1. We're halfway through fantasy football's regular season, but let's cast an eye toward 2012 for just a moment. Specifically, here's a question I've had on my mind: Where will Jimmy Graham be taken in 2012 fantasy drafts?
If Graham maintains his current pace, he's going to break all sorts of single-season TE receiving records. He's insanely athletic, he plays in a prolific passing offense and, best of all, he's still at a pre-peak age. (He turns 25 next month.) In leagues that require you to start a tight end, the value of getting the production of a No. 1 wide receiver at the TE position is off the charts. During Antonio Gates' prime — and I think we can all agree that he's now past prime, can't we? — I was involved in drafts where Gates was taken as early as the early-to-mid second round. If Graham continues to crank out TDs and 100-yard games at this rate, is it inconceivable that he could be a first-rounder in some leagues? And in start-up dynasty leagues ... good lord. How valuable would it be to be able to plug in Graham at your TE spot for the next 3-4 years or more?
2. As ugly as Tim Tebow's performance was for 50-plus minutes of the Broncos' miracle win over the Dolphins last week, Tebow still totaled a decent number of fantasy points. We can expect more of the same for the rest of the year. He isn't a good passer and won't ever be one. As a pure passer, Tebow is probably below NFL-backup level right now, and if he improves with experience, maybe he'll reach backup level. It's obviously the running that gives Tebow his fantasy value, and he'll do plenty of that — the Broncos aren't dumb enough to make a futile attempt to turn him into a pocket passer. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I expected Tebow to be an upper-tier fantasy quarterback the rest of the way, and I still believe he will be.
That said, I think Tebow's performance last week casts serious doubt on his fantasy value beyond this year. He's a valuable property in a redraft league; in a dynasty league, not so much. It was clear going into his Week Seven start that Tebow had some serious limitations as a passer, but the game against Miami showed that those limitations are gravely serious. Ultimately, his shortcomings as a passer are going to be too debilitating to an NFL offense for Tebow to be a long-term starter. For the moment, he's popular enough in Denver to win a mayoral election. But soon, even Broncos fans are going to view Tebow as a guy who's just holding down the fort until the team finds a guy who can actually complete a reasonable percentage of throws downfield. It's probably a long shot that Tebow will enter the 2012 season as the unquestioned starter in Denver. More likely, he'll have to compete for the job, and you can't rule out the possibility that the Broncos' brass will kick him to the curb entirely after a couple of months of watching his errant throws.
3. The on-field conduct of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh is once again coming under scrutiny, and in the days following last weekend's ultra-chippy Lions-Falcons game, I lost count of the number of times I heard the word "borderline" mentioned in an analysis of whether Suh is a dirty player. Look, Tijuana is "borderline." Suh is about 30 miles south of Oaxaca.
Never mind what Suh may or may not have said about Matt Ryan as the Atlanta quarterback lay writhing on the Ford Field turf in the moments after injuring his ankle. What about the way Suh knocked Falcons lineman Joe Hawley keister over teakettle in that game well after the whistle (an act that inexplicably went unflagged), or the punch he threw at the Patriots' Logan Mankins in a preseason game, or the sheer malice with which he has thrown quarterbacks to the ground on multiple occasions?
It's interesting to see how the Lions have been handling the spotlight the last few weeks after their hot start. In a nutshell: not well. The team seems to be going through a professional-wrestler type of story arc. At first it was the popular upstart babyface; now the team seems to be taking a heel turn. It shouldn't be hard to get behind a Lions revival. They've been down for so long, how can you begrudge them some long-overdue success? But the bouquets will cease to be thrown their way if they continue to cultivate an outlaw persona.
4. Speaking of the Lions, what happened to Nate Burleson and Titus Young? When the Detroit offense was clicking so well early in the season, Burleson and Young were factors. They haven't been as involved lately, and the Lions aren't functioning as well on offense. Burleson and Young combined to average seven receptions over Detroit's first four games, and the Lions were averaging 33.8 points. The two receivers have averaged three combined receptions over the last three games, and the Lions have averaged 19.7 points. It's not that we're expecting a Calvin Johnson-caliber impact out of Burleson or Young, but the Lions need to find a way to get them more involved. Earlier this season, Burleson talked about wanting to become "the black Wes Welker." For now, he's more like the black Julian Edelman.
5. Fantasy owners have been dealing with an epidemic of injuries at the WR position this season, but in Week Seven, the injury bug took its turn with the running backs. Darren McFadden left early with a sprained foot. The oft-injured Beanie Wells left early with a sprained knee. Willis McGahee broke his hand. Tim Hightower tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Earnest Graham, filling in for the injured LeGarrette Blount, tore his Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of the season. Joseph Addai re-aggravated a hamstring injury. Mark Ingram sustained a bruised heel. And last but not least, Marshawn Lynch injured his back in pregame warm-ups and didn't play, much to the dismay of the fantasy owners who started him and were aghast to discover that they'd be taking a goose egg in one of their lineup spots.
With so many running backs injured or on bye this week (or suspended, as is the case for Cedric Benson), a lot of fantasy owners are going to have to dig deep at the position this week. Some guys who are backups on their NFL teams might hold reasonable potential as fantasy starters this week. At the top of that list is Pierre Thomas. If Ingram doesn't play, Thomas is in line to get a bunch of carries against a Rams defense that's giving up nearly 200 rushing yards a game. Ben Tate will have to settle for Arian Foster's table scraps this weekend, but if the Texans start beating up on the Jaguars, those table scraps could make for a hearty meal. Chris Johnson is having an awful year, and if he can't take advantage of the woeful Colts run defense, maybe Javon Ringer can. Ringer figures to get at least a half-dozen carries even if Johnson is running well, and against Indy, six carries could potentially translate into 50 yards and a TD. And with Hightower out of the picture, Ryan Torain goes back to being the lead runner for Washington, but don't forget about rookie Roy Helu. We know how wildly unpredictable Mike Shanahan's RB usage is, and the Redskins have an attractive matchup against an iffy Bills defense.
6. Enough with the Corona ads already! I've found my beach, OK? And here's the thing about those commercials that bothers me most: Who goes to a beach with other people and just sits there and stares at the ocean in silence? I'm all for relaxation, but after about two minutes of sitting there without conversation, I'd be asking if anyone wanted to play cribbage.
7. With half the fantasy regular season in the books, it's time to bust out some midseason hardware. Here's one man's all-value team (guys who have dramatically outperformed their average draft position):
QB: Cam Newton
RB: Fred Jackson
RB: Darren Sproles
WR: Steve Smith (Car.)
WR: Wes Welker
TE: Jimmy Graham
Flex: Pierre Garcon
PK: Jason Hanson
8. Now, one man's all-flop team (guys who've dramatically underperformed relative to their ADP, discounting players whose loss of value is entirely attributable to injury):
QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Chris Johnson
RB: Peyton Hillis
WR: Reggie Wayne
WR: Mike Williams (T.B.)
TE: Dallas Clark
Flex: Rashard Mendenhall
PK: Adam Vinatieri
9. The Bears aren't interested in offering the grossly underpaid Matt Forté a new contract before the season ends, which means that Forté is almost certainly going to be designated as the team's franchise player in the offseason, which means that Forté is almost certainly going to be a holdout when training camp opens next year. If this scenario comes true and Forté's holdout stretches well into the preseason, it will be interesting to see where Forté goes in 2012 fantasy drafts. There's no way of knowing whether a lengthy holdout would cause Forté to go into the tank the way Chris Johnson has this season, but I suspect that if Forté holds out, this year's Chris Johnson owners would probably shy away from Forté next year.
10 A.J. Green is such a dynamic rookie talent that I actually missed watching him while the Bengals were on bye last week.
11. The first word in the phrase "Suck for Luck" certainly applies to the Colts, but would they actually draft Luck when they have Peyton Manning in cold storage? That's going to be a hot topic if Indianapolis does indeed finish with the NFL's worst record — and anyone who watched the Colts' 62-7 garroting at the hands of the Saints last week knows that's a distinct possibility.
I don't think the Colts would draft Luck (assuming Luck enters the draft). The Colts' roster is so decayed that they couldn't justify drafting a quarterback when that's the one thing they already have. By auctioning off Luck, they'd receive a cornucopia of draft picks that they could use to start patching all the holes. And make no mistake: If the Colts or, say, the Rams, who are happy with Sam Bradford, end up with the top pick and decide to trade it, they'll fetch a bounty like nothing we've seen since the Herschel Walker trade — and in all likelihood, the Colts or Rams would probably get more than the Cowboys got for Walker.
Some will argue that if the Colts get the No. 1 pick, they should take Luck despite the presence of Manning. After all, how many more years does Manning have left? Fair point. But Colts owner Jim Irsay is incredibly loyal to Manning, and I can't see him green-lighting the selection of Luck when Manning still has at least 2-3 years left. And here's a thought for the conspiracy theorists: Do you think Roger Goodell and the rest of the folks at NFL headquarters would be pleased to see Luck go to a team that planned to keep him on the bench for a few years, a la Aaron Rodgers? That wouldn't exactly be good for business.
12. By the way, those of you in dynasty leagues and those of you who've already given up on the 2011 season and are looking ahead to 2012 should make it a point to catch the Stanford-USC game on Saturday night. Not only can you scout Luck but also USC's Matt Barkley, who'll also be a high first-round pick in April's NFL draft.
13. The good thing about owning multiple teams is that a single unfortunate draft won't kill your enthusiasm for fantasy football. In one league, my first three picks were Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Johnson and Felix Jones. Ouch. I'm 1-6 in that league and feel fortunate to have gotten the one win.
14. It's fascinating to watch the ongoing NCAA conference realignment and the shifting of puzzle pieces that aren't fitting so neatly into place. The visible maneuvering is interesting enough, but there's obviously so much more going on behind the curtain. This is a far-reaching drama involving money, power and egos. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch thoroughly and eloquently de-pantsed the NCAA in a cover story for the October issue of The Atlantic titled, "The Shame of College Sports," and he also wrote a longer e-book version of the article titled, "The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA." I'd love to see Branch research and write a book exclusively about conference realignment, because there are obviously a lot of juicy worms here that have yet to be unearthed.
15. Fantasy owners who have any stake in the Giants — particularly the Giants' team defense — should know that the G-Men are about to enter one of the more hellacious scheduling stretches that any NFL team will endure this season. After an easy matchup with the Dolphins this week, the Giants will then face the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Saints, Packers and Cowboys, with four of those six games on the road. It doesn't get all that much easier after that, as the Giants finish the regular season with the Redskins, Jets and Cowboys. Time to sell high on your Giants?
16. Carson Palmer was terrible last week in relief of Kyle Boller, and we're supposed to believe that it was because he was still unfamiliar with the Raiders' playbook, and he'll be effective when Oakland comes out of its Week Eight bye. Um ... OK. And I don't know anything about nuclear fission right now, but after two weeks of intense study, I'm going to build my own reactor.
17. Boy, this is NOT a good week for any fantasy owner to have to rely on anyone from the Arizona Cardinals' offense, not even Larry Fitzgerald. The Cards visit Baltimore this weekend, and the Ravens are going to be in a foul mood after an embarrassing, nationally televised 12-7 loss to the Jaguars on Monday night.
In "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," Forest Whitaker had a small role as a high school football star whose car (paid for by boosters) is totaled by his younger brother and his brother's friend, the perpetually stoned Jeff Spicoli (played by Sean Penn). To avoid retribution, they make it look as if the car was destroyed by students from the school Ridgemont is about to face on homecoming weekend. Whitaker's character is furious, and in a memorable football montage, he inflicts greater bodily harm upon his innocent rivals. One suspects that Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata will be playing with the same sort of fury this weekend, so please say a prayer for Kevin Kolb.
18. I don't want to brag, but ... oh, hell, that's a lie. I've moved into first place in the FantasyPros accuracy rankings (http://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/accuracy), and I'm giddy about it. See, Mom? And you thought I was never going to amount to anything.
For the uninitiated, FantasyPros aggregates the player rankings of various fantasy football "experts." (See what I did there? I put quotation marks around "expert" to appear self-deprecating and to mask my raging ego.) The site's founders created methodology to score the rankings, and the site keeps a running tally of each expert's success rate.
Of course, the overall rate isn't what matters to you, the individual fantasy owner. What matters to you is that weekly player rankings help you settle the one or two lineup dilemmas you have each week and maximize your point total. I could knock it out of the park with my rankings in a given week, but if my rankings told you to start Joe Flacco over Andy Dalton, and Flacco went out and laid the sort of egg that he laid against Jacksonville last week, I failed you. And even in a season where I'm making some good calls, there are inevitably some lousy calls mixed in. I suspect that after ascending to No. 1 in the FantasyPros rankings, I'll suffer the same fate as the college football team that jumps up to No. 1 in the polls only to be stunned by Iowa State or Vanderbilt the following weekend. (See that? More false modesty.)
19. Even though I put together weekly player rankings for PFW, I agonize over my own difficult lineup decisions. There's a lineup decision I whiffed badly on nearly a decade ago, and it still haunts me to this day.
In 2002, I had assembled a powerhouse team in a 16-team league, and wide receiver was an area of particular strength. That was the breakout season for the erstwhile Chad Johnson, and I'd been lucky enough to draft him in the late rounds. I also had two other 1,000-yard receivers that season: Amani Toomer and Rod Smith. Johnson had been so good over the second half of the fantasy season that I considered him a must-start as I entered the playoff semifinals. That left me with a decision between Toomer and Smith for the other WR spot. Toomer was starting for me most weeks (he had 1,343 yards and eight TDs that season), but he had a matchup against the Colts, who were ranked No. 1 in pass defense. Smith was facing the Raiders, who had a below-average pass defense. I played the matchups and went with Smith. Toomer wound up having a career day, torching the Colts for 204 yards and three TDs. Smith had 64 yards and no TDs (and Johnson did less than Smith). I lost by four points.
Twenty years from now, I'll still be kicking myself over that one.
20. In this week's position rankings, I rate Mike Wallace and Wes Welker as the top two receivers, and even though there's not a fantasy owner in the country who'll have to make an either/or lineup decision between those two, it took me awhile to decide which guy should be No. 1. Ultimately, I went with Wallace simply because the Patriots have been yielding so many passing yards. But that's going to be an interesting sidelight to what promises to be an entertaining game. The fantasy matchup between Wallace and Welker is sort of a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup between a big puncher and a shifty ring artist. Um, scratch that ... Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are both complete fighters, so the comparison doesn't really work. (Plus, I think Pacquiao would destroy Mayweather, whereas I'm not nearly as confident about Wallace outperforming Welker.) Maybe the better non-football comparison is Ken Griffey Jr. vs. Tony Gwynn, with Wallace as Griffey, the versatile home-run threat, and Welker as Gwynn, the relentless singles hitter with gap power.
21. Is there a more underrated holiday than Halloween? It's long been one of my favorites, for a couple of key reasons. First, there are few obligations. You don't have to buy gifts (just a bag or two of prepackaged candy for the trick-or-treaters), and there are no elaborate family get-togethers. Second, it's the only holiday that celebrates fear, and that's kind of cool. Horror movies, haunted houses, macabre lawn decorations ... it's good to let our dark sides come out and play every now and again. Third, it's a party holiday, like New Year's Eve. The Halloween parties I attend at this stage of my life aren't all that raucous, but I'm a University of Wisconsin grad, and boy, let me tell you: They throw a helluva Halloween party in Madison. Finally, there's the whole costume thing. It can be fun to step out of yourself for a while and be someone (or something) else for a night. My kids couldn't be more excited about trick-or-treating in their costumes. My daughter, 6, is going as a vampire princess (nothing like a good combo costume). My son, 4, is going as a duck (and, yes, it was purely his own choice).