The "Reshuffle League"
My colleague Scott Pianowski calls the NFL a "reshuffle league," and by that I take him to mean not only does it reset each year, but even quarter-season by quarter-season and on occasion week by week. As a general concept most people are probably on board with this, but ask yourself whether the Carolina Panthers are a passing-game wasteland the rest of the year, or the Detroit Lions will squeeze any value out of the running back position, and you can see how it's easy to get stuck projecting the recent past into foreseeable future. Now, I'm not saying Jimmy Clausen or Brian St. Pierre will suddenly get it, or that Maurice Morris is the answer in Detroit, but would either scenario be more implausible than the Bills scoring 49 and combining for 80 points in Cincinnati as of eight weeks ago? The Bills passing game was every bit the wasteland Carolina's is with Lee Evans playing the role of Steve Smith. David Gettis is actually better known now than Steve Johnson was then.
But the odds of a Carolina QB turning into Ryan Fitzpatrick are slim, you might argue, and maybe so. But eight weeks ago, turning into Ryan Fitzpatrick was not something to be desired unless you were talking about the Harvard grad's post-playing employment prospects.
My point isn't to run out and grab Carolina receivers or that Maurice Morris will win you your league, but it's important to hold your conclusions about the future loosely. Past performance is predictive but not dispositive, and even less so when a situation is unsettled. It's helpful to put yourself back in your preseason mindset as best you can and consider your opinion of the Bills and Bengals and then contrast that with what actually happened 11 weeks later. It's too easy to rewrite history and re-imagine Fitzpatrick and Johnson as players that were on the radar; they were not. If you are able to see how clueless you were about Buffalo's impending offensive breakout (remember, they went into Green Bay Week 2 and did nothing – didn't even use Lee Evans or C.J. Spiller, their two most explosive players!) – and then fast forward to how you feel now, you can cultivate a cognitive dissonance that will enable you both to recognize how bad the Panthers passing offense has been and simultaneously be aware that parts of it could be useful to you down the stretch.
You might also consider this next year before saving survivor teams for later in the season, or drafting players based on their playoff opponents.
Are the Jets a Passing Team?
I was down on Santonio Holmes', Braylon Edwards' and Mark Sanchez's fantasy prospects this year because the Jets were one of the most run-heavy teams in the league a year ago, and given the stout defense and first-rate offensive line, I expected more of the same. Early in the year, that seemed to be the case with LaDainian Tomlinson off to a good start, Shonn Greene spelling him and tight end Dustin Keller the closest thing to a playable receiver. But over the team's last four games, Sanchez has thrown for 256, 336, 299 and 315 yards, respectively. Over his last three, he's had six touchdown passes. Meanwhile, while Tomlinson's done damage as a receiver, he's yet to average more than 3.7 yards per carry or crack 57 yards in a game. Greene rushed for 72 yards against the Browns two weeks ago, but it took him 20 carries (3.6 YPC), and besides losing a costly fumble on Sunday, hasn't done anything remarkable of late, either. On the season, the Jets have attempted 338 passes and run the ball 328 times (very close to a 50/50 split), which is far lower than last year's 60/40 in favor of running the ball. It's probably a good thing for the Jets to have balance, and it makes Holmes essentially an every week starter (though not if your league counts practice stats), but the RB timeshare is far less attractive (unless you have Tomlinson in a PPR).
Is Richard Seymour Watching Too Much "Dexter"
It's a typical storyline for the show. A man gets accused of assaulting several women, the system lets him off the hook, but Dexter Morgan determines he's actually guilty and metes out justice. Maybe Roger Goodell is also watching because Seymour was merely fined $25,000 for punching a quarterback in the face, while James Harrison was fined $75,000 for making a tackle during a game. How much do you think it would have cost Seymour in terms of cash and games suspended had he punched Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?
Things to Take Away from Week 11
• Vince Young acted unprofessionally after hurting his thumb, but why did Jeff Fisher say Young would have been benched next week even if he weren't out for the year? Young has an 8.0 YPA with 10 TDs and 3 picks, and he was 12-of-16 for 165 yards (10.3 YPA) on Sunday before he got hurt. When you consider Fisher refused to play Young over Kerry Collins last year until the Titans were 0-6 (and only at the behest of owner Bud Adams), it's probably not due to on-field performance. I can't see Young and Fisher co-existing in Tennessee next year, but unlike Charles Robinson who wrote the linked article above, I'm not convinced Young is solely at fault for the split.
• It's too bad the Titans don't face the Jets later this season – dying to see what would happen in a Randy Moss-Darrelle Revis rematch. Speaking of which – does anyone have film on the Titans the last two games? Is Moss still being double covered and opening up opportunities for Nate Washington and Chris Johnson? Or is that just a myth, and there's no reason the Titans are paying half his salary since they're not targeting him.
• Peyton Manning made one of the worst decisions I've seen in the last couple years, throwing a ball into tight coverage from an odd angle while under pressure with his team in FG range down three and seconds left on the clock. Of course, the announcers immediately absolved Manning, saying the pressure caused the pick. You can't let facts get in the way of a narrative. Manning did get 393 yards, but it took him 55 passes (7.6 YPA), and now he's up to 7.0 on the season. After the three picks, Manning is now 11th in QB rating among qualified players as well.
• Speaking of the Texans', watching them give away the game to the Jets on plays by Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, even though the Jets had no time outs, needed the TD and couldn't run or throw short passes was surprising even by their standards. And those standards (109.1 QB rate, 25 TD, 6 INT, 8.4 YPA) are low. In fact, the average QB against the Texans is better than Philip Rivers (103 QB rate, 19 TD, 8 INT, 8.9 YPA) against an average defense. (Rivers' stats through Sunday). When you think about how bad they are (and also Jacksonville 8.8 YPA, 103.9 QB rating), it's shocking that Manning's having the worst statistical season since his rookie year despite 30 percent of his games being against those two.
• Eli Manning falling on his face and fumbling for no reason with the game on the line was one of the most unathletic things I've ever seen an adult do. And I don't mean an NFL-playing adult. Once in a while you'll see an uncoordinated eight-year old do something like that, but even then it's rare. The Giants defense had played great against Michael Vick in the second half to that point, too.
• Somehow in my six leagues, I missed the boat on Dwayne Bowe, Steve Johnson, Terrell Owens, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Lloyd, Kyle Orton and Michael Vick. I am heavily invested in Randy Moss, Ryan Mathews, Beanie Wells, Steve Smith (CAR) and Jay Cutler, however.
• If any of you are parents of a star high-school running back, rest assured Thomas Jones will steal carries from your son when he reaches the NFL.
• Chris Ivory leads rookie running backs in rushing. What seemed like one of the best rookie classes in years at the position has been one of the worst. Incidentally, Ivory's the only Saints running back I'd want to own right now.
• With Hakeem Nicks out for at least three weeks, and Steve Smith for two, the Giants' No. 1 WR is Mario Manningham, and their number two is Derek Hagan (who signed six days ago). That's because Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Victor Cruz are on IR. Eli Manning goes from near automatic starter to very borderline.
• The Packers and Eagles are the two best teams in the NFC and probably the entire league.
• Brad Childress' firing was a welcome development – it was only two years too late.
• The Bucs were playing over their heads early on, but they're also a young team starting to grow into their inflated record. Granted, they're beating mostly bad teams, but last week's win in San Francisco was of the convincing variety and not merely smoke and mirrors.
• The Chargers are an elite team, and that's without Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. If the former can get healthy and the latter gets on board quickly, San Diego can win the Super Bowl.
Things to Watch for in Week 12
• The Packers, arguably the best team in the NFL, against the Falcons who are very tough at home.
• The Chargers in Indy against a Colts team starting down five losses in 11 games.
• Michael Vick in Chicago against one of the league's best defenses.
• The Bucs getting a real test in Baltimore.
• The Giants depleted receiving corps at home vs. the Jaguars, the 32nd ranked team by YPA (8.8 allowed)
Beating the Book
Jaguars +7.5 at Giants
I realize the Giants are missing their best playmakers, but the Jaguars pass defense is so poor, I expect Eli Manning to get it done with Mario Manningham, Derek Hagan and maybe even Travis Beckum. David Garrard has had a good year so far, but the Giants defense is still one of the league's best, and I think they'll limit Maurice Jones-Drew and force some mistakes. Back New York.
Giants 27 – 13
We lost with the Vikings last week to go 6-5 in this forum and 73-82-5 on the season. We were 10-7 in this forum last season, 131-122 overall. We were 12-5 in this forum in 2008. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties).
The full article comes out on Wednesday night.
Surviving Week 12
Last week was pretty easy, unless you had the Bengals (who I actually liked as my No. 4 pick in the full column), but otherwise no major favorite lost. (Well, maybe the Titans who were borderline). Let's look at the numbers this week: