Thirteen points is a pretty common score, but doing it without a touchdown has to be the weirdest compilation of points in NFL history. (In case you missed it, the Rams went FG, FG, FG, safety, safety.)
Speaking of thirteen, a 13-0 deficit early in the second half shouldn't have felt like much for a Bills team scoring 30 points per game, but against the Jets, it felt insurmountable. The Jets defense is scary good, and with the Patriots offense suddenly looking mediocre, the Jets may be the best team in the AFC East. At worst, they're the AFC team I'd least want to face in the playoffs, especially in bad weather. What's intriguing about the Jets is that there's no other NFL team that can totally shut down an opponent's passing game. In other words, they're not the Saints (an inferior version of the Packers) - the Jets are the best at what they do.
Rex Ryan jumping is like a fat chick doing a strip tease - nobody wants to see it, and it just shouldn't be done (certainly not in public, anyway).
Is there any dispute that Eli Manning is second in the MVP race? Beating the Patriots in New England with half his team injured was eye-opening; Eli has raised the bar in 2011. That said, the Giants are going to have problems if they can't get healthy - nobody can keep squeaking out close wins like this (just a +14 point differential despite a 6-2 record) without it catching up to them.
Putting aside the Packers, who are in a league of their own, can you ever remember a season where there was such an absence of elite teams? I see little difference between the playoff contenders in the NFC (Giants, Cowboys, Eagles, Lions, Bears, Saints, Falcons, 49ers) and those in the AFC (Jets, Pats, Bills, Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Chargers). I prefer the Steelers, as I think they have the best balance of offense and defense, but any of these teams can beat any other on a given day - without it being much of an upset. Look at it this way - if you were betting with one other person on this year's Super Bowl winner, and he wanted the Packers, how many teams would you want to choose to balance it out? I'd say at least three (Steelers, Jets, Ravens), perhaps four.
How do I evaluate Tim Tebow? In Week 8, we saw his floor for 2011; in Week 9, his ceiling. More than probably any other NFL player, whether he plays well or craps his pants depends largely on the quality of the defense he's facing. Week 10 bodes well for Tebow, as the Broncos face the Chiefs, but Week 11 will be a "craps his pants" versus the Jets.
If the Bengals make the playoffs, then Andy Dalton has to be Rookie of the Year, no matter how good Cam Newton's stats are, right? I realize the Bengals haven't played the Ravens or Steelers yet (what a crazy scheduling quirk that shouldn't have happened), but they already have six wins and the Browns, Cardinals, and Rams are still on their schedule. Three wins there, plus just one other win (their other game is at home against the Texans) would total ten wins - usually good enough to make the playoffs. What's interesting, of course, is if the Bengals make the playoffs, then at least one of the Pats, Jets, Steelers and Ravens will be home in January.
Everyone knows Philip Rivers has 14 INTs, but what fascinates me is how he's performing as well as ever against a four-man rush but is struggling mightily against the blitz (amassing something like 12 of his 14 INTs against the blitz, including all three against the Chargers, despite facing the blitz on fewer than half his pass attempts). I've challenged Scott Pianowski (who watches game film) to give me an intelligent explanation for this - the sample size is too big for it to be a fluke - and until I see his take, my explanation is that Rivers is missing his security blanket, Darren Sproles. In the past, Rivers could rely on Sproles to get open as a checkdown option against the blitz. This year, Sproles is gone, leaving Rivers throwing to receivers who are big but struggling to gain separation.
The Chiefs are 4-4 and in first place, but their point differential is -70, worse than everyone in the NFL except the Colts and Rams. The Raiders can't stop a bloody nose, have 5 of their remaining 8 games on the road, and they'll probably be underdogs in all three home games (Chargers, Lions, Bears). I'll guess what I'm saying is that I'll be astounded if the Chargers don't win that division.
The Bears have studs on offense (Cutler and Forte), defense (Briggs, Peppers, and Urlacher), and special teams (Hester), so it should be no surprise they beat an enigmatic Eagles team. Chicago may well be the second-best team in the NFC - they'll be a tough out for anyone if their offensive line can play as well as it did on Monday night.
Colt McCoy is the new Sam Bradford - he might be good, might not, but we have no idea because the skill players around him are so awful. Of course, nobody outside of Cleveland really cares.
I'm tired of hearing how much better Shonn Greene has played recently. He doesn't get goal-line carries, doesn't have the speed to break long TDs, and isn't a factor in the passing game. Add it all up and I see little reason to expect Greene's next eight games to be any better than his first eight (502 yards, 2 TDs).
If your fantasy team is 4-5 or 5-4 through nine weeks and fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot, you don't have the luxury of looking beyond Week 10 - you've got to win now. However, if you're 7-2, 8-1, or, dare I say, 9-0, it's time to take a peek at potential matchups in the fantasy playoffs, a.k.a. Weeks 14-16 of the NFL schedule (particularly since, at this point in the year, we're able to decipher the good fantasy matchups and the bad ones). Here are the Week 14-16 schedules of all NFL teams (in my predicted order of finish by division):
Patriots: @Chargers, Dolphins, Broncos
Jets: Chiefs, @Eagles, Giants
Bills: @Chargers, Dolphins, Broncos
Dolphins: Eagles, @Bills, @Patriots
Ravens: Colts, @Chargers, Browns
Steelers: Browns, @49ers, Rams
Bengals: Texans, @Rams, @Cardinals
Browns: @Steelers, @Cardinals, @Ravens
Texans: @Bengals, Panthers, @Colts
Titans: Saints, @Colts, Jaguars
Jaguars: Bucs, @Falcons, @Titans
Colts: @Ravens, Titans, Texans
Chargers: Bills, Ravens, @Lions
Chiefs: @Jets, Packers, Raiders
Raiders: @Packers, Lions, @Chiefs
Broncos: Bears, Patriots, @Bills
Eagles: Dolphins, Jets, @Cowboys
Giants: @Cowboys, Redskins, @Jets
Cowboys: Giants, @Bucs, Eagles
Redskins: Patriots, @Giants, Vikings
Saints: @Titans, @Vikings, Falcons
Falcons: @Panthers, Jaguars, @Saints
Bucs: @Jaguars, Cowboys, @Panthers
Panthers: Falcons, @Texans, Bucs
Packers: Raiders, @Chiefs, Bears
Lions: Vikings @Raiders, Chargers
Bears: @Broncos, Seahawks, @Packers
Vikings: @Lions, Saints, @Redskins
49ers: @Cardinals, Steelers, @Seahawks
Seahawks: Rams, @Bears, 49ers
Cardinals: 49ers, Browns, @Bengals
Rams: @Seahawks, Bengals, @Steelers
What jumped out at me:
- The Patriots face three doormats. Every year, them seem to win a game 42-3 in the snow, and with this schedule, I'd be thinking hard about all of their running backs, especially since the acquisition cost should be reasonable.
- The Bills don't have a bad matchup the entire fantasy playoffs, nor do the Ravens.
- The Steelers have to go to SF, but that's sandwiched between home matchups with the Browns and Rams. I've seen the Steelers defense on waivers in some leagues; potential matchups with the Browns and Rams in the fantasy playoffs look appealing. I'd be more than fine with Ben Roethlisberger as my quarterback, too.
- If you can survive through Week 14, Arian Foster and your Texans will get the Panthers and Colts in Weeks 15-16, where Ben Tate will likely be relevant, too.
- I'm as disappointed with Andre Johnson as the next guy, but he's a perfect guy to target if you're 7-2 or 8-1 and the guy who owns Johnson is 5-4. The 5-4 owner can't afford to see how long it will take Johnson to get healthy, but the 7-2 owner can, especially with the Texans' playoff schedule.
- I doubt Jay Cutler is your QB if you're 7-2 or 8-1, but Cutler and the Bears have favorable matchups in the fantasy playoffs.
- Some of the bad teams in the league have brutal matchups in the fantasy playoffs. It's hard to see many Dolphins, Colts, or Browns doing much in Weeks 14-16.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: The Lions, Cutler's Week 10 opponent, are solid against the pass, but after that it's a dream slate against subpar pass defenses: Chargers, @Raiders, Chiefs, @Broncos, Seahawks, @Packers. If you're in a league with limited transactions and need to "plug and play" a borderline fantasy starter for the rest of the season, take a look at Cutler.
Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings: If you're looking for a one-week plug-in, Ponder has looked pretty good so far in his young career. Better yet, his Week 10 opponent, the Packers, are giving up passing yards like candy on Halloween - 300 per game - as opposing teams try to keep up with Aaron Rodgers.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans: Forget the incredible upside Tate would enjoy if Arian Foster were to get hurt again (it's top-five, if you insist). Tate has shown the past few weeks that he's a decent flex play even with Foster healthy, particularly in good matchups. It sounds nuts to start a backup on his own team, but the Texans have an awesome offensive line and have shown a willingness to keep running once they get a lead. The schedule is juicy, too, giving several matchups where you could start Tate with confidence even with Foster healthy.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos: Dropping him after his broken hand a couple of weeks ago was obviously a mistake. McGahee is an every-week fantasy starter.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks: Out of nowhere, Lynch has enjoyed the best string of games in a Seahawks uniform. I'm not optimistic this week's matchup against the Ravens, but Lynch shouldn't be on waivers in most formats, especially with the Rams on tap in two weeks and again in Week 14.
Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: 14 receptions on 17 targets is partly a result of the Redskins facing a good 49ers defense. But inexperienced QBs like John Beck often like check-downs, and it seems like Helu is the clear starter right now (to the extent that's possible with Mike Shanahan), especially after he kept getting touches last week even after fumbling.
Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, Browns: Starting running backs in the NFL are relevant, as bad as the Browns may be, especially when they're facing the Rams at home.
Chris Ivory, RB, Saints: With Mark Ingram healthy, hope emerged that Sean Payton would give more carries to Pierre Thomas and/or Darren Sproles. Nope. Payton insists on having a three-headed monster at running back, as Ivory totaled 67 yards on 15 carries. Ivory has short-term relevance as long as Ingram is hurt, but he likely needs another injury to be relevant in anything but deep leagues.
Joe McKnight, RB, Jets: It may have just been matchup-based, as McKnight torched the Bills in Week 17 last year, but McKnight got a few touches this week, and I think he'd be the starter if Shonn Greene were to get injured. Yes, LaDainian Tomlinson will get the goal-line touches and third down plays no matter what, but, for deeper leagues, I see a path where McKnight is relevant during the second half of the year.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: I can't believe Brown is unowned in about 40% of Yahoo! leagues and more than half of ESPN leagues. I think Brown is an every-week starter in standard leagues, and I'd rather own him than Santonio Holmes, Mike Williams, Percy Harvin, and any Raiders WRs.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: You saw the Sunday highlights just as I did, so you know Jones is an elite physical talent on a good offensive team that plays its home games in a dome. The problem is that there are lots of mouths to feed in Atlanta (Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez), and Jones won't have many more games like that if he doesn't start getting more than four targets per game. For some perspective, I prefer Jones over Santonio Holmes, but I'd rather own Sidney Rice than Jones.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Cowboys: Miles Austin's most recent hamstring injury opens the door for Robinson to start, and if Dez Bryant is double-teamed, Robinson will have a chance to keep performing like he has been (TDs in consecutive games). Robinson should be starting in most formats as long as Austin is sidelined.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders: Apparently, Carson Palmer has chemistry with Ford, not Darrius Heyward-Bey. Your guess is as good as mine whether that will continue, but Ford's speed coupled with the upgrade at quarterback makes Ford a decent waiver claim this week.
Earl Bennett, WR, Bears: Just back from injury, Bennett immediately looked like the Bears best receiver. He should benefit from the same soft schedule that Cutler will enjoy.
Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers: The Chargers offense would be better if Brown kept the job over Malcom Floyd, as Floyd is always injured and lacks the speed to separate from defenders. There's upside on this offense, particularly if Brown can keep playing like he did last week (4 catches for 79 yards).
Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots: I'm not blind. I know that Tom Brady and Ochocinco have zero chemistry and have looked bad on the field in recent weeks. So why claim him? Well, it's apparent to everyone that the Patriots need a deep threat in their offense. If anyone on their current roster is going to fill that void, it's Ochocinco. And judging from what I've seen during recent games and in the media, it seems that Brady and Ochocinco are trying to develop an on-field rapport. In deeper leagues, I think it's worth stashing Ochocinco in the hopes that these guys can figure it out. If they can, the Patriots schedule in the fantasy playoffs sure looks appealing.
Santana Moss, WR, Redskins: It's unclear how much longer Moss will be on the shelf with his broken hand. If you can afford the roster spot, he's the sort of guy who may be good enough to start for your team once the fantasy playoffs roll around. Remember, we're basically through the bye weeks, so upside is the most important factor to consider for your bench spots - there's no sense owning guys you know you're never going to play.
Jake Ballard, TE, Giants: I hate profiling tight ends who just scored. You need me to be predicting what will happen, not merely telling you who scored last week. With that in mind, let me clarify ... what I like about Ballard wasn't just his Week 9 box score - it's that he has a fighting chance of repeating it so long as Hakeem Nicks is on the shelf. In other words, with Nicks sidelined, the Giants incorporated the tight ends more than usual, and Ballard should continue to benefit from that approach so long as Nicks is out.
Steelers D/ST: The Steelers defense is a free agent in the 14-team Staff League, passing through FCFS last week without getting claimed. I'm shooting myself in the foot by saying this, but I think that's a mistake. Yes, the Steelers have struggled to force turnovers this year, but Jerome Harrison looked as good as ever on Sunday night, and upcoming matchups with the Chiefs, Browns, and Rams look mighty tasty.