Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Dave Stringer — January 20, 2012 @ 12:34 pm
1. Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson mused about retirement last week and if his comments this week about the team’s organization are any indication, he is either headed for retirement or to another team for the 2012 season. Tomlinson let loose on the team’s dysfunction, suggesting the team’s chemistry was as bad as he had ever seen, that he doubted quarterback Mark Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Hollmes could coexist, that Holmes needed to work on being a leader and that while he liked playing for head coach Rex Ryan, he wished the combative coach would tone down his style. Having used 4th round picks in each of the last two drafts on running backs (Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell), don’t look for LT back in a Jets uniform in 2012.
2. Having witnessed left tackle Doug Free struggle mightily to protect quarterback Tony Romo’s blindside in 2011, reports indicate the Cowboys are considering moving Free to right tackle. Rookie 1st round pick Tyron Smith played that position this season but Dallas head coach Jason Garrett may want to move Smith to left tackle, given his superior athleticism.
3. With the Packers loss this week to the Giants, the top seed in the NFC has now lost their first playoff game in four of the past five seasons. This trend follows a string of 17 years in which the top seed in the conference won their first playoff game.
Nicks: 1a in the Giants passing attack.
4. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been dominant in his team’s wins over the Falcons and Packers, reminding fans of the superlative performance that Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had in his team’s run to the Super Bowl during the 2008 season. Having topped 100 receiving yards and scoring twice in each game, Nicks becomes just the third player since the Super Bowl has been awarded to accomplish that feat, joining Fitzgerald and Jerry Rice.
5. Sticking with the Giants and their situation at wide receiver, Nicks’ performance has made a mockery of numerous fantasy pundits and NFL writers who spent the week prior to the wild card round claiming that the Giants had two number one wide receivers and debating the merits of which player would have a superior season in 2012. While Victor Cruz had an amazing season (setting a Giants record for most receiving yards with 1536, good enough for third in the league, there is little doubt that he benefitted playing alongside Nicks, who often drew coverage away from him. In addition, while Nicks played in 15 games this season, he was banged up regularly and was as healthy as he has been all year when the playoffs opened.
6. Looks like karma is working in favor of disposed Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. While Spagnuolo enjoyed little success in St. Louis, compiling a 10-38 record in three seasons, he was a solid defensive coach who attempted to build the team’s roster based on his four pillars: faith, character, core values and team first. With Jeff Fisher taking over for Spagnuolo and the hiring of Gregg Williams to lead the team’s defense, a vacancy at defensive coordinator in New Orleans was created. Spagnuolo will fill that role in 2012. Interestingly, the only truly solid performance the Rams put together this past season came in a 31-21 upset win over the Saints, a game in which they produced two turnovers and six sacks in limiting the Saints to just 283 total yards.
7. Looking forward to the conference championship games this weekend, one key stat to remember is that the Ravens are 7-0 against playoff teams thus far in 2011.
By: Dave Stringer — January 12, 2012 @ 2:38 pm
Sanchez is under off-season fire.
1. In what seems like a post-season ritual, anonymous Jets players have used the early part of the off-season to rip the play of the team’s starting quarterback. Brett Favre got the treatment after his only season with the team, roasted by his teammates for his performance and work habits although it was well known that he played most of the season with an injured throwing shoulder that affected his arm strength, velocity and accuracy. Mark Sanchez got the Favre treatment this week with reports that his teammates felt he didn’t work hard enough, was coddled by the organization and that they would prefer the team acquire a veteran signal caller (with Peyton Manning mentioned as a possibility) to either challenge Sanchez or take over as the team’s starting quarterback. As was the case with Favre, few of them were willing to mention that Sanchez had led the team to two AFC Championship game appearances during his three years in the league and came within a game of qualifying for the post-season this year despite getting little help from top wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, who clearly quit on the team. While Sanchez has not developed as quickly as the team would like and remains maddeningly inconsistent, the mercurial Holmes was at least as much to blame for the team’s poor offensive showing.
2. Sticking with the Manning to Jets conjecture, that possibility seems remote for several reasons. First off, while the Colts have given every indication that they plan to use the first overall pick in the draft to acquire Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, they have also stated that Manning will return to the team in 2012 provided he is healthy enough to play. In addition, recent reports indicate that both Manning and the Colts are willing to renegotiate his contract, pushing a $28-million option payment currently due prior to the start of the league’s new year to a later date. Taken together, this would seem to indicate that the odds are strong that Manning will be a Colt in 2012. Even if that fails to transpire, a Manning to the Jets scenario is unlikely. The Rex Ryan led Jets have a personality that seems ill-suited to Manning’s buttoned down, business-like style. In addition, given the dissension on the team, it is easy to question why Manning would come to New York when he would likely have at least a half-dozen other suitors to choose from. Finally, having played his entire career in a dome stadium, he would likely choose to suit up for another team that plays in a dome or in a warm weather location.
3. Despite enjoying a solid four-year run together in Atlanta, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith were put on notice this week by owner Arthur Blank that he expects the team to win a Super Bowl. The Falcons have put together four consecutive winning seasons under Dimitroff’s and Smith’s leadership, including qualifying for the post-season three times. Further, they have made several astute personnel decisions including the decision to draft quarterback Matt Ryan with the third pick in their first draft together in 2008. However, they have failed to win a post-season game and Smith was heavily criticized after the team’s 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants for his decision to gamble twice on fourth down with the team in field goal range as well as the play calls on those gambles, one of which included a quarterback sneak with an empty backfield. Blank stopped short of saying that it was Super Bowl or bust for his solid managerial duo but the implication was clear – more is expected in Atlanta in 2012.
4. With first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden receiving interest as a head coaching candidate, the Bengals moved this week to lock him by agreeing to a three-year contract extension. Despite having to start a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and use another rookie, the fourth overall selection in the draft in A.J. Green, as the team’s leading wide receiver, the Gruden-led offense finished 21st in total offense and 18th in total points. Considering the Bengals schedule included two games against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore (the first and third ranked defenses in the league), those results are more impressive than they appear. The Gruden signing is further evidence that the Cincinnati organization is now prepared to move aggressively in building a perennial contender in the difficult AFC North division.
5. Look for Buffalo to use the draft or free agency to help bulk up the depth chart at wide receiver. Steve Johnson, the team’s leading wide receiver in each of the past two seasons, is an unrestricted free agent but the Bills have been in discussions with his agent regarding a long-term contract. Look for Johnson to sign long-term or for the Bills to place the franchise tag on him. Opposite Johnson, the Bills had a plethora of options in 2011 but emerged to claim the starting position. Marcus Easley, the team’s 2010 4th round pick, has excellent size and speed but missed the season with a head ailment. David Nelson has solid size at 6’5” and excels in the slot but struggles on the outside. Donald Jones struggled with injuries and consistency and seems destined for a backup.
6. In Arizona, Kevin Kolb suffered through a miserable first season in the dessert and the word out of the Cardinals organization is that backup John Skelton will be given at least a cursory opportunity to win the job in 2012. Kolb figures to get a significant lead in that battle given his lucrative contract and the fact the team gave up former 1st round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as well as a 2nd round pick in order to acquire his services. However, his 2-6 record in 2011 pales in comparison to Skelton’s 6-2. If Skelton improves his accuracy and Kolb continues his inability to stay healthy, Skelton figures to get an opportunity to claim the starting job, if not in training camp, then at some point in 2012.
By: Dave Stringer — January 5, 2012 @ 4:02 pm
1. The head-coaching carousel began twisting this week with the information and misinformation campaigns in full swing. Of all the big name candidates, Jeff Fisher is the only coach that is a virtual guarantee to be coaching somewhere in 2012 given that Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick et al seem content to continue their lucrative careers in television without the daily grind that comes with leading a team. Fisher’s first stop was in Miami with a tour of the team’s facilities and a helicopter ride on offer to woo the long time Tennessee coach. Prior to Fisher’s trip to St. Louis, the rumor mill was hot that Miami was his top choice. He wasn’t sold on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Miami had the obvious benefits of Florida over Missouri, especially in terms of attracting free agents. The common thread amongst all those rumors was to increase Fisher’s leverage with respect to contract terms and organizational clout. However, while the Miami and St. Louis organizations are clearly hot for Fisher, the fact remains that several high profile, recycled head coaches have failed in recent seasons (witness Mike Shanahan’s struggles in Washington) and Fisher compiled a solid, yet unspectacular record of 142-120 while in Tennessee.
2. Raiders head coach Hue Jackson went off on his squad after his team’s disappointing 38-26 loss to the Chargers ended Oakland’s season. With Denver losing to the Chiefs, an Oakland win would have propelled them into the playoffs and, at least partially, justified Jackson’s decision to trade the team’s 1st round pick in the upcoming draft and a 2nd round pick in 2012 (which would have been upgraded to a 1st round pick had the Raiders qualified for the postseason) for quarterback Carson Palmer. When owner Al Davis passed away this season, Jackson filled the vacuum left behind and essentially took control of the organization. However, with the Raiders compiling a 4-2 record prior to the trade and going just 4-6 with Palmer in the lineup, Jackson’s decision-making is certainly being called into question within the organization, making his comments this week that he will become even more involved within the organization seem almost ludicrous. Look for owner Mark Davis to reel in Jackson’s authority and install a general manager with the power to either oversee Jackson or at least provide a strong counterbalance to his spontaneous, some might say reckless, decision-making.
3. Staying in the Bay area, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh stated the obvious this week when he reportedly informed quarterback Alex Smith that he intends to re-sign him in the offseason. Credit Harbaugh with making the unpopular decision this past offseason to stick with the former first overall selection in the draft despite the cries for change coming from the team’s fan base. Smith had done little during his first six years in the league to justify Harbaugh’s faith in him but the former Stanford coach justified his decision based on game tape and Smith having had to deal with numerous offensive coordinators. That faith was rewarded with Smith having his finest season as a pro, setting career-highs in completion percentage (61.4%), passing yards (3,150) and rushing yards (179) while throwing just five interceptions against 17 touchdowns. It will be interesting to see what type of contract the team is willing to lavish on Smith, with rookie 2nd round pick Colin Kaepernick waiting in the wings. Look for the 49ers to re-sign Smith to a modest, four or five-year contract.
4. Reports out of Chicago indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler went to head coach Lovie Smith to inform him that he preferred that offensive coordinator Mike Martz, whose contract was up, not be re-signed. Smith agreed and the Bears will now look to find another coordinator after two up-and-down years with Martz calling the shots. While Martz may not have been Cutler’s favorite, his play calling and coaching helped Cutler pad his statistics given Martz’ propensity for throwing the football. Unfortunately for both, Chicago simply didn’t possess an offensive line solid enough to pass protect for the five and seven-step drops Martz prefers or wide receivers skilled and/or fast enough to run the deep patterns his offense is predicated on. In retrospect, Smith’s decision to hire Martz was a poor one since the team was intent on attempting to turn Devin Hester into their top receiver and going with mid to low-round picks (such as Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox) at the wide receiver position.
It's another off-season of uncertainty for Vincent Jackson.
5. As any fantasy football owner with a modicum of experience knows, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is renowned for his unexplainable decisions at the running back position with playing time doled out based on no consistent formula. While it was encouraging to hear the Redskins head coach endorse both of his rookie runners this week (4th round pick Roy Helu and 6th round pick Evan Royster), look for the team’s running back situation to be a fantasy mess once again in 2012. Helu had a number of solid outings but couldn’t stay healthy while Royster didn’t even make the team coming out of the preseason. It seems highly unlikely that Shanahan will hand the running back reigns over to a pair of second year players, meaning unrestricted free agent Tim Hightower, whose season ended after he suffered a torn ACL in Week 7, is likely to be brought back. If Hightower or another veteran is added to the roster, look for a committee approach at the position once again in 2012.
6. While San Diego owner Dean Spanos made the surprising decision to retain both general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner, there is a decent possibility that there could be major changes in the team’s group of receivers. Vincent Jackson, the team’s top wide receiver for several years, is a free agent once again and may want to move on given his unhappiness with his contract situation over each of the past two off-seasons. If the Chargers decide against offering Jackson a long-term deal, they may decide to place the franchise tag on him to secure his services for the 2012 season. Malcom Floyd is under contract for next season and played well opposite Jackson but has been injury-prone, missing nine games over the past two seasons. Slot receiver Patrick Crayton is unlikely to return given the presence of rookie 3rd round pick Vincent Brown, who played well when given an opportunity. At tight end, Antonio Gates suffered through another injury-marred season and may not be retained given the $10.4-million he is due to be paid next season.
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