After two straight Superbowl appearances, the NFC South is coming up faster than that lady from The Leftovers and this past season of Fargo.  Yes, I know her name is Carrie Coon, I didn’t have to google it, and she’s become my favorite actress.  Some of you already know that I think that the Leftovers is the best show ever made, but I’m also impressed that Fargo was able to pull off another good season for the third straight year.  Fargo has a built-in setting, but coming up with a different cast, story line, and ending every year and doing it well blows my mind.  To put it in perspective it only took a second season for True Detective to suck at the same format.  Well, I guess it didn’t “suck”, the acting was awesome.  I’m one of the few who bought into Vince Vaughn in his role.  The story was a snoozer, I can’t defend that part.

Before we get into our second division preview, be sure to check out Zach’s preview of the AFC East.  Zach will be covering the AFC while I cover the NFC.  Also, we must rejoice that Jay has returned to give you his rankings and predictions for the 2017 season.  Zach and I are going to try and record a podcast every week to get you ready for the football season.  We plan on having a few surprise guests, but most of it will just be us two talking shop.

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That’s a perfect Bernie right there, folks. He hit it once, hesitated, then went to the next level before celebrating with his teammates in the end zone. Ok, wait…are we talking about Le’Veon Bell doing the Bernie or actually running a football? This dude’s more elusive in the backfield, slipping through the line and blowing past the second level than anyone else in the NFL. Sure, you can take the injury he suffered a year and a half ago (he was totally fine once coming back), and the fact that he parties like he’s trying to be in ‘Weekend at Bernie’s,’ into account. Me? Nah…I’ll just take the best player in the fantasy game when he’s running full steam.

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playoffs

If you are reading this, congratulations. And I don’t say that just because you are fortunate enough to be reading one of my articles. If you are reading a fantasy football article in Week 14, it is likely because you are in the playoffs and still have a reason to care about your team and your lineup. So, congratulations. I mean it. To those of you who didn’t make the playoffs: see you in hell, candy boys! This is, unfortunately, the last Handcuff Report of the year. It has been a great ride, but we are wrapping things up as the fantasy playoffs begin!

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markingram

It’s Week 13, which means we are heading into the fantasy playoffs soon. I know that because my readership has dwindled the last two weeks, as many fantasy owners have been eliminated from the playoffs and are throwing in the towel. But that’s OKAY. That just means we can be more serious and a bit more intimate now. It’s just me and you, playoff hopefuls.

Heading into this week, Tim Hightower was a name to watch because Mark Ingram was still in the concussion protocol and was questionable to play. If Ingram couldn’t go, Hightower was going to be a high-end flex/RB2 to throw into lineups before they locked on Sunday. But word came out on Sunday morning that Ingram was going to play, so many likely left Hightower on the bench or on the waiver wire.

But something funny happened. It didn’t matter that Ingram played. Ingram and Hightower combined for three touchdowns and almost 300 yards, with Hightower accounting for 51 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards, and one of the touchdowns. Although, Hightower’s final stat line would look a bit different if not for the late 50-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Willie Snead. If Hightower can keep producing even with a healthy Ingram, he can help out some of the needier fantasy owners come playoff time.

To the report…

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rawls

If you are like me and drafted Thomas Rawls in August but managed to stay patient and hang onto him until now, take a bow. I’ll bow with you. September and October were some dark times, my friends, but here we are. Rawls is the top dog in Seattle, and it looks like it will stay that way for the rest of the season now that Christine Michael got shipped out of town and C.J. Prosise is hurt. We did it, guys.

Prosise ran for a 72-yard touchdown in the first quarter on Sunday, but he left the game in the second quarter. It was pretty much all Rawls for the rest of the game, with a little bit of Troymaine Pope (who also got hurt). The Seahawks getting rid of Christine Michael meant they were ready to roll with Prosise and Rawls as their top guys and that they were confident Rawls would be healthy and effective. Now that Prosise is out of the picture, it’s all Rawls, baby.

Rawls rushed 14 times for 57 yards (4.1 YPC) and added three catches for 31 yards, giving him 88 total yards on the day. Heading into the fantasy playoffs, getting an every down back like Rawls into your lineup could be just what your team needs to get that extra edge (I know my team, where I went zero RB and took Rawls as my RB1 LATE, is sitting pretty now that I have him back). The best part about the Prosise injury* is that it means Rawls will see more action on passing downs. They will find a way to spell him here and there, but Rawls should be an every down back going forward and should catch his fair share of passes.

Things change quickly in the NFL, and it seems like just last week we were excited about the idea of a Prosise-Rawls backfield combination. But this week was about much more than Thomas Rawls and how happy we all are to have him back.

To the report. . .

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C.J. Prosise rushes against the New England Patriots

If you played your cards right, 2016 may have been one of the best seasons ever to roll with a zero RB strategy in your draft. Not only have there been a litany of running back committees utilized across the league, but legitimate RB1s and RB2s have been emerging all year. Take a look at this list: Jordan Howard, Devontae Booker, Spencer Ware, C.J. Prosise, Robert Kelley. Those guys were all either not drafted at all or were taken later in drafts as a handcuff or dice roll option (I actually drafted Booker in one league but dropped him after a few weeks because I need the roster spot. D’oh!).

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Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) is stopped short of the end zone by Denver Broncos safety Darian Stewart (26) in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, everyone. I apologize for missing last week, but I had a bunch of running around to do and was never able to settle down and hammer out the Week 9 Handcuff Report. Let’s just assume that I gave you great advice last week and that you’re back this week for more. Ok? Ok. Good. Great. Now, about those running backs.

The Oakland Raiders have been really fun to watch this year unless you have been trying to predict running back touches all year. While Latavius Murray was frustrating earlier in the year and then got hurt, but one thing he has done all year is find his way into the end zone. And in a week when a ton of people probably benched him because he was going up against the defense of the Denver Broncos, he decided to get into the end zone three times. Hopefully, you rolled the dice or were forced to start him because of bye weeks and injuries, but I know that many of you didn’t start him. I probably wouldn’t have.

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If you were to define the 2016 fantasy football season in one sentence, I challenge you to do better than this: Jay Ajayi has more rushing yards in the last two weeks than Todd Gurley has all season. It has been that bad, and that sentence describes both how surprisingly good Ajayi has been the last two weeks and how disappointing Todd Gurley has been all year. It’s tough to say if those two backs will continue going in different directions, but they are currently following the same paths as their respective offenses. The Rams aren’t giving Gurley any space, while the Dolphins, with their front five finally healthy and playing together, are dropping bodies for Ajayi. Ajayi’s stock has never been higher, now that he is officially the top man in Miami. Which brings us to…

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Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we all saw that coming. We all knew the Miami Dolphins were going to smash the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we all knew that they were going to do so by riding Jay Ajayi and his 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns. We all knew that, even with Arian Foster coming back, Ajayi would get 25 carries and, oh, you know, rattle off 8.2 YPC on the day. We all knew Jay Ajayi, sent down from above by his Heavenly father to be the savior of the Dolphins in the fifth round of the NFL draft last year, was going to get more touches than any running back not named Terrance West, Ezekiel Elliott, Lamar Miller, or Melvin Gordon.

And, of course, we all knew that Spencer Ware was going to get 26 touches on 40 snaps to Jamaal Charles’s 11 on 15. This was the first time all year that many Jamaal Charles owners started him, as he was finally considered healthy enough for a full workload. So, of course, Ware dominated the snaps and touches. But we all knew that was going to happen. That’s what makes this so easy!

Now, if you are this far into the article and haven’t been able to detect the sarcasm, please stop reading. We cannot help you here. You have bigger problems than fantasy football, and you will not find the answers here. You will likely only find more questions and a Simpsons referenced forced into here somewhere (this one doesn’t count).

For the rest of you, we have work to do. This was another strange week for running backs, as I so subtly alluded to above, and we have a number of question marks at running back going forward.

And now, to the report…

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Week 5 saw some dominant performances by running backs we were counting on, with David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarco Murray, Jordan Howard (told you!), and the Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman two-headed monster delivering for their owners. But this week also saw its fair share of disappointments, both from new faces fantasy owners were taking chances on and from running backs drafted to be fantasy starters.

If you picked up Wendell Smallwood, Kenneth Dixon, or Orleans Darkwa and threw them right into your starting squad, you paid for it with essentially a blank spot in your lineup. If you started regulars such as Jeremy Hill, Isaiah Crowell, Matt Jones, or Lamar Miller, you didn’t do much better. This second list of names hurts a bit more, though (except for maybe Jones), because you likely plugged them into your lineups without a second thought. On the plus side, you can look forward to now having that second thought for the rest of the season.

Cameron Artis-Payne bounced back on Monday night after a certain Razzball contributor lamented his performance last week. Artis-Payne scored two touchdowns and rushed for 85 yards on 18 carries, but both Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart, so our days of starting CAP and crossing our fingers are likely over, at least until Stewart gets hurt again. Don’t drop CAP just yet, but you can start cracking your fingers.

And now, to the report…

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