Every so often, an unlikely hero emerges for the fantasy playoffs in the final few weeks of the regular season. Classic examples include Billy Volek and Drew Bennett in 2004, Samkon Gado in 2005, Pierre Thomas in 2008 and Knowshon Moreno last year. This year's version may just have come to the fore on Sunday.
Bobby Rainey did not start for the Buccaneers in their first game since losing original backup Mike James to a broken ankle. That honor went to Brian Leonard, who finished the game with four carries for 16 yards. All Rainey did as the backup against the Falcons was carry the ball 30 times for 163 yards and two scores while adding a third touchdown through the air. He put up a whopping 34.7 points in standard scoring leagues. If you were gutsy enough to start him this week, chances are you came away with an easy victory.
After his dominant Week 11 performance, it's safe to say Rainey will remain the feature back for the Buccaneers the rest of the season. He has the perfect resume to be the player who swings playoffs, costing his current owner nothing more than a likely replacement-level player on the waiver wire last week. His remaining schedule is largely neutral against the run, as the Buccaneers face the Lions and Panthers for the last two weeks of the fantasy regular season. He'll get the Bills and 49ers in the first two rounds of the playoffs. If you make it to the championship with him on your roster, he could be the unofficial Fantasy Bowl MVP. The Bucs visit St. Louis Week 16 to take on a Rams team that has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs, surrendering 4.2 yards per carry and 11 rushing touchdowns this year. He looks like an RB2 for the remainder of 2013, and just might find himself on his fair share of fantasy championship teams.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 11 news.
No matter what Trent Richardson does, he just can't seem to escape the Browns. In this case, I mean just one Brown in particular.
Donald Brown finally gave the Colts some life on the ground this week, running for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in their 30-27 win over the Titans. His high-profile teammate Richardson continued to plod along, running for 22 yards on eight carries. The coaching staff seemed to commit to Brown on Thursday, and given what a bust Richardson has been since coming over from Cleveland, that should remain the case. If it does, Brown could be a serious challenger to Rainey's favored status as the surprise late-season hero in 2013. The one hurdle in his way is a tough schedule that includes matchups with the Cardinals, Bengals, Texans and Chiefs. Taking all that into account, I rank him as a low-end RB2 the rest of the way.
I've never been a big car guy, but it never made sense to me that enthusiasts would buy a car as a showpiece that rarely gets used. Why sink all that money into a product and then never use it for the reason it was made? It just always seemed like a waste to me.
Bruce Arians' handling of Andre Ellington reminds me of the befuddling car enthusiast. The rookie rusher out of Clemson is an explosive player clearly capable of handling a bigger role in the offense, yet Arians insists on rolling out his favorite lemon, Rashard Mendenhall. Game situation and the Jaguars' ineptitude against the pass contributed to Ellington's no-show on Sunday, but the fact that Arians gave him just eight carries compared with Mendenhall's 13 didn't help. We may want Arians to love Ellington as much as we do, but it just doesn't look like that is going to happen any time this season. So long as he's capped at about 15 touches per game, his ceiling will be limited. He's not an automatic start, and should be considered an RB3.
It appears we've found the biggest faller in the wake of Aaron Rodgers' injury, and somewhat surprisingly it is not a receiver.
Eddie Lacy had really started to come on as a serious threat before Rodgers fractured his collarbone against the Bears two weeks ago. In the last four full games Rodgers has played, Lacy had 395 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The last two weeks with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien at the helm, he has just 100 yards, though he did manage a touchdown against the Giants this week. Both the Eagles and Giants loaded up against Lacy the last two weeks, trusting that neither Wallace nor Tolzien could consistently make them pay. The strategy has worked, resulting in two losses for the Packers, and it puts a major damper on Lacy's rest-of-season outlook.
On the plus side, he remains the workhorse back and will get the lion's share of the touches out of the backfield. Lacy has a handful of great matchups coming up, including the Vikings next week, Falcons in Week 14 and Cowboys in Week 15. Those last two are the first two rounds of the fantasy playoffs, and Rodgers could theoretically be back by then. He continues to work back from injury, but Mike McCarthy said last week that his star quarterback is still a few weeks away from getting back on the field. For now, I'm calling Lacy an RB2 for the rest of the season. The hit this entire offense has taken -- Green Bay has scored just 26 points the last two weeks -- has seriously taken its toll.
Week 11 observations
• In just his second game back from a knee injury, EJ Manuel had a great day against a Jets team that came in allowing just 7.0 yards per attempt. The rookie out of Florida State threw for 245 yards, 8.8 YPA and two touchdowns in the Bills' 37-14 win. The Bills have a bye next week, but Manuel could be a crucial player in two-QB leagues the rest of the season. He has a great schedule once the Bills return from bye, facing the Falcons, Buccaneers and Jaguars in three straight weeks. Those teams are all in the top 10 in fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks this season. Those of you in two-QB leagues should consider Manuel if he's on your waiver wire.
• Considering the nightmarish weather conditions in Chicago on Sunday, neither Joe Flacco nor Josh McCown played that poorly. That might not be of too much consolation to you if you had to start one of them this week. The takeaway here is that you shouldn't downgrade either of them for the rest of the season as a result of this game. McCown actually could be a starter in standard leagues each of the next two weeks, assuming Jay Cutler remains out with an ankle injury. The Bears play the Rams, who allow 8.4 YPA, next week, and the Vikings, who have surrendered the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, in Week 13.
• It was a bizarre game for Andy Dalton against the Browns this week. He threw for three touchdowns, though most of those were thanks to short fields from his defense. He completed just 13-of-27 passes for 93 yards and tossed two interceptions. The matchup was unquestionably a tough one, but that makes three straight poor outings for the quarterback. The Bengals have a bye next week, then return with a great matchup against the Chargers. Dalton will likely be a low-end QB1, but we'll revisit his status next week.
• After his second monster game in three weeks, Ben Roethlisberger looks like a he could be viable starter for the rest of the season. He torched the Lions for 367 yards, 8.2 YPA and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, his remaining schedule is about as tough as it gets for a quarterback. The Steelers next four opponents are the Browns, Ravens, Dolphins and Bengals. Those teams rank 22nd, 24th, 25th and 17th in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks.
• Carson Palmer reminded fantasy owners why the want to try to take advantage of the Jaguars this year. Palmer has had a spotty year, but lit up the Jags for 419 yards and two touchdowns. It was also the first game all season in which he did not throw an interception. Palmer doesn't have a great upcoming schedule, and that keeps him on the outside of the QB1 picture. Arizona's next four games are against Indianapolis, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tennessee. The Jaguars still have two games remaining with the Texans, making Case Keenum or Matt Schaub a potentially attractive option down the stretch.
• Philip Rivers rode a September in which he threw for 1,199 yards and 11 touchdowns in four games back into the fantasy spotlight. Take a look at his numbers over the last two months, and you'll see a quarterback who has really tailed off since that hot start. After throwing for 298 yards, one score and one pick on Sunday, he has 1,790 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions in his last seven games. Rivers has a decent schedule in the fantasy playoffs, getting the Broncos Week 15 and Raiders Week 16, but his next two games are against the Chiefs and Bengals. He'll be a fringe QB1 in those games.
• Chris Ivory ran for 98 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries on Sunday. Bilal Powell got just five carries. After trending in this direction for some time now, it's finally completely safe to say that this job belongs to Ivory. The Bills have actually been tough against the run, allowing the eighth fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, so Ivory's output on Sunday was rather impressive. Ivory has a very challenging playoff schedule, going up against the Raiders and Panthers in Week 15 and 16, respectively, but he could be a major factor in getting you to that point. The Jets play the Dolphins, who allow the second-most fantasy points per game to the position inWeek 13, and the Raiders in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
• The Bears have been very friendly to opposing running backs this year, so no doubt they were a welcome sight for Ray Rice's sore eyes on Sunday. He finally had a big game, running for 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Now, don't count on this sort of production for the rest of the year. The Bears had allowed 4.5 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns entering the game. Luckily, he plays a couple of poor run defenses after the Jets come to town next week. He plays the Steelers and Vikings in Week 13 and 14. They've allowed the ninth- and eighth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, respectively.
• Willis McGahee had another terrible game Sunday, running for 13 yards on six carries. He now has 262 yards on 100 carries this season, and should not be trusted in any fantasy format. For that reason, we have to take Chris Ogbonnaya's performance against the Bengals seriously. He racked up 69 yards on eight carries and also caught six of his 12 targets for 30 yards. The Browns have every reason to give him a larger role in the offense going forward, and that could make him relevant in fantasy leagues for the rest of the year. For now, go ahead and put in a claim or a bid for him this week. With four teams on bye next week, he could be an RB3 going up against the Steelers.
• Rashad Jennings carved up the Texans on Sunday, running for 150 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. It's too early to say whether or not Darren McFadden will be able to return from a hamstring injury next week, but if he doesn't Jennings will be a top-10 play next week. The Raiders play the Titans, who have surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points per game to running backs this year, and Donald Brown picked up 80 yards and two touchdowns against them this week.
• While the matchup with the 49ers was much tougher than what the Saints faced against the Cowboys last week, their run game looked a lot more like what it truly is on Sunday than it did a week ago. Pierre Thomas carried the ball 11 times for 49 yards, while Mark Ingram had 25 yards on six carries. Thomas added five receptions and 35 receiving yards, so he remains an RB2/3 depending on the matchup. He'll easily be a top 20 matchup next week when the Saints play the Falcons. Atlanta is a team in shambles and just gave up 163 yards and two touchdowns to Bobby Rainey. Thomas should be started regardless of format in Week 12. Recognize Ingram's huge game against Dallas for the fluke that it was and write him off, regardless of opponent.
• It's a bit hard to figure out Chris Johnson's game against the Colts on Thursday. Even after they allowed him to run for 86 yards and two scores, they've allowed the 11th fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Johnson had a huge first quarter, running for 70 yards and both of his scores, then didn't do a thing the rest of the night. It's hard to disappoint your fantasy owners as a running back after giving them a 20-point day, but Johnson always seems to find a way to fall short of his owners' hopes. I'm inclined to call this one big quarter nothing more than an anomaly. The Titans play the Raiders next week, a game for which Johnson will be a back-end RB2.
• He didn't do much on Thursday, but I'm still buying T.Y. Hilton as a WR1 for the rest of the season. He caught five of his nine targets for 44 yards against the Titans, and should be one of the most heavily targeted receivers down the stretch. Also, Hilton isn't the first receiver to struggle against the Titans this year. They've allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to the position, and Alterraun Verner has been one of the best corners all season long. Hilton has another tough matchup against the Cardinals next week, but he should still be started in most formats.
• Joe Haden eliminates receivers. He did just that again on Sunday, holding A.J. Green to two catches for seven yards. He has as strong an argument as any corner to be considered the league's best cover man. That means there could be long days ahead for Antonio Brown, Cecil Shorts, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The only two of those guys I'd consider benching strictly because of the matchup with Haden are Shorts and Amendola, but it's worth having that in the back of your mind if you own the others in that group.
• Calvin Johnson seems to have a way of bringing out the best in opposing wide receivers. Perhaps watching the league's best inspires them. While getting an in-person view at Johnson's 179-yard, two-touchdown game, Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 147 yards and two scores of his own. In the last four weeks, Brown, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green have combined for 23 catches, 513 yards and seven touchdowns. Of course, Johnson has 746 yards and seven scores, as well. So, as always, Johnson is better than your best.
• Could Roddy White be arriving just in time for the playoffs? He only caught three passes Sunday, but one of those was his first touchdown of the season. Perhaps more importantly, he tied a season high with nine targets. If White is finally over his ankle injury, he could be a huge asset for the rest of the season. The Falcons still have games with the Bills, Packers and Redskins, all of whom are in the top 14 in fantasy points per game allowed to receivers. Buffalo and Washington are particularly vulnerable against the position, allowing the second and sixth-most points, respectively.
• After catching four passes for 39 yards on Sunday, Mike Wallace deserves to be knocked off the fantasy radar. He has fewer than eight points in standard scoring leagues in all but three games this season. He and Ryan Tannehill have yet to develop any sort of rapport on the field, and he seems to be the fourth option for his quarterback behind Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Rishard Matthews. You should not be considering him in fantasy leagues unless you're absolutely desperate.
• Percy Harvin's first game back appeared to be nothing more than a dress rehearsal. He caught his only target for 17 yards and returned one kick for 58 yards. Game situation may have had something to do with that, as the Seahawks cruised to a 41-20 win over the Vikings, but this was why it didn't make a ton of sense to me that he was activated for this game. The Seahawks have a bye Week 12, so he'll get another week to rest his surgically repaired hip. It just seemed that, given the fact that they could take care of the Vikings without him, it would have made sense to let him get healthy for the push for home field advantage and the playoffs. He'll be a guy you want to start when the Seahawks return to action Week 13.
• While Aaron Rodgers' injury has limited Eddie Lacy the last two weeks, Green Bay's receivers have produced a handful of productive games. Jordy Nelson caught eight passes for 117 yards on Sunday, while Jarrett Boykin had six grabs for 91 yards. Boykin has 14 receptions for 213 yards in the two games not started by Rodgers, and remains a viable WR3/4 regardless of the quarterback. Nelson may not be the rock-solid WR1 he was with Rodgers, but you should still start a player of his caliber every single week.
• The craziness at this position continued in Week 11. Last week, Brandon Bostick, John Carlson and Rob Housler were among the leaders in points scored. This week, Garrett Graham, Mychal Rivera and Delanie Walker were at the top of the leaderboard. Walker is the only one of those guys with any staying power.
• Walker actually had a great game in Week 10, catching four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. He followed that up by hauling in 10 passes for 91 yards and a score against the Colts in Week 11. He has 18 catches in the last two weeks, which double as the two games Ryan Fitzpatrick has started since Jack Locker suffered a season-ending foot injury. Walker appears to have a connection with Fitzpatrick, and he could be quite the weapon at the tight end position for the rest of the year. I have him as a low-end TE1 over the final six weeks of the season.
• Coby Fleener had a huge day against the Titans, catching eight of his 10 targets for 107 yards. He's going to be counted on as the second option in the passing game without Reggie Wayne, so the opportunity will be there for him to be a dangerous player in fantasy leagues. He should be an especially good play for the last two weeks of the fantasy regular season. The Colts play the Cardinals next week, and they've allowed the most fantasy points per game to tight ends. They follow that up with their return matchup with the Titans, a team that has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to the position.
• Charles Clay got back on the positive side of the ledger this week, catching six passes for 90 yards and a score. He had struggled to produce for a solid month, so it was encouraging to see him have success against a San Diego team that ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Still, this doesn't move the needle all that much. He was right on the TE1/TE2 fence before this game, and that's exactly where he is after it.
• Last week, we discussed the Bills as a great defense for the rest of the season, thanks to their extremely beneficial schedule. They came through immediately against the Jets Sunday, totaling four takeaways, four sacks and a touchdown. After a Week 12 bye, they play the Falcons, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Dolphins. Get them now while you still can.
• You won't be able to snag the Bengals off the waiver wire at this point, but they, too, could be a key fantasy defense during the playoffs. They had a monster game against the Browns, forcing four turnovers, sacking Jason Campbell four times, blocking a kick and scoring two touchdowns. They get the Steelers Week 15 and Vikings Week 16. If you're lucky enough to own them and get to that point of the season, you could be toasting them during the holidays.