Fourth & 1 Debate: Nine Moves to Make for the Fantasy Football Playoffs

At this point in the season, you might be more concerned with getting to the playoffs than succeeding once you get there. That’s okay. Take it one week at a time. I’ll wait…

But if you have the true heart of a champion, some good luck, and if you’ve been doing your research, you’ve probably go a nice spot on the mantel dusted and ready for this year’s fantasy football championship trophy. It’s okay if we block this photo of the in-laws, right?

In that case, it’s best to start planning for your future, and we’re not talking about your kids’ college funds or your financial plan to navigate this tough economy.

It’s even better. I give you a fantasy football roundtable of epic proportions. This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate was mine to rule, and I chose to look ahead at who might blow up or sink your battleship during Weeks 14-17.

By the way, if you have a playoff schedule that puts your championship game in Week 17, slap your commissioner, reschedule that game immediately, slap your commish again, and never, never speak of playing in Week 17 again. Week 17 isn’t NFL football. It’s just not right to win your league with Jim Sorgi. Not right at all.

This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate roundtable question:

Looking ahead at the fantasy football playoffs (Weeks 14-17), what one player would you want to own during those weeks and what one player would you want to unload before Week 14?

My answer:

Trade deadlines are approaching. Playoffs spots will be locked up soon. The chances to acquire players through “sell high” or “buy low” opportunities are few are far between. That being the case, I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of guys who might still be easily moved. You wouldn’t have to break the bank, and you might end up with a stud on your hands in Weeks 14 through 16.

First, I’d look to acquire Tim Hightower.

Kurt Warner has been fond of the check-down passes thus far this season, and Hightower has been the beneficiary. Even against tough rushing defenses, Hightower never fails to stay involved in the passing game and take advantage of short-yardage and goal line opportunities.

It’d be great to have both Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower on your roster to hedge your bets against any late-season shifts in Beanie’s favor, but I believe Hightower will remain the primary receiving back on passing plays, which the Cardinals should be running plenty of in the fantasy playoffs.

The Cardinals face San Francisco, Detroit and St. Louis in the fantasy playoffs. In Week 1 against the 49ers, Hightower ran just eight times for 15 yards, but he caught 12 passes for 121 yards. A similar performance in Week 14 wouldn’t surprise me, and, well, the Lions and Rams are what they are, great matchups for a team with a powerful offense. By the end of this season, one or both of those squads could have already given up for the year.

If you can’t get Hightower, Beanie Wells, Jamaal Charles and Jerome Harrison aren’t bad substitutions. All have a chance to succeed late in the season, and they all carry a fairly low price tag at this point. Bargain bin!

And, for those of you playing at home, I would try to unload DeAngelo Williams before the fantasy playoffs.

Williams finished the year as the No. 1 fantasy running back after a slow start, and he’s once again been inconsistent to start the year in 2009. It’s not just Jonathan Stewart stealing time and touches from him. This year, Jake Delhomme has developed a bad habit of throwing to players in other jerseys.

While Williams is come on strong the past three weeks, he should hit a slump starting in Week 11 against Miami and continuing, outside of a brief practice session against the Bucs in Week 13, into the fantasy playoffs. In Week 14, Williams faces the Patriots in New England, followed by the Vikings at home and the Giants in New York for the Giants’ last home game of the season.

If you’re a proud Williams owner, you should deal him away to the highest bidder this week or next before you get stuck in the dumps with him during the playoffs.

Smitty from Fantasy Football Xtreme says:

Every season, a grip of players step up during Weeks 14-16, while others shockingly disappoint. It’s a tough business predicting either, but I have come up with two names. I have talked a lot about running backs and wide receivers over the past few weeks, so this week I’m going to focus on quarterbacks.

One quarterback worth talking about before we even sniff Weeks 14-16 is Kurt Warner. The aging quarterback has been hit or miss this season, and he has thrown 7 interceptions over the past three games putting him at 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year. He has also fumbled the football twice over the last three weeks.

You’re probably guessing that Warner is my “unload” recommendation for Weeks 14-16, right? Wrong.

While I will admit that I have concerns about the aging quarterback staying healthy long enough to see Week 14, he has a fantastic fantasy playoff schedule. The Cardinals face the 49ers (28th) in Week 14, the Lions (29th) in Week 15 and Rams (24th) in Week 16. If healthy, Warner should have a fantastic finish to the fantasy season.

As for my top quarterback to unload before we hit Week 14, I have to go with Carson Palmer.

The Bengals passing schedule isn’t impossible, as they have two decent match-ups in Weeks 14 and 16 in the Vikings (23rd) and Chiefs (29th), but they do have a rough contest against the Chargers (6th) in Week 15. I know Palmer had a monster 5-touchdown performance before his Week 8 bye, where he completed 20-of-24 passes, but before that Week 7 outing, Palmer’s completion percentage was under 60 and he had almost as many interceptions (7) as he had touchdowns (8).

On the year, Palmer has yet to pass for over 300 yards. His Week 7 stats are making him look strong, but I’m predicting that he and the Bengals struggle down the stretch. I say unload Palmer now and take a lateral step into a quarterback with less risk.

Trade Palmer for a Ben Roethlisberger or a Matt Ryan. Both quarterbacks probably have similar perceived value, yet I like both better than Palmer down the stretch (especially in Weeks 14-16).

Junkyard Jake from Junkyard Jake says:

Glancing ahead to the fantasy playoff weeks this year, it appears that Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing game could benefit from a very favorable set of defensive matchups. During Weeks 14 through 16, the Saints face Atlanta on the road and then Dallas and Tampa Bay at home.

As if Brees needed an additional advantage, all three of these games will be in a dome. Moreover, all three of these defenses currently rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of points allowed by opposing quarterbacks.

In contrast to Brees’s favorable playoff schedule, it looks like the Bears’ Matt Forte could have a tougher time. Forte is already having a slightly disappointing season, and it doesn’t appear that he will catch a break during the fantasy playoff Weeks of 14, 15 and 16 when he is slated to face Green Bay, Baltimore and then Minnesota.

Green Bay has been allowing only 91 rush yards per game, and they have yielded just 3 rushing touchdowns so far. Forte’s Week 15 opponent, Baltimore, has allowed just 79 yards per game on the ground. Forte then faces the Vikings in Week 16, a team that touts the No. 2 run defense in the league.

Hatty from Hatty Waiver Wire Guru says:

So essentially we are looking at a buy low/sell high for the playoff run. Having the right RB for the playoffs is a huge key to victory and health is a major consideration for playoff runs.

My sell high right now would be LaDainian Tomlinson. He is coming off a two-touchdown performance, but again is a huge injury concern. You just can’t afford to go into playoffs with one of your top running backs leaving due to injury.

The running back I would work hard to obtain for the playoffs would be a running back who receives a major workload on a team making a run for the playoffs. Cedric Benson helped me to win a fantasy championship in the past and is a stellar running back to go into playoffs with.  He is not prone to injury, doesn’t play in an RBBC situation and is on a team that has a solid chance at making the playoffs.

Ryan Lester from Lester’s Legends says:

Looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, there are a couple of wide receivers that I would love to own and one that I want no part of.

The wide receivers that I love for the fantasy playoffs are Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Aside from being two of the best wide receivers in the game, there are some other reasons that make them so valuable when fantasy owners need them the most.

First of all, neither team is running away with their division meaning they will likely go full tilt the whole season as they vie for a playoff spot. While wide receivers like Reggie Wayne and Marques Colston are in the driver’s seat of their respective divisions, Fitz and A.J. are not. It’s conceivable that Wayne and Colston get a reduced workload in your league’s championship game. You don’t have to worry about that with Fitz or A.J.

They also have favorable schedules in the fantasy playoffs. Fitz plays at San Francisco, at Detroit and finishes at home against St. Louis. Week 14 could be tough for him, but the final two games could bring the monster performances you expected out of Fitz when you drafted him.

Andre Johnson’s schedule is also a breeze. He starts off at home against Seattle, travels to St. Louis and finishes at Miami. Obviously, I don’t like his championship opponent as much as Fitz, but if he leads you to the title game, you’re in the money anyway.

On the flip side, the player I don’t want on my team come fantasy playoffs time is Carolina’s Steve Smith.

The Panthers start off on the road at New England. Weather is very much a factor in New England in December, which doesn’t bode well for members of the passing game. Next up is Minnesota at home. The pressure that Jared Allen and company put on opposing quarterbacks could make for a long day. Finally, he finishes up against the Giants on the road in the swirling winds.

Smith faces three of the best teams in the league, two in what are likely to be bad-weather games, during the fantasy playoffs. Not to mention he plays in a run-first offense. If I were a Steve Smith owner and had championship aspirations, I’d try to move him now that he’s coming off a pair of good games.

Eric Stashin of Rotoprofessor says:

One of the players I would like to own down the stretch is Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons.

Fantasy football playoffs are tough because if you have a player who is on a team that is coasting into the playoffs, you just don’t know how much they are going to play. With the Falcons, they are three games behind the division lead already, but they are primed for a dogfight to take home the wild card.

In addition, the Falcons take on the New Orleans Saints (middle of the road in rushing defense), New York Jets (sans their big run stuffer, Kris Jenkins), the Buffalo Bills (currently allowing the most rushing yards per game in the league) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (need I say anymore).

That seems like the perfect set-up for a big way to close the season. He’s one of the best backs in the league, and if you are in a position to acquire him for the stretch drive, there is no reason to hesitate.

As for players to avoid, you almost have to look at the flip side: Which team appears to be ready to coast into the playoffs as well as having a tough schedule?

The Minnesota Vikings could be that team, as they have a lead in the division and have the Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants on the schedule over the final four weeks. Three of those four teams are likely to be in contention for a playoff spot. The easiest game (Panthers) is on the road, as is the game in Chicago, so you don’t know what will happen there.

The likelihood is that the team focuses on the run, as they’ve already shown that they will do, meaning Brett Favre and the Vikings receivers may struggle down the stretch.

Paul Greco from Fantasy Pros 911 says:

I love looking ahead. Why you ask? Well, if I’m looking ahead to Weeks 14 through 17, that means I have a shot at the playoff. Yup, I’m about to make it rain in the Greco household.

The one player that I’d like to unload, not only during the Weeks 14 through 17, but right now, is Carolina Panther’s running back DeAngelo Williams. Coming off a huge game on the ground in Week 8, right now is the time to look to unload Williams.

Starting Week 11, Williams has the toughest Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) the rest of the season. With games against the Miami Dolphins (Week 11), New York Jets (Week 12), New England Patriots (Week 14) and the Minnesota Vikings (Week 15), all four teams are currently ranked in the top 10 for rush defense.

Cedric Benson, running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, is a player you must look to add to your team now. C.B. has the easiest SOS of any running back starting Week 11.

With games against the Oakland Raiders (Week 11), Cleveland Browns (Week 12), Detroit Lions (Week 13), San Diego Chargers (Week 15) and the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 16), all five teams give up an average of 117 rushing yards a game or worse.

C.B. has shown he can carry the load for the Bengals, so why not your team? Look to make a move for CB now, and enjoy big gains the rest of the season.

Bryce McRae from KFFL says:

My pickup for the playoffs: the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kolby Smith (knee). He’s a deep sleeper, yes, but it shouldn’t cost much to get him, and he could pay huge dividends.

Starter Larry Johnson’s suspension ends after Week 9, but the team has given some thought to releasing him. At some point, they have to start looking toward the future.

Jamaal Charles, a third-round pick last year, is expected to shoulder most of the load this week. He’s more of a speedy change-of-pace back, however, and the Chiefs have utilized him as a rusher only 23 times this year. A lot of that has come out of passing downs, too.

This leads us to Smith; the third-year back has carried a full workload in the past (Weeks 12 through 16 in 2007: 100 carries for 387 yards and two scores), and he says he has confidence in his rehabilitated knee. Head coach Todd Haley says Smith is moving around well in practice, too. Smith has the bulk (5-foot-11, 219 pounds) that could help him hold up as a primary back over the speedier Charles.

Kansas City faces the Buffalo Bills (most rushing yards allowed per game to backs this year), the Cleveland Browns (third most) and the Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 14 through 16, respectively. Cincy isn’t a great matchup, but Smith could be a beast during those two first games.

On the flip side, one player I’m looking to unload before the playoffs is the San Francisco 49ers’ Michael Crabtree. I don’t have much faith in Alex Smith behind center for the long term. I feel defenses might be able to shut down Crabtree, too, once they have more film on him and how the 49ers are using him. Remember: This is still a run-first offense.

Also, I don’t believe his value will be any higher after his first three games. Wait for him to burn the Tennessee Titans, a generous defense to this position, in Week 9 and then sell high on the former Texas Tech wideout.

The defenses Crabtree will face in the traditional playoffs weeks: the Detroit Lions (Week 14), the Arizona Cardinals (Week 15) and the Philadelphia Eagles (Week 16). Philly’s D has been one of the top against this position all season while the other two have shown improvement in the last month. Plus, Detroit’s run D has been bad enough that San Fran might opt to pound the ball.

Kurt Turner from Top-Fantasy-Football says:

Strength of schedule is key when planning for the fantasy football playoffs. Teams like Arizona, San Diego and Miami all have juicy matchups. FFToolbox.com has a nice tool you can use found here that analyzes matchups by position for you.

Here are my picks to own and unload: Kurt Warner and Roddy White.

Snatch up Kurt Warner. He should be a beast in the playoffs. Trade for him now and don’t be afraid to overpay, especially if you’re hurting at quarterback.

A guy I don’t like for the playoffs is Roddy White. White faces some tough pass defenses weeks 14, 15 and 16. If you can get Warner for White (and some change) and still have some other good options at wide receiver, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Good Luck!

That’s all for this week’s Fourth & 1 Debate. While I am largely a fan of riding hot hands into the ground rather than trading them away because of perceived slumps on the horizon, preparing for the fantasy football playoffs is a necessity.

Oh, and if you have a championship game in Week 17, slap your commish again for me.

As always, the comments are yours. Have a player you’re concerned about for the fantasy playoffs? Would you like to add more names to the hat of players to add/drop? Leave a comment to let us know.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 12 Quarterbacks by ADP

We’ve analyzed the rankings for running backs, wide receivers and tight ends already this preseason and recommended who you should avoid when it’s your turn to pick. Now, it’s time to take on the quarterback position.

Most standard fantasy teams will only need two quarterbacks on the roster, one starter and one backup. What separates the starters from the backups is reliability. Starting fantasy quarterbacks can be counted on to get close to 20 points every week. Backups, well, they have a chance if everything breaks right for them in a given week.

This year, more so than in years past, I find it hard to trust any of the backup-level quarterbacks. I’d recommend doubling up on quarterbacks in the middle rounds unless you land one of the elite options.

As I have already done with the other skill positions, this “pick or pass” look at the top quarterbacks will help you decide who to avoid because players are either too risky or too inflated in value this season due to hype. Sometimes rankings just don’t cut it because some projected values don’t tell the whole story.

ADP values were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator and were current as of August 24, 2009.

Pick or Pass: Top 12 Quarterbacks as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — ADP: 2.04 — PICK
Brees had a phenomenal season last year without his top target, Marques Colston. This season he faces a more difficult schedule, but he’s still likely to air it out more than most of the other quarterbacks in the game. His quick release should keep him productive. I worry about this high price tag because I’m not a fan of taking a quarterback early this year, but drafting Brees in the middle of the second round is not a wasted pick. As long as passing touchdowns are worth six points in your league, it’s safe to draft him in the middle of the second round. He’s one of the elite picks at quarterback.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots — ADP: 2.04 — PICK
Tom Brady was a fantasy tragedy last season, injured in the first quarter of his first game. But in 2007, he was the cream of the crop of fantasy. His 2007 Patriots swept fantasy boards with Randy Moss and Wes Welker setting receiving records left and right. This preseason, Brady has looked off-target, but I have no doubt he’ll be in sync with his targets by the fourth week of the season. That said, he’s being drafted far to high for my tastes this year. Conference opponents like the Dolphins and Jets have improved on defense since he played them in 2007, and new coaching could make all the difference in how Brady’s season plays out. I like him as one of the elite quarterbacks at the position, but I don’t feel as comfortable about him as I do Brees and Manning. While he’s hard to pass up, I’d sit on taking Brady as a pick until late in the second round or early in the third round. If he goes down again with a knee injury this season, you don’t want to be left without a highly drafted leg to stand on.

3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts — ADP: 3.03 – PICK
Manning has always been the most trustworthy of the elite quarterbacks. Last season was a down year only because he was struggling to return from his knee surgery and limited by offensive line woes. This season looks to be a return to form. In the last preseason game, Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for a 76-yard touchdown pass. That’s the kind of play I expect to see more of this year. With Manning, you know what you are getting, and for the first time in a long time, you’ll probably be able to get him at a bargain rate. He’s a great pick anywhere in the third round.

4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — ADP: 3.11 – PICK
Rodgers is one of my favorite quarterback selections this year. He’s got arguably the most talented receiver corps in the NFL with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. On any other team, these receivers would all be starters. Jennings has made it his mission to reach Larry Fitzgerald’s level this year, and James Jones and Jordy Nelson should easily dominate any nickel corner they encounter when all four receivers take the field. The Packers defense has looked great this preseason, but with the scheme change this just offseason, they shouldn’t perform this well when the regular season rolls around. That means Rodgers will find himself playing from behind in enough games to air the ball out. I look forward to those. Rodgers is a great pick and usually still available in the fourth round. After Rodgers, there aren’t many elite options left.

- – - END OF THE ELITE QUARTERBACKS – - -

5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers — ADP: 4.07 — PASS
Philip Rivers has never been one of my favorite players, and so I take some pleasure in knocking him this offseason. Last year, he established himself as one of the premiere fantasy quarterbacks in the game, but the Chargers defense was also the worst it’s been in several years without Shawne Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson seemed like a shell of himself. Rivers statistics were a fluke and statistically impossible to replicate. Throwing the same number of passes as in previous years, Rivers managed to produce more touchdowns than ever before in his career and more yardage on each throw than the average quarterback. With L.T. returning this season in better shape and Darren Sproles hoping to land himself another contract with his play this year, I don’t see Rivers repeating those numbers. He should return to his former status, around the lower-end of fantasy starting quarterbacks, and I don’t want to waste a fourth or fifth round pick on that kind of production. I’d suggest you pass.

6. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals — ADP: 5.01 — PICK
Despite his numbers last season, Warner isn’t being drafted as highly as he should be because of concerns about his hip injury. Warner’s not going to be one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. He still has the most talented receiver in the NFL, Larry Fitzgerald, and two more elite options, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, to catch the ball. The addition of Beanie Wells doesn’t convince me that the Cardinals will stop throwing the ball. And so, even if Warner’s hip injury continues to nag him all year, I think he’ll be worth a pick. I do think drafting him at the top of the fifth round is a little pricey, but I’ve seen him available as late as the sixth or seventh rounds. That’s where I’d look to grab him. With Warner, just be sure to get a great backup — hint: someone else who appears on this list as a “pick.”

7. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys — ADP: 5.07 — PICK
Tony Romo may have lost his prized receiver when Terrell Owens was cut this offseason, but that won’t necessarily slow his production. Camp reports have raved about second tight end Martellus Bennett and preseason standout Sam Hurd. Miles Austin, the Cowboys’ franchise player this year, looked to have explosive form last year in limited duty. If he sees the field enough to make an impact this year, he can replace some of the plays T.O. might have made. And I haven’t even mentioned the new No. 1 receiver, Roy Williams. He’s unproven with only one elite year in Detroit under his belt, but he’s back home in Texas and primed to show his value. I doubted Williams early this offseason, but he’s grown on me. With this wide receiver corps and favorite target Jason Witten, Romo should still be able to put up starting-quality numbers, and you can often get Romo as late as the seventh round in many drafts. He’s definitely a great pick there.

8. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles — ADP: 6.01 — PICK
McNabb has never had the benefit of the doubt — not even in Philadelphia. This year, he’s got more weapons on offense than ever before with DeSean Jackson, now a proven deep threat, and rookie Jeremy Maclin. Rookie runner LeSean McCoy should act as insurance for Brian Westbrook this season and guarantee that the Eagles offense won’t look like an entirely different animal if Westbrook gets hurt. With all these improvements, McNabb should be set for another good season. He finished the year just behind Peyton Manning last season as the seventh-highest-scoring quarterback, and he could do it again this year. Available as late as the eight round, he’s worth a pick. I’m not too worried about Michael Vick cutting into his playing time.

9. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans — ADP: 6.10 — PICK
The Texans look great every offseason, but they continue to disappoint fans on the field. In fantasy, they didn’t disappoint last season. Schaub missed five games, but when healthy, he was more likely to net you 20+ points with Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels as receiving options. Schaub’s bound to have at least one healthy season in him. Why not this year? With Sage Rosenfels now in Minnesota, Schaub may tough out an injury to stay on the field so that the team isn’t in the hands of Dan Orlovsky. I’d feel comfortable drafting Schaub as a starting quarterback, but owners would be wise to get a strong backup for him in case he does miss time.

10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — ADP: 6.10 — PASS
Ryan is a hot pick to blow up in fantasy football this season. For my own safety, I tend to lean towards the side of caution. Tony Gonzalez adds a great receiving target for Ryan, but Ryan’s still just a second-year starter. We don’t know what to expect. While looking strong as a rookie, Ryan isn’t guaranteed to jump to Peyton Manning’s level with just one year under his belt. Michael Turner is still going to get a great deal of carries, and Ryan will make the smart plays. Ryan may have a few games where he is a worthy fantasy starter, but if you want to take this gamble, make sure you draft him as your backup quarterback, not your starter. At this ADP, I would have to pass on Ryan this season.

11. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals — ADP: 7.12 — PASS
Palmer hasn’t played a game since October, and after just one preseason showing against the Saints, he’s now sitting out again. Palmer has talented receivers in Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles and contract-year sleeper Chris Henry, who is building hype this preseason, but Palmer hasn’t shown the ability to stay on the field. I’m still not convinced he’s the same guy as he was before his knee surgery in 2006. I worry that he’ll take a hit and miss more time this season, and that makes him an unreliable starter on which to hang your season. His draft stock is too high for my tastes, so I’d pass on Palmer as anything more than a late-round backup quarterback.

12. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears — ADP: 7.12 — PICK
Jay Cutler put on a show last year as the Broncos’ defense put the game in his hands almost every week. With Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal on either side of the field and Tony Scheffler at tight end in Denver, Cutler was one of the elite. Now in Chicago, Cutler has been downgraded to a high-end backup quarterback, but I think he still has the potential to rise beyond this draft stock. Devin Hester is an explosive breakaway wideout, and second-year receiver Earl Bennett was a former teammate of Cutler’s in college at Vanderbilt. Young tight end Greg Olsen, who has the best hands of all the Bears’ receiving targets, is fast becoming Cutler’s go-to guy. I wouldn’t be afraid to draft Cutler as a starter, but I’d feel even better about acquiring him as an elite backup. If he rises to the top of the fantasy charts, you’ll be able to trade off one of your quarterbacks for value. If not, at least you have one of the best backups available. Cutler’s a great value pick this season.

The Rest of the Pack

That concludes my look at the top quarterback options in the league. After this top-12 group, there are a select few candidates like David Garrard, Chad Pennington, Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger who promise reliability but little else from week to week. I’d feel more comfortable drafting them as a backup than a starter, and obviously, you’d rather have one of these top options as a backup if you can get them.

Then, of course, there are a few gambles like Brett Favre, Matt Cassel and Trent Edwards. Favre’s not a guy to trust as a starter as he broke down last season for the Jets, but he does have more promise than Garrard or Pennington to put up starter-worthy scores when you need him.

I have my doubts about Cassel, dumped in Kansas City without the receivers and offensive line that aided him last season, and Edwards, running a no-huddle offense in the cold northern tundra. If Cassel stays healthy, he could make something out of targets like Dwayne Bowe and Bobby Engram, but I’d feel safer staying away from that little Todd Haley experiment. Edwards could start hot with Terrell Owens and Lee Evans only to fade late in the season as Buffalo gets colder — the weather and the fantasy value. I wouldn’t advise you to target any of the three as your backup quarterback, but in a pinch, I’d choose Edwards, then Favre and Cassel only if options were extremely limited.

Good luck drafting and make sure to get the best value possible with each of your picks. As always, the comments are yours.

Hair Model Mock Draft 2009: Tweaking the System

There was actually a mock draft that I participated in last week besides the one that I let the ESPN autodraft bot destroy by filling the bench with quarterbacks. The fine young hair models from Fantasy Football Writers with Hair put together a 10-team, 16-round mock draft with a few of the Fanhouse crew, reps from Bruno Boys and Bleacher Report and me.

The roster was a standard setup with a flex position — 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 RB/WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D/ST and seven bench spots. The scoring was basic as well with passing touchdowns awarded four points.

The guys at Fantasy Football Writers with Hair have just published the entire mock draft with their take on each round. Here I’ll break down each round with my own thoughts so that you can see what was going through my head when I decided it was a good idea to take Thomas Jones…

The 2009 Fantasy Football Writers with Hair Mock Draft

**- Represent my picks

Update: I’ve recently learned that Bruno Boys were unable to get back into this mock draft after we had started. All picks made by the Bruno Boys are, in reality, the ESPN autodraft bot at work once again. You can see how Bruno Boys might have actually drafted in the picks they made during the previous ESPN mock draft where I let the bot take control.

Round: 1
(1) John Lorge – Adrian Peterson RB
(2) Team Dembinsky – LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(3) Team Lalley – Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(4) Nick Allen – Michael Turner RB
** (5) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Matt Forte RB
(6) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Chris Johnson RB
(7) ffwriters withhair.com – Steven Jackson RB
(8) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Frank Gore RB
(9) Call me Stat Boy – DeAngelo Williams RB
(10) Bruno Boys.net – Larry Fitzgerald WR

My pick: It’s hard to complain with Matt Forte at the five spot. I would likely have taken Forte even if I had the second overall pick. I like him that much. It was an easy call to take him when he fell right into my lap.

Picks I like: It’s hard not to like anyone drafted in the first round. I mean, none of the mock drafters were using the Oakland Raiders’ notes here. Turner at fourth overall seems just about right. He has a tough schedule, but he should still produce like the fantasy champ he was last season because Atlanta is likely to see the end zone more often. Chris Johnson over Steven Jackson at pick No. 6 is also a pick from my own heart. Johnson has plenty of upside while Jackson’s team is hardly guaranteed to get points on the board. Outside of PPR leagues, I am not a fan of Steven Jackson this year.

Picks I hate: DeAngelo Williams, even late in the first, is a raw deal. The tougher schedule and the split with Jonathan Stewart should take him right back down to size. Don’t forget where he fell in drafts last season just because he ended the year as the No. 1 fantasy back. While I don’t hate it, taking Larry Fitzgerald at the end of the first round probably wouldn’t have been my move. I like running backs that are still on the board at this point, and it’s risky taking a wide receiver here and, as you’ll see, in the second round and still putting together a consistent running back group.

Round: 2
(11) Bruno Boys.net – Andre Johnson WR
(12) Call me Stat Boy – Brandon Jacobs RB
(13) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Randy Moss WR
(14) ffwriters withhair.com – Clinton Portis RB
(15) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Drew Brees QB
** (16) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Steve Slaton RB
(17) Nick Allen – Marion Barber RB
(18) Team Lalley – Calvin Johnson WR
(19) Team Dembinsky – Peyton Manning QB
(20) John Lorge – Brian Westbrook RB

My pick: I reap the benefits of the Bruno Boys’ run on wide receivers. Imagine my glee to see Slaton fall to me in the middle of the second round. I love the idea of having two young, highly-involved backs as my lead starters, and I only wish this mock draft was a real league. Slaton may lose goal line touches this season, but I have no doubt he’ll earn them back as Chris Brown gives in to the inevitable injury, and Slaton separates himself from the rest of the pack in Houston.

Picks I like: Clinton Portis doesn’t get enough attention for being one of the most reliable backs in fantasy. He deserves to be taken higher than 14th overall, but he’s going at a bargain rate right now because of the abuse he took last season. Brian Westbrook at the end of the second round isn’t too bad either. The old guy is still going to start in Philly, and the explosive offense they assemble could give Westbrook at least one more great year of fantasy production.

Picks I hate: It was daring to take Fitz in the first round, and following with Andre Johnson in the second round really puts Bruno Boys in a tough spot here. I would want to get my hands on at least one elite RB1 in a 10-team league, and Bruno Boys could have gotten another elite receiver in the third round had he taken a back with one of his first two picks. I guess if you’re going to go for wide receivers rather than running backs this early, you might as well go all in. With just four points per passing touchdown, I’d rather wait on quarterbacks. Brees in the mid-second seems too early to me just as Manning at the end of the round does. I don’t think the quarterback values are going to be as inflated this season as they were last year. Brady’s injury put a little fear back into everyone.

Round: 3
(21) John Lorge – Tom Brady QB
(22) Team Dembinsky – Dwayne Bowe WR
(23) Team Lalley – Pierre Thomas RB
(24) Nick Allen – Steve Smith WR
** (25) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Greg Jennings WR
(26) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Reggie Wayne WR
(27) ffwriters withhair.com – Ryan Grant RB
(28) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Roddy White WR
(29) Call me Stat Boy – Kevin Smith RB
(30) Bruno Boys.net – Ronnie Brown RB

My pick: Greg Jennings is a favorite this season. He’s primed to have another big year with Aaron Rodgers under center. He showed his elite status already last season, and the guy gets to play the Lions twice this year. What’s not to love?

Picks I like: Pierre Thomas is going to be better than Reggie Bush this year and deserving of the third-round grade if Brees puts him in scoring position as much as I think he can. Grant is due for a bounce-back year after his injury-plagued 2008. If Matt Ryan blows up like everyone seems to think he will, Roddy White might outperform my Greg Jennings pick, but I was willing to take that chance.

Picks I hate: Ronnie Brown was nothing impressive last season without the Wildcat. I doubt he’ll blow anyone away this year as it is possible that Pat White sees some of those reps in the Wildcat formation. I also find it hard to love Kevin Smith. If Detroit moves to a power running game, Smith may take some time to adjust from the one-cut style that made him so successful in college and in his play last year with the Lions.

Round: 4
(31) Bruno Boys.net – Anquan Boldin WR
(32) Call me Stat Boy – Marques Colston WR
(33) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Aaron Rodgers QB
(34) ffwriters withhair.com – Brandon Marshall WR
(35) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Darren McFadden RB
** (36) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Thomas Jones RB
(37) Nick Allen – Philip Rivers QB
(38) Team Lalley – Jonathan Stewart RB
(39) Team Dembinsky – Vincent Jackson WR
(40) John Lorge – Terrell Owens WR

My pick: If I was unhappy with any pick I made during this draft, it is probably this one. Jones looked like a bargain as he was falling here, but I was torn on biting the bullet or not. Despite his contract dispute and the rookie Shonn Greene now breathing down his neck, he’s still the starter for the Jets. If Mark Sanchez takes the reigns in just his first season, or even if Kellen Clemens holds the job for a year as a shaky signal caller, the Jets are likely to power the ball down the field with the run. Much like Michael Turner and LeRon McClain benefited last season from this offensive attack, Jones could see a lot of yardage coming his way. Regardless, he’s a decent backup with upside at this point for me.

Picks I like: Aaron Rodgers seems to be going at a good price for being one of the top finishers last season. I like him better than Philip Rivers and consider him more of a lock to be productive than Tony Romo since Green Bay has one of the finest wide receiver corps in the league. Surprising to see Colston go after Anquan Boldin, but I like both picks here in the fourth round. Each should see plenty of chances to score this season.

Picks I hate: Darren McFadden isn’t yet the clear starter for the Raiders, so drafting him in the fourth round seems unnecessary. I’m still concerned he may lose touchdowns to Michael Bush. Terrell Owens, for all the productivity he’s had the last several seasons, doesn’t feel like the same guy this season with the Bills. With Lee Evans running for home run catches, T.O. might draw attention on possession routes and lose out on the scoring that made him so valuable. I don’t like him this early.

Round: 5
(41) John Lorge – Wes Welker WR
(42) Team Dembinsky – Antonio Bryant WR
(43) Team Lalley – Chad Ochocinco WR
(44) Nick Allen – Roy E. Williams WR
** (45) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Kurt Warner QB
(46) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Derrick Ward RB
(47) ffwriters withhair.com – T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(48) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Knowshon Moreno RB
(49) Call me Stat Boy – Tony Romo QB
(50) Bruno Boys.net – Marshawn Lynch RB

My pick: I always worry about getting stuck with a terrible quarterback, and last year, I did in a few leagues. Rather than take that chance, I feel like Warner is a pretty good bargain in the fifth round. I already have my top receiver and a solid group of running backs. None of the wideouts on the board jumped out at me during this run on them.

Picks I like: While I passed on him, I do believe T.J. Houshmandzadeh will have a good year as Hasselbeck’s main target. As Shaun Alexander struggled, the Seahawks became a throwing machine, and they could return to those old ways with just Julius Jones in the running game this season. Despite his suspension, Lynch is one of the best backs in the league to start from week to week. He’s a nice bargain in the fifth round as a backup who could turn into a starter once he returns. Unfortunately for Bruno Boys, he’s only the second RB on their roster. Derrick Ward may not be the solid start in Tampa Bay, but I think he could demonstrate his usefulness this season now that he’s finally gotten out from behind Brandon Jacobs.

Picks I hate: Knowshon Moreno hasn’t signed a contract and has a long list of veterans sitting on the depth chart in Denver. Even if he starts, I don’t like his chances of being productive enough to start for fantasy. He’ll likely yield on passing downs and at the goal line to veterans. On top of that, the Josh McDaniels offense didn’t look all that friendly to running backs when I saw it in New England. I’d stay away from this rookie if I were you. Ochocinco is an expected pick here, but I personally dislike how inconsistent he is as a receiver. He’s boom or bust each week, and you’re forced to ride him out.

Round: 6
(51) Bruno Boys.net – Tony Gonzalez TE
(52) Call me Stat Boy – Braylon Edwards WR
(53) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Eddie Royal WR
(54) ffwriters withhair.com – Larry Johnson RB
(55) Gage Arnold is a Boss – DeSean Jackson WR
** (56) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Joseph Addai RB
(57) Nick Allen – Reggie Bush RB
(58) Team Lalley – Felix Jones RB
(59) Team Dembinsky – Jason Witten TE
(60) John Lorge – Antonio Gates TE

My pick: Another falling value caught my eye and kept me from taking my second wide receiver — Joseph Addai. Just last season, he was one of the top running backs off the board, and most of the problems the Colts encountered in 2008 were due to Jeff Saturday’s absence or Peyton Manning’s recovery. As the season went on, the Colts finally came together, but Addai had already taken most the abuse. After he recovers, I don’t think he’ll see his carries being given to rookie Donald Brown. Brown may relieve him, but the scoring opportunities are likely to still fall on Addai. I took him here as a backup and possible tradebait by midseason.

Picks I like: Felix Jones might end up starting in Dallas, and when he got a chance to carry the ball last season, Jones always did something with it. He’s a solid pick in the sixth round. The run on tight ends started here with Tony Gonzalez going first, and I think the sixth round is a good spot for this to begin. Obviously, Bruno Boys doesn’t worry about Gonzalez being less productive with the Falcons, but I prefer Witten with T.O. out of town. Reggie Bush comes at a decent price in this round with potential to be a good flex starter.

Picks I hate: While Larry Johnson is a pretty nice bargain here, it’s hard to like the guy. He seems like a shadow of his former self on the field, and Todd Haley’s offense in Arizona didn’t allow the running backs many chances to succeed.

Round: 7
(61) John Lorge – Chris Wells RB
(62) Team Dembinsky – LenDale White RB
(63) Team Lalley – Anthony Gonzalez WR
(64) Nick Allen – Dallas Clark TE
** (65) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Matt Schaub QB
(66) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Owen Daniels TE
(67) ffwriters withhair.com – Cedric Benson RB
(68) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Greg Olsen TE
(69) Call me Stat Boy – Matt Ryan QB
(70) Bruno Boys.net – Willie Parker RB

My pick: As we entered the seventh round, I saw the sleeper-ish wide receivers I was targeting falling to a good spot. I didn’t think anyone was going to pounce on them this round, so I went ahead and got my second quarterback before some teams had thought about getting their first. Matt Schaub has the potential to be a top-10 quarterback this season if he can stay healthy and utilize all the Texans’ weapons this season, but that is an “if.” I’d rather have him as a QB2 than a QB1, but he’s one of the top backups to have. If anything were to happen to Kurt Warner this season, I’d feel safe putting Schaub in my starting spot.

Picks I like: Willie Parker started off the season very hot last year before getting injured. If he comes back to the Steelers in game shape from this offseason, he’s a mighty fine fantasy backup or starter. Bruno Boys saves his running back situation by snagging him in the seventh round.

Picks I hate: LenDale White may have come back lighter this offseason, but it’s hard to see his value in the seventh round when you’re still in need of a RB2. He scored a lot of touchdowns, but I’d rather have someone who sees more touches like Willie Parker or Ray Rice. Even Cedric Benson is set to touch the ball more this season. Unless you own Chris Johnson, it’s a bit early to look at grabbing the Tennessee bowling ball.

Round: 8
(71) Bruno Boys.net – Donovan McNabb QB
(72) Call me Stat Boy – Jamal Lewis RB
(73) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Bernard Berrian WR
(74) ffwriters withhair.com – Carson Palmer QB
(75) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Ray Rice RB
** (76) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Kevin Walter WR
(77) Nick Allen – Santonio Holmes WR
(78) Team Lalley – Jay Cutler QB
(79) Team Dembinsky – Fred Taylor RB
(80) John Lorge – Lee Evans WR

My pick: With my quarterback and running back positions secure, I went to work on my wide receiver corps by grabbing the sleepers I had spotted in Round 7. Kevin Walter may not be high on a lot of radars, but he got plenty of grabs near the red zone in Houston. That makes him a quality WR3 with a chance to move up to WR2 status if the Texans can keep it going all season. It may seem like a reach, but there’s plenty of upside there that I didn’t want to miss.

Picks I like: Jamal Lewis will get his 1000 yards, even if you take him in the eighth round. Ray Rice, the current starter in Baltimore, is a steal this late in the draft. He’s the back you want to own on a team that loves to run the ball, and he may be the best bargain of the draft this year. A close second might be Carson Palmer, who, if back in his starter shape, could be in line for a big year. Plenty of people doubt Jay Cutler can produce the same stats with the Bears’ receivers that he did in Denver. I tend to think we’re underestimating him and a team who hasn’t utilized the quarterback position in years.

Picks I hate: Fred Taylor, despite his past production, will have a hard time getting those stats in the Patriots offense. I think he’ll be their primary runner this year, but Kevin Faulk will probably be on the field anytime the Pats are passing, which could be a lot this season with Brady back. Holmes isn’t my favorite receiver at this point either because of his boom or bust nature, much like Chad Ochocinco.

Round: 9
(81) John Lorge – Santana Moss WR
(82) Team Dembinsky – Ted Ginn Jr. WR
(83) Team Lalley – Donald Brown RB
(84) Nick Allen – Jerricho Cotchery WR
** (85) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Hines Ward WR
(86) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Devin Hester WR
(87) ffwriters withhair.com – Zach Miller TE
(88) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Earnest Graham RB
(89) Call me Stat Boy – Chris Cooley TE
(90) Bruno Boys.net – LeRon McClain RB

My pick: With my receiver corps almost secured, I thought it best to go with a sure thing — a receiver who might not do anything spectacular but is guaranteed to get the ball in his hands every week. Hines Ward fit the profile, and he’s the Steelers receiver I would rather have on my roster.

Picks I like: Unfortunately, I chose to play it safe with this pick, but if I had chanced it, I would have taken Devin Hester. As much as I liked Jay Cutler last year, I have to put my faith in Hester to take his game to another level this season. Ted Ginn Jr. may surprise us by maintaining the production he had at the end of last season, or he could fizzle if the move is made to put Chad Henne under center at some point this year. Santana Moss is unreliable and always an injury risk but a good pick here as well.

Picks I hate: LeRon McClain surprised us last season, but Baltimore has him classified as a fullback and claims to be putting the load on Ray Rice and Willis McGahee this season. While you can doubt that, I don’t think anyone was gunning to roster McClain in this portion of the draft. A late flier might get you a chance at the big fella.

Round: 10
(91) Bruno Boys.net – Ahmad Bradshaw RB
(92) Call me Stat Boy – Torry Holt WR
(93) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Donald Driver WR
(94) ffwriters withhair.com – Laveranues Coles WR
(95) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Mark Clayton WR
** (96) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Lance Moore WR
(97) Nick Allen – Fred Jackson RB
(98) Team Lalley – Michael Crabtree WR
(99) Team Dembinsky – Matt Cassel QB
(100) John Lorge – Donnie Avery WR

My pick: Lance Moore is another risky, sleeper-ish wide receiver this season that you can get on the cheap. With Colston out, he was the stud to have in New Orleans. Whether Colston makes it through the season or not this year, I expect Moore to stay involved in the offense. New Orleans saw fit to protect him this offseason and keep him around for a reason, and I think he has more upside than Driver, Coles, Clayton or Crabtree.

Picks I like: Torry Holt may not score a lot of touchdowns, but he’s likely to make David Garrard a decent yardage play every week. Fred Jackson could sneak more carries away from Marshawn Lynch this season if he impresses during the early weeks of the season when Lynch will have to sit out. Donnie Avery is the only big play threat that the Rams really have unless they develop Laurent Robinson or rediscover Ronald Curry. He could have a Calvin Johnson-like season if the Rams struggle to get points on the board late in games.

Picks I hate: Matt Cassel has very little going for him in his first year in Kansas City. Despite his performance last year for New England, I wouldn’t take a chance on him until all the starting quality quarterbacks are off the board. I don’t hate the Crabtree pick, but the rookie wide receiver isn’t on track to be an impact player right now with the way he’s been behaving in San Francisco thus far.

Round: 11
(101) John Lorge – LeSean McCoy RB
(102) Team Dembinsky – Darren Sproles RB
(103) Team Lalley – Dustin Keller TE
(104) Nick Allen – Tim Hightower RB
** (105) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Ben Roethlisberger QB
(106) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Steelers D/ST D/ST
(107) ffwriters withhair.com – Julius Jones RB
(108) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Kyle Orton QB
(109) Call me Stat Boy – Steve Breaston WR
(110) Bruno Boys.net – Willis McGahee RB

My pick: I was actually trying to take Julius Jones here, but the ESPN mock draft room froze up on me and forced me to log out. When I logged back in, Big Ben was mine. I wish there was a more in-depth reason behind this pick, but I saw no need for a third quarterback with both Kurt Warner and Matt Schaub already on the roster. Julius Jones would have given me another starting running back with upside since reports are that he’ll be the workhorse of the Seattle offense this season. I’d feel very safe with Forte, Slaton, Thomas Jones, Addai and Julius Jones on my roster, and they might even provide me with enough depth to make a few trades throughout the season.

Picks I like: Dustin Keller has a lot of upside in New York whether Clemens or Sanchez is declared the starter. He showed promise last season with Brett Favre while competing for time on the field, and he could be either starter’s safety net this season. Of course, I like the Julius Jones selection because I wanted to make it two picks earlier. I’m not a huge fan of handcuffing — would rather have another starter on my roster as an option any given week — but Lorge and Dembinsky play it safe by handcuffing McCoy with Westbrook and Sproles with L.T. If he grasps Josh McDaniels’ system, Kyle Orton could actually put up backup-worthy numbers in Denver. He’s no Tom Brady, but McDaniels did make Cassel look like a hero last season.

Picks I hate: No one knows how Arizona will use Tim Hightower this season. He may ride the bench while Chris Wells takes most of the workload; he may be the touchdown vulture he was with Edgerrin James in Arizona. Either way, he shouldn’t be drafted before more cemented running backs like Julius Jones and Leon Washington. I’m not big on taking defenses early, and I think it’s too soon for the Steelers pick in just Round 11.

Round: 12
(111) Bruno Boys.net – Giants D/ST D/ST
(112) Call me Stat Boy – Leon Washington RB
(113) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Jamaal Charles RB
(114) ffwriters withhair.com – Domenik Hixon WR
(115) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Rashard Mendenhall RB
** (116) FantasyFootball Fools.com – John Carlson TE
(117) Nick Allen – David Garrard QB
(118) Team Lalley – Eli Manning QB
(119) Team Dembinsky – Kellen Winslow TE
(120) John Lorge – Ravens D/ST D/ST

My pick: I waited a little too long to take a tight end, but John Carlson should continue to be highly involved in the offense with Hasselbeck healthy. Hopefully, T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s presence should leave him open. I don’t mind settling for the young tight end here in the 12th round.

Picks I like: It seems that very few people believe that Hixon can takeover the spot previously held by Plaxico Burress in the Giants’ offense, but I am one of the believers. He was productive before his injury as Eli Manning’s No. 1 receiver, and I think he’s capable of managing the job as the Giants’ rookies get up to speed. David Garrard finished the season as the No. 10 quarterback, even after all the struggles with his terrible offensive line. He’s a value in the 12th round with Torry Holt now as his No. 1 target.

Picks I hate: Again, a defense goes early, and I don’t like it. The Giants barely finished as a top-10 defense last season, and now they have lost their defensive coordinator, which could have a larger effect than many people think. I wouldn’t want to pay a high price for their services only to watch their struggles exposed twice a season by the Cowboys and Eagles. Eli Manning, while productive in small stretches, is an unreliable fantasy quarterback. I would rather see Hasselbeck or Trent Edwards on my roster in front of him.

Round: 13
(121) John Lorge – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(122) Team Dembinsky – Brian Robiskie WR
(123) Team Lalley – Derrick Mason WR
(124) Nick Allen – Titans D/ST D/ST
** (125) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Jerome Harrison RB
(126) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Trent Edwards QB
(127) ffwriters withhair.com – Matt Hasselbeck QB
(128) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Ricky Williams RB
(129) Call me Stat Boy – Vikings D/ST D/ST
(130) Bruno Boys.net – Chester Taylor RB

My pick: Just as everyone starts to think about kickers and defenses, I’m still thinking sleepers. Jerome Harrison has been the talk of Eric Mangini’s offseason programs, and he’s only got Jamal Lewis ahead of him on the depth chart. Mangini is talking about using him in a Leon Washington role this season, which might even make him the more productive back to own in Cleveland. He was definitely worth a flier this late in the draft.

Picks I like: Derrick Mason could return and be a solid No. 1. It’s worth a shot. Trent Edwards and Matt Hasselbeck are both QB2s with upside much like Matt Schaub who could work their way into QB1s if they outperform their draft stock this season. We don’t know how T.O. will affect the passing game in Buffalo, but Edwards ceiling is higher with him there. Ricky Williams, sharing time with Ronnie Brown, should outperform this draft stock as well.

Picks I hate: No major complaints in this round other than an early jump on defenses. I like to take mine in the final rounds. The Eagles were great last season, but they’re defensive coordinator position is a question mark right now.

Round: 14
(131) Bruno Boys.net – Bobby Engram WR
(132) Call me Stat Boy – Justin Gage WR
(133) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Jets D/ST D/ST
(134) ffwriters withhair.com – Josh Morgan WR
(135) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Miles Austin WR
** (136) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Percy Harvin WR
(137) Nick Allen – Jerious Norwood RB
(138) Team Lalley – Kevin Curtis WR
(139) Team Dembinsky – Sammy Morris RB
(140) John Lorge – Chad Pennington QB

My pick: Now that I have a flier at RB on my roster, I wanted to take a chance on some receiver talent. Percy Harvin should be used in many ways this season to keep things interesting and keep defenses off of Adrian Peterson. Some fantasy leagues may even let you play him at running back and wide receiver. With more likely breakouts like Miles Austin off the board, I liked his chances.

Picks I like: Bobby Engram is a great possession guy who might just have another year left in him. Gage was the No. 1 for Tennessee and likely to be worth a start when the Titans play teams that will force them to go to the air. Miles Austin is my pick to be the No. 2 in Dallas opposite Roy Williams, and his big play potential should show in any time he gets on the field.

Picks I hate: I don’t really dislike any of the fliers in this round. It’s really just about who you believe in the most. Jumping at the chance to take a defense in this round is perfectly acceptable, and the Jets might have a strong season if they bring the Baltimore game plan to New York with a strong run game and stout defense.

Round: 15
(141) John Lorge – Laurence Maroney RB
(142) Team Dembinsky – Dolphins D/ST D/ST
(143) Team Lalley – Panthers D/ST D/ST
(144) Nick Allen – Harry Douglas WR
** (145) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Cowboys D/ST D/ST
(146) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Stephen Gostkowski K
(147) ffwriters withhair.com – Chargers D/ST D/ST
(148) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Chris Chambers WR
(149) Call me Stat Boy – Deion Branch WR
(150) Bruno Boys.net – Patrick Crayton WR

My pick: In a round where everyone grabbed defenses, I somehow managed to land the Cowboys. With a questionable offense, I’m projecting that their defense steps up to not only keep the sack totals high but also get more interceptions than they did last season. Improved turnovers should make them enough of a fantasy force to contend against the Giants, Eagles and Redskins twice this season. Besides, I’m a Cowboys fan, and I should have at least one part of the Cowboys on my roster, right?

Picks I like: Harry Douglas, Chris Chambers and Deion Branch are all worthy grabs as fliers this late in the draft. All of them could turn into valuable WR3s or even spot-starters as WR2s.

Picks I hate: I think Maroney’s days in New England are done, but this late, why not take a chance? I guess just any kicker isn’t good enough for Gage.

Round: 16
(151) Bruno Boys.net – Ryan Longwell K
(152) Call me Stat Boy – Mason Crosby K
(153) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Garrett Hartley K
(154) ffwriters withhair.com – Neil Rackers K
(155) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Shonn Greene RB
** (156) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Nate Kaeding K
(157) Nick Allen – Nick Folk K
(158) Team Lalley – David Akers K
(159) Team Dembinsky – Jason Elam K
(160) John Lorge – Kris Brown K

My pick: The Chargers scored plenty of points last season. If L.T. struggles to put it in from short yardage, Kaeding is the one getting fantasy points. I think he’s worth a shot, but if he doesn’t work out, I can always change him out midseason. He’s just my kicker, and there isn’t much separating the elite kickers from the kickers who are just okay these days.

Picks I like: They’re all kickers … I don’t really like any of them all that much. Shonn Greene is a worthy flier, and he could steal touchdowns if Thomas Jones loses a step or gets on the team’s bad side. I like him a lot, but he’s just Gage’s prize for taking a kicker in Round 15.

Picks I hate: It’s hard to get upset about kickers, except for Kris Brown — who spells Chris with a K like that?

And so, we conclude last week’s mock draft with Fantasy Football Writers with Hair. For the full team rosters, see FFWWH’s post on the mock draft. FFWWH’s analysts had this to say about my final roster:


Burks
: I love the first three picks (Forte at No. 5, Slaton at 16, Jennings at 25), I love the QB depth (Warner, Schaub, Roethlisberger), and I love Jerome Harrison. The only bad thing I can say is that he has no No. 2 wide receiver. Jacob has two or three No. 3′s. But nonetheless, snaps for Sloan.

A-Koz
: Not bad. While I said I’m not a huge fan of Thomas Jones, he’s a solid backup and I suppose that Addai is too. His No. 2 WR is going to be a revolving door this season, but if you throw a dart enough times… Joseph Addai is his worst pick, but I’m not afraid to admit that this all stems from my hate of him last season while getting Lance Moore in a potent Saints’ offense was smart money provided he can stay healthy.

Did I miss any big picks? Would you have done it differently? As always, the comments are yours.

How about that Rundown: Things you should have known before the 2009 NFL Draft

Unlike me, you may not have been following all the NFL news since the offseason began. Sometimes people have lives. That’s okay — so I am told. In order for you to keep your edge and get in the right state of mind now that football is only a few months away, you just might need a “rundown” of the news you may have missed or overlooked during your hiatus from the land of football.

The thing about Marshawn Lynch is…
Lynch received a suspension for three games due to his increasing talent of finding himself in bad situations at bad times (and somehow also avoiding any major legal consequences). The Bills will be without his services to start the season, but they have also acquired Dominic Rhodes to help them out while their workhorse running back pays his debt to society the NFL. Fred Jackson is still said to be the starter in Lynch’s absence, but Rhodes may win the hearts of the coaching staff before the end of camp. He’s got a pretty good talent for that.

The Jenny Craig Effect
Both Daunte Culpepper and David Garrard returned to their teams from the offseason a little lighter and a little more in shape. For Culpepper, claiming he was in the best shape of his life since he was a good quarterback might have led Detroit to believe they were safe with him under center in 2009. (Unfortunately for him, no such luck.) For Garrard, his lightened load could mean his ability to get out of the pocket and run is on the rise. If you remember his run in the playoffs against the Steelers, he can get up and going pretty quickly for a big guy, but with a little less weight, he might do it more often in 2009.

And then there’s the fat one…
On the other end of the weight shift, Adrian Peterson claims he wants to beef it up for 2009. Unfortunately for Peterson, that weight can’t all be added around his knees, which are almost ready for their next breakdown after he made it through 2009 mostly unscathed. The wrath cometh, no matter much bacon you pack on those bones, A.P.

Coles becomes a Bengal (pending felony conviction)
Yes, I know that most of the Bengals are trying to get the team’s reputation under control, but then they go out and sign Tank Johnson, and yeah, that’s not working so well. Laveranues Coles obviously didn’t want to wait around and see what one-armed batting practice machine became the man for the Jets in 2009, so he took a deal with the Bengals as somewhat of a replacement to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I wouldn’t exactly call him the perfect complement to Chad Johnson, but he’s got a pulse and no parole, unlike Chris Henry.

Matt Hasselbeck has a back again
Hasselbeck told us all he was healthy before the draft — mostly because he wanted to make sure he didn’t get a little punk like Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford drafted onto the Seahawks’ bench and waiting for him to injure his back again. It remains to be seen how much Hasselbeck will be able to do when the season starts after his injury-plagued 2008 season.

Well, I guess if Jay’s gone…
Tony Scheffler, the tight end companion of choice of Jay Cutler, may no longer have a home in Denver now that Josh McDaniels has arrived to kick everyone out of the party and start a math club that worships Belichick.

But was he the Right-wich?
The Bucs signed Byron Leftwich to be their quarterbacks of the now — or was it all just a clever smokescreen for their Josh Freeman pick? Leftwich is an upgrade over the quarterbacks currently developed in the Bucs’ stable, but they may still be overlooking what they have in Josh Johnson.

Sweed takes three
With the departure of Nate Washington to the Titans, Longhorn standout Limas Sweed moves up to the third wide receiver spot, and he might just have his head in the game this year. That’s a good sign for dynasty owners and Big Ben Roethlisberger.

Young no more in 2010?
Speaking of Longhorns, Vince Young may be on his way out of Tennessee in another season if he doesn’t find his game again. His contract isn’t going to make him any friends in 2010. If he’s going to prove he’s the quarterback of the future for the Titans, he better get back into that “hoopla” soon.

Laurent Robinson is a Ram
He was all the rage each preseason that the Falcons had him, and now, he’s one of a few receivers with a name we know and somewhat trust on the Rams roster. Don’t forget about Robinson when it comes time to make those last round selections in your fantasy draft. He might be all they got.

And Detroit quarterbacks will throw to Megatron AND…
Former Cardinal and former 49er Bryant Johnson signed a contract with the Lions this offseason. Assuming he hopes to find himself opposite Calvin Johnson on Sundays — and thereby form the unstoppable Johnson & Johnson duo — he should probably stop dislocating his fingers in practice. Johnson is one of those players who always looks like he improved his situation, i.e. moving to San Francisco last season, just before he disappears off the map. His main competition at receiver is former Raider Ronald Curry, who is expected to be the slot guy in Detroit.

Torry Holt makes final growl with the Jags
It’s no secret that Holt is old. He’s got the freaky fingers to prove he’s a veteran in this league, and he’s crafty. The Rams gave up on him in favor of getting younger, but the Jaguars will be giving him another chance. What could go wrong? Taking the old guy worked so well with Jerry Porter last season, didn’t it? Holt is the likely No. 1 in Jacksonville, but he might not hold that position all season if his skills and health fade.

Jeff Garcia on the Al Davis payroll
Garcia joined the Raiders before the draft to back up and help develop JaMarcus Russell. But how can someone so large learn anything from a man as tiny as Garcia? Time will tell whether the leadership and veteran instincts rub off on Russell, who has been looking very raw since taking the reins in Oakland.

Jake Delhomme fully extended
What’s the first thing you should do when your franchise quarterback throws more passes to the opposing team than his own to end your season? That’s right, contract extension — and a massive one at that. Carolina signed Delhomme to a 5-year deal that he will probably never see the end of as the starting quarterback. I am sure there is logic to it in saving the team a little money now, but Jake isn’t getting any younger. Maybe they’re resting their future on current backup Matt Moore’s Romo-like potential.

Matt Ryan gets his tight end
In a move that might have more impact than anything that happened in the draft, Kansas City traded veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta. Rather than spend a pick on Brandon Pettigrew, the Falcons got Gonzalez at a good price, and they’ll have one of the more weapon-laden offenses in football next season with Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Gonzalez and Roddy White all threatening opposing defenses. The Gonzalez trade may prove to be exactly what Ryan needed to progress next season into a more fantasy-worthy quarterback.

Now, I think we’ve covered just about everything to get you back into sync with all the latest NFL news before the NFL draft. Drop your questions, discussion items and comments in our brand new commenting system down below and let the predictions for next season begin. I have just one question to start: What exactly is a “rundown” anyway?

10 Foolish Thoughts on Super Bowl XLIII

I had to wait until after the Pro Bowl to gather my thoughts about this year’s Super Bowl. Even though the Pro Bowl is full of overhyped drama and hated by many NFL fans, I love it.

Outside of a video game, the Pro Bowl is the closest thing to two fantasy teams playing against each other. Drew Brees is out there throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald with Adrian Peterson in the backfield. How can you not love that? Tell  me. And how did Eli Manning get there?  

Unfortunately, my bold prediction did not come to pass for the Super Bowl. It’s finally digested that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the champs, but Arizona fans still got a happy ending, right?

**If the basic facts aren’t enough for you, get the rest of the NSFW details, courtesy of Deadspin, at the end of this post.

The fantasy season is over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from what we saw in this biggest game of the year. So I collected 10 critical and very foolish thoughts on Super Bowl XLIII. Enjoy.

  1. Larry Fitzgerald reached his boiling point as a fantasy football receiver in the postseason, which means I won’t touch him in drafts next year at a first round price tag, especially if Anquan Boldin stays. Those two tradeoff stats too often, and there’s bound to be another Fitz breaking out next season. Hint: It won’t be Torry Holt.
  2. Tim Hightower’s not going to take the starting job from Edgerrin James in Arizona. If Edge leaves the Cardinals, J.J. Arrington might even put up a fight before Hightower is declared the starter. Where did Hightower go at the end of the season? Disneyland before the Super Bowl?
  3. On that same note, Rashard Mendenhall is not going to sweep into Steeltown and wipe Willie Parker away when he returns from injury in 2009. With Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell battling for carries, he’s going to have to earn his spot over time.
  4. Kurt Warner: Still slippery even after all these years. But it was still a fumble. Still, if Boldin’s back, I’d gladly take him as my starting quarterback next season.
  5. Big Ben Roethlisberger should stop running. See thought No. 3? There are plenty of other players to do that job, Ben. You just weren’t meant to move that way.
  6. Santonio Holmes may have great toe control and the ability to make big plays, but I’d pass on him next year and take Hines Ward several rounds later. Holmes frustrated owners all season with his big play or no play performance. Nothings changed because he’s got a new trophy. Nate Washington is practically his equal.
  7. I want to play in a league where defenses get points for rushing yardage. You in? Did anyone else hear them say “a silverback jumped on the back of the silverback” during the runback? What does that even mean? Intrigued.
  8. We were cheated out of the Cardinals’ final drive, but it wasn’t because of the fumble. It was a missed penalty call. A hail mary to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald would have been a more fitting way to ride this one out.
  9. Willie Parker’s still got it, even if he didn’t show as much in the Super Bowl as he did against San Diego. And, for once, I’m not talking about an injury.
  10. Anyone else find themselves wishing this Super Bowl was the Indianapolis Colts facing the Arizona Cardinals right about halftime?

*To follow your dreams to a happier ending than what I linked to at the top of the post, see all the coverage of the Super porn Bowl from Deadspin at your own risk.

Foolish Super Bowl Predictions: Super Bowl XLIII

I’m not going to rub it in, but I’m pretty happy that my divisional championship predictions came true and put the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. My all Cardinals and Steelers fantasy football team is set up to dominate in the Gridiron Challenge, and I’m counting for a big game out of Tim Hightower to carry me over the top.

Maybe Larry Fitzgerald will leave a couple four or five yards out of the end zone for me.

Now that we’re here at the big game, I’m taking the Cardinals for two reasons — Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner. Much like last year’s Super Bowl came down to a last-minute play by Eli Manning, this game will probably come down to a final drive, and I have more faith that Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald will overcome the pressure.

As long as the momentum rolling with the Arizona defense hasn’t cooled off in the two-week break prior to the Super Bowl, they should be able to slow down the Steelers and make them grind it out for points with Willie Parker and the run game.

Now, I’m settling in to watch my prediction come to fruition. Enjoy the game, and feel free to drop some comments during the action. We’ll wrap up this season and the Super Bowl later this week as we begin the offseason.

NFL Divisional Championships: Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Once again, this weekend, we get a game that could very literally end with a final score of 3-0 and a game that could have a combined score of more than 70 points. Welcome the AFC and NFC championship games.

When I logged into the site to get geared up for this weekend, I got an extra treat. You want to know what the top search term of late leading people to Fantasy Football Fools is?

Booty. That’s right. I have a sneaking suspicion why that is, but it still doesn’t make it any less funny.

So with booty said, let’s get down to booty, er, business.

If you’re setting your salary cap playoff rosters this week, you’re probably locked in with them until the Super Bowl. There’s two ways to go here. You can either pick a collection of players from both teams that you expect to do well enough in this round and in the Super Bowl or you can suck it up and only pick players from the two teams you see making it all the way.

I’ll admit, I have the fear in me about being bold and only choosing players from my Super Bowl pick teams, but I’m so going there.

NFC Championship

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

I don’t know what to think of the Arizona Cardinals. Many analysts predicted they would match the Falcons in the Wild Card round after their strong final game of the season, but I doubted them when they went into Carolina. I thought their possession of a running game was just an oversight by the Falcons defense and that the defensive plays made the Wild Card round were fluky.

In Carolina, Arizona showed us that they have a defense that will make plays on the ball. Their secondary was outstanding. They complimented it with a little bit of a running game again, thanks to Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, despite being able to get the ball into Larry Fitzgerald’s hands even if he was covered by a flock of Canadian geese — the kind that brings down planes.

Despite their success, it’s hard not to keep betting on their demise…they are the Buzzsaw after all.

Of course, there’s no overwhelming favorite on the other side of the field. The Eagles are practically the same team, only in the NFC East. The Eagles started off looking like one of the best in the division before they sank to the bottom of the barrel after a ferociously embarrassing tie with the Cincinnati Bengals when Donovan McNabb didn’t even know that ties were possible.

Thanks to the failings of many a team standing in their way, the Eagles got hot at the right moment and went on a streak to get into the playoffs. Donovan McNabb has looked great, and Brian Westbrook has been required to do only light lifting. The formula has been working to perfection.

On Thanksgiving, the Eagles began their winning streak against the Cardinals. Arizona was clobbered by the combined scoring power of Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb, but since that game, Brian Westbrook has virtually and literally disappeared from the field.

If the Eagles are going to win this one, the offense is going to need a big game from Brian Westbrook. Otherwise, it’s very possible that McNabb gets Delhomme-d and leaves his team fighting on the wrong side of a turnover battle if Arizona’s suddenly-dominant secondary shows up again.

I’m going with the Cardinals here. They’re at home with a newfound spirit in the playoffs. Maybe that’s crazy. Maybe I just don’t really want to see an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl, or maybe I hate part of myself. Maybe I just want an offensive team to get in the Super Bowl. Whatever the reason, I’m on the Buzzsaw bandwagon.

At least we know their going to put up some fantasy points this week.

Hot Hands: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook (Q), David Akers

Bubble Boys: Tim Hightower, Anquan Boldin (Q), Neil Rackers, Arizona D/ST, Eagles D/ST, Brent Celek

Cold Shoulders: DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, L.J. Smith, Edgerrin James

AFC Championship

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Personally, I am not a fan of this matchup.

Watching these two teams slam into each other repeatedly for four hours with minimal points on the board just leaves me feeling unsatisfied — especially as a fantasy football fan. The team that makes the most mistakes is going to lose this one, and since I called it twice before, I have to continue my trend of calling on Joe Flacco’s rookie shortcomings to suddenly rise to the forefront.

If the Steelers can successfully take Derrick Mason out of this game, Flacco will become pretty ineffective. Without Flacco, the Ravens have LeRon McClain, who is already a little banged up, and some guy we used to know the name of named Willis McGahee. Sure, they could put something together with that running back committee. They even have Ray Rice, too, but not against the Steelers defense.

Ben Roethlisberger may be concussed, but maybe he plays better when he sees two or three of every receiver. His long ball and a healthy Willie Parker helped the Steelers run right over the Chargers last week, and it’ll help them put up enough of a fight against the Ravens.

If you’re looking for a kicker, I like Jeff Reed in this game. I know that the Cardinals and the Eagles are playing in a more offensively friendly matchup, but Jeff Reed is probably going to be one of the only players scoring points this Sunday night. You might as well get a piece of the action.

Hot Hands: Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed, Matt Stover, Steelers D/ST, Ravens D/ST

Bubble Boys: Willie Parker, Hines Ward, LeRon McClain, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Derrick Mason

Cold Shoulders: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Heath Miller, Mark Clayton

Lineup Calls

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to go all-in with the Cardinals and Steelers on my roster this weekend. At least if Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner end up sitting out the Super Bowl, I will know that I tried and failed brilliantly.

Sure, I could throw Brian Westbrook on my roster as a safety valve and capitalize if the Eagles were to make it into the Super Bowl, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, no matter what running back gets to the Super Bowl from the NFC, they’re not going to do much against the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So this weekend, I’m a Buzzsaw-lovin’ Arizona Cardinals fan. Maybe they’ll make it to their first Super Bowl, and that’s a story that might even spare us the press on T.O. and Brett Favre for a few days.

Divisional Playoffs, Part 2: Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

So the Cardinals have game — and a run game at that. Of course, who really needs a balanced attack when Larry Fitzgerald can do whatever he wants on the field and you benefit from more than five turnovers?

Looks like the Buzzsaw is bound for the next round, so who will get you there in the fantasy playoffs?

San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Chargers come into Pittsburgh after finishing strong and knocking the Indianapolis Colts off in overtime with the legs of Darren Sproles, but the Steel Curtain closes this attack. Without LaDainian Tomlinson, I don’t see Sproles being able to carry the Chargers far against the Pittsburgh defense, and Philip Rivers cannot do it all with Troy Polamalu covering the field.

The Steelers offense is weakened with a concussed Ben Roethlisberger, but they can still pound the ball with Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore. The Chargers will make more mistakes, and the Steelers have enough to capitalize on them. Even though San Diego has been nice to opposing quarterbacks all season, it’s hard to put faith in the arm of a guy who got taken off in a stretcher just weeks ago. I’ll stick with the run game.

Try as he might, Rivers shouldn’t be able to take this one, but he can certainly try with Vincent Jackson and some help from Sproles.

Hot Hands: Willie Parker, Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles

Bubble Boys: Mewelde Moore, Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Antonio Gates, Nate Kaeding

Cold Shoulders: Heath Miller, LaDainian Tomlinson

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

The Eagles, much like the Chargers, had it all fall into their lap at the end of the season. They’re hot right now, and it’s hard to like the Giants more than the Eagles with the Giants cold finish to the regular season.

Despite the return of Brandon Jacobs, the Giants are likely to have a hard time running the ball against this Eagles squad, and the momentum is in the Eagles’ favor. The Giants will miss having Plaxico Burress as a playmaker. They either lose this game or take it in a nail-biter.

Calling it for Philadelphia, I like Brent Celek as a sleeper tight end. L.J. Smith is only going to see limited action, and Celek gets the start. For those of you trying to budget your roster for this week, Celek is a nice ‘buy low’ to go big at other positions.

Hot Hands: Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brent Celek, Brandon Jacobs, David Akers

Bubble Boys: Eli Manning, Kevin Boss, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw, Derrick Ward

Cold Shoulders: L.J. Smith, Amani Toomer

Foolish Thoughts on Week 17: Studs, Cowardly Lions and Cowbell

Your fantasy football season should now officially be over. We hope you all did better than expected, and if we were any help, even better.

We took this week off get our act together for the playoffs and recover from 17 weeks of fantasy football coverage. It’s grueling … but also so very, very good. Next season, I’m looking to play fewer teams on my own so that I can produce more articles and respond to more emails — there’s always one more than I don’t have the time to get to each week.

But enough about the future, let’s talk about the past…

The injury we all expected to strike Ben Roethlisberger before the end of the season finally hit him in Week 17, where it couldn’t really do much but hurt you if you started Big Ben against the Browns. I am sure that Mike Tomlin will forever be questioned for having Big Ben in that game to start with, and being carried off the field in a stretcher just before the playoffs usually takes a little win out of a team for the postseason.

Luckily for Big Ben and Steelers fans, Pittsburgh has a bye week for him to recover from his concussion. If you were planning on starting him in any playoff fantasy leagues — yes, more on that soon — I would reconsider. A concussed Big Ben still sounds like a Big Ben I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence in behind his Swiss cheese of a pass blocking line and against playoff-caliber defense.

Someone buy him a helmet with extra padding.

Was that an Edgerrin James sighting in the Cardinals stomping? Outside of Big Ben, the theme this week seemed to be fantasy studs making up for a slow season or dismal last two to three weeks.

Kurt Warner and the gang decided to bring it in this one like a playoff game, and old faithful certainly did that after a season of fantasy greatness. Warner had four touchdowns in the win over the Seahawks. Two of those went to Larry Fitzgerald. And just to round things out, Edgerrin James had over 100 yards.

It was the Seahawks, of course, but he also hit 100 yards with only 14 carries. Despite the Seahawks’ disappointing season, I’m sure that all the Seattle players wanted to take home this last one against the Cards for Mike Holmgren.

With that performance and the mediocrity that Tim Hightower showed when he was finally named starter, James may have his job back for the playoff run. I’d expect him to start against the Falcons, and maybe will use all that experience to do some good for the playoff strangers, the Cardinals.

If not, he can always hand out peanuts, right?

Speaking of fantasy studs making good for owners in the final week, LaDainian Tomlinson finally looked like LaDainian Tomlinson. Where was this three touchdown day when the Week 16 championship folks needed him?

I still like Darren Sproles as a big play threat moving forward, but both Sproles and L.T. had moves against the Broncos poor tackling. Even Jacob Hester had a touchdown in this one. Lucky for the Chargers, it’s a good time to have a running game, but the Colts won’t make as many mistakes as the Broncos this weekend.

Steven Jackson ended the season strongly as well even though the Rams have no postseason to speak of besides trying to figure out how to save the franchise.

The Rams may have finished better than the Lions, but the Lions still consider themselves the better team since they never recorded “Ram It.”

http://youtu.be/nOYY6futWBc

Besides Larry Fitzgerald, the Johnson stud receivers came up with two-touchdown days as well. Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson both locked up two scores as the Lions struggled to win one and the Texans struggled to once against convince Houston fans that they’ll be a contender next season — so far, they never come through on that promise they make by ending every season on a hot streak.

Atop the fantasy quarterback standings, Kurt Warner was joined by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Sadly, Brees four touchdown performance came up just shy of the record for passing yardage in a single season.

The way he played this season, I’m sure he’ll have another shot at it. His final pass looked like he was struck by the curse of history; it was one of the worst looking ones he threw all day.

The only real surprise performance of the week was Michael Bush against the Bucs. The Raider running back had two touchdowns and almost 200 yards to beat the Bucs — and to give the Eagles the motivation they need to push into the playoffs against the Cowboys.

Michael Bush showed a lot this season, and I really think that the Raiders could do much better for themselves starting a committee of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden over Justin Fargas all the time. Fargas may have proven himself last season, but Bush and McFadden have a ridiculous amount of talent.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders put Bush on display here in Week 17 to try and make a deal with him this offseason. He’s definitely one to watch. On another team, he could break out like Michael Turner if given the opportunity.

On the Lions
Are we really surprised that the Lions were the first team to hit 0-16? They’ve danced with the bottom of the barrel for enough seasons by now for us to see this one coming.

Yes, it sucks that they set a record like that for Detroit, but they deserved it.

They drafted poorly and played uninspired long enough to breed a culture of acceptable losses. Rod Marinelli couldn’t do much with that no matter how much respect the team has for him.

On expatriates
Now that they are both free of other commitments, will Bill Belichick rebuild the dream team of former Patriot coaches? He could have Romeo Crennel, fired from the Browns, and Eric Mangini, fired from the Jets, back after they both failed to make it on their own.

Somehow, I don’t think Mangini sniffs a job with the Patriots staff unless Belichick wants to make him be a janitor … but Belichick would so love to make him a janitor.

It really makes you wonder how Charlie Weis kept his gig. Don’t you know that the hot thing to do this offseason is fire former Patriot coaches, Notre Dame?

On Skeletor powers in flux
Mike Shanahan got the axe. Didn’t see it coming, but it was clear something had to change after the Broncos slowly declined into mediocrity after emerging as the favorite in the AFC West with a string of victories.

Despite his Eddie Royal selection this season, Shanahan has made bad calls on personnel in the draft and free agency that have kept the Broncos just short of the winning team. The defense has been hit the hardest.

Without Shanny, Cutler and the Broncos are definitely a team to keep your eye on. Their Patriot-style offense wowed fantasy owners early in the season.

Shanahan will end up somewhere since he’s still considered one of the top coaches in the league. He’ll make something happen with his ability to turn a running back into a fantasy stud — before tossing him to the curb for the next guy one game later and infuriating fantasy owners. I think his luck finally caught up with him this season since all of his running backs got injured as soon as they had their big days.

He has to go somewhere. Maybe even Dallas. What would a season be without our evil dark lord of fantasy spoiling fantasy football draft picks around the world? Let’s just hope he doesn’t get full personnel control of the Lions. They don’t need any more questionable draft picks.

On the end of the season
The season may be over, but there are still playoffs (and playoff fantasy football) to think about! We’ll be playing fantasy throughout the postseason before getting into our offseason coverage on how to make you a better fantasy football player, so make sure you stick around as we continue to bring you more cowbell.

And if you’d rather be more suave in checking back every week for our latest, you should subscribe to get our latest updates delivered to you each week. It’ll be the start of something beautiful — and mildly entertaining.

On legendary media frenzy
And now that the season is over, let the love festivus for Brett Favre begin. Will he retire? Will he stick out another year? When will fans stop caring? News at 11 … every night … for the rest of our offseason lives.

Five Backups Worth Owning in the Playoffs

If you’re in the playoffs, your team should be pretty strong, but injuries and/or a Week 17 championship game might soon leave you hurting for some unlikely names.

Backups who haven’t seen any action this season are much more important, and you might find yourself saving your season or winning in Week 17 by getting some backups on your roster now. Here are a few backups that could be big factors in these final weeks.

Byron Leftwich, QB Pittsburgh Steelers (@BAL, @TEN, CLE)
Ben Roethlisberger has taken a lot of hits this year, and he gets to end the season against two of the toughest defenses in the league. Since his offensive line a stinky pile of worthlessness, it’s not unlikely that Big Ben takes the big hit that knocks him out for a game or two.

Leftwich has shown he can be effective in the Steelers offense coming in for Big Ben this season, and he could do some damage against a done-for-the-season Cleveland if he were to get the call in Week 17.

Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals (MIN, @NE, SEA)
Kurt Warner has been amazing this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s invincible. He’s been known to get injured, and even if he’s mostly healthy, he might get benched quite a bit the last couple of weeks of the season since the Cardinals have their playoff spot locked up already.

If the Vikings deal him a big blow this week, Leinart should have good games against a poor New England secondary and a finished Seattle secondary. Hey, how can you do badly with a pretty boy face and one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL?

Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers (@KC, @TB, DEN)
LaDainian Tomlinson has had a terrible season, and the Chargers are out of the playoff hunt. Even though L.T. faces two of the weaker defenses in the league and a questionable Bucs squad in the final weeks, Sproles could play a larger role as the coaches let L.T. rest and see more out of their younger back.

Brandon Jackson, Green Bay Packers (@JAX, @CHI, DET)
Ryan Grant has struggled this season. With no reason to push Grant and the incentives of his contract, the Packers might rather see more of Brandon Jackson in the final games of the season.

Whether Grant sits or not, playing Detroit in Week 17 could allow for both running backs to have big days. Keep your eye on how much Grant is used against Jacksonville to see whether the carries begin to shift into Jackson’s hand.

Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis Colts (DET, @JAX, TEN)
This one is sort of a gimme. With Joseph Addai banged up, Rhodes has already seen some work this season, and it’s likely that he starts this week against the Lions.

Obviously, he’d make a good start against Jacksonville as well and, as much as the Colts score when they’re at full speed, a half decent play for the Titans in Week 17 since the Titans will already have the division secured. Rhodes should be owned in all leagues, and he’s already a good start for this week.

If you have questionable starters or don’t know how to utilize your last few bench spots in these crucial playoff weeks, you should consider getting yourself some backups. If nothing else, you can block your opponents from rebuilding their team if they suffer some injuries in these final weeks.