I can’t begin to start listing the things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for my family, my incredible fiancée, my amazing friends, and the many dogs in my life. And you know what? I’m thankful for football on Thanksgiving. It’s fun watching the men in my family hover from their plates to the TV trying to catch a glimpse of the game. On a day we spend so much time with family, we also spend time with our pals Calvin Johnson, Tyron Smith, and Matt Forte.
This particular turkey day gives us three in-division matchups with huge implications in the standings. The Bears travel to the Motor City for a matchup with Matthew Stafford and the Lions. Two 8-3 teams in the Eagles and Cowboys square off with a division lead in their sights. And finally in the nightcap, the defending NFC champion Seahawks take a trip South to San Fran to meet up with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers.
Let’s take a minute to break each down (obviously with an eye towards fantasy) and get a better taste of what’s to come this Thursday.
***At the bottom of the article, I’ve listed some fantasy D’s to keep an eye on when looking towards playoff matchups.***
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Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
For the visiting Bears, this matchup is very fantasy unfriendly and reality-unfriendly as well. The Lions may be coming off a beating at the hands of one Tom Brady, but don’t think for a moment that they’re going to lie down for this game. They know it’s going to take their best effort to beat the Bears and keep pace with the in-division rival Packers. The Lions rank as the 3rd, 4th, and 9th toughest defense, respectively, against QBs, WRs, and RBs. With such a tough matchup, I’m not a fan of Jay Cuter this week. While he has great receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Cutler has struggled recently (failed to reach 10 fantasy points in three of the last five weeks). Temper expectations for your Bears pass catching options. As for Forte though, he’s an automatic play and you hope he can continue his momentum from last week’s two-touchdown performance. If Chicago is going to have a chance, it’s key for them to get the ground game going early.
As for the Lions, this game sets up picture-perfect for Stafford and his receivers. Megatron (Calvin Johnson) could easily go off for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns on this weak secondary that’s been getting lit up week after week. I could see the Lions jumping out to an early lead on the arm of the Georgia product. Therefore, I really like the potential of Joique Bell this week. I think they’re going to try to control the clock and force Cutler to sling it around on the other side of the ball. If Reggie Bush is announced as being inactive, Joique moves to top 15 RB status for me. And for one last note on the Lions: I really like Matt Prater. You won’t catch me talking about kickers too frequently but this matchup is the best you can hope for at the position. The Bears have allowed the most points to kickers on the year and Prater has a booming leg. And a booming leg inside Detroit’s cozy dome spells fantasy success.
Prediction: Lions 27 – Bears 17
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
For the Eagles, this game is a chance for them to stake their claim as the best team in the division and a legitimate super bowl contender. Their warp-speed offense under Chip Kelly will look to showoff on the national stage. A couple guys to note in this fast-paced frenzy are Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, though, I’m afraid Maclin is really going to struggle this week. For as much as they were criticized for their awful defense last year, the Cowboys have patched together a very formidable group. Before getting torched by Odell Beckham Jr. Sunday night, the Cowboys secondary had only allowed three touchdowns to receivers in the past seven weeks. Since Mark Sanchez has taken the reins, Maclin has taken a hit, having only accumulated 23 points over the past three weeks combined. However, Eagles fans, there is hope. And that hope is in the form of one shift RB named LeSean McCoy. After seemingly being primed for a big game all year long, McCoy finally put the yards and touchdowns together last week against the Titans, going for 130 yards and a touchdown on only 21 attempts. And I think “Shady” continues his success in Big D. The Boys have given up five rushing TDs over the past four weeks and RBs are averaging better than four yards a carry as well. This screams big game for one LeSean McCoy.
As for “America’s Team”, this game against the Eagles presents one huge, huge mismatch and I fully expect the Cowboys to exploit it. Over the past five weeks, the Eagles have given up nine touchdowns to WRs. Dez must be getting his “Throw up the X” celebration ready. I think he might absolutely go off. I’m not doing rankings this week, but he would probably be my top option at the position. The Eagles are not only the worst in the league against receivers, but they’re the second worst against QBs as well. The Romo-to-Dez connection is going to be visited frequently Thursday and I expect a smashing success. But, no Cowboys preview is complete without mentioning the league’s leading rusher, Mr. DeMarco Murray. The Eagles are giving up an average of 18 points to RBs over the past four weeks, and I think Murray makes that number even bigger. Do me a favor, please start your Dallas studs, not that you weren’t already. Dez and DeMarco are as automatic as can be, and I think Romo should be an absolute start unless you have Luck, Manning, Rodgers, or Brady.
Prediction: Cowboys 31 – Eagles 20
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
For the Seahawks, this looks like a bad, bad matchup on almost every level. Russell Wilson is a “sit” for me this week going up against the number one fantasy passing defense. I could be wrong, but I just have a feeling Russell really struggles. And to make matters worse, Marshawn Lynch has some tough sledding as well. The 49ers have been the fifth toughest run defense on the year and will look to slow down “Beast Mode”. Having given up only one touchdown in the past 4 weeks, San Francisco has been stout when it matters. However, Marshawn remains a must start, and there is some light in the situation. Four of the last seven RBs to face the 49ers have had at least 100 yards rushing. While I think Lynch’s ceiling may be somewhat limited this week, I think he gets enough yards to make you comfortable starting him.
Much the same for the team by the bay, this looks like a defensive struggle in the making. Colin Kaepernick is going up against the second toughest team against the pass, and his receivers are going up against the top rated secondary in football. With only one passing touchdown allowed in their last three games, this is the week to bench your 49er passing options. And the news doesn’t get much better for the backfield. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde will have a tough time finding many holes against a defensive front that has allowed a 100 yard rusher only twice through week 12. Both backs are touchdown-dependent anyways so play at your own risk.
It’s time to get real folks. By this point in the season you know what your fantasy team is. You’re either off to a fast start and primed for playoffs or you’re sputtering and praying to sneak in to a wildcard spot. Let’s start with the owners who have come out of the gate on fire.
If you’re 6-2 or 7-1, the playoffs are almost a certainty and you’re feeling good about the consistency of your roster. Something you have done, whether by luck or by strategy, has led you to an excellent start and you can just hover around .500 the rest of the season while coasting into the playoffs. I’ve never been in a league where 9-4 can’t get you into the playoffs. But be careful not to get complacent, because complacency is the demise of a successful fantasy team. Yes your team is killing it thus far, but you’re now the team everyone is gunning for. Make sure you’re staying active on the waiver wire. Start looking at players with excellent playoff schedules and begin looking forward to the prize. The best thing I can say is: Don’t lose focus. Keep on doing what got you here and you should be punching your ticket to the playoffs any week now.
Next up is the middling, .500 teams. Chances are this is where the majority of you are. It’s the average, the middle of the road. You’ve had some good wins; you’ve suffered some tough defeats. But that’s all in the past. Now you’re a .500 team that needs to pick up steam to make the playoffs. Trades (if your deadline hasn’t already passed) become very interesting. If one player in the trade goes off, it could spark you to a few wins and a playoff spot. If one player busts, you could find yourself on the outside looking in. Find the good matchups, watch for solid players being dropped as roster spots become more of a premium. You’ve got a 50/50 shot at making it to the big dance, it’s time to find the holes on your team, address them, and pray for the best
Lastly is the team of struggle. The team that had the best draft in the entire league, the one featuring Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Zac Stacy, a sneaky pick of Ray Rice, a stud WR2 in Victor Cruz. Yeah that team is now 2-6 and miserable. While hope isn’t lost, your chances of sneaking into the playoffs are slim to none. You’re in Jets, Jaguars, Buccaneers territory…man, that is a territory I never want to visit. But don’t think it’s impossible. In the majority of leagues, a winning record will get you a wildcard spot. So you’re 2-6? Feel free to start that 5 game win streak this Sunday. If I’m you, I’m looking at trades to shake up my team because why not? Make some bold calls and swing for the fences. Worst-case scenario: you lose this week and play spoiler the rest of the season to your best friends (worst enemies). If you can’t make playoffs, why not bring your rivals down with you?
Some random notes before rankings:
· Man this bye week is awful. The following teams are scoring as much as you and I this week: Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans. That means the following are out:
o Aaron Rodgers (2nd ranked QB)
o Matt Forte (3rd ranked RB)
o Jay Cutler (6th ranked QB)
o Matt Ryan (9th ranked QB)
o Matthew Stafford (10th ranked QB)
o Eddie Lacy (11th ranked RB)
o 7 of the top 22 WRs (Cobb, Nelson, Tate, Julio, Watkins, Alshon)
· A.J. Green terrifies me this week. Now I’ll probably end up eating crow on this one but if I have the WR, I’m not starting him unless I absolutely have to. A toe injury for an athlete like Green may not seem like much but it affects his ability to plant his feet, make cuts and run crisp routes. If I’m a Green owner, I’m giving him a week to get fully acclimated.
· DeMarco Murray is another stud that worries me a little this week. Yes it may be ridiculous to worry about a guy on pace to set the single-season rushing record. A guy that has at least 100 yards rushing in 8 straight games (unreal). But Murray is facing a Cardinals defense ranked as the toughest against the run in the league. They have yet to allow a 100 yard rusher on the season. Now while they haven’t faced anyone of DeMarco’s talent (LeSean McCoy comes closest), I still think this is a matchup to slightly worry about. Obviously if you have Murray he’s absolutely a lock in your starting lineup. But I would warn you to temper your expectations.
· Giovani Bernard is dealing with multiple injuries, most notably a banged up hip, which forced him out of last week’s game against the Ravens. Gio didn’t practice yesterday and if I own him, I’m running to waivers and picking up Jeremy Hill if he’s available. Be warned, there’s a very real shot Bernard is inactive come Sunday.
· Thursday Night Football Prediction:
o Saints 31 – Panthers 17
The Panthers are the 9th worst defense against the pass and 5th worst against the run. The Saints, although they tend to struggle on the road, are looking to take control of a weak NFC South division and I think they come out firing. Brees and Ingram seem primed for huge games and I think it’s another lopsided Thursday Night affair.
This time next year, I will have been married for 4 months. Yeah I’m that kid: the one who gets married halfway through college. She’s a beautiful nursing student who, thankfully, will be graduating in December of 2015. But until then, as Alan Jackson puts it, we’ll be “living on love”…and very little else. Being newlyweds will be exciting as we learn more about each other everyday and experience a brand new life together. We’ll be two college students joined in wedded bliss.
Now you’re not reading this to know about my personal life, you’re waiting to get to the fantasy analysis. Well, I challenge you to look back at the wonderful football marriages that took place this offseason and the beautiful impact they’re now having on your fantasy lineup. Remember when Gary Kubiak and Steve Smith were brought together as one? Yeah we’re not talking about marriage in the traditional sense, we’re talking about the ever-important marriage of new offensive coordinators and their new toys. Let’s take a quick look at just how big of an impact three new offensive coordinators are having on your roster.
· Gary Kubiak and WR Steve Smith
o When Kubiak was let go by the Texans this past offseason, teams around the league quickly inquired about the former offensive coordinator. He was always more of an offensive mind in Houston, leaving the defense up to his staff. Now in Baltimore, there may be no one happier than former Panther wide receiver Steve Smith. Upon leaving Carolina, Smith quickly became the ‘X factor’ receiver in Kubiak’s offense. For years, none other than Texan star receiver Andre Johnson held this prominent role. During his time in Houston, Kubiak made Johnson the first, second, and third option in the passing game. Secondary receivers weren’t important because they weren’t utilized. Kubiak had one receiver he cared about and that was going to be his guy through thick and thin. All this to say, we should have seen this breakout coming from Smith. Through three weeks, the former Panther has been targeted a staggering 32 times and has reeled in 18 of them. The next most targeted receiver is Torrey Smith, targeted only 18 times (or almost less than half of Smith). If an owner in your league is letting Smith ride the pine, see what kind of deal you can put together to grab him while he’s still available. As long as he holds down the ‘X’ spot, Smith is a viable WR2 in most formats.
· Hue Jackson and RB Giovani Bernard
o Hue Jackson is in a much different situation then Kubiak. Rather than moving teams, Jackson was promoted from Bengals running backs coach to offensive coordinator upon Jay Gruden’s exit to Washington. Having coached the team’s running backs, Jackson was smart enough to know what he had in the dynamic Gio Bernard. In 2013, Gruden was still focused on splitting the carries between Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But today, Green-Ellis finds himself a free agent looking for a job while Bernard shines in Cincy. This fantasy marriage has done wonders for the young back. Last season, Bernard had more than 13 carries in just two games. This year, he’s already surpassed that number, averaging more than 18 carries a game. This doesn’t even include his role in the passing game, having already accumulated 19 targets through 3 weeks. Gio is the real deal and his owners are grateful for this marriage of coordinator and star running back.
· Ben McAdoo and RB Rashad Jennings
o In the last of our three marriages, we look at the beautiful chemistry between former Packers assistant McAdoo and Giants running back Rashad Jennings. McAdoo was brought into New York to spark life in an offense that ended in the bottom-five in offense last season. Having run the West Coast offense while in Green Bay, the coordinator quickly transformed the Giants into this system. West Coast offenses are known for short passes near the line of scrimmage and a hurry-up mentality. The Giants brass hired McAdoo hoping he could raise Eli Manning’s career 58.5% completion rate (hasn’t topped 60% in a season since 2011). What they didn’t expect was the massive role Jennings would play in the new scheme. Through week 3, Jennings has carried the rock 68 times for nearly 300 yards. In the current age of football, it’s hard to find many bell cow running backs. You need not look any further to find one. Having ceded just 19 carries to backup Andre Williams, this backfield is all Jennings. Expect more of the same in the coming weeks as McAdoo and Jennings take their marriage and turn it into wedded bliss (in the form of many, many fantasy points).
Week 4 Rankings:
Here are my week 4 rankings broken down by position. I’ve also included my top 50 flex for those who can’t decide if they need to start a RB, WR, or TE in that flex spot. On to the rankings….
This tool is free and I promise to get back to you by the end of the day you send in your question. Send away!
Good luck to everyone this week!
This has been another edition of Fantasy Decisions with Bradley Maddox. Always remember: An elite owner stays ahead of the curve
With fantasy contenders beginning to emerge in many leagues, the emphasis now is on staying competitive and not falling behind in the standings. Whether the goal is to remain in first place or climb out of last, it only takes a few key lineup modifications:
Players to start:
1) LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are an anomaly for a number of reasons, one of them being their inability to consistently get the ball to the explosive McCoy. However, with Michael Vick struggling to hold onto the football and the Eagles facing a Lions defense that has allowed over 100 rush yards per game this season, “Shady” McCoy should have a solid week. Expect him to get plenty of touches and reach the end zone.
2) Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
After looking practically invisible the first two weeks of the season, Fitzgerald has emerged as the fantasy stud people thought he would be, averaging just under 90 receiving yards over the past three games. With a weak Buffalo Bills defense coming up Sunday, Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb will be looking in Fitzgerald’s direction any chance he gets.
3) Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
While everyone has been talking about another Redskins rookie, Morris has quietly put together a very solid season. Morris has been the model of consistency, topping 89 yards rushing in all but one game this year, including back-to-back 100-yard games the past two weeks. Whether quarterback Robert Griffin III plays or not Sunday against the Vikings, look for the Redskins’ offense to lean on Morris.
Players to sit:
1) Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans
After a big game against the Detroit Lions three weeks ago, Washington has been held in check and out of the end zone by opposing defenses. Much of this can be attributed to the absence of starting quarterback Jake Locker, who injured his shoulder against Houston in Week 4. With Matt Hasselbeck under center for the Titans and the Steelers defense coming to town, Washington cannot be considered a reliable fantasy threat.
2) Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
After his debacle against the Bears on Monday Night Football a couple of weeks ago, can we really trust Romo again? Yes, he has had dud games like that throughout his career and has been able to bounce back from them, but this year’s Cowboys are much less explosive offensively. With a weak offensive line to protect him from the Ravens’ tenacious defense, Romo will have to improvise early and often, which will lead to some mistakes.
3) Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Prior to last week, Ponder was playing mistake-free football for the Vikings. He faltered Sunday against the Dolphins, however, tossing his first two interceptions of the season. True, he is set to face a Redskins defense which has allowed big games to several quarterbacks this year. However, Washington looked better last week against the Falcons’ high-flying pass attack, and Ponder does not have the offensive weapons Matt Ryan had.
Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: McCoy a slick pick in fantasy this week
Week 8 of the fantasy season is now complete, so here are a few players that knew how to compete and those whose expectations they did not meet.
1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Quick: Name the NFL’s leading rushing team? Done guessing? Well I’m willing to bet that none of you chose the Eagles, a historically pass-happy squad that has had a change of heart in 2011, averaging a 179.9 yards on the ground. The bulk of those yards have been gained by a lightning quick second-round pick from Pittsburgh, LeSean McCoy. McCoy had been the best running back in football this season, averaging more than 100 yards a game, even before this weekend’s performance. He cut through the top-ranked Dallas run defense like butter for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Maurice Morris, Detroit Lions
Jahvid Best is hurt and that means someone has to get the carries in the Motor City. That person is Maurice Morris, who had a good game on Sunday as Best’s replacement, rushing for 58 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. Morris, who is available in 86 percent of ESPN fantasy football leagues and should continue to see touches even when Best comes back to keep him healthy, is a solid pickup.
3. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have always been known as a run-first offense, but they have an All-Pro quarterback behind center and they have decided that throwing the ball is the best way to win ball games, which makes Pittsburgh receivers viable fantasy options. While you will not be able to pick up the Steelers No. 1 option, a solid No. 2 is still available in Antonio Brown, who has had more than 10 points in each of the past two weeks and is the Steelers’ most targeted wideout. He is still available in 76 percent of leagues and is a solid wavier pickup this week.
1. John Beck, Washington Redskins
Whenever your team gets shut out, it will be a rough week for the quarterback. For one that is competing for his job, it could be devastating. This is exactly the situation Beck is in after the Bills shutout the Redskins 23-0 on Sunday. Beck threw for only 208 yards and added two interceptions. After that performance, it remains to be seen if the quarterback carousel in the nation’s capital comes back to Rex Grossman this coming Sunday.
2. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rookies will take their lumps and Gabbert took his on Sunday against the Texans. He threw for only 97 yards and two interceptions on a 10-of-30 passing performance in a 24-10 loss. The Jaguars’ league-worst offense was held to only 174 yards in this game.
Printed on Tuesday, Novemeber 1, 2011 as: McCoy runs over Cowboys, remains top fantasy player