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Under the Numbers - Week 14
John U. Miller
December 7, 2010
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Digging deeper for a baker’s dozen of did-you-know stuff from Fantasy Week 13.

1. Dwayne Bowe blanked the pooch with 0 receptions in the 10-6 win over Denver.

Huddle Up:  Holy Choke Artist, Batman!  Bowe comes into the game hotter than Georgia asphalt and throws up a goose egg.  The Broncos were without two of their best defensive players – Brian Dawkins and Andre Goodman – but somehow Bowe just didn’t get involved in the flow.  Matt Cassel attempted a sturdy 31 passes but only 3 went toward Bowe.  Even WRs Verran Tucker and Dexter McCluster were targeted 4 and 3 times, respectively.  The Chiefs only got in the red zone twice and conducted seven plays down there.  All were running plays except the 2-yard TD pass to TE Leonard Pope.  Was it really as simple as Champ Bailey shutting down Bowe?  Have we forgotten about “shutdown corners” since Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis have been hobbled this year?  Yes and Yes.  “It may have been one of the finest performances a defensive back has had all year,” writes Doug Tucker of the AP.  Bowe is at San Diego in Week 14. You’re starting him no matter what, so shake it off and get ready for the next batter.

2. Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings continued to elevate fantasy teams toward trophies, plaques and other assorted league prizes – going absolutely haywire for the 4th week in a row.  Rodgers put up 337 total yards through the air and on the ground, throwing 3 TDs.  Jennings caught 6 passes for 122 yards and 2 TDs.

Huddle Up:  Rodgers is the No. 1 fantasy QB.  Jennings is the No. 3 or 4 fantasy WR, depending on your scoring.  They torched the 49ers, not much else I can add here.  I want to ask, “How many of you traded him/them in October?”  I can’t tell you how many emails and PMs I got early in the season asking whether it was time to bail on Rodgers or Jennings.  After 5 games Jennings had 3 scores, but he was averaging 37 yards and disappeared for large portions of games.  Similarly, Rodgers started out slow (remember, he was often a 1st-round fantasy pick) as well.  After 5 games he was around the 8th best fantasy QB in INT-penalty leagues.  My point is:  If you remained patient, Congratulations!  Better yet, if you deftly stepped in and traded for Rodgers or Jennings while the price was right, you are a fantasy genius.  Green Bay is at Detroit in Week 14.  Tally ho!

3. Josh Freeman completed 19 of 38 passes for 181 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in the 28-24 loss to Atlanta. 

Huddle Up:  Freeman continues to win over more and more fans each week, and you can count me in too.  His 4th down laser to WR Sammie Stroughter was one of the best plays of the year.  Unfortunately, Freeman threw a pick on the next play and the Falcons escaped with a win.  However, it doesn’t change the fact that Freeman is a rising star.  He’s thrown a TD in every game except one, and the only QB with more rushing yards is Michael Vick.  QB rushing yards are quietly terrific boosters – they can offset INTs in many fantasy leagues.  At the end of every season I have a notebook filled with personal thoughts; many written down just to remind myself something about a player next summer, when all the pre-season fantasy rankings start clouding our heads.  Freeman will surely be ranked around #16 or so, right where he finishes in 2010, because that’s the herd’s natural tendency.  My note on Freeman says: “Nowhere to go but up, sharply.  Give Freeman a full off-season with young stud WRs, look out.  Rank him around 8th or 9th.”  Week 14: Freeman at Redskins, who rank 30th against fantasy QBs.

4. Michael Vick threw for 302 yards and 2 TDs, plus rushed for 48 yards and 1 TD in the 34-24 win over Houston.

Huddle Up:  Simply put, Vick’s numbers make him the greatest fantasy weapon ever.  He’s averaging 28.3 points per game, better than Dan Marino’s hellish onslaught in 1984 at 27.9 points per game, the year he threw for 5,084 yards and 48 TDs.  The league’s all-time premier 2-way threat, Steve Young, averaged 25.6 in his biggest season in 1994.  And keep in mind, we’re averaging Vick across 9 games -- but he only played about ½ of two of those games.  The only thing that can stop Vick from winning people millions of fantasy titles is his health.  The Texans slammed into him repeatedly which is what everyone will try to do, even at the risk of a penalty or fine.  Next up is Philly at Dallas on Sunday night – and the Cowboys have given up at least 24 points in 8 of 12 games. 

5. Chris Johnson carried 13 times for 53 yards, and caught 2 passes for 14 yards in the 17-6 loss to Jacksonville.  Randy Moss caught one pass for 13 yards.

Huddle Up:  It’s Johnson’s second stinker in a row, leaving fantasy owners confused and hurt.  Ne’er-do-wells like Ovie Mughelli and James Davis had more fantasy points in Week 13.  It’s easy to point fingers at Titans LG Leroy Harris and C Eugene Amano (they are playing like pansies), or the QB carousel of fumbles, INTs, and temper tantrums, but the real culprit might be the Titans defense.  They can’t get off the field: ranked 26th in 3rd down conversions allowed.  Hence, the Titans offense ranks last in time of possession.  CJ might as well be a Cardinal.  Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road:  Do you start Johnson at home vs. Indianapolis on Thursday night?  The Colts just allowed 100+ yards to Mike Tolbert and Tashard Choice in consecutive weeks.  Moss?  He’s just an innocent bystander.  He’s averaging less than 4 pass targets per game as a Titan. 

6. Chris Ivory rumbled for 117 yards and 2 TDs on 15 carries in the 34-30 win at Cincinnati.  He’s the first Saints RB to post two 100-yard rushing games in a season since Deuce McAllister in 2006. 

Huddle Up:  He’s not a fluke.  Ivory busted his tail in training camp and by late August was a lock for at least the “Mike Bell” role – the guy who spelled Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and banged the rock in all short-yardage situations, including goal-line.  Then he sprained his knee in the preseason finale and missed most of September.  Now Ivory is healthy and Sean Payton is a believer. "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, referring to the return of Reggie Bush and/or Pierre Thomas.  The stats bear out the idea that Ivory needs more carries.  In his 6 games with 12+ carries he averages 5.9 per carry.  In the 4 games with less than 12 carries he averages 3.1.  Plus, the Saints lead the NFL with 50 red-zone trips this year – making a time-share less toxic for Ivory anyway.  Odds are, he gets a couple cracks at a score almost every week.  You’ll read about 22 different “Pierre could be ready” updates in the next few days but if I were an Ivory owner I’d ignore them.  Start him – at least as a flex – at home vs. St. Louis in Week 14. 
7. Tashard Choice carried 19 times for 100 yards and 1 TD in the 38-35 win at Indianapolis.

Huddle Up:  Choice is a “paid his dues” guy who seems like the real deal.  We’ve seen these running backs – Michael Turner, Mike Tolbert, Chester Taylor, Mike Goodson – do the grunt work, 3rd downs, or special teams for a couple years then they finally get their chance and Wham!  The Cowboys ran 14 plays inside the Colts’ 25-yard line and Choice carried the ball on 8 of those plays.  With Marion Barber (strained calf) likely out at least one more week, Choice should be at least a flex in all 12-team fantasy lineups this Sunday night at home vs. Philadelphia.  Trivia:  Choice red-shirted behind Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, then got a medical hardship to transfer to Georgia Tech.  He became only the 7th player in ACC history to lead all conference rushers in two consecutive years.

8. Earl Bennett caught 7 passes for 104 yards and 0 TDs in the 24-20 win at Detroit. 

Huddle Up:  You won’t find a more quietly-but-steadily-trending-up guy at the WR position.  His 8 targets in Week 13 were more than Devin Hester and Johnny Knox combined.   You’ve all heard about the Cutler-to-Bennett connection at Vanderbilt so I won’t rehash all that.  Just know this:  Mike Martz has reformed himself into a balanced play-caller, and all those Rams deep-outs and post routes are gone.  It’s all between the hashmarks now, and that’s where Bennett goes to work.  “He’s a security blanket,” said Lovie Smith.  Call me crazy, but at this time of year I want my fantasy WRs to be the respective security blankets for their teams.  Chicago is at home vs. New England in Week 14.  I think they can move the ball on the Patriots.  And if for some reason New England pumps ‘em full of lead early, then come-from-behind passing is welcomed.  Chicago is at Minnesota in Week 15. 

9. Vernon Davis caught 4 passes for 126 yards and 1 TD in the 34-16 loss at Green Bay. 

Huddle Up:  Davis broke his worst fantasy slump since 2008 with a 66-yard TD right before halftime.  Here’s the best part (and proof that the Fantasy Gods exist):  Alex Smith is going back in at quarterback per NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora.  Alex Smith is the man who put Davis on the fantasy map last year.  In a 18-game stretch from 2009-2010 with Alex throwing, Davis led all TEs with 142 targets.  Troy Smith has virtually ignored him.  Davis is a must-start at home vs. Seattle in Week 14, ditto at San Diego next week. 

10. Maurice Jones-Drew carried 31 times for 186 yards in the win at Tennessee. He added one catch for 4 yards.

Huddle Up:  I took some extra time Monday morning to re-watch Jaguars footage from September, then re-watch Sunday’s game at Tennessee.  Oh Wow, it is clear that Jones-Drew is a different guy now.  Whatever that knee issue/rumor was back in August is gone, daddy-o.  MJD was slamming into the Titans like a 12-gauge Buckhammer load.  The 186 is a career-best, the 5 straight 100-yard rushing games is a career-best, and he’s on pace for a career-best 1,569 rushing yards.  Yes, Rashad Jennings has stolen a TD in two straight games, but who’s complaining?  Jones-Drew has risen to the #5 RB ranking and you get the feeling he could catch everyone above him except Arian Foster.  He has the 4th easiest fantasy RB schedule left on the slate: vs. Oakland, @ Indianapolis, vs. Washington, and @ Houston.

11. Reggie Wayne caught 14 passes for 200 yards and 1 TD in the loss to Dallas. He was targeted a pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-floor 20 times.  Peyton Manning threw for 365 yards, 2 TDs, and 4 INTs. 

Huddle Up:  He almost had 201 yards and 2 TDs but fell about 10 inches short on a 3rd-quarter bomb (Javarris James banged in the TD).  Wayne also dropped a short pass in overtime that might have eventually led to the winning score.  Still, nit-picking should be off-limits when a receiver hits 200 so I’ll shut up.  It’s a lesson to all of us:  Reggie Wayne is almost impossible to bench because he (and maybe Roddy White) is one of those rare guys who can be targeted 15+ times by a deadly QB who fires BB’s.  The Colts’ remaining schedule doesn’t look outstanding on paper – @ Tennessee, vs. Jacksonville, @ Oakland – but c’mon… 20 targets?  Manning has thrown 11 INTs in the last 3 weeks – the most he’s ever had in three straight games – and 4 were returned for scores.  It’s no wonder the Colts have lost 3 straight. 

12. Ben Watson caught 10 passes for 100 yards and 1 TD in the 13-10 win at Miami.  He was targeted 11 times.  Peyton Hillis carried 18 times for 57 yards and caught 7 passes for 22 yards. 

Huddle Up:  It was the 3rd time Watson has had double-digit targets this year.  He’s the 9th best fantasy tight end in PPR leagues.  Watson is only 30 years old (next week) despite seemingly playing since like, 1999.  You have to think he could be a classic fantasy sleeper next year with Colt McCoy coming off a full offseason of starter preparation.  Hillis had an off game with “only” 79 total yards (repeat that to yourself, it sounds funny out loud – he was a fantasy afterthought in August!) but still remains the No. 2 or 3 fantasy RB in all scoring systems.  Dolphins NT Paul Soliai was a man-beast. 

13. Tom Brady threw for 326 yards and 4 TDs in the 45-3 drubbing of the New York Jets.

Huddle Up:  Brady and Michael Vick are making it a two-way race for NFL MVP.  Brady just posted his 5th straight multi-TD/zero INT game, 2nd all time – tied with Joe Theismann (5) and right behind Don Meredith (6), the Cowboys QB and Monday Night Football analyst who passed away Monday.  Brady is on a major roll and has vaulted into 5th place among fantasy QBs.  No other QB has more fantasy points over the last 6 weeks.  Nevertheless, Week 14 will present a dilemma for you Brady-owners.  He’s at Chicago, who has one of the most healthy and mistake-free defenses in the league.  If you’re lucky enough to own Brady & Cassel (@ San Diego), Brady & Orton (@ Arizona), or Brady & Ryan (@ Carolina) you will do some head-scratching this week.  Either way I’m pulling for you to get to the Big Show in Week 16:  New England at Buffalo. 

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