Here we are, baby. It’s crunch time. Week 16 is The Show for probably 75% of fantasy leagues and one wrong decision can ruin everything you’ve been working for. Doesn’t it seem like we get to this point every year and lineup decisions are harder than ever? It’s because of what I call the Semi-Final Surprises, those ne’er-do-wells on your roster (or the waiver wire) that suddenly decided to score points in Week 15, the semi-finals of your playoffs. Now you’re forced to consider them for your all-important, gold-studded championship lineup. You know the Semi-Final Surprises well because they storm into our lives every December. Last season in Week 15 some of the SFS guys were QBs Rex Grossman & Tim Tebow, RBs Donald Brown & Tashard Choice, WRs Brian Robiskie & David Nelson, TEs Jimmy Graham & Ed Dickson. Some of them earned a spot in your Week 16 lineup, others did not because it just felt too fluky, or maybe the matchups didn’t look good enough, or you simply adhered to ‘Never Bench Your Studs” theory. Let’s take a look back at how those SFS guys turned out in 2010:
|Semi-Final Surprises 2010
|QB Rex Grossman
|QB Tim Tebow
|RB Donald Brown
|RB Tashard Choice
|WR Brian Robiskie
|WR David Nelson
|TE Jimmy Graham
|TE Ed Dickson
Hmmm… As fate would have it, only the blessed – Tim Tebow – walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly. He’s the only SFS who repeated his success again in Week 16 last year.
This year there’s a new crop of SFS fellas after Week 15: QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick & John Skelton, RBs Donald Brown (déjà vu!) & Kahlil Bell, WRs Darrius Heyward-Bey & Andre Roberts, TEs Vernon Davis & Jared Cook. These new Semi-Final Surprises are players that will be considered for many Championship Week lineups. Let’s discuss them:
Ryan Fitzpatrick: He put up 25 fantasy points vs. the Dolphins last week. But wait, is he really a Semi-Final Surprise? He’s had some huge games for fantasy owners before last week. Yes, he has… in Weeks 1, 2, 3, and 12. That’s it. Those are the only games where’s he scored over 24 points (if you recall in past JUMbotrons, 24 is my measuring stick for a “huge” QB game). So last week was a surprise for those who had long since buried Fitzpatrick on their bench. However, I watched the Bills/Dolphins game and Fitzpatrick needed Miami to go into ‘prevent’ at 23-7 for him to find passing lanes. His receivers don’t get enough separation normally. I could not start him vs. Denver.
John Skelton: Hey, don’t laugh. He rolled 313 yards and a TD against a respectable Browns defense; and frankly, some of you with Aaron Rodgers (who might get pulled) or Ben Roethlisberger (all jacked up) might have to go dumpster-diving for QB help. Look, it’s not my job to convince some of you to start John Skelton in Week 16 – I could get fired – but the facts are facts. He’s had two good games in a row after throwing for 282 yards and 3 TDs vs. the 49ers the previous week. Skelton’s attempts are going up as Beanie’s knee begins to lock up on him. The Cardinals/Bengals game could actually be pretty loose – Cincy’s padded their defensive numbers on weak opponents, they’re really not that good.
Donald Brown: His second SFS title in two years… in fact, the two biggest games of his career have both been in Week 15. Does his agent suddenly call him in December and say, “Dude, all your fairy-footin’ is gonna get you cut, better step it up!” I’m here to tell you that Brown was like an All-Pro vs. the Titans last week. I recommend flexing Brown in 12-team leagues if it’s between him and some long-shot WR like Titus Young or James Jones. Editor’s Note: When this article went to press Brown was playing vs. the Texans on Thursday night.
Kahlil Bell: Here’s an interesting guy. Bell took over for the injured Marion Barber last week and made the most of his opportunity. Bell is one of those desperate players who needs to make something happen now if he wants a long career in this league. He’s only making $480,000 and will be a restricted free agent in 2012. Bell sort of reminds me of Arian Foster or Pierre Thomas. Those two were also once complete no-names who got a couple starts at the end of a season – and completely re-wrote their destinies. I love Bell as a flex – even at RB2 in deep leagues – vs. the Packers on Christmas night. Love him. QB Josh McCown will be looking for the checkdown at least 7 or 8 times.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: DHB still qualifies for SFS status because he ain’t all that… not yet. There is skepticism all around him. Heyward-Bey has flashed Greg Jennings-type talent, then totally disappeared from view, then blown up again. I want to defend DHB on two points: 1) He’s pretty much been “the” guy this year and thusly, has drawn some double-teams believe it or not. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore haven’t been on the field with him much in the last two months. 2) For all the talk about his drops, STATS Inc. only lists him with 5. At least 30 players have more. So now you’ve got DHB on the cusp of your Week 16 lineup, wondering if he’s worth a play at Kansas City. The Chiefs have finally adjusted to life without injured All-Pro safety Eric Berry and are playing responsible defense again. However, Carson Palmer has targeted Heyward-Bey a whopping 28 times the last 3 games and I don’t see how he doesn’t start in 12-team fantasy lineups this week.
Andre Roberts: The battle for the No. 2 WR gig in Arizona was won by Early Doucet over the first 7 or 8 games but lately Roberts is making a run at it. Week 13: 6 catches, 111 yards, 0 TDs. Week 14: 2 catches, 8 yards, 1 TD. Week 15: 6 catches, 60 yards, 1 TD. I’ve noticed he’s dropping into the slot in 3-WR sets while Doucet moves outside. It used to be the other way around. But before I go any further, No – You’re not starting Roberts in championship week, but he should be mentioned as a Dynasty prospect because Doucet is a free agent in 2012 and could be leaving.
Vernon Davis: Sure, he’s a Semi-Final Surprise. Davis caught 6 passes for 72 yards and 1 TD after three weeks of nothing. Earlier in the season he had another 3-week stretch of fantasy torture too. Week 15 was a surprise. I’m not a fan, you all know that by now. It’s not personal – it never is in fantasy football – it’s just the numbers. Davis is 15th among TEs in targets (78) which automatically places him outside the top-10 or 12 fantasy tight ends in my book. I don’t care how prolific he was the last couple of years. In 2009 Davis had 129 targets – Gates-type stuff – and he was a juggernaut. But that was with ex-OC Jimmy Raye, and now Davis will be lucky to break 90 targets.
Jared Cook: Don’t blame Cook for failing the Sleeper Exam this year. I know you took him in the 12th round and drew a lot of “Nice pick, man” comments from around the room. Hell, I’m a Titans season ticket holder so I jumped in the 10th round… and still got “Whoa that might be the pick of the draft” remarks from my buddies. But it wasn’t Cook’s fault, it was OC Chris Palmer’s. He’s the one who boasted all summer that Cook would be an “every-down player” and a “real weapon for us.” By all accounts Cook’s been healthy and has worked harder in practice this year. Palmer has been kind of a letdown for Titans fans with his unimaginative schemes.
ESPN becomes more unappealing to me every year (a topic for another column) but the Mark Schlereth/Skip Bayless debate about Tim Tebow last week is simply classic. It’s very entertaining. It’s 6 minutes long, though – so finish my column then come back to it. Please. Pretty please.
Let’s get back to Ryan Fitzpatrick real quick… He got that 6-year $59 million extension in October with a reported $24 million in guarantees. However, the Bills are looking at his 1-7 record since the ink dried on that contract, and I suspect they might give him the stink eye. Did you know Buffalo could cut ties after only paying him $13.22 million in new money, not $24m? That’s right. ProFootballTalk.com reports: “Per a league source, the Bills could trade or cut Fitzpatrick before the seventh day of the 2012 league year and owe him nothing further than the $3.22 million base salary he was already due to earn in 2011 and the $10 million signing bonus he was paid upon inking the new deal.” Wait, the deal was clearly advertised as $24 million in guarantees. That’s the key to all the NFL contracts: How much is the player guaranteed? Right? Well, wrong. In the NFL even guaranteed isn’t guaranteed, in the purest sense of the word. Fitzpatrick’s 2011-2013 base salaries were partially guaranteed for injury only, around $14 million dollars worth over three years -- which if you add to his $10m signing bonus becomes that mystical “$24 million in guarantees” that was touted. But he might not even be a Buffalo Bill in 2012 if they don’t exercise a $5 million option bonus. They can let Fitzpatrick go and not pay another dime.
Fitzpatrick’s situation is why guys like Chris Johnson are obligated to hold out. Period. Don’t hate the player, especially one like Johnson who generated more yards than any running back in pro football over a 3-year stretch. If Bud Adams wasn’t going to pay Johnson then why is he still in the NFL business to begin with? Give Johnson a full offseason and training camp -- with Jake Locker – and he’ll be back to his hyper-vaporizing self. Matt Forte should have held out but he tried to be the “team player” and look what it got him… a sprained MCL and a little less leverage at the bargaining table. Get what you can, when you can get it, while you can, before you can’t.
Ben Roethlisberger and game-time decisions go together like Tango and Cash. Let's wait until Saturday morning and listen to all the stories about how Roethlisberger "can't walk" and "needed help off the team bus"... I’m tired of this guy, personally. I know he’s hurt but does he have to milk it dry like this? Well, at least Ben’s halfway earned the right to get extra attention. Vince Young faked injuries all the time – usually right after an interception – but somehow mysteriously disappeared when the Titans doctors were waiting to give him the MRI.
Ryan Mathews is ballin’ and I have no choice but to admit he’s a great back when he’s healthy. However, I still place him in that Lee Suggs-Ryan Torain-Knowshon Moreno category where pure fantasy heartbreak is just a strained quad away. Good luck to you if you’re starting Mathews at Detroit and I truly mean that. It’s never personal.
JUMbo Week 16 Sleeper Deluxe:
WR Jabar Gaffney vs. Minnesota: What has Gaffney done this season that neither Vincent Jackson nor Larry Fitzgerald has done? Do you give up? Ok, Gaffney has caught 4+ passes in 10 of 14 games. Jackson only has 6 out of 14, Fitzgerald 9 out of 14. Sure, I’m reaching but my point is that Gaffney is pretty damn reliable as a PPR guy and lately he’s been ramping it up a bit. Last two weeks: 6-92-1, 6-85-0. And guess which defense has been dead last in fantasy points allowed to WRs the last 4 weeks? Minnesota. The weather in D.C. will be sunny and 48 degrees, an absolute god-send given what time of year it is. Gaffney’s going to help make dreams come true in Week 16.
Last year my Week 16 Sleeper Deluxe was Josh Freeman at home vs. Seattle. He threw 5 TD passes. One Huddler reportedly named his newborn daughter JUMbotron out of gratitude.
JUMbo Week 16 Sleeper Deluxe II:
RB Kahlil Bell at Green Bay: He was discussed above and let me hammer home that I have a big hunch about this Bell kid. I don’t know much about him (from UCLA, right?) but his name just sounds All-Pro. I’m going to start Bell over Steven Jackson.
JUMbo Things I’ve Noticed That Perhaps You Didn’t:
--Raiders QB Carson Palmer has completed just 3 of 17 passes on throws that traveled more than 21 yards in past 5 games (thanks to @VittorioTafur)
--Jordy Nelson found out what it’s like to be a No. 1 WR in the NFL at Kansas City. Double-teams. Sometimes we fantasy geeks automatically assume when the stud WR (Greg Jennings) is out that the No. 2 guy will blow up with tons of targets. Myself included. I thought Nelson would eviscerate the Chiefs.
--WR Red-Zone target leaders: Roddy White 26, Calvin Johnson 22, Brandon Marshall 20, Plaxico Burress 19, Wes Welker 19, Steve Johnson 17, A.J. Green 15, Pierre Garcon 15, Percy Harvin 15, Dwayne Bowe 14.
--RB Red-Zone attempt leaders: Cedric Benson 51, LeSean McCoy 50, Michael Turner 50, Arian Foster 50, Frank Gore 47, Ray Rice 44, Shonn Greene 41, Marshawn Lynch 36.
--In his 27th career start Matthew Stafford suddenly became a man.
--Brandon Marshall caught a 65-yard TD vs. the Bills but dropped two potential touchdowns earlier in the game, giving him 7 dropped TDs on the season. I know it’s true because I’ve been counting and the Palm Beach Post confirmed it too. And by my count, 4 of those 7 were totally easy grabs. If Marshall hauls those in he’s a top-5 fantasy WR right now. Remember this when he’s floating in the 3rd or 4th round next summer. As it stands, Marshall is still having a nice year with 70 catches for 1,021 yards and 5 TDs. He has back-to-back 1,000 receiving yard seasons for Miami, the first Dolphin to achieve that since Irving Fryar in ’93-94.
--ESPN.com has a Playoff Machine simulator where you can see different playoff scenarios based on who you think will win or lose.
--Mark Sanchez has more fantasy points than Joe Flacco.
--Reggie Bush has more fantasy points than Frank Gore.
--Laurent Robinson has more fantasy points than Steve Johnson.
--The top-5 kickers in most leagues are David Akers, Dan Bailey, John Kasay, Mason Crosby, and Steven Gostkowski.
--The consensus #1 fantasy draft pick at each position has been derailed by injuries this year – Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson, Antonio Gates, and Nate Kaeding.
JUMbo Recreational Wager Lock of the Week:
Seattle +2 over San Francisco. Seattle is an underdog at home in mighty 12th Man Stadium. What? I think Pete Carroll will outcoach Jim Harbaugh, I think the 49ers offense is too predictable, and I think as a team they might be a little breezy about this game because they already clinched the division and a playoff spot. Sure, the No. 2 seed will be great if the Saints help them out in that regard – but how can Harbaugh really get them motivated to beat Seattle, who’s almost unbeatable at home? If the 49ers win I’ll be pretty surprised. If the 49ers win by more than 10 points I’ll be totally shocked. Give me the Seahawks and a couple points and I’m happy. They are voraciously hungry and a win over the 49ers means everything to them. Everything.
Who’s going to win 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year? Here’s how I have them ranked:
|2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year?
|DE Terrell Suggs
|DE Jared Allen
|LB DeMarcus Ware
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul
|LB London Fletcher
|CB Charles Woodson
The vibe is that Jared Allen won’t win it because the Vikings have a 2-12 record. I am on board with that. I don’t care if he has 25 sacks, if his team is picking top-3 overall in the NFL Draft then he wasn’t good enough. Besides, only 5 winners in the 39 years the Defensive MVP award has been given out played on losing teams. In fact, only one of them – Reggie White, ’87 Eagles – played on a defense that ranked in the bottom half in total defense. Minnesota ranks 24th. I like Terrell Suggs because he stepped up when Ray Lewis was injured, notching 7 sacks in 3 games vs. the 49ers, Browns and Colts. Suggs rose to a new level when his team needed it most. I probably have Woodson too low – some analysts think he’s the front-runner – but to me Woodson’s been aided by so many teams heaving come-from-behind ducks when the Pack was up by two TDs or more. I’m nitpicking, sure. Woodson fans should know that I actually believed he deserved that Heisman over Peyton Manning… so save the hate mail.
JUMbo Quotes of the Week:
“Kyle Orton riding into Denver in Week 17 to play the man who took his job, Tim Tebow -- with the winner making the playoffs? Here's how it happens: Home teams win all games involving AFC West teams next week (Buffalo over Denver, Kansas City over Oakland, Detroit over San Diego). Then Orton-Tebow is a play-in game in Week 17 ... and who knows? Maybe NBC finally gets the Tebow game it wanted so badly this weekend, this time with a playoff berth on the line.” – Peter King of SI.com.
“I told the team that, like the Gladiator, we were going to play a great team in Green Bay, and no matter what comes out of these gates, we've got to stay together. We did that. I told them after the game, 'Everyone expected us to die with honor today. But we're not ready to die.’” – Chiefs interim HC Romeo Crennel, who showed the team clips of the movie ‘Gladiator’ before the Packers game.
“That's the old saying, 'Talk is cheap, money buys whiskey. “I understand all that and that's the truth. But I don't care about Tom Coughlin or anybody else. I know how I believe. I don't care what's acceptable in everybody's opinion. I really don't care. I'm worried about my opinion and this is how I feel. Quite honestly, I don't care what anybody thinks.” – Jets HC Rex Ryan before this must-win game (for both teams) vs. the Giants.
“Guys are going to try to take their shots when we're on the pile and try to twist it [my ankle] up and things like that. It kind of got overboard. I got up and kind of got in his face. Thank God I was able to keep my composure.” – Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on the Saints’ – namely CB Jabari Greer – dirty play in Week 15. Keep in mind, Saints DC Gregg Williams is from the same Titans coaching tree as Jeff Fisher (Haynesworth) and Jim Schwartz (Suh).
“Cumulatively, the [four straight] Bears losses -- given the five victories that preceded them -- are as galling as they are destructive. But until Sunday, the defense could at least sleep a little better at night knowing that it put in a strong enough effort to win. On Sunday, however, the Bears allowed the Seahawks 18 first downs and pass plays for 43, 33 and 21 yards twice.” – ESPNChicago.com’s Melissa Isaacson.
“If Tim Tebow is standing next to me I would tell it to his face -- come check me out in five years, Jack, and you'll know who's the best quarterback. Everybody wants to crown Tebow as a versatile quarterback. Versatile to me means you can throw the ball very accurately, run the ball and create things. The only thing he can create is running. He isn't very accurate. You can't compare Cam to Tebow. Tebow has the wins. But everybody wants to crown Tebow. Yes, he has the will to win. I think Tebow is no different than any other professional (in that way). But Tebow has a great opportunity to play behind a great defense.” – Panthers WR Steve Smith.
“Take a shower and get dressed u bum! A coco machiatto orange slush is screaming out my name! WESTICLE THE TESTICLE!!” – Wes Welker on Twitter after just registering his account on Tuesday.
“Don't tell Bill I'm on here! Thanks! Hahaha!” – Wes Welker on Thursday.
JUMbo Cheerleader Series:
Colts: Ann C. (A newcomer to the Series, something about her drives me wild…)
Colts: Ann C. (Yep, I’m still being driven wild…)
Broncos: ?? (From 2008, I think…I could dig up her name but I can’t take my eyes off her)
Eagles: Ivelisse (I need to dig up more of her, she’s an absolute vision)
Redskins: ?? (I’ve recycled this picture for years but only because she’s so damn cute)
Bucs: Ashley (She doesn’t get the pub that Marlana & Meagan get here, but her body is fly)
Bucs: Marlana (Sometimes I just look at her and chuckle like a soon-to-be felon)
Bucs: Meagan (Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Sight!)
Have a Wonderful and Joyous Holiday Season!