This has been a special season for Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and all his fantasy owners. Murray didn’t waste any time, either, kicking off the year with a 118-yard, one-touchdown effort in a loss to the 49ers in Week 1. It would be a full two months before a team held him under 100 yards. Through the first four weeks of the season, he had 534 yards and five touchdowns. At the halfway point, he was up to 1,054 yards. He never hit a rough patch all season, carrying his owners to fantasy success through the fall and into the winter.
Murray kept right on rolling in the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. He carved up the hapless Bears to the tune of a season high 179 rushing yards, nine catches, 49 receiving yards and one touchdown. He had just 81 yards on 31 carries last week against the Eagles, but he found the end zone twice, giving him a total of 49.2 points in standard-scoring leagues thus far in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for his owners, Murray may not score another fantasy point this season. After getting so many of his owners one win away from the pinnacle of fantasy achievement, Murray may force them to summit the mountain without him.
Murray is questionable for this week’s game with a broken bone in his hand. Murray was able to take part in team and individual drills this week, but he’s looking like a true game-time decision for the Cowboys’ matchup with the Colts. You can read the tea leaves -- from the beat writers in Dallas speculating he won’t play, to Marshall Faulk stating the same injury once cost him three games -- and surmise he won’t be out there Sunday, but tea leaves are just a touch unsatisfying with a fantasy championship on the line. Unfortunately for Murray owners, CBS has predictably slated a game of his magnitude for a 4:25 ET kickoff, meaning most will have to make a call on him before they know for sure if he will be active. So how, exactly, should Murray owners handle this nightmare situation?
If you were able to snag Joseph Randle, then the best course of action is likely to wait it out until the end to see who gets the start. Randle will share the workload with Lance Dunbar, but he has been working with the first team in practice with Murray limited. If you have that kind of insurance policy, you want to give yourself the opportunity to have Murray in your lineup if he is able to play. Other running backs who play late and are strong enough fantasy backups to wait for official word on Murray include Tre Mason, Andre Williams, Fred Jackson, Latavius Murray, Dan Herron and Giovani Bernard. All of those guys, especially Jackson and Mason, are worth starting in their own right. The point here, though, is if you can play one of them in place of Murray, you should definitely wait for the Dallas inactives list to be available.
It’s a whole lot trickier if you didn’t handcuff Murray with Randle or Dunbar, or don’t have one of those other late-game backs on your roster. If your Murray replacement is a top-20 option this week, then he becomes too great a risk. The guarantee of a top-20 back is a better, smarter play than crossing your fingers and hoping Murray will be active. If your Murray replacement, however, is someone like Alfonso Smith or Terrance West, then get those fingers crossed. Players that far down the totem pole aren’t good enough to start before getting a concrete answer on Murray’s status.
One final tip for Murray owners this week: Move him into a flex spot in your lineup, if possible. That’ll give you more positional flexibility if and when you have to slide him to your bench.
And now on to the rest of the last-minute news you need in the Championship Week edition of the Cheat Sheet.
Keystone State quarterbacks may remind you of the Keystone Cops
Well, maybe not the Keystone Cops, but the narrative device was on a tee and couldn’t be passed up. The point is that both Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Sanchez could disappoint their owners this week.
Roethlisberger is the No. 6 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues, though he’s still buoyed by his back-to-back six-touchdown games. In the 12 games in which he did not throw for six scores, Roethlisberger has a total of 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The 12th-ranked quarterback by points per game is putting up 17.8 points in an average contest. Roethlisberger has been south of that total eight times this year. In other words, he isn’t as reliable or consistent as a cursory glance at his season-long numbers would suggest.
Moreover, the Chiefs have been very tough against the pass this season. They have allowed the seventh-fewest points to quarterbacks, surrendering just 6.17 yards per attempt and 21 touchdowns. The Chiefs have the league’s fourth-best pass rush and third-best pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. They’re also terrible against the run, allowing 5.1 yards per carry to backs and ranking 28th in rush defense by Pro Football Focus’ metrics. Le’Veon Bell is going to be the Steeler to dominate in this game. Roethlisberger checks in at the back end of the QB1 class.
Sanchez, meanwhile, has a great matchup on Saturday afternoon just outside the nation’s capital. Washington has allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks this season, giving up 8.16 yards per attempt and 31 touchdowns, while intercepting just five passes. Despite the matchup, there are some red flags surrounding Sanchez. Or, to be more accurate, Sanchez himself is a red flag.
Chip Kelly’s offense has hidden some of Sanchez’s flaws, but his numbers really are not very impressive in the wake of Nick Foles’ injury. In six starts, Sanchez has 7.71 yards per attempt, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has come up short of that 17.8-point mark in four of those games. In one of the two games he scored as a top-10 quarterback he had a rushing touchdown, which is an anomaly for him. Sanchez keeps getting a pass because of the fantasy community’s faith in Philadelphia’s offense, but at some point he’s going to have to earn our trust on merit.
The matchup, as well as the presence of some real playmakers, makes Sanchez an attractive play this week. If I had another option I was confident would post top-12 numbers, however, I’d lean in that direction.
R(edemption)G(ame)III loses the Embattled Quarterback Championship belt, will celebrate Sunday
It’s hard to believe, but we have reached a point of the season when Robert Griffin looks at another quarterback and thinks, “Man, do I feel bad for him.” Jay Cutler has ended Griffin’s reign as the most maligned quarterback in the league, and that weight being off Washington’s new-old-new starter will help him ascend to dizzying heights this week.
Like the other quarterback in this game who I just got done selling, Griffin has a great matchup. The difference is I’m buying his ability to make the Eagles pay. They’ve allowed the third-most points to quarterbacks this year, and they’ve gotten to that point by being equal opportunity non-defenders. Sure anyone, such as the Bears, who have allowed the most points to quarterbacks, can get carved up by Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. It takes an especially inept defense to fall victim to the quarterbacks who have torched the Eagles this year. Kirk Cousins, Colin Kaepernick, Austin Davis, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Zach Mettenberger have all scored at least 20 points, in standard-scoring leagues, against the Eagles. Chad Henne -- Chad Henne! -- ranked 13th at the quarterback position in Week 1, when he threw for 266 yards and two scores in Philadelphia. He lost his job to Blake Bortles two weeks later.
Griffin had his best game of the season a week ago, which may be a low bar to clear, but is still reason for optimism. He threw for 236 yards, 8.74 yards per attempt and one touchdown. He also ran for 46 yards on five carries and would have had a rushing score if he didn’t lose control of the ball on his way into the end zone. The Eagles have allowed five quarterbacks to run for at least 30 yards this season. In their games against two of the league’s premier runners from the quarterback position, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, they looked particularly hapless. Kaepernick picked up 58 yards on seven carries, while Wilson had 48 yards and a touchdown on 10 runs.
This is a great matchup for Griffin, who has two more games this year to prove he is who we thought he was his rookie year. It’s a standalone game on Saturday afternoon, as well, so the whole football-watching public will have its eyes on him. People will be watching him lift the courageous fantasy owners among us to championships.
Pierre Thomas -- The Saints rediscovered their screen game last week with Thomas catching five passes for 83 yards in their drubbing of the Bears. The Falcons present him with another great opportunity this week. They’ve allowed 80 receptions and 719 receiving yards to running backs, both of which are the third-highest totals in the league. Thomas should have a significant role in the New Orleans offense this week. The over/under is 56, and these two teams combined for 71 points in their first meeting. You want nearly everyone in this game in your lineup, Thomas included.
Donte Moncrief -- It’s looking more and more likely that T.Y. Hilton will not play this week because of a hamstring. It’s really the only sensible move, given that the Colts are locked into the playoffs and almost certainly not unseating the Patriots or Broncos for one of the top two seeds in the AFC. Moncrief should take over as the de facto No. 1 receiver, and that’s a very lucrative spot with Andrew Luck under center. Moncrief is a top-25 receiver, despite a goose egg a week ago.
LeGarrette Blount -- Blount was huge in his first two games with the Patriots, running for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He has slowed down over the last two, however, and picked up just 17 yards on eight carries a week ago. He has a tough matchup with the Jets this week and could be phased out with the Patriots featuring the pass against one of the league’s worst pass coverage units. He’s no better than a low-end RB3.
DeAndre Hopkins -- I’m in the minority on this one, but I want no part of Hopkins, despite the great matchup with the Ravens. Why? Well, his quarterback was on a different team’s practice squad at this time one week ago, for starters. I’m not trusting Hopkins in my lineup for championship week with Case Keenum at the helm, especially since he is also nursing an ankle injury and is questionable for Sunday.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
• No significant injuries.
San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
• Ryan Mathews (ankle) and Keenan Allen (collarbone) have already been ruled out.
• Frank Gore is questionable due to a concussion he suffered last week. He was limited in practice on Friday. Expect Alfonso Smith to be involved, but Gore could shoulder the load with Carlos Hyde (ankle) out. Michael Crabtree is listed as questionable with a knee injury, but should not be on your radar.
Sunday's early games
Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers
• DeAngelo Wiliams is questionable with the hand injury that has kept him out for each of the last two weeks. Jonathan Stewart makes a strong RB2 again this week.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
• No significant injuries.
Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans
• DeAndre Hopkins didn’t practice all week because of an ankle injury. Running mate Andre Johnson is listed as probable as he recovers from a concussion. Neither is a strong play with Case Keenum under center. Arian Foster (hip) was a full participant in practice on Friday and is listed as probable.
Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins
• Charles Clay (hamstring) was limited in Friday’s practice but is listed as probable. He’s fallen too far in the tight end rankings to trust this week.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
• Julio Jones did not practice all week because of his hip injury and is listed as questionable. He’s considered a true game-time decision. If he plays, get him in your lineup. If he doesn’t, Harry Douglas is a strong WR2.
New England Patriots at New York Jets
• As is their wont, the Patriots have listed Julian Edelman (thigh), Brandon LaFell (shoulder), Shane Vereen (ankle) and LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) as questionable. All are expected to play.
• Chris Johnson (knee) was a full participant in practice on Friday and is expected to play. He’s a low-end RB2.
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
• Jamaal Charles (knee, ankle) participated fully in practice on Friday and is a go for Sunday. He may cede more touches than usual to Knile Davis, but you’re obviously playing him with confidence. Dwayne Bowe is questionable because of an illness. He’s not relevant in fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
• No significant injuries.
New York Giants at St. Louis Rams
• Rashad Jennings is out because of his ankle injury. Andre Williams is a low-end RB2 or flex play.
Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys
• T.Y. Hilton didn’t practice all week due to his hamstring injury and is looking unlikely to play. Unless you have an insurance policy who also plays late, you should go in another direction.
• The DeMarco Murray situation is looming over the fantasy community, as he is listed as questionable with his broken hand. The latest word out of Dallas is that he is expected to play. For the longer treatment on the Murray situation, see the intro to this column.=
Buffalo Bills at Oakland Raiders
• No significant injuries.
Sunday Night Football
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
• Larry Fitzgerald (knee) is probable, but you can’t trust anyone in the Arizona passing game with Ryan Lindley at the helm.
Monday Night Football
Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals
• The official injury report for this game is not out, but there are not expected to be any injuries with fantasy relevance.