Each week, Dave presents a preview of several of the week’s most interesting contests, offering his take on fantasy performances, potential sleepers and, of course, the game’s outcome.
Daunte Culpepper: Quite possibly the best match-up for any fantasy player this week. Every player on the Chiefs’ offense experienced a quality game against the Colts last Sunday, and the same should go for Minnesota. Indianapolis gives up 8.15 yards per attempt, and it could get worse this week. Moss’ absence was a key factor eight days ago against the Giants, but it will not be as damaging this week since the rest of the receivers should be able to shoulder the load. Even much maligned Minnesota QB turned cocky ESPN analyst Sean Salisbury could beat this Colt defense. Well, that might a stretch, but Culpepper should have a banner day: 325 yards, three or four TDs, and an interception.
Michael Bennett/Onterrio Smith/Mewelde Moore/Moe Williams: Whenever you have four possible ball-carriers on one team, you have the potential for a cloudy situation. However, Mewelde Moore, the main running back for the past couple of weeks, is listed as questionable, and a variety of sources are reporting that he will not be playing. Therefore, assume that he is out and sit him. Moore will most likely see a demotion when he returns due to the return of Smith and Bennett, so dropping him is advised. Moe Williams, as usual, will be the third-down and goal-line back. Only 25 yards at most for Moe, but a touchdown is possible. As for Smith and Bennett, Mike Tice said that they will split carries, but according to sources such as Rotowire, Minnesota’s head coach indicated that he’d go with the hot hand.
This statement doesn’t tell us much, except that neither Smith nor Bennett is a great start on this night. Tice is often unpredictable and less than candid when it comes to speaking about the pre-game status of players, so there is no telling who will have the big night. I will say that a well-rested Smith will have 80 yards while a recovering Bennett will pick up 50. A touchdown is also not out of the question for one of them.
Minnesota WRs: Randy Moss is most likely out due his hamstring problems, so that adds significant value to their other pass-catchers, who also happen to be facing an abysmal defense. Marcus Robinson is second to Moss in TDs this season with six, and he should add at least another tonight. Eighty yards and two touchdowns for Robinson. On the other side, Nate Burleson leads the team in yards with 417. Look for Burleson to exploit the Colts secondary for 100 yards and a touchdown, and that total could actually rise if Indianapolis decides to double Robinson.
Jermaine Wiggins: Culpepper has found Wiggins frequently in recent weeks after he was virtually absent from the offense early in the season. After only 10 catches and no scores in his first four games (including two in which he did not have a catch), he has 14 catches and two scores in his last three games. Wiggins is not yet a top ten TE, but he is well on his way if he continues producing like he has lately. The absence of Moss can only help Wiggins, who will record four catches for 35-45 yards and a red zone look.
Defense: The Minnesota team defense is not usually a great start, and that rings especially true here against Manning’s powerhouse offense. Manning has only been sacked four times this season and his interception total stands at a mere four. That means the Vikings will only put up one sack and one turnover if they are lucky. Minnesota does have some valuable IDPs, however. The most valuable could be Antoine Winfield, who leads the team with 47 tackles and two interceptions. He will add more tackles to that as Manning tries to torch the secondary. That also means more tackles than usual for Corey Chavous and Brian Williams. Lance Johnstone, Kevin Williams, and Kenechi Udeze have combined for 13 sacks, but they could be in for a tough game as they try to crack the Colts’ strong offensive line.
Peyton Manning: Manning should have a similar day to Culpepper. The Vikings’ defense is more formidable than the Colts’, but Manning has many more weapons at his disposal. As mentioned earlier, he should also have ample time to throw, as he rarely has to deal with pressure. Peyton will spread the ball to all of his targets while he tries to make up for his defense’s mistakes, and his numbers will rival Culpepper’s. 350 yards, and 3-4 touchdowns.
Edgerrin James: At first glance, this looks like a great match-up for James. However, consider last week, when the Colts did not rush the ball once in the second half because of a late deficit. If they fall behind again or the game becomes a battle of the quarterbacks, James could be in for only about a dozen carries. Luckily, he’s adept at catching the ball out of the backfield (237 yards receiving), which means he is a good start here. Despite a lower number of rushing attempts, James will have 90-120 total yards and a TD.
Indianapolis WRs: Surprisingly, Marvin Harrison is third on the team in yardage, behind Brendan Stokley and Reggie Wayne. Not surprising is that Harrison remains Peyton’s most dependable target, leading the team with seven TDs. Marvin will chalk up seven catches, 85-95 yards and a touchdown. Brendan Stokley has been a pleasant addition in the slot. He is deceptively quick, and he is not afraid of earning the tough yards over the middle (similar to Wayne Cherbet or Hines Ward). Stokley will be kept out of the end zone, but he will have 80 yards on six grabs. Reggie Wayne, on the other hand, has become Manning’s deep threat, averaging 17.1 yards a catch. Only five catches for Wayne, but they will be for 90 and a score.
Marcus Pollard/Dallas Clark: Both Clark and Pollard have had their moments this year, but they also have a knack for disappearing from the offense when fantasy owners need them most. Both are quality tight ends, but they are splitting time in a way that is similar to Smith and Lewis in Philadelphia. Because of the shared playing time, neither is a top tier tight end, but their values are heightened here due to the match-up. Both are decent starts this week. Bottom line: 30-40 yards for each player, but only one of them will taste the end zone.
Defense: Earlier this season, I mentioned that Indianapolis’ defense reminded me of a winless high school team’s. It turns out that they are not quite up to that level yet. They were ripped last week by the Chiefs, giving up 45 points and 590 total net yards. Expect more of the same here, which means that the Colts defense should remain on the waiver wire (where they have been all season). This unit will have one sack and a possible turnover. Despite the team defense’s futility, this offensive shootout could produce several individual standouts. Former Wolverine Cato June has 52 tackles this season, and he and David Thornton (49) should be around the ball often when Culpepper goes across the middle. If the Minnesota offensive line falters, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be the beneficiaries, since they already have racked up nine sacks this year.
Kelly Campbell: Often forgotten among Minnesota’s potent receivers, Campbell made an impact last season, emerging as a quality receiver at times for Culpepper. Unfortunately, he has been relegated to #4 WR status this year following the pickup of Marcus Robinson. However, with Moss likely out for this one, Campbell will move into the slot where he will try to utilize his great speed. If the Colts key on Robinson and Burleson, Campbell could break 50-70 yards and a TD. Consider him if you need WR help.
Jason David/Mike Doss/Nicholas Harper: The Indianapolis secondary will have an unusual amount of tackles in this game, seeing as Culpepper could easily hang 40-50 passes in the air. Harper is the best option of the three, with 46 tackles and three interceptions. While Harper is your best bet, all three are worth a look, and if Culpepper makes a mistake, one of these three will most likely be around the ball to grab the pick.
This will be an offensive shootout for the ages. There will be an aerial showcase in this game the likes of which we have never seen. Almost all offensive players on each team are worth a start here. Also, with both teams coming off painful losses last week, expect them to have revenge on their minds. In this battle of offenses, the defensives will ironically decide the game. Minnesota not only has the slight advantage on the defensive side of the ball, but also they have more speed, which could be accentuated on the RCA Dome turf. The punters will get a break on this night. Minnesota 38, Indianapolis 35.
Dave McGrath is a freshman at LaSalle University, and will be previewing several games in this way each week. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.
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