Fantasy Football Early Advice: Jaw-dropping performances galore

Monday December 2nd, 2013

Eric Decker (87) has been solid this season, but his performance in Week 13 was truly a star turn.
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The Bears' Alshon Jeffery had 12 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Amazingly, he was not the highest-scoring receiver for the week.

Cleveland's Josh Gordon had 10 grabs for 261 yards and two scores of his own. He, too, was not the weekly leader in fantasy points at the wide receiver position.

No, that honor went to Eric Decker, who had eight receptions for 174 yards and four touchdowns in Denver's 35-28 win over Kansas City. Decker hadn't topped 7.1 points in a game since Week 7, when he had 150 yards and hit paydirt against the Colts. He did what he could this week to make up for that with his owners in what was the final week of the regular season in most leagues.

It wasn't just receivers having all the fun in this crucial fantasy week. Adrian Peterson ran for 211 yards on 35 carries. Reggie Bush had 182 total yards and a score on Thanksgiving. Peyton Manning threw for 403 yards and five touchdowns. While consistency is a value prized by fantasy owners, explosive performances like the ones listed above generally win weeks. Go ahead and take a look at the teams in your league with at least one of these six guys. You're not going to find very many losers. There are multiple ways to get it done in fantasy leagues, but there's no substitute for your studs coming through for you when it matters most. That's exactly what these six did this week.

Let's get to the rest of the Week 13 news and how it might impact Week 14.

The Good

The New England offense is back.

Thanks to a handful of acquisitions in the offseason and a slew of injuries in the first few weeks, the Patriots' offense looked quite un-Bradylike for most of the first half of the season. It has gotten healthy recently, however, and has put up three huge games in the last four weeks. Tom Brady and company took the comeback show to Houston in Week 13, where Brady tossed 371 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 34-31 win. Rob Gronkowski had six catches for 127 yards and a score while Julian Edelman reeled in nine passes for 101 yards.

Most importantly for owners of anyone on this offense, the unit has finally looked like the one we've come to rely on over the years in its last few games. Brady is getting tons of time behind the line, allowing his receivers to get open down the field. He's not zeroing in on one receiver, yet he's producing huge games out of a couple pass catchers every week. Even the old reliable running back mixed bag is up and running again, with Stevan Ridley in the doghouse, Shane Vereen catching passes at an impressive clip and generic running back X, this year played by LeGarrette Blount, popping up when you least expect him. We know these Patriots. We like them if they're on our team, and fear them if they're not. And it appears that they are back.

The one red flag for the remaining of the season, though, is their schedule. They have the Browns, Dolphins and Ravens on tap, all above-average defenses that have done well against the pass this year.

The Bad

After being one of the league's best defenses all year, the Chiefs have struggled mightily on their current three-game losing streak, particularly in the last two weeks. In surrendering 86 points to the Chargers and Broncos combined, the Chiefs allowed 922 yards, 49 first downs and 10 touchdowns while getting just one sack and two takeaways. Of course neither of these were prime matchups, but the Chiefs had appeared to be a matchup-proof team earlier this season, and that clearly is not true.

I'm here to tell you not to jump ship on them. Their matchups during the playoffs are no worse than neutral, and they're likely favorable. The Colts look like the best offense they'll face the rest of the year, and they're not exactly setting the league on fire. The Chiefs play the Redskins next week and Raiders in Week 15, two plus matchups. They may not have looked it on Sunday, but Kansas City is ready to be that dominant fantasy defense once again, and at just the perfect time.

The Ugly

There's nothing like a little ugly football on Thanksgiving to help turn the attention away from the TV and to some of those so-called more important things. Well, that played out in the first Turkey Day game this year, with the Lions thrashing the directionless Packers 40-10. Green Bay managed just 126 total yards, and most of those came on completely meaningless drives. Matt Flynn threw for 139 yards and an interception and suffered seven sacks. Eddie Lacy ran for 16 yards on 10 carries. Jordy Nelson caught two passes for 14 yards, Jarrett Boykin didn't catch a pass and James Jones managed just three receptions, though one did go for a gain of 56 yards.

The ugliest part of this whole affair is that there's a chance it won't get any better all year. News broke on Sunday that the Packers might shut down Aaron Rodgers for the rest of the season. He's unlikely to be ready for next week's game against the Falcons, and Green Bay's playoff prospects are already starting to dwindle. One more loss could convince them it's best to throw in the towel and shelve Rodgers until the 2014 season. If that ends up happening, every skill player in this offense loses a ton of value in the fantasy playoffs.

Week 13 observations


• Tony Romo had a lackluster Thanksgiving, throwing for just 225 yards and one touchdown against the Raiders. He's averaging 12.49 points in his last three games, two of which were seemingly beneficial matchups. Still, I don't think you can consider benching him at all in the fantasy playoffs. He has the Bears, Packers and Redskins in his next three games. The Packers have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, while the Redskins rank third in the same category. Despite his recent struggles, Romo should be a QB1 for the playoffs.

• If this was indeed Josh McCown's final start for the Bears this season, he went out with a bang. He threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Vikings, topping off what has been a successful run as Chicago's starter. In six games this year, four of which he started, McCown has thrown for 1,461 yards, 7.94 YPA, nine touchdowns and just one interception. Remember, McCown was coaching high school football before the Bears gave him a call. His surprising 2013 season is a great depiction of what the new rules can do for a guy when combined with strong weapons and a good coach. Remember this when sitting at draft tables next year.

• Cam Newton became a fantasy stud his rookie year due in large part to his ability as a runner. He was at his best last year when he started used his legs more often. This year, the run has been a consistent staple of his game, never going away for too long in the rare instances it disappears. It's no surprise, then, that he has re-emerged as one of the league's best fantasy quarterbacks.

Newton ran for 68 yards and a touchdown on five carries Sunday, in addition to his 263 yards and two scores through the air. That gives him 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the last three weeks. He remains on pace to set a career low in rushing yards for a season, but he still does plenty to add the equivalent of a little more than one passing touchdown per game to his numbers via his rushing stats.

• Matt Ryan had his best game in weeks Sunday, and it showed exactly why he should remain glued to fantasy benches for the remainder of the season. In a game against a Buffalo defense that has surrendered big days to Geno Smith, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton, among others, Ryan threw for 311 yards, 6.6 YPA and one touchdown. That certainly isn't a bad game, but it isn't all that special either, and it could be instructive for his next few outings. The Falcons play the Packers and Redskins the next two weeks, both of which are seemingly positive matchups. Ryan, though, has proven to the fantasy community that he should not be trusted, even in situations like these.

Running Backs:

• Willis McGahee showed a pulse for the first time all season, running for 57 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against the Jaguars. Chalk this up more to the presence of Jacksonville's defense than anything else. While this shouldn't legitimize McGahee going forward, it should help to snuff out what little fantasy value Chris Ogbonnaya has to his name.

• Donald Brown didn't dominate in his first game as the Colts' starter, but he produced a useful fantasy day for his owners, running for 54 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. His owners were likely hoping for more in what was a great matchup, but they have to be pleased with what they saw. Trent Richardson got just five carries, clearly ceding the No. 1 role to Brown. The Colts have a tough remaining schedule, including games against the Bengals, Texans and Chiefs, but Brown still looks like a RB2 in my book.

• Adrian Peterson rightly got a ton of attention after running for 211 yards against the Bears, but Matt Forte had nearly as impressive a game against the Vikings. He ran for 120 yards on 23 carries while adding 31 receiving yards on two receptions. Forte didn't find the end zone, yet still managed to give his owners a 15-point day. Rarely can a player pull that off without scoring a touchdown, but it was the second time this season Forte had done exactly that.

• Lamar Miller played his first game with the backfield all to himself and ran for 72 yards on 22 carries against the Jets. While the numbers obviously do not sound impressive, the Jets had allowed just 2.9 yards per carry this season heading into the game. Now that he's getting fed like a workhorse, Miller could be a sneaky playoff back. The Dolphins get the Steelers, Patriots and Bills over the next three weeks, none of which exactly strike fear in the hearts of running backs. I've got him as an RB3 the rest of the way.

• Speaking of backs without competition, Rashard Mendenhall ran well with Andre Ellington on the sideline, picking up 76 yards on 18 carries. If Ellington remains out over the next few weeks, Mendenhall could be a very valuable player to own. The Cardinals play the Rams and Titans over the next two weeks, and those defenses have allowed the second- and fifth-most fantasy points per game, respectively, to running backs this season.

• Stevan Ridley woked his way into Bill Belichick's doghouse with his constant fumbling. There's no way to tell exactly what Belichick will do next, but there's no chance he'll keep Ridley on the bench the rest of the season, and the Patriots didn't exactly get a ton of their running game with Ridley a healthy scratch. LeGarette Blount, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and James Develin combined to run for 88 yards on 27 carries against the Texans. I'm betting that Ridley's stay in the doghouse ends next week when the Patriots take on the Browns. If I'm right, he'll be a low-end RB2 in that game.

• With the Atlanta defense reeling, it wasn't hard to predict C.J. Spiller's best game would come on Sunday. He ended up delivering, running for 149 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The best news here is it might not be over. The Bills have a great schedule for the fantasy playoffs, taking on Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Miami the next three weeks. You'd be excused for losing confidence in him long ago, but now is the time to find it once again.

• Le'Veon Bell had the best game of his young career on Thanksgiving, running for 73 yards and a touchdown while catching seven passes for 63 yards. Unfortunately, it was dampened by a head injury he suffered right at the end of the game. We'll check his status later in the week, but for now consider him questionable at best for next week's game with the Dolphins.

Cecil Shorts beat Joe Haden for a TD with just 40 seconds left, clinching the Jaguars' win vs. the Browns.
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Wide Receivers:

• Cecil Shorts proved himself a viable fantasy option on Sunday, catching six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars' upcoming schedule isn't the best in the world, though. They play the Texans, Bills and Titans for the rest of the fantasy season. That's one great matchup sandwiched around two bad ones.

• Going up against Alterraun Verner and the Titans secondary two weeks ago, T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 44 yards. This week, he had five receptions for 46 yards. This whole passing game has struggled with the absence of Reggie Wayne, and Hilton has been downright exposed by the injury to one of the league's best receivers. Hilton has appeared wholly incapable of handling the duties of a No. 1 receiver. His catch rate hasn't dipped at all without Wayne. He simply hasn't been able to get open with more attention focused on him. I don't see him being any better than a low-end WR2 the rest of the year.

• Don't look now, but Mike Wallace might finally be making a lasting impact in Miami. He caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown on Sunday and now has 12 receptions for 209 yards and two scores the last two weeks. The opportunity is there for him to be a major factor in the fantasy playoffs. The Dolphins play the Steelers, Patriots and Bills the next three weeks. Pittsburgh and New England are both decent against the pass, but Buffalo allows the second-most fantasy points per game to the position.

• Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald kept on rolling against Philadelphia, combining for 10 catches for 171 yards and two scores. In the last three weeks, the duo has posted 34 grabs for 581 yards and six touchdowns. Of course, they've faced the Jaguars, Colts and Eagles in that timeframe, three of the most generous defenses to opposing wide receivers. They play the Titans and Seahawks the final two weeks of the fantasy season, and those two have allowed the fewest and third-fewest fantasy points per game to receivers, respectively.

• In last week's Cheat Sheet, we wondered if perhaps Roddy White was back. Ten catches and 143 yards later, we have to believe that he is. Now, the matchup with the Bills was one of the better ones a receiver can see, as they've allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to the position. Still, White looked like his old self on Sunday, creating space and getting open with the greatest of ease. The Falcons play the Packers and Redskins the next two weeks, neither of whom present a great challenge for a receiver.

• Michael Crabtree made his season debut on Sunday against St. Louis, catching two passes for 68 yards. He'll have a tough matchup with the Seahawks next week, but could be a huge asset in the later rounds of the playoffs. The 49ers face off with the Buccaneers in Week 15 and Falcons Week 16. Those two have allowed the seventh- and ninth-most fantasy points per game to receivers, respectively.

Tight Ends:

• At this point of the season, you're probably not going to make any moves at the tight end position. After all, any change you make is likely to be a lateral one at a spot where it's Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and everyone else. Still, it's worth pointing out that Zach Ertz caught five of his six targets for 68 yards and two scores Sunday, and is tied to a high-octane offense in Philadelphia. Apply that information to what fits your roster.

• Greg Olsen had another solid day, catching five passes for 85 yards. That gives him more than eight fantasy points in five of his last six games. He has quietly been one of the league's top-scoring tight ends all year.

• Not to be outdone was Vernon Davis, who had four receptions for 82 yards and a score in San Francisco's 23-13 win over St. Louis on Sunday. Davis has scored at least nine points in four of his last five games, racking up 16 catches for 239 yards and four touchdowns in that stretch.

• Julius Thomas was again inactive because of his knee injury. We'll revisit his status later in the week.


• The Lions feasted on the Packers on Thanksgiving, sacking Matt Flynn seven times and forcing three turnovers. This remains a matchup-dependent fantasy option, and you'll want to stay away when it visits Philadelphia next week

• The Panthers played like one of the best defenses in the league on Sunday, posting five sacks and two takeaways while limiting the Buccaneers to six points. You would be forgiven for benching them against the Saints next week, though.

• Finally, I'd like to give you one last reminder about the Bills. They're the 14th-ranked fantasy defense this year and have an unbelievable schedule for the playoffs. They visit Jacksonville and Tampa Bay the next two weeks before coming home to host Miami in Week 16. Get them while you still can and ride them during the postseason.

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