Random thoughts as we enter Week 15:
• I've had a pretty good season in Staff Picks, entering last week 104-83. There's a reason, though, I don't make a living in the sports book - picking against the spread can be humbling (I was 4-12 this week) and, many times, a total crapshoot. Consider this week. There were crazy, last-minute covers by the Titans (covering on a last-play TD when, from a strategic standpoint, a FG was the right play), Ravens (choking away a huge lead, then covering with a pick-six in OT), Redskins (covering a two-point spread by scoring on 4th down, then missing the ensuing PAT to lose by one), Jaguars (covering when MJD scored a touchdown when FGs happen about 90% of the time in similar situations), and to a lesser extent the Cowboys back-door cover. Also, if you bet on the Vikings or Chiefs mid-week, you lost a home game when the Metrodome roof collapsed, then lost your team's starting QB when Matt Cassel had an apendectomy. It's all enough to drive you crazy, or, if you were on the right side of a few, change your outlook on life.
• Why does everyone keep saying the Ravens defense is "great"? Adjectives that come to mind for me are mediocre, average, ordinary, and unspectacular. If you disagree, go watch the fourth quarters of their games against the Falcons, Texans, and Bills - they blew leads in each and were fortunate to go 2-1 in those games.
• "Fantasy football is more fun, fantasy baseball is more skill." My colleague, Scott Pianowski, says this frequently, and last week was another illustration. That's not much comfort to Aaron Rodgers owners who lost in the playoffs by 10 points or less.
• Apparently, someone reminded Kyle Orton that he's Kyle Orton. Next year, when an established veteran begins exceeding his career norms out of the blue, for no apparent reason, remember what Orton did this year. It's called regression to the mean.
• I have an obsessive-compulsive personality and don't give up easily, so it drives me absolutely nuts when I see NFL teams throw in the towel when games are still in dispute. If you're down 9, 10, or 11 points and have the ball in FG territory late in the game (with so little time that you must recover an on-side to have a chance), kick a FG as soon as possible! Even if there are just 15 seconds left, that's still enough time to win. Kick the FG (11 seconds left, down 6, 7, or 8), kick the onside kick (8 seconds left), throw a 10 yard out, advancing the ball to midfield (3 seconds left), throw a Hail Mary into the end zone. Far-fetched? Sure. But unlike what the Titans did on Thursday, by using the entire clock to score a meaningless TD to lose by two, at least this gives you a chance to win. I'm certain that, in my lifetime, an NFL team will win a game in this manner.
• Teams the Bucs have beaten: Browns, Panthers (twice), Bengals, Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, Redskins. Not a winning team in the bunch. Teams the Bucs have lost to: Steelers, Saints, Falcons (twice), Ravens. Not a losing team in the bunch. That is remarkable consistency in an incredibly unpredictable NFL.
• How, exactly, did the Patriots get blown out by the Browns?
• The Jets have had three games against teams with a winning record since their bye. In those games, they've been outscored 64-9. They may have the most talent in the NFL, but as the Patriots are showing, it's better to have an A+ quarterback and C talent everywhere else than a C- quarterback and A talent elsewhere. At this point, the Jets are no lock for the playoffs, particularly with road matchups at Pittsburgh and Chicago the next two weeks. As for Mark Sanchez, I'm starting to think he: (a) won't ever win a Super Bowl; and (b) can't play in cold weather - which will remain a problem unless the Jets suddenly get a dome.
• Leaping over defenders looks great when it works, but as Peyton Hillis showed again last week, the risk far exceeds the reward, especially when you're not at the goal line.
• Rashad Jennings is going to be a starting NFL running back - soon. He reminds me a bit of Michael Turner those years he was backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.
• The Chargers net YPA is 2.2. The Jaguars net YPA is negative 1.6. If the Chargers miss the playoffs and the Jaguars make it, those would have to be the biggest outliers in each category in NFL history. I hope that doesn't happen, though, as a healthy Chargers team (with Rivers, Gates, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd) is the AFC's best chance to beat the Patriots.
Kerry Collins, QB, Titans: Everyone scores on the Texans pass defense, which allows a league-worst 287 yards/game and 27 passing TDs. Collins should be a safe bet for 250 yards and 2 TDs. If you're missing Aaron Rodgers due to his concussion, give Collins a look.
Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs: If the Bucs follow form, they'll win this week at home against the Lions. Josh Freeman has four of his five two-TD games in Bucs victories, so expect 220 yards and 2 TDs this week. He won't be spectacular, but his floor is fairly high considering he's a waiver wire QB.
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: The Colts defense has been awful, and so has the Jags. Incredibly, the Jags could break the all-time NFL record for YPA allowed in a season - they're at 8.7 YPA now - and yet still make the playoffs! Anyway, since this week's Colts/Jags matchup could be played in the 30s, Garrard is a viable option. His floor is lower than Freeman's (at least this week), but his ceiling is higher.
Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins: Torain had about 140 yards with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter on Sunday. His pace slowed immensely thereafter, but he's the top waiver pickup this week in many formats.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: One week after I buried him, Mathews finally posted a fantasy-worthy game. Splitting carries on a high-powered offense in a home game against the 49ers is worth a start in deeper formats. Just don't sit a reliable option to do so.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins: Brown and Williams have been disappointing this year, but they face the Bills last-ranked rush defense this week. The Bills are as bad against the rush as the Texans are against the pass, allowing 165 yards/game - more than 15 yards more than everyone else and 40 yards/game more than 24 teams.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Bucs: Blount has been less than impressive lately, but that creates a buying opportunity for a nice matchup against the Lions.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders: The Raiders backfield is similar to the Chiefs, with Darren McFadden = Jamaal Charles and Michael Bush = Thomas Jones. If those roles continue this week, expect Bush to have a fantasy relevant game against a Broncos run defense that's allowed an NFL-high 19 rushing TDs.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants: There is no excuse for Nicks to be unowned, even coming off an injury and even in shallow leagues.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans: Britt was really good before his injury a few weeks back, and this week's matchup is great. See Kerry Collins, above. Yes, I'd start Britt before Randy Moss.
Blair White, WR, Colts: If Austin Collie is out again this week, I like White quite a bit against a Jaguars defense that allows 8.7 YPA. I'm moderately concerned the Jaguars defense isn't good enough to force Peyton Manning to go to his third or fourth option in the passing game, but if you have to take a flyer at receiver, you might as well choose one on a team that should score in the 30s.
Ruvell Martin, WR, Seahawks: Seattle is decimated with injuries at receiver, and somebody has to get targets. If the Seahawks are playing from behind again (a reasonable possibility since they're playing the Falcons), Martin is a better option than you think.
Bo Scaife, TE, Titans: Two things I like here - Scaife scored twice last week, and he plays a Texans team in Week 15 that has allowed more fantasy points to tight ends than any other team.
Cardinals D/ST: The Cardinals finally showed some life last week, and this week they get a Panthers team that has shown no life for several weeks.