Friday, October 21, 2005

NFL WEEK 7 START and SIT

Can you believe we're nearly at the mid-point of the regular season? Where DID the time go! The World Series is starting in a few days... and if I may digress for a moment, said series is shaping up to a be as dull as Trigonometry. That is of course, unless you enjoy fiddling with numbers or find 2-1 final scores riveting. Powerful bats may get you to the post-season, as the Yankees, BoSox and Cardinals can well attest, but powerful arms get you to the World Series.
In Football, offense may get you to the dance... but defense gets you the girl. Taking 2 examples; entering the season, the St. Louis Rams couldn't field a more formidable offense. Star receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, coupled with up and comer Kevin Curtis are capable of giving any secondary the shakes. Throw bullish RB Steven Jackson into the mix... a guy whose pass catching skills are improving with every week, and you've got a recipe for 28 points per game. However, the Ram secondary is like state park- people are free to move about it, almost at will. And what about the '04 Indianapolis Colts? The Indy' D was a speedway! Opponents were able to march up and down the field, as if the Colts' unit was nothing more than a scout team. Refusing to allow history to repeat itself, the Colts bolstered their squad... and have to be considered superBowl favorites. The team may not be scoring nearly as much, but they boast a far more balanced offense, and the D is downright stingy.
Good luck to the Chicago White Sox. Born with pinstripes in my veins... I do NOT care to see both Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens slide Series rings over their fingers with another team.

If you've looked at the match-ups for Week 7, than you're already aware that there are some brutal decisions that must be made. Plus, decisions are compounded by "Hurricane Wilma." Currently churning her way towards Florida, the Dolphin / Chief game has been moved to THIS Friday evening! With athletes such as QB Trent Green, RB Priest Holmes, disappointing but still-dangerous TE Tony Gonzalez, QB Gus Frerotte, RBs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, and TE Randy McMichael… this game carries some serious fantasy ramifications.
Other "Fantasy Footnotes": In a recent interview, San Francisco QB Tim Rattay stated that he loves "living by the bay." That's outstanding! Because now... he'll be living by yet another bay; Tampa Bay! The now former Niner' was traded to Tampa yesterday, and his move will eliminate any possible QB controversy or locker room dissent. Also, disappointing Eagle-turned Dolphin starter-turned-backup-turned-Charger A.J Feeley's arrival is a harbinger of things to come. As I've stated before and as is common knowledge, ain't no WAY the Bolts' can give 2 athletes starter money. While it remains unsettled as to just who will stay and who will go, the smart money says Drew Brees stays and Philip Rivers moves on. Why should San Diego, a team that's a defensive player or 2 away from making serious post-season noise, go backwards? Several teams are QB-starved, and only one can draft Matt Leinart. While it's early in the season, and there are sure to be other collegiate Signal Callers who prove themselves draft-worthy and emerge by April... there's a distinct advantage to acquiring a guy with NFL camp experience. Could Detroit... Cleveland... or even the N.Y Jets be calling the Chargers?

"MUST START QUARTERBACKS"

Carson Palmer: Palmer, whose name has been uttered in hushed tones alongside Peyton Manning's, tied the prolific Colt QB's record with his 9th consecutive game with a Passer Rating of 100+ last week. Simply incredible. Palmer has gotten the best of EVERY defensive coordinator this season, and this week, against a Steeler Secondary that has struggled mightily, Palmer remains an excellent start. Further helping matters; the cat brain trust has been giving thought to moving to "max' protect" offensive formations. Rugged RB Rudi Johnson keeps defenders honest, and the scary-good pass catching contingent prevents Cornerbacks from even thinking about the blitz'. So, it would be easy enough to bookend a pair of TEs and better protect the franchise Field General.
With just 4 interceptions this season the Steelers aren’t exactly ball-hawks, and allowing over 200 passing yards per contest... the secondary ranks 21st. At 5-1, Cincy’ squats alone atop the division and this game should serve as an excellent barometer; their 5 wins came against opponents with sub .500.

Peyton Manning: At this point, mayhaps we just get thoughts of a 45 TD season out of our little heads. Manning has proven human, while the defense supporting him has proven super-human. This week the Colts and Texans, two teams speeding in opposite directions clash in what should be a cake-walk for Indy’s skill po’ players. While it could be a “trap game” for Indianapolis... it won’t be. Texan QB David Carr isn’t good enough to light up the scoreboard, and Houston has scored a scant 54 points this season. Over the span of their 6 games against one another, the Colts have outscored the Texans by a ridiculous margin of 164-72. Manning, who has never been one to avoid rolling up the points and yards, should guide the Colts to an 18+ point win… and Indy’ will stack 6’s like poker chips.

Brett Favre: As bad as the Packers have been… and make no mistake they’ve been bad, they remain in contention in the NFC North because the divvy’ is awful and because Favre possesses an indomitable will to win. In a battle of defensively feeble 1-4 franchises Favre, at least, has provided his team with an iota of punch. The running game may have been relegated to trotting out a 3rd stringer, and the receiving corps may be thinned by injury, but Favre has remained a constant. The downside is that the Canton-bound QB's throws have lacked giddyup’ since mid-season of last year, and he’s turned the ball over at least twice in all but one game. Although Brett tends to struggle in Minny’s Metrodome, facing a Viking D that has allowed 135 points to be scored against them… he’s a solid play. On the receiving end, WRs Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson are fine starts in their own right.

“HONORABLE MENTION”

Aaron Brooks: Brooks may seem a curious choice, but consider the following; THE ST. LOUIS SECONDARY HAS BEEN HORRENDOUS! Sorry, didn’t mean to yell… just wanted to make my point. Look, Brooks may be a mental-midget but he CAN throw a Football. Coincidentally the Rams can’t STOP the pass, thus setting the table for Brooks and his receivers to hang rock-solid fantasy days. Even without Joe “I blow My Own” Horn, Donte’ Stallworth (keep in mind that Stallworth is hobbled with his own Hammy’ pull) and Devery Henderson have been productive, the former more so than the latter. *NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see how RB Antowain Smith responds after a solid showing against Atlanta last week. Smith shook off the rust in a hurry, and found the end-zone twice. Should he enjoy a similar day… he’s safe to use as a “Flex” start in most formats.

Donovan McNabb: Aside from his nightmarish game against the Dallas Cowboys (Week 5) ‘Nabbs been fab’ this season. In that game, D-Nab’ struggled to find the open man, almost refused to scramble (gotta’ be hernia hurtin’), and his issues compounded those that surround Philly’s stumbling rushing attack. Although San Diego’s inability to stop the pass is no secret, an Eagle run game that has been averaging 64 yards per tilt will not help the passing game take flight. If the Eag’ offensive assault finds success (the Eagles are 6-0 following the Bye), then it will be because the rushing attack found purchase Sunday.

Mark Brunell: Given that Brunell was considered washed-up when he split Jacksonville… he’s shown a strong arm, great poise, and has fared pretty well in our nation’s capitol. Shepherding a team that many observers feel is flawed, Brunell has thrown for at least 225 yards in every game but one, 290+ in 3 of Washington’s 5 games, and has multiple scores in every game but his first. Against a suspect San Fran’ Secondary (Frisco’ ranks last in total defense, allowing foes a preposterous 450+ total YPG) Sunday… Brunell and favorite target Santana Moss are VERY solid plays. In addition, RB Clinton Portis and TE Chris Cooley are solid starts as well.

Jake Plummer: Plummer… if you’ve read my columns, you’ll recall my marked distaste for Plummers’ “Scuzz-stache.” Looking more like a caterpillar on an all-Steroid diet than a mustache, the thing that lived below the Denver QB’s nose was mercifully, either killed or shaved off. However, word from the West is that a petition, signed by no less than 5,000 people, is circulating… BEGGING “The Snake” to grow it back! Do these people have nothing better to do? Don’t I!?! As for Plummer the QB… he’s been a different kinda’ Signal Caller this season; a smart one. Although the Broncos could well be walking into a hornet’s nest for the Meadowlands is no fun at all for visiting teams, Plummer remains a fine play. The Giants are allowing almost 320 passing yards per game, and top S (a top 10 IDP play when healthy) Gibril Wilson is nursing an ankle injury.

“SUSPECT STARTS”

Eli Manning: If Manning announced his pro presence against the San Diego Chargers Week 4… then last week, against the Cowboys (with 1 pick, 1 lost fumble, and 4 Sacks), he reminded coaches and fans that he remains a young and largely inexperienced starter. But if a 5-1 Denver team has an Achilles heel, then a Secondary that has been picked upon would be it. Allowing 245 passing yards per game, the Bronc’ defensive backfield has clearly struggled without top cover corner Champ Bailey. The run D is stout, however, and allowing fewer than 90 rushing yards per game “Big Blue” back Tiki Barber will have to fight for every yard. Look for the Broncos to mimic Dallas’ successful gameplan; they’ll mix coverages, bring pressure from unexpected sources, and try to confuse the still-growing Giant.

Drew Bledsoe: Drew and his pass catching posse are on the move, currently winging their way to Seattle. Bledsoe, a “statue-esque” Signal Caller under the best of circumstances, will not have a full complement of O-Linemen protecting him, thus his place under this heading. Generally, man-mountain LT Flozell Adams protects Bledsoe’s blind-side. Alas, Adams is sidelined with a torn-up knee so that daunting task will fall to “who-dat’?” Tackle Torrin Tucker. Worse still, stud Running Back Julius Jones may miss his 2nd consecutive game. Without the more explosive Jones, Dallas fields a bunch of slow ‘Pokes; Anthony Thomas, Marion Barber (again, Barber the III) and Tyler Thompson were held to just 92 yards on 38 totes last week. The upside, if you dare call it such, is that Seattle will be without starting Safety Ken Hamlin. Hamlin, who was assaulted late last Sunday night, suffered a fractured skull and small bloodclot that put pressure upon his brain. Unknown Marquand Manuel will make his first career start in Hamlin’s stead… look for Bledsoe to test Manuel early. WRs Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn, and TE Jason Witten (in particular) continue to be solid starts.

Steve McNair: Expected to start, “Air” McNair is, as usual, all kinds of nicked up; a tweaked back and a balky ankle are his current ailments. While this weeks’ opponent, the Arizona Cardinals (1-4), haven’t fielded a particularly tight D… McNair has struggled to post points. Things will be worse this week as favorite target WR Drew Bennett will be out (and may not be back until perhaps Week 11) with a broken thumb that required the insertion of a steel pin. Until the Titan QB develops a better rapport with young WRs Courtney Roby and Brandon Jones… you’d be better served to start another QB, even against this sorry 1-4 ‘Zona squad. *NOTE: Ben Troupe is a solid fantasy play at TE this week, and the aforementioned receiver Brandon Jones would be a sneaky-good ‘Wire pickup. Somebody’s gonna have to pick up the receiving slack, my money’s on the athletic Jones and Troupe.

Kerry Collins: With all the skill position talent at his beck and call, with All-Pro receiver Randy Moss and highly touted RB LaMont Jordan… with all the pre-season smack that was circulating about how “this Raider team really does have SuperBowl talent,” … would you EVER have imagined that they’d get off to a 1 win start? Helllll no! This week, against a Buffalo team that is eager to snatch possession of first place in the AFC East, Collins will have everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him. Pressure. Life’s all about responding to pressure, and Collins tends to panic in the face of it. Further, head coach Norv Turner has called this game a “must win” and I’d bet dollars to your donuts that unless the Raiders fall into a 1st Quarter hole, he goes run-heavy. Jordan can certainly handle an increase in carries and he’s been begging to get them. Should Turner shy away from the brutish back as he has in virtually every one of the Raiders games thus far, and the team loses, his job will truly be in jeopardy. *NOTE: Without Moss in the lineup, to-date disappointment WR Jerry Porter should see an appreciable increase in receptions. Likewise, TE Courtney Anderson is a fine play, against this tough Bill Secondary.

“MUST START RUNNING BACKS”

LaDainian Tomlinson: Tomlinson IS the best back in the league. C-Hawk Shaun Alexander and Colt Edgerrin James may be giving him a run for his multi-million dollarinis… but they’re serving more as motivation than “competition.” This week, the Eagle D is looking to defuse the Bolts’. Coming off a Bye, Eag’ coach Andy Reid has had ample time to scheme for this game… and it doesn’t take a Vince Lombardi type of Football genius to figure the game-plan. If Philly’ can stop Tomlinson, Philly will stop San Diego. That is, however, far easier said than done. This season, LT has hung fine diggies' on the Steelers, Broncos, and Giants, amongst others. The concern Sunday is the state of the Charger line. With 3 starters (C Nick Hardwick, T Shane Olivea, G Mike Goff) listed as “Questionable,” LT could find his holes to be the approximate size of postage stamps. Further, QB Drew Brees could be placed under extraordinary duress. Should this trio miss the game… contemplate the unthinkable; slide TE Antonio Gates and Drew Brees over to “Bench.”

Shaun Alexander: “Alexander the Great” has been a fantasy phenom! Dude leads the NFL in rushing yards with 715, dude leads the league with a dozen TDs, and dude looks to become the top rusher in Seahwk history Sunday against the Cowboys. The freakishly talented 'Hawk positively soared last Sunday, recording what was arguably his finest game as a pro with 141 ground yards and 4 scores. Oh yes, “dude” has scored in 5 straight. Dallas may be tight against the run… but QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Joe Jurevicius, and TE Jerramy Stevens have been very productive even without top receivers Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson. Look for the above three to keep defenders off the line, and Alexander should log several more receptions.

Edgerrin James: Where the Colt passing game is giving Manning’s owners severe gastric distress, Edge’s pronounced production is prompting bouts of water cooler giddiness! Edge’, while not the same kind of runner he was as a wide-eyed rook’, is a smarter… and arguably better NFL back at this point in his career. James has the power to move the pile, can still kick it into another gear when he spots a hint o’ daylight, and has baby-butt soft hands. James boasts the hands of a top-flight Wideout. His production can’t be disputed; 100+ rushing yards in 4 of 6 games, 150+ total yards in 2 games, and scores in each of the past 4 games. Against a winless Houston team that is hurtling downhill, Edge’ and his undefeated crew of Colts should win by 15+ points. With the Indy’ O more dependant upon James and the run game than in years’ past, look for another game of 130+ total yards and another two trips ‘cross the stripe.

Willis McGahee: When the offense was laughable with inexperienced J.P Losman dropping back to survey the field, RB Willis McGahee was the one offensive constant. Now, with veteran QB Kelly Holcomb taking the snaps, the forward pass is again a credible threat and opponents can’t cram the box with a "Linebacker lynch mob." McGahee has set a goal for himself; “to be the BEST Running Back in the NFL.” Using star Seahawk Shaun Alexander as his measuring stick, McGahee’s certainly set his sights high. With 138 carries to date, the only back whose handled the ball more is Indy runner Edgerrin James. “Whatchoo’ Talkin’ ‘bout Willis has found the end-zone in 4 straight games.

LaMont Jordan: Given the skill po’ players supporting him and his likely (fantasy) draft-status, Jordan’s a weekly “Must Start.” This week, I’d expect Jordan to see the 25+ touches coach Norv Turner promised him during the pre-season. The passing game is struggling, WR Randy Moss is sidelined, and allowing a stupendous 158+ rushing yards per… the Bills are ghastly-bad against the run. Jordan has scores in 4 consecutive games and has been used as a receiver with increasing frequency. With his job on the line, look for Turner to unleash Jordan and pull out all the stops Sunday.

Warrick Dunn: Very quietly, Warrick’s “done” quite a bit. Dunn’s been a tremendous real, and fantasy back. This week, Dunn draws a surprisingly suspect Jet run D (allowing almost 130 rushing yards per). Dunn runs well at home, and with stable-mate T.J Duckett hobbled and potentially sidelined… look for the Falc’ star to receive a heavier than usual workload. It’s not inconceivable that Dunn sees 28 touches and racks up 120 or more total yards.

“HONORABLE MENTION”

Jerome Bettis: This is a tough call. If you managed to get to the ‘Wire before your league-mates did, and handcuffed yourself by grabbing virtual nobody Willie Parker, than BOTH Pitt’ backs are solid starts. The powerful Bengals… well, if they have a weakness, than stopping the run would be it. With Big Ben’s mobility hampered by his knee injury, and the Bengals yielding almost 120 rushing yards per game, look for “the Jaw with feet,” coach Bill Cowher, to ram “The Bus” through Cincy’s D-Line. Cowher was overwhelmingly remorseful about his decision to keep Bettis sidelined last week, and the longest tenured coach in the league won’t make the same mistake this week. The Steeler / Bengal rivalry is a long-standing one… beating the resurgent Bengs’ would be a feather in Cowher’s cap. *NOTE: It’s difficult to assess Parker’s value. Almost certainly, “Fast Willie” won’t have the same impact that he did at the start of the season. However, the league seems to be moving to that whole “thunder” and “lightning” running back combo… and Bettis and Parker are a dynamic Steeler duo. Look for TE Heath Miller to again be a fantasy factor of stud receiver Hines Ward is out with that naggy Hammy’. “Big Money” Miller made several acrobatic catches last week, and I’d expect him to emerge as a top fantasy weapon at his position… if not by the end of this season, then certainly by the start of next.

“SUSPECT STARTS”

Steven Jackson: I am NOT suggesting that you bench the productive back. But, I am suggesting that you prepare yourself for a possible letdown. With backup QB Jamie Martin over Center, the Rams are not nearly so pO’-tent. And, with WR Torry Holt hobbled, even the Saints could conceivably bottle Jackson up.

Rudi Johnson: With the Cin’ City offense as explosive as Nitroglycerine… I am not suggesting you sit Johnson either. Again, though, I am urging you to prepare for a bit of a letdown. The Steelers are far more stout against the run (fewer than 90 rushing yards per game) than pass (allowing 205 passing yards per), and I’d look for QB Carson Palmer to air it out early and often, with Johnson keeping the Steelers honest… as opposed to his being used to bludgeon the Backers’ senseless.

Curtis Martin: “C-Mart” heads the Gang-Green O, no question. But, with QB Vinnie Testaverde over Center… the Jet O takes on a more dangerous complexion. The Falcs’ are allowing over 130 rushing yards per contest, and the Linebacker corps is further depleted. If Vinnie can keep the Hot-Lanta Secondary from creeping up in run support… then Curtis could find some room to roam. However, and that’s a BIG however, perennial Pro Bowl Center Kevin Mawae is gone for the season, victim of a torn triceps, and Mawae was a big cog in the Green run game. NO Center was more effective on sweeps, as few Centers possess Mawae’s athleticism. The Jet line, already being shuffled, could be in utter disarray without the savvy Center calling the shots. Again, although Atlanta struggles to stop the run… keep in mind that they’re planning on a heavy diet of Curtis Martin.

Jamal Lewis: Lewis’s owners have moved from the “he’s just off to a slow start” school of thought to thinking “man, the guy was unable to re-hab’ properly and he’ll NEVER be a good start this season.” While that might be a tad extreme, there’s no doubt that this is a lost season for Lewis AND the Ravens. Jamal Lewis has accrued a mere 292 rushing yards on 98 carries this season, and for those of you not packin’ an abacus… that’s less that 3 yards per tote. With the understanding that Bear backers’ Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs head the leagues’ 4th ranked rushing D… this ain’t the week that Lewis finds his way back to the land of the elite, either. Further, QB Anthony Wright lacks might, and opponents know that Lewis is the spearhead of the dull Balty’ O. The fact of the matter is, Jamal Lewis WASN’T able to rehab properly… prison isn’t exactly training camp, ya’ know? Those of you who belong to “Dynasty” leagues and are out of contention… you might think about trading for Lewis. He’s far too talented to have fizzled out over the course of a single off-season.

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