I must start by apologizing for not getting an article out last week. I came down with a bug and was out of commission for several days. With the fantasy season dwindling down, this may be one of the most important weeks of the season for many. Depending on your format, many leagues are starting playoffs this week. For others, this may be your last regular season matchup and therefore your last chance to secure a spot for the postseason. I personally have four leagues that start playoffs this week. From now on, every matchup is a must-win. Here’s my take on one player you may want to set aside for now.
Week 14 Weakling
For a while now, I’ve been tempted to put my chips on a Cleveland defense that has had me a bit baffled up to this point. My logic in not doing so was that I didn’t think that they had actually seen a good QB yet, which I reckoned was the reason for their high defensive ranking against the pass. I’ve changed my mind. I still think they’re not nearly as good as they are ranked, but the reason is different. It’s not that they haven’t faced any decent QBs that puts them at No. 1 in the NFL versus the pass; it’s that they are horrible at stopping the run, and their offense stinks. Here’s a hypothetical question for you; if you were an NFL coach and the opposing team was giving up almost five yards per rushing play and making no effective adjustments to stop it, what would you do? Me, I’d keep running the ball, especially if I had the lead, which apparently is what every opposing coach has decided to do as well this year. Great minds think alike.
Cleveland currently ranks 31st in the NFL against the run, which is almost completely opposite of their rank against the pass. Opposing running backs are racking up yards to the tune of 4.4 yards per carry. What’s interesting here is the number of carries that opposing teams have against them. They are ranked 31st in the NFL for number of attempts per game (or second, depending on how you look at it). Only the Indianapolis Colts face more rushing attempts per game than the Cleveland Browns. What do both of these teams have in common? Well, first of all they’re not very good at stopping running backs. The other thing they have in common is that they are usually behind on the scoreboard. When you get a big lead, you run the ball. This keeps the clock going and eats up time of possession. The more time that ticks away between plays, the less likely that something bad will happen (i.e. a turnover). This has been the case in Cleveland all season long.
There are a couple of things that have me a little skeptical about this prediction. One is that Pittsburgh really isn’t all that great at running the ball. Then again, they’re not all that horrible either. Right now they rank middle of the pack at 18th overall with 111.8 rushing yards per game. They do average 4.2 yards per carry though, which is right on par with what the Browns give up per rushing attempt. The other thing that worries me is that Ben Roethlisberger has thrown TDs in eight straight contests. Not only that, but he has 16 of them in that span.
Regardless, I’m sticking with my pick. I think the game will play out much like most of the games Cleveland has played so far. The Steelers will pass a lot early, get the lead, and then run, run, run. Since the Browns can’t stop them, Big Ben will end up with a sub-par performance by fantasy standards. It won’t be because he played bad. In fact, he could have an excellent day with a rating over 110; it’s just that there won’t be any need to go to the air. I think Rashard Mendenhall is a must start this week, and if you’re in a deep league with 16 or more teams and you’re desperate, Isaac Redman might not be a bad option.
Projection: 16/22, 185 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 carries, 7 yards
Eli Ricke knows absolutely nothing about Fantasy Football that everyone else doesn’t already know. All of his success in Fantasy Football can be attributed entirely to dumb luck. He has been playing Fantasy Football since 1999 and is a habitual liar. You will occasionally run across him in the café forums under the name 204BC, a name that has no particular meaning whatsoever. He just made it up, the same thing he does with most of the advice he gives.
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