The Fantasy Basement is a weekly piece that provides fantasy advice on lineup calls, sleepers, waiver-wire moves and rookie spotlights, along with the occasional ramble or four. Why "Fantasy Basement" you ask? There is a common misconception that sports writers dwell in their childhood cellars, that the institution promotes an arrested development. However, instead of railing against this claim, I am embracing this subterranean bourgeoisie. After all, who wouldn't enjoy coming home to fresh-baked cookies and having their laundry done? But I digress...Enjoy.
QB: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
While Freeman's been a top-10 fantasy field general the past two months, we tend not to view him in this light. Admittedly, the last two weeks have been underwhelming for the Tampa Bay quarterback (498 passing yards two touchdowns, interception), though facing formidable foes in Atlanta and Denver didn't assist in this fantasy endeavor. The Buccaneers' upcoming slate (Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Louis) should facilitate their share of fireworks in the box scores, reverting the Kansas State product back to must-start status. Moreover, as we saw in multiple games last weekend, weather starts to become a more meaningful factor at this juncture of the calendar. As Freeman plays in New Orleans, Tampa and Atlanta to end the season, the dome/warm climate is an under-the-radar asset that could push the 24-year-old arm into the upper echelon of the position.
Other starts: Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco
RB: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
To say Murray and his fantasy proprietors aren't on the best of terms is an understatement, akin to claiming, "Will Smith seems like a cool guy" or "Mila Kunis is kinda cute." In his first four games of 2012, Murray, a first-round fantasy pick in most formats, had an unexceptional 236 yards and a lone trip to pay dirt. When he finally did break out in Week 6 (14 carries, 93 yards), the conquest was sullied by sustaining an ankle injury that sidelined him for most of the second half. After the initial reports declared the Dallas rusher day-to-day, most owners put Murray on the bench for Week 7, figuring the Cowboys would keep him out as precaution, and decided to ride out the storm. So they waited.
And waited some more.
When Murray finally returned last week, a presidential election had gone down, Notre Dame football became relevant for the first time in decades, General Petraeus' scandal suddenly made every CIA conspiracy movie plot look plausible and the world came to a collective agreement that Taylor Swift is crazy. Worse, because of reports that Murray would be limited, the running back was on most owners' benches for his commendable outing (23 carries, 83 yards, touchdown). However, there is hope on the horizon to patch this wounded relationship, as Murray is set to carry a full workload against a Cincinnati unit this weekend that is ranked in the bottom third in rush defense. As one who employs Murray in multiple leagues, I know it's been an arduous road, but keep the faith.
Other starts: Knowshon Moreno, Alfred Morris
WR: Lance Moore, Saints
Despite averaging nearly 78 receiving yards in five November contests, Moore has been started in less than 35 percent of FOXSports.com leagues. That figure should inflate taking on a Giants squad that is surrendering the fourth-most fantasy points to receivers this season. His lack of red-zone targets is slightly disconcerting, yet Moore's yardage accrual more than makes up for this deficiency.
Other starts: Eric Decker, Pierre Garcon
TE: Jermichael Finley, Packers
If the rotisserie season mirrored professional wrestling - and the fact it doesn't is a crux I fight everyday - this would be the part when the arena lights unexpectedly go out, the music blasts and Finley comes strutting out with a big smile on his face, with the announcers yelling, "Oh my! That's Jermichael Finley's song! What's he doing here?!?!" And the telecaster would be correct in this bewilderment, as the Green Bay tight end fell off the fantasy map after a mid-season lull (10 catches, 84 yards and zero scores in a five-game October/November stretch). Yet Finley has seen a recent rejuvenation, hauling in 12 balls for 177 yards and an end-zone excursion in the last three contests. Look for this proficiency to continue versus the Lions, who are giving up the fifth-highest production to the position in 2012.
Other starts: Heath Miller, Brandon Pettigrew
DEF: Seattle Seahawks
Betting against Ryan Lindley the last two weeks has paid my Christmas shopping bill. May he, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb bring as much joy to your household these holidays as they have mine.
Other starts: New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals
QB: Russell Wilson, Seahawks
The fact that he's even mentioned is testament to his turnaround, as Wilson has shaken off unstable play to throw for nine touchdowns with just one turnover in his last four games (versus 10 scores and 10 miscues in his previous eight). Better yet, the rookie under center is getting it done on the ground as well, evidenced by 71 rushing yards last week in the Windy City.
Alas, even with their inept offense consistently placing them in inauspicious positions, the Cardinals defense remains a robust resistance. The argument could be made that an intimidating defense didn't deter Wilson from dividends last weekend, but to pull off such magic two weeks in a row seems farfetched. Keep the Seattle signal caller on your bench.
Other sits: Tony Romo, Andy Dalton
RB: Reggie Bush, Dolphins
On the bright side, after a stretch of siphoning on the part of Daniel Thomas, Bush has retaken the reins of the Dolphins backfield, with 29 carries the past two weeks versus Thomas' 14 touches. And to his credit, Bush has made the most of this opportunity, posting 151 yards in that span. Unfortunately, much of the former Heisman winner's worth heading into the season was predicated on his prowess in the passing game, a forum in which Bush has failed, bringing in just 14 catches in the past nine weeks. Worse, this week's opponent, San Francisco, is allowing a scant 3.6 yards per carry, second-lowest in the NFL. It's going to be tough sleddin' for Bush this weekend, making him a risky play even in deeper formats.
Other sits: Ray Rice, Stevan Ridley
WR: Denarius Moore, Raiders
Moore received eight targets last week but was futile in capitalizing on these looks, finishing with only two receptions for 31 yards. Not helping matters was Moore's benching in the second half for what head coach Dennis Allen referred to as "poor play." Too many viable receiving threats are available to roll the dice with a player in a precarious situation in the fantasy playoffs, so knock Moore to the bench. In a related note, more than a few fans and commentators have taken shots at the play of Carson Palmer this season...actually, this topic deserves delving into, so let's tackle it in the "Real Debate" section in a moment.
Other sits: Brian Hartline, Malcom Floyd
TE: Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
Having Chad Henne at the helm has brought relevance back to Lewis after a 14-month sabbatical, illustrated by 11 receptions for 164 yards in the past three games. Nevertheless, not buying Lewis this week, as the Jets have been stingy toward tight ends this year, with Gang Green just one of 12 teams holding the position to 50 receiving yards or less per game.
Other sits: Brandon Myers, Jared Cook
DEF: New England Patriots
New England has the second-most defensive fantasy points entering Week 14, but not crazy on their prospects facing Houston. The Patriots defense is as solid as anyone, but Arian Foster makes even the best of defenses look pedestrian.
Other sits: Houston Texans, New York Giants
The Sports Movie Head Scratcher of the Week
There's an inherent petition from most sports films that the patrons must suspend belief regarding some of the picture's narrative. However, while a grain of salt is usually acquiesced from the audience, there remain storylines from these athletic classics that defy logic and reason that need to be examined with greater scrutiny. These preposterous plot points will be analyzed along with a questionable call from the previous week of football.
In All the Right Moves , Tom Cruise's character is "blacklisted" from playing football at the college ranks by evil coach Craig T. Nelson for defending a teammate after a blown play, as well as the coach's misperception that Cruise vandalized Nelson's lawn. Eventually, Nelson learns the error of his ways and offers Cruise a scholarship to a university that the coach is heading to next season. Um...what? Why would Cruise go play for a person that prohibited him from reaching his dreams? And really, if Cruise was that good, I don't care what trouble he may or may not have caused, most institutions, including every SEC school, would be jumping at the chance to bring him aboard. Seems like someone dropped the ball on this premise.
Speaking of dropping the ball, Ken Whisenhunt's decision to ride Lindley over Skelton isn't looking too hot at the moment, is it? Don't misconstrue this as endorsement for Skelton, but considering Lindley's play compels patrons to think, "I know I'm not better than any NFLer, but..." you've got the wrong arm under center.
Waiver Wire Watch: Montell Owens, Jaguars
I know, I know. Most owners are too busy washing the stink of Rashad Jennings off, but given the lack of running backs available, Owens is one of the few remaining entities that could make a difference in the next few weeks. It appears Maurice Jones-Drew is a no-go again for Week 14, and at this point, wouldn't be surprised if the All-Pro sits out the rest of the season, bequeathing Jacksonville's rushing exertions to Owens. For his part, Owens was adequate in an abbreviated appearance in Buffalo last Sunday, taking seven attempts for 29 yards, and added an 11-yard reception as well. Owned in just 2.1 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy football leagues, Owens is a pick-up with little risk possessing major upside.
Email of the Week
This one comes to us via Twitter from @shaunlawrie, who writ, er, tweets:
Bad week of picks for @FOXSportsBeall who wins the 'Worst Picker of the Week' award for his 5-11 'effort'. Congrats.
That salute is undoubtedly sardonic, yet considering I entered the weekend as the top "expert" picker with a 126-49-1 record in pick 'em (with a 99-72-5 mark against the spread), forgive me while I take a toast to myself for this season's accomplishments, especially since a free fall from this pinnacle placement is inevitable. In the words of the bad guy (who actually seems alright) in the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade , "You lost today kid. But that doesn't mean you have to like it." (I'm sure the actor who played that part is thrilled with said description, by the way.)
Fantasy Flyer: Jason Avant, Eagles
Sure, things on the gridiron in the City of Brotherly Love are a mess, but at least Nick Foles airs it out, right? Plus, Silver Linings Playbook is the best feel-good story about the Eagles since Mac, Dennis and Dee attended try-outs in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia , so at least they got them going for them, which is nice. Anyway, with amplified forays though the sky, as well as primary receiver DeSean Jackson sidelined for the season, Avant has stepped into a starring role, grabbing four balls for 79 yards versus Dallas last Sunday. With an advantageous matchup against Tampa Bay this weekend, who is conceding the most fantasy points to wideouts on the season, Avant, available in almost 99 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, is a sneaky play.
The Real Debate
Mentioned above, the former No. 1 overall pick Palmer has been a popular aim of derision for Oakland's woes, somewhat unjustified given the Raiders' problems with...well, everything. I understand some of this sentiment derives from the franchise sending two draft picks for his services (which, a year after the trade, has the makings of a "Manhattan for beads" deal). However, the argument shouldn't be the influence of Palmer on the team's dismal showing; rather, the Real Debate should be this: is the Oakland QB in the midst of one of the greatest garbage-time statistical seasons in sports history? With over 3,500 yards and 21 total touchdowns in just 12 games, Palmer is quietly on pace to end the season as a top-10 fantasy performer at his position, amazing considering his team is 3-9 and near the cellar in every relevant offensive category. Move over Ricky Davis and Jon Kitna, there's a new sheriff in town.
Rookie Review: Josh Gordon, Browns
We've remarked on Gordon's constitution before in the Fantasy Flyer forum, yet after another laudable effort (six catches, 116 yards, touchdown), the rookie receiver gets his turn on the platform. A second-round pick out of Baylor, Gordon has been the lone bright spot from the Browns receiving corps, leading the team in yards (646) and touchdowns (five) this season in spite of shaky play from the quarterback position. Possessing blazing speed and a big frame (6'3", 225 lbs.), Gordon, still available in the majority of FOXSports.com leagues, is a red-zone bull's-eye. Gordon warrants a roster spot in every format, and is quickly vaulting up next season's receiver ranks.
This Week in Kevin Walter
Granted, the Pride of Ypsilanti has not surpassed 50 yards in four of his past five outings. Of course, you'd have trouble catching the ball in triple coverage too. How else do you explain Andre Johnson's recent revival? K-Walt's taking all the heat.
Walter's 2012 Stats: 35 receptions, 444 yards, two touchdowns
Walter's Cornerback Body Count: 11
Personal Foul on: Mark Sanchez, Jets
Yes, he's getting the start this week, but you're lucky a certain gridiron god was not in uniform last week, or else you would have seen your last snaps as Jets starter, bud.
Gatorade Shower Goes to: Russell Wilson, Seahawks
It bears repeating: the growth that Wilson's experienced from mid-October to now has been astronomical. Few quarterbacks, no matter what their age, can go into Soldier Field in the cold and come out victorious. Live big, my man.