A day with NFL football is always a good day, but having 13 games on a Saturday just feels weird and morally wrong, and it’s throwing off my sense of balance and equilibrium. I’m writing this from the middle of a farm field, and I have no idea why. Please send help.
For those of you who aren’t severely disoriented by the shift away from the lord’s day of rest, here’s the most notable notes as we get set for kickoff in less than an hour.
Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens
In Week 13 Ray Rice had 204 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Browns while averaging seven yards per carry, and his backup Ricky Williams also had a season-high 76 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland was dismantled and embarrassed, and now they have to prevent a similar outcome while stopping the Ravens from finishing the season with a perfect record at home.
Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills
Denver isn’t exactly a warm and tropical place when the winter solstice rolls around, but Florida boy Tim Tebow will still be making his first start today in an environment where the temperature has dipped below 40 degrees.
We assume that if Tebow wants Buffalo to be warmer this afternoon, he can just ask his dad.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton is maturing, and earlier this week we learned that his teammates are pushing him to be more positive, saying the sulking sideline look extenuated by a towel over his head isn’t very appealing. That maturation process will continue this week, and now Newton will have a real offseason with real practices and OTAs to grow mentally.
Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals
If you’re playing in a fantasy championship and are worried about A.J. Green, don’t be. He was listed as probable, and he’s starting.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
The last time these two teams met the Raiders had Darren McFadden in their backfield. That was the last time McFadden was seen on a football field this year, and it was eight long weeks ago.
Now another disappointing season for a promising and highly explosive running back is one loss away from its official conclusion. The Raiders’ playoff hopes are already slim, but a loss today makes next week’s game meaningless, and McFadden’s presence useless.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Three months ago, Albert Haynesworth, Andre carter, and Shaun Ellis were the primary defensive offseason acquisitions in New England brought in as the catalysts for Bill Belichick’s transition to a 4/3 defense. As Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald notes, injuries and ineffectiveness have now led to an ongoing transition, and a weekly state of flux.
New York Giants at New York Jets
Even with Osi Umenyiora still out, the Giants’ pass rush is always threatening with the tandem of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Any option in the flats to slow down their pursuit is vital, which is why Joe McKnight’s improved health shouldn’t be overlooked.
St. Louis Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers
Thankfully, the Steelers made the only logical decision yesterday with Ben Roethlisberger, and backup Charlie Batch will start against the woeful Rams. Batch’s primary function will be to place the ball in Rashard Mendenhall’s stomach, giving him the opportunity to carve up the league’s worst run defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Interim Jacksonville head coach Mel Tucker is stubbornly denying the reality that can be seen easily in any film session by saying that Blaine Gabbert has been courageous in the pocket. We can’t fault Tucker for offering quarterback propaganda to the media, though, because as a coach trying to shed his interim tag, that’s his job.
We can fault Gabbert for looking timid, and wasting a powerful arm by mentally collapsing as the pocket breaks down. The reality hidden by Tucker’s words is that this may be Gabbert’s second last chance to prove himself before the Jaguars’ management heavily considers moving in a different direction.
On the Tennessee sideline, Chris Johnson will play, but he was “running roughly” during warm-ups.
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins
There’s little reason for the Redskins to risk further injury with Roy Helu, their running back who had 334 rushing yards between Weeks 12 and 15. That’s why he’s inactive with an ankle injury, even though he was expected play today, albeit at less than 100 percent.
Fantasy owners should have already picked up Evan Royster as a handcuff.
San Diego Chargers at Detroit Lions
The importance of a win today for the Lions is rightfully receiving all the attention and hype, because with a victory a doomed franchise for much of the past decade and beyond will clinch its first playoff berth since 1999. But another drought that’s even longer would end too, with Detroit ensuring a 10-win season for the first time since 1995.
Also, Vincent Jackson’s injury has been watched closely during fantasy championship week. Although he’ll test his groin in warm-ups, it still doesn’t look good, and much like Felix Jones below, if this was a game with lesser importance Jackson probably would have been listed as doubtful and maybe ruled out already. Look for other fantasy options if you haven’t already, and do it fast.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Playing in one of the three late games today is rather advantageous for the Cowboys and their handling of Jones, the team’s primary running back who at best has only a 50-50 chance of playing. But if the Giants beat the Jets, Jones won’t play a snap today, according to ESPN’s Matt Mosley, because then the NFC East won’t be decided until Week 17, and his participation today would be fruitless.
However, if the Giants lose, Jones will have more motivation to test out his sore hamstring, but not much more. Even in that scenario, his status is still a coin flip.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Steven Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Cedric Benson, and Ray Rice have averaged only 40 yards per game and just 2.8 yards per carry against the 49ers’ rush defense. Good luck, Marshawn Lynch.