1. In San Francisco, the 49ers are anxiously awaiting the return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree to the lineup. Tight end Vernon Davis suffered a concussion early during the team’s Week 10 loss to the Panthers, leaving quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a group of unproven receivers outside of Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham, who was playing in his first game since tearing both his ACL and PCL in December of last season. With Crabtree and Manningham both out of the lineup, Kaepernick has struggled during his second season as the team’s starting quarterback, failing to throw for 200 yards in seven of nine games. With Crabtree in the lineup last season, Kaepernick topped 200 receiving yards in nine of his ten starts. Unfortunately for Kaepernick owners, the 49ers have not put a timetable on Crabtree’s return and there are no guarantees that when he returns he will be the player he was at the end of last season when he had solid chemistry with Kaepernick and was playing at a Pro Bowl level. A torn Achilles’ tendon is a significant injury for a wide receiver and it is unlikely that Crabtree will return to Pro Bowl form at any point this season.
2. Another team with issues at wide receiver is the Kansas City Chiefs. A schedule littered with back up quarterbacks and key injuries to their opponents has helped the Chiefs start the season with a 9-0 record. With a key showdown against the Denver Broncos on tap for Week 11, Dwayne Bowe, the team’s top wide receiver, was arrested this week for speeding and possession of marijuana. One of the league’s most talented receivers, Bowe’s lack of maturity was the key reason behind the Chiefs reluctance to sign him to a long term contract after the 2011 season. They chose to place the franchise tag on him for the 2012 season before signing him to a five-year, $56-million contract prior to this season. Their reward has been the least productive season of his seven-year career as he has just 33 receptions for 369 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While some of that decline is explained by the conservative style of quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs can’t be too pleased to be paying Bowe over $11-million per season and for him to be on pace to finish with less than 800 yards receiving. His troubles this week aren’t likely to help his team in Denver or help him get on track in 2013.
3. The Vikings travel to Seattle this week to play the Seahawks and there is a good chance that former Viking Percy Harvin will make his Seahawks debut. While Minnesota received solid value in return for Harvin (1st, 3rd and 7th round draft picks), they enter the game with major issues not only at quarterback, where Christian Ponder has failed to assert himself as a solid starter, but also at wide receiver where Greg Jennings, signed in the offseason to replace Harvin, has struggled, Jerome Simpson has continued to disappoint and rookie 1st round pick Cordarrelle Patterson remains very much a work in progress. Jennings is a poor fit with a checkdown artist like Ponder at quarterback and Patterson is so raw that he is unlikely to contribute much even in 2014. It seems clear that Harvin was an excellent fit in Minnesota, especially with Ponder under center. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Harvin has yet to see the field after undergoing hip surgery at the beginning of training camp. Fortunately for the Seahawks, the struggles the 49ers have endured have allowed them to open up a two and a half game advantage in the NFC West. Otherwise, they might very well be regretting this trade.
4. With Donald Brown asserting himself in the Colts backfield on Thursday night (94 yards and a touchdown on 15 touches) and continuing his run of solid production over the team’s last seven games (421 total yards and four touchdowns in a backup role while averaging 9.4 PPG), Indianapolis will have an interesting dilemma at the running back position during the 2014 offseason. Brown’s rookie contract expires at the end of the season, making him a free agent. After the trade for Trent Richardson, it seemed clear the Colts intention was to use him as their starter in 2014 with Vick Ballard, out for the season with a torn ACL, in reserve. That scenario left Brown on the outside looking in but his strong play, coupled with Richardson’s massive struggles (3.0 yards per carry average and no games with more than 60 yards rushing as a Colt) could result in his return. That wouldn’t bode well for Richardson’s already rapidly declining dynasty league value.
5. It seemed a foregone conclusion when Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was lost for the season with a torn ACL in late July that he would re-sign with Philadelphia in the offseason. While Maclin has never fulfilled the potential many thought he had after being taken in the 1st round of the 2009 draft out of Missouri, the Eagles lack of a solid option behind DeSean Jackson signalled Maclin would return in 2014. However, the recent strong play of Riley Cooper increases the Eagles options at the wide receiver position as well as reducing Maclin’s negotiating leverage. While Cooper is also a free agent, his contract demands are likely to be much more modest than those of Maclin, who may need to sign a prove it contract to return to Philadelphia.
6. With the fantasy playoffs around the corner, it is time to review the upcoming schedule for your key performers and one player who seems likely to be in for a rough ride is Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. After a solid matchup this week against the Dolphins, the Chargers face the Chiefs, Bengals, Giants, Broncos and Raiders. While Mathews has actually played well in recent weeks when given an opportunity, this slate of games spells trouble since the Chargers figure to be playing from behind plenty and Mathews rarely sees the field on passing downs (just eight receptions on the season) and is only used sporadically at the goal line. He rates as a RB3 over the remainder of the season so unless you are in a flex league, he should likely be on your bench.