Wild Card Weekend, Part 2: Sunday’s Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

After a day’s worth of exciting, close games, Sunday is all about defense. The Ravens, Dolphins, Eagles and Vikings have all made a habit of getting after the quarterback and stopping the run.

In a playoff setting, I don’t think we see a lot of points today unless the Vikings or Eagles blow it open.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

The Ravens ended on a hot streak, but Joe Flacco has done very little these past few weeks. In the playoffs, the Dolphins are going to shut down the run game, and I don’t think Flacco can compensate with a limited amount of turnovers coming his way from Chad Pennington’s excellent game management.

Miami should take care of the ball and get it done, and I think the star of the game is Chad Pennington. Davone Bess is a nice play as a possession receiver, but unless this game gets broken open, Ted Ginn Jr. should have only a few shots make it into his hands.

On the running side of the ball, it’s hard to like anyone. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, much like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, have been back and forth all season, but Brown is the better bet here. Baltimore’s running committee has only one name you need to know, McClain.

LeRon McClain runs hard enough to get his, but he won’t be breaking 70+ yard plays in this one like he did against the Cowboys. Other than him, you don’t want to rely on Willis McGahee to make an appearance or Ray Rice to get a chance.

Derrick Mason is probably the best chance of a “big play” receiver in this game, where defense should rule the day. Even though he is injured, he won’t sit out this playoff appearance. Flacco will be targeting him if they need to score.

You could take a flier on Anthony Fasano at tight end, but he and Todd Heap probably won’t be doing much more than blocking.

If you want to take a kicker in this one, I think Matt Stover is a safe bet because the Ravens are bound to find themselves in several long third down situations. And now that I said that, Stover will have one field goal and an extra point in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings

Donovan McNabb and the Eagles are riding a hot streak, and it hasn’t been inspired by Brian Westbrook. That’s a good sign heading into a run-stopping defense like Minnesota. McNabb should play some inspired football and expose a weak Viking secondary. There’s no telling who his leading receivers will be, but I like   McNabb in this game.

The Vikings should lean on the run, but Adrian Peterson, struggling through injuries, should be able to do very little as long as the Eagles bring it like they did against the Cowboys. Brian Dawkins and the Eagles defense are ferocious when called upon.

I think this game gets pinned on Tarvaris Jackson, and he doesn’t have the tools to keep up with McNabb just yet.

For fantasy, I have to like McNabb and Bernard Berrian, simply because Berrian will be a big target in the Vikings offense when the run is stopped. Visanthe Shiancoe should show up to make some big plays, but in the end, I think you’re better off owning Eagles than Vikings.

This contest will probably be back and forth, but the Eagles start scoring on defense, they could run away with it. David Akers and Ryan Longwell are both decent kickers for this game.

Wild Card Weekend, Part 1: Saturday’s Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Here we are in the postseason, and just because the regular season is over, that doesn’t mean your fantasy football season has to come to and end.

Before we dive into our offseason coverage on how to make you a better fantasy football player and more attractive to the opposite sex, we’ll be covering the playoffs “game preview” style and starting with this week’s Wild Card Weekend.

In fact, I’ll be playing the ESPN Gridiron Playoff Challenge just to satisfy the itch for a few more weeks. You have no idea how good a hit it is…

I’d offer prizes, but then I would have to give something away — and didn’t we just do enough of that this holiday season. As a worthy substitute, you could consider joining up with the Bruno Boys’ league and stealing some of their prized booty.

Now, on to the previews … that’s why you’re here anyway, not for the Booty.

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals

Holy crap! The Buzzsaw in the postseason IN Arizona — and they barely sold enough tickets. I am not sure who takes this game. I know the Cardinals have the horrible playoff reputation and the shaky games as of late, but if you don’t think that Anquan Boldin is going to be head slamming people to make a playoff win happen, then you just don’t respect your facial bones.

You have to love Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin here in what could be a high-scoring affair. Matt Ryan won’t be a slouch, but rookie quarterbacks don’t have a good record in the playoffs.

Michael Turner is the best lock there is in this game — and I’m starting him. If Atlanta does get the win, it will be because of Turner. The Cardinals could let him go off early in the game even if the Falcons don’t get to control the clock with a lead in the second half.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have a risky situation at running back with Edgerrin James likely to get a start and Tim Hightower vulturing touchdowns. I’d take James if you need a yardage guy, but I’m not sure you can bet on the Cardinals scoring enough on the ground to make Hightower a good play.

If it came down to salary cap, I’d pay the price for Turner and Warner if you can afford it. More power to you if you can afford to grab Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald, but I dislike the probability that one goes off in spite of the other. They are two-headed receiving beast, and it’s hard to pick just one.

Roddy White makes a great bargain since we know he’ll be targeted quite a bit by the rookie QB and faces a Cardinals defense always ready to give up the big play — even to Tarvaris Jackson. White’s good for at least one score, and he’s more of a sure thing than the Arizona receivers.

I’m projecting this one ends up on the over rather than the under — currently set at an over/under of 51 points. If you can get your hands on any of these guys, I’d do it. There probably won’t be much kicking in this one, but Jason Elam and Neil Rackers should see a little short action when drives are stalled short of a score. I’d lean towards Elam.

And, obviously, I wouldn’t look to start either of these teams on defense this weekend.

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers

It’s actually a good thing that this game is away. Even though the Colts looked more at home in their new stadium late in the season, it’s not quite the comfort zone it should be yet, and they already beat the Chargers in San Diego once at h this year. Now, they just have to go back and do it again.

In the first matchup, it was a close contest decided by a game-ending kick from Adam Vinatieri. The Chargers just left too much time on the clock when they tied it up and gave the ball back to Peyton Manning. It’ll probably look a lot similar tonight.

The Chargers, a quarterback-friendly team this year, just don’t have enough on defense to stop Peyton Manning on a game-winning drive. His will should be the deciding factor.

That said, Peyton Manning is probably the best fantasy bet you can take this postseason with Rivers just slightly behind him. Both quarterbacks have gone off several times this season, but Manning has the Chargers defense in his favor and a hot streak on his way into the playoffs.

The Colts defense, while questionable, is pretty good against the pass, and they could at least encourage San Diego to take a different approach.

The Chargers will probably look to LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles to support their efforts and keep Manning off the field, so I like both of them. For salary cap purposes, I’d actually go with a bargain in Darren Sproles, who had two touchdowns to L.T.’s three in the season finale against the Broncos. Sproles’ explosiveness is worth betting on for the price he’ll run you.

UPDATE: With news breaking of L.T.’s injury, Sproles looks like an even better play. L.T. will still make a go of it, but it’s hard to say how much he will be able to do. Looks unlikely that he’ll be a big factor.

The Colts backs are not nearly as valuable. There are too many question marks around Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes to trust them. Even when Addai starts, Rhodes sometimes gets the scores. I’d avoid them if you can.

As far as the receivers, I like Reggie Wayne, of course, and Vincent Jackson just a slight bit less. From there, it gets iffy. I’d rather have Dallas Clark than any other tight end in the playoffs at this point, even over Antonio Gates or Bo Scaife, once the Titans start playing.

Again, there’s not much to bet on with these two defenses. The Colts are questionable and the Chargers are not trustworthy. With such a selection of defenses playing tomorrow, it’d be better to choose between Miami or Baltimore in what should be a contest decided by who plays the most mistake-free football.

With an over/under of 50 in this game as well, it’s a safe bet to go with Colts and Chargers offensive studs when you can get your hands on them. Manning should be worth the price, and Rivers is a decent substitute if the commercial buckethead is out of your price range.

Adam Vinatieri is a good choice at kicker, but other options like David Akers and Ryan Longwell look good for tomorrow’s games as well. It is, as always, a toss up at kicker. Flip a coin, throw a dart at the board and then just pick one.

The good thing about salary caps in playoff fantasy football is that you can just use however much money you have left over for your kicker after you’ve put together your team. Easy call.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Saviors from Week 2

After Week 2’s performances, you should have a pretty good idea what your players are worth. Starting jobs are getting shuffled, and guys we thought might pay off are doing just that. If you didn’t capture one of the big performers of Week 2 on your fantasy team, let’s see what we can do for you.

Apologies for running a little late this week. I was trying out at wide receiver for Seattle.

QUARTERBACKS

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

I told you to watch him last week, and look what he did. Against the Seahawks, O’Sullivan passed for 321 yards and a TD. He even rushed for 32 more yards. While he’s no every week starter, O’Sullivan has some great matchups this season — including this week against Detroit — and he’ll continue to develop in the Mike Martz offense.

He’s going to get sacked a lot and have a few bust games where you won’t want to be starting him, but he’s also going to throw up 300+ yards every now and then. If you are hurting at QB or need someone to help you along until Hasselbeck gets a WR or two, O’Sullivan is not a bad pick. In fact, he’s a hot purchase.

Jason Campbell, QB Washington Redskins

Very doubtful that he’s on a wire anywhere near your league, but he’s worth mentioning since he seems to be putting it together as a decent fantasy QB2 in Jim Zorn’s offense. For the past two weeks, he’s thrown a score to Santana Moss. If you can work him into a rotation at QB (Brady-less sad face) or put him on your bench as a QB2, grab him — especially if he plays a weak defense during your starting QB’s bye.

Kerry Collins, QB Tennessee Titans

Last week, he looked like just a temporary bye week fill, but now, according to Jeff Fisher, Collins is the starter in Tennessee until the Titans start losing. He’s dangerous — as in, not just his middle name, but his WHOLE name is “dangerous.” If you want to take a chance, he should hook Justin Gage up with some TD passes and maybe put some life back into Alge Crumpler.

Brian Griese, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Griese now has the starting job in Tampa, which makes him at least as valuable as Jeff Garcia…yeah, okay.

If Joey Galloway is out because of his foot injury, Griese might have to make it with Antonio Bryant and Ike Hilliard. Griese will still manage a TD pass or two in most games, and he could be a solid QB2 for any team in the market.

Is Gruden is trying to get everyone that had success with the Bucs on the roster again? (Warrick Dunn and Griese to the rescue!)

WIDE RECEIVERS

Koren Robinson, WR Seattle Seahawks

Robinson just signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks, who are hurting at receiver now that they’ve had six go down with injuries already this year. He’s worth putting on a roster, but who knows how long he’ll be around before the curse strikes him as well. Muwahahahaha…

Keary Colbert, WR Seattle Seahawks (formerly with Denver Broncos)

Colbert failed to earn his spot in the Broncos offense. Of course, he didn’t know when he signed on that they would be bringing in Eddie Royal. Failing to establish himself as the No. 2 opposite Brandon Marshall, Colbert was buried on the depth chart and got traded to Seattle this week before Hasselbeck started working out with grocery store employees anywhere within a 50 mile radius.

Obviously, since he failed to find traction with the Denver offense, Colbert’s upside might be limited, but again, if you are hurting at WR, Colbert is a new target in Seattle. Deion Branch and Bobby Engram won’t threaten him until Week 4 or Week 5.

Anthony Gonzalez, WR Indianapolis Colts

It’s clear that he is going to outperform Marvin Harrison this season. He’s probably taken in your league, but if not, make sure you get him on a roster. As long as Dallas Clark is out, Gonzalez benefits. He was a yardage monster in Week 2.

Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce, WR San Francisco 49ers

Hey, if J.T. O’Sullivan is worth putting on a roster, so are these two. Johnson looks like the guy with a chip on his shoulder after coming out of Arizona behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. He’s the one to own. If you can’t get him, Bruce actually got some passes his way in Week 2 and put up 153 yards. Bruce proved once again that he’s worth owning even if he doesn’t get the TDs.

Johnson is not quite an every week starter in 12-team league but he is if you are in a deeper leagues or start three WRs. Bruce is a bye week fill at this point or a low-end WR3. Easy passing schedules for a few weeks make them great snags off the wire right now.

Justin Gage, WR Tennessee Titans

I smell desperation. Are you so hurt at WR that you need to pick a Titan? As long as Collins is at QB, Gage isn’t that bad of a play. He’s the best that the Titans have to offer with reliable red zone hands, and Collins will go vertical more than Vince Young did. Wait, was that some obscure sexual reference…? Eh, moving on.

Gage might make for a reliable WR3 — at least for a short time.

Amani Toomer, WR New York Giants

While this is supposedly the year for Steve Smith to emerge, Amani Toomer is still holding it down as the No. 2 WR in New York. He’s worth putting on your roster to play anytime the Giants face anyone like the Rams (see: horrible), but he could also be a decent WR3 in deeper leagues. Toomer had 67 yards and a score in Week 2 against the Rams. The Bengals might not see him coming in Week 3 either.

RUNNING BACKS

Jonathan Stewart, RB Carolina Panthers

Racking up 77 yards and two TDs against the Bears this season is no easy task — especially in a RBBC. After his Week 2 showing, Stewart is already starting rumors that the top job is his to take. You might not have a chance to snag him off a wire, but you should have your eye on acquiring him now while the future is still uncertain. Unlike the Steelers drafting of Mendenhall, Carolina elected to take Jonathan Stewart in the first round, and they plan on using him.

Darren Sproles, RB San Diego Chargers

Sproles importance to the Charger offense gets a boost now that LaDainian Tomlinson’s foot injury looks a little more serious than we all expected. If Tomlinson is out for an extended period of time, look for Jacob Hester to play a part in the running game as well. For now, just make sure you have Sproles on your roster if you own L.T. or if you want an extra boost and potential starter for your RB corps.

Steve Slaton, RB Houston Texans

He has horrible matchups right now, but keep your eye on Slaton. Owners that have him might be willing to let him go after a weak start to the season, but the weak defenses are still to come for him. As long as Ahman Green doesn’t return to spoil the fun, Slaton should tear up some teams by midseason. If you have the room to spare, stow him away.

Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders

If Fargas’ injury is serious, Bush finally becomes fantasy relevant again. I believe that Bush and McFadden are the two most talented backs in Oakland right now, so Fargas missing some action may be damaging to his starting role. Look for Bush to get some short yardage looks at share time with McFadden if Fargas struggles to get back on the field. He’s worth stashing if you have the bench room, but be warned that Fargas could ghost him back to the bench if he can go Week 3.

Tim Hightower, RB Arizona Cardinals

I’m warming up to Hightower now that he seems to score in every Arizona game. If you are weak at RB or own Edgerrin James, maybe you should consider putting Tim Hightower on your roster. It couldn’t hurt to have a productive TD vulture around in a bye week pinch. He should be owned in deeper leagues.

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It looks like Dunn will be sharing time with Earnest Graham. He won’t rack up the fantasy points, but if you are sitting on a bunch of prospects that didn’t pay out for you early in the season, it might be nice to trade them out for someone who sees the field at least a few carries each game.

TIGHT ENDS

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins

Can you blame a guy for not being the second coming of Jason Witten every week? If owners leave him hanging after he returned to earth in Week 2, keep your eye or an empty bench spot on him. Tight ends are rarely as solid as the Winslows and Wittens, but Fasano’s got talent and will be used in this offense. The Arizona D just shut him down this week.

John Carlson, TE Seattle Seahawks

He’s emerging as a solid set of hands for Hasselbeck. Even with new blood at the WR position, that’s hard to come by for the Seahawks. He’s a TE you still want to play matchups on because he won’t put up big numbers each week, but Carlson definitely deserves a roster spot since he’ll see more throws his way than many tight ends this year. He could be a reliable starter in deeper leagues — especially if plenty of owners are carrying a couple of tight ends.

Ones to Watch

Tyler Thigpen, QB Kansas City

Yeah, this guy. With Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard both damaged, Thigpen is the guy in Kansas City. He had some buzz going into the preseason, but he didn’t unseat Huard for the backup QB spot. In Week 2, he had 151 yards with a score and an interception. He is likely to get his first NFL start in Week 3 since Kansas City is going young these days.

“Every week is a new journey,” Herm Edwards said. Now that’s confidence!

Still, I could be wrong. He’s worth an eye this week if you are hurting at QB. I don’t think it would take much to unseat Brodie Croyle from the starting job, but he’d have to really step his game up. I have to doubt he’s this year’s Derek Anderson.

Laurent Robinson, WR Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons won’t do a lot of passing, but with Roddy White around, Matt Ryan is going to try to keep them involved. Robinson had won the WR2 job in Atlanta prior to falling on the depth chart when he got a little banged up in preseason. He could win it back if he keeps getting in on the snaps for the Falcons.

LaMont Jordan, RB New England Patriots

Jordan and Sammy Morris might both be worth picking up if New England continues to mix it up on offense, but Morris seems to be the preferred guy when they are within the five. Jordan might dominate yardage. You might want to let him stew a week and see if he shows up again in Week 3 before you clear a spot for him.

Brandon Jackson, RB Green Bay Packers

I’m not completely sold that Jackson is earning a spot in this offense. Sure, for the moment, he’s got Ryan Grant splitting carries with him, but once Grant is back to 100 percent, what becomes of Jackson? If you are a Ryan Grant owner, you need to pick him up if he is available as insurance, but if not, let him hang on the wire before you go dropping someone with a season-long starting role.

Fred Jackson, RB Buffalo Bills

What happened to Marshawn Lynch being out there all three downs? Apparently, not against the Jaguars. Jackson is seeing some touches for the moment, but when the easy running opponents come up to Buffalo, I wonder which RB gets to have all the fun?

Derrick Ward, RB New York Giants

He’s getting the looks while Big Boy (Brandon Jacobs) catches his breath on the sidelines. If Jacobs goes down again, he could have a big year, but if not, he’s just a decent bye week fill guy.

The Guy Sitting Next To You Right Now, WR Unsigned (soon to be Seahawk)

At the rate Seattle is going through WRs, it could be anyone next. Time to start considering write-ins if you have the room on your bench!

By the way, where is Chad Jackson? This week is a horrible time to stop checking your voicemail, Chad.

LA LA LA…Ignoring

Chansi Stuckey, WR New York Jets

Right now, Stuckey is on my hate list for catching the TD passes from Favre that should be going to a guy like Cotchery, who deserves them because I own him. He’s no Greg Jennings or James Jones. Stuckey just happened to catch a Favre heave in Week 1 and got a target in the end zone in Week 2. I’m not buying until he does it to me again.

Matt Jones, WR Jacksonville Jaguars

Call me a hater. I just don’t think he’s worth it. He’s just catching all these passes because he’s all hopped up and on a high…okay, bad joke.

Ryan Longwell, K Minnesota Vikings

I’m not saying he’s a bad kicker, but performances like his five field goals in Week 2 are flukes. I don’t expect the Vikings to get held out of the end zone that many times this season. Don’t drop an established, high-performing kicker because you think Longwell will start carrying your fantasy team.

Catch more insight on waiver wire grabs from The Hazean and Fantasy Football Goat. Check out who to sell high right now at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog.