Friday, December 24, 2010

Five Bold Predictions for Championship Week

Originally written for

Congratulations! If you're reading this, it means Week 16 still matters to your team. And yes, unless you've enjoyed watching guys like Jim Sorgi decide fantasy titles, Week 16 should absolutely be your league's Championship Week. So here's hoping you're in the title mix, but hey, Toilet Bowls can be a good source of second-rate smack talk as well.

I've spent countless hours this season meticulously breaking down box scores in search of exploitable trends to share with you. Some have come to fruition, and others have perplexed me to the point of considering a Glen Coffee-like early retirement from the industry. Listen, if you're alive in Week 16, the lineup decisions should be yours. Don't be a slave to the rankings -- go with your gut. It's a long offseason, and nothing will make it longer than going against your inclinations and getting burned. If you're in the championship, you're perfectly capable of making the tough calls, so spread your wings! With that said, I decided to have a little fun this week by concocting five bold predictions for Fantasy Super Bowls. This is not the type of speculation that you should go out of your way to set your lineups by. These are certified long shots. However, now that I've gotten my disclaimer out of the way, I wouldn't be making these predictions if I didn't think they were possible. They're educated guesses -- I'm not just throwing darts. Odds are that they’ll be wrong, but it gives you some insight into what I'm feeling for certain guys this week. So take these predictions with a grain of salt, but remember that if (and only if) they come true, you heard them here first! Don't try this at home, kids.

1.) Tim Tebow will account for 300 yards of offense and three touchdowns.
Nah, I’m not a big Tebow guy, but you can’t deny what we saw in the Christ child’s first extended action. Tebow passed for 138 yards and a touchdown, and added another 78 yards and a score on the ground. He’s clearly a better runner than passer at this point, but Houston can’t stop either. Moreover, Knowshon Moreno’s availability is in serious question this week, potentially leaving Tebow as the Broncos’ best rushing threat. The Texans’ pass defense ranks dead last in yardage and scoring, and they’ve allowed four rushing scores in their past three games. It would take a leap of faith to start him in your championship, but you'd have God on your side. Tebow gets his first full week of practice as the unquestioned starter under his belt, and the matchup couldn’t be better.

2.) Rob Gronkowski will score two touchdowns in Buffalo.
Fellow rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez got the money last week, scoring twice, but Gronkowski has some nice trends working in his favor here. Hernandez has scored four times in his past three home games, but he’s gone scoreless in his past three road games. Conversely, Gronk has notched exactly one catch in each of his past five home games, but over his past three road games, he’s scored four times, caught exactly five balls in each, and averaged 60 yards. Because of his versatility and polish, Gronk’s still getting significantly more snaps than Hernandez. Additionally, only the Eagles have allowed more than the eight touchdowns the Bills have ceded to opposing tight ends.

3.) Tampa rookies LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, and Arrelious Benn will all score.
Combined with emerging second year quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs have a very nice core of young offensive talent at their disposal. This week it will all come together. The Seahawks are allowing an appalling 28 points per game on the road, and they’ll lose three hours of sleep traveling cross-country from Seattle to Tampa. That’s one of the longest flights in America! Only two teams have allowed more than the 18 touchdowns Seattle has surrendered to opposing receivers, and they’ve allowed multiple receivers to score in four games. That brings Williams and Benn both into play, and Blount will get a run defense that’s allowed 16 touchdowns to opposing backs in 14 games.

4.) Cedric Benson’s Week 15 rushing total will plummet by 100 yards in Week 16.
This one’s actually not much of a stretch at all. Benson broke off a 150-yard game last week (on 31 carries) while rotting on thousands of benches. It was a classic case of a blind squirrel finding a nut. Don’t even think twice about it -- leave him on the pine. He’d failed to reach 50 yards or top 2.6-yards per carry in three straight games prior to last week. This week he’ll be playing from behind against the Chargers No. 7 run defense. San Diego hasn’t allowed a back to top 40 yards in the past two weeks, and a legitimate case could be made that with the way this game will probably flow, Benson could be the fifth most productive back in terms of combo yardage (behind Mike Tolbert, Ryan Mathews, and even Darren Sproles and Bernard Scott).

5.) Larry Fitzgerald will emerge as an unlikely Fantasy Championship Week MVP.
It’s been a year to forget for Fitz. He’s actually still on pace for career-high 175 targets, trailing only Roddy White and Reggie Wayne, but Cardinals quarterbacks couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. Fitz’ looks have been remarkably consistent despite the quarterback carousel – he’s averaging 11 targets/game (153), and he’s only dipped below 10 three times. In his first 12 games with Derek Anderson and Max Hall, he tracked down just 63 of 131 targets (48%). Clearly, I’m using the term “targets” loosely. However, rookie 5th-rounder John Skelton has shown a knack for connecting with his playmaker. In Skelton’s two starts, Weeks 14 & 15, Fitz has reeled in 15 of 21 targets (71%), including last week’s season highs of nine catches and 125 yards against a top-10 Panthers’ pass defense. This week, Arizona will be playing from behind against Dallas. The Cowboys are far and away the worst team in the league at defending the wide receiver position. They rank dead last in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. This is Fitz’ best opportunity of the season.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2010 Waiver Wire All-Pro Team

It never fails. Every season a handful of players who've gone undrafted, or who've toiled on the waiver wire, emerge from the scrap heap to achieve fantasy relevance. Occasionally, like Miles Austin in 2009, they even attain fantasy stardom. But this is absurd. I can't recall a year where more top-end talent could be had via the waiver wire. That guy who always misses your draft? Instead of obnoxiously making his selections via text message, he could have just punted, and picked up a championship-caliber squad amidst the empty beer cans and chewed up chicken wings of your draft day leftovers. My collection of All-Pro fantasy misfits are all players who most likely spent time on the waiver wire, available for anyone to claim.

QB: Michael Vick
After making a mockery of the Philadelphia quarterback controversy, Michael Vick's become the Robert Downey, Jr. of the NFL. We knew he had big time potential, but it appeared his demons would prevent it from ever being realized. We wrote him off and erased him from our memories, only to witness the triumphant return of a super hero. Vick's per-game production is easily tops among NFL quarterbacks, and he's a human highlight film. In his seven full games, he's accounted for 20 touchdowns, averaged 338 yards of offense, and given us a fantasy performance for the ages.

RB1: Peyton Hillis
After playing the undercard in the Brady Quinn trade, Peyton Hillis (above) entered the preseason taking reps behind rookie Montario Hardesty and 2009 breakout star Jerome Harrison. Through 11 games, his 13 touchdowns are tied for the league lead among running backs. His bulldozing running style has catapulted him to cult icon status. America hasn't seen this kind of domination since Chuck Norris hung up his steel toed cowboy boots. On draft day he was a blocking fullback. Today, he's a matchup-proof superstar.

RB2: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Into the season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was just another name in a muddy New England backfield. Well, actually three names. "The Law Firm" has quietly ascended to the level of a reliable No. 2 fantasy running back. He's scored or topped 120 combination yards in eight of his last nine games, giving us a dependable Patriots' running back for the first time since Corey Dillon. Tom Brady gets the press and Danny Woodhead gets the giggles, but "The Law Firm" has been a rock in the New England backfield.

WR1: Brandon Lloyd
Better late than never, right? Journeyman Brandon Lloyd had teased us in the past with the occasional acrobatic catch, but he'd never put anything serious together. In his first seven seasons, he'd maxed out at 48 catches, 733 yards, and six touchdowns. However, he's completely bucked conventional wisdom in his eighth season. With five games remaining, he's already crushed all of his previous bests, with 58 catches for nine touchdowns and a league-leading 1,122 yards. It's bewildering. You just can't make sense out of nonsense.

WR:2 Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson is easily the most unlikely name on this list of unlikely names. That's because prior to your draft, you'd probably never heard of him. God didn't even know who he was. For reference, I grabbed a fantasy draft magazine off my desk, wiped off the layer of dust, and cracked it open to the Buffalo Bills' team page. Johnson's listed as the sixth wide receiver, on an anemic offense without a quarterback. Through 11 games, his 796 yards and nine touchdowns slot him as the No. 8 fantasy wideout in standard scoring leagues.

WR3: Mike Williams (TB)
As a fourth rounder out of Syracuse, rookie Mike Williams was the 13th wide receiver drafted in April. He wasn't even the first receiver drafted by his own team (Arrelious Benn was taken early in the second). However, Williams is in a heated battle with the glitzy Dez Bryant for the honors of top rookie wideout. His 701 yards and six touchdowns through 11 games are good enough for 13th among wide receivers in standard scoring leagues. Austin Collie and Kenny Britt were in the contention for this spot, but injuries derailed their seasons.

TE: Marcedes Lewis
Without much fanfare, the 6'6", 275 lb. Marcedes Lewis' eight touchdowns have propelled him to the No. 2 fantasy tight end ranking. He trails only the great Antonio Gates. Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez have just eight scores combined, and in a year where Jermichael Finley and Dallas Clark have been lost to injury, and Visanthe Shiancoe and Brent Celek have flopped, Lewis has been a stalwart at the position.


QB: Matt Cassel
An uncanny connection with Dwayne Bowe has resulted in 22 passing touchdowns for Matt Cassel, just one off the league lead.

RB: Mike Tolbert
Mike Tolbert's bowling ball physique, combined with rookie Ryan Mathews' inability to stay healthy, has resulted in nine touchdowns in his past ten games.

RB: LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount represents the second Tampa Bay rookie to make the team. He's surpassed the creaky Cadillac Williams on the depth chart and become useful matchup play.

RB/WR: Danny Woodhead
The versatile Danny Woodhead, of HBO's "Hard Knocks" fame, has scored or reached 90 combo yards in six of nine games.

WR: Mario Manningham
With Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith ailing, Mario Manningham has eased fantasy owners' pain by scoring in four of his past six games.

TE: Jacob Tamme
In the five weeks since Dallas Clark's season ended, Jacob Tamme ranks No. 1 in catches, yards, and touchdowns among tight ends. His 56 targets are 22 more than any other tight end over that span.