Monthly Archives: October 2009

Week 7 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 6 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Broncos (add P Mitch Berger) – The Broncos made their first roster move of the regular season by cutting Brett Kern and replacing him with Berger, a veteran who is better at directional kicking than the strong-legged Kern was. Berger filled in for the Steelers last year and got a Super Bowl ring out of the deal, so he’s trying to cherry-pick again with a contender.

Titans (claim P Brett Kern off waivers from Denver, sign RB Alvin Pearman) – Kern wasn’t out of work long. He landed with the Titans, who dropped Reggie Hodges. Hodges had been brought in to replace the injured Craig Hentrich, but his gross average of 39.5 yards and his net average of 31.8 were both at the bottom of the league. Kern’s strong leg will be an upgrade, even if he’s not great directionally. Pearman’s signing was special-teams related as well. He’ll replace return specialist Mark Jones, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury that would have sidelined him a month or more. Jones was brought in a few weeks back to stabilize the Titans’ return game after some costly fumbles, and Tennessee must hope Pearman can do the same. The Titans really miss Chris Carr, who left via free agency after last season to sign with Baltimore.

Subtractions

Jets (put RB Leon Washington on injured reserve) – Washington was a key part of the Jets’ attack as a returner, receiver, and runner, although his performance in ’09 didn’t match the standard he set in ’08. But Washington suffered a broken leg that will end his season. Rookie Shonn Greene replaces Washington on offense, and the Jets brought back CB Justin Miller to take Washington’s role as a returner. Miller, most recently with the Raiders, had some good moments in that role with the Jets especially in 2005 and 2006.

Dolphins (put CB Will Allen on injured reserve) – Allen suffered a torn ACL last week, and it will end his season. Now the Dolphins must rely on rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith to perform at cornerback if they are to have a solid pass defense.

Seahawks (put OT Walter Jones and LB Lofa Tatupu on injured reserve) – Jones hasn’t played this year because of a lingering knee injury, and the Seahawks finally gave up the ghost and put him on injured reserve. While the 2009 impact of this transaction isn’t significant, it is important because it could mark the end of a Hall of Fame career for Jones. Tatupu’s season-ending pectoral injury is far more important to the ’09 Seahawks. He is the playmaker and signal caller in the middle of the defense, and he’s now falling apart. With Tatupu and Leroy Hill out, the Seahawks LB corps has been gutted to the point that rookie Aaron Curry must become a big-time playmaker. This may speed Curry’s development a bit, but it won’t help the Hawks win this year.

49ers (put OT Tony Pashos on injured reserve) – Pashos joined the 49ers from Jacksonville in the offseason and became the team’s starting right tackle. But he suffered a fractured scapula and will have to miss the rest of the season. The 49ers can use Barry Sims to replace Pashos, or they can shuffle the line to move someone outside. They signed Chris Patrick off the Chiefs’ practice squad to take Pashos’ roster spot. The Niners also cut LB Marques Harris and promoted training-camp phenom Diyral Biggs from the practice squad.

Falcons (put rookie S William Moore on injured reserve) – Moore, the Falcons’ second-round pick, played in only two games before a hamstring injury ended his season. The Falcons’ top two draft picks, Moore and DT Peria Jerry, are now out for the season, limiting their development along with their ability to help a defense that was rebuilding. To replace Moore on the roster, Atlanta signed veteran RB Aaron Stecker, who will help provide depth with Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling both banged up.

Eagles (put LB Omar Gaither on injured reserve) – Gaither started three games at middle linebacker for the Eagles early this season, but he got hurt two weeks ago vs. Oakland with a listfranc foot injury that will end his season. Will Witherspoon replaced him last week, and this week the Eagles put Gaither on IR. To replace Gaither on the roster, Philly signed RB P.J. Hill off the Saints’ practice squad as insurance against Brian Westbrook’s injury.

Saints (put FB Heath Evans on injured reserve) – Evans was a role player on the Saints’ offense at fullback, and he had three touchdowns in the first six games of the season. But a torn right ACL ends his season. To replace him, the Saints added journeyman fullback Kyle Eckel.

Buccaneers (cut OG Marcus Johnson) – Johnson, a backup guard for the Bucs, was released Tuesday after being arrested on charges of driving under the influence.

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Suicide Pool Suggestions – Week 8

We cashed in the Colts last week over the Rams, and took an easy win in the two spot with the Pats over the Bucs and in the three spot with the Eagles over the Redskins. Both of our traps to avoid ended up as predictable blowouts, so that info wasn’t great, but it didn’t knock anyone out, at least. On to this week’s picks.

1. Chicago over Cleveland – Yes, the Bears have lost two straight, but those were both on the road, and they were both against good (or better) teams. Now they return home to take out their frustrations on an awful Cleveland team. You won’t get many better chances to use a so-so team and feel so comfortable about it, so go for the Bears here.

2. Arizona over Carolina – The Cardinals have lost twice at home already, but the way their defense is playing, they won’t lose at home to a Jake Delhomme-led team. Remember that the Birds started Jake’s meltdown in the playoffs last year. The bottom line is that this game matches a good team against a not-good team. That’s the kind of recipe you’re looking for in suicide pools.

3. San Diego over Oakland – The season-opening game between these teams was close, but that was in the Black Hole. The Raiders are coming off an awful performance, while the Chargers easily dispatched a bad K.C. team in Arrowhead last year. This is another good vs. bad matchup that makes for an appealing suicide matchup.

Traps to avoid: Detroit over St. Louis, Houston at Buffalo – The Lions look like a sneaky pick because they have played better than the Rams thus far this year and are at home, but with Calvin Johnson still hurting you just can’t pick the Lions. The Texans have been playing well, but the Bills have won two straight and been competitive. That’s a game you just shouldn’t mess with.

Week 7: W Indianapolis (over St. Louis)
Week 6: L Jets (vs. Buffalo)
Week 5: W Philadelphia (over Tampa Bay)
Week 4: W San Francisco (over St. Louis)
Week 3: L Houston (vs. Jacksonville)
Week 2: L Jacksonville (vs. Arizona)
Week 1: W New Orleans (over Detroit)

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Pick ’em – Week 8

The colleges continue to bedevil us, while our pro picks last week were just blah. Try, try again…

NCAA
Ole Miss -3.5 at Auburn
California -6.5 at Arizona State
Georgia +15 vs. Florida (at Jacksonville)
Miami -7 at Wake Forest
South Carolina +6 at Tennessee
Oklahoma State +9 vs. Texas
Oregon +3.5 vs. USC

NFL
Indianapolis -13 vs. San Francisco
Miami +3.5 at N.Y. Jets
N.Y. Giants +1 at Philadelphia
Baltimore -3 vs. Denver
Minnesota +3 at Green Bay
Atlanta +10 at New Orleans

Last week – 3-8 college, 2-3-1 pro
Season 32-49-1 college, 21-27-1 pro, 53-76-1 overall

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Applaud or a Fraud – Emerging Quarterbacks

Yesterday, we went back through our preseason top-15 quarterback rankings to determine whether fantasy owners should applaud these backs or consider them frauds going forward. You can read that post here.

In this post, we’re going to look at quarterbacks outside of the preseason top-15 and determine whether we should applaud these signal callers or consider their numbers fraudulent. Read the individual reports to see whether the verdicts mean you should start a player, hold him on your bench, pick him up, or drop him. We’ve listed these players alphabetically.

Jason Campbell, Redskins – Campbell’s performance on the field has been awful, but his fantasy numbers have been surprisingly good. He has thrown eight TD passes and run for a score, and he’s averaging 212 passing yards and 20 rushing yards per game. Those numbers would work for fantasy owners, but face it – would you trust Campbell to produce a decent game if you had to put him in your lineup? The answer is no, especially given the coaching upheaval in D.C. So while Campbell would get polite applause for his fantasy performance so far, we can’t clap for him going forward. Verdict: A fraud

Matt Cassel, Chiefs – Cassel was a bit of a sleeper prospect entering the season, but his numbers so far – 8 passing TDs, 165 passing yards per game, and 21 rushing yards per game – are simple backup numbers. Cassel has potential going forward, but the Chiefs have to improve their offensive line before Cassel becomes a fantasy factor. He’s simply what we thought coming into the season – a borderline top 20 quarterback. So we’ll clap for that and nothing more. Verdict: Applaud

Jake Delhomme, Panthers – Jake the Snake snuck back into the top-20 in the league in passing yards this week, and that’s the reason we’re including him in this post. But his numbers – 4 touchdowns (vs. 13 interceptions) and 195 yards per game – don’t merit fantasy consideration. Throw in the possibility of benching, and you want to stay away. Verdict: A fraud

Joe Flacco, Ravens – Flacco is the quarterback who has emerged as a fantasy starter this season. He’s in the top 10 in the league in passing yards with 1,674, which is 279 per game. He also has 11 touchdowns in 6 games. He’s now a top-10 fantasy quarterback, and he’s still getting better. He gets the biggest applause of any of these sleeper quarterbacks. Verdict: Applaud

David Garrard, Jaguars – Some really good fantasy analysts, most notably ESPN’s Matthew Berry, bang the drum loudly for Garrard. I just don’t get it. He has just five passing TDs and one rushing touchdown thus far this season. His yardage totals are OK – 209 passing yards and 20 rushing yards per game – but that’s not enough to make him a starter. To me, Garrard’s on the borderline of the top 15. We’ll clap for that, since we had him outside that level before the season, but don’t get crazy on what Garrard can do in your lineup. Verdict: Applaud

Eli Manning, Giants – Manning got off to a great start, even without Plaxico Burress, throwing 12 TD passes in his first seven games and passing for 233 yards per game. Those are borderline numbers for a starting fantasy quarterback. Eli typically has a late-season swoon, so we don’t want to get our head out over our skis too much, but it’s reasonable to project Eli as a top-15 fantasy quarterback going forward. If he’s your backup, he’s a great option – even if he’s backing up an injury risk like Donovan McNabb or Matt Schaub. That’s a role we can clap for. Verdict: Applaud

Kyle Orton, Broncos – If not for Flacco’s emergence, Orton would be the biggest surprise among fantasy quarterbacks. He’s thrown for 9 TDs in six games and averaged 244 yards per game. Those are solid fantasy numbers that put him in the top 15 overall, and Orton seems to be getting better as he starts to build a better rapport with Brandon Marshall. Orton, like Eli Manning, is a solid backup option for fantasy owners, and he won’t kill you if you have to start him. Verdict: Applaud

Mark Sanchez, Jets – It’s already been a tale of two seasons for the rookie San-chise, as he had a great start and then three awful games before bouncing back a bit last week vs. Oakland. On the whole, Sanchez’s numbers are not good enough for fantasy owners – 6 passing TDs and two rushing TDs, plus 178 passing yards per game. That makes Sanchez a borderline backup in normal-sized leagues. Sanchez has performed well on the field, and he oozes potential, but it’s too soon for fantasy owners. Verdict: A fraud

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Applaud or a Fraud – Top 15 Quarterbacks

Over these midseason weeks, we have taken our preseason draft board and break down the top players at each position in an effort to determine which players are living up to their draft status, which are surpassing their draft status, and which are falling below their draft status. We’ll use our Applaud or a Fraud titles to compare these players vs. preseason expectations, but you’ll want to read each player’s report to see what the verdict means for him.

We’ve already done this with the top 35 running backs and emerging running backs; with the top 35 wide receivers and emerging wide receivers; and with the top 10 tight ends and emerging tight ends.  Now we turn to the top 15 quarterbacks from our preseason draft board.

As a companion to this piece, we’ll look at the top quarterbacks who weren’t in our top 15 before the season and try to determine whether we should applaud them or consider them frauds for the rest of the season. Watch for that post tomorrow.

1. Drew Brees, Saints – So far, too good. Brees has been ridiculous thus far this season with 14 passing TDs and two rushing TDs in six games, plus nearly 1,700 passing yards (283 per game). Those who made Brees the No. 1 fantasy QB haven’t been disappointed in the least. Verdict: Applaud

2. Tom Brady, Patriots – Tom Terrific had a bit of a slow start, but he has been gangbusters the last two weeks with 10 combined touchdowns. On the season, he has 15 passing touchdowns (2.5 per game) plus one via the ground. He is also passing for 290 yards per game, which is a great total. He’s back to being an elite fantasy quarterback. Verdict: Applaud

3. Peyton Manning, Colts – Before the season, we saw Manning slipping a notch below Brady and Brees. That hasn’t happened. Peyton has 15 passing touchdowns in the first six games of his season, and he’s averaging a whopping 313 passing yards per game. Once again, Peyton is the kind of quarterback who can carry a fantasy team. Verdict: Applaud

4. Kurt Warner, Cardinals – Warner’s total of nine touchdowns in six games is a little below the elite guys, but he’s throwing for 279 yards per game, which is more than fine. He’s not the fourth overall quarterback from a fantasy standpoint, but he’s an above-average starter, and that’s good enough for applause, even if it isn’t a rousing round. Verdict: Applaud

5. Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers was a revelation for fantasy owners last year, but so far this year he’s been a little more ordinary than extraordinary. The numbers are fine – 10 passing touchdowns and one rushing TD in six games, plus 298 passing yards per game, but that’s not enough to move him among the elite. Still, if you drafted Rivers to be an upper-to-mid level starting fantasy quarterback, you got what you wanted. Verdict: Applaud

6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers has gotten the crap beaten out of him behind a horrendous offensive line, but he’s still produced 11 passing touchdowns (plus a two-point conversion) and one rushing TD while averaging 283 passing yards per game. Those are numbers on par with Rivers and Warner, so you can’t really complain about what Rodgers has given you. He’s a young quarterback who continues to establish himself as a solid fantasy starter. The offensive line problems make you a little nervous going forward, but Rodgers has survived them so far. Verdict: Applaud

7. Tony Romo, Cowboys – Romo’s numbers aren’t as good as the other Rs (Rodgers, Rivers, and Roethlisberger), but he’s been OK with nine passing TDs, one rushing TD, and 275 passing yards per game. He’s more of a mid-pack fantasy starter than an upper-end guy, but that’s where we rated him. We won’t complain about his production. And now that Miles Austin is emerging, Romo might actually have an elite target again, which is a good sign going forward. Verdict: Applaud

8. Donovan McNabb, Eagles – McNabb’s injury history caused us to rate him a tier below the other elite producers, and that’s proven to be wise. He missed two full games, leaving fantasy owners in the lurch. When McNabb has played, he’s been fine – nine passing TDs, one rushing TD, and 192 passing yards pr game. But there are guys below him on this list – namely Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub – who have been better options even when you leave out the games McNabb missed. That has pushed McNabb to the borderline of fantasy starters, and that’s the reason we’ll give him a slight thumbs down. We just don’t feel wholly comfortable throwing our lot in with McNabb as a starter going forward. Verdict: A fraud

9. Matt Schaub, Texans – Everybody knew that Schaub could put up numbers if he stays healthy, and thus far this season Schaub has done both of those things. The results have been stunning – in 7 games, Schaub has 16 passing touchdowns and is throwing for 296 yards per game. Those numbers actually are a little better than what even Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are producing. The injury risk is still there, but owners are getting so much upside for taking that risk right now that it’s more than worth it. Verdict: Applaud

10. Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler’s gross numbers have been OK so far – 11 passing TDs, a two-point conversion, and a rushing TD in seven games, plus 207 yards per game – but he’s not a fantasy starter when you compare him to guys below him on the list like Ben Roethlisberger (or guys off the list like Joe Flacco). Cutler still has upside, and his receivers are improving, but right now he hasn’t earned this ranking as a starting fantasy quarterback. Verdict: A fraud

11. Matt Ryan, Falcons – Ryan’s numbers are OK – 11 passing touchdowns and one rushing TD in six games, plus 227 passing yards per game. If you’re starting Ryan in a larger league, you have a lower-level starting quarterback, but that’s what this ranking foretold. Ryan hasn’t exceeded our expectations, but he has met them, and he should continue to do so with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez on board. Verdict: Applaud

12. Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer’s 5-touchdown game against the Bears this week makes his numbers look much better. On the whole, in 7 games he has 13 passing touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and a rushing touchdown, plus 230 yards per game. Those numbers, like Matt Ryan’s, are OK for a marginal starter in a larger league or for a top-quality backup. Palmer’s performance has been more up and down, but on the whole he was ranked pretty much in the right spot. Verdict: Applaud

13. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – Big Ben has been better than a fantasy backup this year, with 11 passing TDs and two rushing touchdowns plus 295 passing yards per game. The Steelers are relying on Big Ben’s big arm much more this year than they have in past years, and his corps of targets is better than ever. He’s a fantasy starter now, and that means he’s surpassed the ranking we gave him before the season. Verdict: Applaud

14. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – Injury risk caused us to rank Hasselbeck lower than we thought his production might merit this season, and that caveat saved us from an even bigger mistake. In the four games he’s played in, he has seven passing touchdowns and 182 passing yards per game, but that’s just OK, even at this level. Plus, his offensive line is still beaten up, which doesn’t bode well. If you have a marginal quarterback and Hasselbeck as your backup, you’re not feeling too secure right now. And that means we must give him a thumbs down in fantasy terms. Verdict: A fraud

15. Brett Favre, Vikings – It was hard for us to decide where to rank Favre before the season, and we finally settled at this spot – a mid-level producer among NFL starters. He’s been a little better than that with 12 touchdowns in seven games plus 240 yards per game. Favre is still only a marginal fantasy starter, but given this rating he’s lived up to expectations. So the 40-year-old Spanx gets a hand clap. Verdict: Applaud

 

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FR: Week 7

Here is our Football Relativity comparison after Week Seven. We’ve noted where we’ve moved teams up a level or down a level from the Week Six comparison.

10 – Indianapolis Colts (UP A LEVEL), New Orleans Saints – We moved the Colts up after their convincing win in St. Louis because it was their fourth straight time dropping the hammer on an inferior opponent. Their win in Arizona is looking better and better as well. I picked the Colts to decline this year, and boy, was I wrong. The Saints moved up to the top level last week and held on with a furious rally to win in Miami. That’s another impressive win. These are the best offenses in the league, and their defenses are good enough to make the overall picture pretty scary. We’ll see how scary as the Colts host the Niners and the Saints host the Falcons this week, because both games could be tests.

9 – Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers (UP A LEVEL) – The Steelers knocked off the Vikings at home. That’s not a bad loss for Minnesota, although it stings to give up two fourth-quarter defensive touchdowns in a loss. It’s a good win for the Steelers, who are starting to reestablish themselves as a top-level team now that Troy Polamalu is back. The Patriots blew out the Buccaneers in jolly ol’ England and are looking to be more of an offensive juggernaut than at any point this season. The Giants lost at home to the Cardinals, and we thought about moving them down, but we’ll leave the G-men in place for now. The spate of defensive injuries they have had is starting to take a toll, though, and that’s a situation they need to overcome if they’re going to contend over the long haul.

8 – Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos – The Falcons lost in Dallas, which isn’t a horrible loss, but the problems on pass defense are troubling. Maybe the loss of CB Brian Williams was a bigger deal than most of us thought. That’s not a good sign as they head into New Orleans Monday night. The Ravens and Broncos enjoyed their byes this week. They face off this week in a game the Ravens must have to break a three-game losing streak and remain strong playoff contenders.

7 – Arizona Cardinals (UP A LEVEL), Cincinnati Bengals (UP A LEVEL), Dallas Cowboys (UP A LEVEL), New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles – The Cardinals had the most impressive road win of the week by winning in the Meadowlands Sunday night. They are now 3-0 on the road in Jacksonville, Seattle, and New York. That’s the sign of a pretty good team. Arizona’s defense has been a nice surprise this year. Cincinnati’s defense has been a nice surprise as well, and the Bengals showed they are for real by blitzing Chicago (USFL reference) 45-10. Dallas got a good home win against the Falcons. That’s the Cowboys first marquee win of the year and a sign that they’re more than a fringe playoff contender. The Jets, like the Cardinals, overcame their personal house of horrors by shutting out the Raiders 38-0. They have a chance to solidify playoff positioning by getting revenge against the Dolphins this week. The Eagles bounced back from last week’s awful loss in Oakland with a handy victory at Washington to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt.

6 – Chicago Bears (DOWN A LEVEL), Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans (UP A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers – The Packers and Chargers went on the road and beat up on horrible teams in the Browns and Chiefs, respectively. Those are the kinds of wins that restore confidence and keep teams on track for playoff runs. Green Bay holding the Browns without a sack was a great sign as well. The Texans got their record above .500 by holding off the 49ers in the second half. Houston is in the running for its first-ever winning season thanks to an offense that is in the top quarter of the league. The Dolphins blew a big chance against the Saints, much like they did earlier this season against the Colts, but the fact that it was close shows that Miami is still a dangerous team. We still can’t rule out a playoff run (or swim?) from the ‘Fins. The Bears laid a complete egg in Cincinnati, and they desperately need a win to right the ship. A home game against the Browns this week should do the trick.

5 – San Francisco 49ers (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Niners lost at Houston, and there’s no shame in that, but they had to change quarterbacks. Worse, it’s their third straight loss, and they head into Indianapolis this week. A promising start is slipping away – especially as the Cardinals continue to show strength.

4 – Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks – Both the Jags and the Seahawks were on bye this week. Jacksonville can move up a level and stay on the cusp of playoff contender if it can continue the Titans’ misery in Nashville this week. The Seahawks travel to Dallas, which looks like a tough task after the Cowboys beat the Falcons this week.

3 – Carolina Panthers (DOWN A LEVEL), Buffalo Bills – The Panthers were trying to build a three-game winning streak, but they shot themselves in the foot over and over and blew a game against the Bills that they should have won. Buffalo isn’t a true contender, but they are showing some life on defense, and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is a slight improvement over Trent Edwards. But Dick Jauron needs many more wins to save his job, and those wins still look unlikely.

2 – Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins – Welcome to the dregs. The Browns, Chiefs, and Raiders all got blasted, while the Lions and Titans were on bye. The Redskins got down early at home against the Eagles and never really mounted a comeback. These teams show occasional friskiness, but they’re not really competitive.

1 – St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – These teams aren’t competitive either, but we’re still waiting on signs of any friskiness from them. Poor Ram and Buc fans…

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 7

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And if we’re changing a past recommendation, we’ll include it here as well.

Quarterbacks

Jake Delhomme, Panthers – Delhomme threw for 325 yards, but he also threw three more interceptions. A benching is a possibility. So don’t get fooled and pick up Delhomme based on this yardage total. He’s not ownable unless all 32 starting quarterbacks are owned in your league. Verdict: A fraud

Brett Favre, Vikings – We discussed Favre in more detail in this post. We’re giving him thumbs-down as a top-12 fantasy quarterback. Verdict: A fraud

Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer threw five TD passes in the Bengals’ blowout of the Bears. He’s now thrown 13 TD passes on the year, which is just less than 2 per game, and has 1,608 passing yards. We’ll talk more about Palmer in a post later this week, but for now we’ll say he still falls just outside the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks. That means we have to give him a very measured thumbs-down as a starting fantasy quarterback. Verdict: A fraud

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – We discussed Roethlisberger in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Verdict: Applaud

Alex Smith, 49ers – The 49ers pulled starter Shaun Hill at halftime and replaced him with Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick. Smith responded with a sharp performance, throwing three TD passes to Vernon Davis and going 15-for-22 for 206 yards. Note that the 49ers were down 21 when Smith came in, so he got to throw a lot more than the 49ers usually want to, but his performance will make him a starter next week at least. If you need a fill-in quarterback, Smith is now a pickup option. Verdict: Applaud

Running Backs

Justin Fargas, Raiders – Fargas had 67 yards rushing and 90 yards from scrimmage this week against the Jets, marking his second straight game with at least 90 yards. He’s the Raiders back you want, at least until Darren McFadden returns. Fargas is also a borderline fantasy No. 3 back and a possible starter given your bye week and injury situation. Verdict: Applaud

Shonn Greene, Jets – Greene, a rookie out of Iowa, busted out with 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders Sunday. One of the factors was the blowout, which gave the rookie more opportunity. But the fact that Leon Washington suffered a season-ending injury is a bigger factor. Greene must be picked up this week, because he immediately assumes a fantasy role for the Jets. We’ll have to see whether that role makes him flex-position worthy going forward, but grab Greene now and figure out the rest later. Verdict: Applaud

Steven Jackson, Rams – Even on a bad team, Jackson continues to produce good yardage for fantasy owners. He had 134 yards in St. Louis’ loss to Indy and has at least 85 yards from scrimmage in each game since Week 2. The touchdowns aren’t coming, but Jackson is still a top-10 fantasy back. I’d much rather have him than LaDanian Tomlinson (see below). Verdict: Applaud

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – We discussed Mendenhall in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-20 fantasy running back – but barely. Verdict: Applaud

Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles had a 58-yard touchdown catch along with 41 receiving yards against the Chiefs, but he had just eight total offensive touches. Now that Tomlinson is healthy, Sproles’ chances have really slipped off, and that’s a problem for fantasy owners. Sproles is worth owning, but it’s going to be hard to start him in normal-sized leagues (12 teams or less) unless Tomlinson gets hurt again. Verdict: A fraud

LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – At one point late in Sunday’s game, Chris Mortenson tweeted that Tomlinson had seven goal-line carries without a touchdown. That’s a bad sign for a player who once made his mark as the premier scoring machine in the league. Tomlinson has just one touchdown this year, and it looks like that stat is more of a trend than a fluke. Tomlinson had 71 rushing yards and and two receiving yards, and he can do a little better than that, but he’s no longer a top 10 fantasy back. He could fall out of the top 20 soon. It’s over, folks. Verdict: A fraud

Ricky Williams, Dolphins – Williams has quietly had a good season, and that quiet season got loud Sunday when he ran for 80 yards and three touchdowns vs. the Saints. Even as he shares time with Ronnie Brown, Williams is a borderline fantasy starter and a great flex option on a weekly basis. Don’t forget about him. Verdict: Applaud

Wide Receivers

Sam Aiken, Patriots – With Joey Galloway gone, Aiken steps into the role of the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver. He took advantage with a 54-yard touchdown in London vs. Tampa Bay, his first score in his seven-year career. Aiken, who finished with two catches for 66 yards, is still behind TE Benjamin Watson in the pecking order from a fantasy perspective, and rookie Brandon Tate (a recent activation from the physically-unable-to-perform list) could surpass his fellow UNC alum, but for now Aiken has his chance. Given how the Pats’ offense is rolling now, that makes him worth a claim in leagues of 12 teams or more just in case he turns into a regular part of the offense. Verdict: Applaud

Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin went from a fantasy supersleeper three weeks ago to a breakout player last week to the point where he’s now a guy you must start. He may not have two touchdowns or 170-plus yards every week like he has the last couple of weeks, but he’s clearly the Cowboys’ best receiver. Right now fantasy owners should start him no matter what. Verdict: Applaud

David Clowney, Jets – Clowney has long been a receiver the Jets (and fantasy owners) thought would be good, and he finally broke out this week with 79 yards and a touchdown vs. the Raiders. Clowney has two four-catch games this year, but those are his only eight grabs of the year. He’s worth claiming in large (14 teams or more) leagues, but that’s all we can recommend with him right now. Verdict: A fraud

Michael Crabtree, 49ers – In his NFL debut, Crabtree had a nice fantasy game with 66 yards on five catches. Don’t get carried away and start Crabtree – remember, the 49ers were in comeback mode most of the game – but he’s worth picking up if he’s still available in your league. Verdict: Applaud

Donald Driver, Packers – Driver had his third touchdown of the season against Cleveland, and he now has at least 55 yards receiving in each game since Week 2. He’s the top fantasy receiver in Green Bay, not Greg Jennings, and therefore a guy you can feel comfortable starting every week. Verdict: Applaud

Malcom Floyd, Chargers – Floyd has been a fantasy afterthought, but he has emerged as the Chargers’ No. 2 wideout over Chris Chambers. He has been up and down this year, with a no-catch game and a one-catch game, but he had at least 45 yards in his other three games, and he ha his first touchdown of the season Sunday vs. the Chiefs. But he had just two catches for nine yards. He’s a name to know, but he’s not worth a waiver claim yet. Verdict: A fraud

Brian Hartline, Dolphins – The rookie out of Ohio State had three catches for 94 yards against the Saints, more than doubling his season total for receiving yards. He’s an interesting prospect, but his fantasy relevance probably will arrive in 2010, not this year. Verdict: A fraud

Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – Good ol’ 8-5 had 10 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns this week, affirming that he is back to being a No. 1 fantasy wideout. He’s a top-10 guy going forward. Verdict: Applaud

Sidney Rice, Vikings – We discussed Rice in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-25 fantasy wide receiver and an every-week fantasy starter. Verdict: Applaud

Bobby Wade, Chiefs – Wade, the former Viking who landed with the Chiefs after the season started, has become a solid option for K.C. He had four catches for 66 yards against the Chargers, which was his second-best game of the season. Wade won’t pile up big numbers, but if you’re desperate for a receiver in a league of 14 teams or more, he’s a nice option. Otherwise, stay away. Verdict: A fraud

Mike Wallace, Steelers – We discussed Wallace in more detail in this post. We’re clapping for him as a top-40 fantasy wideout and therefore someone who is worth a roster spot. Verdict: Applaud

Tight Ends

Gary Barnidge, Panthers – The Panthers’ tight end corps is confusing. Dante Rosario and Jeff King each have touchdowns this season, and Barnidge piled up 77 yards against the Bills this week. But note that Sunday’s three catches were Barnidge’s first three of the year and that most of his yardage came on one 52-yard catch and run. Don’t get fooled by this stat line. Verdict: A fraud

Vernon Davis, 49ers – We recommended Davis last week, and he blew up this week with 7 catches for 93 yards and three TDs. It’s silly to predict that much scoring on a weekly basis, but he’s a startable tight end in any fantasy league. The potential is now production. Verdict: Applaud

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Rise/Sink/Float Week 7

Each Monday, we’ll look at 3 teams that are rising, sinking, and floating in our Football Relativity comparison. We’ll update the full comparison tomorrow.

Rise – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts continued their trend of taking care of business by thumping the Rams 42-6 on the road Sunday. Indy hasn’t had many showdown games, aside from the first two games of the season in which they edged Jacksonville and Miami, but the Colts are whipping bad teams like the Rams, the Titans, and the Seahawks. That’s the sign of the good team. They also have a convincing road win at Arizona. Until someone slows them down, we have no choice but to include the Colts among the league’s very best.

Sink – Chicago Bears – The Bears had hung in and played well on the road, even though they lost both at Green Bay and at Atlanta last week. But at Cincinnati, they laid a complete egg and got their doors blown off 45-10. That’s not the kind of performance that gives us confidence that the Bears can compete for a playoff spot. And when you consider that the Bengals had already lost twice at home, Chicago’s performance looks all the more putrid. That was a bad day at the office for the Bears.

Float – San Diego Chargers – The Chargers, after a crushing home loss to the Broncos, bounced back by whipping the Chiefs in Arrowhead. That’s a good sign of a bounce back, but it’s not enough to claim that the Chargers are anything more than a playoff contender. At 3-3, staring up at Denver in the AFC West standings, the Chargers still have a big hill to climb. Sunday’s step was more like preventing a fall down the hill than significant progress upward.

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Vikings/Steelers thoughts

A few thoughts on the Week 7 game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. The Steelers took advantage of two defensive touchdowns to hand the Vikings their first loss 27-17.

On-field perspective
*Playing without CB Antoine Winfield will really hurt the Vikings. They looked really vulnerable late in last week’s game against the Ravens, and this week the Steelers were able to find some holes in the secondary, especially to rookie Mike Wallace. Winfield’s absence is especially noticeable because the depth with Benny Sapp, Karl Paymah, and rookie Asher Allen is less than ideal.
*The Steelers are now a pass-first team, not a run-first team. They showed as much on a third-quarter possession where they got first-and-goal at the 8-yard line and tried two passes (along with a busted play). The next time the Steelers got an and-goal situation, Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on first down after diving to get over the 5-yard line, not the goal line. Ben Roethlisberger is having a great year, and that’s not just a benefit for the Steelers – it’s a necessity. They can’t win without him moving the ball via the air.
*Mendenhall has taken over as the Steelers’ running back, and that’s not really a good thing. Mendenhall’s straight-up running style isn’t ideal for inside runs, and he’s lacking as a blocker and a receiver. He’s just not a special back. He looked good on off-tackle runs and tosses against the Vikes but not so great on inside runs. His total of 69 yards on 10 carries shows that lack of consistency. The difference between Mendenhall and an elite back like Adrian Peterson is staggering. Even the old-school Steelers combo of Fast Willie Parker and the Bus Jerome Bettis offered much more than Mendenhall can at this point.
*While the Steelers are a pass-first team, the most special thing Vikings is Peterson. When he gets going, he can carry the team. Plus, he can run over guys, like he did with William Gay in the two-minute drill at the end of the game. He’s the X-factor that takes the Vikings from good to great. Brett Favre (aka Spanx) can’t carry the team, although he can help. But Favre needs to be the spice, not the entree. The fact that the Vikings threw twice on and-goal plays from the 1-yard-line in the third quarter (and had to settle for a field goal) is almost criminal. Then Favre’s fumble in the red zone in the fourth quarter led to Lamarr Woodley’s defensive touchdown. The Steelers’ second defensive TD by Keyaron Fox wasn’t Favre’s fault, but the first was.
*One of the most fascinating things about the game was Favre’s propensity to look for rookie Percy Harvin on third-down plays. He targeted Harvin on at least six third-down throws in the first half, and it paid off with a 28-yard gain that sparked the Vikes’ first scoring drive. That’s a vital role for a guy with just seven games of pro experience, but it speaks to how dangerous and prepared Harvin truly is. Harvin isn’t just a dangerous kickoff returner, as he showed with his second return TD of the season, he’s also an effective receiver.
*Wide receiver Bernard Berrian was a big-money signee by the Vikings just two offseasons ago, but he’s becoming less and less relevant in the offense. He had fallen behind Harvin and Sidney Rice in the receiving pecking order even before he suffered a first-half hamstring injury. The Vikings look to Berrian scheme-wise to try to get a big play out of him, and he’s capable of doing that, but they don’t appear to rely on him on conversion plays. That’s the role of a speciality player, not a stalwart. It’s not a coincidence that Rice had 11 catches for 136 yards, not to mention a touchdown that was called back, because Rice is the Vikings’ No. 1 wideout.
*Vikings DT Kevin Williams might be the most underrated defensive tackle in the league. We hear a lot about DE Jared Allen, who is a force, while we lump Kevin in with Pat as the Williams wall. Pat Williams is a big run-stuffer, but Kevin Williams is more than that. He’s a penetrator inside who can also make plays in space. Don’t sleep on him.
*On the other side of the ledger, it’s clear that S Troy Polamalu is what makes the Steelers’ secondary special. When he was out, Pittsburgh looked vulnerable. But with Polamalu back in there, there’s suddenly fewer holes and more danger for opposing passing games. That’s the sign of an impact player.
*One young player who adds a lot to the Pittsburgh offense is rookie wideout Wallace, who had 91 total yards and a touchdown. Wallace has speed and he’s already proving to be dependable in big spots. It seems like he makes big plays every week, as he did twice in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. He’s an outstanding third receiver for Pittsburgh.
*Minnesota has two rookies playing prominent roles in Harvin and ORT Phil Loadholt, who is very appropriately named. Loadholt and Bryant McKinnie, his fellow tackle, take gigantic to another level. But the best player on the line is OLG Steve Hutchinson, whose false-start penalty in the fourth quarter was his first flag in 27 games. That’s consistency from a guy who’s also a great blocker for the run and the pass. No wonder the Vikings made him the highest-paid guard in the league.

Fantasy Football perspective
*While we don’t like Mendenhall’s running style, as long as he’s the starter he’s still a top-25 running back. He’s going to compile enough numbers to be a solid fantasy starter, but you can’t count on him to carry your team.
*Roethlisberger is a top-10 fantasy quarterback, while Favre is outside of that tier. Favre threw for 334 yards in this game, but that total was padded by two late drives in comeback mode. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger’s solid day was probably about as bad a fantasy day as he can have, and if that’s the case he’s a solid starter.
*What we’re seeing about Berrian’s role should be a big red flag to fantasy owners, even bigger than his injury in this game. At this point, I’d take both Rice and Harvin over Berrian in fantasy leagues – and that would be the case even if Berrian were healthy.
*For Pittsburgh, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes remain above Wallace in the fantasy pecking order, but Wallace is a top-40 wideout going forward. He’s a nice sleeper play, especially against a bad passing D or a defense who is missing a major player like the Vikings’ was. Ward didn’t have a big game in this one, while Holmes had 59 yards.
*We raved about TEs Heath Miller of Pittsburgh and Visanthe Shiancoe of Minnesota in this post last week. Even though neither had a huge game in this one, we stick by our recommendations of both to fantasy owners.

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Meet Spanx

My brother Chase thinks there’s a curse. We’ve given two guys nicknames on this blog – Kris Jenkins (aka Jackpot) and Pisa Tinoisamoa (aka the Tower). Both went on injured reserve this week with injuries.

We decided that we must test this curse theory. Is FootballRelativity.com the new Madden video-game cover? Or is there just an eerie coincidence? One thing is for certain – the best way to test this is with the most durable quarterback of all-time — Brett Favre.

We called Favre the king of separation anxiety when he returned to the the NFL during training camp. You can abbreviate that SepAnx, which of course shortens to Spanx. So we’re nicknaming Favre after a line of women’s slimming undergarments. (Hey, when I got married, I started watching Oprah with my wife occasionally. You learn stuff. This is one of those things.)

If Favre gets hurt and has to miss a game, we’ll know for sure that we wield a curse. If that’s the case, we will use the power of said curse indiscriminately and with bias. It will be fun.

Until then, say hi to Spanx for us.

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