I’m fresh out of risk management parables and parlor game analogies this week, so I’m going to indulge myself by just skipping to the good stuff.
Let’s recap how the system works here: start with your basic ranking of players, and then consider -1 and +1 ratings to move the player to the bottom or top of their current tier. A -2 and +2 rating bumps them into the tier below or above their normal position. The team’s pass defense ranking (in passing yards allowed per game) is in parentheses.
Chicago (12th) @ San Francisco (24th)
Just when Cutler was reaching the point where owners were playing QB2’s over him, he slices up the Cardinals for 369 yards and 3 TD’s. Feel comfortable starting him this week? I wouldn’t, even against the 49er’s 24th ranked secondary. If you’re stuck with him, be thankful for the big games, but with most leagues about to reach the trade deadline, I’d be looking for the Bears fan in your league to sell Cutler as high as possible after last week. Still, on a roll is better than spiraling downward, and SF does give up yards, so a mild upgrade here. Olsen caught all three touchdowns last week…I hate to invoke the overplayed “chemistry” thing-ness (don’t most good quarterbacks throw to whoever isn’t being covered?), but at least we have confirmation that Cutler knows he’s allowed to throw to Olsen in the red zone. San Fran seems softer over the top than in the middle, so I see a bigger game for Hester (who is consistently putting up WR1 catches and yardage – but not touchdowns) and Bennett than Olsen. Knox is sliding out of the picture which means we’re due for Knox and Bennett to swap places and confuse things all over again.
CHI: Cutler +1, Hester +1, Bennett +1, Knox 0, Olsen 0
Alex Smith is doing a credible Sage Rosenfels impression, which isn’t bad (other than Rosenfels being drafted roughly 100 picks later). More importantly, Smith’s mistakes don’t hurt the other 49er’s as long as he puts up yardage and touchdowns. Vernon Davis is a must start – if he’s your TE2, stop reading and go trade your TE1 now. The Bears rank pretty highly in pass defense but they’ve been exploited (most notably by the Bengals). Crabtree’s still the only WR you want to be playing right now. Bruce is done, Morgan’s unreliable, and there’s probably a reason nobody had heard of Jason Hill before last week. Click the flag, not the cross, and let someone else waste their waiver priority on Hill. (One game down and we’ve already had a Sage Rosenfels reference and Yahoo! league specific advice!)
SF: Smith 0, Crabtree 0, Morgan -1, Hill 0, Davis +1, Bruce is toast
Sunday 1 PM games
New Orleans (16th) @ St. Louis (23rd)
And broadcast football for the poor folks starts out with an ugly one. Start Brees, Colston, and Shockey no matter what. I don’t know what the ceiling for Brees is in this game but I’m thinking it’ll involve sustainable cold fusion and a smarter grid. Then, flip a coin for Henderson or Meachem — Henderson’s a little safer, but Meachem has a knack for busting a big play. Whither Lance Moore? I don’t know, but I hope it’s not your starting roster. If you ask me to rank Lance Moore in a PPR league, I’m going to rank him last from now on, even if the other options include Rae Carruth and Peter Warrick.
NO: Brees +2, Colston +2, Shockey +2, Henderson +1, Meachem +1, Moore -1
Encouraged by that mid-pack rating for the Saints pass defense? That yardage against is coming in 37.1 attempts per game — only Pittsburgh is allowing fewer yards in as many attempts. The fact that teams go pass-crazy trying to keep up with the Saints offense is not a good thing. This is where you back away from the Rams and stop trying to squeeze the last bit of fantasy value out of Bulger and Avery. They couldn’t come through against the Lions…don’t you need to see at least a couple good games before you try them again?
STL: Bulger -1, Avery -1
Cincinnati (25th) @ Pittsburgh (14th)
Tough call here — Palmer and Ochocinco are too…well…too competent to bench, but I think Palmer at least needs to be downgraded a bit. I actually think he may have a nice game, but it could closer to 180 yards and a TD than the 300 yard, 3 TD line you’re hoping for. Coles seems to be find his spot in the offense (and Chris Henry won’t be poaching looks anymore) — I don’t like him in this game but he’s worth flier for the upcoming weeks. Caldwell managed to sneak another TD to salvage his day, but I wouldn’t want to bank on it every week.
CIN: Palmer -1, Ochocinco 0, Coles -1, Caldwell -1, Henry ixnay on the easonsay
The Pittsburgh offense shifted emphasis to the rushing attack against Denver (or, at least, evened things out a little) and Roethlisberger still managed to rack up 233 yards and 3 touchdowns. Holmes nearly cracked 100 yards (but didn’t!), Ward all but did handsprings into the endzone, and Mike Wallace turned his standard 2-4 catches into 69 yards and a touchdown (insert requisite Morley Safer joke). Heath Miller was the only real disappointment in the bunch, but he’s a TE and his name isn’t Antonio Gates so who cares? Love them all here. Leon Hall is good but can’t handle Santonio Holmes, and everyone else will have a great time.
PIT: Roethlisberger +1, Holmes +1, Ward +1, Wallace +1, Miller +1
Jacksonville (26th) @ New York Jets (2nd)
How ’bout that Mike Thomas! I was surprised to see how much attention was being paid to him…hope you followed my lead and ignored him. This happens. Teams gameplan around shutting down the biggest threat and occasionally some random 4th or 5th WR will benefit. Don’t chase the big game after it’s already happened — you’ve already missed most of the fantasy value Mike Thomas will have for 2009. Garrard and Sims-Walker asserted their personality against the Chiefs, but I expect Revis to shut that down. The Jags pass offense is marginal and this isn’t the matchup you want.
JAC: Garrard -2, Sims-Walker -1, Holt -2, Lewis -2
I haven’t been as high on Sanchez as a lot of people but I do like this matchup. Sanchez looked very good against a comparably bad Miami secondary. The bye week shoudl have given Cotchery the chance to heal up and Braylon the opportunity to develop a little more timing and familiarity with Sanchez. I’m giving Sanchez a +2 here but remember I’m not so excited about him as a fantasy QB this year — you should still be playing your QB1’s over him. Clowney’s probably out of the picture until further notice.
NYJ: Sanchez +2, Cotchery +2, Braylon +2, Keller +2, Clowney 0
Detroit (31st) @ Minnesota (21st)
How often do you see 2 tight ends on the same team lead in receptions and receiving yards? Pettigrew and FitzSimmons (with his jaunty capital S) managed to do just that. Maybe it had something to do with Stafford being worried about throwing it to the other team? Or perhaps he felt Calvin Johnson was listening but not really hearing him. In any case, this bears watching. Mostly for Megatron owners trying to figure out what’s going on, but also just for the novelty of having 2 fantasy relevant tight ends on same team. The Vikings secondary isn’t great, but expect a ton of pressure on Stafford from Jared Allen. Calvin Johnson and Pettigrew are playable; ignore the rest.
DET: Stafford -1, Calvin Johnson 0, Pettigrew 0, Bryant Johnson -1, Northcutt -1, FitzSimmons (watch him just for kicks)
The first time around against Detroit, Favre completed 85% of his passes and tossed a couple TD’s. This was before he started slinging it downfield, however. He totaled 155 yards passing in Week 2 against the Lions — he might double that total this time around. After some premature Sidney Rice ass-crowning, Harvin and Berrian have retaken some ground in the offense. None of them are WR1’s but Rice and Harvin are excellent WR2’s (and Berrian may get there shortly). Shiancoe has 6 TD’s in 8 games — I don’t know what kind of deal he and Favre made but ride it as long as possible.
MIN: Favre +2, Harvin +2, Rice +2, Berrian +2, Shiancoe +2
Tampa Bay (15th) @ Miami (28th)
I’d like to start this section with a moment of silence for the “Joshes” joke — it doesn’t look like Josh Johnson is likely to get another shot at QB in the near future. 3 TD’s against the Packers was unexpected, but lost in the jubilation is the fact that Freeman completed fewer than half his passes and just cracked 200 yards in 31 attempts. Moreover, half of his completions were to TE or RB position. This could be a good sign for Winslow, but with Antonio Bryant’s knee acting up, there isn’t much value in the Bucs receiving core. Stroughter is interesting, but don’t get cute trying to chase production from him this week until we see if Freeman can get the ball downfield.
TB: Freeman 0, Winslow +1, Bryant -1, Stroughter 0
Henne was surprisingly competent against the Patriots. He threw 34 times without getting picked off for nearly 220 yards, but the only passing TD was stolen by Wild Ronnie Brown. Both Bess and Camarillo had decent if unexciting days. Unfortunately, despite all the talk from reporters and assistant coaches that Bess is Henne’s “security blanket” and Camarillo is “primed for a big second half”, the numbers just aren’t there on a weekly basis. Bess is playable-ish in deeper PPR leagues. That said, TB’s defense isn’t as good as the rating, so if you’re stuck, this isn’t a terrible matchup. Look for 200 yards and a TD from Henne, and 50-70 yards for Bess and Camarillo.
MIA: Henne +1, Bess +1, Camarillo +1, Hartline 0, Ginn 0, Fasano 0
Denver (7th) @ Washington (1st)
Pittsburgh made Kyle Orton look like evil Jay Cutler (or, well, Kyle Orton before this year). Orton’s prone to these kind of games occasionally, since neither his arm nor the Denver offense is built for forcing the ball downfield. He still managed 221 yards (and the last INT was clearly a product of one last gasp at scoring). On the upside, Eddie Royal was targeted early and often — he wasn’t as efficient as as Marshall as converting the looks into catches, but it’s still a good sign. Daniel Graham outproduced Scheffler, which means you don’t want either. I don’t expect Washington to force as many mistakes as Pittsburgh did, but this is still a tougher matchup.
DEN: Orton -1, Marshall 0, Royal -1, Scheffler -1
Descriptions of Ben Roethlisberger which also apply to Jason Campbell: human, 4 limbs, wears a helmet to work. Descriptions of Roethlisberger that do not apply to Campbell : has earned the trust of his employer, can succeed against the Broncos defense. Besides getting kicked around by Atlanta (and briefly pulled), Campbell doesn’t have the weapons or the ability of Roethlisberger, and I expect the Denver defense to be highly motivated. Downgrade Fred Davis from “possible Chris Cooley stand in” to “scrap heap TE schmohawk”. Santana Moss is the only semi-reliable receiver, and I wouldn’t be looking for much here.
WAS: Campbell -2, Moss -1, Davis -2
Atlanta (27th) @ Carolina (6th)
And Ryan’s terrible schedule continues. If you are already past your trade deadline, it’s time to start looking at other options, even if it means playing the waiver wire rotation. Even if he plays well, I think it’s going to look more like 160 yards and TD (even if you’d rather take the “bad” 250 yard, 2 TD, 2 INT kind of game). Gonzalez seems to be able to get his looks even in the limited passing opportunities, but this may cut into Roddy White’s production going forward as well, making him more like a WR2 with upside than a true WR1 for the rest of the year. Any chance Jenkins had of developing fantasy value is gone.
ATL: Ryan -1, White -1, Gonzalez 0
After Carolina put the clamps down on Delhomme the previous week, it was a good sign to see him throw it 30 times. Unfortunately, this only netted 201 yards, and no touchdowns. With the way DeAngelo Williams is rolling right now, there isn’t much need for the Panthers to take any chances with the passing game. Hopefully, you’re not relying on Delhomme anyway, but more critical is the fact that Steve Smith’s production will be limited as well. Smith still has the talent to put up good numbers against a weak ATL secondary given his ability to gain yards after the catch, but he’s basically the only fantasy worth starter on the Panthers. Unless Rosario suddenly re-enters the offensive picture, I’m going to be leaving him off the report from now on.
CAR: Delhomme 0, Smith +1
Buffalo (10th) @ Tennessee (32nd)
The Titans are quickly improving, but they still gave up 286 yards and 2 TD’s to Alex Smith. Unfortunately, change is (again) afoot in Buffalo, with Trent Edwards ready to resume his starting role. Playing Lee Evans and Terrell Owens as WR2’s isn’t a bad idea, but if you have safer receivers, I’d wait to see how Edwards’ return affects things. You might miss a nice game here, but it’s not worth the risk unless you’re out of options.
BUF: Edwards 0, Evans 0, Owens 0
Blech. Justin Gage put up a nice 97 yard total last week, but if you take away that 49 yard completion, the whole Titans pass offense looks pretty weak. And if you had to, would you bet for or against Vince Young making that throw on a weekly basis? Buffalo is so bad against the run and good enough against the pass that I don’t see Jeff Fisher letting Young take too many chances. Avoid, avoid, avoid. And cross your fingers that one of the Titans receivers steps forward as a clear red zone option, because I think that’s about as much value as can be hoped for.
TEN: Young -1, Gage -1, Washington -1, Scaife 0
4 PM games
Kansas City (30th) @ Oakland (13th)
Matt Cassel is really weird. Three times this season he’s passed for 240+ yards. Four times he’s passed for 2 TD’s. Sounds great, right? Wait for it. Three times he’s passed for fewer than 130 yards. Weirder still, in those less-than-130 yard games, he had two of his 2 TD games. What’s it all mean? Just that he’s one of the most up and down QB’s in the league. So far, except for one boring 186 yard, no TD, no INT game, he’s managed to either log decent yardage or decent TD’s in each game (and occasionally both yardage and TD’s). This is why you have to look at the games. If you check his fantasy numbers per game, they aren’t half bad. But when you start him against anything but the worst pass defenses, you risk eating a low yardage, no TD game. In other words, don’t. Chris Chambers is an interesting addition (well, at least it’ll be interesting to see how long he lasts in KC). I’m not convinced Chambers will have continued fantasy relevance, but I do think it can’t hurt Dwayne Bowe. More interesting to me is that Lance Long (hey-o!) was targeted more than Bowe or Chambers. Watch closely to see if the slot receiver’s production was a result of the defensive matchup or an ongoing trend. He may get more looks this week if Asomugha stays on Bowe most of the game.
KC: Cassel -1, Bowe 0, Chambers 0, Long +1
Yeah, I know, KC’s terrible on defense. If you ask me about starting any Raider other than Zach Miller, I’m still telling you no. It is a nice matchup for Miller, though, so take advantage. By the way, I will be copying and pasting this “analysis” for Oakland for the rest of the year and just changing the name of the opponent.
OAK: Russell 0, Miller +2
Philadelphia (11th) @ San Diego (5th)
Expected a little more from McNabb against Dallas, didn’t you? Especially after he torched the much more highly ranked Giants defense the week before, right? This is why defensive trends are as important as the overall performance — the Cowboys and Giants defense were headed in opposite directions. If you hear advice to start someone against the “weak Cowboys secondary”, take a moment and rethink it. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that while San Diego is limiting passing yards, they did let Eli complete 75% of his passes last week along with a couple TD’s and no picks. Don’t worry too much about McNabb here. More troubling is that yet again the Eagles could not get Jackson involved. He’s a must start in most formats, but keep your fingers crossed for that big play. Celek has a nice matchup here with the Chargers’ weakness over the middle. Avant seems to make one amazing catch per game but not much besides.
PHI: McNabb 0, Jackson 0, Maclin 0, Celek +1
Philip Rivers had what was probably his worst game last week, with just 209 yards and 2 INT’s….and he still managed to sneak in 3 TD’s before his day was over. Tomlinson’s inability to grind tough yards along with V-Jax’s excellent route-running and jump ball ability are creating the perfect redzone storm for Rivers. I don’t care what matchup your QB2 has, you play Rivers. If the Eagles’ blitz gets the pressure to Rivers, look for more dump-offs to Gates and Sproles. Floyd didn’t do much last week but he bears watching just for the potential. The Eagles have been burned by TE’s over and over again (which may be a product of the heavy blitzing), so expect a big day from Gates.
SD: Rivers 0, Jackson 0, Floyd 0, Gates +2
Dallas (20th) @ Green Bay (8th)
As mentioned above, while Tampa did stick 38 points up against the Packers, they still held Freeman under 50% completion rate and just over 200 yards (and picked off a pass for good measure). Take away the 2 defensive touchdowns and the Packers D gave up 24 points — that’s still not great against a bad Tampa team, but it looks a lot better than 38. You can’t downgrade the Cowboys too much here, but keep in mind that teams are already gameplanning to shut down Miles Austin and Witten. Roy Williams and Crayton benefit from this shift in defensive attention, but don’t get crazy.
DAL: Romo -1, Austin 0, Williams 0, Crayton, Witten 0
Even with 3 picks against Tampa, Rodgers put together a decent fantasy day with 266 yards and a couple TD’s. I’m a little worried about the offensive line play against Dallas, as we’ve seen Rodgers take a ton of punishment. Driver had his usual, and while you’d prefer to see Jennings get in the end zone, at least Rodgers is getting the ball to him. James Jones broke out with 100+ yards, but just remember he’s going to be a boom or bust play as the third WR. Finley may be nearing his return so don’t play any of the TE’s for the time being.
GB: Rodgers +1, Jennings 0, Driver +1, Jones 0, Lee/Finley -1
Seattle (17th) @ Arizona (29th)
With Julius Jones unable to find running room against Detroit (yikes), Seattle proved they weren’t scared to open things up with Hasselbeck throwing 51 times for 329 yards (but sadly just a single TD). Arizona is a little better than Detroit defensively (but not as much as you might think). I expect Hasselbeck to split the difference between last week’s numbers and his first shot at Arizona in Week 6, a 10-29, 112 yard abomination. Houshmandzadeh snared the only passing TD against Detroit but Burleson remains the leader in receiving leader in looks and yardage. Keep an eye on Hasselbeck’s sore shoulder.
SEA: Hasselbeck 0, Burleson +1, Houshmandzadeh 0, Carlson 0
Two weeks ago Warner threw 5 picks! Then last week he threw 5 TD’s! Also last week Seattle intercepted Stafford 5 times! What’s it all mean?! Not much, actually, other than what we already know — that Warner throws a lot, and will continue to throw even when he’s having a bad day, that he’s capable of putting up monster numbers when he’s not having a bad day (and he’s not Stafford), and that Seattle’s defense is a little schizophrenic. Warner’s a must start, but the big question is Boldin’s health. Given that Boldin thought he would be starting, it’s likely that Boldin will be back this week at (nearly) full strength. Great for Boldin owners, bad for Breaston owners.
ARI: Warner 0, Fitzgerald 0, Boldin +1, Breaston -1
Sunday night game
New England (4th) @ Indianapolis (9th)
The Colts tend to cover over the top and softer underneath, so I have a feeling we may not see Randy Moss bust a long TD like last week, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had. Welker will run slants and Moss will run short routes, and they’ll just get their yardage in smaller chunks. Ben Watson looked like a normal TE last week, netting 49 yards but failing to get his usual sneaky TD. Go figure. If he gets some looks again this week, he may be moving to the top of the waiver fodder tier.
NE: Brady 0, Moss 0, Welker +1, Watson 0
Do you think that the #4 pass defense ranking the Pats have racked up against the likes of the Bills, the Jets, the Titans, and the Bucs is going to seriously impede the Colts offense? Dallas Clark (who went apeshit in the first quarter last week), Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon owners can secretly rejoice over Anthony Gonzalez’s latest setback with his knee — it’s looking less and and less like he’ll be any factor at all this year. Garcon outproduced Collie last week but I still think Collie’s the safer bet going forward. I’m not convinced Shawn Springs or Leigh Bodden can handle Reggie Wayne so I expect to see him double covered frequently.
IND: Manning 0, Wayne 0, Clark +1, Collie 0, Garcon 0
Monday night game
Baltimore (19th) @ Cleveland (22nd)
Flacco had a tough day against the Cincy defense which is actually ranked a little worse than Clevelands. Numbers lie. The Browns secondary is much worse than the Bengals secondary — teams just don’t throw on them quite as much since it’s too easy to just run right at them. This should be a nice, comfy matchup for Flacco to get back on track. Look for nice totals from Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Since Ray Rice gets targeted so much, there isn’t a lot of value in the Ravens receivers beyond that.
BAL: Flacco +2, Mason +2, Heap +1
Baltimore’s defense is a little like the Cowboys — after getting torched early, they’ve been steadily improving. Don’t assume that they are easy pickins. Moreover, we’ve got a serious case of buyer’s remorse with the Browns coaching staff and Derek Anderson, so we’re going back to Brady Quinn. Would you rather the Cleveland receivers be worthless because their quarterback isn’t accurate enough to get the ball near them, or because their quarterback is scared of throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield? Those are your options.
CLE: Quinn -2, Massaquoi -2, Cribbs 0 (return yardage leagues)
Be sure to have your lineup ready for the Thursday night game, and check back for updated injury news!