Breaking Down Week 14
By Brett Niemand
Stat of the Week I: 12 of 16 AFC teams are .500 or better; the other four (OAK, TEN, JAX, NYJ) 2-10 or worse.
Stat of the Week II: Although 13 players scored at least 25 points in Week 13, tied for third-most since 1960 per Tristan H. Cockcroft (Week 13 of 2004, Week 11 of 1987), only three TE reached double-digits (Fleener, Reed, Bennett).
Baltimore (+3) at Miami, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Ravens came up just short of their third straight victory, falling to the Chargers 34-33 at home. As it is, they’ve lost three of their last five and need this game to stay alive in the crowded AFC. No. 7 RB Justin Forsett, leading the NFL in YPC (5.6) and 20-yard runs (13), rushed for 100-plus in three straight, scoring 64 points over that span. Forsett is one of just four RB to crack the 1,000-yard plateau already and NYJ gashed Miami for over 200 on the ground in the first half Monday. Joe Flacco, who hasn’t committed a turnover in three straight, jumped up to QB12 by scoring three TD and 20-plus points for the first time since Week 6. Torrey Smith, 19th in WR scoring, has seven touchdowns in as many games, scoring 83 points in those seven despite taking a zero in one. Steve Smith, one spot behind his teammate, failed to exceed 36 yards or three points for the fifth time in eight games. Owen Daniels remains a top-15 TE despite a mere 110 yards and 10 points over his last five. … While their third straight victory in NY was far from pretty, Dolphins are 6-3 over their last nine with the three losses coming by a combined 10 points at the hands of GB, DET, and DEN (all 8-4 or better). Although that was his first game without at least one TD and double-digit points, No. 9 QB Ryan Tannehill completed 70-percent of passes for the fifth straight time; something Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, and Steve Young never accomplished (best streak for each: four). RB13 Lamar Miller did most of his damage in the second half, reaching the endzone and double-figure scoring for the first time since Week 9. Receiving more than 15 just once all season, Miller averages 12.5 carries per game. Mike Wallace, averaging 55.1 YPG, reached 60 for the first time since Week 6. Wallace, whose two worst YPT marks have come his two years in MIA (6.6/6.7; 10.2 or better each of first three seasons), scored all seven of his TD inside the 20. Jarvis Landry caught 32 passes (4 TD) over his last five games. Baltimore allows the most points (27.4 FPPG) and yards (211.4 YPG) to opposing WR.
Predictions: Miami’s pass defense, second in YPG (198.2) and first in YPA (6.1), frustrates Joe Flacco throughout. Justin Forsett totals 121 YFS and his team’s only TD. Mike Wallace notches his first 100-yard game of 2014 against Ravens’ leaky secondary. Lamar Miller is stymied on 14 carries, netting just 40 yards. In a defensive struggle/FG fest. Baltimore, 19-18.
Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Having lost two of three following a three-game win streak, Steelers reside within the 7-5 clump of the AFC playoff picture. Fortunate to not be on a three-game skid, they would be if not for an 11-point fourth quarter comeback in Tennessee. Although he’s thrown five interceptions to only five touchdowns the last three games, No. 6 QB Ben Roethlisberger has passed for 340-plus yards in four of his last five with 1,847 total over that stretch. Big Ben scored 25 or more points three times the last five weeks but Bengals allow 6.3 YPA (third) and an NFL-best 11:12 TD:INT ratio (three fewer TD than any other team). Top fantasy wideout Antonio Brown improved his catch rate in four straight seasons, peaking at 71.1-percent this year. Brown has 55 catches, at least eight in each, and seven total touchdowns over his last six. After scoring six TD and 66 points his first four professional games, Martavis Bryant scored a mere three points the last two. Le’Veon Bell, third in RB scoring, amassed at least 220 total yards and a touchdown (476 altogether) each of his last two. However, the NFL’s second-leading rusher averages a TD every 337.8 YFS. Fortunately, only the Falcons have allowed more rushing scores than the 13 surrendered by Cincy’s 26th-ranked run D (125.1 YPG). … These teams have split their last four meetings. Bengals, winners of three straight and five of six, survived in Tampa thanks to Bucs trying to play with 12 men at the end. Andy Dalton threw three interceptions for the second time in four games, giving him at least one in five of his last six and 10 total over that stretch. A.J. Green, 26th among WR despite not accumulating stats in four, scored in double figures for the seventh time in eight games finished. WR16 Mohamed Sanu scored exactly two points in three of his last four, gaining just 110 yards on 23 targets over that span. Giovani Bernard, 18th in RB scoring, looked healthy again (4.9 YPC) but didn’t have a catch against TB and managed just 10 points in two games since returning (double figures in five of first seven). Jeremy Hill, four slots above his teammate, out-touched Bernard 17-10 but failed to average 4.6 YPC for the first time in five weeks (3.1).
Predictions: A.J. Green proves too much for Ike Taylor, catching eight of 11 targets for 129 yards and a score. Giovani Bernard out-gains Jeremy Hill 83-62 despite three fewer touches; both score. Antonio Brown is held to a season-low 71 yards. Martavis Bryant hauls in Ben Roethlisberger‘s only TD on a back-shoulder fade. Le’Veon Bell finds the painted area during a 143-total yard performance. Cincinnati, 24-20.
Indianapolis (-3.5) at Cleveland, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Colts, winners of two straight and three of four, can become the first team to clinch a playoff berth with a victory and HOU loss Sunday. Indy scored six different 30-plus yard touchdowns in pounding the Redskins 49-27, becoming the first to do so since Washington in 1966. Andrew Luck reclaimed the top spot, registering season highs with five passing touchdowns and 13.7 YPA (first time over 10.0). Luck topped 300 yards passing for the 10th time this season, a Colts record. Only No. 7 TE Coby Fleener could disappoint while putting up 24 points, dropping what would’ve been another long touchdown. Fleener scored at least 13 points in three of four, 53 total over that stretch, but Dwayne Allen (ankle) expected back this weekend. Reggie Wayne has 35 yards or fewer in four of six while T.Y. Hilton might be the most efficient receiver in football, catching 9-of-10 targets for 184 yards and two TD his last two games. Hilton, averaging a ridiculous 11.3 YPT in his second straight 1,000-yard season, hit paydirt in five of seven. Although Donte Moncrief, who scored 17 and 25 in two of the last four, is overtaking Hakeem Nicks, those 42 points account for 80.8-percent of his season total. Trent Richardson, rushing 27 times for 54 yards his last three (2.0 YPC), is in the midst of losing his job to a guy taken 188 picks after him in the 2012 Draft. Daniel Herron fumbled in both contests, but totaled 192 YFS on just 27 touches the last two weeks (exactly 96 in each). … Browns lost for the second time in three weeks, defeated by 16 points in each to fall to 7-5. Mike Pettine is sticking with Brian Hoyer against the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense (257 YPG) despite 0:5 TD:INT ratio the last two games. Unfortunate because Johnny Manziel fits perfectly with Josh Gordon given his ability to improvise and willingness to throw it up downfield. Gordon, targeted 188 times over his last 16 games (11.8 per), hasn’t scored on 15 receptions (195 yards) since returning. Isaiah Crowell, held to three points after scoring 37 the prior three weeks, faces a Colt run defense 29th in YPC (4.5) and 24th in rush TD (12) allowed.
Predictions: T.Y. Hilton, the type of receiver that gives Joe Haden trouble (a la Antonio Brown), catches six passes for 97 yards and a score. Andrew Luck throws two other touchdowns during a 314-yard outing. Trent Richardson rushes for 79 yards and scores against his former team. With Vontae Davis out (concussion), Josh Gordon accounts for 137 of Brian Hoyer‘s 257 yards and both TD. Indianapolis, 31-21.
Houston (-4.5) at Jacksonville, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Texans won for the third time in five games following that three-game skid, climbing back to .500. Ryan Fitzpatrick, reinserted into the lineup for an injured Ryan Mallett, was sensational. Not only did he pass for a career-best six TD (first time over two in 2014), he posted season highs in yardage (358, first 300-yard game) and YPA (10.8, up to 8.1 overall). DeAndre Hopkins, averaging a robust 11.6 YPT and catching 66.7-percent of targets, obliterated his career high with 9-238-2, vaulting into the top-10 WR and giving him 675 yards his last six games. Andre Johnson scored for the first time in six weeks but has one less receiving TD than J.J. Watt this season. Johnson, at WR46 with fewer points than Greg Jennings, reached double digits just once all year despite averaging 9.6 targets (10-plus in three straight and five of seven). Watt, the first DL since 1944 to score five touchdowns (team 4-1 when he scores), is not only the runaway Defensive POY but in contention for league MVP (11.5 sacks, three FF, league-high five fumbles recovered, eight PD, etc). Arian Foster, fifth in RB scoring despite three missed games, dropped 15 or more for the sixth straight time, giving him 135 points and 10 TD during that span. … Jaguars came from 21 down to knock off the Giants, the fourth 21-plus point comeback in NFL this year (t-most in league history). After not returning a fumble for TD in 18 consecutive games, JAX used two to fuel that rally. Blake Bortles avoided throwing a pick for the first time as a pro and gets a Texan defense ranked 29th against the pass (270.3 YPG). Marqise Lee, the team’s leading receiver in two straight, scored his first touchdown last week. Cecil Shorts has 41 yards the last two weeks and no more than that in seven of nine games this season but no team allows more TD (17) or points to opposing WR (27.4 FPPG) than Houston. After scoring 11-plus each of his previous four, Denard Robinson has five points or fewer in two consecutive weeks and only three teams allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than Houston (6).
Predictions: Andre Johnson, whose career-high 273 yards came against JAX in 2012, finally cracks the century mark. Arian Foster‘s dominance continues, rushing for 121 yards and two TD. Marqise Lee catches five for 79 and Denard Robinson tallies 92 YFS and a touch. Can’t imagine Jags winning two in a row but should cover at home. Houston, 23-19.
New York Giants (PK) at Tennessee, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Giants blew a 21-0 lead to the lowly Jaguars for their seventh consecutive defeat (first to a sub-.500 team), but probably should’ve won each of the last three. No. 13 QB Eli Manning has committed at least one turnover in five straight, 11 total during that stretch compared to eight TD. Odell Beckham, 24th in WR scoring and likely Offensive ROY despite four missed games, leads all rookies with 87.4 YPG. He’s averaging a massive 10.4 YPT with a catch rate of 71.4-percent, higher than Antonio Brown (71.1) and just shy of Randall Cobb (72.2). Beckham averages 7.6 receptions on 10.4 targets for 118.6 yards since the bye (38-52-593 in those five). It took him missing a team meeting, but Tom Coughlin finally saw the light on Rueben Randle, targeted just seven times the last two weeks. The ankle injury for Rashad Jennings is not believed to be serious, but he hasn’t proven a quick healer over the years. Jennings, 19th among RB despite playing in only eight games, scored 32 points these last two weeks and faces the 32nd-ranked run defense (141.5 YPG). Even playing at less than full strength, Jennings would be a significant upgrade over backup Andre Williams (2.9 YPC). … Titans square off against the only team with a longer current losing streak than their six-game skid (four by two TD or more). Bishop Sankey topped 4.0 YPC for the first time in eight games and faces a Giant run defense 31st in YPC (4.9), YPG (140.6), and rushing TD (13). Zach Mettenberger (sprained AC joint) posted 8.8 YPA or higher in each of his last three (8.3 overall) and a 1:1 TD:INT ratio or better in every start. On the contrary, Jake Locker has more interceptions than touchdowns in three of his five games. With Justin Hunter placed on IR with a fractured spleen, expect an up-tick in targets for Kendall Wright, who registered season highs in catches (7), yards (132), and fantasy points (19) against HOU.
Predictions: Odell Beckham erupts for 128 yards, scoring twice on seven receptions. Playing mistake-free football, Eli Manning scores 20 points. Gimpy Rashad Jennings grits out 89 YFS and a score. Bishop Sankey rumbles for a career-high 101 yards and a touch. Nate Washington reaches the endzone while Kendall Wright leads the team in receiving (6-69). Love the value on the G-Men. New York Giants, 24-17.
Carolina (+9.5) at New Orleans, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: No team has fallen further from 2013 heights than the Panthers, winless in their last seven including six straight defeats. Cam Newton, 17th in QB scoring, has thrown at least one interception in each of his last eight. Newton has just one 20-point game to his credit and 73 points over his last six. Kelvin Benjamin, almost assured of 1k yards and 10 TD, is a top-14 WR but catching merely 51.8-percent of targets. Fortunately, Saints allow fourth-most points to opposing WR (24.7 FPPG). Although he’s mixed in two 100-yard outings, No. 5 TE Greg Olsen hasn’t caught a touchdown since Week 6, a span of six games. Jonathan Stewart cracked 100 YFS for the first time since Week 11 of 2011 and NO allows 4.6 YPC (30th) and 13 rushing TD (second-worst). … Amazingly, the Saints have won their last two road games but dropped three straight at home. No. 4 QB Drew Brees is hitting his stride with his two best games coming these last two weeks, completing 75-percent of his passes for 677 yards, 9.4 YPA, an 8:1 TD:INT ratio, and 57 fantasy points combined. Jimmy Graham clearly isn’t healthy, not targeted on only 31 snaps last week. Despite just 76 yards over his last three, you’re forced to play him given he’s the second-highest scoring TE and RZ threat. Kenny Stills has been phenomenal since Brandin Cooks went down, securing 13-of-15 targets for 260 yards the last two weeks (17.3 YPT). Although Stills has seen more than six targets just twice all year (high of nine, 4.8/game), he’s converting 77.2-percent (up from 64.0 catch rate in 2013) and averages a ridiculous 12.5 YPT for his career. Marques Colston is seeing less than five targets per game over his last six. Although he hasn’t found the endzone in four straight, Mark Ingram reached the century mark for the fourth time in six games (including first meeting with CAR) and only the Falcons surrender more rushing TD than Carolina (13).
Predictions: Following up a season-high five touchdowns, Drew Brees secures his fifth three-TD performance in seven games. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Kenny Stills all catch one while Mark Ingram rushes 23 times for 101 yards and another. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen account for 171 of Cam Newton‘s 256 yards and both scores. Saints roll. New Orleans, 34-20.
Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Detroit, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Buccaneers are 2-10 but playing much better of late, surrendering just 14 PPG with a scoring differential of plus-11 over their last three. Although he passed for 930 yards his first three games back, Josh McCown has a 5:8 TD:INT ratio over his last six. WR11 Mike Evans cooled off considerably, converting just 7-of-20 targets for 96 yards these last two weeks (7.0 catches, 152.7 YPG over previous three). Ranking 41st among WR and outscored by Allen Hurns, Vincent Jackson (47.6 catch rate) reached double figures once all year. Doug Martin looked like his 2012 self in the first half against CIN, gaining 48 yards and scoring on his first 10 carries. However, he rushed eight times for 10 yards the rest of the way and faces a Lions’ run D ranked No. 1 in YPG (65.9) and YPC (3.1). … Lions won back-to-back Thanksgiving games for the first time since 1999-2000 (aggregate score: 74-27). Detroit, maybe the easiest remaining schedule in football (only winning team left: GB Week 17), found the endzone on three consecutive drives after failing to do so on 25 straight (146 snaps). QB14 Matthew Stafford, averaging 387 YPG on Turkey Day since 2012, broke out of his slump with his first 20-point game since Week 4 (14 points combined in previous two), but committed at least one turnover in each of his last six. Calvin Johnson, fastest to 10,000 receiving yards (115 games) and No. 1 all-time in YPG (87.4), jumped 14 spots in the WR ranks with 27 points (10 in previous two). Don’t expect much of Alterraun Verner v. Megatron one-on-one; Lovie Smith will predominantly stick with his Tampa-2 zone. No. 12 WR Golden Tate, whose receiving yards have increased every year in the league (2014 first over 1k), has at least 89 yards in five of his last six. Joique Bell, 16th in RB scoring, scored a season-high 22 points while totaling 100-plus YFS for the second time in three weeks. This running game (30th in YPG, 81.7; 31st in YPC, 3.3) still desperately needs Reggie Bush, who’s carried just eight times since Week 5 (missed three straight, five of seven).
Predictions: Calvin Johnson scores 18 points against the Bucs, who allow 24.5 FPPG to WR (fifth-most). Golden Tate reaches the painted area for the first time since Week 8, adding 13 of his own. Reggie Bush (ankle) looks sharp in his return (5.6 YPC). DET stymies Doug Martin (14-33-0) and holds Mike Evans under 50 yards for a third straight. Lions top scoring defense (17.3 PPG) holds TB under their average, avenging last season’s Week 12 loss (24-21 at Ford Field). Detroit, 27-16.
St. Louis (-2.5) at Washington, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Rams scored a franchise record 38 first-half points during their 52-0 destruction of Oakland last week. Tre Mason, the top-scoring RB of Week 13 with 33 points, cracked the century mark on the ground for the second time in three weeks. However, Mason found the endzone just once all year before doing so three times against the Raiders and WSH allows 12.5 FPPG to RB, fourth-fewest. Stedman Bailey became the third Rams’ wideout with a 100-yard game; none of which are Tavon Austin, who scored for the second straight week but has a season high of 51 total yards. Kenny Britt has just three catches for 50 yards in two games since his 4-128-1 breakout versus DEN. Excluding Week 10 against Arizona, Jared Cook has 12 catches, 94 yards, and seven fantasy points his last six games. Shaun Hill is coming off a season-high 21 points and no team allows more total TD (28) or FPPG (20.3) to opposing quarterbacks than Washington. … Redskins have lost four straight but won two of the three games in which Colt McCoy played. McCoy averaged 8.3 YPA or better in all three (9.2 overall) and registered career highs in yards (392) and touchdowns (3) against IND, his second 300-yard game as a pro. Because he’s the ultimate “Checkdown Charlie” (30-percent of all career targets to TE), McCoy’s presence is most beneficial to Jordan Reed, who has 21 catches and 24 targets in those three. WR15 DeSean Jackson has 10 receptions of 40-plus yards, three more than any other player and two more than he had all of last season. Jackson, who has a 9-220-1 line in McCoy’s two starts, remains a feast-or-famine player with 13 points or more in half his games but no more than six in the other six. Alfred Morris, ninth in RB scoring, averages 40.1 fewer rushing yards without Robert Griffin starting and Rams allow 13.4 FPPG (seventh-fewest) and six TD (tied, fourth-fewest) to opposing RB.
Predictions: Tre Mason manages 84 hard-earned yards and a touchdown while Alfred Morris is bottled up throughout (17-54-0). Desean Jackson plays through the fibula contusion, getting exactly the 58 yards he needed for his fourth career 1,000-yard season. Jordan Reed hauls in seven passes for 89 yards and the Skins only TD. Rams’ defense is the story, allowing 10 points or less for the fourth time in six games. St. Louis, 16-10.
New York Jets (+6) at Minnesota, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Comments: Although they would’ve won their second game in three weeks if Nick Folk didn’t miss two FG, New York has 10 losses for the second time in three years and a league-worst minus-44 TO differential since 2011. That was the first time in franchise history losing a non-OT game in which they rushed for at least 277 yards. Jets passed only 13 times (three fewer than any team this season) for 49 yards, their lowest total since 2006. Can’t blame Rex Ryan for taking the ball out of Geno Smith‘s hands (eight attempts prior to final drive) — his QB is terrible (5.9 YPA, 7:11 TD:INT ratio) and the game plan worked. Quarterback play is severely handicapping Eric Decker, averaging less than 50 YPG. Outside of a 12-point performance in KC, Percy Harvin has 11 in four games as a Jet and hasn’t scored since 2012. Chris Ivory averages a career-low 4.4 YPC (sub-4.0 in four of his last five) and zero touchdowns in four straight. Splitting carries fairly evenly the last month or so, Chris Johnson averages 5.3 YPC over his last six and notched his first 100-yard game of 2014 (previous high 69). CJ2K’s current clip of 4.6 would be his best mark since 2009 but hasn’t scored in eight games. Minnesota, already susceptible to the run at 24th in YPG (123.8) and YPC (4.4) allowed, likely plays without Shariff Floyd and Anthony Barr (knees). … Vikings, after failing to do so since 1986 (a span of 28 years and 2,152 punts), are the first team since 1990 Chiefs with two blocked-punt touchdowns in the same game. Minnesota has won three of their last five and all four turnover-free starts by Teddy Bridgewater, who has back-to-back multi-TD games (only two all season). Charles Johnson’s catches and yards have decreased each week since his 6-87 breakout while Greg Jennings scored in two straight and three of four. Cordarrelle played a meager three snaps against CAR, probably because he averages 5.6 YPT. Kyle Rudolph has no more than seven points in any of five games this year despite scoring in two. Vikes hope to have Jerick McKinnon back this week, but it really doesn’t matter; NYJ rank third in YPG (85.2) and YPC (3.5) allowed.
Predictions: Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory combine for 170 yards against a weakened Vikings’ D. Everson Griffen, seventh in sacks with 11.0, gets Geno Smith twice. Percy Harvin goes for 126 all-purpose yards against his former squad. MIN running game accomplishes nothing against Jet front seven. As defeated as NY sounded during Monday’s postgame press conferences, don’t like the Vikes giving almost a touchdown without two defensive stalwarts, even at home versus the Jets. Minnesota, 19-14.
Buffalo (+10) at Denver, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EST
Comments: Bills knocked off the Browns to improve to 7-5 but face DEN and GB the next two weeks. Kyle Orton was held under 200 yards for the second time in three games, his first this season with more interceptions than touchdowns (2:1 or better in all others). Sammy Watkins (hip) is on track to play after practicing Wednesday but has 35 yards or less in each of his last four. With Watkins struggling against every Pro Bowl corner he’s faced and Aqib Talib returning, he’s on the wrong end of the start/sit conversation this week. Robert Woods posted 13-189-1 (10.5 YPT) over his last two games. Fred Jackson is back to full-time duties, gaining 97 total yards on 24 touches against CLE while Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon combined for 36 on nine. With Denver’s run D rated second in YPC (3.4) and YPG (72.7), anticipate the majority of Jackson’s yardage coming through the air. … Broncos won their second straight after going 1-2 their previous three, knocking off a 7-5 AFC squad each time. Peyton Manning, tied for second in QB scoring with Aaron Rodgers, passed for a season-low 179 yards against KC. After scoring 20 or more in each of his first nine games, Manning has 15 points or less in two of his last three as the Broncos have recommitted to the run. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both top-four in yards and fantasy points among WR. Thomas, second in each category, hasn’t reached the century mark since his seven-game streak ended but scored four TD in those two games. Julius Thomas, still third in TE scoring and the league leader in TD catches, has fewer yards than Niles Paul, Zach Ertz, and Jared Cook but will be welcomed back with open arms; Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green combined for 3-13-0 in the two games he missed. C.J. Anderson, 23rd in RB scoring despite only three starts, became the first back to rush for 150-plus yards in consecutive games in a Peyton Manning-led offense. He carried at least 27 times for 167 yards in each — 335 on 59 carries (5.7 YPC) with two total TD — giving him 22 points or more in three of his last four. This is what we were hoping for drafting Montee Ball in the first/second round but Bills allow second-fewest FPPG (11.3) to opposing RB.
Predictions: Playing dominant Bills’ run defense (seventh in YPC, 3.9, and YPG, 96.3), Broncos return to pass-happy ways. Peyton Manning throws for 333 yards and four TD. Julius Thomas catches two in his return, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders one apiece (both over 100 yards). C.J. Anderson and Fred Jackson are both stifled in the running game, doing most of their damage receiving. Aqib Talib shuts down Sammy Watkins (4-44-0). Buffalo great on D but can’t keep pace offensively. Denver, 28-17.
Kansas City (+1) at Arizona, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EST
Comments: Chiefs lost for the second week in a row following their five-game winning streak. Alex Smith, who threw his first pick in seven games, had multiple touchdowns in both losses but under 200 yards in four of his last five. Arizona is far better against the pass than ranking (27th, 263.3 YPG) suggests as opposing quarterbacks have a 17:16 TD:INT ratio. No Chiefs’ WR has found the endzone since Week 14 of 2013. Patrick Peterson was torched by Julio Jones Sunday but should have little trouble with Dwayne Bowe, who has 78 yards his last three games. With Tyrann Mathieu sidelined, Cards likely stick Antonio Cromartie on Travis Kelce much of the day. Kelce, 11th in TE scoring, may be Kansas City’s best pass-catcher but has just 11 points the last four weeks and thoroughly overmatched by Cromartie. No. 6 RB Jamaal Charles scored in double figures for the eighth consecutive game. However, that was his lowest yardage output (35 rushing, 59 total) since returning from the ankle injury Week 4 and Arizon’s run defense is sixth in YPG (89.3) and YPC (3.7). … Cardinals, also losers of two straight, are on the precipice of becoming the first team in NFL history to blow a three-game division lead with six to play. They might turn to rookie Logan Thomas if Drew Stanton continues to struggle. Stanton lost three of his last four starts and posted a 1:3 TD:INT ratio these last two weeks. Kansas City’s top-rated pass defense (196.8 YPG) is also deceiving as opposing quarterbacks have a 19:4 TD:INT ratio. After failing to do so in the prior six, Michael Floyd topped 50 yards receiving for the second time in three weeks. Larry Fitzgerald, who had 342 in the three games preceding the knee injury, returned to practice Wednesday and should suit up. If Andre Ellington (hip pointer) can’t go, Marion Grice is expected to start. However, Arizona’s rushing offense ranks dead last in YPC (3.1) and 31st in YPG (74.8) while KC has surrendered just two TD on the ground all year, three fewer than any other team (AZ, NE: five apiece).
Predictions: Jamaal Charles earns every one of his 98 total yards and hits paydirt. Travis Kelce only catches three passes but scores on one. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are each held under 55 yards as Drew Stanton passes for just 167 (intercepted twice). Playing turnover-free ball, Chiefs win the defensive struggle. Kansas City, 17-16.
San Francisco (-7.5) at Oakland, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST
Comments: 49ers could only muster 164 total yards on Turkey Day, fewest all year, snapping a three-game winning streak. QB16 Colin Kaepernick scored a season-low one point against SEA, giving him no more than one TD or 13 points in six straight (five and 62 total during stretch). Shocking considering his lack of downfield threats, but Kaepernick has attempted 61 passes of 20-plus yards, more than everyone but Andrew Luck (67) and Ben Roethlisberger (63). Michael Crabtree also registered a single fantasy point, the fourth time he’s scored two or fewer this season. Excluding a 14-point Week 11, Crabtree has 18 over his last five games. No. 22 WR Anquan Boldin scored 15 or more in four of his last seven but no more than five points in the other three. Because nobody has to throw on them, Raiders allow the fourth-fewest FPPG (17.4) to WR. I apologize for continuing to write about him, but these stats are mind-blowing: Vernon Davis scored 16 points in Week 1, 12 since. Frank Gore gained exactly 36 total yards each of the last two weeks, 2.8 YPC in each. However, both Gore and Carlos Hyde, who’s now out-gained his teammate three times this year, are viable starts as Oakland allows a league-high 22.0 FPPG to opposing RB. … After watching the Raiders get annihilated 52-0 in STL, it’s hard to believe that was the same team that upset KC the week before. Derek Carr has all kinds of arm talent but numbers don’t lie: under 200 yards passing and 5.1 YPA in five consecutive games. Carr threw multiple picks in three of his last five and hasn’t reached even 175 yards in three straight. At some point Denarius Moore needs to replace the painfully inefficient James Jones, who’s averaged 6.0 yards per catch or less in three of his last five. Jones (153) and Andre Holmes (130) have combined for 283 yards the last five games. I pray Latavius Murray passes concussion protocol; it’s simply too hard to watch Darren McFadden, 2.6 YPC or less in each of his last five. DMC was one of the most talented players I’ve seen coming out of college but this is his third consecutive season of precisely 3.3 YPC.
Predictions: Latavius Murray is the Raiders’ only offense, rushing 16 times for 93 yards and their lone touchdown against the NFL’s eighth-ranked run defense (98.3 YPG). San Fran runs for 197 yards, 166 by Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde (both score). Michael Crabtree is on the receiving end of the single Colin Kaepernick TD. Not confident given their inept offense (12.0 PPG over last three), but Niners should trounce the Raiders, even in Oakland. San Francisco, 21-13.
Seattle (+1.5) at Philadelphia, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST
Comments: Seahawks, in the middle of a brutal six-week stretch (KC-AZ-SF-PHI-SF-AZ), won five of six to close to within a game of AZ. Finally being healthy in the back end frees SEA up to bring five regularly to pressure the QB; that combined with the return of Bobby Wagner resulted in just six points and 368 total yards allowed the last two games combined. Russell Wilson, fifth in QB scoring, was turnover-free for a third consecutive game, averaging 10.2 YPA over his last two. Unfortunately, touchdowns haven’t been there as Wilson scored just once in each (six total last six games), and Marshawn Lynch hasn’t found the end zone in three straight since his four-TD explosion. Seattle doesn’t seem worried about his workload anymore, giving fantasy’s No. 2 back 20-plus carries in four of five, resulting in three 100-yard games the last four weeks. Hawks will need more out of Wilson as Philly rates much tougher against the run (12th) than the pass (26th). This offense still clearly lacks a No. 1 receiver; Doug Baldwin has just 150 yards on 19 receptions (27 targets) over his last five (5.6 YPT). … Eagles, winners of two straight and four of five, lead the NFC East at 9-3 (3-0 in division). Offense is rolling with 76 points the last two weeks but have turned it over a league-high 28 times this year (24th with minus-6 TO differential; SEA fourth at plus-nine). Mark Sanchez played turnover-free in two of five games, but gave it up eight times the other three and Seattle has seven sacks (3.0 by Cliff Avril) and four takeaways the last two weeks. Jeremy Maclin, fourth in WR scoring, has 44 catches his last six games with at least 93 yards and 10 points in four. Maclin hit 1k receiving for the first time and will see plenty of Richard Sherman, who picked off two passes last week to give him 23 career (most in first four seasons among active players). Although totals decreased in three straight, No. 21 WR Jordan Matthews has 373 yards over his last four. The rookie, scoring touchdowns and double-digit points in four of five, needs to win one-on-one opportunities with Byron Maxwell. LeSean McCoy vaulted to RB10 with at least 130 yards and a TD in back-to-back weeks (19 points in each). McCoy, 826 yards his last eight games, scored touchdowns in three of four and eclipsed the century mark in four of seven. The unstoppable force meets the immovable object as Philly’s offense, fourth in total yards (416.2) and points (31.3), clashes with the LOB — first in total defense (285.3), third against the pass (199.4), fourth versus the run (86.3) and third in scoring (18.4).
Predictions: Russell Wilson “Houdini’s” his way out of multiple Connor Barwin sacks (12.5 this season) en route to a 22-point performance. Marshawn Lynch grinds out 78 yards and a touch on 21 carries. Jordan Matthews scores for the sixth time in six games while Jeremy Maclin struggles (5-53-0). LeSean McCoy is limited to 82 YFS but scores. The difference is Mark Sanchez coughing it up three times. Seahawks, getting points for the third time in four weeks, love that underdog role. Seattle, 24-21.
New England (-3.5) at San Diego, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EST
Comments: Patriots, who would’ve covered if not for Stephen Gostkowski‘s second missed FG of the year (made last 13 attempts), lost for the first time in eight games. No. 7 QB Tom Brady cooled off slightly with less than 20 points in three straight (at least that many in previous five) but threw multiple TD for the eighth consecutive game. Despite scoring in single digits the last two weeks, top TE Rob Gronkowski has 501 yards and five TD over his last five (77 points). Tim Wright, sporting an 88.8-percent catch rate, already scored more touchdowns (6) than last season (5) on 49 fewer targets (76-27). WR17 Brandon LaFell reached double figures for the fifth time in nine games with his second multi-TD effort of 2014. PPR Machine Julian Edelman has 32 catches over his last four. SD is middle-of-the-road defensively, but defends the pass well (seventh, 221.6 YPG). Still not trusting LeGarrette Blount but he’s averaging 6.2 YPC since rejoining the Pats (5.8 or better in both games). Shane Vereen touched it a season-low four times for 32 yards against GB after averaging 72.6 YFS his previous five, but only two teams have allowed more receiving TD to RB than San Diego (5). … Chargers won their third in a row following that three-game skid (preceded by five straight victories). One of the streakiest teams in recent memory could be free-falling like Tom Petty the rest of the way; toughest remaining schedule in football (.679 winning percentage, all teams 7-5 or better). Philip Rivers, eighth in QB scoring, is 33-6 in December/January, best record of all quarterbacks since 2001. Rivers tossed three TD for the sixth time, giving him 674 yards, 78.8-percent completions and 8.4 YPA over his last two. Keenan Allen finally playing up to expectations with 17 receptions for 225 yards and three TD (36 points) on 24 targets the last two weeks (both over 100 yards). Unfortunately, reservations on Revis Island this week and Patriots allow fifth-fewest points to WR (17.9). No. 4 TE Antonio Gates hasn’t cracked double figures in four straight but his 83 yards last week were nine more than his prior three combined and second-most this season. Ryan Mathews averages 11.0 FPPG in three games back, albeit on limited carries (13.3), but only the Chiefs have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than NE.
Predictions: Tom Brady passes for 327 yards and three TD, out-dueling Philip Rivers (292 and two). Rob Gronkowski scores during an 88-yard day. Shane Vereen finds the endzone and gains 82 YFS. Quiet day on the ground for Patriots; slightly better for Ryan Mathews (14-61-1). Darrelle Revis shuts down Keenan Allen, catching four balls for 37 yards. Pats bounce back. New England, 30-22.
Atlanta (+12.5) at Green Bay, Monday, 8:30 p.m. EST
Comments: Falcons gained 500 total yards for their third win in four weeks, their first outside the division all year. Steven Jackson, 21st in RB scoring, had a 55-yard run — longest since 2009 — during his first 100-yard game in over two years (11/25/2012). Jackson reached double figures in four of his last five and faces a GB run defense rated 28th in both YPC (4.5) and YPG (132.8). Julio Jones made Patrick Peterson eat his words, putting up a career-high 189 yards Sunday. Jones, the NFL’s third-leading receiver, jumped back up to WR9 with 11 points or more in three of his last four. Roddy White missed Week 13 but had 37 receptions for 409 yards and three TD the prior five. No. 11 QB Matt Ryan reached the 20-point threshold for the first time in nine games, his first 300-yard performance since Week 5. Unfortunately, the last time Ryan passed for three TD was September and Packers, who have 15 INT (fourth), rank 11th in YPG (234.5) and YPA (6.9) against. … Green Bay won for the eighth time in nine games to remain undefeated at home. Aaron Rodgers, second in QB scoring and current MVP frontrunner, hasn’t thrown an interception at Lambeau in over two years (12/2/2012). Owning the league’s best INT percentage over the last five years (1.6, Peyton 2.0) and a historically great 32:3 TD:INT ratio, Rodgers averages 8.8 YPA and scored at least 24 points six times his last seven games while Atlanta, the worst pass defense in football (284.9 YPG) allows 8.1 (30th). Both No. 3 WR Jordy Nelson and No. 7 Randall Cobb scored 11-plus points and touchdowns in eight of 12 games (10 TD each). Don’t chase the points on Davante Adams, who had 4-33-0 on eight targets the previous three weeks. RB8 Eddie Lacy scored double-digit points in each of his last six games and eight of nine (15.9 FPPG since Week 4). No team has allowed more RB touchdowns than Atlanta, who give up third-most points to the position (21.1).
Predictions: Julio Jones finishes with 128 yards and reaches the painted area in a third straight (didn’t in previous six). Matt Ryan passes for 275 yards and two TD, Roddy White catching the other. Steven Jackson scores on a 1-yard plunge. Aaron Rodgers goes off for 387 yards and four touchdowns, 215 and three to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Eddie Lacy piles up 113 total yards, scoring as a runner and receiver. Packers aren’t losing ROS but Falcons backdoor cover. Green Bay, 35-24.