Of course he did. Of course. Offff course!
That was my reaction. Three different times. Hands up in the air, an exasperated sigh and a shaking of the head.
Of course Plaxico Burress scored a touchdown. And another. And another. It was back in Week 7, just before I had put Plaxico on my hate list. I had also gone on "Fantasy Football Now" that morning and said not only would I not start him, but I would have no trouble dropping him.
He had three straight weeks of four fantasy points or fewer, and a big fat zero in Week 2. He had a total of eight receptions and 91 total yards in three games. Eight for 91 is a good game. It's not a good three games. He wasn't being targeted very much, the Jets were running more, and to me, he was frankly looking like a 34-year-old wide receiver who had been out of the league for a while.
It's my job to make a call on every single fantasy-relevant player every week. That's more than 250 players a week when there are no byes, whether I end up ranking them or not. And then I talk about the players on many platforms, including this column and on TV on Sunday morning.
Given the quantity of calls I make, it is impossible to get them all right, but that's obviously my hope. More importantly, I hope I don't swing and miss as badly as I did on Plax that week. Arghhhh! Plaxico is what we refer to on our podcast as a "Fantasy Whac-A-Mole." You remember Whac-A-Mole, right? The old arcade game in which plastic moles pop out randomly and you try to hit them with a big rubber hammer. When will it pop up? When will it be down? It happens in an instant and the constant up and down is a challenge.
Plaxico is like that. You start him, start him, start him … nothing. You finally get fed up and bench him and bam! Three touchdowns. Thanks, Plaxico. Oh, and thanks Norv Turner, for playing soft single coverage on a 6-foot-5 red zone target. Three straight times. What the hell, Norv? Argghh. It's not enough he killed my Redskins for eight years. He keeps finding new ways. Make no mistake. Norv will be the death of me.
I can't tell you how many times I hear about it or have had it happen. You stick with a guy as long as possible, finally bench him and then that's the game he goes off? Or the converse, you have some guy at the end of your bench who keeps producing. You think it's fluky so you keep him on your bench. Then, you finally give in and start him, aaaaand ... nothing. Everything you feared about that player pulling a vanishing act turns out to be true, at least for that week.
Fantasy Whac-A-Mole. Drives you up a wall. My colleague Tristan Cockroft does a terrific column every week about consistency (the anti-moles) and I highly recommend it to discover trends and avoid this very symptom. Because Plaxico drives me nuts. Bananas. Any other food that means insane.
So, with the help of my Facebook friend and in honor of Plaxico, (whom I bet everyone starts this week against New England and he'll do absolutely nothing in a great matchup, just because), here, now, is your 2011 All-Fantasy Whac-A-Mole team.
At quarterback, Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans: Four weeks of 12 points or fewer, at least 17 points in every other game , his second- and third-highest scoring games came without Andre Johnson, including his only 400-yard game this year. Of course it did. (Honorable mentions: Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers).
Your first running back, Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks: Beast mode? How about Least Mode? 'Cause it's one or the other. Double-digits in three games, six or fewer in four games, including the Browns game. You remember the Browns game. Where he was announced as active but then was a scratch during warm-ups. What?!? It's warm-ups. Do some stretching and light jogging. How are you announced as active and then scratched? What the hell was that?? No, really, I'm actually asking. Did I lose by 0.3 points in a week when I had Lynch active? You bet your Tom Brady bobblehead collection I did. I love Pete Carroll's noting that Lynch wasn't on the injury report that week "but maybe he should have been." YOU THINK?
Also at running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the New England Patriots: Perhaps no one's highs are as high or lows as low as the Law Firm's, who has a zero-point game, a one-point game (against the Bills!), two sixes … and then a 26-point game and two 13-point games. Of course. Of course my guy is on Bill Belichick's bench while Kevin Faulk (Kevin Faulk!) is on the field every play. You know, the career third-down guy who was just off the PUP list and was inactive the next week. Yeah, that guy. (Honorable mention: Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Beanie Wells, Reggie Bush and the Panthers' running backs).
At wide receiver, Brandon Marshall of the Miami Dolphins: Four games of fewer than six points, four double-digit games. He has fewer than six against the Chargers and then puts up more than 100 yards against Darrelle Revis in a game he tells everyone he wants to get thrown out of. Who is the bigger knucklehead? Marshall, or the guy who keeps trying to figure him out?
Also at wide receiver, Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints: Here's his standard points game logs: 6, 0, 6, 17, 21, 5, 5. Yeah, that makes sense. I know Drew Brees spreads it around, but so does Brady, and Wes Welker is fairly consistent, as are the Patriots' tight ends. Colston is clearly the best wideout on the team and he and Jimmy Graham are the best pass-catchers. But his last two stinkers were against the Rams and Bucs. Dude. We forgave the broken collarbone. Injuries are part of the risk in drafting you. We get it. But the highs, the lows -- you're a fantasy schizophrenic. (Honorable mention: DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin).
In the "Flex" position: the Washington Redskins' running back corps: And the reason for that, of course, is that the Head Coach For Life of the Fantasy Whac-a-Moles is none other than your pal and mine, Michael Shanahan.
The tight end is Jermichael Finley of the Green Bay Packers: Nothing, nothing, three touchdowns, nothing, nothing, nothing, touchdown, touchdown. I'm sorry. Aren't you a physical beast who is a matchup problem for any defense? Aren't you on the highest-scoring team in the league with the hottest quarterback at the helm? Every other Packer is scoring, but somehow Aaron Rodgers and his over-70 percent pass completion rate can't find the 6-foot-5 guy in the open field? Of course. That makes total sense. (Honorable mention: Vernon Davis, Dallas Clark.)
These guys all drive me nuts and I don't feel a single one of them can be trusted. As we head toward the trade deadline, many of these guys have a lot of value. And all of them should be dealt away, if you can get that value. I don't trust a one of them and when I get to the fantasy playoffs, I want as close to sure things as I can find. Actually, that's true in many aspects of life. But especially in fantasy football.
As you start working the trade lines, I'll dive in Love/Hate for Week 10. Usual caveats: This is not a pure start/sit column, it's about guys I like more or less this week in comparison to their typical output this season. You can still start a "hate" or bench a "love." Use your brain. Make sure you check the Friday ranks, remember there is a game Thursday and here's to no Whac-A-Moles this week.
Week 10 Players I Love
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: If not at home versus the Cardinals, then when? You know, the amazing thing is that the whole argument against Vick in the preseason was the injury risk. And yet, he's played every game this year. Even if you didn't buy into my "He's No. 1" argument, he was still a consensus first-rounder almost across the board and no one questioned he'd put up big numbers. The argument was the health. Come on, Michael. There's only so long I can hang on, you know?
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: I'm the highest on him among our rankers and here's why: He's passed for 369 and 385 yards the past two weeks, and much has been made of Rivers' career numbers in November (in short, he's a lot better). The issue has been the turnovers, but the Raiders are just 19th in the NFL in interceptions with seven, and they allow the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. And do I think Carson Palmer turns it over a few times, giving Rivers a short field? Yeah. I do.
Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos: Death. Taxes. Me being the highest among the rankers when it comes to Tebow. But come on … Tebow against a defense that just gave up three scores to Matt Moore? Me likey. Now that I think about it, the Chiefs' defense is a fantasy Whac-A-Mole, too. The Chiefs won't be unprepared for Tebow running option plays the way Oakland was, but he's a lock for at least 60 yards rushing. Assume he throws for at least 100 yards and a score and you're already at 14 points. The biggest issue with Tebow, of course, is that he takes too many sacks and is inaccurate. Well, Kansas City is dead last in sacks with nine and, as Paul Carr from ESPN Stats & Information points outs, when not under duress, Tebow's completion percentage is 55 percent compared with 29 percent when he is pressured. He will have time and that bodes well.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: Two scores when they played the Pats in New England, he is the only quarterback not to throw for more than 250 yards against the Patriots this season. That changes this week, as the Jets getting back to "ground and pound" is actually good for Sanchez. When the team runs effectively, Sanchez can go play-action, and when he does? Yummy. That's right. I said yummy. I'm a 14-year-old girl. What do you want from me? Check out this Next Level stat from the studs over at ESPN Stats & Information:
Mark Sanchez Passing
If you're desperate for a quarterback: Off a bye and likely to have to throw, Christian Ponder wouldn't be the first (or fourth) quarterback to have a big fantasy day in junk time against the Packers. It'll be a lot of dink and dunk, but it's hard to run on Miami, so I could see John Beck with a double-digit game against the Dolphins.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: With Miles Austin hurt and Murray being good and all, I'm optimistic the Cowboys are aware that the Bills allow 4.6 yards per carry. Going Next Level with ESPN Stats and Info tells us that Murray is averaging 3.1 yards per rush after contact this season, best among running backs with at least 40 attempts. By comparison, Adrian Peterson averages 2.7 yards after contact.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders: Here's what I wrote about him a week ago: "In his career, Bush has eight games where he has gotten at least 16 rushing attempts. He has at least 90 yards rushing in seven of them." You may now update that to eight of nine games.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos: Since the start of the 2010 season, the Broncos average fewer than 100 yards rushing a game when Tebow doesn't start. With Tebow as the starter? More than 170 rushing yards a game. Much in the way that Vick's mobility has helped open up huge holes for McCoy (I believe the stat I kept quoting in the preseason about McCoy was that he averaged 5.6 yards per carry with Vick in, but 3.6 with Kolb), so too has been the case for running backs with Tebow. With McGahee expected to get the majority of work, he's a solid play against a Chiefs defense that allows the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs.
Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: I know. I know, OK? I know. When it comes to Redskins running backs, I am Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. I'm the dork holding the pretty girl's coat hoping to "friend" my way into her heart. I am the sucker P.T. Barnum told you about. I'm a fish, constantly getting hooked. I'm the idiot who just wrote 1,200 words about fantasy Whac-A-Moles and is now recommending one of them. I am not rational or objective here. Proceed with extreme caution. You are on your own. But … as I mentioned in the "desperate QB" section, Miami has a pretty good run defense, which means Beck will have to pass a lot. But he can't throw deep. Which means a lot of check-downs to Helu, who had 14 catches last week. I like Helu as a flex play this week. But keep in mind, I'm a glutton for punishment.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans: More than 100 yards in two of the past three weeks. And if we learned anything last week, it's that both Texans running backs can produce points when it's going well. With Gerald McCoy out for Tampa Bay (they've allowed 800 total yards and seven scores to opposing running backs the past four weeks), it's going to go well.
If you're desperate for a running back: Chris Ivory got the majority of carries for the Saints last week, and assuming Mark Ingram is out, he could easily get a score against the Falcons. Marion Barber now has a touchdown in three straight and in four of his past five, and Kendall Hunter may be in line for more work if Frank Gore's still banged up.)
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, right? So fine. I'm insane. Whatever. We already knew that. It's the Cardinals. I'm sticking to my guns.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens: Boldin is top-10 in targets, the Seahawks are top-10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers; I like the math here. Seattle has a good run defense, especially at home. You're still starting Rice, of course, but Joe Flacco may have to throw a bit more in this one, and when he does, Boldin is the guy who will get the love.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons. He's fast, son. Country fast. No, I have no idea what that means, but if I spend time thinking about it, he's already gone.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: According to our friends at Football Outsiders, the Vikings are 29th in the NFL against No. 2 wide receivers. And this is Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 wide receiver.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: The targets continue to pile up, as do the yards, the fantasy production and the crowd on the bandwagon. Somehow still available in 53 percent of leagues.
If you're desperate for a wide receiver: Jason Hill has a touchdown or 60 yards in four straight games, and you always like a wideout against Indy. Jabar Gaffney returns to Florida to face Miami's 27th-ranked pass defense and is averaging six points a game since John Beck took over. Denarius Moore had 61 yards last week. Even better? He got 12 targets from Carson Palmer.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans: Still a focal point of the passing game (leads the Texans in targets, receptions and yards), and the Buccaneers allow the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: He had 39 yards and a score the last time he faced Chicago, and the Bears allow the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. And with Detroit still struggling to run the ball (an issue that figures to not improve against Chicago), Pettigrew will be the de facto running game with short passes underneath that all add up to a solid day.
If you're desperate for a tight end: Visanthe Shiancoe scored the last time he faced the Packers, and certainly, the young quarterback will be looking for him. Jared Cook has at least 40 yards or a touchdown in five straight games and the Panthers are in the upper half of fantasy points allowed to tight ends.
Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST: Haven't had negative points yet (something even the Jets' D can't say), and they've had two weeks to prepare for a Colts team that is giving up the third most fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Jags are available in 96 percent of leagues.
Week 10 Players I Hate
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: Chances are you are starting him -- I only "hate" him as a top-10 play this week. But the Cowboys have been fairly conservative with Romo, as he's been averaging just 216 passing yards the past three weeks. No Miles Austin and the Bills are allowing opposing quarterbacks just 11 points a game on the road this season. As seen in "love," I expect Dallas to lean on DeMarco Murray and the run game, putting Romo just outside my top 10 this week.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills: I'm a Rob Ryan believer. It's also been five weeks since Fitzy had more than 14 points, making him a low-end No. 2 on the road at Dallas.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: The 49ers have not allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back at home all year. Don't think it starts this week.
Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs: Jackie's total yards the last four games: 140, 76, 70, 49. I'm no numbers whiz, but that strikes me as trending in the wrong direction. Only Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews have gone for more than 100 yards rushing against Denver, which is not an elite run defense but is better than you think. Battle, on the other hand, isn't.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks: Least mode!
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: The only thing I know about the Panthers' running backs is that neither is named Cam.
James Starks, RB, Packers: Remember Week 2? Ah, glorious Week 2 -- when Starks had 11 fantasy points, which tied his season high. Despite the big leads and high-powered offense, Starks has yet to get more than 13 carries in any game this year, he's had single-digit fantasy points in six straight games, and the Vikings actually are a decent run defense. As I've mentioned before, I get these game notes from the team PR people about various players. They are always super-positive and I tend not to use them very much because they are rarely relevant or, if they are, they are fairly obvious. Here's all Green Bay PR machine could come up with on Starks: Including the playoffs, Starks has played in 15 games and Green Bay is 14-1. You mean, just like … everyone else on the Packers who have played the past 15 games? Yeah. Attendance. That's what they are pitching on Starks. He's played.
The Normal Top-10 Guys: Lots of guys who would normally be top-10 whom I have lower than that, and lower than my counterparts, and it's all due to matchups. Don't love Larry Fitzgerald with (most likely) John Skelton throwing to him on the road at Philly and Nnamdi Asomugha all over him. I've seen Champ Bailey shut down Dwayne Bowe before and expect him to do it somewhat this week. A.J. Green against Ike Taylor, Brandon Lloyd against Joe Haden … both would usually be in or close to my top 10, and you're probably still starting them, but I would lower expectations.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: I have no idea what he is doing inside the top 26 ranks of my fellow rankers. I love his talent, no question. But he's just not a huge part of the offense. He hasn't caught a receiving touchdown yet. Maybe they figured out more ways to get him more involved in the offense over the bye week. I sure hope so. But until I see it, I can't recommend a guy who has had under 60 yards receiving in five of his last six games, six of his last eight, scored in his last game on a run (hard to count on those when your teammate is Adrian Peterson) and, while I know everyone loves the matchup, he had one, count 'em, one fantasy point in Week 7 when they first faced Green Bay, and that was at home, and with Christian Ponder at quarterback (he threw for 219 and 2, so it's not like the receiving game was starving).
Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers: Wanted to put him in the Fantasy Whac-A-Moles list, but to be on it, you need to have been both good and bad. He's just never been good. Sigh. At this point, he's a No. 3 wideout/low-end flex play. Now watch him go off for three touchdowns.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: A total of four fantasy points in his past three games, and the 49ers run too many two-tight-end sets designed to spring Gore one way or the other to consider Davis a top-10 play. Especially against the Giants, who have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season.
Kellen Winslow, TE, Buccaneers: The Texans are also very strong against the tight end, as Graham is the only opposing tight end to get double-digits fantasy points against them all season.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks M. Night Shyamalan is the ultimate Whac-A-Mole film director. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend