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Run 'N' Shoot: Chief Factor

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.

East Coast bias? More like Go West, young man. The AFC West and NFC West went 6-1 in Week 8, with the only loss inside the division, while the AFC East and NFC East combined to go 2-6, the only wins coming against each other. The West has the Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks, and 49ers, while the East has the Patriots, Cowboys, and a handful of teams who often look like they belong as the road team at an SEC school's homecoming game. The Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Bills ... ugh, make it stop. Where can I go bet that no AFC East or NFC East team will win a divisional playoff game in 2013?

As if that's not bad enough, the dumpster fires that are the NFC East and AFC East don't include the Jaguars and Bucs, two east-coast teams still looking for a win. The best chance of each avoiding 0-16 might be a home game against the East's Bills. As a Bills fan and Florida resident, this disturbs me. Am I morally obligated to go to these games, or is watching your team be the sole loss to a 1-15 squad a fate no man should endure?

The Patriots are 6-2? Let me borrow CJ Spiller's unused puke bucket so I can hurl. This week, the fantasy industry is talking about Tom Brady being a waiver wire casualty in favor of Andy Dalton and perhaps even Jake Locker. Jake Locker! Need I say more? New England is probably still the best team in the AFC East, but as the Patriots lose a starter to injury virtually every week (stud tackle Sebastian Vollmer this week), the gap hasn't been this narrow from top to bottom in the division since Tom Brady took over at quarterback. What a shame the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills aren't ready to take a leap. As for Brady, what the heck, I will say more. Chris Liss argues in his Observations that Brady will revert to league average in the second half, while some are saying he must be hurt. Hiding an injury sounds like a convenient excuse, no? Maybe Brady is falling off a cliff but our minds just can't accept that yet because he's been so good for so long. Donovan McNabb was a really good quarterback for a long time who fell off suddenly. Sure, McNabb was never on the same level as Brady, but Father Time works differently for everyone. The lesson here is to enjoy the franchise QBs while you can, as you never know when the end will come.

Speaking of enjoying, man is Calvin Johnson fun. Megatron lacks a modern-day peer, so let's do it this way ... if you needed one receiver for one game, in his prime, would you take Calvin, Jerry Rice, or Randy Moss? Rice was the best route-runner and at compiling yards after the catch, Moss was the best deep threat, and Calvin is the best leaper and best in traffic. Forced to choose, my answer is "yes."

Dez Bryant has the talent to enter that conversation - his two touchdowns on Sunday were Calvin-esque. But Dallas must game-plan better - six targets just isn't enough, and good for Dez if he said (screamed) as much. That said, Dallas' end-game clock management was even worse. Follow with me. Dallas had the ball on Detroit's 35, up by three, on third and 14 with 1:14 left in the game. The Lions had no timeouts, so any run, even a kneel-down, brings the clock to around 30 seconds. Instead, Dallas ran a normal play, gaining nine yards, but a holding penalty (which Detroit declined) stopped the clock. What a disaster! You can't hold in that situation. In fact, I'd argue kneeling was the right play. You're not going to gain a first down by running, and even if you get closer for a field goal, is that even a good thing? Look at it this way: which is better, being up 6 with over a minute left and kicking off to a QB and WR you couldn't stop all game, or being up 3 and punting with 30 seconds left, trying to pin them deep? If you're up 3, the worst that probably happens is overtime, but by being up 6, you force the Lions to be aggressive and try to score the winning touchdown. Plus, if you kick the field goal and miss, you give up great field position and are still up just three. I'd say "what do I know," but I've seen NFL coaches screw up these situations for so long that my answer is "more than most NFL coaches in endgame situations." Oh, and what's with the up-man on the ensuing kickoff running for the sideline? Detroit was foolish enough to squib the kickoff up by just 1 with 12 seconds left. Run straight ahead until defenders are there, then kneel. Leaving 9-10 seconds on the clock with 3 timeouts probably gets you two plays to get into field goal range. Heck, Matt Ryan won a game like that a few years ago. Instead, running wide wasted five precious seconds. Even then, there was still a chance, but the ensuing hook and ladder with seven seconds left was atrocious. What is so hard for coaches to understand here? You have one play to get close enough to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone. If only the Cowboys had a tall, athletically gifted receiver to come down with such a throw. (Maybe that's what Dez Bryant was screaming about - he heard the upcoming play-call of hook and ladder. Seriously, how insane would that game have been if it ended on a Dez Hail Mary catch in the end zone? Alas, Dallas has Jason Garrett at head coach.)

Near the end of the Vikings/Packers game (I was one of about 7 people watching), the booth was explaining how the Vikings weren't willing to trade Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen. How foolishly stubborn. You're going nowhere, you need a quarterback, and there are a handful of highly-rated quarterbacks about to enter the NFL draft. Why not compile picks so you can trade up if necessary? There might not be a contending team who needs or wants Adrian Peterson (Cowboys, maybe?), but several could use an edge rusher like Allen. How about Allen to the Broncos for a second-round pick. Who says no to that? Denver might as well go all-in on 2013, as Peyton Manning's window won't stay open forever.

Eddie Lacy is getting lots of deserved pub, but James Starks looks fantastic as a handcuff / change of pace back. As we get through the tough bye weeks, don't forget to keep stashing these guys on your bench, in my rough order of preference: Montee Ball, James Starks, Joique Bell, Roy Helu, Kendall Hunter. I still don't think the season ends without Frank Gore getting hurt - he's 30 and he wore down the second half of last year, too.

When an offensive player has a good game against the Bucs or Bears, don't overreact. Everyone did just that when Nick Foles beat the Bucs a few weeks ago, and then again when Matt Ryan lit up Tampa. Unsurprisingly in retrospect, both guys fell back to earth the following week. The same is true of the Redskins, who finally looked right against Chicago, only to come crashing down against Denver. Particularly as several teams have little to pay for in the second half of the season, don't confuse a good game against an awful defense as a performance that moves the needle for fantasy purposes. Defenses I'd put in that category right now: Bucs, Bears, Jaguars, Cowboys.

After Week 1, the tight end position looked loaded. Now it looks like a wasteland. Jimmy Graham is hurt, Rob Gronkowski depends on the ghost of Tom Brady, Jermichael Finley is done, Vernon Davis gets about four targets per game, Tony Gonzalez fell flat again even against an Arizona defense that every tight end batters, Jason Witten finally looks old, Jared Cook went into witness protection ... what a mess. Let's hope Julius Thomas is healthy and Antonio Gates stays that way.

Apparently, the answer for Josh Gordon is "any quarterback except Brandon Weeden." What a refreshingly unexpected performance from Jason Campbell, whose Week 8 stats were arguably more surprising than those posted by Marvin Jones.

Before this year, Jamaal Charles spent his entire career as a big-play running back on a bad team. In 2012, for example, the Chiefs were the NFL's worst team yet Charles had seven 100-yard games, 11 carries of 20(+) yards, and averaged 5.3 YPC (his career low at the time) but got just five goal line carries in 16 games. Half way through the 2013 season, everything is completely the opposite. The Chiefs have the NFL's best record, while Charles has zero 100-yard games, just one carry of 20(+) yards, and his YPC is all the way down to 4.2 (a new career low by more than a yard), but he has 16 goal line carries and a career-high 64 targets in the passing game in just 8 games. Charles' fantasy owners thought they were drafting this generation's Barry Sanders, but they're not complaining that they got Emmitt Smith instead.

Charles isn't the only big-name running back not putting up lofty rushing stats. Last year, 12 different backs finished the season with a YPC of 4.6 or higher, including six over 5.0 and three at least 6.0. In 2013, nobody is close to 6.0 YPC; Alfred Morris leads all backs at 5.2 YPC, nobody else is over 5.0, and only 4 others are as high as 4.6 YPC. Throughout the NFL, several big-name running backs have a significantly lower YPC than they posted just last year:

Adrian Peterson: 6.0 YPC in 2012, 4.5 in 2013
Jamaal Charles: 5.3, 4.2
C.J. Spiller: 6.0, 4.0
Marshawn Lynch: 5.0, 4.2
Chris Johnson: 4.5, 3.2
Doug Martin: 4.6, 3.6
Ray Rice: 4.4, 2.8
Pierre Thomas, 4.5, 3.5
Bernard Pierce: 4.9, 2.8
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 3.9, 3.2
Frank Gore, 4.7, 4.2

Sure, there are a handful doing a smidge better in 2013 than they did last year, but by and large, the trend is downward. I'd love to have a snappy explanation why; it sure seems like there are a lot of bad offensive lines in today's NFL.

Le'Veon Bell has gotten a lot of hype, but 3.3 YPC with a long of 11 is Trent Richardson / Rashard Mendenhall territory. I'm not putting Bell in that category at this point, but 64 carries is an increasingly large sample size with such minimal production. I'd rather own Stevan Ridley and Andre Ellington in 2013.

What is Terrelle Pryor's real-life upside? Top 10 NFL player? Top 5? As an NFL fan, I hope he works at his craft, as I'd love to see what he can become if his skill inside the pocket becomes half of what it is outside.

Many fantasy analysts use lists or rankings, but much of fantasy football is context-dependent. Take Jimmy Graham and Roddy White. For me, whether to trade these guys, or trade for them, is context-driven. Are you in first place? Or last? How deep are your benches? Can you afford to hold them until they get healthy? The better your record, the more it makes sense to own guys like this, as you can hold them on the bench if necessary and hope they're healthy for the fantasy playoffs. Of course, Graham owners in less experienced leagues should see what they can get - there will be some clunkers in the coming weeks given his low snap counts.

When will offensive coaches learn not to call fade routes or timing throws with the game on the line? I guess Jeff Fisher didn't watch the Super Bowl.

Follow me on Twitter, @MarkStopa.