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Week 3 Transactions

Steve Slaton Prepares for the Game

RB Steve Slaton, cut by the Texans, starts over with the Dolphins. Image by The Brit_2 via Flickr

Each week, we break down the NFL’s big transactions and what they mean going forward. Here’s the wrapup between Weeks 3 and 4.

Titans (put WR Kenny Britt on IR, add WR Donnie Avery) – Britt was emerging as a game-breaking wide receiver, among the best in the league at his position, when he tore his ACL in Week 3. Avery, the former Rams starter, adds depth, but the Titans won’t be able to replace Britt.

Texans (cut RB Steve Slaton, promote RB Chris Ogbonyanna) – Slaton was a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie two years ago, but he fell down the depth chart and lost his job. The Dolphins claimed Slaton to back up Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush. Ogbonyanna is a developing back who looked strong in the preseason.

Colts (put LB Gary Brackett and S Melvin Bullitt on IR, add QB Dan Orlovsky and LB A.J. Edds) – The Colts lost two more starters to injury in Brackett and Bullitt. Orlovsky adds depth given Kerry Collins’ concussion issues. Edds, who was on the Patriots’ practice squad, could become a developmental prospect in Indy.

Buccaneers (put S Cody Grimm on IR) – We discussed the impact of Grimm’s injury in this post.

Chargers (put S Bob Sanders on IR, add DE Tommie Harris) – Sanders never returned to full health after his litany of injuries. In his place, the Bolts add Harris, a former impact defensive tackle who’s now just a rotation player.

Saints (put PK Garrett Hartley on IR) – Hartley, fighting an offseason injury, ran out of time to come back when injuries elsewhere forced the Saints to use his roster spot. John Kasay will now serve as the kicker for the Saints for the rest of the season.

Patriots (bring back DT Gerard Warren) – Warren, a veteran who spent last year with the Patriots, returns to add defensive line depth.

Jets (bring back OLB Aaron Maybin) – The Jets brought back Maybin, the former Bills bust.

Rams (add CB Rod Hood) – St. Louis seeks to add CB depth with Hood, a veteran who has bounced around a lot since starting for the Cardinals’ Super Bowl squad.

Ravens (put CB Domonique Foxworth on IR, bring back LB Prescott Burgess) – Foxworth never got back to full strength after his 2010 knee injury. Burgess has bounced on and off the Ravens’ roster in recent years.

Lions (put LB Isaiah Ekebiuja on IR, add CB Anthony Madison) – Ekebiuja was a key special-teamer for the Lions.

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Week 4 Transactions

Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley, 14, g...

Image via Wikipedia

Each week we share insights, analysis, and opinions of the week’s transactions. To see previous posts, click here and start working back. 

Jets (signed DT Trevor Pryce, cut DT Howard Green) – We discussed the Pryce move in this post. To make room for him, the Jets cut Green, whom they signed after Kris Jenkins’ injury.

Ravens (cut Pryce, re-sign S Ken Hamlin) – We discussed the price of Pryce (and Hamlin) in this post.

Jaguars (claimed QB Trent Edwards) – The Jaguars, who lost Luke McCown to injury earlier this year, claimed Edwards off waivers after Buffalo released him. Edwards immediately becomes the most solid backup option Jacksonville has, and if David Garrard continues to struggle, Edwards could get a few starts to see if he fits in Jax.

Bills (sign QB Levi Brown) – After cutting Edwards, the Bills brought back Brown, their seventh-round pick out of Troy this season. He’ll become the No. 3 quarterback behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm.

Seahawks (add WR Brandon Stokley, cut RB Quinton Ganther and OG Chester Pitts) – Stokley (pictured), who played for the Broncos last year, can fill in as a slot-type receiver. The Seahawks are playing a bunch of wideouts now but haven’t developed consistently reliable options, so Stokely could help.

Patriots (add RB Thomas Clayton, cut OG Quinn Ojinnaka) – With Fred Taylor hurting, Kevin Faulk out for the year, and Laurence Maroney in Denver, the Pats added RB depth with Clayton. They cut Ojinnaka, whom they acquired in a training-camp trade with the Falcons.

Texans (add CB Karl Paymah) – Paymah, who has bounced around to Minnesota and Denver in recent years, is a speedy and kind of tall corner who isn’t great but is good enough to be a No. 4. He adds depth to one of Houston’s big problem areas.

Colts (add LB Tyjuan Hagler, cut TE Gijon Robinson) – Hagler returns to Indy to help fill in after injuries to Clint Session and Kavell Connor.

Saints (add PK John Carney) – With Garrett Hartley struggling in two of three games this year, the Saints brought back Carney, who is 46 but should be reliable from 40 yards and in. They kept Hartley, who still has a chance to develop as a top-flight NFL kicker, but it’s clear they don’t have confidence in him right now.

Lions (add CB Dante Wesley, cut S Randy Phillips) – Detroit brought back Wesley, a cornerback who’s a big asset on special teams.

Panthers (add C Chris Morris, cut DT Louis Leonard) – The Panthers cut Leonard, whom they traded for last year, in part because he had been passed by Nick Hayden and Derek Landri. His roster spot went to Morris, who adds depth to an offensive line that had little.

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Rise/Sink/Float Week 3

Each week, we preview teams that are moving up and moving down in our weekly Football Relativity comparison. We’ll analyze all 32 teams on Tuesday.

Rise – Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers went to 3-0 with a dominating 38-13 victory at previously undefeated Tampa Bay. The Steelers not only had an outstanding defensive performance that included a Brett Keisel touchdown; they also got three TD passes out of Charlie Batch (two to Mike Wallace, pictured). The Steelers are playing inspired football thus far, and once Ben Roethlisberger returns, Steel City may well have the most complete team in the league.

Sink – New York Giants – After a season-opening win, the Giants have lost two games in which they were not close. Losing at Indy in Week 2 is no shame, but getting crushed 29-10 in a home game against the Titans doesn’t bode well. The Giants couldn’t stop Chris Johnson, and they turned the ball over three times as well. It’s not a good start for a Giants team that hoped for much more after a terrible finish last year.

Float – New Orleans Saints – The Saints lost a home game to the Falcons, but we believe the result says more about about the Falcons’ prowess than about the Saints’ failings. Drew Brees threw a couple of interceptions, but he also rallied the offense for a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. And the Saints’ defense got a key stop in overtime, only to see it wasted when Garrett Hartley missed a field goal that would have won the game. So we’re leaving the Saints at the top level of our comparison until we see more compelling evidence that they’re falling apart.

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Super Bowl 44 thoughts

Here are thoughts on the Saints’ 31-17 victory over the Colts in Super Bowl 44.

*Sean Payton pitched a perfect game for the Saints in the coaching department. A lot of times, we pound on coaches for bad game-management decisions, but Payton was spot on in this game. His decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter didn’t pay off with a touchdown, but the Saints still got a field goal before the half based on field position, and more importantly they kept Peyton Manning from mounting a two-minute drill drive. Then the onside kick to start off the second half obviously was a huge gamble that paid off by giving the Saints their first lead. Payton also correctly challenged on the two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. That’s a strong performance from a coach who wasn’t afraid to lose and instead played to win.
*Jim Caldwell, meanwhile, made the game’s crucial mistake by attempting a 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. When you think of trying a 51-yarder with a 42-year-old kicker, it just sounds like a bad idea, and even though Matt Stover had hit 16 straight postseason kicks, he barely got the kick there. It seemed like there was a 30 percent chance, tops, of that kick making it. An incomplete pass would have saved the Colts seven yards, and a punt could have buried the Saints deep and perhaps taken the aggressiveness out of Payton and Drew Brees. In a game that didn’t have a turnover or a play longer than 27 yards until Tracy Porter’s late interception return, that missed field goal was a huge turnaround.
*Obviously, Drew Brees had an epic performance in the game, completing 18-of-19 passes at one point and finishing 32-of-39 for 288 yards. In a game without big plays, accuracy is what kept drives moving, and Brees was just a little better than Peyton Manning in this game. That’s not to say Manning was bad, because he was at least good. But Brees put together a great performance.
*Again, in a game where there was only one turnover and just 64 penalty yards combined, mistakes that are usually smaller like dropped passes played a much bigger role. Marques Colston’s drop in the first quarter slowed the Saints down, while Pierre Garcon’s drop in the second quarter seemed to stymie the Colts’ momentum for a whole quarter. Garcon has a ton of talent, and he had a productive game with 5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. But the young receiver had two key mistakes in that drop and then the fourth-quarter offensive pass interference that really hurt his team. Those mistakes loomed large in this one.
*Before the game, I tweeted that I saw a game with more running and more of a grind-it-out affair. And while my Pierre Thomas as MVP prediction didn’t come through, Thomas was important with 85 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. For the Saints, the grind-it-out came as they dumped the ball off time after time instead of taking bigger shots deep. For the Colts, they relied on Joseph Addai, who had a big game with 135 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Addai was the Colts’ best offensive player in the game.
*Dwight Freeney had the game’s only sack, and while he didn’t make a huge impact it was good to see that injury didn’t keep him from playing or limit him to the point that he’ll regret how he could have played. But the Colts’ best defensive player was Gary Brackett, who had 12 solo tackles and the key fourth-and-goal stop in the second quarter.
*Thomas Morstead was the crazy kicker of the Super Bowl with his terrific surprise onside kick, but Garrett Hartley deserves props for becoming the first kicker in Super Bowl history to make three field goals of 40 yards or more in a Super Bowl. It’s interesting to consider how both of these teams had kicking decisions to make late in the season. The Saints went with the young Hartley over veteran John Carney, and that paid off in both the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl. The Colts went with Stover over Adam Vinatieri, and Stover missed (in a tough spot).

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FR: Super Bowl 44 potential playmakers

As we did last year, we’re going to play relativity with Super Bowl 44’s best playmakers. After pegging Santonio Holmes as the Steelers’ top option last year, we want to repeat our success. As always, we’re on a 10-point scale where 10 points is epic and 1 point is someone who is a possible playmaker in a remote situation. We’ve left out offensive linemen, because it’s so hard to distinguish them individually because they are meant to function as a unit.

10 – QB Peyton Manning, Colts, and QB Drew Brees, Saints – In somewhat of a no-brainer, we’ll put both Manning and Brees as the playmakers most likely to make an impact on Super Sunday. In a game that figures to be high-scoring, both quarterbacks will need to play at a high level in order for their teams to keep up in what figures to be a track meet. And the fact that both quarterbacks are so freakin’ good makes the chances of that happening quite high. Your Super Bowl MVP will almost certainly come off of this level of the comparison.

9 – WR Reggie Wayne, Colts and S Darren Sharper, Saints – Wayne hasn’t had a huge playoff season, but against the Saints’ cornerbacks he should have much more of an opportunity to break free. The stage is set for Wayne to have a big game and establish himself once and for all and take the leap from Pro Bowler to one of the NFL’ s elite receivers, as Larry Fitzgerald and Hines Ward have done in recent Super Bowls. Sharper, meanwhile, is at the crux of the Saints’ attempt to force turnovers. He’s been one of New Orleans’ biggest ballhawks, and if the Saints are going to take the ball away from the potent and reliable Colts offense, Sharper is the most likely candidate to do so.

8 – DE Robert Mathis, Colts, and MLB Jonathan Vilma, Saints – With Dwight Freeney hurting, Mathis becomes the key guy in Indy’s pressure game. If Mathis can provide enough of a pass rush to at least force a double-team, then he enables other players to generate pressure and also keeps an extra receiver out of pass patterns. If that doesn’t happen, Brees will be shooting fish in a barrel. Vilma is the centerpiece of the Saints’ defense, and he’ll need to match Manning audible-for-audible. Vilma had a key audible against the Vikings that led to a turnover, and if he can make that kind of call in this game, he will put the Saints in the running.

7 – TE Dallas Clark, Colts and RB Pierre Thomas, Saints – Clark is option 1A for the Colts, and he delivers in that role, making catches down the seam and even making some long plays to spark the offense. He’s going to test Saints SS Roman Harper in coverage. On the other side of the ball, Thomas may be the Saints’ somewhat secret weapon. He’s a between-the-tackles runner capable of bleeding the clock and thus keeping Manning off the field. If Thomas can do that against a Colts defense that is far from a Brickyard wall, the Saints will be in far better position to win.

6 – WR Marques Colston, Saints and FS Antonie Bethea, Colts – Colston is the Saints’ most consistent receiving threat, although he’s not the big-play guy that Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson are. Still, Colston will be the guy most frequently on the receiving end of chains-moving plays from Brees. Bethea is a play-making safety who’s probably the Colt most likely to pick Brees off. Bethea emerged as a Pro Bowl player this year, and with Bob Sanders missing the season Bethea has made the biggest impact in Indy’s back end.

5 – WR Austin Collie, Colts and DE Raheem Brock, Colts – Our hunch is that Collie will be more of a factor than fellow breakout receiver Pierre Garcon in this game because Reggie Wayne is more set up for success. Collie is a fine slot receiver who has the ability to get deep on occasion. Brock is the Colts’ do-everything defensive lineman who can play across the line but will likely have to focus on the right end in this game to spell Dwight Freeney. If Brock can provide solid play as usual, that’s good, but making an impact play or two would be a monstrous plus for the Colts.

4 – WR Pierre Garcon, Colts and WR Robert Meachem, Saints – We get the feeling that Garcon’s in line for just 2 or 3 catches in this game, but one of them could easily be a 30-yarder that makes a splash. That has been what Meachem has done all season for the Saints – providing big plays more often than not in games. The Saints will need Meachem to do just that in this one if they are to keep up with the Colts’ offense.

3 – DE Dwight Freeney, Colts and WR Devery Henderson, Saints – Our hunch is that Freeney will play despite his aching ankle, but in a limited amount of plays. But if he can generate a pass-rush presence in 10-15 plays, he can still help the Colts. Still, the impact of this truly great player will be unfortunately muted in the biggest game of the year. Henderson is a deep threat who has more speed than Colston or Meachem but less consistency. Still, he will find himself open deep at least once in this game. The question is whether Brees will get the ball there and whether Henderson will complete the catch.

2 – DE Will Smith, Saints and RB Joseph Addai, Colts – Smith is the Saints’ best pass rusher, and he’s most likely not only to get a hit on Manning but also to force a backfield fumble like he did against Percy Harvin in the NFC title game. We don’t expect Addai to play a huge role in this game, but as the Colts’ reliable veteran running back he’ll have a role in blitz pickup and as an outlet receiver.

1 – PK Matt Stover, Colts and RB Reggie Bush, Saints – While New Orleans’ Garrett Hartley hit the big field goal in the NFC title game, but we figure that Stover, a 20-year veteran who is playing for a franchise other than the Ravens/Browns for the first time, is more likely to hit a fourth-quarter pressure kick in this one. And we include Bush here not because we expect him to have a big role but so that you know we haven’t forgotten about him. He’s more likely to make a mark via punt return than on offense in this one, from what we foresee.

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Championship Game Thoughts

Thoughts on the AFC Championship game, in which the Colts beat the Jets 30-17, and the NFC Championship game, in which the Saints beat the Vikings 31-28 in overtime.

*The Colts showed their moxie by coming back from a 17-6 deficit without panic. The touchdown Peyton Manning led before the half completely flipped the momentum, sparking the comeback. That’s the second time in the playoffs that Manning has led such a drive (with the permission of a coaching staff that isn’t afraid to let him try).
*Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon had to step up in this game because Reggie Wayne was vacationing on Revis Island, and they did. Both went over 100 yards in the game. Their emergence is what has taken the Colts offense from good to great.
*The Jets got off to a great start, and so did Mark Sanchez, but once they fell behind it was pretty clear that Sanchez didn’t have the weapons to return. Sanchez is a winner and a gamer, and his personality is a great match for Rex Ryan. But New York needs more explosiveness – even in games when Braylon Edwards actually makes the big catch.
*Bart Scott gets more pub, but David Harris is the best linebacker the Jets have. He showed that with 11 tackles and 2 sacks in this game, which was confirmation of his fabulous play all year.
*Props to Jim Caldwell, whom I predicted before the season would kill the Colts. He hasn’t done that, and he may get a George Seifert-esque Super Bowl title out of it.

*In the Saints/Vikings game, the moment everybody will remember is Garrett Hartley’s clutch kick. But the Brett Favre interception at the end of the fourth quarter – which was so reminiscent of his overtime pick in the NFC title game in Green Bay two seasons ago – is what I’ll remember. I don’t know why, but I saw this pick coming, both before the game and in the moment (just ask my wife). This is the reason that Favre will be remembered as a great quarterback but not as the greatest of all time, no matter what the stats say. Favre was only briefly the best QB in the league – he took the mantle sometime at the end of John Elway’s career and was surpassed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady a few years later. His mistakes in key moments are part of his legacy, for good or for ill.
*As for the Saints, they survived against a good Vikings defense because their defense pressured Favre and forced turnovers. Forcing six fumbles (recovering three), and adding two crucial interceptions, is why they’re going to Miami. CB Tracy Porter and LB Jonathan Vilma each forced a fumble and had an interception, and the fumble Will Smith forced in the fourth quarter led to the Saints’ final touchdown. That opportunistic defense has been key for New Orleans all season, and it was good to see it show up on the big stage.
*For a game with just one total sack, both Favre and Drew Brees got beaten up throughout the game. The Vikings’ D-line is the best in the league because all four starters (and some of the reserves too) are too much to handle. But despite the pressure, Favre and Brees both still made big-time plays. Both are terrific quarterbacks.
*Adrian Peterson showed up in this big game, although his fumbling problems ended up being crucial. But he’s a huge talent who can be the centerpiece of the offense.
*Of all the stars in the Saints’ offensive attack, the brightest on Sunday was Pierre Thomas. Not only did he score two touchdowns; his overtime kickoff return was a huge key to setting up the game-winning field goal. Thomas is often overlooked, but he’s a nice back to have to complement Reggie Bush. And the way that Thomas held onto the ball when Chad Greenway put his helmet on it on the 4th-and-1 dive in overtime saved the game.

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Jersey Numbers: Punters and Kickers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post. Now we move to kickers and punters, who wear numbers between 1 and 19, although the vast majority sport single numbers.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers hasn’t shown off the big leg he featured earlier in his career, but he has developed into a consistent threat on field goals. He gets the nod over Dallas’ Mat McBriar, a supersolid punter. Other notable 1s: Pat McAfee, Colts; Matt Turk, Texans

2 – P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs – He doesn’t get much credit, but Colquitt may be the NFL’s best punter not named Shane Lechler. With 31 punts inside the 20 vs. just four touchbacks, and with an incredibly low average return rate of just 5.2 yards, it’s no wonder that Colquitt is second in the NFL in net punting with a 41.9-yard average. We give him the nod over good placekickers like David Akers of Philly, Mason Crosby of Green Bay, and Rob Bironas of Tennessee. Other notable 2s: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Nick Harris, Lions; Reggie Hodges, Browns

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski has developed into a solid clutch field goal kicker as well as a strong kickoff specialist. It’s rare to find a single kicker who does both jobs so well. Other notable 3s: Kris Brown, Texans; Josh Brown, Rams; John Carney, Saints; Jeff Reed, Steelers; Jay Feely, Jets; Matt Stover, Colts; Adam Podlesh, Jaguars; Hunter Smith, Redskins; Matt Bryant, Falcons

4 – P Andy Lee, 49ers – Lee is another underrated punter with terrific averages both gross and net. He gets the nod over long-time placekickers Jason Hanson of Detroit, John Kasay of Carolina, and Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis, who has missed much of the season. Other notable 4s: Sam Koch, Ravens; Brad Maynard, Bears; Phil Dawson, Browns

5 – P Mike Scifres, Chargers – Scifres’ numbers don’t completely reflect it, but he can be a game-changing punter, as he showed in San Diego’s playoff win over Indianapolis last season. Other notable 5s: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins; Garrett Hartley, Saints; Rhys Lloyd, Panthers; Matt Prater, Broncos; Ben Graham, Cardinals; Donnie Jones, Rams; Chris Kluwe, Vikings

6 – PK Joe Nedney, 49ers – There aren’t dominant kickers or punters at this number, so we’ll give the nod to Nedney, who has long been a solid kicker with a big leg. The fact that he’s about the funniest kicker I ever interviewed doesn’t hurt either. Other notable 6s: Nick Folk, Cowboys; Ryan Succop, Chiefs; Shaun Suisham, Redskins; Chris Hanson, Patriots; Brett Kern, Titans; Thomas Morstead, Saints; Sav Rocca, Eagles

7 – P Jason Baker, Panthers – Few kickers wear this number, so Baker, who isn’t having his best season but has been solid in his time in Carolina, gets the nod. Other notable 7s: Jeremy Kapinos, Packers; Billy Cundiff, Ravens

8 – PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, and he’s 18-for-19 on field goals this year, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. That gives him a slight nod over Buffalo P Brian Moorman. Other notable 8: Dirk Johnson, Buccaneers

9 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – Lechler is on his way to a record-setting season. As Bill Simmons pointed out on Friday, Lechler has a chance to break the single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt (held by Hall of Fame QB Slingin’ Sammy Baugh). Lechler is currently averaging 51.7, and his net average of 44.7 yards is nearly three yards better than the single-season record, which Lechler already holds. He’s the best punter in the league and might be the best punter ever. Other notable 9s: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers; Michael Koenen, Falcons; Jon Ryan, Seahawks; Daniel Sepulveda, Steelers; Steven Weatherford, Jets; Robbie Gould, Bears; Rian Lindell, Bills; Lawrence Tynes, Giants

10 – PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has had his playoff problems, but he’s been a reliable regular-season producer. That gives him the nod over Seattle’s Olindo Mare, who is having a good season but has been inconsistent in recent years. Other notable 10s: Connor Barth, Buccaneers; Josh Scobee, Jaguars; Kevin Huber, Bengals

11 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The kicker also known as Sea Bass (think Dumb and Dumber) has a powerful leg and has the distinction of being one of the very few kickers to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

15 – P Craig Hentrich, Titans – Hentrich hasn’t played this season, but we’ll recognize his strong career as a punter in Green Bay and Tennessee here. Other notable 15: Dave Zastudil, Browns

17 – PK Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham has developed into one of the most solid kickers around. Although his consistency this season has been lacking, Graham remains a good threat for Cincy. Other notable 17: Mitch Berger, Broncos

18 – P Jeff Feagles, Giants – Feagles has been punting in the NFL forever, but he still has a roster spot. He’s one of the few practicioners of the art of directional punting left in the league as well. Other notable 18: David Buehler, Cowboys

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FR: 2009 Suspensions

As the season approaches, we thought it would be worth a look at the various suspensions players face to begin the 2009 system. So we’re using Football Relativity to compare the impact of these suspensions on their various teams. Note that this comparison doesn’t attempt to contrast the reasons behind suspensions; the only factor we’re considering in this comparison is how each player’s absence will affect his team or his own career. 10 is the most significant suspension; 1 is the least significant.

Note: The suspensions of Vikings DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, Saints DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith, and Lions DT Grady Jackson are still pending. This “StarCaps” case is going through the court system, and there’s enough delay that all parties involved will be eligible to play in Week One.

10 – WR Plaxico Burress (2 years for violating personal conduct policy) – Burress’ biggest problem is obviously the jail term he is serving for criminal possession of a weapon, but he is ineligible to play in the NFL until after he serves his two-year sentence. That will knock him out of the NFL for the ’09 and ’10 seasons, and it could mark the end of his career given his age and the layoff he’s facing.

9 – Browns WR Donte Stallworth (1 year for violating personal conduct policy) – Stallworth was sentenced to less than a month in jail, but commissioner Goodell ruled that he would have to sit out the entire 2009 season. He is still under contract with the Browns, at least for now, which makes a move to the UFL for the season impossible. So Stallworth will have to sit. He’s still an NFL-caliber receiver, and even a starting-caliber guy, so his return in 2010 will bring some fanfare. But for now, Stallworth continues to pay for his huge mistake.

8 – Jets LB Calvin Pace (4 games for use of banned substance) – Pace, one of the Jets’ high-dollar acquisitions in 2008, said he accidentally took a tainted supplement that caused him to test positive for a performance-enhancer. Regardless of the unoriginality (or truthfulness) of his alibi, Pace’s absence will hurt the Jets. Pace has 13.5 sacks over the past two years in Arizona and New York, and he was a good fit as a pass-rushing OLB in the Jets’ 3-4 last year. As the Jets move to Rex Ryan’s system this year, the aggressiveness of the defense will be dialed up, which will play to Pace’s strengths once he hits the field. In his absence, the Jets are going to need pass rush to come from somewhere. Former first-round pick Vernon Gholston is the most likely candidate, but he just didn’t get it as a rookie. It’ll be interesting to see if the Jets’ D can thrive without Pace, because this looks like a pretty significant loss.

7 – Buccaneers S Tanard Jackson (4 games for violating substance abuse policy) – Jackson isn’t a household name, but he has started every game in both of his first two seasons in Tampa, and he’s becoming the type of playmaking safety that teams covet. So losing Jackson – especially on a defense that has already lost so many veterans – will make the Bucs’ defensive transition even more difficult. This is a huge blow to the Bucs’ hopes of getting off to a good start.

7 (con’t) – Bills RB Marshawn Lynch (3 games for violating personal conduct policy) – Lynch’s litany of off-field issues got him noticed by Roger Goodell, and he’s now serving a three-game suspension for that collection of misdeeds and mistakes. Lynch is a solid if unspectacular back who has more than 1,000 rushing yards in both of his first two seasons. But the Bills have Fred Jackson, another good back, in reserve, and Jackson’s good enough to carry most of the load through September. The real question for Buffalo is whether import Dominic Rhodes can be the kind of backup to Jackson that Jackson normally is to Lynch. I doubt that will happen, but the net effect won’t cost the Bills all that much because of Jackson’s ability.

6 – QB Michael Vick, Eagles (2 games for violating personal conduct policy) – We now know that Vick will be able to return to the NFL field after two games in 2009. The question is whether this penalty is enough to make sure that Vick is no more than a specialty player in the NFL in 2009. The Eagles have ideas on how to use him, but they don’t want to build their offense around a player who has missed two years before missing two games more in ’09. It’ll be interesting to see how Vick adjusts once he returns to the field.

5 – DE Shaun Ellis, Jets (1 game for violating substances and abuse policy) – Ellis, who was benched by the league and fined $100,000 as a result of a 2008 arrest for marijuana possession, will only miss one game, but it’s a significant one for the Jets. That’s because Pace, another member of the Jets’ front seven, is also sidelined for the game. That makes two big chunks out of the Jets’ defense, which will make beating the offensively prolific Texans on the road an even taller task.

4 — PK Garrett Hartley, Saints (4 games for use of banned substance) – Hartley admitted taking Adderall to try to stay awake, saying he wasn’t aware it was forbidden by the NFL. The Saints signed John Carney to fill in for Hartley, and that could be trouble for him, because Carney filled in for Lawrence Tynes with the Giants to begin last year, never gave up the job, and ended up making the Pro Bowl. So Hartley’s job is now in jeopardy because of this suspension.

4 (con’t) – DT Shaun Smith (4 games for use of banned substance) – Smith says he used a water pill, which is banned under the league’s anabolic steroids policy because it can be used as a masking agent. He was with Cleveland last year and with Detroit in training camp, but the Lions cut him just before the season. Smith will hook on elsewhere, because he can be a quality backup defensive tackle or even an average starter, but this suspension will seriously inhibit his market value and keep him from finding a new home quickly.

3 – LB Michael Boley, Giants (1 game for violating personal conduct policy) – Boley, whom the Giants signed from the Falcons in the offseason, will miss a single game. The Giants (and every other team) knew that a suspension was in the offing for Boley when he hit the free agent market, so the fact that this isn’t a surprise should limit its impact. Boley will be a starter, but he’s not so dominant that his absence will upset the Giants’ plans in the opener against the Redskins.

3 (con’t) – Colts DT Ed Johnson (1 game for violating substance-abuse policy) – The Colts cut Johnson last year after he was arrested for drug possession. They re-signed him this offseason because of their glaring need for massive defensive tackles, but Johnson still must sit out for one game with a league suspension. Johnson didn’t play at all in ’08, but he started every game for the Colts in ’07 and should be a contributor to the team’s DT rotation this year. Missing him in the opener against the Jaguars will hurt.

2 – Cardinals TE Ben Patrick (4 games for use of banned substance) – Patrick said he took Adderall to stay awake on a long drive. He wasn’t slated to start in Arizona, but with Steven Spach likely out part of the year after a postseason knee injury, Patrick still had a chance to establish a role as the Cardinals’ primary blocking tight end.

1 – WR Reggie Williams (2 games for violating substances and abuse policy) – Williams, a former first-round pick by the Jaguars who was the team’s best receiver in ’07 and was a contributor in ’08, was arrested earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance. That has severely limited his free-agent value, which wasn’t strong to begin with. While unsigned, he’ll be serving a two-game suspension, and he’ll have to be reinstated by the commissioner before he can return to the field.

1 (con’t) – DE Erasmus James (1 year for violation of substance-abuse policy) – James, a former Vikings’ first-round pick, has been out of the league since playing for the Redskins in 2007. His career was near its end anyway, and this suspension completely closes the door.

1 (con’t) – S Jimmy Williams (1 year for repeat violation of substance-abuse policy) – Williams, who was once a second-round pick in Atlanta, busted out there and then was cut by the 49ers after the 2008 season. This suspension could be the final nail in the coffin for his career, despite the potential he once showed.

1 (con’t) – LB Vince Redd, 4 games – Redd, who played for New England last year, was cut just before reports of his four-game suspension began to emerge. The Chiefs decided that such a bubble player wasn’t worth the wait and cut him.

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Fantasy Football: Injuries and issues

As a service to fantasy football players, here’s a combined list of some of the major injuries and other issues that will affect players’ ability to play as the regular-season starts. So here’s the list, which we’ll update as more news develops. All week designations refer to the regular season.

Out to begin regular season

QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – could be out up to two weeks with sprained MCL and ankle injury

QB Kyle Orton, Broncos – could miss opener with dislocated finger

QB Chris Simms, Broncos – up to first two weeks with a high-ankle sprain

QB Michael Vick, Eagles – undetermined suspension; will know how many games by Week 6

RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills – 3-game suspension

RB Kolby Smith, Chiefs – out at least 6 weeks

WR Brooks Foster, Rams – 4-6 weeks with ankle surgery

WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – “several weeks” (likely 2-4)  with a hamstring injury

WR Brandon Jones, 49ers – up to first four games with a shoulder injury

WR Chaz Schilens, Raiders – up to first four games with broken left foot

TE Ben Patrick, Cardinals – 4-game suspension

PK Garrett Hartley, Saints – 4-game suspension

Out for the year:

RBs Justin Green, Cardinals; Thomas Clayton, 49ers; Andre Brown, Giants

WRs Syndric Steptoe, Browns; Harry Douglas. Falcons; Roy Hall, Colts; Marcus Smith, Ravens; Plaxico Burress, Giants (suspension); Chris Davis, Titans; Donte Stallworth, Browns (suspension); Devard Darling, Chiefs; Brandon Tate, Patriots; Demetrius Byrd, Chargers

TEs Cornelius Ingram, Eagles; Dan Campbell, Saints; Reggie Kelly, Bengals; Tory Humphrey, Packers; Ben Utecht, Bengals

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Fantasy Football: Opportunists

At the suggestion of Carl, we’re going to take the opportunity to look at players whose touches should significantly rise or fall based on new circumstances this year. We’ll try to identify this trend among some players whom we have not yet discussed in our fantasy football coverage this year (which you can catch up on via this category on the blog or by searching via player name on the right).

Opportunity Rising

RB Fred Jackson, Bills – With Marshawn Lynch being suspended for the first three games of the season, Jackson will be a No. 1 back to begin the year. The fact that he was so productive as a No. 2 back last year (884 total yards, three TDs) makes him a solid fantasy backup; the fact that he’ll be the guy for three games makes him an early-season starter. Jackson is a No. 3 fantasy back in leagues of 10 or more teams, and don’t be shocked if he starts for your team at some point after Lynch’s three-game break.

RB Darren McFadden, Raiders – This is more of a hunch than a situational call, but you can bank on McFadden having more than 142 touches in 2009. He missed three games last year and had three more games in which he had three or fewer touches. (Those numbers also indicate that someone else in Oakland, either Justin Fargas or Michael Bush, will likely lose some touches.) If McFadden just gets up to 10 touches in those games – which is a conservative projection – he becomes a borderline No. 2 fantasy running back. If he can move up to 15-20 touches a game, he’s a gimme starter with huge upside.

RB Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice was the third guy in Baltimore’s RB trio last year, but all signs from training camp this year are that he has stepped up to be the primary running back. LeRon McClain will still get work as a fullback, but Rice should end up with more than 140 touches and more than 727 yards, which is what he ended up with last year. He’s a borderline starter and a flex option for fantasy leagues.

RB Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas established himself as a big-time fantasy back last year despite being a part-time player in New Orleans. He had just 160 touches last year but turned that into 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. Now that Thomas has proven his ability to produce, we can count on him moving up into the 200 touch area, which will put him equivalent to or maybe even a tad above Reggie Bush’s load. That should push Thomas into the 1000-yard area, which will make him a borderline No. 2 fantasy back at worst.

WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – With Terrell Owens gone, the Cowboys have a No. 1 receiver in Roy Williams who probably won’t be an 80-catch guy and no clear No. 2 receiver. That opens the door for Austin, who had just 13 catches but three touchdowns last year. He should be a 30-catch guy easily this year and could end up with many more grabs than that. (We talked more about Austin in this post.)

WR Donnie Avery, Rams – Avery was kind of under the radar as a fantasy wideout last year, but he had a strong season for a rookie, catching 53 balls for 674 yards and three scores (along with one rushing TD). With Torry Holt gone, Avery is now the unquestioned lead receiver for the Rams, and with some luck (most notably health for Marc Bulger) he could move up to the 70-catch level. As you project Avery, watch his leg injury, which held him out of most of training camp and could sideline him in the regular season’s first game or two.

WR Patrick Crayton, Cowboys – As we discussed earlier, there are plenty of opportunities in the Dallas passing game. Crayton is the natural guy to move up from a 39-catch guy last year up into the 50-catch area. He was at that level in 2007, so he can do it. Crayton isn’t quite a fantasy starter, but he’s worth a bench spot as you see just how much of an opportunity he has in ’09.

WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets – With Laveranues Coles gone, Cotchery is the unquestioned No. 1 wideout for the Jets. While that’s not a huge fantasy production spot now that the Jets are going with rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback instead of Brett Favre, Cotchery has a chance to up his reception total from 71.

WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts – With Marvin Harrison gone, Gonzalez moves up from a No. 3 slot receiver in Indy to a starting role. He’ll play both outside in 2-WR sets and in the slot in three-WR groupings, which means he’ll be on the field a lot. That means that he should see a bump up from his 57-catch total from last year. He’s probably not an 80-catch receiver, but 65 to 70 grabs is reasonable, and Gonzalez would likely turn that kind of opportunity into a 1,000-yard season.

WR Domenik Hixon, Giants – Hixon, whom the Giants plucked off the waiver wire in 2007, emerged as a legitimate receiving threat last year with 43 catches for 596 yards and two scores in ’08. With Plaxico Burress gone, Hixon is the best down-field option Eli Manning has now. That’s worth knowing going into fantasy drafts. While his catch numbers probably won’t scream upwards – he’s more likely to end up in the 50s than in the 70s – he should make enough plays on deep balls to be an intriguing fantasy option most weeks.

WR Eddie Royal, Broncos – Royal had a whopping 91 catches for 980 yards as a rookie, and it could be hard for him to match that catch level in the Broncos’ new offense. But we want to put him on this list to note that in the new Josh McDaniels system, Royal may end up with more catches than Brandon Marshall. And if Marshall holds out, sits out, or gets traded, Royal’s production will make him a starting receiver. This is a name you need to know going into your draft.

WR Steve Smith, Giants – The Giants let go of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the last year, and so there are opportunities a-plenty in New York. Smith, who had 57 catches last year, is the most likely guy to lead the Giants in catches. He may not have the yards or touches that other receivers like Domenik Hixon or maybe even Mario Manningham create, but Smith will be the most consistent fantasy option among the Big Blue wide receivers.

TE Dustin Keller, Jets – We’ve already discussed Jerricho Cotchery’s opportunity, but the real beneficiary of Coles’ departure is Keller, who should become a more regular part of the Jets’ offense. He had 48 catches last year, but he should be well into the 50s or even the 60s this season. His yards per catch will probably slip as a result, but from the ultimate fantasy perspective the opportunities will pay off. (We talked more about Keller in this post.)

TE Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars – With the upheaval the Jaguars have experienced at wide receiver, there’s an opportunity for Lewis to step up his production this year. He had 41 catches for 489 yards last year, and he could move up toward 50 catches and 600 yards this year. Because of the depth of the tight end position, those are still backup numbers, but they make Lewis a legit backup, especially if your league forces you to carry two tight ends.

PK Lawrence Tynes, Giants – After his postseason heroics in the Giants’ Super Bowl run, Tynes sat most of last season. He was hurt early, and replacement John Carney did so well that Tynes never really got a shot. But Carney is now in New Orleans, which means that Tynes once again will be the Giants’ full-time kicker.

Opportunity Falling

RB Joseph Addai, Colts – With the addition of rookie Donald Brown, Addai can no longer be considered Indy’s No.1 back. That means that Addai’s production will be more like what he offered in ’08 (750 yards, seven touchdowns) than his stud years (1,400 yards, 8 and 15 touchdowns) before that. (We talked more about Addai in this post.)

RB Earnest Graham, Buccaneers – Graham entered last season as the Bucs’ No. 1 back, but he can’t boast the same status this year because of the arrival of Derrick Ward. That makes Graham little more than a fantasy backup this season. (We talked more about Graham in this post.)

WR Lee Evans, Bills – Evans has been the Bills’ bellweather receiver for years now, but with Terrell Owens coming to town, he’s now more of a complementary player. That may not hurt Evans’ numbers too badly, because he’s averaged only 59 catches over the last two years. Evans will probably be around 55 catches this year, but with more of his chances coming downfield, he could average 16 or 17 yards per catch with six touchdowns or so. Still, that makes him more of a No. 3 receiver than the No. 2 he’s been in some recent years.

WR Justin Gage, Titans – Gage was the Titans’ best receiving option last year, compiling 34 catches in the 12 games he played. Because the Titans’ offense isn’t that pass-happy, no Tennessee receiver is a great fantasy option. But the addition of free-agent Nate Washington indicates that Gage will be more of a possession receiver in ’09. That knocks him from being a fantasy backup to more of a waiver-wire option in most fantasy leagues.

TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots – Watson, a former first-round pick, had a big fantasy season with 6 touchdowns in 2008, but he had just two last year. With Chris Baker coming on board, Watson should be even less of a receiving option this year. As a result, Watson is not a draftable fantasy guy.

PK Matt Bryant, Buccaneers – Make sure you note on your list that Mike Nugent signed in Tampa Bay to take over Bryant’s job.

PK Garrett Hartley, Saints – Hartley stablized the Saints’ kicking position late in the season last year, and the Saints’ kicker should be a high draft pick because of New Orleans’ prolific offense. But Hartley will miss the first four games of the season due to a league suspension, and the Saints brought in vet John Carney to fill in. Last year, Carney rode a fill-in spot with the Giants to a full season and a Pro Bowl berth. That means that you can’t bank on Hartley to begin the season and shouldn’t have him on your roster until Carney is out of the way.

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