By: C.J. Doon
It’s hard to believe we’ve already witnessed a full month of NFL football! Time really does fly, especially when each week is filled with rising young stars, unbelievable performances, and the calamity of the hopeless replacement referees.
Thankfully, the referee lockout ended, and the real zebras were finally given a new contract to help restore order in the NFL. But admit it: wasn’t it a little fun to watch a league where game-ending interceptions could become game-winning touchdown passes?
Through the first four weeks of the season, the NFL was one of the best reality shows on television. Fans never knew what to expect! What game will the referees monumentally screw up this week? How loud will the “manure” chants get? Will the referees finally realize that first-degree assault deserves a penalty? Tune in, and find out!
One of the most bizarre and humorous stories to emerge from the replacement referee debacle comes from none other than the Lingerie Football League. Yes, you read that correctly. The Lingerie Football League. Apparently, some of the replacement officials working for the NFL were fired from the Lingerie Football League for “several on-field occurrences of incompetent officiating.” But I don’t blame them. They might have been a bit distracted.
In other news, only three NFL teams remain undefeated: the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Texans, and the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are by far the most surprising team of the bunch, posting an incredible 4-0 record after a disappointing 8-8 finish last season.
Grantland.com contributor Bill Barnwell, one of the most brilliant football statisticians I have ever read, predicted the Cardinals would be among the worst teams in the NFL before the season. What Barnwell didn’t see coming, however, was the emergence of Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals’ remarkable defense. Kolb has been solid for the Cards, racking up 752 yards and 7 touchdowns through the first four games, while the defense has only allowed 15.2 points per game. The problem is, the Cardinals have only narrowly squeaked by in each game – with the exception of the 27-6 drubbing of the Eagles – despite such an impressive defense, and have been extremely hot and cold these past two seasons. You may have heard that the Cardinals are 11-2 in their past 13 games, dating back to November of last season, trailing only the Packers for the most wins during that time span. However, you may not have heard that in the 18 games leading up to their current hot streak, the team was a miserable 3-15. In fact, in the past two seasons, the Cardinals have put together losing streaks of seven and six games respectively. So before you go placing your bets on the Cardinals 28-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, just remember that it’s all going to come crashing down…like a house of Cards!
That bad pun brings us to this week’s segment of Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em!
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos – I know what you’re thinking. The guy is 36, coming off two neck surgeries, and has the arm strength of a sixth-grade softball player (no offense to sixth-grade softball players). I get it. But with the Broncos 37-6 shellacking of the Raiders on Sunday, the ole’ Peyton is starting to show again. His numbers vs. Oakland: 30 of 38 for 338 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. If you throw out Peyton’s terrible outing against the Falcons, where he threw three interceptions, his numbers would look like this: 67% completion rate, 921 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Not bad for a guy in his late thirties, wouldn’t you say?
Now that Peyton has had a full month of games to get acclimated to a new team, stadium, coaching staff, and receivers, don’t be surprised if you see Manning return to MVP form.
Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins – Normally I would be the first one to tell you that Hartline’s monster game – 12 catches, 253 yards, and one touchdown– was a fluke, and that you can’t expect a guy who’s never had a big game to all of the sudden be worthy of a starting spot on your team, etc., etc. He has all the makings of a classic overachiever – such as Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin – that baits you into starting him after a big game, and then does absolutely nothing the following week. However, Hartline’s single-game numbers were the best in Miami Dolphins history, and good enough for the 18th best performance by a wide receiver in NFL history. After a remarkable record-setting day, Hartline deserves a starting spot in every league until he proves otherwise.
Jackie Battle, RB, San Diego Chargers – Although Battle has been playing second fiddle to Ryan Matthews for most of the season, he has emerged as a serious red zone threat for the Chargers. Through four games, Battle has three rushing touchdowns and one receiving, and has posted an impressive 5.1 yards per carry average in limited action. Battle is not going to rush for over 100 yards anytime soon, but he is a touchdown vulture and has been getting the nod over Matthews in recent weeks. Battle is an excellent option at the flex position, and worthy of a starting spot as the No. 2 running back in deeper leagues.
Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, RBs, New Orleans Saints – The duo of disappointment! In the Saints’ Sunday afternoon game against the Packers, Thomas and Ingram combined for 25 yards on 14 carries, and produced a whopping 2.30 fantasy points. Yikes. The problem for these two running backs is not their skill level, but the situation they’re dealing with in New Orleans. Following a heartbreaking 28-27 defeat against the Packers, the Saints record now stands at 0-4, essentially eliminating New Orleans from playoff contention. The Saints have been playing from behind all year, which has forced Drew Brees to air it out in order to stay competitive. Carries have been a rarity for both of these players, and although Thomas has been productive in the passing game – 11 catches for 99 yards on the season – he has been overshadowed by the elusive Darren Sproles.
Ramses Barden, WR, New York Giants – After a breakout game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 3, Barden was brought back down to earth against the hard-nosed Philadelphia Eagles. Barden filled in well for the injured Hakeem Nicks against the Panthers, catching a career-high 9 passes for 138 yards. However, when Barden faced the likes of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie in Week 4, he was held to only two catches for 36 yards, and committed a costly pass-interference penalty in the waning moments of the game that cost the Giants a chance at a game-winning field goal.
Although it appears Hakeem Nicks will likely miss the Giants’ upcoming game against the Browns, Barden still does not deserve a starting spot. Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz are more reliable targets, and are better suited to replace the production of the injured Nicks. Unless Barden can prove that he can handle the spotlight, I’d leave him off your starting lineup.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers – Stewart is a big part of the dangerous three-headed rushing attack in Carolina, but has been a disappointment for fantasy owners this season. After missing games one and three with a toe injury, Stewart has posted a staggeringly low 91 rush yards through two games, and has only one touchdown on the year. Having to split carries with running back DeAngelo Williams and quarterback Cam Newton has drastically lowered Stewart’s rushing stats, and he has even suffered a dip in receiving totals, having only caught two passes to date. Until he emerges as the go-to guy over Williams, Stewart should stay benched in your league.