You probably watched the Cowboys mail it in Sunday night, a National TV stinker, an embarrassing beat down at the hands of their Philadelphia rival. What now?
Time to shift into buy-mode.
I don't blame fantasy owners for coming out of this game frustrated. Tony Romo never looked comfortable against the Eagles, and he was reluctant to throw anything to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (no first-half targets for either, amazing). DeMarco Murray ran well but was marginalized by the game situation. Jason Witten tapped out at 28 yards. If you were counting on a Dallas rally to bail out your Week 8 fantasy game, you got nothing.
[Fantasy Football video: Romo's sliding stock]
But maybe the schedule can resurrect the Cowboys. Look at the next five games: Seattle, Buffalo, at Washington, Miami, at Arizona. The Seahawks defense isn't much on the road (especially against the pass); the Bills secondary is exploitable (and the pass rush hadn't done a thing before the Washington giveaway); the Redskins have a solid defense but it has to fight against its offense; and the Dolphins and Cardinals can't cover anyone. I have to assume Romo, Austin, Bryant and Witten will put some tasty numbers up against this slate. I also think the Cowboys should win at least three of these games, with four or five wins possible. Remember what we learned from horror movies: the villain is never dead, even when he looks dead.
There are some logical caveats to this theme, of course. Jason Garrett has to get more aggressive with the playbook; you get the idea the Pokes have shifted to overly-conservative mode after the shocking loss to Detroit in Week 4. Romo can't have any physical setbacks either; if he gets hurt, the offense collapses. And Laurent Robinson is good enough to steal some targets here and there, though he's not anywhere close to the other Dallas receivers and everyone knows that. He'll steal work, but he's not going to jump in front of anyone permanently.
I come to these conclusions with no personal biases. I'm not a Dallas fan (or a hater; meet me in Switzerland), and I don't own Romo, Austin, Bryant or Witten on a single team. I do have some Murray shares — and I'm a believer in him — but the focus is on the passing game today. Who's ready to Cowboy Up with me?
While you're trying to get the Ewing Brothers on the line, let's have a look around the rest of the league.
• There's a lot of Tim Tebow angst in the trenches that I don't completely understand. I've seen some fantasy pundits dumping all over the lefty, and a lot of football scribes are offended to see Tebow on the field in the first place. Me, well, I'm just in it for the numbers — and thus far, Tebow business has been good to our make-believe game.
If you watched all of Tebow's snaps the last two weeks, you know he hasn't been a very effective real-life quarterback. But in our numbers racket, who really cares? Tebow was the No. 5 fantasy QB for Week 7 in Yahoo! basic scoring, and despite a horrendous afternoon against Detroit, he still checked in at No. 10 for the position. So long as the Broncos don't yank him from the gig, Tebow will be a very consistent fantasy scorer. He'll run some, he'll be in catchup mode regularly, and you know they'll be throwing late.
Tebow's presence isn't a great fit for his wide receivers, but they haven't been total zeroes, either. Eric Decker had a 6-72 line against Detroit, with a touchdown, and Demaryius Thomas scored the previous week. I am surprised Denver hasn't used more of the screen game with Tebow under center; considering how Tebow struggles in the pocket and how the Broncos can't seem to protect him, a regular dose of screen passes makes sense. Knowshon Moreno had just two targets (and one catch) Sunday.
And then there's the defensive kickback from Tebow — he's been sacked 13 times in two weeks, and the Lions had a turnover party in the Mile High Air. Grab Oakland's defense as a Week 9 waiver play (smart owners were on this a week ahead of time), and be ready with the Chiefs in Week 10, assuming John Fox doesn't pull the plug on No. 15. The Tebow story helps everyone; he gives away the candy with both hands.
I can't guarantee what Fox will do going forward — all we know is that Tebow has been endorsed for next week — but if the Broncos have a clue in the front office, they'll leave Tebow alone for the balance of the season. Denver clearly isn't going anywhere at 2-5, and you need to evaluate someone you (rightly or wrongly) spent a No. 1 pick on. The kid has made just five pro starts and he's only thrown 158 NFL passes. No one deserves to be judged that quickly. To be fair, I'm not expecting Tebow to ever be an adequate or better pro quarterback, but the wise move would be to hand him the rest of the season. And in the meantime, we'll enjoy the unorthodox numbers that come along for the ride. This is one rare case where the destination is more important than the journey.
• Curtis Painter was the leading rusher in Nashville, one of those crazy stats from a fantasy-frustrating game. Painter also threw for 250 yards, though it took him 49 attempts to get there (a measly 5.1 yards per attempt). He hasn't thrown a touchdown since Week 6. Pierre Garcon is the only player from the Colts offense that does anything for me.
It's funny that Chris Johnson was the lead in last week's Shuffle Up and Run but almost no one wanted to talk about him. Today, he's the conversation topic all right: a rotten 14-carry, 34-yard mess against the Indy rushing defense will do that. The value of the Colts front seven has been somewhat misunderstood, mind you: the Colts are actually respectable from a per-carry standpoint (at 4.2, they're 15th), but they're buried in the gross-yardage stats because everyone's beating them and piling up the attempts. It's still a good matchup for a back, but it's not the sieve of the century.
There's no great bailout coming for Johnson owners. Today's sticker price is next-to-nothing in most leagues; you're better off holding and hoping he comes out of it. I don't expect that he will, but you can't give him away. You also have to remember that in the reshuffle nature of the NFL, it's never too early to at least consider that a poor start could be a poor season. Anyone who was open minded to dealing Johnson or Peyton Hillis back in September is grinning like a Chesire Cat now.
In some other roto pursuits — fantasy baseball comes to mind — it's often right to trust in a player's career profile or established form, wait for things to normalize. In the NFL, there is no normalization: every season is different, every season is crazy. In baseball, you wait for the skid to straighten out. In the NFL, you accept that the skid never really goes away.
Javon Ringer makes sense as an addition in all leagues, of course; the Titans are trying to make the playoffs and Mike Munchak eventually has to put his team first and stop chasing the Johnson ghost. We saw that at the end of the Week 8 game. But it's not like Ringer is flashing on the screen: for the year he's averaging 3.5 yards a pop on his 35 carries. Sure, it's a small sample, and yes, he's doing better than Johnson. I want to see what he can do, too. But let's not run away with the story until we see more production.
One last Tennessee takeaway: I'd sell high on Nate Washington if you can. The rushing touchdown against the Colts was a fluke, something unlikely to show again. The Titans spread the ball around in the passing game; Matt Hasselbeck is no star-maker, and there are other quality targets here. Washington is a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy option, solid enough, but he's considered a No. 2 in some markets. I doubt anyone gets overpaid in a Washington trade, but you can make a profit if you act now.
• The Niners keep Alex Smith on a short leash and it's really crushing Vernon Davis's value. The freakish tight end only has 31 targets for the year, despite the fact that he's secured 27 of those. Davis went 3-for-3 in the victory over the Browns. Given that the Niners are winning with their current game plan, I can't imagine Jim Harbaugh opening things up.
Leftovers From the Candy Bowl: Torrey Smith was constantly behind the Arizona secondary Sunday, but Joe Flacco kept missing him until the end. With a different quarterback, Smith would have had a monstrous day. Arizona will be handing out treats to everyone all year, provided you can be reasonably accurate. … Brent Celek's big day was more about Dallas giving Philadelphia the middle of the field than the Eagles looking to feature Celek. I'd take Celek as a waiver play if the cost is next-to-nothing, but I won't make him any sort of priority. … The Steelers frustrated the Patriots with consistent press coverage, something the New England targets had trouble beating. Teams would be wise to copy this; the brainy Patriots have little trouble beating zone coverage, but this team still lacks the pure speed weapons to make you pay deep. Not that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won't adjust, but if you trust your corners, it's the right way to approach this matchup. … Oh great, now Tashard Choice is on the Redskins. I guess Mike Shanahan lost the cell phone number for Tatum Bell. The narrative never seems to change with offensive designers: they're the star in their offense, and they'll frustrate you 8-10 times a season, if not more. The backfields in Washington, New Orleans and Kansas City all follow this theme.
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Photos courtesy of Associated Press
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