Patriots Insider Fantasy Report: Week 14

Fantasy football is all about individual player performance. However, in last week's column, we found out that how a player's team is doing can be an outside factor affecting his performance. But what about the players surrounding your fantasy stud? What are the effects of other players' performances on your fantasy go-to-guy?

In this week's installment of FantasyInsiderOnline.com's Fantasy Football Report, we focus on the players who touch the ball on every offensive play: the quarterback.

So much emphasis is put on the quarterback position, and rightfully so… without a strong arm at the helm, a lack of quarterback can make a team one-dimensional, allowing opposing defenses to focus on shutting down the run. This week, we'll look at three rookies who have started a majority of the season under center: Matt Leinart (ARI), Vince Young (TEN) and Bruce Gradkowski (TB). Obviously, players need time to adjust to the league before any solid label can be given to them. However, we all have a good idea of how quarterbacks with a few years under their belt will perform. Focusing on these rookie quarterbacks allow us to rule out any outside factors. They all took their first snaps in the NFL this season, have no previous experience in the league, and are on teams that have similar records… let's call it a "level playing field".

Cardinals QB Matt Leinart had everything in place when he took over the starting job for Arizona in Week 4… a corps of outstanding receivers, a solid running back to keep defenses honest, and an excellent collegiate football background. Nevertheless, the 10th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft has struggled in his first year and not taken advantage of the situation he was put in.

In nine games, Leinart has only thrown for multiple touchdowns twice. His QB Rating has fluctuated week in and week out, resulting in a 72.1 overall passer rating. He is averaging less than a touchdown pass per game, while throwing nine total interceptions. All of these factors have led to loss production in the players surrounding Leinart.

For example, the production of what could possibly be the best receiving duo in the NFL (Anquan Bolden and Larry Fitzgerald) has drastically fallen off in 2006. Last year, Boldin averaged just over 100 yards receiving per game with seven touchdown receptions on the year. Now, with Leinart running the show, he is averaging 76.7 yards receiving per game with four TD's. His counterpart, Fitzgerald, is averaging almost 15 receiving yards less in 2006 than he did last year (88.1 yds/game vs. 73.8 yds/game). And even though he missed three games this year, it is doubtful that Fitzgerald will post 10 TD's again (he currently has three). Yes, the threat of an air attack is still there, so defenses must respect Arizona's passing game. However, both Boldin and Fitzgerald were arguably preseason Top 10 wide receivers. Now, in most standard scoring fantasy leagues, they barely break the Top 15 wide receivers in fantasy points scored so far.

Last year, he led the Texas Longhorns to a National Championship. This year, Tennessee QB Vince Young has led the Titans to five victories in his nine games as a starter. Young isn't your prototypical NFL quarterback, however, he is winning ballgames in Tennessee. Though he is averaging only 135.1 passing yards per game, Young has been productive in the passing game and has thrown for 10 TD's (with an additional four rushing TD's). This means that opposing teams must respective Young's ability to sling the ball. In turn, Young and the players around him have benefited in the ground game.

RB Travis Henry has turned into a solid #2 fantasy running back in 2006… averaging 84.9 rushing yards per game with five TD's in the ten games he's played in. In most stand scoring fantasy leagues, Henry was drafted less than 10% of the time, but is currently a Top 20 running back. Young's ability to learn the system in Tennessee quickly has kept the Titans' ship from sinking, as well as benefited the players around him.

Since taking over as the starter for the injured Chris Simms in Week 5, Tampa Bay QB Bruce Gradkowski has only three wins under his belt. He currently holds the worst QB Rating for all active quarterbacks in the NFL (66.1) and averages 136.6 passing yards per game. Gradkowski's lackluster performance in 2006 has definitely carried over to the other skill players on the Buccaneers. For example, RB Cadillac Williams is nowhere near matching his numbers from 2005. Last year, Williams averaged 84.1 yards rushing per game and six TD's… in 2006, he's rushing for 60.3 yards per game and has only tallied one touchdown on the year. This was a guy who was off the board by the end of the second round in most fantasy drafts this year, but now may not even be in an owner's fantasy starting lineup. Also, there's WR Joey Galloway, who is coming off a career best 1,287 receiving yards in 2005. Today, Galloway is only averaging 61.2 yards per game and most likely won't break 1,000 yards. The case in Tampa Bay is a perfect example of how becoming one-dimensional can allow the opposition to zero in on stopping the run, leaving an offense in shambles.

Again, the reason for why these three rookies were used to illustrate the theme of this article is to negate any outside factors from influencing performance. But the examples of why the quarterback position is so important go above and beyond what was previously mentioned. Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers… they've never asked QB Ben Roethlisberger to win ballgames with his arm. Instead, coach Bill Cowher simply wants Roethlisberger to command the offense and control the ball… which led the Steel City to a Super Bowl victory in 2005. Now, that Roethlisberger is struggling (73.2 QB Rating with 20 INT's), so are the Steelers (who aren't even in the hunt for a Wild Card spot with their 5-7 record).

But what about the other end of the spectrum? How do quarterbacks who excel affect the players surrounding them? Obviously, wide receivers that have a solid QB throwing them the ball will put up good numbers. However, it doesn't mean that a relationship between QB and WR must be previously built over the years. Look at how well Saints rookie WR Marques Colston has adjusted to the NFL game with the help of QB Drew Brees in New Orleans. Colston, arguably one of the best pick-ups in fantasy football this season, leads all Saints receivers with 869 yards receiving and seven TD's. And what about everyone's "favorite" receiver Terrell Owens? When QB Drew Bledsoe was under center in Dallas, T.O. was averaging just over four receptions per game and one TD in four games. Now, with the success of QB Tony Romo, Owens' numbers have skyrocketed… averaging over six receptions per game and seven total touchdowns in the eight games Romo has led the Cowboys. The list goes on… Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson/T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison/Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis, and even Chad Pennington (who is on pace for one of the best years in his NFL career) and Laveranues Coles/Jericho Cotchery in New York.

Yet, having a solid quarterback does not only help a team's wide receivers. It can also benefit the running game. Bengals RB Rudi Johnson is on pace to post his third consecutive year of 1,000+ yards rushing and double-digit touchdowns. Colts RB Joseph Addai (845 yards rushing and eight total TD's) is another rookie that has adjusted well to the NFL with the help of a reputable quarterback and passing game. What this shows is that when opposing defenses have to respect the passing game, it leaves room for the running game to be established.

Yes, a lot of pressure is put on NFL quarterbacks to perform well… probably more than at any other position. Nevertheless, it is difficult for an offense to be productive when there isn't a solid leader running the show (think Washington, Cleveland and Oakland). Whether you like it or not, the performance of a team's quarterback can inadvertently affect how well your fantasy wide receivers and running backs play on a weekly basis. Therefore, as we enter the fantasy playoffs (and even carried over to fantasy drafts next year), take into account the quarterbacks on your studs' teams. Look for quarterbacks with a hot hand when setting your fantasy starting lineup in the coming weeks. If you're trying to decide between two similar players, looking at match-ups alone may not be the only factor to lead you to your choice. Remember that you want to put yourself in the best position possible to maximize your fantasy points and win your league's fantasy title.

PATRIOTS FANTASY REPORT

This weekend, the New England Patriots head down I-95 to face the Miami Dolphins and their 6th ranked defense. Since their bye in Week 8, the Dolphins have been holding opponents to an average of 15.4 points per game. Their defense is stout against the run (ranking 7th in the NFL), and stingy against any air attack (ranking 5th in the NFL). In their first contest, the Patriots got a 20-10 victory at Gillette Stadium on two touchdown passes by QB Tom Brady. Nevertheless, Brady only threw for 140 yards and New England's leading rusher for the day, RB Corey Dillon, only tallied 45 rushing yards. Miami did against the Patriots in Week 5 the same thing that they have been doing to most opponents in 2006… contained the run and defended the pass. Don't let their 5-7 record fool you. The Miami defense, led DE Jason Taylor, is legit… and unfortunately, Brady has been notorious for lackluster performances against the Dolphins (75.8 QB Rating, 163.6 passing yards per game and 11 INT's in 11 career starts against Miami).

Yet, on the opposite side of the ball, the Dolphins offense has been fairly unproductive this year. They currently rank 27th overall in offensive production, which is far off the preseason standard many had given for this team in 2006. In their first meeting, New England held RB Ronnie Brown to only 39 yards rushing. QB Joey Harrington, the end result of "The Daunte Culpepper Experiment", is sitting amongst the league's worst in QB Rating (71.4) and interceptions (13). Obviously, down in Miami, opponents fear the Dolphins defense rather than the Harrington-led offense. For these reasons, the New England DEF/ST is the Patriots fantasy focus for Week 14.

Dolphins head coach Nick Saban shares the same sort of mindset as Bill Belichick when it comes to defense. Much of this stems from the time Saban spent under Belichick when he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Also, when Saban was coaching at Michigan State and LSU, he would consistently meet with Belichick to go over defensive schemes and strategies. And this is why the New England and Miami defenses mirror each other. So far in 2006, both have allowed an average of less than 20 points and 300 total yards per game… both teams have 30+ sacks this year… both teams are anchored by pass-rushing defensive ends (Richard Seymor vs. Jason Taylor), solid inside linebackers (Mike Vrabel vs. Zack Thomas), and ball-hawking secondaries.

Because the Miami defense has been strong this season, New England will have to match their intensity. If the Patriots defense can duplicate its performance from back in Week 5, there is no reason why this unit won't put up solid fantasy numbers this week. Harrington has thrown an interception in all but one of his eight starts in 2006 (throwing for multiple INT's in five games). The Dolphins have not had a 100-yard rushing performance from a single back since Week 9. All signs point to another big day for the New England DEF/ST… this time, down in sunny Miami.

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Patriots Insider has partnered with guest sports writers to provide insightful, expert advice for readers interested in fantasy football. This week's Patriots fantasy report is brought to you by Matt Hinzpeter at FantasyInsiderOnline.com. If you have any questions for Matt, you can reach him, or any of the other FIO experts, at TheTeam@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.

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