by Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky
Ian: What an awesome week of football it's been. Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Chicago staked their claims as the teams to beat in their respective divisions. New Orleans showed they're legit contenders by dismantling the Falcons at home, thanks in large part to the kind of hometown support they're not used to getting. Tampa Bay's season is in serious jeopardy after a tough loss at home, not to mention the loss of Chris Simms to a serious injury. Carolina, meanwhile, showed how dangerous their offense can be with the return of Steve Smith, even when he's not at full strength. Denver and Seattle also won big statement games.
It was a big week off the field as well. Shaun Alexander now has a broken bone in his foot -- though it looks like he'll only miss a few weeks. Consider this a wake-up call to those of you that neglect to protect your big investment by handcuffing his top backup. Thankfully, Shaun may be back after his bye week two weeks from now, probably driving down the price of Maurice Morris as a free agent. But if you're an Alexander owner and you don't have him, don't wait for the news to get worse.
Elsewhere, the Terrell Owens saga took a new twist, though certainly not one we were expecting. It's too uncertain to pretend we really know what's going on, but suffice to say he's got some problems, and just about anything could come of it. Finally, Dennis Green continued his favorite dance -- the Quarterback Shuffle. While reports are that Leinart was to start, then the coaching staff changed their minds, I don't believe that for a second. Why would they go public with it? This was posturing, plain and simple. A message was delivered, and delivered well. Time for Kurt Warner to protect the football, or he's going to be protecting the Gatorade on the sidelines.
So which wins were the biggest this past week? First and foremost, I'm looking to New Orleans. Not only was it a huge win, but it was the most surprising one. Most everyone expected New Orleans to make a nice showing for the home crowd, but in the end Michael Vick and Atlanta were going to run all over them. That was most certainly not the case. Most impressive was the New Orleans linebacking crew, who kept the running game in check and did a great job of covering short routes as well.
Were they playing well beyond their normal skills due to the energy of the home crowd, or is this team for real as a playoff contender? If you ask me, both. Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, Joe Horn, and the surprising Marquis Colston make for an offense that can really spread the field. The Saints don't get much time to relax though; it's off to a huge showdown in Carolina this weekend. Expect another inspired effort from New Orleans, and a big game from Steve Smith. I expect Carolina to use the home crowd to energize them to victory, but it won't be easy.
Loser Leaguers of the Week
Bill: Sadly, this was another relatively quiet week in the annals of Loser League. With most teams putting on relatively respectful performances, and the Giants showing up in the fourth quarter, there's not much in the way of real duds this week. That being said, someone always needs to hold up the rear, and this week it's ...
QB: Ben Roethlisberger?!?!? Well, maybe we need to reconsider the importance of the appendix to quarterback throwing motions. Roethlisberger's 4 this week was the low score for quarterbacks, with his fellow former MAC superstar Byron Leftwich going for a 5. Again, this would've been Eli Manning's category had he been benched for J-Load in the fourth quarter. I know I want to see Jared Lorenzen get some garbage time. And I'm guessing I'm not the only one.
RB: Again, no real stinkers this week among guys who would expect to appear on a number of fantasy teams (i.e. no Maurice Morris). Frank Gore and, surprisingly enough, Rudi Johnson were the bottom of the barrel this week, each recording 5 points. Ron Dayne scored a 6, but if you didn't know that Ron Dayne was stinky, you should've checked our website before it went down. You know, the 803rd time it did this off-season. I think it was the 803rd time, at least.
WR: Low man on the totem pole was Shaun McDonald, whose -1 is a pretty rare score for wide receivers -- essentially, it requires making two catches totaling less than twenty yards and fumbling one of those balls away. A -4 from a WR would pretty much be the highlight of a Loser League season (non-Nugent division). Other wide receivers with low scores this week included Reggie Williams (0) and the three-headed hydra of Hines Ward, Robert Ferguson, and Greg Lewis (1). Ward may lose additional points for being voted Regis and Kelly's Favorite Athlete.
K: The Fantasy Anti-Performer of the Week is Jacksonville's Josh Scobee, who missed one field goal badly and kicked another off the right upright in Jacksonville's loss to Indianapolis. His -2 narrowly beats out the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski, who had a kick blocked for the second week in a row. Forget Adam Vinatieri -- the Patriots might miss Matt Chatham more.
The Fantasy Stock Market
Ian: The simplest rule when it comes to succeeding in the stock market, as well as the fantasy football trade market, is to buy low and sell high. It's never easy to do; after all, there's a lot of satisfaction in owning a good "stock," and it's hard to give up value for a "junk bond." But doing that is what makes for a winning season. Remember, it's only Week 4: hardly panic time. Here are some "hot tips" on how to approach the current market.
Shaun Alexander -- It likely won't be easy to make an Alexander owner part ways with their first pick, but if you ever can, now's the time. The latest news updates have Alexander only missing a few weeks, but this has likely put their owners in full-fledged panic mode. Take advantage; as Seattle gets used to their four-wide offense, they'll be more explosive than ever. Expect more fantasy points, as well as more pass interference calls in the endzone -- which means more touchdowns for Alexander as the season goes on.
LaMont Jordan/Randy Moss -- The value of the Raiders offense can't be much worse than it is right now. Two games they've played, and they've barely threatened to score a touchdown yet. Don't forget, however, that these games were against two stellar defenses in Baltimore and San Diego. Things are going to get much easier in upcoming weeks, and there's no way these guys can continue to be this bad.
Jake Delhomme -- You probably didn't need me to tell you this, but the impending return of Steve Smith will be a fantasy boon for Delhomme and the rest of the Carolina offense. Expect a surge in productivity from the running game as well, as defenses are stretched to cover the One-Man Offense that is Steve Smith.
Tiki Barber -- Tiki's value won't be very low right now, but it's not going to get much lower. Barber hasn't gotten the big numbers owners expected, but he's looked fine during games, it's just been a matter of opportunities. The Giants have been playing through a brutal schedule so far, and find themselves playing catch-up enough that the running game often vanishes. Don't expect this to be the case all season long.
Jerricho Cotchery and Greg Jennings -- Two of the more popular waiver pickups this season, Cotchery and Jennings have certainly earned it. This early in the season, however, don't lose sight of the fact that their season totals are inflated by two huge plays, neither of which is likely to be repeated. The more weeks that pass by, the more these guys' numbers will settle into league-average. Don't hesitate to include them in a deal to upgrade at a different position.
Frank Gore -- A shame for me to have to say this, as Gore has lead my team to first place so far in several leagues. But in case you haven't notices, he's got a severe fumbling problem, repeatedly coughing up the ball on the opponents' goal line. He's still likely to put up solid numbers, but look for his touchdowns to decline, returning him to second-tier status as a starting back. If you have running back depth, look to deal him for a top receiver.
Keyshawn Johnson -- You may have figured this out already, but Keyshawn's looks are going to decline pretty rapidly the more Steve Smith plays. You can sell another owner on the fact that Steve's presence will actually increase Keyshawn's value, but the fact remains he needs the ball to remain as productive as he's been, and he's not going to get it nearly as much.
Marques Colston -- Colston has come out of nowhere to be a force at receiver for the New Orleans Saints. Thanks to the threat of Joe Horn downfield and Reggie Bush out of the backfield he often finds himself open in mid-range routes. He's got great hands, and he can catch a deep ball as well. Enjoy the ride, and expect it to last; especially if he qualifies at tight end in your league.
Brett Favre -- Brett Favre was a rather late-round selection in most drafts this season after looking terrible a season ago. It's hard to understand what exactly has changed, but he is having some serious fun out there. It helps that the Packers have a defense that gives up a lot of points, as well as a running back who's probably better catching screens than he is taking handoffs. Brett knows this is most likely his last season, and it seems he's intent on going out with a bang. Take advantage.
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Scramble for the Mailbag
Mactbone: I have Jerrious Norwood, Correll Buckhalter, Ladell Betts and maybe Maurice Jones-Drew (from waivers) and I got offered Philip Rivers and Mike Bell for Brett Favre and Ladell Betts. I already have Peyton Manning so I don't need Favre. I do need running back help badly and I'm wondering whether it's better to bet on Betts continuing this role or Tatum Bell suffering an injury.
Bill: Well, Mactbone, that is one ugly core of running backs you have right there. I believe one of my core fantasy rules is that when you are relying on signing players with hyphenated last names off waivers to improve your rushing game, your team is in serious trouble. It's not an oft-repeated rule, but a rule nonetheless, back from Karim Abdul-Jabbar's second stint in Miami.
Ian: Is Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala still in the league?
Bill: I think you should be pretty inclined to accept this trade. I am one of the few people who thinks that Brett Favre has something left -- but I am also one of the many people around Football Outsiders who thinks great things of Philip Rivers. Rivers' performance in the first two weeks of the season has done nothing to cause me to think otherwise, so I think you'd be getting the better quarterback in the deal. With regards to the running back swap, while Ladell Betts has better stats as of right now, Betts' playing time is going to decrease with Clinton Portis' return to health. I think you get the better of this deal at both positions. I'd accept it before the other owner changes his mind.
Keep Choppin' Wood
Ian: It would be easy to pick on Ben Roethlisberger this week, but his troubles are due in part to a pretty impressive comeback from injury, so hard to fault him completely. Charlie Frye's interception in the end zone was a huge mistake. Kurt Warner also did his part to earn the award this week by pretty much handing the ball and the game to the St. Louis Rams. But it's about time we stopped blaming the quarterbacks every week.
This week's winner is none other than Josh Scobee. By missing two makeable field goals, he forced Jacksonville to go for the touchdown late in the game rather than being in a position to kick for the win. Given the magnitude of the game, and how well the Jaguars had played the Colts all day, it's a shame that his performance cost them an early division lead. Congrats to Josh Scobee, recipient of this week's Keep Choppin' Wood award!
Bill (2-1 last week, 6-3 overall):
TENNESSEE (+10) over Dallas
It takes a pretty great team to get ten points on the road and still cover. Indianapolis is giving 9.5 at the Jets this week, and I'm a little hesitant to go and pick one way or the other because Indianapolis has, at least, the potential to be a pretty great team. Dallas is not a pretty great team. They're not even fit and working again, and this day, the Cowboys won't be beating the Titans by two scores.
Seattle (+3) over CHICAGO
I don't doubt that Chicago's good, and if this line were 2.5, I'd feel a lot better about this pick. But the Seahawks are a fantastic team. No Shaun Alexander? The Seahawks will manage. The Bears' defensive backfield can't match up against the Seahawks offense, and as good as Lance Briggs is, he can't cover Darrell Jackson or Deion Branch.
KANSAS CITY (-7) over San Francisco
I understand that Trent Green isn't playing this week. And that's fine. I also understand the 49ers have looked pretty decent so far this season. That's also fine. It's Alex Smith, on the road, in the worst or second-worst (depending upon how you feel about Qwest Field) stadium to play at in the NFL. This could get ugly.
Ian (0-2-1 last week, 3-5-1 overall): Ugh; it's been rough-going so far. I'm amazed that the Pats were thoroughly dominated last week by the Broncos, as well as that the Bucs offense scored as many points as they did with an injured quarterback. It led to a poor week of selections. Fortunately, I feel much better about this week's picks than I did about last week's.
Green Bay (+10.5) over PHILADELPHIA
No doubt about it, this will be a high-scoring game. Green Bay can't contain Westbrook or McNabb, which gives the Eagles a great chance to win. But by 11 points? Over a rejuvenated Brett Favre on Monday Night Football? I don't think so.
Indianapolis (-9.5) over the NEW YORK JETS
Indianapolis has "the potential" to be a great team? They are a great team. Maybe not in the playoffs, but during the regular season they've been near unstoppable. The Jets can't run the ball, but have been moving the ball on offense thanks to quick hitters and yards after the catch. The Colts defense is built on speed, and should be able to shut down Pennington and the passing game. Throw in an emotional rallying behind Reggie Wayne and his lost brother, and I don't see this being a close game.
Cleveland (-2.5) over OAKLAND
Oakland will get better with time, but don't expect too much in Andrew Walter's first year at the helm. Charlie Frye and the frisky Cleveland offense will do just enough to win and over the spread.