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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice
1. Andre Johnson — Johnson finally has been given the all-clear to return from the hamstring injury that he sustained in Week Four, but you'll have to forgive his fantasy owners if their feeling of relief is mixed with a dose of trepidation. Given that Johnson's long-awaited return was delayed by minor setbacks along the way, concerns about how his surgically repaired hammy will hold up are justified. Then there's the matter of his new quarterback. While Johnson was in the homestretch of the healing process, Matt Schaub went down with a season-ending foot injury. Matt Leinart, a former golden boy to USC fans and a former pariah to Arizona Cardinals fans, will make his first start for the Texans in Jacksonville this weekend. Will the Texans' offense sail along as smoothly with the left-hander at the rudder? Or will the drop-off from Schaub to Leinart be significant enough to lower Johnson's statistical output from the elite level to merely good (or worse)?
2. Kevin Smith — Just when it seemed as if the Detroit running game was broken beyond repair, along came this familiar handyman to provide a fix. Smith ran for 140 yards and two TDs in the Lions' come-from-behind win over the Panthers last week, and he also caught four passes for 61 yards and a TD. With Jahvid Best still out with a concussion and Maurice Morris failing to provide a spark, Smith now finds himself back in the featured role he played for the Lions in 2008-2009 before injuries waylaid his career. It's a terrific story, but it has to be noted that Smith's big day came against the Panthers, whose ragged run defense has been making opposing runners look good all season. Smith will face a more daunting task on Thanksgiving Day, when the Lions host the Packers in a game that Lions fans have been looking forward to for months. A win over the undefeated Packers would demonstrate that the rejuvenated Lions are, in fact, a team to be taken seriously. The Packers have played shaky pass defense this year but have been fairly stout against the run (last week's embarrassing tackling display on a long LeGarrette Blount TD run notwithstanding). Can Smith continue to provide offensive balance for Detroit and for the fantasy owners whose laps he fell into, or will the Packers bring Smith and the Lions another year of Thanksgiving misery?
3. Matt Forté — Forté and the Bears were cruising along nicely, having won five straight, when bad news arrived: QB Jay Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand late in last week's win over the Chargers and could potentially miss the rest of the regular season. It's a hard-luck injury that poses a serious threat to the offensive balance the Bears worked so diligently to establish. Forté, who has handled a mammoth workload all year as both a rusher and a receiver, must now work with backup QB Caleb Hanie. There's no question it's a drop-off, although the plucky Hanie came close to leading a comeback against the Packers in last season's NFC championship game after an ineffective Cutler had left with a knee injury. If Hanie can't pose a credible aerial threat, opposing defenses will choke the line of scrimmage, and Forté's effectiveness as a runner will diminish. But for Forté owners, the potential silver lining is that the number of dump-off passes to Forté will probably increase as Hanie tries to get comfortable running the offense. The Bears will be in Oakland this weekend, perhaps not the best place for an inexperienced quarterback to find comfort.
4. Ray Rice — This will be the fourth consecutive game in which Rice has faced a top-10 run defense, and his numbers have held up pretty well during this tough stretch, thanks in part to the added value he brings as a pass catcher. Rice ran for 104 yards and two TDs in a win over the Bengals last week (and also had 43 receiving yards). On Thanksgiving night he'll face the top-rated 49ers run defense, which is allowing 73.9 rushing yards per game and, amazingly, still hasn't given up a TD run this season. Rice's ability to grind out hard yards and keep the 49ers from teeing off on Joe Flacco will be critical if the Ravens hope to prevail in this compelling Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh matchup. Rice has eight rushing touchdowns this season; will he be the first running back to cross the goal line against the Niners?
5. Roddy White — In Atlanta's win over Tennessee last week, White bore a strong resemblance to the player he was throughout the 2010 season rather than the impostor who's been donning his No. 84 jersey for much of 2011. White didn't manage to find the endzone against the Titans, but he did catch seven passes for 147 yards, ending a drought of six games without a 100-yard performance. Now he gets to face a flammable Vikings pass defense in the cozy confines of the Georgia Dome. It seems like a reasonable bet that White will produce good numbers again, but dismayed White owners probably aren't willing to take that for granted. One potential variable is whether rookie WR Julio Jones is ready to return from a hamstring and potentially cut into White's workload.
6. Rob Gronkowski — Gronk has been putting his Zeus-like frame to good use lately, catching five TD passes in his last three games and averaging 101 receiving yards over his last four. He's making a compelling case that he, rather than the Saints' Jimmy Graham, should be the first tight end taken in fantasy drafts next year. Through 10 games, Gronkowski has caught 56-805-10, compared to 62-873-6 for Graham. The Patriots visit the Eagles this week, and though Philadelphia ranks in the top half of the league in pass defense, Gronkowski has become such a force of nature that statistical matchups have ceased to be a consideration for his owners.
7. Vincent Jackson — This guy has been all over the map with his single-game outputs this season. Here are Jackson's stat lines since San Diego's Week Six bye: 1-15-0, 3-49-0, 7-141-3, 1-22-0, 7-165-1. Jackson has scored seven TDs this season, and they've been bunched into four games — which also happen to be the same four games in which he's had 100-yard receiving days. He's been held under 50 receiving yards in five of his other six games. You can't bench Jackson because you might miss out on a windfall, but this week's matchup against Denver isn't especially promising. Facing the Broncos and ace CB Champ Bailey in Week Five, Jackson had 3-34-0.
8. Willis McGahee — Although the early results were encouraging, it's hard to say for certain whether this crazy college offense the Broncos are running with QB Tim Tebow is good for McGahee and his fantasy numbers. In Tebow's first game as a starter this season, McGahee ran for 18-76-0. He missed the following game, then produced 20-163-2 against the Raiders. McGahee tweaked his hamstring two weeks ago against the Chiefs and left early on, then played last week but ran for only 18 yards against the Jets on 12 carries. Last week's stat line is ominous, but it's unclear to what degree it was system-related, hamstring-related or matchup-related. The Broncos are preparing to visit the Chargers, against whom McGahee produced 125 rushing yards on only 16 carries back in Week Five.
9. Mike Wallace — After opening the season with three consecutive 100-yard games, Wallace has generated only a single 100-yard performance in the seven games since. He's been limited to 70 or fewer receiving yards in his last three games and has only one TD catch over that span. It's fair to wonder if Wallace's recent statistical malaise is related to the emergence of Antonio Brown, who's had more catches and receiving yards than Wallace over Pittsburgh's last four contests. Wallace never had any trouble sharing the load with Hines Ward in the days before Ward began slipping into fantasy irrelevance, but Brown is a different kind of receiver than Ward. Whereas Wallace and Ward have vastly different styles, Brown is more comparable to Wallace in terms of athleticism and downfield playmaking ability. Wallace will try to get things rolling again this weekend when the Steelers visit Kansas City.
10. Drew Brees — Coming out of their bye week, Brees and the Saints have an important home game against the Giants and their dangerous pass rush. Brees has been piling up yardage as usual, with six 300-yard performances over his last eight games. But the TD passes haven't come quite as easily of late. Brees has thrown more than two TD passes only once in his last seven games. Brees sometimes has trouble when the pass rush gets in his face, and that could be the case on Sunday, with the Giants likely to be breathing fire after last week's disappointing home loss to the Eagles.