Friday, October 28, 2005

FANTASY BASEBALL; HOW MY 3RD BASE PREDICTIONS FARED

This upcoming 5 part series will review how my Fantasy Baseball positional assessments panned out.

For the record, I nailed both Jason Giambi and Ken Griffey Jr. as the AL and NL "Comeback Players of the Year." Oooh, ouch, I think I sprained something whilst' patting myself on the back.

Anyway, I cut & pasted in my "pre-C prognostication"... and have included final season stats and brief comments for each athlete.

I thank EVERYONE who reads and supports my Blog!

Baseball's Top 10 3rd Baseman:

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Alex Rodriguez (NY): "Even having had an "off year," A-Rod was an owner's dream last season. And quite frankly, A-Rod's "off year" would qualify as most ball player's career years. He'll give you power; 40 HRs last season, RBIs, 106 last season, Runs, 112 last season... and rare for a 3rd Baseman, speed. Rodriguez thiefed 28 bases in '04. Not only is A-Rod the top 3rd Baseman, A-Rod still ranks as fantasy Baseball's #1 pick overall. Comfortably settled into the Yankees stocked lineup, look for A-Rod's average to bounce back to more "Rodriguez-ian" numbers...
I'd look for .290./38/110 ... and oh yes, look for another 20+ Stolen bases."


IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN': While A-Rod had a fine statistical season... Yankee fan-atics may feel that Rodriguez was positively UN-clutch. Rodriguez played Gold Glove caliber 3rd Base for NY... but never seemed to carry the team. Ever. The Yanks' consistently waited for the "big 7th inning," and rarely, if ever, developed a sense of desperation. Here's a critical distinction: AS A FANTASY PLAYER A-ROD IS ALMOST PEERLESS, ESPECIALLY IN 5X5 LEAGUES. AS AN MLB'ER, RODRIGUEZ CAME UP SHORT ALL TOO OFTEN, AND HAD AN ABYSMAL POST-SEASON. Rodriguez's Post-C diggies? 2 for 15 (good for a .133 Avg.) with a Double, 2 Runs scored, 5 Ks, 1 SB, 1 CS, and a SLG % of .200
For the season, A-Rod posted a stupendous .321/48/130, with 21 swiped bags. However, with stats like that, is it not telling that A-Rod hit out of the 2 hole? With 48 round-trippers', one would expect to see such a batter swinging from the clean-up or 5 spot. Rodriguez's irritating penchant for leaving the bases full o' Yanks' forced coach Joe Torre to hit him 2nd.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Scott Rolen (STL): "In another loaded lineup, Rolen gets the kind of protection a big brother offers his hot sister. With Edmonds and Pujols in the Cardinal lineup, not to mention another 4 or so .290+ power hitters... it's not like you can pitch around the guy. Fantasy owners should have concerns about Rolen's balky back, but despite missing 18 games late last season due to injury (a leg injury... wasn't even his back) it should NOT deter you from grabbing him. Rolen remains an elite hitter and a top 4 fantasy 3rd Baseman."
Look for .299/35/115 in '05.

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN':Rolen suffered an injured shoulder and was limited to 196 ABs in '05. Whether it was that achy-breaky shoulder, his balky back, a naggy' knee, or some other issue that remains unrevealed, Rolen struggled at the plate even before his season-ending injury. Coming up on his 13th big-league season, Rolen may NEVER return to All-Star form. While I had concerns about his durability... I thought that he'd remain a formidable batsman. The Card' 3rd Bagger stunk the joint up, and at .235/5/28, with 28 strikeouts and a SLG% that at .383 was almost 100 points below his next lowest SLG % or .469 in '97 (aside from his first, 130 AB '96 season... even then he hung a % of .400)... best leave Rolen to another owner; one willing to take a gamble on him.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Adrian Beltre (SEA): "For a guy who's had a history (and he's only 26 mind you) of being a 2nd half player, Beltre started off hot and didn't cool off until roughly, October. The interesting thing 'bout Beltre is that he's had HUGE expectations heaped upon him since he was 16 years old, but had never really lived up to them. That is, until he blew UP last season to the tune of .334/48/104. Beltre also notched 104 Runs and had a ridiculous Slugging % of .629. The guy can't help but come back down to Earth a little bit next season, especially seeing as how he'll be adjusting to his new Seattle digs. Nevertheless, I like Beltre and don't think last year was an aberration. And, while he can't be as white hot as he was ALL last season, he'll still remain a top 4 fantasy 3rd Bagger."
Look for a more reasonable, .320/41/115... and a Slugging % closer to .550 than .650. And I'll take those "more modest" numbers any day!

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN': Beltre was a season-long enigma. Owners kept waiting... and waiting... and waiting for the former Dodger to ignite. And while he eventually warmed up, frankly it's nothing short of amazing what a "walk year" can do for a players' numbers! Aside from an increase in his strikeouts and 4 more Doubles, EVERY one of Beltre's figures dropped from '04 to '05. Owners who expended a "Keeper" slot on Beltre... or worse, drafted him in the top 3 rounds were sorely disappointed. The Seattle "slugger" swatted a meager .255/19/87, (.334/48/121 in '04) with a SLG % of .413 (over .200 points below his mark of .629 in '04) and an OBP of .303 (.85 points below '04's .385 OBP) While Beltre may rebound a bit in '06 as Seattle may have taken some getting "used to," Beltre clearly hung career high diggies' in '04, and without MultiMillion dollar motivation... is nothing more than an average player.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Eric Chavez (OAK): "(Chavez) must be wondering why the hell he re-signed with a team that held a Pitching fire sale. Having dealt aces (for possible jokers) Hudson and Mulder for prospects, essentially, Chavez is rightfully angry. For a team that was "thisclose" to competing for a World Series... they've taken 1 biiiig step backwards. Having missed over a month due to a broken hand, it took Chavez a while to get back on track in '04. He still had an enviable season however, and fell 1 HR short of a 3rd consecutive 30 HR season. And, those 29 Homers were the most any Athletic hit last season. Chavez matured as a hitter last year and started spraying the ball to all fields."
A top 10 3rd Baseman, look for .279/35/105.

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN': Chavez was the glue that bound a relatively young A roster together. The possible "joker" pitchers performed better than expected, though Mulder (Helped clinch the divvy' and guided his team to the NL Championship) and Hudson (Helped the Braves clinch their... I dunno', 23rd consec' divvy' title? Went 15-9 with a sub 3 ERA) are certainly amongst the top hurlers in the game. Although he suffered through a variety of knicks and knocks, Chavez gritted his teeth through 160 of 162 games. And, even without big bat talent and protection, Chavy' had a fine fantasy (and real, for that matter) campaign; .269/27/101... VERY close to what I projected. With another off-season of work and perhaps another bat in the lineup, Chavez (who's slated to have off-season arm surgery) and his small market teammates will be a thorn in the AL's side. *NOTE: I'm LOVIN' young Closer Huston Street by the way. While the A pitchers don't warrant using a "Keeper" tag in Street... you could do far worse as a #2-ish fantasy Closer.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Melvin Mora (BAL): "I don't know if I'm entirely sold on Mora, he's a guy coming off a career year who's had a history of injuries. He was UN-conscious last season though, hitting .340/27/104 and recording 11 swiped bags. I'm still concerned about injuries, but will look for .325/25/99, and 15 SBs. Mora remains a top 10 3rd Baseman, but I'd draft a guy who offers flexibility at 3rd... just in case."

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN': Mel' was still swell... but the dude couldn't help BUT to come back to planet Earth. He played in 149 games, his injuries were less problematic in years past, and he benefited from the occasional day off. Mora's a streaky hitter, and it wasn't unusual to see him go 0'fer... or 1'fer, and then blow-up with multiple hits, multiple bases, and multiple ribbies'. Balty' didn't get anything close to what they expected from high-priced OF'er Sammy Sosa, C Javy Lopez missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, and we all know 'bout the Raffy' Palmeiro saga. Mora's slugging and OBP %'s fell considerably, and really... all of his numbers were below those of '04; some, like Runs scored (11 in '04, 86 in '05) and 2Bs (41 in '04, 30 in '05) dropped substantially.
With a line of .283/27/88, Mora was a solid... but far from great, fantasy 3rd Bagger.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Chipper Jones (ATL): "A bum Hammy' hobbled Jones all season long and he was never able to get himself right. Even still, Chipper bashed 30 Homers and notched 96 RBIs. Admirable numbers for any player, let alone an injured one. I fully expect Jones to bounce back and record a great year,"
...look for .290/30/100.

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN': The Jones boys positively lit opposing pitchers UP in '05. Andruw more so than Chipper... but an aging Chip', who was forced to contend with injury and hence played in only 109 games, still managed to find a comfort level at the dish and hit his groove. "CJ" also managed to hit the Curve, Fastball, Off-speed, and rare hanging Slider! Although painful injuries limited his numbers, an '05 "cam-pain" saw the perennial All-Star stroke .296/21/72, with 30 Doubs', a SLG % of .556 (his best in 5 seasons) and an OBP of .412 (also his highest since '01). Perhaps more impressively, Chipper took 72 Walks, K'ed only 56 times, and was one of the toughest outs in Baseball. Jones has promised to re-dedicate himself to conditioning, and although he's no youngster, his bat speed doesn't seem to have diminished at all. With ample protection around him and promising young bats moving up... Jones projects to be a top op' at his position for at least another 2 seasons.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Aubrey Huff (TB): "Arguably Tampa's best player, Huff is also versatile; qualifying at 3rd, 1st, and depending upon your league's requirements, OF as well. He started last season rather slooowly, but if he hits the basepaths running... look for him to improve upon last season's figures of .297/29/104."
Let's assume he will, and pencil him in for .305/33/105.

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN': Yes, the versatile Tampa Bay Devil Ray is known for "slow starts." However, he's also been known to heat up and right his numbers... usually around the All-Star Break, This season, however, Aubrey's bat never developed a "huff" and his numbers stayed low... too low, considering his young teammates hit better than expected and DID provide protection. While I predicted a .300/30/100+ season for multi-positional Ray... he disappointed with a line of .261/22/92. Further, Huff's strikeouts increased, his Walks decreased, and both his SLG and OBP %'s fell as well. Chalk it up to a bad season, as Huff's too talented to have fallen off the pace.

IN FEBRUARY, I SAID: Hank Blalock (TEX): "A young player with a bright future, the knock on Hammerin' Hank is his rather irritating habit of falling off after the All-Star break. His split season stats are seriously stupefying. In just his 3rd season, expect Blalock to put in the necessary batting cage work and improve his numbers. He broke the 30/100 mark last season... and that should be the first of many such seasons. Look for a VERY productive year out of Blalock...
I'd gamble an even higher pick upon him this season, and project him for .293/35/112.

IN OCTOBER, I'M SAYIN: A key cog in the Texas Rangers' lineup. Blalock teams with 1B Mark Teixeira and together... the 2 anchor what is arguably the most productive Infield in the Majors. Hammerin' Hank still strikes-out WAAAAY too much, but his pitch recognition seems to be improving. Now, that may be just wishful thinking... but his ABs went up.... and his Ks went down, modestly. I projected Blalock's average to rise with improved plate discipline... but that was too optimistic, apparently. Much to my dismay, "B-Lock's" season was... at least statistically, a step backwards; .263/25/92, with 34 Doubles, 51 Walks and a still-whopping 132 Ks.
If Blalock is to become a top tier 3rd Bagger, he'll have to cut down upon his punchouts... BIG time. Still, even with a season that saw his SLG % plummet 70+ points... Blalock was a fantasy force. Look for hard off-season work to manifest itself next season.

LOOK FOR THE REST OF THE 3RD BASEMAN TO BE REVIEWED AND POSTED TOMORROW, SATURDAY!

Mike Lowell (FLA): A doubles machine, Lowell's starts each season like a ball of fire... and finishes like a ball of cotton. Having developed a history for falling off significantly during the season's second half, here's the plan; trade Lowell for a position of need just before the All-Star Break. At age 31, a ball player's a known quantity and won't be surprising anyone... unless of course your Barry Bonds, and then you're just getting started. Look for a very respectable, .297/31/104 from Lowell this season... and I'm as serious as a heart attack about that whole trade thing.

Aramis Ramirez (CHI N.): In his first full season with the Cubbies, Ramirez positively blew up and recorded a career high in HRs. He was hobbled with a pulled groin for much of last season, but was still a very productive fantasy player. The defection of Sosa to the Orioles shouldn't hurt Ramirez's numbers, Sosa has been in decline for the past 3 years and was a non-factor for much of last season. The last of the top 10 3rd Baseman, look for Ramirez, who doesn't strike out very often, to turn in an even better '05 than '04; .312/38/108.

"TOP SLEEPER THIRD BASEMAN":
B.J Upton (TB): Very young and still trying to find a home defensively... the knock on Upton has been his glovework. Nevertheless, Upton's got a nice upside and is worth taking a flier on... he might even be able to be acquired via the Waiver Wire.

David Wright (NYM): An impressive '04 campaign bodes for an even better '05. This kid has all the tools, especially power. It's quite possible that he could be the Met's best pure hitter since Strawberry.

"3RD BASEMAN COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR"
Aaron Boone (CLE): Let's assume that Boone has learned his lesson about playing pick-up Basketball. However, having heard fairy tales from athletes that range from the ridiculous, "I tripped over my dog" to the inane, "I fell washing my truck," Boone's honesty was refreshing, should be applauded, and he got a raw deal from the Yankees who should never have cut him.

"PLAYER TO WATCH"
Chone Figgins (ANA): I flat-out like this kid. And, with his base stealing ability (34 in '04) and ability to qualify at 3rd, 2nd, SS, and in the OF, you could learn to like him too! His numbers were worthy of his being named the Angels MVP, look for a very solid season from Figgins. .297/6/62.

NEXT UP... TOP 10 SHORT STOPS!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

WEEK 8 "START AND SIT!"

WEEK 8 "START AND SIT"

"MUST START QUARTERBACKS"


Jake Delhomme: Whilst playing Detroit Week 6, Delhomme took a shot to the noggin' and was knocked woozy. Backup Chris Weinke stepped-up, and guided Carolina to a 21-10 win in what turned out to be quite the cat fight! 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. WR Steve Smith is an excellent start, and relative newcomer WR Rod Gardner is a sneaky-good start. Gardner, due to his size and strength, will probably displace Keary Colbert as Carolina's #2 receiver once he throughly masters the playbook.

Mark Brunell: The former Jaguar star looked toothless towards the end of his tenure in Jacksonville. But, Washington Redskin coach Joe Gibbs knows a thing or two 'bout good Quarterbacks, and he apparently saved Brunell from an early retirement. Brunell made this list last week, and although that selection was questioned, the 'Skin QB enjoyed a tremendous day. Of course, Brunell's success came against a High School quality San Fran' Secondary... but the level of competition doesn't factor into fantasy scoring, does it? Brunell will be riding a confidence high Sunday when he dances with divvy' rival Giants. Washington and New York have a storied rivalry, and with each team sporting a 4-2 record... this should be a bare-knuckle brawl. The 'Skin Field General has totalled 12 passing TDs in his past 5 games, and has thrown for 320 yards or better in 2 of his last 3. With NY permitting almost 300 passing yards per, Brunell should enjoy another rock-solid passing day. *NOTE WR Santana Moss has been the most dangerous pass catcher in the league; he's averaging almost 20 YPC, has 110+ receiving yards in 4 of 6 games, and has a long of at least 30 yards in EVERY tilt thus far. Expect Moss to give the G-Men fits.

Drew Brees: Brees, if nothing else, has been "consistently consistent. And, if there's anything fantasy owners respect... it's consistent consistency. 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.


"HONORABLE MENTION"

Daunte Culpepper: C-Pepp' pushed aside a listless 1st half, and enjoyed his best game of the season against the Sad-sack Pack' last week. A near flawless (marred by 8 incompletes and a recovered fumble) 280 passing yard, 41 rushing yard, 2 TD, no INT performance saw the giant purple passer post a Passer Rating of 123.1, and win his 8th (career) "NFC Offensive Player of the Week" award. Although the Minnesota O-line sports almost as many holes as a pair of fishnet stockings, the Carolina pass defense has proven itself vulnerable (240+ passing yards per). With 2nd-year RB Mewelde Moore enjoying modest success on the ground, TE Jermaine Wiggins and WRs Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor have become a bit more dangerous. The issue here? The Vikings struggle mightily on the road. In fact, all 4 of the Vike' losses came outside of the friendly confines of Minny's Metrodome. Culpepper has tossed 9 of his 12 picks while on the road, and the Viking rushing attack averages just under 75 yards per game when outside the Minneapolis/St. Paul region. IF... and that's a big if, the Minny'O righted itself last Sunday... then 'Pepp will be a fine fantasy start. This game looms large for both Culpepper and his team.

"SUSPECT STARTS"

Brett Favre: Look, I'm not suggesting you bench Favre; NEVER SIT YOUR STUDS!. What I am suggesting, however, is that you temper expectations for the Pack' passer. The Green Bay offense is positively riddled with injuries; RB Ahman Green, nicked up all season, finally went down for good last week with torn leg liggies' (quad' tear), WR Robert Ferguson ruptured a thigh tendon and will be out SO long, he may develop mold, and then there are the injured linemen. While the Pack' should never be counted out of ANY game with Favre at the helm, a surprisingly stingy Cin' City Secondary could easily stymie the cheese wiz'. *NOTE: With virtually no one aside from Practice Squaders' to fill the pass catching vacancies, the Bengals WILL doub'-up on Donald Driver. The most productive Packer pass catcher will have to battle for every reception... and there may not be too many.

Aaron Brooks: I listed him as an "Honorable Mention" (I gotta' come up with a different heading. "Honorable Mention" is just... weak)candidate against the Rams last week, and he came through with 258 total yards and 2 TDs. This week Brooks faces-off against the Dolphins, and this one's a little tough to assess as Miami's Injury Report is dotted with significant "Questionables." If talents such as Seau, Taylor, Madison and Schulters are sidelined... Brooks will be an "average" fantasy start. However, Joe Horn's naggy Hammy' will leave him a step slow, and the run game isn't exactly dynamite with Aaron Stecker sidelined and Antowain Smith left to carry the mail. Although he probably won't fall as flat as a sewer cap... don't look for Brooks to "trip the pass fantastic."


"MUST START RUNNING BACKS"

LaDainian Tomlinson: A stout Eagle unit proved Tomlinson to be mortal last week. Held to 7 rushing yards on a stupid-dumb 17 rushing attempts, LT had the worst game of his CAREER. This week, though, Kansas City is the foe. And while KC holds opponents to under a C-Note a game, their Secondary is allowing almost 265 yards per... and Tomlinson will run roughshod over the Chiefs. Look for a pissed-off LT to tee-off on an unprepapred KC.

LaMont Jordan: The Raider offense has been floundering, stud Running Back LaMont Jordan had been begging for the ball, and team owner Al Davis had begun to question the wisdom of his coach. Therefore and with nothing to lose, a beleagured Norv Turner turned the O over to brutish LaMont Jordan, and the former Jet responded fan-freakin-tasticly! Jordan hit the Touchdown Trifecta on 28 totes, and notched a C-note and change. The Raiders' feature creature added 40 receiving yards on 4 receptions for good measure. This Sunday, against Tennessee, the Black & Silver will look to their feature runner to build upon his breakout game.

Stephen Davis: 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. Human turnstiles the Viking 'backers are, opposing backs have averaged 140+ on the ground. 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."

Clinton Portis: Portis hasn't been nearly as effective in a Washington Uni' as he was in Denver's duds. However, last Sunday Portis broke out of his scoreless streak in dramatic fashion; 19 carries, 101 yards, 3 TDs. Look for 'Skin slinger Mark Brunell to push the G-Men back off the line, thus providing Portis with some breathing room. Once the elusive back finds himself in space, a Giant D that will (most likely) be without LB Carlos Emmons will find Portis as hard to tackle as smoke.


"HONORABLE MENTION"

Reuben Droughns: Reuben Droughns, you say? Reuben Droughns of the BROWNS? Yes, I say. Running against the worst defensive unit in the league... a unit that permits an ill 165+ rushing yards per, "Boobin" Reuben's about as solid a play as you'll find anywhere this week!

Domanick Davis: It isn't easy playing for the worst team in the league. It's even harder when your forced to run behind the worst offensive line in the bidniss'. Still, when you collect a weekly paycheck that is the equal of several nations' "GNP," you're expected to do what you've gotta' do. In this instance, "Doub' D" is expected to run his little tush' off 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. Due to a "passing game" that is such in name only, the Texans have re-committed themselves to the run. If Houston has ANY chance to win a game this season it'll be this one, and the outcome will ride upon Davis's shoulder-pads. Imagine, a winless Texan team is FAVORED to beat a 2-4 Cleveland team.
*NOTE: Just check Sunday's injury report as Dom's got a slight twist in his wrist.

Rudi Johnson: The Cincy' run game hasn't lived up to expectations. However, the fault is not Johnson's. If you wish, blame a passing game that's as explosive as rocket fuel. The Bengs' have a scary-good offensive arsenal, and it all starts with a pO-tent passing game. In this teams' case, the run complements the pass... as opposed to say Pittsburgh, where QB Ben Roethlisberger throws the ball 12 times an afternoon. Johnson hasn't recorded 20 carries since Week 3, and he had a mere dozen last week. Still, after vocalizing his displeasure over lack of use and against an injury-riddled Packer team, look for Rudi to be more than a mere ornament this week. After shakin' shakin' my "Magic-8," I see 90 ground yards and a score.

Steven Jackson: Coach Mike Martz, suffering from a serious heart infection, will sit out the remainder of the season. How this will affect the team remains to be seen, for few coaches possess Martz nerve and "chutzpah." Now, lifelong assistant Joe Vitt sits behind Martz's desk... and that dude is SO low profile, rumor has it he doesn't even cast a shadow. However, if you can maintain NFL employment for 26 or so years... you're doing something right. 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.

Willie Parker: Parker or Bettis.... Bettis or Parker? While it's not quite the "chicken or egg" dilemma, it's no less damning a question. The issue is particularly poignant for those owners who managed to handcuff themselves to both Pitt' runners. Bottom line, Bettis had one "big" 54 yard, 1 score week. While he may be a solid start for those in yardage leagues... "Fast Willie" is probably a better start against a Balty' unit that will be without stark ravin' Ravens LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed. Parker sandwiched a pair of 110+ yard, 1 TD outings around 3 subpar, scoreless games. While the Ravens may be wounded without their top 2 defensive playmakers... they're far from punchless.


"SUSPECT STARTS"

Brian Westbrook: Until Westy' proves himself a worthwhile start... why trot him out? League observers feel the Broncos field the quickest and most effective group of backers' in the league. Coach Andy Reid's always gone pass-heavy, but with Westbrook totalling 9, 6, and 10 carries over the course of the last 3 games...the will of Phil' has redefined run-conservative! With the Eag' run game already struggling AND forced to play at Mile High... Westbrook's a risky start at best. Still.. I have a sneaky suspicion that, as the Philly' back hasn't even sniffed the end-zone since Week 3, the coaching staff will try and get Westbrook across the white stripe.

Tatum "Chips" Bell: Bell is, undoubtedly, the Bronc' future feature. However, at this point in his career... and with Mike Anderson as a stablemate, Bell's value varies from week to week and from opponent to opponent. This week, Denver dances with a ballsy' Eag' D. And, with LB Jeremiah Trotter manning the Philly' middle and making a world of run stuffing difference... the more physical, North/South running Anderson wil probably enjoy greater success. If you can run right at a backer' like Trotter... you can defuse his greatest strength; his speed. Look for Bell to hit around 65 on the "rush-ometer."

Willis McGahee: "What'choo Talkin' 'Bout Willis" had, by far, his worst start of the season last week. After providing Oakland with fine bulletin board fodder, McGahee was held to 50 rushing yards on 16 carries. This week, McGahee opposes a rather run-generous, 26th ranked Patriot D. Why the suspect start rating? Former stud LB Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke and hasn't hit the field since. However, Bruschi is attempting a heroic comeback, there's a slight chance the run specialist plays this weekend... and even if he doesn't, look for his moxie to rub-off on his teammates. Further, look for the Pat' brain-trust to find a way to pressure QB Kelly Holcomb, thus limiting the run game's effectiveness. While it wouldn't be a shocker if McGahee finds the end-zone, look for Nwe England to get all kinds of physical with him.

Jamal Lewis: I'm wasting no breath on this one. The Pitt' D is naugehyde-tuff aghainst the run... and "J-Lew" lacks his trademark burst and has a noticeable lack of heart. With backup RB Chester Taylor averaging over 6 yards per touch... how long until Billick gives him the feature back job? Concerns in Raven camp abound that Lewis may NEVER regain his top back form. At this point... that's not inconceivable.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

WEEK 7 NFL WRAP-UP!

WEEK 7 WRAP-UP!

What a spectacular Sunday of Football! Surprise winners, shocking losers, and good games all-around. From a fantasy angle, several perenniall-point playaz' came up as short as "Tattoo" (the deceased Herve' Villachaize) from "Fantasy Island" fame. I can still here the little fella screamin’, "de' plen.... de plen!". That is, of course, to be translated as "the plane! ... the plane!"
Alas there's a saying in sports, and it was probably originally penned by a bookie'; "that's why they play the games."
Although he's assuredly NOT playing poorly, Colt QB Peyton Manning delivered an efficient performance against the terrible Texans the week before the teams' Bye... and in so doing, disappointed his owners yet again. ***News Flash! This just in; "All-Universe Running Back LaDainian Tomlinson IS human... repeat, LT IS HUMAN! Tomlinson struggled all day against a stout Eagle unit, and LB Jeremiah Trotter again proved to be a run-stuffing difference maker in the middle. RBs Willis McGahee, Shaun Alexander and Tatum Bell? All fell short Sunday. What about the starting Signal Callers? Regal Eagle Donovan McNabb? Uh-uh, almost 290 passing yards, but pair o' picks, a trio of Sacks, and a single TD make few fantasy friends. Still growing G-Man Eli Maning? Better than last week, but still something short of fantastic. And Jake Plummer? Ahhh... so-so. Now sporting "Son of 'Stache," Jake had an efficient 1 TD game with no turnovers, but again... his was not a performance to write mom about.

*NOTE: As opposed to what I'd originally anticipated, Baseball purists and casual fans alike HAD to enjoy Sunday evening's Series game. The Astros and White Sox played good ol' fashioned Baseball, and it was indeed, quite an exciting game. GO SOX! Now, onto what really matters; Lucky Week 7's Games!

San Diego at Philadelphia: "Man... I'd rather suffer a papercut than try and select this game... If Drew Brees' O-Line is indeed without 3 top starters due to various injuries, the aggressive Philly' D should be able to harry Drew all day. However, D-Nabb is ailing, hernia hurtin', and Philly's run game is just plain hurtin'. Look for the Eags' to get back on-track in a VERY tight game, decided by a field goal... or less. ... 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..."
While I didn't suffer a papercut I WAS on the money about several things. The Eags' DID get back on track as coach Andy Reid's scheme WAS brilliant, LT and the Bolt' running game struggled to gain positive yards because of a hurtin' O-Line, and Philly ultimately won the tilt by a Todd France Field Goal (or in these patriotic times of "Freedom Fries," would that be a Todd Freedom Field Goal?). Given the run-stuffing success Philly' enjoyed Sunday, you can bet good coin that other teams will undoubtedly pore over the game film, attempting to discern just how the D-unit stymied All-Universe back, LaDainian Tomlinson. Many will find, however, that they lack LBs with Jeremiah Trotters' speed, Football IQ, and power. Bottom line- Trotter makes a world of run-stuffing difference. The Eagle D made life almost impossible for San Diego... but the Eag' O struggled a bit. As expected, Fab' Nabb's hernia hurtin. Incidentally, if a MAN suffers from one... why can't it be called a "himnia?" Just a thought. Anyway the Philly' run game, ranked dead-last in the league, continues to stumble along. Feature runner Brian Westbrook accrued a mere 25 rushing yards on 10 totes, but off-set that "poor-formance" with 75 receiving yards. Nevertheless, Westbrook was considered a 5th-round fantasy draft pick, and the fact that he has recorded a single... solo... uno.... solamente 1, rushing touchdown on the season... well, that understandably sits poorly with his owners. Westy's been rather testy 'bout his lack of rushing work. But, the team won the game, stud receiver Terrell Owens notched his 100th career 6', and frankly... some help from the officiating crew squared the game away in Philly' favor. Things promise to get no easier for the Eag' skill players over the course of the next 2 weeks, as the south-siders draw the Broncs' and 'Skins respectively.
San Diego suffered some bad breaks Sunday, and it was like... flag day for the officials. The waning minutes were exciting ones; a blocked Bolt' Field Goal was returned 65 yards by Eagle CB Matt Ware for a score with 2 minutes and change left in the contest, but Bolt 'slinger Drew Brees never says "Uncle!" He steadily guided his gang downfield and got into comfy' Field Goal range, but WR Reche Caldwell was stripped by playmakin' Eagle CB Sheldon Brown (Need an IDP play? "Brown delivers!" 5 tackles, 1 Sack, 1 Forced fumble, 1 pass defensed) and the rock was recovered by big bird DT Darwin Walker. Although I threw out the possibility of "sliding TE Antonio Gates over to Bench," great players have a knack for coming up with great performances, and Gates was good for 72 yards and a touch' on 8 grabs. RB LaDainian Tomlinson... somehow, Philly' stuffed the genie back into the bottle. Held to a career low of 7 yards on a downright silly 17 attempts, LT's NFL-tying record of "consecutive games with a TD" was unceremoniously snapped at 18. Even on a day when the running game failed to ignite, Brees did his best to keep the O aloft with a scoche' less than 300 passing yards and a pair of TDs. His good work was undone by a matching pair of picks, 3 Sacks and a fumble-rooski however.
*EXTRA POINTS: While the better than expected Broncos, coming off a stinging loss at the hands of the Giants, threaten to clip the Eagles' wings next week... Tomlinson, Brees and Gates draw a far friendlier fantasy fracas! Look for the "Tres' Amigos de Diego" to post excellent numbers against a Chief D that is struggling.

Green Bay at Minnesota: "Although Brett has a poor history in Minny's Metrodome... Culpepper and the purple gang have struggled in EVERY tilt except against the Saints. Sure, Nate Burleson's back for this one... but the run game has proven weak, the defense hasn't been NEARLY as effective as we Vike fans were promised, and Favre should throw early, often, and productively .... 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 ... 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."
In a game that had "must win" written all over Viking coach Mike Tice's paycheck (check the "note" line), the purple gang emerged victorious. But it wasn't until the 2nd half that the Vikes showed signs of life. Whatever coach Tice said to his team when they went into the Locker- Room at the Half, well... it seemed to work. Down 17-0, QB C-Pepp' came out of the tunnel a new man, RB Mewelde Moore ran with power and purpose, and former Chicago Kicker Paul Edinger boasted a bionic leg, and booted a game-winning, franchise record, 56 yard Field Goal. The Vikes', implicated in an ugly sexual scandal, were seemingly able to score ONLY upon these "Lake Minnetonka Love Boats." Sunday... the depleted Packer D allowed Minnesota to get back on-track. Culpepper did most of his considerable damage during the 2nd half. In what was clearly his best game of the year, C-Pepp' gutted Green Bay to the tune of 280 passing yards, 2 TDs, no INTs, and threw only 8 incomplete passes. The giant purple passer's productive performance pushed the Packer backers' back off the line, thus allowing young Mewelde Moore room to roam; Moore rumbled for 45 yards on 13 carries, and added an additional 60 receiving yards and a TD on 4 receptions. But for all the good we see here, ugliness lurks just beneath the surface. The Vikes looked good against a struggling, injury-thinned Packer team. A thin Packer team that still managed to Sack Culpepper 5 times and forced 2 fumbles (one was from 'Pepp, the other Mewelde Moore's). On a still-young season, Culpepper has taken 29 Sacks, fumbled 5 times (with 3 lost) and has twice as many INTs as TDs; 12 : 6. Further, Pepp' has posted a Passer Rating of 75 or better only twice! This, my fantasy friends, is a reflection of Minny's meek offensive line. The Packer line is marginally better, if at all. Favre came out swinging... and after already-hampered Ahman Green fell to injury yet AGAIN (this time, Green's prolly' done for the year with torn leg liggies'), the team was forced to trot out backup to the backup, RB Tony Fisher. The only reason the Green and Gold were in contention at all was because of Favre's overwhelming drive. Here's a guy who approaches a game of "Tick-Tac-Toe" as if it carries life and death consequences. The Green Bay gunslinger was a wiz' Sunday, posting what was probably his best game of the season; 315 yards, a pair of scores, and no turnovers. The Packer receiving corps continues to bleed for Brett. After 2 "spec-Packular" catches and 52 yards, former #3 turned #2 receiver Robert Ferguson left the game with an undisclosed... but suspected knee sprain. Tests are pending. With Javon Walker out for the season... #2 Donald Driver has stepped his game up in impressive fashion. Driver drove the passing game forward Sunday, rolling up 114 yards and a score on 8 grabs. Favre hit 9 different receivers with at least 2 passes Sunday... that's offensive democracy at its finest!
*EXTRA POINTS: In the horrendous NFC North, both Green Bay (1-5) AND Minnesota (2-4) still harbor hopes of post-season play. Why? Because the divvy' has 2 .500 teams atop it. A leaderless pride of Lions, and a passel of Bears led by a cub QB share the lead for the North. Here's a division that may well send a 9-7 emissary to the post-C. If GB WR Robert Ferguson is to miss any significant time, look for "4-mer" (read former) #4 pass catcher Antonio Chatman's stock to rise more rapidly than "Google's." Driver can't do it all solo, and RB Ahman Green's replacement, Tony Fisher, may not possess the durability needed to be a feature fill-in. Favre will be forced to airborn with ever-increasing frequency. You'd better believe the Pack; brain-trust are scanning the 'Wire and other teams' practice squads.

Denver at N.Y. Giants: "Very quietly, Bronc' back Tatum "Chips" Bell has rushed for almost as many yards as “Big Blue's” Tiki Barber... with 30 or so FEWER carries. Kid kicks it into 2nd gear like a '72 Dodge Charger and can score from anywhere ... at virtually anytime. Jake Plummer, no longer receiving instructions from the sentient mustache that was living just above his top lip, has been playing near flawless Football since week 2, and the Denver D has been much better than anticipated. Eli floundered last week... he should find his footing back at home, but look for Denver to do just what Dallas did; throw different looks, bring pressure from unexpected sources and mix coverages ... 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. ...if a 5-1 Denver team has an Achilles heel, then a Secondary that has been picked upon would be it... The run D is stout...allowing fewer than 90 rushing yards per game. “Big Blue” back Tiki Barber will have to fight for every yard.
Eli's developing quite a flair for the dramatic! For the 2nd time in as many weeks, the young "Man-ning" snickered at a 2nd half deficit and brought his team back from the brink. With 5 ticks left on the clock, Manning tossed a 2 yard TD pass to "mope-a-dope" receiver Amani Toomer (despondent over his lack of work, "It's not a tumor… it isn’t" didn't even bother to complete many of his routes), and the Signal Caller's heart-pounding heroics allowed NY to beat a surprisingly solid Denver D. On the afternoon, Peyton's "little" completed 23 of 42 attempts, hung 2 TDs and 1 pick on the Broncs', and was as clutch as big bro's ever been! Eli's work is, of course, made easier by the running of Tiki Barber. Without a doubt, Tiki’s one of the least appreciated backs in Football. Fans outside of the "Yo'! Taxee!" area may not appreciate him, but damn' skippy' the G-Men appreciate Barber's selfless style and role-model ethic. Barber rang up 86 yards and a TD on a tough as nails Bronco run defense. And, with the Giant run game rolling… the passing game enjoyed modest success. While Toomer may have snared the game winner, pass catchers Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey were no less instrumental in the G-Man win. Burress has really embraced his role as NY’s #1 receiver, and has already tallied more receptions and as many TDs in 6 games as a Giant than he did in 11 as a Steeler last season. Keep an eye on the injury reports as Plax’ banged up his shoulder. While it’s not believed to be serious, the coaching staff has visions of a “Manning to Burress” era, and they’ll take no chances. TE Jeremy Shockey is on pace to at least tie, and possibly break, every one of his career marks. On 25 receptions, the “Shock Jock” is averaging over 17 YPC, and has racked up 424 receiving yards and 3 TDs.
*EXTRA POINTS: Next week, “Big Blue” dances with their stingy division rival Redskins. This is a game with HUGE implications, as the NFC b”East is knotted more tightly than a double square knot. With 4-2 records, NY and Washington sit atop the divvy’, but dem’ pesky Eagles share the same record. In the East, every tilt counts, and at this point…. there’s no looking past any opponent. The Redskin Secondary is drawn tighter than a drum, and seeing as how they allow fewer than 160 passing yards a game… this might be a poor week for Manning and his pass catching contingent. But, allowing almost 110 rushing yards per, they can be victimized on the ground. Look for Tiki Barber and possibly even gargantuan rook’ runner Brandon Jacobs to see a lot of work Sunday. Playing in the friendly confines of the Meadowlands, the G-Men hold a slight advantage.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: “Another grueling pick, but this could turn out to be the best game of the day. With Big Ben not quite right due to that leg injury, and savvy vet' receiver Hines Ward suffering from a hammy that could prove troublesome ALL season-long, I look for Cin' city to outpoint the Steel city. The Beng' O, with RB Rudi Johnson and WRs Chad Johnson, T.J Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry, is explosive enough to score and STILL allow 2 TE max' protect formations... thus protecting "The Franchise" from a formidable Steeler rush… 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 records. … 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.”
Well, if this game served as a barometer… then the mercury plunged. Although the Bengs’ are unquestionably good… they’re certainly not immune to poor performances. Entering this game, all of Cincy’s Ws came against foes that had losing records last season… or are sub .500 this season. The 4-2 Steelers, who don’t fall into either of the above categories, slapped the up-start Bengals around, treating ‘em as if they $5 mules. Steel City slinger’ Ben Roethlisberger was thought to be hobbled and thus limited on a bad knee. Nah’, Big Ben may have attempted only 14 passes, but he connected on 9 of them and 2 went for scores. A toothless Cincinnati pass rush managed to sack the hobbled QB only once. Roethlisberger was so effective because the Pittsburgh rushing attack continues to border on the fantastic. The “Thunder and Lightning” combo of “Fast Willie” Parker (131 rushing yards/ 1 TD) and Jerome “The Bus” Bettis (56 ground yards) ran with impunity on the Bengals, rolling up over 220 ground yards and crossing the stripe once. But the Steelers’ success really lies with its coaching staff. While it’s often been said that the “players win the games,” I submit that the Steelers are as good as they are because of the staff. One of coach Cowher’s trademark strategies is to avoid tipping his hand. While he doesn’t play the “sleight of hand” games that resident Patriot genius Bill Belichik does… Cowher, the longest tenured coach in the league, likes to be unpredictable. The guy has a firm handle on the things his team does well, the things they don’t do well, and he has a remarkable knack for getting the team through tight spots. Now, with Roethlisberger over Center, Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis carrying the mail, WR Hines Ward on the mend, and TE Heath Miller poised to explode… Pittsburgh WILL be a force to be reckoned with.*NOTE: Keep an eye on emerging TE “Big Money” Miller. The Steelers’ top draft pick scored and led all Pitt’ receivers (all 2 of them Sunday, as Hines Ward notched the only other catches of the day) with 58 yards on 6 grabs, with a long of 21. If by some slim chance Miller remains available… and don’t blame me if he’s not ‘cause I’ve been touting him for weeks, grab him off the ‘Wire with all speed.
Cin’ City struggled mightily in this one. Going into the game, the Bengals knew they’d have to scratch and claw to escape with a win… but they forgot to protect the ball. QB Prodigy Carson Palmer has been nothing short of brilliant this season, but the boys from Steel City really lowered the boom on him. For the first time all season Palmer didn’t throw a TD pass (although he ran one in), he notched his 2nd lowest yardage total of the season (227), and with a Passer Rating of 53.8… recorded, by far, his lowest rating of the season. For comparison’s sake, his NEXT lowest P/R was 107.5. You can’t contain him, you can only hope to limit the damage he does! While top-cat Chad Johnson was unable to bust into “River Dance” Sunday, with 94 yards on a mere 4 grabs he STILL contributed to fantasy teams nation-wide. The Steelers indeed managed to cage Bengal back Rudi Johnson. Having fallen into a double-digit hole mid-way through the 3rd quarter, Johnson was used sparingly. Although he averaged over 5 yards per carry, he saw but a dozen totes.
*EXTRA POINTS: Woe are the Packers. After suffering a humiliating 3 point loss to the Minnesota Vikings on a Paul Edinger Field Goal attempt… an attempt that was like… ¼ mile, the Packs’ backs are to the wall. Even in the sorry NFC “Norris” division, another loss will probably push Wisconsin’s finest out of contention. That loss will most likely come this weekend when the Bengals host the “Cheese Wiz” and his decimated team. Look for Carson Palmer to light the scoreboard UP, makin’ it look like Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree. Green Bay struggles against the run, they positively flounder against the pass, and not even Peyton Manning will be a better fantasy start this week. Likewise, look for WRs Chad Johnson and T.J “Whosmydaddy” to be on the receiving end of Palmer’s passes… and Rudi, Rudi, RUDI should find the end-zone as well. Folks… this one could turn rat-ugly.
Indianapolis at Houston: “Could be a trap game... but it won't be. The Texan O is a "Carr crash." I like Edge' and Reggie Wayne in this one, I also like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as IDPs. 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 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.”
Is there really much to say about Houston’s performance? While the Texan players would never admit as much, this is an “Alamo-esque” season; that is… a lost cause. The passing game is, as I’ve stated before, a “Carr crash.” And yet… one can’t help but to look at such wrecks! It’s a macabre personality component. If it’s possible, David Carr set a new precedent for Houston passing futility; 6 of 9, for 48 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 Sacks for -42 yards, and a stupid-bad 3 fumbles. The only upside here was RB Domanick Davis’ 98 yard, 1 TD rushing day. Houston tried an interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful tactic; use “Double-D” to eat up the clock and keep the hi-octane Indy’ O side-lined. I’m tossing my hat into the ring; the Saints, Texans, Lions, Browns and possibly even the Jets will be engaged in a season-long “suck-off,” vying for Matt Leinart’s services. Poor Mr. Leinart. The Texans… a team with little talent and depth along the O-line, are the early faves’.
What can I say? I’m not “The Magnificent Karnak” or “The Amazing Kreskin.” “I’m thinking of a number… it’s between 3 and 5, can you guess?” However, I DID nail the 15+ point victory, Colt RB Edgerrin James notched 130+ total yards (147 actually) and he DID find the “6 Point Promised Land” on yup’! 2 occasions!, and both Dwight Freeney and Roberth Mathis, with a combined 5 Tackles, 2 Sacks for -20 yards, and 2 forced fumbles were fan-friggin’-tastic IDP plays! I don’t mean to sprain a shoulder patting mahself’, mahself’ on the back… but I did! If Colt coach Tony Dungy (who enjoyed his 100th win as Colt commandant, the 34th coach to reach the milestone)) is to be believed, than a hapless Houston franchise scored 12 more points than Indy’ expected. There’s really not much to review here. Manning was uncharacteristically sloppy Sunday; like the hot chick in your 200 level “Bio of Human Sexuality” lecture who comes to class in sweats and a banana hair clip… it’s somewhat disappointing. Manning threw his 5th pick of the season on an ugly, poorly thrown ball, took 2 Sacks, and fumbled the ball away. Yet even on a bad day, like the class-Hottie, Peyton’s still stunning. The prolific passer enjoyed a P/R of 112.5 (2nd best this season) and tossed scoring strikes to TE Dallas Clark and pass catching pal, Marvelous Marvin. Given the hype surrounding the soft-handed TE, it was refreshing to see the big galoot score. And, as expected, Colt back James had his owners sitting on sofas’ “Edge’. The productive Indy back averaged 6.6 yards per carry en route to 139 rushing yard, 2 TD day. It’s painfully apparent; the Houston D couldn’t stop a nose from running. WRs Reggie Wayne and “Marvelous” continue to fluster opposing secondaries. And while Wayne saw more passes and accrued more receiving yards, only Harrison “crossed into the blue” and scored. The fact of the matter is, Manning and Harrison share uncanny chemistry. “Marvelous” could run a fade/corner route with his eyes closed, Manning could throw the ball blind-folded, and the prolific pass & catch combo would STILL beat most opposing DBs.
*EXTRA POINTS: Should Indianapolis continue their impressive run, look for coach Dungy to ease RB Edgerrin James’s workload. James is the kind of back who will wear upon an opposing D, and Dungy would love to have Edge’ fresh-legged for the post-C. Backup Dominic Rhodes could see an increased workload, and will almost certainly vulture some G-Line carries. Also, look for TE Dallas Clark to garner more looks from Manning. With a timely Week 8 Bye and upcoming games against, in order, defensively-challenged New England, another against a High-School quality Houston unit, a beatable Cincy’ squad, and a young Tenne’D… the Colts could easily continue their unbeaten roll. Over the course of the 2nd half, the team will be challenged by San Diego, Jacksonville and possibly Seattle.

Dallas at Seattle: “With RB Julius Jones... I'd pick the 'Boys, with a combo game of Thompson, Barber and Thomas, though, the Dallas run game is not nearly so effective. Look for another big day from "Alexander the Great," and the C-Hawk passing game continues to soar, even without top WRs Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson… Dallas may be tight against the run… but QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Joe Jurevicius, and TE Jerramy Stevens have been very productive … Look for the above three to keep defenders off the line, and Alexander should log several more receptions.”

In a game that saw a combined 17 penalties for 164 yards, both squads committed foolish blunders. And, as usual, it was a turnover that determined the outcome of this 4th Q’ nail-biter. In the time it takes to take 3 breaths, the ‘Boys went from making OT preparations… to marching off the field, heads down, despondent losers. With 5 seconds left in regulation, ‘Hawk nickel back Jordan Babineaux picked Bledsoe off, returning it all the way to the Cowboys’ 32 yard line. And, with zip-zilch- and zero time left on the clock, ‘Hawk kicker Josh Brown drilled a 50 yarder. On a rain-sodden afternoon, a pair of 4-2 teams clashed… and only one could emerge with a W. Seattle’s squad produced its 3rd straight win and proved to be the stronger team; at least… on this particular Sunday. And yet, Dallas was no passel o’ ‘Poke pushovers. The Seahawks have been offensive juggernauts, and coming into the day QB Matt Hasselbeck’s offense had been averaging over 400 yards per contest. The ‘Boys managed to hold the unit to under 290 total yards, and that was no small feat. Seattle RB Shaun Alexander, a runner who’s been able to look down his nose at every D he’s faced this season, was looking to become the ‘Hawks career rushing leader with another huge rushing performance. While “Alexander the Great” DID conquer the ‘Hawk rushing record and surpassed former Seattle greats Chris Warren and Curt Warner in the process, his paltry 61 rushing yards were an almost an ignominious way to set such a record. Further, Alexander gained 3 yards or less on 13 of his 21 rushing attempts, and failed to find the end-zone; the first time that’s happened since Week 1. QB Matt Hasselbeck, TE Jerramy Stevens, and “ol’ reliable” Joe Jurevicius managed to keep the chains moving forward when the run game couldn’t. And while ‘Beck was far from perfect with 224 passing yards, a touch’ and 2 picks, his game was certainly superior to that of Drew Bledsoe. His Cowboy counterpart had what was easily his worst game of the season with a Passer Rating of 50 flat. Tossing 2 picks, 1 TD, and completing slightly more than 50% of his passes for a meager 136 yards, Bledsoe simply couldn’t complement an effective rushing attack that still suffered without stud 2nd-year man Julius Jones. A committee that consisted of Anthony “A (for-Awful)-Train” Thomas, Tyler Thompson and Marion Barber notched 164 rushing yards, more than doubling Seattle’s rushing out-put. With 95 yards on 22 carries, Barber was the most impressive of the 3 ‘Boy backs. Even when Julius Jones returns from his injury, look for Barber III to trim a few carries from his considerable load in order to keep Jones (I) as fresh-legged as possible. TE Jason Witten has a wideout’s speed and skill in a TE’s body. Look for his workload to increase in the coming weeks as Dallas faces such unsavory Secondaries as Philly’, Denver and Washington.

Buffalo at Oakland: “Buff's a much different team with veteran QB Kelly Holcomb taking the game-day snaps…. With the forward pass again a credible threat… Moulds is a fantasy factor… Look for an aggressive Bill D to pop Raiduh' QB Kerry Collins in the chops once or twice, enough to throw him off of his rhythm…. allowing a stupendous 158+ rushing yards per, the Bills are ghastly-bad against the run. DO look for RB LaMont Jordan right, LaMont Jordan left, and LaMont Jordan straight ahead... with coach Norv Turner's coaching life expectancy dwindling by the loss... the black and silver will pull out all the stops in a "must win" game, and I expect the “coach” to unleash Jordan…”

During this past off-season, the Raiders made the back pages of every major newspaper… and even a few “Pennysavers” with their high profile, free agent acquisitions. WR Randy Moss and RB LaMont Jordan were brought to the west coast not so much for their sparkling personalities and locker-room wit as for their ability to contribute immediately. However, methinks coach Norv Turner did NOT plan on 1 win, 4 loss start. Thus, this was a “doe or die” game for the black and silver. Seeing as how nothing Turner had tried prior to this point had proven effective, and with the understanding that Jordan literally pleaded with his coach for a chance to shoulder the load, a beleaguered Norv “Turner-ed” to his brutish back… and that decision appears to have been a stroke of genius. The Raider runner made his Hoopster namesake (MJ) proud, and enjoyed a VERY Jordan-esque performance. LaMont put the team on his ample shoulder pads… and ran over, though and around a stout Bill D-unit, rolling up 162 total yards (140 on the ground) and a whopping trio of TDs. With 30 receptions and 245 receiving yards, the Raiders are working Jordan into the passing game with impressive results. And as for that passing game, the Bills DID get to Collins on several occasions, Sacking him twice, forcing him to fumble twice, and limiting him to a single TD. When team owner Al Davis brought All-Pro pass catcher Randy Moss over from the Vikings, and lined him up opposite talents such as Jerry Porter and Doug Gabriel, the guy understandably felt the passing game would be much more than “Oakie dokie.” Team observers eagerly forecast a 4,500/40+ season for the strong-armed Signal Caller, but those numbers certainly appear ambitious at this juncture. The upside? Having tossed a single pick, Collins HAS cut down on his INTs. After recording his 2nd 100 yard rushing effort of the season and thriving upon 28 carries… look for Turner and the team to go run-heavy. Collins will be all the more effective with Jordan knocking defenders off the line like a bowling ball does pins. With a 2-4 record in what is arguably the NFL’s toughest division, Oakland has an uphill battle on its hands. Jordan should be a rock-solid play against the next 2 opponents; the Chiefs and Titans respectively.
And while veteran QB Kelly Holcomb may render Bill WRs Lee Evans and Eric Moulds fantasy relevant again, the O-Line responded poorly to the Raiders’ physical style of play. Bill back Willis McGahee also provided the Raider defenders with bulletin board material after making some noise about wanting to be viewed as the leagues’ most dangerous back. The black and silver turned Willis black and blue, hitting him hard at every turn. The Raiders did what only one other team, Tampa Bay, had managed; Oakland held McGahee to 50 yards rushing, and kept him from scoring for the first time since Week 2. Speaking of the end-zone, WR Lee Evans found it for the first time all season. Let’s put our fantasy hands together!

N.Y. Jets at Atlanta: “Dunn will be the difference in this one. Both teams are vulnerable to the run, and both cede more than 125 ground yards per game. Still, I'll go with Vick and cronies today. Very quietly, Warrick’s “done” quite a bit. This week, (he) 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.”

Although several other Week 7 games are worthy of analysis, to me this one’s the most compelling of the bunch. Perhaps we should examine the play of the mutual Signal Callers; it was awful! Falc’ QB Michael Vick was really far more effective as a running back, and neither Vinnie Testaverde nor Brooks Bollinger were effective as Jet QBs. Vinnie threw for 140 yards and a TD, but took a pair of sacks, lost 3 fumbles, and tossed a pick for good measure. Brooksy’ boy may have restrained himself from handing the ball back to the Falcons as Testaverde did… but he was marginally effective as a Field General. Vick, on the opposite side of the field, completed slightly more than 40% of his passes, took 3 Sacks, threw 3 picks… but scored twice on the ground. If it were up to the QBs… than this game could STILL be going on. The difference in the Monday Night’er, as expected by your’s truly, was the phenomenal play of Hot-Lanta RB Warrick Dunn. Although he failed to cross the stripe… it wasn’t for lack of trying. Dunn’s hard running did the Jets in; 155 yards on 24 carries, with a long of 65 yards. Due to the struggles of the Jet passing game, Curis Martin indeed struggled to find running room, finishing with a scant 28 yards on 14 totes (1 TD for his yeoman work) Even if the Jets HAD gotten some semblance of Signal Calling play… a porous, shabby D would have prevented the Jets from leaving the Georgia Dome with a W. The Jet QB looked old, and fill-in Bollinger looked over-matched. However, Vick seemed out of his element as well, and posted the worst passer rating of his 5 year career. And while some observers will claim that “the only thing that matters is the win” … I’m tellin’ you that there’s no way the Falcs’ beat a balanced team. At this point in his career, Vick’s nothing more than a fabulous athlete disguised as a QB. Both teams will enjoy Byes this week… but only the Falcons harbor hopes of making the post-season. The Jets have some tough decisions ahead of them. If Pennington’s not the answer at QB… and thus far he’s proven himself to be as durable as a china vase, who WILL be the QB? Who’s going to guide Gang-Green into the ’06 season… ‘cause really, at this point, that’s all they’re really playing for. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Jets find themselves trying to trade for a guy like Falc’ backup Matt Schaub (though I doubt they’d be willing to part with such a promising young talent), Bolt’ backup Philip Rivers, or see which collegiate QB emerges between now and April.

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

NFL WEEK 6 WRAP-UP!

WEEK 6 WRAP-UP!"

St. Louis at Indianapolis: "St. Louis may have a hi-powered O... but they are "O" so defensively challenged. Facing the league's stingiest defensive unit... a Colt team that has allowed a scant 2 TDs all season, the Ram outlook is bleak. St. Louis QB Marc Bulger's arm threatens to fall off as the guy has been forced to throw with such frequency..."..."Ok, THIS is a "can't miss" Sunday for Manning. The Ram defense is just painful to watch, and they're like... human turnstiles. The St. Louis D allows almost 264 passing yards, and slightly more than a C-note on the ground. Look for a pissed-off Peyton to tee-off on the Rams. Likewise, WRs Marvelous and Reggie, and RB Edge' are all solid plays this week in what should be a high-scoring affair." "...As I did last week, I'm lookin' for 135 total yards and a score or 3 from this tremendous all-around back."
Why don't we start with "Monday Night Football's" offensive free-for-all? The Colts, as expected by nearly everyone, took the defensively flaccid Rams to task. Peyton and pals were firing on all cylinders, everyone got in on the action, and the In-D was stellar. If you can believe it, the game wasn't nearly as "close" as the 45-28 final score might suggest. If you didn't watch the game, looking at the 45 point surge... one might reasonably assume that Manning finally took the kid gloves off and "passed" an opponent senseless. Uh-uh, not so, as I was saying, the Colt defense came up HUGE. LB Cato June snagged a pair of errant St. Louis passes, CB Nick Harper picked off yet another PLUS he recovered a fumble, and all four Ram turnovers led to Colt scores. Following an unsettling season-long pattern, at least from a fantasy perspective, Peyton again posted pedestrian (certainly for him, anyway) numbers; 22/32 for 191 yards and 2 TDs. On the season, the record-breaking, two-time league MVP has completed 66.7% of his attempts, with 9 TDs, 4 INTS, and he's averaging a hair under 220 YPG. Very human diggies' indeed. However, compared to last year's pass-stupid model- the '05 Indianapolis offense is far more balanced, the D isn't surrendering points like my uncle Bruce is hair (as it was last season), and most importantly- the team remains undefeated. Of note, Manning made certain to cater to friend and teammate WR Marvelous Marvin Harrison last night. Harrison may have hauled in a mere 4 passes... but one of 'em (their 86th scoring connection) broke the impressive "QB to WR TD Record" formerly held by San Fran' duo Steve Young and Jerry Rice. However, it should also be noted that Manning was virtually locked-on to the younger and more explosive WR Reggie Wayne. While he has 4 TD receptions, Marvelous has cracked 100 yards receiving only once this season, and 60+ yards only once. RB Edgerrin James... he's on the other end of the fantasy spectrum. Edge' was quite the fabulous fantasy play Monday. But... Edge' has been consistent ALL season long. While he may no longer possess multiple gears and cut-on-a-dime ability, James is also a far more powerful than he was as a rook' coming out of Miami in '99. Now, 'bout that "135 total yard and a score or 3" prediction? James recorded 159 total yards and 3 scores on the night. Likewise, WR Reggie Wayne found the end-zone on one of his 7 receptions. The news is not quite so rosy for Ram fans. Nothing's been going right for this crew, and the stinging loss to Indy' drops St. Louis to 2-4 on the season. But more costly than the loss of the game is the potential loss of QB Marc Bulger to a "shoulder sprain." Suffered on an ugly lookin' attempted tackle following an interception, Bulger left the game in the 2nd quarter... and took with him ANY chance the team had of pulling out a win. With Bulger the team had a chance, albeit a slim one, of out-pointing the hi-powered Colts. But, alas, once Bulger went to the locker-room for X-Rays... a slim Ram lead went the way of the Passenger Pigeon and Mammoth. Backup QB Jamie Martin could do little aside throw incomplete, picks, and a garbage-time TD to TE Cam Cleeland. Now, here's the Rams' rub: Jamie Martin's a big ol' zero, Bulger suffered a similar injury last year and it cost him 2 full games, and you can bet the deed to the ranch that opponents will dare an Isaac Bruce-less, gummy-armed Martin, hobbled Torry Holt squad to beat them by stacking the line DEEP in order to take bullish RB Steven Jackson out of the game. *NOTE: news off the 'Wire says Bulger is on the shelf for 3 weeks. While some sites claim that Jamie Martin will serve as a fine temporary steward... he looked terrible this past week, and opponents will dare him to beat them.
Jackson, incidentally, was... and is, a force to be reckoned with. It almost seems as if the dude runs with a defensive vendetta; the Ram back finishes his runs by trying to finish the DEFENDER... and he refuses to give up on a run by going down or skipping out of bounds. Steven Jackson's productivity, for the next few games anyway, will be predicated upon Bulger's health. Check the reports later in the week.

San Diego at Oakland: "QB Drew Brees has been playing brilliant football, bolstered by the best running back in the league and the best TE in the game..." "look for San Diego to come at Kerry Collins HARD. Collins has responded very poorly to pressure this season, a trait he displayed as a Giant." "Historically, Brees has been a hurricane force against his division rival Raiders. Having won his last 3 starts against Oakland, and with 7 TDs (including last season's 22 of 25, 281 yard, 5 TD outing) and NO INTs... the Bolt' QB is a rock-solid fantasy start this week." "Tomlinson is quite arguably the best, most complete back to hit the gridiron since Barry Sanders prematurely hung up his black cleats. LT is averaging 102 YPG, he has scores in EVERY game thus far (a sweet 9), and has multiple scores in 3 of his 5 games. The Bolt' back has faced some of the toughest Ds in the league, too; LT has stepped up and performed against Dallas, Denver, and Pittsburgh. This week, look for QB Drew Brees and TE Antonio Gates to knock a porous Raiduh' Secondary (almost 270 YPG porous) back on their heels, allowing Tomlinson room to roam. There's more good news! Tomlinson, with mitts as good as ANY Wideout, has been seeing more receptions of late."
Okay, so I'm not "Karnak The Magnificent" or "Jean Whatever-her-name was," and I honestly thought the game would be much closer than 27-14... because I thought Raider QB Kerry Collins would be "Oakie" dokey' at worst, and downright dangerous at best. With a world-class pass catching contingent that features Randy Moss and includes Doug Gabriel, the heretofore productive Jerry Porter, TE Courtney Anderson, and bolstered by top off-season acquisition RB LaMont Jordan... one would think the Raider offense po-tent. But, at 1-4, the "Black and Silver" are as threatening as "powder blue and cotton candy pink." Certainly, much of the blame for the offensive offense must fall to Kerry Collins. The Raider Signal Caller, even dating back to his days as a Panther, has NEVER responded well to pressure. And, most recently as a Giant, Collins developed some rather nasty mechanical habits. Always looking for the next 300 pound D-lineman (wouldn't YOU?), Collins is more inclined to step back, rather than into his passes, and the guy also suffers from a maddening case of "happy feet. The Bolt pass rush, following the successful blueprint established by the Chiefs and replicated by the Cowboys, was electrified and brought pressure upon the beleaguered QB all day, Sacking him 4 times. Not helping matters, the 1st Q' loss of Moss to a groin injury and bruised ribs. This bodes poorly for the already floundering Field General. Collins, who completed just half of his semi-ridiculous 48 pass attempts, was held without a TD... and if Randy is to miss substantial time... it could get even uglier for the Raiders. Hard to imagine, huh? And... while we're on the topic of ugly, let's look at RB LaMont Jordan for a moment, shall we? As a person, I'm sure the guy's a beautiful human being. But, next to the acquisition of Moss, LaMont's signing was perhaps the most heralded off-season addition in the league. LaMont's hit the century mark on the ground only once, has 70 or more rushing yards but once, and then his next highest rushing total is 59 yards. Gaudy? No. What was expected of him? Assuredly not. Can this ALL be Collins' fault? Well, it'd be easy to blame him... but no, that wouldn't be fair. The Raiders have consistently abandoned the run game early, and Jordan... who it had been said would see 25 or more touches per game, has only enjoyed a 25+ touch game ONCE all season. Next week, against a ghastly-bad Buffalo Bill run D, LaMont should enjoy his most productive game of the season.

Yet as bad as things are for the Raiders... things couldn't be any better for their rival Chargers. QB Drew Brees has been as cool as the other side of the pillow, his job is made much easier by the presence of the best back in the game, LaDainian Tomlinson, and young Philip Rivers is squarely in the rear-view. It's been all Merlot and Godiva chocolates for Drew, who was simply asked to "manage" Sunday's game. On the year, Brees has completed 66% of his attempts, with 8 scores and 4 picks. With a weapon like LT in the lineup... everyone's job is made easier. Tomlinson, the best all-around back in the biz', is having perhaps his best season yet. Short of knitting an Afghan by Half-Time, it seems as if there's nothing the kid can't do. And, given the proper materials and a blocking back... I wouldn't bet against him and the Afghan thing. Sunday, Tomlinson delivered yet another stirring performance and hit the Touchdown Trifecta. LT caught a short pass and took it 35 yards to the "Hizzou," he rumbled in from the 7 for his second score, and finished the scoring sonata with a 4 yard TD pass to Justin Peelle. With almost 700 total yards and 8 TDs in his past 4 games, any doubt owners had over the great "1st overall pick" debate should have been finally put to bed Sunday. Manning? Oh passhaw!

Atlanta at New Orleans: "With or without Vick and even with an injury-thinned D, Atlanta should get a W here..." "Dunn is a strong play Sunday; he plays well against the Saints, he plays well on "Faux-Grass," and he gets both this week."
New Awlins' gave the Falcons a much, much better fight than many believed they would Sunday, for it was widely believed that the loss of Saint feature back Deuce McAllister for the season had firmly planted the final nail in New Orleans' coffin. And yet... a questionable, at best, holding penalty allowed Atlanta K Todd Peterson to make good on his second attempt, thus ending a wild and wooly game in the Falcs' favor. A bitter pill for Saint fans and players to be sure. The Saints, coming off a 49 point Week 5 shaming at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, received surprisingly solid play from QB Aaron Brooks, WR Devery Henderson, and McAllister's fill-in, RB Antowain Smith. And while the Saint D may have stymied hobbled Hot-lanta QB Mike Vick... silly mistakes and penalties, a pair of defensive TDs, and Falcon RB Warrick Dunn's 100 yard day proved too much for the Aints' to contend with. In an unforgiving division, with a 1-4 conference record, and without a reliable running game, a 2-4 Saint team is in a free-fall. In their 4 losses, the Saints have been remarkably generous, turning the ball over no less than 18 times! Look for New Orleans and Houston to be engaged in a season-long "Stink-off" for the services of College QB prodigy Matt Leinart. Assuming, of course, that Leinart doesn't panic at the notion of being a Texan or Saint... and attempt to be accepted to Graduate school for classes such as "Competitive Basket Weaving" or "Great American Beers." Although Saint sub' Antowain Smith crossed the stripe twice, they were his first TDs since 2001 for cryin' out loud. At this point, until he duplicates his success, Smith is a marginal "Flex" RB 3."

RB Warrick Dunn continues to be as solid a #2 fantasy back as exists anywhere in the league. Dunn eclipsed a rushing C-note for the 3rd time this season, and has 100+ total yards in 5 of his 6 games. Should T.J Duckett miss time with his leg injury, Dunn could see a heavier workload. As for slick Michael Vick... should that guy continue to play the way he did Sunday, his life expectancy will be sharply diminished. On one scramble that saw Vick run for probably 20 yards... but net 5, Vick came down hard upon his injured knee. Against the Jets this coming Monday Night, fans nation-wide will have the opportunity to see if Vick re-injured himself. Backup QB Matt Schaub (298 passing yards and 3 TDs in his 1 start) may not have Vick's elusiveness... but he DOES possess a strong arm, a solid pocket presence, and he brings a different dimension to the O.

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh: "With Roethlisberger... I like the Steelers in this one, even without stud WR Hines Ward. It seems as if the productive pass catcher really antagonized his Hammy' pull. However, where Big Ben was listed as "Likely to play" yesterday... he's listed as "Unlikely" today. I think Pitt' will receive strong showings from Randel El and Jerome Bettis (Jags' yield yards on the ground), but I'm unconvinced Tommy Maddox can steward this squad. The Steelers are due for a loss, a tough Jag' pass rush will unsettle Maddox, and the Cats escape P.A with a win."
Tommy Maddox, the Steelers' former starter, was out of practice. A simple and understandable... well, almost, error; Maddox neglected to look-off the defender. Jag' CB Rashean Mathis (he also partially blocked a punt), a Pro Bowl caliber talent, was off to the races; a 41 yard pick and score, thus ending the game in favor of the visiting Jaguars. They say that "bad things happen in threes." If Steeler backup QB Tommy Maddox is any measuring stick... then whoever the hell "they are" ... well, "they" seem to be correct. THING 1: Tommy Maddox throws 3 INTs. THING 2: Tommy Maddox fumbles the ball away. THING 3: Tommy Maddox caps his miserable day off with a shoulder injury, leaving him questionable for Week 7. Ironically, Maddox has now been demoted to... yup', "3rd string." The defensive-minded Jaguars entered Pittsburgh with an agenda; prove to the NFL that we are NOT a patty-cake squad. The cats jumped all over the passing game, holding Maddox to a scant 154 passing yards and forcing those 4 turnovers we spoke of, and with 73 rushing yards-the Pitt' run game was largely fictitious as well. RB Jerome Bettis, so effective against San Diego Week 5, was a virtual non-factor. Bettis needs touches to warm up, and coach Cowher didn't provide "The Bus" with the needed totes. Surprise runner Willie Parker garnered the only rushing yards of consequence. Naturally, the sputtering run game hindered the passing game, and without savvy veteran pass catcher Hines Ward on the field, the Steeler air attack fizzled. If both Ben Roethlisberger AND Tommy Maddox miss next weeks' game against the Bengals, the Steelers stand to drop their 3rd consecutive game. The sole bright spot here? Top draft pick TE Heath Miller really stepped up, snaring 4 for 72 and a touch'. Should Hines Ward miss more time with his naggy' Hammy, and such injuries really impact Wideouts as they are unable to kick it into 2nd gear, than the handsomely paid pass catcher could emerge as Pitts' top receiving threat. At the very least, owners who are starved for production at the position should grab Miller off the 'Wire should he remain available. Jaguar QB Byron Leftwich may have been unspectacular at best, taking 3 Sacks and tossing a pick, but he also threw for a score and, frankly, wasn't nearly as bad as his Pittsburgh counterpart. Along with a spectacular defensive effort, Jacksonville received impressive production from unexpected sources as well on Sunday. RB Greg Jones finally provided some return on coach Jack Del Rio's 2nd round ('04) investment, and the huge (6-1/250) backup runner rumbled for 77 yards and a score. Freakishly athletic former QB turned WR Matt Jones notched the first TD of his career, a one-handed circus catch. And while the rookie receiver had but 2 receptions on the afternoon, he certainly made 'em count. Make no mistake, once the 6-6/245 Lb pass catcher grasps the nuances of his position, he's going to be a red-zone nightmare. For the Jags' to really succeed, however, the team MUST receive improved play from the receivers, and "Lefty" will have to play to the level of his ability.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas: "This is almost a "pick 'em." The G-Men sport a top passing game and an awfully effective run game, but the D has been somewhat suspect. The 'Boys are riding high, coming off an upset win over the Eags' last week. I go with Eli, Shockey, Tiki and Plaxico. The Dallas run game isn't intact, and the secondary was vulnerable up and through week 3."... "In the game before the Giant's Week 5 Bye, against the St. Louis Rams, Eli had what was arguable his finest game as a pro. With 296 passing yards, 4 TDs, and a passer rating of 120.7, Peyton's little bro came into his own and served his "I have arrived!"notice to the NFL. Eli was also named "FedEx Air Player of the Week" for that stirring performance... quite an honor, I'm sure. Anyway, against a Dallas Secondary that rose to the occasion last week and limited regal Eagle Donovan McNabb to 119 passing yards, I STILL like Manning. This same Secondary allowed former Niner' starter Tim Rattay almost 270 yards and 3 TDs (week 3) and Redskin Signal Caller Mark Brunell (week 2) almost 300 and 2 TDs. RB Tiki Barber should be reasonably effective against a stingy Dallas run D, and a healthy TE Jeremy Shockey should prevent hard-hitting 'Boy S Roy Williams from rolling over and doubling-up WR Plaxico Burress. It'll be up to Williams to play Centerfield, because ANY of the G-Men pass catchers is capable of burning the D, including the somewhat overlooked WR Amani Toomer."
With Dallas having beaten the Eagles over Week 5, this was a battle for the NFC East The truth is, though, both teams exited Week 6 licking wounds and pondering weaknesses. Short of Dallas allowing RB Tiki Barber a free pass to the end-zone, the Giants had EVERY opportunity to win this game. QB Eli Manning may put the "Oooh!" back in "Big Blue," but with 2 costly turnovers in Cowboy country Sunday... the young Man-ning was more like "eew!" If Eli's Week 4, 296 yard-4 TD explosion against the hapless Rams was his "I have arrived" notice? Then Sunday's 215 yard, 2 turnover, 1 TD game reminded fans and owners that the G-Man is still just a young Signal Caller trying to live up to some lofty... nearly impossible expectations. If fans and owners wish to hang a helmet on something positive, then an impressive 2 passing play, 52 second, 52 yard drive that culminated in a Jeremy Shockey TD receptions is it. Such a drive is a reflection of Manning's intensity, drive, ability, and roots. "The Shock Jock," incidentally, finally had hisself' quite a real, and fantasy, game. The The big TE snatched 5 for almost 130 yards and 1 TD. In the future, both WR Plaxico Burress and Shockey will be as hard as calculus to cover simultaneously. Contrary to expectations, NY got bupkiss' from WR Amani Toomer; 2 catches and 12 yards of bupkiss.
If the Giants shot themselves in the proverbial foot Sunday... then the Cowboys certainly blew some of their own toes off as well. Had New York won the flip to determine Overtime possession, they could have won the game just as easily, irregardless of what the statistics say. Cowboy QB Drew Bledsoe, even with his 312 yard passing day, still afforded the Giants with 3 turnovers and ample scoring opportunities. The difference Sunday was an impressive effort from the 'Pokes to remove RB Tiki Barber from NY's game plan... and a fortuitous call on the Overtime coin-flip.

New England at Denver: "An injury-riddled D, backup QB and an iffy-squad of Atlanta pass catchers lost to New England by a waning moments Field Goal. The Falc's also hung 28 points on an equally diminished Pat' D. Look for both Bronc backs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell to exploit N.E's poor run stoppers." ... "With a ludicrous 18 players on the IL, New England's more "M.A.S.H" unit than Football team. Further complicating matters, Tom "Terrific" and his band of merry Patriots are faced with their 4th road game in 5 weeks. The good news is that NO team responds better to adversity..." ... "With a better than expected defense and an ALWAYS productive run game, the Broncos simply need execution from the QB position. "The Snake" has provided precisely that. In this match-up of divvy' leaders, each Field General is a sound fantasy start. Denver, on a quest for their 5th consecutive win, has an interesting dilemma; they can again brag a 2-headed running monster. "Marine" Mike Anderson is a powerful, determined, North-South runner, and Tatum "Chips... or Come Ring My" Bell (can't decide which I like better) is a nifty-footed break-away back. The smart money says that if Bell can stay healthy... no small feat for him, he'll see the bulk of the carries and win the feature role. Anyway, the Patriots are missing several key cogs from their D, most significantly LB Tedy Bruschi (coming back from his stroke.. props to the man for his courage) and S Rodney Harrison. Allowing almost 225 passing yards per game, but decimated by injury, look for a good and (I can't believe I am saying this, but...) "smart" game from the Denver QB."
Denver QB Jake "The Snake" Plummer has had a history of biting his own team(s); bisquet-head plays, lapses in judgment, and silly turnovers were Plummer hallmarks. Recently however, and we're talkin' this season recent, Plummer has strayed from his formerly "myopic-Gunslinger" style of play. No longer near-sighted, Plummer has shown remarkable foresight of late. And if Sunday's 28-20 win over the Patriots is any kind of indicator, then Plummer has matured into the Signal Caller observers always believed him capable of being. Now let's not go too far overboard here, for the Pats' are riddled with injuries on both sides of the ball. Amongst others, RB Corey Dillon sat this tilt out, as did T Matt Light and backup RB and 3rd-down specialist Kevin Faulk. However, if you had the good fortune to be able to watch this game, you walked away with one... perhaps two inescapable conclusions. As predicted in this week's "Star and Sit," Plummer played a VERY good, very smart game, and daaaammmmn! Those Broncos have SUCH a knack for finding runners capable of contributing! "Snake" lashed out at the Patriots, and finished the game with 262 passing yards, 2 scoring passes, and no INTs. The fact of the matter is, Plummer posted a season high Passer Rating of 134.4 Sunday, he hasn't tossed a pick since the Week 2 game against San Diego, and he's thrown TD passes in every game but that game. Plummer has to throw the ball to someone besides septuagenarian Rod Smith, and young (certainly by comparison, anyway) Asley Lelie finally broke out of a season-long receiving slumber, with 81 yards on 3 receptions. Though he didn't find the end-zone, as he did the week prior, an average of 27 YPC will assuredly garner him looks from Plummer. As for the breakaway Bronco running game, Tatum "Chips" Bell (I reached my decision, "Chips" it is) affords Denver with a dimension Mike Anderson doesn't; the ability to go the distance from anywhere, at anytime. The 2nd year runner had one 28 yard scamper, finished the day with 114 yards and a TD, and has run for 241 yards and 3 TDs over the past 2 weeks. The brutish, more physical Mike Anderson is, however, a viable weapon for Denver. Shanahan divided the running work up almost equally on Sunday; Marine Mike had 15 carries, Tatum "Chips" 13 plus 3 receptions. I am inclined to believe that coach Shanny' will leave things as the are, because with a combined 752 rushing yards between the 2 runners, the Bronco rushing attack is running as smoothly as a Swiss watch.
And what of the Patriot "dynasty?" Certainly history demonstrates that all dynasties must come to an end; the Roman Empire crumbled because of the Huns, and the Huns self-destructed once they became leaderless. The British empire over-extended itself and hence crumbled, and the Ottoman (Not the cushy thing you put your feet up on) empire hardly had time to even "empirize" before the Allies of World War I nipped em in their bad bud. See a theme? Most dynasties come to an end due to internal strife and discord. And although the Pats', as a TEAM, are united... they lack the internal structure (I.E defense) necessary to win. They're not built to outscore opponents, and the defense is littered with holes. While no team responds better to adversity, while no team possesses stronger intestinal fortitude, few teams can overcome so much. Aside from the thin D, RB Corey Dillon dressed, but was held out of Sunday's game. As mentioned above, New England loves to play games with the injury report but Dillons' bum ankle was no lie. With both Dillon and Faulk on the IL, unheralded Patrick Pass served, and performed, as running back understudy. Pass's fine play provided Tom Brady with some room to operate, and Brady responded with 299 yards and a pair of TDs. While his team fell 9 points shy of a win, Tom "Terrific" led his troops in a manner befitting a 2 time SuperBowl MVP. Brady cannot, however, stem the defensive leaks. New England was outmanned, outgunned, and indeed outplayed Sunday. The flat Pats' get a much-needed Bye this week. It's funny how that almost always seems to happen.

Carolina at Detroit: "Although Detroit plays well at Home (2-0 this season)... I don't like the Lions in this cat fight. With luck, RB Stephen Davis gets his rear in gear, making it easier for QB Jake Delhomme and the passing game.
In a close game that was more "snoozer" than "doozer" until mid-4th, the real storyline was "ineptitude," especially by the respective Quarterbacks. We've come to expect poor performances from Lion Signal Caller Joey Harrington, but Panther QB Jake Delhomme has truly done yeoman's work. Sunday, however, in a poor effort, Delhomme tossed 2 picks that were returned for TDs. And then... well, Lion S Kenoy Kennedy cleaned the QB's clock (and was penalized for nearly decapitating Jakey' boy as Delhomme slid to end a scramble). "Jake! Jake! How many fingers am I holding up? And, when Jake responded "Hmmm, Blue! Chris Weinke was jammin' hands under Center. Weinke was obviously up to the task, and with roughly 3 minutes left in regulation, he briskly drove Carolina downfield and tossed a 3 yarder' to greybeard receiver Ricky Proehl, thus ending the game in Panther favor. Weinke, who completed 5 of 7 for 47 and a score, hadn't tossed a TD since his rookie season ('00). The Lions have talent on both sides of the ball, but they continue to be a study in offensive mediocrity. Even on a day when a motivated D-Troit D scored twice, the team loses the ball game. Reality is, the unit can do only so much. "Blowy" Harrington is just not an NFL caliber starter, he's far better suited to be a backup. You want numbers? I'll give you numbers. Harrington's 201 passing yards aren't abysmal, but what would you call 6 Sacks? Not his fault? Okay, how's about 2 lost fumbles AND a costly INT! That, my fantasy friends, is horrendous. And the receiving group, decimated by injury, is almost a joke. With Charles Rogers out due to a subby' suspension, Roy Williams out with a quad' injury, and Eddie Drummond sidelined with a knee injury, it was up to "also-injured-but-not-quite-as-badly" Mike Williams (back), Kevin Johnson, and "practice-meat" Scottie Vines to pick up the pass catching slack. Right! Carolina worked at shutting down RB Kevin Jones, and TE Marcus Pollard hit a 100 on the "pass catch-ometer" as the Panthers' defensive assets were allotted elsewhere. Head coach Steve Mariucci's patience with the underwhelming Harrington, which had been worn thread-bare even before Week 1, is at an end. That cat's fully exhausted all 9 of his lives! Look for the team to start former Niner' Jeff Garcia as soon as he's able. This franchise will do nothing but look up at its Divvy-mates with Harrington at the helm.

The Panthers also received poor play from the Quarterback position for most of the game, but nothing that even approached Harrington's breathtaking incompetence. Delhomme may have tossed those 3 picks, and 2 of 'em might've been returned for scores, but he also threw a pair of TD passes. Extraordinary play from WR Steve Smith certainly aided the Panther cause on Sunday; Smith snared 6 for 123 yards and a score. With 4 receptions and a TD Sunday, newcomer Rod Gardner also made his Panther presence felt, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the bigger Gardner supplants sophomore receiver Keary Colbert as the team's #2. Of far greater concern is the state of the Panther rushing attack. With jitter-bug quick DeShaun Foster nursing a bruised knee, almost the entire rushing load fell to Stephen Davis. With 7 scores Davis may be finding the end-zone, but his yardage totals have suffered of late, and Sunday was no exception. The veteran back has yet to reach the century mark; 81 yards has been his highest rushing total. Still, so long as Davis bangs his way over the stripe his owners won't mind. You better believe the Panther coaching staff is monitoring the situation closely, and Davis' owners should too. In an effort to keep him fresh for final quarter of the season, both Nick Goings and Foster (assuming he pinks up) will probably see ample totes.

Cincinnati at Tennessee: "The numbers are ug-LEE! The Tennessee D has allowed 14 total TDs, 11 of 'em came via the passing game. The passing game is a Cin' city strength, and Palmer should have hisself' quite a day" "With over 1,300 passing yards and 11 TDs (TD passes in EVERY game this season, and MULTIPLE TDs in all but 1) already in the bank, Palmer's been utterly brilliant this season. He's limited his mistakes, he doesn't seem to get rattled, and even the best defenses (I.E Chicago, where he enjoyed a 3 TD day) can't slow him down. This week, against a Titan Secondary that has allowed a whopping 11 TD passes (of 14 total TDs scored against them), Palmer is as an excellent start."
Carson Palmer is the next great NFL Signal Caller; on par with Brady and no less talented than Manning (the Peyton variety). This season, Palmer's been guilty of arson, 'cause he's set the league on FIRE! Sunday, against a Tennessee Titan D that had allowed 11 passing TDs entering the game, Palmer continued his campaign of excellence. With only 6 Inc's, 272 passing yards, a pair of scoring strikes and no picks, the Beng' Field General hasn't posted a Passer Rating below 108 all season! In fact, that lil' stat' saw Palmer's name posted alongside Peyton's in the record book; 9 consecutive games with a Passer Rating of 100+. Helping Palmer is a po-tent group of receivers. Carson's rapport with receiver Chad Johnson, in particular, continues to border on the preternatural; Johnson hung 135 receiving yards and a score on the hapless Titan Secondary, has at least 5 receptions in all but 1 game this season (and in that game, against the Bears, he STILL scored twice!) and scores in 4 of the Bengals' 6 games. With increasing frequency, Johnson's name is being uttered alongside Torry Holt's, Marvelous's, T.O's, and Randy Moss's. But the "Palmer to Johnson" connection did more than post gaudy numbers, the Palmer to Johnson air attack freed RB Rudi-RUdi-RUDI up for 80 rushing yards and a trip to "The 6 Point Promised Land," his first such trip since the teams' Week 1 tilt against Cleveland. Look for the Cin City triplets to continue their all-out assault on the Pittsburgh D next Sunday. In fact, with upcoming games against teams such as Green Bay, the to-date punchless Ravens, and Cleveland- it's not inconceivable that Cincy' goes 12-4. Tennessee has been anything BUT titanic. Compounding the problems wrought by a soft group of Wideouts is a defense that saw numerous off-season defections. Worse still, the team was overwhelmingly generous with the ball Sunday, turning it over... and over... and over... and yup, over once more for a 4th time. Even with the skill po' players handing out the ball like candy on Halloween, the Titans were in the game... and even took a brief lead, with 4 and change left in the fourth quarter. Alas, that porous Tenne'D made Carson Palmer look like the 2nd coming of legendary San Fanciscan' Joe Montana, and Palmer marched his Bengal bevy up the field in effortless fashion. McNair turned the game over, allowing the Bengs' to score again, effectively ending the game. The bright spots for the Titans were few, but RB Chris Brown DID log a pair of TD runs and rook' receiver Brandon Jones hauled in 5 passes for 80+ yards.