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Run 'N' Shoot: The Rotting Pile of Garbage that is the AFC

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

"Craziest NFL season ever." You can say it, well, every year. That said, have you seen the AFC standings? With six weeks still to go, five teams are virtual locks for the playoffs, while the rest of the conference is a compilation of rotting garbage. Six teams make the dance, though, so all of that rotting garbage except the 1-9 Jaguars and 2-8 Texans is still alive for the playoffs. That's *nine* teams, all with four or five wins, still fighting for *one* playoff spot. Personally, I can't decide if this is a good thing or bad. Do we want teams like the Steelers (no wins the entire month of September), Jets (-85 point differential with an atrocious offense yet somehow 5-5), and Bills (4-7, but ATL, TB, Jax and Miami after the bye) still thinking playoffs because it keeps their fans interested? Or should NFL karma have put a bullet in the heads of these teams long ago, preventing the inevitable wild card beatdown to a far superior third seed? What a huge difference between 3 and 4 in the AFC, as the former will be a double-digit home favorite against a team like the Dolphins, while the latter may be a home underdog versus the Broncos.

The Browns are one such team yet have one rushing touchdown on the season. One. Somehow, Bobby Rainey couldn't get a chance to play until claimed off waivers by the Bucs, where he promptly went 30-163-2 against a Falcons team that was one play from the Super Bowl just 10 months ago. I like Rainey as much as the next guy, but the Falcons are one of a handful of defenses that are so bad, you have to force yourself not to move the fantasy needle of any offensive players who just played them. So, too, are the Bears (Ray Rice isn't fine, Chicago is just that bad), Vikings (NFL-worst 320 points allowed), Jaguars (when Carson Palmer looks that good, you know it's that bad), and Redskins (311 points allowed is what happens when you give up an NFL-worst 15 rushing TDs, 99.2 QB rating). So make sure you're exploiting these matchups Weeks 12-16 in those daily fantasy leagues:

Falcons: NO, @Buff, @GB, Wash, @SF
Vikings: @GB, Chi, @Balt, Phi, @Cin
Jaguars: @Hou, @Cle, Hou, Buff, Tenn
Bears: @STL, @Minn, Dall, @Cle, @Phi
Redskins: SF, NY, KC, @Atl, Dall

When the Bears/Ravens game was delayed due to atrocious weather, it was bad enough that CBS forced Chicago-area viewers to watch Bills/Jets. But when a guy named Summers scored a touchdown during the delay, it was really rubbing salt in the wounds. What else could they do to Chicago fans, take their beer away? (Oh, yeah, they did that, too - stopping the beer sales because they were selling *too much beer*. Road trip to Chicago, anyone?)

Is it possible to sell Dwayne Bowe high off a 4-57-1 outing? Of course; Bowe is high whenever you decide to sell him. Seriously, the stats haven't been there quite yet, but 26 targets the past two weeks portends better things to come, as does the Chiefs schedule (SD, Den, @Wash, @Oak, Indy). I'd rather own Bowe ROS than Jarrett Boykin, Marques Colston, Michael Floyd, and Denarius Moore.

It's strange to see Jamaal Charles wearing down in midseason at age 26. The clearest sign yet Charles isn't the same guy is not the stats (just one 20(+) yard rush, only 4.3 YPC), but how Charles inexplicably ran out of bounds on his own as he was being chased down from behind on Sunday night. I can't imagine Charles not scoring on that play any prior season. If Charles continues this way down the stretch, Andy Reid will look back at 2013 and realize he should have been more judicious with Charles' touches.

Why can't Case Keenum bench Gary Kubiak? I'd say Andre Johnson wants Matt Schaub on the bench, too, but that might not be far enough away for Johnson's taste. What made Keenum's benching so bizarre was that his second-quarter touchdown to Garrett Graham after evading the rush, rolling right, and throwing deep was a play that only a few of today's quarterbacks could have made.

Did Luke Kuechly commit pass interference in the end zone on Monday night's final play? Or was it uncatchable? Before you answer, check out the PI that was called against Kuechly on fourth down of the game-deciding drive against the Bills in Week 2. (Go to game highlights, at the end of the clip.). I don't see the difference in the two plays, personally. If "uncatchable" means "impossible to catch," how can anyone say, on either play, the ball wouldn't have been caught if Kuechly wasn't there? It's not like the ball was thrown 10 feet over Gronk's head, to a height no human can jump.

Lost in the final-play fervor, we just saw Cam Newton throw a game-winning touchdown pass to Ted Ginn to beat the Patriots on Monday Night Football, extending the Panthers winning streak to six. Let that sink in.

The Bills are headed into a bye, but their fantasy D/ST is going to help win some fantasy titles down the stretch (Atl, @TB, @Jax, Mia). One reason the defense is playing better than at any time I can remember - health. While most teams have suffered significant, season-ending injuries, Buffalo's highly-paid front four is healthy, as is its secondary full of high draft picks. Lest you think I'm just being a homer here, look at the stats. The Bills lead the NFL in both sacks and interceptions, and after years of being a sieve against the run, they've allowed just four rushing TDs in 11 games. Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus all deserve Pro Bowl consideration.

The Chiefs have one sack in their past three games.

Montee Ball is more than a problem for Knowshon Moreno owners - he's a legit flex option in his own right. I'm still not convinced Denver trusts Ball in pass protection, but in goal line packages, that matters much less. If you handcuffed Ball to Moreno in a deeper format, I'd be happy starting both this week. At minimum, you have to roster Ball in all formats, as he'd be a monster if he can overtake Moreno or if Knowshon gets hurt. There is no better fantasy handcuff right now.

In the three games since Jason Campbell took over as the starter, Jordan Cameron has averaged just 3-38-0 on just 5 targets per game. Josh Gordon, meanwhile, exceeded 10 targets, 100 yards, and a TD in two of Campbell's three games as a starter.

As we're nearly through the byes, all playoff-caliber fantasy teams should stash Michael Crabtree and Dennis Pitta. Bench spots are, once again, about plausible upside. Don't be one of those owners who forgets Crabtree and Pitta because you search free agents based on fantasy points scored in 2013.

After a hot start to the season, Philip Rivers has just 6 touchdowns in his past 5 games. Over that same stretch, Ryan Mathews has three 100(+) yard games and two touchdowns - after none of either in the first five games. The Chargers defense remains putrid (8.5 YPA, 102.3 QB Rating), but San Diego seems intent on keeping a run/pass balance, and it's stopped Rivers from becoming the QB1 we thought he'd be after his hot September start.

Why does Clay Mathews get so many commercials? His agent must be damn good at his job.

Even as he finally reached the end zone in 2013, Roddy White struggled doing so, taking 9 targets to go 3-36-1. But White won't face Darrelle Revis every week, and with the Falcons such a dumpster fire on defense and unable to run the ball at all, White looks like a high-volume if inefficient target going forward. Upcoming matchups with the Saints, Bills, Packers, and Redskins suit me just fine.

Watching the Steelers offense in recent weeks, it's hard to believe they scored just 19 points total in Weeks 1-2. Many thought Le'Veon Bell entering the lineup would make a difference, but Bell has just 3.1 YPC on the season. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger has become the QB1 we thought Philip Rivers would be. Even Jerricho Cotchery is a deep league option with Emmanuel Sanders hurt.

NFL fans often use hyperbole to compare players. "Donald Brown is twice as good as Trent Richardson." In this case, however, the hyperbole might be accurate. Brown is averaging 5.9 YPC, Richardson 3.0.

Why can't Chris Johnson always run with the level of burst and enthusiasm he showed on Thursday night? (Really, this is not a rhetorical question. I want an answer.)

Cecil Shorts griped to the media after a second straight two-catch performance. Similar gripes have bode well for top receivers earlier in the season; we'll see if the same is true for Shorts in Week 12.

Follow me on Twitter, @MarkStopa.