Well, this is it … our final taste of real NFL action for eight months. We know the Super Bowl is grand, maybe too massive for its britches with all of the theatrics that go into the six-hour pre-game shows and hour-long halftime show. It may be the best time of year for fans of the two teams playing – I wouldn’t know since I was an impressionable 6-year-old when my Fins were last in the show -but for the rest of us we’re more focused on the beverage menu and dip than pressing our jerseys and intently enjoying Terry Bradshaw relive his glory days of the 1970s.
The reality is Sunday will be our last gulp of pure NFL brew. Sad, but we fantasy die-hards still have work to do.
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts, 3 p.m. CBS
Jets have done what they’ve had to do to win, regardless of their shortcomings and foul play of their opposition. They deserve credit, and we don’t need Rex Ryan to go Steven A. Smith on us to realize it. All of the pressure is on the Colts, especially facing the ironic situation of being knocked out by the team they let end their pursuit of perfection. With that being said, I see New York playing loose and aggressive, sticking to the game plan that has worked for the past four games.
For us fantasy owners, it means:
Mark Sanchez, who at 23 already has as many playoff wins as the great Joe Namath, will be asked to (cringe) manage the game. His performance will be a helpful note for us when draft day comes but know a full off-season of work will surely add to his development. Plus, once the regular season rolls around, Sanchez will be given more opportunity to open up the passing game.
Until then, the Jets need him to be conservative and not make a crucial mistake. Expect low numbers from Sanchez but keep an eye on how well he throws on the run (roll outs, bootlegs) and who he looks to on third down. If he has success, especially hitting a favorite target, let it be known that’s the receiver to target if you’re banking on a Sanchez progression next season.
Braylon Edwards (35-541-4 this season) has a lot riding on this game, especially for the Jets success. He is their main home run threat. If he (catches!) connects with Sanchez on a big play, it should go a long way in forming confidence that could spill over into next season. If not, Sanchez will probably lean on someone else in the long run.
Dustin Keller (45-522-2) plays that key TE position fantasy owners love to grab as a sleeper. Keller, who has been on many owners’ radars, could solidify himself as a probable impact player if he continues to be a reliable outlet and No. 1 option on third down for Sanchez. Keller will probably not have staggering stats Sunday, because the Jets should focus on the run, but we need to take note of what impact his 3-4 catches do make.
Jerricho Cotchery (57-821-3) is New York’s leading receiver and key to keeping the chains moving as the go-to possession receiver. It’s the same theme as the others. Will Cotchery form a bond with Sanchez and start to develop into a valuable resource for PPR leagues? Keep your pen and paper handy to see how often Sanchez looks his way, even if Sanchez checks down, keep track to see if he was looking Cotchery’s way as the primary target?
Colts have made their own bed, so it’s up to them to prove us wrong for knocking them late in the season. What happened against the Jets in the regular season should be thrown out the window, particularly since New York is not the same team now. Peyton Manning is much more mature than Phillip Rivers, so the “apparently amazing” Rex Ryan blitz shouldn’t faze him as much. In fact, the Jets may let up a bit since Manning typically plays better against blitzing defenses.
For us fantasy owners, it means:
Dallas Clark (100-1106-10) should have a big game. Figuring Darrelle Revis will be locked up on Reggie Wayne most of the game, I doubt the Jets will put Revis on Clark even when they move him around. That leaves Clark, who is much quicker than Antonio Gates, roaming the middle of the field. Indianapolis also lines Clark out wide more often than San Diego does with Gates, which will result in more looks for Clark (6-foot-3) matching up against Revis’ colleague Lito Sheppard (5-foot-10).
Pierre Garcon (47-765-4) continues to gain steam as the Colts’ go-to deep threat and No. 3 option. If he has another solid game, wouldn’t it make sense Manning will remember this next season despite Anthony Gonzalez’s impending return. Again, I’m curious to see where Manning looks to when Revis takes away Wayne and Clark is double-covered. Garcon could be that guy.
Austin Collie (60-676-7) has turned into a Gonzalez clone and has been a target of Manning’s in the red zone. That’s good news for fantasy owners circling Collie’s name as a potential draft target. A lot will depend on what Indy does with Gonzalez when he comes back, but if Collie continues his steady play Sunday, the Colts may make more of an effort to build Collie more into their offense.
Joseph Addai (828 yards, 7 TDs, 51 receptions, 3 TDs) may be the main key for the Colts, as he was during their last Super Bowl run. I doubt Indy will make much effort to establish the running game, especially against the Jets. They didn’t at all this year, so why start now.
Addai’s ability to catch the football makes him a valuable fantasy player, and it will be interesting to see how the Colts use him on Sunday. If he busts out, say on several draw screens, it may give us a clue how the Colts may expand Addai’s influence next season?
My foolish prediction: Indianapolis 24, New York 10 – Although it appears all of the pressure is on the Colts, the Jets need to make sure the game stays close. If Indy goes up by more than one possession at any time in the game, it’s over for New York.
My money is on the Colts being able to score at least three to four times in some fashion and doubt they miss three field goals like the Chargers did. Of course, if Manning runs into the locker room at halftime up only 7-3 or 10-6 then I’ll probably be eating crow again. I just don’t see the Colts making as many mistakes as the Chargers did, and the Jets can’t afford to make even one.