- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Notes: I've taken a whole lot of questions along the lines of: "What's wrong with the Saints offense?" My answer: probably nothing. The Colts look faster and more capable on defense, and the game plan for last Thursday was semiatrocious, but now that New Orleans is back in the good graces of the putrid NFC, it should flex its offensive muscles again. If Brees doesn't throw downfield again against Tampa, we'll know something's up. ... Romo isn't a mirage. He was the yards-per-attempt stallion of the league last year among starters, and although every secondary won't be as easy to torch as the Giants' was last week, Dallas is staying aggressive. Plus Miami losing safety Yeremiah Bell for the year hurts. ... Big Ben is back. I had him 11th last week: starter-worthy but unspectacular. Well, his four passing TDs (on just 161 yards) were pretty freakin' spectacular. Buffalo's defense allowed Denver 299 yards via the air last week, and Nate Clements ain't walking through that door. ... McNabb's performance against Green Bay was worrisome. He didn't look quick, especially when the Packers blitzed. As I mentioned last week, if teams learn they can unsettle Andy Reid's timing-based short-passing game by sending the house at McNabb, and if No. 5 can't buy time with his feet in such circumstances, the worm will have turned in Philly. I still expect to see McNabb turn it around as soon as this week against Washington, but my faith is slightly shaken. ... Bulger takes the biggest dive among the elite quarterbacks, and it's all about Orlando Pace. Pace has had Bulger's back side for as long as the quarterback has had his job, but now Pace is out for the year. Adam Goldberg was his replacement at left tackle during last week's game, but if he's the long-term starter there, Bulger could get crunched. It's possible third-year man and former first-rounder Alex Barron moves from the right side to the left. Either way, the Niners' defense looked revitalized Monday night, and they're going to test St. Louis. ... No, I'm not drinking Brett Favre Kool-Aid. I just think the Giants secondary really is as bad as it looked against Dallas, and without Osi Umenyiora, the pass rush is weaker, too. ... Trent Green threw it 38 times against Washington. If he does that against Dallas (and specifically at overrated Roy Williams), he'll be starter-worthy this week. ... Leinart was awful Monday night. I wouldn't start him until he looks better.
Notes: Fast Willie needs to go off this week. The Bills also allowed 171 yards rushing to Denver (making the fact that the Broncos only scored 15 points in Week 1 rather curious), and their no-name defensive tackles and linebackers looked beatable. Hey, I like Aaron Schobel, too, but why wouldn't an offensive line send two guys his way on every play? ... I'm giving Steven Jackson a pass this week, with the caveat that I'll be watching. Hey, elite players have bad days, and the Pace thing feels more like a passing-game concern. Pace is still a bulldozer, but he's been a better pass-protector over the last two seasons than a plow horse. Jackson did plenty of damage on the right side last year, too. ... I'm not giving up on MJD just yet, and neither should you. The Jags are learning a new offense, and are bound to improve. Atlanta's not terrible on defense, but the Falcons offensive struggles will create too much pressure. Drew is still the weirdest combination of third-down and goal-line back in the league. ... OK, I'm relenting a little on Larry Johnson. Herm Edwards swears he's done easing LJ back into the offense (he only got 10 carries against the Texans), but I never imagined Damon Huard would look as bad as he did in Week 1. Normally, even against the Bears, I'd promise Johnson was good for a touchdown. I'm less sure this week. ... McGahee looked relatively decisive and powerful racking up 77 yards on 19 carries against Cincy last week. Is Musa Smith's presence in the red zone a nuisance? Yes. But the "Best Back In Football" will score this week against the Jets. ... The Vikings' Peterson is in a perfect storm of rookie goodness: he's coming off a wonderful first game (19 carries for 103 yards, a 60-yard TD reception), Chester Taylor's hurt and Detroit's defense can be had. ... Maroney dives here less because of Sammy Morris (though Morris is obviously a must-handcuff for Maroney owners), but because I fear the Chargers D. ... Putting Chris Brown this high really bugs me. Raise your hand if you've been burned by one excellent Brown performance (one Monday night against Green Bay a couple years back comes to mind) followed by four terrible ones. Still, the Colts are supposed to be vulnerable against the run, though you wouldn't have known it against New Orleans. ... There was a lot of Lamont Jordan gloating going on in my world last week. To this, I say: just wait. ... Boy, nice call on DeAngelo Williams over DeShaun Foster last week, huh? Yuk. Both guys fumbled (Foster's was on the goal line), but Foster was the lead dog for much of the game, with Williams racking up his yards late. I suppose Williams owners will just have to wait for Foster to get hurt. ... For now, Warrick Dunn's the guy over Jerious Norwood. And I wouldn't start either. ... I'm not sure I buy Michael Pittman as the definite starter in Tampa with Cadillac apparently out. Earnest Graham seemed to pick up the slack without Caddy in a tight game in Seattle last week, and Graham's lost fumble on a reception didn't dissuade Jon Gruden from talking about getting him more work in a press conference this week. Graham absolutely has better every-down-back skills than Pittman (mostly a receiver) does. Rating Graham higher on Tuesday night is really just a guess, though.
Notes: Andre Johnson's been a fantasy tease for as long as he's been a pro; even when he caught a league-high 103 passes last year, he still only managed five scores. Is this the year he turns promise into double digits? I'm not willing to accede just yet; I've been burned too many times. Carolina's corners should present a greater challenge than Kansas City's did. Don't get me wrong: he's a starter. ... Driver climbs more than any receiver on my list. First off, he gutted it out while at least partly injured against the Eagles last week, to the tune of 12 targets and six catches for 66 yards. Second, he faces the Giants' corners this week. ... Houshmandzadeh had the weirdest line of the week: nine catches for 50 yards. Really? Is Housh playing the Robert Royal role? I have to believe that while the kid's game, his knee must be bugging him. The Bengals will still look his way (he got 12 targets, too), but he's lacking separation just now. ... The Cardinals' pass offense was crummy, and this against a defense they torched for 532 aerial yards (in two games) in '06. Ken Whisenhunt wasn't kidding when he said "run-first"; Edgerrin James got 26 carries (which he turned into just 92 yards), and the game plan was really conservative. Fitzgerald and Boldin are going to get theirs occasionally, but I fear we overrated them both coming into the season. ... Randy Moss owners smiled through Sunday, but if the Patriots turn him into a 1,500-yard, 15-TD receiver, my name is Mark Twain. That's just not how New England does things. They don't hammer where there are too many thumbs. Teams will scheme to take Moss away, and Brady will simply find other targets. That said, Moss is clearly motivated, relatively healthy (it's unclear whether his lack of top-end speed is injury- or age-related) and a red zone favorite. He's going to be very good. ... Burress killed me in my primary league last week, but I fear with Jared Lorenzen in, he won't be as effective, especially not against a far superior corner like Al Harris. ... I remember when I used to write disparaging things about Darrell Jackson's hands, I'd get dozens of missives from the Pacific Northwest, where football fans chant in unison: "East-Coast Bias! East-Coast Bias!" (Really, do they give "East-Coast Bias" lessons in grammar school out there?) Funny, I'd imagine not too many Seahawks fans were saddened by D-Jax botching that late 50-yarder from Alex Smith on Monday. Congrats, folks. You don't have to apologize for King Stone Hands any longer. ... Ronald Curry is the real deal, at least for as long as he stays healthy. He's the top target on an offense that will have little choice but to pass a lot, and will probably be led by gun-slinging Daunte Culpepper in a matter of weeks. ... I hate having Chris Chambers this high, but I don't think Terence Newman plays at full strength in the Dallas secondary Sunday, and Miami would be crazy not to throw downfield early and often. ... It's hard for me to get too excited about Randle El's Week 1 performance. Is he Washington's deep threat, possibly in lieu of Santana Moss? Could be. Do I trust Jason Campbell to get him the ball consistently? I do not. ... Mark Clayton takes a big dive, too. He wasn't healthy playing against Cincy and as a result was rarely open (he was targeted twice). Clayton is still a breakout candidate, but the best thing for him would be to have Steve McNair retire. McNair's arm may be the worst in the NFL right now, and Clayton's game is speed.
Notes: The Bengals were generous to tight ends in '06, Winslow posted 10 catches against them, and Todd Heap should have scored the tying TD against Cincy last week. (Oh, wait, I guess he kind of did score the tying touchdown, didn't he?) ... Witten was immense against the Giants, especially in the first half. He caught all six of his targets for 116 yards and a score. Miami's linebackers are certainly better, but Witten will be a big part of the Dallas offense. ... Eric Johnson makes an interesting waiver-wire acquisition this week. Perhaps as part of their "Let's-Not-Throw-Downfield-Let's-Be-Real-Men" strategy last Thursday, the Saints made Johnson a checkdown focal point, throwing to him nine times (Marques Colston was targeted eight times). Because he leads with his skull, Johnson is a concussion waiting to happen, but for as long as he lasts, he can be a borderline fantasy starter. ... The Panthers rarely use a tight end as a receiver, but Jeff King may be an exception. The second-year man out of Virginia Tech got all of four targets in 2006, and already has six in '07. He was someone Jake Delhomme looked comfortable throwing to in the red zone in Week 1. ... Mike Martz's offenses have never been heavy on the tight end, either, but Sean McHugh is really the starting fullback in Detroit. He caught a couple of passes out of the backfield in Week 1 (for 45 yards), and can fulfill that Robert Holcombe role from Martz's old St. Louis days. As such, I actually think he's a slightly more consistent bet than someone like Dan Campbell.
Notes: Graham is going to be questionable with his bad hip, and even though I think he'll play (and if he does, he has to rank fairly highly, simply because Cincy should blow Cleveland's doors off), know that there's more risk associated with him than usual. ... It sounds like Josh Scobee will miss Week 2 with his bad hammy. Carney is kicking with the Jags in practice, and should sign on Wednesday. ... The Chiefs made a change, going from rookie fifth-round pick Justin Medlock to former Packers man Dave Rayner.
Notes: I mentioned storm clouds for the Bears defense last week, then they went out and completely shut down LaDainian Tomlinson for three quarters. However, the clouds have thickened. Both Mike Brown and Dusty Dvoracek are out for the year with torn ACLs; it's not like Chicago can't withstand such injuries, but the Bears' depth will now be sorely tested. It sounds like Darwin Walker (who wasn't very good in Philadelphia last year) will have to start, and Tommie Harris may have to move to nose tackle. Danieal Manning, who played for Brown last year, is once again in the starting lineup, and of course, Tank Johnson isn't walking through that door any time soon. All that said, Kansas City is still a chop-licking matchup this week. ... What in the world happened to Jacksonville's rush defense? Mike Peterson is back, Henderson and Stroud are still in the middle, Daryl Smith was a revelation in the middle last year, and yet this team let Chris Brown run all over them? I'm wary, but I'm willing to chalk it up to one-week blues. Let's see if they make Joey Harrington's life miserable this week. ... New England has never really dialed up the right defense to contain San Diego; the Pats didn't do it during the regular season two years ago (a 41-17 home loss) and they didn't really do it in the playoffs last year (a 24-21 win they would've lost without the Chargers' self-destruction). I think Tomlinson pulls a nutty this week. ... I'm not entirely sold on the Colts, but the obvious statement that every hack announcer makes every week about them is actually true: when Bob Sanders plays, it really does seem to free up everyone else to do their jobs and not try so hard. Vince Young was shaky to say the least last week, and the Colts have the speed to contain him as much as anyone can. ... Here's hoping you didn't draft the Cowboys too high. I know Wade Phillips has the pedigree, but with a lack of viable cornerbacks and Roy Williams as an unbelievable coverage liability, this team's going to have to win a lot of 38-31 games in 2007. ... Enough pixel dust has been used to describe how good Patrick Willis was in his first game for the Niners; he's an IDP star in the making. But between him, Nate Clements and the fact that Walt Harris has somehow become a football player after getting ridiculed out of Chicago, San Francisco has potential to be a very good fantasy defense. Not against Steven Jackson this week, though. ... Gee, do you think maybe Tampa Bay is scheming how to take advantage of Jason David when they host New Orleans this week?
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.
Christopher Harris provides his player rankings for Week 2 of the NFL season.