New York Giants

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

This week is stacked with great matchups, including several division rivalry games. The environment of these games is sure to be electric and players will be looking to elevate their performances against hated foes. With plenty at stake Sunday, be aware of who will be a smart fantasy start:

Players to start:

1) Eli Manning, QB
New York Giants

Outside of an opening-day dud against the Cowboys and last week’s blowout of the 49ers, Manning has been a reliable fantasy player.  Expect him to air it out this week against a Redskins defense that makes every quarterback it faces look like a fantasy all-star. Considering he has been sacked the least number of times in the NFL, Manning should have plenty of time and plenty of opportunities Sunday against Washington.

2) Mark Sanchez, QB
New York Jets

Although the whispers for Tim Tebow to start continue to haunt Sanchez, he played an efficient game against the Colts last Sunday, albeit throwing for a laughable 82 yards. Still, he tossed two touchdowns and surrendered zero turnovers, which should give him some confidence heading into Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Since he is facing a defense that has allowed at least three touchdown passes in each of its last four games, Sanchez is a good sleeper pick this week.

3) Chris Johnson, RB
Tennessee Titans

Though Johnson’s disappointing season has devastated many fantasy owners, he has looked improved in two of the past three weeks and is seeing a larger workload with backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck under center. Johnson should be in store for a strong game against the Buffalo Bills, who have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs.

Players to sit:

1) Russell Wilson, QB
Seattle Seahawks

Wilson had a huge game Sunday against the Patriots, throwing for 293 passing yards and three touchdowns in what was his best performance of the season. That being said, he was playing in the friendly confines of Qwest Field against an awful secondary. Don’t expect Wilson to duplicate this performance Thursday in San Francisco against a strong 49ers defense looking to rebound from a loss to the Giants.

2) Matthew Stafford, QB
Detroit Lions

Stafford is faced with a tough task this week, facing a Chicago defense that has allowed the least amount of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Considering the Bears are coming off their bye week and the game will be played in Chicago, their defense is sure to be well rested and prepared for the game. Pairing these conditions with the fact that Stafford’s only thrown four touchdowns in five games this year, it would be wise to avoid him this week.

3) Jermichael Finley, TE
Green Bay Packers

Finley was a non-factor in the Packers’ 42-24 blowout of the Texans on Sunday night due to a shoulder injury, playing only 24 snaps the entire game. Although he should be expected to play more this week versus the Rams, Finley’s lack of production cannot be blamed solely on his health; the former Longhorn hasn’t had more than four catches in a game or scored since a week-one loss to San Francisco.

Printed on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as: Manning due for a giant day against Redskins

Fantasy Football

Week after week, the NFL never fails to prove why it is the pinnacle of sporting competition. At no other level of professional sports is there more unpredictability or frustration for fantasy owners. Here are the top fantasy performers, along with the biggest disappointments, from Sunday’s games in the topsy-turvy NFL:

Studs:

1) Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints

For the second week in a row, Colston has been the primary beneficiary of strong outings by Saints QB Drew Brees. Colston torched the San Diego Chargers in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football, grabbing nine passes for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Although he was injured at the start of the season, Colston has proved over the past two weeks that he is healthy and playing at a very high level. Expect more good things to come for Colston and his fantasy owners.

2) Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants

Bradshaw had a huge game Sunday for the Giants, gashing the Cleveland Browns all afternoon for his strongest performance of the year. By day’s end, Bradshaw finished with 200 yards rushing and a touchdown, leading all rushers for this week. Although the Giants fell behind in an early 0-14 hole, Bradshaw put the team on his back and carried them to a 41-27 comeback victory.

3) Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons

Even at the age of 36, Gonzalez still manages to make it look easy. The 16-year veteran took advantage of the Redskins’ porous secondary Sunday, hauling in 13 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Don’t look now, but Gonzalez leads the league in catches through Week 5.

Duds:

1) Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

With Greg Jennings hampered by a lingering groin injury, Nelson was expected to have a big game against an inexperienced Colts secondary. Instead, he was only able to make two grabs for 29 yards. Although it was a disappointing day for the Packers as a whole, Sunday was the fourth time in five games that Nelson was held out of the end zone, a problem he rarely encountered last season.

2) Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills

Entering Sunday’s game against the 49ers, Fitzpatrick was the NFL leader in touchdown passes. However, San Francisco’s stout front seven and physical secondary had their way with him, recording an interception while limiting him to 126 passing yards and no touchdowns in a 45-3 shellacking.

3) Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers

After surpassing 100 receiving yards in the Panthers’ first two games of the season, Smith has been held in check by opposing defenses. Smith was limited to four catches for 40 yards against the Seahawks, who shut down the entire Carolina offense in a 16-12 victory. Many of Smith’s struggles can be attributed to the play of QB Cam Newton, who has performed inconsistently through the first five games. Once the two begin to click again, Smith’s production will increase dramatically.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, in Arlington, Texas.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The NFL season begins Wednesday night in the Meadowlands where the Dallas Cowboys will visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The last time these teams met, the Cowboys lost to the Giants with a playoff berth at stake. Now it’s a new season where the Dallas Cowboys, as usual, are talented and another 8-8 season is unacceptable.

Offense
Despite throwing for more than 4,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions last season, there are still questions about Tony Romo’s production and poise in the clutch. Romo is lacking depth at receiver and tight-end. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, who had 928 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2011, will be put to the test to make plays as seen in the past season. Kevin Ogletree will compete with rookie Danny Coale, a fifth-round pick, among other undrafted players for the slot receiver spot. Tight end Jason Witten’s old-school style made him a constant target for Romo throughout previous seasons.

Witten, who had 942 yards and five touchdowns last season and battled an injured spleen this offseason, is doubtful for the season opener. Austin and Bryant are also hurting. The Dallas two-back, two-tight end offense is dependent on DeMarco Murray’s power between the tackles. Murray has the power to get Dallas the necessary yards and Felix Jones has the ability to make game-changing plays. Playing a big role for the Cowboys is the third-year center Phil Costa who will have some more help against defensive linemen this season. He is now playing between the free-agent pickups Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau.

Defense
Last season’s team would have won the NFC East if not for its inconsistent secondary as the Cowboys were 23rd in pass defense. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones traded up in the draft to select the prized LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the No. 6 overall pick. Using a base 3-4 defense, the Cowboys had the NFL’s 7th-best rush defense.

DeMarcus Ware leads the NFL with 80 sacks over the past five years. The Cowboys had 42 sacks in 2011, 19.5 of them coming from Ware. Players such as Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff should give Ware more help this year while the versatile Sean Lee will play a crucial role as an inside linebacker. The defense needs to put Tom Coughlin’s strong coaching style to the test and have a plan to disorganize the opposing teams’s attack.

For Cowboys fans, it’s Super Bowl or bust. Dallas picked up good talent in the draft and has a quarterback that put up solid numbers last season. There are still some unanswered questions and the Cowboys will have an early test in their season opener against their rival in the Giants Wednesday night, a potential monumental victory in a promising season or a possible crushing defeat in what might be another disappointing year.

Super Bowl: A Closer Look at the Numbers

This is the first time that the Super Bowl is a rematch of a regular season game since the 2007 season, in which these same Giants and Patriots played each other in the regular season finale, with the Patriots finishing their perfect regular season. In the 45 year history of the Super Bowl, there have only been 12 rematches of regular season games. It’s difficult to beat an NFL team twice in a season, as is evident by the results of those games, in which the loser of the regular season matchup came back to win the Super Bowl seven times, including three of the last four.

The Patriots had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this season, averaging 32 points per game this season, good for third in the league. They have been held under 30 points five times this season, and were held under 20 points in one game against the Steelers. In the Patriots losses and lowest offensive outputs, New England was done in by turnovers. The Patriots turned the ball over 15 times, with Brady throwing 8 interceptions. Against the Giants, Brady threw for over 330 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions and fumbled, which the Giants turned into 10 points.

This will be the third rematch in this postseason for New York. After the Giants beat the Patriots in week nine, they lost four consecutive games. Two of those losses came to San Francisco, and Green Bay. The Giants exacted revenge against the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs by dismantling them at home to the tune of a 17 point win. The Giants followed that win up by beating the 49er’s in a rematch game in the NFC Championship game. That trend carried the Giants this far, but may aid the Patriots more considering that they lost to the Giants at home in the middle of the season.

The New York Giants have the best scoring defense this postseason, allowing only 13 points per game , including shutting out the Atlanta offense (the Falcons defense forced a safety against the Giants). New England, has the second best scoring offense in the playoffs, scoring 34 points per game, with a demolishing of Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs. It would be obvious to say that this game comes down to the New England offense against the New York defense, but the Patriot defense allowed 21 points per game in the regular season, while the Giants allowed 25. While the New England offense was expected to be explosive, the New York offense was also top ten in scoring this season, scoring 24 points per game in the regular season. And those stats are right, the Giants are the statistical quirk of this Super Bowl, having scored 394 points in the regular season, while giving up 400 points.

A number that will be shoved down our throats leading up to the Super Bowl is that the Giants got 48 sacks this season. The maligned Patriots defense wasn’t far behind, registering 40 in the regular season. Even into the postseason, the Giants have nine sacks in three games, while the Patriots registered eight in just two. New York has the more celebrated pass rush, which will be a major factor in the game, but the more important one may be the Patriots pressure on Manning, which won’t be a major headline anywhere you look.

There were two 99 yard touchdowns this season. The first came in week one, where Brady hit Wes Welker for a 99 yard touchdown against the Dolphins. The other came in week 16 where Manning hit Victor Cruz for a 99 yard score against the Jets. Welker had the number one statistical season in 2011, somewhat forgotten behind the tight end play. Cruz was the fifth best receiver during the regular season. Cruz was also second in the league in 40+ yard catches with nine during the regular season. Despite splitting catches, Cruz and teammate Hakeem Nicks are the top two receivers this postseason, with six 20+ yard catches, and two 40+ yard catches from Nicks.

Fantasy Frenzy: Week 5

Tim Tebow almost led the Denver Broncos to a dramatic comeback victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday, sparking a quarterback controversy. If he wins the job, he could be worth picking up.
Tim Tebow almost led the Denver Broncos to a dramatic comeback victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday, sparking a quarterback controversy. If he wins the job, he could be worth picking up.

Week 5 of the fantasy season is in the books. Here are a few fantasy players who had scorching performances, plus a few who made owners shake their heads in disgust.

Victor Cruz,
New York Giants

One great game can be an anomaly and two can still be a fluke. But when you get to three, it becomes a trend. Cruz has now ascended into trend territory after an eight-catch 161-yard day against the Seahawks. This is the third straight game where he has 98 yards or more, and he is quickly becoming Eli Manning’s second favorite receiver behind Hakeem Nicks.

Tim Tebow,
Denver Broncos

The NFL’s most talked about backup finally saw the field after starter Kyle Orton struggled in the first half, and he performed well. Tebow passed for 79 yards and made a real impact running the ball, finishing the day with 16 points in ESPN leagues. Denver is heading into its bye week and with a full-blown quarterback controversy, but look for the former Heisman winner to come out on top.

A.J. Green,
Cincinnati Bengals

The rookie has quietly been one of the most consistent options at wide receiver this year, putting up 10 or more points in each of his first four games. Expect Green to keep it up next week with the Bengals taking on a weak Colts secondary.

Thomas Jones,
Kansas City Chiefs

He just hasn’t gotten the job done filling in for Jamaal Charles. Jones is only averaging three points a game since becoming the starter and — even worse — he hasn’t averaged more than 3.3 yards a carry in any of those games. Jones should ride your bench for a while and, if he doesn’t turn it around quickly, should be dropped for a steadier option.

Mario Manningham,
New York Giants

As Cruz has gone up in the Giants pecking order, Manningham has fallen. He has not had more than five fantasy points yet, and since coming back from injury two weeks ago, has only been targeted six times. Watch carefully next week to see his targets, and if they’re lower than Cruz’s, it might be time to hit the waiver wire.

Kevin Kolb,
Arizona Cardinals

Four points from your quarterback: ouch. That was the number Kolb put up this week, following a five point-performance the week before. With little talent outside other than Larry Fitzgerald, Kolb is struggling. Therefore, he should never see the light of your
starting lineup.

Printed on October 11, 2011 as: Cruz becoming reliable fantasy option

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reacts in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Take that, Brady. You too, Peyton.

Eli Manning is the big man in the NFL after one-upping Tom Brady and leading the New York Giants to a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl — in older brother Peyton's house, at that.

Just as Manning did four years ago when the Giants ruined New England's perfect season, he guided them 88 yards to the decisive touchdown, which the Patriots didn't contest as Ahmad Bradshaw ran 6 yards with 57 seconds left.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick reasoned the Giants would run the clock down and kick a short field goal, so he gambled by allowing the six points.

The gamble failed.

And now Manning not only has stamped himself as the elite quarterback he claimed to be when the season began — in the same class as Brady — he’s beaten the Patriots in two thrilling Super Bowls. The Giants (13-7), who stood 7-7 in mid-December, now own the football world, and Manning owns two Super Bowl MVP awards — the same number as Brady.

“It's been a wild game, a wild season,” Manning said. “This isn't about one person. It's about one team, a team coming together.”

Manning led six comeback victories during the season and set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes. He showed that brilliance in the clutch on the winning drive. He completed five passes, including a sensational 38-yard sideline catch by Mario Manningham to open the drive.

On second down at the Patriots 6 and with only one timeout remaining, Belichick had his defense stand up as Bradshaw took the handoff. Bradshaw thought about stopping short of the end zone, then tumbled in untouched.

“I was yelling to him, ‘Don't score, don't score,’” Manning said. “He tried to stop, but he fell into the end zone.”

Brady couldn't answer in the final 57 seconds, although his desperation pass into the end zone on the final play fell just beyond the grasp of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. New England (15-4), winner of 10 straight since a loss to the Giants in November, was done.

Brady headed off with his head bowed, holding his helmet, while around him was the wild celebration by the Giants, NFL champions for the eighth — and perhaps most unlikely — time.

“Great toughness, great faith, and great plays by a number of guys today,” Manning said, deflecting some of the attention. Still, he one-upped Brady. And Peyton.

“It just feels good to win a Super Bowl, it doesn't matter where you are,” Manning said.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy goes back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in his first preseason game of the year.

As the University prepares for its first chance to step onto the field after the 5-7 debacle, many of its alumni are already making plays at the next level. Possibly the most notable of which is second year quarterback Colt McCoy for the Cleveland Browns. Through the first two preseason games, McCoy has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL, and is nearing his college numbers with a 67.9 completion percentage. He tossed three touchdowns in last week’s loss to the Lions and has quickly adapted to the West Coast office under the offseason tutelage of Brett Favre. He did have a poor showing Thursday against the Eagles, completing just half his passes and an interception.

Cleveland will begin the season at home against the woeful Cincinnati Bengals, then head to Indianapolis to square-off against a possibly Manning-less Colts team. They then play at home against a Miami Dolphins team trying to find an identity. It is not out of the question that McCoy could lead a rising Cleveland team to a surprise 3-0 start.

Injury plagued cornerback gets giant second chance

In only the second preseason game, the New York Giants already find themselves with an injury problem. Starting Cornerback Terrell Thomas went down with a torn ACL, and will miss the entire season. The injury bug has forced Aaron Ross into a much more prominent position in the Giants defensive backfield. He has 140 career tackles and six interceptions, and the former Thorpe Award winner should see those numbers increase as he enters his fifth year in the NFL, and will again be a starter at cornerback for the Giants. Ross has been fighting injuries himself for the last couple of seasons, which slid him out of the starting lineup, and into the nickel package with Thomas going inside. Ross saw extended play against the Chicago Bears on Monday night, where he often went against fellow Texas alum Roy Williams.

Jermichael Finley recovered, ready for comeback

In Green Bay, Tight End Jermichael Finley was on his way to a career season before an injury shortened his season. Finley was the Packers leading receiver through the first four games of last season, and had already posted two 100 yard receiving games. But he injured his knee early in the fifth game of the season against Washington trying to make a tackle. He was forced to the sideline and had to watch as his team marched to a Super Bowl victory. Finley, though says that he is in shape and “a little slimmer, faster and stronger.” While he hasn’t been able to work out while rehabbing his knee, he has been studying film of other tight ends like the Chargers Antonio Gates, and the Falcons Tony Gonzalez in order to help his game as he prepares for upcoming season which is sure to cement his position as an elite tight end in the NFL. For Green Bay, he will be one of many players coming off injury that will have to reincorporated into a championship team.