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NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 6

1. As it turns out, the AFC is pretty mediocre.
Sunday was a horrible day for AFC enthusiasts. New England allowed Russell Wilson to complete another desperation heave to the end zone, Green Bay smacked around Houston, and the Ravens lost two more stars on defense. Now that the dust has settled, it’s fair to wonder if the AFC isn’t that good. The top of the NFC packs more punch than the “best” teams in the AFC and even the teams with losing records like New Orleans, Dallas, Detroit and Carolina are dangerous. Granted, the Texans are going to be fine. They ran into a very motivated Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night and they got torched, but they’ll bounce back. The Patriots are still going to win the AFC East because they won’t lose to the Jets, Dolphins or Bills in head-to-head games. Baltimore should win the AFC North because Cincinnati and Pittsburgh can’t gain any traction and we’ll find out who is the class in the AFC West tonight when the Chargers host the Broncos. But it became apparent yesterday that the NFC has better talent from top to bottom this year.

2. The Falcons are perfectly flawed.
It’s certainly understandable if you don’t view the Falcons in the same light as you have other unbeaten teams at this point in a NFL season. On Sunday the Raiders out gained Atlanta 474 to 286, held the ball longer (36:26 to 23:34), and intercepted Matt Ryan three times in the first half. The Falcons can’t run the ball effectively, they can’t stop the run, and the play of their offensive line has been inconsistent. But it says something when a team is outplayed and yet still finds a way to win. The Falcons have yet to play their best game and they’re 6-0 heading into their bye. They believe that if there’s enough time on the clock, Ryan will pull victory out of the jaws of defeat like he has the past two weeks. It’s almost become routine to watch him lead fourth quarter comebacks and yet there’s nothing routine about what he’s been able to accomplish. Granted, he’s aided by a gluttony of offensive weapons and a defense that continues to make big plays. But when the chips are down it’s Ryan who has to make the crucial decisions and thus far, flawed or not, he and the Falcons have been perfect.

3. The Ravens are in trouble.
Heading into Week 6, the Ravens ranked 23rd against the pass and their run defense had sprung a leak. And that was before they lost emotional leader Ray Lewis to a torn triceps and top cover corner Ladarius Webb to a season-ending ACL injury on Sunday. Because Pittsburgh and Cincinnati can’t get out of their own way, Baltimore is in good shape to win the AFC North. But the Ravens were already without Terrell Suggs so the losses of Lewis and Webb are crippling. Now more than ever this has to become Joe Flacco’s team. He played fine in the Ravens’ 31-29 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday but the time has come where he needs to elevate the play of those around him. A few weeks ago we were talking about Baltimore’s offense finally being a strength. Now that injuries are piling up on the defensive side of the ball, there better be a lot of truth to that statement or the Ravens will become directionless awfully quick.

4. The Packers are far from done.
‘Here we go again’ likely spilled out of the mouths of some Green Bay fans when Aaron Rodgers missed James Jones on a possible 40-plus yard touchdown on the Packers’ opening drive last night. With injuries piling up on both sides of the ball, it had become reasonable to talk about the Packers missing the playoffs this year. But after Rodgers threw for 338 yards and six touchdowns (three of which landed in Jordy Nelson’s hands) in a very Rodgers-like performance, you realized Green Bay isn’t going anywhere. This is still a very dangerous team and the Pack put every NFC team on notice last night. If their offense starts firing on all cylinders again, they’ll quickly erase their 2-3 start and put themselves back in position to win the NFC North. They’ve already beaten Chicago once and Minnesota doesn’t have the weapons to keep up in a shootout. If the Pack were able to do what they did against a stout Houston defense, troubling times are ahead for opposing defensive coordinators.

5. The Eagles’ latest loss wasn’t solely on Vick.
Due to another multi-turnover day, Michael Vick will once again take the heat in the Eagles’ 26-23 loss to the Lions on Sunday. But his offensive line didn’t do him many favors, as he absorbed a number of big hits in the pocket. Brent Celek also dropped a potential touchdown and Vick’s 70-yard score to Jeremy Maclin should have been enough for the Eagles to escape with a victory. But because Philadelphia’s pass defense couldn’t stop Matthew Stafford on the Lions’ final drive of regulation, the Lions forced overtime, where they eventually won. Look, Vick has to play better. He can’t keep turning the ball over and expect that he’ll put together a last-second drive to win the game in the end. That puts too much pressure on his teammates, his coaching staff, and his defense. But it takes an entire team to underachieve as badly as Philadelphia has. With the amount of talent that they have on both sides of the ball, they shouldn’t be losing games in which opponents like Detroit keep handing them opportunities to win. Criticize Vick all you want, but Andy Reid and everyone else in midnight green deserve to be ripped, too.

6. The 49ers still have a very big crutch.
The 49ers are a very good football team. They play good defense, they can run the ball, and Alex Smith has emerged as a quarterback that you can win with. But in their 26-3 victory on Sunday, the Giants proved that the Niners still have one very big problem: They lack explosiveness. This isn’t a team will strike for many big plays so when they get down by multiple scores, they’re in trouble. They’re so used to playing with a lead and grinding opponents down that they’re lost when they trail by two touchdowns. When defensive lines are able to pin their ears back and get after Smith, San Francisco’s offensive line becomes very average. And while the Niners did well to add more playmakers to their receiving corps, they still seem to be lacking. Granted, because of their running game and defense, the 49ers won’t find themselves in many situations like they did on Sunday. But considering Atlanta, New York, Green Bay and Chicago can all beat you through the air, Jim Harbaugh has to be concerned with what he saw yesterday.

7. Time to pump the breaks on Minnesota.
If you just look at Christian Ponder’s stat line (35-of-52, 352 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs), one could argue that he played well. But you wouldn’t come to the same conclusion if you actually watched his performance. He missed open receivers, he became overly reliant on the checkdown, and he threw one of the worst interceptions that you’ll ever see from any quarterback, airmailing a receiver open in the flat in the second half. Granted, he and Percy Harvin kept the Vikings in the game in the fourth quarter. But thanks to three turnovers and some shoddy defense, Minnesota suffered its first loss of the season. Granted, this defeat doesn’t prove that the Vikings are pretenders. This isn’t an overly flawed team and there’s no shame in allowing RGIII to school you both on the ground and through the air. But if the Vikings want to keep pace with Green Bay and Chicago in the division, this is a game they should win.

8. It was only a matter of time in Arizona.
The wheels have inevitably come off the Arizona Cardinals. Heading into Week 6 the Bills had been outscored 97-31 the previous two weeks and yet found a way to beat the Cardinals 19-16 in Arizona on Sunday. Granted, let’s give Buffalo its due. Those players could have quit on Chan Gailey but clearly they united by staying on the West Coast this week and now they return to Buffalo with a respectable 3-3 record. But nobody believed Arizona was a legitimate playoff contender and the Cardinals have been exposed the past two weeks. Kevin Kolb has proved he’s one tough son of a bitch while taking a pounding served by his own offensive line. But it was only a matter of time before he was seriously injured and now the Cardinals might have to go back to John Skelton. With games against Minnesota, San Francisco, Green Bay and Atlanta coming up, Arizona should be knocked out of postseason contention by mid-November.

9. KC Fans: Welcome to the Brady Quinn experience.
For those Chiefs fans that cheered when Matt Cassel was knocked out of last weeks’ game, you deserve every bit of Brady Quinn. Cassel may not be the answer at quarterback for Kansas City, but neither is Quinn, who threw for just 180 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs’ embarrassing 38-10 loss to the Bucs. Granted, his two interceptions weren’t all his fault. The first pick was dropped by tight end Steve Maneri and the second was striped from Dexter McCluster. But Quinn has never been very accurate, he continues to display poor footwork (which dates back to his days at Notre Dame), and his average pass went for just 4.7 yards. Due to his inability to find a reliable starting quarterback (and backup QB for that matter), you have to wonder how much longer GM Scott Pioli has in Kansas City.

10. Weeden continues to get better.
Even in the Browns’ loss to the Giants last week, you could see that rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden was getting better. He finally picked up his first NFL win on Sunday, as Cleveland knocked of Cincinnati, 34-24. Weeden completed 17-of-29 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He once again struck for a big play, hitting Josh Gordon for a 71-yard score in the first half. He needs to do a better job limiting the turnovers but there’s a lot of gunslinger in the 28-year-old rookie, who continues to get better each week. Heading into Week 6 the Browns seemed destined to claim the top pick in next year’s draft. But don’t be surprised if Cleveland picks up its second straight win when it travels to Indianapolis next week. The Browns are better than what their record would indicate.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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After Calvin Johnson Who Is #2 Fantasy Wide Receiver?

After last season’s 96 rec, 1,681 yard, 16 TD performance, “Megatron” is easily the #1 ranked WR in fantasy football- but who do you draft #2?

Brandon Marshall- Even with five different QB’s during two years in MIA, Marshall averaged 83 rec, 1,100 yards and 5 TD a season. In 07-08 w/Cutler in DEN, averaged 103 rec, 1,295 and 6 TD. How bad have the Bears WR been historically? Check this link and Marshall is easily the best one EVER.

Jordy Nelson- Since the 2010 playoffs, no WR has been more productive than Nelson. After a 15 TD 2011, some owners are scared he can’t match that production. But with Aaron Rodgers t QB, why can’t he?

Larry Fitzgerald- Fitz is arguably the best WR in the NFL- but in fantasy he isn’t thanks to another year of his career foreseeably wasted (or at least compromised) by substandard QB play in the desert.

Wes Welker- There are sexier WR out there, but over the last 5 years no one as consistent. 110 rec, 1,221 yards, 6 TD per season over the last five.

After “Megatron” is gone, who do you take next? I’m going Marshall.

Giants implode as Packers roll to convincing win

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 26: Aaron Rodgers  of the Green Bay Packers is congratulated by Eli Manning  of the New York Giants after their game at Lambeau Field on December 26, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Here are five quick-hit observations from the Packers’ convincing 45-17 win over the Giants on Sunday.

1. If they make the playoffs, the Packers will be a tough out.
Green Bay still needs to beat the Bears next Sunday at Lambeau Field to make the playoffs, but if they do they’re going to be one of the tougher sixth seeds to have ever made the postseason. Pundits often remark how they can’t run the ball, but they won’t need to run the ball if Aaron Rodgers continues to play at a MVP level. I don’t want to downplay the need of a good rushing attack but Rodgers found Jordy Nelson on an 80-yard touchdown on their first possession on Sunday and the Packers were able to turn the game into a track meet. Then they kept throwing late in the second half even though they were up two touchdowns. With the weapons they have in the passing game, they can be aggressive – that can be their game. Granted, the opposing team won’t always turn the ball over six times but the Packers will be a dangerous matchup for any team in the postseason. People seem to forget how good this team is.

2. Turnovers once again kill the Giants.
It’s pretty simple: Turn the ball over six times against any team, regardless of whether or not they’re a quality opponent, and you’re going to lose. Turn the ball over six times against a good team and you’re going to get your face pounded in. Not all of the Giants’ turnovers mattered because one or two came in garbage time when the Packers already had the win wrapped up. But the majority of them hurt. When teams don’t iron out their issues throughout the season, they can come back to haunt them. The Giants started coughing the ball up in Week 1 and have never stopped.

3. The Giants weren’t over last week’s collapse.
The players said they were over their loss to the Eagles and maybe they thought they were. But it sure looked like the Giants needed a quarter to focus after what happened to them last Sunday. They spotted Green Bay a 14-0 lead in the first quarter when Jordy Nelson caught an 80-yard touchdown on the Packers’ first offensive possession when he got by Antrel Rolle at the line of scrimmage. Then Rodgers hit James Jones for a three-yard touchdown with 1:53 remaining in the quarter and all of a sudden it looked as if the rout was on. Credit Tom Coughlin’s squad for snapping out of their funk to tie the game at 14-14, but the Packers just kept coming. Once they took a two-touchdown lead late in the second half, you got the feeling New York was done. Last week was just too much for the G-Men to overcome.

4. Tom Brady, Michael Vick…Aaron Rodgers.
All week it seems as though the sports radio talk shows have discussed who should win the MVP this year: Tom Brady or Michael Vick. But even though the Packers have yet to clinch a playoff spot, Rodgers should at least be in the discussion – even if his name is only briefly mentioned. This was Rodgers’ 10th career game with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions, which is the most in NFL history for quarterbacks within three years of their first start. Nothing against Matt Flynn (he played well last Sunday night in New England), but take Rodgers off this team and they don’t even sniff a winning record. He has no running game, he lost his tight end in the first half of the season and his offensive line can be very inconsistent. Yet, he continues to put up outstanding numbers. He’s unreal.

5. What now?
The Packers will host the Bears next Sunday in Green Bay and as previously mentioned, if they win they’ll clinch a playoff spot. The Eagles clinched the NFC East with the Giants’ loss and now they’ll fight for playoff seeding. The Giants will wrap up their season next week against the Redskins and they must win. If they win and Green Bay loses to Chicago, then New York is in. The G-Men better not overlook Washington, which has suddenly become pesky.

Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

In the realm of fantasy football, using early picks on rookies is usually a dicey proposition. It’s not often that a rookie comes into the league and is able to quickly establish fantasy relevance, though a few players do break through every season. Typically, a few running backs make an immediate impact, as that is the easiest position to transition to from college. In 2007, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were drafted for the sole purpose of taking over their team’s running game, and they both went on to have successful seasons. Even an undrafted rookie like Ryan Grant can have an impact if he finds the right situation. (I was lucky enough to snatch him off the waiver wire before he went on his 10-game train ride to fantasy stardom. I went on to win the title in that league despite disappointing performances from two of my keepers – Shaun Alexander and Marvin Harrison.)

Last year’s wide receiver crop was a bit thinner. Dwayne Bowe was the top rookie, finishing in the top 20 in most scoring formats. This was an upset considering all the fantasy owners that were drooling over Calvin Johnson’s intangibles before the season started. James Jones and Anthony Gonzalez flirted with fantasy relevance, but otherwise rookie wideouts didn’t make much of an impact in 2007. But every year, it seems like there’s one or two that become starter-worthy. (Who can forget Marques Colston’s 2006 campagin?)

So let’s take a look at this year’s top fantasy rookies and see who’s likely to make an impact.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (pictured)
Stewart is a power back and that’s the Panthers’ style. DeAngelo Williams has been something of a disappointment, so if Stewart runs well during the rest of the preseason, it’s not inconceivable that he could earn a starting role. However, durability is a concern with Stewart, so it is more likely that the Panthers will split carries to keep him fresh and injury-free.

2. Darren McFadden, Raiders
Due to his combination of strength and speed, some compare the #4 overall pick to Adrian Peterson. McFadden joins Justin Fargas and Michael Bush in the Raider backfield. Fargas had something of a breakout season in 2007 and Bush is running very well in camp, but McFadden will still get his touches. The team has said they’d like to use McFadden like the Saints used Reggie Bush in his rookie season. Oakland won’t want to wear him out, so this looks like a RBBC for the time being.

3. Matt Forte, Bears
The Bears drafted Forte in the second round to shore up a struggling running game. Cedric Benson was a bust, but the offensive line has been suspect for a couple of years now, so there’s no telling just how much Forte will help Chicago’s ground game. He has looked solid in the preseason, and should be a solid RB3 in most fantasy leagues.

4. Kevin Smith, Lions
Smith is one of the more promising rookies simply because the Lions don’t have any other good options at tailback. Tatum Bell and Brian Calhoun haven’t made their mark, so it’s Smith’s job to lose. He has had durability and character issues during his career, so there is some question as to whether or not he can hold up to the wear-and-tear of a 16-game season. Still, given the lack of competition, he’s an intriguing middle-round fantasy pick.

5. Chris Johnson, Titans
The diminutive speedster seems to be earning a bigger and bigger role as the preseason wears on. LenDale White will get most of the work between the tackles (and, presumably, around the goal line), but Johnson will see a lot of work in the passing game and as a change-of-pace back.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens (pictured)
With Willis McGahee coming off of knee surgery, and Rice impressing in camp, there’s a real possibility that the rookie starts at tailback in Week 1. There are rumblings that the team is none too happy with McGahee’s (lack of a) work ethic, so Rice’s value is enhanced in keeper or dynasty leagues.

7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
The Steelers raised some eyebrows (including Willie Parker’s) when they drafted Mendenhall in the first round. For now, they see him as a complement to “Fast” Willie, but he should eventually turn into an every-down back. The writing is on the wall for Parker; it’s just a matter of time before Mendenhall takes over as the Steelers’ feature back.

8. Steve Slaton, Texans
Ahman Green is hurt. Big surprise. Chris Brown is hurt. Big surprise. Somebody has to carry the ball in Houston and Slaton is second in line after Chris Taylor. Slaton has better speed, but Taylor is a little more physical. If Green and Brown continue to miss time, we might be looking at a Taylor/Slaton RBBC in Houston.

9. Felix Jones, Cowboys
Jones is the “lightning” to Marion Barber’s “thunder,” but this isn’t a timeshare. Barber is the main back, and Jones will be used to spell him and to add some punch out of the backfield in the passing game. Barber owners should definitely target Jones as a handcuff in the late-middle rounds.


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