Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Please forgive my inability to post... my sister gave birth to twin girls! I WILL hang the rest of Fantasy Baseball's 3rd Baggers tomorrow, Wednesday.

Week 8 Wrap-Up

If there was a “theme” to Week 8… then it was “STATEMENT!” Teams made “statements,” individual athletes made “statements,” and even entire divisions made “statements.” Such statements were made through performances; both spectacular and horrid.

Let’s take a look at 3 such “statements.”

STATEMENT # 1: Giant Running Back Tiki Barber: One of the most unheralded athletes to ever step onto a field of play put on an absolute clinic yesterday. Barber’s 200+ yard, 1 TD rushing performance came against the Washington Redskins, and clearly made emerging QB Eli Manning’s job that much easier. But more importantly, against what was widely believed to be a top run defense, Tiki’s career-best day will force fans and coaches alike to reconsider ANY “wrong side of 30” notions they may have had about “Big Blue’s” back.

STATEMENT #2: “The Eagle Myth”: When the season was but an exciting prospect, and every team (except for perhaps San Francisco and Houston) harbored SuperBowl XL hopes, the Eagles were considered the class of the NFC East. The offense boasted an elite Signal Caller, a perennial Pro Bowl Wide Receiver, and a versatile Running Back whose slick moves and pass catcher’s hands would give opposing defenders fits. The team’s D was perceived to be just as strong… and maybe even a bit stronger than its offense. All in all, the Eags’ were considered a “lock” to contend for the NFC. That, however, was in August. But when September rolled around and the games had meaning- cracks began appearing in the Eagle armor. A Week 1 loss to Atlanta in front of a national Monday Night Football audience was humbling, but the team drew strength from the fact that they held Atlanta to 14 first Quarter points. Those 2 scores were, however, enough to win the game. The Eag’s whipped the Niners by 39 points week 2, sent Oakland back to Cali’ after beating ‘em by 3 points Week 3, and escaped a Week 4 tilt at Kansas City with a 4 point win. But then… then the Eags’ may have had their wings clipped. Philly’ suffered cruel defeat at the hands of their division rival Cowboys Week 5; their loss by more than 3 TDs. After beating the Chargers by 3 points Week 6… the “cracks” that lay just beneath the teams’ surface became full-blown fault-lines. And, in much the same way a single pulled thread can unravel an entire sweater… the team as a whole; defense AND offense, has come undone. Sunday, the Broncos tied the Eags’ to the whipping post and exposed the defensive unit in every way possible. Denver QB Jake Plummer and a somewhat suspect squad of Bronc’ pass catchers picked the Eag’ Secondary apart, while Denver’s “Thunder and Lightning” running back duo crashed and slashed their way through their foes, seemingly at will. Bottom line” With division rivals New York and Dallas ahead of them in the standings (Philadelphia and Washington share 4-3 records, but the Eags’ conference and division records are abysmal), and a brutal second-half schedule awaiting them…at this point, it looks like coach Andy Reids’ “aerie” will come home to roost… and that’s NOT Home Field advantage.

STATEMENT #3: “Big Ben Has Limited Passing Ability”
Entering the season, if there was a knock on Roethlisberger, it was that “he’s limited in his ability…. That’s why the Steelers have him throw 15 times a game.” Look, I too figured that this week, against this aggressive D, Big Ben would attempt perhaps a dozen or so passes…. and RBs Bettis and Parker would bring down Balty’s curtain. Contrary to the expectations of so many, the young Steeler stole the show! Roethlisberger (whose name is almost as irritating to type as Bengal WR T.J Houshmandzadeh) recorded a career-high 30 passing attempts, and connected on 18 for 177 yards and a pair of scores. Even more impressive than Ben’s numbers? Ben’s poise. With 3 minutes and change left in the 4th, Roethlisberger guided his team 60 yards downfield and left his franchise in fine Field Goal position. The 3 was booted through the uprights, the Pitt’ D stood firm in the face of a frantic, last minute Raven drive, and Roethlisberger… alone, was responsible for his teams’ gutty win. Sure, stud rookie TE Heath Miller helped as did the Pittsburgh defense, but Roethlisberger put on quite the Monday Night show… and proved that he was, indeed, a top NFL Signal Caller.

Arizona at Dallas: “Julius Jones stands to miss his 3rd consecutive game, but …Marion Barber constitutes a sneaky-good p/u against a porous Cardinal run D… Dallas is the superior team. At this point, with J.J Arrington lookin' a helluva' a lot like a bust', Zona trots out a one dimensional offense. … 'Poke S Roy Williams and CBs Anthony Henry and Terence Newman are solid IDP plays... “

If you wish, consider the outcome of this game a third “statement.” Coach Bill Parcells can be damn’ sure that his team will be taken as serious as a heart attack now. Before the coin-flip, and indeed even in the days leading up to the game, Parcells had been overheard stressing the importance of THIS game to his posse o’ ‘Pokes. A 21 point victory is ample assurance that Parcells’ message was hear loud and clear! With New York a mere game ahead, Washington but one behind, and the standings of the NFC b’East knotted quite-tight…Parcells deemed the win crucial.
Running Back Julius Jones may be a stud, but in each of his 2 NFL seasons he’s missed multiple games due to injury. Last season a broken shoulder blade terminated a fine rookie campaign, this season a high ankle sprain has had him sidelined for 3 games and counting. But after last year, Parcells refused to allow a single injury to derail his entire team. Enter rookie runner Marion Barber. In his first start as a pro, the youngster rolled up 127 yards and a pair of TDs, and looked like anything BUT a wide-eyed rook. Barber zipped through the Card’ D-Line with ease, and was inside ‘Zona’s defensive backfield almost as often as SS Adrian Wilson. The sole difference being, of course, that as a Cardinal… Wilson’s expected to be in the defensive backfield. After the game coach Parcells lavished praise upon the rookie, commending him for being a “complete player.” Big Bill came within a short-hair of likening Barber to legendary Bear back Gayle Sayers, and since Parcells dispenses praise in much the same way others dispense $100 bills… keep an eye on the reports. Even when Jones returns, expect Barber to trim some carries in order to give foes a different look and to keep Julius as fresh as possible. Benefiting from the Cowboy rushing attack was the Cowboy passing attack. QB Drew Bledsoe played a tight game, but an ongoing issue reared its ugly head again; ball security. If there’s one thing Parcells despises… aside from empty buffet tables, it’s turnovers (and no, not the apple or blueberry kind). For a 3rd consecutive game, Bledsoe mishandled a pair of snaps… losing one of them. With a ridiculous 10 fumbles in 8 games, Drew’s been a bad ‘Boy! Still, Bledsoe’s steady guidance and controlled passing game helped salt the game away, and with only 5 incomplete passes, 220 yards, and 1 TD on the day, he posted a passer rating of 118.8.
The Defense certainly helped the offense out Sunday, and while CB Terence Newman had a fair game, both S Roy Williams and CB Anthony Henry were fine IDP’ers. Henry, with 6 Tackles, 1 PD, and an Interception returned 58 yards for a touch’, was the best IDP of the bunch.
There’s really nothing much to say about an underwhelming Cardinal team. WR Anquan Boldin had a nice fantasy game with 3 grabs for 69 yards and a score, but he also added a suspected torn meniscus for good measure. Boldin suffered the same injury on the same leg (in training camp), and missed the first 6 games of the ’04 season. Predicated upon the MRI, Boldin could miss 2 months or more. QB Josh McCown recorded yet another below average performance (161 yards, 3 Sacks, 2 picks, 1 TD) Sunday, and coach Denny Green may start QB Kurt Warner now that he’s healthy. Green’s desperately seeking a spark. Arizona’s run game deserted ‘em. Rookie J.J Arrington was held in high regard entering the season, but his fall from grace has been nothing short of breathtaking. The irony is that aside from setting some collegiate records (albeit impressive ones), the fledgling Cardinal had done nothing to engender such enthusiasm. Arrington took 4 totes a total of 5 yards Sunday, marking his 4th game with a YPC average UNDER 2.
*EXTRA POINTS: Dallas enjoys a Week 9 Bye, and the time off should afford RB Julius Jones a bit more time to recover from his high ankle sprain. The concern… Jones may not fully recover from the nagging injury until next season. Last year, Saint RB Deuce McAllister suffered a similar high ankle sprain during the Week 2 game…. and was hobbled until Week 13 or so. If you can, it might be a capital idea to sell Jones’s strengths to a back-strapped owner… and see if you can fill a roster void. Marion Barber will retain value, even when Jones returns. Look for TE Jason Witten to continue his role as a “steady-Eddie” TE. Witten can be counted upon to catch almost anything thrown his way, and Bledsoe trusts him. The Cardinals face the Seattle Seahawks next week… and to quote a great American (Forrest Gump); “ and that’s all I have to say ‘bout

Jacksonville at St. Louis: “… I've a feeling that the outcome of the game will hinge upon St. Louis' erstwhile QB Jamie Martin. If Martin can keep the Jags honest and on edge, then St. Loo' could out-point a so-so Jag O. … both DE Reggie Hayward (5.5 Sacks, 2 FF, 3 PD) and CB Rashean Mathis (22 Tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD) are excellent IDP starts…My bet is that Vitt will run the offense through physical RB Steven Jackson. Jax' has become a much more polished product; he finishes his runs, he's improved his receiving skills, and he can pick up the blitz. If backup QB Jamie Martin can provide the Rams with some semblance of a passing game, than Jacksonville will have a hard time allotting its defensive resources. While the Ram runner probably won't have a career day... he should still manage to find the' Zone at least once.”

While the St. Loo’ O ultimately won the game, both defensive units were mighty impressive and there were ill individual performances on both sides. Jag’ CB Rashean Mathis continued his reign of IDP excellence with 5 Tackles, 3 PD, and 2 INTs. Jaguar MLB Mike Peterson also had a solid all-around game, with 10 solo Tackles and a Sack. It was, however, Ram S Mike Furrey’s 4th Q’ INT and subsequent 37 yard return that sealed the deal in Ram favor. Furrey’s solid defensive day also included 5 Tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass defended.
With the Ram D doing its “best,” and I use the term loosely given the numbers posted by Jaguar RB Fred Taylor (165 rushing yard/1 TD) and WR Ernest Wilford’s (145 receiving yard/1 TD), QB Jamie Martin was able to at least force the Jaguars to consider the notion of the forward pass. Martin won’t be remembered for his 200/3/2 day, but contrary to my projection…his decent play allowed for Ram RB Steven Jackson to hang a career-best day! Well, at least I was right ‘bout the whole “career best” thing. The Ram-tuff’ Jackson went through the Jag’ defenders like crap through a tin goose and posted his stupid-dumb diggies’; 179 rushing yards on a scant 25 carries (that’s 7+ YPC peeps’), and 2 receptions for 21 yards and a touch’. With the 2nd-year back blowing through the D-line, WR Kevin Curtis was left with an ample cushion and capitalized with 3 grabs, 105 yards, and a score. With both Reverend Ike (Bruce) and Torry Holt shelved with injuries, Curtis has really stepped his game up and helped alleviate the pressure on Jackson. K-Curt has at least 3 receptions in every game but one, 50 receiving yards in ever game but one (same game, against Arizona of all teams), and has notched scores in 3 of his last 4 games. The Rams have been grooming Curtis to replace veteran Isaac Bruce, and unless my eyes deceive me… Curtis’ time has come. Curtis, Martin, and ram-bunctious RB Steven enjoy a much needed Week 9 Bye, and scary-thought time: look for both WRs Bruce and Holt to return Week 10. Curtis won’t garner double-coverage, Jackson won’t have to worry about a linebackin’ lynch mob, and the entire O will be far less predictable. Meanwhile, back in Jacksonville, the Texans will drop in for a loss next week. High off of their 1st win… Houston will get back to their losing ways. Too much of a good thing, don’t’cha know! Every one of the Jag’ skill po’ players constitute fine fantasy plays next week, and CB Rashean Mathis promises to terrorize Carr and WR Jabar Gaffney.

Kansas City at San Diego: “This should be another phee-nomenal tilt! The Chargers will have no answer for TE Tony Gonzalez, and he stands to post a season-best game. In the same breath, the KC D has been horrifying against the pass; of 15 TDs allowed, a whopping 10 came off opposing arms. Look for Gonzo's Bolt' opposite, Antonio Gates, to have a fine receiving day himself! Allowing over 4 YPC, a P.O'd LT will T-off on KC. … (KC) may post nice rushing numbers, but when the dust settles it'll be the Chargers who'll still be standing. ...Brees, if nothing else, has been "consistently consistent.” Against a Chief Secondary that allows almost 265 passing yards per tilt, Drew stands to post his best game yet. TE Antonio Gates and WR Keenan McCardell are both rock-solid starts, and the smart money says LT notches another receiving score…”

In this era of “Super Tight Ends,” both KC’s Tony Gonzalez and San Diego’s Antonio Gates proved their respective worth Sunday. Their exemplary play underscores, precisely, why the TE has again become such a crucial offensive component. But there was also a “game within a game” Sunday. Gates was determined to prove that he, and not veteran Tony Gonzalez, was at the very pinnacle of his position. And you know what? Gates did precisely that. The Bolt’ surged through Kansas City’s defensive backfield with utter disregard; neither Corner Back nor Safety could contain him, and when the “dust settled?” Gates hit a Touchdown troika on 10 grabs for 145 yards. Antonio Gates possesses unexpected speed for such a big man, an other-worldly athleticism, and his Basketball background clearly factors into his game. On his second TD snag of the day, Gates looked more like a Power Forward leaping for an “Alley-oop” pass than an NFL pass catcher leaping for a reception. Gates puts his Hoopster skills to use and fight DBs for position, and he has the ability to react to errant passes in an eye-blink. Unlike so many other contests, Sunday’s win was clearly attributable to Gates’ utter domination and not the running of stud ball carrier LaDainian Tomlinson. And yet, LT continues to find ways to contribute. The All-Star RB was kept in relative check Sunday (92 total yards and a fumble) by a better than expected Chief Run D, but the Bolt’ back did toss yet another TD pass; his 3rd of the season. With San Diego’s run game stymied, the outcome of this game was placed in QB Drew Brees’s hands. Now, that’s not to say that Brees has been a spectator in other games… far from it. But any Field General’s job would be made easier with a shock trooper of Tomlinson’s ilk. As predicted, Brees enjoyed a season-best game. As cool as the other side of the pillow, Drew was 25 of 43 for almost 325 yards, and threw a trio of TDs to Gates.
But as good as Brees and Gates were, their production was nearly matched by their Chief counterparts. With the death of his father (3 days prior to the game) weighing heavy on his mind, QB Trent Green put aside his grief and had a season-best game of his own. Going 31 of 43 for 347 yards with a pair of scores and no INTs, Trent posted a Passer Rating of 111.3 and had his best fantasy game of the season Sunday. That is, however, ZERO comfort to a man who lost a friend… a mentor… a father. Moving right along, in much the same way Kansas City managed to stuff LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers hounded and pounded the Chief backs. Priest Holmes took 14 totes a mere 38 yards and caught 3 balls for 15 additional yards, but was subsequently knocked from the game with a curiously titled injury of “head trauma.” Please refer to your dictionaries and turn to the letter “C” for “concussion.” Priest’s “homey” Larry Johnson took command of the tribe mid-way through the 3rd Q’, and ripped off 55 yards on 6 totes. The Penn State product was VERY effective in limited action, but as KC was already operating from a deficit… Johnson’s touches were limited. And for KC’s last trick, QB Trent Green made WR Eddie Kennison RE-appear! With young pass catcher Samie Parker out of action because of an injury, Kennison was the recipient of additional work. After logging 2 catches in his last 2 games combined, Kennison snared 7 for 115 yards and a score. It was EK’s 3rd game of 100+ receiving yards in his past 5.
The Chiefs dance with Oakland next week… and what a whirl-a-twirl it promises to be! Gonzalez should again be a fantasy weapon par excellence, and Green has some upside as well. The run game is a far weightier matter. While Priest should be back in uniform following his “head trauma,” Larry Johnson has taken full advantage of his limited touches. Over the course of the past 3 tilts, “LJ” has notched 42 carries, 201 ground yards, 54 receiving yards (on 5 receptions) and has scored once. Clearly, his value in yardage leagues is outstanding. Holmes, on the other hand, is finding the end-zone… but he has yet to eclipse 100 yards rushing in a game, and is averaging a meager 3 YPC over his last 3. Keep an eye on how Dicky “Tears” Vermeil divvies’ up the touches. If Priest continues to struggle, ain’t no doubt that Johnson will shoulder a much larger share of KC’s mail as the coach cannot afford to let emotion stand in the way of a playoff berth. Currently, KC (4-3) sits in 2nd place in a tightly wound AFC West.

Buffalo at New England: “Buff's wussy-tuff against the run, and Pat' back Corey Dillon could have a season-best day. And, while the Patriots are no better at stopping the run... the prospect of LB Tedy Bruschi returning to the fold should infuse New England's defenders with some energy. All that being said, RB Willis McGahee is an excellent start and I'd expect him to notch a TD or 2. Still, look for Belichik to figure out a way to pressure Holcomb... and force the so-so sub into turning the rock over. My "Fantasy Magic 8.. shake- shake- shake-" says look for a "Very Brady Sunday; 220 passing yards and a Touchdown Troika… "

8 1/2 months ago… what, 255 or so days? Patriot LB Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke. Fans… not just New England Patriot fans, but sports fans all over were saddened and shocked. Here’s a bull of a man, in peak physical condition, suffering a stroke. Unlike the sad stories of former Jet Dennis Byrd (although he DID learn to walk again), former Viking Korey Stringer, and former Lion Mike Utley, Bruschi’s story has a happy ending… a Hollywood ending even. Sunday, after recovering from both a stroke AND surgery to repair a small hole in his heart, Bruschi was again in Uni’ and on the field! Bruschi didn’t make a game-saving Tackle, he didn’t haul in a drive-killing pick, he didn’t even break up a pass attempt. No, Bruschi recorded a pair of solo Tackles and was in on a handful of others. No, Bruschi’s greatest contribution to the team was simply being a part of it. Bruschi’s greatest contribution was being part of a larger whole, and that’s something that is sorely missing in so many sports these days. As anticipated a somewhat less than stout Buff’ D-Unit surrendered an ample number of rushing yards; 93 to be exact. Pat’ back Corey Dillon was indeed quite the fantasy play Sunday, though his owners have an injury to back-up RB Patrick Pass to thank for Dillons’ fantasy output. Pass pulled a hammy’, thus forcing New England’s feature to join the fray during the 2nd Quarter. Dill’ totaled 72 yards on 18 attempts, and scored on a pair of 1-yard runs. Gaudy? Maybe not. Efficient? Absolutely. Meanwhile,.QB Tom “Teriffic” Brady was as good as his moniker, but he fell considerably short of the “Very Brady” Sunday I projected. Actually, I blame a faulty “Fantasy Magic 8-Ball” ($8.99 on sale at a Target near you!). They’re not always accurate… kinda/sorta like Horoscopes, ya’ know? Brady was his scary-efficient self Sunday, posting a P/R of 113.0 on a 14/21, 199 yard, 1 TD evening.
While NE ‘backer Tedy Bruschi may have revived the Patriots’ flagging spirits, Buff’ back Willis McGahee continues to carry both the ball AND his team. Without Willis, the Bills’ offense might well be on-par with that of the Texans. The same distinction cannot be made for the Patriots. If the Bill defense was merely porous, than the Patriot D was “sieve-like.” As projected, McGahee was an awe-inspiring fantasy start and he positively ran roughshod through the Patriots. Breaking through New England’s D-line with all the ease of a finger through toilet-paper, McGahee found himself running in space with regularity. “WCTBW” (What’Choo Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis) rang up a stupid-dumb 136 rushing yards, 21 receiving yards, and even when the Pats’ knew he was coming… they could do nothing to stop him. Instead, the Patriots focused their defensive energies upon Bill QB Kelly Holcomb. The Patriots fell upon the Buff’ back-up passer like rain, and Sacked him twice, picked him off once, and forced him into a fumble. It was that costly fumble, however, snuffed Buff’. NE LB Rosevelt Colvin stripped Kelly Holcomb on a brilliant defensive effort, and recovered the subsequent fumble while deep in Bill country. Brady then drove his merry band o’ Patriots downfield and Dillon notched his 2nd 1-yard TD run. The Bills were left with ample time to score… but a costly penalty and a timely defensive stand by New England ended the game.
The 3-5 Bills, a disappointing squad to be sure, have a timely Week 9 Bye. With 2nd-half games against teams such as San Diego, Denver, Carolina and Cincinnati, a frustrated coach Mike Mularkey will have to re-examine both his defensive scheme AND the offensive play calling.
New England’s issues, while not quite as severe as Buffalo’s, are daunting nonetheless. The entire stable of RBs is nicked up, and the Pats were forced to sign FB Heath Evans as an insurance policy. Their defense, though, is the most pressing issue, and it’s in absolute shambles. Over the course of their last 3 games, the team has been outscored by a ridiculous margin of 91-68. Further, the D allows foes almost 130 rushing yards and 231 passing yards per contest. Clearly, a team that was considered a pre-season SuperBowl fave’ has a LOT of work to do. Next week… the Patriots cross swords with the juggernaut Colts. Aside from perhaps RB Corey Dillon, NO Patriot is a safe fantasy start; QB Tom Brady included.

“The Best of the Rest!”

Cleveland at Houston: “Heresy! A winless team is favored by 2 points? … blasphemy or not, Houston may have discovered the secret to a win; feed RB Domanick Davis until he drops…. against a Cleveland unit that permits opposing runners almost 140 yards per game. While Davis has eclipsed the century mark but once this season, he fell but 2 yards shy of the mark last week against a stout Indy' squad... AND crossed the stripe. Incidentally, Brown counterpart Reuben Droughns is a rock-solid start against a Texan D that hemorhages rushing yards. …in a battle of feeble Signal Callers, Carr and crew get their first win.”

Make no mistake, this game was Rat-ugly from the get-go. The Vegas’ odds-makers, Brooklyn Bookies’, every participant in ffspiral.com’s “Pick ‘em” pool, and even several 3rd grade Football fans had Houston down as a “lock” to notch their first W of the season. Win they did and as expected…. “Doub D” served as the fulcrum of the Texan offense. “DD” notched 90+ rushing yards for the 2nd week in a row, and although he never crossed the white stripe… Davis’s hard running forced the Brown defenders to creep up, slackening their previous tight coverage. While Texan QB David Carr was anything BUT amazing, he connected on 50% of his attempts, recorded 138 yards passing and a TD, and “limited” his turnovers to a single INT and a recovered fumble. Keep an eye on rookie pass catcher Jerome Mathis. Mathis snared a 38 yard scoring strike, serves double duty as a liquid-quik’ return man (5 kick-off returns for 177 yards), and with top receiving threat Andre Johnson out for several more games after aggravating a calf injury, Mathis could emerge as a vertical threat. WR Jabar Gaffney will never be considered a top playmaker, but he has become Carr’s go-to receiver.
The Browns received yet another lackluster game from QB Trent Dilfer (12/25 185/1/1 and a fumble-rooski’), and the team may be on the brink of mutiny. When a rookie, in this instance WR Braylon Edwards, pops his mouth off to the media and states that in no uncertain terms change is in order… that’s a franchise in tumult. Edwards is probably not alone in his wishes to see rook’ QB Charlie Frye start ahead of a listless Trent Dilfer, and rumor has it that coach Romeo Crennel is milling the move. If nothing else, Frye would bring both excitement and mobility to the position. If you started RB “Boobin” Reuben Driughns Sunday… you received 99 yards of effort.
Next week, against the Tennessee Titans, Droughns is a decie’ “Flex” start. WR Antonio Bryant notched 98 yards on 4 grabs, but dropped a pair of crucial passes. He is, however, a solid start against a still-sad Titan Secondary next Sunday.
Houston has an ugly matchup at Jacksonville next week. And although the Jag’ run D has been victimized in recent weeks allowing a semi-stoopid’ 130+ ground yards, the unit can afford to focus upon Domanick Davis and will challenge Carr to beat them. The smart money says defenders such as Rashean Mathis and Reggie Hayward will make life a living hell for Carr and his fellow Texans Sunday.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh: “Without stark Ravins' Lewis and Reed (Ray & Ed) taking the field Sunday, Steeler gunslinger Ben Roethlisberger can sleep a bit easier tonight. That doesn't mean Balty's D is toothless... but Lewis and Reed were 2 of the better, more physical playmakers. With RB Jamal Lewis continuing to struggle and showing NO signs of breaking out of a season-long rushing funk, backup Chester Taylor is BOUND to get more totes (and possibly even serve as a de facto starter). That boy might be a clever 'Wire pickup RIGHT NOW. … Concerns in Raven camp abound that Lewis may NEVER regain his top back form. When Plaxico Burress moved up the turnpike... a red-zone void was left. Now, it seems as if top draft pick TE HEath "Big Money" Miller is filling that niche. A fine play this weekend, Miller's great size (6'5/255), soft hands, and surprising athleticism render him a nightmare to cover in the 'Zone. Look for Cowher to ram RBs Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis through the Raven line... softening 'em up for Big Ben's weekly "Baker's Dozen" (or so) of passes…”

Even without S Ed Reed and LB Ray Lewis, the Raven defense played naugehyde-tuff’ ball. And why shouldn’t they? With their respective backs to the proverbial wall, this was a “must win” game for Baltimore. And, while they acquitted themselves remarkably well, as mentioned in my intro’… Steeler QB Big Ben Roethlisberger escorted his team to an exciting win.
RB Jerome Bettis’ value will be a weekly question mark. “The Bus” didn’t even get into gear until late into the 4th Quarter. RB Willie Parker is, however, a fine weekly start. Parker has good speed, he can turn the corner, and with a nice set of mitts… he need not come out in obvious passing situations. TE Heath Miller was even better than expected! He and Roethlisberger are forging some kind of chemistry, and the Steelers’ first round pick earned his paycheck yesterday, with a pair of timely TD catches. Miller is huge at 6-5/256, he can catch most anything thrown his way, and with stud receiver Hines Ward around to attract most of the opposing secondaries’ attention… it’s not inconceivable that Miller impacts Pittsburgh in much the same way that Gates impacts the Chargers… or to a lesser extent, the way Jeremy Shockey impacts the NY Giants. According to my “Fantasy Magic-8Ball,” (just back from the dry-cleaner) TE Heath Miller WILL be a fantasy force to be reckoned with!
Raven RB Jamal Lewis continues to… umm, suck lemons. On a night when his team needed him to take charge of the offense, Lewis gave a lukewarm performance; 17 totes, 61 yards, 1 fumble. There’s no disputing the fact that the Steelers field a stingy run D, but Lewis has struggled all season long, has shown virtually no signs of breaking free from his rushing slumber, and it was backup Chester Taylor (8 rushes for 9 yards, but 5 receptions for 55 yards and a score) who found his way into the end-zone on a semi-heroic catch and dive.
Baltimore has a tough matchup next week when the Bengals come to town. Only TE Todd Heap, and perhaps WR Desmond Mason warrant starting consideration. I’d examine other options before running Mason out.
The Steelers have a gift-game against a hurtin’ pack of Green Bayers’. Look for solid games from EVERY Steeler skill po’ player, and RB Willie Parker and TE Heath Miller stand to hang season-best diggies’.

Minnesota at Carolina: “My head says 'Lina... my heart tells me Minny'. …Davis lacks burst, his top-end speed has diminished, his best game (81 yards) came Week 1 against New Orleans, and he has rushed for 160 total yards in his last 4 games, COMBINED. So what on G-d's green earth makes him a "must start?" A weak Viking D-unit that seemingly shuns contact with opposing runners renders Davis a sure-fire starter. …While Davis no longer gobbles up the yards, he still has a Bloodhound's nose for the end-zone. My "Fantasy Magic 8-Ball," which I haven't broken-out in a while, says ... "80+ rushing yards and a pair of 6's for Davis on Sunday." QB Jake Delhomme has been solid but unspectacular. Delhomme and WR Steve Smith have a fine rapport, however, and Smith is an excellent fantasy start against a shabby Viking pass D. This week, following a Bye, Jake and his Del-Homey's look to maul Minnesota. Expected to be 100% in command of his faculties, look for the Panther passing game to gut a semi-spineless Viking D. Delhomme has thrown for under 205 yards only once, and has multiple scores in 4 consecutive games. The underwhelming Minny' secondary probably won't slow Jake down.”

The season was already spiraling out of control for the Vikings before Sunday’s game at Carolina. By Sunday evening, things had progressed from bad to “season-ending” for a franchise most thought would vie for a ‘Bowl berth. The only “bowl” this Viking team rates is of the toilet ilk. QB Daunte Culpepper, whose stock was plummeting with each shabby performance, was lost for the season Sunday after an ugly hit. C-Pepp’ tore his PCL, ACL, MCL, and possibly his PTA, KGB, CDC, and FBI. Minnesota will turn the offense over to journeyman Brad Johnson, and questions abound as to whether or not ‘Pepp will even be back by the start of NEXT season! RB Mewelde Moore had been running with some success prior to this game, but the Panthers closed the lights on the Vike’ run game Sunday… just like they did the passing game. To make an already ass-ugly sitch’ uglier? Point blank, the Viking D simply mailed their effort in on Sunday. Clearly, coach Mike Tice is pushing the wrong buttons and has lost control of his team.
‘Lina Signal Caller Jake and his backup band, the “Del-Homeys’, lit the Vikes up like napalm. Delhomme turned in what was, by far, his best effort of the season; 21/30 for 341 yards, with 3 TDs and no turnovers. His P/R of 141.1 ranked just behind his career best. In turn, Delhomme’s ill-day gave RB Stephen Davis ample room to roam, and Davis capitalized; 40 rushing yards and 2 TDs. While I was off on his yardage total… I DID nail Davis’ twin TDs. And as long as I’m spraining an arm patting myself on the back… WR Steve Smith was Unconscious Sunday, recording the best performance of his career. The Vikings have been awfully magnanimous this year, affording multiple athletes career best games. Anyway, Steve Smith hauled in 11 passes for a ridiculous 201 yards and a touch’. To add insult to the already injured Vikings, Smith ran the ball twice for 20 yards.
Aside from suggesting Daunte Culpepper as an “Honorable Mention” start candidate… and I DID include disclaimers, the Week 8 “Start and Sit” projections were pretty accurate. Next week, the Vikes’ get to go against their divisional rival Lions. Gotta tell ya’, I’m not likin’ any of the purple gang in this one. At least… not until QB Brad Johnson shows me a little somethin’ somethin’. The Panthers have a far tougher tilt, for they butt heads with the leatherneck Buccaneers. Although Davis has a shnoz’ for the ‘Zone, the Buc’ run D has been tighter than a Nun’s knees, allowing a mere 75 yards per… and opponents’ passing attacks haven’t fared much better (Tampa’s Secondary yields 154 passing yards per). If you have a Qube’ other than Delhomme who’s worth trotting out… I’d urge you to do so.


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