He doesn't have a flashy name, and he wasn't even a week-topper at his own position Sunday, but Josh Freeman's performance Sunday warrants a closer look.
The second-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, who struggled through an 18-interception (in 10 games) rookie campaign, tallied yet another workmanlike fantasy effort against the reeling Carolina Panthers, completing 18 of 24 pass attempts for 241 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 18 fantasy points represented his sixth game of 15-plus in nine games so far and his sixth straight in double digits, and with the two passing scores, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is a sparkling 2.4:1 (12 touchdowns compared to five interceptions).
It's Freeman's accuracy that's most important; he's not making the foolish throws you'll see from some of the league's veteran passers (Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer, I'm looking at you) and he's making the most of what's a young, developing, yet inconsistent set of receivers. He has become adept at picking his spots, and it's that type you love to see when sniffing out weekly matchups.
So what of those weekly matchups? Freeman's emergence as a viable fantasy starter -- not necessarily top 10, but in the discussion when the opponent is weak defensively -- makes him one to watch down the stretch, as these are his next six opponents (taking him through the fantasy playoffs): @SF, @BAL, ATL, @WAS, DET, SEA. Entering Week 10, those defenses ranked 11th, 28th, 15th, sixth, 10th and ninth in terms of most fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
In other words, it could very well be guys like Freeman -- along with his top wide receiver, Mike Williams -- who are the fantasy playoffs heroes, not the guy you presently start.
Take your pick from either of the two "names you know" in the Kansas City Chiefs' passing game: Quarterback Matt Cassel, owned in 38.3 percent of ESPN leagues and started in 14.7 percent, or wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, owned in 100.0 percent and started in 68.6 percent. Bowe is my pick, being that more people reaped the benefits of his 30-point fantasy outburst, though Cassel was actually the player who topped the leaderboard (entering "Sunday Night Football") with 32 points.
Owners of Chiefs running backs had to be frustrated with the team's light usage of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones early, but when your team finds itself trailing 35-0 after only 21 minutes of play, what else do you expect but boatloads of throws? Coach Todd Haley might have done everything in his power to avoid letting Cassel throw in past weeks, but in this game, when his team was inescapably behind early, he let Cassel throw 53 times, or nearly twice the 26.8 pass attempts he averaged in his first eight games. Cassel made them count, totaling 469 yards and four scores, including 13 completions for 186 yards and two touchdowns to Bowe, and most importantly he wasn't picked off while completing 62.3 percent of his passes. Bowe caught four passes of 20 yards or greater, burning Champ Bailey and the overrated Denver Broncos secondary throughout the second half.
Here's the best part: You can trust both Cassel and Bowe in the coming weeks, too. They'll face the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and these same Broncos in Weeks 11-13, and those were the Nos. 28, 19 and 31 pass defenses entering Sunday's play. Even if Cassel returns to his traditional 25-passes-per-game level, there's enough there to make him a two-quarterback-league option, and Bowe is a definite start in any league format.
One play makes your day
I've watched replays of Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas' game-winning, 50-yard touchdown reception several times already, and I'm no less amazed by it in each successive viewing. It was the highlight of the week, but at the same time, let's all not forget that it was a fortuitous catch on a David Garrard Hail Mary toss at the buzzer that Houston Texans defensive back Glover Quin attempted to bat to the ground, but instead batted into Thomas' hands. Run that play 10 times and the other nine probably result in something much, much less.
What it did -- besides robbing owners of other Texans and Jaguars players those bonus overtime stats (bah, we say!) -- was turn a "good" fantasy day into an extraordinary one. Without it, Thomas catches seven of his eight targets for 79 yards, totaling eight fantasy points and falling short of the top 20 at his position. With it, he's a 21-point fantasy beast, second best among wide receivers.
That's not to knock any of Thomas' accomplishments, because even without that catch, he still dominated Mike Sims-Walker (4) in terms of targets and would've led the team in both catches and targets. But Thomas also did it against the game's bottom-ranked pass defense, one he won't face again until Week 17 -- after many fantasy leagues' championship games have concluded -- so don't be quick to assume he'll have similar outbursts in the coming month.
Just your friendly reminder …
Thursday football: In Week 11, it's the Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins, so don't forget to set your lineups for their players before the 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff. I bring it up primarily because of all the injuries suffered by Dolphins players this Sunday. Speaking of which, that actually serves an excellent lead-in to the …
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Chad Pennington (shoulder) and Chad Henne (knee): Ten years apart yet in the same month of November, Chads are making headlines in South Florida -- in 2000 it was in relation to the presidential election (dimpled chads!) -- as the Dolphins lost both their No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks to injuries on the same Sunday. Pennington, thrust into the starting lineup for the first time all season, was knocked from the game after only two plays with what the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported was his fourth career shoulder injury. Henne then left in the third quarter because of a knee injury, was spotted leaving the stadium on crutches and was sent for an evening MRI exam, per the Sun-Sentinel. The paper has since reported that both are "more than likely" out for the season, and that Henne said his kneecap was "pushed to the side." (Both injuries were products of hits by the Tennessee Titans' Jason Babin, and both hits were legal, for what it's worth.) Still, that forced the Dolphins to turn to No. 3 quarterback Tyler Thigpen in the fourth quarter -- after completing the third with nothing but Wildcat plays -- and it'll probably send them to the free-agent pile for position depth. Thigpen hasn't had nearly the practice reps that both Pennington and Henne had this season, but he might have to be the Week 11 starter, even if only because the Dolphins play on Thursday and don't have a lot of time to familiarize a new quarterback with their offense. If you own Brandon Marshall or Davone Bess, who combined for seven receptions on 13 targets, you can't possibly be happy about Thigpen's installation at quarterback. He looked almost entirely in tight end Anthony Fasano's direction after coming on in relief.
• Percy Harvin (ankle) and Bernard Berrian (groin): The Minnesota Vikings wide receivers were nicked up just as were the Dolphins quarterbacks, but at least the Vikings have the hope that postgame reports didn't have them as potentially out for the season. Berrian, according to 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, either tweaked his sore groin during pregame warm-ups or decided shortly before kickoff that he wasn't in condition to play, sitting out the contest. "He came with the intention that he was going to be able to play, or obviously, yeah, you would have another body that was up and ready to go," said coach Brad Childress. "Whether it was the conditions or he got tight, cold, tweaked it again -- I'm not exactly sure. He just said, 'I can't go.'" Harvin, meanwhile, aggravated the ankle injury he initially suffered in Week 8, limped to the locker room and didn't speak to reporters after the game. "Same spot," said Childress. The coach didn't provide further updates with either injury, and if either is absent in Week 11, either Sidney Rice (hip) will be summoned off the PUP list (most likely) or the team will have to lean more heavily on Greg Camarillo and/or Greg Lewis (less likely).
• Matt Hasselbeck (wrist): The Seattle Times reported after Sunday's game that Hasselbeck suffered a broken bone in his wrist, though coach Pete Carroll told the paper that the injury "looks to be manageable." Charlie Whitehurst, the team's Week 9 starter, made a brief appearance in relief, but Hasselbeck's return later in the contest could hint that the veteran might be able to play in Week 11 anyway. Whitehurst would get the call if not.
• Josh Cribbs (toes): The Cleveland Browns' multifaceted wide receiver dislocated four toes on his right foot during Sunday's game, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, apparently on a 37-yard reception during the second quarter. It's unclear whether the injury will cost him any time, but the Browns might be somewhat less likely to send him out there on special teams if he's anything less than 100 percent. Unfortunately, Cribbs hadn't been doing much in the receiving game, leaving his value limited only to leagues that reward players for return yards, so if he's out of the mix in that department he's useless across the board.
• C.J. Spiller (hamstring): He suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter and was unable to return, finishing the day with two carries for 14 yards. Outside of Week 1, the Buffalo Bills have yet to come close to featuring Spiller in their offense, and it's not going to help that Fred Jackson exploded for a 170-total-yard, two-total-touchdown day as the starter. Spiller isn't even a required handcuff at this point; his value is limited only to keeper leagues.
• Kerry Collins (ankle): He suffered an ankle injury on the final play of the second quarter, and limped off the field with trainers, only to be replaced by Vince Young after halftime. Young completed 9 of 18 pass attempts for 92 yards, one touchdown and one interception in relief, and considering the Titans nearly started him despite an ankle injury, he'll probably earn the start in Week 11. Young has the stronger arm of the two and therefore offers more fantasy potential to the newly acquired Randy Moss, who was invisible in his Titans debut, and Nate Washington, so expect better from their pass attack next week.
• Mike Nugent (knee): He had to be carried off the field after injuring his right knee on an onside kick late in the fourth quarter Sunday, and the Cincinnati Bengals' website reported afterward that the injury is "severe." The Bengals will need to sign a kicker during the week, but keep in mind the Nugent ranked only 14th in fantasy points at his position entering Sunday's play. There isn't a compelling reason to expect much better from his replacement.
Week 10 observations
• Peyton Hillis, the lead story from last week's Instant Replay, continued to demonstrate he's an every-week starter, turning in a top-10 performance (entering "Sunday Night Football") despite a tough-on-paper matchup against the New York Jets. As noted a week ago, he now enters a more favorable portion of his schedule: @JAC, CAR, @MIA, @BUF, @CIN. Entering the week, those defenses ranked 10th, 11th, 23rd, fourth and 12th in terms of most fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs. About the only criticism we'd have for him is that he did lose his fourth fumble of the season on Sunday.
• As hinted during the past week, the Jets did split up the rushing chores almost evenly between hot-starting LaDainian Tomlinson and the re-emerging Shonn Greene: Greene led in carries (20-18), but Tomlinson had more touches (24-23). But while that offers encouragement to Greene's owners, most of whom selected him in the first three rounds of drafts, the results were actually more of a knock on Tomlinson's future potential than a plus for Greene's. Tomlinson has averaged 3.7 yards per carry or fewer in each of his past four games, lacking the burst he appeared to have in his first five, but Greene's 3.6 YPC average this week -- in what was his second game of 20-plus carries all year -- hardly makes him look like a far stronger choice. You can expect a similar breakdown down the stretch, but Greene needs to do more before earning a stock boost to near his preseason levels.
• I'm suddenly worried about the health of Jahvid Best's toe, because a 17-carry, 35-yard performance against the league-worst Bills run defense simply won't cut it. It's his fifth consecutive game in which he has failed to exceed a 4.0 YPC average, and his number in that category has declined in each of his three games since the Week 7 bye. That Kevin Smith is similarly nicked up should help assure Best double-digit touches looking forward -- barring some sort of significant setback -- but I'm seriously wondering whether he's a "safe" No. 2 running back at this point.
• Another No. 2 fantasy running back -- per my most recent rankings, at least -- I'm concerned about: Cedric Benson, who turned in a season-worst two-fantasy-point performance against the 29th-ranked Indianapolis Colts run defense. Like Best, Benson's YPC average has declined every week since his bye (Week 6), and also like Best, Benson probably is getting double-digit touches on a weekly basis only because the Bengals don't seem to trust his backup (Bernard Scott) in an expanded role. Scott did receive a few more carries this week than usual, though, which at least hints that the Bengals are growing as frustrated with Benson's performance as his fantasy owners. You (frustrated) Benson owners might want to think about locking up Scott (again).
• Sticking with the Bengals, don't totally dismiss Jermaine Gresham's nine-catch, 85-yard, one-touchdown performance, even if it's something you shouldn't anticipate every week. Here's why: In Week 11 he faces the Buffalo Bills, who have allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends this season (entering Sunday's play).
• Returning to the Chiefs' running backs topic, while neither Jamaal Charles nor Thomas Jones received the number of touches you'd like to see, what with their team hopelessly trailing all day, it's worth pointing out that Charles still dominated in the receiving game even late in the contest. He hauled in five passes for 80 yards and a score and was targeted nine times, thanks to his ability to stick in there on passing downs. The Chiefs' schedule might be favorable for their pass attack, but it's also excellent for Charles, and it's his ability to hang in the game regardless of score that makes him a safe, reliable weekly play in all formats.