Foolish Thoughts: Eagles pigeon-holed, Titans Patrionized and Saints crush Giants

When things get back to normal, they also have to get weird. In the same week that Drew Brees blows apart the Giants like they read their defensive playbook to him as a bedtime story, Tom Brady returns to dominance in a frozen tundra that kept the Titans quarterbacks, both of them, for throwing for positive yardage.

I’d like to think that we have Brady back for good — mostly because I traded for him earlier this season in one league while he was struggling. But there’s no guarantee that this temporary return to form for many of the leagues top fantasy prospects sticks around. After all, the Raiders beat the Eagles this week…

Pigeon trumps Eagle. A lot of things didn’t go the Eagles way on Sunday. They lost Jason Peters. The forgot they had a running game, and obviously, the forces of nature of a higher power turned against them as an innocent-seeming pigeon became the Raiders twelfth man on special teams.

That is a winged sign of bad things to come to say the least.

The bird was all over that contain, and the Raiders didn’t even need him to bottle up the Eagles in this one.

Will this Raiders squad we saw on Sunday play the rest of their games this season? I doubt it. It seems they came together as one and played like the games mattered again, but in another week, they could lose that spark. At least they get Chaz Schilens back this week.

The New England Patriots marched out into the cold against “the best 0-5 team in football” and killed it. They spanked the Titans all over the field like Tennessee didn’t even have a secondary out there, and to be honest, they didn’t. Both starting corners missed this one with injuries.

The Patriots looks like the 2007 incarnation that fantasy owners know and love.

I think we all know why they’re back. Tom Brady has obviously sold his soul to the devil for powers unmatched by any mere mortal quarterback. The truth is out. He’s going to hell.

Tough, I know, but Belichick does ask a lot of his players.

Now the one question remains: To whom did Drew Brees sell his soul?

In weeks like these, you have to question your strategy. Did you play the right guy based on matchups or did you go with your studs? In truth, it’s always a hard call.

If you sat Matt Schaub to play Donovan McNabb or put Ray Rice on your bench against the Vikings, you may be regretting your decision. I did the former but not the latter, which allowed Rice to make up those points I lost by starting McNabb.

Take me back to Sunday morning, and I’d still make the same call. McNabb was the smart play. He just didn’t play smart on Sunday.

This week I also had to watch Matt Forte just ruin his night against the Falcons. He made me regret starting him over Cadillac Williams. Going into Monday night’s game with just the Denver defense, I had all but given up. There was no hope for a victory with 17 points to make up with just a defense in the Blogger League.

But then Eddie Royal happened. I gained a lot of respect for the Denver defense tonight, even more than I had given them up to this point. The Patriots seemed vulnerable when they got beat by Denver in overtime. The Cowboys seemed to attack the Broncos with the wrong strategy — why throw to Champ Bailey? Why?

The Chargers did everything they could to win against the Broncos in a game they needed to win to get back on track, but the Broncos didn’t let them do anything. With a sack-counting defense, a stifling run defense, one of the best corners in the game and now a threat in the return game, the Broncos might just be the best fantasy defense on the board when the season is over. How insane is that?

In the NFL, things can get weird.

Shameless Plugging: Keeper no more?

In the most recent Fourth & 1 fantasy football roundtable debate, we tackle what players have lost the most keeper value this season besides LaDainian Tomlinson.

I chose to single out Darren McFadden.

Despite the Oakland Raiders’ miraculous victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, who really beat themselves in this weekend’s upset, McFadden is on one of the worst teams in the NFL.

For an offense whose strength was supposed to be the running game, the Raiders’ rushing attack and, more specifically, McFadden have gotten shut down in almost every contest.

McFadden no longer seems like a challenger to Adrian Peterson’s crown as the best running back in the NFL, and fantasy owners holding onto him through his injury this season should worry about when he will pan out as a keeper.

More than likely, he’ll struggle on a mediocre team until he is traded or reaches free agency.

For more on my McFadden pick and all of the rest of the roundtable’s selections, read the Fourth & 1 Debate, hosted this week by Lester’s Legends.

What do you think of McFadden as a keeper? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Foolish Thoughts: Terrible throwbacks and games to throw back

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

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

The Close Ones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise, surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Usual Returns

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

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

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

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

The Sinking of the Titanic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The smart bet is on the miserable side of things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Other News…

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

Foolish Thoughts: They aren’t who we thought they were

Oh, Week 1, you cruel, cruel mistress. Just when we think we have it all figured out, the perfect team, the perfect season, you bring us back to reality.

Yes, this week we had football — real NFL football. Football that counted! But we also saw how the offseason, that tricky devil that fills in the gap between the Super Bowl and the next weekend we care about, deceives us. Those positive, uplifting stories melt away when Jake Delhomme throws more picks than Aerosmith, and the St. Louis Rams fail to notch a single point against an NFC West opponent.

It’s sobering, if sober is your thing, to see your team come back down to earth. Well, back down to earth if you weren’t starting Drew Brees. If you have Brees, you get to look like a genius this week. And we all hate you. Oh, and you too, Adrian Peterson owners. No one liked that you got the first pick anyway, and now, they get to build on that grudge when A.P. blows up in the first week.

There are only a few people who can tell you exactly how they are going to beat you and then do it right before your eyes — Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs come to mind. None of them are football players. At the end of the day, any team could stop one individual player from playing their game in a given week. It just so happens that giving your opponent an entire offseason to prepare tends to really give them a great game plan against your offensive stars.

But such is fantasy football. If knowing what you were doing allowed you to draft a perfect team every time, for every week, the game wouldn’t allow trades, and trades are really where you make your name in fantasy football. After Week 1 scores are recorded, the real men — and real women — assess their teams, hedge their offseason bets and acquire some new talent if the opportunity arises. We now know how things have changed, and we’re not in hot water just yet.

And yes, I know you’re not scared yet if you own Brees or Adrian Peterson, but you’ll see other teams catch you unaware if you let a Week 1 victory convince you that your team is perfect. Your bench is rarely perfect, but you can make it better a little bit at a time every week.

Jay Cutler obviously watched too much Jake Delhomme game film this week. He tried to do too much, but I think his picks were more an indication of how well-prepared Green Bay’s defense was, even having changed schemes this offseason. The Packers don’t look like they’re still learning, and they lost the “sleeper defense” tag that some had put on them this preseason.

Aaron Rodgers, for all the offensive success the Packers had this preseason, was also a surprisingly disappointing fantasy start this week. If not for those late game moves, he would have been a killer. But I guess only Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub were killers this week.

As a side story to Brees’ touchdown-machine performance, Reggie Bush couldn’t hold onto the ball against the Lions, even after the most work he’s ever done in the offseason. Bad sign for Bush owners.

Steven Jackson had me going for a bit with his whole Web series about how he is the greatest running back ever to touch the ground. Apparently, the camera adds 10 yards, and there were only six cameras on him in the Seattle game. Maybe he’ll fare better when he’s not facing what some say is “the best linebacking corps in the NFL,” but after disliking him this offseason, he isn’t helping his case.

There would be no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia as long as Donovan McNabb stayed healthy, but he cracked a rib against Carolina just in time to cause a scare. If he can’t get back on the field or gets injured again early this season, the Vick chants in Philadelphia might get louder.

It was almost too predictable that Anthony Gonzalez, the player who might have gathered the most “nice pick” comments in your fantasy draft this season, got injured in his Week 1 start against Jacksonville. He’ll sit out at least the next two weeks, but he could miss up to six weeks with his strained knee ligament.

Only two of my fantasy teams ran away with it this Sunday. I have two on the fence going into Monday night, and one that is going to need some overhaul this week. It’s good to have you back, football, and now the real fun begins.

Stay tuned for more this week as we’ll try to fix your Week 1 woes. Tonight, we get to see the Patriots, Bills, Chargers and Raiders take the field. Best of luck if you’re on the Monday night bubble. I’m looking for a nice night for Randy Moss.

Guest Post: 2009 NFL preview from a fantasy outsider

This guest post comes to Fantasy Football Fools from Eric Amzallag of sports pick site UnlockedSports.com. Rather than stay in our fantasy bubble this season, I thought taking a look at the playoff picks from a relative fantasy outsider would be a nice jump start to the conversation — since, inevitably, my Super Bowl and playoff picks would be largely influenced by what players I have invested in this season.

I think Eric makes some interesting calls that should get us talking, but keep in mind that Eric sent these to us this offseason before much of the news had been made.

Feel free to share your own playoff predictions on this glorious Sunday of football in the comments. We’ll give greater cred to those who post before their picks destroy opponents in their opening game this week. Now on with the show…

Now that football season is quickly approaching, fans, poolers and bettors are eager to gather as much information as they can to make some informed sports picks in the upcoming season.

Every single year, we seem to come into the NFL season with all eyes on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to win it all. There is nothing wrong with that. The Patriots always have a great team surrounding arguably the best quarterback of our time.

But times are a-changing, and this season we will see some new teams in the running for the Lombardi trophy. With a relatively painless offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to repeat and have a good chance to do so.

Don’t count out these playoff contenders from the AFC:

  • Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning! With Peyton behind center the Colts will always be contenders.
  • Oakland Raiders: The AFC West is the worst division in football right now, and the Raiders are the only team with promise and a good, young core of players. This year will be the season they break out of the funk.
  • Buffalo Bills: Although some people disagree, getting T.O. was huge for the Bills. Not only will their offense be hard to stop with two star receivers, a promising young quarterback and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, but they are well-coached and poised to have a breakout season.

The NFC is another beast altogether. The Arizona Cardinals will be good but not as good as they were last season. The Dallas Cowboys may have dropped some baggage, but this year will be a make-or-break season for Tony Romo.

In the NFC, watch for these teams to make an impact this season:

  • Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White! ‘Nuff said.
  • Dallas Cowboys: Do or die! If the Cowboys are going to stay in the title contender picture they will need to come together. This season will be the one that defines them, and I think they will come through.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Kind of a sleeper pick here, but I am sticking with it for one reason, Mike Singletary’s first full season.
  • Chicago Bears: Although the defense was suspect last season, this year everything is going to come together for Chicago. Not only will the defense get back to its stingy ways, but with Jay Cutler in the offense, this team could be scary!

So those are Eric’s picks, made right around the time of the NFL draft this offseason. Who do you think is going to win it all this year? You can check out more from Eric and UnlockedSports.com.

As always, the comments are yours.

A Fool and His Money – Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season Record
Nick: 0-0-0