Minnesota Vikings 38, St. Louis Rams 10
To the surprise of no one, the Vikings had their way with the Rams. They only needed 15 carries from Adrian Peterson, which he turned into 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns. There were even leftovers for Chester Taylor, who capped the scoring with his first touchdown of the year. Brett Favre was similarly efficient, completing 18 of 24 throws for 232 yards and a score. He spread the ball around, with five receivers catching at least three balls and six with at least 30 yards; Percy Harvin (4-66) topped the team in both categories, but Visanthe Shiancoe (4-49-1) scored the touchdown.
After one play—a 35-yard completion to Randy McMichael—it appeared the Rams might be exploiting the Vikings’ inability to cover tight ends. However, that was St. Louis’ longest offensive play of the afternoon, and the rest was predictably downhill. Steven Jackson touched the ball 23 times for 109 yards and Donnie Avery (5-87-1) caught a 27-yard TD from Marc Bulger, who was seven-for-seven for 88 yards and a score in relief of Kyle Boller. But three fumbles—one the Vikings returned for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead, the other inside the 10-yard line going in—doomed the Rams to a 15th consecutive loss.
Fantasy Impact: There were signs of a pulse in St. Louis. In addition to Jackson’s success, Bulger looked good in his return. And Avery may be back on the fantasy radar; he’s the Rams’ No. 1 wideout by default and this team will definitely be playing from behind. The Vikings got the expected contribution from Peterson and the running game, though Favre did top 225 yards for the third straight game. Entering this week the Vikings ranked seventh in fantasy points by wide receivers; they added 166 yards this week, but with no touchdown and the yardage split three ways it’s tough to find a consistent fantasy play out of the group.
Cincinnati Bengals 17, Baltimore Ravens 14
When bets were placed as to which back would break the Ravens’ string of not allowing a 100-yard rusher at home, you would have gotten lucrative odds on Cedric Benson being that guy. But 120 yards and a touchdown later, Benson and the Bengals emerged as the AFC North frontrunner. It wasn’t all Benson, though; it took a couple of Baltimore penalties and some late Carson Palmer heroics, with Chad Ochocinco (7-94) doing the legwork and Chris Henry (3-92) and Andre Caldwell (2-33-1) chipping in.
So much for a balanced offense; the Ravens threw 31 passes and ran the ball just 18 times, which may be a testament to the improved Bengals defense as much as an endorsement of Joe Flacco’s quarterbacking. Ray Rice was the Ravens’ workhorse, with 14-69 on the ground and 7-74-1 as the team’s leading receiver. Todd Heap (7-41) also stepped up as the Bengals forced Flacco to work underneath—to the point that Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington combined for just 4-57 and Derrick Mason did not record a catch.
Fantasy Impact: Willis McGahee’s run as Mr. Touchdown never had a chance, as he touched the ball just twice in this game. Note that Le’Ron McClain carried twice and caught three passes, and only one of the touches came in a short-yardage situation. In the Bengals’ passing game, Ochocinco is now playing the possession role vacated by T.J. Houshmandzadeh; the big-play role is being jointly filled by Henry, who had a 73-yard catch and run, and Caldwell, who caught the game winner.
Cleveland Browns 6, Buffalo Bills 3
The Browns didn’t get a touchdown—again—but they did get the win despite Derek Anderson completing just two of 17 passes for 23 yards. As you might expect, that took a bite out of the Browns’ passing game. The running game picked up the slack, paced by Jamal Lewis. Rumors of his demise were apparently greatly exaggerated, as he carried 31 times for 117 yards and no scores.
Marshawn Lynch is reasserting himself as the crux of the Bills offense, leading the team in both rushing (17-69) and receiving (6-56). Fred Jackson’s share was 13 carries for 30 yards and a pair of catches for 17 yards. That duo combined for 172 of the team’s 288 yards of offense.
Fantasy Impact: Terrell Owens caught a season-high four balls for 44 yards, but the Buffalo passing game was impotent down the field. Trent Edwards (16-31-152-0-1) was unable to connect on all five of his deep tosses, four to TO (one picked) and one to Lee Evans (2-11). The return of Lewis to the Browns’ lineup relegated Jerome Harrison to the backburner. Harrison carried eight times for just 21 yards; worse, he was targeted just twice and didn’t catch a pass. Don’t rush to dump him, though, as Lewis seems unlikely to hold up to such a heavy workload.
Dallas Cowboys 26, Kansas City Chiefs 20
Who needs Roy Williams? Miles Austin and some feeble tackling in the secondary helped the Cowboys survive the Chiefs, first with a 59-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter and then with a 60-yarder in overtime. Even without the two big plays Austin would have had an 8-131 afternoon; add back the scores and Austin is a hero who now owns the Cowboys’ single-game receiving record with 250 yards. Tony Romo (20-34-351-2) didn’t need to throw to anyone else, though both Jason Witten (5-47) and Patrick Crayton (4-44) had serviceable days. The stunner was the lack of success generated by the running game; Marion Barber carried 15 times for just 53 yards, while Tashard Choice picked up the slack with 92 yards (including a 36-yard touchdown) on just eight carries.
Despite just 24 yards in offense through their first four series, the Chiefs capitalized on a pair of Dallas miscues to take a 10-point lead early in the second quarter. But rather than attempt to control the tempo of the game by running the ball, Kansas City handed off on just two of their next 20 plays. Maybe Todd Haley knew Larry Johnson (21-37) was en route to a 1.7 yards per carry average. The 41 pass attempts helped Matt Cassel (23-41-253-2) string together a decent fantasy statline, but until Dwayne Bowe (5-74-1) scored a tying touchdown late the receiving corps had little to show for it. Mike Vrabel sniped the earlier touchdown, and Jamal Charles (5-54) was the top receiver after Bowe.
Fantasy Impact: With the receiving stats made up of nickel-and-dimers like Bobby Wade (4-42) and Mark Bradley (3-35) and Johnson doing nothing on the ground, the only fantasy value the Chiefs can consistently offer is Cassel’s cumulative total and what has become the weekly late touchdown from Bowe. The Cowboys were running the ball effectively, averaging better than six yards a carry; they just preferred to throw. And given the way the Chiefs tackled (or, more accurately, didn’t tackle) Austin, maybe that was the right move.
New York Giants 44, Oakland Raiders 7
The Giants were able to get Eli Manning off the field before halftime, and not because his foot injury was flaring up. The Giants rolled to a 28-0 lead, with Manning completing eight of 10 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns and the ground game doing the rest of the heavy lifting. Surprisingly, it was Ahmad Bradshaw (11-110-2 plus a 55-yard reception) who scored twice, leaving Brandon Jacobs (21-67) to handle most of the garbage time work. While Steve Smith (3-70) was the team’s top receiver yardage-wise, Hakeem Nicks (4-49-1) had more catches than any other Giant and there was even enough left over for Mario Manningham (2-36-1) to get his.
Michael Bush (12-37-1) and Justin Fargas (11-18) split carries with Darren McFadden out; while neither was particularly effective, Bush was able to capitalize on a short field thanks to a muffed punt and a pass interference penalty and provide the Raiders’ lone offensive highlight.
Fantasy Impact: Zach Miller (4-69), the only Raider besides Bush who warrants fantasy attention at this juncture, provided half of Oakland’s catches and two-thirds of their receiving yardage. That said, the ongoing ineptitude of JaMarcus Russell (8-13-100) makes Miller a risky fantasy play at best. That Bradshaw scored twice while Jacobs was shut out is firmly on the shoulders of Jacobs. He had three shots from the five-yard line on the Giants’ first drive before Bradshaw came in on fourth down and capped the drive with his first score.
Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Detroit Lions 20
While the score was close, the Steelers didn’t really seem threatened. Rashard Mendenhall (15-77-1) handled the ground game and aside from a telegraphed pick six Ben Roethlisberger (23-30-277-3-1) had his way with the Detroit secondary. Santonio Holmes (4-50) was the only regular among the Pittsburgh receiving corps who didn’t score, as Mike Wallace (2-52-1) swiped his home run ball. Hines Ward (7-85) and Heath Miller (5-54-1) worked the underneath as the Steelers’ passing game continued to provide plenty of fantasy help.
Calvin Johnson (1-2), one of at most two Lions in any self-respecting fantasy lineup, left the game with a leg injury in the first quarter. Daunte Culpepper (23-37-262-1-1) managed to make due, with Dennis Northcutt (5-70-1) heading six Lions with multiple catches and at least 25 yards.
Fantasy Impact: Kevin Smith wasn’t a great fantasy start against the Steel Curtain, but he still cobbled together 53 rushing yards on 20 carries and added 42 more on three catches. He’s been productive enough against good defenses that you should be able to leave him in your lineup regardless of matchup. That the Steelers only ran the ball 17 times (and threw 30) despite averaging five yards per carry and being mostly in control of this game should tell you (as if there were any question) that this offense runs through Big Ben and the passing game.
Carolina Panthers 20, Washington Redskins 17
The Panthers’ defense put Carolina on the board with a safety, but the offense didn’t show up until much later on. The running game did little, with DeAngelo Williams (18-40) and Jonathan Stewart (10-39-1) combining for just 2.8 yards per carry, while Jake Delhomme (16-25-181-1-1) and the passing game was able to capitalize on a long kick return and generate the Panthers’ first touchdown. Steve Smith (5-65) salvaged a pedestrian day with a two-point conversion catch.
This is the Clinton Portis fantasy owners have been waiting for! Portis scored early on a 10-yard reception, then added another touchdown as part of a 19-57 day on the ground. The rest of the Redskins... not so much. Santana Moss (4-44) led the receivers as Jason Campbell completed 17 of 23 passes for a mere 145 yards and the score to Portis.
Fantasy Impact: Chris Cooley was held catchless for the first time since his rookie season. While he’s not in danger of becoming the East Coast version of Zach Miller, there’s little question this offense—be it Campbell or Jim Zorn’s play calling—is one of the biggest impediments to Cooley’s fantasy value. Here’s a microcosm of the struggling Carolina ground game: On first-and-goal from the two, Stewart was stopped twice for no gain; Williams gained a yard on third down, then Brad Hoover got the carry on fourth-and-one and fumbled. This is the same unit that produced a league-high 28 rushing scores a year ago.
Philadelphia Eagles 33, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13
Philly had all the regulars back in the lineup, but they barely needed them. Donovan McNabb conducted the show with 264 yards and three touchdowns; he also led the Eagles with 30 rushing yards. The rest of the backfield produced 46 rushing yards and 52 receiving yards, squeezing touchdowns out of Brian Westbrook and Leonard Weaver. And while Brent Celek (4-58) was average and DeSean Jackson (1-1) almost invisible, rookie Jeremy Maclin sparkled with six catches for 142 yards and a pair of long touchdowns.
Garbage time stats count just the same, so if you don’t get penalized for interceptions Josh Johnson (26-50-240-2-3) was a fantasy helper. The Bucs abandon the ground game early; Carnell Williams (10-8) saw more carries but did significantly less with them than Derrick Ward (6-37), and Johnson was the team’s leading rusher with 40 yards. Kellen Winslow (9-102-2) and Antonio Bryant (5-62) accounted for the bulk of Johnson’s passing production.
Fantasy Impact: One week after virtually ignoring Winslow, Johnson leaned heavily on his tight end with a dozen targets. But he didn’t forget about the wideouts, as both Bryant (11) and Mark Clayton (12 targets but only three catches) were also on his radar. Maclin is clearly horning in on Jackson’s action; not only were his 51- and 40-yard scores the two longest plays of the day for the Eagles, he had three of the team’s next seven longest plays as well. Philly now has the ability to threaten down the field on both sides, with Celek in the middle and Westbrook underneath.
Atlanta Falcons 45, San Francisco 49ers 10
It must have been a heckuva week off for the Falcons, as they headed west and took it to a 49ers defense that had been playing some pretty solid football. Everything Atlanta did worked. Michael Turner carried 22 times for 97 yards and three touchdowns, while Matt Ryan completed 22 of 32 passes for 329 yards and two scores while adding a rushing score to boot. Roddy White showed up in a big way, busting tackles en route to a 90-yard score as part of his monster 8-210-2 afternoon.
Glen Coffee was the lone bright spot for the Niners, though an injury forced him from the game late. In what was likely his last start before Frank Gore returns, Coffee scored and averaged almost four yards per carry (for him that’s an upgrade) with 45 yards on a dozen carries as well as four catches for 21 yards. Shaun Hill (15-38-198-0-1) struggled mightily, turning frequently once again to Vernon Davis (5-51-0)
Fantasy Impact: Josh Morgan (4-75) caught four of the five completions to San Francisco wide receivers, though his lollygagging at the end of a long completion cost him (and Hill) a touchdown. It’s not that the 49ers don’t need Michael Crabtree; it’s more that between his adjustment from college to the pros and a Niners offensive scheme that isn’t particularly wideout-friendly, his immediate fantasy upside is limited. Coffee is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry this year, which isn’t likely to earn him more than token carries once Gore is healthy. About the only Falcon who didn’t get his on the day was Tony Gonzalez (6-55). Gonzo contributed as a blocker, though, which is bound to curry favor with the coaching staff. And it appeared as if he were the intended receiver when Ryan opted to pull the ball down and run for Atlanta’s final touchdown.
Arizona Cardinals 28, Houston Texans 21
So much for even bothering with a running game against the Texans; Kurt Warner (26-38-302-2) threw 38 passes while handing off just 14 times. Tim Hightower (6-17-1 and 5-30) scored Arizona’s first TD, while the Cards passed on another opportunity to turn Chris Wells loose by giving him just seven carries, which he turned into just 24 yards. That left it up to the receivers, who not surprisingly answered the call. Larry Fitzgerald (5-79-2) bogarted the touchdowns while Anquan Boldin (7-81) pace the team in catches and yardage; Steve Breaston (4-66) and Jerheme Urban (4-41) also contributed.
For a while it looked as if Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson was going to be enough. Schaub ran up 371 yards while throwing 50 passes, 14 of them towards Johnson. Andre caught eight for 101 yards and two impressive touchdowns, yet with Houston needing a touchdown to tie the game late the Texans rolled with multiple tight ends. Steve Slaton rolled up 98 yards from scrimmage on 13 carries and six catches, but like Johnson he was a spectator when the Texans needed to score to extend the game into overtime. Owen Daniels (8-94) also had a solid day but was not the tight end of choice on a crucial third-and-goal pass.
Fantasy Impact: Chris Brown scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter, but his failures as a goal line back have been directly responsible for two Houston losses. He fumbled at the stripe earlier this season, and with the game on the line he was stopped twice from the one-yard line. Brown is at best the Texans’ fifth-best offensive player; will he continue to be the guy Gary Kubiak turns to at crunch time? Hightower continues to be a PPR fiend, with five more catches this week. He’s on the field in no small part because Wells isn’t yet capable of NFL-caliber pass protection, and while Warner prefers to throw downfield there’s no tight end in the Arizona scheme so Hightower’s reception numbers should remain solid.
Denver Broncos 20, New England Patriots 17
Maybe it’s smoke, maybe it’s mirrors. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a method to Josh McDaniels’ madness. Kyle Orton dinked and dunked his way to 330 yards and two touchdowns; of his 35 completions (on 48 attempts), only one went for more than 20 yards—a 27-yard catch-and-run by Knowshon Moreno. Moreno also saw the bulk of the carries and turned 21 totes into 88 yards. The short completions added up for Eddie Royal (10-90) and Jabar Gaffney (6-61), but it was Brandon Marshall (8-64-2) who found the end zone twice—including the game-tying score, which wasn’t as long as last week’s game-winner but just as impressive.
Tom Brady never appeared comfortable, and not just because he lost his left tackle to injury in the fourth quarter. His 19-33-215-2 stat line doesn’t look bad, but the bulk of the throws were underneath to Wes Welker (8-86-1), Julian Edelman (3-15), and his backs (Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris combined for five catches for 65 yards). Randy Moss wasn’t even targeted in the fourth quarter, and he caught as many balls from Kyle Orton (he intercepted a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half) as he did from Brady.
Fantasy Impact: This week’s winner of the “Fred Taylor is Out” sweepstakes was Morris, who carried 17 times for 68 yards. Laurence Maroney (5-21) and Faulk (4-8) rounded out the dance card. This offense looked a whole lot like the Matt Cassel-led attack from last year, when New England almost refused to take deep shots to Moss; certainly the Denver defense had plenty to do with that, but if Matt Light is out for any significant length of time it may limit Brady’s opportunities to go downfield. Orton, on the other hand, is starting to look pretty comfortable in McDaniels’ offense; it looked a whole lot like what New England ended up doing, only with a better ground game and more completions to their playmaking receiver. Maybe Bill Belichick can take some notes...
Seattle Seahawks 41, Jacksonville Jaguars 0
All the Seahawks needed was a little home cooking... and the return of Matt Hasselbeck, who bounced back from a busted rib to throw four touchdowns as part of a 241-yard outing. Hass spread the wealth equally between Nate Burleson (6-98-2) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (5-77-2), as the duo took turns making Rashean Mathis look foolish. A couple field goals and a defensive touchdown... what more do you need?
Mike Sims-Walker violated a team rule and was a late scratch for this game; the Jags could have used him. In lieu of Sims-Walker, David Garrard (18-31-188) turned to Torry Holt for seven catches and 95 yards. The Jags got inside the Seattle 10 twice but came away empty, turning the ball over on downs early and fumbling late.
Fantasy Impact: Maurice Jones-Drew touched the ball 17 times for 57 yards, victim of an almost 10-minute differential in time of possession. Of course, the game might not have spiraled out of control had the Jags fed their stud in the red zone instead of looking to Marcedes Lewis and Greg Jones. The Seahawks didn’t run the ball particularly well, but they ran it plenty in order to run clock as they held a 20-0 lead at halftime. Edgerrin James (16-46), Justin Forsett (6-43), and Julius Jones (12-34) combined for an underwhelming 3.6 yards per carry average.
Indianapolis Colts 31, Tennessee Titans 9
There aren’t many superlatives left that haven’t already been associated with Peyton Manning, but if you know of any go ahead and apply them now. Manning made it five straight 300-yard games with a 36-44-309-3-1 outing that would have been gaudier had not Indy had this game salted away early on. Austin Collie (8-97-2) was Manning’s weapon of choice this week, with regular targets Reggie Wayne (6-60-1) and Dallas Clark (9-77) in on the fun as well. Indy didn’t run the ball particularly well, but Joseph Addai augmented a 14-27 evening with a rushing touchdown and 10 catches for 53 yards.
You can’t trade field goals for touchdowns with the Titans and live to tell about it. That, however, is what Tennessee tried to do—and obviously without success. The ground game never materialized; LenDale White’s 10-51 came mostly after the Titans were facing a double-digit deficit and Chris Johnson totaled 43 yards on 11 touches. Kerry Collins (19-32-164-0-1) was so underwhelming the Titans turned to Vince Young, who failed to complete any of his three pass attempts.
Fantasy Impact: Not that any of the Tennessee passing game was humming against Indy, but Justin Gage (1-7) continues to fall off the map. Nate Washington (3-37) was the most targeted downfield receiver, but it was the tight ends who did the heavy lifting as Bo Scaife (4-45), Jared Cook (3-27), and Alge Crumpler (3-14) combined for more than half of the Titans’ catches. While Donald Brown (6-22 on the ground, 2-13 as a receiver) continues to see work, Addai remains the slightly more involved back—and as such, the slightly more consistent fantasy play.