Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NFL WEEK 15 – T &R

Fantasy experts immediately dismissed James Jones as he headed into Week 14.  The return of Greg Jennings and the emergence of Randall Cobb made Jones in the eyes of the pundits expendable.  I called that ridiculous.  As I had noted in my T &R Week 13, Jones would continue to be a red zone target for Rodgers, and would continue on his career year path.  Jones had two first half touchdowns Sunday, and added a third in the second half.  There are times when we, as observers and writers, try to do too much.  In the case of James Jones, the jump some of the pundits took is the same kind of jump I’ve made in the past occasionally.  You see an unlikely series of numbers and you expect a correction.  In the case of James Jones his numbers have corrected slightly, but what was overlooked was the fact he was targeted no less than five times the first nine weeks.

For the Bears, the Packers gave them a shot to really change the momentum of the game after a ridiculously bad trick play on a punt.  The backwards pass should have been caught, but was a risky play at a crucial moment.  A better coached team would have taken that gift and turned it against the Packers.  Instead, Lovie Smith’s team settled for field goal, and the Packers defense held tight.  Brandon Marshall is the only fantasy player you can trust as a weekly threat these days.  The Bears Matt Forte finally got 20 carries, and had five receptions to boot and that got you 133 total yards.  In the last two weeks, Tice seems to have ‘discovered’ Forte’s hands, as he has 11 receptions in the last two games.  However, for the season, he’s had five or more receptions just three times.  If you could trust Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice to throw that much to him regularly, I’d be more enthused.

Cam Cameron no longer mans the offensive playbook for the Baltimore Ravens.  Those duties have been given to Jim Caldwell, who constructed a game plan that got Ray Rice five carries and one reception in the first half.  Whether you agree with it or not, a change of the magnitude of the offensive helm comes with growing pains.   Joe Flacco’s fumble on a third and short was one thing, but his interception inside the red zone that was returned for a touchdown turned the game momentum where Baltimore couldn’t recover.  The Ravens dodged a bullet as the Steelers choked away a big one in Dallas, but their offense is struggling and the removal of Cameron down the stretch I don’t believe will solve anything.

If you were a Demaryius Thomas owner this game was a painful one to watch.  While I couldn’t blog this weekend about it, I sure had Thomas pegged as someone that could easily take advantage of the Baltimore secondary.  Manning missed him once for a sure touchdown, and several other passes went off his hands.  Thus, Eric Decker ended up with a big day.  As for the running game, I have loathed Knowshon Moreno, who I dubbed “No-show”, because of his frequent injuries and lack of running power.  Well, holy hand grenades, Moreno has been delivering weekly not only with runs to the outside, but with sheer determination and leg strength, grinding out yards as needed.  And he has John Fox’s attention.

After last weekend’s David Wilson show, you can’t blame fantasy owners for expecting a 20-carry day, especially with Ahmad Bradshaw ailing.  No one expected eight carries would go to Kregg Lumpkin, once considered an up-and-coming speedster of his own.  Lumpkin didn’t disappoint in terms of his rushing; he gained 42 yards on eight carries.  Wilson also averaged over 4.5 yards per carry, gaining 55 yards on 12 carries.  However, once Atlanta opened up a large double-digit lead, the running game fell by the wayside.  The difference in the game was Atlanta opening up the game with four straight rushes from Michael turner for a total of 16 yards and a touchdown.  Everything hinged on Atlanta being able to keep the New York pass rush at bay and be able to run the football.  They did just that, with Matt Ryan being sacked only once, and the Falcons offense putting up 129 yards of rushing against the Giants.  One thing fantasy owners didn’t want to see was Jason Snelling getting into the rushing attack.  He had six carries for 39 yards leading all rushers with a 6.5 per carry average.

No Robert Griffin III, no problem.  Rookie backup Kirk Cousins threw for over 300 yards in his first start and rewarded Leonard Hankerson with two receptions for 56 yards and two touchdowns.  Redskins RB Alfred Morris managed just 3.2 yards per carry against the Browns, but was given 27 carries.  Mike Shanahan has shown no signs that he’s about to let up on the rookie’s workload, and with just two games left Morris appears to be poised to break into the top ten for most rushing attempts by a rookie.  The Redskins face the Eagles and Cowboys next.  Morris is currently ranked 27th with 280 attempts for the year.
Trent Richardson added two more rushing touchdowns, putting him at 11 for the season.  He needs just two more touchdowns to tie Maurice Jones-Drew, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and the great Earl Campbell for ninth on the rookie touchdowns list.  However, he has two brutal matchups
on the horizon at Denver and then at Pittsburgh. 

Adrian Peterson single-handedly tore apart the stout Rams defense, rushing for 212 yards and a touchdown.  But it was Blair Walsh that added five field goals as the Vikings made it into the end zone twice on offense, and both times on the ground.  However, if you’re a fantasy owner, then you should be paying attention to Rams QB Sam Bradford.  Without much fanfare, Bradford had his best fantasy output of the season, firing for 377 yards through the air and three touchdowns.  That made him the third best QB for the week in standard scoring leagues, his third appearance in the top ten this year.  Bradford tied his career high with his 18th touchdown pass this weekend, and is only 260 yards away from topping his best passing yardage season.  He also has career bests going in QB rating and average passing attempt yardage.  This is Bradford’s third year, and with the new coaching staff behind him, Bradford is shaping up to be someone to keep an eye out for in 2013 as a nice sleeper.

Cecil Shorts has had one of the greatest seasons on a subpar team that I can remember.  He’s headed for one thousand yards receiving on a team that is ranked near the bottom in every category offensively.  When you think about how many receivers have solid QB situations (Dallas, Houston) that have struggled to find consistency, then you look at Shorts, it almost defies logic.  Shorts has had the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, yet has four 100-yard receiving games, and five others with 70-plus.  He has seven touchdowns on a team that had 17 passing scores all year long.  He’s the Jags MVP for the year, and as the 16th best overall WR in ESPN standard scoring leagues, one of the unsung fantasy MVPs of the season. 
Reggie Bush delivered just his second 100-yard game of the season.  He appears at full strength and could be a strong play at home against Buffalo next week as for his career he’s averaged over five yards per carry against the Bills.  It should be also noted that while his yardage hasn’t been great this year, the ‘Italian Stallion’, Anthony Fasano has surpassed his career highs in targets, and will likely beat his career highs in receptions and possibly TD receptions.

For the first time maybe all year, the Saints played defense while last year’s Josh Freeman made a reappearance, tossing four interceptions in an ugly loss.  Mark Ingram continued his recent quality running, gaining ninety yards on 14 rushes with a touchdown.  He now has double-digit carries in four of the last five contests and has scored in three of them.  I still wouldn’t trust him completely as long as Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas are healthy, but he seems to be defining himself more as the inside runner, particularly in the red zone. 

Ironically, while Ingram was trying to bring himself into the fantasy forefront for New Orleans, Doug Martin took a hiatus at a crucial time.  He ran nine times for 16 yards against an awful defense.  Fantasy owners will be hard pressed to forget this disappearing act in their playoffs, but it won’t stop owners from investing in Martin next year as top fantasy RB.

While this wasn’t the type of offensive performance you were hoping for, Vincent Jackson was targeted 12 more times and had six grabs.  It was unfortunate that that only meant 81 yards, but if you’re going to consider starting another receiver because of his off yardage day, you’d be making a mistake.  Vincent Jackson has 30 targets in the last three games, and though that’s resulted in just one touchdown, in terms of opportunity, few receivers get as many as consistently as he does.

Mewelde Moore, who hadn’t touched the ball since Week 7, was for given the ball on a one-yard plunge attempt, only to fumble it away to the Texans and with it, the early momentum.  Earlier in the season, I wrote about how it seemed prudent that Moore could have a larger role in the Colts rushing attack with Bruce Arians as the O.C.  After all, Moore had worked with Arians in Pittsburgh and had been used extensively in a third-down role, and had been a spot starter admirably.  Everyone can understand Arians’ attempts to be unpredictable, but this may have been Arians trying to be too clever.  For fantasy owners of Vick Ballard, it was a downright disaster.  Ballard ended up with 105 rushing yards, but in the fantasy playoffs, decisions like the one Arians made won’t get him any votes for Coach of the Year.  Reggie Wayne could have had a touchdown in this game if not for off-setting penalties on the play.  Thus T.Y. Hilton again led all receivers in receptions and yardage, which included a 61-yard TD.

With Houston clinching the division and New England’s loss, it appears the road to New Orleans will go through Houston as far as the AFC goes.  That means that Arian Foster could see some extended rest periods and Ben Tate might have increased value the next couple of weeks.

There’s always something to be said for a former player returning to his original stomping grounds.  Or maybe it just took Ron Rivera this long to recall how strong a runner Mike Tolbert can be, because on Sunday, Tolbert reacquainted himself with his former San Diego teammates.  Tolbert scored twice, rushing nine times for 40 yards, and DeAngelo Williams got his second touchdown reception in as many games. 
For San Diego, the Panthers shut down Denario Alexander, who appeared all but unstoppable the last few weeks.  He had zero catches on three targets.  Antonio Gates had his fifth touchdown catch, but if you’re looking for any more evidence of Gates’ fall, two years ago he averaged over 15 yards per catch.  This year, he’s just over ten.  Philip Rivers lost another fumble, tying him with Mark Sanchez for most fumbles lost this year.  It was his 21st turnover of the season.

The last time Oakland shut somebody out I was 32 (dang, that hurts), and the Raiders 15-0 victory was the second time they have ever shut out their division rival.  The Chiefs, now without Dwayne Bowe, find their lack of depth at receiver a glaring problem.  Dexter McCluster, who originally entered the league as a RB, led the team with seven receptions for all of 59 yards.  With little threat of a passing game, Jamaal Charles barely made a peep, rushing nine times for ten yards and had his best run of over 40 yards called back on a penalty.

The Raiders Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson combined for 199 yards rushing on the day, but can you trust either of these guys next week should your fantasy season still be going?  Considering it took 30 carries for McFadden to gain 110 yards and the fact Oakland goes on the road to Carolina next week, I’m not leaping on McFadden’s bandwagon.  To quote the Stone Temple Pilots, this year McFadden is ‘half the man he used to be.”

If there’s a team that NFC teams should fear at this point I’d say it’s the Seahawks.  The Pete Carroll factor of just being unpredictable in all facets will make for a scary playoff matchup should the Seahawks get in.  Up 47-17 in the fourth quarter, Carroll called for a fake punt, and Michael Robinson, who needed four yards, got 29. Russell Wilson ran for three touchdowns and threw for one other.  He became the first Seattle QB to ever rush for three touchdowns in a game, and completed the task before the half was over.  Wilson still isn’t a guy who is going to beat you with his arm very often.  In this 50-17 blowout, Wilson managed just 205 passing yards and 14-for-23 overall.  The Seahawks get San Francisco next, and it will be a real test for all involved to put up numbers that will work well for any fantasy championship games.  I don’t think Marshawn Lynch or Frank Gore can be benched, but the difference in this game will be Wilson versus Colin Kaepernick.

C. J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson were the highlights for the Bills, each putting over 100 yards for their respective positions and scoring.  Johnson was perhaps the biggest surprise against this Seahawks secondary, though Seattle is without Brandon Browner, who is in the middle of serving his four game suspension for violating the NFL PED policy.

The Steelers’ season can be summed up in one word – miscue.  Over and over again, Pittsburgh has found ways to make mediocre teams better by being careless with the football at crucial times.  Their defense unable to repeatedly save them week after week, on Sunday, Mike Tomlin’s unit experience déjà vu all over again.  Antonio Brown fumbled a fourth quarter punt return and Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception in overtime.  Those turnovers resulted in 10 points and a Dallas win.

Dez Bryant really showed why he’s a special receiver, even with a bad finger.  Because of his size Bryant is underestimated in some regards as to how well he can move that frame of his.  While Miles Austin moved the chains on some important third downs, Bryant was the target for a big touchdown in the third quarter.  Even with a bad finger, he seems to be coming into his own, and facing New Orleans next week in what would be your fantasy finals, he should be given every benefit to start.

On the flip side, Mike Wallace continues to have hands of stone.  On a big third down, Roethlisberger hit Wallace for what appeared to be an easy first down.  But Wallace bobbled the ball and then landed only one foot in bounds.  More and more Wallace has had problems simply bringing passes in, and though he’s the most reliable deep threat for Pittsburgh, he’s losing credibility in my mind.  The Steelers receivers Brown, Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders gave each other nicknames involving the word ‘money’ this season.  The only money receiver for Pittsburgh has been TE Heath Miller, who has thrived in Todd Haley’s offense.

Arizona hit their low several weeks ago.  Detroit hit theirs this weekend.  Matthew Stafford threw another three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.  The Lions defense forced zero turnovers from an Arizona team that had been giving the ball away as often as early Christmas gifts. Beanie Wells, who still hasn’t sniffed three yards per carry since the first Obama administration, ran for three touchdowns, one of which went for 31 yards, the longest of his career.  It appears Wells will be given every opportunity to lead the rushing game, and for the first time he appears healthy.  That doesn’t mean I would want him next week against the Bears, or against San Francisco in Week 17. 

For Detroit, Mikel Leshoure continues his TD scoring ways, adding yet another red zone touchdown run.  Leshoure has scored in four of the last five games, and if he’s on your team, keep trotting him out there because any time the Lions get into the red zone Leshoure is getting the football.  They face Atlanta next week, and the Falcons, coming off a huge game against the Giants might be in for a letdown, not to mention they give up almost five yards per carry to opposing runners.

One of the things I had written about (and touted) was that a team that had as many takeaways as the New England Patriots did was bound to have those numbers correct and turn on them.  They did Sunday night, as Tom Brady was intercepted twice, while Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball twice.  Aaron Hernandez wasn’t the same after taking a huge shot in the third quarter across the middle, flinching as a screen pass came his way, and in turn bobbling it into an interception, and dropping a couple of others. 

Colin Kaepernick fans will call this victory the reason he’s behind center.  Keep in mind that Kaepernick fumbled four times, three of them snaps and lost just one.  One of those lost snaps turned into a Frank Gore TD.  Kaepernick has also put the ball on the turf four other times, including two against St. Louis in his first action.  In the playoffs, that will lead to a disaster.  As it was, the New England Patriots almost came back from a 31-3 deficit.  The 49ers just have a great offensive line and a fantastic runner in Frank Gore.

Almost as terrible to watch as Kansas City and Oakland, the Jets inept offense worked themselves out of any playoff hopes with a 14-10 loss to the Titans.  Chris Johnson wrote the names of all 20 children on his shoes, and they propelled him to a 94-yard run in their honor.

However, there was little to be proud of in terms of the NFL product in this one.  The Titans committed 14 penalties.  The Jets turned the ball over five times, and all were committed by Mark Sanchez.  Sanchez won’t likely be behind center next week, making Tim Tebow the likely starter versus San Diego.  Those who have fond memories of his playmaking ability last season might just take a chance on him in two-QB leagues.  Me, I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re smart enough to know that while he might get you some good ground yardage, combining his arm accuracy with this group of receivers can’t add up to anything positive.