All it takes in the NFL is an opportunity - just ask Denver’s Knowshon Moreno and Philadelphia’s Bryce Brown. Moreno, on the scrapheap as a former first-round flop until a surprise Sunday call up, and Brown, an afterthought seventh rounder stuck on the bench behind LeSean McCoy, were big-time producers in Week 12 with 300 scrimmage yards and two scores between them - and few saw it coming. It goes to show just how talented even the supposed ‘dregs’ of an NFL roster can be. Fellow spot starters like Oakland’s Marcel Reece, San Diego’s Danario Alexander and Jacksonville’s Jalen Parmele are all further proof of just how capable every single NFL player is when opportunity knocks.
Their time in the sun won’t last long - all of them expect to return to the bench before long with the possible exception of Alexander - but pop-up starters like these can be sneaky budget plays in NFLUK fantasy, and can patch over bye week holes in redraft leagues. The hard part? Seeing the big games coming when nobody else does. As always, it’s a question of keeping your ear to the ground.
With that in mind, let’s get to your fantasy questions for Week 13:
- ‘Is Cam Newton back?’
The Panthers’ Newton certainly seems to have rounded into form of late, the icing on the cake being last night’s sturdy 306-passing yard, four TD (two passing, two running) performance that toppled the Eagles. At $4 million in the NFLUK Fantasy league, Newton needs to be playing at a high level to justify the big investment - especially when QBs like Robert Griffin III have been consistently out-producing him for half the price. Monster performances like the one he delivered yesterday are what the hefty price tag demands.
Recent weeks have seen Newton slowly but surely improve his play and develop better rapport with number two receiver Brandon LaFell and tight end Greg Olsen, not to mention top option Steve Smith (though Smith’s stats have come down from the level they were a year ago). Yet last night’s explosion is Newton’s first truly significant fantasy output since Week 4, and one of only three occasions this year he’s scored more than 21 points in standard leagues. There’s also the sense that Philadelphia’s defense hasn’t always been playing that hard in the midst of a lost season.
Looking ahead, the hope is Week 12 was something of a watermark moment for Newton. But I’d argue his outlook remains up and down for the final five weeks of the regular season. His natural ability will carry him to some good individual performances but he’ll have to do it against a Chiefs defense that held Peyton Manning in check (relatively) in Week 13, and a tough Falcons squad in Week 14. Things could get better in San Diego in Week 15 (though the Chargers did keep a lid on the Raven’s offense for three quarters on Sunday) and will almost certainly improve in the final two weeks of the season - versus Oakland and at New Orleans. I’m just not convinced, yet, that Newton will out-produce the likes of RGIII, Tom Brady and Manning in the final stretch. A repeat of his Monday night heroics in Week 13, however, would go a long way to changing that perception.
Until last week, Freeman had been trending up nicely with 16 touchdown passes in six games. But then Atlanta came to town, and as important as Freeman’s yardage output proved in what was nearly an upset win, he threw zero touchdowns. With Vincent Jackson in career-year form, I think that will prove to be an aberration for Freeman, but his visit to Denver this week is bad news for his chances of a quick turnaround. Denver’s unsung defense is fifth against the pass and in LB Von Miller boasts one of the league’s truly disruptive defenders. Miller and DE Elvis Dumervill have 22 sacks between them and the Broncos lead the league in that category too (with 37 on the year). They have locked down the Chiefs’ Brady Quinn (perhaps not all that tough!), the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, and the Panthers’ Newton in the last three weeks. And it could be tough sledding for Freeman too.
I’m not crazy about Dalton’s matchup with a Chargers team that disrupted Joe Flacco for most of the Raven’s Week 12 tilt in San Diego - but ultimately Flacco got loose for 355 passing yards and a touchdown (in, admittedly, close to five quarters of play). You get the sense the Chargers are close to giving up on the season, and could be ripe for the picking for an exciting Bengals’ receiving corps featuring AJ Green, Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham. Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins might also return. With nine touchdown passes in his last three games and a Bengals’ offense that’s finding some rhythm, I think Dalton is the better play.
No question that Calvin and Dez are on hot streaks right now, with Bryant matching his career high in yards on Thanksgiving (a mark he set only one week before) and Johnson finally healthy and back to dominant form. If you limit your question to just these two, there’s no debate that Johnson has the edge over the last three weeks: the Lion has posted 490 yards and three touchdowns, since Week 10 compared to Bryant’s 377 yards and four scores. Both have been simply exceptional.
But Andre Johnson of the Texans could be forgiven for staking a claim to ‘hottest receiver right now’ too. His 461 receiving yards over the last two games is the greatest two-game yardage total ever recorded by a receiver. And you might want to at least consider the Falcons’ Julio Jones in your survey. His Week 12 haul of 147 yards (and a score) mark a career high for a player who’s fully fit again. Then there’s the surprising Cecil Shorts III of Jacksonville. He’s not the ‘hottest’, but he’s inarguably ‘hot’ with 291 yards (including two 100-yard games) and three scores since Week 10. And don’t forget fantasy’s number one overall receiver AJ Green, whose 16/287/2 stat line over the last three games is merely par for the course in a sensational sophomore season.
The upshot? There have rarely been more dynamic receivers on hot streaks than there are right now in the NFL. Make sure one or more of them is on your team.
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