I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. I live on the east coast, so staying up for the Sunday night and Monday night games (and having to wake up at a normal time for my job) means I'm going to bed well after midnight thanks to the fake refs. Going to sleep hasn't been an option, not just because I love the NFL, but both of my matchups in the Stopa Law Firm league have come down to the final drive on Monday night. (I won Week 1 by three points over Liss, lost Week 2 by 0.22 points to Pianowski, not that you care.) Can we please get the real refs back so I can get some sleep?
One final thing on the replacement refs before I move on to the real analysis... I had a hearing today on an argument I've won many times before many different judges. (I'm a foreclosure defense lawyer.) This time, though, there was a fill-in judge, one before whom I hadn't made this argument previously. I lost. No explanation, just "motion denied." As I left the courtroom, I couldn't help but feel the result may have been different if the regular judge presided over the hearing. That feeling - of wondering whether the result might have been different - is precisely the problem with the NFL using replacement refs. The results from Denver/Atlanta may have been the same with the regular officials, or they may have been different... we just don't know. There's simply too much at stake in the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL to make everyone wonder if the officiating made a difference. Forget my simple foreclosure case... the use of replacement officials is like having nine first-year lawyers fill in for the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Anyway, now to the real analysis...
Am I the only one who thinks the NFC is far, far better than the AFC? I see several doormats in the AFC - the Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Dolphins, Colts, Brown, and Chiefs. Where are the patsies in the NFC? The NFC East has the defending Super Bowl Champs (Giants), two other potential playoff teams (Eagles and Cowboys), and a fourth team nobody wants to play (Redskins). The NFC West has the NFL's best team at present (49ers), the team that just knocked off the defending AFC champs in their own building (Cardinals), a solid Seattle team whose Week 1 loss at Arizona suddenly doesn't look so bad, and a Rams team that has clearly improved. And that doesn't even begin to discuss four 2011 playoff teams - the Packers, Lions, Falcons, and Saints - or the Bears, upstart Bucs, or Cam Newton's Panthers. Even the Vikings have improved, yet they're the closing thing I see to a doormat in the NFC. Add it all up and I'm convinced a mediocre team or two may make the AFC playoffs (and the top AFC seeds will have padded their records against some bad teams), whereas the NFC playoff teams will have all earned their postseason stripes. In a related story, three NFC teams (the Cardinals, Falcons, and Eagles) just beat three of the AFC's best teams (the Patriots, Broncos, and Ravens), a trend I expect to continue.
Diving at Eli Manning's knees in a kneel-down situation may have been the wrong way to manifest it, but I love the new attitude that Greg Schiano has brought to the Bucs.
Look at this win probability graph for the Cardinals/Patriots game, particularly the final 70 seconds. The Cardinals were at 93%, essentially running out the clock, when Ryan Williams fumbled. Then the Patriots were at 82%, setting up for a chippie field goal, when Stephen Gostowski pulled a snap-hook with a three-wood into the woods, making the Cards 100%. That's as large of a back-and-forth swing (not just one huge swing, but two) as we'll see in win percentage in one game this year in such a short period.
Watching the 49ers dominate the Lions, I was taken aback at the number of times I heard Alex Smith "kill" a play at the line, audible, and then run a successful play. If he's taking the leap that he appears to be taking, the 49ers will be really hard to beat. Michael Crabtree's emergence as a second option in the passing game is significant, too.
Speaking of Alex Smith audibling at the line, do you think the 49ers would still prefer Peyton Manning, right now, seeing what we've seen through two weeks? I'm not sure. Everyone was ready to declare Manning back after Week 1, but what I saw from Manning on Monday night was alarming. Manning's second INT was a throw his mind thought he could make but his body just couldn't - a wounded duck that hung in the air Ryan Fitzpatrick-style. Manning's lack of arm strength on that second INT was glaring. Just a few minutes later, Manning was faced with a similar throw on a similar route. As I saw it live, it felt like Manning realized his last such throw was intercepted, so he tried to strong-arm that throw, but the extra juice caused him to be inaccurate, creating another INT. If Manning's lack of arm strength is in his head, as it seemed to be, that's not a good sign for Denver. Look at it this way... no matter how much the broadcasters want to say "he's Peyton Manning," father time always wins. If Joe Montana put on a uniform today, nobody would say "he's Joe Montana." If you can accept that premise for Montana, as everyone would, you necessarily agree that there will come a time (if it hasn't come already) that Manning falls off as well.
Last week I said Brandon Marshall was my second-ranked receiver and that I should have had him there sooner. Thursday night, I remembered why I was bearish on Marshall - he can't catch, especially in the end zone. Seriously, Marshall has so many drops in the end zone the past couple of seasons, I tend to think it's mental. I remember writing once last year that he should spend all offseason catching balls in the end zone, and I still think that. If I were coaching him, that's what I'd require during practice each week. Drops happen, but so many of Marshall's happening in the end zone is such an alarming trend that the problem has to be between his ears.
Josh Morgan has received plenty of blame for a boneheaded penalty that forced the Redskins to attempt a 62-yard FG, but let's not let Mike Shanahan off the hook. Punting on fourth and 7 from the Rams 39 inside of the 7 minute mark of the fourth quarter, down by three, is questionable at best. Of course, Robert Griffin III will help negate any questionable decisions by Shanny over the next ten-plus years, perhaps even adding to the longevity of Shanahan's coaching career. Yipee! More years of speculating about the Redskins backfield situation (Evan Royster looked like the handcuff after Week 2, not Roy Helu, by the way.)
If there were one team I had to watch all year other than my Bills, it would be the Redskins. Everyone loves RGIII, but you have to love him a little more now, for fantasy purposes at least, with Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker out for the year. Expect plenty of pinball in Washington, which should be the NFL's most entertaining team in 2012, even if it is with a 6-10 record.
The next time an aging and injury-prone star pronounces himself healthy in the preseason, don't let it sway your opinion on his fantasy value. I'm talking, of course, about Antonio Gates. Yes, it wasn't the recurring foot problems (this time), but a surprise inactive for a rib injury sounds to me like a big man whose body is slowly breaking down. I'd rather own Brent Celek.
So much for Marshawn Lynch's back spasms.
It's crazy that two of the NFL's best running backs, if not the two best - C.J. Spiller and Ben Tate - began the year as backups on their own teams. Tate had 6.2 YPC last week (compared to 3.9 for Arian Foster), and at some point the disparity in YPC between Tate and Foster will be so large, over such a big sample (5.4 to 4.4 in 2011), that it will be hard for the Texans coaches to ignore. Meanwhile, C.J. Spiller is my choice to lead the NFL in rushing. Others in the fantasy industry can go conservative and exercise caution about a possible Fred Jackson return, but Jackson's role has to be limited to a souped-up version of what Tashard Choice is currently doing - it just has to be.
Speaking of a disparity in YPC between backs on their own team, how about Pierre Thomas posting 9-112 (good for 12.2 YPC), while Mark Ingram plodded to 53 yards on 16 carries (3.3 YPC). I can soon envision the day when Ingram is "dead to me" for fantasy purposes. I hope he's saving the money he's earning on this NFL contract, as he may never get another.
It was appropriate that Sam Bradford threw an interception in the end zone, quickly got the ball back after a blocked-punt, and, with a second chance, thew a touchdown to a guy named Mulligan. That was the only mulligan Bradford needed in Week 2, as I actually thought Bradford outplayed his more heralded rookie counterpart. A 68-yard TD against blown coverage may have masked it a bit, and nobody is complaining about the rushing stats, but barely eclipsing 200 passing yards despite the long TD shows Griffin needs Pierre Garcon.
The Packers starting the game by trying to establish the run is like taking a stationwagon out for a cruise while leaving the porsche in the garage. In fairness, Cedric Benson actually looked decent on Thursday night, but I think he's a terrible fit for their offense. They need someone more dynamic, who can catch passes out of the backfield and punish defenses who want to sit in cover-two. Without Greg Jennings, and with Jermichael Finley having the dropsies again, that's what I thought the Packers were missing on Thursday night - a reliable and dynamic option on intermediate routes to punish the Bears for playing Cover-2. I like Randall Cobb, but I'm not sure he's that guy, and Jordy Nelson is the deep threat. For me, every Benson carry feels like a favor to the opposing defense.
My biggest concern with Larry Fitzgerald after two weeks isn't the quarterbacking in Arizona, as we all knew that would be an issue. Fitz's problem right now is the surprising Cardinals defense, which has allowed Arizona to play with the lead and, in so doing, has prevented Fitz from getting the garbage-time points any receiver needs when his QB play is subpar.
Lost in the midst of the Saints struggles on defense has been the disappointing play of Drew Brees. I don't think Brees misses Robert Meachem per se, but without Meachem and Devery Henderson (who missed all of Week 2 and most of Week 1 with an injury), the Saints offense lacks a downfield dimension. I like Darren Sproles and Lance Moore, but they're underneath guys, and Marques Colston is no burner, either. It stands to reason that if the field is condensed, and the safeties can cheat up a bit, those short throws won't be as easy any more. Look for Brees to be more efficient when Henderson returns.
Fantasy's three top QBs (Brees, Rodgers, and Brady) are all struggling a bit, but the one I'm most worried about is Brady. The Saints will finish 7-9 or so, but, like 2007 and 2008, Brees will get his stats. I attribute Rodgers' slow start to facing two of the best defenses (49ers and Bears) he'll see all year. Brady, though, will be without Aaron Hernandez for several weeks and suddenly looks to be aging just a bit. He's strung together a handful of bad playoff performances in a row in recent years, plus he's overthrowing receivers on deep patterns more than usual. His "aging" is still better than 90% of NFL QBs, of course, but I definitely think we're seeing some type of decline from Brady. Also, I don't like what the Patriots are doing with Wes Welker, and I struggle to believe Julian Edelman is better than some of the receivers the Patriots cut in the preseason. (If Edelman were that good of a receiver, Belichick wouldn't have played him on defense so much in recent years.) Stevan Ridley's emergence and the Patriots improved defense work against Brady's fantasy stats as well.
I'm not ready to upgrade Mike Williams or Brandon Gibson, even though both scored in each of their first two games, because I'm just not excited about their targets - nine for Gibson and eight for Williams. Nobody can score every week, but it's especially impossible when you're only getting four targets per game.
I will not rely on James Jones for fantasy purposes. I will not rely on James Jones for fantasy purposes. I will not rely on James Jones for fantasy purposes. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself - I didn't see too many articles predicting the scores from Thursday night's game would come from Donald Driver, Tom Crabtree, and Kellen Davis.
Every fantasy league with 12 teams or fewer should be required to start two tight ends each week. It's a passing league nowadays, and with so many good tight ends in the NFL, this format is more challenging and more fun.
As you read my suggested waiver claims for Week 3, please keep in mind my strategy. I don't want to simply spit out the players who performed well last week. You can read boxscores and watch ESPN, too. I want to find diamonds in the rough before they emerge. I'll strike out plenty of times in the process, but make sure you maintain that "swing for the fences" attitude, especially since the bye weeks haven't started yet.
Tim Tebow, QB, Jets (owned in 12% of Yahoo! leagues and 16% of ESPN leagues): After Mark Sanchez crapped his pants against the Steelers, it seems just a matter of time before Tebow takes over the starting job. The script is written, and we all know it. While we can (and will) debate the merits of Tebow as a real-life quarterback, his upside in our fake world is undeniable. Many owners cut Tebow after Sanchez played so well in Week 1, but it's time to stash Tebow again, especially since the bye weeks aren't here yet.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs (owned in 14% of Yahoo! leagues and 32% of ESPN leagues): I've seen enough from the Chiefs to feel confident they'll be bad all year, especially on defense. That will make for some prime garbage-time opportunities for Cassel, as we saw in Week 2. This Sunday, against an anemic Saints defense, I'd rather start Cassel than Russell Wilson.
Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell, RB, Bears (owned in 78% and 0%, respectively, of Yahoo! leagues): Depending on which report you believe, Matt Forte has a high ankle sprain or some other ankle injury. Regardless, it's clear Forte is going to be out a while or the Bears wouldn't have signed Kahlil Bell. I'd treat Bush as an RB2 for so long as Forte is out, but Bell is probably irrelevant except in really deep leagues.
Andre Brown and David Wilson, RB, Giants (owned in 12% and 48% of Yahoo! leagues and 1% and 81% of ESPN leagues, respectively): Ahmad Bradshaw left Sunday's game with an injury. In other words, the sun came out today and the government charged taxes. Anyway, the Giants are calling Bradshaw's injury a sprain, but on a high-powered offense that strangely prefers to run the ball despite an elite passing attack, Brown needs to be rostered in most formats. On a short week, Brown should do well against Carolina. I'd still try to hold Wilson as an upside guy on the bench, but if you have to cut him for Brown, do it. (By the way, does anyone else find it ironic that the Giants are punishing Wilson so severely for the Week 1 fumble? He was a fumbler in college, did the Giants think that was just going to go away? If they were this concerned about fumbling, why draft him in the first place?)
Daryl Richardson, RB, Rams (owned in 5% of Yahoo! leagues and 1% of ESPN leagues): Richardson, an undrafted, rookie free agent, has supplanted second-round pick Isaiah Pead on the Rams depth chart behind Stephen Jackson. When Jackson got hurt/benched (which was about as shocking as Bradshaw doing so), Richardson performed admirably until a late fumble. The Rams offense looks much improved and Richardson suddenly appears to have upside.
Mikel LeShoure, RB, Lions (owned in 36% of Yahoo! leagues and 20% of ESPN leagues): LeShoure has served his two-game suspension and looks like he'll be the starter or, at worst, be part of a committee. A juicy matchup awaits in Week 3 with the Titans
Jackie Battle, RB, Chargers (owned in 2% of Yahoo! leagues and 1% of ESPN leagues): Norv Turner may not have said so, but the upside handcuff for the oft-injured Ryan Mathews is Jackie Battle. I expect San Diego to cut Ronnie Brown when Mathews returns, helping to clarify Battle as a juicy fantasy option if/when Mathews gets hurt again.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams (owned in 49% of Yahoo! leagues and 19% of ESPN leagues): I profiled Amendola last week, so I'll keep this short. Amendola should obviously be owned in all formats, and depending on who else is available (and the extent of Ahmad Bradshaw's injury), may be the top waiver claim if he's still available. 81% of ESPN leagues really need to get their act together here.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers (owned in 34% of Yahoo! leagues and 26% of ESPN leagues): With Steve Smith garnering much of the defensive attention in Carolina, LaFell has emerged in this, his third NFL season. I've been slow to the party here, as I thought Greg Olsen would be the second option behind Smith, but so far at least, that hasn't happened. I'd rather own LaFell right now than Week 1 darling Kevin Ogletree.
Donnie Avery, WR, Colts (owned in 6% of Yahoo! leagues and 1% of ESPN leagues): I profiled Avery last week as a bit of a speculative play (owned in 0% of Yahoo! leagues at the time), since the Colts should throw a lot and Austin Collie still wasn't playing. As the week progressed, and Austin Collie's concussion issues weren't improving, I started to like Avery more, adding him right before kickoff in the Stopa Law Firm league. Hence, my profiling Avery isn't just a byproduct of me liking his 9 catches for 111 yards in Week 2, which I do. This is about the real possibility that Avery will remain the second option on a team that will have to throw a lot. Austin Collie may never return from his concussion issues, or, even if he does, it may be Avery's job going forward. For some perspective, I'd rather own Avery than Mike Williams or Justin Blackmon.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots (owned in 1% of Yahoo! leagues and 0% of ESPN leagues): I don't know what the Patriots are doing with Wes Welker, and since Bill Belichick doesn't talk about such things, neither does anyone else. I really don't like Edelman - if he was any good, we would have seen so by now. However, on a high-scoring team that's already without Aaron Hernandez, Edelman may be one Wes Welker injury away from a huge role on offense.
Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens (owned in 31% of Yahoo! leagues and 24% of ESPN leagues): I didn't profile Pitta after his big Week 1 because it's hard for two tight ends to be fantasy stars on any team not named the Patriots, and Ed Dickson remains in the fold for the Ravens. However, 15 targets in Week 2, on the heels of 73 yards and a TD in Week 1, merits a re-assessment. I'd rather own Pitta than
Brandon Myers, TE, Raiders (owned in 1% of Yahoo! leagues and 0% of ESPN leagues): You may not have ever heard of Myers, even though this is his fourth year in the NFL, as he's never scored a touchdown and his season high in receiving yardage is 151 yards. However, Myers is starting in Oakland, and he's amassed thsoe 151 yards in just two games this year. Plus, he's caught all 11 of his targets. With so many good tight ends in today's NFL, Myers isn't worth starting (or, hence, owning) in most formats, but keep an eye on him at least.
Justin Tucker, K, Ravens (owned in 12% of Yahoo! leagues and 18% of ESPN leagues): Matt Prater scored just three points in my most important league on Monday night, leaving me with a loss by 0.22 points. Suffice it to say that prompted me to think about kickers. Tucker looks like a young stud on an emerging offense, as he has five field goals already, including two from $50(+). He's unowned in msot formats - go get him.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons (owned in 50% of Yahoo! leagues): Michael Turner looks slow and fat, and he was just arrested for DUI. Rodgers' chances of being relevant continue to increase. His skill set is probably better for the Falcons anyway - no huddle offenses need a quick, flashy running back, not a plodder like Turner.
Dead to me:
Peyton Hillis, RB, Chiefs (owned in 81% of Yahoo! leagues): A guy with Hillis' skill set might be useful on a team that can play from the lead and spend the second half running a big, burly back between the tackles. The Chiefs, though, are the exact opposite of that profile, having been blown out twice. Against the Falcons, that was sort of understandable, but falling behind 35-3 to the Bills tells me that Hillis has no fantasy value except in deep leagues and in the event of a Jamaal Charles injury. Even then, Hillis might not be a fantasy starter, as Shaun Draughn has looked to be the superior back so far in 2012. Since he's not worth playing now and lacks upside, I think it's safe to cut Hillis in standard formats.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Chargers (owned in 21% of Yahoo! leagues): Nothing against Ronnie Brown, but his time in the NFL is about to end. If the Chargers don't waive him when Ryan Mathews returns (leaving Mathews, Jackie Battle, and Curtis Brinkley as the running backs), I'll be surprised.
Santana Moss, WR, Redskins (owned in 48% of Yahoo! leagues): The Stopa Law Firm League has some of the best and brightest fantasy minds out there - a compilation of Yahoo and Rotowire experts. When Santana Moss is unowned in that league, despite a 48% ownership rate in Yahoo leagues, that should tell you all you need to know. Some other big names with relatively high ownership percentages who are unowned in that league: Rashad Jennings, 38%, Mario Manningham, 29%, and Nate Burleson, 28%.
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