Thursday, December 25, 2008

Game-planning for Week 17? Good luck

Week 17 of the NFL season is probably the trickiest one to predict from a fantasy standpoint.

You’ve got a handful of teams that already have their playoff positioning locked in. Will they opt to rest their key starters? We saw how that strategy backfired on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. So do teams instead go the New York Giants’ route and give 100 percent in a “meaningless” finale? The Giants players credited their Week 17 loss to the New England Patriots last year as a catalyst for their Super Bowl run.

NFL coaches face some serious conundrums when it comes to resting starters who are nursing injuries and risking their teams losing momentum or getting out of synch come playoff time. And then there are the non-playoff teams: Are they motivated to play spoiler or end the season on a high note, or have they already mentally packed their bags for some sunny offseason locale?

It’s an interesting dilemma, and it makes for some difficult roster calls. Here’s some advice for those whose fantasy teams are still alive this week:

g The Arizona Cardinals clinched a playoff spot weeks ago, but I’d still expect to see at least a few quarters out of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and the still-healing Anquan Boldin against Seattle. Those three need to get their aerial act together if they want to avoid getting bounced in the first round, so count on them seeing significant time against a bad Seahawks defense coming off an emotional win with little left to play for.

g I’m avoiding Marion Barber and his toe troubles this week unless I have no other choice — and that includes Dallas Cowboys rookie backup Tashard Choice, who’s run for 88, 91 and 90 yards against three of the league’s toughest run defenses the past three weeks.

g Use caution if you’re starting any Indianapolis Colts or Tennessee Titans, as both of those teams already have their playoff spots locked in. A quarter or two of Peyton Manning is probably too good to pass up, but I’d be a little hesitant about starting anyone else in that game.

g Start all your noteworthy San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in what will be a win-or-go-home, defensively challenged shootout: Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Eddie Royal. Just bench Broncos RB Tatum Bell — the position’s cursed this year.

g The New Orleans Saints are out of it, but Drew Brees is only 402 yards shy of Dan Marino’s single-season passing record. Brees, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas are worth starting, even against the Carolina Panthers, whose playoff positioning has yet to be determined.

g If the Detroit Lions want to avoid an 0-16 season (let’s assume they do) they would be wise to utilize running back Kevin Smith against Green Bay. The rookie matched his single-season high for carries (24) last week and had his second-best rushing total (112) along with a TD. With enough work he could match those numbers against the Packers’ so-so run D.

g If last week taught us anything, it’s to start your New England Patriots no matter what the weather forecast looks like. QB Matt Cassel was simply awesome in the snow, and with a playoff spot still a possibility I expect he and the Pats’ passing game will crush the Buffalo Bills.

g This sounds crazy after the Giants just rushed for 301 yards, but you may want to avoid all of Big Blue’s running backs this week. New York has nothing to play for against the Minnesota Vikings, so they could opt to rest Brandon Jacobs and his ailing knee — which limits Derrick Ward’s threat as a change-of-pace back. Ahmad Bradshaw might end up seeing the most touches, but he faces a stout run defense and a team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff spot.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No use crying over shattered playoff dreams

Got a sob story from a Week 15 playoff loss?

I know of at least one matchup that was decided on that controversial Pittsburgh Steelers “touchdown” late Sunday afternoon.

Pass the Kleenex.

Or perhaps you started a seemingly fool-proof lineup consisting of some or all of the following: Eli Manning (191 yards, zero TDs, two INTs), Marion Barber (eight carries, 2 yards), Reggie Bush (46 total yards), Anquan Boldin (six catches, 34 yards), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (five catches, 19 yards) and Jeremy Shockey (one catch, 11 yards).


And what about yours truly? One of my playoff teams (the other had a first-round bye) put together its second-lowest point total of the whole season at the absolute worst time and got bounced. My decision to bench Tyler Thigpen (one TD passing, one rushing) in favor of Matt Ryan (zero TDs) at the last minute because of the poor weather forecast in Kansas City didn’t help my cause, but even that wouldn’t have been enough to save my team from its fate as an also-ran.

Just goes to show you that no one is exempt from bad luck, bad timing and bad decisions, even at playoff time. Those who are lucky enough to still be playing this week should keep this in mind as they try to dial up one more victory.

As you prep for your Week 16 showdown, consider the following:

g The Minnesota Vikings’ Tarvaris Jackson threw only 11 passes Sunday, and four of them went for touchdowns against what the Arizona Cardinals are calling a pass defense. I’m not advocating starting Jackson this week against the Atlanta Falcons, but I am giving New England Patriots QB Matt Cassel (above) my full seal of approval against a Cards D that gives up an average of two passing TDs a game, worst in the league. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are must-starts too.

g Tony Romo is a relatively safe play at QB (assuming his sore back feels better), but don’t go overboard with your expectations. The Baltimore Ravens have not allowed a quarterback to throw for more than one TD against them since Derek Anderson did so in Week 9.

g Two very sneaky RB choices that will get lost in the matchup of Drew Brees’ high-flying New Orleans Saints vs. the lowly Detroit Lions: Pierre Thomas (eight total TDs in his past five games) and Kevin Smith (212 total yards and a TD in his past two games). Both would be nice No. 2 RBs or flex players this week.

g Is it a coincidence some of the most productive running backs in recent weeks have been those with younger, fresher legs? Marshawn Lynch, Steve Slaton (above), Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew all fit that category — and all face suspect run defenses this week.

g It doesn’t really matter who starts at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — his priority will be getting the ball downfield to Antonio Bryant, who’s caught four TDs in his past three games. He has a good shot at another one against the San Diego Chargers, who’ve allowed the third-most scores through the air in the league.

g Just for old time’s sake, you may want to start the San Francisco 49ers’ Isaac Bruce (26 catches, 333 yards and two TDs in his past four games) as he returns to his old stomping grounds, the home turf of the St. Louis Rams.

Friday, December 12, 2008

CC to NY

No, we haven't forgotten about baseball. Even in the thick of the fantasy football playoffs, the record contract CC Sabathia is about to sign with the New York Yankees is worth the attention.

Sabathia is obviously one of the premier pitchers in baseball and a major fantasy commodity. But how does the move to the Bronx affect his value?

His numbers last year with the Indians and Brewers were off the charts - 17-10, 2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 251 Ks. Pretty spectacular stuff right there. But CC doesn't come without some concerns, either. He pitched a massive amount of innings last year, a career-high 253. Historically, he hasn't pitched well at Yankee Stadium (1-4, 8.61 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, as The Sports Network points out), and the Bombers' new home has the same playing field dimensions. And while he feasted on some weak-hitting NL lineups during his blistering late-season stretch with the Brewers last year, he now moves to the dangerous AL East (although he does have pretty good career numbers against the Yanks' division rivals). And of course there's always the pressure-cooker that is New York, which has ruined many a pitcher before.

I think CC will be hard-pressed to match his phenomenal second-half production next year in Pinstripes. However, he's still capable of reaching, say, his 2007 Cy Young totals - 19-7, 3.21 ERA, 209 Ks - which would make him one of the top three fantasy pitchers in the game, right up there with Johan Santana and perhaps Tim Lincecum. For now, let's pencil him in at No. 2, right behind Mr. Santana, and check back in when it's closer to pitchers-and-catchers time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Week 15: Who to start, sit in playoffs

So you’re in the playoffs.

Congratulations. Would you like a medal?

Fact is, making the fantasy football postseason is a nice accomplishment, but this is no time to rest on your laurels and pat yourself on the back. There’s more work to be done and tough decisions to make before you can call yourself a champ.

Here’s some advice to help you keep this thing rolling:


g RB Dominic Rhodes vs. Detroit: Sure, Joseph Addai is the Indianapolis Colts’ “starter,” but he’s a bit banged-up, and Rhodes has seen an increased workload the past few weeks. Plus, he’s playing the Lions, who let another “backup,” Chester Taylor, have a nice day last week.

g RB Derrick Ward at Dallas: Brandon Jacobs says he’ll play despite a sore knee, but I could see the New York Giants giving Ward lots of touches to help keep the big guy fresh for the postseason.

g RB Sammy Morris at Oakland: He’s back in the mix as the New England Patriots’ top tailback, so you can assume at least 10 touches and perhaps a score like the past two weeks.

g RB Steve Slaton vs. Tennessee: Don’t let the Titans’ run defense scare you from using a kid who’s rushed for 479 yards and three TDs in his past four games. Oh, and he had 116 yards and a TD the first time his Houston Texans played the Colts this year.

g QB Tyler Thigpen vs. San Diego: After a so-so effort last week at Denver (187 yards, TD), raise your expectations against a pretty bad Chargers pass defense.

g QB Donovan McNabb vs. Cleveland: He’s elevated his game since his competence and brainpower were called into question a few weeks ago. Expect him to light up a Browns team in disarray.

g WR Reggie Williams vs. Green Bay: The Jacksonville Jaguars receiver is at least a No. 3 receiver this week given Matt Jones’ suspension and the Packers’ general ineptitude the past few weeks.

g WR Devin Hester vs. New Orleans: The Chicago Bears’ most dangerous weapon could break off a few big plays against a Saints’ D that’s given up 20 receiving TDs.

g WR Brandon Marshall at Carolina: The Denver Broncos are running out of running backs, so they might opt to throw it a lot against a secondary that’s been torched to the tune of 274, 293 and 298 yards the past three weeks.


g RB Steven Jackson vs. Seattle: I understand starting him if you don’t have a better option, but Jackson should no longer be treated like a No. 1 fantasy back. His lack of involvement in the passing game and his so-so rushing totals have been killing teams lately.

g RB Willie Parker at Baltimore: I don’t like the timeshare situation unfolding with Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Mewelde Moore, and I certainly don’t like the matchup.

g RB Larry Johnson vs. San Diego: After a poor effort last week at Denver (11 carries, 36 yards), lower your expectations against a pretty good run-stopping Chargers defense.

g RB Tashard Choice vs. New York Giants: The Dallas Cowboys rookie will be a popular pickup this week after what he did against a tough Pittsburgh Steelers run defense (88 rushing yards, 78 receiving yards). But if Marion Barber can go and wants to shut Jerry Jones up, Choice returns to relative obscurity.

g QB Matt Schaub vs. Tennessee: Don’t overreact to last week’s air raid on Green Bay. Schaub was terrible against the Titans in Week 3 (188 yards, zero TDs, three interceptions) and isn’t worth the risk this week.

g QB Ben Roethlisberger at Baltimore: If your idea of a good fantasy outing for your QB is about 200 yards and maybe a TD, Big Ben is your guy this week. If you have another QB on your roster who’s capable of more, plant Roethlisberger on your bench for this slugfest.

g WR Laveranues Coles vs. Buffalo: The veteran has combined for three catches and seven yards in his past two games. Do you dare start him this week?

g WR Domenik Hixon at Dallas: Forget about last week’s costly drop, as bad as it looked. It was unfair to expect the guy to just step in and replace Plaxico Burress, and he’s been too inconsistent to warrant a start at this point.

g WR Chris Chambers at Kansas City: He’s been an afterthought in the San Diego Chargers’ offense lately, with just one catch in the past two weeks. Sure, the matchup is good this Sunday, but you can do better.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Your guide to success in important Week 14

Forget about putting up the Christmas lights this weekend and tell your significant other you’re taking a pass on that shopping trip.

This is a crucial week in fantasy football, either the regular season finale or the opening of the playoffs. We can’t be bothered with trivial stuff like holiday preparations, household chores and human interaction. It’s Week 14! Enough nonsense . . . we’ve got more important things to think about, like who to start and who to sit this week.


g RB Adrian Peterson at Detroit: The biggest no-brainer in the history of no-brainers.

g RB Larry Johnson at Denver: He torched the Broncos for 198 yards and two TDs in Week 4.

g RB DeAngelo Williams vs. Tampa Bay: I make it a point to never sit a running back coming off a four-TD game. Call me crazy.

g RB Brian Westbrook at New York Giants: See above.

g QB Matt Cassel at Seattle: Welcome back to reality, son. Now go out there and carve up that Seahawks “secondary.”

g QB Kurt Warner vs. St. Louis: If he doesn’t throw for at least 300 yards and two TDs, I’ll buy you a drink.

g WR Bernard Berrian at Detroit: His best fantasy output of the season was against — you guessed it — the Lions in Week 6 (five catches, 131 yards, TD).

g WR Lance Moore vs. Atlanta: Has caught six TDs in his past five games and should continue the trend.

g WR Torry Holt at Arizona: He has only two TD receptions this year, but one came against the generous Cardinals pass defense in Week 9.


g RB Jamal Lewis at Tennessee: I’m no defensive coordinator, but do you think the Titans might stack the box this week with Ken Dorsey playing QB for Cleveland?

g RB Clinton Portis at Baltimore: It pains me to say this because I know he’s carried you (and Washington) all year. But Portis is banged-up, coming off his worst game of the year (22 yards) and facing the Ravens. That’s three strikes.

g RB Marion Barber at Pittsburgh: Uncertainty about his toe injury and the Steelers’ run defense make me very apprehensive this week.

g RB Willis McGahee vs. Washington: How can you start a guy who suited up the week before but had no carries?

g QB Tony Romo at Pittsburgh: Games against San Francisco and Seattle were walks in the park, but did you see what the Steelers did to poor Cassel last week? Factor in the prospect of no Barber in the backfield and bad weather in the Steel City, and I’m considering other options.

g QB Jake Delhomme vs. Tampa Bay: The Bucs are simply too tough. There are at least 20 other quarterbacks with more upside this week.

g WR Braylon Edwards at Tennessee: No way am I putting my playoff chances in this guy’s hands. Or to be more accurate, letting them bounce off this guy’s fingertips.

g WR Chad Johnson at Indianapolis: There’s a big difference between doing funny things in the end zone and having an absolute joke of a season. I bet I could close my eyes, pick up a random receiver off the waiver wire and get more production out of him this week than Ocho Cinco.

g WR Roy Williams at Pittsburgh: This guy’s stock has plummeted more than — well, it’s just as bad as all the stocks out there in real life, I guess. But there’s no reason to start him in any fantasy league this week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Touchdowns and turkey: Perfect together

The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day games aren’t all that intriguing, but fantasy players won’t complain. We get three midweek matchups, all seen on national TV (by those of us lucky enough to get the NFL Network, anyway) and all with a fair share of fantasy-relevant stars involved.

The holiday slate features a battle of the birds (Eagles vs. Cardinals), and quite a few turkeys (Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, the 0-11 Detroit Lions). We’ll all be watching the games - between naps, of course - and trying to get our teams off to a good start in Week 13. So in that spirit, let’s break down the matchups from a fantasy perspective:


Kerry Collins, NFL MVP? I’m warming up to the idea.

Kerry Collins, fantasy starter? I’ll buy that too, at least for this week.

If there’s ever a time to start the old-timer, this is it. He’s coming off his three best efforts of the season, statistically speaking (six TDs in his past three games), and he’s facing a Lions defense that’s given up 18 scores through the air. Collins and top receiver Justin Gage are pretty decent options this week.

Even better options: The Titans’ dual rushing threat of Chris Johnson and LenDale White, going up against Detroit’s league-worst rush defense (166 yards allowed per game). Rising rookie star Johnson is an obvious must-start, but don’t let White’s one-carry, minus-one-yard, one-temper-tantrum effort last week scare you off. Coach Jeff Fisher will make sure White keeps his attitude in check, and the best way to do that is give him the rock early and often against a soft D.

As for the Lions, I like rookie Kevin Smith as a No. 2 running back this week since the Titans aren’t as good against the run as you might expect. They are, however, great against the pass, but I’d still start Calvin Johnson (a TD in six of his past seven games) and cross my fingers.


The Tony Romo Comeback Tour continues. Remember when America’s favorite advocate for the homeless tossed five TDs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2006 Turkey Day game? It wouldn’t surprise me if he came close to matching that against the Seahawks’ secondary. Romo and Terrell Owens (213 yards, TD) are clicking right now, so expect fireworks.

Marion Barber will find room to run, so start him with out hesitation. His Seahawks counterpart and former backfield mate, Julius Jones, will start and should have a little extra motivation, but I wouldn’t use him as anything more than a No. 3 RB or flex player if I could help it. And I’d avoid Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks receivers.


Speaking of extra motivation, McNabb should be out to prove his detractors wrong, and I’m expecting big things against a Cardinals defense that:

g Has allowed a league-high 22 passing touchdowns

g Has been burnt by the likes of Shaun Hill (two TDs) and Eli Manning (three TDs) in recent weeks, and

g Is traveling cross-country with a short week of practice.

Sounds like a recipe for a Thanksgiving treat from McNabb. I’d consider DeSean Jackson too if I’m short at wide receiver, and I’d take a long, hard look at a seriously banged-up
Brian Westbrook as one of my RB options.

On the flip side, Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are on an absolute tear and cannot be benched. Steve Breaston is still getting looks but remains a fantasy No. 3 in most leagues. And Tim Hightower has been a boom-or-bust proposition in recent weeks, so start with caution.

Photos by The Associated Press

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's up with Brandon Jacobs?

Anybody get burned by Brandon Jacobs being on the bench Sunday?

We knew he had a slight tear in his MCL but was probable for the Giants' game against the Cardinals. With that being a late game, the matter was complicated even further, but all indications early in the day were Jacobs would be active.

Then, about an hour before kickoff comes word that he won't play.


Even the Cardinals weren't happy with the way the situation was handled, and they sent an informal protest to the NFL. Those fantasy players who started Jacobs probably would like to do the same thing.

The word is this was just a precaution, and that Jacobs will probably suit up next week against the Redskins, although he's calling himself "day to day." For those who've rode the big guy (879 yards, 11 TDs) so far, he can't be back soon enough. In the meantime, backup Derrick Ward (99 yards from scrimmage, one TD on Sunday) is a valuable commodity who at the very least is a good flex option or No. 2 or No. 3 RB.

While we're on the topic of Giants injuries, New York also lost WR Plaxico Burress early in the game when he aggravated a hamstring injury. Hopefully you're not relying on Burress as your No. 1 WR at this point since he's lost some of last year's magic. He's still always a TD threat, but the Giants' offense is so varied and opposing defenses are so focused on Plax that he's a No. 2 at best, plus you'll have to monitor his practices as always.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Using the NFL schedule to your advantage

As the days get colder and the NFL moves into Week 12, our thoughts begin to turn toward playoff time.

Every week is critical now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and begin to position our teams for a postseason run. It’s time to take a serious look at the remainder of the NFL schedule and the matchups that will help you maximize your fantasy team’s potential.

I often use statistical rankings as a guide for which teams are the toughest and easiest to run and pass against. Of course anything can happen on any given week, but a quarterback who faces a few of the league’s 10 weakest pass defenses in the coming weeks is more likely to outperform his peers and give your team a boost in these critical games.

I’ve analyzed the schedule and crunched the numbers for you. Here are some of the players with the best and worst matchups in the next few weeks:


g Matt Ryan and Roddy White of the Atlanta Falcons bobbled last week’s potential game-winning bomb, but after a tough test this week against Carolina, they should shine against San Diego and New Orleans in Weeks 13 and 14.

g Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte’s been on a decent roll lately. That should continue this week against St. Louis and pick up again when he closes out the season vs. Green Bay and Houston.

g Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s pinky shouldn’t be much of a problem against San Francisco this week or Seattle the next - assuming he's done hanging out with homeless dudes.

g Jamal Lewis hasn’t cracked 90 rushing yards in a game this season for the Cleveland Browns. His best chances come when his team hosts Houston this week and Indianapolis the next — then the fun’s over at Tennessee.

g As if the Titans’ running duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson wasn’t already valuable, check out these upcoming opponents: Detroit (Week 13), Cleveland (Week 14), Houston (Week 15) and Indianapolis (Week 17).

g Miami Dolphins QB Chad Pennington gets to air it out against St. Louis, San Francisco, Kansas City and his old team, the Jets, in four of the season’s final five weeks.

g Jeff Garcia of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could do some damage against Detroit this week, New Orleans the next and San Diego’s league-worst pass defense in Week 16, aka the Super Bowl in most fantasy leagues.

g Brett Favre and his receiving corps could put on a show against Denver (Week 13), San Francisco (Week 14) and Seattle (Week 16).

g Buffalo’s Trent Edwards and Lee Evans have been relegated to the bench in most leagues. But they might be able to get back on track thanks to a schedule that includes Kansas City, San Francisco, the New York Jets and Denver.


g Marion Barber deserves the benefit of the doubt, but his Cowboys face a brutal stretch of run-stuffers starting in Week 13 — Pittsburgh, the Giants and Baltimore.

g Detroit Lions rookie RB Kevin Smith also must run a brutal three-game gauntlet starting this week — Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota.

g It looks like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is starting to break out of his funk, and facing Cincinnati this week might continue the trend. But after that he meets four brick walls known as New England, Dallas, Baltimore and Tennessee.

g You hardly ever sit Saints QB Drew Brees, but be warned: He faces two of the league’s top five pass defenses (Green Bay, Tampa Bay) the next two weeks.

g Washington Redskins RB Clinton Portis has been excellent this year when healthy. So he might just be a little less excellent against the Giants and Ravens in Weeks 13 and 14.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leave your fantasy prejudices behind

There’s no room for bias or prejudice in fantasy sports.

As much as I personally loathe the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook have been very, very good to my fantasy teams over the years. And as loyal as I am to the New York Giants as a third-generation fan, I realize Eli Manning isn’t always the wisest fantasy choice (although he’s been pretty good so far for the 8-1 G-Men).

Biases and prejudices in fantasy don’t just extend to your favorite football team and its rivals. Sometimes we hold onto unfair opinions about individual players and teams, even when they run contrary to the facts.

Case in point: Kurt Warner. The knock on him for years is that he’s old, injury prone, fumble prone, and his best years were a product of Mike Martz’s system in St. Louis. Maybe there’s some truth to that, and that’s why Warner was passed over on draft day for a multitude of other quarterbacks, including teammate Matt Leinart, who is younger and more party prone.

But if you’ve seen Warner’s Arizona Cardinals play this year or checked the stat sheet, you’d see they are fourth in the league in pass attempts a game (342) but 20th in sacks allowed (16), a formula that has allowed Warner to stay upright, utilize his talented receiving corps and put together an MVP-caliber performance.

Letting go of your preconceived notions and trusting Warner as your every-week starter would be a wise move. And while you’re at it, here are some other old prejudices that need to be erased:

g Any QB would look good throwing the ball to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

Still not sold on Warner, huh? Having Boldin and Fitzgerald certainly helps, but he’s also made third receiver Steve Breaston (seven catches, 121 yards last week) a legit fantasy pickup and fourth receiver Jerheme Urban (18 catches, two TDs in his past six games) a deep sleeper. So there.

g The Atlanta Falcons stink.

That was the consensus entering this season, and it scared most of us away from anyone wearing black and red other than tailback Michael Turner. But while Turner’s been a stud, Matt Ryan and Roddy White have blossomed into one of the league’s deadliest pass-catch combos in Ryan’s rookie season. All three of those guys are must-starts at this point, particularly against the woeful Denver Broncos defense this week. Even backup running back Jerious Norwood (105 total yards, TD last week) is capable of busting a big play or two.

g The Kansas City Chiefs stink.

OK, maybe this one’s true. But that doesn’t mean quarterback Tyler Thigpen isn’t worth your time. Thigpen, who started the year as KC’s third quarterback, is coming off a three-TD performance against the San Diego Chargers and now faces a New Orleans Saints defense that’s susceptible to the pass. Thigpen has spread the ball around the Tony Gonzalez, Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley, plus he’ll have the services of Larry Johnson this week to help take the pressure off through the running game.

Cadillac rides again

The Cadillac is back!

Cadillac Williams, who starred at Auburn and burst onto the NFL scene with a 1,000-yard, six-touchdown rookie season in 2005, was activated from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' physically unable to perform list and practiced Wednesday.

As big of a fantasy stud Williams was in '05, he was that much of a dud the following year, when his yardaged total plunged to 798 yards and scored just one time. Then came a fateful 2007 season, when Caddy sustained a career-threatening knee injury just four games in. But he's worked his way back and is now in the mix in the Bucs' backfield after they waived Michael Bennett. With Earnest Graham (knee) and Warrick Dunn (back) both dealing with injuries of their own, Williams may eventually get a shot to show he's got something left.

I'm skeptical, and you should be too, but the situation bears monitoring in the weeks ahead. Caddy's still got young legs and a lot of talent, and is perhaps better suited than any of the guys on the Bucs' roster to serve as a feature back. If you have a spot to spare for a fourth or fifth running back, it might pay off with a big week or two down the stretch from Williams.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Time for a change, America: Brady Quinn's a starter

It’s time for change, America.

Time for a new direction. A different perspective. A young, charismatic leader with a new way of doing things.-

It’s time for the Brady Quinn Era.

Quinn, the former Notre Dame heartthrob and Heisman Trophy finalist, will start his first NFL game today when the Cleveland Browns host the Denver Broncos. Up until now, Quinn’s biggest claim to fame as a pro has been starring in those commercials for EAS Myoplex (whatever that is) and perfecting the art of clipboard-holding.

But with the Browns, a trendy preseason playoff pick, sinking fast in the AFC North, Cleveland decided to pull the plug on Derek Anderson and turn the reins over to Quinn.

Anderson’s certainly been a disappointment this year after a breakout 2007 (3,787 yards, 29 TDs) — he threw nine TDs and seven INTs before getting demoted. The problem is, Anderson wasn’t the only reason for the Browns’ struggles. He hasn’t been helped by Braylon Edwards’ butterfingers (14 drops) or the absence and/or ineffectiveness of Kellen Winslow, Donte’ Stallworth and Joe Jurevicius.

So will Quinn fare any better? Cleveland certainly hopes so. It’s counting on him to inject new life into an offense that ranks in the bottom third of the league in most passing categories. There isn’t much tape out there on Quinn — he’s attempted eight regular season passes in his career — and the team is counting on that unfamiliarity to sting the Broncos’ 27th-ranked pass defense Thursday.

It’s easy to forget the arm strength and leadership qualities Quinn displayed with the Fighting Irish, qualities that made him a first-round pick in 2007 and the second quarterback selected after JaMarcus Russell. Those skills will serve him well as a pro, and though he’ll have the expected struggles of a young QB, he’s definitely worth a waiver claim this week. If you’ve been counting on second-tier QBs like Matt Schaub or Kyle Orton or Dan Orlovsky — all of whom will miss extensive time with injuries — or had Anderson as your starter, Quinn is a suitable replacement with some upside.

Some other youngsters whose time has come:

Tim Hightower has evolved from goal-line vulture to full-fledged feature back for the Arizona Cardinals. The rookie has supplanted Edgerrin James, rushing for 109 yards and a TD on 22 carries last week against the St. Louis Rams in his first NFL start. Now he has a promising primetime date against the San Francisco 49ers this Monday night. Start him without fear — and get ready to kiss Edge goodbye.

Jamaal Charles got his chance to shine this week when Kolby Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury and Larry Johnson was benched (again) for disciplinary reasons. All the Kansas City Chiefs rookie did was gash the tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense for 106 yards on 18 carries Sunday. Charles is a starter-by-default for the time being with LJ facing more suspension time, and he’s got a great matchup this week against the San Diego Chargers’ league-worst run defense.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Shame on you, Larry Johnson

It's no secret Larry Johnson has crippled some fantasy teams this season. Those who burnt a high pick on the Kansas City Chiefs running back have been rewarded with the following rushing totals: 74 yards, 22 yards, 121 yards, 198 yards, 2 yards. They've also been without LJ the past two weeks because of a benching that will continue this Sunday and perhaps for the foreseeable future.

The reason: Johnson has been charged with simple assault stemming from a nightclub incident in which he spit a drink in a woman's face and threatened to kill her boyfriend. This is the third accusation of assault against a woman for Johnson.

As a fantasy owner you could almost put up with the lack of production from LJ - it's what we've come to expect these days, as he's long removed from those back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons in 2004 and 2005. Some of us opted to roll the dice on Johnson this year, figuring he might have recovered from last year's foot injury and have some big games as the main threat in KC's offense. And he's shown that even with all the wear and tear he's accumulated and the absolute ineptitude of the Chiefs' offense, he's still got something left (see the 198-yard game).

But the real inexcusable part is not the disappointing games (although following up 198 yards with 2 the next week is pretty bad) - it's the repeated ugliness off the field that really burns us. This is a guy who's created a mess for himself by continuing to make the same awful mistake of committing acts of violence against women.

To his credit, Johnson issued an apology after the latest incident, saying he is "kind of disgusted" with himself. So are we - and it has very little to do with fantasy football.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All-Dolphins lineup? Why not?

If you’ve been tinkering with the idea of starting an all-Miami Dolphins lineup, this might be the week to do it.

Normally this would sound a little crazy, unless we were talking about the Dan Marino-Mark Clayton-Mark Duper days of the mid-1980s, in which case it’d be totally radical.
But seriously, submitting a fantasy lineup of QB Chad Pennington, WRs Ted Ginn Jr. and Greg Camarillo and RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams this week might not be such a wacky idea.

That’s because the Fish are facing the Denver Broncos, who hold the distinction of being one of only two NFL teams (along with the Detroit Lions) ranked in the league’s bottom five in both passing defense and rushing defense.

Discombobulated Denver is 28th against the pass (240 yards a game, 12 TDs allowed) and 30th against the run (154 yards a game, nine TDs). They’ve been responsible for some of the biggest individual efforts we’ve seen this season – Drew Brees’ 421 passing yards in Week 3; Larry Johnson’s 198 rushing yards in Week 4; Sammy Morris’ 138 rushing yards in the first half alone last week.

The Broncos are coming off a bye, so surely they spent some of that time rewriting the defensive playbook. But it’s still not a bad idea to dive in with at least some of the Dolphins this week for their favorable matchup in South Florida.

Miami’s offense is clicking right now, with Pennington (314 yards, TD) and Ginn (seven catches, 175 yards) each coming off their best outing while wearing aqua and orange. Brown has had some big weeks running in the Dolphins’ trendy “Wildcat” offense this year (519 total yards, seven TDs). And Camarillo and Williams, usually bit players, are certainly worth consideration this week as bye-week fillers.

The point is this: Never discount the matchup when assembling your lineup. Familiarize yourself with the NFL’s weakest Ds – not by reputation, but statistically – and use that information to your advantage. For instance:

g The Indianapolis Colts are atrocious against the run; New England Patriots no-names Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are fantasy-worthy this week.

g The Kansas City Chiefs are equally allergic to playing run defense; Earnest Graham, it’s your time to shine.

g The Seattle Seahawks secondary has struggled; Donovan McNabb, Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson and crew could have big days Sunday.

g The Detroit Lions are inept in all areas of defense; Kyle Orton and Matt Forte will prove it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Drama in Dallas

Love them or hate them, you’ve got to admit the Dallas Cowboys sure know how to keep things interesting.

There’s never a lack of drama with America’s Team, and this week has been no different, from the pinkie injury heard ‘round the world to the latest case of Pacman being Pacman. The ‘Boys began their season starring on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” and the plot twists have only gotten better as the year has unfolded.

Sometimes the circus atmosphere is almost too much to take, but fantasy owners need to keep tuning into the latest dispatches from Big D. The reason is the vast amount of skill players on the Cowboys’ roster – in fact, if you play in the average 10- or 12-team league, there’s a good chance your roster includes at least one guy who wears a giant star on his helmet.

With that in mind, let’s examine some of the biggest storylines emanating Dallas from a fantasy perspective and how they affect your squad.

Start with the news of Tony Romo’s broken finger, which will keep the quarterback out for perhaps the next four weeks. I’ve actually heard some TV talking heads suggest replacing Romo with boring Brad Johnson is a good thing because of all the kid’s boneheaded miscues, and maybe there’s a little truth to that. However, in fantasy, we don’t really care that much about turnovers as long as a QB is producing, and Romo (14 TDs, 281 yards a game) has statistically outperformed most of his peers. It’s going to be a rough few weeks for anyone who’s been riding high thanks to Romo this year.

However, there’s reason for optimism. When Romo returns, he’ll have arguably the league’s best receiving corps at his disposal, thanks to Dallas’ acquisition of Roy Williams from the Detroit Lions for a boatload of 2009 draft picks.

Williams was unhappy, underused and underperforming in Detroit but has been handed his personal “Get Out of Jail Free” card just as the self-imploding Lions placed quarterback Jon Kitna on injured reserve, ending his season. Williams wasn’t pleased to see Calvin Johnson getting all the targets in the Motor City, but I doubt you’ll hear many complaints from him for the time being, despite having to share the ball with Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Co. He won’t be the No. 1 option and might not even be the clear No. 2 on his new team, but his fantasy value is certainly no less than it was with the lowly Lions.

Williams is a major talent in his prime, and once Romo gets back under center, opposing secondaries will have to pick their poison among those three receivers. That means perhaps some inconsistency at times, but you’ll want Owens and Witten in your lineup every week and Williams as the matchups dictate. That also means it’s safe to drop Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin.

I know what you’re thinking: What about Johnson, the Cowboys’ placeholder QB until Romo returns? Is he worth picking up? Well, probably, if you’re putting Romo in your IR slot or just searching the waiver wire for someone interesting. Johnson’s not going to be gunslinging or running around like a headless chicken out there, so temper your expectations – he’ll do his best to keep Williams and T.O. happy with a few deep passes a game, but mostly he’ll be dumping the ball off to Witten and relying even more on Marion Barber, who could be in for some busy afternoons with backup Felix Jones out two-to-four weeks with a hamstring injury.

As for the ‘Boys on the other side of the ball, what had been a fairly mediocre fantasy defense gets worse with the indefinite suspension of Adam “Pacman” Jones and the injury to fellow cornerback Terence Newman. I’d still probably start the Dallas D against the St. Louis Rams this week, though.

And that brings us back to the poor Lions. The results of the trade are mixed for Johnson: He’s clearly Detroit’s top receiver now, but he’s stuck with directionally-challenged Dan Orlovsky (see video) throwing him the ball, and defenses can now double-team him. Expect to see a little more of Rudi Johnson and Kevin Smith carrying the ball in Detroit.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Can you trust your fantasy QB?

In these uncertain times, it’s nice to know there’s someone you can trust.

By no means is this a political statement. I’m actually referring to your fantasy team’s quarterback, someone who can be plugged into your lineup week after week and unfailingly deliver the bulk of your points.

The problem is, there aren’t too many QBs who definitely fit this mold. Tom Brady used to be one, but we all know what happened to him this year. Peyton Manning is probably still one, even though he’s looked a little more mortal so far this year. And Tony Romo’s probably the most trustworthy QB out there right now, at least from a fantasy owner’s standpoint.

As for those who don’t own Manning or Romo, you’re probably relying on a quarterback with a lot of question marks attached to his name. I’ve taken a look at all the league’s starting signal-callers and identified those who deserve your trust the rest of the way. That’s not to say you’re hopeless if you don’t own one of the QBs who made the cut; just let this help you decide if you can count on your guy or if you need to consider an upgrade or backup plan.

Here’s how I break it down:


Jay Cutler: This coming-of-age QB is averaging 300 yards a game, second-best in the NFL, and has a number of options at his disposal.

Drew Brees: He leads the league in pass attempts and will continue to air it out, especially if his team’s defense doesn’t improve.

Brett Favre: His six-TD performance slants his overall numbers, but Favre will continue to improve as he learns the offense. He also has a very favorable schedule the next five weeks.

Philip Rivers: He’s starting to come down to Earth after starting with three superb games, but Rivers has already got more than half of last year’s TD total.

Eli Manning: What a difference a year makes. Eli’s been more efficient than flashy, and the schedule gets considerably tougher in a few weeks, but so far, so good.

Aaron Rodgers: Assuming his shoulder’s not hurt too badly, the Green Bay Packers will continue to let Rodgers throw, especially since they can’t run the ball very well.

Kurt Warner: Sure, he contemplated retiring, but he’s also enjoying one of his best seasons in years. Sounds like Anquan Boldin will be back in a couple weeks, which is great news for this pass-heavy offense.

Ben Roethlisberger: He’s spent a lot of time on the trainer’s table this year, but a banged-up Big Ben is still capable of a big day, as he showed last week (309 yards, three TDs) when everyone was ready to count him out.

Jason Campbell: Maybe he and his team are overachieving … or maybe Campbell’s just fulfilling his potential. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet and has some nice matchups in the coming weeks.


Derek Anderson, Marc Bulger/Trent Green, Matt Cassel, Kerry Collins, Brody Croyle/Damon Huard/Tyler Thigpen, Jake Delhomme, Trent Edwards, Joe Flacco, Matt Flynn, Gus Frerotte, David Garrard, Brian Griese/Jeff Garcia, Matt Hasselbeck, Jon Kitna, Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, J.T. O’Sullivan, Carson Palmer, Chad Pennington, JaMarcus Russell, Matt Schaub.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thanks for nothing

Thanks for nothing, Larry Johnson ... your two yards on seven carries were a big help. You really know how to get your owners' hopes up and then deliver a dud.

Thanks for nothing, Plaxico Burress ... your team torched the Seahawks, scoring 44 points, but you couldn't be a part of it because you were suspended. Fantasy no-names Domenik Hixon and Sinorice Moss got all the glory instead.

Thanks for nothing, Matt Hasselbeck ... you had Deion Branch and Bobby Engram back and still did nothing. I know you hurt your knee a little and your team was getting routed, but you belong on the fantasy bench until further notice.

Thanks for nothing, Chris Perry ... 13 carries for 31 yards and you lost another fumble, the fifth time you've put the ball on the ground this season already. When Cedric Benson is cutting into your playing time after just getting signed this week, you know you're on the hot seat.

Thanks for nothing, Brian Griese ... the Broncos had been awful against the pass, but yet you did squat before leaving with an elbow injury. Your fantasy usefulness may have expired with Jeff Garcia now back in the mix for the Bucs.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A bailout plan for your fantasy team

Your stock portfolio is tanking. Your 401(k) took a big hit. Your bank just went under, your job’s offering buyouts, and you can barely afford a gallon of milk or a tank of gas.

And worst of all, your fantasy team is 0-4.

With all the recent talk about the country’s economic mess, it got me thinking: What about a fantasy football bailout? After all, since most of us use fantasy as a pleasant diversion from all the real-life troubles we’re faced with, what fun is it if your team is struggling, too?

If you’ve had a rough four weeks to open the season, consider this column a shred of hope. Unfortunately I can’t pretend to be big government and just swoop in and forgive you for making Jeff Garcia your starting QB; nor can I divide up the points from Brett Favre’s six touchdown passes from last Sunday and distribute them to failing teams at the bottom of the standings. But what I can do is outline my own version of a fantasy bailout plan. It’s a two-pronged strategy, involving guys to start and guys to sit this week, and I guarantee it will cost the American taxpayers nowhere near $700 billion.

Here’s what you need to do to rescue your fantasy team:

Start Michael Turner. He’s alternated good and bad games (rushing totals in his first four games: 220, 42, 104, 56; touchdown totals: two, zero, three, zero). This week looks like a good one against the Green Bay Packers, who are allowing 157 rushing yards a game.

Sit LenDale White. Yes, he had a 1-yard TD run last week. But rookie Chris Johnson had TWO short-yardage scores and is a more productive runner. Plus, the Tennessee Titans are playing the Baltimore Ravens (69 rushing yards a game, zero rush TDs allowed) this week.

Start Trent Edwards. Looking for someone to hold down the fort while Favre is on a bye this week? Edwards has thrown a touchdown every game this year and faces the Arizona Cardinals, who were just gashed by Favre last week.

Sit David Garrard. Everyone’s favorite QB sleeper (well, almost everyone) still hasn’t awakened (two TDs in four games). Now he faces the Pittsburgh Steelers – third in the NFL in pass defense, three TDs allowed, six INTs.

Start Joseph Addai. He’s got four TDs in four career games against the Houston Texans, who’ve given up seven rushing TDs already this year. You do the math.

Sit Felix Jones. The matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals sure seems tempting, but when a rookie running back gets zero carries the week before and is completely healthy (as far as we know), I can’t start him in good conscience the following Sunday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hot pickups: Week 5

RB Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints: We knew he’d slowly work his way back from another knee surgery, but last week’s 20 carries, 73 yards and a TD – after only two carries in Weeks 1-3 – signify Deuce is good to go. He’s still the New Orleans Saints’ best inside runner. FIVE STARS (Out of five)

WR Kevin Walter, Houston Texans: He's coming off a two-TD game against the Jaguars and has three this year - that's three more than Andre Johnson, for those keeping score at home. Walter's worth a roll of the dice. FOUR STARS

QB Brian Griese, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sure, he’s thrown a bunch of picks, but coach Jon Gruden is committed to him, he’s capable of airing it out, and he’s playing his former team, the Denver Broncos, who are next-to-last in the league in pass defense. THREE STARS

QB Kyle Orton, Chicago Bears: He's throwing it a little more than expected, and he's coming off a career-high three-TD game. Could be worth a shot against the Lions this week. THREE STARS

RB Mewelde Moore, Pittsburgh Steelers: It's not like I think he's a phenomenal talent or anything ... but Willie Parker's out again this week and Rashard Mendenhall's out for the year. That means Moore likely gets the bulk of the carries this week against the Jags, and in some leagues, that's enough to warrant a start. THREE STARS

WR Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints: He made his presence felt last week against the Niners (seven catches, 101 yards, two TDs) and is getting Marques Colston-level attention from Drew Brees. THREE STARS

Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Worried about Peterson, Moss, others?

Week 4 is the perfect time to take stock of your fantasy team and figure out which direction it’s headed.

By now we’ve got a good idea of which NFL offenses look like powerhouses and which are just plain offensive. We’ve seen how certain running back timeshares will operate, which quarterbacks’ jobs are in jeopardy, whose surgically repaired body parts are holding up and whose legs have too many miles on them.

Also, with six NFL teams enjoying a bye week, the depth of fantasy rosters will be tested. It’s time to examine your squad with a critical eye and see where you stand. Some players will hold up to the scrutiny despite some early season question marks and injury concerns, while others are in serious danger.

Here are some notable guys I’m not too worried about, and some who deserve a red flag:


LaDainian Tomlinson: His toe may be bothering him, but Tomlinson still rushed two touchdowns Monday night. That’s why I’d never sit LT – as long as he can stand on two feet, the San Diego Chargers will continue to feed him meaningful touches, no matter how good backup Darren Sproles looks.

Adrian Peterson: Even with a sore hamstring and the possibility he might sit out last Sunday, Peterson still started and gutted out a tough 17 carries for 77 yards against a good Carolina Panthers defense. Things get no easier this week against the Tennessee Titans, but Peterson is simply too dangerous and too valuable a fantasy commodity to leave on your bench if he’s active.

Brian Westbrook: He’s listed as day to day with an ankle sprain, but worse injuries than that haven’t stopped this tough little S.O.B. Westbrook is the most dangerous player in fantasy football and can never be benched unless he’s officially ruled out. Grab Correll Buckhalter or Lorenzo Booker as insurance if you feel compelled, but expect to see a Westbrook touchdown or two Sunday night in Chicago.

Brett Favre: The veteran QB’s numbers have been acceptable as a low-end fantasy No. 1 to this point (six TDs vs. three INTs) even as he’s learning on the fly with the New York Jets. Expect him to soar in the coming weeks (vs. Arizona, Cincinnati, Oakland, Kansas City).


Steven Jackson: From last season’s struggles to his holdout during camp, we had enough worries about Jackson entering the season. So far he and the miserable St. Louis Rams have done nothing to quell our fears, and the switch to QB Trent Green doesn’t help. This situation’s a mess.

Roy Williams: If the Detroit Lions can’t figure out Williams needs to get more than three targets a game, there’s no hope for them. With frustration mounting, Mike Martz gone and Calvin Johnson taking on a bigger role, I’m officially worried about our boy Roy.

Randy Moss: From Moss’ perspective, QB Matt Cassel looks a lot more like Andrew Walter than Tom Brady so far. Might it be that Moss is only as good as the quarterback throwing to him? If true, it could be a long year.

Braylon Edwards: We know his shoulder’s bothering him, but Edwards better start pulling down some catches starting this Sunday at Cincinnati, or he’s going to cost QB Derek Anderson and maybe coach Romeo Crennel their jobs. He’s got a long way to go in proving he’s a fantasy No. 1

Photos by The Associated Press.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Your 2008 Fantasy Baseball All-Stars

Let’s travel back in time about five months.

Imagine you’re sitting at your fantasy baseball draft, a fresh season on the horizon.

With your first pick, you confidently call out the name “Josh Hamilton!”

And everyone laughs.

You’re not done with your comedy routine. Next round you follow that up with Cliff Lee. Then Carlos Quentin. Then Aubrey Huff, Nate McLouth, Jhonny Peralta, Mark DeRosa and Brian Wilson.

When the laughter has subsided and the mocking has ceased, you sit back, look over your roster and smile. Little do your leaguemates know, but you’ve just assembled a near-unbeatable fantasy team that will have little trouble locking up the championship trophy.

Unfortunately, the whole time travel thing is still just a theory, and even the most forward-thinking gurus among us couldn’t have built such a rag-tag team of diamonds in the rough. It’s only natural to gravitate toward familiar names, and those superstars usually deliver, but it’s those draft-day afterthoughts and breakthrough performers who really shift the balance of power in a fantasy league.

With the season nearly complete, let’s honor this year’s best. Most are big names we expected to see on the list, but a few surprises snuck up on us with unbelievable seasons. Here are your 2008 Fantasy All-Stars:


Joe Mauer's a batting average beast, Russell Martin's got unnatural speed for the position (17 steals), rookie Geovany Soto looks like a keeper, and previously unknown Ryan Doumit has blossomed into a stud. But the tiniest edge goes to Brian McCann, who’s hovered around .300, leads the position with 23 homers and swiped five bases in his spare time.

Ryan Howard started slow but is finishing at an MVP’s pace. Lance Berkman had a torrid start but has tailed off in September. Howard’s way ahead in homers and RBIs; Berkman’s .322 average puts Howard’s to shame and has contributed a most unexpected 16 steals. It’s tight, but give the honor to Howard, only because we live in a “what have you done for me lately?” world.

Maybe the least debatable position, because Chase Utley contributed in all five major rotisserie categories (.289, 31 homers, 95 RBIs, 102 runs, 12 steals).
You’d like to get more speed out of your second baseman ideally, but Utley gives you corner infield power at a weak-hitting position.

Another great debate here: Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez? Ramirez has double the homers and 16 more runs scored; they’re almost dead even in RBIs and average; and Reyes has 17 more steals. It’s Ramirez by a hair.

Alex Rodriguez is another five-category cat who helps you across the board. This year he also became the first player with 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in 12 seasons - one more than Babe Ruth. That's called consistency, and it's why A-Rod will probably be the No. 1 player on next year's board.

Josh Hamilton’s remarkable personal story warms the heart, but the cold, hard stats matter most in fantasy, and he doesn’t disappoint there either. Manny Ramirez’s L.A. renaissance (.396, 14 homers, 40 RBIs in 38 games with the Dodgers) have kept him in the fantasy spotlight. And Carlos Beltran’s .282 average isn’t all that, but he’s reached the magical plateaus of 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 20 homers and 20 steals for a remarkable seventh time.

If I had to pick one ace, it comes down to Cliff Lee vs. Tim Linceum. The difference in ERA and WHIP is negligible, and while Lee does have 22 wins, Lincecum is only five behind … and has 80 more strikeouts. Lincecum’s my guy.

If you’re simply looking for saves, Francisco Rodriguez, who set the single-season record, is an obvious choice. His 2.38 ERA and 74 strikeouts won’t make you regret it.

Photos by The Associated Press

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hot pickups - Week 3

RB Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers: Remember how people used to handcuff Michael Turner to LaDainian Tomlinson and almost never need him until the end of the season? Sproles is this year's Turner, with one difference: the Chargers' backup has already come in handy (53 rushing yards, 72 receiving yards, TD last week). With LT questionable for Sunday (he practiced in a limited role Friday), the sprightly Sproles is a wise pickup for both the short- and long-term. FOUR STARS (Out of five)

RB Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals: No relation to the Police Academy character, Hightower's taken hold of goal-line duties for the Cards' and scored in Weeks 1 and 2. Maybe the rookie can do it again this week against Washington. THREE STARS

WR Amani Toomer, New York Giants: With Jeremy Shockey out of the picture, the Giants have some more passes to dish out, and instead of going to TE Kevin Boss (catchless through Week 2), they're hitting receivers Steve Smith and Toomer (67 yards and a score last week). The vet is a good gamble this week against the Bengals. THREE STARS

QB J.T. O’Sullivan, San Francisco 49ers: We've seen some poor quarterbacking from the likes of Derek Anderson, Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Jeff Garcia and others, but O'Sullivan, a guy who likely didn't get drafted in a lot of leagues, has outperformed them. If you're disgusted with your QB's play, a spot start by O'Sullivan against the awful Lions defense might be just the pick-me-up you need. THREE STARS

WR Koren Robinson, Seattle Seahawks: Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once said there are no second acts in American lives, but Robinson is evidence to the contrary, since the troubled receiver is on about his fifth act in the NFL and second with the Seahawks. But it'd be a nice story for the former Seattle No. 1 pick to make a productive comeback and bail out an offense in trouble. He's familiar with Mike Holmgren's system and Hasselbeck, so that's a plus. So is the fact that he's playing the Rams this week. TWO STARS

Photos by The Associated Press

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time to hit the panic room

Ever see that movie "Panic Room?"

Jodie Foster's house has this tricked-out, burglar-proof room with four-inch-thick steel doors and security monitors where she can hide and keep tabs on the bad guys in case of a home invasion.

I have a similar room in my house, except mine has DirecTV's NFL package on the screens. It's where I go when I'm panicking about my fantasy teams, and I felt compelled to lock myself in there this past weekend after watching a few frightening performances.

I'm out now, I've analyzed their performances, crunched the numbers, and I'm ready to tell you if it's really time to panic about these guys:

Larry Johnson is not a happy camper in Kansas City after he received just 12 carries (and rushed for just 22 yards) in Sunday's loss to the Oakland Raiders. Johnson accuses the franchise of phasing him out, although critics would argue the Chiefs had to bench him and start throwing the ball once they were down by two scores and the Raiders had shut down the run.

Is this just a case of LJ being his usual disgruntled self? Coach Herm Edwards says he'd like Johnson to touch the ball 20-25 times a game, and we saw that in Week 1 (22 rushes for 74 yards against a good New England Patriots run D). I expect to see a similar workload this week at Atlanta, but I also have concerns about a passing game no one respects and an offensive line that's a shadow of its former run-blocking self. In other words, if Johnson's one of your starting RBs, I hope you have some good alternatives for later in the season.

Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson looks nothing like the Pro Bowl quarterback of a year ago, having thrown just one touchdown and two interceptions with a dismal 57.1 QB rating. Part of that can be blamed on the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which created less-than-ideal conditions in Sunday night's game and made Anderson's counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, look almost as mediocre.

I'm not ready to declare Anderson's 2007 season a fluke yet. Last time I checked, he still has Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow to throw to, and the forecast for this week's game in Baltimore looks clear. I'm not looking for a replacement QB for at least two more weeks - after the Ravens, Anderson plays the Cincinnati Bengals, who he torched for five TDs in Week 2 last year.

Matt Hasselbeck's another struggling QB, but you can hardly blame him now that the Seattle Seahawks' receiving corps has been decimated. The team's lost Bobby Engram, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Seneca Wallace and Logan Payne to injury and replaced them with Billy McMullen, Courtney Taylor, Keary Colbert and Koren Robinson - not exactly the most reliable group of pass-catchers.

I don't particularly like any of those guys for fantasy purposes, although Robinson, a former Seahawks No. 1 draft pick, is intriguing. Still, I'm willing to bet Hasselbeck makes them look like stars this week against the lowly St. Louis Rams. The schedule gets tougher from there, so you'll want to have a spot starter in place, but I believe Hasselbeck can weather the storm and still be a viable No. 1 once Engram and/or Branch returns.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hot pickups: Week 2

WR Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos: Perhaps you saw him abuse the Oakland Raiders on Monday night, finishing with a league-high 146 receiving yards and a TD. Remember, Brandon Marshall will be back in uniform this week, and the Broncos won't be playing the Raiders every week. ... but I'm still nabbing the rookie from Virginia Tech, because he looks like a contributor. FIVE STARS (Out of five)

QB Matt Cassel, New England Patriots: You know the deal here. Cassel is no Tom Brady (yet), but he still has Tom Brady's teammates and Tom Brady's coaches. A must pickup if you owned Brady, or just want to tick off a Brady owner. FOUR STARS

RB Sammy Morris, New England Patriots: Looks like we didn't learn from last year's game of musical chairs at RB for the Pats. Check out last Sunday's stat sheet: 10 carries for Morris, 10 carries for Laurence Maroney, with Morris getting a short-yardage TD. The Pats played around like this in the early part of last year too - yet Maroney was going in the second or third round of most drafts this year and Morris likely didn't get his name called. Time for that to change. FOUR STARS

WRs David Patten and Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints: With Marques Colston (thumb) out 4-6 weeks, Drew Brees will be looking for some new targets. Patten, who caught a 39-yard TD in Week 1, will probably make a more immediate impact, though Meachem (inactive last week) is worth a look in deeper leagues as a contributor later down the road. FOUR STARS

QB Damon Huard, Kansas City Chiefs: The veteran is starting again with Brodie Croyle out for up to four weeks. Huard is only a stopgap of course, and K.C. may even take a look at untested Tyler Thigpen at some point. But Huard does get to face the Oakland Raiders this Sunday, and in case you didn’t see them in their opener, the Raiders aren’t so good this year.FOUR STARS

QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan made a heck of a debut for the Atlanta Falcons. But take away the 62-yard touchdown on his first NFL pass, and the rookie was 8 of 12 passing for 99 yards against the Detroit Lions. Granted, he didn’t have to do much besides hand off to Michael Turner (220 rushing yards), but he was also throwing against the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense from a year ago. I like Ryan, but things are going to get tougher, and he’s not an every-week fantasy starter at this point. THREE STARS

TE John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks: The rookie is one of the few healthy pass catchers on Seattle's roster right now. Carlson was one of the few bright spots at Notre Dame last year, leading Charlie Weis' team in receptions (40) and scoring three TDs. He caught four balls for 52 yards in his pro debut last week, and I have a feeling Matt Hasselbeck will be looking for him this Sunday against the 49ers, and in the weeks to come. THREE STARS

Photos by The Associated Press

Monday, September 8, 2008

Brady blues

Week 1 is in the books, and you may have heard the big news:

Tom Brady is done for the year.

It's a crushing blow for anyone who reached for Brady in the first round and built their team around him. It's also bad news for anybody counting on big points from Randy Moss or Wes Welker.

If you own Brady, now what? Is Matt Cassel the answer? You've probably got to pick him up - although I see him as more of a low-end No. 2 QB than anything else. Granted, he's got weapons to throw to and a scheming genius calling his plays, but he's also a guy who has not started a game since high school (You read that correctly - Cassel was a career backup at USC), and the Pats were concerned enough to bring in Tim Rattay and Chris Simms for workouts. Cassel's a huge unknown - he could be a diamond in the rough (much like Brady once was, as you'll recall), but more than likely he's just an average fantasy QB.

Hopefully, you've drafted well and have a capable backup or are already putting together a trade proposal; you can bet the rest of your league is thinking about making an offer to take advantage of you while you're down. There are only a handful of QBs in the league who could replicate Brady's expected numbers, though, so expect to take a step backward no matter who you turn to.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The fantasy expert speaks

A few weeks ago I chatted with the guys from Point After Live on 89.1 FM in upstate New York ... We talked about some of my preseason rankings and a lookahead to the 2008 season. You can listen to it here if you like.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Watch Chris Cooley's fantasy draft

Not only is the Washington Redskins' Chris Cooley an excellent fantasy tight end, he's also a big fantasy fan. He's been cool enough to document his own draft from a league he started with some of his Skins teammates, and it's pretty entertaining. Check out the video, courtesy of Cooley's blog:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Overlooked talent

Ever get finished drafting your team, look back over your roster and realize it sucks?

That probably happened to a lot of people this past weekend. Maybe you noticed you have four receivers with the same bye week, or a quarterback who didn't win his team's start ing job, or a running back who isn't on an NFL roster.

Or maybe your team just plain sucks.

Before you declare your season a lost cause, take a gander at your league's free-agent pool. There's probably a good amount of overlooked talent available to help reshape your team.

Here are some sleepers who didn't get much love on draft day:

• The Washington Redskins change coaches like the rest of us change our car's oil, but their commitment to QB Jason Campbell hasn't wavered. Campbell was making strides as a starter last year before hurting his knee, and now he gets another fresh start in Jim Zorn's West Coast scheme, which worked wonders for Matt Hasselbeck's career in Seattle. Campbell has plenty to work with, including Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, two talented rookie receivers (Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas) and a healthy offensive line. He could make the leap this year and is worth a serious look as your No. 2 QB.

• When was the last time you owned a Cincinnati Bengals tight end on your fantasy team? That should change this year with Cincy's signing of Ben Utecht, who caught 68 passes in the past two seasons as Dallas Clark's sidekick for the Indianapolis Colts. Utecht provides Carson Palmer with another target and adds a new dimension to what was a top-10 passing offense a year ago.

• Everyone seems to assume the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner will shine in his first season as a feature back, and they may be right. But LaDainain Tomlinson's former understudy has never carried the ball more than 80 times in a season. That's why I expect Atlanta's new coaching staff to also utilize third-year back Jerious Norwood, who's averaged more than six yards a carry in his pro career and is also a fine receiver out of the backfield and can also line up out wide.

Jerry Porter spent more time butting heads with coaches than catching passes in his eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders but signed a big-money deal in the offseason to be the Jacksonville Jaguars' top receiver. A torn hamstring kept him out of training camp and all preseason, but Porter is finally practicing again and aims to be ready for Week 1. An injury like that can sometimes linger, but if he can recover, Porter has the potential to supplant Reggie Williams as QB David Garrard's first option.

• In case you didn't pay attention last year, it's good to have New England Patriots on your fantasy team - even if they're the team's No. 3 wide receiver. That will be Jabar Gaffney's role this year, one he took a liking to last season, especially late, catching four touchdowns in the Pats' final six regular season games. Gaffney's gotten extra reps with Tom Brady this preseason with Wes Welker sidelined, and though he won't be an every-week contributor in New England's spread-the-wealth offense, he'll be worth a spot start here or there as the matchups dictate.

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