Each week, TSN.ca Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen, NFL Editor Ben Fisher, and Isaac Owusu discuss three hot fantasy football topics.
As the regular season starts to wind down and the weather gets colder, how will Peyton Manning finish out the fantasy season?
Cullen: Cold weather hasn't typically been a problem for Manning. He was a monster last December, completing 70.7% of his passes for 1399 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games. The next couple weeks, at Kansas City and against Tennessee, could be tough matchups against good pass defences, but the last three – San Diego, at Houston and at Oakland, seem like fine opportunities for Manning to put up typically strong numbers.
Fisher: Even if you're on board with the notion Manning fades when the lights shine brightest, it's far too early to take that into consideration. The Broncos are still in a fight in the standings as well – tied with the Chiefs atop the AFC West and only a game in front of the Patriots for home field advantage throughout the playoffs – so Manning won't be given any games off any time soon either. A Week 16 matchup in Houston could be worrisome for Manning owners in their championship games, but until then I expect the veteran to put up the same type of league leading numbers he's had all season long.
Owusu: It's no secret that Denver Broncos led by Peyton Manning and his talented receiving core have flourished in a pass-first offense. What may come as a surprise is they boast a top 12 rushing offense, and RB Knowshon Moreno, who in the preseason few expected to be their starting back is currently 7th in the league in rushing with 824 yards. Now with the cold weather kicking in, you can surely expect a dip in Manning's production. It's important to note that three out of his next four matchups are against pass defenses ranked in the top 15, while their other game (week 15 versus division rival, the San Diego Chargers) is at home in what should be a cold and snowy Sports Authority Field at Mile High stadium. Denver will need to protect Manning and their possessions, so count on them to trust Moreno (or any committee of running backs they use) more and turn to the run game significantly more.
Coming off three of his best performances of the season, is Maurice Jones-Drew an RB1 down the stretch?
Cullen: Jones-Drew has scored touchdowns in each of the last three games, but he's a long way from being RB1 based on his overall production this season. He's had two games with more than 100 yards from scrimmage all year so, while there is reason for optimism, and enough that he should fit as RB2 or FLEX, it's a reach to believe that, after a dozen weeks of mediocrity, he is now a suitable RB1.
Fisher: Jacksonville, and every player associated with the team, is really hard to trust. With upcoming matchups at Cleveland, vs Houston, Buffalo, and Tennessee, and then at Indianapolis, it's not unreasonable to think the Jaguars will be competitive enough to avoid catch-up mode where the run game is all but abandoned. Combining his touches in the passing game – he's averaged more than five targets his past four games – MJD will be afforded the workload to put up RB1 numbers. That said, Jacksonville doesn't score enough – Jones-Drew has just five TDs on the year – to consider their 28-year-old RB as anything more than an RB2.
Owusu: Maurice Jones Drew has put up reasonable stats against legitimate defences as of late, but there's always the fear that his performance can revert to what it was in the first half of the season. The tests don't get easier and to be frank, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't a team expected to run the ball to extend a lead or drain the clock. However, Jones-Drew's value comes in pass catching and making the most of his usual less than 20 rushing opportunities. Due to the current lack of running back depth and production he can be considered an RB2 in PPR leagues, while in standard formats he is still a borderline RB2/Flex due to his tough upcoming schedule and expected lack of rush attempts.
What can you expect from Michael Crabtree in the coming weeks?
Cullen: I'd hold my enthusiasm for Crabtree initially – the same as I would for any player returning from a long-term injury – but if he gets up to speed over the next couple weeks, I could see a strong finish to in the final three games. Crabtree was clearly Colin Kaepernick's preferred option in the passing game last year – recording 538 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the last five games -- and Kaepernick hasn't been the same without him, so expect Crabtree to resume a prominent role when he shows that he's up to handling the speed of the game.
Fisher: A likely play count as Crabtree works his way back into game shape should prevent him from hitting the solid WR2 numbers he was putting up last year right away, but I'm betting he gets there eventually. There is a sharp drop-off in production in the 49ers receiving game after Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis – even Mario Manningham only has eight catches in his three games – so there's definitely room in the offence for Crabtree to put up big numbers. If Crabtree can regain his chemistry with Colin Kaepernick, and that's certainly a factor with Kaepernick's relative struggles this year, he'll get his targets down the stretch. The 49ers are in a fight in the NFC West and need their best players to produce; Crabtree is exactly that and if healthy, will return to his 2012 fantasy lines sooner than later.
Owusu: Crabtree's presence is a welcome one for San Francisco 49ers, but expecting WR1 or even WR2 numbers may be a little too ambitious. He made a name for himself last season off all the YAC (yards after catch) that he was able to gain from short to medium passes. This issue is he will need time and repetitions to develop chemistry with the inconsistent Colin Kaepernick. The likelihood is that Crabtree would be on a play count as he looks to get back in game shape and the 49ers won't try to overwork him coming off the torn Achilles. He should be treated as a flex at best as the 49ers are merely working him up to a strong playoff push.