If you’ve been waiting for a Steelers explosion, it’s about to happen this weekend against the Dolphins.
Here’s why: Mike Tomlin is under fire in Pittsburgh for his sideline maneuver on Thanksgiving Night, and he has been getting a lot of abuse from his home fans.
But while the fans have been upset with Tomlin because the Steelers are 5-7, his players still love and support him. What better way is there to show it other than backing him with a big offensive game against the Miami Dolphins.
So, start off with Ben Roethlisberger. While he has had many problems with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Roethlisberger has no such problems with Tomlin. The two have flourished together throughout their careers, and Roethlisberger is far healthier this year than he has been in recent seasons.
That could be a huge factor in the season’s final four games and in this game in particular. Roethlisberger is going to come out firing and he will try to attack the Miami secondary right from the start. Miami has been fairly strong against the pass this year, ranking ninth overall.
However, this Dolphins are coming off a game against Jets rookie Geno Smith, the most unprepared and ill-equipped starting quarterback in the NFL. This is a much tougher assignment and the Dolphins are not going to be prepared.
The big weapon will be Antonio Brown, perhaps the fastest wide receiver the Dolphins have faced all year. Look for at least six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown from Brown.
Jerricho Cotchery is also going to have a big day. He’s the third or fourth receiver on the team, but Cotchery has 36 catches and he has made his way into the end zone eight times already this season. Most of his touchdowns are red zone opportunities and not long plays. Thirty-one of Cotchery’s 36 receptions have gone for first downs, and that’s why he figures prominently in the Pittsburgh gameplan.
Tight end Heath Miller has also been raising his value to the team in recent weeks. However, he has not been getting in the end zone despite recording 46 catches. He has just one TD reception, so this might not be his game.
Le’Veon Bell is officially listed as probable after suffering from concussion symptoms, and he was practicing hard late in the week and should be ready to punish the Dolphins’ 25th-rated run defense. Bell may turn out to be a star in the NFL in the years to come, and he has had a solid rookie season. This could be the game that he advances his reputation, as he runs over the Dolphins for 100-plus yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers want to make a statement on their coach’s behalf and the Dolphins are set to become the victims. Look for the Steelers to play their best game of the year here and Fantasy players who back the Steelers prime players like Roethlisberger, Brown, Cotchery and Bell will be the beneficiaries.
Foles, Eagles remain on a roll
While Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson are the leading mainstream MVP candidates, perhaps the focus should be on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.
The Eagles have been downright explosive on offense since Foles became the starting quarterback. The numbers are dramatic and impactful, as he has completed 63.3 percent of his passes and he has a shocking 19-0 TD-interception ratio.
That last number has gotten Foles most of the attention, as he can tie and then get past Manning if he can throw two TD passes against the Detroit Lions this week before he throws his first interception. Foles has become a staple in Fantasy lineups since he had a seven-TD performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week Nine, and he has been even more impressive in his consistency since that game. He has not been overwhelmed by the spotlight that has been focused on him.
Foles is going to have another chance for a huge game against the talented but enigmatic Detroit Lions defense. Despite the presence of studs like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle of the defensive line, the Lions have major lapses in their pass coverage. They rank 26th in passing yards allowed, and it’s going to be very hard for them this week trying to keep up with explosive wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
The Eagle speedster wants to burn opponents with his ability to get deep, but he knows how to set up opposing defenses with his patience. He’s not going to simply go deep all day. He’s going to run shorter patterns before he hits the Lions with a couple of hammer plays that stun Jim Schwartz and overmatched defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
That’s where this game falls apart for the Lions. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly may appear smug and arrogant to the public, but he has installed an offense that allows receivers to get open and make big plays. Cunningham is an old-school coach who tries to fire up his troops but rarely has any insightful thoughts when it comes to improving coverage.
That’s why the Lions’ pass defense has been getting worse and not better. Jackson is going to make the Detroit secondary pay.
So will Riley Cooper and emerging tight end Zach Ertz. Cooper has been one of the Eagles’ best players all season and his fantasy improvement has been shocking. Cooper has caught 34 passes for 640 yards and seven touchdowns this year. In three previous seasons combined, Cooper had five TD receptions.
Ertz, a rookie from Stanford, is starting to impose his will on opponents. Ertz has shown he will catch anything that comes his way and he should be quite valuable over the final four games of the season. He’ll be a hot and productive TD maker in the Fantasy playoffs. He should get into the end zone in each of the next three weeks as the Eagles go wild against the NFC North while facing the Lions, Vikings and Bears.
The Eagles are on a roll and those three teams will not stop Foles, Jackson, Cooper and Ertz.
Murray will try to take the edge off of Romo
Stop if you’ve heard this one before. The Cowboys finished November on a roll and are set to take charge of the NFC East.
That’s almost always the case since Tony Romo has been playing for head coach Jason Garrett, and that’s once again the case in 2013.
However, Romo’s December performances have been marked by failures as the Cowboys are not able to ride their November momentum into the final four weeks of the season.
Garrett is trying to ease Romo’s burden by giving him a productive running game with DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys’ top running back has carried the ball 142 times for 697 yards and seven touchdowns, but he has been anything but consistent.
While he has been impressive in his best games, he has had five games with 50 yards or less this season. Cowboys insiders are concerned about Murray, because when he takes a couple of big hits early, he tends to disappear the rest of the game. He may not be a long-term answer because there are plenty of questions about his resiliency.
That’s an issue that Jerry Jones and Garrett will have to deal with in the offseason. However, that should not be a problem this week as the Cowboys will have an opportunity to unleash Murray against the Bears, who rank 32nd against the run.
Murray scored three touchdowns against the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day, and another multi-touchdown performance on Monday night at Chicago seems a distinct possibility.
Defense was once the calling card of the Bears, but they entered a new era when they fired Lovie Smith and hired Marc Trestman. While Smith was a defensive guru who didn’t have a cogent thought about offensive football and Trestman is an offensive whiz who can’t help the defense, it’s not simply a matter of coaching.
The Bears thought their defensive troika of DE Julius Peppers, LB Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman would lead them to another solid defensive season, but they have been torn apart by injuries.
The Briggs shoulder injury has caused particular problems because he became the face of the defense once Brian Urlacher retired. With Briggs out of the lineup, the Bears are unable to stop the run.
Murray goes into this game with full confidence and it would be completely out of character if the Bears put up significant resistance.
This also figures to be a big game for Dez Bryant (nine touchdowns). He won’t have to face Tillman (triceps, injured reserve) and that’s going to give the Cowboys’ top wideout a chance for a huge day. Bryant also gets turned on by big-name opponents, and when he sees Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the same field, it’s bound to inspire a stellar performance.
Tight end Jason Witten is also a given, as he is the Cowboys’ No. 2 receiver behind Bryant and he has six TDs.
Cold-weather conditions may neutralize the Cowboys to a degree, but if they have the mental toughness to deal with temperatures in the teens, they should be able to have a big night against perhaps the worst defensive team in the league.
The Cincinnati Bengals are secure in their position in first place in the AFC North, but they are anything but thrilled with the performance of quarterback Andy Dalton. This has been a halting season for him, and he has thrown for just 283 yards in the last two games against Cleveland and San Diego. The Colts are an aggressive defensive team who may keep him in check in Week 14. The Bengals won’t finish their assessment of Dalton until their season comes to an end, but there are several voices in the organization that are calling for a change at the quarterback position. Don’t expect a big game from Dalton this week and that means that wideout A.J. Green may also have a hard time getting off.
The Lions have had a difficult time playing consistent football for 60 minutes each week. Turnovers have been the biggest problem and that caused a slow start on Thanksgiving Day before they put away the Green Bay Packers. Inconsistency will cause Matthew Stafford all kinds of problems against the Philadelphia Eagles, since opposite number Nick Foles has been the most consistent quarterback in the league in his six starts. Stafford still should pile up 300 yards and at least three TDs vs. the Eagles, however, even if he gets victimized by the interception problem that has tormented him all year.
There is no hesitation in Tampa Bay when it comes to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. While he had a bad game in Week 13 against the Carolina Panthers on the road, he is set up for a huge game at home against the Buffalo Bills. Glennon reads defenses like a veteran and can generally handle a hard pass rush by getting the ball quickly. He could not find open receivers against the Panthers, but that should not be a problem against the Bills. Look for wideout Vincent Jackson and tight end Timothy Wright to have big games, while Tiquan Underwood is a legitimate sleeper.
The Giants may not be a very good team, but they have won five of their last six games. They figure to give the San Diego Chargers and their 28th-rated pass defense all they can handle. Look for Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to torch the Chargers pass defense. Eli Manning has been far more accurate in recent weeks – one interception in the last two games – and he will find his receivers running free and clear in San Diego.
LOVE ‘EM, HATE ‘EM IN WEEK 14
Josh Gordon has been an unstoppable force this year for the Cleveland Browns with 64-1, 249-7. Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib heaped praise on the explosive Gordon prior to this week’s matchup. Gordon will get his, but Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will dominate this game. He will catch two TD passes. LOVE HIM.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a gutsy backup quarterback who has given the Titans a lift this season. When he sees a big-time opponent like Peyton Manning on the opposite sideline, he tries to compete with him. That’s a mistake. Fitzpatrick will throw at least three interceptions. HATE HIM.
After a disaster of a performance on the West Coast in the Saints’ loss to Seattle, they are playing for first place at home against the Panthers. While Carolina has been the hottest team in the league, the Saints are not about to roll over for them. Drew Brees will have a bounce-back game and the Panthers won’t have an answer for tight end Jimmy Graham, who dominates this game with 125 receiving yards and two touchdowns. LOVE HIM.
The other epic game features the 49ers and the Seahawks. The 49ers are certainly the more desperate team and they are at home. However, Colin Kaepernick has been quite inconsistent this season and the Seahawks defense will focus on stopping hard-running Frank Gore and dare Kaepernick to beat them. The Seahawks will stop Gore in his tracks and he will have less than 50 rushing yards. HATE HIM.
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