1. With the Chiefs getting ready for their biggest late-season game in the year, it appears they will be without quarterback Matt Cassel for this week’s road game in San Diego. Cassel underwent appendectomy surgery this week and will likely be a game-time decision. With an 8-4 record, a Chiefs win coupled with a Raiders loss in Jacksonville would likely give Kansas City an insurmountable lead in capturing their first AFC West title since 2002. However, if Cassel can’t go, backup Brodie Croyle will take over under center, and he has compiled a horrendous 0-9 record as a starter since being taken in the second round of the 2007 draft.
2. While Kansas City is within sight of their first division title in years, the Colts are getting precariously close to sitting out the playoffs for the first time since the 2001 season. Surprisingly, the main problem for the Colts at the moment is at quarterback. Peyton Manning had thrown 11 interceptions in the three games prior to Thursday night’s win over the Titans. Those three games ended up as losses, due largely to four of Manning’s interceptions being returned for touchdowns, one of which resulted in a game-winning field goal for the Cowboys in overtime. Indianapolis was outscored 40-0 off turnovers in those games. The four picks Manning threw in each of the two games prior to Week 14 are a career first. Despite all of this, the Colts still control their own destiny. Having beaten the Texans on Thursday night, they still have the opportunity to take the AFC South title if they can win their two remaining games.
3. Despite playing with a broken nose for almost the entire game, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continued his mastery over the Ravens on Sunday night. With the Steelers racking up ten fourth-quarter points to come from behind for a 13-10 win, Roethlisberger now has an 8-2 lifetime record against Baltimore, which includes six straight wins.
4. With losses in their last two games, the Buccaneers’ surprising run at a playoff spot is losing steam, and you don’t have to look any further than the team’s lengthy injury list for an explanation. The group most affected has been the offensive line, where left tackle Donald Penn is the team’s only offensive lineman lining up where he started in Week 1. Center Jeff Faine was placed on injured reserve this week, joining right guard Davin Joseph. Also, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood has lost his starting spot to James Lee. Rookie Ted Larsen has taken over at left guard for Keydrick Vincent, who was released a few weeks ago. Jeremy Zuttah, a converted guard, will step in for Faine this week while another rookie, Derek Hardman, will start in place of Joseph. The Bucs have featured a trio of surprise fantasy performers this year in quarterback Josh Freeman, running back LeGarrette Blount, and wide receiver Mike Williams, but the state of the offensive line should concern those players’ owners.
5. The Bucs ship might be sinking, but division rival New Orleans appears to have hit their stride over the past five weeks. And the fantasy owners of the Saints skill position players should continue to reap the benefits over the remainder of the season. The Saints have won five straight games and have scored at least 30 points in each of their last four games. If any Saints players are available on the waiver wire in your league, they are likely worth grabbing.
6. The Packers offense has been a boon for any fantasy owner wise enough to have grabbed Green Bay’s skill position players in this year’s draft; and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is once again the top fantasy quarterback. On the field, Rodgers is continuing to build upon his solid 2009 season and has now thrown 177 consecutive passes without an interception, the second-longest of that streak in Packers history. And, no, Brett Favre (of course) is not the current owner of that record. It belongs to another Packers legend, Bart Starr.
7. The sad-sack Bills haven’t been able to buy a break thus far in 2010. They have lost five games by five or fewer points, including three losses by three points in overtime with one coming on a last-second field goal. With a glaring need for a franchise quarterback as well as reinforcements at several positions, Bills fans are now looking toward the draft and hoping for a quick turnaround similar to the Rams’ solid season, which has come largely through the performance of this year’s first overall pick, quarterback Sam Bradford. With a 2-10 record, Buffalo sits tied with Detroit and Cincinnati and is one game ahead of Carolina (1-11). However, the chances of Buffalo landing the top pick and selecting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck remain disappointing slim for Bills followers. That’s because the tiebreaker in determining draft position for non-playoff teams is the strength of a team’s opponents, with the team with a more difficult schedule being ranked above a team with an easier schedule. The Bills lose out due to the excellent records of the team’s in their division, with the Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins having a combined record of 25-11. In essence, the Bills get punished for being in a good division, and that will likely prevent them, once again, from acquiring a potential franchise quarterback.
8. If there’s a silver lining for Bills fans, look no further than the battered state of the team’s offensive line, which will greatly reduce their chances of winning another game in 2010. With the Dolphins, Patriots, and Jets on tap for Weeks 15-17, the Bills only realistic chance for another win comes this week when they face the Browns in Buffalo. Cleveland lost both its starting and second-string centers this week when Geoff Hangartner and Kraig Urbik were lost to knee injuries. Those injuries will likely result in left guard Andy Levitre sliding over to center, a position he has never played professionally. Undrafted rookie free agent Cord Howard will take over for Levitre at left guard. Eric Wood will likely return to the starting lineup at right guard after having missed two games with an ankle injury. And Mansfield Wrotto, who wasn’t even with the Bills in training camp, will line up at right tackle. Buffalo has regularly ignored the offensive line in the draft—a philosophy that obviously needs to change going forward.
9. As you’ve heard several times by now, the Chargers have been ranked near the top of the league in both offense and defense for much of the season; they were even ranked No. 1 in each category for several weeks. However, they are coming off a poor showing at home in a key divisional game against the Raiders and, surprisingly, it was their inability to stop the run that was their undoing. Michael Bush finished with 104 rushing yards, becoming the first player to gain over 100 yards on the ground against the Chargers in 2010. Prior to that, the most yards they had given up to one player was the 91 they allowed to the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles on opening day. Worse yet for the Chargers, Darren McFadden finished with 97 yards, leaving him just three yards shy of the century mark. With a 6-6 record and four games remaining, the Chargers need help to reach the playoffs and are behind both Oakland and Kansas City with a division record of 1-3. Their schedule isn’t daunting, however, with this week’s game against the Chiefs being their biggest test. But barring a Kansas City collapse, the Chargers seem destined to be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
10. Falcons wide receiver Roddy White has been on fire for much of the 2010 season. With seven receptions for 74 yards this week, he topped his previous high in receptions and now has 91 on the season. At this point, it appears White will become the first Falcon to catch 100 passes since the diminutive Eric Metcalf did so in 1995.
11. The Cowboys have had a three-headed fantasy monster at running back this season with Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice all playing a role—yet none of them have been significant fantasy performers. With Barber out of the lineup last Sunday and the Colts and their feeble run defense on tap, Dallas had their best rushing performance of the season, courtesy of a 100-yard, one-touchdown performance by Choice and a 22-carry, 83-yard performance by Jones. Barber has been a huge disappointment this season and carries a hefty price tag for next season, which will result in his release unless his accepts a drastic salary reduction. Look for Dallas to go with a Jones–Choice tandem in 2011, and don’t be surprised if Choice ends up being the better fantasy performer. He has been productive when given an opportunity, and the Cowboys view him as the better short-yardage runner, which should translate into better touchdown production than Jones.
12. Another young running back whose performance in Week 13 increased his value in dynasty leagues is Green Bay’s James Stark. The rookie fell to the sixth round of the NFL draft due to injury problems in college, but the Packers like his size/speed combination. Incumbent Ryan Grant is on injured reserve and carries a 2011 salary of just under $6 million in the final year of his deal. Despite not having played since his junior season, Starks was solid in his first game as a pro, gaining 73 yards on 19 carries. With Brandon Jackson having used his extensive playing time in 2010 to prove that he is nothing more than a backup, Starks will almost certainly enter 2011 at no worse than second on the depth chart.
13. Raiders rookie fourth-round pick Jacoby Ford has been impressive in limited action this season and has come on of late, with a pair of 100-yard receiving games and two touchdowns in his last four games. Although Ford has been productive, Oakland head coach Tom Cable announced this week that Ford isn’t assured of retaining his starting spot once the team’s veteran receivers are healthy. That may just be a motivational ploy, but it won’t be a surprise if Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey take over as the team’s starters, relegating Ford to a backup role.