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1. Moving nelson
I encouraged fantasy owners in Friday's Best Of Week 14 to start Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams—especially Nelson because he would not only earn receptions on Richard Sherman, but he wouldn't be matched against Seattle's best cover defender for the entire game.
In case you were waiting for overwhelming proof before you "matchup-proof" Nelson for your starting lineups, there you go.
2. Marcus Mariota's baby steps
Watching the Titans beat the Broncos was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon because of the physical nature of Mike Mularkey's team. With the combo of Mularkey's power running game; an aggressive, athletic quarterback in the vertical game; and a Dick LeBeau defense, the Titans feel more like the Pittsburgh Steelers I"ve come to admire than the Steelers themselves.
Although Mariota didn't have much of a fantasy outing, his long-term development is on the right track. A notable thing I witnessed from the afternoon was his ability to create his own footwork and rhythm when the timing of a drop and route didn't match up due to pressure and/or coverage.
Mariota is a task-oriented quarterback in style. What that means is that he thrives with structure. Although he can run, he's at his best when his team executes on-point and is on the same page with him on defined contingencies outside the normal confines of the play.
Tell him to do A-B-C and show him how J-K-L can substitute for B if B falters, and Mariota will do these things to the letter. If B falters and you told him to just "figure it out", he probably won't arrive at J-K-L.
It's not about intelligence; Tom Brady is the same way. Give him all the possibilities and a way to study and prepare for them and he'll perform as well as anyone. But turn football into a bar room brawl and ask him to do what Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson do, and you've got the wrong guy.
It's why this throw downfield to Delanie Walker is so encouraging to me.
He's developing a better feel for adjusting to plays that don't work exactly as planned and executing techniques that give him the structure to work from. This footwork adjustment is a perfect example. While I liked Winston a little the two quarterbacks were drafted, it's a matter of style and structure.
Winston is a better improviser, but I like Tennessee's offense more. Many were skeptical that Mularkey's vision would be a good fit for Mariota. So far, so good.
3. opponents still underestimating tyreek hill
The proof is in the coverage. Oakland safety Nate Allen was more concerned about Travis Kelce up the seam than Hill on the outside and Alex Smith made the Raiders pay with this well-thrown post for a touchdown.
One can't be too critical of Allen because Kelce is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in football. The Kelce-Hill tandem on one side of the field is a tough draw for an opposing secondary. With Jeremy Maclin back, the Chiefs pose even more problems. It should translate to easier looks for all three Chiefs next week against the Titans, a weak passing defense.
Denver will proof much tougher, but I'd still bet on Kelce and Hill because the linebackers aren't great in coverage.
4. oddly underrated: DeSean Jackson
Most will disagree with me, but if given the choice of Alshon Jeffery or Desean Jackson in free agency, I'd give serious consideration to Jackson. He does a better job of playing with injuries because the injuries he has aren't usually to his legs despite the fact that he's a speed demon. Although you wouldn't want to throw him rebounder-type passes on a regular basis, he's tough at the catch point.
His game is also superior to Jeffery in multiple areas I value from wide receiver play: The vertical game, tracking the football, and boundary awareness.
This is not a one-dimensional receiver, but I think fantasy owners characterize him as such way too often. His early career antics near the end zone and the much-publicized and ugly departure from Philadelphia give him a bad image, but he's a fine receiver.
As I'm studying receivers for the 2017 NFL Draft, I've read some analysts making comparisons between Jackson and a particularly explosive college option. While I like the college option, I think some of them need to watch more of Jackson's Cal tape before going there.
With Carolina and Chicago up next, look for Jackson to finish this season strong. I'm not a Washington fan, but I think he helps this offense a lot. If the organization can't keep Jackson and Cousins—which is likely the case—Philadelphia, Carolina, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay would all be locations where I'd love to see Jackson land.
5. week 14 Autopsies
Many of your fantasy hopes died this weekend. For those with iron guts, let's do some mini post-mortems on key matchups that led to your fantasy flat-lining.
- Case No.11C
- Subject: Terrelle Pryor
- Time of Fantasy Death: Sunday, 3:52 pm EST
- Location: Cleveland, Ohio
- Cause of Death: Homicide by force feeding
- Assailant: Robert Griffin III III
Dreams of Griffin feeding Pryor rainbows with a straight path to the Cleveland end zone turned into a sickening display of forcing the ball down Pryor's throat in traffic.
It didn't help that Griffin had difficulty with shallow zone routes and wide-open seam routes. One such seam route was a wide-open Gary Barnidge that Griffin hit on the inside shoulder because Barnidge had no idea the pass was coming. To be fair, I though Griffin made the right read and Barnidge's frustration was unwarranted.
But this kind of thing is difficult to excuse...
I believe these two examples will be short-lived errors for Griffin. Where I'm not so optimistic is his connection with Pryor. Forcing the ball downfield with this much regularity without an existing intermediate came is the death knell for Pryor's fantasy prospects this year. I won't be starting Pryor until I see evidence of a resuscitation.
- Case No.11A
- Subject: Larry Fitzgerald
- Time of Fantasy Death: Sunday, 4:25 pm EST
- Location: Miami, Florida
- Cause of Death: Accidental fall
- Assailant: Carson Palmer
- Accessory: Miami pass rush
Of the few targets Fitzgerald earned in this game, they were thrown too high even for him. The combination of torrential rain and unending pressure forced Carson Palmer into delivering throws well above and beyond Fitzgerald's reach.
If your fantasy survived this fall, I'd still consider both players for your lineups because the weather shouldn't be as much of a factor.
- Case No.3S
- Subject: Russell Wilson
- Time of Fantasy Death: Sunday, 6:25 pm CST
- Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin
- Cause of Death: Aggressive onset of a rampant virus
- Origination: Unknown
- Theories: Potential allergy to Green, Yellow, and Midwestern "Nice"
This game should have been close. This is not me the Seattle fan writing to you. Wilson overshot two big plays in the first half that would have made a difference.
Later, Wilson even overshot Thomas Rawls on a swing pass to the open field. As the virus spread throughout the Seahawks offense, several strange symptoms appeared. Graham tripped over his trailing coverage, leading to the first interception.
The ball bounced off pads on receivers getting hung up on his turn on a fade.
A normally reliable go-to guy had a lapse in technique and let the ball go through his hands, off his face, and into the arms of a Packer.
Then a combo of Wilson's overthrowing problem and poor hands technique go the best of Troymaine Pope.
The only interception that Wilson threw that was risky was this play below. It's a common throw that Wilson makes even if it's risky. The Seahawks' quarterback is often successful dishing the ball in the opposite direction of his momentum.
I may somehow survive the three playoff games where Wilson was my starter, but only if Steve Smith makes this Monday night game his swan song performance on a national stage. If I do, I won't hesitate to go with Wilson again.
I think it was only a 24-hour virus. I bet it was a reaction to the Golden Tate "catch" on a Monday night in Green Bay four years ago and an NFC Championship comeback victory in Seattle two years ago.
I'd call it "karma."
6. Trevor siemian's greatest weakness
I love NFL games. I could watch any team and be entertained. The "bad football" phrase I hear uttered by writers on social media during the past two years is not something you'll often hear from me, if ever. I think most of the people using the term "bad football" define "good football" in terms that are too restrictive.
Good defense? Nope, bad football.
Bad first halves due to ineffective strategy and execution, but compelling adjustments that put the team back in the game? Nope, bad football because we already declared it that way 30 percent of the way through the first half.
Bad weather forcing mistakes? What can possibly be compelling about watching a game where not only points are difficult to come by, but you can't grip the ball? I like my Sunday football narratives formulaic and predictable, just like my TV shows!
Some of you who do this I really like personally. Just know that if I were next to you on your couch as you were tweeting this while we're watching a game, I'd rip that smartphone from your hands and tell you to look up and actually watch the game rather than make it a stage for your pithy Twitter commentary.
This rant involves Trevor Siemian because I have fun watching any team—even the Denver Broncos. I usually keep my fan world separate from my professional world, but I don't mind telling you that I have a Mendoza Line for teams I like and teams I don't.
Some teams rise or fall on this list based on personnel. Others stay in the general area because of their history and fans. For instance, the Steelers are my Mendoza Line team.
While I love rooting against the Steelers more often than I root for them, I like watching Pittsburgh football and I like their fans. In fact, I root for the Steelers a lot more than you'd expect for a fan who had allegiances with the Browns and Titans.
So if your team is below my Mendola Line, it's for one of three reasons:
- They're the standard for the NFL and I like rooting for the underdog (New England).
- Your city stole the soul of my team (Baltimore) and I hate myself for still rooting for them when I do...like tonight against the Patriots.
- I truly dislike something about the team.
If Siemian is sent packing and he wins a starting gig with a lesser team, this tendency will prove problematic with lesser receivers than Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. But I don't want to presume Siemian can't improve his deep game, either. He's consistently just a step or two behind the target with the ball and that's a small enough disparity that could be corrected with a stronger core, a small tweak to his rotation, and/or better anticipation.
For me, he's made football fun to watch in Denver and he's helped one of my playoff teams immensely this year. For you down the stretch, keep expectations a little lower for the vertical games of Sanders and Thomas, but you already knew that.
7. Charles sims: flex-weapon
The Buccaneers told the media that the offense wanted to use Jacquizz Rodgers a lot more this weekend. I don't know whether it was truly meant as a motivational ploy for Doug Martin or Martin's play helped the statement evolve into one, but Rodgers never earned a foothold in the offense on Sunday.
Martin, who left the game with an injury in Week 13, ran hard and well against the Saints on Sunday and it was revealed during the game that Rodgers came into this contest with a bad foot. It makes you wonder it this really was a smokescreen from the coaching staff.
While entertaining to think about for 10 seconds, an actual point of fantasy substance from his game was the return of Charles Sims. While capable, Sims is not the runner Martin is between the tackles. His return is exciting because he is just the anecdote the Buccaneers' injured receiving corps needs.
He's not a high-end recommendation, but if injuries or bad quarterback play has rendered a normal starter useless and you're desperate, Tampa's schedule of the Cowboys and Saints is a solid one for a running back that the Buccaneers will use in the slot, split wide, and from the backfield. Considering that Tampa added Josh Huff and used him in the lineup should tell you that the receiving corps is in bad shape.
I'm not saying this to disparage Huff, a physical talent with some productive skills at the position, but because he's getting playing time despite not truly knowing the offense or developing a rapport with Jameis Winston. His speed forces defenders to account for him, which adds to the argument that Sims split from the formation becomes a frequent go-to target.
I doubt Sims hurts Martin's value as much as Rodgers, who I also thought might earn time in the slot before Sims' return. Consider Sims a flex receiver if your fantasy lineups permit it.
8. the cruel irony of Sam Bradford's career
One of the best things about Bradford's game has always been his deep ball. Since he's been in the NFL, he hasn't been on a team with the offensive line or receiving corps to match one of his greatest skills that can elevate an offense.
Despite individual players on the Rams and Eagles who were better or had higher upside, Minnesota's receiving corps is the best collective group of options that he's had as a pro. Heading into Jacksonville for Week 14, the Vikings offense had only completed 4 passes of at least 40 yards all year.
Thank you Jaguars for reminding us what Bradford can do with time and/or coverage mistakes. These three completions over 40 yards are all pretty throws—some under duress.
Indianapolis and Green Bay are vulnerable to Minnesota's vertical game in Week's 15 and 16. You'd have to be desperate to start Bradford, but Adam Thielen is one of those substitutes worth using ahead of a player like Terrelle Pryor. I did in two leagues this weekend and I'm a Steve Smith "Ice-Up son," away from winning both matchups.
Technically, Thielen shouldn't be considered a substitute, but the way his value has evolved over the course of the season made him a luxury addition who you should have accepted as a true starter at least a month ago.
9. jets WR Robby Anderson is the current go-to Guy
The most difficult part about fantasy football is lineup choices, especially in the wake of a quarterback change to begin the playoffs. Second-year Jet Bryce Petty is essentially a rookie on the field. Rough moments like his opening-drive interception are a good example.
Petty either fails to recognize the pre-snap coverage that gives the cornerback a free shot at jumping the route or Petty is too confident in his arm strength.
Petty's December tryout makes him a higher risk for sustainable fantasy production at the time you need him most. Brandon Marshall saw few targets in during the first half and after a few targets in the third quarter, Marshall hurt his ankle and was a decoy. Quincy Enunwa, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and even Charon Peake earned Petty's attention on Sunday, but if there's one guy you can count on as a predictable target for the Petty-led Jets, it's rookie Robby Anderson.
These two have a rapport. Petty is an aggressive quarterback used to throwing the ball downfield at Baylor. When he's forced to climb or flush the pocket, his eyes jump to the deep third of the field.
Anderson is by no means an out-of-nowhere fantasy name despite lurking below the surface of weekly startable options for most of the season. The UDFA from Temple has earned steady time in the starting rotation before New York handed Petty the keys.
The coaches, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brandon Marshall all said that Anderson has the potential to be a star. It may sound like a boilerplate response to media questions about a young player, but it isn't that simple.
I tend to ignore the word star or substitute it with the phrase "a good player in a starting lineup" because it keeps a moderate level of expectation. If you're wondering when I last hear this said about a player and the player has become a good player in a starting lineup, look no further than Taylor Gabriel in Cleveland. Dwayne Bowe was among the Browns heaping praise on Gabriel.
One of the components of good play in a starting lineup is making timely plays. In addition to the other receptions and deep targets that Anderson earned this weekend, he set up the game-winning score with this contested catch in overtime.
Anderson and the Jets face Miami and New England to close out the fantasy playoffs and I'd have no problem starting Anderson against either team if I needed to. In fact, I started Anderson ahead of Marvin Jones, Quincy Enunwa, and Kenny Stills in this playoff showdown:
|Show live scoring details for the matchup below.|
I would have preferred Stills' points, but I trusted the connection Petty and Anderson showed last week more than Tannehill's ability to come off his first read. Still's production only exceeded Anderson's because of the deep shot that Matt Moore threw his way in overtime. I have Anderson in three leagues and if I didn't have better match ups on paper, I would have started him in all three.
Add the Jet as injury insurance, keep-away from your opponent if you have a luxury spot on your roster, or as an emergency starter with WR2 upside.
10. FRESH FISH
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for that weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd love nothing more than having our players face an opponent whose game has come unglued on the field.
In the spirit of "The Shawshank Redemption," here is my short list of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up (Links are Instagram vids of each play I'm referring to):
- Seattle DB DeShawn Shead: Although Jordy Nelson made plays on Richard Sherman, the Packers targeted Nelson, Davante Adams, and Jared Cook on Shead every chance that got: Exhibit A and Exhibit B.
- Seattle LB K.J. Wright: Normally a good cover linebacker who flows to the ball as well as anyone, Wright was runner-up as my Catch of the Week. Wright got exposed because until late in the third quarter of this context, Seattle hadn't sacked a quarterback in three games. When this defense can't get pressure, the routes that cross the field and force this Seahawks defense to pass receivers around become meddlesome. Wright had the unfortunate draw of Jordy Nelson in the slot. Exhibit A.
- Eagles RT Matt Tobin: The third tackle to play at this spot, Tobin gave up Ryan Kerrigan's game-sealing sack-fumble on Carson Wentz as the offense was driving towards a potential game-winning score.
- Jaguars secondary: As mentioned earlier, the Vikings had four completions of at least 40 yards entering this contest. The Jaguars gave up three more to the Vikings by 4pm EST.
- Browns defensive front: Jeremy Hill tallied 142 yards and a score on 29 touches this weekend.
Catch of the Week: Drew Brees. It pains me to give it to Brees, but a second straight week with no touchdowns and 3 interceptions is worthy of this title. Brees should have thrown at least 4 interceptions in this contest and a lot of credit goes to Chris Conte's injury sub, Keith Tandy, who read Brees' eyes and jumped the routes with precision, including the game-sealing pick.
Congratulations: LB Deion Jones. His face could have been part of the logo for this department in my column because of the number of times this year the second-year backer has made mistakes in coverage, poor angles in the open field, and missed tackles. But Jones, one of the better athletes at the position in the NFL, had a nice afternoon in LA. Including this pick-six on Jared Goff.
This Atlanta linebacker unit has the potential to develop into a good one. It's a good sideline-to-sideline unit that is learning to play together It's nice to see Jones in this column for a big play in his favor.