George Winkler recaps the action from Week 12 and what the weekend’s developments mean going forward.
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Forget about Western Pennsylvania for a moment, because the new cradle of quarterbacks resides in Northern California. First, there was Tom Brady (San Mateo). Then, there was Aaron Rodgers (Chico). And now there’s Colin Kaepernick (born in Milwaukee but raised on football in Turlock, Calif.).
OK, so maybe that statement about the new cradle of QBs is a bit of a stretch, but there tends to be a lot of hyperbole when it comes to Kaepernick these days. After an impressive win over the Bears on Monday night, Kaepernick took his act on the road and helped the 49ers beat the Saints, 31-21.
Never mind that Alex Smith was healthy enough to play, and that Smith enjoyed what might turn out to be the signature moment of his career in last season’s divisional-playoff win over the Saints. Why that might end up being his signature moment is because Kaepernick has pulled a Wally Pipp by playing well enough when Smith was hurt to give Jim Harbaugh no reason to look back.
Kaepernick’s strong arm and elusiveness were on display again in the Superdome. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards, one TD and one interception. He also rushed six times for 27 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t a command performance from a fantasy perspective, but it was his second straight outing with over 20 fantasy points. And for those who haven’t seen Philip Rivers pan out, or who might be stuck with an inconsistent Jay Cutler, Kaepernick is a breath of fresh air.
Since filling in for Smith in the tie against the Rams in Week 10, Kaepernick has completed 66.2 percent of his passes. He has accounted for five touchdowns and just the one turnover. The 49ers have a rematch with the Rams followed by favorable passing matchups with the Dolphins and Patriots. It’s not a stretch to think Kaepernick can make an impact on fantasy playoff races.
Can he carry your team to a title? Probably not, but when surrounded by other good pieces, like he is in San Francisco where the defense pitched in two big INT returns for TDs against the Saints, he probably won’t hurt your cause. It’s not often that a Super Bowl-caliber team switches QBs midstream; in fact, the first one that comes to mind is the Patriots with Brady, who did the Wally Pipp thing to Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Because, you know, that’s how these Northern California guys roll.
1. Hillman hijacked. Ronnie Hillman (3 car., 9 yds.) was a popular pickup/sleeper for Week 12 after Willis McGahee was ruled out for the season. But instead of Hillman having a big game against the Chiefs, it was Knowshon Moreno (20 car., 85 yds.; 4 rec., 26 yds.) who came off the scrap heap and spoiled the fun.
With Hillman, fantasy owners had visions of another late-season waiver-wire wonder, such as in 2009 when the Browns’ Jerome Harrison came off the bench in Week 15 to put up 47.8 fantasy points against the Chiefs. But it wasn’t meant to be, and it was a brutal reminder that as owners we can’t assume too much when it comes to backup backs. However, this was a truly bizarre occurrence in that Moreno ascended from No. 4 on the depth chart to No. 1.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear Moreno is the back to own moving forward. But it’s wise to hold on to Hillman just in case we get another curveball thrown at us next week.
2. Why worry? There was much fretting over whether to put Julio Jones (6 rec., 147 yds., 1 TD) in fantasy lineups because he was dealing with an ankle injury. But Jones gave us yet another example of why if a stud player is active, it’s usually best to use him – especially when the matchup is prime like it was against a beat-up Bucs secondary.
Jones’ yardage total against Tampa Bay was a career high, and his 20.7 fantasy points represented his second-highest total of the season. He had 22.8 fantasy points in Week 1 against the Chiefs. He, of course, should be in your lineup next week against the Saints, provided he doesn’t have any setbacks with the ankle on a short week (Thursday night game).
3. Day in the sun. Joe Flacco (30-for-51, 355 yds., 1 TD), Ray Rice (22 car., 97 yds.; 8 rec., 67 yds.) and Torrey Smith (7 rec., 144 yds.) haven’t always been the dominating fantasy players that some owners expected this season. But it was a sunny day for them in an overtime win against San Diego. They showed the potential they have to help fantasy owners down the stretch.
Of course, we’ve seen it before from Rice, so it’s not a big surprise for him to do well. Where the inconsistency has been more prevalent is with Flacco and in turn Smith. For Flacco and Smith to regain owners’ trust and be factors in drafts next year, they both need a strong finish. Baltimore gets a rematch with the Steelers next week, so that will be a big test to see if they can build on the performance in San Diego.
4. What to believe in the desert. The Cardinals’ Chris Wells (17 car., 48 yds., 2 TDs) and the Rams’ defense (4 INTs, 2 Sacks, 2 Def TDs) both provided pick-me-ups to fantasy owners off the waiver wire. And both could turn out to benefit owners in the long run. But let’s not get too excited about either performance.
Wells got much of his value from the touchdowns and did not compile an impressive yards-per-carry average. He also wasn’t used in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Rams clearly took advantage of an offense that was quarterbacked by the inexperienced Ryan Lindley (31-for-52, 312 yds., 4 INTs).
St. Louis will have a tougher time generating points against the 49ers. Wells gets a favorable matchup against the Jets, but he’ll need to show more burst to be more than just a flex/RB2 play.
5. Much ado about nothing. Russell Wilson (21-for-27, 224 yds., 2 TDs) sure looked comfortable despite a cross-country trip to face the Dolphins. It’s too bad Wilson’s TD passes went to Michael Robinson and Anthony McCoy, who were likely in nobody’s fantasy lineups. Despite this performance, it’s not advisable to use Wilson next week at Chicago.
Meanwhile, on Miami’s side of the equation, Reggie Bush (14 car., 87 yds., 1 TD; 1 rec., minus-5 yds.) finally stemmed the tide of his recent downfall, while Daniel Thomas (9 car., 60 yds., 1 TD; 1 rec., 18 yds.) didn’t look bad, either. But it was Davone Bess (7 rec., 129 yds.) who was the Dolphin with the most value fantasy value — and it was to point-per-reception leaguers, of course.
UP to the booth
By now there shouldn’t be any doubt about whether Cecil Shorts (4 rec., 105 yds., 1 TD) is an every-week fantasy starter. Shorts has averaged 12.7 fantasy points over the past six games. Meanwhile, rookie Justin Blackmon (5 rec., 62 yds., 1 TD) has looked better with Chad Henne (17-for-26, 261 yds., 2 TDs, 1 INT) at the helm. Blackmon has averaged 21.5 fantasy points over the past two weeks and is starter-worthy in a favorable matchup against Buffalo next week.
Even on a day when the defense was clearly stacked against him, Doug Martin (21 car., 50 yds., 2 TDs; 2 rec., 13 yds.) continued to put up big fantasy numbers. But Josh Freeman (19-for-30, 256 yds.) was a little bit off his game against the Falcons, missing Mike Williams (3 rec., 28 yds.) on what should have been an easy touchdown. It will help Martin if Freeman can keep up his hot play. The Bucs go to Denver next week.
Eli Manning (16-for-30, 249 yds., 3 TDs) and the Giants came out of their bye week looking like they were primed for another one of their patented late-season runs as they routed the Packers, 38-10. Hakeem Nicks was targeted 13 times, but managed to get only five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. Victor Cruz (3 rec., 36 yds., 1 TD) and Reuben Randle (2 rec., 26 yds., 1 TD) also scored. The Giants head into a Monday night showdown with the Redskins on a high note.
DOWN to the field
Mike Wallace (1 rec., 9 yds.) and Rashard Mendenhall (4 car., 6 yds., 2 FUM, 1 FL) both struggled in the Steelers’ loss to the Browns on Sunday. It was Wallace’s second straight game where he scored less than one fantasy point. Meanwhile, Mendenhall didn’t look up-to-speed and will have to fight for carries in a four-headed Pittsburgh backfield. Pittsburgh couldn’t get much established behind backup QB Charlie Batch (20-for-34, 199 yds., 3 INTs), and if he has to start next week against Baltimore, expect the Steelers’ offense to continue to struggle.
Fred Jackson (6 car., 16 yds.; 1 rec., 8 yds.) seems to be fading from the Bills’ offense as C.J. Spiller (14 car., 107 yds.; 1 rec., minus-4 yds.) continues to build momentum. Granted, Jackson was coming back from a concussion, so perhaps the Bills wanted to ease him back into the flow of the offense. But there’s no doubting that Spiller is the younger back with more upside and should continue to get the majority of the carries heading into a favorable matchup against Jacksonville.
The Packers defense looks like it needs Clay Matthews back in a hurry. Without his pressure, it’s much easier to exploit weaknesses elsewhere as Eli Manning and the Giants did in a 38-10 rout. The Packers have a chance to bounce back against Christian Ponder and the Vikings. But after that they play the Lions, and that could be trouble unless Matthews returns to bolster the pass rush against Matthew Stafford.
Matt Forte (14 car., 42 yds.; 2 rec., 4 yds.) left the Vikings game in third quarter because of an ankle injury and did not return. It was the same ankle that caused him to miss a game earlier in the season. Michael Bush (21 car., 60 yds., 2 TDs) looked ready to go should he need to start next week against Seattle, though it would be a tough matchup.
Jalen Parmele (8 car., 45 yds.; 1 rec., 7 yds.) injured his leg against the Titans and was in and out of the game before finally exiting for good in the fourth quarter. Rashad Jennings (16 car., 43 yds., 1 TD; 1 rec., 2 yds.) filled in for Parmele and would start next week against the Bills. However, Parmele looked like the back with more upside if both were considered healthy enough to play.
Brandon Weeden (17-for-26, 158 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT) left the game against the Steelers with a head injury and Colt McCoy mopped up for him in the win. Weeden will likely get checked for a concussion, but fantasy owners should have moved on by now anyway. Weeden has averaged just 9.8 fantasy points in his past four games. Cleveland plays at Oakland next week.
FIND OR FLUKE
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Bengals. It’s good to be a complementary receiver to A.J. Green (3 rec., 111 yds.), and Sanu (5 rec., 29 yds., 2 TDs) seems to be taking full advantage of the situation. Sanu has four touchdowns in the past three games, despite averaging just 33 yards receiving over that span. Although it could be risky to expect him to keep getting in the end zone at this rate, he is earning enough playing time to be worth adding to your bench for receiving depth in the playoffs. Ruling: Find.
It’s that time of year when desperation sets in and you need to win at all costs. Sometimes that entails going for what is known as “the block.” In other words, you look at your opponent’s roster and try to anticipate an area of need. And then you try to pick up the best player that fits your opponent’s need simply to block him/her from using it against you. It’s a deep dive into the fantasy underworld, but it can make a difference sometimes. And it’s considered fair play.