CHICAGO BEARS 34, CAROLINA PANTHERS 29
This was an old-school Bears win: a defensive touchdown, a punt return by Devin Hester (who also very nearly brought a kickoff back for a score as well), and enough offense to get the job done. It wasn’t Jay Cutler (9-17-102-0-1) driving the bus, however; Matt Forte (25-205-1, 4-23 receiving) carried the load, picking up yardage in hugh chunks with runs of 46, 40, 20, 17, and 12 yards. His fantasy day was trimmed just a little by Marion Barber (5-17-1) swiping a goal-line touchdown, but the chuckle we all got from MB3’s failed celebratory backflip might have been worth the vulture.
No rain = big game for Cam Newton (27-46-374-1-1, 8-35-2 rushing), who hooked up with Steve Smith (8-181) for most of the productivity and consistently called his own number at the goal line. Newton’s numbers overshadowed the return of the Carolina ground game, with DeAngelo Williams (10-82) and Jonathan Stewart (8-52, 4-33 receiving) averaging better than seven yards per carry. Given the running game’s success, and the fact that the Panthers held a six-minute advantage in time of possession, you could certainly question the playcalling that resulted in 46 pass attempts and 18 handoffs.
FANTASY IMPACT: Try to highlight Williams eight yards per carry average and sell, sell, sell; he’s not involved in the passing game, and the only goal line play Cam Newton knows is the quarterback keeper. Greg Olsen (5-50-1) made his former teammates aware of his presence, but his numbers are still being split by Jeremy Shockey (2-41), who also had a touchdown erased on a questionable offensive pass interference call.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 23, BUFFALO BILLS 20
Settling for field goals looked like it would cost the Bengals a win, but Andy Dalton (18-36-298-1-2, plus 3-12-1 rushing) capped a fourth-quarter rally with a rushing score to pull off the upset. Dalton had plenty of success throwing to fellow rookie A.J. Green (4-118); he also included tight end Jermaine Gresham (4-70-1) at crucial times as well. This being a home game and the Bills being a softer rushing defense, Cedric Benson (19-104) did what he usually does under those circumstances.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (20-34-199) came crashing back to Earth against a Bengals defense he torched last year. Stevie Johnson (4-58) was his go-to guy, though Donald Jones (3-21) and Fred Jackson (5-32 receiving, 17-66-1 rushing) were the most targeted. Pin part of the blame on an offense that battled field position all day (average start: their own 21) and couldn’t sustain drives—and then had to settle for a field goal after a 17-play fourth-quarter drive to the Bengals’ five-yard line.
FANTASY IMPACT: The boats floated by Fitzpatrick’s hot start dry-docked this week, most notably slot receiver David Nelson (2-18) and touchdown machine Scott Chandler (2-8). That duo combined for just five targets while Johnson had six and Jackson and Jones eight each. Going forward, Jones might be the most matchup-proof of the secondary targets. A similar story for Cincinnati, where Green (10) and Gresham (7) gobbled up the looks while Jerome Simpson (3-26 on three targets) and Andre Caldwell (2-17 on five) were less involved. And if you’re wondering what might happen if Benson’s suspension ever goes through, note that Brian Leonard (4-36 rushing, 1-15 receiving) was just as involved as—and more productive than—Bernard Scott (5-13 rushing, 2-9 receiving).
TENNESSEE TITANS 31, CLEVELAND BROWNS 13
Now this is a little more like what we were expecting from the Titans. Chris Johnson (23-101, 2-11 receiving) was back on the plus side of the century mark, though he has yet to find the end zone; and the passing game was a complement to the ground game rather than vice versa. Not that Matt Hasselbeck (10-20-220-3-1) didn’t take his shots down the field; sans Kenny Britt, those shots went to Nate Washington (2-62) and hybrid tight end Jared Cook (2-93-1).
Cleveland held the ball for 13 minutes more than the Titans, had twice as many first downs… and lost by 18 points. Of the 87 plays they ran, only three went for more than 20 yards. Colt McCoy (40-61-350-1-1) dink and dunked his way to big yardage, but only Greg Little (6-57) topped 50 yards. Peyton Hillis, the only Brown consistently in fantasy lineups, saw a reduced load (10-46, 5-23 receiving) with Montario Hardesty (7-22 rushing, 5-49 receiving) handling the ball almost as often.
FANTASY IMPACT: While the results weren’t gaudy, the Browns did throw more to the wide receivers with Little, Mohamed Massaquoi (6-46) and Joe Cribbs (5-50) combining for 28 targets. On the bright side tight end Ben Watson (6-48-1) distanced himself from Evan Moore (1-15) and Alex Smith (1-13). With Britt out, much of the fantasy focus was on who might pick up the slack in Tennessee. Cook was the most targeted entity; even though the bulk of his stats came on one 80-yard play, that play highlighted the mismatches he creates. His six targets were one fewer than he’d had in the first three games combined, and they came even though starting tight end Craig Stevens (1-12-1) got in the end zone.
DETROIT LIONS 34, DALLAS COWBOYS 30
Calvin. Johnson. Is. Unstoppable. Megatron pulled in eight balls for 96 yards and two touchdowns, both of them on catches most other humans couldn’t even dream of. Mix in two defensive touchdowns and it barely mattered that the rest of the Lions accounted for 27 yards and zero points. At least Matthew Stafford (21-43-240-2-1) remembered to throw a couple jump balls Johnson’s way.
Tony Romo (34-47-331-3-3) threw five touchdown passes on the afternoon; problem was, two of them went the other way with the Lions. Romo had his own freakish mismatch of a wide receiver, and Dez Bryant (3-37-2) caught two scores of his own. But he was playing on a bad leg and was nonexistent after halftime. That left Jason Witten (8-94-1) and Laurent Robinson (7-116) to pick up the slack.
FANTASY IMPACT: Felix Jones (16-57 rushing, 5-19 receiving) continues to play through a shoulder injury, but he’s also ceding 15 touches to Tashard Choice (6-39 rushing, 4-23 receiving) and DeMarco Murray (4-12 rushing, 5-19 receiving), which takes a chomp out of his fantasy value. Robinson is likely slated for the bench when Miles Austin returns after the bye, but hamstring injuries linger so he wouldn’t be a bad handcuff or bench stash. On those plays where the Lions didn’t go to Megatron, Brandon Pettigrew (6-64) was the next-most targeted and Jahvid Best (11-47 rushing, 2-23 receiving on eight targets) was also involved. But this team has one weapon, and at this juncture it is indefensible.
HOUSTON TEXANS 17, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 10
Arian Foster (30-155-1, 3-11 receiving) is back, and it might be just in time. While Foster looked healthy in his return from a hamstring injury, Ben Tate (2-20) left the game with a groin injury. Worse, Andre Johnson (4-36) went down with what the team is calling both a hamstring injury and a lower leg injury; either way, he’s slated for an MRI and the Houston passing game is on hold until we know the results. In AJ’s absence tight end Owen Daniels (5-69-1) was the go to guy for a very subdued passing game helmed by Matt Schaub (14-21-138-1).
In the second half it looked as if the Steelers would take control of the game; Rashard Mendenhall (9-25-1) found the end zone and Ben Roethlisberger (16-30-206-0-1) was weathering a Houston pass rush that totaled five sacks. But the momentum fizzled, Roethlisberger was beaten and battered to the point that he was in crutches and a walking boot following the game, and the Steelers were unable to complete the comeback.
FANTASY IMPACT: Mike Wallace (4-77) failed to make it to the century mark for the first time in seven games; that might be understandable had he not caught four balls on four targets while Antonio Brown (5-67) was seeing 10 balls sent his way. If the Steelers are to produce a second viable fantasy receiver, looks like Brown is the better bet over Emmanuel Sanders (1-20) and Hines Ward (1-19). Isaac Redman (6-40, 1-12 receiving) and Mewelde Moore (4-34 rushing) would likely split the touches if the hamstring injury that knocked Mendenhall out of the game turns out to be anything significant. The Texans will be in significantly more dire straits if Johnson’s injury keeps him sidelined; Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones combined for zero catches on two targets as Houston went into a short-game, run-heavy offensive shell following AJ’s departure.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 23, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 10
Darren Sproles (7-75 rushing, 5-56 receiving) took two drives down to the one-yard line, where they were finished off by Jed Collins (1-1-1) and Jimmy Graham (10-132-1), respectively. After that, it was Drew Brees (31-44-361-1-2) directing traffic and setting up field goals as the Saints coasted home. Other contributions were mostly midrange, from Mark Ingram (17-55 rushing, 2-3 receiving) to Robert Meachem (4-59) to Lance Moore (5-50) to Pierre Thomas (6-36 rushing, 4-43 receiving).
Last week the Jaguars started a rookie quarterback and opted to let Maurice Jones-Drew do the heavy lifting on offense. But this week, with Blaine Gabbert (16-42-196-1-1) having a whole game of experience under his belt, MoJo received just 11 carries for 84 yards and was thrown to four times, catching one for three yards. The results were shockingly predictable.
FANTASY IMPACT: While Mike Thomas (5-73) was Gabbert’s most targeted receiver with 11 looks, it was tight end Zach Miller (1-14-1) on the business end of a laser touchdown throw. And fellow TE Marcedes Lewis saw seven targets from Gabbert, producing 38 yards on three catches. Interesting that Ingram was the quantity leader for the Saints with 19 touches to Thomas’ 10. Sproles was the productivity leader, though the Saints failed to reward him with a shot at a touchdown on either herculean effort to get the ball to the one. He’s still the back to have in New Orleans, and not just in PPR leagues.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 22, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 17
The Chiefs settled for five field goals, then got a fourth-quarter burst off offense from Dwayne Bowe (5-107-1), who used a slipped defender and some awful tackling to turn an ordinary day into a productive fantasy one with a 52-yard TD. That play made Matt Cassel’s stat line (18-29-260-1) a whole lot more palatable, as Steve Breaston (4-91) was the only other Chief making a significant offensive contribution.
On the bright side, Adrian Peterson (23-80, 1-3 receiving) got more carries. That was about the high point for the Vikings, who took a few shots down the field with Donovan McNabb (18-30-202-2-1) connecting with Devin Aromashodu on a 34-yard touchdown, Aromashodu’s only catch of the day.
FANTASY IMPACT: McNabb still loves his tight ends, but the Vikings are splitting the looks between Visanthe Shiancoe (6-58) and rookie Kyle Rudolph (3-44). And then they went to TE-sized WR Michael Jenkins (1-1-1) at the stripe. The Chiefs’ running game is in shambles sans Jamaal Charles. Thomas Jones (11-37) did the least with the most, leading to Jackie Battle (5-22) and LeRon McClain (1-(-2) rushing, 1-7 receiving) getting touches. Dexter McCluster (7-26 rushing, 3-12 receiving) was underwhelming as well.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 24, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 23
Three unanswered touchdowns and a hustle play by defensive end Justin Smith let the Niners snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The unlikely catalyst was Frank Gore, who didn't even get the start yet churned out 15-127 rushing, 2-12 receiving, and scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, "starter" Kendall Hunter (9-38 rushing, 2-62 receiving) chipped in 100 combo yards of his own and Alex Smith (21-33-291-2) hit Josh Morgan (3-65-1) and Vernon Davis (4-45-1) for touchdowns. Fittingly, it was a PAT from former Eagle David Akers that sealed Philly's fate.
Three times the Eagles drove inside the red zone and had to settle for field goals; worse, rookie kicker Alex Henery--the guy Philly drafted to replace Akers--missed two fourth-quarter field goals, either of which would have put the game out of reach. The collapse masked a big day from Michael Vick (30-46-416-2-1, 8-75 rushing), who along with DeSean Jackson (6-171) feasted on the San Francisco secondary.
FANTASY IMPACT: Vick was also Philly's leading rusher, as LeSean McCoy (9-18, 6-34-1) was lightly used. However, after Ronnie Brown (3-15) tried to throw a pass after a failed goal line attempt, it's unlikely he'll get enough carries to be a fantasy factor. Jeremy Maclin (7-74) had a great day going... right up to the point where Smith knocked the ball from his hands as he was running down the sidelines to set up a potential game-winning field goal. Evidently reports of Gore's demise were greatly exaggerated. However, Philly's run defense is awful, so don't necessarily look at this as a complete turnaround; Gore capitalized on a good matchup, and Hunter demonstrated he deserves touches as well.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 17, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 10
When you control the ball for 10 minutes more than the opposition you can bang away on the ground. Mike Shanahan took advantage of the opportunity to bring Ryan Torain (19-135-1) out of mouthballs, at the expense of Tim Hightower (8-24, 1-4 receiving). Roy Helu (8-35) also remains in the mix, but he appears locked in the change-of-pace role. Ah, classic Shanny; can we be far from the return of Mike Anderson or Olandis Gary? Meanwhile, Rex Grossman (15-29-143-1-2) is regressing back to the Rexy the Bears kicked to the curb.
A furious rally--okay, twoscoring drives that constituted more than half of the team's total first downs for the game--made this game at least somewhat interesting. There was little offensively to get excited about; Steven Jackson (17-45 rushing, 4-19-1 receiving) handled all the carries and scored the Rams' only TD.
FANTASY IMPACT: Sam Bradford (20-43-164-1) continues to look much more like a rookie than he ever looked last season. His rotating cast of receivers--this week Danario Alexander (3-43) led the way in yards while Jackson, Austin Pettis (4-32), and Lance Kendricks (4-33) paced the team in catches--doesn't help. Kendricks will continue to get mentioned so long as he keeps dropping touchdown passes--or perhaps starts to catch them. Despite Grossman's struggles, Santana Moss (5-39-1) found the end zone and Jabar Gaffney (4-62) contributed a low-end PPR/yardage helper. Tight end Fred Davis (4-34) outperformed Chris Cooley (1-4), but with Grossman's numbers tailing off they're splitting a role that's barely enough for one fantasy helper, let alone two.
NEW YORK GIANTS 31, ARIZONA CARDINALS 27
The Giants sleepwalked early, then tried running at the Cardinals with limited success. Finally, they turned the game over to Eli Manning (27-40-321-2), who directed three fourth-quarter scoring drives and fired two touchdown passes to steal the win. Hakeem Nicks (10-162-1) was a problem for the Arizona secondary all afternoon long, though they couldn't reall find Victor Cruz (6-98) either, including on the game's most controversial play when Cruz thought he was down and dropped the football, only to be bailed out by the officials. One play later, Nicks was in the end zone with the winning points.
After he tapped out last week with a sore hammy, many fantasy owners had relegated Beanie Wells to the bench following another limited week of practice. Instead, Wells packed a season's worth of stats into this game, carrying 27 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns--all career highs. Wells benefitted from two set-ups: Larry Fitzgerald (8-102) took the ball inside the one to set up Wells' first TD, while Alfonso Smith (2-16) raced down the sidelines and nearly got inside the pilon before giving way to Wells for another shorty.
FANTASY IMPACT: Fitzgerald's numbers constituted nearly half of Kevin Kolb's final 20-34-237-0-1; no other Cardinal contributed more than 42 yards of offense. Get used to it. With Nicks and Cruz piling up numbers, Mario Manningham (1-10) was the odd man out. Even tight end Jake Ballard (3-33-1) was more involved. This is shaping up a lot like last year, with Cruz playing the role of Steve Smith, Ballard the Kevin Boss role, and Manningham playing his enigmatic self. The once-proud Giants running game mustered just 54 yards; Ahmad Bradshaw (12-39-1, 4-11) and Brandon Jacobs (9-18-1, 1-0 receiving) needed to get into the end zone to salvage fantasy value.
ATLANTA FALCONS 30, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 28
The Falcons raced to a 27-7 lead primarily on the strength of Michael Turner (26-70-2, 2-18 receiving), then held on and squeezed one more Matt Bryant field goal out of their offense to clinch the win. It wasn't all Turner, though; Matt Ryan (28-42-291-1) hit Tony Gonzalez (7-56-1) for an early score, then pelted wide receivers Julio Jones (11-127) and Roddy White (6-78) with 28 targets.
Are you sitting down? Tarvaris Jackson posted his first 300-yard game, going 25-38-319-3-2 despite the Seahawks having the ball for less than 19 minutes in this game. Jackson hit old flame Sidney Rice (3-79-1) for a long TD, then got Mike Williams (3-36-1 before leaving with a concussion) and Ben Obomanu (3-25-1) into the end zone in the second half.
FANTASY IMPACT: Marshawn Lynch (8-24-1, 3-33 receiving) had one run of note; fortunately for those who haven't given up on Lynch as a fantasy factor yet, it came close to the goal line and resulted in a touchdown. As a team the Seahawks jammed 38 passes into their 19-plus minutes of possession, leaving room for just 13 non-QB runs. Atlanta's offense, while lacking a killer instinct that would have closed out the Seahawks well before the end of the game, certainly showed more explosiveness. Jones was a monster with 17 targets; he may be ascending to the wingman role the teams envisioned when drafting him sooner rather than later.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 49, DENVER BRONCOS 23
Any superlatives you've got, go ahead and direct them at Aaron Rodgers; threw for 29-38-408-4-1 and mixed in 9-36-2 rushing for good measure. He also made plenty of fantasy owners happy by throwing the TDs to each of his top four wideouts, paced by another big day for Greg Jennings (7-103-1). Jordy Nelson celebrated his contract extension with 5-91-1, while James Jones made an appearance with 3-48-1. Even Donald Driver, who suffered an apparent career-ending injury at one point and was carted off, returned to the field and managed to catch three balls for 20 yards and a touchdown.
The Broncos stuck around for most of the first half thanks to Kyle Orton (22-32-273-3-3) hooking up with Eric Decker (5-56-2). Orton still threw plenty at Brandon Lloyd (8-136), and somhow Willis McGahee (15-103, 2-10 receiving) squeezed out a 100-yard day, but ultimately Denver was a pony in this offensive horserace.
FANTASY IMPACT: While McGahee was topping the century mark, Knowshon Moreno (2-4, 1-7 receiving) was an afterthought. Tough to see him salvaging any fantasy value at this juncture. Decker has made a strong case for sticking in the lineup even after Eddie Royal gets healthy. James Starks saw the bulk of the ground game workload, and while Rodgers was bogarting his touchdowns he still wound up with 13-63 on the ground and 5-38 receiving. The much-anticipated debut of Alex Green was limited to 11 yards on three carries.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31, OAKLAND RAIDERS 19
Maybe after the four picks last week the Patriots didn't want Tom Brady (16-30-226-2) throwing as much. Or maybe they just wanted to match the Raiders power-for-power. Or perhaps they were just running out the clock after playing with a lead for most of the afternoon. No matter, Bill Belichick still turned the New England backfield into a mess. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16-75-1, 1-9 receiving) was plenty productive, but Stevan Ridley (10-97-1, 1-3 receiving) flashed more with a 33-yard TD jaunt down the sidelines.
Forced by the score to abandon their beloved run, the Raiders had to turn to Jason Campbell (25-39-344-1-2)--with predictable results. Campbell did find Denarius Moore (3-19-1) for a score; he also hooked up long with Darrius Heyward-Bey (4-115) and found tight end Kevin Boss (4-78), but no other receiver topped 27 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: Darren McFadden (14-75, 4-48 receiving) was good but not jaw-dropping, and he's still giving up money shots to Michael Bush (8-26-1, 4-55 receiving); tough to be the top back in fantasy football when you're giving up goal line carries. Wes Welker (9-158-1) accounted for more than half of Brady's yards and completions; even Rob Gronkowski (1-15) was only lightly involved.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 26, MIAMI DOLPHINS 16
Philip Rivers (21-31-307-1) didn't have Antonio Gates, and he was without Vincent Jackson for large chunks of the second half. However, Jackson stuck around long enough to go 3-108-1; no other non-running back topped 26 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Ryan Mathews continued to do damage to the premature bust level placed on him, rushing for 16-81 and adding another 68 receiving yards on five catches. Mike Tolbert (6-17-1, 5-51) picked up table scraps, which weren't inconsequential this week.
The Dolphins struck first on a generous call from the officials regarding the Lex Hilliard touchdown; after that it was three field goals and a whole lot of frustration. Hilliard (6-20-1, 1-18) and Reggie Bush (13-50, 2-15) attempted to pick up the slack when Chad Henne (17-26-167-0-1) went down with an injury; Matt Moore (3-4-27-0-1) mopped up for Henne.
FANTASY IMPACT: You can throw at Brandon Marshall (5-52); he's a sizeable target with good hands. But he can't do it alone, and Sunday he was the only Miami receiver to top 35 yards. That's not enough when you have no running game, hold the ball six minutes less than your opposition, and are outgained by almost 200 yards. After two weeks, and knowing what we know about their usage, it appears Mathews is ready to take the lead role in the committee and run with it. Tolbert still got the money shot, but this is no longer an even job share.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 34, NEW YORK JETS 17
The Ravens' offense can claim 13 points, with Ray Rice (25-66-1, 2-64 receiving) the only offensive player to score ao touchdown from scrimmage. Joe Flacco (10-31-163-0-1) went two quarters without completing a pass, which had a hand in driving down the receiver numbers. Aside from Rice's two grabs, no Raven had more than one catch.
The Jets got a kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown. Offensively, Shonne Greene (10-23) couldn't get it going on the ground and Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress posted identical 3-33 stat lines--the only interesting thing about the Jets' brutal offensive performance.
FANTASY IMPACT: Greene continues to underwhelm, but LaDainian Tomlinson (3-(-3) rushing, 1-4 receiving) was of no help either. This offensive line severely misses center Nick Mangold, and the running game might not recover until he returns. Okay, we've protected you long enough; Mark Sanchez's stat line was 11-35-119-0-1. Could you really put that in your lineup? With Anquan Boldin (1-28) and Torrey Smith (1-1) each spending time on Revis Island and the Ravens comfortably playing from in front from late in the first quarter on, tight end Ed Dickson (4-45) emerged as a reliable go-to guy. Don't sweat Ricky Williams' 12-49; he lost a fumble, and the 12 carries were more a function of an offense that didn't need to pass at all in the second half than an indictment of Rice's performance.