ATLANTA FALCONS 24, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 14
Atlanta roared to a 17-point halftime lead behind a 10-minute advantage in time of possession, 49 yards from Michael Turner (19-60, 1-4 receiving), and a pair of touchdown tosses from Matt Ryan (27-34-262-3). Then the Falcons hit autopilot, producing just 34 yards of offense and one first down until a game-clinching 73-yard touchdown drive salted the game away.
Percy Harvin was everywhere. He led the Vikings in receiving with 8-95-1, catching the touchdown on a fourth-down play in the back of the end zone; he carried five times for 11 yards against a defense keying on him; and he almost single-handedly kept the Vikings in the game with a 104-yard kickoff return—the longest non-scoring play in NFL history—to put the Vikings in position to answer Atlanta’s late touchdown. It’s notable that Harvin received the second- and third-down carries on that drive (arguably reaching the stripe on the second effort, though the Vikings opted not to challenge), setting up Minnesota with a fourth-and-goal from the one. Toby Gerhart (17-44-1, 2-19 receiving), was unable to convert, though the play was poorly blocked and doomed to fail from the start.
FANTASY IMPACT: After an abysmal first half the Vikings offense found some rhythm sans Adrian Peterson. Christian Ponder (17-25-186-1) didn’t turn the ball over and got big plays from Harvin, but no one else stepped up offensively to help pick up the slack. Roddy White (10-120-1) was a monster once again, with an assist from Harry Douglas (2-45-1) and Tony Gonzalez (9-69). Julio Jones started but had no official targets as he came back from his hamstring injury but was evidently a decoy.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 23, CLEVELAND BROWNS 20
The Bengals didn’t lead until the final 40 seconds despite dominating the box score. Cedric Benson (21-106-1, a surprising 4-24 receiving) predictably pounded the Cleveland run defense, while Andy Dalton (21-31-70-1) connected with fellow rookie A.J. Green (3-110) to set up the game-winning score.
After Montario Hardesty tapped out in warm-ups, Peyton Hillis (19-65 plus two catches for negative-four yards) got the start. You expected better from a guy sidelined a month against a very good Cincy run D? It was actually Colt McCoy (16-34-151-2-1) carrying the offense, with a big assist from Jordan Norwood (4-69-1) and occasional assistance from Greg Little (5-57-1), though it took 13 targets for Little to find five balls he could hang on to.
FANTASY IMPACT: Jordan who? Norwood went undrafted out of Penn State in 2009, went through training camp with the Browns, landed on the Eagles’ practice squad after being cut by Cleveland, make the big roster for a week, signed a three-year deal in Philly, then was cut in camp prior to last season before returning to Cleveland to join the Browns’ practice squad. And now he’s become McCoy’s go-to guy, at least until Little overcomes his case of the dropsies. With Cleveland’s top-ranked secondary holding wideouts not named Green in check, Jermaine Gresham (5-68-1) stepped up with a solid game in which he was targeted more than any two other Bengals.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 27, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 19
The Panthers didn’t blow out Indy, but they did run all over them. Jonathan Stewart (10-70, 3-12 receiving) led the way, but it was DeAngelo Williams (15-69-2) and Cam Newton (9-53-1) who did the scoring. Newton also threw the ball around to the tune of 20-27-208, but did not connect on a touchdown toss.
Indy returned the favor with Donald Brown (14-80-1, 1-17 receiving) usurping starter Joseph Addai (7-23) in the ground game. But hey, everybody runs on Carolina. What was more surprising was the performance of Curtis Painter (15-29-226-1-2), who threw his first touchdown pass in more than a month and, on the day they inducted Marvin Harrison into Indy’s Ring of Honor, made Reggie Wayne (5-122-1) relevant once again—if only for a moment.
FANTASY IMPACT: That may be it for your opportunity to use Colts this season, as the productive showings from Brown and Wayne were purely products of their opponent. New England, Baltimore, Tennessee and Houston aren’t likely to offer up similar numbers. The Panthers rushed for almost as many yards (201) as they passed (208), but the 3-68 share Steve Smith produced wasn’t overly fantasy-friendly. Brandon LaFell (5-46) had the most catches, while tight ends Jeremy Shockey (3-41) and Greg Olsen (3-24) were back to splitting numbers.
HOUSTON TEXANS 20, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 13
Sans Matt Schaub, the Texans turned to Arian Foster (22-65-1, 7-24 receiving) on 31 of their 59 offensive snaps. They had to work harder than most expected against an underrated Jacksonville defense, and it didn’t help when Schaub’s backup, Matt Leinart (10-13-57-1) went down with what is believed to be a broken collarbone. Rookie T.J. Yates (8-15-70) came on, with predictable results for the passing game.
At this juncture, for fantasy purposes the Jaguars equal Maurice Jones-Drew (18-99, 4-67). And against a pretty good defense MoJo got maybe more than you might have expected.
FANTASY IMPACT: Aside from Jones-Drew, who dominated the ground-game numbers (thankfully light on Deji Karim, who touched the ball four times for negative-two yards) and led the team in receiving, the quarterback tandem of Blaine Gabbert (13-29-136-0-1) and Luke McCown (7-11-62) tried to involve Marcedes Lewis (4-47). The twelve targets yield the four catches, and Lewis had one brutal drop in the end zone and another more difficult but equally frustrating lost scoring opportunity as well. Houston’s inexperienced quarterbacks leaned heavily on the backs and tight ends, with only five completions to wideouts. Andre Johnson (2-22) didn’t break into the box score until the second half, and it’s unlikely to get better with Yates at the helm.
NEW YORK JETS 28, BUFFALO BILLS 24
So Mark Sanchez (17-35-180-4-1) didn’t exactly light up the Bills pass defense, but the four TD tosses certainly helped his bottom line. After hitting Dustin Keller (4-61-2) for the first post-Thanksgiving regular season TDs of his NFL career, Sanchez got Plaxico Burress (4-54-1) and Santonio Holmes (2-22-1) involved as well.
Stevie Johnson giveth (8-75-1 on 13 targets), and following a TD celebration in which he mocked Burress’ nightclub shooting, he tooketh away—or more accurately, dropped the ball on multiple potential game-winning scores. Johnson’s foibles prevented the Bills from capitalizing on the first strong showing from Ryan Fitzpatrick (26-39-264-3) since signing his big contract.
FANTASY IMPACT: Former first-round pick C.J. Spiller (19-55, 3-15) was underwhelming as he tried to pick up Fred Jackson’s slack, but backup Johnny White saw only one carry for two yards so this is still Spiller’s gig for the foreseeable future. While Johnson was Fitz’s go-to guy, Brad Smith (4-77-1) had the catch of the day in tipping a 36-yard touchdown to himself. David Nelson (5-47-1) couldn’t find a cheerleader to give his touchdown ball to this week. Shonn Greene (13-78, 3-12 receiving) averaged six yards a tote in carrying the load for the Jets, but Joe McKnight (4-21, 3-19) offered some spark with LaDainian Tomlinson out with an injury. This may be the Jets’ backfield tandem going forward, as LT isn’t getting any younger.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 23, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 20
This game featured just about everything you love and hate about Beanie Wells (27-228-1). His club-record yardage and 71- and 53-yard runs were just the Cards have been expecting from their former first-round pick, but at least twice he scraped himself off the field after apparently injuring himself. Hey, you probably didn’t have to watch it except for the highlights, and it looks real nice in the box score.
You got the obligatory touchdown pass from Sam Bradford (17-31-203-1) to Brandon Lloyd (5-74-1). You got a little less than expected from Steven Jackson (17-64, 3-14 receiving). And you got pretty much nothing else offensively from the Rams.
FANTASY IMPACT: That Lloyd and Jackson were the focal point of 30 of the Rams’ 54 plays is only surprising because it’s not a higher percentage. The next most involved Ram was Brandon Gibson, who turned seven targets into two catches for 30 yards. Wells alone rushed for twice what the Cardinals passed for, which meant that despite nine targets (more than any two other Cards combined), all Larry Fitzgerald could bring to the table was a 3-55 performance. And no other Arizona player accounted for as much as 25 yards of offense.
TENNESSEE TITANS 23, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 17
The Titans took their own sweet time getting around to an offensive touchdown; Matt Hasselbeck (19-34-160-1-2) didn’t hit Damian Williams (3-33-1) for said score until the 3:01 mark of the fourth quarter. Up until that point Tennessee had relied on a somewhat resurgent Chris Johnson (23-190), who averaged 8.3 yards per carry but alternately looked like the CJ2K of old with subtle open-field moves at full speed that left tacklers clutching air and the sluggish, soft CJY2K who has frustrated fantasy owners all year, getting caught from behind on runs of 34, 25, and 24 yards. Hey, baby steps.
Last week the Bucs’ offense saw a return to form from its four primary weapons; this week, two of them carried on. LeGarrette Blount (20-103, 3-56) didn’t have a video game run like last week but he hammered out 5.2 yards a carry; Mike Williams (6-84-1) was targeted 11 times, led the team in receiving, and scored for the second straight week. Unfortunately for the Bucs, that’s about all Josh Freeman (18-33-199-1-1) could muster.
FANTASY IMPACT: While Williams thrived, Kellen Winslow (5-52) was adequate and Arrelious Benn (1-(-3)) and Preston Parker (three targets, no catches) were afterthoughts. Blount had the same number of targets and catches as third-down back Kregg Lumpkin (3-10); maybe his recent resurgence has the Bucs rethinking taking him off the field. Javon Ringer’s 13 touches (9-12 rushing, 4-6 receiving) were hardly productive and mostly a result of Johnson taking himself out of the game after a ding or a long run. Williams wasn’t even among the Titans’ top four targeted receivers; Lavelle Hawkins (5-51) and Jared Cook (3-38) led the way with seven, while Nate Washington (1-12) had six and Ringer five.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 25, CHICAGO BEARS 20
Eleven of Oakland’s 13 possessions ended with a kick; fortunately for them, six of those kicks were Sebastian Janikowski field goals. After having an earlier score wiped out, Michael Bush (24-69-1, 4-24) finally punched across a touchdown that proved to be the difference in the game. Otherwise, another productive outing for Carson Palmer (21-37-301-0-1) would have gone to waste.
In the first half Caleb Hanie (18-36-254-2-3, 5-50 rushing) was more productive running than throwing, with 42 rushing yards and 72 passing yards—and three INTs—at the break. Matt Forte (12-59, 6-25 receiving) and Marion Barber (10-63) joined in the fun as Chicago had 114 rushing yards by halftime. But by the fourth quarter Hanie had shaken off the rust and connected with Johnny Knox (4-145-1) on a 81-yard pass play and Kellen Davis (2-25-1) for a touchdown to pull the Bears to within one score late in the game.
FANTASY IMPACT: Forte was targeted 10 times, not surprising given the need for this offense to run through him. And Knox also had 10 targets to emerge as, at least for the moment, Hanie’s favorite target; three other Chicago wideouts combined for 10 targets, five catches, and 50 yards. With Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford out, Palmer targeted Darius Heyward-Bey (4-42 on 10 looks), Chaz Schilens (4-58 on eight looks), and… fullback Marcel Reece (5-92 receiving on seven targets)? Looks like the Raiders passing game is essentially interchangeable.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 23, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 17
The Redskins marched 80 yards on 14 plays to score the game’s first points, then shot themselves in the foot over the next two quarters (two picks, three punts, and a missed chip shot field goal) before Rex Grossman (26-35-314-2-2) brought them back to life in directing three fourth-quarter scoring drives. And for the moment, at least, Mike Shanahan seems to have settled on Roy Helu (23-108-1, 7-54) as his feature back—though Evan Royster (1-3) did get a carry, so you never know.
Marshawn Lynch (24-111, 1-20-1 receiving) was roughly half of the Seahawks’ offense; problem was, the other half centered around Tarvaris Jackson (14-30-144-2-1), who threw a couple touchdowns but also made the kinds of plays that cost him his roster spot in Minnesota—specifically throwing a four-yard out on third-and-seven, then taking a sack on fourth down to dribble away Seattle’s last gasp.
FANTASY IMPACT: Sidney Rice left the game after suffering a head injury, failing to record a catch on his two targets. Doug Baldwin (5-60) stepped into the role of Jackson’s favorite target with 10 looks; no other Seahawk receiver was targeted more than four times or topped 26 receiving yards; Ben Obomanu (3-26) held both of those distinctions. Fred Davis (4-58-1) scored the Redskins’ first touchdown, but Santana Moss (4-29), Jabar Gaffney (5-72), and Helu saw the most looks with seven targets each. Anthony Armstrong (1-50-1) was back in the home-run role that made him a fantasy entity last season.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 38, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 20
New England spotted the Eagles 10 points, then went on a 38-3 run that started with a pair of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (14-44-2) shorties and ended with Tom Brady putting up a 24-34-361-3 stat line. Maybe it was the knee injury Nnamdi Asomugha played through, or maybe it was just that Brady owned the Philly secondary; either way, both Wes Welker (3-115-2) and Deion Branch (6-125) reached triple digits.
So much for leaning heavily on LeSean McCoy (10-31-1, 4-30 receiving) with Michael Vick out of the lineup; instead, the Eagles opted to pin their hopes to the arm of Vince Young (26-48-400-1-1). What that netted Philly was bookend touchdowns, two short field goals, a pick, a turnover on downs inside the five, and five punts. Didn’t help that DeSean Jackson (4-73) managed to get himself benched in the fourth quarter.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Jeremy Maclin out and Jackson limited by his attitude, you would think last week’s hero Riley Cooper (3-71) would have stepped up; instead, it was Jason Avant (8-110-1), who was targeted a whopping 14 times. Brent Celek (5-75) was also heavily involved once again. The New England tight ends found themselves trailing the wideouts in the box score for a change, though most fantasy owners and fellow tight ends would be perfectly happy with the stat lines of either Aaron Hernandez (6-62) or Rob Gronkowski (4-59-1).
DENVER BRONCOS 16, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 13 (OT)
You know the drill: the passing yardage was puny, the rushing yardage helpful, and a TD toss saved his fantasy value—but the bottom line was, Tim Tebow (9-18-143-1, 22-67 rushing) was a winning quarterback once again. Didn’t hurt to get a healthy 23-117 from Willis McGahee or the aforementioned TD grab from Eric Decker (3-65-1)—or, come to think of it, three field goals from Matt Prater and a defense that held the talented San Diego offense to just a field goal in its final 10 possessions.
Maybe Philip Rivers (19-36-188-1) is hurt, though he continues to deny those reports. But whatever the reason, Rivers couldn’t find Vincent Jackson (2-25) most of the afternoon, didn’t get as much of a boost from Vincent Brown (3-50 on 10 targets) as expected, and could have used even more Antonio Gates (6-49-1, also on 10 targets). Ultimately the Chargers had to rely on the ground game, and Ryan Mathews (22-137) and Mike Tolbert (11-44 plus 3-19 receiving) responded.
FANTASY IMPACT: Mathews was supposed to be “limited” coming into this game; instead, he looked as powerful, quick, and elusive as he ever has in taking two-thirds of the backfield touches. Is Norv Turner taking his cues from Mike Shanahan? Decker is making a case for being a useable fantasy play, especially if Eddie Royal (two targets, no catches) and Demaryius Thomas (one target, zero catches) continue to get shut out.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 13, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 9
The Steelers kept KC in this game longer than anyone expected, in part because they couldn’t generate a signature offensive performance. Rashard Mendenhall (17-57, 2-10 receiving) was ordinary, averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and Ben Roethlisberger (21-31-193-1-1) couldn’t kick the passing game into high gear in part because he couldn’t consistently connect with Mike Wallace (2-17 on six targets). Instead, it was the similarly targeted Antonio Brown (4-81) who paced all Pittsburgh pass-catchers.
Talk about a lack of signature offensive performances; the Chiefs have made it a habit, failing to reach the end zone on 45 consecutive offensive possessions. It starts at the top, where Tyler Palko (18-28-167-0-3) will likely give way to Kyle Orton following another dismal performance. He tried to get Dwayne Bowe (7-69) involved, targeting him 11 times, but on the last Bowe made almost no effort to go up and make a catch that would have kept KC’s comeback hopes alive.
FANTASY IMPACT: Between Bowe’s 11 targets and another eight for Steve Breaston (4-44), Palko was certainly taking his shots down the field. He had to, as the ground game led by Thomas Jones (13-37) couldn’t even get to three yards a carry. Jackie Battle (9-20) and Dexter McCluster (9-28, 2-11 receiving) were no help. Outside of Mendenhall and Brown, no Steeler topped as much as 30 yards of offense. The need for a spark may lead to more work for Isaac Redman (3-22, 2-8 receiving) and Mewelde Moore (2-16, 3-9 receiving), at the expense of the pedestrian Mendenhall.