My FanDuel team logged a so-so #202 finish out of 445 entries in The Huddle $500 FreeRoll. If you beat me you’re getting $5 deposited in your account later today. If you haven’t registered at FanDuel what are you waiting for? Their weekly fantasy leagues really add to your Sunday experience because you can field a totally different team every week. The link for the Week 9 Huddle FreeRoll will be active soon and of course I’ll post it in this Friday’s JUMbotron.
Digging deeper for a baker’s dozen of did-you-know stuff from Fantasy Week 8.
1. Eli Manning completed 31 of 45 passes for 349 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs in the 20-17 win over the Dolphins.
Similar to Philip Rivers last year, Eli keeps piling up fantasy points despite injuries all around him. Hakeem Nicks was hampered by a swollen knee in Weeks 2 & 3, and now he’s got a hamstring pull. Eli was without Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs for extended periods earlier in the season, and also lost Domenik Hixon to a torn ACL in Week 3. Against the Dolphins the game plan installed by OC Kevin Gilbride was obviously pass-pass-and-pass some more. Eli dropped back to throw on 18 of the first 25 plays, and he generated 19 first downs thru the air compared to only 2 on the ground. He hit 8 different receivers. After a slow start Eli has been the 5th-best fantasy QB over the last 5 games. Nicks says his hamstring injury isn’t a bad one: “It felt like a cramp that didn't go anywhere in one spot in my hamstring, but we'll see how it feels in the morning.” The Giants face the Patriots (ranked 32nd vs. fantasy QBs), 49ers (21st), and Eagles (19th) in the next 3 weeks.
2. Michael Vick completed 21 of 28 passes for 279 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs in the 34-7 win over Dallas. He also carried 7 times for 50 yards. Vick’s 129.9 QB rating was his highest since his 150.7 mark in Week 10 last year vs. the Redskins (that 59-28 blowout).
The Eagles scored the 34 points on their first 6 possessions. OC Marty Mornhinwheg was magical, mixing in some plays we hadn’t seen him call in a while, like this quick-out to Jeremy Maclin that’s usually a DeSean Jackson play. Brent Celek caught 7 passes for 94 yards and a TD, scoring in back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 4 & 5 in 2010. Celek also has 18 targets in 2 weeks, the most he’s ever had back-to-back since Michael Vick became the quarterback. Hmmm. Celek faces the Bears (ranked 32nd vs. fantasy TEs) and Cardinals (23rd) in the next two weeks.
3. DeMarcus Ware had 4 sacks in the 34-7 loss to Philadelphia.
Ware is up to 12 sacks and trails only Jared Allen’s 12.5 in the entire league. Oh my goodness, look at the next 5 games for Ware: Seattle, Buffalo, Washington, Miami, and Arizona. 3 of those 5 at home! The Dallas Cowboys defense should figure into a lot of fantasy championship runs this year, despite the embarrassing team effort vs. the Eagles on Sunday night. Andy Reid came out of the bye smoking like he always does. Cowboys DC Rob Ryan said it was like Reid had been “reading my mail.” Still, it’s a perfect time to sneak the Cowboys DEF onto your squad as a secondary piece in a multi-player trade. Get them on your roster now. Ryan will never let this happen again and their schedule is the #1 easiest for any fantasy D over the next 5 weeks.
4. Chris Johnson carried 14 times for 34 yards in the 27-10 win over the Colts. He also added 3 catches for 17 yards off 5 targets. The booing started on his second carry (for 1 yard) and the fans only let up once – after an 11-yard carry in the 2nd quarter – to give him any kind of tepid applause. Many fans held up sarcastic “I’m a Fake Fan” signs to take a jab at CJ’s Twitter rant back in August.
Ugly, ugly, ugly. I was at the game and looking closely with binoculars to see if I can determine anything-something that would indicate why Johnson can’t break into the second level. It’s not the offensive line, folks. This is the same 5 guys from last year and they are all healthy. Besides, Javon Ringer had 14 carries for 60 yards; and 7 of his carries were what I call “obvious runs” vs. a stacked box in which he gained 42 yards. Johnson’s not “dancing” or “hesitating” or any of that, he’s just getting arm-tackled, over and over and over. I’m not sure if CJ’s burst is gone or not, because he isn’t popping through a crease cleanly enough to open the throttle. 2011 is a wash. You can’t trade CJ now because no one cares, so you’ll have to just bench him and move on. I’d have to be hog-tied and threatened with a sharp object to be convinced to start Johnson vs. the Cincinnati Bengals this week. Maybe you can check back in Week 13 for a possible RB2/flex play at Buffalo -- where he’ll be away from the hateful Nashville fans -- as a sleeper-start against the Bills’ 26th ranked defense vs. fantasy RBs. Note: If you still want to torture yourself and try to figure out what’s wrong with CJ click here for a nice article by ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky. I’ve moved on.
5. Frank Gore carried 31 times for 134 yards and 1 TD in the 20-10 win over Cleveland. He was not targeted in the passing game. Michael Crabtree caught 5 passes for 54 yards and 1 TD. Vernon Davis caught 3 passes for 27 yards.
Alex Smith only dropped back to pass 25 times. This is a throwback offense, one that pounds you into submission early then cherry-picks a few play-action strikes just often enough to keep defenses honest. It’s the 2000 Baltimore Ravens to some degree, with Alex Smith as Trent Dilfer – only this 49ers team can find the end zone much easier. That Ravens team averaged 18 points in their first 7 games, while these 49ers average 27 points. Smith has officially resurrected his career with his 5th 90+ QB rating in 7 games. He overthrew Crabtree three times otherwise the young receiver is up near the 8-110 range for the day. Crabtree looks great and I insist he’s a must-start WR3 every single week if he’s healthy, regardless of opponent. Gore also had an apparent 7-yard TD in the 2nd quarter but replay showed he didn’t break the plane; then he had three subsequent tries from the 1-yard line but got stuffed each time. The 49ers offensive line didn’t commit a penalty all day. Davis continues to disappoint fantasy owners. Just when you think he’s getting on a roll, Ouch! After scoring 1 & 2 TDs in Weeks 4 and 5 Davis has only managed 5 catches for 35 yards and 0 TDs in the last two weeks. I said to Sell High on Davis three weeks ago – now it’s too late after these consecutive stinkers.
6. Matt Schaub completed 16 of 30 passes for 225 yards and 1 TD in the 24-14 win over Jacksonville. Schaub ran in a 2-yard TD but also lost a fumble. Arian Foster carried 33 times for 112 yards and 1 TD. He caught 1 pass for 12 yards.
Schaub is the Alex Smith of the AFC. He’s winning while playing within the frame of a conservative offense. It’s not that Schaub is throwing less – even though it feels like it – it’s just that the defense is controlling football games. No wild come-from-behind stuff, just a veteran cleaning the floor after Foster and Ben Tate run all over it. After 8 games Schaub averages 32 pass attempts; last year after 8 games he averaged 33; and in 2009 he averaged 35. No difference. Against the gritty Jaguars defense there was never a feeling that Schaub was in danger, because the offensive line was in command. Just like the 49ers above, the Texans offensive line didn’t commit a single penalty. Tate carried 5 times for 42 yards – a buzzkill for those of you who flexed him – and also lost a fumble plus another 10-yard carry to a penalty. Schaub also stopped another drive with a lost fumble. Andre Johnson didn’t play and told reporters Friday he was 70 to 75 percent. I believe he will sit again in Week 9 and Houston won’t play him in Week 10 with a restful Week 11 bye awaiting. So I think he’s out until Week 12. They are winning without Johnson.
7. Drew Brees completed 30 of 44 passes for 269 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs in the 31-21 loss to the Rams. The Saints were 15.5 favorites. Darren Sproles had 12 total touches for 76 yards, though 5 of his touches were in total garbage-time with less than 3 minutes to go. Marques Colston had 3 catches for 50 yards off a measly 6 targets. Jimmy Graham had 4 catches for 39 yards off a respectable 8 targets for a tight end.
A couple tidbits from the Elias Sports Bureau: 1) “The Rams entered the game as the lowest-scoring team in the league. The Saints were the highest-scoring team. This was the second time in the last 30 years that the NFL's lowest-scoring team defeated the highest-scoring team.” 2) “This was the second time in the last 14 seasons that a team with no victories and at least six defeats beat a first-place team. The 0-6 Miami Dolphins beat the 4-2 Rams in 2004.” There’s not much else to add, though I know one reason why the Saints fell behind 24-0: Sproles only got 3 touches in their first 38 plays. Early in the 3rd quarter the Rams were up 17-0 and had a 3rd and 3 at midfield – that kind of no man’s land where a simple off-tackle run probably won’t succeed – and you felt like the Saints defense would get off the field and the game would turn around pretty quickly. Boom! OC Josh McDaniels called a reverse to WR Greg Salas for an 8-yard gain. 6 plays later Steven Jasckson plowed in for a touchdown. Game over. I would say Buy Low on Drew Brees but no one’s going to trade you this guy. He’s a must-start at home vs. Tampa Bay in Week 9.
8. Joe Flacco set career highs in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals with 31 completions and 51 attempts, for 336 yards. However, he failed to throw a TD pass for the 3rd time in 4 weeks. Ray Rice had 25 total touches for 99 yards and 3 TDs. Anquan Boldin caught 7 passes for 145 yards.
Flacco started the same way he looked last Monday night at Jacksonville: Awful. He only had 3 completions in his first 12 drop-backs, with a sack and an INT. The Cardinals were up 24-3 in the blink of an eye. Then Flacco heated up. Matt Jergensen of RavensGab.com summed it up for me perfectly: “Maybe it was by design or desperation due to the Cardinals big lead, but putting Flacco almost exclusively in the shotgun was exactly the right adjustment to make. He appears more comfortable plus it gave him more time on the play clock to scan the field and vary his snap count. He may not have thrown any touchdowns but a few of his long passes put the team inside the ten where all they needed to do was run Ray Rice.” Rice is now up to a career-high 9th ranking in red-zone rushing attempts. Willis McGahee leaving officially made Rice an elite fantasy RB. Boldin is coming on strong too. He had 12+ targets for the second time in four weeks. 145 yards is also the most he's ever had in 25 games as a Raven (including playoffs).
9. Philip Rivers completed 26 of 41 passes for 369 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs in the 23-20 loss at Kansas City. He also threw a 2-point conversion to RB Curtis Brinkley. Ryan Mathews carried 13 times for 57 yards and caught 6 passes for 55 yards. He also lost a fumble and ended up missing the 4th quarter with a groin injury. Antonio Gates caught 4 passes for 73 yards.
Rivers fumbled the snap with :50 to go, right before the potential game-winning FG in regulation. A crushing defeat. Rivers hit Gates for a beautiful 17-yard TD in the 2nd quarter that was nullified on a ticky-tack offensive interference call. “There is no call there, no penalty,” said Steve Young on ESPN later. Whoever said there was something wrong with Rivers’ arm is crazy. He stuck some of the best throws I’ve seen all year. The problem is the red-zone. Rivers ranks 32nd in the league with a 53.8 red-zone QB rating. Drops, penalties, near-misses, miscommunications – all of it has hurt Rivers’ TD output badly. As for Ryan Mathews, I’ve publicly bashed him for two years – he was one of my Bust picks this season – and he lived up to my words on Monday night. The injury, the poor blitz pickups, the fumble… I believe the weekly 20-touch load for NFL workhorse tailbacks is too big for Mathews to handle. Curtis Brinkley has explosive legs by the way but I read at 2:00 am last night that he might have a concussion.
10. Calvin Johnson caught 6 passes for 125 yards and 1 TD in the blowout win over Denver.
He played the slot position for extended periods, the first time in his 4-year career he’s done that. 5 of Megatron’s 7 targets were in the slot, and he turned them into catches of 17, 14, 13, and 9 yards. Good lord if Johnson continues this trend he’ll turn into that Welkeresque 8-10 reception guy and all NFL receiving records will be in danger. Maurice Morris carried 13 times for 58 yards and caught 1 pass for 7 yards. Morris’ fantasy day would have been rather mediocre if not for an apparent 14-yard TD to Calvin Johnson reversed by replay to the 1-yard line. Morris banged it in. Matthew Stafford’s ankle held up well and he tossed 3+ TDs for the 6th time in his 17 full healthy games as a pro.
11. Sam Bradford missed the Week 8 game with his ankle injury.
Just a reminder that Bradford is coming back soon, probably this week at Arizona who’ll be starting QB John Skelton. The Rams could have a lot of short fields to work with. Bradford (ankle) is no longer wearing a walking boot and is expected to take first-team reps on Wednesday. WR Brandon Lloyd is primed and waiting for Bradford to get out there. OC Josh McDaniels has called a ton of plays for Lloyd – a whopping 25 targets in his first two games as a Ram – and I’ve seen him beat double coverage several times. After this game vs. Arizona the Rams face Cleveland, Seattle, and Arizona again. I believe (as does David Dorey) that Bradford still could make a big impact in 2011 fantasy football.
12. Tim Tebow completed 18 of 39 passes for 172 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in the 45-10 loss to Detroit. He carried 10 times for 63 yards, but also fumbled 3 times and lost one.
Tebow is a gutsy player and I’ve learned to root for the young man just because of all the stalking Merril Hoge has done, always kicking the kid in the teeth on national television. That said, Hoge is essentially right – he just goes way overboard to make a point like many ESPNers do – in that Tebow will never be a prolific NFL quarterback. Lions CB Chris Houston picked him off and went 100 yards to the house, then suggested to reporters that it was easy. “They had been giving us kind of the same routes,” Houston said. “And you could kind of see when Tebow was going to throw to that side because he would kind of look over there and see how I was playing.” Even worse, Tebow generated 146 of his 235 total yards (and the TD pass) after the score was 38-3 and the Lions were loosey-goosey, slapping high-fives and thinking about the flight home. The Broncos are an NFL-worst 6-of-30 on 3rd downs the last two weeks with Tebow and that pretty much sums up his play.
13. Adrian Peterson carried 21 times for 86 yards and caught 5 passes for 76 yards and 1 TD in the 24-21 win over Carolina.
I wanted to take a moment to commend Adrian Peterson for collecting $36 million guaranteed dollars and somehow playing even angrier than he ever has. Peterson seems tired of losing and it shows in the way he finishes runs. Despite erratic quarterbacking and a maligned offensive line, Peterson ranks 4th in the league in “stuffed” percentage (min. 100 carries). He’s only been “stuffed” for 0 or negative yards on 20 of his 167 carries. Minnesota has a bye in Week 9 so Peterson can get refreshed for the fantasy playoff push. His next 5 weeks after the bye feature 4 of the top-11 defenses vs. fantasy RBs – Green Bay, Atlanta, Denver, Detroit – but this is one case where I don’t think the numbers mean anything.
Bonus: A.J. Green caught 4 passes for 63 yards and 1 TD in the 34-12 win at Seattle.
If there was no Cam Newton it would be Green or teammate Andy Dalton leading the pack for NFL Rookie of the Year. Green leads all rookies with 33 receptions and ranks 15th among all WRs with 516 receiving yards. The ex-Georgia Bulldog also ranks 16th among WRs (min. 20 receptions) with a beefy 15.6 yard per catch average. The only WRs with more TD catches than Green (5) are Calvin Johnson (11) and Wes Welker (6). Dalton is starting to radar-lock on Green a little too much – Seattle picked him off twice telegraphing it – but that’s what fantasy owners want to hear. Dude is money.