Going Deep: Week 14
I can't believe we've been going at this for 14 weeks now. It seems like just yesterday I was pitching the idea of a weekly NFL column to the mastermind behind IHJJR.
And now, as the regular season is winding down and as the fantasy football playoffs begin, these columns feel more important than ever, don't they? Let's get to it, boys and girls.
Five for Hindsight
Five thoughts about Week 13
- I'd be remiss if I didnt at least mention the somewhat epic collapse of the Buffalo Bills. They were once a team, as recently as Week 8, that I saw making the playoffs. But now they've dropped five in a row and six of their last seven. You can blame it on an easy early-season schedule, but it's not as if their second half was that much more challenging. Ultimately, I think this downfall speaks to two things: (1) Ryan Fitzpatrick, no matter how much everyone wants him to be, is not an above-average NFL quarterback. He's a game manager with little flair. (2) Fred Jackson was more important to the Buffalo offense than most were willing to give him credit for. Without Jackson, the Bills lost the ability to move the ball between the 20s and they lost their only true offensive threat.
- How about my boy T.J. Yates leading the Texans to victory against a playoff-contending Falcons team? But seriously, the Texans are looking better and better each week, and I say that after they've lost their first- and second-string QBs and their constantly going week-to-week with their best vertical threat, Andre Johnson. Sure Yates' game wasn't exactly perfect (12-of-25, 188 yards 1:0 TD:INT), but he looked every bit as ready for the starting job as Matt Leinart did, and he performed better. I'm sure a lot of Texans fans were cursing into the wind at the prospect of Yates helming their team into the playoffs, but, hey, it could be worse — you could be the Bears!
- I don't think many people would have predicted that the 49ers would be 10-2 heading into Week 14, but, man, they've really been doing work in the NFC West. And that's been the key. With the exception of the undefeated Packers, the Niners have the second-best divisional record (8-1) in the NFL. But then again, the rest of their division is a combined 12-24 (.333 football), so I'll just let that fact speak for itself. Not taking anything away from the 49ers performance this season, just saying that when you play nine of your 12 games thus far against that weak a division, it'd be more than a disappointment if you weren't 10-2.
- I don't want to talk about the Giants-Packers game. I just don't. But I have to. All I'll say is: You're welcome, Oakland. That's how you beat the Packers. Now watch the Raiders use the surprisingly effective Michael Bush-Marcel Reese tandem to exploit Green Bay on the ground enough to soften up their secondary. And watch Hue Jackson (not to be confused with Hugh Jackman) actually manage a game clock efficiently. And watch Green Bay drop its first game of the season against an underwhelming Raiders team. Again, you're welcome, Oakland.
- Let's talk about Blaine Gabbert, if only so we don't have to talk about Tim Tebow being 6-1 as a starter, as if that's some kind of meaningful statistic. That's like saying the Yankees are 6-1 when Russell Martin catches. Anyway, Gabbert. Watching the Monday night Chargers-Jaguars game, I found myself continually impressed by Gabbert's ability to move the ball downfield against the sixth-ranked Chargers pass defense. Was it flashy? Not at all, but it was effective. And effectiveness wins games. But then the second half started and all the positive work that Gabbert was doing fell by the wayside. Gabbert went 11-for-15 with 2:1 TD:INT in the first half, and finished 19-for-33 with the same 2:1 numbers. Going 8-for-18 in the second half when your team is down 10 points obviously isn't going to cut it. What Gabbert needs to do now is take what he did in the first half against a good Chargers defense and stretch it out over the course of a game — he gets a great chance next week against a mediocre Buccaneers team.
Five for Foresight
Five things I'm looking forward to in Week 14
- Hypothesis: Exactly how much would the city of Baltimore flip its shit if Dan Orlovsky and the Colts got their first win of the season against them ... in Baltimore? I almost want to find out. By the way, I'm going to keep arbitrarily mentioning a Colts in until it happens.
- Upset: I think the Titans have a legitimate shot at beating the Saints this week. Their defense has been buckling down the last few weeks (averging 15 PA over the last four games) and Chris Johnson finally got his legs under him (it's amazing what a four-year extension will do for your athleticism). What's more, the Saints defense is proving more porous by the week and lead running back (so to speak) Mark Ingram is now nursing a toe injury. Don't say I didn't warn you, Who Dat Nation.
- Defense, Defense, Defense: Call me crazy, but I'm really looking forward to the Texans-Bengals game. Two great defenses in a game that means something for both teams. This might end up being the best contest of the week. Well, maybe second best...
- Divisional Slugfest: I really hate Giants-Cowboys games because they're so damn unpredictible. But one thing I do like is the opportunity to see Eli Manning and Tony Romo meeting in the midst of respecitvely great seasons. The Giants are playing for a share of first place with a sizable chip on their shoulder (oddly in the shape of Aaron Rodgers' phantom WWE belt), and Romo and co. are coming off a rather heartbreaking overtime loss to the Cardinals. Come for the fireworks, stay for the football.
- Whatever else comes on TV on Mondays: Because there's no way I'm watching a Rams-Seahawks game on Monday Night Football. Seriously?
The Tip Drill
Because, y'know, I give you fantasy tips. Get it?
I'd like to use this week's Tip Drill to rip ESPN for one of its sections in its latest fantasy football newsletter emails. I'm not a big fan of ESPN when it comes to fantasy advice. They're far too reactionary when it comes to predictions and advice and they're flat-out ridiculous when it comes to some of the content they decide to foist on us, the readers.
The newsletter features a list of five "fantasy disappointments," as ranked by stathead Tristan Cockroft, who's known for lists of this very nature — arbitrary rankings based on the expectations propagated by ESPN itself. Here's the list, along with my commentary on ESPN's commentary.
1. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
During the preseason, Vick was regarded as a late-first or early-second rounder. He has been hurt, which was expected, but he's been more erratic and mistake-prone, which was unexpected. Vick has only 150 fantasy points this season.
Okay, first off, the league's learning curve for Michael Vick should only be unexpected if you lived under a rock from June-August. Everyone under the sun was saying how there was no way Vick could replicate his 2010 season. if his owners drafted him that early, they deserve what they're getting. Upside is a tantalizing force, but you can only truly enjoy it when the risk is balanced out by solid surrounding pieces — your starting QB is not the place to be throwing caution to the wind.
2. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
Even though Johnson has turned it on over the past two weeks (34 points), he buried fantasy owners early on with inconsistent performances. He's been a "stiff," according to the Consistency Ratings, four times this season.
Again, this is an example of getting what you pay for. Anyone who's played fantasy football for more than a year knows that drafting players who are holding out for a new contract is a recipe for disaster. Secondly, look at who Johnson was matched up against before he "turned it on." Six of those 10 teams are ranked in the top-15 in run defense, and five of those six are in the top seven. Anyone who does their research about a players schedule could figure out that Johnson had a tough road to hoe, so to speak.
3. Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 2010, Williams caught 11 touchdown passes. In 2011, he's managed a meager three. His yards per catch have gone down dramatically from 14.8 to 11.7, and for the first half of the season, he looked like a glorified possession receiver.
For me, this is a case of the league catching on to a teams only pure vertical threat and double-teaming the hell out of it. We're seeing it with Roddy White and Hakeem Nicks to a certain extent, and we saw it with Santonio Holmes last year. When there's one definite thing to key on, defenses will do just that. Now, that said, I won't fault ESPN for this entry because Williams has the size and strength to go one-on-win with secondaries and win, and he's just not doing that. He's like a 7-foot center who plays like he's 6'5". Williams can do better. But I will say this: Williams' success was always dependent on Josh Freeman's ability to adapt to league's adjustment to him. Freeman has been underwhelming; Williams follows suit.
4. Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns
Forgive the injuries if you want, but I'm won't. He's playing for a contract and not gritting through the injuries. When he does play, his production is down; he's averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season compared to 4.4 a season ago.
Firstly, I'll forgive the spelling error, but doesn't ESPN have copy editors? Anyway, I knew the second I read the headline that Hillis' name would pop up at some point. Here's the thing: Before the season started, a keeper leaguemate of mine was trying to trade me Hillis as a 16th rounder, and I wouldn't bite. You know why? Because I knew this would happen. Hillis' running style is an injury waiting to happen, and he has a checkered health history as it is. Not to mention the Browns offensive line, though imporving, is still a work-in-progress. And going into the season, we knew that Montario Hardesty, health permitting, would be stealing some touches. If you bought Hillis as a bone-a-fide RB1, I've got a wide receiver named Early Doucet that I'd love to sell you on as the next Larry Fitzgerald.
5. Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
David Garrard's release ruined Lewis' fantasy value. If you picked Lewis before Garrard's release, you were stuck with a tight end with a developing rooking quarterback and has gone 0-for-9 scoring TDs on his red-zone targets.
True story: I dropped Rob Gronkowski before the season began for Marcedes Lewis. Why? Because I figured, "Lewis has no competition for touches. This is a sneaky pickup." Well, that's why sneakiness doesn't pay. Sometimes, you just have to let things play out. But more to the point, was there anyone that drafted Lewis as a starting TE? I mean, with all the Jimmy Graham and Lance Kendricks and Jermaine Gresham sleeper talk, didn't we all over-think our way out of drafting Lewis in the first place? Well, if you did draft him, I won't blame you, but if you're held onto him for more than three weeks, well, that's your own damn fault. For someone to qualify as a bust, ESPN, they have to be that undroppable, I've-invested-too-much-in-this-guy-to-drop-him-now kind of player. Lewis — or any tight end, for that matter — doesn't qualify. I see you trying to fill out your list because you ran out of players, Tristan. I see you.
To those of you who made your league's playoffs, best of luck. For those who didn't, there's always next year. Next time, read my column.
Harry writes about baseball, football and fantasy sports for I Hate JJ Redick. He also compiles the Man Dates column, highlighting the best in popular culture for the upcoming month. He once saw JJ Redick in a movie theater and heckled him until JJ ducked out like a wimp. You can follow him on Twitter at @hrkaplowitz. To enjoy Harry's non-sports side, visit his blog.