Despite Madden Curse, Calvin Johnson more than meets the eye

      October 25, 2012 @ 16:20:24 PDT

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Coming off a three-catch, 34-yard stinker versus Charles Tillman and the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, Calvin Johnson missed a Wednesday Detroit Lions walk-through because of a knee injury sustained in that contest.

Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson
Megatron vanquished?

He's one of a few players on the Lions - probably in the NFL - that doesn't necessarily need to practice much (if at all) to play. After all, he's from Cybertron.

Still, just like his cartoon counterpart, Megatron hasn't succeeded in most of his weekly missions, at least to his draft value levels. In standard scoring leagues, he stands at 17th among wide receivers with 63 points in 2012 - good for a 10.5 per-game average. In PPRs, he's 14th with 101, with a 16.8 average. Not horrific, not outstanding: either way, far from what his drafters expected.

Wait ... I think I just heard ... "BOO ... M!" Do I smell turducken? Just in time for Halloween, it's ... the Madden Curse. Oooooooooooooooh....

Do stories of ghosts and spells come true? Some fantasy players think so.

The majority of Johnson's hex rests on that pesky touchdown category, one of the most fluctuating registers in sports. Johnson has just one six-pointer to his name this year, and that happened all the way back in Week 3 off the right arm of Shaun Hill.

Matthew Stafford's difficulties in commanding the offense and locating No. 81 inside the 20 are the chief concerns for Megatron's fantasy football future. In fact, Keith gave the slinger an ultimatum last week; safe to say the per se sophomore didn't respond. Defenses have clamped down on this pair all year in the red zone, a region where Detroit ranks next to last in the NFL in efficiency.

Nate Burleson's broken leg took away a reliable diversion that occasionally made defenses think about leaving Johnson with less coverage. Titus Young and Ryan Broyles have potential but hardly scare secondaries. Brandon Pettigrew's drops are becoming a bigger issue. This running game - wait, they have one?

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford
A Stafford infection

Plus, if not for an odd Philadelphia Eagles second-half strategy switch, Johnson's Week 6 would've been much worse. They had his number for most of the first half.

Now, even brash youngsters are coming at the king. The suddenly outspoken 6-foot-3, 195-pound Richard Sherman hopes to be more than meets the eye. "Optimus Prime," per his rented Twitter handle, will be covering the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Megatron this weekend for the Seattle Seahawks. Hopefully, Michael Bay keeps his hands off this potential epic, though Johnson's production may resemble Bay's talent by the time this game reaches handshakes.

Can No. 81 gut through his lackluster limb and create separation from the physical play he'll be facing? If he plays to Seattle's hyper-aggressiveness, it's possible. But size will matter even if Johnson slips past Sherman. Cornerback Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (6-foot-3, 232) won't shy away, either. Earl Thomas (5-foot-10, 202) plays bigger than he looks.

Still, unless the knee injury turns out to be something that either will become a problem or has been bugging him throughout the year, we're experiencing the most benign case of the Madden Curse. You're not considering benching Johnson. Ever. Through the first seven weeks (six games for him), he ranks seventh in the combined WR-TE pool with 67 targets and has seen fewer than 11 looks in a game just once (seven in Week 1).

And, duh, he has 10 games left.

I don't for one second believe the 2012 season marks the league-wide light bulb ding to figure out Calvin Johnson. Limiting this one-dimensional offense involves merely containing their top guy. It's a team-wide problem, stemming from the dude taking snaps. Their timing seems off but has plenty of time for restoration. You know the famous "dying quail" quote from Crash Davis regarding batting average? You can apply that here to Johnson's red-zone trips. A few more battles won in that coveted 10-yard window, and we won't even be worried about him anymore.

DET schedule
WR PPG over last 4 wks
Wk
Tm
WR PPG
Rk
8
SEA
15.5
27
9
@JAC
24.3
T-9
10
@MIN
12.5
30
11
GB
27.8
4
12
HOU
24.3
T-9
13
IND
27.0
T-6
14
@GB
27.8
4
15
@ARI
19.8
20
16
ATL
20.3
18
17
CHI
19.7
21

Another dud - but more importantly, an active game - should more emphatically flip your buy-low switch, which should already say "ON."

Bet on Johnson's production catching up to his attention instead of Detroit going in other offensive directions more frequently. Even with Johnson's underwhelming stats, Detroit has averaged the second most passing yards per game this year (307.0), and they know their best way to recover is to lean on their stud.

Johnson may have some trouble lining up across from Patrick Peterson in Week 15, but his schedule following Seattle is quite good. Luckily, most leagues don't play Week 17, when he faces Charles Tillman and the suffocating Chicago Bears for the second time. The Green Bay Packers, whom he'll face twice, just lost Charles Woodson (collarbone) for what's expected to be six weeks. The Houston Texans' 3-4 might be troublesome, but his slate could carry his owners to the postseason.

And, more importantly, once he's reached the less than stellar matchups in the fake playoffs, he might be back to normal.

To win in fantasy football, you must keep faith in elite talent overcoming team philosophy, makeup and opponents, which reign heavily over this game. In this case, he's the poster boy.

If his knee heals, he'll soon Transform and start winning more battles with explosions that would make Bay and your opponents cower in fear.

Now where's Megan Fox?

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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