Each week, Scott Engel of RotoExperts.com reviews five of Sunday's biggest storylines from a fantasy perspective.
1. He is indeed human: After an historic Fantasy performance in Week 10, many experts and players were expecting at least another above-average performance from Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Maybe 50 points was unrealistic, but at least two or three total touchdowns did not seem much to ask from the game's "ultimate weapon." Well, you can put a hold on the hyperbole that pegged Vick as possibly the very best quarterback in fantasy football. One great performance does not automatically earn him a place among the elite just yet. Let's see more consistently outstanding performances before he is regularly mentioned with players such as Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
Vick still has the upside and versatility to outperform any other fantasy quarterback in any given week, yet he must prove he can play at a high level more often to be lumped in with the true fantasy superstars. The Giants proved Vick can be contained, as they did not allow him to throw a touchdown pass and held him to 34 rushing yards. Vick seemed destined for another big night after scoring on a 4-yard run in the first quarter. He never found the end zone again, though, and also lost a fumble. The Giants pressured him often, especially in the second half, and disrupted his timing. When he ran, he was forced to his right side, where he is less effective and was hit with authority by defenders. New York may have set a blueprint for defending Vick. How he responds in the short term should dictate how well he performs during the fantasy playoffs. Look for the Eagles and Vick to adjust their schemes and approaches, and more fun Vick outings will be ahead. Still, a place among fantasy's best must be earned over a much more extensive period.
2. Star power? Is Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna fantasy football's newest standout? Is the guy with the star on his helmet a real star? The recent numbers would seem to indicate he is. Kitna has thrown six touchdown passes in the past two games with just one interception. On Sunday against Detroit, he threw for three scores and even added a rushing touchdown. Yet despite the mini-run of major success, Kitna simply cannot be plugged into lineups on a regular basis during the fantasy stretch run. Kitna is a veteran journeyman who has a long history of inconsistency and turnovers. Let's not forget that this is the same quarterback who threw six interceptions in two games in Weeks 8 and 9. Kitna has always been very capable of following a good game with a stinker. He forces balls into coverage and sometimes can be prone to fumbling as well as having a penchant for throwing picks when he is not playing well. With the likes of the Saints, Colts and Eagles ahead, Kitna remains a risky play going forward. The Cowboys could find themselves playing from behind in any or all of those games, and when Kitna is pressing, there is a good possibility of a meltdown. Kitna is anything but a lineup lock, and must still be considered a matchup play. (Then again, the Jaguars have been known for their soft pass defense, and Kitna stunk up the place in that game.) You never know which Kitna can show up in any given week. It's a big roll of the dice.
3. Bum DMC: Heading into Week 11, many owners of Raiders running back Darren McFadden were concerned about his matchup. Going up against Pittsburgh, which boasted the NFL's best run defense, seemed like a tall task for any running back. Yet some fantasy leaguers elected to keep McFadden active, sticking to the time-tested adage that you do not bench your fantasy superstars. Many fantasy players, though, heeded the matchup, as McFadden was started in only 38.1 percent of NFL.com leagues, a drop of 24.6 percent from Week 9 (the Raiders had a bye last week). McFadden was held to 14 rushing yards on 10 carries, easily his worst game during a resurgent 2010 season. The Steelers did a fine job of keying on the Oakland running game, and once the Raiders fell behind 21-3 in the second quarter, it was apparent the ground attack was going to be a non-factor the rest of the day. Fantasy players should be careful not to overreact from one very bad performance by McFadden. He is playing with a lot of pride and confidence this season, and will likely be fired up to rebound from his Week 11 outing very quickly. Even the best fantasy players have down weeks, and the better ones get back into a groove very fast. Watch McFadden turn things around in Week 12 against Miami, bank on that.
4. Good with Goodson: Most fantasy leaguers did not have confidence in Panthers running back Mike Goodson this week, Heck, only 3 percent of NFL.com participants started him in Week 11. Goodson was mostly unproven and facing a Ravens team that still had a respectable defensive reputation. And it seemed easy for any team to defend Carolina. With Brian St. Pierre starting at quarterback, we all expected Baltimore to stack the box against the Panthers and force them to throw the ball, with cringe-worthy results. Much to everyone's surprise, though, Goodson met the challenge of facing the Ravens and succeeded, even though the game began veering in the direction of the predictable rout by the second quarter. Goodson ran for a surprising 120 yards on 22 carries, with a long of 45 yards. Goodson is a determined and energetic runner with excellent vision and sound instincts in short space. Even if and when Jonathan Stewart returns, Goodson should remain part of the offensive picture in Carolina. Use him with confidence in the flex position, especially in larger leagues. With DeAngelo Williams done for the year, Goodson is here to stay in 2010. The only concern for him may be if Stewart eats into his workload, as Goodson appears to be a "rhythm" RB who needs regular touches to get into the flow of the game.
5. Lucky sevens: For much of this season, the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson have not received enough respect from fantasy players. Both are former seventh-round NFL draft choices who went undrafted in just about every fantasy league in 2010. And both have come out of nowhere this year to start gaining some fantasy attention. Fitzpatrick unexpectedly burst onto the scene with 11 touchdown passes in a four-game stretch that lasted through Week 7. Johnson caught six touchdown passes during a five-game stretch that began in Week 3, and enjoyed a career day with 11 receptions for 145 yards in Week 9. Yet many fantasy owners were still waiting for the "expected" falloff of both players. Fitzpatrick did not throw more than one touchdown pass in a game from Weeks 8 through 10, and was started in 5.5 percent of NFL.com leagues in Week 11. Johnson caught three passes for 37 yards in Week 10, and it appeared his run of great success might be over, too, at least to those "reactionary" fantasy types. Johnson was started in 44.2 percent of NFL.com leagues in Week 11, a drop of 26.4 percent from the week before. Now that the byes were over and Johnson was coming off a bad game, it seemed to be the time to reserve him. Those who benched Johnson were burned badly, as he flourished with a new career day, with eight receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Fitzpatrick delivered his second four-touchdown performance of 2010 and threw for 316 yards. Most owners who have these two players now face challenging lineup decisions going forward, as it often comes down to a choice between the surprising Buffalo player and a more established selection. Johnson should no longer be benched if you can help it -- not even against the Steelers next week. Fitzpatrick has been less consistent and does remain a matchup play if you own another very good fantasy QB. Yet there is no longer any reason to doubt either player. Both are among the better producers at their positions -- especially Johnson, who is an easy Top 10 at receiver. Do not reserve either player based on past pedigrees, or lack thereof. And yes, sometimes it takes 11 weeks to convince some owners of the truth.