People magazine runs an annual feature on the 25 most intriguing people of the year. Barbara Walters hosts an annual special on the 10 most fascinating people of the year. Borrowing People’s adjective and Babs’ number, we offer you the 10 most intriguing fantasy football performers of the week. This is a subjective list, of course. It might not include some of the players most intriguing to you personally. But for one reason or another, a great many fantasy owners are anxious to see how these players fare in their upcoming games.
1. Aaron Rodgers at Minnesota Vikings
The Packers' recent offensive struggles are almost unfathomable. Sure, it's understandable that the Green Bay offense would be less effective after Jordy Nelson tore his ACL this preseason, but still. Over their last three games they’ve been able to move the ball effectively only when they’ve been in desperation mode – and sometimes not even then. Yards per pass attempt is a telling stat, and Rodgers’ current 7.25 YPA is the lowest of his eight-year tenure as a starter, nearly a full yard below his career mark of 8.14.
So, what’s the problem? Randall Cobb and the rest of the Green Bay pass catchers haven’t been able to consistently separate from defenders. The running game has struggled, putting Rodgers in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The offensive line hasn’t played up to its usual standards. Head coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to relinquish play-calling responsibilities may have been a mistake. And Rodgers himself isn’t blameless. He’s been strangely unwilling to throw into tight coverage at times. (Perhaps Alex Smith was contagious when he and Rodgers exchanged a postgame handshake back in September.)
Rodgers and the Packers had better fix some of their myriad problems in time for Sunday’s critical divisional showdown in Minnesota. Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his last four games against the Vikings, but Minnesota’s pass defense has been solid this season, allowing only 11 touchdown passes in nine games.
2. Mark Sanchez vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Now that we’ve gotten it out the way, let’s have a serious discussion about Sanchez, who’ll make his first start of the season Sunday in place of the injured Sam Bradford.
Sanchez averaged 277.3 passing yards over his eight starts for the Eagles last season, with 12 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He produced 19 or more fantasy points in four of those games. Jordan Matthews owners—a disgruntled group these days—should note that all three of Matthew’s 100-yard games last season and six of his eight touchdown catches came with Sanchez at quarterback. Sanchez has a favorable matchup this week against a Buccaneers defense that has allowed 19 touchdown passes and has a dreadful opponent passer rating of 102.5. Sanchez isn’t a bad option for fantasy owners streaming quarterbacks in Week 11.
3. Danny Amendola vs. Buffalo Bills
The short passing game is the lifeblood of the Patriots’ offense, and after losing key contributors Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman to major injuries over the last two weeks, the Patriots need Amendola to provide a transfusion. Amendola will now play a critical role for New England, and he’s capable of doing a reasonable Edelman impersonation. Edelman had been targeted on 23.8 percent of Tom Brady’s throws this season. Amendola has been targeted on 13% of Brady’s throws. It’s reasonable to think that something close to a quarter of Brady’s throws will now go to Amendola, which should make the diminutive receiver a golden ticket in PPR leagues, especially when you consider that Amendola has caught 69.1% of his targets during his three years with the Pats.
There are two concerns with Amendola. One is that he doesn’t provide many high-impact catches. He’s averaged only 9.3 yards per catch over his career and 10.2 yards per catch with the Patriots, and he’s never had more than three touchdown catches in any of his seven NFL seasons. The other is health. Granted, he hasn’t missed a game since 2013. But over his career, Amendola has missed time with groin, shoulder, foot, head and elbow injuries.
4. Tony Romo at Miami Dolphins
Thank goodness Romo will return to action Sunday so that we can all get back to debating the existential question of whether or not he’s clutch. But seriously, Romo’s return brings a needed glimmer of hope to the Cowboys, who went 0–7 while their starting QB was mending a broken clavicle yet remain alive (if only just barely) in the ragged NFC East.
From a fantasy perspective, there’s no reason for owners to be nervous about using Romo in his first game back. He may have a thin coating of rust, but he’ll have his full complement of weapons, including voluble but voluminous WR Dez Bryant, and he’ll be facing a mediocre Miami defense that’s giving up 7.9 yards per pass attempt. It’s possible the Cowboys will try to protect Romo by going run-heavy, which also makes some tactical sense, given that the Dolphins’ run defense has been even worse than their pass defense. But the Cowboys can’t afford to be overly conservative unless they jump out to a huge lead, since a loss would be ruinous to their faint playoff hopes.
5. Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay Packers
The Vikings have piled a lot onto Peterson’s plate this season, but he’s gobbled it all up and is going back for seconds. Peterson has a league-high 195 carries, which is 26 more than the next-busiest running back, Jonathan Stewart, and works out to 21.7 carries per game. AP has an NFL-high 961 rushing yards, 227 yards ahead of second-place Chris Johnson. Peterson and Todd Gurley are the only running backs in the league averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game.
With 203 yards against the Raiders last weekend—the highest single-game rushing total in the NFL this season—Peterson has run for 431 yards in his last three games, averaging 5.7 yards per carry over that span. Minnesota leads the NFL North by a game over slumping Green Bay and could extend their division lead with a win over the Packers on Sunday. In 14 career games against the Packers, Peterson has run for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry
6. Demaryius Thomas at Chicago Bears
The benching of Peyton Manning is huge NFL news, but the implications to the fantasy game are relatively minor, since most Manning owners stopped using a while ago (or perhaps even dropped him), and there doesn’t figure to be a great deal of fantasy interest in Manning’s replacement, Brock Osweiler. What matters, though, is the impact the QB change has on Denver’s two most significant fantasy performers: Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
As badly as Manning has struggled this season, Thomas is nevertheless on pace for 121 receptions, which would be a career high. But after putting up double-digit touchdown totals in each of the last three seasons, Thomas has only one TD catch this year. He’s also averaging a career-low 12.0 yards per catch. Blasphemous as this may be, Manning’s absence may be a good thing for Thomas and his fantasy owners. Osweiler is apt to lean heavily on Thomas, particularly if Sanders is out this week with a concussion and an ankle injury. And heaven knows Osweiler has more arm strength than Manning—as does the delivery boy who tossed your newspaper into your driveway this morning. One concern about the Osweiler-to-Thomas connection this week: The Broncos visit Chicago, and Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase are intimately familiar with Osweiler from their Denver days and will endeavor to exploit the young quarterback’s weaknesses.
7. A.J. Green at Arizona Cardinals
Green and the Bengals are no doubt eager to get the acrid taste of Monday night’s home loss to the Texans out of their mouths, and a road win over the 7–2 Cardinals would quickly restore their roar. The Bengals trailed the Texans 10–-6 late in the fourth quarter Monday and had moved the ball into Houston territory when Green coughed up a fumble to kill Cincinnati’s comeback hopes. He finished with five catches for 67 yards on a night when the Bengals’ offense was curiously out of sync.
Green’s numbers—55 catches for 769 yards and four TDs—aren't bad. He ranks 11th in receptions and eighth in receiving yardage. But Green has had a couple of monster performances—10 catches for 227 yards and two TDs against Baltimore in Week 3, and 11 catches for 118 yards and a TD against the Steelers in Week 8—and a whole bunch of “meh” performances. He’s been held under 80 receiving yards in six of nine games this season, and he’s scored only one TD in his last six games. Green faces a tough matchup this week against Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson, who always does a fine job of shadowing the opponent’s top receiver.
8. Allen Robinson vs. Tennessee Titans
Just 22 years old, Robinson has become one of the league’s most dependable receivers in his second pro season. He has seven TD catches, including five over his last five games. The Jaguars WR is on pace to finish with more than 1,300 receiving yards and is averaging a hearty 16.8 yards per catch.
The Jaguars may need to lean heavily on Robinson when they host the Titans on Thursday night in a game that has major implications on a down-and-dirty divisional tussle in the AFC South. WR Allen Hurns is dealing with a sports hernia, and RB T.J. Yeldon was in a walking boot earlier in the week with a foot injury, though both are expected to play Thursday. The Titans have some injury issues of their own, which could work to Robinson’s fantasy benefit. Tennessee just placed CB Jason McCourty on injured reserve with a groin injury, and starting CB Perrish Cox has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury and might not be ready to return.
9. Matt Jones at Carolina Panthers
There was rampant fantasy enthusiasm for Jones back in September after he gashed the Rams for 123 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 2. But the rookie third-round pick from Florida couldn’t sustain the momentum, rushing for only 125 yards over his next five games (with an average of 2.55 yards per carry), and was widely dropped by his owners.
Jones rekindled interest last week with a huge game against the Saints in which he totaled 187 yards from scrimmage and had a 78-yard catch-and-run TD. But, uh, about the Saints’ defense ... it’s made a lot of opponents look good this season. There should have been circus music to accompany the Saints’ effort on Jones’ touchdown. (New Orleans CB Brandon Browner actually eschewed an opportunity to tackle Jones to instead take a cheap shot at Redskins guard Spencer Long.) Can Jones make hay against a tough defense? Well, the St. Louis defense that he chewed up in Week 2 is a good one, and Jones will be tested by a tough Carolina defense Sunday in Charlotte.
The more vexing concern with Jones: his workload. He’s been sharing time with Alfred Morris and Chris Thompson all season. It seems only logical that the Redskins would start to phase out Morris, who’s been ineffective this year and is in the final year of his contract. But of course, logic and the Redskins organization are only fleetingly acquainted.
10. Delanie Walker at Jacksonville Jaguars
After spending seven seasons as a backup to Vernon Davis in San Francisco, Walker is now one of the more dependable tight ends in fantasy football. He ranks sixth among TEs in receiving yardage and is tied for sixth in receptions despite missing a game with a wrist injury early in the year. Walker had a career season in 2014, with 63 catches for 890 yards and four TDs, but he’s actually on pace to improve on those numbers across the board.
Walker could be a key cog in the Tennessee offense Thursday night when the Titans face the Jaguars in what’s suddenly a significant contest in the up-for-grabs AFC South. The Titans lost WR Justin Hunter to a broken ankle last season and might continue to be without the services of WR Kendall Wright, who has a sprained MCL. If Wright remains out, the Titans’ top three receivers will be talented but green rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, the unremarkable Harry Douglas and the anonymous Rico Richardson, which means that rookie QB Marcus Mariota may need to rely heavily on his 31-year-old tight end.