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By Ron Marmalefsky

Below are five statements/questions relevant to the 2014 NFL playoff picture.  Each item carries its own level of intrigue.

1. San Diego’s incredible road journey

Let’s make the assumption that Denver wins the AFC West.  This puts San Diego in a dogfight for one of the two Wildcard spots.  Last year the Chargers swept Kansas City and made the playoffs based on tiebreakers.  To make the playoffs this year, San Diego must come out nearly spotless in three crucial road games.  Let me explain.  This Sunday they play at Miami.  The winner of this game gets a leg up on many tiebreaker scenarios.  On 11/30 San Diego travels to Baltimore.  Remember what happened two years ago?  Baltimore does not make the playoffs or go on to win the Super Bowl without converting 4th and 26 at San Diego!  Will the Chargers be able to return the favor?  Finally, San Diego visits the Chiefs on closing day.  They can’t afford to lose this game (and be 0-2 vs. KC) as that would hurt their Divisional record along with their overall record.  Bottom line: All eyes will be on San Diego as they control not only their own, but many other team destinies as it relates to the AFC Wildcard race. 

2. Manning vs. Brady: Here we go again!

As long as Denver (previously Indianapolis) and New England keep winning their Divisions the general public will continue to be treated to games featuring two of the greatest QB’s to ever play the game.  Playoff slotting will be on the line.  A Denver win probably seals up the #1 seed since they have previously defeated the Colts, the only other legit contender for a playoff bye.  New England has a bye week after this one before hosting the Colts.  A loss to Denver this Sunday gives that game vs. Indy greater meaning, as New England is a much tougher team to face when given extra time to prepare, and that #2 playoff seed carries the bye week as a reward.  Bottom Line: This is a huge game for New England.  Their schedule is far tougher as compared to Indy’s, so a loss this Sunday to Denver might mean a fight to the finish for the #2 playoff seed.

3. Could Dallas miss the playoffs?

If they lose this Sunday to Arizona, YES!  It amused me that several well-known newspapers and television stations along with plenty of “analysts” not only had Dallas as a top three NFL team, but #1 in many cases.  My mechanically driven Power Rankings had Dallas tied for 12th!   Sure, that represented a vast improvement from preseason projections but this team still has flaws.  RB Murray masked many of their flaws by carrying the ball in excess of 200 times.  Still, on second and short in overtime the Cowboys reverted back to old form, passing unsuccessfully on three consecutive downs.  I’ve said all along that games 11-16 on their schedule are not easy.  They play four NFC East opponents in that stretch, three on the road!  They also play at Chicago and host a solid Indy team.  Bottom Line: With a poor sack ratio and a nearly 67% pass defense Dallas needs to play smart.  A loss this Sunday might be crippling.

4. Could Seattle miss the playoffs?

The answer here is a resounding maybe!  From what I’ve seen the defensive regression has hurt the most.  Seattle had 44 defensive sacks in ’13 but to date has just 10.  As a result more passes are being completed vs. the Seahawk defense, leading to an unheard of 67% completion figure.  Seattle is 2-2 on the road, amazingly winning a close, low scoring game at Carolina for the third consecutive year.  Seattle will control its own destiny, as they have yet to play either San Francisco or Arizona!  The other tough game is at KC.  Until Arizona wakes up from what must be a marvelous dream, Seattle will need to do more that split their Divisional games in order to secure a playoff spot.  Bottom Line: Don’t rule the Seahawks out just yet, but they need to put more pressure on opposing QB’s or else Russell Wilson will have to bail them out a couple of more times down the stretch.

5. Could Houston sneak into the playoffs?

Probably not, but the future looks bright.  Houston entered this season with the NFL’s weakest schedule of opponents and not much has changed in that regard.  Games remaining include home games vs. Tennessee and Jacksonville and road games at Cleveland and Jacksonville.  They host Philly this week and are just a slight underdog.  They get to host both Baltimore and Cincy.  If teams such as Miami, KC and San Diego keep alternating wins and losses it is quite possible that wins vs. Baltimore and Cincy would give the Texans a huge tiebreaker advantage.  Remember, they also beat Buffalo earlier this year.  Bottom Line: This is an incomplete team in many ways, with a QB (Fitzpatrick) who is very turnover prone but the schedule does help.  Any team featuring RB Foster and the amazing JJ Watt has a chance!

Football Meteorology For NFL Week 9

By Jeff Risdon

This is the busiest bye week of the season, strangely coming after the World Series is over and on the opening weekend of NBA festivities. For as much as the NFL micromanages its public persona and tries to maximize revenue, they sure do a terrible job manipulating the schedule.

Cold weather begins to be more of a factor this week. Pay attention to field conditions for teams that like to run the ball outside the tackles, as that is the primary negative impact of colder and slicker conditions.

Last Week: 9-6, which isn’t bad considering the demoralizing upset picks of Chicago and Jacksonville went horribly wrong. The season forecast is now 78-41-1.

Gambling Update: Wagered a total of $2000 and two of the three bets were losers. My only hit was Carolina getting 4.5 at home to Seattle. The net loss of $1500 reduces the kitty to $12K after starting at $10K. 

Thursday Night

- New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (+2.5): As with real estate, the key here is location. The Saints are a multimillion dollar beachfront mansion at home, but when they’re on the road the mansion sits in a dingy mud flat next to a contaminated river. They haven’t won on the road this year, yet are undefeated at home. Normally that would make me easily default to picking the host Panthers, but they’re not an easy team to trust.

The Carolina offense has scored 26 points in the last two weeks. The Panthers defense has allowed 24 or more points in five of the last six, ranking in the bottom 10 in just about every defensive stat metric over the last month. The Saints offense appears to have found its stride over the last two weeks, and I see that trend continuing. Mark Ingram’s impressive running last week against Green Bay should give the Panthers fits. I agree with the book makers here, the visiting Saints should win by about a field goal. Those road property values are going to trend up for New Orleans.

Saints 30, Panthers 27 

Sunday Games

- Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+3.5): The Patriots are home underdogs for just the second time since 2005. Both those games have pertinence here.

Last year the Broncos were 2-point favorites in New England. The Patriots won 34-31. The undefeated Bengals in Week 5 is the other instance, and the Patriots won that game 43-17. In fact, since Tom Brady took over as New England’s QB the Patriots are an astonishing 9-1 when a home underdog. Denver might be the better team, but the Patriots do not take the disrespect lightly. Denver has lost three of the four meetings since Peyton Manning became a Bronco, though he didn’t play in one. Moreover, the Patriots have a recent history of lighting up the Broncos. They’ve scored at least 31 in five of the last seven meetings, topping 40 in three of those. The last four times Denver has travelled to Foxboro they’ve allowed 45, 41, 31, and 34 points and this Patriots offense is significantly better than three of those teams putting up the big numbers. Gimmie $500 on New England with points at home.

Patriots 36, Broncos 34

- Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys (-4.5): Monday night’s loss to Washington brought the Cowboy haters out of the woodwork. It’s like they’ve been storing up all this anger and resentment towards Dallas’ strong start for far too long. Everyone who doubted the validity of their 6-1 start immediately felt justified in their skepticism.

This week figures to continue those salad days for the haters, though this time it’s more about the opponent than the Cowboys themselves. Washington exposed flaws in the offense that the Cardinals are nicely equipped to replicate. Arizona is opportunistic and relentlessly aggressive, a bad combo for a Dallas offense playing on a short week with a clearly wounded Tony Romo. I also really like the Cardinals speed on offense and depth of receiving talent to expose a Dallas defense that has been overachieving for a little too long.

Cardinals 33, Cowboys 24

- Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans (+2.5): Total hunch pick here. I sat down to evaluate this one and I was overcome with the strong notion that the Texans somehow win. I’m not sure how, but I’m riding with the gut.

Texans 22, Eagles 20

- San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins (-1.5): Big test for the Chargers, coming off their worst game of the season in losing at Denver. It’s an early game on the East coast, never an easy task for the West coast teams. Yet they get an unexpected boon in the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means the early start is physiologically one hour later. Coupled with the extra rest--their Week 8 game was a Thursday nighter--and I think San Diego will overcome the negatives here. They’re the better football team, and as long as they protect Philip Rivers the Chargers handle their business.

Chargers 24, Dolphins 16

- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns (-6.5): The Browns draw a team in the bottom four of pretty much every power ranking for the third week in a row. No team is playing worse than the woeful Buccaneers, who tried to trade away anyone for pennies on the dollar this week. They dumped 2012 first-rounder Mark Barron, a major liability in coverage at safety but the only player in the secondary who could reliably tackle. Guess what Cleveland likes to do? Run the ball right at the defense with powerful depth at RB. The Browns run for over 200 yards in this one and the Dawg Pound woofs approvingly.

Browns 27, Buccaneers 17

- Washington at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5): This game will apparently mark the return of RG3 to the helm in Washington, just a few quick days after Colt McCoy impressively guided them to a huge win in Dallas.

I’m not sure I like the timing here. Washington has a bye after this week, and McCoy seemed to have a great command of Jay Gruden’s offense. Moreover, it’s a short week and a road game. The pressure on RG3 will be intense, and the last time he rushed back from an injury the results were not positive. The Vikings don’t do many things well, but one area they excel is getting to the opposing quarterback; only the Chiefs have a higher sack percentage. Griffin figures to have limited mobility and acceleration to escape the likes of Everson Griffen (8 sacks), Tom Johnson (5) and Anthony Barr (3). This figures to be a low-scoring affair decided by a turnover or special teams play, and the home team has the advantage in both areas.

Vikings 19, Ethnic Slurs 16

- Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (-11.5): The Bengals look like they righted the listing ship in the win over Baltimore, and the jungle is no safe place for Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles. Okay, technically the jaguar is a jungle animal. Which reminds me of the underrated movie Apocalypto, the last hour of which is one of the most intense chase scenes ever filmed. Alas, I don’t see Bortles pulling off the sort of savvy cunning Jaguar Paw does to survive in the movie. Do yourself a favor and see that film, but be warned it’s grisly. So is Jacksonville’s chance to win here.

Bengals 30, Jaguars 17

- New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5): I’ll let the picture of my Survivor Fantasy picks say all my words here…


Chiefs 30, Jets 9

St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-9.5): The Niners are coming off a bye, while the Rams are coming off a blowout loss at Kansas City. The last two times the Rams have hit the road, they’ve given up 34 points. With an astonishing 21% of their salary cap investment now on IR after Jake Long’s second blown out knee in less than a year, there’s little reason to see anything different for the hopeless Rams against a fresh, motivated Niners team looking to edge back into the NFC playoffs and make up some ground on Arizona. I’ll put $1000 on the Niners to cover.

49ers 34, Rams 12

Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-14.5): I’ll channel the great Gil Brandt here. Listeners to Sirius NFL Radio will know exactly what I’m saying…

Let me just say this about Seattle. The Seahawks here, they’re a real good football team and I think they know they need to play better. Pete Carroll is a good football coach, see, and he’s not going to let them look past the Raiders. You know, Al Davis was a great owner and a competitor and I like that these young Raiders compete. But right now they’re too young and the long and the short of it is they’re not quite ready to win a game like this yet.

Seahawks 24, Raiders 10

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1): These two fierce rivals seem to always play close games. Both contests last year were decided by a field goal. It’s odd that it comes down to such a close margin for two teams that throw the ball so much. These are not your older brother’s Steelers or Ravens; these two teams combine to average 73 passes per game (not counting sacks). In 2010 they combined to average just 58 per game. There’s all the evidence you need that the game is spiraling away from being run-oriented.

The Steelers offer a little more balanced production, and I’ll take Antonio Brown as the playmaking receiver over Steve Smith in a close game. Yet if it comes down to kickers, I’m not betting against Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. Sorry to my Steelers friends, of which I have a surprising amount being a native Clevelander who has lived in Michigan, Texas and Virginia, but I see Tucker kicking a walk-off field goal to give the Ravens the win.

Baltimore 34, Pittsburgh 33

Monday Night

Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (+4.5): Several reasons why I really like the visiting Colts here:

- Andrew Luck in prime time >>> Eli Manning in prime time

- The Colts were embarrassed last week and are eager to prove the 51 points Pittsburgh hung on them was a fluke

- New York’s ground game will miss Rashad Jennings once again

- Luck found a talented new toy in Donte Moncrief, mitigating the questionable status of Reggie Wayne

- The Giants are 1-6 in their last seven games as a home underdog, including 0-3 last year

Colts 32, Giants 24

Fantasy Football Week 9 Rankings

By Neema Hodjat

Stars of Week 8

QB: Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: 40-49, 522 yards, 6 TDs

RB: Arian Foster, HOU: 20 carries, 151 yards, 2 TDs

WR: Jeremy Maclin, PHI: 12 catches, 187 yards, 2 TDs

WR: Emmanuel Sanders, DEN: 9 catches, 120 yards, 3 TDs

TE:      Rob Gronkowski, NE: 9 catches, 149 yards, 3 TDs

Roethlisburger fell just a bit short of the all-time passing record for yards in one game, connecting for 522 yards against the Colts. Similar to the Joe Flacco explosion a few weeks back, don’t overreact to this performance. Roethlisberger remains a good QB, but he’s not in Peyton Manning territory. Rather, he remains a low-end QB1/high end QB2. Not too shabby in its own right, but expect his normal numbers going forward. Arian Foster makes the list…again. Got nothing else to add there. Jeremy Maclin and Emmanuel Sanders share the honor roll for top WR this week. Wouldn’t be fair to exclude either player here. And last but not least, Gronk! The key to the Patriots’ passing attack, Gronk just ripped apart the Bears this week. 

Week 8 Takeaways – A Closer Look

Each week we’ll take a closer look at a handful of performances and sort out what such performances mean going forward.

- Kyle Orton, QB - BUF: 10-17, 238 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs

Analysis:         Orton had a fantastic stat line against the Jets in a super efficient performance – he needed only 17 attempts to throw for 238 yards and 4 TD passes. So what do we have here? Nothing more than a QB2. Orton knows the NFL ropes, and will be a steady hand at QB for the Bills. His ceiling, however, is limited. If you need a bye week fill-in, or you lose your primary QB to injury, then Orton will be just fine for you. But don’t overreact to a 4 TD performance against a bad pass defense. 

- Anthony Dixon, RB – BUF: 22 carries, 44 yards, 0 TDs

- Bryce Brown, RB – BUF: 7 carries, 15 yards, 0 TDs

Analysis:         An additional look at the Bills, this time at the RBs together. The early prediction was that Dixon would start out of the gate (meaning the first few games) with Brown slowly taking the lead as time went on. After one game, nothing has changed on that front, although it is worth noting that neither RB impressed this past Sunday. The Jets have a strong run D, so not a massive surprise here. For those who own one of these RBs or both, you just need to keep an eye on the distribution of carries over the next few games. The guess here is that Brown will siphon a larger percentage of the carries each game going forward. Also not to be discounted is the likely return of Fred Jackson within the next month, which would muddy the waters a bit further.

- Ben Tate, RB - CLE: 15 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD

Analysis:         Tate owners were excited to get him back from injury in Week 5, and their excitement was well served for the first two weeks. The last two weeks, however, present a different story. Against cupcake matchups – the Jaguars and Raiders – Tate has struggled to do much, totaling 62 yards on 31 carries. What happened? Well, the loss of stalwart center Alex Mack would be the primary culprit. Mack’s injury has undoubtedly hurt the run blocking, and coupled with the Browns’ recent implementation of a three-headed timeshare, Tate has to be knocked down several rungs from the RB ladder. Tate owners should in fact be concerned going forward. We’ll see more in the weeks to come, but expect Tate to receive 50-60 % of the carries going forward, with West and Crowell taking the rest. Tate drops to a low end RB2, with room to maneuver both up or down. Stay tuned.

- Mark Ingram, RB - NO: 24 carries, 172 yards, 1 TD                                                    

Analysis:         Mark Ingram has had a slow start to his career. Much was expected out of the former Heisman trophy winner out of Auburn, and after a few underwhelming seasons, Ingram has shown signs of taking the next step. Ingram busted out big time against the Packers, rushing for 172 yards and a TD on 24 carries. The stats paint a positive picture, as does the eye test. Ingram just looks more confident in his runs. He’s hitting the right holes, and doing so with power. The improved Ingram we’re seeing is real. We still need to keep an eye on home/road splits, so view Ingram as an RB2 at home and as an RB3/flex on the road, for now, with room for a bump up to RB2 status on the road as well. But let’s see how he fares against Carolina on Thursday.

- Doug Martin, RB - TB: 10 carries, 27 yards, 0 TDs

- Bobby Rainey, RB – TB: 8 carries, 25 yards, 0 TDs

- Charles Sims, RB – TB: DNP – currently on IR-designated return 

Analysis:         So we sorted through the Bills’ RB group earlier, and now we tackle the Bucs situation. Doug Martin, subject to trade rumors (trade deadline has passed – he’s not going anywhere) and general disappointment by Bucs fans and the fantasy community alike, was injured halfway through the game. Bobby Rainey stepped in for Martin after the injury. Just like Martin, Rainey didn’t do too much to inspire confidence. The third name here, Charles Sims, is an intriguing rookie who will be coming off the IR soon (expected to be around week 9). Which RB do you want to own? For this week, it’s Rainey. For the remainder of the season, it’s Charles Sims. This situation most closely parallels the Vikings’ McKinnon/Asiata pairing. The Bucs know what they have with both Martin and Rainey. Both are ok, but none appear to factor as the franchise guy going forward, at least not in the Bucs’ eyes. Asiata fell into the same camp for the Vikings. With the season lost for the Bucs, the team wants to know what it has in Sims, which is the right move. Can Sims be the franchise RB for the Bucs? Sure he can. Will he? Maybe – the Bucs will find out. So from my viewpoint, Sims is the RB to own from the Bucs group.

- John Brown, WR – AZ: 5 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD

Analysis:         John Brown was the Cardinals’ under-the-radar fourth round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Didn’t take long for Brown to force his way into the Cards’ WR plans. With Palmer back at the helm, look for Brown to continue to be an important factor in the passing game. Note that along with his 5 receptions, Brown was targeted 10 times this week. The kid’s got serious talent, no doubt about it. How should you value Brown? He’s straddling the WR3/WR4 line, so he’s more of a backup, but one that should be owned in all leagues with 12 or more teams. Brown’s numbers will be somewhat inconsistent from week to week, as they are for most rookies, and he’ll be contending with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and even Andre Ellington for receptions. But, he’ll continue to increase his involvement in the offense, so if you need another WR, grab Brown.

- Martavis Bryant, WR - PIT: 8 catches, 83 yards, 2 TDs

Analysis:         What a great WR rookie class! Next up, the Steelers’ promising rookie WR Martavis Bryant. We don’t have much to go on in terms of numbers, as he’s only accumulated stats in two games. But, just from watching the tape, it’s clear that Bryant has a bright future in the NFL. Bryant won’t set the fantasy world on fire this season, as Antonio Brown has dibs. But, Bryant provides Roethlisberger with a large target, one that should get targets in the end zone. Bryant falls into the WR4 category (so a bit behind John Brown), but like Brown, he has room to move up a bit. Keep an eye on Bryant going forward, and those in deeper leagues should roster him if you need a WR. 

Rapid Fire Pickups

Each week we’ll throw out potential free agent pickups from each position for deeper leagues, in each case 1) someone who has NOT been referenced above, and 2) a player available in most leagues. 

QB:                  Zach Mettenberger, TEN

RB:                  Jonas Gray, NE

RB:                  Travaris Cadet, NO               

WR:                 Davante Adams, GB

WR:                 Donte Moncrief, IND

TE:                  Richard Rodgers, GB

Week 9 Rankings


1. Peyton Manning

2. Andrew Luck

3. Drew Brees

4. Tom Brady

5. Philip Rivers

6. Russell Wilson

7. Cam Newton

8. Colin Kaepernick

9. Nick Foles

10. Carson Palmer

11. Ben Roethlisberger

12. Tony Romo

13. Eli Manning

14. Ryan Tannehill

15. Andy Dalton

16. Joe Flacco

17. Brian Hoyer

18. Teddy Bridgewater

19. Alex Smith

20. Austin Davis

Running Backs

1. Arian Foster

2. DeMarco Murray

3. Marshawn Lynch

4. Jamaal Charles

5. Le'Veon Bell

6. LeSean McCoy

7. Lamar Miller

8. Ronnie Hillman

9. Andre Ellington

10. Mark Ingram

11. Ahamd Bradshaw

12. Giovani Bernard

13. Alfred Morris

14. Justin Forsett

15. Jerick McKinnon

16. Branden Oliver

17. Frank Gore

18. Denard Robinson

19. Ben Tate

20. Chris Ivory

21. Shane Vereen

22. Tre Mason

23. Andre Williams

24. Trent Richardson

25. Darren McFadden

26. DeAngelo Williams

27. Darren Sproles

28. Jonas Gray

29. Jeremy Hill

30. Charles Sims

31. Juwan Thompson

32. Lorenzo Taliaferro

33. Knile Davis

34. Carlos Hyde

35. Bobby Rainey

Wide Receivers

1. Antonio Brown

2. Demaryius Thomas

3. Dez Bryant

4. T.Y. Hilton

5. Jeremy Maclin

6. Emmanuel Sanders

7. Kelvin Benjamin

8. A.J. Green

9. DeSean Jackson

10. Andre Johnson

11. Steve Smith Sr.

12. Mike Wallace

13. DeAndre Hopkins

14. Keen Allen

15. Rueben Randle

16. Brandon LaFell

17. Odell Beckham Jr.

18. Brandin Cooks

19. Doug Baldwin

20. Vincent Jackson

21. Mohamed Sanu

22. Michael Floyd

23. Julian Edelman

24. Terrance Williams

25. Pierre Garcon

26. Torrey Smith

27. Cordarrelle Patterson

28. Larry Fitzgerald

29. Andrew Hawkins

30. Reggie Wayne

31. Anquan Boldin

32. Marques Colston

33. Percy Harvin

34. Matavis Bryant

35. Mike Evans

Tight Ends

1. Rob Gronkowski

2. Julius Thomas

3. Jimmy Graham

4. Antonio Gates

5. Greg Olsen

6. Jordan Reed

7. Larry Donnell

8. Dwayne Allen

9. Jason Witten

10. Travis Kelce

11. Zach Ertz

12. Vernon Davis

13. Heath Miller

14. Tim Wright

15. Jared Cook

- Neema Hodjat is the fantasy sports expert for RealGM.  He can be reached via email at nhodjat@gmail.com and followed on twitter at @NeemaHodjat.

NFL Team Rankings, Week 8

Von Miller and the Broncos now have the top spot in our rankings ahead of the Ravens, Dolphins, Saints, Cowboys, Colts and Cardinals.

$.10 After NFL Week 8

On the Cardinals beating Philadelphia, another loss for the Jets, all AFC North teams with a winning record, all NFC South teams with a losing record, a power ranking and more.

2015 NFL Mock Draft, Version 2.0

We project Leonard Williams, Marcus Mariota, Shawn Oakman, Brandon Scherff, Landon Collins, Connor Cook and Dante Fowler as the top-7 picks.

Football Meteorology For NFL Week 8

The NFL kicks off Week 8 with its best game of the weekend on Thursday in Broncos/Chargers, while the Saints look to salvage their season against the Packers, and the rest of the week's games.

Fantasy Football Week 8 Rankings

On Ronnie Hillman, Russell Wilson, Tre Mason, Denard Robinson, Sammy Watkins and Doug Baldwin, plus the positional rankings for Week 8.

NFL Team Rankings, Week 7

The Dolphins recorded an impressive win at Chicago and now rank No. 2 in the Trench Counter, behind the Ravens and ahead of the Packers, Chargers, Broncos, Cowboys, Colts and Cardinals.