My random thoughts after watching as much football in Week 11 as my wife and kids could bear (then, after it was too much for them, shutting myself in the bedroom):
- Twenty years from now, will we view the 2011 NFL draft the same way we view the 1983 draft, which featured six Hall of Famers among its 28 first-round picks, including three QBs (Elway, Marino, and Kelly)? I think so. Cam Newton and Andy Dalton look like franchise QBs for years to come, Christian Ponder passes the eye test, and Jake Locker nearly led an improbable comeback on the road in his first real NFL action. Among non-QBs, Von Miller is going to win DPOY before too long, Patrick Peterson has Devin Hester return ability with far more upside from scrimmage, A.J. Green is already special, and Julio Jones is likely a future star.
- 10 or 20 years ago, there was no chance that a backup, rookie QB could enter a game on the road, down 23-3 against a good team, and pull to within 23-17, as Locker did against the Falcons. The unlikely near-comeback is undoubtedly no consolidation for those who picked the Falcons ATS only to suffer a push.
- In high school, I had a classmate who was short, goofy, and not terribly good-looking, yet he always had a popular girl on his arm. Several of my friends openly wondered "How does he do it?" Well, that's Tim Tebow. What jumped out at me after Tebow's most recent heroics was what his teammates are saying:
(Future Hall-of-Famer) Champ Bailey: "It's amazing. ... You just watch it happen. ... We always have a chance with 15 as our quarterback."
(Soon-to-be Defensive Rookie of the Year) Von Miller: "No matter how many interceptions he throws, no matter how many touchdowns he scores, that's Tim Tebow and I'm going to ride with him to the end."
- Todd Haley called a surprise onside kick after taking a 3-0 lead, which is totally the right move (on the road, huge underdog, backup QB)... so why did he punt on fourth and a foot from the Patriots 35 just a few minutes prior?
- Watching Torrey Smith get tackled by his hair makes me wonder why NFL coaches and GMs don't require their players to have shorter haircuts. You may think one play in the course of a season isn't a big deal, but the NFL is a billion-dollar industry - long hair shouldn't ever impact a game. Let's put it this way - when I own an NFL team in 25 years, my players won't have hair extending out the back of their helmets. That's especially true for someone like Smith, who may spend the greater part of his career with DBs chasing him from behind.
- Do Redskins defenders really understand what this means? If we're going to insist on unintelligible language, let's use this instead. (What? The latter has nothing to do with the NFL? I didn't notice.)
- It's funny how Rob Ryan was shocked when Graham Gano missed the potential game-winning FG in overtime. Everyone participating in the Rotowire Live Blog knew a Gano shank was coming.
- Rex Grossman is still Rex Grossman, but he's better than John Beck.
- My version of a debate about Aaron Rodgers:
Rodgers' critic: "Rodgers isn't good in close games. He doesn't have a single fourth-quarter comeback this year."
Rodgers' supporter: "Ummm ... doesn't that mean he hasn't trailed in the fourth quarter all year?"
Rodgers' critic: (Thinking.)
- How much better is the NFC than the AFC? In the NFC, the 6-4 Giants are currently outside the playoff picture (with the Lions and Bears both 7-3), yet in the AFC, the Titans, Broncos, Bills, and Jets are all just one game back of the 6-4 Bengals, who still must face the Ravens, Steelers, and Texans. In other words, 9 wins should make the playoffs in the AFC, while an 10-win team might not make it in the NFC.
- Speaking of NFC playoff teams, here's what I wrote about the Bears at about 8pm on Sunday (for this column): "In a world without Rodgers, the Bears would be my choice to win the Super Bowl. I love how they have studs in all three phases, perhaps the only team that can assert as much." Shortly thereafter, word broke that Cutler needed thumb surgery, a crushing blow for what I viewed as a top-2 team. Let's hope the Bears can ride a favorable schedule and Matt Forte's contract year into the playoffs.
- Did the Jaguars really think their best chance to win on the final play was a Blaine Gabbert throw rather than a Maurice Jones-Drew run? From the five yard-line, I'd have been okay with a pass. But from the two?
- Call me nuts, but if I could pick NFC one team to beat the Packers on any one day, it would still be the Eagles. They're the only NFC team I see with the depth in the secondary to match up with Rodgers and his WRs, and they have enough talent to keep it close if Vick and the offense gets its collective head on straight. In other words, if the Eagles can somehow beat the Patriots this week, look out. The Giants could easily lose their next two games (Saints, Packers) and the Eagles can sweep Dallas with a Week 16 win. Of course, the most likely scenario for Philly, which has a tough remaining schedule, is that it sporadically teases us with its potential but finishes 7-9 or 8-8 and, when the season is over, laments bad losses to the Cardinals and Bills.
- This week feels like the right time to see what it would cost to acquire Darren McFadden in a trade.
- Forget their 5-5 record - the Bills are a bottom-seven NFL team right now (Colts, Rams, Jaguars, Browns, Chiefs, and Panthers), especially on defense. In a sentence, the problem is that they lack the depth or talent to make up for their mounting injuries. (But don't feel sorry for them - this is what happens when your cheapskate owner doesn't take advantage of huge amounts of cap space. That's also why the Fitzpatrick contract isn't that bad - they could cut him at any point if necessary and absord the cap hit, and it won't matter because they never approach the cap anyway.)
- I just saw the Patriots starting secondary flash across the screen. Holy schmoly - who are these guys?
- I claimed Kevin Smith in FCFS in the 14-team Staff League on Saturday. I spent all Sunday evening thinking about it, and I can't decide if I'm happy I own him or pissed at myself for not starting him over Chris Wells at SF (zero rushing TDs allowed all year). Is it possible to feel smart and stupid simultaneously? NFL coaches should feel stupid, that's for sure - Smith was out of the league a month ago.
- Nobody throws a six yard pass on an eight-yard route like Vince Young. Well, maybe there are others, but nobody else so closely resembles a starting pitcher in baseball who's thrown 14 consecutive balls and is desperately trying to aim the ball over the plate.
- That LeGarrette Blount TD run was sick. My first thought upon seeing it was to suggest "sell high," as he's not involved in the passing game and the Bucs aren't getting into goal-to-go situations often. However, then I saw the Bucs get to face the Panthers in Weeks 13 and 16 - the same Panthers team that allows 4.8 YPC, 140 yards/game, an NFL-high 14 rushing TDs, and single-handledly revitalized Kevin Smith's career. It's hard to "sell high" with those matchups approaching.
- My first reaction when Donte Stallworth caught the game-tying TD pass: "Wait, didn't the Redskins cut him a few weeks ago?" That's what you have to love about Mike Shanahan - his tremendous ability to gauge the talent of his players and to play them accordingly.
- The Jets problem on offense is they're not getting yards in chunks. Shonn Greene is three yards and a cloud of dust, LaDainian Tomlinson isn't much different, and Plaxico Burress has not replaced the deep threat that Braylon Edwards brought last year (14 catches of 20+ yards for Edwards in 2010 compared to just 4 for Burress so far in 2011). I'm not sure Joe McKnight is the long-term answer, but he brings an element of speed that this team needs. If I were running the Jets, I'd give McKnight at least half the running back touches going forward. I fear Rex Ryan will maintain a stubborn loyalty to his veterans, though.
- Roddy White looked like the 2010 version of himself in Week 11 and is clearly the Falcons WR to own in yearly leagues. With plus matchups against the Vikings, Panthers, and Saints still on tap, it's worth seeing if you can still acquire him on the cheap. I fully expect White to produce like a WR1 going forward.
Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs: Someone in the Rotowire Live Blog lamented having Ryan Fitzpatrick and Freeman as their fantasy QBs, having been unable to make a trade. I understand the complaint, of course, but when you consider there are only five weeks left in most fantasy seasons, including the playoffs, and Freeman gets to face the Panthers in two of those games, things aren't as bad as they may feel. The Panthers are not only bad against the pass (8.4 YPA is 31st in the NFL), they're good enough on offense to ensure Freeman and the Bucs will have to keep scoring. I don't love Freeman this week (at Titans), but it's the Panthers in Week 13 and again in Week 16 for a possible fantasy championship. It's not perfect, but we can't all "plug and play" Aaron Rodgers each week.
Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings: Adrian Peterson won't be around, which sounds bad, but it likely means more throws for Ponder. We just saw fellow rookie Jake Locker perform well against the Falcons, so I see no reason Ponder can't succeed as well. I'd rather play Ponder than Ryan Fitzpatrick (at Jets).
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: With 201 total yards and 3 TDs, what is there to say? Smith should be the top waiver claim in virtually every fantasy league this week. For FAAB leagues, I'd empty my bank account. The upcoming matchups may not appear great (Packers on Thanksgiving, then the Saints), but Smith has shown an ability to catch balls out of the backfield (4 catches for 61 yards and a TD last week), and I want "in" on the shootouts that should transpire in these games. For some perspective, I'd rather own Smith than Chris Johnson or Reggie Bush.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: If there was ever a week for Stewart and Williams to help your fantasy team, it's this week against the Colts, who are 31st in rushing yards/game and rushing TDs allowed.
Joe McKnight, RB, Jets: In addition to what I said about McKnight above, the good news for him this week is that Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson are nursing injuries and may not play this week, plus McKnight has played well over his career against the Bills. The bad news is that Rex Ryan is loyal to guys like Green and LT, to a fault, I'd say, and that McKnight probably needs one or both to be sidelined to be relevant in standard leagues.
Derrick Ward, RB, Texans: Last week, I recommended Ward even though the Texans were going into their bye. If you didn't heed my advice, think about it this week. The Texans can run, they have a favorable schedule, and Ward is one injury away from being starter-worthy.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills: The Bills offense is in the dumps, but if Fred Jackson is sidelined this week, then Spiller needs to be owned in most formats.
Toby Gerhart, RB, and Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: If Adrian Peterson misses Week's 12 game against the Falcons, as it sounds, Gerhart will get many of his touches and Harvin should get a few extra as well. Harvin is worth starting in most formats, whereas Gerhart is more of a desperation play.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Brown is unowned in 23% of Yahoo! leagues, presumably as some owners tried to slide him through waivers as the Steelers had their bye. That's about 23% too high.
Mike Williams, WR, Bucs: Williams has the same favorable schedule as Josh Freeman, and he showed signs of life last week. Owners in the 22% of Yahoo! leagues where Williams is available should get him, cutting any Bears receivers.
Nate Washington, WR, Titans: Whenever a new quarterback enters the game, it's important to see who he throws to early on - that's the likely indicator of who he trusts and who he has chemistry with. For Jake Locker, that guy was Washington. It seems fair to say that Washington's fantasy value will increase if Locker keeps the job. Follow Matt Hasselbeck's injury situation this week.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts: Yes, Garcon has been quiet since his breakout in Weeks 4-5, but he's been getting plenty of targets - at least six every game since and as many as 15 in Week 8. Better yet, he gets a Panthers defense this week that gets lit up like a Christmas tree. I'd give Garcon a better than 50/50 chance to score a touchdown this week - not bad for a receiver cut in leagues last week as the Colts had their bye.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins: Injuries to the Redskins receivers have left Gaffney the top guy, and unike John Beck, Grossman is serviceable enough to make Gaffney relevant.
James Jones, WR, Packers: Imagine you're eating your Thanksgiving turkey and you see Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson suffer a high ankle sprain. Who do you think I'd be profiling in this column next week? Yup, Jones. With the bye weeks over, stash him and hope for an injury.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans: I've seen Daniels on waivers in some leagues, perhaps because the Texans just had their bye or perhaps because fantasy owners doubt Matt Leinart's ability to get the ball to Daniels. Personally, I think Daniels' value could increase with Leinart - inexperienced QBs without a strong arm sometimes favor safe throws over the middle to the tight end. I still see Daniels as a TE1.
Steelers D/ST: The Steelers are unowned in 17% of Yahoo! leagues and they have the Chiefs this week, the Browns in 3 weeks, and the Rams in Week 16.
Chargers D/ST: Tim Tebow has avoided disaster in games where the Broncos kept it close on the scoreboard, but will they be so fortunate this weekend in San Diego? I'm skeptical. There aren't a lot of great matchups for fantasy defenses in Week 12, so if you're forced to take a flyer, I'd consider the Chargers.