The Packers played about as poorly as they can play for much of Sunday's game, at least on offense, yet Aaron Rodgers still threw for 396 yards and the Packers won on the road against the NFC's top seed in 2010. Green Bay is going to go into its Week 8 bye 7-0 (they've got the Rams and Vikings the next two weeks), so it's not too soon to start wondering if they could go undefeated. That may sound nuts, but they'll be favored in every game and Aaron Rodgers is so good at avoiding the turnovers that help underdogs spring upsets. Let's put it this way - if you put the over/under on Packers victories at 14, I'd take the over.
Do you remember how the Cardinals used to throw fades to Larry Fitzgerald at the goal line? Beanie Wells is hitting paydirt from in close like he wants Fitz to never score a goal-line TD again. Unfortunately, Kevin Kolb is throwing like he has a similar goal.
Want more proof that rushing stats are more unpredictable than passing? Cam Newton, undrafted in most fantasy leagues, has more rushing TDs through five weeks than consensus first-round fantasy RBs Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, and Jamaal Charles combined. Fellow first-round RB Adrian Peterson broke through this week, but I'm skeptical how many more games we'll see like last week as long as Donovan McNabb keeps playing like a nursing home patient. In other words, with a tough remaining schedule for the Vikings, I fear too many lines of 16-74-0 upcoming for Peterson, and remember - Peterson isn't involved much in the passing game. If I could trade him for Calvin Johnson, Adrian Foster or Ray Rice, I'd do so. Better yet, I'd offer Peterson and a WR2 for LeSean McCoy and a WR1 ... or, as a buddy of mine is trying to do, Peterson and Tony Romo for Ray Rice and Drew Brees.
I made the Eagles my Best Bet in Staff Picks because I was convinced the Eagles superior talent would come through with their backs against the wall. So what happened? I still think the Eagles are more talented than the Bills, who didn't come close to stopping Vick and didn't even try to throw downfield against the Eagles stud corners. But the Eagles can't tackle, and all those "lucky bounces" the Bills have been getting on defense now seem more than just luck. Their secondary is the best ball-hawking unit in the NFL, as they're intercepting *every* ball they get their hands on, and they're doing it without a pass rush - a rare combination. If you're wondering who gets credit, Nick Barnett has been a big upgrade at linebacker, George Wilson deserves Pro Bowl votes (Rodney Harrison, a former safety, appropriately singled out Wilson during the NBC broadcast on Sunday night), and Chan Gailey is battling Jim Harbaugh for Coach of the Year.
Andy Reid is also in the Coach of the Year running, only the exact opposite. The Eagles are horribly undisciplined (as seen by poor tackling every week and jumping offsides when the Bills weren't going to run a play), and they give up points in clock management situations (like at the end of the first half) more than any team in football. Perhaps Reid's biggest mistake, though, was installing Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator when Castillo clearly wasn't/isn't ready for the job (which shouldn't have been a surprise since he spent the last several years as offensive line coach). All of that said, I'm curious to see what their Super Bowl odds are - if I could get 35 or 40:1, I'd think long and hard about it. There's plenty of season still to play, the NFC East lacks a dominant team (so a 9-7 record could take that division), and as we saw with the Packers last year, all the Eagles need is to make the playoffs to have a chance.
In the category of "impossible to believe" - Tom Brady had the first red zone interception of his *career* in a home game this week (after 91 TDs). Think about that for a minute - 91 TDs, zero INTs - that's sick. And the INT wasn't Brady's fault, as Aaron Hernandez deflected what should have been a touchdown reception. Speaking of Hernandez, now that he's back, he's an anchor on Rob Gronkowski's fantasy value, and vice versa. Both remain in the top 10, but neither is elite so long as both are healthy, particularly with the Patriots new-found running game. The emphasis on the run in the past two weeks is no coincidence - I think the Pats realized they were too pass-heavy after their Week 3 loss, which included four INTs, and they're trying to stay more balanced. Passing records are nice, but it's all about Ws in New England.
Everyone buried the Chiefs for 2011 after they were blown out their first two games by a combined 89-10. But those losses don't look as bad as they did at the time when you consider they were against the Lions and Bills. Plus, the Chiefs followed up those blowouts with a narrow loss to the Chargers and consecutive victories the past two weeks. Dwayne Bowe is unquestionably an RB1 - if anything, he benefits from the Chiefs lack of a running game and mediocre defense. Also, Matt Cassel suddenly looks like a matchup starter for fantasy purposes during the bye weeks, and Jackie Battle looks serviceable at running back. Add it all up and suddenly the Chiefs look more like a 7-9 type of a team than one competing for Andrew Luck. If the public hasn't caught on to the Chiefs' improvement yet, there could be value in betting with the Chiefs against the spread the next few weeks, and their players may be under-valued for fantasy purposes.
The Steelers and Titans finally resembled the teams we thought they'd be in 2011, as the former looks like a playoff team (with a favorable remaining schedule) and the latter does not (without Kenny Britt and a mediocre-at-best offensive line, they can't score enough). For all of the criticism we've heard of the Steelers defense, they're first in pass defense, second in total defense, and are allowing just 5.6 YPA, a full half-yard better than anyone else. That's a big reason why my playoff predictions for the AFC look like this: Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Chargers, Steelers, Bills (in that order). I didn't see the Bills as a playoff team before they beat the Eagles, but now that they're 4-1, who would you replace them with? The Jets are 2-3 and have a really difficult schedule (Chargers, Pats, Giants, Bills twice, at Philly, at Washington); they'll likely need to sweep Buffalo to get in. The Raiders are, well, the Raiders (and would lose a potential head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bills). A darkhorse is the Bengals, who have three wins already, a solid defense, and a friendly schedule outside of the divisional games (Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns, Colts, Titans).
In a weak NFC West, it's time to start thinking about the 49ers not just as a playoff team, but as a legitimate candidate for a first-round bye. Clearly, the time to buy Frank Gore low was before Week 4. As for Alex Smith, he's like that girl in high school who was always overweight with acne - you always ignored her, only to turn around one day and realize she purchased a treadmill and ProActiv and isn't all that unattractive anymore. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but hey, it's Alex Smith.
Is the AFC South this year's version of the NFC West? The Colts and Jaguars won't finish with more than a few wins, and while the Texans and Titans are 3-2, things aren't looking up for either squad. The Texans just lost Mario Williams for the season and Andre Johnson remains sidelined, while the Titans seem like a 7-9 or 8-8 type of team without Kenny Britt. Sad to say, but much like the Seahawks last year, I think an 8-8 record could take this division and host a superior team in the Wild Card round. If you disagree, remember who's coaching the Texans - Gary Kubiak, who graduated summa cum laude from the Norv Turner School of Underperforming.
Why did it take injuries (not just to Mario Manningham, but Domenik Hixon) for Victor Cruz to get playing time? Manningham has never had a three-game stretch like this in his career. I regret I wasn't more aggressive with Cruz for waiver purposes. Sigh. There's gotta be a way I can blame Chris Liss for this.
I guess Arian Foster needs Andre Johnson around to keep the safeties honest. The receiving yards were nice, but against a Raiders defense that came into the game allowing a league-worst 5.9 YPC, it was disappointing to see Foster go 22-68-0 on the ground. Nobody missed Johnson more than Matt Schaub, though, as Jacoby Jones parlayed his eleven targets into just one catch for 9 yards. (9 yards on 11 targets? Seriously? If that's not a record for futility, it has to be close.)
Did anyone notice how a fan slapped Calvin Johnson on the ass during his "Lambeau Leap" after his first touchdown? It's one thing for teammates to do that, but I don't think players want random fans to cop a feel when they're celebrating a TD ... if they did, I think they'd celebrate with the cheerleaders, not the fans.
Everyone knows why parents only bring out fine china when it's a holiday and guests are visiting - they don't want it to be broken from overuse. This is the same logic the Saints should be using with Darren Sproles, but I'm not sure they are. Sproles should be used on third downs only, as he's perhaps the best third-down back in the NFL, but he's small, so if he's used too much, he's going to get hurt. 11 carries last week (plus five catches) is too many, especially with Pierre Thomas being under-utilized. This isn't a problem yet, but it will be.
The more I see Joe McKnight excel on special teams, the more I think he could be Darren Sproles lite if given a chance to play on offense. The Jets are a bit slow at running back; McKnight should be given a shot - not in a feature role, but like Sproles is used. Given Rex Ryan's unhealthy obsession with "ground and pound," though, it doesn't seem that's going to happen. At least Shonn Greene looked like a starting-caliber NFL running back last week (for the first time this season).
Fantasy's top QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton. If anyone doesn't value Newton accordingly, make a play for him. (Vick is getting beaten like a rented mule - his injury risk slides him to fifth on my list.)
Anyone living in California, the odor you smell is the egg laid by the Bucs in San Francisco. I forgave the Bucs after their loss to the Lions in Week 1, but now they look like a team that can't defeat the NFL's winning teams. (Check out their 2010 game log and you'll see the same problem.) Worse yet, Josh Freeman and Mike Williams have really taken a step back so far this year, as they look nothing like the emerging tandem we saw in 2010. It's gotten so bad for Williams that I'm discussing him in this week's article, below.
James Jones played more on Sunday than he has all season. When they reviewed the tape from Week 4's game, I suspect Packers coaches saw what I saw (and mentioned in last week's column) - the Packers are better when Jones plays ahead of Donald Driver. To clarify for Rotowire's Herb Ilk (a Packers fan who thinks I over-value Jones), I don't think Jones is a stud, but anyone getting targets in this offense is relevant for fantasy purposes, and Jones is clearly better than Driver.
If you're looking for solid matchups for your fantasy RBs, find ones that play the following defenses, which are as soft as toilet paper:
Bills - 5.5 YPC, 138 yards/game, 5 TDs
Rams - 5.3 YPC, 179 yards/game (that's 34 yards/game more than anyone else)
Raiders - 5.2 YPC, 5 TDs
Jets - league-worst 8 TDs, presumably as teams avoid Revis Island
Eagles - 5.0 YPC, 140 yards/game, 5 TDs
Colts - 142 yards/game, 6 TDs
Panthers - 4.9 YPC, 132 yards/game, 5 TDs
Conversely, you might want to think about leaving RBs who face these defenses on your bench:
Cowboys - league-best 3.1 YPC and 61.8 yards/game; just 1 TD allowed
49ers - 3.6 YPC, only NFL team to not allow a rushing TD
Ravens - 3.2 YPC, 72.5 yards/game, just 1 TD allowed
As for pass defenses, take advantage of your QBs and WRs who play these teams:
Patriots - last with 326 yards/game, 8.6 YPA, 9 TDs allowed (opposing QBs always throwing from behind)
Dolphins - 307 yards/game, 8.6 YPA, 9 TDs allowed
Chiefs - league-worst 12 TDs allowed
Packers - 300 yards/game, 8.1 YPA, 10 TDs allowed (like NE, opposing QBs always throwing)
Falcons - 294 yards/game, 8.4 YPA, 9 TDs allowed
Panthers - league-worst 8.7 YPA
Don't forget to remove players from the following teams from your lineup, as they're on bye in Week 6: Broncos, Titans, Chiefs, Cardinals, Chargers, Seahawks. Be ready to pounce if an opponent tries to slide Sidney Rice through waivers this week with Seatle off.
Here are the players I thought were worth discussing entering Week 6:
Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos: How bad was Kyle Orton against the Chargers? At one point, Tim Tebow was 1 for 5 for zero yards and Tebow's QB rating was higher than Orton's was. Anyway, if I knew this quarterback switch would be permanent, I'd recommend Tebow as the week's top waiver choice without equivocation. This isn't a real-life recommendation, of course - it's fantasy football, where Tebow's rushing skills make him a possible QB1, especially during the bye weeks. Speaking of byes, the Broncos have theirs this week, so barring an unexpected announcement from John Fox, we may not know, before this week's waiver claims, if Tim Tebow has the starting job come Week 7. So what do you do? Claim Tebow, even if it means cutting a guy like Kevin Kolb. You can find QBs like Kolb on waivers during the bye weeks, so I'd rather gamble on Tebow's upside. His chance to start is coming; it's just a matter of how soon.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: I've seen Ryan cut in some leagues, but with a matchup against the Panthers, this is the week for Ryan to throw for 275 yards and 2-3 TDs.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: Williams is going to get some attention on waivers this week in shallow leagues that gave up on him. But I'm not sure much has changed here. Williams got only 9 carries, Jonathan Stewart is still in the mix, and Cam Newton is clearly the Panthers goal line back.
Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs: The Chiefs finally realized Dexter McCluster is not the answer, and they gave Battle a chance. He came through, to the tune of 19 carries for 119 yards. Thomas Jones still got 10 carries, but you have to think Battle will be "the guy" going forward. In fact, Battle is big enough there's hope he will get goal-line carries over Jones. For some perspective, I'd rather own battle than DeAngelo Williams or any Packers running backs.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins: Thomas was inactive Week 4 with an injury and the Dolphins had a bye in Week 5, so if somebody cut him in your league, grab him. He's a nice play against the Jets, who are much weaker against the run than the pass.
Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals: Forget Cedric Benson's suspension - Benson may lose the starting RB job on merit. He's Thomas Jones-esque. Don't be surprised to see Scott start getting more touches for an improving Bengals offense.
Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns: Things are getting tense between Peyton Hillis and the Browns amidst whispers that Hillis didn't play in Week 4 on the advice of his agent, who has tried unsuccessfully to get Hillis a long-term deal. (Hillis is earning just $600,000 this year.) The situation has escalated to the point that Hardesty may see more touches, particularly since Hardesty has played pretty well when given the chance this year.
Mike Williams, WR, Bucs: After finishing 2010 as fantasy's 11th-best WR, there were high hopes for Williams entering 2011. But Williams and Josh Freeman haven't come close to recapturing their magic from last season, as Williams has just 19 catches for 183 yards and one TD through five games. Williams is still getting targets - 39 on the season - and seems to be healthy, so consider this a chance to "buy lowest."
Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: Wayne has been more valuable in fantasy than Garcon for, well, forever. But things have changed with Curtis Painter at quarterback. The more athletic Garcon is now the superior option, as Wayne's experience and precision route-running isn't nearly as meaningful without Peyton Manning. If given the choice, I'd cut Wayne for Garcon in a heartbeat.
Titus Young, WR, Lions: Calvin Johnson can't catch all of the TDs in Detroit. Young is a rookie, but he's slowly taking on a larger role in the offense, supplanting Nate Burleson as the second receiver.
David Nelson, WR, Bills: I'm sure many owners are wondering what to do with Nelson after two straight subpar outings. I'm holding. The Bills didn't have to throw much last week, as the Eagles corners posed a bad matchup. Plus, Donald Jones was injured, so that reduces some of Nelson's competition for touches. I'd treat Nelson as a WR3.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks: Sidney Rice is still the top guy in Seattle, but Baldwin has at least made himself relevant as a WR3 in medium-sized and deeper leagues.
Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans: Jones had 11 targets last week, but turning them into 1 catch for 11 yards shows why he's not a starting-caliber WR in the NFL. Walter exceeded 80 yards and a touchdown, and he certainly is more consistent than Jones. But the Texans will throw a lot to their tight ends while Andre Johnson is out, and this week's matchup against the Ravens is less than appealing.
Steve Breaston, WR, Chiefs: Breaston emerged last week, and the Chiefs are better than you realize (see above). But is Breaston worth rostering when the Chiefs are entering their bye this week? I don't think so - not if you can get one of the receivers listed above. Let's revisit Breaston next week.
Darius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders: I realize there's a fair amount of variance in the stats of most receivers on a week-to-week basis, but the receivers in Oakland are maddeningly inconsistent. The Raiders are a run-first offense, and Jason Campbell is league-average at best, so I'd avoid this situation until we see some consistency.
Bears D/ST: Check and see if the Bears defense was cut in your league because they just played the Lions. This week's home matchup against the Vikings looks far more appealing.
Bengals D/ST: I recommended the Bengals last week, and I see no reason to change course with a home matchup against Indy on tap.
Dead to Me:
Devery Henderson, WR, Saints: With Marques Colston back from injury and Jimmy Graham playing like a Pro Bowl tight end, there are simply too many options in New Orleans for Henderson to do anything. Despite his potential upside if injuries were to strike, he belongs on waivers in most formats.