After Peyton Manning completed just one more pass (five) than he threw interceptions (four) on 20 miserable attempts for a Ryan Leaf-sad 35 yards, Papa John's may be begging Little Caesars to trade for Manning.
I was premature when I said "the show is over" in Week 2, but after an at-times unwatchable nine games from Manning, the legend, the man some call "The Sheriff," is limping off into the Colorado sunset. It's truly a tragedy for football fans and fantasy owners. But what makes it even a bit more sad is that this is good for the Broncos. Brock Osweiler can give juice to an offense that could no longer make lemonade out of lemons. Sure, the poor blocking and garbage ground game can't all be pinned on Manning, but Osweiler being able to actually threaten a defense down the field could do wonders for an offense that's still pretty loaded with skill talent.
Coach Gary Kubiak might not want to admit the curtain is being called on Manning, but a torn plantar fascia is not going to let him be an effective quarterback over a seven-game stretch that's critical to their season. Osweiler better positions them for the playoffs, and it's entirely possible that the last extended play we'll see from a consummate pro and decorated NFL record-holder (who even notched one in his darkest hours), was perhaps the worst fantasy day ever by a QB. For league's that deduct for interceptions and score negative points, Manning must have surely cost victories for many of his begrudging owners (in one of my leagues he turned in a brilliant minus-6.6 points). The performance reminded me of Brett Favre's final days. In a two-quarterback league his last year, Favre netted me minus points because, on a play Buffalo flattened him and knocked him out for the game, he happened to toss an interception. I lost by less than a point and missed the playoffs by one game.
The lesson should be not to play quarterbacks past their expiration date, but fact is, it's hard to walk away. Hard to admit something great has fizzled out to an unrecognizable mess. It's like clinging to a bad relationship when everyone around you knows it's over and you look past the red flags piling up at your feet because it was once so beautiful. Everything ends, unfortunately. And for Manning, it seems the breakup with football (as a player) is painted in red flags and painful injuries.
So it's with a heavy heart this column says goodbye to discussing "The Sheriff." Hopefully he keeps his commercial game strong.
For those looking for fantasy tips in this now-rambling intro, the best I can offer is to focus on playing time, on opportunity. Manning, Julian Edelman (foot) and Sam Bradford (shoulder/concussion) joined the massive list of injured talent, and between the Steelers, Saints and a couple Giants, there's a major void in proven players available league-wide for the season's final bye week. Scrape together a lineup of able-bodied, motivated men who will be touching the football, politely ask the fantasy Gods to be kind, and crack a beer or two. Or three or four or five ... hey, it's my birthday weekend, might as well celebrate appropriately. On a side note: good luck to all you fellow Scorpios who have taken their fantasy lumps with the same uncontrollable passion that I have.
As always, this is not intended as a traditional start/sit column. Upgrades are players you wouldn't consistently start (or who have consistently underachieved), while those downgraded generally are lineup mainstays with a bad opponent/situation. With that out of the way, let's get to it.
Marcus Mariota, TEN at JAC
In their last four games the Jaguars have allowed the likes of Brian Hoyer, EJ Manuel, Joe Flacco, and an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick to pile up 1,179 yards and 10 touchdowns passing, with all four putting up a minimum of 272 yards and two scores. Weapons or no weapons, the dynamic Mariota can do damage in this one.
Tony Romo, DAL at MIA
When Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in 2013 and returned in Week 17 after a seven-game absence, he threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Not saying Romo is at Rodgers' level or anything (who is?), but he's still one of the best talents of the last decade and has plenty of weapons to attack a mediocre Miami defense with in a must-win for Dallas.
Brock Osweiler, DEN at CHI
The Broncos finally can unleash their passing attack and take advantage of the game-breaking talents of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, among others. Osweiler certainly isn't Manning, but this entire season, Manning hasn't been Manning either. His understudy, though, can sling it with a big arm. With plenty of weapons around Osweiler, a ground game that will encourage the Broncos to let it rip instead, and a mediocre Bears D, there's reason to expect numbers. Translation: good gamble in 2QB leagues.
Giovani Bernard, CIN at AZ
Bernard is on the field more when Cincinnati plays from behind. Arizona just blasted the Seahawks for 39 points in Seattle. When they also put the Bengals in catch-up mode you can count on Bernard keeping up his quietly strong yards from scrimmage -- he's turned in less than 60 yards just once this year.
Karlos Williams, BUF at NE
All he does is score touchdowns. Williams tied an NFL record with a touchdown in his first six career games and actually has produced five scores in four games in which he's touched the ball fewer than 10 times. A seventh straight game would break the tie with former New England running back Robert Edwards from 1998. Think Rex Ryan would like his young bull to top a former Patriot against the current Pats on their home turf to own the record? You bleeping betcha.
Jay Ajayi, MIA vs. DAL
The Cowboys have allowed a whopping 388 total yards to opposing running backs over the last two weeks. While that bodes well for Lamar Miller to go bananas, it also enters Ajayi into flex territory given how well he's performed in his first two games -- 89 yards at 8.1 per clip. There's enough room in this one for both backs to produce good numbers.
Steve Johnson, SD vs. KC
Keenan Allen (kidney) is on IR. Malcom Floyd (shoulder) might not be too far behind him. Without either in San Diego's last game Johnson turned 10 targets into 68 yards. And that was against a Bears team that's allowed 522 less yards to wide receivers this year, or 58 less per game than a Chiefs squad that's given up the most weekly to wideouts.
Kamar Aiken, BAL vs. STL
Ignore the fact that St. Louis has allowed the second fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers. Read the intro again. Aiken saw 14 targets in Baltimore's first game without Steve Smith, and that figure shouldn't waver too much. He's the team's most polished receiver and opportunity and volume stand for plenty these days, especially at home with a Super Bowl-winning QB under center.
Stefon Diggs, MIN vs. GB
Y'all forgot him because Minnesota decided to stop passing for a couple weeks? That's not smart. Diggs only saw seven targets in a two-week span but still turned in two catches of at least 30 yards and averaged more than 17.0 yards per grab. The Packers have allowed opposing No. 1 wideouts to amass 488 yards over the last four games with each hitting at least 80. And although Adrian Peterson will be featured against a weak Green Bay D, he'll need reinforcements in a critical divisional game.
Eric Ebron, DET vs. OAK
The Raiders allowed their 10th touchdown to a tight end last week, the most in the league, and the eighth out of nine games in which they let the position visit the end zone. Ebron has struggled in three of his last four games with less than 30 yards, but he is in prime position to replicate his hot start to the season.
Zach Ertz, PHI vs. TB
Coming off his best game of the season and a team-leading 10 targets, Ertz faces a Tampa Bay defense that allowed the last truly athletic tight end it faced (Jordan Reed) to post 11 catches for 72 yards and two TD. And it looks like Mark Sanchez, friend of the tight end, will replace Bradford for at least one week. In his last two full games with Sanchez, Weeks 16 and 17 of 2014, Ertz piled up 19 grabs for 171 yards.
Jay Cutler, CHI vs. DEN
Cutler has been awfully hot lately, notching at least 350 yards passing or multiple touchdowns in six straight games. A Denver defense stocked in the secondary is going to put an end to that, however. The top-ranked pass defense allows just 182.8 yards per game through the air, while leading the league in sacks.
Tom Brady, NE vs. BUF
Brady's history versus Buffalo makes Bills fans cry. At the same time, however, he simply doesn't have the weapons to torch them as we've become accustomed. No Edelman or Dion Lewis (knee) spells a long Monday night for Brady. Upside plays at other positions are recommended if there's no way you can bench the league's MVP favorite.
T.J. Yeldon, JAC vs. TEN
It's never a good sign when a running back starts a Monday in a walking boot and has to play a football game on a Thursday. It's even worse when the defense he's facing has allowed only five touchdowns to the position. That defense also happens to have allowed just 204 receiving yards to tailbacks this season, the fewest in the league. For a back struggling on the ground recently (3.9 yards per carry the last two weeks), that's a dangerous recipe even if Yeldon can suit up.
Doug Martin, TB at PHI
The Eagles have allowed at least 90 total yards to an opposing tailback in three straight games. But over that same span Martin has rushed for just 165 yards at a disappointing 3.2 YPC. And despite their recent struggles against top rushers, Philly has still only allowed three touchdowns all season to running backs.
Danny Woodhead, SD vs. KC
The Chiefs have allowed the second-fewest receiving yards this season to running backs -- just 230 in nine games. In fact, they've limited premier pass-catching backs like Le'Veon Bell, Matt Forte and Giovani Bernard to a combined 54 yards receiving. In case you missed it, Woodhead is more receiver than runner. For someone whose gained 69.4 percent of his yardage catching the ball this matchup is no bueno.
DeAndre Hopkins, HOU vs. NYJ
You can't exactly bench Hopkins, but you also can't expect his usual damage against Darrelle Revis. An opposing No. 1 wide receiver has topped double figures in fantasy on him just twice this season, and one of those was Travis Benjamin way back in Week 1 when he scored on a Johnny Manziel scramble drill.
Alshon Jeffery, CHI vs. DEN
Aqib Talib is back from his one-game suspension. Between him and Chris Harris, they've pretty much shut down every opposing No. 1 receiver they've faced. As good as Jeffery has been at times this year, even he can't overcome their coverage.
T.Y. Hilton, IND at ATL
Hilton is quietly on pace for 1,250 yards receiving this year. But now he is without Andrew Luck and facing a Falcons defense that's allowed only three touchdowns to wide receivers through nine games. There's more downside to upside in this matchup, and frankly, better options out there.
Tyler Eifert, CIN at AZ
Only two teams have allowed fewer yards to tight ends this season than a Cardinals group that has also given up just one touchdown to the position. For Eifert, who's dependent on finding the end zone to produce a good fantasy day (57.2 percent of his yards have come in three games), this spells danger. Moreover, his three egregious drops last week cost me a victory.