Each week, Dave presents a preview of the week’s most interesting contests from a fantasy perspective, offering his take on player performances, potential sleepers and, of course, the game’s outcome.
Kyle Boller: In his last four games, Boller has thrown for over 200 yards three times while tossing five TDs and turning it over only twice. Throwing for 200 yards was a feat that Boller was not able to accomplish in his first six games of the year (as a matter of fact, in three of those six he did not reach 100 yards). Is this a sign that Boller is maturing into a quality (or at least serviceable) quarterback? Maybe. Does his recent success guarantee a good game against the Pats? No way. Do not let Boller’s recent upswing fool you; the Ravens are still committed to the running game, even without Jamal Lewis. Boller shouldn’t get enough chances to produce a quality fantasy day in this game unless it is in garbage time. Even with Ty Law and Tyrone Poole likely out for this one, the New England pass defense remains a formidable force. Kyle will go 17-of-27 for 205 yards, and an interception.
Chester Taylor: Jamal Lewis and Musa Smith have both been officially declared out for this game, so not only will Taylor be the primary ball carrier, but he will also have no back to spell him since Smith is also out. Therefore, Taylor should see the ball early and often even if he doesn’t find instant success. New England allows a modest 4.0 yards per carry, so Taylor will not have a breakout day, but he will be solid. Start him if you do not have top-tier running backs to replace him. Taylor will have 80 on the ground, 25 through the air, and a TD replacing Lewis.
Baltimore WRs: Travis Taylor is your only option here, and he is a borderline starter at best. Taylor was injured for the first half of the year, but he is coming back to form lately, registering at least four grabs in his last four games. However, he has yet to score a touchdown, so starting him is not recommended unless you have wide receiver problems. Taylor will grab six balls for 70 yards, but owners will again see him without a TD. Randy Hymes, who had minimal value during Taylor’s injury, has now been completely fazed out of the offense upon the return of Taylor and the emergence of Clarence Moore. Hymes will be good for only 10-20 yards at most. Kevin Johnson had 51 yards and a TD last week against Dallas, but his inconsistency plagues him. Johnson owners (if they exist) can expect no more than 30-50 yards and a red zone look.
Baltimore TEs: Todd Heap is questionable for this game, but do not expect him to play unless you hear otherwise near game time. His back-ups are not worth a start, so refrain from using a Baltimore tight end unless it is a healthy Heap. Terry Jones, Daniel Wilcox and Darnell Dinkins have all played their roles and have combined to fill in adequately for Heap, but among these three players, none can come close to duplicating Heap’s numbers. Avoid Ravens’ tight ends barring a miraculous turn of events. If a hobbled Heap plays, 50 yards is possible even if he is not near 100%. However, if Heap once again opts out, his back-ups should only combine for 20-25 yards.
Defense: Your best start here is of course Ray Lewis, who should rack up another 10 tackles in this game as he chases down Corey Dillon. Terrell Suggs is the other must-play here, seeing as he is currently second in the league in sacks with 8.5. Suggs should have another sack along with five tackles in this tilt. In the secondary, Ed Reed and Chris McAlister are quality starts. Reed is tied with Tory James for the league lead with six interceptions (including on returned for a TD). Reed owners need not worry if he fails to pick one off though, since he also has 45 tackles (41 solo), two sacks, and a fumble recovery. Reed should add four to six tackles along with a possible turnover. McAlister is not quite as dependable, but his 32 tackles and his interception return for a TD are nothing to dismiss. Start him if you are short at the CB spot. As a unit, the Baltimore defense is a must-start in all situations, even against an offense that traditionally avoids mistakes. The Ravens defense will pick up one or two turnovers along with one to three sacks.
Tom Brady: Brady comes up against a stiff test here, as Baltimore’s pass defense allows less than six yards per attempt. However, do not sit Brady this week unless you have at least a decent alternative (a top quarterback or one with a very favorable match-up). Although Baltimore’s stingy defense may scare Brady owners, Bill Belichick’s spread offense and New England’s quality O-line should be enough to counter it. Tom will get his share of tosses in this game as the Patriots could find themselves in a good amount of third and five or six situations if Dillon gets bottled up. He will find his plethora of receivers on his way to a good day. Expect 21-of-34 for 245 yards, two TDs, and an interception.
Corey Dillon: Dillon owners should expect a down day, considering that the Ravens give up only 3.5 yards per carry. Corey has reemerged from mediocrity and is on pace to rush for about 1600 yards on the season, but I do not recommend starting him here if you have another viable option. Dillon should see 18-21 carries in this game, but since he is not a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, owners should not hope for a gaudy stat line. Bottom Line: 20 carries for 75 yards, but I think Baltimore will keep him out of the end zone.
New England WRs: Unfortunately, with Brady spreading the ball around so much, owners of Patriot wideouts are often treated to unpredictable Sundays. The most dependable of the group are David Givens and David Patten, who have combined for over 1200 yards and eight scores on the year. Each of these players could potentially go for 50-75 yards and a score. However, with Deion Branch, Daniel Graham, Bethel Johnson, and Troy Brown potentially in the receiving mix, these numbers could see a decline and the TDs may go to some of these role players. Brown has had to play both ways due to the injuries in the secondary, so his numbers will be modest at best since his time on the offensive side of the field will be shortened. Johnson is a speedster who only sees time in four- or five-WR sets, but he is a threat to break one at any time. Branch is recovering from an injury suffered earlier in the year, but he was the leading receiver at Kansas City last week, which means that this wide receiver core has turned into a three-headed monster. Branch, Givens and Patten all deserve attention, but there is no telling who will put up the numbers. I’ll guess and say start them in this order: Branch (75 yards and a TD), Givens (50 yards and a TD), and then Patten (40-50 yards). Hopefully each of these receivers can produce, but the truth is that many owners will most likely be disappointed this week.
Christian Fauria/Daniel Graham: Fauria, with only five catches on the year, usually sees time when he spells Graham in blocking situations. Therefore, he remains on the wire unless Graham goes down. Graham owners often start him for his tendency to find the end zone (five TDs this season already). Unfortunately, his mere 272 yards on the year are cause for concern. Although he had 83 yards on three catches last Monday against Kansas City, he had only one reception in the previous three weeks. This inconsistency makes Graham a risky play at best. Do not start him if you have a more reliable option. Fauria will not have a catch, but Graham should have 25-30 yards with a red zone look.
Defense: Rodney Harrison, as usual, is the pick of this litter as he nears the 100-tackle mark for the year. Harrison should rack up another 8-11 stops in this game. In the front seven, Willie McGinest is a quality start with his team-leading 6.5 sacks. Also, linebackers Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi each have over 50 tackles on the year and have the potential to get to the quarterback. Five to seven tackles from each of them and a sack from one of the two is not too much to ask. In the secondary, Eugene Wilson is the only dependable IDP besides Harrison. He is third on the team in tackles (54) and leads the team in interceptions (three). New England’s defense should see a day similar to Baltimore as they attempt to take advantage of a mistake-prone Boller. Look for a turnover or two and two sacks.
Clarence Moore: This rookie out of Northern Arizona was mired on the Raven bench for most of the early season, registering only four grabs in the first six games. However, with Kevin Johnson and Randy Hymes underperforming, Moore has stepped into the spotlight, catching 11 balls while visiting the end zone twice in the last four contests. While these are not spectacular numbers, Moore is coming into his own and could eventually be a significant contributor on a team known for its mediocre receiving core. While Moore is not consistent enough to warrant a start now, keep an eye on him for later this season or as a possible sleeper pick next year.
Will Demps/Chad Williams: Demps at free safety is worth a look here, seeing as he has already chalked up 50 tackles along with 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. His tackle numbers can only go up in this game if the Patriots employ the spread offense. Chad Williams often plays the role of nickel or dime back in the Ravens’ defensive scheme, but he will see much more time in this game due to the aforementioned spread offense. Although Williams’ time can be limited, he takes advantage of his chances, gathering three interceptions (including one he ran back for TD), and two sacks along with 24 tackles. Look for him to possibly capitalize on a Brady mistake.
This game obviously holds great importance, with the AFC playoff picture becoming cloudier as the weeks progress. As of now, seven teams in the conference have a record of 7-3 or better, which means that at least one of them will be left out once the playoffs roll around. Keeping this in mind, New England must win to not only keep pace with Pittsburgh for the top spot, but also to keep them themselves entrenched in the running for home-field advantage (also, they are only two losses from falling into the four-team wild card fight). Baltimore, which may look comfortable at 7-3, must win to not only keep themselves within striking distance of Pittsburgh, but also to keep or improve upon their current playoff position (they currently hold the fifth spot solely due to tiebreakers). Ultimately, give the Patriots the advantage since the game is in Foxboro and the Pats have seen their mediocre run defense drastically improve in recent weeks. If Chester Taylor is slowed early, Boller may be forced to attempt to right the ship, a role that he is not ready for at this stage of his career. New England 20, Baltimore 16.
Dave McGrath hopes to eventually turn his Communication major into a full-time sportwriting career. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.
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