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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 16
John U. Miller
December 24, 2010
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I have Jon Kitna and Josh Freeman ranked #4 and #9 in Week 16.  More on that later…

If I could have one Christmas wish it would be to compete in my league’s Championship this week… with Jon Kitna under center at Arizona.  Alas, my season has already ended.

I had Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger this year and started the wrong one every time but once since Halloween.  Back in Week 8 my league was floating Kitna on the waiver wire, but I didn’t grab him.  Why would I?  I had Roethlisberger, a three-time top-8 QB in points per game; and Cutler, the Mike Martz-scripted wonder boy who had the 3rd most fantasy QB points in 2008.  Well, those two drew me into a paralysis-by-analysis situation where I was poring over matchups, weather, even when they were playing; I actually suckered myself into playing Cutler at Miami last month just because he was playing on Thursday night.  I’m a sucker for Thursday night players.  Roethlisberger had Oakland at home that Sunday and I knew damn well he’d go off.  “But Cutler’s playing tonight, baby,” I thought to myself, “Order a pizza, kick back and enjoy.”  Chicago left me high and dry in a 16-0 snoozer-win against a sedated Tyler Thigpen.  The Dolphins never put up a fight, so Martz just treated the game as a scrimmage and worked on executing the run: 40 rushes, 25 passes.  Cutler 0 TDs, Roethlisberger 4 TDs. 

What’s in a name?  Apparently everything, because I got entangled with two of the most erratic QBs of 2010.  Why didn’t I just grab Kitna and plug him in?  For God’s sake I was the one who said Kitna can be counted on for prolific fantasy spurts!  Hell, for that matter I should have just drafted a stud QB early.  But no, I formulated a 5th-7th round QBBC plan (remember, Big Ben plummeted to the 7th because of the suspension) and went to battle with them.  I ended up punching myself in the face over and over with my hot-and-cold duo, while other stud QBs emptied their chambers every week, spraying TDs everywhere.  Then later, steady no-name waiver candidates like Kitna and Josh Freeman delivered safe, reliable points.  Not too high, not too low.  My weekly starter scored less than 15 points in 5 of 8 weeks down the stretch.  Kitna & Freeman combined only scored <15 points once between them.

My QBBC Dilemma Since Week 8
Week Started - points Benched - points Could have used… Or even…
8 Roethlisberger - 10 Cutler - bye Kitna - 24 Freeman - 20
9 Roethlisberger - 14 Cutler - 21 Kitna - 14 Freeman - 20
10 Cutler - 26 Roethlisberger - 33 Kitna - 29 Freeman - 22
11 Cutler - 11 Roethlisberger - 37 Kitna - 29 Freeman - 17
12 Roethlisberger - 14 Cutler - 30 Kitna - 18 Freeman - 15
13 Cutler - 17 Roethlisberger - 17 Kitna - 15 Freeman - 16
14 Cutler - 10 Roethlisberger - 15 Kitna - 23 Freeman - 18
15 Roethlisberger - 20 Cutler - 22 Kitna - 24 Freeman - 20
Total My starter points - 122 Bench points - 175 Kitna's total - 177 Freeman's total - 148

I was like a 3-year old being overwhelmed by a game of QB Whack-a-Mole…  I lost by 2.5 points or less in Weeks 8, 11, and 14, when just plug-and-playing Kitna or Freeman would have made the difference each time.  As for QBBC, or the “Wait on your QB” theory at your draft… What a sham.  That method has burned me so many times.  This year I had a chance to take Brees or Rivers but… Aww forget it, that’s for another article.  

The point of all this is I should have been more malleable with in-season roster management.  Don’t let the big names dazzle you all season long.  Don’t be loyal.  Read the tea leaves week by week and if there’s a great matchup or a steady positive trend, then by all means go with the less-sexy guy.  If he’s been getting it done, he’s been getting it done – and he’ll probably continue to get it done.  Jon Kitna and LeGarrette Blount are those guys this year.  Start them!  All the old fantasy football laws and axioms – Stud RBs, Wait on your QB, Never bench your studs – are being blown to pieces now.  Too many committees, weird personnel moves, injuries & concussions, over-reported weather events… hardly anyone is “a lock” any more, except a few blue-chip QBs and WRs.  Even Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson each pooped the bed once in December.  Emmitt Smith and Shaun Alexander never let us down in December!  

Now here we are in crunch time, and Week 15 yielded high scorers named:  QBs Rex Grossman & Tim Tebow, RBs Donald Brown & Tashard Choice, WRs Anthony Armstrong & David Nelson, TEs Jimmy Graham & Ed Dickson.  No-name players begging for a spot in your lineup at the most critical time of the year.  Let’s dive in and talk about Week 16 lineups, specifically QBs and RBs, where it’s real messy. 

QB Jon Kitna is at Arizona on Saturday.  Kitna is the 7th ranked QB in points per game.  Arizona has the worst scoring defense in the NFC allowing 26.4 points.  Actually for the first 11 weeks they allowed 29 per game until a friendly slate with woeful St. Louis, Denver, and Carolina helped lower that average.  Kitna doesn’t need Dez Bryant or Roy Williams in the lineup to keep producing.  He threw for 305 yards and 2 TDs against Washington and should have had 4 TDs but Sam Hurd couldn’t haul in two catchable scores.  To me, only Vick, Brees and Brady are lead-pipe locks over Kitna in Week 16.  Kitna’s #4.  Peyton at Oakland?  I don’t like him as much without Austin Collie (that’s when his INTs piled up), plus Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomguha said his ankle was better this Monday “than either of the last two Mondays.”  Philip Rivers or Kitna?  Rivers is at Cincy, who only has one healthy DB left from their Week 1 roster.  OK, I’ll call Kitna & Rivers a tie at #4 this week.  Finally, Schaub (at Denver) or Ryan (vs. NO)… I still say Kitna.

QB Josh Freeman is at home vs. Seattle. He’s my JUMbo Sleeper of the Week and I would start him over guys like Flacco (@ Cleveland) or even Eli (@ Green Bay).  Raymond James Stadium will be in a volcanic frenzy as the Bucs have to win out and get some help to steal a wild-card.  Seahawks DE Chris Clemons is having a huge year with 10 sacks but I love Bucs LT Donald Penn, one of the most underrated O-linemen in the league.  Seattle CB Marcus Trufant left last week’s game with back spasms and has not been able to stay on the field.  His replacement, Kennard Cox, simply sucks.  TE Kellen Winslow is quietly making plays too; he has 3 TDs in his last 6 games and had a 4th score taken away last week on a bogus flag for pushing off.  WR Mike Williams has worked through a mild knee sprain and caught 6 passes for 96 yards and 1 TD last week.  WR Arrelious Benn is finally catching on and of course, LeGarrette Blount keeps defenses honest.  I like Freeman as a low-risk/high-reward QB this week. 

QB Rex Grossman is the ultimate what-do-I-have-to-lose QB play in Week 16.  I suppose many of you limped into the title game with a hodge-podge QB corps -- Garrard, Flacco, Fitzpatrick, or (used to start) Orton -- and now you’ve added Rexy off waivers, just to toy around with the idea.  Grossman didn’t find out he was starting until Wednesday afternoon but he was truly impressive at times.  He checked out of 5 different run plays on 1st down, something I don’t recall McNabb doing 5 times all year.  What Grossman has going for him is there is no pressure.  He’s made $15 million dollars by the age of 30 and the Redskins are out of the playoff hunt.  I expect Kyle Shanahan to call another 40+ pass plays.  Listen to Chris Cooley rave about Grossman:  “Rex is so fast in and out of the huddle.  There is nothing laid back.  He has a quick tempo and he gets us to the ball as fast as he can get us to the ball. He called a lot of plays on first down; he called a lot of plays quick.  When he finally got into a rhythm, we got into a good rhythm.”  Rex is my JUMbo Gamble of the Week.

QB Joe Flacco is being considered for fantasy benches this week at Cleveland.  I’m seeing names like David Garrard, Kerry Collins, even Tim Tebow, being considered instead of Flacco.  First off, that’s a big Hell No for Tebow.  I don’t care how bad the Texans secondary is.  The only way Tebow is in the conversation is if you’re in a 14- or 16-team league.  Garrard is a confusing quarterback but his matchup at home vs. Washington is soooo inviting.  The Redskins are one of only 3 defenses to allow 4,000+ total yards to QBs so far (Texans, Patriots); and not only did they lose S LaRon Landry, they might lose S Reed Doughty (concussion) this week.  The thing with Garrard is he’s kinda fluky.  What I mean is that no other QB is capable of 3-TD games without the usual supporting yardage.  Garrard’s put up 3 TDs four times this year while averaging only 191 total yards.  Fluky.  I don’t like fluky in my Week 16 lineup.  Collins is at Kansas City and has upside with a healthy Kenny Britt -- but I couldn’t use him over Flacco.  I rank ‘em:  Flacco, Collins, Garrard, Tebow.

Joseph P. wrote me to ask, “QB Ryan Fitzpatrick or QB Eli Manning, big penalty for INTs, help!”  The knee-jerk reaction is to plug in Manning now that Hakeem Nicks is healthy, but the Giants travel to Green Bay.  The Packers defense ranks 4th against fantasy QBs.  Stingy.  Right now the weather is supposed to be very reasonable -- 27 degrees, a few lake-effect snow showers here and there – but it’s still Eli at Lambeau no matter how you slice it.   I don’t think he’ll bust, but he does give me a weird feeling.  Fitzpatrick faces New England in Buffalo where it’s about the same weather, no major winter event forecasted.   The Bills are familiar with Belichick’s disguised coverages and I’m actually not scared of this matchup at all.  The Pats’ defensive line is more depleted than it’s been in years too.  NYG/GB game is huge and I know Eli is proven in big games, but in pure fantasy terms if I need to squeeze every last point out of my QB, I’m going with Fitzpatrick.  Any prolonged come-from-behind passing is a bonus. 

RBs are the worst to figure right now.  As I mentioned earlier, all these new names like Maurice Morris and Donald Brown are muddying the water; and with studs like Knowshon Moreno and Adrian Peterson nicked up it’s even worse.

Nate3422’s dilemma on the Forums is typical of this week’s RB chaos.  Marshawn Lynch, Donald Brown, Maurice Morris, Anthony Dixon, or Tim Hightower?   Well, you aren’t starting Anthony Dixon or Tim Hightower in your championship game.  Cross them off.  Maurice Morris was impressive with a season-high 15 carries last week, but he has mild turf toe.  I also saw him leave the game in overtime holding his ribs.  Besides, Jahvid Best keeps playing on his bad toe and carving out 8-10 touches per game.  Detroit is only 25th in the league with 39 red-zone trips, and when they do get down there Calvin Johnson & Nate Burleson get all the action.  That leaves Marshawn Lynch and Donald Brown.  Brown is coming off the best game of his career with 14 carries for 129 yards and a TD, but it was generated off 49 and 43-yard runs.  The other 10 carries netted 37 yards, which is more Brown-like.  Oakland’s 26th ranked run defense is appealing, but something tells me Brown’s a sucker bet this week.  Go with Lynch at Tampa Bay, who’s settled in as a reliable producer as the 19th best fantasy RB the last six weeks.

RB Brandon Jackson is the cause of much fantasy sleeplessness this week.  He’s coming off a career-high 22 carries – for 99 yards – at New England.  It’s no coincidence that Jackson got all that work, because Mike McCarthy wanted balance for Matt Flynn.  Jackson didn’t pad his stats with one or two big runs either, he sliced off 9 runs of 5+ yards.  Jackson had been draped in cobwebs on your bench (let’s be honest, he hasn’t done s—t in a month), but now you’re faced with the idea of starting him.  I liked what I saw out of him vs. the Patriots.  I think McCarthy will install a similar run-heavy game plan to try and protect Aaron Rodgers.  My board has B. Jackson ranked above LaDainian Tomlinson, Tim Hightower, and even Ryan Torain in Week 16.

RB Arian Foster was on cruise control for 13 games and then Boom!  Ankle, hip, whatever it was, he tanked at Tennessee.  11 carries for 15 yards, 6 catches for 46 yards.  In non-PPR leagues he was a disaster.  In PPR leagues he still reamed most of you out, because 22 other RBs outscored him.  What happened?  Foster said it wasn’t the ankle or hip as reported by two different sources, but a muscle strain in his glute.  Then a FOX reporter even mentioned back spasms at the Wednesday presser.  “I don’t know anything about the back,” said Gary Kubiak.  Anyway, Foster is practicing and yesterday Kubiak added that Foster is fine. “No problems, no issues with him today.”  Start Foster with confidence at Denver.

RB Joseph Addai.  He participated in team drills for the first time in 9 weeks.  He might play.  But here’s the thing, if you’ve made it to the Championship you obviously have a very good team.  Where would Addai fit into your lineup?  Who would you bench?  And what if he just plays sparingly, or in mop-up?  Too risky, I’d leave him on the shelf.

RB Darren McFadden continues his gainful December play.  If you recall I coined him Mr. December last week.  Week 13: 22 touches, 127 total yards, 1 TD.  Week 14: 19 touches, 209 total yards, 3 TDs.  Week 16: 24 touches, 158 yards, 0 TDs.  If you’re benching him you’re either in a 6-team league or in some crazy format where you can deploy 1 RB/4WR and own Chris Johnson or Arian Foster. McFadden ranks 2nd in total yards per game with 132.3 (2nd only to Foster at 135.4) and has a home game vs. Indianapolis who’s given up the 5th most total yards to RBs.  

RB Steven Jackson has perked up a bit with a TD in 2 of his last 3 games.  Before that he had 2 TDs in his previous 8 games.  You know how I feel about S-Jax.  He doesn’t deserve these consistent top-8 overall fantasy picks every year – what with all the ‘questionables’ and injuries, and generally less-than-elite stats.  If he was just treated (and drafted) like a RB2 he’d be delightful.  I do think Jackson has a chance to deliver nicely against San Francisco though.  If the Rams crank it up on defense and force punts, Jackson should incrementally achieve 120 total yards with enough touches.  The O-line has to get their heads in the game though, because they had 7 penalties vs. Kansas City last week. 

RB Mike Tolbert has slipped from RB2 to Flex.  It’s a shame because Tolbert was a good-looking back with 25 carries, but the emergence of Ryan Mathews cannot be ignored.  “It’s become an equal-opportunity backfield,” says Chargers beat writer Kevin Acee.  Norv Turner hasn’t hidden his love for Tolbert this year, and I suspect he gets 20+ touches at Cincinnati if the game is hotly contested, leaving Mathews at around 10.  But if it’s a jump-on-their-throat deal like 49ers/Chargers where it’s 24-0 in the blink of an eye – then Tolbert rests late so the young Mathews can work on his game.  Last week, 13 of Mathews’ 17 carries were after the score was 24-0. This week Mathews (illness) missed some practice time but he’ll play.

RB Knowshon Moreno left the Raiders game early with a rib injury.  He’s getting treatment this week but could be a game-time decision vs. Houston.  Lance Ball replaced Moreno last week and carried 15 times for 20 yards.  Ball was also targeted deep in the end zone on a wheel route but Tebow overthrew him.  As of Thursday night Moreno is on track to play but he only put in a limited workout Thursday, after missing Wednesday entirely. Bill Williamson of ESPN.com thinks Lance Ball will play a lot and has a chance to show he could have a role in this offense.

I ranked these 8 Flex-ish RBs for Week 16 because I’ve had tons of questions about them:
Mike Tolbert (at Cincinnati)
Brian Westbrook (at St. Louis)
Rashad Jennings (vs. Washington)
Toby Gerhart (at Philadelphia)
Michael Bush (vs. Indy)
Danny Woodhead (at Buffalo)
Ricky Williams (vs. Detroit)
Maurice Morris (at Miami) 

RB Tashard Choice has me paralyzed, folks.  First, Felix Jones missed some practice with a leg bruise, then he’s back.  Now Marion Barber (calf) says he expects to play too.  When Barber’s around there are too many cooks in the kitchen.  Plus it’s a Saturday game, and I’d hate to start Choice/Jones and get screwed (on Christmas), then go into Sunday whining about how you should have started ___ ___.  Also, if you’re in a PPR league I suggest finding a way to squeeze Reggie Bush into the deal.  He gives Atlanta fits.

RB Pierre Thomas only had 6 carries for 20 yards at Baltimore – not many tries to show what he’s got – but on a couple of them he did leave yards on the field.  No burst.  I thought he had a shot at 12-14 touches/50-65 total yards, even against the Ravens, because Chris Ivory was out with the hamstring.  What really bothered me was that Thomas was only targeted once.  His forte is that checkdown in the flat; Drew Brees has been known to throw it 6-8 times in a game.  Not one this time.  This week Ivory still has that grabbing feeling in his hammy so I suspect he’ll sit out Monday night.  Thomas might be worth a gamble in deeper leagues.

The NFC West is setting new standards for mediocrity.  St. Louis is 6-8, Seattle is 6-8, and San Francisco is 5-9.  Amazingly, the 49ers can still win the division.  If they win out at St. Louis and vs. Arizona, and Seattle loses at Tampa Bay or vs. St. Louis, SF will get in at 7-9 because of tiebreakers.  Each of the three teams essentially controls their own fate.  St. Louis is the team that needs to step up and be men.  Win at home vs. San Francisco, then go beat Seattle at Qwest Field.  That would make them almost deserving of the NFL postseason at 8-8.  Note:  If I’m a Saints or Giants fan, and I’m pretty sure my team won’t win the division -- I’m hoping my team settles in nicely as the #5 seed and travels to #4 seed St. Louis, Seattle, or San Francisco in the wild-card round.

Conventional wisdom suggests these are the front-runners for 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and this is how I rank them:

2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year?
Name Tackles Sacks INT FF FR TD
Clay Matthews (GB) 53 12.5 1 1 0 1
Osi Umenyiora (NYG) 42 10 0 8 0 0
Julius Peppers (CHI) 49 8 2 3 0 0
James Harrison (PIT) ** 92 11 2 6 2 0
Ndamukong Suh (DET) 55 8 1 0 1 1
Cameron Wake (MIA) 51 14 0 3 0 0
Tamba Hali (KC) 43 11 0 4 2 0

For what it’s worth, NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger votes for Julius Peppers.  “The single most disruptive player… left side, right side, doesn’t matter,” Baldinger said.  I think Peppers is top-3 because he also does many things that don’t show up on stat sheets, but he’s had the benefit of a healthy Brian Urlacher & Lance Briggs too.  Matthews should win in a narrow vote but don’t rule out James Harrison yet (** Harrison’s stats include his 15th game last night).

On Wednesday Vikings coach Leslie Frazier talked about Adrian Peterson’s knee & thigh injuries:  “Very, very sore, lots of pain and makes it difficult to turn, twist and do the things Adrian Peterson does.” Then on Friday Frazier said:  “He was able to work out in practice and he made some improvement -- dramatic improvement -- from, say, Monday to now. “Is it enough to get us to game day?  We'll see.”

Minnesota travels to Philadelphia on a short week, having given up 13 TD passes over the last 6 games, 4th most allowed in the league over that span.  NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Wednesday that Minnesota’s safeties have “have been playing horrible defense lately.”  Get this, now they might be without safeties Madieu Williams (concussion), Tyrell Johnson (knee) and Jamarca Sanford (concussion).  SS Husain Abdullah will probably move to free safety – though he should have remained on special teams this year to begin with – and dime CB Frank Walker might move to strong safety.  Oh my God, NBC flexed this game to Sunday night?  Michael Vick might put up 5 TDs.

JUMbo Tidbits:

--Kevin Acee of the Union-Tribune says WR Malcom Floyd will not play.  Acee’s rarely wrong.
--Mike Singletary said he “could possibly use both” Troy Smith & Alex Smith at St. Louis.  Someone save this man from himself.
--Mike McCarthy on Aaron Rodgers’ concussion:  “I have zero concerns about Aaron Rodgers, concerning his health…”  He’s a lock to start.
--Seattle’s has been on the field for 33 minutes per game this year.  Only two defenses – Arizona & Tennessee – have been out there longer.  Matt Hasselbeck has turned the ball over 13 times in the last 4 games.  I think Seattle will crumble at Tampa Bay.
--The Patriots have three pass-catchers in the top-13 in receptions inside the 10:  Wes Welker (7), Rob Gronkowski (7), and Aaron Hernandez (5).
--For all his struggles on the ground with turf toe, Jahvid Best ranks 5th among all RBs with 51 catches.
--Adding to all his amazing stats, Michael Vick leads all QBs with a 109.7 rating on the road.

Elias Sports Bureau reports Rex Grossman, Matt Flynn and Tim Tebow were the 57th, 58th, and 59th different quarterbacks to start a game this season.  It would have been 60 if Joe Webb had started for Minnesota as planned.  The record is actually 64 different QBs in 2007, although this is the 3rd consecutive season with 50 or more.  There had never been even back-to-back seasons with 50+ until this recent streak.  QBs are getting knocked all over the turf no matter how tight the rules are, or they’re simply pulled by impatient coaches with increasingly less job security.  Again, “Quarterback By Committee” is a toxic idea in fantasy football.  Can you control injuries or predict stats – No, but you can play the odds and recognize the studs that get rid of the football.  It’s not entirely luck that Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, & Philip Rivers stay healthy.  I’m stepping up early to pick one of those guys next year.  4 points per TD pass, 6 points, who cares.  You need stability.

JUMbo PPR Flex Gem of the WeekBengals WR Andre Caldwell vs. San Diego.  Caldwell takes over Terrell Owens’ flanker spot where most of Carson Palmer’s passes have been going all year.  Last week Caldwell was targeted 6 times and caught 4 passes for 89 yards vs. Cleveland’s aggressive man coverage.  Caldwell isn’t very fast but he knows the playbook cold – and Carson Palmer has always been comfortable throwing to him.  There’s a chance Chad Ochocinco (ankle) could be out too.  If the Chargers jump out big, like 30-7, Caldwell could see 10+ targets thanks to garbage padding.

JUMbo RB2 of the Week:  Bills RB Fred Jackson vs. New England.  People don’t realize how busy Jackson is.  Over the last 9 weeks here are the Top-8 RBs in total touches:  Arian Foster 227, Steven Jackson 223, Ray Rice 222, M. Jones-Drew 221, Peyton Hillis 215, Michael Turner 213, Chris Johnson 194, Fred Jackson 189.   People ask me if they should flex him… Heck, he’s a good RB2 in some leagues this week.  New England always visits Buffalo in December and Jackson always makes plays against them.  In their last two trips to Buffalo they’ve allowed him 136 & 112 total yards.  The Pats’ run defense is one of only 9 teams to allow 90+ rushing first downs so far.
 
This libidinous Saints fan isn’t a cheerleader but by damn she should be!  I would geaux crazy if I was seated next to her.  My friends Meagan and Stacey and I wish all Huddlers a Happy Holiday season!  In all seriousness – if you’re tossing back a few drinks at a Xmas party, please don’t drive. 

Good Luck in your Championship Game!

JUM

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