Can people change? It’s a philosophical question dating back to the earliest days of the bipedal. People do change, but can they? Andy Dalton would tell you yes. Dalton’s transformation came seemingly overnight. Formerly the poster boy for mediocre quarterback play, Dalton entered 2015 at a crossroads. Coming off yet another multi-interception playoff loss, Dalton was literally booed at a celebrity softball game last summer. His progress had stopped. He was closer to a millstone campaign than a milestone one.
But Week 14, there he was, on pace for new career highs across the board. Dalton’s 8.38 YPA was over a full yard better than his 2013 mark. His 66.1 completion percentage was the fifth best in football. He was on pace to match his career high in touchdowns (33) while posting a new career low in interceptions (eight).
Then he broke his throwing thumb trying to make a tackle after tossing an interception against the Steelers. Four months ago, this would have been the quintessential Andy Dalton anecdote. Now, it’s a punch in the gut for fantasy owners and Bengals fans alike. The injury is expected to be a season-ender, and as was the case with Carson Palmer’s torn ACL in Arizona last season, a likely guarantee that the Bengals won’t escape the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
That, of course, would be nothing new for Dalton’s Bengals, but this was the year things seemed destined to be different. Dalton’s peaks were no longer giving way to valleys as he worked with the best supporting cast of his five-year career. He had yet to go back-to-back starts without throwing for at least two touchdowns. He had stopped being “Andy Dalton, just good enough not to get benched” and started being “Andy Dalton, someone you actually want under center.”
Going forward, the Bengals will find themselves praying for some T.J. Yates magic from A.J. McCarron, and doing something they probably never thought possible: Counting down the days until Dalton’s return.
Five Week 14 Positives
Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen avoiding serious injury. The Panthers dismantled the Falcons 38-0 en route to 13-0 on Sunday, but not without a few injury scares. Thankfully, both Greg Olsen’s knee tweak and Jonathan Stewart’s foot ailment appear to be non-issues going forward. Both were held out for the second half against Atlanta, but only because Dan Quinn’s team couldn’t compete. Speaking afterward, coach Ron Rivera declared each of his star skill players “fine,” with the implication being they will be ready to go against the Giants. That’s great, but the twin scares probably make it more likely Rivera will start resting his starters in Week 16. That’s bad news for fantasy owners anticipating a date with a trophy.
Johnny Manziel’s return under center. Manziel has made only four starts this season, and yet, he’s been under center for two of the Browns’ three wins. Granted, the victories have come against Titans and 49ers teams arguably as bad as the Browns, but Manziel hasn’t lucked into his numbers over his past two games. “Money” is 54 for his last 76 (71 percent), compiling 642 yards (8.44 YPA) and two scores. He threw a mind-numbing pick on Sunday, but has largely avoided mistakes. That will be put to the test in Week 15, where he faces a Seahawks defense on the road that’s regained some of its swagger after getting carved up by Ben Roethlisberger in Week 12. Even an average day would be a huge victory for Manziel, and continue the momentum that maybe, just maybe, will put him under center in 2016.
Eddie Lacy’s rebound from his Week 13 benching. Starting against the Cowboys, Lacy took the rock 24 times for a season-high 124 yards. Throwing out his nightmare night against the Lions, it was his third straight 100-yard day on the ground after hitting the century mark zero times in Weeks 1-10. Lacy still split work with James Starks, but out-touched him 25-15. It was the reassuring effort Lacy’s owners needed after his Detroit debacle. Lacy is once again a weekly lock for 15 touches, and an upside RB2 for the final two weeks of the fantasy playoffs.
Russell Wilson’s continued reign of terror. We can update this stat: Over his past four starts, Wilson has 16 touchdowns and only 29 incompletions. Wilson is shredding everything in his path, and has already tied his career high for passing scores (26). Wilson is playing his best football at the right time, as the ‘Hawks are now down Thomas Rawls (broken ankle) as they look to sew up a Wild Card spot. There’s no reason to believe Wilson will slow down in Week 15, where he gets the Browns’ bottom-three defense at home.
Doug Baldwin’s latest monster afternoon. Baldwin scored three more touchdowns, bringing his total since the Seahawks’ Week 9 bye to a ridiculous nine. This, after he scored 17 times in his first 70 career games. Baldwin has gone from WR4 afterthought to WR2 conversation to WR1 borderline. For Week 15, he gets the Browns’ burnable defense, and will be a must start in even the shallowest of formats.
Five Week 14 Negatives
Thomas Rawls’ season-ending ankle injury. Rawls didn’t just successfully fill in for Marshawn Lynch this season, he drastically outplayed him while operating as one of the league’s best runners. Rawls’ loss is substantial, but moreso for fantasy owners than the Seahawks. Seattle will at least be getting Lynch back before the playoffs, perhaps in Week 16. On the roto side of the block, a DuJuan Harris/Fred Jackson committee is all that remains for next week’s semifinals. The duo has a dream matchup with the Browns’ bottom-three run defense, but neither will be easy to trust. Harris should get the most touches, but it’s change-of-pace back Jackson who will likely be the most effective. Ultimately, it’s a situation to avoid as a white hot Russell Wilson figures to carry the offense, anyways. Despite the rough ending to his rookie year, there’s every reason to believe Rawls will be back as the Seahawks’ starter in 2016. He’s an elite hold in Dynasty leagues.
Brock Osweiler’s continued regression. Osweiler has gotten worse in each of his four starts in place of Peyton Manning, bottoming out in a sack-filled, error-prone disaster against the Raiders’ pedestrian pass defense on Sunday. Holding onto the ball far too long behind his shaky offensive line, Osweiler was in full Gabbert Mode by the time the final whistle blew. Osweiler’s time under center has followed a pretty standard trajectory for backup-caliber talents. They start out well enough, but fall off quickly as opposing defenses adjust and they don’t. Osweiler should get another start against the Steelers in Week 15, but with the Broncos thinking Super Bowl or bust, it’s looking increasingly likely they’ll actually turn back to Peyton Manning. Maybe Manning has a lower floor than Osweiler, but Osweiler’s ceiling won’t be bringing home the Lombardi. Why not gamble on one of the greatest players of all time?
Matt Ryan fading further into the abyss. With his two-turnover, zero-score day in a 38-0 loss, Ryan now has more turnovers (18) than touchdowns (17). His 14 picks are already tied for the second most of his career, while he’s on his worst touchdown pace (21) since his rookie season. Ryan simply isn’t making plays, and when he tried to force the issue on Sunday, he made an ill-advised decision. For some reason targeting slot man Justin Hardy in triple coverage down the field, Ryan gave the Panthers one of the easiest interceptions they’ll ever make. With only two scores over his past three starts, Ryan will be a barely-there QB2 against the Jaguars in Week 15, and completely off the radar for his Week 16 rematch with Carolina.
T.J. Yeldon’s sprained knee. Yeldon (gingerly) walked off the field under his own power, but headed straight for the locker room. Gus Bradley was cagey afterward, saying his status would be updated on Monday. Typically, if a coach isn’t worried, they will say so. If Yeldon is forced to miss Sunday’s game against the Falcons, Denard Robinson will be a plug-and-play RB2. Shoelace was already getting plenty of looks at the goal-line, and Sunday made some ripcord cuts for extra yardage after replacing Yeldon. Unless Yeldon gets the all clear at Monday’s presser, Robinson is the top running back add for the fantasy semifinals.
Jameis Winston’s dud in a dream matchup. Facing a defense that makes QB1 days the norm, Winston had his worst start in a month, throwing for the second fewest yards of his rookie campaign. Losing Vincent Jackson to a knee injury didn’t help, but Winston crushed fantasy owners that lived the stream for the first week of the playoffs. Winston has had a very promising year, but unless you’re in a deeper two-QB league, he’ll be best avoided for Thursday night’s trip to St. Louis.
1. Is revenge a dish best served Mike Gillislee?
3. If Tim Hightower out-touches you 29-6, which one of you has really been out of the league for the past four years?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Stats of the Week
The Raiders and Broncos combined for 61 rushing yards on 44 carries. That comes out to a cool 1.38 YPC.
...But speaking of Clowney, he had easily the best game of his young career, harassing Tom Brady and taking him down twice.
From the esteemed Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter. Over the past two weeks, Mack has more sacks (seven) than the Chargers have points (six).
As for those Chargers, they haven’t scored a rushing touchdown since Week 1. That … seems hard to do.
Gregg Rosenthal has identified a uniquely Bills achievement: They’ve outgained their opponents in six of their seven losses.
Aaron Rodgers has thrown for more than two touchdowns just once in his past 10 starts.
7.5/85. That’s what Brian Hartline was averaging over his past four games before breaking his collarbone against the 49ers. His loss will be significant for Johnny Manziel as he tries to make an impression in Weeks 15-17.
0. That’s how many career passes Kellen Moore has thrown. Three: That’s how many starts he should get down the stretch. Anyone familiar with Moore’s game knows it’s unlikely to translate to the NFL level, but Matt Cassel has been so comprehensively awful in place of Tony Romo that the Cowboys might as well find out what they have. Even a 1-in-100 chance of finding a decent backup is better than what they’ve got going on right now.
Matador of the Week Award: This “tackle attempt” in Jets/Titans.