NFL Football Column: Fantasy Impact
NFL Week 16
Last week: Straight up: 8-8; ATS: 7-9
The Falcons hope a strong finish to the regular season will help build enough momentum to avoid another early playoff exit. The visiting Falcons can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs by handing the Lions a seventh consecutive loss Saturday night. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will make the plays necessary to secure the win. The only real bright spot for Detroit is star Calvin Johnson, who needs 182 yards to break Jerry Rice's single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards from 1995. Detroit keeps things close at home, and should fight hard here after last week's embarrassment.
ATS: Lions +4
With Mark Sanchez benched, Greg McElroy moves past Tim Tebow on the depth chart and will get his first start as New York hosts the spiraling Chargers on Sunday. GMac's job is simple: don't turn the ball over. He does not have the reps to take the team on his back and win, but he can keep them from losing, unlike Sanchez. The Jets and Chargers are eliminated from playoff contention, and may be two of the biggest disappointments in the AFC. San Diego will be without their top rusher and receiver for the final two games. The Chargers placed Ryan Mathews and Malcom Floyd on injured reserve Tuesday along with Reggie Wells, who had started at right tackle the past two games. I like the Jet's defense to rattle Rivers and get the win for the home team.
ATS: Jets -2.5
While not eliminated from playoff contention, the Rams are very close to seeing their postseason hopes end - something that's already happened for the Buccaneers. The Bucs have won all four matchups in Tampa since the Rams moved to St. Louis and have a five-game home win streak against the franchise. Still, it is very apparent that TB has given up, much like last year. Doug Martin has hit the rookie wall and Josh Freeman is a shell of his early-season self. The Rams are playing better football, and that will show on Sunday. Expect a nice game from Sam Bradford, Danny Amendola and crew.
ATS: Rams +3
The Bengals have lost their last nine meetings against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but they'll play them both over the final two weeks starting Sunday as they try to keep their division title hopes alive - while eliminating the host Steelers from the playoff race entirely. Beating the Bengals this week and the Browns at home in Week 17 would guarantee the Steelers a wild-card spot, while two victories plus a pair of Baltimore losses would give them the division. In their earlier meeting in Cincy, A.J. Green managed just 1 catch for 8 yards. If he can't be productive, Cincy stands very little chance of pulling out a win. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace should have their way in this one.
With their star rookie Robert Griffin III expected to be back under center, the Redskins continue their playoff push in what is widely expected to be Andy Reid's final home game as Philly's coach. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy will return Sunday. He'll start and rotate with rookie Bryce Brown. Alfred Morris should find some success running the ball for Washington, but I expect the Eagles to keep this one tight to the finish.
Despite dropping five of six prior to last Sunday's 24-3 victory over Jacksonville, the Dolphins are still in playoff contention. Miami has won three of four at home over Buffalo, which has dropped nine consecutive road games after October since a 17-14 win over the Dolphins on Dec. 19, 2010. C.J. Spiller must break some big plays to give Buffalo a chance at the upset, while Ryan Tannehill is the key for the Dolphins. Look for another typical close game here, with the home team prevailing.
Indianapolis needs a win or a tie against Kansas City or a Pittsburgh loss or tie against Cincinnati to make the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons. Indianapolis has won seven of nine as it continues its remarkable turnaround from last season's 2-14 effort. Kansas City, in danger of finishing last in scoring for the first time in team history, has recorded fewer than 10 points in four of its last five contests. Brady Quinn draws another start for KC, and Jamaal Charles should be productive to an extent. In the end, Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard and the Colts WR's should all have nice days here as the Colts roll.
While New England is likely to be seeded no better than third in the AFC, it can still claim the top spot with wins over Jacksonville and Miami, and with Houston losses to Minnesota and Indianapolis. The Patriots could also pass Denver with two wins and a Broncos loss to either Cleveland or Kansas City. The Patriots are averaging 39.5 points with a 6-0 record against teams with losing records, while Jacksonville is 0-6 against opponents with winning records. This one can and will get ugly. Tom Brady and his cast of thousands cruise.
As much as Adrian Peterson would like the NFL rushing record (he needs 294 yards in his next two games), his first priority is helping Minnesota reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. The Vikings currently hold the final wild-card spot in the NFC, although various tiebreaking scenarios make their grip on that position tenuous. Running on this Texans' defense is a tall order. The Vikes will keep it within range, but I think Arian Foster ends up with more yards than Peterson, leading Houston to a nice win.
Aaron Rodgers essentially received two weeks off before last year's playoff loss, but he'll be under center to close out this season. Green Bay must win its final two games - it also plays at Minnesota on Dec. 30 - and needs San Francisco to lose to either Seattle or Arizona in order to receive the No. 2 seed. Though Tennessee ranks 23rd in total defense allowing 368.9 yards per game and 30th giving up an average of 28.3 points, it has been much better of late. Since a 51-20 loss to Chicago on Nov. 4, the Titans rank third in total defense (285.8 yards per game), and fourth giving up 17.6 points per contest. Randall Cobb and James Jones will do their part to help GB to the win, but the Titans keep it closer than the experts think.
Dallas rallied for a 27-24 overtime victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday, moving into a tie with Washington and the Giants for the lead in the East. The Cowboys will win the division by capturing their final two games. The Cowboys should be eager to attack a Saints defense that is ranked last in the league, allowing 446.2 yards per game. Look for a big game from Tony Romo, as well as Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Drew Brees will do his part to keep it close.
Since losing eight of its first 10 games, Carolina has looked like a completely different team. The Panthers have averaged 28.0 points and 407.5 yards while taking three of four, committing an NFL-low one turnover since Week 12. They averaged 18.4 points and 1.8 turnovers in their first 10. Darren McFadden could have a hard time finding running room against a Panthers defense that's held its last two foes to a combined 105 yards on the ground. Cam Newton and the Panther's running game should be enough to secure the victory, but 8.5 seems like too many to give the Raiders here.
Denver can move closer to earning a first-round bye in the playoffs Sunday by extending its winning streak to 10 with a victory over the visiting Cleveland Browns, who have dropped nine straight meetings. Peyton Manning should hit his star receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker regularly and put this one away early. For the Browns, Trent Richardson is 103 rushing yards shy of 1,000 and is coming off his second straight two-touchdown performance. Trent may have to wait one more week to hit that mark.
It appeared Chicago would easily make it to the postseason after a 7-1 start, but losses in five of the past six games have put its fortunes in jeopardy. A 21-13 defeat to Green Bay last Sunday dropped the Bears (8-6) behind Seattle and Minnesota in the race for the NFC's two wild-card berths. The loss was also Chicago's seventh in a row in December. The Bears will also have to contend with an Arizona defense that's snagged a league-best 22 interceptions - one more than Chicago - and held opposing quarterbacks to a 68.0 rating. The Cardinals had three interceptions in last week's 38-10 home victory over Detroit and returned two for touchdowns while ending a nine-game skid. Jay Cutler must play mistake-free and not allow Patrick Peterson to make plays. Which Arizona team shows up? I said I would not take them again in 2012, so I won't.
ATS: Bears -5.5
The Ravens are headed to the playoffs and the Giants can join them with two more victories. The Giants will gain at least a wild-card spot if they win their final two games. In order to win the division, they need two victories and one loss apiece by the Cowboys and Redskins. New York could be getting some key starters back after running back Ahmad Bradshaw (knee), cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and safety Kenny Phillips (knee) all sat out against the Falcons. The Giants need this one more, so I will take them in a close one.
ATS: Ravens +2.5
The 49ers' top-ranked scoring defense could be in for a major test Sunday night when the high-scoring Seahawks will try to clinch their second playoff berth in three seasons and stay in the West race. Colin Kaepernick continues to provide a much-needed spark for the 49ers offense. Can he handle the crowd at Quest Field? Russell Wilson is playing at a high level now, and must avoid mistakes. The Seahawk's formula should be to get ahead, and hand it off to Marshawn Lynch. Easier said than done. By the way, San Francisco was the last visitor to win in Seattle with a 19-17 victory last Dec. 24. I like them here.
ATS: 49ers -1
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