The Colts had already beaten the 49ers and Seahawks, yet we didn't believe. After dominating the Broncos in prime time, we believe now. Or do we? Reggie Wayne is out for the year and Trent Richardson is still the butt of jokes everywhere. Even after beating all three of Vegas' preseason favorites for the Super Bowl just seven weeks into the season, the Colts bandwagon still has plenty of room. Are you buying the Indy as the AFC favorite? What about the unbeaten Chiefs? If you had to pick the AFC's Super Bowl representative and could only choose two teams, would you take KC and Indy? Or Denver and NE?
That question would have seemed absurd just a week ago, but suddenly, the Broncos have been exposed. We know the defense is bad (ahead of only the Jaguars in the AFC in points allowed), and now the Colts revealed the script for defending Peyton's offense - play press coverage and generate a pass rush against Denver's below-average offensive line. It reminds me of those Colts/Patriots playoff games from a decade ago, when Peyton's flashy offenses would always get bogged down in Foxboro against Ty Law and the Patriots tight, physical coverage. Not everyone has the personnel to do it - Vontae Davis got the highest mark @PFF has ever given to a corner - but if Indy, not renowned for defense, can slow the Broncos, you'd think other teams can, too.
One underplayed aspect of the Colts performance - the press man coverage totally eliminated the Broncos running game. Knowshon Moreno was unable to make anything happen on his own - a valuable fantasy player given the setup but a disappointment in real terms. It felt like Denver wanted Ronnie Hillman to bring a spark, yet he fumbled again. Maybe I'm a stubborn fool, but I think Denver will work on making Montee Ball right during the Week 9 bye. They need more of a running threat than they have right now, particularly if they're going to win three cold weather playoff games.
The Patriots would love to have the Broncos problems, particularly at quarterback. I'm catching a lot of flack for blasting Tom Brady on Twitter (@MarkStopa), but check out this side-by-side comparison:
Player A: 1,708 yards, 5.9 YPA, 55.4%, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 75.3 QB Rating
Player B: 1,687 yards, 6.4 YPA, 60.7%, 14 TDs, 4 INTs, 90.9 QB Rating
Player C: 1,723 yards, 7.7 YPA, 58.3%, 8 TDs, 11 INTs, 74.3 QB Rating
Player D: 1,552 yards, 6.6 YPA, 64.4%, 8 TDs, 9 INTs, 78.8 QB Rating
One of those four is Brady. The other three are Sam Bradford, Geno Smith, and Matt Schaub. The fact you're not sure which one's which is a damning indictment of Brady's 2013 season. A healthy Brady won't get benched in 2013, but I can't help but wonder what the Patriots offense would look like with Ryan Mallett. Yeah, the supporting cast, I get it. But Aaron Rodgers just won with undrafted Jarrett Boykins going 8-103-1 on 10 targets, Matt Ryan rode Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers to a resounding win, and Philip Rivers is throwing to third-round rookie Keenan Allen. Pro Bowl quarterbacks can make the pieces work, and I'm not sure Brady is that guy any more. In fact, I'd bet even money Brady doesn't finish his career in New England. Somehow, I bet Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning agree.
With Sam Bradford out for the year, is there a bigger fantasy wasteland than St. Louis? In 12-team, standard leagues, I'm not sure I'd want any Rams, even on the bench. Kellen Clemens downgrades the whole offense, and the NFC West schedule is brutal. I suppose Zac Stacy is relevant, but the Rams have zero rushing touchdowns on the season. Zero! Check out the Rams schedule - other than the Bears in Week 12, when will you ever start Stacy, much less any other Rams?
Yes, that's how bad it's gotten for the Bears defense - they're one you pick out on the schedule weeks in advance. Now Lance Briggs is out, too? What a disaster. As if the five rushing TDs the past two weeks haven't been bad enough (by Brandon Jacobs and Roy Helu of all people), the Bears pass defense is last in the NFL in YPA, and they're 30th in sacks. For those of you looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs - the right move if you're 5-2 or better - Chicago has the Cowboys, Browns, and Eagles in Weeks 14-16.
If you're fortunate enough to be able to look ahead to the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16), here are the teams whose schedules jump out at me:
Cowboys: @Chi, GB, @Wash
Eagles: Det, @Minn, Chi
Packers: Atl, @Dal, Pitt
Ravens: Minn, @Det, NE
Chiefs: @Wash, @Oak, Indy
Chargers: NYG, @Den, Oak
Texans: @Jax, @Indy, Den
Bills: @TB, @Jax, Mia
Raiders: @NYJ, KC, @SD
Patriots: NE, @Mia, @Balt
Seahawks: @SF, NYG, @Ariz
Panthers: @NO, NYJ, NO
Jaguars: Hou, Buff, Tenn
Jets: Oak, @Car, Cle
I've given up on CJ Spiller for fantasy 2013 in the regular season. He's not healthy, and the Bills bye isn't until Week 12. If Spiller can get healthy for Week 13, though, the Falcons, Bucs, and Jaguars await. If you're a first-place team and can afford to hold him and wait, the upside is there for a big, late-season splash. If you're fighting for a playoff spot, though, I'd take what I could get now, as whatever Spiller could in theory do in the fantasy playoffs won't matter if you can't get there.
In a different life, Steve Smith was a terrific MMA fighter.
Does anyone have more uncertainty for the rest of 2013 than Roddy White? A return to WR1, continuing to do nothing, or something in between - literally no outcome would be surprising here. Every owner should inquire about Roddy, as there's no telling what his owner thinks of him given the many possible scenarios. Struggling fantasy teams in particular may need the plausible upside.
Right when we thought the Packers defense was one to exploit, they go out and allow just three touchdowns the past three gams, all three in the fourth quarter with the games no longer in question. And this with Clay Mathews sidelined. Green Bay is very much a streaming option this week at Minnesota.
Remember Raheem Morris, the Bucs head coach in 2011 whose defense quit on him so badly they allowed these point totals, game-by-game, down the stretch: 27, 37, 35, 23, 38, 41, 31, 48, 45? After surrendering 31 points in consecutive losses, one to Nick Foles and the second to Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers, it sure looks like Tampa's 2013 squad under Greg Schiano is headed down this same path. With the Panthers on tap this week, Cam Newton is a great start in weekly or salary cap leagues. Morris, meanwhile, has taken his stench to Washington, where he's "coaching" (a term I use loosely here) defensive backs. Yes, that's the same Redskins squad that just allowed 41 points to a McCown-led offense. Apparently, wherever Raheem goes, an unbearable odor follows.
The Tampa stench obviously stuck with Josh Freeman all the way to Minnesota, where he's too inaccurate to throw interceptions, much less complete forward passes. Seriously, how silly is it that everyone in the media acted like Freeman wasn't ready to start for the Vikings? It's like they hadn't seen similar play in Tampa the past few seasons.
One benefit to the Bucs collapse - Vincent Jackson should continue to be a fantasy beast. The volume is there with Mike Glennon and Tampa has nothing else on offense, particularly with Doug Martin unlikely to play again in 2013. I'd buy Jackson high, and I'd rather own him than Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker, or DeSean Jackson.
The Trent Richardson hate has gotten so extreme - myself included - it's time to see how little you can give up to acquire him. I offered Rueben Randle in a league where I need a running back and my opponent readily accepted. Maybe I should have lowballed even more, but geez - a receiver drafted in the endgame for a first-round RB on a first-place offense ... can it really get lower than that for Richardson? Indy just lost Reggie Wayne and someone is going to score touchdowns on Andrew Luck's offense. Hold your nose if you must, but I'd rather own Richardson than Zac Stacy or DeAngelo Williams.
Jordan Reed is the obvious tight end pickup for this week, as the Redskins are a fantasy carnival with Reed the second option in the passing game. If you need to dig deeper at tight end, I have an irrational instinct about Anthony Fasano. He's back from injury for the Chiefs, playing with checkdown king Alex Smith, and while his Week 7 stats don't look special - 4-27-0 on 5 targets - Fasano was tackled inside the one yard line twice on Sunday. Fasano can be a TE2, bye-week plug-in or Jimmy Graham injury replacement. I think he'll score 4-5 times the rest of the year, and I like him for both Denver matchups (Weeks 11, 13).
The Bills have been one of the NFL's most consistent teams, with all seven of their games decided in the final minutes, including four on the game's final play. An underrated reason for their improvement is their defensive line. Mario Williams is finally living up to his big free agent contract, including a huge strip-sack against Miami that essentially won the game. 2011's #3 overall pick Marcell Dareus has become a stud against the run, and Kyle Williams is a fringe Pro Bowl tackle when healthy. As first-round corner Stephon Gilmore and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd round into form after injury, this defense is no longer one to exploit in fantasy.
It's crazy how quickly the Chiefs defense has become the NFL's best. They're first in the NFL in points against (with 46 points fewer than the next-closest AFC team). KC has 35 sacks; nobody else has more than 25. They're 1st in QB Rating allowed, third in YPA and passing yards/game, and one of four teams with more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed. Everywhere you look, the Chiefs defense is dominating.
Follow me on Twitter, @MarkStopa, and keep those fantasy questions coming with hashtag #stopalawfirm.