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Join SI.com's James Quintong in a discussion of some of the latest news in football, baseball and other sports and how it relates to fantasy teams and leagues.
9/08/2006 11:58:00 PM

Warning signs

T.J. Houshamandzadeh
T.J. Houshamandzadeh has been downgraded to questionable with a heel injury.
AP
The season is only just one game old, and we’ve already got a ton of those dreaded “gametime decisions” that wreak havoc on many a fantasy team.

Here’s a quick rundown of banged up fantasy-relevant players who may or may not see action this Sunday, thus forcing you to go elsewhere:

-- Steve Smith: The hamstring injuries haven’t gotten better, and it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll play.

-- T.J. Houshamandzadeh: He’s been downgraded because of a heel injury, so he likely won’t be winning you any championships this week. If he can’t go, Chris Henry moves up to the No. 2 spot and would be a solid pick for the week.

-- Clinton Portis: He’s already looking toward Week 2, which probably means he’s not playing this week. Ladell Betts likely gets the start, but T.J. Duckett will get plenty of looks.

-- Mike Vanderjagt: Don’t use him this week because he’s not seeing any playing time. Shaun Suisham will be the Cowboys kicker this week. Use Suisham in a pinch, otherwise, there should be lots of good options out there.

-- Brandon Stokley: An ankle injury has kept him out of practice this week, and while Peyton Manning can fling the ball around, it’s best to keep away from Stokley this time around. There are better options.

-- Jamal Lewis: A hip injury has sidelined him this week, although it appears he will start this week. However, it’s against the Bucs, so you may want to sit him even if he does start.
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9/07/2006 11:45:00 PM

Opening night thoughts

Willie Parker
Willie Parker was a workhorse for the Steelers on opening night.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
I’ll admit that I didn’t have a lot of hope for major fantasy implications from the season opener, but the second half did prove me wrong. Here are a handful of thoughts and observations from the first game of 2006:

-- Charlie Batch did more than just maintain order. If he can throw three TD passes, Ben Roethlisberger could be in for a big season.

-- The hamstring may have slowed Hines Ward a bit, but after scoring that TD in the first half, he did find his groove again. At least he got his score, since it looked a bit odd to see Nate Washington getting the first TD of the 2006 season since NOBODY could take advantage of that.

-- Willie Parker looks like he will have a big season and seems comfortable being the workhorse, although it was unfortunate that he didn't score a touchdown despite 115 rushing yards. He seems to like season openers after burning Tennessee for 163 yards last year. It seemed like karma that the Steelers fumbled at the goal line in the third quarter when Parker was on the bench.

-- Even if it looked like he was out of bounds just short of the goal line, it was still an impressive TD by Heath Miller. Could he join the elite tight ends this year?

-- For you IDP players, nice start to the season for SI cover subject Joey Porter, eh?

-- Daunte Culpepper piled up the yards, but unfortunately he started 2006 the way he started 2005, with two interceptions and more importantly, no TDs. At least the knee looked fine. Also, it took a bit of time for Culpepper to connect with Chris Chambers, although his final stats were passable.

-- Ronnie Brown will still get his yards as a Culpepper safety valve, and while the Steelers bottled him up much of the night, he still scored twice, which means his fantasy owners still seemed to come away happy.
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9/07/2006 04:35:00 PM

Biggest preseason surprises

Mike Bell
Mike Bell probably wasn't in any of your fantasy magazines this summer.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
With just a few hours before the Dolphins-Steelers season opener (and in some cases, having to lock down a lineup), let's take one more look at the preseason and those drafts you've gone through over the past few weeks to ask the big question: Who is the most surprising name to rise up the draft boards this summer?

As many of you know, all those fantasy magazines that now pop up while you're preparing for your Fourth of July picnics are often out of date by the time they hit the newsstands, and never mind all the changes that occur once camps begin. So while Curtis Martin or Domanick Davis were featured prominently there, these other guys are turning into the real sleepers (since no one had them pegged for anything earlier in the year).

Here is my list of the top guys who probably weren't in your magazines but may be part of someone's team in your fantasy league:

Mike Bell, RB, Broncos: The obvious choice here given that he was an undrafted free agent and on no one's radar when Mike Shanahan named him the No. 1 running back early in camp, beating out Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne, who went from the top guy in the spring to a backup on the Texans. Plus, given how it seems any Broncos running back can pile up big stats, Bell went from undrafted to a third- or even second-round pick in about a month.

Wali Lundy, RB, Texans: A very deep sleeper pick early in the draft, he landed with the opening day starting job after Domanick Davis landed on IR. Because of his starting status, he's gone from easily ignored to being one of the top rookie backs to be taken after Reggie Bush and Mike Bell.

Jerious Norwood, RB Falcons: Highly-touted rookies like Bush, Joseph Addai, Laurence Maroney and DeAngelo Williams were being drafted rather high despite no guarantee that any of them will be the guy right away. Meanwhile, Norwood was on the fringes mainly because he wasn't a first-rounder. However, Norwood put up some big numbers in camp, convincing the Falcons to trade away T.J. Duckett and making him their No. 2 back. Warrick Dunn still has a lot in the tank, and while Norwood may not be a TD-stealing goal-line back like Duckett was supposed to be, Norwood has plenty of upside is a great option to stash away on the bench.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns: Forget that busted running back combo of Lee Suggs (now a Dolphin) and William Green (now on IR), the fourth-rounder from Washington State is now firmly entrenched as the No. 2 guy behind Reuben Droughns. Like Norwood, he piled up lots of yards for a lower-level major-conference program and was taken after the first round -- meaning a lot less attention and hype. And like Norwood, he produced enough to replace a veteran backup (or backups in Harrison's case). Both could put up the stats if needed, or they'll be bench fodder hoping for their chance at stardom.

Greg Jennings, WR, Packers: Rookie receivers are usually a crap shoot and some owners avoid them because the hype rarely matches the production. This year there wasn't much receiver buzz since the first two wideouts picked (Santonio Holmes and Chad Jackson) didn't go until late in the first or early in the second round. And if guys from Ohio State and Florida aren't getting buzz, then Jennings out of Western Michigan wasn't going to, either. However, with Javon Walker in Denver and Robert Ferguson a perennial disappointment, Jennings stepped up to be the starter alongside the steady Donald Driver. And with Brett Favre still slinging it, there's a good chance Jennings can produce decent stats.

Kerry Collins, QB, Titans: I had him sitting on the fringes of my quarterback rankings all summer long even though he didn't have a job. While a good but not great fantasy quarterback, he still had a chance to produce in the right situations. Tennessee appears to be one of those as he likely will take over the starting job from Billy Volek despite signing on late last month. However, don't expect Collins to have the starting job too long, with Vince Young itching to get in. But when that happens, you can probably drop Collins for Young.

Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots: He's not anywhere close to being a super-duper surprise pick compared to Bell or Lundy. However, if you felt compelled to take New England's kicker, the fourth-round pick won the job easily over veteran Martin Gramatica, who was on some people's radar in the spring. While Gramatica was a name, he has been a shell of his former self in recent years, and teams don't spend a fourth-rounder on a kicker without thinking he'll be the guy.
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9/06/2006 04:03:00 PM

Lingering lineup issues

Just as I mention Steve Smith's lingering hamstring injury making him a risky pick this week, now comes word that he hurt the other one and is now questionable for Sunday's game against the Falcons. With his status up in the air, it now really might be worth thinking about other starting options for Week 1. If you must stick with a Panther, Keary Colbert likely starts if Smith can't go.

Speaking of injured stars, Clinton Portis' status is also up in the air this week with his shoulder injury. However, with the Redskins playing one of the two Monday night games, Portis will have an extra day to get healed up. Unfortunately fantasy owners likely will have to make a decision to start him before that if they want to go with another guy on their bench who isn't Ladell Betts or T.J. Duckett.

SI.com's Don Banks sheds some light on the Kerry Collins-Billy Volek QB controversy in Tennessee and why the Titans were quick to not just sign Collins but to give him the starting job for the season opener. Even with little time in camp, Collins could be a decent flyer against the Jets this week. Plus, this move probably means Vince Young gets decent playing time before the end of the season.

Finally, a question about the NFL schedule: With such a premium on getting all the information you can by gametime, do you like the Thursday night opener, when there are a number of lingering lineup questions for Sunday? And do you like the Monday night doubleheader? I'm guessing those two games (especially with LaDainian Tomlinson against the Raiders) will play a major factor in fantasy showdowns. It's one thing to have your week hinging on one game, but two?
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9/05/2006 05:18:00 PM

What's the catch?

Hines Ward
Hines Ward is banged up and doesn't have his No. 1 quarterback throwing to him.
David Bergman/SI
There are plenty of leagues still drafting, but with about 48 hours before the 2006 season officially kicks off, it's about time to start thinking setting your lineups for Week 1. The now regularly scheduled Thursday night season opener is great to tell everyone, "Hey, the NFL season is starting," but it also can take fantasy owners by surprise - especially in leagues where entire lineups are locked in place at kickoff of the first game.

In some ways, Ben Roethlisberger's surgery was helpful in getting people to think about Week 1 lineups. It was time to think about the other quarterbacks on the roster or even contemplating picking up Charlie Batch.

As I shift from moving from draft mode to lineup mode, I've noticed once again that a lot of premium wide receivers are actually very risky picks in Week 1. In some cases, you're still better off starting them than a so-so option off the waiver wire like Troy Brown or Marty Booker.

Among the top-flight receivers with big question marks include:

-- Hines Ward: Still recovering from a hamstring injury plus Batch at quarterback.
-- Steve Smith: Also recovering from a hamstring injury.
-- Darrell Jackson: Didn't play in the preseason with a knee injury.
-- Terrell Owens: The biggest name with the nagging hamstring injury.
-- Braylon Edwards: On the verge of becoming a big star, but still recovering from major knee surgery.

If you've got another really good option off the bench, you may want to go there. Otherwise, you might have to bite the bullet and hope for a guy who is supposed to have a big week (like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin or Chad Johnson) comes up short.
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9/04/2006 12:58:00 PM

Last-minute roster shuffling

Wali Lundy
Sixth-round pick Wali Lundy has suddenly emerged as Texans' No. 1 back.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
The 2006 season starts in just three days, and if you still haven't drafted your team yet, you've got a bunch of shuffling to do with your cheatsheets. If you've got your team in hand, there's lots of lineup shuffling and possibly waiver-wire diving to do now.

Here are a bunch of players whose fantasy fortunes have changed wildly in just the past few days:

-- Ben Roethlisberger: I've been mildly leery of him all summer long, and now he'll miss at least Thursday's opener after an emergency appendectomy. He could be out a couple of more weeks, so be sure you've got another good quarterback on your roster. And not Charlie Batch, who will start the opener, but is a very shaky pick at least this week against an improving Dolphins defense.

-- Domanick Davis: A risky pick all summer long, don't both drafting him now as he's on IR and done for the year with a knee injury. Sixth-round pick Wali Lundy is now the starter, plus the Texans signed Ron Dayne after he was cut by the Broncos. Dayne could get a bunch of goal-line carries, so he might recover some of his value that he lost throughout camp. Vernand Morency will also see carries in Houston.

-- Doug Gabriel: With Deion Branch's status still up in the air (the Jets and Seahawks both made offers for him in a trade), the Patriots tried to shore up the receiver position by getting Gabriel from the Raiders. He has some decent upside but was considered a No. 3 guy at best in Oakland. With no one else really stepping up, Gabriel could be a real sleeper at this point, although New England finds ways to thrive without a real No. 1 guy.

-- Kerry Collins: The Titans signed him last week and there's a decent chance he could be the starting quarterback in Week 1. Tennessee tried to move Billy Volek, and it still might happen. Neither is worth drafting all that high, but either signal caller could be an OK start against the shaky Jets. Meanwhile, Jeff George was cut by the Raiders as quickly as he was brought in.

-- Thomas Jones: He's back again as the starting running back for the Bears despite a shaky preseason. But while the veteran Jones had his issues, he still was a better choice than Cedric Benson, who is nursing a shoulder injury.

-- Charles Rogers: So the Lions only have two of their three first-round wide receivers on the team as Rogers was cut after three injury-plagued seasons. He had lots of promise, but his numbers with Detroit: 36 catches, 440 yards, 4 TDs. He may catch on somewhere, but avoid him for now. If you need a Lions receiver beside Roy Williams, Corey Bradford is probably your best bet.

-- Todd Pinkston: After falling way out of favor in Philadelphia, Pinkston is now in Minnesota and gives the Vikings another option at wideout with Koren Robinson gone. But he's only a marginal fantasy pick right now.

-- Zach Hilton: One of my sleeper picks at tight end, Hilton was let go by the Saints and then picked up by the Jets. It's unsure where he'll fit in the Jets' offense, but Chad Pennington could use all the help he can get. Stay away from Hilton for now. Also, given the shakeup in the New Orleans' passing game this week, it might be worth downgrading Drew Brees as well.

-- Lee Suggs: He nearly became a Jet, and now he looks to be a Dolphin after the Browns let him go over the weekend. Miami could use the backup help after Sammy Morris was suspended for four weeks. Suggs is a deep handcuff pick for Ronnie Brown.

-- Adam Vinatieri: His ankle injury appears to be healed and ready to go for Week 1. The Colts cut Shane Andrus, who had been kicking most of the preseason.
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