Week 11 Watch List: NFL pariahs to some, fantasy saviors to others
Tim Tebow faces middling to poor pass defenses over the next four weeks
Eli Manning is on pace for his second straight 4,000-yard, 30-TD season
Steelers may have been saving Rashard Mendenhall for bad weather slate
Thou shall not worship false idols: The Ten Commandments suggest that, and Tim Tebow surely knows all about, but his cult following seems to disobey.
We fantasy types know -- at least we should -- there is nothing fake about Tebow. After all, since he has taken over as a starter in Week 7, only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have produced more fantasy points. If you go back to the partial Week 5 Tebow played, you add only Ben Roethlisberger to the elite group outscoring The Tebowing One.
Yes, he is unorthodox (in his play, not his faith), but he manages to get the job done. Tebow just scores points and that is all fantasy owners care about. And for fantasy owners, winning ugly can be as pretty as it gets.
For this Fantasy Watch List for Week 11, we list the 10 players (sticking with the Commandments theme above) who get the job done for us in fantasy even if the general football perception of them is a negative one. We will try to slant this for what they are going to do for you down the stretch.
Of course, the list has to start here. Everyone who thinks Tebow has been given more than he deserves, think about this: Take over as starting quarterback for a sad-sack franchise, see your team trade away your No. 1 receiver (Brandon Lloyd), have a coach that doesn't truly believe in your passing ability, run a limited offense that does anything but allow you to throw down field, face seven, eight or even nine men in the box, and then beat the Jets, still one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. Oh, and score enough fantasy points to rank among the elite at the position.
Tebow gets the job done against almost all odds for us in fantasy.
So, how will the next crucial weeks go: Wonderfully.
Tebow faces San Diego (Week 12), Minnesota (Week 13), Chicago (Week 14), New England (Week 15) and Buffalo (Week 16). Those teams rank low in fantasy against QBs: Chargers, 15th-worst; Vikings, second-worst; Bears, seventh-worst; Patriots, the worst; and Buffalo, sixth-worst. You will be hard-pressed to find a more favorable schedule for a QB in fantasy crunch time.
Tebow just beat the third-best team in fantasy against QBs on Thursday night -- albeit mostly on the final drive. He looks like a must-start fantasy option down the stretch, even if he doesn't lift his left arm to throw.
Here is another QB with a deck stacked against him -- albeit not quite as much as Tebow in terms of talent around him. Manning's deck is stacked by perception. He is not his brother. He was not worth a No. 1 overall pick. And he wasn't good enough to refuse to play for San Diego.
But Manning is the sixth-highest scoring QB in fantasy this year. He is on pace for back-to-back 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown seasons. Those are Peyton numbers. Big brother has done it twice. Tom Brady hasn't done that. Aaron Rodgers hasn't done it.
Yet, we still look at Eli as the ugly stepchild. We need to change that tune. The Giants are amid a critical stretch of their season and a lot is going to be thrust on Manning's capable shoulder.
He finally has Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz all healthy at the same time. Manning has made nowhere man Jake Ballard into a passable fantasy starter at tight end. And Ahmad Bradshaw looks like he could return in Week 12 to take the pressure off in the passing game.
It won't matter, though, because this Manning will continue to outplay all his critic's expectations, like Tebow does.
Mendenhall doesn't have the stigma of being a fraud for his career, as much as being a disappointment in the first half. As Ben Roethlisberger has performed on a (Eli) Manning pace, the Steelers just haven't stuck with the running game like they usually do.
That is going to change as the weather does in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have saved Mendenhall's legs for this stretch of games in the winter months: At Kansas City, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Cleveland, at San Francisco (bad news in Week 15) and vs. St. Louis.
Mendenhall, built to carry the load for a running-and-defense team, has gone over 20 carries just once: Week 6 vs. Jacksonville. He just happened to have his biggest day of the season. His carry totals have mostly been in the midteens. They should go up to the mid-20s in these crucial weeks.
Mendenhall is going to be a valuable commodity, particularly amid the rash of running back injuries.
See Manning's 2010 campaign. It is what Rivers is going through this season with the steadily sinking Chargers. And it might get worse in Week 11 against the Bears before it gets better.
Through nine games, Rivers has already tied his full-season high with 15 interceptions and he is well below his annual 30-touchdown pace. You have to stick with this potential fantasy star, though.
He is finally getting his supporting cast healthy. Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates are healthy and elite options at their positions. Rookie Vincent Brown has emerged as another threat in the past two games and Malcom Floyd might eventually add something Rivers has never had with the receiving corps: depth. Then, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have been alternately banged up, but both could be getting closer to 100 percent at the same time.
All this will come in handy with the stretch of favorable matchups Rivers has on tap: vs. Denver, at Jacksonville, vs. Buffalo in Weeks 12-14. Rivers is going to help you get deep into the fantasy postseason if you stick with him.
All those people ready to bury the Patriots after that streak-snapping home loss to the Giants, get ready for this stretch of fantasy awesomeness: The Pats face the Chiefs, Eagles, Colts, Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills here on out. There is not a tough opponent in the bunch.
This should be a great time for the Pats to reintroduce the running game, as they tend to do in winter weather. There is not a warm-weather game in that bunch and the Pats just might win out and finish as the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
To do so, they must develop a running game. BGE, like Mendenhall, has gone over 20 carries just once: Week 5 against the Jets. It, too, happens to be his biggest game of the season.
With the patsies on the schedule for the Patsies, expect BGE to get a greater share of the pie.
The addition of Julio Jones was supposed to help keep double teams off White and allow the Falcons' go-to receiver take the next step into fantasy-elite-dom.
Instead, White has stepped back to mediocrity.
Save for Week 13 against the Texans, the Falcons don't face a good defense here on out. Jones is banged up this week, too, so Matt Ryan is going to have to re-acclimate himself to this leading target.
White remains a must-start in all leagues through thick and thin. We have already survived his thin weeks.
It took almost 10 weeks, but C.J. has finally kicked the post-holdout rust and the Titans have learned how to get a rushing attack going. It is going to be tough sledding against the Falcons this week -- they have emerged as one of the toughest run defenses in the NFL -- but the schedule thereafter looks quite favorable for one of fantasy's biggest pariahs.
The fraud here is the notion Johnson isn't an elite fantasy back.
After the Falcons, Johnson faces the Bucs, Bills, Saints and Colts through Week 15. He can help you get to your fantasy title game. How ironic will that be in a season that has put Johnson in a fantasy skillet?
The Bucs are the worst team in fantasy against RBs. The Colts are third-worst and the Bills fifth-worst. The Saints are also in the bottom half. The final two weeks are against decent run defenses of the Jags and Texans, but by then, we're all going to be so happy with Johnson's production, we won't dare to sit him.
When Cutler bugged out in the NFC Championship Game last January, we saw it as a golden opportunity: Perception was going to downgrade Cutler in fantasy and we would get him at a fraction of the cost.
The problem is, Cutler has performed down to those low expectations of the masses and not up to this writer's hopes.
It has mostly been a function of not having a reliable week-to-week receiver. That has changed in the past two weeks with the return of Earl Bennett. The Vandy teammate has something going with Cutler now, and the Bears can sprinkle in the likes of Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and, yes, even Roy Williams.
Cutler doesn't face an elite defense down the stretch with a slate against the Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos and Seahawks -- the old AFC West one through five. Sure, he gets the Packers in Week 16, our fantasy Super Bowl, but that Packers defense is third-worst in fantasy against QBs.
Cutler is going to prove to be a nice sleeper if you lost a Matt Schaub or no longer trust Michael Vick.
Bush has been a bust in the NFL. That is clear, and it has been much more pronounced in fantasy, where owners have hoped against hope for years that speed would eventually win out.
A funny thing has happened as Bush has become his team's primary back finally: He has stayed healthy. He has also found the end zone more often (three times in the past two weeks).
Bush's start Sunday will tie a career-high of 10 in a single season. With 108 rushing yards against the Bills -- a team fifth-worst in fantasy against RBs -- Bush will set a career-high there, too. Sure, Daniel Thomas might take some carries away from him up the middle and maybe at the goal-line, but Bush's upcoming schedule makes him look like a solid option for fantasy owners who are doing without a Darren McFadden, Bradshaw, Peyton Hillis, Felix Jones or Joseph Addai.
Save for Week 12 against the Cowboys, the revived Dolphins face the bad run defenses of the Bills (twice), Raiders and Eagles. That is four games in the next five weeks against three of the worst six teams in fantasy against RBs. And, in Week 16, the Pats are merely middle of the pack against the run. Both Bush and Thomas can be valuable starters in fantasy crunch time.
There was an internal debate in this writer's head about where this pariah/ sleeping giant, should go on this list, if only because he is haunted by Jackson's struggles.
Jackson has had three good fantasy weeks and six bad ones. He always tended to run hot and cold, but there has been far too much cold of late: Two bad games for every good one, in fact.
It is time to get paid, though, and Jackson has to feel the stress after being benched last week for missing a special teams meeting.
No matter who plays QB for the Eagles in the coming weeks -- Vince Young, Vick, Mike Kafka ... Andy Reid, Andy Dick -- all it will take is heave the ball down field and let Jackson run under it. We have said it many times in this Weekend Watch List this season, but eventually we are bound to be right -- and we figure if we keep saying it down the stretch, we are going to be right about Jackson more often that not.
Stay patient with Jackson, and, heck, capitalize via trade if someone is giving up on him. Of these hated 10 above, Jackson might be the one held in most contempt. That also merely makes him the most affordable.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List and his Sunday night staple: Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.
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