I can’t begin to start listing the things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for my family, my incredible fiancée, my amazing friends, and the many dogs in my life. And you know what? I’m thankful for football on Thanksgiving. It’s fun watching the men in my family hover from their plates to the TV trying to catch a glimpse of the game. On a day we spend so much time with family, we also spend time with our pals Calvin Johnson, Tyron Smith, and Matt Forte.
This particular turkey day gives us three in-division matchups with huge implications in the standings. The Bears travel to the Motor City for a matchup with Matthew Stafford and the Lions. Two 8-3 teams in the Eagles and Cowboys square off with a division lead in their sights. And finally in the nightcap, the defending NFC champion Seahawks take a trip South to San Fran to meet up with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers.
Let’s take a minute to break each down (obviously with an eye towards fantasy) and get a better taste of what’s to come this Thursday.
***At the bottom of the article, I’ve listed some fantasy D’s to keep an eye on when looking towards playoff matchups.***
Email me at FantasyDecisions@gmail.com with any questions you may have or any lineup help you need. I’m the expert tool at your fingertips
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
For the visiting Bears, this matchup is very fantasy unfriendly and reality-unfriendly as well. The Lions may be coming off a beating at the hands of one Tom Brady, but don’t think for a moment that they’re going to lie down for this game. They know it’s going to take their best effort to beat the Bears and keep pace with the in-division rival Packers. The Lions rank as the 3rd, 4th, and 9th toughest defense, respectively, against QBs, WRs, and RBs. With such a tough matchup, I’m not a fan of Jay Cuter this week. While he has great receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Cutler has struggled recently (failed to reach 10 fantasy points in three of the last five weeks). Temper expectations for your Bears pass catching options. As for Forte though, he’s an automatic play and you hope he can continue his momentum from last week’s two-touchdown performance. If Chicago is going to have a chance, it’s key for them to get the ground game going early.
As for the Lions, this game sets up picture-perfect for Stafford and his receivers. Megatron (Calvin Johnson) could easily go off for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns on this weak secondary that’s been getting lit up week after week. I could see the Lions jumping out to an early lead on the arm of the Georgia product. Therefore, I really like the potential of Joique Bell this week. I think they’re going to try to control the clock and force Cutler to sling it around on the other side of the ball. If Reggie Bush is announced as being inactive, Joique moves to top 15 RB status for me. And for one last note on the Lions: I really like Matt Prater. You won’t catch me talking about kickers too frequently but this matchup is the best you can hope for at the position. The Bears have allowed the most points to kickers on the year and Prater has a booming leg. And a booming leg inside Detroit’s cozy dome spells fantasy success.
Prediction: Lions 27 – Bears 17
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
For the Eagles, this game is a chance for them to stake their claim as the best team in the division and a legitimate super bowl contender. Their warp-speed offense under Chip Kelly will look to showoff on the national stage. A couple guys to note in this fast-paced frenzy are Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, though, I’m afraid Maclin is really going to struggle this week. For as much as they were criticized for their awful defense last year, the Cowboys have patched together a very formidable group. Before getting torched by Odell Beckham Jr. Sunday night, the Cowboys secondary had only allowed three touchdowns to receivers in the past seven weeks. Since Mark Sanchez has taken the reins, Maclin has taken a hit, having only accumulated 23 points over the past three weeks combined. However, Eagles fans, there is hope. And that hope is in the form of one shift RB named LeSean McCoy. After seemingly being primed for a big game all year long, McCoy finally put the yards and touchdowns together last week against the Titans, going for 130 yards and a touchdown on only 21 attempts. And I think “Shady” continues his success in Big D. The Boys have given up five rushing TDs over the past four weeks and RBs are averaging better than four yards a carry as well. This screams big game for one LeSean McCoy.
As for “America’s Team”, this game against the Eagles presents one huge, huge mismatch and I fully expect the Cowboys to exploit it. Over the past five weeks, the Eagles have given up nine touchdowns to WRs. Dez must be getting his “Throw up the X” celebration ready. I think he might absolutely go off. I’m not doing rankings this week, but he would probably be my top option at the position. The Eagles are not only the worst in the league against receivers, but they’re the second worst against QBs as well. The Romo-to-Dez connection is going to be visited frequently Thursday and I expect a smashing success. But, no Cowboys preview is complete without mentioning the league’s leading rusher, Mr. DeMarco Murray. The Eagles are giving up an average of 18 points to RBs over the past four weeks, and I think Murray makes that number even bigger. Do me a favor, please start your Dallas studs, not that you weren’t already. Dez and DeMarco are as automatic as can be, and I think Romo should be an absolute start unless you have Luck, Manning, Rodgers, or Brady.
Prediction: Cowboys 31 – Eagles 20
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
For the Seahawks, this looks like a bad, bad matchup on almost every level. Russell Wilson is a “sit” for me this week going up against the number one fantasy passing defense. I could be wrong, but I just have a feeling Russell really struggles. And to make matters worse, Marshawn Lynch has some tough sledding as well. The 49ers have been the fifth toughest run defense on the year and will look to slow down “Beast Mode”. Having given up only one touchdown in the past 4 weeks, San Francisco has been stout when it matters. However, Marshawn remains a must start, and there is some light in the situation. Four of the last seven RBs to face the 49ers have had at least 100 yards rushing. While I think Lynch’s ceiling may be somewhat limited this week, I think he gets enough yards to make you comfortable starting him.
Much the same for the team by the bay, this looks like a defensive struggle in the making. Colin Kaepernick is going up against the second toughest team against the pass, and his receivers are going up against the top rated secondary in football. With only one passing touchdown allowed in their last three games, this is the week to bench your 49er passing options. And the news doesn’t get much better for the backfield. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde will have a tough time finding many holes against a defensive front that has allowed a 100 yard rusher only twice through week 12. Both backs are touchdown-dependent anyways so play at your own risk.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are off to an uncharacteristically bad start.
The team is 2-2 and is coming off one of the worst losses in the Belichick-Brady era losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 on Monday Night Football. The Patriot’s struggles were also shown in Week 3 as they barely defeated the winless Oakland Raiders 16-9 at home.
Though, there are no reasons for Patriot’s fans to worry about making the playoffs since the Patriots have easily won their division 11 times in the past 13 years and the rest of the teams in the AFC East are also struggling this season. However, there is reason to believe the Patriots will not perform well in the playoffs.
On Monday Night, Brady was just 14 for 23 against the Chiefs with two fumbles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and only 159 passing yards. Brady was also 1-7 on passes down field and was sacked twice.
Brady’s performance indicated that the New England offense needs a lot of help in order to compete in the AFC. However, Brady’s performance cannot be the entire blame on the outcome of the game or on the season. He needs help.
The Patriot’s offensive line has struggled ever since they traded away Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After losing a veteran in Mankins, the offensive line has become very inexperienced with two starting rookies-- Brian Stork at center and Cameron Fleming at right guard. The inexperience can be seen week in and week out due to a collapsing pocket that doesn’t give Brady a lot of time to make a decision. The offensive line has also affected the running game as all three New England running backs rushed for a combined 75 yards on Monday.
Brady also doesn’t have the weapons he needs for the Patriot’s to become a serious threat in the AFC. Tight End Rob Gronkowski isn’t his old explosive self due to injuries the past two seasons and has a drop percentage of 7.4% this season, the worst of his career. Wide receivers Brandon Lafell and Danny Ammendola have been extremely unsuccessful at getting open all season. Only wide receiver Julian Edelman has proved to be Brady’s dependable option but Brady needs more than Edelman.
Some skeptics believe that the Brady era in New England is over. When asked about a possible quarterback change, Belichick gave a blank stare of idiocy to the crowd of journalists.
At the end of the day, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. He still knows how to win football games. He is a future Hall of Fame quarterback and can make average players into good players even at age 37. That being said, he is 37 and is nearing the end of his career. Tom Brady has done all that he can to help improve this team even by taking a big pay cut to allow the Patriots to make key acquisitions on the defensive side of the ball by signing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and star corner back Darrelle Revis. But he still needs help from the offensive line and the receivers in order for the Patriots to reach their full potential.
January 19, 2014 2 p.m.CST
Spread: Denver -5 ½
When I originally started to write this, I tried hard to avoid the Brady vs. Manning narrative. However, the more research that was done, the more I realized that the Brady-Manning narrative defines this game.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady meet again for their fifteenth match-up against each other. Brady has dominated the head-to head series, leading with a 10-4 record. More importantly Brady is 2-1 against Manning in the playoffs.
However, this game will be much different than the previous fourteen. This is the chance for Manning to overcome his doubters. Although Manning has statistically had one of the best careers of all-time, Manning has been defined by his struggles in the playoffs. Over the years, Manning has faltered in the postseason—only posting a 10-11 record.
Manning’s career has been defined by his head-to-head matchup against Brady. Brady has stood in Manning’s way throughout his career. The first, and only, time Manning beat Brady in the playoffs led to his only Super Bowl victory.
As Manning’s career comes to a close, this could be the final Brady vs. Manning playoff matchup. It is a chance for Manning to beat Brady one more time and lead his Broncos to a Super Bowl.
The narrative for Brady isn’t much different. Brady has made five super bowl appearances and won three.
But Brady hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi trophy since 2005. An AFC Championship win over Manning and a Super Bowl win will add to his legacy as one of the best quarterbacks of all-time.
As for the team matchups, the Broncos and Patriots represent two opposite offenses.
The Broncos are a pass happy team. Manning threw for a NFL record 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards. Manning and the Broncos throw the ball because they have great receivers—Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas.
The Patriots are a team dedicated to running the ball. With a stable of solid running backs—Legarrette Blount, Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden—the Patriots have had success pounding the rock. Blount showed the Patriots dedication to the run with a four touchdown performance against the Colts in the AFC Divisional round.
Both defenses are average but the Broncos have been ravaged with injuries. Denver will be without outside linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris and defensive end Derek Wolfe.
With the narrative set, the winner of the AFC Championship game will be determined by which quarterback plays the best. Will Manning prevail over Brady or will it be Brady once again walking off a winner against Peyton Manning?
NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks
January 19, 2014 5:30 p.m. CST
Spread: Seattle -3 ½
The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks will play their third game this season when the 49ers travel to Seattle to play in the NFC Championship game.
The 49ers will be playing in their third consecutive NFC Championship game and will look to advance their second Super Bowl in-a-row.
The Seahawks return for to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2006.
The two teams split their regular season matchup. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers in Seattle 29-3 and the 49ers won in San Francisco 19-17.
The Seahawks and 49ers have equally great offensive and defensive units.
The Seahawks and 49ers possess top ten defenses. The 49ers rank fourth in total defense and the Seahawks in ninth.
The Seahawks arguably have the best secondary in the NFL led by Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman.
The 49ers boast one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowmen, Aldon Smith and Carlos Rogers lead the defense.
The Seahawks and 49ers offenses are led by two of the NFL’s rising stars—Russell Wilson and Collin Kaepernick, respectively.
The 49ers have a reliable running back in Frank Gore and Seahawks have a dominant back in Marshawn Lynch.
Although both teams mirror each other, the Seahawks have a clear home field advantage. Known for their rambunctious crowd, CenturyLink Field is one of the loudest stadiums in all of sports.
The key to the game will be the 49ers overcoming the Seahawks home-field advantage. The 49ers have lost their last two game in Seattle by a combined 71-16.
Will the Seahawks continue their home domination over the 49ers or will the 49ers defeat the Seahawks in Seattle and advance to their second consecutive super bowl?
What is the easiest way for a player to find his way into the “rising” section of my column? Out-play Peyton Manning. Luck had arguably the best game of his career, as he combined for four touchdowns, dominated the passing game, and made strong runs at key points in the game. Reggie Wayne’s torn ACL doesn’t help Luck moving forward, but he will land on his feet.
Don’t expect Helu to repeat his three touchdown performance from this week, but it does mean something. Alfred Morris has never been a three-down back, and Helu runs particularly strong in the red zone. There might be a real place for him in this offense.
Douglas turned out an eye-opening 149-yard, one-touchdown performance this past Sunday. Douglas was expected to put up strong numbers after Julio Jones went out for the year, but even I didn’t expect this. We still don’t know how Roddy White’s inevitable return will effect Douglas’ numbers, but I have a feeling that he will be just fine.
It is officially time to panic. The whole football world waited on Rob Gronkowski to return from injury and help re-establish Tom Brady as an elite quarterback. This past week, Gronkowski had a solid game, but Brady only threw for 228 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. I never thought I’d say this, but it may be time to start benching Tom Brady.
Vincent Jackson is a much, much better receiver than Williams. Williams’ only hope at salvaging his season was to build some strong chemistry with new quarterback Mike Glennon. But Glennon, like his predecessor Josh Freeman, only looks for Jackson on the field. Williams will score a touchdown every third game or so, but shouldn’t receive for over 60 yards and shouldn’t have a consistent spot in anyone’s starting roster.
Remember when I said to reserve judgment on some strong Week 1 performances? That Week 1 is just as likely to be an anomaly as any other week? I was really just speaking on Jared Cook. Cook finally looked poised to break out after a 141-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 1. Since then he has not gained over four fantasy points in a single game. To put that into perspective, he had six more fantasy points in week one than he has had total in Weeks 2 through 7. This is the Jared Cook that we know and can’t stand.
DALLAS -- Going into last December’s Alamo Bowl against Oregon State, Texas was coming off losses to TCU and Kansas State to end its regular season. Although it was not publicly known, David Ash was nursing broken ribs.
But he wasn’t going to let that keep him from helping the Longhorns end the season with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Beavers. Before erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit that night, Ash sat down with head coach Mack Brown, a conversation he remembers vividly.
“Who’s your favorite pro quarterback?” Brown asked.
“I really like Tom Brady,” Ash said.
“Well, why do you like Tom Brady?” Brown asked his sophomore quarterback.
“Well, I just think he’s good,” Ash responded.
“You’ve bought into him. You think he’s going to win the game,” Brown told Ash. “You have to make your teammates buy into you just like everybody buys into Tom Brady and you have to do something that makes them think that something good’s about to happen.”
After two years going back and forth between backup and starter, the team is his. It’s been his since the 31-27 triumph over Oregon State when he channeled his inner Tom Brady and solidified himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12.
“His comeback in the Alamo Bowl really helped with our team, with his confidence, and I think he’ll have a big year,” Brown said. “He’s leading the team much better and they believe in him right now.”
The only two quarterbacks to lead Texas to a Big 12 title and national championship game appearance – Vince Young and Colt McCoy – made tremendous leaps from their sophomore to junior seasons.
Young threw for 1,849 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 59.2 percent of his passes as a sophomore in 2004 before drastically improving his passing numbers the following year. In 2005, Young became the first Division I-A quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and run for another 1,000, completing 65.2 percent of his passes while throwing 26 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Texas won its first national title in 35 years that season.
McCoy threw for 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while completing 65.1 percent of his throws – all career-worsts – as a sophomore in 2007. The next year, McCoy was brilliant, posting a 76.7 completion percentage while racking up 3,859 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“There were times last year he played like Colt and he played like Vince and looked as good as anybody in the country,” Brown said. “And then there were other times when he struggled some. But we think we’ve got better players around him now. We should be better in the offensive line. He is much more confident than at any time.”
Ash worked with McCoy and Young this offseason, refining his mechanics and taking valuable advice on his leadership skills. He’s hoping to make the same improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons that McCoy and Young did.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys would be quite an honor,” Ash said. “[Vince] said you don’t have to be anybody you’re not. You just have to be you. Just make sure you’re always visible and you’re available to your teammates…With Colt, I learned a lot about fundamentals. Colt’s a technician with his feet. We have a similar style. He’s a footwork guy. He’s accurate. He’s got good timing. He’s smart. He makes plays with his feet. That’s the same way I want to play.”
Ash is one of two quarterbacks with 18 career starts under his belt, the other being TCU’s Casey Pachall, who returns to the Horned Frogs after unenrolling from the school and completing a substance abuse rehabilitation program last year. Pachall was not among the two quarterbacks at Big 12 Media Days this week (Ash and Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who has yet to play a down for the Jayhawks since transferring from BYU in 2011).
“A lot of the teams have had their guy and now they’re starting to work on a new guy,” Ash said. “That doesn’t mean that guy’s not going to be good. It just means he hasn’t earned the right to come to Big 12 Media Days. That’s all that means. That means I’ve been here two years. I’m thankful my coaches thought I’d earned the right to come to Big 12 Media Days.”
Texas has lofty goals this season, winning the Big 12 and contending for a national title among them. These are feats accomplished by the Longhorns only with Young and McCoy under center. Ash has taken their advice to heart and is looking to deliver Texas to the same heights they did.
When Joe Flacco said he thought he was the best quarterback in the NFL in a radio interview last April, most people thought he was crazy.
I know I did.
It was like saying Crocs had the most swag in the market when they came out.
Eli Manning went through the same type of scrutiny when he claimed that he was one of the quarterback "elites" in 2011, and he had to win the Super Bowl just to prove that claim. Surely, Flacco knew better than to make an assertion that exceeded a two-time Super Bowl champion.
But throughout the season I watched, as did others who doubted, as Flacco outperformed his opponents, defeating supposed superiors throughout the postseason and amid the purple and white confetti it was he who held the Lombardi Trophy, smiling as if to say, “I told you so.”
After throwing for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions throughout the playoffs and earning Super Bowl MVP honors, Flacco proved his claim with the best postseason performance by any quarterback since Joe Montana in 1989.
Here's that list of quarterbacks who I thought were better than Flacco, and how Flacco proved me wrong. In short, the five-year quarterback out of the University of Delaware went mad scientist on everybody, and it was he who had the last laugh.
Quarterbacks better than Flacco (as of last April)
1. Aaron Rodgers
For one, I don’t see Flacco saving anyone money on their auto insurance. Secondly, he needs to earn MVP status before he passes Rodgers. With 45 touchdowns and six interceptions on the year, Rodgers put up video game-like numbers, leading the Packers to a 15-1 season. One of the few flaws to his season came in the Divisional Playoffs, being outplayed by Eli Manning, another quarterback seeking elite status.
As reigning Super Bowl MVP, Flacco earned the status I said was necessary. In contrast to Rodgers, his video game-like numbers came in the postseason with 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in four games; the best playoffs performance by a quarterback since Joe Montana in 1989. There are three quarterbacks in NFL history who everyone wants to be compared to: Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, and John Elway. Flacco’s got one. But unlike Rodgers, he won’t be saving anyone money with the contract he will be receiving.
2. Drew Brees
After breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing record that had stood for 27 years, I thought Brees was on his way to being named league MVP. Like Rodgers, Brees has proved essential to the team’s success, bringing it from the bottom of the NFC South to Super Bowl champions only two years ago. With 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns on the season, Brees has stated a better case for being named “the best” along with his leadership role with his teammates.
Brees had almost the same success in the 2012 season as he had in the year prior, and his team missed the playoffs. Although they were without Sean Payton for the year, I still believe that disproves my theory of Brees’ vitality to the team’s success, or at least diminishes it. However, Brees just may be the closest argument to Flacco’s claim. Brees threw the ball almost 140 more times than Flacco, and without the consistent running game and defense that Baltimore possesses, New Orleans was in more of a position to pass the ball more frequently. There are many arguments that can be made for Brees’ case against Flacco, but Flacco can always play the “I’m the Super Bowl MVP” trump card. We are talking about the present, anyway.
3. Tom Brady
Although Flacco outperformed Brady in the AFC Championship (2011), one cannot argue against the consistency that Brady has had. Throughout the season (2011), Tom Brady’s performance in the AFC Championship was the only game in which he threw for more interceptions than touchdowns. Although Brady is in a more pass-oriented system that has given him 70 more attempts than Flacco, he has completed around 10 percent more of his passes and threw the same number of interceptions.
Flacco has not only once again outplayed Tom Brady in the postseason, but improved his completion percentage, pulling within three points of Brady. Flacco also showed maturity throughout the postseason, completing deep passes that he normally would have thrown inaccurately, such as the 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones that sent the Ravens into overtime with the Denver Broncos.
4. Peyton Manning
Even with three neck surgeries in a span of 19 months hanging a veil of uncertainty over his future, Peyton Manning is higher up the ladder than Flacco. Manning is almost his own offense. He is crazy smart and picks defenses apart. Earlier I discussed how essential Brees was to the Saints. The Colts went 2-14 without Manning. Now that Denver has claimed him, it will be interesting to see how the No. 1 rushing offense will adapt with Manning. He might be at the tail end of his career, but his name is about to go right alongside Unitas, Montana, and Elway when it comes to greatness, and I think even at his lowest point he will outperform Flacco.
This argument will sound much like the case against Brady. Manning gets the credit for being able to bounce back after a season-ending injury like he had. I don’t know what exactly they did over in Europe (perhaps moose antler spray), but Peyton was certainly back up to speed. In fact, he threw for more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than he did when he took the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009. So why is Flacco better? For some reason I keep likening these comparisons to a schoolyard fight. You’ve got the big kid versus the average kid, and all day before recess everybody makes their predictions based on what they can see. Well in this case, Manning’s the big kid and Flacco’s the average kid. Manning has the better statistics and he’s beaten up all the other kids that have come through the fourth grade as he’s been held back (metaphorically speaking). But head-to-head, in the midst of the fight, Flacco outperforms. He makes the big plays, he throws for more yardage, more touchdowns and a higher completion percentage in their Divisional Playoff matchup. In that sense, I consider him the better quarterback. But I guess it depends on what you value. By the most current sense of the word, Flacco is better than Peyton Manning.
5. Eli Manning
I decided to put Eli up here because I feel this leads up well to the point I’m trying to make: You have to earn your spot to be listed up here. Eli went out on a limb and said he was "elite," then played elite, beating most of the quarterbacks on this list along the way. So Flacco… Your turn.
Flacco certainly followed up with his turn, beginning his case ironically against the Giants in Week 16 when he threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-14 win that gave the initial nudge that was the falling out of New York’s season. From then on he would not throw another interception, outperforming Eli and the rest of those on this list in backing up his claim.
Flacco and the Ravens organization will now enter the offseason, writing up what many expect to be a very sizable contract. But who knows if Flacco will accept the
offer? He might think he’s worth more. He is mad after all.
In game that few people expected them to be a part of, the Baltimore Ravens enter Sunday as nine-point underdogs to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. However, the Ravens and fifth-year Quarterback Joe Flacco weren’t phased by similar circumstance last week, when they went into Denver and pulled out a double overtime victory over the Broncos. Can they do it again? Here are a few storylines to follow heading into Sunday’s AFC showdown:
1) Oh, You Again
The Pats and Ravens are very familiar with each other, as Sunday’s game will make it their second straight meeting in the AFC Championship game and third playoff contest in the past four years. Although New England is virtually unbeatable at home in the playoffs, Baltimore blew them out 33-14 in 2009 and narrowly lost 20-23 after Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Clearly, the Ravens aren’t afraid of heading into Foxborough.
2) Matchup to Watch: Aqib Talib vs. Torrey Smith
Plenty will be made of the chess match between QB Tom Brady and LB Ray Lewis in this game, and rightfully so. However, a matchup that may be more intriguing will be between Pats’ corner Aqib Talif and Ravens’ wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith burnt New England for 126 yards and two touchdowns when the two teams met earlier this season, and hauled in another two last week with veteran corner Champ Bailey covering him. However, Talib, who New England acquired from Tampa Bay midseason, has brought some swagger to the Patriot defense with his fiery attitude and physical style of play. Can he contain Smith? The answer to that may determine this game’s outcome.
3) Can Joe Flacco Win the Big One?
Flacco’s been heavily critiqued over the past several years, as many people in the sports world have begun to wonder whether or not he has what it takes to win a championship, despite the fact that he is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. After last week’s victory in Denver in which Flacco threw three touchdowns and outplayed four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, people had better start acknowledging his abilities. However, out-dueling Tom Brady in Foxborough is never easy, even if Flacco has done it before.
Although Baltimore is no pushover and will give the Pats all they can handle, New England just has too many weapons on the offensive side, even with Rob Gronkowski out with a broken forearm. With Tom Brady playing like well, Tom Brady, and their defense playing its best football of the year, New England will make enough plays to defeat Joe Flacco and the Ravens.
Whether it was from turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving or shopping for flat screen televisions and mp3 players on Black Friday, this week was not kind to the bodies of millions of Americans. Exhausted and full, what better way to rest up from a long week than to sit back, relax, and watch some football? With their fantasy owners on the mend, these players stepped in and gave them something to be thankful for:
1) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Playing for the first time on Monday Night Football, Newton shook his sophomore slump and looked like the dominant player he was in his rookie season, leading Carolina to a 30-22 win in Philadelphia. Newton did it with his legs and his arm, throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns in addition to rushing for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Brady and the Pats capped off the NFL’s Thanksgiving games by thrashing the Jets on national television, 49-19. As was expected, Brady dissected the Jets, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns while running for another. For the season, he now has 24 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
3) Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant looked incredible for the second week in a row, torching the Redskins for his second straight 145-yard receiving game. Although the Cowboys’ frenzied attempt to rally from a 28-3 halftime deficit fell short, Bryant did his part by hauling in two touchdowns in second half of the game.
Another week and another group of players have shocked the fantasy football world, for better or for worse. Although fantasy owners no doubt wish they could have predicted these performances, that is impossible. In case you missed them, here are the fantasy football studs and duds for the NFL’s fourth week of games:
1) Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins
With the help of rookie Ryan Tannehill, Hartline exploded against the Arizona Cardinals, breaking Miami’s previous single-game receiving record with 253 receiving yards. Hartline was active throughout the game, gathering 12 catches, including a go-ahead 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Despite being labeled by his critics as only a possession receiver, Hartline proved Sunday that he is more than capable of taking over a game with his speed.
2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
After consecutive losses to the Cardinals and Ravens, some people around the NFL were beginning to doubt Tom Terrific and the Patriots’ status among the league’s elite. Seriously? Brady made sure to quiet any naysayers, torching the Buffalo Bills on Sunday to ensure everybody knows the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East. Led by Brady’s 340 passing yards and four total touchdowns, the Pats erupted for 45 second-half points, routing the Bills, 52-28.
3) San Francisco 49ers Defense
The 49ers fielded a defense full of studs Sunday afternoon against the Jets, outscoring New York’s offense 7-0 while holding Mark Sanchez and company to just 145 total yards in a 34-0 shutout. Along with sacking Sanchez three times and intercepting one of his passes, San Francisco’s defense forced three fumbles, one of which cornerback Carlos Rogers returned for a touchdown.
1) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Maclin was a no-show Sunday night against the Giants, registering just one catch for seven yards despite playing the entire game. Although his performance was hindered by a lingering hip injury, which kept him out of the Eagles’ last game, Maclin’s inability to get open on struggling Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara came as a surprise.
2) Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
Sanchez looked awful against the 49ers on Sunday, completing just 13 of his 29 passes for 103 yards. Along with completing less than half of his passes, Sanchez also fumbled and was intercepted. If Sanchez continues to struggle, expect the chants for Tim Tebow to get louder and louder as each week passes.
3) Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Six days after throwing the infamous last-play “touchdown” against the Packers, even the officials would not have been able to save Wilson from himself. The Seahawks’ signal-caller struggled against the Rams’ improved defense, passing for 160 yards and three interceptions while failing to throw a touchdown for the first time this season.
Miami quarterback Matt Moore has led the Dolphins to wins in five of their last seven games, throwing 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions during that span.
Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton hasn’t had as much luck racking up victories for the 5-9 Panthers but has scored 30 touchdowns and is on pace to amass nearly 5,000 total yards this season.
Texas native Andy Dalton, a rookie quarterback like Newton, has helped Cincinnati double its win total from last year as the 8-6 Bengals have a chance to reach the postseason for just the third time since 1990.
But thanks to Tim Tebow, nobody cares about that. Not nearly as much as they care about the God-fearing former Florida star who Linda Cohn called the “Mile High Messiah” on SportsCenter Saturday night.
The next day, Tebow and the Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots, 41-23. Denver built a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter, a shocking development considering how slowly Tebow usually started games. But Tom Brady – a three-time Super Bowl champ who somehow took a back seat to Tebow last week – and the Patriots reeled off 27 unanswered points en route to beating the Broncos.
How fans, TV analysts, writers, and sports radio talk show hosts will react in the coming days remains to be seen. But one thing is certain – they will be talking about Tim Tebow, just like they have since the season began. There are the apologists and cynics, supporters and doubters, lovers and haters. And because of the polarizing figure Tebow has become, there isn’t much gray area for people to roam. You have to pick a side.
It’s not Tebow’s fault. It’s those that cover him – those that declare “Tebowing” an actual word, those that air “’Twas the Night Before Tebow” songs the night before he plays, and those that provide fuel to the Tebow fire that has engulfed the NFL.
Tebow’s and the Broncos’ story is a remarkable one but one that has been framed in the wrong way, that is, every twist and turn has been framed in terms of Tebow. Denver’s most recent contest should be seen as another dominating performance by Brady, Belicheck, and the Patriots that saw Tebow deliver a promising performance. Nonetheless, Tebow is sure to get the lion’s share of attention.
The Broncos’ most recent victory could have been perceived as one of the year’s most entertaining games and improbable comebacks. Denver could not have triumphed without all three of its units coming through down the stretch – believe it or not, multiple players were responsible for the victory.
That seemed like the obvious way to look at the game, considering the fact that Bears tailback Marion Barber lost a fumble in overtime, a scenario made possible by Matt Prater’s 59-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation. Prater’s 51-yard boot sealed the Broncos’ 13-10 win in overtime. But you didn’t hear nearly as much about the clutch kicker as you did about his quarterback.
Instead, the mainstream sports media has put Tebow on a pedestal he’ll fall off of eventually. He certainly stumbled Sunday. The second-year signal-caller threw for close to 200 yards, ran for nearly another 100, and scored twice against a mediocre New England defense. But he lost 53 yards on four sacks and a fumble that led to a Tom Brady touchdown run that would provide the Patriots with all the points they would need.
Tebow is an average quarterback with below-average passing skills and above-average mobility. His uncanny ability to make plays when it matters most is undeniable and he doesn’t turn the ball over often. His teammates clearly feed off his unyielding will to win and play better because they’re around him.
But Tebow is by no means an elite NFL quarterback and far from one that can lead a team to the Super Bowl. He hasn’t even completed half of his passes this season. Calling Tebow “a winner” would not be entirely accurate because it does a disservice to the Broncos’ much-improved defense and Prater, one of the league’s best kickers. One should correct themselves and characterize Denver’s team “a winner” before making that mistake.
And don’t call me a Tebow hater. I’m a Tebow realist.