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Eli Mack, Sal Marcoccio, Chris Eakin, Joe Kilroy

Inside The Matchup: Wildcard Weekend


 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Marcoccio 47 17 73.4
2 Mack 46 19 70.8
3 Kilroy 45 19 70.3
4 Eakin 40 23 63.5

Jets @ Bengals (Eakin)

Mark Sanchez/Braylon Edwards/Jerricho Cotchery/Dustin Keller
Thomas Jones (vs. CIN)

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QB: -6.3%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RB: -12.1%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WR: -17.2%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TE: -18.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: The up and down season for rookie QB Mark Sanchez can all be amended with an opening round win in Cincinnati. If the Jets have their way, Sanchez will not be relied upon make many plays, or take any risks. They finished the season second only to the Browns in fewest passing yards. It will not help matters that the expected temperatures will be in around 20 degrees and Sanchez has struggled to make the adjustment from his Southern Cal roots. When the Jets do pass, they like to take deep sideline shots downfield with WR Braylon Edwards. He has good size and leaping ability to make big plays. There is less risk of interceptions on those go routes and even when unsuccessful it serves to stretch the field out for the running game. The generalization that young inexperienced QBs lean on their TE does not apply for the Jets. They are 27th TE yards.

In addition to the lack of productivity in the passing game, the Jets will face a Bengal defense that has led their turn around. The young CBs Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall have proved themselves one the league’s top young tandems holding opposing WRs to 27th least points scored. The key for them is not be pulled in by play action when the Jets take their shots. They are expected to get much needed support with the return of S Chris Crocker who is ready to return after missing two games with an ankle injury.

Running Game Thoughts: They key for the Jets success on offense comes down to the running game. They boast perhaps the best offensive in the league. If the line can establish physical dominance over the Bengals as they did in their 37-0 drubbing of Cincy last week. The Jets leading RB Thomas Jones was held in check with 78 yards on 28 carries but they found some big plays in behind their wildcat formation with WR Brad Smith. Smith makes a great dual threat since he was an accomplished QB at Missouri before becoming a WR.

The Bengals defense must make the necessary adjustments to bottle up the Jets wildcat offense. It was the only thing that hurt them on the ground last week. An inability to run the ball would force the Sanchez to beat them, which they must like their chances for success.

Mark Sanchez: 205 yds/1 INT
Braylon Edwards: 65 yds rec
Jerricho Cotchery: 50 yds rec
Dustin Keller: 25 yds rec
Thomas Jones: 85 yds/20 rec/1 TD

Carson Palmer/Chad Ochocinco/Laveranues Coles/J.P. Foschi
Cedric Benson (vs. NYJ)

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QB: -37.0%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RB: -18.1%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WR: -41.4%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TE: -30.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: in many respects, the Bengals are a mirror of the Jets. They don’t score many points, they are among the league’s least productive passing attacks and they are led by their defenses. The problem for the the Bengals passing attack is that their one consistent target, Chad Ochocinco, has a one way ticket to Revis Island. The Jets CB Darrelle Revis has meant game over for nearly every WR assignment he’s drawn. With Ochocinco neutralized, QB Carson Palmer must find secondary targets Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell. Coles, the former Jet, has struggled to find his way with in Cincinnati. He is the x-factor that the Bengals will need as a possession receiver to sustain drives. In passing situations, second year WR Andre Caldwell will play in the slot. Caldwell has been as productive as Coles with less opportunity and is much more of a big p[lay threat. He will match-up with nickel back Dwight Lowery. Lowery is one of the better third corners in the league, which is key to the Jets league defense. They have the secondary depth to match opposing spread attacks. In the end, with two teams with similar strengths, is will be on QB Carson Palmer’s shoulders to outplay Mark Sanchez.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bengals run their offense on the legs Cedric Benson who rushed for over 1251 yards on 301 carries. Benson was the only starter that sat out last week, so he should be rested. He will need it facing the Jets defense that allowed 99 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. The Bengals don’t have the diversity in their rushing attack that the Jets have with the wildcat, the Bengals do have more of a passing threat to keep the defense honest. Though Benson has had success against some stiff run defenses, I like the Jets chances of holding him right around 100 yards, meaning it will be up to Palmer to bring win his first career playoff game.

Carson Palmer: 230 yds/1 TD/1 INT
Chad Ochocinco: 50 yds
Laveranues Coles: 50 yds/1TD
Andre Caldwell: 40 yds
Cedric Benson: 105 yds/1 TD

Prediction: New York 20 Cincinnati 17 ^ Top

Eagles @ Cowboys (Kilroy)

Donovan McNabb / Brian Westbrook / LeSean McCoy / Leonard Weaver
DeSean Jackson / Jeremy Maclin / Jason Avant / Brent Celek (vs. Dallas)

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.4%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -18.2%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.2%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -5.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Eagles were shut down in last week’s regular season finale against the Cowboys as Donovan McNabb completed 20 of his 36 attempts (55.6%) for 223 yards and no touchdowns. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were both limited to 3 receptions for 47 yards as tight end, Brent Celek, was the only target McNabb connected with consistently totaling 7 receptions for 96 yards on the day. If the Eagles are to bounce back with a victory on Saturday then either Jackson or Maclin will have to come through with a few big plays. McNabb had the opportunity to connect with both receivers on what would have been momentum shifting completions last week, but failed to deliver the ball accurately.

Look for the Eagles to come out more focused this time around as they fall back on both Andy Reid and McNabb’s productive playoff history. A sharper McNabb should be able to find at least one of his receivers in the end zone in a game in which the Eagles will likely have to put up more than 20 points in order to come away with the victory.

Running Game Thoughts: Since Brian Westbrook’s return to the Eagles line-up in Week 16, the Eagles rushing attack has been less than stellar. Westbrook has totaled just 49 yards on 14 carries since he’s come back, with rookie LeSean McCoy and fullback Leonard Weaver combining for another 53 yards on 15 carries during that span. None of the members of that trio have been able to reach the end zone in the last two weeks either.

If the Eagles are to win this week however, they will need to rush the ball more than they did last Sunday when Westbrook, McCoy, and Weaver combined for a total of seven carries. It’s doubtful any of the trio will stand out on their own statistically, but look for Philadelphia to try and run the ball closer to a total of 20 times this weekend.

Donovan McNabb – 290 yards passing / 3 TDs
Brian Westbrook – 35 yards rushing / 25 yards receiving / 1 TD
LeSean McCoy – 20 yards rushing / 10 yards receiving
Leonard Weaver – 20 yards rushing / 10 yards receiving
DeSean Jackson – 90 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin – 60 yards receiving / 0 TDs
Jason Avant – 40 yards receiving / 0 TDs
Brent Celek – 55 yards receiving / 1 TD

Tony Romo / Marion Barber / Felix Jones
Miles Austin / Roy Williams / Patrick Crayton / Jason Witten (vs. Philadelphia)

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.6%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -8.6%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.7%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +43.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: In the two contests Romo has had against the Eagles already this season he’s managed to throw for more than 300 yards in each one. Philadelphia will have to do a much better job containing both him and his targets if they expect to limit the Cowboys point production. In order to accomplish that they will have to find a way to contain tight end Jason Witten while not allowing Miles Austin or the other Cowboys receivers to beat them deep.

Witten has produced 13 receptions for 119 yards and 1 touchdown against the Eagles in the two previous games making it unlikely they’ll be able to take him out of the Cowboys game plan. Factor into that the Eagles lackluster performance against tight ends in general this season, and it’s all but certain Witten will come away with another 5-7 receptions for 60-80 yards in this contest. That means the Eagles will have to focus more on not allowing themselves to get beat deep, but it will be a difficult task if the Cowboys get their ground game going while also having the Romo to Witten connection consistently move the chains on underneath routes.

Running Game Thoughts: Marion Barber and Felix Jones ran all over the Eagles last week as they both finished the game with 91 yards rushing while averaging more than six yards per carry. If they are able to perform like that again it will open up their passing game and the Philadelphia defense will be sure to allow more points than their offense could probably match. Marion Barber is sure to get his carries and do his damage between the tackles so the key here could be for the Eagles to focus in on Felix Jones when he is on the field and bottle him up before he rips off any gains of 10-20 yards or more on the ground.

If they can accomplish that they’ll be in better position to limit the amount of damage Barber does as he pounds it up the middle. It would also go a long way towards keeping their secondary in better position to defend against the deep ball. Although they failed to do so last Sunday, the Eagles defense has proven they can stop the run throughout the year as they finished the season ranked 9th in that category by limiting opponents to an average of just under 105 rushing yards per game. That is the level they will need to play up to in order to complicate matters for the Cowboys offense.

Tony Romo – 285 yards passing / 2 TDs
Marion Barber – 75 yards rushing / 1 TD / 15 yards receiving
Felix Jones – 40 yards rushing / 10 yards receiving
Miles Austin – 95 yards receiving / 1 TD
Roy Williams – 35 yards receiving / 0 TDs
Patrick Crayton – 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jason Witten – 75 yards receiving / 0 TDs

Prediction: Philadelphia 24, Dallas 21 ^ Top

Ravens @ Patriots (Marcoccio)

Joe Flacco/Ray Rice/Willis MaGahee
Derek Mason/Mark Clayton/Kelly Washington/Todd Heap (vs. NE)

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.7%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.7%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +6.3%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -17.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco really grew as an NFL QB this season. A mere “game manger” in his rookie season, he showed that he could carry a team in 2010 and finished the season with a rather nice stat line (3,613 yards – 21 TDs – 12 Ints.). During his first season, when he was allowed to throw, he was limited mostly to sideline patterns where the WR would either catch the ball or it would end up out of bounds. This season he was allowed to attack the middle of the field, once again making Todd Heap a viable TE, after a few years of being an afterthought due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Flacco has one of the leagues strongest arms and surprising mobility for a QB his size and his emergence helped to briefly resurrect the career of former top prospect Kelly Washington (34-431-2 on the season). However, his main target in the passing game was and is grizzled veteran Derek Mason. Mason briefly considered retirement after the death of long time friend Steve McNair, but came back and was his steady productive self in 2009. Mason is a superb route runner with surprising speed and will be the player that Flacco will look to if the Ravens need a big play in the passing game.

In the beginning of the season it was looking like Bill Belicheck was able to once again take a couple of other team’s castoffs (in this case Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden) and turn them into something useful (in this case an effective CB tandem). However as the season wore on Springs got banged up and Bodden was benched for a while due to ineffectiveness leaving the Pats secondary a mess. In the later part of the season, the secondary was exposed and finished the season allowing 25 passing TDs. Shipping off DE Richard Seymour prior to the start of the season turned out to be a poor decision as the team recorded only 31 sacks and struggled to generate a consistent pass rush. The Pats’ defensive coaches will need to come up with an effective game plan to stop Flacco if they wish to avoid going two straight years without a playoff win. In week 4 in Foxboro, Flacco was able to throw for 264 yards and 2 TDs against the Pats in a loss, which could be enough this time around in what once again should be a close game.

Running Game Thoughts: The combination of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee (while a headache to fantasy owners) was one of the more impressive duos in the NFL for most of the season. McGahee did disappear for a few weeks after a hot start but stormed back for 167 yards and 3 TDs in Week 17 including a long run of 77 yards. However it is former Rutgers Scarlet Knight Ray Rice who was the real offensive star of the Ravens for most of 2009. Rice gained 1,337 yards on the ground and another 702 yards receiving with 8 total TDs. He is small in stature and does not have elite speed, but runs with power between the tackles and has hips that seem to be on a swivel as he works his way around defenders. Additionally, the young Baltimore o-line is shaping up to be one of the best units in the league and still has room to grow. All of this could spell trouble for the Pats.

The Patriots should be up to the task though, as they have played the run relatively well despite losing many impact players during the prior offseason and to in-season injuries. They allowed 110.5 rushing yards per games and an incredibly low 6 rushing TDs in 2009. Jerrod Mayo is one of the best young line backers in the league and led the Pats with 70 tackles on the season. 6’5” 300 pound veteran NT Ty Warren is still getting the job done in the middle of the line and is a large part of the Pats success against the run. If the Pats can slow down the Ravens running game, they should be able to keep the game close – and with the Pats, a close game at home in the playoffs generally ends in a “W”.

Joe Flacco: 245 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 10 yds rushing
Derek Mason: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mark Clayton: 15 yds receiving
Kelly Washington: 35 yds receiving
Todd Heap: 35 yds receiving
Ray Rice: 85 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving

Tom Brady/ Laurence Maroney/ Kevin Faulk
Randy Moss/Julian Edelman/Sam Aiken/Ben Watson (vs. BAL)

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -8.0%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -29.5%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.1%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -14.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: The was a large majority of fantasy football message board posters expecting Brady to return to 2007 form after a year off injured, but it seems the more rational people that viewed that season as an outlier (in what is still a remarkable career) were vindicated. Brady was still one of the best QBs in the league this season and there’s no shame in “only” throwing for 4,300 yards and 28 TDs. He did enough to earn “Comeback Player of the Year” and will once again get a chance to add to his playoff legacy. The loss of Wes Welker - 123 receptions in less than 13 games - will be an obstacle for the Pats, but rookie Julian Edelman has been effective in Welker’s role when Welker has been out of action this season. However with Welker out, Randy Moss becomes the only true playmaker on offense. Brady will need to spread the ball around to lesser talents like journeyman Sam Aiken and TEs Ben Watson and Chris Baker, but somehow he should get the job done as usual.

Baltimore’s defense is still a very tough matchup, but they are no longer the feared unit they were under Rex Ryan. They did finish as the 9th ranked pass defense in yards allowed, but also allowed 17 TDs and only recorded 32 sacks. It’s never a bad strategy to abandon the run and challenge the average Raven secondary – and what team is more adept at doing just that than the Pats who don’t need much incentive to abandon the run?

Running Game Thoughts: As usual it wasn’t an easy task trying to figure out which RB would see the bulk of the carries for the Patriots on a week to week basis. However, that task did get much easier once veterans Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris succumbed to injuries and perennial disappointment Laurence Maroney stepped up big. Maroney went back to his power running style that he showed in his rookie season after spending the last few seasons running tentatively. Veteran Kevin Faulk contributes as both a runner and pass catcher out of the backfield and has probably been one of the more unheralded heroes in the Pats offense over the championship years. Sammy Morris is back from injury and his hard running style has always made him a favorite of Belicheck. Morris will likely see some work trying to wear down the rugged Raven run defense, but it should be Maroney getting the bulk of the carries.

Of course a lot of the reason why it seems “easy” to pass on the Ravens is because comparatively it is a much better method of moving the ball than trying to run against them. The Ravens were the No. 5 ranked run defense in 2009 allowing only 93.3 yards per game and a mere 8 rushing TDs. At an age when conventional wisdom says that he should be in decline, Ray Lewis is playing at an elite level and is still the heart and soul of this defense. The Pats will likely try and slug it out with the Ravens early, but will likely lick their wounds and then go on to do what they do best for most of this contest, namely moving the ball through the air.

Tom Brady: 285 yds passing 3 TDs
Randy Moss: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Julian Edelman: 70 yds receiving
Sam Aiken: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ben Watson: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Laurence Maroney: 65 yards rushing
Kevin Faulk: 15 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Patriots 27 Ravens 23 ^ Top

Packers @ Cardinals (Mack)

Aaron Rodgers / Ryan Grant
Donald Driver / Greg Jennings / Jermichael Finley (vs. Arizona)

ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.9%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -2.6%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +5.0%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +13.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Green Bay Packers enter the 2009 playoffs winners of seven of their last eight games, and Aaron Rodgers is the primary reason. The team’s success has been in direct correlation to Rodgers’ exploits. The QB has 14 TD passes and only 2 INTs during the second half of the season, and those 2 picks came in one game. So suffice it to say Rodgers is cooking at just the right time.

The receiving group of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley makes up one of the top three units in the NFL. Each is capable of dominating a game at any given time, and given that Arizona CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is battling a knee injury, there’s a good chance of that happening. Even with their starting CB this season, the Cards were ranked 23rd in pass defense. Trying to defend the Packers’ 7th ranked passing offense will prove to be a daunting task. Expect to see several deep pass attempts to both wide-outs with a few of those completed. Finley should exploit the LBs down the middle of the field and in the red zone. All and all, Rodgers will continue is exceptional season with a huge playoff performance on the road.

Running Game Thoughts: Ok, I must offer my apologies to Ryan Grant and his fantasy owners. I laid into this guy during the preseason and early in the regular season, but he’s come on of late. Grant has scored in four straight games, totaling 6 TDs during that stretch. The Cards have surrendered at least 109 yards rushing in six of their last eight games, and while Grant hasn’t exactly run wild from a yardage standpoint recently, he’s shown enough over the last quarter of the season to make me think he could be productive this week. His opportunities may be limited because I feel this game will be won or lost with Rodgers throwing the football and exploiting a weakness in Arizona’s defense. I’d say Grant gets between 12-15 carries with marginal yardage totals; he could sneak in for a score on a short run.

Aaron Rodgers – 310 yards / 3 TDs
Ryan Grant – 60 yards / 1 TD
Greg Jennings – 155 yards / 2 TDs
Donald Driver – 80 yards / 1 TD
Jermichael Finley – 45 yards

Kurt Warner / Chris Wells / Tim Hightower
Larry Fitzgerald / Steve Breaston / Anquan Boldin (vs. Green Bay)

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +4.5%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -30.3%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +1.4%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +9.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Kurt Warner enters this contest with, at best, a hobbled Anquan Boldin. And going up against the league’s 5th ranked pass defense without a full complement of receivers will hinder Warner, especially when you throw in the prospect of going against Defensive Player of the Year candidate CB Charles Woodson. We all know what Warner is capable of doing this time of year, but playing with a limited Boldin will wreck havoc on their passing attack.

We also know what Larry Fitzgerald is capable of this time of year, what with his record-breaking post season in 2008. If Boldin is limited—or if he plays at all—Fitz will be the go-to guy. His battle with Woodson will be fun to watch and Fitz will get his share. Steve Breaston could be huge in this game, even if Boldin plays. His crafty route-running and toughness over the middle would complement Fitz wonderfully, so look for Breaston to have a presence in the passing game. I think this will be a game that Arizona will ask its passing attack to win. Expect about 40 passing attempts by Warner.

Running Game Thoughts: The RB roles in the Arizona backfield became a bit clearer as the season progressed. Tim Hightower normally got the start and played on most passing downs, while Chris Wells spelled him regularly and got the short yardage and goal line carries. It didn’t help that both experienced fumble issues throughout the season, rendering both unpredictable commodities at times. I think Hightower will be the more valuable of the two this week, as I think Warner will try to throw the football all over the field. Hightower was one of the leading receiving RBs in the league, so his role will be vital. Wells could get the coveted goal line carries, but I believe this will be a game that both teams rely on their QBs to pull out the victory.

Kurt Warner – 285 yards / 2 TDs / 2 INTs
Tim Hightower – 40 yards rushing / 35 yards rec.
Chris Wells – 25 yards rushing
Larry Fitzgerald – 110 yards / 1 TD
Steve Breaston – 75 yards / 1 TD
Anquan Boldin – 40 yards

Prediction: Green Bay 31, Arizona 23 ^ Top