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JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 13
John U. Miller
December 3, 2010
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I’m starting Mike Tolbert over Rashard Mendenhall.  There, I said it.

Hold on a minute. “Never bench your studs…”

It’s the No. 1 most commonly repeated mantra, axiom, or rule in this glorious hobby of ours, and this time of year it’s really put to the test.  Lineup decisions are especially brutal because one wrong move will end your season.  No more bye weeks means you have more players to choose from, making decisions harder.  Weather becomes an issue, making decisions harder.  And by now we’ve got a bunch of unproven-but-pretty-hot players that are begging for you to start them:  Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jon Kitna, Fred Jackson, Chris Ivory, Mike Wallace, Dez Bryant, Deion Branch, Kevin Boss, the list goes on and on.  Historically I’ve always scoffed at “Never bench your studs.”  Who is a “stud” at this point anyway?  Arian Foster?  Sure, but I don’t own him.  Dwayne Bowe?  Yep, he’s earned the title.  Aaron Rodgers?  Ditto.  Everyone and anyone else can be benched if the matchup or weather dictates the gamble.

Sitting Mendenhall for Tolbert is wacky but it’s my plan.  While I’m writing this late Thursday night, Tolbert hasn’t practiced – but it’s just a bruised hand.  I think Norv Turner knows resting Tolbert is vital from here on out.  The Chargers are switching to power football right before our eyes and this 245-lb load is the reason why.  He is stepping on would-be tackler’s faces.  I don’t think Ryan Mathews will siphon more than 6-8 carries, which was Darren Sproles’ job while Mathews was out anyway.  Tolbert is 2nd in the NFL with 23 carries from the 10-yard line and in. At home against a demoralized Oakland defense who helplessly chased Dolphins all over the field last week?  Count me in.  Mendenhall’s headed out to Baltimore and I’m simply not going there with him. They are one of the 5 toughest defenses against fantasy RBs.  Good luck bro’, I’ll still need you in Week 14 at home vs. Cincinnati.        

I’ve benched studs repeatedly, especially in December when the chips are down.  Three recent decisions come to mind – each of these in my fantasy playoffs – and the results were mixed.

Never Bench Your Studs?
Week 14 - 2007 QB Stats Yay or Nay?
Benched Kurt Warner @ SEA 337 yds, 3 TD, 5 INT Nay
Started Jon Kitna vs DAL 248 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT  
Week 15 - 2008 RB Stats Yay or Nay?
Benched Matt Forte vs NO 63 total yds, 1 TD Yay
Started Pierre Thomas @ CHI 146 total yds, 2 TD  
Week 15 - 2009 RB Stats Yay or Nay?
Benched Steven Jackson vs HOU 123 total yds, 0 TD Yay
Started Beanie Wells @ DET 123 total yds, 1 TD  

You may not remember, but in 2008 benching Forte for Pierre was a gutsy move.  Forte was a red-hot rookie workhorse, playing at Soldier Field.  Pierre wasn’t quite established yet on a pass-happy team (that year they went 8-8 and Brees threw for 5,069), but he was starting to make huge plays in the screen game.  The gamble paid off.  Benching S-Jax for Beanie last December drew raised eyebrows in my league but it got me 6 extra fantasy points.  I’ll never forget that stinker QB call in ’07, though:  Sitting Warner for Kitna was a classic case of over-thinking.  Anquan Boldin was out with a dislocated toe and the Seattle weather was wet and windy.  Whoops!  Warner didn’t need him and I knew that because Boldin had been on and off the field all year anyway.  Fitzgerald, Breaston, and Urban totally picked up the slack.  Weather?  Warner was a future Hall-of-Famer and dammit I should have known a chilly mist wouldn’t stop him from throwing 50 passes.  Aargh.  My league doesn’t penalize for picks either.  But no, I went with Kitna and all he did was hand off to Kevin Jones and… Oh, nevermind.   

The point is, taking chances is what it’s all about.  Of course you can bench a stud.  “Wait, Kitna’s at home throwing indoors while Warner’s at freezing Qwest Field with jet airplane decibels,” or “I took S-Jax with the 9th overall pick, do I really sit him for Beanie… Hmm, Arizona is at Detroit.”  Different season, same dilemmas...  Just change the names.  “I took Mendenhall with the 9th overall pick, do I really sit him for Tolbert… Hmm, San Diego is at home vs. Oakland.”  So now I’m seeing brand new “Never bench your studs” cases popping up on The Huddle Forums.  I’d like to address a few on the JUMbotron:

1. Team And Another poses the question, “What 2 QBs should I start (2-QB league), Brady, Big Ben, or Fitzpatrick?”

Ah, the ol’ 2-QB league.  I’ve played in these leagues and it’s actually pretty cool.  But the dilemma’s the same as 1-QB formats:  Do you bench studs like Brady or Big Ben for Fitzpatrick?   Me, I’m not sitting Brady after that Thanksgiving turkey shoot at Detroit.  I know he’s playing the Jets (on Monday night) but it’s at home.  Wes Welker recently admitted his knee is just now getting back to normal.  Deion Branch is making plays and Brady’s got 2 good tight ends.  You can’t sit him.  That leaves Roethlisberger at Baltimore with a bum foot or Fitzpatrick indoors at Minnesota?   Tough call.  I would bet you my Kindle DX that Roethlisberger starts and plays well on Sunday night.  However, Fitzpatrick is top-7 in fantasy points per game and I love climate control in December. I’ve had several people tell me the Metrodome isn’t rocking as much this year (understandably) and CB Antoine Winfield can’t cover both Johnson and Evans. Verdict:  Start Brady and Fitzpatrick.

2. TilsterBearz asks, “WR Steve Johnson or Anquan Boldin, PPR?”

He’s actually got a pick 2 out of 3 situation with Miles Austin, but he says Austin is already in the lineup.  The thing is, I’d actually sit Austin and go with Johnson & Boldin, which is especially hard for me to say because I’m an Austin-owner.  But facts are facts, Jon Kitna isn’t locking onto Austin (like Tony Romo did), only targeting him 17 times in the last 4 weeks.  That’s not even among the top-50 in WR targets this past month!   Steve Johnson is unbenchable in my opinion.  He’s the 8th-best fantasy receiver.  Boldin should make plays against the Steelers, who would have lost last week but ironically Steve Johnson dropped an easy 40-yard TD in overtime.  Pittsburgh’s secondary is one of the worst in the league (yes, that’s right).  “Troy hasn’t been Troy this year,” writes Chris Viola of NFL Blog Blitz, referring to Polamalu.  The Ravens spread it out more than ever these days – and when Steelers nickel CB William Gay is on the field they really get peppered.  Boldin is healthy and he’s due. 

3. Forte Yard Dash has a classic “Never bench your studs” fiasco staring him in the face with a “Pick 2 – Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Darren McFadden, Fred Jackson.”

This is what fantasy football’s all about.  You never sit Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson in crunch time.  They’re studs, right?  First off, I rule out Steven Jackson.  You know me by now, I’m not a fan.  7 TDs in his last 26 games… You need touchdowns to win fantasy titles. (Plus they need to change his listed weight at – Jackson weighs 245, easily.)  Darren McFadden was stymied last week by Miami but he was still targeted 10 times and caught 7 for 63 yards.  McFadden is tempting at San Diego.  Oakland actually gave them a fight there last year, losing 24-16 with a much worse team than they have now.  Hmmm…  Let’s skip to CJ2K and Fred Jackson first.  Chris gets Kerry Collins back and he’s at home vs. Jacksonville.  Start him.  Fred Jackson is the #1 scoring fantasy RB the last 3 weeks, edging out the equally-hot Peyton Hillis.  Jackson’s at Minnesota, who rank 6th in defending fantasy RBs.  Pretty stout run defense.  I’m squinting my eyes and saying Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden.   

Prediction A:  WR ____ ____ will score two TDs at ____, one through the air and one off a punt return.

Prediction B:  The ____ run defense will get hammered again and RB ____ ____ will be a nice surprise as a fantasy flex, filling in for ____ ____.

I’ll fill in those blanks in just a minute. 

Carl M. gave me the ultimate compliment when he wrote to say:  “John, I love your column, simply outstanding fantasy analysis; I print the JUMbotron every Friday morning at work and take it to the bathroom with me for my morning business.”  It brings a tear to my eye, Carl.  I want to be with you every step of the way.  However, if you’re printing the article then you can’t click on this Atlanta Falcons cheerleader.    


“An Open Letter to CJ2K”

Dear Chris,

I’m considering going with Marshawn Freakin’ Lynch at home vs. Carolina this Sunday.  Dude, think about that.

You punched me in the chest last Sunday, my friend.  I was so distraught that I stiffed the Domino’s driver.  Slammed the door in his face.  That’s mean, man... and it’s your fault.  Only 9 touches for 7 total yards at Houston?  For the love of all that’s holy, I can’t remember a fantasy stud ever flopping like that without an injury.  Look, I know Rusty Smith had no business being out there.  I’m not sure why 10 of the first 14 plays were passes, either – but couldn’t you have showed some grit?  Grab Jeff Fisher and scream “Gimme the damn ball!”  Technically you are the team’s leader now.  Kevin Mawae, Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch, they’re all gone.  Kerry Collins was out last week too, though he tried to give Rusty advice on the sidelines.  Vince Young?  He was reportedly sitting up in Bud Adams’ luxury suite at Reliant Stadium instead of supporting his team.  You’re not like that, Chris.  You don’t throw your pads into the stands, or skip treatment to go promote a restaurant in Austin.  You never miss practice and rarely even miss a single snap in games.  

It’s your team now, Chris.  And more importantly, my fantasy team is your team.  My league allows each owner to “franchise” one player each year, and this past summer I locked you up without even blinking.  You won me a FF title last year.  2,006 yards?  My franchise player decision wasn’t even close.  Sure, I knew another 2,000-yard gig was a pipe dream, so I wasn’t disturbed by your less-than-electric start.  After 6 games you had 596 rushing yards (on pace for 1,600) and 7 TDs.  I was cool with it.  Now we’re in crunch time and you haven’t scored since Week 10.  In fact, the Titans’ last offensive touchdown was in the 3rd quarter of that game.  Now I’m wondering if I should have franchised Jamaal Charles or Andre Johnson because both have more points than you over the last 6 games.  Charles looks like he’s getting stronger every week.  He’s just a damn beast. 

Chris, I hear you’re getting Kerry Collins back.  That’s great news.  Many forget that some of your best runs have come with Collins under center.  The Jaguars are coming to town and its make or break time, kid.  You can save my fantasy season (and the Titans’ season) with a big game.  The Jags have always struggled to deal with you on your turf.  Last year they left Nashville with sore bottoms after you spanked them for 228 yards and 2 TDs.  Even in your rookie year, in your very first NFL game, you tagged them for 127 total yards and a score.  Look, don’t make me actually regret not starting Marshawn Freakin’ Lynch against Carolina… because it is tempting, make no mistake.  Carolina is one of only 5 teams that have allowed 13+ TDs to RBs this year.  Peyton Hillis just made the Panthers his personal tackling dummies.  Even a brick-footed grinder like Lynch is gonna score on them.  But I’m sticking with you, CJ2K.  We started this thing together so I’ll sink or swim with you.

Go out there and remind us who you are.

John U. Miller 


JUMbo Spin Cycle:

1. “After three quarters on Sunday, Brandon Jackson had six carries for minus-3 yards before gaining 29 yards on four fourth-quarter runs, including a game-long 12-yard gain on an outside zone play on a third-and-1 midway through the quarter. This week, the Packers are going to consider giving some work to rookie running back James Starks, who hasn’t played since his junior season at the University of Buffalo in 2008.” – Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette.

JUMbo Spin:  Everyone knows, including Mike McCarthy, that Jackson is no Ryan Grant.  What McCarthy didn't know is that Jackson is not even Ryan Moats.  Jackson averages 3.9 per carry.  That’s bad enough considering the running lanes opened in this play-action passing attack – but if you remove Jackson’s 71-yard run vs. Washington where safety Kareem Moore simply let him run by then his average drops to 3.4.  Now that Dimitri Nance is out with a concussion, Mike McCarthy says James Starks “better be ready” this week vs. the 49ers.  I’d love for Starks get 6 or 7 carries, just to see what all the damn fantasy hype is about.   

2. “Shaun Hill broke the index finger on his throwing hand in the first half of last week’s loss to the Patriots and could miss the remainder of the season, a person familiar with the situation said. Drew Stanton took first-team reps in practice today and is expected to make his second career start Sunday against the Bears.” – Dave Birkett, Detroit Free-Press.

JUMbo Spin:  Before you ask, the answer is no.  You don’t bench Calvin Johnson.  Ever.  For me the question is:  Do you bench Brandon Pettigrew?  He’s been a great starter in 12-team leagues but how will Drew Stanton affect him?   Let’s go back to the beginning:  At first the belief was that Shaun Hill threw to Pettigrew more than Matthew Stafford did.  True.  I ran the numbers and 19% of Hill’s passes have gone toward Pettigrew, while only 11% of Stafford’s did.  But in Drew Stanton’s brief appearances this year Stanton’s also targeted Pettigrew with 19% of his passes.  But forget all these crazy stats, I say stick with B.P. if he’s your guy.  I’m starting him over Tony Gonzalez just on sheer youth and explosiveness alone.    

3. “Limited the last two weeks by turf-toe injuries, Jahvid Best returned to Lions practice. He had said Tuesday that he hopes to play in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. "It’s getting better every day," Best said. "Right now, we’re just kind of taking it slow and kind of see how it goes, day-to-day. I’m just hoping for the best." – Dave Birkett, Detroit Free-Press.

JUMbo Spin:  Could sitting out Week 12 (Best only played one snap on Thanksgiving) be the extra rest he needed to get the swelling down?   Take away a Sunday’s worth of high impact, brutal turf-pounding and maybe the kid’s feeling better.  I thought Best should have sat out a game back in Week 4 right after he got hurt.  Then Best got turf toe in the other foot from favoring that one too much (just like Darren McFadden did his rookie year) and has been playing at 70% virtually all year.  I have to admit, and you probably remember this, I’m a Best-owner and the idea of him coming back at 90% or better really fires me up.  A boy can dream…

4. “It's the one question Josh McDaniels has dreaded since his surprising selection of Tim Tebow in April: Will he play his first-round draft pick more if the Denver Broncos' season starts to slips away?  Asked on Tuesday if he'd consider starting Tebow instead of Kyle Orton if the Broncos fell out of playoff contention, McDaniels said: “I don't know. I'm not willing to go there. That's not the case right now, so we will think about that when that happens.” – Jeff Legwold, Denver Post.

JUMbo Spin:  Wouldn’t that go over well with Orton’s fantasy owners?  Picture this:  You’ve scratched and clawed into the Fantasy Championship with Kyle Orton winging and zinging you all the way there.  He’s been terrific.  It’s Week 16, Houston at Denver.  The Texans are 5-9, their secondary sucks, the playoffs are mathematically gone – virtually identical to the Broncos situation – so it becomes a December who-cares-let’s-toss-it-around game.  Wonderful!  However, that Thursday we get the announcement that Tim Tebow will make his first career NFL start?  Be afraid, be very afraid…

Here are the top red-zone passers after 12 weeks:

QB Red Zone Passing RZ TDs
QB Games RZ Att Att/Gm Pass & Run
Drew Brees 11 76 6.9 15
Michael Vick 7 43 6.1 12
Peyton Manning 11 61 5.5 18
Sam Bradford 11 61 5.5 11
Kyle Orton 11 60 5.4 13
Matt Ryan 11 59 5.4 14
Jon Kitna 5.5 29 5.3 8
M. Hasselbeck 10 52 5.2 8
Philip Rivers 11 57 5.2 13
Aaron Rodgers 11 54 4.9 18
Eli Manning 11 51 4.6 14
Jason Campbell 6.5 30 4.6 4
R. Fitzpatrick 9 41 4.5 10
Jay Cutler 9.5 43 4.5 12
Tom Brady 11 48 4.4 17

I contacted my buddy Jeff Duncan at the Times-Picayune to get his personal thoughts on Pierre Thomas.  He claims he’s “90%” now and I remain skeptical.  “Thomas' ankle injury is a mystery.  No one, I mean no one, seems to know what the real deal is,” said Duncan. “I've spoken to Thomas, his agent, Payton, [GM Mickey] Loomis, teammates.  Everyone has a different story. It’s as much a mystery to them as it is the fans.  But Loomis made a good point.  They almost put Lance Moore on IR last year and were glad they didn't because he helped them down the stretch. Remember the two-point conversion in the Super Bowl? They're thinking the same thing for Pierre.”  Interestingly, Duncan also mentioned that Julius Jones is a big part of this offense.  “Julius Jones is taking the bulk of the snaps from Reggie Bush right now.  He had 31 snaps against the Cowboys, while Bush had just 14, three of which were in the victory formation when the Saints were running out the clock.”

For the record, Thomas did some limited work in practice this week and had this to say when asked if he’ll play Sunday:  “It’s not up to me.  I feel good but it’s not up to me to say that I’m playing or not.  I’m going to have to show them, that’s all I can do.”  My guess:  Thomas sits out another game.  Next week, who knows.

The best offensive coordinators keep going with the plays that work.  Rachel 34 C Gap always works for me.  If I really need a score I’ll go with this one.

Mumbo JUMbo (a dozen random thoughts and tidbits):

1. Michael Vick has played the equivalent of 8 full games this year and generated 15 TD passes and 6 TD runs.  Projected over 16 games that’s 30 TD passes and 12 TD runs!  The next few years with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin… I shudder to think.  Those two are only 24 and 22 years old. 

2. Eli Manning’s timing is off because of the OL injuries to Diehl, O’Hara, Andrews.  It doesn’t matter who’s at WR, Eli’s not going to generate huge fantasy stats until things are fixed up front.

3. Thomas Jones is worth a RB2 play – definitely a flex – at home against Denver.  If they get up big they’ll rest Jamaal Charles because he’s the key to a playoff run.

4. Seattle’s defense should tear up Carolina and Jimmy Clausen.  They are usually much better at home with the 12th Man fueling their engines.  But I must warn you, the Seahawks D will flop this week because I’m starting them.

5. Wes Welker says he’s feels great, his knee is all the way back.  You can tell.  He’s cutting on a dime, something he couldn’t do in September and October. 

6. Browns LB Scott Fujita means more to that defense than anyone knows.  Carolina moved the ball easily on Cleveland without him out there “quarterbacking.”  Fujita (knee) is out again this week at Miami.  I wouldn’t be afraid to start Ronnie Brown.

7. Chicago is one of the healthiest teams in the league.  That matters at this time of year.  I like their body language.  I predict they will beat either the Patriots or the Jets in Week 14 or 16.  Both games are in Chicago. 

8. I changed my mind about Brandon Pettigrew over Tony Gonzalez.  I’m sticking with the proven “stud” this week at Tampa Bay.

9. Buffalo can’t cover tight ends.  Dustin Keller, Marcedes Lewis, and Todd Heap all had 2 TDs against them.  Greg Olsen had a TD and should have had a second one too.  This week Visanthe Shiancoe plays the Bills.

10. Kerry Collins is back in for Rusty Smith.  Thank God.  I couldn’t watch him play without thinking of John Merrick“I am not an animal, I am a quarterback.” 

11. WRs Austin Collie (head), Brandon Marshall (hamstring), Kenny Britt (hamstring), Vincent Jackson (calf), Hakeem Nicks (leg), and Steve Smith (pectoral).  There’s a chance none of them will play until Week 15.  Even if one of them does play next week you can’t stick him in your lineup cold… except for maybe Nicks.  He’s just recovering from a big surgical incision.  If you hear he’s playing, pop him in.  “I don't think it will really bother me because I don't really feel it much walking around,” Nicks said Wednesday. “They just want the scar to heal.”
12. For 4 weeks Mike Martz used a balanced attack, setting up play-action and minimizing blitzing.  The defense got to rest a little more, and Voila!  Wins started piling up.  Then Jay Cutler hit 7 pass plays of 15+ yards vs. the Eagles.  Uh oh.  When Jay starts a hot streak you know “Mad Mike” will come out again.  For him, calling pass plays is like eating Cheetos, you can’t just eat a few and stop.  Look for a wild game at Detroit. 

JUMbo IDP Sleeper of the WeekColts LB Pat Angerer vs. Dallas.  The rookie 2nd-round pick from Iowa has stepped up in place of the injured Gary Brackett.  Colts fans were angry when the team passed on OT Charles Brown (USC) and OG John Jerry (Ole Miss) but GM Bill Polian was proven right once again.  Brackett’s expected to miss another week with turf toe so Angerer should start vs. Dallas.  He’s near the top of the league with 21 tackles in the last 3 weeks.  Back in Week 6 Angerer had 11 tackles, deflected 2 McNabb passes and got a sack.  He could do similar things against Dallas.

JUMbo “Steer Clear” of the WeekBengals WR Terrell Owens vs. New Orleans.  Defenses finally wised up and accepted the fact that T.O. can still motor.  I’ve seen a lot more double coverage on Owens the last few weeks – and not coincidentally, his targets have dropped.  25 the last three weeks, as opposed to 39 the previous three weeks.  It looks like opponents would rather take their chances with the banged-up, past-his-prime Chad Ochocinco.  I expect the Saints to do that.  Owens, who will turn 37 on Tuesday, is a guy I would bench for say, Mike Williams (TB) vs. Atlanta or Johnny Knox at Detroit. 

Prediction A:  WR Danny Amendola will score two TDs at Arizona, one through the air and one off a punt return.

Prediction B:  The Colts run defense will get hammered again and RB Tashard Choice will be a nice surprise as a fantasy flex, filling in for Marion Barber.

Good luck this week!


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Weekly Fantasy 6-Pack
Upon Further Review
Start / Bench List
Game Predictions
Player Projections
Free Agent Forecast
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