With less than two minutes left, the Broncos had the ball, first and goal, inside the Vikings five yard line in a tie game. Undoubtedly, the Vikings should have let the Broncos score - their chances of getting a game-tying TD on offense were greater than the Broncos flubbing a 20-yard FG. The Broncos, meanwhile, should have kneeled - their chances of allowing a tying TD drive were greater than the odds of them missing the short FG. So what happened? Naturally, both coaches screwed it up - the Broncos didn't kneel, choosing instead to run up the middle, and the Vikings didn't let them score. Hence, predictably, the Broncos kicked the winning FG on the game's final play. It probably wouldn't have changed the outcome, but how can NFL coaches constantly screw up things like this?
Of course, Jason Garrett's end-game decision-making made Leslie Frazier and John Fox look like geniuses.
Speaking of coaching decisions, I argued in the Live Blog that the Packers should have gone for two when the score was 34-27 with about 3:30 left and the Giants with no timeouts. Kicking the PAT to go up eight is probably what the "book" says. However, if you go for two and make it, then you're up by nine and the game is over. If you don't make it, you're still up by seven, only the Giants wouldn't have needed a two-pointer to tie. The question, in my view, is this - assuming there was going to be a two-pointer, would you rather it be performed by your defense or your offense? Particularly with Aaron Rodgers as the QB, I'd have gone for two. (If you're the 49ers, fine, kick the PAT to go up eight and trust your defense.) I realize the difference between 8 points and 7 is significant, but the difference between 9 points and 8 is even bigger. So if you presume it's a 50/50 chance of making the two-pointer (a fair number with Rodgers as your QB), I think you take the gamble to go up nine, as it provides the bigger reward. I see the competing argument, but in that situation (high-scoring game, elite QB), that's my choice. FWIW, I thought it was interesting, having argued this, that the Giants got the ball after the Packers kicked the PAT, scored, and made the tying two-pointer. As they were lining up for the conversion, I couldn't help but wonder if McCarthy, if he had to do it over again, wouldn't have preferred that Rodgers had gone for two after the previous TD. Think about it - when the Giants were lining up to go for two (and the tie), wouldn't the Packers have preferred that they went for two on the previous drive instead? Anyway, I suppose this is contrary to normal logic, but something to ponder...
Nnamdi Asomugha was supposed to be the big free agent signing this offseason (among all players, much less cornerbacks), but Jonathan Joseph has quietly upstaged him by a wide margin. Sometimes, it's hard to quantify the impact of a corner, so check out the Texans improvement against the pass from last year (when they allowed 33 passing TDs, 8.2 YPA, and a QB rating over 100) to this year (12 passing TDs versus 17 INTs, 5.9 YPA, and a QB rating of just 60.7, which is seven points better than the next-best team). There's more to this than Joseph, obviously, but this turnaround is truly remarkable, especially with Mario Williams missing most of the season. When you're looking at futures bets this offseason, let this be a reminder that NFL teams can reinvent themselves in one offseason, especially when their team's weakness is limited to one area, e.g. the secondary.
An early look at my first round for 2012 fantasy drafts: Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Charles Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Cam Newton, Ray Rice, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Drew Brees, Tom Brady. I can be convinced to tweak the order of these players, but, for me, the days of gambling on RBs with upside in the first round are over. Get a sure-fire stud regardless of position, then gamble on upside later. In other words, next preseason, when running backs like Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, and, yes, even DeMarco Murray (not established over a 16-game season) have glowing reports in the preseason about what great shape they're in or how they're going to be used in their respective offenses, remember how you feel right now. Remember this list. Remember how early-round RBs have repeatedly burned fantasy owners in recent years, while mid-round running backs like Chris Wells, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, and Fred Jackson (before his injury) have performed just fine.
If that doesn't convince you, Liss and I were the two guys who got byes in the Rotowire Staff League. He drafted Aaron Rodgers and I took WRs with my first three picks (Calvin Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace). I know nobody cares about my team/results, nor should you, so think about it merely as draft strategy. I didn't do a single trade or a single good in-season move (missing out on Cam Newton, Victor Cruz, and others who emerged). Getting a bye was all about my draft - getting three established studs at WR, mixing in some RBs in the mid rounds (Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Chris Wells), watching Gronkowski emerge, and enjoying Eli's best year. I realize, as Pianow will say, you can win with any strategy if you pick the right players, but I'm more and more convinced that the "right players" are established studs in the passing game in the early rounds.
Not all losses are created equal. In Arizona, the Cowboys sustained a brutal, gut-wrenching loss that has everyone questioning their head coach. In New York, the Giants lost, but showed they can play with the big boys in a game that was eerily reminiscent of their Week 17 loss to the then-undefeated Patriots in 2007, even down to the final score, 38-35. Giants fans can only hope this season ends the same way that 2007 season did. Anyway, it's interesting that the Giants and Cowboys are squaring off this week, both coming off of losses, when the losses were so very different.
Sunday's game against the Titans was the best C.J. Spiller has ever played by a mile. The boxscore doesn't necessarily show it (14-83-1), but he didn't get many chances in the second half with the Bills playing from behind and Spiller had a long TD run called back by a quesitonable holding penalty. I actually thought Spiller was a lite version of Chris Johnson (an apt comparison as they were playing each other). The two are similar not just in their speed; both backs are well above league-average once they get to the second level but well below league-average in getting there without good blocking. In other words, both guys are able to turn 7 yard gains into 30 yard gains, but both struggle at getting 7 yards out of 2. That would explain why Johnson has struggled so much this year except against the league's worst defenses, against whom he has posted huge stats.
In the category of longshots, I don't think the Eagles and Chargers are out of contention. With that caveat, I'll save you the lengthy explanations, but take a look at the standings, the schedules, and, in the Eagles' case, the tiebreaker scenarios (3-1 in division, another game with Dallas remaining). While it's more than fair to question whether either of these teams can go on a winning streak right now, seeing one or both emerge as a contender would hardly be the craziest thing we've ever seen in the NFL, particularly with the Chargers, who have been in this situation before. What can I say, I've always believed you never give up until it's totally over.
The Dolphins won't make the playoffs, but they're probably better than whoever gets the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs (the winner of the AFC West) and the sixth seed (the Bengals, Titans, or Jets). In other words, they may be the fifth-best team in the AFC right now (Pats, Steelers, Ravens, Texans). It's crazy they're only laying two points this week at home against an Eagles team that, by all accounts except for mine, is totally out of it. If I had to pick one team ATS for the rest of the season, without seeing the lines, it would undoubtedly be the Dolphins.
Here are my suggested waiver claims for this week.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: The Panthers, Ryan's Week 14 opponent, are a carnival. Hop on board this week and enjoy the ride.
Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: I don't expect the Raiders to beat the Packers, but I do expect them to play better. The bounce-back effect, the need for the Raiders to throw, plus the Packers 31st-ranked pass defense will help Palmer have a fantasy-friendly game. Ironically, Palmer's penchant for throwing a pick-six, and the Packers' proclivity for getting them, would also bode well for Palmer - he'd be right back on the field, chucking it more.
Marion Barber, RB, Bears: Matt Forte might miss the rest of the season, so you have to claim Barber, especially if you own Forte. But would I actually start Barber? In a pinch, I suppose, but I wouldn't be excited about it - sort of like how I view Toby Gerhart's situation in Minnesota.
Brandon Saine, RB, Packers: In the early part of the year, it seemed the inability of Ryan Grant and James Starks to score a touchdown on the high-powered Packers offense was a bit of a fluke - something sure to change as the Packers kept scoring and opposing defenses concentrated on Rodgers and the passing game. As more weeks unfolded, though, and neither could muster a score, it's become apparent that Grant and Starks just aren't very good. I mean, seriously, how much do you have to stink to never get a touchdown when the Packers score so often and every opposing defense doesn't care if you run? Anyway, Saine got 10 touches against the Giants and seems to be in a position to exploit the failures of Grant and Starks. This might not be saying much, but I'd rather own Saine than any other Packers tailback. In fact, this week against a Raiders defense allowing a league-worst 5.2 YPC, I wouldn't be surprised to see Saine score the Packers first touchdown by a tailback in 2011.
Isaac Redman, RB, Steelers: How desperate are you? The Browns are first in the NFL in pass defense but they've been getting killed by the run, most recently last week, when Ray Rice and Ricky Williams both went off. If Williams can go 16-76-1 against the Browns, who's to say Redman can't as well? Not likely, but, as I said, how desperate are you? Plus, even if it doesn't work out this week, Redman is a high-upside backup, being just a Rashard injury away from being the feature guy on a good offense. It's guys like that who I want to stash on my bench at this point in the year.
Ricky Williams, RB, Ravens: See Isaac Redman. The analysis for Williams is the same, as he plays the Colts this week and is a decent guy to stash.
Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins: Word on the street is that Fred Davis is facing a four-game suspension. If/when that happens, additional targets will open up for Moss and Gaffney (and not Chris Cooley, who is on IR). When you're evaluating Moss and Gaffney, I'd ignore their stats to date - Moss was hurt and Gaffney suffered through some bad games with John Beck at the helm. Rex Grossman isn't good, but he's better than Beck, and he'll make Moss and Gaffney relevant over the final four games.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos: I'm contractually obligated to mention any player who scores twice and exceeds 100 yards yet is universally unowned in fantasy leagues. Those stats aside, I also like that Thomas is young and talented - a first-round pick in 2010, drafted to replace Brandon Marshall. However, the rest of the news is all bad. The Broncos are more run-dominated than any other team, Thomas has done nothing except for the Week 12 game against the Vikings, and Minnesota came into that game allowing more passing TDs than any other team. I could see Thomas perhaps being worthwhile for the matchup against the Patriots in two weeks, where the Broncos will have to throw a lot, but aside from that, it's hard to recommend using him the rest of the year.
Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers: Get a good look at the Chargers boxscore against the Jaguars, as I'm convinced that's what we're going to see again this week against the Bills. That means plenty of points, but with all of the Chargers weapons healthy, not terribly many targets for any one player.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: The Vikings probably have the worst pass defense in the NFL, allowing 8.2 YPA and a league-worst 24 passing TDs. This is the week for Pettigrew, and if your league is deep enough for Titus Young and Nate Burleson to be relevant, this the week to give them a flyer as well.
Broncos D/ST: What do you call an offense led by Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber? One to exploit for fantasy purposes. Even if he plays better this week, as I suspect he will, Hanie will be on the road against a team that can rush the passer, and Tebow hasn't been putting the Broncos defense in tough spots with turnovers.
Seahawks D/ST: Seattle isn't far from being a playoff team - a bad loss to the Browns in Week 7 with their backup QB is all that's stopping them from being right in the mix. For a team that's better than you may realize (wins against the Ravens, Falcons, and Giants), a home matchup against the Rams bodes well.
Dolphins D/ST: The Eagles have given up plenty of turnovers all season, and I don't think I could speak more highly of the Dolphins if I were a part-owner. There's risk the Eagles come to play, but there's just as much chance they're warming up their cars in the parking lot at halftime.