Gronking for Rob Gronkowski Stand-ins: Replacing Gronk for the Playoffs

Let’s get this straight — there is no replacing Rob Gronkowski. Contrary to popular offseason belief, he has been on pace to reproduce his miraculous 2011 season, if not exceed it. He’s the head of the pack when it comes to tight ends, and you’re not going to find those kinds of points on the waiver wire floor.

But alas, you must because not even Gronkowski can “Gronk” his broken forearm back into game shape. So brace yourself. This isn’t going to be pretty.

Rather than guess who’s available in your league, I thought I’d take a look at who is available in several of mine. In one league, I see Joel Dreessen, Dwayne Allen, Marcedes Lewis, and  Anthony Fasano at the bottom of the pile. In a 10-man PPR league, the pickings are a little better: Kyle Rudolph, Dennis Pitta, Scott Chandler, Brent Celek, and Jared Cook.

Before we begin, obviously, the best of the bunch is Brandon Myers is you’re in one of those leagues that is sleeping on him, but everyone in my leagues has gotten smart to him by now. Greg Olsen is another name that gets tossed to the wire  occasionally  throughout the season, but he’s broken out as of late and probably got picked up. Martellus Bennett might have been dropped during Eli Manning‘s slump, and I’d be willing to take a shot with him coming out the Giants’ bye if you can get him.

Also not available in my league but worth consideration are Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley. They would be just below Kyle Rudolph on my list if they were on the wire.

Barring a chance at any of those guys, you’re stuck with what I listed above. So let’s break them down.

Kyle Rudolph stands out as the biggest name of the bunch. He was a touchdown maker earlier in the season who went through a little bit of a slump before putting up points again just before his bye. I like him as a decent Gronk replacement, and perhaps the Vikings can fix their offensive troubles coming out of the bye. Unfortunately, he has game remaining against Chicago (twice) and the Texans in Week 16, which makes him a less promising option than he really should be.

Logan Paulsen‘s been a decent piece of the Redskins’ offense these last few weeks, and he scored his first touchdown last week coming out of Washington’s bye. He makes a decent play down the stretch in an offense that should continue to hum with Robert Griffin III under center and one that is playing for the future. The schedule doesn’t jump out at you, but playing the Eagles in Week 16 could be a fantasy points bonanza, assuming the Eagles pack it in for the year.

Jared Cook  was a sleeper to start the year. Many expected a breakout with Jake Locker under center, but the Titans just can be trusted to use Cook’s skills as a receiver. But I have to take the bait with him. Locker looked great in his return and hit Cook for a score. There’s promise here. And Cook faces the Colts and Jets in the fantasy playoff weeks.

Brent Celek doesn’t excite me, but the Eagles have a solid passing schedule with the Panthers, Bucs, Bengals, and Redskins on their slate. Unfortunately, I’d avoid Celek unless you can afford to stash him until we see one of the Eagles’ passers come to life. Nick Foles hasn’t been a spark for the Eagles offense, and Micheal Vick just hasn’t provided many  opportunities  for his playmakers to make plays. Go with Celek only if you can’t get any of the previous guys off the wire.

Dwayne Allen is a starting option only as long as Coby Fleener is out. When Fleener returns, the two will be frustrating owners as they  dilute  the tight end points you’ll get out of Andrew Luck throwing the ball. Allen gets to play the Bills this week without him, but Fleener will probably return before Week 16. If not, Allen will have the Chiefs all to himself.

Allen’s on my list because he’s a good starter for the next few games, but know that you’ll probably need someone else to support him in the playoffs.

While the above tight ends could be good weekly options, the remaining tight ends on this list are mostly spot starts. Dennis Pitta is currently concussed and hasn’t been very reliable since Week 3. He scored in Week 10 against the Raiders…but it was the Raiders. Joel Dreessen has way too many e’s in his name, and he splits his points with Jacob Tamme. While there was a three-game stretch earlier this season where you could count on Dreessen to find the  end zone   it seems that time has passed.

Dallas Clark hasn’t been as hot as the rest of the Bucs’ offense, but he’s benefited from their production. Still, it’s hard to trust him as a starting option in the fantasy playoffs, even if he faces the Saints in Week 15. Scott Chandler‘s schedule isn’t as scary as some, but he could get you 2 as easily as he could get you 9+ points. And Anthony Fasano has been a non-participant in the Dolphins’ offense lately.

That leaves us with Marcedes Lewis, who should be in this group as a matchups play if you look past his Week 11 performance with Chad Henne taking over at quarterback for the Jags. The schedule isn’t intimidating, which makes Lewis a promising option if you get this far down the list. Of all the guys after Allen, I’d probably consider Lewis the top of the group. I might even consider grabbing him over Celek if given the choice.

You’ll know after a few weeks whether Lewis can be counted on to produce. Just make sure you shore up your tight end position with another option in case Lewis returns to fantasy purgatory.

See, I told you it wouldn’t be pretty.

Roger Goodell as Vince McMahon GIF

Monday Night Football Golden Tainted by Replacement Refs, Twitter Explodes and NFL Players React

So this happened. In case you somehow haven’t heard already, the replacement refs blew the call at the end of Monday Night Football by awarding a touchdown to Golden Tate in place of a Green Bay interception. Even Jon Gruden’s disgusted.

The play in question (or is it still in question?), courtesy of KSK:

http://youtu.be/x-qiGyB6HzE

And the player reactions rolled in all night long.

WARNING: Some NSFW. Especially T.J. Lang. Work is NOT a place for T.J. Lang tweets.

NFL Players React to Golden Tainted Monday Night Football

As the replacement refs botched the call on the final play of Monday Night Football, NFL players from around the league weighed in with their take or their call to get the regular refs back. Some of the most heated criticism came from the Green Bay Packers players themselves.

Storified by Fantasy Football Fools· Tue, Sep 25 2012 17:22:28

Green Bay Packers React to Loss

Greg Jennings was probably the most composed Packer talking about the calls after the game. And it shows in his tweet.

#NFL C’MON MAN! Can’t even be upset anymore. All I can do is laugh. Laugh at the #NFL for allowing America’s game to come this. WOW!Greg Jennings
@NFL Cheap ass hell!! Get us some NFL REFS! Not PEE WEE league refs! But it’s all Abt the Saints!Jermichael Finley
Come on @NFL this shit is getting out of Control. Caused us a DAMN game. Horrible!Jermichael Finley
T.J. Lang was not so composed…
Got fucked by the refs.. Embarrassing. Thanks nflTJ Lang
Maybe that’s a strategy… RT @TomPelissero: This is awesome. RT @TJLang70: F–k it NFL.. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.
Any player/coach in Seattle that really thinks they won that game has zero integrity as a man and should be embarrassed.TJ Lang
No comprendo. :(Marshall Newhouse
Golden tate is full of shit too. Saying he clearly caught that is embarrassing! Fucking jokers!josh sitton
The nfl needs to come to gb and apologize to us for fucking us! These refs r bums!josh sitton
That was bullshit. This is getting ridiculous! The NFL needs to get the refs back bfr we strike and they make no money!josh sitton
Mike McCarthy: "I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years of football." #MNF #NFL

NFL Players Weigh In On Monday Night Football’s Blown Call

Drew Brees is one of the more outspoken players in the league on the ref issue, and he had some very well put tweets after the call was made.
I love this league and love the game of football, but tonight’s debacle hurts me greatly. This is NOT the league we’re supposed to representDrew Brees
Ironic that our league punishes those based on conduct detrimental. Whose CONDUCT is DETRIMENTAL now?Drew Brees
A fake Frank Gore account jumped into the spotlight as Monday Night Football took over Twitter, but at least this jokester’s 15 minutes left us with some good tweets…
If Golden Tate was still on ND, and me on the U, I’d go play safety and deck Lil’ Tate’s ass, ya know this! #49ersNot Frank Gore
NFL can fine me, too. I’ll wipe my butt with the money first! #RogerGoodellNot Frank Gore
There are a range of emotions in the rest of the NFL player tweets. Many were upset by the call. Some had no opinion or laughed it off rather than risk getting on the NFL’s bad side.
Man PLEASE tell me y’all heard Golden Tate’s interview?? When asked if he pushed off, Tate simply replied, "Idk what ur talking about" LMAO!Donte’ Stallworth
Lol… Dont affect me either way. Got love for my old teammates and homies, boys work hard out there but these refs are sad. PointblankTarvaris Jackson
I’ve been saying give the refs a break but that TD call was ridicules. How do you miss that? Pop Warner refs would have gotten that right.Tony Gonzalez
Drama. Great for business. Godspeed, Ed Hochuli.Arian Foster
Wow wow wow, crazy !!NickBarnett
I’ve been a football fan/player my entire life and never seen anything like this scene. #MNFGeoff Schwartz
Yeeeee! Score 1 for the Good Guys. Way to Go Stripes! Always good seeing a fellow WR get credit for a TD…….ON A INTERCEPTION. YesssStevie Johnson
Seattle u can’t feel good about tht win… Because y’all really lost… The refs give y’all the game…Nick Collins
I agree 100% RT @DavidNelson86: So much to say.. So little room in the pocketbook. #GoodnightKirk Morrison
Are you serious?Kirk Morrison
This is what the NFL has come down to, &yet they tell you to respect the shield! Lol. But they’ll try to fine us for everything thing we do.DARNELL DOCKETT
I mean damn! http://lockerz.com/s/247487166DARNELL DOCKETT
Wow. Smh!!!D.J. Williams
I just emailed the commissioner to say I am embarrass to be a former nfl player, after that @GaryEllerson @1250WSSPleroy butler
Wow. I don’t even know what to say right now. One ref signals Touchback and the other ref signals Touchdown?!Chase Daniel
That ish cray..Mark Ingram
I think the @NFL will bring back officials after @ESPNMondayNight #EmbarrassingThomas Morstead
Is the refs workin for the buffalo wild wings commercial?Perrish Cox
Looked like an interception to me.Sean Weatherspoon
Com’on can we please get the real refs back. Destroying the game that we all grew to love. WOW!!!!!!Patrick Peterson
Well we knew this was bound to happen but on Monday night football? Come on the replacement zebras aren’t fit for this zoo! LolDeAngelo Williams
How dare this not be rectified.. too much is at stake to have holes in such an elite leagueVisanthe Shiancoe
Geez. Why can’t they review that?Brent Celek
Oh wow. Can’t wait to see the backlash hereBrent Celek
Speechless after that…Robert Griffin III
I’m woke… WOW!Brandon Marshall
The regular referees are definitely cheering. #Leverage #BamBrandon Marshall
These refs gotta go I’m sorryReggie Bush
Refs single handedly blew this one…Reggie Bush
#Speechless….David Nelson
Former Cowboy Troy Aikman brought the hammer with just 5 words.
These games are a joke.Troy Aikman

The Aftermath of The Immaculate Deception

The official NFL account’s immediate reaction was not ideal…
Wow RT @Schottey: RT @njh287: Did the @NFL just re-tweet a tweet mocking their league’s officiating? http://twitpic.com/ay4167. Yes, they did.FantasyFootballFools
Since the game, the opinions around the NFL have solidified. The replacement refs got it wrong.
Golden Tate blatantly pushed off and M.D. Jennings intercepted the pass, according to two well-placed sources: my left and right eye.Adam Schefter
Rachel Nichols summed it up pretty well.
If there was ever an official photo of this whole replacement ref debacle, this is it http://pic.twitter.com/5eIGjRdRRachel Nichols
I mean when theyre showing snaps of it on the the weather channel u know something has to b doneVisanthe Shiancoe
Wait, Seahawks were the blue jerseys? #oopsNFL Replacement Ref
Lol! Funny http://lockerz.com/s/247659415Reggie Bush
This is your iconic moment, in which one official signals touchdown and the other, no touchdown http://30fram.es/QuKk3QTimothy Burke
As a footnote, even some NBA personalities weighed on Monday night…
Not gonna watch another nfl game until real refs r back. What a farceDirk Nowitzki
I would love to see what my reaction would be if a Mavs game ended like #MNF. #Expensive #NBAtimeMark Cuban

And thanks to BeyondTheBets.com, we get to see inside the sportsbooks as the final play went down. So much celebration…so many broken dreams.

The reaction on Twitter was obviously pretty incredible. Timothy Burke shared a video of the replacement ref conversation via Mocksession.com.

The NFL probably had no idea what to do with all the angry tweets, but they might have tried to get in on the conversation without thinking it through. Twitter followers captured this retweet from the official NFL Twitter account mocking the officiating.

Oh, NFL, where will we go from here?

Roger Goodell as Vince McMahon GIF

The GIF of the theme of the night, Roger Goodell as Vince McMahon, via Texans Talk

Free Handcuffs with every frame bed

Unleash the Handcuffs: Andre Brown, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson are Week 3 Pickups

Free Handcuffs with every frame bed
Week 2 brought the injuries, now didn’t it? I can’t say I enjoyed watching Steven Jackson sit through the second half…especially after he was doing so well before he sat down.

Aaron Hernandez owners may still crying after seeing him go back to the locker room without putting any points on the board. Of all the less serious injuries, Ahmad Bradshaw’s neck injury seems to be the only one that hasn’t been clarified since the games were played.

But let’s not dwell on the negative. I did that already this week.

Let’s get better. Say it together…WITH FEELING!

Just like last week, these are presented in the order I’d go after them. Dollar dollar bill FAAB suggestions are also listed beside each player.

Week 3 Pickups

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions (<5%)
If no one owns him yet, you should be able to pick him up on the cheap. Kevin Smith doesn’t have the full confidence of this team. That much we could see as the Lions went with Joique Bell on several touches in Week 2. There’s a good chance Leshoure returns in Week 3 and makes this job all his own, and Lions RBs are good for fantasy points.

Andre Brown, RB, Giants (10%)
When Ahmad Bradshaw went down, we all expected to see David Wilson. Instead, we got Brown as the workhorse back, and he performed well. He’ll be the RB to own if Bradshaw misses any time this week and probably keeps a good portion of the work if Bradshaw misses additional time. Wilson’s got some work to do to get himself out of the doghouse.

Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants (5%)
Bennett has quickly become the third option in this Giants’ offense and one of the top tight end options through the first two weeks. Make sure he’s not in the pool, especially if you’re sitting on a lesser option like Fred Davis.

Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens (5%)
He’s getting a ton of looks in this offense. While some of it may be game plan, two weeks is enough to notice the trend, which makes him worth a grab. The rumor is that he’s Flacco’s best friend on the team, and you know how that works out for tight ends. *COUGH* Witten *COUGH* I’d look to fill your Aaron Hernandez hole with Pitta or Bennett this week.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings (<5%)
You’re still letting this guy sit on the waiver wire? He’s on the radar after scoring this week, and I expect his big breakout game to happen sooner rather than later.

Greg Little, WR, Browns (0%)
He lives. But the Browns aren’t going to be producing like this week to week. Still, if you’re looking for a WR3 with potential, he’s worth stashing in all leagues for bye weeks and potential garbage time production.

Brent Celek, TE, Eagles (0%)
Celek might not have as high a ceiling as the tight ends listed above, but he still might be an upgrade for Fred Davis owners/sufferers.

Bilal Powell, RB, Jets (0%)
Powell has been on my watch list all season. When Shonn Greene went out of the game, he took the carries and did more with them. Powell’s worth stashing as we wait for the Jets to look past Greene on the depth chart for something with a little more punch.

Daryl Richardson, RB, Rams (0%)
When Jackson didn’t return after his ball-spiking penalty in the second quarter, we all thought he was being punished. Turns out, it was only his fantasy owners getting the punishment as Jackson suffered a groin injury that prevented him from reentering the game. It was Richardson, not Isaiah Pead, who took over the game for the Rams when Steven Jackson went down. We can safely say that Richardson is the handcuff for Jackson, and he’ll be the RB to own if Jackson can’t go in Week 3. For now, all signs point to Jackson being back in the lineup Week 3, which makes Richardson just a stash.

Sam Bradford, QB, Rams (0%)
So maybe the Rams aren’t so terrible? I’m undecided, but Bradford certainly had good numbers against the Redskins. Washington suffered several injuries on the defensive side of the ball in this one, which took some pressure off of the Rams offensive line that needed the help. In short, swap your backup QB out for Bradford if you’re worried about your current guy.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals (0%)
I know he had a good showing against the Browns, but I just don’t think Dalton is dependable as anything more than a QB2. That said, you might look to Dalton during the bye weeks if your QB2 isn’t looking so hot.

WATCH LIST

Andrew Hawkins, WR, Bengals
The shifty wide receiver has made his mark two weeks in a row now. He’s worth keeping on your radar as a potential WR3, and he is worth stashing if you’re in a PPR league.

Jackie Battle, RB, Chargers
I see Battle’s stats from this week as a flash in the pan just before the return of Ryan Mathews. When Mathews takes the field, I don’t think we’ll see Battle get this many touches. His usage in Week 2 is probably a result of how little Ronnie Brown has left in the tank. If Mathews doesn’t return in Week 3 or goes down with another injury, keep your eye on Battle.

This Kevin Smith is not Too Fat to Fly in Week 12 Pickups

I can’t be certain that I covered all of this week’s best waiver wire grabs because, to be honest, after Adrian Peterson went down and rode out of the stadium on a cart, I went into shock and then into a hysterical state from which I am only now emerging. Is Twilight still a thing? Should I wait longer before I come back?

No one likes to see their fantasy stud go out on a cart, especially when we’re just three weeks away from playoffs. As a Peterson owner, I could only think back to last year when my first-round pick Frank Gore did basically the same thing to my already crippled fantasy team.

Things can get very cruel just before the fantasy playoffs.

It looks like All Day’s going to miss at least one game — and hopefully, ONLY one game. But the high ankle sprain shouldn’t keep him from helping fantasy teams down the stretch. If you’ve secured a playoff spot, you should be safe waiting on A.P. If not…well, you might just want to make liberal use of this button  and look for better help than Toby Gerhart, who was pretty miserable in place of Peterson on Sunday.

Of course, the title of our waiver wire post this week is in reference to the Silent Bob “Too Fat to Fly” incident, in case you didn’t get it. Get out your cave, buddy! Now back to the pickups…

This week’s waiver wire is a little different. Rather than run down a full list of all the top grabs, we’ll look to fill your needs at each position for the playoffs.

First, if you are in need of a quarterback…

ANDY DALTON (Bengals)
Even without A.J. Green, Dalton’s managed to rack up yardage and multiple scores against tough defensive opponents. The schedule gets easier the rest of the way. If your quarterback isn’t cutting it, you might trust your playoff production to this rookie, but he’ll only help you so much.

MATT MOORE (Dolphins)
Truly risky, Moore has put together several strong performances with the Dolphins finding their groove these last few weeks. His playoff schedule isn’t the best, but he has gotten hot at just the right time. If you’ve started someone like Ryan Fitzpatrick up to this point, Moore may be worth throwing into your lineup, but I’m never going to recommend benching a true stud option for Moore.

If you need a running back…

KEVIN SMITH (Lions)
He doesn’t get to face the Panthers every week, but Week 11 was a truly phenomenal performance by “the best story in the NFL.” He’s clearly the Lions’ answer at running back for the playoff push. The Lions are still a pass-first team, but they get down the field enough to give Smith some chances to score on the ground no matter the opponent. Not to mention, Smith has good enough hands to be a part of that mighty Lions passing game. If and when Jahvid Best returns, he will likely share touches with Kevin Smith, who should be this week’s first overall on the waiver wire. Don’t sit on your waiver pick or FAAB money this week, especially not if you need help at running back. Just like Tebow and Denarius Moore, Smith’s worth betting on this late in the season. It’s unlikely you’ll see another quality starting running back on the waiver wire unless we see some more injuries.

DONALD BROWN (Colts)
Speaking of the Panthers, the Colts face their terrible run defense this week, which means Brown is next in line for a big day running all over them. There’s some discussion that Joseph Addai could return this week. I’m not sure that I buy that. Brown’s been the most effective Indy running back in Addai’s absence, and it would be more beneficial at this point in the season for the Colts to continue to evaluate their young prospects, Brown and Delone Carter, rather than throw Addai back onto the field if he’s not completely 100 percent. If Brown gets the start against the Panthers, his ceiling could be something Kevin Smith-like, but it’s more likely he gives you a quality one-week fill for Adrian Peterson.

JOE MCKNIGHT (Jets)
Without Shonn Greene, the Jets running game actually looked a bit more dynamic with McKnight leading the way. He’s a better pass catcher than Greene and has younger legs than LaDainian Tomlinson. Greene should be back on the field this week, but McKnight should still, at the very least, keep the change-of-pace role until L.T.’s back to full health. I’d still stash McKnight just in case he earns more touches.

TOBY GERHART (Vikings)
If you couldn’t tell by how far down this list Toby is, I don’t have much faith in him producing while Adrian Peterson’s out. Peterson should only miss one or two games, and replacing Peterson in Week 11, Gerhart didn’t do much of anything. I also expect Percy Harvin to have a larger role running the ball in A.P.’s absence. The fact that the Vikings face the Falcons run defense in Week 12 makes me even less enthusiastic about Gerhart. If you’re a Peterson owner, you need to grab Gerhart just to cover yourself through A.P.’s injury, but if someone wants to outbid you for his services, let them. I wouldn’t consider starting Gerhart in Week 12 if I had any better options, but he could be worth the stash if he gets the call again in Week 13 against the Broncos.

C.J. SPILLER (Bills)
The Buffalo offense is just miserable, and the only bright spot has been Fred Jackson. Without him, I don’t have much faith that Spiller can get it done, but he would see plenty of work if Jackson sits out Week 12. Moving forward, Spiller could have greater value seeing more time in the slot after the Bills lost Donald Jones on Sunday. He’s better catching passes than rushing for now in this Buffalo offense.

If you need a wide receiver…

DENARIUS MOORE (Raiders)
The receiving talent is a little harder to come by, but if your league passed on Moore or his owner gave up on him when he put up a dud on Sunday, go out and get him. The Raiders still have one of the best schedules to pass on, and even though they’re a run-first team, Palmer should look Moore’s way a few more times this year.

VICTOR CRUZ (Giants)
Another one that might still be out there in a few leagues, Cruz looks like Manning’s favorite target when he’s facing pressure or needs a big play. The Giants will be looking for a few more of those as their schedule continues to get tougher.

PERCY HARVIN (Vikings)
Harvin saw more touches after Peterson’s injury and was able to put up almost 100 total yards and a score. More than likely playing from behind against the Falcons in Week 12, the Vikings should look his way often enough to make him a worthy play.

TORREY SMITH (Ravens)
Smith’s been a risky start ever since his breakout performance, but he’s worth the risk when the matchup fits because his ceiling is so high (165 yards and a score in Week 11). Weaker playoff teams might want to throw him out there in Week 14 against Indy for a spark.

RILEY COOPER (Eagles)
If Vince Young gets another start, he could once again look Cooper’s way. They’ve obviously developed a nice chemistry playing with the second stringers this year, and Cooper filled in admirably for Jeremy Maclin once he got into the swing of things.

JEROME SIMPSON (Bengals)
A.J. Green should be able to go in Week 12, but Simpson’s had his fair share of good games even with Green taking the No. 1 role from him. He’s a matchup play for the fantasy playoffs.

JABAR GAFFNEY (Redskins)
Rex Grossman was surprisingly competent against the Cowboys in Week 11, which leaves me to speculate that Gaffney will have a few more good games before the year is out, at least until Santana Moss, a worthy stash himself, returns from his injury.

If you need a tight end…

Tight end is deep, but few are rising to the top late in the season. If Kellen Winslow was dropped, he’s worth grabbing this week as the Bucs look to get back on track to end the year. Otherwise, look to Brent Celek, Jared Cook, or Jake Ballard, three tight ends who could finish the year stronger than they started it.

If you need a kicker…

Come on, man.

If you need a defense…

TEXANS D/ST
If anyone dropped them during their bye, pick them up immediately. Houston currently has the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and this week, they get the Jaguars. They should continue to put up fantasy points.

PATRIOTS D/ST
New England has one of the easiest schedules in the league after they face the Eagles this weekend, and their defense, for all its injuries, seems like it’s coming together. Assuming the pass rush and interceptions continue, Week 12 might be your last chance to score the Patriots D/ST for the stretch run.

PANTHERS D/ST
It’s never a bad idea to play the D/ST that faces the Colts, even if they have no run defense to speak of. The Panthers still managed positive points last week while getting blown apart by the Lions.

FALCONS D/ST
Atlanta gets to face the potentially Adrian Peterson-less Vikings this week. It shouldn’t be too hard of an assignment for them. Atlanta has a very underrated run defense.

BRONCOS D/ST
Tebowmania has masked how well the Broncos defense has been since Week 9 against Oakland. I have a hard time trusting them, but I love them as a sleeper this week against the interception-prone Philip Rivers, who may have lost another offensive linemen just this past Sunday. If you’re short on options, consider taking a chance on Denver.

Any other questions/comments, you know what to do. Leave them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

And while you’re kicking yourself for not drafting these guys in the first place

Here’s a look from Sports Data Hub at the top fantasy performers at each position as of the beginning of December. [Update: Link no longer available]

We all wish we could go back to the draft and change something, whether we want to draft Miles Austin or not draft Matt Forte, but looking at the cold, raw numbers after almost an entire fantasy football season shows us many of our mistakes (and in bar graph form, which makes it slightly less depressing).

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

The big surprise at quarterback this year for me was Brett Favre, who not only joined the ranks late but also became a fantasy stud down the stretch. He may be fading now, but he still established himself among the top at the position for another year. As much as I loathe him, I’ll give him credit for that.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, bottomed out more than expected. Clearly, the receiver situation in Chicago isn’t to his liking, and he’s not comfortable in that offense just yet.

Time will tell whether the team takes a new direction by getting a new offensive coordinator or makes a move to acquire a top talent at wide receiver like Anquan Boldin. The only problem with the latter solution is all the picks they gave away to get Cutler in the last offseason.

Cutler’s performance against the Vikings on Monday Night Football could be a good sign that they’re getting on track for 2010.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson was an iffy top running back prospect to start the year. Some took the chance and were greatly rewarded. Others warned that LenDale White would still steal all his scoring opportunities. It’s clear he’s become a fantasy force, one who will continue to be highly drafted. He’s probably the No. 1 overall pick in your draft next season.

But the big surprise was Ray Rice (even though I predicted he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good). He jumped from a murky Baltimore running back situation to become one of the top backs in fantasy, and he’ll probably stay among the elite with Willis McGahee on his way out.

Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones certainly have more staying power than any of us realized. They’re still getting it done, even at their advanced age. Williams owes his scoring chances early in the year to Ronnie Brown, who made the Wildcat a legitimate threat at the goal line throughout his reign of terror until he was injured.

It’ll be interesting to see what Miami and New York do in the offseason. Ronnie Brown is likely to assume the starting duties again once he is healthy, but New York could part ways with Jones if they so choose, opting instead to ride Leon Washington and rookie pounder Shonn Greene.

In recent weeks, they’ve given Greene more than his usual number of carries to see what they have behind Jones for next season.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson came up in the world in a big way as McNabb’s favorite target this season. Is it finally safe to start a Philadelphia receiver? It seems that way for 2010.

The hot names to add to the list of the elite are Miles Austin and Sidney Rice. Both were touted for their physical attributes and explosive talents, but neither had lived up to expectations, falling victim to injury or being buried on the depth chart the past two seasons.

Rice broke out this season as the Vikings’ biggest threat in the passing game, and he’ll only get better, regardless of who comes in to quarterback Minnesota once Favre finally leaves — but will that EVER happen?

Austin should continue to be one of Tony Romo’s favorite, most trusted targets, and that’s extremely valuable with a quarterback as determined to make a play as Romo is every down.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, we hardly knew ye. He did it. He finally did it. All it took was a new coach and a new offense geared around his ability to separate from mismatches. Well done, sir.

Brent Celek also proved that the Eagles had really been missing L.J. Smith’s contributions in recent years when injury and ineffectiveness kept Smith from playing the part. Celek’s role at tight end in the Philadelphia offense only adds to the stockpile of weapons at Andy Reid’s disposal.

Kickers

Ha, just kidding. Nothing’s drastically shifted here, but there was a lot of musical chairs being played around the league as certain kickers lost their leg and teams were forced to make a change.

This year has been a surprising one once again, at least for me. A lot of players that we’d looked forward to seeing finally made a show of themselves. It’s safe to say I wish all my leagues were keeper leagues. The young talent we’ve seen this year should be a factor in fantasy football for years to come.

So now, armed with the knowledge of what’s altered the fantasy landscape this season, what can we say? Better luck next year?

On the Wire: Week 4 Pickups and Sleepers [Insert Coffee Joke Here]

Ah, I just love the sweet smell of bacon in the morning. What? You thought I was going to say coffee, as in Glen Coffee? That would be silly. Silly like little kids who talk like big people.

Now, get your Coffee while it’s hot. Burn!

Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers: With Frank Gore set to miss about three weeks, Coffee should get most of the work against the Rams and the Falcons before the 49ers go on bye in Week 6. If you’re lucky, Coffee could see more work than usual against the Texans and Colts post-bye. I’ll take a double shot of that.

Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys: He took over the Dallas run game on Monday night. If Felix Jones’ knee keeps him from hitting the field in Week 4, Choice could be the lone back for the Cowboys until Marion Barber returns, and he can handle that job. Dallas faces Denver and Kansas City before their bye in Week 6.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: The French name with another the solid game, Garcon has stepped it up in Anthony Gonzalez’s absence. Peyton Manning trusts him, and until Gonzalez returns, you can, too.

Nate Burleson, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Burleson has been posting decent stats while T.J. Houshmandzadeh runs his mouth and fails to impress with his bad back. Maybe T.J., as I’ve felt all along, is just average. Burleson’s worth a look as a WR3 even without Hasselbeck under center.

Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: He’s getting plenty of looks in this offense, especially with Kevin Kolb doing the passing.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Two touchdowns? Now that’s almost enough to convince me that he’ll stick around. Incubate him for a game or two unless you’re desperate at tight end and see what develops. Unlike many of the most targeted players this week, Davis came down with the majority of the passes thrown his way. That’s promising.

Fred Taylor, RB, New England Patriots: Brady was saved by his ground game in this one, and Taylor is that ground game. He’s got plenty left in the tank, but just when we start to trust him, the Patriots will mix in someone else out of that backfield and throw the ball 60-plus times each game. Taylor adds good depth as we head into the bye weeks.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos: He’s fighting every week to get his yards even if Knowshon Moreno keeps the hype and the goal line touches.

Maurice Morris, RB, Detroit Lions: We might see more Morris if Kevin Smith misses time with his injury. Smith can’t heal that fast, but don’t expect the same production you get from Smith out of Morris.

Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams: Maybe without competition from Laurent Robinson, who is now out for the season, Avery will finally step his game up. He’d probably have better luck if Kyle Boller takes over at quarterback.

Josh Johnson, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As we’ve seen from the Byron Leftwich appearances this season, the Bucs are bad, and they are going to be throwing often. Johnson has the potential to be better than Leftwich, and he’s certainly faster and more agile. I broke down some of his background in this week’s Foolish Thoughts. If you’re desperate or digging for trade bait, grab him while he’s an unknown.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins: Same first name, different starting Miami quarterback. Sadly, this injury may be the end for Pennington. Due to Pennington’s bionic shoulder capsule explosion in the game this week, Henne takes over a tad early and tries to right this Dolphin ship in 2009. Please, sir, may we have a deep ball?

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns: I wouldn’t suggest that he’s better than your current benched players, but if Jamal Lewis stays out, Harrison could be in line for a big game or two when Cleveland faces weak run defenses. There aren’t many of those on the schedule, but maybe you just have a bench spot that’s completely empty and in need of a warm body. Yeah, you can slot Harrison there.

Denver Broncos D/ST: Who knew? The Broncos have a defense. Leave it to Josh McDaniels to teach them how to repel people. I’m still not sure I believe.

Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Maybe he will break out after all? Only if Favre keeps passing like he did on Sunday, but I’m a fan of Rice’s potential.

Bryant Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: It was Bryant, not Calvin Johnson, that had the important touchdown catch against the Washington Redskins this week. If Megatron gets shut down, look for Bryant to reap the benefits. He’s been on my watch list since he left the Arizona Cardinals, but he’s never produced consistently. This year may finally be his time if he can stay healthy.

Guys from Week 3’s On the Wire that should be owned in all leagues by now (but I’ll list them here anyway just to drive home the point):

  • LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Without Westbrook, he’s just as good and maybe even more explosive.
  • Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: He is David Garrard’s favorite target, and the Jags are going to put the ball in the air this season.

For more waiver wire grabs, talk to the geeks at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, get the list from Fanhouse, sweat it out with Lester’s Legends, get the pickups of the week at FF Toolbox, add Coffee to your list at USA Today’s Fantasy Joe, see through the haze at The Hazean, and check out both the first and second collection from Fantasy Football Librarian this week.

Get out there and make your team better this week. Try toying with some handcuffs and consider the rises and falls of Sunday at Fanhouse, prepare for the bye weeks as noted by The Fantasy Football Geek Blog , sell off a few high-performing pretenders at FF Toolbox and cut the dead weight with the Bruno Boys.

As always, the comments are yours. I’ll be answering questions all week if you don’t know who to claim and who to drop on your waiver wire. Just leave a message below.

Manning, Colts D on Fire as Cards Misfire

Week 3 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Why worry?

You don’t want to be Mr. Worry. For one, that wrinkled forehead will be stuck that way forever. And two, he carries a purse.

So back down from that ledge there. Pause a second before you put on that lipstick and trace over the names of your fantasy studs turned duds. They turned on you, yes, but there’s still Week 3 when maybe (but probably not) things will settle back to the way we said they would go — you know, like Thanksgiving after all the yelling.

If you’re 0-2, stop worrying. Don’t get so desperate for a win that you find yourself dropping Anquan Boldin for Mario Manningham or Clinton Portis for Justin Forsett. It’s only Week 3. Things can get far worse than they are right now.

I had to do some traveling this week, and, boarding my return flight, I found myself staring at a guy in first class while I shuffled back to the rows where the “sorry people” were permitted to sit. Who was it you ask? Herschel Walker. Unfortunately, my survival instincts and prodding from other passengers prevented me from asking him about his new sport, but he looked like he could take a hit and give one or two in exchange. Hot hands? I think so.

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. Indianapolis Colts
I know I’m daring, but I wanted to go with a less obvious start this week. I really like Trent Edwards and Matt Forte as well, but I’ll give Hightower the nod because of what the Dolphins did against the Colts last week. If the Cardinals are going to beat Peyton Manning, they are going to have to take some time off the clock. With Beanie Wells fumbling every chance he gets, Hightower is the Cards’ most reliable runner.

Whether he gets his yardage and a score early or in garbage time, I think that Hightower could have a big day. Give him a second look unless you have some proven studs ready to go this week.

Others receiving votes:

  • Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints
    Don’t expect it to be a beautiful game for him, but Trent Edwards should be throwing all day against Drew Brees and the Saints if the Bills are going to stay in this one. Look for him to get a few touchdowns and a few interceptions, but I think it’ll balance out in his favor.
  • Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks
    This week isn’t the most encouraging matchup for Forte since the Seahawks do have some heavy linebackers, but he deserves a chance this week. With all the injuries to Seattle’s defense, I project this could be the beginning of his return to fantasy relevance. He’s faced the Packers and the Steelers so far this season, and I won’t fault him for that. Don’t give up on him just yet.
  • Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints vs. Buffalo Bills
    Mike Bell is hurt. Pierre Thomas isn’t quite 100 percent. A perfect storm for Reggie Bush? Probably not. But I do expect to see Bush involved in this game, and against the Bills I wouldn’t be surprised if he scored at least once. He’s a good flex option, and I like him even better in PPR leagues. I’m not too worried about Lynell Hamilton.
  • Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins vs. Detroit Lions
    The bone spurs in his ankles aren’t good news, but this oh-too-sweet matchup against the Lions should have been a slaughter for Portis. I put him here only because I feel I have to plug every running back facing the Lions, but it’s acceptable for you to doubt him this week. If you have a better option, I wouldn’t blame you for taking it, but give Portis one more chance this week.
  • Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns
    Hard to say why I hate myself so much, but this week (again) might be one of Rice’s best chances to score from 20 yards out before that jackass Willis McGahee comes in to vulture the touchdown.
  • Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs
    Kevin Kolb finds him hard to miss. No clue why. Great PPR play as long as Kolb starts.
  • Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    The Bucs don’t even know that opposing teams start wide receivers yet this season. Truth.

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
You might remember that Oakland has that corner named Not-gonna-catch-anything Nnamdi Asomugha. This week, he will be shadowing the once-great Brandon Marshall. Add to that Marshall’s lackluster start to the season, Kyle Orton’s short range and Josh McDaniels’ statements that Marshall is just part of the rotation since he hasn’t grasped the offense and what you have is a bad matchup.

Until further notice or proof that he’s still breathing, I don’t think you can trust Brandon Marshall this season. Start him only if you must, and make him prove his worth before returning him to your starting lineup.

Others receiving votes:

  • Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    A tough game against a bitter rival isn’t the best place to put your fantasy hopes. Plus, you could die. For serious.
  • Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles
    Angry Eagles do not give up a lot of running yards, especially to a guy that only has 98 of them this year. Abort.
  • Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers
    The swine flu and the 49ers defense have me doubting Harvin continues his touchdown streak into Week 3. He’s a decent flex if you gotta.

Sleeper of the Week

Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers
Supposedly, Marion Barber is going to come to play this weekend, but even if he does, Choice could steal more touches than usual. The Cowboys currently lead the league in rushing yards, and the Panthers haven’t been able to stop any running backs this season. There should be plenty to go around for both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

Barber’s quad is still going to be bothering him, and the Cowboys trust Choice to carry the rock even in critical situations. I love Choice if Barber sits, but he’s a desperation play even if Barber takes the field. If the game gets away from the Panthers, Choice should have an even better day than expected.

For those of you who missed it, you can glean some fantasy nuggets from Trey Wingo’s latest chat from Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m going strong after Week 2 of the BWW All-Star Blogger League. Thanks, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson.

For more fantasy football goodness, visit Fantasy Football Librarian’s weekly roundup, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Goat’s picks, FF Toolbox’s Week 3 starts and sits, The Fifth Down’s matchup breakdown and NFL.com’s recommendations.

As always, the comments are yours. Leave us your questions and concerns — and feel free to share your worries, Mr. Worry.

On the Wire: Week 3 Pickups and Sleepers

If your team is 0-2, you could use the help, but don’t do anything crazy. I know of a league where a man dropped Matt Schaub after his pitiful Week 1 performance. I will name no names, but I’m pretty sure he regrets that now. He should.

Your top picks deserve some time to find their footing, but dead weight like that second tight end, second defense or sleeper that is still napping are all good to drop this week. If you’re not sure who you should drop, leave your questions in the comments.

Several key players suffered some injuries this week. Even the great Favre broke a nail.

Things are looking down for Brandon Marshall, but Pierre Thomas owners have some hope that they could see Thomas back on the field in a big way soon with Mike Bell expected to miss some time.

Maybe Jason Campbell’s sprained foot explains his unimpressive play lately? Well, nope, that’s probably just him.

Here are a few guys that could help you shape up for Week 3:

Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore Ravens: As much as it pains me to say it, it looks like McGahee could outperform Ray Rice this year. He’s getting plenty of touches near the goal line while Rice sits on the sidelines. Get him while he’s hot. I’ll hold out for a Ray Rice resurgence.

Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Kolb likes to check it down to his tight end, but Celek was getting targets in Week 1 with McNabb as well. Look for him to have a solid season, and in PPR, he could get you some great numbers even when he doesn’t find the end zone.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: From the looks of it, Jacksonville will be throwing the ball quite a bit to get back in games this year. The name change doesn’t disguise that Walker was one of David Garrard’s favorite targets last season — when healthy, that is. I like Sims-Walker even more now that Troy Williamson is out, and he got the touchdown in Week 2.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants: From bust to must-have? Until Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon return, Manningham should start alongside Steve Smith. I’d rather have Smith, but Manningham looks like the big-play threat right now. He had 134 yards and a touchdown this week against my Cowboys.

Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants: When the Giants are forced to throw, Smith is the guy you want to own.

Johnny Knox, WR, Chicago Bears: Cutler looked to the speedy receiver in some key situations against the Steelers, and he got the touchdown grab. Cutler even chose to go to Knox when both Hester and Knox were open. With so many targets his way, Knox could be a factor moving forward. Consider him bench depth for now if you want to go out and get him.

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: This kid may make a solid backup fantasy quarterback after all.

Laurent Robinson, WR, St. Louis Rams: As I mentioned last week, Robinson is getting plenty of looks in St. Louis, even outperforming Donnie Avery. Don’t overlook him just because the Rams are so terrible. Okay, okay, you can overlook him.

Bobby Wade, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Wade stepped in to his new team in Week 2 and tied for most touches. Much like Robinson, the Chiefs struggles could see him catching a lot of passes, but he’s not much of a touchdown threat.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos: My pick to be the most productive running back in Denver this year, and he got a touchdown this week. But considering how many backs there are in that pack for the Broncos, you might just want to stay away from this one.

Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Owners who stashed him in your league may have given up after he seemed to be just a backup to Gore, but now that Gore has tweaked an ankle, he could some more work moving forward. Any back with Gore’s injury history and as many carries as he’ll get this year should miss at least one game, and I like coffee — the running back and the delicious caffeinated beverage.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Westbrook sprained his ankle in Week 2, and McCoy is a copycat replacement if Westbrook misses time. Savvy Westbrook owners already own him, but if not, grab him now and see what happens. Week 3 against the Chiefs looks promising.

Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: He’s got a sweet matchup against the Chiefs this week if McNabb sits again.

Byron Leftwich, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not to be relied on all season, Leftwich has started hot this year in games where he is forced to overcome the failings of the Tampa Bay defense. He won’t be starting all year with Josh Freeman waiting in the wings, but he’s worth a look if you’re starter is out or your backup is le suck.

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots: When Wes Welker is out, his stats will go to Edelman. It’s a perfect system in New England. With Welker expected to return, I wouldn’t recommend picking him up, but keep Edelman in mind next time Welker is inactive.

Justin Forsett, RB, Seattle Seahawks: We know that Julius Jones fades down the stretch, and Forsett contributed on Sunday against the 49ers surprising defense. Could he be the one to take over when Jones fails? Forsett’s got some long-term value if you can hold onto him for a bit.

New York Jets D/ST: They arrived this week in keeping the Patriots out of the end zone. No offensive touchdowns allowed in two games? I’ll take that.

San Francisco 49ers D/ST: One to watch. I’m not convinced they’re completely legit, but we’ll see how they do this week against Adrian Peterson.

For more waiver wire analysis…

As always, the comments are yours. If you need some help in reshaping your roster, leave your questions in the comments.

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