Random thoughts after Week 7 of the 2011 NFL season ...
Last week, I expressed my amazement at how defenses are constantly unprepared for QB draws in a no-back set on the goal-line. When the Broncos needed a two-pointer to tie, with Tim Tebow at QB, a QB draw was the most predictable play-call in NFL history, especially when Tebow lined up by himself in the backfield. I mean, seriously - did Miami really think he was going to throw? Did anyone? Yet the Dolphins lined up one linebacker on the right, outside the defensive end, a safety on the left, in coverage, and no middle linebacker - nobody in the middle besides the down linemen. If I were the GM in Miami, the Dolphins inability to defend the most predictable play-call in NFL history would seal Tony Sparano's fate as coach.
As inconsistent as the Texans have been, there's not a safer bet east of San Francisco or south of Green Bay to make the playoffs - with the Colts and Jags in their division, only the Titans are within shouting distance of the Texans 4-3 record, and the Texans just crushed the Titans in Nashville without Andre Johnson. I'd be looking at the Texans Super Bowl odds this week, if only from the standpoint that anything can happen once you make the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers is undoubtedly the most valuable asset in real-life football, i.e. the player who would be drafted first overall if the entire universe of NFL players were available in an open draft, but who's second? For me, it's Cam Newton. Just 22 and already a stud, Newton has a higher ceiling than any other NFL player. You could say that sort of thing about a lot of first-overall QBs, I suppose, but what's amazing about Newton isn't just his ceiling - the floor for his career, barring injury, suddenly seems like 5-6 Pro Bowls - a career like, say, Donovan McNabb. Panthers fans have to be excited knowing he'll be the face of their franchise for the next 10 years, and for fantasy owners in dynasty leagues, there's nobody I'd rather own.
Christian Ponder was an upgrade over McNabb in his first career start against the defending Super Bowl champs. I'm not sure who that says more about - Ponder or McNabb; I suppose a little of both. Given the success of rookie QBs this year (in addition to Newton and Ponder, Andy Dalton in Cincinnati), compared to the flame-outs of veterans like McNabb and Kerry Collins, you have to think teams will err on the side of young QBs going forward.
The Steelers have two types of games - home games where their fans pack the stadium and road games where their fans pack the stadium.
The Dolphins and Rams aren't just 0-6; they're 0-6 against the spread. Vegas will adjust by setting some huge lines in these games, so be prepared to go ugly here if you're a degenerate gambler (which you have to be if you're laying money on games involving these teams).
As recently as early December 2010, there was a solid argument that Philip Rivers was as good as, if not better than, Aaron Rodgers. The two were easy to lump together - stat hogs on underachieving teams and the two most likely candidates to become this decade's version of Brady and Manning. Since December, 2010, though, they've gone in opposite directions. I wish I had an answer for Rivers' struggles - he has basically the same offense he had last year, if not better (since Vincent Jackson missed most of 2010 and Ryan Mathews wasn't as good as he is now). I'm sure Rivers misses Darren Sproles, but as good as Sproles has been, there has to be more to it than that, right? Unless Rivers is hiding an injury, I think he's likely to revert to his career norms, so I'd still consider him an every-week fantasy starter.
Without looking at who they've played, I dare anyone to intelligently explain how the Browns are 3-3. I picked Seattle +2.5 ATS because they've played well recently, but I openly wondered how much of their success was because of Tarvaris Jackson, who didn't play against the Browns. After allowing just six points but still losing, it looks like we have our answer. Going forward, consider the Seahawks better than you think with Jackson at QB and worse than you think without him.
We've seen it all season from the Bucs - Josh Freeman performs well in no-huddle and when the Bucs are behind, yet struggles otherwise. Whatever it is about these situations (quicker pace, sense of urgency), Rahim Morris must find a way to make Freeman play all game like it's a hurry-up situation.
I'm hardly a Jason Campbell apologist, but you've got to feel bad for him. His team was 4-2, he was having a solid if unspectacular season, and suddenly a broken collarbone has left him without a team (as his contract expires after the season). Incredibly, he found out about the Carson Palmer trade on TV - an inexcusable faux pas if you ask me. At least Campbell knows he's not alone - there's no way Felix Jones is getting his starting job back after DeMarco Murray ran for more yards in a game than every prior running back in Dallas Cowboys history. That's life in the NFL, where loyalty extends only as far as your health.
If I was going into a dark alley late at night, knew I was going to get mugged, and I could take just one NFL player with me, I'd choose Ndamukong Suh. Somehow, I get the feeling he'd do whatever was necessary to ensure we left the alley unscathed.
Matthew Stafford was 6 for 15 for 37 yards (2.5 YPA) on throws to anyone besides Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew. This is alarming, especially when you realize the Falcons aren't exactly a juggernaut on defense. The Lions have been a nice story so far, but despite their strengths, they have some pretty glaring weaknesses (running game, depth at receiver, run defense). In other words, they're the NFC's version of the Bills - fun team/story, but Wild Card upside.
Todd Haley deserves a lot of credit in Kansas City. It would have been easy for him to lose the team after an 0-2 start (both blowout losses) and season-ending injuries to Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry. Yet the Chiefs have won three straight, and, suddenly, this week's Chargers/Chiefs game at Arrowhead on Monday night looks mighty interesting.
Week 7 was a perfect storm of fantasy brutality, with several studs on bye and a plethora of injuries to fantasy starters early in games, especially at running back. Add it all up and I'm sure I'm not the only one happy to be moving on to Week 8. As you do, make sure you bench your Falcons, Bears, Packers, Raiders, Jets, and Bucs, as they're all on bye.
With all of the injuries at running back, you may be left with difficult choices on who to play this week. This makes matchups more important than ever. Let's take a look at the worst teams against the run (in the order I'd rank their suck-itude):
Rams: NFL-worst 183 yards/game and 5.5 YPC; 5 TDs
Colts: NFL-worst 9 TDs; second-to-last with 150 yards/game
Bills: 135 yards/game, 5.1 YPC, 8 TDs allowed
Panthers: NFL-worst 9 TDs; 133 yards/game
Jets: NFL-worst 9 TDs; 126 yards/game
Lions: 5.0 YPC; 129 yards/game
Saints: 5.4 YPC
Bears: 5.2 YPC
Eagles: 4.8 YPC, 123 yards/game, 6 TDs
Cardinals: just 3.8 YPC, but 8 TDs allowed
and contrast it with the teams who stack up well against the run:
49ers: 3.6 YPC; 74 yards/game, zero TDs
Cowboys: 3.3 YPC, 69 yards/game, 2 TDs
Ravens: 3.3 YPC, 76 yards/game, 1 TD
Bengals: 3.3 YPC, 89 yards/game
Vikings: 3.6 YPC, 89 yards/game
Seahawks: 3.2 YPC, 105 yards/game
My immediate reactions to these stats, for waiver purposes, in light of the Week 8 schedule:
- The three-headed monster in New Orleans - Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and Pierre Thomas, in that order - win the lottery this week, facing the Rams. All three are relevant this week because of the matchup and byes. Heck, if you're in a deep league, desperate, and/or in a league that emphasizes TDs, Jed Collins has scored three of the last four weeks (though he doesn't do anything except the sporadic, one-yard TD).
- Whatever happens in the Browns backfield this week between Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty won't matter much facing the 49ers. Same for the situation in Arizona, with Chris Wells injured but the Cardinals facing the Ravens on the road.
- With Tim Hightower out for the season, there's a chance for Roy Helu and/or Ryan Torain to feast on the Bills run defense (but you'd again be subjecting yourself to Mike Shanahan).
- DeMarco Murray is a must start against the Eagles.
- With Cedric Benson serving his suspension this week, you'd think Bernard Scott would be a good one-week play against the Seahawks, but, surprisingly, Seattle allows a league-best 3.2 YPC. Scott is probably still worth starting in Week 8 given the byes, but it's not as automatic as you'd have thought.
- Presuming Willis McGahee doesn't play through his broken hand, Knowshown Moreno immediately becomes a must-add on a run-oriented offense. Week 8 poses a juicy matchup against a Lions defense among the league-leaders in pass defense but among the worst in run defense.
- If Chris Johnson can't get untracked against the Colts, Titans coach Mike Munchak should consider benching him for Javon Ringer, if only in the short-term. That sounds nuts, but it seems like Johnson has zero passion after getting his payday in September, and he needs a swift kick in the rear. Johnson's performance is also Example 14,547 on why not to pay a running back big money because he holds out.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: The Cardinals pass defense is among the NFL's worst (8.2 YPA is worse than all but three teams), so Flacco should rebound from the stink-bomb he's laying in Jacksonville as I write this.
Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings: John Beck had a worthwhile fantasy game last week against the Panthers, who can be had through the air and the ground. I see no reason Ponder can't do something similar.
John Beck, QB, Redskins: All of the Bills games have been high-scoring - they're the only NFL team to go "over" each week. Plus, although they create turnovers, the Bills struggle against the run and the pass. Even without Santana Moss, Beck could be a sneaky one-week plug this week if you're hurting - along the lines of 225 yards and 1-2 TDs. This isn't a ringing endorsement, but I'd rather start Beck over Colt McCoy, Charlie Whitehurst, Matt Moore, Blaine Gabbert, Sam Bradford, Curtis Painter, and probably Kevin Kolb (at Baltimore), which means, with the byes, Beck is worth starting this week in many leagues.
Knowshown Moreno, RB, Broncos: Willis McGahee's broken hand presumably opens the door for Moreno to resume his starting role (barring something unexpected like McGahee keeping the job and playing with a cast). Among those likely to be available on waivers, I'd make Moreno my top waiver claim of the week.
Roy Helu and Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins: The bad news is that Mike Shanahan plays his RBs like it's his job to screw with fantasy owners. The good news is that Tim Hightower's injury makes the Redskins backfield a two-man show, at least in the short-term, between Helu and Torain. I'd probably rather own Torain right now, but it's troubling that Torain has zero catches on the season, particularly since young QBs like Beck often like dependable checkdowns.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders: It appears Darren McFadden avoided a serious injury, and the Raiders have a much-needed bye this week. But McFadden's injury showed why Bush should be owned in all but the shallowest of formats.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Stewart is still splitting carries with DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton is still scoring most of the TDs, but as between Stewart and Williams, Stewart is getting the goal line carries. That makes Stewart relevant during the bye weeks and/or in a good matchup. This week, the Vikings are solid against the run, but if the Panthers are playing with the lead at home, Stewart has a decent shot at double-digit fantasy points.
Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals: Scott should get starter's touches in Week 8 with Cedric Benson serving a one-game suspension, but expectations should be tempered against a Seattle run defense allowing a league-best 3.2 YPC.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans: Obviously Tate isn't going to run for 100 yards very often when Arian Foster is healthy. But Tate may be the backup with the highest upside in all of the NFL. Try to find a way to hold him through the bye weeks.
Javon Ringer, RB, Titans: Whether it's lack of motivation having just gotten a new contract or a hidden injury, something's off with Chris Johnson. I don't think Ringer will take this job based on performance, but the possibility of an injury or a short-term, motivational benching of Johnson makes Ringer someone to think about in deeper formats.
Kregg Lumpkin, RB, Bucs: Earnest Graham is out for the year, making Lumpkin the de facto starter. But LeGarrett Blount is expected back after the Bucs Week 8 bye, so Lumpkin isn't worth adding in most formats unless Blount suffers a setback.
Alfonso Smith, RB, Cardinals: The extent of Chris Wells' injury is unclear as of the writing of this column. As it seems like the injury is minor, and the Cardinals play a stout run defense in Baltimore, Smith is pretty low on my list of waiver wire additions for Week 8.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: With Mike Wallace, Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders at receiver, a suspect offensive line and a Hall of Fame quarterback, the Steelers would be well-served to spread the field and throw downfield. They've slowly begun implementing that offensive approach, and the new philosophy should help Brown remain fantasy relevant for the rest of 2011. A Week 8 matchup against the Patriots in a game where the Steelers may have to shoot it out won't hurt, either.
Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong, WR, Redskins: My Redskins theme this week isn't just because they play the Bills in Week 8. Santana Moss, the Redskins top wideout, will miss 5-7 weeks with a broken hand, opening the door for Gaffney and Armstrong (presumably, in that order) to receive more targets. It's hard to see a lot of upside here with a rookie quarterback, but Gaffney and Armstrong should be relevant for as long as Moss is out. This should also cement Fred Davis' position as a top-10 fantasy TE.
Greg Little, WR, Browns: The downside with Little is obvious - the Browns aren't very good. But the Browns aren't going to run against the 49ers, so if they're going to do anything on offense, Little seems likely to be involved.
Naaman Roosevelt, WR, Bills: Roosevelt became relevant in Week 5 with a long TD against the Giants, made possible after Donald Jones was hurt. Whoever has played in the slot has done well for the Bills so far this year, and that's the spot Roosevelt will hold in Week 8. But he's really "just another guy" and the Redskins matchup is mediocre at best.
Terrell Owens, WR, Free Agent: Drew Rosenhaus says that Owens has recovered from a torn ACL and could play for an NFL team this Sunday. Of course, Rosenhaus would probably say the same thing about me, too, so take whatever he says with the appropriate grain of salt. Given his age and mouth, Owens is, at best, a speculative addition for deep leagues.
Torrey Smith, WR, and Ed Dickson, TE, Ravens: Did I mention that I expect Joe Flacco to rebound against the Cardinals? If I'm right, Smith and Dickson should have worthwhile fantasy stats in Week 8.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals: Fringe starters like Gresham are often cut before their bye week, so check and see if Gresham was waived in your league. If so, he makes a solid start against a Seattle defense that's better against the run than the pass.
Titans D/ST: Most of the good matchups for fantasy defenses in Week 8 are with teams that are likely already owned. The only exception I see is the Titans, who get a home matchup in what should be a bounce-back game against a Colts team that just laid an egg.