Congratulations! If you're reading this, you've very likely advanced to your fantasy league's semifinals. I’m sure this is a grueling, stressful time for you, but don’t forget to cherish the moment. While most of your fellow owners are already knee-deep in the offseason, you're guaranteed at least one more week of roster tinkering, trash-tweeting, and cursing out the grown men running across your TV screen. To enjoy such luxuries beyond this weekend, though, you’ll have to avoid the myriad pitfalls lurking in the shadows of Week 15. That’s no small task, but it’s one that can be made a gazillion times easier by reading the next 1,500 words. Good luck!
1. QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Did Luck end his slump in Week 14, portending a return to form during the season's final stretch? Or were the 32 fantasy points he posted against the Bengals simply the result of two quarters of garbage time? We could tie ourselves in knots trying to figure this out, but right now, it doesn't matter: Luck has a delectable matchup with Texans interim head coach/noted slump-buster Wade Phillips looming this week, and Phillips might as well be a drug quarterbacks take to boost their fantasy value.
It felt like the end for Knowshon Moreno. Only two years earlier, the Broncos had made the Georgia product the 15th overall pick, but as Moreno was helped off the field in November 2011, that status as a coveted prospected felt much further away. Already bypassed on the depth chart by Willis McGahee and hemorrhaging carries to Lance Ball, Moreno was diagnosed with a torn ACL and his career in Denver seemed like it might be coming to an end.
That’s hard to imagine now. Because when the Broncos — boasting one of the most prolific offenses in league history — take the field tonight in San Diego, it will likely be Moreno flanking Peyton Manning. Two years removed from third-down duties and possibly being cut, Moreno is having the best season of his career. He has averaged 4.3 yards per carry on his way to 920 yards — the eighth-highest total in the league — and he's made huge contributions in the passing game, where he’s in the top 10 in receiving DVOA among running backs. Only five players — LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, and Josh Gordon — have more yards from scrimmage.
Skeptics will say that Moreno’s success is nothing more than a product of the Broncos’ offensive dominance, that running backs will always thrive with Peyton Manning because they’ll run only when they should. But Moreno’s place in the Denver offense speaks to more than just how great Manning has been. It’s just another example of the ever-changing way that running backs fit in today’s league. Context is almost everything.
Sometimes it takes a really weird context to get coaches to be aggressive. I'm not going to be naming any of the myriad decisions to go for two from the Eagles-Lions snowstorm as candidates for good or bad calls in this week's Thank You for Not Coaching, because the coaches were really choosing not to kick as opposed to choosing to try to succeed with an aggressive conversion, but it raised a thought for me: Is a team ever going to be that aggressive and go for two just about every time in a game that isn't taking place in a snowstorm? That should happen at least once in a while, right?
Take last night's Bears-Cowboys game. There's little reason to think that the bitter cold would have affected Robbie Gould or Dan Bailey in terms of their ability to kick extra points, but that was a game between two teams that couldn't tackle or do anything to stop the opposing offense at the point of attack. The four running backs who received carries combined to rush for 339 yards on 55 attempts, an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Theoretically, if your chances of succeeding on a two-point conversion are greater than 50 percent, that play should be your default choice in a vacuum at every opportunity, since you would expect to score more points on each average attempt by going for two than you would by kicking the sure extra point. I'm pretty sure that would have been the case in the Bears-Cowboys matchup had those teams tried to go for two each time. Alas, the Bears had to settle for a mere 45 points, aided by a lone two-point conversion along the way. Oh, speaking of
In case you were busy finding a new locker room from which to ban stat sheets, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Kobe Bryant returned to action after rehabbing from last year's Achilles tear, but his Lakers suffered a rare home defeat to the Toronto Raptors 106-94. "It's OK that we lost," Bryant said after the game while sitting in the locker room. "Fear can be a very powerful motivator." Suddenly the lights in the locker room went out, and horrifying screams echoed through the facility. The lights flickered on briefly, and a young girl was standing with her back to Lakers guard Nick Young, singing, "Do you want to play with me?" in a sweet tone. Then the lights cut out again before quickly coming back on. The girl had turned around, and instead of a child's face, she had the face of Popeye Jones. "Do you want to play with me?" the little girl with Popeye Jones's face sang in a scratch baritone to a terrified Nick Young. The lights cut out again, before coming back on to reveal everything back to normal. As Nick Young curled into a ball on the locker-room floor, Bryant chuckled to himself by his locker, and said, "Yes, things will be all right. Fear is a very powerful motivator."
You demanded it! Thank You for Not Coaching is back in its usual Tuesday time slot to review the sprawling action of Week 13. Of course, while the NFL stretched out and played this week's games over a five-day stretch, the most-discussed decisions of the past seven days both took place on Saturday, when Michigan and Alabama made calls that had an enormous impact on the college football season. There wasn't a coaching decision quite as meaningful in the pro ranks this past week, but one team did critically injure its playoff hopes with a surprising misstep. As you might suspect, they're at the very end of this week's column, and as always, we'll start on the positive side of things.
In case you were busy foolishly enjoying the company of friends and family this holiday season without a television on in the background, here's what you missed in sports over the holiday:
In one of the most stunning endings to a football game in recent memory, Auburn shocked Alabama in the Iron Bowl, winning 34-28 on a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown as time expired. "No regrets," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after the game when asked about his late-game management, "I thought to myself, What's the worst that could happen? And the answer was that the kick could hit a child in the head, creating a trauma that the boy would bury deep into his subconscious. This trauma would then only rear its head again when the boy had grown, fueled by his hate, to become governor of Alabama, and he would then decide by gubernatorial decree to make football illegal. But then I decided that, rightly I might add, that would be impossible; if anything could provoke a coup in the state of Alabama it would be the abolition of football. So I made the right decision, I just got a bad result."
In case you were out getting a terrifying vote of confidence from an eccentric Russian oligarch, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A rough day for the Manning family saw the Dallas Cowboys all but eliminate the Giants' scant playoff hopes with a 24-21 win at the Meadowlands. "The bad news is, we're probably headed home in December," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after the game as he stroked his weird red mustache. "The good news is, Cooper said I can finally go to Space Camp this offseason. So it's all good news, because Space Camp is gonna be so worth it!"
A punt misplayed by Denver's Tony Carter in overtime proved to be the difference, as the New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31, in an instant classic. "At least I'm not that guy. At least I'm not Tony Carter," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson while watching the game's highlights from a motel room in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Ultimate Clarity: A Life-Changing Life System information session he had attended at the Memphis Airport Marriott had been a bit of a bust, if Pittson was being honest with himself. Sure, the day's speaker, former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tony Jones, was possessed of Ultimate Clarity, but he couldn't see how the principles of confidence and serenity that Jones was espousing could apply to his life. Jones was a millionaire, and he was famous, and he was a Super Bowl champion. Pittson was a nobody. Also, the session was expensive, so much so that after paying for his flight and the fees and the books, Pittson certainly couldn't afford to stay at the Marriott, but being so far away made it hard to participate in the more social aspects of the information session. Pittson shook his head, looked back up at his TV, and took a deep breath as the highlight repeated itself. "At least I'm not that guy," Pittson said to no one. "At least I'm not Tony Carter."
When it comes to “rings,” Brady is obviously ahead, but when it comes down to actually passing the football, the question is not so simple. These two quarterbacks are among the finest their sport has ever seen, but both have unique strengths and tendencies.
In case you were busy confusing Jimmie Johnson, Jimmy Johnson, and a turkey sandwich, son, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Peyton Manning overcame an injured ankle and Kansas City's vaunted pass rush as the Broncos handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season, 27-17 in Denver. "Well, when you think Peyton, you think mobility," said Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio after the game. "So, it was definitely tough to deal with being forced to keep him in the pocket. But somehow, god bless him, he managed."
Indiana lost its first game of the NBA season as Derrick Rose's return sparked his Chicago Bulls to a 110-94 win. "D-Rose is going to make me broke," said Chicago fan Jesse Wilkerson while purchasing a brand-new Rose home jersey. When asked why he was buying Rose's jersey now, Wilkerson replied, "Look, if the guy's gonna play soft and miss games, I'm not going to not burn his jersey." Wilkerson, who once cried at a party at the University of Illinois when someone accidentally spilled his Corona Light, then added, "That's what fans do to toughen up their favorite players. Men gotta be tough, but they also have to be loyal."
As we near the halfway point of the 2013 NFL season, the teams and lineups we expected to see trotted out on the field this season are now shells of their former selves. The Falcons are already down seven starters from the guys they would have expected to be in the starting 22 in July. Of the 32 quarterbacks who were expected to start on the opening day of training camp, 12 have been benched or suffered an injury that has caused them or will cause them to miss time. If you can start the same guys who you were expecting to suit up over the summer, you're the exception, not the rule.
Every team has some veterans that they can plug in as competent backups, but every team also has a few spots where they're absolutely, positively screwed if their starter was to go down with an injury or suffer a dramatic decline in his performance. Others have found a diamond in the rough who has come out of nowhere to emerge as a viable starter at their position. In either scenario, there are now players on virtually every team who have risen out of professional obscurity to get meaningful NFL reps.
In case you were busy pouring one out for the Dawgfather, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
After a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty call went against New England, Jets kicker Nick Folk hit a 42-yard field goal in overtime to give New York a come-from-behind 30-27 win. Jets head coach Rex Ryan defended the officials when asked about the penalty after the game, saying, "Look, it was a new rule, and besides, we all got to see some more kicking out there as a result. So how is that not a win for everybody? I know I just love the kicking game; it's absolutely at the core of why I love football. Gotta love the kicking of the football." Ryan then adjusted himself and added, "Now if ya'll excuse me, I have to contrive a reason to leave right now."
It's hard to believe, but in a couple days we'll be halfway through fantasy football's regular season. Are you livin' on a prayer? God knows I am. Tom Brady and Ray Rice have sunk my dynasty league team's ship to an unthinkable 1-5, and unless things turn around this weekend (SPOILER ALERT: they won't), the fire sale begins on Monday. Meanwhile, some asshole sits comfortably atop the standings thanks to Peyton Manning AND Adrian Peterson.
So this post goes out to all my fellow cellar dwellers, the hardy souls who'd do just about anything for a win at this point. You had good reasons — VERY good reasons — for taking Colin Kaepernick or C.J. Spiller or Tavon Austin where you did. But sometimes a great process leads to not-so-great results. It's a fact of life, and a fact of fantasy football. So, best of luck with Nick Foles.
In case you were busy cheering Matt Schaub's ankle injury because that's the only way to fill the pit of sadness that lives in your chest, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
New England handed New Orleans its first loss of the season as Tom Brady's last-minute heroics gave the Patriots a stunning 30-27 comeback victory. "Well, that's the best comeback this city will see for a long time," Brady said after the game. "I mean, I hate to use the word untoppable, because I don't think it's a real word, but I'm positive this win will prove to be the most untoppable win this city has ever seen. Everyone might as well just take the rest of the day off from caring about Boston sports, because it cannot possibly get better than this — hold on, let me just flip over to the Sox game, and yeah, see? They're down four in the eighth inning. As I was saying, untop— whoa "
David Ortiz's eighth-inning grand slam set the table for another miraculous Sunday night comeback in Boston as the Red Sox evened up the ALCS at a game apiece with a 6-5 walk-off win over the Detroit Tigers. Ortiz's fifth go-ahead or game-tying hit in the final two innings of a playoff game tied him for third all time on the list with former teammate Manny Ramirez Jason Varitek Johnny Damon Kevin Millar Dave Roberts Kevin Youkilis? Who is it? Um Trot Nixon? No? Gosh. Dustin Pedroia is still on the team, so it can't be him. Oh, duh, Nomar. No? OK, long-shot guess: Curt Schilling? Obviously not. Well it can't be J.D. Oh, you have to be kidding me. Really? J.D.? No, I won't do it. I won't type his whole name. The only people ahead of him on this list are Bernie Williams and Pete Rose? It's too weird, though I guess he has an unfairly bad reputation given his contributions to the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox. Plus, it was such a big weekend for all three of those teams you know what, fine: J.D. Drew. Ortiz and J.D. Drew are now statistical equals when it comes to clutch postseason performances.