NFL Divisional Championships: Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Once again, this weekend, we get a game that could very literally end with a final score of 3-0 and a game that could have a combined score of more than 70 points. Welcome the AFC and NFC championship games.

When I logged into the site to get geared up for this weekend, I got an extra treat. You want to know what the top search term of late leading people to Fantasy Football Fools is?

Booty. That’s right. I have a sneaking suspicion why that is, but it still doesn’t make it any less funny.

So with booty said, let’s get down to booty, er, business.

If you’re setting your salary cap playoff rosters this week, you’re probably locked in with them until the Super Bowl. There’s two ways to go here. You can either pick a collection of players from both teams that you expect to do well enough in this round and in the Super Bowl or you can suck it up and only pick players from the two teams you see making it all the way.

I’ll admit, I have the fear in me about being bold and only choosing players from my Super Bowl pick teams, but I’m so going there.

NFC Championship

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

I don’t know what to think of the Arizona Cardinals. Many analysts predicted they would match the Falcons in the Wild Card round after their strong final game of the season, but I doubted them when they went into Carolina. I thought their possession of a running game was just an oversight by the Falcons defense and that the defensive plays made the Wild Card round were fluky.

In Carolina, Arizona showed us that they have a defense that will make plays on the ball. Their secondary was outstanding. They complimented it with a little bit of a running game again, thanks to Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, despite being able to get the ball into Larry Fitzgerald’s hands even if he was covered by a flock of Canadian geese — the kind that brings down planes.

Despite their success, it’s hard not to keep betting on their demise…they are the Buzzsaw after all.

Of course, there’s no overwhelming favorite on the other side of the field. The Eagles are practically the same team, only in the NFC East. The Eagles started off looking like one of the best in the division before they sank to the bottom of the barrel after a ferociously embarrassing tie with the Cincinnati Bengals when Donovan McNabb didn’t even know that ties were possible.

Thanks to the failings of many a team standing in their way, the Eagles got hot at the right moment and went on a streak to get into the playoffs. Donovan McNabb has looked great, and Brian Westbrook has been required to do only light lifting. The formula has been working to perfection.

On Thanksgiving, the Eagles began their winning streak against the Cardinals. Arizona was clobbered by the combined scoring power of Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb, but since that game, Brian Westbrook has virtually and literally disappeared from the field.

If the Eagles are going to win this one, the offense is going to need a big game from Brian Westbrook. Otherwise, it’s very possible that McNabb gets Delhomme-d and leaves his team fighting on the wrong side of a turnover battle if Arizona’s suddenly-dominant secondary shows up again.

I’m going with the Cardinals here. They’re at home with a newfound spirit in the playoffs. Maybe that’s crazy. Maybe I just don’t really want to see an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl, or maybe I hate part of myself. Maybe I just want an offensive team to get in the Super Bowl. Whatever the reason, I’m on the Buzzsaw bandwagon.

At least we know their going to put up some fantasy points this week.

Hot Hands: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook (Q), David Akers

Bubble Boys: Tim Hightower, Anquan Boldin (Q), Neil Rackers, Arizona D/ST, Eagles D/ST, Brent Celek

Cold Shoulders: DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, L.J. Smith, Edgerrin James

AFC Championship

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Personally, I am not a fan of this matchup.

Watching these two teams slam into each other repeatedly for four hours with minimal points on the board just leaves me feeling unsatisfied — especially as a fantasy football fan. The team that makes the most mistakes is going to lose this one, and since I called it twice before, I have to continue my trend of calling on Joe Flacco’s rookie shortcomings to suddenly rise to the forefront.

If the Steelers can successfully take Derrick Mason out of this game, Flacco will become pretty ineffective. Without Flacco, the Ravens have LeRon McClain, who is already a little banged up, and some guy we used to know the name of named Willis McGahee. Sure, they could put something together with that running back committee. They even have Ray Rice, too, but not against the Steelers defense.

Ben Roethlisberger may be concussed, but maybe he plays better when he sees two or three of every receiver. His long ball and a healthy Willie Parker helped the Steelers run right over the Chargers last week, and it’ll help them put up enough of a fight against the Ravens.

If you’re looking for a kicker, I like Jeff Reed in this game. I know that the Cardinals and the Eagles are playing in a more offensively friendly matchup, but Jeff Reed is probably going to be one of the only players scoring points this Sunday night. You might as well get a piece of the action.

Hot Hands: Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed, Matt Stover, Steelers D/ST, Ravens D/ST

Bubble Boys: Willie Parker, Hines Ward, LeRon McClain, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Derrick Mason

Cold Shoulders: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Heath Miller, Mark Clayton

Lineup Calls

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to go all-in with the Cardinals and Steelers on my roster this weekend. At least if Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner end up sitting out the Super Bowl, I will know that I tried and failed brilliantly.

Sure, I could throw Brian Westbrook on my roster as a safety valve and capitalize if the Eagles were to make it into the Super Bowl, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, no matter what running back gets to the Super Bowl from the NFC, they’re not going to do much against the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So this weekend, I’m a Buzzsaw-lovin’ Arizona Cardinals fan. Maybe they’ll make it to their first Super Bowl, and that’s a story that might even spare us the press on T.O. and Brett Favre for a few days.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Free-for-all from Week 9

It’s time for change, America.

Bring me your injured, your underperforming, your studs gone duds. Together, we can reshape your fantasy team for the future into a team without injustice, without phantom starts (see: Willis McGahee) and without any of Shanahan’s running backs — well, maybe just one.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can. YES, WE CAN.

And on that very original campaign note, Fools in 2012.

I hope you all voted yesterday, but while you were busy at the polls, I was busy collecting a vast array of pickups that could help you make it to the playoffs. In fact, this might the largest waiver wire column I’ve ever written, and upon finishing it, I just wanted to call my friends in to look at it before I unleashed it on the world.

This week in fantasy football, we have another free-for-all on quarterbacks as injuries took the fantasy lives of several recent stars. Going with our theme of “change,” a handful of very bad teams had quarterbacks show promise this week, and there’s no pork in that.

With all the turnover and surprises, we’re going very, very in-depth with a long list of names and fantasy fortunes because, short of a few quick fixes, I wouldn’t expect many fantasy studs to emerge for your playoff run. Gather the depth you need and take a few chances if you can afford the roster space.

There are four more wins to be had, and these guys could be the ones to get you there and keep you there through Week 16 or 17.

It could happen in ’08, people. You can still write yourself in on that final fantasy playoff spot ballot — that is, unless you already lost Ohio.

Worth Claiming

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos – I said he might be the last man standing last week, but now he really is. Michael Pittman and Andre Hall were both placed on the IR after Week 9, so Selvin Young and whatever RB depth Shanahan finds in a back alley this week are Torain’s only competition.

Don’t be scared off by Torain’s one yard on Sunday in three carries. Shanahan wants to bring him along slowly, but if Selvin Young’s hamstring is still holding him back, Torain should get the start against the Browns this week.

Of course, after one series, Shanahan will probably make sure that 75 percent of the touches go to Peyton Hillis so that Hillis looks like the best fantasy back in Denver. Oh, how I hate you, Leatherface.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens — McGahee hasn’t been healthy all season, and after disappearing off the map, Rice exploded in Week 9 with 154 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving.

In Week 10 against the Texans, Harbaugh says that both McGahee and Rice will carry the football, but I’d bet Rice sees more looks. The schedule is unkind to Baltimore running backs after this week, but we know they’ll run the football until the very end.

Jamaal Charles, RB Kansas City Chiefs — Much like Torain, Charles is the one and only for the Chiefs…until Larry Johnson returns at least. Charles had 100+ yards against the Bucs, a very tough defense, on only 18 carries.

Johnson remains suspended for Week 10, so Charles could handle a majority of the load against the Chargers. While the Chargers are right in the middle — 16 out of 32 — as far as run defenses go, many a team has had a problem containing Charles. I saw him play at Texas, and when he’s making the right moves and holding onto the ball, he can be deadly — “Let Booby spin!”

When Johnson returns in Week 11, it’ll be interesting to see where the Chiefs want the carries to go, but the rock could stay in Charles hands for a good while with a strong showing this week. We know L.J. is lacking in the gold stars and brownie points.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB New England Patriots — He’s a lock for a score at least once in every Patriots game until Sammy Morris’ or LaMont Jordan’s return. If both continue to sit, “Law Firm” is a decent option in week 10 against Buffalo.

After that, his production against the Jets, Dolphins and Steelers will probably trail off until Sammy Morris or LaMont Jordan make him irrelevant. For now, he’s a solid depth option, and he’s got such a cool nickname.

Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks — It’s a split, but I like his half better than Julius Jones’ half. A few good matchups still to come for the Seattle run game, and the passing game doesn’t provide much competition.

Ted Ginn Jr., WR Miami Dolphins – He’s still not reliable enough to put all your hopes in after his low-scoring Week 9 performance — that’s why I ignored you last week, Ginn — but don’t take him off your radar just yet.

He doesn’t play a solid secondary for the rest of the season, so Chad Pennington might find him again and again and again. You’ll probably have to get him on your roster now to have him when he goes off again, so add him for some depth if you can or if you’re desperately seeking a WR to stay in the hunt.

Just try not to start him until he has another good game.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers — Hill’s actually my top QB rec this week if you lost one or need a filler for a few more weeks. He’s a Mike Martz quarterback, and he faces the Cardinals, Rams, Cowboys and Bills before playoffs. Only two of those teams rank in the top half of passing defenses, and those same two (Cowboys and Bills) currently have banged up corners. In the fantasy playoffs, Hill faces the Jets, Dolphins and Rams again.

He showed good ball control last season in giving just one interception in three games, and with Martz backing him, he could more productive than he was last season. Maybe he can break the 200-yard mark more frequently, which he almost did in the last half of the game in Week 8.

Brady Quinn, QB Cleveland Browns — Yeah, so that happened. The Browns are making the switch to Brady. I am sure the Browns female fan base is excited, but frankly, I don’t like Quinn anymore than I like Derek Anderson. In fact, I might like him less.

Quinn looked iffy in the preseason, and I couldn’t quite form an opinion on him versus Derek Anderson. He’s not exactly a rookie with almost a full two seasons in the Browns system under his belt, but I expect him to make mistakes, force the ball to Braylon Edwards and maybe even lean on the tight end. Fortunately, the Browns have a pretty good one in Kellen Winslow.

Seems like this move is just one of those “okay, fans, we’re trying” efforts, and I don’t like it. Still, if you had Anderson on your roster, Quinn should produce similar numbers after overcoming growing pains in promising games against the Broncos, Bills, Texans and Colts.

Tyler Thigpen, QB Kansas City Chiefs — When you’re a young quarterback, you just have to hope you end up landing somewhere with a dependable tight end and a dominant wide receiver to target. Luckily for Thigpen, he’s got that, and it’s done him well the past two weeks.

He’s also got a few trick plays up his sleeves and some nice matchups over the next four weeks: Chargers, Saints, Bills and Raiders with fantasy playoffs against Broncos, Chargers and Dolphins.

It’s hard to recommend him with any certainty because he’s no lock to put up points, but he hasn’t turned over the ball and has Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez. I think he’s a sleeper to keep it up through the end of the season, but at least you know that he won’t hurt you too badly if he falls in production.

And for some reason, it disgusts me less to recommend young Thigpen than it did to point out Kyle Orton’s success this season. Is it all in the neck beard? Only time will tell.

Sage Rosenfels, QB Houston Texans — Matt Schaub was knocked out for a month with a knee injury. Now Texans fans can finally get that Sage they’ve been looking for this season?

What? They don’t WANT him to start after he helicoptered his way back in the backup role against the Colts?

Rosenfels takes over one of the most potent offenses in fantasy football this weekend, but he also faces the Ravens, Colts, Browns and Jaguars before Schaub returns. That’s not exactly the stretch you want to see for a guy who is known to lead big drives only to end them with a fatal mistake.

It’ll be risky picking him up and expecting studs like Andre Johnson to produce for him in tougher games, but at least the Ravens secondary isn’t at full strength for Week 10.

Claim him if you have Schaub and don’t want to chance other options, but if you are already a lock for the playoffs, why not take chance on someone like Thigpen to produce for you? (Wow, now I’m cheerleading for the guy. Someone virtual-slap me.)

Daunte Culpepper and/or Drew Stanton, QB Detroit Lions — I think the best part of Dan Orlovsky’s current thumb injury is that he had “zero” doubt about playing in Week 10. Maybe Orlovsky’s struggles are due to his misunderstanding of math and percentages? Perhaps he thinks the Lions 0 percent win percentage is a good thing.

Regardless, a thumb injury has him out for Week 10 and possibly much longer. We don’t really know how long at this point.

Drew Stanton knows the system but doesn’t have the confidence of the coaching staff, which is probably why they signed Daunte Culpepper. But Culpepper, a week into the job and almost a year removed from playing football, will be a shaky start in Week 10 against the Jaguars. Marinelli expected him to pick up the offense quickly but not this quickly.

If I had to choose one, I’d take Culpepper for the possible start in Week 10 and the more likely start long-term. Culpepper could develop into a nice No. 2 QB during fantasy playoffs. He plays the Vikings, Colts and Saints, and he has “Megatron” (Calvin Johnson) to throw to each week.

Rex Grossman, QB Chicago Bears – See how that happens? All this outpouring of Kyle Orton love coming out before his game against the Lions, and then a fat Lion takes out his ankle.

With Orton out for four weeks, Grossman is your starter. He’s a shaky start against the Titans, Packers and resurgent Rams defense with his tendency to throw interceptions, but he’s not a bad desperation play.

At least he’ll be able to lean on Matt Forte outside of this week against the Titans.

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants — Two touchdowns in the past two games, and even though he’s a little banged up with a bad ankle, he faces a Philly defense in Week 10 that’s admitted to having a problem covering tight ends. How’s that sound?

Dan Carpenter, K Miami Dolphins — He’s not on many radars, but Carpenter has put up 29 fantasy points in the last two weeks with seven field goals made and four extra points in that span. The best fantasy sign is that the Dolphins are lining him up deep. Three of his attempts in Week 9 were more than 40 yards out, but he hasn’t been asked to kick one longer than 50.

If he continues to get this many long field goal chances or more extra points once the Dolphins’ offense starts scoring left and right against a bunch of weak fantasy defenses (Seahawks, Raiders, Patriots, Rams, Bills, 49ers, Chiefs), then he could be one of the best kickers to own in the second half.

Guys you probably should have already picked up:

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings — Three touchdowns in his past four games.

Derrick Mason, WR Baltimore Ravens — PPR monster with 130+ and a score in Week 9, but a rough schedule from here.

Anthony Gonzalez, WR Indianapolis Colts — Two TDs in Week 9.

Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins — More reliable than Ginn and 100+ yards in Week 9.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles – Finally showing up with 83 yards, but tough schedule the rest of the way.

Tim Hightower, RB Arizona Cardinals — Now starting and eating touchdowns for breakfast.

Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons — Not blasting you out of your seat, but good QB2 production and getting better.

Marc Bulger, QB St. Louis Rams — He’s sort of back and has an easier schedule in the second half.

Ones to Watch

Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker, RB New Orleans Saints — We’re getting close to Deuce McAllister’s appeal, so we’ll know soon enough whether he’ll be leaving the Saints’ services. If so, both are likely to produce numbers until the return of Reggie Bush, who might throw things out the window again.

Week 11, the Saints have the Chiefs followed by the Packers, and if for some reason Bush isn’t back by Week 14, then the Saints backs have Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Playing the Lions in the fantasy championship game? Check and mate.

Selvin Young, RB Denver Broncos — If he’s healthy, the starting could be his…or Peyton Hillis’…or it might belong to the guy that guy in a cubicle next to you. Regardless, he has value when healthy, and if someone was silly enough to drop him, he could fight for you in games against the Browns, Falcons, Raiders, Jets, Chiefs and Bills.

The playoff section of that run isn’t great, but his return in Week 11 could help you get there. Keep in mind that the Broncos are now a pass-first offense, and pick him up as you see fit.

J.J. Arrington, RB Arizona Cardinals — The speedy back has taken the No. 2 spot in the RB depth chart now that Tim Hightower is the starter. Edgerrin James is not likely to get more than handful of carries in any game, and on Sunday, Arrington was involved in 11 plays with 62 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards.

As long as he’s being used as the compliment to Hightower, Arrington could post similarly impressive numbers, but he’s boom or bust as a third-down, big-play back. Let’s see what he can do against the 49ers in Week 10 before he goes on a roster.

Sidney Rice, WR Minnesota Vikings — The Vikings have been more productive passing the ball, but Rice is just now returning from injury and might not have a chance to make an impact. Even though he caught a TD on Sunday, that was his only catch. Still, if you are preparing for the playoffs, he gets the Lions, Cardinals and Falcons in Weeks 14-16. That’s promising if he gets back in this offense by then.

Mark Bradley, WR Kansas City Chiefs — A former QB and emerging star in the Kansas City offense. He’s been a big part of Thigpen’s success and might be worth jumping on now if you can afford to chance it. Bowe and Tony Gonzalez can both pull double coverage at times to leave Bradley open for a play.

Byron Leftwich, QB Pittsburgh Steelers — If Roethlisberger misses any time with his bruised AC joint, Leftwich should be a capable filler QB in Week 10 against the Colts. Don’t underestimate the Colts passing defense, but to win, the Steelers might have to put some points on the board.

An even better matchup looms large in Week 11 against the Chargers, but I doubt fantasy owners can expect Big Ben to miss that much time. If you just can’t find a QB this week or want to take a chance, keep your eye on the QB situation in Pittsburgh.

Joe Flacco, QB Baltimore Ravens — If you need a quarterback, there are plenty of options this week (see above), but Flacco should be one of the best. He has put up a very good two weeks, and he faces the Texans.

After Week 10 though, he’s probably not worth a roster spot with an intimidating run against the Giants, Eagles, Bengals, Redskins, Steelers and Cowboys.

Yeah, if you don’t need him this week, just keep an eye on him in case miracle juice starts spraying out of his arm after Week 10.

Brent Celek, TE Philadelphia Eagles — So he’s more than just a backup…maybe? Celek, much like Billy Miller, now makes an intriguing fill as long as L.J. Smith is hurt. Smith is expected to make his return in Week 10, but he is currently still listed as questionable.

If he doesn’t go, Celek could get the start against the Giants, ranked second against the pass, and even if Smith is healthy, we’ll have to see how much the Week 9 franchise record-setting performance helped Celek’s stock with the Philly coaching staff.

Consistency is hard to find in the Philly offense, but Celek is worth keeping an eye on if you need depth at the tight end position.

Desmond Clark, TE Chicago Bears — Greg Olsen is to Kyle Orton as Desmond Clark is to Rex Grossman. Rexy just likes the big guy better, and word on the street is that the Chicago passing game might move back to using the tight ends more as short-range options.

Keep your eye on Clark to see how much he factors in. We know Rex will have to escape quite a bit against the Titans in Week 10 and the Vikings in Week 13 until Kyle Orton comes back under the helm.

But even if he finds success with Rex, Clark’s not a playoff depth option when Kyle Orton returns.

Derek Fine, TE Buffalo Bills — Fine is one “fine” tight end (Forgive me) if you just look at his 43-yard, one touchdown stat line from Week 9, but the rest of this season, he’s put up blanks.

If Buffalo involves him in the offense more frequently than the other TEs now that they are lacking a dependable No. 2 receiving threat, Fine could continue to be “fine.” (Sorry, again — they flow out like candy.) Keep your eye on him in Week 10 against the Patriots.

Defenses to watch for the fantasy playoffs:

Arizona Cardinals D/ST — STL, MIN, @NE for a defense that has been deadly at home.

Miami Dolphins D/ST — @BUF, SF, KC with a sack machine coming on strong and an improving secondary.

Ignoring

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — 100+ yards?!? And a score? The saddest part of Benson’s Week 9 performance was that it was only the third 100+ yard game of his career. THIRD. That’s just crazy.

Unfortunately, unless your playoff bound, he probably won’t ever do it again for you. He faces off against the Eagles, Steelers and Ravens after returning from a bye in Week 10. Sad but true.

The only good matchups remaining on his plate are the Colts in Week 14 (who just got back Bob Sanders) and the Browns in Week 16 — come on, you playing Benson for your championship game. If you have a Week 17 championship game though, he does face the Chiefs, and that could be a worthy start.

Unless you’re going to the playoffs, you can probably safely drop this one-week wonder or wait to see what happens against the Titans. Geesh.

Peyton Hillis, RB Denver Broncos — He caught a lot of passes in Week 9 (116 yards and a TD), but it’s hard to see that happening again this season.

Then again, I guess I said the same thing after Leonard Weaver had his day for Seattle. Shanahan could use his evil force powers on this one and make Hillis the feature back in Week 10, but I still stand by ignoring him as a waiver wire pickup.

If Shanahan makes him worth something, he’s likely to be gone as quickly as he came…I hope. Torain is the guy I would grab from Denver.

Koren Robinson, WR Seattle Seahawks — I think that was a miracle play for the Seahawks, and lightning is not likely strike twice in the same spot. That’s a fact.

Droppables

Rather than make this article cross any further into the 3000+ word realm, I’ll end here, but if you have any questions about who you should drop to get any of these guys, you know what to do!

Hint: Drop them in the comments!

Week 8 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

There’s a lot of hotness this week, and many players not on a bye might have their best performance of the season for you. My favorite starts are Willis McGahee against Oakland and Chris Johnson against the Colts but even Cedric Benson might break 100 yards this week. Cedric Benson — let that sink in for a second.

As usual, these are just a few players you may not think about starting every week who are bound to do well (Hot Hands), have question marks (Bubble Boys) or fall short of expectations (Cold Shoulders). Start or sit your guys accordingly, and feel free to throw more detailed lineup questions in the comments.

I’ll have answers for all the comments on Saturday night.

Hot Hands

Jason Campbell, QB Redskins vs. Lions — Come on, he plays the Lions. That screams, “Insert giant fantasy week here.”

Donovan McNabb, QB Eagles vs. Falcons — Despite his struggles, he gets his favorite target from last year, Kevin Curtis, back this week to add to the firepower of DeSean Jackson and a gimpy but likely to play Reggie Brown. On the road, I wouldn’t doubt that the Falcons defense lets McNabb have a couple of scores.

Jake Delhomme, QB Panthers vs. Cardinals — Delhomme is back on track, and when Delhomme and Steve Smith are in sync, they are one of the most dangerous QB/WR duos in the game. At home, the Panthers should tear it up on both sides of the ball. Delhomme has five touchdowns in three career games against the Cardinals.

David Garrard, QB Jaguars vs. Browns — The Browns’ pass defense is better than expected, but Garrard was on a roll and comes back from a bye. His legs should keep him effective even if he is without his best receivers.

Trent Edwards, QB Buffalo Bills vs. Dolphins — The Dolphins run defense should slow Marshawn Lynch. Luckily, Lee Evans likes to score touchdowns against the Dolphins, and Edwards should help him out with that.

Thomas Jones, RB Jets vs. Chiefs — It’s Jones’ turn to play “Red Rover” with the Chiefs (as long as he is not too tired from blowing apart Oakland last week). The Chiefs aren’t stopping anybody. Leon Washington could even fill a spot for you this week.

Willis McGahee, RB Ravens vs. Raiders — While the secondary is hit-or-miss this season, the Raiders run defense is consistent, consistently worthless. McGahee should build on his fantasy debut in Miami with a solid 2007-like week of destruction against Oakland.

Chris Johnson and LenDale White, RB Titans vs. Colts — The Colts can’t stop it even though they’re desperate for a win here. Forced to choose between the two, I’d start Johnson first.

Steve Slaton, RB Texans vs. Bengals — Ah, Bengals. Drool. Might be the last hoorah for Slaton owners though. After he has a big day, sell, sell, sell!

Deuce McAllister, RB Saints vs. Chargers — We get to see what the Deuce he can do without Reggie Bush acting as a distraction. While his carries won’t increase much, he should have more of an impact. The Chargers are terrible at stopping the pass this year, so while they are middle-of-the-road against the run, I’d expect McAllister to have a couple of chances to score a short-yardage touchdown.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Jaguars vs. Browns — Jags are coming off a bye and face the 26th-ranked run defense. Fred Taylor isn’t a bad bet to have a good week, but Jones-Drew could see more carries if Taylor is held back because of his concussion. Regardless, the Jags are sure to hit the 140+ yards that the Browns allow each game.

Cedric Benson, RB Bengals vs. Texans — Let’s get crazy. Benson could finally justify his place as the starter in Cincinnati if he can run through the Texans. It’ll be on him to provide enough of a distraction for Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to make the big plays.

Josh Morgan, WR 49ers vs. Seahawks — If you missed the waiver wire rec for this guy, correct that mistake. The fact that Morgan returned to put up great numbers against the Giants makes me giddy about the possibilities for him this week against the Seahawks. I’m already thinking up nicknames — suggestions accepted. Another big day here cements him ahead of Isaac Bruce as the guy to own in San Francisco. Obviously, he’s not the next Colston just yet, but as a WR3 or even WR2, Morgan has huge upside this late in the season. It doesn’t get much better than the 49ers passing schedule from here on out.

Marques Colston, WR Saints vs. Chargers — The British are just what Colston needs to get back on track. He was a little off in Week 7, but forgive him already. Unless conditions are terrible, the passing should go off in this overseas shootout, and Colston should shine like a beacon of fantasy goodness. The Chargers give up more than 250 yards through the air on average — worst in the NFL.

Donnie Avery, WR Rams vs. Patriots — The New England defense isn’t that great; in fact, their secondary has looked pretty terrible. The Broncos were just more terrible last Monday night. Avery should continue to be a deep threat.

DeSean Jackson, WR Eagles vs. Falcons — A big day for McNabb means a big day for Jackson. McNabb won’t forget about him just because Kevin Curtis is back.

Jeremy Shockey, TE Saints vs. Chargers — Even if he is cleared to play, I think Shockey might be limited again this week. Keep an eye on the injury reports. Start him if he’s your best option, but I might look elsewhere if he’s not at full speed.

Zach Miller, TE Raiders vs. Ravens — When JaMarcus Russell is running for his life against the Ravens blitz, Miller is the dump man. He puts that on his business card: “The Dump Man.”

New York Jets D/ST vs. Chiefs — There’s potential for a shutout in this one. The Jets are strong against the run, Larry Johnson is sitting, the Chiefs are down to Thigpen at QB and they are in the Jets’ house. Look away. This one could be brutal.

Bubble Boys

Peyton Manning, QB Colts vs. Titans — If this game was in Indianapolis, I might still consider playing Manning, but this game is NOT in Indianapolis. Manning is screwed. That’s pretty much the way it goes. He goes from suffering against Green Bay to facing the toughest defense in the NFL. I give him a bubble because…well, if the Colts want to get back on track, Manning has to win this one with his arm.

Brett Favre, QB Jets vs. Chiefs — Will there be anything left for Favre to do when Thomas Jones gets done?

Jeff Garcia, QB Bucs vs. Cowboys — It’s not like you’re starting him every week, but you might be considering Garcia for a second round after he helped you out last week by tearing up Seattle. Call me a homer, but I have several reasons to justify putting Garcia on the bubble: 1) The Cowboys are in back-against-the-wall mode and in danger of missing the playoffs. The pass rush could come to play and compensate for the terrible secondary. 2) If it goes the other way, Brad Johnson and Dallas’ broken offense could turn the ball over enough for pick-six scores to keep Garcia off the field. Tampa leads the league in picks. 3) Joey Galloway, if he does return, is not getting his old job at split-end back from Antonio Bryant. Therefore, no huge boost to the WR corps. 4) The Bucs are likely to be without foggy-headed Ike Hilliard. That’s not a huge blow, but he was a red zone target. 5) My gut — my Cowboy-loving gut just doesn’t like it. Take it or leave it.

Brian Westbrook, RB Eagles vs. Falcons — You can’t really give a guy like Westbrook the week off just to see how he’s coming back from that injury, but he could easily be splitting his value with Correll Buckhalter against the Falcons. If whatever you’ve been doing while Westbrook was out besides slapping yourself to feel whole again will work this week, I’d consider it. Still, if he comes off the injury report clean, he’s in my lineup.

Ronnie Brown, RB Dolphins vs. Bills — The Dolphins will have to add another wrinkle to the ‘Wildcat’ to keep it going against the Bills.

Joey Galloway, WR Bucs vs. Cowboys — Oh, happy fun time! Galloway is finally back and ready to run on those 60-year-old legs of his. Before you get too giddy, here’s what I know: Galloway might not get his starting job back from Antonio Bryant and, therefore, could be playing the slot this week. That’s, of course, only if he is healthy enough to play. I’m not sure how he will be used, so I’m not sure I love him enough.

Chad Johnson, WR Bengals vs. Texans — The weak passing defense in Houston could allow Chad Johnson to find a hole. He scored against the Steelers. It feels like it might be one of those weeks where Ocho Cinco shows up, but I’d still only play him as a WR3 or low-end WR2.

Kevin Curtis, WR Eagles vs. Falcons — I know you are starting him if you just picked him up this week, but keep in mind that this game will be his first of the season. He’ll be rusty but possibly more awesome than any receiver you were going to start otherwise. Can you afford to have rust on your starting roster? Can you afford NOT to have rust?

Cold Shoulders

Matt Ryan, QB Falcons vs. Eagles – I’m not sure why you would be considering it, but Ryan may fall off the rookie rise this week when the Eagles blitz him like he’s coated in sugar. He’ll probably hit Roddy White, but I’d look to your usual starter this week unless their matchup is this dirty as well.

Brad Johnson, QB Cowboys vs. Bucs – I have my doubts about the Cowboys this week. I’d be surprised if an aging backup was able to do well against a defense that has stifled almost every QB in the league. I don’t expect good things from Johnson or the Cowboys’ passing game even though I will be rooting for them.

Eli Manning, QB Giants vs. Steelers — I don’t like his chances against the bruising Steeler defense (at home). I don’t feel confident enough in Eli to recommend starting his this week with his recent struggles.

All Oakland RBs (Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush), RB Raiders vs. Ravens — Not only should you sit all your Oakland RBs, you might want to trade them now. The Ravens have been taking RBs out left and right this season, and any one or all (see: Pittsburgh Steelers) of the Raiders backs could go down in this game if they have a bounty on their head.

Michael Turner, RB Falcons vs. Eagles — He hasn’t played well against tough run defenses. Guess what Philly is? And to make it worse, they are coming off a bye. It won’t be a good week, but at least you’ll know he tried.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Colts vs. Titans — The Titans do more than one thing well, but the one thing they really like to do best is stop the run. They’re in the top 10 of every defensive category and No. 1 in points allowed. Rhodes was a bright spot last week against the Packers, but he won’t be able to carry the Colts in this one.

Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore, RB Steelers vs. Giants — Even if Willie Parker returns, this matchup is not promising. It’s likely that Moore and Parker will still share time, and HALF of a bad day isn’t worth starting.

Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles, RB Chiefs vs. Jets — The Jets are fourth in the league against the run. The run is all that Kansas City really has on offense. Uh oh.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR Jets vs. Chiefs — I don’t think he shows up for this game either. Nagging health issues make me want to steer clear, but he’s one you could take a chance on if you have nothing better.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Sneak Attacks from Week 7

It’s very likely that you have already tried to snag some of these guys. In fact, you might have had them on your roster, dropped them, picked them back up, dropped them again and let some other team roll with them for a week or two by now.

But maybe it’s time to pick them up again.

For the sake of repetition, we’ll repeat some of them from past “On the Wire” waiver wire suggestions — slowly this time. If these players are available now, you might have good reason to jump back on the bandwagon. The pickings will only get slimmer from here barring massive stud injuries.

Rather than sort by position, this week, I’m going to shuffle people up by upside. If these guys are at the top of the list, they’re probably the ones you want to scan the wire for first.

Worth Claiming

Deuce McAllister, RB New Orleans Saints — If no one got the memo that he was back (and seriously, who didn’t?), you should make sure you get him now. Without Reggie Bush dancing around every other play, Deuce will get some meaningful carries. His game against the Chargers this week should be a great chance for us to see how much he can do with the majority of the carries against a weak run defense. I assume the Chargers like to let opposing RBs run over them because L.T. does in practice.

Donnie Avery, WR St. Louis Rams — It’s safe to put Rams on your roster again. Avery has had several solid performances, enough for me to say he’s no longer a potential fluke. The Rams’ schedule down the stretch is a nice one, especially for the last few weeks (otherwise known as the fantasy playoffs). They play home games against Seattle and San Francisco in Weeks 15 and 16.

Josh Morgan, WR San Francisco 49ers — I’m officially off the Bryant Johnson bandwagon. It was nice riding out the storms with you, B.J., but you just didn’t hold up your end of the bargain. Morgan was injured and infected to start the season. Now that he’s back to full health, he’s also back to outplaying Johnson, and Nolan named him the starter just before being fired. I don’t think Singletary will see it any differently. Top WRs in the Mike Martz offense have huge upside value, and I really like Morgan — more than Avery.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB New England Patriots –BenJarvus is the kind of guy that I hope never becomes a big fantasy star just because his name is such a pain to write out all the time. It’s almost impossible to make a nickname out of that — B.J.G.E.? Bulge? Hey, that might work. Regardless, Green-Ellis is helping out Sammy Morris throughout the rest of the season with Laurence Maroney on IR. We saw that Morris will take his licks occasionally, and this pickup is more of a stash than anything. Put him on your roster to see how his role changes in the game plans for Week 8 and Week 9.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles — Again, just a reminder that he is back and should be playing soon. Some people won’t realize he’s returned until he has a big performance, and you’ll want to make sure you get him on your roster before that happens. He could easily retake his spot as the No. 1 receiving option for Donovan McNabb.

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — He’s the best they got in Cincy right now, and his value gets a bump because he’s now the starter. Small number of soft running matchups left, but at least he’s “the guy” for an NFL team if you are slim at RB.

Steve Smith, WR New York Giants — The “other” Steve Smith could have some big days ahead when the Giants face strong run defenses like the Steelers, Eagles (twice), Ravens, Cardinals and Panthers. He’s clearly Eli’s safety blanket on third downs.

Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST — Here’s all you really need to know: post-bye, healed up and playing the Browns, Bengals and Lions. The Jags might be back for at least the next three weeks.

Washington Redskins D/ST – Redskins play the Lions this week. Despite their mediocre performances this season, this week could be a chance for a huge day.

Ones to Watch

Chansi Stuckey, WR New York Jets — I am sure you were disappointed Sunday if you are a Cotchery owner, but a leg injury might have played a part in preventing him from making an impact. The latest reports say Cotchery will be questionable going into this weekend against the Chiefs, and Stuckey would be the big winner if Cotchery sits.

Malcom Floyd, WR San Diego Chargers — He’s the Chris Chambers when Chris Chambers is out, but if Chambers returns this week, he’s not really worth much. I just have to mention him because he was such a stud in Week 7 as my bye week filler.

Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars — His knee got infected after being injured against the Steelers, but this WR was one of my big sleepers that I am watching these next couple of weeks. As soon as he is healthy, he is worth picking up. The Jags schedule couldn’t look much better these next three weeks — Browns, Bengals, Lions — and, with Jones suspended, Walker could easily become the most targeted receiver on the field once again.

Marty Booker, WR Chicago Bears – Bears are on bye this week, but the vet showed he still had moves in Week 7′s high-scoring showdown. If Lloyd continues to miss time and Hester is injured enough to be used sparingly, Booker is a nice play — especially Week 9 against the Lions.

Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith, RB Kansas City Chiefs — Kolby Smith may be getting the workload carries with Larry Johnson out, but Charles is the more intriguing back for fantasy since he breaks for more yards. Depending on how the Larry Johnson fiasco shakes out, they might be worth acquiring by Week 10 when the Chiefs have good running matchups.

Ignoring

Javon Walker, WR Oakland Raiders — Did you even realize that Walker was playing this season? Me either. He had one nice week, but I’d like to see it again before I grab him. He’s only worth keeping tabs on for now.

Droppables

Bryant Johnson, WR San Francisco 49ers – Losing his starting job for the 49ers is a big upside killer. He’s not worth keeping on your roster. Go get Josh Morgan.

Brad Johnson, QB Dallas Cowboys — He’s a starting quarterback, but the Bucs and the Giants looked like bad games from the start. He can’t keep the offense going against the Rams, and these next few weeks could be even worse. If you are keeping him on your roster, what else do you have at QB? (I really want to know — drop me a comment.)

Patrick Crayton, WR Dallas Cowboys — Obviously, his value isn’t nil just yet, but I don’t see him having much more impact than he did against he Rams on Sunday. Don’t drop him for nothing, but I think you can safely switch him out for someone of similar or better upside now.

Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals — He didn’t touch the ball this past week, and he might not ever again. We all know if he does get it, he’ll drop it anyway.

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens — One day, you’re fantasy gold; the next, no one wants to touch you. McGahee looked like the workhorse back against Miami even though he had to have his knee drained to play. McClain’s on a decline. If a back comes along with a better chance to succeed, I’d consider letting him off his leash.

Dante Rosario, TE Carolina Panthers – I’m impressed if you are still hanging onto this guy. He hasn’t done anything since Week 1. Let it go.

Droppable Trade Bait

Kellen Winslow, TE Cleveland Browns — I’m not one to panic, but the trade request talks and staph infection have gotten Winslow in the coach’s dawghouse. (See what I did there?) You can’t drop him, but if you can get a premium value and a decent replacement TE (Zach Miller, Greg Olsen or maybe Dustin Keller), you might consider bailing here. Winslow’s been the only consistent part of the Browns offense, but he may decline if he becomes a sore on the Browns’ side…wait, or is that just the staph?

That’s it for this week. I have to go to the doctor to get the Browns checked out.

Questions about who to drop? Wondering what player you should have grabbed instead? Feel free to comment for more in-depth roster assistance. Our operators (me) are standing by now.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Hardships from Week 6

As I listened to the end of the Texas-OU game while hunched over in a car on my way to a wedding this weekend, two things occurred to me: 1) people REALLY shouldn’t get married the same weekend as the Texas-OU game and 2) there could be a large amount of rookie quarterbacks coming into the NFL next year.

This season has been brutal to quarterbacks. It’s like they are the running backs this season — drafted highly by fantasy owners but very prone to season-ending injuries because of the abuse they take. Those fantasy footballers who drafted a quarterback high this year more often than not paid the price — yes, I’m looking at you Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Derek Anderson. At least we can all hate the guy that drafted Drew Brees.

On a brighter note, I thought I was going to be very clever in one of my pay leagues this past week in picking up Fred Taylor against a weak Denver run defense. Someone had dropped Taylor because of bye week issues. It was the perfect crime, but we all saw how that turned out.

Fine, waiver wire. You won that one by throwing me a curveball injury, tricky mistress, but there are a few “hardships” to be had this week.

From now until the end of the season, unfortunately, the best waiver wire grabs are starting to stem from surprise injuries, not exceptional or surprising play. It may pain you to pick some of these guys up, but it’s how you play the game. Players put in the same role/situation have equal opportunity to succeed — just look at Correll Buckhalter.

Worth Claiming

Jeff Garcia, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — He’s a valid spot start his week against Seattle and faces a Dallas secondary in Week 8 that should be starting two rookie corners. It’s only Kansas City in Week 9. Even for Garcia, those could be productive days with the exception of Dallas if the Cowboys come to play. If he can produce more than 10 points in those outings, he might be worth holding onto for short while. Hear that, Hasselbeck/Romo owners? If you wait out his bye and the Vikings, his next two decent starts come against the Lions and the Saints.

Brad Johnson, QB Dallas Cowboys — If Romo decides not to go it the Brett Favre way — hoorah — Johnson gets the call to manage the Dallas offense. With the addition of Roy Williams, he has a good chance to be successful as a pocket-passing statue. Sadly, after a warm, cuddly start against St. Louis this week, he faces Tampa Bay and the Giants. Romo owners, pad your roster with Johnson if you can, but you’ll probably want to look elsewhere after this week. Unless he dominates Week 7, there should be better options out there on your waiver wire.

Derek Anderson, QB Cleveland Browns — Was someone silly enough to drop a player like Anderson after his slow, pathetic start to the season? He had a coming out party in Week 6 — and no, Nick, I’m not talking about Brady Quinn. Anderson has five more games on his schedule that look like he could put up the gaudy numbers of last year, and if he can maintain his play against tough opponents with Braylon Edwards, you’re set. For now, you’ll want to bring him into a QB committee so that you don’t have to start him every week.

Sammy Morris, RB New England Patriots — After all the carnage in the backfield in New England, Morris is “the guy” again for the moment. He might be bouncing around the wire with several other Patriot RBs since Belichick went all Shanahan this year, but he’s worth putting on a roster for his game against Denver, St. Louis and Indy these next three weeks. We all know it’s in Belichick’s best interest to run the ball rather than let Cassel attempt to throw — oops, I mean, underthrow. At least he’s not Dan Orlovsky.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts — Rhodes resumed his duty as the Colts RB in Week 6 after Addai injured his hamstring. Hamstrings don’t just go away, so expect Rhodes to get a start or at least get an increased workload in Week 7. The Packers have failed to stop the run lately, so he makes a good play here. If Rhodes can justify holding onto the workload as the season continues, he could be a nice guy to have around come playoffs — Bengals (W14), Lions (W15) and Jags (W16).

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos — If there was ever a time to take him, it’s probably now. Yes, you’re risking it. No, we have no idea if Shanahan will use him. Yes, he did talk a lot about him in the preseason, but no, I don’t trust a man that looks like an outlaw from a Clint Eastwood movie.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears – Hester has proven himself to be a legitimate receiver in the Bears offense. With his potential to get you a returning score as well, there’s a lot of upside to be had in starting him each week. Vikings may limit him before the Bears’ bye, but in Week 9, they get the Lions again.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles — He didn’t get back on the field this week, but he’s close. With DeSean Jackson there to take some heat of him in the passing game, he could retake his role as the No. 1 option in Philly. Make sure he’s on your roster if no one has him on their bench yet.

Marcedes Lewis, TE Jacksonville Jaguars — He scores touchdowns with Garrard and has one for each of his last two games. If he keeps it up against the Browns, Bengals and Lions, he could be deadly for a stretch here and a stretch in the fantasy playoffs. You could sleep on him a week though considering he is on bye unless someone else in your league will be after him.

Ones to Watch

Tashard Choice, RB Dallas Cowboys — Felix Jones injured his hammy, which leaves Choice as the best “choice” to spell Marion Barber — I know that I am cheesy. Choice could get Jones’ carries for now, but don’t expect the big plays Jones has broken this season.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans — Steve Slaton is the guy to have in the Texans backfield, but Green is getting a share of the touches as well. He could share in the fantasy points against Detroit this week and/or carry some value in the Texans’ good running matchups in Weeks 10-14, but he’s more of a deep league option or depth if you own Slaton.

Kenny Watson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — Chris Perry can’t hold onto the ball, and Benson hasn’t done much better. Neither back has done anything to justify or hold a starting job. Watson was the guy to own in the Bengals backfield last year and could return to the lineup after he heals up. Unfortunately, I don’t think you really want to own any Bengals this year, but keep an eye on him or add him if you are looking for potential upside in deeper leagues.

Donnie Avery, WR St. Louis Rams – Avery, the first WR taken in this year’s draft, had a big game for the Rams in Week 6 with four catches for 73 yards. If he remains involved in the offense when Drew Bennett returns from his injury, he might be a key element in improving the Rams’ record in the second half of 2008. The Rams end the season with some nice passing matchups — Seattle in Week 15 and San Fran in Week 16. Still, he’s not worth jumping on except in deeper leagues unless he can keep a hold on the starting job.

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers — Six catches for 75 yards? A 57-yard bomb? Is this the Vernon Davis that every preseason analyst talks about? It’s unfortunate that it’s probably all a trick. Davis is a huge, athletic talent, but the 49ers just aren’t using him consistently enough to warrant a starting spot on any roster. All that could change if the other tight end in San Fran who had been showing Davis up in several games, Delanie Walker, has to move to fullback to replace the injured Zak Keasey, but unless Davis posts numbers against the Giants this week, I’m not buying.

Miami Dolphins D/ST — The Dolphins defense has quietly been showing signs of life since being thrashed by the Cardinals in Week 2. They are decent against the run, and Joey Porter has had a resurgence of sorts getting to the QB. They have a hard time against big, playmaking wide receivers (like Andre Johnson), but otherwise, they can put up some fantasy points for you. They have sleeper status going into this week against Baltimore, who just got destroyed by the Colts, and a nice playoff schedule with St. Louis and Kansas City in Weeks 15-16.

New Orleans Saints D/ST — The Saints streak of double-digit fantasy performances continue. As long as Brees keeps putting the ball in the air, he forces the opposing teams to take risks that give this defense opportunities to make big plays. They were even able to shut down the run against Adrian Peterson. Keep watching them as they go into a potential rough patch before their bye facing Carolina and San Diego. Their playoff schedule ain’t too shabby — Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. All those offenses would have to take big risks to compete.

Ignoring

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Just a note here for all of you jumping on Dunn expecting him to be the dominant runner for the Bucs: The reason Dunn had so many yards was because Earnest Graham volunteered to fill in for the injured fullback, thus earning the praise of both Dunn and Jon Gruden. Barring Graham filling in for the fullback on a permanent basis, he’s still going to get half of the carries in Tampa Bay and a lot more praise. Don’t go after Dunn like he’s taking over, okay?

Patrick Cobbs, RB Miami Dolphins — What do you know, another wrinkle in the ‘Wildcat’ offense. I’m not completely blowing off his Week 6 performance, but Cobbs has done absolutely nothing up until now. He might be a worthy gamble play one of these days, but there’s no promise that this ever happens again.

Shaun Alexander, RB Washington Redskins — Woohoo! Alexander’s back, baby! Well, he’s also sitting behind one of the best backs in fantasy right now, Clinton Portis, and he only got a job because Ladell Betts sprained his knee. If it took Alexander this long to get signed by a team, I’m guessing he’s nothing more than a temporary handcuff to Portis. Do what you will, Portis owners.

You should have already picked up:

Michael Pittman, RB Denver Broncos — He had a pretty nice week as the main guy in Denver. Who knows how long that will last with Ryan Torain on the horizon, but at least he gets goal line carries regardless.

Droppables

Laurence Maroney, RB New England Patriots — I’m sorry if you drafted this guy. Even Belichick may have forgotten who he is. Not sure his potential productivity with that many RBs in the mix makes him worth waiting on at this point.

Sage Rosenfels, QB Houston Texans – Schaub’s got this under control, okay? Thanks.

Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders — Bush almost got traded before the deadline, which means the Raiders don’t consider him a big part of their offense. As long as Fargas and Darren McFadden stay healthy enough to play, Bush shouldn’t see much action. The Raiders might not even have that much action in the running game if they try to pass the ball more often like they did in Week 6.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Grabs from Week 5

In 2006, I drafted Clinton Portis as my lead running back. I don’t even remember who my second running back was, but, in the late rounds, I picked myself up a rookie with too many names, Maurice Jones-Drew.

When Jones-Drew blew up with his big rookie season (1300+ yards and 15 TDs), I thought I was going to dominate with the Portis/Jones-Drew tandem until Portis broke his hand in Week 10 and killed my playoff chances. I had no viable replacement for Portis’ consistent point production because I had filled my bench with a few filler wide receivers and running backs that had poor schedules to end the season.

Fantasy owners who are sitting pretty right now have to start building for the playoffs. You want to balance your roster, strengthen your studs if you can by trading up and acquire a bench of players that, if nothing else, will have dominant performances in Weeks 14-16, when it matters most.

The waiver wire is critical from here on out because it can shift the power among the top teams and bring in the depth and talent that you need to win your league. Don’t think that you can become complacent now just because your team is sitting on top or sulking on the bottom.

Last year, in one of my veteran leagues, the playoff contenders were pretty evenly matched heading into the last part of the regular season until a team that was winning with the duo of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss picked up Kurt Warner and Ryan Grant off waivers.

Well, you can guess how that worked out for him. What a lucky jackass smart guy.

Here are a few potential fantasy free agents that could help you do that same in 2008.

Worth Claiming

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
If no one picked him up last week or if your league remains unimpressed by his eight catches for 61 yards against the Giants, make sure you put him on your roster this week. His schedule gets MUCH better, and if Branch is injured, that means even more balls coming his way — and that’s what she said. I prefer Engram to Branch, even when neither of them have foot pain. After Green Bay and the Bucs, Engram will open it up against the 49ers, Eagles, Dolphins, Cardinals…it keeps going from there. He’s just the kind of guy you want on your playoff team as well with matchups against the Rams and Jets in Week 15 and Week 16.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
Remember experimenting with him as a wide receiver? It’s happening now…and working. Without Brandon Lloyd, Hester is the homerun threat, and Orton is making him dangerous for opposing defenses. Enjoy him while the Bears go through the soft, chewy center of their schedule.

Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins
Some people just jump out on you when they finally get a touchdown. Pennington won’t open it up down the field that much, but he’s got to start throwing to someone other than his tight ends as he matures in the Dolphin’s offense.  Camarillo has 17 catches through four games, his bye has already passed and he’s got a sick playoff schedule with the 49ers and Kansas City in Weeks 15 and 16. If you currently have Ted Ginn, Jr. on your roster, first of all, slap yourself. Second, pick up Camarillo instead.

Greg Olsen, TE Chicago Bears
Tight ends are a big hit on the waiver wire this week. Olsen is the first one on the list. Other than Marty Booker and his “spider-sense” hands, Olsen is one of the best pass catchers the Bears have on their roster. He’s getting some big plays down the field and has been more productive in Brandon Lloyd’s absence. Matchups like this week against Atlanta shouldn’t hurt his chances to get a second TD either. Orton is targeting him rather than Desmond Clark these days, and as Orton goes, so goes Greg Olsen.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets
Brett Favre and Keller connected almost immediately this season, and Favre is throwing out touchdowns like candy in a parade. You want this guy on your roster. Say it with me now: I want this guy on my roster. If you don’t have a top tight end on your roster or Dustin Keller after reading that paragraph…well, then there is no hope for you, buddy. You’ll never improve your tight end situation, quit smoking or hypnotize yourself into losing weight. I give up.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention this guy. His name is just so freaking hard to type. It’s like his parents named him by looking at a QWERTY keyboard and choosing letters that were really far apart. No, really, Shiancoes, I’m on to you. As long as Frerotte is starting, the Vikings will need a red zone target. Otherwise, every defense just stacks the box to keep Adrian Peterson out of the end zone when they are close. Shank-o is a red zone man. He’s got two TDs this season including the TD pass from Chester Taylor this past weekend. Since we’re so big on playoff schedules this week on the wire, how about Lions, Cardinals and Falcons?

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
If I mentioned two of his best options, I guess that means I have to mention him again…doesn’t it? Orton tied for the top spot at QB in Week 5. In Week 6, he faces Atlanta. It makes me sick to think of him as a fantasy-worthy QB as well, but I’m starting him this week. When is Orton going to get his first endorsement for Gilette or Norelco?

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He looked better than Earnest Graham in Week 5 against the Broncos. Graham should have had a field day on that defense. I’m worried if I am a Graham owner.

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Back at full health, he’s the starting running back for one of the best rushing offenses in football. McFadden might demand more touches at this point, but Fargas will still get some cred since he had the job first. It’s a rule of the workplace. Haven’t you ever had a steady corporate job with a ladder to nowhere?

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
As I mentioned previously in my thoughts from Week 5, Chris Perry’s hold on the starting job in Cincy isn’t going to get much weaker than it is right now. Benson will obviously play a larger role in Week 6, but he could take over the reigns completely. I mean, what’s he got to beat? Averaging less three yards per carry and leading the league in fumbles? Even for Benson, that’s doable.

Ones to Watch

Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars
Also revealed in my thoughts from Week 5, Walker is one of a handful of sleepers I had on a list to start the season. He hadn’t quite woken up yet and flirted with close to 50 yards in the Houston game, but he came alive against the Steelers with six passes for 107 yards. He’s worthy of putting on a roster at this point in the season. If he turns into a go-to possession and red zone receiver, Walker could become a staple of your starting lineup. He may have gotten a little torn up on Sunday night, so watch the reports before you make a grab. If healthy, I see nothing but upside, but he’s so small time as a Jacksonville WR that you might be able to wait on him.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
I really want to see Kevin Curtis take the field this season, and he could be close to it. McNabb is stalling out a bit as of late, but he was firing away the first two weeks. I’m sure he’d get a boost throwing to Curtis alongside DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown. Keep an eye on him.

Nate Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington fills a role similar to Devery Henderson on the Saints or Chansi Stuckey on the Jets. He’s the third WR who goes for a lot of big plays. He’s not always hit with lots of passes, but when he gets one, he can take it to the house. Washington has looked more solid than Santonio Holmes over the last several weeks, and he’s not a bad start when the Steelers are going to be passing frequently. Washington had 95 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville this past weekend.

Vince Young, QB Tennessee Titans
It pains me to only be able to list VY as a “one to watch,” but the Titans are on a bye. I know Young isn’t supposed to take back the reigns on the starting job, and more than likely, it won’t happen in Week 7, BUT (I like big buts…) I believe that his return to the starting lineup is inevitable. He’s too talented with too much invested in him for the Titans to pass it off to Kerry Collins. If VY returns and hits his stride in the NFL, he finishes up against the Jets, Lions, Browns and Texans before facing the Steelers in Week 16. In a free agent pool of substitute QBs, VY has the greatest upside. Don’t let that get away from you.

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
He’s a sufficient Westbrook substitute, but just like Splenda, he’s nothing like the real thing. It’s just got that twang that makes you know it’s not the real stuff, you know? I believe Westbrook will go in Week 6 against the 49ers, but if they hold him back until after their Week 7 bye, Buckhalter is the guy you want to fill in for your roster.

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos
Mike Shanahan couldn’t stop raving about Torain before the season started, and then Torain got hurt and missed out on the season up until now. I’m going to start mentioning him as a watch for now, but he’s probably going to jump into the grab-worthy category once he is cleared to practice. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Shanahan never gave him a single carry after talking so much about him just to make fantasy owners waste a spot on their roster? < — Not a joke.

Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks
When he comes back from injury, he could challenge Julius Jones for carries or the starting role. That’s not the most valuable starting fantasy RB job in the NFL, but you might seriously be contemplating putting Cedric Benson on your team. Call me a Julius Jones hater, but I just like Morris better. Watch him.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Old bones is back in football pads. It’s sort of anticlimactic now that he isn’t even catching a whiff of the starting role, but Green is bound to be somewhat productive…until his next injury. He’s worth watching only if you need a bye week fill or if you just really like the Texans. Crickets? No one?

Flukes or Droppables

Hank Baskett, WR Philadelphia Eagles
Reggie Brown has stolen back his starting spot, so Baskett is back on the bench. At least he sort of, maybe, in gossip blog terms dated one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. Say goodbye to Kendra, Hank. Your fifteen minutes seconds are up.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
I still hate LeRon McClain, but he totally sniped Rice’s job from him. Maybe he ate Ray Rice. Has anyone checked? Oh, God.

Andre Hall, RB Denver Broncos
Hall is about to be swallowed up by the Torain train and/or the black hole that is the running back depth chart in Denver. His injury just provides one more reason to let him go.

Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t just ditch him on the side of the road. He’s still a starting running back for a *potentially* high-powered offense, but it’s very possible that he could lose his job just like his lost all the marbles over the last five games. I’d seek greener, better gripping pastures.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Super Snags from Week 4

Was 2008 the year to have the fifth pick in fantasy football?

So far this season, it would seem that the later draft picks have gone unscathed while the early drafters suffered some major blows to their studs. Owners have had to make due with their depth from the middle rounds, the true test of any fantasy football champion.

A handful of consensus top picks have already missed a game or been limited. LaDainian Tomlinson, slowed by his toe injury in Week 2, spooked some of his owners out of starting him in Week 3 even though he performed well. A.P. and Westbrook owners already have to play the “questionable or not” game each week, and Westbrook sat down in Week 4. Addai, who was banged up last season, isn’t inspiring confidence with his injury scares in just Week 1, and we all know what happened to Tom Brady.

All these injuries have already come up, and the Madden curse hasn’t even struck its cover boy yet. Is Brett Favre’s resilience strong enough to project the curse onto every other player in the NFL?

Marion Barber, Frank Gore and Clinton Portis owners may be sitting pretty for the moment, but owners that have made it through this rough patch for their stud with a winning record can feel good about their team going into Week 5.

If you haven’t been hit by injury, you are not safe yet. Karma can strike you down at any time. Now would be a great time to gather up some depth if you plan on making that playoff run, and if you haven’t gotten a win yet this season, maybe it’s time to completely drop all but your studs and start from scratch with waiver wire gems. As an alternative, you could just cry uncontrollably.

In addition to my take on who will make nice, happy point columns for your teams if you claim them this week, I’ll also start listing off a few guys worthy of being dropped (droppables) each week. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to let them go unless there is a much better option. If you like a guy, who am I to judge? (A genius.) I didn’t stay in a Holiday Express last night.

Worth Claiming

Deuce McAllister, RB New Orleans Saints
The Deuce is back. After not utilizing him for three weeks, McAllister finally got to show what he was made of and wrecked shop with 20 carries and a touchdown. He might not be as good as he was two years ago, but he might be good enough if you need a situational to low-end RB2. McAllister is the hottest pickup of the week. Sorry, Pierre Thomas, you didn’t get it done.

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens
It’s clear that Willis McGahee is not going to stay healthy. McClain is in control of the McGahee Voodoo doll, and he takes everything that opposing defenses give him — including a fantasy victory from me with that last TD Monday night. Out of anger, I’ll probably try to pick him up just so I can unceremoniously drop him Al Davis style.

Mewelde Moore, RB Pittsburgh Steelers
The Baltimore Ravens chewed up every running back that the Steelers sent at them on Monday night and left Moore, the fourth in line, as the last man standing. Do you think Willie Parker sat out just to save himself? Parker’s uncertain status means that Moore could be the starter in Steeler land for several weeks. Big Ben may rely more on the passing game, but Moore is worth snagging if you could use some bye week depth (or if you were counting on Willie Parker). The running game should still be effective for the Steelers.

Fred Jackson, RB Buffalo Bills
Another preseason lie: Marshawn Lynch will play all three downs. He’s not. Jackson’s in the mix, and he’s had nice fantasy outings throughout the early part of the season. Get him while he’s hot, and he’s a matchup start when the Bills face a weak defense.

Rudi Johnson, RB Detroit Lions
If no one has him yet, he’s worth getting if you need a RB since he has been named the starter. Kevin Smith is still not a guy worth dropping, and I don’t see the Lions running much when they are down by double digits.

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
In a land of parole, the man with no charges is king. Benson finally found a home with the Bengals this week after being cleared of his boating/driving while intoxicated charges. The Bengals signed him for depth behind starter Chris Perry because they had to put DeDe Dorsey on IR, but we all know that a back can sneak up on you and take more prominent, shared role in the offense (see: Rudi Johnson).

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Remember that guy who was the starter before there was McFadden? Now that McFadden is slowed by his injury, Fargas might just have a chance to get his job back when he returns during the bye, but everything is still a little up in the air since the Lane Kiffin firing. To think, we had all given up on him. You probably have the bye this week to think about how much you like Fargas, but it wouldn’t hurt to grab him before games start this week so you don’t risk losing him to some schmuck who has a higher waiver than you next week (because your totally going to dominate this week, right?).

Leon Washington, RB New York Jets
While he’s supposed to be the change of pace for Thomas Jones, Washington is starting to see more time on the field in the faster-moving packages. He could mature into a situational starter if Brett Favre takes the Jets into a land that needs no solid run game. I expect Jones to return to fantasy relevance at some point in the next few weeks, but Washington could be a nice fill for you if you are out of options at RB. You might even be able to fool an owner or two into buying him at the price of a more solid performer if he has a big day with Brett.

Kevin Walter, WR Houston Texans
Moves like Wes Welker with better hands than Andre Johnson so far. Walter proved he was legit in Week 4. He’s even good at doing the “Hokey Pokey” with Matt Schaub. What a talent.

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
Returning this week from chipping his shoulder, Engram should be welcomed home by Matt Hasselbeck with open arms and lots of passes. Oh man, did he miss you, Engram.

Miles Austin, WR Dallas Cowboys
He’s worth it after another week (and another TD) if you have a spot for him. Austin’s likely to be more productive than Crayton this season, and he’s got that big play potential that you love to see in the No. 3 WR in an offense. The Cowboys are too powerful an offense for you to ignore Miles Austin, and outside of Crayton, his only competition for playing time is the hard-handed Sam Hurd.

Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith, WR New York Giants
Without Plax for Week 5, Hixon and Smith both get upgraded in the passing game. If Hixon really does assume the Plax role for this game, I like him much more than Smith. The passing game should be firing on all cylinders, and I think Eli likes and trusts Hixon after the preseason bombs he got to him. Smith and Toomer should both see increased targets in this one. None of the Giants WRs are bad starts this week against Seattle.

Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, WR New Orleans Saints
Unlike Matt Hasselbeck, whatever runs out there for Drew Brees this season gets productive before it gets hurt. I like Moore better than Meachem because he has the more reliable hands for Brees, but Meachem has that big play ability that keeps flaring up like a bad case of…well, let’s not talk about me. Until Marques Colston and/or Jeremy Shockey come back (at least two more weeks away), these two WRs will have nice games for you in a pinch. Brees will need to throw this week against a tough Vikings run defense and could expose the Raiders defense in Week 6 just like Cutler did.

Muhsin Muhammad, WR Carolina Panthers
Muhammad really fits in Carolina with Steve Smith and Delhomme. He’s valuable when the Panthers face a weak secondary, and he’ll take the heat off of Steve Smith each week. Muhammad makes for a great WR3 or even WR2 when the game plan calls for lots of passing.

Jerheme Urban and Steve Breaston, WR Arizona Cardinals
Boldin is very unlikely to play in Week 4. Getting popped in the head and shooting blood from your nose and mouth will do that to you. In his absence, I think Urban steps into the No. 2 spot in the Arizona offense. Everyone will tell you Breaston…but I still like Urban better. Breaston may have gotten the 100-yard game in Week 4, but Urban got the touchdown.

Justin Gage, WR Tennessee Titans
He’s not injured anymore and showed it with almost 100 yards this past week, but what happens when/if Vince Young comes back? For now, he’s a pretty good WR3 or WR3 with limited upside.

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins
If he is available, he’s a great spot fill this week. Any team playing San Diego is promised a TE touchdown so far this season, and Chad Pennington already likes throwing to his tight ends. David Martin might not even be a bad play this week, but I like Fasano more.

Matt Schaub, QB Houston Texans
When he’s at the top of his game, he’s one of the best QB2s around and sometimes worthy of QB1 status. It might be a QB1 sort of day against he Colts. I imagine they’ll be playing from behind.

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
What has the world come to these days? NECKBEARD just became a decent fantasy play? He’s thrown multiple touchdowns and close to 200 yards in his recent games. You have to accept some turnovers, but he’s better than a lot of other risky plays on the wire. This week, he faces off against Detroit with a matchup against Atlanta in Week 6. If you are hurting at QB, maybe Orton is the answer. Hooray?

Guys you should already own by now (but if you don’t, maybe you should):
Steve Slaton (last man standing and with talent), Dustin Keller (Favre-to-TE TD bandwagon), Warrick Dunn (stealing value from Graham by the second)

Ones to Watch

Jerious Norwood, RB Atlanta Falcons
Along the same lines as Leon Washington, Norwood has seen his role increase this season. Michael Turner is by far the more dominant back in this offense, but when the running game is emphasized, Norwood gets enough of a piece to put up fantasy numbers. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s running game doesn’t have many more sure things on the schedule. (Yes, it might be time to worry, Turner owners.)

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
McNabb’s best target from last season should be back soon, but it might not be this week. Best skill: Running through the end zone before dropping the ball. Look for him to make an impact when he returns.

Deion Branch, WR Seattle Seahawks
While Engram is back this week from his chipped shoulder, Branch is just getting back to the field coming off knee surgery. He probably won’t see much playing time in Week 5, and with Bobby Engram back in the lineup, he might be a Casper even if he gets out there. Engram is the guy to own in Seattle from now on, but Branch could make a triumphant fantasy return if he can get comfortable on his knee again. Hey, Ronnie Brown did it.

Sidney Rice, WR Minnesota Vikings
Sidney Rice is another guy returning from a knee injury, but if he sees more time this week against the Saints, he should show what he’s worth. His TD in Week 1 against the Green Bay secondary was a sign of things to come, and I like him more than I like Berrian and cake…but not as much as cheese fries.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
He dropped out of our fantasy minds and hearts with his rib injury, but if Kyle Orton becomes a potential fantasy play, Hester is right up there with him. Oh, and please prepare a way to clip wings off pigs. It’s going to happen next.

Chris Henry, WR Cincinnati Bengals
Coming off suspension, Chris Henry will be working out with the team this week. There’s no promise that he plays on Sunday — or even makes the roster if he’s out of shape. Wait for some news out of the Bengals camp or a fantasy sighting in Week 5 before you go out to grab him. The Bengals offense just doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders yet this season.

Zach Miller, TE Oakland Raiders
Miller had sleeper status coming into the year, but he was almost non-existent for the Raiders earlier in the season. The big day in Week 4 might have people talking, but take away his TD catch and he had a slightly better day than usual (32 yards from four catches). It might have just been his week facing the Chargers. Was Shawn Merriman in charge of covering tight ends? If the chemistry continues between Miller and JaMarcus Russell, he’s got the talent to be a starting fantasy tight end.

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants
He started slow but showed promise before heading into his bye week. Without Plax in Week 5, guys like Boss and Steve Smith might see more targets from Eli. If no one has him yet, keep your eye on him to see if he builds from that Week 3 performance, and if you’re tight end hasn’t performed yet, maybe you should switch it up and take a chance on Boss.

JaMarcus Russell, QB Oakland Raiders
The big boy out of LSU hasn’t blown up any stat lines in the NFL yet and just lost a head coach, but he’s still an interesting fantasy option. He’s got a cannon for the big play, and his ability to throw the ball across his body with just arm and some significant distance was impressive in Week 4 even when he was being swarmed. If you’re backup QB is lacking in the upside department, Russell could fill that role nicely. He looks like one of the most consistent options at QB even if his numbers aren’t spectacular. Upside is that he could come out of the bye week putting up better numbers, but you can probably wait to grab him until next week.

Marc Bulger, QB St. Louis Rams
Nothing much has changed, but Bulger has a new coach and his starting job back. He hasn’t done much yet this season to deserve a roster spot, but he could. He’s one of those “names” that people always give value in fantasy. That makes him worth consideration, but it’s still hard to pull the trigger. Wait until his first game back unless you really need him. The upside is there.

Carolina Panthers D/ST
The Panthers defense hasn’t exploded just yet, but they are keeping the running backs pinned down for low yardage. If they tighten up a bit more, they might just become an elite unit. They also have a nice stretch Weeks 10-12 against the Raiders, Lions and Falcons. Consider this your advance warning.

New York Jets D/ST
The Jets have quietly become a nice fantasy defense. Much like the Detroit Lions last year, you wouldn’t really think to consider them until they have a big week. Well, they had one this past week against Arizona, and after the bye this week, they face the Bengals, Raiders and Chiefs. None of those offenses make mistakes. Not ever. (Incredible sarcasm here as if you couldn’t tell.)

Flukes to Ignore or Droppables

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
If you didn’t get him last week to fill in for your injured Westbrook, you probably missed your chance. Word is that Westbrook all but suited up on Sunday night, and I expect to see him take the field against Washington. Westbrook just missed his one game for this season, so if the trend holds true, Buckhalter has almost no value moving forward. His value stays put only if Westbrook sits again.

DeAngelo Williams, RB Carolina Panthers
If you have a guy with more upside, jump on him. Williams is on the losing end of a battle for carries since he doesn’t see the ball near the end zone. Unless you can unload him in a trade, it might be downhill from here. He’s still got value, but don’t hang onto him waiting for a miracle, okay? Promise me…

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers
Mike Martz forgot he was on the roster after all that talk of TE passing sets, and it looks like he might even like the other guy better. Davis is not worth keeping on your roster until he proves something.

Dante Rosario, TE Carolina Panthers
While he had a great day in Week 1, Rosario has seen less action since the return of Steve Smith. Now that Muhsin Muhammad is getting looks as well, it’s just time to move on to another hot waiver wire TE or the guy you drafted. (Please don’t say Vernon Davis.)

Joey Galloway, WR Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is it worth it for you to hold onto him for the two to three game stints that he will play this season? Not if you can pick up someone who is doing well now and not burning a hole in your bench.

Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints
Too French to push through the piles like Deuce can. Thomas is now mixed in there somewhere but not anywhere fantasy relevant for now.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
Obviously, we all missed a memo in thinking Cam Cameron was going to use this guy in place of Willis McGahee if McGahee stayed banged up. It was all a trick to hide the really BIG talent, LeRon McClain.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Really? Are you that much of a believer? Think about it. How desperate are you to have RB help down the road compared to what you can get right now? You should consider more immediate options. Green has likely lost his starting job and a significant role in the Houston offense this season. Deuce McAllister, LeRon McClain and Justin Fargas are all upgrades.

Javon Walker, WR Oakland Raiders
Wow, you are a believer.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Saviors from Week 1

A disastrous and tragic Week 1 has left plenty of teams hurting for new talent. Was there a group shot on the cover of Madden this year?

Since Week 1 is always the best time to grab the waiver wire studs AND since this week was full of injuries and failures, this week’s waiver wire gems is pretty comprehensive. Next week, we’ll bring it down a notch. We’ll start things off at QB since I hear we lost one this week.

If these guys went undrafted in your league, make sure you correct that. Now.

Matt Cassel, QB New England Patriots

Jesus. If you don’t know why Cassel is going to be a top grab this week, GO BACK UNDER YOUR ROCK AND STAY THERE.

It’s possible if you are a Tom Brady owner — or former Brady owner, as the case may be — that you have other, better options than Cassel. In one league, for example, Delhomme is still out there somehow.

If you’re stuck choosing between a bunch of dangerous options, Cassel makes a nice replacement. At least, he has a great group of receivers to throw to this year even if his skill set is still in question.

Trent Edwards, QB Buffalo Bills

It’s good to know that Edwards knows Lee Evans is on the team now. They must have had some sort of Kumbaya camping trip this offseason.

Edwards looked good in the offense, and I might lean on him over Cassel knowing he has the skills to get his receivers the scores. He had 215 yards and a TD in Week 1, but I think he can do better. In Week 2, he’ll have Jason Peters back on the offensive line — and so will Marshawn Lynch.

Chad Pennington, QB Miami Dolphins

He has had fantasy success in the past — even last year when healthy — and he might have found a team in Miami that will come together around him.

With a strong Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown run game, Pennington looks like a QB2 and could contribute as part of a fantasy QB rotation.

He’s better than Damon Huard.

Kerry Collins, QB Tennessee Titans

Vince Young looks to be sidelined for a few weeks. If you need a stopgap, Collins could be your man. He’s very unlikely to be drafted by anyone in your league, but there is always the issue of who he will throw it to this season for the Titans…

If you can’t be picky, Collins could be a decent fill at QB for a few weeks.

Eddie Royal, WR Denver Broncos

Rookie sensation had THE BEST performance of any WR this week. Royal could be a slightly more productive version of Patrick Crayton last season, and he’ll always draw the weaker corner once Brandon Marshall returns in Week 2. He’s an excellent WR3 or more if he can keep catching Cutler’s eye once Marshall is back.

DeSean Jackson, WR Philadelphia Eagles

McNabb spread the ball in Week 1, but he liked targeting the rookie. As long as Kevin Curtis remains banged up, Jackson should be on a roster — and maybe even after. As an added bonus, he might return a kick or two for some additional TD points.

Jackson’s six catches for 106 yards isn’t too shabby, and Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis might even be worth stashing as well if both continue to see looks from McNabb.

L.J. Smith, TE Philadelphia Eagles

If McNabb is firing, Smith should see end zone looks. McNabb knows Smith is attached to a couple of the most reliable hands he can throw at this season, so look for Smith to continue to have nice games in good matchups. In Week 1, he posted 39 yards a score. He’s worth a TE2 spot if you carry two of them, or he could be part of a nice TE rotation with one of breakout TEs of 2008.

Dante Rosario, TE Carolina Panthers

The deep TE ranks get even deeper as long as Rosario remains a reliable target for Delhomme. He came down with seven receptions for 96 yards and a TD in Week 1. Worth rostering if you have a weak TE or want to trade away your stud to take advantage of the depth here this year, but be cautious. We don’t know how Rosario will be affected by the return on Steve Smith in Week 3.

Robert Royal, TE Buffalo Bills

Again, TEs look deep this year. The new offense in Buffalo smiled favorably on Royal, who caught six passes for 52 yards and a score against Seattle. After Jacksonville, the Bills schedule gets easier. I like Rosario better than Royal, but Royal is likely to see his fair share of looks this season unless rookie James Hardy starts to steal his end zone opportunities as Hardy gets more playing time.

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins

We know Pennington doesn’t have a big arm (Girlish arm chant…Begin!), but he got his TEs involved early in the showdown against his former team, the Jets. Fasano practiced behind Jason Witten in Dallas, and look how Witten turned out. Fasano could be one of Pennington’s most reliable targets this season.

Matt Forte, RB Chicago Bears

Likely drafted in every league, Forte proved he could be a consistent fantasy starter in Week 1. He could put up a fight for offensive rookie of the year if he keeps it up. We know the Bears won’t have much on offense, so they’ll use their defense and Forte to control the game.

Felix Jones, RB Dallas Cowboys

I feel like THIS Jones will be far more effective than Julius Jones was last year for the Cowboys. His performance in Week 1 was worthy of a FLEX play (or even a low-end starter) with 62 yards and a TD. Barber bruised his ribs late in the game, and even though he is still expected to play in Week 2, look for Felix Jones to see increased action along with Tashard Choice against the Eagles.

Sammy Morris, RB New England Patriots

He’s the running back for the Patriots. I don’t care what the depth chart says. With Brady out, he could see an increased role in this offense. He’ll certainly be in the mix however the offense is rearranged to suit Cassel.

Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints

Thomas might make Deuce McAllister a ghost this season if he keeps stealing carries. He’s a must-grab for any McAllister owners and could be the workhorse back of the Saints offense this season.

Buffalo Bills D/ST

The Bills defense had a few shining moments last season, but being healthy this season and free agent additions (Marcus Stroud) have made them an emerging sleeper.

In Week 2, they get to play Jacksonville — suffering from a devastated offensive line. Their schedule gets pretty easy from there. Stash them now before the other teams in your league see them spark.

Ones to Watch

Carolina Panthers D/ST

I’m not entirely sold just yet, but the Panthers were on of my sleeper defensive units coming into 2008.

They kept L.T. tame in Week 1. That’s promising. Panthers face off against the Bears this week. I’m still a little worried about the 300+ yards that the Panthers gave up — Forte could tear them apart this week if he keeps his stud status. On the other hand, the Bears could look like…well, the Bears this week.

If you have a roster spot or lack confidence in your defense, it might be worth rostering Carolina this week to see where they go from this Week 1 performance.

J.T. O’Sullivan, QB San Francisco 49ers

Yeah, it’s a bit of a reach, but he still has upside. He got the ball to Frank Gore and Vernon Davis in Week 1, and he could expand on that in Week 2.

Hey, it’s Mike Martz, okay?

Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons

Still a rookie QB, but obviously, he’s going to have his good weeks every now and then. Worth a chance? Let’s see his Week 2 unless you desperately need QB help this season. Turner looks like the focus of this offense.

Tim Hightower, RB Arizona Cardinals

I didn’t see Hightower taking the goal line carries from Edgerrin James once the regular season got started, but apparently, they’re still doing that in Arizona. Edge is turning 30, but he still looks productive this season. Hightower might be worth rostering if you have the room, but he’s little more than a TD vulture. Other than his score, he only had 34 total yards.

Steve Slaton, RB Houston Texans

Slaton had more carries than Ahman Green, but Green went out with an injury in this one. Wait a sec, that makes Slaton look even better.

Regardless of the depth chart, the starting RB job in Houston is Slaton’s to earn if he performs well this season. While Green is sidelined, Slaton will probably share carries with the platoon of backs in Houston (Chris Taylor and possibly Darius Walker), but he should continue to see more and more carries.

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The wily veteran’s role in this offense might be worth getting. He put up 54 yards in just nine carries in Week 1. He could play a larger role in future games.

Yes, I just wanted to use the word wily.

Kevin Walter, WR Houston Texans

If the Texans get a potent passing game going, Walter could benefit from Andre Johnson pulling the better corner. He’s worth rostering in deep leagues and seeing how he pans out. Otherwise, keep an eye on how much he contributes to see if he could be worthy of your WR3 spot.

Ignoring, as in “LA LA LA, I can’t hear you!”

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens

Let’s see where he goes when McGahee is back. My guess is somewhere behind Ray Rice. I don’t think he’s worth rostering unless he reappears in Week 2.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts

Probably going to be just as valuable as Kenton Keith last season. There are better options out there who will get more than yardage and a few scores. I think Addai comes back from his head injury in Week 1 with no problems.

Michael Pittman, RB Denver Broncos

Yes, you scored two touchdowns. Congrats. Not sure I trust any Denver back this season. Pittman’s a TD vulture — feast or famine. Too risky to roster in my opinion.

Damon Huard, QB Kansas City Chiefs

It’s Damon Huard in a pretty terrible offense in Kansas City. Plus, he’s only in there for a few weeks until Brodie Croyle returns. I think I’d rather have Kerry Collins. “The Bowe Show” is nice and all, but I don’t like the season premiere that much.

Matt Jones, WR Jacksonville Jaguars

They say dead people twitch sometimes.

See other waivers around the Internetz at Fantasy Football Goat, at The Hazean, at Yahoo! Sports, at Pancake Blocks, at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, at CBS Sportsline, at Fantasy Football Toolbox (also with upgrades for this week), at Pro Football Weekly, at Football Docs, at Bruno Boys, and at Fantasy Football Librarian.

The Glorious Return of The 5 Minute Drill

I discovered and, against my competitive instincts, shared The 5 Minute Drill last year during fantasy season. With Week 1 upon us, I might as well do it again.

The 5 Minute Drill offers a solid five minutes of comprehensive analysis and visual entertainment that can help you win your fantasy season.

Here’s 10 minutes of action, two episodes, that could help you beef up your team.

Although I usually find myself in agreement with The 5 Minute Drill guys, I still haven’t bumped Tony Scheffler down in my TE rankings.

I want to believe that Scheffler and Eddie Royal will be the beneficiaries of Brandon Marshall’s Week 1 suspension. Now that Oakland has two of the best corners in the game, could it be Scheffler that reels them in for Jay Cutler Week 1? I’m still starting him.

Hank Baskett and Maurice Morris are both on my watch list for Week 1. Baskett, not so much DeSean Jackson, will benefit from Kevin Curtis being injured, and I see no way that Julius Jones outperforms Maurice Morris this season — at least not early.

Matt Hasselbeck was untouchable in my drafts. I don’t like his receiver situation at all.

Sigmund and Cecil don’t make me feel too good about probably having to start Ryan Grant this weekend, but I think I have the faith in him at RB1 when I have Tom Brady starting at QB. Grant didn’t get shut down by Minnesota last year, and I expect him to show it again this year.

By the way, if you have a healthy Joey Galloway on your team this week, you should start him — and the goat agrees. He’s a lock to do well against the Saints as long as he starts even if he is merely an aging WR3 for your fantasy team.