As we near the halfway point of the season, the pretenders pretend and the contenders contend. This is often true in fantasy football as well. Luck can only last so long. You won't always go up against the highest scoring team every week. You won't always run up against the guy who plugged in, say, WR Titus Young this week because he had no one else and ended up the jackpot winner. Likewise, you won't always be the team that gets that kind of break all time. Many times you'll leave the guy on your bench who was the best sub. One thing is for certain, it's time to start checking your roster and your players' schedules down the road. There is now a large enough sample size to do this with credible information. The NFL trade deadline is Thursday, reminding you that your trade deadline is not too far behind. If you're going to make a deal, start the discussions now. And by the way, if you really want to get a deal done, don't email, don't text --- call. You're all friends here and the best way to get a trade finished is to treat it like a real transaction. Below are more things you should consider.
NEW ENGLAND @ ST. LOUIS (@ WEMBLEY STADIUM)
While a victory by the Patriots seemed all but assured, it was how they won that should have NFL coaches, particularly defensive coordinators losing sleep. They ran for two scores and put up over 150 rushing yards. They passed for four more touchdowns and threw for over 300 yards. Danny Woodhead was a fine PPR with 10 points. Brandon Lloyd caught his first two touchdowns since the blowout of the Bills four weeks ago. Rob Gronkowski finished with over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Remember the last time Josh McDaniels was coordinator for the Patriots' offense, Tom Brady threw a record 50 touchdown passes. It appears the offense is kicking once again.
The Rams returned to their penalty-prone ways, drawing 12 flags for over 100 yards. This is not a team who can overcome those kind of mistakes. Steven Jackson has lost out on the competition to be the starting running back in St. Louis. Rumors are floating he could easily be traded, which would augment Daryl Richardson to official starter. This might also lift Isaiah Pead into a position where he'll see more action. Pead had three carries for 32 yards Sunday, and though he's been slower to make the transition to the pros, it doesn't mean he won't get his shot to make an impact this year. Simply put, the Rams need playmakers, and besides Chris Givens, they've been challenged to find any.
ATLANTA @ PHILADELPHIA
The Eagles are really this bad. A week after firing Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo, a move that seemed popular by Philadelphia fans standards, the defense couldn't stop a listing boat, taking on water in the middle of gale-force winds (to be storm analogy appropriate). In what has to be the most ironic game of their season, the Eagles didn't turn the ball over once. However, once a ship starts sinking, the Captain goes down with the vessel. Several weeks back I urged you dear reader to consider the day QB Nick Foles might make an appearance. He's likely to make that appearance sooner than later. Perhaps the change in chemistry will help this offense, but remember that even with the ridiculous amount of turnovers Michal Vick had, they were still seventh best in the NFL in terms of yards per game.
Two major concerns regarding the Eagles: First, for all the contract bluster and such that was bestowed on DeSean Jackson, not necessarily one of the brightest players in the NFL, their $47 million deal has gotten him one touchdown reception and the worst average catch rate for his career at less than 16 yards per grab. Some will blame Michael Vick for this, and they would be partially accurate. Just what will Jackson provide once a new quarterback's under center? Second, after starting the season averaging over five yards per carry in three of four games, RB LeSean McCoy has averaged 3.3 yards per carry of less in the last three. Atlanta has one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, and was yielding 5.2 yards per carry to opposing rushers entering Sunday's game. McCoy could only manage 2.8, suggesting this offensive line is falling apart, or he's not 100 percent. The good news is he's still scoring, but touchdowns are pretty random, while average yardage is not.
CAROLINA @ CHICAGO
If you want to lay a lot of blame, you can look no further than Cam Newton and Steve Smith this time. I still am not sure how he threw that pass so far over his receiver's head, but it reminded me of Neil O'Donnell's passes thrown to CB Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXX. It's the easiest interception and touchdown Tim Jennings will have this season, and maybe for his career. Wide receiver Steve Smith slipped, but the pass looked like it was sky high anyway as Jennings was near the sideline when he picked it off. Smith probably should have caught a touchdown pass that Newton put in an almost perfect spot. I say almost because Smith went after it one-handed on a semi-dive. Regardless, it was good to see Carolina finally realize they have a rushing attack. The Panthers put up 119 yards rushing on the Bears, and though divided between four players, including Newton, they ran 36 times. There is word that DeAngelo Williams is on the trading block. If he goes, Jonathan Stewart's value will indeed rise. They did everything right but score touchdowns. In three trips to the Red Zone Carolina settled for three field goals.
|Newest Charger WR Denario Alexander|
All I can say is wow. The game ended with a one point differential as I had predicted, but 7-6? This was ugly in many ways, but more so for my prognosticating powers. Some may say the weather factored in but then you look at the Pittsburgh/Washington game and say, same weather, much different score. The case has truly been made now that the Chargers were quite the pretender. Their defense has failed to close out games, and Philip Rivers is trying to do too much on offense by himself. For some reason starting RB Ryan Mathews had only four passes thrown his way, while backup Ronnie Brown led all receivers with eight targets and seven catches. This isn't likely to repeat much, so don't become enamored with Brown, but what it does tell you is that the Browns secondary shut down the Chargers' receiver corps. The loss of Vincent Jackson for Robert Meachem has not worked out. Meachem had another zero catches on three targets. Mathews also fumbled again, something that will not endear him to Norv Turner when his job is on the line. Denario Alexander did make an appearance in a Chargers uniform, but was only targeted once, and it was on a toss-up pass that almost ended up in an interception. As for the Brownies, WR Josh Cooper might have been a one-week phenomenon. He only received on target. As for the Trent Richardson/Montario Hardesty scenario, Richardson showed why he is coveted by coaches and pundits alike, while many a fantasy player was reminded why Hardesty was relegated to second string. Resist the urge as a fantasy owner to make the replacement guy with a bad history (in this case, Hardesty) the next "big thing" you're going to discover.
JACKSONVILLE @ GREEN BAY
This game could happen three more times and I don't think anyone would have Green Bay holding just a 14-12 edge at the start of the fourth quarter. And remember it took a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown for Green Bay to be in the lead. Let's hand out some credit here. Coming back from injury and without his star running back, Blaine Gabbert stepped up in a big way. He threw for over 300 yards in Green Bay, and didn't turn the ball over. Cecil Shorts III came up with 116 yards receiving and Justin Blackmon had 67 yards on four catches. For some reason, Gabbert plays a lot better on the road. With Jordy Nelson's injury compounding on the loss of Greg Jennings, the Packers had trouble running their spread offense to success. While Jennings has made it clear his groin surgery will not be season ending, I'm not necessarily buying that. This game has to concern Green Bay fans as to just what the Packers offense can do without a running game, and missing their top two receivers. This could affect Aaron Rodgers fantasy value greatly as the season continues.
|Titus Young is now the current WR2 in Detroit|
I said I wouldn't use a waiver priority on Ryan Broyles….yet. Well, I might not lose my waiver priority over him, but Matthew Stafford did look for him five times on Sunday and once in the red zone. However, it was Titus Young who ended up with two touchdowns and 100 yards receiving. It's clear that defenses are doing everything they can to remove Calvin Johnson from the equation. The question is what can be expected from the rest of Detroit's receiving corps. So far, Titus Young has stepped into the WR2 role and has performed well in his first two games. He caught all nine passes thrown his way Sunday. However, the Lions did go out and sign Brian Robiskie, the Browns' second round disappointment out of Ohio State, but who knows what kind of wine that grape will bring considering Robiskie never lived up to his potential in Cleveland. However, Robiskie's built more like a prototypical receiver (6'4", 212) than both Young (5'11', 174) and Broyles (5'10', 188). For now Young is the man, and hopefully his recent success will put him past the days of subpar efforts.
INDIANAPOLIS @ TENNESSEE
Indy RB Vick Ballard may never land a starting position in the NFL again, but his pirouetting touchdown dive will be replayed for some time to come. Not only was it the game-winning score for the Colts, but it was his first ever NFL touchdown. Donald Brown's return relegated Ballard back to the RB2 position, and he'll likely remain there as for the season he's averaging 3.4 yards per carry. For Tennessee, word is that TE Jared Cook has demanded a trade, and as the deadline approaches Thursday, keep an eye out where he ends up. He has the gifts to be a difference maker if he moves to the right team. Reference his three games at the end of 2011 if your memory is failing you. By the way, one of my top sleepers for 2012 Reggie Wayne now leads the league in receiving yards. (yes, my horn goes "toot, toot").
WASHINGTON @ PITTSBURGH
The Steelers defense played with a renewed vigor that hasn't been seen for most of 2012, and Pittsburgh kept both Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III in check. Though he had just four grabs for 21 yards, Santana Moss added fourth touchdown in the past three games. For the Steelers, the offensive line kept Ben Roethlisberger clean the whole day, and that allowed what arguably is one of the fastest receiver groups to pick apart the Redskins secondary. It appears for all the friction that supposedly existed between Big Ben and Steelers Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, the offense is hitting its stride. If the defense can regain its health, particularly of Troy Polamalu, the Steelers are looking more and more like a worrisome foe for Baltimore. The Steelers did lose Safety Ryan Clark to a concussion Sunday. They'll need him in the picture if their pass defense is going to stay intact. More importantly for the Steelers, it's clear they have a new running back in town. Jonathan Dwyer posted his second 100-yard outing in as many tries. As I wrote last week, he's a Jerome Bettis flashback, and one the Steelers need badly. Redskins WR Josh Morgan had a strong game, but was injured in the process and is not expected to play this Sunday.
MIAMI @ NEW YORK JETS
Mark Sanchez has been the fall guy for New Yorkers, and in many ways, he hasn't exactly played well. But Ian O'Connor's blog on ESPN sums it up best. Before you even get to his article, let's talk about how the Jets bought into the hype that Sanchez was a savior to begin with. He had one year starting at USC and his year was solid, if not spectacular. Was he tops even among his peers with his numbers that year? Well he was sixth in pass efficiency rating and ninth in touchdowns. He was 15th in pass completion percentage. So even among his class in 2008, Mark Sanchez wasn't the greatest of his year by any stretch of the imagination. Now add the fact as O'Connor's article mentions he's hardly been given a great surrounding cast, and a Head Coach who talks more than he wins, and you have the makings for an even tougher place to win. If Rex Ryan makes it through the season I will be surprised. And if he does, he won't be coaching the Jets next season.
OAKLAND @ KANSAS CITY
If you're the Raiders defensive coordinator, aren't you hitting yourself for actually knocking Brady Quinn out of the game? I mean, let's be honest, the bounty systems that have existed (and might still quietly) in NFL locker rooms were not designed for Quinn. Allowing Matt Cassel back actually gave the Chiefs the best chance to win the game. Quinn was 2-for-4 for one yard and an interception in his short tenure as a starter. Jamaal Charles disappeared for the second straight game, and one has to wonder with the quarterbacking issues Kansas City is having whether teams aren't using that issue to their advantage by stacking their defense in the box. It was just two weeks ago that Charles rolled up 140 yards against the Ravens, so you're not putting him on your bench. However, until the Chiefs get some clarity under center, he may be harder pressed to repeat such performances. Tight end Tony Moeaki was finally used as part of the game plan, grabbing four of eight targets. He tied Dexter McCluster for the most targets for the Chiefs this week.
If you're Oakland, you're looking down at a five game schedule that includes four of the worst defenses in the league in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Cleveland. While Carson Palmer didn't play his best game, he didn't turn the ball over and threw two more TDs. He should be an above-average quarterback over the next five games for your fantasy, as should Darren McFadden, as Baltimore, New Orleans and Cleveland are in the bottom third against the run. The Raiders receivers aren't marquee names, but they are competent. Denarius Moore is quietly putting together a solid campaign. He has only 26 receptions but four of those are for touchdowns, and remember he missed opening day. Your biggest worry with Moore is injury, but if healthy, he represents your best chance for fantasy points from a receiver in Oakland.
NEW YORK GIANTS @ DALLAS
Tony Romo threw three interceptions in the first half, leading to thirteen New York Giants points. How the game was this close after that one can only ponder, but these are the Dallas Cowboys recently. Their NFL team slogan should be Dallas Cowboys, doing just enough to disappoint. Even after the first half debacle, Tony Romo recovered and led the team back to within two inches of winning the football game. Dez Bryant's catch in the back of the end zone appeared to put an exclamation point on a season sweep of their division rival, when replay showed that his hand scraped the end line. Keep in mind, Romo started this drive on his own 30-yard line with no timeouts and just 40 seconds remaining. While Bryant made a heck of a grab, had Romo fired that ball as more of a dart toward the corner, he'd have gotten Bryant while he was wide open. This game does fall on Romo, as even in the comeback, he wasn't sharp enough to put down a solid defense like the Giants. You do have to give the guy credit for actually giving his team the lead, as late in the fourth quarter Dallas actually led 24-23. It was then their defense let them down. Regardless, Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin and his Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride aren't going to be happy that with all the field position they were given, they constantly sent kicker Lawrence Tynes out to kick field goals instead of extra points.
SUNDAY NIGHT GAME
|McGahee is a prime target for acquisition|
After all the words that have been emptied about whether or not Peyton Manning could make it through this NFL season in one piece, there's no longer doubt. Securing Denver's place as the front-runner in the AFC West, Peyton Manning again demonstrated why he was made for prime-time, outdueling Drew Brees and the New Orleans Sainst 34-14. He now leads all NFL QBs in passer rating. However, there may be no player who has benefited more from the revival of the QB position than Willis McGahee. The running back has seen his tenth anniversary as a player go platinum, with 554 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He also is on his way to career high in receiving yardage as through seven games McGahee has a 166. His career high is 231. With Ronnie Hillman allowing him to take several series off a game, and San Diego, Tampa Bay and Oakland being the best rushing defenses he faces the rest of the way, McGahee is a prime target for acquisition.
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
SAN FRANCISCO @ ARIZONA
The once 4-0 Cardinals are now 4-4. Against a defense that was considered as tough as any this season, San Francisco QB Alex Smith completed all but one of his passes, threw three touchdown passes, and avoided any mistakes for a near perfect passer rating. Michael Crabtree caught all five of his targets, schooling CB Patrick Peterson for two touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald was tested for a concussion early on in the game, but remained. However, even with his favorite quarterback John Skelton under center, he was only able to get five catches for 52 yards. I don't know if there's such a thing as trading for an offensive lineman, but it doesn't really matter who is under center for the Cardinals right now because he's fodder for the opposing pass rush. Skelton was sacked four more times, and was hit countless others. I still think Kevin Kolb is the better of the two QBs, but neither is mobile enough in the pocket to avoid the hastily deteriorating pocket on pass plays. The problem is only exacerbated by their lack of a running game, which managed seven yards on just nine attempts. Arizona is a prime trading partner for a running back right now, and fantasy owners should be on alert. You don't want your starting running back heading to Arizona.