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Six days after Cassel's father Greg passed away, the New England Patriots quarterback, who wasn't a sure thing to play, duplicated Favre's four-touchdown effort and led his team to 35 first-half points en route to a 49-26 statement win. Cassel threw for only 218 yards, and completed passes to a mere four players, but he piled up 23 points in ESPN standard leagues, tops among all quarterbacks in Week 15.
Cassel also led quarterbacks in fantasy points in Weeks 11 and 12, but those weeks he topped 400 passing yards, and had 36 and 33 fantasy points, respectively. As Tom Brady's backup continues his surprising ascension as a top-10 signal-caller, this is the first time Cassel ended up with a point total in the 20s, signaling it doesn't have to be all or nothing with him.
Fantasy owners who stuck with Cassel when they had other choices at quarterback deserve credit, considering his personal circumstances and the secondary he was facing. The Raiders -- also the opponent when Favre threw for 399 yards five Decembers ago -- are not very good, but they are somewhat formidable against the pass because of the presence of shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Despite that, Cassel was active in 39.4 percent of ESPN standard leagues, ranking him 11th among quarterbacks, and a borderline starter. ESPN projected Cassel for 209 yards and one touchdown, calling him "matchups susceptible." Is that still the case?
I'd argue Cassel has become a mostly reliable fantasy option, someone who doesn't just eat up bad defenses. However, with Brady's return looming in 2009, Cassel will be plying his trade in another NFL city. Since his first month as starting quarterback ended, Cassel has struggled in a few games, but generally has been good for double-digit points. Of course, the upside of what he's done in his three signature weeks makes him worth considering as a start every week. Cassel finishes up against the Cardinals -- a team that somehow just allowed Tarvaris Jackson to throw four touchdown passes -- and the last-place Buffalo Bills. He could be making some memorable performances in your fantasy playoffs.
Of all the quarterbacks one would think could throw four touchdowns in a game, how many names would you list before you got to Tarvaris Jackson? The Vikings' quarterback was largely ignored despite the enticing matchup against the Cardinals, active in just 2.0 percent of ESPN leagues. An incredible 34 quarterbacks, including injured Vikings starter Gus Frerotte and long-gone Bengal Carson Palmer, each of whom were clearly not playing in Week 15, were more popular. Don't expect Jackson to do this again anytime soon. In fact, Frerotte could return in Week 16.
Meanwhile, what happened to Kurt Warner being such a great play against an inviting Minnesota pass defense? Plus, the Cardinals stunningly fell behind the Vikings 28-0, making it more likely Warner would throw and throw and you get the point. Warner did throw 45 times, nearly three times as much as Jackson, but delivered a below-average 12 points. Top receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin didn't help fantasy owners much, somewhat the equivalent of Brett Favre's Jets receivers combining for one fantasy point in Week 14. This was worse, because Fitzgerald and Boldin are arguably the top wide receivers in fantasy overall! Expect Warner -- the top projected quarterback for Week 15 -- and pals to bounce back, but it should be noted Warner hasn't topped 15 fantasy points since Week 10. It's not like anyone should pick up Matt Leinart, who completed three passes.
So much for being scared of a quarterback-wide receiver duo against the big, bad Tennessee Titans. Hey, give Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans credit. One of these years, maybe this will be a playoff team. Schaub had a reasonable fantasy day with 13 points, but Andre Johnson went batty, producing a season-high and franchise-best 207 receiving yards, and adding a touchdown for 26 fantasy points. The Texans finish up at Oakland and against the Bears. The Raiders don't seem so scary against the pass after what Cassel did to them, and Johnson against Asomugha will be fun to watch. I wouldn't sit Johnson, that's for sure.
A number of star running backs entered Week 15 battered and bruised, and a few of them didn't dress. Frank Gore of the 49ers was ruled out Sunday morning, then Joseph Addai and his sore shoulder joined him, not being allowed to partake of Indy's win over the Lions. In Gore's case, backup DeShaun Foster would have made for a curious play. Foster, active in 4.1 percent of ESPN leagues, actually performed well, rushing for 76 yards on 18 carries in Miami. Dominic Rhodes, however, was far more popular, and did even better. Rhodes was active in 51.5 percent of leagues, ranking 21st among running backs, and only Pierre Thomas and Michael Turner scored more fantasy points. Expect Addai back for Week 16 at Jacksonville, and a split of Indy's carries.
|This Week In Fantasy Football History|
By Neil Tardy
2000: Here's something you probably don't know about Terrell Owens: His middle name is Eldorado. And here's something that -- unless you had him on your fantasy team -- you may have forgotten: 20 catches. The fifth-year pro was already a solid option in points-per-reception leagues, and he'd already given his owners a leg up in the playoffs by going for 129 receiving yards and a score the previous week. The then-49er then struck fantasy gold. (El dorado is Spanish for "the golden one," after all.) Owens hauled in 20 receptions -- still an NFL record -- for 283 yards and a touchdown against the Bears. Oh, stuff happened after that, involving among other things a Sharpie, sit-ups and quarterback back-stabbing, but none of that detracts from Owens' fantasy greatness. T.O. has had seven seasons of at least 13 TDs.
Not only did Cassel make a statement in Oakland, but so did former Raiders Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan in their first games back at the Coliseum. I don't know why Moss wasn't saddled with Asomugha's attention, but with Cassel playing so well, he's a safe play. Jordan broke a 49-yard touchdown run late, but can't be counted on. Sammy Morris had already delivered 117 rushing yards and a score by then. In the Sunday pregame chat, it seemed every other question dealt with the potential for bad weather in Kansas City, and how it would affect Philip Rivers and Tyler Thigpen. The quarterbacks found a way to split 36 fantasy points evenly. Why do fantasy owners overrate bad weather? With Gore out, it was expected Shaun Hill would be throwing a lot, but 46 times? Wow! Hill somehow managed to accrue nary a touchdown nor a turnover, but he did outscore Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton and Matt Ryan this week. I thought Adrian Peterson might run for 250 yards, and he was over 100 at the half, but the Vikings seemed to ease up. Incredibly, Peterson remains a relative disappointment to some, because he's not scoring touchdowns like he did as a rookie. Not a bad game at all for Le'Ron McClain, who ran for 87 yards, but hey, was that a Willis McGahee sighting? Don't be worried if you own McClain. One would think the Raiders would get Johnnie Lee Higgins more touches, right? When Tim Hightower doesn't score, it's like playing a running back on bye. Good for Chris Henry, I suppose. He deserves a touchdown as much as any other Bengal. I wouldn't start him under any circumstances, but I have a feeling he'll play a role in 2009. A week after the Jets' wide receivers did nothing against the 49ers, the same thing happened to the Dolphins. Six yards for Ted Ginn Jr.? San Francisco is playing some D. Considering the Titans lost by one point, how does Chris Johnson not get more than 13 carries? If you owned Rob Bironas and lost by a point, you have a right to be angry. Who goes for it on fourth down like that? It's time to forget about avoiding running backs because they're facing the Jets. Peyton Hillis was first, now Marshawn Lynch. Maurice Morris is running well, and he's up next.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bengals
The same day it was announced Carson Palmer would not play again this season, reserve Fitzpatrick delivered his top outing, stunning the Redskins for 20 fantasy points in Cincinnati's surprising 20-13 victory. The Bengals had managed two field goals and no touchdowns the past two weeks. Anyway, leave Fitzpatrick on your bench the final weeks.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Cardinals
Pick a Cardinal, really, but Boldin was projected for the best day of any wide receiver, with 20 points, and he delivered one lousy point against a struggling Vikings pass defense. Boldin has 11 fantasy points in three weeks, seriously jeopardizing his status as a top receiver the rest of the way.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions: Well, he did look better than Daunte Culpepper usually does, thanks in large part to the talented Calvin Johnson and the attention he creates. Assuming he gets to keep starting, Orlovsky could be a sleeper against the Saints in Week 16.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: He would seem an obvious play for those who spent a first-round pick on him, but Jackson was benched by nearly a third of his owners -- against Seattle, no less! Jackson topped 90 rushing yards in two of the past three weeks, appears to be closing strong and is worth playing.
Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals: Not that we'd ever truly trust him, but Benson did score 15 fantasy points for the 3.2 percent of owners who, um, trusted him enough to have him active. Benson closes out the year with games against the Browns and Chiefs, which should be worth a look. You just have to get over how he burned you in past seasons, if you can.
Dennis Northcutt, WR, Jaguars: With Matt Jones suspended, Reggie Williams was the Jacksonville wide receiver everyone wanted. Northcutt, with no more than four fantasy points in any game, delivered 18 for the 0.1 percent of owners who had him active. Could be a trend the final fortnight.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: One of those wide receivers owned in just about every league, but active in half, Jackson keeps on scoring and should reach 1,000 yards for the season in Week 16. Chances are most of his owners weren't aware of that fact.
Kerry Collins, QB, Titans: Well, we knew his back-to-back, 19-point fantasy games in Weeks 10 and 11 were misleading, but Collins has averaged a poor eight fantasy points in the month since, and he's done it with nice matchups. There's just no viable reason to use him against the Steelers on Sunday.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins: Sure, the Week 16 matchup with the Chiefs is enticing, but Brown received a mere 10 carries Sunday. He turned them into 67 yards, but still. He's had other appealing matchups the past two months, but has topped 70 rushing yards just once since Week 5.
Tatum Bell, RB, Broncos: Not that his value was exceedingly high, but he was the most added player in ESPN leagues this week, and active for 13 percent of ESPN owners. Let's just say he didn't deliver, as Selvin Young received more touches and Bell managed to get to 43 rushing yards only with some late-game padding. Really, P.J. Pope was better.
Lee Evans, WR, Bills: Normally potent in AFC East division games, Evans managed two points against the Jets, matching his Week 14 total against Miami. Yuck. Blame erratic turnover machine J.P. Losman if you want, but even with Trent Edwards under center, the wide receiver last scored in Week 7.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Bengals: Even with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick giving a modest performance, his top receiver managed a season-low one point. You know Houshmandzadeh isn't scoring, but in three of the past four weeks he didn't catch as many as five passes, either.
Joseph Addai and Frank Gore made the most news Sunday morning by being declared inactive, but each could return for Week 16. Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia, active in 9.2 percent of leagues, wasn't active. Brian Griese replaced him.
In Dallas, Marion Barber did play with his toe injury, but not very well. Tashard Choice certainly looked better. Tony Romo suffered a back contusion, but didn't miss any plays. The Giants were without Brandon Jacobs, and Derrick Ward filled in ably.
Titans defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth will have an MRI on his injured left MCL, but it's likely he will miss some time. With Haynesworth out, fantasy owners might not be so scared to use the Steelers' and Colts' running back tandems the final two weeks.
Normally in this space we lead off by reminding you there's a Thursday game, so don't miss it. Well, Peyton Manning and David Garrard do meet Thursday. Alas, you can't wait until Sunday morning to make a decision on Marion Barber this week. The Cowboys host the Ravens on Saturday night. These are the last Thursday/Saturday games of the season -- in Week 17 everything is scheduled for Sunday. As for Colts-Jags, they met in Week 3 in Indy, and the road team won 23-21. Maurice Jones-Drew and Joseph Addai had 21 and 20 fantasy points, respectively, that day. Jones-Drew could do it again, but will his opponent play?
Michael Turner's run at the league rushing title might hit a bit of a road block in Minnesota, against a team that prides itself on stopping the run, but can you really sit the Falcons running back in fantasy? No running back has more fantasy points this season. I'd leave him active.
The Eagles cling to playoff hopes as they rekindle their rivalry in Washington. The Redskins took a 23-17 road win in Week 5, as Clinton Portis ran wild for 145 yards and a score. The only passing touchdown in the game was thrown by Antwaan Randle El, and it's unlikely Donovan McNabb will be projected for much. Jason Campbell certainly won't be after losing to the Bengals.
The final Monday nighter of the season is another key division battle, as the Packers try to ruin things for the Bears at Soldier Field. The Bears got obliterated at Lambeau Field in Week 11, getting edged out 37-3. Like Portis against Philly, the Packers' Ryan Grant produced precisely 145 rushing yards and a touchdown. Matt Forte didn't score, obviously, but he did top 100 total yards, and should be active in fantasy leagues.
Top seeds are up for grabs as the Steelers face the Titans, and the Giants host the Panthers. All four of these teams are good, really good, and in general you don't tend to see shootouts when strong defensive teams meet up.