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JUMbotron Friday Huddle: Week 17
John U. Miller
December 30, 2011
 

Week 17 is torture for fantasy footballers and it makes me wonder why so many of you still hold competition in this crazy environment.  Who’s sitting?  How long will he play?   Is this game really meaningless?  Aren’t they trying to get the 5th seed?  The coach said he would not pull the starters, right?  Ugh.  The reason why you shouldn’t be playing fantasy football now is simple:  It’s hard enough trying to predict how a player will perform, but now you have the added burden of guessing what a coach is thinking.  It’s no fun… and it brings way too much margin for error into our precious hobby.  So please, next year you must change your league’s format to a Week 16 Championship.  However, there are still many of you competing for titles on Sunday.  I don’t want to leave those people hanging so I’ll break down all the playoff scenarios team by team. 

Green Bay Packers (vs. Detroit):  The Packers have clinched it all, free and clear.  They have nothing to look forward to but the Divisional Playoff game at home more than two weeks from now.  Mike McCarthy uttered the same words that Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick and so many other early-clinchers have used before:  “We’re going to play to win the game… I’m not real comfortable with a division opponent coming in here and not thinking we’re going to play to get win No. 15.”  Uh, ok.  Sure.  We’re supposed to believe that the league’s best player – Aaron Rodgers – is going to stay on the football field for more than two or three series against Ndamukong Suh and his dirty Lions pals?  If Rodgers takes the field when the 2nd quarter starts I will resign from the fantasy football effective immediately.  So where does that leave Rodgers-owners?  Well, it would be nice if you had a kick-ass backup like Eli Manning or Tim Tebow – a prolific QB who’s playing for all the marbles – but I doubt you do.  I’d take a look at Matt Moore (yes, against the Jets… but he’s making plays) or Tarvaris Jackson (vs. the Cards without Patrick Peterson) if you can do last-minute shopping.  Update:  Jermichael Finley has a sore knee (recently revealed to be weeks old) and he might get an early shower too.

Houston Texans (vs. Tennessee):  I bet Gary Kubiak is in shock.  Usually in Week 17 his team is 8-7 and fighting to sneak into a wild-card spot, and coming up short.  Now the Texans have not only clinched the AFC South but they are locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed no matter what happens.  They have no reason to play any starters at all.  My first fantasy thought is Ben Tate.  All day long.  Actually Tate’s my only fantasy thought here.  The only other Texan I’d consider starting is Neil Rackers, frankly.  I want to add that Houston should be commended for what they’ve accomplished.  They lost Arian Foster for two games in September, then lost Mario Williams and Andre Johnson for the season (yes, Andre’s regular season basically ended in October), and finally in a span of two weeks they were stripped of not only Matt Schaub but his backup Matt Leinart!  Oh, here’s another interesting tidbit from HoustonTexans.com:  “There’s an outside chance the Texans could host the AFC Championship Game at Reliant Stadium on Jan. 22.  They would obviously have to win their first two games, and the winner of the 4/5 game on Wild Card Weekend would have to upset the No. 1 seed in the Divisional round.”

New England Patriots (vs. Buffalo):  All out, all in, all right – what I’m trying to say is the Patriots will lay the wood on Buffalo and try to clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field throughout.  Early game at 1:00 pm, no holds barred.  The Patriots could have still clinched if they lost to Buffalo – if the Steelers and Ravens lost to the Browns and Bengals – but those two games were moved to 4:15.  So play all your usual Pats regardless of weather or the injury report.  Yes, Brady missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practice with a shoulder injury but c’mon, you know the deal by now.  Dude plays.  Vegas has the Pats favored by 11-12 points and that’s all you need to know.  Side note:  New England has now been undefeated in the month of December 7 times since 2001.  Also, since Robert Kraft bought the team in 1994 they have earned 13 playoff berths in 18 seasons.  They had 6 playoff berths in their first 34 years of existence.  JUMbo Stat of the Week:  Rob Gronkowski has already passed Tony Gonzalez for the all-time greatest fantasy season ever by a tight end.  In 2004 Gonzalez caught 102 passes for 1,258 yards and 7 TDs, compiling 270 points in PPR leagues.  Gronkowski has 82 catches, 1,219 yards, 15 TD catches and 1 TD run (a 2-yarder that was incorrectly ruled a lateral) for 300 fantasy points!  

New Orleans Saints (vs. Carolina):  This is the one most hotly debated but probably shouldn’t be.  The Saints have locked up the No. 3 seed but might get the prized No. 2 seed and first-round bye if the 49ers lose to the Rams.  Of course, the chance of a Rams victory is slim but the fact that both these games are at the same time means Drew Brees & Co. should be playing hard for 60 minutes.  I guess Brees and a few others could be pulled if they see the halftime scoreboard flashing 49ers 31, Rams 0 but that’s not the Niners’ style: They’ve averaged 20.4 points per game over their last 10 games.  The other factor here, at least where Brees is concerned, is that Tom Brady only trails him by 190 passing yards.  Could Brady feasibly re-break Marino’s 5,084 and overtake Brees for a new, new record?  Saints HC Sean Payton said he didn’t know Brady was so close but it wouldn’t affect anything he’s doing with Drew Brees.  "I'm not really aware of the space between the two.  I am probably better off not knowing," Payton said.  Personally, I think Brees only enjoyed breaking Marino’s mark because the Superdome got to share it with him, and neither he nor Coach Payton could give a hoot if Brady ends up stealing the final record.  Just start your Saints based on the premise that they play at the same time as San Francisco and will have their minds on doing their own jobs.

Here is Sandra Bullock at 47 years old.  Good Heavens, she’s more beautiful than ever!

Detroit Lions (at Green Bay):  The Lions have clinched a playoff berth and cannot get a first-round bye so normally that’s a good reason to pull some starters in the second half.  However, there is a mitigating factor.  Assuming New Orleans does not get the miracle win by the Rams over the 49ers, the Saints will have the No. 3 seed and host the No. 6 seed in the wild-card round.  Do the Lions want to be that No. 6 seed, going to the volcanic Superdome to be cooked up and served like Wagyu Beef Tips – or should they try to get that No. 5 seed and visit the winner of the Dallas/NYG game?  Sean Yuille of PrideofDetroit.com summed it up:  “The importance of a win on Sunday and getting the No. 5 seed can't be overlooked.  The Lions' chances of picking up their second playoff win since 1957 seem much better against the Giants or Cowboys than the Saints (or even the 49ers, for that matter).  Plus, it would be nice for the Lions to end their losing streak at Green Bay in the process and keep their momentum going into the playoffs.”  It’s hard to imagine Jim Schwartz pulling his starters given this information, especially with so much youth on the team.  They need clear momentum and swagger.  However, there are whispers that Kevin Smith might get a week off (they need him at 110% next week) and the fact that Detroit just signed RB Joique Bell to the active roster is a big clue.  Calvin Johnson has missed practice time with a sore Achilles’ but it’s not believed to be serious at all.  I suppose he could exit early if the Packers have totally laid down. 

Atlanta Falcons (vs. Tampa Bay):  The Falcons/Bucs game got moved to 4:15 when NBC played their Flex card and stole the DAL/NYG game from FOX and put it on Sunday night.  That means FOX was owed a 4:15 game so the Falcons/Bucs moved there from 1:00 pm.  Hence, if the Lions beat the unmotivated Packers at 1:00 pm, the Falcons will have nothing to play for.  Beware.  I’d suspect Michael Turner would be the first to exit, given his sore groin and the fact that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling are more than capable in his place.  It would still be hard for me to bench Roddy White or Julio Jones even if the game is meaningless.  Tony Gonzalez… I’m not so sure.  He’s the key to everything they do.  They might have to hide his helmet at halftime, though – because he will not take “resting” kindly.      

Baltimore Ravens (at Cincinnati):  This is a playoff game, plain and simple.  If the Ravens win they secure no worse than the No. 2 seed (No. 1 if the Patriots lose, but that won’t happen) and a first-round bye.  If they lose they’ll probably hit the road as a No. 5 seed.  You can’t start Anquan Boldin (knee) because he won’t be ready until the playoffs (if at all), and Joe Flacco is not a fantasy consideration anyway.  Ray Rice, giddy up.  Torrey Smith?  Sure, but only as a flex in 12- or 14-team leagues.  Ed Dickson?  Nah, not in your Championship game.  Aside from that flukish 10-79-2 performance in Week 10 Dickson is basically Scott Chandler, with a touchdown here and there but rarely over 30 yards.     

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Baltimore):  Ditto.  Cincinnati wins and they’re in at No. 6.  They could still sneak in with a Jets loss coupled with either a Raiders loss or a Broncos loss – but the Bengals simply have to win.  It’s one of the biggest games in Cincinnati history and they couldn’t even sell out until Mike Brown gave away tickets.  I like Cedric Benson against the Ravens simply because he usually does well against them for some reason, averaging 80 rushing yards with 4 TDs in the last 5 meetings.  A.J. Green starts no matter what when healthy (something I expect to repeat a lot next year) and I believe Jerome Simpson deserves flex consideration on sheer principle alone after that hellacious, wild somersault for a touchdown last week.     

Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cleveland):  See above.  The Steelers have all the same things riding on it as Baltimore.  Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) practiced in full on Wednesday and Thursday.  He’s a go.  Start all the normal Steelers – Roethlisberger, Mendenhall, Wallace, Brown – if that’s the way you roll. 

Real Housewives of Orange County featuring the sensual Über-Cougar Alexis Bellino premiers its 7th season in February!

NY Jets (at Miami), Denver (vs. Kansas City), Oakland (vs. San Diego):  The Jets gotta win to have hope after they blew it last week.  Losing to the Giants ruined control over their own destiny.  The Jets need a win and a Bengals loss and Titans loss and either/both a Raiders loss and/or Broncos loss due to conference record (7-5 vs. the Bengals’ 6-6).  Denver has a much clearer path to the playoffs: Beat the Chiefs and win the AFC West.  They could even take the back door into the division title if San Diego beats Oakland.  I just heard something cool from Darren McKee from 104.3 The Fan – The Broncos will not post the Raiders/Chargers scores or highlights in the stadium during the game.  The fans will know but the team will not.  There were more rumors that Darren McFadden might play in Week 17 but I’m not sure where this nonsense keeps coming from.  I told you his season was over weeks ago.  Here’s a little tip:  In the future when a running back sprains his foot and is on crutches for 20 days, it’s a Lis Franc mid-foot separation.  Goodbye.  By the way, some Chargers updates:  Vincent Jackson (groin) did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday.  "It is difficult to see the Chargers pushing Jackson to play in a game that is meaningless for them," writes Kevin Acee of the Union Tribune.  Ryan Mathews (calf) and Mike Tolbert (hamstring) missed Wednesday and were limited Thursday. 

Tennessee (at Houston):  The Titans have to win and probably will because the Texans will pull starters.  However, so many things have to happen for Tennessee to get in.  But at least they are motivated.  WRs Nate Washington and Damian Williams have 33 and 28 targets over the last 3 weeks respectively and warrant spots in fantasy lineups this week.  OC Chris Palmer knows the running game is kaput and they will throw a ton at Reliant Stadium.  Chris Johnson didn’t practice but I saw him at a Nashville Subway on Thursday afternoon and he was able to walk up and order a 12-inch Oven Roasted Chicken Breast on wheat bread.  I’m serious.  Oh, Jared Cook is a must-start this week if you don’t own Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, or Aaron Hernandez.  Ride the lightning.  Yes, I would start Cook over Gates or Gonzalez (assuming Atlanta’s game is meaningless).    

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants:  The game of the week.  Start ‘em if you got ‘em.  Hakeem Nicks said “No doubt” when asked if his hamstring would allow him to play.  Mario Manningham’s knee is apparently in a good mood this week and he is expected to play too.  Ahmad Bradshaw had 15 carries for 54 yards and 2 TDs last week so you should play him if he’s on your roster.   Tony Romo (hand) is almost a lock to play according to numerous sources.  My man-crush Laurent Robinson (shoulder) practiced in full all week.  Felix Jones (hamstring) will start but he doesn’t exist to me anymore.  He’s got a ticket to Torainville on my fantasy map. 

San Francisco 49ers (at St. Louis):  The 49ers have everything to gain by winning.  No. 2 seed, first-round bye, and a lot of rest for Frank Gore – who’s masked his declining health by scoring a TD in three consecutive weeks.  He’s averaging 3.86 per carry over the last 5 games – after averaging 4.95 in the previous 5 games.  Interesting tidbit about the Rams I learned from the Associated Press:  “The bedraggled Rams (2-13) are in danger of a dubious honor -- landing the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second time in three years.  All it'll take is dropping their seventh in a row and the Colts winning at Jacksonville, and again they will be at the bottom of the barrel.”

If you’re still confused about Week 17 take a look at the NFC and AFC Seeding Possibilities Charts.  Yikes!  I hate math.

Seattle Seahawks (at Arizona):  No playoff hopes here but I thought I’d point out that Seattle is that type of strong-finishing team that’s building on next year with an enthusiastic coach pushing them hard.  They might go to Arizona and wipe the floor with their red-and-white butts.  JUMbo Stat of the Week II:  The Cardinals have allowed 92 points in their last three Week 17 games under Ken Whisenhunt, most in the NFL.

JUMbo Observations & Lessons about Random Players in 2011:

Jets RB Shonne Greene is a solid player (I’m halfway kidding when I bash him all the time) but he’s not the answer as a bell-cow tailback.  He’d be best suited for a T.J. Duckett-type role where his power can stay at optimum levels for punishing tacklers: 12, maybe 14 touches max, while a new rookie ultra-back like the U’s Lamar Miller handles the other 12 touches.  The Jets lack the screen game that the Eagles and Texans use so effectively, and a McCoy-type like Miller could add that spark.  Why keep those talented offensive linemen all boxed up in the trenches?  Let them get out in space and murder the smaller guys. 

Bills RB C.J. Spiller is the real deal.  Quoting myself from Tuesday:  “In the 5 games since Spiller took over for the injured Fred Jackson he has 533 total yards and 4 TDs.  He also had a 41-yard TD called back vs. Tennessee; and Spiller’s been running behind an injury-shuffled offensive line, not the same cohesive group that was plowing holes for Jackson.  Spiller has been the 8th-best fantasy RB from Weeks 12-16.”  What are the Bills going to do with Jackson?  He’s due to make $1.83 million in 2012, the last year of his deal.  The Bills know Jackson is a team guy but surely he won’t report to camp with that salary on the books (?).  Buffalo has to re-do his deal but how much do you give a RB who has a career year on the eve of his 31st birthday?

Bills WR Stevie Johnson should and will break the bank.  He’s barely made $2 million bucks in four years of pro football and his superlative play commands top-10 WR money. When asked if he’d appreciate being franchise-tagged on a 1-year, $10 million guaranteed tender, Johnson had a classic response:  "I've been broke all my life, so I ain't tripping."  JUMbo Stat of the Week III:  You won’t believe this one and I promise you will Google around and try to refute me.  Stevie Johnson just needs 36 yards to become the first WR in Buffalo history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.  Andre Reed never did it.  James Lofton.  Eric Moulds.  Peerless Price.  The four of them combined for 10 seasons with 1,000+ yards but none of them ever put one right behind the other.

Texans WR Andre Johnson is injury prone.  He’s brittle, folks.  He popped both hamstrings in 2011, one of them completely blown up.  In 2010 it was a lingering ankle sprain, in 2007 he tore his MCL or PCL (never made clear), and in 2005 he missed 3 games with a strained calf.  Even the best of them can’t shake these leg and foot injuries sometimes.  Johnson is not Superman after all.  I will be forced to rank Andre below Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker and maybe even Larry Fitzgerald (if he gets a quarterback) next summer because they simply don’t miss football games.

Bears RB Kahlil Bell is one of my favorite new prospects.  I franchised him in a multi-keeper league (only costing me a 14th-round pick in 2012) because he seems to have a little Domanick Davis in him: You know what I mean, that underrated ability to make tacklers miss, great hands out of the backfield, etc.  And most importantly, Bell’s hungry for money… the money that never seems to find Matt Forte no matter how productive he is.  If Bears GM Jerry Angelo wouldn’t pay Forte earlier this season – when he was the NFC’s most productive RB for an extended period, or when he had played 60 straight games and compiled over 6,000 total yards – then when will he ever pay him?  And the new CBA is playing right into Angelo’s greedy pocket because the 2012 RB franchise tag drops from $9.6m to $7.7m this year.  Forte will not stand for it and there could be an ugly holdout coming.  I think there’s a decent chance Forte gets traded away – leaving Bell as the front-runner for the starting job – and remember, Forte drew interest at the trade deadline in October.        

Bucs QB Josh Freeman wasn’t all that bad.  Fantasy-wise, yes he was a nightmare.  But his completion percentage rose from 61.4 to 62.3%, though that’s probably because his passes were shorter.  His yards per attempt dropped from a decent 7.3 last year to a tepid 6.6 this year.  He did manage to run for 4 TDs after not scoring once on the ground last year.  To me the problem with Freeman was three-fold:  1) Defenses had a stack of film on him this year.  You can’t sneak up on them twice.  Last year’s 25-6 TD-INT ratio evaporated quickly.  2) The wide receivers are not that talented.  It’s highly possible that Mike Williams’ big rookie season was a fluke.  Didn’t Michael Clayton once blow up for the Bucs as a rookie?  Where is he now?  And the others: Preston Parker, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe… I don’t know, man.  I do think Benn has a chance to be great if he stays healthy.  3) OC Greg Olson is in over his head.  How did he get this job again?  Olson oversaw Joey Harrington’s tumultuous start in Detroit and then presided over Marc Bulger’s tumultuous finish in St. Louis.  Now Freeman has had a tumultuous season. 

Eagles TE Brent Celek is one of the most underutilized stars in the NFL.  He’s tied for 11th among TEs with 87 targets, which is 21 less than what Dustin Keller has!  In fact, Fred Davis had 88 targets in 11 ½ games.  Yet, Celek ranks 8th in average per catch at a healthy 12.9 yards.  If Michael Vick had been healthy all year that number might have been even higher.  Celek will finish around the 11th or 12th best fantasy tight end this year, which should place him somewhere around the 11th round next summer.  I will be all over him as my TE2 because of his raw talent and the hopes that Eagles OC Marty Mornhinwheg will wise up.

I culled these numbers from the NFL Game Stats & Information System website (www.nflgsis.com).  The site lists each team’s run-pass ratio on 1st down & 10 plays this season, so I put them in order 1-32 ranked by pass-heavy to run-heavy (The Eagles are the most pass-heavy at 38-62% so they are No. 1).  Then I listed each team’s total offense rank just to see if there’s any discernible correlation.  Fun with numbers!
 

Offense Run-Pass Ratio
% 1st Down & 10 Plays
Ranked in order of
Pass-Heavy
Team Run Pass Off Rank
1 Eagles 38 62 3
2 Saints 42 58 1
3 Giants 42 58 8
4 Bucs 42 58 21
5 Lions 45 55 7
6 Patriots 45 55 2
7 Packers 46 54 5
8 Panthers 47 53 4
9 Cowboys 47 53 9
10 Rams 47 53 31
11 Colts 47 53 30
12 Seahawks 48 52 28
13 Bills 48 52 14
14 Cardinals 48 52 22
15 Titans 49 51 17
16 Browns 49 51 29
17 Ravens 50 50 15
18 Vikings 50 50 18
19 Chargers 50 50 6
20 Redskins 50 50 16
21 Falcons 53 47 10
22 49ers 53 47 26
23 Jets 53 47 27
24 Steelers 53 47 11
25 Raiders 54 46 13
26 Chiefs 55 45 25
27 Bears 56 44 20
28 Dolphins 56 44 19
29 Broncos 56 44 23
30 Bengals 58 42 24
31 Texans 59 41 12
32 Jaguars 60 40 32

Wow!  Out of the 11 most-pass-heavy teams – 53% pass or more – a whopping 8 of them have NFL top-10 offenses.  The numbers say if you pass more on 1st down & 10, your offense is going to be more productive as a whole.  Of course there are tons of variables that could skew these numbers any number of ways, but this is definitely a clear, easy-to-read trend.  Not a single one of the 12 run-heavy teams – 53% run or more – rank higher than 10th in total offense.  Many of these ground-and-pound teams like the 49ers, Jets, Chiefs, Broncos, and Jaguars rank in the bottom-third of total offense. 

JUMbo Cheerleader Series: Bucs, Cowboys, 49ers, Chargers, Falcons, Bucs, Cowboys, and a Bucs group swimsuit pic with Meagan in the center.  Whoa!!!  

Happy New Year!  Please secure a sober driver (truly sober, not the one who “drank the least”) or a taxi cab if you’re out drinking.  Thanks for supporting the JUMbotron in 2011!

JUM
@HuddleJUMbotron  


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