StrategyOctober 16, 2007

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Tuesday Morning Quarterback

By Michael Stephens

Week 6 has passed us as quickly as a Devin Hester cutback, and we are almost halfway through the fantasy regular season. The teams at the top and bottom of each league are distancing themselves, and we are beginning to see who we can truly trust as starters on a weekly basis. With so much happening each week, sorting through the scraps can be an exhausting process that challenges our ability to field the best team. I will cover the vitals from week 6, including injury news, sleepers, trade bait, and expectations. So, sit back in your favorite armchair, and lets take a look back… then we can look forward!

• Eagles 16, Jets 9
Brian Westbrook continues to impress. The fragile Eagle has missed only 1 game this year and has at least 19 touches in every game. He is on pace for over 2100 total yards and 10 touchdowns, and he’s gold in ppr leagues where he looks to top the 75 catch mark again. He is the only Eagle that is a must start every week he is healthy. Kevin Curtis is a looking like a Jekyll/Hyde type player from here on out. In his 3 poor starts he has averaged 3 catches for 33 yards, and who doesn’t torch the Lions secondary? Take away his 75 yard TB and he is the same old Curtis. Anyone who starts him against the Bears will be disappointed.

Thomas Jones had a nice game, and it got the Jets nothing. He is a risky flex play from here on out, as he has been completely ineffective in 4 of the Jets 6 games and has yet to reach pay-dirt. If you can find someone that buys his two 100 yard efforts, sell him quickly! Jerricho Cotchery appears to be the man in yardage heavy leagues, while Coles is his counterpart in TD friendly leagues. Both are solid #2 WR starts on a weekly basis and both remain on pace for 90+ catches. Chad Pennington’s days might very well be numbered at the helm. He looked anemic yet again, and his noodle-arm was unable to produce a single touchdown pass against a banged up Eagles secondary. He has looked atrocious all year, and it is glaringly clear that Kellen Clemens time should be now, not next year.

• Bucs 13, Titans 10
Jeff Garcia just keeps getting the job done. He moves the chains just enough to keep the improved Bucs D off the field, and hits a couple of big plays per game. Joey Galloway is the clear-cut big play guy and I think Ike Hilliard is worth a look in deeper leagues as a #3 WR or flex option. He has 19 catches on 24 targets in the last three weeks, and a score is eminent. He is easily starter material in ppr leagues, averaging 6 catches and 77 yards a game over that span. He also presents a much tastier flex option than anyone in the Bucs backfield, as Graham has been unremarkable since Caddy’s injury. Barrett Ruud is IDP gold, he has totaled 11+ tackles in 5 of 6.

Vince Young left the game in the third quarter with a strained calf, and early reports have him as questionable for next week. LenDale White continues to hog the goal line carries, but is barely serviceable as anything other than a bye-week #3 RB or flex option, as his carries seem empty against the most pedestrian of rush defenses. I wouldn’t trust any Titans wide receiver from here on out, and with Young injured and the offense floundering, the Titan defense might be the only consistent play.

• Jags 37, Texans 17
MJD returns! The Jags are coming into their own, and Jones-Drew is reaping the benefits with more high-yield carries like the ones that earned his place in infamy last year. He ran all over an improved Texans D, and has 296 total yards and 3 scores in his last 2 contests. David Garrard is the best game manager in the league not named Eli Manning. That is 5 straight without an interception, and he has a touchdown pass in every game. There is still no go to receiver on this team, though Dennis Northcutt is getting the most of the looks this season. The defense records sacks and forces enough turnovers to remain a starting defense most weeks, but they have been letting people pile on annoyingly long drives in garbage time.

Andre Johnson is the only viable Texans wide receiver on a weekly basis. Do I need to repeat myself? The Texans running game leaves more to be desired than a Rams-Dolphins game, and that is saying something! Kris Brown is the only Texan that I would start most weeks until the explosive Johnson returns from injury, which could be this week. He will take some pressure off the running game, but I still wouldn’t start any of the three headed “monster” of Green, Dayne, and Gado.

• Ravens 22, Rams 3
The Ravens are one of the least efficient red zone offenses in the league, which makes Matt Stover a top 3 kicker every week. The 38-year-old kicker has already saved many of us this year with his consistent top-notch production, and he put on a real show with five 3-pointers and an extra point for good measure. Derrick Mason is a really nice option in ppr leagues, averaging 12 looks per game, with 49 catches through 6 games. Willis McGahee found the end zone after it looked as though he had forgotten how to find it, and his yard-per-catch numbers are much more acceptable at 4.1 than it has been in the past. He is still a very dynamic runner, but until the Ravens iron out their red-zone problems, I don’t see more than 6 total scores from him this year.

There isn’t much good to say about the Rams. Let me rephrase, there is nothing good to say about the Rams of fantasy or reality. Brian Leonard won’t be shut down like that in the future, but I wouldn’t expect much more from him until they can find some answers on offense. I believe those answers are Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger, so that probably rules out Leonard. With Frerotte at the helm, Holt is a much riskier play, but take solace in the fact that the Rams play in the NFC West. Holt is the only must start on this team, and even that must be taken with a grain of salt…

• Vikings 34, Bears 31
Simply put, Adrian Peterson is a ridiculously talented man-beast of a running back! His performance against a stout, yet undermanned Bears defense still has my jaw on the proverbial floor. He has more yards in his first 5 games than anyone not named Dickerson, and looks like he will be top five running back material from here on out. Don’t be fooled by Troy Williamson’s long touchdown catch, we have seen this from him before. Look quickly, because if you don’t, he will have faded into oblivion again! The Vikings D/ST remains a strong play most weeks, especially against stout running attacks that pass sparingly.

I know, I know, that Devin Hester guy is ridiculously good and if the Bears could get him the ball more, he would score twice a game… right? He is a wonderful special teams player and will score on the occasional gimmick passing play, but don’t expect the second coming of Randy Moss here. Brian Griese represents a decent bye-week fill in; he spreads the ball around and is getting the tight ends involved. Greg Olsen makes for a nice play from here on out, especially for next week if you are an Antonio Gates or Kellen Winslow owner. Or maybe a disgruntled Todd Heap, LJ Smith, or Alge Crumpler owner? Come on, you know you want the next big thing at tight end! This guy has great hands and is a spectacular athlete at his position. This spells more touchdown chances in my book!

• Cleveland 41, Miami 31
Derek Anderson is quietly a top five quarterback through the first six games, and as long as the Browns can’t stop anyone and must pass to win, I like him as a starting QB. He has two top targets that he can trust, a growing sense of how the offense works, and motivation for continued production in the form of a first round draft pick from South Bend, IN. Winslow is a monster in ppr leagues, and Braylon Edwards is entrenched in a true bust-out campaign. Don’t go dropping Jason Wright just yet. Jamal Lewis isn’t exactly a symbol of longevity at running back, and the Brown’s schedule for the end of the season is beautiful. How does Texans, Cards, Jets, Bills, Bengals sound for weeks 12-16? Sign me up!

The Dolphins defense was thought by many to be a top ten unit for this year. At this point, that is the funniest thing I have heard since one of my friends told me Lee Evans would score 14 touchdowns this year! Ronnie Brown is looking like LT-lite, though I wouldn’t expect much from him next week, as he has never topped 70 yards against the Patriots. Chris Chambers is quietly having a nice year but how long will it be before he scores? Cleo Lemon had a top 3 weekly performance with his 4 TDs, and though I think he is a decent option some weeks, you wont always be able to make lemonade with the batch he is bound to give you.

• Packers 17, Redskins 14
This was a shocker, as I thought the Packers lack of rushing attack might continue to catch up with them. Instead, I finished watching the game with one thing on my mind – this is the best defensive unit in the NFC. Brett Favre is a good second tier option from here on out and I like both Donald Driver and Greg Jennings as starters most weeks. A couple more aggressive second half series against the Bears and they would have been 6-0. I think their surprising defense will take them to the playoffs.

If you are camping on Ladell Betts and are not a Clinton Portis owner, now is the time to put your tail between your legs and offer him up for a backup tight end and a bye-week kicker. He is not worth owning in most leagues at this point in the season with so many other handcuffs getting more quality out of their limited work. Santana Moss is a risky play each and every week, as is any other Redskin wide receiver. Chris Cooley has officially emerged as Campbell’s favorite target and is a top 3 tight end from here on out. Speaking of Campbell, I’m willing to give him a break for a crummy second half, and look forward to his continued improvement. He is by no means an every week start, but he will be there for you.

• Chiefs 27, Bengals 20
If you didn’t pull that LJ deal off by now, all bets are off. He is back and will only get better from here on out. He has a tough matchup here and there, but he destroys the Raiders and has a couple of soft games come fantasy playoffs. Damon Huard is establishing targets in the passing game that will continue to take away the eight man fronts that were killing LJ in weeks past. I still think that Gonzo is a top five tight end from here on out, though I’m not sold on Dwayne Bowe as anything more than a #3 wide receiver with some great playmaking abilities.

Carson Palmer is not having the kind of season that I thought that he would have. With that said, he is still a top 3 quarterback and a must start almost every single week. I see Ocho Cinco having a similar season to last year. Some monster games surrounded by pedestrian performances. Man is a great route-runner, but he gets out-schemed more often than you would think. He still has zero seasons with double-digit touchdowns and I don’t see that changing. TJ Houshmandzadeh is a top 3 wide receiver to this point and is proving to be a touchdown machine all over the field – he is a lock to start every week. I wouldn’t give up on Rudi Johnson yet, but if you must give up, make sure you have Kenny Watson. This is a great fantasy playoff schedule for a running back: Rams, 49ers, Browns. Wow!

• Panthers 25, Cardinals 10
Vinny Testaverde became the league’s first 700 year old quarterback to start and win a game, but I think we all know what we are going to get with him. I didn’t like the Panthers QB situation when Carr was the starter, and I like it even less as it stands now. Steve Smith might lay an egg every once and a while, but he proved to us yet again why he is a must-start every week. Both Carolina running backs are nothing more than flex plays until someone can show me some consistency. DeAngelo Williams is showing us flashes of brilliance again, but the gig is still Foster’s and we remain on standby.

Tim Rattay is a starting NFL quarterback, and Tim Hasslebeck is more than the husband of a perky morning show girl? Say it ain’t so! Kurt Warner might now be out for the season along with Matt Leinart, and two CFL caliber backups will be throwing to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, yikes! Edge even takes a hit with this one, as he was having a quietly decent season in the desert. I like this defensive unit because of how many soft matchups they have, but start them only in those cozy NFC West games and at home. This quarterback injury parade kills the value of all fantasy players on this team.

• Chargers 28, Raiders 14
One giant step for LaDanian Tomlinson, one pretty big step backwards for Phillip Rivers. LT is what we know he is, and he will continue to perform like the consensus number one pick from here on. Did you know he has as many 100-yard games and touchdowns as he had at this point last year? He is still frighteningly good. He has a couple of tough matchups after their bye, but as long as Rivers can get straightened out before LT has to face anymore nine man fronts, then all will be well. Antonio Gates is Rivers’ obvious target of choice, but the whole passing game is being drug down by the young quarterback’s happy feet and overly aggressive throws to the outside. Vincent Jackson is by no means an every week start, especially not against the Raiders and Broncos.

The Raiders looked like a possible surprise team a week or two ago, but now I contend that they need more bye weeks. Their backfield is looking like an rbbc three times over. Rhodes was supposed to play, only to be supplanted by the “doubtful” LaMont Jordan who promptly tallied 42 yards on 18 carries. Ron Curry remains a decent #3 option at wide receiver, but I would advise avoiding anyone else on this team for now.

• Patriots 48, Dallas 27
Is there still a question who is the indisputable number one team in football? Not in my books. Tom Brady might very well throw for 50 touchdowns this year, and the more of his backfield mates that fall and can’t get up, the more we should all believe this. The Pats basically must run 15 times a game to show that they haven’t completely forgotten, and then Brady can sit back in the gun and pick people apart. Randy Moss is scary good, and is a must-start every week. I think a healthy Ben Watson makes Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth #3 fantasy wide receivers, but if his injury is significant or lingering, those two could see a continued spike in production. Moss is getting more coverage rolled his way as defenses restructure to make others beat them. Welker is an unfair matchup for any dime back or linebacker, and Stallworth will get his fair share of looks on the outside from here on out.

I don’t think there is too much need for paranoia here, as I still think that Dallas is the best team in the NFC and that with all their weapons on both sides of the ball, still have some ridiculously high upside. Romo, TO, Crayton, and Witten are all must-starts though I think its only a matter of time before Barber takes some of that goal line love away from the other four. He runs like a man possessed, and looked like one of the few that truly wanted to fight at the end of this game. I’m still considering the last two weeks as aberrations, as I think the ‘Boys were caught looking ahead to a game that they couldn’t win and it clouded their vision for a two week span. Now thats over and we can all move on.

• Saints 28, Seahawks 17
These are the Saints that we thought we remembered! Drew Brees was efficient, threw for multiple touchdowns and over 200 yards; Reggie Bush was electric, exciting, and all over the field; and David Patten caught 8 balls for 113 yards. Well except for that last part it all rings a bell, right? Marques Colston didn’t catch a two yard touchdown, but looks to take the honors for bust-of-the-year from Lee Evans and Shaun Alexander. Bush and Brees are great players and must-starts every week from here on out. As for the rest of the Saints, you should steer clear until further notice.

3-2 record, home game against a team that hasn’t won with a secondary that can’t stop the Navy offense from passing for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns? What was not to like about this beautiful matchup on paper? Though there were a few bright spots for the ‘Hawks, they were bogged down by questionable play-calling, bad luck, and a poor game-plan in general. Numbers-wise, Hasslebeck has re-established himself as a clear-cut fantasy starter. In reality some of his decisions were horrible, including that moonshot pick he threw inside of three minutes. Whoever the two actual starting wide receivers are for this team will succeed on a weekly basis, its just a matter of narrowing them down and starting the right ones. Alexander the not-so-great is running with very little fire and is looking like part of the problem, not part of the solution. The passing game will succeed when and if the running game can get going. Leonard Weaver looks like a nice pass-blocker and had some big plays out of the backfield but don’t be fooled by a guy that has been groomed to follow in the footsteps of Mack Strong.

• Giants 31, Falcons 10
First the ups: Eli Manning is getting better each week and is a legitimate top 10 starting quarterback from now on, Plaxico Burress is finally playing like a top 10 wide receiver each and every week, and the Giants defense is playing really quite well of late. Other than a lapse on a 67 yarder by Norwood, they allowed less than 200 yards of total offense in this one. Now the down: Three headed rbbc? In real-life, the Giants backfield produced some very nice numbers with 188 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns. The question is, why didn’t Brandon Jacobs get more of those carries, and more importantly, can this guy stay healthy? A sprained MCL sidelined him for four games, only to come back with a great game to get out hopes up, and then follow that up with some nice carries that were marred by a “burner” in his neck and an apparent ankle injury. Derrick Ward was wholly ineffective but he keeps coming up with 8 yard touchdown runs. In my heart of hearts I believe that Jacobs is still the feature back and will eventually capitalize on his potential. I’m not as worried about his upright running style as some, but more so by the way that the G-Men used him in this game. He had 86 yards on 18 carries, but was pulled on a first and goal from the one in favor of Droughns, and was seen on quite a few long yardage shotgun pass plays. I think the Giants backfield may need to find their identity, which is Jacobs as the feature back, Ward in there on most third downs, and Droughns blocking for whoever the deep back may be. Hopefully they were just being careful with him after the various tweaks, and we will see more and more from him as the season progresses. Cross your fingers.

There isn’t much to say about the Falcons, except for the fact that they are still the worst team in the NFL on the other side of the 50 yard line. Alge Crumpler is almost unstartable, as well as all Falcons pass catchers. Joey Harrington is an emergency starter at best, and I think fantasy owners hoping for any production out of the Falcons need to call for his head on a plate. Jerrious Norwood needs more touches – he is an explosive back and the future of the organization’s backfield. Stop beating the dead horse that is Warrick Dunn and move on Falcons! In my opinion, Leftwich and Norwood are the only things that will help the Falcons achieve the most moderate of successes.

That’s all that I have for this week, so until next time, good luck next weekend and I hope to see you in your favorite armchair next Tuesday!

Michael Stephens is an avid fantasy sports buff who writes for the Cafe. He hails from the Pacific Northwest and is a die-hard Seahawk fan to the core! You can find Michael in the Cafe's various forums where he actively posts under the name of WaCougMBS.
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