On the Wire: Week 6 Waiver Wire Pickups to fix your Jermichael Finley, Mark Clayton and Aaron Rodgers woes

So Deion Branch is now a Patriot? That’s exciting for Bill Belichick and all — that man knows how to swing a three-way trade while moving up in the draft. But I don’t think the trade changes Branch’s fantasy value much.

Branch wasn’t that useful as a Seahawk, and they are hurting for playmakers. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will work their magic and integrate Branch into their system, but don’t expect Randy Moss-like numbers out of the Patriots’ new acquisition this year.

Oh, and did you hear that Brett Favre threw his 500th touchdown? And it was to his own team, no less.

Even less exciting, the presence of Branch in New England will muddy the fantasy waters for Brandon Tate, who was Week 5’s hot waiver wire pickup. Let’s see what we can do to fix that.

First, the guys you’ll need if you just lost Jermichael Finley this week:

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

You may not have noticed, but Lewis has become the only person David Garrard throws touchdowns to this year. I’ve heard a legend about a man named Mike Sims-Walker who used to be targeted more often, but that man could just be a ghost. He has been for at least two games this year. Meanwhile, Lewis has two games with two touchdowns and only one really miserable fantasy performance, 15 yards receiving and no touchdowns in Week 3 against the Eagles. He trails only Antonio Gates (so does everyone), Dustin Keller, and Zach Miller in total fantasy points this season among tight ends. Yes, I’d say it’s safe to bet on him to fill the void left by Finley if you just lost your starting tight end. It also might not be a bad play to trade him out for the guy you’re currently starting unless you have one of the elite.

Tony Moeaki, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Lewis may already be off the board, and in that case, Moeaki is not a bad consolation prize. He’s got great hands, and he’s one of Matt Cassel’s favorite (read: only) targets. He comes it as the No. 12 tight end in total points even after sitting out for his Week 4 bye. Don’t hesitate to rely on Moeaki.

Brandon Pettigrew and/or Tony Scheffler, TE, Detroit Lions

Both Lions tight ends have had off and on weeks throughout the season while without their starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, but Shaun Hill has proven to be a strong replacement, if only we knew which tight end he liked in any given week. At this point in the season, we can’t tell, but if forced to choose, I’d take Pettigrew over Scheffler. Pettigrew currently ranks No. 10 in total tight end fantasy points while Scheffler comes in at No. 16. If Calvin Johnson’s shoulder injury keeps him out in Week 6, both of these tight ends would receive more attention than usual…as long as they’re not too busy blocking the Giants’ attack.

Wide receivers you should grab now before they go off big time:

Obvious ones to grab before these guys: Kenny Britt, WR, Titans and Danny Amendola, WR, Rams

Dexter McCluster, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

A hot sleeper this preseason, McCluster hasn’t carved out a role in the Kansas City offense just yet. But Todd Haley finally came around on Jamaal Charles in Week 5 and gave Charles the majority of the carries in the running game. Surely, Haley will soon realize what he has in McCluster and find a way to get him on the field more frequently. Thus far, McCluster has just 7 catches this season, but he’s shown hints of his big play ability. You won’t be able to get him on the cheap if you wait for him to breakout.

Anthony Armstrong, WR, Washington Redskins

I almost listed Armstrong last week when he made a big catch downfield for McNabb, but I thought I should probably wait until he had more than one big catch in a game. Last week, he went out and got three of them, including one for a touchdown. So now he’s on a lot of fantasy radars. If you’re looking for a WR3, he just might be the guy you need. He could soon be the No. 2 receiver in Washington, replacing Joey Galloway, who turned 200 this preseason for those keeping a tally at home.

Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills

I wouldn’t call the Bills’ offense “good,” but when they do score, they’ve been looking Johnson’s way ever since he moved from the No. 2 receiver role to the slot position. Lee Evans may be the big play threat, but Johnson’s just in the right place at the right time. That has value. Take a chance on Johnson if you have the space on your roster.

Those who will benefit from trades and injuries:

Mike Hart, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Addai got hurt on Sunday and left the running duties to Hart, who filled in nicely. If Donald Brown can’t get back on the field in Week 6 and if Addai misses some time, Hart is the starter in Indy. Remember: you can never have enough starting running backs. Don’t be afraid to go after Hart this week, but check Brown’s status first.

Deon Butler and/or Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks

I care more about what the Deion Branch trade does to the Seahawks than how it affects the Patriots. Without Branch, the Seahawks will have more snaps for Butler and Tate. Golden Tate would appear to be more likely to take over as a starter since he’s the guy they drafted just this year to make an impact, but I can’t get over my sleeper love for Butler. Both have the potential to excel with more playing time, but if forced to choose, pick up Tate and just keep an eye on Butler.

UPDATE: Forget what I just said. Now I’m hearing that the starting job is Butler’s. I actually like him better than Golden Tate so make sure you go out and get him. He could be the big winner of the Deion Branch trade, and he has the speed that Mike Williams (SEA) lacks to make big plays in the passing game.

Laurent Robinson and/or Mardy Gilyard, WR, St. Louis Rams

Clayton’s injury comes at a bad time for the Rams. Robinson is still trying to come back from an injury, and Gilyard has been taking his time learning his way in the Rams’ offense. Both have a shot at the starting job and a chance to fill the void in targets that Clayton leaves behind. Brandon Gibson has sniffed the fantasy value charts this season, but I don’t see him becoming a dominant force anytime soon. Danny Amendola is one helluva pass-catcher (and he stands to gain the most from Clayton’s injury), but someone has to play Robin to his Batman. That leaves these two. Choose your own adventure! I loved Robinson before the Clayton trade (and before he got injured, which he seems to do pretty frequently), but time will tell whether he can make it back on the field at 100 percent. For now, I’d say the best bet to replace Clayton in the lineup is Gilyard.

Some speculative picks if you have some room for a stash:

Keiland Williams, RB, Washington Redskins

Williams rejoined the active roster after Portis went down with injury, and even though he’s only playing passing downs and half as many snaps as Ryan Torain, he’s one Shanahan-igan away from the starting lineup. Stash him now if you want to benefit for the few weeks (or snaps) that Williams remains Shanahan’s preferred running back in Washington.

Arrelious Benn, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I highlighted Benn in previous “On the Wire” items, but consider this your final reminder. He’s working his way into the Bucs’ offense, and they’re starting to impress in the passing game.

Defenses that might be an upgrade over your current squad:

New York Giants D/ST

At first they seemed like they’d fallen off the wagon, but the Giants D/ST has stepped up in the past two weeks. That’s enough for me to recommend you jump on them before the rest of your league. I wouldn’t say they’re an every-week start just yet, but as long as the matchup is right, the Giants will put pressure on the quarterback and fantasy points on the board. This week, they get the Lions.

Kansas City Chiefs D/ST

They somehow managed to slow down even the Colts’ offense. I believe. You should, too.

And some quarterbacks that might be available in your league for the bye week or if you are scared about starting Matt Flynn:

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers

Trust me, he’s better than David Carr. And this week, he gets to play Oakland, fun for the whole family.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are better than expected, and Freeman is a big reason why. Mike Williams (TB) is another. He’s not a bad fill for an injured quarterback or a quarterback on bye. This week, he faces the Saints, which may not seem as scary as it should after they dropped one to the Cardinals last week. Even if they do show up to play against the Bucs, we know that Freeman will have to throw it a ton to keep up with Drew Brees. Hopefully, that’ll make up for his mistakes.

Moves that don’t excite me: John Carney released by Saints to make Garrett Hartley (woohoo, a kicker!) their starter, and the Saints signing Julius Jones (depth at best)

More waiver wire wonders from around the Interwebs:

  • TMR wants to help you find the best hot dog ever. No, really.
  • Just in case they’re still on your waiver wire, FF Toolbox reminds you about Vince Young, Ryan Torain, Brandon Lloyd, and a few more guys
  • FF Librarian has compiled a linkfest of waiver wire love both here and here
  • Fanhouse highlights Mike Hart’s potential and a few players you may have left on the wire a bit too long: Floyd, Hill, Gaffney and Kolb just to name a few. They also chatted it out earlier this week.
  • Razzball hits on a few names for Week 6
  • Pro Football Focus has you covered, even if you’re looking for Finley’s backup’s backup this week to fill in at tight end
  • The Hazean picks three important adds
  • The FF Geek Blog spreadsheets it up
  • Sports Illustrated runs down the list of pickups a few starters in the hot seat

Top 15 Fantasy Football Storylines You Missed Since the Super Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Wire: Week 8 Pickups, Sleepers, Sadness and Fantasy Basketball

Another critical bye week hits us right where it hurts, in the middle of the season. At least this week provides us with a few more players that have value from now until the end of the season.

If anyone was silly enough not to pick up Miles Austin after I talked about him for the past two weeks and recommended him as a sleeper start this past week, well, there’s always fantasy basketball, right?

Kidding, of course. Don’t do that to yourself.

I played fantasy basketball for one season a couple of years ago, and after several weeks of setting lineups only to discover I was simply filling in active players into slots based on their game schedule, I spent an afternoon setting my roster through the end of the season. I made no pickups, no drops, and no changes for the entire second half.

I finished third.

I’m sure there are more competitive leagues out there with better scoring systems, different lineups and interesting rules, but it just hasn’t caught my eye yet. Sorry, guys.

The fact that fantasy basketball overlaps with fantasy football pretty much rules me out of ever being able to really get into it. I plan on dominating my opponents deep into the NFL season on my way to a championship, there’s no time to check on whether Blake Griffin is back from his injury.

Guys I’ve mentioned before who we won’t get into today but who also might still be on the waiver wire in no particular order: Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys; Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings; Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles; Justin Fargas, RB, Raiders; Andre Caldwell, WR, Bengals; Mike Bell, RB, Saints; Donnie Avery, WR, Rams; Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Colts; Tony Scheffler, TE, Broncos. (If you want to talk about these fools, drop me a line in the comments.)

Hot Claims

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

Greene wins the top spot because he has the potential to dominate in a nice offense. His yardage and two touchdowns were in mop-up duty in Oakland. He’ll get a few carries to spell Thomas Jones now that Leon Washington is out for the season, but their running styles are so similar that it would take an injury, fall from grace or a   Larry-Johnson-esque Twitter blow up for Jones to give a significant portion of his carries to Greene.

I do like him though when he gets his chance. This rookie has that drive that makes players successful in the NFL. Being gigantisaurus behind one of the best run-blocking lines in football doesn’t hurt either.

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers

You know, two years ago, a guy in one of my fantasy leagues said that Alex Smith was going to the Super Bowl when he drafted him as his starting quarterback in the late rounds.

It was right off the heels of Frank Gore’s massive season, and this guy, who shall remain nameless, always has a knack for making outrageous claims during fantasy football drafts. Needless to say, he didn’t finish the season with Alex Smith under center.

But Smith looked like a total badass against the Texans on Sunday in leading the 49ers to three scores, all to Vernon Davis. True, he didn’t get the win, but he did win the starting job in San Francisco. Give him a week or two to feel comfortable in the role, and Alex Smith might just live up to expectations. This week’s matchup against the Colts will test his ability to make a play when it counts.

He’s got the weapons with Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. Maybe revival is in the cards for this former first-round pick.

Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Is this Beanie finally awakening to the speed of the NFL? The Cardinals looked to Beanie Wells over Tim Hightower to carry the run game against the Giants this week, and he did. He even notched himself his first NFL score.

It may be a mix of these backs from week to week, but Wells is certainly the most talented in Arizona.

If Beanie can build upon this success, he could be a great add for the second half of the season. The Cardinals have been winning through their defense, and a control-the-clock running game would compliment that very nicely.

Potential Contributors

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Pure potential again here, but with Larry Johnson blowing up about his coach’s experience on Twitter and general habit of getting himself (and the ladies) into trouble, I think it’s a good bet we see more of Charles in the coming weeks.

From his time at Texas, I can tell you that he’s no specialist at holding onto the ball, nor is he built to be an every-down back. But what he does have is some blazing speed and moves in the open field. If the Chiefs start featuring him, they’ll probably try and go the Darren Sproles route with him.

Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers

Call it a slow build, but the diva looks worthy of ownership by season’s end. He could have a nice finish, like a great wine but with an idiot for an agent.

Jason Snelling, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Snelling is filling in while Jerious Norwood sits out with more injuries. He showed some burst against the Cowboys, but Michael Turner is still the workhorse of this offense. Snelling’s not really someone I’d want to depend on in any given week, but he’s a warm body if you have a hole to fill this week.

Sigh, that’s what she said.

Fred Davis, TE, Washington Redskins

Chris Cooley might be out of the year with that ankle injury, and in his stead, Davis caught the passes and a touchdown. Cooley has been the leading receiver for the Redskins so far this year, and Davis would pick up that torch easily. He’s not much of a blocker, so expect the Redskins to look deeper on the roster to fill that void left by Cooley at the line. Davis will be all about the passing game.

If you’ve been hurting for a tight end thus far, now’s your chance to snag one who could be in line for a starting role. But then again, he’s still on the Redskins.

Donald Lee, TE, Green Bay Packers

Jermichael Finley’s knee injury should keep him out for at least a few weeks. That leaves Lee alone in the starting role, and he should take advantage as the passing game in Green Bay lights up opponents these next few weeks.

If Cooley’s out for the year, Davis is the better long-term grab, but Lee could definitely have the bigger games for the next few weeks.

Buffalo Bills D/ST

I don’t know how they do it, but even banged-up and missing key players, this defense has created turnovers. The secondary is making up for this defenses weakness in stopping the run, and they just might be worth hanging onto in your league if you used them as a fill this week against Carolina.

Right now, they’re a top-10 fantasy defense.

Names I Keep Mentioning

Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

As I said before, Wallace has designed plays coming his way every week in this newly christened Steelers’ passing offense. He should be a reliable fill-in when needed even if he can’t reproduce his yardage and touchdown from Week 7 every week you need him.

New Orleans Saints D/ST

Darren Sharper is the man, and as long the Saints keep the lead, this defense is going to create turnovers all day long. Even trap games like this week against Miami turn into decent performances thanks to Sharper’s ability to find the end zone when he gets the ball in his hands.

Denver Broncos D/ST

Coming off a bye week, don’t forget about the surprise defense of the year. Mike Nolan is making adjustments that win games, and the Broncos are getting to the quarterback. If no one else has taken a chance on them this year, maybe you should.

For more waiver wire pickups, visit The Hazean, Fanhouse, Fantasy Joe, Lester’s Legends, Fantasy Football Librarian, The FF Geek Blog and FF Toolbox.

As always, the comments are yours. Discuss. Refute. Deny. Bring the funny.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 12 Tight Ends by ADP

After going through the “pick or pass” of the average draft positions for running backs and wide receivers, we come to the next position on many draft boards, tight end.

While there’s a top tier of elite options, the tight end position is pretty deep this year. Players that didn’t even make this list could be valuable starters by season’s end, but here we’ll just review the top 12 picks at tight end according to average draft position.

These ADP values were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator and were current as of August 13, 2009.

Pick or Pass: Top 12 Tight Ends as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 4.05 – PICK
As a favorite target of Tony Romo, Witten will get plenty of love this season. He’s likely to lead the team in receptions, and that makes him in a class of his own when it comes to tight ends this year. Witten is a pick, and you’ll have to burn an early one if you want him on your team.

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 4.12 – PASS
Many would write off last season as the result of a nagging injury and expect Gates to return to form in 2009, but I think the 2008 season showed us a little something more. Philip Rivers has more targets than just Gates in the Chargers offense now, and Vincent Jackson might be the top target on this team for the future. While he’s still one talented tight end, I’d worry about taking Gates this high and expecting him to produce like the Gates of old. I’d much rather wait a bit for a tight end with less risk. I’ll pass.

3. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 5.04 – PICK
While Gates is questionable, Gonzalez remains steady among the elite tight ends. He’s no longer in Kansas City, but Atlanta should utilize him in plenty of passing situations and has christened him as the new “hot route” for Matt Ryan. Don’t expect him to be more productive than he was last season — that was likely a career year for Tony G. — but a few touchdowns below that level should be possible. He’s a good pick.

4. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 5.10 – PICK
Despite an injury this offseason, Clark’s stock has been on the rise lately. As I mentioned in our wide receiver pick or pass, Clark could benefit more than Anthony Gonzalez from Marvin Harrison’s departure. He should excel as the second look in this offense and is likely to see the ball coming his way as much as he has in past seasons or more. As a late fifth- or sixth-round pick, you could do worse than taking your tight end a bit early and picking Clark.

5. Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears – ADP: 6.06 – PICK
Unfortunately for those of you drafting later this month, you won’t have the benefit of snagging Olsen while his value was still on the rise. With Cutler in town and reports out of training camp that Olsen is already his shiny new toy, Greg Olsen is projected to finish the year as a top-five tight end. As such, he’s now being drafted as one, so don’t expect a bargain. If you can get him in the late sixth round, that’s still pretty good. Any later than that, and you’re picking him at a steal of a price. He’s a pick.

6. Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 7.05 – PASS
Kellen Winslow would normally be among the elite tight ends, but his move to the Bucs has hurt his value. While the Bucs expect to use him quite a bit in two-tight-end sets, Tampa Bay is not the play-from-behind, passing offense that Winslow thrived in while in Cleveland. They will rule the field with their defense and two- to three-headed running attack. Even more damaging, Jerramy Stevens will still line up at tight end and has the talent to take some opportunities away from Winslow. Winslow could get some looks in the red zone, but Tampa Bay’s talk about spreading the ball around and an unnamed quarterback make him unworthy of a selection before the eighth round. There’s better value to be had, and I’ll pass.

7. Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins – ADP: 7.11 – PICK
Cooley’s one-touchdown season last year was a bit of a fluke. Santana Moss received a lot of attention early in the year, and the Redskins punched it in on the ground throughout the majority of the season. While they looked a little lackluster in their first preseason game this year, the Redskins’ offense should still look to Cooley when they need a play, and I’d expect him to return to form this season. Cooley is a solid tight end pick, and he’s likely to still be available in the eighth round.

8. Owen Daniels, Houston Texans – ADP: 8.03 – PICK
As a Texan, Daniels carries the hype that the Houston team and fans create every season — the hype that convinces us all that they could be the next explosive offense to hit fantasy football. In truth, they showed they could be a force in 2008. Andre Johnson’s always been elite when healthy, and Kevin Walter is on his way to being a known name. Owen Daniels was a blessing at tight end last season for those who snagged him late, and he should continue to be a solid option this year. Much like Witten, he’s a primary target when the Texans need a play, and he has the upside to rise higher than this draft stock. Don’t be afraid to take him with your pick in the eighth round.

9. John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks – ADP: 9.09 – PICK
Carlson may lose some touches to the newcomer T.J. Houshmandzadeh but he’s developing into one of the elite tight ends in the game. Don’t expect him to take a big step from his rookie totals in just his second season, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if he added a few touchdowns to his 627 yards and five touchdowns from last year. As a late-round tight end selection, Carlson is dependable enough to target in your draft if you’d rather stockpile depth at other positions with your early picks. Carlson is a solid pick.

10. Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 11.04 – PASS
Despite his brutal playing style and his reputation as a playmaker with the Giants, Shockey hasn’t done much for the Saints since his trade. Fantasy football is very much about what a player has done for you lately, and Shockey’s not earning any street cred. Brees throws the ball more than most, but Shockey was never healthy enough or useful enough to warrant a significant number of passes. He’s still carrying this ADP value simply because he’s a known name, but I’d much rather have a tight end who has proven their worth in the offense they run — Zach Miller comes to mind. Avoid falling for the name game and pass on Shockey.

11. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: 12.08 – PICK
The Steelers don’t give Miller many chances to leave his blocking duties at the line, but Miller can catch the ball very well when called upon. He seemed to be on the rise for several seasons until he had a setback last year. I’m afraid he may have already peaked, but it’s hard to complain about a guy that you can draft in the 12th round. I don’t love Miller because he lacks upside, but he’s solid enough to be worth the pick.

12. Tony Scheffler, Denver Broncos – ADP: 12.12 – PICK
I was a big Scheffler fan when Jay Cutler was in town, but without his great quarterback, I’m not sure where Scheffler lands with this new offense. There were rumors that he would be traded early this offseason, followed by rumors that he was touted by coaches as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. I side with the coaches on that one, but he might not be able to show it unless Kyle Orton makes a point of getting him the ball. Scheffler will still share time with Daniel Graham, the better blocker and a former Patriot, which limits Scheffler’s value, but it does not limit it enough to prevent me from taking a chance on him in the 12th round. Expect to see what he’s worth this preseason. If he looks like he’s getting involved, he’s worth this pick.

While we only covered the top-12 tight ends in this “pick or pass” feature, there are plenty more out there to be had in your fantasy drafts. The tight end position should be fairly deep this season, and guys like Visanthe Shiancoe or Zach Miller might be all you need to win your championship.

As always, the comments are yours. If you have questions about tight ends or comments on our rankings or passes, you know what to do.

My Office League 2008: A Real Draft in Review

I’ve been mock drafting and really drafting for a few weeks now, but it’s hard to judge a draft when the season still hasn’t even started. For some added perspective and lessons learned, I took a look back at the team I managed last year in my office fantasy football league — one of my more disappointing teams last year.

For the record, most of the managers in this league know their football, even though they may have drafted kickers and defenses early like uninitiated fantasy footballers. Maybe a few of you will find this league more representative of your regular office league and less like the fantasy mock drafts I’ve recently done. I have removed the names of the other teams — besides my own “Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour,” that is — to protect the innocent, er … non-blogging fantasy footballers.

The Draft

Round: 1
(1) LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(2) Adrian Peterson RB
(3) Tom Brady QB
(4) Tony Romo QB
(5) Brian Westbrook RB
(6) Joseph Addai RB
(7) Steven Jackson RB
(8) Marion Barber RB
** (9) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Terrell Owens WR
(10) Randy Moss WR

I went with a receiver this round, which, knowing what I know now, wasn’t the best plan. T.O. was fairly disappointing last season without Romo for three games and with the lackluster Cowboys’ offense bringing him down. I would have been much better off drafting Frank Gore or Clinton Portis in this spot, but hey, that’s what I get when I look back on a draft one year later.

Round: 2
(11) Peyton Manning QB
** (12) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Reggie Wayne WR
(13) Frank Gore RB
(14) Clinton Portis RB
(15) Marshawn Lynch RB
(16) Drew Brees QB
(17) Ryan Grant RB
(18) Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(19) Ben Roethlisberger QB
(20) Larry Johnson RB

As if I hadn’t made enough of a mistake by taking an unfortunate receiver in the first round, I doubled down by taking another in the second. I needed a running back but went with a receiver while banking on my sleeper running back picks to save me later in the draft. My run on receivers was largely ignored by the rest of the league.

I can’t completely denounce the WR-WR draft strategy, but it certainly didn’t work for me in this draft. To my credit, Wayne and Owens had been two of the more consistent and productive receivers in the game … until last season.

Round: 3
(21) Braylon Edwards WR
(22) Plaxico Burress WR
(23) Willis McGahee RB
(24) Dallas Clark TE
(25) T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(26) Andre Johnson WR
(27) Carson Palmer QB
(28) Larry Fitzgerald WR
** (29) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Marques Colston WR
(30) Reggie Bush RB

And I tripled my mistake by taking Colston. This league started two receivers, one running back and one RB/WR flex. At this point in the draft, I was planning on having three receivers and one running back start for me each week. I believed that Owens would produce more points than a second running back might have gotten for me at my draft position. I just picked the wrong receivers for this strategy … as we saw with Colston’s injury, Owens’ disappointing season and Wayne’s struggles while Manning recovered from his surgeries.

Round: 4
(31) Darren McFadden RB
** (32) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Willie Parker RB
(33) Michael Turner RB
(34) Chad Johnson WR
(35) Wes Welker WR
(36) Brandon Jacobs RB
(37) Thomas Jones RB
(38) Torry Holt WR
(39) Jason Witten TE
(40) Santonio Holmes WR

I passed on a chance to take Michael Turner, Brandon Jacobs or Thomas Jones to snag Willie Parker, who was a super stud right up until he got himself injured early in the season. I’m starting to notice a trend here with my picks so far…

Round: 5
(41) Philip Rivers QB
(42) Roy Williams WR
(43) Antonio Gates TE
(44) Marvin Harrison WR
(45) Kellen Winslow TE
(46) Brett Favre QB
(47) Laveranues Coles WR
(48) Calvin Johnson WR
** (49) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Jay Cutler QB
(50) Anquan Boldin WR

Making sure I didn’t lose any ground at the quarterback position, I took Cutler, who was a nice anchor on my team in 2008. His performance week-to-week kept me in this league, but his lackluster games really hurt when I needed him most.

Round: 6
(51) Earnest Graham RB
** (52) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Jamal Lewis RB
(53) Donovan McNabb QB
(54) Tony Gonzalez TE
(55) Steve Smith WR
(56) Anthony Gonzalez WR
(57) Brandon Marshall WR
(58) Greg Jennings WR
(59) Sidney Rice WR
(60) Selvin Young RB

Here I pay the price for drafting receivers in the first three rounds. Jamal Lewis was a consistent running back last year but hardly the guy you wanted to put in your roster over a stud receiver or hot hand.

Round: 7
(61) Nate Burleson WR
(62) Santana Moss WR
(63) Edgerrin James RB
(64) Fred Taylor RB
(65) Patrick Crayton WR
(66) Laurence Maroney RB
(67) Hines Ward WR
(68) Jerricho Cotchery WR
** (69) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Lee Evans WR
(70) Jonathan Stewart RB

It’s torture looking back on all the receivers I took in this draft knowing now how my first picks would turn out. I wish I had taken Matt Forte with this pick. At least I’m stocking up tradebait at the wide receiver position.

Round: 8
(71) Matt Forte RB
** (72) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – LenDale White RB
(73) Chris Cooley TE
(74) Ronnie Brown RB
(75) Heath Miller TE
(76) Derek Anderson QB
(77) Donald Driver WR
(78) Roddy White WR
(79) Jeremy Shockey TE
(80) Todd Heap TE

This draft wasn’t full of a lot of rookie scouts. Even though I lost out on Forte, I knew that I could snag Chris Johnson later in this league. I took LenDale here to secure the handcuff in advance of the stud — risky … but successful.

Round: 9
(81) Eli Manning QB
(82) Vince Young QB
(83) Julius Jones RB
(84) David Garrard QB
(85) Alge Crumpler TE
(86) Matt Hasselbeck QB
(87) Ricky Williams RB
(88) Dwayne Bowe WR
** (89) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Chris Johnson RB
(90) Matt Schaub QB

As predicted, I stole “Every Coach’s Dream” here in the ninth round. This move keeps my running backs respectable, but I still bet on the wrong receivers in the early part of this draft.

Round: 10
(91) Ted Ginn Jr. WR
** (92) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Tony Scheffler TE
(93) Felix Jones RB
(94) Seahawks D/ST D/ST
(95) Chester Taylor RB
(96) Chargers D/ST D/ST
(97) Vikings D/ST D/ST
(98) Bears D/ST D/ST
(99) Cowboys D/ST D/ST
(100) Colts D/ST D/ST

Other managers started to make an early run on defenses here. I chose to lock up the quarterback-to-tight-end connection by getting Tony Scheffler to pair with Jay Cutler.

Round: 11
(101) Stephen Gostkowski K
(102) Nick Folk K
(103) Javon Walker WR
(104) Shayne Graham K
(105) DeAngelo Williams RB
(106) Giants D/ST D/ST
(107) Mason Crosby K
(108) Marc Bulger QB
** (109) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Kurt Warner QB
(110) Patriots D/ST D/ST

Most of the league shows their not-so-veteran backgrounds by drafting a starting lineup before taking their fliers at the end of the draft. I pass on taking a kicker here — because you only take those in the last round — and grab Kurt Warner to backup Jay Cutler. I now have on of the strongest quarterback sets in this league, and, in the preseason, the best wide receiver corps.

Round: 12
(111) Owen Daniels TE
** (112) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Chris Chambers WR
(113) Adam Vinatieri K
(114) Justin Fargas RB
(115) Kevin Curtis WR
(116) Joey Galloway WR
(117) Aaron Rodgers QB
(118) Vernon Davis TE
(119) Rudi Johnson RB
(120) James Hardy WR

By this point, I’m just drafting for value. I know I probably need to trade some receivers for running backs, so I might as well stock up on receivers now so that I have plenty of depth.

Round: 13
(121) Eddie Royal WR
(122) Bernard Berrian WR
(123) Packers D/ST D/ST
(124) Kevin Smith RB
(125) Phil Dawson K
(126) Rashard Mendenhall RB
(127) Donte’ Stallworth WR
(128) Steelers D/ST D/ST
** (129) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(130) Rob Bironas K

I missed out on most of the defenses by sitting around until the final rounds, but it’s nice to land a solid team like the Eagles D/ST in Round 13 after almost everyone has their starters assembled. There was no reason to waste an earlier pick during that run on D/STs that most of the league made.

Round: 14
(131) Kevin Walter WR
** (132) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Matt Prater K
(133) Kenny Watson RB
(134) Ray Rice RB
(135) Robbie Gould K
(136) Jerious Norwood RB
(137) Jerry Porter WR
(138) Nate Kaeding K
(139) Deuce McAllister RB
(140) Brandon Jackson RB

Prater was my pick at kicker last season since I had so much invested in Denver already. Might as well bet on them having a potent offense, right?

At Season’s End

Starting Roster

QB Kurt Warner
RB Warrick Dunn
RB/WR Chris Johnson
WR Reggie Wayne
WR Terrell Owens
TE Tony Scheffler
D/ST Jets
K David Akers

Bench

QB Jay Cutler
WR Lee Evans
WR Kevin Curtis
RB Jamal Lewis
RB Willis McGahee
RB Joseph Addai

Season In Summary

Injuries to Willie Parker and Marques Colston early in the season immediately ravaged my team. Peyton Manning’s injury and Tony Romo’s struggles kept Wayne and T.O. from being very effective, even though they were locked in as starters for me every week because of their high ceilings.

You can’t sit T.O. or Reggie Wayne when they are projected to explode every week, right? Well, that hurt.

Tony Scheffler’s injury after the first few weeks forced me to carry a second tight end for a good part of the season. Cutler ended up struggling in a few late games while Warner turned it on, so I switched to Warner as my workhorse. When bye weeks started, I took my chances dropping the Eagles D/ST and rotated through quite a few weekly plays before settling on the Jets D/ST to finish out my season.

By midseason, I was hurting for a stronger running back, but an injured Marques Colston wasn’t very convincing tradebait until I found a willing buyer with a banged-up Joseph Addai. I had picked up Warrick Dunn and Willis McGahee off the waiver wires to help my RB corps as well, but in the end, none of them could save my season.

My team finished the season 5-8 and missed the playoffs in this league, which was disappointing since I was looking for payback last year after taking my sleeper team of 2007 all the way to the championship game in this league.

Lessons Learned

1) Be careful with your first picks. Play it safe and avoid baggage.
You should be very careful about who you invest in during Round 1 and Round 2. T.O. and Reggie Wayne seemed like solid picks, but the baggage surrounding them — or at least Wayne — should have steered me towards a more solid running back.

2) WR-WR may be a good strategy, but don’t draft WR-WR-WR.
While drafting two wide receivers is all well and good, drafting three is usually going to catch up to you. If I had landed Forte and Johnson, I might have survived my risky move, but it’s hard to bet on landing all your best sleeper picks.

3) Reputation means nothing. Make moves when you need action.
Holding onto T.O. and Reggie Wayne all season was my greatest error. In a league like this one, I might have been daring and traded T.O. and a lesser running back for Greg Jennings and a running back with more opportunity. Most people would inflate T.O.’s value even in a slump, which would allow me to get out from under the burden of playing him every week while strengthening the running back group I had. There were plenty of trades I could have made, but I should have looked to unload my less productive players early. If you aren’t firing on all cylinders by Week 4 or Week 5, don’t be afraid to make something happen.

I hope diving into my past has been educational for you. It’s been painful for me. I invested some time in saving this league after injuries started to derail me, but I have to admit that I put more energy and effort into my more competitive leagues throughout the season. As you prepare to draft this season, make sure to be mindful of these lessons.

As always, the comments are yours.

Random ESPN Mock Draft: Results May Vary

Last week, in the process of participating in a mock draft with several other fantasy football writers from the Interwebs, I got stuck inside of a random ESPN draft outside of the one we were using for the official mock draft. After the first couple of picks, which I made as quick reactions since I was simultaneously participating in another draft, I had to set it over to ESPN’s autodraft feature and let it ride. Several of the other drafters had to do the same. Here’s what I ended up with when it was all over.

Starting Lineup
QB Kurt Warner
RB Adrian Peterson
RB Ryan Grant
RB/WR Willie Parker
WR Steve Smith (CAR)
WR Santana Moss
TE Kevin Boss
D/ST Miami Dolphins
K Neil Rackers

Bench
QB Matt Schaub
QB Eli Manning
QB Matt Hasselbeck
RB Marshawn Lynch
RB Fred Taylor
RB Tim Hightower
WR Eddie Royal

First reactions
Wow, ESPN’s autodraft bot is really overreacting to the quarterback injuries from last season. Four quarterbacks? Really? This bot must have drafted Tom Brady last season.

Some huge value and tradebait in having guys like Schaub and Hasselbeck on the bench, but this drafted roster would likely force me into making an early-season trade for some more wide receiver depth.

Speaking of wide receivers, receiver is the one position where I feel this draft was the weakest. Steve Smith is a great foundation, but Santana Moss, even after his stellar run last season, can’t be depended on to produce WR2 numbers. On the bench, I only have Eddie Royal, who may or may not benefit from the change to Kyle Orton at quarterback in Denver. That’s just dangerous.

At running back, Peterson/Grant at running back should be a useful duo. Willie Parker and post-suspension Lynch should also add some punch to the roster if Grant disappoints. Fred Taylor has some spot-duty, emergency running back value, but Hightower is almost a waste of a pick unless he turns into the LenDale White to Chris Wells’ Chris Johnson. I have a feeling Hightower is more likely to become the Brandon Jackson to Chris Wells’ Ryan Grant though.

Tight end could be stronger and so could defense, but for an autodraft, it’s hard to complain about those positions when the overloading of quarterbacks is such an issue.

The full, unabridged mock draft is below with analysis on each round for those of you who are interested. I was drafting under the team name “Power Down” because at the time, I was trying to exit this mock draft … before it started with me still logged into it.

Feel free to share your observations below. The comments are yours.

The Entire Draft

**- Represent my picks

Round: 1
** (1) Power Down – Adrian Peterson RB
(2) The Team To Beat – Chris Johnson RB
(3) Bruno Boys.net – Michael Turner RB
(4) Team McGill – Matt Forte RB
(5) Team Harmelink – Larry Fitzgerald WR
(6) Team hoyos – Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(7) Team g – Andre Johnson WR
(8) Team Hogg – Steven Jackson RB
(9) Team Johnson – LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(10) Team O – Frank Gore RB

I went A.P. with the No. 1 pick because it was easy. Personally, I don’t like the guy, but I’d gladly take him if someone will trade me a Forte or Gore and some parts for him before Game 1 of the season. Someone REALLY likes Chris Johnson and took him as the No. 2. I don’t feel that strongly about him, but he is a worthy first round pick if he’s your guy.

Fitz makes an appearance as the No. 1 wide receiver off the board at the No. 5 pick, which is a little high to go with a WR in my opinion. Andre Johnson went No. 7, which also seems high for a 10-team league. Jackson, Tomlinson and Gore round out the first round as expected.

Round: 2
(11) Team O – DeAngelo Williams RB
(12) Team Johnson – Brandon Jacobs RB
(13) Team Hogg – Drew Brees QB
(14) Team g – Calvin Johnson WR
(15) Team hoyos – Randy Moss WR
(16) Team Harmelink – Steve Slaton RB
(17) Team McGill – Peyton Manning QB
(18) Bruno Boys.net – Clinton Portis RB
(19) The Team To Beat – Tom Brady QB
** (20) Power Down – Ryan Grant RB

The top running back from 2008 kicks off the second round — still too high for my tastes with Jonathan Stewart breathing even closer down his neck this season. The league was operating under standard scoring with 4-point passing touchdowns, so Brees going early second round makes sense. Does the pick of Calvin Johnson over Randy Moss signify some doubt in Tom Brady or just a Detroit fan?

I went with Ryan Grant over Marion Barber to end the round because I believe he’ll be much improved in Aaron Rodgers second season and fully recovered from his groin injury.

Round: 3
** (21) Power Down – Steve Smith WR
(22) The Team To Beat – Marion Barber RB
(23) Bruno Boys.net – Greg Jennings WR
(24) Team McGill – Brian Westbrook RB
(25) Team Harmelink – Roddy White WR
(26) Team hoyos – Reggie Wayne WR
(27) Team g – Kevin Smith RB
(28) Team Hogg – Ronnie Brown RB
(29) Team Johnson – Anquan Boldin WR
(30) Team O – Thomas Jones RB

The autodraft took over at this point and took Steve Smith for me at the top of the third round. I would have liked to take Barber and really lock up my running backs, but hey, the bot thought differently. Taking Barber would have also limited me to receivers like Housh and Roy E. Williams on the next turn.

The general run was on wide receivers by this point. No one really jumps out as being out of place. Look how far Reggie Wayne is falling — lack of confidence in Indy without the coaching staff they have had these past seasons? The Colts lost a little of their fantasy luster when Peyton Manning struggled last year.

Round: 4
(31) Team O – Brandon Marshall WR
(32) Team Johnson – Marques Colston WR
(33) Team Hogg – Terrell Owens WR
(34) Team g – Pierre Thomas RB
(35) Team hoyos – Jason Witten TE
(36) Team Harmelink – Jonathan Stewart RB
(37) Team McGill – Wes Welker WR
(38) Bruno Boys.net – Dwayne Bowe WR
(39) The Team To Beat – Derrick Ward RB
** (40) Power Down – Marshawn Lynch RB

Brandon Marshall before Colston? Do people remember that Kyle Orton is now the quarterback in Denver? Terrell Owens apparently has no doubters either as he goes off the board among the second/third tier despite being in Buffalo and competing for catches with Lee Evans.

Notice that not just Pierre Thomas but also Jonathan Stewart, Derrick Ward and Marshawn Lynch are coming off the board before Reggie Bush. Round 4 is still too rich for a tight end in my mind, but if you want to get Witten, you might have to go there.

Round: 5
** (41) Power Down – Kurt Warner QB
(42) The Team To Beat – T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(43) Bruno Boys.net – Philip Rivers QB
(44) Team McGill – Reggie Bush RB
(45) Team Harmelink – Tony Romo QB
(46) Team hoyos – Aaron Rodgers QB
(47) Team g – Matt Ryan QB
(48) Team Hogg – Roy E. Williams WR
(49) Team Johnson – Darren McFadden RB
(50) Team O – Tony Gonzalez TE

Kurt Warner in the fifth round? I’ll take it. (I guess my bot isn’t so confident with this decision judging from the number of backup QBs he drafted for me after this pick.) Housh would have been a solid pick here now that he’s the No. 1 guy in Seattle.

Romo’s going in the fifth as well and before Aaron Rodgers, closely followed by his main target, Roy E. Williams.

Round: 6
(51) Team O – Braylon Edwards WR
(52) Team Johnson – Larry Johnson RB
(53) Team Hogg – Joseph Addai RB
(54) Team g – Chad Ochocinco WR
(55) Team hoyos – LenDale White RB
(56) Team Harmelink – Vincent Jackson WR
(57) Team McGill – Antonio Gates TE
(58) Bruno Boys.net – Antonio Bryant WR
(59) The Team To Beat – Dallas Clark TE
** (60) Power Down – Willie Parker RB

Parker and Addai were first round picks at one point. I’d take Addai as late as you can have him this season. Donald Brown doesn’t scare me off of a guy who gets to score touchdowns for Peyton Manning and has starting duties.

Willie Parker, while recovering this offseason, is still going to work hard for the Steelers. I don’t think he’ll lose his starting job in training camp to any of the other backs, and one should never forget that the Steelers like to run.

Round: 7
** (61) Power Down – Matt Schaub QB
(62) The Team To Beat – DeSean Jackson WR
(63) Bruno Boys.net – Knowshon Moreno RB
(64) Team McGill – Jamal Lewis RB
(65) Team Harmelink – Greg Olsen TE
(66) Team hoyos – Bernard Berrian WR
(67) Team g – Kellen Winslow TE
(68) Team Hogg – Donovan McNabb QB
(69) Team Johnson – Matt Cassel QB
(70) Team O – Lee Evans WR

Schaub is a great backup this season and a borderline starter, so I don’t mind getting him on the turn into the seventh round.

Apparently, the move to Tampa Bay hasn’t scared enough people away from Kellen Winslow for him to fall much from last year’s draft stock.

Round: 8
(71) Team O – Le’Ron McClain RB
(72) Team Johnson – Owen Daniels TE
(73) Team Hogg – Ahmad Bradshaw RB
(74) Team g – Darren Sproles RB
(75) Team hoyos – Kevin Walter WR
(76) Team Harmelink – Hines Ward WR
(77) Team McGill – Jay Cutler QB
(78) Bruno Boys.net – Anthony Gonzalez WR
(79) The Team To Beat – Steelers D/ST D/ST
** (80) Power Down – Santana Moss WR

Consider Kevin Walter noticed. He goes off the board before Ward, Gonzalez and Moss. People always think Houston is bound to have a big year because they finish every season strong. Will this year be the season they finally keep it together?

Santana Moss is a sketchy WR2, so I’d like to have more depth at receiver behind him. The bot thinks differently.

Round: 9
** (81) Power Down – Eddie Royal WR
(82) The Team To Beat – Ted Ginn Jr. WR
(83) Bruno Boys.net – Chris Wells RB
(84) Team McGill – Jerricho Cotchery WR
(85) Team Harmelink – Cedric Benson RB
(86) Team hoyos – Giants D/ST D/ST
(87) Team g – Santonio Holmes WR
(88) Team Hogg – Chris Cooley TE
(89) Team Johnson – Ben Roethlisberger QB
(90) Team O – Willis McGahee RB

Eddie Royal seems like a silly pick by the bot with Holmes still on the board. I don’t love Holmes, but it’s not like Royal’s going to have the chance to reproduce the same numbers with Cutler now in Chicago. Royal’s not terrible, but he’s not going to be the same guy as last season.

The Giants defense goes off the board in the ninth round, even though they weren’t a great fantasy defense last season. I’m not sure they’ll be too great this year either playing tough teams like the Cowboys and Eagles with their star defensive coordinator coaching in St. Louis.

Willis McGahee’s obviously not the starter in Baltimore anymore, so I’m surprised to see him go here rather than three rounds later when someone will finally take Ray Rice, who I’d definitely take a chance on this season considering how much Baltimore runs.

Round: 10
(91) Team O – Carson Palmer QB
(92) Team Johnson – Donald Driver WR
(93) Team Hogg – Earnest Graham RB
(94) Team g – Torry Holt WR
(95) Team hoyos – Donald Brown RB
(96) Team Harmelink – Laveranues Coles WR
(97) Team McGill – Felix Jones RB
(98) Bruno Boys.net – John Carlson TE
(99) The Team To Beat – Lance Moore WR
** (100) Power Down – Fred Taylor RB

I have to hope that the bot was going to get me Lance Moore before he went off the board one pick earlier. Everyone will forget the Lance Moores and Kevin Walters of the world in the draft this year. Make sure you don’t. Fred Taylor is a decent backup, but I hate to draft any players in New England’s backfield.

Carson Palmer in the tenth round could be a huge steal if he ends up returning to glory this season.

Round: 11
** (101) Power Down – Eli Manning QB
(102) The Team To Beat – Ravens D/ST D/ST
(103) Bruno Boys.net – Kyle Orton QB
(104) Team McGill – Titans D/ST D/ST
(105) Team Harmelink – Michael Crabtree WR
(106) Team hoyos – Fred Jackson RB
(107) Team g – Julius Jones RB
(108) Team Hogg – Steve Breaston WR
(109) Team Johnson – Derrick Mason WR
(110) Team O – Donnie Avery WR

Eli Manning? Was that really necessary Mr. ESPN bot? I would have much rather had Devin Hester, Derrick Mason (if he doesn’t retire after all) or even Julius Jones. Apparently, I have met my quota for running backs and wide receivers for now though.

Some great upside bargains at receiver in this round as some people start to look at defense early. Orton as a backup quarterback is a sneaky pick. He may not be as flashy as Cutler, but he could be more efficient.

Round: 12
(111) Team O – Devin Hester WR
(112) Team Johnson – Chester Taylor RB
(113) Team Hogg – Zach Miller TE
(114) Team g – David Garrard QB
(115) Team hoyos – Sammy Morris RB
(116) Team Harmelink – LeSean McCoy RB
(117) Team McGill – Domenik Hixon WR
(118) Bruno Boys.net – Ray Rice RB
(119) The Team To Beat – Percy Harvin WR
** (120) Power Down – Tim Hightower RB

I think Hightower could end up going undrafted in many drafts, so I’m not too happy with the bot making this one for me. All the tight ends with good upside have jumped off the board here now that Zach Miller is gone, which leaves me with slim pickings late in the draft.

Look at how late David Garrard finally goes off the board. The guy had a Swiss cheese line last season and still surprised people with his finish among the top 12. This year he has Torry Holt and some other new blood at receiver. Anyone think we may be selling him a little short?

Round: 13
** (121) Power Down – Matt Hasselbeck QB
(122) The Team To Beat – Stephen Gostkowski K
(123) Bruno Boys.net – Vikings D/ST D/ST
(124) Team McGill – Chris Chambers WR
(125) Team Harmelink – Bobby Engram WR
(126) Team hoyos – Leon Washington RB
(127) Team g – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(128) Team Hogg – Kevin Curtis WR
(129) Team Johnson – Patrick Crayton WR
(130) Team O – Rashard Mendenhall RB

Hey bot, how bout another quarterback? Sure, buddy. No problem … *sigh* So unnecessary.

Do you really need the best kicker in fantasy? No, they all work. Someone out there wants to make sure they don’t miss getting the top one. It’s worth considering that if New England turns back into the touchdown pinball machine they were in 2007, Gostkowski will be a glorified extra point machine.

Chris Chambers might be the steal of this round if he can still contribute in San Diego. He had to go down last season before Vincent Jackson finally emerged.

Round: 14
(131) Team O – Ricky Williams RB
(132) Team Johnson – Trent Edwards QB
(133) Team Hogg – Jerious Norwood RB
(134) Team g – Jets D/ST D/ST
(135) Team hoyos – Michael Bush RB
(136) Team Harmelink – Muhsin Muhammad WR
(137) Team McGill – Justin Gage WR
(138) Bruno Boys.net – Mark Clayton WR
(139) The Team To Beat – Dustin Keller TE
** (140) Power Down – Dolphins D/ST D/ST

Mostly backups and upside in this round. I like Trent Edwards this late and Norwood. Mark Clayton is the starter in Baltimore if Derrick Mason does retire. Keller could increase his stock this season if he becomes a security blanket for Mark Sanchez.

And look at the clever bot, snagging the Miami defense. At least I can agree that they come at a good price in this round.

Round: 15
** (141) Power Down – Kevin Boss TE
(142) The Team To Beat – Jake Delhomme QB
(143) Bruno Boys.net – Tony Scheffler TE
(144) Team McGill – Laurence Maroney RB
(145) Team Harmelink – Panthers D/ST D/ST
(146) Team hoyos – Nate Kaeding K
(147) Team g – Patriots D/ST D/ST
(148) Team Hogg – Ryan Longwell K
(149) Team Johnson – David Akers K
(150) Team O – Mason Crosby K

It’s kicker time … so my bot takes a tight end at last.

Delhomme gets no respect these days. Scheffler gets even less. For all the hurt that Josh McDaniels has brought to Denver, the Broncos still have plenty of nice things to say about one of the most underrated pass-catching tight ends in the game. (Yes, I would rather have him than Kevin Boss.)

If Maroney does anything, I guess his selection in this round is a good deal, but I find it hard to believe that he’ll live up to expectations this season with Brady back under center.

Round: 16
(151) Team O – Redskins D/ST D/ST
(152) Team Johnson – Bears D/ST D/ST
(153) Team Hogg – Packers D/ST D/ST
(154) Team g – Jason Elam K
(155) Team hoyos – Joey Galloway WR
(156) Team Harmelink – Rob Bironas K
(157) Team McGill – John Kasay K
(158) Bruno Boys.net – Nick Folk K
(159) The Team To Beat – Shaun Hill QB
** (160) Power Down – Neil Rackers K

Packers and Bears defense in the final round? Not too shabby. We know Green Bay is rebuilding, but they have some of the key parts in place to do good things if they grip the system.

Remember how high Donte Stallworth was drafted when he was a Patriot. Look at Joey Galloway. He’s the No. 2 receiver in New England — with Wes Welker playing the slot — and he may do great things flying down the side of the field across from Randy Moss. He’s a little less likely to disappear than Donte Stallworth was and an interesting last-round selection.

Shaun Hill brought some life back to San Francisco when he came under center. Getting him in the last round is a daring way to backup your quarterback, but he’s not a terrible bye week fill. Just hope Alex Smith doesn’t return from the great beyond to take his job back.

Of course, my bot hooks me up with Neil Rackers. Thanks, bud.

How about that Rundown: Things you should have known before the 2009 NFL Draft

Unlike me, you may not have been following all the NFL news since the offseason began. Sometimes people have lives. That’s okay — so I am told. In order for you to keep your edge and get in the right state of mind now that football is only a few months away, you just might need a “rundown” of the news you may have missed or overlooked during your hiatus from the land of football.

The thing about Marshawn Lynch is…
Lynch received a suspension for three games due to his increasing talent of finding himself in bad situations at bad times (and somehow also avoiding any major legal consequences). The Bills will be without his services to start the season, but they have also acquired Dominic Rhodes to help them out while their workhorse running back pays his debt to society the NFL. Fred Jackson is still said to be the starter in Lynch’s absence, but Rhodes may win the hearts of the coaching staff before the end of camp. He’s got a pretty good talent for that.

The Jenny Craig Effect
Both Daunte Culpepper and David Garrard returned to their teams from the offseason a little lighter and a little more in shape. For Culpepper, claiming he was in the best shape of his life since he was a good quarterback might have led Detroit to believe they were safe with him under center in 2009. (Unfortunately for him, no such luck.) For Garrard, his lightened load could mean his ability to get out of the pocket and run is on the rise. If you remember his run in the playoffs against the Steelers, he can get up and going pretty quickly for a big guy, but with a little less weight, he might do it more often in 2009.

And then there’s the fat one…
On the other end of the weight shift, Adrian Peterson claims he wants to beef it up for 2009. Unfortunately for Peterson, that weight can’t all be added around his knees, which are almost ready for their next breakdown after he made it through 2009 mostly unscathed. The wrath cometh, no matter much bacon you pack on those bones, A.P.

Coles becomes a Bengal (pending felony conviction)
Yes, I know that most of the Bengals are trying to get the team’s reputation under control, but then they go out and sign Tank Johnson, and yeah, that’s not working so well. Laveranues Coles obviously didn’t want to wait around and see what one-armed batting practice machine became the man for the Jets in 2009, so he took a deal with the Bengals as somewhat of a replacement to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I wouldn’t exactly call him the perfect complement to Chad Johnson, but he’s got a pulse and no parole, unlike Chris Henry.

Matt Hasselbeck has a back again
Hasselbeck told us all he was healthy before the draft — mostly because he wanted to make sure he didn’t get a little punk like Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford drafted onto the Seahawks’ bench and waiting for him to injure his back again. It remains to be seen how much Hasselbeck will be able to do when the season starts after his injury-plagued 2008 season.

Well, I guess if Jay’s gone…
Tony Scheffler, the tight end companion of choice of Jay Cutler, may no longer have a home in Denver now that Josh McDaniels has arrived to kick everyone out of the party and start a math club that worships Belichick.

But was he the Right-wich?
The Bucs signed Byron Leftwich to be their quarterbacks of the now — or was it all just a clever smokescreen for their Josh Freeman pick? Leftwich is an upgrade over the quarterbacks currently developed in the Bucs’ stable, but they may still be overlooking what they have in Josh Johnson.

Sweed takes three
With the departure of Nate Washington to the Titans, Longhorn standout Limas Sweed moves up to the third wide receiver spot, and he might just have his head in the game this year. That’s a good sign for dynasty owners and Big Ben Roethlisberger.

Young no more in 2010?
Speaking of Longhorns, Vince Young may be on his way out of Tennessee in another season if he doesn’t find his game again. His contract isn’t going to make him any friends in 2010. If he’s going to prove he’s the quarterback of the future for the Titans, he better get back into that “hoopla” soon.

Laurent Robinson is a Ram
He was all the rage each preseason that the Falcons had him, and now, he’s one of a few receivers with a name we know and somewhat trust on the Rams roster. Don’t forget about Robinson when it comes time to make those last round selections in your fantasy draft. He might be all they got.

And Detroit quarterbacks will throw to Megatron AND…
Former Cardinal and former 49er Bryant Johnson signed a contract with the Lions this offseason. Assuming he hopes to find himself opposite Calvin Johnson on Sundays — and thereby form the unstoppable Johnson & Johnson duo — he should probably stop dislocating his fingers in practice. Johnson is one of those players who always looks like he improved his situation, i.e. moving to San Francisco last season, just before he disappears off the map. His main competition at receiver is former Raider Ronald Curry, who is expected to be the slot guy in Detroit.

Torry Holt makes final growl with the Jags
It’s no secret that Holt is old. He’s got the freaky fingers to prove he’s a veteran in this league, and he’s crafty. The Rams gave up on him in favor of getting younger, but the Jaguars will be giving him another chance. What could go wrong? Taking the old guy worked so well with Jerry Porter last season, didn’t it? Holt is the likely No. 1 in Jacksonville, but he might not hold that position all season if his skills and health fade.

Jeff Garcia on the Al Davis payroll
Garcia joined the Raiders before the draft to back up and help develop JaMarcus Russell. But how can someone so large learn anything from a man as tiny as Garcia? Time will tell whether the leadership and veteran instincts rub off on Russell, who has been looking very raw since taking the reins in Oakland.

Jake Delhomme fully extended
What’s the first thing you should do when your franchise quarterback throws more passes to the opposing team than his own to end your season? That’s right, contract extension — and a massive one at that. Carolina signed Delhomme to a 5-year deal that he will probably never see the end of as the starting quarterback. I am sure there is logic to it in saving the team a little money now, but Jake isn’t getting any younger. Maybe they’re resting their future on current backup Matt Moore’s Romo-like potential.

Matt Ryan gets his tight end
In a move that might have more impact than anything that happened in the draft, Kansas City traded veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta. Rather than spend a pick on Brandon Pettigrew, the Falcons got Gonzalez at a good price, and they’ll have one of the more weapon-laden offenses in football next season with Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Gonzalez and Roddy White all threatening opposing defenses. The Gonzalez trade may prove to be exactly what Ryan needed to progress next season into a more fantasy-worthy quarterback.

Now, I think we’ve covered just about everything to get you back into sync with all the latest NFL news before the NFL draft. Drop your questions, discussion items and comments in our brand new commenting system down below and let the predictions for next season begin. I have just one question to start: What exactly is a “rundown” anyway?

Jay Cutler traded to Chicago Bears for Neckbeard. Set your Broncos free.

Jay Cutler is now on his way to The Windy City. For first-round picks in both 2009 and 2010, a third-round pick in 2009 and Kyle Orton — founder and president of the Neckbeard for Men Club, which just so happens to be moving its headquarters to Denver this summer — the Chicago Bears have acquired a Pro Bowl quarterback and an additional fifth-round pick in 2009.

Da Bears

While it’s certainly better than Detroit might have been for the promising young quarterback, this trade leaves Cutler’s status a little iffy. Other than Greg Olsen and the project that is Devin Hester, the Bears don’t offer a lot of talented receivers up as targets. Without Marty Booker, it’s hard to even rely on guys like Rashied Davis for a good circus catch.

Luckily, Jay Cutler’s arm happens to be bionic and stronger than three of John Elway’s arms acting in sync. It’s hard to doubt that he can make something out of the Bears with his arm and his legs, and he’s sure to bring the passing game up a notch across the board — lucky you, Hester and Olsen owners.

Matt Forte could certainly use a boost in the passing game to take the pressure off of him out of the box, but he could fade a bit in his production now that the Bears aren’t constantly feeding him the ball. This new offense is one you’ll want to watch come preseason because there’s no telling what Chicago will do now that they have a quarterback — and not a Rex Grossman. I’d still like Forte as a borderline RB1/RB2, but that could change.

Busted Broncos

As I tweeted earlier — excuse me — you can mark your calendars today as the day the Broncos started a downward slide. Brandon Marshall could soon potentially face another suspension for his continued off-the-field issues; Josh McDaniels is going to try to establish a new offense while running a season of The Apprentice to decide who’s going to carry the ball between J.J. Arrington, Correll Buckhalter, Peyton Hillis, LaMont Jordan, Ryan Torain, Selvin Young and Andre Hall; but at least they have a savior in their new quarterback, Kyle Orton…

Orton is an extreme downgrade. Despite his phenom run last year — during which, he was keeping pace with Peyton Manning in the fantasy points department — he’s an inconsistent signal caller. He limits what the Broncos can do through the air and takes Brandon Marshall down a notch whenever Marshall does get a chance to return to the field.

Eddie Royal, sadly, might drop off the radar entirely unless Marshall is out for a prolonged period of time. It would seem that, at least in the short term, Josh McDaniels is content running the ball with 67 different running backs, so it’s hard to rely on him to keep the passing game up to the level it was at last season. Don’t even start looking to the tight ends. Tony Scheffler could be out of Denver sooner rather than later, and then it all goes to this very scary place where Daniel Graham might be the only one of the field.

In short, maybe it’s time you let your Broncos go. Orton’s worth a chance in 2009 just because of the talent around him — and his relative bargain value as a quarterback. Marshall can’t be passed on even with his potential problems, which could make him a value pick in 2009 anyway. But there’s no telling which running back emerges as the best option, and Eddie Royal could be decent or completely invisible in 2009.

Mark your calendars and thank Josh McDaniels. Today, the Broncos blew apart their fantasy goodness…just when I thought they had so much promise. Does anyone feel good about this new Broncos team?

Mark Schlereth, please explain how this happened.

A Fool and His Money in Week 15

Jacob here. I guess it’s time for us to stop covering up the deep, dark secret we’ve been hiding for the last several weeks. You see, we killed Chadam.

It’s not that he was doing a terrible job picking spreads each week … well, actually, he really was falling off there near the end, but, regardless, we killed him because we couldn’t stand his incessant picking of the Texans. It was just too much. Even with Sage at the helm? Are you serious?

Now, it’s over.

The most recent picks, other than a few rare occasions like last week, have been made by Nick and Nick alone. That’s why we stopped carrying Chadam’s record at the bottom each week if you caught the clue.

We buried the body at the side of Reliant Stadium, and then … Nick peed on it. I don’t know why he did. I think it’s some kind of dominance thing. Chadam may or may not have been completely dead. We don’t really know. We just simulated the Houston Texans offensive line for him by having Chadam stand behind a sheet of paper while we drove a car at him — maybe it just knocked him out?

If you’re out there Chadam … if you’re still alive, can we call a mulligan? I mean, you’re out of the fantasy playoffs in our shared league, what else are you going to do besides return as a faithful contributor to your foolish friends?

Now that “the incident” is off my chest, take it away, Nick.

New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears

Nick Takes: BEARS (-3) over Saints

The Bears’ pass defense is not very good, and the Saints passing game is one of the best. But December in the Windy City can affect even MVP-caliber quarterbacks. Da Bears!

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans

Nick Takes: Titans (-3) over TEXANS

Jeff Fisher claims the Titans aren’t going to rest any players even though they’ve secured the division and a first round bye for the playoffs. Do you believe him? I think the Texans will compete in this game, but a fourth quarter turnover costs them the spread.

Washington Redskins at Cincinnati Bengals

Nick Takes: Redskins (-6.5) over BENGALS

The Redskins are limping their way to the end of the 2008 season. Lucky for them, The Bengals have already ended their season. I would expect any team to beat the Bengals by a touchdown or more. That list includes but is not limited to the Florida Gators, Detroit Lions, Texas Longhorns and the Little Giants.

Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars

Nick Takes: Packers (-1.5) over JAGS

Jack Del Rio doesn’t seem interested on the sidelines, and when the coach isn’t interested, you can be damn sure the players aren’t interested. The Packers are at least playing hard, especially Aaron Rodgers and his Brett Favre complex. I don’t know what exactly a Brett Favre complex is, but later in life, Rodger’s psychiatrist will explain it.

San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins

Nick Takes: 49ers (+6.5) over DOLPHINS

Mike Singletary has done something besides guaranteeing himself some future Coors Light commercials this season; he has gotten the 49ers to play hard. First, they hold the Bills to three points at home, and then they beat Jets. I just realized the 49ers are on a winning streak. That might be their first one in three years. I think the Dolphins might get shocked in this one.

Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts

Nick Takes: Lions (+17) over COLTS

I can’t give up 17 points. I want to, but I can’t get myself to do it. The Colts are at home and just won their last game by 32 points, but I just can’t do it.

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Nick Takes: Chargers (-5) over CHIEFS

I like the Chiefs, but I’m picking the Chargers for one reason only: I desperately need Philip Rivers to have the game of his life. I am going against Jacob in the semis of our fantasy league, and as a result of what I consider a very dirty trade on Jacob’s part in the early weeks of the season (Peyton Manning and Tony Scheffler for J.T. O’Sullivan and Santana Moss), I have to go against Mr. Commercial the week he is playing the Lions. Thus, it would be bad karma of me to pick the Chiefs over the Bolts and still hope for Rivers to have a good day.

Note from Jacob: Nick has never heard of a ‘Buy Low’ and doesn’t believe in them … just like he doesn’t believe in diabetes. In my defense, since Nick has ranted on this trade all season: 1) I didn’t offer this trade. It was an offer I received; 2) The league did not veto the trade when it happened; 3) At the time, Moss was the No. 1 fantasy receiver, on pace for a Braylon Edwards-like season, and JTO was putting up solid numbers as a Mike Martz quarterback (better numbers than Peyton was at the time); and 4) I ran the trade past a message board of neutral parties who all agreed it was a solid trade of equal potential/value just to avoid any outrage from my own league (but, of course, I still get Nick).

Comment below if you want to jump in on the trade discussion; otherwise, we’ll save further talks for a later, season-wrapping post.

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

Nick Takes: JETS (-7) over Bills

Both these teams are looking really bad right now. I don’t want to have to pick a winner. The Jets cost me some serious dough last week when I bet on them to beat the 49ers. I’m officially writing them off as a team that is too inconsistent to be a serious threat in the playoffs, but they have a better chance of recovering than the Bills — I hate you Brett Favre. (Language toned down at editor’s request.)

New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders

Nick Takes: Patriots (-7) over RAIDERS

I wonder which Patriots team will show up. I also wonder which Raiders team will show up. Regardless, I’m going to bet on the Belichick to have his team ready for a game they desperately need to win.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

Nick Takes: RAVENS (-1.5) over Steelers

I’m really starting to like these Ravens. I’m not impressed by a comeback win over the Cowboys at home. The Steelers should never have been down by 10 points to begin with to a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Nick Takes: Giants (-3) over COWBOYS

By reading my previous pick, you probably know who I’m going to pick in this game. Normally, I would worry about a team resting after they secured the division, but I don’t think that will be a problem with the Giants this week. Tom Coughlin will not let his team suffer back-to-back losses and go into the playoffs on a cold streak.

Cleveland Brown at Philadelphia Eagles

Nick Takes: Browns (+14) over EAGLES

The Eagles were born to let people down. They have played great the past two weeks, so what does that mean? It’s time to lay an egg! Andy Reid just doesn’t have the magic anymore. I think this game will be a big letdown.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

Nick Takes: Bucs (+3) over FALCONS

I was expecting this line to be the other way with the Bucs favored by three. I guess Vegas is now respecting the fact that the home team has won every NFC South matchup. I think the Bucs break that trend in this one. They have been in late-season playoff struggles before, and the Falcons are untested with the postseason on the line.

Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers

Nick Takes: PANTHERS (-7.5) over Broncos

The Panthers made a believer of me on Monday night, but you never know what to expect out of the Broncos. I definitely think the Panthers will win, but I’m a little leery of giving Denver more than a touchdown. Denver will also need another running back to step up for the now injured Peyton Hillis.

Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams

Nick Takes: Seahawks (-3) over RAMS $
($ = Nick’s lock)

The Seahawks have been competitive the past two weeks, which is more than I can say for the Rams. The Rams may play inspired because they have a chance against this opponent, but I’m a firm believer that you can’t just turn it on in the NFL.

Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals

Nick Takes: CARDINALS (-3) over Vikings

I’m very tempted to take the Vikings in this, but as I write this pick, Gus Frerotte’s status is still unknown. I never would have guessed in a million years that one of my picks rests on whether or not Frerotte is starting. What a crazy NFL season.

UPDATE: Reports now indicate that Tarvaris Jackson is the likely starter for Minnesota in this one. Frerotte is still being plagued by back pain.

Last Week:

Nick: 7-9

Current Standings after Week 14:

Nick: 104-97-3
Nick’s Locks: 9-7

Week 11 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

I didn’t rush to publish the starts and sits before Thursday Night Football because I wasn’t planning on mentioning any of Jets or Patriots this week. It’s times like these that you should follow me on twitter for any news updates or sit/start recommendations you might need.

Last night, I expected a defensive slugfest with a lot of Thomas Jones, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and some short passes to Wes Welker. Nothing to write home about, so nothing worth covering in Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders.

I pegged Brett Favre and Matt Cassel as bubble starts, but they’ve been matchup plays for several weeks now. I wrote off Randy Moss as a lost cause, even though you have to start a stud like him every week. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis wouldn’t do much, he’d get his carries and maybe a touchdown when they got in close.

Thomas Jones would continue to ride his hot streak behind such a solid offensive line. Wes Welker would be a solid play to collect yardage in this one, and if you wanted to take a chance on Jerricho Cotchery or Laveranues Coles, more power to you.

The fact that the weather might take a turn for the worst sold me on those predictions. Despite Brett Favre’s ability to succeed in harsh weather, it was going to be a running game. It would come down to who had time of possession, but it wouldn’t be close — Jets win.

Call it the Brett Favre factor, but sometimes Favre’s teams (and his opponents) can do a lot with just a little.

Your leading passer from Thursday night, Matt Cassel. With 400 yards passing and three touchdowns, Cassel might have just won a lot of battles for owners this weekend, but I’d really like to hear from anyone who started him (or even anyone in a league where someone started him).

In three out of my five redraft leagues, he’s a free agent on the waiver wire, and he only went off like that because I just dropped him this morning. Dick.

Do it again, and I owe you a coke, Cassel. (And not the kind you’re thinking, Matt Jones, so quit calling me.)

Hot Hands

Aaron Rodgers, QB Packers vs. Bears — I’m not afraid of the Bears passing defense, so they can feel free to stack the line for Ryan Grant like they did against the Titans. I’d still start Rodgers in what could be a lucrative return to his early-in-the-season success.

Matt Ryan, QB Falcons vs. Broncos — Against a potent passing offense, the Falcons are going to need big plays, and without Champ Bailey, the Broncos are very QB-friendly. As long as Michael Turner doesn’t explode in some kind of white-hot fantasy flame and rack up the touchdowns — it’s possible — Ryan is set for a good day.

Michael Turner, RB Falcons vs. Broncos — Turner has a delicious matchup against the weak Broncos run defense. And yes, I’m hedging my bets a little bit by recommending both the passing game and running game of the Falcons. Just like the Saints matchup last week, the Falcons could be primed to put up numbers in this one as well.

Joseph Addai, RB Colts vs. Texans — Assuming any rumor of his injury flaring up again are false, Addai is actually starting the chewy, cream-filling goodness of his schedule here at the end of the season. The Texans run defense has a bad habit of looking like Swiss cheese, and with the Colts offense hitting stride, I foresee a high ceiling for Addai this week.

Greg Jennings, WR Packers vs. Bears — You have to start Jennings even though he’s been through a rough stretch. Fortunately, he should break out of the hard times against a weak Bears defense. Surely, the Bears won’t stack up against the run and make Rodgers beat them through the air like they did against the Titans, but will they? Please?

Hines Ward, WR Steelers vs. Chargers – Even if I have my doubts about who is throwing the ball, I gotta have faith in Ward. He came up with over 100 yards last week while Ben was hurting, and he should be able to do that and more this week against the Chargers terrible pass defense, even if it’s Byron Leftwich under center.

Tony Scheffler, TE Broncos vs. Falcons — Welcome back, Scheff. If he is finally off the sideline bike this week and back to 100 percent, watch out for a big day. Cutler still really likes to get him the ball.

Jason Elam, K Falcons vs. Broncos — This one has revenge game written all over it, and the Broncos are best friends with any kicker they face. Elam will be wanting on the field as much as possible. What if this one comes down to a long kick for the win? Epic.

Bubble Boys

Ben Roethlisberger, QB Steelers vs. Chargers — Any QB is a good start against the Chargers, but Big Ben is banged up and out of it. I would hold off on starting him if you have acquired a decent backup. While he is likely to have a better game than his Week 10 performance, it’s unlikely that he’ll notch as many fantasy points as other QBs have against the Chargers.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB Seahawks vs. Cardinals — If he starts, he upgrades the entire Seahawks passing game and saves them from the Seneca Wallace experience, but how much rust is on that arm? And how healthy is his back? Several questions around “the Hassel” make him a risky play this week, even against a questionable pass defense like the Cardinals. Beating the Seahawks with Hasselbeck under center would be another statement game for the Cardinals to show their legit in the NFC West this year.

Larry Johnson, RB Chiefs vs. Saints — He returns, but how much of this offense is now in the hands of Tyler Thigpen? I am not sure how much we’ll see of Johnson, and I’m also have my doubts that we do see would be worth starting.

Willie Parker, RB Steelers vs. Chargers — Shoulder injury? What shoulder injury? Willie Parker don’t know ’bout no shoulder injury! Parker’s probably playing this week, but this start could definitely become a McGahee-esque phantom start in a hurry. Parker in a shoulder brace just doesn’t sound great to me, so even with this soft matchup, I like Mewelde Moore better for the Steelers run game this week.

Plaxico Burress, WR Giants vs. Ravens — I am not Plax fan. I’ll admit it. I’ve never liked him since I started playing fantasy football. Maybe it’s all these character problems we hear about, or maybe I just like Domenik Hixon better. Regardless, Plax is not putting up big numbers lately, so even when it looks like a great matchup for him, I question whether he’ll get the touchdown needed to push his fantasy score over the edge.

Bernard Berrian, WR Vikings vs. Buccaneers – And just like that, poof, the hot streak dies with a zero. I question whether he can do much better against a Bucs defense that shuts down more reliable receivers everyday.

Kellen Winslow, TE Browns vs. Bills — Not that you would sit him, but Winslow might see more coverage coming his way now that the Brady Quinn game plan has been exposed. He’ll produce adequate fantasy numbers for a tight end, but I’m not sure that he’ll produce elite numbers against a very aware Bills defense.

Cold Shoulders

Brady Quinn, QB Browns vs. Bills — He surprised me with his big day early in the Thursday nighter against the Broncos, but Quinn is still a young quarterback. Against a Bills defense with their playoff hopes on the line, he’ll probably regress a bit. You weren’t starting Quinn until a week ago, so it’s probably pretty likely that the other guy on your roster is looking better this week. If Quinn blows up in this game, I’ll give him credit for being more than I thought he was.

David Garrard, QB Jaguars vs. Titans — While he’s been putting it all out there, Garrard hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates. It’s hard to see them being much use in this one against the stingy Titans defense. Any big plays are likely to be countered by picks and other mistakes.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Chargers vs. Steelers — L.T. hasn’t had his best weeks lately, and I don’t expect him to make a push for a top-five spot against the Steelers this week. Unless Big Ben’s arm, shoulder, and achy gallbladder go bionic in the next two days, they’ll need to slow a powerful Chargers offense and keep this game close. I think L.T. will have another disappointing week, so if you have another guy that you started while he was questionable/out, how about giving him a shot? Just think about it…

Willis McGahee, RB Ravens vs. Giants — I’m so angry that I drafted McGahee as a top RB in one of my leagues this year — my first and most likely last autodraft. His big game last week may have you thinking he could do some more good for you in this matchup. While the Ravens do run a lot, the Giants smash faces a lot. I don’t like it one bit, and considering how often the revolving door at RB swings in Baltimore, I don’t think McGahee warrants a start this week. He’s a flex option at best.

Vincent Jackson, WR Chargers vs. Steelers — He’ll ride that hot streak right into a poor day against the Steelers pass defense. Knock your expectations down a couple of notches if you are forced to start him.

Kevin Walter, WR Texans vs. Colts — Sage is under center against a strong pass defense. The Colts won’t let this one get away from them, so despite Sage’s great desire for revenge and redemption, I don’t think Walter will get a touchdown in this one. The Texans are better off looking to Steve Slaton.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Vikings vs. Buccaneers — The Bucs are going to take away big yardage plays here, and unless he scores a touchdown, Shiancoe will have another slow day. The run game should be the Vikings’ emphasis on offense in this one.