Here is a deep dive behind some of the key statistics (targets, red zone and goal line) for Fantasy Football success to help give you a little edge in your weekly quest for victory.
• Hakeem Nicks certainly looked more like his old self against the Packers on Sunday night as he caught five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' win. He now has at least five catches and 75 yards in each of his last two games and you have to hope he can build on this for the playoff run. A closer look reveals that Nicks still has a long way to go in terms of efficiency as he caught just 51 percent of his targets the last two weeks and averaged an awful 4.9 yards per target. Furthermore, if you watched the Green Bay game you saw Eli Manning try to force the ball to Nicks in the red zone time and time again, but their timing remained a little off. They did connect for one touchdown, but he really should have had three given that he was targeted six times in the red zone and three times from inside the 10-yard line. Still, it was a positive development for Nicks who has seen 27 targets in his last two games. If he can get his yards per target back to his career average of 8.2, Nicks will be a big time playoff contributor for your teams.
• Ryan Broyles stepped into the starting lineup for the Lions and you have to think he will stay there the rest of the year. Broyles saw 12 targets against the Texans and caught six of them for 126 yards in a very impressive performance. Frankly, Broyles has been impressive all year for the Lions and enters Week 13 with the following efficiency numbers: 68 percent catch rate, 10 yards per target and 1.4 Fantasy points per target. With Matthew Stafford heating up and Titus Young in the doghouse, Broyles has the chance to be a weekly contributor working against single coverage opposite Calvin Johnson. Broyles looks like a must-add off of the wire and someone you can start as a third receiver as long as he keeps starting for the Lions.
• Donnie Avery was active in Week 12 and saw nine targets compared to three for T.Y. Hilton. Avery produced three catches for 31 yards on his eight targets, while Hilton caught all three of his for 33 yards and a touchdown. Hilton has out-produced Avery all year long and is averaging 8.6 yards and 1.4 Fantasy points per target compared to just 6.9 and 0.75 respectively for Avery. Hopefully someone on the coaching staff notices this trend soon and we can all use Hilton for the Fantasy playoff run. In 2013, Hilton will become a household name, which will make him unique among the Hiltons because he actually possesses real talent and skills.
• Justin Blackmon will be getting Chad Henne a nice Christmas gift this year as he has now scored in each of the two games that have featured Henne at quarterback. Blackmon followed up his ridiculous 236-yard, one touchdown game against Houston in Week 11 with five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown on only six targets in Week 12. Prior to Week 11, Blackmon was catching 44 percent of his targets and was averaging 4.4 yards and 0.5 Fantasy points per target. In two games with Henne, Blackmon has caught 63 percent of his targets and averaged 15.6 yards and 2.2 Fantasy points per target. Those numbers are clearly not sustainable, but Blackmon sure looks like a solid No. 3 receiver alongside budding superstar Cecil Shorts in Jacksonville.
• Denarius Moore is definitely one of my favorites, but he has been struggling the last two weeks, which is a cause for concern. After seeing at least eight targets and catching at least four passes in seven straight games, Moore has just two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown total in his last two games. He has been targeted just 11 times during that span, but two catches and 29 yards is horrendous by any standards and when you consider that he faced New Orleans and Cincinnati in the two games it becomes even more troubling. With Joe Haden coming to town in Week 13, Moore could very likely struggle again. After all, Haden has allowed more than 50 yards receiving just once in the last four games and has not let a receiver top 10 Fantasy points. With ugly trends and a tough matchup, I think Moore can be benched in Week 13.
• James Jones has just one touchdown in his last five games and is disappearing from the Green Bay offense. He has seen just four total targets in the last two games and has two catches for 33 yards total during that span. With Greg Jennings due back in the lineup in Week 13, Jones is someone who can be sent back to the bench. After all, he has produced more than 60 yards receiving just three times all year and with reduced chances, Jones could struggle to hit 40 yards more often than not, which limits his upside even if he scores a touchdown.
• Last week I asked for more targets for Julio Jones and he saw nine of them in Week 12, which is his second highest total of the season. Jones caught six of those passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in a huge win over the Buccaneers. For as talented as Jones is, you may find it hard to believe that he has seen nine or more targets in only three games this year. In those three games, Jones has 22 catches for 349 yards and four touchdowns. He has produced at least 15 Fantasy points in each of those games and has shown that he can be a dominant No. 1 receiver when he receives the proper target volume for a player of his caliber. If he ever averages 10 targets per game, Julio Jones will challenge Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green for the title of best receiver in the NFL.
• Steve Johnson is not catching touchdowns, but he has been very involved over the last three weeks and if he can get some scores down the stretch look out. Johnson has seen at least nine targets in each of those games (33 total) and has 18 catches (six in every game) for 271 yards (90.3 per game). With the soft pass defense of Jacksonville up next, Steve Johnson will have a very good shot to be "TD Steve" once again, making him a great start for your teams.
• I don't know what is more disappointing, the fact that Brandon Lloyd has found the end zone in just one of his last seven games or the fact that he has topped 50 yards receiving once during that span as well. There is no way to sugar coat this one: Brandon Lloyd is a flat out bust. In those seven games, Lloyd has seen 48 targets (just about seven per game), but has a grand total of 24 catches for 264 yards and two scores. He is averaging just 37 yards per game receiving and is catching 50 percent of his targets while producing only 5.5 yards per target. When you consider that Tom Brady is completing 65 percent of his targets and averaging nearly eight yards per attempt, you can see that not only is Lloyd below average in general, but he sticks out like a sore thumb in the New England offense. With Rob Gronkowski out, Lloyd will be asked to pick up the slack, but I am not sure he is up to the task.
• In the two games that Percy Harvin has missed, Kyle Rudolph has been the top target for Christian Ponder and has produced like a superstar. Rudolph was targeted nine times in each of those games and caught 12 of the 18 targets for 119 yards and two touchdowns (he scored in both games). For the year, Rudolph has been targeted nine or more times in three games and he has scored a touchdown in all of them and has produced at least 11 Fantasy points per game. Throw him the ball!
• In each of his last two games, Jimmy Graham has been targeted six times, which ties for the second lowest total of the season. Watching the Saints play in those games was interesting to say the least as there are now multiple personnel groupings that the team uses that do not feature Graham. Frankly, I think he should be on the field for every play and it makes you wonder if he is not at 100 percent. After all, over the last two weeks against the Raiders and 49ers, Graham has totaled just 62 yards on his 10 catches. That's just 6.2 yards per catch for one of the best athletes in the NFL and that is certainly troubling as is his 5.1 yards per target average, when you consider that Graham was averaging nearly eight yards per target before Week 11. Hopefully this is a two-week aberration, but it definitely warrants monitoring going forward.
• This may be the craziest stat I have seen all year: In 2012, Jason Witten has been the target of 107 passes from Tony Romo and yet they have not connected for a single touchdown. His only touchdown catch of the year came with Kyle Orton at quarterback in garbage time against the Bears back in Week 4. To put that in perspective, Ray Rice would be second among all pass catchers with 63 targets and no touchdowns receiving. Among wide receivers and tight ends, Josh Morgan (52 targets) is the only one with more than 50 targets this year and no touchdowns. So Witten, at 107 targets with Romo and no touchdowns, is bordering on a historical touchdown drought.
• Darren Sproles is back after seeing nine targets and catching seven passes for 65 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12. Sproles has nine targets in each of his last two games and with all of the problems on the Saints' offensive line, they will need to him to play a big role in the screen game to slow down the opposing pass rush.
• Target Leaders by position for Week 12: Wide receiver: Calvin Johnson (17), Brandon Marshall (17), Steve Johnson (15), Andre Johnson (15) and Reggie Wayne (14); Tight end: Jason Witten (15), Brandon Pettigrew (15) and Rob Housler (11); Running back: Ray Rice (nine), Darren Sproles (nine) and William Powell (nine)
• Looking for another reason to like Colin Kaepernick as a Fantasy quarterback? Look no further than his red zone efficiency, because Kap gets it done inside the 20-yard line. In limited action this year, Kap has 20 red zone pass and rush attempts combined. Seven of those plays have resulted in touchdowns (three passes and four rushes, including one of each against the Saints last week), which is a tremendous 35 percent red zone scoring rate. That would put him right among the elite quarterbacks in the league right now and if he can keep that up, we will have a surefire Top 12 Fantasy quarterback for the stretch run.
• You know who is quietly fourth in the NFL with 18 red zone touchdowns? How about the Red Rifle himself Andy Dalton, who has 16 red zone passing scores and has run in two touchdowns to boot. Dalton is tied with Matt Ryan and trails only Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, which is a big reason why he has become a Fantasy stud in 2012.
• Andre Brown is second in the NFL with eight red zone rushing touchdowns, but he will be stuck on that number after suffering a broken leg in Week 12. Ahmad Bradshaw has long been one of the best scoring backs in the NFL and will get the chance to pick up those touchdowns. After all, Brown has scored in five straight games and now those scores will go to Bradshaw, who would have been the No. 7 Fantasy runner in standard scoring leagues over the last six weeks if he would have gotten Brown's five scores.
• No one in the Fantasy Football world is more disappointed with Ryan Mathews than I am, but in reality his total yardage has been solid and the big disappointment has come from a lack of touchdowns. To be fair to Mathews, it is tough to score without red zone chances and his 12 red zone carries rank 34th this year. Now, he has only one touchdown on the 12 carries, which is a weak 8.25 percent scoring rate, but he needs opportunities to score and frankly, he is not getting them. Unfortunately I do not see that changing any time soon as both Jackie Battle (16 targets plus carries) and Ronnie Brown (14 targets plus carries) have been more involved in the red zone then the "star" runner Mr. Mathews.
• Mohamed Sanu is becoming a red zone force. After catching two more red zone touchdowns in Week 12, Sanu now has four on the year (tied for ninth most among wide receivers). The best news for Sanu owners is that all four of his red zone scores and six of his seven red zone targets have come in the last three weeks alone. His targets are second only to Hakeem Nicks (who had six red zone targets this week) and he leads the NFL in red zone receiving scores during that span. If you are in a touchdown heavy league or need a receiver with some scoring potential, Sanu is for you. I also think he has the chance to develop into a good keeper option as the No. 2 receiver in Cincinnati for years to come.
• Doug Martin is now second in the NFL with 15 goal line carries, but he has converted only four of them into touchdowns. That's a poor 26.7 percent goal line scoring rate, but if Martin can improve in this area, he could develop into a top flight Fantasy back with 2,000 total yard and 16 touchdown potential.
• Michael Bush is tied for third in the NFL with five goal line rushing touchdowns after punching in two last week. He has scored on five of his seven goal line carries (71.4 percent) and should get more opportunities going forward with Matt Forte banged up.
• Bilal Powell has "vultured" the short touchdowns from Shonn Greene in each of the last two weeks, a trend that could continue. Powell has scored on two of his three goal line carries this year and his 3.3 yards per carry average inside the five yard line is highest in the NFL. Greene, meanwhile, has scored on four of his 12 goal line carries, so while it is a much smaller sample size, Powell does seem to be the more efficient short-yardage runner. Without those touchdowns, Greene is going to have a very tough time delivering solid Fantasy totals down the stretch.
• Eleven players in the NFL have caught three goal line touchdowns this year. Of the 11, nine are tight ends and only two are wide receivers. The two outliers are A.J. Green and Eric Decker, who have three goal line scores apiece. The nine tight ends with at least three goal line scores are Rob Gronkowski (five), Heath Miller (four), Kyle Rudolph (four), Brandon Myers, Tony Gonzalez, Marcedes Lewis, Garret Graham, Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis (all with three).