Fantasy Football Red Zone: 20 Observations from Week 5

Contributed by: Jason Stolberg
Last Updated: Oct 09, 2012 9:57 AM

1. Brees with Ease – Let’s look at the top QBs from last year for a moment.  Aaron Rodgers has looked less than super-human, ranking just 14th in passing yards per game.  2011’s super rookie Cam Newton is just 21st, Tom Brady is 8th, Matthew Stafford is 6th.  So who’s still plugging away?  That’s right, Drew Brees, who ranks 1st in yards, touchdown passes, and attempts.  In Week 5 Brees rolled up another 370 passing yards and a whopping 4 touchdown tosses.  He did all that damage with Lance Moore missing the game and with Jimmy Graham rolling an ankle in the 1st quarter and hobbling around the rest of the game being a decoy; so it doesn’t matter who Brees has, he’s still going to get his numbers.  That tells me for fantasy purposes, there’s no other QB I’d rather have.  In fact, there are currently three QBs that I don’t think I’d sell for anyone right now, leading me to the next two observations.  

2. Matty Ice is on Fire – The second QB I would want on my team over all others is Matt Ryan.  The guy has simply been in the zone this season, ranking 4th in yards per game, ranking second in TD passes on the season, and has only thrown three INTs on the year.  Week 5 was no exception, as the Falcons were a little lethargic at first but Ryan still ended up with over 360 passing yards and 2 TDs.  And check out this juicy end of season schedule:  Week 13 vs. Saints, Week 14 @ Panthers, Week 15 vs. Giants, Week 16 @ Lions.  Based on that fantasy playoff schedule alone I want me some Matty Ice for the weeks when fantasy championships are won and lost.

3. I am feeling Luck-y, punk! – And the 3rd QB I’d really want on my team right now?  That’s right, none other than budding rookie superstar Andrew Luck.  Quietly, Luck is 3rd in passing yards per game with 302, is averaging 2 TDs per game, and is looking better with each passing contest.  This past week, he outdueled Aaron Rodgers in an emotional win for the Colts, amassing over 380 total yards and 3 TDs.  If you’ve been platooning Luck as your starting QB, that means you probably waited on picking a QB in your draft and stockpiled at other positions, so you’re primed for the stretch run to your fantasy playoffs.  Good for you.  The middle of the season looks great for Luck and his fantasy owners, with Weeks 6-10 holding games against passing defenses ranked in the bottom half of the league:  Jets, Browns, Titans, Dolphins, Jaguars.  Enjoy the Luck fireworks!

4. Oldies but Goodies. – Draft guides always talk about gathering up young players with upside on the back ends of your drafts, especially in keeper leagues.  In a bigger dollar keeper league that I play in, guys like Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Tony Gonzalez, and Frank Gore all were held in fairly low regard compared to younger counterparts because of the age issue.  If you ended up with those four fogies, well, you’re doing awfully well.  Manning had over 350 total yards and 3 TDs against the Patriots in Week 5; he’s currently on pace for over 4800 yards and 35 TDs.  Wayne had a career game in Week 5 (13-212-1TD), and is currently on pace for a ridiculous 2000 yards receiving this year.  Gonzo had his own 13 catch game in Week 5 (13-123-1TD), and is on pace for 125 catches, over 1200 yards, and 13 TDs.  Take that, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.  Then there’s Gore, who most people shunned because of Kendall Hunter, who had 106 yards and a TD in Week 5.  He’s on pace for over 1500 total yards, 13 TDs, all on a robust 5.4 ypc.  Maybe their keeper value beyond this year isn’t great, but you can lament that while you’re polishing your 2012 fantasy football championship trophy.

5. Bad Week for the Running QB.  For fantasy football and in real life it seems, the running QB is a double-edged sword; because they can make plays with their legs, running QBs can threaten a defense in more ways than a traditional pocket passer.  The price for that is, of course, they expose themselves to injury far more.  Take Robert Griffin III, for instance.  RGIII took the fantasy world by storm, was the leading scorer through four weeks in a lot of scoring systems, only to go down in the early part of the 2nd half with a concussion after a particularly brutal hit.  After seeing extreme highs and extreme lows with the poster boy for running QBs Michael Vick, you have to have seen this type of valley coming considering the peaks you’ve experienced with RGIII so far.

In addition to RGIII’s troubles, Michael “greasy palms” Vick fumbled four times, losing two, in a close game with the Steelers.  Vick is turning it over on a two per game average, and you have to wonder if the coaching staff is finally going to pull the plug on him.  Then there’s Cam Newton, who had a rough game simply because he was going against one of the toughest defenses in the league.  Which brings me to my next point…

6. NFC West Defenses are Bad Juju for Fantasy.  If you have players going against the Seahawks or 49ers defenses this next week, you may want to seriously consider putting those players on the pine.  Of course, that flies in the face of the conventional “Never Bench Your Studs” thinking, as both Tom Brady, and Eli Manning are going against those two defenses.  But take this into consideration… the Seahawks reduced Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton, two of the top 4 QBs for fantasy in 2011, into bad starts… not to mention doing the same to Tony Romo, who was a top 10 QB last season as well.  Am I actually saying to consider pushing Brady to the bench?  I am, if (and this is a big if) you actually have a good QB sitting on your bench.  QBs I would consider benching Brady for based on matchups this week:  Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton.  If you have one of those five guys, seriously consider it.  I was right about benching Aaron Rodgers in Week 3, and I have a feeling that Brady is going to find tough sledding in Seattle too.

I’m considering it even more if I’m an Eli Manning owner going against the 49ers at San Francisco this weekend.  In fact, I would strongly consider starting almost anyone over Manning this weekend with the lights-out way the 49ers defense is playing.

That goes for their weapons as well.  If Rob Gronkowski is your TE, you probably don’t have any other options, so you’re going to start him.  Wes Welker is also pretty matchup proof these days.  But I wouldn’t play Brandon Lloyd, and I wouldn’t even take a chance with Stevan Ridley, even though he’s looked good recently.  For the Giants against the 49ers, I would avoid the likes of Ahmad Bradshaw, Martellus Bennett, and any of the receiving weapons not named Victor Cruz.

7. So who’s the Fantasy Turnstile Defense?  Well, we don’t have to look any further than the bunch of matadors the Buffalo Bills are trotting out on defense to see who you should start your players against.  The Bills allowed the 49ers to break the team’s yardage record during the Week 5 45-3 pasting in San Francisco.  That’s right, the Bills allowed Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, and Frank Gore to take a record from the hallowed stat grounds of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Roger Craig.  Just for that the Bills defense should be shipped off to a developmental league in Saskatchewan.  In Week 6, the Bills play the Cardinals; so if you own Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, or heck even Kevin Kolb if you’re a Brees or Newton owner without a viable backup for the bye week, make sure they’re in the lineup and watch the stats fly.  With Ryan Williams placed on IR this week, go pick up William Powell and consider him a plug and play too if you you’re hurting because of bye weeks.

8. The Winner of the Cedric Benson Impersonation Contest is…  BenJarvus Green-Ellis!  That’s right, Green-Ellis is a few years younger, yet if you squint real hard and just look at the stats, you’d swear it was Benson plodding along behind the Bengals offensive line.  Now, when we see Law Firm’s 3.3 ypc, we automatically want to point the finger at the offensive line.  But hold the phone, the Bengal’s line is actually fairly successful in run blocking, ranking in the top 10 for success against defenders.  It sure does look like the Patriots knew what they were doing, as Green-Ellis appears awfully one dimensional out there, without a great burst to bust through those small creases that good RBs can exploit to turn into 5 and 6 yard carries. 

One thing that’s good for the BJGE owners out there… backup Bernard Scott tore his ACL and was placed on IR, so Law Firm’s job security is about as sound as any back’s in the league.  It just seems like the guy isn’t going to do anything with it… Objection your honor, Law Firm’s irrelevant.

9. Speaking of Burst, Jamaal Charles has it back in spades.  Well, if the new plan for the Chiefs is to give Charles 30 carries a game like they did in Week 5, fantasy owners can expect great stat lines like 161 total yards.  That is, until the Chiefs run the guy into the ground and he gets hurt… but until then, owners should enjoy the ride.  With Brady Quinn set to start for the concussed Matt Cassel, the Charles-heavy game plan isn’t likely to change.  The Chiefs face a Buccaneers team in Week 6 that’s ranked 4th in yards per game; but I think Charles is going to expose that ranking as overblown.

10. Greg Zuerlein = Pretty Damn Good.  If there’s any kicker I’d consider holding on to while they’re on bye, it’s Greg “The Leg”.  Zuerlein has been automatic, going 13 of 13 thus far this year, and he kicked another boomer of 53 yards in Week 5 against the Cardinals.  The most astounding thing is that 9 of those 13 are from 40+, and 4 of them are from 50+.  Does anyone doubt that this rookie will get a shot to break the 63 yard barrier at some point this season?  In fact, I may just put money down on this kid breaking the record this season.


11. Antonio Gates Looks All Used Up.  I hate to say it, because Gates has been one of my favorite players through the years.  In my main long-term keeper league, I jumped on Gates before his first big season; in fact in my draft that year, I got a lot of those incredulous “who???” looks when I called out his name as my TE2.  I got those same looks two seasons ago when I plucked Jimmy Graham off the free agent scrap pile when he was still the third string TE behind Jeremy Shockey and Dave Thomas, then decided to make him one of my keepers going into 2011.

Unfortunately in Gates’ case, it just looks like the nagging injuries have taken a toll.  He was never the fastest TE or the tallest, but his ball skills and ability to shield the defender away from the pass has always been second to none.  But now, it looks like he just can’t get separation.  Going against the 32nd ranked defense in the Saints in Week 5, this should have been his first really good game of the year.  Instead, he posted an anemic 3-19 stat line, and even that looked like a struggle.  The fact that Gates is starting to wind down at age 32 makes what Tony Gonzalez is doing at 36 look that much more special.

12. The Minnesota Vikings are Real.  Once a team gets to 4-1, you have to stop chalking it up to getting lucky with matchups.  The Vikings have the look of a good team, showing balance between the passing game, rushing game, and sporting a stout defense.  We’re into October now, and the Vikings (along with the Bears) have a two game lead on defending NFC North champion Green Bay Packers.  In Week 5, Adrian Peterson had over 100 total yards, as did Percy Harvin (who also had 2 TDs), and Kyle Rudolph caught another redzone touchdown.  This is a team that has good fantasy players on it, and now play against the subject of point #13:

13. The Redskins Defense is the Buffalo Bills of the NFC.  Seriously, everyone throws on the Redskins.  Lets look at the tale of the tape:  the Redskins have allowed 12 touchdown passes, and have allowed at least 300 total yards to every quarterback they’ve faced; even the scattershot Josh Freeman.  If you have are hurting for a QB this weekend, feel free to pick up Christian Ponder and play him.  If you have Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, or Kyle Rudolph, celebrate as those players are going to help you get a win this week.

14. Demaryius Thomas is the next elite WR.  And of course, Thomas has Peyton Manning to thank for making that leap.  The only bad game Thomas has had this year was against the Houston Texans, which is excusable because everyone has a bad game against the Texans.  Thomas has 3 games of over 100 yards receiving this year, ranks 2nd in receiving yards behind Brian Hartline (who is in the lead thanks to one ridiculous week), 4th in yards per catch of any receiver with over 20 receptions, and his 1st in catches over 20 yards with 11.  Up next for Thomas:  A Monday Night matchup against a Chargers secondary that just got shredded by Marques Colston and Devery Henderson.

15. Rashard Mendenhall is the shot in the arm the Steelers needed.  The Steelers looked awfully one dimensional earlier in the year, and paid the price for it to the tune of going 1-2.  Both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman couldn’t even get to 3.0 ypc, and no one was respecting the Steelers run game.  Enter Mendenhall, who got his first playing time of the year against the Eagles in Week 5, and rang them up to the tune of 101 total yards and a touchdown.  Mendenhall makes a nice RB3/Flex play going forward, and you can expect the occasional RB2 numbers like he got against the Eagles.  Speaking of the Eagles…

16. The Eagles Offensive Line Woes are Putting Shady in the Dark.  Not only have the Eagles been in the bottom half of the league in allowing hits to the quarterback, which has likely made Michael Vick more than a little skittish, but they’re just not opening the same holes for Lesean McCoy as they were last year.  McCoy is still on pace for over 1600 total yards, but right now he’s only on pace for a total of 6 touchdowns, a far cry from the 20 he had in 2011.  McCoy didn’t have a bad game in Week 5 (80 total yards one, 1 TD) but the fantasy owners that picked him with the 3rd pick in the draft have been left wanting most of the year.  Of course, Shady’s not having the worst RB woes… that distinction belongs to:

17. Time to reduce Chris Johnson to an occasional flex play… for good.  Ok, just like admitting you have a drinking problem, you absolutely have to put down the CJ2K bottle and walk away.  You should only be drinking the CJ2K Kool-Aid on occasion, like when you need a flex play and the Titans are playing a poor defense.  Johnson reverted back to 29 total yards against the Vikings in Week 5, and I’m sure he’s lost more than his fair share of games for his fantasy owners.  Here are the only games I would consider starting CJ2K the rest of the way, and even then just as a flex play:  Week 7 @ Buffalo, Week 8 vs. Indianapolis, Week 12 @ Jacksonville, Week 14 @ Indianapolis, Week 15 vs. New York Jets.  Don’t even think about starting him against anyone else. 

18. Just like clockwork, Julio Jones is ultra-valuable on the road.  It really is uncanny; in two home games this year, Jones has 5 catches for 44 yards and 0 TDs.  In three away games, Jones has 21 catches for 269 yards and 4 TDs.  It’s weird, because there’s no logical reason for that pattern, and yet it goes all the way back to last season.  Up next in Week 6, a home game against the Oakland Raiders.  The matchup is just too juicy to bench Jones, but just be aware, for some inexplicable reason Jones may end up with lower stats because he’s at home.

19. No More Shanahanigans!  That’s right, it sure looks like Mike Shanahan has found his guy in 6th round draft pick Alfred Morris, who racked up another 135 total yards against a good Falcons defense in Week 5.  Fantasy owners are still shell-shocked from Shanahan’s rotating his running backs seemingly on a whim; but I still contend that the reason for that was he never really had his guy.  When Shanahan has had his guy, he’s stuck with him and run that back as much as possible; Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, even guys like Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary had great seasons with Shanahan where they were the bell cow for the season.  In recent years, Shanahan has tried to find that guy; for the last couple of years, he tried like heck to make Ryan Torain that guy, when no one else would have given him that many chances.  Now that he has Morris and Morris is showing that he has enough strength, burst, and vision to get the job done, he has as much job security as any other running back in the league.

20. The Bears Are Primed For a Big Playoff Push.  No team right now is playing as well in all facets of the game as the Chicago Bears.  Their defense is elite, having allowed just 2 TDs in the last three games; their offense is clicking, escalating in scoring with each passing week.  And it sure looks like Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are starting to really click on all cylinders, as Marshall had 7-138-1TD two weeks ago in Dallas, only to top that performance with 12-144-1TD against the Jaguars in Week 5.  With a bye week in Week 6, you have to wonder if the break will actually work against the Bears, as they’ve been building momentum with each passing week since their loss to Green Bay in Week 2.  I guess we’ll see when they return to action in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.

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