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Dolphins at Ravens Chiefs at Falcons

Giants at Steelers Cowboys at Vikings

SINCE 1967


Jay Ajayi and Miami have won six straight and are looking for a

Strong Phin-ish




Wins at Oakland and Denver earn this spot They keep on winning but need to play better Offensive line’s a problem; rest of unit out of sync Hammering of Cardinals a statement game Von Miller can’t get this done by himself

They don’t impress but they do keep on winning If O-line gets healthy, Fish steal a wild-card spot Huge test for defense this Sunday with Giants Handle Miami Sunday and earn our respect Come-from-behind stuff great, but club has holes Will swap points with anyone but ‘D’ not enough Quarterback only spot that’s not part of problem Eagles win keeps playoff hopes on life support

Power Rankings Welcome to our NFL Week 13 Power Rankings

A very solid middle-of-the-pack team

Win over Seattle impressive, but is ‘D’ that good Osweiler looks like a huge, expensive mistake Lack of weapons make Wentz an unloaded gun Struggling to beat Bears doesn’t move needle Without Luck, Colts without hope

Have to wonder what they’d be if ever healthy They’re explosive, but no ‘D’ spells no playoffs Now they’re just finding ways to lose

No idea how they’re this bad, but they are

The Dallas Cowboys move to the top of our Week 13 Power Rankings after their impressive, Thanksgiving Day win over division rival Washington. The ’boys bump Seattle from the top spot after the Seahawks’ shocking performance against upstart Tampa Bay drops them to No. 5. AP PHOTO

Clearly seems like time for a change at the top Another team ready for a change

Can’t blame Fitzpatrick this week; how about age? Obviously Greg Olson wasn’t the problem

Tyreek Hill scored touchdowns on a pass, a run and a kickoff return Sunday night as the Chiefs beat the Broncos 30-27 in overtime. Kansas City moves up to No. 3 in our power rankings this week.

Pro Football Weekly is produced by Shaw Media, the Daily Herald Media Group and the Chicago Sun-Times in partnership with other Illinois daily newspapers.

Well, they may have found a backup quarterback Kaepernick playing really well, but rest is a mess Can you blame Hue for shedding a tear or two?


ith just five weeks remaining in the NFL’s 2016 regular season, there is no shortage of intrigue in at least 10 of the 12 coveted spots to be awarded to the postseason tournament. While no clubs are close yet to locking up division titles, the Dallas Cowboys can secure at least a wildcard spot this weekend, and it is near impossible to foresee a scenario in which the Patriots don’t make the playoffs. On the flip side, only the Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jaguars, Jets and Bengals can be eliminated from the playoff race with certainty, so we’re looking at 24 teams vying for 10 playoff spots. The standings, remaining schedule and common sense tells us the Patriots will win the AFC East, leaving the red-hot Dolphins and Buffalo to try and survive the wild-card chase. In the AFC North, even though Pittsburgh and Baltimore are currently tied for the lead, we think the Steelers are the better team and have a slightly more favorable schedule than the Ravens, who will play Miami this Sunday and New England

us r o ci fo ! i l s e ck h � D a t Sn al He

next week. sas City to get the division based on a sweep The Steelers will of the Raiders. likely claim the division on Christmas The Raiders will Day, when the Raclaim one of the wildvens come to Pittscard spots, with Denburgh for the secondver, Baltimore and to-last game of the Miami battling it out season. for the sixth seed, The AFC South is which we think will a crapshoot at this go to the Dolphins as point with Housmuch as anything beton just a half game cause Denver finishes ahead of Tennessee with the Patriots at and a game ahead of home, at Kansas City HUB ARKUSH Indianapolis. and home against the @Hub_Arkush Those three all Raiders. play each other one In the NFC, the more time, but Houston has the easCowboys will win the East and the iest remaining schedule outside the Seahawks will win the West because division, so we’re guessing their dethey are pretty clearly the best teams fense will be enough for them to hold with nice leads, and Atlanta will win on to the division, while the Titans the South because we’re just not buying the Bucs’ defense, New Orleans and Colts are left at no better than doesn’t have a defense and the Fal8-8, eliminating them from the wildcons won’t see another team with a card chase. winning record after Kansas City The AFC West is the best division this Sunday. in football, which we think will come The NFC North, however, is a bit of down to the Raiders’ trip to Kansas a Rubik’s Cube. City on December 8. The Lions are in the driver’s seat Look for the Chiefs to win that one, with a one-game lead over the Viboth teams to finish at 12-4 and Kan-

kings and a sweep of that season series, and they have a two-game lead over the Packers who did beat them earlier this year. The problem is Green Bay and Minnesota both have superior talent to the Lions and, let’s be honest, seven fourth quarter come-from-behind wins already has to be exhausting the Lions’ quota of good fortune. With a trip to New Orleans Sunday, then the Bears at home, at the Giants, at the Cowboys and a finale at home against Green Bay, it’s not hard to see Detroit finishing at 8-8. If the Vikings upset Dallas Thursday night, they become the favorite in the division with the softest closing slate. If Dallas continues to roll, then it looks like the Vikings’ Christmas Eve visit to Lambeau will be for the division, and if that’s the case, we see a 9-7 Packers team winning the North. The New York Giants will be the No. 5 seed at no worse than 10-6 and among Washington, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Minnesota and Arizona, it’s really a tossup for the NFC’s second wild card, so we’ll go with Washington as the leader in the clubhouse with a favorable closing slate.


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Plenty of intrigue left in NFL playof f hunt


Chiefs and Falcons face off with division titles in their sights By ARTHUR



hoever nicknamed the National Football League the “No Fun League” forgot to tell the Chiefs and Falcons. Following Kansas City’s epic overtime victory Sunday night over the rival Broncos, sealed on Cairo Santos’ 37yard game-winning field goal that ricocheted off the left upright prior to landing safely behind the crossbar, Santos took to Twitter. “Called the bank shot. Just forgot to tell Colquitt,” Santos tweeted, referring to holder Dustin Colquitt, who’s captured in a photo, kneeling with helmet dejectedly in hand, as

Sunday night, the Chiefs’ Cairo Santos kicked an overtime field goal off the crossbar for the win

Santos is commencing his celebration. At least Santos had fun at his teammate’s expense, unlike the Falcons, whose Twitter barb while they were still dispatching the Cardinals at home Sunday was directed at professional sports’ easiest target, the Browns. After former Browns wideout Taylor Gabriel’s second explosive touchdown of the afternoon and fifth in the past four games, Atlanta tweeted a screen grab of Gabriel’s Wikipedia page. It reads, “On September 3, 2016, he was released by the Browns.” The Falcons added, “Thanks! @Browns” Indeed, winning is fun, and the Chiefs, 8-3 and on the heels of the AFC West-leading Raiders, and 7-4 Falcons, who are pacing the NFC South, are enjoying themselves thoroughly. Perhaps the underlying theme for both of

7:25 p.m. Thursday, NBC

Dallas takes its rookie roadshow to Minnesota, where the Vikings, despite losing five of six, remain in NFC North striking distance.

CHIEFS AT FALCONS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Justin Houston and Tyreek Hill elevate Chiefs’ pass rush and special teams; can Alex Smith pick up lagging offense in time for Hot ‘Lanta?

DOLPHINS AT RAVENS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Adam Gase has Dolphins believing after Ryan Tannehill does heavy lifting in sixth straight win; Dumervil and Suggs reunited and it feels so good for Ravens.

49ERS AT BEARS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX

The game should be a punting fest; antennae raised to see if either team shows signs of punting on 2016.

EAGLES AT BENGALS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX

On short rest, Carson Wentz and Co. head to Cincinnati, where Marvin Lewis seemingly in denial that Bengals’ title window has slammed shut.

TEXANS AT PACKERS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Houston’s offense the latest cautionary tale on winning the offseason; Mike McCarthy could be cautionary tale on coaches paying for one non-winning season. AP PHOTO

Falcons WR Taylor Garbriel had a breakout performance with two touchdowns against the Cardinals

these surging teams is resourcefulness. The rocket-like ascent of Gabriel, the 5-8, 165-pound former Browns blur, coincided with a hamstring injury to Tevin Coleman last month. Coleman is both blitz beater and scoreboard heater with his electrifying combination of speed, suddenness and savvy as a receiver. Just as Coleman went down, Gabriel emerged, giving offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan a hemi-powered Swiss army knife. Defensively, Dan Quinn’s squad has converted college end Vic Beasley to ‘Sam’ ‘backer, where he leads the club with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He’ll look to again spearhead Atlanta’s improved pass rush, likely without injured Adrian Clayborn, against a suddenly vulnerable Chiefs front wall that let Denver punish Alex Smith with six sacks and eight QB hits. Sophomore cornerback Jalen Collins has gone from suspended to begin the season to key cog in Week 12, when he replaced injured top CB Desmond Trufant in the starting lineup and shared the team tackle lead with heat-seeking missile and rookie safety Keanu Neal. Collins added three pass breakups, the last foiling a two-point conversion that buried Arizona for 2016. The Chiefs’ incredible ability to adapt dates back at least to last season, when their 10-game win streak to clinch a postseason spot coincided with serious knee injuries to their top two players, Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston. Charles is on injured reserve, again. That’s sad because he’s the franchise’s all-time leading rusher and might be done in Kansas City. But his balky knee serendipitously opened the door for Spencer Ware, who’s a crafty and courageous runner capable of picking up yards in bunches like Charles. Tyreek Hill sensed an opening when Jeremy

Maclin went down three weeks ago with a groin injury. All he’s done since is join Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the first NFL rookie since 1965 to bat for the triple crown in a single game: Hill scored as a runner, receiver and kick returner – all three of the Chiefs’ touchdowns – in the knock-down, drag-out road win in Denver. Hill also leads the NFL in punt-return yardage. Then there’s Houston. Before he returned two weeks ago and dominated whichever helpless Broncos right tackle was supposed to block him Sunday night with three sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble, Dee Ford was demolishing the league for 10 sacks in his breakout third campaign. Ford was inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury, making the timing of Houston’s reintroduction both fortuitous and vital. When they’re both on the field together along with Tamba Hali, perhaps Sunday, Atlanta’s excellent OT pairing of Jake Matthews (left) and Ryan Schraeder (right) will have as tough an assignment keeping Matt Ryan clean as they’ve seen since their own road win over the Broncos in October. That takes us to Ryan, the orchestrator of coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s big-play production and arguably the frontrunner for NFL MVP, opposing Smith, who’s essentially the antithesis while safely guiding Andy Reid’s – we’ll just call it conservative – offense (5.2 yards per play compared to Atlanta’s 6.6). Smith led three 10-play drives late for Kansas City after getting nothing done against the Broncos’ ‘D’ for the better part of three quarters. The next time Ryan doesn’t eclipse 200 passing yards in a game will be the first since Week 10 of the 2013 season, an NFL record spanning 50 games. Two different styles, perhaps, but similarly resourceful and undeniably fun – and successful.

BRONCOS AT JAGUARS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Nearly a week later and Gary Kubiak’s 62-yard decision still stinging Broncos; almost four years later and Shad Khan’s indecision confounds the NFL world.

RAMS AT PATRIOTS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX

After looking over Jeff Fisher for two-plus decades, football Gods send Rams to New Orleans and New England in consecutive weeks with Rams brass feeling the heat.

LIONS AT SAINTS 12:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX

What would you say if we told you these two clubs are starting to play some semblance of defense?

BILLS AT RAIDERS 3:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS

LeSean McCoy and Derek Carr apparently didn’t need those appendages anyway.


Even in a losing effort on Thanksgiving, Kirk Cousins keeps winning. Cards’ NFC title game berth seems like an eternity ago.

GIANTS AT STEELERS 3:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX

Big Blue and Big Ben, well, at least his supporting cast, survived last week despite playing down to competition, but postseason outlook looking up?


A cross-country win over plucky Bolts would validate Tampa’s recent run. Joey Bosa may have locked up his Defensive Rookie of the Year award in Houston.


Once circled on the calendar, clash between past two NFC champs lacks luster, but Seattle gets no break with O-line issues and Carolina’s defensive front.

COLTS AT JETS 7:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN

Andrew Luck should return from his concussion; Ryan Fitzpatrick shouldn’t return to the starting lineup, ever, but QB situation the latest Jets’ circus.





Minnesota 23, Dallas 20 | Vikes must win, Cowboys playing with house money

Minnesota 22 , Dallas 19 | Vikes last stand, ‘Boys due for a clunker

Kansas City 27, Atlanta 24 | Justin Houston makes a big difference

Kansas City 24, Atlanta 20 | Chiefs have just a little more pedigree here

New Orleans 34, Detroit 31 | Lions ‘D’ isn’t ready for this

New Orleans 41, Detroit 37 | Smart money always on Brees in a shootout

New England 34, Los Angeles 16 | Jared Goff, meet Bill Belichick

New England 22, Los Angeles 15 | Pats have too much class for bungling Rams

Denver 24, Jacksonville 16 | What have Jags shown to suggest upset here?

Denver 23, Jacksonville 20 | Jags can’t buy a win, Broncos really need it

Green Bay 27, Houston 20 | Dom Capers will have a plan for Osweiler

Green Bay 31, Houston 19 | Pack good in Philly, Houston lousy last week

Cincinnati 17, Philadelphia 16 | Eagles just don’t have horses to help Wentz

Philadelphia 28, Cincinnati 25 | Bengals may be phoning it in at this point

Miami 19, Baltimore 16 | Ravens offense showing no signs of life

Miami 21, Baltimore 17 | Some heat coming off those Fish now

San Francisco 27, Chicago 24 | Kaepernick too much for depleted Bears ‘D’

Chicago 22, San Francisco 19 | I can’t pick against my guys here

Oakland 24, Buffalo 23 | Raiders keep hanging on by skin of teeth

Oakland 28, Buffalo 20 | Raiders figuring out how good they are now

Pittsburgh 34, N.Y. Giants 24 | Time for an offensive explosion in Pitt

N.Y. Giants 19, Pittsburgh 17 | Giants come up big in a prove-it game

Arizona 20, Washington 16 | Cards ‘D’ finds its pride at home

Washington 24, Arizona 21 | Washington just keeps hanging around

San Diego 31, Tampa Bay 30 | I’m just not buying Bucs ‘D’ yet

San Diego 35, Tampa Bay 20 | I’ll take Rivers over Winston

Seattle 23, Carolina 20 | Seattle at home too much for depleted Panthers

Seattle 17, Carolina 10 | Seahawks just don’t lose these at home

Indianapolis 24, N.Y. Jets 23 | Colts have just enough Luck over aging Jets

Indianapolis 12, N.Y. Jets 9 | Colts hanging on, Jets giving up





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Tony Romo’s Next Stop, Still Dallas

ing and burning up with the competitive fire to be back on the field. In his uber-classy statement acknowledging the present reality,

Romo said as much, that he definitely wanted to start again somewhere before he’s through. The Way We Hear It, that is most


ak Prescott, the stranglehold he’s put on the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback job and what it means for the future of former Cowboys starting QB Tony Romo, is one of the biggest stories in the NFL this season. There is no question Prescott is the starter and Romo his backup for the foreseeable future, and assuming good health, he’ll remain the starter through the end of the season, which most likely will come some time during the playoffs or at the Super Bowl. That has led to a new favorite pastime among NFL Insiders and analysts: trying to predict where Romo will play in 2017. Romo is playing the good soldier now, understanding the situation and doing everything he can to support Prescott while his insides are churn-


Tony Romo (right) is so respected by Jerry Jones that he figures to remain in Dallas despite losing the starting QB position to Dak Prescott this season

likely to happen for him next season right where he is – in Dallas – either due to an injury to Prescott or a dropoff in his play. While others conject about theories that send him to Denver, Houston, Chicago, the Jets or elsewhere based on the belief that Dallas owner Jerry Jones has such respect and fondness for him he will make whatever outcome Romo wants possible, we’re hearing that when Jones talks about Romo playing five more years in Dallas – which he has – and leading the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, it’s because that’s exactly what he wants and expects to happen. Even though Romo’s base salary drops to $14.5 million in 2017 to be supplemented by a couple of million dollars in roster bonuses, Romo will count almost $25 million against the cap next year as a Cowboy, and just over $20 million against the Cowboys’ cap even if he’s no longer with the team. We’re hearing Jones will be loathe to take a $20 million cap hit for a player he doesn’t have, particularly when it would leave him in need of a backup quarterback with third-stringer Mark Sanchez a free agent after this season. Who is he going to get that will be close

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rick. The next question becomes, even if Jones doesn’t want to deal Romo, what kind of haul would he be giving up by keeping Romo? Yes, the Eagles got first- and thirdround picks for 29-year-old Sam Bradford. The Packers got a third-round draft choice for a then-39-year-old Brett Favre when they traded him to the Jets

in 2008, but Favre had never missed a game. Romo will turn 37 the week before the 2017 draft having not played a game this season, at least eight of them lost to injury, and he played just four games in 2015 due to injury. While guesses about his trade value are all over the board according to NFL people we’ve talked to, the consensus seems to be a conditional pick

that lands somewhere between the third and sixth round. Finally, there is the issue of whether Romo wants to play for various teams that might be willing to deal for him. Everything we’re hearing is that Romo is most likely to remain a Cowboy next year, and with everything we know about life at quarterback in the NFL, it is also most likely he has yet to take his final snap for Jones.

Is The NFL Giving Thursday Night Back To The Sitcoms?


ro Football Talk reported over the weekend that the NFL is seriously considering scaling back or possibly even eliminating Thursday night football games altogether after the 2017 season. The PFT report cites a source indicating Roger Goodell and the league might be ready to acknowledge the damage the Thursday night games are doing to TV ratings and the NFL brand aren’t worth the extra dollars the league was chasing when it committed to Thursday nights in the first place. We’re hearing there are a number of voices at both the team level and in the league office calling for a rethinking of the Thursday Night Football package, but

that they have little to do with admitting mistakes or putting the brand and players’ welfare ahead of the 32 owners never-ending money grab. NFL owners know that the next big pay raise for them is most likely to come from extending the regular season from 16 to 18 games and possibly adding one or two more playoff teams. But the owners have a problem. The league cannot add additional regular-season games without negotiating a change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current agreement doesn’t expire until 2021 and the players have made it eminently clear that they’re not about to give the owners anything until something is done about what they believe is the hubris and abuse of power by Goodell in his

treatment of the players. The league does not need the approval of the players to reschedule Thursday night games to Sunday, and the only thing stopping the owners from doing that are the network TV deals that expire after the 2017 season. The other huge roadblock stalling the owners getting an extension of the regular season is the prevailing wisdom among leaders of the players association and many of the players that 16 games may already be too much for their health and welfare, and that two more games might not be worth the roughly 12 percent increases in pay the players could receive in exchange for playing a couple more games. Goodell and the owners know the play-

ers hate Thursday night games as much or more than their fans, and The Way We Hear It, any move to get rid of Thursday nights is nothing more than a bargaining ploy to begin to move the players closer to an 18-game regular season as soon as possible – the owners hope as soon as the 2018 season. We actually think it’s a good plan for the fans, but we’re also hearing the players are dug in deeply at the moment and the NFLPA leaders want a lot more than Thursday nights at home for everybody in exchange for more regular season games. Any willingness to sacrifice Thursday night paydays is nothing more than the opening ploy by the owners to convince the players a long NFL regular season is in everybody’s best interests.


to Romo? What makes things even more interesting is Prescott, in the second year of a fourth-round draft choice contract, will have a base salary of just $540,000. When you combine the salaries due Romo and Prescott for 2017, the $15.04 million base is less than any starting quarterback in the league not playing on a rookie contract except for Ryan Fitzpat- | THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2016


Difficult to find fantasy locks in Week 13 By J.C.



Fantasy writer |

he 49ers, Browns, Colts and Raiders give up the most yards in the NFL, respectively. The Browns are on bye this week and the other three teams face subpar offenses. The 49ers are at Chicago; Indy plays at the Jets and the Raiders get the Bills in Oakland. With no-brainer matchups harder to find, we’ll have to dig a little deeper this week if we want to strike fantasy gold. On to Week 13 …


OPPONENT: VS SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, SUNDAY, NOON The 49ers are just bad enough that there might be some fantasy value to be found on the lakefront this weekend. True, the Bears score fewer points than any NFL team not coached by Jeff Fisher, but they do produce a reasonable 350 yards per game. Defensively, San Fran is dead last in the league in points (31.3 per game) and yards (424.5) allowed. They are absolutely horrific against the run. Their 171.8 rushing yards allowed per game is 30 more than the rushing yards yielded by the 31stranked Browns. For perspective sake, the 49ers give up 230 percent more rushing yards per game than do the Ravens. The big question for Jordan Howard owners is whether OC Dowell Loggains can let go of his fascination (obsession?) with the passing game and give his emerging RB a steady stream of carries. If you are in absolute dire need of a QB, Matt Barkley has a chance to produce in this game. For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde are solid plays. MUST START: Howard SOLID PLAY: None WORTH A LOOK: Barkley, Marquess Wilson, Connor Barth LAST RESORT: Cameron Meredith, Daniel Brown, Bears D/ST STAY AWAY: Deonte Thompson, Josh Bellamy

Atlanta Falcons

OPPONENT: VS KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, SUNDAY, NOON Kansas City is known for its tough defense, but the Chiefs are giving up 382 yards per game. Only four teams (Raiders, Colts, Browns 49ers) have surrendered more yards this season. The Chiefs, however, are much stingier on the scoreboard. They are ranked eighth in scoring defense at 19.5 points per game. Atlanta and its high-powered offense should give KC all it can handle in this game. The Falcons are the highest scoring team in the NFL, averaging 32.5 points per game. They are fourth in total yards behind only New Orleans, Washington and Tennessee. Atlanta will have to figure a way to contain Justin Houston, who had three sacks last week in Denver, just his second game of the season. Tevin Coleman was a little rusty (eight carries for nine yards and a TD) in his return last week. He’s a solid sleeper candidate this week. MUST START: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones SOLID PLAY: Mohamed Sanu, Matt Bryant

WORTH A LOOK: Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, Falcons D/ST LAST RESORT: Austin Hooper STAY AWAY: Levine Toilolo

New Orleans Saints

OPPONENT: VS DETROIT LIONS, SUNDAY, NOON You don’t need to read a fantasy football column to know you’ll be starting Drew Brees. More interesting is the evaluation of the other Saints likely to produce against a so-so Lions defense. Brandin Cooks had caught a minimum of two passes in every game of his professional career (and at least three in all but two games) until last Sunday. Against the Rams, Cooks went without so much as a target. Outside of Brees, every New Orleans player carries some risk. Michael Thomas has emerged as the top target in the offense, but he could be out-produced in a given week by Cooks or even Willie Snead. Mark Ingram has returned from his brief stay in Sean Payton’s doghouse and clearly has more to offer – in both fantasy and reality – than does Tim Hightower. MUST START: Brees, Ingram, Thomas SOLID PLAY: Hightower, Cooks, Wil Lutz WORTH A LOOK: Snead, Coby Fleener LAST RESORT: Brandon Coleman STAY AWAY: Saints D/ST

San Diego Chargers

OPPONENT: VS TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, SUNDAY, 3:25 It would be feasible to list San Diego as an “avoid” this week. After all, Tampa is on a three-game tear in which the Bucs have given up fewer than 11 points per game. They kept the Seahawks out of the end zone in a 14-5 win last week. But we’re going against the grain a bit. We’ll sign off on Tampa having an improving defense, but it’s impossible to believe it’s gone from a bottom-five unit to a shut-down ‘D’ in the matter of a few weeks. Philip Rivers has faced some tough defenses this season, including two games against Denver. Playing at home, and on a bit of a roll of his own, he should be able to produce above-average results this week. MUST START: Melvin Gordon SOLID PLAY: Rivers, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Josh Lambo WORTH A LOOK: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates*, Chargers D/ST


OPPONENT: AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, SUNDAY, NOON The Saints are five-point favorites in a game featuring the week’s highest over/under (53). That leaves Detroit with an expected point total of about 24, which is over their average of 22.5. Matthew Stafford is an excellent play against a suspect passing defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

OPPONENT: VS NEW YORK GIANTS, SUNDAY, 3:25 The Giants defense is giving up just 19.4 points per game, but they’ll be hard-pressed this week to keep Pittsburgh under 27. New York is much better against the run (fifth) than the pass (23rd). It

stacks up as a big day for Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.

MATCHUPS TO AVOID Cincinnati Bengals

OPPONENT: VS PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, SUNDAY, NOON Cincinnati tends to play better at home, but its arrow is definitely pointing downward of late. The Bengals were completely shut down last week in Baltimore and have not crested 20 points during their current three-game losing streak. The last time they won was Week 7 against Cleveland. For the season, the once formidable Bengals offense is 27th in points scored. Philly’s seventh-ranked defense has been inconsistent, but should have enough to slow down the struggling Bengals. MUST START: None SOLID PLAY: Tyler Eifert WORTH A LOOK: Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Boyd, Bengals D/ST LAST RESORT: Rex Burkhead, Brandon LaFell STAY AWAY: Mike Nugent

Los Angeles Rams

OPPONENT: AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, SUNDAY, NOON The good news: First overall pick Jared Goff threw three TDs last week in New Orleans. The bad news: Goff had just 214 yards and turned the ball over twice. The Rams managed just 247 yards in a 49-21 loss against one of the league’s worst defenses. Todd Gurley has been held to 50 or fewer yards in four games and has not had more than 85 yards rushing in any game this season. The Rams are a bad team and they are headed for a beat-down in Foxborough. MUST START: None SOLID PLAY: None WORTH A LOOK: Gurley, Lance Kendricks LAST RESORT: Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Rams D/ ST STAY AWAY: Goff, Greg Zuerlein

Miami Dolphins

OPPONENT: AT BALTIMORE RAVENS, SUNDAY, NOON The surging Dolphins have won six in a row, but they bring the 25th-ranked offense to face a defense ranked second in yards and fourth in points allowed. This is a tough matchup for Jay Ajayi – the Ravens are tops against the run and allow just 3.4 yards per carry. MUST START: None SOLID PLAY: Ajayi, DeVante Parker* WORTH A LOOK: Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Dolphins D/ST LAST RESORT: Kenny Stills, Dion Sims STAY AWAY: Andrew Franks

ALSO BEWARE Carolina Panthers

OPPONENT: AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS, SUNDAY, 7:30 These teams are no longer the class of the NFC and both squads have been wildly inconsistent. This game could go a number of directions, but the most likely scenario has Carolina’s offense struggling in the unfriendly confines in Seattle.

* — Check injury status




hen putting together a daily fantasy football roster, let’s face facts – almost nobody wants to click that little plus sign next to Colin Kaepernick’s name. There are at least a few reasons for this. The perception that the 49ers starting quarterback isn’t good. (More on this later). Kaepernick lost his starting job in Week 8 of last season on a terrible 49ers team, then got hurt and missed the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Reports from early this season were that Kaepernick just did not have the arm strength to regain that job from Blaine Gabbert. I’ll repeat that: Blaine Gabbert. Before he lost his job to Gabbert, Kaepernick was trending downward from his breakout 2013 season. The loss of coach Jim Harbaugh and the downward spiral that is the 49ers franchise didn’t help things. Maybe your politics gets in the way of wanting to put Kaepernick on your roster. Kaepernick has protested police brutality with his kneeldown during the national anthem, which has drawn plenty of public backlash. Kaepernick has since revealed he did not exercise his right to vote. He then had a few positive things to say

Colin Kaepernick


about Fidel Castro’s investment in Cuba’s education system compared to its prison system, comparing that to mass incarceration issues in the United States. Does politics drive down Kaepernick’s ownership percentages in DFS? There’s no evidence to support that. I think the reason people don’t want to put Kaepernick on their roster is because the 49ers are bad, and Kaepernick had a string of games in 2014/15 that came in under expectations. People want to root for the guys they put on their fantasy

rosters, and it’s hard to cheer for losing football. Regardless of the reason for his low ownership numbers – just 2.3 percent in last week’s DraftKings Millionaire Maker tournament – it’s time to talk about his on-field performance. Over the past four games, Kaepernick has averaged two touchdown passes against just 0.5 interceptions, 277 yards passing and 55 yards rushing. On DraftKings, that’s an average of 26.9 points. Since becoming the starter six weeks ago, he’s done no worse than 16.12 points. Kaepernick has shown a large enough sample size to indicate he’s a high-floor quarterback again with a tournament-winning ceiling each week. The 49ers continue to play at the fastest pace in the league, which means Kaepernick gets more volume and more chances to score fantasy points than any quarterback. This week, he is the 13th most expensive quarterback on DraftKings and the 12th most expensive on FanDuel. He’s playing a Bears team racing the 49ers for second-worst record in the league, and who just lost yet another defensive player this past week in stud linebacker Danny Trevathan. After that, it’s the listless Jets at home, at Atlanta and at home against the Rams. Those are all exploitable defenses for Kaepernick. The 49ers are a bad team, but Colin Kaepernick can win you money, and he still isn’t finding himself on many rosters.


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DFS: It’s time to talk about Colin Kaepernick



To stay in school or turn pro?


ight now, there are many college football players who are trying to decide whether or not they should enter the NFL Draft. It’s a tough decision, but my experience tells me that many of these players turn to the wrong people when trying to make that decision. According to NFL rules, a player must be three years removed from his high school graduation before he is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. In most cases, that means that the player is usually a true junior or a red-shirt sophomore eligibility-wise. There have been a few cases where a player has entered the draft after his freshman year, but that has only happened if he didn’t go directly to college after completing high school. For years, players have had the opportunity to submit their name to the NFL College Underclassmen Advisory Committee to get an idea of what their value is according to NFL scouts. In the past few years, the advisory committee has changed how they “grade” an underclassman. The committee used to give a prospect a grade with a round value from the first through the third rounds, rounds four through seven or “you will not be drafted.” Now they tell a player he has a chance of getting drafted in the first round, second round or “stay in school.” They never tell a player what his strengths or weaknesses are or anything else about his talent. That process the committee uses can be flawed in that it makes up only about 50 percent of the real evaluation process. A player can submit his name to the committee in November or early December. At least six clubs will be involved in the evaluation, but the evaluation is only made on tape study. What is missing is verified measurables (height, weight, speed), character information (both personal and football) and, of course, medical information. All of that information is pertinent to an accurate grade. It used

to be that scouts could were told that ESPN is not ask about a school’s not the NFL and they underclassmen when are not experts in that they made a school vistype evaluation. it. Some schools would Regardless, Snead volunteer the informastill left school early tion to scouts if they thinking he would be felt the player might be a high pick, He never leaving early. This year, got drafted and was the league changed the not signed as a free rules a bit and allowed agent until weeks afGREG GABRIEL ter the draft. Once he scouts to inquire about @greggabe got to camp, he didn’t underclassmen, but last long. This type of the school still doesn’t situation happens every year and have to give out the information if every year kids are disappointed they don’t want to. because they find out they aren’t Unfortunate as it may be, players who think they might enter the as good as people told them they draft turn to the wrong sources to were. get their value. They often look at In the last three drafts, there where the different network draft have been an average of just under analysts have them rated coming 100 underclassmen who have given out of the sophomore year. The up thier college eligibility to enter problem with that is these anathe draft. Most of those players lysts really don’t have any idea of thought they would be high draft what a player’s value is that early picks. Reality is close to 40 percent in the process. They are guessof thise players didn’t get drafted ing based on one or two games each year. Some of these players of production. When they do this were given high-round grades by guessing, it is never done based on the advisory committee but still real game tape and play-after-play went undrafted because of either study. Their “guess” is based purecharacter or medical concerns, ly on a few big plays in big games. two areas that the committee does Proof of that is many of these not factor into their “grade”. “experts” within a few days of a College players also look to current draft put out a top 25 or 30 agents for advice on making the players for the following draft. If decision to enter the draft. The you ever compared that list with agents are no better qualified to their top 25 players, say, seven offer advice than the network analysts. Why? Because they just don’t months later, the lists are totally different. Why? Because these know. Some agents will call teams “experts” aren’t really experts. and try to get a “read” on players Though many fans think these they are recruiting, but what they people know, they don’t. get is a best-case estimate on the I was on the college advisory player’s value. committee for a number of years. The problem is the player and One year, an ESPN analyst said in his family are being told the kid August leading up to the college is a first- or second-round player season that Ole Miss junior quarwhen reality is his value may be terback Jevon Snead was a top-5 much lower. It’s not until draft day pick in the following draft. That that they find out the truth and season, Snead had a horrible year then they are disappointed they and even lost his starting job. Remade the decision to leave school. gardless of how poorly he played, The only real way to cure this he still submitted his name to the problem is for the league to do a committee for evaluation. He got better job educating college players on how the process works. back a grade that said he may not They need to have people go out to even get drafted. His family protested to the head of the committhe colleges and inform the playtee at the time, saying “well, ESPN ers. Educating the players and the said he was a top-5 pick”. They college coaches on the scouting

process would go a long way into lowering the number of underclassmen who come out. I have no problem with a player leaving school early, if he is in fact “ready” to play in the NFL. When I say that, I don’t just mean physically ready but also emotionally ready. There are a number of kids who think they are ready because they have the size, strength and athleticism needed to play in the NFL. While that may be true, they also need to be mentally and emotionally ready to play and compete. In the last few years, there have been far too many redshirt sophomores entering the draft. I feel it is ludicrous for kids that young to leave school. They aren’t prepared to handle real life. In college, players are competing against fellow 18-to-22-year-olds. In the NFL, they are competing against men. These “men” don’t want to lose their jobs and will make it difficult for the youngster to take it. If a young player isn’t emotionally ready to compete on that level, he will get eaten alive by veteran NFL players. In college, life is simple. Players don’t have a lot to worry about. Go to class, stay eligible and go to practice. Once they get to the NFL, it becomes a job and they are on their own. Practice, meeting and physical training can mean 8-10 hour days, five days a week. There is a lot of free time and they need to be mature enough to handle that free time. They also now have bills to pay like every other adult. Mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, bank loans, car payments, etc. Life isn’t as easy and no one is looking over their shoulder telling them what to do. They have to be prepared to handle these things and many aren’t. What will happen is their natural talent may get them a job for a couple of years, but because they aren’t emotionally prepared, they will lose their job rather quickly and have nothing to fall back on. My advice: Unless you are a lock first- or second-round player and emotionally ready to compete with adults, stay in school! You will be better off for it.

34. Willie Snead, Saints (vs Lions) 35. Kenny Britt, Rams (at Patriots) 36. Sammy Watkins, Bills (at Raiders)


Drew Brees


Le’Veon Bell



Tough matchup for Ajayi. Howard could have big day if Bears give him enough carries. 1. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers (vs Giants) 2. David Johnson, Cardinals (vs Washington) 3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (at Vikings) 4. LeSean McCoy, Bills (at Raiders) 5. Melvin Gordon, Chargers (vs Bucs) 6. Jordan Howard, Bears (vs 49ers) 7. Devonta Freeman, Falcons (vs Chiefs) 8. Mark Ingram, Saints (vs Lions) 9. Doug Martin, Bucs (at Chargers) 10. Spencer Ware, Chiefs (at Falcons) 11. Carlos Hyde, 49ers (at Bears) 12. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins (at Ravens) 13. Matt Forte, Jets (vs Colts) 14. Lamar Miller*, Texans (at Packers) 15. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots (vs Rams) 16. Latavius Murray, Raiders (vs Bills) 17. Robert Kelley, Wash (at Cardinals) 18. Thomas Rawls, Seahawks (vs Panthers) 19. Theo Riddick, Lions (at Saints) 20. Todd Gurley, Rams (at Patriots) 21. Rashad Jennings, Giants (at Steelers) 22. Jeremy Hill, Bengals (vs Eagles) 23. Frank Gore, Colts (at Jets) 24. Devontae Booker, Broncos (at Jaguars) 25. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (at Seahawks) 26. Tevin Coleman, Falcons (vs Chiefs) 27. Tim Hightower, Saints (vs Lions) 28. Darren Sproles*, Eagles (at Bengals) 29. James Starks, Packers (vs Texans) 30. Dion Lewis, Patriots (vs Rams) 31. Chris Ivory*, Jaguars (vs Broncos) 32. Matt Asiata, Vikings (vs Cowboys) 33. Mike Gillislee*, Bills (at Raiders) 34. Terrance West, Ravens (vs Dolphins) 35. Kenneth Dixon, Ravens (vs Dolphins) 36. Rex Burkhead, Bengals (vs Eagles)

A lot depends on injury status of Gronk, Reed, Bennett. V. Davis nice play if no Reed. 1. Travis Kelce, Chiefs (at Falcons) 2. Jimmy Graham, Seahawks (Panthers) 3. Greg Olsen, Panthers (at Seahawks) 4. Tyler Eifert, Bengals (Eagles) 5. Eric Ebron, Lions (at Saints) 6. Jordan Reed*, Washington (at Cardinals) 7. Rob Gronkowski*, Patriots (Rams) 8. Coby Fleener, Saints (Lions) 9. Cameron Brate, Bucs (at Chargers) 10. Antonio Gates, Chargers (Bucs) 11. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (Cowboys) 12. Jason Witten, Cowboys (at Vikings) 13. Zach Ertz, Eagles (at Bengals) 14. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Texans (at Packers) 15. Martellus Bennett*, Patriots (Rams) 16. Vance McDonald, 49ers (at Bears) 17. Jared Cook, Packers (Texans) 18. Lance Kendricks, Rams (at Patriots) 19. Hunter Henry, Chargers (Bucs) 20. Vernon Davis, Wash (at Cards)


1. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (vs Rams) 2. Matt Bryant, Falcons (vs Chiefs) 3. Justin Tucker, Ravens (vs Dolphins) 4. Dan Bailey, Cowboys (at Vikings) 5. Wil Lutz, Saints (vs Chiefs) 6. Stephen Hauschka, Seahawks (vs Panthers) 7. Adam Vinatieri, Colts (at Jets) 8. Dustin Hopkins, Washington (at Cards) 9. Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders (vs Bills) 10. Cairo Santos, Chiefs (at Falcons) 11. Caleb Sturgis, Eagles (at Bengals) 12. Josh Lambo, Chargers (vs Bucs) 13. Chris Boswell, Steelers (vs Giants) 14. Robbie Gould, Giants (at Steelers) 15. Mason Crosby, Packers (vs Texans) Antonio Brown



Brown/Beckham off in Pittsburgh. Packers/Saints play “fantasy roulette” with WRs. 1. Antonio Brown, Steelers (vs Giants) 2. Odell Beckham, Giants (at Steelers) 3. Julio Jones, Falcons (vs Chiefs) 4. Mike Evans, Bucs (at Chargers) 5. T.Y. Hilton, Colts (at Jets) 6. Dez Bryant, Cowboys (at Vikings) 7. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (vs Washington) 8. Jordy Nelson, Packers (vs Texans) 9. Amari Cooper, Raiders (vs Bills) 10. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (vs Panthers) 11. Brandin Cooks, Saints (vs Lions) 12. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos (at Jaguars) 13. Michael Thomas, Saints (vs Lions) 14. Brandon Marshall, Jets (vs Colts) 15. Davante Adams, Packers (vs Texans)

Travis Kelce


16. Julian Edelman, Patriots (vs Rams) 17. Michael Crabtree, Raiders (vs Bills) 18. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans (at Packers) 19. DeVante Parker*, Dolphins (at Ravens) 20. Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos (at Jaguars) 21. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (at Falcons) 22. Tyrell Williams, Chargers (vs Bucs) 23. Jarvis Landry, Dolphins (at Ravens) 24. Jordan Matthews, Eagles (at Bengals) 25. Mike Wallace, Ravens (vs Dolphins) 26. Allen Robinson, Jaguars (vs Broncos) 27. Jamison Crowder, Washington (at Cards) 28. Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers (at Seahawks) 29. Stefon Diggs*, Vikings (vs Cowboys) 30. Donte Moncrief, Colts (at Jets) 31. Steve Smith, Ravens (vs Dolphins) 32. Golden Tate, Lions (at Saints) 33. Marvin Jones, Lions (at Saints)


1. Patriots (vs Rams) 2. Broncos (at Jaguars) 3. Ravens (vs Dolphins) 4. Seahawks (vs Panthers) 5. Eagles (at Bengals) 6. Chargers (vs Bucs) 7. Cardinals (vs Washington) 8. Dolphins (at Ravens) 9. Packers (vs Texans) 10. Steelers (vs Giants) 11. Raiders (vs Bills) 12. Vikings (vs Cowboys) 13. Cowboys (at Vikings) 14. Chiefs (at Falcons) 15. Falcons (vs Chiefs) *Check injury status

TEAMS ON BYE Browns, Titans



If Mariota is your starter, Kaepernick, or even Barkley, could be one-week option. 1. Drew Brees, Saints (vs Lions) 2. Tom Brady, Patriots (vs Rams) 3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (vs Giants) 4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (vs Texans) 5. Matt Ryan, Falcons (vs Chiefs) 6. Matthew Stafford, Lions (at Saints) 7. Andrew Luck*, Colts (at Jets) 8. Eli Manning, Giants (at Steelers) 9. Philip Rivers, Chargers (vs Bucs) 10. Derek Carr*, Raiders (vs Bills) 11. Kirk Cousins, Washington (at Cardinals) 12. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers (at Bears) 13. Jameis Winston, Bucs (at Chargers) 14. Dak Prescott, Cowboys (at Vikings) 15. Russell Wilson, Seahawks (vs Panthers) 16. Cam Newton, Panthers (at Seahawks) 17. Carson Palmer, Cardinals (vs Washington) 18. Tyrod Taylor, Bills (at Raiders) 19. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets (vs Colts) 20. Matt Barkley, Bears (vs 49ers)


Should NFL replace Thursdays, with two regular season games? NATE ATKINS HUB ARKUSH Thanksgiving Day games and maybe one or two Thursdays near the end of the season, but enough already of 17 weeks of bad ‘Thursday Night Football.’ You agree? Arkush: We couldn’t be more in lockstep on this one, buddy! If you’ve ever been around an NFL locker room on Monday, you know there is no way these guys should be asked to go again on Thursday, not even the healthy ones. So we start with diminished lineups every Thursday night with all the injured players who can’t go or do but shouldn’t. Then there’s the simple fact that after losing their day off (Tuesday) to rest and heal, teams get half the time to practice and prepare for Thursday night games. Most of us assume the


biggest problem with Thursday nights is the lousy matchups the league schedules every year – which I’ve never understood since many are predictably lousy when the schedule comes out – but the bigger issue with the quality of play and competitiveness of these games is teams just aren’t ready. But NFL owners never give up anything without getting paid handsomely, so Dan, how do you feel about an 18week regular season? McCaleb: Well, Hub, I think it’s inevitable for the very reason you mentioned ($$$$$$), but can you imagine fans of the Browns, 49ers or Bears having to endure another two games this season? I shudder to think about it. And then there’s the injury factor. Through Week

12, 290 NFL players have landed on injured reserve. That’s an average of about nine per team, and about 24 added per week. Talk about depleted rosters on Thursday nights? We might have entire units of practice squad players starting come playoff time with two additional games added to the regular-season schedule. Arkush: You know, Dan, there are a couple ways to go with this one. Sure, Browns, Niners and Bears fans, and probably the Jaguars and Jets nations, would like to cut the season to 10 or 12 games right now. But those teams will get better eventually and the other 27 teams are ready for a couple of extra weeks right now. As a Bears observer, I’ve had a bellyful of them this year, but

what makes the NFL so special is I still want to see the best teams matched up as often as possible. I don’t think there’s any question the market will welcome an 18-game season as far as ticket revenues and TV ratings go. The big question is injuries. I’m just not sure what the impact of two more weeks would be with the benefit of the awful Thursdays knocked out. I can’t prove it, but I’d swear there are more serious injuries today in the NFL than there were in 16-game seasons 10 years ago. The danger could very well be coming from training, nutrition and supplements with bigger and faster players all the time than it is the actual game. Are we sure the extra games would actually make the league more dangerous? McCaleb: Not necessarily more dangerous, but I do think the additional games would further deplete playoff rosters, making playoff games less appealing. And will two extra games help separate the haves from the have nots? I don’t think so. I realize I’m being unrealistic, but my preference would be to keep the 16-game schedule and eliminate most of the Thursday games.



ro Football Weekly’s Hub Arkush and Dan McCaleb consider whether the NFL should axe ‘Thursday Night Football’ in favor of lengthening the regular season by two games. Arkush: So, Dan, the question of the hour seems to be, do we want more football, the same amount but at different times, or might a little bit less even work? As we report in this issue in “The Way We Hear It,” the National Football League is rethinking its ‘Thursday Night Football’ package but not necessarily to play less games or just move more back to Sunday, but quite possibly as a step toward adding more games/weeks to the regular season. Before we talk about a longer season though, what do you think about ‘Thursday Night Football?’ McCaleb: Not much, Hub. Not much at all. And for all the reasons that have been stated for years now: The players hate it because of the short week. The play isn’t as good because teams don’t have enough time to prepare or players to recoup. The matchups generally aren’t very good. Keep the






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