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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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Philadelphia Eagles at
Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, 3:00 PM EST

Baltimore Ravens at
Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday 6:30 PM EST

Prediction: BAL 13, PIT 20

Update: The Ravens come into this less than healthy but everyone should play of the fantasy notables. Le'Ron McClain is questionable and only had limited practice on Friday but should start and probably see more help from Willis McGahee. Derrick Mason never practiced this week but will play as should Mark Clayton who only practiced on Friday. Todd Heap is also questionable but at least he had limited practice every day.

The weather is now expected to be around 23 degrees and likely snow at least to start the game. The wind should not be a factor.

The Ravens defense has been awe-inspiring and the offense has been no less than good enough and occasionally shockingly good. Winning in Tennessee last week took down the #1 seed in the AFC and the most favored team to reach the Super Bowl. The Steelers was the only team that left a bye and won their game. They are the only team left that most expected would be playing this week.

The only question this week is if third time is a charm for the Ravens or if the Steelers can pull the hat trick. The Steelers won 23-20 at home in week four and then 13-9 in week 15 in Baltimore. Safest bet this week -not many points will be scored and that means that every play and mistake is amplified.

The weather is expected to be around 21 degrees with a chance of snow but no wind.

Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Homefield: M&T Bank Stadium
Sport Turf
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 CIN 17-10 +1 39
2 BYE - - -
3 CLE 28-10 -2 38.5
4 @PIT 20-23 +6 34.5
5 TEN 10-17 +3 35
6 @IND 3-31 +4.5 39
7 @MIA 27-13 +3 36.5
8 OAK 29-10 -7 36
9 @CLE 37-27 +1.5 36.5
10 @HOU 41-13 +1.5 41.5
11 @NYG 10-30 +6.5 42
12 PHI 36-7 -1 38.5
13 @CIN 34-3 -7.5 36.5
14 WAS 24-10 -5 36.5
15 PIT 9-13 -2 34
16 @DAL 33-24 +4 39.5
17 JAX 27-7 -10 37.5
18 @MIA 27-9 -3.5 38
19 @TEN 13-10 +3 34.5
BAL Rush Catch Pass
QB Joe Flacco     170
RB Willis McGahee 30 10  
RB Le'Ron McClain 60,1 10  
TE Todd Heap   40  
WR Mark Clayton   30  
WR Derrick Mason   50  
PK Matt Stover 2 FG 1 XP  

Pregame Notes: The Ravens have been living on their defense and when only one game in the last eight weeks has topped 13 points, it is safe to say that this is an elite defense. Half of the last eight games have seen the opponent fail to score more than nine points. Add in an ever-improving offense and the Ravens are in the AFC Championship game.

For a rookie quarterback on a team that historically threw very little and rarely well, Joe Flacco has enjoyed a great first season. Fourteen touchdowns against only 12 interceptions exceeds expectations and more importantly, Flacco has improved as the season progressed.

His biggest duty has been to take care of the ball and he has not thrown an interception since week 15 when he had two - against the Steelers. In week four, Flacco passed for 192 yards and one score in Pittsburgh and later settled for only 115 yards and no scores in the second meeting in Baltimore. Flacco has not been sacked or turned the ball over in the two playoff games so far. But then again he has not had more than a 50% completion rate or more than 161 passing yards in a game. He had one score in Tennessee and none in Miami. Flacco won't win this game, he just has to continue to not lose it with a mistake.

Le'Ron McClain has been suffering from a sprained ankle but is expected to play this week. He was effective back in week four when he ran for 63 yards on 16 carries with one score in Pittsburgh and had 87 yards on 23 carries in the second meeting in Baltimore. He was held to only 12 yards on 12 carries last week in Tennessee thanks to his ankle but he has been in practice and will suit up. His bruising style is integral to the success of the offense.

Willis McGahee has done almost nothing against the Steelers in the last two matchups and really had just a couple long runs in Dallas and Miami and little else.

Derrick Mason had a season high 137 yards on eight catches in the first meeting in Pittsburgh but then was held to only 23 yards on three receptions in Baltimore. Mason is playing with a slightly separated shoulder but has pulled down over 70 yards worth of passes in both playoff games so far. He doesn't practice much but not only suits up - he also makes a big difference.

There is no other wideout or tight end has mattered in the matchups against the Steelers this year. The best was Todd Heap with 41 yards in the first meeting but he was held to just one catch for 24 yards in the second meeting. Flacco is not going to throw much and outside of Mason, no other player has shown he will step up and matter this week.

This will be a low scoring game and the Ravens have not shown any reason to believe that their previous outputs will be topped this week. These teams are very familiar with each other and while it is hard to pull off the third win by the Steelers, the only two offensive weapons for the Ravens have been McClain who has a bad ankle but has been moderately successful in Pittsburgh this year. And Mason who is also banged up but playing well regardless. But against the best secondary will be enough to keep the entire Ravens offense to the same lower production that has marked the last two meetings.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points BAL 23 9 20 24 11 2
Preventing Fantasy Points    PIT 1 2 1 8 5 23


Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Homefield: Heinz Field
Grass
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 HOU 38-17 -6.5 43
2 @CLE 10-6 -6 45
3 @PHI 6-15 +3 45
4 BAL 23-20 -6 34.5
5 @JAX 26-21 +4 36
6 BYE - - -
7 @CIN 38-10 -9.5 37
8 NYG 14-21 -2.5 42
9 @WAS 23-6 +1.5 37
10 IND 20-24 -3.5 38.5
11 SD 11-10 -4 43
12 CIN 27-10

-10.5

39
13 @NE 33-10 +1 40
14 DAL 20-13 -3 41.5
15 @BAL 13-9 +2 34
16 @TEN 14-31 -2 34.5
17 CLE 31-0 -11 33.5
19 SD 35-24 -6 38
PIT Rush Catch Pass
QB Ben Roethlisberger     220,1
RB Willie Parker 50 10  
TE Heath Miler   20  
WR Hines Ward   70,1  
WR Santonio Holmes   40  
WR Nate Washington   60  
PK Jeff Reed 2 FG 2 XP  

Pregame Notes: The Steelers have lent the only amount of sanity to an otherwise bizzaro world for NFL playoffs. They are the only remaining team that has only played once in January and only at home. That looms large this week even if it proved largely meaningless for three other teams last weekend. These are two very familiar teams playing in Pittsburgh - that can only be a help.

Ben Roethlisberger has enjoyed mild success against the Ravens this year with 191 and 246 yards in games with one touchdown in each with just one interception. He was sacked three times in each game but for Roethlisberger that's almost like none since he usually gives up as much. Last week he passed for 181 yards and a score against the Chargers while the rushing game did most of the damage.

Mewelde Moore has really fallen back to being just occasional relief and has almost no fantasy value with a healthy Willie Parker. He's even lost goal line duties to Gary Russell who has scored in each of the last two games. Moore only managed 13 yards on eight runs against the Ravens in week five.

Parker did not play in that game but he had 47 yards on 14 carries in Baltimore during week 15 and caught two passes for nine yards even though he had only one reception from all other games combined. Parker is going against the best rushing defense in the league and that will continue to depress his numbers.

Hines Ward only had two catches for 57 yards in the first meeting with the Ravens but then turned in 107 yards on eight receptions in Baltimore four weeks ago. Playing at home has meant that Ward either has a very quiet game because the run is working well or he has a good game.

Nate Washington enjoyed one of his better efforts in week 15 when he had 76 yards on five catches in Baltimore and he remains good for around 30 to 40 yards most every week. His better games have been on the road though. Surprisingly, Santonio Holmes has been very quiet this year but scored a touchdown in each meeting with the Ravens and had 61 yards on three catches in the home meeting.

The Steelers will have to throw at least some to win this game because the rushing game will be minimal this week. Heath Miller won't likely be much help since he totaled only five catches for 34 yards over the last two meetings with the Ravens. It will come down to the wideouts once again with Ward needing to take a primary role.

Expect minimal rushing this week even though the weather will dictate the run more than the pass. I like one score by either the defense or a short bull run by Gary Russell but Parker will do well enough to reach even moderate rushing numbers. He has never had success against the Ravens and no one else has this year.

Roethlisberger passed for a score in each of the previous games and should maintain that with a wideout catching the touchdown. I will award it to Ward but it could go anywhere and Holmes already did it twice against the Ravens this year.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points PIT 14 24 8 21 18 5
Preventing Fantasy Points    BAL 4 1 4 9 4 20

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