- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Well, that was disappointing.
For the first round of the fantasy playoffs, several NFL studs decided not to show up and in the process torpedoed many, many squads. Here's hoping you weren't one of them.
Aaron Rodgers rushed for a touchdown to make his Sunday night look palatable, but he also failed to throw for a TD in a home game for the first time in 30 contests. Rodgers passed for a season-low 173 yards, his worst total in two years. And he's now failed to reach 16 fantasy points in four consecutive games (and five of his past six).
If Drew Brees didn't sink your team a couple Thursdays ago with a five-INT game, he probably did it Sunday against the New York Giants. Breezy did toss for 354 yards in a futile comeback attempt, but he threw two INTs and one TD, extending a two-game slump that came at the wrong dang time. So much for a first-round QB being a bastion of safety when you need him most.
Chris Johnson partied like it was Week 1, managing only 59 total yards and no scores on 22 touches behind a super-makeshift Tennessee Titans O-line. The Indianapolis Colts have a legit run defense now, at least against teams who don't have their blocking schemes in perfect working order.
C.J. Spiller barely got a sniff as Fred Jackson appeared to re-take the Buffalo Bills' starting RB job. Spiller had eight touches to Jackson's 14, and Tashard Choice played the first snap after Jackson's fourth-quarter leg injury. Chan Gailey appears to have decided Spiller can't play in bad weather, which is unfortunate when you coach in Buffalo.
A.J. Green dropped multiple passes, including one that would've gone for a long TD, and wound up with just three catches for 44 yards on eight targets. The normally sure-handed stud picked the wrong time to submit his most boneheaded game of the season.
Finally, Larry Fitzgerald caught one of 11 targets. One. Though of course by this point, anyone who perceives Fitz as a stud with his rogue's gallery of QBs hasn't been paying attention.
Let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:
• Heading into Monday night's tilt involving Tom Brady and Matt Schaub, only two QBs have submitted stellar Week 14 performances: Cam Newton and Nick Foles. Newton's passing against the Atlanta Falcons was strong (23-of-35 for 287 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs), but he made the national highlight reels with a rumbling 72-yard rushing TD and put together 116 total rush yards on nine carries. That's three straight games with at least 28 fantasy points for Newton, who's accounted for 10 TDs and zero turnovers in that span after posting 13 TDs and 13 turnovers in his first 10 games. Meanwhile Foles also rushed (some would say "lumbered") for a score Sunday, plus he went 32-of-51 for 381 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was better, and he stood in the pocket taking tremendous pressure from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pass rush. Of course, Foles was impossible to trust in fantasy; he was started in only 1.4 percent of ESPN leagues Sunday. And despite this strong performance, if you're still alive headed into Week 15, it will again be very difficult to trust him Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
• The Washington Redskins posted a stirring come-from-behind win and Robert Griffin III wasn't even the guy who led the way late. Bobby Three Sticks scrambled left in the fourth quarter and took a thunderous hit from Haloti Ngata as he was going down. RG3's right leg whipsawed sickeningly and in the moment the injury appeared to involve broken bones. But Griffin returned temporarily to the game (and completed a long pass) before the pain overcame him, and fellow rookie Kirk Cousins threw the game-tying TD (and rushed for the two-point conversion). X-rays and an MRI showed no ligament damage for Griffin, and he's considered day-to-day with a knee sprain. His surviving fantasy owners will have a medical drama ahead of them this week.
• David Wilson took a first-quarter kickoff return 97 yards to the house Sunday evening, but that was only the beginning. Ahmad Bradshaw suffered a knee injury and missed nearly a full half of play (he did return later in the game), giving Wilson a chance to shine as the feature back, and Wilson did shine. He converted a second-quarter red-zone carry for a six-yard TD, then exploded up the middle against a tiring New Orleans Saints defense for a third-quarter 52-yarder that highlighted his sprinter's speed. Going forward, Wilson's problem is that Bradshaw is still pretty much healthy and will likely start Week 15 versus the Falcons. That will make Wilson a deep-league flex at best.
• If Wilson finally showed some rookie juice, then Bryce Brown finally showed some human frailty. Brown got nothing going, managing 12 yards on 14 touches Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles legitimately tried to make Brown the focal point of their offense in the first half, getting it to him 11 times but repeatedly seeing him swarmed under by a Bucs run defense I admit I severely underrated heading into this week. After that, Brown was an afterthought as Foles took over, and Dion Lewis was on the field more than Brown was in the fourth quarter. If you survived this effort, Brown is probably still startable as a top-20 back against the Bengals on Thursday, because it's unlikely that LeSean McCoy gets cleared. But at least now we can all rein in our expectations a bit.
• The only thing wrong with Vick Ballard's candidacy to be a surprise fantasy star in December was the fact that the Colts still weren't giving it to him at the goal line. Donald Brown missed Sunday's game with his bad ankle, and Ballard was Indy's clear feature back. But Delone Carter was still coming into the game in goal-to-go situations as he did Sunday, vulturing a one-yard third-quarter score. But then Carter hurt an ankle and couldn't return, ceding the field to Ballard, who produced 104 yards on 20 touches. Now, Brown could return for Week 15 and Carter's injury might not turn out to be serious. But if both of those guys are out against the Houston Texans, Ballard might legitimately be considered a top-20 back.
• What's gotten into BenJarvus Green-Ellis? After 10 weeks of plodding, the Bengals RB looks spry. He had his 100-yard rushing streak stopped against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday but submitted another impressive performance nonetheless. And whereas I maintained that his earlier good efforts had been bolstered by "lucky" runs (as in: very well-blocked, very poorly defended), Sunday he came right out of the gate with a rumbling, physical 19-yard run and in the fourth quarter ripped off a 38-yarder from deep in his own territory. The unfortunate thing for Cincy turned out to be that Andy Dalton kept taking sacks while trying to nurse a lead, rather than giving the ball to the Law Firm. This is a performance that has me believing a bit more in BJGE.
• With a 6-7 record, the New York Jets somehow find themselves on the fringe of the NFL playoff picture with three relatively easy games remaining (@TEN, SD, @BUF), but don't fool yourself into thinking Mark Sanchez was some kind of competent NFL quarterback Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Oh, he wasn't. The game plan in this one was for Sanchez to get the heck out of the way, avoiding butt-fumbles if possible. That led to 39 combined carries for Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell (split 20-19 in Greene's favor). This continues the trend of Greene's workload lessening in favor of the smaller, faster Powell, and it makes each Jets RB difficult to trust. Sure, if a game's circumstances allow the Jets to run it 39 times every week, each man could be worthy of flex consideration. But as often as not, an opposing team's offense makes it impossible to keep up without throwing. And if that happens, my concern would be that neither Greene nor Powell would get enough work.
• Speaking of backfield platoons, the Detroit Lions appear to be developing one. It now seems awfully clear that Joique Bell is a better all-around player than Mikel Leshoure, whose lone skill seems to be blasting straight ahead into defenders. And early in the game Sunday night, Leshoure was unable to convert a third-and-1 deep in Green Bay Packers territory. (Matthew Stafford wound up scrambling for a four-yard TD on fourth down.) On Detroit's next possession, it was Bell who got the red-zone carry from Green Bay's 6 (he got three yards, and Tony Scheffler caught a TD on the next play). It's too early to say this represents a change in strategy, but if Leshoure loses his goal-line duties, he's nearly worthless in a fantasy league. Each Lions RB had 49 yards rushing (Leshoure on 14 carries, Bell on 12), but Bell had 47 yards on five catches whereas Leshoure doesn't catch the ball much at all. Stay tuned.
• Jackson's knee injury looked bad; he got sandwiched between Michael Brockers and Quintin Mikell on a fourth-quarter run up the gut, and his right knee was still planted as his body bent. Jackson was in obvious and immediate pain and had to be carted to the locker room, but Bills beat reporters have already indicated that the RB avoided catastrophic injury and is likely left with a sprain. It's a pretty good bet that we've seen the last of Jackson this year (and perhaps it was his final moment in a Bills uniform), so Spiller's fantasy owners who survived his inactivity Sunday are likely to get a fuller workload from him in Week 15.
• LaMichael James finally saw the first regular-season action of his rookie year Sunday, and it made most observers wonder why it's taken so long. When Kendall Hunter went down with a torn Achilles' after Week 12, Brandon Jacobs appeared to get first crack at understudying Frank Gore. But that's just backing up a slow guy with a slower guy, so on Sunday, James got work as the San Francisco 49ers' change-of-pace runner, and frankly he looked a lot like Hunter, racking up 45 yards on nine touches. I think we're past the point of worrying that Gore will be rested in December, but I also think James is the most dangerous alternative the Niners have in case Gore gets hurt.
• The tight end mayhem began Thursday night when Brandon Myers managed two catches for seven yards, and it continued unabated all day Sunday. Vernon Davis was targeted twice, and caught one pass for four yards. Marcedes Lewis matched that exact line: one catch, four yards. Kyle Rudolph could only dream of such largesse as he caught zero of his two targets. Brent Celek suffered an early concussion and had zero targets. Antonio Gates was targeted eight times but he and Philip Rivers practically look like they've never played together, and Gates only caught three for 31 yards. Dallas Clark caught one of five targets for 19 yards with a hellacious drop on what might've been a long gain. Jermaine Gresham's four grabs for 43 yards is practically an explosion by comparison. And Jimmy Graham was a total dog, catching five of 10 targets for 56 yards but contributing to both of Brees' INTs, tipping one up in the air for a defender to grab, and failing to stem his seam route and allowing a safety to jump in front of him for a pick. Going into Monday night, which NFL TE had the most receiving yards in Week 14? That's right: Anthony McCoy, with 105.
• The embarrassment that is the Arizona Cardinals offense finally manifested itself in the kind of full-scale meltdown that gets coaches fired. The Seattle Seahawks produced eight turnovers, three sacks, one defensive TD and one special teams TD en route to a 58-0 shutout and a wild and woolly 39 fantasy points for their D/ST. According to my friend and colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft, it was only the second time in 23 years that a D/ST scored that many fantasy points (the only other time was Seattle, too, when the defense produced 42 during a Monday night game against the Eagles in 2005). As of this writing, Ken Whisenhunt hadn't been axed, but rumors were swirling. Meanwhile, if you faced that Seahawks D/ST? I am very, very sorry.