RotoWire Partners

Run 'N' Shoot: Downfield Passing's not a Brees

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.

The AFC playoff picture is already taking shape, so much so that I've chosen the six best teams: Broncos, Chargers, Patriots, Bengals, Colts and Chiefs. Yes, they're the same six teams as last year, and that almost never happens. The Chiefs are most likely to ruin the repeat party, though, as they're 2-3 and still have to face Denver, the Chargers twice and Seattle. So even though KC is one of the six best in the conference, count on the Chiefs missing out and a less-talented team like the Ravens or Texans taking that sixth playoff spot.

The NFC is far more muddled. We can eliminate the Redskins, Rams, Vikings and probably the Bucs, but everyone else is in play, no?

If you had to pick the winner of this year's Super Bowl, would you take the Broncos, Seahawks and Chargers (the three best teams by a wide margin right now) or the field?

It may sounds nuts not to put 10 feet of dirt on the Bucs, but you tell me - who's winning the NFC South? The Panthers, with an injured Cam Newton and a defense that's fallen off a cliff? The Saints, who can't win on the road and have lost their edge at home? The Falcons, who look (to me) like a lite version of the Saints? This is the NFL's worst division.

We've long criticized the Patriots inability to develop a downfield receiving option for Tom Brady; is it time to do the same with Drew Brees and the Saints? I'd say so. Marques Colston is old and slow. Robert Meachem stinks. Joseph Morgan, Kenny Stills and Nick Toon haven't developed. Yes, Brandin Cooks is playing well, but he's like Julian Edelman for the Patriots - a good complementary piece, but he can't be your top wideout. The subpar play from the receivers is what's wrong with the Saints offense - they're not getting those explosive plays downfield like they used to get so often, particularly at home. That's causing Drew Brees to sustain longer drives and force the ball into smaller windows, and, not coincidentally, the Saints are last in the NFL in turnover differential.

Criticize Geno Smith if you must, but the skill players the Jets fielded on Sunday were the worst of any NFL team in recent memory. If you think Michael Vick is the answer, you're asking the wrong question.

I could watch Brandon Lloyd's leaping catch - the one where he hangs in the air like Michael Jordan in his prime - 100 times and my chin would still hit my chest each time. How on earth was he out of the league last year?

Going for it on 4th-and-1 is great. Running plays designed to gain 1.5 yards on 4th-and-1, not so great.

The Bills and Lions are the same team when Calvin Johnson is hurt. The only difference is the kicker. Yes, Lions fans and Matthew Stafford fantasy owners, I just compared your guy to Kyle Orton. Among Stafford's problems is an NFL-high 17 sacks taken. It's hard to know what to do with the ball when you can't just chuck it up to Megatron, eh?

T.Y. Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders and Keenan Allen play with three of the best real-life and fantasy quarterbacks in the NFL (Luck, Peyton and Rivers, respectively), yet have combined for zero touchdowns. Expect that to change - soon. Hilton's 50 targets is fourth among receivers, Sanders is among the league-leaders with 32 catches and 435 yards despite a bye, and Rivers can't keep throwing all the touchdowns to Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal. Randall Cobb, meanwhile, is the anti-Hilton and Sanders. If you can swap Cobb for one of those two and upgrade another position in a 2-for-2 trade, do it. Cobb may have six TDs now, but I have little reason to believe he'll be better than Hilton or Sanders from this point.

On Jan. 6, 2013, the Redskins were leading the Seahawks 14-0 in a home playoff game. Robert Griffin III tweaked his knee, then tore his ACL, and the Seahawks came back to win, 24-14. Since then, Seattle won a Super Bowl, and Washington has won four games.

Allen Hurns is big, tall, fast and looks like a stud receiver ... right up to the moment he has to catch the ball.

Matt Ryan threw 45 passes against the Giants for 316 yards, yet Roddy White managed just two catches for 26 yards on four targets. I'm not panicking yet, but it's certainly worth noting that Roddy has yet to go over 75 yards receiving in a game despite riding on the Falcons carnival. At age 32, we could be seeing the start of White's decline.

Brian Hoyer has to be on the short list of the most pleasant surprises in the 2014 NFL season. It's even more eye-opening considering Josh Gordon is selling cars and Jordan Cameron has become waiver-wire fodder in fantasy. Yet Snickers still runs Johnny Football commercials.

Marcell Dareus had three sacks, two tackles for loss and two QB hits on Sunday and is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Keep this up and perhaps Bills fans will remember him as something more than the defensive lineman the Bills took over J.J. Watt in the 2012 NFL draft (Dareus went No. 3 overall, Watt 11).

I'd try to hold Montee Ball through his injury in most formats, but if you have to cut him for Branden Oliver, do so. My best comparison for Oliver? Joe Morris. (If you're younger than 35, I know, that comp means nothing to you, sorry.)

Quit complaining, Percy Harvin owners. You lost some points last night, sure, but you didn't give back any points a few weeks ago on that play where Harvin clearly stepped out of bounds on route to a long touchdown. Fantasy happens.

I'm entertaining reasonable arguments in the comments for why Antone Smith doesn't get more touches in Atlanta. I don't expect many of you to post anything.

The Steelers have an elite WR, smooth RB and Super Bowl winning QB, yet scored just 10 points (on offense, anyway) against a Jaguars team leading the NFL in points allowed.

Will the real New England Patriots please stand up? It's a cliche, but the week-to-week variance in the NFL is what makes gambling and fantasy football so obscenely difficult.

The Bills have not lost any of the six fumbles they've had on offense, yet have recovered all four fumbles they've forced on defense. Ten balls on the ground, 10 times it's gone Buffalo's way. (For a comparison, the only other teams without a lost fumble are the Chargers and Browns). With the Bills' biggest game in many years this Sunday at home against the Patriots, I'll let you decide if this is a sign the Bills finally have some good karma, or a sign of random luck that's bound to normalize.

The Falcons have allowed 10 rushing touchdowns; no other team has more than six. If there was ever a week to play Matt Forte in DFS, it's this week. Expect Forte to get his first rushing touchdown of the season, perhaps two. At the other end of the spectrum, the Chiefs and Bills have both allowed zero rushing touchdowns. The Bills are also giving up just 3.0 yards per rush, so for the first time in years, their run defense may be one to avoid.

The Rams have a ton of problems, particularly on defense (NFL-low one sack), but the way Austin Davis is playing, quarterback might not be one of them. If I were running the Rams, I'd see how Davis does the next five weeks (SF, Sea, at KC, at SF, at AZ). If he holds his own, he should be the guy going into 2015.