TENNESSEE TITANS 23, BUFFALO BILLS 17
Now that’s the Chris Johnson (23-153-2 plus 1-4 receiving) we’ve missed through most of the first three months of the season. On his 48-yard touchdown run Johnson flashed the elusiveness and extra gear that earned him 2,000 yards a couple seasons back. Good thing Johnson was working today because the Tennessee passing game was relatively quiet; Damian Williams (4-62) was the only member of the group to top 40 yards.
Playing from behind most of the game allowed (forced?) Ryan Fitzpatrick (29-46-288-1) to put up decent numbers. Stevie Johnson (5-52-1) offered up a subdued touchdown celebration following his score, but it was Brad Smith (7-72 on 10 targets) who was Fitzpatrick’s favorite target.
FANTASY IMPACT: C.J. Spiller (14-83-1, 3-19 receiving) posted his best game as Fred Jackson’s fill-in, though the 35-yard touchdown run padded those stats and ended with Spiller barely recovering his own fumble after being stripped at the five-yard line. Notable for those who stashed Johnny White in anticipation of Spiller struggling: it was Tashard Choice (5-20, 1-7) receiving backup carries. With Johnson re-emerging as an offensive force, the passing game led by Matt Hasselbeck (16-25-140) is bound to suffer. Nate Washington (4-40) was wingman to Williams, but seven other Titans combined for eight catches on a dozen targets, producing just 38 yards.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10, CHICAGO BEARS 3
Not often do you win a game on a Hail Mary pass at the half, but the desperation heave from Tyler Palko (17-30-157-1) to Dexter McCluster (9-61 rushing, 4-46-1 receiving) was the only touchdown in this affront to the offensive age. The long heave capped KC’s lengthiest drive; they followed it up with a 15-play, 86-yard march for a field goal in the third quarter, then resumed the puntathon that saw them kick away 11 times on the afternoon.
Caleb Hanie (11-24-133-0-3) got no help: not from his offensive line, who surrendered seven sacks—many of them of the “drop back five steps, then brace yourself” variety (tackle Louis Lance in particular nearly got Hanie killed); not from his receivers, most notably Roy Williams who not only dropped a touchdown pass on his only target of the afternoon but bobbled it enough to turn it into an interception; and not from Matt Forte (5-12), who left with what has been initially diagnosed as an MCL sprain. Marion Barber (14-44) and Kahlil Bell (4-34) were unable to pick up the slack; Barber even went so far as to negate his own touchdown reception by lining up incorrectly, covering the tight end and drawing a penalty.
FANTASY IMPACT: When given time, Hanie again favored Johnny Knox (5-53) with eight targets, twice as many as any other Bear. And with no Forte for the next two to six weeks, Hanie will likely be looking to Knox and Devin Hester (3-35) even more. Palko was pulled in the second quarter, but Kyle Orton (0-1-0) injured the index finger on his throwing hand on his very first pass and had to exit. That’s probably not the news fantasy owners of Dwayne Bowe (4-49 on nine targets) want to hear. As far as the Chiefs’ running game, it looks like we’ll be treated to more Thomas Jones (16-36) than Jackie Battle (11-15); don’t hurt yourself on the math, that’s 2.3 and 1.4 yards per carry. One final note: Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt was shown pointing to the sky after punting barely into the end zone with 20 seconds remaining; was he thanking The Man Upstairs for Hester opting not to run it out? How does that kick even stay in the field of play at that juncture?
HOUSTON TEXANS 17, ATLANTA FALCONS 10
That was about what we expected from the Texans with a third-string quarterback: 42 runs split between Arian Foster (31-111-1, 3-41 receiving) and Ben Tate (11-41) and just a smattering of throws from T.J. Yates (12-25-188-1). He took some shots at Andre Johnson (4-97), but after Johnson exited with another hamstring injury it was mostly dink-and-dunk; running backs and tight ends accounted for 10 targets and seven receptions, while non-AJ wideouts saw six targets and made one grab.
The Falcons weren’t behind by more than a possession at any point, but they were extremely pass-heavy this week. Matt Ryan (20-46-267-1-2) overcame two early interceptions and leaned heavily on his big three with 35 targets split between Tony Gonzalez (7-100), Julio Jones (4-68), and Roddy White (4-51-1). Meanwhile, Michael Turner (14-44) was a virtual non-factor.
FANTASY IMPACT: On White’s touchdown he literally had half of the end zone to himself; how does an elite receiver get that open? Maybe the Texans were paying too much attention to Jones, who made an amazing catch on the Falcons’ final drive—then flat-out dropped what would have been the tying touchdown on the last play of the game. Johnson’s injury was to his other hamstring, but we’ve seen his return timetable and it’s safe to say you shouldn’t be counting on him in your fantasy playoffs. Yates to Jacoby Jones (two targets, zero catches): oh boy.
MIAMI DOLPHINS 34, OAKLAND RAIDERS 14
We expected Bush to run for 100 yards and a touchdown; we just didn’t think it would be Reggie Bush (22-100-1), who along with backfield mate Daniel Thomas (13-73) helped the Dolphins run out to a 34-point lead on the lifeless Raiders. Matt Moore (13-25-162-1 plus 5-22-1 rushing) did just enough to keep the Oakland defense on its heels; while Brandon Marshall (4-60) and Anthony Fasano (4-66) were his go-to guys (six targets each), it was Davone Bess (4-27-1) who was the most targeted (seven looks) as well as the touchdown scorer.
The Raiders ventured only two yards into Miami territory through the first three quarters; by the time Carson Palmer (20-41-273-2-1) threw fourth-quarter touchdowns to T.J. Houshmandzadeh (1-40-1) and Darius Heyward-Bey (3-23-1), it was far too little, far too late. Michael Bush (10-18, with a long run of three yards, plus 3-27 receiving) was a complete non-factor and Chaz Schilens (6-89) was the only raider with more than 40 yards of offense to his credit.
FANTASY IMPACT: Despite the lopsided loss, Palmer kept chucking and salvaged fantasy value with the late scoring strikes. His numbers should improve when he has Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford back in the lineup; both are expected back next week. Miami did just about everything you could hope for offensively short of getting Marshall into the end zone—though he came dang close on what was ruled an incomplete pass just prior to the Phins’ first touchdown. Moore has definitely done enough to salvage Marshall’s fantasy value the rest of the way, and he may even be making Fasano worthy of spot start status as well.
DENVER BRONCOS 35, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 32
The Broncos’ approach was still ground-centric, but Tim Tebow (10-15-202-2 plus 4-13 rushing) made the most of his few throws thanks to the Vikings’ unique approach of opting to release Demaryius Thomas (4-144-2) without coverage once he got about 10 yards down the field. And of course Tebow directed a game-tying fourth quarter drive, rushed for the two-point conversion himself, then helped his defense intercept a pass to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
No Adrian Peterson once again meant plenty of Percy Harvin (8-156-2 receiving, 5-19 rushing), and he answered the call in a big way. But the Vikes also got an unexpected boost from AP’s replacement, Toby Gerhart, who carried 21 times for 91 yards and also added eight receptions for 42 yards. Gerhart’s big day on the ground didn’t prevent Christan Ponder from setting a rookie franchise record with 381 yards on 29-of-47 passing, but his two picks proved extremely costly: one was returned for a touchdown, the other came in the final 90 seconds deep in his own territory and set up Denver’s game-winning field goal.
FANTASY IMPACT: Two items for dynasty leaguers to note: Kyle Rudolph (1-19-1) made just one catch, but it was a beauty for a touchdown. Visanthe Shiancoe (4-36) will be a free agent after the season, meaning Rudolph is likely to move into the starting lineup in 2012—and Ponder is already extremely comfortable throwing his way. Also, Devin Aromashodu (6-90 on 15 targets) takes over on the outside for the departed Bernard Berrian and the injured Michael Jenkins. He could very well be the team’s deep threat next year. Denver got just 6-57 from receivers other than Thomas, but they were actually subject to some defensive coverage. More impressive was the 20-111-1 from Willis McGahee on a day where Tebow’s read option wasn’t fooling anyone.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 24
The Patriots let up a little earlier than they should have and were forced to actually recover an onside kick to seal the victory after entering the fourth quarter with a 31-3 lead. Tom Brady (29-38-293-2) directed the usual cast of characters: Wes Welker (11-114), Rob Gronkowski (5-64-2 plus a lateral from Brady that was ruled a 2-yard rushing touchdown), and Aaron Hernandez (7-43). However, the running game once again found no traction, with 24 caries split between Brady, Gronk, and four ineffective backs. Stephen Ridley (8-33) saw the most work and was the only back to average better than three yards a carry, but it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis (6-14-1) who found the end zone.
Proof than anyone can throw for big numbers on the hapless New England secondary: Dan Orlovsky’s 30-37-353-2-1, good for a passer rating of 113.2—only 2.2 behind Brady. Pierre Garçon (9-150-2) was the apple of Orlovsky’s eye, though through sheer volume Austin Collie (7-70), Reggie Wayne (5-55), and Jacob Tamme (5-49) also carved out surprising fantasy helpers.
FANTASY IMPACT: Joseph Addai (13-39, 1-2 receiving) returned to the lineup for his most extended action since September; however, it was Donald Brown (14-41-1, 1-15 receiving) who tallied Indy’s first touchdown. Gronk’s third TD was initially ruled a reception, which would have broken the single-season record for tight ends held by Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis, then switched to a rush because he was behind Brady when he caught the ball. Just means he’ll be targeted for a TD next week.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 35, CINCINNATI BENGALS 7
Pittsburgh used a dominating second quarter to blow out the Bengals, getting two TDs from Rashard Mendenhall (16-60-2), a scoring grab from Mike Wallace (3-38-2), and a punt return TD from Antonio Brown (2-67) to do the damage. Another Wallace TD later on closed out the scoring as Ben Roethlisberger (15-23-176-2) donned a baseball cap early, leaving Charlie Batch to mop up.
The lone highlight for Cincy was a touchdown pass from Andy Dalton (11-24-135-1) to A.J. Green (6-87-1 plus 1-15 rushing) in the second quarter. By the time Dalton gave way to Bruce Gradkowski (3-6-17-0-1) the Bengals had thrown in the towel.
FANTASY IMPACT: Cedric Benson (13-52) was the most productive Bengal outside of Green, which is indicative of how rough a day this was for the Cincinnati offense. So much for stepping up in weight class in the AFC North. The Steelers gave Isaac Redman (8-51) some extra work, but that may have been a result of the score more than anything else; he did, however, average 2.6 yards per carry more than Mendenhall.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 38, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 19
Cam Newton (14-54-3 rushing, 12-21-204-1 passing) clearly doesn’t like to share. As Carolina took it to the Bucs, Newton called his own number three times at the stripe to break Steve Grogan’s single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Sure, he threw Jonathan Stewart (14-80-1 plus 2-19 receiving) a bone, but DeAngelo Williams (11-29) was left out of the fun. So, too, was most of the passing game; Brandon LaFell (3-64) was the only receiver to top 40 yards.
With Josh Freeman unavailable due to a sore shoulder, Josh Johnson (16-27-229-1-1 plus 5-45 rushing) took the reins. He should have been able to rely on some help from the running game against Carolina’s awful run D; instead, LeGarrette Blount (11-19) laid perhaps the biggest fantasy egg of the season.
FANTASY IMPACT: Forced to the air, Johnson relied on old standbys Mike Williams (5-93) and Kellen Winslow (4-41), though it was Dezmon Briscoe (2-23) who tallied the Bucs’ only touchdown. The problem for the Bucs was they couldn’t finish, as they took all but their first drive into Carolina territory but crapped out shy of the red zone every time aside from their lone touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. This was old-school Carolina football, with a 2-to-1 run-to-pass ratio. That didn’t help the fantasy production of Steve Smith (2-32), who should have thrived after Aqib Talib left the game with an injury early in the first quarter. How selfish was Newton? He caught a 27-yard pass from Legedu Naanee (2-38-1), which gave him a better receiving line than both Jeremy Shockey (1-26) and Greg Olsen (1-21).
NEW YORK JETS 34, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 19
The Jets marched their opening drive 74 yards for a touchdown, then alternated punts and field goal attempts until midway through the final stanza. After Mark Sanchez (19-32-165-1) found Santonio Holmes (4-58-1) for a go-ahead score, Shonn Greene (22-88-3, 3-26 receiving) took over with a clinching TD and a kick-em-while-they’re-down garbage time capper to seal the deal.
Mike Shanahan gave every rushing attempt to Roy Helu (23-100-2, plus 4-42 receiving). Savor that for a moment, it may never happen again. While Helu handled the ground game Rex Grossman (19-46-221-0-1) was struggling in the passing game. At least he had Fred Davis (6-99 on 13 targets) and Santana Moss (5-42 on 12 looks) to throw to.
FANTASY IMPACT: How much longer Grossman may have Davis is a point of concern, as word broke Sunday that Davis could be facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. That would leave Rexy seriously lacking in legitimate targets. Sanchez has targets, he just wasn’t connecting with them. Plaxico Burress (3-33) and Dustin Keller (3-12) were each targeted a half-dozen times but combined for just the six catches, and aside from Holmes and Greene no other Jet had more than one catch. Part of the reason for Greene’s big day were injuries to Joe McKnight (1-2 receiving, 1 carry for -1 yard) and LaDainian Tomlinson (1-5, 1-16 receiving), though LT did return for a few snaps later in the game.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 24, CLEVELAND BROWNS 10
It wasn’t as complete a shellacking as you might expect, but at least Ray Rice (29-204-1 plus 2-10 receiving) did his part. Rice scored the first touchdown and generally befuddled Cleveland tacklers the rest of the day as the Ravens took 10 of their 11 drives to midfield or further. Only a shaky day from kicker Billy Cundiff (two missed field goals) and a Baltimore offense that struggled to finish kept this one from being even more of a laugher.
Peyton Hillis (12-45 rushing, 1-52 receiving) was the only Brown to account for more than 34 yards of offense. Chris Ogbonnaya (5-28 receiving, 1-2 rushing) was Cleveland’s primary pass-catcher. The Browns crossed midfield just three times, with Evan Moore (2-28-1) dropping a touchdown pass on one of the trips and snaring one on the final possession.
FANTASY IMPACT: Tough to discount Hills based on an inability to get it done against the Ravens. Montario Hardesty tapped out again, but Ogbonnaya’s work was pretty much limited to the passing game and garbage time. In other words, if you don’t believe in the Madden Curse Hillis is your guy the rest of the way. Joe Flacco (10-23-158) hardly proved reliable, though again that may have been more a function of Rice’s success against an awful Cleveland run D. No single Raven receiver reached 50 yards as Flacco spread his targets evenly amongst seven teammates. Notable lines include Lee Evans (three targets, no catches) and Torrey Smith (1-32), who was targeted four times but only managed the one grab.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 19, DALLAS COWBOYS 13 (OT)
It took a game-winning 52-yard catch-and-run from LaRod Stephens-Howling (1-52 receiving, 2-16 rushing) to make Kevin Kolb (16-25-247-1) even remotely fantasy-worthy. Kolb, who had just 44 passing yards at halftime, spent much of the afternoon avoiding Larry Fitzgerald (4-55 on seven targets) while swamping Andre Roberts (6-111) with attention, yet he left with the win.
Tony Romo (28-42-299-1) showed up, getting help from Dez Bryant (8-86-1) and Laurent Robinson (4-72) and Jason Witten (5-47), but the running game was almost non-existant. DeMarco Murray (12-38) was so bad Felix Jones (6-36 plus 1-7) might get at least a chunk of his old job back.
FANTASY IMPACT: Robinson played through a shoulder injury that opened the door for more playing time for Kevin Ogletree (3-25) and Jesse Holley (2-31). That he played through the injury, however, bodes well for him hanging on to playing time once Miles Austin returns. Beanie Wells (20-67-1, 1-6) again managed to salvage fantasy value despite barely three yards a carry; this time around he capitalized on Roberts being pushed out of bounds inside the five after a 22-yard catch.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 38, NEW YORK GIANTS 35
What’s left to say? Leave Aaron Rodgers (28-46-369-4-1) a minute and he’ll break your heart. Greg Jennings (7-94-1) got his on 14 targets, Jordy Nelson (4-94) made his four targets count, and Jermichael Finley (6-87-1) battled drops to post productive numbers at a point where many had written him off. The target du jour for Week 13 was Donald Driver (4-34-2), who can now go back onto the shelf for another month.
Eli Manning (23-40-347-3-1) and the Giants put up a valiant fight; they simply left too much time for the Packers to respond to Eli’s game-tying drive. Hakeem Nicks (7-88-2) was unstoppable while Victor Cruz (7-119) made the big plays when needed. Jake Ballard (3-47) was also productive, but it was fellow tight end Travis Beckum (1-67-1) who stunned everyone with an opening-drive score.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Giants had some success in the ground game, particularly Brandon Jacobs (8-59-1), but when they found themselves in catch-up mode the run became an afterthought. Ahmad Bradshaw (11-38 plus 2-9 receiving) was limited in his effectiveness as he returned from his foot injury; his share of the workload should grow, as he made it through the game without aggravating the injury. Once again the Packers offered nothing on the ground. Rodgers (4-32) was their leading rusher, Ryan Grant (13-29, 1-17 receiving) averaged two yards a carry, and James Starks (3-5) aggravated his ankle or knee injury; at this point it doesn’t matter, he can’t finish a game. Even John Kuhn (2-7) couldn’t find the end zone.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 26, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 0
David Akers put this game out of reach early on with the first of his four field goals. After that, it was a heavy dose of Frank Gore (21-73) and a few well-timed shots from Alex Smith (17-23-274-2) down the field. When you hold your opponent to 187 yards of offense, you don’t need to do much.
As you would expect in a shutout, there was little of note offensively for the Rams. Brandon Gibson (4-42) was the only Ram to produce more than 35 yards of offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: Even after losing Patrick Willis to an injury the San Francisco run defense proved to be legit. Steven Jackson (10-19 plus 1-11 receiving) and Jerrious Norwood (11-19) combined to average less than two yards per carry. If you have a Week 17 title game and Jackson on your roster, brace yourself for the Week 17 rematch with the Niners. More than a third of Smith’s yardage came on two long TDs, a 52-yarder to Michael Crabtree (4-96-1) and a 56-yarder to Kyle Williams (2-66-1). He very nearly had another long TD but Vernon Davis (5-32) failed to pull it in.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31, DETROIT LIONS 17
Drew Brees (26-36-342-3) ran the show once again, putting up big numbers even as regular targets Jimmy Graham (8-89) and Marques Colston (6-54) failed to find the end zone. Instead, Robert Meachem (3-119-1) stepped up and Lance Moore (2-23-1) stayed on a roll. Hey, even Darren Sproles (4-28 rushing, 5-46-1 receiving) got back in the mix.
Matt Stafford (31-44-408-1-1) carried the offense, but with the running game sputtering and Calvin Johnson (6-69) mostly taken away there was a limit to what he could do. With 10 different receivers involved, six of them topping 40 yards but none reaching triple-digits, it was tough to pull out fantasy helpers. Nate Burleson (5-93) and Titus Young (2-60) picked up Megatron’s slack, but tight ends Tony Scheffler (2-41) and Brandon Pettigrew (2-13) weren’t particularly helpful.
FANTASY IMPACT: Kevin Smith (6-34-1, 6-46 receiving) returned from his Thanksgiving ankle sprain… to aggravate the injury midway through this game. At least he gave you 80 yards and a touchdown before bowing out. Maurice Morris (12-28, 5-47-1) was his usual ordinary self, but at least he too got into the end zone. Mark Ingram (16-54-1) appears to be taking over the lead role in the backfield, as Sproles and Pierre Thomas (2-10, 2-11 receiving) combined for just six carries. Sproles is still heavily involved in the passing game, but Thomas looks to be the odd man out... at least for now.