Eric Mack
Sunday November 6th, 2011

FOXBORO, Mass. -- No one is going to confuse Eli Manning with Tom Brady, particularly us number-crunchers in fantasy circles. Manning just doesn't do it pretty and he doesn't do it all game, or all season.

Sunday was his statement that he belongs on Brady's level perhaps, but only because Brady just isn't as good as Aaron Rodgers. And Manning, well, he is a lot better than he is given credit for (and that includes us in fantasy) but not close to Rodgers either.

"I don't get involved in trying to rank somebody," Manning said after outdueling Brady on the road with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. "I worry about how I play; it's not going to make a difference to me what people say about me."

Manning is smack dab in the second tier of fantasy quarterbacks, even if he boasted this August he belongs in the elite class. He did show he can out-Brady his counterpart with a Super Bowl-esque rally at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

What Manning -- and Brady, for that matter -- does is make a host of people around them a lot better in fantasy. Manning is making a fantasy star out of Victor Cruz (six catches for 90 yards) and a super sleeper out of lumbering tight end Jake Ballard, who reeled in the game-winner.

Manning did it Sunday without his No. 1 receiver, Hakeem Nicks (hamstring), and his No. 1 running back, Ahmad Bradshaw (broken foot), but he made do with a slowed Brandon Jacobs (72 yards rushing and one TD) and some spare parts.

"When Eli and his gang are out there, we don't even get nervous anymore," DE Justin Tuck said about the last drive. "Damn it, Eli is going to get 'em again."

Manning is the anti-Brady. Nothing he does comes easy or ever looks pretty. He isn't Peyton Manning either, but he is still effective. After Brady looked perfect and surgical in driving the Pats for a go-ahead score reeled in by TE Rob Gronkowski, Manning gutted his team to victory in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.

"I'd rather be down by three with 1:30 left, than up three with 1:30 and Tom Brady on the field," Manning admitted.

Even the game-winning touchdown was set up by more of serendipity than anything.

"It was just a throw away," Manning said, as Victor Cruz wasn't targeted as much as overthrown to start over on the next play.

Instead, it was a pass interference call that put the Giants on the 1 and primed for the Manning game-winner to Ballard (four catches, 67 yards).

Sunday's victory won't convince anyone Eli is in Brady's class at quarterback, particularly us in fantasy, but like head coach Tom Coughlin finished with in his postgame news conference afterward: "He is earning every bit of respect he gets."

We break down all this Sunday's action in our weekly Fantasy Football Fast Forward.

• Michael Vick's awful inability to get the ball down field is costing DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin owners dearly. A matchup next week against the Cardinals isn't a time to jump off them, though. The Cardinals are bottom 10 in fantasy against QBs and WRs.

• Brent Celek has been Vick's go-to guy in the middle of the field. It is a lot easier for Vick to flip those short throws over the middle than those stick routes on the outside. Celek is a solid starter again in fantasy.

• The Eagles D/ST could not sack one of the most sackable quaterbacks in the NFL, not a good sign. You still have to keep them active against the Cardinals and John Skelton, though.

• Jay Cutler held up very well against the Eagles defense and he might have rediscovered a go-to threat on the outside in Earl Bennett, who had been banged up earlier this year. Jump on Bennett if you own Devin Hester, Johnny Knox or even Roy Williams.

• Marion Barber vultured a TD and some carries amid Matt Forte's fumble woes, but Barber won't be a viable start against the Lions front next week.

• Antonio Brown continues to progress into a solid fantasy starter. Ben Roethlisberger's career-high yardage pace is a function of the improvement of his supporting cast. Hines Ward might be gone, but Mike Wallace is elite, Heath Miller is still reliable and Brown is emerging as a solid No. 2.

• Rashard Mendenhall posted a touchdown against a tough run defense, so you should have confidence in using him in a crucial game against the Bengals next week.

• Joe Flacco was impressive late and has developed rookie Torrey Smith into a solid fantasy starter to complement Anquan Boldin. Flacco should be a solid option for fantasy owners next week at Seattle.

• The Steelers and Ravens D/STs should be considered must-starts here on out. Their schedules are not imposing at all down the stretch. Save for the Steelers on bye in Week 11, you don't have to own another defense if you have either of these units.

• The Pats fall again because they fail to establish the running game against a defense that had been suspect against it. BenJarvus Green-Ellis disappointed again and wasn't involved in most of the fast-paced action in the fourth quarter. Danny Woodhead was a part of that, with Kevin Faulk missing the game with an injury. None of the Pats backs are good plays against the Jets next week, even if BGE was great against the Jets last time.

• Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were all clutch for Brady and fantasy owners in the second half. They are all must-starts regardless of the matchup. The same cannot be said for the shutdown Deion Branch and almost non-existent Chad Ochocino. Ochocinco got some targets late but it was almost comical how badly Brady missed him on his routes. With Brady's history of brilliance you have to assume the fault lies in Ochocinco's routes. Don't dare use Branch or Ochocinco against the Jets next week. They have lockdown corners that don't cover Welker, Gronkowski or Hernandez as much.

• Jacobs was solid as the primary back with Bradshaw out, but he should not be used against the best team in fantasy vs. RBs (the 49ers) next week.

• Ballard has emerged as a significant threat for Manning and a useful starter for fantasy owners. He has been a seam-buster that helps draw coverage off Mario Manningham, Cruz and Nicks. Ballard is also a huge target in the red zone.

• There is no question Rodgers is the No. 1 QB in fantasy. He was unstoppable against a pretty good Chargers secondary, throwing for four scores to four different receivers. All of the Packers top four fantasy threats got in the end zone, although the TD was the lone catch for James Jones.

• As we wrote Friday, this was a breakout game for Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson, even if Rivers tried to give away the game early with a pair of pick-sixes. Rivers has Eli Manning bad mojo this year, throwing for scores but turning the ball over way too much to win. Rivers and Jackson should remain active in all leagues.

• Antonio Gates had his best game of the season, mostly because garbage time helped him avoid the double coverage and safety help he normally gets.

• Mike Tolbert was surprisingly productive against an elite run defense. His numbers will get cut down when Ryan Mathews returns to action, though.

• James Starks has seemingly wrested feature back status from Ryan Grant. Starks will be a solid start against the Vikings next week.

• Andy Dalton is a lot better than anyone gave him credit for coming into the season. He was outstanding leading the Bengals to a fifth consecutive victory. He threw three touchdowns and has made rookie WR A.J. Green a top-10 option at his position. Dalton did this damage without Jermaine Gresham again, too. The next two weeks against the Steelers and Ravens will be a bad time to jump on the Dalton bandwagon, though. Gear up for his Week 12 tilt vs. the Browns!

• Cedric Benson returned well from the bye and suspension, but he too will be a bad play the next couple of weeks. Bernard Scott has gone back to being a non-factor and isn't worth owning for the next couple of weeks, much less starting. You should feel confident cutting Scott.

• Chris Johnson was better but still not good. He at least outplayed Javon Ringer and will remain the Titans starter. C.J.'s matchup against the Panthers next week is another chance to start him. He showed enough and the Panthers are among the worst in fantasy against RBs.

• Matt Hasselbeck was able to spread the ball around and play pretty well against a solid Bengals defense, but none of his newfound targets are worth owning in fantasy. Nate Washington was outplayed by Lavelle Hawkins, Jared Cook and Damian Williams, but Washington is still the WR to use in fantasy if you're using a Titan.

• You cannot bury Tim Tebow, even if you cannot stomach his passing (10 for 24). He picked up 118 rushing yards and a pair of passing scores against a suspect Raiders defense. He at least didn't make the mistakes Carson Palmer made again (another three picks). Tebow is going to be a sleeper play on the road again against the Chiefs next Sunday.

• Willis McGahee is playing with one arm, but he is playing great for fantasy owners. The favorable matchup should have helped you start him and he rewarded your faith with 163 yards and two long TD runs. Knowshon Moreno in backup duty is completely worthless again.

• Eric Decker and Eddie Royal each reeled in a Tebow TD pass somehow. Decker clearly is the Broncos WR to consider in fantasy. Royal, who also had a huge punt return TD in the game, could be a sleeper if you want to stash someone. Royal's wheels are back, apparently.

• Palmer failed to get the bail to Darrius Heyward-Bey and has made things tough on us in fantasy all over again. Jacoby Ford re-emerged with a big game. This might be a case of personal preference carrying Ford into fantasy pertinence merely because Palmer chooses him in split-second decisions down the field.

• Michael Bush was solid in a favorable matchup but he might not be a good start against the Chargers, who sorely need a victory. Darren McFadden (foot) could return next week, too.

• Beanie Wells laid an egg in what was supposed to be his best matchup of the year. You can still start him next week against the Eagles (as long as he is healthy).

• Sam Bradford returned and helped give the Rams offense some life outside of linchpin (fantasy must-start) Steven Jackson. Bradford should continue to improve and make Brandon Lloyd, rookie Greg Salas and maybe even Brandon Gibson better fantasy choices down the stretch.

• Early Doucet was busy with John Skelton at QB. That is noteworthy because you can be sure Larry Fitzgerald is going to draw Nnamdi Asomugha and maybe even safety help next week. Doucet could be a sleeper in deeper leagues, particularly as Skelton's secondary target of choice.

• Matt Ryan finally showed his value for fantasy owners. Your patience will pay off with him down the stretch, especially because Julio Jones looks so legit opposite Roddy White. Jones just might be the rare must-start rookie WR. The Falcons help us out considerably by focusing their targets on White, Tony Gonzalez and Jones. It leaves out the guesswork and allows us to start all three on an every-week basis.

• The Colts offense continues to spiral into the abyss. Delone Carter laid an egg, despite getting the start, and only Donald Brown in relief was productive for fantasy owners. It won't be any better next Sunday against the Jags before a bye week. You are justified cutting any of your Colts, or trading the ones someone else actually wants.

• Jacquizz Rodgers showed a bit in relief for the first time. It sets him up well if anything happens to the aged and heavily worked Michael Turner down the stretch. Rodgers could be one of the best handcuffs to have in the second half. The carries have to catch up to Turner eventually, right?

• Dallas Clark left with a leg injury, which might at least make it a no-brainer to sit him going forward. We had been tempted to use him more recently, to disappointing results.

• The Jets defense rebounded with a great showing against one of the hotter offenses in the NFL. The Jets are not a great play against the potent Pats, even at home, next Sunday.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick should no longer be considered a viable fantasy starting quarterback, even if this was the Jets. He faces another tough defense on the road at Dallas next week.

• Fred Jackson has another solid run defense coming up, but he showed well enough here and has been your fantasy MVP. You keep him active.

• Shonn Greene was good but not great here. It was discouraging to see the goal-line scores go to not only LaDainian Tomlinson on a dive but also fullback John Connor.

• Mark Sanchez wasn't great, but his receivers, mostly Plaxico Burress and TE Dustin Keller, gave him hope for a great matchup against the maligned Pats secondary next week. Sanchez didn't make good on his Week 9 promise against the Bills, but you can take a chance on him again against the Pats.

• Joe McKnight did indeed get more touches, but he still won't be a viable fantasy option with Green and L.T. healthy.

• We have found something with Roy Helu here. He started over Ryan Torain and figures to hold the job going forward. He wasn't great on the ground against the best run defense in the NFL, but he starred as a receiver out of the backfield -- a second great sign.

• Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree still are not great producers for fantasy owners, but they really haven't had to be. The good news is Alex Smith has proved to be a sound game manager. The matchup against the Giants should force you to keep Davis and Crabtree active. The Giants have been great against tight ends, but their secondary in general isn't that threatening.

• Kendall Hunter took a larger chunk of carries but not enough to keep Frank Gore from being a must-start. Hunter is going to be another important handcuff in the second half of this season, especially considering Gore's injury history and the 49ers' focus on the run.

• Pierre Thomas found the end zone again, but with Mark Ingram likely back next week and the run-stuffing Falcons on the schedule, you won't want to be trusting him in most leagues. Chris Ivory did most of the mop-up work that will fall to Thomas in future weeks.

• Robert Meachem no longer looks like he is worth owning in fantasy. He has fallen too far behind Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and perhaps even Devery Henderson.

• LeGarrette Blount didn't have a great game for fantasy owners, but he at least proved healthy. He is back to being a must-start in most leagues, regardless of the matchup.

• Kellen Winslow failed to do anything again until very late, despite our proclamations he would come alive. If not for his late touchdown, we could have viewed that as a last straw. There are far more productive tight ends around the league right now, but few have the potential Winslow has.

• Miles Austin (hamstring) was off to a solid start before injury knocked him out. It helped keep Laurent Robinson productive opposite Dez Bryant because of a TD reception. Jason Witten woke up as expected, too, even if Tony Romo remained a mediocre fantasy QB.

• DeMarco Murray was outstanding again against a pretty good Seahawks run defense. He has earned the starting job and figures to relegate Felix Jones to third downs and part-time status once healthy. Murray is a must-start against the Bills in Week 10.

• Marshawn Lynch was one of the worst calls of the week by this writer. He torched a good Cowboys run defense with 135 yards and extended an NFL-long scoring streak. Lynch won't be a great play against the Ravens run defense next week, but his consistency scoring at least makes him viable.

• Tarvaris Jackson was at his worst against a revived Cowboys defense. Consider the Cowboys a must-have fantasy defense again.

• With Andre Johnson (hamstring) still out, Matt Schaub didn't muster much, but he didn't have to. Arian Foster and Ben Tate carried the day with a pair of 100-yard games. Both look like viable starts at Tampa Bay next Sunday, even without byes affecting fantasy lineups.

• Chris Ogbonnaya 15 minutes of fame never really took hold. He is a low-end fantasy option even if Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty remain out, but that Week 9 matchup against the Rams' weak run defense looks real intriguing.

• Josh Cribbs has emerged as the Browns' go-to receiver. Colt McCoy won't do much, but he can make Cribbs a sleeper in deeper leagues if you need a receiver. Ben Watson has slowed considerably in recent weeks, mostly because McCoy just isn't making any progress.

• The Texans' defense has become a solid fantasy option.

• Daniel Thomas played but was thoroughly outplayed by the revived Reggie Bush. The Dolphins have a much easier game coming up next week at home against the Redskins. Things are suddenly looking up for your Dolphins, especially with the improvement of Matt Moore under center. Moore isn't quite a useful fantasy option, but he at least makes Brandon Marshall a must-start. Having a running game certainly helps.

• The Dolphins defense played great here and can be a sleeper in deeper formats against the woeful Redskins offense.

• Jonathan Baldwin laid an egg after his breakout game, but Matt Cassel has at least made a productive fantasy WR out of Steve Breaston opposite Dwayne Bowe. Breaston is a solid starter option against the Broncos next week.

• Jackie Battle wasn't good, but his Broncos matchup should get him active in all leagues next Sunday. The Dolphins have been good against the run of late. The Broncos have not.

• Michael Vick's awful inability to get the ball downfield is costing DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin owners dearly. A matchup next week against the Cardinals isn't a time to jump off them, though. The Cardinals are bottom 10 in fantasy against QBs and WRs.

• Brent Celek has been Vick's go-to guy in the middle of the field. It is a lot easier for Vick to flip those short throws over the middle than those stick routes on the outside. Celek is a solid starter again in fantasy.

• The Eagles D/ST could not sack one of the most sackable quarterbacks in the NFL, which is not a good sign. You still have to keep this unit active against the Cardinals and John Skelton, though.

• Jay Cutler held up very well against the Eagles defense and he might have rediscovered a go-to threat on the outside in Earl Bennett, who had been banged up earlier this year. Jump on Bennett if you own Devin Hester, Johnny Knox or even Roy Williams.

• Marion Barber vultured a TD and some carries amid Matt Forte's fumble woes, but Barber won't be a viable start against the Lions front next week.

• Antonio Brown continues to progress into a solid fantasy starter. Ben Roethlisberger's career-high yardage pace is a function of the improvement of his supporting cast. Hines Ward might be gone, but Mike Wallace is elite, Heath Miller is still reliable and Brown is emerging as a solid No. 2.

• Rashard Mendenhall posted a touchdown against a tough run defense, so you should have confidence in using him in a crucial game against the Bengals next week.

• Joe Flacco was impressive late and has developed rookie Torrey Smith into a solid fantasy starter to complement Anquan Boldin. Flacco should be a solid option for fantasy owners next week at Seattle.

• The Steelers and Ravens D/STs should be considered must-starts here on out. Their schedules are not imposing at all down the stretch. Save for the Steelers on bye in Week 11, you don't have to own another defense if you have either of these units.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List and his Sunday night staple: Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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