TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 17, CLEVELAND BROWNS 14
You might have asked for a little more from the Bucs, it being a home game against the Browns, but with Josh Freeman returning from a fractured thumb they managed just enough offense. Freeman not only threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns, he also mixed in 34 rushing yards—the bulk of it on a 33-yard scramble. Carnell Williams churned out 75 yards on 23 carries and added 23 more on two catches; with Earnest Graham fumbling on one of his six carries, Caddy is less likely to be sharing touches any time soon.
We weren’t expecting much from the Browns, and they delivered. Peyton Hillis (9-41-1, 4-24) outperformed starter Jerome Harrison (9-52, 1-7), tight end Evan Moore (3-87) was the team’s leading receiver, though Mohammed Massaquoi (2-46-1) continued to be the only scoring threat in the passing game. About the only familiar sight was Jake Delhomme (20-37-227-1-2) throwing a critical interception.
FANTASY IMPACT: Hillis put the ball on the ground twice, which may overrule his strong showing when it comes to getting goal line looks. After all, the Browns already have one turnover machine in their backfield. Not only was Mike Williams (5-30-1 on nine targets) Freeman’s favorite receiver—even over Kellen Winslow (4-32 on 6 targets)—but he bought a whole lot of confidence with his tremendous TD grab, which he tipped to himself and caught while sticking both feet in the back of the end zone and falling backwards.
MIAMI DOLPHINS 15, BUFFALO BILLS 10
New toys, but pretty much the same look from the Dolphins as Ronnie Brown (13-65-1, 2-20) and Ricky Williams (18-62) shouldered much of the workload. However, Chad Henne still found time to throw 34 passes, more than a third of them directed at Brandon Marshall (8-53); Davonne Bess (6-51) and tight end Anthony Fasano (3-46) were not to be ignored, either.
The Bills generated almost no offense through their first nine possessions; in fact, 80 of their 166 total yards came on their 10th drive, the one that ended with a 31-yard Roscoe Parrish touchdown catch. Outside of Trent Edwards’ 18-34-139-1, it’s tough to find other highlights on the Bills’ side of the ledger; Steve Johnson (3-40) was the top receiver while Buffalo’s trio of backs combined for 38 yards on 14 carries.
FANTASY IMPACT: Chan Gailey kept his word about not overworking rookie C.J. Spiller, who carried seven times for six yards and caught four passes for just eight yards. However, neither Fred Jackson (4-19, 2-0) nor Marshawn Lynch (3-13) made a case for more work. Brown and Williams, on the other hand, very nearly split the Miami backfield touches; in fact, Williams had more though Brown had the score. Should that trend continue, it would bode well for Ricky’s fantasy value—and take a bite out of Ronnie’s.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 38, CINCINNATI BENGALS 24
Tom Brady (25-35-258-3) looked to be worth every penny of the new contract; while Randy Moss (5-59) didn’t make much a statement toward fulfilling his wish of getting paid, Wes Welker (8-64-2) showed that even at 80 percent he’s better than a whole lot of defensive backs (not to mention other fantasy receiver options). The multi-pronged rushing attack rolled up 118 yards, paced by Fred Taylor’s 14 carries for 71 yards.
While a 24-point deficit had at least something to do with it, it appears this year’s edition of the Bengals will be more comfortable throwing the ball around than they appeared to be last year. And while Carson Palmer (34-50-2-1) leaned heavily on Chad Ochocinco (12-159-1 on 13 targets), he also threw 13 times at Terrell Owens (7-53) and 10 more at rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham (6-25-1). Also contributing to the return of the pass in Cincy was Cedric Benson’s pedestrian 15-43-1 effort.
FANTASY IMPACT: While Benson appeared on many preseason bust lists, Bernard Scott was a popular “stash on your roster” guy. Scott produced 50 yards on nine touches (six runs, three catches), a significantly better rate than Benson’s 54 on 16. In other words, don’t bail on him yet. The Patriots got a touchdown from rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski (1-1-1), the fourth straight game he’s scored in (including preseason); they also got a 45-yard completion to fellow rookie TE Aaron Hernandez, who was also targeted in the end zone but dropped the attempt. While neither is seeing enough looks to be a consistent fantasy play, both will warrant bye-week attention.
HOUSTON TEXANS 34, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 24
Maybe a second win in 17 meetings doesn’t remove the monkey from Houston’s backs entirely, but it goes a long way towards giving the Texans credibility in the AFC South race. And they did it not via last year’s top-ranked passing game but on the shoulders of Arian Foster’s 33-231-3 record-setting effort. Factor in Foster’s one catch for seven yards and he accounted for two-thirds of Houston’s offense.
Peyton Manning (40-57-433-3) did what he does, as did Dallas Clark (11-80-1) and Reggie Wayne (7-99-1). Austin Collie (10-131-1, including a 73-yard TD) was the wild card, while both Pierre Garçon (4-75 on 11 targets) and Anthony Gonzalez (1-12 on three looks) dropped opportunities to boost their numbers as well.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Colts hoped to upgrade their running game, and while Joseph Addai (10-44, 6-29) performed well Indy didn’t have much of an opportunity as they trailed by double digits most of the game. That’s the flip side of what the Texans had working on Sunday, with Foster seeing the ball on 34 of 61 offensive snaps while Andre Johnson (3-33) paced a passing game that barely cracked triple digit yardage. Don’t expect that to be a regular occurrence.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 24, DENVER BRONCOS 17
Few love the home cookin’ like David Garrard, who kicked off one of eight games on this year’s slate with fantasy upside by throwing for 170 yards and three touchdowns—two of them to Marcedes Lewis, who hadn’t scored in his past 12 games. While Jacksonville’s no-name scoring came at the expense of their big guns, only Mike Sims-Walker (two targets, no catches) disappointed in yardage leagues; Maurice Jones-Drew (23-98, 3-15) was more than solid, while Mike Thomas (6-89) continued to outperform Sims-Walker—thanks in no small part to Champ Bailey’s blanketing of MSW.
Kyle Orton seemed plenty comfortable running the Denver offense to the tune of 295 yards and a touchdown; he spread the ball around and took more shots down the field than last year, with wideouts Eddie Royal (8-98), Brandon Lloyd (5-117), and Jabar Gaffney (3-34-1) accounting for 25 targets between them. Knowshon Moreno was healthy enough to carry 15 times for 60 yards and a touchdown; given Correll Buckhalter’s 6-15 with a critical fumble, Moreno’s workload is unlikely to trend down.
FANTASY IMPACT: Brandon Lloyd? Really? At times Orton seemed to be locking in on him, though he wasn’t necessarily picking on any specific defensive back as four different DBs covered Lloyd over the course of the game. Both Royal and Gaffney also played well, so it’s tough to tell who will lose looks if either rookie wideout (Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas) start bucking for playing time. For Jacksonville, consider this game a rarity: no touchdowns from MoJo or MSW, with all the scoring coming from Lewis and Kassim Osgood. If that duo combines for three touchdowns the rest of the way, it’ll be a mild surprise.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 15, ATLANTA FALCONS 9
The Steelers didn’t exactly unleash Dennis Dixon (18-26-236-0-1, 2-4 rushing), but they didn’t exactly restrain him either. He took a couple shots down the field, hitting on one with Mike Wallace (2-62), but for the most part worked underneath to Hines Ward (6-108) and Heath Miller (4-40). It was enough to get Jeff Reed in position for three field goals, and by the time the Steelers got to overtime they had softened up the middle of the Atlanta defense enough that they could bust a long run.
Atlanta’s offense still centers around two players; while the Steelers kept Michael Turner (19-42, 1-7) in check, they had no answer for the Matt Ryan (27-44-252-0-1) to Roddy White (13-111) hook-up. But that’s all the Falcons could muster, with White accounting for almost 40 percent of the team’s yardage. Tony Gonzalez (2-35) joined the 1,000-catch club but was otherwise quiet, and the best Atlanta could muster opposite White was Harry Douglas’ 3-39.
FANTASY IMPACT: Turner is on pace for 16 receptions, tripling last year’s total; however, he’s also on pace for 672 rushing yards on the year at 2.2 yards a pop. Of course, the opposition will get significantly easier than a visit to the Steel Curtain. Rashard Mendenhall’s final numbers—22-120-1—look like that of a top-10 fantasy back; however, until his game-ending 50-yard TD jaunt they were 21-70. He’ll need to keep getting 20-plus carries to be effective, as he’s clearly capable of wearing defenses down. But with the Steelers potentially losing another offensive lineman (Max Starks) to injury and Isaac Redman swiping six carries in this one, it’s a situation worth monitoring.
TENNESSEE TITANS 38, OAKLAND RAIDERS 13
Chris Johnson’s explosion—142 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries—was hardly unexpected, seeing that this game pitted the league’s leading rusher against the league’s worst run defense from a year ago. But Vince Young was not only an efficient 13-17-154, he also tossed a pair of touchdowns. Tennessee’s receiving corps can hardly be banked upon for fantasy contributions, but Nate Washington (3-88-1) looked like he could be a capable deep threat and Bo Scaife (3-37-1) offers a red zone alternative.
Oakland got on the board first with a field goal, then was down three touchdowns before they scored again—and didn’t get a touchdown until the game was out of reach; so much for an improved offense. With Michael Bush out, Darren McFadden (18-95, 6-55-1) had perhaps his best game since Week 2 of his rookie season, accounting for more than half of the Raiders’ total yardage.
FANTASY IMPACT: So much for Oakland’s vertical game; almost 40 percent of Campbell’s throws were directed at backs and tight ends. That includes nine targets for McFadden, who may be carving out his niche as a third-down back even after Bush returns. While Johnson may be on pace for better than 2,200 yards, his day could have been even bigger; Javon Ringer (5-33-1) stole a touchdown in the second quarter, and Johnson had two carries from inside the four-yard line before Tennessee turned to the pass and Young hit Scaife for the score.
NEW YORK GIANTS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 18
Speculation that Hakeem Nicks could be a red zone threat proved to be spot on, as he turned four catches into 75 yards and the Giants’ first three touchdowns. That trio of scores helped Eli Manning (20-30-263-3-3) offset an equal number of picks, though he found teammates frequently enough to help Mario Manningham (4-85) and Steve Smith (5-43) post decent numbers. The much-ballyhooed backfield battle saw Ahmad Bradshaw (20-76-1, 2-17) outtouch, outgain, and outscore Brandon Jacobs (12-44, 2-21).
On the bright side, the Panthers scored their first offensive touchdown of 2010 after failing to do so during the preseason; however, it came after three scoring drives ended in field goals. Matt Moore (14-33-182-1-3) found Steve Smith (5-75-1) five times, Mike Goodsen (3-31) and Giants’ defensive backs three times, and no other receiver more than twice. And Carolina’s running game, so dominant when they blew out the Giants late in 2009, was limited to DeAngelo Williams’ 16-62 and a modest contribution of 12 yards on five carries from Jonathan Stewart.
FANTASY IMPACT: Jimmy Clausen made his debut after Moore was intercepted, sacked, and sacked on consecutive offensive plays. Curiously, neither of his two attempts went towards Smith; with Moore possibly sidelined for next week, he’ll need an introduction quickly if Carolina’s passing game is to maintain any fantasy value whatsoever. On the Giants’ side, tight end Kevin Boss was knocked out of the game early on, leaving Travis Beckum (2-11) to fill the void. But with three wide receivers and two backs to feed, tight end appears to be a forgotten position in the Giants’ arsenal.
CHICAGO BEARS 19, DETROIT LIONS 14
Before pronouncing the Mike Martz hiring as a complete success, let’s keep in mind that this was the Lions. That said, you have to love Jay Cutler’s 23-35-372 as well as a 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Devin Aromashodu (5-71) was Cutler’s target on 10 throws, alternating brutal drops with amazing stabs; somewhat surprisingly, the Bears’ other two wideouts—Johnny Knox (3-52) and Devin Hester (1-17) combined for just four targets. Matt Forte posted numbers (17-50 on the ground, 7-151-2 in the air) Marshall Faulk would have been proud of, but he always kills Detroit.
For a rather abysmal 168-total yard effort that saw the Lions lose their starting quarterback at halftime, Detroit was one—take your pick—bad call or careless drop away from winning on the road. Jahvid Best (14-20-2, 5-16) didn’t bust any big plays, but he found the end zone twice from inside the 10 and touched the ball on almost 40 percent of the Lions’ offensive snaps. Calvin Johnson led the team with 45 yards on four catches, but that line would have been a whole lot sweeter had it been 5-70-1.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Matt Stafford (11-15-83) out for two to six weeks, it’ll be on Shaun Hill (9-19-88-0-1) to get the ball to Megatron. And as befits a Scott Linehan offense, tight ends Tony Scheffler (6-43) and Brandon Pettigrew (1-6) were targeted nine times; Hill may be looking at them quite a bit over the next month. Speaking of tight ends, Greg Olsen’s 4-37 was more than expected in a Martz offense. While that would put him on pace to have the best numbers ever for a tight end under Martz, that’s still faint praise. And did we mention that they were facing the Lions?
ARIZONA CARDINALS 17, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 13
Derek Anderson’s 297 yards were Kurt Warner-like; his 53.6% completion percentage was not. Moreover, while he targeted Larry Fitzgerald 15 times, he connected with him just thrice for 43 yards and a touchdown. That was good news for Steve Breaston, who caught seven balls for 132 yards, but certainly not what fantasy fans were expecting. With Beanie Wells out with a knee injury, Tim Hightower produced 94 yards from scrimmage (54 rushing, 40 receiving) on 17 touches; LaRod Stephens-Howling produced 65 combo yards on 10 touches as the change-of-pace guy.
The development plan for Sam Bradford most likely did not call for asking him to throw 55 passes in his NFL debut, but that’s exactly what happened as the rookie posted 32-55-253-1-3. Bradford’s favorite target was fellow Sooner alum Mark Clayton (10-119-0); Danny Amendola (6-67) was also involved and Laurent Robinson (3-18-1) found the end zone before leaving with an injury.
FANTASY IMPACT: Steven Jackson pounded out 81 yards on 22 carries and added six more on four catches, but much like last season he failed to find the end zone. He’ll need to contribute more if the Rams are to save Bradford’s arm from falling off. While it’s reassuring that Anderson kept going back to Fitz—how he was left uncovered in the fourth quarter with the game on the line is stunning—the fact that he connected with him on just 20 percent of his attempts is disconcerting. Anderson does present a vertical threat Matt Leinart didn’t; he completed 20-yard passes to four different receivers.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 27, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 20
Aaron Rodgers (19-31-188-2-2) didn’t look quite as infallible as he did during the preseason; however, considering he was facing the blitz-happy Eagles and was left without his starting running back for much of the game, he fared quite well. The sub-200-yard performance took its toll on Rodgers’ receivers, though both Greg Jennings (5-82-1) and Donald Driver (5-30-1) found the end zone; Jermichael Finley (4-47) was the one fantasy entity whose numbers were found wanting.
Anointed starter Kevin Kolb (5-10-24) was largely ineffective before exiting the game with a concussion, leaving Michael Vick to be... well, Michael Vick. Actually, Vick’s passing (16-24-175-1) may have been better than the previous edition, but his running—11 carries, 103 yards—was vintage Vick. Of course, given Vick’s selfish statline, the likes of DeSean Jackson (4-30) and Brent Celek (2-32) took a significant hit; only Jeremy Maclin (4-38-1) was able to salvage his receiving stats.
FANTASY IMPACT: While Vick was handling the bulk of the offense—he was responsible for 278 of the team’s 321 yards—LeSean McCoy was left with just seven carries. However, he turned those totes into 35 yards and a score and led the team with five catches for 47 yards. Should Kolb’s absence last long, McCoy will be Philly’s No. 2 weapon—albeit a distant No. 2 to Vick. Ryan Grant (8-45) was effective prior to suffering an ankle injury that had him in a walking boot following the game; Brandon Jackson (18-63, 2-12) was slightly less so, but not enough that the Pack would feel the need to rush Grant back before he was ready.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 31, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 6
It took the Seahawks a little time to find their offensive rhythm; truth be told, they were outgained and lost the time of possession battle, so maybe they didn’t ever really find it. But Matt Hasselbeck (18-23-170-2-1) was efficient and got just enough from a three-headed running game to hold off the turnover-prone 49ers. Mike Williams (4-64) and John Carlson (3-36) were the favored targets, but it was the Deions—Deion Butler (1-13-1) and Deion Branch (3-11-1)—who found the end zone.
The Niner passing game did just about everything correct, with two glaring exceptions: an incomplete on fourth and goal that turned the entire tone of the game and two interceptions that killed any hopes of a rally. Aside from that, Alex Smith’s numbers—26-45-225-0-2—weren’t that bad, and he brought favorite target Vernon Davis (8-73) along for the ride. However, Michael Crabtree (2-12) apparently missed the boat.
FANTASY IMPACT: Frank Gore touched the ball 23 times—17 carries, six receptions—but generated only 83 yards of offense. He averaged barely two yards per carry, and while he was Smith’s second-favorite target there were far too many other bodies involved—nine Niners had at least one catch—for the comfort level of Gore’s fantasy owners. With Alex Gibbs gone and Russell Okung out, the Seahawks struggled to generate much if any ground game. Justin Forsett (7-43, 3-17) was by far the most effective, but that didn’t stop both Julius Jones (8-18) and Leon Washington (6-12) from getting touches—not to mention fullback Michael Robinson (2-12 receiving).
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 13, DALLAS COWBOYS 7
The Redskins’ offense failed to generate a touchdown, was outgained by 130 yards, and had an almost 10-minute disadvantage in time of possession. Two receivers—Chris Cooley (6-80) and Santana Moss (6-77)—accounted for 80 percent of the catches and 92 percent of the receiving yardage. The running game was heavy on Clinton Portis (18-63) and light on help (five carries for 26 yards for the rest of the team). But a pair of Graham Gano field goals bookended the scoring and gave Washington the win at home.
Dallas moved the ball well; Tony Romo (31-47-282-1) spread the ball around and the running game chipped in just enough to keep the defense honest. But 12 penalties for 91 yards—including a holding penalty that wiped out a game-winning Roy Williams (3-21) touchdown—and an ill-advised play call at the end of the first half that led to a turnover and the Redskins’ only touchdown wiped out the Cowboys’ advantages. Miles Austin (10-146-1) dominated the Washington secondary, and Dez Bryant (8-58) was heavily involved as well; six other Cowboys combined for the remaining 80 yards, with none hoarding more than three catches or 27 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: The backfield battle between Marion Barber and Felix Jones was, for fantasy purposes, essentially a draw. Barber (8-39) narrowly outrushed Jones (8-38), but Jones added 26 yards on two catches while Barber came up with one yard on his two catches. Tashard Choice (5-18, 2-(-2)) appeared in an interesting full-house backfield that looks like it may yield an option play somewhere down the road; he also coughed up the ball just before halftime that the Skins returned for a touchdown. The Redskins offered little more offensively under Mike Shanahan than they did under the former regime, but fantasy owners can take comfort in the fact that Portis, Cooley, and Moss combined for 86 percent of the Redskins’ offensive touches. So it may not be much, but at least it’s centralized.