The dust has settled after a sensational International Series weekend, and we witnessed firsthand how big the gap can be between the haves and the have-nots of the NFL - even in this era of supposed parity.
The Patriots’ full-throttle shellacking of the Rams here in London is only the beginning for international football. And it’s only the halfway point, too, of this the 93rd National Football League season. Which means there’s lots more football, and fantasy football, left to play.
With many teams eight games deep into their 2012 schedule, there’s no better time to recap how this half-season of fantasy has progressed - and to think in terms of how it might play out over the final half too.
With that in mind, let’s get to your questions for week nine:
- ‘Your first half fantasy heroes are…? And your second half targets are…?’
I don’t think there’s too much debate about who fantasy football’s early season heroes have been. At quarterback, New Orleans’ Drew Brees ($4 million), Washington’s Robert Griffin III ($2 million) and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan ($3 million) are the top three performers per game in most leagues. Brees is no surprise, but the immediate success of RGIII and the emergence of Ryan have been real eye openers. In NFLUK fantasy terms both represent fantastic value, and their outlook remains extremely sunny.
At running back it’s been the year of big name feature back. For all the excellent stat-lines the likes of Washington’s Alfred Morris ($1 million) and Buffalo’s CJ Spiller ($2 million) have posted, your top scoring running backs per game in the majority of leagues are Houston’s Arian Foster ($4 million), Baltimore’s Ray Rice ($4 million), and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson ($3 million). Peterson is seemingly getting stronger by the week and deserves extra kudos considering the severity of his 2011 injury.
Wide receiver has been less predictable, with Cincinnati’s AJ Green ($4 million), NY Giants’ Victor Cruz ($4 million) and Tampa’s Vincent Jackson ($3 million) living up to their pedigree, but out-producing the likes of the better regarded Detroit’s Calvin Johnson ($4 million) and New England’s Wes Welker ($4 million) for top-three status.
At tight end normal service has been resumed in recent weeks with all conquering New England TE Rob Gronkowski ($4 million) leading the pack. In a mild upset, Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller ($2 million) and Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez ($3 million) are second and third in fantasy points per game.
In terms of second-half performers to watch, one team’s core quartet in particular deserves special mention. Denver’s Peyton Manning ($3 million), Willis McGahee ($3 million), Demaryius Thomas ($3 million) and Eric Decker ($2 million) have all been surging recently, and that’s a trend that’s not likely to stop - bar a Manning injury. He’s the most consistent fantasy QB overall in the last month, third-year receiver Thomas is making a serious run at being a top-three fantasy performer in his own right. Decker is a red zone threat and top-10 receiver too, and McGahee is locked in as a top-five back until youngster Ronnie Hillman starts to eat into his workload.
Other performers poised for potentially-strong second halves: Green Bay WR Randall Cobb ($1 million), Philadelphia RB LeSean McCoy ($4 million), Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin ($1 million), San Diego RB Ryan Matthews ($4 million), Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown ($3 million), Detroit WRs Titus Young ($1 million) and Ryan Broyles ($1 million), Tennessee WR Kenny Britt ($1 million), Dallas TE Jason Witten ($3 million), Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck ($2 million) and Dallas QB Tony Romo ($3 million).
- ‘I have been offered Fred Jackson in a trade for Michael Turner - do I take it?’
Now’s the time to make moves to modify your roster in standard leagues, especially with fantasy playoffs typically set for weeks 14-16 - but only if the offer is right. And at first blush this move looks like a good one, with Buffalo’s Jackson ($3 million) having fresher legs and getting better press than Atlanta’s Turner ($3 million), whose downfall has been predicted for a long time.
But a look at the stats should tell you to pause. Yes, Turner will likely be phased out of Atlanta’s attack altogether by 2012 while Jackson - even with CJ Spiller competing for touches - has a brighter long-term outlook. But Turner is the unquestioned leader in the Falcon’s powerful attack (third-down back Jacquizz Rodgers doesn’t appear to have the size to play a full-time role), and even with an ever decreasing yards-per-carry figure, his touches have been undiminished. Barring a late trade, that won’t change too much.
Jackson has settled into a timeshare with Spiller and has notched two solid games in a row leading up to this week’s bye. But on his return he faces tough sledding in games at Houston, at New England and versus Miami before finally getting a break in Indianapolis in week 12. In most leagues’ second and third playoff weeks (weeks 15 and 16 in the NFL) he gets it tough again (versus Seattle, at Miami).
Turner, meanwhile, will be playing on a competitive team that faces sieve-like run defense New Orleans twice as well as so-so Detroit, the New York Giants and Carolina along the way.
You could make a case for both backs, but Turner is the one on a team that will still be playing hard when December rolls around - a team that could be feeding him the ball lots either to edge out close games or to help finish lesser opponents off. And if you can get hold of scat-back Rodgers as a handcuff too, so much the better.
- ‘Which quarterbacks are best for rushing touchdowns (e.g. on sneaks), beyond Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton?’
If there’s one thing the success of running quarterbacks like RGIII and Newton has highlighted, it’s just how valuable a bonus rushing touchdown from our quarterback can be in fantasy football. This is an issue we glanced at back in week five, when Tom Brady continued a recent trend of sneaking across the goal-line rather than handing the ball off (a trend that anguished Brady owners will have observed has flipped back the other way after multiple goal-line carries from the likes of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in Wembley.)
As we said in week five, a quarterback that can post numbers through the air and chip in rushing yardage and scores has become the Holy Grail in fantasy. If not RGIII and Newton, then Brady is one of the next group of QBs most likely to run in (or, more accurately, lean in) for a score. Also scoring TDs on the ground - typically from sneaks - this year have been Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb, Christian Ponder, Matt Stafford, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill and Tony Romo. Surprisingly (based on their track records) neither Aaron Rodgers nor Ben Roethlisberger have joined that group as yet, but that will change. Expect mobile Seattle QB Russell Wilson to join the party too.
The best bets to chip in an extra goal-line TD or two moving forward? Luck ($2 million) is the only one on the list with a two-touchdown rushing day to his name and has three rushing scores on the season. There’s more where that came from. Brady’s ($4 million) opportunities are inconsistent but will come from time to time - especially with the New England coaching staff unnerved by fumbling issues in its young backfield. And Stafford ($4 million), who also has three on the year, will continue to get opportunities down near the end zone as long as the Detroit is struggling for an identity.
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