December 07, 2011
Michael Vick(notes) turned in a full practice Wednesday, and barring a setback to his rib injury he'll be starting in Week 14. The welcome-back matchup is a tricky one, a road game against the surging Dolphins. Most observers would have projected a Philly blowout if this game were played in the early weeks of the season; now, Miami is a three-point favorite.
Does Vick automatically return to your fake-football starting lineup? I suppose that depends on what other options you have available to you. Vick's passing hasn't been sharp or consistent in 2011, and now we have to worry about his rushing numbers as well.
Vick has been reluctant to slide for most of his pro career, despite his slight frame (he's generously listed at 215 pounds). But he seems to be rethinking the sliding idea, given how injuries have wrecked this season for him. Consider what he told the Philadelphia Daily News on Wednesday:
"I've made my mind up. There's going to be times when I can't get the extra yards. I gotta get down. I get too caught up in the game sometimes, but that leads to me being sidelined, not being accountable for the team on Sunday."
Vick called it "a situation I had total control of, and I still do it, each and every time I step outside of the pocket."
Vick's press-conference stance on Wednesday doesn't guarantee that it will stick on Sunday, of course. Players don't think on the field so much as they react, and sometimes the situational value of a first down or some extra yards will encourage a player to hurl his body into maximum contact. Vick's prudent stance sounds good and makes for an interesting story, but we can't say for sure that it will hold up.
That said, Vick's rushing production has already taken a shot in 2011, at least from a fantasy perspective. He's still chewing up plenty of real estate on the ground, collecting 535 rushing yards and 59.4 yards a game. But he's yet to score a rushing touchdown this year, after spiking nine times in 2010. Vick has just five red-zone rushing attempts over his last seven games; he had 22 such attempts in his 11 starts last year. Perhaps the coaching staff feels it has to protect Vick from himself at times.
The Yahoo! staff is lukewarm on Vick for Week 14; three of us ranked him ninth for the week and one pundit slotted him seventh. You're welcome to debate the merits of Vick in the comments, and let us know how you're valuing him for the stretch run.
• You probably have noticed Steve Smith's slump of late. He's managed a meager 15 catches for 174 yards over the last four weeks, just one touchdown. He was barely heard from in the blowout victory at Tampa Bay (2-32, six targets).
"[Smith is] a tremendous receiver and caught a lot of people off-guard as far as his value to this team," Newton said. "But last week was probably the week that he got the most attention that I've ever seen anybody (get).
They were rolling to him. They were pressing him, also. Having a guy under him and over the top of him, so it was physically impossible for me to make an accurate throw without putting the ball in jeopardy."
Crediting the Tampa secondary is all well and good, but the Panthers coaching staff needs to take some blame for Smith's production, too. Smith is the only vertical threat in the Carolina passing game, sure, but this is not a new development. He's certainly not the only star NFL receiver who operates with little outside protection. Creative offensive minds find a way to work around this.
Smith and the Panthers are up against Atlanta, Houston and Tampa Bay for the money weeks of fantasy football. The date at Houston is an intriguing one; star corner Johnathan Joseph(notes) has turned into a matchup/shutdown corner who opposes most No. 1 receivers, but that also means, in theory, Smith will see more true single coverage. If nothing else, that head-to-head matchup will be fun to observe, on game day and in the tape breakdown.
• Gary Kubiak is tiptoeing around the Andre Johnson(notes) situation, and if you read the tea leaves in Houston, it doesn't sound like Johnson will go against the Bengals on Sunday. Kubiak called Johnson a game-time decision in the early stages of Wednesday, then switched to a more-tempered tenor in the afternoon. Here's what the head coach offered to Texans.com:
"Is there a chance this weekend?" Kubiak said after practice. "I probably can answer that better in a couple days. There's always a chance. I feel very fortunate. I know we're going to get Andre back. The key here right now is that when we get him back, we need to make sure we get him back for the long haul . . . Hopefully, we can get him back here real quick. He's upbeat. He felt good today, but like I said, until he gets back out here, we'll have to wait and see."
The Yahoo! staff isn't going to bother with Johnson this week: no one tabbed him as a Top 60 receiver in the initial batch of rankings (fresh out of the oven; caution, filling is hot). It's a particular shame to see Johnson's non-contact hamstring injury from last week, given that he was clicking with third-string quarterback TJ Yates(notes). There was some potential here. The Texans are still in the running for a first-round bye in the AFC, but they're not going to take any risks with their franchise wideout.
• Fantasy owners generally don't spend a lot of time chasing injury news on blocking backs, but Dallas fullback Tony Fiammetta(notes) has become a person of interest. Fiammetta has missed three straight games with an undisclosed illness, and his absence has, coincidentally or not, matched up with DeMarco Murray's rushing slump (58 carries, 198 yards, 3.4 per attempt). Murray hasn't been the same runner without his pathfinder up front.
The scouting angle seems to line up with the story the numbers suggest; Yahoo! colleague Doug Farrar has always viewed Murray as a more effective runner out of two-back sets. At least this story appears to have a happy ending, with Fiammetta cleared to practice Wednesday and expected to play Sunday against the Giants.
• The Cardinals kept Beanie Wells(notes) out of Wednesday's practice, mindful of his hamstring, knee and thumb injuries. Wells has gamely played through the physical ailments for several weeks now, and he's had a few decent performances against notable defenses (consider what he did in Baltimore). Wells is still expected to play against the Niners this Sunday.
But do we employ Wells against the run-stuffing San Francisco defense? I can't get behind that idea. Wells had an eight-carry, 33-yard game against the Niners in the first meeting three weeks ago, and as everyone knows, the Niners stuff the run better than anyone this year (3.3 yards a pop, 71.8 yards a game, zero rushing touchdowns). And Wells usually can't bail out with his receiving skills: he has just three receptions over his last 10 games. Keep this guy out of your starting lineup if at all possible; Wells is outside the Top 27 on all running-back ballots this week.
• You're playing the matchups and anticipating game flow more than anything when you pick your fantasy defense of the week, and with that in mind, let's audit the Seahawks and Broncos. I have those units ranked No. 1 and 2 on my Week 14 board, mostly because of the setup involved.
Seattle's getting ready for a Monday Night home game, up against the sorry Rams. St. Louis somehow found a way to score 31 points against New Orleans in Week 8, but otherwise the Lambs have just 109 points for the year. St. Louis has also given up the most fantasy points to opposing defenses, and it might be forced to start third-string quarterback Tom Brandstater(notes) by default (Sam Bradford(notes) and A.J. Feeley(notes) both missed Wednesday's practice).
Throw in the prime-time passion of the Seattle fans and this game has "out of hand" written all over it. Brandstater, for what it's worth, has never thrown a pass in the NFL. Good luck getting out of this mess, Josh McDaniels.
Denver sack-master Von Miller(notes) (thumb) practiced on Wednesday and should go this weekend, which means bad news for the scuffling Bears offense. Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie(notes) has looked overmatched in his two starts, giving up 11 sacks and turning the ball over six times. The offensive line hasn't helped much, sure, but a lot of these negative plays are driven by Hanie's inexperience more than anything else. With Matt Forte(notes) unlikely to go as well, this looks like a Denver blowout to me. Scrub the waiver wire thoroughly.
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