Fantasy Football

Thursday Night Lineup Calls

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

Fantasy owners were happy to see Week 7 come and go. Some realized shocking lows in the scoring column because of the gaping holes left by top-notch producers sitting out for their Bye weeks. Shake it off. It’s just one game.

Besides, there’s not exactly a lot of time to bemoan your fantasy fate. We’re already staring down another slate of games, a glorious schedule that includes a matchup between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and Cowboys-Giants II.

Let’s get this week’s series of “Lineup Calls” pieces started in grand fashion by giving star treatment to the Thursday night tilt between the Vikings and Buccaneers.

One of the top Week 7 plug-in quarterback options, Josh Freeman, delivered a monster performance in a high-scoring loss to the Saints. Freeman passed for 420 yards with three touchdowns, and he almost threw a fourth in the final moments of the 35-28 loss. Alas, Mike Williams (starting to regain the trust of fantasy owners) stepped out of the back of the end zone and was the first to touch the ball. Therefore, the touchdown was nullified.

I’m not anticipating anything close to a repeat of such heroics on the road against the Vikings. Minnesota ranks sixth in total defense, having allowed 18.7 points per game. In last week’s win over the Cardinals, the Vikings amassed seven sacks against John Skelton to raise their season total to 22 (tied for third). That’s been one of the areas of strength for Greg Schiano’s squad in 2012. Through six games, Freeman has only absorbed nine sacks. I have him ranked as my 14th quarterback for this week. The Vikings come in at No. 7 in my team defense rankings.

Conversely, Christian Ponder is coming off a subpar effort against Arizona. He earned the win on the strength of Adrian Peterson’s legs, the aforementioned mountain of sacks and a defensive touchdown. He completed only 8-of-17 pass attempts for 58 yards and threw two interceptions. One of his completions was a short touchdown toss to Percy Harvin. The Buccaneers have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and fourth-most to wide receivers, thereby making Ponder a high-QB2 option this week.

Ponder’s success will be predicated on Adrian Peterson’s ability to crack a Tampa Bay run defense that has played well in 2012 and set up play-action. The Buccaneers have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to running backs and have surrendered just 76 rushing yards per contest. Peterson has posted at least 80 total yards in every game this season. Would you believe that his touchdown run against the Cardinals was his first since Week 1?

Let me finish the offensive side of things for Minnesota. I already mentioned that the Buccaneers have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers. Alas, the Vikings have only one rock-solid option available to Ponder. With Aquib Talib still serving his suspension, the secondary will be pressed to find an answer for the electrifying Percy Harvin. Harvin ranks as a top-5 option for this home tilt. Kyle Rudolph is on the radar as a red zone option, but his yardage output has been minimal. As a result, fantasy owners face a feast-or-famine proposition there. Tampa Bay has also allowed the 13th-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Rudolph comes in as a back-end TE1 because of his target count and red zone role, but this is a tough spot.

Let’s circle back to the Tampa Bay offense. Doug Martin faces a daunting task against the stout Minnesota run defense. The Vikings have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs and have ceded just two touchdown runs. Martin comes off of a fantastic effort against the Saints in which he amassed over 120 total yards and scored for the first time since Week 2. It was his second straight game with at least 120 total yards. Fantasy owners can breathe a little easier about the specter of LeGarrette Blount creeping into the mix for goal-line work after he was stuffed three times by the Saints. Martin ranks as a mid-RB2 in this difficult matchup.

In the past, fantasy owners feared the Minnesota front and salivated over matchups against the secondary. That was the case, of course, when the team’s offensive line could withstand Jared Allen and the pass rush. This year, the Vikings have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers with just three receiving touchdowns. Vincent Jackson still rates as a high-WR2 following his dominant performance against the Saints. Mike Williams (eight targets in that game) enters the wide receiver rankings as a high-WR3.

Fantasy owners may find some value this week, depending on their Bye week situations or injuries (Fred Davis), in Dallas Clark. Clark caught 5-of-6 targets in Week 7 for 51 yards with a touchdown. Minnesota has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends, including four touchdown receptions.

Finally, let’s take a moment to celebrate the kickers. I feel the need to hum the theme song to Beverly Hills 90210 whenever I see Blair Walsh trot onto the field. Walsh has converted 16-of-17 field goal attempts this year, including three conversions from distances of at least 50 yards. He enters this week as a mid-K1 option.

Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth is teetering on the verge of a back-end K1 play this week. Barth has converted 10-of-12 field goal attempts this season, but the improved efficiency of Josh Freeman has been giving fantasy owners a steady supply of PATs.

It’s not a “sexy” game, but there are a number of interesting components at work. The Vikings have surprised many with their early play and have a chance to shine on a national stage with fantasy heroes Peterson and Harvin leading the way. The Buccaneers are trying to claw back into the mix on the strength of Josh Freeman’s arm and big-play potential from his receivers.

I just wish the Buccaneers were going to wear the throwback uniforms again.

Enjoy the game!


Tagged: Vikings, Saints, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Cardinals, Adrian Peterson, Josh Freeman, Percy Harvin, Mike Williams, Christian Ponder, Doug Martin

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