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ProCane NFL Preview: Week 15

The finish line is within reach.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There’s less than a handful of games remaining this calendar year in the National Football League. There are just two weeks left in the regular season. That’s a fraction of the number of gifts that remain to be purchased this holiday season, but I digress. For the ProCane contingent, these final few games can mean the difference between winning a division and making the playoffs. Or, in the bigger picture, it could be the difference between making a roster or being a salary cap casualty.

There’ll be plenty at stake for the Hurricanes in the coming weeks.

Game Previews

Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) vs Chicago Bears (9-4) 1PM EDT

There’s still life for the Pack despite firing former head coach Mike McCarthy. Under interim head coach Joe Philbin, Green Bay is still fighting to somehow squeeze themselves into a playoff spot. However, the Packers’ postseason fate is not solely in their hands. The Bears, Rams and Saints are in cozy spots at the top of the playoff field. The Packers will need a lot of dominos to fall in their favor to extend their season past week 17.

Green Bay TE and ProCane star Jimmy Graham continues to fight through thumb and knee issues to play each week. However, Graham’s production has been minimal for more than a few weeks. Although the targets have been there for the 6’7” tight end, he’s only hauled in 12 of his 20 targets in his last three games for a grand total of 97 receiving yards. Against the league’s stingiest defense in the Bears, who allow 19 points per game and 226.7 receiving yards a game, it could be another frustrating afternoon for Jimmy and the Packers’ offense. In the first meeting with the Bears, Graham was held to two receptions for just eight yards. So, if you have other options in fantasy at the TE position, we would advise you to explore them this week.

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) vs Indianapolis Colts (7-6) 1PM EDT

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you who are sick of them Cowboys, you may want to skip to the next game preview. Dallas has been ‘en fuego’ since the addition of Miami Northwestern HS graduate WR Amari Cooper. During this current five-game win streak the Cowboys are averaging 404.2 yards, with the defense stepping up to to hold opponents to 313.4 yards-per-game in that same span.

The challenge this week comes in the form of Indianapolis Colts and ProCane DE Al-Quadin Muhammad. That first career sack is still eluding the second-year pro, but the sophomore defensive end’s ability to generate QB pressure has been a boon for the Colts’ pass rush. AQM was a key factor in an important AFC South divisional win against the Texans in week 14. AQM’s one tackle in last week’s win is not going to make fans swoon, but his ability to put pressure on Texans’ QB DeShaun Watson was vital to the Colts limiting the potency of Houston’s dynamic QB.

After holding Houston RB Lamar Miller to just 33 yards rushing, the Colts will need to take that game presence forward to their game against Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott, who is averaging 97.1 yards-per-game. Dallas does have some injuries along the offensive line which could swing the game in the Colts favor, but are no givens with Indianapolis this season.

As for the lone ProCane of the Lone Star State, WR Allen Hurns, it’s been a quiet season. Since Cooper joined the Dallas receiving corp, Hurns’ targets have dropped considerably — he hasn’t received more than two targets in a game since the trade. Given what his role was with his former club, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hurns serves as a solid insurance policy should injury arise to any receiver above him on the Cowboys’ depth chart.

Miami Dolphins (7-6) vs Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) 1PM EDT

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Do you believe in miracles? After last weekend’s improbable last play win over the Patriots, we’re saying that there’s still a chance for the Phins to make it into the postseason. Of course, it means they need to defeat a Vikings squad that is also trying to get into a wildcard spot.

Having overcome injuries along the offensive line and to starting QB Ryan Tannehill, the dream of the Dolphins returning to the postseason is no mirage. For the Dolphins, the image of making it to the playoffs came into focus last week. Miami is going to need to win out and get some help in the form of losses from either the Ravens, Chargers or Steelers to be granted entry to the NFL’s winter formal.

Anything is possible — shoutout to Kevin Garnett — especially if Miami can replicate their success by playing tough defense and controlling the game by running the ball. ProCane RB Frank Gore surpassed Ladainian Tomlinson for fifth on the NFL’s all-time list in yards from the line of scrimmage, yet the accomplishment was overshadowed by the spectacular ending to the week 14 contest against the Patriots. With three games left in the 2017 season, Gore is 535 yards behind Barry Sanders for third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Not to be overshadowed, the 35-year old is just 292 rushing yards from surpassing the 1,000 yard mark for what would be the 10th time in his illustrious 13-year career.

The yards are never easy, and this week against a Vikings run defense that allows 5.3 rushing yards-per-play, the running lanes will close quickly against the Canes. The Phins have used an array of backs in the last month. From Gore to Kalen Ballage to Brandon Bolden to Kenyan Drake, the committee approach has worked for the most part. Miami is averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry and sitting 10th in the league.

Should the Dolphins be able to clamp down on defense — the return of CB Xavien Howard would help tremendously against Minnesota receivers, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen — the Phins will have a shot at taking advantage of a reeling Vikings squad on a short week.

New England Patriots (9-4) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1) 4:25PM EDT

Coming off one of the more improbable finishes to the NFL game we’ve ever witnessed, the Patriots travel look to shake off the disappointment of week 14 in Pittsburgh. New England heads onto Heinz Field against a suddenly struggling Steelers team that has lost their last three games. Pittsburgh’s special teams snafu reared its ugly head once more, with K Chris Boswell falling on his tush on what would have been the game-tying field goal against Oakland. The Steelers, who are just half a game in front of the Baltimore Ravens for AFC North division lead, need to get a win to keep their playoff chances alive.

This won’t be a game where Canes fans see former teammates CB Artie Burns (Pittsburgh) and WR Phillip Dorsett (New England) line up against one another. Burns remains an insurance policy for the Steelers, receiving most of his playing time on special teams as opposed to defensive snaps. Dorsett was a non-factor in his return to the 305, with the Pats looking to get the ball out to other passing options. Dorsett did not record a target or reception in his previous two games. The fourth year pro has 27 receptions for 256 receiving yards. With the amount of firepower at Tom Brady’s disposal, it’s not surprising to see Dorsett unfortunately be the odd man out in Foxboro.

While the previous two ProCanes merely hope to get on the field, LB Anthony Chickillo continues to be part of the Steelers’ linebacker rotation. Even though Chickillo has spent most of his career chasing after the QB, Chick has been more of a factor this season dropping back into coverage, earning a PFF coverage grade of 73.3.

ProCanes Fantasy Player of the Week

Jimmy Graham

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

For transparency’s sake, we would have preferred to go with one of the ProCanes on the Browns, but that game is already in the books. In the five previous games that Graham has gone against the Bears’ defense in his career, the TE has just one TD to show. However, points are points at this time in the fantasy season and if there is one aspect that Chicago won’t be expecting, it’s a breakout performance from the former Canes’ hoopster.

News and Notes

Senior Bowl Invites

We already know that Gerald Willis III has accepted an invite to attend the 2019 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Not long after, Canes’ LT Tyree St. Louis followed suit. We spoke last week in the Week 14 ProCanes NFL Preview about why the Senior Bowl will be important for Willis, but here’s why it could make or break St. Louis draft stock:

St. Louis has been one of the stalwarts along Miami’s offensive line. Reliable, consistent and — just as important as the previous two traits — available come game day. St. Louis is going to need to illustrate that he can handle athletes heading to the pros. Yes, the Canes play in the talent-rich ACC where pass rushers are in abundance, yet there have been times were St. Louis gets walked back into the pocket by a lineman. St. Louis struggled against the BC pass rusher’s Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen in a Canes loss. In Mobile, the 6’5” tackle has a chance at redemption during practices leading up to the vaunted all-star game.

Shrine Game Invites

Taking place a week before the Senior Bowl, the 94th Annual East-West Shrine Game will showcase pro prospects aiming to improve their draft stock. For Hurricane fans, it will be another chance to see CB Michael Jackson Sr. and LT Tyree St. Louis in game action. Both players recently accepted invites to participate in the game.

Michael Badgley Honored After Record Performance

The University of Miami’s all-time leading kicker was named the Special Teams Player of the Week for his week 14 performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Erik Swoope’s Transaction Journey

After spending close to four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, TE Erik Swoope was waived by the club this past Tuesday. Swoope was quickly claimed by the New Orleans Saints as soon as he was placed into the Waiver Process. However, before Swoope could even dress for his first practice on Thursday, the ProCane TE was released by the Saints. It’s believe that a lingering knee issue suffered earlier in the 2018 season may be the reason why TE was given an early exit.