Joe Dolan is the managing editor of FantasyGuru.com and a host for SiriusXM Radio. A former writer for PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Joe still contributes to the site with on-camera segments and written columns. He can be heard hosting "SiriusXM Fantasy Football Gameday" every NFL Sunday from 1-7 PM on Sirius 210, XM 87.
This is an interesting quarterback matchup to say the least. How would you evaluate it?
Nick Foles was awful in his last go-round against Dallas, but he also put together a very solid game-and-a-half leading up to that. He's now back from a concussion this week, and to his credit, he admitted he missed a ton of potential plays against the Cowboys two weeks ago. The Eagles offense has been held back by poor execution and quarterback play of late, and they're now traveling to The Black Hole to deal with a Raiders defense that has been executing beautifully. Expect defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to bring some exotic blitzes at Foles – the Raiders have gotten 21 sacks from 13 different players this season – to test his mettle after his Week 7 showing. But given his brief track record, I'm inclined to believe Foles simply had a bad game against the Cowboys, not uncommon for a young quarterback.
Terrelle Pryor has totally surprised me this year. But that doesn't mean he is polished and finished developing. In particular, he has a ton of work to do as a passer. Despite the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history against the Steelers last week, Pryor went only 10 of 19 passing for 87 yards and two picks, and his uneven performance in that department allowed the Steelers to climb back into the game late. And while the Eagles' weakness is through the air, we'd still think that's where they'd want to force Pryor, because their defensive line should be able to generate some push up front. That doesn't mean I view this as a bad matchup. Matter of fact, it's quite the contrary. But the Eagles defense has still improved considerably, and coordinator Bill Davis has been doing some very interesting things in terms of pressure packages that will make this a tough go for Pryor, at least through the air. As Eagle linebacker Connor Barwin said this week, keeping Pryor in the pocket is the real challenge.
Are running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren McFadden trending in different directions?
Let's be sane here: McCoy is still a weekly starter for fantasy purposes. Yes, he's slowed down, as he has topped 4.0 YPC only once over the last month since Michael Vick got hurt, gaining only 265 yards on 78 carries (3.4 YPC). However, he still averages 16.3 fantasy points per game in a PPR over that span thanks to 18/145 receiving. That's a guy who has to be in your lineup every week. I totally understand the concerns in The Black Hole – the Raiders rank No. 6 in total run defense with only 89.9 YPG allowed. In fact, the Raiders are the only NFL team to have not surrendered a run of 20 yards or more, and that of course is Chip Kelly's game. But the touches should still be there more McCoy.
While McFadden looked good against the Steelers last week, let's pump the brakes a little bit. That said, any time he comes out of a game without an additional injury is a positive, especially when he looks as good as he did against a tough defense. And despite the reputation, he's got another tough matchup in this game. The Eagles have gotten excellent play up front from defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton, plus veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The Eagles have given up a ninth-fewest 18.8 FPG to opposing RBs over the last five weeks, so the sledding won't be easy behind this poor line for McFadden. But it's also hard to imagine you have three better options on your roster right now, given the bye weeks and injuries, and the presence of Terrelle Pryor takes some focus off of McFadden. Just don't expect McFadden to make it through the rest of this season unscathed, for one reason or another.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Jay Cutler may be back sooner rather than later. Should I hold onto him?
On Tuesday of this week, Cutler told reporters in Chicago that he's working hard to squash the initial four-week timetable he was given after suffering his groin injury in Week 7. According to the Chicago Tribune, there is a chance that Cutler could be back, albeit slight, by Week 10. Even if Cutler is more likely for Week 11, he's absolutely worth holding onto unless you desperately need to drop him for a bye-week or injury replacement. Not counting Week 7, when he got injured early and barely put up any stats, Cutler ranks No. 11 among quarterbacks with 23.1 FPG, and he has a great set of weapons in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett. If you have a spot to hold him, he is absolutely worth keeping, or picking up if he somehow was dropped to the Waiver Wire.
Chris Johnson: Is he due for a big second half or should I consider him done until further notice?
I'm selling on CJ"2K." While I don't exactly believe the coachspeak of Mike Munchak, who said this week that the now-healthy Shonn Greene could see 15 carries a game in relief of Johnson (whom he'd like to see get 20 per game ... seriously), it's not hard to see that the powerful Greene fills a role that Johnson wasn't even playing with him out. Johnson has received exactly zero carries inside the 5-yard line this season, typically what we consider "goal line runs." With Greene out, Jackie Battle has seen all seven of those carries, and Battle, frankly, isn't any good. Greene, for as boring a player as he is, is better than Battle, and could conceivably handle the bulk of the Titans' early-down and short-yardage work, should Tennessee choose to turn in that direction.
At this point, Johnson may just be better suited as a third-down/passing-down back. On the year, his only two touchdowns have come on two long receptions. In fact, Johnson has TD receptions of 49 yards and 66 yards, meaning he has a grand total of 481 yards on his other 128 touches on the year, a grand total of 3.75 yards per touch. He is, almost literally, worthless for fantasy if he isn't scoring long TDs. That's why Greene needs to be picked up if he's still out there in your league.
Is Andre Ellington a one-week wonder or is he worth starting after the Cardinals' bye?
If you think Ellington came out of nowhere last week against the Falcons, you simply haven't been paying attention. Yes, his 154-yard game against the Falcons was his best of the season so far. But he's someone who has averaged 8.2 yards per touch this season, while seeing 8.1 touches per game. That's absolutely ridiculous for a running back. By comparison, the Cardinals' "starting" running back, Rashard Mendenhall, averaged 3.4 yards per touch and 14.6 touches per game, before sitting out Week 8 with a toe injury. So it makes a hell of a lot of sense that Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said this week that he wants to increase Ellington's touches. And even if Ellington caps out around 15 touches most weeks, that's nearly double what he's seen per game so far. It's not a bell cow workload, but most teams don't have a bell cow these days. Ellington should remain an excellent flex play for the rest of this season.
I'm in a deep keeper league. Who are some really deep Waiver Wire guys I can stash for the rest of this season?
Tim Wright, Buccaneers – I've mentioned Wright here multiple times in the past few weeks. While I knew he was a talented player, he really caught my attention with his performance against the Eagles a few weeks ago. A former wide receiver at Rutgers, Wright could now be the Bucs' No. 2 passing target behind Vincent Jackson with Mike Williams out for the year. Players in savvy leagues may not be able to pick up Wright, because he may already be owned, but if he's out there somehow, now's the time to get him. It should be noted that rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has played really well, too.
Fozzy Whittaker, Browns – Whittaker has seen 29 snaps the last two weeks since being claimed from the Chargers, and he made some noise with a 17-yard touchdown reception last week. It's not like he's viable for fantasy yet, but the Browns have zero running game, and there would be opportunity here if Whittaker takes more snaps and impresses. With Willis McGahee looking like little more than an early-down plodder and Chris Ogbonnaya shuffling between fullback and tailback, Whittaker is someone to consider for forward-thinking players in deep leagues.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings – While Patterson is still learning the ropes of being an NFL receiver, his outstanding burst and gamebreaking ability is evident – he returned the opening kickoff against the Packers last week 109 yards for a touchdown, tying the longest play in NFL history. Eventually, Patterson is going to get his chance to break out, and while it may not be this year, he's got significant dynasty value, especially if the Vikings get their quarterback problem solved during the offseason.
Michael Cox, Giants – I'm basing this one off of the Giants' history of eventually getting great production out of previously unknown running backs. I've like what little I've seen from Cox this year. And while I know that coach Tom Coughlin is averse to using inexperienced players at skill positions, dynasty players should use that to their advantage. This is a backfield, after all, that got huge production out of Ahmad Bradshaw, Derrick Ward, and Brandon Jacobs, none of whom were sky-high draft picks. And if Cox continues to impress the coaches in practice, he could eventually get his shot. The David Wilson/Andre Brown roadblock here is real, but in the Giant backfield, the cream eventually rises to the top, however slowly.
INJURIES TO WATCH
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks – Lynch (knee) has missed a lot of practice time this week. Normally, I'd be concerned, but Lynch has been known to take some time off practice, and coach Pete Carroll does not seem worried at all.
C.J. Spiller, Bills – After (finally) sitting out last week, Spiller is expected return from his ankle sprain.
Zac Stacy, Rams – Stacy (ankle) was full-go on Thursday and will play Sunday, barring setback.
Roddy White, Atlanta – If Roddy (ankle, hamstring) practice Friday, he has a shot to go Sunday. But how effective will he be?
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – DeAngelo's injury (quad) coincides with the expected return of Jonathan Stewart, making this backfield a bigger mess than it already is.
Texans Backfield – Arian Foster (hamstring) and Ben Tate (ribs) have both missed some practice time this week, but are both expected to go. We could see snaps for Ray Graham given their injuries.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Charles (bruised knee) has missed practice time this week as a precaution. He's expected to play.
James Jones, Packers – Don't expect to see Jones (knee) for the third straight week.
QB: Alex Smith, Chiefs – This is definitely the first time I've said this in 2013. But six teams are on bye, several quarterbacks are hurt, Smith has a decent matchup at Buffalo and he has been getting meaningful rushing yards every week – Smith has had no fewer than 25 rushing yards in any game this year.
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers – Bell had an unimpressive line last week, but the Raiders defense was swarming. The Patriots traded for Isaac Sopoaga this week, and that tells you all you need to know about their run defense.
WR: Keenan Allen, Chargers – Time to go back to Allen after a quiet Week 7 and the bye week, with a nice matchup at Washington.
TE: Jordon Cameron, Browns – I'm still not convinced Jason Campbell will be a positive for Cleveland in the long run, but Baltimore is giving up a huge 16.5 YPC to TEs this year, by far the most in the NFL.
QB: Jason Campbell, Browns – He shocked me with a good performance against the Chiefs last week, but Campbell was once a first-round draft pick for a reason. He's also a journeyman for a reason. Expect him to come back to earth against the Ravens.
RB: Any Falcons or Panthers running back – I'm so sick of these backfields. There are too many players with too little production in Atlanta, and there are legitimately four strong options in Carolina. Puke.
WR: Golden Tate, Seahawks – Seattle just lost Sidney Rice to an ACL injury, and Percy Harvin won't play this week. That means Tate could see a lot of Darrelle Revis, who played more man on Steve Smith last week than he has on any receiver this season (though not nearly as much as he should).
TE: Jared Cook, Rams – Cook is facing his former team, the Titans, this week. We've discovered why the Titans were willing to become his "former team" far too often this season.
THE AWARDS SECTION
And now it's time for ... Midseason Fantasy Awards!
Fantasy MVP: Peyton Manning, Broncos – I picked Jimmy Graham for this award in my preseason column, and while Graham has been amazing, Peyton has made literally every player around him a fantasy stud (more on that in a few seconds). It's hard to argue with him has MVP.
Best Value Pick: Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – Moreno was typically one of the last few picks of any particular fantasy player's draft, a true flier. He's paid off by being a no-doubt weekly starter at RB so far. His snaps are falling, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been an incredible value.
Top Waiver Wire Selection: Julius Thomas, Broncos – Sensing a trend here? Thomas was typically available for dimes in auctions, late in drafts and off waivers early in many leagues (you could potentially reverse him and Moreno here, too). All he's done is rank No. 4 at tight end with 16.5 fantasy points per game in a PPR, which actually puts him ahead of teammate Eric Decker, who has been a stud in his own right at wide receiver.
Rookie of the Year: Giovani Bernard, Bengals – It's been an uneven year for the rookie in a timeshare in the backfield, but no rookie back in a pretty good class has consistently made more electric plays than Bernard, who should be playing ahead of BenJarvus Green-Ellis full time by next year. He'll be a really high pick in 2014, and has incredible keeper value.
Disappointment of the Year: Trent Richardson, Browns/Colts – It's been a bad year for injuries at all positions, but the biggest disappointment has to be Richardson, who has been healthy all year but hasn't looked anything like the back who was drafted No. 3 overall last season and was a consensus early first-round pick in fantasy leagues this year.