Week 4: Twilight of the elite NFL quarterbacks

Why this Sunday's New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers game represents the end of an era for fantasy football. 

Mar 3, 2020, 2:16 am*

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Ramon Ramirez 

Ramon Ramirez

In All-Time Quarterback, 12-year fantasy football veteran Ramon Ramirez goes inside the week’s key match-ups, searching for sleeper picks and advising you on tough line-up decisions.

The replacement referee interlude is over. In terms of fantasy football, the biggest beneficiaries will be high-powered offenses that live by the air. In the first three weeks of the season, long-marginalized defensive backs, who had been previously reduced to galloping alongside the likes of Calvin Johnson with hands behind their backs, struck—expressing themselves with cheap shots and the threat of helmet-leading hits that untrained eyes failed to capture.

Selfishly, the chaos was a great deal of fun. Philosophically, the NFL owed more to its regular peacekeepers. The scapegoat replacement refs will now return to working under Friday night lights. Back to your regularly scheduled, arena ball air shows.

Twilight of the elites

The New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers entered 2012 as the blueprint for sustained success in the NFL. The 2009 and 2010 positive vibe Super Bowl champs boasted fluid offenses overrun with skilled talent. Their respective head coaches, Sean Peyton and Mike McCarthy, were offensive gurus that spent games scouring laminated ideas for excuses not to run the ball. With so many receivers on call, every snap meant one-on-one coverage for Pro Bowlers like Greg Jennings. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers became masters at exploiting pre-snap matchups.

The Saints and Packers enter Sunday’s rematch of last year’s pinball wizard, 42-34 prime time season opener with a combined 1-5 record. Brees is ahead of Rodgers in every important statistical category except wins. That’s because Rodgers’ squad is defensively competent, and Brees is in player-coach mode—burdened with the feeling he has to engineer scoring drives on every possession. The Packers should have no trouble winning at home, but Brees will be the fantasy king.

All of this to say nothing of the most dominant tier of aught quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Both are on 1-2 teams that struggle on the defensive end. Both continue to be fantasy gods. Ditto for two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger (1-2), and Phillip Rivers (2-1, but his San Diego Chargers looked overmatched at home against the Atlanta Falcons). This cluster has dominated the league since 2001. The common thread is that coaches run everything through their enduring starter, and that’s why this class’ sustained excellence has enjoyed multiple administrations of go-to guys.

But for how much longer? The nonstop statistical pace, coupled with the leaky ships, can’t help but leave fans worrying about their headliners’ health. And the fact that these franchises—even the indomitable Pittsburgh Steelers—are in such a black hold defensively means that teams with game managers that can pass rush will return to fashionable prominence. Look to the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons—or a Baltimore Ravens side that finally slayed their Boston demons Sunday night—and their class of 2008 quarterbacks.

Look to Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants or Pete Carroll’s secondary-based Seattle Seahawks. Look to Ken Wisenhunt’s 3-0 Cardinals and how they ended Brady’s 10-game streak of home opener wins with quarterback Kevin Kolb at the helm.

The league has caught up to the warrior quarterback and the age of huge passing stats is destined to mellow out. Sunday’s Packers-Saints track meet will be the last time we see two of the most innovative and marketable offenses of the modern era square off.

Sleeper picks: Week 4

  • Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Tashard Choice, RB, Buffalo Bills
  • Jackie Battle, RB, San Diego Chargers
  • Deion Branch, WR, New England Patriots
  • Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets
  • Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings
  • Mike Williams, FLEX, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We called it last week: The Washington Redskins have allowed 300 yards passing three straight weeks. The 31st-against-the-pass Redskins travel to Tampa Bay; Big Ben (Roethlisberger ) owners needing a bye-week starter should turn to Josh Freeman, who has a big-money, deep threat in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and safety valve/receiver Mike Williams.

Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller’s ominous shoulder injury (early indicators suggested a broken collarbone, now it looks like Spiller could return next week; Buffalo isn’t talking) meant Tashard Choice was the first overall seed in this week’s waiver wire lottery. Whether you’re Team Spiller or just wanted to stash the next guy in line, play Choice this week: touches and backfield catches will be readily available to any warm body that doubles as the primary back in Chan Gailey’s offense.

For the Chargers, Jackie Battle carried 14 times for 69 yards and two scores before Ryan Matthews returned from injury. Matthews is notoriously soft, and Battle has enough speed and power to get to 50 yards in minimal carries and also hammer home at the goal line.

Deion Branch made my deep cuts last week and fizzled at Baltimore, but I’m not worried. With Julian Edelman’s undisclosed left hand injury (he missed practice again on Thursday), Branch will be a frequent short field target ideal for PPR formats. Likewise, Santonio Holmes is an elite guy with respect to fantasy opportunity; his 33 targets are in the top five of receivers. He also scored at Pittsburgh in Week 2. Simply put, he scores touchdowns on elite defenses.

Kyle Rudolph has two scores in three weeks. Rudolph takes on Detroit this week, and all that team does is concede touchdowns to tight ends.

Photo by dbking/Flickr

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*First Published: Sep 27, 2012, 6:20 pm