Don’t sleep on Huggy, 7 more sleepers

In less than 48 hours, real, NFL football returns. Oh, how I have missed you.

I’m sure that you have your fantasy football team in tip-top shape, ready to go for the season, but before you call it the total package, I have some names for your watch list. I’m doing this in place of this week’s “On the Wire” waiver wire feature. These players are names that shouldn’t be left in the free agent pool long this year. So if you’re holding onto a backup tight end or defense as we enter Week 1, consider claiming these guys early.

Kareem Huggins, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No one puts Kareem Huggins in the corner. Ever since the Bucs cut Derrick Ward, Huggy’s fantasy star has been climbing, but he’s still not drafted in every league.

Cadillac Williams may have a deal with Father Time (or the father of knee injuries, if there is one), but unless he runs with a lot more speed and energy than he did last season, he’s not going to blow many defenses away. Instead, the Bucs may see fit to inject a little Huggy Bear in the offense. Keep him on your radar.

Dexter McCluster, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

There’s plenty about this converted running back that intrigues me. Sure, I mentioned him when I made fun of all the Wes Welker comparisons we’ve gotten this offseason, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he could actually be a Wes Welker. At his small size, he’s probably capable of being a Darren Sproles clone as well.

The Chiefs clearly want to use him in every way possible. He’s practiced in almost every position on the field, and he’s been lined up as their Wildcat quarterback. The Chiefs may not score very many points this season, but McCluster could be on the field quite a bit when they do.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

He’s not the sexiest pick on the block, but Maurice Jones-Drew’s backup got a lot of attention when it was rumored MJD had gone under the knife this preseason. While he makes a great handcuff for MJD, it remains to be seen how much he’ll really do this season unless MJD goes down.

For now, I’ll keep my expectations low and only suggest you keep him on your watch list unless you’re relying heavily on MJD this year.

James Davis, RB, Cleveland Browns

Forgotten on the Browns roster, Davis had all the hype in the world last season as a rookie. Injury kept him from showing anything to us in 2009, and when the Browns drafted Montario Hardesty, everyone scratched James Davis off their sleeper lists.

Well, that may have been a bit too soon. With Hardesty out for the year, Davis will be the one waiting in the wings behind Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis. He had a strong preseason, and even though I feel that Hillis will see the field on a regular basis more than Davis, Davis is the long-term investment with the highest payout.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

I don’t know if you remember how Tom Brady used to throw to his tight end. Ben Watson trailed off in New England in recent years, and a platoon of veterans muddled the stat lines during the Randy Moss and Wes Welker era. But when he has a target on the field, Brady likes to use it.

Gronkowski is that new tight end target.  The rookie has had a great preseason, and if you waited to take a tight end, Gronkowski might just be the upgrade you’re looking for after Week 1.

Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Say what you will about Rashard Mendenhall’s chances to be a full-time back this season, but I’m worried. Mike Tomlin says Redman will be used in short-yardage, and I believe that.

I was already a bit of a Mendenhall doubter, and this news makes me feel even more uneasy about the young Steelers running back. While Redman’s not exactly a handcuff, I’d strongly consider snagging him on your roster if you’re also carrying Mendenhall just to cover all your bases until this shakes out.

Mike Williams, WR, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks cut T.J. Houshmandzadeh and promoted Williams to the starting lineup. It seems this big (and I do mean big) wide receiver has finally lost the pounds and become a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Seattle doesn’t boast the most potent offense in the land, but if Hasselbeck stays healthy, there’s a chance Pete Carroll could turn this former USC wideout into everything he was supposed to be coming out of college.

Deon Butler, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Along those same lines, you could see Butler emerge as a receiving threat this year if Hasselbeck stays upright. We don’t know how much he’ll see the field right now, but he’s a burner and could add an explosive element to this offense down the field. Since no one really knows who he is, you can probably just keep him on a watch list for now.

Now if that’s not enough for you, you’ll find more sleepers to pad your roster in David Sabino’s 11 fantasy sleepers at SI.com. I like his picks, but keep in mind that many of them are long shots — hence, sleepers.

So. Excited. For. Football.

Everybody’s got a Wes Welker

He’s quick. He’s nimble. He’s the envy of every team in the NFL, which is why every team in the NFL has got to get their hands on one.

Wes Welker is no longer just one NFL wide receiver recovering from a knee injury using Playboy-endorsed rehabbing techniques. No, he is more than one man. A LEGEND! His name gets thrown out so much by every other team in the NFL, I think it’s time we recognized him as an actual position on the field.

When Welker first became a Patriot, he was just a scrappy, quick-legged little wide receiver who excelled in the return game, but now…he’s so much more. He’s the one who makes everything in the Patriots’ offense possible. He’s Tom Brady’s running back equivalent. If running backs were sugar, he’d be Splenda.

Welker’s ability to provide the outlet option for Brady almost serves as a second running game. He has that rare talent for finding the open space over the middle and on short routes that you cannot simply replace with another good athlete. There’s a reason why Welker catches so many passes; he gets thrown to a lot (162 targets in 2009, 150 targets in 2008). [via Fanhouse]

See? He’s the icing on the cake. He’s all a man, or coach, really needs to be happy.

But contrary to popular belief, you CAN actually replace Wes Welker with “another good athlete.” Just find your own! Let’s just stop calling that No. 2 wide receiver a “WR” altogether; instead, it’s now “WW” for Wes “the Welker” Welker, the position commonly played opposite Randy Moss or other dominant WR and specializing in turning short passes into significant gains.

Despite bans against cloning, it appears Welker is easily reproduced in almost every offense the NFL has to offer. WWs are the new Pokémon — gotta catch ‘em all (which, oddly enough, is Welker’s slogan when it comes to footballs).

I know…I know, you had no idea this was a phenomenon, but it’s truly become the time for WWs in the NFL. Every team’s gotta have a WW now, and it was a hot season for them during this year’s NFL draft since many teams were stuck with a depth chart full of WRs and no WWs in sight.

If an NFL franchise didn’t have one already, they have one now. Hell, the Patriots have TWO. Just look at Julian Edelman.

Indianapolis thinks they have a WW in Sam Giguere. In Baltimore, there’s David Reed. In Cincinnati, there’s Jordan Shipley.

In Denver, they have Eddie Royal, who was supposed to be Denver’s Wes Welker last year and failed to live up to expectations. But you can bet he’s going to be one this year!

In Atlanta, their Wes Welker isn’t recovering quite as fast as the original edition, but Harry Douglas is expected to fill the spot if he can manage to get back to 100 percent. (I guess the one thing they can’t clone is Welker’s Wolverine-like healing ability.)

But who’s the hottest WW of them all? The Chiefs are plenty excited about Dexter McCluster, their running back and WW clone, and I’d say he’s gotten the most press this offseason for filling the WW role in the offense.

Even though he spent most of his time as a running back in college, the Chiefs plan to use him all over the field and, most definitely, to fill the gap they have at slot receiver.

So get ready, folks. WWs are about to take over a roster spot on all 32 NFL franchises. And since WWs have become such a big part of the NFL experience, it might just be time to petition our commissioners to add a WW to fantasy rosters this season. Who needs a flex spot when it could be a Wes Welker!?

Top 15 Fantasy Football Storylines You Missed Since the Super Bowl

Congratulations on escaping from that rock you’ve been trapped under for all those long months since the Super Bowl. Hopefully, you weren’t trapped in this thing. After you get a good, warm meal inside of you, I’m sure you’ll be wondering what happened in the world since you departed.

Or if you, like me, took a little break from the world of football between the Super Bowl and the NFL draft, you might just need to get a quick overview of what’s happened in the NFL since you started caring about other sports like March Madness college basketball and NBA playoffs. What? Hockey? Well, let’s just get back to football, shall we?

1. Donovan McNabb is a Washington Redskin. In one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the NFC East rival Redskins. The Eagles have decided to put their trust, and their future, in Kevin Kolb. The fantasy impact won’t necessarily be felt by McNabb on this one, but it will boost his Redskin teammates, especially Chris Cooley as a fantasy tight end. But don’t go thinking that the Redskins have all become fantasy elites. The Eagles, on the other hand, will take a bit of a step back with Kevin Kolb learning the ropes. They may run more with Mike Bell and LeSean McCoy to take the pressure off Kolb, which could inflate their fantasy values, but I see them keeping the passing game lively. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Kevin Kolb might be a fantasy phenom trio in just a few years.

2. Brandon Marshall is a Miami Dolphin. “Baby T.O.” just didn’t like his situation in Denver. His off-the-field issues almost got him benched last season with Josh McDaniels, and with his contract coming to an end, McDaniels, who must hate everything not put together by Bill Belichick, sent him off to Miami so that the Dolphins could make him “the highest-paid receiver in the league” for at least one season. His fantasy stock should remain at a high level. The Dolphins have desperately needed a No. 1 receiver for years, and now they have Marshall and a great supporting cast of receiving talent around him. Chad Henne will benefit from having a receiver he can feed the ball to every week, and Ronnie Brown should get a little relief now that teams have to worry about covering deep. Marshall leaves behind a mess in Denver. Eddie Royal will be expected to takeover as the No. 1 and is plenty talented enough to hold it down if he someone can get the ball to him, but Kyle Orton may not be able to carry the torch at QB without a receiver of Marshall’s abilities. Royal isn’t as much of a go-up-and-get-it kind of receiver, lacking Marshall’s dominant size. So we might even see Brady Quinn get a chance this year. Oh, and I guess this quiets that Patrick Turner talk.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson is a New York Jet. The running back of fantasy legend was released by the Chargers only to sign with the New York Jets. There’s talk of him getting up to 15 carries per game, which would seriously piss off a lot of Shonn Greene owners. Personally, I think his ship has sailed, and his fantasy value with it. L.T. will be a mid-round pick in many a league just by reputation, and I think that might be a mistake.

4. Thomas Jones is a Kansas City Chief. Before L.T. showed up in town, Thomas Jones was let go by the Jets. I guess he just wasn’t the veteran running back they desired, but he set up shop in Kansas City rather quickly. That puts a bit of a damper on the Jamaal Charles hype that was building this offseason, but he’s probably still going to be one of the more electric backs in 2010. Just look at what Chris Johnson was able to do in his rookie season while still sharing the rock with LenDale White.

5. Tony Scheffler is a Detroit Lion, and the Broncos hate themselves. Josh McDaniels just wants to get rid of all the talent in Denver. It must be a team-building exercise. I just don’t know when he’s actually going to start building the team. Scheffler was one of the more dynamic threats in the Broncos’ arsenal, especially without Brandon Marshall. Now he’ll be helping Matt Stafford mature as an NFL passer and working alongside Brandon Pettigrew. The trade could mean that the Lions fear Pettigrew may not be at 100 percent to start the season as he recovers from his ACL injury, but it’s more likely they just realize they need every weapon they can get to free up Calvin Johnson this season.

6. Santonio Holmes is a Jet…and suspended for the first four games. Screw up once, shame on you. Screw up twice, shame on us. Screw up three times, get off our roster. Holmes screwed up, he got suspended for four games, and the Steelers just wanted to be done with it. They traded him for a fifth-round pick, and now Holmes will try to find a role (most likely out of the slot) for the Jets when he gets on the field in Week 5. This trade hurts his fantasy value, as he is probably not going to establish himself as the No. 1 in New York. But it also threatens Braylon Edwards. He’ll now have to compete with Holmes throughout the season in hopes of keeping his job. At least Mike Wallace is happy.

7. Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for the first six games…or maybe just four. If you’re an NFL quarterback, it’s probably best that you just avoid hanging out in small-town nightclubs with throngs of drunk girls. That’s all I’ll say about that. But if you do, you’ll probably get suspended for shaming the NFL shield like Roethlisberger has. The Steelers have brought back Byron Leftwich to fill in while Big Ben on his shame suspension, but that’s probably not going to scare anyone but Charlie Batch.

8. The Rams have released Marc Bulger. I guess Sam Bradford’s pro day was so good that Bulger just didn’t want to be around anymore. That, or he just decided he’d need a whole offseason to find a new home. Still waiting on that one. Unlike Jake Delhomme, now in Cleveland after being cut by Carolina, Bulger has no home. Happy Birthday, Bulger!

9. Charlie Whitehurst will get a chance to start in Seattle over Matt Hasselbeck. So the job may not be as secure as Hasselbeck would hope it is. Granted, Whitehurst doesn’t have a long NFL resume just yet, but he may be able to push Hasselbeck more than Seneca Wallace did in recent years. We’ll see.

10. The Jets defense is looking really scary. They have Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis at corner, and now Jason Taylor, you know, just for line depth. If all the bets the Jets made this offseason pay out, we could be looking at one of this year’s premiere fantasy defenses.

11. Ted Ginn Jr. is a San Francisco 49er. They watched game tape of this guy’s hands first, right? Ginn adds a certain explosiveness in the kick returning game, but he’s most likely nothing more than a slot receiver when the offense takes the field. Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and Josh Morgan should all keep their spots as the 49ers’ top targets.

12. Alge Crumpler and Torry Holt are now Patriots. As they do every offseason, the Patriots are collecting a set of veterans and trying to plug them into their system. Holt didn’t pan out as a Jaguar, but he might do better than Joey Galloway as a Patriot. He can at least lend a hand until Wes Welker is back up to speed.  Crumpler gives the Patriots a solid tight end now that they are without Chris Baker and Benjamin Watson.

13. Flozell Adams released. The Cowboys LT got a fond farewell on his way out of Dallas, but when it came down to it, he just wasn’t worth the cost. The Cowboys could lose a little bit of their production in the running game as a result depending on whether Doug Free fills in adequately as a LT or if they take someone else in the draft.

14. Ryan Torain is now a Redskin. Normally, a backup RB move like this wouldn’t be big news, but it is when Mike Shanahan praises him as much as he has Torain since drafting Torain as coach of the Denver Broncos. This move most likely means that the old boys’ club of Larry Johnson, Clinton Portis, and Willie Parker that currently makes up the Washington Redskins running back corps will probably see one or two of its membership leave Washington before Week 1.

15. Rex Ryan lost 40 pounds. Yes, that’s big news. 40 pounds? That’s like…a whole little Ryan bear cub. I’m concerned. Will we even recognize him on the sidelines? Besides, you don’t really want to hear that Neil Rackers is a Texan and likely the new starting kicker, right? That’s just kicker talk. No one likes kicker talk.

If you were not trapped under a rock so far this offseason, feel free to throw your own input into the mix. I probably missed at least two moves involving Rex Grossman and David Carr…on purpose.

On the Wire: Week 16 Pickups That You Certainly Don’t Need This Week

It’s championship week. There’s not time for taking chances, looking for sleepers, or playing around with your roster.

You know who your studs are, but these select few players could sub in if you have an absolute beast of a opponent, and if you are daring enough to bench a player you’ve trusted to get you to the one game that matters for a new name off the waiver wire.

Your call, I guess. Personally, I’m heading into three championship games this weekend, and I don’t think I’d start any of these players over the guys that got me there.

As usual, the FF Librarian starts off the week with a nice set of readings to recap Week 15 and start the prep for Week 16’s championship showdowns. Stop by FF Geeks for a big list of names as well.

FF Toolbox hits most of the big names, but many have been hot waiver wire recommendations for weeks now, including the several San Francisco names who get to play the Detroit Lions in Week 16.

Lester’s Legends does a good job of calming your nerves about a lot of the Week 15 starlets, but his recommendations for Jerome Harrison, Maurice Morris, and Michael Bush are still a little optimistic for my holiday spirits.

Harrison was certainly the surprise stud of Week 15, but he could easily be muffled by the Raiders in Week 16 or replaced by Chris Jennings because Eric Mangini hates fantasy owners. If it was my roster, I wouldn’t throw Harrison in there. I’d keep the guy that got me to the championship locked in and ready to go.

The same goes for Michael Bush, who is muddled in a similar deep Oakland backfield, and Morris, who despite his running against the Cardinals on Sunday would surprise me if he found room and time to run against the 49ers now that Alex Smith is playing just for the chance to remain the starter in 2010.

If Jeremy Shockey sits again in Week 15, it’s conceivable that you might take a chance with David Thomas, also plugged by Fantasy Joe. Drew Brees would throw to a random fan in the stands if it would get him his next first down, and that’s just the honest truth.

If you can predict which Saints players will have a hot game, you must be the defensive coordinator for the Bucs this week. But that’s Raheem Morris, so it’s safe to say he doesn’t know. He’s not a defensive coordinator, just a head coach who plays one on TV.

Fantasy Fanhouse gives Vince Young a mention, but I’d hope he’s no longer available considering what I said about him before the fantasy football playoffs began.

Vince Young continued to lead teams towards a fantasy football championship with a three-touchdown performance on Sunday, but he gets the Chargers this week. Can he keep it up?

I think you have to start him if he’s your best play, but don’t expect him to win this one through the air. The draw plays could do some damage against the nose-less San Diego defensive line.

I do like Fanhouse’s and Razzball‘s mention of Josh Morgan and could see him as a risky grab if you need a plug at WR3 this week, but don’t count on him to get as many targets as he did against the Eagles.

The Lions will leave everyone with room to run in Week 16, and Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will certainly make their marks.

The sleeper discussion is swirling around Larry Johnson this week as he faces his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, the Bengals have asked almost nothing of him since Cedric Benson’s return from injury.

Will they step aside this week to let him have his revenge game? Hard to see that coming ahead of the Bengals’ playoff push and playing in memory of Chris Henry. This team has no emotional room left to consider revenge. Benson will likely play most of this one unless the Bengals put away the game early and let Larry Johnson clean up.

And on the negative side of things, the Vikings seem to be cracking under a creaky, old Brett Favre, who refuses to go out of the game, even at his coach’s request.

I’d agree with the sentiment out there that Brad Childress has let Favre get far too powerful in the locker room, and I’m not sure what that means about Favre’s Monday night trip to Chicago. It could be the game that gets them back on track, or it could be another slumping performance from the veteran gunslinger.

Hedge your bets on Favre in the championship game if you plan on starting him this week.

Foolish Thoughts: My Beef with Fleaflicker’s Coach Rating

It’s one of the most frustrating occurrences in fantasy football.

It’s not a Baltimore fan complaining about the refs or John Carney missing three kicks when just one would have won the fantasy game you lost by a point.

No, the most sickening feeling in fantasy football hits you when you start the wrong guys. There’s nothing more infuriating than watching the points pile up on your bench only to flap in the breeze next to Percy Harvin’s or Justin Forsett’s stat line.

You can do your research. You can ask an expert. You can pray to the fantasy football gods and tweet the players themselves to ask them if you should start them.

At the end of the week, you’re still going to end up starting the wrong guys more than once in any given season. And if you could project exactly how a given football player was going to perform each week, why would you waste that skill on fantasy football? Vegas, son. Go to Vegas!

But there’s one thing that makes the “started the wrong guys” regret even worse: Fleaflicker’s Coach Rating.

While your self-loathing grows, the Fleaflicker Coach Rating judges you with a percentage based on how well you set your lineup. You only get 100 percent if you started every single one of your highest performing players at each position.

It’s one thing to lose because you set a bad lineup. It’s another thing for an automated computer system to mock you.

I don’t need your 75 percent rating thrown in my face, machine. Why don’t you just turn into the Terminator and kill me now? I need not your silly completion bar.

I can go outside right now, and I can talk to women. What can you do? Make charts? Graph things? Good. You do that. When I come back, I want you to explain to me when you earned the right to judge me in line graph form, and it better have something to do with fantasy games won.

*The rest of this column was written after fifteen minutes of listening to Enya

It’s fine. I’m used to automated mockery. It’s why I have friends anyway, right? Every fantasy football league is practically an automated mockery tool when you lose.

My real beef with Fleaflicker is that it doesn’t judge itself. Aren’t computers supposed to be self-aware, Skynet?

Sure, I sat Percy Harvin and Laurence Maroney. I regret that, but even your nice little projection system within Fleaflicker told me that Joseph Addai and Roddy White were better starts. Where’s your little 65 percent correct bar for that poor prediction?

Not that I would listen to you blindly. I did my research. I started the best lineup, and I don’t need your abuse. So take that, Fleaflicker mockery rating. I won’t have it anymore. From now on, I’m putting electrical tape over that part of the screen and never scrolling, and I’m giving myself a gold star for every starter I pick correctly.

Damage Done This Week

What is with you people? You talk about how few injuries have happened this season and now they’re piling up before Christmas like Santa’s toys.

Matt Ryan stubbed his wee little toe, and Jake Delhomme broke a finger. I’d say the NFC South lost half their quarterbacks, but let’s be honest. Drew Brees counts double, or even triple, the value of any other quarterback in the NFC South.

Atlanta fell off in a big way because they also lost Michael Turner, who returned from his ankle injury a bit too early and immediately went back on the shelf with Clinton Portis, Brian Westbrook, and Kurt Warner.

Big Ben sat out after all, but he should return in Week 13, just in time to concuss himself again before the fantasy playoffs. At least Cedric Benson will be back… Those are words you just don’t see yourself saying in the preseason.

For owners who were relying on his big fantasy booms, DeSean Jackson may sit out this week after sharing in the concuss party the NFL has been throwing. There’s no telling when you’ll get him back, so here’s to hoping that you’re already a lock for the playoffs.

Studs in Strange Places

Julius Jones sat another week and allowed Justin Forsett to score twice against the Rams. Jamaal Charles had another big week for the Chiefs alongside Chris Chambers. Looking ahead, I like Charles better than Forsett. That’s whether Jones returns this season or not. Charles just has too lovely a playoff schedule to turn down.

Larry Johnson became a part of the Bengals offense in Week 12 and shared the rock with Bernard Scott. L.J. Had 107 yards while Scott had just 87. Let’s all hope that this one game doesn’t mean that Benson will have to share with others when he returns. Cincy may not be sure, but fantasy owners sure would like to see Benson get all the work against the Lions in Week 13.

Vince Young reenacted the 2006 Rose Bowl on Matt Leinart’s face late against Arizona, much to my excitement as a Texas fan and Vince Young apologist, and Miles Austin found his way to 20+ fantasy points again. If you sold early on Austin based on the belief that he would be a fluke, well, sucks to be you, my friend. I bet the Fleaflicker Coach Rating tore you apart for that one.

Turn the Lights Out When You Go

This week is the last one to make a move and be relevant in the fantasy football playoffs. I hope you’re all playoff-bound (as a result of my sage advice, of course), but if not, do it up this week and see what you can make of your team. There’s always next season.

If you get the chance this week, do your best to ruin someone else’s chance at the playoffs. There’s nothing that makes me happier than making someone else sad. You have to try it. I find taking candy from babies to be a great way to practice.

Fourth & 1 Debate: Waiver wire stashes for the fantasy playoffs

So you’re prepping your team for the final push, but you’re worried you need a couple more warm bodies? Well, that’s not a problem. That’s what a fantasy football roundtable is for.

This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate topic came from Hatty Waiver Wire Guru. He asked:

Waivers are about to close in some leagues for the playoffs; who should we be grabbing for the final push?

My entry to the fantasy football roundtable:

Two players that I’d grab for the final playoff push are Mike Bell and Mohamed Massaquoi. There are far better options out there if you’re making a playoff push, but I’m assuming that both of these players would be available in most leagues right now as free agents.

Bell has been vulturing touchdowns from Pierre Thomas throughout the season, and while I’d hate to rely on him in a critical playoff week, if you were forced to start him, I wouldn’t consider it the end of the world. Bell has a chance to score in every game the Saints play from now until the end of the season, and he’s been the closer for the Saints in games they put away early.

Massaquoi is part of one of the most miserable offenses in the NFL. Luckily, he gets to play two of the most miserable defenses in the NFL in Weeks 15-16, the Chiefs and the Raiders. If you need a desperation play wide receiver for Week 15 or 16 due to injuries, Massaquoi might just do the trick. In deeper leagues, he’s worth considering for a WR3 spot those two weeks.

For all this week’s entries to the Fourth & 1 Debate, check out the complete fantasy football roundtable at Hatty Waiver Wire Guru.

Foolish Thoughts: Magical phone refresh voodoo makes Vernon Davis score touchdowns

I got stuck watching the New England Patriots abuse the Tampa Bay Buccaneers across the pond in London during the early games. I thought we sent this game overseas so that no one here would have to watch it?

While the action was riveting, oh, so riveting, I found myself checking my fantasy football scores on my phone. About halfway through the early games, I noticed Vernon Davis had scored me a touchdown. Nice work. I went against the stats in starting him, but, as ESPN pointed out, the tight ends who had been shut down by the Texans weren’t exactly in the elite class.

So happy in my good choices, I hit refresh, only to discover that Davis had another touchdown. Now, at this point, I had not seen any cutaways to the San Francisco game yet to show me what was happening in Houston. All I knew is that every time I refreshed my phone, Vernon Davis scored a touchdown.

Oh, this is getting good. I was mopping my opponent with my early starters, and I’d discovered a magical wishing well of fantasy points.

So I refreshed again, getting greedy this time. And once again, touchdown. Had I discovered a voodoo trick for fantasy football? Would it work on anyone else besides Vernon Davis?

I had no idea what I was doing, but I found myself hitting refresh again. But this time, nothing. My fantasy luck had run out. Game over.

But next week, I’m definitely refreshing my phone a few times during the San Francisco game to see if I can get it to work again.

Dear Patrick Crayton, I’d be the first one to tell you, so here goes: Miles Austin is legit. Your best chance of getting back in the starting lineup is by replacing Roy Williams. Sadly, that might not be that hard to do with as many key passes as Williams dropped on Sunday.

The Cowboys finally looked like the team that won 13 games in 2007 again on Sunday, but it’s not time for celebration just yet. It’s still hard to trust Tony Romo, who has one of the hardest schedules of any quarterback in the league the rest of the way. As long as Miles Austin keeps scoring two touchdowns per game, that view on Romo may change.

Donald Brown went out with a shoulder injury and left Joseph Addai to share the load with Chad Simpson. If Brown misses any length of time, it would increase Addai’s value since Simpson’s no threat to cut into Addai’s touches, but this injury was minor. Expect Brown to be back on the field and scaring Addai’s fantasy owner this week.

Ryan Grant finally went off with 148 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Browns. Let me repeat that: Against the Browns. Green Bay won’t face pushover run defenses all season, but Grant abused this one when given the chance. The Packers remain a pass-first team, but Grant could see his usage rise as the weather turns colder. Don’t give up on him if you’ve holding onto him this long.

Steven Jackson had 134 rushing yards against the Colts. Maybe the Rams should just put him and the offensive line on the field together and run the flying V all day. Might make for some interesting football. The Rams certainly aren’t in their current incarnation.

What do Vernon Davis’ 93 yards and three touchdowns mean? It means he’s a legitimate every week starter. Davis has been a key part of this passing offense all year, and even with the addition of Michael Crabtree, he’ll get lots of looks. If nothing else, his chances at the goal line look very promising.

Speaking of Alex Smith, his three touchdowns and 206 yards in the second half seem to be more than just a lucky break off the bench. He faces the Colts this week, but moving forward, he’s go upside. Sometimes those bench-warming first-round draft picks pay off after all. Eh, Vince Young?

Owen Daniels. Best tight end in football? It’s possible.

Brett Favre loves him some Sidney Rice, proven by the 11 catches Rice took for 136 yards against the Steelers. Favre may not make many more big games out of these receivers, especially after his return-to-form breakdowns against Pittsburgh this week, but it’s never a bad idea to own his favorite target. Rice has definite talent, and skills the ability to hover five feet off the field until Favre can get him the ball.

The Steelers’ defense showed up late to the party against the Vikings, but at least they showed supreme mastery of the flying V in both their interception return and fumble return. If they can contain the beast inside of Adrian Peterson without run-stopper Aaron Smith, they can stop anyone. Feel confident if you have them as your defense at this point in the season. Very confident.

I think the league would be a better place if JaMarcus Russell were benched. I’d be interested to see two teams trade quarterbacks in a given week just to see whether it’s the quarterback or the team causing all the problems. Jason Campbell for Russell anyone? Jake Delhomme for Russell? Marc Bulger for Russell? That’s the kind of trade that could heat things up in a season where every team is great, very good or horrifyingly terrible.

Could the NFL just institute a takebacks trade option so that teams can exchange players for two weeks at a time? It’d be just like pickup football.

Andre Johnson has a lung contusion. I have no idea what that is, but I do know he spit up blood. Regardless, he doesn’t need lungs to play out of his mind against the Bills. The Buffalo secondary has been good, but top receivers can find a way. Jake Delhomme just gets paid to make secondaries like the Bills’ look good.

After losing Leon Washington for the season with a nasty broken fibula, the Jets put in Shonn Greene in garbage time to finish off the Raiders. That 144 yards and two touchdowns will likely draw a crowd on the waiver wire, but Greene probably won’t duplicate a performance like that until he starts to eat into Thomas Jones’ role as the lead back.

I’ve liked Greene all along this year. He’s big and hard-running, just like a little Marion Barber in the making, but the Jets have not sought to limit Jones or replace him with Greene just yet. For now, Greene is nothing more than an 8-10 carry guy to share the load with Jones and take garbage time. Still, he’s definitely worth stashing because of the strength of the Jets’ running game and the chance to eventually replace Jones if anything were to go down.

Carson Palmer looked like the Carson Palmer that dominated the league before his knee injury. Five touchdowns, two to Chad Ochocinco, have me hoping that he keeps that alive through the end of the season.

Palmer’s arm also opened things up for Cedric Benson, who took full advantage of the revenge bowl in Chicago with a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown. If Palmer had jacked all the touchdowns, Benson could have had more. The Bears just looked like they though they were playing last year’s Bengals.

Despite Benson’s beating, Ricky Williams won the spite battle this week with three touchdowns and just 80 rushing yards against his former team, the Saints. It’s not like Ricky has any bad blood. I’m pretty sure with the amount of pot he’s smoked, he’s made peace with everybody, including dead people, but he certainly wanted to win against the Saints on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the Saints took some 5-Hour Energy at halftime, woke up and realized they were behind. Then, Drew Brees went to work. The Saints defense returned two picks for touchdowns, again proving they are a legit fantasy defense as long as Darren Sharper is roaming around out there. I completely called Tracy Porter’s interception return at the end of the game, mostly because I needed it to win a fantasy football game this week, but you know.

Somehow I managed to make it through the entire Monday Night Football excitement of the Eagles and Redskins. In short, DeSean Jackson scored both rushing and receiving the football, and when he wasn’t in the game, neither was the Philadelphia offense. Brian Westbrook got knocked out. Chris Cooley broke his ankle and could be out for the season.

DeSean Jackson was scared he broke something, but after X-raying it, they determined that his only ailment was being awesome and unstoppable. Sometimes that feels like an injury when you play the Redskins I guess.

At what point do we consider farming the Redskins, Rams, Chiefs or Raiders out to the UFL?

Foolish Thoughts: Terrible throwbacks and games to throw back

The NFL should really give all the bad teams the same bye week. Just wait until all the worst teams have shown what they are made of, take the bottom half of the league and give them a week off to heal their wounds. Hey, we could even give the Rams a whole season off. At least that would save us from weeks like these.

Sure, it’s great for fantasy teams. It was pretty easy to set rosters this week outside of any bye week issues, but most of the games were just terrible to watch. If not for a few close ones, I might have had to wash out my eyes with Red Bull and coffee.

The Close Ones

The most brutal of all the games had to be the “who will be fired first” bowl, the Browns facing the Bills. After watching the highlights of it, all three of them, I vote both coaches get the axe.

Derek Anderson led the Browns to a 6-3 victory by completing just two passes. Jamal Lewis returned from injury to run for 117 yards. No one scored a touchdown, and Trent Edwards proved once again that he cannot be expected to take advantage of any matchup, despite his many weapons on offense, unless the other team never takes the field.

Captain Checkdown is just begging you to release him to the free agent pool. He wants no part of your fantasy team. In fact, at the rate he’s going, he wants to be traded to the UFL.

The Cowboys also kept it unexpectedly tight in Kansas City, but in overtime, someone on the team, probably Matt Cassel, recognized that they were still the Chiefs, not the “Dallas Texans” as they pretended Sunday. Then the Chiefs let Miles Austin break every tackle they threw at him to get to the end zone for the win.

Austin even set a Cowboys’ record with his 250-yard, two-touchdown performance, which will make it hard for the Cowboys to slot him back to the third receiver role. Sorry, Patrick Crayton, but your time as the No. 2 in Dallas may have come to an end. (I couldn’t be happier.)

Cedric Benson continued his return-to-relevance tour by breaking the Baltimore Ravens streak of games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. His 120 yards and a touchdown would have been nice to have in the starting lineup rather than my bench, but who knew that it’d be Benson and the Bengals that made the Ravens look like pretenders this week? Not me.

I am still surprised that the Bengals are sitting atop their division with wins over the Steelers and Ravens. That’s crazy talk. If not for that miracle reception in Week 1, the Bengals would be the undefeated team everyone was talking about instead of the Broncos.

Speaking of Denver, the Broncos took it to overtime against New England, where Tom Brady has never lost, but the coin toss went in Denver’s favor.

I have to say that the Broncos are legit now that they have beaten two shaky but worthy opponents, the Patriots and the Cowboys. But those throwback uniforms are not legit.

Kyle Orton throws some ugly passes, but he had the benefit of those blinding uniforms. You couldn’t look at the players who had twisted their vertically striped socks without getting vertigo. Please burn those uniforms, Broncos, so that we never have to look upon them again. Never again.

I’m impressed with Josh McDaniels and his Hulk-scream celebration after the game while Bill Belichick looked like a lost puppy in the middle of the field, but I don’t expect this team to go undefeated much longer. They’re scraping by in too many games so far to keep it up.

Surprise, surprise

While Sunday had more than its fair share of amazing performances, they weren’t from the guys you would expect. That always makes fantasy owners happy.

The Lions lost the services of Calvin Johnson early against the Steelers, but Daunte Culpepper kept it close thanks to some help from Dennis Northcutt. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn’t come back for a win without their star weapon in the game and failed to make the plays that would have given them the lead. Thus, they restored the balance in the universe by not beating the Super Bowl champs.

Against Oakland, it was Ahmad Bradshaw, not Brandon Jacobs, pounding the Raiders for 110 yards and two touchdowns, which was great news for those of us who drafted Brandon Jacobs expecting him to be the engine of this offense.

Do they give Jacobs a snack break when they get close to the red zone? Does Ahmad Bradshaw hide his helmet on the sidelines? I do not understand what’s happening out there, but I do know that Jacobs hasn’t lived up to expectations yet.

In the Eagles’ air assault of the Bucs, it was Jeremy Maclin, not DeSean Jackson, getting the big plays. Maclin recorded 142 yards and two touchdowns, which probably didn’t benefit a single fantasy owner out there.

With McNabb back in the lineup, the Eagles may return to their I-can-pick-any-receiver-I-want ways, which makes it very dangerous for fantasy owners to trust DeSean Jackson every week. But if you’re going to trust any Eagles receiver, it’s Jackson. He’s looked unstoppable with the ball in his hands so far this season.

The Usual Returns

In his first big game of the season, Roddy White made the San Francisco 49ers defense look like the 49ers of old in torching them for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Turner finished the job by walking all over them for three more touchdowns. At least the 49ers should have Frank Gore back after their bye week.

Bucs’ tight end Kellen Winslow returned to his “soulja” ways by scoring twice against the Eagles, even though the game was put away early by Donovan McNabb and Jeremy Maclin’s two connections. Josh Johnson got Winslow involved but, sadly, also got Asante Samuel, who had two picks, far too involved.

Matt Hasselbeck started for the Seahawks after recovering from his rib injury and blew the Jacksonville Jaguars pass defense away with four touchdowns, two to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and two to Nate Burleson. Four touchdowns? Four? I didn’t think Hasselbeck had it in him, but he has a very pass-friendly schedule this season.

The Jaguars scratched their star weapon, Mike Sims-Walker, for violating team rules and paid the price. Without him, the Jags looked lost on offense and never got on the scoreboard against the Seahawks.

The Sinking of the Titanic

I know this is a shocker, but in case you didn’t know, the Titans are not going to the playoffs this year. They’re 0-5 and facing the Patriots for a chance to prevent 0-6, and I’m not sure that we can say they’re the best winless team anymore. They just don’t look like the same squad that went 10-0 to start the season in 2008.

On defense, the Titans have been dropping cornerbacks like flies, weakening their secondary beyond recovery, and their pass rush has disappeared without Albert Haynesworth. Without their defense creating stops, the offense can’t control the clock by running the ball.

Tennessee’s offense has become so predictable that even their opponents overthink it. A Wildcat play with Vince Young? Well, considering how successful the Dolphins were with it, that just might work, but the Titans did nothing more than hint at a Wildcat formation to keep the Colts on their toes.

This team has lost their identity. Now they’ll lose one more game before turning the offense over to Vince Young on the bye week to see what they have to look forward to next year and beyond. Tennessee fans and fantasy owners can only hope that Jeff Fisher gets more creative than he has these first five weeks of the season.

A Fool and His Money – Week 1

Week 1 is my favorite week to make bets. You get to trust your gut more than any other week of the season, and you feel extremely smug when your predictions come true.

But the first games are also full of questions. Which teams developed chemistry over the offseason? Who will exceed expectations, and who will disappoint? There is money to be made if you can answer these questions correctly.

STEELERS (-6) over Titans
Will the Titans’ defense be the same without Albert Haynesworth? I have no qualms with the Titans’ defense, but I do have problems with trusting Kerry Collins. I predict Vince Young will get his chance for redemption at some point in the season.

Cowboys (-6) over BUCS
Are the Cowboys serious NFC contenders this year? They need to stomp teams like Tampa Bay if they are.

Lions (+13) over SAINTS
Did Kevin Smith really guarantee the playoffs this year? Even Lions’ players and fans can be optimistic this time of year.

FALCONS (-4) over Dolphins
Which one of these teams will take a step back this year? My vote is for the one that loses this game.

TEXANS (-4.5) over Jets
Have you met Mario Williams yet? Rookie QB Mark Sanchez is about to meet him for first time. This is the year the Texans need to finish over .500. People have been talking about this team for a couple of seasons — now show us something!

BENGALS (-4) over Broncos
Does anybody know what to expect from either of these teams? I think the Bengals have more potential so I’m going with them.

PANTHERS (+1.5) over Eagles
Why isn’t anyone talking about the Panthers this year? They had the best fantasy player in the game last year and the best record in the NFC.

Jags (+7) over COLTS
Has any team been more consistent this past decade? No Bob Sanders or Marvin Harrison this season. I like the Colts to win, but seven points is just too much for me.

Vikings (-4) over BROWNS
Is Brady Quinn still a loser? The answer is always yes. This line seems suspiciously low to me, but I’m going to take the bait and pick the Vikings.

Chiefs (+13) over RAVENS
Who can turn down 13 points? Not me — at least not during the first week when we still have a lot to learn about teams.

Redskins (+6.5) over GIANTS
Is this Jason Campbell’s last chance? If he doesn’t step up this year, I think it’s time for the Redskins to start looking in a different direction.

SEAHAWKS (-8.5) over Rams
Was last year a fluke? Everyone knows these teams were decimated by injuries last year, but we need to see who will bounce back quicker. I personally expect an NFC West division title for the Seahawks.

49ers (+6.5) over CARDINALS
Who doesn’t love Mike Singletary? From his future Coors Light commercial quotes to his obsession with hills, I want to believe the 49ers can take a step forward this year.

PACKERS (-3.5) over Bears
Do you believe the hype? A lot of people are very high on both these teams in the NFC. I don’t forget which players and teams wronged me last year, and Jay Cutler is at the top of that list. I bet he hangs out with Brady Quinn in the offseason.

PATRIOTS (-10.5) over Bills
Is Brady back? Normally, I don’t like giving double-digit points in the first week, but I believe the Patriots will try and turn this into a statement game by running up the score.

Chargers (-9) over RAIDERS
Could anything the Raiders do surprise you at this point? Stupid draft picks, violent head coaches, dumb trades. I wish I could bet the over on L.T. getting more than 30 fantasy points this week.

Season Record
Nick: 0-0-0

Week 1 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: The “Are we there yet?” Edition

The kickoff cometh! In just a few hours, the NFL will return to that magic box in my living room and all will be right with the world. In the meantime, it’s time to make sure you’ve got your best fantasy football roster forward.

Much like our waiver wire recommendations have been shortened up to get with the times, I’ve taken the liberty of consolidating our start or sit feature, Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders, into a more compact version of its 2008 self. I’m focusing on just a handful of players that you may be on the fence about starting each week.

If you have questions about other players on your roster or whether you should give these alternatives the nod over your current starter, submit your questions in the comments. Our shortened features should open the comments up for more discussion, more Q&A and, of course, more cowbell.

Now back to this week’s good-looking starters…

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I might as well put my fantasy money where my roster spot mouth is. I have Rice on plenty of my teams this season, and rather than wait to see what you have in him this year, I’m all about jumping him into your starting lineup immediately. Kansas City won’t know what hit them.

Last season, the Ravens could run over any team in the NFL, and I expect them to do the same in this matchup. While LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee could be lurking in the wings to steal some touchdowns, the Chiefs’ defense should give Rice at least a handful of opportunities to break a big play.

Others receiving votes:

  • Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: Another sleeper with plenty to like this week in Palmer’s return
  • Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: The Chargers had a weakness for tight ends last season
  • Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: I just doubt the Broncos defense this much
  • Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: He’s the guy for Buffalo until Lynch returns. How good can New England’s defense be after losing all those veterans?
  • Almost every Saint you can find vs. Detroit Lions: It’s a party, and all the fantasy players are invited

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to sit your first-round running back right after drafting him, but Johnson should be limited this week in the Titans’ debut against the defending Super Bowl champs. I like my running backs to have a shot at the end zone, especially a guy like “Every Coach’s Dream.” LenDale White should steal any short-yardage chances, and I don’t expect there to be many breakdowns in the Steelers’ defense.

The Super Bowl champs are rarely upset in their opening game, and I am sure the Steelers will control the clock. Unless you are lacking in the running back department — or you just like torturing yourself — try someone who has a bit more upside this week. Play Chris Johnson only if your alternative is Larry Johnson or Jamal Lewis.

Others receiving votes:

  • Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans: Much like Johnson, Holmes should be bottled up in a low-scoring contest
  • Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings: Very little chance he shows any more signs of life in this one…
  • Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans vs. New York Jets: Glad you’re back to full health, now dodge Jets for four quarters! Schaub’s risky this week.
  • All your Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens: Until Matt Cassel is 100 percent, the Chiefs can only play at 25 percent. No likey.

For more start or sit recommendations this week, read up at FootballDocs, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Oasis (one of the more detailed out there), Fantasy Football Goat, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and Fanhouse’s Week 1 Wake-Up Call.

Also, don’t forget to enter for your chance to win free Dominator Service from Top Fantasy Football by commenting on yesterday’s post.

As always, the comments are yours.