- 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!
• Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck is the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. From what I've seen, he's the best quarterback in the league at getting his offense in the right play at the line of scrimmage. Peyton Manning, of course, is very good at this, as well, but Matt is even better. Very few quarterbacks in this league can carry an offense every week; Matt can.
• The Packers' running game is getting better every week. Ryan Grant is a big part of that, but another key to the team's success is the play of tight end Donald Lee, whose blocking on the edge has allowed Grant to get some big runs. The Packers call that block on the edge their "anchor block." And Green Bay's running game will only get better in cold weather. Grant will stay hot, and Lee will continue to be a factor in both the running and passing game.
• Philip Rivers had one of the best gut/character checks of the season in Week 14. The Chargers' quarterback got absolutely beat up all afternoon by the Titans, but he never flinched. In fact, as I looked at the tape, I felt it was his best game of the season in terms of not letting early hits affect his play late in the game. Rivers still had a couple of bad throws that concern me, but when he had to make some tight throws late in the game, he did. I also thought coach Norv Turner did a good job with play calling to help Rivers get the ball in Antonio Gates' and LaDainian Tomlinson's hands. I expect San Diego's offense to continue to improve.
• I would be concerned if I had Vince Young as my fantasy quarterback. Judging from game tape of Sunday's game, it looked like this was Young's first NFL start. On one of his intercepted passes, he was clearly picking a guy to throw to, regardless of coverage. He stared down receivers and had no idea what coverages were being played. Just last week I praised Vince for his decision-making and good throws in the previous week, but like I said then, it was just one week. What I saw against the Chargers has been the predominant theme of his NFL career. If Young has not improved drastically by this time next year, the Titans might have to look for a new quarterback.
• Speaking of the Titans, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is a human wrecking ball early in games. But late in games, he is a nonfactor. He lacks explosiveness and the energy it takes to finish games, and he disappears. I saw this even before he suffered a hamstring injury, but it has gotten worse since then. Early in games teams double-team him; late in games, just one guy can get the job done.
• In his prime, Fred Taylor was the best cut-back runner in football. Well, in Week 14 he looked like he was in his prime again. What makes what he is doing so special is that he is the Jags' "dirty work" back. By that I mean he is not their goal-line or third-down back, so he gets the downs that set up Maurice Jones-Drew. I expect him to get plenty of work against the Steelers in Week 15.
• Jamal Lewis looks fresh and young. After plugging in the tape, I saw Lewis driving hard with his legs, but I did not see an offense that is fueled by its running game. The Browns clearly have a pass-first offense; the running game is used to complement it and finish games like it did last week.
• The Bills might have the most balanced offense in the league, and their offensive line could be the most underrated in all of football. The linemen are excellent at coming off the ball for Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, the two guys who are the key to their making it to the playoffs.
• When the Steelers win, it's usually because Willie Parker has a good game. When Ben Roethlisberger feeds off Parker , the Steelers' offense moves the ball better and scores more points. When Parker is feeding off Roethlisberger, the offense lacks rhythm and explosiveness. Against the Patriots in Week 14, Parker made a big run off left tackle, a weak spot for the Patriots, in the beginning of the second half. So what did the Steelers do? They let the Patriots regroup by spreading them out and throwing the ball. One thing the Patriots' defense is very good at is pass defense; they are all so smart that there is seldom a mental error. Throwing the ball is not how you beat them. Opponents' best bet is by gashing them with the run game. If the Steelers get a rematch in the playoffs, I expect that change to be made.
• As I watched the Lions' offense attack the Cowboys, I noticed Detroit was running a lot of slot formations, putting two receivers on the same side. Why did the Lions do this? Because the Cowboys flip their cornerbacks to match up to the wide receivers so that they can keep Roy Williams out of matchup situations that could expose his lack of coverage skills. The reason I bring this up is because I think the Eagles might use this formation a lot, too. Because the Cowboys put their corners on the receivers, Williams is left to cover a tight end or running back. Well, in case you didn't realize it, the Eagles have a pretty good running back in Brian Westbrook, who catches the ball well out of the backfield. Mismatch!
• The Vikings' defense has gotten better in the one area they had been weak in: pass defense. The reason they are better is because they are blitzing more, and their coverage guys, from the linebackers to the defensive backs, have gotten better in both man-to-man situations and the zone coverages they play. The Bears will have a very hard time moving the ball this week.
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.