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Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Cowboys at Redskins (-3)

Week 17 arrived rather light on games featuring two teams with major seeding motivation; the battle outside D.C. being the only one where both have a shot at opening with a home playoff game.

Fortunately, Cowboys-Redskins will be devoid of questions about resting starters. Two starters figured to face off all game long are Dez Bryant and DeAngelo Hall, matching the league’s hottest receiver right now (sorry Megatron) against a gambler who makes big plays but also gets burned his fair share. To boot, the ‘Skins’ safety help isn’t the best.

How the Redskins execute their game-plan for Bryant could very well prove the difference.

Arizona at San Francisco (-16.5)

I don’t care how bad the Cardinals have been this year, a potent offensive performance will be needed to cover 16.5 against a good defense.

Jacksonville at Tennessee (-4)

I’m not sure that makes the difference with the Titans giving 4. This year it’s just been a matter of whether he breaks a long run. In games where that doesn’t happen, CJ2K has produced almost nothing.

Lame-duck inspiration?

This sort of thing is almost impossible to predict. Sometimes a team gives their lame duck a fulfilling send-off, other times the squad is just too checked out. Don’t let it affect how you pick against the spread.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-2.5)

Between this and Marvin Lewis’ apparent regret over resting starters in the past, this sways me over to the Ravens side — even though Tyrod Taylor has looked good in preseason play while rookie Bernard Pierce has gotten it done in meaningful action.

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The Sunday slate features a few games that I found extremely tough to call, before a late-week injury update helped me select my side of the spread.

49ers at Seahawks (EVEN)

Justin Smith

If there was ever a domino-effect injury on defense.

Bengals @ Steelers (3.5)

With Ike Taylor out, facing A.J. Green would’ve turned disastrous with Lewis.

Bears (-5.5) @ Cardinals

Tim Jennings leads Pro Bowl fan voting at CB and Henry Melton believes he should too at DT. They may not be the very best, but they’re certainly needed cogs on Chicago’s defense.

Redskins (-6.5) @ Eagles

RGIII will need that mobility this week with Graham in his face all day.

Rams @ Bucs (-3)

Vincent Jackson has been the league’s most terrifying deep threat outside of Megatron, and Janoris Jenkins probably hasn’t developed to the point to reliably handle V-Jax.

Wow, what a 1 p.m. Eastern slate. Just wow. #Giddy

Vikings @ Rams: Adrian Peterson vs Rams Run D

Adrian Peterson deserves MVP if you were awarding it right now. Christian Ponder is playing the quarterback position worse than any starter outside Arizona. So the Rams need to stop one thing, and the emergence of first-round DT Michael Brockers, revelation of OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar and recent improvement of MLB James Laurinaitis present a pretty tough wall for AP’s convoy to ram through.

Panthers @ Chargers: DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy vs Ts Michael Harris and Jeromey Clary/Whichever backups end up playing at offensive tackle

Carolina’s bookend rush boasts two top-fivers in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush productivity stat, while LT Harris ranks last out of qualifying tackles and Clary is not far behind. Looks like another harassed day ahead for Philip Rivers.

Colts @ Texans: DE JJ Watt vs. G Mike McGlynn/T Winston Justice

The pair protecting the right edge got bullied around by the Titans’ line last week and this is no rarity. Meet J.J. Watt, the most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL.

Lions @ Cardinals: DT Ndamukong Suh/Nick Fairley vs. G Daryn Colledge/C Rich Ohrnberger/G Adam Snyder

Suh and Fairley ran roughshod through the Colts a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately they couldn’t get too much help on defense besides catching a couple of the shoulda-been five interceptions. This pairing inside is playing better than any other right now — and on the opposite side you’ve got the bizarro version of that.

Steelers @ Cowboys: Dez Bryant vs fractured finger

Hard to know what to expect from Dez here but he’s been the best receiver not named Megatron over the past month, and his ability to continue this could be the difference for desperate Dallas.

Giants @ Falcons: Julio and Roddy vs Banged-up Giants secondary

With CB Prince Amukamara and S Kenny Phillips out Big Blue will need S Stevie Brown to remain their sub of the season — perhaps the NFL’s sub of the season — rookie CB Jayron Hosley to ride the momentum of last week’s performance and vet CB Corey Webster to transform into ’08/’12 postseason mode.

Seahawks @ Bills: CJ Spiller vs Bobby Wagner

RB Fred Jackson is out, but I half-expect Chan Gailey to still find creative ways not to give C.J. Spiller the ball — but there is no way he’s getting fewer than the seven carries last week against St. Louis. Pro Football Focus has ‘Hawks rookie MLB Bobby Wagner as their third-ranked ILB and graded well both in pass and run defense, and he’ll need to do plenty of both to stop Spiller.

49ers @ Patriots: Run Os vs Run Ds

Pats ILB Brandon Spikes has been banged up and didn’t look quite right on Monday even with the dominant displays around him. Every bit of his downhill thumping will be needed against the 49ers trap run game and the many looks they use to run both zone and power schemes. New England’s run attack on offense has also been one of the league’s best and will face San Fran’s elite run stoppers without the ample blocking aid of TE Rob Gronkowski.

Redskins @ Browns: Josh Gordon vs Redskins secondary

Trent Richardson is the lifeblood fi the Cleveland offense but still needs support from the pass game for Cleveland to put a decent number of points on the board. Since Brandon Weeden isn’t developed (or good?) enough to make this pass attack a well-oiled machine right now, the Browns typically need to hit at least one downfield throw to Josh Gordon, who’s 31.6% deep passing catch rate (on 72 targets) sits just behind division foe A.J. Green (33.3%). And the Redskins secondary got burned by the ancient Anquan Boldin twice last week.

Only three of the 14 games today feature road favorites, one oddly enough being the New York Jets — a team fresh off a collaboration with the Arizona Cardinals that cruelly displayed the most hideous quarterback play in the modern era.

This is because the Jets visit a two-win Jacksonville squad missing its most consistent offensive weapon in Cecil Shorts, and because New York. But even this contest will have a head-to-head battle worth monitoring, along with the other dozen-plus slated.

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Jets at Jaguars: Muhammad Wilkerson vs Jags O-line

Wilkerson hasn’t captured as many headlines as his teammates but has been by far the team’s best player this year. It will be fun to catch him going against venerable LT Eugene Monroe, but he’ll probably also spend time feasting on the rest of this miserable Jags O-line.

Rams at Bills: Rams improving OL vs Bills improving DL

Both the peripheral playoff contenders have improved dramatically in recent weeks thanks to their lines gelling. For the Bills it’s been the defensive side with Mario Williams trying to meet the hype while the Rams seem to have slowed down their game of musical chairs in front of Sam Bradford, with Rodger Saffold holding his own at left tackle.

Cowboys at Bengals: Geno Atkins and Co. vs Cowboys’ struggling line

Last week Geno Atkins predictably brutalized the Chargers interior and Carlos Dunlap cleaned up. The Cowboys line isn’t quite as bad, but same goes here.

Chiefs at Browns: Derrick Johnson chasing down Trent Richardson

The Browns have only lost one game this season by more than ten points and suddenly ride a two-game win streak. I like The Cleve winning here, but if the Chiefs shut down T-Rich then I could definitely see this going the other way.

Titans at Colts: Andrew Luck vs Titans pass rush

Luck has done an incredible job of keeping plays alive and throwing under pressure for a rookie. However, he has thrown quite a few interceptions under said pressure and the Titans have excelled at eating up poor pass pro like the Colts’.

Bears at Vikings: Matt Forte vs Vikes run D

The Vikings run defense ain’t what it used to be and Michael Bush is hampered by an injury. Forte could show us what made him a legitimate Top 5 MVP candidate through the first half of last season.

Chargers at Steelers: Philip Rivers vs Troy Polamalu

Philip Rivers has turned the ball over more times than any player since 2011. Troy Polamalu’s mere presence on the field boosts the likelihood of turnovers.

Eagles at Bucs: Vincent Jackson vs coverage breakdowns

Even when there aren’t coverage breakdowns, the safety help on long passes by Kurt Coleman can be downright comical. V-Jax has been the most dangerous deep threat in the league this side of Calvin Johnson.

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Ravens at Redskins: Backfield action vs Lewis/Suggs-less front seven

Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs hadn’t played anywhere close to last year’s standard but their leadership, instincts and communication in the LB corps might be necessary to slow down the ‘Skins read option and other backfield shenanigans.

Falcons at Panthers: Steve Smith vs Asante Samuel

With William Moore out, an Atlanta secondary already susceptible to the big play becomes even more of a danger with Steve Smith on the field. Asante Samuel is playing through injury and will likely see plenty of Steve L.

Dolphins at 49ers: 49ers trap blocking vs Dolphins front seven

My Twitter plug:

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Saints at Giants: Darren Sproles vs Michael Boley

The Saints have absolutely annihilated the Giants in recent meetings and the difficult matchups they possess are a huge part of that, like your Sproles or your Jimmy Graham.

Cardinals at Seahawks: Larry Fitzgerald vs Richard Sherman

While Brandon Browner begins serving his suspension its up to Richard Sherman (and certainly some help) to neutralize the Cards’ only beacon of offensive hope.

Lions at Packers: Calvin Johnson vs Casey Hayward/Tramon Williams

Casey Hayward is getting some love as Rookie DPOY candidate and it’s well-deserved, but I’d like to see him battle straight up against the league’s elite a little more.

Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers will have trouble stepping up today, in the pocket at least. If they can maneuver around the destructive interior rush brought on by major mismatches facing them up front, then perhaps they can overcome the heat and prevail victors.

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In a quick prep for a Week 13 while you chomp down eggs and toast (/while I do it) here are a few of the greatest positional mismatches heading into the Sunday NFL slate.

Lions interior DL of Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and Sammie Hill vs. Colts interior OL of Matt McGlynn, Sam Satele and Joe Reitz: The Lions trio has made life miserable the last couple weeks for Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub while the Colts inside protection has been up and down this year — very much down against the Bills last week. Nick Fairley is no longer a punch-line for bad Lions draft picks, far from it in fact

Geno Atkins vs. Chargers’ sorry excuse for an offensive line: It’s a shame to watch someone with as much talent I believe Ryan Mathews has just find nowhere to go. It’s only a surprise when there is not major backfield penetration by the team Mathews takes a step forward.

And the same goes for Philip Rivers once he hits the back of his drop. Rivers was regarded as the toughest quarterback under pressure by Greg Cosell prior to this season and with good reason — for which Rivers has repaid him by crumbling under it this year in a severe regression for the quarterback that has seen some of the ugliest shot-puts in NFL or Olympic history.

Meet Geno Atkins, who is having, as PFF is lauding, the best season by a defensive tackle they have ever recorded.

Peyton Manning/Broncos receivers vs. Buccaneers secondary: Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas is terrifying with the football in his hands and Eric Decker is doing his best Reggie Wayne impression (albeit with less reliable hands). Then there’s the Bucs secondary, well on pace to shatter the record for worst total pass defense in a season in NFL history.

First-rounder Mark Barron hasn’t progressed in pass defense quite like the Bucs have probably hoped at this point, Ronde Barber is a cagy yet limited vet. The top two corners are gone in Eric Wright (suspension) and Aqib Talib (trade). Boom! Points.

Adrian Peterson vs. Packers Run D: We all saw the ease with which the Giants and Ahmad Bradshaw rumbled through the Packers deplete LB corps, and the inhuman manner in which AP has recovered from ripping up his knee late last season. The Rodgers-Ponder differential has me picking Packers outright, but this mismatch on the ground could keep it close.

49ers Pass Rush vs. Rams Pass Pro: The Rams held off the Niners’ siege in a game that frankly didn’t make sense. On paper, Aldon Smith + Ahmad Brooks + Justin Smith + Ray McDonald makes a horrible mismatch for Rodger Saffold and Barry Richardson, no matter how pleasantly surprising they might be sometimes.

Since that strange overtime game, the Niners’ pass rush has beaten the living daylights out of Chicago and New Orleans, and I expect them to file the first Rams’ matchup under “anomaly” today.