Cullen: Week 11 NFL Preview

Scott Cullen
11/15/2012 6:28:03 PM
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Week 11 of the NFL season becomes increasing interesting as injuries start to play a bigger role, particularly when it comes to quarterbacks.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago are expected to have new quarterbacks under centre, but there are plenty of significant injuries to monitor leading up to game-time. Atlanta WR Julio Jones, San Diego RB Ryan Mathews, Packers WR Jordy Nelson, Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe and Redkins WR Pierre Garcon are among the non-quarterbacks whose status will need to be monitored prior to Sunday.

Check out this week's Power Rankings for more of my takes on all 32 teams.

A look at the Week 11 matchups in the NFL:

The ideal way to attack Buffalo is on the ground, where they have given up a league-high 163.7 yards per game, but Reggie Bush has struggled, losing some playing time to Daniel Thomas due to recent fumbles. If the Dolphins can't make the ground game work, Brian Hartline remains a quality option, recording 16 catches for 186 yards in the last two weeks, which were ultimately Dolphins defeats.

The Bills have dropped five of six, so it's pretty sweet to be favoured with that track record, but they have been more competitive over the last month, including the last couple weeks against the top two teams in the NFL Power Rankings. Miami's run defence has been among the league's best this season, but was gashed for 126 rushing yards by Tennessee's Chris Johnson last week, so the Bills can be expected to give C.J. Spiller ample opportunity to make the difference, particularly since Fred Jackson will miss the game with a concussion.

If Spiller can get to the corners, avoiding the Dolphins' DT tandem of Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, the Bills will have a chance. If this game ends up in the hands of the Ryans -- quarterbacks Tannehill and Fitzpatrick -- then it's really up for grabs.

The Cardinals have been in freefall, losing five straight and don't have a lot of reason to be optimistic visiting Atlanta, unless John Skelton can find a way to get the ball downfield. Larry Fitzgerald is perpetually under-utilized because of Arizona's subpar QB play, but Andre Roberts has provided fine secondary value while opposing teams focus on Fitzgerald.

If there is some reason to consider that the Cardinals could be competitive in this game, it is that their strength has been pass coverage. CB Patrick Peterson is one of the best and it wouldn't hurt Arizona's chances if Greg Toler could get back into the lineup, particularly with Falcons WR Julio Jones dealing with an ankle injury, suffered last week against New Orleans.

If Jones -- who is a game-time decision -- can't go, or isn't effective, that enhances Arizona's chances greatly, but it hasn't been easy for any team to limit Atlanta's passing game, as QB Matt Ryan ranks second in the league with 2771 passing yards and fourth with 20 passing touchdowns.

Winners of three straight, scoring 112 points in the process, the Bucs have a balanced attack. RB Doug Martin is among the most productive runners in the game, which has allowed QB Josh Freeman to go downfield to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

Carolina doesn't have the same kind of balance and has been puzzling, for some reason ignoring their strong running game when Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams might be able to keep the ball away from more skilled opponents, yet Stewart has managed 124 rushing yards in the last three weeks, after allegedly taking over the starting job. Tampa Bay's run defence has been very good this year, anyway, so the Panthers may want to attack Tampa Bay's secondary, where corners E.J. Biggers and Eric Wright are beatable.

The Browns, despite their overall record, have been relatively competitive this year, so expecting the inconsistent Cowboys to win by more than a touchdown may be optimistic, but that will depend on which Cowboys team shows up. Dallas' defence should pose problems for QB Brandon Weeden, who doesn't have enough passing options, so the Browns' hopes will likely rest on RB Trent Richardson, who can grind out yards and will likely run into Cowboys ILB Bruce Carter on more than a few occasions.

Cleveland's pass coverage hasn't been bad, particularly with Joe Haden in the lineup (though he was injured in practice this week), but Dallas has a lot of weapons, so even if Haden and Sheldon Brown have fair matchups with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant on the outside, either TE Jason Witten or WR Kevin Ogletree could exploit more favourable matchups. Cleveland does rank 27th in rushing yards allowed, so it may be a decent day to run for Felix Jones too.

The Packers are coming off their bye week, but they remain an injured lot, so getting those points on the road may be generous. Prior to the bye, RB James Starks was emerging as a viable candidate in the Packers' backfield, though he may be sharing time with Alex Green for the time being.

This game figures to be a passing extravaganza, with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford both helming multi-receiver sets, although both are missing some key pieces. The Lions, already without Nate Burleson, also have Titus Young dealing with a knee injury and Calvin Johnson playing through his own knee problems. Greg Jennings remains out for the Packers and Jordy Nelson has been battling injuries all year, an ankle issue currently, so that leaves Randall Cobb and James Jones as the likeliest beneficiaries for the Packers.

The mismatch of the week leaves the Jaguars in need of a small miracle. Even so, there may be some value for fantasy players. RB Rashad Jennings and wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Laurent Robinson are all capable of putting up decent numbers, even if they happen to come with then Jaguars are trailing by a couple of touchdowns or more.

Texans RB Arian Foster will of course carry the bulk of the load for Houston and should be expected to score against a Jaguars defence that has allowed 14 rushing touchdowns, second-worst in the league. Texans TE Owen Daniels is questionable, after missing last week's game, but WR Andre Johnson should be enough of a threat if Houston even has to air the ball out in order to get the job done.

After dismantling the Giants last week, the Bengals should be feeling more optimistic as they head into Arrowhead to face the one-win Chiefs. Kansas City allows 8.4 yards per pass attempt, so look for A.J. Green to continue on his roll as the game's most productive wide receiver, but also consider TE Jermaine Gresham or emerging rookie WR Mohamed Sanu.

The Chiefs were competitive at Pittsburgh on Monday night, when they decided to give RB Jamaal Charles a steady workload, so that should be part of the plan against Cincinnati. It's better than leaving it to Matt Cassel, right?

N.Y. JETS (+3.5) at ST. LOUIS
Given the troubles that the Jets have had passing the ball, going up against the Rams isn't likely to cure what ails them. St. Louis' pass defence is in the top half of the league, thanks in large part to corners Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins (who is expected back after a team suspension last week).

The Rams ran the ball effectively against San Francisco last week, which means they should be able to do the same against the Jets, but QB Sam Bradford does have security blanket WR Danny Amendola back in the lineup, so that will allow the Rams to play their typical dink-and-dunk style, setting up deep balls for Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens (who, like Jenkins, should be back from his team suspension this week).

The Eagles have fallen on hard times and seem likely to give rookie Nick Foles a shot at quarterback after Michael Vick suffered a concussion against Dallas.

While Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are the obvious preferred targets for the Eagles, also consider someone like Riley Cooper, as backup quarterbacks do tend to have more chemistry with second-string receivers. In any case, the Redskins have given up 20 passing touchdowns, most in the league, so it's not a good matchup for Foles to get his first start.

While the Redskins offence has struggled in their last couple games, Robert Griffin III should have WR Santana Moss back in the lineup and Moss has been as good as any of the receiving options available to Griffin this season.

Suddenly within a game of .500, the Saints have resurrected their high-octane offence and have been able to get by with RB Darren Sproles out of the lineup because Chris Ivory has stepped in and been just as productive -- not bad work for a fourth-stringer. Having a serviceable running game is a luxury when the Saints have TE Jimmy Graham back in good health and at the top of his game.

The Raiders won't be afraid to air it out because Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey should be able to get open against the Saints' 31st-ranked pass defence, but Oakland could use big production from RB Marcel Reece (who had 104 yards from scrimmage last week) if they are going to have a chance to keep up.

San Diego has the second-best run defence, allowing 82.9 rushing yards per game, but the biggest challenge will be keep Peyton Manning under wraps. As long as Manning has Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas at his disposal, the Broncos' passing game will put pressure on San Diego's secondary.

The Chargers have their hands full already, but it could be worse if RB Ryan Mathews isn't able to play (he's missed a couple of days of practice). If Mathews can't go, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown will have more appeal in the Bolts' offence, but the Chargers also ought to keep throwing downfield, like they did last week at Tampa Bay, with WR Danario Alexander adding speed on the outside.

The Colts have been on a roll and, with a 6-3 record, are now in the playoff hunt, but there has been some smoke and mirrors to get to this result (with a negative scoring differential). Andrew Luck has been great and has an improving ground game with Donald Brown and Vick Ballard splitting the duties. New England's run defence has been good, though, so the Colts will likely need to take advantage of the Patriots' subpar secondary. Reggie Wayne is the star, but Donnie Avery, T.Y. Hilton and TE Dwayne Allen will all warrant looks.

New England should have more than enough to handle the Colts, but they had more than enough to handle the Bills last week and escaped with a narrow win. WR Wes Welker has missed a couple days of practice and TE Aaron Hernandez remains questionable with a bad ankle, so if both are out, that will make the job more challenging.

This was set to be a nasty AFC North battle, but the Steelers are shorthanded, missing QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown, which more than levels the playing field for a Ravens defence that has struggled this season and is missing ILB Ray Lewis and CB Lardarius Webb, while DT Haloti Ngata has been limited by injury, so he doesn't dominate the line of scrimmage as much as he has in previous seasons.

Pittsburgh's defence has been strong this season, so it's not an easy matchup for Joe Flacco, but Flacco to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin is generally more appealing than Byron Leftwich to Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. The potential return of RB Rashard Mendenhall could give the Steelers more strength in the ground game.

If Bears QB Jay Cutler isn't ready to play after suffering a concussion, then Jason Campbell is tasked with the battle against the Niners' vaunted defence, which could be problematic for WR Brandon Marshall, who has usually been among the top producers at the position. Campbell's questionable play at QB means that running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush will be very important to Chicago's chances.

This game could have been a battle of backups, but it appears that Alex Smith will be able to play this week, leaving Colin Kaepernick to wait in the wings.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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