Fantasy Football

OAK-DEN Lineup Calls

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Michael Harmon

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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

When I hear that line, the image of Will Ferrell in an old Saturday Night Live sketch, “The Mark Jensen Family Christmas,” enters my mind. He spins around and becomes ill. That image is quickly pushed aside by the thought of former NFL coach Jim Mora at a podium. You know what ensues.

The fantasy football playoffs for 2012 are upon us. For most fantasy leagues, the games of Week 14 constitute the beginning of the fantasy playoff bracket or the final salvo of the regular season. They hope for a better fantasy outcome than the Thursday night game between the Falcons and Saints from Week 13.

I suspect that we won’t be talking about a five-interception performance from Peyton Manning in Oakland. Let’s set the table for the Week 14 opener.

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Peyton Manning torched the Raiders in a 37-6 home thrashing in Week 4. He passed for 338 yards with three touchdowns, the first of his seven three-touchdown performances this season. I don’t know that I need to write an extended analysis on this one. The Raiders have allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Opponents average 266 passing yards and two passing touchdowns per game (eight interceptions). Manning sits atop my Week 14 rankings.

As an aside, the future Hall of Famer needs to average 249.5 passing yards per game in the final quarter of the season to reach 4,500.

Demaryius Thomas enters this contest on a roll. He’s scored in three consecutive games (four total) while amassing 223 receiving yards. Thomas takes aim at an Oakland defense that he beat for 103 receiving yards on five receptions in Week 4 (one of six games that he’s finished with at least 99 receiving yards). The Raiders have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to wide receivers (16 touchdowns).

Fantasy owners have been concerned with diminishing returns from Eric Decker of late. Decker has been limited to 23 receiving yards or fewer in three of the Broncos’ past four games (one touchdown). Manning has spread the ball around to other receivers in recent weeks, and the Broncos have made a concerted effort to improve the running game. As a result, Decker’s target count has dwindled.

Despite his shrinking production, this divisional matchup against Oakland represents a strong “get right” opportunity for Decker. He caught 7-of-10 targets for 79 yards with a touchdown in Week 4. Decker ranks as a high-WR2 option for me this week.

Decker’s dip in targets came as a result of an increased role for veteran Brandon Stokley. Stokley had been targeted 21 times from Week 9 to Week 12 before a hip injury sidelined him against the Buccaneers. He’s worthy of a WR4 flier if cleared against this porous Oakland secondary (two receptions for 32 yards in the first meeting). The attention afforded Thomas downfield will clear out the middle present opportunities for YAC for Stokley.

Jacob Tamme established new season-high marks in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (89) in the Broncos’ 31-23 win over the Buccaneers. He’s caught 17 passes on 25 targets for 190 yards in the past three weeks. He rises to a back-end TE1 option this week against the Raiders. Oakland has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends (5.6 receptions and 56.1 receiving yards per game with seven touchdowns).

The infrequently-targeted red zone option Joel Dreessen is a back-end TE2 option.

Knowshon Moreno has taken over the workhorse role for John Fox as the Broncos attempt to establish a balanced attack down the stretch. Moreno has logged 24 touches in back-to-back games (20 carries in each) while averaging 77 rushing yards (20 receiving yards). The Raiders have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs. I still fear vulturism from another back near the goal line, but Manning is just as likely to throw the ball to a defensive lineman. I rank Moreno as a high-end RB2 option (No. 15).

Rookie Ronnie Hillman was the hot waiver wire pickup several weeks ago following Moreno’s injury, but he’s touched the ball just eight times (38 yards) in the past two weeks. If this game plays as expected, then the Broncos are grinding clock and running a ton. Hillman’s breakaway ability is mighty enticing. I rank him in the low-30s with a possible desperation Flex play in the offing.

The Raiders have allowed the second-most fantasy points to kickers (43 PATs and 25 field goals). Matt Prater presents a stable base of PATs behind Manning’s offense. He’s converted 40 PATs this season, and has logged at least one field goal conversion in six consecutive games (three multi-field goal efforts).

Carson Palmer, as I’ll expound upon momentarily, likes to put the ball up (nearly 42 pass attempts per game). Of course, he’s normally doing so with a deficit and trying to force the action. As a result, opposing defenses are presented with sack and turnover opportunities. Opponents have compiled 25 sacks and 23 turnovers against the Raiders this season. The Broncos are a top-5 defense play this week.


The Oakland offense runs through Brandon Myers. That’s right. He’s a tight end owned in alarmingly few leagues despite posting tremendous weekly numbers. Myers caught 14-of-15 targets in the Week 13 loss to Cleveland, his fourth double-digit target count of the year. He’s been targeted at least six times in seven of his past eight starts while averaging 61.6 receiving yards (four touchdowns). Myers ranks No. 2 at the position behind Jimmy Graham this week. The Broncos have allowed the most fantasy points to tight ends this season.

Carson Palmer is the poster boy for fantasy football this season. He posts big fantasy numbers virtually every week while piling up losses on the field. Palmer’s passed for at least 297 yards in eight games this season and has tossed multiple touchdowns in five of his past six games. I know. He’s also piled up 17 turnovers this season.

The Thursday games have been odd this season, but I can’t presume that this Raiders squad races out to a lead here against the Broncos. As a result, we can anticipate Palmer chucking the ball downfield with regularity once again. He’s averaged 41.9 passing attempts per game. Note that Palmer was shut out by the Broncos in the first meeting and was limited to 202 passing yards. Palmers ranks No. 16 in my Week 14 rankings.

Aside from Myers, it’s difficult to shake out which of Palmer’s receivers will contribute to his stat line.

Former No. 1 option and waiver wire darling Denarius Moore has been relegated to a minor role in recent weeks. Moore has caught a total of four passes for 60 yards in the past three weeks (one touchdown). He’s been targeted 19 times during that period, so desperate owners can hold out hope for a rebound performance. Moore ranks No. 34 in my rankings this week.

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Darrius Heyward-Bey enjoyed a breakout season in 2011. His appearances on the fantasy radar in 2012 have been infrequent. Heyward-Bey produced four receptions for 40 yards in Week 13 against Cleveland after being shut out by the Bengals in Week 12. He missed the first matchup against Denver because of an injury sustained against Pittsburgh. Heyward-Bey likely draws Champ Bailey in coverage, so his ceiling is low. He ranks No. 53 in my preliminary Week 14 rankings.

The Broncos have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.

Do you trust Darren McFadden? The fifth-year running back will reportedly return to action on Thursday’s tilt against the Broncos. McFadden hasn’t played since sustaining an ankle injury in Week 9, and had been an uninspiring fantasy play. McFadden averaged 3.3 yards per carry and had produced just three games with more than 100 total yards. He was limited in practice on Tuesday, so be sure to monitor Wednesday’s practice notes. I would not be surprised to see a “game-time” tag put on McFadden opens my Week 14 rankings at No. 18 against the fifth-ranked Denver run defense (in terms of fantasy points).

McFadden’s return pushes Marcel Reece down into a Flex role for fantasy owners. He’s been effective as a plug-in play during McFadden’s absence, and I believe that he retains a role in the passing game (four or more receptions in five consecutive games). Be aware that Reece is also on the mid-week injury report with hamstring and quadriceps injuries.

The Broncos have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to kickers this season. Opponents have converted 18 field goals and 26 PATs. Sebastian Janikowski has converted multiple field goals in eight games this season, and has produced at least one field goal and one PAT in each of his past eight games.

Tagged: Broncos, Raiders, Peyton Manning, Brandon Stokley, Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden, Brandon Myers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Denarius Moore

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