Martz be crazy: Why you should draft your Bears this season

As we await the Chicago Bears debut tonight in preseason action, I can’t wait to see if their little offseason experiment worked.

When it comes to offense, Mike Martz is a kamikaze. His “leap of faith” system is as likely to blow up on a game-by-game basis as it is to succeed. While respected at first for his work in St. Louis, in recent years, NFL coaches seem to feel that bringing him in to run an offense is the equivalent of waving a white flag, a last-ditch effort to get their teams on the scoreboard.

Still, Martz’s system shows results. He built the “Greatest Show on Turf,” revived the Detroit Lions passing attack with Jon Kitna, and made J.T. O’ Sullivan fantasy relevant for a time in San Francisco. But one thing he hasn’t had to work with since his days with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger in St. Louis is a true franchise quarterback.

Why, hello there Jay Cutler. Whatever you think of the shruggy Vanderbilt product, Cutler has an arm, and he’s shown the characteristics of a franchise quarterback in Denver. Granted, he no longer has a true No. 1 receiver like Brandon Marshall to throw to now that he’s in Chicago, but don’t count out Devin Hester and Johnny Knox just yet.

Quick receivers who can get to their spots on time are all an offense like Martz’s really needs, and if you believe in the third year breakout for wide receivers and Hester’s quotes, Hester’s ready to make it big. But you don’t have to take his word for it.

Cutler has bought into Martz’s quarterback-friendly system. So even though we can’t expect Cutler’s interceptions to be drastically reduced when he starts firing passes before receivers are even in place, he should do some serious damage in the passing game–the good kind of damage.

Cutler threw a career high 26 interceptions last season pre-Martz, but he also threw a career high 27 touchdowns. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors last year either.

With Martz and a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, Cutler may excel in the W column and fantasy point columns again just like he did in Denver.

So when it comes to drafting Cutler, I’m all for it. He’s currently going early in the seventh round as the No. 9 overall quarterback, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I’m okay with him there as a late starting QB1, I think I’d really love him as a QB2 behind an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tony Romo.

If he has a huge season, you can start him and trade away your elite guy or just trade Cutler for a high-performing running back to make your championship run.

And without having to rely on him completely as your QB1, you can play the ups and downs that are likely to strike the Bears this season. I expect there will be some growing pains in learning Martz’s system and putting it into action each week.

As for the wide receivers, there’s plenty of speculation out there about how to value them. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett could all see time on the field.

This offseason, the early favorite has been Devin Aromashodu, the tallest Bears wide receiver who came on strong at the end of 2009 and scored four touchdowns. But Aromashodu’s sleeper hype has him overvalued now. He’s being drafted before both Hester and Knox, and that just doesn’t make sense.

I’d much rather draft Hester, the forgotten man in this offense who was holding down the No. 1 role until late in 2009, or Knox, the rookie who picked up the offense and caught Cutler’s eye last season.

Hester worked in the offseason with Isaac Bruce to learn what he could from the Martz-made veteran wide receiver, and I think he’ll be ready to play come Week 1 like a top wideout, rather than just as a converted special teamer.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aromashodu shouldn’t be overlooked. He could play a big part in the red zone, but I just don’t think he’s worth a pick in the eighth round when you can get Hester in the tenth.

Martz isn’t really known for increasing the role of the running back in his offenses, but he has two skilled pass catchers in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte seems more like his old self now that he’s recovered from 2009′s injuries. Maybe we all just expected too much of him when we launched him into the first round rankings last season.

With injuries, a new quarterback, and a questionable offensive line, it was hard to live up to the hype around his impressive rookie season. This season, he could turn things around, especially if Martz makes him a big part of the offense. Even though Martz isn’t known for making running backs better, he certainly doesn’t neglect them.

Chester Taylor will take some of the work out of Forte’s hands, but that could be a good thing. Forte wore down late in his rookie season when he was carrying the full load, and as long as he gets to take the carries near the goal line, sharing might be caring for Forte. I can learn to love a timeshare that allows Forte to go full speed all season and keeps him free of injuries.

So think about Forte in the fourth round before you start looking at running backs who have the lesser half of a timeshare situation.

The one position we can’t predict with Martz is tight end. Greg Olsen is a star at the position, but Martz has traditionally left tight ends to block at the line while the receivers steal the show. Time will tell if Olsen can sway him. I am not taking that chance in my drafts right now.

So in short, don’t overlook your Bears this season. I expect to see some significant improvements in the passing game, and as late as Jay Cutler and Hester are being drafted, they’re definitely worth a look.

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

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

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

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

Running Backs

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receivers

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

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

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

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

Tight Ends

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

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

Kickers

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

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

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

Week 14 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: You Know Where This is Going

I thought we’d do things a little differently this week. By this point, I expect that most of you know who you are starting and sitting during these critical weeks of the fantasy playoffs. As such, I don’t think you’ll need as much help deciding which players to start and sit.

Trust is as important a factor as any, and you have to go with your trustworthy guys.

So rather than give you a few players with good games and a few players with bad games this week, we’d be better served just talking about what you can expect from those studs this week and what chances are worth taking for the playoffs.

For starters, the Fourth & 1 Debate fantasy football roundtable covered a few players who, while under the radar most of the season, could make a big splash in the fantasy playoffs. My pick is San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, but you’ll have to go and read the full debate to see my reasoning. It’s good. Promise.

And it’s especially good if you need a sub for Peyton Manning in Week 16, when he is likely to sit out the second half, denying you those fantasy points you need in the championship.

Fanhouse lays out a very strategic plan to attack the playoffs, and a nice set of players to help you do so. I agree with most of their adds, but don’t jump all over the young guns they recommend. Sure, they look good now, but will they really be trustworthy enough to start? I doubt it. Fantasy Joe’s Mike Gilbert doubts waiver wire studs Devin Thomas and Louis Murphy, too.

So if you need the depth or just want to keep them out of the hands of your opponent, go get ‘em. Otherwise, keep your most trusted fantasy cogs close at hand and on your roster.

As FF Toolbox points out, Joe Flacco gets the Lions, Mike Wallace may get a chance to start against the Browns tonight (Joy!), and Kevin Boss faces the tight-end-friendly Philadelphia Eagles defense. On the other hand, dark days look to continue for Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. I wouldn’t want to trust DeAngelo Williams if he plays this week either after what Michael Turner did to fantasy owners in his first game back (He immediately got hurt again, as if you didn’t know).

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty cautions against Kevin Smith and Steven Jackson, and I would agree. As great as Jackson’s been on a bad, horrible, terrible, and atrocious St. Louis Rams (did I mention they were bad?), he may hit the wall this week with Kyle Boller at quarterback against the Titans.

Not a lot of surprises from Fantasy Joe in their start or sit recommendations this week. Among the names, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice look poised and ready to do some damage. I’m sure many of their fantasy owners would appreciate it in the first rounds of the playoffs, me included.

Also noted, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson would seem like good starts if it weren’t for Matt Cassel’s struggles and Jackson’s recent cooling off period. I’d hate to have to rely on them, but you may be forced to start them.

Unlike Fantasy Joe, I’m not as afraid of Donovan McNabb against the Giants. He may be able to put two good games together against them this year, especially if he gets top target DeSean Jackson back this week.

By the way, in one of my leagues, the owner of Chris Johnson didn’t make the playoffs… in a 10-team league in which six, and let me say that twice, SIX teams made the cut. Do you realize how bad you have to be to not make the playoffs with Chris Johnson? Bad. So very, very bad. Rams bad.

Davone Bess and Chris Brown are two intriguing names in the sleeper pool. I’d pass on starting them over someone who got you to the playoffs, but they aren’t bad flex plays this week. Brown more so than Bess. Fanhouse likes Bess as well.

The FF Geek Blog predicts some struggle for the Land Baron and some promising returns on Jamaal Charles as he goes in against Buffalo, but my favorite note thus far was their take on Antonio Bryant’s bad situation this week: “Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers vs NYJ — Darrelle Revis.” That pretty much says it all.

In keeping with the theme of starting the guys who got you there, ESPN’s rankings look pretty familiar. Fanhouse doesn’t stray from the path of the studly either.

If you’re current options are a little sketchy, Fantasy Joe recommends trying the Titans and Cardinals defenses over the Steelers this week, but I can’t fully support the Cardinals defense as an option when they are facing my pick to be an explosive fantasy force this week, Alex Smith. I’m just glad I have the Saints D/ST to set and forget.

Song to Ease Your Pain While Setting Lineups

Now, since I know you can’t set your rosters without musical accompaniment, I give you your very own “Choose Your Own Adventure” of songs to set your roster to this week.

If you’re awesome: Three Days Grace – Animal I Have Become

Rage? Yes. Awesomeness? Completely. Playoff-worthy? Most definitely.

But if you’re hurting and little worried about your game this week, I offer the more melodious but still awesome:  Kings of Leon – Use Somebody

If only your stud players were still showing up. Will that one waiver wire claim you picked up this week save your team? Alex Smith? Jamaal Charles? Only time will tell. Good luck with that one.

And with that, I leave you to your games this week. Best of luck to those of you in the playoffs, and sorry to hear about those of you who are not. If you have any questions, you know what to do. Hit us up in the comments or get in touch.

Week 12 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Carson Palmer, Michael Crabtree, Steve Smith, and Pilgrim’s Pride on Turkey Day

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks. You should pause for a moment and think of all the players you have to thank for getting you where your fantasy team is today.

Thank you, Terrell Owens, for going off the week we finally gave up on starting you. Thanks so much for being worthless just long enough for others to drop you.

Thank you, JaMarcus Russell, for making the Raiders so terrible on offense that Darren McFadden couldn’t even be a fantasy stud this season. That draft pick would have been better spent on Julius Jones, and fantasy owners’ greatest memory of him this season will be the week he sat out and let Justin Forsett do it all.

I guess there are the good stories. I’m incredibly thankful for Ray Rice. He’s held it down for my fantasy team through the thick of the season, and he came at a bargain rate in the draft.

I also have to thank Miles Austin, who came off the waiver wire just in time to become a fantasy gold mine for me. He’s my WR3. Do you realize how great it feels to have Miles Austin as a lottery play every week at WR3? I hope you do.

But enough about my thanks. It’s your turn to give thanks. Maybe we should all send our fantasy players real thank you cards this Christmas, and not those cut-out-of-magazine, stalker cards we normally send to threaten them after they kill our chances at a playoff run, the real kind. The kind of cards that show we care.

No, you’re right. They wouldn’t be into that. Besides, cutting letters out of magazines is way more fun.

Now before you go off to bicker at relatives you may only see once this year and poke at mystery casseroles, it’s time to set your lineups.

Hot Hands Starts of the Week

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs vs. Chargers: I’ll admit that Jamaal Charles was not my favorite person when he was a Longhorn. He had some ball-security issues, and he never seemed to be able to get those yards when it counts. Lucky for him, he went to a team where the yards never really count, and he’s doing well. Woohoo for him.

This week, he faces the San Diego Chargers, who still, if you remember correctly, don’t really have strength at nose tackle after losing their best to injury at the beginning of the season. Considering that Charles is basically half the Chiefs offense alongside Chris Chambers now that Dwayne Bowe is a no-Bowe due to illegal Slimfast, I could see him doing just enough to put the points on the board that you need this week. Pencil him in as a starter if you need him to make plays.

Joseph Addai, RB, Colts vs. Texans: I’ve been benching Addai occasionally for a better matchup in recent weeks, and every time I do it, he makes me pay. It’s like he hates me. Maybe he didn’t get my Christmas card last year?

No worries. Against the Texans, he’s back on my list. I like his chances at getting at least one, if not two, touchdowns since the Colts seem ready and able to get him in the red zone each week.

Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals vs. Browns: Here’s to hoping that Matthew Stafford’s five-touchdown performance against the Browns reminds Carson Palmer what it’s like to be young with two good knees again. Palmer’s got that surgical repaired one now, but I’m pretty sure it’s good enough to do some damage against the Browns.

Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers vs. Jags: He finally scored his first NFL touchdown last week against Green Bay. This week brings the Jaguars secondary to San Francisco, and I could see Crabtree doubling up quickly. The Jaguars have allowed the second most fantasy points to wide receivers, behind only the Titans, who have stepped their game up sine Cortland Finnegan’s return.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers vs. Lions: Mostly as a brief reminder that you should start every player wearing green in this one. The Lions let the Browns offense go nuts on them last week, and the Packers are looking for another offensive blowout to build some confidence for a playoff push. The Packers will make the Lions their turkeys.

Cold Shoulders Sits of the Week

Steve Smith, WR, Panthers vs. Jets: He’s getting the Darrelle Revis treatment (running out of catchy names for Revis’ effect on wide receivers), and unlike Randy Moss, I’m not sure you can count on Smith to score to compensate for his lack of yardage. Start him only if you must.

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears vs. Vikings: While I like Devin Hester and Greg Olsen this week, it’s hard to bet on Cutler making all the right plays given his recent struggles. Interceptions will prevent him from capitalizing on what could have been a big fantasy day.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers vs. Ravens: Baltimore will take a special interest in shutting down Mendenhall and the run game, and putting the game into the hands of a slightly woozy Big Ben. I don’t know that this game is going to be very pretty.

Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys vs. Raiders: He hasn’t been nearly as effective this season. I expect him to play through his injury, but I don’t like his chances to even equal his normal production this season unless turkey has some special regenerative powers.

Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Beanie’s building momentum down the stretch, but it slows here. Tim Hightower will benefit from a lot of checkdown passes against the Titans, but Beanie just isn’t getting those yet. I expect a quiet night. Save him for those lovely playoff matchups.

Snooze-Button Sleeper Pick of the Week

Alex Smith, QB, 49ers vs. Jags: He’s dropped off the radar a bit since he first took over the starting job in San Francisco, but Smith has a great chance to blow people away against the Jags. I expect Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to get open early and often. Smith will capitalize if you’re current starter has a dirty matchup this week.

Song to Ease Your Pain While Setting Lineups

Iron Maiden – Pilgrim

It’s the most fitting song of the season. I’m putting my belt around my hat as we speak. We all know there’s no reason for belts on pants today of all days.

Good luck to you all and Happy Turkey Day.

You can also give thanks and compare notes with The FF Geek Blog, The Hazean, Fantasy Joe and Matthew Berry’s love/hate.

Fourth & 1 Debate: How to avoid fantasy disappointments next season

Ah, the sadness comes in larger puddles of tears every week as we approach the fantasy playoffs. That first-round pick sure screwed you, didn’t he? But how, oh how, do you keep it from happening again next year? (Like it always does?)

Last week’s fantasy football roundtable covered that and covered it well. The question:

Thinking back to the players that you targeted in drafts at the beginning of the season, which one or two players have been the biggest disappointments? What kind of additional information do you think you could use to avoid selecting this type of underachieving player in 2010?

My answer:

The biggest two disappointments in my book are Matt Forte and Calvin Johnson. Both were drafted in among the top-three at their position, and both have been miserable for most of the season.

In Forte’s case, there was good reason to believe his role in the offense might be threatened. Chicago traded for Jay Cutler, bringing an arm to Chicago and taking away Kyle Orton’s compulsive checkdown passes. But that alone was not enough to scare off fantasy owners.

The decline of the Chicago defense, an unexpected factor this season, has also hurt Forte’s value. When the Bears get behind, they have put the game in Cutler’s hands and reduced Forte’s chances. Forte’s turned it around in recent weeks, but the damage has, for the most part, already been done to the owners who drafted him and their fantasy hopes.

Calvin Johnson was regarded as “quarterback-proof” coming into this season. No matter who was throwing the ball, he would get his yards and probably a score. He still ranked as one of the elite wide receivers in fantasy despite news that a rookie quarterback, Matthew Stafford would start for the Lions. With no legitimate threat on the other side of the field, defenses tried to take Megatron out of games, and a few times early in the season, they were successful. Even if you’re quarterback-proof, you can’t be “team-proof,” and the Lions were doing him no favors.

A knee injury prevented Johnson from seeing the field for several weeks. Now that he’s back to full health, he is contributing, but with only one touchdown and one 100+ yard game this season, it’s safe to say owners were hoping to get more out of him by this point in the season.

What info could prevent us from making these same drafting mistakes in the future? We must pay close attention to change in the offseason, and give special attention to teams with new quarterbacks. The quarterback runs the offense, and changes at that position can often mean big swings in fantasy. In their first year with a new team, quarterbacks must spend time learning the playbook and finding their rhythm with the receivers and running back. There are many variables in play there, and it creates risks in fantasy.

In Chicago’s case, Cutler brought that “gunslinger” mentality and a powerful arm to Chicago, which has allowed the passing game to be more of a focus on offense. He didn’t avoid using Forte, but Cutler had to understand how and when he could use Forte, which led to Forte’s slow start.

A rookie quarterback always has a big learning curve in coming to the NFL, and Matthew Stafford was no different. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco’s exceptional rookie seasons may have warmed fantasy football players up to the idea of starting rookies, but the Lions were not nearly as complete a team as the Falcons and Ravens were last season. Stafford’s rookie struggles have held Calvin Johnson back, and an unexpected knee injury did the rest.

It’s unfortunate that new quarterbacks impact a team so much. Avoiding them as a rule can prevent you from finding some real value in your fantasy football draft (see: Vikings receivers like Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin), but taking a risk on teams with new signal callers can also cost you big, as we saw this year with Forte and Megatron.

The secret is to do your homework on them.

For the complete discussion and the rest of the debate’s answers, check out the full fantasy football roundtable on Junkyard Jake’s blog.

Week 11 Hot Hand and Cold Shoulders: Twilight Edward vs. Jacob, who ya got?

I know nothing of Twilight. I like it that way, but this debate that’s been raging across all my television channels, including my sports channels, has annoyed me to no end, especially because they used my name.

From what I can gather, my namesake Jacob is a werewolf who is loyal and the complete “nice guy.” Figures.

Edward, on the other hand (and correct me if I am wrong), is a total douche of a vampire who’s the “dangerous” one. Also typical.

I have no allegiance to either camp; in fact, I’d love if this book series, or “saga” as the TV loves to call it, disappeared off the planet, along with “So You Think You Can Dance” and the like.

Still, I can draw a parallel to fantasy football (because that’s what you least expected).

You see, Jacob is dependable, honest, and trustworthy. He’s your Thomas Jones. Through the good and the bad, he gets his yards and does the best he can to score. He may not be exceptional, but you have to love that schedule down the stretch.

While Edward, jackass that he is, is Beanie Wells. He’s risky and exciting, and ladies probably love him for his burst. I would even guess that Wells turns to crystal in the sunlight because that makes absolutely no sense in vampire lore. THEY DIE IN THE SUN, YOU IDIOTS; otherwise, why would they not take over the world by now?

So you can pick your poison with these Twilight guys. Dangerous or dependable? I like both of them, Jones and Wells, enough to start them this week, but we’ll see which one turns to crystal in the sun.

And while we’re at it (and done talking about Twilight), here are a few more mythical creatures that I would consider starting.

Hot Hands Starts of the Week

Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins vs. Panthers — Ricky Williams comes into Carolina with a 50/50 chance of 100+ yards against the Panthers based on his previous performances. With running mate Ronnie Brown out for the year, I’d say the odds are even better for him. Carolina’s run defense has not been cutting it all season.

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens vs. Colts — Rice has been top-notch in his last seven games. Against the Colts weakened run defense, he should make it eight. But be warned, that playoffs schedule looks rough.

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears vs. Eagles — It’s been a rough few weeks, but Philly’s secondary is weakened just enough by injuries and suspensions for this to work.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers vs. Broncos – So I guess he’s not completely dead. I knew that San Diego needed new blood to get their running game going. I didn’t expect that new blood to be a baby on the way for L.T. and Mrs. L.T. The Broncos should have some trouble stopping him this week, but do not go into this expecting another blowout affair. You can only get pregnant once…every nine months…as far as I’m aware.

Reggie Bush, RB, Saints vs. Bucs – Since when is Bush a goal line back? Insanity, but the Saints like using him on those dive-into-the-end-zone plays. He makes a solid start against Tampa Bay as long as the trend continues, and I think it will. The Bucs can’t stop any running back on defense.

Cold Shoulders Sits of the Week

Justin Forsett, RB, Seahawks vs. Vikings — You may have picked him on waivers this week, but you won’t be seeing much production. Minnesota has allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season. Forsett won’t get the third. He has some talent in the receiving game, but I see the Vikings putting plenty of pressure on Matt Hasselbeck.

Santana Moss, WR, Redskins vs. Cowboys — It’s easy to single out a guy like Moss, but he’s actually being recommended as a start against the Cowboys this week in several places. I don’t like him. The Cowboys secondary and pass rush has kept wide receivers under wraps in recent weeks. The Redskins anemic offense shouldn’t break that trend.

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons vs. Giants — The Giants are coming off a bye with plenty of time to prep for the struggling Atlanta passing game. The expected return of Aaron Ross to the secondary shouldn’t hurt either.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs vs. Steelers — Charles finally got his touchdown, and he has a beauty of a schedule down the stretch. This week is not part of that. The Steelers should look to squash him out as the Chiefs’ main offensive weapon now that Dwayne Bowe will sit for four weeks, and Pittsburgh should limit his chances in the passing game enough to make him a flex start at best, even in PPR leagues.

Randy Moss, WR, Patriots vs. Jets — Mark this down under “you’re not going to listen to me but…” Darrelle Revis shut down Moss last time the Pats faced the Jets, and though Tom Brady has stepped his game up since then, Moss should be due for a second quiet week. I’m still starting him, as you should if you have him, but be don’t expect one of those blowout performances he’s been putting up.

Snooze-Button Sleeper Pick of the Week

Bernard Scott, RB, Bengals vs. Raiders — I was torn on my sleeper pick this week. Nate Washington has a great chance of putting up numbers if Houston gets out to an early lead. Vince Young travels home to play the Texans. Josh Freeman faces a banged-up Saints secondary that allowed Marc Bulger to look like a quarterback, and Brandon Jacobs might finally get it back on track.

But in the end, I had to go with Scott, who is likely to see more than the usual amount of carries this week against the Raiders defense even if Cedric Benson starts. Scott, rather than Larry Johnson, knows the offense, and I believe he’s got a shot at 100+ yards even if he can’t get a score flying solo or sharing with an injured Benson.

Song to Ease Your Pain While Setting Lineups

Muse — Time Is Running Out

http://youtu.be/ChR8PAEA_RM

Muse did have a song on the Twilight soundtrack, but I won’t hold that against them. “Time Is Running Out” is a perfect fit for this week as the trade deadline approaches and many of you are scrounging to put together a few more wins and lock up a playoff spot.

Best of luck to you all, and remember that vampires should never turn to crystal. It’s just not right.

Fore more start and sit advice, compare notes with Fantasy Joe, FF Xtreme, and FF Toolbox.

Foolish Thoughts: California Dreams and NFL at 10

It’s easy to pick on Brian Westbrook, but his surprise “inactivity” this week probably caught many fantasy owners off-guard. It caught me off-guard. All indications were that he would take the field, but some headaches on Friday conspired to keep him from playing.

That also prevented me from starting LeSean McCoy over Jamaal Charles. Would have been nice to know, you know, Westbrook?

I spent the past weekend and first half of this week in California for a conference. For some reason, I assumed that free Internet would be easily found and obtained around the state of California, land of tech and startups, but it was pretty lacking around the hotel. Not to mention, the hotel wanted to charge $13 per day to plug into the wall for Internet. What is this? The Dark Ages?

I hadn’t fully adjusted to the time change on Sunday at 10 a.m. when I realized the games were already starting. Football at 10 a.m.? That feels like college. I don’t like that.

The bye week served Tampa Bay well. Not only did they get Josh Freeman up to speed for his first start, but they also got the team excited enough to get after the Packers and get their first win of the season. Quite a way to start off a rookie season. Might be the only good game he has in him this year.

No 0-16 seasons this year. Three weeks ago it looked like it would be a race between the Titans and the Bucs, but now both teams have rediscovered their offenses thanks to quarterback changes and bye weeks. I guess that’s why they have the byes. I just thought the byes were intended to make fantasy football more difficult.

At least we can still hope for 1-15.

Kurt Warner’s having hot flashes. Never has the Warner boom-bust phenomenon been more obvious than his five-touchdown performance one week after his five-interception game.

On the other hand, Cedric Benson proved he’s the model of consistency. Baltimore looked angry last week, ready to destroy Cincinnati in their revenge game, but Benson put up 100+ yards on them again and added a score just to drive the point home.

Much to the delight of DeAngelo Williams’ owners, the Saints let the Panthers roll on them again in the first half. That run defense just can’t hold the line anymore with the injuries that have hit it in recent weeks, but they still come up with the big play.

This week, it was forced fumbles that created the Saints’ scoring opportunity on defense instead of Darren Sharper and that excellent secondary. Even though they let the scores get high, the Saints remain a valid fantasy option by scoring so much on defense.

I really expected the Patriots to exploit the young and inexperienced Miami secondary more than they did on Sunday. Randy Moss had a big day, but Brady didn’t do much more than that. Where’s the evil Belichick I know and love?

Jay Cutler proved that his favorite target is Greg Olsen by throwing him three touchdowns against the Cardinals.

Matt Forte barely remembers what the ball even looks like at this point. The Bears had to abandon the run so that Cutler could try to get them back in it. At this point, you can pretty much call Forte’s season “over.”

It took longer than expected, but Clinton Portis finally went out of a game with an injury this week as the Redskins got run over by Michael Turner. Portis has fallen off a cliff this year after being driven into the ground by Washington last year.

I don’t have many regrets from this week, but I wish I had started Joseph Addai. Here I was thinking that the Texans had finally fixed their problems on the ground, but short-yardage goal line situations are pretty common for the Colts. Addai capitalized.

Oh, hi there, Chris Chambers. Just when I thought you were dead…

Releasing Larry Johnson less than 100 yards before he becomes the team’s all-time leading rusher? Yeah…I’m pretty sure they had nothing against him.

By the way, now that I’m back to the land of the Internets, the waiver wire post from Tuesday has been updated and fleshed out. Feel free to peruse it’s newly formatted goodness all over again. It’s like going from standard definition to high definition.

Foolish Thoughts: Marc Bulger and Sunday Night Sadness

Baseball stole our Sunday Night Football. How is that fair? Give it back, World Series. I demand it.

I’m fine with baseball as long as I don’t have to sit through an entire game. In my opinion, it should be played in highlight form, jumping to the major parts and leaving out all the rest.

Pitching change? No, sir. You should only be able to make a change between innings. You play yourself out of your own mess, pitcher.

We could also probably speed things up by not using a third baseman. If you get past second, you have to beat the catcher to home plate or get caught trying.

Yeah, yeah, I know that ruins all that “for the love of the game” stuff, but baseball hasn’t done it for me for several years now. I am all for going to a game in person, but watching a game on TV is just…not the same.

And besides, the first minute baseball interferes with my football, it violates my rights. I think it’s fair to hold a grudge. I was forced to watch the Favre-Favre-Favre-fest in Green Bay, and then it was just over. Done.

But at least they put on National Treasure.

Fantasy Football Fools has a new enemy.

Patrick Crayton gets a pass this week. He’s settled in nicely to his role as the slot receiver and returner for the Cowboys.

No, the new bane of my existence is one Marc Bulger, quarterback of the St. Louis Rams and the only human incapable of throwing a touchdown pass against the Lions.

It was a bit of a sleeper pick — okay, a lot of a sleeper pick — to toss him into my starting lineups this week, but it was out of necessity in one league.

Believe it or not, the blogger league I am in was smart enough to stock up on quarterbacks this year. I got hosed in the draft at quarterback and ended up with only Carson Palmer and Trent Edwards. Edwards has since been dropped for bench depth and pure worthlessness.

Palmer’s bye week in Week 8 left me wanting, so I went to the waiver wire only to find that Bulger was the best it had to offer. I almost pulled off the victory, even with Bulger’s pathetic 5.3-point performance, but the Saints defense butchered me in the end.

In the Buffalo Wild Wings All-Star Blogger league, I went with Bulger over Mark Sanchez, mostly due to a fear that Sanchez would do just enough to win. Surely, Marc Bulger, facing the defenseless Detroit Lions, could put up a touchdown, maybe even two touchdowns.

How could I be so foolish…

Luckily, I pulled off the win without Bulger in the BWW league thanks to a clutch performance from Tony Gonzalez and a low-scoring week for my opponent, but Bulger is still not to be trusted.

It’s not like you own him in any leagues, but Bulger is all that is wrong with mankind. When the time arises to do what is necessary, he fails miserably, even with the odds in his favor. Bulger is Mr. Glass to everyone else’s unbreakable Bruce Willis. He’s the even more obscure movie reference to that movie reference.

To his credit, he’s not getting a lot of help out there from his offensive line, but he does have Steven Jackson fighting like a champ for extra yards on every play.

In short, he’s not going to be on my team come Week 9, and I’ll be a better man for it.

Okay, okay. I agree that starting Beanie Wells wasn’t the smartest move. But if the Cardinals hadn’t been forced to pass after going down early — what happened to that run defense? — we might have seen a completely different outcome for Beanie.

As it happened, Andre Johnson was definitely the stronger start, but neither player blew anybody out of the water this week. The Texans were slowed by the Buffalo Bills’ passing defense, but the Bills’ run defense was pathetic, just as advertised.

Ryan Moats, most known for being abused by police, took over the running duties after Steve Slaton was benched for fumbling, and Moats tried his best to earn a larger portion of the duties moving forward. He scored three touchdowns, and if you own Slaton, he probably caused you a minor aneurysm.

The best part? It’s anybody’s guess what this means for Slaton and Moats going forward. Moats could be in line for the starting job. Slaton owners better just try to lock up both backs while they can.

Slaton’s been disappointing enough, but there’s no sense allowing the Houston running game to slip from your grasp by ignoring Moats’ big day.

Apparently, we shouldn’t have been so worried about LaDainian Tomlinson, but for a two-touchdown day, the yardage wasn’t there. Just 56 yards and not a single reception? That doesn’t have me screaming “He’s back” in the street anytime soon.

I loved Matt Forte last season. He was my best pick in the draft last year, and I rode his consistency all the way into the fantasy playoffs. But he’s just not getting the job done this year.

The offensive line isn’t helping him in the running game, and Jay Cutler has the ability to make plays through the air when the game is close rather than checking down to Forte like Kyle Orton was fond of doing last year.

Without those check-down passes, Forte suffers against tough run defenses. He has only shown up against the Lions and this week against the Browns.

If you have the opportunity, I wouldn’t hesitate to trade him, but try to get the greatest value you can for a guy who was drafted with a top-five pick this year.

Is the AFC East the most unpredictable division in football? Just when you think that you know how a game is going to turn out, they spin it on you.

I lucked into starting the Miami defense in one league, but how we were to expect the Dolphins would beat the Jets again? And this time off the returning skills of Ted Ginn?

The Patriots need to get back to form to make everything normal again.

Steven Jackson finally scored a touchdown. The world shook. The seas parted, and it’ll probably never happen again in 2009. Single tear. He deserves many more for the way he’s been running this year, but the schedule is not in his favor.

Foolish Thoughts: Darren McFadden is dead to me, make the Brett Favre stop and other tales of horror

Darren McFadden is the biggest fantasy football tease in America. If Keith Olbermann were still doing his “Worst Person in the NFL” segment, it would be Run DMC. McFadden is the flirt that no one ever dates, and the bane of many a fantasy football team.

Draft him his rookie season? Oh, yeah, about that Justin Fargas fella, he’ll still get most of the carries while McFadden tiptoes around on his turf toe injury.

Draft him in 2009 after all the talk about the Raiders making him a multidimensional threat, receiving and running, capable of bending space and time to his will? Well, you get goose eggs every week and fumbles that cancel out any fantasy points he may happen to score.

He’s terrible, but it’s not all his fault. It’s Oakland. Right now, nothing can rise out of the fantasy pit that is the black hole of California.

JaMarcus Russell and his inability to hit a receiver is killing the fantasy value of all the Raiders. He looked impressive enough to start the season against the Chargers, but since that loss, he’s fallen off a cliff.

Russell is a murderer of dreams. Every time he throws the ball, an angel loses its wings and slaps Al Davis back to life. I’d say that a puppy dies every time Russell catches a snap, but let’s not get into the Michael Vick drama.

Instead, let’s focus on the good things. At least the Raiders have a talented backfield with McFadden and Michael Bush…if ever the defense would be threatened enough by the Oakland passing game not to stack up eight or more men in the box.

For now, Darren McFadden should be benched in all leagues until further notice. He made sure of that by getting hurt. He should miss the next two to four weeks while recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee.

While I might hold onto him a few more weeks, it’s safe to consider dropping him in all but deep leagues. The Raiders face the Giants, Jets and Eagles over the next three weeks, which gives them plenty of time to become even more miserable or develop some sign of life in the passing game.

The smart bet is on the miserable side of things.

Wish I could find that pic of Philip Rivers with grass in his helmet
I heard several people on either side of the fence of my “pass” on Philip Rivers in my preseason “pick or pass” for quarterbacks, but I stand behind my statements that he will not live up to his draft stock this season.

Last year was an extraordinary one for him stat-wise, and you should not expect him to repeat. He didn’t look good against the Steelers until the final quarter, and he’s been alternating between decent 20+ fantasy point weeks and mediocre point totals in the teens.

Don’t expect him to be able to expose a defense with that many big plays in his games moving forward.

Mark Sanchez de-poised
It took four weeks, but the rookie who couldn’t be cracked finally lost his poise this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Now, rather than his poise that had stolen the headlines for weeks, all anyone can talk about are his turnovers.

Yes, on the season Mark Sanchez has five interceptions and five fumbles with three of those picks coming in Sunday’s game, but thus far, the Jets have been able to overcome his mistakes with solid defense.

Against the Saints, his turnovers cost them by giving away 14 points.

Despite his lack of poise (for once), Sanchez remains the rookie quarterback to own this season, especially now that Matthew Stafford is day-to-day with a knee injury.

He’s no Matt Ryan, but he’ll do if you need a backup.

Titans not so Titan-y
Four games into the season, the Titans are winless, and they’re looking worse in every contest. I can’t say that I’m not rooting for Kerry Collins to be replaced, but that said, he’s not the problem.

The Titans defense isn’t what it used to be, and the only explosive player on offense is Chris Johnson.

They’ll have to get Johnson more involved in the passing game if they’re going to be behind in games all season, but right now, he’s still a must-start fantasy stud.

In Other News…

  • Tom Brady felt like the real thing again in his fourth appearance, and the Randy Moss connection is still good to go. Me likey. Welcome back, Patriots.
  • In I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it news, the Cowboys aren’t looking too promising if they keep getting the play calling they did Sunday. Tony Romo owners around the nation agree. He’ll be boom or bust all season.
  • Jay Cutler is the next Tom Brady? No, really? I didn’t get that memo, but he is playing very well in his new uniform.
  • The Indianapolis Colts are looking just fine with Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. Both could have decent fantasy value moving forward, and Collie got his first NFL touchdown on Sunday.
  • Is anyone tired of hearing Brett Favre’s name tonight yet?

A Fool and His Money – Week 4

Bengals (-5.5) over BROWNS
The Bengals beat the Packers and Steelers in back-to-back games. The Browns finally benched Ms. Quinn, but Derek Anderson somehow managed to play worse in his second half debut. I have to imagine it’s tough for anybody to like the Browns in this one.

Lions (+10) over BEARS
The first step is admitting you have a problem. I admit I do not like Jay Cutler and that my picks regarding Chicago this year should be taken with a grain of salt.

Raiders (+9) over TEXANS
The Texans were on a nice little win streak before they went to Oakland last year. Oakland’s strength is anything but JaMarcus Russell passing, AKA running the ball. The Texans have one of the worst run defenses in the league. That leads me to believe Schaub will be on the sidelines a lot and that this game will be closer than people think.

Seahawks (+11) over COLTS
The Colts are looking very good, but 11 points? I can’t turn that down.

Bucs (+7) over REDSKINS
The Redskins are going to be booed by their home fans for losing to Detroit last week. They barely beat the Rams the week before that. The Bucs will smell blood in the water just like the Lions last week.

Titans (-3) over JAGS
I’m having trouble letting go. The Titans are 0-3, yet I keep picking them. I view this game as a win-win situation. If they win, great. If they lose, the Vince Young grumblings will get a little louder.

Giants (-8.5) over CHIEFS
The Chiefs have the 30th ranked total offense and 22nd ranked total defense. The Giants have the second ranked total defense and sixth ranked total offense. That points to a double-digit can of whoop-ass where I come from.

Ravens (+2) over PATRIOTS
This is a tough one for me. The Patriots had a solid statement game against the Falcons last week, but the Ravens have done everything asked of them so far this season. I am going to stick with the Ravens until they do me wrong.

Bills (-2) over DOLPHINS
The Dolphins have a decent run defense, but shutting down the Marshawn Lynch-Fred Jackson combo won’t be easy. And as much as I don’t like him, my gut says T.O. will have a solid game to make up for the goose egg he put up last week.

SAINTS (-7) over Jets
I keep picking against Mark Sanchez and the Jets. Maybe this will be the week that I’m actually right. I think the Saints will put points on the board no matter who they are playing, but I’m not sure the Jets can do the same on the road.

49ERS (-10) over Rams
The 49ers are going to come out angry after letting the Vikings game slip away from them. Their defense is opportunistic at home, and I’m guessing Kyle Boller will try to do a little too much in the starting role.

Cowboys (-3) over BRONCOS
I realize the Broncos are 3-0, but I’m still going with the Cowboys. They have more talent, and their ground game is punishing teams right now.

Chargers (+6.5) over STEELERS
This is way too many points for the Steelers to be favored by. They have lost two in a row and have done nothing this season to justify that spread. This is a no-brainer pick regardless of who you think is going to win.

Packers (+3.5) over VIKINGS
Brett Favre is saying all the right things this week, but there is no way it’s just another game to him. I’m guessing he will go out and try to win this game himself instead of just handing off to Purple Jesus like he should. This is must-watch TV no matter which team you root for.

Season Record: 16-16