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Working the Wire: Year of the Rookie QB

If 2011 was the Year of the Quarterback, then 2012 is the Year of the Rookie Quarterback. We all know about Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck - ESPN makes sure of that - but Russell Wilson belongs in that conversation, too. Just look at the stats:

Wilson: 2,344 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INTs, 7.4 YPA, 95.2 QB rating, 7-5 record
Griffin: 2,660 yards, 17 TDs, 4 INTs, 8.1 YPA, 104.4 QB rating, 6-6 record
Luck: 3,596 yards, 17 TDs, 16 INTs, 7.1 YPA, 76.1 QB rating, 8-4 record

No matter the question, there's no wrong answer among these three.

We're starting the fantasy playoffs, but I kind of wish the NFL playoffs started right now, too. If they did, the Texans, Patriots, Falcons and 49ers would get byes, and the Wild Card matchups would look like this: Seahawks at Packers, Bears at Giants, Colts at Broncos, and Steelers at Ravens. That would be just perfect in my book. The Broncos would blow out the over-their-head Colts, the Packers would get a chance at revenge for Golden-gate, and the Ravens and Steelers would have their annual playoff slugfest. I'd be fine with swapping Denver and New England, but besides that, I wouldn't change anything.

Wait a minute. Forget that. I want to see Robert Griffin in the playoffs. Heck, Griffin makes me want to be a Redskins fan.

The Eagles are a fascinating illustration of how quickly an NFL team can change its colors. Mike Vick? Nice knowing ya. Bryce Brown, who are you? Oh, yeah - you're better than LeSean McCoy. Kevin Foles, after two duds, where did that come from? Most shocking, though, is a defense that went from fantasy relevant early in the year to posting the worst six-game stretch of pass defense in NFL history. That's not hyperbole, either - just look at the numbers. In the six games since Todd Bowles took over as defensive coordinator, the Eagles have allowed 16 passing TDs, zero INTs, and every quarterback has posted a QB rating of 122 or higher. No team has ever posted a six-week stretch like that. If your fantasy matchups are at all close the next three weeks, make sure you're starting all Bucs (Week 14), Bengals (Week 15), and Redskins (Week 16).

Before we leave the Eagles, an overlooked aspect of the offensive output in Week 13 was the performance of the offensive line. Remember all those weeks earlier in the year where Mike Vick was getting pummeled play after play? Foles was sacked just once on Sunday night against a decent pass defense. That might be the most damning indictment yet of Michael Vick, even more than Foles' other stats. Remember, taking sacks is as much a product of a quarterback's awareness as it is offensive line play.

The Steelers win over the Ravens was absolutely enormous, as they avoided falling to 6-6 and slipping a game behind the Bengals for the sixth seed. Seeding always matters, but particularly so this year in the AFC, where the Steelers will be very dangerous if Ben comes back, whereas the Colts don't scare me in the slightest. In fact, if Indy is the 5th seed and the Steelers the 6th, the third seed might/should tank to fall into the fourth seed ... getting to play Indy instead of Pittsburgh makes that big of a difference. (Yes, I'm going to continue doubling down fading the Colts. Trust me - the payoff is coming, likely in a big way in the playoffs. We got a taste of it when the Pats crushed the Colts a few weeks ago, and it reminds me of how Tebow's Broncos were embarassed in the divisional round last year.)

Thursday night's game was the first time I really felt like Drew Brees missed Sean Payton. The short week undoubtedly didn't help, but Brees seemed a half-notch too hyped all game. I can't help but think Payton would have been able to calm Brees a bit in a way Joe Vitt couldn't. As I watched Vitt do nothing to rescue his struggling quarterback, it occurred to me... have you seen the list of head coaches the Falcons have beaten this year? Vitt. Andy Reid. Norv Turner. Romeo Crennel. Jason Garrett. Dennis Allen. John Fox. Ron Rivera. Greg Schainoe. Sometimes, the jokes just write themselves.

There's no joking about what happened in Kansas City on Saturday. As analysts, we sometimes think of NFL players as robots, crunching stats and expecting on-field results based on those stats. What a horribly sad reminder that NFL players are humans with the same problems and struggles we all face. And what a terrific postgame speech by Brady Quinn, putting it all in perspective.

Dez Bryant might be a space cadet, but I'm not asking him to babysit my children, so as long as he stays on the field, who cares? Bryant is a top-5 receiver until further notice, both this year and beyond.

Joseph Morgan is my choice to lead the NFL in yards per reception next year. With a year of seasoning under his belt, and Drew Brees as his quarterback, he'll be a fantasy sleeper in 2013, too.

It's silly how the NFL Network is advertisiing this week's Thursday night matchup between the Broncos and Raiders by saying Oakland is "primed to knock off" its division rival, or something to that effect. I realize they're trying to promote a game, but does the NFL Network think we've been sleeping the past month? If they wanted to advertise "on any given Sunday," fine... but don't insult our intelligence by acting like an upset is imminent.

It was really fun listening to London Fletcher on Monday night. He's no longer elite, but he's still solid, and his passion and leadership are terrific. And to think the Bills (they of the worst LB corps in the NFL) thought he was washed up - after the 2006 season.

Was I really reading articles last week where Jay Cutler was getting MVP hype? Really? I'd list out the players who deserve MVP votes more than Cutler, but I'd exceed the word count for this article.

I agree with Kevin Payne's suggestion that the Bills (and several other teams with obvious holes at quarterback) call Seattle to ask about Matt Flynn. I'm not sure Flynn is a playoff-caliber quarterback, but if you're one of the 6-7 teams who obviously don't have such a quarterback on the roster, why not give up a third round draft pick to see if Flynn pans out? Seattle must know what they're doing with quarterbacks, as they drafted Russell Wilson when 30 other teams passed on him.

Isn't it weird how sometimes things happen in the NFL and they feel personal - like the NFL is sending us a message - and even though we know that's a ridiculous feeling, we can't help but feel it? For instance, last week in Staff Picks, I explained that I took the Patriots -8 because I didn't think Miami could get a backdoor cover the way the Pats keep the pedal to the floor all game. Even as I wrote it, I thought "sure, this will be the week Miami gets a backdoor cover," but I dismissed the thought and wrote it anyway. Sure enough, Miami kicked a FG with under 30 seconds left to cover. Or my bet with DDD about the Bucs and Saints after Week 1 (who would win more games in 2012) - those two teams have paralleled each other since our bet, as both lost three straight, won five of six, then lost two straight. I know these are just coincidences, yet can't help but feel it's somehow personal - like the entire NFL exists for my amusement.

The Bills lost their starting center, Eric Wood, to a torn MCL and starting right tackle, Chris Hairston, will likely miss a game or two. You won't hear about such things in the mainstream media, but the Bills skill players, particularly the running backs, deserve a small downrade as a result. Recall last year, when Wood was hurt, that the Bills had enormous problems just snapping the ball in shotgun formations.

Adrian Peterson will be the consensus #1 overall fantasy player heading in 2013, right? He'd certainly be my choice to grace the cover of Rotowire's Fantasy Football magazine next year. Peterson is sort of like a lone wolf - he's the last guy remaining in whom we have 100% confidence he'll be a feature back.

I was convinced the best strategy for fantasy owners in 2012 was to get a quarterback early and solidify the position with an established stud. I couldn't have been more wrong. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have failed to live up to preseason expectations, and their names are nowhere to be found on the list of players most commonly owned in Yahoo's top 500 fantasy teams. Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford aren't there, either, and while Tom Brady owners didn't lose money, they didn't profit, either. Worse yet, owners who took these quarterbacks may have been less aggressive in targeting high-upside QBs - Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck - all of whom have been as good or better than their higher-drafted counterparts for a fraction of the price.

So what will my strategy be for drafting fantasy quarterbacks next offseason? I'm not entirely sure - it's too easy to say "wait on QBs" just because that's what worked this year. One thing I know for sure is I'll spend much more time trying to figure out which quarterbacks will be playing on teams with crummy defenses. Andrew Luck hasn't been terribly efficient in real-life terms - just 17 TDs vs 16 INTs and a 76.1 QB rating - but he's throwing all game every game since the Colts defense is so bad. The same is true of Robert Griffin, as Washington must keep scoring every week to make up for a bottom-three defense. Even Carson Palmer has been serviceable since the Raiders defense has been so bad. In 2013, whether you want a QB early or late, try to take one on a team with a bad defense.

Next season, though, can wait. Here are my waiver suggestions as we enter Week 14. We may be past the point of stashing upside plays, so this week's suggestions are more about the matchups.

Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs: Here are the QBs I'd play before Freeman this week: Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and maybe Andrew Luck. That's it. Yes, that puts Freeman before Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and everyone else. Aggressive? Maybe. But that's how confident I am that Freeman is going to have a 20-point fantasy day this week. 250(+) yards and 2-3 TDs are just about guaranteed here, as the Eagles pass defense is just that bad.

Brady Quinn, QB, Chiefs: It's easy to write off Quinn's Week 12 stats as a fluke and to ignore them altogether. But look at the Chiefs upcoming schedule: @Cle, @Oak, Indy. If you're in a two-QB league, you need to at least think about the possibility that Quinn can build upon his Week 13 breakout. If your league isn't that deep, at least bear in mind the Chiefs schedule is favorable the rest of the way and upgrade Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe accordingly.

Bryce Brown, RB, Eagles: Brown is unowned in about a third of all fantasy leagues right now. Spend all your FAAB, make him your top waiver claim ... do whatever it takes if Brown is still available. There's no saying LeSean McCoy will get the job back even if he's healthy, and the Eagles have zero need to rush him back. Enjoy the ride (@TB, Cincy, Wash).

Knowshown Moreno, RB, Broncos: This is no longer a one-week fluke. Moreno is the Broncos starting running back and should remain such for the rest of the season. Moreno hasn't exploded yet, but with the Raiders on tap this week, this is the week for 100 yards and 1-2 TDs. In deeper formats, Ronnie Hillman makes a decent "Hail Mary" start this week, as it would hardly be surprising to see him rack up rushing yards in garbage time.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers: After the Week 11 debacle where every Steelers running back lost a fumble, Mike Tomlin decided Dwyer was the best running back on the team and named him the starter. Dwyer's 16-49-1 line worked just fine last week, but the entire offense has limited upside with Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf, and Isaac Redman got 9 carries on Sunday. I see Dwyer as a flex option only.

James Starks, RB, Packers: Finally, a Packers running back has emerged. Is it possible? Well, the Lions are on tap this week, and against that defense, it seems anything is possible. The Lions are just middle-of-the-pack (pun intended) in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs, but I'd rather play Starks this week than Dwyer.

Mike Williams, WR, Bucs: I'm seeing Mike Williams on waivers in some shallow leagues. Claim him. Start him. Reap the rewards. Bench Cecil Shorts (who I like, but who's facing the Jets and a lot of Antonio Cromartie) and any Steelers, Eagles, Chargers, or Raiders WR instead.

Mike Thomas, WR, Lions: Ryan Broyles has a torn ACL and is out for the year. Titus Young is as far in the doghouse as any NFL player I can ever recall, and he's not an option even with Broyles and Nate Burleson out for the year. Somebody is going to catch passes opposite Calvin Johnson.

Josh Gordon, WR, Browns: I'm loathe to suggest players coming off a game against the Raiders. That said, Gordon has seven targets the past three weeks, and if the Raiders game proves anything (116 yards, TD), it's that Gordon can produce when the matchups are favorable. The next three weeks - KC, Wash, @Den - sure seem to qualify, even if the latter two may come in garbage time.

Brandon Myers, TE, Raiders: There aren't many guarantees in the NFL. Over the past several weeks, though, one guarantee has been the Raiders falling behind and dumping the ball off repeatedly to Myers as opposing defenses play prevent. It's not sexy, but it all counts the same for fantasy purposes. There's no way Myers should be unowned in nearly half of Yahoo! leagues. I'd rather have Morris for the fantasy playoffs - Den, KC, @Car - than several tight ends owned in more leagues, including Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley, and Brent Celek.

Seahawks D/ST: In case you've been living under a rock and hadn't noticed, the Cardinals offense is really bad. Seattle plays Arizona this week, at home, in a game they can't afford to lose. Stream away.

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