1. I've heard a lot of horror stories over the years about rogue fantasy football owners who attempt to sabotage their leagues with lopsided or collusive trades, with intentional tank jobs, with violations of league etiquette or with non-payment of league dues. I felt fortunate to have participated in fantasy football leagues for 21 years without encountering that sort of abhorrent behavior.
And then, last week, it happened.
An owner in one of my leagues who had an abysmal draft — and who, in his four years in the league, had shown the managerial aptitude of a kindergartner — announced a fire sale in which he would give away his few productive players in exchange for nothing of value. Our commissioner immediately responded with an e-mail reminding owners that suspiciously lopsided trades are subject to commissioner veto if a majority of owners request a review (a failsafe rule that has never been used). The rogue owner then set a lineup that included only injured and completely unproductive players. Our commissioner noticed this, immediately cut off the owner's access to the league website, and issued an announcement that the owner had been tossed from the league and that, for the rest of the season, his lineup would be set by the commissioner, with assistance from two other league owners to avoid conflicts of interest. It was good work by our commish — league owners unanimously approved of his emergency measures.
This league has always been a collection of friends, and friends of friends. The rogue owner is a brother-in-law of a well-respected charter member, and the charter member was doing the brother-in-law a favor by getting him a spot. The brother-in-law has social skills similar to those of the brother-in-law played by Zach Galifianakis in "The Hangover," which is to say that he's a weird dude. He rarely spoke with anyone at drafts. He routinely failed to pay his league dues on draft day (and was covered by his brother-in-law at least once). His teams were rarely competitive. The guy was, in short, a terrible owner.
Two recommendations to commissioners to pre-empt the possibility of a rogue owner messing up your league: (1) Establish a set of failsafes, as our commissioner did, that can be put into effect if an owner goes rogue; and (2) do your due diligence on potential new owners and look for any red flags that might be warning you not to invite an imbecile into your league.
2. What's the minimum waiting period before we're allowed to refer to Aaron Rodgers as the greatest quarterback of all time? There will be some people who require more champion rings before they consider Rodgers for the title, some who require Rodgers to make greater headway toward certain statistical milestones. All I know is that Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway were 1-2-3 in my own ranking of the greatest QBs of all time, and I believe Rodgers is currently playing at a higher level than any of those three ever attained.
The greatest fantasy football quarterback of all time? Define the era of fantasy football as you will, but to me that limits it to the last 20 years. And again, it depends on how many years of productivity you require for "all-time-greatest" consideration, but, my lord, the point totals that Rodgers has been rolling up are incredible. I own him in an experts league, and having him in the lineup each week is like being allowed to start two quarterbacks while your opponent can only start one.
3. On a related note, I've been trying really, really hard to keep the obnoxious "I told you so" comments to a minimum, but to those of you who were convinced heading into this season that Michael Vick was the No. 1 fantasy quarterback and anyone who didn't agree was insane ...
Well, I told you so.
The flaw in the pro-Vick reasoning was that Vick simply isn't in Rodgers' class as a passer. This isn't an attempt to diminish Vick's fantasy studliness. He can be a terrific fantasy quarterback at times. Frustrating, too, but often terrific. Thing is, when your quarterback isn't a crisp passer, and you have to rely heavily on his running to get you points, consistency is going to be one problem, injury potential another. Comparing Vick to Rodgers was like comparing Jackson Pollock to Rembrandt. Pollock's work is amazing in a wild sort of way, but he's not in Rembrandt's class.
4. Last week was a good one for Roy Helu. Any fantasy owners in PPR leagues who found out shortly before kickoff that Helu would be getting the start for the Redskins and then inserted him into their own lineups reaped a 14-catch bonanza. Helu is an interesting player. I don't think he has star potential, and I'm still on the fence about whether he's cut out to be an NFL starter. Maybe he is. But Mike Shanahan's incessant RB juggling is a concern. Yes, Shanahan's restlessness is what gave Helu an opportunity in the first place. But Shanahan has already gone through three starting running backs this year (don't forget that he had benched Tim Hightower once before Hightower's season-ending injury), and you can't rule out the possibility that when Tashard Choice is fully healthy, Shanahan might give him a try.
5. While we're on the subject of Mike Shanahan, let's recap his lineup changes at the skill positions so far this season, shall we? Shanny has changed his starting quarterback once (and may be on the verge of another change). At running back, he started Tim Hightower for four games, then switched to Ryan Torain coming out of a bye, then switched back to Hightower after only one game, then was forced to switch back to Torain after Hightower sustained a season-ending injury, then benched Torain a week later in favor of rookie Roy Helu. And at wide receiver, Shanahan has given starts to five different players, including the currently injured Santana Moss. Anthony Armstrong, Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul have all made one start apiece. Jabar Gaffney is the lone Redskins receiver to have started all eight games.
Just something to remember in case Shanahan is still coaching somewhere in 2012 and you feel the urge to draft one of his players.
6. Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever fasten a chinstrap, but does anyone really think that the Colts would have been a playoff contender even if Manning had been completely healthy this season? The Colts have been outscored 283-128. Their point differential is minus-155. The next-worst point differential is the Rams at minus-111, followed by the Chiefs at minus-70. Winless Indianapolis is losing by an average of 17.2 points per game.
With a healthy Manning, the Colts still would have been, at best, a 6-10 team this year. And whether the Colts have Manning at quarterback next season or are breaking in Andrew Luck, it's hard to envision Indy being anything more than a six-win team. Yes, a team's fortunes can change quickly in the modern NFL, but this is an awful, awful team. Even after the Colts get a dramatic upgrade at the QB position with either Manning or Luck, and even after they hire a competent head coach to replace the deer in headlights who's currently occupying that role, the rebuilding project in Indy is going to be long and messy.
7. The last time I touted Denarius Moore in this column (and attempted to back it up by starting him in a couple of leagues), he was promptly blanked over his next few games and virtually disappeared from the Oakland offense. Now I'm ready to climb back aboard the Moore bandwagon, and I'm semi-confident that it won't careen over a cliff this time.
Moore caught four passes for 61 yards last week and, more important, was targeted 12 times. While I don't consider Carson Palmer to be a significant upgrade over Jason Campbell, I think Palmer is going to help Moore owners (and Jacoby Ford owners) because he's more willing to force the ball downfield than Campbell, who's more of a risk-averse check-down guy. That means more completions downfield with Palmer at the controls and more interceptions — but Moore and Ford owners obviously don't care about the latter.
And yeah, I'm once again putting my money where my keyboard is, giving Moore a start this week in a pivotal game.
8. While the QB change in Oakland seems to bode well for those who own Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore, it isn't doing much good for Darrius Heyward-Bey owners. Heyward-Bey, who had been enjoying what appeared to be a breakthrough season, was kicked out of the starting lineup during the Raiders' bye week and was completely shut out in Week Nine. DHB played only 20 snaps, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and Carson Palmer targeted him only once. When Raiders head coach Hue Jackson was asked about Heyward-Bey's disappearance, he offered a cryptic answer about DHB not being part of the packages that the Raiders opted to use last week. Um ... OK. So much for the Heyward-Bey renaissance. Would this have happened if No. 1 DHB fan Al Davis were still alive?
9. It used to be that when the cameras would catch an athlete dropping an F-bomb, the broadcast team would respond sheepishly, as if to acknowledge that it was an accident but, hey, it sometimes happens. Now, producers will actually go out of their way to highlight an athlete letting fly with a string of expletives. We saw a notable instance of this in the World Series last month. After Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli had a deep flyout to end a Rangers rally against St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, Carpenter erupted with a string of expletives aimed in the direction of Napoli, and although viewers didn't see it happen in real time, the Fox broadcast team made sure we saw a replay of it. This past weekend in the Packers-Chargers game, also covered by Fox, we were shown a replay of Packers LB Desmond Bishop dropping an F-bomb on the sideline in reaction to an Antonio Gates catch.
Believe me, I'm no prude, and I undoubtedly use more profanity than the average American. But is it really necessary for broadcast teams to shine a spotlight on athlete profanity? Is it symbolic of the coarsening of our culture that where an athlete dropping an F-bomb on camera was once considered something of a telecast accident, it's now considered a highlight? I really wouldn't care were it not for the fact that I have two young children who sometimes watch games with me for a few minutes at a time before they lose interest. What do I tell them if they ask me what a football player was yelling? Should I be honest and tell them that he was calling an opponent a bleeping bleep? Every time cussing is shown onscreen during a game, there are parents somewhere who are trying to explain it to their children and attempting to pre-empt the same sort of behavior from them. Yeah, we have much bigger problems in this country than profanity, but is it unreasonable to ask that sports broadcasting teams take a step toward greater civility by not spotlighting F-bombs?
10. Reggie Bush has amassed 262 yards from scrimmage over his last two games and is starting to evoke memories of his days at USC. You'd almost think he was trying to win back the newly available Kim Kardashian.
11. Last Saturday's LSU-Alabama game more than lived up to the hype, and I'd much rather see a rematch in the national championship game than watch LSU slaughter Oklahoma State, Stanford or Boise State. (Uh-oh ... here come the angry emails.) LSU and Alabama are both ridiculously loaded with NFL-caliber talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Draftniks had to be in hog heaven watching that game — so many of the defensive players involved are going to be early-round picks in the next few years.
Oh, and by the way, as a devoted fan of the Wisconsin Badgers, I thoroughly enjoyed watching a great college football game on a Saturday night that didn't end with my heart getting ripped out and stomped upon. That was nice.
12. After being a longtime Beanie Wells doubter, I finally gave Beanie some props in last week's column, and he promptly turned in a 20-yard rushing day against the Rams' league-worst run defense. Atta boy, Beanie. Thanks for making me look good.
13. There were faint signs of a pulse from Chris Johnson last week. He had 110 yards from scrimmage against a good Cincinnati defense and averaged 4.6 yards per carry on his 14 rushing attempts. Not exactly superstar numbers, but they offer hope. Johnson has a favorable matchup this weekend against a Panthers defense that ranks 27th in run defense and has allowed 11 rushing TDs. If Johnson is going to salvage his season with a strong second half, this is a promising way to start.
14. I continue to be flummoxed by the NFL's interpretation of what constitutes a legal catch. Near the end of the first half of the Packers-Chargers game last week, Jordy Nelson made what appeared to be a diving TD catch. The play was reviewed, and the replay showed the nose of the football making contact with the ground during what the NFL would refer to as "the process of the catch." Nelson seemed to have full control of the ball, and in bygone days before the league started monkeying around with the definition of a catch, this would have been considered a clean reception. But lately, NFL officials have been fairly consistent in disallowing receptions on which the nose of the ball comes in contact with the ground. I fully expected the Nelson catch to be disallowed. But no, it stood.
It's embarrassing how much worse the officiating is in the NFL than it is at the college level, and don't believe for a moment that it has anything to do with the greater speed of the pro game. No, it has far more to do with the NCAA's more classic interpretation of the rules of football. In a way I feel sorry for NFL officials, because they're forced to make interpretations of Byzantine rules, and it's a recipe for failure. Remember the stupid force-out rule that required officials to determine whether a receiver would have been able to get both feet inbounds had he not been shoved out of bounds by a defender while making a catch? It was an absurd rule that forced officials to make a subjective judgment, and it caused more problems than it solved.
This isn't to say there aren't some bad officials in the NFL — there are some crews that couldn't be trusted to cleanly officiate a Pop Warner game — but the NFL rules committee is putting these guys into bad spots, and the inevitable result is shaky, uneven officiating.
15. There's a guy in one of my leagues whom I consider to be the most astute of all my competitors. He has a keen eye for young talent. He used to have a man-crush on Laurent Robinson early in Robinson's career, and I couldn't understand why. I'm starting to understand.
If Miles Austin misses significant time because of this hamstring injury — more than just a week or two — Robinson could have tremendous short-term value. I'm not so sure that Dez Bryant is a better receiver than Robinson right now. More talented? Absolutely. Better? I don't know.
16. It's gotten to the point where there are only about a half-dozen quarterbacks you should consider starting against the Jets. (And note that I said "consider.") No team is rougher on opposing passing games than the Jets. They're yielding 196 passing yards per game and have given up only five TD passes all season. For all its flaws, the passer rating stat is still a telling one, and the Jets are the runaway leader in opponent passer rating at 59.4. That's 7.5 points lower than the next-best team in that category, the Texans, and only three teams have an opponent passer rating within 15 points of Rex Ryan's group. Needless to say, the Jets are an awful fantasy matchup for your quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends.
17. As encouraging as Julio Jones' Week Nine performance was, it might be a little too soon to grant him "must-start" status. The Colts' defensive backs looked like the Keystone Kops on Jones' two TDs, the first one covering 50 yards, the second one covering 80 yards. On the first, Jones was surrounded by three DBs, but at least two of them appeared to have no idea that the ball was coming. On the second, both a cornerback and a safety made fatal missteps that allowed Jones to turn a quick slant into a long score.
There's no question that Jones has the sort of speed, athleticism and ball skills that can help make defensive backs look bad. But those were the first two TDs for Jones in six games, and he's had a couple of dud games this season. I think he's a fantasy starter under most circumstances, but I don't think he's quite gotten to the point where you put him into your lineup every week regardless of matchup.
18. The holiday beers are already out, and some of them have been out for a couple of weeks. I picked up a case of Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale (a longtime favorite) at Costco the other day, along with a Sam Adams holiday sampler pack. But I haven't consumed a holiday beer yet. Too early. I won't crave one until the temperature here in the Chicago area takes a sustained nosedive. I was out raking leaves in a T-shirt the other day; when you can still do that, it's too early for holiday beer. Thanksgiving week seems like the right time.
19. It sounds as if we could see Mark Clayton back in action for the Rams this week. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo hasn't said it's a lock that Clayton will suit up against the Browns this weekend, but Clayton has declared himself ready to play. It's hard to recommend anyone involved in the St. Louis passing game for fantasy duty, but Clayton at least bears watching. He and Sam Bradford were clicking well together last season before Clayton went down with the knee injury from which he's only now returning.
20. Is there any question that Josh Cribbs is the best offensive weapon the Browns have? It's worth betting on Cribbs if he's available in your league and you need a quick fix at receiver. I'm not quite as certain about betting on Browns head coach Pat Shurmur finding ways to get the ball into Cribbs' hands, because it doesn't seem to be happening as often as it should.
21. We've now reached the point where there's a Thursday-night game every week, which signals that the fantasy season is entering the homestretch. As much as I love the NFL, I'm still not crazy about Thursday-night games. From a fantasy perspective, I much prefer it when every owner goes into the early Sunday games on even footing, with a score of 0-0. From a personal perspective, I've found that Thursday-night games do very little to promote marital harmony.