Wild Card Weekend, Part 1: Saturday’s Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Here we are in the postseason, and just because the regular season is over, that doesn’t mean your fantasy football season has to come to and end.

Before we dive into our offseason coverage on how to make you a better fantasy football player and more attractive to the opposite sex, we’ll be covering the playoffs “game preview” style and starting with this week’s Wild Card Weekend.

In fact, I’ll be playing the ESPN Gridiron Playoff Challenge just to satisfy the itch for a few more weeks. You have no idea how good a hit it is…

I’d offer prizes, but then I would have to give something away — and didn’t we just do enough of that this holiday season. As a worthy substitute, you could consider joining up with the Bruno Boys’ league and stealing some of their prized booty.

Now, on to the previews … that’s why you’re here anyway, not for the Booty.

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals

Holy crap! The Buzzsaw in the postseason IN Arizona — and they barely sold enough tickets. I am not sure who takes this game. I know the Cardinals have the horrible playoff reputation and the shaky games as of late, but if you don’t think that Anquan Boldin is going to be head slamming people to make a playoff win happen, then you just don’t respect your facial bones.

You have to love Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin here in what could be a high-scoring affair. Matt Ryan won’t be a slouch, but rookie quarterbacks don’t have a good record in the playoffs.

Michael Turner is the best lock there is in this game — and I’m starting him. If Atlanta does get the win, it will be because of Turner. The Cardinals could let him go off early in the game even if the Falcons don’t get to control the clock with a lead in the second half.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have a risky situation at running back with Edgerrin James likely to get a start and Tim Hightower vulturing touchdowns. I’d take James if you need a yardage guy, but I’m not sure you can bet on the Cardinals scoring enough on the ground to make Hightower a good play.

If it came down to salary cap, I’d pay the price for Turner and Warner if you can afford it. More power to you if you can afford to grab Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald, but I dislike the probability that one goes off in spite of the other. They are two-headed receiving beast, and it’s hard to pick just one.

Roddy White makes a great bargain since we know he’ll be targeted quite a bit by the rookie QB and faces a Cardinals defense always ready to give up the big play — even to Tarvaris Jackson. White’s good for at least one score, and he’s more of a sure thing than the Arizona receivers.

I’m projecting this one ends up on the over rather than the under — currently set at an over/under of 51 points. If you can get your hands on any of these guys, I’d do it. There probably won’t be much kicking in this one, but Jason Elam and Neil Rackers should see a little short action when drives are stalled short of a score. I’d lean towards Elam.

And, obviously, I wouldn’t look to start either of these teams on defense this weekend.

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers

It’s actually a good thing that this game is away. Even though the Colts looked more at home in their new stadium late in the season, it’s not quite the comfort zone it should be yet, and they already beat the Chargers in San Diego once at h this year. Now, they just have to go back and do it again.

In the first matchup, it was a close contest decided by a game-ending kick from Adam Vinatieri. The Chargers just left too much time on the clock when they tied it up and gave the ball back to Peyton Manning. It’ll probably look a lot similar tonight.

The Chargers, a quarterback-friendly team this year, just don’t have enough on defense to stop Peyton Manning on a game-winning drive. His will should be the deciding factor.

That said, Peyton Manning is probably the best fantasy bet you can take this postseason with Rivers just slightly behind him. Both quarterbacks have gone off several times this season, but Manning has the Chargers defense in his favor and a hot streak on his way into the playoffs.

The Colts defense, while questionable, is pretty good against the pass, and they could at least encourage San Diego to take a different approach.

The Chargers will probably look to LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles to support their efforts and keep Manning off the field, so I like both of them. For salary cap purposes, I’d actually go with a bargain in Darren Sproles, who had two touchdowns to L.T.’s three in the season finale against the Broncos. Sproles’ explosiveness is worth betting on for the price he’ll run you.

UPDATE: With news breaking of L.T.’s injury, Sproles looks like an even better play. L.T. will still make a go of it, but it’s hard to say how much he will be able to do. Looks unlikely that he’ll be a big factor.

The Colts backs are not nearly as valuable. There are too many question marks around Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes to trust them. Even when Addai starts, Rhodes sometimes gets the scores. I’d avoid them if you can.

As far as the receivers, I like Reggie Wayne, of course, and Vincent Jackson just a slight bit less. From there, it gets iffy. I’d rather have Dallas Clark than any other tight end in the playoffs at this point, even over Antonio Gates or Bo Scaife, once the Titans start playing.

Again, there’s not much to bet on with these two defenses. The Colts are questionable and the Chargers are not trustworthy. With such a selection of defenses playing tomorrow, it’d be better to choose between Miami or Baltimore in what should be a contest decided by who plays the most mistake-free football.

With an over/under of 50 in this game as well, it’s a safe bet to go with Colts and Chargers offensive studs when you can get your hands on them. Manning should be worth the price, and Rivers is a decent substitute if the commercial buckethead is out of your price range.

Adam Vinatieri is a good choice at kicker, but other options like David Akers and Ryan Longwell look good for tomorrow’s games as well. It is, as always, a toss up at kicker. Flip a coin, throw a dart at the board and then just pick one.

The good thing about salary caps in playoff fantasy football is that you can just use however much money you have left over for your kicker after you’ve put together your team. Easy call.

Week 11 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

I didn’t rush to publish the starts and sits before Thursday Night Football because I wasn’t planning on mentioning any of Jets or Patriots this week. It’s times like these that you should follow me on twitter for any news updates or sit/start recommendations you might need.

Last night, I expected a defensive slugfest with a lot of Thomas Jones, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and some short passes to Wes Welker. Nothing to write home about, so nothing worth covering in Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders.

I pegged Brett Favre and Matt Cassel as bubble starts, but they’ve been matchup plays for several weeks now. I wrote off Randy Moss as a lost cause, even though you have to start a stud like him every week. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis wouldn’t do much, he’d get his carries and maybe a touchdown when they got in close.

Thomas Jones would continue to ride his hot streak behind such a solid offensive line. Wes Welker would be a solid play to collect yardage in this one, and if you wanted to take a chance on Jerricho Cotchery or Laveranues Coles, more power to you.

The fact that the weather might take a turn for the worst sold me on those predictions. Despite Brett Favre’s ability to succeed in harsh weather, it was going to be a running game. It would come down to who had time of possession, but it wouldn’t be close — Jets win.

Call it the Brett Favre factor, but sometimes Favre’s teams (and his opponents) can do a lot with just a little.

Your leading passer from Thursday night, Matt Cassel. With 400 yards passing and three touchdowns, Cassel might have just won a lot of battles for owners this weekend, but I’d really like to hear from anyone who started him (or even anyone in a league where someone started him).

In three out of my five redraft leagues, he’s a free agent on the waiver wire, and he only went off like that because I just dropped him this morning. Dick.

Do it again, and I owe you a coke, Cassel. (And not the kind you’re thinking, Matt Jones, so quit calling me.)

Hot Hands

Aaron Rodgers, QB Packers vs. Bears — I’m not afraid of the Bears passing defense, so they can feel free to stack the line for Ryan Grant like they did against the Titans. I’d still start Rodgers in what could be a lucrative return to his early-in-the-season success.

Matt Ryan, QB Falcons vs. Broncos — Against a potent passing offense, the Falcons are going to need big plays, and without Champ Bailey, the Broncos are very QB-friendly. As long as Michael Turner doesn’t explode in some kind of white-hot fantasy flame and rack up the touchdowns — it’s possible — Ryan is set for a good day.

Michael Turner, RB Falcons vs. Broncos — Turner has a delicious matchup against the weak Broncos run defense. And yes, I’m hedging my bets a little bit by recommending both the passing game and running game of the Falcons. Just like the Saints matchup last week, the Falcons could be primed to put up numbers in this one as well.

Joseph Addai, RB Colts vs. Texans — Assuming any rumor of his injury flaring up again are false, Addai is actually starting the chewy, cream-filling goodness of his schedule here at the end of the season. The Texans run defense has a bad habit of looking like Swiss cheese, and with the Colts offense hitting stride, I foresee a high ceiling for Addai this week.

Greg Jennings, WR Packers vs. Bears — You have to start Jennings even though he’s been through a rough stretch. Fortunately, he should break out of the hard times against a weak Bears defense. Surely, the Bears won’t stack up against the run and make Rodgers beat them through the air like they did against the Titans, but will they? Please?

Hines Ward, WR Steelers vs. Chargers – Even if I have my doubts about who is throwing the ball, I gotta have faith in Ward. He came up with over 100 yards last week while Ben was hurting, and he should be able to do that and more this week against the Chargers terrible pass defense, even if it’s Byron Leftwich under center.

Tony Scheffler, TE Broncos vs. Falcons — Welcome back, Scheff. If he is finally off the sideline bike this week and back to 100 percent, watch out for a big day. Cutler still really likes to get him the ball.

Jason Elam, K Falcons vs. Broncos — This one has revenge game written all over it, and the Broncos are best friends with any kicker they face. Elam will be wanting on the field as much as possible. What if this one comes down to a long kick for the win? Epic.

Bubble Boys

Ben Roethlisberger, QB Steelers vs. Chargers — Any QB is a good start against the Chargers, but Big Ben is banged up and out of it. I would hold off on starting him if you have acquired a decent backup. While he is likely to have a better game than his Week 10 performance, it’s unlikely that he’ll notch as many fantasy points as other QBs have against the Chargers.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB Seahawks vs. Cardinals — If he starts, he upgrades the entire Seahawks passing game and saves them from the Seneca Wallace experience, but how much rust is on that arm? And how healthy is his back? Several questions around “the Hassel” make him a risky play this week, even against a questionable pass defense like the Cardinals. Beating the Seahawks with Hasselbeck under center would be another statement game for the Cardinals to show their legit in the NFC West this year.

Larry Johnson, RB Chiefs vs. Saints — He returns, but how much of this offense is now in the hands of Tyler Thigpen? I am not sure how much we’ll see of Johnson, and I’m also have my doubts that we do see would be worth starting.

Willie Parker, RB Steelers vs. Chargers — Shoulder injury? What shoulder injury? Willie Parker don’t know ’bout no shoulder injury! Parker’s probably playing this week, but this start could definitely become a McGahee-esque phantom start in a hurry. Parker in a shoulder brace just doesn’t sound great to me, so even with this soft matchup, I like Mewelde Moore better for the Steelers run game this week.

Plaxico Burress, WR Giants vs. Ravens — I am not Plax fan. I’ll admit it. I’ve never liked him since I started playing fantasy football. Maybe it’s all these character problems we hear about, or maybe I just like Domenik Hixon better. Regardless, Plax is not putting up big numbers lately, so even when it looks like a great matchup for him, I question whether he’ll get the touchdown needed to push his fantasy score over the edge.

Bernard Berrian, WR Vikings vs. Buccaneers – And just like that, poof, the hot streak dies with a zero. I question whether he can do much better against a Bucs defense that shuts down more reliable receivers everyday.

Kellen Winslow, TE Browns vs. Bills — Not that you would sit him, but Winslow might see more coverage coming his way now that the Brady Quinn game plan has been exposed. He’ll produce adequate fantasy numbers for a tight end, but I’m not sure that he’ll produce elite numbers against a very aware Bills defense.

Cold Shoulders

Brady Quinn, QB Browns vs. Bills — He surprised me with his big day early in the Thursday nighter against the Broncos, but Quinn is still a young quarterback. Against a Bills defense with their playoff hopes on the line, he’ll probably regress a bit. You weren’t starting Quinn until a week ago, so it’s probably pretty likely that the other guy on your roster is looking better this week. If Quinn blows up in this game, I’ll give him credit for being more than I thought he was.

David Garrard, QB Jaguars vs. Titans — While he’s been putting it all out there, Garrard hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates. It’s hard to see them being much use in this one against the stingy Titans defense. Any big plays are likely to be countered by picks and other mistakes.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Chargers vs. Steelers — L.T. hasn’t had his best weeks lately, and I don’t expect him to make a push for a top-five spot against the Steelers this week. Unless Big Ben’s arm, shoulder, and achy gallbladder go bionic in the next two days, they’ll need to slow a powerful Chargers offense and keep this game close. I think L.T. will have another disappointing week, so if you have another guy that you started while he was questionable/out, how about giving him a shot? Just think about it…

Willis McGahee, RB Ravens vs. Giants — I’m so angry that I drafted McGahee as a top RB in one of my leagues this year — my first and most likely last autodraft. His big game last week may have you thinking he could do some more good for you in this matchup. While the Ravens do run a lot, the Giants smash faces a lot. I don’t like it one bit, and considering how often the revolving door at RB swings in Baltimore, I don’t think McGahee warrants a start this week. He’s a flex option at best.

Vincent Jackson, WR Chargers vs. Steelers — He’ll ride that hot streak right into a poor day against the Steelers pass defense. Knock your expectations down a couple of notches if you are forced to start him.

Kevin Walter, WR Texans vs. Colts — Sage is under center against a strong pass defense. The Colts won’t let this one get away from them, so despite Sage’s great desire for revenge and redemption, I don’t think Walter will get a touchdown in this one. The Texans are better off looking to Steve Slaton.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Vikings vs. Buccaneers — The Bucs are going to take away big yardage plays here, and unless he scores a touchdown, Shiancoe will have another slow day. The run game should be the Vikings’ emphasis on offense in this one.

Dude… Braylon Edwards

This week’s “Dude…” award was a tough call. Plenty of surprising performances tempted our hand, but in the end, you have to give it to the guy some people considered dropping last week, Braylon Edwards.

The Cleveland Browns wide receiver has had a slooooow start against some of the tougher defenses in the league and just couldn’t seem to catch the balls that did come his way. Braylon Edwards, are you who we thought you were?

See the highlights

Edwards had his first big game of the season on the Monday night stage and against what had been a ferocious Giants defense. The pass rush and Aaron Ross couldn’t shut him down. He finished the game with 154 yards and a touchdown off just five catches. That comes out to a pretty nice yards per catch average.

The difference tonight for the Browns was that they hit big plays early in the game and kept them going throughout. I am sure the addition of Donte Stallworth for his first game of the season didn’t hurt either. He took pressure off of Edwards and kept the Giants defense honest even without Kellen Winslow, Jr. around.

Congrats to Braylon. Your own “Dude…” plaque is in the…well, ha, we don’t actually award a prize. This is awkward…

All the runners-up this week could be considered co-winners with Edwards — but this is no league for co-winners. “Co-” titles should really only be reserved for cheerleading captains.

Here’s who came up just short:

  • Texans QB Matt Schaub: 379 yards, passing TD, 2 INTs, rushing TD (game winner)
  • Browns QB Derek Anderson: 310 yards, 2 TDs
  • Broncos RB Michael Pittman: 109 rushing yards, 16 receiving yards
  • Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew: 125 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 23 receiving yards
  • Falcons K Jason Elam: 5 field goals (including game winner)

Off-season Update: Quick hits at wide receiver, tight end and cornerback [NFL News]

Most of the moves made in the last several weeks have no immediate fantasy impact. Backups are still moving from team to team, but a few starters finally landed at wide receiver in the last couple of weeks.

FANTASY WATCH-WORTHY MOVES

The 49ers dropped Darrell Jackson after his disappointing 2007 and added Bryant Johnson. I would have liked to see Johnson end up in Buffalo where he might have been a compliment to Lee Evans, but he is daring and will take his chances in the new Mike Martz system.

He will get his chance to be a number 1 wide receiver. I don’t expect Isaac Bruce to make a Randy Moss-like revival out there, and Arnaz Battle can’t put up much of a fight.

Ben Utecht escaped the shadow of Dallas Clark to Cincinnati this week when the Colts decided not to match the Bengals offer. Utecht showed some ability with the Colts, and he will become a key target for Carson Palmer in 2008 especially if Ocho Cinco (Chad Johnson) keeps his act up and leaves.

D.J. Hackett finally found someone to answer his agent’s phone calls this offseason and signed with the Carolina Panthers. All the dynasty owners of Dwayne Jarrett just died inside.

Jarrett probably won’t hit the field for awhile now that Carolina has signed Muhsin Muhammad and Hackett unless this move scares him straight. Hackett and Muhammad should be able to open up the field for Steve Smith to make a comeback in production for 2008.

Kickers become fantasy-relevant for once outside of a close fantasy showdown now that Jason Elam has left the high altitude of Colorado to boot for the Falcons in 2008. It’s a tought loss for Denver since Elam won more games than any other single Bronco in 2007. While they search for a replacement, Elam will have to adjust to kicking in Southern humidity. I think he’ll be okay.

The DeAngelo Hall deal finally got done, so now he’s an overpaid Raider, too. The Raiders now have an even better secondary with Nnamdi Asomugha and Hall. Rumor was that they want to nickname the cornerback pair “Haul Ass-o” but Nnamdi won’t go for it.

YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH BACKUPS

Quinn Gray signed on to be the second/third quarterback for the Houston Texans. This signing puts the wise Sage Rosenfels in danger of being traded if an offer comes the Texans’ way, or they just want to be VERY secure at the QB position if Matt Schaub goes down again in 2008.

Bubba Franks signed on to the Jets but will likely just provide veteran leadership behind Chris Baker and endless Bubba jokes for the locker room.

NEWS THAT MIGHT INTRIGUE YOU

Brandon Marshall got so upset after last week’s episode of Lost that he put his fist through a TV. He might be out for up to four months.

Just let that be a lesson to you to always pick up your McDonald’s slop after a late night Big Mac binge. I’m not too concerned. He’ll probably be back in shape for training camp and be in line for a breakout season as long as there is no lasting nerve damage.

The Patriots have been taking a look at Josh Johnson, the little known quarterback loved by many scouts and experts as a potential sleeper quarterback of the future. The theory is that the Patriots might try to convert him to a wide receiver if they draft him in a later.

What? They aren’t going to get rid of that Tom Brady guy? Maybe Josh can work the camera until he becomes Brady’s favorite target. He has the potential to be a QB in the NFL if someone puts the time into working him into it.