Three Things to Watch in Miami

Ryan Tannehill: QB savior or athletic bust?

Ryan Tannehill: QB savior or athletic bust?

By Jon Meerdink

[Editor's note: I apologize for the lack of full previews the last couple weeks. Time constraints have put a serious dent in my writing output. I hope to get us back to full strength soon. Thanks for reading anyway.]

Miami is no longer the pushover they once were in the post-Dan Marino era. By no means a powerhouse yet, they are showing signs of improvement, both in their overall play and with a few bright spots individually.

The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off two excellent performances and seem to be gaining steam. Let’s take a quick look at what we can watch in Miami this weekend.

1. The defenses – The Packers defense is trending in the right direction. They’ve made strides in points allowed and takeaways over last season, and the run defense is improving as the year goes on. Miami boasts a formidable running attack, and with Josh Boyd hobbled and Datone Jones unlikely to play, it’s possible the Packers could be thin up front. A strong running team may have the advantage in the heat down the stretch, as both teams tire in the Miami sun. If the Packers can’t stop the run, this could be a long one.

2. Tannehill’s development – Ryan Tannehill remains a marvelous athlete. That was always true. He caught 101 passes as a receiver over his freshman and sophomore years at Texas A&M before transitioning to quarterback, and he still possesses excellent speed and overall athletic ability. He’s coming along as a passer, although it’s tough to really say he’s made it yet, as his completion percentage, yards per attempt, and TD/INT ratio still leave a bit to be desired. If the Packers can force Tannehill to beat them as a passer, though, that would likely help their cause immensely.

3. Lacy on repeat – Eddie Lacy finally got going last week with his first 100 yard rushing game of the season, but seeing him do it twice in a row would be an unusual feat. Despite his excellent rookie season, Lacy never posted back to back 100 yard games, and with the Dolphins’ stout defense looming, this may not be the best chance for him to do it. However, another solid effort for Lacy would make things that much easier for his offensive counterparts.

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Fantasy Outlook – Week 6

Jordan predicts James Starks will find the end zone for the first time this season.

Jordan predicts James Starks will find the end zone for the first time this season.

By Jordan Huenink

It’s only Week 6, and already the NFL has lost its remaining, undefeated teams – cue ’72 Dolphins reference. However, I guarantee that some fantasy leagues still have some 5-0 leaders in the group. Is that you? I hope so, because then we can be in a club together! That’s right, I survived another week unscathed and am enjoying the top of Fantasy Mountain – for now. I have a feeling my first loss is coming soon – just hopefully not this week at the hands of my father in-law!

So what players have the best chance of getting you another tally in the win column this week? Let’s take a look at some predictions.

First off, the Packers play at Miami this week. The Dolphins are ranked 9th in the league against the pass this year allowing 215 yards per game as well as 1.4 touchdowns. They also have 11 sacks on the season so far. On the flip side of that, the Dolphins defense is ranked 13th against the run – giving up an average of 107 yards per game.

That being said, I see Aaron Rodgers having another solid game to the tune of 18-20 fantasy points. That would come out to around 250 yards and two TDs. For the sake of predicting things, I’m guessing that one of those will go to Jordy Nelson (of course), and the other will go to a running back – let’s say James Starks. Why not? Let’s get crazy!

As for Eddie Lacy, he should have a modest game as long as he can get in the end zone. If not, he could put up 50-75 yards on the ground this week with some receiving yards sprinkled in. Look for Mason Crosby to be middle-of-the-road this week as well. The more touchdowns the Packers score, the less fantasy points Crosby scores. Just fine for Packers fans, but not as pleasant for fantasy owners (like me!). I’m predicting the Pack will put up 27 points this week – three TDs and two field goals. Should give Crosby 10 points on the day.

As for the rest of the league, keep an eye on San Diego running back Brandon Oliver as he aims to build on his breakout performance from last week. He’ll be going up against the Oakland Raiders, who are ranked just ahead of the Packers at 31st against the run (158 yards/game). Offenses have also had their way against the Jets so far this season. It’s not going to get any easier for them this week as Peyton Manning comes to town. Look for Manning to toss another four touchdowns in this game as he continues to track down Brett Favre for the career touchdown record. Receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas will be on the receiving end of three of those scores – Julius Thomas the fourth.  All huge plays this week (as usual)!

After being gouged for 241 yards against the Vikings in Week 4, the Atlanta Falcons defense faces Matt Forte and the Bears this week. Look for Forte to have a game similar to that against the Packers (120+ yards). Other running backs I’m fond of this week are Lamar Miller (vs GB), Andre Williams (@PHI) and Andre Ellington (vs WAS).

On the negative side of the prediction train (all aboard!), DeMarco Murray is looking at his first game of 2014 that he does NOT reach the 100-yard mark. The Cowboys travel to Seattle to face a Seahawk defense that is only allowing 62 yards on the ground per game – good enough for 1st in the league. Still a must-start for fantasy owners though, as he is getting an average of 24 carries per game – a handful of those have to be in the red zone! As of now it looks like Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is going to start this week against the Lions. While he was impressive in his first game two weeks ago, don’t lean on him this week against the solid Lion’s D who is allowing a league low 282 total yards per game.

Best of luck in Week 6!

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Joe Kruger is Jon Kruger

Pictured: either Joe or Jon Kruger.

Pictured: either Joe or Jon Kruger.

By Jon Meerdink

On Tuesday, the Packers announced they’d signed free agent defensive end Joe Kruger.

He is the son of Paul Kruger and the younger brother of Cleveland Browns linebacker Paul Kruger and free agent defensive end Dave Kruger.

His full name is Jonathan Wells Kruger.

Joe Kruger is Jon Kruger.

I am confused.

Typically, when you go for a shorter name, you kind of stick with a shorter version of your actual name. For instance, my full name is Jonathan, and I go by Jon. My brother’s full name is Joseph, and he goes by Joe. It’s pretty straightforward.

Not for Jonathan Wells Kruger though.

He’s been Joe Kruger for a long time, dating back to his days as a high school basketball prospect. He used to be 6-8, too, apparently. We’re getting shortchanged two inches of Joe/Jon Kruger.

So why Joe instead of Jon? He’s not being named after his dad, who’s named Paul. His brothers each go by their given names so that’s no help either. I’ve come up with a few totally unfounded theories on Joe Kruger’s name.

  • He wants to be thought of as just one of the guys, or an “Average Joe” of sorts.
  • He was tired of being confused with eight time sporting clays champion and trick shot expert Jon Kruger.
  • He thought software developers were lame.
  • He didn’t want to be a menswear designer.
  • Jon Kruger the gun shooting guy also makes pottery.
  • This bulleted list is quickly going off the rails.

In summary, I have no idea why Joe Kruger does not go by Jon Kruger.

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Fantasy Rewind – Week 5

Despite just 13 carries, Eddie Lacy rumbled for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite just 13 carries, Eddie Lacy rumbled for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns.

By Jordan Huenink

Hello once again, fantasy footballers! Apologies for the brief hiatus, I was so amped about the Packers’ Thursday night game I completely whiffed on a fantasy preview post for you! But not this week. This week we’re back in the swing of things. We’re honed in on the fantasy landscape and aiming to get your team to 6-0 with the big boys. But those nuggets will have to wait until Thursday. Today we’re taking a look back at Week 5 of the NFL season and its fantasy standouts.

Thursday’s huge fantasy performer was running back Eddie Lacy. The second year back finally broke out of his early-season slump and rocked the Vikings by way of 105 yards rushing, two touchdowns and 27 yards receiving for good measure (25.2 fantasy points). This was the reason fantasy owners drafted him early – and hopefully you’ve held on to him long enough to reap the benefits. The original Lacy owner in my league traded him mere days before this game, and is no doubt kicking himself (and rightfully so).

Finishing right behind Lacy was the Packers D/ST. They devoured Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense to the tune of two interceptions, one fumble recovery and the spectacular touchdown by Julius Peppers. They finished the week as the second highest scoring D/ST in the league this week (23.9 points), and are currently available in over 90% of leagues. I wouldn’t jump up and grab them off of waivers, but they may be a sneaky play on a bye week – if the matchup is right.

Due to the barrage of points that Lacy rained down on fantasy opponents, that meant that Aaron Rodgers didn’t need to be as effective. However, he still managed to toss for 156 yards and three touchdown passes – enough for a serviceable 18.2 fantasy points in ESPN standard leagues. That also translated to the receivers as Jordy Nelson only caught one pass on the night – a 66-yard touchdown (12.6 fantasy points), and Randall Cobb ended the night with three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown (9.8 fantasy points).

Let’s take a look at some other players who made a fantasy splash in Week 5:

Studs of the Week: Demaryius Thomas‘ record-setting day in Denver was the fantasy high water mark of the week. His eight catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns tallied a whopping 34.6 fantasy points! His bulging stat line was highlighted by an 86-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Hand-in-hand with Thomas’ performance was the day that Peyton Manning had. On a day when Manning tossed his 500th caree touchdown pass, he finished the day with 479 yards passing and four touchdowns – good enough for 30.8 fantasy points.

Duds of the Week: San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree failed to produce on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Along with playing less than 60% of the Niners’ offensive snaps, he only tallied one catch on four targets for 16 yards. Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett also had his worst outing of the year against Carolina on Sunday. The #1-ranked tight end only caught three passes for 17 yards for 1.7 fantasy points, despite averaging 11 per game so far in 2014.

Surprise of the Week: San Diego fourth string running back Brandon Oliver broke out in a big way on Sunday against the vaunted Jets run defense. With Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead out prior to the start of the game, and Donald Brown leaving in the first half with a concussion, Oliver took advantage of his opportunity by rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown while also catching four passes for 68 yards and another touchdown (30.2 fantasy points). Even if Donald Brown clears NFL protocol for Week 6, look for Oliver to get an expanded role at Oakland. Oliver is currently available in over 99% of leagues on ESPN.com – so put in your waiver claim now! (Unless you’re in my league – then leave him be.)

Another exhausting week in the fantasy books. Thanks to Demariyus Thomas, Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski I am still sitting atop my league undefeated at 5-0. I know that first loss is coming at some point, but for now I’m going to keep the train rolling!

Five Vikings to Watch

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Cornerback Josh Robinson has been an early season success story for the Vikings.

By Jon Meerdink

The Vikings are a young team. The Vikings are a talented team. The Vikings have more lesser known but still important players than I can fit into my standard “Meet a Viking” segment during the weekly preview column.

So in lieu of that, here are five Vikings you should know about as we head into Thursday’s contest.

1. Teddy Bridgewater – QB

Yes, I know you know about Teddy Bridgewater. But do you know about Teddy Bridgewater? Do you see how good he could be? Yes, I know he’s only 6-2* and 210 pounds* (asterisks because have you seen Teddy Bridgewater? If he’s 6-2/210, then I’m 6-7/260). But he gets it. You can see it in how he runs around in his highlights. You can see it in his quick, tight delivery. You can see it in how he goes “Yeah, I’m wearing gloves. So what? Want me to be a fumble machine like Alex Smith because I don’t wear them?”

I mean, just read his scouting report:

Terrific competitor. Extremely driven to succeed. Well-prepared and confident in his approach. Operated a progression-read offense where he is asked to scan the whole field and help steer protections. Footwork is very clean and in rhythm — throws on balance with sound mechanics, a fluid delivery and smooth stroke. Very good timing, touch and anticipation — throws receivers open. Is patient working through his reads and will step up in the pocket. Sells play-action hard and takes what the defense gives him. Poised in the face of the blitz and often anticipates it coming. Is very mentally and physically tough — played through a broken left wrist with a sprained ankle in what was essentially the 2012 Big East championship game, coming off the bench to captain the Cardinals to a come-from-behind victory. Is a student of the game with a very good understanding of football concepts. Plays like a coach on the field, knows the responsibilities of everyone on the field and can get teammates lined up correctly. Makes few mental errors.

The perpetually angry Nolan Nawrocki wrote that. I don’t think Nawrocki has said that many nice things about anyone in his entire life. Nolan Nawrocki got a care package filled with cookies from his grandmother and sent back a note that said “Consistency and chocolate content good, but aided by a lifetime of low expectations due to numerous grandchildren. Limited upside.”

The point is, Bridgewater seems like the real deal. Sure, he’s faced just the second worst and fourth worst defenses in the league so far, but he’s done exactly what a good quarterback should do against those defenses: he’s torched them. Beware of Teddy.

2. Harrison Smith – S

Who is the top rated safety in the whole NFL, according to Pro Football Focus? That would be Harrison Smith, the all-world safety taken (sigh) one pick after Nick Perry. He’s had his injury issues, but if there’s a player to watch on the Vikings defense, it’s Harrison Smith. His overall +9.1 puts him atop the league rankings in safety play, ahead of such luminaries as Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, and Troy Polamalu by wide margins. He’s excellent in coverage and gives the Vikings solid run support as well.

And the Packers have Nick Perry.

3. Cordarrelle Patterson – WR

After an awesome Week 1, Patterson hasn’t been all that exciting…but that’s kind of exactly what scares me. The Packers defense seems given to helping guys find the breakout star hiding deep inside them, and if anybody can break out at a moment’s notice, it’s Cordarrelle Patterson. People have un-ironically referred to him as a young Randy Moss, and his game-breaking speed makes that comparison apt. He’s also an adept runner, be it on a jet sweep or lining up as a traditional back. I think he breaks at least one big play this weekend.

4. Sharrif Floyd – DT

The Vikings took Floyd with the second of their three first round picks in 2013. Many of the mock drafts we covered had him going to the Packers, where he probably would have been an end in their 3-4 scheme. Instead, Floyd is pushing the pocket as an interior rusher in the Vikings’ 4-3. Actually, he’s more stuffing the run than rushing the passer; his pass rushing grades from PFF have been negative or neutral in all but one game, while his run stopping grade has been positive in all but one game. His battle with Corey Linsley will be an interesting one as the Packers try to get their anemic run game off the ground.

5. Josh Robinson – CB

While 2013 first round pick Xavier Rhodes remains a work in progress, Josh Robinson has arrived as a legitimate cover corner. He’s had two very strong showings, one pretty good game, and one below average performance, but the best news for the Vikings is that Robinson’s best performance was against the best receivers he’s faced so far. He held Roddy White and Julio Jones to a combined one catch for 15 yards on six targets. Not a bad day at the office, but Jordy Nelson may have something to say about that.

Fantasy Rewind – Week 4

RodgersNelsonBy Jordan Huenink

Delicious. Victorious. Domination. Destruction.

These are just a few words to describe the fantasy football landscape in Week 4. Not only did the Packers decimate the Bears in Chicago on Sunday, but I managed to move to 4-0 on the young, fantasy season! So let’s dive right in and take a look at what went down this past weekend. Looks like my predictions went 50/50 this week – not too shabby!

HITS: My vague prediction of a good game by Jordy Nelson was correct to the tune of 108 yards and two touchdowns. Matthew Stafford continued the air assault against the New York Jets defense with 293 yards and two touchdowns. Philip Rivers trounced the Jaguars defense throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns, while Keenan Allen tallied 135 yards receiving.

Toby Gerhart‘s struggles continued with only 32 yards rushing and a fumble this week at San Diego. His fantasy output was only helped by his touchdown (8 points). My suggested replacement for Gerhart, Vikings back Matt Asiata, knocked around the Falcons for 78 yards and three touchdowns (28 fantast points.)

MISSES: I underestimated the output Aaron Rodgers was going to bless his fantasy owners with. I predicted a good game, but he went well above and beyond. I’m perfectly fine missing this one! While Eddie Lacy finally found the endzone for the first time this season, he didn’t hit the 100-yard mark like I’d hoped. However, he did put up solid, RB2 numbers this week with 48 yards rushing and the touchdown for a total of 11.9 fantasy points in ESPN standard leagues.

Despite Stafford’s decent day, Golden Tate did not catch the touchdown I predicted despite 116 yards on eight catches. Even though the San Diego offense looked good against Jacksonville, Donald Brown did not get anywhere near the production everyone was expecting (5.4 total fantasy points). The entire Eagles offense struggled Sunday at San Francisco, which includes rookie receiver Jordan Matthews (2.8 fantasy points).

There were some amazing performances in the NFL this past weekend as well. Here are some that stood out, and probably helped managers come out victorious in their matchups.

Studs of the Week: After being all but written off by fantasy owners and experts alike, Eli Manning (42.7% owned) dropped a bomb on the Washington Redskins on Thursday night, throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. He even used his legs to get into the end zone as well. On the night, he finished with 32.1 fantasy points – good enough for tops in the entire league. Giants tight end Larry Donnell (26.8% owned) was the recipient of three of Manning’s touchdown throws and finished with 23.4 fantasy points on the night.

Dud of the Week: Philadelphia Eagles running back and 2013 rushing leader LeSean McCoy couldn’t get anything going against the San Francisco defense on Sunday. On 10 rushing attempts, McCoy only managed 17 yards, and didn’t catch a single pass. This is the second week in a row that McCoy laid an egg for fantasy owners (2.2 points in Week 3 against Washington). Given the style of offense that head coach Chip Kelly runs and the potential that McCoy holds, you may just have to weather the storm as an owner. He’ll come around.

Surprise of the Week: Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took advantage of his first NFL start to the tune of 23.3 fantasy points – good enough for eighth among quarterbacks in Week 4. Despite not throwing a touchdown, Bridgewater threw for 317 yards. He also rushed for 27 yards and one touchdown. After suffering a slightly sprained ankle, monitor Bridgewater’s status leading up to Thursday’s game against the Packers. If you’re in need of a quarterback this week due to byes, I’d skip over Bridgewater this week due to the short week and minor injury.

Let me know how you did this week in your league! Who are your best players so far?

R-E-L-A-X-E-D – Packers: 38 Bears: 17

rodgers1

Aaron Rodgers showed us all why we should relax. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Jon Meerdink

Well I feel much better.

Yeah, the defense still gave up 500 yards. Yeah, Eddie Lacy doesn’t look like Eddie Lacy. Yeah, Clay Matthews seems like he’s about half a thread away from tearing a major leg muscle in half. But it was a win against a Chicago team that was expected to be very competitive in the NFC North, one that still has an assortment of high-caliber weapons at its disposal on offense. For the Packers to hold the Bears to 17 points was impressive, despite the prodigious yardage totals.

And until the defense finds its footing (if that happens), this may be the way the Packers have to win. Sure, it’ll take an almost perfect effort from Aaron Rodgers most weeks, if not every week, but if you’re going to bank on a quarterback to carry your team, Rodgers isn’t a bad choice.

Three Packers

Aaron Rodgers (22/28, 302 yards, 4 TD) – He spelled it out for us, then showed us why we need to R-E-L-A-X as long as he’s at the helm. This was Rodgers at his most efficient best: a ruthless, precision performance that could have included an all-time highlight, were it not for a semi-phantom holding call. At least we’ll always have the gifs.

omgrod.0

 

rodgers2.0

Jordy Nelson (10 catches, 108 yards, 2 TD) – Just another run-of-the-mill performance for Nelson, who’s on pace for 132 catches and more than 1800 yards. He’s doing okay, I’d say.

Randall Cobb (7 catches, 113 yards, 2 TD) – It was hard to believe that Cobb could continue to play as poorly as he had been, and he laid some doubts to rest on Sunday with his first breakout performance of the year. I don’t know if this is an indication of his future performance, but even if he can only average a performance that’s two thirds this good week in and week out, he’ll still be a valuable piece to the Packers’ offensive puzzle.

Three Numbers

23:38 – The Packers’ time of possession Sunday – Marc Trestman set out to play keep away on Sunday, and he succeeded. He didn’t succeed at stopping the Packers, however. Rodgers and Company seemed to say “hey, you’re not going to give us time? That’s fine, we’ll just score really fast.” And they did.

64% – The Bears’ combined third and fourth down conversion percentage – This, obviously, is far too high. The Packers defense simply cannot allow this high of a conversion rate and reasonably expect to keep winning games. They won today, but that’s no guarantee they’ll be able to overcome such a…generous…defensive effort in the future.

700 – franchise wins for the Packers after this weekend’s win – The Packers are now just the second team in history to notch 700 wins, joining the Bears in that two member club. This really just means that these are two really old teams, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

Three Bad

Run defense – The Packers allowed an enormous 235 yards rushing Sunday. That’s real bad. What’s worse, the Bears averaged 5.7 yards per carry without ever having a run over 20 yards. What’s even worse still is the Bears only had one negative one on the entire day, despite running the ball 41 times. That’s really, really bad.

Run offense – Just head scratching stuff going on in the Packers run offense. First, Eddie Lacy managed just 48 yards on 17 attempts, a 2.8 yards per carry average. Second, neither James Starks or DuJuan Harris were even given a carry. I know they want to stick with Lacy as much as possible, but the Packers know they have other guys that can run the ball, because they’ve both done it before. To stick with Lacy this long when things just aren’t working is starting to border on foolishness, if only because the team has other options.

Running on Soldier Field – It’s time for the NFL to step in and do something about the playing conditions at Soldier Field. Before today, the Bears had played one home game, and that was all the way back in Week 1. And yet somehow the middle third of the field had already been replaced with new turf, the seams of which were clearly visible even on the widest of wide shots. This is a professional football organization with a junior varsity playing surface. Sooner or later, someone is going to get hurt, and something has to be done. If the Packers can keep their grass green into December, there’s no reason the Bears shouldn’t be able to do the same.

Three Good

Blossoming Davante – Two catches for 18 yards and at least one drop is hardly anything to write home about, but what I like about Davante Adams is that he just looks the part of an NFL receiver. He’s a rookie, sure, but he looks confident in his routes, catches the ball with strength, and knows when to sneak behind the secondary and hope for a big play, as he did on the heroic throw by Rodgers that was called back. I think Adams is the unquestioned number three receiver by year’s end, if he isn’t already.

Turnovers – As in, the Packers are forcing them. They had two picks and could have forced several more turnovers. It’s still a work in progress, but the progress is good to see.

.500 – All in all, it wasn’t a completely satisfying win. The refs helped, the defense was not good, and the rushing offense is still in shambles, but 2-2 is a heck of a lot better than 1-3. I’ll take it.

Up Next – A surprisingly good young Vikings team on Thursday Night Football at Lambeau Field. Kickoff is 7:25.

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Role Reversal – Week 3 Preview

Last time around was one for the ages. Can this year live up?

Last time around was one for the ages. Can this year live up?

By Jon Meerdink

This year’s incarnation of the Packers/Bears rivalry features a team with an efficient, explosive passing offense squaring off with a team basking on strong defensive play to carry their sputtering offense…only the first team is the Bears and the second team is the Packers. Confused? Me too.

It may be confusing, but it’s the truth. The Bears are passing as well as they ever have. Jay Cutler is efficient, if not spectacular. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are giant pass catchers, and Matt Forte continues to do his poor man’s Marshall Faulk routine to great success. Throw in a hulking tight end in Martellus Bennett and the Bears really seem to have it going through the air…which is what we usually say about the Packers.

Of course, the Packers are hardly their usual selves, either. Aaron Rodgers has been ordinary. The run game has been non-existent. Even the receiving corps, once dominant and deep, looks like a one trick pony. They’ve had to bank on the defense to keep them in games, which it’s kinda done twice. It’s also been just as much a liability as a strength.

So whose identity holds? That’s what we’ll find out this week. After all, the quarter mark of the season is usually when these things start to become more clear, and there’s nothing like a trip to Soldier Field to teach you a little bit about who you are.

The Countdown

5 – Touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers through three games. – Last year at this point, Rodgers had already thrown eight touchdown passes. It’s not that he’s been terrible so far this year, but defenses have made him look ordinary. He hasn’t been bad, really. He’s still completing nearly 63% of his passes, not turning the ball over, and making a couple plays. The plays just haven’t been coming as quickly as we’d like them to, or as often as we’ve come to expect. Perhaps this is the weekend he’ll bounce back.

4 – Receiving touchdowns by Martellus Bennett. – The Bears receiving leader isn’t Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, or even Matt Forte. It’s Bennett, the 6-6, 265 pound monster of a tight end employed by Chicago. A bit of a journeyman, Bennett has been productive wherever he’s gone, and he’s off to a hot start this year. Never a guy you’ll have to game plan around, Bennett nevertheless is a big target who could be a headache if left to his own devices.

3 – Packers players with a Pro Football Focus pass rushing grade greater than 1.0 – In ascending order, those three are Mike Daniels, Datone Jones (yep, that’s right), and former Bear Julius Peppers. Although spotty against the run at times, Peppers has been as good as advertised rushing the passer, ranking in the top 10 at his position in several of PFF’s pass rushing metrics. Squaring off against a strong pass blocking line, it’ll be interesting to see how the Packers’ pass rushers fare this Sunday.

2 – Interceptions thrown by Jay Cutler – Famous for his gunslinging tendencies, Cutler has been remarkably efficient so far this year, at least by his standards. He has thrown interceptions on just 1.7% of his passes this year, just a touch above half his career average. Will Bad Jay Cutler rear his head this week?

1 – Sack by Clay Matthews – Playing in more of a 4-3 alignment has cut Clay Matthews’ pass rushing opportunities. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s rushing the passer just 78% of the time he’s on the field, down from 84% last year. Six percent isn’t a ton, but it’s made a difference so far. We’ve seen a lot more of Matthews dropping to cover and a lot fewer whirling dervish blitzing around the edge. He’s steadily improved his pass rushing grades, though, so maybe he’ll turn it around this week.

Last time – Packers:33 Bears:28 – December 29, 2013

Surely you remember this one, right? It’s the game where this happened.

cobb touchdown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yes. You remember.

Meet a Bear – Martellus Bennett – TE – 6-6, 265 pounds – 7th NFL season

I’ll admit it: I love the tight end position. Bennett is certainly not a glamorous version of the modern tight end. Most of his game is based on just being larger than everyone who tries to cover him. But he’s been productive, he’s experienced, and I’m not sure the Packers have a linebacker who can match him.

The Bears will win if…

…Jay Cutler maintains his efficient ways and gets a little help from Forte and Company on the ground. The Bears run attack hasn’t been really worth writing home about, but Forte has serious talent and he’s plagued the Packers before. If he can give Smokin’ Jay a little breathing room, the Bears could give the Packers a long day.

The Packers will win if…

…Aaron Rodgers shakes off his recent bout with mortality. Rodgers remains one of the few trustworthy pieces on the Packers’ roster, and if he can get back to his winning ways, the rest of the team will suddenly look a lot better. The defense, the run game, and even Mike McCarthy all look better in supporting roles. Rodgers needs to live up to his status as the big dog in the locker room. If he does, the Packers will be just fine.

The Pick: Bears: 30 Packers: 24

I don’t believe in the Packers yet. I would loved to be proven wrong, but they’ve been maddeningly inconsistent so far this year, and inconsistent teams are hard to pick when you’re writing a football column like this one. I’m betting Bears until I see a reason to believe.

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Kyle Fuller the Red Hot Rookie

Rookie corner Kyle Fuller is making a name for himself in Chicago.

Rookie corner Kyle Fuller is making a name for himself in Chicago.

By Jon Meerdink

Nine defensive backs were drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, and we get to see two of the most highly touted this week at Soldier Field. We know plenty about the Packers’ Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, so let’s examine Chicago’s Kyle Fuller.

Fuller has played the hero in two of Chicago’s first three games. Losing Charles Tillman was enormous for the Bears’ defense, but Fuller has picked up his playmaking duties virtually seamlessly, creating turnovers and basically wreaking havoc for opposing offenses. The numbers guys love him too: through the first three weeks, Pro Football Focus has Fuller rated as Chicago’s best defensive player, posting an overall rating of +5.9.

With three interceptions in two games, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that coverage is Fuller’s forte. While he’s been victimized in the run game a couple times (and what corner isn’t?), Fuller has been as close to a lockdown corner as a rookie can be. He gave up one catch to Sammy Watkins against Buffalo in Week 1, his worst coverage. Since then, he’s given up just seven catches on 13 passes headed his way. For the sake of comparison, the Packers’ best cover man, Sam Shields, has allowed receptions on 10 of the 14 passes thrown his way this year.

So what makes Fuller so good? Two things: excellent physical attributes and absolute fearlessness.

In a second I’ll show you a highlight video that demonstrates the second point, but as to the first, they should be obvious. He’s 6-0 and 194 pounds, which is a big, thick build for a cornerback. On top of that, Fuller has nearly 33-inch arms, long for his height. I know it sounds like a tiny thing, but an extra couple inches can make a huge difference. Long arms allow defensive backs to play just that much farther off a receiver on the line, giving them maybe another fraction of a second to close on a ball or break on a receiver’s route. It allows them to play around the bodies of big receivers like Calvin Johnson and reach to break up passes when they may be just a step behind. Fuller has them, and he uses them well.

The second things I mentioned was Fuller’s fearless play. He tackles with little regard for his own body, and he closes in on a ballcarrier with tremendous ferocity. I’m skeptical of showing highlights to make a point, but Fuller’s tenacious tackling is on full display in this highlight video.

So what does this mean for the Packers? Well, with Charles Tillman out, the Bears will really only have a stopper at corner on one side, which could free up room to roam for Randall Cobb or whomever is opposite Jordy Nelson. It will also be interesting to see how Fuller matches up against Nelson and Cobb when he faces them. He’s done well in coverage so far, but the best receiver he’s faced has been Steve Johnson, and while Johnson is funny on Twitter, he’s a couple years removed from his last really strong season in Buffalo. Fuller’s battle with the Packers receivers will be one to watch on Sunday.

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Fantasy Outlook: Week 4

Eddie Lacy looks to break out of his early-season fantasy slump against da Bears on Sunday.

Eddie Lacy looks to break out of his early-season fantasy slump against da Bears on Sunday.

By Jordan Huenink

The NFL season is already moving way too fast. I can’t believe we’re coming up to Week 4 already! Maybe this is due to the fact that I’ve been sleeplessly busy at work recently, or maybe it’s because time flies when you’re dominating your fantasy league. It’s probably a mix of the two for me.

In Week 4, some big name squads (Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis & Arizona) have their bye weeks, so now is the time you need to get ahead of your opponents on the Waiver Wire and in free agency if you haven’t done so already. For example, since the Seattle defense is on a bye this week, I picked up San Diego. They sport a great matchup this week against Jacksonville – a team that’s given up the most points to opposing D/STs so far this year.

If you drafted players like Peyton Manning or Marshawn Lynch, ideally you also grabbed a backup for them on draft day given their early bye week. If not, the pickings for replacements may be pretty slim at this point, especially if you find yourself in a 12-team league or larger. You may find yourself settling for QB Jake Locker or RB Daniel Thomas at this point – and hopefully the rest of your team can pick up the slack. But all is not lost if you have to settle for backups this week. It’s still early in the season, and I feel Peyton still has yet to hit his stride. (Or at least I hope so, as a Demariyus Thomas owner!)

But let’s not look too far ahead – we still have to do our best to get another fantasy win in Week 4. So let’s take a look at some predictions!

In Week 4, the Packers head to the Windy City to take on their rivals to the south. As of late, the Bears defense has been surprisingly good following a rough 2013 campaign. So far this year, the Chicago defense is only giving up an average of 15.3 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. But then again, they’ve had a relatively easy start to the season. E.J. Manuel (16.7), Colin Kaepernick (12.2) and Geno Smith (14.6) all struggled so far this season, but after last week’s game in Detroit, all those numbers would be an upgrade for Aaron Rodgers!

I see Rodgers finally putting some distance between him and his slow start to the tune of 280 yards and two touchdowns. Not the huge game we saw against the Jets, but enough to instill confidence back into fantasy owners. I also think Jordy Nelson will be the main beneficiary of those stats. The duo has had tremendous chemistry so far this year, and they’ll keep going back to the well against the Bears secondary who is pretty banged up at the safety position.

Even though the Bears are currently the second-ranked defense in fantasy, they have had their struggles against the run. C.J. Spiller (13.2), Frank Gore (13.5) and Chris Ivory (9.6) have all posted decent games against the Monsters of the Midway so far in 2014. Even though fantasy owners may be regretting their first-round pick of Eddie Lacy, this is the week they will be able to breathe that sigh of relief because Lacy will finally break out of his current funk and reach the 100-yard mark. Don’t lose faith yet! Make sure #27 is in your starting lineup this week!

Even though Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson made the Packers defense look decent last week, look for them to be back to their old selves as they take on the Jets this week. After getting torched by Rodgers in Week 2 and Jay Cutler in Week 3, the Jets will once again get it handed to them via the pass by the NFC North. Look for Golden Tate to catch a touchdown and have a solid game too.

After Andrew Luck‘s drubbing of the Jaguars last week, look for Phillip Rivers and the Chargers receivers to do more of the same at home this week. This matchup easily puts Rivers as a Top 5 quarterback this week, and definitely boosts Keenan Allen‘s value as well. Look for new starting running back Donald Brown to get 25 touches and post double-digit fantasy points too.

After getting off to one of the more disappointing starts this season, don’t look for Toby Gerhart to redeem his draft position this week at San Diego. Without a productive offensive line, Gerhart is averaging less than three yards a carry and has yet to find the end zone in 2014. Keep him on your roster in deeper leagues, but if you want to drop him in an 8-team league and can find new, starting backs on the waiver wire (Matt Asiata, Donald Brown Knile Davis) it may not be the worst choice. Personally, I’m hoping Gerhart picks it up soon – I drafted him as my RB2 this year, but haven’t played him since Week 1.

Jordan Matthews seems to have replaced Riley Cooper as the #2 receiver in Philadelphia. Matthews’ big game last week (8 catches, 59 yards, 2 TDs) indicates a connection between him and quarterback Nick Foles, so make sure to grab him if you have someone to drop. Currently owned in only 8% of ESPN leagues, Matthews could come in handy on bye weeks. As for Cooper? Feel free to drop him if an unowned  player catches your eye.

This week I’m facing our league’s reining champion. While I’m forced to replace Demariyus Thomas and the Seattle D/ST due to the bye week, he loses players like A.J. Green, Russell Wilson and Michael Floyd. Projections currently have me winning and moving to 4-0. I’ll tell you all about it next week, but for now,

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