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East Coast Offense: Quarterbacks Are Like Starting Pitchers

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Quarterbacks are Like Starting Pitchers

After Eli Manning came off a 4900-yard season, the sixth highest in NFL history, and second Super Bowl win, it seemed he had established himself near the top tier of quarterbacks in the league, just behind Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. And his leading the NFL in passing yards through seven weeks of 2012 only seemed to solidify that further.

But after an ugly three-game stretch during which he had zero TDs, four picks and a YPA under six, one had to wonder had Manning been surpassed by players like Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck?

Of course, Manning's last three games have seen him post a YPA around eight, with eight TDs and two picks. So is Manning back among the tier just below the shoo-in Hall of Famers again? Or has he been the same player the entire time?
What about Drew Brees who has 18 picks and is two years removed from a 22-pick season? Is he slipping? What happened to Philip Rivers?

We can come up with explanations for most performance fluctuations after the fact, but ahead of time, it's hard to see them coming (above and beyond the obvious adjustments for the quality of the opposing defenses).

It occurred to me this is awfully similar to the dilemma we face with starting pitchers. As someone who traded for C.J. Wilson a borderline ace with Texas who signed a huge deal and was pitching even better in pitcher-friendly Anaheim last June just before he fell off a cliff, I can attest to this difficulty. Every pitcher has an occasional bad game Justin Verlander gave up eight earned runs in Kansas City on August 28th. Felix Hernandez had an ERA of 5.70 for the month of September (though there was nothing wrong with his K:BB numbers). There's some luck involved, but you don't have your best stuff every time out.

I'm not sure this comparison resolves our problem of predicting who's in a minor slump, who's having bad luck and who's in permanent decline among quarterbacks. But maybe it offers some perspective. Most top pitchers who struggle do bounce back barring injury. And most pitchers hit rough spots that make us nervous about their value going forward. I think we should typically expect the same thing of the league's top QBs even when they do enough to make us nervous. The one guy I can't figure out is Philip Rivers he's either Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester or Josh Beckett.

Week 14 Post-Mortem

It's easy to hate fantasy football for its cruel whims and senseless indifference to justice, but maybe because I'm getting old and losing my edge, or possibly because I realize how everybody gets screwed by the fantasy gods eventually, I quite enjoyed Week 14. Here are a few things that happened:

I lost a $0 FSTA playoff contest by 11 points to Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf probably because Brent Celek (PPR league) and RGIII got hurt during the games. It didn't help that my kicker Sebastian Janikowski got one point. This after having the most points by far of any team during the regular season. (Rick and Glenn did promise me a 50 percent cut of their winnings though).

I missed the four-team playoffs in the $5K Stopa Law Firm league despite being tied for the fourth best record because I was 28 total points behind Scott Pianowski who qualified. Of course, I started Beanie Wells over David Wilson (at the last second) difference of 26 points, and I neglected to bench Robbie Gould who got hurt in warm-ups before the games started. I also would have been 9-5, instead of 8-6 had I not on the most impulsive of whims traded Darrius Heyward-Bey for Brent Celek (two-TE league) 20 minutes before game time four weeks ago via text which I almost never check during the Fantasy Football Live show. Ryan Broyles (who took DHB's place) got me one point that week, Heyward-Bey got about 18, the difference between a win and a loss.

I needed 4.5 points from J.J. Watt to advance in the $300 RotoWire Steak League, but with the game being a blowout, the Texans sat Watt down the stretch, and he finished with four points. Fortunately, it's looking likely that I'm an EATER and not a BUYER in the steak bet which is far more important.

A caller on our Sirius XM show (RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today XM 87, SIRI 210 11 am 2 pm weekdays) Monday had the following dilemma: he was tied with his opponent as of Monday morning, and the tiebreaker in that league was a designated tie-break player. His did better than his opponent's, so he was good. His opponent had no one going Monday night, but the caller had the Texans defense. A defense in his league can get negative points if the opponent scores 35 or more.

So he asked whether he should sit the defense. The one concern was the possibility of a stat correction that could give him the loss. I told him the odds were better of negative points against the Pats than a stat correction, but then the debate devolved into a discussion about the ethics of starting no defense with the game wrapped up, something which strikes me as ridiculous assuming there's no rule against it. In any event, I don't know what the caller did, but I was thinking about him as the Pats rolled up 42 against the Texans. (Houston did intercept Ryan Mallett in the closing seconds of the game, so maybe he won either way.)

In the Fantasy Football Live guru contest, I used David Wilson as my "hail mary," a 5-percent-or-less-started player in Yahoo leagues, whose stats count double for us. As a result, after trailing big all year, I'm only six points out of first place with two weeks to go. It's laughable Brad Evans and Brandon Funston actually seemed to believe I would finish in last place in that contest for the first time ever. I have no doubt both are very afraid right now.

I'm quite sure worse (and more shocking) things happened to many of you. But either way, the fantasy football playoffs make the games so much more enjoyable because of their finality. No more figuring out implications of the result you're either in or out closer to a payday or free never to look at that team again.

Things to Take Away from Week 14

With Ahmad Bradshaw undergoing tests on his knee, David Wilson is the obvious add against a 31st-ranked Atlanta defense in YPC (4.9). Wilson can't pass block, so Bradshaw would still get his work if he's healthy, but Wilson showed not only explosiveness, but toughness, breaking several tackles in the fourth quarter against the Saints and could probably handle a decent workload should Bradshaw miss the game.

Mysteriously, the Bills gave C.J. Spiller only seven carries (5.3 YPC) and Fred Jackson nine (1.6 YPC). Especially in a low-scoring game they were winning most of the way, it's odd Ryan Fitzpatrick attempted 33 passes. With Jackson now on IR, Spiller could be a monster this week even against the Seahawks, but that presumes the Bills will get him a proper workload, something they've long promised and on which they've rarely delivered.

Nick Foles threw for 381 yards while Bryce Brown ran for six. The Bucs sure did succeed (as they usually do) in shutting down the run.

Alex Henery missed a 58-yard FG at the end of the first half that hit the upright about two thirds of the way up. You have to think he had the distance from about 65 or 70.

Matt Ryan's accumulation of empty stats still counts for your fantasy team. Cam Newton is the No. 2 fantasy QB in many formats after this week.

The Bears offense is bad, and now that the defense isn't getting pick-sixes twice a game, it's merely good, but nothing special. Brandon Marshall saw another 19 targets, and that won't change any time soon.

Adrian Peterson had another 154 yards, giving him 1,600 for the year, on pace for 1,969. He claims he's aiming to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2105). To get there, he'd need 506 over the next three games (169 yards per). As long as he's not hurting, expect the Vikings coaching staff to oblige him if he stays in range.

How annoying are those Amazon commercials? I love Amazon and even have stock in it, but the tone of the voice-over is cloying to the point of being insulting. I can't imagine anyone signed off on that patronizing tone.

Speaking of ads, apparently Heather Ankeny, who co-hosts our Video Segments is in a Buick one. She told me it aired during the Giants game, but I must have missed it while running to the kitchen.

The Jets need to play ugly, so they might as well unveil Tim Tebow at this point.

Kenny Britt seems like he could be in the Brandon Marshall/Dez Bryant mold troubled but dominant big receiver with speed if he ever gets it together and stays healthy for an extended stretch.

Of course, I faded the Chargers this week, and of course they rolled in Pittsburgh. I'm playing checkers, and they're playing chess.

My 10-month old daughter simply isn't mature enough to watch the games with me. I had to get her mom to remove her from the office.

Somehow the Chiefs lost 30-7 even though Brady Quinn had 7.6 YPA, Brandon Weeden had 7.2 YPA, Jamaal Charles had 165 yards (9.2 YPC) and Trent Richardson had 42 yards (2.3 YPC). Dustin Colquitt (48 yards per punt) even outkicked Reggie Hodges (41 YPP). Quinn threw one pick, and Travis Benjamin took a kick to the house, but that should have made the game close, not resulted in a blowout.

Coming off a home loss to the Charlie-Batch-led Steelers, the Ravens blew an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Kirk-Cousins-led Redskins. The key against Baltimore is obviously to play your backup QB against them.

LaMichael James might be this week's David Wilson.

I really thought the Cardinals +57.5 were a lock. That Ryan Lindley ever had the job could only be because Ken Whisenhunt had Skeltons in his closet. (my apologies).

The Texans sure have looked bad in their last two big national games. Of course, they've won all the others.

Tom Brady's averaging just 7.7 YPA this year (5th), but he's also thrown only four picks (INT% = 0.8, 1st) and taken just 20 sacks (5th). When you factor in the lack of negative plays, he's probably been the most efficient passer in the league. Over the last three years, Brady's had 104 TD passes and 20 picks.

Through 13 weeks, Matthew Stafford is on pace for 713 attempts well ahead of Drew Bledsoe's all-time record of 691. Calvin Johnson's on pace for 1903 receiving yards, well ahead of Jerry Rice's record of 1848.

Things to Look for in Week 15

The Bucs head to New Orleans in a game with an O/U of 54.

Coming off their second loss, the Falcons host the Giants.

The Texans look to pick up the pieces at home against the 9-4 Colts.

The Steelers go to Dallas in what might be an elimination game.

The Broncos go to Baltimore to play for playoff seeding.

The 49ers' defense gets a stiff test in New England on Sunday night.

Beating the Book

Steelers -1 at Cowboys

I know I'm being a square here, but please don't waste my time with the season-long per-play success rates and any other sabermetric claptrap. I would be borderline shocked if Jason Garrett's Cowboys beat Mike Tomlin's Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger back and their backs to the wall. Moreover, Cowboys Stadium confers almost zero home-field advantage, and Steelers fans travel better than most. That Dez Bryant might not play only makes things worse. The margin is the only thing in question. Back the Steelers.

Steelers 27 17

Last week we won with the Panthers to put us at 6-8 on the season in this forum and 96-107-5 overall. Last year we went 10-7 in this forum and 124-125 overall. Over the last five years we've gone 50-34 in this space. You can read the full Week 15 column here.

Surviving Week 15

Last week, most people sailed with Seattle, though we faded them given the pot odds and wound up taking the Giants (over Tampa Bay). Most of the carnage came from those who did back Tampa, so it's likely your pools thinned out some. Let's take a look at this week's slate:

Team Opponent %Taken Vegas ML** Vegas Odds
DOLPHINS Jaguars 54.10% 305 75.31
Lions CARDINALS 19.90% 233 69.97
SAINTS Buccaneers 5.00% 180 64.29
Seahawks BILLS 4.70% 225 69.23
TEXANS Colts 4.40% 342 77.38
RAIDERS Chiefs 2.70% 145 59.18
Bengals EAGLES 2.00% 190 65.52
Redskins BROWNS 1.50% OFF OFF
CHARGERS Panthers 1.30% 145 59.18
PATRIOTS 49ers 1.20% 237 70.33
Home Team in CAPS
* according to OfficeFootballPools.com
** average of the two moneylines

The Dolphins jump out as this week's Seahawks likely the best team you have left, but worth fading given the payout. But unless you have the Texans left and you probably don't there's not a lot of comfort in these other choices. Detroit on the road is a dubious proposition even against the Cardinals who will be like wounded animals after last week's embarrassment. The Seahawks are typically worse on the road, and a winter game in Buffalo after a long trip does not set up well. The Saints/Bucs is a coin flip as neither team plays any defense, the Raiders need no explanation, the Bengals are a road team on a short week, the Redskins will be underdogs if RGIII doesn't play, and it's impossible to take the Chargers seriously, even after the win over Pittsburgh, especially against a live dog like Carolina. And you probably used the Patriots.

I expect most people to take the Dolphins and most of the rest to take the Lions. No way I'm taking Miami given the pot odds, but it's a question of whether I'll take Detroit or go off the board (and reservation) with the Broncos or Steelers, two teams I expect to win despite very small point spreads and moneylines. For now, give me the Steelers.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when the full article comes out Wednesday night.

Follow Chris on Twitter at @Chris_Liss