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.
9/21/2006 06:03:00 PM
What's the catch?
Jerricho Cotchery, who played sparingly on offense for his first two seasons, has 186 yards and two scores to open the year.
Somehow, it's not really a surprise that the wide receiver rankings look all jumbled two weeks into the season. The position, even among the top players, can be a crapshoot from week to week, as one long bomb can beef up a guy's numbers for a week and then get nothing for a long stretch of time.
So far this year, there have been injury issues with some of top-rated guys like Steve Smith, Terrell Owens and even Chad Johnson. Randy Moss has been saddled by a terrible offense around him. Roy Williams has been doing more talking than catching. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and Donald Driver have piled up yards and catches, but still haven't found the end zone (affecting their value depending on whether your league counts receptions).
Meanwhile, some of this year's early receiving stars include a No. 2 guy traded late in camp (Donte Stallworth), the guy who replaced him in the previous team's starting lineup (Marques Colston), a supposed first-round bust (Reggie Williams), former backups thriving with improved quarterback play (Jerricho Cotchery, Bernard Berrian) and an aging veteran with one huge game (Amani Toomer). Outside of Stallworth, few of these guys were drafted outside of a very deep league.
And among the early stars who were drafted, a bunch of them probably weren't taken beyond being your team's third or fourth receiver at best -- Antonio Bryant, Laveranues Coles, Drew Bennett, Eric Moulds, Terry Glenn.
That is not to say that the stud wideouts haven't been impressive -- Plaxico Burress and Darrell Jackson have put up big numbers -- but many of them somehow don't have TDs. For instance, of the great receiving tandems in Arizona and Indianapolis, only Anquan Boldin has a score. But you have to think that over time, those guys will put up the huge games you'd expect from them.
But while you should expect Harrison or Fitzgerald to at least score touchdowns in due time, can you really trust Berrian, Cotchery or Colston to catch a touchdown pass every week? And what about the middle-level guys moving up the ladder like Coles or Bryant, can they sustain their level of production or will they slack off down the line and return to the middle-of-the-pack guys they had been going in? Or what about the early disappointments like Roy Williams, Randy Moss or even the injured Steve Smith -- what does the future hold for them?
Brian Westbrook has 256 total yards and two TDs this season but once again is nicked up.
-- A couple of top running backs missed practice Wednesday and landed on the injury report. Shaun Alexander is nursing a sore foot but says he will play in a key battle against the Giants. The perpetually banged up Brian Westbrook has a knee injury and is questionable, so beware even though his Eagles have a decent matchup against the 49ers. Correll Buckhalter's value rises a bit because of this.
-- Maybe you don't have to find a replacement for Terrell Owens after the bye week as coach Bill Parcells said T.O. might return from surgery on his broken finger in time for Week 4 against Tennessee. Keep an eye on the situation next week. That would be great news for T.O. owners.
-- Even though Chad Johnson was banged up last week, he was not on the Bengals' injury report this week, although teammates T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry are. But it looks like all three will play on Sunday.
-- As for the major fantasy injury stories of the early season, Steve Smith is still questionable although he may be closer to returning this week. No matter what happens, I'd probably avoid using him against the Bucs. On the other hand, Clinton Portis is closer to returning to the lineup and he looks to be a nice play against the Texans this week.
-- If you're looking for a bye-week fill-in, you could take a look at 46-year-old Morten Andersen, who rejoined the Falcons after Michael Koenen missed four field goals last week (although Koenen will continue to be the punter and kickoff specialist). He'll be kicking in a familiar place as Atlanta plays the Saints in the first game at the Superdome since Katrina. On the other sideline will be another veteran kicker with John Carney still plugging away for New Orleans.
Andrew Walter will start a couple of games for the Raiders with Aaron Brooks ailing.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
-- After spending most of the summer believing he'd be the No. 1 quarterback in Tennessee, Billy Volek is now headed to San Diego as Philip Rivers' backup after being traded Tuesday. He doesn't have much fantasy value now unless something happens to Rivers, but at least he's not the No. 3 guy for the Titans anymore.
-- Aaron Brooks will be out 2-4 weeks with a strained pectoral muscle, opening the door for Andrew Walter to start after the bye in Week 4. The Raiders will be playing the Browns that week and could be a very deep sleeper pick at that point, although it's tough to rely on any Oakland player.
-- Fantasy owners weren't the only ones disappointed in Kellen Winslow's 42-yard performance on Sunday. Winslow was also upset with it, especially with the coaches' decisions to take him out on third downs. I still think Winslow has plenty of potential this year to put up big stats, although Braylon Edwards is starting to put together decent numbers as well.
It was a strange week for top tight ends as Winslow was limited, Tony Gonzalez had just seven yards, Todd Heap 17 (but a touchdown), Jeremy Shockey 17 (and missed overtime with an injury), Chris Cooley 23 (in deep garbage time), Alge Crumpler 22, and Vernon Davis shut out completely. Antonio Gates was OK with 55 and L.J. Smith did erupt for 111.
-- Despite being outgained by DeAngelo Williams last week with the same number of carries, DeShaun Foster is still the starter in Carolina. However, Foster needs to produce a bit more to make sure he is the man or at least get decent playing time in a shared situation such as Corey Dillon-Laurence Maroney in New England or Dominic Rhodes-Joseph Addai in Indianapolis.
-- Speaking of Carolina, Steve Smith's situation is still up in the air, and even if he does return, he's got a very bad matchup against a desperate Buccaneers team that's trying to avoid going 0-3, like the Panthers.
-- Clinton Portis said he will play this week, and if that's true, he's got a great matchup against the Texans. But be wary of the situation, because Ladell Betts or T.J. Duckett owners will be very interested as well.
-- Ben Roethlisberger was a bit shaky in his season debut, but he was going up against a very good Jacksonville defense. It will be interesting to see how he fares against a big-play Bengals defense that lost David Pollack for the season and somehow did not get a sack against the Browns last week (after seven on the Chiefs in the opener).
It's not terribly surprising to see this game be the lowest-scoring Monday Night game ever, and with the way the Jaguars defense played in shutting out the Steelers, you may have to temper your expectations for the Colts. And woe to those of you relying on Hines Ward, Willie Parker or Ben Roethlisberger to win your game this week.
It was a slightly better game for the Jaguars, who got solid outings from Fred Taylor (121 total yards), Reggie Williams (8 catches, 95 yards) and Byron Leftwich (260 passing yards) although Josh Scobee provided all the scoring with three field goals.
If you have Terrell Owens, you'll have to look elsewhere for the next few weeks.
Here are some key injuries and other news coming out of Week 2:
-- The biggest injury news from Sunday is Terrell Owens breaking his finger against the Redskins. He will have surgery this week and likely will miss 2-4 weeks. The Cowboys have a bye this week so you were going to have to bench him this week anyway, but beyond that, you could always take a flyer on Patrick Crayton, who probably starts in T.O.'s place. Otherwise, Terry Glenn and Jason Witten pick up the slack in the passing game.
-- Chad Johnson was banged up a bit in Sunday's win over the Browns. He hurt his shoulder on a first-quarter touchdown catch then suffered a concussion late in the game. His status is definitely worth watching since T.J. Houshmandzadeh has yet to play this season. However, the Bengals do have decent depth at wideout starting with Chris Henry, who had a 100-yard game against the Browns.
-- Rod Smith reportedly suffered a concussion against the Chiefs on Sunday, so keep an eye on that situation, as well as at quarterback where Jay Cutler may be on the verge of replacing Jake Plummer as the starter after another subpar effort. The Broncos have a very big showdown with the Patriots on Sunday.
-- Aaron Brooks injured his shoulder early against the Ravens and lost two fumbles before he was replaced by Andrew Walter. The Raiders also have a bye this week, and Brooks is in line to start if he's healthy for Week 4. That game is against the Browns, so eventually some Oakland players may be useful from a fantasy standpoint.
-- Seahawks TE Itula Mili suffered a knee injury Sunday, but Seattle is still waiting for Jerramy Stevens to return from his own knee injury. If you had either guy, it's time to check the waiver wire for a tight end.
-- Joseph Addai outgained Dominic Rhodes on Sunday, which could mean more looks in Week 3 as the Colts face a tough Jags defense. As for another unsettled running back job, Kevan Barlow appears to have supplanted Derrick Blaylock as the Jets' top guy. They have an intriguing matchup with the Bills, who have struggled stopping the run, but has been great against the pass.
The vastly improved Bills defense recorded seven sacks on Daunte Culpepper in their upset win Sunday.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
There really isn't a lot of strategy behind drafting team defenses, and many people recommend not even worrying about the position until the very end of the draft, around the time you would pick up a kicker.
There are plenty of issues with team defensive scoring: The year-to-year numbers aren't all that consistent. Much of the big scoring comes in fluky situations, such as the rare interception or fumble returned for a score. You're not necessarily rewarding the best defenses, just the ones who put up big plays, etc. How do you give credit for points/yards allowed? In fact, I'm in a couple of leagues that forgo defensive stats altogether, and others that go with individual defensive player stats.
But from the very early returns from this season, it looks like there can be big points to be had from defenses on a week-to-week basis. The question is where will your defense earn those points, especially in leagues that don't reward for yards and/or points allowed (save for a shutout).
Turnovers can be a tricky thing to predict each week via matchups (although going up against an interception-prone QB is helpful), and don't even try to guarantee that any of those takeaways will lead directly to a score. Although the Ravens have already forced nine turnovers this season (including six this week and one for a score last week).
It sometimes feels like any team defense will get a few sacks per week, especially if it's going against a spotty offensive line, a very immobile quarterback, and even mobile quarterbacks (their propensity to run leads to some extra sacks, although they make up for it with rushing yards). Then again, looking at the first couple of weeks, even sack totals can vary widely from week to week.
The Chargers racked up nine sacks in Week 1, with the Bengals not too far behind with seven. Neither team recorded one on Sunday despite facing offensively challenged teams with quarterback issues. However, this ended up being a big week for sacks with the Eagles picking up eight on Eli Manning (after torching David Carr last week for five), the Bills going for seven on Daunte Culpepper, and six each from the Cowboys, 49ers, Bears and the aforementioned Ravens.
Maybe you can start looking at quarterback matchups to see if your defense will come up big in the sack department. Culpepper leads the league right now by being sacked 10 times, including those seven by the Bills. Not surprisingly, David Carr is right behind with nine sacks (five by the Eagles, four by the Colts), tied with Marc Bulger, who got hit by six from the Niners on Sunday, and Jon Kitna, who also hit the turf six times by the Bears.
Just behind them are Eli Manning, whose eight sacks from the Eagles made up for a sackless game against the Colts, and Matt Hasselbeck, who went down five times against the Lions and three more this week by the Cardinals.
With some of these big names getting sacked a bunch, you could even find yourself in a situation where you're rooting for your defense to sack your quarterback, who can then pop back up and throw longer touchdowns and gain more yards. Of course, if your league penalizes for points and/or yards allowed or quarterbacks for being sacked, then there's not much you can do there.
Larry Johnson recorded a 100-yard rushing game after his nine-game streak was snapped last week.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
If the early part of the day was dominated by quarterback play, the second half could be defined by the play of the big three running backs, as Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson try to regain some mojo after being completely overwhelmed by LaDainian Tomlinson.
Johnson did get back on the 100-yard bandwagon, even though the Chiefs offense was quiet with Damon Huard running the show. Alexander did have a score but was held under 100 yards once again, although 89 wasn't too bad. Tomlinson ran for two scores early but with the Chargers running away with the game early, he was limited in the second half, allowing backup Michael Turner to break 100 yards (thanks to a 73-yard dash while trying to run out the clock).
After throwing just 11 passes in Week 1, Philip Rivers was able to show off his arm against the Titans, going 25-35 for 235 yards and a score. Sure, Tomlinson is still the man, but at least now the Chargers are starting to show confidence in their starting quarterback.
Speaking of improving young quarterbacks, Alex Smith is definitely looking like a guy to watch this season as he went for 233 yards, including a sweet 72-yard TD connection with Antonio Bryant in the third quarter. Along with Frank Gore, who had another great week, the 49ers offense is looking like the real deal.
On the other side, the Titans offense is a mess. Running into the red-hot Chargers didn't help matters. However, Tennessee did give Vince Young and LenDale White more chances in garbage time, with Young getting his first NFL TD pass late in the fourth quarter. They need the playing time to become useful fantasy prospects later in the season.
With all the talk about the Patriots losing a big part of their passing game with Deion Branch gone, it seems many forgot that New England did use a second-round pick on Chad Jackson (who was projected as a first-rounder). Jackson finally came through this week with a TD catch, although Troy Brown led the team in catches.
Speaking of the Patriots, the two-headed monster of Corey Dillon (20 carries, 80 yards, 1 TD) and Laurence Maroney (16 carries, 65 yards, 1 TD) ran wild again, although owners of both have to wonder what might've been if either one was really the guy instead of being in a committee.
As for the Broncos' Bells, neither was all that impressive with Tatum rushing for 69 (including 25 in overtime) and Mike going for 44. Nothing was really decided here, other than the Broncos offense is still in flux, especially with Jake Plummer throwing another interception.
Chad Pennington put up his second straight 300-yard game as he tried his best to rally the Jets past the Patriots, although he came up short. A lot of it has to do with the nonexistent running game, although it appears Kevan Barlow has emerged as the No. 1 guy. However, he went for just 42 yards on 14 carries.
Couple of leftover thoughts from the early games: -- Warrick Dunn has 266 rushing yards this season in two games but no touchdowns. Somehow, Charlie Frye of the Browns has two on the ground. -- Impressive comeback by Eli Manning and the Giants, although the Eagles had their chances to put the game away. Nice showing by Amani Toomer, not to mention Plaxico Burress on the winning score, and Tiki Barber still salvaged a decent game (108 total yards) despite gaining just 51 yards on 21 carries. -- Adam Vinatieri left the game with a groin injury in the second half, which explains why punter Hunter Smith attempted (and missed) the extra point on the Colts' final touchdown.
Sunday night update: Drew Bledsoe's job is safe for another couple of weeks as he turned in a performance most people expected of him, although his completion percentage could've been even better if his receivers could avoid all those drops. (That's one reason why Terrell Owens only had 19 yards receiving). Meanwhile, the Redskins offense is very shaky minus Clinton Portis. Although the garbage time drives did make the passing stats acceptable. Also, Mike Vanderjagt finally played and hit a 50-yard field goal, to boot. So, I guess he's back.
After thinking his job was in jeopardy during the summer, Rex Grossman bounces back with a four-TD game.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
OK, so much for Rex Grossman losing his starting job. Granted, he did play the Packers and Lions, but he's finally looking like the first-rounder the Bears thought he had after burning Detroit for four touchdown passes. It's good Grossman is playing well because the running game looks a bit shaky. On the other hand, Bernard Berrian and Desmond Clark have stepped it up for Chicago, giving Grossman some weapons beside Muhsin Muhammad.
On the other hand, what's going on with Daunte Culpepper? He looks a bit lost out there, getting sacked, committing turnovers and not finding receivers who aren't Ronnie Brown until the very end of the game, which kept his stats respectable. Maybe Buffalo's defense is better than anyone thinks. The young Bills squad did give Tom Brady fits last week.
Of course, while Culpepper struggles in his recovery from a knee injury, Carson Palmer looks just fine. After a so-so opener, Palmer picks up his first 300-yard game of the season and that's without T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the lineup. Then again, the Bengals do have underrated depth at wideout with guys like Kelley Washington and Tab Perry capable of getting a bunch of passes even as the fourth and fifth guys in the lineup. Palmer even got the tight ends involved.
And should we be surprised by Peyton Manning's 400-yard game against the Texans or even Donovan McNabb's 300-yarder against the Giants? (The Eagles are back to flinging the ball everywhere all the time). But what about Drew Brees lighting up the Packers for his own 300-yard game after committing three turnovers in the first half? It was also a nice bounceback week for Brett Favre as he got himself three scores -- giving him 399 career TDs.
But yards don't always tell the story for a quarterback. Michael Vick passed for just 92 and won (because he ran for 127). J.P. Losman only passed for 83 and won. Chris Simms passed for 313 and lost (thanks to three interceptions).
Aaron Brooks committed two quick turnovers for the Raiders before leaving with an injury and giving way to Andrew Walter, who led Oakland to some scores but was just as turnover-prone as the incumbent (Walter lost a fumble and had three picks). There were no defensive scores allowed, but the Ravens defense got to feast on that situation for plenty of points.
The Falcons keep on proving they have a running game with both Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn piling up 100-yard games. But it looks like they don't have a kicking game with Michael Koenen missing four field goals (while Matt Stover was making four of his own).
Some of last week's surprise stars did prove they were real again with more touchdowns: Bernard Berrian, Desmond Clark, Donte Stallworth, Marques Colston, even Charlie Frye on the ground. Sometimes those first-week wonders can prove to be more than a flash in the pan.
To answer some muddled running back situations: Both Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes scored for the Colts, but Addai outgained Rhodes 104-59 in total yards. Deuce McAllister ran for two scores against the Packers, while Reggie Bush had just 5 yards on the ground but eight catches for 68 yards. Ron Dayne led the Texans with 37 yards on 11 carries, but newly acquired Samkon Gado had 36 yards on just three carries; Wali Lundy had 25 yards on six carries but also had a fumble.
Also, DeAngelo Williams proved to be the better back ahead of DeShaun Foster. Both had 13 carries, with Williams going for 74 yards and a score (plus five catches for 24 more) while Foster gained just 26 (with 17 through the air).
First off, Clinton Portis will miss Sunday night’s game with that shoulder injury. Ladell Betts will start, but don’t be surprised to see T.J. Duckett get a bunch of carries as well.
Steve Smith is out again with the hamstring injuries, and Drew Carter had a decent game last week, so he’ll get a bunch of looks this time around.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh will miss another game for the Bengals, so Chris Henry gets another start. Hopefully, Henry will improve upon his one catch for -5 yards in last week’s game. There’s a good chance he’ll have a decent game against the Browns.
Brian Westbrook and Cadillac Williams dealt with injuries this week, but both seem ready to play. However, don’t be surprised if they take a little extra time off during the game to heal up.
Recently acquired Deion Branch won’t suit up for the Seahawks this week. He may play next week against the Giants. With a decent matchup against the Cardinals, it could be a good week for Darrell Jackson and Nate Burleson.
Mike Furrey gets the start at wide receiver for the Lions after a solid first week. And recently reacquired Az Hakim (reunited with Mike Martz) will get his looks as well for Detroit. It’s not a great matchup this week against the Bears, but keep an eye on what they do. And oh yeah, Mike Williams is inactive again.
Lee Suggs may get some carries for the Dolphins this week to spell Ronnie Brown from time to time. If the Bills run defense is as soft as it was last week, there could be good stats to be had on both sides.