Dude… Ronnie Brown

You knew it was coming — the “Dude” mention, not the five touchdowns against the New England Patriots.

Brown, who probably sat on your bench this week, gave owners a lovely surprise when he ran in four touchdowns with 113 yards rushing against a defense that hadn’t given up a single rushing touchdown this season, and as if that wasn’t enough (and to anger all Chad Pennington owners, a sour lot already), Ronnie Brown threw a touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano.

Apparently, Bill Belichick doesn’t watch a lot of Arkansas games. Maybe he should start. The direct snap drove the New England defense wild all day. I guess they put so much faith in a quarterback to win that they cannot fathom a QB being removed from the play.

From the Palm Beach Post:

“They outplayed us. They outcoached us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They obviously deserved to win.”

Who could have imagined that Bill Belichick would be uttering those words after their win streak was put to an end…at home in New England…to the Miami Dolphins…for the Dolphins’ first win of the season?

Sunday’s performance even made Ricky Williams get all Ricky-like.

Also from the Palm Beach Post:

Williams, though, said he saw this kind of performance coming. He explained with a story about growing wheat.

“You plant the seed, and the time between when you see nothing and when you see the sprout is just one day – it can happen just like that,” he said. “We just have to keep on working and reaping our harvest.”

I can imagine he knows a lot about growing plants.

For the whole story on the game, check out the Associated Press video report (below).

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.

A Fool and His Money in Week 1

Now that we have the explanation out of the way, let’s talk Week 1 picks.

Jacob’s Ed. Note: Note that due to some compulsive gambling this weekend, we didn’t get the Week 1 picks up before the games. If you didn’t notice, congratulations — you rock. Starting Week 2, picks should be up prior to the weekend’s festivities. Now, on with the show…

Enter the Chadam

Hi. My name is Chadam, and I’ll be half of the two-headed team that will be leading you through the crazy world of picking NFL spreads.

Make no mistake; I am hardly what you would call an “expert.” My resume consists of a gambling addiction formed in my high school years, the borderline drinking problem that graces plagues most males in their twenties and the unlawful possession of irrational reasons for loving or hating certain teams and players.

In other words, I’m might be just like you and a large majority of the fantasy football community.

I’m a diehard Texans fan and will never bet against them under any circumstances, so take my analysis of their games with a grain of salt.

Elisha Manning is my sworn enemy and his older brother is a close second, which won’t affect my picks but will almost certainly rear its head in my commentary.

Finally, I’ll be bringing a few stats to the table. I won’t bore you with numbers, but merely alert you to some statistical trends that everybody can utilize, whether you’re in a friendly office pick ‘em pool or a regular weekend gambler.

My goals this year are to correctly pick 54 percent of the spreads, which is my rough estimate of the percentage that will guarantee you a profit against Vegas after taking into account the vigorish on bets, and to finish with a better record than Nick, the other guy.

It’s more than likely that my record will hover around .400, which allows you to insure a profit by choosing the opposite of whatever I do.

Enjoy our lighthearted analysis on the spreads, may your fantasy teams stay healthy this year and all of your sleepers pan out.

Pick Nick (Ed. Note: Get it?)

My name is Nick, and I’m the other guy making picks along with Chadam.

Chadam claims we are not experts, but I disagree. Do we not place our own hard-earned money on the line every week making bets? Did we not go to Vegas last year for the NFL Wild Card playoffs and steal some loot back from Caesar’s Palace?

We put our own money on the line, so I think that makes us experts. That being said, we aren’t experts that you should trust blindly, but we’ll do our best to point out what we think are the best bets each weekend and, hopefully, drop a little gambling knowledge on a few of you sports book virgins.

Consider this week’s picks my first step towards dominating Chadam this year. Enjoy!

A Fool and His Money…

Today, we’ll start with our predictions on the NFL opener Thursday between the Redskins and Giants and the rest of opening weekend.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Chadam Takes: GIANTS (-4) over Redskins

Talk about a lack of respect for the defending champs. I am in the camp that believes in the year-after curse for Super Bowl champs (The Steelers in 2006 are a good example) unless they prove otherwise.

That defense is a shadow of last year’s squad, and I can see Plax not trying as hard to stay on the field for all 16 games this year. That being said, Jason Campbell looked awful this preseason, and I think he’s another year from breaking out.

The Giants’ offensive cogs haven’t played enough games yet to be injured (I’m looking at you, Brandon Jacobs), so I think they’ll put enough points on the board to stay comfortably ahead the entire game.

Nick Takes: Redskins (+4) over GIANTS

I like the Redskins with points in the game tonight. I’ve been pretty high on Jason Campbell lately and expect him to have a breakout year despite his shoddy preseason performance. The Giants won’t have anything close to the pass rush they had last year, and I think that’s just what the doctor ordered for Campbell.

He does have one of my many personal sworn enemies on his team, Keenan McCardell, but hopefully, nobody will be counting on anything from him for the rest of his life. That guy cost me a playoff spot in one of my fantasy leagues a few years ago, and I will never forgive him for it. Ever.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens

Chadam Takes: Bengals (-1.5) over RAVENS

I think the record of rookie QBs in their first game has to be like 0-23968, right? With McGahee questionable, I don’t see where the Ravens’ offensive assault is going to come from in this one — unless, of course, Ray Lewis stabs somebody again.

Nick Takes: Bengals (-1.5) over RAVENS

I don’t like trusting the Bengals defense, but they are going up against an injured running back and a Division II QB who has never played a game in the NFL.

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons

Chadam Takes: Lions (-3) over FALCONS

Did I mention that I hate rookie QBs? You know the Lions are putting up at least 24 points. Do you really believe the Falcons will score 20?

Turner could run for 230 yards in this one though.

Nick Takes: Lions (-3) over FALCONS

I think both teams will do better than they did last year, but the Falcons have too many new faces to mesh together right away.

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

Chadam Takes: Jets (-3) over DOLPHINS

Poor Pennington. Everywhere he goes people seem to knock him for his girlish arm strength. What a crappy stigma to have.

Can anyone think of a worse fault to have (that’s NFL scouting report related)? Help me out in the comments if you have any ideas.

Nick Takes: DOLPHINS (+3) over Jets

Chad Pennington is going to be mad. The Big Tuna is always mad. Dolphins’ head coach Tony Sparano always looks mad, and Ricky…well, he’s at peace with himself and everybody around him.

I think the Jets need a little more time before Favre is comfortable, and I’m guessing Bill Parcells has no moral problem with asking Pennington about the Jets’ offense. I pick Miami in an upset.

Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers

Chadam Takes: Texans (+6.5) over STEELERS

This pick is more of a homer pick. I think the Steelers have a legit chance of blowing this game wide open. Sadly, since Houston is such a popular sleeper this year, they’re being overhyped in the spreads. Nick might be benefiting this year from my automatic Texans picks.

Nick Takes: STEELERS (-6.5) over Texans

I feel like I know what I’m going to get from the Steelers. I like that.

I don’t feel like I know what I’m going to get from the Texans. I’m going to predict they put just enough points on the board in garbage time to make me nervous but still lose by seven.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans

Chadam Takes: Jaguars (-3) over TITANS

The most ridiculous line of the day. I love the Jags this year, and hopefully, after creating their fifth turnover of the day, people might respect their defense a little more. Besides, you know the whole team will be JACKED UP to play if Matt Jones is back in the locker room.

Nick Takes: Jaguars (-3) over TITANS

Vince Young is my hero, especially after I saw him down on Sixth Street (in Austin) the other night and because of that whole National Championship thing, too, but I do learn from my mistakes. I’m not betting again on a QB who had a horrible preseason with a new offensive coordinator.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

Chadam Takes: SAINTS (-3.5) over Buccaneers

I almost chose the Bucs in this one, but I love the Saints’ offense this year. So does Nick apparently — he drafted four Saints in the fantasy football league Jacob and I share with him.

It’s a win-win. I either get a correct pick, or I watch Nick’s fantasy team suck it up and start 0-1.

Nick Takes: Buccaneers (+3.5) over SAINTS

I like the Saints this year, but they are going to be playing in a relatively empty stadium against a very underrated defense. I like the Bucs with the points in this one.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Chadam Takes: Cardinals (-2.5) over 49ERS (NINERS)

Every year, the Cardinals are a sleeper, and this year is no exception. I don’t think they’ll come close to the playoffs, but for this game, I’m being suckered in by the Cardinals.

Arizona’s passing game is going to make Martz wonder why he picked such a terrible team for his system (No QB, WRs or offensive line).

Nick Takes: Cardinals (-2.5) over 49ERS (NINERS)

I like this bet a lot. I’m not convinced Mike Martz can fix the 49ers’ sorry offense, and even if he could, it still couldn’t compete with the weapons they are packing in Arizona.

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

Chadam Takes: NO ONE

Jacob Ed. Note: Chadam, being the smart guy that he is, failed to turn in a pick in this contest. Apparently, he figured it was such a lock for the Patriots that he blocked it out of his mind when he turned in picks this week. Clever, but for the sanctity of his pick record, mark this one up as a miss for Chadam.

Nick Takes: PATRIOTS (-15.5) over Kansas City

I absolutely hate giving anybody 15.5 points, but it’s tough not to like the Patriots in a slaughter over the Chiefs.

Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills

Chadam Takes: BILLS (-1) over Seahawks

I kinda feel bad for Holmgren; his offense will be Bears-esque this year.

Let’s see. He’s lost four of his top-five WRs from last year (Deion Branch, D.J. Hackett, Bobby Engram and Ben Obomanu), replaced the inept Shaun Alexander with the equally-inept Julius Jones, lost two offensive lineman in camp and now Matt Hasselbeck has back problems?

Holmgren’s probably counting down the days until retirement.

Nick Takes: Seahawks (+1) over BILLS

I would have expected to see Seattle favored in this game. Normally, that would make me excited, but for some reason, I’m nervous.

Oh well, you gotta have nerves to be a gambler.

St. Louis Rams at Philadelphia Eagles

Chadam Takes: Rams (+7.5) over EAGLES

Which QB will be injured first? I actually think the Eagles will be great this year, but a healthy Rams team is no pushover either. I say Philly wins by three.

Nick Takes: EAGLES (-7.5) over Rams

I like the Eagles this year and think they could do some damage in the NFC. The Rams are going to have to prove to me that they are capable of staying close with opponents before I even think about betting on them.

Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers

Chadam Takes: Panthers (+9) over CHARGERS

How many passing attempts will there be in this game from both teams combined? 20? 25?

With Smith out and Gates not likely to make a significant impact, I’ll go with the underdog and hope I’m right.

Nick Takes: Panthers (+9) over CHARGERS

Not too much to say here. I like San Diego to win, but I don’t feel comfortable giving up nine points.

Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns

Chadam Takes: Cowboys (-5.5) over BROWNS

What a bad matchup for the Browns. Anderson, Edwards and Lewis are all banged up while Dallas is completely healthy with a motivated Pacman (Ed. Note: Now, Chadam, he goes by Adam) Jones?

Money in the bank. God, I hope Nick chose the Browns.

Nick Takes: Cowboys (-5.5) over BROWNS

I hate any team that has anything to do with the flamer that is Brady Quinn, but I don’t need to make this bet out of spite.

Cleveland finished horribly last year, and all their studs are coming of injuries. I’m laying down quite a few bucks on this game and in anticipation of a blowout.

Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts

Chadam Takes: COLTS (-9.5) over Bears

I hate to say it, but I think Manning’s knee problems are overblown. Harrison’s problems, however, are not, and my constant drafting of Anthony Gonzalez backs up my assertion. I think this will be a really low-scoring game — like 17-7. And yes, the only points for Chicago come from a Devin Hester punt return.

Nick Takes: Bears (+9.5) over COLTS

To be honest, I don’t like this bet at all. I’m not really sure what to expect in this game.

The Colts will be pumped up in the new stadium but will be missing Jeff Saturday. The Bears have a good defense, special teams and running game, but they have no passing game whatsoever.

When in doubt, I like to take the points.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

Chadam Takes: PACKERS (-2.5) over Vikings

My dark horse NFC champion against the terribly overhyped Vikings? Only three points?

I’m betting my rent money on this one.

Nick Takes: PACKERS (-2.5) over Vikings

Good luck, Aaron Rodgers. You’re going to need it. The Vikings are going to be coming after you hard, but I predict Rodgers will calm down after a miserable first half and bring the Packers back to win it by a field goal.

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

Chadam Takes: RAIDERS (+3) over Broncos

Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback (CB) for the Raiders (Ed. Note: FYI, Chadam didn’t sneeze), should be a household name. He is so filthy-good I think he was created in a lab with DNA from Champ Bailey.

Anyways, Brandon Marshall should be glad Asomugha is not schooling him Monday night…and Shanahan will torture my soul by starting Selvin Young but letting Andre Hall get 30 carries.

Nick Takes: Broncos (-3) over RAIDERS

I like Oakland’s young nucleus and head coach, but I still think it will take them awhile to learn how to win games. Look for Selvin Young to save the day in this one.

UPDATE: Friday Morning Trash Talkin’

Chadam: This Season: 1-0-0. Games Ahead of Nick: 1.

Nick: So I started off on the wrong foot by picking the Redskins on Thursday night’s opening game. No problem.

I’ll let Chadam brag because it will be the only time this whole season that he will be ahead in the picks.

So congratulations, Chadam. Maybe you and your mom, who you still live with, can go out and celebrate. I’m just going to concentrate on making more money this weekend.

Drafting Your Fantasy Running Backs: The Details to Consider in 2008

If breaking down the details for this year’s fantasy running backs doesn’t make you want to take LaDainian Tomlinson first overall in your re-draft league, I don’t know what will. Seriously, people.

When you’re talking fantasy running backs, what separates the vets from the noobs is consideration of a few minor factors beyond how high-powered a running back’s offense was last year and where the running back ranks on cheat sheets this season. Looking at the slight details like what defenses they face, contract lengths and ages can help you make the call between two closely-ranked RBs in your draft.

Let’s jump into how these factors will affect some top fantasy running backs this season with some good ol’ plus or minus analysis — and we go with negative first around these parts.

The Age Old Rule

First, let’s talk age. When you’re an old running back, you’re like a hot potato. No one wants to get stuck holding you when you crack.

Fantasy Football Toolbox told all with a list of all the running backs age 29 or older. There won’t be any pluses in this category, so we will have Big/Mini shades of Minus — a very scientific method, fingers crossed.

For fantasy’s sake, here’s who is getting to be old bones:

BIG Minus -

  • Warrick Dunn – Tampa Bay: I know you thought he was a spring chicken.
  • Ahman Green – Houston Texans: His knees show his age like the rings in a tree trunk.
  • LaMont Jordan – Oakland Raiders: Age and injury have punched Jordan’s ticket out of Oakland.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: Things could go either way for Jones in 2008 with a new O-line.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: It’s hard to make a comeback with just a couple of years left in the tank.
  • Deuce McAllister – New Orleans Saints: Coming off injury AND old. Not pretty. “Little Deuce” Aaron Stecker (32) isn’t getting younger for the Saints either.
  • The New England Trio: Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris – New England Patriots: Most of New England’s backfield is over 30. The Patriots can get production out of the old guys, but these guys have got to be breaking down this year. Maybe they will remember that they have Laurence Maroney.

Mini Minus -

  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: I think he was reborn when he became a Brown because he certainly did his owners right last year.
  • Fred Taylor – Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone keeps calling for Maurice Jones-Drew, but Taylor seems to find gas in the tank.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Old with flashes of youth still left.
  • Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles: Only 28 but backup is Correll Buckhalter (29). No wonder the Eagles wanted Lorenzo Booker, a spry 24, from Miami.

Strength of Schedules: Running into Brick Walls

NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano ranked the rushing schedules of fantasy running backs last week while we were just sitting around chatting about the free agents of 2009, which is the next section.

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty also put together a strength of schedule analysis earlier this offseason, showing L.T. is the set to be at the top in 2008.

Pouring out a little link love for my homies, Fantasy Football Librarian noted that Fabiano’s breakdown makes Laurence Maroney look pretty favorable, and Football Jabber singled out the top and bottom five teams. Frank Gore has his work cut out for him, and no one in Houston’s backfield has it easy this year.

Here’s who’ll be hurting on and who’ll be hurting from run defenses this year:

Minus -

  • Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Even if he isn’t the focus of the offense, he will still be the focus of the defense. It’s not looking good. I might go Tom Brady over Gore in the first round, but I’m not totally quitting on him yet.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: Long road back to the top against some of the best defenses out there at stopping the run. Giants will have to keep it dynamic in the run game to say ahead.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Notch Edge down another point for this one.
  • Ahman Green (and friends) – Houston Texans: No one will have an easy time running for Houston. With a pack of inconsistent backs, I’d avoid them all in your drafts this year.
  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: Age AND a schedule full of stacked run defenses. That hurts.
  • Julius Jones – Seattle Seahawks: Jones can’t improve his stock much in Seattle against the best in the biz of stopping him.
  • Marion Barber and Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys: A huge offense makes this a minor point. Does this stat mean they will throw more? PLUS to Romo if that’s the case.

Plus +

  • LaDainian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers: You couldn’t really ask for much more than L.T. having the best schedule of any RB. For the most part, Tomlinson will be running against the bottom-of-the-barrel run defenses.
  • Laurence Maroney – New England Patriots: Will the Patriots use him with the easiest rushing defense schedule? I think they might just let Brady throw all day again, but he could run easy when they let him.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: If his new O-line can block for him, Jones has it free and clear this season.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: Two bounce backs is possible. My money’s on Brown more than Ricky.
  • Travis Henry – Denver Broncos: Easy street should win him some points with Shanny.
  • Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints: The Saints offense is in line for a big year. Bush is the probably the better back to snag.
  • Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills: The second-best rookie of 2008 gets forgotten at times, but he should have a nice 2008 season with an easy rushing schedule and an improved offense. I’m high on this kid and owned him last year.
  • Larry Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs: Rebounds abound? Maybe. Johnson has an easy schedule to redeem himself for last year.
  • Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons: All that postseason hype won’t weigh down Turner much in Atlanta when he faces mostly low-end or middle-of-the-pack run defenses. In an offense based off the run this year, Turner could be more productive than people think.

Freebirds in Free Agency of 2009

Who’s looking to bust a move? Running backs who have a payday coming are always more likely to impress, but those who just got paid can be slowed by their wallets.

Plus +

  • Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams: The big man might get money before the season, but if not, stay out of his way.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: He’s got his work cut out for him, but boy, he wants to work.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: The “Freebird” title of this section was purely unintentional — I promise. Ricky probably has to make enough money over the next two years to rebuild his straw hut in a foreign country and smoke away the pain…That might not be very much though.

Minus -

  • Marion Barber – Dallas Cowboys: Likely to have just signed a major deal by the time the season starts even though he is a free agent now. Hopefully, money won’t weigh him down like it did Shaun Alexander.

In Closing

When it’s all said and done, these three factors paint a picture for who looks better than they might have beforehand and worse now than ever before. Some older backs may make nice RB2s, but don’t fall for drafting them as RB1s again this season.

Ricky Williams is still risky, but he has a lot going in his favor. Ronnie Brown is the more dependable guy to have for Miami, but Ricky cold be a good value pick. On the other hand, Marion Barber might have two strikes against him going into the season. Jamal Lewis looks like a player to avoid in the worst way possible.

Take all these factors into your noggin this offseason and remember to factor them in when you are choosing between two running backs in your draft. Upside is hard to find with running backs since the RBBCs are forming everywhere in the league, but make sure you get the most out of your running back picks. Don’t get stuck making the wrong call. Some rookies with young legs might be worth betting on over solid veterans.

Let me echo this again: L.T. looks good overlooking the age effect. In my mind, these factors put him clearly up there in the No. 1 overall spot. Take him first in your re-draft leagues, and call me in the morning.

Agree, disagree or explode in the comments below.

NFL Free Agents of 2009: Play Me Before They Pay Me

Whether or not you put any stock in the third-year receiver theory, players on the last year of their contract always put up big numbers before a team shows them the Benjamins.

Players who have just been paid should be suspect the next year — like a Shaun Alexander — but the year they earn their keep is the year to have them. If a player is set to put on a show this season, you should make sure to target them in your fantasy draft.

While an extension could come between now and the coin flip of 2008 for these players, here are a few of the top players that will be looking to upgrade to a Bentley this season:

The Running Backs (RB)

Steven Jackson. St. Louis Rams.
The grinder of the offense is coming off injury and a horrible Rams showing in 2007. With his contract up, Jackson will be willing to put his team on his back and run with it. While I still consider SJax damaged goods, he might be worth a second look after mini-camps and training camps show back to true form. I don’t see any way St. Louis lets him leave, but for the moment, Jackson’s looking like a relatively safe bet.

Brandon Jacobs. New York Giants.
The Giants have a full stable of RBs, but Jacobs was the man for most of the season that led them to the Super Bowl. With that victory under his belt, Jacobs might be one of the few Giants who will fight the Super Bowl slump and earn his weight in gold — that’s no little pile of gold either. It’s tough to say he is a must grab since the ball is passed to so many hands in the Giants’ offense, but keep his contract year in mind if it comes down to picking between runners who share the ball. Jacobs should at least fight through any injuries this season to impress and keep the necessary, hefty amounts of food on the table.

Marion Barber. Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys current focus is on getting a long-term deal signed by this man. Barber should share time with rookie Felix Jones this year. He probably won’t Wow with huge games, but he is consistent and guaranteed to be a first rounder in your fantasy draft. His extension will likely come before the season starts, but if not, do not miss the chance to stamp your ticket for this train.

Ricky Williams. Miami Dolphins.
Ricky’s gotta eat. Coming off his one-game-wonder — if wonder is breaking yourself in a handful of downs — performance in the muck of Pittsburgh last year, Williams will have to improve on the field if he wants Bill Parcells to keep him employed. He’s likely to share carries with Ronnie Brown, but if Ricky can finally pull his head out of the clouds, he could be a factor running behind Jake Long and stick around for his NFL paycheck a little longer.

Note that this list doesn’t include the currently homeless and unemployed — Shaun Alexander and Kevin Jones. Both will likely find homes where they will be earning their keep day-to-day. Jones could come back from his injury to a decent situation, but I don’t expect much of Shaun.

The Wide Receivers (WR) and Tight Ends (TE)

The real value in this season’s contract players is at the WR spot.

Terrell Owens. Dallas Cowboys.
That’s right. The typically demanding T.O. has been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason looking at the final year of his deal with the Cowboys. In a recent interview, he even expressed his desire to retire as a Cowboy. Have Jerry Jones and the boys finally tamed the T.O. of old? Regardless, T.O. is already considered one of the top WRs going into 2008, so the added motivation of earning a new deal should keep him demanding the ball week after week. If you go WR early, go T.O. Randy Moss just got paid, and the Giants exposed the Patriots’ weakness. No, it’s not stealing their video camera batteries.

Lee Evans. Buffalo Bills.
He stung me last season, but Evans’ contract year couldn’t come at a better time. The under-hyped WR of Buffalo finally has a compliment in short-yardage target James Hardy. If Trent Edwards gets more comfortable in training camp, Evans can shame face a few corners in 2008. I can’t trust him right away since I am still in a sensitive emotional state after the empty points column he awarded me in 2007, but Evans is back on my radar. I just can’t quit you, Lee.

Roy Williams. Detroit Lions.
The inconsistent Roy Williams is rumored to be on the trading block this season, but if he makes it through training camps, look for him to try to show his skills. I am not sure what he can do in the Detroit offense no matter how many times Kitna guarantees 10 wins, but with Calvin Johnson to draw similar coverage and a new offensive coordinator, Roy could be back — at least for 2008.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Cincinnati Bengals.
Housh has got a mess up in Cincinnati this offseason while Chad Johnson demands a trade, but T.J. will still show up when it is time to play. Last year was a big season for him, so 2008 should be his time to shine. If he gets the Bengals’ No. 1 WR role, he is a must grab. Just make sure you say his name right so that you don’t embarrass us.

Amani Toomer. New York Giants.
Sad to say that I don’t think Toomer will be looking to have a huge year. His career is winding down, and a year more in New York might just be spent as a veteran mentor to Mario Manningham and the other Steve Smith. I think Toomer might be looking for a one-year extension, but don’t count on him fighting to go out on top.

Desmond Clark. Chicago Bears.
It’s hard for anyone to shine in the Bears offense unless your name is Devin Hester, but Clark will be pushing to stay employed despite the up-and-coming Greg Olsen. If he can maintain his playing time, Clark will use it to the best of his ability. It’s iffy which TE will be a better value for 2008 though. First, they need a QB. Clark will likely be looking to show other suitors what he can do.

Notable WR of circumstance:

Anquan Boldin. Arizona Cardinals.
Even though his contract is not up, Boldin looks to be playing for mo’ money this season since Larry Fitzgerald will be making almost 7x his paycheck in 2008. Neither Arizona WR is a raw deal, but Boldin’s got something to prove.

The Quarterbacks (QB)

Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton. Chicago Bears.
One of these two underwhelming QBs has to perform this year. There just has to be some law of probability that says that, right? The two have one-year deals to show it or pack their locker. These two may end up as a case study for the NFL that proves even you are playing for the big money and big contract, it doesn’t mean you can exceed expectations or take your game to a new, less mediocre level.

Jeff Garcia. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Garcia was the leader of a Tampa Bay team that made it to the playoffs last year minus starting RB Cadillac Williams, but Garcia’s value isn’t the best being as old as he is and with so many QBs behind him. While Chris Simms is likely gone (and maybe Jake Plummer if they still consider him on the team), Garcia might not land a big money deal with the Bucs. He is already pushing for Tampa Bay to show him the money, but his performance this season might just be to show another QB-hungry team that he can still play a few more years. Hey, it worked when he was an Eagle.

Kurt Warner. Arizona Cardinals.
Could he fight for the spotlight to stay in the NFL? There’s no telling what Warner could show us this year since he became part of a QB-by-committee system at Arizona last year. I expect that Matt Leinart will get the starts, but don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the last from Warner.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know by posting a comment down south.

Fantasy Winners of 2008 NFL Draft

I guess if I am going to berate the fantasy losers of the NFL draft, I might as well commend the winners. These guys saw their fantasy value get a boost with the 2008 rookie class.

Jay Cutler. Denver Broncos.
New blocker in Ryan Clady and a new receiver in Eddie Royal. If you count that Cutler will also be in better health after learning he has type 1 diabetes and getting informed on how to manage it during the season, Cutler should improve in 2008 with Clady protecting him. Royal could be a factor later in the season, but the receivers are already strong as long as Brandon Marshall recovers well from his TV punching.

Jason Campbell. Washington Redskins.
Even though his two starting receivers may now be in danger of losing their fantasy value, it’s only because Campbell got a whole new tribe of offensive weapons. With Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis coming in, Jim Zorn, a former QB coach, taking the helm, the powerhouse of Chris Cooley and the addition of Brandon Albert for protection, Campbell will be able to spread the ball more effectively and could be a fantasy sleeper at QB for 2008.

Marion Barber. Dallas Cowboys.
Barber’s a winner because he got a great running mate in Felix Jones. As he is currently working out a long-term deal, Rashard Mendenhall might have been seen as a sign the Cowboys could do without Barber. With Felix Jones and Tashard Choice added to the mix, Barber can feel secure in his role as the starting RB while also getting some relief. The good for fantasy owners is that these rookies will still make an impact and make a threatening backfield in Dallas. Choice will eventually push and spell Barber while Jones is a perfect compliment who will compete for time. Barber can’t rest easy just yet, but these are the picks that he would want to run with if he had the choice.

Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh Steelers.
There’s no way to know how the Steelers will choose to put the ball in the end zone this season. Big Ben got his big, tall end zone target in Limas Sweed and now has a powerful runner in Rashard Mendenhall. Needless to say, the offense will be firing on all cylinders this year, and Big Ben won’t hesitate to throw TDs with Sweed and Heath Miller making some big targets.

Lee Evans. Buffalo Bills.
In James Hardy, Evans might finally find the perfect partner to create a dangerous dual threat in Buffalo. While Lee Evans is a deep threat, Hardy can develop into a big, possession receiver that will pull coverage from Evans. If Trent Edwards learns to get Evans the ball this season, Evans could return to form as an elite fantasy WR.

Rex Grossman. Chicago Bears.
He gets better protection with Chris Williams, a receiver in Earl Bennett and new talent at RB with Matt Forte. The offense is restocked enough that Grossman might have a legitimate shot to redeem himself in 2008.

Ronnie Brown (and Ricky Williams). Miami Dolphins.
Jake Long will move some people around in front of Brown this year, and he didn’t need the help last year to put up big numbers. With Bill Parcells revamping the offense and surrounding Brown with improved talent, Brown should bounce back from his injury better than expected. Ricky Williams could also be big depending upon how much size he can get back before the season starts and whether or not he keeps “grounded” — if you catch my drift.

Week 13: Waiver wire replacements for your injuries, sir

Oh, you weren’t starting to settle into a nice little butt groove going into the last week before playoffs were you? I’m sorry. If you didn’t notice, several starters just fell apart this week leaving you in the position to grab up the next starter before you playoff opponents or in great need of grabbing your back ups if you didn’t handcuff.

This week we’ll combine the injury report and waiver wire.

Philip Rivers, QB SD
Keep your eye on Rivers. Even though he has been inconsistent, he could emerge as a promising starter for your playoff run if another owner has already given up on him.

Kolby Smith, RB KC
If no one picked him up last week, does 150+ yards and 2 TDs convince you? Of course, that was against Oakland, but Smith should get his yards as the focus of the Kansas City offense as long as Larry Johnson stays out.

Roddy White, WR ATL
Harrington is going to look to White when they make a play. He’s consistent if you have a hit or miss WR that might give you trouble in the playoffs.

Trent Edwards, QB BUF
If you are hurting–and I mean hurting–at QB, you are probably stuck with one of the Trents. Trent Edwards was not much more than a game manager during his previous stint as a starter in Buffalo. He needs to meet a guy name Lee Evans before he will make his mark fantasy-wise, but for the moment, he will start over J.P. Losman to end this season. If you just need a starter, he is breathing and starting for the moment for the Bills.

Trent Dilfer, QB SF
He’s the other Trent. With Alex Smith in recovery, Dilfer put up decent numbers–250+ yards and 2 TDs. It’s hard to say which Trent would be a better addition to your roster, but Dilfer does have the better match up this week with Cleveland.

Anthony Thomas, RB BUF
Marshawn Lynch looks to be out again this week, so as long as Thomas’ own injury from Sunday is minor, he should get the start. Considering the Buffalo Trent, Trent Edwards, is back as a starter for the first game in his new stint, look for them to give Thomas plenty of carries against Washington.

Adrian Peterson, RB CHI
Peterson is now the full-time starter with Cedric Benson ending his dismal season with injury on Sunday. Don’t expect big numbers because the Bears don’t have an easy street schedule to end the season, but Peterson can be a decent number 2 RB.

Andre Hall and/or Cecil Sapp, RB DEN
The value here is all about injuries. Travis Henry is out with his knee, and Selvin Young was hurt last week and sat out Sunday. Andre Hall tweaked his own ankle in the game Sunday but played through the injury. Depending upon who returns, Hall and Young could split carries or if everyone is hurt, Cecil Sapp could start for the Broncos. Shanny is unpredictable, and this call could all come down to a game time decision.

Patrick Cobbs, RB MIA
With Ricky Williams ending his NFL season with less than 20 yards and a fumble and Chatman going out again Monday night with a neck injury, the Dolphins might have to look at Cobbs for the remainder of the season or until Chatman gets back in shape. He’s a dangerous start, but he could be a factor against the Jets.

Reuben Droughns, RB NYG
He wasn’t completely dismal against the Vikings tough run D and unless Derrick Ward returns to start this week, look for Droughns to get the start again against the low-ranked Chicago run defense.

Tony Scheffler, TE DEN
Back from injury, Scheffler has become a factor with Jay Cutler in the second half of the season. Consider picking him up if you need a good back up TE for the playoffs or have an underperforming TE–even one like Greg Olsen or Owen Daniels.

LJ Smith, TE PHI
Some owners gave up on him as he struggled to get healthy at the beginning of the year, but LJ is now back to his usual in Philadelphia. I think Scheffler has the bigger upside, but Smith can be consistent as long as the Eagles QB situation doesn’t get too chaotic.

Sidney Rice, WR MIN
He’s hit or miss, but if you want a big play WR to help you out for this final week of glory or in your playoff run, Rice has big play ability.

Week 12 Pick Ups: Still a few turkeys out there

I know it’s a holiday, but it’s also the best time to get a jump on the other teams by grabbing the best players off the waiver wire. If you don’t have any injuries–you must have signed that contract with Satan, but regardless, there is fresh blood and starters running around the NFL.

Here are the people worth taking.

Kolby Smith, RB Kansas City Chiefs
With no LJ and no Priest, Smith will have to carry this team for them to have a prayer.

Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel, RB New England Patriots
The Patriot running backs rotate weekly. With Maroney and Faulk going down with injuries last week, we could see the hand-offs going to Evans or Eckel this week. Keep an eye on the injury rep–wait, it’s the Patriots. Just guess…or play Eckel if you have to pick one to take a chance since he gets most of the garbage carries for TDs. General rule of thumb is not to trust Patriot RBs.

Matt Schaub, QB Houston Texans
If no one has him, you should. Schaub has a hot playoff schedule and his best receiving option–Andre Johnson–back to save his season.

Chris Brown, RB Tennessee Titans
Chris Henry has withdrawn his appeal to serve out a four-game suspension, so Brown will get the majority of the carries outside of LenDale White (which is a pretty small area) this season. He might not be the best play with more teams attacking the Titans run game, but if you need a RB, he might still be out there on the wire.

Ted Ginn, Jr., WR Miami Dolphins
New QB John Beck seems to like throwing to Ginn. If Ginn continues to perform, he might be worth snagging for a late playoff support. Watch how he does this week against a rough Pittsburgh team.

Ronald Curry, Oakland Raiders
Best game of the season in week 11. He could get better…or worse. Watch the QB situation and see if his trend continues upwards.

Ricky Williams, RB Miami Dolphins
Ricky, Ricky, Ricky. He’s back from “on high” but Cameron is being tight-lipped about what role he will play. He is worth snagging if you have a roster spot and may split carries with Jesse Chatman against the Steelers. You have to think the Dolphins will at least want to show other teams what he can do so that they can deal him at the end of this season, but don’t expect him to be able to do much more than Chatman can with these Dolphins.

Vinny Testaverde, QB Carolina Panthers
This old guy just doesn’t quit. He won the starting job again this week from Carr–not hard–and has a nice match up against the Saints who just let Houston play shooting range on their secondary.

Andre Hall, RB Denver Broncos
It’s Shanny, he has been a fantasy column darling a few times already this year, he scored a long TD on Monday and Selvin Young might still be banged up. There’s your reasoning.

Maybe avoid these…

Rex Grossman, QB Chicago Bears
Grossman is still the starter. If you have ever won the lottery, take your chance with him, but remember he could always resort back to the bad decision maker he is deep inside–it’s his inner child. He plays the Denver Broncos, and they have some pretty good corners.

Reuben Droughns/Derrick Ward, RB New York Giants
Whoever fills in for Brandon Jacobs will at least be a starting RB, but they play the Vikings. Find a better sub if you got one.

Michael Pittman, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He exists somewhere behind Graham. Carries should increase, and you could bank on Graham getting injured if you are desperate. There are probably better options.

LJ Smith, TE Philadelphia Eagles
He’s back and performing like his un-injured self, but his QB Donovan McNabb may be out for quite awhile. LJ might not be feelin’ Feeley and the potential for QB controversy to end the season with Kolb waiting in Eagles’ wings.

Joey Harrington, QB Atlanta Falcons
Yeah, he’s starting. So what? He’s JOEY HARRINGTON. He might lead them to a win, or he might blow it all away.

Have a great turkey day everybody! Enjoy watching Romo, Favre and Manning put on a gunslinger show while gorging yourself. Don’t worry about getting fat, fantasy football prowess will soon become a factor in good looks.

Word from on high: Ricky returns, but will Miami want him?

You may have been one of those sneaky folks that, knowing Ricky Williams was bound to get reinstated this year, stashed him away in your injured reserve (if you league is lucky enough to have such an option) or kept your eye on him in the free agent pool.

Unfortunately for you, Ronnie Brown broke out to a huge first half of the season, and he made it look like Ricky had missed his chance. When Brown went down, the speculation again came up that Ricky would have an impact since his application for reinstatement was coming up for review in just a few weeks.

Enter Jesse Chatman.

Chatman, although few thought he had it in him, has put up big enough yards these last two games to be considered a solid running back as well.  Some of it may just be the good play of the Miami offensive line, but Chatman still has made a good enough impression to make it hard for Ricky to jump into a starting role. Unless Ricky Williams can become his former self–as in 2002 and 2003 pre-drug test failing Ricky–then he is of little use to Miami this season. They are looking ahead, and Ricky is definitely far behind.

Coach Cam Cameron hasn’t seemed publicly excited about Ricky’s return, but Ricky’s agent seems to think that he will take a good, hard look at Ricky in practice next week from his words with the coach. He would be smart not to put too much faith in the returning back.

Unless Cameron is willing to take a big risk mid-season–which he might with his current record–he will probably look to deal Ricky away or release him completely.  He has talent, but previous comebacks have shown that he lacks discipline.  I find it hard to believe that he will ever find a new home in the NFL, but if you have been hanging onto him this long, it might be worth your while to keep an eye on where he goes.  Otherwise, you just look like a sucker.