Richard Moore previews the six players to watch in NFL Week 16.
Here they are...
1. Alfred Morris – Washington Redskins
Given Philadelphia’s susceptibility to power backs, expect Alfred Morris, despite only accumulating 76 yards from 20 carries when the teams last met in week 11, to exploit Philly’s ‘wide - 9’ formation, adding to his 1,322 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Despite sacking defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replacing him with secondary coach Todd Bowles on the 16th of October, the Eagles remain the complete antithesis of defensive solidarity - 13th against the run, 15th in yards allowed, 16th against the pass, and 29th in points conceded - So, if RG3 doesn’t torch them, either through the air or on the ground (after all, he’s the 20th ranked rusher in the NFL with 748 yards from 110 attempts, and has 6 rushing scores to date) Morris will.
If a Dallas rush defense ranked 13th in the league prior to their thanksgiving loss to the Skins, can leak 119 - yards to the Browns, one can only imagine what Morris will do the hapless Eagles.
A big weekend awaits for no.46.
2. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
The moment Redskins safety DeJon Gomes dive so violently connected with Peterson’s left leg, tearing anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the process, many feared for the future of a man who many consider the be the NFL’s premier back; the yardstick to which all are measured.
How times have changed, Peterson stands alone as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1, 812 yards to date, requires just 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season rushing record, and is 188 yards from becoming the seventh player in league history to reach 2,000 yards in one year.
Despite leading the league in rushes of 20 rushes of 20-plus yards and eight rushes of 40-plus, key to superseding a landmark that has stood for 28 years will be how Peterson copes with the considerable challenge of the Houston front seven; in particular JJ Watt (19.5 sacks - placing him 1st in total sacks alongside San Francisco’s Aldon Smith), who along with Payton Manning, Tom Brady, and Von Miller, is a serious rival for league M.V.P.
He may have gashed a Rams defense ranked 9th in total defense, for 212 yards, but with a porous passing attack contributing to a 24th ranking in total offense, Peterson will expect more attention, and therefore will be hard pressed to replicate the 212 yards plundered last week against a defense ranked 7th overall.
That being said, Peterson looks like a runaway train, and even JJ Watt may not have the ‘Wattage’ to put the buffers on this locomotive…
3. Wes Welker – New England Patriots
Over the past two weeks Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez have hauled in a combined 429 yards from 35 receptions, contributing 4 touchdowns in the process, leaving slot receiver Wes Welker, (despite completing 100 catches, the 5 th time he has achieved the feat, setting an NFL record in the process) firmly in the shade with a meagre 108 yards from 8 receptions, and no scores.
However, before fantasy owners begin to fret, fear not - Up next, the woeful 2 - 12 Jacksonville Jaguars, who boast both the league’s 31st ranked offense and defense; scoring on average 15.6 points per game, and conceding an equally impressive 27.4.
At ‘Everbank’ this weekend, if ever there was a player to bank on (no pun intended) getting plenty of action, you’d be wise to, well, bank on Welker.
4. Champ Bailey – Denver Broncos
With the focus predominantly on the astonishing feats of rookie Quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin 111, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the impact of first-year players at other positions.
Josh Gordon being a primary example. The Browns rookie wideout leads the league in receiving yards, totalling 759 yards from 45 receptions (16.9 yards per catch), five of which resulting in touchdowns. No mean feat, considering he forms part of an offense ranked 24th in scoring (20.0 points per game), 26th in yards per game (319.6), 19th in passing yards (222.2) and 25th in rushing.
Bailey, on the other hand is very much the timeless wonder, one that still forms an integral part of a Denver defense ranked 4th in the league - 5th in yards allowed (387.2), 6th in pass yards allowed (277.1) and 18th in rush yards conceded (110.1)
The 34-year-old cornerback continues play at consistently high level in what’s now his 14th season as a professional.
So far in 2012, Bailey’s recorded two interceptions, and may record more this weekend if the struggling Brandon Weeden (32nd rated Quarterback with72.4 rating, tossing 17 picks) throws his way. He may be lacking the explosion of yesteryear, but compensates with considerable nous.
Bailey may be a strange choice for a list entitled ‘Super Six’, but he features because of how vital experience is in shutting such a dangerous opponent, especially if that opponent, (however threatening) features in a team vastly inferior to his own in every major facet.
5. Von Miller – Denver Broncos
Another ‘bucking Bronco’, one that though being very much on the other end of the age spectrum, is, like his celebrated contemporary in Houston, very much in the conversation where it concerns league M.V.P. Miller has been an absolute monster in 2012, as though he has recorded less sacks than both Aldon Smith (19.5) and JJ Watt (19.5), still has 6 forced fumbles, 49 solo tackles and 11 assists (totalling 60 in all), and returned a Josh Freeman pick 26 yards for a score in Denver’s 31 - 23 week 13 win over Tampa Bay.
Despite lagging slightly behind the aforementioned in terms of sacks, Miller’s value as a pass rusher can be greater as he often attacks opposing quarterbacks from the edge at the conventional linebacker position, unlike Watt and Smith who are typically used as primarily pass-rushing ends/linebackers.
Brandon Weeden already struggles as it is, as if it wasn’t enough to boast the kind of inconstancy to produce multiple picks to one Bronco in Champ Bailey, there’s every chance he won’t even get the chance to throw the ball, if another Bronco, Miller, has any say in proceedings.
6. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys
Romo is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you’re going to get. Though if you were to delve into the box now, the selection could prove quite delicious as since Dallas’ week 12 loss to the Redskins on thanksgiving, Romo has gone 77 of 112 for a completion percentage of 68.7, boasts an overall completion percentage (66.7) better to that of both Tom Brady (63.4) and Drew Brees (62.0) and has thrown no interceptions, making him the hot hand keeping Dallas very much in the play - off shake up.
Key to continuing any potential march to the play - offs will be Romo’s duel with opposite number Drew Brees, who leads the league in passing yards (4,335) and touchdown passes (36). However, Romo has been afforded a significant advantage in the form of a Saints defense that ranks 31st against the pass (287.0 yards per game), 31st against the run (146.3 yards per game), and is being pummelled on average to the tune of 27.1 points per game, leaving it dead last in the league…behind even Jacksonville.
Romo may find himself in a shoot - out with his opposite number, but with the superior defense and a hot hand to boot, you’d be hard pressed to bet against the Dallas triggerman prevailing in this contest.
image: © Keith Allison