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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 12
John U. Miller
November 26, 2010
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Warning:  Vince Young rant.

I know a lot of you still love him, so you guys might want to look away… maybe scroll down a fifth of the page.

I dislike spoiled babies.  Just to let you know in advance, I won’t hear of Vince’s won-loss record as a starter.  I won’t accept that rebuttal.  The Titans have often won in spite of him, not because of him.  Jeff Fisher, Chris Johnson, the constantly deep and aggressive defensive line, a tremendous clutch kicker, those are big reasons for many of Tennessee’s wins.  Forget 2006 when Young won Rookie of the Year; the game-winning TD jaunt in overtime at Houston, rallying to beat the Giants after being down 21-0, etc. Teams had no film on Young, and besides, ex-OC Norm Chow couldn’t make him devote himself to the playbook so he just said, “Run around and pitch it.”  Then Chow quit.  Look, 2006 was an eternity ago.  Back then Chicago went 13-3 and made the Super Bowl, while Marvin Harrison was the #1 fantasy WR. 

Everyone’s been raving about Vince’s 98.6 passer rating.  Whatever.  He’s only attempted 156 passes all year.  Young’s rating is like a baseball player hitting .360 as of May 30th.  It will go down, especially for a career .260 hitter like Young.  Besides, he was the 3rd overall draft pick, so his rating should be in the 90’s (if not 100’s) every year, all year – and yet his career mark entering this season was a putrid 73.0.  Heck, J.P. Losman had a career 75.6 rating and got run out of the NFL.   

Going back to 2007, in the 31 games where Vince Young was declared or already installed as the starting quarterback, he’s exited with an injury for some portion or the entire remainder of the game a whopping 8 times.  That means that 25% of the time he hasn’t stayed out there and fought to the end with his teammates.  That’s a lot of injuries, so I have to wonder:  Where are the corresponding surgeries?  Why does Young always end up going back in a week or two -- or even a series or two -- later?  Because he wasn’t really hurt that bad to begin with.  Young runs from the battlefield when times are tough, but later he’ll go to a strip club and punch people when they insult his alma mater.

And I’m not even counting all the games where Young was inactive or simply benched going in, which means all of 2008 and a third of 2009.  Remember Young’s famous 8-2 winning binge last year after Kerry Collins went 0-6?  Hogwash.  The Titans simply started giving Chris Johnson the ball 30 times instead of 18 times.  Oh, and 7 of “Young’s” 8 wins were against the Jags, 49ers, Bills, Texans, Rams, Dolphins and Warner-less Cards.  Those teams had a combined 29-36 mark when they faced the Titans.  Plus 5 of those wins were at home.  

Thumb surgery?  I sincerely doubt it.  That’s probably a cover-up initiated by the 87-year old owner who’s so blindly enamored of this flaky kid.  Bud Adams would do anything to preserve Young’s reputation so I think he’d absolutely order the Titans PR dept. to declare “season-ending thumb surgery.”  Al Davis-type stuff.  Kooky.  So, Jeff Fisher will call the bluff and force the owner to choose:  “Your precious golden child quarterback and fellow Houston native – or me, the longest tenured coach in the NFL who’s won 136 games, been to the playoffs 6 times despite sharing a division with the Colts, and took your franchise to a Super Bowl.”  You see, Fisher’s had enough.  He’s used to warriors like Steve McNair, Bruce Matthews, Keith Bulluck, and Eddie George, who risked extended and debilitating bodily injuries to help the team win.  Help the team win.  No matter what the cost.  And never – I mean never, ever – would one of those heroes taunt the hard-working fans when they’re booing – fans who often charge their seats to maxed-out Visas and can’t even afford one $8 beer when they get there.

In the 2002 playoff game vs. the Steelers, Steve McNair played through bone spurs in his ankle and a bum shoulder.  Then in the 3rd quarter he had a thick 4-inch flap of skin torn from his thumb knuckle.  He only missed two plays while ordering the trainer to slice off the dangling piece of flesh.  He couldn’t take a pain-killing injection because it would numb his throwing hand.  Young has taken nothing from McNair’s legacy.  He’s an embarrassment.  Vince, do us all a favor and go away.  You can keep the $34 million you stole from the company too.  Head out to Da Club and make it rain with JaMarcus Russell… He’ll bring the Robitussin, you bring the bib and diapers.

Prediction A:  WR ____ ____, who’s tied for 8th in targets over the last 4 weeks, will catch 7 passes with a touchdown at ____.

Prediction B: The ____ ____ defense will pummel the visiting ____ ____ with a big handful of sacks and picks, holding them to 10 points or less.

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

JUMbo High Five:

1. Steven Jackson is mired in a nasty scoring drought and it’s got to be killing fantasy owners.  7 TDs in his last 25 games.  Willis McGahee has 19 TDs in his last 25 games!  Ricky Williams has 15, Tim Hightower has 11.  I can’t help it, I always pick on Jackson… but it’s just that he’s so overvalued every year.  No other RB consistently does less to deserve a 1st round fantasy pick than Jackson.  That said, I like him to score in Week 12 at Denver, who have allowed a league-high 15 rushing TDs.

2. Mike Tolbert was an absolute beast on Monday night vs. Denver, carrying 25 times for 111 yards and a TD, his 8th score in the last 9 games.  5’9”/243, are you kidding me, he’s the new “Ironhead” Heyward!  Everyone talks about the Chargers passing and vertical stuff but this team can power up and belt you if needed.  Lately they’ve used FB Jacob Hester and Tolbert in the Power-I and it’s very effective.  ESPN Stats & Information reports Tolbert had 106 of his 111 yards vs. Denver with Hester as a lead blocker. 

3. Titans OC Mike Heimerdinger is on a leave of absence to take chemotherapy.  Mike’s a popular guy in league circles and downright beloved in Nashville.  Keep him in your thoughts.  No disrespect intended, but I have to analyze this from a fantasy angle.  The new play-caller will be 1st year QB coach Dowell Loggains.  He was a 5’5” walk-on QB at Arkansas who held on field goals and extra points.  Loggains is obviously smart as a whip because Bill Parcells hired him on the Dallas staff as a personnel guy right out of college.  Loggains might dig the Wildcat too, because he played for Houston Nutt.

4. Matt Hasselbeck has put up back-to-back 300-yard games.  You didn’t know that, did you?  In Week 10 he went 22-of-34 for 333 yards and 1 TD, no INTs.  In week 11 he went 32-of-44 for 366 yards and 1 TD, no INTs.  QB ratings of 106.6 and 104.9.  Now he’s at home vs. Kansas City, who might be without CB Brandon Flowers (hamstring), who many feel is the AFC’s best corner right now

5. Best sign I’ve ever seen a fan hold up at a football game – Green Bay at Minnesota last week – “Brett, I always thought you were crazy but now I see your nuts.”  Update on the Jenn Sterger story:  Favre’s agent Bus Cook says the young lady tried to shake Favre down before releasing pics of his ol’ Uncle Joe to Deadspin.com.  “Her manager and her lawyer have made numerous overtures to me,” Cook said.  “Anyone can figure out why.  We were never going to pay them, we didn’t pay them and we will never pay them. They should consider that their attempts to negotiate privately and through the media have failed.”

Have you noticed it’s been a very ho-hum year for running backs?  Sure, Arian Foster has been a blast of fresh air, plus Darren McFadden and Peyton Hillis have been great, but overall there’s something lacking among RBs.  I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Ok, Jahvid Best and Ryan Mathews haven’t delivered.  Veterans Pierre Thomas, Ryan Grant and DeAngelo Williams also took a bite out of us, but there have been worse years with 6 or 7 stud RBs on the shelf for extended periods.  Then it hit me.  It’s very simple math:  The studs are averaging less yards per carry…

RBs Average Per Carry Declining
RB 2009 2010
Chris Johnson 5.6 4.5
Maurice Jones-Drew 4.5 4.2
Ray Rice 5.3 4.0
Frank Gore 4.9 4.0
Adrian Peterson 4.4 4.6
Michael Turner 4.9 4.3
Rashard Mendenhall 4.6 4.0
Jamaal Charles 5.9 6.1
Steven Jackson 4.4 4.0
Cedric Benson 4.2 3.7

Out of those 10 workhorses from 2009, a whopping 8 of them have seen declines in their average per carry.  Some of them are sizable drops.  Only Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have bucked the trend (Charles is such an amazing player, by the way).  So the general malaise with these big-name RBs is based on a clear principle:  Less yards per try is a direct link to less big plays.  Then I thought to myself, “Last year I remember Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, they were all busting huge runs.  I recall one 76-yard run by Johnson this year, but…”

Longest Runs From Scrimmage
Player 2009 Player 2010
Chris Johnson 91 Tim Hightower 80
Chris Johnson 89 Adrian Peterson 80
Chris Johnson 85 Chris Johnson 76
Frank Gore 80 Arian Foster 74
M. Jones-Drew 80 Brandon Jackson 71
Frank Gore 79 Thomas Jones 70
M. Jones-Drew 79 Matt Forte 68
Clinton Portis 78 Reggie Hodges 68
Willis McGahee 77 Frank Gore 64
DeAngelo Williams 77 LeSean McCoy 62
Jamaal Charles 76 Earnest Graham 61
Kahlil Bell 72 Miles Austin 60
Jerome Harrison 71 Darren McFadden 57
Thomas Jones 71 Jamaal Charles 56
Ricky Williams 68 Michael Turner 55
DeSean Jackson 67 Julius Jones 54
Jonathan Stewart 67 Javon Ringer 54
Tashard Choice 66 Ronnie Brown 51
LeSean McCoy 66 Jerome Harrison 50
DeAngelo Williams 66 LeSean McCoy 50

Ugly list so far this year.  Brandon Jackson, Earnest Graham, Julius Jones, Javon Ringer, and punter Reggie Hodges have 5 of the 16 longest runs?  And look at the distances… In 2009 there were 14 runs over 70 yards -- this year, only 5 at this late stage.

Marion Barber limped off in the 4th quarter after injuring his leg trying to bang it in from the 1-yard line.  After the game he had a big wrap around his shin/calf?  Knowing Felix Jones’ own injury problems I’d pick up Tashard Choice and stash him just in case.  Dallas has the #1 easiest fantasy RB schedule - @ Colts, vs. Eagles, vs. Redskins, @ Arizona – from weeks 13-16.   

Julius Jones is another guy I’d add to my bench for the playoffs.  Anyone notice how good he’s looked in a Saints uniform?  He just looks quicker, energized, in control of the schemes… 10 carries for 45 yards, 3 catches for 21 yards at Dallas.  He was in for most of the obvious passing downs too.  Last week Jones had a 36-yard TD run negated by a penalty, and in the game before that he had a 54-yard run. Chris Ivory had 2 short TDs at Dallas but only carried the ball another 5 times.  Reggie Bush looked awful coming off his 9-week layoff.  Sorry, Pierre Thomas isn’t coming back, and I think there’s more to his ankle issue -- remember the rumor that he was almost shipped to New England?

I think my favorite divisional race is the NFC North.  Green Bay and Chicago are both 7-3, and they face each other in Green Bay Week 17.  That one could be for the big prize.  If the Bears can just hang within a game going into that huge finale, they’ll steal the division with a win – because they already beat them once. Here’s how I see it:

NFC North Race - Chicago has already beaten Green Bay
  Green Bay 7-3 Chicago 7-3
Week 12 at Atlanta: L 7-4 vs Philly: L 7-4
Week 13 vs San Fran: W 8-4 at Detroit: W 8-4
Week 14 at Detroit: W 9-4 vs NE: L 8-5
Week 15 at NE: L 9-5 at Minn: W 9-5
Week 16 vs NYG: W 10-5 vs NYJ: L 9-6
Week 17 Chicago wins in Lambeau, both 10-6, Chicago wins North

JUMbo Spin Cycle:

“The Redskins will likely go into the Minnesota game with a trio of Keiland Williams, James Davis and Andre Brown [at running back].  They've combined for a total of 218 yards in their brief NFL careers.” – Joseph White, Associated Press.

JUMbo Spin:  I have a feeling James Davis is going start mixing in around the 2nd quarter vs. Minnesota.  What he does from there is anyone’s guess.  But I do feel some Shanahanfoolery coming on…

“The Cardinals did not have a sack and hit [Matt] Cassel just once, according to post-game statistics.  It's hard for the most elite cornerbacks to cover if the quarterback never sweats.” – Kent Somers, Arizona Republic.

JUMbo Spin:  Matt Cassel is on a hot streak right there with Dwayne Bowe, tossing 14 TDs and only 1 INT in his last 6 games.  However, I do feel that a road game at Seattle could jar him off-course a bit.  Qwest Field can cast a weird spell on surging QBs.  I remember last year I started David Garrard at Seattle coming off a 361 total yard, 3-TD game.  The 110 decibels made him crawl into the fetal position with 189 yards & 0 TDs.

“The Browns will kick our asses because Jake [Delhomme] will tell them all they need to know how to beat our sorry ass team.” – Robtrox0, CarolinaHuddle.com.

JUMbo Spin:  I was perusing the Panthers chat rooms.  Boy, they have some bitter fans… and rightfully so.  Now Carolina has to go to Cleveland to face ex-teammate Jake Delhomme, who’s back from an ankle injury.  I don’t think the Browns defense needs any inside info from Delhomme to help stomp the Panthers.  Cleveland has recorded 10 sacks and 10 INTs in their last 4 games against very, very good teams: New Orleans, New England, NY Jets, & Jacksonville. 

“Now, with 249 yards on 46 carries in the past two games, the man they call ‘Freddie J’ in the Bills' locker room is proving he was onto something.” – Jay Skurski, Buffalo News.

JUMbo Spin:  Fred Jackson is one helluva back and most of you fantasy diehards knew that after his 1,433 total yards in 2009 (on only 283 touches).  We just got distracted by Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller last summer. So it begs the question:  Why the hell did they draft Spiller at #9?  I’m sure Spiller will have a nice Reggie Bush-like career, but the Bills weren’t using him anyway, before he got hurt.  They should have taken OT Bryan Bulaga (Packers) in the 1st round.

“Despite not practicing all week and also sitting out the previous week’s game because of a strained calf, Brandon Stokley caught six passes for 76 yards in the loss to the Saints… Mike Williams is questionable with a foot injury that forced him to sit out the end of the game against the Saints.” – Clare Farnsworth, Seahawks.com.

JUMbo Spin:  Good lord I forgot Stokley was still around.  Is Ike Hilliard a Seahawk too?  Anyway, Mike Williams was wearing a boot as of Wednesday.  I doubt he’ll play.  Mike’s one of the 15 most targeted WRs in the game so if he’s out, there’s a chance Stokley could get tons of looks vs. Kansas City.  Also note that Ben Obomanu caught 5 passes for 87 yards and 1 TD last week.  Deon Butler is in the doghouse for some reason.

“What seems to be at work here is that [Aaron] Rodgers… no longer had [Jermichael] Finley as his top target, eliminating what might have been his subconscious tendency to try to feed him the ball within the constraints of the offense.” – Jason Wilde, ESPNMadison.com

JUMbo Spin:  Ever since Finley went down in Week 5, Greg Jennings has been radar-tagged by Aaron Rodgers every week.  In the first 5 games with Finley in the lineup Jennings had 31 targets.  In the last 5 games he’s had 45 targets.  That’s 31% more passes thrown his way now.  Over the last 5 weeks – the meat of the season – Jennings has been the #2 ranked fantasy wide receiver behind only Dwayne Bowe. 

“Despite the change in the starting lineup, Tom Coughlin made it clear that [Ahmad] Bradshaw wasn't heading to a permanent place on the sidelines. He seemed to indicate that what had been a 2-to-1 split of carries in favor of Bradshaw would now be a 2-to-1 split in favor of Brandon Jacobs.” – Ralph Vacchiano, Daily News.

JUMbo Spin:  This demotion of Bradshaw is a total façade.  If Jacobs actually out-carries Bradshaw 2-to-1 this Sunday I will add “Tiki Barber is hot!” to my Huddle Forums signature.  Jacobs has lost a step and he’s less effective as the lead dog at this stage in his career. Sure, he’ll “start” but if Tom Coughlin wants to win he’ll keep giving Bradshaw lots of touches.  I would trade for Bradshaw right now while this “demotion” news permeates your league’s message board.  The Giants have two straight home games vs. Jacksonville and Washington, who both have problems stopping the run.

It’s crunch time.  Now that bye weeks are gone we’re pulling clumps of hair out over lineup decisions.  Too many choices.  Here are 3 of the most common dilemmas I see on the forums or in my inbox:

1. “Vincent Jackson or ____” – Week 12 is here and V-Jax is back.  Some of you held on the whole time, others picked him off the scrap heap a few weeks ago.  It’s usually “Jackson over Randy Moss?” or “Jackson over Boldin?”… You know, the fresh new guy over the recently-sucks guy.  I’m thinking you should throw V-Jax in, have some fun with this stuff.  This is it, why else do you own him?  Patrick Crayton is out, Lege-pull Naanee can’t get loose, Malcom Floyd tweaked his leg again, Antonio Gates’ right foot is trashed and he still has a dislocated toe on his right foot.  Who else is NFL MVP Philip Rivers gonna throw to?     

2. “Sidney Rice or ____” – Same deal, people looking for a blood transfusion at the WR position.  Rice is different than Vincent Jackson because we already got a peek at Rice.  3 catches for 56 yards vs. Green Bay, a team-high 10 targets.  What did I see?  I saw a 2009 Pro Bowl receiver who’s obviously not in game shape.  On a couple routes Rice was late coming out of the break and Brett Favre’s pass went to where “2009 Rice” would have been.  One pass to Rice hit Packers CB Sam Shields in the back.  Plus, 7 of Rice’s 10 targets were in the 2nd half when the Packers were up big.  Bottom line:  I don’t think Rice will deliver what you’re expecting.    

3. “Michael Vick over ____” – You’re usually picking between A. Vick at Chicago or Roethlisberger at Buffalo, B. Vick or Orton vs. St. Louis, C. Vick or Rodgers at Atlanta.  First thing, I don’t see how you bench Rodgers after last week’s Jenningspalooza.  And these late-season indoor games are a gift that Rodgers-owners can’t refuse.  Now, Orton is a tough one.  St. Louis plays less sinister defense on the road.  Orton throws all day too, he’s ranked 4th with 198 pass attempts in the 2nd half.  I’d still go Vick over Orton.  Finally, Roethlisberger… Did you know he’s the 4th best fantasy QB over the last 6 weeks?  The weather in Buffalo is supposed to perk up a bit Sunday, so I’d even take Ben over Vick.  (Disclaimer: I’m a Roethlisberger-owner).

Speaking of weather, I really don’t let it sway me unless it’s finger-amputating cold or a blinding blizzard.  I’ll never forget when – 6 years ago today – I benched Rod Smith because of snow.  Oops.  Defensive backs can slip on the stuff too.

Andre Johnson needs 4 catches to become the first receiver in NFL history to have 60 or more receptions in each of his first 8 seasons.  Nice.  By the way, for me it’s Andre Johnson off the board as the #1 WR in fantasy drafts next summer.  Calvin Johnson is spectacular (one of my 5 favorite players) and Roddy White has become a sure thing too.  However, the fact that Andre is playing through a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 2 – missing only one game – which was later re-aggravated in Week 8, makes me adore him.  Andre’s on pace for 1,360 yards .  You have to think it could have been 1,700 if he was healthy.  How is he making it through every week?  Insiders say Andre’s using PRP, or Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy, to heal faster between games.  Troy Polamalu says he used PRP to get his bad ankle ready for Super Bowl XL… though it’s still unproven in medical circles and the treatment isn’t even covered by insurance companies. 

JUMbo “Must Mention” of the Week: Packers RB Dimitri Nance at Atlanta.  Did anyone notice he had 12 carries for 37 yards in the blowout at Minnesota?  Most of it was mop-up duty but he did have two key carries in the 3rd quarter – an 11-yard run on 1st down, and a 7-yard run on a 2nd-and-8 play.  Nance also slammed a 2-yard run on a 3rd-and-1 early in the game, drawing excitable clapping from Mike McCarthy.  Brandon Jackson did his usual 14 carries for 28 yards, adding some nice plays in the passing game. 

JUMbo “Steer Clear” of the WeekFalcons RB Michael Turner vs. Green Bay.  Packers DC Dom Capers, the most prolific assistant coach in pro football, has this defense rolling like a steam train.  They’ve allowed a total of 10 points in the last 3 games – and get this, a grand total of 4 touchdowns in 5 road games.  Other defenses like Houston lost its “quarterback” LB DeMeco Ryans, and they wilted.  Green Bay lost “quarterback” LB Nick Barnett, not to mention SS Morgan Burnett, and just got better. That’s genius scheming from the booth, folks.  I wouldn’t start Michael Turner against Dom Capers.

Prediction A:  WR Jeremy Maclin, who’s tied for 8th in targets over the last 4 weeks, will catch 7 passes with a touchdown at Chicago.

Prediction B: The Cleveland Browns defense will pummel the visiting Carolina Panthers with a big handful of sacks and picks, holding them to 10 points or less.

Cheerleader pic-hunting is exhausting and monotonous.  It’s so much easier to stick to Tampa Bay’s lineup with unlimited talent – like our old friends Meagan (Wave back to her!) and Marlana.  How about a quick video of Marlana showing her moves?  

Good luck this week!

JUM

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