Nick Shook on fantasy football: The only predictable thing is unpredictability, so start Jay Cutler

By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
Read full post on Ohio.com

NFL.com has a poll running on the side rail of its fantasy homepage right now. It reads:

Which fantasy disappointment are you most panicked about?

• C.J. Anderson

• Brandin Cooks

• Andrew Luck

• DeMarco Murray

• Other

Do we even need an “other”?!

I think I endorsed each of these players, except Murray, who I’ve always seen as a major benefactor of running behind a five-man unit of maulers in Dallas. All of these guys have had subpar seasons. Most of these men were stashed on one of my three fantasy rosters.

Yes, my teams are struggling. No one wants to hear that, though. You want to come to me for your issues, not mine.

Part of the problem with fantasy football is the utter unpredictability that is the NFL. These are all men who are paid to be in the top 1,700 football players on earth, meaning competition is stiff, and anyone has the chance to have a breakout week.

Take Ben Watson. Yes, that former Browns tight end.

Watson has been a secondary option at best in New Orleans since he arrived there. He’s in the second half of his career. No one was looking at the Atlanta/New Orleans game — a supposed blowout in the making in favor of the Falcons — and pointing and grinning at Watson as the sleeper of the week.

And then he went off for 10 catches, 127 yards and a touchdown.

But don’t wave the white flag yet, because there’s a lot of ballgame left to play. Here’s a little less-surprising prediction: either Anderson or Ronnie Hillman will top 100 yards rushing this week. Why? They’re in Cleveland.

Now, onto your lineup quandaries.

Start

Jay Cutler, quarterback, Chicago Bears (vs. Detroit)

Cutler has completed the improbable comeback, the near-meteoric rise from my drop list to my start list, in just a few weeks. But should we expect anything less from Smokin’ Jay?

I saw a headline the other day that read something like “Maybe Jay wasn’t the problem,” with a subhead pinning the blame on former head coach Marc Trestman. One look at how Joe Flacco is faring this season might actually support that notion. But regardless of whoever was at fault in 2014, Cutler has turned it around very quickly.

The Bears have gone from a guaranteed bottom-five team to 2-3, and very much alive. Maybe it was just a matter of three tough defenses (Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks) holding the Bears back in the first three weeks. Or maybe Cutler needed a taste of the bench to turn it around.

Either way, the gunslinger has posted back-to-back weeks of 17-point performances, and faces a Lions defense that is only surpassed in mediocrity by its offensive teammates. The Lions have allowed 16 or more points to opposing quarterbacks every week this season. Good bet for Sunday.

Dion Lewis, running back, New England Patriots (vs. Indianapolis)

Two seasons ago, Lewis gave everyone a sneak peek at how versatile he could be out of the backfield when he was making plays for the Browns. Then he fractured his fibula, missed the entire season and spent the following year out of football.

The Patriots wisely signed him to a futures contract late last season, and now he’s one of their most dangerous weapons. If you added him early in the season, you’re probably near the top of your league standings. That was a wise move. You deserve that spot.

The Colts have held opposing running backs under 10 fantasy points just once (Week 2 vs. New York Jets). Lewis has scored at least 12 points in every game he’s played this season. With his multiple talents, he’s primed to score that and more Sunday.

Chris Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals (vs. Pittsburgh)

There are two Johnsons in the Cardinals’ backfield. They’ve combined for 109 fantasy points through five weeks.

The Steelers look like a bad matchup on paper, ranking second in fantasy against running backs. But a closer look reveals 182 yards surrendered on 35 carries against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, and 14 points allowed against the San Diego Chargers last week. And don’t forget Lewis’s coming out party in Week 1.

Chris (not David, who is also a decent option) Johnson shouldn’t be in your RB1 or RB2 slots this week. But if you need to make a decision at the flex position, insert CJ2K. His tale is similar to that of Lewis, with the versatility and whatnot. Watch his unexpected career revival continue.

Sit

Isaiah Crowell, running back, Cleveland Browns (vs. Denver)

The Broncos are allowing the fifth-least rushing yards per game. They’re ranked first in the league in total defense.

DeMarcus Ware is inactive, and the Browns will focus on running the ball with the fury of a thousand angry, stocky guys. That low center of gravity is not one to laugh at. But save for last week, when they blatantly abandoned the running game to capitalize on weaknesses with the pass, the Browns have tried in vain to run the ball effectively. It hasn’t yielded much.

We will witness the unstoppable force (Mike Pettine’s stubbornness) versus the immovable object (the Broncos’ rushing defense) this week. No, the earth will not split at the 50-yard line at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns just won’t gain many yards on the ground.

Crowell is also questionable to play Sunday. Eliminate the stress now by placing him on the bench.

Matt Jones/Alfred Morris, running back, Washington Redskins

Morris is now the bane of my fantasy existence on a weekly basis. Jones is questionable with a toe injury. Neither have done much for weeks.

Morris scored one point last week. One! I’m nearly done with him.

Oh, and the Jets have proven to be one of the best defenses in the league. They’ve bottled up pretty much everyone so far this season. The impact of first-year head coach Todd Bowles is quite evident, enough to force either, or both of these guys to the bench.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook or contact him at nshook@thebeaconjournal.com

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