Four Downs: Joneses do well; Bucs don't


Two wide receivers with the initials "J.J." certainly enjoyed their Sunday, with a varying degree of fantasy owners cashing in. In Atlanta, Julio Jones delivered his second 20-point (standard scoring) fantasy performance in a month, picking up the slack for a banged-up Roddy White and leading the Atlanta Falcons to a 34-0 whitewash of the New York Giants. In Chicago, the seemingly buried James Jones scored a Week 15-high three touchdowns as the Green Bay Packers held off the Chicago Bears, 21-13. These guys named J.J. are not particularly similar in terms of skills or fantasy value, but in each case they reminded owners of their considerable upside.

For Julio Jones, who has frustrated fantasy owners with somewhat inconsistent play of late (likely due to ankle woes), he was active in more than 91 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and did not disappoint his owners, catching all six of his targets for 74 yards and two scores. Jones is matchup-proof and a must-start each week, even when White isn't nursing a knee problem, and his final two matchups are similarly attractive (Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers). There's risk that the Falcons will clinch the top NFC seed in Week 16 and sit their stars in the finale, but the way Jones is finishing his sophomore season, he's making a strong case for top-5 wide receiver status next season, perhaps sitting in the same neighborhood after the great Calvin Johnson as Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas as second-rounders in standard drafts.

For James Jones, who has just a fraction of the targets, receptions and yards of the leaders, no NFL player has caught more than his 12 touchdown passes. Think about that for a minute. A year ago, Jones' teammate Jordy Nelson scored 15 touchdowns on 68 catches; Jones has 12 touchdowns and 51 receptions with two games left, on barely a third of the yards Calvin Johnson has accumulated. Fantasy owners have whined about the "mediocre" play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a month, as he entered Sunday having failed to exceed 15 fantasy points in any game since Week 9, but he skewered the Bears for 24 points. Randall Cobb continues to be Rodgers' top receiver, but Jones was fourth among Green Bay wide receivers in terms of being active (27.6 percent of leagues), and that makes little sense. This was Jones' first game with more than two receptions since Week 9, but he'll make for an attractive flex option the final two weeks (Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings) with Rodgers upping his play, Nelson still nursing a hamstring injury and Greg Jennings slowly working his way back to high-end relevance from his groin injury.

Second down: As for fantasy's top performer on Sunday (entering the night game), Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson led this Sunday night blog entry just two weeks ago with what appeared to be his signature game: 26 fantasy points against the mighty Bears defense at Soldier Field. On Sunday, Wilson delivered an even bigger outing, as he rushed for three touchdowns against the beleaguered Buffalo Bills. In fact, of Wilson's 39 fantasy points, a figure topped overall in one game this season only by Doug Martin's 51 standard points in Week 9 -- the Seahawks defense also scored 39 points a week ago -- 27 of those points were thanks to his rushing work. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, likely the league and fantasy MVP, rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown Sunday, also worth precisely 27 points. Wilson added 12 more points throwing the football. As noted a few weeks ago, Wilson hasn't received anywhere near the attention of fellow rookies Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, but with his recent rushing prowess, he has easily been a top-10 quarterback the second half of the season. He'll rank outside the top 10 again in Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers, but at least add the fellow -- he's somehow owned in only 27.3 percent of leagues! -- so your opponent can't beat you with him in your playoffs.

Third down: Not all the news was positive Sunday, as several key Buccaneers hurt fantasy owners in a seemingly can't-miss matchup against the weak New Orleans Saints defense. The aforementioned Martin and quarterback Josh Freeman, ranked 12th and 14th, respectively, in ESPN standard scoring for the season entering Sunday, combined for a woeful 3 points at the worst possible time. Veteran fantasy owners know this is standard fare for playoff time, surprising performances good and bad deciding championships or eliminating top teams. However, if your team survived the feeble outings from Martin/Freeman on Sunday, you should go back to trusting them in Week 16 against the St. Louis Rams. Perhaps that's easier said than done, but look at the big picture. These fellows have been consistent and productive, other than Sunday, and the Rams were just skewered by the great Peterson for 212 yards! Martin and Freeman are healthy; keep them active moving forward.

Fourth down: Meanwhile, Eli Manning entered play in Atlanta with eight touchdown passes over three games, but he was held to only 2 fantasy points, doing so as the sixth-most active quarterback in ESPN standard formats. That hurts, but don't blame a weak arm, as Manning had been playing well, but he completed only eight passes (in 16 attempts) when throwing more than 5 yards downfield. He'll be worth trusting the final two weeks against the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles. Many eyes were on running back David Wilson, the most added player in ESPN leagues this week. With starter Ahmad Bradshaw inactive, Wilson was started in nearly a third of ESPN standard leagues, but he didn't get many chances to make plays in the blowout loss, rushing 12 times for 55 yards, catching one pass and having little effect in the return game. Wilson is talented, and if Bradshaw sits against the Ravens, he'll remain a worthy RB2. As with Manning and the quiet Victor Cruz (only 15 receiving yards), don't let one performance fool you.