The AFC North used to be three yards and a cloud of dust. These days, it's 30 points and the wink of an eye.
Has the fantasy public adjusted? Or are we still clinging to those hard-to-remove name brands?
The Houston Texans entered the year with the consensus No. 1 running back and a well-respected offensive line. These days, Arian Foster has a 3.8 YPC and the Texans line is buried in the Pro Football Focus metrics.
Has the fantasy public adjusted? Why did I see the Texans line ranked No. 1 on a fantasy site last weekend? Are analysts still clinging to those hard-to-remove name brands?
The Texans and Ravens will play an important, and fascinating, temperature game in Week 7. Baltimore's defense was already without Terrell Suggs (the only pass rusher of any consequence), and now Ray Lewis (the run-stuffer and emotional leader) and Lardarius Webb (the best cover corner) are down for the season. Even those slow to accept a changing of the guard will figure out that the Ravens are in a new place now. Baltimore used to beat you up in the sandlot; now, it's all about pinball scoring in the arcade.
Will Houston be able to run over the wounded Ravens? A year or two ago, this would be a slam dunk. But the Texans front line hasn't been reliably opening holes this year. At last check on Pro Football Focus, the Houston offensive line stood 17th in run blocking and 16th in pass blocking.
Foster's fantasy value is still riding high due to the volume, of course. He's scored seven times. He's collected an insane 149 carries, tops in the league — that's 21 totes ahead of second-place Marshawn Lynch, and 31 rushes ahead of third-place Stevan Ridley. I might not have Foster at the top spot in this week's Shuffle Up, but you can't slide him down too far. He's still a fairly safe fantasy play, no matter how the efficiency stats look.
Back to the AFC North, let's have a quick check-in on Baltimore's three rivals and how their current identify differs from what we might have expected back in training camp.
The power-football theme of Pittsburgh is as good as dead. The Steelers defense has been riddled by Matt Hasselbeck and Carson Palmer in recent road losses, and Pittsburgh's run blocking is third-worst in the league according to Pro Football Focus. I'm not chasing the dream of Rashard Mendenhall, but I'd be happy to ride with Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown anywhere. Heath Miller has been a steady third-tier tight end as well.
Many of us expected Cleveland to stay conservative this year, try to win games with a solid defense while its inexperienced quarterback got comfortable. Sounded nice on paper, anyway. Brandon Weeden stands fifth in the league in pass attempts, and the Browns have allowed the second-most passing yards in the league. Getting corner Joe Haden back is a boost, but his presence didn't stop the Bengals passing game Sunday (Andy Dalton went for 381 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown to A.J. Green that came on Haden's watch).
Dalton has taken a step up in class during his second season. His YPA has jumped from 6.6 to 8.0, he's throwing for 75 additional yards per game, and his rating has spiked 11.3 pointed. Dalton threw for 20 scores as a rookie; he's on pace for 32 this year. No one's hiding him in this offense, and that's important when the Cincinnati secondary is allowing 7.9 YPA and a 99.6 rating. Whole lotta spiking going on.
[Related: Winners and losers from week 6 in the NFL]
This is the strangest year, like every year is. Welcome to the NFL. Let's live in the present, gamers.
• When fantasy pundits and players talk about the Raiders, the conversation often starts and ends with Darren McFadden. Run DMC didn't show his best form at Atlanta (27-70 rushing, 3-28 receiving, one score, one fumble lost) but at least the volume bailed him out.
But let's not leave town before we examine some of the other fun options here. Denarius Moore looked dynamite against the Falcons (5-104, touchdown) and could be a Top 25 wideout if he can stay healthy. Tight end Brandon Myers is on pace for the quietest 928-yard season you ever did see. And running back Mike Goodson (4-59 rushing, 1-37 receiving) has emerged as the clear No. 2 back; if you view a McFadden injury as an inevitable part of life, Goodson needs to be on your radar (or better yet, on your roster).
• Chan Gailey made Peter King's "Coach of the Week" and Bill Barnwell's "Thank you for not coaching" in the same Sunday. Let's stop and appreciate that. Obviously these are two writers who have different views of the game.
On my clipboard, Gailey is the poor man's Norv Turner. He's still a creative and interesting offensive mind — perhaps to his detriment at times (the Brad Smith pass late in the fourth period Sunday was a horrendous choice). But Gailey seems overmatched when he's the head man for an entire football club. The Peter Principle seems to apply here.
• Shonn Greene's 161-yard, three-touchdown game came out of nowhere, and initially I rolled my eyes when the boiler plate "sell high" recommendations rained down from the Internet. Where does a fantasy owner find someone who's actually willing to put a lofty value on Shonn Freaking Green? Is there truly a sucker born every minute?
That noted for the record, the Week 7 slate might provide the backdrop the Greene owner is looking for. As we discussed last week, it's a monster of a sit-down session — six teams are off, most of them good ones — and the backfield in particular is getting crushed. Consider the running backs who won't be playing next weekend: Shady McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Mathews, Reggie Bush, Michael Turner and Willis McGahee. That's not a bye week, that's a wildcat strike.
Your homework is clear, Greene owner. See who's shut out from the Week 7 schedule. Maybe someone in your pool is down a bunch of good stuff, including one of the premier backs mentioned above. You're not going to hoodwink any rational owner into thinking that Greene is a star all of a sudden, but this very well may be the best time you'll ever get to sell him. So many fantasy trades are build out of timing and desperation; use those things to your advantage this week.
And even if you sell Greene "moderate" as opposed to some crazy return, you probably did well. Think back to how you valued him a week ago. His next stomach-punch game can't be far away.
• New England's 3-3 record might be a blessing in surprise for fantasy owners. The Patriots will probably need to sing for their supper all through Week 16, so there's no trickiness to account for. I'll be flabbergasted if the Patriots don't wind up winning the division eventually, however. I realize you can say this about a bunch of teams, but New England is maybe three plays away from being 6-0. There's no AFC East club that's close to them on paper, and they should make quick work of the Jets in Week 7.
No need to sweat the pass-heavy approach New England took at Seattle, Stevan Ridley owner. Every Patriots game plan is constructed from scratch. Blueprint X has nothing to do with Blueprint Y or Blueprint Z. That's one of the signature moves from this intelligently-run organization.
Mind you, the Patriots did their share of dumb things in Week 6, too. Tom Brady flushed away too many points with red-zone mistakes. Bill Belichick mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half. Nobody's perfect.
The Jets and Patriots are basically a stand-alone Week 7 game — only the Raiders and Jaguars will be playing at the same time unless an early game gets pushed back. Fox is on baseball for the late afternoon. Get your popcorn ready. This is the Hatfield and McCoys of the NFL.
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