December 18, 2011
When an actual Viking warrior seeks you out for a handshake following a win at the Metrodome, then you know you've done something special.
The gesture pictured above doesn't really seem consistent with Norse custom, but I'm no expert. Drew Brees was brilliant on Sunday, and he earned Ragnar's respect.
Brees completed 32 of 40 throws against Minnesota, finishing with 412 yards, five touchdown passes and no sacks. Please take a minute to enjoy the highlight reel.
Not surprisingly, Brees ranks atop the weekly scoring leaders as of this writing. Lance Moore ranks third among all wide receivers, Jimmy Graham is third among the tight ends, and Darren Sproles is the week's sixth highest-scoring running back. The New Orleans offense, if you hadn't noticed, is an absolute machine.
Actually it's better than that, because machines occasionally break down. No opponent has held the Saints below 20 points this season, Brees has thrown at least one TD pass in every game, and his lowest yardage total was 258, back on November 6 (in a win).
Entering Week 15, New Orleans led the NFL in yards-per-drive with a ridiculous 40.51. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, they averaged 49.83 on Sunday. These are crazy numbers, well ahead of the rate necessary to lead the league in a normal year, comparable to the historic performance of the 2007 Patriots (41.63).
After Sunday's effort, Brees is just 304 yards short of Dan Marino's single-season passing record. If he doesn't play another game this year, his 4,780 yards would be the sixth-highest total in NFL history. But obviously he will continue playing — nobody ever hits him; he's not an injury risk. Brees is likely to surge past Marino's mark at some point next week, when the Saints host Atlanta on Monday night. He's averaging 341.4 passing yards per game, so reaching 304 over two games is essentially a tap-in.
If you're facing this dude in Championship Week ... well, good luck. Brees has topped 300 yards in six of his last eight match-ups with the Falcons, including the Week 10 win earlier this year (322, two TDs). No lead will be safe heading into Monday.
• The Dream Team finally arrived, better late than never, as Philadelphia put up a season-high 45 points at home against the Jets. The Eagles defense opened the scoring, as Juqua Parker returned a fumble for a 47-yard TD, then Michael Vick, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy took over. Vick passed for 274 yards, 156 of which went to his tight end. Vick also crossed the goal line with the ball in his hands, his first rushing score of the year. McCoy ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns, establishing breaking a 66-year-old franchise record for single-season TDs. (The old mark belonged to Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, for those interested). Is McCoy the top overall pick in drafts next year? If he isn't, he'll be a gift to whoever has the No. 2 selection.
We should also note that the Jets defense looked painfully slow on Sunday, like old ladies chasing after children. I won't show that group too much respect next week, when making lineup decisions involving various Giants skill players.
• Carson Palmer and Matthew Stafford gave us an entertaining duel on Sunday, combining for 758 passing yards and five touchdowns as Detroit edged Oakland, 28-27. Hue Jackson's defense had no answers for Calvin Johnson, particularly in the fourth quarter. Megatron delivered 99 of his 214 receiving yards in the game's final seven minutes, when the Lions were rallying. Johnson had been relatively quiet over the past five weeks (by his absurd standards), dealing with relentless double-teaming, but it's no great shock to see him torch Oakland. Darrius Heyward-Bey led the Raiders in both catches and yards (8-155), but he also lost a fumble and he wasn't drop-free. Denarius Moore had a quiet day, catching only two passes, but Palmer badly overthrew him on an early play that should have gone for a touchdown.
• I'm not gonna tell you that I spent a significant portion of my Sunday afternoon watching the Browns and Cards, but whenever I checked in, Andre Roberts was making a play. I'm mildly surprised that he only had six catches for 60 yards and one score. John Skelton completed passes to 10 different receivers, directing another win, finishing with 313 yards. Peyton Hillis delivered his first useful fantasy line since Week 2, rushing for 99 yards and one TD on 26 carries — nice enough, but he's still hard to trust next week at Baltimore.
• Tim Tebow edged Tom Brady in standard Yahoo! scoring this week, 27.06 to 27.00, but his Broncos were schooled by the Pats, 41-23. Denver's offense isn't built for shootouts, in case you hadn't noticed. Tebow rushed for 93 yards and two scores in the loss, and he completed 11 of 22 passes for 194. He was also sacked four times, including this preposterous 28-yard loss. So it wasn't bad, but it wasn't a clinic, either. Demaryius Thomas caught seven balls for 116 yards for Denver, outproducing Eric Decker by a mile (1-22). Willis McGahee appeared to be headed for a nice day (seven carries, 70 yards), but he suffered a leg injury of as-yet-unknown severity. Lance Ball was effective in Willis' absence, gaining 105 yards on 13 touches and breaking the plane in the first quarter. The Broncos have a friendly match-up in Week 16 (at Buf), so consider Ball to be a potential add of interest.
New England's backfield was an effective mess, per its usual. The Patriots finished with three rushing TDs and 141 yards, but no individual player had more than 11 carries or 65 yards. Stevan Ridley led the team in rushing, while Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brady took the scores. Denver's defense limited Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker to four catches apiece, but Aaron Hernandez posted his biggest line of the season (9-129-1). There's a fair chance that both Gronkowski and Hernandez will finish as top-five scorers at their position this season, which seems crazy.
• Before we hit the recommended adds, we'll file a quick update on Johnny Knox: He'll need surgery on Monday to stabilize vertebrae, but the prognosis is reportedly good, both for his career and quality of life. Encouraging news, as the collision that led to Knox's injury may have been the ugliest of the year, one of the nastiest in recent memory.
Early waiver plays for Championship Week...
QB Kyle Orton vs. Oakland (17 percent owned)
QB Matt Moore at New England (18 percent)
QB Jake Locker vs. Jacksonville (3 percent)
QB Rex Grossman vs. Minnesota (17 percent)
RB Donald Brown vs. Houston (21 percent)
RB Lance Ball at Buffalo (12 percent)
RB Kahlil Bell at Green Bay (8 percent)
RB Christopher Ivory vs. Atlanta (4 percent)
RB Jackie Battle vs. Oakland (29 percent)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey at Kansas City (25 percent)
WR Demaryius Thomas at Buffalo (34 percent)
WR Golden Tate vs. San Francisco (3 percent)
WR Andre Roberts at Cincinnati (2 percent)
WR Randall Cobb vs. Chicago (14 percent)
-posted at 10:10 pm CT
Kansas City interim head coach Romeo Crennel got the Gatorade bath on Sunday, leading his Chiefs to an unexpected win over the previously undefeated Packers. Can't say I saw that comin'. Green Bay needed this game to clinch home field advantage in the NFC, so it's not as if the team lacked motivation. So much for the perfect season. The Chiefs' defense was terrific, limiting the Packers to 315 total net yards and 14 points.
Aaron Rodgers passed for one score and ran for another, so he was still useful for fantasy purposes. We should note, however, that Rodgers was held to his lowest passer rating of the season (80.1) and he failed to throw multiple TD passes for the first time this year. Jordy Nelson was notably bad, finishing with more penalties (four) than catches (two).
Just ... wow. Impressive work, Coach Crennel. Well done. You too, Kyle Orton. There's no way Tyler Palko would have put the ball in the air 31 times without throwing a pick or four.
As I understand the math for the Pack, they can still lock up home field if Pittsburgh beats San Francisco on Monday night. The fantasy community needs at least one more week of Rodgers & Co., so most of us will be pulling for the Niners. If you happen to be involved in a league that settles its title in Week 17, consider Matt Flynn a pickup of interest. There's a decent chance Green Bay will have everything nailed down by then, and, thanks to KC, they'll no longer have a shot at perfection.
• On Sunday, for the third time in his last four games, Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie tossed three interceptions. He's basically a civic embarrassment. (Or rather, the Bears' lack of reliable depth at the skill spots is a civic embarrassment. Either way, we're all ashamed). Seattle's defense returned two of the Hanie picks for scores, en route to a massive fantasy day. The Seahawks created five turnovers, they sacked the quarterback four times, and they held Chicago to just 221 total yards. As of this writing, the Seattle defense is the second-leading fantasy scorer in Week 15.
Marshawn Lynch was held to just 42 rushing yards on 20 carries, but he still crossed the goal line twice. That makes 10 straight games with a TD for Beast Mode, making a late push for fantasy MVP. He'll get the Niners defense in Week 16, a unit that still hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown.
• Arian Foster delivered the big stat line we all expected against Carolina (167 scrimmage yards, TD), but Ben Tate had a quiet day (30 yards) and TJ Yates was ... well, he was Leinart-like. Yates finished 19-for-30 with 212 yards, no touchdown passes and two INTs. This week, he definitely did not look like a quarterback capable of stringing together wins in the playoffs, though Andre Johnson's eventual return will make everyone seem better. The Texans get the Colts in Week 16, but Foster will again be the only must-start. And speaking of Indy...
• ...the Colts earned their first win of 2011, beating Tennessee by two touchdowns, 27-13. Donald Brown was a monster, rushing for 161 yards on just 16 carries, finding the end zone on this late, game-clinching 80-yard run. That was the biggest rushing total for Brown since his UConn Huskies beat Buffalo in the '09 International Bowl, just in case you were wondering. It won't be easy to roll with any Colts against Houston's defense next week, but Brown will earn the highest rank.
Chris Johnson topped 100 total yards for the Titans, though he never broke the plane. Jake Locker eventually replaced an ineffective Matt Hasselbeck, and the rookie connected on 11 of 16 throws, finding Nate Washington for a late score. Locker really should have started, but at least he finished.
• Eli Manning had touchdown passes taken away in every possible manner on Sunday — by replay review, by penalty and via this unforgivable drop. You won't see an uglier blunder by a receiver this year. Awful. I'm starting Hakeem Nicks in a semifinal matchup somewhere, and I pretty much feel that I deserve to lose. (Also starting Mike Williams in that league, so I'm pretty sure the loss is in the bag).
• If Drew Brees carried you a win this week, feel free to tout your fantasy genius-ness in comments. Brees passed for 412 yards and five touchdowns on Sunday, connecting with Lance Moore on two of the scores. Four different Saints receivers had at least five catches, as Brees completed 32 of 40 throws. At his current pace, he'll break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record next week, and he's given himself a decent shot at 40 touchdown passes. So that's pretty good. New Orleans will close with home match-ups against Atlanta and Carolina.
• CJ Spiller, I won't doubt you again. Or at least I'll try not to doubt you next week. Spiller had a huge PPR day in Week 15, hauling in nine passes for 76 yards and a score, rushing for 91 and another TD. He broke tackles, he made defenders miss, and he clearly has sufficient speed. It's time to assign this guy to a higher tier — and if you've got Fred Jackson in a dynasty league, it's time to raise the threat level.
We should probably note that Spiller, great as he was, was not actually the leading rusher in the Dolphins-Bills game. Reggie Bush carried 25 times for a career-high 203 yards against Buffalo's user-friendly defense. Bush's feet-first slide into the end zone on his late 76-yard run may have been the day's best TD celebration. Highlight here.
-posted at 4:55 pm CT
Eli Manning owners, feel free to complain just a little. Eli opened the game 0-for-6, but it shouldn't have been so ugly. His receivers offered no help at all. Hakeem Nicks somehow allowed a sure-touchdown bounce off his face. It almost seemed like some sort of tribute to Roy Williams. Brutal. Eli's early interception was the result of a deflection, too. Horrible beginning to his day, and it's not all his fault.
(Note: I'm not complaining here, because I'm facing Manning in two semifinal matchups. But if you want to file a protest in comments, I understand).
• AJ Green owners, you were thisclose to an early TD in St. Louis. Green was touched down near the goal line after this nifty 55-yard catch. Then he was targeted twice in the end zone by Andy Dalton, catching both passes, but he came down out of bounds each time. Just incredibly close. Later in the first half, Green suffered a right shoulder injury after tripping on a sideline route and falling to the turf. Rough news there, as Green was getting whatever he wanted against the Rams secondary (4-94-0). The rookie returned to the field in the second half, so it appears his owners dodged a bullet.
• We can never rule out the possibility of a second-half Panthers collapse, but that team has looked outstanding over the first two quarters. Cam Newton threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith on Carolina's opening drive, as No. 89 absolutely roasted Jonathan Joseph. Cam later connected with Jeremy Shockey on a short score, and the Panthers used some slick misdirection on a 7-yard Richie Brockel TD.
• Keep a good thought for Bears receiver Johnny Knox, who was carted off the field early in the first quarter. Knox was bent backwards unnaturally while pursing his own fumble and remained down on the field for a few minutes. He reportedly has movement in his arms and legs, so that's a relief. This was one of the ugliest collisions of the year.
Chicago actually held a halftime lead against Seattle, thanks in part to a defensive TD. Julius Peppers had a first quarter strip-sack in the end zone, and Israel Idonije fell on the football. Lat in the half, Kahlil Bell caught a 25-yard score from Caleb Hanie. Bell has been splitting work with Marion Barber and looks at least as lively. But the Seahawks opened the third quarter with an 80-yard, two-minute scoring drive, as Marshawn Lynch broke the plane for the second time. And then Hanie was Hanie, tossing an absurd pick-six to the gigantic Red Bryant.
• CJ Spiller found the end zone early for the Bills, scoring on a tough 24-yard run in the snow. Spiller carried eight times for 64 yards in the first half, adding three catches for 15. Tashard Choice is getting plenty of work for Buffalo, too, helping no one.
• Drew Brees is having his usual brilliant game, going 20-for-24 in the first half with three early TDs. Brees connected with eight different receivers over the first two quarters, finidng Jimmy Graham, Lance Moore and Darren Sproles for scores. Minnesota's defense can't hope to stop this machine. Robert Meachem had a long touchdown negated by a holding penalty, too. Adrian Peterson is having an acceptable day, but Toby Gerhart poached a touchdown following a long run by AP.
• The Bills defense apparently drew Anthony Fasano's name in this year's Secret Santa. Fasano was left completely uncovered on his 22-yard second quarter score. Reggie Bush carried 15 times for 81 yards in the first half for Miami, as the 'Phins led Buffalo 13-7.
There was supposed to be another Dolphins blurb right here, but Brandon Marshall dropped it.
• Did anyone expect a dogfight in Kansas City? The Packers apparently didn't, but they've got one on their hands. Green Bay was actually shut out in the first half at KC, though Aaron Rodgers and Donald Driver got the team on the board in the third quarter. The fantasy community clearly needs the Packers to remain undefeated, so they'll have some incentive to lean on their starters in the final weeks.
• Kevin Smith and Denarius Moore are both active in the late-afternoon match-up between the Lions and Raiders. Smith faces a defense that ranks dead-last in yards per carry allowed (5.2), so he's tough to sit.
-posted at 2:10 pm CT
OK, let's do this thing. Time to score, unrepentantly. No quarter, no excuses. The fantasy semis are underway. Do what we do. Try to forget all about Mike [expletive] Williams, and just focus on Sunday's numbers.
If you're looking for updated Week 15 ranks, hit this link. For last-minute news and advice (and Bengals propaganda) join us for Fantasy Football Live, beginning an hour before kickoff. Injury notes are right here.
Smell greatness, gamers. Onward to championship week. It's time to add another banner. Woof.