From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Three players, 88 fantasy points, six percent. "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!" If Bill Murray were a fantasy footballer, he might use that old Ghostbusters quote to describe Week 13. It was just weird. Three of the top-scoring players, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell and Brady Quinn, were active in a combined six percent of NFL leagues (Campbell made up for five percent). If you started any one of these three players, you'd have been rewarded with more points than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And the madness didn't end there. The second-highest scoring running back of the week was Jerome Harrison! He was active in 10 percent of leagues. Harrison is also still a free agent in 62 percent of leagues, but that is certain to change now that he's assumed the top spot on the Browns backfield depth chart.
At the wide receiver spot, the two top scorers (Louis Murphy, Devin Thomas) were owned in a combined five percent of leagues and started in none. Yes, it was just one of those weeks. When the duo of Murphy and Thomas combined to score more fantasy points (46) than Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Marques Colston and Reggie Wayne (41), well you just have to chalk it up to the fantasy gods having some fun with us.
So should owners look to add any of these upstarts? In the case of Harrison, the answer is yes.
He has a tough matchup in Week 14 against the Steelers, but his next two games are against the Chiefs and Raiders. Those are two of the league's most vulnerable units in the NFL against the run. Other than Harrison, though, I don't trust any of the rest of these players to make a consistent impact down the stretch. Campbell and Quinn are worth a look in deeper fantasy leagues or two-quarterback leagues, but I'd avoid Gradkowski altogether. I'm also not starting Murphy or Thomas during the fantasy postseason.
2. Robert Meachem has emerged into a fantasy star. Remember that trend about wide receivers putting up career numbers in their third NFL season? Well, it looks like Meachem is the 2009 poster boy for that trend. After a slow start to the season, the former Tennessee superstar has made an enormous impact in fantasy football. Since Week 9, he is third in points among wide receivers on NFL.com. Only Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald have scored more points in that time. That's pretty darn good company. His success was evident in Week 13 against the Redskins, as Meachem led the Saints in targets (10), receptions (8) and receiving yards (142) in a come-from-behind win.
His stat line did come with some confusion, though, as Meachem actually scored two touchdowns in the contest. After a Drew Brees interception, Meachem tracked down Redskins CB Kareem Moore, stripped him of the football and ran it back for a score. In standard NFL.com leagues, Meachem is not rewarded for that touchdown. Once Brees threw the interception, Meachem and the rest of his offensive teammates became part of the Saints defense. So if you look at your league's game center, you'll notice that the Saints were rewarded with a forced fumble (where applicable), a recovered fumble and a defensive touchdown. If you're in a league where players are rewarded for all of their efforts on the field, though, Meachem should also be given the points for those three categories. If you're a commissioner and need to make an adjustment, go to the bottom of the game center page, click adjust scoring, click the drop down to Period 13 and make the appropriate scoring alterations for the team that has Meachem.
3. Adrian Peterson lets fantasy owners down ... again. It's hard to complain much about the third highest-scoring running back in fantasy football. But if you look at Peterson's numbers over the last three weeks, well, there's something left to be desired. The consensus No. 1 overall pick in 2009 drafts has scored a combined 27 fantasy points over that time. That includes an average of just 62 rushing yards per game with a miserable 3.0 yards per carry and more fumbles (2) than touchdowns (1). His worst stat line came in Week 13, as Peterson rushed for just 19 yards on 13 carries against the Cardinals and failed to find the end zone for the second time in three games.
If you're a Peterson owner, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. After a tough matchup on paper against the Bengals and their second-ranked run defense, Peterson faces the Panthers and Bears in the final two weeks of the fantasy postseason. Those two defenses are 26th and 25th against the run respectively, so Peterson should rebound and find success at the most important time of the season. Even then, the Vikings running back appears to have lost his grasp on the top overall spot in fantasy drafts. That label is now affixed to Chris Johnson, who leads all running backs in fantasy points with 233. That's 34 more than Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew, who are tied with 199 apiece.
4. Alex Smith is making a name for himself in fantasy land. If I had told you that a quarterback who was not taken in fantasy drafts would lead countless owners to a championship, you might have thought I was nuttier than a Christmas fruitcake. But Smith is in the midst of making that statement true. The 49ers quarterback has been an absolute star since taking over the offense in San Francisco, averaging an impressive 17.9 fantasy points per game on NFL.com.
Remove his two-point dud against the Bears in Week 10, and that average would rise to 20.5 points. Over his last three games, Smith has scored the fourth-most fantasy points in the entire league. He's outscored Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in that time! That's a very impressive stretch, and I think it will continue right into fantasy's championship week.
In Week 14, Smith faces the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. Their defense has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. While he does have a tougher matchup in Week 15 against the Eagles, Smith finishes the fantasy postseason with a home game against the Lions. That's the fantasy equivalent of little Ralphie Parker getting that Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle at the end of that great holiday movie A Christmas Story. And if you're in one of those rare leagues that finishes in Week 17, Smith gets another gift. A road date with the St. Louis Rams. Like I said before, Smith will be a fantasy hero.
5. Kurt Warner returns to action with a vengeance.Fantasy owners who rolled the dice and started Warner despite his questionable game-time status were rewarded with a solid performance. The veteran threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns in a big-time 30-17 win over Brett Favre and the previously once-beaten Vikings. With Warner back at the helm, the Cardinals took more chances downfield and were far more explosive than in the previous week with Matt Leinart under center. That was good news for the talented duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, who produced a combined 17 catches for 241 yards, three touchdowns and 41 fantasy points on NFL.com.
Much like Smith in San Francisco, Warner also has some great upcoming matchups in the fantasy postseason. He'll face the 49ers in Week 14, the Lions in Week 15 and the Rams in Week 16. Those three teams have allowed a combined 60 total touchdowns to quarterbacks this season. My friends, it doesn't get much easier than that. I'd look for Warner, Fitzgerald and Boldin to all finish with strong numbers and help lead a lot of fantasy leaguers to that ultimate goal -- a 2009 league championship.
News and notes
» Cowboys TE Jason Witten is back to his old self again, and it couldn't come at a better time for fantasy football owners. In his last two games, Witten has recorded 19 catches for 263 yards. He's also been targeted 24 times in those games. In his previous three contests, Witten had been targeted just 23 times. So despite his mediocre first half, Witten should still be seen as one of the elite tight ends in fantasy football down the stretch.
» Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles has been a tremendous option for fantasy owners over the last four weeks. In that time, he's scored an impressive 55 fantasy points on NFL.com. Believe it or not, that's more points than Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson in that time. A viable No. 2 fantasy back, Charles should continue to put up good numbers in Week 14. He'll face the Bills and their 32nd-ranked run defense at Arrowhead Stadium.
» Texans QB Matt Schaub suffered a dislocated left shoulder in Sunday's loss to the Jaguars, though he was able to finish the contest after missing a few offensive series. While he isn't expected to miss any time because of the injury, Schaub is now more of a risk for fantasy owners. If he takes one hard hit to that injured shoulder (much like Lions QB Matthew Stafford), Schaub will be in serious danger of being knocked out of a game.
» In his first game back from an injured knee, Saints RB Reggie Bush recorded four catches for 28 yards and a mere two fantasy points on NFL.com. He didn't re-injury the knee during the comeback win over the Redskins, but Bush still saw just five touches. He's clearly third in the backfield pecking order behind fellow RBs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell, so the USC product is a risky option for fantasy leaguers even in PPR formats.
» Bears QB Jay Cutler can no longer be trusted in fantasy leagues. Even against a vulnerable Rams pass defense, the veteran quarterback still only mustered a mere 11 fantasy points on NFL.com. In his last four games, Cutler has averaged just 8.5 points. He also injured his throwing hand in Week 13, which was part of the reason he threw only 17 passes in the game. Unless you're desperate, Cutler shouldn't be seen as a viable starter anymore.
» Rams RB Steven Jackson gutted out 112 rushing yards against the Bears, but he's still dealing with a sore back that could keep him out of practices the rest of the season. This is a scary situation for fantasy owners, because losing Jackson down the stretch would be a major blow to their championship aspirations. And with RBs Samkon Gado and Kenneth Darby behind him on the depth chart, well, let's hope Jackson continues to grind it out.
» The San Francisco 49ers rank last in the NFL in rushing attempts, averaging just 21 rushes per game. That's not the system we'd envisioned under coordinator Jimmy Raye, who was supposed to use a run-based offense. That's been bad news for RB Frank Gore, who has seen his fantasy points decrease every week since Week 9. It's hard to bench the talented runner, but Gore isn't producing at the most important part of the fantasy season.
» So much for the December swoon of Cowboys QB Tony Romo. While his team lost to the Giants, Romo led countless fantasy leaguers to a win with a 33-point performance against the Giants. That stat line will make it much easier to trust Romo in upcoming matchups against the Chargers, Saints and Redskins. The same can't be said of his teammate, RB Marion Barber, who has averaged a very mediocre 7.5 fantasy points in his last four games.