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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 14
John U. Miller
December 10, 2010
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“There's blood in the streets, it's up to my ankles.
Blood in the streets, it's up to my knee.”

The Doors – Peace Frog (“Morrison Hotel” - 1970)

Fantasy football in December… blood in the streets.  Tensions are unusually high as we get bumped off, one by one, each Sunday.  If you’re like me, you’ve had your ambitions scattered across the highway, run over again and again by all the winning fantasy owners and braggarts whizzing past you.  It’s painful.     

“Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding.
Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind.”

I’m that child… like that young Jim Morrison from The Doors movie, peering wide-eyed out the car window at a nasty accident in the desert.  Fantasy owners standing around holding laptops and DirecTV remotes, some crying, others staring blankly back at me.   What did we do to deserve this?  It’s a bad scene.  I want to blame somebody, and there’s definitely some blame to be passed around after Week 13’s action.  I can identify 6 players off the top of my head who contributed to this year’s mid-to-late season wreckage:

1. DeSean Jackson – The league’s most electrifying player has been left unplugged at times, costing us points we could have pulled consistently from another less-flashy WR.  I know personally, I was high as a kite when Jackson exploded for 301 total yards and 2 TDs in Weeks 2-3.  Kept starting him every week.  Weeks 4-5, nothing.  Nothing.  Week 6, scores two TDs in the first 8 minutes, then the concussion.  A few weeks later he returns to pop the 88-yarder on the first play at Washington – then catches one more pass for 10 yards the rest of the night.  That 98 yards hurt in my league (and probably yours too) because we give a 3-point bonus at 100.  Over the last month I should have started Steve Johnson or even Derrick Mason, but no, I keep coming back for the high-voltage D-Jax.  You gotta love the Eagles offense, but next year give me the steady 60-watt bulb, Jeremy Maclin.

2. Miles Austin – Put it this way, if I had gone golfing last Sunday afternoon and then come home around 6:00, checked the box scores and saw Cowboys 38, Colts 35 (OT), I would have immediately thought, “Austin got a big piece of the action.”  Nope.  4 catches for 47 yards.  And if you watched the game it didn’t even feel like 4 catches.  He caught a 22-yard pass early in the game and then disappeared.  Jon Kitna tried to force him a quick-slant TD from the 5-inch line late in the game but Austin wasn’t in position. Is it just me or is Austin quietly nursing some sort of hip or back injury?  He’s running “tight” to me.  Austin has also been pushing off all year and I’m surprised it isn’t called more often. 

3. Chris Johnson – Yeah, last night was great.  179 total yards, 1 TD.   But it was too late for many of us.  His 74 total yards on only 24 touches in the previous two games buried a zillion fantasy squads.  0 TDs from Weeks 11-13.  Sure, he was working in dire circumstances – a hobbled Kerry Collins, clueless Rusty Smith, OC Mike Heimerdinger’s cancer, players quitting on defense – but nevertheless it was one of the most damaging and ill-timed fantasy slumps in recent history.  I will say this:  Going forward, Kenny Britt helps CJ in many ways.  He draws attention from safeties, and he really gets after run-blocks at the 2nd level.

4. Kyle Orton & Brandon Lloyd – These two have been fantasy wonder boys all season, but they really let people down in Week 13 with 117 yards in the air and 0 TDs.  Lloyd only caught 2 balls for 31 yards.  Over the last 7 weeks Orton has put up 4 so-so or awful games: 209/1 TD vs. the Jets, 198/2 vs. Oakland, 217/1 vs. the Chargers, and last week’s tragedy.  You can’t really bash these guys too hard, though.  Lloyd has been the absolute #1 September Fantasy Pickup of 2010, and Orton was a 13th round draft pick at best.  Now there’s a new coach, so who knows what lies ahead over the next 4 games.  Knowshon Moreno averages 22 touches over the last 4 games, by the way.

5. Dwayne Bowe – Week 13 will leave a permanent scar on a lot of us… For all of the magic Bowe has performed this season, you watch, the one thing Bowe-owners will remember the most next summer is the Goose Egg.  We’re a thankless, unforgiving bunch.  But seriously, what happened?  Broncos safety Brian Dawkins wasn’t even active.  What’s crazy is that just a month ago this guy popped Denver for 13 catches, 186 yards, and 2 TDs – in Denver – with safety Brian Dawkins in the lineup.  Now Matt Cassel (appendectomy) might miss a game or two?  The Fantasy Gods giveth, and they taketh away.   

6. Darren McFadden – He was such a terrific and productive surprise busting out of the gates.  In his first 4 games he piled up 554 total yards (a pace for over 2,200), 16 receptions, and 2 TDs.  Then the hamstring cost him two weeks.  I’ll pardon McFadden for that, however, because he returned in Week 7 with one of the all-time great fantasy performances:  196 total yards and 4 TDs at Denver.  But over the last 5 weeks there have been 23 RBs that have outscored him.  McFadden put up 95 total yards and 0 TDs in Weeks 11 & 12.  Ouch!

Prediction A:  WR ____ ____ will play a ton of snaps in place of the injured ____ ____ and become a dandy flex player at home vs. ____.

Prediction B:  RB ____ ____ will touch the ball 20-24 times at home vs. the ____ and log 100+ total yards and a TD.
 
I’ll fill in those blanks in just a minute…

Now, enough of my loser’s lament… A lot of you are still in the hunt and it’s my job to assist you in any way I can, tell ya some stuff you didn’t know.  No fancy grids and stat tables this week, let’s just talk lineups.  It’s playoff time.  First, I’ll offer my take on 5 of the most common WDIS posts I’ve seen on the Forums.

Who Do I Start?

1. “Should I start Chris Ivory over…?”

Normally Ivory is a must-start in 12-team leagues coming off a 117-yard, 2-TD performance at Cincinnati.  It’s a home game vs. the Rams.  Since 2008 the Saints average 28 points per game at home (including playoffs) and this week they seem poised for a 40-burger with everyone healthy.  And there’s the rub… Pierre Thomas is reportedly healthy.  Will Ivory take a back seat?  If you listen to Sean Payton’s comments the answer is no.  "Chris has done a number of good things and I don't want to affect his snap count at all in regards to his carries," Payton said.  Plus -- and I know it doesn’t matter to anyone but me -- I knew Ivory was going to be a player in August when he wore #48 instead of #29.  Ivory sprained his MCL a week later, otherwise he’s bangin’ all year.  Start him if you got him.  More on the Saints RBs below…

2. “Is Denver’s defense really worth a start?”

Against Cardinals QB John Bartel?  Or is it Richard Skelton, I can’t remember… Hell yes, if you have the Broncos, start ‘em.  If they’re on the waiver-wire, pick ‘em up.  It’s the perfect storm.  It’s a ticked-off, ornery Broncos defense who just lost their head coach, coming off a stifling performance at Kansas City.  They held KC (in Arrowhead) to less than 5 yards per play, 6-of-14 on 3rd downs, and even though they didn’t pick Matt Cassel off – they sacked him twice, hit him a total of 5 times, and deflected 3 of his passes.  Then here comes Cardinals QB J.R. Bartelskelton, at home in front of his miserable fans, about to make his first career NFL start.  I actually like the Broncos better in Arizona for this one.  The home crowd will start booing early and filing out of the stadium at halftime.  Denver’s defense can fly around like it’s a camp scrimmage, having fun, racking up sacks.  And if Champ Bailey can shut down Dwayne Bowe he’ll do the same to the slower Larry Fitzgerald.

3. “Bench ____ for Driver?”

Jeremy Maclin, Steve Johnson, & Miles Austin are just a few of the studs being considered for pine-riding now that Driver suddenly showed up.  Let’s analyze exactly where Driver stands in fantasy circles these days.  A. Yes, that was an amazing 61-yard TD catch-and-run last week… or did six different 49ers simply forget how to tackle?  B. Take away that play and Driver had 3 catches for 12 yards.   I know it’s tempting to jump back on Driver’s bandwagon but I can’t do it.  His health and age scare me.  I’d start any of those three above – even the slumping Austin – over Driver.  What if Green Bay gets up 27-10 on two TDs to Jennings, a defensive score, and two FGs?  They will reduce Driver’s snaps and keep him fresher for the stretch run.  Jeremy Maclin and Steve Johnson, they have to be in your lineup somewhere, right?  They’re both so capable of 100/1 and Driver doesn’t seem like that guy anymore.  Hmmm… maybe I could bench Austin for Driver, I suppose.

4. “Stick with Bradshaw or go with…?”

Bradshaw, a “No. 2” RB on his own team, carried 25 times for 97 yards and 2 TDs vs. the Redskins last week.  He actually benefits when Brandon Jacobs handles a load between the 20’s… he seems to have more pop.  I can’t imagine benching A.B. unless you’re in a 8-teamer carrying a loaded pistol with 4 RBs in the chamber.  Nevertheless, I’ve had at least 15 questions with Bradshaw/Blount or Bradshaw/Stewart in my inbox.  Tough calls.  Blount had 20 carries for 103 yards & 1 TD last week, but he’s getting stuffed near the goal-line and they are talking about Earnest Graham again.  In fact, I went through Blount’s game longs and he’s had 8 tries from the 3-yard line and in – while only scoring 2 TDs.  I’d go Bradshaw over Blount.  As for Jonathan Stewart...  Look, I watched him play last week and he was really good.  Looked like the old J-Stew.  On one play he threw Seahawks LB Lofa Tatupu off him like he was a little biting ferret.  But will you really stick Stewart in your lineup – vs. Atlanta – in the fantasy playoffs?  Bradshaw’s on a much better team and he’s a proven guy.

5. “Roethlisberger or…”

Busted nose, cracked foot, who cares.  I think he’ll tear the Bengals up at Heinz Field.  The question is who would you start over Roethlisberger?   Rodgers, Vick, Brees, Brady, sure.  All four have achieved must-start status.  Brady’s at feisty, healthy Chicago, though I’d still choose Brady… but not by much.  In fact, ask me tomorrow and I might say Roethlisberger over Brady.  Anyway after those studs it’s Rivers (vs. KC), Orton (at Arizona), and Flacco (at Houston).  I would start Roethlisberger at home over all of them, even Orton against the lousy Cardinals.  I just can’t trust Orton in my big Week 14 showdown.  Ben is making tough throws in brutal matchups, and besides, you want the ball in the hands of your ace pitcher, right?  Ben’s a chain-mover.  The Broncos are really bad on 3rd downs – ranked 29th in the league – which makes me wary in December.  Plus I’m terrified of interim coach Eric Studesville running the ball more.  He’s been their Running Backs coach for Pete’s sake.  I’m also scared about Tim Tebow being used on more inside-the-5 packages.

This Cowboys cheerleader roots for a 4-8 team but you can’t see it in her face.  Did you even look at her face?

JUMbo Spin Cycle:

“The New Orleans Saints have placed RB Ladell Betts (neck) on Injured Reserve, ending his 2010 season,” – Jeff Duncan, Times-Picayune.

JUMbo Spin:  He’s probably not really hurt, it’s sort of an unwritten code that coaches let hard-working, low-priced vets maintain their reputation.  So you call it a neck injury.  You don’t waive him right before Christmas.  Betts remains under contract, so he’ll collect a few extra game checks.  It’s a wink-wink between coach and player, kind of a “don’t tell the owner” kind of thing.  Anyway, placing Betts on IR is a sure sign that Pierre Thomas is finally getting better, right??  Jeff Duncan at the Times-Picayune told me he’s convinced Pierre is being back-pocketed for January work.  Look for him to get a few touches, but nothing substantial anytime soon. By the way, regarding Betts… I have family and friends around the New Orleans region and they will always remember Betts for his Week 5 fumble at Arizona that was returned for a touchdown, giving the Cards a 23-13 fourth-quarter lead and sealing a terrible loss.  That loss could be the difference between the Saints and Falcons in the division. 

“I would like Ryan to play. We were throwing the ball. The hardest part is the pass protection when you’re in the nickel situation.  Obviously, (Mike) Tolbert knows the protections.” – Norv Turner, Chargers Head Coach.

JUMbo Spin:  Turner was answering reporters after Ryan Mathews was active vs. the Raiders but didn’t play a single snap last week.  Oakland got up 14-0 in a hurry and the Chargers couldn’t pound the football anymore.  Mathews doesn’t play on passing downs.  At all.  I’ve followed every word from Turner’s mouth this year and to me it’s clear that A. Ryan Mathews hasn’t panned out as a complete back, ankle injury or not, and B. Mike Tolbert has become Turner’s go-to guy, grades out superbly in the passing game, and seems to fire up his offensive linemen.  Norv has always preferred a go-to guy – Emmitt Smith, Terry Allen, Ricky Williams, Stephen Davis, L.T.  Now with Darren Sproles (concussion) likely out this week, Tolbert better pull up his bootstraps and be ready to work.  He won’t be leaving the field much at all. 

“There was interest in Marc Bulger, but the Rams didn't release him until April, and the Cardinals couldn't afford to wait that long if they wanted to sign a veteran,” – Kent Somers, Arizona Republic.

JUMbo Spin:  I think it’s one of the most underreported tragedies of the 2010 NFL season.  Think about it, the Cardinals knew Kurt Warner wasn’t coming back.  Ken Whisenhunt knew deep down Matt Leinart wasn’t going to lead this team.  Yet he signed off on the Derek Anderson acquisition anyway.  Passing on Bulger was a huge mistake.  He’s a Warner-clone, for God’s sake!  Ok, maybe a little streakier and more brittle – but still, Bulger can whip the ball around the field.  His 62.1% career completion rate ranks 16th all-time -- ahead of Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly.   Bulger averages 237.6 passing yards per game, 9th all-time on the career charts, better than the legendary Warren Moon!  And just to rub salt in the wound, Baltimore scooped up Bulger on a discount, a measly 1-year, $3.8 million deal.  Not signing Marc Bulger was the worst move Whisenhunt’s made in his coaching career.  

“Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassel missed practice on Wednesday after the Chiefs signed third QB Tyler Palko from the practice squad. That brought up plenty of questions about Cassel's availability on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.” – Joel Thorman, ArrowheadPride.com.

JUMbo Spin:  It’s really not important to fantasy owners whether Cassel is active Sunday or not – because you’re not starting him even if he plays.  You can’t use a guy who just had his appendix removed 96 hours before kickoff.  Brodie Croyle will start if Cassel can’t go, which leaves Dwayne Bowe-owners in a pickle.  On one hand, Croyle is 0-9 as a starter and clearly not able to generate big passing stats (he is a tough SOB, however).  On the other hand, a backup like Croyle often radar-locks on a bread-and-butter guy like Bowe.  Me?  If Croyle’s under center I’m sitting Bowe.  The Chargers rank No. 2 in allowing fantasy points to QBs and WRs.  Note:  The AFC West playoff implications are huge if Cassel misses the next 2 games.  It could result in a Chargers win this Sunday, making them 7-6 to Kansas City’s 8-5.  Then next week the Rams could beat the Croyle-led Chiefs, while San Diego beats the 49ers.  8-6, 8-6.  KC ends with Tennessee and Oakland at home.  SD ends with Cincinnati and Denver on the road. And don’t forget the Raiders are totally in the mix as well. 

When I think of Christmas, I think of frothy rum-spiked egg nog, my little girl surveying her presents under the tree, and my grandmother’s roast turkey stuffed with sausage and chestnuts… Speaking of chestnuts, here’s a Christmas card from Meagan, one of the best cheerleaders in the NFL. 

How about some love for Adrian Peterson?  I don’t mention him enough.  He’s knee-deep in QB crap just like Chris Johnson, right?  In fact, he has much worse quarterbacking (Favre has a 69.6 rating) but still comes out blasting for 107 yards and 3 TDs on a bad ankle last week.  He’s 4th in the league in rushing with 1,123 yards. DailyNorseman.com reports: “Adrian Peterson is now the fourth player in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons.  The other three?  Just a few nobodies named Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, and LaDainian Tomlinson.”  And the one stat that really matters… the grandaddy of them all… 276 total touches, 1,455 total yards, 12 total touchdowns... Zero fumbles.

Mumbo JUMbo:

--Ray Rice hasn’t had a run longer than 30 yards from scrimmage all year.
--Denver had a 65/35 pass-run ratio under Josh McDaniels this year.  He was fired.
--The Jaguars are 5-0 when David Garrard attempts 22 or less passes.
--Chris Johnson broke a 14-quarter touchdown-less streak for the Titans offense.
--Jacob Tamme averages 10.0 fantasy points per start, 2nd only to Antonio Gates’ 13.8.
--The Vikings hadn’t scored 30 all year, in comes Tarvaris Jackson, Boom - 38 points.
--This week Seattle starts the same 5-man offensive line in 3 straight games for the first time all year.
--Cowboys LB Sean Lee had 4 tackles, 2 INTs (1 for TD), and 2 pass deflections at Indy last week.
--Colts HC Jim Caldwell should let Javarris James loose with 25 carries.  He strikes me as a better-as-the-game-wears-on type of runner.  Donald Brown has heart but he’s mediocre.
--Cedric Benson has averaged 3.5 yards or less in 19 of his last 36 games.
--Seahawks TE Cameron Moorah caught 3 passes for 69 yards last week vs. Carolina.
--Eagles LT Jason Peters has faced 5 straight Pro Bowl DE/LBs the last 5 weeks and only allowed 1 sack.
--Ronnie Brown averages 49.6 rush yards over his last 16 games.  Fred Jackson averages 68.3.
--Ryan Fitzpatrick is going for his 14th straight game with a touchdown pass.
--Steve Johnson needs 3 TDs to break Buffalo’s club-record of 11 TD catches in a season, held by… Andre Reed?  James Lofton?  Eric Moulds?  Nope.  Billy Brooks.
--Atlanta gave up 103 yards to LeGarrette Blount; they hadn't allowed a 100-yd rusher since Week 2.
--Carolina (1-11) is the front-runner for the No. 1 pick and Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
--After 10 games the Saints had 4 plays of 40+ yards. They've had 7 plays of 40+ yards in the last 2 games.
--The Ravens have given up 6 different 4th quarter leads this season, losing 4 of those games.
 --Reggie Wayne leads the NFL with 10 drops per STATS Inc.  He’s been targeted 151 times.
--Roddy White has only dropped 5 passes.  He’s been targeted 139 times.
--Alex Smith has a 124.4 red-zone QB rating, #1 in the NFL.  Philip Rivers is 26th at 84.9.
--Mark Sanchez has 8 TD passes and 11 INTs in the last 3 weeks.
--Marques Colston is 3rd in the league with 16 red-zone targets.  Lance Moore is 2nd with 18.
--Terrell Owens leads the NFL with 19 red-zone targets. 
--TEs Rob Gronkowski & Aaron Hernandez have 5 & 4 red-zone TD catches.  Brent Celek has 2.  Kellen Winslow has 1.
--Legedu Naanee (hamstring) is out.  Vincent Jackson (calf) made a surprise return to practice Thursday.  I still think Seyi Ajirotutu will play a ton of snaps vs. the Chiefs.
--Texans DE Mario Williams has been playing with a sports hernia.  He’s tied for 2nd among DEs with 8.5 sacks, including 3 in his last 3 games.
--I didn’t know Pierre Garcon weighed 210 lbs.  He reminds me of a young Hines Ward.
--Pierre Garcon has 19 catches for 221 yards & 3 TDs in his last 3 games.  Those are a young Hines Ward’s numbers.

JUMbo Deep Sleepers:

Seattle WRs Mike Williams (ankle) and Ben Obomanu (hand) haven’t practiced at all.  I’m guessing a decent sleeper fantasy play is Brandon Stokley, who’s caught 15 passes the last 3 weeks…..  Bills RG Eric Wood has to fill in for injured C Geoff Hangartner vs. Cleveland.  Then they’ll start rookie Ed Wang at RG, but he’s never played guard – and Wang’s first NFL experience was last week when he filled in at left guard in the 4th quarter.  Therefore, Cleveland’s defense is a fantasy play….. Lions WR Nate Burleson is also a sleeper, he averages a very healthy 8 targets over the last 7 weeks, and Packers CB Charles Woodson hurt his ankle in practice and will be less than 100%.... Ravens TE Todd Heap is not expected to play with a nasty hamstring pull, which gives Ed Dickson the opportunity he’s waited for at Houston….  Raiders RB Michael Bush (at Jacksonville) had 23 carries for 95 yards and 1 TD last week.   Did you know Bush has 16 carries inside the 10-yard line this year compared to Darren McFadden’s 9?

JUMbo “Steer Clear” of the WeekFalcons QB Matt Ryan at Carolina.  For some reason the Panthers have managed to play sound pass defense under DC Ron Meeks.  He schemes a pure cover-2 with CBs Richard Marshall & Chris Gamble playing disciplined football.  The Panthers have allowed three 40+ yard pass plays all year.  Only New England has allowed less.  Opposing quarterbacks have a combined 78.5 passer rating against Carolina, the 6th stingiest mark in the league.  Matt Ryan has had five games with 3 TD passes in his career but all five have come at home. 

Prediction A:  WR Sam Hurd will play a ton of snaps in place of the injured Dez Bryant and become a dandy flex player at home vs. Philadelphia.

Prediction B:  RB Mike Tolbert will touch the ball 20-24 times at home vs. the Chiefs and log 100+ total yards and a TD.

You didn’t think I’d wrap this up without another shot of Meagan’s teammate Marlana, did you?

Good luck this week!

JUM

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