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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud Week 16

Each week, we sort through the box scores to determine what fantasy football performances we should applaud, and which are merely frauds. As always, we’ll give more details about what each verdict means as we break it down. Now that we’re at the end of the seasons, we’re only noting players who have a chance of starting in a Week 17 championship game or who emerged out of nowhere in Week 16.

Tim Tebow

Quarterbacks

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – Freeman has emerged as a fantasy starter this year, and if you hadn’t noticed, Sunday’s five-TD performance against the Seahawks should have turned your head. He’s a top-10 fantasy quarterback both this year and next. Verdict: Applaud

Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer has had a solid fantasy season even though his on-field performance has been awful. But Sunday against the Chargers, he was truly good, throwing for 269 yards and four touchdowns while completing 16-of-21 passes. The fact that he put up such good numbers without Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens was surprising, but the truth is that the Bengals are on their way to another late-season rush that means nothing. So if you want to ride Palmer next week against Baltimore, go ahead. Verdict: Applaud

Stephen McGee, Cowboys – McGee was pressed into action when Jon Kitna was injured on Christmas night, and he performed fairly well with 111 yards on 11-of-17 passing and one touchdown without an interception. If Kitna misses Week 17, McGee qualifies as a desperation play in two-QB or incredibly deep leagues because of Dallas’ strong receiving corps. We could see a two-TD game out of him as a starter. Verdict: Applaud

Tim Tebow, Broncos – In his first home start, Tebow ran for a touchdown (his fifth of the season) and threw for one. But the surprising stat was that he was able to shred the Texans’ admittedly sorry pass defense for 308 yards. Because of his rushing threat, Tebow is a startable fantasy player right now. His value is pinned to getting that rushing touchdown, but if you’re desperate, Tebow the Hero is an option. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber had missed three games before returning on Christmas with a 58-yard game that included a touchdown. Barber still falls behind Felix Jones on the carries list in Dallas, but Marion the Barbarian is more likely to find the end zone than Jones. His return makes Tashard Choice irrelevant in fantasy terms, but that doesn’t mean we can trust Barber as a starter against the Eagles next week. Verdict: A fraud

Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Filling in for Knowshon Moreno, Buckhalter had both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. If Moreno is out next week, Buckhalter becomes a flex option, albeit one with some risk. Verdict: Applaud

Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets – Both Greene and Tomlinson scored touchdowns against the Bears. It was Greene’s second touchdown of the season (first since Week 5) and Tomlinson’s first rushing TD since Week 6. We noted a few weeks ago that Tomlinson has really been slowing down, and with the Jets clinching a playoff spot this week, you’d have to figure he gets a break next week vs. the Bills. Greene, meanwhile, had 70 rushing yards against the Bears and could be coming on. We’d much rather play Greene than Tomlinson next week, but it could be that the Jets give Joe McKnight a look to protect both guys. Avoid both next week. Verdict: A fraud for both

Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, Colts – The Colts brought Rhodes back off the UFL scrap heap two weeks ago, and this week Addai returned from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him for more than a month. Those two returns have made Donald Brown irrelevant for fantasy owners, and while Addai scored a touchdown against the Raiders, Rhodes was the leading rusher with 98 yards on 17 carries. It’s impossible to tell how this will play out next week, which means you can’t start any of them. But Rhodes is worth a claim if he’s available in your league, because he could qualify as a desperation play. Verdict: A fraud for Addai, Applaud for Rhodes

Wide receivers

Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt was having a huge season until a Week 8 injury sidelined him for nearly five games. But since his return, Britt has had four catches in every game, and he followed up Week 15’s 128-yard performance with a four-catch, 89-yard game with a touchdown against the Chiefs. Despite the Titans’ lethargic play, Britt is a must-start guy right now. Verdict: Applaud

Michael Crabtree, 49ers – Crabtree has had a disappointing season, garnering more than 61 receiving yards in just one game before his 122-yard performance against the Rams Sunday. Crabtree has talent, but the Smiths (Troy and Alex) at quarterback aren’t great, and so relying on him in any given week is just too much of a crapshoot. Verdict: A fraud

Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox has emerged as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver this year, and he’s nearly over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. More importantly for fantasy owners, Knox scored two long touchdowns against the Jets, giving him five on the season. Four of those five have come in the last five games, which means Knox has reached must-start status next week against Green Bay. And don’t worry about weather – Jay Cutler has thrown well in bad weather against the Vikings and Jets the last couple of weeks. Verdict: Applaud

Jordy Nelson, Packers – Nelson rode an 80-yard touchdown catch to a big day against the Giants. But you can’t rely on him to repeat his 124-yard performance, because he clearly falls behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones in the pecking order. Verdict: A fraud

Andre Roberts, Cardinals – Roberts, a rookie out of The Citadel, had just 15 catches on the season before his five-catch, 122-yard breakout against the Cowboys that included a 74-yard touchdown. But somehow, Roberts went off while Larry Fitzgerald had just one catch and Steve Breaston and Early Doucet had none. That has all the looks of a one-week fluke that fantasy owners should ignore. Verdict: A fraud

Jerome Simpson, Bengals – With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco out, Simpson broke out with a six-catch, 124-yard day against the Chargers that included two touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Simpson and Jordan Shipley are featured again next week as the Bengals figure out whether they can move on from the diva receivas in 2011. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Jared Cook, Titans – Cook, the Titans’ No. 2 tight end, had 96 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. The Titans seem to want to get a better look at Cook and Craig Stevens right now, but Bo Scaife is healthy, which means you can’t rely on any of the Tennessee tight ends. Verdict: A fraud

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud Week 11

Each week, we sort through the box scores to determine what fantasy football performances we should applaud, and which are merely frauds. As always, we’ll give more details about what each verdict means as we break it down.

Quarterbacks

Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – Hasselbeck threw for 366 yards against the Saints, but those numbers were inflated by the fact that Seattle was trying to come back from a big deficit. Don’t buy him as a top-15 fantasy quarterback, because he can’t live up to that status. Verdict: A fraud

Jon Kitna, Cowboys – Kitna had his second consecutive three-TD game, and even though he didn’t throw for that many yards, he showed he can be a fantasy factor. He’s not a top-10 quarterback, but if you need an emergency starter, Kitna’s a great option. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Cedric Benson, Bengals – Benson had been a disappointment most of the year, averaging just 62 rushing yards a game with only one game over 81 rushing yards until Sunday. Despite the fact that the Bengals are awful, maybe Benson’s 125-yard performance against the Bills is a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, we can’t recommend betting on it enough to put Benson back in your starting lineup. Verdict: A fraud

Mike Goodson, Panthers – Goodson had his second straight 100-yard rushing game for the Panthers, and now that DeAngelo Williams is officially out for the season, Goodson becomes a nice sleeper play in fantasy leagues. He should be a flex consideration next week. Verdict: Applaud

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, Patriots – Both Green-Ellis and Woodhead scored touchdowns against the Colts, and both are becoming nice fantasy contributors. Green-Ellis now has seven rushing touchdowns on the year, and in the five games where he’s had at least 16 catches, he’s piled up at least 80 rushing yards. He’s a solid bet as a weekly starter. Woodhead broke free for a 36-yard touchdown and had 90 yards from scrimmage. It’s the third time that Woodhead has had at least 90 yards, which makes him a decent flex play in leagues with 12 teams or more. Verdict: Applaud on both

Wide receivers

Steve Breaston, Cardinals – It’s been lost in Arizona’s horrific season, but Breaston has been a solid contributor for fantasy teams when he’s been healthy. Sunday’s 92-yard performance was his third 90-plus-yard game in the last four. If you’re looking for a sneaky starter, check out Breaston. Verdict: Applaud

Nate Burleson, Lions – Burleson had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys, marking his second good game out of three. If you’re looking for a Hail Mary type of receiver to put in your lineup, Burleson’s not a bad guy to give a shot to right now. Verdict: Applaud

Santonio Holmes, Jets – Holmes has returned as an elite fantasy receiver, and his 126-yard, two-touchdown game against the Texans – which featured his second game-winning touchdown in as many weeks – cemented that fact. Holmes could be a top-10 receiver down the stretch. Verdict: Applaud

Donald Jones, Bills – Steve Johnson was the offensive star for the Bills with three TD catches, but Jones, a rookie out of Youngstown State who had just two catches in the first 10 games of the season, delivered five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals. In a shootout, Jones’ numbers were inflated, and we don’t see this as a trend to follow. But at least now we know Jones’ name. Verdict: A fraud

Robert Meachem, Saints – Meachem has had a disappointing season, and so this week’s two-touchdown game against the Seahawks was too little, too late. Meachem has great talent, but the Saints have too many options for Meachem to thrive numbers-wise. Verdict: A fraud

Ben Obamanu, Seahawks – Obamanu had five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Saints, but it’s important to remember that he was still behind Mike Williams in the pecking order this week. Obamanu has some talent, but he’s a fourth receiver for Seattle, and that means he’s not worth a roster spot on your team. Verdict: A fraud

Sidney Rice, Vikings – In his return to the field, Rice piled up three catches for 56 yards. That’s a decent debut, and it means that Rice is already a flex-caliber play for fantasy owners. Depending on how the Vikings’ QB situation plays out, Rice has even more upside than that, but regardless it’s time to find room for him in your lineup. Verdict: Applaud

Nate Washington, Titans – In a game where Randy Moss went without a catch, Washington had five grabs for 117 yards. But given the fact that both Kerry Collins and Vince Young are fighting injuries, we can’t recommend any Titans receiver right now. Verdict: A fraud

Blair White, Colts – After Austin Collie went out with another concussion, White made two terrific touchdown catches in Indy’s failed fourth-quarter comeback. White isn’t a special player, but he’s good enough to make plays in the slot if Collie is out for a while. Depending on Collie’s status, White could be worth a claim in leagues of 14 teams or more. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Chris Cooley, Redskins – Cooley, a former fantasy stalwart, had his best game of the season with seven catches for 91 yards. But that doesn’t mean Cooley is back to being a superstar fantasy tight end. The Redskins’ offense hasn’t put up a ton of points this season, and without touchdowns Cooley has little upside to really help your fantasy scoresheet. Verdict: A fraud

Michael Hoomanawanui, Rams – The Rams’ rookie tight end has shown flashes of potential for much of the year, but this week’s game against the Falcons was his best performance. It’s reasonable to think he can compile four catches for 46 yards on many weeks, but he’s not yet ready to be a fantasy contributor. Verdict: A fraud

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Cowboys/Giants Thoughts

Each week, we focus on one game and share our thoughts on it, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. This week we focused on the Jason Garrett bowl, as the Cowboys took advantage of their fresh start with a 33-20 win in the Meadowlands.

Dez Bryant's TD catch, via espn.com

On-field perspective
*Who knows if Jason Garrett brought a fresh perspective to the Cowboys, but the fact that the Cowboys got off to a quick start made a huge difference. Dallas was able to build on its early success, and once they took a 20-point lead, they never lost it. We’ll have to see if the Cowboys can bounce back from a deficit, but this was a good start for Garrett.
*The Cowboys’ defense was far from special, going without a sack. But the Cowboys had two picks, including one that Bryan McCann returned for a touchdown. Paul Pasqualoni’s new defense focuses more on a zone defense, which should help Dallas’ sorry secondary, but giving up 373 passing yards isn’t exactly a rousing start. Dallas still has issues despite the win.
*The Cowboys’ offense worked better, although that might have been a statement on the Giants than a Jon Kitna success story. Kitna thew for 327 yards with just 13 completions, but he made big plays to Felix Jones, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and even Roy Williams and Martellus Bennett. The best sign was that five different Cowboys went for 25-plus-yard plays. If the Cowboys can use all their weapons, they’ll start to get out of the hole they dug themselves.
*The Giants, meanwhile, never rebounded from their slow start. Despite big passing numbers, Eli Manning didn’t keep the offense moving consistently, and the receivers didn’t help him because of drops. But the biggest problem came on two fourth-and-1 plays in the fourth quarter on which the Giants failed (punting once into the end zone and getting Brandon Jacobs stuffed on another). A first down in either situation would have helped the Giants cut a 13-point deficit into a one-score situation, but the Giants failed both times.
*Bryant is a phenomenal player, and he’ll soon beat out Williams and Austin to be the Cowboys’ prime target – even though Williams and Austin are both playing on huge contracts. Drafting Bryant was a great move, but Jerry Jones complicated things by giving Austin a huge contract just before the season. Austin’s a good player, but he’ll be making way too much money to be Bryant’s complement.

Fantasy Football perspective
*We covered Jon Kitna, Mario Manningham, and Felix Jones in this week’s Applaud or a Fraud (which we posted early). Check out our thoughts there.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud Week 10

Each week, we pore through the box scores to analyze fantasy football performances and tell you whether to applaud them or whether to consider them a fraud. With each verdict, we’ll make sure you know exactly what it means.

Quarterbacks

Matt Cassel, Chiefs – As the Chiefs fell behind 42-10, Cassel was freed to throw like crazy, and the results were 469 passing yards and four touchdowns. That’s certainly not representative of Cassel’s normal opportunities, and it’s foolish to expect big numbers from Cassel going forward. Verdict: A fraud 

Matt Ryan of the Falcons, via espn.com

David Garrard, Jaguars – It’s been kind of quiet, but for the second straight game Garrard went crazy. He’s now thrown for 602 yards and six TDs over the past two games, so if you’re looking for a quarterback, it may be time to ride the hot hand with Garrard. Verdict: Applaud

Jon Kitna, Cowboys – After two horrendous games as a starter, Kitna went crazy against the Giants, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns despite completing only 13 passes. Maybe the Jason Garrett era will be kinder to Kitna, but we wouldn’t count on it. For now, keep Kitna out of your starting lineup. Verdict: A fraud

Matt Ryan, Falcons – Ryan continued his stellar play at home, throwing for 316 yards and three TDs against the Ravens. At this point, if he’s at the Georgia Dome, he should be in your starting lineup. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Mike Goodson, Panthers – With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both out, Goodson broke out for a 100-yard game against the Buccaneers. His role going forward this season is uncertain, but if you’re desperate for RB help Goodson is worth a claim just in case the Panthers give him a longer look. Verdict: Applaud

Fred Jackson, Bills – Jackson had a monster game against the Lions, scoring two touchdowns and piling up 170 yards from scrimmage. He’s undoubtedly the best running back Buffalo has, and while he won’t always have matchups as attractive as Detroit, he’s still good enough to be a top-25 running back. Verdict: Applaud

Felix Jones, Cowboys – While we don’t believe Kitna’s a good bet, it seems plausible that Jason Garrett’s goal as a head coach will be to feature Jones more in the offense. Jones had 136 yards from scrimmage against the Giants, including a 71-yard touchdown catch. At this point, we’d recommend starting Jones next week to see if this is the start of a trend. Verdict: Applaud

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – Moreno ran for 106 yards and had 50 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Broncos’ blowout of the Chiefs. While Moreno doesn’t normally get that many rushing yards, he usually has enough receiving catches to make him a borderline top 20 running back. As long as he stays healthy, he should be starting for you. Verdict: Applaud

Wide receivers

Tough day at the office for Tennessee's Randy Moss

 

Mario Manningham, Giants – Manningham moved into the starting lineup with Steve Smith out, and he delivered 10 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. As long as Smith is out, Manningham is a worthy flex play in 12-team leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Randy Moss, Titans – Moss had just a single catch for 26 yards against the Dolphins, and he was only targeted four times (vs. 9 each for Bo Scaife, Nate Washington, and Justin Gage). Moss is bench-worthy until he proves to have a better role in the Tennessee offense. Verdict: A fraud

Mike Thomas, Jaguars – Thomas has been a consistent factor for the Jaguars, averaging four catches a game, and he finally broke through with eight catches for 149 yards and a score against the Texans. That included the game-winning 50-yard catch at the gun on an incredible Hail Mary. While this was Thomas’ first 100-yard game in his career, he’s been more consistent as a fantasy producer than better known teammate Mike Sims-Walker. Thomas is a guy worth a look as a third receiver in 12-team leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Kevin Walter, Texans – Walter had six catches for 90 yards and a score against the Jaguars, but that doesn’t mean he’s back to his 2009 form. He still has just 28 catches on the season, which means his fantasy production is highly dependent on finding the end zone. We can’t recommend him as anything more than an emergency starter. Verdict: A fraud

Tight ends

Anthony Fasano, Dolphins – Fasano had five catches for 107 yards and a touchdown against the Titans, putting up big numbers despite the fact that the Dolphins had to turn to their third QB by the end of the game. While these numbers are impressive, there are other tight ends (including the next guy in this post) that we’d turn to before we stuck Fasano in the lineup. Verdict: A fraud

Jermaine Gresham, Bengals – Gresham had nine catches for 85 yards and a score against the Colts, keeping his solid rookie season on pace. Gresham now has three scores on the year, and he has 40 catches on the season. Given the massive TE injuries, Gresham has moved into the top-15 at the position for fantasy purposes. Verdict: Applaud

Zach Miller, Jaguars – The other Zach Miller (not the Raiders’ TE) had four catches for 79 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown. But he’s behind Marcedes Lewis on the Jags’ depth chart, and he’s not a fantasy factor. Don’t get confused by the names or this week’s numbers. Verdict: A fraud

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Cowboys Wade out, but still in deep end

Coach Phillips

Image by jason.s via Flickr

I like Wades. I have a nephew named Wade who’s a trip. My hometown has an unbelievable meat-and-three diner called Wade’s. I like wading in a creek or on the edge of the ocean. And, though I’ve never met him, I like Wade Phillips. He’s a fine defensive coordinator and has been at least a decent head coach in four stops with an 82-61 record. Wade Phillips is a likeable guy. But Wade Phillips’ team, the Dallas Cowboys, have gone into the abyss this season.

So Wade Phillips is out – fired as the Cowboys’ head coach by Jerry Jones on Monday. Phillips is the sacrificial lamb for a team that has completely imploded with sloppy play, dropped passes, and unmet potential. Given Dallas’ abysmal play – throughout the season and especially in Sunday night’s 45-7 embarrassment in Green Bay – Phillips simply had to go. Something had to change if the Cowboys wanted to get anything positive out of the second half of the season, and that something is Phillips.

The firing doesn’t get the Cowboys out of the deep end. Dallas still has a ton of problems – a running game that has been bad because of backs, Marion Barber and Felix Jones, who have lost their burst; a backup quarterback in Jon Kitna who turns the ball over way too much; an offensive line that just isn’t any good; a secondary that is playing far below its previous level, especially CB Mike Jenkins; receivers like Miles Austin and Roy Williams who have talent but not consistency; and on and on. Despite solid talent, the Cowboys don’t have performance. Ultimately, Jerry Jones blamed Phillips for that, and coaches have to be responsible. It’s their job to coax results out of talented players. Phillips didn’t do that this year. But the players have to face the fact that they’re 1-7 because they have played poorly. It’s their fault just as much as Phillips’ fault.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, once a golden boy but now a whipping boy for his play-calling, now gets an eight-game look as a head coach. This may be his one chance to prove he can be an NFL head coach. Garrett needs to show head-coach skills in organization, game-planning, and overall approach to get a job, if not in Dallas than elsewhere in the NFL. If not, he’ll be an interim head coach who likely has to go elsewhere to be a coordinator again. It’s smart of Jones to put pressure on Garrett by appointing him, and not a retread like Dave Campo or Paul Pasqualoni, as interim head coach. The season is already sunk in the deep end; instead of trying to salvage a few wins, getting a good read on Garrett’s capability is evaluation that helps the Cowboys make a plan moving forward.

The Cowboys aren’t getting out of the deep end in 2010, and our predicition is that Garrett isn’t the one to lead them back to dry land, much less the Promised Land. The one beacon of hope for the Cowboys is that players will get the message from this firing that they must do better. If that doesn’t happen, the Cowboys will be sinking instead of swimming in the future just as as they are last year – only Wade Phillips won’t be around to be the fall guy next time.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud Week 8

Each week, we pore through the box scores to analyze fantasy football performances and tell you whether to applaud them or whether to consider them a fraud. With each verdict, we’ll make sure you know exactly what it means.

Quarterbacks 

Troy Smith of the 49ers. Via espn.com

Sam Bradford, Rams – We praised Bradford’s play but not his fantasy football prospects in our Panthers/Rams thoughts. Verdict: A fraud

David Garrard, Jaguars – Garrard, who missed last week’s game with a concussion, came back with a vengeance, throwing for four touchdowns and running for one while completing an impressive 17-of-23 passes against the Cowboys. Garrard is a capable quarterback who will have big games from time to time, but he and his team show enough inconsistency that you can’t really count on him to do so. He’s a fantasy backup with upside, but not a guy we can count on as anything more than a spot starter. Verdict: A fraud

Jon Kitna, Cowboys – Kitna threw four picks against the Jaguars, but if your league doesn’t penalize for turnovers he ended up with good counting stats – 379 yards and a touchdown. He can pile up some numbers, and he has good targets, so if you’re looking for a fantasy backup, he’s decent. From this point on, Kitna will be a top-20 fantasy quarterback, and that makes him ownable in most leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Troy Smith, 49ers – Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner, got his first start for San Francisco and got a win across the pond, ralling the 49ers from a 10-3 deficit with three fourth-quarter scoring drives. And his numbers ended up being  good from a fantasy perspective – 12-for-19 for 196 yards with a passing TD and a rushing TD. It looks like Troy will outpace Alex Smith for the 49ers starting job going forward, and that makes him an interesting fantasy prospect the rest of the year. We’d feel good about claiming Troy Smith and seeing what happens in his next 2-3 games. Verdict: Applaud

Matthew Stafford, Lions – Stafford returned from his shoulder injury with a huge game, throwing for 212 yards and a touchdown. He isn’t an every-week fantasy starter, but as long as he’s healthy he’ s a quality spot starter who should definitely be owned in leagues with more than 10 teams. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

LeGarrette Blount runs against the Cardinals

LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers – A week after we touted Blount as a pick-up, he broke free for 120 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals. He should be owned in every league, and he deserves consideration now as a starter. He’s the man in Tampa Bay, and the RB job is his. Verdict: Applaud

Toby Gerhart, Vikings – The Vikes’ rookie had no yards on his two carries, but he did amass five catches for 67 yards. If he gains a third-down role, he becomes an interesting guy to watch down the stretch. For now, Gerhart is a must-own for Adrian Peterson owners, but if you don’t have Peterson and want to speculate with a waiver claim, go ahead. Verdict: Applaud

Marcel Reece, Raiders – Reece, the Raiders’ fullback, had a ridiculous game against the Seahawks with three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown and two rushes for 32 yards. But fullbacks aren’t reliable yardage producers, which means you should leave Reece on the waiver wire. Verdict: A fraud

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – We told you it’s now time to cut Stewart in our Panthers/Rams thoughts. Verdict: A fraud

Wide receivers

Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, Rams – We told you that Amendola’s a borderline starter and that Gibson is worth a claim in our Panthers/Rams thoughts. Verdict: Applaud

Anthony Armstrong, Redskins – Armstrong has emerged as the Redskins’ breakaway threat, and he had a 50-yard grab against the Lions en route to a three-catch, 92-yard performance. Armstrong is now the clear No. 2 receiver in Washington behind Santana Moss, and Armstrong is worth a look in large leagues as a claim if he’s still on the waiver wire. Verdict: Applaud

Steve Breaston, Cardinals – After missing three games due to injury, Breaston returned with eight catches for 147 yards. That shows he’s healthy and that he can contribute despite Arizona’s sorry quarterback situation. If Breaston hit your league’s waiver wire, claim him, and consider starting him in leagues that use three receivers. He’s back to being a top-30 wideout. Verdict: Applaud

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders – HeyBey broke free for one huge play, a 69-yard touchdown, and finished the game against the Seahawks with five catches for 105 yards and a score. He also added 30 rushing yards, which is a nice fantasy bonus. He’s a big-play guy, but consistency has been lacking to this point in his two-year NFL career. Still, the former first-round pick has rare speed. For now, we have him on watch lists, not on a roster, but in massive leagues he’s worth a claim just in case he’s starting to get it. Verdict: A fraud

Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars – Sims-Walker had a huge day with eight catches for 153 yards and a score. He now has four touchdowns on the season, but just two 100-yard games. This was also only his second game this season with more than four catches. In other words, MSW is incredibly inconsistent, and that means he isn’t someone you can start with confidence. He’s the ultimate third wideout who can put up big numbers but is far from a sure bet to do so. Don’t be fooled by this game. Verdict: A fraud

Brandon Tate, Patriots – Tate, the big-play threat outside for the Patriots now that Randy Moss is gone, broke free for a 65-yard touchdown against the Vikings and finished with 101 receiving yards. His production is incredibly inconsistent, though, and that means he is difficult to start even in larger leagues. So while Tate should be owned in case he develops consistency down the stretch, this game doesn’t mean he’s a weekly starter. Verdict: A fraud

Nate Washington, Titans – Washington caught his fourth touchdown pass of the season against the Chargers and finished with 117 receiving yards on four catches. That production, plus the fact that Kenny Britt is expected to miss “an extended period of time” with a hamstring injury, means Washington must be picked up this week and could emerge as a fantasy starter while Britt is out. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Marcedes Lewis celebrates a TD catch with David Garrard. From espn.com

Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars  – Lewis had another huge fantasy game, grabbing two touchdown passes (his only two catches) for 51 yards against the Cowboys. He now has seven touchdowns this season, and even though his reception numbers have been a little inconsistent, he is without question an every-week fantasy starter. Verdict: Applaud

Delanie Walker, 49ers – Vernon Davis of the 49ers entered the team’s game in London with an ankle injury, and in the first quarter he had to leave the game once again. Walker, the backup tight end who has rare speed for the position, stepped in and had a big game with five catches for 85 yards. If Davis misses any time, Walker becomes a major sleeper at the tight end position. Watch the news during San Francisco’s bye this week to see Davis’ status, and in large leagues go ahead and grab Walker and stash him if you have a roster spot. Verdict: Appalud

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Rise/Sink/Float Week 8

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.

Ronnie Brown of the Dolphins against the Bengals. Photo via espn.com

Rise – Miami Dolphins – We believe in the Dolphins, and all the more so after they bounced back from a 14-3 deficit to put up a 22-14 road win in Cincinnati over the Bengals. The Dolphins have faced a brutal schedule, and the fact that they’ve gotten to 4-3 despite it is a testament to their chops. Miami is going to be in the playoff hunt throughout the year, and

Sink -Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys played a trick on their fans on Halloween, laying a complete egg in a 35-17 home loss against the Jaguars. Backup QB Jon Kitna threw four interceptions, although three of those were tipped or dropped by his receivers. The Cowboys have talent, but at this point they’re the most obviously undisciplined team in the league. That has killed their playoff hopes, made Wade Phillips a firing-line certainty, and proved that it takes more than talent to win in the NFL.

Float – New York Jets – The Jets saw their five-game winning streak fly away in a 9-0 home loss to the Packers. It was the first game of the year in which turnovers, a bugaboo last year, really hampered the Jets. But that can be chalked up as a bad game, and we still believe the Jets remain among the NFL’s scariest team. Now, they know exactly what their Achilles heel is and the kind of game they must play to win.

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FR: Trades and swaps

The trade market in the NFL has gotten far more active than it was when I covered the league more regularly (1996-2002). With some deals already in the books, I thought we’d create a football relativity scale to compare the swaps. This post will include both trades and restricted free agent signings, which basically become like trades because of the draft pick compensation that a team losing a player (usually) gets in return. We’re using a 10-point scale, with 10 being the biggest impact and 1 being a move that doesn’t really matter. (After the Jay Cutler trade, we of course tweaked the comparison.)

10 – Broncos trade QB Jay Cutler and an ’09 fifth-round pick to Bears for QB Kyle Orton, an ’09 first-round pick  (No. 18), an ’09 third-round pick, and a 2010 first-round pick
In what may be remembered as the blockbuster trade of the decade in the NFL, the Broncos closed the door on the Jay Cutler imbroglio by dealing the disgruntled signal-caller to Chicago. Cutler is the Bears’ most significant quarterback investment maybe ever. If he fits in as a Bear, he solves a decades-long problem. But if Cutler fails in the Windy City, it will set the Bears back until Barack Obama runs for reelection. Still, Bears fans who haven’t seen a top-flight QB for scores of years rightly feel as if Christmas came early in the form of this Santa Claus, Indiana, native. The fact that the Bears are relying on Cutler’s Vanderbilt teammate Earl Bennett to start at wideout only makes the move a better fit.
For the Broncos, the pressure is now on. They got what they wanted from the deal – first-rounders this year and next, a third this year, and a quarterback who can start this year in Kyle Orton. There’s only about a 5 percent chance that Orton can be the long-term answer, though, and so they must get a QB of the future this year. If they don’t move up to assure that they get Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez – or take Josh Freeman if they’re believers in him – then this trade will be a step back. The worst thing Denver can do is to let it’s ego take over (again) and take a sixth-rounder and say he’s the guy for the future. They must use these picks well, including one on a quarterback, to make this huge haul from being fool’s gold.

9 – Patriots trade QB Matt Cassel (franchise player) and LB Mike Vrabel to Chiefs for a second-round pick (No. 34 overall)
The Patriots franchised QB Matt Cassel in order to trade him, and Saturday they dealt Cassel (along with LB Mike Vrabel) for a second-round pick (34th overall). It’s not a huge bounty for the Pats, but they also clear $18 million in salary-cap space in the deal. The Chiefs pay a fair but not exorbinant price for their quarterback of the future. Solving this issue this early allows the Chiefs to focus on their other myriad issues from here on out. GM Scott Pioli knows Cassel from New England, so he more than anyone has a feel for what the Chiefs are getting in this still-young QB. Mike Vrabel went from an underrated performer to an impact player to a grizzled vet in New England – and the last category is why the Chiefs want him to be part of their team. Pioli knows Vrabel can be a great influence in the locker room and in the defensive huddle. Vrabel’s value is as the veteran influence who can help the Chiefs learn a new defensive system as well as develop a personality of a winning team. When Romeo Crennel was in Cleveland, he brought in Willie McGinest to do a similar thing. This part of the move that won’t win a ton of games in Kansas City, but it should help the Chiefs’ young players learn how to win. It appears this deal will go down in Chiefs lore as one of that helped begin to turn things around.

8 – Bills trade OLT Jason Peters to Eagles for ’09 first-round pick (No. 28), ’09 fourth-round pick, and a ’10 sixth-round pick
Peters, a college tight end, developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle in Buffalo, but for the last 2 offseasons he’s been discontent over his contract. That seemed to affect his play in ’08, as it was down a level from his ’07 performance. Because Peters wasn’t happy, the Bills decided to turn the page. They’ll need to replace him, because he was a major building block in their offensive line. This deletion could even make the Terrell Owens addition a little less impactful, because quarterback Trent Edwards (who has been injury prone) won’t have the same protection. The No. 28 pick probably won’t yield a top tackle, but having that pick could allow the Bills to get a top tackle with their pick at No. 11.
For Philly, this is a much needed addition. After letting longtime starting OTs Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan leave via free agency, the Eagles (who have always emphasized line play on both offense and defense) needed help. Peters will step in on the left side, while free-agent addition Stacy Andrews likely will get the right tackle spot. That’s a pretty good recovery by the Eagles.

7 – Seahawks trade LB Julian Peterson to Lions for DT Cory Redding and a 5th-round pick in ’09
Peterson’s first two years in Seattle were dynamic, as he used his freakish athleticism to make plays all over the field. But last season was not a good one for Peterson, who had just 5 sacks and struggled along with the rest of Seattle’s defense. After giving fellow LB Lofa Tatupu a big contract and franchising LB Leroy Hill, Seattle couldn’t stomach Peterson’s price tag anymore. Defensive tackle is a big need area, so they get Redding, who got paid big bucks last year. Redding has promise and makes some big plays but isn’t a force as consistently as a true bellwether DT should be. That’s why Detroit was willing to part with him. It will be interesting to see if new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz can unleash Peterson again. The guess here is that he can, and here’s why: Schwartz was in Tennessee when the Titans turned Jevon Kearse into “The Freak” who terrorized quarterbacks. I think Kearse and Peterson are comparable as athletes and in their builds. Something tells me that the plan in Detroit is to make Peterson the defense’s biggest weapon. Peterson has that level of ability, so that sounds like a good plan to me.

7 (con’t) – Chiefs trade TE Tony Gonzalez to Falcons for a 2010 second-round pick
Gonzalez is the most accomplished tight end in the game today, and he might end up with the best numbers of any tight end ever. He’s made 10 Pro Bowls in his 12 seasons and has 916 catches, nearly 11 thousand receiving yards, and 76 touchdowns. And he’s not slowing down; he had 96 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 scores last year in the Chiefs’ wild-and-crazy spread offense. But with new leadership in Kansas City, Gonzalez’s role going forward was a bit uncertain, and he’s made no secret of his desire to play for a contender. Atlanta is that, and Gonzalez shouldn’t have that much pressure on him in the ATL because the Falcons have a true No. 1 receiver in Roddy White. White and Gonzalez are a pretty good tandem for Matt Ryan to work with. And while Gonzalez is little more than an efficient blocker, the Falcons have a good blocking tight end in Justin Peelle who can rotate with or even play across from Gonzalez. All in all, it’s a good addition that will cost the Falcons nothing now but a second-rounder in 2010. By the way, the Chiefs may be thankful to wait a year on that pick, because it’s entirely possible that the second-rounder will be higher than the No. 55 spot, which is Atlanta’s second this weekend.

6 – Browns trade TE Kellen Winslow to Buccaneers for 2nd-round pick in ’09 and 5th-round pick in ’10
Kellen Winslow never quite lived up to his potential as a top-10 pick, but the second-generation tight end has certainly shown flashes of it in his five-year career – most notably during his 2007 Pro Bowl season. In Tampa, he’ll be at least the second receiving target (behind WR Antonio Bryant). Cleveland obviously wanted to turn the page and start over under a new coach and GM, and I’m not surprised they dealt Winslow. (I was expecting the trade to be WR Braylon Edwards to Philly, but this move is quite similar.) But the Browns will have to upgrade their offensive weapons if QB Brady Quinn (or Derek Anderson, if he starts) is going to have a chance of success. This move makes Tampa better, and it gives the Browns a chance to push the reset button harder and more effectively than they could have with Winslow still in the locker room.

5 – Eagles trade CB Lito Sheppard to Jets for fifth-round pick in ’09 and conditional pick in ’10
CB Lito Sheppard has wanted out of Philadelphia ever since the Eagles paid Asante Samuel instead of him lady offseason. Now Sheppard is getting his wish via a trade to the Jets. The Jets, who were so desperate for corner help last season that they signed Ty Law, now have a legitimate starter to pair with emerging star Darrelle Revis. Sheppard fits best as a No. 2 corner, so it’s a good landing spot for him. Philly is getting a fifth-round pick in ‘09 plus a conditional pick in 2010. They have Samuel, Sheldon Brown, and Joselio Hanson at corner, so the Eagles were dealing from a position of strength.

4  – Texans trade QB Sage Rosenfels to Vikings for 4th-round pick
In this post, we compared all of the quarterbacks in starting discussions on the relativity scale. Note that Rosenfels and incumbent Vikings starter Tarvaris Jackson were on the same tier. So does this make the Vikings better? Well, if you believe that competition will bring out the best in one or both of them, then maybe. But I’m more of the opinion that the Vikings now have 2 quarterbacks who are between the 25th and 40th best in the NFL, and that neither is going to elevate much beyond that point on a season-long basis. And that means that the quarterback spot remains a trouble spot for a Vikings team that is pretty strong almost everywhere else. This move does not a true contender make.

4 (con’t) – Patriots trade CB Ellis Hobbs to Eagles for two 2009 fifth-round picks
In this draft-day trade, the Patriots let go Hobbs, a great athlete who has been above-average but not great for New England. He’s a little too wild-eyed to be a consistent corner, but as a nickel back he’s good. Hobbs is also a dangerous return man. He makes sense for Philly after the Eagles traded Lito Sheppard, especially considering that Sheldon Brown is now asking for a deal. The price was right for the Eagles to add some depth just in case.

3- Eagles trade WR Greg Lewis and a 2010 draft pick to Patriots for a 2009 fifth-round draft pick
I’ve always liked Lewis, but he never became a consistent starter in Philadelphia. With the emergence of DeSean Jackson as a rookie last year, Lewis became merely a bit player in Philly. In New England, Lewis will drop into the Jabar Gaffney role as an outside receiver to complement Randy Moss and Wes Welker. That’s a role Lewis can succeed in. He’ll make at least three or four significant plays for the Pats in ’09 — well worth the cost of a fifth-round pick.

3 (con’t) – Dolphins trade C Samson Satele to Raiders for a 2009 sixth-round pick. Teams also swap fourth-round picks.
Satele was a second-round pick two years ago and an instant starter as a rookie, but he fell out of favor in Miami when Bill Parcells took over. Satele is more of a quick center than a powerful one, and Parcells has always preferred beefier linemen. When the Dolphins signed C Jake Grove this offseason, the writing was on the wall for Satele. But he’s a good get for Oakland (who lost Grove) and will probably start there.

3 (con’t) Jets trade DE Kenyon Coleman, S Abram Elam, and QB Brett Ratliff along with a first-round pick (17th overall) and a second-round pick to Browns for a first-round pick (5th overall)
This was the Mark Sanchez draft-day trade, and it would of course rate much higher on the scale in that light. But we’re rating it here solely on the veteran players who moved, and the truth is that none of them are special. Coleman is a decent 3-4 defensive end who’s good against the run, but he’s 30 years old, which means he’s not a core guy. The Browns tried to get Elam as a restricted free agent, but the Jets matched his 1-year, $1.5 million deal to keep him. Elam showed flashes of ability last year, but he was slated to be a backup in New York. He should at least be a starter in Cleveland. Ratliff is a former undrafted free agent who made a big splash in the preseason last year, but quarterbacks have often done without transferring that success to the regular season before. So I still view Ratliff as a long shot to ever be an NFL contributor. All in all, I think the Browns settled a little too easily in this deal in terms of the vets they got.

2- Cowboys trade DB Anthony Henry to Lions for QB Jon Kitna
An actual player-for-player trade is still pretty rare in the NFL, but this swap is exactly that. Kitna, who wanted out of Detroit after being benched for the year with a short-term injury last season, is an upgrade for the Cowboys at backup quarterback. (Brad Johnson was washed up when he had to play last year.) This gives the Cowboys more security in case Tony Romo gets hurt. Henry is no longer quick enough to play corner, but he has the size to move to safety, so he’s worth a shot for the Lions. Detroit needs so much help that they might have been better off just taking a draft pick from Dallas, but Henry should at least make the team.

2 (con’t) – Falcons trade WR Laurent Robinson to Rams. Teams also swap fifth- and sixth-round picks in ’09
Robinson showed promise in his rookie season in ’07, but he fell out of favor last year in Atlanta. Still, he’s a prospect who could turn into a third or fourth receiver, and given St. Louis’ dearth of receivers, he’s worth the small price. The Rams don’t even lose a draft pick – they just move down 20 spots or so in two rounds.

1 – Jaguars trade DT Tony McDaniel to Dolphins for 7th-round pick
McDaniel has been injury prone in his three year career, missing 23 games in that span. But the Dolphins believe he can be a rotation defensive end in their 3-4 defense. At this minor price, why not give him a shot?

1 (con’t) – Packers trade LS J.J. Jansen to Panthers for conditional 2011 7th-round pick
There won’t be a more minor deal this offseason than this, with a player who missed his first pro season due to injury being swapped for a pick two years from now. But it’s worth noting because it’s a sign of how hamstrung the Panthers are by the Julius Peppers situation. They are so tight against the cap that they couldn’t re-sign reliable veteran long snapper Jason Kyle. Instead, the Panthers will rely on a minimum-salary rookie who is completely untested as a pro. They need to do something with Peppers soon — a trade, a new deal, whatever — or else the only other additions will be via miniscule moves like this.

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FR: Quarterbacks for 2009 and beyond

In all the Super Bowl coverage, Chase asked if we could cite Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame chances. It’s too soon to do that (he’s only 5 years into his career), but it’s not too soon to play football relativity with the quarterbacks in the NFL for 2009 and beyond. We’ll do this on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best in the league right now, and 1 being a marginal starter (the ultimate 2008 example is J.T. O’Sullivan). We’re not rating shouldn’t-be-starters like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ken Dorsey or Dan Orlovsky.

10 – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger. Normally, I would have put Brady and Manning on a level by themselves, but I think Ben is on their same level this year for a couple of reasons. One, Ben took a step forward this year by winning a second Super Bowl and performing so well in the clutch. Plus, there are questions about Brady (health) and Manning (is his prime ending?). So I’m putting the three together and calling them the elite.

9 – Kurt Warner, Drew Brees. Warner showed this year that his fastball is back, and when he’s at his best he’s an elite QB. Brees puts up crazy numbers but turns the ball over just a little too much to be on the elite level. The fact that Brees has no ring also keeps him from going any higher.

8 – Philip Rivers, Donovan McNabb. McNabb’s stats don’t bear out this ranking, but his consistent performance and his playoff W/L record nudges him above a few other quarterbacks. Rivers had a breakout year and has played well in the playoffs the last two years. He’s not elite yet, but he looks to be a top-5 QB in the next two years or so.

7 – Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo. This the level at which it’s possible to start poking holes in a quarterback’s resume. Manning has a ring, but his playoff performances otherwise have been spotty. Romo and Cutler put up big numbers, but they’re still inconsistent. Ryan had a great first year, but 2009 could move him way up or way down the list.

6 – Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Matt Cassel, Chad Pennington. Pennington is the one vet on this list; when he stays healthy, he’s solid. Rodgers, Flacco, and Cassel were all first-time starters in 2008, and all showed that they have the potential to be above-average starters. We’ll put them here knowing that any of the three could take another step forward or a step back next year.

5 – David Garrard, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Jeff Garcia, Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins. Favre, Palmer, and Hasslebeck would all have rated higher in the past, but injuries or age (Favre) have limited their potential. We’ll see this year if any of the three can move back up the scale. Garcia and Collins are both acceptable starters, but neither can put a team on his back and carry it for more than a game or two. They can win with good teams, but can they make a full playoff run anymore? Garrard seems to be like a newer model of Garcia – a guy who can lead you to the playoffs, but who is unlikely to make a three- or four-game playoff run.

4 – Matt Schaub, Jake Delhomme, Jason Campbell, Trent Edwards. Schaub and Delhomme are hot-and-cold guys. If Schaub could stay healthy, he could move up at least one level. Campbell and Edwards have won some games, but their potential seems limited. Neither is going to win big unless the team around them is dynamite.

3 – Tyler Thigpen, JaMarcus Russell, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Shaun Hill, Marc Bulger, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Orton. Thigpen, Russell, Anderson, Quinn, and Hill can go on good streaks, but they haven’t stayed there long enough to be solid NFL starters. Leftwich wasn’t a starter in ’08, but he’s good enough to be at least a caretaker with a bit of upside. That’s what Bulger is at this point in his career, and that’s what Orton showed himself to be in ’08. None of those three is a long-term answer at this point, but teams could also do worse.

2 – Tarvaris Jackson, Seneca Wallace, Gus Frerotte, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese, Daunte Culpepper, Rex Grossman. All of these guys show flashes that they can be productive starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but none can sustain those flashes anymore. I’d take these guys as backups, because they might bring a spark, but as a No. 1 they just aren’t going to be the answer.

1- Brodie Croyle, J.P. Losman, J.T. O’Sullivan, Jon Kitna. There is an excuse for starting one of these guys in a single-game situation. (Somebody else got hurt, or, more likley, two somebody elses got hurt.) There is not an excuse for making any of them part of your 2009 plan, even in setting up a quarterback competition.

Thoughts? Anybody I missed that you’d like to see rated? Share them in the comments below.

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