Fantasy Football: Peyton Manning Headlines AFC 'Revelations' from Week 4

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterOctober 1, 2012

Quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the Broncos' 37-6 rout of the Raiders in Denver.
Quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the Broncos' 37-6 rout of the Raiders in Denver.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Here are 10 AFC-based fantasy revelations from a hectic Week 4, which curiously didn't include a single Hail Mary touchdown with the clock expired.

For a look at the NFC 'Random Thoughts' from Sunday, click here.

1. The Broncos are a balanced fantasy juggernaut when all is right with the world

Prior to Sunday's near-flawless effort against the Raiders, Peyton Manning had never enjoyed an outing of 330 yards passing, three-plus TD passes, zero interceptions and a tailback teammate (Willis McGahee) with 100-plus rushing yards.

That, in a nutshell, encapsulates why Manning doesn't need more than eight 400-yard games (15-year career) or one Super Bowl ring to be a first-ballot, no-brainer Hall of Famer sometime in the next decade: His relentless pursuit of the perfect game doesn't necessarily have to coincide with eye-popping numbers.

Manning (338 yards passing, three TDs) is not the first quarterback to crush the beleaguered Raiders defense this season, nor will he be the last.

But it might end up being the easiest fantasy call of 2012, earmarking Manning, Demaryius Thomas (five catches, 103 yards) and Eric Decker (seven catches, 79 yards, one TD) for monster stats against Oakland (allowing 31.25 points per game).

Thomas and Decker (15 combined targets) both produced double-digit points in standard-scoring and points-per-reception leagues. But the real surprise might have involved McGahee rummaging through the Raiders for 135 total yards (112 rushing) and one touchdown.

Not because the Raiders were surrendering 116 rushing yards per game. I simply figured there wouldn't be enough fantasy juice for the Broncos rushers...after Manning, Thomas, Decker and tight end Jacob Tamme feasted off a porous defense.

Instead, it represents one of the most balanced fantasy efforts of the season, with Manning, Thomas, Decker and McGahee supplying their respective owners with elite-level production.

It also stands as tangible proof that Manning should never be benched in 12-team leagues.

2. Nobody develops unknown running backs from Ole Miss like the Patriots

It's weird writing fantasy revelations about players who were born in the 1990s, especially ones that trudged through four years of SEC football, amid little or no fanfare.

But that's the story behind Brandon Bolden, the Patriots' backup rusher (and Mississippi alum) who busted the Bills for 148 total yards (137 rushing) and one touchdown, matching the fantasy production of teammate Stevan Ridley (106 total yards, two TD).

With the emergence of Ridley/Bolden and athletic potential of Shane Vereen, it's easy to see why New England allowed BenJarvus Green-Ellis (an Ole Miss alum) to sign with Cincinnati during the offseason. But it's hard to gauge what kind of impact Bolden might have with the Patriots from this point forward.

After all, Bolden's touchdown occurred during his team's fourth-quarter onslaught of uninterrupted points. And last I checked, the Patriots are still a pass-first club with Tom Brady (340 yards passing, three TD), Wes Welker (nine catches, 129 yards, one TD), Rob Gronkowski (five catches, 104 yards, one TD) and Brandon Lloyd (three catches, 50 yards, one TD) in the starting lineup.

Plus, knowing the Patriots' erratic history with running backs in the Bill Belichick era, Bolden is no closer a lock for 100 total yards next week against Denver...than posting a luckless outing of four touches and nine yards.

That said, he'll still be a coveted asset on the waiver wire, just in case Belichick sees stars in a player who no longer has to worry about Alabama on the schedule.

3. A.J. Green holds the No. 1  receiving spot at the quarter-pole of the NFL season

Obviously, Detroit's Calvin Johnson (29 catches, 423 yards, one TD in 2012) has plenty of time to recapture this unofficial title before season's end.

But after four games, it's proper to bestow high honors to Green—a top-five producer in targets, catches, receiving yards and touchdowns...but a leader in none of the categories (ahem, room for growth).

In his last three games, Green has tallied 22 catches, 32 targets, 358 yards and three touchdowns. And these stellar numbers come at a time when Cincinnati is developing a No. 2 receiver, a No. 2 running back and No. 3 wideout on the fly...without detracting from the marvelous chemistry between Green and QB Andy Dalton (244 yards passing, three TD against Jacksonville).

All this begs the question: Can Green still be the top-ranked receiver after the Bengals' next four-pack of opponents—the Dolphins, Steelers, Browns and Broncos? If so, he might be worth the cost of an immediate blockbuster trade, by any means necessary.

4. It's OK to celebrate Chris Johnson's monster effort against Houston...if you don't expect him to replicate the feat next week

I may be Johnson's most ardent supporter among the fantasy-guru circuit (one Twitter follower wonders if I'm on CJ's payroll), but I am also painfully realistic about his prospects for Week 5 (at Minnesota) and the games leading up to Tennessee's Week 11 bye.

When healthy, Johnson (157 total yards vs. the Texans) is an explosive back with the potential to dominate any fantasy week, regardless of opponent.

But this isn't 2009, when Johnson (2,509 total yards that year) strung together 11 straight weeks of 100 yards rushing...or 2010, when Johnson collected 12 easy touchdowns.

Bottom line: For the foreseeable future, the enigmatic Johnson shall remain a flex-only consideration in 12-team leagues. His penchant for sticking in starting lineups will hinge on weekly matchups and ancillary factors (weather, bye-week depth).

5. The Texans' real-world dominance isn't affecting Arian Foster's fantasy greatness

Through four games, Foster has 112 touches, 424 total yards and four touchdowns. In the same measurement of time last year, Foster had 93 touches, 491 total yards and one touchdown.

In other words, it really doesn't matter that 4-0 Houston boasts a per-game victory margin of 17.5 points. If anything, the Texans are even more determined to ride Foster during this run of perfection, a trend that will most likely continue against the Jets next week.

Speaking of which, did you hear Jets coach Rex Ryan's incredulity over the 49ers plowing his defense for 245 rushing yards—and a 34-0 thrashing in New Jersey?

With Foster (94 total yards, one TD vs. Tennessee) and Ben Tate running at full power against the injury-depleted Jets, that 245 number might be eclipsed next week.

6. Brian Hartline has officially earned a seat at the "adults' table" in PPR leagues

I have vivid recollections of Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton throwing for 400-plus yards at University of Phoenix Stadium.

But few receivers can match Brian Hartline's production in the Cardinals' home palace—12 catches, 253 yards and one touchdown.

As a result, it's time to end my stubborn stance against Dolphins playmakers—not named Reggie Bush—and give Hartline (25 catches, 455 yards, one TD in 2012) the fantasy respect he deserves.

Every Sunday. Regardless of opponent.

These are the spoils that accompany wideouts with two games of 110 yards receiving, four games of eight-plus targets and having zero peers in the realm of single-game dominance. Quite simply, no NFL playmaker can match or eclipse Hartline's 19 targets or 253 receiving yards this season.

Hartline's Welker-esque transformation to the receiving elite didn't occur in a vacuum, of course.

He owes a great deal of his success to Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill (431 yards passing, one TD vs. Arizona), who may have leapfrogged a large handful of fantasy QBs in one day's work.

But not quite the leap of Hartline in PPR circles.

7. It's hard to be glum about Maurice Jones-Drew's pedestrian day against Cincy

In five years of writing fantasy football, I cannot recall a more attractive matchup, on paper, for an elite running back, heading into a random NFL Sunday.

Jones-Drew had torched the Colts for 193 total yards (177 rushing) and one touchdown in Week 3. And for Sunday, he drew the NFL's 31st-ranked rush defense (the Bengals) home...with a chance to lift Jacksonville to a respectable 2-2 record.

But alas, Jones-Drew finished with only 80 total yards, in a 17-10 game entering the fourth quarter.

Go figure.

It still doesn't change the fact that MJD's the only starting consideration among the Jags playmakers right now (sorry, Justin Blackmon). And it won't stop me from tabbing Jones-Drew for fantasy greatness in Week 5—in his first-ever home tussle with the Bears.

8. Denarius Moore should be a trade target for savvy owners this week

A quick look at the schedule reveals the Raiders have a bye in Week 5. So, why the urgency in acquiring Moore (four catches, 71 yards), a low-end No. 1 receiver who plays on a bad team?

Well, during bye weeks, most fantasy owners would happily sacrifice their short-term future for a chance to win that particular Sunday/Monday. By extension, they'd likely part with Moore (three career 100-yard games)...if it satisfied the immediate goal of surviving another fantasy week at other positions.

My rationale for targeting Moore:

a. The Raiders have cultivated sizable deficits in all four games (winning only one), which portends more passing in the third and fourth quarters.

b. Oakland QB Carson Palmer (202 yards vs. Denver) was extremely complementary of Moore's talent and upside when talking to CBS color analyst Phil Simms last week.

c. Opposing defenses are singularly focused on stopping Raiders running back Darren McFadden (34 rushing yards vs. Denver).

d. Fellow receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) could be out for a while.

e. Moore's trade price should be reasonable this week...since he's no longer a flavor of the month at receiver.

9. Keep your gawking to a minimum when driving by the Jets' fantasy wreckage

It's too early in the season to tag a team with 'fantasy roadkill' status. But what's your motivation for starting any Jets playmakers next week against the Texans? Or even the following Sunday against the Colts?

Without Santonio Holmes (foot injury), Dustin Keller (hamstring) or rookie Stephen Hill (hamstring) in the lineup, there's no reason to expect anything from QB Mark Sanchez (103 yards passing vs. San Fran).

The same holds true for running back Shonn Greene, who's averaging 32.1 total yards in his last three games.


10. Thank goodness this is a fantasy column, and not a platform for bemoaning Jamaal Charles' real-world fumble woes

I doubt many fans from the metro Kansas City area would share this opinion today, but I'm quite pleased with Charles' progress from major knee surgery. And Sunday's effort, when wearing rose-colored fantasy glasses, was just another example of it.

After all, 115 total yards (92 rushing) and two touchdowns during a blowout situation is rather remarkable for a running back...especially when said rusher played an integral role in creating the Chiefs' 21-point deficit going into halftime.

In most NFL markets, a tailback who fumbled twice in his own territory would be consigned to bench duty the remainder of the game. But the Chiefs coaches were smart enough to realize that only one of Charles' head-shaking fumbles resulted in a San Diego touchdown.

Plus, they knew that Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (seven catches, 108 yards, one TD) were the club's best hopes for a second-half rally.

And that's exactly what happened...minus the comeback win. Bowe and Charles combined for 223 yards and three touchdowns. They even made Matt Cassel (251 yards passing, two TD, three INT) look relevant in fantasy circles for another NFL weekend.

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


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