Monday Leftovers: Warming up to safe-kicker theory

Kicker scoring is fluky, everyone understands that. Kickers drive us nuts. But that doesn't mean these guys can't swing championship matches.

During most of the fantasy season, I'm simply trying to hook up with a favored team and a reliable offense, leave it at that. I'll usually stream my kicker on a weekly basis, too. But when December rolls around, weather also becomes a factor for me.

Sure, Matt Prater finished first on the Week 14 kicking board, laughing at the cold. The Broncos offense surely helped, but Prater proved to be matchup proof. Nonetheless, many of the other winter wonderlands took a tax at the PK spot - especially in Philadelphia, where neither team even wanted to attempt placement kicks.

If you doubled up on the idea of a favored kicker in warm weather, you found some decent scorers in Week 14. Phil Dawson collected 16 points, Nick Novak went for 14, Rian Lindell scooped 11. Even Josh Scobee produced 10 on Thursday, if you were wise enough to predict Jacksonville's mild upset over scuffling Houston. (Okay, Jay Feely didn't have a day for Arizona, despite a lopsided win. Nothing's perfect.)

I recognize there's not a huge gain in any of this, but every advantage you can get matters. We've all seen fantasy championships decided by the smallest of margins.

Here's a list of kickers I'd expect to be doubly-safe (a favorite in benign weather) for Week 15:

-- Stephen Gostkowski at Miami
-- Adam Vinatieri vs. Houston (dome)
-- Graham Gano vs. New York Jets
-- Ryan Succup at Oakland
-- Dan Bailey vs. Green Bay
-- Matt Bryant vs. Washington (dome)

I'm not including Garrett Hartley (at St. Louis) - I don't trust that chap anywhere.

As for the rest of the weather takeaway, you should know the drill by now (an it's been hammered home by most logical pundits). Wind is your enemy, always. Rain, snow, cold, those elements can generally be overcome. And even if a game starts off in the most horrible of situations, there's no guarantee they'll stay penal for the balance of the game. Consider how much late scoring we saw on Sunday, en route to the highest touchdown week of all time in the NFL.

If Peyton Manning can't get to the Super Bowl with this current setup, maybe he's never going back. Look at the wreckage of the AFC - the Patriots just lost Rob Gronkowski, Cincinnati has an ordinary quarterback in Andy Dalton, Indianapolis has 500 problems. The Ravens are sneaking up on the league, but with that offensive line, I don't like them going deep. The Broncos have no logical reason to fear Kansas City in January.

I didn't have any problem with the hit on Gronkowski, by the way. Life is just about impossible for a defender in the 2013 NFL - you have no idea what your hitting zone is. And if you even look menacingly at a franchise quarterback, the flags fly. I'm all for player safety, but there's no way to legislate the contact out of the game. And you can't expect defenders to be perfectly precise given the size and speed of the modern players.

With Gronkowski's injury, Shane Vereen is clearly the second-most important member of the Patriots offense. He's caught a whopping 40 passes (on 55 targets) in just five games, going for 373 yards. He's in a good spot for Week 15, up against a Miami defense that often struggles to mark pass-catching running backs.

Speaking of Mannings, what's the story with Eli Manning in New York? Is his arm toast? Is his confidence shot? Is it simply his wideouts hanging him out to dry? Victor Cruz hasn't scored since September - 42 yards at San Diego was a significant disappointment - and it's been a full year since Hakeem Nicks spiked a football.

Manning's been a better caretaker of the ball over the second half of the season, but he's still not getting it done in most standard leagues. His last 300-yard game came in Week 5. He's managed just one multiple-score game over his past eight starts. And we all know he brings nothing to the table as a scrambler (38 yards, no scores). Maybe it's time for the Giants to aggressively target a quarterback in the draft.

Rex Ryan might not last the year with the Jets, but he'll walk away proudly. After all, his defense is doing what Ryan loves more than anything - it's stopping the run. The Jets hand out a paltry 2.9 yards per carry in 2013, far and away the leader in the NFL. A cluster of eight teams are between 3.5 and 3.9.

The more progressive minds in today's NFL see the forest for the trees - pass defense is what matters. The Saints, Chiefs, Patriots and Colts all have mediocre rushing defenses on a YPC basis and it doesn't mean squat. Meanwhile, a host of good run-stuffing teams are packing up at the end of December (Cleveland, Oakland, Washington, St. Louis, maybe Baltimore and Detroit). Don't hunt the rabbits - the elephants will kill you.

Credit Ryan for one thing - he was correct to stick with slumping quarterback Geno Smith. New York's clearly in development and evaluation mode. Before another wave of free agency and draft preparation comes, see where you're at with your young quarterback. There's nothing to be gained by resting Smith.

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