We’re now on the downside of the 2011 season. Think about that for a moment. You blinked, and now nine weeks of the NFL season have gone by the wayside.
Fantasy owners have begun to scan playoff schedules and deals are being consummated ahead of the trade deadline (the NBA can learn from fantasy owners, perhaps?). Along the way, owners are trying to read tea leaves and find the hidden gems for the stretch run. A few wide receivers popped onto the radar in the past several weeks. Will the running back position yield any new “Heroes?”
With one eye on the horizon, I turn back to the field for the games of Week 10. Owners can exhale a bit with the knowledge that there are no pesky Bye week issues this time out.
I’ll pull one player out for further scrutiny. Beanie Wells makes for an interesting call for fantasy owners. He rates as a lower-end RB2 this week as concerns about his knee remain. Keep an eye on the game day reports for that one. It’s a strong spot for him if he’s a full go.
Let’s go to work and spotlight the Thursday game.
Exclude: LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Fred Jackson, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson
Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, SD: Mathews and Tolbert rate as top plays for the Thursday night matchup against the 29th-ranked Oakland run defense (140 yards and 1.1 touchdowns allowed per game). Mathews was cleared to practice on Tuesday, so he eclipses Tolbert by a few spots and runs back into the back-end RB1 ranks (No. 12). Tolbert appears at No. 16.
Michael Bush, OAK at SD: Bush has dominated in place of Darren McFadden the past two weeks. Bush nearly reached 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games, adding two receptions in each game (he rumbled for a touchdown in Week 9). He’ll get another crack at fantasy stardom Thursday night against a San Diego run defense that cedes 120 yards per game. Bush ranks 13th among my Week 10 running backs.
Chris Johnson, TEN at CAR: Javon Ringer was supposed to horn in on Johnson’s touch count in Week 9. Instead, Johnson touched the ball 18 times and logged 110 total yards (14 carries for 64 yards). He’s a strong option in Week 10 against the 27th-ranked Carolina run defense that has surrendered 133.3 yards and 1.4 touchdowns per game.
Willis McGahee, DEN at KC: McGahee crept into the RB2 ranks last week as fantasy owners contemplated his potential as a one-hand running back. His ability to grip the ball with the injured hand didn’t matter as he sprinted 60 yards and 24 yards for his two touchdowns. McGahee finished the game with 163 yards.
McGahee remains a strong play this week against the middling Kansas City run defense that got pushed around by the Dolphins (and Reggie Bush) in Week 9. Defenses will eventually catch up with the style of offense being employed with Tim Tebow under center. That doesn’t happen in Week 10.
Jackie Battle, KC vs. DEN: Battle was one of many Kansas City players to hit the “Flop” list in Week 9 when he registered just 40 rushing yards on 14 carries. I’m optimistic that Battle and the Chiefs rebound this week against the Denver defense. The Broncos have played the run much better in recent weeks, but opponents are still averaging nearly 30 rushing attempts per game (115.5 yards allowed per game).
Darren Sproles, NO at ATL: Sproles ranks second in the NFL with nine red zone receptions this season. He remains a fantastic play in PPR leagues, but the overall production regularly warrants a RB2 spot. Sproles has caught five or more passes in every game this season and has averaged 88.1 total yards per contest.
I don’t expect an easy path for the Saints this week on the road, but Sproles’ weekly target count makes him a play, even in a crowded backfield.
Reggie Bush, MIA vs. WAS: The recent spate of pizza commercials have proven prophetic, as Bush has suddenly returned to fantasy relevance. Bush has run the ball 28 times for 195 yards in the past two weeks, including runs of 35 and 28 yards. As always, he’s been active in the passing game with seven receptions.
I picked the Dolphins to win this week’s home tilt against the Redskins. That doesn’t happen unless Bush continues his run of recent successes. Daniel Thomas will be in the mix for part of the workload in his second game back from a hamstring injury, but Tony Sparano rides the hot hand at home.
Ben Tate, HOU at TB: Tate earned his second 100-yard game in the past three weeks as Matt Schaub two-stepped against the woeful Cleveland run defense in Week 9. I expect more of the same in Week 10 against the Tampa Bay run defense that has been bullied and plowed over all season. Opponents are averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 132.4 yards per game.
Gary Kubiak has a powerful two –man running game going right now. There’s no reason to shuffle the formula here.
Shonn Greene, NYJ vs. NE: Greene assumed a larger role for the Jets beginning in Week 5 against these same Patriots. He logged 83 rushing yards on 21 attempts and scored his second touchdown of the season. In his four games as the lead man, Greene has averaged 20.3 carries and 86.3 yards per game.
I fear Vince Wilfork, as always, but holes in the New England secondary present opportunities for the New York offense.
Week 10 Running Back Ninja Alerts
Roy Helu, WAS at MIA: “Captain Checkdown” is alive and well in Washington. Helu was targeted 17 times in Week 9 and finished the loss to San Francisco with 14 receptions. He’s the flavor of the week in Mike Shanahan’s backfield and must be played as such. Helu plays as a solid RB2 option against the Dolphins, though we always approach the Washington backfield with caution.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR vs. TEN: Stewart remains the backup on paper behind DeAngelo Williams, but he continues to amass a sizable weekly touch count. In three games prior to the Panthers’ Week 9 Bye, Stewart piled up 34 carries for 165 yards and two touchdowns (five receptions for 34 yards). He remains the presumed second goal-line option behind Cam Newton and the more reliable option in the Carolina backfield (4.6 yards per carry).
Chris Ogbannaya, CLE vs. STL: Ogbannaya appears here if only for the opportunity that presents itself against his former team. He’s hardly a rock-solid option, but touches are touches.
Ogbannaya barely fell forward last week (13 carries for 28 yards and a lost fumble), but he’s still the lone man standing against the bottom-ranked St. Louis run defense (153.6 yards allowed per game). With Colt McCoy struggling, I suspect that his touch count grows.
Marion Barber, CHI vs. DET: Barber has quietly returned to his role of goal-line vulture for the Bears in recent weeks. He’s scored in four of the past weeks while assuming a larger workload to spell Matt Forte.
Just as we saw last season, the Chicago offensive line is starting to come together as we dive into the second half. The Lions rank 28th against the run, surrendering 5.2 yards per carry and 140 yards per game. Barber sees the ball 8-10 times on Sunday with a goal-line touch in the offing.
Week 10 Running Back Flop Alerts
Cedric Benson, CIN vs. PIT: The Pittsburgh run defense is starting to look more like the Steelers of old. Opponents are still averaging 4.2 yards per carry (tied for 14th), but the unit now ranks sixth at 95.6 rushing yards allowed per game.
Benson earned 78 rushing yards on 20 attempts in Week 9 against the Titans, his third-best yardage total of the season. I believe that says it all. Benson topped 100 yards against the Browns and Bills, but has rushed for 64 yards or fewer in his other four starts. With goal-line opportunities few and far between, he’s bench fodder regardless of touch count.
Brandon Jacobs, NYG at SF: Jacobs acquitted himself nicely in Week 9 against the Patroits, amassing 100 total yards on 22 touches (18 carries for 72 yards) with a touchdown.
If you choose to play Jacobs against the 49ers, then you’re playing for a cheap goal-line opportunity. San Francisco allows just 70.8 yards per game (3.5 per carry) and has yet to cede a rushing touchdown. You can hope for a tackle deep in the red zone that sets up a scoring chance for him. I won’t this week.
Marshawn Lynch, SEA vs. BAL: Lynch posted his best game of the season in Week 9 against the Cowboys, racking up 135 rushing yards on 23 carries. He also scored for the fourth straight game.
I don’t anticipate the Lynch finds much success on the ground this week against Haloti Ngata and the Baltimore run defense. The Ravens rank third in the league against the run at 86.8 yards and 0.4 touchdowns allowed game. Lynch rates no better than a Flex play this week.
James Starks, GB vs. MIN: Starks has demonstrated the ability to run downhill late in games to close them out. However, he’s averaging just 62.7 total yards per game and hasn’t scored since Week 1.
Minnesota ranks fifth against the run at 94.4 yards and 0.63 touchdowns allowed per game. Starks rates as a RB3 only.