It would be hard to see the Texans making the Super Bowl if they have to play on Wild Card weekend, so their comeback win over the Bengals was huge. Now, instead of being a game behind the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers, it looks like the Texans will finish an AFC-best 13-3. (They finish with the Panthers, at Colts, and Titans). Just as encouraging, T.J. Yates proved the Texans can win a game playing from behind - something I'm not sure any of us would have thought a week or two ago. It seems crazy for a team with a third-string, rookie QB, but the Texans still have Super Bowl upside.
Just as I'm out of adjectives for Aaron Rodgers, there are no words left for Rob Gronkowski, either. Forget how his fantasy season ranks in history among tight ends, as Gronk's is clearly the best. Instead, ponder this - considering where he was taken in fantasy drafts (late, if at all), where does Gronk's season rank on all-time fantasy lists if you included WRs? In my view, even the best seasons of Jerry Rice and Randy Moss can't compare in light of acquisition cost. Plus, if I could have 16 TDs through Week 14 from a WR or a TE, I'd always choose the TE because that leaves open a WR spot (traditionally a higher-scoring position) for someone else. Suffice it to say this has been a historical season for Gronkowski by any measure.
God loves everyone, but clearly he loves Tim Tebow a little more than you and me.
Watching Vince Wolfork recover a fumble for a touchdown (when, if the Redskins had recovered, it would have been a safety), got me wondering - in that situation, who are the five players I'd most want on the bottom of the pile, trying to recover the fumble? My choices: Ndamukong Suh, Ray Lewis, Wolfork, James Harrison, and Richard Seymour. This list is not to be confused with the list of NFL players I'd want to date my daughters.
Forget Tim Tebow's fourth quarter heroics - nobody has been better ATS the past two weeks than Dan Orlovsky. Give Orlovsky enough points ATS and he can get a backdoor cover against anyone.
Raise your hand if you lost in the playoffs because your opponent had Ryan Grant, he of the zero TDs through Week 13 but two TDs in Week 14. If you fell into this boat, give yourself a day or two to be pissed off, then remember - making the fantasy playoffs takes a lot of skill, while winning once you're there takes a lot of luck.
Could Adrian Peterson's injury be the best thing to happen to Percy Harvin? It sounds odd, but Harvin has gone nuts while Peterson has been on the sidelines, scoring all five of his receiving touchdowns in the three-plus games since Peterson got hurt. Next season, the Vikings coaches must figure out a way to ensure both of their playmakers are involved in the offense at the same time.
Ryan Braun should ask Ben Roethlisberger how he passes all those PEDs tests - clearly Ben's body is made of rubber or some other funky substance.
Could things be set up any better for the Packers? Not only will they be home for the playoffs, but they'll definitely avoid the Saints or 49ers in the playoffs (one will be the two seed and the other the three, so it will be impossible for the Packers to face them both). For my own entertainment, and from the standpoint of giving the Packers the toughest road possible to the Super Bowl, I'd like to see them face the Giants and Saints, which, not coincidentally, were perhaps their two toughest games this year. The NFL isn't college football - rematches in the playoffs are just fine.
Attendance in Jacksonville is as bad as anywhere in the NFL, and the owner just sold the team. Imagine how different things might be had the Jaguars drafted hometown hero Tim Tebow. I have little doubt their games would all be selling out - Tebow's popularity in Florida is immense - and this would have justified the NFL putting the Jags in prime time three times in 2011.
If Eli Manning's comebacks are a thing of beauty, then Jason Pierre-Paul is the beast. JPP looks like a combination of Jason Taylor (in his prime Jason Taylor, not the washed-up version we see today) and Julius Peppers.
Even though I pick all of the games ATS in Staff Picks, I don't bet often, and Sunday I remembered why. I really liked "over" 47 points in SD/BUF from the moment the line came out. When it moved to 48, I was undaunted, seeing no way the Bills could hold the Chargers under 30 points, so I made a fairly sizeable bet. I was right on the Chargers scoring, but I lost anyway, as the total was 37-10 (47 points), leaving me one point short. I can't decide which part was the worst: (i) falling one point short; (ii) falling one point short when the line moved one point; (iii) falling one point short when there was a blocked PAT; (iv) falling one point short when my Bills added just 10 points to the total; or (v) falling one point short when the game was scoreless for the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter. I suppose this is why it's called gambling, and now I remember why I don't do it regularly.
Picking up a penalty flag and throwing it downfield has to be the second-easiest way to get penalized, surpassed only by punching a ref in the face. I'd say DeAngelo Hall should know better, but I'm not sure he does.
How bad are the Bucs? The Jaguars hadn't scored more than 20 points in a game all season, yet they scored 28 points *in the second quarter* against the Bucs. If Raheem Morris isn't packing his bags, he should be. Let's put it this way - if Tony Sparano deserved to get fired, then certainly Morris does.
I'm not a Todd Haley apologist, but with Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry out for the year, and Matt Cassel going down in midseason, what did the Chiefs brass think was going to happen in 2011? Alas, the NFL is the ultimate blame-game, and other than perhaps QBs, nobody gets blamed for a bad season more than the coach.
Suddenly, the Cardinals have won five out of their past six games, with the only loss coming in San Francisco. In fact, since their Week 6 bye, the Cardinals are 5-3, with the only defeats coming to the 49ers, the Ravens (by three), and the Steelers. That's a pretty long stretch of respectability for a team thought to be among the league's doormats.
Why aren't tiebreakers for draft positions determined by point differential? Check out the point differentials of the 4-9 teams - I think they strongly correlate to the quality of these teams, i.e. the Browns are the worst, the Dolphins the best, and the other three somewhere in the middle:
I hate how NFL analysts give playoff scenarios at this time of year for the 10-3 teams. "Gee, thanks, I didn't know the Saints were going to make the playoffs." I'd much rather ponder the scenarios for the long-shots. For instance, the Eagles will win the NFC East if they win out (Jets, at Cowboys, Redskins), the Giants beat the Cowboys in Week 17, and the Giants lose to the Jets and Redskins. (You can check my math, but by my calculations, that would make all three teams 8-8 but the Eagles the victors by virtue of a 5-1 divisional record.) Isn't that far more interesting than knowing the scenarios in which the 10-3 teams will clinch in Week 14 as opposed to Week 15?
These guys probably won't be found on waivers, but I like them more than usual the next two weeks:
All Redskins (facing the Giants and Vikings)
Tony Romo (Dallas should throw more with DeMarco Murray out, especially near the goal line, and faces the Bucs and Eagles)
Matt Moore (if healthy), Reggie Bush, and Brandon Marshall (face the Bills and Patriots)
Arian Foster (Panthers and Colts - you think his owners are going to win a few fantasy titles? I do.)
Cedric Benson (Rams and Cardinals)
All else equal, it's hard to recommend starting a guy you just claimed off waivers in the fantasy playoffs, but plenty of fantasy owners lost Greg Jennings, DeMarco Murray, and, perhaps, Ben Roethlisberger to injury. If you're looking for replacements, or have some other soft spot in your roster, here's what sticks out to me in Week 15:
Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins: I wouldn't want to have to start Grossman, either. But if you're stuck, e.g. with a gimpy Roethlisberger against the 49ers, Grossman will be throwing a lot this week against a suspect Giants defense, and he gets the league's worst pass defense, the Vikings, in Week 16. Even if you don't need Grossman, stash him on your bench now in case your current starter gets hurt this week - as waiver claims go, you likely won't do better than Grossman's Week 16 matchup with Minnesota.
Matt Moore, QB, Dolphins: The Bills have allowed at least three passing TDs in five of their past six games, including to Moore in Week 11. If he can come back from his head injury, Moore will have a nice matchup this week and again in Week 16 against the Patriots.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: DeMarco Murray's broken ankle and the Cowboys matchup against the hapless Bucs defense makes Jones the obvious waiver-wire addition of the week. Even if you don't need Jones, spend all of your FAAB for him - you don't want an opponent taking advantage of a defense that just gave up four touchdowns to Maurice Jones-Drew.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans: I realize Rashard Mendenhall has been one of your horses all year. But the 49ers have allowed zero rushing TDs all season - zero. Do you think that's suddenly going to change this week, particularly with the 49ers at home and coming off a loss? Not likely. Meanwhile, Tate has been quiet the past few games, but the Texans face the Panthers (and the Colts next week). It takes guts to bench a guy you've played all year in the fantasy playoffs, but I'd start Tate over plenty of "safer" options this week, including Mendenhall. Remember, the goal is to win, not to feel okay about losing because you did the "safe" thing.
Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, and Keiland Williams, RB, Lions: The Lions backfield is once again a mess, with Smith nursing an ankle injury, Morris a chest problem, and Williams being, well, not very good. I suspect some fantasy owners will ignore this situation altogether, but the Week 15 matchup against the Raiders requires that we dig deeper. After all, the Raiders allow a league-worst 5.2 YPC and just let Ryan Grant score his first two TDs of the year, so there's upside for whoever plays this week. If Smith starts, I'll gladly plug him into my fantasy lineup as an RB2 - the upside is worth the risk of a first-quarter re-injury. If Smith is inactive, I'm not nearly as excited at the upside of Morris or Williams, but I'd start Morris if he's healthy. In fact, I'd be okay with starting Williams if Smith and Morris are both out. Keep an eye on the Lions running backs as injury information becomes available this week.
James Jones, WR, Packers: With Greg Jennings out 2-3 weeks, then I have to think Jones will slide into the lineup, where Aaron Rodgers will make him worth starting in many formats. The season stats don't look good, but the ratio of TDs to targets (5 TDs on just 37 targets) is an intriguing one.
Nate Washington, WR, Titans: Twice in recent weeks, Jake Locker has taken over for an injured Matt Hasselbeck. Both times, I noticed how Locker had a nice connection with Nate Washington, something Hasselbeck has lacked all year. In fact, Washington's last three TDs were all thrown from Locker, despite Locker's limited playing time. I'd consider Washington a WR3 this week against a bad Colts defense if Locker is under center for the Titans.
Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos: We all know the Patriots allow lots of passing yards, and Tim Tebow should be throwing more than usual this week to keep pace with Tom Brady. It's worth noting, though, that Decker and Thomas haven't both had a good game in the same game - they've taken turns excelling and stinking - and knowing which one will produce in any week is little more than guesswork.
Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter, WR, Texans: The Texans will undoubtedly want to rely on their running game to beat the Panthers. But if Cam Newton can keep Carolina close and force the Texans to throw, then T.J. Yates should have success going against a defense allowing a league-worst 8.4 YPA and 22 passing TDs (a total exceeded by just four teams). I kind of like Jones as a "boom or bust" option this week, as the Panthers are the type of defense that can allow one big play by Jones to make your fantasy day.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks: I really dislike Baldwin's upcoming matchups (at Bears, 49ers), but he looks like the Seahawks top receiving option with Sidney Rice out. That said, I'd probably prefer every WR I've profiled above except Kevin Walter for my Week 15 lineup.
Anthony Fasano, TE, Dolphins: If you're forced to choose between lower-level tight ends this week, take a look at Fasano. He scored against the Bills earlier this year, and the Bills have been getting killed recently by opposing tight ends, including two-TD games to Antonio Gates last week and Dustin Keller a few weeks prior.
Neil Rackers, K, Texans: I don't normally profile kickers, but I'll make an exception for Rackers this week because of the Texans upcoming schedule, the likelihood they'll score a fair number of points, and the probability they'll be content to kick FGs and play conservatively against teams they should beat.
Cardinals D/ST: The Browns have scored 12 points or fewer in 7 of their past 8 games. That means lots of punts this week in Arizona, where Patrick Peterson will be waiting. Also, the Cardinals as a team have been playing better than you'd think, as I explained above. I'd prefer Arizona this week over some of the higher-echelon defenses with bad matchups.
Finally, once you figure out your Week 15 lineup, I suggest you take a peek at Week 16. If there's anyone sitting on your bench who you know you won't use in Week 15, consider cutting him for something useful in Week 16. For instance, any fringe Bucs and Panthers will look better than normal in Week 16 as those teams square off. See if you can stash Isaac Redman and Ricky Williams, who have good matchups next week (Rams and Browns, respectively) particularly if the starters on their respective teams get hurt this week. As far as defenses go, the Packers get the Caleb Hanie-led Bears at home, the Steelers are at home against the Rams, and the Titans get a home game against the Jags. Don't sacrifice this week for next, but start putting Week 16 gems on your bench if you can.