With just about nine weeks of NFL action in the books, it's clear just two men in the league can stop Buffalo dynamo C.J. Spiller.
Fred Jackson and Chan Gailey, come on down.
I don't have any personal stake in Spiller this year, a major regret. I ranked him after Jackson in the summer. I didn't land No. 28 on any of my teams. I've got nothing to gain from Spiller taking on a bigger role in the Buffalo offense, other than I like to root for logic to win out.
And it's clearly time for the Bills to do the logical thing, to turn their offense over to Spiller. The tape shows it, the stat sheet shows it, and even the quotes from Buffalo are starting to trend that way.
Let's take a quick look at the numbers. Spiller has a snappy 78-562-4 rushing line this year, averaging 7.2 yards a pop. Jackson's at 59-218-1, just 3.7 a carry. Spiller's also a threat through the air: 24-236-1, just under 10 yards a catch. Jackson's logged a 22-148-1 line in the pass game, a modest 6.7 per reception.
The duo split time once again in Sunday's loss at Houston, and let's be honest — that arrangement was a gift to the Texans. Jackson was held to 35 yards on his 11 touches, while Spiller collected 102 yards on his 11 chances. If Spiller picked up more work in this game, maybe the Bills spring an upset.
There's a light at the end of the tunnel, fortunately. The Bills see what the problem is. Let's look at some of the post-game quotes:
"I mean the story of the day for us is we've got to get C.J. more touches," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told the team's official site. "I think everybody knows that and we've got to find ways to do that. "
Okay, Coach Gailey, where are you on this? Is it time for Spiller to get more work?
"Yeah, we would like to and we got to try to do that on a more consistent basis," Gailey conceded. "Some weeks are better than others and sometimes they take things away from you that you don't think they're going to do but they did. They surprised us with a defense we hadn't seen very much and we had to alter. I got to do a better job of adjusting." (Too bad Gailey only had two weeks to prepare for this game.)
The schedule is a mixed bag for the Buffalo backfield over the next month. New England and Miami both have strong numbers this year when it comes to limiting RB production. Then Buffalo meets up with the Colts (good matchup) and the Jaguars (superb matchup). The playoff weeks bring St. Louis, Seattle and Miami to the fore.
But when a runner like Spiller is in the groove, the matchups don't seem to matter too much. His tape is a pleasure to watch. If the offense blocks and executes a play properly, Spiller usually turns it into a splashy result. But he's also quick and laterally explosive enough to make a big play even when the offense gives him little help (and obviously Buffalo's OL has struggled since injuries hit in late September).
I don't know the owners in your league, and I don't know if it's possible for you to get Spiller in trade anywhere. But I can't see the Bills holding their best player down forever. I'm a Jackson fan, always have been, but he shouldn't be standing in Spiller's way. Maybe Gailey is getting close to shifting the scope of his offense.
And if Spiller is treated like a lead back in the second half, he could be the type of player who steers championships. He's that talented, that explosive.
It's time to chummy up to the Spiller owner in your league, see if he needs anything. Don't ask for Spiller straight out. Try to anticipate what he might want on your team, or see if he's willing to move "one of his RB/WR options." Don't surrender your leverage right away. Tiptoe around the subject. The time to act is now.
I wouldn't be writing all this if the potential payoff wasn't gigantic. See what you can do.
• One common complaint from fantasy football gamers is the impact of a high score. Sure, it's all fun and games when Doug Martin, Mikel Leshoure or Brandon Marshall goes off for your team, but it can be frustrating when one outlier performance just about decides your matchup on the spot. It works both ways, of course: many Jordy Nelson owners and Eli Manning owners aren't in smiling moods today.
It's too late to change the rules in your league for this year, but there's a way to work about the outlier scoring problem in future seasons. It's ridiculously simple, too.
Start more players.
One of my favorite yearly leagues is the Table One group with my Scrabble Peeps. It's only an eight-owner dance but it's still highly challenging and fun, because the competition is good, the snark talk is constant and we have jumbo challenges in the format.
Table One requires each team to start 18 players and there's only three bench spots to work with. Every week you have to fill these positions: 3 QB, 3 RB, 4 WR, 2 TE, 2 DEF, 2 PK, and a couple of flexes (W/R, W/T). Every owner has to do some waiver-wire hunting every week, and it's not that easy to keep someone through a bye week.
With 18 players scoring for you, the outlier performances mean a lot less. I'm going to win my game this week largely because of what Martin did, but if I had played two other teams, the outcome would still be in doubt.
Larger rosters also increase your excitement and fun on game day - you're rooting for (and against) more players. And it also opens you up to what a consider the greatest joy of fake-sport ownership: having an unheralded player go off for you. When Adrian Peterson scores a couple of times, well, everyone more or less expects that. When you click with a Golden Tate pickup and dual spike, the wine tastes just a little sweeter.
Trust me on this one, gamers. This is the future.
• Andre Johnson is on a snappy run (25 catches for 279 yards over his last three games), though he's still stuck on two touchdowns for the year. If you grade all the wideouts on a per-game basis, he's 29th. I think it's a good time to sell him at a profit.
First and foremost, the name brand still applies to a lot of owners; those things don't tear off easily. And the Texans don't go out of their way to get Johnson the ball in scoring position: he has all of three red-zone targets this year (that's 79th among wide receivers) and zero goal-line targets. Garbage time rarely comes calling for the Texans; AJ has six fourth-quarter catches all year. Now's the perfect time to go shopping.
• The Panthers almost upset Chicago and then took it to Washington this week, but I'm not letting Cam Newton off the hook yet. I know, that shiny 8.1 YPA says a lot of good things, but until Carolina becomes a more efficient scoring team, it's not going anywhere. The Panthers have a measly 149 points through eight games and Newton's been a mess in the red area — his QB rating inside the 20 is a scant 61.5. He's still got a long way to go in his development.
• The Doug Martin bandwagon had members before the season, but the seating was easy to come by after a month of play. Some owners became nervous with Martin's slow start — understandable, to a point — but you also had some market panic over less-important things. Let's stop and consider the lessons from The Hamster.
Martin's first semi-breakout game came Week 6 against Kansas City, a 131-yard push against the Chiefs. His 13-76 day on the ground wasn't fully appreciated by some gamers, however; a few pundits worried about LeGarrette Blount collecting seven carries for 58 yards and a touchdown in the same match.
That's where game context and game flow need to be examined. Blount picked up five of his carries in the final five minutes, when the Bucs were simply running out the clock in a 38-10 blowout victory. He rumbled for 53 yards on those carries, including a 12-yard score. Tampa was working on the clock, Kansas City wanted to be on the bus. Big deal.
And then last week some rotoheads panicked about the Carl Nicks injury; he's Tampa's star offensive guard. It's a loss to be sure, but the guard position is still the third-most important spot on any offensive line. It's easier to work around a guard injury compared to a tackle or center loss. Keep that in mind the next time a notable OG hits the sidelines.
I'll be running an NFL Chat from 9-10 pm ET Monday Night on Reddit. It's my first go on that site. I hope you check it out.