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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

The Trash Can Report - Wildcatting for Week 12
Dennis Leonard
November 24, 2004

Hello again and welcome back to the Trash Can Report. I’m notorious for trying to eek out a few extra points wherever I can. Who cares where they come from? It’s not like we’re dealing in ivory and the source of our gains has some kind of social impact that anyone gives a rat’s ass about. (“Though, I’ve had lots of jobs in my day: whale-hunter, seal-clubber, president of the Fox network, and, like most people, yeah, I’ve dealt a little in ivory”). Okay, no more Simpson’s references, I promise.

I usually recommend a DEF or two. Last Friday I got to wondering if, due to the general decline of my Seahawks’ DEF, playing the match ups week to week might earn me some extra points. After some intense research I decided, no: the Seahawks’ DEF is probably more favorable, at least in Weeks 11 through 13. (Though the Bucs would have made for a better play in Week 11). However, there are probably a few of you out who can capitalize on what I found.

Playing the defensive match up is all about exploiting the weaknesses of an opposing offense. (Sheer genius!) The factors I considered were:

  • Offensive points scored : I took each team’s points to date and subtracted points scored on defense and special teams. Most leagues don’t count points scored by an opposing DEF or special teams against you because your DEF wasn’t on the field at the time and, therefore, didn’t allow those points. (If your league does you ought to lobby to have that asinine rule changed next year). I then ranked the teams who scored the seven fewest points on offense (i.e., rushing TDs, passing TDs, extra points, field goals, and 2-point conversions):
    • WAS: 125
    • CHI: 131
    • MIA: 140
    • DET: 145
    • BUF: 148
    • BAL: 162
    • ARZ/SF: 163
  • Offensive yards gained : I ranked the teams with the seven fewest average yards per game:
    • DET/CHI: 247.0
    • BAL: 260.8
    • BUF: 265.4
    • WAS: 266.2
    • MIA: 273.1
    • ARZ: 273.6
    • CLE: 282.6
  • First downs : I ranked the teams with the seven fewest average number of first downs per game:
    • CHI: 14.5
    • DET: 14.7
    • BAL/BUF: 15.2
    • CLE: 15.7
    • MIA: 15.9
    • WAS: 16.1
    • CIN: 16.3
  • Most Punts : forcing punts, while related to first downs, is different because a team can makes long plays that result in only a few first downs, but lots of points and yards. Therefore, the first down stats should be viewed against the back drop of most punts, which measures the frequency with which an offense gets stuffed:
    • WAS: 70
    • CHI: 69
    • ARI/DET: 62
    • BAL: 61
    • CIN: 60
    • MIA: 59
    • SF/CLE: 57
  • Giveaways : the teams with the seven most interceptions thrown/fumbles lost are an obvious indicator of vulnerable offenses;
    • MIA: 26
    • SF: 25
    • CHI: 24
    • OAK/DAL: 23
    • CLE: 22
    • GB/STL: 21
    • WAS: 19
  • Sacks allowed : a key stat. The teams whose offense lines allowed opposing defenses to get to their QB the most are:
    • NYG: 41 sacks allowed
    • CHI/MIA: 37 sacks allowed
    • SF: 34 sacks allowed
    • ATL: 32 sacks allowed
    • STL: 31 sacks allowed
    • ARI: 30 sacks allowed
    • TB: 29 sacks allowed
  • Penalty Yards : the least relevant stat. Still, opposing offense penalties make your DEF’s job easier by making it harder for the opposing offense to get first downs, and they frequently erase yards and/or scores. Opposing defensive penalties also help keep your DEF off the field longer. Furthermore, while penalties don’t equate to fantasy points, they do indicate who is playing sloppy ball and, thus, who might be easier to take advantage of.
    • CAR: 724 yards
    • BUF: 702 yards
    • KC: 679 yards
    • OAK: 666 yards
    • DET: 662 yards
    • NO: 647 yards
    • NYG: 643 yards
CHI 37
MIA 26
DET 25
WAS 21
BUF 19
BAL 17
SF 13
ARZ 10
CLE 9

If a team was last on a list (i.e., the best of the worst in that category) I gave it 1 point. Second to last got two points, etc. Add up all the points and the teams with the most are the teams we should be trying to play defensive match ups against. I excluded teams that only appeared on one or two lists because I thought being on multiple lists, in and of itself, was a pretty good indication of who sucks. Of those teams that appeared on three or more lists, he is how they scored; these are the DEFs we should play match ups against, in order of preference.

We’ve been exploiting Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago for some time now; nothing new there. But the rest of the teams on that list provide us with the next level of offenses that are worth matching up against. However, my numerical ranking is sort of an arbitrary tool because a team like Miami (with 26 “points”) isn’t necessarily 50% worse than a team like San Francisco (which has 13 “points”). All the teams are bad. This is just a loose way to sort which one is a little bit worse than the next one below it.

  Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
CHI vs. at DAL MIN at JAX
MIA vs. at SF BUF at DEN
DET vs. IND ARI at GB
WAS vs. at PIT NYG PHI
BUF vs. at SEA at MIA CLE
BAL vs. at NE CIN NYG
SF vs. MIA at STL at ARI
ARZ vs. NYJ at DET SF
CLE vs. at CIN NE at BUF

Next, we need to know who is playing against these offensive bottom-feeders. I excluded the high profile defenses from consideration because they probably aren’t on waivers. (Though, if they are, or you own them, by all means play them). I also excluded the 49ers’ DEF from consideration because nobody in their right mind should be putting them into their active line up, as they’ve allowed the most points to date and have lost too much defensive talent to be trusted to defend anything more than a bowl of oatmeal. The remaining teams, in bold, form the basis of the Trash Can Report’s recommendation for this week and next. While I won’t formally recommend anything going into Week 14, I still though you might want to take a look for planning purposes.

Dallas DEF : Dallas’ DEF has a league low 7 turnovers and has been demoralized beyond recognition. The Big Tuna is looking a lot more like the Big Flounder these days and injuries have taken their toll on what once was universally considered “ America’s Team.” However, against the Bears’ laughable offense, Dallas will produce enough fantasy-wise to save some face on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys’ DEF has only had one good game this year: Week 2 versus the Browns. I look for Dallas to post their second best performance of the season in Week 12. The Bears’ offense is just that bad. Now, the Bears may in fact with the game. But if they do it will likely be due to their defense. *If* your scoring rules count opposing defensive scoring against you, then Dallas isn’t a good play.

Indianapolis DEF : the Lions are in a state of disarray. Their DEF isn’t playing as well as it was earlier in the year. Joey Harrington’s butt cheeks are one bad game away from bench-warming duties. None of the key receivers are at 100%. And the running game is only now starting to get on track. About the only thing going well for the Lions right now is Eddie Drummond and the return game, but even he is dealing with a knee injury. (He’s probable for this week, FYI). On the flip side, the Colts’ DEF has had three pretty good games in a row. While I do not believe the Colts’ DEF will perform as well as they did in Week 11 versus the Bears, they should do well enough to remain in the top 12 fantasy DEF in Week 12. You just know the Colts are gonna take the Lions to the woodshed this Thursday. If you don’t have any better options, plug in the Colts’ DEF, sit back, eat some turkey, and enjoy the slaughter. My only caveat here is that Harrington will more or less be playing for his job. I expect him to lose, but I also expect him to go down swinging. It won’t surprise me at all if he throws a pair of TDs, so don’t expect a shut out.

Miami DEF : I don’t care that Zach Thomas is out. We’re talking about my impotent 49ers here. The Bucs’ DEF (who was recommended last week) gobbled up the Niners and spit out their bones in Week 11. I don’t think Miami will do as well as the Bucs did, but they’ll do well enough to warrant a start this week. And they are probably on waivers, too.

New York Jets’ DEF : Is the Jets’ DEF too high profile to be recommended here? I dunno, maybe. I’ve recommended them twice before, but that was when they were largely under most folks’ radar. To date they’ve scored the 13th most points out of the defenses in my local. So maybe they squeak in, but just barely. Still, a blind hog could have see that Shawn King was turning the football over left and right last week. I like King from his days as a Buc but he clearly wasn’t up to game speed. (Or maybe he was, in which case the Jets’ should disembowel him).

The Jets, who are tied with the 6 th most take aways (19), 8th most sacks (24), have allowed the 10th fewest yards per game (197.2), and 4th fewest points per game (16.5), should have no problem roasting the Cardinals and serving them up for Sunday dinner. If you’ve got the Jets, or can get a hold of them, start them without hesitation.

And Now, Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Ladell Betts – WAS: Here is an interesting little guy. Last week he got 5 carries for 15 yards, went 6 of 8 in the passing game leading all Redskins in receptions and receiving yards, and turned in just under 100 kick off return yards. What is really interesting is that 2 of those 5 rushing attempts came in the red zone. He’s also the likely back up for Portis. So if you get individual points in the return game, you’re a Portis owner, *and* you’ve got an extra roster spot, then you might want to take a look at adding Betts. Everyone else should steer clear.

Antwaan Randle El – PIT : As some of you know, the QB situation in my local was grim. So last week I struck a trade for Trent Green. (Got Green and Longwell in exchange for Mason and Josh Brown). But that left me with virtually no depth at WR. This morning I added Randle El and will be starting him as my #3 WR, instead of Brandon Lloyd. This is why I like Randle El:

  • Burress isn’t going to play for a week or two due to a strained hamstring. Randle El is widely expected to step up as the Steelers #2 WR;
  • Hines Ward to see constant double-teams (he did last week, as evidenced by his three reception, 15 yard performance). Furthermore, I expect opposing defenses will defend primarily against the run. That should leave Randle El in a lot of single coverage;
  • To date Randle El has caught 20 of the 35 passes thrown to him for a good-enough 57.14% reception ratio;
  • He is averaging a decent 9.9 yards per reception;
  • He did score once this year. Furthermore, he was targeted once in the red zone last week and had what would have been his second TD of the year called back;
  • When the Steelers run trick plays, Randle El is usually involved. He used to be a QB and, at least back in 2002 and 2003, he threw the ball every once in a while. Since he’ll be on the field more I expect Cower to involve him in sneaky ways at least a couple times a game;
  • He is the Steelers primary return man. He has the 9th most kick return yards in the NFL (527) and the 4th most punt return yards (216); and
  • Despite handling the ball 28 times on regular offense, 31 punt returns, and 21 kick returns, he hasn’t lost a fumble this year.

In my opinion, Randle El is a safe play with a lot of upside if you get points in the return game. Those points will provide a stable base that ensures you will get something. Whatever he gets on regular offense will just be gravy. Could be a lot, could be a little. We just won’t know until the game gets started because Big Ben only throws 20 some-odd passes a game, and with Burress out, it’s impossible to say who he’ll favor. Still, I’ve got a hunch that Randle El is in for his best game of the year so far versus Washington in Week 12.

Travis Taylor – BAL : I agonized over adding Taylor or Randle El. It was a close call, but for those of you who don’t get individual points in the return game Taylor is the better pick up. While the Ravens have about as much a chance of beating New England as I do of spontaneously sneezing $100 bills, there is no denying that the Ravens and Kyle Boller have found their passing game. With Jamal Lewis out for the next game or two, I expect the passing attack to continue. Taylor, in my opinion, will have the best opportunity to produce.

For starters, Boller targeted Taylor 11 times last week. Translation: he was thrown to more than Johnson and Moorecombined. Despite being out for Weeks 2 through 5, Taylor has gone 26 of 48 in the passing game. That makes him the most targeted Raven thus far, which is surprising given his four game hiatus. Second, it gives him an “a’ight” 54.2% reception ratio, which is still the best of any Ravens’ wide receiver. Also, over the last four games (i.e., the games the Ravens have gone to the pass) he basically led the team in receptions and yards in Weeks 8, 9, and 11. (Though, Week 8 was basically a tie when it came to yards). Yeah, I realize he fumbled last week. But that one fumble, his only of the season, isn’t too much to get hung up on. Taylor is just getting the most looks in this up-and-coming Ravens’ passing game. That creates potential for him to produce, and that’s what this column is all about finding.

Keep in mind, Eddie Kennison torched the same New England DEF for 99 yards and 2 TDs last Monday night. So it’s not like the Pats are invulnerable. Furthermore, future games against the Bengals, Giants, and Colts should be more favorable. If Lewis stays out for an extended amount of time it’s going to be on Boller’s arm to keep the Ravens’ playoff bid alive on offense. Expect Taylor to see more than his fair share of chances to contribute.

Larry Fitzgerald – ARI : Fitzgerald is a bit of a reach because his new QB – King – looked real unstable last week. However, King threw 52 passes in Week 11. It’s just impossible to ignore that stat… especially in light of what players like Terry Glenn, Antonio Bryant, and Keyshawn Johnson were doing back when Vinny was throwing that many passes earlier this season. Fitzgerald was thrown to 15 times last week and led all receivers in receptions (7) and yards (92). And he scored. Plus, he has the “best” reception ratio of any of the Cards’ WRs: an uninspiring 50%. When you consider that Arizona played against the vaunted Panthers’ pass defense last week – which is only allowing an average of 204.1 passing yards per game AND has allowed the NFL’s fewest passing TDs to date – you’ve got to wonder what might be in store for the Cards’ this week versus the Jets. Because while the Jets have allowed about the same average passing yards per game (197.2) they’ve allowed more than twice as many passing scores (13). I fully expect the Jets to dominate this game. But that doesn’t mean Fitzgerald won’t put some good work in.

Fitzgerald is probably already on somebody’s roster. But he’s a decent upside pick going forward as Arizona’s strength of schedule for receivers is pretty easy (e.g., the Lions, 49ers, and Rams are up next in weeks 13, 14, and 15). If you don’t have any better options, and you’ve been sitting on Fitzgerald all season, I say wake the little bugger up and slide him into active duty. He’d probably be real cheap to trade for, too. And if for whatever reason he is on waivers he’d make a nice pick up.

Shawn McDonald – STL : this guy is back on my radar screen. The Rams are clearly a pass-first team, but the ratio is once again tilting way more heavily to the passing attack. Last week alone Bulger threw the ball 45 times compared to the 20 times he handed it off. McDonald went 6 of 8 for 72 yards. Interestingly, 2 of those 8 passes came in the red zone. Plus, he is doing punt return duties, if you get points for that. He’s my least favorite WR recommendation this week, but he’s getting just enough looks to be a serviceable play in larger leagues.

Prior Picks That Bear Repeating

Kerry Collins – OAK: Long ago (going into Week 4), in a galaxy far, far away (the Pro Football Forum), I recommend grabbing Collins for his first start ever as a Raider. Man, he stunk that game up like a flatulent leper… against the Texans, no less. Collins has since gone through some growing pains, which included numerous INTs and sacks. But he really seems to have leveled off and is playing at a respectable level right now. The biggest problem with the present Raiders’ passing game is their WRs’ propensity for dropping passes. (Did you the game last week? Porter and Curry should both have to write, “I will not drop passes that hit me in the hands” 100 times on the team chalk board, because Collins’ delivered several of those passes with precision).

I don’t blame you if you’re looking at Collins’ as if he were week old sushi, especially this week versus the Broncos. (The Broncos expertly bottled up Collins back in Week 6, in which he produced his second worst fantasy performance of the year). But Collins is (not surprisingly) available in many leagues. He should perform well enough for double-digit production this week, but has even more value as bench depth going into the playoffs, as the Raiders face KC (3rd worst DEF versus QBs), Atlanta (12th worst), Tennessee (22nd worst), and then KC again in Weeks 13 through 16. With the rash of injuries at the QB position you could do worse for a back up, simply because the volume of passes Collins will launch every week will always present him with the opportunity to produce.

Here’s what I’m talking about: since assuming the starting roll, Collins has always thrown for more than 30 passes a game. More specifically, he’s thrown 38, 44, 31, 45, 39, 32, and 30 passes, respectively. In fact, only Rattay, Brooks, and Bulger have attempted more passes per game (in that order). And while his completion ratio leaves something to be desired (58.7%), Collins is still throwing for the 13th highest average yards per game (239.6). Furthermore, despite Norv Turners’ talk about returning to a power running game, that’s all it’s been: talk. The Raiders have only ran the ball 43 times over the last three games, so look for the Silver and Black passing attack to continue at full-throttle.

Then there are Collins’ downside risks. Some have the impression that he gets sacked a lot. Does it surprise you to learn he’s only been sacked 4 times in the last 4 games? Hmmm. There’s also the INTs. However, after throwing 8 picks in Weeks 3 through 6, he’s only thrown half that many (4) over the last four games. That’s a 50% reduction in INTs. And he didn’t throw any last week. Furthermore, Collins has only fumbled twice. Thirteen QBs have fumbled more than that. Another thirteen (including Collins) have fumbled the same amount. Thus, fumbling isn’t much of a concern. And, when you get right down to it, over the last five weeks Collins registered the 12th best average fantasy points per game (for QBs) in my Huddle league. In fact, he is neck and neck with Tom Brady during that span. Brady is certainly the safer option. But getting Brady-like production at bargain-basement prices is what the Trash Can Report is all about.

Travis Minor – MIA: Last week I suggested acquiring Minor for RB depth. Well, you’re not going to get a better week to play him than Week 12. For starters his main RB competition – Sammy Morris – is questionable this week with a rib injury. Not having to split time would be a huge boon to Minor’s short-term value. Then there is the (lack of) an opponent. My poor, poor, 49ers are simply getting rag-dolled on defense: most points allowed (296), 12th most rushing yards allowed (1207), and tied for 3rd fewest takeaways. Minor gets work both as a runner and a receiver. With QB Fiedler done for the year and Feeley himself being gimpy, I look for the Dolphins to run the ball quite a bit and play ball-control offense against a injury-riddled 49er DEF that is allowing so many trips to the end zone it should create a frequent flyer program. I predict Minor’s best fantasy day so far this year. HOWEVER, keep in mind we’re talking about the Dolphins here. If they can find a way to screw this game up, they probably will. So if you’ve got a substantially safer option than Minor, I’m advising you to use it.

Jeremy Shockey – NYG: I guess it’s no surprise that the Giants’ rookie QB favored his tight end last week, as Eli was getting pressured all day long. But Shockey is clearly the go-to target right now. He led the team in passes thrown his way (11), receptions (5), receiving yards (45), and was the only Giant to score a TD last week. Look for more of the same in Week 12 as the Eagles get aggressive and harass the newbie-QB. (Well, look at it this way: the wetness behind his ears could make him more slippery and harder to sack). Shockey is an obvious play in TE-mandatory leagues, but also makes for a respectable WR/TE flex.

Guys I Thought About Covering But Opted Not To

Trent Dilfer – SEA: he only completed half of his passes for less than 200 yards, coughed up two INTs compared to one TD, and plays against a formidable Bills’ secondary this week. I seriously considered Dilfer, because Hasselbeck will likely be out again this week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to recommend this guy.

Kyle Boller – BAL: I recommended Boller last week and he served up success. I still think he is worth a pick up if he’s on waivers. But this week could go either way for him, so if you’ve got better options I’d advise you to show him the bench. However, *if* Boller does well against the Pats this week, I think that will be a green light to rely on him more heavily going forward.

Drew Henson – DAL: went 6 of 6 for 47 yards, 1 TD, and no turnovers. I’m officially intrigued. But it’s too soon. *If* he survives tomorrow’s play date with the beefy Chicago DEF *and* posts good stats, then maybe we'll come back for another look.

Chester Taylor – BAL: More obvious than a hippo in my bathtub. But, in the non-existent case that the Trash Can Report is your primary source of free-agent suggestions, I thought I should at least mention him.

Nick Goings – CAR : Ditto.

Dan Kreider – PIT : Kreider is a tight end for the Steelers. Going into Week 11 he’d only caught 2 of the 5 passes thrown to him… all season. Then, in Week 11, he went 4 of 4, including a TD. That basically doubled his production on the season. It could be an aberration, but maybe he’s starting to groove with Rothlisberger. With Burress out maybe this tight end will get more involved. Who knows? What I saw in Week 11 wasn’t enough to warrant recommending Kreider, even in TE-mandatory leagues, but I’m keeping an eye on him.

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope everyone gets their gobble on tomorrow. And, if you have an extra moment, ponder for a second on what you’ve got to be thankful for. Maybe you’re leading your league. Maybe you’re expecting a new addition to the family (baby, new Viper, X-box with Halo 2, whatever). Maybe you’re just healthy as an ox. But Thanksgiving is more that just a day off work and the gift of pro football on a Thursday. So take care, kick butt, and game on!