Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WEEK 3 -- T&R (thoughts and revelations)

Some things are coming to light as we progress to the quarter mark of the NFL season this week. First thing that is becoming glaringly clear to me – if you’re not a multi-faceted running back then you are a slight hindrance to your team. This season, the ball is being thrown more and more, and teams that have only a one-trick pony in their backfield are at a decided disadvantage. Think about the Atlanta Falcons, who have a strong runner in Michael Turner. Yet no one is concerned when Turner is in the backfield that Matt Ryan will be throwing to him, after all, for his career Michael Turner has 38 receptions.  Another team that comes to mind is the Bengals and their top man Cedric Benson.  Benson has 95 receptions in his seven years, and while he’s seen more pass attempts come his way as a Bengal, he’s still not something defenses will worry about in terms of being anything more than a fly on the passing play’s wall. It also works in reverse. Tim Hightower is one heck of a pass-catching RB, but as time has revealed, his yards per carry drops precipitously the more carries he makes. Other teams are forced to employ a two-back system when they find a less adroit runner. See the Giants and their tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw for example.  Though Jacobs has generally averaged tremendous YPC numbers, most of the carries are deferred to Bradshaw because of Bradshaw's multi-dimensional capability.

Here's my thoughts and revelations about the NFL games Week 3.

Bill's defense couldn't stymie the Bills


It just goes to show Bill Belichick can coach his way into a close game in nearly any situation, but that when your defense is this bad, you can’t simply out-offense your way to a victory. I have to admit I didn’t see Tom Brady throwing another four touchdowns this week. However, he has struggled at times at Rich stadium, and while you can make a case for one tipped interception being a fluke, four total interceptions say something else.  The Bills figured something out at halftime and stymied the Patriots into just 10 points in the final two quarters of play.  Wes Welker has returned to perfect health and is easily on pace for another 100 reception season (he has 31 in just three games).  Last week, I wrote about Fred Jackson playing the best football of his career. He keeps getting better. Jackson figured in for 161 yards of total offense and a touchdown. He’s facing Cincy, Philly and the Giants in the next three weeks with only Cincy being a top rushing defense. However, the Bengals offense is so inept that you can expect the Bills to rule time of possession and have their offense on the field a majority of the game.


This one was a sleeper, and not surprisingly so. Frank Gore’s run totals are now alarming. The San Francisco offensive line has allowed eight TFL (tackles for loss) each game they’ve played in. This could be a huge measuring stick as to why Gore has managed just 2.5 yards per carry. Fantasy wise, he’s a near disaster for even a second round pick, adding a big donut-hole in the receptions category this week. Kendall Hunter received his first carries since Week 1, and though his YPC wasn’t much better, he managed a red zone touchdown for the Niners. He also added two receptions, and for Gore owners, grabbing Hunter as a handcuff is getting to the crucial stage. For the Bengals, they were 1-for-10 on third down conversions, something their defense simply can’t overcome. Andre Caldwell led all Bengals receivers with six receptions on 12 targets for 53 yards. Jermaine Gresham, the second year tight end out of Oklahoma, added another four receptions and is averaging four per game. Jerome Simpson played, but more likely he was there to finish off some other business post game.


I had mentioned I was unsettled by Chad Henne’s abysmal 53 percent completion rate. That kind of number does not usually translate into 400 yard days. However, it is true that Chad Henne is not the worry for the 0-3 Dolphins. The supposedly improving defense has been a disaster during crucial situations, the biggest of which occurred during Cleveland’s final drive to win the game. With the ball on the 27-yard line and the Browns facing a third and ten, Jason Taylor jumped off sides, reducing the play to third and five. What would have been an incompletion was turned into a 14-yard completion to Evan Moore, and on the next play Colt McCoy hit Mohamed Massaquoi for the game winning touchdown. According to Pro Football Weekly, the Dolphins are ranked 29th in terms of defensive efficiency. Brian Hartline added another four receptions to give him 10 catches, 170 yards and a touch for the year. However, I was more inclined to view him as a serviceable WR3 before Daniel Thomas starting running the football. For the second straight game Thomas averaged over four yards per carry, and gave the Dolphins some much needed balance. Reggie Bush owners are facing the law of diminishing returns moving forward. Colt McCoy still occasionally looks like a deer in headlights, and is blessed with some incredibly athletic, albeit banged up, receivers. Just pray Joshua Cribbs and Massaquoi continue to take the pain.


A veteran quarterback can make a huge difference, particularly when he’s got some time to pass. The decaying offensive line of Seattle obscured Matt Hasselbeck’s still relevant talents the last few years, and even with a floundering Chris Johnson in the backfield, Hasselbeck has shown he still can be relevant, even for fantasy players. I have to admit that I am stunned at Johnson’s inept performance against Denver. Some are saying he’s still getting into ‘contact’ shape. This is starting to sound like just a bad excuse for someone who was more worried about his contract than he was football. His chance to right the ship comes this week in Cleveland, but ESPN’s KC Joyner stated outright he’s done with him. I’m inclined to disagree. First, who are you getting at this point in return for him as a number one pick? Second, whether the offensive line is faltering on the rush at present doesn’t mean they won’t gel as we get into the season. Most new lines take some time to get it together, particularly under a new offensive coordinator. I’m giving him another week. At this time last year Brandon Lloyd had 14 receptions for 339 yards and a score. At present, he has just 10 receptions, 127 yards and zero touchdowns. It’s a big reason they’re 1-2. Denver also really needs injury-prone Knowshon Moreno back in a hurry, as they have no threat in the backfield in Willis McGahee. However, Eric Decker is making his case to supersede diminutive Eddie Royal as he and Kyle Orton have developed a nice chemistry. Decker led all Broncos receivers with seven receptions on 12 targets for 47 yards.


Michael Vick is starting to prove the theory once again that taking a quarterback, even one as great as an athlete as he is, as your first pick in fantasy is dangerous. Quarterback this year is turning out to be particularly deep, not to mention the barely six-foot tall, 215 pound QB takes so many hits, including one that left him hurt again on Sunday with a swollen right hand. Those hits are taking a toll on his psyche, as seen by his post-game rant and his numbers. Vick has returned to completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes. He’s hanging in the pocket more, but with this beat up offensive line of the Eagles, he’s suffering for it. Three possessions in the red zone resulted in Vick fumbling the snap, throwing an interception and a field goal. Thus, Philly was 1-for-5 in total red zone trips. And while the Eagles offense was 7-for-15 on third down, the Eagles longest pass play from scrimmage was 24 yards against a beat up Giants secondary. This is not a good sign for Vick owners. The true highlight for the Eagles this season is the further development of LeSean McCoy, who I believe is the most complete NFL running back period. He’s got an amazing burst, great hands, can block and brings it to the table every week. He may not be as explosive as Darren McFadden, but he doesn’t have a line that’s doing as solid for him up front either. This was only the second time in his career he had over 20 carries in a game. On the flip side, Eli Manning may have had his most complete game as a quarterback. He garnered a 145.7 QB rating. He has just one game higher than that in his career and that was back 2009 against Oakland, but in that game he through just ten passes, completing eight of them for a total of 173 yards and two for scores. Not exactly a game where the Giants were QB dependent. Victor Cruz had a game to remember and is showing the flash of greatness that appeared during the 2010 pre-season before he was lost for the year. The undrafted free agent out of UMASS had three receptions for 110 yards and two scores. He made the Eagles secondary look foolish on both of them, including one where he got position on and yanked away a Manning toss from all-pro corner Nnamdi Asomugha.


The difference between Minnesota and the Lions this game was the eight points they lost with truly inefficient play calling in the red zone their first two drives. Adrian Peterson had all of two carries in their first two appearances inside the red zone and both trips resulted in field goals. Had Minnesota punched it in even once they likely hold on to the victory. However, nothing can be taken away from the Lions and Calvin Johnson, who though he grabbed two more TDs, made no catch bigger than his over the shoulder falling grab in overtime. Brandon Pettigrew provided only his second NFL game with over 100 receiving yards, and Nate Burleson, a fantasy favorite from some experts this week, disappeared. Even with Jahvid Best unable to rush for more than 1.2 per carry, a rate that may actually be lower than return on investment for Jamaal Charles this year, Matthew Stafford was able to turn things around in the second half where they scored on five of their last six drives.  As long as he's healthy, this offense will always be a threat, no matter how many points they're down.


I mentioned last week that Lance Moore could easily steal a bunch of targets from Drew Brees against Houston and sure enough, Moore took in all nine of his targets for 88 yards and a score. Jimmy Graham was also a solid TE choice with his four receptions on eight targets for 100 yards and a TD.  Mark Ingram had a better day as he went nine rushes for 38 yards and a nifty-shifty TD run. He's got great balance when he can get a head of steam going. However, it is Darren Sproles making the biggest impact in this backfield, particularly from a fantasy standpoint. The most targeted running back in the NFL is a tie between Sproles and Chicago's Matt Forte. Sproles has just one less reception with 21, tied with of all people the resurging Earnest Graham. For Houston, FB James Casey now has defensive coordinators' attention as a possible weapon for Matt Schaub. While it's not something any fantasy owner should leap on, his five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown can't be ignored. His eight total receptions for the year ties his career high. Now that Steve Slaton has been released, there's a little more breathing room in the Houston backfield, which is good news for Tate owners, as Arian Foster is going to attempt to play this week. Houston was 1-for-5 in the red zone, and that's not how you beat a team like the Saints.  Though Ben Tate was averaging well over four yards a carry, Houston opted to throw a majority of the time inside the 20. The result was an Owen Daniels score but not much else. Daniels is starting to look like the top ten tight end he was in 2009 when he tore his ACL.


Jacksonville never had a red zone possession and was 3-for-14 on third down. Maurice Jones-Drew churned out 24 carries for 122 yards, a 5.1 per touch clip. It's hard to judge this game because of the monsoon-like conditions that plagued a good part of it, but Marcedes Lewis was a non-factor, something you'd expect to change going forward, especially with a rookie QB under center. I'm sticking with my sell high theory on Steve Smith, and this game and the muddy conditions didn't help accentuate Smith's downfield speed. At least he was targeted seven times, even if he only did get two of them. Greg Olsen led all Carolina receivers with 10 targets, 57 yards and a touchdown. Expect a different game this week in Chicago, one that should truly test Cam Newton. Carolina's running game has been almost a non-factor, something that I'd also expect to change moving forward. One post-script: I'm not jumping off the Brandon LeFell bandwagon just yet. The weather here made throwing the ball of no desire to either team.


If you read my blog this week, you know where I stand on the status of the Jets offense and Mark Sanchez. It will further come to fruition this week when the Jets travel to Baltimore. Shonn Greene continues to sputter while LaDainian Tomlinson looks the best he has in three years. Tomlinson managed 6.3 yards per carry, while Greene again struggled with under four. At least Greene caught all seven of his targets for 47 yards, but it was Tomlinson on the receiving end of a Mark Sanchez touchdown toss when it mattered. He garnered 106 receiving yards on the day. I never would have pegged Darren McFadden going off for 170 yards against this Jet defense. Admittedly, I said he'd factor but didn't expect he'd be the factor. However, Denarius Moore's reverse for a touchdown really unraveled the Jets for good.  Moore, if healthy, could be a future star, and would be someone I'd be interested in if I was in a keeper league. Chaz Schilens continues to make his presence known as he hauled in all four of his passes for 31 yards. The former seventh round pick has been injury-plagued for most of his career, but at 6'4" 225, I disagree that Schilens will vanish at the return of Louis Murphy and/or Jacoby Ford. He's had better hands than Murphy, and has better size than both.


This is what always bothers me about Ray Rice. Maybe I'm swayed a bit by the fact I owned Rice before in fantasy and found myself underwhelmed, or maybe it's the odd game-planning by John Harbaugh, but it seems that in games where Rice should dominate he almost never does. He was running well – eight carries for 79 yards – yet only got those eight carries. He caught five balls for 83 yards. But for some reason, Harbaugh ran the ball only 17 times intentionally against the leagues worst rushing defense. Some might call that being unpredictable. Others like myself call it stupid.  Either way, no one pegged rookie Torrey Smith as the game-breaker here. Five receptions, 152 yards and three touchdowns is a stat line everyone's likely to remember, until he disappears into the unpredictable void that is the Ravens passing game. Joe Flacco looked like an all-star for the second time in three games. His line was 27-of-48 for 389 yards and three scores. For the Rams, they are reeling without Steven Jackson at full strength. Even at half strength he was able to manage 5.8 yards per carry against Baltimore in his four carries for 23 yards. They also pine for the sure-handed Danny Amendola as dropped balls continue to plague this team.


To me, Philip Rivers is one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league. Rivers threw for 266 yards and two interceptions against a reeling Kansas City team who is trying to prevent themselves from becoming dubbed the NFL's first minor league franchise. KC has yielded eight passing touchdowns, worst in the league, and is giving up an average pass play of over eight yards. Perhaps San Diego's slow starts the last couple of years are not so much a factor of problematic running game, but of an inconsistent QB who is supposed to carry this offense on his shoulders. See last year's hug hiccup loss to Seattle in Week 3, where Rivers put up a gaudy 455 yards, but only after his team was down 17-0 after a ridiculously bad first half; Or the Week 1 loss to Kansas City, where the offense vanished in the fourth quarter; Or the Week 6 game in St. Louis, where the team managed a field goal the entire first half.  Sure, the defense is half to blame as well, but these are games that elite quarterbacks don't vanish in.  He does vanish, and San Diego has barely escaped games with Minnesota where Donovan McNabb managed 39 yards passing, and now Kansas City, where penalties and sloppy play kept the Chiefs around long enough to make this game a close one. Ironically Rivers completes 72 percent of his passes in losses versus 66 percent in victories. So perhaps he's better playing from behind when defenses play prevent. Regardless, the loss of Antonio Gates is going to make Vincent Jackson the target of every secondary, meaning Malcom Floyd has a lot more value now. The bright spot is Ryan Mathews, who is suddenly running with vigor and is seeing the field much better. The fact that Mathews can now run and catch (see my intro.) will cut into Mike Tolbert's numbers, even though Tolbert does have decent hands. Kansas City did as I predicted and gave Dexter McCluster his share of carries, and he didn't let anyone down. He managed five yards per carry including a 16-yard burst. He also added five grabs for 17 yards. Stick with him, especially in PPR leagues.


That had to be the strangest kickoff return in the history of football. I'm not sure how the entire special teams unit didn't follow the ball but instead followed the majority of their teammates. Just shows that the sheep follow the heard even if they're going off a cliff. Ryan Grant ran particularly well, even after the Packers lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury. Bulaga is likely to miss this week with a knee sprain, but it didn't slow the Packers running game against the Bears, and I'll be just as optimistic against the Broncos this week. Chicago's biggest problem is still Matt Forte. He can't run. He can catch and run, but he can't run, and the difference is an inability to use play action well against strong run defenses. Roy Williams is just a mess in terms of holding onto the football. He had at least two crucial drops, including a touchdown that Cutler put right between the numbers. The Bears can ill afford any receivers dropping the rock. Dane Sanzenbacher has become a Jay Cutler favorite in crucial yardage situations, even though he too lost a possible touchdown pass. He hauled in one though, and had a few other third down catches. He's a sharp route runner, and though he's too small to make a huge impact week to week for fantasy owners, he's scrappy and has good hands. In deep leagues, he's a guy to eye for a flex play as a fill-in during the bye weeks.


I hate Arizona on the road, and they didn't fail expectations here. However, much of this loss can be placed on the fact Beanie Wells was a scratch with his hamstring. Wells has scored a touchdown in each of his two starts and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season. Not having him in the backfield made for a long day for Kevin Kolb, as Alfonso Smith and Chester Taylor just couldn't get it done. Sidney Rice made his first appearance this season and showed he is going to be important for Seattle to compete. No Seattle receiver had managed a 100-yard game this season. Rice had eight catches for 109 yards. He'll also help Marshawn Lynch owners as safeties will have to respect Rice as a downfield threat.


I'm officially worried about the Falcons. This does not look like the team we were expecting. Their defense yielded 77 points through three games, but the offense has managed a woeful 60. For a team that added Julio Jones as a complimentary receiver to Roddy White, and still has a viable tight end in Tony Gonzalez, the passing offense is only managing 6.9 per attempt. The loss of Jerious Norwood might not have meant a lot to fantasy owners, but Jason Snelling is the same type of one-trick pony Michael Turner is, and it has me wondering if defenses are able to focus more on the wide outs knowing that they have less to worry about with these two. Jacquizz Rodgers saw three receptions the first week and two last week, and it's very possible the tiny scat-back out Oregon State will continue to be added as another threat in the backfield. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continues to do just enough to win ball games. The defense is probably a bit underrated, and but offensively they're in the bottom third in both rushing and passing. Josh Freeman hasn't been terrible but in the fourth quarter this year, Freeman's QB rating which averages 60.6 for the first three quarters, elevates to a 94.2. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and has thrown both his touchdowns in the final 15 minutes. In other words, don't panic when your TB receivers haven't delivered after three quarters of play.


This was truly ugly. I can say that as Pittsburgh is probably the most careless team with the football I have seen this year. While the style that Ben Roethlisberger plays certainly exposes himself to more possible turnovers, Big Ben has accounted for eight turnovers in three games. There's almost no way to win football games turning the ball over that much, yet the Steelers are still 2-1. As ugly as things have been, the team's defense does appear to be shaping up a bit. Granted their last two opponents have been Seattle and Indy, but the Steelers are still holding opposing runners to an average of 3.3 per carry. The Steelers pass defense has given up a league minimum 462 passing yards through three games, making them best currently. However, they've also faced Tarvaris Jackson and a combination of Kerry Collins/Curtis Painter. They'll be tested by the Houston offense for certain, and when you consider Joseph Addai did manage over five yards per carry against the Steelers front seven, they may be hard pressed to stop Houston in any capacity. For Indy, the greatest disservice done to anyone on the team was done to Curtis Painter. Sure, he's played badly in the pre-season, and he never did look like the cure should the Peyton Manning disease strike. But then why on earth did you not only keep him, but place him as your second stringer. The Colts signing Kerry Collins was understandable, but Collins had less than three weeks to learn the offense. Painter should have at least been given those first three weeks of experience to get some service under his belt and play at game speed. I understand hindsight is 20-20, but at 0-3, did Kerry Collins make any difference for you? Painter has lost valuable game time and now that Collins has suffered a concussion, Painter subs in at a time things are much more dire as one of two more losses mean this team has no shot this year. Indy fans won't breath any easier knowing they've lost two more defensive starters in Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt – both done for the season. I wouldn't let go of Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark in fantasy, but your expectations are sinking about as fast as the Lusitania right about now.


Worries about Felix Jones will be tapered at least a week after Jones went off for 14 carries and 115 yards, an 8.2 yards per carry average. He also caught three balls for 40 yards. Tony Romo gets either great kudos or a quick brain scan for playing just eight days after he broke several ribs and punctured his lung. It wasn't a great game for Romo, but all things considered he led his team on six field goal scoring drives, and one with the game in question in the fourth quarter. Dez Bryant returned to the field and grabbed four balls for 67 yards. The Dallas defense certainly bent, but hardly broke as they yielded one touchdown all night. Tim Hightower continues to prove to me that he's still at best a pass catching back, and those who were high on Roy Helu, which I still couldn't believe I was hearing from some of the guys at ESPN, were quickly brought back to earth. This is still a Mike Shanahan team and at most Helu will be part of a platoon. His five carries for 15 yards was nothing to write home about. The best thing I saw in Monday night's game was how confident Rex Grossman looked. In Chicago, Grossman seemed to rarely plant his feet, constantly throwing off his back foot, as if the game was just too fast for him. What I saw Monday night was a different Grossman. No, he wasn't brilliant, but he was confident and looked the part of a leader. Winning in Dallas would have a been a huge deal, but the key will be winning the second game in Washington.

Monday, September 26, 2011


How's it feel being a number one pick Mark Sanchez? If you thought the pressure you had on your shoulders was at an elevated rate; oh, say 'orange' on the now defunct Homeland Security scale, it's quickly rising to bright red on the Rex Ryan scale.

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)
Like it or not, two things aren't happening for the Jets. The first is that the Jets offensive line, now without retired guard Alan Faneca and injured center Nick Mangold, is not opening the kind of lanes up they did the last two years when the Jets were the leading offense in rushing attempts by nearly 100. Because of this, the number of rushing attempts is decreasing as is their yards per carry. Two years ago, the Jets rushing offense averaged 4.5 yards per carry in over 600 attempts. Last year, it was pretty much the same at 4.4, but the number of carries decreased by 63 attempts. This year, the Jets are averaging 3.4 yards per carry and are tied for 24th in attempts with just 73 over three games.

Second, Shonn Greene isn't able to take things to a second level after being hit at the first level. His 3.3 yards per carry not only isn't getting it done, it's actually trailing veteran LaDainian Tomlinson, who is managing 3.6 per carry.

Sanchez gave us a peek of what he's capable with a gorgeous fourth quarter red zone toss to Plaxico Burress who was under tight coverage, and nearly became the hero with a 4th down end zone run where he sacrificed his body but just fell short on the one yard line. The Jets are now ranked 10th in passing offense, and 25th in rushing offense, a complete polar turnaround to the last couple of years. It isn't going to reverse course.

The next three weeks the Jets face Baltimore, New England and Miami. Those games are followed by San Diego, the Bye week and Buffalo. Only Buffalo isn't a top twenty rushing defense right now. At present, only San Diego is a top ten passing defense.

There is some 'marked' improvement in the 2011 Mark Sanchez .  He has completed 63 percent of his passes, up by almost 10 percent since his rookie season in 2009. His yards per attempt is nearly 8 (7.98 to be exact), up by over a yard per pass since last year. His QB rating is over 90. The Jets are having their identity questioned, but the truth is, they didn't draft Mark Sanchez with their first pick and fifth overall to be a game manager.  They drafted him to lead them, particularly as he moved forward in experience and adversity struck.  Well, adversity has struck in the form of some flat tires known as the Jets running game. The identity of this Jets team is heading in the direction it was supposed to the moment New York traded up to grab their top choice as QB.  It's time for Rex Ryan to hand Mark Sanchez the pilot's seat and see if this five-year, $60 million prospect can fly.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Some numbers that may shock you.  The best offense in the league is New England, which is not surprising, but would it surprise you that the second best offense in terms of yards and is Carolina?  The Newtonian boost has given Steve Smith his best numbers in four years, perching him atop the wide receiver list for the NFL.  And I’m going to say it right now – sell high.  Here’s why.  Smith isn’t getting any younger.  At 32, he’s still has viable speed and is a veteran route runner, superior at using his shiftiness to break coverage.   He also hasn’t averaged this kind of yards per catch his entire career.  Not to mention, that right now Cam Newton is a novelty.  There was hardly any NFL tape on Newton coming into the first few weeks’ match-ups.  Newton has shocked people as a quick study, but the more he’s out there, the more defensive coordinators will begin to poke holes in his game and plan for him.  Let’s hope his three interceptions against the Packers was not a portent of things to come, but I’m inclined to believe that some struggles will follow.   Keep an eye on Brandon LeFell, as he could start cutting into Smith’s numbers. 



No matter how strong a showing Ryan Fitzpatrick has had the past two weeks, I can’t see this game being about his arm.  New England has run the ball just 47 times, tied for 23rd in the league for attempts.  The Patriots will welcome a shootout any day, and though their pass defense has yielded 381 yards per game, worst in the league, I expect the Bills to do everything they can to pass early, get a lead, and then push the league’s leading rusher Fred Jackson to take over.  I’m not sold on New England’s 11th ranked rushing defense, simply because they’ve had early leads in most of their games against shabby running offenses.  The Pats shut down Antonio Gates, but safety Patrick Chung will miss this game after thumb surgery, so that makes Scott Chandler’s possibilities a plus.  I’m not starting him over any of the top tier TEs but if you’re down in the second and third or in deep leagues, he’s worth a go.  In his last two games at Rich stadium, though he’s been the victor, Brady has had difficulty, completing 26 of 50 passes for 255 total yards, four TDs and 1 INT.  The Bills pass defense hasn’t gelled particularly well yet (ranked 18th) but Brady won’t be number one again this week.



There’s a reason why Adrian Peterson was christened with the nickname “All Day”.  This game will be a case of All Day, all the time.  Peterson is a top five guy this week in fantasy, as the Lions are yielding 4.6 yards per touch on the ground.  Sure the pride will stack the box, but they can’t be overzealous, because no matter how bad Donovan McNabb has been, he still has a top receiver in Percy Harvin and enough of a veteran’s mentality to rebound.  On the flip side, Matthew Stafford has only played Minnesota once in the Metrodome, and that game didn’t go so well for him in a 27-10 loss his rookie season.  Stafford has yet to be sacked, but this Lions front five will face a challenge contain Jared Allen and his counter-part Brian Robison.  In addition, the veteran cornerbacks of Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are going to start putting it together soon.  Jahvid Best isn’t likely to have a big game against this stout though slightly banged up linebacker group.  Best should make a nice PPR play as he’s been targeted 13 times in the first two games, and of the six scores given up by the Vikings defense, five were scored by running backs, and two of which were short screens inside the red zone.



Michael Vick’s health was a hug topic this week, and with good reason.  The Giants are ranked fifth currently against the run, and second best in allowing the fewest yard per touch.   In this last four games against the Giants, LeSean McCoy has had only over 100 yards once, and that occurred only because he broke a 50 yard run with 4:25 left in the game when it was no longer in question.  With the Giants secondary hurting, DeSean Jackson should continue to feast on one of his favorite division foes, and the Eagles should win this one pretty handily.   The only question mark is the Eagles run defense, ranked 30th against the run in yards per game.  Marion Manningham is out for the Giants.



Yes he was facing the Packers veteran defense, but Cam Newton had three interceptions last week to his one TD pass.  This week Steve Smith comes up against an overly aggressive but tough Rashean Mathis, who has 30 career interceptions, making him 11th of all NFL active players.  Expect him to bait Newton into his 31st.  The Panthers defense is weak at best, having blown games in the 4th quarter to Arizona and Green Bay.  However, in seven possessions in the red zone opponents have scored only two TDs.  Expect Maurice Jones-Drew to figure in huge in Blaine Gabbert’s debut, but Newton and the potent offense should do enough to get their first victory.



Against the top rushing defense of the 49ers, Cincinnati may have a real problem on its hands.  Cedric Benson has appealed his suspension and will be active for today’s game.   Benson has faced the 49ers twice, both times with the Bears.  Neither were celebrated performances, and ironically, this year’s Bengals has only one rushing TD versus four passing scores.  The 49ers will hope to continue that trend, forcing Andy Dalton to choose from what might be a further depleted receiving group now that Jerome Simpson is on the police radar.  A.J. Green is likely to make his presence felt again, and with anemic San Francisco offense still trying to find itself, Cincy should make a meal of the 49ers at home.

BENGALS 24, 49ERS 10


A gain with high-flying implications, both teams bring improved defenses up against harrowing offenses.   The Texans rushing offense is sixth in the league, with Ben Tate now leading that way, and a hamstrung Arian Foster still a game-time decision. What bodes even more well for Houston is they come up against an offense having trouble running the football, as Mark Ingram has yet to show up as the game-breaker the Saints hoped for, and the Saints offense isn’t designed for ground and pound style, perhaps Houston’s one weakness.  Pierre Thomas is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and should see a good number of carries in this one.  Lance Moore could be a fly in the ointment of the Houston defense, as when healthy, he’s a more reliable possession receiver than either Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson.  Big concern is New Orleans’ red zone defense which has allowed five TDs in all five trips by opponents.



Would anyone believe that Cleveland’s pass defense is ranked second in terms of yards allowed?  Then you look at their two opponents, Cincinnati and Indianapolis and you can see why.  Just remember the Browns could be 2-0 if not for a Bruce Gradkowski toss to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter of Week 1.  Reggie Bush is probable for the game, but expect Daniel Thomas, who made the most of his 18 carries last week for 107 yards to do some more heavy lifting here, while the Dolphins passing game gets a shot at making some downfield plays.  However, the most disturbing number with Chad Henne is still his 53.2% completion rate considering he’s got the second highest number of attempts in the AFC.  Still, second year CB Joe Haden will likely have his hands full with the most targeted receiver through two weeks, Brandon Marshall, and the Browns offense, even with a good game from an ailing Peyton Hillis, can’t keep the Dolphins from moving to 2-1. 



This has all the makings of a trap game, as Tennessee just tore apart a vaunted Ravens defense, while holding Ray Rice in check.  Now they get the tattered Broncos, who not only face injuries on defense, but a split fandom that could pervade the locker room if Kyle Orton continues to struggle.  On the flip side, everyone is banking on Chris Johnson finally making an appearance worth watching against a Denver rush defense averaging 131 yards per game against.  This writer won’t disagree there.  This should be a monster game for Johnson, now three games into the season, and facing a front seven minus Elvis Dumervil.  Willis McGahee won’t help much here, and in a sloppy game full of C.J., the Titans push Denver back.


That covers the early matchups of the day.  There shouldn’t be a way for the Ravens to lose at St. Louis even though they’ve never won there, and I expect huge days from Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson again.  I still think Darren McFadden will have an impact in the Jets game, but I can’t see him rolling off a huge day.  Matt Ryan has not fared well against the Buccaneers defense and at Tampa Bay, I’m not a fan.  He’s a much better QB on turf, and last year against the he threw three TDs versus two picks and managed just 440 yards in two games.  Lower some expectations in this one for the Atlanta offense.  The Cardinals travel to Seattle and scare the heck out of me on the road.  Chris Wells has been called a game-time decision per  He is not listed among ESPN’s report at all.  Green Bay has allowed just one rushing touchdown. Matt Forte has scored just one rushing touchdown against the Packers in the past three years.  Though will continue to be targeted heavily, the Packers will again make his day tough and Jay Cutler will be harassed into some turnovers.  This one will be close.  The Steelers are still looking for their first turnover of the season and should get one in Indy.  Rashard Mendenhall should get 80-plus yards and a score here, but I don’t like the way Isaac Redman has been running and that’s because he’s been better.  Mike Wallace will continue to shine.

MY TOP 5s for Week 3

Adrian Peterson                      
Chris Johnson                         
Maurice-Jones Drew              
Ray Rice                                 
Ben Tate                                 

Phillip Rivers
Michael Vick
Drew Brees
Tom Brady
Matthew Stafford

Andre Johnson
Vincent Jackson
DeSean Jackson
Calvin Johnson
Brandon Marshall
Jemichael Finley                               
Jason Witten                                      
Kellen Winslow                                 
Dustin Keller                                      
Jimmy Graham    

Green Bay

Matt Prater
Neil Rackers
David Akers
Sebastian Janikowski
Rob Bironas

Friday, September 23, 2011


The Bengals need a test of their own that does more than the Wonderlic.... because being in trouble with the law just follows this team around.  Never so blatantly perhaps as this one....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


They happen every year.

It happened to Jamal Lewis and launched Priest Holmes.

It happened to Drew Bledsoe and it borne Tom Brady.

It happened to Priest Holmes and gave us Larry Johnson.

It happened to Owen Daniels and made Joel Dreesen fantasy relevant.

Every year it happens. Every year it's a mini-disaster for one fantasy football team.  This year, it's Jamaal Charles.  Will Thomas Jones give us one last gasp at greatness, or will the dimunitive scat back/wideout Dexter McCluster prove he can handle 15-plus carries per game.  My bet is on Jones initially getting a large does of carries, but eventually falling back to the red zone back, while McCluster and a mixture of LeRon McLain take over.  McCluster is the playmaker of the three, but it's hard to overlook McLain's role after he filled in admirably for a wounded Willis McGahee during Ray Rice's rookie campaign and averaged 3.9 per carry on 232 carries.  Basically this backfield is a mess, but you want McCluster, particularly in PPR leagues.  The Chiefs lack depth at all the offensive skill positions, and though you'll see an occasional fill-in from Jackie Battle, he's not much more than a pass blocker.

The other team that is on the tops the list of the decimated are the New York Giants.  I feel for the fans, but even more for Eli Manning.  Manning's going to be booed and ripped by a fan base that isn't taking into account the long odds this team now faces to even put together a winning season.  They lost Osi Umeniyora and Jonathan Goff early.  Down went Justin Tuck, who is still recovering from a neck stinger but playing.  No need to emphasize how difficult or scary the neck is -- see one Peyton Manning for reference.  Hakeem Nicks' knee swelled up after his game Week 1.  Mario Manningham was concussed in Week 2.  Domenik Hixon has torn his ACL in the same leg for the second year in a row.  Did Tom Coughlin walk under a ladder after hitting a black cat that crossed his path? 

Besides the injuries, I was incredibly disappointed in the Giants inability to run against an improved, albeit overrated St. Louis defense.  This should have been a pretty easy game for the Giants to secure, and it wasn't, no matter what the scoreboard shows. St. Louis is their own worst nightmare, and they have hardly anyone that can be counted on to make a big play. 

I had both Ahmad Bradshaw and Cadillac Williams to play come Monday Night down nine points to my opponent in my NFP league.  My foe had Josh Brown for St. Louis.  Brown nearly outscored both of them.  Just sad.  The Giants have a big match-up against the Eagles in Week 3, and I'd be concerned with the injuries to the Giants' receivers, that Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs find themselves the focus of this Eagles defense.  I don't expect high value from them this week.

You want to know why you can't simply bail on a running back when they turn 30?  I give you one Fred Jackson, perhaps playing the best football of his career behind a rejuvenated Bills offensive line.  Jackson added 15 carries to his tally and managed 7.8 yards per against the Oakland front seven.  Either Oakland  is terrible on defense, or the Bills have found stability and strength up front.  It appears to be the latter, as Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked just once this season.  Last season at this time, Trent Edwards had been downed seven times.  Now, part of this changed is to be owed to Fitzpatrick, who has some mobility.  However, this group of mostly three-year vets, has gelled enough to complement Chan Gailey's scheme such that they dropped 79 points on two defenses in two weeks.

I'm still not sold on the Steelers being a veritable champion.  They can't run the football well, as Rashard Mendenhall's 3.6 yards per attempt illustrates.  Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked six times, and was hit a whole lot others, including a shot to his knee this past weekend.  The Steelers have been part of two incredibly lopsided games - one against a division rival, the other against a NFC West foe who hardly fits the bill of contender.  Until they can impose their will in the trenches against a stalwart opponent, I remain steadfast in my opinion that Rashard Mendenhall will be a disappointment this year.  He should get 1000 yards but I'm thinking just barely, especially if Isaac Redman continues to run through, over and by people. 

I think the Indy defense misses Bob Sanders.  Not that he was ever healthy for them, but he definitely made a difference when he was.  It seems that they can't stop anyone, having ceded 167 yards against Houston, and then 106 to Cleveland.  It's like anyone can run on the Colts.  Great chance for the Steelers to prove me wrong comes Sunday night at Indy.

There was a buzz in training camp about Denarius Moore if you were reading, or even talking to Raiders fans.  By the end of pre-season it was more of a rumor, and now it's just plain gossip.  If you haven't grabbed Moore, someone else has after his sick five-reception-146-yard-with-a-touchdown day.  I don't know if you were reading or listening to me in the last couple of years where I pimped Jason Campbell and the fact that his numbers had improved every year despite playing under new offensive coordinators in nearly every one of them.  He's proving to be more than just a serviceable quarterback now that the Oakland front line has found a way to keep him upright, and Moore should reap the benefits.  Keep an eye on the oft-injured Chaz Schilens who appeared for the first time Sunday.  When healthy, Schilens has proven he's a solid option -- problem is he's never healthy.

I have to say Mike Kafka impressed the hell out of me Sunday night.  I mean, Vick goes out and the momentum immediately turned on Philly.  You could feel it.  Then Kafka comes out and rips off 7-9 for 72 yards including a beautiful deep ball to Jeremy Maclin, and I'm thinking Philly's going to pull it out.  If it hadn't been for Maclin dropping a fourth down pass that only hit him in the hands, well, Philly wins this game.  It's hard to step in as a backup and anticipate what the receivers will do, as well as picking up the pace of the game.  Kafka not only showed confidence, he showed decisiveness, and they were all pretty good decisions.  If Vick is out, Kafka may have a field day against a Giants secondary that has given up 8.0 per attempt and 566 yards in two games.

Is anyone else as puzzled by what happened to Baltimore when they visited Tennessee?  I wrote last week that the Ravens complete domination of the Steelers may have been the best game of football I've ever seen them play.  Problem was it was Week 1, and you never want to have a great game in Week 1.  Where do you improve from there?  Well, Kenny Britt single-handedly ate the Birds' secondary, catching nine of 13 balls for 137 yards and a score.  Meanwhile, Baltimore managed just two rushing first downs, finished 3-for-10 on third down conversions and turned the ball over three times.  Courtland Finnegan has three passes defensed for the Titan defensed and four tackles.  Perhaps he's rounding back into shape as the Pro Bowl corner we once knew. 

A 32-3 thrashing by the Jets was all Jack Del Rio needed to hand Blaine Gabbert the reins.  I think Carolina becomes an interesting defense this week.  They're not exactly slowing down runners but knowing that this rookie is entering sooner than the Jags would have liked (they are 1-1 you know), expect Carolina to fill the box and dare Blaine to beat them.

I'll hope to have some previews coming this weekend and my Top 5 for Week 3.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Kyle Orton begins the season with a ranking of 27th in QB rating. 
Time for Tebow?


The chants rang out among the Sports Authority Stadium crowd Sunday night as the Broncos, down three points to the Oakland Raiders, began mounting a comeback on a wet, soggy night.  First and ten at the Oakland 24-yard line, Kyle Orton makes a strong play fake to Knowshon Moreno and looks across the line to see Tight End Daniel Fells breaking open across the center of the field.  Orton goes to throw and.....the ball falls out of his hands.  Almost as if in slow motion, Orton, already fading toward his blind side, attempts to reverse his course and fall against his weight for the ball.  He's too late, as Oakland's Lamarr Houston finds the football first.  Game-changing turnover, Denver never recovers and loses to Oakland.

Since the first Sunday ended, and maybe even before, the Denver faithful have been firing away at Orton.

Is it time for Tim Tebow? 

No.  Absolutely not.

Let's examine Kyle Orton's body of work as a quarterback in the NFL before we toss him out the window for a guy who has started all of three NFL games.

This isn't baseball, so wins isn't a category most people examine when looking at QB play.  However, if the quarterback is going to be assessed with full blame for a team's loss, then we should consider lauding the QB with the accolades when a team wins.

In Chicago, Kyle Orton was 21-12, completed 55% of his passes, threw for 30 TDs vs. 27 INTs. and averaged 211 yards per game throwing, and a QB rating of 71.  Not exactly great numbers, but there was no doubt that he made the team stronger than Rex Grossman did at the time.  Yet, Kyle Orton was run out of Chicago for Jay Cutler.

Transition to Denver, where Orton has posted an 11-17 record, while improving on all of his numbers, 277 yards per game, 42 TDs vs. 22 INTs, a 60% completion rate, and average of an 87 rating.  So why has the number of wins declined?  Is that based on Orton's play?
In 2008, Jay Cutler's Denver offense was ranked third in passing and second overall in yards in the final year of Mike Shanahan's tenure.  They ranked 16th in offensive points scored, but 30th in defense.

In 2009, Kyle Orton's first year in Denver as well as Josh McDaniels', the offense was the 13th rated passing offense in terms of yards.  They were 20th overall in points.  The defense improved to seventh overall in yards and 12th in points.  For the second straight year they finished 8-8.

In 2010, the Broncos passing attack ranked seventh in yards, 19th overall in points while their defense fell to 32nd overall, worst in the league.
In the same three years, Denver's rushing offense declined from 12th in yards in '08, to 18th in '09 to 26th in 2010.

The numbers seem to support that while Kyle Orton is not the kind of gunslinger Jay Cutler is, but he's improved as a quarterback overall, while dealing with a declining running game and a faltering defense.  Not only that, but the team lost Brandon Marshall, by far its best receiver during this time, and replaced him with the once afterthought Brandon Lloyd.  With Orton under center, Lloyd led all NFL receivers in yards in 2011. 

Let's repeat that.  He led ALL NFL RECEIVERS in yardage last year: more than Roddy White, more than Greg Jennings, more than Reggie Wayne.  And those guys had the likes of Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning throwing the rock to them.

With all of this going on, the Denver faithful have promptly taken the stance that Kyle Orton is the reason the Broncos continue to play average to bad football, and the solution to their woes comes in the form of the kindly, hard-working Tim Tebow.  Is the fan base actually so sure of Tebow bringing redemption that they're willing to spit in the face of all the training camp preparations, all the scouting reports and their new coach John Fox to get what might be a more entertaining, though vastly unprepared Tim Tebow under center? 

Tim Tebow deserves a chance to earn his shot at the starting job, but only once he can genuinely lead this team as a quarterback.  By all accounts, he has the leadership skills but he's just not there yet in football skills, and it would behoove the Denver fans to realize this, support his growth, and stand behind the one guy who is giving it his all for them now. 

And that quarterback is Kyle Orton.  He's earned it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

THE TUESDAY AFTER THE MONEY - Review of the late Sunday and Monday night games

A review of the late Sunday game and Monday night double-header.

If Tony Romo is the reason Dallas lost the game on Sunday night, then it is true that the standards for good QB play are getting out of hand.  Romo threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns and an average of 9.5 per attempt.  He also committed two huge turnovers, no doubt.  However, no one of the Dallas faithful seems to recall the ridiculous blocked punt which altered the destiny of the entire game.  Felix Jones confirms that the days of the committee in Dallas are likely over, as he receives 17 of the 26 rushes on the night.  However, the explosive Felix Jones of the past was a lot more exciting than 2.6 yards per carry average.  At least when it came to the red zone, Jones wasn’t abandoned for a more rested or convenient option.  He scored on a one yard plunge.  However, if you’re an investor in Jets RBs, LaDainian Tomlinson’s retirement from relevance was given far too much pre-season hype.  Tomlinson led all Jets receivers with seven catches on seven targets for 73 yards.  He yielded carries to Greene two-to-one, but Greene’s 2.6 yards per carry average is much more damaging in his situation than in his counterpart Jones’.  Mark Sanchez played well for most of the game, but just as you might want to blame Romo for Dallas’ demise, don’t vindicate Sanchez by lauding him with the credit.  Besides the first drive of the fourth quarter, Sanchez fumbled, and was sacked twice, effectively making the Jets offense all but useless.  Fantasy wise, his numbers were good enough to make him a QB1 of older times, but he’ll remain at second rate QB because of the system he’s in.  Don’t expect so many of these 300+ passing yard days.  Plaxico Burress played a clutch role in the passing game at the most important time, making him a steal as a late round draft pick.  I expect he’ll end up with somewhere near 60 catches and 650 yards.   

Tom Brady tossed his first interception in over 350 attempts, and that was the only blemish on another dominating performance.  Brady’s 517 yards and four touchdowns were the best for the week.  Wes Welker has mounted huge numbers against the Dolphins before.  In 2009 he gained the most receiving yardage of his career gaining 167 yards on 10 catches.  However, Sunday he added two scores to his 160 receiving yards, the best fantasy numbers of his career.  If Welker’s performance signaled more of the same, Chad Ochocinco’s big debut continued that theme, as he recorded just one reception. Not much change by addition to the New England offense.  I believe he’ll still play a role when needed, but as is the norm in New England, no one part is given more importance than another except for Tom Brady.  The tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski continued to show both are valuable as fantasy receivers as they each delivered a touchdown and six-plus catches each, and the running game provided just enough variety with Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis to keep the Fins defense on its heels.  Meanwhile, Brady’s ridiculous evening overshadowed a career night for Chad Henne as well.  Brandon Marshall caught a 139 of Henne’s 419 yards passing, and Brian Hartline was targeted seven times, hauling in four with one TD.  Davone Bess also added five receptions for 92 yards.  Reggie Bush showed again how great he can be catching balls out of the backfield while also showing he’s not meant to be a first string runner who’s expected to haul the rushing load.   Bush added just a meager 38 yards on 11 attempts.  One note, the 900+ yards passing from both QBs was an NFL record.

Who says a kicker can’t have fantasy impact?   Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 63 yard field goal, tying the record for the longest field goal from scrimmage ever (he put up 13 fantasy points).  Not surprisingly, two of them have been converted in the thin Denver air of Mile High Stadium.  There was a recent article by Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN talking about consistency ratings.  His methodology rated the players against the league averages, and basically his numbers did not paint Janikowski in a favorable light.  Well, the reason to own Janikowski often comes down to days like today, where the possibility of having a kicker with his range might make the difference between a team attempting a five-point FG, or throwing a Hail Mary.  I’ll stick with big legs any day in the kicking game.  Darren McFadden put on another rushing display against the Broncos and showed why he was my top choice as a running back this year.  I expect him to finish in the Top Five when all is said and done.  Of note was the performance of Darius Heyward-Bey,who delivered four catches on seven targets for 44 yards.  More importantly was the amount of times in clutch third down situations that Jason Campbell looked for Heyward-Bey.  He’s still not going to leapfrog into a category of elite receivers, but he may indeed pan out for Oakland and make a fine WR3 on your team.  Knowshon Moreno was again a no-show, and he limped off the field late after becoming an integral part of the passing game.  You have to feel for Kyle Orton, who while hearing the echo of “TEE-BOW” being chanted by the clueless Denver faithful, watched his receivers drop at least five passes in crucial situations.  For some reason, that inspires people in Denver to become more religious, because just like prayers, they have faith without any proof that Tim Tebow will deliver them from evil.  Orton’s only big mistake was on a terrific play call which left Daniel Fells crossing the middle of the field wide open, but as Orton went to cock the football, the wet pigskin fell from his hands and was recovered by Oakland.  The Denver defense should improve under John Fox, and Oakland’s defense might be the best in the division.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Do you know this man?  It's Ben Tate, and you better.

The Colts may be in trouble, and it’s not necessarily just Kerry Collins that they need to worry about.  Certainly a 16/31/197/1/0 performance isn’t awe-inspiring but the fact that Houston averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and nine yards per pass is not something that bodes well for Indy.  Though pass defenses have been riddled for more yardage than ever in the last few years, no defense of the past decade has allowed that many yards-per-attempt, the worst being the 2008 Lions secondary which conceded 8.8 YPA.  At this point Reggie Wayne’s value appears pretty safe, but all bets are off for just about anyone else Indianapolis, including Dallas Clark.  Assuming Collins can improve to his career number of a 56% completion rate, assuming three more completions per game, there’s not a lot of chaff to go around, particularly if Austin Collie’s health improves.  Ben Tate proved he’s the real deal, so Arian Foster might reconsider tweeting MRI results that are anything but positive.  If Derrick Ward was considered Foster’s backup going into this Sunday, one of my routinely late round picks Tate just took the job from him.  The carries breakdown was 22/12 in Tate’s favor, and he delivered nearly five yards per carry.

It’s one game, but it’s clear that Bryant McKinnie may have been one of the most crucial off-season acquisitions for the Baltimore Ravens.  Line play is crucial in any game, but particularly in the AFC North, the ground and pound division.  McKinnie simply man-handled James Harrison, who didn’t show up until late in the fourth quarter with his first QB hit.  Harrison finished with nine tackles and a knee bruise, but put absolutely no pressure on the QB.  The Steelers have ignored their lines too long, and I’m not sure what Peter King saw that made him so gaga about Aaron Smith this year.  The underrated Smith had all of one tackle and seemed to make no difference on a front three that was constantly pushed around.  Larry Foote looked overmatched and undersized every time he found himself in a position to make a tackle.  Both Harrison and Lamar Woodley signed major contracts prior to the season totaling a possible $111.5 million, and the Steelers just locked up Troy Polamalu for over $30 million; costly contracts for a defense that just got pushed around by their key AFC North rival.  Polamalu was actually outrun by TE Ed Dickson on post route for a TD.  Now, I’m not one to say panic after one week, as no team wants to be playing their best football right now, but there’s no doubt in my mind the Steelers need the two-a-days reinstated.  This was a team simply not as ready as the Ravens.  Lastly, Ben Roethlisberger proves he’s still not a great fantasy quarterback to own, though no one should expect five turnovers regularly.  Today, he was sloppy and inefficient, as was the Steelers play-calling.  Roethlisberger may like the offense that made him have one of the highest YPA averages in the league at over eight yards per, but it’s clear  Pittsburgh doesn’t yet have a competent enough possession receiver to replace the quickly aging Hines Ward.  While Mike Wallace is going to be the leading receiver on this team, he’s a big play threat, not chain-mover.  Someone is going to have to step up, and based on Antonio Brown’s nine targets, you’d think it’d be him.  But only two catches makes me believe if Sanders can heal that foot he’ll become Ward’s heir apparent for possession reasons.  For the Ravens, Lee Evans is still Lee Evans.  He’ll be just as useless here as he was in Buffalo.

Matthew Stafford is the real deal.  He may be the best value QB for his draft position this year if he can continue this pace.  Problem is, he’s a health nightmare.  By the third quarter Stafford had twisted his own knee/ankle trying to avoid a sack and was hobbled the rest of the game.  Health aside, he’s got the ability to see the field well, can put mustard on the ball or put touch on it, and has enough support from his line to hold a pretty tough Tampa Bay defense from registering a single sack.  Jahvid Best showed he may be more of a strong PPR play, as 3.4 yards per carry does not inspire, though it’s hardly as disappointing as LeGarrette Blount’s five carries for 15 yards. Tampa Bay managed only 16 carries, and they were in the lead until late in the second quarter.  The Buccaneers attempted just six second half carries, with only one by Blount.  Not sure what Raheem Morris’ game plan was going into this game, but my gut feeling is Josh Freeman is not a QB you make the decisive player in any game.  He’s a solid game manager who can make some plays with his athletic ability, but against a Detroit unit that yielded 4.5 yards per carry, making them ninth worst in the league last year, you have to believe 16 carries was not the way to go, even with Detroit’s secondary issues.

Steven Jackson is a great runner….when he can actually run.  After breaking a 47-yard TD charge in the first quarter, Jackson wasn’t heard from again, having strained his quad.  Who knows how long this puts him on the bench, but Cadillac Williams sure showed he’s ready to fill in if necessary.  You have to give Jackson credit for always 100 percent rushing effort, but you almost wish he’d take a little bit off the gas to spare his health.  He’s a guy I’ll never invest a high draft pick in for the injury factor alone.  DeSean Jackson is still as dangerous as ever, and also as annoying as ever.  Because of his natural athletic ability, he’ll always make his share of big plays, but he also will drop his share as well, as he did today.  Sam Bradford handled the Philadelphia pressure well all things considered.  He has very little help outside, leaving him to dump off short completions to the likes of Williams.  Williams was targeted 10 times before Bradford left after striking a finger on a helmet, which makes PPR owners salivate at the idea of Jackson’s return.  At least Bradford’s X-rays were negative.  Amendola left with what looked like a broken arm based on the way he was holding his wrist, but there’s been no report on him as of this writing.  He’s the only sure-handed guy we’ve seen on this team and losing him would be a bigger loss than people might think.  Don’t expect LeSean McCoy to see so many Mack-Truck-sized holes in the future like he did today.  Philly travels to Atlanta for Michael Vick’s homecoming week and then hosts the Giants in Week 3.  As for Vick, well, you aren’t surprised are you? 

Pick up Cam Newton right away.  I drafted him in one league on a flier and can’t believe how fortunate I am.  Arizona might not have the best secondary in the world, but Newton’s second touchdown pass to Steve Smith was the stuff that shows his talent.  If you’ve got De’Angelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, you have to welcome Newton’s ability to throw the ball downfield.  However, it might mean less carries between the two of them.  It meant only 19 attempts Sunday, 12 of which fell to Williams.  With Newton showing what he did, Brandon LaFell becomes a relevant WR2, and should be considered in deeper leagues.  Kevin Kolb was incredibly efficient, and not just to Larry Fitzgerald, who saw seven balls thrown his way.  While the press foam at Cam Newton’s debut, Early Doucet’s three receptions for 103 yards and a score should open some eyes.  I wouldn’t anoint Doucet to WR2 status yet, but he’s a guy to put on watch status.  He was a supposed to add some receiver depth to Arizona after he was taken in the third round in 2008.  It was a slow learning curve until the 2009 post-season where he grabbed 14 balls in two games and scored twice.  It seemed to be an harbinger of good things to come, but 2010 saw injuries mount and after sport hernia surgery, he was lost for the year with a hip injury in December.  Keep an eye on the targets as Andre Roberts is still the starter opposite Fitzgerald for now.  Beanie Wells managed 90 yards and a touchdown and caught all four passes thrown to him meaning Ryan Williams’ injury may be the thing that keeps Wells from being declared a bust after all.

Bet you that Matt Ryan wishes he was in the end zone when he put the ball to the ground to regain his balance and instead lost it to the Bears for a defensive score.  The same play haunted Calvin Johnson and a few others last year after a reception in the end zone and the refs simply ruled those incomplete.  No such luck for Ryan.  For all the Bears defense did right on Sunday, they have to be disturbed by the fact it took Michael Turner just 10 carries to reach 100 yards.  The difference was that the Falcons had no ability to finish drives, finishing 0-for-2 in the red zone.  Again, with the rushing talent Atlanta has, why Matt Ryan is attempting nearly 50 passes is beyond me?  Julio Jones’ five receptions on six targets for 71 yards solidifies him as an improvement over Michael Jenkins, but few expected Tony Gonzalez to lead all receivers with 72 yards.   Matt Forte continues to be a PPR beast, though as a Bears fan I’d be concerned at the loss of Roy Williams to injury when Forte leads all receivers.  The numbers don’t support such a lopsided outcome, but a few crucial Falcons’ turnovers at key times really made the difference here.

The battle of the quarterback-less teams was just that, whereas Ted Ginn, Jr. starred by returning both a kickoff and punt for a score.  Special teams always are a difference maker in the NFL, whether it’s simply the field position difference or points, but you can bet that any team that gets two touchdowns from its Special Teams units is not going to lose many ball games.  However, if neither Alex Smith or Tarvaris Jackson improves as true field threats, I fear neither team’s running game with be worth much going forward.  Frank Gore managed 59 yards or 2.9 per carry, while his counter-part Marshawn Lynch gained 33 yards on 13 carries.  Jackson threw the ball better than Smith, who passed for a meager 124 yards on 15-of-20 completions.  But Jackson’s three turnovers are just too many for a pro-level quarterback to heap on his defense, even if they are facing an anemic 49ers’ offense.

Sadly, it’s time to say it like it is for Donovan McNabb.  It’s time to join Brett Favre in retirement.  While McNabb still has good mobility for his 34 years, he posted a 7-for-15 line, and a pathetic 2.6 per attempt average.  Losing Sidney Rice leaves the young and potent Percy Harvin to face double-teams, all the while having to return kicks for the team as well.  There’s just not enough athletes on this team in the receiving game to assist the running game.  The Vikings defense will keep the team in a lot of games, as well as Adrian Peterson’s legs.  But it won’t be long until either Christian Ponder or Joe Webb will find themselves using playing time to develop for next year.  In the meantime, Mike Tolbert has put Ryan Mathews owners on watch.  Mathews and Tolbert split carries, with Mathews doing a better job on the ground.  However, whereas it was expected Mathews would catch more balls out of the backfield, Philip Rivers relied on the Tolbert for nine receptions, 58 yards and two scores through the air.  San Diego still has what appears to be a Special Teams nightmare on their hands, but they’ve got too many offensive weapons to be kept in check for four quarters.

Bruce Gradkowski seems to be the modern day Frank Reich, salvaging another victory with a late touchdown pass to a very open A.J. Green.  However, he’s proven over time he’s not really meant to be a starting quarterback.  Andy Dalton didn’t look good, but he didn’t look putrid either. On the other hand, perhaps the loss of Eric Steinbach to the Browns’ offensive line is a bigger deal than was expected.  Peyton Hillis found limited running room, managing just 57 yards on 17 carries, though he added six receptions for 80 yards.  I expect we’ll be seeing more of Montario Hardesty soon if health allows.  Hillis is a tough physical runner a la the mold of old fullback Mike Alstott, but he just doesn’t have the big play speed to strike a lot of fear into defensive coordinators.   Cedric Benson shows that he still runs well against the Brownies.  In the seven games against Cleveland since Benson joined the Bengals, he’s played in five, managed 576 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 127 carries.  He’s in your starting lineup when facing Cleveland, period.  Colt McCoy’s numbers wreak of inexperience – 19/40/213/2/1.  The Browns couldn’t do much through the air or on the ground, and it just goes to show that even if you have a stud, Pro Bowl left tackle by the name of Joe Thomas, the loss of your blocking partner can cause some major issues in the interior of your line.

I’ll say it right now; Ryan Fitzpatrick is worth starting as a fantasy QB in most situations as long as Chan Gailey is running the offense.  The journeyman quarterback was originally on my list of Top Five QBs for the week, but I admit I lacked the courage to stick with that pick.  While he managed just 208 yards, he tossed 4 TDs, yielding an 8.3 YPA average. Roscoe Parrish owners will be disappointed at the arrival of TE Scott Chandler, who caught all five of his passes, two of them for touchdowns.  Maybe Matt Cassel has a bruised rib but that doesn’t explain Jamaal Charles’ lack of explosiveness Sunday, though he still managed 5.6 yards per carry for his 10 touches.  However, his five catches yielded just 9 yards, something that’s going to have to change if this team is to make any noise in the AFC West.

Does Jack Del Rio know something we all don’t about Luke McCown?  Well, McCown was efficient if not boring throwing for 175 yards on 17-for-24 throwing; his 7.3 YPA was just dangerous enough to allow Maurice Jones-Drew to garner 97 yards and a score rushing, though Jones-Drew didn’t catch a single pass.  Not only that, he wasn’t targeted once.  One has to wonder if MJD’s missing two games last year has Del Rio thinking he’d like to ride the little horse a bit less this year.  However, the bigger question mark from this game is Chris Johnson, who after holding out for a big contract, appeared like he was in off-season shape after carrying for 24 yards on nine carries.  Whether this was an offensive line issue or just a bad first game only time will tell, but the Titans, already expected to be a weaker team this year as they await Jake Locker’s arrival, certainly deserved better from veteran Matt Hasselbeck than his final toss for an interception that was nowhere close to Kenny Britt.   Off-season acquisition Barrett Ruud had a phenomenal game with 14 tackles.