Fact, Fiction and Farce Heading into NFL Week 4
Fact: The NFL is completely unpredictable.
Fiction: All replacement refs actually know what a football is.
Farce: The Seahawks win over the Packers.
That is an idea of how this weekly slideshow is going to go, only it will be team specific as we address one of those three F's for each team. Well, they won't always be that obvious either.
This will be a good guide to getting caught up with the entire league, picking up some fantasy tips and impressing super models all over the world with you varied and comprehensive knowledge of the National Football League.
Hit me with fantasy questions or to just call me names.
Fact: The Arizona Cardinals' Defense Makes Them Contenders
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Give a team a quarterback duo of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, then dress them in Arizona Cardinals uniforms and that team is going to be a major afterthought.
It doesn't matter that this team won seven of their last nine in 2011, no one (yours truly included) gave them much of a chance to make the playoffs.
Well they are going to make the playoffs, and they could make a deep run in those playoffs. The Cardinals already have three impressive wins over the Seahawks, Patriots and Eagles.
Those wins have been driven by what guarantees this team future success: defense.
Going back to their strong finish last year, which began in Week 9, Arizona has not allowed more than 20 points in any of those games.
Football Outsiders has their defense ranked seventh in DVOA, and they are seventh in both pass and rush defense in terms of yards allowed.
This D has shown they can play against any style of offense and succeed. They will keep them in every game, and that has been more than enough for the Cardinals to get the job done in 10 of their last 12 games.
Fiction: The Atlanta Falcons Have a Balanced Offense
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The Atlanta Falcons' offense is going to go as far as the arm of QB Matt Ryan can take them because their running game has decided to take the year off.
The demise of the running game has been equal parts Michael Turner slowing down and the offensive line struggling to open holes.
The Falcons are 25th in rushing yards at 270 this season, and this is despite the fact this team is 3-0 and has had plenty of reasons to churn out as many yards as possible on the ground.
Luckily for them, Matt Ryan is No. 1 in QBR and he has plenty of weapons to throw to, but at some point, their lack of a running game is going to doom them.
Fiction: The Baltimore Ravens Win with Defense
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Strange things are afoot in Baltimore: The Ravens are winning games with their offense.
Baltimore is a shocking 27th in yards allowed and 17th in scoring defense. Yet they are 2-1 and legitimate Super Bowl contenders because of this high-flying offense.
They are No. 4 in yards gained and an even more impressive No. 1 in Football Outsiders' Offense VOA.
This offense is extremely balanced. The passing game has all kinds of weapons for quarterback Joe Facco, Ray Rice leads a dangerous running game and the offensive line looks fantastic.
This offense is for real.
Fact: The Buffalo Bills' Offensive Line Is Mauling
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Buffalo Bills' running backs are dropping like flies, yet this team keeps producing outstanding rushing numbers. That is all due to shockingly outstanding play by the offensive line.
Rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn, left guard Andy Levitre, center Eric Wood, right guard Kraig Urbik and the two right tackles Erik Pears and Chris Hairston have combined to form a stellar offensive front five.
This team is third in the league in rushing yards per game at 178, and they have only allowed one sack all year and only eight quarterback hits, which is the second fewest in the NFL.
This offense is going to produce with that kind of line play.
Farce: The Rift Between Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton and Steve Smith
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Steve Smith told reporters that he "lit into" quarterback Cam Newton during their Thursday night loss to the New York Giants.
The Associated Press provides the story, and they say that Smith was upset with Cam's sideline "sulking."
It is natural to jump to the conclusion that their must now be a rift between the two, but think of this more as just another day in the life of the Panthers family.
This story by the Associated Press' Steve Reed should put to rest any thoughts of feuding. Here is a quote by Newton from the story:
Steve Smith talks to me every single day. And obviously it's a teaching moment, so to just single something out like that is kind of bogus for me. Because after this meeting he's probably going to say something to me. I look up to Smitty as if he's my big brother, and he has a very big impact on how I play and just having a mindset because he has done it and has lived it.
Remember, this is Steve Smith we're talking about. He'll rip into anyone within ear shot during a game. We're all just lucky no punches were thrown.
Fact: The Chicago Bears Have Become Monsters of the Airway
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The Chicago Bears are playing some defense, and most of that is coming against the pass.
The Bears are a respectable sixth in rushing yards allowed, but all rushing stats take a back seat to the passing ones.
Chicago is sixth in passing yards allowed and seventh in yards per pass attempt. Weighing in their opponents and other factors, Football Outsiders has their pass defense ranked No. 1.
A big part of their success is the pass rush, as they lead the league with 14 sacks.
Also, keep in mind when setting your fantasy lineup that this is not a good team to start wide receivers against. FO has them ranked third against No. 1 receivers and first against No. 2's.
Farce: Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Performance in 1st Half vs. Redskins
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For 30 glorious minutes, the Cincinnati Bengals shut down the Redskins' offense and gave hope to their fans that this unit could again be a strength.
Then, like a house of cards, it all came tumbling down.
After allowing only 68 yards in the first half, the Bengals allowed the Redskins to outscore them 21-14 in the second half, and the Redskins wound up with 381 yards of total offense.
In the first half, the Bengals were bringing the heat on Robert Griffin, but that pass rush disappeared in the second half and so went the Bengals' success on defense.
Their problems start with terrible play on the outside. Football Outsiders has them ranked 30th vs. No. 1 and 29th vs. No. 2s. So look to start any receiver you can that is matched up against this group.
This defense will be the Bengals' undoing.
Fact: The Cleveland Browns Are Going to Get Destroyed by Ray Rice
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When the NFL schedule comes out, Ray Rice must instantly look for the two games against the Browns and then set up Player of the Week parties on those dates, Matt Stafford style.
Rice owns the Browns.
He has had two of his best games as a pro against the Browns. There was a 154-yard, 21-carry performance in 2008 and a 204-yard, 29-carry game last year.
In all, Rice has averaged 96.9 rushing yards per game against the Browns, and even in games when he has struggled to get the run going, he picks up yards in the passing game.
In the second of their two meetings last year, Rice "only" picked up 87 yards, but he added 48 receiving.
The Browns have a strong pass defense. This should lead to plenty of touches from Rice, and that will lead to a big day on the ground.
Fact: The Dallas Cowboys Must Get the Running Game Going
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The Dallas Cowboys' season is going nowhere if they can't get the running game going.
They are 29th in rushing yards per game and 23rd in yards per rush at 3.5. Last season, they averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
And none of those stats are as concerning as the next one. The Cowboys have just one rushing touchdown this season, and since the start of 2011, as Pro-Football-Reference.com points out, they have just six rushing touchdowns.
This is going to kill their red-zone percentage, and the cumulative effect will bring dire consequences.
They have thrown on 69 percent of their offensive plays. And while this is a better option than going to the anemic running game, it is also going to land Tony Romo on the injured list.
Fact: The Denver Broncos Are the "Bad Boys" of the NFL
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Wait, a team with Peyton Manning can't be bad boys. Oh yes they can!
As they Associated Press points out, the Broncos have collectively already had to fork over $134,000 in fines this season.
The Broncos have ran up this total with their mouths and with their hits. The culmination of this was last week's viscous hit on Matt Schaub.
Joe Mays did a little head hunting, and he earned a $50,000 fine and a one-game suspension, which ESPN pointed out he is appealing.
This is not to suggest the Broncos are out their to intentionally hurt players or be jerks, just that their intensity has and will continue to lead to them crossing that mythical line.
Fact: The Detroit Lions Are Their Own Worst Enemy
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The Detroit Lions are a talented group, but they are an undisciplined mess, and they can't seem to get out of their own way. It doomed them last year, and while slightly improved, it is hurting them again.
The Lions are tied for 24th with four turnovers. They have the eighth most penalties this season, which has them 20th in penalty yards accumulated.
This team has other issues, but it will hardly matter what they fix if they continue to unravel.
Fiction: The Green Bay Packers' Defense Will Doom Them
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While the Green Bay Packers were still undefeated late into the season last year, I jumped off the bandwagon and cited their defense as the reason why.
They were terrible. Way too terrible to win a Super Bowl with.
After an inconsistent performance in Week 1 vs. the 49ers, that defense did not look at all improved.
Well the light has turned back on for the Packers' defense. They are first in passing yards allowed, first in sacks, third in third down percentage and seventh in points allowed. And this is including their bad Week 1 performance.
The rush defense is behind the pass defense, but I fully expect them to improve in that regard as well. With the resurgent defense, this Packers team is starting to resemble the one that won the Super Bowl in 2010, and not the one that set records but failed last season.
Fact: The Houston Texans Are the Most Balanced Team in Football
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In this league of parity, finding a team as balanced as the Texans is a rare gem.
Check out their Football Outsiders rankings: They are fourth in both pass and rush defense. Offensively, they are third in the pass and seventh in the run.
So the area where they rank the lowest is the one area that Arian Foster handles! I don't think there is any need to worry about the run game.
Pick a style of play, and the Texans can play it. If this team enjoys better health than last year, they are going to be tough to beat.
Fact: Indianapolis Colts Struck Gold with Andrew Luck
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Not that there was much questioning of this fact to begin with, but Andrew Luck is the real deal. The rookie QB is not surrounded with a wealth of talent, and yet he is still doing an excellent job.
He has been sacked five times already, and while quarterbacks play a role in sacks, the struggles of his offensive line are highlighted by the fact he has been hit 15 times, which is tied for the 10th most in the NFL. And all of this while the Colts' running game has struggled
Despite all these things working against him, Luck has already thrown for 796 yards and five touchdowns. He has already shown his poise, leadership and cool under fire.
This is all good enough to earn him the second highest QBR in the league. It's been an impressive start for Mr. Luck.
Farce: Jacksonville Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert's Strong Start
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Blaine Gabbert is still terrible. After a decent preseason and strong Week 1, there was a rumbling that with some new weapons on offense, Gabbert was going to put his rookie struggles behind him and do something special.
Gabbert supporters will surely point to the fact that he has yet to throw an interception this season as a sign he is on the right track, but those picks are coming. You can't miss this many passes and not get picked off.
He is hitting just 42.5 percent of his passes in his last two games, and while his receivers and offensive line are doing him no favors, he still looks overwhelmed, has bad footwork and has no clue how to go through a progression.
I'll be surprised if the Jaguars haven't already declared him a lost cause before this season is over.
Fiction: The Kansas City Chiefs Will Be Better Due to Health
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There were more than a few pundits that had the Kansas City Chiefs pegged as a sleeper team. A big part of the reason was that it seemed logical that this team would look more like the 2010 squad that won the AFC West than the one that struggled last year while suffering through injury after injury to star players.
That logic remains sound, except for the fact this team can't shake the injury bug.
The Associated Press' Dave Skretta brings us up to speed on the Chiefs' continuing injury woes.
He informs us that starting center Rodney Hudson was just put on IR, and then he hit his with this laundry list of ailments.
Starting cornerback Brandon Flowers and backup Jalil Brown are back after missing time earlier this season, linebacker Derrick Johnson has been hobbled, and safety Kendrick Lewis remains limited in practice with a right shoulder injury sustained during a preseason game.
Tight end Kevin Boss sustained a head injury two weeks ago at Buffalo, and he missed practice along with running back Peyton Hillis, who hurt his ankle in the overtime win over the Saints. Wide receivers Dexter McCluster (elbow) and Devon Wylie (hamstring), tight end Jake O'Connell (knee) and defensive tackle Anthony Toribio (ankle) were all limited.
Someone tell these guys it's only Week 3.
While there is a hope that this injury situation will improve, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, when an injury bug starts getting passed around, it usually stays for the season.
Fact: The Miami Dolphins Need a Pass Rush
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The Miami Dolphins have four sacks this season. Only three teams have fewer.
Their pass defense is getting shredded as a result. They have allowed just over 307 yards through the air per game. Again, only three teams are worse here.
Miami is getting toasted on different levels of the defense. Football Outsiders has their pass defense ranking at 25th vs. No. 1 receivers, 18th vs. tight ends and 20th against running backs.
They need to put pressure on the quarterback to not only hurry him into bad throws, but also make opposing offenses keep some of those tight ends and running backs to block.
Miami is going to have to turn up the dial on blitzes because they don't have the personnel to get their from the defensive line.
Fact: Minnesota Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph Will Shine in Fantasy
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Kyle Rudolph is a fantasy tight end on the rise. He put us all on notice last week with his two-touchdown performance last week against the 49ers, and he will follow it up with another strong performance.
Rudolph is going against a Detroit Lions' passing defense that has suffered long stretches of ineptitude. They are 20th in passing yards allowed and 25th in Football Outsiders overall pass defense ranking.
But that's not all. They are 32nd against tight ends. Last week they allowed Titans tight end Jared Cook to go for four grabs, 77 yards and a TD.
The week before, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis hit for five catches, 73 yards and two touchdowns.
Rudolph will continue this trend. He is second on the Vikings in targets, and he leads them with three touchdowns catches.
He will add at least one to that total this week.
Farce: The New England Patriots' Offensive Line
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Gisele Bündchen must have some unsavory things to say about the Patriots' offensive linemen.
The ineffective front five have allowed seven sacks, 13th most, and 15 QB hits, 10th most.
Keeping in mind that Tom Brady does a great job of eluding the rush by getting rid of the ball quickly and having great pocket awareness, it only makes those rankings look worse.
This is a young offensive line, but this can't be pinned on the youth, and that is the most disturbing aspect of this for New England.
The Patriots' two veteran guards, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, are as big a part of the problem as anyone.
This group needs to improve, or this Patriots' offense is going to come up far short of its lofty expectations.
Fiction: The New Orleans Saints Can Turn It Around
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The Saints are a mess, and it goes far beyond missing the offensive genius of suspended coach Sean Payton.
No offense is going to win with this defense.
The Saints rushing-yards-per-game average of 215 is more than the season total for five teams!
And get this: Football Outsiders has their overall pass-defense ranking (30) lower than their rush-defense ranking (28).
This team is in for a long, forgettable season.
Fact: No. 1 Receivers Will Be Fantasy Stars vs. the New York Giants
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No. 1 wide receivers going against the New York Giants are going to be fantasy gold.
Last week, the Giants allowed Steve Smith four catches for 86 yards, and that was in a game when he was so frustrated with his quarterback's attitude that the Associated Press quotes him as saying he "lit into" Cam Newton.
The week before, the Buccaneers' Vincent Jackson had five catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants rely heavily on their pass rush to disrupt opposing passing games, but it will be hard to rattle the QB if he knows he can find his favorite target readily available.
CB Corey Webster has struggled. The Giants would be wise to get the emerging Prince Amukamara more time against lead receivers, but until he proves he can handle the load, feel free to celebrate when you see your star receiver is playing the G-Men.
Fact: The New York Jets Are in Trouble Without Revis Island
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Backup running back Joe McKnight is now a backup cornerback. Yeah, that's how bleak the Jets' picture at cornerback is after losing star Darrelle Revis to a season ending knee injury.
The Jets, who were already struggling on defense, have now had a strength turned into a weakness, and this will have a trickle-down effect on the defense.
They will have to devote more attention to receivers, which will only weaken a run defense that has already allowed the 28th most rushing yards in the league.
Farce: Oakland Raiders' Run Game
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Raiders' running back Darren McFadden gave fans hope that this rush offense could extend the dominance it had shown for much of the past two seasons when he burst through the Steelers' defensive line and hit for a 64-yard touchdown run.
However, that run is the outlier. McFadden has gained 167 rushing yards this season at 3.8 yards per carry. Take away that 64-yarder and he is gaining just 2.3 yards per carry.
McFadden will have other big runs, but they are going to be few and far between. The Raiders switched back to a zone-blocking system, and McFadden has never had much success in the one-cut-and-go style.
The struggles are more attributed to the offensive line, and just like in the past, Oakland appears to have the wrong personnel for the system.
Fiction: Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick Is Good at Football
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I hope you're ready for the Nick Foles era, Philadelphia Eagles fans, because it can't be too far away.
Michael Vick has lost it. Whatever it was that gave him the edge to seemingly always be one-step ahead of the defense is gone.
His pocket awareness has flown out the window, and his decision-making process is not far behind. He is a walking turnover.
He has already thrown a league-worst six interceptions and fumbled four times, losing two. He is currently 25th in QBR, and he looks so lost on the field that there is little hope of him improving.
Farce: The Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
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The Pittsburgh Steelers just suffered a late comeback loss to a passing attack of the Oakland Raiders featuring a wide receiving corp of Denarius Moore (a second-year, fifth-round pick) Rod Streater (an undrafted rookie free agent) and Derek Hagan (who was not in the league in Week 1).
This is not to take away from those guys who are obviously outperforming expectations, but an offense with those kind of receivers should not be making a fourth-quarter comeback on the Steelers.
And these results are just the continuation of a season-long trend.
Football Outsiders ranks them 20th against the rush, 31st against the pass and 29th overall. The defense has become predictable and slow.
Sure, Steelers fans can hope that the return of injured stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu will boost the struggling side, but these problems are bigger than what the return of two aging veterans will solve.
It's a hard reality to swallow, but the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense is a liability.
Fact: The Saint Louis Rams' Defensive Line Is a Monster in the Making
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The Rams have four sacks this season. All four have come from defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
While the Rams undoubtedly want their team total to improve, that is great production from the defensive end position. Both of these guys could hit double digits.
Quinn is coming off a rookie season where he had five sacks, and Long tallied 13 last year while increasing his sack total in each of his four seasons.
Their job is only going to get easier as first-round draft pick Michael Brockers is getting close to returning. The Associated Press reports that he "could make his debut this week."
Brockers is explosive enough to add pressure from the defensive tackle spot, and the opposition is going to have a hard time blocking all these guys.
Fact: San Diego Chargers' WR Malcom Floyd Is a Legit Fantasy No. 1
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Malcom Floyd is going deep and coming down with production.
The eight-year pro is flourishing after the offseason departure of Vincent Jackson.
The 31-year-old receiver, and career Charger, has made steady gains throughout his time in the NFL and is coming off of a career-best 856-receiving-yard season.
He is on pace to shatter that. Floyd has 13 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown, and he is averaging over seven targets a game.
The Chargers have been so happy with his performance that the Associated Press reports they just extended his contract three years.
Floyd is a deep-play threat, and quarterback Philip Rivers loves to throw the deep ball. Floyd will continue to produce at a high level.
Farce: San Francisco 49ers Left Tackle Joe Staley
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Joe Staley's revolving door act at left tackle is hurting the 49ers.
He's already allowed 3.5 sacks this year. Granted, he has faced stiff competition against Clay Matthews in the opener and then Jared Allen last week, but that is life as an NFL left tackle.
He is going to face a barrage of good pass-rushers.
Staley has never been an overpowering run blocker, and now that his pass blocking is slipping, he is a severe liability.
Fact: The Seattle Seahawks' Defense Is Going to Carry Them to the Playoffs
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Don't get me wrong. That was not a touchdown. The Green Bay Packers were the rightful winner of that game, but that doesn't mean the Seahawks aren't good enough to be a 2-1 team.
They are playing solid football, and that football allowed them to be in a position to have a ref blunder hand them a game, and they are going to be in every game they play in because their defense is amazing.
The Seahawks have had an impressive three-week run. They have allowed just 641 yards passing, 176 yards rushing and their 39 points allowed is the league low.
They dismantled the fierce Packers' passing attack by decimating their offensive line and playing physical defense on the outside with their talented corners.
This defense will keep scores down, and their solid ground game will put their offense in a position to win.
Now, let's just hope they don't make the playoffs on a tiebreaker against the Packers.
Fact: Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Defense Just Got Worse
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Tampa Bay's defense suffered a big hit with the news that defensive end Adrian Clayborn is done for the year with a knee injury—according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
While Clayborn did not register a sack this year, he was the team's leader in the category last year. This Bucs team has six sacks this season, but that pace is going to take a hit now that Tampa has no one at defensive end to bring a reliable pass rush.
This will allow teams to freely double Gerald McCoy, who has three sacks from the inside of the line. It also might change the Buccaneers' scheme.
Smith provided this quote from head coach Greg Schiano on how they will cope with Clayborn's injury:
We'll look internally. We'll look outside if anything is better. We'll look at schematically. Maybe we'll have to play some more three-down fronts and do some different things to stretch the personnel a little bit. Nothing is out of the realm. Look, that's what you do. You adapt, and that's what we'll do.
Yes, the Tampa defense will adapt, but it will adapt to a worse version than what they previously were.
Fact: Play Texans' Owen Daniels vs. Tennessee Titans
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The Texans' Owen Daniels doesn't consistently put up numbers to make him worth starting, but he is set for a big week.
The Tennessee Titans' pass defense is struggling, and no where are they struggling more than they are against tight ends. Football Outsiders has them ranked 31st against tight ends.
They gave up eight catches and 61 yards last week to the Lions' Brandon Pettigrew, and Daniels will improve on those numbers.
Daniels actually leads the Texans in targets, and he will get plenty of opportunities to produce in this game.
Fact: Play WR Mike Williams vs. the Washington Redskins
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Sleeper tip of the week!
Mike Williams has two touchdown catches this year but only seven total receptions. He will boost both categories in Week 4.
The Redskins have allowed the second most passing yards in the league this year, and nowhere have they struggled more than against the opposition's No. 2 receiver.
Football Outsiders has them ranked No. 32 against No. 2s, and last week they allowed the Bengals' Andrew Hawkins 66 yards and a touchdown.
Williams is a red-zone favorite of Josh Freeman, and the Redskins have allowed a league-worst 3.3 passing touchdowns per game.
Expect at least one touchdown and five grabs from Williams.