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Tricks of the trends after Week 16

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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.

Targets

Eric Decker saved his best for last and carried many Fantasy owners to a Fantasy Football title in Week 16. Decker bounced back from averaging just four Fantasy points per game during a torturous stretch from Week 10 to Week 13 to light it up in the playoffs. In Week 14, he caught eight of his nine targets for 88 yards. He followed that up with eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in Week 15 against Baltimore and then gave you another monster game in Week 16 by catching six passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns. All of a sudden Decker's targets and efficiency returned at exactly the right time. Over his three-game breakout, Decker saw 26 targets and caught 22 of them (85 percent) for 287 yards (11 yards per target) and three touchdowns (1.77 Fantasy points per target). Decker produced 15 Fantasy points per game when you needed it the most and if you survived his late-season drought, he clearly helped bring home many a Fantasy title.

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Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks -- on the other hand -- were sure to have been the culprits in many Week 16 losses. The duo combined for eight targets in a blowout loss to the Ravens, which in and of itself is astounding. The fact that Nicks was shutout and Cruz caught just three passes for 21 yards is even more absurd. In fact, this dynamic duo totaled the following stats in Week 15 and Week 16 combined: 20 targets, nine catches (45 percent), 76 yards (3.8 yards per target) and no touchdowns. They netted a combined seven Fantasy points in two weeks and I can say for sure that Hakeem Nicks is not likely to ever show up on one of my Fantasy teams again.

Jordan Shipley is someone to keep an eye on in Week 17 and beyond for the Jaguars. He has the potential to become a very good third receiver in the NFL and caught five of his 10 targets for 82 yards in Week 16. In the two games that Cecil Shorts has either missed entirely or missed a big part of, Shipley has stepped up with 10 catches for 137 yards. With Shorts out again in Week 17 with another concussion, Shipley could be a nice sleeper to watch in PPR leagues.

• I am sure many are disappointed with the overall production from Jeremy Maclin this year, but I would argue that all he needs are elite level targets to produce like an elite wide receiver. Maclin has been targeted 10 or more times in five games this year and has scored a touchdown with at least 15 Fantasy points in all of them. In those five games, Maclin was targeted 63 times and caught 38 of them for 509 yards (8.1 yards per target) and five touchdowns (1.27 Fantasy points per target). Amazingly, in his other nine games this year, Maclin was targeted 49 times and caught 27 of them for 326 yards (6.6 yards per target) and one touchdown (0.77 points per target). In his five big games, Maclin's 80 Fantasy points more than doubled the 38 Fantasy points he produced in the other nine games. Fantasy owners have to hope that Maclin can remain "the man" for whoever takes over in Philly in 2013 and if he does, you could have a breakout star on your hands.

Brian Hoyer to the rescue! Larry Fitzgerald could have a nice Week 17 finish to his abysmal season thanks to Hoyer, who finally breathed some life into Fitz. The duo has played one half together and it must have seemed like Kurt Warner finally returned to Arizona. Hoyer targeted Fitz seven times in the second half and they connected on four passes for 50 yards. Now I know that those are not groundbreaking numbers, but Fitz has not sniffed nine yards per target in months and hopefully he can have the kind of dignified finish to 2012 that he deserves.

Julio Jones was at it again in Week 16, catching seven of his 11 targets for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. He scored in all three of the Fantasy playoff games and averaged nearly 15 points per game during that span. Not to be completely outdone, teammate Roddy White was the real stud in Week 16, catching eight of his 10 targets for 153 yards and two touchdowns. White had over 100 yards with a score in two of the three playoff games an this dynamic duo will be Fantasy gold again in 2013.

• This not just in, because he has been a Tricks of the Trends darling for months, but Dez Bryant is good! Dez finished his remarkable run over the second half of the season with the single best performance of his career and one that his Fantasy owners will long remember for winning them their leagues. In Week 16, Dez had a tasty matchup with the Saints and took advantage of it to the tune of nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 targets. In other words, in this one game, he caught 75 percent of his targets, averaged 18.7 yards per target and produced 2.83 Fantasy points per target. Those insane numbers capped off an insane run for Bryant, who has scored in seven straight games and produced a total of 46 catches, 808 yards and 10 touchdowns during that streak. He will finish as a Top 5 Fantasy receiver in 2012 and should be right back there in 2013.

• I begged for more targets for Marques Colston in this space last week and for Week 16 anyway, our voices were heard. Drew Brees went Colston's way a season-high 13 times and he caught 10 of them for 153 yards. If he had any kind of speed at all, he would have had 154 yards and a touchdown, but ran out of gas and was caught just before he scored by a couple of defenders. Colston averaged 14.2 points per game when he saw 10 or more targets and just 6.6 points per game when he did not. It sounds like another classic case of throw that man the ball!

Tony Gonzalez was the No. 1 Fantasy tight end headed into Week 16, but hung a big fat zero on his Fantasy owners when they needed a good game. He saw a season-low two targets and caught just one pass for nine yards in the team's rout of the Lions. It was the worst regular season performance of his career (not counting Week 17 of 2011 when he played one series) and you would have to go back to Week 2 of 2006 to find Gonzalez with a zero next to his name. Ouch!

• Something may be afoul in Oakland right now and I think it could explain the reason why Brandon Myers has completely disappeared. After his monster game against the Browns (14 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown), Myers has disappeared from the team's game plan and I have to wonder if his impending free agency has anything to do with it. Over the last three weeks, Myers has been targeted just 10 times and has six catches for 32 yards. There is no other three-game stretch this year (excluding his Week 4 concussion) where Myers has been targeted less than 15 times and that was the first three weeks of the season. Once he got going, Myers saw at least 20 targets in every three-game stretch from Week 6 on. So this was a massive philosophical change and I think the Raiders are trying to save some money on Myers' upcoming deal. If I am even partially correct, it is something Fantasy owners may have to pay more attention to in the future with impending free agent players on teams who are already out of contention.

LeSean McCoy did not waste any time getting back in the mix for the Eagles, especially as a pass catcher, where he hauled in a season-high nine passes for 77 yards. I know it is only a two-game sample size, but I like how much Nick Foles incorporated McCoy into the passing game, which could bode very well for the shifty runner in 2013. In his only two starts with Foles, McCoy saw 18 targets and caught 15 passes for 144 yards. That is pretty darn significant to me, because in his other nine games this year, McCoy caught 34 passes for only 168 yards. Foles not only used McCoy more often (7.5 catches per game vs. 3.78) but clearly put him in a better position to succeed, as he averaged 8.0 yards per catch from Foles and only 4.9 yards per catch from Vick. Keep that in mind if Foles is the starter for Philly in 2013 and you play in a PPR league, because McCoy could get back to being a dominant pass catching running back.

Target Leaders by position for Week 16: Wide receiver: A.J. Green (18), Mike Williams (17), Calvin Johnson (16), Vincent Jackson (15), Demaryius Thomas (14), Brandon Marshall (14) and Jeremy Maclin (14); Tight end: Jimmy Graham (11), Benjamin Watson (10) and Heath Miller (9); Running back: Joique Bell (12), LeSean McCoy (11) and Darren Sproles (10)

Red Zone

• This year, six quarterbacks have thrown for 20 red zone touchdowns: Drew Brees (31), Peyton Manning (25), Matt Ryan (24), Tom Brady (23), Aaron Rodgers and Josh "where did you go when we needed you the most" Freeman (20). The first five on the list are among the elite Fantasy quarterbacks this year and Freeman would have been up there as well if he didn't have nine turnovers and only one touchdown in his last two games.

• If I am the Panthers new GM, my first order of business is to get Cam Newton a red zone threat at wide receiver. After all, Cam has just eight red zone touchdown passes this year on 52 pass attempts and his 15.3 percent red zone scoring rate was the second worst in the NFL, trailing only Brandon Weeden. Now, Cam did have seven rushing scores inside the 20-yard line, but if he gets a red zone receiving corps that can produce, the results could be scary. The only thing missing from Cam's game is a big passing touchdown output and if he starts converting inside the 20, he will have the potential to re-write the Fantasy record books.

• There are 10 running backs with at least eight red zone rushing scores this year and while there are some household names, I would think that there are more surprises than ever in 2012. Arian Foster (14), Stevan Ridley (10), Mikel Leshoure (nine and he missed two games to start the year), Michael Turner (nine), Trent Richardson (nine) and Alfred Morris (nine) were the Top 6. Rounding out the Top 10 with eight scores a piece were Shonn Greene, Andre Brown, Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice. Look for Leshoure to be a perennial double-digit touchdown producer in Detroit as long as that team remains committed to him at the goal line, because he is a beast. Shonn Greene will likely not be back on the list, but for one of the most loathed guys on Draft Day, he once again turned in a solid Fantasy campaign.

Eric Decker was on a milk carton in the red zone during his swoon late in the year, but that was rectified in a big way the last three weeks. Decker scored three red zone scores in the last three games and has 10 such scores on the year, tied with James Jones for most in the NFL. Decker is also currently the league leader with 23 red zone targets and is someone to target, no pun intended, on Draft Day as long as Peyton Manning is his quarterback.

Kyle Rudolph's touchdown against the Texans in Week 16 was his ninth red zone score this year, most among all tight ends. Rudolph now has a touchdown in four of his last eight games, but the biggest problem for Fantasy owners was that in the four games in which he did not score, he produced just three Fantasy points total.

Goal Line

• Only six quarterbacks accounted for 10 or more total touchdowns inside of the opponent's five-yard line this season. They were Tom Brady (15 total/four rushing), Cam Newton (11/seven), Matt Ryan (11/one), Drew Brees (11/one), Matthew Stafford (11/four) and Andrew Luck (10/five).

• Not only did Arian Foster lead all running backs with 11 goal line rushing touchdowns this year, but he was also tied for first along with Darren Sproles and James Casey with two goal line receiving scores as well. Only Tom Brady accounted for more goal line scores than Foster this year, which is pretty darn remarkable.

Mikel Leshoure scored on six of his seven goal line carries in 2012 and his 85.6 percent goal line scoring rate was best in the league this year among the runners with at least five chances. Mike Tolbert scored on all four of his goal line carries to be the best of the underutilized runners this season.

Kyle Rudolph and Rob Gronkowski paced all pass catchers this year with five goal line receiving scores. That is amazing considering that Gronk missed multiple games due to injury and perhaps even more impressive is that Rudolph accomplished the feat on exactly five targets.

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Player News
Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


 
 
 
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