Monday, November 8, 2010

What I've Been Up To, Sorting Through the Jumble

No new articles in 2 weeks?

Actually, I have been writing, just not on this site. As you can see in my "About Me" section, I am currently doing some writing for Hot Box Sports, a fantasy sports website. I was originally unsure if I'd be able to post these articles on this site, but was recently informed that doing so would be fine. So, without further holdup, I will share my first article, which appeared on the webpage on November 2, 2010.

Sorting Through the NFL Jumble

Written by Adam Weinberger

Parody. It's probably the only word that's been used in professional football more often this season than the words "Brett Favre." Parody describes so many different aspects of the NFL season thus far. At the start of week eight, only one division leader (Kansas City) sits more than 1 game ahead of the second place team (Oakland, yes, Oakland). Twelve teams are two games or more over .500, but of those twelve, only three teams have 1 loss and two of those teams (Jets and Patriots) are in the same division, hence, greater parody.

Picking the best team in the AFC is a difficult endeavor, as none of its top 5 teams has emerged as the best, since they continue to lose to one another. The Steelers' only loss came to the Ravens. The Ravens lost to the Patriots, whose only loss was to the Jets. The Jets only loss was to the Ravens. The Titans, who have quietly made their way to 5-2, also lost to the Steelers, but were able to beat the NY Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, possibly the two best NFC teams. As for the NFC, the conference is a jumbled as the AFC. Only two NFC teams have reached the five win mark. The Giants are my pick as the NFC's best, as their only losses came against the 5-2 Titans and the 4-2 Colts. Atlanta, the other 5-2 team, lost to the Eagles, but also to the Roethlisbergerless Steelers. Parody.

The effects of the lunacy that is the 2010 NFL season have impacted fantasy football tremendously, but no position has been as affected as the wide receivers. Last years top 20 wide receivers, in terms of yardage, were: Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Miles Austin, Sidney Rice, Reggie Wayne, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes, Steve Smith (NYG), Hines Ward, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Roddy White, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, Larry Fitzgerald, Marques Colston, Donald Driver, Chad Ochocinco, Derrick Mason, and Anquan Boldin. Only 10 of those 20 are currently in the top 20. Of the top 10 from last season, only Reggie Wayne and Miles Austin currently rank there. Some of this has been due to injury (Johnson, Welker, Rice, D. Jackson), trade (Holmes, Marshall, Moss), suspension (V. Jackson, Holmes, again), or corpses disguised as quarterbacks (CAR Smith, Fitzgerald).

The imminent question is thus, is there a changing of the order for wide receivers? Are top WR fixtures like Steve Smith (CAR), Hines Ward, Larry Fitzgerald, Marques Colston, Donald Driver, and Chad Ochocinco past their expiration date? Are Hakeem Nicks, Austin Collie, Brandon Lloyd, Jeremy Maclin, Kenny Britt, Malcom Floyd, Jabar Gaffney, Percy "The Migraine" Harvin, and Steve Johnson (on the Bills of all teams!) the new class of the NFL? Let's not jump to that conclusion just yet. Choosing whom to sit, start, trade, and release can be an agonizing process replete with frustration, depression, and second guessing. Don't fret, though, for I have provided my second half projections for wide receivers. Here is the top 20 for the duration for the season.

20: Santana Moss (WAS)
Only three times in Moss's career has he reeled in over 1000 yards receiving, although he is on pace to do so this season. Clearly, the change to McNabb has been beneficial for Moss, as he has emerged as the favorite target. His 63 target this season place him ninth on the list. However, the Redskins have 5 games left this season against a defensive that currently ranks in the top 10 in pass defense. Anticipate a little decline in his surprisingly good numbers.

19: Austin Collie (IND)
Collie was a dream-come-true for fantasy owners up until he got sidelined indefinitely with a thumb surgery. Who knows if and/or when he will get back on the field, but anyone who ranks twelfth in receiving yards, fourth in touchdowns, and fourth in receptions must be included. Until he returns, look for Pierre Garcon to emerge as a potential top 10 wide receiver. If you play on the same field as Manning, your numbers will dramatically improve.

18: DeSean Jackson (PHI)
One of my favorite players in the league and probably the most exciting, Jackson's upcoming performance is perhaps the most difficult to judge out of anybody on this list. He's coming off a concussion, must deal with quarterback changes, has 5 games against top 8 pass defenses, and must share the spotlight with a soon to be named wide out.

17: Percy Harvin (MIN)
The premier do-it-all player in the league, Harvin has been on fire since his first 2 matchups. He has scored at least once in his last 4 games in three different ways (receiving, rushing, return). The addition of Moss, and the double coverage he draws, as well as a soft schedule with only 2 top-10 pass defenses, suggests Harvin will continue to prove useful to fantasy owners. The only problem with Harvin is that his success hinges on the health of Favre, who I truly believe will be done for the season within the next few weeks, giving all-worldly-awful Tavaris Jackson the nod at QB. If this is the case, Harvin will fall into the aforementioned group of receivers with "corpses disguised as quarterbacks," a sad fate for any up-and-coming wide receiver.

16: Jeremy Maclin (PHI)
Maclin faces all the challenges of teammate DeSean Jackson, with exception of the concussion issue. He has the big play ability of Jackson, but seems to have a bit more consistency. Maclin has produced at least 80 yards and/or a touchdown in all but 2 games this season. Look for his numbers to continue to improve.

15: Randy Moss (MIN)
It remains to be seen whether Moss will be anything more than a decoy in Minnesota. Only because of past merit, which goes a long way for Randy, is he ranked so highly. His 2 highest yardage outputs this season were 81 and 59. Moss is yet to catch more than 5 balls in a single game. He does have 5 touchdowns, but for somebody who has scored 10 or more touchdowns 9 times in his career, such scoring success is the norm. Again, the Vikings only play 2 more games against a top-10 pass defense, so I do anticipate an increase in Moss' performance, especially if Favre can stay healthy.

14: Terrell Owens (CIN)
There's nothing like a 10 catch, 222 yard, 1 touchdown performance (all in a losing effort) to skew your season numbers. However, Owens followed it up with 16 receptions, 190 yards, and 2 touchdowns over the next two games. Why so low then? I just have little confidence in the Bengals and think Owens owners should start getting used to hit-or-miss games, based on the inconsistency of his team as a whole. Plus, Owens is 36 years old and can, at any moment, have a cataclysmic explosion.

13: Marques Colston (NO)
Colston's production, much like the performance of the entire Saints offense, has been surprisingly pedestrian thus far. Owners have been highly disappointed with a guy who, in four years in the league, has produced 3 seasons of 70 catches, 1000 yards, and 8 touchdowns. However, not all hope is lost. Colston has 24 receptions for 264 yards and his first touchdown over the course of the last 3 games. He continues to be Brees' favorite option and is the only New Orleans receiver with over 45 targets. The Saints will face 3 top 10 passing defenses, but also 3 in the bottom 10. You also have to anticipate an increase in the performance of the Saints passing attack overall.

12: Greg Jennings (GB)
Last season, through the first 7 games, Jennings eclipsed 80 yards only 3 times. He finished the year with 1113 yards. This year, through the first 7, Jennings has surpassed the 80 yard mark twice, but his 5 touchdowns are already more than the number of times he scored all of last year. Even more pleasing for owners, Jennings' 5 touchdowns have been evenly distributed, as he has scored in all but 2 games.

11: Larry Fitzgerald (ARI)
Fitzgerald is one of the three best wide receivers in the National Football League but, to his detriment, might have the worst quarterback situation. The Cardinals are dead last in passing yards per game. He currently ranks outside of the top 25 in both yardage and touchdowns. Fitzgerald has been targeted 65 times, but has only reeled in 29 balls. Nonetheless, I expect to see his numbers reach closer to what is expected as his relationship with his quarterback(s) improves.

10: Brandon Lloyd (DEN)
Lloyd needs only 24 yards to surpass his highest single-season yardage mark of his career. He is currently second in receiving yards with 4 games of over 100 yards. Some might consider this a low ranking for a player currently among the fantasy elite, but I just don't see him continuing his pace and surpassing the guys listed after him. Also consider that Orton's passing numbers have decreased every game since week 3.

9: Anquan Boldin (BAL)
Unlike his long time teammate Larry Fitzgerald, Boldin has thrived since they split. Most of Boldin's numbers have come in three games (344/518 yards, 4/5 touchdowns) but he does have 5 games with 5 or more receptions. The Ravens still face 5 teams with winning records, meaning there is a pretty good chance they will need to be passing and cannot simply take an early lead and ride Rice to victory. I expect Boldin to easily finish within the top 10 this season.

8: Steve Smith (NYG)
Smith is beginning to emerge as an elite fantasy wide out once again. Playing along side Hakeem Nicks (to be later named), Smith has become a reliable possession receiver for Eli Manning. He has five or more receptions in all but 2 games, including 2 games with 9. Nicks takes most of the goal line looks, which explains the low number of touchdowns (2) for Smith. However, those 2 touchdowns have come in the last 3 games, suggesting an increase for the rest of the season.

7: Brandon Marshall (MIA)
New team, same result. Marshall is third in the league in targets, sixth in receptions, and eighth in yards. If he can begin to find the end zone he will be able to move up this list and possibly into the top 5. Even more pleasing for fantasy owners, Marshall has 1 remaining game against a top 10 pass defense.

6: Miles Austin (DAL)
The injury to Romo may actually help Austin. Despite his talents and success, he is ranked 19th in targets. Kitna hasn't played real, meaningful football for a number of seasons and will be looking to the team's best and most consistent receiver for help, suggesting Austin's targets will increase. Remember, it wasn't too long ago that Kitna was a relatively successful fantasy quarterback (emphasis on the word, "fantasy"). Austin has been perhaps the most hit-or-miss receiver this season, despite great consistency in 2009. He has three games of over 9 catches and 140 yards, but also has three with less than 40 yards.

5: Calvin Johnson (DET)
It is becoming evident that regardless of the score, quarterback, or opposition, Johnson is a dangerous wide receiver. He has great touchdown abilities and is on pace for one of his best seasons in terms of yardage. Once Stafford becomes healthy his numbers will improve even further.

4: Hakeem Nicks (NYG)
Speaking of touchdown threat… Nicks already has 8 scores and honestly could have had 3 more if he lowered his head and pushed for extra yardage a little bit. He has all the makings of a great wide receiver and is starting to remind me of another tall Giants wide receiver with the ability to take over a game (unfortunately for the other guy, he may be able to take over a game but can't hold a gun in his pocket). He continues to gain the trust of Manning and may finish as the best wide receiver of the 2010 season.

3: Reggie Wayne (IND)
Wayne continues to prove, year after year, that he should be in the conversation of league's best receiver. He's the number 3 receiver in terms of yards and number 2 receiver in terms of receptions. Wayne is one of the three or four most consistent wide outs in the league and one of the very few to carry his 2009 success over into this season. Following the Dallas Clark injury, Wayne is now the undisputed go-to-guy for Manning and his numbers will reflect this.

2: Andre Johnson (HOU)
The best receiver in the NFL battled injuries through the first few weeks, but has still done a pretty solid job of defending his position. The Texans continue to prove that they run a defense-optional style team, and this decision means tremendous offensive numbers, especially for their star players like Johnson. Unlike some of the other receivers on this list, the defense he faces is almost irrelevant, as Johnson is expected to, and usually does, perform at a high level every week.

1: Roddy White (ATL)
White leads the NFL in targets, receptions, and yards. His 5 touchdowns are sixth best. What makes White so incredible is that he is capable of producing monstrous games (see last week's 201 yard explosion) and also has unmatched consistency (his WORST fantasy performance this season was 6 receptions and 83 yards). He's on a great team with a great quarterback and I see no reason why his production will dip even a little.

Parody, Parody, Parody. Including those last three, that is now seven more times the word has been used in association with football. I hope it's enough to keep its small lead on the words "Br____ Fav____."


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