NFL Skinny: Weathering the storm
Weather seems to become more and more of a hot topic as we countdown the final weeks of the season. On Sunday, there was a lot of buzz about a storm in Tampa and sloppy conditions on the East Coast and in the Midwest. But, if you look at the games played in some of the worst hit venues on Sunday, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that weather was an issue if you hadn’t already known. In Tampa, the Bucs beat the Saints 23-20, a fairly typical result for Raymond James Stadium. In other locales with inclement conditions like Green Bay, Wisconsin and East Rutherford, New Jersey, three of the four teams playing in those two games scored more than 30 points, with most of the name-brand players involved producing in typically-strong fashion. I made the mistake of freaking out about the weather minutes before going live on our Fantasy Football Live show and benched Antonio Bryant, who wound up delivering 76 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
Last week, I talked about how you have to micro-manage every part of your roster at this crucial point in the season. This week, it seems prudent to swing the sentiment the other way a bit and remind people not to overreact to every little thing – like weather. Players can deal with rain. They can deal with cold. Unusually heavy winds and heavy snow are really the only elements to be overly concerned about … unless your player of concern happens to be facing the Lions defense …
Week 13: Take 10
A look at 10 notable developments/situations from Week 13
1. We’ve known for a long time that the Detroit Lions employ a defense that conjures thoughts of rainbows and lollipops for fantasy owners that have players set to face them. But what was also confirmed on Thanksgiving is that the Lions have called it quits on the ’08 season. The Lions won’t spin it that way, obviously, but Thursday’s mismatch against Tennessee made it abundantly clear that that is the case. Detroit’s defense showed a complete lack of effort and a listless disinterest in tackling, covering, pursuing, and anything else involved with stopping the Titans. Looking ahead at the Lions schedule – Minnesota, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Green Bay – there’s the obvious plays like Adrian Peterson, Joseph Addai, etc., but you’ll have to seriously consider secondary options like Chester Taylor, Dominic Rhodes, Pierre Thomas, and Brandon Jackson, too. After losing four games from Weeks 6-9 by an average of 5.25 points, the Lions have dropped their past four games by an average margin of 22 points, allowing an average of 38.5 points in that span.
2. Last week, I talked about my “Come to Jesus” moment in regards to Thomas Jones after he ran impressively on the staunch Titans’ run defense. On Sunday, DeAngelo Williams was the one moving me to a deeply religous place. He came into Sunday’s contest having rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games, but it was his sturdy effort in the wintry mix in Green Bay that impressed me more than anything he’d done previously. True, he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against the Packers and failed to reach the century mark on the ground, but his four one-yard touchdown plunges showed me a stoutness that I had never previously credited him with possessing. Coming into Week 13, Williams had not scored from closer than four yards out, and only three of his nine scores came from inside the 10-yard line. But given four shots from the one-yard line, Williams wasn’t stuffed even once by the Packers. In fact, he would have had a fifth touchdown had QB Jake Delhomme not called his own number from the one-yard line early in the second quarter. To put the effort into perspective, Williams had scored just one one-yard touchdown in the two previous seasons combined. Williams looks thicker and stronger this season, while retaining his cat-like quickness. Head coach John Fox is typically loyal to his veterans, and I wouldn’t expect Williams’ currently-heavy workload to diminish in any way down the stretch, no matter what is going on with the health of rookie backfield mate Jonathan Stewart.
3. Peyton Hillis is going to be a busy man over the final month of the season. The former fullback, filling in as the top dog in Denver’s backfield because of a myriad of injuries, had his best game of his short career on Sunday, rushing for 129 yards and a TD against a Jets defense that had not previously allowed more than 74 rushing yards to an opposing back. There’s no frills or gimmicks with Hillis. He runs hard, and in one general direction. And when he’s about to be hit, he covers up the ball by tucking it into his gut and protecting it with both arms – he has yet to fumble. And, because he’s 250 pounds and country strong, that potato bug maneuver is effective, as he was constantly picking up extra yards after contact – only three of his 22 carries against the Jets failed to gain yardage, impressive considering the competition and Hillis’ no-nonsense style. Only six running backs have produced more fantasy points than Hillis over the past three weeks, and he simply has to be in your lineup in Week 14 against the most generous run defense in fantasy in the Kansas City Chiefs.
4. They may not be at the Detroit Lions level yet, but Jacksonville put forth a very defeated effort against Houston on Monday night, especially in defending the run. Houston’s Steve Slaton had huge holes to work with all night. And when the hole wasn’t there, he was able to keep his feet moving on contact and break free from the poor tackling of Jaguar defenders. Head coach Jack Del Rio will probably find a way to get more out of them than we saw on Monday night – I’m expecting plenty of pointed comments from him this week – but, if you are an owner of Matt Forte (who faces Jacksonville next week), you have to be giddy about what you saw on Monday night. Personally, I’m praising the high heavens for the Jaguars’ performance on MNF. Down a seemingly insurmountable 42 points to Matt Romig in the Friends and Family League, Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard and Slaton combined for 43 points – roughly three-quarters of those points coming in the fourth quarter – to close out my dramatic one-point victory. The victory landed me the final playoff spot in the league, knocking Scott Pianowski out of the picture – I mention this only so you’ll understand if his Monday Brunch seems a little jaded going forward.
5. Speaking of Matt Forte, I decided to use him as my dud pick in the Guru vs. Guru competition on the Fantasy Football Live show. We are required to pick, essentially, a top 10-type player and I figured I’d role with Forte at Minnesota considering a touchdown bailed him out of a dud-type performance the last time he faced Minnesota, and this time around he’d have to travel to the Metrodome. But I already knew that Forte is as consistent as they come. And it was stupid to roll the dice against someone who is the sun of the Bears’ universe. He’s touched the ball less than 20 times only once this season and would have qualified as a dud on the Fantasy Football Live show only once – I should have picked him in Week 4 against Philly (43 rushing yards, 42 receiving yards, 0 TDs). But back then, I probably couldn’t have passed him off on Guru competitors Brad Evans and Chris Liss as an elite-level dud candidate. Of course, they had no problem letting me use him this past week. They weren’t going to stand in the way of a sure losing proposition for me. Sure enough, Forte’s 125 yards from scrimmage and a TD scored me a big goose egg.
6. Kevin Faulk was predictably active on Sunday against the heavy-blitz schemes of Pittsburgh. Faulk caught a season-high seven passes for 48 yards in addition to his six carries for 73 yards. He’s now produced 87-plus yards from scrimmage and at least four catches in five of his past six games, making him especially useful in PPR formats. He’s also touched the ball at least 12 times in five of his past six, which bodes well going forward as he’ll face Seattle (11th-most fantasy points allowed to RBs) and Oakland (6th-most to RBs), respectively, in the next two weeks. Sammy Morris, who is splitting the load with Faulk, should also be given strong consideration from his fantasy owners these next two games. He picked up his typical 10 carries and a touchdown against the Steelers. He’s now scored eight times in 15 career games with the Pats.
7. Like Faulk, Derrick Ward has been a nightmare for opposing defenses as a receiver out of the backfield. He produced a season-high 75 receiving yards on five catches at Washington on Sunday and has now delivered at least 50 yards from scrimmage in every game this season despite playing a backup role to Brandon Jacobs. In fact, he’s delivered at least 80 yards from scrimmage in each of his past six games. Considering Jacobs’ achy knee and the fact that the Giants are sitting on at least a two-game lead over every other NFC team with only four games left, Ward could very well average 20 touches the rest of the way. In his next two games, he’ll face Philly and Dallas, respectively. He averaged 16 touches, 84.5 yards from scrimmage and scored a TD (against Dallas) when he faced these two clubs back-to-back in Weeks 9-10.
8. Marques Colston is getting back into the swing of things, topping 100 yards (106) against Tampa Bay on Sunday – he’s the first receiver to surpass 66 yards against the Bucs in the past six weeks. But for the sixth time in seven games, Colston did not find the end zone. In fact, quarterback Drew Brees has hardly even looked Colston’s way in the red zone this season, targeting his 6-foot-4 go-to wideout just four times inside the 20. Brees is clearly favoring the more diminutive (5-foot-9) Lance Moore in close-range situations. Moore caught just two passes for 15 yards against Tampa Bay, but one of them was a red zone look that he turned into his eighth TD of the season. Moore ranks seventh in the league among WRs in red zone targets and with pass-soft defenses lined up for the next three weeks – ATL, CHI, DET – Moore and Colston are both must-starts through Week 16.
9. On paper, only Marion Barber will face tougher run defenses in the final two weeks of the fantasy playoffs for default leagues (Weeks 15-16) than Atlanta’s Michael Turner. But “Burner” owners have to be breathing a little easier after his second consecutive 100-yard game on Sunday, this one coming against a San Diego defense that has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to running backs over the past five weeks. In Week 12, Turner rushed for more than 100 yards and scored four touchdowns against a Carolina defense that had allowed just four touchdowns total to running backs in its previous 10 games combined. Despite a league-high 282 carries, Turner has remained healthy all season and has been a huge factor in Atlanta’s 8-4 turnaround this season. The fact that the Falcons will be fighting for their playoff lives will keep Turner’s workload in the 25-30 carry range over the final weeks of the season.
10. Turner’s former teammate, LaDainian Tomlinson, has a much easier road to hoe from here on out – OAK, KC, TB, DEN – but soft matchups are no guarantee for LT and a San Diego running game that has fallen from seventh in the league in rushing yards per game last season to 26th in ’08. Be it poor blocking, the loss of Lorenzo Neal, LT’s turf toe, or whatever … the ground game simply isn’t close to what it used to be. Tomlinson has averaged 3.7 yards per carry or less in eight of his past 11 games and has just three touchdowns in his past eight games. We’ve seen him leave owners dumbfounded after he failed to find the end zone and could muster only 78 yards on 22 carries against Kansas City’s 31st-ranked run defense in Week 10. Last week against Indy’s 25th-ranked run defense, he was scoreless and could only come up with 84 yards on the ground. And, on Sunday, against an Atlanta defense allowing 4.8 yards per carry, LT did find the end zone, but not much else – 14 carries, 24 rushing yards, five catches, 42 receiving yards. I don’t think it’s time to write off LT like we’ve had to do with other greats of the recent past like Shaun Alexander or Edgerrin James, but LT is far from a must-start, even when faced with ripe matchups.
WEEK 14 SHORT LIST
Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 14
|QB||Matt Schaub, Hou (37% owned in Plus leagues)||A quarterback with top-10 fantasy potential like Schaub shouldn’t be available in more than 60 percent of leagues at this point in the season. Yes, a knee injury has forced him to miss the past four games, but Schaub is on the brink of a return. And it’s worth serving up a reminder, at this point, about how good he was before sustaining a torn MCL at Minnesota in Week 9. In his four games leading into his tilt with the Vikings, Schaub averaged 308 passing yards, threw for nine touchdowns (to just two interceptions), and also ran for a score. The only thing that should temper an owner’s enthusiasm is a schedule over the next three weeks (Green Bay, Tennessee and Oakland) that ranks among the toughest in fantasy for quarterbacks. Still, with all those weapons in Houston, Schaub deserves a backup/insurance role, at worst.|
|QB||Joe Flacco, Bal (44% owned)||If you look at Flacco’s game log, it’s hard not to see the maturation process. Through his first six games, Flacco threw just two touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. In his past six games, he’s thrown 10 TD passes against just two interceptions, both coming at the New York Giants in Week 11. Clearly, he’s making better decisions. The Ravens are still a run-first squad – they’ve attempted 30-plus passes just three times – and Flacco is likely to be very conservative in tough matchups with Washington and Pittsburgh the next couple weeks. But the rookie has been at least serviceable in fantasy for seven consecutive games, and that includes some stiff competition along the way, so there’s reason to add him to your mix if your quarterback position is still a sore spot.|
|RB||Brandon Jackson, GB (14% owned)||With Ryan Grant dealing with a swollen thumb suffered in Week 13 against Carolina, Jackson could very well receive a major share of the workload in Week 14 against Houston. Filling in after Grant went to the sidelines against the Panthers, Jackson handled 11 carries for 80 yards, a robust 7.3 yards per carry clip.|
|RB||Ladell Betts, Was (26% owned)||Add a sore neck to the ever-growing list of Clinton Portis ailments – knee, rib, ankle. The fact that Betts is available in nearly three quarters of Yahoo! Plus leagues suggests a lot of Portis owners are throwing caution to the wind. I don’t think you can use any Redskins running back in Week 14 at Baltimore, but if Portis ends up not being able to go in Week 15 at Cincinnati, Betts will be thrust into an impactful fantasy position against a soft Cincinnati run defense.|
|WR||Davone Bess, Mia (28% owned)||Against St. Louis on Sunday, the undrafted rookie netted his second-consecutive game with at least 80 receiving yards (6/84). With Greg Camarillo lost for the season because of a knee injury, Bess has assumed his starting role. In Week 13, he led the Dolphins with 10 targets and, with one of the softer remaining schedules in terms of fantasy points allowed to receivers, Bess figures to remain a very active element of the Dolphins’ passing game.|
|WR||Mark Clayton, Bal (19% owned)||No receiver produced more fantasy value in Week 13 than Clayton. At Cincinnati, the former first-round pick caught a season-high five passes for 164 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown. Explosive plays have been the norm for Clayton of late, as he’s produced four receptions of 45-plus yards in the past five games. He’s also flashing a Swiss Army knife skill-set of late, throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason on Sunday and taking a reverse for 17 yards against the Giants in Week 10. Clayton’s schedule is tough the next couple games (WAS, PIT), but the No. 6 fantasy receiver over the past five weeks still deserves to be rostered.|
|WR||Devin Hester, Chi (45% owned)||In the first quarter at Minnesota on Sunday, Hester turned an intermediate-range pass into a 65-yard score, thanks to a lightning-quick juke move after the catch. The game-breaking upside is what Hester brings to the table. He’s been more miss than hit this season, but if you have to make a gamble on an under-50 percent owned receiver during the fantasy playoffs, Hester offers that attractive “upside” explosiveness.|
|WR||Domenik Hixon, NYG (49% owned)||Since Plaxico Burress has probably played his last game in a Giants uniform, Hixon should get plenty of playing time this holiday season. On Sunday, the former Akron Zip hauled in five passes for 71 yards. The Giants remaining schedule is not particularly kind to receivers, but Hixon will benefit from opposing defenses keying on their vaunted running game.|
|TE||Zach Miller, Oak (45% owned)||Miller lives in this space. Call him the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy tight ends. He remains under 50 percent owned in Plus leagues despite having delivered 40-plus yards in eight of his past nine games. He now has 16 more receiving yards than Antonio Gates.|
|TE||John Carlson, Sea (52% owned)||After scoring his third touchdown of the season in Week 12, Carlson posted a 105-yard encore on Sunday, his first 100-yard game of his career. He’s now tied with Dustin Keller at ninth among tight ends in fantasy points per game.|
|QB||Trent Edwards, Buf (groin)||Edwards tweaked his groin in the second-half of Sunday’s loss to San Francisco. He’s being listed as day-to-day and will be limited in practice this week, if he practices at all. He’ll likely be listed as Questionable for Sunday’s game with Miami in Toronto. In other words, he’s not the man you want leading your fantasy playoff charge in Week 14.|
|QB||Derek Anderson, Cle (knee)||Anderson’s return to the helm of the Browns offense was short-lived. He had to leave Sunday’s contest with Indianapolis late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. It turned out to be a torn MCL, meaning he’s done for the season. Ken Dorsey will ride out the string behind center for Cleveland, but he’s of little interest to fantasy owners.|
|RB||Ryan Grant, GB (thumb)||Grant may have literally lost his grip on the Packers’ featured back role after he sprained his thumb in week 13. His thumb will be in a splint this week and his workload against Houston in Week 14 will depend on his ability to firmly cradle the rock. Needless to say, Brandon Jackson is a must-pickup this week for Grant owners and non-owners alike.|
|RB||Marion Barber, Dal (toe)||Barber suffered a toe injury against Seattle on Thanksgiving, an injury that could limit his workload in Week 14 at Pittsburgh. Considering the matchup and the uncertainty of the injury, fantasy owners are probably going to have to look seriously at other options in the backfield this coming week.|
|TE||Kellen Winslow, Cle (ankle)||Winslow’s season is hanging in the balance after he suffered a dreaded high ankle sprain against Indy on Sunday. He’s been ruled out for Week 14, and will be very iffy in the weeks following. Owners of Winslow should look for Zach Miller or John Carlson (above). But, if pickings are slim, Winslow’s teammate Steve Heiden isn’t a terrible fallback option.|