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Holiday Helpers & Hiccups: Players who can help or hurt your chances in Fantasy Championship weekend

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USA TODAY

Holiday Helpers & Hiccups: Players who can help or hurt your chances in Fantasy Championship weekend

Happy Holidays and Happy Fantasy Championship weekend (for most)! It’s time for owners to enjoy both festivities as the season winds down. If you navigated deftly throughout the year and have your team in a championship game, congrats!  However, if your season ended prematurely, sit back, relax to some Xmas tunes and drink copious amounts of eggnog.

Christmas, with its cheerful music and memorable, yet never-ending holiday TV reruns, provides the inspiration for this week’s theme. Yes, yes, it’s time to draw from our childhood, that age old classic - The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!  Think about it…...how many players have “grinched” their way onto your roster and stolen your hopeful joys of winning games and paydays? Who were the “whos” you didn’t know that found their way onto your team, providing joy and strengthening your depth, adding victories when things seem darkest?

Below are a list of Who’s “Whos” from Whoville, dependable players that shone brightest when things were tightest for your squad. Some are season long stars like Patrick Mahomes, whereas others appeared out of the blue, like Gus Edwards to power your quest for fantasy glory.  Conversely, also listed are the “grinchiest” of Grinches, players I wouldn’t touch with “a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.” Basically, acquisitions best described in 3 words, and I quote: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

Fantasy Whos’ Who: Some were undisputed superstars all year, while others were former underachievers or unknowns that may have saved a season. However they got onto your roster, playing them is key to winning a championship.

QB:

Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) - Even an improved, playoff-bound Seahawks team won’t be able to stop one of fantasy football’s most prolific passers. He’s thrown for 4,543 yds, 45 TDs and averaged 25.8 fantasy pts per week. The most matchup proof fantasy player all year.

Drew Brees (Saints) - Brees does “Brees” things every season and is a surgeon when playing in the SuperDome. Drew matches Mahomes’ season average of 25.8 fantasy points when competing at home. Guess where the Saints play the Steelers this weekend?   

Matt Ryan (Falcons) - Take away performances from weeks 1 & 13, then you’ll discover that Ryan is averaging 23.4 pts weekly. Against the Panthers in week 2, he racked up 2 passing and 2 rushing TDs, while passing for 272 yds. By the way, Carolina is on a six-game losing streak!

Dak Prescott (Cowboys) - Amazingly, since week 7 Prescott has averaged 274.1 yds per game in the air, with 14 total TDs. If his performance vs the Colts last week didn’t “Scrooge” you out of a win, then take hark, the visiting lowly Bucs defense will make Christmas very merry for the Cowboys.

Josh Allen (Bills) - Allen has averaged 22.5 fantasy pts per game over the last 4 weeks. He’s rushed for over 500 yards in only 10 games. He leads all NFL QBs with 6 rushing TDs. He faces a Patriot defense that gives up a league leading 5.0 yards per rush. Take the hint, Josh is the sauce in Buffalo!

Lamar Jackson (Ravens) - Ravens are omnivorous birds and Jackson’s omnipresent abilities has defenses running in circles to stop him. Baltimore is 4-1 since he became the starter, vaulting them into the thick of the playoffs. A revelation to the Ravens, Jackson has been a godsend to fantasy owners with his consistent 16.8 fantasy pts per week.  

Baker Mayfield (Browns) - Since starting for the Browns in week 3, Mayfield has always scored double digit fantasy pts, at a clip of 15.9 per week. His best game this year was against the Bengals on the road ( 258 yds, 4 TDs/0 INTs), scoring 26 fantasy points. This week he faces Cincy at home.

RB:

Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) - Breaking news, Elliott is really good at playing football. Clearly, ‘Zeke is a must-play every week, and chances are he’s taken many a fantasy owner far into the playoffs. Well, on a fantasy championship weekend, it all culminates in a home game against the 4th worst fantasy rush defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These “buckos” give up 23.4 pts on average to running backs, and that’s really bad at playing football.

Phillip Lindsay (Broncos) - How often does an undrafted, offensive rookie player go to a pro-bowl in his first year? Never, until this season, when Lindsay made NFL history by doing just that, becoming a pro-bowler in 2018!  He is a top 25 fantasy player regardless the position, and top 10 amongst RBs. Though he may be hitting the proverbial “rookie wall,” Lindsay should help your team in one final game against a suspect Raiders defense.

Joe Mixon (Bengals) - Love him or hate him, fantasy owners aren’t apathetic when it comes to Mixon’s weekly fantasy production (15.2 pts). Without Andy Dalton and AJ Green, Mixon sustains owners by combining rushing and receiving yards to the tune of 1279 yds from scrimmage.

Derrick Henry (Titans) - In the land of “Forget-Me-Not,” Henry’s titanic performances are a reminder of how dominant of a force he can be. The stats he put up the past two weeks are simply staggering - (50 att / 408 yds / 6 TDs). This juggernaut of a man is facing a Redskins team that gives up 4.6 yds per carry and 18.3 fantasy points per week to RBs.

Dalvin Cook (Vikings) - Like Henry above, Cook has had a resurgent quarter-ending segment of the season. Over the last 4 weeks, Dalvin has averaged 19.7 pts per contest, improving each week. The Lions allow 19.6 fantasy pts to RBs, and Dalvin can’t wait to verify those numbers.

Gus Edwards (Ravens) - Probably one of the year’s biggest “who-the-heck-is-this-guy,” from “Whoville.” Edwards has been a needed injection for many fantasy owners late into the season. Fortunate to be on a team committed to the running game, Gus “the Bus,” has a solid 12 point fantasy average over the last 5 weeks. Everybody get on the “Gus Bus” because it’s headed down a championship path.

WR:

Robert Woods (Rams) - Quietly, and arguably, the most consistent dependable fantasy producer at the WR position all season long. Since week 1, Woods hasn’t dipped below 12 fantasy points in a game this year. He has already been targeted 120 times, and there are still 2 games remaining on the schedule. Hello Arizona!

T.Y. Hilton (Colts) - When Hilton and his QB, Andrew Luck are healthy, they are as dangerous a

dynamic duo as any QB/WR combination in the league. Since week 10, T.Y. has caught 41 passes for 718 yds, for a robust 17.5 yds per reception. Solid numbers for a stretch run to win in most fantasy leagues.

Amari Cooper (Raiders/Cowboys) - Almost a lost cause, Cooper, and probably any owners that drafted him, had their seasons saved once he was traded to Dallas. Since being in Dallas, Amari produced 146 fantasy points in a 7-week span, amounting to a 20.8 fantasy pts per contest. Those numbers are worthy of top 10 position status and championship pedigree. Oh, by the way, the Buccaneers (7th-worst vs WRs) are visiting the Lone Star state this weekend.

Julian Edelman (Patriots) - One of Tom “Hall of Fame” Brady’s most reliable targets, Edelman, unfortunately was suspended the first four games. Mr. Reliable only went ahead and registered double digit fantasy points 9 out of the next 10 weeks. He faces a Bills team that earlier in the year he dominated to the tune of 9 catches for 104 yards.

Dante Pettis (49ers) - This explosive rookie is finally emerging after an injury marred the first half of his season. Since week 12, Pettis has scored 4 TDs and produced 13 or more fantasy points each week. Even against the vaunted Bears defense, Pettis is primed to scorch an injured Chicago secondary.

TE:

George Kittle (49ers) - Shannon Sharpe, Jackie Smith, Rich Caster, and Pete Retzlaff are the only other TEs to catch 200 yards or more in a single game. Kittle joined this exclusive club in week 14, posting 210 yds with a TD, and 34 fantasy points. In a season where quality depth at the TE position in fantasy leagues was lacking, Kittle recorded 11 double digit points in 14 games. If you sit him this week, your are definitely over thinking things.

Eric Ebron (Colts) - Yep, that Eric Ebron. The very same uber-talented tight end chosen by the Lions, 10th overall in the 2014 draft. Incredulously, Ebron’s 12 TD receptions this year, matches his career total coming into this season. Play him, or berate yourself the entire off-season for not making the obvious decision.

Jared Cook (Raiders) - In a year where tight ends are inconsistent and unreliable, Cook, ironically has been a rock. The Raiders may have underachieved, but their tight end’s production most certainly did not suffer. Four of his games cleared 100 yards and 7 of 14 opponents allowed him to post double digit fantasy points. Its safe to “cook” with Jared this week.

Grinchiest of Grinches: These players most likely doomed your team, either through injury or just plain bad play. The soul crushing performances and lingering, perfidious, odors of ineptitude heaped upon your fantasy squad, landed these louts on this list.

QB:

Cam Newton (Panthers) - Down the stretch, when you needed him most, his last four weeks consisted of declining fantasy points (22, 15, 10 & 4). To add insult to injury, he actually is injured for the rest of the season. Awesome.

Eli Manning (Giants) - Surrounded with an improved offensive line, and armed with generational talents at WR ( Odell Beckham) and RB (Saquon Barkley), and a brand new, offensive-minded head coach - Eli failed his city! Somehow in 3 games (so far), he did not throw a touchdown pass. It’s a mystery.

Matthew Stafford (Lions) - In an amazing display of futility, Stafford tallied 93 fantasy points in 9 weeks. How does a starting QB in today’s modern game average 10.3 fantasy points in 2 months? Well, seeing as how in his last 4 games he averaged 7.5, it might explain just how badly Stafford played.

Jameis Winston (Buccaneers) - Welcome to the roller coaster from Hades that is Winston’s 2018 season, and your fantasy nightmare. First there was a three-game suspension, then some good play followed by bad play, then a benching. Next, was a reinsertion into the starting line-up followed by good play, and…... you guessed it - bad play. Trust this week, the Cowboys will treat him like he stole their crab legs.

RB:

Adrian Peterson (Redskins) - What once was fantasy gold is now fool’s gold. Unfortunately, Peterson isn’t being visited by the ghosts of Past or Present, but, instead by the grim ghost of the Future-Yet-To-Be. The look ahead isn’t pretty, as he travels to Tennessee to face the 4th ranked defense against fantasy backs.

Dion Lewis (Titans) - Remember earlier this year when Lewis had back-to-back 20+ fantasy points against the Chargers and Cowboys? Apparently, his team, the Titans don’t recall those days either. The emergence of teammate Derrick Henry has all but made Lewis a whispered afterthought. Only one double digit output since week 9, and that was just 10 points.

Doug Martin (Raiders) - It used to be a cool nickname….,”Muscle Hamster.” Now it lacks conviction, and signifies a player running in circles on a treadmill to “Nowheresville.” Martin is averaging a measly 36.9 yards an attempt, with 3 rushing TDs and zero receiving scores. He either needs a new nickname or an improvement to his game.

Detroit RBs - (Lions) - Week 7 on the road versus the Dolphins, the Lions ran for 248 yards. That was then, this is now and the picture isn’t pretty. Detroit’s phenom rookie RB is still injured, and as a team they’ve only averaged 88.7 yards a game. The guys from Motor City are clearly missing a few spark plugs.

WR:

Allen Robinson (Bears) - At one time, during the first 5 weeks of the 2018 season, Robinson looked to be the Bears go to guy. Now, inexplicably they’ve gone away from a receiver, who at the beginning of the year logged 24 receptions in 5 games. Inserting Robinson onto your roster is maddening because, the offense spreads the ball around and he hasn’t scored a touchdown since week 10. Frustration……thy name is Allen Robinson.

Sterling Shepard (Giants) - One would think that without Odell Beckham vulturing targets and Saquon Barkley scorching teams running and receiving, Shepard’s value would increase. Just the opposite. Over the last 7 games, this Giant has played tiny, only averaging 5.8 fantasy points a contest. This player’s game has been nothing but toxic to owners down the stretch.

Devin Funchess (Panthers) - Hahahahahahahahahahahaha………...okay, stop it, no… really, stop it! How does a starting pro receiver in the NFL go 4 weeks, and catch only 1 pass? Is he still getting paid? Is he mad at Cam Newton, or his coaches, the world……what? If you need to be told to stay away from Funchess, I have nothing further to offer you in the way of advice.

Baltimore WRs (Ravens) - The Ravens coaching staff has done a far better job of neutralizing their starting wideouts than the opponents they’ve faced. Going back to week 11, both John Brown and Michael Crabtree combined to have 15 receptions totalling 166 receiving yards. Fantasy wise, they share a whopping 8.2 point production together as starters! It’s evident the Ravens are committed to the run, and you should be “committed” if you play any Baltimore receivers.

TE:

If your TEs aren’t named Travis Kelce, Eric Ebron, Jared Cook or George Kittle then you already understand the futility, that is tight end fantasy production. Injuries, poor performances and drastic coaching philosophies essentially minimized the position and its effectiveness. It’s been a Humbug for most fantasy owners since the beginning of November.

Hopefully, this has either been helpful or cathartic in some way, to usher you along into championship glory, or blame-someone-else appeasement. In any case, good luck and Happy Holidays.

Bears not among 8 teams in attendance at Colin Kaepernick's workout

Bears not among 8 teams in attendance at Colin Kaepernick's workout

So much for free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick throwing in front of 25 teams in a workout orchestrated by the NFL on Saturday in Atlanta.

Instead, he ran through a 40-minute session at Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, Georgia, and only eight teams were there: Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans.

No Ryan Pace. No Bears.

The bizarre twists and turns in what was supposed to be a formal private workout for the one-time 49ers' star have been hard to keep up with. But one thing is certain: At this point in the regular season, it seems like an awfully distracting proposition to consider adding Kaepernick the Chicago's roster.

"I've been ready for three years,'' Kaepernick said, via ESPN. "I've been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here. [I] showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we're waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people.

"We're out here. We're ready to play. We're ready to go anywhere. My agent, Jeff Nalley, is ready to talk any team. I'll interview with any team at any time. I've been ready.''

The originally scheduled workout was derailed over Kaepernick's camp changing the language of the liability waiver players sign before participating in private workouts. They wanted the workout open to the media, too, something the league refused to allow.

"We are disappointed that Colin did not appear for his workout," the NFL said in its statement Saturday. "He informed us of that decision at 2:30 pm today along with the public. Today's session was designed to give Colin what he has consistently said he wants -- an opportunity to show his football readiness and desire to return to the NFL. Twenty-five (25) clubs were present for the workout, and all 32 clubs, their head coaches, general managers, and other personnel executives would have received video footage of the interview and workout."

The NFL said the rewritten liability waiver provided by Kaepernick's representatives was "insufficient" and that although the league had agreed to allow Kaepernick's representatives on the field for the workout, it would remain mostly private. 

The disagreement over the workout's particulars isn't overly surprising. It was an odd situation to begin with considering the NFL was controlling the "who" and the "how" of the event. You can't fault Kaepernick for wanting some say in it all, especially since he's been waiting three years for the opportunity.

And even though he didn't get the chance to showcase his skills in front of as many teams as advertised, Kaepernick still made a positive impression on the field.

Where this all leads is anyone's guess. But it doesn't appear it will end in Chicago. 

How Tua Tagovailoa's injury will impact Bears' quarterback situation

How Tua Tagovailoa's injury will impact Bears' quarterback situation

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a devastating season-ending hip injury late in the first half of  Saturday's game against Mississippi State, one that likely marks the end of his career as a member of the Crimson Tide. 

Next stop: NFL.

"Tua Tagovailoa sustained a right hip dislocation that was immediately reduced at the stadium," Alabama Team Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain said in a statement following the game. "He is undergoing further testing to determine the best course of treatment. He is expected to make a full recovery but will miss the remainder of the season."

As Dr, Lyle pointed out, Tagovailoa is expected to make a full recovery. His timetable to return is unknown, but it's at least a positive sign that his team of doctors is optimistic about his future.

The harsh reality, however, is that Tagovailoa's injury is going to have a significant impact on his 2020 NFL draft stock, which before Saturday seemed like a top-five lock. After suffering ankle injuries in back-to-back seasons and now a disastrous hip injury, teams selecting in the top 10 will be extremely careful before hinging the future of their franchise on a player with major medical red flags.

And while the Bears were never in the mix to draft Tagovailoa, they will be in the quarterback market this offseason assuming Mitch Trubisky continues to struggle down the stretch. Tagovailoa's injury will make it more difficult for Chicago to land a veteran free agent who prior to Saturday may not have been on a team like the Dolphins' wish list.

That's all changed now.

If Miami had planned for Tagovailoa to be 'the guy' in 2020, their objective in free agency would've been to sign a veteran who can serve as an extra coach in the meeting room rather than a threat for reps on the field. But with Tagovailoa's health now a huge question mark, the Dolphins may not have a choice but to add a player like Cam Newton or Marcus Mariota who can come in and start not only in 2020, but for the foreseeable future as well.

The Bears aren't going to find their 2020 starting quarterback in the draft. If it isn't Trubisky, it has to be a veteran who has a resume of production that can take advantage of a championship window because of the talent on defense. But the price has to be right, and even adding just one team into the free-agent bidding war can have a massive impact on whether Ryan Pace is able to land his guy at his price.

Remember: It's not just the Dolphins whose draft and free agency plans will be impacted by Tagovailoa's injury. Quarterback prospects like Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Georgia's Jake Fromm could get pushed up the draft board because they have cleaner medicals or because teams realize they can't assume next year's prospect pool will offer them the answer they're looking for.

Tagovailoa's injury proves there's no such thing as a long-term strategy in a sport where one play can completely derail the best-laid plans. The club that may be eyeing Clemson's Trevor Lawrence in 2021 could choose to snag Oregon's Justin Herbert instead simply because he's healthy and available.

As a result, a run on quarterbacks might occur before the Bears are ever on the clock. That, combined with the free-agent market getting more expensive, could turn one hip injury into another season of Trubisky or bust in 2020.

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