StrategyNovember 7, 2009

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Cafe Preview: Halfway Home

By R.J. White

We’re just about to the halfway point of the season, as after this week, 30 teams will have played eight games (with only the Texans and Giants having nine games and an upcoming week off). What do we know? Well, obviously the Saints and Colts have the longest in-season winning streak at 7-0, while the Buccaneers have the longest in-season losing streak.

Behind those teams, the Steelers have the longest winning streak, victorious in their last four, while the Lions have started a brand new losing streak, dropping their last four. Pittsburgh has a tough task ahead in trying to keep the streak going, as a trip to 6-1 Denver for a Monday night game is in the cards. The Lions head to Seattle for what will likely be their fifth straight loss.

The Saints and Colts are one-two in point differential, with the No. 3 team in the category … New England. The Patriots have outscored opponents by 100 points in their seven games. The 0-7 Bucs are just the fourth-worst team in the same category, with Oakland third, Cleveland second, and the St. Louis Rams first.

Fortunately for fans of football, those last three teams are off this week, leaving us with a mostly-competitive slate of games. Let’s check them out now.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati

First and foremost, this game features Ray Rice, the No. 4 RB in football (both in total and average fantasy points), and Cedric Benson, the No. 6 running back in football (again in both in total and average fantasy points). Both defenses do a good job at limiting RB points, but both RBs have scoffed at matchups in the past. Start ‘em both.

Chad Ochocinco has been a top-ten WR this season, while Derrick Mason has cracked the top 20. Joe Flacco checks in as the tenth-best quarterback on average, while Carson Palmer is just behind him at 12. However, Palmer has been the better QB of late. All are great starts, and I’d take Flacco over Palmer by a hair.

Houston @ Indianapolis

Matt Schaub is the second-best QB overall, but Peyton Manning ranks as the second-best QB on average (Schaub is fifth). Both are obvious starts, especially with Indy’s secondary wrought with injuries. Your top fantasy receiver has been Reggie Wayne, and with a 10-point lead over the competition, that’s not likely to change now. Andre Johnson ranks No. 2 overall at the WR position, and he’s, as always, a must start too.

Kevin Walter will look to step up and fill the void left behind by Owen Daniels’ season-ending injury. He makes a very good WR3 play this week. Like my colleagues said recently on the Fantasy Football Cram Session, Austin Collie has become the fantasy asset we thought Anthony Gonzalez would be. Don’t waste your time waiting for Gonzalez.

Ryan Moats has earned the start in this game, but expect to see plenty of Steve Slaton as well. How will the time-share shake out? We really can’t tell you, as it’ll likely completely depend on how each back is performing. I think Slaton will have regained his job by the fantasy playoffs though.

Miami @ New England

Wes Welker has been the second-best receiver in the league on average, while Randy Moss has ranked 11th both on average and over the course of the year. Expect the inexperienced Miami secondary to have a bit of trouble with those two. Conversely, avoid the Dolphins receivers at all costs. Tom Brady has been the third-best QB in the league on average, and the best QB in the league over his last three games. Conversely, Chad Henne ain’t helping you team.

Where Miami has a puncher’s chance is at running back. Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have been top-12 RBs this season. New England has defended the run well, but there’s a big difference between defending the run and defending the wildcat. Miami famously unveiled this new offensive wrinkle last year and used it to dominate the Patriots. How with New England handle it this time around? Will they be ready for Brown’s reportedly improved passing game?

Arizona @ Chicago

Kurt Warner hasn’t been the same since the bye, having a great Week 5 (302 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs), good Week 6 (276 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), mediocre Week 7 (231 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), and awful Week 8 (242 yards, 2 TDs, 5 INTs). He went from Brady mode to Delhomme mode in a matter of weeks. Who shows up this Sunday? I say the Jay Cutler-type Week 6 Warner. Speaking of Cutler, that might be a bit generous of a comparison, as Cutler has thrown six picks versus just three TDs in the last three weeks.

Matt Forte had a huge Week 8, totaling 121 yards and two TDs to climb back into the top-20 at his position. If he has another great game, his owners have to be looking to sell high on the first-rounder. You know who has been better? Tim Hightower. Despite not receiving many carries, he’s scored in four straight games and five of seven overall. His value shoots up in PPR leagues, as he catches on average over five balls per game.

Anquan Boldin went from “highly unlikely to play” to “probably in” in the span of a few days. If he’s in the Cardinals lineup, he needs to be in your lineup. Check the gameday inactive lists in the hour leading up to the game and find out for sure.

Green Bay @ Tampa Bay

Start all your Packers, as Tampa has been giving up big plays routinely this season. Even though Aaron Rodgers is banged up, he’s been the No. 1 QB in the league this year, posting a 14/2 TD/INT ratio in his first seven games while averaging 284 yards. His offensive line suddenly became strengthened with the re-addition of Chad Clifton and addition of Mark Tauscher. Donald Driver is an every-week guy, and Greg Jennings might be getting his spark back. Ryan Grant could and should have a great day as well.

All you really care about in regards to Tampa Bay is the running back situation and Kellen Winslow. Definitely start the TE, and it’s important to note Cadillac Williams has received double-digit carries in the Bucs’ last four games (despite them getting knocked around in each) while last week Derrick Ward finally received over 10 carries for the first time since Week 1 (and didn’t do much with them).

Washington @ Atlanta

Washington comes off a bye with nothing fixed, as their lack of depth at tackle is sure to limit what they can do on offense for the remainder of the year. Sure, you’re probably starting Clinton Portis and Santana Moss this week, but you’re not happy about it.

For the first time last week, Michael Turner ran for 100 yards in a loss. He’s been better and more consistent than I expected, scoring in each of his last six games en route to earning a top-ten ranking so far this year. That scoring streak is unlikely to be snapped this week. Start him, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Matt Ryan (if you don’t have an elite guy).

San Diego @ New York

New York limps toward their bye having lost their last three games, but things are looking up for the running game. I like Brandon Jacobs to have his best game of the season, topping 100 yards for the first time in 2009 and doubling his TD total on the season. For the record, No. 2 back Ahmad Bradshaw has already rushed for 100 or more yards twice and scored twice the number of times as No. 1 back Jacobs.

San Diego has turned into a passing team, with LaDainian Tomlinson just receiving scraps at this point. If you haven’t sold on him yet, what are you waiting for? This matchup also favors the Charger passing game, as injuries to the New York secondary have made them very beatable by air. Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates should have great days, and watch out for sneaky WR3 play Malcom Floyd.

Carolina @ New Orleans

You know all about the Saints: Drew Brees, Marques Colston, the two-headed RB monster, Jeremy Shockey, and for once, a great fantasy defense. With Carolina as the opponent, the key to winning your game could be picking between Pierre Thomas (averaging 12.5 points per game) and Mike Bell (averaging 10 points per game). Against this D, both could be winners.

Carolina has no passing attack to speak of, so any success will have to come through DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. I expect the Saints to take away much of their effectiveness, and this one could turn ugly. Start the Saints D if you can.

Tennessee @ San Francisco

The Titans come off their first win of the season, while the 49ers have been playing teams tough but still losing. At home, the Niners are looking for a big win. Vernon Davis will probably be the most utilized weapon in the passing game and should be started in every league. Michael Crabtree could struggle against an improved Tennessee secondary.

For the Titans, Chris Johnson had another huge week in Week 8, catapulting him to No. 3 in the RB rankings for the year. Johnson has scored multiple times twice, yet score no other TDs in the other five games this season. Against San Francisco, I’d expect the no-TD Johnson to show up. Stay away from the rest of the Titans.

Detroit @ Seattle

The biggest storyline for the Lions has been the health of their marquee players. Matthew Stafford is back, but Kevin Smith has been beaten up all season, while Calvin Johnson is still a “will he play or won’t he” question mark. I could see everyone in, everyone on the same page, and Seattle suffering a little bit of a scare.

For Seattle, the Hasselbeck of old should show up against this bad secondary. Nate Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have both seen plenty of targets this year. I think both will reach the end zone in this high-scoring game. Could this game feature the emergence of running back Justin Forsett?

Dallas @ Philadelphia

Philly rolled through the Giants a week after Dallas rolled through the Giants. Tony Romo is playing the best he’s played in quite a long time, scoring a Brady-Rodgers plethora of points in the last three weeks. Marion Barber has suffered through injury yet been effective, and now Dallas has Roy Williams and Felix Jones back and playing well.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, archnemesis Brian Westbrook will be coming back for this game. Constantly thwarting the Dallas defense, Westbrook should be played in all formats this week. Donovan McNabb has the passing offense rolling (of course, it’s easy when your guys are wide open). I love DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin this week.

Pittsburgh @ Denver

Pittsburgh has stifled rush defenses this year (unsurprising), so you likely want to bench Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter this week. As a matter of fact, the only Bronco that should find his way into starting lineups is Brandon Marshall.

Ben Roethlisberger has found his way back to QB1 status but faces a tough matchup this week. Hines Ward and Heath Miller have been key to his turnaround, while Santonio Holmes owners are kicking themselves for drafting the Super Bowl hero over reliable vet Ward. Rashard Mendenhall is still the starting running back, even with Willie Parker back, but good luck with him this week.

R.J. White is a fantasy blogger at the sports site FanHouse. Check out his work both here and there, and feel free to talk to him in the forums, where he posts under the name daullaz.
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