Let’s jump right into the “mailbag” routine and discuss lineup questions from The Huddle Forums. Nothing else matters right now but lineups, and I picked a baker’s dozen questions for which to offer my earnest and sincere advice. Disclaimer: My opinions are often free-wheeling and risky. In December I don’t adhere to “Never bench your studs” because by now there’s only a handful of true, reliable “studs” left standing. I’m the guy who started Chris Redman (at Arizona) over Tom Brady (vs. Miami) in Week 16 of 2007 when Brady was setting records, so if you always hold hands with the one who brung ya, maybe the JUMbotron isn’t the ideal consultant for you. Redman and Brady both scored 24 points in my league, by the way. Whew!
1. Lionsfan85 asks: 7 great RBs but have to pick 3 -- LeSean McCoy vs NYJ, LeGarrette Blount vs DAL, Roy Helu at NYG , Felix Jones at TB, Marion Barber vs SEA, Willis McGahee vs NE, Beanie Wells vs CLE? (PPR)
JUMbotron: LeSean McCoy, Roy Helu, LeGarrette Blount
First off you aren’t benching the #1 fantasy running back so McCoy’s in, I don’t care who he’s playing. Gosh, I’ve rarely seen a RB corps so deep. Someone’s been working the waiver wire like a mad man! I tell you what though, Lionsfan85 – You can’t take ‘em all with ya, so why haven’t you dealt one or two off for a WR? Trade deadline expired? Or maybe it’s an 8-team league, I don’t know. My 2nd pick is Roy Helu because he’s the feature back. I’m not feeling the creepy Shanahan vibe anymore, and the stats don’t lie: 86 touches the last three weeks, 2nd only to Ray Rice’s 87. Now the fun begins… Blount, Felix, Barber, McGahee, or Wells. Honestly, I could sit here and pick through all kinds of stats and trends but we’d still be back to square one. All of these RBs have upside (God I hate that term) so sometimes you just pick a name and live with it. I like Blount because the Bucs are at home and they are officially fighting to save Raheem Morris’ job. Remember, Morris is the guy who claimed Blount off waivers in 2010 when the Tennessee Titans gave up on him in camp. Blount might be on a mission. Dallas has allowed four 100-yard rushers this year, including 101 to Brandon Jacobs on 19 carries last week.
2. Rush00756 asks: “PPR Need 2 from Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Vincent Jackson or Laurent Robinson?”
JUMbotron: Laurent Robinson, Jordy Nelson.
I suspect Rush00756 is in the same boat as many of you: Antonio Brown’s explosion last Thursday night is weighing heavy on your minds. Again, it seems silly to be carrying so many productive players at one position – especially if you only start 2 – but maybe it was too late to trade one for a RB. Okay, first off – You know how I feel about Laurent Robinson. He’s my guy and his knack for finding the end zone is undeniable: 8 TDs in 7 games, plus a couple 100-yard games along the way. He has to start here. I know Miles Austin is back (and actually led the Cowboys WRs with 7 targets last week) but how can Laurent possibly be sat in this group? Now the tricky part is finding No. 2 out of Nelson, V-Jax, and Brown. The Chargers face a Ravens defense that has only allowed 1 WR to record more than 63 yards (Jerome Simpson 8-152-0) since Week 10. Pretty stingy, although I caution those of you who are automatically benching V-Jax because of this matchup: Baltimore has buttered their bread with Seattle, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Cleveland and Indianapolis over these last 5 games. No other defense has had an easier slate on paper. The Chargers are a different animal no matter what their record is, and they have been surging lately, though V-Jax has not been a big part of their success. Since his 32-point fantasy explosion in Week 9 he’s only scored 2 TDs and had one 100-yard game. His targets over the last 5 weeks are uninspiring: 7,9,3,5,9. I’d sit him in favor of Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown, and then I’d choose Nelson over Brown. Nelson’s about to get a rare double-digit target game because Greg Jennings is out.
3. Scourge asks: Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, or Andy Dalton?
JUMbotron: Andy Dalton.
You can’t scroll two threads on a fantasy message board without seeing “Roethlisberger or ____” questions popping up. Trust me, I get it. Roethlisberger is not an automatic start no matter how well he’s been playing. He’s risky. (It’s not about the ankle either: Ben’s fine, he just thinks his HOF ballot will clear quicker if he plays up his toughness.) He’s just not a fantasy über-stud no matter how many playoff appearances and Super Bowls he racks up. I cited his erratic fantasy production back in October when I pointed out his wild variance. It’s about “poor” games and “great” games. To me a QB that scores 18 or less fantasy points in standard scoring has had a poor game. Big Ben’s done that to us 24 times since 2008. By comparison Drew Brees has only posted 11 games with <18 points. On the other side, Ben can explode with the best of them. He’s had 22 great games with 24> fantasy points since 2008, not too far off Brees’ total of 33. But that’s the flip-flopping I’m talking about: Roethlisberger 22 poor, 24 great. Brees 11 poor, 33 great. I must add that the Steelers are officially a passing team now for the first time since ’02-03 so my variance stats could be skewed a bit. Still, I’m not starting Ben Roethlisberger – at San Francisco – in Scourge’s particular dilemma. The 49ers are involved in low-scoring contests because of their clock-eating ground game and stout defense. It’s just a fact. They haven’t allowed more than 21 points since Week 5. So for me it’s Vick or Dalton. Talent-wise I’m handicapping Vick because of his sore ribs so this is a tough call. Vick plays the Jets (Doh!) but at least it’s in Philly. Dalton has the dream matchup indoors at St. Louis, the kind of opponent that allows you to execute all day. I’m going to throw out Vick’s rich fantasy heritage and say roll with what the NFL schedule laid out: The Bengals have a gift under the tree and it’s wrapped in navy blue & gold. Dalton, baby!
4. It seems like almost everyone asks: How do I get Denarius Moore or Demaryius Thomas into my lineup?
JUMbotron: I’m scared-ius of Denarius and Demaryius starting in my fantasy playoffs.
I know Thomas has been targeted 20 times in 2 weeks by Tim Tebow but the second I endorse their connection Eric Decker will set a franchise record for receptions. Moore’s ankle is healthy again and I’m aware that he is a threat to go 80 yards on one play. He’s a real producer when his wheels are under him. And as John Tuvey pointed out, Moore faces a Lions secondary that’s allowed 5 WR TDs and 573 receiver yards over the last three games. Decisions, decisions… A typical dilemma I’ve seen is something like, “Which 3 WRs out of Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Santana Moss, Vincent Jackson, Denarius Moore, and Demaryius Thomas?” Back in October Megatron was on pace for like 37 TDs and on auto-play. Life was good. Despite the recent slump he’s still Megatron and benching him could invite the Fantasy Gods to cut you down. I’ve noticed many of you having to choose between Vincent Jackson vs. Ravens or Santana Moss at NYG. Talent vs. matchup, the classic fantasy question. Jackson is the man-beast who can hang 3 TDs if you turn away for an hour. But he’s facing the Ravens. Ugh. Moss has lost a step but he’s got a much better matchup vs. the Giants secondary. Rookie CB Prince Amukamara got toasted by (guess who) Laurent Robinson last week. Rex Grossman is on a hot streak again and I’m betting it lasts for 60 more minutes. V-Jax has the brutal matchup but many of you have to stay the course with him. In summary, I could not bench Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Santana Moss, or Vincent Jackson for either Denarius Moore or Demaryius Thomas.
5. Eagles28 asks: “WR2 – Who do I start, Laurent, Austin or Moss?”
JUMbotron: Santana Moss.
I made my point about Santana Moss above and I’m starting him here again, even over my man-crush Laurent Robinson. Moss caught a TD last week (from WR Brandon Banks, mind you) and I suspect the Skins/Giants game could be a sandlot thriller. I also loved Moss’ recent comments that he’d love to spoil the Giants’ playoff hopes. Moss has also been targeted a whopping 28 times in the 3 games since he’s returned from injury.
6. Finzone asks: “Larry Fitzgerald or Percy Harvin?”
JUMbotron: Percy Harvin.
I gotta rule out Fitz vs. the Browns here. I’ve heard all year about CB Joe Haden being a poor man’s Revis, but the truth is… I don’t see any difference at all. Haden held A.J Green to 0 catches in Week 1, Brandon Marshall to 4 catches in Week 3, and so on… He did get burned by A.J. Green in the rematch but Haden was playing on a sore left knee for a month. And last week he slipped on that hitch route that sprung Antonio Brown for a 79-yard TD. Percy Harvin is a touch-monster these days, leading all WRs with 38 receptions over the last 5 weeks – oh, and he’s also carried the football 22 times in this span. 60 touches in 5 weeks? Damn, when you’ve got a WR who’s averaging 12 touches per game you start him. I don’t care who the quarterback is – Ponder, Webb, Culpepper, Kramer, Tarkenton – because it doesn’t matter.
7. Pegos asks: Romo or Tebow?
JUMbotron: Tim Tebow.
It’s a coin flip but then again, there are no coin flips in the fantasy playoffs. Pegos is in a pickle and I know many of you have “____ or Tebow” problems too. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bill Belichick is presiding over the worst secondary he’s ever been associated with in his professional career. New England has given up 20 TD passes, which doesn’t seem like many (12 teams have given up more) but it’s the yards that stand out. The Pats allow huge chunks of passing yardage – a league-worst 4,146 – and CB Devin McCourty is personally donating fantasy points to WRs. Last week he got burned by Donte Stallworth on a 51-yard catch, which is inexcusable. Stallworth is a one-trick pony and when he’s in the game you know he’s going deep. McCourty also missed his zone assignment and let Jabar Gaffney score from 9 yards out. Howard Ulman of the AP points out that New England has allowed more than 430 yards to each of their last three opponents, all with losing records, and since Week 3 no defense has given up more total yards. Tim Tebow might never get a better fantasy matchup in his whole career. But wait, Tony Romo isn’t exactly chopped liver – he torched the Giants for 4 TDs while averaging a beefy 9.8 yards per pass. Dallas is at Tampa Bay where it’s expected to be 75 degrees and sunny. The Bucs have lost 7 in a row while yielding ghastly scores like 41 to Jacksonville and 38 to Carolina. They miss DT Gerald McCoy (torn biceps). Throw in the fact that DeMarco Murray is out and you get the sense Jason Garrett will play to his strengths: 3 playmaking WRs. I don’t see any way that Romo doesn’t throw 2 or 3 TDs. However, Tebow’s got an extra advantage: His legs. The 60-yard rushing average over the last 8 weeks is like a complimentary touchdown on the fantasy ledger. I’ve always said we should “have fun with this stuff” and to me, starting Tebow against the Patriots defense is the fun way to play it.
8. OCSkins asks: “Cam, Tebow, or Sexy Rexy?”
JUMbotron: Cam Newton.
In this group I’d rule out Tebow first. And despite the aforementioned dream matchup for Grossman against the Giants, you can’t start him over Cam Newton. This guy is on pace for 457 fantasy points, just 5 off the pace to match Tom Brady’s record of 462 when he tossed 50 TDs in 2007 (Aaron Rodgers is on pace for 486 but will he get there if the Packers start pulling players?). Newton is a futuristic sports car like the Audi R8 5.2 quattro Aluminium edition and Grossman is a Toyota Avalon. Both will get you where you need to go, but wouldn’t you rather turn some heads on the way? I know Newton’s matchup isn’t especially inviting because Houston has a disciplined defense that doesn’t give up big plays. They are tied for 3rd with only 5 pass plays of 40+ yards allowed. To put that in perspective, other playoff teams like New Orleans, Atlanta, and San Francisco have given up 13, 11, and 10 respectively. Houston is also tied for 3rd with only 32% allowed third-down conversions. However, I dug a little deeper and noticed that Houston has faced Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Blaine Gabbert (twice), Josh Freeman, Colt McCoy, Matt Hasselbeck, Joe Flacco and Jason Campbell in their last 9 games. Newton starts for OCSkins this week and frankly cannot be benched for anyone but Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady – and how many of you actually have that choice to make anyway?
9. Rightbug asks: “Ballard (vs. WAS) over Davis (vs. PIT)?”
JUMbotron: Jake Ballard.
I told you to sell Vernon Davis back in October while he was carrying a 2-TD price tag (vs. Tampa in Week 5). Since then he’s averaged 5.6 fantasy points per game and really damaged some fantasy squads. 1 catch for 32 yards at Arizona? Man that’s just mean! Bench the jerk. Meanwhile Ballard is coming on steadily, averaging 6 targets over the last 7 games. He caught a TD last week and had another one improperly ruled out of bounds vs. Green Bay the week before. Ballard has 12 red-zone targets for the year, Davis has 4. Case closed.
10. CrazedBronco asks: “WDIS at Flex – Manningham, Donald Brown, Doug Baldwin, Jeremy Maclin?”
JUMbotron: Jeremy Maclin.
Wow it’s sad that Maclin is lumped in with these fools, but it is what it is. He did put in a full practice Thursday and told reporters his hamstring was fine. “I’m playing, baby,” Maclin said. Manningham is practicing too and said his knee did not have any setbacks in Week 14. He only played about half the snaps vs. Dallas but caught a 47-yard TD and should have another but let it whiz through his hands. Mario still scares me. A lot. Donald Brown? Meh. All 3 Colts RBs are mixing in now. Doug Baldwin is an intriguing guy and my first instinct was to choose him, but…he’s at Chicago. Maclin’s risky as hell right now but I feel like the dice have to be rolled here. Even against the Jets.
11. Cheddar asks: “WDIS @ RB, Pick 2 – Rice, C. Johnson, Felix Jones, Barber?”
JUMbotron: Ray Rice, Felix Jones.
Cheddar himself admits that Ray Rice is a lock (Whew, for a second there I thought we had a lunatic Huddler) so it’s 1 out of 3. Rice is unbenchable in any size league, regardless of opponent. I wrote about Chris Johnson earlier in the week in my Under The Numbers column. I’m really sour and untrusting of CJ right now, even against the lowly Colts. Wait, Javon Ringer’s out with a hand injury... but then again, Ringer didn’t carry the football last week vs. New Orleans either and CJ still stunk it up. Let me re-visit him in a second. Marion Barber ran like a hellion vs. Denver but also made two huge mistakes that directly contributed to Tim Tebow’s growing legend. I like Barber vs. the Seattle defense, believe it or not – because Seattle tends to go soft on the road. It’s the weirdest thing. At home they can trade punches with anybody… but on the road, ugh! Seattle went to Cleveland and lost 6-3! So Barber’s a huge consideration here. But my loyal readers know I have this perverted love for Felix Jones so that’s my pick, not Chris Johnson. No guts, no glory! He had 16 carries for 106 yards last week vs. NYG, 7 targets in the passing game, the type of performance I expected from Felix when I drafted him in the (gulp) 4th round. Tampa Bay’s run defense ranks 28th in the league and are every bit as weak as the Colts defense, who CJ will be facing. Be aware that Felix plays on Saturday night so if he soils the bed you might have to purposely not watch the Titans/Colts game.
12. rustyc asks: “Mathews or Blount?”
JUMbotron: LeGarrette Blount.
I’m not too stubborn to admit that Mathews took his panties off and started ballin’ lately. Three straight 100-yard games, top-10 fantasy RB the last 3 weeks. Only 1 TD, but that’s nitpicking… or is it? Is it nitpicking to point out that Big Mike Tolbert has 18 carries inside the 10-yard line this year while Mathews only has 7? It smacks of the old Willis McGahee and Ray Rice tango. When the Chargers are near paydirt they either throw (Rivers is 8th in red-zone pass attempts) or hand it to the bowling ball. The Chargers face the Ravens and we all know how they bow up when the goal line’s at their back, so it wouldn’t even matter if Mathews did get a couple cracks at it – which he won’t. Jeez, I’ve just found a way to bash Mathews again – one of the league’s hottest backs – but somehow I think you knew it was coming.
13. Degenerates11 asks: “QB start this week, go with Fitzpatrick or Sanchez, or go to Waiver Wire?”
JUMbotron: Jake Locker off the waiver wire – if he draws the start. If not, go with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Yep, Degenerates11 says Locker is available, as is T.J. Yates, who’s actually got some appeal too in my opinion, as a semi-desperation play. Look, I’ve been very clear about my feelings for Sanchez and how he gets a pass because he’s, what – humble and good-looking? I think he’s been given more weapons and better linemen than any young QB in recent history and has actually squandered them. I don’t care how many AFC title games the Jets reach with him. I could not start Sanchez vs. Philly in my fantasy football semifinals. Fitzpatrick is tempting but do you realize over the last 10 games he’s been the 21st ranked fantasy QB? Whatever alien that inhabited Fitzpatrick’s body in September has returned to planet Zoltar to tell his friends he threw a spheroid-shaped object in front of 80,000 humans and drew applause for it. Anyway, here’s what I’d do. Pick up Locker right now and hold him. Let’s see if Matt Hasselbeck (calf) is going to start. Mike Munchak is usually straightforward with reporters, and there’s no reason to keep the wimpy Colts “guessing” – because they’re all too busy “guessing” whether they’ll lose their jobs or not. I’ve never seen a team give up without their leader like the Colts did, by the way. Hasselbeck is pretty sore and Locker got all the reps on Wednesday and Thursday. If it looks like Hasselbeck is going to start then I’d choose Fitzpatrick over Sanchez on a sheer gut call.
Good Luck This Week!