PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 34, ATLANTA FALCONS 7
The trip to Atlanta was a bigger deal for one member of the Eagles than it was the others, and as a result Michael Vick produced his first rushing and passing touchdowns since being suspended by the league. In fact, Vick’s day overshadowed the rest of his teammates—though Donovan McNabb (14-25-238-1) was the first to congratulate Vick after both of his scores. Sans DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin (4-83) stepped up, though Reggie Brown (2-64) overshadowed Jason Avant (2-36) in a secondary role.
The Falcons didn’t get on the board until the final play of the game, when a tipped pass bounced into the hands of Roddy White. It wasn’t the first time the ball found White, as backup quarterback Chris Redman looked almost exclusively to White (9-104-1) and Tony Gonzalez (8-72); they accounted for 17 of Redman’s 23 completions and 176 of his 235 yards. Sans Michael Turner the Atlanta running game was non-existent; Jerious Norwood (11-18, 2-24) saw extensive action in splitting the workload, but Jason Snelling’s 10-35, 2-17 included three unsuccessful shots from inside the two-yard line.
FANTASY IMPACT: Though Matt Ryan has vowed to return quickly, word is his toe injury may keep him out for more than just this game. At least Redman knows where to find his primary receivers; aside from White, Gonzo, and the backs only three other Falcons handled the ball, with one touch each for Eric Weems, Brian Finneran, and Marty Booker. The Eagles took a different approach to their running game, spreading carries among six different players. Leonard Weaver (5-37, 2-63-1) was the most productive, and even Eldra Buckley (8-33) was more productive than LeSean McCoy (6-2, 3-24). However, the quarterbacks (6-34-1) were Philly’s best bet running the football—which may lead to more Vick work at the goal line.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 16, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 6
The Panthers were without both Jake Delhomme and DeAngelo Williams; the latter’s slack was picked up by Jonathan Stewart (26-120-1, 1-6), who handled the ball on more than half of Carolina’s offensive plays and produced the game’s only touchdown. Matt Moore (14-20-161-0-1) threw just one pick, but was otherwise efficient the few times John Fox let him throw the ball. As you might expect, he leaned heavily on Steve Smith (3-78), though tight ends Jeff King (3-17) and Dante Rosario (2-11) saw increased activity as Moore’s safety valves.
Not wanting to be outdone, Josh Freeman joined the “first-round rookie quarterbacks who have thrown five picks in a game this year” club. He also picked up 321 yards on 23-of-44 passing, getting a big assist from Antonio Bryant (5-116) and additional help from Kellen Winslow (4-69) and Maurice Stovall (4-68). The ground game wasn’t bad either, with Carnell Williams (17-92, 2-14) and Derrick Ward (5-32, 3-17) combining for 155 yards from scrimmage. But those INTs were killers, with three of them coming in the red zone. To be fair to Freeman, though, on at least one pick his receivers were being manhandled by the Carolina defenders.
FANTASY IMPACT: Put aside the INTs and Freeman has actually directed a competent offense; as a result, Bucs like Caddy and Bryant and Winslow are maintaining their fantasy value—though a date with the Jets next week will challenge that assertion. Carolina, on the other hand, will need its heavy hitters back in the lineup immediately if Panthers are to provide any fantasy help down the stretch. A remaining schedule that pits the Panthers against New England, Minnesota, the Giants, and the Saints does Smith, Stewart, and Williams no favors.
CHICAGO BEARS 17, ST. LOUIS RAMS 9
This was Chicago’s best opportunity to put up big offensive numbers until a Week 17 date with Detroit that may not even count in many fantasy leagues. So Matt Forte’s 24-91-1 was disappointing and Jay Cutler’s 8-17-143-1 was downright abysmal. Devin Hester had but one catch (though it was for 48 yards) and suffered a calf injury; 71 of Earl Bennett’s 74 yards came on one catch. And Forte, who has been one of the season’s biggest fantasy bust, not only underachieved but also ceded 11 carries for 35 yards to Khalil Bell.
Steven Jackson did his part, carrying 28 times for 112 yards and catching four balls for another nine yards. That accounted for slightly more than half of the Rams’ offensive plays and nearly 50 percent of their yardage. Unfortunately for the Rams, kicker Josh Brown accounted for all of their points.
FANTASY IMPACT: Tough to get a read on what, if any, members of the Kyle Boller-led passing game can offer fantasy assistance. Boller’s 17-32-113-0-1 didn’t yield much, and after Jackson’s four catches a quartet of Rams caught three balls each. Donnie Avery (3-30) still seems to be the go-to guy, but there just isn’t much going on in St. Louis. With running backs accounting for 37 touches on 56 snaps, there wasn’t much going on in the Chicago passing game. Johnny Knox (3-15) had the most catches, Bennett the most yardage, and Greg Olsen (2-1) was shockingly invisible.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 23, DETROIT LIONS 13
The Bengals could do pretty much anything they wanted to against Detroit—and what they wanted to do was run the ball and throw it to Chad Ochocinco. Cedric Benson (36-110) handled the vast majority of former, with only a smattering of Larry Johnson (2-4); Ochocinco took care of the latter with nine catches—more than the rest of the team combined—and 137 of Carson Palmer’s 220 passing yards. Ochocinco also accounted for the Bengals’ only offensive touchdown as Cincy played it close to the vest rather than run up the score on their fellow felines.
Calvin Johnson accounted for six of the Lions’ 11 catches, 123 of the team’s 192 receiving yards, and their lone receiving touchdown. No surprise there. And no surprise that Kevin Smith (16-75-1 plus 2-29 as a receiver) handled much of the rest of Detroit’s offense. In fact, the rest of the team compiled a total of 45 yards on four carries and five catches.
FANTASY IMPACT: Matt Stafford (11-26-143-1-2) gave way late to Daunte Culpepper (2-3-49) and said following the game he may take time off to rest his injured shoulder. Daunte still knows how to get the ball to Megatron, but it would be nice to get a better feel for the chemistry between the two heading into 2010. That Palmer threw just 29 times for 220 yards and one TD against the worst secondary in the league supports the theory that the Bengals have turned the corner on becoming a run-first team. It was surprising, however, that the team worked Benson so extensively coming off his hip injury. Maybe they’re saving LJ for the Week 16 match-up with Kansas City.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 27, TENNESSEE TITANS 17
You can take away only so many of the Colts’ weapons. This week the Titans opted to shut down Reggie Wayne (4-48) and Dallas Clark (3-25); they also paid closer attention to Austin Collie (4-18-1), who killed them in the earlier meeting. But that left Pierre Garçon (6-136) and Joseph Addai (21-79-2, 3-17) to pick up the slack, and they did so well enough to keep the Colts unbeaten. As per usual, Peyton Manning orchestrated the entire show, but his 24-37-270-1 was a bit subdued against one of the bottom-ranked pass defenses.
Chris Johnson (27-113 plus 6-28) got his, and the Tennessee passing game demonstrated continued improvement under the direction of Vince Young (24-43-241-2-1). Kenny Britt (3-46) remained at the fore of Young’s pecking order, while Bo Scaife (5-56-1) caught Young’s first non-WR TD of the year.
FANTASY IMPACT: There’s really not much to the Titans fantasy-wise after Johnson, though Britt is making a push. That may change if and when Justin Gage returns from his injury. And don’t overlook Rob Bironas, who has a big leg and is riding the coattails of Tennessee’s offensive renaissance. His five points this week might seem low, but Jeff Fisher knows you can’t trade field goals with the Colts; with other teams, he’s been willing to take his chances. With Indy at 12-0 and holding a three-game edge in the race for AFC home field advantage, Manning and company will need to play at least one more week. But after that, if you’ve been riding Addai and Wayne and Clark you may want to look into the availability of Chad Simpson and Jacob Tamme.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 23, HOUSTON TEXANS 18
It’s not too often Maurice Jones-Drew is outscored by the likes of Nate Hughes (one catch for a 35-yard touchdown) or Ernest Wilford (two catches, one of them a four-yard score). MoJo at least usually accounts for the bulk of the Jaguars’ yardage, but the Texans limited him to 76 rushing and six receiving; that was barely more than backup tight end Zach Miller (3-74). That left David Garrard to pick up the slack, and he obliged with yet another stellar home game: 238 yards and two touchdown passes. Sadly, he seemed to forget about not only MoJo in the passing game but also his former BFF Mike Sims-Walker, who caught only one ball for 12 yards.
The Texans received an early scare when Matt Schaub went down on his first dropback; that meant we were treated to nine passes (three completions, one pick) worth of Rex Grossman. The sight so sickened Schaub that he shrugged off the dislocated non-throwing shoulder and returned to complete 19 of 27 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. As you might expect, his primary target was Andre Johnson (7-99-1), with secondary targets Kevin Walter (4-54) and David Anderson (4-39) getting a little attention as well.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Steve Slaton out due to numbness in his right thumb (maybe that’s where the fumbling came from), we were treated to 15 touches for 65 yards from Ryan Moats. Of course, he was rewarded with a front-row seat to watch Chris Brown (6-15-1 on the ground, 2-11 via the pass) score the Texans’ first touchdown. If and when Slaton returns, expect a similar split: Slaton (or Moats) with the production, Brown stealing the touchdowns. As for the Jags, don’t sweat MSW’s one-catch performance. He was still Garrard’s most-targeted receiver with eight looks; three were deep shots, and one was an incomplete fade pattern in the end zone. He’s still the go-to guy; Garrard just needs to be a little more accurate.
DENVER BRONCOS 44, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 13
The Broncos were never really challenged in this one, holding a 10-minute time of possession advantage and nearly doubling the Chiefs’ yardage output. Correll Buckhalter led the way, carrying 12 times for 113 yards and catching three passes for another 15; still, he was the junior member of the backfield committee headed by Knowshon Moreno (21-86-2) and also featuring seven carries and 47 yards from Peyton Hillis. Brandon Marshall (7-94-1) accounted for half of Denver’s passing game production.
By the time Jamaal Charles (18-56-1, 1-3) scored a fourth quarter touchdown it was too little, too late. And that was essentially all the Chiefs had to offer up offensively. Matt Cassel (10-29-84-0-2) was benched, Brodie Croyle (6-14-50) wasn’t much better, and no member of the Chiefs aside from Charles accounted for more than 36 yards from scrimmage.
FANTASY IMPACT: After a Charles fumble was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, it was reassuring to see him get some redemption with a touchdown. Fumbling has been the biggest problem for Charles, and the Chiefs have threatened to sit him down if he doesn’t stop. Of course, with Kolby Smith on injured reserve, Charles may be all the Chiefs have. While Moreno continues to be the lead dog in the Denver backfield, Buckhalter won’t go quietly into that good night. It’s been a month since Buck has produced enough in his secondary role to be a viable fantasy option, but with the Raiders (Week 15) and another date with KC (Week 17) still on the docket Buck’s run as a fantasy helper may not yet be over.
MIAMI DOLPHINS 22, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 21
It’s hard to believe that asking Chad Henne to throw 52 passes was in the game plan, but on this particular Sunday it worked for the Dolphins. Henne completed 29 of those throws for 335 yards and two touchdowns, leaning heavily on Davonne Bess (10-117-1); Anthony Fasano (5-67) and Greg Camarillo (4-61) also contributed, with Brian Hartline (4-61-1) accounting for the other receiving score. The ground game wasn’t unproductive, with Ricky Williams carrying 18 times for 75 yards; they were just overshadowed by Henne’s career day.
New England’s road woes continued, in part because of a one-dimensional offense. That one dimension is Wes Welker, who took his old team for 167 yards on 10 catches; the rest of Tom Brady’s receiving corps combined for just nine grabs—and that includes Randy Moss, who opened the scoring with a 58 yard touchdown and mustered just one eight-yard grab after that. Brady finished with gaudy yardage—352 in all, thanks to 58-yard completions to both Welker and Moss and an 81-yard catch-and-(mostly) run from Sam Aiken—but also threw two picks.
FANTASY IMPACT: If you’ve been waiting for the return of Sammy Morris to take a bite out of Laurence Maroney’s stats, your wish was granted this week. Not that Morris was that good; he carried nine times for 40 yards, caught two passes for 25 yards, and was stuffed on fourth and short. But that’s 11 touches that didn’t go to Maroney (13-41, 1-8). In fact, Kevin Faulk (3-15-1 on the ground, two catches for negative-one yards) stole the rushing touchdown. And with Fred Taylor poised to return soon... well, it’s only going to get messier. While the Wildcat may prevent Henne from putting up fantasy helpers like this on a consistent basis, he’s playing his way at least into relevancy. Better still, he’s turning Bess into a fringe fantasy receiver with serious upside.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 27, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 24
Are you sitting down? Because if you’ve watched any NFL football over the past couple of seasons this will make absolutely no sense to you. That’s right, Bruce Gradkowski lit up the Steelers in Pittsburgh for 308 yards and three touchdowns—two of them to the Raiders’ prized rookie receiver, Louis Murphy (4-128-2). Told you it wouldn’t make any sense. First, the Raiders haven’t had this much success throwing the football since Josh McCown was slinging it around in 2007. Second, this is the team that had games earlier in the year with a combined two and six and 16 yards from their wideouts; now they get 128 from Murphy plus 4-63 from Johnnie Lee Higgins and 3-45-1 from Chaz Schilens? Where did that come from? Zach Miller contributed his usual 4-43, but for a change it was only the fourth-best receiving performance on the team.
Tough to pin this one on the Pittsburgh offense. Rashard Mendenhall carried 20 times for 103 yards and a score to pace the ground game, while both Santonio Holmes (8-149-1) and Hines Ward (6-77-1) found the end zone in the passing game. Ben Roethlisberger was a solid 18-for-24 for 278 yards and the two touchdowns. And both times in the fourth quarter when the Raiders took the lead, the offense responded with scoring drives. Maybe the mistake was hubris, as the Steelers turned the ball over on downs at the goal line late in the first quarter, then threw a pick in the red zone in the second quarter. Those missed opportunities allowed the Raiders to hang around, and the Steelers paid for it with a fourth consecutive loss.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Steelers did just about everything asked of them offensively; in fact, Big Ben’s numbers were higher than expected against an Oakland secondary that’s been solid all season long. The ground game was good, Roethlisberger was sacked only once... for a change, it was the Steel Curtain that dropped the ball on this one. Oakland’s showing marks the second competent-or-better showing for Gradkowski, so maybe we can no longer write off the Raiders’ receiving corps as superfluous fantasy-wise. Their ground game, on the other hand, has been a mess. Michael Bush (1-1) appears to be the guy you can write off, and while Oakland continues to try to get the ball to Darren McFadden (9-25) it’s been Justin Fargas (15-63) with back-to-back productive outings.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 33, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 30
You can’t give the Saints second chances. A missed field goal that would have essentially ended the Saints’ perfect season instead leads to a 53-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem (8-142-1). A fumble in overtime and New Orleans very nearly sticks it in the end zone before settling for the game-winning field goal. After a slow start Drew Brees (35-49-419-2-1) rebounded by completing 20 of 26 passes for 249 yards in the second half and overtime. While Marques Colston (2-46-1) was nearly invisible after a first-half touchdown Meachem, Devery Henderson (6-61), and Jeremy Shockey (4-47) picked up the slack. And while Mike Bell (16-34) handled most of the work on the ground, Pierre Thomas augmented 6-18 rushing with 8-64 as a receiver.
The expectation was that the Redskins would be woefully outgunned in a shootout. Instead, Jason Campbell (30-42-367-3-1) found a new go-to guy in Devin Thomas (7-100-2) and was able to match Drew Brees pass-for-pass... right up until Shaun Suisham missed what is likely to be his final field goal attempt as a Redskin and Mike Sellers fumbled away the Skins’ shot at an upset. Thomas wasn’t the only beneficiary of Campbell’s big day: Fred Davis (5-53-1) continued to fill Chris Cooley’s shoes with aplomb, while Antwan Randle El (4-73) and Santana Moss (5-68) contributed as well.
FANTASY IMPACT: If Clinton Portis is to have any fantasy value, he’ll need to return for next week’s game in Oakland; the schedule has no cream puffs after that. And if Portis can’t go, Quinton Ganther (8-46) was far more effective than Rock Cartwright (13-39), though Cartwright did have 31 yards on three receptions. The play of the day in the game of the day had to be Meachem’s first touchdown. After Brees was intercepted, Meachem tracked down the interceptor, stripped the ball from him, and brought it back 44 yards for a touchdown. Hope your league has a rule in place for how this will be scored, because it’s bound to generate controversy. One commissioner’s opinion: Meachem gets credit for the TD, the Saints’ defense does not.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 30, CLEVELAND BROWNS 23
The Chargers appeared to lose interest after rolling to a 20-point lead, doing just enough in the fourth quarter to hold off the Browns. On a day where LaDainian Tomlinson (20-64-1) moved past Cleveland legend Jim Brown on the all-time rushing list, it was Philip Rivers who once again led the way for the Bolts. Rivers completed 18 of 25 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns, with 30-plus yard completions to four different receivers. Antonio Gates (8-167) didn’t score, but he set a personal best for receiving yardage. Fullback Mike Tolbert had just one catch, but he made it count by rumbling 66 yards for a touchdown. Darren Sproles (4-56-1 as a receiver, 7-27 on the ground) found the end zone as well, while Vincent Jackson (2-54) and Malcolm Floyd (3-30) did not.
With the Chargers reach a state of disinterested apathy, Brady Quinn directed three fourth-quarter scoring drives and cobbled together a surprisingly helpful fantasy outing with 271 yards and three touchdowns. His early toss to Mohamed Massaquoi (2-24-1) wasn’t a surprise, but throughout the rest of the game Quinn dragged numerous other heretofore unknown members of the Cleveland roster—tight end Evan Moore (6-80), rookie wideout Brian Robiskie (4-69), running back Jerome Harrison (7-62-2 as a receiver, 10-35 on the ground)—into fantasy relevancy.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Jamal Lewis a foggy memory, the Browns have just Harrison and Chris Jennings (5-28, 1-2) in the running game—unless you count Josh Cribbs (4-38, 1-6) running the Wildcat. And with soft run defenses Kansas City and Oakland still left on the schedule, Harrison and/or Jennings may actually have some fantasy value yet this year. After watching LT slog his way to barely three yards a carry against the Browns, it’s entirely possible that the Browns’ backs may be better options during the fantasy playoffs. After all, if 64 and one is all you’ll get from Tomlinson against Cleveland, what’s in store against the legit run defenses—Dallas, Cincy, Tennessee, Washington—still on San Diego’s schedule?
NEW YORK GIANTS 31, DALLAS COWBOYS 24
The Giants lost the time of possession battle almost two-to-one. They ran 30 fewer players than the Cowboys, gained 87 fewer yards, and turned the ball over one more time than Dallas did. But they made their fewer opportunities count. Eli Manning completed just 11 of 25 passes, but he racked up 241 yards and threw two touchdowns. Brandon Jacobs slogged his way to 39 yards on 13 carries, but he scored on a short touchdown run; he also took his one reception 74 yards for another score. Hakeem Nicks had just a pair of catches, but one was for a 21-yard touchdown. About the only Giant to rack up fantasy value by quantity was Steve Smith, who caught more than half of Manning’s completions and took those six catches for 110 yards.
Statistically, Tony Romo was fantastic in completing 41 of 55 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Fantasy-wise that’s great, but Cowboy fans would like to see a December win every now and then to accompany Romo’s numbers. Eschewing the run—Marion Barber (15-36), Felix Jones (6-6), and Tashard Choice (2-3) were afterthoughts in the pass-heavy attack—Romo reconnected with BFF Jason Witten (14-156) for a second straight triple-digit day. He also went back to Miles Austin (10-104-1) for a late score, and prior to game time someone secretly replaced the Roy Williams we’ve been seeing with the one the Lions thought they were drafting; this new and improved Roy Williams caught six balls for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
FANTASY IMPACT: Maybe Romo feels like if he’s going to take the heat for the Cowboys’ December foibles anyway, he may as well go down swinging. In the earlier meeting the Cowboys’ trio of backs combined for 228 rushing yards and two touchdowns; this time around, it was all Romo all the time. If you’re holding Romo or a Dallas receiver, that certainly bodes well for your December; if you’re holding a Dallas playoff ticket, maybe not so much. The Giants, on the other hand, tried to run but simply had fewer opportunities. The pass/run split was close to 50/50, Jacobs flashed some of what he brought to the table last year, and Ahmad Bradshaw (7-47) looked good despite all the injuries he’s been battling. It appears the Giants hope to return to the basics and work the ground game, with Smith the wideout most likely to retain fantasy value.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 20, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 17
The Seahawks didn’t roll up any gaudy numbers, instead getting moderate contributions across the board. Matt Hasselbeck completed 25 of 34 passes for a mediocre 198 yards, but he threw a pair of touchdowns. Neither went to Nate Burleson (5-54) or T.J. Houshmandzadeh (5-37), but Justin Forsett stayed relevant by augmenting a five-carry, nine-yard rushing performance with 3-25-1 as a receiver.
Remember when Mike Singletary said the Niners would be a running team? Seems a long time ago. Alex Smith certainly isn’t buying into that philosophy, as evidenced by a 45-12 pass-run split. With that many attempts, it’s no wonder Smith threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns. With that many attempts, it’s no wonder Vernon Davis caught six balls for a career-high 111 yards and a touchdown, or that both Michael Crabtree (6-60) and Josh Morgan (6-56-1) chipped in helpful fantasy efforts as well. Conversely, Frank Gore needed his five catches and 37 receiving yards to salvage minimal value after getting just 25 yards on nine carries.
FANTASY IMPACT: Used to be that Gore was the guy the San Francisco offense ran through; now, operating primarily out of the shotgun, that honor goes to Davis. Gore still holds value in PPR leagues, but his carries and yardage have decreased in each of the past two games and he’s averaging 15-60 since Smith took the reins; those aren’t exactly workhorse numbers. On the other hand, Seattle carved out 20 carries for Julius Jones in his return from a bruised lung. His 67 rushing yards were unremarkable, but the fact that he received 25 touches (compared to Forsett’s eight) suggests that he’ll have value over at least the next fortnight with dates against the softer run defenses of Houston and Tampa Bay.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 30, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 17
There’s no fog clouding Kurt Warner, that’s for sure; and with the lifting fog so too have any restraints been lifted off the Arizona passing game. Warner (22-32-285-3) made sure his two big dogs got fed, with both Larry Fitzgerald (8-143-1) and Anquan Boldin (7-98-2) putting up big numbers; the rest of the Arizona passing game totaled just seven catches for 44 yards. Playing with the lead for most of the game allowed the Cards to run the ball a little as well; Chris Wells (13-28) saw the most work but it was Tim Hightower (6-50) who was most productive.
So much for the Vikings using the pass to augment the run. A lack of early success and a quick first-half deficit led to Adrian Peterson producing just 19 yards on 13 carries—numbers that were only barely bailed out by six catches for 46 yards. That left Brett Favre to pick up the slack, and while his 30-45-275-2 suggest he did that to a certain degree his two interceptions demonstrate a return to the Favre Packer fans weren’t sorry to see go.
FANTASY IMPACT: Favre didn’t have much luck down the field against Arizona’s secondary; his two longest gainers were mostly due to YAC, and Minnesota’s two touchdowns went to Visanthe Shiancoe (2-14-1) and Percy Harvin (6-79-1). That left Sidney Rice (7-72) and Bernard Berrian (5-36) to cobble together yardage in eight- and nine- and 10-yard chunks. The hope among Steve Breaston’s fantasy owners was that the return of Warner might mean the return of Breaston’s fantasy value. However, after topping 57 yards in seven of the first eight games and scoring three times he now has a grand total of five catches for 34 yards in the last three, including one catch for eight yards against Minnesota. The Cards went out of their way to get the ball into his hands, running him on an end-around for 19 yards, but after Breaston took a 64-yard punt return to the one-yard line the Cards opted to throw to Boldin on the next play rather than reward Breaston for his efforts.