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