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Sunday Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 11 in the NFL

Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler warms up before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field on November 20, 2011 in Chicago. UPI/Brian Kersey

- December 25th – mark it down. That’s the day the Bears get their rematch with the Packers and it’s going to be a spectacle to watch. There might not be a team playing with more confidence right now than Chicago, which hasn’t lost since its ugly effort in Detroit on Monday Night Football back in early October. Jay Cutler didn’t light the stat sheet on fire today but he made big plays all day. And his lone mistake (an interception to Antoine Cason), wasn’t a mistake at all because Johnny Knox slipped on the play. Besides, the Bear defense picked off Philip Rivers in the end zone on the next possession, basically nullifying Cason’s interception. With guys like Cutler, Matt Forte and Devin Hester, as well as a physical, unrelenting defense, the Bears look playoff ready…

…whoops! Talk about timing. About a millisecond after writing that paragraph I saw a report that Jay Cutler’s season might be over due to a fractured right throwing thumb. If that’s the case, then the Bears could be finished. Caleb Hanie has had his moments, such as leading Chicago to a touchdown on his first series against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game last year. But as B.J. Raji’s interception in that same game can attest to, Hanie is also very inexperienced. If Cutler is indeed out (he’ll undergo more tests on Monday), then his injury dramatically changes the Bears’ offense (and season, for that matter).

- The Falcons would be foolish not to keep Matt Ryan in the no-huddle from here on out. Atlanta ran its no-huddle almost exclusively today in its 23-17 victory over the Titans and Ryan had is second-highest QB rating of the season (110.9), threw for over 300 yards for only the fourth time all year, and didn’t throw an interception for only the third time in 10 games. While they did have issues inside the red zone (they settled for three field goals and Michael Turner coughed the ball up once to allow Tennessee to get back into the game), the Falcons only punted twice in the victory. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has been hesitant to run the no-huddle on a full-time basis but it’s the offense that Ryan is clearly most comfortable running.

- Jake Locker showed why he was once considered a slam-dunk No. 1 overall draft pick. Matt Hasselbeck has done a fantastic job managing games for Tennessee this year but Locker sparked a punchless offense and nearly brought the Titans back from 20 points down in the second half. He only completed 9-of-19 passes but those nine completions went for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also picked up a first down with an 11-yard rush on a third-and-long and showed good zip on most of his passes. Mike Munchak already backed Hasselbeck as the starter in his post-game press conference but with Matt Schaub now out for the year in Houston, it might be time for Tennessee to roll the dice with the kid. Locker was fun to watch today.

- I watched Chris Johnson very closely today and from my point of view, there’s nothing wrong with him. He just doesn’t have anywhere to run as Tennessee’s run blocking is abysmal. Atlanta’s run defense is very sound but Johnson was bottled up almost immediately after receiving the hand off.

- Blaine Gabbert threw for 210 yards and didn’t turn the ball over in the Jaguars’ 14-10 loss to the Browns. He also threw a perfectly placed ball that Jason Hill couldn’t haul in with three seconds remaining in the game that could have won it for Jacksonville. But Gabbert’s overthrow to a wide-open (and I mean WIDE-OPEN) Hill in the end zone with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter really cost Jacksonville a huge opportunity to tie the game at 14-14. Those are the types of plays that Gabbert hasn’t been making all season. Now, he’s only a rookie and deserves time to develop. But I firmly believe that Jacksonville screwed up by releasing David Garrard and forcing Gabbert onto the field before he was ready. The kid should be holding a clipboard right now.

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten hugs kicker Dan Bailey after Bailey kicked a game winning 39-yard field goal in overtime against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Washington on November 20, 2011. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

- I’m sorry, I know a win is a win and they very well could wind up being tied for first in the NFC East before the night is over (the Giants are currently losing to the Eagles as I type). But that was not a very impressive win by the Cowboys today. The Redskins’ offense has been putrid for over a month and the Cowboys were one 52-yard field goal by Graham Gano away from losing. Jason Witten and Tony Romo made some great plays today and hey, divisional games are usually close. But count me among the people who keep waiting for the ‘Boys to put together that signature win and yet, it still hasn’t come. I picked the Cowboys to win the NFC East this year so I’m not surprised that they’re 6-4. It’s just not a very impressive 6-4 to me.

- Andy Dalton made some big mistakes today, which included throwing three interceptions and being flagged for intentional grounding on the Bengals’ final possession. But it’s clear that he and Cincinnati have a very bright future. This was a team that was without its best offensive playmaker (A.J. Green) and its top cornerback (Leon Hall) and still hung with the Ravens on their home field. On paper, Baltimore should have cruised to victory and it almost did. But thanks to Dalton and the Bengals’ perseverance, they had a chance to at least tie the game in the closing minutes. Assuming Dalton doesn’t go backwards from here, I see no reason why the Bengals won’t continue to challenge the Ravens and the Steelers in the AFC North.

- It was good to see Cam Cameron let it rip today. Sometimes the Ravens’ offense looks like a Ferrari but drives like a Pinto. Joe Flacco took a couple of deep shots, Ray Rice was heavily involved and Torrey Smith (6 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD) had a breakout performance. Speaking of Smith, if he maintains his confidence week in and week out, he’s going to be a star in this league. That 49-yard catch that he hauled in today was a thing of beauty.

- If I’m a Lions fan I’m ecstatic that my team scored 49 points as Matthew Stafford threw for five touchdowns and Kevin Smith rushed for 140 yards and two scores. But I would be extremely concerned about the number of times they’ve had to stage a big comeback because they’ve dug themselves a huge hole in the first half. Three of the Lions’ seven wins this year (Dallas, Minnesota and Carolina) have come after they’ve fallen behind by 20 points or more and while it’s impressive that they’ve been able to persevere, it would be more impressive if they figured out a way to play four quarters more consistently. Because this is obviously a very dangerous team when they’re firing on all cylinders.

- Cam Newton is extremely fun to watch and he’s making a lot of pundits look very stupid for doubting him (and the Panthers for that matter) back in April. That said, he certainly helped his team lose today. Carolina’s defense turned in a brutal second-half effort against Detroit but Newton’s inaccuracy was a major issue as well. He often missed high to his receivers and wound up throwing four interceptions in the loss. Recklessness simply can’t be a part of his game.

- Kellen Winslow (9 receptions, 132 yards, 1 TD) had a monster game but he cost the Bucs’ twice in their 35-26 loss to the Packers. First he was flagged for an obvious pass interference call in the end zone on a third-and-3 from the Packers’ 4-yard-line, which led to a Tampa Bay field goal instead of a potential touchdown early in the third quarter. Then he dropped a pass on a two-point conversation attempt that would have tied the game at 21-21 early in the fourth. Granted, the Bucs’ defense couldn’t come up with that one big stop in the fourth but they were also trailing by nine points virtually that entire quarter because of Winslow’s mistakes. Still, Tampa certainly gave Green Bay all it could handle. There are no moral victories but the Bucs finally showed some punch on offense (including LeGarrette Blount’s unbelievable touchdown run).

- All of those weapons on offense and the Packers’ first two touchdowns today came on a 1-yard B.J. Raji run and a Tom Crabtree five-yard reception, respectively. As if opposing defenses don’t have enough to worry about when it comes to Green Bay, now they have to try and tackle 337 pounds of B.J. Raji and defend some guy named Tom Crabtree.

- Want to know the biggest reason why the previously 0-7 Dolphins have won three games in a row? Try the fact that they haven’t allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters now. Miami’s defense absolutely stifled the Bills today, allowing just 41 rushing yards in a 35-8 rout. They also stuffed Buffalo at the goal line early in the fourth quarter and intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. And who needs Andrew Luck? Matt Moore has thrown six touchdowns in his last three games.

- Somebody stick a fork in the Bills because they’re done. They made believers out of a lot of people earlier in the year but they’ve looked absolutely horrendous the last three weeks. Do you think the front office is regretting signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to that extension? He signed his new deal on October 28, beat the Redskins two days later and hasn’t won since.

- His play is indicative of a rookie quarterback but Christian Ponder is absolutely maddening to watch sometimes. One minute he’s using his athleticism to make a big throw downfield and the next he’s literally throwing the ball directly to a defender (see his interception to Stanford Routt in the fourth quarter today). He did extremely well to lead the Vikings from 20 points down against the Raiders without Adrian Peterson (who left the game early with an injury), but Ponder made some really bad decisions. Again, this is what you expect out of a rookie but he’s liable to make Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave insane.

- Some teams don’t have one capable starter at running back and Oakland has two. It must be nice when Darren McFadden goes down with an injury to have Michael Bush step in and take his place. Bush has lifted the Raiders into sole possession of first place in the AFC West the past two weeks. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the Chargers are absolutely imploding.

San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh (R) discusses a call with Line Judge John Hussey during play against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on November 20, 2011. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 23-7. UPI/Terry Schmitt

- Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jim Harbaugh is not the fact that he has gotten Alex Smith to play well or that the Niners’ defense is one of the best in the league. Albeit, those things are impressive but not nearly as impressive as the focus and discipline that he’s instilled in this San Francisco team. The Niners were a talented squad under Mike Singletary but the problem was that he was completely overmatched as a football tactician. And because he was so overmatched both on and off the field, his team began falling apart at the seams. But under Harbaugh, the Niners have played sound football, don’t beat themselves and not once have they been caught looking ahead. With a Thanksgiving Day matchup with his brother’s Ravens coming up in just four days, Harbaugh and the Niners could have easily overlooked Arizona today. Instead, they nearly shut the Cardinals out. Again, under Harbaugh they’ve been highly impressive.

- Considering how brutal their schedule was in the first half and the amount of injuries they’ve had to suffer through (particularly in the defensive backfield), it’s not surprising to see the Rams sitting with only two wins. That said, that’s a pitiful football team they have in St. Louis and if Billy Devaney doesn’t have a better offseason than the one he did this past year, the Rams will continue to lose. Devaney better find some gems in next year’s draft; I’m talking about finding a couple of guys that can make an impact right away or else both he and Steve Spagnuolo will be out of jobs very soon.

- I just can’t wrap my head around the play of Philip Rivers this year. This can’t be the same guy who almost single-handedly kept the Chargers in the playoff hunt last year without his top two playmakers. It just can’t. The interception he threw at the end of the game to Corey Graham was one of the worst throwaway attempts I’ve ever seen. And this came after Major Wright picked him off earlier in the quarter when San Diego’s defense put the Chargers in great field position with an interception of their own. Brutal. Philip Rivers has been brutal this year.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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2010 Fantasy Football Awards

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 12: Quarterback Michael Vick  of the Philadelphia Eagles drops back to pass against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Now that Week 16 has come and gone, it’s time to hand out a few awards for the 2010 season. Let’s jump right in…

Most Valuable QB: Michael Vick, Eagles
While I believe that Tom Brady deserves the real-world MVP, Vick is without a doubt the top fantasy QB of the year. He finished QB1 despite missing three-plus games due to injury, and the best fantasy playoff numbers of any QB, scoring 27.1, 42.1 and 28.5, respectively.

Most Valuable RB: Arian Foster, Texans
It’s amazing to think that Foster was going in the 5th or 6th round (or even later) in fantasy drafts in late August. Through W16, Foster racked up 2,030 total yards and 16 TDs, becoming (out of necessity) one of the few every-down RBs in the league. He didn’t have the greatest fantasy playoff by his standards (321 total yards, one TD), but he dominated the competition throughout the season and none of the other top RBs had good enough playoff numbers to trump Foster’s regular season exploits.

Most Valuable WR: Roddy White, Falcons
Just like Foster, White didn’t have eye-popping numbers in the playoffs (18 catches, 187 yards, two TDs) but he didn’t lay any eggs, either. In PPR leagues, he finished 30 points ahead of the next best WR and no other top WR had a great W14-16 run to offset White’s performance in the regular season. He’ll likely be the top fantasy WR heading into next season given his age and consistency.

Most Valuable TE: Jason Witten, Cowboys
Antonio Gates was well on his way to winning this award, but a midseason foot injury knocked him out of the stretch run. Meanwhile, Witten raised his game down the stretch, posting 40-395-5 over the last five games and 25-254-4 during the three-week fantasy playoffs. In fact, I’d argue that Witten outperformed his competition during W14-16 more than any other player at any other position this season, at least in PPR formats.

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 03:  Tight end Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by Will Witherspoon #50 of the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Most Valuable DT: New England Patriots
The Steelers were a little better for the entire season, but the Patriots really came on down the stretch, scoring 60 fantasy points over the final four games (and 48 in W14-16). What’s funny is that a midseason swoon made the Pats available on the waiver wires in a lot of leagues, so owners who were fortunate enough to pick the NE DT up (and hold onto them), gave themselves a big boost during the fantasy playoffs.

Most Valuable K: Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
Janikowski started the season strong, scoring 10+ in seven of his first nine games (and 6.9+ in the other two) before his bye. Over the next three games, he failed to score more than 5.0, but turned it on during the fantasy playoffs, scoring 7.0, 17.1 and 21.3 over the final three weeks of the season, finishing as the top fantasy kicker in the process. Despite all the uncertainty at QB, Janikowski was a dependable weapon this season for fantasy owners. And it just goes to show how much depth there is at kicker — he was the #14 kicker off the draft board back in August.

Biggest Surprise: Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
All due respect to Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis and Marcedes Lewis, Brandon Lloyd became fantasy’s #2 WR just one season removed from an eight-catch 2009. As the 93rd WR off the draft board, he was the definition of a waiver wire gem, finishing with 72 catches for 1375 yards and 10 TDs. I was admittedly slow to get on the Lloyd bandwagon, as I had been burned by him before (in San Francisco, and then in Washington), but those owners with short memories who managed to snag him off the waiver wire enjoyed his fine play for much of the season. He did crap the bed in W13 and W14 (totaling just five catches for 63 yards), which gave this writer a certain sense of satisfaction, but he turned it on again in W15-16, racking up nine catches for 190 yards and a TD with Tim Tebow under center.

2010 Fantasy Football Preview: TEs

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17: Tight end Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers makes a catch against the New York Jets during AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

All 2010 Fantasy Football Articles | 2010 Position Rankings

The tight end position is often overlooked in fantasy football, but in leagues that award a point per reception, a stud TE can be quite valuable indeed. Over the past decade or so, NFL offensive coordinators have increasingly built game plans around their talented tight ends. It used to be that the position was meant to block in the running game and catch the occasional pass or two. But, more and more, the tight end has become a spot for a big playmaker with soft hands who can block a little.

The position isn’t nearly as deep as QB, but since many fantasy owners don’t consider taking a tight end until the fourth or fifth round, value is often found in the middle rounds. A vast majority of championship teams will get at least average production from the position, so no matter your strategy, you have to find a decent TE somewhere in your draft if you hope to be hoisting the trophy at the end of the season.

Here are a few TEs I’ll be targeting this season along with the round in which each player becomes a good value.

Antonio Gates in the 4th
With Vincent Jackson prepared for a long holdout, Gates will get a ton of targets from Phillip Rivers. It appears that his foot injury is behind him, so he’s in line for another Top 4 year. Gates is as consistent as they come.

Dallas Clark in the 5th
Clark was a stud last season, but with Anthony Gonzalez back and the continued development of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, one wonders if he can post 100 catches again. His previous high was 77, so the gut says ‘no.’ Still, even if he takes a 20% cut in production, that still would have been good enough to be TE3 in ’09.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fantasy Football News & Notes (6/16)

Jerome Harrison is currently working behind Montario Hardesty during OTAs. Obviously, this is a big blow to those fantasy owners hoping to find a solid RB2 in the third or fourth round in the form of Harrison. This looks like it’s shaping up to be a timeshare. Keep an eye on the competition as training camp wears on. Harrison was outstanding late last season and could be a steal if he wins back the job.

Felix Jones is looking better in the passing game. Jones is unlikely to get enough carries in the running game to become a true fantasy RB1, especially with Marion Barber vulturing goal line carries. But if he can become a regular fixture in the passing game, he could do some serious damage in PPR leagues.

Dustin Keller primed for a big year? The Jets have added some wrinkles in order to utilize Keller’s talents and Rex Ryan has said that Keller is likely to have more TDs than last season (2). He is a solid TE option for those owners who elect to wait on the position and play Tight End By Committee (TEBC).

Domenik Hixon is out for the season with a knee injury. This is a big blow to the Giants’ receiving corps, which will have to lean on Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks even more this season. Move both players up a couple of spots on your cheatsheet.

Will Eddie Royal bounce back this year?
He seems like a prime candidate since Brandon Marshall left town leaving Royal as the best and most proven receiver on the roster. Last year was a disaster, but Royal showed what he can do in his rookie season.

Vincent Jackson prepared to sit out until Week 11. This is bad news for his owners and for Phillip Rivers, but it could be good news for Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, who reportedly looks great in workouts.

Cowboys looking to get the ball to Witten in the red zone.
He went for 94-1030 last year, but only caught two TD after averaging 5.5 the previous two seasons. If the Cowboys are serious about calling his number more in the red zone, it may mean Witten once again cracks the Top 5 in standard leagues.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Dez Bryant already impressing in Dallas

Count Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips as someone who is already impressed with first round pick Dez Bryant.

From the Dallas Star-Telegram:

“Dez Bryant is an absolute talent, you don’t see that many come in and look that good that early,” Phillips said.

“In 33 years (of coaching) there’s not very many that I can say look that talented at their position for a three-day period.”

It’s high time Bryant received some positive press. He was made out to be a huge character risk before the draft, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong outside of showing some maturity issues. But as Phillips points out, he has a ton of talent – too much talent for him to have slipped into the bottom of the first round.

He has a long way to go to prove that he can play and stay focused, but Bryant is off to a nice start. Along with Miles Austin and Jason Witten, Bryant gives Tony Romo a plethora of weapons to throw to in the passing game. And after finishing second in the league in total offense, the Cowboys should once again be explosive again this season.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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