Don’t look now or you might jinx them but the Packers and Lions are first and second in the NFC North! More surprising than that is the fact that they are winning games with inspired defensive play. At a combined 13-3 the non-believers have to be fewer and further between. Brett Favre hurled another long game-winning touchdown pass and John Kitna is starting to look like a genius in Detroit. By the way, the other NFC North team that was active on Sunday saw many impressive records set in their game too. Coverage of these and all of the other NFL games played last weekend including comprehensive coverage of injuries, sleepers, and predictions will be covered below. So sit back and make all the right reads, it’s time to start the Tuesday Morning Quarterback!
• Vikings 35, Chargers 17
How could even die-hard Vikings fans not see these results coming: a three possession win against one of the hottest teams in the league and a rookie running back breaking the single-game rushing record? Crazy. I take back everything I said about Adrian Peterson being a mediocre start some weeks, as I was obviously mistaken. His 30 carries for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns speak for themselves. He is an absolute must-start every week as your number one running back. Do no be fooled by the 14 points Chester Taylor amassed in garbage time because he will not get more than 12 touches a game. Sidney Rice’s four catches and a score make him worth watching, but I would not jump the gun on any Vikings offensive player that is not a rookie tailback.
We all knew that LaDainian Tomlinson was going to get stuffed early and often in this game, but no one could see him being upstaged by Peterson by over 250 yards and 2 scores! I still think that by the season’s end Tomlinson will be the top player in all of fantasy. The Bolts will have to ride him to the playoffs if they want to make a return trip this season. The Charger defense looked like the terrible version we saw in weeks 1 through 4. Their run defense was easier to beat than a Ray Lewis manslaughter charge and their passing offense was in complete disarray. After looking like he finally figured out how to throw to his own team last week, Phillip Rivers followed by completing only 45 percent of 42 passing attempts and finding Antonio Gates one time! Chris Chambers is looking like a legitimate target in the Chargers’ baby blue, and is start-able every week alongside Tomlinson and Gates.
• Saints 41, Jaguars 24
For those of you who did not notice, the Saints are 4 and 4 and one of the hottest teams in the NFC. It is looking more and more like their win against the Seahawks on Sunday night football saved their season. They have gained confidence and gotten Drew Brees rolling again, which has in turn given Reggie Bush more room to roam. Brees threw for 445 yards against a pretty solid Jaguar defense and now has at least two touchdown passes in four straight games. Bush totaled 115 yards and 2 scores against the Jags defense and is looking like he will produce late first round numbers after all this year. Marques Colston and the aging vet David Patten have emerged as Brees’ favorite targets and are both worth starts on a weekly basis. The Saints defense is not improved from last season, and with only 4 wins to this point, they will have to air it out to make the post season. Start your Saints going forward!
Quinn Gray did a respectable job and posted some decent looking passing numbers in David Garrard’s stead. Garrard looks to return next week against a stout Tennessee defense, so it would be smart to bench any Jaguars starting signal caller next week. Reggie Williams scored on a long touchdown pass, which effectively showed me that he has no breakaway speed and little big-play ability to support a continuance of his 4 touchdowns in eight games. No Jaguar receiver is worth the risk of a weekly start now that the bye weeks are almost past us. Fred Taylor continues to kill most of Maurice Jones-Drew’s numbers by shouldering over 60 percent of the rushing load again. Both are flex plays at best unless you get credit for return yards, in which case Jones-Drew is worth a number 3 running back slot.
• Redskins 23, Jets 20
We have a Clinton Portis sighting! Portis topped 100 yards for the first time this season in grand fashion and then threw in a touchdown in the forth quarter for good measure. The Redskins’ resident jester is on pace for around 1,300 rushing yards and double digit scores, so chances are you are getting what you paid for with him this season. He has a modest remaining schedule as far as easily-exploitable matchups are concerned, but the Redskins will have to feature Portis and ride him pretty hard if they wish to be playing in January, so he makes for a strong number 2 back from here on out. I am convinced that Jason Campbell is not far enough along in his development to be a starter in fantasy other than emergencies, but he is doing just enough to make Chris Cooley an every week play. Keep an eye on Santana Moss’ four catches but do not get too excited.
Although Kellen Clemens is not the second coming of Joe Namath (the Hall of Fame quarterback not the drunken Suzy Kolber molester) just yet, I think he can be quite successful with a healthy Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery catching his passes. He has a much stronger arm than Chad Pennington and looked decent in his debut as the undisputed Jets starting quarterback. Thomas Jones was less than stellar again, but with the aforementioned changes to the passing game I think he can make strides out of the backfield. The Jets might not win more than 3 games this season, but Clemens is a breath of fresh air to Jets fans in fantasy and reality. David Harris topped 17 tackles for the second straight week with an insane 24 total tackle performance. He is worth a look if you are in need of defensive starters in IDP leagues.
• Buccaneers 17, Cardinals 10
Ernest Graham is looking like the workhorse back that the Buccaneers have been searching for, which evidenced by his 34-carry 124-yard performance on Sunday. He was an effective clock eating tool and kept the Tampa Bay offense on the field for a ridiculous 43 minutes! He has a great playoff schedule with Houston, Atlanta, and San Francisco and is not fazed by the acquisition of Michael Bennett or the return of Michael Pittman. Jeff Garcia keeps getting the job done and finding Joey Galloway, who had another nice game with 84 yards and a touchdown. Ike Hilliard added 7 more catches and is on pace to top 85 receptions for the year.
The Cardinals are a complete mess on the offensive side of the ball. Kurt Warner completed only 33 percent of 30 passing attempts and was only able to salvage the fantasy value of Larry Fitzgerald by finding him 4 times for 95 yards. Edgerrin James was able to muster 15 of the Cardinals staggering rush total of 23 yards, but did save some face by scoring a sympathy touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Given their divisional opponents James, Fitzgerald, and Boldin are all worth starts (just temper your expectations). Even the Cardinals’ defense has little starting value in fantasy-land because though they are fifth against the pass and in the upper half against the run, they are not a top 20 fantasy unit.
• Falcons 20, 49ers 16
Barring a Warrick Dunn injury I do not see how Jerrious Norwood is worth a roster spot for the remainder of the season. Dunn managed to top 100 yards and a score against a reeling San Francisco defense while Norwood was given 6 carries and put on kickoff return duty. Dunn is a flex play at best, but at least he is a flex play. Norwood is much like that beautiful girl in college that never dated anyone. She was good looking and had all the potential in the world but something under the surface was badly wrong. I do not know if he has a contagious disease and is kept off the field as a precaution or if the fantasy football gods simply hate him, but either way you have to cut him loose. Roddy White is a number 3/4 fantasy wide receiver, nothing more.
Even with Frank Gore starting, the 49ers offense was putrid, so it could not look much worse with Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks running the show. Gore is looking like a massive first round bust, as the leader of the NFC West running back flop of the year award. The 49ers probably should have let him rest a couple of weeks ago so that he could be ready to go towards the end of the year. It looks like he might be out for a week or two, and even if he starts you should not do the same. Robinson looks like he is the back worth picking up but I would not expect much from him even in the easiest of matchups down the road. Vernon Davis is the only 49er worth starting, period.
• Bills 33, Bengals 21
Finally, the three Bills players with decent fantasy expectations for the season have come alive! Lee Evans was able to snare 9 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown, as JP Losman looked more like the Bills starter that we all expected at the beginning of the season. Losman is not fantasy starter material yet, but with Miami on the schedule next week he could be a good spot start if you have Tom Brady or Jeff Garcia on a bye (or if you are a Vince Young owner that is kicking him/herself for listening to all the hype). Marshawn Lynch was relatively quiet until the final 5 minutes of the game where he threw for a touchdown to put the Bills ahead and then added a 56 yard touchdown scamper to put the game on ice. This team is not half bad. Remember that they are only an onside kick recovery away from being 5-3…
Where to start? Carson Palmer will get his 250 yards and 2 touchdowns every game. Aside from the disappointment that other elite quarterbacks are out producing him, you know what you are going to get every week. The Bengals run game was completely shut down to the tune of 17 carries for 28 yards, but Kenny Watson is looking like the more productive Bengals back. He caught 7 more balls out of the backfield for 90 yards, and while he is clearly more valuable than Rudi Johnson this season I would call him a flex play for now. Chris Henry looks to be returning from suspension at just the right time to cover for the seemingly injured Chad Johnson. Ocho-Cinco left the game after suffering a neck injury while diving for a pass in the second half. Get Henry cheap now, because if Johnson is out and Henry flourishes you could find yourself a number two receiver – or at least some trade bait!
• Lions 44, Broncos 7
44 unanswered points by the Lions?! The Lions made all the big plays in this game and dominated the Broncos with their improved defensive play. Kevin Jones did not have the monster game that many owners were hoping for but he ran effectively and is further proving that he is worth a start as your number two running back most weeks. John Kitna had a nice game with over 250 yards and 2 touchdown passes, though he is leaving many Roy Williams owners (including yours truly) wondering why he doesn’t give big Roy some love down in the red zone. Williams is slipping from the ranks of an every week starter in shallower leagues, as Kitna keeps spreading touchdowns to Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald, and company. This Lions defensive unit is worth a look against Arizona next week before their schedule gets more difficult.
Mike Shanahan needs a hug. His starting quarterback left the game in the first quarter and is questionable for next week, his number 1 wide receiver is injured indefinitely, and his meat-headed running back will be suspended any week now. Oh yeah, and his shut down corners are not really shutting down anyone. Brandon Marshall is looking like he is the only Bronco worth starting, as evidenced by his 9-catch 96-yard performance which was his sixth game over 70 yards this season. Hopefully he can find the end zone a few more times, but I think this is contingent on the return date and effectiveness of Jay Cutler at the quarterback position. Selvin Young owners can now start salivating a bit more because even when mostly healthy and not yet suspended, Travis Henry is sucking it up. It is only a matter of time now…
• Titans 20, Panthers 7
Tennessee is lucky that their defensive unit is living up to its titanic name, because this offensive group is quite bad. Vince Young looks rattled and confused. With no consistent targets and a questionable running attack behind him, Young should officially be riding the pine on all fantasy teams. LenDale white continues to get lots of carries and eat up the clock while turning in modest yards per carry averages, but he has found pay dirt in 5 of 8 games this year and finds ways to top 100 yards. These facts all add up to White as a number two running back being the only Titan offensive player worth starting on a weekly basis. Roydell Williams was a flash in the pan of the Kerry Collins “era” in Tennessee and is barely worth owning at this point.
DeShaun Foster again received over 80 percent of the carries in the Panthers backfield and was again wholly ineffective. DeAngelo Williams is version 1B of the Jerrious Norwood scenario (see above) though, and is not worth a roster spot even in 12 team leagues. I am no longer in the camp that says you should start Steve Smith on a weekly basis. David Carr has shown an inability to get Smith the ball and is the worst Panther quarterback in that aspect. I think you have to sit Smith for now and hope he can develop a rapport with Carr come fantasy playoff time though, and even that might be a stretch. Steve Beason topped 8 tackles for the fifth time this season and is available in a overwhelming majority of IDP leagues. Go get him if you need linebacker help.
• Packers 33, Chiefs 22
Brett Favre continues to get the job done. He posted 360 passing yards against one of the best pass defenses in the league and added 2 nice scoring tosses to Greg Jennings. Donald Driver is still worth a start but I really like how Favre and Jennings are looking. If you have to pick one of them I think it should be Jennings at this point. Ryan Grant did enough with his 19 carries to keep his starting job, which is all his owners are asking given his soft playoff schedule. If you started Mason Crosby you probably won your game this week, as a 17 point boost from your kicker is always a welcomed sight. I would continue to start him until the Pack proves that they can run effectively in the red zone because there will be plenty of 25-40 yard attempts.
There is good Larry Johnson news and there is bad Larry Johnson news. The good news is that Johnson was able to muster 90 yards and 2 touchdowns against an inspired Packer defense. The bad news is that Johnson injured his foot late in the game and is not looking like he will be able to go next Sunday. Priest Holmes (yes that Priest Holmes) will get a majority of carries in a backup role, but it is rumored that Herm Edwards does not want him topping 20 carries at this stage of his return. Damon Huard played a decent game and kept his team in the thick of things until his terrible interception that was taken to the house by Charles Woodson to ice the game. Tony Gonzalez was the beneficiary of 10 Huard passes and made the most of them with 109 yards and a touchdown. What happened to Dwayne Bowe? Did the Chiefs waive him as quickly as I just did? Just a thought…
• Browns 33, Seahawks 30 (OT)
Everyone knew that defense was going to be optional in this one, and the Browns and Seahawks did not disappoint. Jamal Lewis did his best Jerome Bettis impression Sunday, rushing for 37 yards on 20 carries but adding FOUR touchdowns. He has a nice schedule down the stretch and if he is able to stay healthy that yards-per-carry average might creep up into the 3.2 range to go along with the scoring opportunities. Derek Anderson did not throw a touchdown for the first time this year but was able to post a career high in yardage and added a two-point toss that helped send the game to overtime. The Browns have two tough tests coming up but Anderson should still post fantasy starter numbers. Kellen Winslow had great game with 11 catches for 125 yards and should be started each and every week. Braylon Edwards dropped a few easy balls and still posted 67 yards. Don’t worry about him.
Shaun Alexander is a terrible running back in fantasy and reality right now. I am officially putting the word out that Maurice Morris should be seeing more carries! Alexander is running uninspired and lazy, but it is hard to tell if he is hiding an injury or just being his post-big-contract self. Matt Hasselbeck had a nice game coming off the bye throwing for 318 yards and a pair of scores to DJ Hackett and Bobby Engram. With Deion Branch likely returning next week, it is hard to tell who is going to see the most looks. It is safe to say that Nate Burleson should be an afterthought, but after that it kind of looks like three equal fantasy options. Branch will rack up yardage and receptions but will score less than the other two, while Hackett will stretch the field and break some big plays, which leaves Bobby Engram looking like the best overall option for consistency in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. All three are worth starting as the Seahawks look like a second half version of the pass-happy Packers with a better slot receiver.
• Texans 24, Raiders 17
Doesn’t Ron Dayne do this to the fantasy football community once per year? The former Wisconsin Badger ran for 122 yards and a score on a beleaguered Raiders defense, further proving that Gary Kubiak might be crazier than Mike Shanahan when it comes to creating backfield messes. Ahman Green was active as was his surprising replacement from last week, Adimchinobi Echemandu (what a broadcaster’s dream this name is!), so what happened? Dayne was given 21 of 32 running back carries of course. Though he made the most of them, the Texans have a bye next week and it is anyone’s guess who will start/be effective after that. Flip a coin, a three sided coin… By the way, is Andre Johnson in the witness protection program or something?
Now is the time I stop recommending Michael Bush as a sleeper for the Oakland Raiders in 2007. Justin Fargas has looked quite good in relief of LaMont Jordan as he has topped 100 yards both times he has carried the ball 20 plus times. It seems that the Raiders are content to let Jordan run like no one is chasing him for a couple of weeks, give Fargas a try with good results, and then hand the rock back to Jordan. Unless you are sure that Fargas is the starter, he is nothing more than a high-risk high-reward flex play. He has proved to be the most effective option in the Raiders backfield lately but that is not saying much given his inconsistency in carries. I still would not start any Raider other than Kirk Morrison in IDP leagues.
• Patriots 24, Colts 20
This game did not do much more than cement many facts that we already knew. Tom Brady will throw for over 250 yards and at least 3 touchdowns in every game this season, Randy Moss and Wes Welker will score touchdowns in almost every game this season, and the Patriots running game is a joke. Brady, Moss, and Welker will be missed when on their byes next week but should return even more energized than before. The Colts were able to neutralize the secondary targets of the Patriots and shut down a run game that everyone is shutting down, so for what its worth I expect the Patriots to continue business as usual from here on out. Only the Steelers will give them resistance in the coming weeks. Weather the storm of the byes and then start your Pats with confidence.
The Colts also elucidated many previously known truths. Joseph Addai is the third best back in fantasy and reality football right now, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne will always get their numbers, and the Colts defensive unit is vastly improved. If Manning could have held onto the ball and eaten some clock, the outcome of this game might have been different. Aside from that, Manning had a decent game with 225 yards and 2 total touchdowns. The offensive star of the Colts was Addai with his 112 rush yards, 114 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. He is a legit top 3 pick next season and I am genuinely jealous of anyone who had the stones to grab him in keeper leagues in the 2006 preseason. He will be around Indy for a long time and we should expect more of the same going forward.
• Cowboys 38, Eagles 17
The Cowboys passing trio of Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, and Jason Witten continue to impress as they gel more and more. Owens stole the show with his 10-catch 174-yard performance, but Witten was not to be outdone as he found the end zone along with TO. Romo topped 320 yards and spread 3 scoring tosses to his receiving corps, giving him multiple touchdowns in 7 of 8 games this season. Marion Barber and Julius Jones split carries and both produced almost identical numbers. Barber is a much more valuable start most weeks and is a much better bet to score. He will not have many 100 yard days rushing, but there will be plenty of multi-touchdown games and that makes him gold as a number two fantasy running back. Nick Folk has at least 8 points in every game this year. Consistency from a kicker is much appreciated and this rookie aims to please those who took a gamble on him.
The Eagles are in complete disarray. Their coach is going through a personal crisis and their team stinks. The two things are mutually exclusive as far as I can tell, and the teams lack of success is much more closely tied to injuries on the defensive side of the ball and ineffective outside receivers. Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown were almost invisible all game even though the Eagles were losing from the outset. They ran worthless routes up the sidelines and watched Brian Westbrook haul in 14 catches for a measly 90 yards. Donovan McNabb looks like a shell of his former self and is unable to make any big plays with his legs or his arm. Westbrook is a must-start and is the one bright spot on this team filled with a bunch of spot starts and gambles.
• Steelers 38, Ravens 7
If the Steelers didn’t slow things down a bit and Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t felled by a Terrell Suggs borderline late hit, this game would have been even uglier. Big Ben threw for 5 first half touchdowns and made Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington look very good as he broke away from sacks and made big play after big play. Willie Parker had a tough day running the ball against a Ravens defense that can hardly be held accountable for what happened last night. He is still a good play down the stretch as he is the unquestioned starter and has some favorable matchups. He might be getting rested from week 14 on though, so keep an eye on the playoff scenarios and handcuff Najeh Davenport just in case. Hines Ward is still a top 2 receiving threat on this team and I look for him to bounce back next week against a porous Browns secondary. James Harrison had the game of his life, but is definitely worth a look in IDP leagues.
There is really nothing good to say about the Ravens, so I will focus mainly on the bad. Willis McGahee made the most of his 12 carries, totaling 50 yards and a score, but had to make most of his plays blocking for (and saving the life of) Steve McNair. Unfortunately, Willis took one too many big hits on the Steeler’s bull rushing of the quarterbacks and left the game with an apparent head/neck injury. His status for next week is unknown but even if he does play, I would not expect much. The Ravens offense is absolutely putrid and I mainly blame Steve McNair. His arm strength is gone and it shows in the fact that he did not throw a single pass over 20 yards the entire game. The Ravens will be a more effective, although unspectacular offensive unit with Kyle Boller in the game as the starter. Sadly, based on Brian Billick’s post game comments this is unlikely to happen next week either. Todd Heap might be able to return next week which will help whoever is playing quarterback with another viable target and someone who can fill space in the middle.
Well that wraps up my coverage of the action from week 9. Its time to ice down that throwing arm and hit the research until next weekend. Hopefully this information will help you lead your team to victory in a Brady-like fashion from here on out. I hope to see you all next week and look forward to your feedback and suggestions. Feel free to e-mail or PM me at any time.
Michael Stephens is an avid fantasy sports enthusiast 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 forums where he actively posts under the name of WaCougMBS.
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