BUFFALO BILLS 13, CLEVELAND BROWNS 6
The Bills didn’t amount much offense; they just sat around and waited for the Browns to make mistakes. The two substantial drives they did mount were pure grind-it-out, with the only plays of double-digit yardage the TD pass to David Nelson (1-11-1) and a 35-yard completion to tight end Jonathan Stupar (3-45); otherwise, it was dink and dunk and a whole lot of Fred Jackson (29-112, 1-3 receiving).
This was supposed to be a walkover, specifically for Peyton Hillis (21-108, 4-10). But when he was denied twice from inside the five-yard line on Cleveland’s first drive... well, that was pretty much it for the Brownies. Didn’t help that Hillis put the ball on the ground three times, losing one, as the Browns turned the ball over three times. Non-Hillis Browns accounted for just 69 yards of offense, and Cleveland couldn’t even get across midfield in the second half.
FANTASY IMPACT: While Hillis’ inability to find the end zone dealt many fantasy owners a fatal blow, how impressive is fact that he averaged five yards a carry despite the rest of his mates doing absolutely nothing? Just think what he’ll be able to do when the Browns surround him with some skill position talent. The Bills may have that talent already in place, but Ryan Fitzpatrick (14-23-142-1, 4-49 rushing) and Stevie Johnson (5-42) didn’t display much this week. Worse, Johnson used to be Fitz’s BFF in the red zone; this week, Buffalo ran Jackson on seven of 13 red zone snaps and targeted Johnson only once—and it was incomplete.
ATLANTA FALCONS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 10
You expected anything other than the big three? This time it was Michael Turner (28-112-3, 1-12) doing most of the work, with an assist from Matt Ryan (20-34-227-1-1). Roddy White (8-79) paced the receiving corps and Tony Gonzalez (4-28-1) tallied the touchdown; the only other Falcon with any contribution of significance was Harry Douglas, whose one catch for 46 yards set up Turner’s first TD.
You expected anything other than Carolina running the football? While a Jonathan Stewart fumble on the Panthers’ opening drive set a negative tone and staked the Falcons to an early lead, he used a couple long runs to finish with 133 yards on 18 carries—though Mike Goodson (9-70-1, 1-6 receiving) vultured his touchdown. The backs accounted for 209 of Carolina’s 288 yards of total offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: If you’re thinking about a DeAngelo Williams Panthers jersey for Christmas, might as well wait until they go on clearance after he’s no longer with the team. With Williams a free agent-to-be and the Stewart/Goodson tandem the only functioning portion of the Carolina offense, you have to believe that’s the game plan for 2011—of course, if the Panthers’ new coach agrees. Oh that all teams were as centered as the Falcons—fantasy-wise, that is. Atlanta produced a total of 11 yards that Ryan, Turner, White, and/or Gonzo didn’t have a part in. And of Ryan’s 227 passing yards, just 108 went beyond the trio of White, Gonzo, and Turner. No committees or vultures to worry about here.
DETROIT LIONS 7, GREEN BAY PACKERS 3
It took the Lions... oh, about 11 series to get going, but thanks to their defense it was enough. Actually, Detroit took their second series into Packers territory but Drew Stanton (10-22-117-1-2, 4-44 rushing) threw an interception. They didn’t get any deeper than Green Bay’s 48 until late in the third quarter, when they missed a field goal. Finally, at the start of the fourth quarter they pieced together a 12-play that ended with Will Heller (1-13-1) scoring the game winner.
The big story, of course, is Aaron Rodgers (7-11-46-0-1, 2 25 rushing) exiting with a concussion just before halftime. But the Packers generated only two first downs with Rodgers at the helm, and they didn’t come until Green Bay’s sixth drive of the game. Rodgers also threw his first pick in five games; as you might expect, between Rodgers’ struggles and backup Matt Flynn’s (15-26-177-0-1, 3-10 rushing) inexperience, the numbers of Greg Jennings (4-52) took a serious hit.
FANTASY IMPACT: Another reason Jennings’ numbers nosedived: as young quarterbacks are wont to do, Flynn leaned heavily on tight end Andrew Quarless (5-62). Neither Packer QB had the benefit of any sort of ground game; mythical legend James Starks underachieved mightily, mustering just eight yards on six carries. The Lions didn’t run the ball much better, but they did run it more with Jahvid Best (13-38, 1-4 receiving) and Maurice Morris (11-51, 1-6 receiving) handling the ball on 26 of the Lions’ 63 plays. Conversely, Calvin Johnson touched the ball just twice, once on a 13-yard end-around and once on a 44-yard catch.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 38, OAKLAND RAIDERS 31
Compared to the rest of the relatively low-scoring early games, this was a point orgy. David Garrard (11-22-159-3-1) wasn’t prolific or even all that efficient, but he finished three drives with scores. Jacksonville’s running game did most of the heavy lifting; Rashad Jennings (5-109-1) broke off a 74-yard TD run to launch the Jaguars’ comeback from a 10-point deficit, while Maurice Jones-Drew (23-101-1, 3-19 receiving) was quiet until busting a 30-yard game-winning TD of his own in the final two minutes.
It would be easy to say Darren McFadden (16-123-2, 3-86-1 receiving) single-handedly kept the Raiders in the game, but while his performance was superlative he had plenty of help. Jason Campbell (21-30-324-2) shrugged off a mid-game injury to put up some very nice numbers, and while they were helped by McFadden’s 67-yard catch-and-run he also involved Zach Miller (4-68) and Louis Murphy (6-59-1), as well as three other Raider receivers who topped 40 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: It’s a bit of a myth that the Raiders employ a two-headed backfield; while McFadden was rolling up another set of monster number (distance leaguers, note that his touchdowns came on 30-, 51-, and 67-yard plays), Michael Bush (5-22) touched the ball only five times—even though he averaged better than four yards a carry. Eight of Garrard’s 11 completions went to backs and tight ends, led by Marcedes Lewis (4-57-1); however, even though Mike Thomas was blanked the three grabs by Jaguar wide receivers accounted for two touchdowns.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 7
Despite a nine-minute advantage in time of possession the Steelers’ offense couldn’t get into the end zone against Cincy; thankfully, Carson Palmer threw their defense a couple touchdowns. And even though the weather was less than perfect, Pittsburgh was more effective behind the arm of Ben Roethlisberger (21-33-258, 3-23 rushing) than the legs of Rashard Mendenhall (18-66).
The Bengals scored the games’ first and only offensive touchdown on the opening drive, but rather than use one of his diva receivers Carson Palmer (20-32-178-1-3) went to... tackle eligible Andrew Whitworth? Holy vultures, Batman! Then again, the divas did little to help Palmer out; Chad Ochocinco (6-71) was far and away the team’s leading receiver, but Terrell Owens (1-22) barely registered on the radar.
FANTASY IMPACT: So much for sticking to the run. Cedric Benson (8-19, 3-26) was somewhere between underwhelming and abysmal, with little relief from Bernard Scott (4-15). While Roethlisberger completed passes to seven different receivers, the bulk of his production—all but 65 of his 258 yards—was split between wideouts Hines Ward (8-115) and Mike Wallace (5-78).
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 17, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 16
Josh Freeman (15-25-266-1, 6-10 rushing plus a two-point conversion) made two big plays: a 64-yard hook-up with Arrelious Benn (4-122) to set up their first field goal and a 41-yard TD toss to Kellen Winslow for the game-winning score. Those were the Bucs’ only two plays of more than 20 yards, but they ground out enough little plays to set up three Conner Barth field goals and made those two big plays stand up—and make up for a fumbled snap on the one-yard line going in.
The Redskins took four of their first five drives inside the red zone, but Graham Gano missed two chip shots; thus, all Washington had to show for Ryan Torain’s team record 158 rushing yards was 10 points. Torain finished with 172 yards on 24 carries, and the Redskins’ passing game was relatively effective as well behind 22-35-228-2 from Donovan McNabb. Santana Moss (7-82-1) looked to tie the game late, but a botched PAT handed the W to the Bucs.
FANTASY IMPACT: Torain looked plenty healthy after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury. Given Mike Shanahan’s infatuation with him, he’ll likely be the Skins’ feature back heading into 2011. However, Keiland Williams (4-16, 3-60 receiving) could have a role as a third-down back as well. LeGarrette Blount (15-68) continued to be the lead dog in Tampa Bay’s backfield, but he lost a fumble and was notable by his absence when the team was at the goal line. That could take a serious bite out of his fantasy value going forward.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 13
Drew Brees (25-40-221-3-2) was far from his sharpest, but a couple early darts to Marques Colston (5-46-2) put the Saints up top early and a Lance Moore (5-70-1) score salted the game away.
Sam Bradford (18-32-231-0-2, 2-5-1) was just a little bit overmatched by the Saints secondary, but the same can be said for a lot of quarterbacks. One of Bradford’s two red zone picks was brought back 96 yards for a touchdown, though a late quarterback sneak may have salvaged some of his fantasy value.
FANTASY IMPACT: Steven Jackson (16-96, 4-38 receiving) was once again the offensive workhorse... and once again kept out of the end zone. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as SJax had two cracks from the one prior to Bradford’s TD sneak. Pierre Thomas (12-39, 4-29 receiving) returned to muddle the backfield picture; neither he nor Reggie Bush (9-39, 5-22) were particularly effective, but they accounted for 30 touches between them. A good chunk of those touches used to go to Chris Ivory (7-47), who tweaked his hammy and didn’t touch the ball after the Saints’ second TD drive. Going forward, this RBBC looks messy.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 40, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 21
The Niners scored on six of seven first-half drives, taking advantage of three Seattle turnovers and marching 68 or more yards the other three times. Alex Smith (17-27-255-3) was surprisingly effective in his return to the starting role, getting big plays in the passing game from Josh Morgan (3-82-1) and Vernon Davis (5-70-1) as well as a combo contribution from Brian Westbrook (9-23 on the ground, 6-87-1 receiving).
Take away the four interceptions and one lost fumble and Matt Hasselbeck (27-42-285-2) had a pretty good fantasy game even without his two best receivers. In lieu of Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu, Hass went to Ruvell Martin (4-73-1) and Deon Butler (5-68-1 before suffering a season-ending broken leg)—as well as eight other receivers, none of whom tallied more than 37 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: Hasselbeck loses another receiver with Butler’s broken leg, but they haven’t shown any inclination to back away from throwing the ball. Maybe it’s because their defense is digging them holes, or maybe it’s because their backfield has been utterly ineffective. Marshawn Lynch (10-29, 7-37 receiving) was the most productive, unless you count Leon Washington’s (4-10, 1-13 receiving) third kickoff return touchdown of the season. The Niners, on the other hand, are replacing the injured Frank Gore with a combo platter of Westbrook and Anthony Dixon (14-60, 1-8 receiving). Add it up and San Francisco got 30 touches, 178 yards from scrimmage, and a touchdown from Gore’s stand-ins.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 43, DENVER BRONCOS 13
Jay Feely (1-5-1) scored Arizona’s first 22 points and Tim Hightower (18-148-2) put the boot to the Broncos’ collective throat as the Cardinals made life easy for rookie quarterback John Skelton (15-37-146). At least Skelton knew where to find Larry Fitzgerald (6-72), who accounted for 40 percent of his completions and nearly half his yardage.
The Broncos turned the ball over six times, four alone from Kyle Orton (19-41-166-0-3), and failed to follow up a first-quarter field goal with anything resembling offense. They couldn’t string together more than five plays in a drive until a six-play series to open the second half ended with a missed field goal. By the time Knowshon Moreno (19-81, 5-32 receiving) notched Denver’s lone touchdown it was far too little, far too late.
FANTASY IMPACT: Not only did Orton’s egg drag down Brandon Lloyd (5-32), Jabar Gaffney (3-48), and Eddie Royal (4-46), it also opened the door on speculation that Tim Tebow will get more than just a token late-season start. If you’ve been riding the Denver passing game into the postseason, consider this a call to scramble the jets and come up with a Plan B. Don’t let the 43 points fool you, Skelton isn’t taking this offense anywhere. He completed just 40 percent of his passes and was outgained by Hightower. Oh, and don’t look for much help from Beanie Wells, who carried six times for 16 yards before leaving with a tummy ache; now he knows how anyone who spent a fantasy draft pick on him this season feels.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 36, CHICAGO BEARS 7
You didn’t bench Tom Brady (27-40-369-2) just because of the weather, did you? Did you forget his last snowstorm game, when he threw for six touchdowns in the snow against the Titans last year? Brady picked the Bears apart despite the wind and snow, working short to Wes Welker (8-115) and long to Deion Branch (8-151-1) en route to the blowout victory.
These Bears aren’t built for the Windy City; Matt Forte (9-25, 2-36) was unable to run the ball and Jay Cutler (12-26-152-0-2) couldn’t generate anything in the passing game. Aside from Forte’s combo performance, Earl Bennett (3-53) was the only Bear who could muster more than 40 yards of offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: Depending on where the Vikings end up playing next Monday, the Bears could conceivably be in winter wonderlands the rest of the way with a home game in Week 16 and a trip to Lambeau in Week 17. That’s not exactly great news considering how this offense responded to the elements. Before you get too giddy about the Patriots perhaps having found their go-to back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis (21-87), it’s worth noting that he was on the sidelines when the Patriots got inside the five; that’s how Danny Woodhead (7-21-1, 2-1 receiving) stole his touchdown. Classic anti-logical thinking from Bill Belichick, but maybe it’ll be the Pats’ 2011 RBBC blueprint.
MIAMI DOLPHINS 10, NEW YORK JETS 6
The Dolphins took advantage of two Jets turnovers and the short fields they created to put up 10 first-quarter points; after that, they mustered just two first downs and 33 yards of offense. The only notable offensive play was a Brandon Marshall (2-16-1) touchdown grab on a play at the goal line where the Jets’ defense got too creative for itself and opted to bracket cover Marshall with a linebacker and a safety; obviously, that didn’t work out too well.
Looking like they were still hung over from being taken apart by the Patriots last week, the Jets entered the red zone once and couldn’t cobble together enough offense to generate a touchdown. Mark Sanchez (17-44-216-0-1, 2-20 rushing) was awful, though he certainly wasn’t helped by key drops from Jerricho Cotchery (5-69) and Santonio Holmes (3-34). Sanchez also owned the Jets’ longest run from scrimmage at 14 yards, which tells you about how things went for LaDainain Tomlinson (19-49, 2-5 receiving) and Shonn Greene (8-17, 3-29 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: Greene left the game with an undisclosed injury, which may be why LT was once again the lead dog in Gang Green’s RBBC. And right tackle Damien Woody sat out most of the game with a knee injury, which certainly had something to do with the Jets’ ineffectiveness on the ground. With dates in Pittsburgh and Chicago the next two weeks, suddenly the New York ground game looks like anything but a fantasy helper. Miami’s ground machine was only slightly better, with Ronnie Brown (16-55) and Ricky Williams (10-34) combining to average less than 3.5 yards per carry. With home games against the Bills and Lions, however, things look a whole lot rosier for the Dolphins down the fantasy stretch.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 31, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 0
Vincent Jackson (2-29, 1-14 rushing) was back on the field, but Philip Rivers (18-24-226-2-1) still preferred Malcom Floyd (4-51-2); he also checked down plenty to Darren Sproles (6-53 rushing, 5-51 receiving) and got Kelley Washington (3-50) involved as well. Truth be told, Rivers could have done pretty much anything he wanted against a Chiefs’ squad that presented zero threat offensively and only slightly more resistance defensively.
Brodie Croyle (7-17-40) took the wheel of this offense and drove it straight into the toilet. That he took Dwayne Bowe (1-3) with him wasn’t surprising; that he also managed to drag down the league’s top ground game was a bit more of a shock. Jamaal Charles (10-40, 2-9 receiving) accounted for more than half of the team’s total offense—and he didn’t even hit the 50 yard mark! Thomas Jones (3-1) was invisible.
FANTASY IMPACT: If Matt Cassel isn’t back in time for Kansas City’s Week 15 game in St. Louis, can you really trust any Chief with a fantasy start? The Chargers, on the other hand, head down the stretch with three healthy and productive backs. In addition to Sproles’ 104 combo yards San Diego received contributions from Mike Tolbert (16-66-1, 1-13 receiving) and a healthy Ryan Mathews (16-65-1, 1-6). Now the question becomes, will there be enough carries for everybody to be a fantasy helper against the Niners and Bengals the next two weeks?
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 30, DALLAS COWBOYS 27
First play of the game, Michael Vick (16-26-270-2-2, 8-16-1 rushing) goes deep to DeSean Jackson (4-210-1); did the Cowboys not expect this? Jackson later padded Vick’s stat line by turning a 10-yard out into a 91-yard touchdown; obviously, that didn’t leave much room for any other Eagles receivers to produce anything of fantasy note. Vick took plenty of shots, vultured a touchdown at the stripe, and despite the INTs put together yet another standout fantasy performance.
Jon Kitna (24-35-242-2-2) posted a decent stat line of his own, though he had to earn it in much smaller bites than Vick. His target of choice was Jason Witten (7-69-2), as checkdowns were definitely on the menu: two-thirds of Kitna’s completions went to running backs and tight ends, while Kevin Ogletree (3-34) was the top downfield target.
FANTASY IMPACT: Early on it appeared as if the Cowboys would find success running the ball against Philly, but while Felix Jones (13-41-1, 4-42 receiving) delivered on that expectation Tashard Choice (7-16) did not. Perhaps most frustrating for those banking on Choice on the heels of last week’s big game were his three consecutive carries from inside the five-yard line in which he failed to cross the stripe—and the fact that the next time Dallas got back to the goal line it was Jones who got the carries... and the touchdown. Aside from losing a touchdown to Vick after taking the ball to the one-yard line, it was a stellar night for LeSean McCoy (16-149, 3-4 receiving). Checking down is still not a big fave for Vick, but seeing Jackson rip off chunks of yardage in the second half confirms that he’ll remain in the yardage mix even as Vick goes deep and swipes goal line runs.