Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
Start of the week
Le'Veon Bell at Cincinnati
Bell has been one of the biggest surprises of this season. Yeah, he was expected to be a solid RB2, but the numbers he's putting up are reminiscent of Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. Like Charles, Bell managed to string together an eight catch, 159 yard receiving effort that was similar to Charles' eight catch, 195 yards receiving against Oakland in 2013. The major difference between those two games were the touchdowns though, as Charles found the end zone four times while Bell didn't score once.
Scoring shouldn't be an issue for Bell this week though. The Bengals give up the sixth most points to fantasy running backs (19.6 per game) and Bell has rushed for a touchdown in last two contests. He's on pace for 2,000 total yards this season, making him one of the most versatile fantasy backs of the 2014 season. He's as good a bet as any to rush for 100 yards and score two touchdowns this week.
Joique Bell vs. Tampa Bay
From one Bell to another, Joique is coming off his best game of the season where he rushed for two touchdowns and 91 yards against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. He's been somewhat inconsistent when finding the end zone as he hadn't scored four weeks prior to his two-touchdown effort. Even with that, he's been the most reliable running back on the Detroit Lions, averaging 52 yards per game. He also has a good matchup against a bad Tampa Bay rushing defense that gives up 18.1 fantasy points to running backs.
The Buccaneers defense has played a little better since the start of the season, with Gerald McCoy being a plug up the middle. But while the Buccaneer front four has given Tampa an edge, teams can still run the ball on them with reasonable success on the edges. Matt Forte rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries (3.9 ypc) and the Bengals dual threat of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 109 yards. Tampa's secondary ranks among the worst in the league as well, so Bell's receiving ability in the flat and on short routes could be equally effective. He's a good flex play this week.
Tre Mason at Washington
Mason has a lot going for him in this matchup, and it starts with all the problems going on in Washington. The Redskins have been a mess in the locker room, with reports that Jay Gruden wants quarterback Robert Griffin III off the team after this season. It's so bad that even one of his own teammates blasted him over the weekend. When your team has lost confidence and seemingly the will to play hard because of negative vibes, it's never a good situation. And that's not just some woo-woo speculative armchair analysis (ok maybe a little) but it really does impact a team's performance on the field.
Defensively, The Redskins have been very stout against the run this season but injuries are starting to take a toll. Starting linebacker and leading tackler Keenan Robinson has been battling a sprained MCL and hasn't practiced all week. Sack leader Brandon Meriweather (also a prolific tackler) is battling a sprained toe and hasn't practiced either. Meriweather is listed as doubtful while Robinson is questionable. Key pass rusher and run stopper Jason Hatcher is also questionable as is Chris Baker. On offense, DeSean Jackson is dealing with a shin injury and didn't practice Friday, he may be a scratch as well which could limit the offense since he's Washington's leading receiver.
Now on to the Rams. Mason had his coming out party against the Raiders last week, rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He's become one of the key factors in the Rams' success. When Mason rushes for at least 60 yards, the Rams are 4-1 and when he rushes for over 100 yards, the Rams are 2-0. Expect St. Louis to ride Mason once again and while he might not explode for the big yardage he did against Oakland, he should still hover around the 70-90 yard mark and one touchdown.
Denard Robinson vs. Houston
Shoelace will need to double knot this Sunday after falling back to earth over the last few weeks. After several strong performances that included back-to-back 100 yard games in relief of starter Toby Gerhart earlier in the year, defenses are gearing up for him better. Teams are stacking the box since they know Robinson is perhaps the biggest offensive threat with Blake Bortles still going through growing pains as a rookie. All of that planning has really limited Robinson's value.
Another reason for caution could be Robinson's struggles in pass blocking. The Jaguars surrendered seven sacks to the New York Giants last week, and two of those were a result of Robinson's blown coverage. Dealing with a pass rush that includes J.J. Watt this week won't make it any easier. If the Jaguars elect to pass more and go after Houston's weak secondary, Robinson could see a smaller portion of the snaps.
The Jaguars have also been experimenting a lot since they know they're no longer in the playoff chase. Bortles will continue to get his reps so the staff can evaluate him and while the rookie quarterback is nursing shoulder and ankle injuries, expect the Jaguars' staff to keep testing out his skills so they can help him improve next season. If they pass a lot against Houston and Robinson is forced to come out due to his pass protection liabilities, then Shoelace could get lost in the shuffle.
On this week's episode of Diagnosis, the Helpers discuss their good and bad calls from Week 10, the state of the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions and what to expect from this Thursday's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
The Helpers start off their best and worst calls. First, they hit on Michael Vick, the quarterback for the New York Jets. In his second start, Vick was coming off an impressive start against Kansas City, and he paid off for those who started him. He finished with 132 passing yards and 42 rushing yards. He finished as the seventh overall quarterback for Week 10, showing off the vintage Vick traits which included some nice deep passes and had the New York Jets not have been blowing Pittsburgh out, would've likely thrown for more yards.
One run in particular, came off a scramble which ended up being about a 20-yard run that nearly resulted in a touchdown. Also, Vick had no turnovers, which is something he's had problems with throughout his career.
Fantasy owners have always been wary of Michael Vick and for good reason. His small frame has never lent itself to taking too many big hits in succession. Vick is best used in fantasy as a plug and play guy in good matchups as long as he's healthy.
One miss the Helpers had for Week 10 was Kansas Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who they pegged as a likely bust in a tough matchup against Buffalo. The Bills held Charles in check for three quarters, and Charles only had 29 yards at the end of the first half. But Charles broke a big 40-yard touchdown late in the game which helped his value. Of course, that's not saying that the Helpers were right about Charles — they weren't. But the Bills were one of the best defenses against the run coming in, and they did play well enough to contain Charles for a half. But as all home run hitters do, Charles answered with a big gain which helped him finish with 98 rushing yards and a touchdown on the day. He probably won't be recommended as a bust going forward unless the matchup is exceptionally bad or he's battling some type of injury.
Another player the Helpers dubbed a sleeper for Week 10 was Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick. Riddick came into the Lions matchup against Miami having scored two touchdowns in the last two games and he repeated that feat again. It came on the very last play of the game, but Riddick's score gave him six points which helped fantasy owners who started him get some value.
Riddick and the Lions have another tough matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, but starting running back Reggie Bush is still banged up and saw just five touches against Miami. You have to keep Riddick stashed away just in case Bush can't go in Week 11.
Riddick has now scored three touchdowns in his last three games, and appears to have cemented his role as the primary receiver out of the backfield.
Editor's note: This article is to further explain our weekly running back rankings, which you can find here.
Week 7 Sleepers and Busts
Week 6 is in the books and the playoff picture is starting to take shape. The sample size is becoming significant and win/loss records are becoming meaningful. There are still seven weeks for teams to jockey for position and nobody has clinched anything at this point but we all know how we fantasy owners tend to over react based on our place in the standings around this time of year. In honor of our crazy fantasy football imaginations, I’d like to do things a little differently this week and go into the mindsets of many insane fantasy owners around the country by record.
The 0-6 team: “……..” Silence. This owner has 137 unanswered text messages, 58 voicemails and thousands of opened emails from league members all with the same general message “Hey Johnny/Jenny, your team STINKS”. The messages will usually be more graphic in nature like “How do you take that kind of pounding week after week and still be able to walk the next day?” But you get the gist. This owner will not be changing his lineup from here on out. He/She never wants to see his/her friends seemingly ever again and the single, non-married owner may move and change his/her name without telling anybody just to end the daily abuse. However, on the positive side the 0-6 married male owner will suddenly be nominated for National Husband of the year after taking the Mrs. for picnics, ice skating, apple picking, flea markets, opera, and ballet on Sundays, Thursday nights and Monday nights from now until January. These owners can be positively identified by a tattoo of this quote “Screw you AP/Calvin/Montee”.
The 1-5 team: “If I give you my password you can change my lineup but I’m not paying for any pickups.” This owner has slightly less text messages and slightly less voicemails than the 0-6 team and their season and mental well-being are both hanging by a thread. He/she is willing to compete for now but can’t bear to look at the names on the computer/tablet/cell phone screen. He/She has unsuccessfully reached out to the 0-6 team to see if they can hang out on Sunday since he/she really can’t bear to see anybody else.
The 2-4 team: “I’m in a must win situation.” His/her friends will hear about this all day every day over the next several weeks but especially this week. This team will make 25 pickups/drops and 5-10 trades even trading away and trading for the same players before Sunday.
The 3-3 team: “Am I a contender or a pretender? I’m not sure.” This team is neither confident nor pessimistic. He/she is fired up to potentially be above .500 but going below .500 would be the end of the world.
The 4-2 team: “Nobody is talking about my team. I’ll show them.” These owners hate how everyone loves the talent on the two teams that have better records, but totally disregard their team discussing the cream of the crop. Somehow they talk even more trash than the 5-1/6-0 owners but it’s really just a cover up for their insecurity.
The 5-1 team: “Ahhhh 1 more win and we can punch that playoff ticket”. These owners are quietly confident to a point where they look and sound downright smug. Their quiet confidence annoys everybody including the 6-0 owner.
The 6-0 owner: “First place pays $1000 right?….I’ll make you a deal, if you agree to pay me $990 right now we can just end the league today.” This owner is not quietly confident. He’s responsible for 130 of the text messages and 53 of the voicemails to the 0-6 team. He sends out group texts and reply-all emails 50 times/day talking smack. We all want to conspire against this team to ensure they don’t win the league.
My advice to you….don’t over react like these owners. It’s only week 7. We have seven more weeks in the regular season to decide our fate. We shouldn't turn into these people until at least week 8.
Now let me help you advance in the standings with some sleepers and busts. It’s an easy week schedule wise with only the Eagles and Buccaneers on byes so be smart with these recommendations and apply them to your league depending on your league format.
Without further ado, your week 7 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER: A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for. These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
· Kirk Cousins vs. Tennessee. Luck, Manning, Rodgers, Rivers, Cutler, Wilson, Ryan, Kaepernick. Those are the names of the QBs that average more fantasy points per game than Kirk Cousins. Since taking over the starting job in week 2, Cousins is averaging over 300 yards passing and 2 TDs per game. The Redskins struggle to stop anybody on defense so Cousins is often forced to throw the ball and with weapons like DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, and Andre Roberts, which gives Cousins the chance to be fantasy gold. Sure the high volume of passes has forced Cousins into 8 INT on the season, but ignore that and look at those names above again to realize what you have here. Tennessee’s pass defense has struggled of late with Brian Hoyer and Blake Bortles averaging 314 yds and 2 TDs over the last 2 weeks. This matchup is oozing with upside so get Cousins in the lineup in all 2 QB leagues and in leagues where you are playing the matchups at QB or have any of the below players as a starter. He’s #14 in my QB rankings so refer to the rankings for other start/sit decisions.
I’d Start Kirk Cousins over: Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Brian Hoyer
· Eli Manning at Dallas. The Giants come into Dallas having allowed 8 sacks last week so I think it’s safe to say there are some offensive line issues. They’re now minus their best RB and best WR with Rashad Jennings and Victor Cruz out. The loss of Rashad Jennings has impacted them in a bigger way than one would think. Jennings is a dual threat back that always does a great job making himself available as a safety valve when Eli is under duress. Andre Williams is a violent runner but he brings so much less to the table than Jennings as an all-around back. The Giants top skill position players are now comprised of RB Andre Williams, WRs Reuben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. and TE Larry Donnell. With the offensive line struggling, and the youth and inexperience at all of the skill positions, expect the Cowboys fans to rock the stadium and cause miscommunications between Eli and his young supporting cast. This will result in multiple sacks and turnovers much like you saw last week in Philadelphia. The Cowboys rank 3rd against fantasy QBs despite having faced Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. Stay away, even in 2 QB leagues.
I’d Start the following players over Eli Manning: Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles, Charlie Whitehurst, Kyle Orton
· Ronnie Hillman vs. San Francisco. Ronnie Hillman broke off big run after big run en route to a 100+ yard performance against the Jets, a team that ranks 8th in rushing yards against. The yardage was great but the stat that surprised me the most was his snap count. Hillman played 74% of the snaps and was only spelled on a couple of drives. In other words, Hillman is currently the featured back in the Peyton Manning led, most explosive offense in football. That to me alone makes him a RB1 every week until Montee Ball returns regardless of matchup. But the icing on the cake is that Patrick Willis looks like he’ll be inactive with a bad toe. This defense is simply not the same without their leader and All-Pro in the lineup. Look for another 100 yard performance and maybe a TD from Hillman and make sure he’s in your lineup.
I’d start Ronnie Hillman over: Alfred Morris, Eddie Lacy, Lamar Miller, Fred Jackson, Joique Bell
· Joique Bell vs. New Orleans. Last week in Minnesota, fantasy owners finally got to see the Joique Bell they thought they were drafting in the early rounds this season when he totaled 97 yards and a TD. While he looked really good and it was an encouraging performance, Reggie Bush is making is return and will once again steal touches. Bush will be playing with a chip on his shoulder against his old buddies, the Saints, and will lead the team in snaps, touches and yards. The Saints rank 15th in rushing yards against as opposed to 25th in passing yards against so look for the Lions to attack them through the air benefiting the better receiving back in Reggie Bush. Bell is ranked as a solid RB2 around the internet but I see him as a flex option at best this week.
I’d start the following players over Joique Bell: Ronnie Hillman, Frank Gore, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Bishop Sankey, Isaiah Crowell
· James Jones vs. Arizona. I’m not sure what James Jones has to do in order to get some respect. Maybe he’s not getting noticed because he plays for the Raiders, but he’s having a great season under the radar. Jones is on pace for 83 receptions, 1050 yards and 10 TDs. He's the number 18 WR in .5 PPR leagues and has been consistent along the way with 4 games out of 5 that every fantasy owner would want in their lineup. The emergence and presence of Andre Holmes is leaving Jones in 1 on 1 situations. He’s being targeted regularly in the redzone and despite playing with a rookie QB in Derek Carr I don’t see many better QB/WR combos when it comes to executing the 15 yard back shoulder catch and throw down the sideline. He’s being ranked in the 40th WR range in most rankings but I see him no worse than a top 25 WR. The matchup at home against Arizona is actually favorable as the Cardinals shockingly rank dead last in passing yards against (309 yds/g). Make sure James Jones is in your lineup this week and basically every week in leagues that start 3 WR.
I’d Start James Jones over: Mohamed Sanu, Michael Crabtree, Brian Quick, Percy Harvin, Brandon Cooks, Roddy White
· Marques Colston at Detroit. It's unclear to me why Marques Colston, fantasy football's 60th ranked WR in .5PPR leagues continues to be ranked as a WR3 or a top 36 WR. The matchup is as poor as can be as the Saints travel to Detroit, fantasy's number 1 ranked team against WRs. Brandon Cooks emergence onto the scene has bumped Colston to the Saints 4th option in the passing game behind Jimmy Graham (who looks like he may play), Cooks, and running back Pierre Thomas. Furthermore, Colston has had major problems with ball security and drops in the early part of the season. He will remain a threat in the redzone because of his size, but gambling for a score against the NFL's top defense is too risky whether Graham is playing or not. Keep him stashed in case he does have a second half resurgence like he did last season but leave him out of lineups in all formats for the time being.
I’d start the following players over Marques Colston: Anquan Boldin, Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts, Kendall Wright, Davante Adams, Robert Woods
· Jason Witten vs. New York Giants. It seems crazy that I am allowed to list Jason Witten as a sleeper TE. He’s been one of the most consistently great TEs during his 12-year career, but the fact is that he’s struggled to put up stats this season. However, when I see the film I see the same guy with the same hands and the same knack for getting open. The Cowboys have become a run first team and Witten, as an elite blocker, has been a big part of that. That being said, look for him to get in the endzone in this matchup. Last season in 2 games he scored a whopping 4 TDs against the Giants and in 2012 he had a single game of 18 catches for 167 yards against them so it’s apparent that the Cowboys like to take advantage of the matchup of Witten vs. a Giants LB/Safety. It’s been a frustrating year for Witten owners but plug and play him and you’ll finally get vintage Witten stats.
I’d start Jason Witten over: Antonio Gates, Jordan Reed, Jordan Cameron, Vernon Davis, Travis Kelce, Larry Donnell.
· Antonio Gates vs. Kansas City. Yardage totals of TEs against KC in 2014: Delanie Walker 37 yds, Julius Thomas 39 yds, Charles Clay 21 yds, Rob Gronkowski 31 yds. A few of these guys did get in the endzone but it’s become clear that TEs are completely TD dependent against Kansas City. If you want to start Antonio Gates knowing he’ll most likely be held under 50 yards and sit there all game praying for a redzone TD then be my guest. I’d rather look elsewhere this week for a higher upside option.
I’d start the following players over Antonio Gates: Jason Witten, Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, Jordan Cameron, Dwayne Allen
That’ll do it for this week everyone. Feel free to comment, criticize and ask any questions you may have on our Facebook page. Listen to our podcast to hear George and I talk more about Week 7.
Good luck in week 7. Except you 6-0 teams. We all hope you finally lose.
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The great thing about football—and fantasy football to be more specific—is its unpredictability. In any game, at any time, a superstar can be born.
Goal of this podcast: To give you one last string of well-educated speculation before the NFL regular season begins. We talk sleeper picks that have been overhyped, plus two bold predictions, some mailbag and a few guys who could rock the denim as well as Aaron Rodgers and crew did earlier this week.