Scott Engel of RotoExperts.com reviews five of Sunday's biggest storylines from a fantasy perspective.
1. Picky Peyton: Owners of Peyton Manning can now officially start worrying. The usually efficient and outstanding passer has thrown seven interceptions in his past two games. Is it time to make the unthinkable move and bench the longtime fantasy superstar? With the very vulnerable Dallas defense on tap, it appears you have to roll with Manning for another week for sure. But Manning's supporting cast is depleted and unreliable right now. There is a complete lack of a running game without Joseph Addai, and the passing attack misses the extra dimensions Dallas Clark and Austin Collie can provide. The offensive line is shaky, and crumbles fast when defenses know the Colts have little choice but to throw frequently.
Owners of Manning simply must approach things one week at a time, and carefully examine the matchups. Of course, your decision also hinges on what your alternative is at quarterback. Most fantasy situations are unique, and it's not a simple question of start or sit with Manning. If you are one of those owners who also has, say, Michael Vick, there is no way you can reserve the Philadelphia quarterback against the Texans next week. Yes, there are many fantasy players who face the Manning/Vick dilemma every week. And now there are those who actually face a Manning vs. Cassel challenge. That decision could come down to the Week 13 health of Manning's top surrounding talents. Yet I am not starting the likes of Sam Bradford or Jay Cutler over Manning. Both of those quarterbacks are coming off good weeks and have friendly matchups, yet I'd rather gamble on the Manning rebound. Bradford could easily slip back into statistical mediocrity, and Cutler has been very erratic this season. Neither is the type of player I am comfortable using in a highly critical Week 13.
2. Remember the Titan? Where has the Chris Johnson we all knew, loved and rode to fantasy championships gone? In his place is a Tennessee running back who gets stuffed in the backfield and disappears from view soon after. Johnson, or the guy masquerading in his uniform, was held to five yards on seven carries in a shutout loss to a previously defenseless Houston Texans squad. With rookie quarterback Rusty Smith looking downright awful, Houston was easily able to swarm the running game, which also became even less of a factor when the Titans fell behind by three scores in the third quarter. The Titans quarterback situation severely limited the potential for even basic ground success, as no defense needs to respect the passing game with Smith behind center. At least when the Titans had Vince Young or Kerry Collins throwing the ball, opponents could not exclusively load up against the run. Young may be done as a Titan, at least for this season, but Collins could be back in Week 13. So a career-worst performance for No. 28 should not inspire widespread fantasy panic just yet. Unless, of course, we somehow see Smith "running" the offense again. In that case, the offense will not be running at all.
3. Hail to the Chiefs: Right now, there may not be a more productive fantasy passing duo than the one found in Kansas City. Some Denver fans may argue, but the Matt Cassel-to-Dwayne Bowe connection has owners giddy as the fantasy playoffs approach. Cassel has a pair of four-touchdown games and a total of 10 scoring passes without an interception in his past three games. He has already established a new career standard with 22 touchdown passes, and only has four interceptions this season. Bowe has scored in every game since Week 6 and has seven scores in his past three games. After Sunday's three-touchdown outing at Seattle, he has doubled his previous career high of seven touchdowns in a season. The pair should keep rolling, as they are taking advantage of optimum offensive balance. The Chiefs are a run-first team, but their consistent success on the ground naturally opens things up for the passing game, especially in scoring situations. Cassel is making great decisions, and Bowe is so strong and physically gifted, he even makes big plays against double coverage. The Chiefs face the Broncos next week in what should be a fun AFC West shootout featuring two of the league's best passing pairings. Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd vs. Cassel and Bowe. Enjoy the ride, and do not expect a possible downturn until the Chiefs face the San Diego defense in Week 14.
4. Stuffed: It was three days past Thanksgiving, but Raiders running back Darren McFadden made those who started him look like turkeys. Fantasy owners were hopeful that McFadden, who had been a consistent standout for much of the year, would bounce back from a terrible outing at Pittsburgh. Any running back is entitled to an off week against the Steelers, logic dictated. Well, logic does not apply very often in fantasy football. While Bills running back Fred Jackson was proving he could indeed stand up to the mighty Steelers and still get his numbers, McFadden delivered another big stinker of a performance against Miami. Apparently, McFadden's newfound mighty struggles cannot be attributed to just matchups, as was the assumption a week ago. Yet while the Steelers are not completely invincible, they did lay the blueprint for beating the Raiders last week, and the Dolphins obviously followed suit after studying film. Miami's defensive line was dominant, and the linebackers lent great support to render the running game ineffective. The Dolphins chose to gamble and let the Raiders try to beat them with their passing game, and they could not, as Oakland was limited to three points in the second half. The Chargers await the Raiders next, and they are surely capable of bottling up McFadden. Not every opponent may be capable of doing so, but you have to now reserve McFadden until Oakland can figure out how to turn him loose again.
5. Battered and beaten:Michael Vick's numbers were a bit disappointing in Week 11, yet with a few breaks here and there, it seemed he could have finished with much better fantasy numbers. Against a zesty, determined Bears defense in Week 12, though, it was apparent that Vick can indeed be effectively defensed. If you had any lingering doubts that opponents could not limit Vick, they seemingly should be gone after Chicago held him to one score until fourth-quarter garbage time. The Bears defensive line was in prime form, as Vick was sacked four times and hit often, and Chicago further challenged him by dropping extra defenders back into coverage. Vick also often seemed hesitant to take off and run when it could have benefited him. Yes, Vick can indeed be contained. But he still padded his numbers when playing catch-up and finished with 333 passing yards and two scoring tosses. And the Texans and Cowboys are next on the schedule. So despite two weeks of being harassed by the Giants and Bears, better matchups and numbers obviously lie ahead. Not every defense has the personnel to keep Philadelphia's "Ultimate Weapon II" in check. (In case you are wondering who the first one is, ask Eagles fans about a guy named Cunningham.)