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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Tunnel Vision: Week 16
David Dorey
December 23, 2013
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Sunday Salutes
Quarterbacks Yards TD
Peyton Manning 400 4
Andy Dalton 376 4
Geno Smith 262 3
Ben Roethlisberger 180 3
Nick Foles 247 2
Running Backs Yards TD
LeSean McCoy 162 2
Joique Bell 154 1
DeMarco Murray 111 2
Jamaal Charles 144 1
Donald Brown 110 2
Wide Receivers Yards TD
Eric Decker 131 2
Pierre Garcon 144 1
A.J. Green 97 2
Demaryius Thomas 123 1
Nate Washington 117 1
Tight Ends Yards TD
Julius Thomas 78 1
Jimmy graham 73 1
Brent Celek 58 1
Marcedes Lewis 50 1
Jermaine Gresham 49 1
Placekickers XPT FG
Nick Novak 2 4
Matt Prater 4 3
Dan Carpenter 1 4
Stephen Gostkowski 5 2
Adam Vinatieri 2 3
Defense/Special Teams TDs Sacks TOs
Patriots 2 4 4
Bills 0 6 3
Eagles 1 5 2
Bengals 1 4 4
Colts 0 4 4

Bumps, Bruises and bowouts

Fred Jackson - Broken ribs
Steve Smith - Knee
Von Miller - Torn ACL
Shane Vereen - Groin
Ryan Tannehill - Knee
Robert Woods - Ejected for punching
Andre Brown - Neck
Eddie Lacy - Ankle
Ryan Matthews - Ankle
Tyler Eifert - Stinger
Tony Romo - Back

Week 16 in Review

Most fantasy championships have concluded and in the end, you just had to own at least one of the unusually few difference makers for the week. Consider that the NFL witnessed a historic week 15 when more points were scored than ever before. There were nine different quarterbacks that threw three or more touchdowns and eight who would pass for more than 300 yards. For week 16? Only four managed to throw for more than two scores and just two exceeded 300 passing yards. There were 13 quarterbacks who would score 20 fantasy points or more in week 15 and only four would hit the mark the next week. And that included Geno Smith who not even near relatives would have started.

Only Peyton Manning (400 yards, 4 TDs) and Andy Dalton (366 yards, 4 TDs) were of any advantage. Only seven quarterbacks managed to throw more than one touchdown and among those with single scores were Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.

The only difference makers among wide receivers were those attached to Manning and Dalton - Eric Decker (10-131, 2 TD), Demaryius Thomas (8-123, TD) and A. J. Green (7-97, 2 TD) plus Pierre Garcon (11-144, TD) because someone had to victimize the Dallas secondary. Otherwise there were only moderate performances at best for all others.

The season is winding down with LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles both red hot and certain to be top picks next summer. DeMarco Murray is also making a late season push to merit consideration as an elite back and his two scores and 111 total yards at the Redskins were a major part of the Cowboys win and for any fantasy owner as well.

What we saw this year were rookie backs that mattered - Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell and Zac Stacy. That's both encouraging and yet terrifying considering that Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris were exactly as productive in 2012 before turning into bitter disappointments the next season. Week 16 had few difference makers and we'll have to spend the offseason deciding if Donald Brown, Ryan Matthews and DeAngelo Williams can really be suddenly that good so deeply into their careers or if it is just a wave of Cinderella backs that leave a glass cleat and most of their production forever in the previous season.

Running backs dominated the early rounds of drafts this year with horrible results both all year and again in week 16 when they should have mattered most. Among the top ten only Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy merited such an early selection. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Matt Forte were certainly worth owning but really only Forte would perform significantly better than his draft spot and even he was a flop in Philadelphia on Sunday night when you needed him most. Those who drafted Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice and Alfred Morris flat out wasted a first round pick.

Consider the bang for the buck that drafters netted when they picked Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas. What happens late in the season and especially in week 16 always carries a big influence on the next year. Aside from Peyton Manning, we won't recall one quarterback being that different from another. They are sure to be drafted late again next season aside from Manning. Running backs contained a significant number of flops. When we look back at our 2013 league, chances are we will remember Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Peyton Manning, Josh Gordon, A.J. Green and all those Denver receivers. And yet then most will draft a running back early hoping to end up with the next Charles or McCoy because we're collectively stupid that way.

What week 16 also taught us is that the NFL and parity makes consistent performances rather hard to find. And teams that are the most productive early in the season are not always the same ones at the end. The Chiefs, Lions, Seahawks and Packers were all in playoff-relevant games at home and were favored. And lost. Worse yet were the pitiful performances by many of the fantasy starters from those teams. You cannot expect to just ride any player all 16 weeks anymore. There are seasons within seasons and players who evolve and decline more than once in a year.

This is the time of the season to pay attention and watch which younger players are getting more playing time and have the look of someone who could take a big step up in 2014. Players making late season progress worth noting include wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson, Marvin Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Da'Rick Rogers, Andre Holmes and Aaron Dobson. All should be on your watch list for 2014.

Tony Gonzalez plays out his final season but tight ends have already seen a dramatic shift in the top ten. Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Charles Clay and Delanie Walker already made strides toward being a top player. Worth watching right behind them are Jared Cook, Timothy Wright, Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz and Ryan Griffin as they should improve. What is needed is for one or more to step up to being significantly better than the others. Right now only Jimmy Graham ranks much higher than the others. Rob Gronkowski will too, and then he'll be injured for his third straight season. In fantasy football we need to see the true difference makers because those are the ones who end up in championships.

Another lesson that week 16 served up is that weather rarely matters. The worst conditions were in Green Bay with falling snow and yet it produced the highest scoring game on Sunday. Unless there are high winds or driving snow, chances are it will not be a factor you should consider. Rain can be hard but it never lasts three hours.It rarely lasts more than a quarter. And another significant difference between positions was made apparent in week 16. When running backs are game time decisions, they are going to be primary backs if they play and will carry a normal load. There is no such thing as making a running back active and putting him in the backfield to be a decoy. There is no reason to make a back active if he cannot play to a normal level. If they say Maurice Jones-Drew can play, they don't bother with Jordan Todman.

Not so with wide receivers which we have seen all year. Consider the Falcons wideouts who would start and yet turn in minimal stats. Calvin Johnson was banged up and yet suited up for what would be a loss to the Giants. That is not to say that a game time start for a wide receiver has never produced a big game. But it is far more worrisome and risky to rely on because star wideouts can serve a purpose just standing there not catching a ball. Not so with a running back or even a quarterback for that matter.

The final takeaway from week 16 and all those newly crowned fantasy champions is that it will always be critical for your teams to contain star players. You win consistently by having players that offer significantly above average performances regardless of their position. Go look at your league winner. Is it a well balanced team with no stars and yet no dogs? Probably not. Chances are high that team will have one or more of Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Knowshon Moreno, Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant or Drew Brees. Go look. Show me a fantasy champion without at least one of those12 players and I almost guarantee they'll have two or more.

Bottom line - week 16 and you are in your championship. What would you rather have on your team? The best quarterback, tight end or wide receiver that can generate more points in a week than anyone others in their position. Or would you rather go to war with the #8 and #14 best running backs and whatever you could collect starting in the third round?

Go look at your league champion's team. And then think about it.

Sunday Snippets

MIA 0 , BUF 19 Really Miami? Really? One of those end of the year, "let's just play different than usual" games. Ryan Tannehill only passed for 82 yards, The dynamic duo of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller combined for 14 yards on 12 runs. Against the Bills. It was complete domination from a team no one knew had a defense. Thad Lewis passed for 193 yards and the best BUF receiver was Robert Woods who was ejected from the game. C.J. Spiller ran 20 times and gained 77 yards. This game was nothing but Fred Jackson and Dan Carpenter field goals. If you cannot win on the road in BUF, maybe you just don't need a wild card. The 8-7 Dolphins return home to host the Jets and the 6-9 Bills end up in New England.
NO 13, CAR 17

Saints go marching home a loser. After dominating the Panthers two weeks ago, the tables turned. Drew Brees was held to 281 yards and one score with two interceptions. Jimmy Graham still shined with 73 yards and a touchdown while Marques Colston settled for 63 yards on five catches this time. Worse yet the only running back of the FIVE that carried the ball was Mark Ingram with 83 yards on 13 runs. No one else ran for more than 18 yards. Remember when Pierre Thomas mattered? Apparently the Saints don't. Cam NEwton only threw for 181 yards and a score but only ran for six yards. DeAngelo Williams was the only notable Panther with 67 yards and a score that mostly all happened on the one play he ran 43 yards to score. Now the 11-4 Panthers head to Atlanta and the 10-5 Saints thankfully return home to meet the Buccaneers.

MIN 14, CIN 42 This is the sort of game we expected and one that we needed. Face it -not a lot of big games in the NFL on Sunday but this game delivered. Andy Dalton passed for 366 yards and four touchdowns. A.J. Green ended with seven catches for 92 yards and two scores. Marvin Jones (6-85) and Jermaine Gresham (3-49, TD) were good though Giovani Bernard only had 67 total yards and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (12-24, TD) were not big factors. Matt Cassel maybe not the answer next year with his 114 pass yards for one score and three interceptions. Adrian Peters ran for only 45 yards and was out gained by Cordarrelle Patterson who ran for 54 yards and one touchdown on just three carries. No receivers gained more than 36 yards for the Vikes. Now the 4-10-1 Vikings will host the Lions this week and the 10-5 Bengals host the Ravens.
DEN 37, HOU 13

This is another of the fantasy championship makers. Peyton Manning passed for 400 yards and four scores that went to the standard Eric Decker (10-131, 2 TD), Demaryius Thomas (8-123, TD) and Julius Thomas (6-78, TD) Knowshon Moreno ended with 102 total yards in the rout. Matt Schaub threw for 176 yards and one score but two interceptions. No receiver was better for the Texans than the rookie Ryan Griffin (5-66) and everyone feeling crafty about starting Dennis Johnson was rewarded with 30 total yards. It was a thorough beat down and now the 12-3 Broncos head to Oakland while the Texans head to Tennessee to suffer through their final game.

TEN 20, JAC 16 Close game but not not one that really benefited anyone. Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 181 yards and one score to Nate Washington (6-117) while no other Texans gained more than 35 yards in receptions. Shonn Greene was the better runner with 91 yards and one touchdown while Chris Johnson rushed for 90 yards. Chad Henne passed for 237 yards and two scores between Mike Brown (5-71) and Marcedes Lewis (4-50). Maurice Jones-Drew was able to play but only ran for 45 yards and added 24 more on four receptions and killed off any value from Jordan Todman. Nothing special here to be sure and not a lot of fantasy notables. The 6-9 Titans will host the Texans and the 4-11 Jaguars have to play in Indianapolis where the Colts won't really have anything to play for this week.
IND 23, KC 7

Yet another "go figure" game. The Chiefs only managed 153 yards and two interceptions from Alex Smith and the only player of any importance was Jamaal Charles with 144 total yards and one touchdown. Andrew Luck ended with just 241 pass yards and one score and the best wideout was of course Griff Whalen (7-80). Tony Richardson produced 57 total yards while Donald Brown ran for 79 yards and a score plus caught two passes for 31 more yards and a second touchdown. Sadly unproductive game for both teams and even more so for the Chiefs who have transformed from one of the elite teams to one that can only score one touchdown at home against a 9-5 opponent, The 10-5 Colts host the lucky Jaguars and the 11-4 Chiefs head to San Diego already locked as the #5 seed and with nothing to win.

CLE 13, NYJ 24 As usual the home bad team usually beats the road bad team. Jason Campbell posted 178 yards and one interception and Josh Gordon was held to only 97 yards on six catches plus a 22 yard run. Edwin Baker ran for 64 yards and one touchdown and probably will be back to selling insurance next year. Geno Smith (finally) had a nice game with 214 yards and two scores passing and 48 rushing yards with one more score rushing. Both touchdowns were caught by David Nelson (4-33). Chris Ivory rushed for 109 yards on 20 carries. The 4-11 Browns end the season in Pittsburgh while the 7-8 Jets head to Miami.
TB 13, STL 23

Nothing big happened here but at least everyone sort of followed their normal path. Mike Glennon only threw for 158 yards but 98 of that went to Vincent Jackson. Bobby Rainey only gained 37 rushing yards but scored once. Kellen Clemens also passed for just 158 yards but no Rams receivers had more than 44 yards. Zac Stacy ran for 104 yards and a score on 33 carries. Pretty ho-hum but at least the only possible fantasy starters at least did not flop. That leaves the 4-11 Buccaneers to end in New Orleans and the 7-8 Rams have a .500 season within reach if they can just win in Seattle. So probably a losing season.

DAL 24, WAS 23 The Cowboys delay the new coach talk with this squeaker win. Tony Romo only passed for 226 yards and two scores and Dez Bryant posted four catches for 73 yards and one score. DeMarco Murray rushed for 96 yards and one touchdown plus added three catches for 15 yards and a second touchdown. Kirk Cousins was a major disappointment facing the worst defense in the league and yet only passing for 197 yards and one touchdown. Almost everything ended up with Pierre Garcon (11-144, TD) and Alfred Morris ran for 88 yards and a score on 24 carries. Now the 8-7 Cowboys head home to face the Eagles for the NFC East title and the 3-12 Redskins will play in New York against the Giants in what could be both coaches final games.
NYG 23 , DET 20
OT

How does this happen? Everything on the line. Everything. And the Lions only get 222 passing yards and two interceptions from Matt Stafford. Reggie Bush lost another fumble and was benched after only 12 carries for 34 yards RIGHT WHEN YOU NEEDED HIM MOST. Bad enough, but realize that they let Joique Bell run 20 times for 91 yards and one score plus he was the Lions' leading receiver with 10 catches for 63 yards that should have belonged to you. Calvin Johnson was able to play, sort of, but only ended with 43 yards on three catches. The Giants won despite Eli Manning being held to 256 yards and one score that went to Jernal Jerrigan (6-80). Andre Brown only gained 40 yards on 16 carries and later left the game with an apparent stinger. The 6-9 Giants host the Redskins while the 7-8 Lions travel to play in Minnesota but are heard to say "you know this is just not any fun anymore."

ARI 17, SEA 10 The Seahawks took the win with their superio... what? WHAT? Right. The Cardinals become the first team in two years to in in Seattle in a game that had a whole lot of defense and not much for the fantasy football community. The Cardinals were able to run with Andre Ellington (15-64) and Rashard Mendenhall (21-63) both productive. Michael Floyd only caught one pass but it was a 31-yard touchdown. Larry Fitzgerald was held to just 18 yards on three catches. Russell Wilson passed for just 108 yards and one score to Zach Miller (1-11) on his only catch. Marshawn Lynch ran for only 71 yards on 18 rushing attempts. Low scoring, boring game that ended wrongly but otherwise great. The 12-3 Seahawks have already clinched the #1 seed and host the Rams who maybe look better than they should this week. The 10-5 Cardinals still foster wild card hopes but play the 49ers who are one of the teams in their way.
PIT 38, GB 31

One of the few games with decent points scored. Ben Roethlisberger passed for just 167 yards but scored twice on a pass and once as a rusher. Antonio Brown was the only decent receiver for the Steelers with his 105 yards on six catches. Le'Veon Bell ran 26 times for 124 yards and one score. Matt Flynn was forced to not play the Cowboys and only managed 232 yards and one touchdown to Jarrett Boykin (5-54). Eddie Lacy (15-84, 2 TD) was outstanding but later left with a re-aggravated ankle injury and James Starks tacked on 47 yards on two carries that Lacy could have had. John Kuhn also ran in a score after Lacy was gone. Now the 7-7-1 will play in Green Bay where amazingly THEY CAN STILL WIN THE NFC NORTH. The 7-8 Steelers will host the Browns.

OAK 13, SD 26 Sadly not a lot of fantasy magic happening here. Matt McGloin only generated 206 pass yards and one interception. and the best receiver was Andre Holmes with 71 yards. Rashad Jennings ran for only 45 yards and saw Darren McFadden (4-8) steal his one short touchdown. Philip Rivers only passed for 201 yards and one score and no Charger receivers were better than 55 yards. Keenan Allen caught the score but only ended with three catches for 26 yards. Ryan Matthews continues to play at a higher level and rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown. The 4-11 Raiders will end up hosting the Broncos and the 8-7 Chargers get to entertain the visiting Chiefs.
NE 41, BAL 7

Apparently that talk about the Ravens "getting hot at the end of the year again" gonna fade away. Joe Flacco was able to play, sort of, and threw for 260 yards and two interceptions. Torrey Smith was the best with 69 yards on three catches while Ray Rice-lite winds down with just 40 rushing yards on 11 runs. Tom Brady only passed for 172 yards and one score to Shane Vereen before he left after gaining a total of ten yards. Julian Edelman (7-77) was the only marginally decent receiver and LeGarrette Blount (16-76, 2 TD) was far better than Stevan Ridley (15-54). The Patriots defense scored twice in case anyone used them in a road game in Baltimore. Now the 11-4 Patriots will host the Bills and the 8-7 Ravens head to Cincinnati with only wild card hopes left.

CHI 11, PHI 56 Here is a game that probably decided many fantasy leagues. Jay Cutler only passed for 222 yards and one score and that all came late in the game before he was benched. Matt Forte only managed 54 total yards on his 13 touches in a game that was out of hand after the first ten minutes. Alshon Jeffery (6-76) and Brandon Marshall (4-36, TD) both were disappointments. Nick Foles only passed for 230 yards and two scores because nothing else was needed. Brent Celek (3-58, TD) was the best receiver and DeSean Jackson only turned in four catches for 29 yards. But LeSean McCoy was a beast. He ended with 162 total yards and two touchdowns, Brice Brown (9-115, TD) and Chris Polk (2-12, TD) but had tons-o-fun in this massacre. The 8-7 Bears host he Packers with a chance for the NFC North title and the 9-6 Eagles head to Dallas where the NFC East will be decided. No matter what, both divisions produce losing teams in the first round anyway.

Huddle Player of the Week

LeSean McCoy - He only carried 18 times but gained 133 yards and scored twice while adding 29 yards on six catches for the biggest performance of the day. Peyton Manning was in the conversation and could be the top player depending on the scoring system used. But nothing like watching your guy run "unimpeded" through the defense when fantasy championships are on the line. McCoy is the favorite to end as the NFL rushing leader this year.

Salute!

Drama 101 - Somebody has to laugh, somebody has to cry

Comedy Yards TDs Tragedy Yards TDs
QB Geno Smith 262 3 QB Matt Stafford 221 0
RB Joique Bell 154 1 RB Adrian Peterson 47 0
RB LeGarrette Blount 76 2 RB Reggie Bush 44 0
WR Nate Washington 117 1 WR Larry Fitzgerald 18 0
WR Jernal Jerrigan 80 1 WR DeSean Jackson 29 0
WR David Nelson 33 2 WR Calvin Johnson 43 0
TE Brent Celek 58 1 TE Jason Witten 13 0
PK Nick Novak 14 pts PK Justin Tucker (how ironic is this?) 1 pt

Huddle Fantasy Points = 139

Huddle Fantasy Points = 25

Sunday's Couch Commentary

Week 15 was ridiculously high scoring and now week 16 was a relative whimper with only a handful of decent performances. There are still some leagues - typically very old ones - that will use week 17 out of tradition but that is going to be no less dangerous relying on it producing a league winner based on more than sheer luck.

For any team that is no longer in the playoff race, there is a risk that they want to try out young players and evaluate them in a real game situation. For the most part, teams all play in good faith because each player knows he is only as good as his last few games and no one wants to get tagged as a quitter. But there is still risk.

Where the pain is greatest is when players on teams with nothing to win are rested. Not coincidentally, most of the best fantasy players are on the best NFL teams. Here is how the NFL teams shake out according to the best information I could find. Feel free to correct me because this can become convoluted. Much more than recent years.

AFC

Broncos, Patriots, Bengals and Colts have all clinched their divisions. Bengals cannot get a first round bye so really have nothing to play for. Colts can win their early game versus Jags and hope Pats lose to visiting Bills to get the #2. Broncos play at Oakland and must win to avoid losing tie breaker for #1 seed to Pats.

Bengals could sit players. Colts won't since Pats play late and there is a chance of a #2 seed. Both Pats and Broncos will play in earnest to at least preserve what they have.

Chiefs have the #1 wild card and nothing to play for. Jamaal Charles? Take it easy, big guy.

Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers and Steelers all vying for #2 wildcard in that order. So long as Fins beat the visiting Jets, nothing else matters. Otherwise it could be a mess of tie breakers potentially.

if it goes the most likely path - Broncos and Pats rest in week one. Colts would play Dolphins and Bengals would play Chiefs.

NFC

This is a mess.

Seahawks clinch #1 seed by beating visiting Rams.

Panthers clinch #2 seed by winning in Atlanta.

Now then...

Dallas and Eagles play with the winner taking division and loser gets nothing.

Bears and Packers play with winner taking division and loser gets nothing.

49ers and Saints are both wild cards unless Panthers lose and Saints win then it goes to tie breaker to see who has division and who has a wild card.

If it all happens as it should:

Seahawks and Panthers get first round byes.

Eagles/Cowboys host either Saints or 49ers

Bears/Packers host either Saints or 49ers

As for the best game from week 16, there were mostly just ho-hum games with both teams scoring 24 points or less. Have to give the Game-O-The-Week to the only one that had a high score, close finish and was even the only snow game.

Steelers 38, Packers 31

Both teams need to win to reach the playoffs. And the Packers led 14-10 at the half while the snow was falling.

No matter that this was a cold game with the worst conditions, the third quarter opened with the Steelers driving 75 yards to let Ben Roethlisberger run in a 13-yard touchdown and take the lead 17-14.

The Packers used a 15 play drive to reach the Steeler 36 line where they punted. On first down from the PIT 2-yard line, Le'Veon Bell lost a fumble on the first play. The Steelers held the Packers to a field goal try that was blocked but the defender batted the ball forward which was a penalty and the Packers had the ball again with a first down. Eddie Lacy punched in the score on the new first down for a 21-17 lead.

Next series the Steelers drove the field and Roethlisberger threw a score to Matt Spaeth for the 24-21 lead and the first catch that Spaeth had all year.

On the first play by the Packers, Matt Flynn throws an interception that is returned for a touchdown and a 31-21 lead with 1:36 left in the third quarter.

The first series in the fourth quarter by the Packers stalls out at the PIT 4-yard line and they settle for a field goal and a 24-31 deficit.

Steelers go four and out and the Packers drive the field and get a 1-yard touchdown by John Kuhn. 31-31 with 7:14 left to play.

Steelers drive stalls at GB 41-yard line with 3:10 left. GB gets punt near their own goal line and on third down Matt Flynn throws another interception. Steelers try to kick a field goal on fourth down at the GB 10-yard line but Packers called for encroachment and two plays later Bell runs in a touchdown for the 38-31 lead. Packers fail to use final 1:25 for a score.

This was a low scoring week 16 for the most part and if you faced LeSean McCoy or Peyton Manning, you probably lost (at least that explains two of my championship losses).

The season is over for most and should be for all. Time to congratulate the winners and console the losers and remember we play for more than a trophy or a wad of $20 dollar bills. And before you retire that browser link to your league web site, make sure you take a look at the winner's team and see what about it was different than yours.

And then ask everyone to give a NFL playoff league a shot. We can't stop too suddenly.

Now get back to work...


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