Broncos vs. Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII. Admit it - that's the game you want to see. It's the perfect matchup, really - a better version of the 2007 Patriots against the only defense that has a prayer of slowing them down. In fact, let's move the venue to Seattle to bring in the league's best home-field advantage. But why wait until February - let's have it this Sunday. Or make it a 13-game series, NBA style. We'll still play out the rest of the NFL schedule, if solely for our fantasy football enjoyment, but the Super Bowl matchup is set.
I know, I know. I'm getting ahead of myself. The Ravens proved last year that the best team often doesn't win it all. This year's Ravens, though, are in trouble. The Week 1 loss to the Broncos was forgivable - lots of teams will look bad in that spot. But not being able to run the ball against the Bills is a huge problem. Yes, running is overrated in today's NFL, but the Ravens don't have enough talent at the skill positions to thrive in known passing situations. Baltimore has to be able to maintain balance with the run, but their offensive line is giving Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce nothing to work with. Zero first downs rushing against the Bills - seriously? The Ravens have nice matchups in the fantasy playoffs (Vikings and Lions in Weeks 14 and 15), but with run-blocking like this, I'm concerned Ray Rice owners won't make it that far.
The on-pace talk after Week 1 was silly, but the season is now 25% over and Peyton Manning is on pace for 64 TDs and zero INTs. What can stop the Broncos? My best guess, injuries aside, is a 37-year old quarterback having to play in sub-30 degree weather in three playoff games (two in Denver and one in New York in the Super Bowl, if it gets that far). If you don't think that matters, how many 37-year olds do you know who are excited to go outside in the northeast in the winter, much less perform an athletic feat? Remember, this is a quarterback who played in a dome his whole career and often struggled in the playoffs away from home. (Remember those playoff losses in the cold in New England?) That helps explain why I'd choose the Miami Heat to three-peat before I picked the Broncos to win it all. That said, the ride to get there sure will be fun.
Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have four Super Bowl titles between them but zero wins through four weeks. In a world without the Jaguars, they might be leading the two worst teams in the NFL. As the NFL is more QB-driven than ever, it's crazy how two teams with top QBs can be so bad. (Tom Brady, by contrast, always seems to win no matter the talent around him.) It's hard to see either team turning it around, but I'd bet on the Giants before the Steelers. Pittsburgh still has zero takeaways, and the Giants have the benefit of playing in the NFL's worst division. Let's put it this way - the NFC East played four games against the AFC West in Week 4 and went 1-3 while being outscored by an average score of 32-18.
Norv Turner is Coach of the Year. He's helped the Chargers immeasurably simply by leaving. Seriously, I'm sold on Philip Rivers. He's being overshadowed by Peyton, but the stars are aligned for Rivers to have a huge season in his own right. San Diego's defense is bad (108.8 QB Rating, and they just lost Dwight Freeney for the year), Antonio Gates looks rejuvenated, and the Chargers schedule is fantasy-friendly. Really, anyone playing in the AFC West or the NFC East has a great fantasy schedule. Most importantly, Rivers has his mojo back, thanks in no small part to the true Coach of the Year to date - Mike McCoy. I'd rather own Rivers than Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, or Colin Kaepernick.
If you don't get why I keep harping on the schedules of all teams playing in the AFC West and the NFC East, check out some defensive stats of these eight teams (and remember, each team on this list gets 10 of its 16 games against the other teams listed):
Cowboys: 99.6 QB Rating, 304 yards/game, 7.8 YPA, NFL-worst 10 passing TDs
Redskins: 111.9 QB Rating, 298 yards/game 9.2 YPA (9.2!!), 9 passing TDs
Giants: 95.3 QB Rating, 10 TD passes, 4 total sacks
Eagles: 107.2 QB Rating, 325 yards/game, 8.1 YPA, 9 TDs, 2 INTs
Broncos: 79.6 QB Rating, 316 yards/game, 7.7 YPA
Chiefs: 63.6 QB Rating, 5.8 YPA - only bad matchup of the bunch
Chargers: 108.8 QB Rating, 311 yards/game, 8.4 YPA, 8 passing TDs, 1 INT
Raiders: 113.2 QB Rating, zero INTs, 7.9 YPA
I was looking for reasons behind Rivers' resurgence, other than the coaching change and Gates' renaissance, and there it was, staring right at me on the screen while watching Monday Night Football - Darren Sproles. Rivers hasn't been this good since Sproles left town, and it's probably not a coincidence that Danny Woodhead has filled Sproles' old role for the Chargers better than anyone to date. Perhaps Rivers needs that play-making security blanket out of the backfield.
For me, Rivers over Luck is an easy call in fantasy. A tougher one? Luck or Roethlisberger. You can argue Luck if you want, but the fact there's even an argument puts Luck's value in perspective. Ben is the high-volume guy surrounded by the bad defense this year, not Luck. Remember that going forward - the bad defenses change so rapidly, it's hard to depend on volume from year to year (unless you're Matthew Stafford, apparently).
Speaking of starting fantasy QBs, it sure seems like "waiting on quarterback" - what so many touted in August - was the wrong advice this year. Sure, it's working if you got Rivers or Roethlisberger, I suppose, but how are you feeling if you have Luck, Griffin, Wilson, Kaepernick, or Eli, particularly with what Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are doing? Aaron Rodgers will have his day soon enough, too - that Packers defense will ensure he keeps chucking it (9.0 YPA, 311 passing yards/game, 113 QB Rating). It's early, sure, but this is certainly looking more like 2011 - the year the top QBs ruled the roost - than 2012.
Just how dominant have the top QBs been? My team in Stopa Law Firm League started five players in Week 4 who scored under four fantasy points. That's five starting spots with basically nothing. But having Peyton, Brees, and Jimmy Graham still led to the league's second-high point total of the week. Think about that. I hate how that sounds like bragging, as that's not the point, so I'll offset it with this ... I scared an 0-16 week in Staff Picks this week. It didn't happen, but it wasn't too far off. Check out this week's Staff Picks column and I'll explain how close I was to the immortal doughnut.
It feels like a great time to target Tom Brady. The young wideouts are improving, his top weapons are getting healthy, and Vince Wilfork is out for the year.
If Trent Richardson can't rush for 100 yards in a blowout against the NFL's worst team with Ahmad Bradshaw inactive, will he ever? Thought to be a contender for the top draft choice next April after trading T-Rich, the Browns are looking better and better. That's what happens when an elite defense meets a stud tight end (if that touchdown where Cameron Jordan was split out wide and leapt over the helpless DB like Calvin Johnson didn't convince you, nothing will), a Pro Bowl left tackle who hasn't missed a snap in his entire NFL career (going back to 2007) and an emerging receiver in Josh Gordon. No wonder Brian Hoyer is thriving. I'd still bet on the Bengals to win the AFC North, but only after some pause, and I'd pick the Browns before the Ravens. Heck, I'm even curious to see what kind of Super Bowl odds one could get for Cleveland right now. That sounds insane, but Tom Brady did it once in a similar setup. I'd take a look at the Giants odds, too - someone will make the playoffs from that division, and there's a lot of time left to improve.
The Bills were given a low grade for their 2013 draft class by virtually everyone. Let's look again. EJ Manuel might be a real quarterback, Robert Woods is arguably a more valuable fantasy asset than Steve Johnson, and Kiko Alonso has four interceptions already. It's always good if you can hit on your first three draft picks, and it's even better when you know you've hit on them after just four games.
So get pumped, people! It's Bills and Browns on Thursday night football! The winner is 3-2 and a contender!
The first four touchdowns on Sunday during the 1pm games were throws by Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, and Mike Glennon and a run by Le'Veon Bell. That's four guys who didn't even start in Weeks 1 or 2, and three of them started for the first time in Week 4. I'm late aboard the Bell bandwagon, but I'm jumping on with both feet because he's healthy and a feature back - all too rare in today's NFL. That's all it takes to go from inactive to RB1 nowadays.
If you could strap one fantasy player to a rocket and send him into outer space, who would it be? The comments are your safe zone. Feel free to vent, air your frustrations, let it out. For me, that guy is Montee Ball. With a little more pass protection and a lot less fumbling, Ball could have been a feature back on the greatest offense in NFL history. I touted him all preseason, citing the Broncos upside, and I really think Denver wanted him to be that guy, but he just couldn't handle it. Go away, Montee.
I'm searching for an unpaid intern. The job requirements are simple - travel to every Patriots game, hack into the replay system and cause it to malfunction right before the Patriots need it for a key challenge. Then sit back and watch Bill Belichick rant as the referee announces the play can't be reviewed. This would be a community service, really - and a nice resume-builder anywhere but New England.
Just when I thought the Jets defense was dependable, it gets lit up by Jake Locker of all people (130 rating, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). Frankly, I have no idea what to make of this. The Titans are fortunate the injury at least happened late in the game, as Ryan Fitzpatrick has always been terrible against the Jets.
My favorite coaching move of the week? The Patriots double-teaming Tony Gonzalez on the line of scrimmage on third and fourth down on the Falcons final drive. When Gonzalez is killing you all game, it's right to make somebody else beat you, especially with Roddy White still hobbled. The worst move of the week? That's hard, with so many to choose from. Chip Kelly punted to the Broncos on fourth and 6 from Denver's 27 yard line down 21-13. ... John Harbaugh kicked a field goal on fourth and 5 from the Bills six-yard line with four minutes left. ... Mike Tomlin used a timeout after the two-minute warning, not before, and while it was just a few seconds that were lost, every second mattered in a game the Steelers were spiking the ball on the final drive. ... The Texans punted on 4th and 4 from the Seattle 43 with 28 seconds left in regulation. I'll go with Harbaugh's gaffe, as he took the Ravens best chance to win a game and flushed. (Even if the Ravens didn't convert, they'd have still had the Bills backed up in their own end. The field position alone made the risk worthwhile. Appropriately, that was the closest the Ravens ever came to scoring again.)
The bottom three teams in the NFL in sacks are the Giants (4), Steelers (4), and Bears (6). Name brands mean nothing in today's NFL, especially on defense. Don't confuse reputation with reality. The Bears are going to mislead some people after a strong fantasy game on prime time against the Steelers, but make no mistake - that's not a good unit (8.3 YPA, middle of the pack in most stats).
Tavon Austin might be a good football player, but we have no idea. Sam Bradford and Brian Schottenheimer are killing him, as Austin has just 20 catches for 124 yards (6.2 YPR, 3.64 YPT). We all know Austin is fast, so it's truly an abomination that Austin's stats look like a poor man's Julian Edelman. That might not be the worst part of the Rams, either. St. Louis is last in the NFL in rushing (47.2 yards/game, 2.6 YPC, zero TDs) and 30th in rush defense (133 yards/game, 4.6 YPC, 5 TDs). That's not ideal.
Congratulations to Daniel Sego, who gets a year of Rotowire for free (paid by Stopa Law Firm). Daniel was randomly chosen among those who submitted a fantasy question to me on Twitter - @MarkStopa - with the hashtag #stopalawfirm. Follow me and keep submitting the questions, as I'll choose four more winners over the course of the NFL season.