MVP Candidates, Playoff Picture, Starts & Sits, Eliminator Picks, and more…

While you were watching the amazing game between the Eagles and Giants, I was stuck in the DC market with the Redskins game on Fox, so naturally, I watched the entirety of the Jaguars/Colts game on CBS. After seeing Austin Collie suffer his 3rd concussion in 7 weeks, my first thought was “God damn it, Reggie Ray!” If you’ve never been drunk enough to sit through “Not Another Teen Movie” on Comedy Central at 2:00 in the morning, you frankly aren’t missing much. It’s essentially a less comical spin-off of the “Scary Movie” franchise, but instead of making fun of horror movies, it’s a parody of cheesy films about high school. I only bring it up because there’s a character in the movie named Reggie Ray whose sole purpose in the film is to suffer concussions. Here’s a brief clip from the film. I’ll warn you: the audio isn’t synched properly, there’s some profanity, and there may or may not be some exposed breasts. 

My second thought was that this guy’s career is effectively finished. Troy Aikman and Steve Young had about as many concussions as they had touchdown passes in their hall of fame caliber careers, but when it comes to injury risks, there’s a fine line between throwing the ball and having it thrown to you. Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me; Knock me out of a game three times with head injuries in a span of two months, and I’ll be hesitant to get hung out to dry on any ball ever again. Austin Collie will be back, and maybe even yet this season, but will he ever be as good as he was for the first half of the year? Unless he’s the bravest son of a bitch to ever lace up a pair of cleats, he’s bound to be a little gun shy for the rest of his career, is he not? The shame of the matter is that his multiple injuries have nothing to do with the “headhunter” hits that the league has been cracking down on. There’s nothing that the league can do to prevent these fluke injuries aside from reverting to the 30s, or whenever the hell it was that forward passes were illegal. It’s good to see they’re penalizing and fining the cheap shots, but don’t be surprised if one of these inadvertent knees to the helmet results in a nationally televised death on the field within the next year or two.

MVP Candidates

I need to update the list of MVP candidates that I compiled in my Week 12 preview. Back then, I was able to come up with a dozen guys who could conceivably win the MVP if all the right pieces fell into place. Five weeks later, it might be a stretch to consider more than 2 guys for the award, but I think the following 8 guys still have at least a remote possibility of winning it. The major criterion that I use is that he must be the most valuable player to his playoff team. At season’s end, this one requirement will narrow down the maximum possible number of MVP candidates to 12, and usually single-handedly ends up narrowing it down to 9 or fewer candidates. Is there one player from a team like the Bears, Jaguars, Jets, Giants, or (insert NFC West winner) that ten voters would unanimously agree the team could not win without? I highly doubt it. If you can’t decide whether Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher is the most important player in Chicago, how can you consider either of them for most valuable player in the league?

Once it’s down to a list of less than a dozen possible candidates, the way to determine the rightful winner is by deciding which team would be most screwed if you replace the MVP candidate with a below average player at his position and put that team on a neutral field against an above average defense. Spoiler alert: all the candidates are QBs, so for argument’s sake, let’s say the QB in consideration is replaced by Carson Palmer and the team is placed on a neutral field against the Miami Dolphins. Whose team suffers the most? Using that logic, I’ve narrowed it down to these 8 guys:

”Game Managers” who won’t win the award, but whose teams would be sub .500 without them

#8. Joe Flacco (280/451, 3395 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT)

When the most recent player news update puts the following spin on him, he’s not exactly the best player in the league, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s had a solid season: “At this point we know what Flacco is; a steady performer who fares much better when he isn’t forced to be the focal point of the offense.”

#7. Matt Cassel (227/383, 2687 yards, 24 TD, 5 INT)

Two years ago, I was furious that we gave this guy a $60+ million contract, and I still wasn’t much of a fan of his until just recently, but Cassel has quietly put together a solid season. The Chiefs had 67 yards of total offense without him a week ago. This past Sunday, 11 days after an appendectomy, he leads them to a 14 point road victory against a team fighting for a playoff spot. It may be a homer pick, but they’re clearly a worse team without him in the game, and he has the 2nd best TD/INT ratio in the NFL.

#6. Matt Ryan (320/510, 3321 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT)

He’s having the type of year I think most of us expected him to have last year, and he’s leading one of the 2 best teams in the league, but I think he’s a fairly average quarterback. His overall stats and consistency are comparable to Josh Freeman’s, which is far from a negative statement, but it’s also far from MVP worthy. If the Falcons weren’t 12-2, he wouldn’t even be in the consideration.

Guys with stats that demonstrate their team’s lack of a rushing attack

#5. Drew Brees (391/571, 4122 yards, 31 TD, 19 INT)

The Saints are nothing without him, but he’s thrown way too many interceptions.

#4. Philip Rivers (309/464, 4141 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT)

I still don’t think he deserves it at all, but if he plays phenomenally in their final 2 games and they get a little help from Kansas City to sneak into the playoffs, something needs to be said for the guy who single-handedly kept them in the playoff hunt while averaging nearly 9 yards per pass attempt. You put Carson Palmer on that team with Malcom Floyd and Legadu Naanee and they’d be 3-11 at best.

#3. Peyton Manning (407/608, 4257 yards, 28 TD, 15 INT)

I saw a graphic during the first half of the Colts/Jaguars game that said Peyton Manning had passed his previous career high in passing attempts for the season. That’s jaw dropping stuff. He’s played in every single game since the start of the 1998 season. He’s thrown for 4000+ yards in 11 of the past 12 seasons. He’s had one of the best regular season careers for a QB in NFL history…and less than 85% of the way through this season, he’s already surpassed his career high in passing attempts. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of Kobe Bryant setting a new career high in field goal attempts during the 69th game of their 82 game season. You expect me to believe that Carson Palmer could effectively replace Peyton Manning in a season where he’s busting his ass like never before? He’s going to finish the season with his lowest passer rating in almost a decade, but if he can carry this broken and battered team into the playoffs again, it might be the most impressive season of his career.

Legitimate Candidates

#2. Michael Vick (208/329, 2755 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT ; 613 rush yards, 8 TD)

Believe me, I know the arguments against him, because before Week 12 I was completely opposed to the idea of him winning the MVP. But I’ve been converted. It’s absurd that every pro-Vick argument has to begin with “If you can ignore his off-the-field issues,” but if we can ignore that Kobe raped that girl in Colorado (2 Kobe references in 1 NFL blog post?), I think we can begin to forgive Vick too. I understand that he’s at the top of your 10 Most Wanted list if you’re involved with PETA or are in any way more obsessed with dogs than you are with the NFL, but he’s made life changes, and from an on-the-field standpoint, it’s impossible to deny that he’s one of the two most valuable players in the league. Before Week 12, I made a list of ifs that Vick had to fulfill throughout the rest of the season in order to even be considered for the award. So long as he doesn’t get injured or completely shit the bed against the Vikings and/or Cowboys, he will have passed all those tests with flying colors. He’ll have only played for 74% of Philadelphia’s season if he finishes it out uninjured, but his 74% has been better than the vast majority of others’ 100%. There’s no chance in hell the Eagles are 10-4 without him.

#1. Tom Brady (299/449, 3561 yards, 31 TD, 4 INT)

As I said 4 weeks ago: “The ideal description of an MVP: Best player on the best team in the league; a team that would probably be out of the playoff picture without him.” Since then, he’s beaten solid pass defenses like the Jets, Bears, and Packers by merely averaging nearly 40 points per game without throwing a single interception. He’s been damn near perfect this season and remains the best candidate for league MVP unless something crazy happens.

Playoff Picture

As I promised at the end of last week’s post, here are the playoff scenarios with 2 weeks to go. Half of the league is very simple, and a good portion of the rest of the league controls its own destiny to make the playoffs, but it’s the 6 teams who basically need to win out and get some help that make things interesting.

Clinched a playoff spot (4):
Atlanta
Chicago
New England
Pittsburgh

Clinches a playoff spot by winning 1 of final 2 games (4):
Philadelphia
New Orleans
Baltimore
New York Jets

Clinches a playoff spot by winning both remaining games (6):
New York Giants
St. Louis
Seattle
Green Bay
Kansas City
Indianapolis

Potential Spoilers (6):
Jacksonville – Win AFC South if they win one game and Indianapolis loses both remaining games OR win both games and Indianapolis loses one game. Also could earn wild card berth with 2 wins, 1 loss by Chargers, and 2 losses by either Baltimore or New York Jets.
San Diego – Win AFC West if they win one game and Kansas City loses both remaining games OR win both games and Kansas City loses one game. Also could earn wild card berth with 2 wins and 2 losses by Baltimore.
Oakland – Must win remaining games AND have Kansas City lose remaining games AND San Diego lose a game.
Tennessee – Must win remaining games AND have Jacksonville lose remaining games AND Indianapolis lose remaining games.
San Francisco – Must win remaining games AND have St. Louis beat Seattle OR Seattle lose to Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay – Must win remaining games AND have New Orleans lose to Atlanta OR New York Giants lose remaining games AND Green Bay lose to Chicago.

Better luck next year (12):
Washington
Dallas
Minnesota
Detroit
Carolina
Arizona
Miami
Buffalo
Cleveland
Cincinnati
Houston
Denver

A Rock and a Hard Place

Here’s a new segment before I wrap up with my eliminator and upset picks. I’ll go through each game on the schedule for Week 16 and suggest one player that’s usually a starter but you maybe consider benching if you have a plethora of options and one player you maybe consider playing if you’re in a bind.

Carolina @ Pittsburgh

Maybe Bench: Jonathan Stewart. The Steelers have the #1 Rush D in the NFL, and no other team is even close to them. I don’t care if it’s Chris Johnson or Arian Foster, you at least consider benching any running back against the Steelers. If you have 2 other starting running backs on your roster, you probably shouldn’t play Stewart.
Maybe Play: Emmanuel Sanders. 13 targets this past week against the Jets? He even had Revis on him for some of those plays. He’s quietly become a Davone Bess type of slot receiver for the Steelers, and considering he used to be a kick returner, you know he’s got the speed to score if he gets the ball in his hands. In 3 of the 4 weeks before they shut down John Skelton, Carolina had been allowing #3 WR options like Houshmanzadeh, Robiskie, and Morrah to put up some of their best numbers of the season, so I like Sanders. For what it’s worth, each of the past 2 weeks, I’ve gone all-in on a wide receiver on Thursday night: Pierre Garcon (6 receptions for 93 yards and 2 TDs) and Vincent Jackson (5 receptions for 112 yards and 3 TDs); and this is where I’m planting my flag this Thursday.

Dallas @ Arizona

Maybe Bench: All Cardinal running back options. You’re probably pissed off at all of them after horrific games this past week against an awful Panthers D, but the Cowboys will stack the box and make Skelton beat them, so I don’t know how they do any better this weekend.
Maybe Play: Tashard Choice. He received slightly more carries and targets than Felix Jones this past weekend, and I think the Cowboys will continue to phase Felix out of the picture in order to make sure he doesn’t suffer some sort of catastrophic injury. And for the record, you want the #1 RB option vs. Arizona.

New England @ Buffalo

Maybe Bench: Deion Branch. You can’t bench Brady or Welker because they’re Brady and Welker, but if you have a flex option comparable to Branch, I would go with him, because against an awful Bills rush D, it should be a Law Firm and Woodhead kind of day.
Maybe Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Matt Flynn reminded us that New England’s pass D isn’t all that great, and Fitzpatrick played reasonably well against them back in Week 3.

New York Jets @ Chicago

Maybe Bench: Ladanian Tomlinson. Hasn’t scored a TD since week 6, and Chicago has the 2nd best rush D in the league.
Maybe Play: Greg Olsen. The Jets have allowed a TD to opposing TE in 4 of their past 7 games. It’s not overwhelmingly promising, but I frankly wouldn’t be playing anyone on either of these teams aside from their D/ST if I can help it.

Baltimore @ Cleveland

Maybe Bench: Joe Flacco. He isn’t as good on the road as he is at home, and the Browns have really been shutting down opposing quarterbacks for the past month.
Maybe Play: Ben Watson. He was the most targeted receiver in McCoy’s return, and opposing tight ends have been having their way with Baltimore for the past month.

Tennessee @ Kansas City

Maybe Bench: Thomas Jones. Trust me. He peaked in weeks 2-7 and hasn’t done much of anything since, aside from a few vulture TDs. He still gets tons of touches for unknown reasons, but he’s hardly a viable fantasy option against anything resembling an average rush D.
Maybe Play: Kenny Britt. Collins targeted him 9 times last week and didn’t even look anyone else’s way more than 4 times. He’s got the opportunities and athleticism to make a significant impact in this game.

San Francisco @ St. Louis

Maybe Bench: Steven Jackson. When they played in Week 10, Jackson had one of the best games for a running back against the 49ers this season. However, they haven’t allowed an individual to rush for 100 yards against them yet this season. You’d have to have a few really good options in order to even consider benching him, but he’s maybe the 13th best RB best option this week.
Maybe Play: Danny Amendola. The 49ers are pretty weak against the pass, and Amendola has the most targets and receptions of anyone on the Rams roster by a significant margin.

Detroit @ Miami

Maybe Bench: Brandon Pettigrew. Aside from the major gaffe against Ben Watson and Jake Delhomme, the Dolphins have been fairly solid against TE all season, and Pettigrew’s only received 3 targets in each of the past 2 games.
Maybe Play: Detroit’s D/ST. Chad Henne isn’t very good, and Miami hasn’t been running the ball anywhere near as well as they should.

Washington @ Jacksonville

Maybe Bench: ??? I can’t in good faith recommend benching any regular fantasy starts in this game, since both defenses are awful.
Maybe Play: David Garrard. The Redskins secondary was actually doing relatively well for the past month until Kitna went for 300 yards and 2 TDs against them. Something isn’t quite right with MJD, so the Jaguars should put their playoff hopes on Garrard’s arm on a regular basis against Washington.

Indianapolis @ Oakland

Maybe Bench: Zach Miller. He’s shown signs of life in the past two weeks, but really hasn’t done much of anything since Week 7. I don’t know why owners are constantly tempted to start him.
Maybe Play: Donald Brown. They run the ball less than most teams in the NFL, but he ran it well last week against the Jaguars, and the Raiders rush defense is far from the best.

Houston @ Denver

Maybe Bench: Knowshon Moreno. No guarantees he even plays anyway, but the Texans’ defense has been pretty respectable against the rush this season.
Maybe Play: Tim Tebow. You’d have to be pretty desperate, but playing any starting QB against the Houston Texans is a pretty smart desperation move.

San Diego @ Cincinnati

Maybe Bench: Everyone in Cincinnati’s pass game. Hopefully you’re not dumb enough to start Palmer anyway, but you can’t trust any Bengals wide receivers to do anything this week. The Chargers are allowing fewer than 1 passing TD per game, and have held 8 of their 15 opponents under 200 passing yards. I guarantee there is much better potential on your waiver wire.
Maybe Play: Cedric Benson. I imagine most experts will be down on Benson this week and with good reason. Yes, the Chargers rush defense is solid, but Benson had relatively good games at home against the Steelers and Ravens. He is evidently one of those rare running backs with interesting home/road splits. In 7 games on the road, Benson has rushed for 338 yards (48 per game) and 2 TDs. In 7 games at home, Benson has rushed for 668 yards (95 per game) and 5 TDs. Since the Bengals are playing at home, he might be worth a flex start, or even a #2 RB if you’re hurting.

New York Giants @ Green Bay

Maybe Bench: Eli Manning. Green Bay has been relatively shutting down opposing quarterbacks for 2 months now, and in what is bound to be a frigid game, I imagine the Giants will rely rather heavily on Brahmad Bracobs to carry the load. I just don’t see a whole lot of upside with Eli this week.
Maybe Play: Donald Driver. The Giants have a good pass D, but the yardage that they allow primarily goes to opposing wide receivers. If Rodgers is back, I think Jennings should be a safe play, and Driver is a sneaky one.

Seattle @ Tampa Bay

Maybe Bench: Kellen Winslow. For all their faults, the Seahawks are in the top third of the league in defending opposing tight ends…and it’s not as if Kellen Winslow has been a must-start this season anyway.
Maybe Play: Marshawn Lynch. I think he’s a decent #2 RB option this week against a Bucs rush defense that has allowed at least 88 rushing yards in all but 1 game this season, and that has allowed 180+ rushing yards in back to back weeks against teams in the bottom third of the league at rushing. I think you want the guy getting the bulk of the carries against that front four.

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

Maybe Bench: Both defenses. This seems like another high scoring game, especially for the Eagles. Each defense probably ends up getting negative points.
Maybe Play: Visanthe Shiancoe. Philly has allowed opposing tight ends to haul in 10 TDs this season. He’s been worthless for the majority of the season, but he might do something on Sunday night.

New Orleans @ Atlanta

Maybe Bench: Any and all Saints running backs. I don’t trust any of them to actually get a majority of the carries, and the Falcons rush D is slightly above average anyway.
Maybe Play: Jimmy Graham. With the running backs likely to have a rough day and the Falcons secondary about as pass friendly as Steve Nash, virtually every Saints receiving option is worth consideration, including the tight end that made two touchdown grabs this past weekend.

Eliminator Suggestions

I went 3-1 for what feels like the 7th consecutive week, and I’m now 46-14 for the season. If you’ve been basing your eliminator life on my picks, there’s a remote possibility you’re still alive. If you’ve been making parlay bets based on my picks, I almost certainly owe you a lot of money. Having just broken down the playoff scenarios and determined some starts and sits for each game on the NFL slate, I think I’m pretty well prepared and long overdue for a 4-0 week.

#4. Jacksonville over Washington

Don’t be fooled by Rex Grossman’s performance last week; that was the first time Washington scored more than 20 points since that fateful Monday night that Vick destroyed them. Garrard and Jones-Drew against the Redskins’ last place defense should be more than enough to keep Jacksonville in the playoff picture. Jaguars 31-17.

#3.Philadelphia over Minnesota

Philadelphia fans are getting cockier than Boston/New England fans were from 2002-2008 and I would love nothing more than to see them lose this game, but there’s simply no chance the Vikings win a game in Philly without any real QB. They just don’t have the pieces necessary to outscore Michael Vick. Eagles 41-24.

#2. San Diego over Cincinnati

If the Chiefs win at 1:00, the Chargers will desperately need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Chiefs lose at 1:00, the Chargers will be playing their asses to try to take over first place in the AFC West with one game left to play. Either way, the urgency on the Chargers sideline will astronomically outweigh the Bengals’ desire to win a game for a coach that won’t be back next season. Chargers 35-14.

#1. Pittsburgh over Carolina

For the 2nd straight week, I’ve got the Thursday night game pegged as the most predictably lopsided game of the week. The Steelers move one step closer to locking up a first round bye with a victory, and the Panthers just won the only game left on their schedule that they had any chance of winning (unless Atlanta beats New Orleans and decides to rest their entire team because they’ll have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and Carolina somehow wins that game 3-0.) On top of what the teams have to play for, Carolina can’t throw the ball and Pittsburgh doesn’t let anyone run the ball. The only question is whether or not the Steelers will cover the 13.5 point spread. Steelers 38-13.

The Commish’s NFL Upset Special

Cleveland +3.5 over Baltimore

So what if it doesn’t meet my 4 point underdog standard? It’s still a significant upset at this point in the season. I like Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis, and the Browns defense to keep Ray Rice from getting into any sort of fantasy playoff rhythm. It should be a tight, low-scoring game, and for whatever reason, I think Colt McCoy avoids committing the costly turnover. Browns 17-14.

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