On the Wire: Week 5 Pickups, Drops and Bye Week Filler

I wanted to make a switch this past weekend at defense to sub in the New Orleans Saints D/ST for the Green Bay Packers D/ST.

Considering they had the same bye week and with some doubt in the Saints’ newly discovered fantasy worthiness, I was slow to make that change. I thought the Packers D/ST might somehow know how to beat Brett Favre.

On Sunday, ESPN’s server login problems kept me from reconsidering. Today, looking at a 10-point loss and a big three points from Green Bay’s defense, I very much regret that decision.

But it’s a lesson. Just goes to show you that you should always be aggressive. This week, with bye weeks hitting your team now or in the near future, it’s important to clear that dead weight from your roster.

That loss is going to sting for a good while. But now, let’s get to making things better for all involved. This week’s waiver wire pickups are in priority order, but your preference may vary depending on your own team needs. If you have any trouble choosing between these pickups or debating whom to drop from your current roster, leave a question in the comments to open it up to discussion.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
As long as Willie Parker stays down and out and as long as the Steelers face defensive lines like the Chargers’ weak one, Mendenhall is showing a lot of promise. Maybe the Steelers have a running game after all? In Sunday night’s game, Mendenhall rushed at will for 165 yards with 26 receiving yards and two touchdowns against San Diego. His next two games are against Detroit and Cleveland. Go get him while you can.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns
Now that the Browns have some kind of offense, it’s worth keeping tabs on their primary running back. James Davis is now on IR, which leaves Harrison as the best warm body behind the injured Jamal Lewis. Harrison rushed for 121 yards and caught 31 yards in the Browns loss to the Bengals. In PPR leagues, that makes for some decent bench depth. In non-PPR leagues, there’s a chance the Browns could show signs of life enough to make Harrison worthy of a play during bye weeks.

New Orleans Saints D/ST
I’ve now learned from my mistake and fully endorse this defense. At last check, they were second in the NFL in blitzing behind only the New York Jets. Add that to the play of Darren Sharper and the potential of Reggie Bush on special teams, and this unit looks to be reliable throughout 2009. If someone in your league drops them while they are on bye, make sure you are the one who picks them up by Week 6. Besides the Giants (Week 6) and Patriots (Week 12), the Saints have a schedule full of very winnable games the rest of this season.

San Francisco 49ers D/ST
The 49ers D/ST is also very legit this season and not on bye this week. Bonus!

David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
More than likely, he’s owned in your league, but in case you haven’t noticed, he’s looking like more than just a reliable bye week fill. The Jaguars can throw the ball–one year after I had to draft Garrard as part of a quarterback by committee in 2008.

Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Five catches for 70 yards and as touchdown. Sounds like he’s ready for that breakout year we’ve been expecting just as long as Brett Favre will accommodate. That late throw by Favre down the sidelines seems to suggest he won’t remain a game manager much longer.

Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Cleveland Browns
Just like his running back counterpart, Massaquoi had a pulse in the Browns game this week. His eight catches for 148 yards to Braylon Edwards zero catches may suggest that Edwards has fallen out of favor. Add to that accusations that Edwards punched a friend of LeBron James, an offense punishable by death in Cleveland, and I’m seeing stars align for Massaquoi to be the big-play threat of the Browns’ passing game. Sure, that’s not a big threat, but it’s something.

Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans
If the Titans keep digging a hole early in games, Washington should see even more targets. He’s a more elusive wide receiver than Justin Gage with the ball in his hands, and he could be a decent bye week fill against the Colts and Patriots these next two weeks.

Josh Morgan, WR, San Francisco 49ers
He came out against the Rams and should have had two scores. He’s the best receiver the 49ers have on their current roster, and the 49ers may look to throw more regularly as long as Gore remains out. All good reasons to have Morgan on your team if someone else gave up on him.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
Finley’s 128 yards and one touchdown performance was the breakout game we were all waiting for this season, and Donald Lee’s critical drop may have the Packers turning to Finley for an even larger role after their bye week. He’s certainly one of, if not the most promising tight end to own as a TE2 at this point in the season. Pick him up if you have the roster space or have a need at tight end. Otherwise, wait to see how he does after the bye.

Josh Johnson, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I told you that I liked this kid. Coach Raheem Morris does, too. But don’t throw him in there against the Philadelphia Eagles, coming off of a bye, this week. Let him incubate.

Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland Browns
The Browns are alive in the hands of Anderson. As long as you can live with his mistakes, he has a nice matchup against the Bills this week.

Seneca Wallace, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Wallace could make for reliable bye-week filler against the Jaguars this week, but he’s a dangerous choice since Hasselbeck could return this week. Watch the practice reports before you go get him.

And now the ones you should just keep an eye on…

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
As the passing game comes alive, so does Lewis, but don’t jump on him unless you are desperate for him after his 76-yard, one touchdown performance this week.

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets
He didn’t get a significant number of carries on Sunday, but he saw the field. This showing wasn’t enough to say he’s taking a role in the offense, but we could see him takeover if Thomas Jones continues to decline in comparison to Leon Washington. By season’s end, it could be Greene and Washington splitting time, and that would certainly make him worth owning. He’s a stash in deeper leagues.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Denver Broncos
Hillis could be in line for more carries if Correll Buckhalter misses this week’s game with a sprained ankle. Against the Patriots, Hillis might be productive, but he’d likely split time with Knowshon Moreno and LaMont Jordan. If you’re looking to long shot, he’s not a terrible one this week.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins didn’t put the game in his hands on Sunday, but he looked promising against the Bills. His schedule gets brutal for the next three to four weeks, but look for him to show what he can offer starting in Week 9. His playoff schedule could make him a sneaky play.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
He’s not a must-have just yet, but Nicks showed why he was drafted this week with that quick stop-and-go at the goal line for his first NFL touchdown. Mario Manningham took a back seat in this one, and that might be the trend going forward. But don’t get any ideas. Steve Smith is still the No. 1 receiver in New York, and he’s a solid fantasy option for the rest of the season.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
He isn’t getting enough playing time early in games to justify owning him in most leagues, but Britt could be in line for more catches as the third receiver in the Titans offense when they face the Colts this week. Britt had 105 receiving yards this week against the Jaguars.

Guys you should already own by now: Vernon Davis, 49ers; Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Tashard Choice, Cowboys; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers.

Guys you can drop if you so choose: Chris Henry, Bengals; Darren McFadden, Raiders; Michael Bush, Raiders; Zach Miller, Raiders (especially now that he’s concussed); anyone else, Raiders; James Davis, Browns (He’s on IR, silly, and should only be kept in dynasty leagues at this point.); Earnest Graham, Buccaneers; Mike Bell, Saints, Jason Campbell, Redskins.

As an addendum to this week’s On the Wire, see which players I picked as the best “buy low” and “sell high” candidates in last week’s Fourth & 1 debate roundtable, hosted by Top Fantasy Football.

For more waiver wire grabs, check out Fantasy Football Librarian’s two collections, Fanhouse, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and FF Toolbox’s deep league and standard league pickups.

As always, the comments are yours. Ask us a question. We love to answer them.

Foolish Thoughts: Are you ready for some football?

The final weekend of the preseason might be the worst week as an NFL fan. Starters play only a few minutes while coaches get a look at the rest of the depth chart to make final cuts, and we all know that in just one more week the games will actually mean something. While the Labor Day weekend appeased us with some college football action, real NFL football is now just days away.

Hopefully, you had a good draft without falling victim to many common mistakes. It won’t be long before we see all those third-year wide receivers breaking out and all those high-workload running backs breaking down, or will they?

Big News This Week

In a surprise move, the Detroit Lions declared Matthew Stafford their starter against New Orleans. I expected Stafford to get the call eventually this year, but Daunte Culpepper had outplayed him in camp and in the preseason until his foot injury — oh, the dangers of carpet. Culpepper was expected to at least start the year under center before handing it off to Stafford.

With the golden boy taking the heat right away, don’t expect a Matt Ryan rookie season out of Stafford. He’s a young rookie, and there will be plenty of hard times this season to go along with all the good ones. He actually takes a bit away from Calvin Johnson in my mind since he’s likely to turnover the ball as many times as he gets it down the field.

Tampa Bay also shocked us this weekend. Not by firing their offensive coordinator — there are plenty of people doing that — but by naming Cadillac Williams, the man with the bionic knees, as their starter. Williams will still be splitting time with Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham in some kind of sinful 2-2-1 RBBC combo, but on any given Sunday, he’ll get the first crack at the defense and the first chance to shine. That’s worth something.

Now that you’ve drafted

With your team assembled, this week’s a great time to take care of a few housekeeping issues. Have you checked out how well your backup quarterback fits your starter’s bye week? Have you looked at how your team stacks up for the fantasy playoffs?

These things are good to keep in mind heading into the season. Knowing you have a bad matchup in the playoffs will allow you to start shopping a player in the middle of the season and unload him for something of equal or greater value that can get you to the championship.

I am not too afraid of Green Bay’s tough road in the fantasy playoffs, but Washington looks more and more like a team to get rid of quickly this year.

Shots in the Dark

With the excitement of the preseason, bold statements come out of the woodwork. Unless you’re just looking at the facts and only the facts, you’re probably expecting one of the following predictions to come true. How good do you feel about it now that we enter into the first week of games that matter?

Well, we’ve read all about that. Now, we get to see what comes true. Look out for our starter recommendations and the rest of your weekly prep this week as we begin fantasy football season with a bang.

And so begins our fantasy football addiction…

[You can check in with Norm's latest struggles with fantasy addiction over at Global Sports Fraternity.]

Guest Post: Three RBBCs to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

This second guest post comes to us all the way across the pond from Ross Mooring of Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth. This article is a follow up to his first guest post on three RBBCs to avoid in your drafts this season.

It’s now time to look at the running-back-by-committees (RBBC) that fantasy owners should try to monopolize in drafts this year. In most cases, fantasy players should study RBBC situations and draft only the favorites to receive the most carries when the time is right, but some teams possess running backs who collectively are undervalued or that, when drafted together, increase the value and reliability of those players.

Dallas Cowboys

A fit (well, fitter) Marion Barber is a surefire fantasy workhorse. One of the toughest running backs in the game, Barber is not only a threat on the goal line but also receiving out of the backfield. He will get every yard available.

MBIII has shockingly been falling to the beginning of the third round in 12-team drafts, mainly because of the presence of Felix Jones. This fall makes Barber an absolute steal given his propensity to carry the rock into the end zone on a weekly basis.

Jones still represents draft value at the very end of the sixth round, but here’s the clincher: the two of them offer different skill sets, don’t mutually deplete fantasy value very much and will be given enough touches to produce fantasy points.

Barber cannot carry the ball 25 times per game without breaking down while Jones is a threat in space, not in short-yardage situations. Take both with glee, and if you smell an injury, Tashard Choice won’t be waiver-wire fodder for long.

Indianapolis Colts

I’m making a joke, right? The Colts’ backfield, the very same backfield that struggled immensely in 2008, is one of the top three to target in 2009? Yes, it is!

Last year, not only did Joseph Addai have injury problems, but so did three of his offensive linemen and Peyton Manning. All have returned to good health this season. One must remember that Indianapolis is an offensive machine — always has been, always will be. At least while Manning is around…

Between Addai and rookie Donald Brown, we either have one back who will produce RB1 stat lines or two backs who will post RB2 and RB3 numbers. At the very worst, drafting both guarantees you will have insurance against an Addai injury.

You can wait on taking a second back through the first three or even four rounds — yes, Addai has been falling that far (ADP: 5.08!) — and secure the most undervalued RBBC in all of football in the sixth or seventh round.

Just make sure you don’t get arrested for robbery at the end of the year.

San Diego Chargers

The word on the grapevine is that last year was an offensive hiccup for San Diego, not in terms of total output but in the fact that the Chargers succeeded by passing the football and not running it.

With an improved defense (Shawne Merriman single-handedly improves this unit), why not control the game by slowing it down on the ground and letting Philip Rivers air it out with play action when necessary?

With LaDainian Tomlinson hitting the big 3-0 and Darren Sproles not yet a seasoned pro, one could be forgiven for doubting them, but L.T. is a once-in-a-decade back. A single season of wear and tear is not going to bring him down. A pick in the latter half of the first round — anywhere after that is a steal — represents value.

The kicker is that Sproles, who is playing under a franchise tag, is not going until late in the eighth round. If you’re in the right draft slot, take them both and sleep well knowing you have guaranteed yourself some big production at running back.

And one more bonus RBBC…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Editor’s Note: Tampa Bay was originally the third team to target until recent news revealed the 2-2-1 split they plan to use with Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams. Take these words as you will now that we know this committee will be very divided...

Tampa Bay is one of a couple of backfields that will be drafted late, mainly because of the lack of standout names but also because the statistical ceiling isn’t quite as sexy as it is elsewhere.

Make no mistake, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham will consistently notch points for fantasy owners in 2009 — the former with the bulk of the carries and the latter with the bulk of the touchdowns.

The advantage of this RBBC is that Tampa Bay does not have much of a passing game to hang its hat on. Antonio Bryant is unpredictable and potentially unreliable, and the same could be said of Kellen Winslow and his health issues. On top of that, the quarterback situation is confusing, and there seems to be little reason for Raheem Morris to do anything but lean on the run.

Ward has been drafted right at the end of the fourth round (steal), and Graham has seen his number called as late as the end of the tenth round (bigger steal!).

Do you agree or disagree with Ross on these RBBCs to target? As always, the comments are yours. Read more of Ross’ writing at Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs by ADP

Many a fantasy football site will give you rankings. Most of the time, that’s enough for you to make your decisions when drafting a fantasy team, but I like to add a little depth to my rankings by incorporating the “players to avoid” tag.

You see, not every player is desirable, even if they are the No. 5-ranked running back on the board. Some bad situations may not compel experts to rank a player lower, and at times, there’s no logical reason behind disliking a player other than that icky feeling you get when he’s the next player in your rankings. Regardless, we still have every right to avoid a guy in the draft.

If I had only listened to that inner “pick or pass” feeling when it came time for me to make my first round selection in 2007, I might have never taken Larry Johnson with a mid-first-round pick … and that would have made all the difference.

For this first addition of “pick or pass,” I gathered the top 24 running backs ranked by average draft position (ADP) over at Fantasy Football Calculator to break down. The rankings were current as of July 15, 2009. If you have any more reservations about players that I don’t touch on here or just find yourself wanting to share your agreement, please tell me about your concerns and tips in the comments.

Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 1.01 – PICK
So what if he is the unanimous No. 1 running back? Some guys still don’t love him first overall. No one says you have to take him — even if you league boos (and they will). Despite my personal distrust of Peterson, I would “pick” Peterson at the No. 1 because of his explosive potential and the huge tradebait he becomes if you want to do a little preseason maneuvering before the first game of the season. You can’t go wrong with the player everyone expects to be the best, right?

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
Everybody loves the bowling-ball receiving back from the Jacksonville Jaguars. While I dislike him here at the No. 2 spot, he’s still a “pick” for me somewhere in the top five. Unless the offensive line pulls another Humpty Dumpty routine, Jones-Drew should have all the chances in the world to put up RB1-worthy stats. Then again, if you’re not a Jacksonville fan … you may hold off on Jones-Drew at the No. 2 because we all know he’ll still share the rock with Greg Jones this season, even if it’s not as much as he shared it with Fred Taylor.

3. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
He’s just barely a “pick” because he’s such a safe choice. Yes, his schedule is tougher. Yes, he ran many, many times last season. Yes, his quarterback’s other weapons are improved this season, but look again at how many chances Michael Turner had near the goal line last year. Turner can only benefit from more movement up and down the field, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on him anywhere in the top five.

4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears –   ADP: 1.04 – PICK
The little rookie back that could last season, Forte was the definition of consistent. If he didn’t get a touchdown, he got 100+ yards — and he always got 100+ yards. Jay Cutler under center should shake things up, but much like Turner, making the weapons more dangerous only makes me like Forte more. He’s a “pick” anywhere in the top five as well.

5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – ADP: 1.06 – PASS
Ah, the first “pass” of the running back class rears its ugly head at No. 5. Steven Jackson is one of the most talented backs in the league, and the Rams plan to make him a workhorse this season. Still, I’m just not feeling his health and the team play in St. Louis. The Rams have very little receiver talent, a banged-up veteran at quarterback in Bulger and not much to make opposing defenses look at anyone but … you guessed it … Jackson. He may get plenty of carries and quite a few yards, but I’ll “pass.”

6. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 1.08 – PASS
Sermons have been written on why LaDainian Tomlinson faded last season and how much you need to believe in him this year, but they’re all blasphemy, my friend. If it looks like the end of his career and it talks like the end of his career, it’s probably a duck … and perhaps I missed something in the argument I was trying to make there. Here’s the point: he’s aging, Darren Sproles is franchise-tagged and looking to impress his way out of San Diego and the Chargers window for a Super Bowl victory is closing faster than Tom Brady can buy new flower boxes. If L.T. stays healthy for the entire season, he’s likely to put up numbers close to his old averages, but this high in the draft, I’d still “pass.”

7. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – ADP: 1.08 – PICK
The reason you’d pass on a guy like Steven Jackson or L.T. is right here at No. 7. Chris Johnson has the speed to burn you, and the team to grind you into the ground. I’m not scared of LenDale White unless I’m covered in donut glaze. Johnson is just the kind of young running back in a run-oriented offense that I would want to lead me into battle each week — fantasy battle, that is. I’d pick him before Jackson, L.T. or DeAngelo Williams.

8. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – ADP: 1.11 – PASS
“Pass, pass, pass.” I went into more detail about how painful DeAngelo’s second season as a starter could be when I compared him to Michael Turner in Truth or Fiction. Here’s the short version: a better Jonathan Stewart means fewer carries to go around, a tougher schedule means it’ll be more difficult to score touchdowns and a weaker offensive line means less holes to run through. I’ll “pass” on Williams this season because he’s just not worth the risk.

9. Steve Slaton, Houston Texans – ADP: 1.11 – PICK
Slaton had a solid amount of carries close to the red zone just as Michael Turner did last season, but Slaton was basically the only running back left standing in Houston for most of the season. With bigger backs like Chris Brown and the new guy, Jeremiah Johnson, around, he may lose those touches, but he won’t lose that speed that kept him on the field last season. Slaton was one of the best surprises of 2008, and I’d “pick” him again in 2009.

10. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 2.01 – PICK
It’s all a bit of a toss up when it comes to the 49ers. All those words from the coaches about a running-based offense is great, but I want to make sure they’re actually going to put points on the board this season. Gore should tote the rock without too much sharing, and unlike the Rams and Steven Jackson, the 49ers should have enough other weapons to make Gore productive. I’d “pick” him.

11. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles – ADP: 2.04 – PASS
Westy’s been an injury concern for several seasons, but this year, I might actually count that against him. His offseason surgeries and the addition of LeSean McCoy are just enough to make me want to hold off on him this year. I’d take him as a mid-range RB2, but I’ll “pass” here with bigger fish still left in the sea.

12. Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants – ADP: 2.05 – PICK
If the word “pick” could sound more intimidating and bulky, I would use it here. Jacobs is a quality pick for the second round. Without Derrick Ward, he should have more yardage than he did last season. Regardless, we know he scores touchdowns. Without Plaxico Burress, one can only hope that the Giants forget how to do anything but run this season.

13. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins – ADP: 2.07 – PICK
Portis took his shots last season and still came out on the other side. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to play through all his injuries, but the man is consistent — one of the most consistent at his position over the years. I like him a tad less this season just because of his workload, even though I don’t think that it will slow his productivity. What does concern me is the team around him coming into this season. Jason Campbell is in his “make or break” year in Washington after all the trade talks this offseason, and there’s talk of Colt Brennan getting a shot before season’s end if Campbell can’t prove his worth. That spells a hard year for Portis, and it’s just enough to tempt me to take Barber instead. Portis still deserves a “pick.”

14. Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 2.11 – PICK
The touchdown machine in Dallas runs only for this man. Barber could be in line for more this season if the Cowboys move towards a more run-focused attack. Even if they don’t, the running game has always made Barber productive. Normally a first round back in the parts where I draft (Texas), I see no reason not to make him a “pick.”

15. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins – ADP: 3.04 – PASS
For being the quarterback in the Wildcat and the “starting” running back for Miami, I expected more from Ronnie Brown last season. By the end of 2008, he was practically worthless. Ricky Williams is still around to demand some carries, and now there is talk of letting Patrick Cobbs get more touches. I just don’t feel Brown here in the second/third round. I like my starting two running backs to be dependable. Sorry, Brown, I’ll “pass.”

16. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 3.06 – PICK
I’m surprised to see Thomas trending this high in ADP since most rankings project him as a fourth-round acquisition. He’s a quality running back and deserving of the ranking … but really? No. 16 at running back? With the scoreboard the Saints put together and the struggles of Reggie Bush, I don’t expect Thomas to disappoint. He’ll be worth this “pick.”

17. Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 3.09 – PICK
Oh, how low the mighty have fallen. Grant was thought of as a top-10 with upside that could make him a top-five last season. Then injury struck. Grant’s still high on my list, and I’ll give him credit for finishing strong in 2008. I’ll “pick” him here and consider him better than the likes of Ronnie Brown.

18. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions – ADP: 3.11 – PASS
This is it! This is Kevin’s year to carry the rock. Can’t you hear the screams right this moment? If Matthew Stafford gets the nod, the Lions are definitely going to be running the ball this season, but I haven’t become a Smith believer just yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t blow up this year, but it does mean I’m willing to take my chances elsewhere. The move to a new style of running offense, away from what Smith is used to, doesn’t make me feel good about his chances this season. “Pass.”

19. Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 4.05 – PICK
Suspension or not, Lynch is one of the grinding backs in this league. No. 19 is still a little rich for my tastes with those games missed at the beginning of the season, and Fred Jackson has a great deal more upward mobility as the guy who will start those games and contribute all season. But Lynch is the guy in Buffalo, and with an improved offensive attack — even if their O-line has taken a step back — he’s worthy of a “pick.”

20. Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 4.06 – PASS
He’s a better receiver than a running back, so unless you have a sucker who would trade you a real gem in a package for this circus show, I’d “pass” outside of PPR leagues. I am not convinced he can stay healthy enough to fill the role of a running back, and as a gimmick player, his value is limited. But if he falls into a bargain round, I can’t say I would still refuse him.

21. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos – ADP: 4.10 – PASS
I’m not a believer in the new Denver coach, and I’m not a fan of rookie running backs when they are accompanied by a real pack — and I do mean “pack” — of veterans. Even if Moreno wins the starting job, how much of it will he win? I’d rather take the “wait and see” approach with KnowMo. (Does anyone call him “KnowMo” now? Because I really want to now … I won’t pick him “KnowMo.”)

22. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – ADP: 4.12 – PICK
He didn’t get his shot last season with all the injury trouble and that dastardly Justin Fargas, but with a season under his belt, I’d “pick” him to earn his place among the high-performing rookies from last season. No one likes to fall behind, and McFadden has plenty of ground to make up.

23. Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 5.02 – PICK
All alone in Tampa Bay with no “Earth” or “Fire” for his “Wind,” Ward should have plenty of opportunities to show why the Giants used him as much as they did last season. Ward is a “pick,” even if he ends up getting a “change of pace” tag and yields red zone chances to Earnest Graham. He’ll earn his time just like he did with Brandon Jacobs.

24. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 5.03 – PICK
From top-five to No. 24? Even with rookie Donald Brown breathing down his neck, I have no fear in taking Addai in the third round and beyond. The Colts’ offensive line was pretty terrible last season without Jeff Saturday. A healthy Peyton and a healthy Saturday make for a good Sunday for Addai. He’s a “pick” in my book.

Agree with my picks and passes or disagree? The comments are yours.

On the Wire: Week 16 Pickups and Playoff One-offs

If you’re still playing fantasy football, your roster should be locked up pretty tight. Why are you even reading this article?

For the sake of those of you with injuries and/or in need of a weekly sub to blow away your heavily favored opponent, I guess I can still give you a few names that might be out there on your wire if your league is just very, very silly.

Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints
Obviously, he should be owned in all leagues by now, especially after posting his high score last week, but he’s worth mentioning since he plays the Lions this week.

Make sure he’s not sitting on the wire when you go into your games tonight. Do it for me, okay? For me.

Cadillac Williams, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He’s gotten back on the wagon these last few weeks and done some damage. Can you trust him in the playoffs? I think he might be worth a spot fill here or there when you need him, but it’s very likely you can do better, Mr. Playoffs. Cadillac benefits a bit because he plays two teams who are done for the season these next two weeks, the Chargers and the Raiders.

If you’re in the kind of keeper league that only requires you to rank waiver wire grabs as a 10th round or later selections, it might also be a sneaky play to snag Caddy in anticipation of his role next season. Fully healthy, Cadillac should reclaim the starting role from Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn.

DeShaun Foster, RB San Francisco 49ers
Foster is only a factor if Frank Gore sits again this week, but how nice would it be to have a running back going against the Rams?

He might trump your starter if you have someone like Marion Barber, banged up and facing a rough Baltimore defense.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts
I don’t love him this week with Joseph Addai likely to return against Jacksonville on Thursday night, but he’s definitely the preferred back for the scoring. The Colts, they like the scoring.

P.J. Pope, RB Denver Broncos
Shanahan strikes again! [Evil laugh] I wouldn’t want to touch Pope this week, but you might pick him up just for the sake of preventing your opponent taking a chance with him … and beating you.

Pope does play the Bills, who are pretty much done for the season now, and almost any back can productive when defenses have to focus on stopping Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and Jay Cutler.

Note that since I didn’t mention him, Tatum Bell will dominate as the leading rusher on Sunday while Pope gets only a handful of carries — such is the Broncos backfield.

Tarvaris Jackson, QB Minnesota Vikings
So here’s the deal. Tarvaris came back on the scene last week as a suspect play against the Cardinals and absolutely blew the game out of the water with four touchdowns. Not a lot of yardage on the day, but really, you should quit complaining.

This week, the little project quarterback that could faces the Atlanta Falcons, who are fighting to stay in the playoff hunt. Even with a weak secondary, the Falcons are probably going to step up to stop Jackson, but there’s always a chance…

Matt Schaub, QB Houston Texans
For a good while there, he was hurt. How many 300-yard games must he have before you take notice?

If Schaub is on your waiver wire, you need to have him on a roster. He gets the Raiders this week with the potential for rain, but if the skies are clear, Schaub could fill them with passes just as Matt Cassel did in Week 15 against the Raiders.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers
Second only to picking up a running back that plays the Rams is grabbing yourself a quarterback that plays the Rams.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
Did everyone in your league give up on him during that stretch of worthlessness? He’s been pretty productive lately since Kyle Orton’s return, so I wouldn’t call you names for playing him this week against the Packers. No, really, I promise.

He might be better than the guy you’ve been starting at WR2 or WR3 like an unreliable Lee Evans.

Deion Branch, WR Seattle Seahawks
Branch is another pickup/drop guy that’s been on and off teams all season.

If you find him “off” and in the free agent pool at the moment, you might want to at least plant him on a roster this weekend so that he doesn’t help your opponent’s team with some yardage or, heaven forbid, a score against the Jets.

For all other issues of replacement or swaps, ask and ye shall receive (in the comments).

Week 9 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

One of my fantasy football teams has done remarkably well through the first half of the season. After starting 5-0, I traded away some of my starters for underperforming stars that I believed would lead me to victory in the second half.

As of this week, I have assembled what I would call the Pro Bowl of fantasy teams. Surviving my bye weeks, this is my starting lineup for Week 9: QB Peyton Manning (but David Garrard might sneak in there); RBs Brian Westbrook, Matt Forte; WRs Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Lee Evans; TE Kellen Winslow; D/ST Arizona Cardinals; K Matt Prater.

And that’s in a 14-team league. I’m projected to score 144.5 points this weekend by the sometimes conservative, sometimes drunk with power ESPN projections.

This should be a good weekend.

Hot Hands

Kyle Orton, QB Bears vs. Lions — What? Orton is tied with Peyton Manning as the No. 10 fantasy quarterback right now, and he could finish as one of the top-six QBs? I feel sick. He plays the Lions this week and already posted his best performance of the season against them in Week 5 (300+ passing yards and two TDs). He could beat that. He’ll probably pass Peyton Manning, and then I’m probably going to punch myself in the face…twice.

Chad Pennington, QB Dolphins vs. Broncos — You would think that I would hate recommending guys like Pennington, but to tell you the truth, I love it. I love saying a guy is worth a start when everyone hates on him 24/7. Pennington, in my opinion, is not a bad dude. This week, he gets to play “score the most points” with Jay Cutler, but Pennington gets to throw against a defense that can’t stop the run and will be missing Champ Bailey, the only person who really stops the pass. If Ted Ginn Jr. looks good again, I still won’t believe it’s not a fluke — maybe after Week 10.

Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Jaguars vs. Bengals — You have to start Jones-Drew in this one, but even Taylor might get back to his old ways against the Bengals weak rushing defense (28th in the NFL). Expect David Garrard to continue to use the pass more than the Jags did last season, which should open it up when Jones-Drew and Taylor run. Unless he breaks one, Taylor should get some good yardage, but he’s more a bubble/sleeper pick than Jones-Drew at this point.

Earnest Graham, RB Bucs vs. Chiefs — “My turn, my turn, my turn!” If Warrick Dunn can’t go again because of his back, Graham should have his best performance of the season. If that doesn’t leave you satisfied and smiling, you have no soul.

Ronnie Brown, RB Dolphins vs. Broncos — Expect him to make up for that piss-poor performance against the Bills. The Dolphins coaches held him back, not the Bills defense. The ‘Wildcat’ will return, baby!

Kevin Walter, WR Texans vs. Vikings — The Vikings have a weak secondary, and Matt Schaub has been throwing the ball like a champ the last three weeks since returning from his illness. As long as Johnson is being shut down, Walter should reap the benefits of working against the abused, second corner of the Vikings secondary. Walter and Owen Daniels will have to substitute for a running game with short passes against the No. 2 rushing defense.

Donnie Avery, WR Rams vs. Cardinals — Maybe if Avery shotguns a beer, lights himself on fire and then blows through coverage to score from 40+ yards out, defensive coordinators will pay attention to him. For now, the Cardinals’ attention will be on Torry Holt, and Avery should impress in a home game against this weaker secondary.

John Carlson, TE Seahawks vs. Eagles — Carlson is the team’s leading receiver, and stopping the tight end has been a problem for Philly several times this season. Carlson should get back on pace after being forgotten in the stomping of the 49ers last week.

Bubble Boys

Peyton Manning, QB Colts vs. Patriots — Manning is on the bubble anytime he faces a well-put-together defense. While the Patriots aren’t quite that, they have been able to get to Manning even in his prime. Expect Belichick to try to take advantage of the tied-with-Kyle-Orton quarterback this week. He’ll produce even in a loss — as he did against the Titans — but if you have better, less bucketheaded options…

Willis McGahee, RB Ravens vs. Browns — The Browns run defense has stopped the run when they were determined to do so (allowing 53 yards rushing for Jacksonville last week), but they still rank as one of the worst run defenses out there, despite using unorthodox methods like all those eye pokes they gave McGahee when they faced the Ravens in Week 3. McGahee has looked much better since coming off the injury report, but rookie Ray Rice is still on his heels and now getting carries. I am not sure which way this game is going to go, but the Ravens will run the ball. It’s just not as favorable a matchup as it appears on paper.

Steve Slaton, RB Texans vs. Vikings — The No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL against a rookie RB who was held down by the Bengals a little last week? There’s a chance he breaks the big play, but this matchup has bubble written all over it.

Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, WR Jets vs. Bills — Coles and Cotchery are more experienced receivers than Ted Ginn Jr. and Greg Camarillo, but will the Bills corners still not be back in sync this week? Favre has looked like a rookie the last few weeks, and I don’t trust him unless I have to this week.

Greg Jennings, WR Packers vs. Titans — Jennings faces the Titans’ lockdown secondary this week, but the Titans will have their hands full. Jennings had his best game of the season against the Bucs tough defense in Week 4, so owners shouldn’t be scared of using him in this one. He might not build on his 18.5 yards per catch average, but he won’t be taken out of this game plan.

Roddy White, WR Falcons vs. Raiders — There’s some insider trading going on in this one. DeAngelo Hall used to work against White in practice, but that was back before White was such a dominating force in the receiving game. Do you think Hall will know how to get to White? On the other side of the field, Nnamdi Asomugha will be trying to make White’s life tough. So the question becomes, which DeAngelo Hall will we see this week when the Falcons are trying to get White out of Asomugha’s shadow? I like White’s chances.

Cold Shoulders

Marshawn Lynch, RB Bills vs. Jets — The Jets rank fourth in run defense, so Week 9 should be a hard week for Lynch. He’s had his performance limited by Fred Jackson, and he hasn’t hit 100 yards in single game yet. If you are strong at RB, it might be in your best interest sit Lynch this week rather than chance that he gets a touchdown.

Jamal Lewis, RB Browns vs. Ravens — Homie don’t play that. The Ravens are going to keep Lewis down all day. It took Peyton Manning shredding their secondary for Dominic Rhodes to score a rushing touchdown, and Derek Anderson might not be capable of creating that kind of opportunity this week. If Lewis doesn’t score, his performance could make you curl up into the fetal position and cry.

Ryan Grant, RB Packers vs. Titans – If you’re clawing around for his breakout performance this season after he finally got a touchdown against the Colts, don’t. The Packers aren’t likely to try and run the ball on the Titans much, and Albert Haynesworth eats babies.

Clinton Portis, RB Redskins vs. Steelers — I know you’re not going to sit him. I know. (I probably wouldn’t either.) But for the sake of conversation, let’s just talk for a minute. If I am the Steelers, I’m going to focus on stopping the run — as always — and try to get into Jason Campbell’s head, despite the futility of that since he hasn’t thrown an interception all season. If I’m the Redskins, I’m going to look to abuse the fact that their starting free safety and one starting cornerback are out. Every time they play Troy Polamalu close to the line to stop the run, I’m chunking a pass to Chris Cooley, exposed with plenty of room to run. Maybe Cooley will get another touchdown. He wants one. Now, knowing that game plan that I just made up in my head, Portis *might* not be such a good start, but his involvement in the passing game and the likelihood that you have no better makes this entire paragraph almost worthless.

Terrell Owens, WR Cowboys vs. Giants — He led the team in receptions last week but still didn’t even get 35 yards. Why would you take a chance with him against a team that’s even better at harassing the QB? Brad Johnson is not going to be able to make it happen for Owens this week…again.

Tony Scheffler, TE Broncos vs. Dolphins — It’s his first game back from injury, and the Dolphins have been very good about limiting tight ends. Besides, don’t you think Jay Cutler wants to show Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal how he perfected his throwing motion during the bye? Let Scheffler have the week off to prove his worth.

Sleepers

Steve Smith, WR Giants vs. Cowboys — If the Cowboys lock up Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith should play the open field and have above-average numbers. The Cowboys secondary is hurting too much to stop both WRs in the Giants passing attack. But Smith’s day will require “Playoffs Eli” to show up rather than the Eli Manning that’s been looking like garbage the past few weeks.

Donald Lee, TE Packers vs. Titans — Dallas Clark was able to expose the Titans in the middle of the field. If the Packers are smart, they’ll use a similar plan with Lee this week.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 5: And another three bite the dust?

These sudden, mysterious and largely unreported injuries have got to stop. Last week, Carson Palmer was a late scratch. This week, the victim was Matt Schaub, who was hit by a virus the night before the game.

I normally set lineups Saturday night and then let them run, but this sudden injury plague makes me want to start checking again five minutes before game time on Sunday…and then at four minutes, two minutes and one minute until kickoff.

Thanks to the virus, Matt Schaub turned over the reigns to Sage Rosenfels. He looked like he was the hero of the Texan-kind…until he decided to go airborne. When, as a quarterback (and a big one at that), do you EVER think to go airborne to make a play? It wasn’t even a necessary hurdle attempt.

Stay on the ground and slide, Sage. The air will only hurt you. You are NOT Reggie Bush.

Rosenfels ended the day with 246 yards and a TD but gave Texans fans two fumbles and an interception in the fourth quarter and more than enough reasons for Texans fans to stop whimpering that they would rather see Sage starting instead of Schaub. The not-so-wise Sage gave the game away in the fourth quarter in the home opener. That doesn’t win you hearts.

We saw three more QBs go down in the midst of games this week. Matt Hasselbeck (knee), Trent Edwards (concussion) and Brian Griese (shoulder) all got taken out of Sunday’s games, but they managed better than Damon Huard.

Huard owners WISH he had been taken out sooner to make the hurting stop. Daunte Culpepper was a better start than Huard this week.

Who thought there would ever be a week where J.P. Losman, Seneca Wallace, Jeff Garcia and Tyler Thigpen would all have to take over an offense? My hand is not raised.

Kyle Orton scored more fantasy points than Tony Romo and Jay Cutler this week. In fact, he tied Aaron Rodgers and Big Ben for the best QB performance of the week. I am not saying that again.

He was playing Detroit, but do you realize that he’s scored more points than Tony Romo and Jay Cutler over the last three weeks? I think I’m going to be sick.

When did the Packers get so easy to run on? Injuries and poor run stopping are making this unit very droppable.

Chargers couldn’t handle the single-wing, ‘Wildcat’ formation either. I guess the Dolphins have found something special, and Ronnie Brown is a big part of that. Pennington is like a David Garrard circa last year. He is not going to win your game, but he’s probably good for 12 points from time to time.

The Giants looked impressive against Seattle, but they’re also coming off a bye. No, they don’t need Plax to be successful. Domenik Hixon was a sufficient replacement with big play ability. Who took me up on that sleeper pick?

My thoughts on Jerheme Urban weren’t nearly as spot on, but Breaston didn’t impress either. In a blowout, Larry Fitzgerald was the man. That Tim Hightower kid is worth putting on a roster. You are almost a lock for six or more points with guys like that — vultures.

I think the Arizona defense was angry about getting embarrassed last week, and they took it out on Trent Edwards early. If Edwards is out for any length of time, it shouldn’t take anything away from Lee Evans. We know from Losman’s time under center that he likes to push the long ball to Evans, and he did. Losman may be a little sloppy at times, but there are far worse backup QBs in the NFL (see: Brad Johnson).

Washington just keeps shocking the NFC powerhouses. They were supposed to be the bottom of the barrel in the NFC East, not defeat the Cowboys and Eagles in back-to-back games. I don’t see them doing it twice. For once, Santana Moss was shut down by a defense this year, but Portis went off instead. That’ll take the Eagles down a few notches on run defense.

The Chiefs are miserable. Larry Johnson’s only going to be successful behind this line when the run defense is terrible. Maybe the ‘Wildcat’ formation should come to K.C.? I don’t think that will help — even though getting the ball out of Thigpen’s hands would be an improvement.

Watch out for Jamaal Charles. He might be the next Chris Perry. Oh, and the next Chris Perry might be Cedric Benson.

Kerry Collins made the best case to bring back Vince Young Sunday, and then he (sort of) made a case to keep his job there on the final drive against the Ravens. If Collins is going to throw just as many INTs and not play smart football, I don’t see why Vince Young doesn’t jump back in for the Titans. If they wanted to move away from VY as QB, they would have kept Chris Simms on the roster — unless spleens are really that important to functioning as an NFL quarterback.

Sitting a healthy Vince Young behind Kerry Collins will NOT improve his passer rating. I’ve seen experiments.

Marty Booker and Reggie Wayne are competing in a best hands competition. Next week, they are going to catch a ball with one finger. The “buy low” on Peyton Manning has already passed, but if you can get it, get it. I just have a feeling.

Without Griese, the Bucs look like the same boring team that got stomped in the playoffs last year. If the Broncos could stop the run, the score might have been even lower.

Oh, and Earnest Graham owners, this RB split looks like a full committee approach, and Dunn got the extra carry (11 of 21 total carries by the Bucs) on Sunday. He also had the better yardage per carry. Be afraid. Dunn is not done! (Had to say it. Under contract. Now, go buy the bumper sticker.)

That Matt Prater can really kick, can’t he? The rest of the Broncos kept it relatively quiet so as not to anger the Bucs’ big-pass-hunting defense.

The Bengals at Dallas was like a game of failures. I am not even sure if the Cowboys should have won. If not for a right place, right time grab by Crayton, they might not have. Romo will get the passing game together soon. It’s not like he’s having bad days in the meantime, but removing the interceptions and fumbles from his scoring would be nice.

By the way, I think it’s safe to say that Miles Austin has passed up Patrick Crayton. The missed TD pass to Austin was very symbolic if you want to think deeply about it. (Don’t hurt yourself; I’ll handle it.) Austin outproduced Crayton in Week 3 and Week 4, and the only pass Crayton caught this week was intended for Austin.

That Felix Jones can really run, can’t he? See, Cowboys? See how you use him?

Something tells me that Chris Perry loses his job to Cedric Benson in a few weeks. Perry can’t hold onto the ball or get it done when the Bengals passing game is suffering. Benson already looks like a better back, and he’s only been there one week.

Well, look at that. The Patriots figured out a way for Cassel to get the ball to Moss during the bye week. I’m going to guess DNA injection from Tom Brady in some dark laboratory while Bill Belichick laughed maniacally and rewound tape. Totally how it went down.

I’m still glad I don’t own any Patriot RBs. That’s like trying to guess which clown is going to pop out of the car first. Sammy Morris seems to be the only one with guaranteed touches, but now Faulk looks like he is going to be on the field more often with Matt Cassel. Faulk is the better blocker (see: Tom Brady’s knee).

J.T. O’Sullivan is going to get this 49ers passing game together, and when he does, Martz might just make a respectable fantasy quarterback out of him rather than just a matchups starter.

I would have appreciated a small note from Isaac Bruce before I started to move him in my fantasy leagues. That goose egg in Week 1 made me believe he was done, and now he has to become the No. 1 in San Fran. I wouldn’t have dropped you if I would have known that, Brucey.

Let’s see if Bryant Johnson pushes him for the big plays when he is fully healthy again. I still believe Johnson wants to blow us away and show us he would have been a starter anywhere but Arizona.

I have a short list of sleeper picks that haven’t woken up just yet. No. 1 on that list is Mike Walker. He was supposed to be a big target for Garrard this year, but the passing game has stalled because of the offensive line problems. Don’t be distracted by Jerry Porter. Keep your eye on this guy. If you’re in a league with me, EARMUFFS.

Hines Ward > Santonio Holmes. Ward is always around to make the smart play. Maybe even Nate Washington > Santonio Holmes, but Washington is still a little fluky.

The Vikings deserve to be 1-4, but by winning, they may have saved Childress’s job for a little bit longer.

You want to know why you shouldn’t have drafted Adrian Peterson No. 1 overall? Or even No. 2 overall? With a team like the Vikings, even the Saints defense can focus on the run and let Gus Frerotte beat them. It’ll be a lot of feast or famine for A.P. owners this season.

Gramatica should be replaced by Friday. I don’t care if he’s injured. He shouldn’t be starting for the Saints right now, and that is the bottom line. Reggie Bush was winning this game. Drew Brees was winning this game. Hell, even Devery Henderson was winning this game. Gramatica lost it.

At least the Vikings defense is finally looking like they want it.

Rough week for QBs, but many of the dinged up studs will be back under center by Sunday. Fingers crossed, of course.

Cheers and beers for anyone who started DeAngelo Williams and Kyle Orton, especially if you had them both. I would hope you won your Week 5 matchup. Just make sure you entertain all offers for DeAngelo now.

I’m not the first to propose this name, but if Jonathan Stewart is going to be “The Daily Show,” should we call DeAngelo Williams “The Colbert Report?”

Opinions are much appreciated in the comments. I plan to write the official Fantasy Football Nickname Registry once I have collected some feedback.

Week 5 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

I am not sure who won the VP debate last night. Both political parties seem to believe their candidate stepped up to the plate. The NFL is still pretty split in making a decision this election year. I do know that Al Davis likes Sarah Palin — mostly because he believes she’s youthful and has 4.3 speed.

Herm Edwards, on the other hand, really couldn’t make up his mind. He wants to like someone like Palin, who reminds him of a Brodie Croyle or even a Tyler Thigpen, but that’s just to keep up the front that the team is rebuilding. Voting for someone like Joe Biden, an experienced candidate best compared to Damon Huard, might give the impression that the American people can expect to be won back right now by a government that could do a few good things. That’s scary for Herm to think about.

The jury is still out for Bill Belichick. He just taped the whole thing to watch later, and rumor has it that the tapes came from practice runs that the candidates had on stage before the real debate started. That dude is weird.

This week, you are probably looking for a few spot starters to help you over the bye week hump. If your backup isn’t performing at a high level, you might want to take a chance on some of the guys that I point out here. Bubble guys become more worthwhile of consideration on a week like this week. Don’t expect them to put up the same numbers as your studs do each week, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they do.

As always, leave a question in the comments if you are struggling with who should start in Week 5.

Hot Hands

Kyle Orton, QB Bears vs. Lions
I know. I am insane, but the Detroit Lions are not hard to throw against. In fact, they encourage you to throw because if you aren’t passing, your running back is embarrassing them by blasting through the giant holes their defensive line can’t close. My guess is that the Bears let Orton cut loose a bit here. Matt Forte is still going to have a field day on the Lions defense, but Orton should have a few good plays through the air just to keep the defense honest. Why the hell not? It’s the Lions. Don’t bench Peyton Manning for him, but if you need a QB, this week Orton could be your man.

Chad Pennington, QB Dolphins vs. Chargers
It’s not often that you can recommend a man like Pennington. I like him, but for fantasy purposes, he doesn’t put a lot of numbers up unless he has a really nice matchup. This week, you’re in luck. San Diego is letting every quarterback run wild on them this season. Pennington won’t be shut down because San Diego’s defense will also have to worry about Ronnie Brown going into “Wildcat” mode like he did against the Patriots. We know the Chargers can put points on the board, and this game is going to be on Chad to win.

Brian Griese, QB Buccaneers vs. Broncos
Despite Denver’s well-respected corners, the Broncos like shootouts this year. Their defense obliges by letting the opposing QBs pass for more yardage on them than all but a small number of teams in the NFL. Apparently, Griese is going to throw a great deal more than Jeff Garcia did last season, so look for the Bucs to have a big day through the air — as long as there is something left for them after Graham and Dunn tear apart the Broncos ground game.

Matt Forte, RB Bears vs. Lions
This game might be the hottest start he has all year. Forte’s averages more than 80 yards per game, and the Lions basically promise opposing running backs 200+ yards just for playing. Forte is an absolute MUST START this week.

Earnest Graham, RB Buccaneers vs. Broncos
Denver can’t stop the run or the pass. If Larry Johnson can do something, I believe a coke machine — the drink machine, not Travis Henry or Matt Jones — with a football taped to the top can do it. You know, just like the one in those Reggie Bush commercials. Regardless of how many carries Warrick Dunn takes, Graham will have plenty to feed a hungry fantasy football team.

Jonathan Stewart, RB Panthers vs. Chiefs
“The Daily Show” — my new favorite player nickname, by the way — should run over the Chiefs defense this week. Be wary of benching a stud for Stewart since he still splits time with Williams but a good game here could — fingers crossed — start to move him into the more dominant role in this offense.

Steve Slaton, RB Texans vs. Colts
I’m required by foolish fantasy law to mention every rookie in the NFL if I mention any of them. That’s a fact. You want another one? Indianapolis can’t stop the run without Bob Sanders.

Lance Moore, WR Saints vs. Vikings
Moore is seeing quite a few passes come his way with Shockey and Colston still missing. They’ll need to pass against a tough Vikings run defense this week, so look for Moore to dominate on targets again and make something out of them just like he did last week.

Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban, WR Cardinals vs. Bills
If Boldin doesn’t play this week, both of these WRs could see looks from Kurt Warner. Buffalo has a tough defense, but their weakness will be at corner this week. With Buffalo’s best corner out of commission, Breaston and Urban should face the Buffalo’s third corner and rookie Leodis McKelvin. Breaston’s a lock to see looks, but it could be Urban that steps up in this game since Breaston will most likely not be taken off the kick return duties. It’s in the air right now, but watch reports coming out of Arizona to see if the coaches leak the game plan.

Amani Toomer, WR Giants vs. Seahawks
Plax is out for this week because of his INSUBORDINATION, a word that must always be typed in uppercase. Toomer should see more looks his way, and the two younger Giants WRs, Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith, will fill in the rest. Toomer is a big red zone threat and a better start than both the young ones.

Bobby Engram, WR Seahawks vs. Giants
He’s back. Hasselbeck will be giving him big hugs all day on Sunday, and he should see plenty of action as long as his shoulder is really good to go. Seattle is likely to fall behind, and Engram is the most trusted receiver they will have on the field to make critical plays.

Santana Moss, WR Redskins vs. Eagles
Don’t be afraid of the Eagles secondary. Did you see what Kyle Orton did to them last week? Yeah, and that was Kyle Orton. Moss will continue to get his points each game. The Redskins have been good about not turning the ball over, but Campbell won’t have to force it to Moss to keep Moss’s fantasy revitalization going strong this season.

Justin Gage, WR Titans vs. Ravens
Since the RBs will be slowed a bit by the Baltimore defense, Collins should be looking for Gage to pick up crucial yards in the air. Gage hasn’t put up a lot of TDs, but he gets consistent yardage as long as Collins is at QB. Expect the usual.
UPDATE: Gage is still struggling with a groin injury this week, and, right now, he is listed as ‘doubtful.’ Unless that changes, I’d suggest you go with a different option this week.

Anthony Fasano, TE Dolphins vs. Chargers
The Chargers have given up a TD to a tight end every game this season. Pennington really likes throwing to his tight ends — probably because his WRs are nothing to write home about. Yup, that pretty much sums up my reasoning.

Bubble Boys

Carson Palmer, QB Bengals vs. Cowboys
Palmer might not even play this week, but if he does, he’ll face and Cowboys secondary that doesn’t punish you. Even with that glorious matchup, he’s a big risk. He could go right back out of this game or just look bad trying to play with an elbow injury limiting him.

Jake Delhomme, QB Panthers vs. Chiefs
He could probably throw if he wanted to throw, but he won’t have to against this horrible run defense. Decent start if you have to plug him in, but he might only put up one TD and yardage unless this one gets heated. If he’s your best option, use him.

Chris Johnson, RB Titans vs. Ravens
Oh no, it’s another tough defense. If you haven’t noticed, Johnson can score against tough run defenses. He’s just TOO fast, and he can get to the outside. Baltimore will try to stop him, but in my mind, he is entering into unsittable status after last week’s showing against Minnesota. Plus, you might as well use him this week. If Baltimore twists as many ankles and breaks as many bones as they did against Pittsburgh, then this game might be the last one of the season for Chris Johnson and LenDale White.

Deuce McAllister, RB Saints vs. Vikings
Wow, I’m sure you’re excited. You just picked up a power running back that *could* be featured in a high-powered offense as long as he stays healthy this season. Unfortunately, he faces Minnesota. The Vikings aren’t a total lock to keep him out of the end zone, but unless some Saints passing plays die one or two yards short, McAllister should have limited fantasy potential. Since he’s TD-dependent, I’d look elsewhere. Surely, there’s a guy on your roster that you drafted who has a better matchup this week. If not, start Deuce but limit your expectations.

Mewelde Moore, RB Steelers vs. Jaguars
Surprisingly, the Jaguars aren’t all that scary to run against this year, but the question is whether or not Moore will be featured as a RB or used sparingly. He’s the fourth in line for carries (or at least, he was before all the injuries last week), and the Steelers may opt to have Big Ben throw more this week rather than risk putting too much of the offense in the hands of a backup guy. If you need a RB, he’s not a bad spot start, but there’s the risk that he doesn’t get the same looks Mendenhall or Willie Parker would.

Bobby Wade, WR Vikings vs. Saints
The Vikings haven’t exactly shredded it through the skies this season, but Wade had 75 yards from seven catches last week while no one was watching. As long as Sidney Rice remains a little banged up, Wade should get the majority of the snaps against the Saints very bad secondary. Scoring is probably too much to ask, but Wade could be a decent spot starter in a WR3 position. Almost anyone involved in the Vikings vs. Saints game is worthy of fantasy consideration.

Cold Shoulders

Aaron Rodgers, QB Packers vs. Falcons
Even if he plays this week, he’s still hurt. I wouldn’t take a chance on him. The Packers game plan will probably involve a heavy dose of Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson to win this one.

Edgerrin James, RB Cardinals vs. Bills
The aging running back busted out a good game last week against the Jets, but the offense will come down a few notches when it’s the Buffalo defense on the other end of the field. James won’t put many two TD games together this year as long as Kurt Warner is under center. You can go ahead and scratch this one off the list.

Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, RB Jaguars vs. Steelers
Other than TDs, there’s not many ways for running backs to make fantasy points against the Steeler defense. Look elsewhere this week. The Jaguars just don’t have the line right now to push around the Steeler run stoppers.

Randy Moss, WR Patriots vs. 49ers
Sit Moss until further notice…and by further notice, I really mean until Tom Brady is back next season. Matt Cassel has got to prove me wrong, but I don’t see him getting the ball to Moss anytime soon even though, with the 49ers, it’s always a potential shootout.

Sleepers

Domenik Hixon, WR Giants vs. Seahawks
I like Hixon from the massive, three touchdown performance he had this preseason. With Plaxico Burress out for a game, Hixon might be able to fill his shoes or at least share snaps with Steve Smith. Hixon’s got that big play ability and has been under the tutelage of Toomer. The other Steve Smith is still the safe play here, but if you want a deep sleeper, Hixon might be just that.

Dallas Cowboys defense vs. Bengals
If Carson Palmer doesn’t start, I expect the Cowboys to get their first INT of the season. If not, this defense could be high risk, high reward. It’s still the Bengals, and who knows when they will put it together again.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 4: Postgame reactions to the week that fantasy forgot

Where did that Carson Palmer injury come from on Sunday morning? I lucked out played against him this week, but I didn’t hear a word about it until I saw him putting up zero points heading into halftime. Enough with the quiet injuries already.

I’m still shocked there was an Ocho Cinco sighting without Palmer in the lineup.

Denver Broncos lose to the Kansas City Chiefs. That was unbelievable enough, but it just sounds silly when you consider that both Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall had big days. Unfortunately, they also fumbled. They’ll have to fix up that offense before Tampa Bay this week. I don’t think Larry Johnson is that good. Denver’s defense is that bad.

Royal had 100+ yards in the loss. I see him taking a Patrick Crayton of 2007 value. When Marshall has an average or less spectacular performance, Royal will have a big game, but when Marshall is out of this world, Royal is limited to something around 80 yards and a rare TD.

David Garrard might be hitting his stride. He’s getting back to being mobile to compensate for issues with the offensive line. Garrard is worth holding onto until after his bye. A Jags transition to a pass-first offense with Garrard threatening to run could make him increasingly more valuable in fantasy.

Is Matt Jones for real or is this just some residual effect of the drugs?

Matt Schaub woke up from his fantasy slumber in Week 4 as well. Was that Kevin Walter or Wes Welker out there? Either way, I want him on my fantasy roster.

By the way, Steve Slaton looks like he can do some big things. I’d make sure he’s on a roster this week if you’ve been ignoring my constant recommendation that you pick him up.

Brett Favre disappoints on Monday night and then fires back with six touchdowns this week — including one to the rookie TE Dustin Keller. (Get him.)

I can’t believe he took it up a notch with the Jets wide receivers so quickly. Coles is supposed to hate him for replacing his best friend, Chad Pennington, but I guess being mad at Favre is like ignoring a rocket-fast bullet flying into your chest. You just have to catch it.

Anquan Boldin certainly isn’t afraid to take a monster hit or run right into coverage. Glad he’s okay. There’s no way you should trade for him now when his value is at its peak, but if the owner gets scared of the injury or Boldin misses some time, make an offer. Boldin could win you several games down the stretch.

The Jets defense is becoming a potential fantasy play…but so is Kyle Orton.

J.T. O’Sullivan was underwhelming in this one, but he’s no Drew Brees. The 49ers will continue to develop a rhythm with their passing game should remain a fantasy threat on offense down the stretch. O’Sullivan’s a great QB2, but he’ll enter into a rough patch the next few weeks before he hits the next nice patch of matchups.

Atlanta corners are just bad — and especially bad against Steve Smith. Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith like being together in that offense. Delhomme likes them there, too.

When Tennessee plays Minnesota, you don’t expect to see 30 points on the board. Chris Johnson benefited from the LenDale White fumble and had a bigger game than anyone expected. Johnson’s basically become a must start in the Tennessee offense even though he splits time. More TDs would be nice though, Chris.

Greg Jennings finally scores a touchdown…and then another one. I know Aaron Rodgers got banged up and mistreated, but it was the Bucs defense. He’ll bounce back, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t start in Week 5 to torch the Atlanta corners (and get Greg Jennings another TD for this season).

Don’t sleep on Jordy Nelson. The rookie has talent and Rodgers’ trust.  As long as James Jones is out, Jordy Nelson is a borderline starter or WR3.

Where did Jerramy Stevens go this week? Jail?

Warrick Dunn is reducing Earnest Graham’s value. They are both being paid the same amount of green, and if you take away the two big runs that Graham has broken, he isn’t getting a lot of action. I think I’m worried if I am a Graham owner. Might be time to buy low on someone else. (Psst, Ryan Grant)

I am convinced that I have mind control after I commanded the Buffalo interception return for a touchdown and the long bomb to Lee Evans. Seriously, I was looking at my ESPN live scoring, and I asked myself why Buffalo had done nothing on defense…and why hadn’t Lee Evans gotten more than ONE throw. Prayers answered.

Trent Green is NOT a better quarterback than Marc Bulger, but maybe the Buffalo defense went a little easy on him since no one wanted a death on their hands if they sacked him into his last concussion.

What happened to the Cowboys on Sunday? Yes, being from Big D, I am a Cowboys fan. Loathe me.

I respected the Dallas corners, but this far into the season with no interceptions? Pacman really did just become just “Adam” this season. I no longer give them credit for their skills until the get an INT.

The Cowboys offense fell asleep in the second quarter — along with the corners — and Felix Jones has got to get at least one carry. Wade Phillips said the Cowboys have no plays designed for Jones in comeback situations. How about every game-changing run he’s had so far this season?

The Chargers really have given up a touchdown to a tight end every week this season. Even Zach Miller gets one for the Raiders. I’m starting Anthony Fasano if I have him this week against the Chargers. The TMR agrees.

JaMarcus Russell may still be young, but that guy can throw. Dynasty leaguers should note that potential.

DeSean Jackson finally gets his first TD in the NFL. I don’t think he let the ball go at all, but he caught this one in the end zone. Then, he fumbled a punt. Rookie.

Is Kyle Orton becoming a decent fantasy play? Someone pinch me…or slap me…or knock me out. This fantasy surge just can’t happen.

But Neckbeard has Detroit and Atlanta the next two weeks. Is it the mustache?

Can David Akers make field goals anymore? Rocca doesn’t like his chances. How close does he need to be these days?

If Westbrook had been in this game, he would have gotten that touchdown.

Joe Flacco can extend the play, hit his receivers and, like Russell, he’s got a gun. Unfortunately, he’s still a rookie. He’s going to fumble and make mistakes, and he did.

Where is Ray Rice? I hate you LeRon McClain and your last TD that cost me a match this week. That big boy might just be a waiver wire gem all season as long as McGahee can’t stay healthy.

Weeks like Week 4 are why projections can drive you crazy. Better lineups next week, and cheers and beers to all who started Brett Favre.

Week 3 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Obviously, things change in fantasy football. There’s no Tom Brady, and therefore, no Randy Moss. Offenses in Seattle, Cincinnati and Cleveland are in shambles. Jacksonville keeps turning it over, and the Denver Broncos might have the most explosive offense of 2008.

Shanny, we knew you had it in you. I won’t even say that I called it. (I CALLED IT), but it was right there in front of our noses. This year might be a competition between T.O. and Baby T.O. for the top wide receiver spot.

Who else is hot this week? (Well, besides the obvious.)

Hot Hands

J.T. O’Sullivan, Bryant Johnson, Isaac Bruce vs. Lions: We are starting bold. The 49ers face off against Mike Martz’s former home. I think Detroit probably knows a lot of Martz’s schemes, but Martz also knows how to exploit the Detroit defense — not like that information is really top secret. I like this one to be high scoring and crazy. If you have J.T. O’Sullivan on your roster, this week and next week against the Saints look like his best starts of the year.

Frank Gore vs. Lions: Detroit cannot stop the run. Gore will get some action.

Jon Kitna, Calvin Johnson vs. 49ers: An explosive contest and a weak secondary make the interception-prone QB a nice play this week.

All Your Broncos vs. Saints: Jay Cutler and his boys manhandled the Chargers defense last week. They’ll do the same to the Saints. Brandon Marshall could break the record for most receptions in a game in this one. I like it. The only exception to this rule is Selvin Young, who might be only a yardage guy from here on out.

Chris Johnson vs. Texans: Fast Willie Parker had 3 TDs, and this kid is faster.

Reggie Bush vs. Broncos: He’ll be relied upon as a target against the corners in Denver. Bush will have to pull some big plays to win, and Darren Sproles made the Broncos look they were standing still a few times last week.

Steve Smith vs. Vikings: Just in case you forgot he was on your roster. If he’s not on your roster and you want to get crazy, send a trade offer to see if you can smuggle him away before he even sees the field. With Randy Moss gone, Steve Smith might be the only challenger to Terrell Owens and Baby T.O. for the top WR spot.

Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Bengals: Destroy, Brandon Jacobs! Destroy! Ahmad Bradshaw even makes a decent start since he’s forgotten what he learned in kindergarten and no longer plans on sharing touchdowns. What does Jacobs have to do for a touchdown? Run over TWO safeties. I think Jacobs gets his first score this week. The Bengals defensive players are only on the roster because they are trying out for the offense.

Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress vs. Bengals: Surely, Eli and Plax will join in on the fun as well. You can’t just let Brandon Jacobs run the ball all day.

Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Matt Cassel vs. Dolphins: This week, Moss wakes up. He still remembers what to do when the ball comes his way.

Buffalo Bills D/ST vs. Raiders: JaMarcus Russell against the aggressive, healthy Buffalo defense. *Salivating* If the Oakland cornerbacks come to play, this game could become a contest to control the clock. Buffalo’s schedule gets good from here.

Philip Rivers vs. Jets: With L.T. slowed by his injury, Rivers could look to find Chambers again. They’ll want to put plenty of points on the board to keep themselves out of trouble in this one.

Matt Hasselbeck, John Carlson vs. Rams: New wide receivers and an easy day against the Rams could be all that Hasselbeck needs to come alive again. He might be the slow-starting Brees of 2007. Even though Hasselbeck gets new hands this week, he just might be growing fond of Carlson’s. Look for the rookie TE to have a decent day against the Rams — who doesn’t?

Julius Jones vs. Rams: Jones could have a similar day to his 127 yards and a TD against San Francisco.

Bubble Boys

Michael Turner vs. Chiefs: Injury could hinder his performance, but if he’s 100 percent, Turner could tear the Chiefs run defense up just like Michael Bush and Darren McFadden did last week. Pop this bubble if you see him off the injury report come Friday.

Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings vs. Cowboys: If Rodgers wants to win this one, he’s probably going to have to air it to stay ahead of Romo. I respect the Dallas corners even if they have given up a lot of yardage. Rodgers isn’t going to have as big a week as he did against Detroit, but he should do something.

Randy McMichael vs. Seahawks: Seattle might be on the worst defenses that the Rams face all year, but they should still get after Bulger. McMichael could have another Week 1 performance where he reaps the benefit of Bulger’s rushed passing. It’s a risk I’m willing to take unless, of course, I have a better option.

Brett Favre vs. Chargers: Favre’s risky, vertical throwing could get him into trouble against this secondary. The Chargers are hungry for a win after they had the Broncos’ game stolen by ‘Roid Ref. You might consider giving Favre a week off, but then again, it’s Monday night. That Stuckey guy will probably nail a TD or two down. That guy’s my nemesis.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Fred Taylor vs. Colts: Matt Forte didn’t need that great of an offensive line to run on the Colts. The Jags line could come together to make these two productive again, but maybe the Colts go up by so much, they don’t get a chance. I remember when this Colts-Jaguars matchup used to be a heated showdown…those were the days.

Larry Johnson vs. Falcons: L.J. is losing carries to Jamaal Charles, and I hated Charles when he was a Longhorn. Charles is just a fast pair of legs with unsure hands, but L.J. is an unsure set of legs with fast hands. (That means he’s good at magic tricks like making a five-yard play into a one-yard gain.) If Johnson’s yards per carry decreases, it’s because he’s running backwards. Might be time to put Charles on your roster.

Cold Shoulders

Lee Evans vs. Raiders: I know Jay Cutler exposed the Raiders lazy cornerback play, but Evans will get blanketed by he who cannot be named, Nnamdi Asomugha. While Evans is back to fantasy relevance this year, he should have a quiet one this week.

Pierre Thomas, Deuce McAllister vs. Broncos: You can run on Denver, but who is doing the running? If Deuce really does get worked into this rotation, it just muddies the value of Thomas. Are they playing Denver or is this Shanahan coaching their run game too?

Earnest Graham vs. Bears: He had a nice score last week, but this week’s Bears defense won’t let him get loose. He’ll have yardage, but I wouldn’t count on much more than that.

Ryan Grant vs. Cowboys: Until he’s healthy, he’s not going to have a good game. Against the Cowboys defense, he’ll need a good hamstring to be effective.

Steve Slaton, Chris Taylor vs. Titans: The Titans eat running backs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t try. Just don’t.

Chad Pennington vs. Patriots: Lacking their star corner, the Patriots still make it tough to throw on them. It won’t matter if Pennington has a My Size Barbie arm. Putting the ball through the air is just going to be hard.

All Raiders besides Darren McFadden vs. Bills: Buffalo will attack JaMarcus Russell from all sides. This game should show everyone that Buffalo is worth carrying on your roster as a starting defense, and it doesn’t get bad for the rest of the season.

Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis vs. Ravens: One more week of pain.

David Garrard vs. Colts: See above.

Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. Giants: The New York RB wrecking crew controls the clock in this one and will require that the Bengals put something in the air to win, but Palmer just doesn’t have it right now. The Bengals passing game is bench-worthy until I see a spark.

Green Bay Packers D/ST vs. Cowboys: It’s just not a good idea to play your defense against the Cowboys this season.

Sleeper candidates:

I’ll take a few shots in the dark this week, and we’ll see how that works out for me.

Michael Pittman vs. Saints: When the Broncos get close, look for Pittman to punch them into the end zone all day. Don’t get too confident. The Saints might let Royal and Marshall finish every catch at the goal post, but Pittman could get you a score or two in this one if you are hurting at RB.

Jerious Norwood vs. Chiefs: If Turner is slowed, Norwood could have a big day. McFadden used his speed to torch the Chiefs last week, and Norwood has some speed of his own.

Post any sit/start questions in the comments for help setting your roster this week. I have to get back to practicing my route running with Matt Hasselbeck.