Fact, Fiction and Farce Heading into NFL Week 12
Fact: There are no more bye weeks.
Fiction: There is a day of the year more glorious than Thanksgiving.
Farce: Ed Reed's one-game suspension.
This is a great time in the NFL season. We have Thanksgiving day games to help the turkey go down, and then a still busy schedule on Sunday as every team will be in action this week.
In other words, it is time for the home stretch, and it is time to get serious about figuring out which teams are ready to surge into the postseason.
So let's get to work on just that as we separate the fact from the fiction and show what is a straight up farce and discuss ten big topics percolating in the NFL world.
Beanie Wells Will Rescue Your Fantasy Team
Beanie Wells is finally ready to make his 2012 season debut, but don't make him part of your fantasy plans.
Eagles.com's Adam Caplan tweeted out the news of Well's return.
Cardinals activated RB Chris "Beanie" Wells off IR (designation for return).— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) November 21, 2012
This is something cagey fantasy owners have had on the radar for a long time.
The thinking is sound. The talented Wells will return, be the Cardinals starter and perform like he did last year when gained over a 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 14 games.
However, huge problems have emerged with this thinking. First of all, the Cardinals are terrible. They've lost six straight, can't keep a quarterback healthy and they are 29th by gaining just 3.6 yards per carry.
Let us not also forget, that there is no guarantee that Wells will be ready to run at 100 percent, or that he wont' suffer a setback or another injury.
And on top of all of this, he will likely have to share carries with LaRod Stephens-Howling.
There is just way too many things working against Wells to make him a worthwhile add.
It Is Safe to Believe in Josh Freeman Again
This hasn't been an easy conclusion for me to come to. I drafted Freeman in fantasy drafts last year thinking I was getting a steal of a superstar in the making. Instead, I got an erratic, mistake prone quarterback on one of the most anemic offenses in the league.
I avoided Freeman like the plague this year, and now I wish I hadn't
Freeman struggled with his accuracy last year, and he still does at times this year. He is hitting just 56.4 percent of his passes, but he has a career-best 7.85 yards per attempt.
With a receiving corp bolsterd by Vincent Jackson, this has become a big play offense. Freeman is making challenging down-field throws and he is delivering.
His mechanics and decision making have made vast improvements, he is surrounded by weapons, and he will continue to produce at a high level for the remainder of the season.
The Chicago Bears' Playoff Hopes
Look, I get it is a gross overreaction to make this statement after a two-game losing streak. This is about much more than that.
The Bears made an impressive run to a 7-1 record, but what wasn't impressive was who they were beating. Look at their schedule, and tell me what is their most impressive win?
A 34-18 win over the Cowboys in Dallas perhaps? That's not bad, but the Cowboys have made it awfully easy for teams to beat them.
This is a flawed team that was beating bad teams with smoke and mirrors. The defense was scoring at an insane rate, and that was just not going to continue.
Now, Chicago is left with a difficult finishing schedule, a concussed quarterback and a terrible offensive line.
The Bears are tied with the Packers for the lead in the North, and they have just a one game lead on the Bucs, Seahawks and Vikings for the two NFC wild-card spots.
They aren't going to be able to hold off those teams any better than they are going to be able to hold off Jared Allen and Brian Robinson from their quarterback this weekend.
Colin Kaepernick Needs to Be 49ers Starting Quarterback
It would be a gross mistake for the 49ers to start anyone but Colin Kaepernick next week. As Jim Harbaugh said, via ESPN, "I usually tend to go with the guy that has the hot hand."
Well Alex Smith has never had a hand as hot as Kaepernick's was this past Monday.
He was making all the throws and all the reads, and he brought a big-play threat to the 49ers' offense that they just don't have under Smith.
The 49ers' offense has a much higher ceiling with Kaepernick under center than with Smith.
Look, there are sure to be some growing pains with Kaepernick, but that is why he should start now. He would have six more regular season games to get ready for the postseason and work out the kinks.
The beauty of this is that if Kaepernick does come in and plays bad for a few weeks, the 49ers can switch back to Smith, and get him ready for the playoffs.
Smith is a veteran and a professional. He will be ready to do his job. However, the 49ers should do what they can to make Smith's job holding a clipboard.
Don't Play Receivers Facing the Seahawks
If in anyway avoidable, don't rest any of your fantasy hopes on a receiver playing against the Seattle Seahawks.
With Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner manning the corner positions combined with strong safety play and a pass rush that is sixth in sack percentage, the Seahawks make life miserable on opposing passing attacks and especially tough on wide receivers.
Football Outsiders ranks them No. 1 in defending both No. 1 and 2 receivers, and they have allowed the fewest fantasy points to receivers of any team this season.
Dennis Allen Will Get a Free Pass on This Season
Raiders coach Dennis Allen isn't getting a lot hot-seat coverage in the media, but he should be. The Raiders have regressed to a shocking degree.
Over their last three games, the Raiders are allowing 45 points per contest. That's not just bad, it's unbelievable, and Allen is a defensive-minded coach!
It is hard to overstate what a terrible reflection this is on his coaching abilities. The Raiders didn't have to be world beaters, but it is unacceptable for them to get this much worse during the season.
The performance has been so bad that it forced Raiders owner Mark Davis to publicly bemoan the team's regression. Check out this comment from Davis as provided by The Contra Costa Times' Steve Corkran:
Like I say, I’m patient. I’m patient. But I want to see progress. I don’t want to see regression. Nobody does. And that’s why I’m unhappy today. But as far as a pass, I wouldn’t call it a pass. They’ve got contracts; they’re going to be here.
Sure, Davis ends with a vote of confidence, but what a weak vote of confidence that is.
In his short time owning the Raiders, since the passing of his father, Davis has not been overly active with the media.
This was not just an owner venting his frustration and thinking out loud. This was an unavoidable warning message, and unless the Raiders make some drastic improvements, the coaching carousel in Oakland will keep going around.
Justin Blackmon Is Must Fantasy Start This Week
Justin Blackmon had a one-way ticket to bustville, then Week 11 rolled around and Blaine Gabbert rolled to the sideline with an injury, and Blackmon went off.
He finished the game with seven catches, one touchdown and 236 yards.
With Chad Henne in and Gabbert out, the Jaguars were free to run some more complicated routes. With Gabbert, the Jaguars had been using, almost exclusively, isolation routes. This made reads easier for Gabbert who has little ability to go through a progression.
Well now Gabbert has been placed on IR, as the Jaguars official Twitter account informed us.
#Jaguars place Blaine Gabbert (rt forearm/left shoulder) and Laurent Robinson (concussion) on injured reserve.— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) November 21, 2012
This is great news for Blackmon as he get into routes where he is in a better position to succeed, and he will definitely be in a position to succeed this week against a porous Titans defense.
Tennessee is 26th in passing yards allowed per game and per attempt. Blackmon will prove in this game that last week was no fluke.
Rob Gronkowski's Injury Will Doom the Patriots
Rob Gronkowski is one of the most valuable players in the NFL, but the Patriots will be just fine without him.
The Patriots are well stocked at the tight end position. Aaron Hernandez is close to returning from his own injury, and he well help pick up the slack in the passing game.
Meanwhile, the Pats have backups like Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomananui to help with blocking duties, but more than this, the Patriots are a lock to win the AFC East. They own a three-game lead over the Jets, Bills and Dolphins, and none of those teams have the talent to make a run for the division crown.
Winning the AFC East will guarantee the Patriots at least a top-four seed in the AFC. And even though, as the Associated Press reports, the Patriots are being tight lipped about Gronk's injury, he will almost certainly be ready for the playoffs.
Sitting Back in Coverage Is Best Way to Slow Down Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III has been destroying defenses when they send extra rushers. He can make quick reads, accurate throws and his legs make it difficult to sack him no matter how many rushers are sent.
So, one way to combat this has been to not blitz, and keep everyone available in coverage.
As ESPN's Dan Graziano points out, heading into last week's game against the Eagles, this wasn't an overly effective strategy either, as Griffin was completing 67 percent of his passes when facing four or less rushers, but he did have just three touchdowns to three interceptions in those situations.
Well, Griffin is starting to figure that out, too. As Graziano also points out, "Griffin was 11-for-12 for 184 yards and three touchdowns against four or fewer pass-rushers," against the Eagles.
So when it comes to game planning against RG3, it is truly a matter of picking your poison. He can beat any scheme thrown at him.
The Dallas Cowboys Need to Start Planning for Next Year
The Cowboys have done their best to doom their season. They have been plagued by disastrous mistakes at the most inopportune times.
That found them losing three close games to the Ravens, Giants and Falcons, and after the Falcons game, the Cowboys sat at 3-5 and seemed destined to miss the postseason again.
Now, they have climbed back to .500 after having won two-straight. Sure, they needed overtime to beat the Browns last week, but they made the plays at the end that they had, to that point, been blowing.
They will now carry all that momentum with two winnable home games on tap against the Redskins and Eagles.
If they win both of those, they will be 7-5, in the thick of the playoff race, and with a ton of confidence behind them.
They will then play at the Bengals, host the Steelers (likely sans Ben Roethlisberger) host the Saints and end at the Redskins.
The Cowboys trail the sinking Giants by just one game in the division, and the Giants have a more difficult remaining schedule.
Believe it or not, the Cowboys are in a prime position to win the NFC East.