It's easy to criticize coaching decisions with the benefit of hindsight. That said, Mike Smith's decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from his own 30 in overtime is the worst coaching decision of 2011. Even if the Falcons converted the fourth down, they still needed 35-40 more yards for a field goal, but by not making it, they handed the Saints the game. In other words, the likelihood of a victory wouldn't have increased much if they made the yard, but a loss was virtually assured if they didn't. I hope this doesn't cause coaches with no guts to use this as an excuse to be conservative on fourth down. Make no mistake - aggressiveness on fourth down is good ... when you're behind in the score and/or in plus territory.
Speaking of aggressive coaching decisions, if a 15-yard penalty is imposed on a kickoff, such that the team kicking off gets to kick from midfield, isn't a surprise onside-kick a no-brainer? Sure, I suppose there may be some game scenarios where it's a bad idea, and it's less of a "surprise" when kicking from midfield, but even if the chances of recovery are only 35%, that's a chance worth taking when the downside is just 20 yards of field position.
Does anyone else think Andy Reid wouldn't have benched DeSean Jackson for the entire game if he thought the Eagles would be trailing late in the fourth quarter? Why not make him sit out the first half and then decide, based on the flow of the game, if you need him? That way, you send the desired message to Jackson and your team without putting the team in a situation where it's missing it's top receiver in a must-win game.
After his Week 10 stats - 16/34, 128 yards, 3.8 YPA, 0 TDs, 2 INTs ... at home, against a bad Cardinals defense, no less ... Mike Vick better have had broken ribs.
Vick's new contract looks bad right now, but he's not the only one. Since getting a six-year, $59 million contract extension before Week 9, Ryan Fitzpatrick has 2 TDs, 5 INTs, 5.4 YPA, and the Bills are 0-2, having been outscored 71-18. So what's the problem? I still like the offense as a whole (Fitz, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, and a young offensive line), but the Bills are wasting targets on Donald Jones, who has posted two awful games the past two weeks - 7 catches for 57 yards on 14 targets (4 yards per target). Fitz just isn't talented enough to look good throwing to a guy like Jones. On defense, the Bills have no pass rush, a problem that's not getting better with Kyle Williams (viewed as their best player coming into the season) out for the year. Even though the secondary is good at catching the ball, it doesn't matter when opposing QBs have a clean pocket from which to make accurate throws.
While we're on bad QB contracts, let's not let Kevin Kolb off the hook, either. I realize Larry Fitzgerald made John Skelton's stats look better than he played against Philly, but why hasn't Kolb been able to use Fitzgerald to his advantage in a similar way? With the Cardinals going nowhere in 2011, I'd let Kolb take his time coming back from his turf toe injury and start thinking about whether the Cardinals should have a quarterback competition heading into 2012 despite Kolb's contract. I'd love to know what Fitzgerald really thinks about the situation.
So much for all that talk about the Jets being the best team in the AFC. Presuming the Pats win the AFC East and the Steelers and Ravens make the playoffs, that leaves the Jets and Bengals battling for the last AFC playoff seed (unless you think the Titans or Bills are still alive for a WildCard, and I don't). When you think about it like that, Jets fans should be rejoicing the news that Leon Hall, perhaps the Bengals best defender, tore his achilles. Anyway, here are my AFC playoff teams: Patriots, Steelers, Texans, Ravens, and Jets. Oh, yeah - and one of those teams from the AFC West.
All fantasy owners have lamented Mike Shanahan's running back rotations, but let's put fantasy aside and approach it this way ... how is what Shanahan is doing in the best interests of the Redskins? Imagine you're Roy Helu or Ryan Torain ... it can't help to always wonder if you're going to be playing or riding the pine. Don't give me "everyone needs to be ready to play" crap ... that's coach-speak for second-stringers. Helu deserved better after a solid Week 9.
I realize lots of quarterbacks can have good games when they have great pass protection, but Tony Romo's Week 10 performance was as good as anything I've seen from Aaron Rodgers this year, albeit for one game. Romo showed terrific poise, accuracy, and awareness in the pocket - spinning away from blitzing safeties on the 2-3 occasions where the Bills got near him. With a cupcake schedule the rest of the way (all losing teams except the Giants twice), the Cowboys are now my clear-cut choice to win the NFC East. They have Super Bowl upside.
The Colts now have an insurmountable two-game lead in the race for Andrew Luck. They're the new standard for an NFL franchise - be a consistent Super Bowl contender for several years, then immediately suck so badly that you get a new franchise QB. Mediocrity is for losers.
How good is the Texans offensive line? I'm profiling third-string running back Derrick Ward this week, calling him a "borderline must stash," even though the Texans are heading into a bye. Of course, the offensive line had better be good with breaking news that Matt Schaub has a significant foot injury that may shelve him for the remainder of the season, which means ...
Matt Leinart is (probably) going to start a home playoff game. This year. To answer the obvious question, the third-string QB in Houston is fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates. Leinart and Yates ... it sort of begs the question - wouldn't the Texans be better off bringing Favre out of retirement? I'm as disgusted with Favre as anyone else, but you're not going to convince me that the Texans chances of winning the Super Bowl wouldn't be higher with Favre than Leinart/Yates. Plus, the timing is good in that the Texans have a bye this week, which would give Favre two weeks to get acclimated to a new team (much like Carson Palmer in Oakland). If I was Favre's agent, I'd be burning up the phone lines to Houston ... can you imagine a potential Texans/Packers Super Bowl with Favre as QB?
Imagine telling a young, NFL wide receiver that you want to evaluate him for the future, to see whether he can be a starting-caliber receiver, yet you don't have him catch any passes or run any routes, just run-block all game. It would be hard to gauge that receiver's ability, no? Yet this is precisely what the Broncos are doing with Tim Tebow - allegedly trying to evaluate him, yet not letting him throw any passes. If I were John Elway, I'd rather see Tebow go 13 for 30 than attempt only eight passes ... at least that way you have a basis to evaluate his progress (and a basis to tell fans that he's not the future of the franchise). In fact, even though the current game plans are supposed to be designed to Tebow's strengths, I'd argue they're a disservice to him. As things now stand, Tebow won't throw against bad defenses, like the Chiefs, where they're able to run all game, but he'll be forced to throw against good defenses, like the Jets on Thursday night or the Lions two weeks ago, when they fall behind on the scoreboard. Only throwing from behind against good defenses isn't a recipe for increased confidence, improvement or sustained success. It's like saving your starting pitcher for games only against the Yankees and Red Sox, then deciding if he's a viable starter based on those outings.
Like many other fantasy analysts, I've ripped on Reggie Bush many, many times. It's easy to do - Bush will never justify being the second overall draft pick, and he'll never be an every-down back. However, me pointing that out doesn't help - you already know it, and those shortcomings have nothing to do with Bush's 2011 fantasy value. At present, Tony Sparano is doing a fine job of getting Bush involved in the offense, and he's been remarkably consistent, posting at least 10 carries every game since Week 3 and between 2-4 receptions each game since Week 4. A stud he is not, but a surprisingly reliable if unspectacular flex option, yes.
Which is worse right now, being an Eagles fan or a Browns fan? They're both 3-6 and coming off difficult losses, but I'd say the Eagles - it's far worse to suck when you had hope. To analogize, the Eagles are the nerdy guy who asked out the hot cheerleader, and she said yes but stood him up, whereas the Browns are the nerdy guy who never bothered to ask her out. Both nerds wound up without a date, but the guy who was stood-up got his hopes up only to be crushed (and left wondering whether it was all a secret plot by the popular kids to play a prank on him ... not that I'd know about any of this, of course - Liss told me about his high school experiences).
Speaking of cheerleaders, David Nelson put his girlfriend, a Cowboys cheerleader, in an interesting predicament when he hugged her and gave her the football he caught after his touchdown. What should she have done in that situation? With better planning, that scene could have played out in any number of ways, from one funny extreme (handing the ball back to Nelson, boo-ing him, and sticking a Cowboys sticker on his jersey) to the other (spiking the ball as she ripped off her Cowboys outfit to reveal a Bills get-up).
If you believe the cream finds a way to rise to the top over the course of a season, then these six teams will make the playoffs in the NFC: Packers, 49ers, Bears, Cowboys, Saints, Giants. The Lions have given us some thrills, but they have too many holes to compete with the big boys in 2011.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills: If you're forced to play the matchups this week, Fitzpatrick faces a Dolphins defense which allows 7.8 YPA, 256 yards/game, and 14 TDs versus just 4 INTs. Plus, this is the time of year when weather starts to become a factor in some games, but it won't in Miami.
Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: He's throwing downfield to some young, athletic receivers and faces a Minnesota defense allowing 8.0 YPA, 272 yards/game, and 18 TDs - all of which are in the bottom three in the NFL. Like Fitzpatrick, weather won't be a factor for Palmer in Minnesota's dome.
Matt Leinart, QB, Texans: If I told you that an NFL quarterback was playing with the league's best offensive line, best running backs, and a stud receiver, wouldn't you think he could be relevant for fantasy purposes? Why can't Leinart do what Matt Schaub has been doing the past few weeks?
Lance Ball, RB, Broncos: Knowshon Moreno is out for the year, leaving Willis McGahee as the only guy ahead of Ball in a Broncos backfield that likes to run almost as much as Herman Cain likes to hit on women. McGahee looks like he'll play this week, but the situation here (McGahee getting nicked up frequently, Moreno out for the year, and the Broncos running so much) is such that Ball should be owned in most formats. I can't see starting him this week, though, against an angry Jets defense, unless McGahee is inactive.
Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers: There's lots to like here - Frank Gore keeps getting nicked, the 49ers are a run-first offense, and they play with the lead so much that the
D.J. Ware, RB, Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw remains sidelined with a foot injury, and Brandon Jacobs hasn't been very good this year (3.2 YPC). With his body type and running style, Jacobs doesn't strike me as the type of player who will age gracefully - he's more the type who will suddenly fall off a cliff. Meanwhile, last week's stat line for Ware, but considering it was against the 49ers (who have the best front seven in the NFL by a wide margin), 9 carries for 34 yards and 5 catches for 34 yards is passable. There's upside here if Bradshaw remains shelved.
Derrick Ward, RB, Texans: I can't call a third-string running back on a team heading into a bye a "must add" or even a "must stash." So how about ... "borderline must stash." Seriously, among players likely to be on waivers even in deep leagues, can you think of anyone with more upside down the stretch than Ward? Imagine if Arian Foster and/or Ben Tate were to get hurt - an injury to either would make Ward startable, while an injury to both could make him a top-10 fantasy back. With the byes mostly out of the way, find a way to stash Ward on your bench.
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: Jahvid Best has significant concussion issues, and Maurice Morris isn't very good. The Lions have to realize the need to establish a running game, and who's to say Smith can't emerge in the coming weeks? He probably won't pan out, but it's worth a flyer.
Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders: In two games with Carson Palmer as the starting quarterback, Moore has 19 targets, including a breakout Week 10 with 129 yards and 2 TDs. He's clearly the Raiders top receiver, especially with Jacoby Ford in a walking boot. I'd treat Moore as a solid flex or WR3, perhaps even a WR2 in deeper leagues. With Matt Cassel out for the year, don't hesitate to cut any Chiefs receiver, even Dwayne Bowe, for Moore.
Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers: Malcom Floyd, there is your seat on the bench. Enjoy the view as the Chargers prized rookie, Vincent Brown, evolves into Philip Rivers' top target over the next few years, starting now.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: Harvin's stats on Monday night were nothing special - 6 catches for 52 yards on 8 targets and 3 carries for 18 yards - but it felt like the Vikings were making a concerted effort, coming off the bye, to get him the ball. That bodes well going forward with some favorable matchups on tap (Raiders, Falcons, Broncos).
Deion Branch, WR, Patriots: An in interesting trend is emerging in Branch's stats - he's scoring in those games where the Pats play a good defense. This sounds weird, but it's unsurprising if you think about it. Good defenses like the Steelers and Jets try to take away Wes Welker and have the personnel to do so. In those matchups, Tom Brady has looked to Branch. Against lesser secondaries, like the Bills, Giants, and Raiders, brady didn't have to look away from his preferred options, so Branch was ignored. The problem going forward for Branch is that the Pats now have a string of favorable matchups.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals: Gresham returned from injury last week and immediately scored another touchdown. I see him as a borderline weekly starter and certainly not someone who should be on waivers in most leagues.
Ed Dickson, TE, Ravens: It wasn't just the two touchdowns that perked up my eyebrows, though those were certainly nice, it was the 14 targets. That makes four different games this year where Dickson has had at least nine targets. Since there are seemingly 20 tight ends in the top 10, let's give some perspective here. Going forward, I'd rather own Dickson than Dustin Keller, Heath Miller, or Kellen Winslow, but I prefer Tony Gonzalez and Brandon Pettigrew over Dickson.
Patriots D/ST: I realize the Pats are last in the league in pass defense, but that's a yardage thing - and that's also why they're available on waivers in your league. Did you realize they've allowed just 200 points on the season, the same as the Jets? (h/t Pianow) More significantly, the Pats get a home game in prime time this week against a Chiefs team with a point differential of -77, worse than everyone except the Rams and Colts, and they're forced to start Tyler Palko at quarterback. It could get ugly in Foxboro this week.