October 7, 2011

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NFL Predictions: Week 5 Fantasy Picks

By: Rick Jarrell

Last week was very kind to fans – the games were exciting and, for the most part, concluded in rather predictable fashions. Most of the games, other than the Bengals win over the Bills and 49ers win over the Eagles, had outcomes you would expect. And even those two, in hindsight, make a lot of sense. But despite the predictability, there were a lot of entertaining games on, the Detroit Lions‘ comeback over the Dallas Cowboys likely the best of them all.

Tony Romo, one of my fantasy studs of the week, managed to only play one half and put up 300 yards and 3 TDs. But at halftime, the towel boy locked Romo in a storage closet and took his jersey, throwing three picks resulting in two touchdowns and a devastating loss in the second quarter. Still a decent fantasy play despite the turnovers, but wow.

McNabb performed well, too, especially compared his recent performances. 200 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT is acceptable for a back up if you needed it. The Vikings still lost, but it seems like that’s going to be a consistent trend this year.

On to the Week 5 Fantasy Studs…

Alex Smith

For many fantasy owners, the beginning of bye weeks has snuck up quicker than anticipated. All of my teams, for example, have been annihilated by the Week 5 buys, including both of my quarterbacks – Romo and Rex Grossman (I try to synchronize my teams for simplicity). Luckily I’ve snagged a decent replacement in Alex Smith.

Smith led the Niners to victory Sunday with a solid 200 yards and 2 TD game. The Eagles, who allegedly have a deadly secondary, actually have superior cornerbacks and holes at safety and lineback, which Smith was able to exploit with Vernon Davis at tight end.

This week, they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who aren’t exactly shutting down teams. Will Smith put up 40 points for you? No. Did I just accidentally type “Will Smith?” Yes. But another solid 20 point outing is likely in store, which is all you can really ask for in a back up.

Note: I’ll also be starting Michael Crabtree in hopes he will finally play a full game and finally show some of the talent touted when he was coming out of college.

Shonn Greene & LaDainian Tomlinson

The New York Jets have looked much worse than anticipated this year on the shoulders of Mark Sanchez, who did a pretty good Tony Romo impression Sunday night. But their match up with the New England Patriots this weekend provides a very good match up for the Jets, who in the past, have played well and beat the high flying offense. The Patriots’ defense is suspect at best, but can produce big plays with their dynamic corners. The run defense, however, gives up big yards. Look for the Jets to keep the ball on the ground, out of Sanchez’s hands, and in the arms of Green and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Nick Novak

That’s right, I’m suggesting a kicker. In reality, kickers don’t matter much. When they put up big numbers, it’s unpredictable, and your energy is best served on other matters – fantasy football and otherwise. Which makes it even more irritating that the first bye week, my kicker is out. Not a big deal, but it’s annoying. So my strategy on the waiver wire to pick up whoever is playing Denver in hopes they nail a 50 yard field goal. This week, that’s San Diego’s Nick Novak. Denver’s Matt Prater would work, too, but he isn’t very accurate.

September 28, 2011

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NFL Predictions: Week 4 Surprise Fantasy Studs

By: Rick Jarrell

Man, was Week 3 for the NFL exciting. A total of ten underdogs took home wins, the highlight being the Buffalo Bills, who survived Tom Brady’s New England Patriots to take the early division lead. The Oakland Raiders mostly dominated the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns scored a game winning touchdown in the last two minutes, and Michael Vick somehow managed to start, but got knocked out, again. All around entertaining week.

My NFL fantasy predictions, however, were a mixed bag. Rex Grossman had a decent game against the Dallas Cowboys, but failed to put up significant numbers. The San Diego Chargers were a huge disappointment, not blowing out the hobbled Kansas City Chiefs as they should. Vick started, but Mike Kafka did get some playing time, but did not impress.

The bright spot was Rob Gronkowski, who again, scored two touchdowns in a high scoring battle against the Bills. Ochocinco should have had a good game, as well, but dropped a sure fire 50 yard touchdown pass. It slipped right through his hands. Stunning. Still can’t believe it. While I continue to try to digest that, on to Week 4 NFL predictions.

Tony Romo

A lot of people have been down on Romo. Sure, he screwed up in Week 1 against the New York Jets. But he’s still a Top 10 quarterback, and whether or not he’s a true leader, he’ll still give you NFL fantasy points. I’ll admit, his performance Monday was less than stellar. I expected much more. But he is playing with broken ribs and a pierced lung, so he deserves some slack.

Another week to recover should be good for him. Although it’s a short week and recover time isn’t normal, expect him to have a big game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions secondary is sub-par, and with a high scoring offense led by Matt Stafford, I see this being a shootout. If Romo can’t go, Jon Kitna wouldn’t be the worst pick up for those desperate.

Donovan McNabb / Percy Harvin

I’m very surprised to be saying this, but I think McNabb is poised for a good week. Perceived by many to be well past his prime, and Week 1’s performance was nothing short of proof, McNabb has played decently the past two weeks. The Vikings would have won Sunday if not for their aversion from Adrian Peterson in the second half, which was strange to say the least.

A match up against Kansas City, a team down a Pro Bowl safety in Eric Berry, and a team I predicted to get slaughtered last week, should be favorable, despite my incorrect prediction. Without deep protection, McNabb’s top deep threat, Percy Harvin, should be able to get some space.

Tim Hightower/Roy Helo

The running back by committee is a fantasy owner’s worst enemy. Washington Redskin’s coach Mike Shanahan is a notorious offender. But their Week 4 match up against the St. Louis Rams’ – the worst running defense in the league – should have one, if not both, poised for a big game.

Historically, Shanahan’s “no-name” backs have exploded randomly a few times a season, but never stuck as top of the depth chart guys. I like what Hightower does as a blocking back, and Helu certainly has potential, so hopefully they do stick. But expect an offensive explosion from one of them sometime this season, likely this week being their best shot.

September 21, 2011

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Predicting the NFL Week 3 Fantasy Studs

By: Rick Jarrell

Like many media personalities, I’m going to take a stab at predicting which NFL players will have spectacular statistical performances this upcoming weekend. But unlike many media personalities, I’m going to predict the top five players in the league – Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson, etc – will have a great week. That’s a cop out. Anyone can do that. The following are my somewhat bold predictions for NFL Week 3 fantasy studs.

Rex Grossman

I’m still surprised the Washington Redskins didn’t decide to go with Jon Beck as their starting quarterback, but I digress. Grossman has shown flashes of the good and bad we saw during his Chicago Bears days. Mike Shanahan may be reeling in the gun slinger, creating a reliable starter, and the suspect Dallas Cowboys’ secondary provides a solid match up. Where Dallas’s secondary lacks, it’s run defense makes up for it, with playmakers on the defensive line, which leads me to believe the Skins will be even more inclined to take it to the air as much as possible. But I caution you, as always, Grossman will throw a pick or two on his way to a 400 yard game.

Rob Gronkowski & Chad Ochocinco

Gronkowski has already been tearing it up this year, with three touchdowns in two games, even while splitting time with fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (often in two tight end formations). But now that Hernandez will be out the next 2-4 weeks, Gronkowski should benefit even more by being additionally targeted by Tom Brady.

But one man can only do so much. There has to be another benefactor, someone who hasn’t tallied as many receptions as normal on the team. Someone who’s very vocal, but strangely not the last two weeks. That man, of course, is Ochocinco. He’s crowded behind the aforementioned athletic tight ends and very Patriot-minded players Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman. Even with Brady throwing for 500 yards a game, that’s a lot of love to spread around. Expect Ocho to benefit from Hernandez’s absence, possibly more than Gronkowski will.

The Entire San Diego Chargers Team

The Kansas City Chiefs surprised everyone last year by winning the division handily but have stumbled out of the gate this year. They lost their Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry in Week 1, and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles in Week 2. Both to ACL injuries. Both are out for the year. Couple that with the wide perception the team would take a step back this NFL season, it will likely be a very long year for the team and their fans.

The beneficiary of the Chief’s misfortunes this week will be the division rival Chargers. Moving the opposite direction of the Chiefs, as they are widely perceived to have underperformed last year, stud quarterback Phillip Rivers should have a huge game against the depleted secondary. Who catches the ball the most – Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates – is irrelevant, as it’s probable all three will have very favorable games for their fantasy owners.

Mike Kafka

That’s right, I said it – Mike Kafka. League rules state Michael Vick has to sit out at least one game after his concussion (at least I think those are still the rules). So unless they change the rules specifically for him, Kafka is the man for Philadelphia this Sunday. The former Northwestern quarterback is highly unknown, but I can tell you this – it seems no matter who the Eagles put in at quarterback, they still win. Donovan McNabb, AJ Feely, Kevin Kolb, Vick, and now Kafka, who went 7-9 after Vick’s departure this past weekend.

Don’t expect Kafka to turn into Drew Brees. Not even close. They’ll probably try to establish the run, with LeSean McCoy having a breakout season so far. But the Giants have a strong defensive line. They’re weak in the secondary. So in a situation where you’d think Andy Reid would limit pass attempts to below 20, it may actually eclipse 30.

I hope none of you drafted Peyton Manning and David Garrard and are already hounding the waiver wire. But for the few that exist, Kafka is a decent option. Assuming Grossman is unavailable, that is.

September 14, 2011

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NFL Comeback Performances Expected in Week 2

By: Rick Jarrell

The long awaited first week of NFL football met expectations, as usual. The lockout appears to have hit defenses and special teams hard, allowing for high scoring performances and thrilling kickoff returns. As always, a few surprise performances were recorded. It’s great for fans all around – it adds extra excitement to the game and entices us to think maybe this is the year. But in the coming weeks, most teams will be brought back to Earth (or rise back above it). The following NFL Week 1 performances were, in my mind, likely flukes.

Baltimore Ravens Thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers

This was the most surprising result of the weekend. Although the Steelers were not favored by much, the large majority of analysts were picking the Steelers to dominate the division. They didn’t miss a step last year despite star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being suspended the first six games, and are returning the majority of the team – why wouldn’t they?

Despite the thrashing, and believe me, I enjoyed it, don’t expect the Steelers to struggle the whole year. Throughout the last 10 years, even with internal and external forces seemingly working against them, Pitt has not let it slow them down. Remember that last Super Bowl run? Before they railed out 6 wins in a row to finish the regular season, odds were strongly against them. Don’t count them out now…

Washington Redskins Hold On vs. the New York Giants

We’ve seen this one before, both from Rex Grossman and in Washington, DC. Grossman will have great games like this – he did it a bunch in Chicago and helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl. But in between these 300 yard, 2 TD games comes 250 yard, 1 TD, and 3 INT games.

He’s inflating the expectations of Skins fans across Redskin nation. As a DC native, I’ve seen this many times. Somehow, despite low expectations coming into the season, the Skins will jump to a 2-0 or 3-1 start and raise the hopes of fans. But eventually, the performance bubble pops and they end up missing the playoffs. Mike Shanahan has the team on the right track, but with the Philadelphia Eagles heavy Super Bowl favorites and the Dallas Cowboys, despite Monday’s game, poised for a comeback season, I don’t see this being the year.

Cincinnati Bengals Comeback Win vs. the Cleveland Browns

Wow, what a game. And I don’t mean that in a good way, not in any direction. I convinced myself, a Browns fan, that the stars may be aligning for a surprise playoff run this year. An easy schedule, progress from last year, and trust in Mike Holmgren seems like a dynamic trio. But Sunday was ugly. Eleven penalties, seven in the first six minutes, dropped passes, and the icing on the cake: a botched defensive play – where the defense did not even get set – that allowed the Bengals to score what would be the winning touchdown. Still can’t believe it.

But now that I’ve recovered, I realize this performance was likely (i.e. hopefully) a fluke. A first year coach and a young team was likely (i.e. hopefully) giving into first game jitters. While I do think the Bengals have a good young team with Andy Dalton, who played surprisingly well for a rookie QB before he left with an injury, and A.J. Green, they’re clearly in a rebuilding phase. The Browns basically gave them this game. So my playoff hopes are still in tact – Cleveland doesn’t play a sure-fire great team until Week 13. Here comes an 10-1 start!

July 19, 2011

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8 Very Improbable NFL Playoff Teams

By: Joe Williams

It is looking like the NFL lockout is finally about to end. Now we can get back to the hope and excitement a new season brings. Unless, of course, you are a fan of a perennial cellar dweller. In every sport there are the haves and the have-nots. Even in the NFL, the league most designed to have parity, some teams have no shot to make the playoffs. Here’s a team from each division that no matter what happens in free agency or by trade in the next few weeks, will be unlikey to play in the NFL playoffs. If you are a fan of these teams you may want to begin planning your 2012 draft party.

Buffalo Bills - AFC EAST

This team has two major problems. The Patriots and the Jets. With two of the top teams in the league in their division, Buffalo is likely to lose at least three of those games. They would have to go at least 9-4 through the rest of the schedule to have any kind of chance. The NFL playoffs are not going to happen for a team without an obvious franchise quarterback.

Cincinnati Bengals – AFC NORTH

If you look up dysfunctional in the dictionary, you will see a picture of the Bengals. Their quarterback says he would rather retire than play on this team. The top wide receiver is feuding with the head coach. The running back just got arrested. Does this sound like a team ready to make an NFL playoff run?

 

Tennessee Titans – AFC SOUTH

The Titans are moving on from Vince Young and Jeff Fisher. They got their quarterback of the future in the draft and a new head coach. Tennessee could be on the rebound, but with lockout shortened preseason preparations, a team with a new coach and new quarterback is at a major disadvantage.

 Denver Broncos – AFC WEST

Here’s another team hurt by the lockout because they have a new head coach. John Fox has turned around a bad team before but this job is going to take more than one season. His biggest task is going to be figuring out what to do at quarterback. Do they stick with Kyle Orton? Do they look to the future and hope that the one smart move Josh McDaniels made was drafting Tim Tebow? Or do they put Brady Quinn behind center and play for the top pick in the draft? 

Washington Redskins – NFC EAST

Mike Shanahan has been one of the top coaches in the league, but many are starting to wonder what he is doing in Washington. Why trade for McNabb to play quarterback and continually pull him out for Rex Grossman? Now it looks like he’s going with John Beck. If they were in one of the West divisions, I’d give this team a shot. But they are in the toughest division in football.

Minnesota Vikings – NFC NORTH

If I had been writing this every year for the last decade, this would be the first time I would have said anyone other than Detroit. The Vikings have gone backwards since being one stupid Brett Favre play away from the Super Bowl. They have a quarterback of the future, but this division looks much tougher than just a year ago.

Carolina Panthers - NFC SOUTH

Teams don’t go from the number one pick in the draft to the NFL playoffs. Especially with a rookie head coach. They could have used more training camp to get Cam Newton going in their system. They have a bright future if he proves he was worthy of being the top pick in the draft. That bright future isn’t 2011.

San Fransisco 49ers – NFC WEST

This division is a real crapshoot but I’ve got to pick someone. They have a rookie head coach. Do we know who is going to play quarterback? There are questions to be answered but if any team on this list is going to make me look bad, it’s the 49ers.