Fantasy Football 2012: Jay Cutler Headlines Revelations from Bears-Packers

Jay ClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterSeptember 14, 2012

Bears QB Jay Cutler (126 yards passing, 1 TD) was continually harassed by Packers defenders on Thursday, throwing four interceptions and succumbing to seven sacks. (US PRESSWIRE)
Bears QB Jay Cutler (126 yards passing, 1 TD) was continually harassed by Packers defenders on Thursday, throwing four interceptions and succumbing to seven sacks. (US PRESSWIRE)

Here are a few revelations off the Packers' 23-10 victory over the Bears on Thursday night, a sloppy-at-times game that offered little value to fantasy consumers...minus any close relatives of Green Bay special-teamers Tim Masthay and Tom Crabtree.

1. Jay Cutler is nowhere close to being an elite fantasy quarterback

If Cutler had the good fortune of playing the 2012 Colts every week at home (or some other downtrodden franchise), he'd undoubtedly be a supreme fantasy asset and automatic starter in 12-team leagues. But sadly, that's not the case.

In the NFL, Cutler has been a starter for the better part of seven seasons (three in Denver, four in Chicago). And in his 15 career road games against intra-divisional opponents, Cutler has amassed 3,417 yards passing, 19 TD passes and 24 interceptions...for per-outing averages of 227.8 yards passing, 1.27 touchdowns and 1.6 interceptions.

And yet, many NFL pundits (including those in the fantasy universe) badly want to support Cutler as something more than a strong-armed passer who's solid at home, but only capable of shredding below-average defenses on the road.

The above words are hardly a reactionary rant to Thursday's performance. Yes, Brandon Marshall (two catches, 24 yards) dropped an eminently catchable ball in the end zone, and star tailback Matt Forte was cruising along with 80 total yards, before injuring his ankle in the third quarter. And yes, the other Bears receivers—including rookie Alshon Jeffery—essentially shrunk from the expectations of playing a big-time opponent in a prime-time setting.

That aside, this effort simply reaffirmed the time-tested differences between Cutler (126 yards passing, one TD, four INT) and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in the fantasy realm:

A pedestrian night for Rodgers is something in the neighborhood of 220 yards and one touchdown. For Cutler, that threshold resembles (maybe) 188 yards passing, one touchdown and three or four interceptions.

Oh, and only one of these QBs has the blockhead-centric gumption to berate, then nudge one of his prized offensive linemen on national TV.

Bottom line: Enjoy the many advantages of starting Cutler at home against lesser-light opponents. But that's about it for now.

2. Let's get some perspective on Cedric Benson before endorsing him for fantasy sainthood

There's not much shock value to Benson rushing for 81 yards against the Bears (on 20 carries). But I had to do a double-take when realizing he caught four balls for 35 yards, as well.

In Benson's eight-year career, spanning 93 games, Thursday marked only the sixth time he had registered four-plus catches, and the 35 yards had been surpassed only once in his productive NFL tenure (November 2008).

Verdict: For standard-scoring leagues, it's still too early to accept or dismiss Benson as a top-30 fantasy rusher. But in points-per-reception leagues, Benson has already bumped his head against that glass ceiling.

3. Alshon Jeffery is a cautionary tale for those starting Stephen Hill this weekend

The day will come when Jeffery is a bona fide starter in the fantasy realm, routinely flirting with 75 catches, 900 yards and eight touchdowns for the Bears. But for the time being, he's nothing more than a promising rookie who's likely bound for a campaign full of frustrating highs and lows.

Yes, Jeffery scored a touchdown in his NFL debut, off a beautiful 42-yard rainbow bomb from Cutler (during virtual garbage time). But he has only four catches for 87 yards in two games—barely passable numbers in fantasy.

Of greater concern, he's been targeted only seven times for the year, meaning that Jeffery has had just 3.5 chances per game to justify being on your roster.

In other words, if these same numbers applied to a third-year wouldn't even cross the street to think about scooping him up in 12-team leagues.

Which brings us to Stephen Hill (five catches, 89 yards, two TD in Week 1) or any other rookie receiver on fantasy radars:

There's a reason why neither Jerry Rice, Calvin Johnson, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith nor Julio Jones eclipsed 60 receptions in their inaugural NFL seasons. Being a rookie is all about staying quiet, keeping your nose clean, trying to make sense of a voluminous playbook and surviving the physical rigors of 16 hard-hitting games—a major departure from the college ranks.

And if you can string together two or three straight stellar performances, then you'll be in rare company.

4. The Packers D/ST didn't need a "special-teams TD" to be great on Thursday

I experienced the biggest surge of in-game Tweets just minutes after Green Bay executed a picture-perfect fake field goal-turned creative shovel pass (from Tim Masthay to Tom Crabtree) for a second-quarter touchdown, with followers wondering if the score counted for the fantasy D/ST.

My understanding: Since it was a forward pass, the punter/holder Masthay got credit for the touchdown; and Crabtree got credit for the TD reception. So, unless someone had that pair in their starting lineup—and I'm betting that wasn't the case—the whole sequence remarkably meant nothing in the fantasy realm.

On the positive side, the Packers intercepted Cutler four times and continually harassed him for seven sacks. Throw in the perks of allowing only 10 combined points, and Green Bay tallied 19 fantasy points for the evening (majority of scoring systems).

Jay Clemons
can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.