- Merril Hoge, NFL
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I spend all week watching game film, hours and hours of footage. And I have a passion for fantasy football. So it was only natural that I took the next step and put pen to paper, so to speak, and jotted down my fantasy thoughts as I went along. I'll continue to do so each week during the NFL season. Enjoy!
• We have to at least consider Tony Romo as an MVP candidate, considering the way the Cowboys are throwing the ball down the field. And the Cowboys' offensive line has been brilliant, too. Heck, they've even become more explosive than the Patriots!
• I gave Adrian Peterson the nickname "The Cashier" because of how he charges opponents. And I'm still at a loss for words to explain the moves he puts on defenders. AP is as bad as they come -- with or without a knee brace. But he does not do this alone. That O-line has been dominant, and fullback Tony Richardson has been key to both Peterson's and Chester Taylor's success. The Vikes also are getting help from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. While watching him on tape this week, one thing became very clear to me: He is more comfortable and confident than earlier this season, and it has showed in his accuracy. He has been money, and if he keeps that going, the Vikings are headed to the playoffs, and Adrian and Chester become even more attractive fantasy options.
• I'm sure the Saints would love to have that toss-reverse play back from Sunday ... it might have cost them a playoff run. That said, QB Drew Brees is taking more shots downfield and completing them. If he can continue to make big throws, the Saints will roll. The team's receivers are getting open.
• Week 13 was the first time I saw Vince Young make good decisions late in a game this season. The typical maturation of a quarterback involves improved decision-making and being accurate, especially late in games. The previous three weeks, Young had struggled in that area. On Sunday, when it was third-and-11 and the Texans dropped nine guys into coverage, Young made them pay -- with his arm. It's only one week, though. Will VY be able to do it with more consistency week in and week out?
• The Patriots started in a 4-3 defense Monday night. Why is that such a big deal? Because they have played a 3-4 most of the year. They have jumped back and forth before, but it has been awhile since they started in a 4-3. Well, it might be awhile again. It took one quarter of the Ravens jamming the ball down their throat to get them to go back to their 3-4 defense, which they stayed in the rest of the game. The Ravens still ran the ball well when the Pats went back to the 3-4, and, interestingly enough, they went right at linebacker Adalius Thomas, who did not handle it very well. It's almost as if the Ravens knew his weakness. One thing about game film is that next week's opponent, the Steelers, will see that and go right at him.
• The goal of each NFL defense is to make opposing offenses one-dimensional; if teams can do that, their odds of winning are drastically higher. Well, the Patriots are helping defenses by making themselves one-dimensional. As I study what the Eagles and Ravens did to them, it becomes increasingly clear that the Patriots have so much confidence in their passing game that they feel they don't need to run the ball. Granted, that passing game might be the best in the NFL, but this philosophy still could lead to problems. Philly took Randy Moss out of the game, and the Ravens took away both Moss and Wes Welker. And the Steelers are better than both of those teams. If the Patriots were to run the ball more and create more balance, their passing game would be even better. Oh, and fantasy owners would also be happier.
• Philip Rivers has been up and down all season, but he is starting to find a groove. From watching game film each week, I've noticed that he is much better off play-action and from the shotgun. The Chargers have been using more running plays with misdirection in the backfield, which helps offensive linemen with their blocks because they don't have to blow people off the ball. They can use defenders' momentum to their advantage. I expect them to run plenty of these plays on Sunday against Albert Haynesworth and the Titans' defense.
• The Colts moved starting left defensive end Robert Mathis over to the right side to replace injured star Dwight Freeney. While that did help the team's pass rush with Freeney out, it hurt the Colts against the run. The Jaguars killed them with the run for that reason; also, the Colts' linebackers were late in reacting to run plays. Of course, the Jags do have a good running game.
• Jags QB David Garrard continues to improve. He is as good as anyone in the game right now at making good decisions and throwing with accuracy. That low interception number (one) is not a fluke, and I'd ride him right into the playoffs. I'd feel pretty good if he were my fantasy quarterback right now.
• Speaking of fantasy surprises, if you are having quarterback troubles, go get Tarvaris Jackson. He is only getting better and more accurate. He is getting a feel for the passing game and is making very good decisions, both throwing the ball and running it.
Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. Check him out Sunday on "NFL Matchup" at 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and on "ESPNEWS Fantasy Insider" with Matthew Berry from 11 a.m. to noon ET on ESPNEWS. He also will be on "NFL Live" on ESPN at various times throughout the weekend.
Merril Hoge offers scouting tips after watching film from Week 13, and he notes that Adrian Peterson isn't the only fantasy option in Minnesota.