Bryce Brown, welcome back to Earth. Let's go back to Week 14 for a second. Bryce Brown carried the ball 12 times for just six yards. Granted, once they got down, the Philadelphia Eagles went pass-heavy. In Week 15, Brown "improved" to 16 carries for 34 yards. He also fumbled for the fourth time in as many games. To recap, he totaled 43 carries for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his first two starts, but 28 carries for just 40 yards and no scores in his last two. I'm not sure if the league is catching up to him, but he is becoming less of a surefire starter. The Washington Redskins are an average run defense, but I still rank Brown as just an RB3 in Week 16.
Randall Cobb and James Jones are pushing Greg Jennings out of town. Prior to the season, Jennings leaving town would have been inconceivable to me. His early season injury should have derailed the Green Bay Packers passing attack, and with it, its season. Jordy Nelson could be double-teamed, and that would be it. Instead, Cobb has caught 77 passes for 892 yards and seven touchdowns to go with his contributions in the return game, and Jones has contributed 51 catches for 622 yards and an eye-popping 12 scores. Cobb caught six balls for 115 yards and Jones caught five balls for 60 yards and three scores. Their emergence is not only good news for fantasy players, but will also mean the end of Jennings' days in Green Bay. A receiver-needy team will gladly pay Jennings this offseason. As for this upcoming week, I like both Jones and Cobb against Tennessee's poor pass defense.
Sam Bradford is making a push to be a fantasy starter in 2013. This would have been ridiculous at the beginning of the season. And it actually might still be a bit silly, but Bradford has thrown for 3,254 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. I understand those numbers aren't going to blow you away, but he's shown steady improvement this year as he adapts to a new offensive scheme. On Sunday, he completed 35-of-55 attempts for 377 yards and a trio of scores. In the offseason, the St. Louis Rams will attempt to get him a playmaker on the outside (maybe Greg Jennings?), and Bradford should continue to improve. Oh, and he takes on a pretty bad Tampa Bay pass defense this week.
Doug Martin needs Josh Freeman to be effective. Speaking of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, what the heck was that yesterday? Josh Freeman was ineffective, almost from the opening kickoff, and quarterbacks cannot afford to struggle against the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees. Typically, quarterbacks haven't struggled at all against the Saints, let alone to the tune of a hollow 279 yards and four interceptions. With Freeman struggling to find receivers downfield, the Saints loaded up against Martin in the run game. As a result, Martin struggled, carrying the ball just nine times for 16 yards, his weakest performance since Week 4. He'll look to get going next week against a St. Louis defense that just gave up 212 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson.
Ray Rice might be the most frustrating top back to own. To be fair, he's most likely a Top 5 running back in your league right now. But his 12-carry, 38-yard stat line may have cost most of his owners their chance to advance in the playoffs. And the main problem is Baltimore's play calling. I've railed against it before, but Joe Flacco is not good enough to carry a team. I'm sorry, Baltimore Ravens fans. He's not. He has a strong arm, but he needs a good defense and an effective running game to succeed. The defense and running game open up the playbook and bring opposing defenders into the box, meaning man coverage on Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. In two of the last three games, Rice has carried the ball just 12 times. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell would be wise to lean on his workhorse in Week 16 against the New York Giants, but if Eli Manning and Co. can right the ship, the Ravens might be forced to abandon the run once again.
Russell Wilson looks really good. The Seattle Seahawks have scored 108 points in the last two weeks. Reading between the lines, we see that they played Arizona and Buffalo. But still, that's impressive, especially for an offense led by a rookie signal caller. Russell Wilson, along with fellow rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, have looked like seasoned veterans, not guys who, at this time last year, were preparing for bowl games. On Sunday, Wilson threw for just 205 yards and a score, but he also ran nine times for 92 yards and three touchdowns. Owners shouldn't bank on the rushing scores every week, but he has certainly burst onto the scene for Seattle.
Matthew Stafford doesn't pass the eye test. In the preseason, I had some serious questions about both Stafford and Cam Newton. Both are incredibly talented, but also inconsistent. Stafford has either been really good or really bad, while Newton seems to have figured things out over the past few weeks. The Detroit Lions are too dependent on Stafford, and Stafford is too dependent on Calvin Johnson, and while I agree with throwing the ball up to Johnson as much as possible, I have an issue with Stafford throwing the ball up to guys in the other color jerseys so much. On Sunday, he threw for 246 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Because he throws so much, he'll always be a top fantasy quarterback, but a guy drafted in the second round of most drafts back in August should not be in the same fantasy points neighborhood as Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck, all drafted several rounds later.
Philip Rivers reverted to his previous form. Remember last week when I said Rivers looked like he might be coming out of the fog? Yeah, never mind. It could just be that Rivers looked great when he had the best running back in the league in LaDainian Tomlinson, a talented receiving corps, and a strong defense. And that's OK. But we all had such high hopes for him, and he's struggled at times this season, and Sunday was one of those games. He completed 16-of-23 throws for 121 yards and a touchdown against a beatable Carolina defense. I can't trust him going forward. I don't think there's a quarterback that needs a coaching change more than Rivers. Hopefully he gets it.
DeMarco Murray is going to swing fantasy championships this week. After a foot injury derailed a solid start to his season, Murray missed six weeks, with his team going 3-3 in his absence. In the three games since Murray's return, he's run for 217 yards and three scores, while adding 72 yards receiving, and Dallas is 3-0. When healthy, he's been a productive back on a pass-heavy offense, and over the past few weeks, he's done it against some pretty good run defenses. In Week 16, the Cowboys host the New Orleans Saints, who are not a good run defense. I like Murray this week as the Cowboys try to control the ball and keep Drew Brees off the field.
Jamaal Charles' Week 15 struggles weren't his fault. First, guess how many rushing yards Charles has this year. The answer is 1,230. I don't know about you, but that surprised me, and that includes five games at or below 40 yards. In Week 15, Charles had one of those games, running nine times for 10 yards. The Oakland defense, which has been very generous against the run this season, loaded up against the run and dared Brady Quinn to beat them. Quinn couldn't do so, and Charles paid the price. He gets a weak Indianapolis run defense in Week 16, but I anticipate a similar defensive gameplan to the one the Raiders employed. I like Charles, and you have to use him if he's on your team, but I'm not thrilled at his prospects.
Good luck in the playoffs.
Drew Magyar is a fantasysharks.com staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "What Did We Learn" will be posted each Tuesday morning during the season, and "Rock and a Hard Place" will be posted each Friday morning.