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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.

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

All of the Mitch Truisky expectation qualifiers have been installed — no magic wand for the offense, only 13 college starts, not out of a pro-style system at North Carolina, and so on and so on. But irrespective of any pressure on the job statuses of GM Ryan Pace or coach John Fox, the expectations of the rookie quarterback over the next season-and-a-half or so should be more, far more, not less.

The reason lies in one of those things that run counter to most conventional-wisdom assumptions about quarterbacking in the NFL. The Bears hope, in the deepest corners of the franchise, that it continues.

That “it” is the strong — as in “near”- or actual “playoff-grade” — play of quarterbacks within their first three and often fewer seasons, a time frame which was once the norm and still is arguably preferred. Aaron Rodgers sat several years behind Brett Favre after arriving as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 draft choice in 2005 (20 picks after the Bears had grabbed Cedric Benson), and “I was very thankful for the opportunity, now as I look back, to grow,” Rodgers said before the Bears game this year.

But in an era when defenses have become increasingly sophisticated, and numbers of top college quarterbacks are coming out of spread offenses and systems far from “pro style,” quarterbacks have had positive impacts with increasing suddenness.

Consider some case studies from the last several years:

Player | Team | Drafted | Result

Teddy Bridgewater | Vikings | 2014 | 2015 NFC North champions

Jared Goff | Rams | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC West, current No. 3-ranked passer in 2017

Robert Griffin III | Redskins | 2012 | NFC East champions, rookie season

Andrew Luck | Colts | 2012 | Playoffs first 3 seasons

Dak Prescott | Cowboys | 2016 | NFC East champions in 2016

Carson Wentz | Eagles | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC East

Jameis Winston | Bucs | 2015 | 2-14 Bucs in 2014 were 6-10 in 2015 and 9-7 last season

Success is far from automatic, and to some extent lies in the eye of the beholder and has a time element. “Everybody was calling Goff a bust sometimes last season,” said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with his hand on the Trubisky steering wheel and throttle. “And the teams around the guys are obviously enormous factors.”

To wit: Goff went No. 1 overall, usually a spot belonging to the most woeful team from the previous year. But he went to a Rams team coming off a 7-9 season that dumped its draft to move up from 15th for him. Likewise, Wentz went to a 7-9 team (Philadelphia) that traded up. These weren’t Peyton Manning going to 3-13 Indianapolis and Ryan Leaf to 4-12 San Diego (1998).

But Luck was the No. 1-overall pick by an Indianapolis team that went 3-13 in 2011, then 11-5 in Luck’s first year. Washington was 5-11 in 2011, then 10-6 and NFC East champions in RGIII’s rookie season.

Trubisky has gone to a 3-13 team, one with among the least productive groups of wide receivers in the NFL. On the other hand, after Troy Brown, name two other New England Patriots wide receivers from their early Super Bowls.

Note to the rookie: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools (see: Jay Cutler).

And Tom Brady had started zero games and thrown all of 3 passes, 2 incomplete, as a rookie backup on a 5-11 Patriots team in 2000 before starting in relief of Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

But the game and the players, particularly the quarterbacks have changed.

“In 2005, I don’t think the quarterbacks were as ready to play as maybe some of the guys are now,” Rodgers said. “There’s better coaching, better awareness, there’s better coaching at a younger level. If you’re not in a ‘raise-you-foot-up, look-the-sideline, let-the-coach-call-the-play offense,’ you’re doing some more stuff now at the college level.”

All the Bears ask is for Trubisky to do more stuff now at the NFL level.

Drafting first round QB's despite starters in place something of a Bears tradition

Drafting first round QB's despite starters in place something of a Bears tradition

The good thing about a draft scenario like the Bears’ selecting Mitch Trubisky on top of having signed Mike Glennon for starter-grade money is that it provides an almost inexhaustible quiver of talking and writing points. To wit...

... the 2017 draft is far from the first time that the Bears have invested a lofty pick in a player at a position that had been staffed not all that long before with a pricey free agent or still had a distinguished veteran. Don’tcha kind of wonder how Sid Luckman, 32, All-Pro as recently as 1947, felt seeing George Halas use the No. 3 pick of the 1948 draft on Bobby Layne?

The Bears had Jim McMahon in harness (literally and figuratively) in 1987 when they used their first-round pick on Jim Harbaugh. They went QB at No. 12 overall (Cade McNown) in 1999 despite the coaching staff believing they could make something out of Shane Matthews. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana in place when they dealt for Steve Young. Montana didn’t like it but 49ers history was obviously the better for it. Not that Montana ever wanted for motivation, but he earned the first of his three All-Pro designations in — take a guess — 1987.

GM Jerry Angelo dramatically out-bid the market for running back Thomas Jones in 2004. Jones was OK that season, but the Bears came back in 2005 to use the No. 4 pick of that draft on Cedric Benson because, as former Bear and longtime NFL analyst Dan Jiggetts said at the time, Jones still had questions after the first season in which he’d started more than nine games.

Jones didn’t like it, and didn’t like Benson, who exacerbated his overall situation with a long holdout that didn’t sit well with veterans. Jones eventually forced a trade after the 2006 season and Benson wound up a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, albeit for the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones appeared to get the situation; after never rushing for 1,000 yards in his career, he piled up five straight of 1,100 yards or more after the Benson pick. Just sayin’ ... 

... any assessment of Ryan Pace’s competence or lack of same is beyond silly at this point. The object of his affections hasn’t even put on a Bears jersey yet, just held one up for cameras. The obvious tack here is that if Trubisky is franchise-grade as the Bears project, then the acquisition was the right one.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

But the deeper perspective, on whether Pace was bidding against himself in the absence of known real offers, gets increasingly debunked. On top of Pace’s own experience of getting multiple calls from teams looking to trade up to No. 3 for a quarterback, and Pace knowing that when he didn’t want to deal that the next speed-dial by those callers would be to 49ers GM John Lynch, Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson suggested that Pace not only had reason for fear poachers, but also that multiple other teams shared Pace’s conclusion that Trubisky was the best quarterback in this draft.

Robinson said via SiriusXM NFL Radio that the Titans had gotten calls inquiring about acquiring their pick at No. 5. Those calls stopped when the Bears dealt up and grabbed Trubisky. Because Pat Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and every other quarterback was still on the board, the conclusion was that those other teams also had targeted Trubisky, as Pace had ... 

... the brouhaha over whether Glennon felt betrayed/bemused/befuddled/belittled/beheaded over the Trubisky selection borders on the comical. (No comments directly from Glennon about his reaction, but nevermind that.) But If Glennon purports to know some of the history of the NFL’s charter franchise (and others), he should not only have known this was a possibility, but also should have expected it. And he’s a big reason why — specifically, if it were clear that Glennon was a 27-year-old No. 1 quarterback, the Bears can be more casual in filling out the QB depth chart. The Green Bay Packers didn’t use anything higher than a fourth-round pick on a quarterback until Brett Favre was 36 because they knew they didn’t need to. The Bears are far from in that spot. Had they traded for Kirk Cousins, maybe; they didn’t.

To even link the Glennon signing to the Trubisky drafting is failing to grasp how teams try to staff the most important spot in their game.

Cases in point: the Seattle Seahawks signing Matt Flynn away from the Packers in 2012 for $20.5 million over three years, $9 million guaranteed. Flynn had all of two NFL starts at the time. The Seahawks rightly hedged their bet: They drafted Russell Wilson in the third round. Flynn then lost his job to Wilson by Week 1.

Glennon has 18 starts so maybe that’s why he got $18 million over two years. In any case, the Bears weren’t going to hang the future solely on a twice-replaced quarterback (by Josh McCown and Jameis Winston with Tampa Buccaneers) any more than Seattle was going Flynn-only.

Another in point: the Washington Redskins traded massively up in 2012 to draft Robert Griffin III. Then Washington turned around and invested a fourth-rounder in Cousins.