San Diego WR Malcom Floyd had a solid week agains New Orleans and is becoming more of a fantasy factor. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)
What do the Packers, Saints, Patriots, and, well, 28 other NFL teams have in common? They're all staring up at the Falcons when it comes to fantasy football superiority.
Not that those other teams don't supply plenty of fantasy starters, but Atlanta is the only team that boasts a top-12 QB (Matt Ryan, No. 2), a top-12 RB (Michael Turner, No. 11), two top-12 WRs (Roddy White, No. 5, and Julio Jones, No. 12) and a top-12 TE (Tony Gonzalez, No. 1). Just for good measure, the Falcons also have the No. 8 kicker (Matt Bryant) and the No. 9 D/ST.
The Falcons are easily the most bankable team for fantasy owners, and they're really showing no signs of slowing down. They also passed a minor test on Sunday, putting up 421 total yards while playing outdoors on a wet and somewhat chilly day. At this point, outdoor games in less-than-ideal conditions against good defenses seem to be about the only thing that could give this offense problems (aside from injuries, of course). For those already looking ahead toward the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16), Atlanta has a road game in a relatively neutral environment (at CAR) and two dome games (vs. NYG, at DET).
The only real concern is if there are enough yards and scores to go around on a weekly basis. Jones and White still haven't had big games at the same time, with Week 1 being the closest they've come (White had 8.7 fantasy points; Jones had 22.8). That figures to even out as the season goes on, as White and Jones both have top-five ability.
If you don't have any Atlanta players on your roster, it will be tough to pry them away from their owners, but they all look worthy of the investment (even Turner). Let's look at more risers and fallers at each offensive position.
It was a bad week for dual-threat quarterbacks, as Michael Vick lost two more fumbles, Cam Newton didn't account for a TD for just the second time in his career, and Robert Griffin III struggled before being knocked out of the game because of a concussion. Russell Wilson actually had one his better games of the season, but he still had more turnovers (two) than TDs (one), and Jake Locker wasn't able to play because of a shoulder injury. Tim Tebow also didn't play much. Perhaps it was just a bad week, but one of the big selling points of these types of quarterbacks is their consistency because of their ability to add points with rushing yards.
That wasn't the case this week. It would be reactionary to say that the league is catching up with these players, but the rash of injuries and the lack of accuracy for everyone not named Griffin are definite red flags going forward.
Notable Riser: Andrew Luck, Colts. Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick all took steps backward as they were on the verge of joining the “every-week starting QB” club, but Luck kept on gunning, throwing for a career-high 362 yards and accounting for a career-high three TDs. He's now topped 300 yards and had at least two TDs in three of four games. He's even added at least 21 rushing yards in each of the past three games. Turnovers could still be an issue, but Luck looks legit.
Notable Faller: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Big Ben's value should remain unchanged, but after his 207-yard, no-TD performance, his stock will likely fall in some owners' minds. Remember that Roethlisberger had two sure TDs spoiled by his receivers on the same possession (one on an Antonio Brown drop in the end zone; another when Jerricho Cotchery tripped over his own feet on his way to the end zone), and he had another TD toss ruled a running play because it technically went backward behind the line of scrimmage. He's still a QB1.
The Cardinals suffered another big injury in their backfield, losing Ryan Williams (left shoulder) for the rest of the season. With Beanie Wells (toe) out until late-November, preseason rushing champ William Powell and Alfonso Smith will share carries. While both Powell and Smith deserve to be picked up in fantasy leagues, it's tough to expect much from backs on a team that's averaging a league-low 2.7 yards per carry.
More noteworthy is Cedric Benson's foot injury. He could be out for the rest of the season, which means Alex Green and James Starks will likely split touches. Green Bay is averaging 4.3 yards per carry (tied for ninth), so whichever back gets the bulk of the touches could have some value. Right now, Starks looks like the better long-term bet, but John Kuhn is always a candidate to steal goal-line touches.
Notable Riser: Frank Gore, 49ers. Credit to Stevan Ridley, Ahmad Bradshaw and Rashard Mendenhall, the latter of which looked better than expected coming off a torn ACL, but we continue to be impressed by Gore's efficiency. He topped 100 yards for the second time last week, and he's now scored in four of five games and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry (tied for third among RBs). Gore isn't involved in the 49ers receiving game for the second straight year, so there's always a worry that a good run defense could shut him down, but right now he looks lethal running behind San Francisco's powerful line.
Notable Faller: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals. We knew Green-Ellis would have trouble against Miami's third-ranked run defense, but the fact he only received nine carries last week was surprising. He should be in line for more touches again now that Bernard Scott (knee) is out for the rest of the year, but with just a 3.3 yards-per-carry average, Green-Ellis is still losing value. So is last week's hero, San Diego's Jackie Battle, who had just six touches compared to 18 for Ryan Mathews.
Six different wide receivers had at least 15 targets last week, led by Reggie Wayne (20) and Marques Colston (18). A little farther down the list were Bengals' teammates A.J. Green (13) and Andrew Hawkins (13). Targets are great, but the two of them managed just 14 catches for 106 yards. That doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on them (more so QB Andy Dalton), but it shows that catch percentage is perhaps more important of a stat.
Justin Blackmon (39.4), Greg Little (40.7), Vincent Jackson (42.1), Stevie Johnson (45.7) and Denarius Moore (46.2) have the worst catch percentages among fantasy-relevant receivers. They can certainly still have value, but they'll need higher-than-usual target numbers in order to be consistent.
Notable Riser: Malcom Floyd, Chargers. Floyd's always had the reputation of a boom-or-bust player, but he's evened things out a bit this year. His 108-yard performance on Sunday night was his second 100-yard game of the season, and he's scored at least 10.8 fantasy points in three of five games. He leads all Chargers receivers in targets (34) by a wide margin, and his catch-percentage (58.8) is decent given all the looks he gets. He should be a fairly consistent WR2/3 going forward.
Notable Faller: Jordy Nelson, Packers. Nelson managed just two catches for 29 yards last week despite Greg Jennings' absence, and he's now been held under 30 yards in two of his past three games. He has just one TD on the season, and despite leading the Packers in targets (36), he's behind Jennings in targets per game and only marginally ahead of Jermichael Finley (31) and James Jones (30) in total targets. With the Packers' offense not what it was last year, Nelson is quickly losing value.
It was another quiet week for most big-name tight ends, with both Jimmy Graham (one catch, four yards) and Rob Gronkowski (four catches, 35 yards) really disappointing. Graham can blame his lackluster performance on an injured ankle, but Gronkowski has now struggled in two of the past three weeks. There's little reason to worry about either, as Graham will have a week off to get healthy and Gronkowski went through a stretch like this last season. Gronkowski could actually benefit from Aaron Hernandez's expected return next week, as defenses won't be able to devote quite as much attention to him.
Notable Riser: Jacob Tamme, Broncos. On the surface, Tamme's six-catch, 50-yard performance against the Patriots isn't that noteworthy, but his 11 targets were second among all TEs last week. His 27 targets over the past three weeks also rank second. Denver's other TE, Joel Dreesen, has scored in each of the past three games, but it's only a matter of time before Tamme starts getting some of the TDs. He's a nice buy-low candidate.
Notable Faller: Jermichael Finley, Packers. A shoulder injury limited Finley to just 11 yards last week, and he's now scored six fantasy points or fewer in four straight games. Finley continues to have problems with drops (three) and mental lapses, and it's possible that even when he's fully healthy, D.J. Williams will see more playing time.
Steelers at Titans
Stat to know: By now you should know that the Titans are giving up the most fantasy points per game to TEs (16.5), but they're also giving up the third-most to QBs (26.0), fifth-most to RBs (24.6), second-most to Ks (11) and fifth-most to D/STs (9.2). Start all your Steelers with confidence.
Stumbler: Titans WRs (Pittsburgh allowing just 184.8 passing yards per game, third fewest).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage at http://fantasysource.sportingnews.com/football/free?affiliate_code=sn_navigation