1. With most fantasy leagues beginning their playoff rounds this week, line up decisions become more paramount and there is a major question mark surrounding Monday night’s tilt between the Rams and the Seahawks. The Rams top two quarterbacks are injured and may not play, leaving recently signed journeyman Tom Brandstater as the team’s potential starter against Seattle. Sam Bradford sat out last week with a high ankle sprain and A.J. Feeley suffered a thumb injury. Neither have practiced this week. If Brandstater starts, Brandon Lloyd’s fantasy takes a significant hit so his owners may want to consider other options. In addition, running back Steven Jackson struggled mightily against the Seahawks in Week 11 (15 carries for 42 yards and 19 yards on three receptions) so Sjax owners may want to sit him if better options exist.
2. If Brandstater starts, it will almost certainly add to a long line of bad quarterback play on Monday nights this season. Maybe the NFL needs to flex out some of these matchups.
3. Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes will play his 200th game this week against the Buffalo Bills, becoming just the 13th linebacker to accomplish the feat. The Bengals 13th pick in the 1998 draft, Spikes has been remarkably healthy throughout his career, being fortunate enough to miss just 21 games with 13 of those coming in 2005 due to an ACL tear. Unfortunately, despite his talent and longevity, Spikes has yet to play in a post-season game throughout his career with the Bengals, Bills, 49ers and Chargers, another remarkable feat.
4. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has had an outstanding run of games, topping 100 yards in four of his last five games and scoring a touchdown in his last eight. However, after this week’s game against St. Louis, the Seahawks face the Bears (8th ranked run defense), 49ers (1st) and Cardinals (19th) and the bad news keeps pouring in along the offensive line. Having already lost rookie starters James Carpenter (right tackle) and John Moffitt (right guard) for the year, the Seahawks found out this week that left tackle Russell Okung, the team’s best offensive lineman, would miss the rest of the season due to a torn right pectoral muscle suffered when he was flipped to the ground by Eagles defensive end Trent Cole near the end of last week’s win over Philadelphia. While Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable may have been lost as the head coach in Oakland, his hiring will go down as one of the more astute assistant coach hires of the 2011 offseason.
5. It is difficult to win your division when you can’t muster wins against division opponents and with the Browns 14-3 loss to the Steelers on Thursday night, 2nd year quarterback Colt McCoy is now 0-8 against the AFC North. This loss was especially painful for Browns fans, as Cleveland failed to capitalize on three Pittsburgh turnovers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger playing more than half the game with a high ankle sprain. While McCoy has shown improvement in his second year in Cleveland, there remain significant doubts about his ability to help make the Browns competitive in what is perhaps the toughest division in the league. Despite playing in new head coach Pat Shurmur’s west coast offense, a version that relies on short passing more than perhaps any other previous scheme, McCoy’s completion percentage has actually dropped from 60.8% last season to 57.2% in 2011. His lack of accuracy, arm strength and inability to win within the division could doom McCoy’s chances of returning as Cleveland’s starter in 2011.
6. Down in Jacksonville, Jaguars fans are just about ready to write off rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the 10th pick in the draft, after just ten starts. Gabbert has struggled mightily in Jacksonville, completing less than 50% of his passes, failing to consistently move the offense and displaying poor mechanics, including failing to step into his throws in the face of oncoming defenders, a criticism that was included in several scouting reports prior to the draft. While Gabbert is largely responsible for the Jaguars 31st ranking in offensive scoring, the criticisms he has endured have been overblown. He was not expected to take over as the team’s starting quarterback so early in his career (most teams had him pegged as a project due to his poor mechanics and having led a spread offense at Missouri) but was forced into the role when former head coach Jack Del Rio released David Garrard in the final days of the preseason and then benched Luke McCown after just two starts. That was an especially poor decision, even irresponsible, given that Gabbert had a shortened offseason and wasn’t given first team reps throughout training camp and the preseason. That left him leading an offense he was not familiar with, devoid of playmakers other than running back Maurice Jones-Drew, whose offensive line has failed to develop and who feature the least talented group of wide receivers in the league. In essence, the ingredients for success were never there for Gabbert so his failure should come as no surprise. Look for Jacksonville to hire an offensive minded head coach to help salvage Gabbert and return the Jaguars to respectability on offense.
7. In Minnesota, another rookie quarterback is suffering from a lack of talent surrounding him in the starting lineup. Christian Ponder has outperformed expectations thus far in 2011 but he has been beset by injuries at running back to Adrian Peterson and at wide receiver to Michael Jenkins, a unit that was considered a weak area even with Jenkins available. In addition, dual running-receiving threat Percy Harvin has only begun to play at a consistently high level over the past few weeks and Charlie Johnson has proven himself to be nothing more than a stop gap starter at left tackle for the departed Bryant McKinnie. Look for Minnesota to spend some high draft picks on upgrading their offensive talent and providing Ponder with a better chance at success in his sophomore season.
8. With Matt Flynn a free agent at season’s end and wanting a chance at a starting position, Green Bay will be looking for a new backup to Aaron Rodgers for the 2012 season. Former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell had been on the team’s practice squad but was signed to the active roster this week when the Buffalo Bills offered him a spot on their active roster. Look for Harrell to be the frontrunner to backup Rodgers next season.