On any given week, it seems like the NFL defies explanation. I just don't have an explanation for Chad Henne coming in for Blaine Gabbert and racking up 354 yards and four touchdowns despite completing a Tebow-esque 16 of 33 passes against, of all teams, the Texans. Houston hadn't allowed more than 25 points all year, and the Jags, lacking their starting quarterback and running back, exploded for 37 points. I'm just mystified.
The league's unpredictability adds to fantasy intrigue, but it also completely reworks our opinions of every team except the few elites on a week-to-week basis. Since when do the Saints and Lions play reasonably good defense? How does a rookie quarterback known mostly for his legs (that would be Colin Kaepernick) come in against the league's most productive defense (that would be the Bears) and throw the ball all over the field with impunity? Sometimes it seems like there's just nothing logical or reasonable about football. Anyway, that's what I'll be telling myself if I lose in the fantasy playoffs. I encourage you to placate yourself similarly whenever things don't go your way.
As a New York sports fan (Mets, Jets, Rangers) living in Philadelphia, I'm glad today that I'm not an Eagles fan. The team is in shambles, Andy Reid can't show his face anywhere in the 215 area code, and they have a Monday night game on tap against the equally pitiful Carolina Panthers. If now isn't the time for the Reid era to end, what is? How compromising can his blackmail photos of Jeffrey Lurie possibly be?
In the week of the unnecessary injury, Rob Gronkowski and LeSean McCoy went down with a broken arm and a concussion, respectively, late in blowouts. Not only does this throw a wrench into the fantasy fortunes of those who own them (although McCoy's concussion seems minor), owners should note that both have clear inheritors – Aaron Hernandez (if he can get healthy) and Bryce Brown (as noted below).
With the bye weeks over, we can be more selective about our pickups now.
Colin Kaepernick, SF – On the heels of his first start of the year, I'm doubling down. Although Alex Smith seems to be recovering quickly from his concussion, Kaepernick proved on Monday night that he's got the tools to be not just a good quarterback, but potentially a star in the league. We knew he had the legs, but it's his eyes and his arm that impressed in prime time; Special K identified weaknesses in Chicago's coverage and made accurate throws down the field, showing plenty of arm strength. Smith is, at the bottom line, a game manager; Kaepernick has flashed the abilities of a gamebreaker. Talent always wins out in the end, and the matchups look good. Hello, New Orleans.
Chad Henne, JAC – Last week, I wrote, "No, I'm not going to recommend you own Chad Henne, Jason Campbell or Byron Leftwich in most formats." Well, two out of three ain't bad. Although there's plenty to fear about Henne – his awful completion rate last week despite the great yardage and TD totals, his five-year career in which he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and lost the starting job in Miami to basically no one, and his lack of any standout skills – well, the guy put up a huge fantasy day against a tough defense, he found chemistry with Justin Blackmon that Gabbert never did, and he draws weak pass defenses in Tennessee and Buffalo the next two weeks.
Ronnie Hillman, DEN – With Willis McGahee's MCL torn, Hillman steps into the enviable role of Peyton Manning's starting running back. The rookie third-rounder out of San Diego State hasn't been overwhelmingly productive this year (just 3.8 YPC), but he's going to be more or less handed the backfield duties in that high-volume offense, so there's plenty of fantasy value to be found.
Mark Ingram, NO – I really can't make heads or tails of the Saints' backfield situation, but Ingram led the team in carries with 12 against Oakland, and he turned those touches into 67 yards and a touchdown. That's two weeks in a row with double-digit carries for Ingram, but it certainly helps when the team is winning. Sledding will be tougher against the Niners this week, but as I always say, any back who gets touches has fantasy relevance.
Jalen Parmele, JAC – I can only endorse Parmele, a back of marginal talent, with minimal enthusiasm, but he took the Jags' Maurice Jones-Drew replacement role away from the ineffective Rashad Jennings to the tune of 24 carries, and though he turned them only into a mediocre 80 yards along with three catches for a measly three yards, the sledding should be easier this week against Tennessee. Another one to file under "touches = relevance," I'd far rather own him than Ingram despite Ingram's much higher talent level.
Bryce Brown, PHI – LeSean McCoy's concussion means you should be scrambling to secure Brown's services despite the unimpressive upside flashed by the Philadelphia offense. The rookie seventh-round pick out of Kansas State has averaged 4.4 yards per carry in his limited time behind McCoy this year and his fantasy upside is limited by the seemingly minor nature of Shady's injury, but he's worth a speculative pickup, particularly if you own McCoy. I traded for McCoy last week, so all $2 of my remaining FAAB are committed to Brown.
Justin Blackmon, JAC – It's a dark path we go down when we recommend three Jaguars in one article, but so it goes. Blackmon's talents have never been questioned, but he was never able to find chemistry with Blaine Gabbert. In stepped Chad Henne, and suddenly Blackmon exploded for an unimaginable 236 yards – probably more than the three next-best receivers on your league's wire put together – and a touchdown against a Houston team that can typically stop the pass. Got to like the convergence of talent and schedule, not to mention the fact that Henne's most likely going to quarterback the Jags going forward.
Julian Edelman, NE – Edelman surprisingly carved out a big day against Indianapolis, taking his one carry for 47 yards and catching five balls for 58 yards and a score. The Jets play tough pass D than Indy, but as one of Tom Brady's tertiary options, Edelman is often going to find himself matched up against New York's depth players in the secondary, which ought to lead to a PPR-friendly fantasy day.
Ryan Broyles, DET – With Titus Young benched for the Thanksgiving game against Houston, Broyles will see plenty of looks from Matt Stafford against the suddenly somewhat suspect Texans pass D. The former college star's going to have a big opportunity to click with Stafford and take over Young's role as the No. 2 receiver behind Calvin Johnson.