Fantasy football Early Advice: Finding help in the most obvious places
Fantasy football Early Advice (cont.)
We've spent some time in recent weeks trying to identify an under-the-radar player who could jump up and be a fantasy playoff hero. While that is always a worthy exercise, we were reminded on Sunday that, more often than not, the most obvious players are the stars who have carried their owners all season long.
The snow couldn't slow down Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy, as both posted huge fantasy numbers in Week 14. Charles ran for 151 yards and scored two touchdowns, scoring nearly 30 fantasy points in the Chiefs' 45-10 win over the Redskins. The Eagles and Lions at first struggled with the conditions in Philadelphia, but when they finally got going, the Lions had no answer whatsoever for McCoy. He ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns. It's hard to imagine many Charles or McCoy owners missing the playoffs. When you get that sort of production out of your first-round pick, you're set up for a great season.
Fantasy football can be quite fickle, though, and just because a guy was one of the best players over 13 weeks doesn't mean he'll keep it going through the playoffs. One bad week in December can undermine everything someone did for you during the regular season. While it's always fun to start the right sleeper during the postseason, there's nothing like the comfort of knowing you can count on your studs. Charles and McCoy kept smiles on the faces of their fantasy owners, at least for the first round of the playoffs.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 14 news and how it might translate to the all-important Week 15.
Josh Gordon set an NFL record last week by becoming the first player in league history with two straight games of at least 200 receiving yards. He had a ridiculous 24 catches for 498 yards and three touchdowns across those games, making him the hottest player in the NFL heading into the fantasy playoffs. Like Charles and McCoy, he did not disappoint.
Gordon had seven receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown in the Browns' 27-26 loss to the Patriots. He added 34 rushing yards just for good measure. It has been a banner year for the second-year pro out of Baylor. He has scored fewer than 10 fantasy points in just three games this year. Conversely, he has four games of at least 20 points. Keep in mind, he has maintained this level of production while playing significant stretches with three different quarterbacks, including the immortal Brandon Weeden. Gordon will justifiably be one of the first receivers off draft boards in 2014, but some of his owners aren't thinking that far ahead just yet. With upcoming games against the Bears and Jets, Gordon could very well be this year's fantasy playoff MVP.
There is the flip side of what Charles and McCoy did for their owners on Sunday: three key players in fantasy leagues suffered injuries this week, and now many of their owners are likely struggling to advance in the playoffs.
The first injury of the day was the most bizarre. Reggie Bush was questionable all week, but the Lions announced Sunday that he would indeed play against the Eagles. During warmups, however, he slipped and aggravated his calf injury because of all the snow on the field in Philadelphia. The Lions didn't make an announcement about his status after the accident, but he became far too risky to trust. Indeed he did not play, costing his owners one of their best players, and worse, some owners didn't learn of the move in time, thus leaving the dead weight in their lineups.
In Baltimore, Adrian Peterson was carted off the field after suffering an ankle injury in the second quarter. The Ravens present a tough matchup for running backs, but Peterson's owners always expect big things out of their workhorse. Instead, they got just 13 yards on seven carries. Peterson likely carried most of his owners to the playoffs. Unfortunately, they might be done after his untimely injury. And even those who aren't toast, can they count on him this week, even if he suits up.
Finally, Rob Gronkowski had to leave the field at Gillette Stadium on a cart after taking a shot to his knee that ended up resulting in a torn ACL. He ended up catching just two passes for 32 yards. His owners had to wait longer than they expected to have him available this season, but he delivered his usual production once he made his season debut. He'll be easier to replace than either Peterson or Bush should you advance without him, especially if no one has picked up Dennis Pitta yet in your league, but his injury makes advancing further in the playoffs a whole lot more challenging.
It wasn't exactly ideal football weather in most parts of the country on Sunday. Snow affected games in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh. Hopefully you didn't let the weather sway you from starting players in those games. Five of the six matchups went over the lines set by Las Vegas. Falcons-Packers, the only one that didn't, was under by just two points. Too often, fantasy owners see things like rain and snow as kryptonite for offenses. While most players would likely rather play without any precipitation coming down, there is little support for the idea that it puts a lid on scoring. Wind has been shown to have a dramatic impact on the passing game, but that stands alone as the only type of weather factor fantasy owners should really consider when setting lineups. Poor weather can be a tiebreaker between two closely ranked players, but it should not compel you to make a significant change in your lineup (not that Matthew Stafford owners are buying that line of reasoning today). Remember that for the last two weeks of the season, as we could easily be dealing with similar circumstances for the rest of the playoffs.
Week 14 observations
• I think we all knew the Bengals-Colts game would give us our best combined quarterback performance of the day. Andy Dalton threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns while Andrew Luck racked up 326 yards and four scores. Neither passer threw an interception, and both were among the top five at the position for the week. Luck had a huge game despite T.Y. Hilton catching just two balls for seven yards. Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill stepped up, hauling in nine passes for 160 yards and all four of Luck's touchdown passes. What are the chances either QB can keep it going? Luck plays the Texans next week, while Dalton and the Bengals visit Pittsburgh. It's a bit early for rankings, but I will likely have both as low-end QB1s for Week 15.
• Jason Campbell returned after missing one game and had the Browns on the doorstep of one of the biggest upsets of the year before the Patriots pulled off a stunning comeback. Still, Campbell's fantasy owners don't much care whether or not the Browns won. He threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns in the Browns' loss. If you're looking to make a speculative play at the quarterback position, Campbell could be your guy. He gets the Bears and Jets the next two weeks.
• In that same game, Tom Brady threw for 418 yards and two scores, though heading into the final quarter it appeared he was going to leave his owners flat in a very crucial week. He came alive in the fourth, throwing for 142 yards and tossing both of his touchdowns. He has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league since the calendar turned to November, racking up 1,761 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in a five-game stretch. He'll have to do without Gronkowski for the rest of the season, including tough matchups with the Dolphins and Ravens.
• Matthew Stafford and Nick Foles looked like two of the best plays at quarterback all week. Not only are both fantasy studs, but also the matchup looked good for both. Thanks to the blizzard in Philadelphia, though, they fell short of expectations. Stafford threw for just 148 yards and lost a fumble. Foles threw for 179 yards, one touchdown and his first interception of the year. It was horrible timing for their fantasy owners, but those are the breaks of the game. If you manage to advance despite their struggles, you'll want to start both of them as usual next week. Foles, especially, has a great matchup, going up against a Minnesota team that allows the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.
• There's a whole lot of trouble in Washington, where Robert Griffin III struggled again, this time in a blowout loss to the Chiefs. He completed just 12-of-26 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Kirk Cousins finished the game, and while that was likely only because the score was out of hand, fantasy owners should not be leaning on Griffin the rest of the year. It has been a nightmare sophomore season for the Baylor product, and even though he has solid matchups with the Falcons and Cowboys remaining, nothing he has done this year should give the fantasy community confidence.
• We shouldn't be surprised anymore, but what Peyton Manning is doing this year is simply incredible. He threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns in Denver's 51-28 win over Tennessee. It was the seventh time this year he racked up at least 350 yards, and also his seventh game with at least four touchdown passes. He now has 4,522 yards and 45 touchdowns on the season, and has a great chance to set single-season records in both stats. A fifth MVP award feels like a lock.
• It is pretty impressive how Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have carved out productive fantasy roles playing alongside each other. Both scored double-digit fantasy points on Sunday, with Bernard racking up total 148 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches while Green-Ellis ran for 48 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. You may not want to rely on Green-Ellis every single week, but he can be a useful player if you pick and choose your spots. He won't grade any higher than an RB3 next week, however, with the Bengals taking on the division-rival Steelers. Given that Bernard is a more dynamic player who can make plays as a receiver, I trust him as a regular weekly starter.
• It would figure that the one New England running back you can trust does all his damage through the air. Shane Vereen caught 12 passes for 153 yards on Sunday while getting just three carries as a traditional running back. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick brought Stevan Ridley back after a one-week exile, but he got just 35 yards on eight carries. Vereen is a key player in the offense, and his role could increase further now that Rob Gronkowski is out for the year. As for Ridley, he cannot be deployed in most matchups, but he could be a surprise star next week. The Patriots play the Dolphins, who allow the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs. Belichick knows how to take advantage of his opponents' weaknesses, even if that means relying on a player he has been reluctant to trust.
• Last year Marcel Reece was thrust into Oakland's starting lineup in place of an injured Darren McFadden and had a four-week run of relevance toward the end of the fantasy regular season. He may reprise that role at an even more important time of year in 2013. Rashad Jennings and McFadden were inactive Sunday, gifting Reece his first start of the season in a tough matchup with the Jets, who entered the game allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. Reece ran the ball 19 times, picking up 123 yards and a score, punctuated by his 63-yard touchdown romp. Even if Jennings and McFadden are out next week, you'll likely want to avoid Reece with the Raiders taking on the Chiefs, but don't rule out grabbing him off the waiver wire if one of the other playoff owners in your league is facing the Adrian Peterson conundrum.
• Call Bobby Rainey the ultimate matchup play. He burst on the scene three weeks ago, running for 163 yards and scoring three touchdowns against the Falcons in his first start after Mike James broke his ankle. He then came back to earth in tough matchups against the Lions and Panthers, picking up just 98 yards on 35 carries in those two games combined. Facing the softer Bills on Sunday, he ripped off 127 yards and a score on 22 carries. Just as we should not consider him against strong run defenses, he should get our attention against lesser opponents. That means his owners will have one more opportunity to start him this year, assuming they can advance in the playoffs. The Buccaneers play the 49ers next week, but if you make it to the championship game, you'll want to play Rainey against a Rams defense that allows the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
• Injuries create opportunity, and Toby Gerhart now has a chance to be a very important player in the 2013 fantasy playoffs. There is no word yet as to the severity of Peterson's ankle injury, but chances are he will be out the rest of the season. Gerhart ran for 89 yards on 15 carries against the Ravens after Peterson's injury Sunday, an impressive performance against a team that allows the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. The Vikings, however, play the Eagles and Bengals in the final two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. Neither would be a great matchup for Gerhart.
• Montee Ball played a big role in the Denver offense again this week, running 15 times for 77 yards and a score. He actually got one more carry than Knowshon Moreno, and has scored double-digit fantasy points in three of the last four weeks. He's a great play next week with the Broncos playing the Chargers. San Diego has allowed 4.8 yards per carry this season.
• Andre Ellington's return from a knee injury brought back the familiar backfield timeshare in Arizona. Still, he and Rashard Mendenhall had useful games for their owners. Ellington ran for 46 yards and a score on 11 carries, and Mendenhall had 41 yards and a touchdown on 17 totes. We've seen this unfold time and time again this year. Ellington gets a handful fewer carries than Mendenhall and picks up more yardage on the ground. No matter what, Bruce Arians sticks to the breakdown that has Mendenhall getting about 60 percent of the carries. It makes both hard to trust on a weekly basis. Consider both as RB3s against the Titans next week.
• Ryan Mathews ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries against the Giants, and also caught three passes for 32 yards. The much-maligned back is enjoying the finest year of his career, as he now has 1,042 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns on the season. The Chargers have a quick turnaround this week, taking on the Broncos on Thursday Night Football. Denver has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
• Da'Rick Rogers spent most of the year on the Colts' practice squad before the team signed him to the active roster last week. He played just 13 snaps in his first game of the season and didn't get a target. That probably won't happen again after his performance on Sunday. Rogers caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts' 42-28 loss to the Bengals. The Colts play the Texans and Chiefs the next two weeks, and neither are friendly to opposing receivers. Still, if Rogers has earned preferred status in Andrew Luck's book, consider him a WR3 for the next two weeks.
• None of Green Bay's receivers had a great fantasy day Sunday. Jordy Nelson led the way with four catches for 85 yards, Jarrett Boykin had two receptions for 23 yards, and James Jones hauled in four balls for 19 yards. However, the fact that the Packers won and Lions lost could be great news for their fantasy prospects. Aaron Rodgers continues to work his way back from a broken collarbone, and the Packers now trail the Lions by just a half-game in the NFC North. If Rodgers can return next week, Nelson would revert to WR1 status and Boykin and Jones would certainly be worth considering with the Packers playing the Cowboys. Dallas allows the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and 12th-most to receivers.
• It's certainly too little, too late for the Falcons, but Roddy White can provide a huge lift for his fantasy owners in the playoffs. He got 10 more targets Sunday, catching eight for 74 yards. Coming on the heels of his 10-catch, 143-yard game a week ago, White, it's safe to say, is playing like his old, reliable self. The Falcons next opponent is Washington, which allows the 11th-most fantasy points per game to receivers.
• Julian Edelman kept on rolling Sunday, catching six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. That makes three straight games with double-digit fantasy points for the receiver, as well as three straight games in which he has outperformed Danny Amendola. With Rob Gronkowski out, there will be more targets to go around for all the survivors in New England. The Patriots, however, have tough matchups with the Dolphins and Ravens looming.
• Just like the snowy conditions submarined Matthew Stafford's performance on Sunday, it frustrated Calvin Johnson and his fantasy owners, as well. Megatron caught just three passes for 49 yards, the third time this year he failed to score at least 10 fantasy points. DeSean Jackson was able to register for his owners in the same game, pulling down four balls for 59 yards and a score.
• It has been a disappointing season in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers likely saw their realistic hopes at the playoffs fade away after losing to the Dolphins on Sunday, 34-28. One bright spot all year has been Antonio Brown, who caught five passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Miami. He now has 90 receptions for 1,240 yards and seven scores on the season, posting easily his best year as a pro.
• When Cordarrelle Patterson breaks out in 2014, we'll recall the end of this season as the spark. He had the best game to date of his rookie season against the Ravens on Sunday, catching five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. While it was his first big yardage game, he has scored in three of Minnesota's last five games. He probably doesn't have enough juice to help you the rest of this season, unless you're braver than I am, but those of you in keeper or dynasty leagues should be excited about his future.
• Peyton Manning shared the love this week, as Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker all scored and each had at least five catches and 60 yards. Decker led the way again with eight receptions for 117 yards, while Thomas had seven grabs for 88 yards. Manning has been huge in nearly every game this year, but rarely has the production been spread among all his pass catchers this evenly. Welker suffered a second concussion on the season late in the game; given that the Broncos play on Thursday, it's a relatively safe bet that he will not be able to go.
• Nine years ago, Tennessee receiver Drew Bennett dominated the playoffs and swung a number of fantasy championships. Could current Titan Justin Hunter follow in his footsteps? He had four catches for 114 yards and a score against the Broncos, the second time in his last three games that he went north of 100 yards with a touchdown. The Titans have a tough matchup with the Cardinals next week, but get the bumbling Jacksonville defense Week 16. If Hunter is available in your league, stash him until then.
• Check it out: Hakeem Nicks has a pulse. He had five receptions for 135 yards on Sunday, marking just the third time this season he has scored double-digit fantasy points in a game. This doesn't change much for him going forward. You can't consider him anything better than a WR3 in the Giants' remaining games. With the team traveling to Seattle to take on the Seahawks next week, I'd definitely be leaning toward keeping him on the bench.
• Jordan Cameron scored for the first time since Week 7, finishing Cleveland's game in New England with nine catches for 121 yards and the score. He started the season with a flourish, but hasn't been worthy of being a starter for most of the second half of the season. Perhaps this can be the game that gets him going again for his owners. The Browns play the Bears, who allow the ninth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, next week.
• Matthew Mulligan will likely take over Rob Gronkowski's pass-catching tight end role in New England's offense, but it goes without saying that he's not exactly an adequate replacement. Fantasy owners should be able to find a superior option.
• Charles Clay continued his ascent up the tight end ranks on Sunday, catching seven passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns in the Dolphins' 34-28 win over the Steelers. Largely an unknown back in draft season, Clay now has 60 receptions for 678 yards and six touchdowns on the season. The Dolphins play the Patriots, who have been decent against opposing tight ends, next week. Having said that, Clay has earned the trust of the fantasy community. Get him in your lineups.
• Dennis Pitta made his season debut Sunday after missing the first 13 weeks of the year with a hip injury. Joe Flacco didn't waste any time in leaning on him again, targeting him 11 times in Baltimore's wild 29-26 win over Minnesota. Pitta caught six of those targets for 48 yards and a touchdown. Pitta projects as a TE1 the rest of the season, but the Ravens play the Lions, who allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends, next week.
• The Jaguars have been generous to tight ends all season, and that didn't change this week: Garrett Graham reeled in eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown on Thursday night. Jacksonville allows the second-most fantasy points per game to the position, and that makes Scott Chandler and Delanie Walker decent guys to target if they're available in your league. The Jaguars play the Bills and Titans the next two weeks.
• Luke Willson had three catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks' 19-17 loss to the 49ers, but don't be fooled by his line. He had 13 receptions for 172 yards entering Sunday's game. This was nothing more than a one-off performance. You shouldn't be targeting him on your league's waiver wire this week.