Atlanta Falcons

Hester breaks Sanders' return record

Amongst all the depressing news in the NFL regarding domestic violence, the league finally has a reason to celebrate: Devin Hester has broken Deion Sanders’ NFL touchdown return record.

With a comfortable 28-0 lead, the Falcons forced a three-and-out against the Buccaneers forcing them to punt. The rest is history.

Devin Hester fielded the punt on the 38-yard line, hesitated and started a full out sprint towards the end zone.  Hester went untouched for a 62 yards, resulting in a  touchdown with 7:06 remaining in the second quarter. After scoring, the overjoyed Hester hugged and startled a Georgia Dome security guard. It was his 20th career return touchdown, surpassing Deion Sanders’ record of 19.

Hester did more than just break Sanders’ record, though, as he rushed for a 20-yard touchdown, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble as the Atlanta Falcons routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14.

Many teams choose not to kick to Hester because even if he doesn’t run it all the way back for a score, he often puts his team in great field position. Lovie Smith, Hester’s former head coach in Chicago and the current head coach of the Buccaneers, knows this better than anyone else, but he still kicked it to him anyways.

Although Hester has played seven of his nine years as a wide receiver for the Bears and Falcons, he is most efficient on special teams as a kick returner. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006, 2007 and 2010, and earned a spot on the 2000s All-Decade Team by the Associated Press and ESPN.

Hester’s most memorable year as a kick returner was his rookie year, when he had six returns for touchdowns: three punt returns, two kick returns, and a missed field goal return against the Giants.  Arguably the most memorable kick return in Hester’s career was on the opening kickoff against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl.  Hester’s kick return in the Super Bowl held the record for the quickest score in the Super Bowl until this year when the Seattle Seahawks forced a safety on a bad snap on the first play of the game.

Hester gained a reputation for running bad routes and dropping passes as a receiver for the Chicago Bears. After new hires were made at the head coach and general manager positions in 2013, Hester was demoted from the wide receiver position and was strictly assigned as a returner.

Even though Hester was loved by the Bears and their fans, the team informed him this past offseason that he would not return to Chicago for a ninth season due to the salary cap.  While Bears fans are disappointed that Hester broke the record in another team’s uniform, it is still great to see a guy like Hester finally break Sanders’ record.

NFC Championship Game a Matchup of Youth, Inexperience

When the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons face off in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, there are bound to be some players with wide-eyed expressions on their faces.  That’s because neither team boasts many players with much playoff experience, as both Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick earned their first playoff victories last week.  With so much at stake, how these teams handle this unfamiliar territory will determine who moves on to the Super Bowl.  With that, here are a few storylines to keep in mind heading into Atlanta on Sunday:

1) Can the Falcons’ Offense Fly High?

Boasting a fearsome duo at the wide receiver position in Julio Jones and Roddy White, Atlanta posses some serious talent at its skill positions on offense.  Oh, and they also have Tony Gonzalez, who’s still playing at a hall of fame level despite his age.  However, the 49ers defense, lead by linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive end Aldon Smith, is a physical unit that is capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks at will.  How Matt Ryan handles San Francisco’s blitzes will play a huge role in this game.

2) Slowing Down Kaepernick

If the Falcons want to stand a chance, it’s imperative that they slow down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who amassed more than 400 total yards of offense against Green Bay last week, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more scores.  What makes Kaepernick most dangerous is his ability to get out of the pocket and throw on the run.  In order for Atlanta to be successful, they need to keep Kaepernick stationary and contain him when he runs the read-option.

3) Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice….

The 49ers were that close to earning a Super Bowl appearance last year, when they lost at home to the eventual champion New York Giants in overtime, 20-17.  Here they are a year later in the same position, only this time they’re heading into the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons went 7-1 during the regular season.  Having gotten back to within one game of the Super Bowl for the second straight year, will San Francisco get over the hump, or will Matt Ryan earn his second straight playoff victory having none before 2012?  Either will be a hot topic come Monday morning.

Prediction:

Although the Falcons have been basically unbeatable in the Georgia dome over the past several years, history has shown that teams can challenge them there in the playoffs, as they lost to Green Bay in 2011 and narrowly escaping against the Seahawks last week.  Despite Colin Kaepernick’s inexperience, he will turn in a good enough performance to go along with a strong outing by the San Francisco defense, and the 49ers will be on their way to New Orleans for a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.

Score: 38-24, San Francisco

Falcons' Tandem Flops Versus Weak Saints' Secondary

For many fantasy owners, this past week determined playoff seeding and even playoff spots.  In need of some breakout performances, many owners were let down by these players when they needed it most:

1) Julio Jones & Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons

White and Jones, Atlanta’s fearsome wide receiver duo, were expected to have an explosive outing on Thursday against the New Orleans Saints, whose pass defense is amongst the worst in the league.  Instead, both struggled to get much of anything going, combining for a paltry six passes for 68 yards.  Although White and Jones have feasted on opposing defenses and fantasy owners for most of the season, the roles were reversed this week.

2) Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Over the past three weeks, Fitzgerald has hauled in a mere five passes for 65 yards, his lone catch this past week going for twenty three yards. To be fair, he can’t be blamed much for this lack of production, as the Cardinals’ rotating carousel at the quarterback position has failed to provide any kind of offensive spark and has led to eight straight losses.

3) Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

For those who started Sanchez on Sunday against the Cardinals, I feel for you.  Marky Mark registered negative fantasy points in his latest outing, passing for 97 yards and tossing three interceptions before being benched in the first half to make way for former ‘Bama QB Greg McElroy.

Dolphins running back Reggie Bush made a splash against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, tallying two touchdowns.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

With two weeks of NFL games in the books, fantasy football frenzy has once again taken over. To ease the stress of creating a powerhouse starting lineup this week, here are a few players to embrace and a few others to avoid:

Start:

1) Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins
Wow, Bush played a great game against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The question now is whether or not Bush can do it again this week against the Jets and Rex Ryan’s defense. There’s reason to believe he can and he will. The Jets surrendered a total of 194 yards to C.J. Spiller in Week 1, a player with speed and elusiveness similar to Bush’s. With a rookie quarterback under center for the Dolphins, expect Bush to get the ball early and often.

2) Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Despite the Broncos’ lackluster performance as a team Monday against the Falcons, Thomas had a solid outing, catching eight balls for 78 yards and one touchdown. Over the span of two games, Thomas has almost 200 yards receiving and is clearly Peyton Manning’s primary target. Although cornerback Johnathan Joseph will challenge him this week when the Broncos face the Texans, Thomas will get plenty of passes thrown his way and should be able to put up big numbers.

3) Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Stafford has been a disappointment up to this point in the season, managing only two touchdowns while tossing four interceptions. In his defense, he faced an improved Rams defense in Week 1 and arguably the best defense in the NFL in San Francisco this past week. Expect Stafford to break out of his early-season slump and throw for several scores against the Tennessee Titans, who allowed three passing touchdowns from Philip Rivers in Week 2.

Sit:

1) Michael Turner, RB,  Atlanta Falcons
Turner’s start to the season had been anything but ideal even before he was pulled over for speeding and drunken driving Tuesday. Turner has managed a measly 74 yards rushing and a touchdown in the Falcons’ two victories, numbers that will make any fantasy owner cringe. Unfortunately for Turner, things are unlikely to improve this week when he faces the San Diego Chargers, who lead the NFL in rush defense.

2) Jackie Battle, RB,  San Diego Chargers
Many fantasy owners will be tempted to jump on the Jackie Battle bandwagon following his 69-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Titans on Sunday. However, Battle appears to be fool’s gold and should not be viewed as a reliable fantasy threat. With a healthy Ryan Mathews set to return this week, expect Battle’s workload to diminish significantly outside of a few goal line plays, making him a risky player.

3) Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
Bradford torched the Redskins this past Sunday, passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Despite this, do not expect Bradford to put up similar numbers Sunday against a tough, physical Chicago Bears defense. Given the Bears’ ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks and the Rams’ instability along the offensive line, Bradford could struggle.

 Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: Starting Bush a no-brainer

Fantasy Frenzy: Rookies Jones, Dalton proving to be productive fantasy options

After a hamstring injury kept Julio Jones from playing for nearly a month, the No. 6 pick from this year’s NFL Draft caught three passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-7 Atlanta’s win over Indianapolis. The Falcons traded five picks, including two first-rounders, to Cleveland so they could move up 21 spots and pick Jones, who has already notched three 100-yard games this year.
After a hamstring injury kept Julio Jones from playing for nearly a month, the No. 6 pick from this year’s NFL Draft caught three passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-7 Atlanta’s win over Indianapolis. The Falcons traded five picks, including two first-rounders, to Cleveland so they could move up 21 spots and pick Jones, who has already notched three 100-yard games this year.

Here’s a list of who’s hot and who’s not after Week 9 of fantasy football.

HOT

Julio Jones,
Atlanta Falcons

After the Falcons traded a bounty of picks to move up and select the talented Alabama star, people everywhere praised the move that gave Matt Ryan a much needed second option. But up until this week, the trade hadn’t worked out. Jones has been injured much of the season and had yet to produce. On Sunday, however, he made the Falcons management look like geniuses as he went off for 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jones gives Atlanta the deep threat they need to complement Roddy White. Expect solid fantasy numbers from him the rest of the season.

Andy Dalton,
Cincinnati Bengals

Cam Newton has stolen all the headlines this season as far as rookie quarterbacks go, but Dalton is quietly having a very good year for the 6-2 Bengals. He is hitting open receivers and showing a poise that some veteran quarterbacks struggle to find and he also puts up solid fantasy numbers. This weekend against the Titans, he threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns, good for 20 fantasy points in ESPN leagues. If you’re in a two-quarterback league or just need a bye week fill-in, look for Dalton to be a solid option the rest of the season.

Laurent Robinson,
Dallas Cowboys

He had another solid week for Dallas with nine fantasy points in ESPN leagues. This is after being signed off the couch seven weeks ago to give the team some receiver depth. Now he is Dallas’ established third string wideout and, on the heels of another Miles Austin injury, he should see even more balls thrown his way. Expect Robinson to be a top-20 fantasy receiver until Austin comes back. He is available in 98 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, so he is also an easy wavier pickup.

COLD

Indianapolis Colts
The race for Andrew Luck seems to have a front-runner in the Colts as they are off to a 0-9 start. Without Peyton Manning, they have struggled mightily on offense and there is no reason to ever start a Colts player on fantasy at this point. This was exemplified in a 31-7 loss to the Falcons, where they just looked inept on offense. Sadly for the Colts, this kind of performance is now the norm. Stay away from playing any Colts player the rest of the season.

Ryan Torain,
Washington Redskins

He was the starter in Washington at the beginning of the year but only received one carry Sunday as he falls farther and farther into Mike Shanahan’s doghouse. Roy Helu got the bulk of the work with 10 carries and 14 catches out of the backfield for over 150 yards from scrimmage. Helu has earned the starters job for now, so if you have Torain on your roster you might want to consider dropping him in favor of the first-year back.