By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
Read full column on Ohio.com
One last game in the regular season will decide many of your seasons. Some will leave you cursing the imaginary game of fantasy football, while others will leave you leaping for joy while carefully avoiding knocking over the chips and guacamole.
You better not spill that guacamole. That was made with fresh avocados. You could be 13-0, but you ruin that dish, and you’re a failure in my book.
Below you’ll see one of my favorite players on an otherwise floundering team, as well as my greatest fear in football right now, outside of Michael Oher protecting my imaginary blind side against a rush from J.J. Watt. Yikes.
Jarvis Landry, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins
Landry has been the frequent flier of this column this season, and for good reason.
Despite the Dolphins’ 4-7 record, Landry has flourished in his second season in the NFL. He’s 15th in the league in receiving yards (816), averaging 74.2 per game. He’s scored just four touchdowns in 11 games, but also brings a special teams threat to the game, as evidenced by his punt-return touchdown in Week 1 against Washington.
These numbers don’t necessarily jump off the screen, but they firmly place him in this column, because he isn’t a guy you must have and must start each week, but he’s been effective for much of the season. In his past three games, he’s scored 39 points. Last week, he hit his season-high with 22 against an imposing New York Jets defense.
This week, he faces a Baltimore Ravens defense that has been banged up and is 30th in the league against opposing receivers in fantasy.
Jonathan Stewart, running back, Carolina Panthers
This one is a lot easier to digest. The New Orleans Saints, at 4-7, are decidedly worse than the Dolphins’ 4-7 mark, and have a defense that has about as much success as someone trying to plug a leaking dam with a wad of gum.
The Saints have surrendered the most points in the league (339) and rank 31st in total defense. The Saints are 30th against the run.
Andy Dalton, quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
Rough times for the Browns right now on the defensive side of the ball. Six days after allowing Matt Schaub to complete 20-of-34 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns (and two interceptions, because he’s still Matt Schaub), a real, starting-caliber quarterback comes to town in the form of Dalton.
Dalton is having the best season of his career. He’s on the cusp of 3,000 yards passing for the season (a rather pedestrian feat in this day and age of pass-happy football), but the more important numbers lie farther down the stat line. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 23-6, his passer rating is over 100 (105.3) for the first time in his career, and he’s largely avoided the big-game meltdowns for which he’s known.
Despite all of the numbers I just spit out at you in the paragraphs above, I’m not much of a statistics guy. I prefer to rely on what I see. But the stats against the Browns were his best of the season: 21-of-27 passing (77.8 completion percentage), 234 yards, three touchdowns and an outright domination of the Browns’ defense.
I wouldn’t expect anything less Sunday. Ride with the Red Rifle, even if he does think Coldplay’s music “is pretty awesome.”
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland Raiders
I am scared of the Kansas City Chiefs.
I know, it’s hard to fathom being scared of anything led by Andy Reid (cue photo of Reid in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops at the league meetings), but the Chiefs are playing like the whole league stole their girl, and they’re out to prove she made the biggest mistake of her life.
After starting 1-5, the Chiefs can’t lose. With a remaining schedule of Oakland, San Diego, Baltimore, Cleveland and Oakland again, it’s plausible to think the Chiefs might finish the season on a 10-game winning streak.
A big reason for all of this? That defense decided to show up.
After surrendering 30-plus points in three consecutive losses from Weeks 2 through 4, the Chiefs went six games without allowing 20 or more points. the Buffalo Bills finally broke through the barrier last week, scoring 22 in a 30-22 loss to the Chiefs.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have lost three of four, and have quickly fallen to the bottom half of that informative “In The Hunt” section of the playoff race graphic you see each Sunday. The Raiders rebounded last week with a 24-21 triumph over the Tennessee Titans, but the Chiefs are not the Titans.
Carr is central to this offense, for obvious reasons, but he’ll be harassed by Chiefs defenders all afternoon. I learned my lesson about pushing all the chips in on the Raiders. Bench the budding star this week.
Jason Witten, tight end, Dallas Cowboys
Washington has experienced an unlikely revival on the shoulders of Kirk Cousins, and not much else. There have been high-scoring, and lopsided affairs both in favor of and against Washington, but it seems rather unsustainable in the long run. On the bright side, the NFC playoff race is a mess when you look beyond Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota. The NFC East is the ugliest division in football right now, meaning the Redskins still matter!
This week, we get a Cousins-versus-Matt Cassel matchup on Monday Night Football, which is arguably worse than last week’s Josh McCown-versus-Schaub showdown. But I’m advising against Witten here because although many backups rely on their tight ends when inserted into action, that isn’t the case with Cassel.
The journeyman backup connected with Witten six times per game twice in the four games they played together this season. He scored a total of 35 points in those four games. Not bad, but Washington’s defense is fifth in fantasy against opposing tight ends. Boom or bust here, and with the way things have gone for Dallas, I’m going bust.