From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Brandon Marshall explodes in Indianapolis. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of Marshall right now. As a No. 2 seed in my most important fantasy league, I was confident that a run to the championship was about to begin. Of course, I had to run into Marshall on the week that he would post the best game of his entire career. Oh, the fantasy gods sure took it to me. Talk about bad luck! Marshall went off to set an NFL-record 21 receptions for 200 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Colts. The 21 catches broke the previous record of 20 catches, which was set by Terrell Owens back in 2000. What makes the performance even more impressive was that the Colts had allowed a mere six scores to wide receivers heading into the week. In fact, on paper this was an unfavorable matchup for Marshall. (Reason No. 777 you should stick with your studs!)
Marshall was targeted 28 times and finished with an amazing 32 fantasy points on NFL.com. And if you play in a PPR format (as I do in that aforementioned league), the talented veteran scored 53 fantasy points. That's 12 points more than he had scored in his previous three games. The performance was the best of the fantasy season at the wide receiver position, beating out the 47-point PPR output from Cowboys WR Mile Austin back in Week 5. Overall, only Titans RB Chris Johnson has had a better fantasy week this season. Back in Week 2, Johnson blew up for 54 points against the Texans. But this week was all about Marshall, who led countless owners to a win.
2. Andre Johnson dominates the Seattle Seahawks. It was hard to put up a better stat line than Marshall, but Johnson sure was close. The veteran wideout went for a solid 11 receptions for 193 yards and scored two touchdowns in a win over the Seahawks. Overall, Andre the fantasy giant posted 31 points on NFL.com and 42 points in PPR formats. It was Johnson's best game of the season for owners, eclipsing the 26 points he scored against the Titans back in Week 2. It was also 10 more points than he had scored in his previous two games. Johnson's success, of course, meant that his quarterback, Matt Schaub, was also a very productive option for fantasy owners.
Schaub put up 336 yards in the first half alone (365 overall) and finished with 24 fantasy points on NFL.com. It was a good sign for the veteran quarterback, who suffered a dislocated left shoulder last week in a loss to the Jaguars. With games against the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins ahead of the schedule, Schaub should be seen as a very solid option in all leagues during the postseason. Those two defensive units are in the top 10 in terms of allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
3. Jamaal Charles is now a must-start fantasy option. Charles, a preseason super sleeper on NFL.com, has turned into this season's version of Packers RB Ryan Grant (2007) and Buccaneers RB Earnest Graham (2007). Since taking over as the featured back in Kansas City, Charles has averaged an impressive 15.6 fantasy points on NFL.com. That includes a 23-point performance against the Bills that put his name firmly on the fantasy map. Charles rushed for 143 yards, caught seven passes for 38 yards and scored a touchdown in the 16-10 win. The score was his fifth in five games (and sixth if you count the touchdown he scored as a return man against the Steelers back in Week 11).
Next on the schedule for Charles is a date with the Cleveland Browns, who have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs in the league. While his Week 16 game against the Bengals isn't as favorable, Charles has earned enough trust with fantasy owners that he's almost matchup-proof at this point. With RB Larry Johnson out of the mix, Charles' value is on the rise in seasonal, keeper and dynasty leagues. He's earning the right to remain atop the Chiefs depth chart in 2010 and far into the future.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew seems to be wearing down. As someone who has the man called "Pocket Hercules," I have to admit that I'm a little worried about the little man from UCLA After averaging a very impressive 18.9 fantasy points in his first nine games, Jones-Drew has mustered an average of just 10.7 points since Week 11.
With his 18 carries against the Dolphins in Week 14, Jones-Drew has already run the ball 251 times this season. That puts him on pace to finish with 309 carries over a full 16-game schedule. That would be 112 more carries than his previous career high (197), set in 2008 while he was in a backfield timeshare with former backfield mate Fred Taylor.
Jones-Drew is also on pace to finish this season with 363 touches. That would be 50 more than he had last season. He's also been held under 100 scrimmage yards in three of his past four games and is averaging a very mediocre 4.3 yards per carry in those contests. In his first nine games, Jones-Drew averaged a far more impressive 5.1 yards per carry. Those numbers show with no question that he's slowing down when fantasy owners need him the most. On a positive note, Jones-Drew next faces a Colts defense which he's owned in recent contests. In his last three starts against this AFC South rival, Jones-Drew has posted a combined 451 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
5. Marion Barber continues to lose fantasy value. As a die-hard fan of the Dallas Cowboys, I'm more familiar than most with their December swoons. But I have to admit, I'm a little shocked at how bad it's gotten for Barber this season. Sure, he's dealt with various injuries, but he's not producing like the touchdown machine we had grown to love in fantasy football. Barber hasn't scored since Week 4, and he failed to punch it in from inside the Chargers' 5-yard line on consecutive attempts in Week 14. Since he scored his last touchdown, Barber has averaged an awful six fantasy points per game on NFL.com. That includes a combined seven points in his last two games. Those are some disappointing totals for a running back who was taken in the first three rounds in just about every fantasy football draft.
While it's high time to bench Barber, the same can't be said for his quarterback, Tony Romo. In his last seven full December games before 2009, he had averaged a mere 12 fantasy points. In two December games this year, he's scored a combined 54 points in losses to the Giants and Chargers. Romo has also averaged 26 fantasy points in his last three games overall. So even though the Cowboys are falling into their late-season doldrums once again, it certainly hasn't affected Romo's value to fantasy owners.
News and notes
» Patriots WR Wes Welker has passed WR Randy Moss as the best fantasy wideout on their team. In his last three games, he's posted a combined 41 receptions for 496 yards and three touchdowns. Moss has 11 receptions for 183 yards and two touchdowns in those same contests. While it's hard to bench him, reports that Moss appears to have morphed back to his old Oakland Raiders days when he took plays off have to be a cause for serious concern.
» Lions RB Kevin Smith suffered a serious knee injury in Sunday's loss to the Ravens and had to be carted off the field. The Detroit News reports that the ailment will likely end his season. With Smith on the sidelines, RB Maurice Morris is now in line to start and should be added off the waiver wire in most leagues. The Lions might also give rookie RB Aaron Brown more burn as well, though, so Morris' value in fantasy could be limited.
» Has there been a better draft value than Ravens RB Ray Rice? He blew up against the Lions, posting 219 scrimmage yards and one touchdown in a 48-3 win. Rice is now on pace to finish the season with 83 receptions, 2,084 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns. With that said, he is losing some gaol-line work to RB Willis McGahee, who should be added in all leagues. In his last three contests, McGahee has found the end zone a combined four times.
» With Saints RB Mike Bell out due to an injured knee, RB Reggie Bush recorded six catches for 46 yards with two touchdowns and scored 19 fantasy points on NFL.com. It was his first significant fantasy impact since Week 10, when he scored 21 points against the Rams. If Bell continues to miss time due to his ailment, Bush has a chance to be a very solid flex starter, especially in PPR leagues, on Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
» Patriots QB Tom Brady remains one of the best quarterbacks in fantasy football, but he's still been a far cry from the player who broke records during the 2007 season. Over his last three games, the Stetson man has averaged an unimpressive 12.6 fantasy points on NFL.com. Brady is also on pace to finish the season with 28 touchdown passes. It's a nice total for certain, but it's not even close to what fantasy owners had hoped for this season.
» Fantasy owners who have Rams RB Steven Jackson have to be more than a little concerned. Reports indicate he's playing with a herniated disc in his back that could keep him from practicing the rest of the season. On a team that has no postseason aspirations, there's also a chance that Jackson could see his number of touches reduced over the final three weeks. His Week 15 matchup against the Texans is favorable, but Jackson is becoming more of a risk.
» The Giants defense used to strike fear in the hearts of opponents and fantasy owners alike. Now it's time to start targeting it in your weekly quarterback matchups. In the last six games, only Broncos QB Kyle Orton has failed to score at least 21 fantasy points against the G-Men. What's more, the last two quarterbacks to face them have put up a combined 56 points. That's good news for Redskins QB Jason Campbell in fantasy's second postseason week.
» The Houston Chroncile reports that Texans coach Gary Kubiak plans to showcase RB Arian Foster over the final three games of the season. Foster, a rookie out of Tennessee, posted four catches and 88 scrimmage yards in a win over the Seahawks. With a game next on the slate against the porous Rams defense, Foster has sudden value as a flex starter in larger fantasy leagues. He should be added in most formats for the fantasy postseason.