At 5-3, the surprising Indianapolis Colts are in the driver’s seat for the second of the AFC’s Wild Card berths after gutting out a home win against the Miami Dolphins. There’s half a season still to play, but it’s an impressive accomplishment for a team who appeared to be in full-on rebuilding mode back in summer.
Of all the teams thriving in the NFL this year - including unbeaten Atlanta, resurgent Chicago and red hot Denver - the Colts are the most surprising, getting it done with a hotchpotch of so-so skill position players and an overmatched yet scrappy defense. Let’s face it, the Colts are 21st in rushing and 15th in total D. They’re average - or below average - in almost every way except one: at the quarterback position.
Rookie Andrew Luck is evoking the ghosts of Mannings past with his record breaking play, including an all-time single game high for passing yards by a rookie (433) last weekend. He’s raising the game of those around him, and turning Average Joes and developmental types like Donnie Avery and TY Hilton into genuine threats. It’s a cliché to say the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, but watching otherwise talented rosters like those in Kansas City, Arizona and New York go to waste because of a paucity of decent quarterback play underlines again just how central the position can - and must - be.
Let’s get to your fantasy questions for Week 10:
- ‘What kind of matchups would you advise starting the Giants’ Eli Manning in? He seems to be wildly inconsistent and has the potential for low scores.’
Manning is the ultimate ‘streaky’ quarterback that gets hot or cold for a sustained period of games, rather than fluctuating week by week. Trouble is - and as you’ve clearly experienced - Manning is colder than a winter’s morning right now with his three lowest point totals of 2012 all coming within his last four games.
But those three wash-outs have come against defenses that are ranked in the top four of the NFL - Pittsburgh (1), San Francisco (2), and Dallas (4). As good as Eli and the Giants offense can be, they’re simply not match up proof (as are the Patriots for example), and elite defenses clearly do have an impact on their production. Moving forward, Eli would need to be rested against the league’s better defensive units until he proves otherwise.
But here’s the good news: that won’t need to happen. Eli doesn’t face another top-10 unit for the rest of the season, and gets league-worst Washington and minnows New Orleans in weeks 13 and 14 too. Manning isn’t just a fourth quarter specialist, he’s a late-season specialist. So I expect him to be ramping up his productivity and launching into one of those hot streaks we’ve been talking about very soon - perhaps beginning with week 10’s game against Cincinnati’s 18th-ranked pass defense. Then I think he stands a good chance of being off to the races for the rest of the year when he returns from his bye in week 12.
- ‘Is the Steelers defense better than has been said? And what are your thoughts on Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham going forward after his nice game on Sunday?’
We’ll get to some tight end stuff in our next answer below, but for now I’d be cautious from reading too much into Gresham’s big game because more than half of his yardage came on one poorly defended 52-yard pass play against a team that’s vulnerable to tight ends. He’s a former first round pick and a big part of the Bengals’ offense, but he’s just not the knock-out athlete that Rob Gronkowski, say, or Vernon Davis is. He’s clearly trending up and will have some good games along the way, but to me he’s a solid, move the chains type tight end who’s still on the outside looking in when it comes to the very best at the position.
As for Pittsburgh’s defense, it’s for real. Each year the Steelers seem to take a tonne of criticism for their age and apparent lack of foot speed, but it’s the top-ranked unit against the pass and joint-seventh against the run for a reason. In fantasy terms, it’s not creating anything like the turnovers-for-touchdowns chances a defense like Chicago’s is, but as it continues to hold teams down in scoring terms its value to fantasy owners will rise. Don’t forget that safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers’ All-World safety, is yet to see the field this season too. When he returns, this unit could go to another level. For now, I’d say their next three games - versus Kansas City, versus Baltimore and at Cleveland - present real opportunities to record good fantasy points.
- ‘I’m having trouble identifying tight end picks based on matchups. What are the key types of defensive rankings to look for?’
There are providers out there who can give you specific defensive-performance-versus-tight ends (or any other position, for that matter) rankings. Without wishing to act as an advertisement for them, I know that both Yahoo! And Real Time Fantasy Sports (two of the larger US fantasy football league providers) can give you information on, say, the Broncos’ performance versus tight ends to date this season as compared to every other team in the league. (For the record, they’re 29th, which goes some way to explaining Gresham’s big day and bodes well for Greg Olsen this weekend). Typically, though, that information is only available to you if you run a team in a league generated by the organisations in question.
In truth, you can do a pretty good job yourself by looking at a given team’s pass defense performance in recent weeks (rather than across the whole season, which can on occasion be misleading - improving Carolina, who flummoxed Robert Griffin III this week after a feeble first month of the season, being a case in point). Going back and looking at previous weeks’ box scores is your best bet if you want to go that route. And if you really want to get your research on, go back and look at how a team has defended the tight end position, specifically, over its last few games - because it’s no use if a team is weak against the pass but is sufficiently active in its blitzing that your tight end is forced into in-line blocking all day (as has started to happen with Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph.)
For what’s it worth, the top five matchups for tight ends heading into week 10 are (from the best down) Tennessee, Denver, New York Jets, New England and Cincinnati - which should mean good times for the tight ends they’re covering, namely Anthony Fasano, Olsen, Zach Miller, Scott Chandler and Martellus Bennett. And if you find that list is somewhat uninspiring, it’s because playing the statistical matchups can only ever get us so far in the first place. Pick your tight end with an eye to his own individual ability first, and the capacity of the defense to defend tight ends second. The 49ers’ Davis - facing St. Louis’ seventh most generous tight end-defense - could be a place to start this week.
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