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Heap Leaves The Ravens’ Nest For The Cardinals

By: — August 2, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

Last season, Arizona established the start of a pipeline when they sent Anquan Boldin to the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday, the Cardinals fired their return shot when they agreed to a two-year contract with Todd Heap.

In 2010, Heap caught 40 passes for 599 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games – the fifth time in his career he has eclipsed 40 receptions, 500 yards and five scores in the same season. To put that accomplishment into some kind of perspective in the long history of the Cardinals’ franchise, only two tight ends in franchise history have hit each of those benchmarks in the same year (Jackie Smith and Robert Awalt) and both of those players only did it once in their time with the team. So, to say Heap adds another dimension to this team is a gross understatement.

Fantasy Impact

For a Cardinals team that has been a virtual wasteland for fantasy TEs since the days of Freddie Jones, Heap is a huge get. Even at age 31 with a poor record of durability, Heap fills a void that has existed in Arizona for countless years. The signing is also the latest in a number of recent moves from the Cardinals to do whatever takes to make Kevin Kolb’s adjustment to the desert as smooth as possible. As far as Heap is concerned from a fantasy perspective, his arrival in Arizona is basically a lateral move. If owners were targeting him as a low-end TE1 before, they should do so now as well. As it has been for years, his biggest flaw is his injury history, so be sure to pair him up with another high-upside, late-round TE. But his presence should definitely make the lives of Larry Fitzgerald and Kolb much easier, especially since Kolb has already shown a willingness to throw to the tight end. The biggest loser with Heap coming to town is rookie Rob Housler, who was set to take on the pass-catching TE role in this offense before this signing.

Dave’s Take: Super Bowl – Fantasy Football Tips, News & Notes

By: — February 4, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

Is Orton really competing for the starting QB job?

1. Recently installed as the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations, John Elway stated this week that the team would enter training camp with an open competition at the quarterback position. However, the odds are long that 2010 first round pick Tim Tebow will not be starting on opening day. By going public that there would be a competition at the position, Elway accomplished two goals. First, he keeps the heat on Tebow and reinforces that he will need to work hard during the offseason to win the starting position. Secondly, he signals to other teams potentially interested in Kyle Orton that Orton is in the team’s plans and won’t be released by the club. Therefore, any team looking at Orton as a potential starter in 2011 will need to acquire him via trade from the Broncos. Denver has taken some heat for giving Elway such a prominent role despite his inexperience but the early indications are that he is a quick study and that bodes well for Broncos fans.

2. The Falcons signed head coach Mike Smith to a three-year contract extension this week, locking up him through the 2014 season. Smith led the Falcons to the top seed in the NFC this season and the Falcons have had a winning record in each of his three years in Atlanta, going 33-15 over those seasons. The team compiled back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the franchise’s history under Smith’s tenure and with this extension, the AFC South will boast arguably the top group of division coaches in the league over the next few years. Sean Payton led the Saints to the Super Bowl championship last season while the Buccaneers Raheem Morris finished second in the AP Coach of the Year voting this season. In Carolina, the Panthers have brought in Ron Rivera and he has been a successful defensive coordinator for several seasons. The AFC South had two playoff participants this year and it won’t be a surprise if that remains the case for the next couple of seasons.

3. Sticking with the Falcons, general manager Thomas Dimitroff faces some interesting offseason decisions regarding the team’s stable of running backs. While Michael Turner is clearly the team’s most talented back and is signed long term, both of the team’s top backups are likely to be unrestricted free agents once a new collective bargaining agreement is signed. Jason Snelling took over as Turner’s top backup during 2009 and held that role this past season. Jerious Norwood has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, playing in just 12 games, but remains an explosive player when healthy and can also contribute as a returner. With Snelling having proven to be a productive receiver out of the backfield (a role that Turner has never embraced) with 74 receptions over the last two years, there is less of a need for the Falcons to bring Norwood back. However, the Falcons rely heavily on the ground game and Norwood’s leverage is significantly hampered due to his inability to stay healthy so there is a strong chance he will be back in Atlanta in 2011.

4. Over in Carolina, the Panthers surely felt the sting when Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck chose to forego turning pro, leaving 2010 draft picks Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike as the only players at the position likely to return to the team for the 2011 season. While Panthers general manager Marty Hurney went public with the team’s plans to upgrade the quarterback position, don’t be surprised if Clausen ends up starting on opening day next season. With a defensive minded head coach in Ron Rivera, a stable of talented running backs and an offensive line built for run blocking, the Panthers will likely employ a short passing attack which suits a young quarterback like Clausen. With none of this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks being worthy of being the top overall selection in the draft and this year’s crop of veteran free agents on the downside of their careers, the odds are strong that Clausen will emerge as the Panthers starter in 2011.

5. In Cincinnati, the Bengals took their time in deciding the fate of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, finally choosing to fire him this week. Bratkowski successfully used a heavily run-based offense in 2009 with the team winning the AFC North title that season. However, with the addition of Terrell Owens, Bratkowski abandoned the running game with decidedly mixed results. Jay Gruden, Jon’s brother, will take over for Bratkowski next season and he inherits an offense with a number of pressing issues. Quarterback Carson Palmer has asked to be traded, running back Cedric Benson is a free agent and wants a commitment to the running game before re-signing, Owens won’t be back and Chad OchoCinco may be on his way out as well, leaving a largely unproven trio of wide receivers in Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and Jordan Shipley. This will be Gruden’s first season as an offensive coordinator in the league and that factor combined with the uncertainties at several skill positions could turn the Bengals offense into a fantasy mess in 2011.

6. The Chiefs were in the market for an offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis chose to leave Kansas City for the comfy confines of the coordinators role with the Florida Gators. Rather than bring in a big name for the position, they chose to promote offensive line coach Bill Muir. Muir’s promotion removes any doubt that head coach Todd Haley will be the main driving force and play caller for the Chiefs offense in 2011. The decision to hire Muir doesn’t come as a surprise as there were several rumours during the season that Haley clashed with Weis over the team’s offensive direction. Haley’s strong personality may have scared away potential candidates but the more likely scenario is that he wanted the added responsibilities and an offensive coordinator who isn’t likely to clash with him on game day.

7. Super Bowl Fact: For the first time in its 45-year history, the Super Bowl will be without cheerleaders. The Steelers and Packers franchises do not employ cheerleaders so this Sunday’s game will be the first Super Bowl without them. And frankly speaking, if you miss them, you’re missing the point.

8. Super Bowl Prediction: Packers 24, Steelers 20.

9. Hall of Fame Prediction: Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Curtis Martin, Dermontti Dawson, Andre Reed.

Dave’s Take: Conference Championships – Fantasy Football Tips, News & Notes

By: — January 19, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

1. With offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur leaving to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, St. Louis faced the difficult decision of finding an offensive coordinator to further the development of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the likely winner of the Rookie of the Year award. To avoid having Bradford learn two different systems in his first two years in the league, the Rams were expected to hire a disciple of the West Coast offense that Shurmur ran. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith’s disastrous first few years in the league were the result of having to learn multiple systems, and his case was the most often cited rationale for the team wanting to use the West Coast system in 2011. However, after a difficult negotiation, the team instead chose to hire controversial former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels coordinated the record-setting Patriots offense in 2007 and coaxed productive seasons out of Matt Cassel in 2008 and Kyle Orton during his stay in Denver. The decision to hire McDaniels will be much discussed, given his volatile tenure with the Broncos. But the issues that plagued him in Denver will not be present in St. Louis. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s assistants rarely speak to the media, and McDaniels won’t have much say in personnel matters, which he proved in Denver is his worst attribute. The decision to hire McDaniels will likely be viewed in league circles as a boom-or-bust move, but, given his offensive pedigree, McDaniels represented more upside than any of the other candidates. And the downside risk is minimized by the fact that McDaniels will be looking to bolster his resume in order to secure his next head coaching position. In fact, the most likely downside for the Rams would be that McDaniels may help Bradford have a solid season and then land himself a head coaching gig in 2012.

Sam Bradford's stock is on the rise.

2. The fantasy impact of McDaniels joining the Rams can be summed up simply as “more pass and less run.” McDaniels prefers to throw the ball, and with running back Steven Jackson coming off his worst season since becoming a starter, look for McDaniels to lean heavily on Bradford’s throwing abilities. It’s also worth noting that McDaniels coaxed a Pro Bowl caliber year out of retread Brandon Lloyd, as well as productive seasons from Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal. His ability to get the most out of his wide receivers reduces the likelihood that the Rams will use a first- or second-round selection on a wide receiver and increases the chance of rookie Danario Alexander having a productive sophomore campaign.

3. Over in Cleveland, Browns management chose the up-and-coming Shurmur over several other big-name head coaches. Shurmur’s ties to the Eagles organization when current Browns general manager Tom Heckert was in Philadelphia helped his cause, as well as did his West Coast system, which meshes well with the philosophy of head honcho Mike Holmgren. The knock on Shurmur was that he had only been an offensive coordinator for two years in St. Louis and that he failed to take enough shots downfield. On the plus side, it’s hard to argue with the solid development Bradford showed in his first year, and there were plenty of whispers in St. Louis that Spagnuolo had handcuffed Shurmur in his offensive play calling. With Shurmur having shown an ability to develop young quarterbacks and Holmgren there to mentor both Shurmur and rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, the odds of McCoy blossoming into a solid starter are more likely than they were with the departed Eric Mangini leading the team.

4. Leave it to Raiders owner Al Davis to inexplicably fire head coach Tom Cable after he lead the team to their first season with fewer than eleven losses since 2002. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Davis, the team’s legendary owner who has been in full-scale decline as an owner for close to a decade. During the press conference announcing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as the team’s 17th head coach (sixth since 2002), Davis blasted Cable, calling him a liar, implying that he embarrassed the organization, and stating that he had done a bad job as head coach. Davis also informed the team’s fans that he had withheld $120,000 from Cable’s paycheck as insurance against the Raiders losing a lawsuit to a former assistant who accused Cable of injuring him in a physical altercation. Just when the Raiders looked ready to turn the corner, Davis puts on another theater of the absurd, increasing the questions about which direction the team is headed in and whether they can produce a winning record in spite of their delusional owner. Here’s a note for you, Al: If you plan on firing any employee who embarrasses the organization, how about starting at the top with yourself?

5. The Falcons’ loss to the Packers this week was hardly a surprise given Green Bay’s strong play of late. Atlanta had the look of a solid regular season team, able to pile up wins based on their ability to run the ball, avoid turnovers on offense and mistakes on special teams, and play stout, if unspectacular, defense. However, Fox announcer Jimmy Johnson gets kudos here for hitting the nail on the head. He proclaimed that running the ball and playing solid defense provides wins in the regular season, but in games between similarly matched teams in the playoffs, the one more capable of making big plays will generally come out on top. Sure enough, the Packers came up with several big plays in their win over Atlanta, particularly exposing the Falcons’ lack of a big-play threat outside of wide receiver Roddy White. While running back Michael Turner puts up impressive yardage totals, his ability to make big plays diminished in 2010. And tight end Tony Gonzalez no longer has the ability to stretch a defense up the middle. As for wide receiver Michael Jenkins, it will be a shock if the Falcons don’t use a high draft pick to provide competition for the disappointing former first-round pick.

6. My condolences to Broncos fans who this weekend will see former Denver quarterback Jay Cutler lead the Bears in the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Former head coach Josh McDaniels shipped away Cutler and a fifth-round pick in return for Kyle Orton, a pair of first-round picks, and a third-round selection. Meanwhile, in Denver, the team has hired John Fox to replace the departed McDaniels; Orton is apparently on the trading block; and the Broncos’ return on the draft picks they received from the Bears has been minimal.

7. Last offseason, the Saints shipped offensive tackle Jamaal Brown to the Redskins for a mid-round draft pick, choosing to rely on Jermon Bushrod at the all-important left tackle position that protects the blindside of quarterback Drew Brees. Bushrod had a solid season in 2009 when Brown was placed on injured reserve early in the year, and he was a key contributor in the Saints’ Super Bowl win. But Bushrod’s play slipped a little in 2010, and the Saints are now in a quandary at left tackle, with Bushrod likely to be an unrestricted free agent in the new CBA. His play in 2010 didn’t warrant the megabucks deal that most young, emerging left tackles receive, but the Saints only have untested rookie second-round pick Charles Brown in reserve. This shapes up as a very interesting dilemma for a team that clearly needs stronger protection on the blindside of their franchise quarterback.

Dave’s Take: Wildcard Weekend – Fantasy Football Tips, News & Notes

By: — January 11, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

1. Colts head coach Jim Caldwell has had a solid start to his career, winning two AFC South division championships and taking Indianapolis to the Super Bowl last season and the first round of the playoffs this season. However, he made his biggest coaching blunder in the opening week of the playoffs. With the Colts leading the Jets 16-14 with 29 seconds remaining, New York faced a second-and-eight at the Colts 32-yard line after a 2-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. The Jets appeared to be playing conservatively, content to let the clock run down and trot out kicker Nick Folk for a long field goal attempt. That was until Caldwell inexplicably called a timeout. After the timeout, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called a deep sideline pass to 6’5” wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was being covered by 5’10” cornerback Jacob Lacey. Net result: 18-yard gain to the Indianapolis 14-yard line. Rather than Folk having to kick a 40-plus yard field goal, he nailed the game-winning 31-yarder. Caldwell should have let the clock wind down and let the Jets run the ball one more time before attempting a long field. It makes you wonder whether Caldwell knew that Folk had struggled from long distances (3-for-6 from between 40 and 49 yards and 2-for-5 from 50 yards or more).

A prime trade candidate in 2011.

2. With the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Packers, the focus in Philadelphia will now turn to the team’s quarterback situation. Just as they did last year, the Eagles enter the offseason with question marks at the position. When Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins last year, the starting reins were handed to Kevin Kolb, who was injured in Week 1 and quickly lost the job to Michael Vick. Vick’s outstanding, MVP-caliber season and upcoming free-agent status—along with Kolb’s contract status and apparent unhappiness with being a backup—clouds the Eagles’ plans at the position. While Vick will command a hefty salary in 2011, either on a long-term contract or with the franchise tag (provided there is one in the new CBA), Kolb is due just $1.4 million in 2011 in the final year of his contract. Given Kolb’s low salary and Vick’s often reckless running style that makes him susceptible to injuries, the Eagles could decide to retain both quarterbacks. The flip side is that if Kolb isn’t traded this offseason, the Eagles risk losing him to free agency after next season and would receive nothing more for him than a compensatory draft pick (again, provided that stipulation remains in the new CBA). With the best predictor of future behavior being past behavior, the trade of McNabb as he entered the final year of his contract provides sufficient clues to what will happen. With several teams in need of a quality starting quarterback, Kolb will have a good number of suitors. Look for Andy Reid to move him prior to the start of the 2011 season.

3. Sticking with Kolb, let’s run down the franchises that will try to upgrade or bolster their quarterback depth via trade, free agency, or the draft. Carolina, Buffalo, Miami, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, Oakland, Washington, and Minnesota figure to address their quarterback situations in the offseason. Of those teams, only Washington, Buffalo, and Oakland would not have interest in Kolb.

4. The free-agent class of 2011 looks to be extremely weak at quarterback. Including players likely to be released by their current teams, the most attractive free agent options will be McNabb, Alex Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, and Marc Bulger. Other than Kolb, Kyle Orton is the only starting-caliber quarterback likely to be available in a trade.

5. Brett Favre is also not under contract for 2011, although it looks like he’s finally ready to ride off into the sunset—but you never know…

6. With the offseason approaching, it’s worth noting that until a new CBA is signed, the only offseason trades allowed are those that involve draft picks going in both directions.

7. Similar to the Eagles, the Bengals were expected to evaluate the quarterback position in the offseason. Unlike Philadelphia, Cincinnati’s issue wasn’t an embarrassment of riches at the position. Rather, the Bengals were expected to ponder whether it was time to move on from Carson Palmer and use a high draft pick to head in another direction. However, shortly after signing a two-year extension to remain the team’s coach, Marvin Lewis addressed Palmer’s situation and stated that he would remain the starter for 2011. Palmer had a poor season this year when offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski went with a pass-heavy offense after the team acquired Terrell Owens as a free agent, eschewing the smashmouth, run-based offense that led to a division title in 2009. Running back Cedric Benson is a free agent, and he has let it be known that he is unlikely to return if Bratkowski stays. Look for the Bengals to jettison Bratkowski, whose offensive philosophy didn’t seem to mesh with Lewis’ expectations this season, and look for Benson to return to Cincinnati in 2011.

8. Once again, the Rams face a difficult offseason decision concerning the contract of starting free safety O.J. Atogwe. Last year, the Rams placed the lowest possible restricted free agent tender on Atogwe because a higher tender had to include a 10 percent raise over his 2008 salary of $6.3 million (when he was the team’s franchise player). Atogwe refused to sign the tender and, under an anomaly in the CBA, became a free agent on June 1st when the Rams failed to increase his tender by 10 percent of his 2009 salary. With most teams having spent to their budgets, Atogwe received little interest on the free-agent market and re-upped with the Rams on an inflated 5-year, $31.6 million contract. The contract included $4.1 million in guaranteed money for the 2010 season, a 2011 roster bonus of $8 million, and a $3.5 million salary for next season. In essence, it was a one-year deal for $4.1 million, since the Rams are unlikely to pay the roster bonus, which would trigger the remaining four years and $27.5 million. Atogwe has been a solid playmaker during his six years in St. Louis, with 22 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, and four sacks. However, he will turn 30 prior to the 2011 season, and Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive philosophy is based on a dominant front four to pressure the quarterback and big cornerbacks with solid tackling ability. Barring a renegotiation to a lower salary, look for Atogwe to be in a new uniform in 2011.

9. We speculated last week that Owen Daniels might not be back in Houston next season. But with Gary Kubiak unexpectedly retaining his role as head coach, he quickly put cold water on those rumors. Kubiak endorsed Daniels’ return in 2011, stating that he displayed Pro Bowl form over the last four weeks of the season and that the Texans needed him on the roster.

10. In a response to a fan’s Twitter posting this week, Terrell Owens remarked that he would love to be catching passes from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in 2011. After not making a big play for Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, in part because of his two DUI arrests, St. Louis would seem to have little interest in signing Owens as a free agent. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo has made character a key priority in determining which free agents to pursue and which rookies to draft, so that match doesn’t seem likely to come to fruition.

11. Saints running back Pierre Thomas was expected to have a breakout season in 2010—with Mike Bell having signed with the Eagles and his replacement, Lynell Hamilton, lost for the season in training camp. That was derailed when Thomas suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 that lingered for almost the entire season, causing him to miss all but six games. He is a free agent after the 2010 season, and there is a strong possibility that he won’t be re-signed by the Saints. Head coach Sean Payton apparently wasn’t pleased with Thomas’ inability to recover from the ankle injury, and the emergence of Chris Ivory may make Thomas expendable in New Orleans, particularly if the team decides to pay Reggie Bush the close to $12 million he is due in 2011.

12. Another running back likely to be looking for a new team in 2011 is the Chargers’ Darren Sproles. Sproles has been an important cog in the San Diego offense and special teams for several seasons, but he was not as productive in either of those areas in 2010. San Diego has paid Sproles close to $14 million over the past two seasons, but they are unlikely to reward him with a lucrative long-term contract extension or to place the franchise tag on him after a season in which he carried only 50 times for 267 yards and caught 59 passes for 520 yards with a pair of touchdowns. In addition, he struggled as a returner, although that can be partially attributed to the team’s overall poor performance on special teams.

Dave’s Take: Wildcard Weekend – Fantasy Football Tips, News & Notes

By: — January 4, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

1. Minnesota’s Brad Childress was the first head coach to be let go this season, followed by Wade Phillips in Dallas, Josh McDaniels in Denver, and Mike Singletary in San Francisco. Cleveland was then first off the block once the regular season ended, with Browns top executive Mike Holmgren giving Eric Mangini the pink slip. The pairing of the defense-first, ultra-conservative Mangini with the offensive-minded Holmgren was an odd one, a shotgun marriage that seemed bound to fail when Holmgren was hired last offseason, inheriting Mangini as his head coach. It was a surprise to most when Holmgren announced that Mangini would be retained, but his firing was expected after Cleveland had a string of disappointing games to end the season. The Browns appeared to turn the corner with a win over powerful New England, but then the wheels then came off. After that impressive win, they went 2-6, including losses in their final four games. The final straw was the team’s dismal performance in a Week 17, 41-9 home loss to division rival Pittsburgh. That spelled the end for Mangini, as Holmgren apparently couldn’t stomach losses to bottom-feeders Buffalo and Cincinnati (a loss that snapped a Bengals 10-game losing streak) as well as the Steelers and the Ravens. Look for Cleveland to turn to an offensive-minded head coach that utilizes the West Coast offense, as Holmgren attempts to find a balance between his offensive vision and that of his hand-picked coach.

Sweeping the division may not be enough to save Tom Cable.

2. Sticking with the head coaching carousel, the contracts of Carolina’s John Fox and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis have expired and neither coach is expected to be re-signed. Other coaches whose situations are tenuous are Gary Kubiak of the Texans, the Titans’ Jeff Fisher, Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Tony Sparano of the Dolphins, and the Raiders’ Tom Cable. Add it all up and there could be a whopping 12 coaches with a new team in 2011, provided of course that the league and the players’ association can hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.

3. Here’s my take on which of the above coaches keep their jobs: Kubiak and Del Rio. That’s it.

4. With their win over the Bengals in Week 17—coupled with a Colts win and a Chiefs loss—the Ravens will travel to Kansas City to play the Chiefs in the AFC wild-card round. That should bring a sigh of relief to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh since Baltimore hasn’t beaten Indianapolis since 2001 and the Colts have knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs twice in the last four years.

5. With the Seahawks’ unexpected win over the Rams in Week 17, Seattle captured the NFC West crown with a 7-9 record, becoming the first team with a losing record to qualify for the playoffs. Next up is a home date with the Saints, and you can expect that game’s spread to approach 20 by kickoff.

6. This season the Lions set the league record for most consecutive road losses before finally stopping that streak at 26 with a win in Tampa Bay in Week 15. That win also ended their streak of not having won consecutive games since 2007, as they had defeated Green Bay in Week 14. The Lions then proceeded to down the Dolphins and the Vikings to end the season. That four-game win streak bodes well for a Lions team that came together despite not having franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford for most of the season.

7. With their Week 17 win over the Chiefs, Oakland became the first team in NFL history to not qualify for the playoffs after going undefeated in their division.

8. Sticking with the Raiders, their 8-8 finish marks the first time since the 2002 season that Oakland finished with fewer than 11 losses.

9. Prior to the 2009 season, the Patriots traded defensive end Richard Seymour to the Raiders for Oakland’s 2011 first-round draft pick. With the Raiders now eliminated from the playoffs, that pick becomes the 17th overall selection. In two years with Oakland, Seymour has played in 29 games and has accumulated 67 tackles, 9.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Solid numbers to be sure, but hardly worthy of the first-round pick required to obtain his services.

10. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is the hands-down favorite to win the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but there is a solid chance that two players from another team will finish second and third in the voting. Wide receiver Mike Williams and running LeGarrette Blount of Tampa Bay could finish right behind Bradford, and along with quarterback Josh Freeman they represent perhaps the league’s finest young trio of players from a single team. Look for Tampa Bay’s offense to take another step forward in 2011, making Freeman, Blount, and Williams (as well as tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Arrelious Benn, provided he progresses well in his recovery from a torn ACL) solid fantasy options.

11. Rams running back Steven Jackson topped 1,000 rushing yards for the sixth consecutive season, but he showed signs of wearing down near the end of the year. Despite having the second-most rushing attempts in the league, Jackson finished only eighth in rushing yards, averaging a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. He is generally the main focus of opposing defenses, but with Bradford leading an improved passing attack, Jackson faced fewer formations stacked to stop him than in 2009, when he finished with 1,416 rushing yards and a healthy 4.4 yards per carry. Look for the Rams to finally make a concerted effort to get Jackson a quality backup in order to reduce his wear and tear over the final years of his career.

12. The fantasy world will likely be down on Chargers running back Ryan Mathews entering the 2011 season, courtesy of his disappointing, injury-plagued rookie year. However, he played well in the Chargers final four games, posting 349 total yards and five touchdowns despite splitting time with Mike Tolbert in two of those games and giving way to Darren Sproles in passing situations.

13. Having thrown a touchdown pass in every game in 2010, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady became just the sixth player to accomplish this feat over a 16-game season.

14. Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson was the top fantasy wide receiver in Week 16 and finished with the second-most fantasy points among wide receivers in Week 17. Simpson had been regarded as a forgettable bust since being selected in the second round of the 2008 draft, but his solid performance to finish the season makes him the projected starter opposite Chad Ochocinco in 2011. With third-round pick Jordan Shipley having a solid rookie season and Andre Caldwell as a solid backup, the Bengals may forgo acquiring another wide receiver this offseason. Over the first 46 games of his career, Simpson had caught just three passes for 32 yards. Over his last two games, he had 18 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

15. The Jets have taken a fair amount of criticism for releasing Danny Woodhead in favor of rookie fourth-round pick Joe McKnight. Woodhead has been very productive in New England, giving the Patriots a solid receiving option out of the backfield and a change of pace to starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But with the Jets playing a meaningless game against the Bills in Week 17, McKnight got the start and showed the Jets faithful why he was kept around, putting up 158 yards on 32 carries.

16. The Seattle Seahawks took a fair amount of criticism for releasing T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the preseason, partly because he was their most productive wide receiver in 2009 and there seemed to be little depth behind him. They followed that up by trading Deion Branch to the Patriots five games into the season. However, head coach Pete Carroll felt that former bust Mike Williams was ready to launch his career in Seattle, and Williams came through with a solid season. He finished 2010 with 65 receptions for 751 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite playing hurt for much of the year, including missing two games with an ankle injury and leaving another in the first quarter. At just 25 years old, Williams clearly impressed Carroll with his production, and he was consequently signed to a three-year contract extension this week. With the team wanting to develop youngsters Deon Butler and Golden Tate and with Williams locked up long-term, it appears that Seattle is unlikely to use a high draft pick or to acquire a big-name free agent at wide receiver. Look for Seattle to also re-sign Ben Obomanu, who was productive this year when given an opportunity. That could round out the team’s receiving depth chart for the 2011 season.

17. The assumption in Denver has been that Kyle Orton will either enter 2011 as the team’s starting quarterback or battle 2010 first-round pick Tim Tebow for that spot. The more likely scenario is that the Broncos will move Orton in a trade at or prior to the draft in order to stockpile draft picks as the team enters what should be a rebuilding phase. The Broncos’ starting defenders are an aging group, and there is little young talent behind the starters. With Orton coming off a career year, his value is not likely to increase with more playing time. Look for Denver to move Orton while he’s hot and enter next season with Brady Quinn or another veteran signal caller behind Tebow.

Dave’s-Take: Week 17 – Fantasy Football Tips, News & Notes

By: — December 31, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

1. The NFL can’t be too happy that the biggest game of the season’s final week is a showdown between two losing teams. With no more meaningful games to choose from, the league decided to flex the Rams-Seahawks matchup to Sunday night. That tilt will decide the winner of the NFC West as well as the fourth seed in the NFC. If the Seahawks can pull out an unexpected home win, they will win the division with a 7-9 record—not exactly the publicity the league wants out of the biggest game on the final week of the season. As it stands, three teams in the NFC will finish with better records than the NFC West champions.

2. The Rams currently sit at 7-8 after going 6-42 over the last three years. While head coach Steve Spagnuolo took a lot of heat for going 1-15 during his rookie season in 2009, he is now poised to be one of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year honors.

3. The Colts have been a bit of an afterthought in discussions regarding who will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. However, as the season winds down, Indianapolis is playing perhaps their best football of the year, and the Colts’ ability to run the ball is a large part of the season for their success. Recently re-signed Dominic Rhodes has run well, and second-year player Donald Brown seems to be hitting his stride after struggling for most of his time in the league. With Joseph Addai back in the lineup, the Colts are as deep at running back as they have been in years.

4. The Panthers have been truly horrible this season, the result of several poor decisions by the team’s owners and management. Owner Jerry Richardson inexplicably chose to allow John Fox to coach in the final year of his contract without offering an extension. In addition, Richardson put the handcuffs on general manager Marty Hurney in his attempts to re-sign the team’s best defensive player, defensive end Julius Peppers, which led to his departure. Hurney further deserves the blame for thinking that Matt Moore could hold the torch at quarterback until second round pick Jimmy Clausen developed. Those three decisions were the biggest reasons for the Panthers’ poor showing. But there was light at the end of the tunnel: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Now the whispers are growing that Luck will stay in college for his senior year, which means the prize for being so bad in 2011 might not be nearly the coup Carolina’s management and fans were banking on.

Sterger captured, eagerly anticipating Roger Goodell's ruling.

5. After weeks of purported investigation, the NFL announced this week that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was fined $50,000 failing to cooperate with the league’s investigation of inappropriate conduct against former Jets employee, game-day hostess Jenn Sterger. While that outcome may be hard to believe, it seemed clear that the longer the league took to conclude the matter, the better the outcome was expected to be for Favre. The league clearly had no interest in embarrassing one of its most iconic players during what is now expected to be his final season in the league.

6. After the 49ers were soundly beaten by the Rams in a must-win game this week, head coach Mike Singletary was given his walking papers. Despite having two years and $5 million remaining on his contract, San Francisco chose to go in another direction after a disastrous season that began with the 49ers as the consensus pick to win the NFC West. The team came out of the gate slowly, however, with Singletary adding to the disarray by firing offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye early in the season. He followed that up with several questionable decisions at quarterback, failing to settle on either incumbent Alex Smith or Troy Smith, who was signed after being released by the Ravens in the preseason. Singletary may have been a solid motivator, but it was clear during his time in San Francisco that his lack of head coaching experience was a hindrance, so his firing was hardly a surprise.

7. Despite the Chargers disappointing season, owner Dean Spanos is expected to retain the general manager-head coach duo of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner. Although Smith’s decision to trade multiple draft picks to select running back Ryan Mathews in the first round hasn’t panned out, he has found a number of gems late in the draft as well as several useful undrafted players. As for Turner, while many outside of San Diego felt his job was on the line, he retains the confidence of Smith, who appears ready to place the blame for the Chargers’ lackluster showing in 2010 on special teams coach Steve Crosby.

8. Here’s to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for putting together another string of amazing performances and breaking the record for most consecutive passes without an interception, previously held by former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar. Brady’s last interception came in Week 6 against the Ravens.

9. Sticking with the Patriots, with Brady leading the way, New England is on pace to finish the season with the fewest offensive turnovers in the history of the league. The Patriots enter Week 17 having turned the ball over just nine times.

10. The Bengals convinced themselves in the offseason that the road to a deep playoff run lies in acquiring better receiving options for quarterback Carson Palmer. To that end, they signed veteran free agent wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens and used their first round pick on tight end Jermaine Gresham. Bryant washed out and was released before ever playing a down with the team, but Owens and Gresham have had productive years in 2010. However, with both Owens and fellow starting wide receiver Chad Ochocinco out of the lineup this week, Palmer had his most impressive performance of the season against a strong Chargers pass defense, completing 16 of 21 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns. Owens certainly won’t be asked back in 2011, and Palmer’s performance this week may lead to Ochocinco’s exit as well.

11. After two strong performances, Broncos fans are rightly excited over the future of quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow has produced a 1-1 record as a starter, piling up 446 yards through the air and 105 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. As expected, he has proven to be a dynamic presence when running the ball, but he has struggled with his pass accuracy. While the 308 passing yards he recorded against the Texans were impressive, a closer look reveals that the performance wasn’t quite the panacea Denver’s fans made it out to be. Houston features the league’s worst secondary and yet Tebow completed only 55.2 percent of his passes against them, going 16 for 29. That percentage was the second-lowest allowed by Houston this season, ahead of only Tennessee rookie quarterback Rusty Smith, who looked horrible as the Titans starter. That being said, Tebow clearly has shown a solid grasp of the team’s offense and may be the type of quarterback who can post a solid record by making enough big plays late in games to pull out wins.

12. Texans tight end Owen Daniels has had a disappointing season as he has struggled since suffering a season-ending ACL injury midway through the 2009 season. In addition to that, he suffered a hamstring injury this season that caused him to miss five games and slowed him down in another. Houston failed to make Daniels a big part of the offensive game plan prior to his hamstring injury, with his being targeted five times or less in five of his first seven games and never getting more than seven targets in the other two. However, since returning from the hamstring injury, he has been targeted 32 times in three games and has shown the pass-receiving ability that made him so dangerous in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. In those three games, Daniels has caught 17 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown. His contract is up at the end of the season, and the Texans may be reluctant to offer him a lucrative long-term contract extension, given both his extensive history of knee problems and the solid play of reserves Joel Dreessen and James Casey this season.

13. Another player who faces an interesting offseason is Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston. While Breaston has been productive when healthy, with 692 yards receiving in 12 games, he has missed three full games and most of another this season. His inability to find the end zone (with only one touchdown) despite producing several big plays (averaging a healthy 16.1 yards per catch) continues a trend that Breaston has displayed for most of his career. In four seasons, he has caught 183 passes but found the end zone just seven times. Arizona has several young wide receivers such as Early Doucet, Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams, and Max Komar that team management has been impressed by. With the team clearly in a rebuilding mode, it won’t be a surprise if the Cardinals decide to let Breaston walk after the season and instead go with younger players at the position.

Moving Up, Moving Down – Week 17

By: — December 28, 2010 @ 5:59 pm


Moving Up

Tim Tebow, Broncos
Tebow had 24 fantasy points in his first game as a starter, but that was padded by 78 yards and a touchdown on the ground. This week against the Texans he put up 28 points by throwing for over 300 yards and scoring through the air—and chipping in another touchdown on the ground. The naysayers will claim it doesn’t mean much because it was against Houston’s porous secondary, but the bottom line is that Tebow is averaging 26 points per game as a starter. Nobody ever said the NFL draft was an exact science, and Tebow is further proving that it’s not.

Saved his best game for the right time.

Josh Freeman, Bucs
With Tampa Bay fighting for its playoff life, Freeman came up big against the Seahawks with the best game of his two-year career in what was also his most important game to date. While Seattle’s pass defense is among the league’s worst, Freeman’s 237 passing yards and five touchdowns were still impressive. The performance entrenches Freeman as a great option in keeper leagues and as a quarterback poised to become a worthy fantasy starter in 2011.

Stephen McGee, Cowboys
Jon Kitna is questionable for Week 17 with a strained oblique, which means McGee might get the start against the Eagles. Going 11 for 17 for 111 yards and a touchdown in a little over half a game, McGee looked decent against Arizona in Week 16. He also chipped in 19 yards on four carries and almost pulled out a come-from-behind victory. McGee would be an even better option if the Eagles weren’t playing for a better playoff seed next week, but it appears as though they’ll have that incentive.

Charlie Whitehurst, Seahawks
For the truly desperate, it appears that Whitehurst will start in the Seahawks’ Week 17 matchup against the Rams, in a game that will determine the winner of the NFC West. Despite incumbent starter Matt Hasselbeck having turned the ball over 13 times in the four games before Week 16, Seattle refused to insert Whitehurst into the starting lineup. However, with Hasselbeck likely out with back and hip injuries, Whitehurst will likely get the nod. He’s looked OK, but asking an inexperienced signal caller to come through in a huge game in his first career start is asking a lot.

Moving Down

Mark Sanchez, Jets
With a slight tear in his throwing shoulder, Sanchez is iffy at best for the Jets’ plum Week 17 matchup against the Bills. Head coach Rex Ryan has indicated that even if Sanchez plays, he may get pulled early for backup Mark Brunell. That makes him a huge risk and a player that should be started only if there aren’t any other options available.

Troy Smith, 49ers
Smith inexplicably got the nod from head coach Mike Singletary for the 49ers’ must-win road game against the Rams and rewarded his head coach with a horrendous performance. Worse yet, he argued with Singletary on the sideline after overthrowing Michael Crabtree on an interception. Smith has shown this year that he’s not yet ready to start. While Alex Smith isn’t likely to be back with the team in 2011, he will likely be under center in Week 17.


Moving Up

Ryan Mathews, Chargers
With Mike Tolbert out for Week 17 with neck and shoulder injuries, Mathews will get the start against the Broncos. Denver’s run defense ranks 30th in the league, so Mathews should be in line for a big game to end his rather disappointing rookie season. He was solid this week against the Bengals with 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and 28 yards on three receptions. With the Broncos mailing it in, Mathews could have a huge game in Week 17.

LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
When you rush for 164 yards on just 18 carries in a key game, you’re Moving Up. Blount ran around, through, and over Seahawks defenders, displaying solid athleticism for a player his size. While he doesn’t have great speed, Blount shapes up as a solid dynasty prospect. He’s topped 100 rushing yards in each of his last two games and in three of his last four contests.

Correll Buckhalter, Broncos
Knowshon Moreno was questionable for Week 16 with injured ribs, and he left the Broncos game against the Texans for good at halftime. That allowed Buckhalter to have his best fantasy game of the year with 21 points on 92 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Chargers’ solid run defense is on tap for Week 17, but San Diego has struggled on the road and was eliminated from playoff contention this week.

Moving Down

Peyton Hillis, Browns
He was Moving Down last week and he’s there again courtesy of a rib injury. His Week 17 matchup is horrible with the Steelers on tap, and he’s already hit a major dry spell. With just 40 total yards this week against the Ravens, Hillis has topped 100 total yards only once in his last four games and has failed to find the end zone in each of those contests. Expect more of the same against the Steelers if he plays.

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
He’s been banged up for much of the season and his injured ribs kept him from finishing the game against the Texans last week. Moreno’s the future at running back for Denver, so there’s no point in sending him out there in Week 17 with bad ribs.

Tashard Choice, Cowboys
Despite Marion Barber being a solid bet to be released in the offseason due to his high salary and declining production, he had eight carries for 58 yards and a score this week. That left Choice begging for scraps once again as he had just seven touches for 32 yards against Arizona. He was a solid flex option with Barber out, but he’s a huge risk in Week 17.


Moving Up

Jerome Simpson, Bengals
You could have won a lot of money in Vegas if you had bet on Simpson as the top fantasy wide receiver for Week 16. With Chad Ochocinco out of the lineup, Simpson had easily the best game of his very disappointing three-year career, catching six of seven targets for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a solid Chargers secondary. His previous career best was a two-reception, 30-yard game in Week 15. With Ochocinco not exactly in head coach Marvin Lewis’ good graces, there is a decent chance he will sit out the Bengals’ Week 17 matchup against the Ravens. That would make Simpson a decent flex option against a Baltimore secondary that has been up and down in 2010.

Andre Roberts, Cardinals
Steve Breaston started but didn’t see any targets courtesy of soreness in his knee, and that gave Roberts an opportunity. The Cardinals’ rookie third-round pick didn’t disappoint, catching five of nine targets for 110 yards and a touchdown against a struggling Cowboys secondary. Breaston might not go in Week 17 against the 49ers’ 23rd-ranked pass defense, and that may give Roberts a chance to showcase the repertoire he developed with quarterback John Skelton while playing on Arizona’s scout team for most of 2010.

Jacoby Jones, Texans
Tabbed as a potential breakout player in 2010, Jones has been a huge disappointment for his fantasy owners. But he has come on of late. With 110 yards on five receptions this past week, Jones has now either topped 100 yards or scored in three of his last four games. Plus, with 25 targets over his last three games, Jones is becoming a more consistent option in the Texans’ weekly games plan. If only that had been the case earlier in the season, Jones may have had the breakout performance many had predicted.

Moving Down

Reggie Wayne, Colts
Similar to last season, Wayne is coming up empty as the regular season closes. Last year it was because the Colts were playing meaningless games at the end of the season. This year there’s no simple excuse for Wayne’s poor performance over the past two weeks. He was held to five receptions for 34 yards against a porous Jaguars secondary two weeks ago. Then the Raiders defense shut him down by shadowing him with Nnamdi Asomugha, allowing him only three receptions for 40 yards.

Wes Welker, Patriots
Welker’s roller coaster season seems to be on the downswing again, with the Patriots slot receiver catching just three passes in each of the last two games for a total of 61 yards and no touchdowns. Welker had a pair of solid games to start the season, and then he went cold for six weeks before rebounding with solid performances between Weeks 10 and 14. With New England having locked up the top seed in the AFC, there is little reason for Welker to play in Week 17. Look for him to either skip the game or to be used sparingly.

Steve Smith, Panthers
Just the numbers, baby, just the numbers. Seven receptions for 56 yards over his last three games. No touchdowns since Week 2. Two touchdowns in all of 2010. No 100-yard games this season. Only four games with more than 50 receiving yards. Time as a solid fantasy wide receiver: over.


Moving Up

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
With Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup with a hip injury, Gronkowski had his second double-digit point game in his last three outings with four receptions for 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hernandez has received most of the pub, but Gronkowski has also been solid, catching close to 75 percent of his targets while hauling in nine touchdown passes. Gronkowski has great keeper potential and is a solid option in Week 17, even if Hernandez is a go.

Jared Cook, Titans
Tennessee’s 2009 third-round pick got his first start this week and came through in a big way with five receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Better yet, he had a healthy nine targets. Bo Scaife got the franchise tag in 2010, but the team was never serious about signing him to a long-term contract extension. The plan seems to have been to buy a year until Cook was ready. Scaife will return in 2011, but in a backup capacity, and that makes Cook a solid prospect in dynasty leagues.

Moving Down

Bo Scaife, Titans
Benched and done as a starter in Tennessee.

Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Gonzo hasn’t topped 50 receiving yards in his last four games and has just one touchdown and 104 receiving yards during that stretch. In fact, he’s topped 50 yards only three times all season, and with five touchdowns, he’s not scoring all that often either.

Dave’s Take: Week 16 – Fantasy Football Tips, News & Notes

By: — December 24, 2010 @ 10:54 am

"You're yelling at the wrong person coach."

1. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was visibly frustrated after watching the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson return a punt for a touchdown on the game’s final play this week, giving Philadelphia an epic come-from-behind win in a key divisional matchup against New York. Coughlin went off on rookie punter Matt Dodge for punting the ball to Jackson despite having been told to kick it out of bounds. While it’s debatable that Dodge didn’t have time to properly aim the ball out of bounds after handling a high snap, what isn’t debatable is that Coughlin should have been yelling at either himself or general manager Jerry Reese instead. Dodge has been abysmal this season with two dropped snaps, two bad holds on field goals, a blocked punt, a number of shanked or line-drive punts, and a delay-of-game penalty on a key fourth-quarter field goal try that resulted in a miss. If the Giants fail to win in Green Bay this week, they will almost certainly miss the playoffs, and the blame for that lies at the feet of Coughlin or Reese—or both—not on a rookie punter who should have been cut long ago.

2. The Giants choked last week, and Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is accused of doing the same. Never known for his superlative game management skills, Del Rio took a huge risk in the third quarter of his team’s loss to the Colts this week. With Jacksonville four points behind, Del Rio went for it on fourth-and-one from his own 39-yard line, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew failed to gain the first down. After taking over on downs, Indianapolis scored on a touchdown run by Donald Brown and never looked back. With the Colts run defense struggling and Jacksonville’s running game excelling over the last few weeks, Del Rio took an unnecessary risk and lost, costing his team a chance at the AFC South title.

3. Great PR job going on in Washington as Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan hangs former starting quarterback Donovan McNabb out to dry in order to deflect focus from the team’s dismal showing—and Shanahan’s role in it—this season. Since Shanahan traded a 2010 second-round pick and a 2011 fourth-round pick for McNabb, he shares the blame for the Redskins’ poor performance this season and for helping to sabotage their future by giving away valuable draft picks in what has become a lost season. If there was ever any question about McNabb’s future in Washington, it was settled a couple days ago when Shanahan responded to McNabb’s comment that he would like to return to Washington next year by stating that he would be welcome as a backup. Despite being known for his offensive prowess, Shanahan will enter the offseason with quality offensive starters at only four positions: wide receiver, tight end, and left and right tackle. Guards Will Montgomery and Kory Lichtensteiger have shown some promise but are far from finished projects. By acquiring McNabb and hoping for a one-year turnaround, Shanahan has put Washington in a clear rebuilding position.

4. With his squad sporting a surprising 6-6 record after Week 12, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has been mentioned as a possible Coach of the Year candidate. However, the Rams have lost their last two games and the defensive turnaround that had sparked their comeback season is quickly beginning to fade, with St. Louis playing their worst football of the year as the season winds down. That’s bad news for a Rams team needing to win their final two games (at home against San Francisco and on the road in Seattle) in order to win the NFC West crown. Over their last five games, the Rams defense has surrendered 34, 33, 6, 31, and 27 points—with that 6-point game coming against the lowly Cardinals. That’s a surprising downturn for a unit that allowed 18 points or fewer in seven of eight games to start the season.

5. Texans owner Bob McNair stated before his team’s Week 15 contest against the Titans that his Texans were headed in the right direction and were close to being an outstanding team. His comments were largely construed as a show of support for head coach Gary Kubiak and as a sign that Kubiak would return for a sixth year in 2011. Those comments and Kubiak’s likely return next season stand contrary to what most commentators were predicting, with the accepted wisdom being that McNair would pull the plug on Kubiak since he is the longest-tenured coach in the league to fail to reach the playoffs. It was surprising to see that type of positive reinforcement as the Texans, who were expected to challenge for a playoff spot, stumble toward a losing record despite having one of the most talented offenses in the league—and despite featuring an unexpected breakout season from running back Arian Foster. Sure enough, McNair’s ill-advised comments were followed shortly thereafter by a Texans loss to the Titans, in a game in which they failed to show up for the first half once again.

6. Forty-niners head coach Mike Singletary is on the hot seat with his team having a largely disappointing season despite being the consensus pick to win the NFC West. The 49ers came out of the gate slowly, losing six of their first seven games, with four of those losses coming by three points or less. While their failure to win close games has been cited as the reason for their 5-9 record, it is Singletary’s handling of the quarterback position that is causing the most head-scratching in San Francisco. When Alex Smith was injured in Week 7, Singletary chose to bypass backup David Carr in favor of third-string quarterback Troy Smith, who was picked up after being released by Baltimore at the end of the preseason. Despite going 3-2 in five starts, Troy Smith was then benched, with Singletary rationalizing that the 49ers needed a quarterback who knew the entire playbook. Alex Smith started two games, beating Seattle and losing on the road to San Diego in a game in which the 49ers offensive line had perhaps their worst performance of the year. Despite being given little time to throw during a blowout, with almost no chance of winning, Smith’s performance drew Singletary’s ire and led to the switch back to Troy Smith this week. Singletary will add to his long list of curious quarterback decisions by turning to an inexperienced play caller over a veteran in a must-win game on the road against a divisional rival. To make matters worse, Singletary is splitting the reps between his top two quarterbacks, with the clear indication that if his starter doesn’t perform well, a quick hook will be in order. That amounts to added pressure and a horrible message to send to the inexperienced quarterback he’s chosen to start. Add it all up and it will be no surprise to see Singletary fired if the 49ers fail to make the playoffs.

7. In their two games against the Raiders this season, the Broncos surrendered 98 points and more than 1,000 yards. Those are remarkable statistics considering that the Raiders feature one of the lower-ranked passing offenses in the league.

8. Sticking with the Raiders, they have a chance this season to become the first team in the history of the league to sweep its division and not qualify for the postseason. The Raiders currently sit 5-0 against their AFC West counterparts, with a Week 17 game against the Chiefs as their final divisional matchup. However, with a 7-7 record and little hope of earning a wildcard berth, they sit third in the division behind the Chiefs and the Chargers. In order to make the playoffs, the Raiders need to defeat the Colts this week and the Chiefs next week. They also need Kansas City to lose this week to Tennessee and the Chargers to lose to either the Browns or the Bengals. That’s a tall order.

9. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford went over 3,000 yards passing this week, becoming only the third player in the history of the league to accomplish that feat in his rookie season.

10. The Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention following their home loss to the Bills this week. With a 6-1 record on the road and a 1-6 record at home, Miami becomes the first team to have opposite home and away records by such a wide margin.

11. While the Dolphins have been great on the road, the Lions have been horrible in away games for years. This week they managed to beat the Buccaneers in overtime, however, snapping a league-record 26-game road losing streak. The win also gave Detroit their first two-game winning streak since the 2007 season. Ouch.

12. With Panthers fans clamoring for the team to use the first pick in next year’s draft (assuming Carolina finishes last overall) on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, rookie signal caller Jimmy Clausen finally won his first professional game this week (over the Cardinals). That win helped Clausen in two ways. First, it should quiet his critics a bit. Second, it put the Panthers one more win away from avoiding a last-place finish. While this week’s game on the road against Pittsburgh doesn’t look promising, a Week 17 matchup against a Falcons team that will likely rest a number of starters offers Clausen another opportunity to potentially save his job.

13. As mentioned here before, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones merely paid lip service to the team’s fans by mentioning that several big names were interested in the team’s head coaching position in 2011. More likely than not, Jones’ real intention is to avoid bringing in a big-name coach who may want authority over the football operations side of the organization, allowing Jones to continue to meddle in the team’s affairs, particularly on the player personnel side. It looks like interim head coach Jason Garrett is well on his way to securing his current position for next season. With the Cowboys’ win over the Redskins this week, Garrett’s coaching record is 4-2. With Arizona up next and with the Eagles in Week 17, in a game that may carry no playoff implications, Garrett has a decent chance to finish the year at 6-2. That would provide cover for Jones to hire Garrett full-time and continue with the current organizational structure.

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