Some random thoughts and musings about this week's slate, things to look for, trends to follow along with, easy and breezy. Share them, dip them, offer your own. Talking football on a Friday, beats holiday shopping.Houston at Green Bay: The Pack is down at 5-7, but the remaining schedule sets up for them to possibly steal this division. You never want to overreact to the weather but here's a time where it pays to monitor the forecast. With Matt Schaub shaking off the rust and the Texans on a short week, I like Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter a little less than usual. Sage Rosenfels never clicked with Owen Daniels, but the tight end has a good connection with Schaub.
Miami vs. Buffalo in Toronto: I just want to see a few J.P. Losman bombs in the direction of Lee Evans. I don't care if they're caught. I don't care if they fail miserably. I just want to see them. What happened to Ronnie Brown and his cushy second-half schedule?
Jacksonville at Chicago: Jack Del Rio got an extension after last year, but it sure looked like his defense quit on him at Houston. Matt Forte doesn't have the highest upside, but his weekly floor is a godsend, points in the bank. The Bears had to try Devin Hester at receiver, but I miss the electric returns. I never saw it coming, but Matt Jones has turned into a rock-solid receiver.
Minnesota at Detroit: Last call for the winless Lions; after this week, the schedule gets nasty (at Indy, New Orleans, at Green Bay). The reinstatement of the Williams Wall doesn't help Detroit's cause, but you never know, a Brad Childress team might find a way to blow this. I've put Bernard Berrian in the circle of trust but Gus Frerotte isn't even on the page. Adrian Peterson is having one of the quietest MVP-worthy seasons I can ever remember. What do you buy for the sports fan that has everything? The Pontiac Silverdome.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis: The Colts have just one blowout win on their resume, but this sets up well for a second one; Peyton Manning and friends against a scuffling Bengals secondary, indoors, on a fast track. Don't forget the Colts defense or Adam Vinatieri, who should prove very useful against Cincinnati and Detroit the next two weeks. I was a little bummed to see Anthony Gonzalez miss Friday's practice out of the blue with a sore shoulder, because he looked like a great sleeper this week. Maybe Chad Johnson hasn't been healthy all year, but I know a guy mailing it in when I see it. Everyone gushes over the Steelers defense and rightfully so, but the Colts have allowed fewer fantasy points through the air.
Atlanta at New Orleans: It's the highest over-under game on the slate, and it's weather protected in a dome, so dig in. The Saints are 5-1 at home and the loss was a fluke-filled Monday nighter to Minnesota, so you have to feel good about their fantasy potential here. Michael Jenkins became a trendy sleeper after his two-score game against Oakland, and he had 6-72 a week later against New Orleans, but he hasn't scored in a month and his catch and yardage numbers have dipped for three straight weeks.
Philadelphia at New York Giants: Props to Donovan McNabb for his strong comeback against the Cardinals, but on the road against a more aggressive defense and pass rush, I don't trust him. He's thrown jut three touchdowns in his last five starts here. Domenik Hixon has become a minor buzz player and justifiably so with the Plaxico Burress news, but keep in mind Amani Toomer has 9-115-2 over the past two weeks.
Cleveland at Tennessee: Maybe there's an angle or a slant that favors Braylon Edwards this week, but I sure can't see it. I've also had it with Jamal Lewis and his 90-yard restrictor plate. Anyone tied to the Titans wants Pittsburgh to keep winning; that keeps Jeff Fisher from considering a late-season shutdown. I wouldn't be surprised if Kerry Collins threw 20 passes or fewer this week.
Kansas City at Denver: Here's another matchup that has pinball scoring written all over it, so get your key guys in there. The Broncos struggle against a lot of things but a major weakness is the safety play, which sets up well for Tony Gonzalez. And if Champ Bailey slides over to Gonzalez for a while, Dwayne Bowe should have a field day. Peyton Hillis looks like a safe start against that leaky Kansas City front seven, and I'd especially look to him in stock-market games and challenge contests (low salary, tasty upside). His 129-yard game at New York last week was one of the shockers of the season.
New York at San Francisco: A lot of pundits write off the Niners rushing defense as some kind of sieve, and that doesn't make sense; San Francisco is eighth-best in YPC allowed (3.8), and they're in the middle of the pack in gross rushing yards allowed. You'll still want to start Thomas Jones anyway, but be realistic in your expectations. I'd like to see the Brett Favre MVP talk die down because he's not the driving force of this offense, and New York doesn't attack the intermediate and deep areas of the field that often. Favre's had a solid year, not an outstanding one. Frank Gore won't get anything easy against the New York front seven but I'm still expecting him to sneak over 100 total yards and score; if nothing else, you know they'll keep feeding him the rock.
New England at Seattle: This was the Sunday-nighter until NBC (logically) flexed out of it. No worries about Matt Cassel's bump in the road: the Steelers do that to everyone, and he had several passes dropped on him (Randy Moss handed away a sure touchdown). Matt Hasselbeck deserves so much better than this; I'd love to see him on a different roster next year (as it turns out, we probably won't see him on Sunday). Go ahead and start John Carlson if you like, but I won't touch any other Seattle player on offense.
St. Louis at Arizona: Here's where you start all of your major Cardinals, and not just the three amigos - I'd roll with Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower (remember the first meeting) and the defense, too. I hope Marc Bulger gets out of football before it's too late. So much for Jim Haslett wowing the Rams and securing that job.
Dallas at Pittsburgh: It's a shame we have to wait four years for this game to cycle around, it's got that cool retro feel to it, the type of game you'd prefer in prime time. Peyton Manning is the only quarterback to throw for multiple touchdowns against Pittsburgh this year, and this is pretty much the only time all year I won't automatically endorse Tony Romo. Marion Barber (toe) didn't practice all week and looks too risky to play (Tashard Choice is a talented kid, but I can't dial him up in this spot). The Pokes are more vulnerable through the air, so a couple of scoring tosses from Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't surprise me, but for the most part this feels like a 20-17 sort of game, hit you in the mouth, low scoring.
Washington at Baltimore: It's almost as if the Redskins run the four-corners offense; their games feature the lowest point total in the league this year, and no one's hit the 30-mark yet, either side. Look for the same type of affair here, first team to hit 20 wins. Santana Moss could be a star in a deeper offense, but Washington's pass-blocking problems have hurt him, not to mention the absence of a second vertical threat. Everyone knows you can't run on the Ravens (3.5 YPC, three rushing touchdowns), but the pass defense is a well-kept secret (league-lowest 58.4 QB rating, a measly 6.0 YPA). Jason Campbell has just four touchdown passes since September and he's completed one pass over 35 yards in that span. Every chance I get to see Le'Ron McClain, I walk away impressed.
Tampa Bay at Carolina: I'm not sold on either team, and if I'm the Giants, I'm not afraid of either club (the Cowboys still look like New York's biggest potential threat). Steve Smith would have 4-5 more touchdowns if Jake Delhomme didn't struggle so much with timing and accuracy. It's hard to sit DeAngelo Williams in this spot, but keep in mind the Bucs don't hand it away (3.8 YPC, one rushing touchdown). Home turf has been the story in the NFC South this year, where the four teams are collectively 22-2 (Atlanta lost to Denver, and New Orleans had that Minnesota loss). You've already heard all of my Jeff Garcia rants, so let's play a rock song instead and look to the weekend.
- New Orleans