Cassel's recent emergence leading fantasy owners to success

If I had told you back in the preseason that a Patriots quarterback would lead countless fantasy owners into the playoffs, it wouldn't have been much of a shock. But if I told you that the quarterback's name was Matt Cassel and not Tom Brady, well, let's just say you probably would have thrown me in a padded room and thrown away the key.

I have to admit it, I wasn't drinking the Kool-Aid on Cassel. That is, until last week when he tore apart the Jets defense for 400 yards and three touchdowns. And even then, I was still a little skeptical. After all, Cassel had thrown for multiple touchdowns once in his previous nine starts. He had also failed to throw for even one score in his previous two starts. Furthermore, the Jets have one of the league's worst pass defenses based on the numbers, and Thursday night games tend to be absolute shootouts.

2008 statistics:
Comp: 238

Att: 359

Yards: 2,615

TDs/INTs: 13/8

But Cassel proved that he wasn't a one-week wonder.

The Southern California product went on to filet the Dolphins, throwing for 415 yards and scoring a total of four touchdowns. So let's do the math: Two games, 815 yards, seven total touchdowns. Who was that quarterback who was injured back in Week 1 again? Tom, ummm, you know, that dude that dates the Victoria's Secret super model?

OK, so Cassel is no Brady. But you wouldn't know it based on his recent statistical success.

The shocking part of this whole situation is that the Patriots have started to run the same sort of offense as they did with Brady last season, throwing the ball all over the field and almost completely abandoning the run. Cassel, who's deep ball looked like a dead duck earlier in the season, has thrown it 94 times in his last two games. He didn't throw his 94th pass this season until Week 5! With just 50 running plays in the last two games, the Patriots have aired it out over 65 percent of the time.

So somewhere between Cassel's unimpressive 234-yard, no-touchdown performance in Buffalo and now, coach Bill Belichick decided to throw the football like he was running a version of the Don Coryell offense. And the decision couldn't have come at a better time for fantasy leaguers, as the postseason starts next week in almost all formats.

The news isn't only positive for Cassel, but it's been a great pick-me-up for the value of both Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

Moss hauled in eight passes for 125 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Dolphins. He's found the end zone four times in the last two weeks and is starting to pay dividends for fantasy owners who weathered the storm earlier this season. Welker has been a PPR dream most of the season, but now he's putting up the sort of yardage totals that made him a top-20 fantasy wideout on preseason rank lists. Welker, who averaged a mediocre 62.8 yards in his first eight games, has averaged 111.6 yards since Week 10.

Based on the matchups down the stretch, Cassel, Moss and Welker should find continued success.

After a difficult matchup against Pittsburgh and the league's top-rated pass defense, Cassel and his mates face Seattle at Qwest Field. Only the Chargers have allowed more passing yards this season. In the second week of the fantasy postseason (Week 15), the Patriots draw the Raiders.

Sure, they've improved their pass defense since the promotion of coach Tom Cable (and the subsequent release of CB DeAngelo Hall), but this is still the Raiders.

In fantasy's championship week, the Pats will face Arizona. Heading into Week 13, no defense has allowed more passing touchdowns than the Cardinals. That game should be a shootout, meaning that Cassel has a chance to be a real fantasy hero.

I guess that's par for the course in what has been one of the wackiest and wildest fantasy seasons ever.

OK, let's move on to some of the best and worst performances of Week 12.

Studs

Matt Cassel, QB, New England (39 points): Yes, we've mentioned Cassel quite a bit in this column, but his recent performances warrant all the chatter. After a huge game against the Jets, Cassel threw for 415 yards and scored four touchdowns in a Week 12 win over Miami. The former backup (who will be a very rich starter somewhere in 2009) has now scored more fantasy points on NFL.com than any other player since Week 11.

Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo (37 points): Edwards looked like a quarterback on the verge of losing his job last Monday night against the Browns, so no one had him in the mix as a fantasy starter this week. But that didn't stop him from throwing for 273 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a win over the Chiefs. Unfortunately, Edwards was active in a mere 10 percent of NFL.com leagues. He draws the Niners in Week 13.

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Chad Pennington, QB, Miami (35 points): In a game that was chock full of fantasy points, Pennington was almost as good as Cassel with 341 passing yards and a total of four touchdowns. It was his best performance of the season, and the impressive numbers will make him a very viable fantasy starter coming up in Week 13. Pennington faces the struggling St. Louis Rams.

Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta (35 points): Mr. Turner, welcome to the top of the fantasy football world. The Burner continued to scorch the opposition at home, rushing for 117 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers. He's now rushed for 672 yards and 12 touchdowns at the Georgia Dome. The performance was good enough to make Turner the top-scoring fantasy running back on NFL.com with a solid 182 total points.

Randy Moss, WR, New England (30 points): Moss lost a lot of his fantasy luster the second Brady went down for the season, but a recent resurgence of the passing game has resurrected his value. Moss hauled in eight passes for 125 yards and scored three touchdowns in what was a shootout at Dolphin Stadium. While he does have a tough matchup against the Steelers next on the slate, sitting Moss is no longer an option.

Other notables:Tony Romo, QB, Dallas (29 points); Eli Manning, QB, N.Y. Giants (27 points); Terrell Owens, WR, Dallas (27 points).

Duds

Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia (minus-4 point): McNabb put up an embarrassing stat line in Baltimore, throwing for 59 yards and committing three turnovers before being pulled in favor of Kevin Kolb. Coach Andy Reid did name McNabb the starter for Thursday night's game against the Cardinals, but it's still hard to trust him -- even against a defense that has allowed the most touchdown passes this season.

Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore (0 points): McGahee's Houdini act has now extended to two weeks, as he rushed for eight yards on seven carries against the Eagles. Most of the work was handled by Le'Ron McClain, who rushed for 88 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. While this week's matchup against the Bengals and their awful run defense is favorable, starting McGahee in fantasy leagues has become a huge risk.

Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco (3 points): Gore ran into an absolute buzzsaw in Dallas, as the Cowboys defense held him to just 26 rushing yards and season-low two fantasy points. The Niners did fall behind and had to abandon the run in the second half, though, which resulted in Gore seeing just 15 touches in the game. Despite the poor numbers, Gore remains a must-start this week against the Bills.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Cincinnati (2 points): Houshmandzadeh drew a lot of defensive attention last Thursday night with Chad Johnson deactivated, and his 20-yard stat line was the ultimate result. He's still putting up good numbers despite the absence of Carson Palmer, however, so the man with the unpronounceable name remains a viable fantasy starter. Houshmandzadeh will draw the Ravens in Week 13.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis (3 points): Wayne looked like a superior starting option based on a matchup against the Chargers, who rank dead last in the league in pass defense. Of course, the matchups don't always work out. That was obvious in Wayne's 34-yard, no-touchdown performance. Though his numbers are way down compared the last season, Wayne is still a must-start wideout against the Browns.

Other notables:Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee (3 points); Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh (3 points); Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia (3 points).

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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