It's hard to change a firmly-held belief. Sometimes, it takes being hit over the head with a sledgehammer to adjust our expectations. Take, for instance, the Texans. Even after losing three straight games (on the heels of two close wins against mediocre teams), everyone thought they'd beat the lowly Rams. Vegas had Houston as a seven-point favorite, and all five of us in Staff Picks laid the points. Only now that the Rams blew out the Texans is everyone recalibrating. "Wow, the Texans aren't as good as we thought - it's time to adjust our expectations."
The Texans had been so good in recent years, it was hard to accept the 2013 version just isn't very good. We should have - every Matt Schaub pick-six was a not-so-subtle clue - but our minds wouldn't let us change our long-standing perception. This week, I want to avoid that mistake. The NFL landscape changes weekly, much less over a period of weeks, and there are many players/teams for whom we should re-set the needle. This may be the key to fantasy success - recalibrating our expectations to match reality before our opponents do.
Here are several players and teams for whom expectations must be adjusted.
Marques Colston: When Colston started slowly - just 24-324-1 through 6 games - I figured "he'll be fine - defenses will have to roll coverage to Jimmy Graham eventually." This theory went out the window in Week 6, though, when Graham was shut out yet Colston managed just one catch. The name brand is still there and the Saints offense is still top-shelf, but Colston is no longer a weekly fantasy starter. Take a look at Colston's home/road splits - 17-235-1 in 3 home games vs 7-89-0 in 3 road games, continuing a trend that's developed since 2011 (5 TDs on road vs. 12 at home). I see Colston as a matchup starter only, ideally at home, and I'd rather own Keenan Allen, T.Y. Hilton, and Cecil Shorts.
Dwayne Bowe: Bowe on the Chiefs is like taking a gold glove center fielder and putting him in left field in Fenway Park. That player might be good, but you can't tell on a day-to-day basis because he's simply not in a position to showcase his skills. You can blame Alex Smith - a notorious checkdown thrower - all you want, but it doesn't help Bowe any for fake football. In shallow leagues, I'd be fine with cutting Bowe. At best, he's a spot starter against teams like the Broncos.
Steve Smith: If you're looking for Steve Smith, you should start at the bottom of a cliff - he's clearly fallen off. There's simply no way to spin 23-224-2 on 43 targets (5.2 YPT). At age 34, Smith is nothing more than a bye-week flyer. Look at it this way... in the two games where the Panthers exploded offensively, Smith totaled just 8-61-1.
Knowshon Moreno: What running backs would you prefer over Moreno for the rest of the season? Peterson and Charles, ok. LeSean McCoy, probably. Marshawn Lynch or Arian Foster, maybe. After that, though, it has to be Moreno. On this Broncos offense, Moreno is a top-five fantasy RB. Yes, there are health concerns - Moreno never plays a full 16-game season - but we can say that about virtually anyone nowadays. Here's my top ten at the ever-changing running back position: Charles, Peterson, McCoy, Moreno, Lynch, Foster, Forte, Bush, Lacy, Martin
Jamaal Charles: From 2008-2012, over a span of 65 games, Charles had 29 goal line carries and was targeted seven times inside the 10. That's 36 touches in 65 games. In six games under Andy Reid, Charles already has 15 such touches. That's enough evidence to recalibrate Charles going forward, at least in 2013, and it's why I'd draft Charles above Adrian Peterson right now.
Jordy Nelson: The Packers offense has struggled a bit and now Cobb is sidelined for 6-8 weeks, but check out their upcoming schedule. After the Browns this week, it's @Min, Chi, Phi, @NYG, Min, @Det, Atl, @Dal, Pitt. Who among those teams is going to stop Aaron Rodgers? And without Cobb, who is Rodgers going to throw to besides Nelson? Sure, bump up Jermichael Finley and James Jones, but Nelson is the second-half monster lurking here in a Dez Bryant 2012 sort of way. In fact, other than Dez, I'm not sure there's a fantasy receiver I'd rather have than Nelson right now. With that schedule and the Packers bye already in the rear view mirror, you have a one-week buying window on Nelson, Jones, and Finley, maybe two weeks if Cleveland can hold Green Bay in check this week. Trade accordingly.
Tony Romo: Who would you rather have as your fantasy quarterback, Aaron Rodgers or Romo? That might sound odd since I just sang Nelson's praises, but Romo has played himself into the discussion among fantasy's elite quarterbacks. I mention Rodgers because both Dallas and Green Bay have great schedules and play on bad defenses that lost their only pass rusher for 3-4 weeks. Even if you think Romo hasn't quite vaulted himself into the top three (Peyton, Brees, Rodgers), he's clearly a more valuable fantasy asset than every other quarterback.
Keenan Allen: I've beaten this horse to death already, so let's be succinct. I prefer Allen over Steve Smith, Colston, Bowe, Shorts, Nicks, and Jeffery.
Ray Rice: I don't necessarily blame Rice. Bernard Pierce is a solid back and he's not doing anything, either (2.8 YPC). The problem is the Ravens can't run-block, and the six game sample size is big enough to convince me it's not going to change in 2013. I don't see Rice as a top-10 running back, and I'd gladly trade him for Moreno, Forte, Bush, or Lacy.
Cardinals defense against tight ends: The Cardinals defense is terrific - a top five unit in real life - but their inability to cover opposing tight ends is glaring. Vernon Davis' Week 6 explosion marked the third time this year an opposing tight end has gone bananas against Arizona, and one of those was Jared Cook, who has done nothing else the rest of the season. In fact, of the 12 touchdowns the Cardinals defense has allowed all season, seven have been to opposing tight ends.
Doug Martin: Martin is leading the NFL in carries per game and remains a workhorse back - all too rare in today's NFL. But the Bucs have scored just 64 points, a glaring number when every other NFC team is over 100. Martin squeaks into my top-10 given the attrition at the position and his complete lack of competition for touches in Tampa, but that's not what you paid for on draft day.
Nick Foles: It's not just that Foles played well in Week 6 - he destroyed a Bucs defense that had been terrific all season. Please, Chip Kelly - do the right thing here.
Bears defense: When a winless team pulls a 30-year old, fat, slow running back off the streets and he goes 22-106-2, it's definitely a needle-mover. Injuries are partly to blame, as defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins are out for the year, but that just helps explain why the Bears defense is now one to exploit for fantasy purposes, both against the run (Jacobs) and the pass (28th in YPA, 30th in sacks).
A couple of cornerbacks who need recalibrating - Cortland Finnegan and Antonio Cromartie. Finnegan has allowed a perfect QB rating on balls thrown his way in 2013, which, by definition, might make him the worst corner in the NFL in 2013. Surprisingly, Cromartie isn't far behind. While we're talking corner, the NFL's best may be a guy you've never heard of - Tennessee's Alterraun Verner. Quarterbacks throwing against Verner have just a 15.4 QB rating to show for it, and the Titans defense is in the top 10 in sacks, YPA, and QB rating. If you're looking for a reason the Titans are one game out of first place, that's a good place to start.
I'm not recalibrating Thad Lewis despite a solid fantasy line against the Bengals because I don't think it will continue. Lewis basically made four plays - the rushing TD and three long passes where a receiver beat single coverage against a blitz. When Cincy played zone, Lewis was totally unable to do anything, e.g. on the Bills final offensive play, a third down incompletion deep in their own end in overtime. Going forward, expect defenses to play lots of zone against the Bills, forcing Lewis to prove he can beat them from the pocket. Zone defense also helps neutralize the legs of scrambling quarterbacks.
J.J. Watt was shut out in Week 6 - no tackles, no sacks, no passes defensed. I'm not moving the needle based on that one performance, but it's worth noting - particularly since I haven't seen anyone else do so.
Why does every NFL team needing 12 inches for a first down run a play designed to gain 18 inches? I'd love to recalibrate the playbook of all offenses in this situation.
Seeing the Patriots win in the final seconds isn't shocking, but I'm certain the ending of Saints/Patriots was the first time in NFL history that a team went for it on fourth down in a one-score game so deep in their own end that the opposing team was already in field goal range when they failed to convert, yet that team got the ball back not once but twice more in regulation.
I've seen the Jaguars get a little credit for a fake punt and going for it on fourth down, but I was left wanting more. Where was the surprise onside kick? The fleaflicker? The halfback option? You're a winless team and a historic underdog - if now's not the top to pull out all the tricks, when is?
Congratulations to Kerry Frye, the second winner of a yearly subscription to Rotowire. Keep the questions coming on Twitter, @MarkStopa and hashtag #stopalawfirm. I'll announce another randomly-chosen winner in two weeks.