Week 10 changed the landscape of the NFL playoff races for all the wrong reasons - quarterback injuries. Michael Vick's injury doesn't really matter in the grand scheme, but playoff seeds are at stake for the 49ers and Bears this week, yet Alex Smith and Jay Cutler may be forced to watch. Not to minimize their impact or downplay concussions, but Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder injury is far bigger news. The Steelers were just starting to re-enter the Super Bowl conversation, and now they may struggle to make the playoffs. It's ironic, as just last week I was criticizing the NFL for this very thing - the Steelers and Ravens play twice in the next three weeks, an odd and inappropriate scheduling quirk that may force Ben to miss both outings or be far less than 100% for the Steelers' two most important games of the year.
"The Chiefs have a lead!" What a great call from Mike Tirico, said with the appropriate level of surprise and emotion. Alas, the Monday night affair was a dumpster fire after that. Seriously, have you ever seen a less entertaining game that wasn't a blowout? I'm not sure if it was the one-sided officiating, the awful quarterback play, or the curse of Romeo Crennel, but I can't recall the last time I derived less pleasure while watching a close game.
Did Michael Jordan join the NFL and put up a double nickel in Baltimore? No, that's the Raiders defense. 55 points - what an abomination. At least Al Davis isn't around to see it - he'd be embarassed. You know the Raiders defense is bad when a Bills fan thinks so. But hey, at least Carson Palmer, Denarius Moore, and Darrius Heyward-Bey (and, yes, Marcel Reece!) are going to keep profiting for their fantasy owners.
Speaking of the Bills, they outplayed the Patriots on Sunday, beating them in passing yards (319 to 230), rushing yards (162 to 117), and yards per play (6.8 to 5.1), but two fourth-quarter, red zone turnovers did them in. Things are so bad, though, that at no moment did I ever think a win was possible. I guess I'm jaded, and not just from the awful defense. Think of it this way... the Bills have been blown out 3-4 times and looked awful in the process yet were one drive away from pulling to 4-5, just one game back of the Patriots, and potentially saving their season. A loss, though, meant 3-6 and season over. It was their final hurrah of 2012 and their most important drive of the season. So where was their best player, C.J. Spiller, he of the insane 7.3 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per reception? On the bench, of course, in favor of Fred Jackson. No offense to Jackson, but that's just appalling. We've all lamented how Pierre Thomas has been under-utilized over the past few years, but this is far worse. Spiller is a top-10 real life NFL player, regardless of position (not including quarterbacks, who are in a different category). Except for perhaps Calvin Johnson, J.J. Watt, and Adrian Peterson (and probably a few I'm forgetting), I'm not sure there's any non-quarterback better in the NFL right now. So, in case you're wondering, that's what it's like to be a Bills fan - the team hasn't made the playoffs this century, and this season has sucked, yet somehow there's a chance to salvage it... a chance to win in New England for the first time in over a decade... and one of the NFL's best players is sitting on the bench, rotting away. Lest you think this is just a Bills fan venting, I sincerely believe Spiller has the potential to be the first overall fantasy choice in 2013. Yes, first overall. Remember, the Bills offensive line was ranked first overall a few weeks ago, before injuries struck.
Okay, enough Buffalo - they're irrelevant in today's NFL. The takeaway from that game, for me, is that the Patriots defense hasn't improved at all. When the Bills are going up and down the field against you with such ease, you've got major problems. It was reminescent of how the Patriots made Mark Sanchez look good and let Joe Flacco coming storming back in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, look at what Denver did to an underrated and improving Carolina team (yes, improving - they just beat Washington and stayed within one score of Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and Atlanta in successive weeks). The Broncos harassed Cam Newton all game with their rush, returned a kick and an INT for a touchdown... they were just dominant. And that says nothing of that Manning dude... you know, the Manning who's still good. For me, the QB injuries aside, the biggest takeaway from Week 10 is that Denver is above New England in the pecking order of Super Bowl contenders. (Yes, I'm ticked I missed out on Denver at 25:1 a few weeks ago.)
I criticize Eli, and he deserves it. Recall 2011, though, when the Giants looked like they were dead after a Week 15 loss to Rex Grossman's Redskins yet still took home the Lombardi. Don't write them off this year, either. If anything, let's check how far their Super Bowl odds fall this week. (I accept 10% commissions on all advice that you convert into a successful bet. Any losses, however, are subsidized by Chris Liss.) Don't give up on Dallas, either. They're 4-5, but will likely be favored in every remaining game, with five of them at home: Cle, Wash, Philly, @Cinci, Pitt, NO, @Wash. I know, I know. But remember, the media viewed Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers not too dissimilarly to how it views Tony Romo right now. One hot streak can re-define Romo's career, and that schedule sure looks like a schedule to get it started.
Arian Foster has lived up to his draft status as the first player overall, but I feel a letdown coming for 2013. Foster isn't making tacklers miss like an elite running back should, and it shows in his YPC - just 3.9. Adrian Peterson, by comparison, is at 5.8. Eventually, good players in a good setup, which is how I'd now describe Foster right now, fall off a bit and make way for great/more talented players. Speaking of which, I am completely in awe of Peterson. While most NFL players coming off ACL injuries struggle in their first year back (see, e.g., Rashard Mendenhall), Peterson seems better than ever. Are we sure this guy tore his ACL? Really? Did you see his knee yourself? For weeks, I kept thinking Peterson would slow down as the Vikings schedule got tougher - two matchups with Chicago loom - but at this rate it seems only the Vikings Week 11 bye can slow down Peterson.
**Breaking News** Philip Rivers arrested for points shaving and illegal gambling with Pete Rose. OK, I made that up, but admit it - if you saw the headline, you wouldn't be shocked, and it would help make sense of what's happening in San Diego. Perhaps there's just something in the water in southern California, since a healthy Ryan Mathews is posting stats like (insert name of plodding running back here).
The Ravens converting a fake field goal for a touchdown was pretty darn cool, but it's hard to understand why they'd waste that play in a game that was no longer in doubt.
The Rams look like a totally different offense with Danny Amendola healthy. I'm not sure he's on the level of Victor Cruz in the slot, but he's close, and I'd put him right on par with Wes Welker. Remember, unlike Cruz and Welker, who enjoy the benefits of elite quarterbacks, Amendola is doing this with Sam Bradford as his quarterback. Last time I looked, Bradford hadn't made any other receivers look this good in three-plus NFL seasons, so Amendola having two of the more impressive receiving games of the 2012 season (last week, with 11 catches against the 49ers, and his 15 catches in Week 2) has to speak to Amendola's talent. Meanwhile, the Rams managed to produce two of the coolest plays of Week 10 - two successful fake punts, both throws, including one from their own end zone - while also being part of two of the worst - a delay of game penalty on the game-winning field goal, despite a timeout in their pocket, and using a timeout with more than a minute left on first and goal, ensuring San Francisco had time for a game-tying drive after the Rams scored. I suppose two great plays and two horrible ones cancel each other out, making a tie the right result.
It's a good thing the NFL reviews every scoring play, lest it would miss Trindon Holliday fumbling the ball before he crosses the goal line. Ummm...
After Week 1, I bet DDD the Bucs would win more games than the Saints. Three weeks later, each had lost three straight games, but both have since rebounded to win four out of five. Crazy. Ten weeks in, I'm still not sure which team is better, and I'm not sure DDD does, either.
Chris Ivory is obviously benefitting from Darren Sproles' hand injury, scoring each of the past two weeks after having not played all year. Yet after one of the best runs of the entire NFL season in the first quarter, the Saints still gave Mark Ingram 16 carries and just 7 to Ivory. Ingram looked decent, I suppose, but 4.2 yards per carry with a long of 8 is hardly anything to write home about, especially against a Falcons defense allowing 4.9 YPC coming into the game. At some point, the Saints coaches need to ignore the acquisition costs and draft pedigree and acknowledge Ivory is better than Ingram.
It was appropriate that Jimmy Graham went 7-146-2 in the game where Tony Gonzalez became the first tight end to pass 100 career touchdowns, as Graham and Rob Gronkowski seem sure to join Gonzalez in that group in about 7 years. It's no coincidence Graham has exploded the past two weeks, as, like Ivory, he has benefitted from Darren Sproles' absence. They obviously play different positions, but without Sproles as a security blanket, Drew Brees is looking to Graham more than ever. I'm not sure when Sproles will return, but keep Sproles' health in mind if you're considering buying or selling Graham before the trade deadline.
What a bizarre season for the Jets. I suppose I'm okay with the Jets sticking with Mark Sanchez at quarterback, as I doubt Tim Tebow is the answer. However, if they were going to stick with Sanchez for this long, then why bring in Tebow in the first place? Either Sanchez is your guy, in which case Tebow didn't belong on the team, or you doubted Sanchez's longevity, in which case Tebow should have been playing by now. Either way, bringing in Tebow, but not letting him play, was unequivocally the wrong answer. Coaches and GMs have been fired for less.
What's the over/under on the number of games Michael Vick will start in the NFL for the rest of his career? Fewer than ten, right? Sadly, I can see him in Buffalo next year (and while I don't like that as a Bills fan, if you agree that a running quarterback helps the YPC of the running backs on the team, can you imagine what Spiller's YPC might look like if that's true?)
You can keep playing Andrew Luck and other Colts in fantasy just as you have been. For the real-life Colts, though, I'm fading. The Colts whole (6-3 record) has been greater than the sum of their parts (27th in turnover differential, 25th in QB rating, 26th in QB rating allowed, 24th in TD passes, 28th in YPC allowed, last in interceptions, net YPA is negative), and that trend just can't continue as the schedule as the schedule stiffens (at Foxboro this week, both Houston games still on tap). The Colts are also the only team with a winning record with a negative point differential. Even with a 6-3 start, I still see Indy finishing 8-8, and, for you gamblers in the house, I'm comfortable saying you'll make money if you bet against Indy every game for the rest of the year.
Here are my waiver suggestions as we enter Week 11:
Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: How is this guy unowned in nearly half of leagues? It's a complete dumpster fire in Oakland, with no defense and no running game, so Palmer is chucking it 40-45 times every game. There's talent at wideout, too, as Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey should be starting in most fantasy formats. Remember, the stats don't have to be pretty to count. Oh, and the Raiders get the Saints this week. Hop aboard, folks.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans: 37-3 in Miami... where did that come from, Tennessee? Stat-heads sure didn't see that coming, as the Titans have been ranked at the bottom of the NFL power rankings for much of the season. While it's hard to dismiss a 37-3 whooping to variance, I still think the Titans defense is a bottom-tier unit. That matters, of course, because I like the Titans weapons on offense, as Locker has four good options in the passing game (Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, and Jared Cook). So long as Locker is healthy, Matt Hasselbeck is no threat here. The only problem is that Locker may not be worth holding through his Week 11 bye. Obviously, your league format matters here.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: Alex Smith suffered a concussion last week, and Kaepernick immediately showed what he can do with his legs - rushing for 66 yards and a touchdown. This week's matchup against Chicago is far from ideal, but Kaepernick's rushing ability merits a roster spot in deeper leagues. There's upside here, but be wary of leagues that penalize interceptions this week.
Nick Foles, QB, Eagles: I don't care what Andy Reid says - this is Foles chance to take the starting job and run with it. With the talent the Eagles have at the skill positions, Foles has upside. I love the schedule, too, particularly a sweet matchup with a bad Redskins defense this week. Among the QBs I'd bench in favor of Foles this week include Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler (if he plays) and, perhaps, Joe Flacco.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins: How bad is the Bills rush defense? They're last in YPC at 5.5 (only one other team is above 5.0), last in yards/game, last with 16 rushing TDs allowed, and last in 20(+) yard runs allowed. If that's not the grand slam of suckitude for a rush defense, I don't know what is. At this point, Daniel Thomas is more than a Reggie Bush handcuff, as Thomas has been splitting carries with Bush, who saw time on the pine last week after a first half fumble. I fully expect Miami to bounce back this week in Buffalo, even on a short week on the road. There's nobody on your waiver wire more likely to score a touchdown this week than Thomas.
Alex Green and James Starks, RB, Packers: Green Bay is coming off its bye, so Green and Starks were dropped in a lot of leagues. I'd rather own Green, who's gotten most of the work since Cedric Benson got hurt and, in theory, has more upside. But Starks got more of the carries in Week 9 after Green's YPC sat around 2.0 the few weeks prior. Your league format determines the value of these guys, so just consider this a reminder to keep them in mind since the Packers are returning from a bye.
Chris Ivory, RB, Saints: I profiled Ivory last week, and I generally don't like discussing the same guy in two straight weeks. But the Saints get the Raiders this week, so you have to think the Saints will score a touchdown. Or six. And if the Saints get the lead, I like Ivory's chances of getting more carries, in a run-out-the-clock sort of way.
Marcel Reece, RB, Raiders: Reece had one carry on the season before last week, when he racked up 13 carries for 48 yards. If you like Reece, though, you don't like him for his rushing - he has 15 catches the past two games as the Raiders constantly play from behind. Against the hapless Saints this week, there might well be more of that to come.
Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals: LaRod Stephens-Howling has performed just fine in the past few weeks as the de facto starter, but he's not built to get starter's carries over the long haul. Wells can't return from Injured Reserve until Week 12, but he's already practicing, so there's some chance he'll immediately get his job back. The Cardinals offensive line is probably the worst in the league, but deeper fantasy leagues can't just ignore what may be a featured running back.
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers: I really have no idea if/when Jennings will be back, or how effective he'll be if/when he returns. However, Jennings is a Pro Bowl talent on an elite offense, so the upside here is undeniable. Plus, this is the last week of byes, so this is the stage of the season where you can and should put guys like Jennings on your bench. Stash and see what happens. Among the players you should cut in favor of Jennings if they're currently on your bench: Brandon LaFell, Donnie Avery, Golden Tate, Justin Blackmon, and Kevin Ogletree, and that's just being conservative.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans: Britt is an enigma, but he's undeniably the Titans' most talented receiver. You have to like him a bit more now that Jake Locker is back under center, too. If the Titans defense is still as bad as I think, Britt should be owned in most formats.
Danario Alexander, WR, Chargers: Robert Meachem, meet the bench. Danario Alexander, meet the starting job. Why did the Chargers pay Meachem all that free agent money again?
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars: Shorts has double-digit targets three of the past four weeks, with at least 13 fantasy points in those three contests. It's really hard to trust the Jaguars passing game, but Shorts' production is forcing us to do so.
Broncos D/ST: Denver seems to have turned a corner on defense, and they're now a unit I'd feel comfortable starting every week for the rest of the year. This week's matchup against INT-prone Philip Rivers is more enticing than one would have thought a few weeks ago, too.
Falcons D/ST: The Cardinals offensive line is terrible, and while I don't like picking on offenses after a bye, the problems weren't fixable with one bye week. Expect Atlanta to bounce back this week, at home, and rack up 5-6 sacks.
Dead to Me:
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: I was patient. I thought the upside remained, particularly with a friendly schedule. Now, though, it's time to cut bait. You can do better at the quarterback position for your fantasy team. You have to do better. Let someone else stash Vick and hope for upside based on rushing ability which, for all we know, may be gone forever (if not completely, then enough to prevent him from ever again being the player we saw in 2010 and before). It's been fun, Mike, but it's time to move on. PS: Please don't come to Buffalo in 2013.
Taiwan Jones, RB, Raiders: Jones couldn't get touches even with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson injured. Marcel Reece is a fullback who had one carry all year and the Raiders preferred him over Jones. Do I need to continue?
Bye-week fill-ins: It's hard to bury too many fantasy players because league formats vary so much. That said, the best advice I can give at this point, perhaps for this entire column, is to cut all of the bye-week, fill-in type of players who've been sitting on your bench during the byes. With the byes over (after this week, anyway), ask yourself "am I ever going to start this player for the rest of the season?" If the answer is no, cut that guy, and go claim someone with upside. I'm talking, of course, about backup running backs on good offenses, or backups on good offenses in general. You know the names - I've been talking about them all year. It's time to fill your bench with upside plays and hope someone pans out.
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