While penning my Week 4 picks for NFL.com, it dawned on me just how tight games have been thus far. Forget Tate-gate. There just aren't too many blowouts in the league right now, plain and simple. So sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to get a sense of who's got a shot and who doesn't.
So many of you out there are invested in who is winning and losing this weekend, while keeping a keen eye on your fantasy squad. So here's the deal: I dug up few facts and figures in my research to help that process along.
Speaking of processes, after the Browns fell last night in Baltimore, I'm beginning to wonder about the offensive process in Cleveland. Hey Pat Shurmur, you have a rookie quarterback on the road against a good defense in a one-score game. Why on Earth is Brandon Weeden dropping back over 50 times and Trent Richardson only getting the ball in his belly 14 times?
Yea, I don't get it either. But that matter is dead and gone. Let's get to some key nuggets for this weekend...
1. Don't sleep on Josh Freeman this weekend. I get it. The guy only threw for 110 yards last week in Dallas, including just one completion to Vincent Jackson. But bear in mind that he's at home facing a Redskins secondary that has allowed 1,050 yards passing with 10 touchdowns. Both figures are the highest in the NFL.
2. While Christian Ponder is getting a lot of credit (deserved) for the Vikes win over the 49ers in Week 3, don't overlook the defense's impact. Frank Gore (62 yards, fumble) was held in check. Meanwhile the Lions have one rushing touchdown in the last 11 games. Minnesota hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown in five games.
3. Dallas' defense has been no joke thus far. They are the top-ranked unit in the entire league, allowing just 250 yards per game. They are the only club that hasn't allowed a touchdown pass to a wide receiver.
Reality: Chicago is going to have a tough time getting to 20 points, especially if Matt Forte is less than 100 percent.
Fantasy: Sit Jay Cutler. You probably can't afford to sit wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush, but if you are in a 10-team or 8-team league with depth, do so.
5. If you're thinking CJ2K can turn it around this weekend amidst all the criticism and help the Titans get a road upset, think again. Houston has allowed zero rushing touchdowns in 10 of the last 11 games, with no 100-yard rushers in 13 straight. This game will be on Locker and the passing game. Houston has the fourth-ranked pass defense in the NFL and is allowing just a 4.78 yards per attempt.
6. Okay, so Tennessee will have difficulty upsetting the Texans on the road. Ditto the Panthers, who face the red-hot Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan and the explosive offense are converting 50 percent of third downs, second in the NFL while Carolina can't stop anyone in those situations (46.3 percent conversions, 26th.)
Reality: Carolina's offense will have to keep pace. Good news is that Atlanta's third down defense is 31st in the league.
Fantasy: While some people are down on Cam, I wouldn't sit him. Sure he could throw some picks, but playing catchup usually bodes well for fantasy points.
7. While on the subject of third down, it's important to note that the BillsRyan Fitzpatrick has been killing it on what is mostly a passing situation with a 115.5 passer rating, two touchdowns and zero picks. His opponent, the Patriots (the favorite in this contest), are allowing opposing passers a 67.9 completion percentage and 107.3 rating in those same situations.
Reality: This has the makings of a shootout, with the impetus on Fitzpatrick to make New England pay on passing downs. Because he's playing at home, he should be able to audibilize to the plays he wants easily.
Fantasy: Fitzpatrick is a sleeper if you've been playing Ben Roethisberger, who is on a bye, or if Matt Stafford can't go against Minnesota.
Reality: DRC has been balling out. Asomugha will not give up two touchdowns every three weeks. He might allow two the rest of the season. As bad a year as everyone thought the future Hall of Famer had in 2011, he still only gave up four touchdown receptions for the season. In 2010, Asomugha gave up 13 receptions and zero scores all year.
Fantasy: Good luck Eli. Give him 12 fantasy points. He had one big game last year in Philly, but it was in Week 3 when Juan Castillo was working out the kinks on his new defense. Not this time.
9. He Must Be Involved Guy of the Week: Sure, Cedric Benson only ran for 45 yards last Monday night, but he was the Pack's most effective player on offense in the second half. This week Green Bay host the Saints, who are letting clubs gouge them for 215.0 yards per game and five yards per carry.
b. We discussed Ryan Fitzpatrick's sneaky play on third down. Alex Smith has been quite effective as well, completing 72.7 percent of his passes with over a 100 passer rating. Gang Green's secondary has been nothing short of horrific in those situations, giving up huge numbers: 76.7 percent completions and a 128.2 passer rating.
c. From the in case you were wondering department: Revis has had 10 balls thrown on him. Five were completions for all of 36 yards. He picked off another, while deflecting three others.