Infographic courtesy of TurboTax.com
It seems to be the consensus that football is now a year-round sport. The season no longer ends at the last whistle of the Super Bowl. We (ESPN, sports radio, struggling news papers and football blogs and websites…) now have turned free agency, trades, the draft, and mini-camps all into grand events. Where we study and break down every move and everything is a developing story. Ever feeding the beast that is the NFL.
So my thought is, “why can’t fantasy football be included in all this fun?” Taking away or giving a QB weapons, trading a diva WR to a team he is more happy playing for, sureing-up an O or D line can make or break fantasy players and their production for you. And is it really too early to start your scouting for this season? For NFL teams scouting is a 24/7-365 kind of thing, so then it becomes how serious are you about your team?
If your answer is “very”, then keep reading. If your answer is “I just pick who ever Yahoo says is the best available when it’s my turn to pick!” then just start working on your funny team name, because that’s what really matters, right?
Now let’s talk Quarterbacks, starting with free agency and how it may affect production for our cornerstone position. You’ll learn over time that I think the quarterback, NOT the running back, is the most important position on your fantasy team.
Who benefited from FA moves:
Josh Freeman: For someone who all the “experts” said was going to be a fantasy god, he was anything but in 2011. They have the offense, even before adding Vincent Jackson, for him to put up some serious numbers. So there should be no excuse in 2012, other than he just can’t cut it. Vincent Jackson, being a fantasy god himself, very well could be the saving grace Freeman needs.
Christian Ponder: His biggest issue is his team’s health. I think he has the ability, he just needs the people around him to… be around him. The addition of Jerome Simpson (Your friendly neighborhood professional-football –playing, front-flip flipping, marijuana dealing kingpin) and a solid TE in John Carlson are nothing but upgrades for the young QB. Like a lot of QBs on this list, he has the weapons; he just needs to take advantage.
Tom Brady: (Written before Wes Welker has signed any sort of contract leading up to the 2012 season.) Giving Tom Brady veteran wide receivers is like giving James Bond a loaded PPK, or Guy Fieri some chicken wings and hair bleach. They know how to use it, and use it well. With the addition of Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth, retaining Deon Branch, and an Ochocinco who is so tame he may rise from the ashes like a un-diva’ed phoenix named Chad Johnson, Brady is poised to have another stellar year. Or he’ll be driving the bus straight to the retirement home to drop off half of his offense, and maybe The Hoodie as well…
Alex Smith: The 9ers are in a position to win, and they want to win now. The said sorry to Alex for trying to holler at Payton Manning by paying him more than he was looking for and then brought him Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham, both good players. The loss of Josh Morgan may sting, but Manningham should make up for it and then some. Mario as a number 1 could be deadly.
Matt Flynn: Matt is finally going to get his chance to average 4.5 TDs and 1 INTs a game as a starter for the first time in his career. The Seahawks are defense first, but they certainly have a formidable offense (on paper). I don’t expect 75 touchdowns this season, but he will be a solid starter along the lines of Alex Smith production.
Michael Vick: Only DeSean Jackson can answer this. Wills the $9mil from his franchise-tag make him happy? $9mil would make anyone happy. Will $9mil make him willing to throw his 5’10 175lbs frame around to make his big plays? I think he, and everyone else knows, he’s one meeting with an IMLB across the middle away from having a life changing experience. Make him happy, and Vick will jump 10-12 (fantasy) points a game just from the big play ability of D-Jack. Not to mention the room he needs to run when he feels like making his owners very happy.
Jay Cutler: Here was a pleasant surprise last year until his untimely injury that threw a wrench in a much improved fantasy year for Jay. With the amount of run-stopped respect you have to pay to Matt Forte, and the addiction of his old friend Brandon Marshall, you have the makings of a solid year from Cutler. BUT, always be aware of his habit of mentally shutting down when the going gets tough. I don’t question his heart or ability, but he seems to lack the comeback leadership and decision making to throw his team back into a game. He certain does have the ability to throw his team out of it though.
Blaine Gabert: Laurent Robinson is a huge win here, and I think can do big things. He and Blackmon will battle for that number 1 spot, and could very well be a 1 and 1A. My only concern here is whether or not Gabert is an NFL starter… I don’t think he is.
Payton Manning: His big FA move was… moving. He’s on a team who wants him, in a city who’s embracing him, and an organization who wants to win NOW. It’s Big Brother Payton, he has the Midas touch with fantasy football (when healthy). My biggest issue is whether or not he sleeps on his neck wrong and ends up on the IR week 4.
Who was hurt by FA moves:
Drew Brees: If anything his biggest issue going into this year is the loss of his head coach and BFF, Sean Payton. Bounty-gate turned the Saints into sinners, and has hung a dark cloud over the Super Dome. Not to mention his own contract disputes (Pay the man, already.) and we haven’t even touched the addictions or subtractions from FA. No real loss or gain on the offensive side of the ball here. The loss of Robert Meachem would be somewhat significant on many teams, but I feel like Brees could be throwing to 3rd graders and still pass for 4,000 yards. The system is designed to turn anyone with hands into a star, so this year it’s really going to be whether or not he can get over these mental hurdles set in place during the off season.
Ben Roethlisberger: Sign Mike Wallace or be ready for a rough year.
Cam Newton: The loss of Legedu Naanee is a minor one for such a unique Quarterback as Newton, and there were some considerations from the draft that we will get into when we cover the draft and its effect later. The big issue I see here is the addition of Mike “Goal Line” Tolbert. The thick, 5’9 running back does have hands and shows he can catch well out of the back field, but I have a feeling he’s going to be that “inside the 5” back Cam was last year. With 3 quality backs, the Panthers aren’t going to be shy about jamming the ball down people’s throats but chances are they will want their franchise QB to be less in harm’s way in and out of the pile near the end zone. With all of that being said, Cam is going to get his, so this should all be taken with a grain of salt.
Phillip Rivers: V-Jack > E-Roy, R-Meach, M-Spur. D-u-n, done.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: The loss of Choice in the back field, as well as Parrish out-wide, this is a make or break season of this QB and his featured wide-outs David Nelson and Stevie Johnson. It’s hard to say he was HURT by FA losses, but he certainly wasn’t given help. This is really more of a “can he get it done” than anything else. He still has the weapons, he just needs to pull the trigger and keep the ball out of the other team’s hands. Otherwise, watch out for Alex Tanney… I’m calling it now.
Joe Flaco: Ray Rice carries this team (and him), and right now he doesn’t know if he’s going to training camp. He needs to jump on that Ray-Rice-needs-to-get-paid bandwagon so he can keep getting his ‘8 pass attempts a game’ in.
Mark Sanchez: Man crush alert. Here’s the thing… Tim Tebow is going to do one of two things; Spark a fire in Mark (we’re on a first name basis) and we’re going to see him live up to those New York expectations or he will be nailed to a cross. The later has 2:1 odds right now.
If a QB isn’t listed, either their team didn’t make a move to improve their offensive weapons, or didn’t lose anyone to FA that would make a change over last year’s performance. Draft picks aren’t mentioned here, for the most part, and will have their own post later in the week.
Did I miss someone? Disagree? Let me know and comment below!
The projected top 4 performers at RB, QB, and WR for Week 15
CHRIS JOHNSON (TEN): Though Johnson was far from exceptional last week he faces a far from exceptional defense this week. The Colts are 30th against the run, yielding an average of 144 yards per game and 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. Regardless of who is at quarterback, Johnson should have no problem incorporating himself into both the pass and run games. The Colts have all but given up and are collecting checks at this point. They start out with fire but it is easy to quench that fire once down. CJ2K is as good a start as you will get this week.
ARIAN FOSTER (HOU): Foster had a dud by his standards last week but like CJ gets a great match up this week against Carolina. The Panthers are 24th vs. the run, allowing 128 YPG with 15 scores on the year. The interior line for Carolina has been less impressive with each week and fits Foster’s strengths perfectly. Their secondary is underrated and should be able to make it a tougher game for Yates which means Foster will see plenty of touches.
FELIX JONES (DAL): The injury to Demarco Murray opens the door once again for Jones to display why he was expected to win the job in the first place. After an injury riddled season, Jones is finally healthy and faces the hapless Bucs. The Bucs are far form the Giants defensive front which allowed Jones a 100+ total yard day. Tampa has allowed 19 rushing scores on the season and are beyond vulnerable in the middle. The Bucs are down to second stringers and Haynesworth, who is not the greatest run stopper. The Bucs will also be without Aquib Talib, which means more EJ Biggers, leaving the linebackers to try and chase down Jones all day…Not happening for a defense ranked 28th against the run and flaming out.
BEANIE WELLS (ARI): The Browns are great at stopping the pass but absolutely miserable against the run, ranking 31st and allowing 150 YPG. Every team has been able to pound the rock against their front with success, despite the Browns knowing exactly has opposing offense are going to attack them. Add to that the fact Colt McCoy may not be available (as anemic as he has been) and the Browns should lose the possession battle by a large margin. Wells will have plenty of touches and no problem finding the end zone a few times.
MARQUES COLSTON (NO): The Minnesota secondary has been adept at getting torched this year, allowing 248 YPG passing and 26 touchdowns through the air. Brees and the Saints are coming off a sub par performance and nothing sparks Brees like not being at his best. Ponder has also been averaging a turnover once every 15 attempts so Brees is likely to have the ball in his hands way too long which means good things for Colston.
JORDY NELSON (GB): With Greg Jennings set to miss 2-6 weeks, Nelson becomes the big play receiver. Though the Chiefs are decent against the pass (10th) the last time they faced an offense like this was New England which ripped them for 34 points.
CALVIN JOHNSON (DET): Megatron has now gone 2 straight games without a score and faces Oakland’s 17th ranked secondary. The Raiders have allowed 23 scores through the air compared to only 14 on the ground. Though the Raiders have clamped down the last few games, the offense has been turnover prone and Detroit knows how to capitalize off turnovers. Stafford will ensure Megatron gets his targets, especially given the Raiders should have no problem stopping the run.
WES WELKER (NE): Welker has averaged double digit targets the last three games and faces a Denver team which is 16th vs. the pass. Denver has only been torched twice, both by gunslingers Stafford and Rodgers. Brady is next in line and should have no problem connecting with Welker as Gronkowski will be the primary focus. Welker has caught 3 scores in three games with no less than 85 yards in each.
TOM BRADY (NE): As stated above, Brady is the best quarterback the Broncos will have seen since Matt Stafford who threw for 3 scores and Aaron Rodger who threw for 4 scores. The Pats have had huge issues running the ball recently and will sling it around the field once again.
TONY ROMO (DAL): Romo draws the unlucky Bucs who allowed 7 turnovers last week, making Blaine Gabbert look like a decent NFL quarterback. Romo has been gaining confidence and has been letting it loose his last few games. The Bucs are a miserable 27th vs. the pass, allowing 22 touchdowns and a whopping 45 passes of 20+ yards this season. Now with Demarco Murray out, the emphasis will be on the pass to set up the run. Romo now has all his weapons back out wide so it will be easy pickings this week.
DREW BREES (NO): As state with the Colston pick, Brees has one of the best match ups this week and looks to bounce back after an average performance last week. Though he did get back on track the second half, Minnesota offers nothing close to the coverage abilities of the Titans. The Vikings have allowed 26 scores through the air and are ranked 26th in pass defense.
MATT STAFFORD (DET): Like Brees and Manning, Stafford also has one of the most favorable match ups which is why Megatron also landed on this list. After hitting a rough patch, Stafford put up 2 touchdowns against the Vikings last week and now faces the Raiders 17th ranked secondary.
Demarco Murray fractured and sprained his ankle in last night’s loss, officially ending his season. Hopefully you were savvy enough to stash Felix Jones, who takes over lead back duties and has a very nice match up against the Bad News Bucs next week.
Greg Jennings suffered a knee sprain yesterday and the Packers are being mum on the severity. Bottom line is they are unlikely to risk him come the playoffs so expect him done for your playoffs. Ryan Grant had a return to glory with 2 scores and now faces the Chiefs who are in disarray. While I wouldn’t recommend starting him based off one game, he does make an interesting play if Starks also misses this week as well.
Coach Todd Haley was fired today and Coach Tony Sparano is expected to be fired at the end of the season.
Matt Moore will be undergoing concussion tests so it’s a possibility he won’t be available this week.
Now that Tim Tebow has proven his talent is far from a fluke, John Elway himself promised to help the quarterback this off season. After the Prater field goal to tie you could see Elway in his box shaking his head in disbelief. I’ve bought into the kid since he was at Florida, but this was supposed to be a defense which silenced him. The Bears did, but Tebow was able to once again do his thing in the 4th quarter. Demaryius Thomas has taken over as the receiver you want to have on this team. Given injuries to other big names and his resurgence of late there is a solid chance he is laying around the waiver wire. Get him or Eric Decker now. Against the Pats next week which made Florida alum Rex Grossman look good, Tebow and his receivers should do well. Willis McGahee is also poised to have a monster game next week. At home, against one of the weakest defenses, all Broncos are a solid play week 15.
Ben Roethlisberger was diagnosed with a grade one sprain, so it is likely with a week + of rest and some pain killers he will be a go next week.
Say goodbye to Raheem Morris and the Bucs “youngry” movement. The only trustworthy player on this team is Legarrette Blount who did well on Sunday posting 74 yards and a score also fumbled twice. Josh Freeman and Mike Williams are worthy of a risk in keeper leagues but forget using them if you made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Get ready for Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and all your other Saints against the Vikings secondary week 15. It is still too early to know the status of Mark Ingram next week but the Vikings secondary is among the weakest and Brees is likely to bounce back big after an below average performance against the Titans.
Though much will be made about Mark Sanchez’ 4 score performance, look at the numbers…They are no different than previous weeks and he was able to sneak in two short runs. Bottom line is he is still struggling and dragging down the values of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. In his wake however Shonn Greene has excelled in nearly every aspect of his game and is getting stronger. He will be a must play against an Eagles defense which has struggled vs. the run and is playing to their potential vs. the pass.
After Kevin Kolb exited with a “head” injury, John Skelton propelled the Cards to their biggest win of the season. Though it will be quick to expect great things next week, Fitz and company have a very tough match up against the Browns top ranked secondary. Beanie Wells on the other hand will have a great day ahead of him after being silenced against the Niners yesterday.
The Lions offense had a return to glory against the Vikings and that should continue against the hapless Raiders week 15. If you are hurting at WR see ifTitus Young is available in your league and scoop him up. He was tied for most targets Sunday (7) and has taken over for Nate Burleson. Routt, the Raiders best corner is likely to hover around Megatron all day and though Calvin will get his, there will be plenty more opportunities for Young andPettigrew. Kevin Smith should also be close to making a return so prepare to start all you Lions.
Roy Helu became the first rookie back in Redskin history to post 3 straight 100+ rushing games. He has a bit of a tougher match up against the Giants week 15 but his sheer volume of carries makes him a safe #2/Flex play.
CJ2K had a very forgettable performance against the Saints Sunday as they keyed on the back and ensured he wouldn’t be the one to beat them. That all changes next week against the 30th ranked Colts who couldn’t catch a cold. Johnson belongs among the top 5 starts this week.
AJ Feeley has been ruled out for MNF and with Sam Bradford ailing it could be a Tom Brandstater or Kellen Clemens getting the nod. Bottom line here is how much can you trust either QB and their impact on Brandon Lloyd and Steven Jackson? Better to look for other more dependable options given the importance of this week.
Nate Washington hasn’t practiced all week and though he is technically a game time decision things don’t look good. Look for CJ2Kto receive a healthy amount of touches against the Saints run defense which is ranked 16th.
Kevin Smith was unable to finish practice after being unable to cut and run his routes. Looks like another week of Maurice Morriswhich in turn means we will see a lot of passing against the horrific Vikings secondary. Megatron, Stafford, and both Tight Endsmake for some of the best plays of the weekend.
Jeremy Maclin is now a game time decision after re-injuring his hammy but did make the trip to Miami. Regardless, Maclin shouldn’t be expected to produce this week against a Miami defense which is surging.
Peter King from SI is already reporting Ben Roethlisberger is almost a given not to play next week. If you are able to win round one or had a bye this week, get ready to scavenge the wire if you don’t have a solid reserve.
PFT reports that Willis McGahee will be available on Sunday against the Bears. While this slightly upgrades Tim Tebow’s value, I am not sold on McGahee being able to produce much against the Bears 8th ranked defense. The threat of Mcgahee allows Tebow to take advantage of broken plays and the misdirection of the Bears defense since they won’t be able to key solely on Tebow. Still, I expect the offense as a whole to have issues. If Tebow is going to have a chance he will need to do it through the air so expect him to come out passing in an effort to put the Bears on their heels.
Scott Chandler has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Chargers so David Nelson gets the biggest boost because of his red zone targets. Nelson should be considered a solid WR #3/Flex option.
Adrian Peterson is a game time decision and by his own admission isn’t at full speed. Percy Harvin is a must start once again despite facing a solid Lions secondary. With Suh and Fairley out, Christian Ponder will have a much easier time allowing plays to develop and Harvin to use his speed getting open. Harvin is a solid WR #2 start this week.
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It’s Playoff time so decisions are more important than ever! Here are some things to consider when making your lineup decisions.
Darren McFadden will be looking towards returning week 15 which means he is out this week. Mike Bush makes a decent play against the Packers who have struggled in all aspects of defense as of late although the Pack will most likely center on him and force Palmer to beat them vertically.
Emmanuel Sanders will miss week 14 and will hope to return week 15. He is slowly being phased out and the injury means more targets for Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. Both receivers will have their work cut out for them against the top rated Browns secondary so we could see another 2 score day for Rashard Mendenhall. All your Steelers receivers and Ben Roethlisberger make for average plays this week. Don’t get high expectations just because it’s the Browns.
Willis McGahee did not practice Wednesday and is looking very iffy this week after exiting the game Sunday hobbling off the field towards the end of the 4th quarter. Lance Ball will most likely get the nod and he is very capable of producing though neither back makes a great play. The problem is the Bears will be stacking the box and will be disciplined in maintaining their lanes. With DJ Moore returning, the Bears will be able to risk more man coverage. You’ve got to start Tim Tebow, but this is one of the better defenses he has will have faced all season. Forget about Demaryius Thomas repeating his big performance last week and Eric Decker is a boom or bust probability which depends solely on Tebow’s ability to break down the defense. Not happening here.
If you’ve been living in a cave, Matt Forte is out at minimum 2 weeks which leaves Marion Barber toting the rock for the Bears. Denver is 20th against the run and even allowed Gerhart to look productive last week. While Barber looks like a good play, I thinkJohnny Knox makes for the best offensive play on the team. Haine trusts him and Knox has led the team in targets and receiving the last two weeks. Barber makes a decent Flex play, but I am weary on his ability to carry the load.
Andre Johnson will miss this week although Kubiac seems to think he is only Day to Day. Arian Foster makes a solid play only because he is likely to touch the ball 25-30 times this week. The Bengals are 6th against the run, only allowing 96 YPG. In 12 games they have only allowed two 100+ rushers and they will be able to stack the box and force Yates to beat them.
With so many tough match ups this week, here are the four top players at Quarterback, Running Back, and Wide Receiver I am projecting in fantasy this week.
RAY RICE (BAL): After a 204 yards performance against the Browns 31st ranked rush defense, Rice now sets up for a match against the Colts 30th ranked run stoppers. Rice is sitting at 926 yards with 9 rushing touchdowns on the season and has been the pulse of the Raven offense all year. As bad as the Colts are, they are even worse on the road. The Colts have allowed no less than 24 points to opponents on their home turfs and have allowed 17 rushing scores on the year. Though last week was their best effort yet, the Ravens have won 3 straight and are just hitting their stride.
RYAN MATHEWS (SD): Mathews seems to finally be back at full health and his speed was on display Monday night against the Jags. Mathews rushed for 112 yards and a score, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. This week he faces the struggling Bills defense which is 24th vs. the run and allowed 153 yards with 2 scored to Chris Johnson last week. After a big win on the road, the Chargers confidence will be high. The Bills are on the opposite end of the spectrum, losers of 5 straight games with only one win on the road all season.
LEGARRETTE BLOUNT (TB): With the injuries and match ups this week, Blount makes for a solid play even though he stunk it up against Carolina last week. As described above, Mathews pounded the Jags for 112 yards and Blount should be the primary focus of the offense this week. With Josh Freeman nursing a sore shoulder, Blount should be asked to carry the load and set the tone. Blount is the only goal line option at running back and should see a few opportunities to convert. The Jags are allowing 104 rushing yards per game, good for 14th in the league.
DEMARCO MURRAY (DAL): Though the Giants have been playing well defensively as of late, they still struggle against the run (24th). Murray is a beast at home, nearly doubling his numbers in every category as opposed to when on the road. Though he was taken out of the game last week, the Cowboys will need to pound the ball and things should get much easier with Miles Austin back in the lineup. Forced to spread out wide, the Giants won’t be able to bring help up front to stop Murray which means plenty of running lanes for the speedster.
CALVIN JOHNSON (DET): The Vikings made Tim Tebow look like an efficient pocket passer last week and now face one of the best QB/WR tandems in the league. Minnesota has been torched all season by opposing receivers, allowing 24 touchdowns through the air. Megatron has been a bit more low key the last four weeks but a face off against the Vikings is just what the doctor ordered. The Vikes don’t have a corner on their roster capable of containing Megatron so a return to his 2 touchdown days is likely.
GREG JENNINGS (GB): The Raiders are in a heavy funk and now must travel to Lambeau against the toughest offense in the league. This is a team which allowed Johnny Knox 145 yards two weeks ago with Caleb Haine at the helm. As precise as Rodgers has been all season, there should be no problems hooking up with Jennings against a banged up Raider secondary which ranks 17th in the league.
JORDY NELSON (GB): The match up is too good to pass up for all the reasons above and Nelson is actually tied in touchdowns with Jennings (9). There should be more than enough to go around this week and both receivers make for top tier plays this week.
VINCENT JACKSON (SD): Phillip Rivers finally had the breakout game we were waiting for and nothing is as dangerous as a quarterback with confidence against the 19th ranked pass defense. The Bills are struggling in all facets of the game right now and even when the Chargers have struggled, Jackson has been able to produce given his high volume of targets. There are too many offensive weapons for the Bills to handle on this team now that Floyd is back and the Bills will be picking their poison. Jackson will be able to torch a Bills secondary left to rely on zone coverage and hoping to only contain a potent offense.
AARON RODGERS (GB): Rodgers has decimated better defenses and things just seem to go the Packers way no matter what the situation. The Packers have only won two games by less than a touchdown while the Raiders have only won one game by more than a touchdown. The Raiders are 17th against the pass and have allowed 21 passing scores. Rodgers has not thrown for less than 249 yards and 2 touchdowns all season so there is little to doubt with this play.
DREW BREES (NO): Brees is on track to break Marino’s single season passing record as well as a host of others by season’s end. This week he draws the Titans 18th ranked pass defense which is allowing 233 yards per game. While that is actually somewhat respectable, the Titans have not faced as talented a pass offense all season. The closest they came was against the Steelers in week 5 in a game where Ben Roethlisberger tossed 5 touchdowns.
TOM BRADY (NE): The Redskins have actually been solid against the pass, ranking 9th in the league this year. Still, how can Brady not be on this list? Brady has thrown 10 touchdowns with no picks his last four games while throwing for no less than 234 yards in a contest. The Packers have not scored less than 31 points on the road except for once against the Steelers.
PHILLIP RIVERS (SD): Rivers threw for 294 yards with 3 touchdowns Monday night and will look to carry the performance over against the Bills. Rivers has struggled most of the season, but since the return of Gates he has slowly progressed and reminding us of his past seasons where he was a top 5 quarterback. For the first time he will have all his weapons healthy and at his disposal. Add in Vincent Brown as a 4th option and you have a recipe for destruction. Things will be made even easier on Rivers as Mathews seems to be saving his best ball down the stretch.
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Brett Favre has apparently stated he would listen if the Bears contacted him. The move makes perfect sense now that we know Matt Forte will be week to week with a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Haine is not the answer and Favre would at least be able to move the ball and use the speed of the Bears receivers. All this offense needs to do is score more than the defense allows, which isn’t much. This would be the perfect place for Favre.
Mike Vick practiced Monday as looks good to go this week, just in time for the fantasy playoff’s. Jeremy Maclin did not practice but is expected to be available as well.
It looks like the Redskins will be down to TE #3 for the rest of the season as the NFL is suspending Fred Davis for “recreational” drug use for 4 games. On the bright side, this bumps the value of Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney.
Eddie Royal officially has a concussion and is not likely to start this week. Given the play of Demaryius Thomas, it seems like Thomas and Eric Decker will be the two Tebow targets.
Andre Johnson is expected to miss a few weeks after injuring his hammy and will have an MRI today. Arian Foster could be looking at another few weeks of 30+ carries.
Jacoby Ford does not think he will be ready to practice this week and will be questionable for this week’s game.
Jason LaCanfora of NFL network reported two teams have contacted ex Titans coach Jeff Fisher. My best guess is the Chargers is one of them and Dolphins most likely the other. Fisher is a California boy who would fit right in with the Chargers and makes the best fit.
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DENVER BRONCOS 35 @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS 32
BRONCOS: The last time Denver won 5 straight road games was when John Elway was the quarterback which must be unsettling to the legend. Elway has refused to give Tebow a vote of confidence all season despite Tebow clearly being the future of this franchise. Tebow may be unorthodox, but it wan’t so long ago Mike Vick was being bashed with all the same critique Tebow is receiving. Now, Vick is praised for his style and the league is looking at a new breed of hard nosed quarterbacks whose strengths are the run game. Ironically, Tebow did it this week with his arm, passing for 202 yards with 2 touchdowns while only rushing for 13 yards. The Minnesota secondary allowed the Denver receivers enough separation throughout the game which allowed Tebow to connect with Demaryius Thomas 4 times for 144 yards and both scores. Tebow was as accurate as we have seen him all season so hopefully this is something he can build off of. As usual, Willis McGahee was key, rushing for 111 yards and scoring once. McGahee did leave the game on the next to last drive with an undisclosed injury so it may be serious given they would have used him on the final drive. Eddie Royal also left the game in the 4th with a neck injury. The Broncos are in the thick of the race and a playoff run would silence the critics once and for all. Though Thomas caught the touchdown pass this week, Eric Decker has the most fantasy upside the rest of the way. If you made it to the playoff’s, there are only two guys you can trust on this team. Tebow and Mcgahee are the heart and soul of this offense and guaranteed to get their touches. Watch McGahee’s production level at practice. Most likely he won’t participate until Friday but that will be the key day in determining if he is a go or not.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Christian Ponder was stellar for most of the game but erred when the Vikings needed him most. Ponder finished with 381 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, the last pick coming with 1:30 left in the game which set up the game winning field goal for the Broncos. Ponder’s early pick six hurts all the more knowing it was the difference in the final score. Ponder’s top and most efficient target was once again Percy Harvin. The two connected for 156 yards with 2 touchdowns. Harvin did not need to see many more carries out of the backfield with Toby Gerhart rushing for 91 yards on the day. Gerhart was the bruiser this week, pounding up front which allowed Ponder and the offense to open things up a bit. Percy is the guy you want here, especially heading into the playoff’s. He is Ponder’s top target and had had one of the best runs in his career with Ponder at the helm. Adrian Peterson did do some work on the side early in the week but high ankle sprains are touchy and could have set backs at any time. (See Sam Bradford) Make sure you pick up a waiver claim if you are short at RB with Peterson out.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 38 @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 19
PANTHERS: Cam Newton ran his way into the history books after setting a record 13 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. Given we still have 4 weeks left, he may be setting a record only he or Tebow will ever hope to break. The Panthers were extremely effective from the get go, executing with ease against the bottom feeding Bucs defense. The run game set the tone early and would amass 163 yards on the ground with four scores, 3 by Newton alone. Jonathan Stewart led the way with 80 yards and a score compared to Deangelo William’s 29 yards on just 3 fewer carries (11). The Panthers and Bucs now stand tied for third place in the NFC South, each team seemingly heading in different directions. As I’ve stated 100 times, Stewart is the clear fantasy back on this team and the most productive. Of course you have to start Newton and Smith, but I would avoid Williams unless injury strikes.
BUCCANEERS: Josh Freeman sat this one out with shoulder issues which left Josh Johnson to start the game. Though Johnson was ineffective, neither quarterback would have made a difference given the poor defensive play by the Bucs up front and in the secondary. Poor angles, poor tackles, and gaps in the Cover 2 scheme allowed the Panthers to move the ball at will and run up the score. Legarrette Blount was the primary focus of the Panthers defense, containing him to only 19 yards on 11 carries. Thanks to garbage time, Mike Williams was the only bright spot, catching 5 passes for 93 yards. Raheem Morris was officially put on notice by management this week and this was not the way to respond. Analysts who have attended Bucs practices have noted the team has lacked fire and discipline under Morris. Given the names who will be available next season along with possible other firings, Morris is looking like he will be returning to a coordinator position next year. As Freeman goes so do all your Bucs. The Bucs have some solid match ups coming ahead so I would avoid everyone except for Legarrette Blount who is probably your best #2 RB. He is only trustworthy because of his touches but could let you down as he did this week.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 7 @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS 35
BENGALS: The Bengals made it easy for the Steelers after failing to convert in the red zone early, leading to a blocked field goal attempt coupled with a fumbled kick return which helped Pittsburgh jump to a 21 point lead. Once the Bengals became one dimensional the elite Steelers defense was able to play freely and aggressively. Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green for the Bengals only score of the day, Green finishing with 87 yards to go with the score. Dalton had trouble finding an open receiver most of the day, the Steelers defense allowing him only 135 yards with the touchdown before exiting the game with a hip injury. Cedric Benson was unable to contribute much, rushing for 52 yards on 13 carries. Anytime a team is spotted 21 points in the NFL it is a near death sentence for the game and turned out that way this week. All week Jay Gruden had been touting the potential of this offense but came up flat against a team they will have to beat in order to take the next step. Keep tabs on Dalton’s status through the week although it looked like the Bengals were just playing it safe. If he does play, AJ Green has been on fire and is a solid #2 WR for the playoff’s.
STEELERS: Finishing the sweep for the season, Pittsburgh used tight/bunch formations which confused the Bengals from the start. Rashard Mendenhall had his second multi-score game in three weeks, rushing for 60 yards and converting once in red zone territory. Ben Roethlisberger was his usual efficient self, converting 15/33 passes for 176 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 117. Antonio Brown quickly negated the Bengals only scoring drive in the game by returning a 60 yard punt for a touchdown, adding to his 67 yards receiving on the day. Don’t buy into the Mendenhall numbers and go starting him next week. He is a boom or bust player which could easily cost you a win. Look elsewhere! If you have Antonio Brown…start him no matter what! He is the leading receiver on this team and seems to get better game by game. His targets alone make him a top tier start.
NEW YORK JETS 34 @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS 19
JETS: Mark Sanchez had one of the best mental games of the season, leading the Jets to their second consecutive 4th quarter comeback. Sanchez was accurate and quick with his decisions, completing 11 of his first 14 passes of the game and would finish with 165 yards with a score. While the numbers are not eye opening, he avoided squeezing the ball into tight coverage and checked down often, a characteristic we have not seen from the hesitant quarterback this year. He connected with Santonio Holmes for 58 yards on the day, the most important one coming on a 30 yard connection with 4:49 left in the 4th which gave the Jets the lead. Shonn Greene carried the load, rushing for 88 yards on 22 carries with 3 touchdowns. Ladainian Tomlinson left the game with what seemed to be a bad ankle injury, L.T. unable to stand up on his own after getting tackled along the sideline. The Jets have kept their Wild Card hopes alive with the win but face four of the hottest defenses in the next weeks against KC, PHI, NYG, and end with the Dolphins. Holmes is catching back on fire but bottom line is Sanchez has not been reliable which means neither are Holmes or Plax. Shonn Greene did rack up 3 scores and with LT possibly missing time he is a solid low end #1 RB.
REDSKINS: Roy Helu was once again the difference maker, carrying the Skins with 100 yards rushing and a score to go with 42 yards receiving. Amazingly, Shanahan stuck to his work and Helu was the only Skin with touches in the run game. Unfortunately, Helu couldn’t throw the ball as well. Rex Grossman was on a roller coaster ride from snap to snap, looking efficient one moment then making poor throws the next. Grossman finished with 221 yards with one interception and a miserable QB rating of 47. Santana Moss was able to make more of a contribution this week with 42 yards but Fred Davis led the team with 99 yards receiving. Shanahan’s decision not to chase a free agent quarterback this past off-season is proving costly, especially now that he has a back to rely on. Finally we have a dependable fantasy option outside of Fred Davis. Helu looks every bit as advertised and is finally getting a chance to shine. Helu is a dependable start as long as Shanahan sticks to his word.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10 @ CHICAGO BEARS 3
CHIEFS: The Chiefs continued their strong defensive play, allowing only 181 total yards to the Bears. Derrick Johnson led the way in a defensive effort which would yield 7 sacks, 3 interceptions and 10 tackles for a loss. Offensively the focus was on the run game which totaled 113 yards on the ground among the three headed attack. This week was Dexter McCluster’s turn, finishing with 61 yards rushing and 46 yards receiving with a score. Tyler Palko managed a great game against a Bears defense which was coming off the edges constantly, throwing for 157 yards with a score. Though he made a solid effort to retain the starting job, Kyle Orton will most likely be the successor next week as the Chiefs only hope is to win out and pray Oakland or Denver stumble. Forget trusting anybody on this team come next week. Orton may get the start which means he won’t be completely in sync with Bowe and this has become a backfield where it is a crap shoot. If you have to start Bowe then I would trust him as a Flex or low end #2 but no more until Orton gets a game under his belt. If Palko gets the start again, bump Bowe up to a #2 start.
BEARS: Caleb Haine had multiple opportunities to connect with receivers but was off target in what would result in a 3 interception, 133 yard day. It should be fairly obvious Haine is not going to lead the Bears to a playoff birth, especially given Matt Forte’s injury. Forte left the game in the 1st quarter after taking a helmet to the right knee. It is being ruled a MCL sprain and couldn’t come at a worse time. Forte should be in no rush as this injury plays perfectly into his hands. The Bears have yet to extend his contract and Forte needed only to miss 3 1/2 quarters to show just how bad this offense is without him. Forte has been the heart and soul of this offense with and without Cutler so perhaps it’s a bit of karma for the Bears ownership. All you should have been considering is Forte but given the injury things are bleak for him being available next week. Hopefully you have some decent reserves, but if not search the wire for someone like Maurice Morris who could get the start next week given Kevin Smith’s injury.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 14 @ MIAMI DOLPHINS 34
RAIDERS: With Michael Bush finding his first struggle of the season, Oakland was forced to rely on Palmer who was having issues himself. Palmer struggled with his accuracy most of the day, forced to try and squeeze passes into tight quarters. Palmer would finish with 273 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception while completing 20/41 passes. The onus was on Palmer even before the game started since he was without Ford and Moore and would have to deal with a skeleton receiving corps. Michael Bush’s 18 yards on 10 carries didn’t help ease the burden in a game where the Raiders were very readable offensively. Luckily, McFadden is closer to a return and they still are tied for the divisional lead with Denver surging. Unluckily, they face the Packers next week on the road. Marcel Reece didn’t pan out as well as I thought and you can put a fork in him if McFadden returns this week. If you have Bush, don’t freak and bench him. McFadden will likely be on a snap count so Bush is a solid flex option.
DOLPHINS: The Fins continued their stellar defensive play, and Reggie Bush continued his breakout rushing season. Bush racked up 100 yards with a score and continues to look like the back he was in college but failed to reproduce in his first 5 seasons in the NFL. Matt Moore is also securing himself as the future of the franchise with his smart yet efficient play. Moore finished with 162 yards with a touchdown but also added a rushing score on 22 yards. In his last 5 games Moore has 8 touchdowns with only 1 interception and a record of 4-1. Reggie Bush is the clear fantasy stud here and we can even trust Brandon Marshall. Matt Moore’s production has been consistent and he has made Marshall consistent in turn.
TENNESSEE TITANS 23 @ BUFFALO BILLS 17
TITANS: CJ2K is officially back after gashing the Bills for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. Johnson often went untouched before hitting the second level, a testament to the offensive line and the quality level in which they are currently playing. This is now Johnson’s second straight 100+ game and he is doing it the way we are used to seeing him be effective. Instead of running for the edges as he has most the season, the last two games Johnson has opted to dance between the tackles and use his acceleration to puncture defensive fronts. Matt Hasselbeck had a forgettable but efficient game, finishing with 140 yards passing and goose eggs. Damian Williams was high man receiving with 62 yards, leading the team while Nate Washington played through an ankle injury and was largely ineffective. Unfortunately for the Titans, the Texans were bailed out by their defense today and still hold a 2 game lead in the division. While CJ is still a start based on match up, he has done it two weeks straight and should be in your lineup. Damian Williams makes a sneaky flex given Washington’s recent injury history. Weigh him against your #3/Flex and put him in accordingly.
BILLS: C.J. Spiller started hot with a 35 yards touchdown run in the first quarter but was held down for the rest of the game, adding just 45 yards on the ground for a total of 83 on the day. Despite Buffalo beating the Titans in nearly every category, fumbles by both Fitzpatrick and Chandler proved costly in the outcome. Fitzpatrick did have an otherwise solid game, passing for 288 yards with a touchdown. Brad Smith was the leading receiver, catching 7 passes for 72 yards. The Bills may have a hidden gem in Smith’s athleticism and ability to play multiple positions. Stevie Johnson is a must start, but I would also put Spiller in the #2 RB must start as well. Spiller has stepped up to the challenge and Gailey trusts him to take on the same work load as Fred Jackson.
ATLANTA FALCONS 10 @ HOUSTON TEXANS 17
FALCONS: Matt Ryan couldn’t overcome a poor start, going 3/9 and 2 interceptions. Though Ryan did not get sacked, the Texans were in his face the whole game, knocking him down 10 times and pressuring him on nearly every drop back. Ryan finished with 267 yards with a touchdown pass to Roddy White in the 3rd quarter which tied the game. The defense could not hold though and had issues containing run after being pounded all game. The defense would eventually tire out in the final quarter, allowing the winning score. Offensively, Mike Turner found little room to work, running for just 44 yards and often found multiple defenders charging at him before he could hit the line of scrimmage. The loss makes Atlanta’s Wild Card chase more of an uphill battle given they face all three divisional opponents in the last 4 games. Matt Ryan has been a see-saw ride all season. Roddy White and Mike Turner are the only two reliable fantasy plays.
TEXANS: Down to their third string quarterback, the Kubiac opted for a run heavy offense which carried the ball 42 times. Arian Foster led the way with 31 touches for 111 yards and the game winning score to go along with 41 yards receiving. T.J. Yates did everything the Texans could have asked of him, managing the game without making a turnover. Yates finished with 188 yards and a touchdown pass to Joel Dreesen but it was Andre Johnson who was high man with 97 yards on 4 catches. Johnson pulled up lame in the 3rd quarter, flopping to the ground after injuring his left hamstring. Johnson says it isn’t as bad as his previous injury to his right hammy but he downplayed that one as well. Given the latest injury to Johnson it will be a day by day progression which will probably lead to a game time decision. Arian Foster is of course the must start but Tate will have value given Yates inexperience. Tate will possibly see even more touches if Johnson misses more time.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 24 @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31
COLTS: New Defensive Coordinator Mike Murphy was able to rally his unit and stopped the Patriots with only 3 points scored in the first quarter. Vegas nearly imploded with the solid defensive start, but Murphy’s scheme and personnel were overwhelmed once Brady and the Pats started running the no huddle. The change in pace by the Pats had the Colts on their heels the rest of the game. Dan Orlovsky kept the game within reach by attacking the league worst secondary and racking up 353 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. The performance made Pierre Garcon relevant once again, catching 9 passes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. The run game continues to underachieve, with both Brown and Addai totaling 80 yards and Brown getting the score. Don’t buy into Garcon’s performance. All Colt’s are best avoided at this point in the fantasy season.
PATRIOTS: There was a collective holding of the breath for anyone with a vested interest in the game early, but two quick scores in 3 minutes at the end of the second quarter settled any anxiety. Once Brady and the offense got the ball rolling, the outcome was inevitable. Brady threw for 289 yards with 2 touchdowns, connecting with Rob Gronkowski for both scores. Gronkowski decided to mix it up a bit and added a rushing touchdown from 2 yards out. At this point the Pats are cruising and don’t face a formidable defense the rest of the season. With Washington, Denver, Miami, and Buffalo left, the Pats are looking at sealing the division within the next two games. Uh….Start your Pats as usual.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 24 @ CLEVELAND BROWNS 10
RAVENS: While the Browns secondary lived up to their expectations, so did their rush defense. Ray Rice blasted the Browns 29th run squad for 204 yards with a touchdown. The effectiveness of Rice allowed the Ravens a lopsided time of possession, getting 15 minutes more time offensively to keep the ball and game at their mercy. Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense merely watched Rice do his thing, finishing with just 158 yards passing on the day. With the win Baltimore stays tied with the Steelers for the divisional lead. Their toughest game comes week 17 against the Bengals who would love to play spoiler if things stay as they are. Rice has been the only consistent for this team all year and while Boldin is a must start, he should be relied on to only produce #2/Flex numbers.
BROWNS: Peyton Hillis accounted for nearly half the Browns offensive production, rushing for 45 yards and catching one pass for 52 yards. Cleveland’s lone score came on a pass to Evan Moore in garbage time as McCoy finished with 192 yards with one score and one pick. Given that Peyton Hillis was the leader in both rushing and receiving, that really tells you the whole story. The Browns are far from being competitive offensively and things can only get worse unless ownership decides to go on a spending spree in the off-season. You can safely start Hillis as a RB #2 again with upside.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 38 @ NY GIANTS 35
PACKERS: Two of the best quarterbacks this season faced off in this game but it was the champ who retained his belt. Aaron Rodgers lit up the sky with 369 yards passing to go with 4 touchdowns and oh my God….an interception. Rodgers manufactured a 5 play 68 yard drive to set up the game winning field goal for what was the best game of the weekend. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson finished tied as high men with 94 yards each receiving but Jennings getting the touchdown to edge him out. Clay Mathews led the way defensively and contributed to the cause with a pick six off Manning and added a sack. Charles Woodson exited the game with a head injury in the second half which negated some of the blitz packages the Packers would have normally used against Manning, making this one come down to final possession. If there is a weakness on this team it is their run game which only posted 89 total yards, 32 of those yards amassed by Rodgers. Cmon son…start them.
GIANTS: Eli Manning held his own and then some against Rodgers, finishing with 347 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Manning and Victor Cruz connected for 119 yards but it was Hakeem Nicks who tallied 2 touchdowns on 88 yards receiving. Brandon Jacobs outperformed Ahmad Bradshaw despite getting 3 fewer touches, rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown early. This was a bitter loss for the Giants to swallow, but one which proved they are in elite company after being only the second team to lose to the Packers by less than a touchdown all season. The Giants have a pivotal game against the Cowboys next week and can tie for the divisional lead with a win. If you are lucky enough to have Cruz then you are lucky enough to most likely be making a playoff run. If you have Jacobs and a #2 back either ailing or underachieving, consider Jacobs has been more effective with Bradshaw healthy than without.
DALLAS COWBOYS 13 @ ARIZONA CARDINALS 19
DALLAS: Tony Romo tested the secondary early with success, connecting with Dez Bryant in the second quarter for the Cowboys only score. Laurent Robinson exited the game briefly with a shoulder injury which was enough time for the Cards to regroup and put a clamp down defensively. Romo completed 28/42 passes for 299 yards and the lone score to Bryant. Demarco Murray was held to only 38 yards rushing against one of the better but lesser known overall defenses in the league. In the end, this game will be remembered for Jason Garrett’s icing of his own kicker with 7 seconds left. Garrett called a timeout on a kick which Bailey would have made and eventually missed on the second try after having time to think about it thanks to his coach. Garrett can rationalize it all he wants but bottom line is he should have known better and let the game play out instead of over-coaching and making sure everything was in place. This loss makes next week’s game against the Giants all the more important instead of taking a two game lead into the match up.
CARDINALS: Kevin Kolb had a solid return to the lineup after missing several weeks, pulling out a win on a 52 yard touchdown pass to Stephens-Howling in overtime. Kolb totaled 247 yards with the touchdown in a game where Larry Fitzgerald was held to 55 yards on the day. Andre Roberts picked up the slack, being Kolb’s go to receiver by catching all 6 targets for 111 yards. Beanie Wells rushed for 67 hard earned yards against a wall of Dallas defenders for most of the game. Wells scored once in the fourth quarter to tie the game in what was a game of two halves for Arizona. The Cards were anemic the first half but came out blasting in the third, building momentum and ultimately getting the edge once Bailey missed the field goal.
ST. LOUIS RAMS 0 @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 26
RAMS: AJ Feeley got the start after a setback in Sam Bradford’s ankle this week and was unable to lead the team to even a field goal. Facing the 11th overall defense in the NFL, Feeley finished with just 156 yards and an interception. Steven Jackson had nothing to work with against the Niners top ranked rush defense, totaling just 19 yards on 11 carries. The Rams were outmatched from the start and were a miserable 3-13 on third downs.
49ERS: With the Rams unable to get anything going, the Niners dominated time of possession by 13 minutes and used every minute with a display of solid execution. Alex Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Crabtree finished as high man with 96 yards and a touchdown, never truly facing solid coverage and able to work his routes. Frank Gore chipped in with 73 yards rushing and a score, helping to wear down the Rams resolve. With the win the Niners clinched their division and can work on adding some wrinkles to their playbook. The Niners have been as good as it gets when it comes to execution but are lacking the splash plays which will be needed once the playoff’s start.
DETROIT LIONS 17 @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31
LIONS: At this point Coach Schwartz needs to come under fire for his lack of teaching this team discipline. The Lions racked up 107 yards worth of penalties which seemed to always set them up for an uphill third down. Kevin Smith exited the game with an ankle injury once again, leaving Morris and Williams to carry the load. Matt Stafford passed for 408 yards with 1 touchdown in the loss, a majority coming in the second half. Calvin Johnson finished with 69 yards on the day, locked up and double teamed most of the night which left Nate Burleson as high man with 93 yards. Despite the injury, Smith still finished as the team high rusher with 34 yards and a score. The Lions all but abandoned the run game playing from a deficit so not too much can be read into there. The Lions have now lost 3 of their last 4 but face a nice string of games against the Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers. They will need to separate themselves from the Wild Card pack those three games before facing off with Green Bay week 17.
SAINTS: Brees was nearly flawless, going 26/36 for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns. The aerial attack set up some easy runs for Mark Ingram who rumbled his way to 54 yards and a score. Darren Sproles amassed 161 all purpose yards with a score, once again adding that extra wrinkle at the most opportune times. Robert Meachem finally stepped back into the lime light with 119 yards receiving and a score. Jimmy Graham wasn’t far behind, totaling 89 yards on the day. The Atlanta loss gave the Saints a two game cushion but they will be squaring off against the Falcons in Week 16.