Last Updated: Oct 03, 2012 11:28 AM
Fantasy Football Red Zone – 20 Observations from Week 4.
Hard to believe, but we’re already a quarter of the way through the 2012 NFL season. So far we're into October and the Saints have yet to post a win, the Lions are one last second TD pass away from also being winless, the Cardinals, Texans and the Falcons are the only undefeated teams left in the league, Brian Hartline has more receiving yards than AJ Green, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, and Victor Cruz, 6th round rookie RB Alfred Morris is a top 5 RB in rushing yardage, and anyone who had the Week 5-Week 7 window for Tim Tebow becoming the Jets starting QB is probably going to win the pool. It’s been a wild and crazy first few weeks, and here are some of the interesting and fantasy relevant observations from Week 4 action in particular.
1. Flacco Fixates – It sure seems like when Flacco zeros in on a the hot hand receiver, he goes back to that well again and again. For instance, at the half in against the Browns, Anquan Boldin had all of one catch for six yards on two targets. But then the Browns started covering Torrey Smith closer, and Flacco zeroed in on Boldin, completing pass after pass to him. Boldin’s final line: 9 – 131.
2. Pits for Pitta – So when Flacco fixates, somebody has to lose out… this week, it was Dennis Pitta. Pitta was one of the most heavily targeted players through 3 weeks regardless of postion, but in Week 4 he had two targets and no catches. So before anointing Pitta the next big TE phenom, remember there will be weeks like this where he’s not a big part of the game plan. The silver lining: fellow TE Ed Dickson didn’t even get targeted once, so it wasn’t like Pitta lost out to another tight end.
3. Brandon Bolden = Week 5 Waiver Wire Darling. While Stevan Ridley had most of the carries (22) and also have a very nice game (106 yards, 2 TDs), Bolden stole the running game show with a 148 total yards and a touchdown of his own. It wasn’t like Bolden got all his work in the 4th quarter running out the clock either; Bolden got his first carry in the first quarter, and it went for 12 yards. If you have room on your roster and you’re a Ridley owner, might a well stash Bolden as insurance; the undrafted rookie looks very much like Ridley’s handcuff going forward. If you’re not a Ridley owner, I wouldn’t add Bolden except as a speculative pick on a very deep roster… no sense in getting Belichicked if you don’t have to. Speaking of Belichick…
4. No one keeps the throttle down like Bill Belichick. Now this is what you call playing to the final whistle. Already up 42-28 with just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Belichick keeps Tom Brady in there slinging the ball, tossing a touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd to make it 49-28. Everyone was asking what was wrong with Tom Brady; well, now you know… he just hadn’t played the Bills yet. Up next for Brady and the Patriots; a date with old rival Peyton Manning in what should be the best game for fantasy football purposes in Week 5. If you have Broncos or Patriots, get them in your lineup for this one!
5. The Lions look lost. The Lions look lost. Seriously, this team has far too much talent to be muddling through games the way they have been. If it wasn’t for a lucky TD pass at the end of the Week 1 game with the Rams, the Lions would be staring 0-4 right in the face.. Matthew Stafford has looked just plain off this year; his completion percentage is up (almost 69%), but that’s because the Lions have gone from a great vertical passing team to a dink and dunk style of offense. You of course have to keep starting Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, but at this point I’d strongly consider not starting anyone else on that team until they find the “downfield passing” portion of their playbooks again.
6. Just when you thought it was safe to write off Chris Johnson. CJ2K finally decided it was time to get off the mat and roll up a respectable amount of yardage in a game. And of course, it was against the #1 defense in the league, the Houston Texans, which meant if there was any week that you decided to finally wean yourself off of Johnson it would be this week. Of course, earlier this week the Texans’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips hinted that his defense considers the Titans a passing team and was going to play accordingly; so if you don’t stack up to stop Johnson, he proved he still has the ability to rip you for it.
7. Go get Jerome Simpson while you still can. Simpson came off of his three game suspension, and on a day where Christian Ponder only threw for 111 yards, Simpson still caught 4 catches for 50 yards on 7 targets. This after not playing for a month. Simpson is the deep threat the Vikings have lacked, he has the ability to blow the top off the coverage and that will only serve to help Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. With the Titans weak against the pass, this is probably the last time you’ll be able to get Simpson without everyone beating feet to the waiver wire.
8. The Chiefs don’t show up until the second half. So far, the Chiefs have played in 4 games, and they’ve been behind in each of those games at the half; in fact, they’ve been outscored 78-29 in the first half in each of their four contests. Which takes us to observation #8:
9. Dwayne Bowe = 2012 Garbage Time King. Let’s face it; Matt Cassel is terrible, as he has only 5 TDs against 7 INTs so far this year, and a good number of his turnovers happen in the first half to put the Chiefs in a hole. But at least he’s terrible in the general direction of Bowe, who racked up another 12 targets (that makes 49 on the year, an average of over 12 per game) and a late 4th quarter TD when the game was already decided. Bowe has 3 TDs on the year, and all 3 have come late in the 4th when the score was just academic. Luckily for us fantasy leaguers, it doesn’t matter when Bowe scores his touchdowns, they all count the same toward fantasy victory.
10. Antonio Gates just doesn’t look the same. It sure is looking like age and injury has started to really catch up with Gates. He doesn’t exhibit the same burst off the line he used to, he doesn’t regularly beat linebackers and safeties; so much so that Rivers doesn’t even target him like he used to. Gates only has 18 targets through 3 games played. In fact, on a per game basis, Gates is in the company of such TE luminaries as Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, Tom Crabtree, and Craig Stevens. If you can sell Gates on his name value for a Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, or Owen Daniels, I say go for it.
11. Marshawn Lynch is the only thing going for the Seahawks offense. So far, Lynch has had no less than 97 total yards in a game, and he’s scored twice. He’s on pace for over 1900 total yards and 8 TDs, which would almost assuredly land him in the top 3 for his position. In fact, a quarter of the way through the season and Lynch is the leading rusher in the league with 423 yards. It’s not like he’s done it with one monster outlier game either; he’s been very consistent. This with a rookie QB that isn’t threatening anyone right now… if Russell Wilson gets better, Lynch could stand to see even bigger running lanes to go Beast Mode through.
12. Time to jettison your Jets. One thing that was apparent with the pasting the Jets suffered at the hands of the 49ers in Week 4, and that is fantasy owners are probably best served to just cut bait on any Jets they might be holding on to. Mark Sanchez was absolutely horrendous, overthrowing receivers left and right. Shonn Greene looks like he’s running in mud on top of quicksand encased in quick-drying cement. The Jets couldn’t put anything together that even threatened the 49ers with the possibility of a field goal, let alone a real sustained scoring drive. Not only that, but Santonio Holmes went down with a leg injury that looked pretty bad; so things aren’t getting better any time soon.
13. Brian Hartline is the NFL’s leading receiver through 4 weeks. Now, it helps that in Week 4 he had an absolutely ridiculous 12-253 and 1 TD stat line, and even if you take away his 80 yard TD, his stats were still absolutely Wes Welker-esque. The most impressive part about it is he posted that on the road against a Cardinals secondary that has been playing great football thus far. It’s apparent that Hartline has the trust of rookie signal caller Ryan Tannehill, and as Tannehill matures and gets more comfortable, Hartline looks to be the primary beneficiary. Give WR2/WR3 consideration to Hartline in Week 5, as the Dolphins visit a Bengals team that ranks in the bottom third of the league in receiving defense.
14. Chargers WRs aren’t helping Philip Rivers. A lot of people wonder why Rivers hasn’t been able to put the 300 and 3 stat lines his owners have become accustomed to over the years. Malcom Floyd is his leading receiver so far, and still he only has 15 receptions on 26 targets on the year. That puts him at a pace of only 60 catches on the year, and his 250 yards is a pace of 1000 even. Those are lead WR stats that aren’t conducive to another 4000 yard campaign for Rivers. Help is on the horizon though; Vincent Brown will be eligible to return after Week 8, so he may be worth stashing on your roster if you have space, especially in keeper leagues. Brown has the look of a young player that can take over the lead dog position in the WR corps for the Chargers, which Rivers desperately needs.
15. So much for last week’s waiver wire darling, Ramses Barden. A lot of fantasy owners used their waiver pick this week on Barden after his 9-138 performance in Week 3 against the Panthers. Unfortunately, Domenik Hixon returned to the lineup and took his spot back as the #3 WR and Hakeem Nicks understudy, going over 100 yards receiving. Hixon’s speed and leaping ability is more akin to Nicks, which is why the Giants prefer him over Barden. Not only does Hixon do a better Nicks impersonation, Barden likely didn’t endear himself to Tom Coughlin by committing an obvious offensive pass interference penalty on the last drive against the Eagles, which ultimately pushed them a little too far out of kicker Lawrence Tynes’ range, costing the Giants the game. After that gaffe, don’t expect Barden to get back on the field much again unless both Nicks and HIxon are injured.
16. And that’s why you drafted Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski so high. Graham turned in a respectable 7-76, while Gronkowski finally went nuts with a 5-105 and a TD game. How’d the other top 10 2012 stat producers at the tight end position do? Tony Gonzalez (5-51) wasn’t bad, but Vernon Davis (2-28), Dennis Pitta (0-0), Kyle Rudolph (2-8), Jared Cook (3-36), and Martellus Bennett (1-2) are all top 10 guys that did literally squat for fantasy lineups. Graham and Gronk are still the class of this position with Gonzo not far behind; the rest are very useable, but are all subject to having these kinds of days once in a while.
17. Greg Jennings’ groin looks like a lingering problem. Jennings was barely able to get on the field against the Seattle Seahawks, and his pedestrian 6-35 stat line showed that he wasn’t 100% healthy. This week he did make his one catch count (a 9 yard TD), but he couldn’t go the rest of the way once he aggravated his groin injury. These types of injuries do not go away without rest, so if Jennings continues to insist on gutting games out, his stat lines are going to suffer. Until he proves healthy, I’d shelve him and make sure you pick up the subject of #18:
18. James Jones can replace Jennings. Jones has caught 5 passes in each of the past two weeks, each for at least 55 yards, and Week 4 saw him score twice. Jones is starting to develop a better rapport with Aaron Rodgers now that he’s getting a lot more reps with Jennings hobbled. The more Jennings sits out, the more Jones is going to get comfortable and the more productive he’ll get. If you’re the owner of big time WRs on bye this week like Calvin Johnson, Miles Austin/Dez Bryant, or Vincent Jackson and don’t have a lot of good bench options, I’d go pick up James Jones if he’s available and give him a start against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5.
19. Ryan Mathews fumbling problems are costing him reps. To be fair, Mathews only fumbled once so far this year, but it was inside the 10 yard line where the Chargers were about to score in the 2nd quarter to take a 7-6 lead. Instead, the Falcons recovered the ball, marched down the field and made it 13-0; a score from which the Chargers never recovered. So in Week 4, what happened? That’s right, unsung Jackie Battle got the start. While Battle was out-produced in the game by Mathews (39 rushing yards vs. 61 rushing yards), it’s obvious the coaching staff was trying to make a point to Mathews; they have more faith in Battle’s ball control skills, even if he isn’t as talented a back. For now, this situation is muddied beyond usefulness until Mathews proves that he can hold on to the ball and reasserts himself as the undisputed #1 back for the Chargers.
20. Peyton Manning is finding his groove. We knew it was probably going to take a few weeks for Manning to be comfortable; after all, he’s playing on a new team, a new offense, and playing for the first time in about a year and a half. So, you have to excuse some early season rust. But now, Manning seems to be finally finding his groove, and his velocity seems just fine. He fired a couple of hard throws on a rope to Eric Decker and to Demariyus Thomas in Week 4 against the Raiders, showing that he still has it. Manning totaled almost 340 yards and 3 scores, and outside of the 3 INT debacle against the Falcons in Week 2, Manning is averaging over 300 yards and over 2 TD and 0 INTs per game. With shootouts looming with the Patriots and Chargers next, feel free to start Manning without hesitation.
The views and content in this article are not necessarily the opinion of Fantasy Football Champs, www.FFChamps.com, and its in-house experts.