ll predict the QB, RB, and WR of the week and I’ll toss in a few other awards just for fun.
Miami Dolphins San Diego Chargers Oakland Raiders Denver Broncos
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams Sunday 1:00pm
The Seahawks will be able to take advantage of the Rams defense in just about every facet of the game. Shaun Alexander will run hard and run well. Darrell Jackson will be active in the passing game and will put in a good day at the office. The Rams are just too thin to be able to cover enough of the Seahawk better players. The knock on the Seahawks offense though is the very average play of QB Matt Hasselbeck when he is on the road. The Rams will certainly help bring Hasselbeck’s numbers into respectable territory but a few errant throws on his part, with a Rams secondary that is going to want to play a little more on the edge this week, will lead to a couple of turnovers which will stall the Seahawks somewhat.
Riddle me this. How does an old WR and a rookie CB practically just signed, stop one of the elite passing games in the league? Go ask Bill Belicheck as he seems to know. In all my years of covering the NFL I have never seen such an ill prepared team come into a game. Last week should have been a slam dunk for the Rams offense and they blew it in a way that rivals the 2004 Yankees. Whomever was sending in plays on offense needs to stop because they clearly know not what they do.
I like the Rams at home in this with the sting of ridicule that was the Patriots machine fresh in their hearts. Look for Tory Holt to have a great game and for Marc Bulger to respond to the challenge.
Prediction: Rams 23 – Seahawks 21
Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans Sunday 1:00pm
*** Bored to Tears of the Week Award ***
Let’s see. The Bears can’t throw the ball and the Titans are fairly good at stopping the run. The Titans can’t throw the ball and the Bears are fairly good at stopping the run. If you get bonus points for punters, start both Craig Hentrich and Brad Maynard because they’re going to be extra busy! Many are predicting good days for either Thomas Jones or Anthony Thomas depending on who gets the start and if Steve McNair plays, a good day for Chris Brown. I am rolling with the fact that if McNair plays he will be a little rusty and won’t be near 100% and the Bears can take advantage. Offensively I certainly prefer the Bears and Titans running game but I am not expecting big numbers to come out of either. Be leery of your Titans receivers and look hard at your bench if you have someone even half qualified.
Prediction: Bears 20 – Titans 14
Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday 1:00pm
This will be a good week for Joey Harrington and company. He will be throwing to Roy Williams who has been a superstar thus far and Az-zahir Hakim just to mix it up a little. Both will enjoy solid numbers assuming they play and I am assuming just that. Stay away from the Lions ground game this week.
The Jaguars will be starting someone not named Byron Leftwich and that will hurt a little. The Lions are extra soft in their secondary right now and even a guy like David Garrard could and I think will surprise just a tad. He has a perfect 100% completion percentage on the season! He’s 1 for 1! Look for the unknown to put an average to above average day in and exceed expectations.
It would make sense to lean on Fred Taylor but the Lions will stack the line and dare Garrard to beat them. It will hurt Taylor’s numbers and I expect an average day out of him with something in the 80 yard range. The surprise will be the balance the Jaguars will be able to put together to move the chains a yard at a time. They will get their shots in and come away victors.
Prediction: Jaguars 23 – Lions 20
Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets Sunday 1:00pm
Dissertation time. I have on occasion raked Brian Billick through the coals in this rag. Most of the time for good reason! But it struck me last week that the Ravens managed to do something brilliant and Brian Billick just may have had a hand in it. This could be the first sign of the apocalypse but I actually think it’s the beginning of a positive trend and just a glimmer that the Ravens are on the way back to being one of the elite teams in the NFL. Before I get to this move of brilliance let me explain a little bit about why the Ravens are the Ravens. The Ravens are built in the mold of Brian Billick and in actuality, Billick is the perfect coach to lead this team. The Ravens are built around their linebackers, their running game and all us fantasy players know that their TE Todd Heap, is one of the best in the game. If you want to sum up their top three attributes as a team, where they far outweigh other NFL teams, those are their top three with their secondary and CB Chris McAllister right behind. Their entire team in one way or another is primarily built around the LB position, either defending or attacking it. On defense their nucleus is their MLB and the linebackers to support Ray Lewis. What takes the heat off your LB’s? A decent secondary so that the linebackers don’t have to spend half their day trying to cover somewhere down field. On offense, their running game takes aim at opposing linebackers because the Ravens feel they know how to manipulate that position and can identify the weakness to open up their running lanes. With TE Todd Heap, he almost always has a LB one on one which is why he is so effective, but the Ravens can take a LB out of the equation with Heap and then run Jamal Lewis right at the exposed weakness. The Ravens know linebackers and like I pronounced, they are 100% completely built around the position on defense and offense.
The Ravens are one Todd Heap away from being a scary good team as Heap plays an enormous role in their success equation, more so than Jamal Lewis as Heap is a bigger differentiator from an overall team philosophy. The Ravens would be better off with Todd Heap and Chester Taylor than Jamal Lewis and Terry Jones. When Todd Heap returns, expect a Ravens team that will turn heads.
Why is Brian Billick the perfect coach to lead the Ravens? He is cut from the blood of a LB and he stays within what he knows. Billick is a one dimensional coach. Billick started his career at Air Force as a linebacker then transferred to BYU as a TE. He was drafted by the 49’ers in the 11th round but was quickly released. The Cowboys picked him up for five minutes and that was the end of his pro career. The point is, Brian Billick is cut from LB/TE cloth and it is that passion, knowledge but also rejection that drives him to push his LB’s and TE’s to excel in the NFL. Something he was not able to do as Billick lives vicariously through his team like a father lives through his son.
What has held the Ravens down is Billick’s stubbornness to be a top head coach in the NFL. Brian Billick knows defense, how to attack an opposing linebacker crew with his TE and the buck stops there. It is no coincidence that every QB Brian Billick has ever touched has turned to ash and that the Ravens have a crew of #3 and #4 WR’s. The reason is, he has no clue how to handle that facet of the game and it was what was dragging the Ravens down.
The brilliance the Ravens infused into their team this season was the hiring of ex Giants head coach Jim Fassel as a senior consultant. Fassel fills all the holes that Billick has and the team needed to put a buffer between Billick and Kyle Boller before he too was vaporized into the Ravens QB graveyard. Kyle Boller has been less than stellar but this move gives the Ravens a chance at bringing him along in a manner that won’t have him as the next guy on the pile in the Ravens back parking lot and when Todd Heap returns, watch out.
Look for the Jets to try and run as the Ravens are going to be paying a little extra attention to Quincy Carter as they will want to rattle him early. Expect a mix of Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan as the Jets will need to give different running looks at the line of scrimmage.
Note: For a waiver wire pickup, go get Travis Taylor and stash him away.
Prediction: Ravens 27 – Jets 21
Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints Sunday 1:00pm
*** QB of the Week Award: Trent Green ***
This will be the shootout of the week as both teams will put some points on the board in a hurry. Trent Green is playing lights out right now and against the poor Saints D, there is no reason to not expect more of the same. Priest Holmes sounds like a no-go this week but Derrick Blaylock will be up for the game. He is dinged but I expect him to start and play well. Look for a huge day from Tony Gonzalez and perhaps Eddie Kennison.
The Saints are going to want to get Deuce McAllister involved but they will be forced to the air to keep up. Donte Stallworth has been bucked down to #3 and Jerome Pathon takes over the #2 chores. Look for a good day from Aaron Brooks, Joe Horn and Jerome Pathon with a couple of TD’s from Deuce McAllister though his rushing totals will be down.
Prediction: Chiefs 35 – Saints 31
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Sunday 1:00pm
Michael Pittman is coming off a career day and there is no reason to think he won’t continue his run as one of the better plays of the weekend. To think, this guy went undrafted in most leagues and has been one of the many waiver wire darlings that we’ve had this 2004 season. Expect Michael Clayton to be near the tops in receiving this weekend across all wide receivers.
An average day for the Falcons as the Bucs have a strong defensive unit that will be able to control certain crucial elements of the game. The Falcons will get their drives in and get their scores in but it will be done with a cast of characters with no one real stand out. Look for a little more action to fall TJ Duckett‘s way but not enough to make him a start on his own. If your starting lineup is 6 or more RB’s and/or WR’s, take a look at Duckett as your 6th. Unless Michael Vick runs wild, do not expect much. I traded away Joey Harrington for Michael Vick straight up last week, I’m starting to wonder if that was such a great idea.
Prediction: Buccaneers 30 – Falcons 24
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Sunday 1:00pm
*** WR of the Week Award: Andre Johnson ***
I really like both of these offenses this week. Expect a plethora of fantasy statistics to come out of this contest with everyone on both squads getting the nod. Do not think twice about starting the usual suspects in both these offenses as they will all produce.
Prediction: Colts 28 – Texans 21
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Sunday 1:00pm
The Progno is on a roll with the Steelers. Steelers to beat the Pats, Steelers to beat the Eagles and the dominoes keep falling one after the other. The Steelers have been playing lights out lately and everything stems from their running game. Duce Staley should be back but after the performance by Jerome Bettis last week look for him to cut into Staley’s numbers a little. It will take a week or two before the Bus runs out of gas but till that time, Staley owners are just going to have to endure. Expect the Steelers to run first and ask questions later.
The Steelers are very effective at bottling up the run which will force Jeff Garcia to make some magic. Since Garcia looks more like an orc than Gandalf, expect a lot of fizzle. The Browns however have a number of matchups that fall into their favor, the trick will be for them to recognize this and for Garcia to make those reads. The Browns have an advantage with their TE’s and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both Aaron Shea (a converted RB) and Steve Heiden in the boxscore. For the Browns, this is a much better week to take advantage of Lee Suggs in the passing game. If William Green sees more playing time than Lee Suggs this week then I officially declare Butch Davis available for the next college coaching opening.
Prediction: Browns 24 – Steelers 23
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins Sunday 4:05pm
*** CO-RB of the Week Award: Clinton Portis ***
The Bengals have very quietly been playing good football but this will be a hard test for them. Heading into Washington against a defense that has been superb, the Bengals are going to have to play some good, old fashioned, in the trenches kind of football to help loosen up their passing game. Expect a lot of Rudi Johnson early to the left side running behind LT Levi Jones to soften up the Redskins interior so that the Bengals can win the game late.
The Redskins offense doesn’t scare anyone except for the play of Clinton Portis. If you’ve been a reader of this column, the progno asked you to go out and trade for Clinton Portis when his stock was low three weeks ago. You’re laughing all the way to your playoffs now if you heeded that advice. If you have been playing this game for a while, if you’ve had success up through Week 8, that is when you want to start looking for players for your stretch run and start to make changes to your roster. Those that sit on what got them to Week 8 will usually lose in the end. Those that trade what got them to Week 8 for someone that can get them to Week 16 or 17 will win their Superbowl Trophy. There’s an entirely different set of qualifiers you need to get players to seal the deal for you. Many of you will learn this the hard way this year. Others that have posted the best score in the league with the highest total points for the season and perennially lose in the playoffs, know what I am talking about. If you remember one teaching from this column once you’ve refined your skills to be proficient at this game, it is that you play a different game in the second half than the first and the owners that can make that transition sooner will be the benefactor. People say this game is 98% luck, including PayPal who shut our ability to accept credit cards down through them because in their eyes, fantasy football is a “game of chance.” By the way, not a big deal, we’ll just set up another credit card processing account with another vendor. How short sighted and what poppycock that is. People who call it a game of chance, call it that because they’re not skilled enough to reduce the luck quotient or simply haven’t learned the vastness of how to approach and play this game. The more you play this game and play it well, the more you start to realize there is a lot more at play here than luck. But why would PayPal know anything about skill? They’re just another one of the minions that foolishly looks at fantasy football as a great big roulette wheel.
Prediction: Bengals 27 – Redskins 21
Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers Sunday 4:15pm
The Panthers are in disarray but I keep expecting them to try to get back to their power running game. They appear to be a team without a mission or a clue.
The 49’ers will play well at home and as long as there are no lingering effects to Tim Rattay’s forearm, all will go well for them, Brandon Lloyd and Kevan Barlow.
Prediction: 49’ers 21 – Panthers 13
New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals Sunday 4:15pm
The loss of Michael Strahan is huge to this defense as he is the leader on and off the field of this unit. Do not underestimate the demoralizing blow this will deal to the Giants defense. If you have their team Defense for some reason, jettison it. This is great news for opposing passing games as the Giants won’t be able to muster a pass rush without Strahan. You of course play Tiki Barber as he is on pace to break all sorts of records and with the cold weather on the horizon with the whipping winds, the Giants will lean on Tiki even more.
The Cardinals have managed to get their running game going and that will continue here. I have the Cardinals passing game as “Frigid” above but I could make the argument that without Michael Strahan that moves to “Average” on the day. Hey wait a minute! I did make that argument! Just as you were starting to think Anquan Boldin may not be all that coming back and sit him, he bites you in the rump. The Cardinals appear to be very comfortable with Larry Fitzgerald but they will want to get Boldin jump started and they will do that here.
Cards squeak out another one.
Prediction: Cardinals 24 – Giants 23
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Sunday 4:15pm
*** CO-RB of the Week Award: Ahman Green ***
Everything points to Green Bay in this game. The Packers are at home, coming off a bye, are healthy, in the elements, on grass, no Randy Moss and the Vikings defense stinks. Do you really need to know anything else?
Expect the Packers offense to shine but particularly Ahman Green as the Packers play the style of football they like to play. Run Green, run Green, throw for the 1st down. Run Green, run Green, throw for the 1st down.
In case you’re wondering, the back to have in the Vikings system is Onterrio Smith.
Prediction: Packers 33 – Vikings 20
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots Sunday 8:30pm
This is going to be a tough game for both teams. The Patriots and Bills played earlier in the season and the game was decided in the last two minutes with neither team looking much better than the other. As mentioned in this column throughout the season, the back to have in this offense is Willis McGahee and that is coming to fruition. McGahee was the best back in his class and would have been a top 3 pick if it wasn’t for his injury. Odds are, you could have had him for a song just a few short weeks ago.
On the Patriots side look for Corey Dillon to shoulder the load and just when you thought Daniel Graham was worthless he comes back and catches a few for you. Naturally, he’ll be on your bench because you gave up on him. Ain’t the NFL grand?
Prediction: Patriots 24 – Bills 23
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Monday 9:00pm
Eagles fans rejoice! I’m not picking the Eagles to lose! Though I do expect this to be a tighter game than I’m sure you believe. Bill Parcells gave his lads a public beat down last week and some of them will respond to the challenge. Parcells has a way of pushing buttons and getting every last drop out of his players. The big difference here is that the Cowboys will be up late studying game film, working in the weight room, getting extra sleep, doing whatever it takes to not get shown up on Monday Night. The Eagles will be frustrated by last week and that will also show, but they won’t be as prepared as the Cowboys. If for some reason the Cowboys do up end the Eagles on Monday night, god help the Redskins next week.
I like Donovan McNabb to rebound here but Terrell Owens yapping in his ear last week didn’t help. One area of concern for the Eagles is that the Cowboys do not give up big plays in the air. They are geared to prevent that as they play the bend but don’t break defense exceptionally well. If TO feels like he isn’t getting his plays, he may be yapping again to McNabb on the sideline and this time McNabb will yap back. A Monday night sideline confrontation is in the cards if the Cowboys continue what they have been able to all season.
The Cowboys have a chance here if and only if Eddie George comes to play. If George has enough in the tank to put in a start to finish effort that will keep the Cowboys in the game and then anything is possible. Though putting all your shekels on Eddie George seems to be a losing proposition these days, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as he is a progno fave from way back but ultimately the toll of four quarters is too much to handle for one antiquated back.
Now if Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens degenerate into a fist fight with Andy Reid taking an errant punch to the temple, then things look much better for the ‘Boys.
Look for Julius Jones to get the bulk of the Cowboys carries starting as early as next week. If he is available, jump in and get him.
Prediction: Eagles 23 – Cowboys 21