Thursday Night Special

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Note On Thursday Night Games

So far this year, Thursday Night contests have been decidedly one-sided, something I’ve seen being used as reasoning against the league scheduling them at all.

Well, I don’t see it that way. At least, I don’t think they need to be completely removed from the schedule. Why? Well, let’s look at this season’s slate of Thursday Night games so far.

-Week 1, Seattle 36. Green Bay 16

There can be no complaints about lack of prep time for this one, since it was the kickoff game for the entire league. What’s more, we’ve seen that the Packers started slow and are just now hitting their stride, while Seattle simply hit the ground running. Travel considerations also don’t cut it for this week, for the same reasons as not having time to prepare.

-Week 2, Baltimore 26, Pittsburgh 6

This one isn’t even close to having any reason to argue against TNF. Pittsburgh had a short trip, the same amount of time to prepare as the Ravens, and simply played a bad game against a team who are better coached and prepared on a weekly basis, historically speaking.

-Week 3, Atlanta 56, Tampa Bay 14

Superior opponent who matched up favorably against a Buccaneers team who had a short trip, the same amount of time to prepare, and simply laid down for most of the game. This is a sign of poor coaching and player preparation. Thursday Night games are, in and of themselves, tests of team’s ability to condense their normal schedule. Some teams are taught to do it better than others. No reason to condemn the games because of this.

-Week 4, Giants 45, Redskins 14

See Week 3. This was the first Thursday night game won by the away team, but that can’t be much of a surprise when you consider who was playing at home.

-Week 5, Green Bay 42, Minnesota 10

Another short trip, another case of a better team with more established coaching habits beating a less experienced, less talented team.

So, ultimately, Thursday Night games are not in and of themselves broken in any way. Some teams have proven to be able to take the short work week and prepare better than others, which shouldn’t be seen as anything different than some teams preparing for Sunday or Monday night contests better than others. The prime-time slots are not friendly for some, and ideal for others, and yet nobody is clamoring for these to be eliminated.

No, the only issue, the only real problem that TNF has, is that the games are not played in neutral territory. The way I see it, there are enough Thursdays in the regular season for all 32 teams to get one. Now, what if each TNF game was played in a predesignated spot that makes both teams have to travel, eliminating some of the home field advantage while making a compartmentalized version of a football game that could be played in many areas of the country (or even in Mexico, Canada, England, etc) that don’t have easy access to a ‘home team’. Example: Week one. Seattle and Green Bay meet halfway, which would conceivably be somewhere in eastern Montana. How many NFL football games do you think fans in Montana get to attend in a given season? They border one state that even has an NFL team (Washington, Seattle Seahawks) and even then, they’d have to traverse nearly the entire width of Washington to see them.

This proposal makes too much sense. That’s why the league either hasn’t considered it, has considered it and disregarded it, or will take another five-ten years before implementing. It achieves their goals of spreading their brand, it eliminates the only part of TNF that can be unfair to either team by making travel time an equal hassle for both. It’s the perfect way to do it.

So there. And here:

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Indianapolis Colts Vs Houston Texans
Houston, Texas

My Pick: Indianapolis 30, Houston 17

What I See Happening: Yeah, another blowout. Only, I think the first half is going to be hotly contested, perhaps ending with Houston leading. But, at some point, I see the dam breaking and the Colts offense riding the resulting wave to a win. Believe it or not, the Colts are actually playing better overall defense than the Texans, but Houston is giving up about 4 less points per game on average (17 to 21). The problem Houston will have in this game, beyond stopping Andrew Luck and company, is that their offense is essentially one dimensional. Arian Foster is required for them to do anything, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is as likely to throw a game away as he is to throw for a first down. I give Houston plenty of credit for fighting and winning close games, but if the same Colts that beat Baltimore last week show up for this game…there won’t be room to fight and win a close game.

Sizing ‘Em Up

QB: Where Andrew Luck is an answer to the question of a franchise QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick is an answer to what don’t you do when looking for one. His starting is without a doubt the most baffling QB decision made this year, and the Texans will be hamstrung by him until he’s on the bench or off the team altogether.

RB: A healthy Arian Foster, as we saw in weeks one and five, is still one of the best backs in the business. While they’re not being talked about, the Colts’ combo of Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw have been providing excellent balance to their offense. The advantage here is hard to see either way, but I’ll take two solid options over one excellent one any day of the week.

WR: Andre and DeAndre are a capable duo, but Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton are slightly more capable at this point in their careers. At tight end, Garrett Graham is not getting the targets or the production of Indianapolis’ Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener immediately gives the Colts an impressive duo which most teams can’t match.

Offensive line: I like both, but the experience across the Texans’ line is somewhat more enviable. Still, no clear-cut superior unit between the two. I do know that the Texans’ line has to do more, with a less mobile QB and more dependence on a running game they’ll need to control the game and have any chance of winning.

Defensive line: Well, we all know one J.J. Watt equals out to one Indianapolis defensive line, so there’s not much more to say.

Linebackers: Neither group has been overly impressive, but I like some of the younger talent both groups bring. More so for the Colts, with Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden emerging to provide some needed pass rush.

Secondary: While the Colts’ backfield played extremely well last week, I still think Houston has the edge here. Neither team has much at the safety positions, but Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are a high-end cornerback duo that Houston can depend on.

Special Teams: Tough call. Neither team gets much from their return units, but kicking and punting are about equal. I like Vinatieri’s reliability and veteran presence, but I also like Randy Bullock’s big leg. Pat McAfee is leading the league in punting, but the older Shane Lechler is still capable.

Fantasy Start/Sit

Andrew Luck cannot be benched unless he’s hurt. He’s proven that. However, you might be inclined to bench Bradshaw and/or Richardson, and I’d tell you to hold your horses. The Texans are giving up 132 rushing yards per game on average, so there’s definite room for these two to produce. Start Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen with confidence, as well.

For the Texans, you’re starting Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins and maybe throwing up a prayer that Andre Johnson will give you an old-fashioned Andre Johnson type of performance. I have him on my squad and I’ll be seriously consider starting him all the way up to kickoff…

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Thursday Night Special

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers Vs. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore, MD

My Pick: Pittsburgh 24, Baltimore 20

What I See Happening: I won’t buy into the distraction factor of what’s going on in Baltimore, since I truly don’t believe most professional football players let this stuff get in the way of doing their jobs. That being said, Baltimore tripped over their own feet too often against the Bengals, yet still managed to keep it close in the end. Their lack of a sustainable running game will allow the Steelers to play a one-dimensional defensive game, while Ben Roethlisberger should find success against the Ravens in the middle of the field. That, coupled with a solid running game, will give the Steelers another big divisional win.

Sizing ‘Em Up

QB: Joe Flacco is the most overpaid player in the league, regardless of position. He’s essentially Carson Palmer, and with the protection issues Baltimore displayed in week one, he should be pressured into a bad game. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has always been the better passer and looks more athletically fit this year than in recent seasons. His ability to stretch plays will put at least one touchdown on the board.

RB: Le’Veon Bell is quickly looking like a stud for the Steelers, while the Ravens lack a permanent fixture. Bernard Pierce is capable, and last week showed us that Justin Forsett can offer a solid change of pace, but this team is lacking punch across the offensive line. Both teams may find some success on the ground, but Bell should easily be the leading rusher.

WR: Torrey and Steve Smith are formidable, and Dennis Pitta is a threat and constant target for Flacco, but Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is simply the superior at the position amongst both teams. Beyond him, Markus Wheaton and TE Heath Miller provide ample targets. The matchup here is close, but I’ll give the edge to the team who suits up the best WR: Pittsburgh.

Offensive line: The Steelers’ line isn’t exactly a group of worldbeaters, but compared to Baltimore, they’re more than suitable.

Defensive line: Pittsburgh keys off of their linebackers, but their defensive line performed well in week one. Baltimore has more beef up front, and more talent, so I’ll give them the nod on this one.

Linebackers: The Steelers continue to produce excellent talent at the position, and few teams can match what they’ve got at the moment. The continued growth of rookie Ryan Shazier is going to be fun to watch. Baltimore has skill here as well, but Pittsburgh is a linebacker machine that keeps going and going and going…

Secondary: I’ll take the young legs in Baltimore’s secondary over the old guard in Pittsburgh, although either of these situations could result in big plays in the passing games of each team.

Special Teams: Jacoby Jones is dangerous when he can bring down a kick, and the Ravens have the edge in kicking with Justin Tucker. Don’t discount Antonio Brown’s ability as a punt returner, though. Especially if an opposing player finds himself being jump kicked.

Fantasy Start/Sit

This matchup is always difficult for fantasy owners. On one hand, both teams have major potential at certain positions. On the other, all that can go out the window with the way these teams go at each other. That being said, I’d sweep the waver wire before I started either defense, simply because of the aforementioned uncertainty.

Owners should start Le’Veon Bell without prejudice in any matchup. Roethlisberger is worth rolling the dice on, as is Antonio Brown. For the Ravens, I’d bench Flacco (and consider dropping him altogether if it’s feasible) and give Pierce, Steve Smith and/or Dennis Pitta a moment’s consideration.

Thursday Night Special

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A small new feature this year: pre-game analysis of every Thursday Night contest! Woohoo! Since this is only one game per week, I’m gonna have a little fun with the format. Hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Green Bay Packers Vs. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle, WA.

My Pick: Seattle 29, Green Bay 24

What I See Happening: The rust is always being shaken off, but as last year’s blowout courtesy of the Broncos showed us, some teams simply show up better prepared from the gate than others. While Green Bay has some real bite to their team, particularly on offense with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, a young and motivated Eddie Lacy and a hungry-for-a-contract Reggie Cobb, I think Seattle’s preseason performance and superior defense will give them the edge in the regular season opener.

Sizing ‘Em Up

QB – I’ll take Rodgers over Russell Wilson anyday, but you cannot discount what the young Wilson brings to the table. His ability to evade pressure, extend plays and accurately put the ball in the right spots will give the shaky Packers defense fits…when they’re not trying to stop this other fella who loves his skittles…

RB – Lacy showed some real skill in his rookie season, but I’ll take the proven veteran in Marshawn Lynch, especially considering their opposing defenses. For fantasy owners of Lacy, I wouldn’t be quick to bench him, as key cogs from Seattle’s run defense (Red Bryant, Chris Clemons) from 2013 are no longer in town. I think both runners will have solid performances, but Lynch is going to be the bigger difference maker.

WR – No comparison here. If the Pack want to pull off a good sized upset tonight, they’ll need Jordy Nelson and Reggie Cobb at their absolute best. For Seattle, Percy Harvin is the X-Factor that needs to be monitored closely; if he can quickly regain his early-2012, MVP-caliber form, their offense is going to start looking dangerous. Doug Baldwin is an excellent compliment and gets the job done, but Nelson/Cobb are just a better and more consistent duo right now.

Offensive Line – Not many realized it, but this was more of a weakness for the Seahawks in 2013 than a strength. Their starting tackles were injured for much of the year and the interior of the line struggled at times. Still, they’re retooled and recovered and have some solid bodies. The Packers are in a similar boat, but with less experience across the board and a harder job in protecting Rodgers from the Seahawks’ volatile pass rush.

Defensive Line – Much depends on the ability of their edge rushing linebackers, but the Packers’ defensive line is still a major question mark. B.J. Raji’s season-ending injury is a major concern going forward. Despite their losses, the Seahawks should field the better D-Line in tonight’s contest.

LB – Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, if the latter can regain a bit of his younger self’s capabilities, might be as dangerous a one-two pass rush as any in the NFL this year. I doubt the latter will happen, though, and when you sift through the bounty of edge rushers and overall talent the Seahawks have at the linebacker positions, you realize how much of a vital cog it is to their dominant defense. Edge to Seattle.

Secondary: This isn’t even worth discussing, is it? The best defensive backfield (Seattle, in case you’re reading this accidentally and have zero interest in the NFL) in the league makes any other look amateur in comparison.

Special Teams: Both teams have their strengths, but if Cobb isn’t returning punts for the Packers, and Harvin IS returning them for the Seahawks, the scales tip.

Fantasy Start/Sit

You’re going to want (or have) to start Aaron Rodgers, despite the matchup. Lacy is a guy many will consider benching, but I think the odds are in his favor for a decent night. Out of the two main receiving options for the Packers, Jordy Nelson is the more likely candidate for starting, but only as a low-end #2/Flex option. Green Bay’s defense most likely should be benched.

For Seattle, Wilson isn’t a terrible option but you might find a better one in your free agent pool or sitting on your bench, depending on matchups and the size of your league. Start Lynch without prejudice, roll the dice on Harvin as a flex and start the defense with moderate confidence.