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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 9
John U. Miller
November 5, 2010
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Death, taxes, and… Peyton Manning.  It’s a certainty that this guy pays off fantasy owners, year after year after year.  Manning is well on his way to posting his 10th straight top-6 ranking at the QB position, and this year might be his greatest performance because of the massive injury list around him.  Manning ranks 2nd in passer rating (101.4), 2nd in TD passes (15), and 1st in passing yards/game (312).  He’s on pace for 4992 yards, stalking Dan Marino’s record of 5084.  However, I discovered one stat that in my opinion absolutely separates Manning from all other quarterbacks – past, present, and future:  He’s on pace to complete 65% of his passes for the 9th straight year.  You’re not impressed?  The only guy even close to that is Steve Young who did it six straight times.  No one else has even posted five in a row.  Kurt Warner had four, and Drew Brees is working on four.  Joe Montana never did it twice in a row!   

Looking forward, Manning’s the early favorite to win the 2010 NFL MVP award.  Who else is there right now?  Philip Rivers?  Massive numbers, matching Peyton throw for throw, but the Chargers are 3-5.  Arian Foster?  Nope.  RBs must compile drool-inducing – actually record-breaking – statistics, not to mention playing on at least a 12-win team.  Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson each topped 2,000 rushing yards and were ignored.  As for the hell-beasts on the other side of the ball – Osi Umenyiora, Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh – they’re all just fighting over the Defensive Player of the Year award. 

If Manning wins again it will be his 5th MVP trophy, folks.  No one else has won it four times.  Only Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, and Brett Favre have won three.  Peyton is the only football player in ACME (America’s Circle of MVP Elites, I made that up), an exclusive club that includes Wayne Gretzky (9), Barry Bonds (7), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Michael Jordan (5), and Bill Russell (5).  Just for fun, see below for this decade’s NFL MVP balloting results - it’s easy to forget that guys like Priest Holmes, Carson Palmer, and Kordell Stewart all received a few votes at one time.

NFL MVP Voting Results  (defensive players in italics)
2010  (My guess) 2009 2008 2007 2006
P. Manning P. Manning 39.5 P. Manning 32 T. Brady 49 L. Tomlinson 44
T. Brady D. Brees 7.5 C. Pennington 4 B. Favre 1 D. Brees 2
P. Rivers P. Rivers 2 M. Turner 4   P. Manning 2
C. Matthews B. Favre 1 A. Peterson 3    
B. Roethlisberger   J. Harrison 3    
A. Foster   P. Rivers 2    
N. Suh   K .Warner 1    
C. Johnson   C. Johnson 1    
2005 2004 2003 (tie) 2002 2001
S. Alexander 19 P. Manning 49 P. Manning 16 R. Gannon 19 K. Warner 21.5
P. Manning 13 M. Vick 1 S. McNair 16 B. Favre 15 M. Faulk 17.5
T. Brady 10   T. Brady 8 S. McNair 11 B. Favre 5
T. Barber 6   J. Lewis 5 P. Holmes 1 K. Stewart 4
C. Palmer 2   P. Holmes 3 M. Vick 1 B. Urlacher 2
    R. Lewis 2 D. Brooks 1  

One last note… Manning’s dominance of MVP races more than makes up for losing the Heisman to Charles Woodson.  Remember when Woodson stole the award with his nationally televised end-zone INT and punt-return TD vs. Ohio State?  Manning was systematically rewriting NCAA record books at Tennessee, but when Woodson struck the pose the polls were closed!  Nevermind that Manning threw for 523 yards & 5 TDs vs. Kentucky that same day because his game was on ESPN2, which back then had maybe 300,000 households watching.  Woodson had 8 million households on ABC.

Hey, look up at those MVP votes again.  Chris Johnson got zero votes in 2009 after perhaps one of the 10 best seasons of any offensive player ever, but he actually pockets one vote in 2008 after gaining 1,228 yards in a time-share with LenDale White… 

Prediction A: QB ___ ____ will rebound and put up nice numbers against the spotty ____ defense.  He will be aided by the closed roof in the ____ ____ ____.

Prediction B: The ____ ____ defense will rebound and collect 4 sacks and 2 turnovers at home vs. the ____ ____.

I’ll fill in those blanks in just a minute…

JUMbo Quick Six – Offensive Line Edition:

1. Bears RG Roberto Garza is back at practice after a knee scope and will move back into his spot in Week 9 at Buffalo, giving the offense a small hint of consistency up front.  Garza’s return allows Chris Williams to move to left guard where he’s best suited.  Williams isn’t ever going to be the franchise left tackle they envisioned coming out of Vanderbilt, but he can hold his own at guard.  They’ll leave Frank Omiyale at left tackle, where he’s actually done a pretty good job expect for that Giants debacle.

2. The Buccaneers O-line has actually improved since losing C Jeff Faine to a leg injury in Week 5.  In fact, Tampa took the field at Arizona without Faine and RT Jeremy Trueblood (knee injury) so it was RT James Lee making his first career start while LG Jeremy Zuttah moved to center.  They held Cardinals pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett to 0 sacks and only committed two penalties.  No small feat in the louder-than-you-think University of Phoenix Stadium.  The best part is Faine and Trueblood are back at practice.  They’ll return to the lineup this week and if for some reason they can’t hold up, the Bucs know they have other guys who can play.    

3. The Oakland Raiders front-five is almost entirely responsible for posting back-to-back games with 500+ total yards, the first time the franchise has done that in their 51-year history.  RG Cooper Carlisle has been laying people out, and I’ve heard analysts using terms like “dominant” and “menacing” to describe him the last few weeks.  3rd-round rookie LT Jared Veldheer is coming on strong too.

4. Remember the Chiefs’ incredible offensive line earlier in the decade, led by Willie Roaf and Will Shields?  This unit might be just as good.  And remarkably, two guys from that old group are still playing, C Casey Wiegmann and LG Brian Waters.  They aren’t as dominant after 26 combined years in the league, but I haven’t seen or read anything negative about their play.  RG Ryan Lilja came over from the Colts and was just named to the SI All-Midseason Team.  LT Branden Albert might actually be the weak link, but it’s only his 3rd season and he’s holding his own.   

5. Philly’s offensive line is one of the 6 least experienced groups in the league, but they’ve made subtle improvements since those first two spotty games vs. Green Bay and Detroit.  Max Jan-Gilles has really stepped up at right guard.  LT King Dunlap was forced into action when Jason Peters tore his meniscus -- and Dunlap was predictably shaky in Week 5.  He gave up 3 sacks and let Kevin Kolb get hit at least 5 times.  But in Week 6 Dunlap was almost perfect vs. Atlanta.  C Mike McGlynn replaced Jamaal Jackson (torn triceps) in the opener and has yet to commit a holding penalty all season. 

6. Giants LG Rich Seubert and C Shaun O’Hara battled injuries in August and September but Seubert is back and playing well – though O’Hara is in a walking boot again and might miss a couple games.  FB Madison Hedgecock has missed 3 straight games with a hamstring pull.  Giants reporter Mike Garafolo says RG Chris Snee has been “on another level” lately with crushing blocks.  Snee is a big reason why the Giants have a league-leading 18 runs of 10+ yards off the right side.  Overall this unit is coming together nicely and the bye week only helped things. 

Did anyone notice Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez got hurt again Monday night?  The JUMbotron eyeballed Gonzalez getting up very slowly after a cheap shot by Texans S Bernard Pollard in the 4th quarter.  He came back in, but left again three plays later and had trainers looking at his knee.  One heady reporter asked Jim Caldwell about it in post-game but Caldwell just said, “He did get banged up a little bit.”  I asked my buddy Mike Chappell at the Indy Star about Gonzalez.  “Someone said they saw Gonzo in the locker room with a wrap on his leg,” Chappell told me.  “It might have been a case of using the wrap to guard against more hamstring issues.”  Man, I’d get away from this dude, he’s like fantasy sumac and it could spread around your team.  I’d rather have Kevin Walter, Anthony Armstrong, or Jordan Shipley if you’re already digging this deep.  Click here for Colts fans talking about Gonzalez.

Sigh… Here’s another shot of Bucs cheerleader Rachel, who appeared in JUMbotron Vol. 5 last month.  I’ve had more questions about her than Joseph Addai’s shoulder for God’s sake.  OK, one more of Rachel.  Now can we get back to business here?

JUMbo Trade Pickup of the Week:  Panthers WR Steve Smith.  It’s a good time to land Smitty at a reasonable price.  Carolina has the 3rd easiest schedule going forward for fantasy WRs.  They have to chuck-and-duck a lot too.  Smith’s made it through 2 games without aggravating the high ankle sprain, and I noticed a tiny bit more burst last week vs. St. Louis than I saw the previous week vs. San Francisco.  Smith was targeted an insane 15 times last week but only caught 9 for 85 yards.  It should have been 10-115 but he let a Matt Moore 30-yard pass hit his facemask (“like a high-schooler,” Smith growled).  He also lost a fumble.  Chances are the Smith-owner in your league is not committed to him, and probably worked the waiver wire while Smith was out – so now he has a small surplus, maybe a little trouble fitting Smith into his lineup.  Offer a viable QB, RB, or TE:  It’s time to trim your bench anyway because you can’t take ‘em with you.  Depth is a luxury many can’t afford to maintain at this point.      

Here are the busiest red-zone RBs and WRs after 8 weeks:

RB Red Zone Carries Targets RZ TDs
 Chris Johnson 33 1 5
 Adrian Peterson 29 3 5
 Arian Foster 27 3 6
 Michael Turner 25 3 3
 Steven Jackson 23 4 1
 Frank Gore 22 8 4
 D. McFadden (6 gms) 21 6 5
 R. Mendenhall 21 4 4
 B. Green-Ellis 21 0 6
 Thomas Jones 20 0 3
 M. Jones-Drew 20 4 3
 Mike Tolbert 19 1 7
 Cedric Benson 18 2 3
 Joseph Addai 18 6 3
 A. Bradshaw 17 4 3
 Matt Forte 17 5 3
 LeSean McCoy 17 5 3
 Peyton Hillis 17 4 6
 Beanie Wells (5 gms) 16 0 2
 L. Tomlinson 15 6 3
 WR Red Zone Carries Targets RZ TDs
 Lance Moore 0 11 3
 Danny Amendola 0 11 2
 Jabar Gaffney 0 11 1
 Brandon Lloyd 0 11 1
 Marques Colston 0 10 2
 Roddy White 0 10 2
 Brandon Marshall 1 9 1
 Deon Butler 0 9 1
 Hakeem Nicks 0 9 6
 Wes Welker 0 9 3
 Reggie Wayne 0 9 3
 Miles Austin 0 8 1
 Terrell Owens 0 8 2
 Calvin Johnson 0 8 5
 M Sims-Walker 0 8 4
 Anquan Boldin 1 7 2
 M. Floyd (6 gms) 0 8 1
 Roy Williams 0 8 4
 Jeremy Maclin 0 7 4
 Steve Johnson 0 7 4

Medic Alert:  Redskins RB Ryan Torain pulled a hamstring and when asked if it was serous he replied, “Hard to say.”  The MRI didn’t show a tear but that doesn’t mean he’ll back in Week 10 after the bye.  Keiland Williams should be owned in all leagues.  Clinton Portis (torn groin) is back in limited participation but I’m not buying.  Maybe Week 12, in my opinion.  Colts WR Austin Collie has been down for 2 weeks after thumb surgery.  Jim Caldwell surprised us with a “limited” practice tag on Collie this week, after reports indicated he’d be out another 2-3 games.  I smell something fishy and really don’t expect Collie to play Sunday.  Next week, who knows?  Eagles TE Brent Celek has been dealing with a wrist injury (suffered in Week 3) but hasn’t missed a practice or a game.  However, Celek just admitted to reporters that he was really banged up, all over his body.  “This (bye) week has been huge for me. I feel like a different person,” Celek said.  If I own Celek I’m starting him vs. the Colts. 

Would Brett Favre have returned for 2010 if a psychic told him, “By Halloween you will be 2-5, Sidney Rice will have not played a down yet, you’ll get Randy Moss for 4 weeks then lose him, your ankle will be chipped to pieces again, you’ll have 8 stitches in your face, and, oh yeah… a photo of your Little Buddy will be all over the internet.”  Hmmm, for $16 million guaranteed, I still believe he plays.  Wouldn’t you? 

JUMbo Breakdown:  Randy Moss to the Titans

A) The Titans are notorious for shunning big-name acquisitions, especially WRs.  They ignored Terrell Owens and Anquan Boldin, even T.J. Houshmandzadeh who was much cheaper.  They did make a low-ball offer to the aging Torry Holt a couple years ago.  In this waiver claim Moss’ salary is pro-rated so he only costs 8 game checks of $412,500 each.  Non-guaranteed, of course.  Even Bud Adams (who’s so cheap he won’t tip his hat) can’t resist a discount like that.  His club doesn’t need help filling seats – the Titans have a season-ticket waiting list of 40,000 – but it sure can’t hurt to sell a zillion #84 jerseys at the stadium pro shop.   

B) The acquisition of Moss means Kenny Britt is out for the year.  Okay, it hasn’t been confirmed, so let me re-phrase:  Britt is done for fantasy purposes.  He admitted he heard the hammy “pop” at San Diego, which means at least a Grade 2 pull and no running for at least a month.  Wide receivers have the longest hamstring recoveries (unless their first name is Hines) in football.  Drop Britt now.  Meanwhile Nate Washington will probably stay at flanker while Moss lines up at split end, on the weak side.  Lavelle Hawkins and Damian Williams will rotate in the slot.  Sometimes TE Jared Cook plays in the slot too.

C) Chris Johnson is happier than a drunk Aussie now that defenses won’t cheat as often.  Moss clears it out underneath, constantly drawing safeties over the top.  Johnson will locate space if he breaks the first tackle.  It really won’t differ from the way Moss helped Wes Welker gobble up catches off drag routes.  There was plenty of real estate for Welker to work with.  Look, no RB effectively combats 8 or 9 men in the box consistently, I don’t care who’s blocking… but take it down to 7 men and a back with Johnson’s vision starts finding creases.  CJ2K + Creases = Holla!  Click here for a reminder of what Johnson does to 7 in the box, something he hasn’t seen much lately.   

D) Vince Young or Kerry Collins, whoever’s under center, still won’t be a QB1 in fantasy leagues unless it’s a 14- or 16-teamer.  However, there are a couple games down the road where I envision a spot-start:  Week 11 at home vs. Washington (Nashville weather still mild, 32nd ranked pass defense) and Week 13 at home vs. Jacksonville (Jags rank last in allowed fantasy WR points).  TE Bo Scaife could pick up a couple extra scores near the goal line where absolutely no one will be watching him.

E) Moss has an extra bye week to interact with OC Mike Heimerdinger and get lots of reps with Young and Collins.  It’s perfect timing for Tennessee. 

Did Ya Know?
--Peyton Manning will join Brett Favre as the only 2 QBs to start 200 straight games.
--The Eagles host the Colts coming off the bye, and Andy Reid is 11-0 after a bye week.
--Antonio Gates (4) & Dustin Keller (4) lead all TEs in receptions inside the 10-yard line.
--Davone Bess (13) & Roddy White (13) lead all WRs in receptions for 1st downs. 
--Drew Brees (53) leads all QBs in red-zone pass attempts.  Peyton Manning (43) is 2nd.
--Arian Foster (6.3) & Darren McFadden (6.2) lead the NFL in yards/carry in the 2nd half. 
--Patrick Crayton has more targets (25) in the last 3 weeks than Hines Ward (24).
--No one has more targets over their last 3 games than Hakeem Nicks (38) or Terrell Owens (37). 
--Ahmad Bradshaw leads the league with 25 rushes of 10+ yards.  Michael Turner and Rashard Mendenhall have 28 combined. 

A month ago I mentioned “Match Lights,” a term I give to those fresh-legged running backs that pop up around midseason and totally spark fantasy teams.  Jamaal Charles, Julius Jones, Ladell Betts and Domanick Davis are some of the biggest ones ever.  People forget that Pierre Thomas was a Match Light too, taking over in Week 11 of 2008 when Reggie Bush’s knee locked up and Deuce was out of gas.  Pierre rolled 677 total yards and 9 TDs in his last 6 games.  Guys like Pierre and Jamaal, they proved later that the talent was always there.  Betts, not so much.  In 2006 he was just running behind a healthy, peaking Redskins O-line.  Whether it’s talent, opportunity, or like I said before, fresh legs against tired defenders in November… I believe LeGarrette Blount could be the next great Match Light. 

The stars are aligned for Blount, who came into the league with a lot to prove after The Punch incident torpedoed his NFL draft stock.  Pittsburgh, Tennessee, San Francisco, Detroit, and yes, Tampa Bay had all worked out Blount last summer – but he ended up signing with Tennessee as an undrafted free agent.  Blount was actually well-received in Nashville but got caught in a roster squeeze.  The Titans keep a whopping 8 defensive linemen active – plus Blount wasn’t experienced at special teams, and few clubs can fit in 3 halfbacks that don’t play special teams.

People forget that before The Punch, Blount rushed for 1,002 yards his junior year at Oregon – on only 137 carries!  That’s a staggering 7.3 yards per carry.   Oh, and that spectacular hurdle-and-see-ya run for 48 yards at Arizona last week?  He did the hurdle thing at least 5 times at Oregon, folks (click here for one of them).  

So here we are, Blount Force Trauma just busted off 120 yards and 2 TDs.  He’s on every fantasy team in America by now.  Some of you had the foresight to snag him last week after he carried 11 times for 72 yards.  Looking ahead with so many RBs on bye the next two weeks – Moreno, C. Johnson, S. Jackson, Gore, Torain, Jones-Drew, B. Jackson, McFadden, Ivory, Mathews – you would hope that Blount will be in most fantasy lineups.  For those of you still wavering on “Blount or Stewart,” “Blount or Law Firm” and “Blount or Best”… My answer is Blount, Blount, and Blount.  Match Light, baby. 

JUMbo “Flex Gem” of the Week:  Seahawks WR Deon Butler.  Not for the faint of heart, as Butler has barely made a blip on fantasy radar.  However, if this ugly 6-team bye week eviscerated your team Butler could be a nice flex player.  He’s the starting flanker, and as shown above in my red zone chart, Butler is tied for 7th in WR red-zone targets.  No, it hasn’t amounted to any production, but it shows that OC Jeremy Bates features Butler prominently in the playbook.  Matt Hasselbeck (concussion) is out but I don’t see Charlie Whitehurst as a huge drop-off necessarily.  NYG will be up 21-3 by halftime anyway so there will be garbage throws against a prevent defense.  WR Golden Tate (ankle) has been ruled out and Big Mike (leg bruise) is iffy too.  It’s all Butler, folks. 

JUMbo “Steer Clear” of the WeekBengals WR Chad Ochocinco.  Stay away from him vs. Pittsburgh on Monday night, he’s been wildly inconsistent.  Ocho always seems to be held down vs. the Steelers too, averaging a measly 49 yards in his last 8 games against them.  He’s only scored twice in those 8 games.  Ocho’s only 2 big showings this year were because of wacky come-from-behind passing vs. the Patriots and Falcons – and in both contests the Bengals were down 24-3 at halftime.  If I were choosing between Ocho and Davone Bess, Mike Williams (TB), or Pierre Garcon this week I’d bench him in all three instances. 

Prediction A:  QB Jay Cutler will rebound and put up nice numbers against the spotty Buffalo defense.  He will be aided by the closed roof in the Toronto Rogers Centre.

Prediction B:  The Minnesota Vikings defense will rebound and collect 4 sacks and 2 turnovers at home vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

Here’s the sassy Heather from the Titans squad.  Judging by the look on her face, she just heard the news that Randy’s coming to Nashville.

Good luck this week!

JUM

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