Fantasy football: Who’s real, who’s a mirage?

Sometimes you lose a battle for first place. Sometimes you lose bragging rights to your wife. Sometimes the team you not-so-subtly mentioned to the aforementioned wife was your strongest lays an egg. Sometimes a last-place team scores almost 25 percent of its season total in points against you before the sun sets on Sunday. And sometimes, when you’re in more leagues than you’d care to admit, every one of those fates befalls you during a lost weekend. 

OK, now that I got that off my chest it’s time to move on, sort of. My thoughts heading into Week 8:

Unfortunately for two of my teams, Chris Johnson finally returned to form last week. His 195 yards, including 17- and 83-yard TDs, made many fantasy owners happy and likely gave them hope that the guy masquerading as a professional running back for the past year and a half has gotten his groove back. Maybe. Remember, he was playing the Bills. Everyone succeeds against the Bills. I’m pretty sure my 14-month-old could average 4 yards per carry against that defense. It’ll be interesting — and much less painful for me — to see how Johnson fares this week against the Colts.

What to make of the Ravens? Was the 30-point drubbing by the Texans last week just an aberration? Baltimore has a bye week to figure things out, and there’s a lot to take into account.

From a fantasy perspective, history tells us that the Ravens will continue to throw the ball. Given all the holes in their depleted defense, I’m not sure Joe Flacco is up to the task; he certainly wasn’t against Houston. Last week was the first game after all the defensive injuries set Flacco up to show everyone he’s the “elite” QB he claims to be, and, coincidentally or not, it was his worst performance of the season (147 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs). Sure, the Texans have a good defense, but that same unit gave up 6 TDs to Aaron Rodgers in its previous game. I am officially giving up on Flacco.

Now, to the one player on that offense who is elite: RB Ray Rice. If the Texans loss is any indication, fantasy owners with Rice on their roster are in for a frustrating second half. Rice tended to be underused or almost forgotten for long stretches previously. But he could really suffer if the defense (and the quarterback) start digging big holes early. Last week, Rice had nine carries for 42 yards and five catches for 12 yards. If the Ravens are smart, they’ll give their defense and their elite quarterback a break and figure out how to better utilize one of the top all-around backs in the league. He should touch the ball, in some form or fashion, at least 25 times a game. If Rice doesn’t become the focal point of that offense, his fantasy struggles will translate into even bigger problems for the team in real life.

Coming into the season, I was very high on Calvin Johnson. I told everyone who would listen that the Lions WR who led the league in yards and TDs in 2011 shouldn’t drop further than the seventh pick in any draft. He seemed like a no-brainer once the top three QBs and top three RBs were off the board. In hindsight I was lucky that in all my leagues I drew really early or really late draft positions. It prevented me from pulling the trigger on Johnson, who has been one of fantasy’s biggest disappointments.

Granted, a lot of that has to do with his QB, Matthew Stafford, who has been an even bigger disappointment. I didn’t expect another 41 TDs from him, but I didn’t think a dropoff would significantly affect Johnson. This is a guy, after all, who managed to catch 12 TDs during the Lions’ winless season with guys like Daunte Culpepper, Jon Kitna and Dan Orlovsky throwing to him.

Johnson did enter last week’s game against the Bears among the league leaders in receiving yards, but he was a nonfactor Monday night, catching just three passes for 34 yards. This week, the Lions draw the Seahawks, another great defensive team. That doesn’t bode well for fantasy owners hoping Johnson will finally add to his meager TD total (he has only one, and that didn’t come from Stafford).

Christian Ponder was a hot commodity as a waiver pickup after his and the Vikings’ early start — I picked him up in two leagues as a quality backup/potential starter in two leagues — but as of late he’s been playing like a QB with just more than a season’s worth of experience. He was awful for three quarters in a loss to the Redskins, and last week he threw for 58 — that’s right, 58 — yards in a win over the Cardinals.

If he happened to play well Thursday against the Bucs, try to trade him. Minnesota’s upcoming schedule is brutal, with two games each against the Bears and Packers and a matchup with the Texans. Ponder may not have much trade value regardless despite this being a down year for QBs. But on a related note, if he and the Vikings struggle as I expect in the second half, that’s a wake-up call for those with Percy Harvin on their roster. The WR is having a career year, but if you believe it won’t last, you can get plenty in return right now for the most exciting dual threat in the league.

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