NFC North: Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday: Shaun Hill -- take 2

November, 19, 2010
Your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, I'm writing Detroit Lions quarterback Shaun Hill for the second Fantasy Friday post in as many weeks. I don't know anything from anything, but just about every ESPN fantasy guru is encouraged about Hill's prospects for Sunday's game at the Dallas Cowboys.
Matthew Berry: Not the Broncos. Not the Saints. And not the Chargers, Colts or Patriots. No team in the NFL has attempted more passes this season than the Detroit Lions. And now Hill is taking all those throws to Dallas, where the Cowboys have allowed 13 touchdown passes in four home games this year. Now, Dallas played a lot more zone last week under defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni's new-look system, trying to give some safety help to the corners, but the Cowboys still gave up 19 fantasy points to Eli Manning. I expect a high-scoring game and Hill, who has at least 43 pass attempts in four of the five games he played from start to finish, should put up very good fantasy numbers.
Bill Barnwell:Insider Hill threw for 323 yards and a touchdown last week, but with his 50 attempts against the dismal pass defense of the Bills, fantasy owners naturally would have hoped for two or three scores. His matchup doesn't get much more difficult this week; the Cowboys have the league's third-worst pass defense, and if the Dallas offense turns this game into a shootout, Hill could end up throwing 50 passes again.

Indeed, opposing quarterbacks have a 105.5 passer rating against the Cowboys this season, having thrown 20 touchdown passes (second-most in the NFL) against seven interceptions. I'm not sure if it will be a winning combination for the Lions, but it sure could be for fantasy owners of whomever plays quarterback for the Lions. In this case, it's our guy Shaun Hill.
Much like the rest of us, our friends in the fantasy business have been sinking their teeth into the Green Bay Packers' catastrophic string of injuries. Below are excerpts from two of's subscription-only fantasy posts.

First, Eric Karabell Insider cautions against counting on receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in the wake of tight end Jermichael Finley's knee injury:
[I]s it possible we've been viewing these fellows wrong in the first place? Watching the Packers somehow get into the end zone just once in D.C., I checked just how popular the starting wide receivers were. Only five wide receivers were active in more ESPN leagues than Jennings, while Driver was 14th. Meanwhile, in a combined 10 games between them, including Sunday, each has managed to break into double digits in fantasy points just once. Jennings has hauled in precisely two catches each of the past three games, and I wouldn't say the Packers have played a challenging schedule. Three fantasy points against the Buffalo Bills? Two against the Lions? This isn't what we signed up for. I would no longer trade for Jennings on the premise that things will get a lot better, because it looks as though [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers, who is already one interception shy of last season's total, is spreading the wealth like never before.

Meanwhile, Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders suggests fantasy owners can count on high rushing totals against the Packers' defense:
The 2009 Packers had one of the largest year-to-year improvements in run defense in recent history, finishing fifth only a year after ending the 2008 season 28th against the run. Teams that make that sort of leap invariably decline in the subsequent season, and the Packers are not breaking that rule. In this case, it's the same personnel as a year ago, but they can't stay healthy. Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett, Nick Barnett, Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett and Atari Bigby are all key players against the run who have missed time or will miss time with injuries. The Packers will remain a team to run on for the foreseeable future.
As I've paid more attention this year to fantasy trends, my sources have informed me that defense also matters. You pick a team's defense and hope it does well in that particular game. So let's listen to some advice from ESPN's fantasy expert Christopher Harris on this topic: Who is in better position to produce Sunday night, the Chicago Bears' defense or New York Giants tailback Ahmad Bradshaw?

Here's how Harris addressed that question:
In a bye week, it'll be tough for many fantasy teams to sit Ahmad Bradshaw, especially after he once again looked powerful and elusive last week against the Titans. But the Bears' defense might be a better start than Bradshaw. It has done decently against Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers the past two weeks, but more impressively it has become exceedingly difficult to run against. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears have allowed 115 rushing yards on 42 attempts when Chicago has seven men or fewer "in the box," and an impressive four yards on 13 attempts when it has eight men or more "in the box." Bradshaw might be the best rusher the Bears have faced on the young season, but that 2.1 yards per carry allowed overall is tough to ignore.

So if you have Bradshaw, you might want to pass. If you have the Bears defense, this might be a good week for you.

Fantasy Friday: The Matt Forte debate

September, 24, 2010
ESPN's fantasy gurus spent a fair amount of time this week debating the use of Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte, whose receiving production has compensated his quiet rushing performance. He leads all NFL running backs with 188 receiving yards and is tied for second among all players with three touchdown receptions.


On the other hand, Forte has managed 79 rushing yards on 17 attempts and hasn't scored. So what to do with him? Assume he'll continue to be the Bears' leading receiver? Or be wary as you approach the Bears' Week 3 matchup against the Green Bay Packers?

Analysts Matthew Berry and Christopher Harris remain bullish on Forte, and that's good enough for me. Here are some excerpts:
Berry: "The fourth-highest-scoring running back so far this season, he's clearly the most consistent weapon on the Bears right now. Yes, the Packers have a good defense. Of course, only four teams in the NFL have allowed more rushing yards this year than Green Bay. And one of its games was against Buffalo. Not sure what my fellow rankers don't see here. Clay Matthews is gonna be coming after Jay Cutler hard here, which means a lotta check downs. Forte Acres and a Mule would be a good fantasy team name. So would Forte Ounce."

(One day I'll understand what Matthew is talking about. I'm learning, though.)
Harris: Matt Forte didn't do much on the ground against Dallas, but made up for it with a short reception for a touchdown. Chester Taylor got only six touches in Week 2 compared with Forte's 15, meaning this is less of a split job than some believed it might be. This is another bad matchup for Forte, but I don't think you get away from starting him.
We covered several angles of Ryan Grant's season-ending ankle injury this week, including the chances of backup Brandon Jackson successfully playing his role for 15 games.'s Matthew Berry handled the fantasy angle of that question and was all-in on picking up Jackson this week.

An excerpt of Berry's explanation:
There are good football players and players who have been presented with an opportunity. Brandon Jackson is the latter, but in fantasy, that is all that matters. Last season, Green Bay was one of only five teams in the NFL to have 20 rushing touchdowns. And more importantly, it was the only one of those five teams to have only one runner with more than 75 rushing attempts. In other words, the Packers go workhorse-style, and right now, they've got Jackson, fullback John Kuhn and not much else. Jackson had 75 total yards coming in for Grant in Week 1 and is a terrific play this week at home against the Buffalo Bills, and Kuhn could get some short-yardage touchdown opportunities. You have to imagine that the Packers will go out and get another back or two for depth, but Jackson knows the offense, has the coach's confidence and is the guy you need to pick up this week.

As you know by now, I'm trying to pass along the best of's fantasy advice on NFC North players every Friday. If you have any other thoughts on how to handle fantasy football on this blog, I'm always all ears.
On a few occasions this offseason, we discussed my hope to incorporate some fantasy-related discussion into our regular season routine. It was a more difficult process than I thought, given the irrelevance of divisions in fantasy football as well as my own, uh, growing knowledge in the subject.



So what I've settled on is a weekly "Friday Fantasy" post that points you toward some intelligent discussion of the fantasy implications of an NFC North player. We'll lean heavily on our own ESPN fantasy staff, but I also plan to check in with our friends at Football Outsiders and perhaps even a few of you as we move forward.

Let's start if off with's Eric Karabell, whose Insider-only blog focused on the Week 1 matchup between Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Only subscribers can read the entire post, but here is an excerpt of Karabell's thoughts on Cutler:
Cutler is a top-10 quarterback, especially this week against the Lions. But if he throws for only 165 yards and three picks, everyone is going to assume what happened last season is on the docket again. And can you imagine if he loses the game, to a team coming off a 2-14 record in 2009? This is a crucial week for Cutler, but I think it couldn't set up any better. It's the Lions! Last season Cutler had a 19-point fantasy game in Week 4 against them, and closed the season with a four-touchdown, no-interception, 27-point effort on the road. [Matt] Schaub and [Tom] Brady don't need to play well this week. Cutler does.

Sounds good to me, as long as you don't lose points for sacks in your league. That doesn't happen, does it?