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Predictions & Projections
By David M. Dorey
 
The Huddle
WEEK 7
October 15, 2003
Season Ticket
Sun 1 PM TEN at CAR Sun 4 PM Mon 9 PM Bye Week:
*BAL at CIN *NE at MIA *WAS at BUF KC at OAK Arizona
DAL at DET *NO at ATL *CHI at SEA   Indianapolis
*DEN at MIN *PHI at NYG NYJ at HOU Times EST Jacksonville
GB at STL *SD at CLE *TB at SF *updated Pittsburgh
   
Denver vs Minnesota Sun, Oct 19; 1 PM on CBS at Metrodome
  Denver Rush Catch Pass
QB Steve Beuerlein 0 0 180,1
RB Clinton Portis 100,1 30 0
TE Shannon Sharpe 0 40 0
WR Rod Smith 0 70,1 0
WR Ed McCaffrey 0 10 0
WR Ashley Lelie 0 20 0
  Minnesota Rush Catch Pass
QB Daunte Culpepper 10 0 220,2
RB Onterrio Smith 20 10 0
RB Moe Williams 60,1 20 0
TE J. Kleinsasser 0 30,1 0
WR Randy Moss 0 60,1 0
WR Nate Burleson 0 50 0
WR Kelly Campbell 10 20 0

Game Prediction: DEN 20, MIN 24

Denver Notes

Update: Culpepper is playing, but his back is not 100% so I am reducing his rushing yards and redistributing them. I am not changing the numbers for Denver, but their loss of LB Ian Gold makes Portis a bit more solid.

Quarterbacks: With Plummer a game scratch, Steve Beuerlein filled in and was a little rusty. He threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns but had two interceptions against a good Steeler defense. Jake Plummer still did not practice on Monday but will get the starting nod again if he can practice on Wednesday without too much pain. I will update if needed but right now will assume that Beuerlein will start.

Running backs: After torching the Chiefs for 141 yards rushing two weeks ago, Clinton Portis only managed 47 yards on 15 carries and another 26 on five catches. The Steelers stacked the line against Portis in order to force Steve Beuerlein to throw which almost worked. Portis spent much of his time picking up blitzes instead of going out for a pass. It was notable that when faced with a tough rushing defense, Portis remained in the game and had every carry other than one for Rueben Droughns. Portis running style should be good for cutbacks on the Metrodome carpet this week.

Wide Receivers: With Beuerlein at the helm, Rod Smith had eight passes and four catches for 70 yards which was far more than Ed McCaffrey (1-16) or Ashley Lelie (1-5). With Plummer playing and running around, Lelie had been getting five to seven throws a game but Beuerlein only threw to him the one time. That cannot continue if the Broncos want to win.

Tight Ends: Beuerlein knows the safety net that Shannon Sharpe provides and favored him over all other receivers last week, with nine passes that yielded six catches for 55 yards and one touchdown. For a player that mulled retirement in the offseason, Sharpe is going out with a bang since he has at least seven throws a game in the past four weeks. So far this season he has 21 catches for 234 yards and four touchdowns.

Match against the defense: Denver must run the ball well in order to stay in the game. Minnesota leads the league with 13 interceptions which will be a problem for either Plummer or Beuerlein inside the loud Metrodome. FS Brian Russell has an interception in every game this year and if he gets one this week he ties the all-time consecutive game interception record.

The Vikings are playing very aggressive on defense and Plummer is needed to play in order to get them to bite on play action passes. If Plummer plays, that could spell a good game for Lelie who needs the safety to think about the handoff instead of the long pass.

The Vikings have actually been allowing good yards per rush to top tunners, but they have been gaining the early leads and not allowing that to be a factor. Consider that in previous weeks Duckett (11-69), Barlow (11-72), Hearst (13-56) and Anthony Thomas (10-53) all had good gains. They just were not allowed to run more than 13 times in game due to the scoreboard. Portis should run well here and even better if Plummer can play.

Minnesota Notes

Quarterbacks: The great news is that Daunte Culpepper will be back this week. Gus Frerotte was a admirable filler during easy games against San Francisco and Atlanta, but facing the Broncos means the big guns need to be firing.

Running backs: Now fresh from the bye week, Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith are ready to play and continue their surprising success. Williams is averaging five yards a carry and Smith has 4.6 per run. In case the defense starts to over pursue, the Vikings always run receiver reverses in every game.

Wide Receivers: Since Randy Moss has five touchdowns in his last two games, he may attract attention. Dwayne Bates may be back this week from his lingering foot injury but Nate Burleson has been more than enough in his place. The last two games, Burleson has six catches for 125 yards and one touchdown. Kelly Campbell also figures in during multiple receiver sets though he runs almost as many reverses as he does catch passes.

Tight Ends: With Frerotte as the quarterback, the tight ends did almost nothing in games that they were not needed. The last two games only produced one catch by Jim Kleinsasser for 17 yards. The last full game that Culpepper played (against Chicago), Kleinsasser had four catches for 29 yards and two scores. In the unlikely event that a team can actually cover Moss, the tight end becomes relevant in the passing game.

Match against the defense: The Broncos have been the toughest team to run on this season and still have not yielded a 100 yard rushing game to anyone. The loss of LB Ian Gold may hurt here, but the Vikings will not have the luxury of just running the ball to set up the Moss bomb.

Denver has also not given up a 200 yard passing game to a quarterback since back in week one nor ever allowed a 100 yard game by a receiver. This will be their biggest test against Moss but while they are tough against the run and pass, Culpepper throws in the specter of his own running to cause further problems and the higher incidence of reverses by Minnesota means that Denver cannot be too aggressive in chasing the run either.

Given all that, the tougher Denver defense should push the Vikings into using their tight end more and encourage Culpepper to run more if the secondary takes off downfield with Moss every play.

Game Prediction: This should be a great game and is only one point on the road from being a battle between unbeaten teams. The keys will be if Plummer can play and open the passing up with play action, how well Portis can gain yards on the fast surface and if Denver can put together enough defense to cover the multiple fronts that the Minnesota offense can produce.

The Vikings come off their bye week rested and are at home with Culpepper back and Moss even healthier. I like the Broncos to hold Moss in check but pay for it in other ways and eventually be forced into a passing game that they are less suited to win by using. A great matchup.

Team Comparisons - Current team rankings (1-32) by position for FF points scored or allowed by position
Rank (1-32) QB RB WR TE PK DEF
DEN Scores
10
7
28
1
4
17
MIN Allows
16
18
28
6
7
4
DEN AP 6 11 0 5 3 -13
Rank (1-32) QB RB WR TE PK DEF
MIN Scores
1
6
3
19
12
7
DEN Allows
3
1
11
18
4
10
MIN AP 2 -5 8 -1 -8 3
Offensive ranks - lower = gains more points, Defensive Ranks lower = allows less points
AP = Advantage Points, the net difference between a positional rank gained or allowed by the teams.
DEN MIN 2003 Game Averages MIN DEN
Gains Allows QB's Gains Allows
196
247
Pass yards
241
182
1.7
1.0
Pass TDs
2.6
1.0
0.8
2.6
Interceptions
10.2
0.8
21
12
Rush yards
6
4
0.2
0.0
Rush TDs
0.4
0.0
----
----
RB's
----
----
117
81
Rush yards
117
78
0.8
0.8
Rush TDs
0.8
0.3
37
50
Receive yards
41
13
0.2
0.0
Receive TD's
0.2
0.0
----
----
WR's
----
----
117
167
Receive yards
182
129
0.5
1.0
Receive TD's
1.8
0.8
----
----
TE's
----
----
42
30
Receive yards
18
40
1.0
0.0
Receive TD's
0.4
0.2
----
----
PK's
----
----
2.2
1.4
Field Goals
1.4
1.3
2.8
1.8
Extra Points
3.6
1.5
----
----
DEF/ST
----
----
0.5
0.8
Fumbles
0.4
0.7
0.8
0.4
Interceptions
2.6
0.8
0.2
0.0
Touchdowns
0.0
0.2
2.8
2.2
Sacks
2.2
1.5
0.0
0.0
Safeties
0.4
0.0
Broncos (5-1)
Score Opp.
30-10 @CIN
37-13 @SD
31-10 OAK
20-16 DET
23-24 @KC
17-14 PIT
Week 7 @MIN
Week 8 @BAL
Week 9 NE
Week 10 BYE
Week 11 SD
Week 12 CHI
Week 13 @OAK
Week 14 KC
Week 15 CLE
Week 16 @IND
Week 17 @GB
Vikings (5-0)
Score Opp.
30-25 @GB
24-13 CHI
23-13 @DET
35-7 SF
39-26 @ATL
Week 6 BYE
Week 7 DEN
Week 8 NYG
Week 9 GB
Week 10 @SD
Week 11 @OAK
Week 12 DET
Week 13 @STL
Week 14 SEA
Week 15 @CHI
Week 16 KC
Week 17 @ARZ

* Fantasy point rankings calculated using standard Huddle fantasy points