By Jay Skurski
Plenty of fantasy owners owe Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton a big thank you.
Myself included. I snuck into the final playoff spot in our league here at The News thanks to a Week 13 win largely fueled by Newton’s 232-yard, three-touchdown performance against Kansas City.
Newton has been a fantasy force the past two weeks, peaking at the best possible time. Despite it being viewed as a “down” season for the second-year veteran, Newton still ranks sixth in fantasy scoring (in standard ESPN leagues). He’s also a great play as the first week of the fantasy playoffs get started. Carolina hosts Atlanta on Sunday, a team Newton put up 30 fantasy points on in Week Four. With a good chance the Panthers will fall behind, they should have to rely on Newton’s arm and legs to play catch up.
Newton’s not the only young quarterback with a great matchup this weekend. Here are a look at some others who should be starting:
• Andrew Luck, Indianapolis: The rookie has averaged 307 yards per game in games played indoors, and faces the Titans, who have allowed 24 touchdown passes and 17.3 points per game to opposing quarterbacks.
• Russell Wilson, Seattle: A fantasy sleeper owned in only 20 percent of ESPN leagues, Wilson has thrown for 11 touchdowns in his last five games, with at least two coming in each game. In six of his last seven games, he’s scored at least 15 fantasy points, the lone poor performance in that stretch coming on the road at San Francisco. He’s also taking care of the ball, having gone four straight games without an interception. Wilson gets to face a reeling Arizona Cardinals team at home Sunday and is a solid play.
• Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco: He didn’t throw for a touchdown last week against St. Louis, but Kaepernick’s ability to produce fantasy points with his feet make him an intriguing option every week. He’s scored at least 14 fantasy points in all three of his starts, and has a home game against a mediocre Miami team that’s making a long trip.
• Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay: He’s a couple years older than the others here, but Freeman gets the Eagles at home. Freeman has thrown for multiple touchdowns in seven of the past eight weeks, while Philadelphia has allowed multiple passing touchdowns every week since its bye in Week Seven.
Five catches for 65 yards and no touchdowns. That used to be a first half for Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Unfortunately for Fitz owners, that’s his production for the last three weeks.
If you thought the quarterback situation was bad here in Buffalo, it’s worse in the desert. Much worse. Fitzgerald simply doesn’t have anyone who can get him the ball. A player of his stature is a difficult sit, but that’s exactly what Fitzgerald should do.
Steelers’ Dwyer the man
The Pittsburgh backfield has been a mess all season, but it appears the Steelers have settled on a rotation that features Jonathan Dwyer as the lead back. He rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown last week, and should get the bulk of the carries Sunday against San Diego.
The return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should help Pittsburgh maintain a run-pass balance, which should also benefit Dwyer. He’s a solid No. 2 running back.
Analyzing the Bills
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a decent fantasy day in Week 13 despite only throwing 17 passes by accounting for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). He’s not likely to achieve that total Sunday against a much better St. Louis Rams’ pass rush. If the weather is a factor again, expect Fitzpatrick to do a lot of turning around and handing the ball to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
When it comes to those two, Spiller remains the better fantasy option, despite Jackson’s production last week. The big-play potential for Spiller makes him a No. 1 option.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson is nursing a sore hamstring, but he’s a gamer. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t out there Sunday. Johnson is a low-end No. 2 receiver. Tight end Scott Chandler doesn’t have a great matchup this weekend, as the Rams have allowed only two passing touchdowns to tight ends. He should sit.
St. Louis running back Steven Jackson has only two rushing touchdowns this season, but he should get a lot of work Sunday against a Buffalo run defense that has given up an NFL-leading 16 touchdowns. Jackson’s a solid No. 2 RB.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford could be without No. 1 wideout Danny Amendola, who’s been slow to recover from a foot injury. You should have better options on your bench than either of them.