1. With the trading deadlines for most fantasy football leagues just around the corner, the Rams Steven Jackson picked a fine time to notch his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, also ending a nine-game drought in which he had been held below 100 yards. Jackson’s performance has been underwhelming for the early part of 2011, as the Rams have faced a grueling schedule and he missed most of two games with a thigh injury. However, the Rams schedule gets decidedly easier over the next eight weeks with the Seahawks and Cardinals on tap twice as well as games against the 49ers, Bengals, Browns and Steelers. If you’re looking for a mid-tier, reasonably low cost option at running back, SJax just might be your guy.
2. While Patriots quarterback Tom Brady remains on track to eclipse Dan Marino’s record for most passing yards in a season, his performance over the last four weeks seems to indicate that possibility is getting more remote as the season progresses. After averaging 332 passing yards over his first three games, the Patriots passing attack has come back to the pack over the last four weeks with Brady averaging a 259 yards per game. This week against the Steelers, he was held to a season-low 198 yards, his lowest passing yardage total since a Week 16 blowout win over the Bills in 2010. Opposing defenses have clamped down on wide receiver Wes Welker over the past two weeks. Look for that trend to continue until the Patriots find a way to exploit single coverage with their other receivers.
3. 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree has been a major disappointment over most of his two and a half year career in San Francisco but may be ready to finally make good on the promise he showed coming out of Texas Tech. He notched his first touchdown reception of the season this week against the Browns and finally seems to have found a rapport with quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has been reluctant to throw to Crabtree courtesy of his several drops, many of which led to interceptions, over the last year and a half. However, he has targeted Crabtree 24 times over the past two games, connecting 14 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. While Crabtree is unlikely to ever match the expectations he had placed upon him coming out of college, he shapes up as a solid WR3 over the remainder of 2011.
4. Sticking with the 49ers, here’s a tip of the cap to head coach Jim Harbaugh for his imaginative play calling this week in San Francisco’s 20-10 home win over Cleveland. In the first quarter, Harbaugh had starting left tackle Joe Staley report as an eligible receiver and Staley gained 17-yards on a catch and run play. Then in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga reported as an eligible receiver, gaining 18 yards. Staley and Sopoaga accounted for 26 yards after the catch displaying as much playmaking ability as the Browns receivers did in Week 8.
5. With Philadelphia’s win over Dallas, Eagles head coach Andy Reid has now won 13 consecutive games after his team’s byes. The Eagles clearly had a superior game plan than Dallas, both on offense and defense, proving yet again that Reid is a great game planner when given additional time to find his opponent’s weaknesses.
6. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a garbage time touchdown pass with six seconds remaining this week against the Rams, keeping his streak of consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass alive at 35 games. If Brees throws a touchdown pass this week against the Bucs, he will move into a tie for second place on that list. Johnny Unitas has the record for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown at 47 games.
7. If you hitched your fantasy wagon to the Chargers quarterback-wide receiver combo of Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson, odds are you are scrapping to make the playoffs. However, as any Chargers fan or astute NFL fan knows, San Diego has been a second half surge team for the past several seasons and that will need to be the case once again if the team is to reach the postseason. Over the past three years, the Chargers have a record of 21-5 over the final two months of the season (three if you count January). Up next for San Diego are the 7-0 Packers who feature the league’s 31st worst pass defense, which is at least partly attributable to Green Bay getting big early leads in several games this season. However, that recipe bodes well for fantasy success this week for Rivers and Jackson. Between this week and Week 16, the Chargers face five pass defenses ranked 19th or worse, making Rivers and Jackson great buy low candidates.
8. How bad have the Rams been over the last few years? When safety Darian Stewart intercepted his first NFL pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, it was the team’s first defensive touchdown since Game 6 of the 2009 season.
9. How bad have the Rams been this year? When they took a 3-0 lead this week over New Orleans, it marked their third lead of the season.
10. While the Raiders recent signing of free agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was greeted with a collective yawn from fantasy football owners, look for him to earn enough looks to render one of Jacoby Ford or Denarius Moore irrelevant in the Oakland offense. Since his Week 2 breakout game over the Bills, Moore has caught just nine passes over his last five games for 66 yards and a touchdown, despite averaging 5.2 targets per game. With Moore playing out wide, Ford has been relegated to the slot and has just 11 receptions for 114 yards in four games. Houshmandzadeh isn’t worth owning but his presence makes Moore and Ford not worth owning either, except in dynasty leagues.
11. In the oddball statistic category, we present the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were left for dead after being outscored 89-10 over the first two games, losses to the Bills and Lions. Of course, at the midway point of the season, those teams appear to be much stronger than was expected entering the season. Since then, Kansas City has outscored their opponents 118-81 over their last five games, going 4-1. Add it all up and the Chiefs now sit atop the AFC West, ahead of San Diego and Oakland by virtue of tiebreakers, despite having a negative point differential of 42. Oh yeah, the Chiefs ranked 20th or lower in passing offense, passing defense and run defense.