Each week, TSN.ca Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen, NFL Editor Ben Fisher, and Isaac Owusu discuss three hot fantasy football topics.
Will Marc Trestman be benching a QB1 in Josh McCown when Jay Cutler returns healthy?
Cullen: For the last three weeks, yes, Josh McCown has been performing like a QB1, but that alone does not a QB1 make. Prior to this unexpected bit of brilliance from a 34-year-old journeyman, McCown's last 300-yard passing game was in September, 2007! That said, I could easily justify the Bears riding the hot hand until it's not hot anymore because the NFL is unrelenting and the Bears can ill-afford to take a game or two for Jay Cutler to find his form. Of course, in addition to being unrelenting, the NFL is a business, and when prospective free agent quarterback Jay Cutler is ready to return, expect the Bears to go back to him, as a conditioned reflex – remember, starting quarterbacks don't lose their job due to injuries…at least not to a 34-year-old backup, but ask Alex Smith, the story is different if that backup is Colin Kaepernick.
Fisher: I agree with pretty much everybody else that going back to Cutler over McCown at this point would be a mistake on Trestman's part, but I'll stop short of saying he's benching a QB1. McCown averages out as a QB1 over the past four weeks but that's largely aided by his tremendous Monday Night performance this past week. His five starts previous to that, McCown ranked as a high-end QB2. His journeyman status makes it hard for me to believe he'd continue putting up 30+ point games like he did against the Cowboys if given the chance, but he's still a tough QB to lose for fantasy teams.
Owusu: In a word, yes. But, it's not so much about the guy taking the snaps, but the guy calling the plays. Trestman has put together an offence that would appear to be at the centre of a controversy, but unlike the Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick situation in San Francisco last season, his coaching staff and players have stood firm in supporting the injured Cutler as their starter.
Chicago's quarterback position, whether it be (a healthy) Cutler or McCown, remains worthy of a start this deep in the fantasy playoffs, due to having what can be argued as the league's most talented receiving corps, featuring Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. It's almost an expectation that whoever is throwing the ball would rack up 200+ yards and at least two touchdowns. In fact this season Cutler has had five of those games and McCown has had four, coming off his third straight 300+ yard passing game.
The main concerns with Cutler would be a matter of him being fully healthy going into the game and getting back in sync with the plethora of weapons at his disposal. The latter shouldn't be a major concern, as evidence by the 250 yards and touchdown pass he threw in his Week 10 return (before leaving again to yet another injury). This deep into the season, with all the implications, fantasy owners would prefer the Bears keep the hot McCown out there, but even if Cutler comes in, there shouldn't be a downgrade in performance.
Also, owners should consider that this week the Bears are in Cleveland, a team that hasn't held a QB to under two touchdowns passes since Week 5, so whichever quarterback the Bears turn to should be a dependable option and all the Bears receiving targets remain must-start status. Trust in the quarterback whisperer, Marc Trestman.
Has Cordarelle Patterson proven enough for a fantasy playoff team to take a flyer on him?
Cullen: Patterson had a breakthrough game last week – five catches, 141 yards and a touchdown – and he is probably the most dangerous Vikings receiver for the rest of the season, but he had one catch for four yards in Week 12 and still has Matt Cassel throwing to him, so there are reasons to be hesitant on Patterson. I have him ranked at 35 for Week 15, which puts him on the edge of either WR3 or FLEX positioning.
Fisher: Nope. One good week does not a starter make. Patterson has looked better in recent weeks, highlighted by his 20-point performance in Week 13, and I think he's got a shot at being a solid WR2 next season, but he still has Matt Cassel throwing him the ball. I can't rely on Patterson to score more than eight or nine points per week (his previous season-high) the rest of the way and that isn't going to cut it for a playoff team.
Owusu: The regular season is three games away from completion and it almost appears that the Minnesota Vikings finally figured out how to use the elusive receiver that they traded up to pick in the draft. Patterson is worthy of taking a flyer on based on the increased attention that he's gotten. Heading into Week 5's bye week, Patterson only saw 2.25 targets per game, however in the nine games following he has seen that number boost to 5.5 per game, and garnered 7.75 looks in his last four games.
In last Sunday's wild matchup against at the Baltimore Ravens, Patterson's seven targets and five catches was one thing, but then there was the 114 yards he gained after the catch. Patterson has shown that he is 'Mr. High Risk/High Reward' with the ability to turn the smallest plays into large gains, similar to another guy who once wore No. 84 for the Vikings about a decade ago. Patterson is not just a threat on offence but special teams as well, so if you're in a league that rewards individual players for their returns along with their catches and rushes then Patterson should appeal to you as a low-end WR2 or a definite Flex going forward in the playoffs.
The Vikings are at home against the high-powered Philadelphia Eagles and will likely not have their star running back Adrian Peterson, so expect them to be playing a bit of catch up in this game, and Matt Cassel should keep looking for the blossoming receiver.
For the Gronk owners, which replacement will prove more valuable: Dennis Pitta, recently returned from a hip injury; or Jacob Tamme, filling for Wes Welker in the slot in Denver?
Cullen: If forced to choose for the rest of the season, I prefer Pitta, because in his first game of the season for the Ravens, he was targeted 11 times, tied with Marlon Brown for most on the Ravens against Minnesota. There is also the matter of sustainability. Tamme's value is tied to Wes Welker's concussion and if Welker returns at some point in the next few weeks, that would dramatically cut out the looks that Tamme would presume to get in the slot. In Pitta's case, he's a good bet to be a prime target for Joe Flacco over the rest of the season.
Fisher: I think it depends if you're playing the short game or the long game. I think Tamme, filling in for a concussed Wes Welker in the slot in Denver, will have a more productive Week 14 in what should be a high-scoring Thursday Nighter. Tamme had four catches on five targets in a little more than two quarters action; that's a handsome stat line projected out to a full game. If you're a semifinals underdog, he might be the way to go to secure a spot in the finals at all cost. But if you're playing the long game, Pitta, who returned from injury to put up a double digit point total in his season debut last week, should be able to supply two productive weeks, as where Tamme could become useless in Week 15 if Welker returns.
Owusu: As appealing as it is to take an available Peyton Manning target in Jacob Tamme, the answer for this week, next week and however long your fantasy playoffs may last is Dennis Pitta. Throughout his career, the Baltimore Ravens tight end has been a safety net for Joe Flacco. Pitta was projected to be a top-five pick at tight end prior to his injury and in his first game of the season last week he rewarded owners who took a chance on him in the playoffs with six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. The worry about Pitta initially was the expectation for him to be on a limited snap-count, but he made the most of the 11 targets that came his way.
Tamme was a pleasant surprise last Sunday filling in for the injured Wes Welker, seeing six targets and pulling in four catches for 47 yards. On the field, there's always a chance that teams forget about Tamme while they're busy focusing on Manning's three other fantasy studs Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas. Tamme should see some involvement in the Denver Broncos' explosive offence Thursday night, but expectations for his value to be greater than Pitta's for Baltimore should be tempered.
Though Pitta was in for 36 snaps, two of his 11 targets came in the red zone. Facing the Detroit Lions who have a sweltering run defence, there's a tall order for Flacco to deliver in the passing game so expect a good dose of Pitta. Unless it's a Percy Harvin type of setback, he should see increased work as a means for the Ravens to make a playoff push.