QB: Alex Smith, Chiefs
The Chiefs’ offensive game plan is predicated on the ground, making Smith and the aerial attack not particularly conducive to the fantasy realm. At least, that was the tale in the first half of the season. In the past four weeks? Not necessarily the case, evidenced in Smith’s nine touchdowns in this span, an elevated figure given his two scores in the previous five contests. Imagine this prosperity to continue this weekend versus a Raiders defense surrendering the fifth-most points to quarterbacks this season. How bad has Oakland been this campaign? Forget the seven-touchdown conquest of Nick Foles in Week 9. The Silver and Black allowed 37 points to the Jets last Sunday. THAT bad. Insert Smith into the starting lineup in deeper leagues or two-QB formats.
Other starts: Matt Ryan, Nick Foles
RB: Shane Vereen, Patriots
Lost in the hoopla of New England’s comeback/Cleveland’s collapse/Dyrol Prioleau’s bogus pass interference call was the performance of Vereen, who hauled in 12 receptions off a ridiculous 17 targets for 153 yards against the Brownies. Vereen also added a six-yard trip to pay dirt on the ground to cement a sound fantasy outing. LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley notched more rushing attempts, but make no mistake – Vereen is the primary Pats back going forward. With Rob Gronkowski done for the year, look for Vereen’s receiving prowess to become a bigger part of New England’s game plan. The Dolphins are ranked 26th in fantasy points against backfields, making Vereen a must-play.
Other starts: Ryan Mathews, Pierre Thomas
WR: Green Bay receivers
Josh McCown, the 34-year-old journeyman who until this season had 40 touchdowns versus 58 turnovers, just dropped 348 passing yards and five end-zone excursions in sub-zero weather on the Cowboys. It could be Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn or Tecmo Super Bowl legend Don Majikowski. Whoever is under center for the Pack will tear this Dallas secondary to shreds. Proprietors of Cheesehead receivers should act accordingly.
Other starts: Riley Cooper, Torrey Smith
TE: Scott Chandler, Bills
Understand that putting conviction in EJ Manuel, he of four interceptions and seven sacks last week, could be problematic. However, the Jaguars are giving up the second-most points to tight ends this year, and with the rest of the Bills receiving corps in shambles, Chandler is the last man standing. And since I have nothing else to add, let me use this space to rail against Christmas parties that don’t play Christmas music. These celebrations are supposed to be a sanctuary from all the madness in the world, a congregation to remember the good that’s found in your fellow man. It’s hard to foster such sentiments, however, when Katy Perry, Pitbull, Ke$ha and Taylor Swift are assaulting your ears. If the song isn’t found in the Home Alone soundtrack, it shouldn’t be on your holiday playlist.
Other starts: Charles Clay, Zach Miller
DEF: Houston Texans
I know, I know, it’s the Texans. The fact that Wade Phillips is now guiding this sinking ship doesn’t help, either. In defense of the, um, defense, Houston is holding opponents to a conference-low 183.6 passing yards per game. Andrew Luck’s damage in the box score was mostly had in garbage time, as Luck and the Colts again struggled without Reggie Wayne. If you’re looking for an upset this week, the Texans could be your pick.
Other starts: New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints
QB: Jay Cutler/Josh McCown, Bears
This idea of benching the Chicago arms did not sit well in Tuesday’s chat. Judging by the fervor emitting from the readers, you would have thought I kidnapped Kris Kringle or, worse, championed Ohio State as still worthy of a National Championship bid. Is it really that outlandish of a claim? The Browns have been knocked around as of late, but still possess one of the best corners in the game in Joe Haden. Moreover, the early forecast for Sunday’s game in Cleveland is calling for snow. In deeper leagues I can fathom the play, but in standard formats, keep this duo on the pine. In a related note, while kudos go to Marc Trestman for the job he’s done this season, can we drop the “quarterback whisperer” label? McCown has been solid, but here are Trestman’s past pupils: Brandon Weeden, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow, Jason Campbell and Brock Osweiler. Hell of a stable, let me tell you. Plus, not like Cutler was lighting the world on fire before he went down. Pump the brakes on the hyperbole, that’s all I’m asking.
Other sits: Andy Dalton, Tom Brady
RB: Reggie Bush/Joique Bell, Lions
Baltimore ranks eighth against the run, and subtracting Week 1’s beatdown by the Broncos, is suffocating challengers to 17.6 points per tilt. Bush is listed day-to-day with a calf injury, and Bell had two fumbles in Week 13. Nothing to see here, move along…
Other sits: Jets RBs, Donald Brown
WR: Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers
Following a stumble out of the gate, the San Francisco secondary has regained its mojo, ranking fourth in pass defense at 204 yards per game. Although Jackson continued his strong showing in 2013 with 70 yards and a touchdown last week, the Pro Bowl wideout’s explosiveness is clearly encumbered by a hamstring injury. Plus, Mike Glennon versus the Niners? No thanks. Jackson’s performance this year almost merits a start no matter the opponent, but lower the bar in terms of expectations.
Other sits: Victor Cruz, Golden Tate
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Gonzo looks like an intriguing option in the ensuing chaos of Gronkowski’s absence, especially against a Washington defense allowing 256.7 passing yards per game (27th in the league). Alas, the venerable tight end has surpassed the 45-yard barrier only twice in the past eight games, and with Roddy White back in the saddle for Atlanta, Gonzalez is the third option in the Falcons passing attack. Only for the desperate is Gonzalez a viable play.
Other sits: Rob Housler, Garrett Graham
DEF: Cincinnati Bengals
The Who-Deys have hung tough in the face of season-ending injuries to Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, but overcoming the loss of cornerback Terence Newman might be a bridge too far for the Bengals. I’m also in the minority of folks who don’t envision the Steelers throwing in the towel on Sunday night, making Cincinnati a dangerous dice roll this weekend. Speaking of Pittsburgh, what’s that adage about karma? For whatever reason, the last part of that adage is slipping my mind. Believe it applies to Mike Tomlin at the moment. Forget docking the Steelers a draft pick. The gridiron gods’ punishment for Tomlin’s do-si-do on Jacoby Jones – causing Antonio Brown to step on the sideline, negating a walk-off win for the Steel City – was a bigger kick in the groin than any reprimand from the league office.
Other sits: St. Louis Rams, New York Giants
Waiver Wire Watch: Toby Gerhart, Vikings
Gerhart is available in 97.4 percent of leagues. I say this not just for Week 15 filler, or even as a ROS replacement. Additionally, I’m prefacing this with a gigantic asterisk. Keeping this in mind, I have a hunch that Adrian Peterson won’t be suiting up in purple in 2014, putting Gerhart as the de facto primary back in Minnesota. For those in dynasty or keeper leagues, snagging the fourth-year back out of Stanford, who’s been strong in AP relief at 7.9 yards per carry in 36 attempts, is imperative. Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned that Gerhart tweaked his hamstring Sunday, and the extent of the injury is unknown. If Gerhart is unable to go against the Eagles this week, look to Matt Asiata to ascend the backfield throne for the Vikings.
Email of the Week
This week’s winner comes from Sandy R. in Leeds, who writes:
“Greetings from overseas! Can you help decide between Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, Le’Veon Bell and Donald Brown? Need two. And being a movie guy, what’s your sights on the new Hobbit movie?”
1. The only thing I know about Leeds comes from watching The Damn United. Assuming the area hasn’t changed in the last 40 years, looks like a lovely place. Super jealous, Sandy.
2. Bill Simmons once floated out an idea that everyone has a film that they haven’t seen strictly to bewilder those around you that you’ve never watched it. For me, it’s the Tolkien catalog. Middle Earth, gremlins and the dude from Rudy? Not my cup of tea.
3. Bell, who’s been on fire the last six weeks, and Johnson. Arizona has been tough on the ground, and the Tennessee back is one of the more inconsistent plays at the position. Nevertheless, still like Johnson to see 20-plus touches this week.
Fantasy Flyer: Jeremy Kerley, Jets
Someone has to be on the receiving end, other than a host of Panthers, of Geno Smith’s air forays, right? Returning from a month-long sabbatical due to an ailing elbow, Kerley proved to be that bull’s-eye, grabbing four balls off seven targets for 41 yards and a touchdown last weekend. Not a stretch of the imagination to see Gang Green behind early in this one, forcing the Jets to the sky. If and when this circumstance manifests, expect Kerley to cash in.
This Week in BRENT CELEK
Forget LeSean McCoy’s record-setting day. The hero in Philly’s winter-wonderland spectacle last weekend? According to the Eagles, it was Celek and his unselfishness, referring to his heads-up play of taking a dive at the 10-yard line, allowing Philadelphia to run down the clock. Granted, Celek probably didn’t have this intention. Like most 28-year-old men, dude saw a snow pile and wanted to plunge in. Simple as that. But hey, Columbus wasn't looking for America, and that turned out to be pretty okay.
2013 stats: 25 receptions, 348 yards, four touchdowns
Linebacker Body Count: Nine
Personal Foul on: Jeff Triplette
The blunder in the Washington-New York game was a blessing, giving the RG3 nonsense a welcomed respite. Last week’s goal-line gaffe? What the $#@% was that? Topped off by Triplette’s firm dropping the ball, someone needs to put this cat in time-out.
Gatorade Shower Goes to: Drew Brees, Saints
Brees hit the 50,000-yard milestone on Sunday night, joining Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Dan Marino and John Elway. Manning was the fastest to accomplish this feat in 191 games. Brees did it in 183. That’s getting it DONE, son.