DALLAS COWBOYS 31, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 15
Plenty of good news on the Dallas side. For starters, you apparently don’t have to pick between the receivers: all three scored, and while there wasn’t a ton of yardage it’s tough to complain considering the Cowboys were up early and ran much more than usual. Tony Romo (23-30-249-3) led the charge, distributing the ball amongst Miles Austin (5-53-1 on a team-high eight targets), Dez Bryant (4-40-1 on four targets) and Laurent Robinson (3-29-1 on three targets). Meanwhile, Felix Jones (22-108, plus 3-23 receiving) sparked the ground game that also received a surprising contribution from newly-signed Sammy Morris (12-53).
When the highlight of your offense is your quarterback’s rushing effort, you’re either the Panthers or Broncos or you’re most likely in big trouble. Josh Freeman (17-27-148-1, plus 4-37 rushing) made a couple plays early with this feet but couldn’t get the Bucs into the end zone until late in the third quarter (their first TD was a defensive score). LeGarrette Blount (9-21) was a complete non-factor, Kregg Lumpkin (5-50 on a team-high eight targets) was the only receiver to top 40 yards, and “WR1” Mike Williams was not only shut out, he wasn’t even targeted. The only proof he was even on the field was an offensive interference penalty.
FANTASY IMPACT: At this time last season Freeman appeared to have a bright NFL future, Blount was pushing the 1,000-yard mark, and Williams was emerging as a legitimate go-to receiver. One year later the Bucs have question marks across the board. Heading into 2012, it’s possible Dezmon Briscoe (3-36-1) might be the most intriguing fantasy prospect because the luster is certainly off last year’s Big Three. The big loser in the Cowboys’ 3-WR scenario is Jason Witten (4-77), who saw just five targets, lost looks to Martellus Bennet (3-23), and failed to get into the end zone. Not that 4-77 is a bad outing for a tight end, but Witten is more accustomed to double-digit targets and with three wideouts in the mix that’s no longer in the cards.
MIAMI DOLPHINS 30, BUFFALO BILLS 23
Miami started slow, with two three-and-outs and a fumble, then reeled off three straight scoring drives to take control of the game. Reggie Bush (25-203-1, 1-6 receiving) took over after halftime, capping a big day with a 76-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to put the Bills away. Matt Moore (10-20-217-2) was plenty competent with his second multi-TD outing against the Bills this year, with Brandon Marshall (3-84-1) and Anthony Fasano (2-28-1) on the business end of those scoring strikes.
Overlook the three picks and Ryan Fitzpatrick (31-47-316-2-3) earned some of that fat new contract this week against the Dolphins. Sure, much of the production came with Buffalo two-plus scores down, but it was a significant step up from his more recent play. The difference was C.J. Spiller (12-91-1 rushing, 9-76-1 receiving), who finally provided the Bills with the dual threat out of the backfield they’ve been lacking since Fred Jackson went down with an injury.
FANTASY IMPACT: Spiller’s 11 targets and nine catches paced the Bills, but Stevie Johnson (5-82) saw 10 targets and David Nelson (6-60) was more involved as well. Spiller’s showing against a previously stout Miami defense might give Buffalo hope for next year, with Jackson a 30-year-old free agent following the season. Another big day for Bush certainly suggests he’s a legit feature back, but don’t overlook the contributions of rookie Daniel Thomas (11-42). He should factor into Miami’s game plan next year, whether it’s Moore or, say, Robert Griffith at quarterback—though a new coach and offensive game plan could have something to say about that as well.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 38, CHICAGO BEARS 14
As a microcosm of a week that just didn’t make any sense, Tarvaris Jackson (19-31-227-1) got little help from his running game, had Julius Peppers breathing down his neck, and his only scoring play was a two-yard TD toss… and his team won going away. Golden Tate (4-61) was the only Seahawk to account for more than 50 yards of offense, but the Seattle defense hauled in two touchdown passes. As for Marshawn Lynch (20-42-2, 2-5 receiving), he salvaged his 2.1 yards per carry afternoon with the two scores—the first of which was set up by one of those “illegal jumping” penalties on a field goal that gave Lynch another shot from the one yard-line after the Bears had stopped Seattle on three previous tries.
For the day Caleb Hanie (10-23-111-1-3) threw three touchdowns; unfortunately for he and the Bears, two of them went to Seahawk defenders. The only offense Chicago was able to muster came from Kahlil Bell (15-65 rushing, 5-43-1 receiving), who usurped Marion Barber (11-33) and benefitted from a bad Bears line/strong Seahawks pass rush that sacked Hanie four times and forced him to check down to the point that half of his completions went to running backs.
FANTASY IMPACT: The only Bears receiver with any fantasy value coming into the game, Johnny Knox (1-15), was carried off on a backboard after taking a nasty shot trying to recover his own fumble. Early word he’s okay; the same can’t be said for the Bears’ passing game, which desperately turned to Josh McCown (2-1-12-0-1)—with predictable results. Seattle’s passing game was nothing special either, though Jackson completed passes to 10 different teammates. Tate’s late-season surge could make him an attractive dynasty candidate and early sleeper for 2012.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 28, HOUSTON TEXANS 13
It wasn’t a monster statistical day for Cam Newton (13-23-149-2 plus 7-55 rushing), but against a statistically strong Houston defense it was impressive nonetheless. Newton ended two early scoring drives with touchdown tosses to Steve Smith (5-82-1) and Jeremy Shockey (2-35-1), then DeAngelo Williams (15-61-1) sealed the deal with a long touchdown run. In between, something called Richie Brockel (1-7-1 plus 1-4 receiving) scored on a trick play that lulled the Texans to sleep; the closest comparison is the old Nebraska “Fumblerooski”.
You knew the Texans would ride Arian Foster (16-109-1 plus 5-58 receiving), but you expected him to get at least a little help. Instead, two third-quarter drives stalled in the red zone and ended in field goals, T.J. Yates (19-30-212-0-2) threw a pair of picks, and no other Texan mustered as much as 30 yards of offense. Could we see Jeff Garcia soon?
FANTASY IMPACT: The tone of the game forced the Texans to go pass-heavy, with Foster carrying 16 times and Ben Tate (7-26, 1-4 receiving) not receiving nearly the expected workload against a bottom-feeding run defense without its top two defensive tackles. Wide receivers accounted for just five catches; the other 14 completions went to backs and tight ends. Carolina reversed the equation, giving 26 carries to DeAngelo Williams (15-61-1) and Jonathan Stewart (11-43, 2-8 receiving) and throwing just 24 passes—seven to Smith, five (without a completion) to Brandon LaFell, and no more than two completions to any other Panther.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 27, TENNESSEE TITANS 13
It was turn back the clock weekend in Indy; no, not to the Peyton Manning era Colts, as Dan Orlovsky (11-17-82-1) put up maybe a quarter’s worth of Peyton’s usual numbers—though Reggie Wayne (3-33-1) did find the end zone for a change. No, the Colts turned the clock all the way back to the days of Eric Dickerson with Donald Brown (16-161-1 plus 1-2 receiving) donning the goggles. Sure, 80 of those yards came on a late game-sealing TD but even to that point Brown was outdueling Chris Johnson.
Yep, Chris Johnson (15-55, 8-54 receiving) let you, us, and everybody down yet again. Matt Hasselbeck (27-40-223-0-2) stuck around for much of the game before giving way to Jake Locker (11-16-108-1), who is looking more and more like the quarterback of the future the Titans want him to be. And obviously 56 passing attempts leads to big passing game numbers, with four different Titans garnering double-digit targets led by Nate Washington (7-62-1 on 13 targets) and a surprise appearance from tight end Jared Cook (9-103).
FANTASY IMPACT: The biggest issue with Locker replacing Hasselbeck is that for some reason Locker hates Damian Williams (2-15 on six targets). Lavelle Hawkins (8-88) had more catches than Williams had looks, and Locker’s love for Washington is well-documented. Something to think about when positioning Williams as a potential sleeper for next season. About the only thing to take away from the Indy game—other than the obvious win and what might be Wayne’s last TD for the Horseshoes—is that Joseph Addai (11-20, 2-7 receiving) is no longer the lead back in Indy’s stable. With the Colts likely rebuilding next season, expect Addai to be elsewhere and Brown to head up the committee with Delone Carter (3-19). And the way he’s played this season, he may just have some value on a Manning- (or Luck-) led offense.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 19, GREEN BAY PACKERS 14
You can’t beat the unbeaten Packers with four field goals and Kyle Orton (23-31-299)… or can you? That’s how the Chiefs pulled off the upset of the year, so evidently yes you can. KC took their first three drives into the red zone, settling for field goals twice and crapping out on fourth down at the three on the third. Then three dud drives, and then four more drives into scoring position—three for scores, one to run out the clock. Unfortunately for fantasy owners with any Chief in their lineup, their most productive player yardage-wise (Thomas Jones with 15-48 rushing and 1-27 receiving) and lone touchdown scorer (Jackie Battle, with 10-37-1 rushing and 1-7 receiving) were desperation plays at best this week.
Aaron Rodgers (17-35-235-1 plus 3-32-1 rushing) was off, and that brought down the rest of the offense. With Greg Jennings out, Rodgers spread 16 targets equally amongst his wide receivers; Donald Driver (2-7-1) tallied the lone touchdown and Randall Cobb (4-53) turned in the most yardage. As expected Jermichael Finley saw a big uptick in targets; unfortunately, he turned 10 targets into just three catches for 83 yards. The most productive Packer was, surprisingly, Ryan Grant (12-66 rushing, 3-35 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: Where does the Pack go from here? It’s unlikely they’ll be resting regulars, and back home is where Jordy Nelson (2-29) does his best work. But no one stepped into Jennings’ WR1 role and injuries along the offensive line have put a serious dent in Rodgers’ comfort level. The only Chief in most fantasy lineups, Dwayne Bowe (4-49) wasn’t even Orton’s most targeted receiver; that honor went to Steve Breaston (4-50). Tight end Leonard Pope (2-72) produced the most yardage among KC receivers as Orton connected with 10 different receivers on the afternoon.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 42, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 20
Drew Brees. 32-40-412-5. Dan Marino’s yardage record well within reach, and at least one TD toss for the 41st straight game. What more is there to say? As usual the wealth was spread, with Jimmy Graham (7-70-2) the most targeted, Lance Moore (5-91-2) the most productive, Marques Colston (8-91) with the most grabs and Darren Sproles (8-33 rushing, 5-79-1 receiving) the most versatile. Even the running game was fractured yet productive, led by Chris Ivory (18-74) and Pierre Thomas (8-44-1).
Much to the delight of his fantasy owners, Adrian Peterson (10-60) returned to the lineup; much to their chagrin, AP’s touches were limited and Toby Gerhart (2-12 rushing, 4-46-2 receiving) found the end zone twice in his place. The passing game didn’t exactly pick up the pieces, either, with Christian Ponder (14-31-120-2-1) failing to complete a pass of more than 16 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: Tough to judge the Vikings passing game in its current state, with Ponder running for his life behind a line that allowed four sacks. But the lack of downfield looks, especially playing from behind, is disconcerting. Devin Aromashodu (2-29) and Percy Harvin (3-8 plus one carry for minus-1 yard) weren’t getting deep, and you can bet both the line and a deep threat will be offseason priorities for this offense. The Saints have too many pegs for all the slots in their lineup; first-rounder Mark Ingram didn’t even play and Robert Meachem (2-22 plus 1-4 rushing) and Devery Henderson (1-4) were the odd men out in this rout. Graham seems to be atop the pecking order, with Moore and Colston the more recent second and third options. With the Saints that can change at the drop of a hat, but the good news is that Brees needs to keep throwing to reach Marino’s record so there should be enough production to feed at least the top tier of New Orleans receivers.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 23, NEW YORK GIANTS 10
The first quarter was unkind to Rex Grossman (15-24-185-1-2), with two picks and a stalled red zone drive that ended with a field goal. Then the Redskins’ offense got serious, and by the time they punted for the first time they had a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. Capitalizing on a short field, there wasn’t much need for production; Roy Helu (23-53, 3-16 receiving) and Jabar Gaffney (6-85) were the only Redskins to top 40 yards of offense.
Something about the Redskins makes Eli Manning (23-40-257-0-3) flinch; including this game he now has 12 touchdowns and 13 picks in 15 meetings. And with Eli struggling the Giants receivers all took a hit; despite 12 and nine targets, respectively, neither Hakeem Nicks (5-73) nor Victor Cruz (5-44) nor Mario Manningham (3-57) lived up to expectations.
FANTASY IMPACT: Ahmad Bradshaw (10-58-1, 3-21 receiving) looked much healthier in averaging better than six yards per touch as he reclaimed the backfield mantle from Brandon Jacobs (8-33), but it was hardly definitive. This game also saw many more secondary receivers get in on the action as nine Giants caught balls from Manning. Those looking to Helu as a keeper for 2012 have to be concerned about the growing workload of Evan Royster (10-36). Helu is still the pass-catching back, but Mike Shanahan looks to be developing a couple different options to screw fantasy owners with next year. And just to make sure fantasy owners are thoroughly flummoxed, fullback Darrel Young (4-14-1, 1-0 receiving) swiped the touchdown. Good luck drafting Redskins running backs with confidence next year!
CINCINNATI BENGALS 20, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 13
It took the Bengals a while to crack the Rams’ defense, but fortunately the Rams were in no hurry of their own to score. By the time Cincy found the end zone late in the third quarter they were well on their way to putting the game out of reach. Most of the damage was done by A.J. Green (6-115) despite leaving twice with a shoulder injury. In fact, he accounted for 64 percent of Andy Dalton’s (15-26-179-0-1) passing yardage; no other receiver topped 16 yards. Cedric Benson (22-76-1, 1-11 receiving) put in a typical Ced Benson, 3.5 yards per carry day.
The key for Kellen Clemens (25-36-229-1) was simple: get the ball to Steven Jackson (18-71, 9-72 receiving), who accounted for 44 percent of the team’s offense. Not that he didn’t try going downfield, as Brandon Lloyd (5-42) and Austin Pettis (4-38) were targeted nine times each.
FANTASY IMPACT: Somewhere, some fantasy owner saw Danario Alexander (3-52-1) make a nice touchdown grab and thinks he’ll
be a sleeper. That’s true; he’s a great prospect—until his next injury. What may be more troublesome for the Rams is that the journeyman Clemens looked every bit as good as franchise quarterback Sam Bradford has this season. Speaking of next year, Benson will be a free agent. Again, a glance at the box score reveals Bernard Scott (7-20-1) got in the end zone and there’s the temptation to think he may take over if Benson doesn’t return. The 2.9 yards per carry suggest otherwise, as does the fact that Cincy has steadfastly refused to give Scott anything close to a shot at the job throughout his three NFL seasons.
DETROIT LIONS 28, OAKLAND RAIDERS 27
When you play the Lions, you might want to cover Calvin Johnson (9-214-2)—especially late, when Detroit is 98 yards away from a game-winning touchdown and needs to move down the field quickly. Fortunately for Megatron’s fantasy owners, the Raiders didn’t get the memo. They also forgot to cover Nate Burleson (7-81-1) as Matthew Stafford (29-52-391-4) threw double-digit balls at each of his downfield targets; Titus Young (5-21) turned one of them into a touchdown, while Brandon Pettigrew (5-49) was only mildly productive.
The Raiders love to get vertical, so even with Michael Bush (18-77 rushing, 7-62 receiving) having his way in the short game Carson Palmer (32-40-367-1) went up top to Darius Heyward-Bey (8-155-1) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (6-52). He also narrowly overthrew Chaz Schilens (2-14) on a potential touchdown and handed off to wideout Louis Murphy (1-8 receiving, 2-16-1 rushing) for a touchdown as well.
FANTASY IMPACT: A potent offense and a careless defense is a pretty good fantasy combination. The Raiders appear to have both, and will be even more productive once Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore (2-13) get fully healthy. Kevin Smith (15-43, 1-3 receiving) didn’t look fully healthy, either, but he handled most of the work; Keiland Williams carried once for no yards, and Maurice Morris didn’t touch the ball. That’s what happens when you throw 52 times.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 20, CLEVELAND BROWNS 17
John Skelton (28-46-313-1-1) is getting pretty comfortable as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. This time, facing the league’s top-ranked pass defense, Skelton involved 10 different receivers—with both Andre Roberts (6-60-1) and Early Doucet (3-37) seeing more targets than Larry Fitzgerald (3-65). Of course, when Skelton needed a play in overtime he went back to Fitz for a clutch 33-yard gain that set up the winning field goal. Don’t ask how you can let Larry Fitzgerald get open in overtime; it’s the Browns, stuff like that just happens to them.
Notable individual offensive performances from the Browns? For a change, yes. Peyton Hillis (26-99-1, 1-9 receiving) saw all the work and ran like a guy with a healthy hamstring who needs to impress some people before free agency this offseason. Greg Little (5-131-1) busted off a 76-yard touchdown and actually caught more than half of his targets. That was it for the Cleveland offense, though, with no other member—save, of course, for replacement quarterback Seneca Wallace (18-31-226-1 plus 3-21 rushing)—accounting for more than 42 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: After scoring on the first drive and taking their next two across midfield, the Browns punted five times and, aside from Little’s long TD, penetrated no deeper than the Arizona 47. So while it’s nice to get excited about a mini-resurgence from Hillis and Little finally living up to some of the preseason hype, this remains an offense in serious need of some playmakers. The Cards, on the other hand, have Fitzgerald plus some other guys stepping up to make plays. One who didn’t join the party was Beanie Wells (15-51-1, 1-10 receiving). Despite an extremely favorable matchup with the Browns’ bottom-feeding run defense Wells couldn’t break off a run longer than eight yards. His touchdown capped an 11-play, 87-yard drive on which he didn’t touch the ball until it was placed at the one-yard line following a defensive holding penalty in the end zone—and even then the first play call was a jump ball to Fitz.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 41, DENVER BRONCOS 23
Once again, Tom Brady (23-34-320-2) relied on his tight end hookup to pace the Patriots offense—only this time the tight end was Aaron Hernandez (9-129-1 plus 1-16 rushing), not Rob Gronkowski (4-53). Wes Welker (4-41) was unusually silent, but Chad Ochocinco (1-33-1) made a special guest appearance behind the Broncos’ secondary. And Brady himself scored one rushing touchdown and very nearly added a second before handing off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (10-17-1, 2-32 receiving) to redeem his otherwise lackluster fantasy day.
Tim Tebow ran (12-93-2), and Tim Tebow tried to pass (11-22-194) against the league’s shakiest secondary—throwing almost exclusively to DeMaryius Thomas (7-116 on 13 targets). But it wasn’t enough to overcome three killer turnovers that led directly to New England points.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Denver ground game was working, not just with Tebow but Willis McGahee (7-70) and Lance Ball (11-64-1 plus 2-41 receiving). However, the Broncos’ offense isn’t built to play from behind and that’s where they found themselves most of the afternoon. When New England plays with the lead they’ll occasionally try to run clock, and that’s what they did here with 36 rushes and 34 passes. Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead (7-40-1 rushing, 1-12 receiving) found the end zone, but it was Stevan Ridley (11-65) who saw the most carries. If only Shane Vereen were active, too.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 45, NEW YORK JETS 19
A defensive touchdown launched Philly’s scoring; after that it was all offensive, led by LeSean McCoy (18-102-3, two catches for minus-5 yards) and his assault on the Eagles’ record book. He received an assist from Michael Vick (15-22-274-1-1 plus 5-32-1 rushing), who eschewed his wideouts and locked in on tight end Brent Celek to the tune of 5-156-1; Vick also added his first rushing touchdown of the season. Yes, you read that correctly. Of. The. Season.
The Jets alternated turnovers and punts through their first five drives, strung together a couple scoring possessions, then went dormant until Plaxico Burress (1-9-1) finally shook free for a meaningless late score. Tight end Dustin Keller (3-73) accounted for most of the team’s receiving yards, while Santonio Holmes (4-40-1) scored the other TD. The two scores weren’t bad, but overall the numbers (15-26-150-2-2) for Mark Sanchez were anything but pretty.
FANTASY IMPACT: Not that Ced Benson has a trademark on the 70-yard outing, but if he does he should plan on passing it down to Shonn Greene (18-73, one catch for zero yards) as that’s becoming a Greene staple as well. There simply wasn’t much offense to go around on the Jets’ side of the ledger. The Eagles had more than their share, though it was confined primarily to Vick, McCoy, and Celek. Jeremy Maclin (3-57) snuck in a decent outing, but no other Eagle accounted for more than 28 yards of offense.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 34, BALTIMORE RAVENS 14
The San Diego punter never saw the field; only two possessions—a missed field goal late in the third quarter and a giveaway on downs in the final minute—concluded without a Chargers score of some sort. Philip Rivers (17-23-270-1) was efficient, leaning heavily on Malcom Floyd (5-96-1) and Vincent Jackson (3-84), but it was a surprisingly strong showing by the running game—Ryan Mathews with 26-90-2 plus 2-19 and Mike Tolbert with 8-40-1 plus 2-18—that sealed the deal for San Diego.
Ray Rice (10-57 plus 9-55 receiving) got his 100 combo yards, but the Ravens didn’t have much else going on for the evening. Joe Flacco (23-34-226-2-2) was sacked five times and threw two picks in addition to scoring strikes to Torrey Smith (6-77-1) and Ed Dickson (3-36-1). The only other number of note was 2-51 from Anquan Boldin, though one catch came extremely early and the other was a meaningless 18-yarder to end the game.
FANTASY IMPACT: Rice was targeted more than any two other Ravens, which is as it should be; the Baltimore offense needs to run through him, especially on the road. But Smith was targeted as much as any two other non-Rice mates and appears to be usurping Boldin’s role as the go-to downfield guy. Boldin was targeted just thrice and never appeared to be in the flow of the game. Of course, Flacco found it difficult to buy time to throw downfield while running for his life in the pocket. The Chargers could do pretty much whatever they wanted offensively; the only exception was Antonio Gates (2-31), who was targeted just twice and had at least as many noteworthy blocks as catches. That’s not the Gates fantasy owners were expecting to show up.