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.