Fantasy Football Early Advice: Antonio Brown shines, Luck stumbles
We probably could have said this with confidence after their 38-8 drubbing at the hands of the Rams a few weeks ago, but Sunday's loss to the Cardinals confirms the Colts as the most up-and-down team this season. The Seahawks and Broncos have combined for three losses this year, two of which are to the Colts. That same Colts team has lost by 30 and 29 points in recent weeks, and looks lost on offense without Reggie Wayne.
Andrew Luck lit up the Texans for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the first game after Wayne tore his ACL, but he has just 6.1 YPA, two touchdowns and four interceptions since then. T.Y. Hilton was expected to step up in Wayne's absence, but instead the focus on him as a No. 1 option has helped limit him to fewer than five fantasy points each of the last two weeks. Unfortunately for Luck owners, the chances of things getter better look slim. The Colts play the Titans, Bengals, Texans and Chiefs over the next four weeks. Those four teams rank fourth, eighth, sixth and 10th in terms of fewest fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks. That puts Luck on the outside of the QB1 class for the rest of the season.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 12 news.
Joe Haden had been a nightmare for opposing receivers all year heading into Sunday's game with the Steelers. He held A.J. Green to 5.8 points in two games combined and Calvin Johnson to 2.5 points in the Browns' game with the Lions. Her had allowed just 33 completions on 63 targets, essentially taking the opposition's top receiver out of the game.
That all changed Sunday when Antonio Brown caught six of his 10 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' 27-11 victory. Brown has been one of the unsung fantasy heroes this year, as he now has a league-high 80 receptions for 1,084 yards and six scores. He also made the most recent case for not getting too obsessed about matchups for fantasy purposes. Too often fantasy players sit an objectively better player in favor of someone who supposedly has a better matchup. Matchups should rarely be the driver behind a big lineup decision. While they certainly deserve tiebreaker status, you shouldn't let it solely determine who you will and won't start. The game is simply too unpredictable to sit someone based on what appears to be a bad matchup. More often than not, you need to trust your best players to produce, regardless of who is lined up on the other side of the field. Brown proved that again on Sunday.
Zac Stacy owners must have loved what they saw out of the back in the first half against the Bears. He racked up 87 yards and a score on 12 carries, delivering exactly what was expected of him against a defense decimated by injury and susceptible to the run. It had to be a huge disappointment, however, when Stacy left the game in the second half because of a head injury. Benny Cunningham relieved the starter, trampling the Bears for 109 yards and a touchdown of his own on 13 carries. While we can't expect things to unfold in exactly the same way if Stacy didn't get hurt, he could have been in line for a 200-yard day if he had played the entire game.
The most actionable intelligence for fantasy owners here is to exploit the Bears for the remainder of the season. They were again without five regular starters on Sunday, and Lance Briggs remains out with a shoulder injury. While you're not going to be able to just add Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray or LeSean Mccoy, three backs who still play the Bears this season, you can speculate on Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya. The Bears visit Cleveland Week 15, typically the semifinals of the fantasy playoffs. With the way the Bears have played against the run this year, one of those backs could be a difference-maker that could lead their owners to the championship game.
As for Stacy and Cunningham, there's no word yet as to the severity of the former's injury. Make a play for Cunningham, but understand that he took advantage of an extremely favorable matchup. Even if Stacy missed time, Cunningham's prospects against the Cardinals, St. Louis' opponent next week, would be dim.
Houston's campaign for Most Disappointing 2013 Season got a whole lot stronger Sunday in a 13-6 loss to the lowly Jaguars. They two-time defending AFC South champions are now tied with the Jags and nearly-as-disappointing Falcons for the worst record in the league at 2-9. They managed just six points and 218 yards against a team that had surrendered 31.8 points and 391.6 yards per game heading into the contest. Case Keenum threw for just 169 yards and 5.0 yards per attempt. Ben Tate had one yard on seven carries. Andre Johnson caught two of six targets for 36 yards. In a season of missteps, the Texans have finally hit rock bottom.
The one bright spot, though, was the play of rookie running back Dennis Johnson. The Arkansas product ran for 74 yards on 13 carries, and looks like a guy who could be a major factor in the fantasy playoffs. The Texans have no reason to continue running a known commodity like Tate out there in a lost season. They might as well see what the have in Johnson to find out what he can do for them next year. Houston's next four games are against New England, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Denver. All but the Colts are in the top 15 in fantasy points allowed to running backs, with the Jaguars ranking eighth. If Johnson secures the starting gig for the remainder of the season, he'd be a high-end RB3.
Week 12 observations
• Mike Glennon has proved nothing if not opportunistic since taking over as the starter in Tampa Bay. He threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions on Sunday, registering his fourth game with multiple touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. He has taken advantage of his good matchups, posting strong fantasy games against the Falcons twice and Eagles, as well as the Lions. He may not be a rock solid option, or even anything near a reliable starter in traditional leagues, but he may be a factor in two-QB leagues down the stretch. The Buccaneers have great matchups with the Bills and Rams on the horizon, and Glennon will be a surefire starter in two-QB leagues both of those weeks.
• Matt Flynn relieved an ineffective Scott Tolzien on Sunday, throwing for 218 yards and a score in the Packers' 26-26 tie with the Vikings. Aaron Rodgers continues to work his way back from a broken clavicle, but early indications hint at him missing the Thanksgiving Day clash with the Lions. Flynn would likely get the start in that case, and that would make him an intriguing option in two-QB leagues. The Lions allow the eighth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this year, and would have trouble with Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin if their line cannot get pressure on Flynn. You wouldn't want to consider him in traditional leagues, but consider him a solid QB2 next week.
• Placing friendly bets on likely fantasy playoff MVPs? You might want to think about supporting Philip Rivers. The Charger quarterback carved up the once-flawless Chiefs on Sunday, throwing for 392 yards and three touchdowns in San Diego's 41-38 upset victory. It was the best he has played all season, in one of his toughest matchups of the year, and could set the stage for a monster finish. The Chargers play the Giants, Broncos and Raiders during the fantasy playoffs. The Giants are in the middle of the pack for fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but the Broncos and Raiders have surrendered the eighth-most and 11th-most, respectively.
• If Josh McCown gets one more start for an injured Jay Cutler, he would be a top-10 play in Week 13. McCown was effective again for the Bears on Sunday, throwing for 352 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the loss to the Rams. The Bears don't alter the playbook at all with him under center, allowing him to take advantage of weapons like Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. The Bears visit Minnesota next week to take on a Vikings squad that allows the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Whether it's McCown or Cutler, the Bears starting quarterback next week should be universally played in fantasy leagues.
• Alex Smith had his best game of the year on Sunday, throwing for 294 yards, 7.7 YPA and three touchdowns in the Chiefs' loss to the Chargers. While this doesn't change Smith's status in fantasy leagues, it does put a spotlight on just how bad San Diego's pass defense is. The unit has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and has surrendered big games to the likes of Matt Schaub, Terelle Pryor and Jake Locker. Andy Dalton is a great play next week, with the Chargers visiting Cincinnati.
• Matthew Stafford is one of the few quarterbacks who can produce a fun stat line like the one he did this week. He completed 26-of-46 passes for 297 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. None of his three scores went to Calvin Johnson, who had seven receptions for 115 yards. It's games like these that can make Stafford so maddening for real life and fantasy purposes. The matchup with Tampa Bay was in his favor, and while he piled up some nice numbers, the four interceptions put a damper on what could have been a great fantasy day. You will definitely want him in your lineup when the Lions host the Packers on Thanksgiving.
• One final under-the-radar strong quarterback play for the rest of the season is the suddenly hot Carson Palmer, who threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals 40-11 domination of the Colts. Palmer has 733 yards and four scores against zero interceptions in his last two games, and has a nice schedule over the next few weeks. Arizona plays Philadelphia next week and St. Louis Week 14. The Eagles allow the fifth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, while the Rams were just torched by Josh McCown and allowed 327 yards and two touchdowns to Palmer in their first meeting with the Cardinals this season.
• Bobby Rainey and Donald Brown both flopped in their encore performances this week. I wouldn't hold it against either, though. Brown had a terrible matchup with the Cardinals, and once the Colts fell in a deep hole, they had no choice but to eschew the run. He'll be a strong play next week with the Colts hosting the Titans, who have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Rainey, meanwhile, picked up 35 yards on 18 carries against the Lions. He has another daunting task ahead of him in Week 13, when the Buccaneers visit the Panthers. For now, he shouldn't be counted on as anything more than an RB3.
• Jamaal Charles has been the fourth-highest scoring running back this season, and he has done it largely with consistency. He has scored fewer than 10 points just twice this season, but had gone north of 20 points only one time heading into Week 12. He gave his owners a monster day on Sunday, totaling 157 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. He's a prime candidate to be the unofficial fantasy MVP, and likely isn't on many losing fantasy teams.
• After a mostly disappointing first season in Atlanta, Steven Jackson finally had a productive game for his fantasy owners, racking up 79 total yards and a score against the Saints. He got a season-high 16 carries while ceding just four totes to his backups. If you've stuck with Jackson to this point, you may finally be on the verge of a reward. The Falcons play the Redskins and 49ers Week 15 and 16, and those teams have allowed the second-most and 11th-most fantasy points per game, respectively, to running backs.
• Just because Andre Brown had a great matchup against the Cowboys this week, it doesn't make his performance any less impressive. He ran all over the league's most friendly defense to running backs, picking up 127 yards on 21 carries. What's more, he ripped off seven runs of at least 10 yards. Time and again, he picked up yardage in chunks on Sunday. Brown is a top-10 running back next week, as the Giants visit the Redskins, who allow the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
• The song remains the same in Arizona. Andre Ellington got fewer carries than Rashard Mendenhall, while also outplaying him. Ellington had 50 yards on 10 carries, while Mendenhall picked up 54 on 13. Mendenhall, however, got the touchdown, and that gave him the stronger fantasy game of the two. At this point, we'd be foolish to expect Bruce Arians to change his tune with his backs, especially with the Cardinals on a four-game winning streak. Because of that, fantasy owners can't rely on Ellington as anything more than a RB3 for the rest of the season. He's definitely not matchup-proof, though he is a good option against the Eagles next week.
• Josh Gordon was a beast for the Browns on Sunday, catching 14 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. It looks like Jason Campbell will be out for a while, and that means Cleveland would have to turn back to Brandon Weeden. That shouldn't have too detrimental an effect on Gordon. Weeden played most of the game against the Steelers, and Gordon's touchdown came on a pass from the once and former starter. He's a star no matter who is under center.
• Don't get too excited about Tiquan Underwood's 108-yard, two-touchdown game against the Lions. He had an 85-yard score against the Lions, and plays like that are always a bit fluky. In addition, the Lions have surrendered the second-most fantasy points per game to receivers, making this a prime matchup for anyone lined up out wide. The Buccaneers have a very tough matchup in Carolina next week. Underwood shouldn't be anywhere near your lineup.
• Jarrett Boykin continues to produce regardless of who is at the helm for the Packers. He got 10 more targets Sunday, catching five of them for 60 yards and a touchdown. In the three games since Aaron Rodgers' shoulder injury, he has 19 receptions for 263 yards and a score. It goes without saying that he'd be much better with Rodgers healthy, but he looks like a solid weekly play thanks to his increased role in the offense. The Packers visit the Lions on Thanksgiving Day, making Boykin a must-play in Week 13.
• Hey, good to see Mike Wallace show a pulse on Sunday. He finally had a good game with the Dolphins, catching five passes for 127 yards and a score against the Panthers. Wallace was finally able to get behind a defense with regularity, all the more surprising that it was one like Carolina's. Wallace's touchdown was a 57-yard hookup with Ryan Tannehill, and the two just missed hitting on another bomb that would have given the Dolphins a dramatic, last-second win. While he remains far too inconsistent to trust on a regular basis, he has a great matchup next week against a Jets defense that has allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to receivers. Torrey Smith, a player with a skill set similar to Wallace's, had four receptions for 103 yards and a score against the Jets on Sunday.
• Kendall Wright had been trending toward a big game for a few weeks now, and he finally delivered on Sunday. He had six catches for 103 yards and a score against the Raiders. Despite racking up targets and yards, he hadn't scored since Tennessee's Week 2 loss to Houston. He has been relatively steady this year, but has played a touch better with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. In Week 13 the Titans play the Colts, who have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to receivers, and in Week 14 they faces the Broncos, who have surrendered the 13th-most.
• Carson Palmer's aforementioned mini-resurgence has resulted in a pair of strong games for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. While you're starting Fitz no matter what, I have Floyd as a regular starter for the rest of the season. He has 13 catches for 297 yards and a score in the last two weeks, getting hot at the right time of the year for his owners. His matchups the next few weeks aren't great, but Palmer and the Cardinals have developed a nice rhythm on this four-game winning streak. This is as much a bet on them as it is on Floyd. Consider him a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3 for the remainder of the year.
• Victor Cruz was unable to take advantage of a great matchup and the absence of Hakeem Nicks on Sunday, as he caught just two passes for 27 yards against the Cowboys. The elements had something to do with it, but it was extremely disappointing to see Cruz no-show another game when he should have had plenty of chances` to make plays. He's too good to ride the fantasy bench, but he has been one of the bigger busts of the 2013 season. All that said, he has a great matchup with the Redskins, who have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to receivers, next week.
• Julius Thomas was unable to give it a go on Sunday night because of a knee injury. It's early, but he's expected to be back for the Broncos' Week 13 game against the Chiefs.
• Antonio Gates has had a parallel resurgence alongside Philip Rivers this year, but he has really slowed down over the last six weeks. He has scored more than seven fantasy points just once in that stretch, and has only one touchdown since the calendar turned to October. If Gates is your tight end, chances are you won't be able to find a better option. While we have seemingly more choices than ever at the position, few provide any sort of consistency. The good news is that the early-season Gates could be back for the playoffs. The Chargers have great matchups with the Broncos and Raiders Week 15 and 16.
• Speaking of those weekly starters, Jimmy Graham had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. Jason Witten bolstered a lackluster yardage game with two scores. Greg Olsen caught a touchdown pass for the second-straight week. It can always be tempting to go cheap at the tight end position, but that sort of week in, week out reliability is unbeatable currency in fantasy leagues.
• The Steelers have been a sub-par fantasy defense this year, but had a strong game Sunday, forcing four turnovers and totaling five sacks while limiting the Browns to 11 points. If you're looking to stream a defense for the playoffs, they have a decent remaining slate that features the Ravens, Dolphins, Bengals and potentially Rodgers-less Packers.
• Owners of the Chiefs could be looking for another option after their struggles against the Chargers on Sunday. After having some issues against the run over the last few weeks, the Chiefs surrendered 392 yards and three touchdowns to Philip Rivers. They get the Broncos next week, so you'll definitely want to find a replacement, at least for one week.
• The Ravens feature quite possibly the most underappreciated defense in the league this season. Everyone remembers them getting carved up for seven touchdowns by Peyton Manning on opening night, but they have allowed just 11 touchdowns in 10 games since. They absolutely dominated the Jets on Sunday, forcing three turnovers, sacking Geno Smith three times, and holding them to three points. They are a strong play each of the next two weeks, when they play the Steelers and Vikings.
MORE WEEK 13 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
SI STAFF: Weekly Roundtable -- Will Dennis Johnson take over for Ben Tate?
FLOOD: Waiver Wire -- Benny Cunningham could start if Zac Stacy cannot play
McQUADE: Risers, Sliders -- Philip Rivers, Maurice Jones-Drew turn it on in Week 12
BELLER: Early Advice -- It's time to sit Andrew Luck, who's struggling without Reggie Wayne