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It has been a roller-coaster ride for those who quickly and eagerly signed the backup Patriots quarterback after Brady got hurt in Week 1, but the ride has definitely been headed upward, with back-to-back 30-plus-point fantasy efforts the past two weeks. After stunning the Jets for 400 passing yards, 62 rushing yards, three touchdowns and 36 fantasy points in Week 11 while playing catch-up, Cassel nearly topped it with 415 passing yards, four touchdowns (one rushing) and 33 points Sunday, this time in a game that New England was leading much of the day. Only fewer rushing yards and an interception prevented Cassel from matching his previous outing for fantasy points.
Still, who can complain? Entering Week 12, only one quarterback had managed to accrue more than 30 fantasy points in a game all season. That was Brett Favre with his six-touchdown game against Arizona in Week 4 (33 points). That was it! We should note Trent Edwards reached 33 points Sunday as well. Cassel has managed to do this twice in seven days, and yet he was so trusted from Week 11 that 13 quarterbacks were activated in more leagues. So, how do we feel about Cassel now?
With his confidence zooming, and the Patriots removing the shackles and letting him throw 94 times in two weeks, Cassel should continue to be one of the wiser pickups in fantasy. He remains unowned in nearly a quarter of ESPN leagues. It's safe to say the player who was known merely as a backup for years, and hadn't started a game since high school, is making a name for himself. Another thing to consider, if your team is out of playoff contention and seeking a keeper, is that it's becoming quite likely Cassel finds a new home in 2009. After all, Tom Brady isn't going to become a backup anytime soon.
Cassel threw for only 131 yards and one touchdown in the first meeting with the Dolphins, at home in Week 3, but after a slow first quarter Sunday, he thrived. He began the touchdown brigade with an 8-yard scamper to start the second quarter, then later in the stanza found Randy Moss for a 25-yard score. Cassel would find Moss for scoring passes in the third and fourth quarters as well. Fantasy owners were wondering when Moss would become a popular target again; the eight catches, 125 yards and three touchdowns were all season highs for Moss. A season ago, with Brady throwing, Moss routinely had big games. Now Cassel is looking much like Brady, although two weeks is a small sample size.
Like many trends in fantasy, things can change quickly. If Cassel is going to make it three consecutive 400-yard games, something that has never been done, he'll need to pilfer the strong Steelers defense, which allows an NFL-low 168 passing yards per contest. OK, so Cassel will have a tough time in Week 13. Regardless, his keeper status has been raised, and for the final month of the season, with the Seahawks, Raiders, Cardinals and Bills pending, he looks like a clear top-10 signal-caller, and someone to trust no matter what happens against Pittsburgh. Cassel joined a select group of four others to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games. I wouldn't put him on a path of Dan Fouts, Dan Marino or Phil Simms yet, but he's also not Billy Volek.
Meanwhile, even with poor play the past few weeks and a nasty matchup in Baltimore, Donovan McNabb owners felt an odd sense of confidence, making him active in 52.9 percent of leagues, the eighth-highest total for a quarterback. McNabb was terrible, turning the ball over three times in the first half, and completing only eight passes for 59 yards. Still, who could believe conservative coach Andy Reid would actually bench him in a 10-7 game at halftime? Second-year man Kevin Kolb didn't do any better. For the day, Eagles quarterbacks posted minus-five points, with McNabb minus-four of that, and Ravens defenders had more return yards on interceptions than the Eagles had passing yards. Reid named McNabb his starter for Thursday, and to be frank, he's not such a bad fantasy start against a West Coast team flying east in a short week. Just be prepared for turnovers, and possibly a short hook again. McNabb is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues; Kolb is not. I see no need -- yet -- for this to change. And in 2009, I'd still draft the Detroit Lions' McNabb ahead of Philly's Kolb.
At wide receiver, there was Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Harry Douglas topping 20 fantasy points, and that's it. Owens' fantasy owners had to be wondering why it took so long for Owens to play like this, as he hauled in a 75-yard touchdown from Tony Romo en route to a 213-yard day, the second best of his career. Owens was active in 90.8 percent of ESPN leagues, so his owners stuck with him. Anyone own Harry Douglas? The Falcons rookie had caught one pass in the past six weeks, was owned in 0.4 percent of leagues and active in a Blutarski-like 0.0. He'll likely be a popular free-agent add this week, as offensive rookies continue to disprove trends from previous seasons and remain strong into the final weeks.
|This Week In Fantasy Football History|
By Neil Tardy
Thanksgiving 1998: Jerry Jones and the several hundred thousand fantasy football owners who passed on Randy Moss had their appetites spoiled by the Minnesota rookie's electrifying display against Jones' Cowboys on national TV. Moss -- "The Freak," as he was known then -- had only three receptions, but they went for 51-, 56- and 56-yard scores. He finished '98 with 17 touchdowns, including nine over the final five weeks.
Meanwhile, Lions kicker Jason Hanson isn't rostered in many fantasy leagues, but of course that's on the Lions, who've been awful for much of the 21st century (and a good chunk of the last one). But when kicking before a national audience each Thanksgiving, Hanson has actually been pretty productive. For his 266-game career, which began in 1992, Hanson has 1,722 points and an average of 6.47 points per game. However, in 16 previous Thanksgiving outings, Hanson is averaging 8.5 points. And six times since 1995 he has put up 12 points or more, including a 14-point effort versus the Packers in '07. I can't promise Hanson will be a great play this week against the Titans, but it never hurts to have someone on your fantasy team to watch while you're waiting for the turkey to get done.
How can you not love Michael Turner? When I considered him a second-round pick back in August, I hoped for 1,300 yards and 10 scores. He already is at 13 touchdowns, although 12 of 'em have come at home. The amazing Clinton Portis ran for 143 yards on 29 carries. The prior two games he totaled 28 carries. Apparently he's this season's Plaxico Burress, not needing to practice. Adrian Peterson ran for 80 yards despite being benched for the Vikings' first two series. His owners would like to see the latter not happen again so he could get more yards. Only three runners in history have more yards in their first 25 games than Peterson (Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, Edgerrin James). Don't get too excited about JaMarcus Russell completing 10 of 11 passes, even with the Chiefs coming up in Week 13. Apparently Denver's defense is no better. By the way, Ashley Lelie was the lone Raiders wide receiver to catch a pass. Odd line for Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran three times for 4 yards but had a Reggie Bush-like receiving day. He remains a strong No. 2 fantasy back. Is it me, or is Fred Taylor basically Edgerrin James now, but with more carries? Peyton Hillis got 17 carries, Tatum Bell six and P.J. Pope none. We have ourselves a starting running back here. You want to drop LenDale White, I know you do. He ran the ball once on Sunday. But the Lions are up next. Watch White score twice in that game. That's five consecutive weeks with 19 or more fantasy points for Tyler Thigpen, by the way. And the schedule remains so enticing for more. Let's talk ESPN Fantasy Hall of Famer, shall we? I give up on the Rams, and will assume whichever defense gets to play them is a lock. I think Brady Quinn starts Week 13. Derek Anderson was just as awful. It's not like Philly's situation at all. Tim Hightower scored twice, so welcome back to him, but the yards weren't there. I'm thinking Hightower does better in Philly on Thursday. Quietly, Joe Flacco has a touchdown pass in six consecutive games. Does Matt Ryan? Nope. Guess Isaac Bruce isn't done after all. Don't you love when older wide receivers refuse to make our decisions easy? We don't often discuss the work of defenses in this column, but I can't remember a week with so many great -- and awful -- fantasy performances on the same day. The Buccaneers, Bears and Ravens all reached 20 fantasy points, but each was in the top seven for being activated. The Chiefs went minus-10, and five other defenses cost owners four or more points.
Any Jets running back.
Pick one. While Thomas Jones, pictured to the right, continues to provide No. 1 fantasy running back numbers -- 15 or more fantasy points four straight weeks, and six of seven -- there was Leon Washington running for 82 yards and a pair of scores. The fact this was all done at Tennessee is even more telling. Trust your Jets running backs. Both of them.
Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos
Cutler entered the week as the No. 3 player in fantasy, and only two quarterbacks were started in more ESPN leagues this week. Surely he'd dominate the lowly Raiders in a home tilt, right? Instead, 204 yards and nary a touchdown later, Cutler owners might be realizing Cutler has topped 14 fantasy points just once since Week 2.
Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers: After an odd two weeks in which he averaged 87 passing yards but the Panthers ran wild and won both games, Delhomme bounced back with 295 passing yards and two scores, one on the ground, in Atlanta. Of course, Carolina allowed 45 points and lost. Not your problem in fantasy, though.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: Sure, Justin Fargas was the one who got 24 carries (for 107 yards), but the rookie scored a pair of second-half touchdowns and also caught two passes. McFadden might not get his 20 carries anytime soon, but he's a terrific keeper.
Warrick Dunn, RB, Buccaneers: Not that anyone was concerned about Dunn running well against the Lions, but 127 total yards and a touchdown later, only three running backs had more fantasy points. Meanwhile, Carnell Williams averaged 1.7 yards on 16 carries in relief.
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: He can't do well with Sage Rosenfels slingin' it, right? Ten catches and 116 yards later, Johnson helped solidify his starting status, even if it's more as a No. 2 fantasy wide receiver.
Brady Quinn, QB, Browns: So much for that terrific first start. Coach Romeo Crennel said the quarterback's broken right index finger was only part of the reason for Quinn's benching, and Derek Anderson being summoned. That's not what Quinn owners, who were expecting a big game against the defensively challenged Texans, expected. Quinn posted a minus-one fantasy-point day.
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles: He looked terrible yet again, justifying my ranking of No. 21 for him for the week. Worse yet, he made his owners wonder if he's worth using at all. With the Philly season slipping away, thank Westbrook for his terrific 2007 season and consider him a flex option.
Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens: In Week 10, he strafed the Texans for 112 rushing yards and two scores (23 fantasy points). Since then he has 16 carries for 26 yards. The Eagles couldn't stop Le'Ron McClain, but McGahee managed 8 yards on seven rushes. Who can predict this backfield?
Bernard Berrian, WR, Vikings: Consider this the final nail in his fantasy-value coffin. The wide receiver who was Gus Frerotte's main target when he scored in Weeks 5 through 9 managed one reception against the Jaguars, a team that had allowed the second-most passing touchdowns. Berrian has six receptions in four weeks.
The Giants had some game-time decisions to make, with Brandon Jacobs sitting out, and Plaxico Burress starting. On Sunday morning it was believed Jacobs would start. It didn't take long for Burress to join Jacobs as a cheerleader, though. Jacobs' balky knee will make him much-discussed leading to Week 13, and Burress' hamstring could easily keep him out a week or more. The Giants are 10-1, after all.
Not only is the Eagles' Brian Westbrook notably hurting, but backup Correll Buckhalter sprained a knee ligament and could be out awhile. The Eagles actually didn't have any other running backs active, but expect Lorenzo Booker to dress Thursday, and the Eagles might seek another option, too.
Marc Bulger left the Rams' loss with a concussion and didn't return. I'm not sure it matters who quarterbacks for the Rams, who have scored just one touchdown in the past three weeks. The Texans' Ahman Green will have an MRI on his left knee Monday, and could miss a few weeks. Ryan Moats would pick up carries while backing up Steve Slaton. The Bears lost tight end Desmond Clark because of a knee injury. Greg Olsen, who did not catch a pass Sunday, stands to benefit. Early reports are that Greg Camarillo is done for the season because of a knee injury. Bummer. The Lions' ray of hope, Kevin Smith, has a shoulder injury. No word on if he will play Thursday. Rudi Johnson owners -- both of them -- anxiously await.
The Thanksgiving day schedule features three games on Thursday, and some of fantasy's better performers will be playing, so get lineups in early. Look for the Titans to get back to running the ball against the Lions, a team that doesn't stop the run. Tony Romo and Terrell Owens will be very popular against Seattle and former Cowboys running back Julius Jones. In the night game, Eagles quarterbacks will try to keep up with Kurt Warner & Co.
The Giants travel to Washington for the first of three consecutive NFC East battles. These teams met in Week 1, with Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress combining for 249 yards. Will it be Derrick Ward and Domenik Hixon instead? Note that Hixon has been solid when given a chance. Clinton Portis ran for 84 yards the first meeting, his second-worst fantasy game of the season, but can you ever sit this guy?
Similarly, the Bucs and Saints met in Week 1, and will meet again in Week 13. Drew Brees and Reggie Bush were the stars that game, with Bush totaling 163 yards, 112 on receptions. His status for this week because of a bad knee will be tracked. Warrick Dunn ran nine times for 54 yards against the Saints, with now-defunct Earnest Graham getting 91 yards on 10 carries. If Dunn gets Graham's carries, too, he should get to 100 yards.
The Chiefs haven't won on the road, and the Raiders have only one home win. These teams met in Week 2, with Darren McFadden running for 164 yards and a touchdown, and backup Michael Bush adding 90 yards and a score. Justin Fargas did not play. The Chiefs still can't stop the run. Look for Larry Johnson to get more than seven carries, and for Fargas and McFadden to run well.
Craving offense? You'd think it'd be a defensive showcase, but the last time the Bears and Vikings met, 89 points were scored. Adrian Peterson ran for 121 yards and two scores, while Chicago's Kyle Orton had 17 fantasy points that day, with two touchdowns. Yet the Bears' top fantasy performer that Week 7 was the defense, with 19 points. Expect a lower-scoring game this time.