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Thoughts on Russell Wilson, Matt Forte ...

12/2/2012

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson generally has been ignored from a fantasy aspect this season, but his signature performance Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago (26 standard fantasy points) will force even the most skeptical fantasy owners to consider him. In a season with marvelous performances by rookie quarterbacks -- and Andrew Luck certainly didn't disappoint in his comeback victory Sunday -- Wilson definitely is relevant as many fantasy owners hit their playoffs.

Looking little like the September version that couldn't approach 200 passing yards, Wilson threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against the defensively tough Chicago Bears, showing composure and a strong arm and accuracy from the pocket. He added a cool 71 rushing yards, 47 of them coming impressively on the final two scoring drives. This isn't one of those aberrant outings fantasy owners have been taught to not overrate, because Wilson currently has five consecutive games of 15 or more fantasy points, something no other quarterback can boast. If his running success Sunday was a harbinger of what's to come, then this is really someone who is drastically underrated. With 19 passing touchdowns this season, he's within reach of Peyton Manning's rookie mark of 26.

Wilson currently is owned in a mere 17.9 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which ranks 26th at the position, and he was active in 3.2 percent, or fewer than Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. The activation mark makes some sense considering the opponent and venue -- the Seahawks were 6-16 in road games under coach Pete Carroll -- but Wilson has outplayed numerous top-10 passers since the last week of October. For example, Green Bay Packers stud Aaron Rodgers has failed to exceed 15 points in four of his past five games. I doubt too many people would sit Rodgers for Wilson, but the numbers don't lie. In Week 15, Rodgers heads to Soldier Field in Chicago, while Wilson goes to Buffalo to face the Bills. I could see Wilson ending up in my top 10 for that week, and Rodgers outside the top 5 (Rodgers was originally out of my top 5 this week, and delivered only 14 points). Drew Brees and Matt Ryan each have had five-interception performances recently. Wilson, meanwhile, was last picked off in October.

Ultimately, the low ownership total on Wilson can be blamed on four single-digit fantasy outings in his first seven, but he's a different player since then. If you have a playoff-bound team, the pending Bills matchup is enough to add him. Next week against the Arizona Cardinals and Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers aren't easy matchups. Then again, Wilson just put up 26 fantasy points in Chicago, and he was 6-for-7 for 75 yards when the Bears brought added pressure. His hot stretch is a reminder that season numbers don't mean much once December hits. Trends speak louder.

Similarly, fantasy owners should show more interest in his top wide receivers, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, each of whom scored Sunday. Rice, who caught the winning score, has five touchdowns in five games, and his 99 receiving yards were a season-best. He's owned in 92 percent of leagues, but also wasn't popular in a high percentage of Week 13 lineups. Tate is owned in only 10 percent of leagues despite having 15 or more fantasy points in three of four weeks. These Seahawks -- and we didn't even mention matchups-proof running back Marshawn Lynch -- are playing well enough for fantasy owners to take notice.

Second down: Unlike most recent weeks, the top fantasy performers Sunday are owned in most, if not all, leagues, and they came up big at the right time. The incredible Adrian Peterson topped 200 rushing yards for the first time since his rookie year of 2007, and he's on pace for perhaps his best statistical NFL season, but fantasy owners need the Minnesota Vikings to win a game occasionally, too. Not to be negative, but the Vikings have lost four of five, and if Weeks 16 and 17 don't matter, well, veteran fantasy players know the drill with fantasy superstars in late December. Peterson might not get to face the Houston Texans and Packers those final two weeks if the real playoffs are out of reach. It stinks, but that's a reality for a player who had major knee surgery less than a year ago. Backup Toby Gerhart, with no more than one rushing attempt in a game since Week 5, thrived last December, and certainly Peterson owners don't want him sitting, but you should plan ahead. On the positive side, Peterson will move into the top running back slot in Tuesday's end-of-season rankings because, let's face it, the 11-1 Texans might clinch everything in the AFC and sit Arian Foster once or twice as well.

Third down: The Bears team that Peterson will face in Week 14 had a running back situation that was in flux much of this week until it became clear that Matt Forte and his sprained ankle would be able to suit up. Forte ran 21 times for 66 yards and caught a touchdown pass against a tough Seahawks defense, but those who believe this is the same player who flashed top-10 skills a season ago and was drafted 16th overall in ESPN average live drafts should look again. Forte hasn't averaged more than 3.1 yards per carry since Week 9, and despite Sunday's first receiving touchdown, he has barely been a factor in the passing game. He has scored only four touchdowns all season. I've been ranking Forte as barely a RB2, and things aren't likely to improve anytime soon despite Sunday's 15-point fantasy outing, which entering the Eagles-Cowboys Sunday night game was tied for second behind Peterson for Week 13 scoring among running backs.

Fourth down: St. Louis Rams point-per-reception monster Danny Amendola was deemed inactive because of a foot injury Sunday, but rookie Chris Givens stepped up with 11 catches on 14 targets against the tough 49ers. For Givens, a serious deep threat who entered play with five catches of 50 of more yards, it might seem disappointing that he totaled only 92 yards on those receptions, with his longest play being 16 yards, but it's a great sign that he's becoming more versatile. His prior season-best in catches was five, and he had 22 receptions this season before Sunday. Well, in Week 14, Givens faces the Bills. Not to pick on the Bills again, but facing them is generally a good thing in fantasy football. Even if Amendola returns, Givens, who caught 115 yards worth of passes in Week 12, is an emerging talent and dynasty-league focus still available in 97 percent of standard formats, and for deep leagues, he's worthy of top-40 wide receiver status in the coming weeks.