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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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WEEK 16
2012
ATL at DET (SAT) CLE at DEN NO at DAL *SF at SEA
BUF at MIA *IND at KC *NYG at BAL STL at TB
CHI at ARI MIN at HOU OAK at CAR *TEN at GB
*Updated CIN at PIT *NE at JAC SD at NYJ WAS at PHI

Prediction: CLE 13, DEN 27 (Line: DEN by 13)

Players to Watch: Demaryius Thomas, Ben Watson

The 11-3 Broncos just inherited the #2 seed thanks to the Patriots loss to the 49ers so they'll keep winning to get that bye week and one home field game. Denver is merely on a nine game winning streak while the 5-9 Browns are venturing out with a 1-5 road record. Not a good equation.

Cleveland Browns
Homefield: Cleveland Stadium
Grass
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 PHI 16-17 10 BYE -----
2 @CIN 27-34 11 @DAL 20-23
3 BUF 14-24 12 PIT 20-14
4 @BAL 16-23 13 @OAK 20-17
5 @NYG 27-41 14 KC 30-7
6 CIN 34-24 15 WAS 21-38
7 @IND 13-17 16 @DEN -----
8 SD 7-6 17 @PIT -----
9 BAL 15-25 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
vs Rush Catch Pass
WR Miles Austin 5-60
WR Josh Gordon 4-50
WR Andrew Hawkins 2-30
PK Garrett Hartley 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The season is winding down and the Browns have established that they are no longer in the bottom tier of teams - they are the next one. The one before you get to just an average team level. The Browns are now good enough to beat a bad team like the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers. But unfortunately they do not play in the AFC West.

The Browns are getting by with marginal success passing and the running of Trent Richardson who has scored in each of the last four games and currently stands at 12 touchdowns on the season. What has waned every week for the last seven games is the rushing yardage which went from a high of 122 yards against the Chargers down to only 28 yards in the Redskins game. But he scored twice in that game as he did the previous week against the Chiefs.

Richardson has been blessed with what became one of the softer schedules in the NFL but that definitely ends this week in Denver. And he's been marginal as a runner now for the last month with sub-4.0 yard averages. Richardson is playing through chest and finger injuries though.

Brandon Weeden is playing well enough that the consensus has him returning next season as the starter again. He only thrown 14 scores on the year and he'll get a big test in Denver versus a defense that allows two scores to almost every opponent but has yet to give up a 300 yard game all year.

Josh Gordon remains the primary who usually only comes up with say 50 or 60 yards per week but has the upside to turn in a nice game in any week. He scored just once in the last seven weeks is may end up with Champ Bailey at least part of the time. Travis Benjamin scored on a 69-yard catch last week which should at least make the secondary account for him too. Greg Little hasn't scored since week seven and is only capable of marginal yardage.

The Browns are bad on the road and the Broncos want to cement their #2 seed. Expect much of the yardage and any passing scores to come late in the game when it doesn't matter.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points CLE 27 19 22 24 16 11
Preventing Fantasy Points DEN 12 3 9 32 4 12

  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
QB Connor Shaw, CLE @BAL 10000016002 ***
The undrafted rookie is taking all the first-team snaps in practice and will likely make the start in Baltimore in place of the injured Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer. An undrafted rookie, activated off the practice squad, starting in Baltimore against a Ravens team that needs to win. Yeah, that's going to end well.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB Isaiah Crowell, CLE @BAL 500000000 **
With the Browns starting a third-string quarterback in Week 17 for the fifth straight season--talk about a cursed franchise--the onus will be on the ground game to carry the offensive load. The problem there is that feature backs average 45 yards per game in Baltimore, and the Ravens have allowed only one RB rushing score in Baltimore this season--and a total of six RB TDs altogether. Crowell saw the bulk of the carries last week with Terrence West pinned to the bench due to lack of practice effort, but if the upside is less than 50 yards you'll want to look elsewhere.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Taylor Gabriel, CLE @BAL 004600000 *
It's been tough finding fantasy wideouts in Cleveland all year, let alone when they're scraping the bottom of the quarterbacks barrel in Week 17 on the road facing a Baltimore squad in a do-or-die situation. So... nah.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Andrew Hawkins, CLE @BAL 003200000 *
It's tough to be a PPR threat when there are few "R"s to go around, and with Cleveland's quarterback issues this week that's likely to be the case.
Update: Making matters worse is that Hawkins is listed as questionable with a thumb injury. He practiced only on a limited basis this week and doesn't have the upside to offset the risk of little or no game action here.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Josh Gordon, CLE @BAL 00000000 *
No matter how good Gordon is, he can't throw the ball to himself. And between a banged-up Brian Hoyer, journeyman Tyler Thigpen and undrafted rookie Connor Shaw the Browns have all kinds of issues at quarterback. So much for that big late-season push after stashing Gordon, eh?
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
TE Jordan Cameron, CLE @BAL 003300000 *
It took until Week 16 but Cameron finally delivered on expectations last week with 88 yards and a touchdown. Now he'll face a tough matchup--the Ravens have allowed just five TE TDs on the year--while saddled with quarterback issues. Tough to bank on him for fantasy help this week.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Garrett Hartley, CLE @BAL 1100 **
Hartley has been a solid addition since replacing Billy Cundiff, though the Johnny Manziel-led offense hasn't provided a ton of opportunities. Cundiff had three points in the earlier meeting with Baltimore; tough to bank on Hartley providing a dramatic upgrade, especially if it's undrafted rookie Connor Shaw at quarterback for the Brownies.

Denver Broncos
Homefield: Invesco Field
Grass
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 PIT 31-19 10 @CAR 36-14
2 @ATL 21-27 11 SD 30-23
3 HOU 25-31 12 @KC 17-9
4 OAK 37-6 13 TB 31-23
5 @NE 21-31 14 @OAK 26-13
6 @SD 35-24 15 @BAL 34-17
7 BYE ----- 16 CLE -----
8 NO 34-14 17 KC -----
9 @CIN 31-23 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
DEN vs CLE Rush Catch Pass
QB Peyton Manning 300,2
WR Emmanuel Sanders 2-30
WR Demaryius Thomas 5-90,1
WR Wes Welker 7-80,1
TE Joel Dreessen 2-20
PK Connor Barth 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The only fear now is that the Broncos get complacent and get a trap game happening. The last two games of the year - against the visiting Browns and Chiefs - may be the easiest matchups of them all. Wanting to hold the #2 seed will keep the Broncos playing to win but now you have to fear what happens when the game is obviously well in hand? Week 17 is a lock to have some absences and slow downs if only in the second half. But it could happen here as well - what is the incentive to push the score higher and higher when it becomes apparent that the Browns can't score much at all?

The projections will reflect a full effort given but there is at least a small element of risk even this week. Next week against the Chiefs all bets will be off after the first touchdown is scored since that alone may be enough to beat them.

Peyton Manning has already slowed down of sorts with only one score in each of the last two games. He's been good for two and usually three touchdowns in every home game this year though his yardage has been lower in most because the rushing effort has maybe even improved with Knowshon Moreno as the starter. He has the benefit of a nice schedule to be sure, but with him running for over 100 yards and scoring in the last two games, the need for Manning to produce points has declined.

Jacob Hester has become a goal line back and scored last week on his seven runs for 20 yards. Moreno has been running with very fresh legs and a sense of determination he never showed before. His final two games are both going to be profitable so long as they do not yank him at any point to save him for the playoffs.

Eric Decker comes off one of his best games of the year with eight catches for 133 yards in Baltimore but he's been significantly less productive in the five previous games. Demaryius Thomas thrown down his first stinker game of the year with only 13 yards on four receptions but he was overthrown on one touchdown and the Broncos won the game handily anyway.

The only concern here is that the Broncos don't realize they have already sewn up the #2 with two easy games left to play. Peyton Manning typically did not do that in Indianapolis so at least for this week, we should see enough playing time in earnest to feel comfortable starting the usual players this week.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points DEN 9 14 2 7 9 3
Preventing Fantasy Points CLE 20 24 27 2 6 13

  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
QB Peyton Manning, DEN OAK 0000028020 ****
Manning's average outing against Oakland the past two seasons is 326 and 4--and he actually bettered those numbers with 340 and 5 in the earlier matchup this season. There may not be a reason for Manning to stick around for the full game to compile such numbers, but you can bet the Broncos want him back on track for the postseason so he'll get enough reps to fill your fantasy passion bucket.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB C.J. Anderson, DEN OAK 12023100000 ***
Anderson blew up the Raiders by land and air in the previous meeting, amassing 163 combo yards and a touchdown on just 17 touches. He may cede a few looks to Ronnie Hillman to get the former starter some game action before the postseason, but not before doing more than enough to help your fantasy squad.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Demaryius Thomas, DEN OAK 0081201000 ***
Thomas is averaging more than 100 yards per game in his last five meetings with the Raiders, including 11-108 earlier this year. He's only scored in one of those games, however, so he's no lock to help you in a TD-heavy league. That yardage, though, is more than enough of a performance-league cushion.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Emmanuel Sanders, DEN OAK 005701000 ***
Sanders scored against Oakland in 2013 as a Steeler; he scored twice against them earlier this season as a Bronco. No reason to think he won't put up another fantasy helper here.
Update: Sanders was limited all week with a hip injury and is officially listed as questionable. He may make an early exit from this tilt should the Broncos take a commanding lead early on.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
TE Julius Thomas, DEN OAK 004500000 ***
Thomas' 6-63-2 kicked off a stretch in which the Raiders allowed six TE TDs in a seven-game span. Julius hasn't scored or topped 35 yards since, but the favorable matchup and a need to shake off rust before the postseason starts suggest he'll be at least a viable fantasy option this week.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Connor Barth, DEN OAK 1144 ***
Barth's at least good for six points; every kicker to face the Raiders has produced at least that number. And with Peyton Manning struggling, maybe he has another of those five field goal games, which he's done in half his outings as a Bronco.

WEEK 16
2012
ATL at DET (SAT) CLE at DEN NO at DAL *SF at SEA
BUF at MIA *IND at KC *NYG at BAL STL at TB
CHI at ARI MIN at HOU OAK at CAR *TEN at GB
*Updated CIN at PIT *NE at JAC SD at NYJ WAS at PHI

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