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Working the Wire: Worst 9-1 Team Ever?

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

9-1 has never felt so hollow. The Falcons won again despite a turnover differential of -5, becoming just the ninth team since 1978 to do so (against 314 losses, or 2.5 percent, h/t Mike Salfino). Recalling similarly fortunate victories against Carolina, Oakland, and Washington earlier in the year, it seems the Falcons are a 6-4 or 7-3 team masquerading as a 9-1 squad. But hey, at least I won't have to live in a world where Matt Ryan is the NFL MVP. The Texans, meanwhile, allowed an NFL doormat with its backup quarterback to rack up 37 points in their home stadium, needing overtime and historic performances from Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson to escape with a win. Let that be another reminder that even the best NFL team should never be more than a 14-point favorite against anyone. Yes, Raider Nation - anyone.

The 49ers whooping of the Bears sure didn't feel hollow... but why couldn't San Fran beat the Rams last week?

Lost admist the video-game stats from Schaub and Johnson was one of the worst coaching decisions so far in 2012. With the score tied with under three minutes remaining in overtime, the Jaguars faced 4th and 10 from the Texans 47. By punting, the Jaguars would have forced the Texans to start at their 20 at worst or, at best, would have pinned Houston inside its own 10 with just 2:30 left, perhaps forcing an awkward and conservative three-and-out. Instead, apparently wanting to avoid a tie, the Jaguars went for it - a terribly low-percentage play on 4th and 10 from the 47. Not surprisingly, it didn't work, and with the ball just short of midfield, the Texans needed just two plays on the ensuing drive to win. Typically, bad coaching decisions arise from #punttowin, but this was the rare case where a coach was clearly too aggressive.

Not to be outdone on the coaching snafus, Ken Whisenhunt replaced John Skelton after just seven passes (and zero interceptions) with sixth-round rookie Ryan Lindley despite the Cardinals having a 13-0 lead at the time. If Whisenhunt wanted a quarterback change, fine. But why not name Lindley the starter before the Week 10 bye, allowing him to get two weeks of work with the starters in practice? If Whisenhunt wasn't ready to make the move before the bye, he shouldn't have been so quick to yank Skelton with a 13-0 lead after just 7 passes.

Arian Foster scoring just nine fantasy points in a game where his team scored 43 points was terribly disappointing but unsurprising when you remember what I wrote last week. Foster isn't breaking long runs (just 2.8 YPC on Sunday) and isn't making defenders miss, so even as a feature back, he's dependent on goal line touchdowns for big fantasy games. When those are taken away, as they were on Sunday, he's a high volume but mediocre player. Foster owners are really fortunate Ben Tate has been hurt most of the year.

At the six minute mark of the third quarter, the Chargers had three first downs. Three. At that same time, Von Miller had three sacks. Call me crazy, but that's probably not a recipe for a victory.

Did you hear Plaxico Burress is going to sign with the Steelers? I doubt he'll matter for fantasy, but at least Plax will feel right at home if the Steelers wear those throwback uniforms again.

I'd love a coherent explanation for why Mike McCarthy keeps insisting the Packers have a pass/run ratio of 50/50. Their offensive line can't run-block and whether it's Cedric Benson, Alex Green, or James Starks getting the carries, they get no explosive plays out of the running game. Oh, yeah - and they have the best player in the NFL as their quarterback. I get that you have to mix in the run to prevent defenses from teeing off on Aaron Rodgers, but couldn't McCarthy prevent that by running 30% of the time, not 50%? Green Bay nearly lost to Detroit and Jacksonville - two teams they're obviously better than - because they played far too conservatively on offense. Let's hope McCarthy gets this out of his system now, as this game-plan is a recipe for disaster in the playoffs.

Nick Fairley made a handful of nice plays for the Lions on Sunday (7 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits), taking advantage of the double-teams devoted to Ndamukong Suh. If Matthew Stafford could ever take a leap, there's a lot of talent on Detroit's roster. One place they need an upgrade, though, is tight end. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler combined for 44 yards on 6 catches on Sunday, which might not seek like a big deal until you realize it came on 17 targets. 44 yards on 17 targets - that's 2.5 yards per target - a pathetic figure - and that's with an elite receiver drawing coverage away from the tight ends.

What an absurd sequence right before halftime in Detroit, as Mason Crosby missed a 50-yard field goal right before the half, his 6th miss in his last 11 attempts. The kick didn't count, though, as Jim Schwartz called timeout just beforehand. Icing the kicker at the end of the first half? Really? Given a second chance, Crosby promptly missed again - then missed another kick later in the game as well. The problem for Crosby wasn't just the misses - the Packers passed up a 49-yard field goal in the first half, choosing instead to go for it on fourth and four - and you can't tell me that's what the ultra-conservative McCarthy would have done if Crosby were kicking well. That said, with the Packers up 21-20 with 19 seconds left, Crosby connected from 39 yards out, giving the Packers a win against the spread (very similar to the one the Falcons pulled out over the Cowboys a few weeks ago). It was a tough loss for Lions backers, but, to be fair, the Lions were -3 in the turnover battle, with one returned for a touchdown.

Five NFL defenses have as many interceptions as touchdowns allowed. The Bears are the obvious one. The others? The Giants (17 INTs, 17 TDs), Ravens (11 INTs, 8 TDs), Falcons (11 TDs, 11 INTs), Cardinals (14 INTs, 13 TDs), and Seahawks (9 INTs, 9 TDs).

Brent Celek might be a mediocre tight end, but he's absolutely terrific at letting footballs bounce off his hands for interceptions. Seriously, how bad of a season has it been for the Eagles? There are lots of ways to gauge it, but how about this... they're 1-8-1 against the spread. You non-gamblers might not think much of that, as it's not terribly uncommon for the league doormats to only win a few games. However, even the league's worst teams typically win their share of games ATS because Vegas adjusts to their suckitude, ensuring they have roughly a 50% chance of winning ATS on any given week. That's why, for example, the 2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16 but 7-9 ATS. In fact, since 2007, only two NFL teams have won as few as three games ATS (the 2007 Ravens were 3-13 and the 2011 Rams were 3-12-1), and only two others finished 4-12 or worse (2008 Jaguars and 2011 Bucs). Philly has been so disappointing in 2012, continually failing to live up to expectations, that even Vegas has been unable to adjust. With six games to go, this could be a historically bad season, particularly if the team quits on Andy Reid, much as the 2011 Bucs (4-12 ATS) did on Raheem Morris.

Several weeks ago, when Ryan Williams went on injured reserve, joining Beanie Wells, and the Cardinals offensive line looked historically bad, several fantasy analysts suggested ignoring the Cardinals backfield for fantasy purposes. With 127 yards and another touchdown on Sunday, LaRod Stephens-Howling has proven that advice wrong. Going forward, let this be a reminder that you should *never* ignore a starting running back in the NFL for fantasy purposes, no matter how dire the situation may seem, especially when injuries strike and the team is forced to shuffle its starting lineup. See also Marcel Reece.

Coming into the Thursday night affair, the Bills were last in many defensive categories, particularly against the run. How shocking was it to see Buffalo hold the Dolphins in check? I'll refer to the words of Bills coach Chan Gailey, who termed the performance of his defense "unbelievably great." Yes, instead of hearing "we knew our defense had it in them to perform this well, and we expect more in the future," Gailey responded candidly, but like a fan from the third row, calling the defense "unbelievably great". Telling. By the way, can we please fire this guy already?

I'm not sure I've ever seen a better tackle by a punter than that made by Jaguars punter Bryan Anger against Texans returner Keshawn Martin. You really should watch the video (Google "Bryan Anger tackles Keshawn Martin" to watch the clip), but I'll summarize this way... have you ever seen a kick returner get even with the punter, running full speed, only to have the punter turn and run and, despite not having an angle or the benefit of the sideline, make the tackle in the open field? Me, neither.

Rob Gronkowski's broken arm isn't devastating to the Patriots. It hurts, no doubt, but they were likely looking at the third or fourth seed in the AFC regardless (remember, they're one game behind Baltimore and the Pats lose a tiebreaker), and Gronk should be back for the playoffs. The news is much worse for fantasy owners, who can't come close to replacing Gronk. It really aggravates me because I was just starting to feel vindicated about drafting Gronk and Graham everywhere - they've really distanced themselves from the other tight ends in the NFL for fantasy purposes. Compounding this frustration is the knowledge Gronk was hurt on a PAT with the game no longer in doubt. While other analysts have criticized the Patriots for leaving Gronk in the game that long, I question why Gronk is on the field goal team at all. Even if he is a terrific blocker, as Scott Pianowski of Yahoo! often opines (an opinion I accept at face value), Gronk is just another guy on the field goal unit. There's no reason a backup, no-name lineman can't do that job just as well, or close to as well that it didn't justify having Gronk on the field goal team in the first place. Hence, don't criticize the Pats for running up the score - question why one of the NFL's most valuable players was put on special teams in the first place.

The Steelers are allowing just 5.8 YPA and 169.3 yards/game, while everyone else in the NFL is at 6.1 and 196 or higher. What makes Pitt's dominance so surprising is they lost to the Raiders and Titans earlier in the year - and looked bad on defense doing so. I guess it's time to acknowledge that Steelers defense no longer exists, and the present version is a top-shelf unit once again.

Here are my waiver suggestions as we enter Week 12:

Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith, QB, 49ers: I'm not Jim Harbaugh, and I can't pretend I know what Harbaugh is going to do if/when Alex Smith returns from his concussion. If I were Harbaugh, though, I'd play Kaepernick (just as I told @ChrisLiss and @JeffErickson on the radio a few weeks ago). If Harbaugh agrees, Kaepernick has a sweet matchup this week, as the Saints are last in the NFL in TD passes allowed and QB rating. If Harbaugh disagrees, Alex Smith makes a fine start for those same reasons.

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: After getting embarassed on national television, expect a big bounce-back from the Bears on Sunday. Cutler should be back after missing one game with a concussion, and the Vikings pass defense is nothing to be worried about. I'd rather play Cutler this week than Philip Rivers.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Murray has missed five straight games with a sprained foot, and his healing powers are roughly on par with those of Darren McFadden. That said, Murray seems to be inching closer to a return, and he certainly doesn't belong on waivers.

Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball, RB, Broncos: Willis McGahee's torn MCL opens the door for Hillman, the explosive youngster, and Ball, the bigger, reliable, third down and goal line guy. I'd treat Hillman as an RB2 with upside, particularly given the Broncos favorable schedule (@KC, TB, @Oak, @Balt, Cle) and top-tier offense. At this stage of the season, if you have FAAB left, or you've been sitting on the top waiver priority, use it here.

Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots: Stevan Ridley is still the starter, which limits Vereen's ceiling right now. However, Brandon Bolden is out of the picture on suspension, and Danny Woodhead is just a change of pace guy. If Ridley gets hurt, Vereen would likely be looking at a feature role on a dynamite offense. With the bye weeks behind us, there might not be anyone I like stashing more than Vereen right now. Others I'd still be stashing: Kendall Hunter, Michael Bush, Jacquizz Rodgers, Greg Jennings, and Mike Goodson.

Jalen Parmele, RB, Jaguars: If Rashad Jennings has proven one thing over the past few weeks, it's that Maurice Jones-Drew is better than we thought. Jennings' struggles forced the Jaguars to switch to Parmele last week. While the results weren't all bad (80 yards on 24 carries), they don't look nearly as good when you consider the Jaguars scored 37 points. Consider Parmele only for deeper leagues or ideal matchups, like the Bills in Week 13.

Danario Alexander, WR, Chargers: Alexander is the most valuable Chargers player in fantasy circles, even moreso than Ryan Mathews. It's hard to envision a league where Alexander belongs on waivers, yet he remains unowned in 76% of Yahoo! leagues. Go get him.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: I probably would have profiled Hilton this week even if he hadn't scored two touchdowns last week, as Donnie Avery suffered a concussion. Plus, Hilton gets the Bills this week. If you miss the top waiver guys this week (Hillman, Alexander, Kaepernick, or, obviously, Hernandez and Murray if they're available), Hilton isn't a bad fallback.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars: Blackmon had 250 yards through nine games entering Week 10 yet exploded for 236 yards last week alone. Is Blackmon finally starting to get it? Or was last week's breakout a fluke, in one of those "on any given Sunday" sort of ways? I'd say the latter. But I can't just ignore Blackmon here off a performance like that, and it's certainly possible I'm wrong. Plus, the schedule is appealing - the Titans this week and then the Bills.

Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers: The Eagles are a dumpster fire, and LaFell is healthy again after missing Week 8 with a concussion. I'm not excited about a secondary receiving option for the Panthers, but, hey, this is a waiver column.

Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots: If Hernandez is healthy, he could easily be a top-three tight end for the rest of the season. Presuming he returns this week, it's perfect timing, with Rob Gronkowski on the shelf. I realize Hernandez is owned in most leagues, but if he was cut in a shallow league, make him your top waiver priority this week.

Garrett Graham, TE, Texans: The Texans might have the least depth at receiver of any team in the NFL. Expecting a repeat of Graham's two-TD performance seems foolish, but for deep formats, Graham has at least two catches in each of the past five games, and he scored in Week 9 as well. A matchup with the Titans, who have allowed an NFL-worst 8 TDs to tight ends, looms in Week 12.

Seahawks D/ST: It took several weeks, but the Dolphins offense finally resembles the dumpster fire we thought it would be entering the season. When you put up three points against the Titans and seven (on offense) against the Bills in successive weeks, there's no way to spin the suckitude. Even on the road, the Seahawks defense should be starting in most formats this week. Better yet, coming off its bye, Seattle is available in many leagues.

Dead to Me:

All Dolphins: If you can't do it against Buffalo, you can't do it. Now that we're through the bye weeks, you need to do better than anybody playing for Miami. I suppose Reggie Bush could still be rostered in deeper leagues, but he's splitting carries with Daniel Thomas and is a free agent after the season, so the Dolphins have no loyalty here. With the bye weeks over, you need to do better.

All Eagles: If you want to chase after Bryce Brown with LeSean McCoy concussed, go ahead. When I look at Philly right now, I see a team that couldn't score a touchdown against a Redskins defense that entered last week with an NFL-worst 20 passing touchdowns allowed. I'm not saying I'd cut LeSean McCoy, but I can't see starting any Eagles this week in standard leagues. If you disagree, you'll get stuck with a rooting interest in Philly/Car on Monday night, a punishment nobody should have to endure.

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