Posted: Wednesday October 11, 2006 11:50AM; Updated: Wednesday October 11, 2006 11:50AM
PHILIP RIVERSChargers AT 49ers The Chargers' coaching staff finally took the handcuffs off Rivers last week, and he responded with 242 passing yards and two TDs. The Niners have surrendered an average of 224 yards and two TD passes per game. That math translates into big games for Rivers, TE Antonio Gates and WR Keenan McCardell.
DAVID CARRTexans AT Cowboys If someone had told you in August that Carr would be the NFL's highest-rated starting quarterback in mid-October, you'd have called him crazy. But Carr tops the rankings ... until this week when Terence Newman, Roy Williams and the rest of Dallas's prickly pass defense send him for a tumble.
DREW BLEDSOECowboys VS. Texans The Texans have the league's worst defense, yielding 435 total yards per game and allowing an average of 3.25 touchdowns. That's just the tonic a shell-shocked Bledsoe needs after a shattering loss last week in Philadelphia, during which he was sacked seven times and picked off three times.
MATT LEINARTCardinals VS. Bears The Leinart era began with a bang: two first-quarter TD passes. However, by the end of his debut, it was the same old desert denouement -- an Arizona loss. If the Bears made Super Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck look like a rookie two weeks ago, what do you think they'll make a real rookie look like?
REX GROSSMANBears AT Cardinals The Cult of Rex is growing as fantasy players learn to appreciate Grossman's sublime TD-to-interception ratio of 10-to-3 and regular appearances on the list of passing leaders. In games in the desert, opposing quarterbacks have averaged 295 yards per game with a total of four TDs.
JAKE DELHOMMEPanthers AT Ravens Carolina's usual game plan is to ride the run and let Delhomme take deep shots to Steve Smith when the defense cheats toward the line. But Baltimore's 4-3 doesn't need to cheat to shut down DeShaun Foster, which will mean lots of pressure on Delhomme and the Panthers' passing game.
JULIUS JONESCowboys VS. Texans Jones ran for 100 yards against the Eagles, which marked his second straight week in triple digits. Houston, last in the NFL in total defense, allows nearly 140 yards per game on the ground. That means a field day for Jones, his backup Marion Barber and the rest of the Cowboys in the Lone Star State battle.
LAMONT JORDANRaiders AT Broncos Facing a soft 49ers defense that's been vulnerable against the rush all year, Jordan averaged 5.9 yards a carry, but gained only 71 yards. That's not awful, but he needs to produce more to justify his inclusion in your lineup. Now he goes up against a Denver team that hadn't allowed a ground TD through Week 4.
WILLIS MCGAHEEBills AT Lions Buffalo's spanking at the hands of the Bears cost McGahee the league's rushing lead, but he'll be able to rebound this week against a porous Detroit defense that made Minnesota's Chester Taylor (123 yards against the Lions, after 97 total in the previous two weeks) look like a superstar.
EDGERRIN JAMESCardinals VS. Bears The Bears are a daunting assignment for even the best running teams, whose ranks decidedly do not include Arizona. No back has rushed for 100 yards against Chicago in the last four games, and James would be lucky even to match the 50 that Willis McGahee gained against the Bears last week.
WARRICK DUNNFalcons VS. Giants The leading rusher (365 yards) on the top rushing team (234.2 yards per game), Dunn has yet to score a TD this season. He's overdue. Look for Dunn and quarterback Michael Vick to be relentless on the ground, with Vick mixing in a few long strikes to receiver Ashley Lelie.
STEVEN JACKSONRams VS. Seahawks Seattle's interior defense is the strength of the team, with Rocky Bernard, Chartric Darby and Lofa Tatupu anchoring one of the league's most underrated units. With its air attack clicking over the last two games, look for St. Louis to use Jackson as a change of pace rather than as a main option.
JOEY GALLOWAYBuccaneers VS. Bengals He's having a see-saw season: zero yards in Week 1, 161 yards the following week, one catch for eight yards (one TD) in Week 3, 110 yards and one TD on Sunday. Look for Galloway to finally have back-to-back big games, even with the Cincinnati ball hawks (seven INTs) patrolling the secondary.
PLAXICO BURRESSGiants AT Falcons Few defenders are more foreboding for your fantasy receivers than Atlanta's DeAngelo Hall, the best shutdown corner in the league. While Burress had a fine game against the Redskins last week (7 catches, 69 yards, 1 TD), and has scored a TD in three of his four games, look for Hall to put the clamps on.
BERNARD BERRIANBears AT Cardinals A main reason for the Bears' offensive resurgence, Berrian has 19 catches for 413 yards and TDs in four of five games. Arizona has trouble with burners, surrendering 100-yard games to the speedy likes of Darrell Jackson and Torry Holt in four of its five games. Berrian should follow in those footsteps.
HINES WARDSteelers VS. Chiefs Speaking of great corners, Pro Bowler Ty Law is a big reason why Kansas City's defense is much improved from last season. Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been himself this year and has brought Ward (13 catches, 248 yards, 1 TD) down with him. Ward's best game of the season was with Charlie Batch at QB.
LAVERANUES COLESJets VS. Dolphins Still among the league's top receivers, Coles was held in check last week (three catches for 19 yards) by an all-consuming Jaguars defense. However, Coles has an excellent track record against Miami, scoring seven touchdowns in nine meetings. He'll add to that total this week.
MARQUES COLSTONSaints VS. Eagles One week after containing Terrell Owens, Philly confronts a bigger (but a lot quieter) pass-catcher in first-year man Colston, who has overtaken Joe Horn as the Saints' most lethal receiving weapon. But savvy Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will find a way to shut down the rookie.
ALEX SMITHBuccaneers VS. Bengals That noise you heard Sunday afternoon was a collective sigh from fantasy owners who have Bucs on their team after they saw that Bruce Gradkowski is a capable NFL quarterback. Smith, who had five catches and one TD last week, was one of the rookie's favorite targets against the Saints and should continue to be a safety valve against Cincinnati.
ERIC JOHNSON49ers VS. Chargers In three games since replacing injured Vernon Davis in the starting lineup, Johnson, San Francisco's leading receiver in 2004, has brought down 13 balls for 124 yards and one TD. However, against the Chargers' relentless pass rush, Johnson is more likely to be used in pass protection for quarterback Alex Smith and is less likely to be the target of Smith's tosses.
JOHN KASAYPanthers AT Ravens Carolina won't score often in this defensive struggle, but Steve Smith & Co. will move the ball enough to get into scoring position in one of the friendliest venues for opposing kickers. Kasay has made at least two field goals in four of the Panthers' five games this year and is among the NFL's top scorers through Week 5, with 38 points.
NEIL RACKERSCardinals VS. Bears Coming off a 51-yard miss that would have sent last week's game against Kansas City into OT, Rackers faces a Bears squad that has allowed only 18 kicking points all season. After setting an NFL record with 40 field goals in 2005, he has just six through five games this season for a total of 28 points and doesn't even rank among the top 10 scoring kickers.
STEELERS VS. Chiefs The key to this matchup is the condition of Chiefs tailback Larry Johnson, who left last week's game against Arizona with a sprained neck. If he's not 100%, the Steelers could pitch a shutout against a Kansas City offense that's heavily reliant on its star. Even if Johnson is in form, don't expect Pittsburgh to yield much.
SEAHAWKS VS. Rams Even with Hall of Fame tackle Orlando Pace on the shelf, the Rams have recaptured the spark that made them the "greatest show on turf." Besides, takeaways will be at a premium: St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger has yet to throw a pick, and the Seahawks have only four interceptions all season.
BEWARE OF BUST
ASHLEY LELIE WR FALCONS VS. Giants Since arriving in Atlanta in a three-team trade that took place late in the preseason, Lelie has been relatively quiet -- seven receptions (albeit for 136 yards) and no TDs. But with Roddy White slowed by minor injuries, Lelie could help balance an offense that leads the NFL in rushing, yet ranks at the bottom of the league in receptions and receiving yards. Those aerial numbers could improve dramatically after the Falcons are through with the Giants, who have an overmatched secondary that in four games has allowed an average of 238 yards, as well as 12 receptions of 20 or more yards and eight TDs. Coming off a bye, Atlanta will likely have more big plays designed for Lelie, who led the league with 18.3 yards per catch last year. Among his '05 efforts was a five-catch, 64-yard day against the Giants. In this return engagement, look for Lelie to succeed in getting deep.
WILLIE PARKER RB STEELERS VS. Chiefs Despite being held to 57 yards against the Chargers on Sunday, Parker has had some very big rushing games in his first season as an unquestioned lead back, so this cautionary note is not an indictment of his talents. He's still one of the league's most desirable fantasy running backs. However, he faces some formidable obstacles when Kansas City visits Heinz Field. The surprising Chiefs defense, under the tutelage of coach Herm Edwards, has become one of the league's better units, especially against featured backs: It has yet to allow a 100-yard rushing game and has given up just two rushing TDs this season (none since a Week 3 bye). And with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling (he's the league's second-lowest-rated starting QB), defenders can key on Parker. The upshot: If you have a better alternative this week than Fast Willie, use it.
IS HE FOR REAL?
FISH OR CUT BAIT?
NOAH HERRON RB PACKERS Herron wasn't expecting to get a lot of carries on Sunday against the Rams, but when Vernand Morency, who started in place of the injured Ahman Green, fumbled twice, in went the barely used Herron. He responded by rushing for a career-high 106 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Still, after the game coach Mike McCarthy gave no indication that he'd reshuffle the depth chart, and even Herron said, "Obviously, Ahman is the guy." The Packers have a bye this Sunday, which gives Green two weeks to heal his hamstrings and reclaim his starting spot.
DAUNTE CULPEPPER QB DOLPHINS Last week Culpepper was sidelined with what was reportedly a sore throwing shoulder. Joey Harrington got the start, completing 26 of 41 passes for 232 yards, no TDs and two interceptions in a loss to the Patriots. The 29-year-old Culpepper, trying to come back from a potentially career-ending knee injury, has been so ineffective and immobile that he has choked the life out of what was supposed to be a high-powered offense (not to mention many fantasy teams). Follow the Dolphins' lead and go with Plan B. There are at least two dozen more-valuable QBs.