Brady, Branch unfazed by blizzard

Scott Engel of breaks down five of the biggest Sunday storylines for fantasy players.

1. Snow problem: Prior to Sunday's Patriots-Bears game at Chicago, there was considerable conern among fantasy players about the weather. Many owners actually considered reserving Tom Brady and Wes Welker when they learned of snowfall and high winds in the forecast. Brady was started in 85.2 percent of leagues this week, though, so most fantasy leaguers opted to stick with him, which turned out to be the best move. Brady proved that sometimes the impact of the elements can be overrated when it comes to certain players. You must consider each situation individually and not make a drastic move based on weather alone.Brady was seemingly unfazed by the conditions during much of a blowout win, as he threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Brady did not hesitate to throw the ball 40 times, completing 27 passes. Welker caught eight balls for 115 yards, and Deion Branch continued to roll, catching eight passes for 151 yards and a TD. Brady and his pass-catchers have had extensive experience playing in adverse conditions, and it showed. His accuracy was uncompromised, and the Patriots had obviously adjusted their playbook and their approach to cope with the elements. Experience and proper planning gave New England an advantage, which has often been the case in any scenario under Bill Belichick. Brady and his receivers had played, practiced and succeeded in bad weather before, and were not to be denied. Fantasy owners must remember that these are professionals that we scout every week, and many of them have been aptly trained to deal with such adverse conditions. Of course, Jay Cutler looked so bad, you have to wonder if he and the Bears would have been only slightly worse on a sunny day. Cutler completed 12 of 26 attempts for 152 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. The weather simply made Cutler an even riskier option, as he is often up and down statistically.

2. Packing it in: The Green Bay passing game has been a key to many fantasy owners' ride to their playoffs this season. Aaron Rodgers has performed like an elite QB again, and Greg Jennings had re-emerged as a fantasy standout. Donald Driver was suddenly showing signs of life again. It also seemed as if the running game was finally about to kick into gear as well, as James Starks was coming off a promising Week 13 performance. A matchup with the defensively-challenged Lions appeared to be a recipe for quality fantasy production. Yet nothing went as planned in Week 14, as owners of Rodgers dealt with some simple rotten luck, and the rest of the offense was clearly affected. Rodgers, the crux of many fantasy playoff teams, left Sunday's game in the second quarter after he suffered a concussion. He had attempted 11 passes, completing seven for no TDs and an interception. Without Rodgers playing a full game, many of his owners were doomed to defeat this week. Driver caught two passes for 12 yards, burning most of those who started him. Jennings did catch four passes for 52 yards, not awful at all, but you have to wonder about his possible Week 15 production if Rodgers cannot play. Those who started James Starks in anticipation of a possible uprising saw the Green Bay running game go limp, and Starks finished with eight yards on six carries. The Packers' ground game was certainly destined to be less effective with the Lions defensive front not needing to honor the passing game nearly as much with Matt Flynn at QB. Still, those who started Starks learned a hard lesson: Avoid starting unproven players during critical fantasy weeks. You must minimize risk and go with more established performers whenever you can. The Packers' passing game will obviously rise again when Rodgers returns, but no RB on the Green Bay roster can be trusted in the fantasy playoffs.

3. A real kick:Jay Feely of Arizona struck a positive blow for kickers everywhere on Sunday. His position is easily the most disrespected in fantasy football circles, as most of his contemporaries are left for last-round fodder in drafts, and often not strongly considered to be among critical decisions every week when owners set their lineups. Just plug 'em and play 'em, some say about kickers in fantasy football. They all are unpredictable and unreliable, why bother? Well, Feely, who was started in 8.3 percent of leagues this week, showed us all that when your other players are letting you down, it's a kicker who can step in and carry your fantasy team. Feely kicked five field goals, added four extra points and even added an unlikely TD run on a fake field goal attempt, outscoring many skill position players in Arizona's unexpected thrashing of Denver. Feely has indeed been one of fantasy's less productive kickers this year, but his performance signifies that you cannot underestimate the kicker spot when setting your lineups. Feely's big day was more of a statement than a pivotal outing, yet the message came across loud and clear for his peers. Those who own David Akers should not take it for granted that he has scored in double figures in every game since Week 7. Shayne Graham was another Patriot unaffected by the elements in Chicago. The longtime Bengal totaled 12 points, as his experience in adverse conditions came in very handy. Longtime solid veteran Jeff Reed has re-surfaced with the 49ers and scored 28 points in two games. Their owners should be thanking them today, rather than taking them for granted as we usually do. Today, as a fantasy analyst and player, I salute Jay Feely and kickers everywhere. You should join me in this show of long-deserved respect.

4. Mile low: All of a sudden, when you have needed it the most, the Broncos passing game has gone silent. Where is the Kyle Orton that exploded into fantasy prominence from Weeks 2 through 5, and tossed a total of seven TD passes in Weeks 10 and 12? In his place, we have seen some guy wearing No. 8 who has not thrown a TD pass in two consecutive games while being intercepted three times by a previously moribund Arizona defense on Sunday. Oh yeah, the yardage numbers have stunk, too. Where is WR Brandon Lloyd, who had scored nine times through Week 12 and flown past the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career as part of a totally unexpected breakthrough campaign? In his place we have seen the old Brandon Lloyd, who has caught five passes for 63 yards in the past two games. Unfortunately, this is the Orton and Lloyd we have feared we would see again during their surprising hot streaks earlier in the season. The pairing was the most shocking fusion of overachievement we have ever seen in fantasy football, some said, when they were playing well. Given the mediocre past track records of both players, you simply cannot count on either player to rebound any time soon. Opponents have obviously figured out how to contain the "dynamic Denver duo" recently, and you have to strongly consider reserving both players if you want to survive the rest of the fantasy postseason.

5. Missing Matt Sometimes, the lack of a respectable QB can make a fantasy owners' worst nightmares become real. Without Matt Cassel, the Chiefs offense made Carolina's unit look like a juggernaut. With Brodie Croyle "leading" the offense, Kansas City was shut out at San Diego. Croyle completed seven passes for 40 yards, as the passing game was not even able to play catch-up with him at the controls. As feared, the rest of Kansas City's top offensive players suffered greatly because of Croyle. The Chargers easily controlled the Kansas City running backs, holding Jamaal Charles to 49 yards from scrimmage and stifling Thomas Jones to a comical line of one yard on three carries. Dwayne Bowe, who was shut out in Week 13, "improved" to the tune of three yards on one reception. Fantasy owners of the Kansas City RBs and Bowe simply have to hope Cassel can somehow return for next week's game at St. Louis. The Rams may not have a top-ranked defense, yet it can be sturdy if the matchup is right. Any matchup against Croyle seems like a good one for a defense, too.

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