Patrick Daugherty

Football Daily Dose

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Kevin's Karma

Friday, December 16, 2011

As we’ve written in this space before, perhaps the most remarkable story of 2011 has been the re-emergence of Kevin Smith.

Coming off three frustrating, injury-marred seasons, the former third-round pick was left unsigned during last summer’s frantic, condensed free agency period. After working out for the Patriots in late August, Smith didn’t receive so much as a text from an interested team until the Lions gave him a token (in the words of coach Jim Schwartz) tryout on November 4. One unexpectedly strong workout and three days later, Smith was back in a Lions uniform.

But even then the Lions expected little from their former feature back. He was installed behind plodders Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams on the depth chart, and generally considered unlikely to last long on the active roster.

Then Week 11 happened. After being used sparingly in Detroit’s embarrassing Week 10 loss to the Bears, Smith was unleashed against the Panthers, ripping off 140 yards and two touchdowns on only 16 carries while adding four catches for 61 yards and another score. It wasn’t just a completely out-of-nowhere eruption, but the best game of Smith’s career.  

However, if Act I of Smith’s comeback was literally unbelievable, Act II was far too believable. Like he did so many times during his first three years in the league, Smith followed his big step forward with two steps back, severely spraining his ankle against the Packers on Thanksgiving. Not before racking up 57 yards on only 10 touches, but regardless, there he was on a cart instead of in the huddle.

He tried to gut things out against the Saints in Week 13, but after another productive beginning — 80 yards on 12 touches — he was sent to the locker room early after crumpling to the ground untouched in the third quarter. He was held out in Week 14.

Which brings us to Week 15. With fantasy seasons now officially being won and lost, it’s not the time of year to trifle with lineup decisions. The only thing worse than benching the wrong player is starting someone who ends up not playing. The upside for Smith has proven to be tremendous, and facing a Raiders’ run defense allowing a league-worst 5.2 yards per carry, he has a positively mouthwatering matchup. But can you trust him to play, and stay on the field if he does?

With Oakland/Detroit not kicking off until 4:05PM ET, there’s a decent chance you’ll have to decide to start or sit Smith based on incomplete information. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is confident Smith will be able to play after returning to Lions practice in a limited capacity Thursday, but even if Smith turns in a full session today, there's no guarantee he won't be a game-time decision. And even if the decision is he'll play, it's still possible he'll last only one series. That means that in the most important week of the season, you might be facing your most agonizing call of the year.

What to do? Be practical. If you have the better squad in your semifinal matchup, play things safe. Don’t risk a zero that could be the break your opponent needs. Hold Smith out.

If you’re the underdog, though, be bold. Start the player averaging 6.9 yards per carry against the defense giving up 5.2, and hope he hits you a home run. Even if Smith pulls up lame in pre-game warmups or on Detroit's opening drive, would you really have felt better pinning your upset hopes on a Montario Hardesty flex play? No.

If you’re the favorite, act like it. If you’re the underdog, pull out all the stops. When it comes down to it, what it takes to win in fantasy isn’t all that different from what it takes to win in real life.

While we don’t know the status of one of fantasy’s most mysterious players, we do know the status of one of its best.

After sitting out the past three weeks, Adrian Peterson will return from his high-ankle sprain against the Saints. Peterson personally assured his fantasy owners as much on Thursday, even though he admits he’s still just “85 percent.”

Facing a solid if unspectacular Saints’ run defense, Peterson’s average 2011 day of 18.6 rushes for 87.2 yards should be well within reach. Rotoworld’s fourth-ranked running back for Week 15, you should not hesitate to start your first-round pick.

Demaryius Thomas
Before Thomas was the hero of Denver’s Week 14 win over the Bears, he was the goat. The second-year receiver committed three ugly drops, two of them critical. But for the second straight week he was also Tim Tebow’s most targeted receiver, and has now managed 11 catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns in his past two games. Facing the league’s worst pass defense in a game that figures to be a shootout, Thomas could be in for a positively monster afternoon, regardless of whether or not Eddie Royal returns from his concussion.  

James Jones
With Greg Jennings out against the Chiefs, Jermichael Finley figures to be in for more looks, while Randall Cobb is expected to take the majority of Jennings’ slot routes. No one, however, should pick up more of Jennings’ lost snaps than Jones. Talented enough to be a starter on maybe more than a third of the league’s teams, Jones should be able to take his opportunity and run with it.

Rex Grossman
One week after being a Brandon Banks trick play away from a 300-yard day against the Patriots, Grossman gets a 29th ranked Giants’ pass defense coming off three straight thrashings. It’s unlikely to be pretty, but Grossman could come up huge in your two-QB league.

Chris Ivory
Minnesota’s ninth-ranked run defense is a tough matchup, but likely to function as New Orleans’ short-yardage back for the second straight week in the absence of Mark Ingram, Ivory has a 50-50 chance of finding the end zone. That’s all you can hope for sometimes.

Seneca Wallace
One of the best backups in the NFL, Wallace could be a shrewd fill-in in two-QB leagues against Arizona’s 23rd ranked pass defense. The Cardinals have been defending the pass better of late, but the owner of a respectable career 84.0 quarterback rating and 6.5 YPA, Wallace is a surer bet than the T.J. Yates and John Skeltons of the world.   

Carson Palmer has thrown three more interceptions than Blaine Gabbert in six fewer appearances.

Darren McFadden still has more yards rushing than James Starks, Jonathan Stewart and Mark Ingram.

Peyton Hillis has five fewer rushing yards than Ricky Williams, and seven fewer than Isaac Redman.

Laurent Robinson has six more yards receiving than DeSean Jackson in one less game.

Santonio Holmes’ 564 receiving yards, good for 56th in the NFL, put him between Darren Sproles and Nate Burleson on the league-leader board.

Jermichael Finley’s 600 receiving yards would make him third amongst tight ends if he were on the Patriots.

If Chad Ochocinco were on the Jaguars, his 228 receiving yards would...still be fifth.

Matt Hasselbeck (calf) was limited in Titans practice Thursday, while Jake Locker (ribs) was a full participant. Respected beat writer Jim Wyatt believes Hasselbeck will ultimately get the call, but it could hinge on what each is able to do this afternoon. … Matt Moore (concussion, neck) returned to practice, and is expected to start against the Bills. … According to OC Bruce Arians, Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) would’ve had "no chance" to start had the Steelers been playing on Thursday. He quickly added, “but I've seen him recover in the past.” Roethlisberger may end up a “game-time decision” Monday, but the odds are high he plays through the pain. … Upgraded to a full practice Thursday, Jeremy Maclin assured fantasy owners “I’m playing, baby.” Very well then. … Mark Ingram (turf toe) missed another practice, and is looking doubtful for Week 15. … Kevin Kolb (concussion) was limited in Cardinals practice, and coach Ken Whisenhunt would not commit to Kolb as his Week 15 starter. You can do better in two-QB leagues. … Montario Hardesty (calf) was downgraded to limited in Browns practice Thursday, but remains on track to split carries with Peyton Hillis against the Cardinals. … Sam Bradford (ankle) missed another practice, putting Kellen Clemens in line to start Sunday. … Denarius Moore (ankle) remains on track to return this week, while Jacoby Ford (foot) and Darren McFadden remain on track to sit.       

Big game: Patriots 34, Broncos 23
The fun ends as Tom Brady avoids Von Miller and picks apart Denver’s geriatric, banged up secondary.

Big game II: Steelers 28, 49ers 9
San Francisco’s red-zone woes continue as “game-time decision” Ben Roethlisberger keeps the Steelers in the hunt for a first-round bye.

Upset of the week: Bucs 24, Cowboys 17
Tampa looks nothing like the team that got blown out by the Jaguars as the Cowboys lay their biggest egg yet, turning the light on Jason Garrett’s hot seat from “Pre-Heating” to “Ready.”

The I really don’t have a clue but will pretend I do game: Eagles 27, Jets 10
The Eagles leave their fans thinking “what might have been” as the fighting Rex Ryans dig themselves a huge playoff hole.

Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Patrick Daugherty

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