The Breakdown: Week 8
(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings Friday.)
Joseph Addai owners: That lump you feel in your throat might be your heart. In Monday night's convincing win at Jacksonville, Addai carried 16 times for 85 yards, while Kenton Keith turned 15 carries into 56 yards. And Keith wasn't merely the beneficiary of garbage time. Now, Addai clearly is the starter and also is a much likelier touchdown maker, so we're not talking about a pure split of the Dominic Rhodes variety; hey, I've still got Addai sixth among rushers this week. Still, Addai probably won't get more than 20 carries in a game the rest of 2007. That definitively caps his upside.
Fantasy Up: Reggie Wayne had 13 targets Monday as Marvin Harrison shuttled in and out of the game with his sore knee. Is Harrison at the beginning of the end? I don't think so; he'll get well and play his full complement of snaps, and soon. Statistically speaking, the Panthers' defense has improved against the pass, but their suspect pass rush won't get anywhere near Peyton Manning. ... Steve Smith is terrific, but I'd rather have Vinny Testaverde throwing him passes instead of David Carr. Alas, Carr should start Sunday. That's good news for the Colts' defense; I think you can use it as a fill-in. One underrated aspect of this unit is how hard its corners hit. Both Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden absolutely lit up Jacksonville offensive players Monday. ... Manning's 68.3 completion percentage is the highest of his career.
Fantasy Down: DeShaun Foster began the week as a solid No. 2 rusher in my book, but now, surprisingly, he's on the Panthers' injury list with a bad toe. If he hasn't practiced much this week, DeAngelo Williams might get a potentially valuable start. The Colts weren't always great against the Jaguars' rush game; Jacksonville just forgot to keep pounding the ball. ... I don't buy that the Colts will be looking ahead to New England. They are a veteran club happy, for now, to be swimming in the Patriots' wake. I wouldn't want any part of the Carolina defense Sunday.
I see another fine game for Brian Griese in the offing (that is, unless he's sore from patting himself on the back for calling his own plays during last Sunday's game-winning drive). The Lions' secondary is atrocious (they have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks), and Rod Marinelli is accounting for that by having corners play well off wideouts and safeties in a deep-deep-deep cloud, basically keeping everything in front of the defense's back line. That's perfect for Griese, who probably has a slightly bigger arm than Jeff Garcia (who completed 37 of 45 passes against Detroit last Sunday) but still wants to throw mostly short routes.
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Fantasy Down: Cedric Benson mustered only 46 yards on 17 carries, and while he didn't have great holes, he also looked hesitant and sluggish. The Lions don't stop the run, so you probably have to use Benson. But I continue to think Adrian Peterson will see an increased workload. ... By now, I think you probably have to switch Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, and put Olsen higher (my updated Friday rankings will reflect this change). Olsen has out-targeted Clark three weeks running. ... In the fourth quarter against Philadelphia, with the score 9-9, Bears center Olin Kreutz snapped the ball squarely between Griese's legs while Griese stood under center. The Eagles recovered on the Bears' 8-yard line, and it looked bad for Chicago. But the ruling (correct, I'm told) was false start, because Griese never touched the ball. Weird rule.
That Aaron Smith probably won't play Sunday hurts the Pittsburgh pass rush; however, that tackle Willie Anderson continues to be out for Cincinnati is more significant. Carson Palmer was sacked six times in a game against Pittsburgh last season and has been sacked 13 times by them in six career contests. Blitzburgh will return Sunday; the Steelers have won six straight at Paul Brown Stadium. How well Palmer stays upright is the key to not making it seven.
Fantasy Up: You start Willie Parker, who's got the second-highest rush-yards-per-game in the league, but realize the Bengals have toughened up against the run a bit. They allowed just six fantasy points to Thomas Jones last Sunday. Jets cast-off Anthony Schlegel has been pretty good in place of Ahmad Brooks at middle linebacker. ... More enticing is the Pittsburgh aerial attack against the defense that has been the most generous to fantasy receivers over the past five weeks. Santonio Holmes is an impressive deep threat, and Hines Ward has nine touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards receiving in his 17 career games against Cincinnati. ... The Steelers, too, have proven less-than-stout against the pass, so if Palmer isn't rushed too badly, it'll be a fine day for T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. What worked for Denver last Sunday night was quick passes and receivers running free in the Pittsburgh secondary. That sounds like a whole heaping helping of Housh to me.
Fantasy Down: The Pittsburgh game plan in Denver (and the Jacksonville game plan against Indianapolis) was too clever by half, but it was predictable. I said last week I thought the Steelers would come out throwing, trying to confound the Broncos' expectations. Problem was, Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks early, made some bad decisions and got the team in a hole. Expect more early rushing from Pittsburgh on Sunday, although eventually Big Ben will do some very good work. ... The unit to bench here is the Cincinnati running game. It's not good, and it's facing the premier rush defense in football. It sounds like Kenny Watson will get the nod again, but I don't expect anything close to a repeat of his 33-fantasy-point outing in Week 7.
Maybe the Giants will get the bends. Travel-related trauma appears to be the only thing that could save Miami from one heck of a beating Sunday. As merciless as New England was via the air last Sunday, New York might be worse. Cameron Worrell already is learning on the job and is very overmatched at free safety, and flameout sophomore corner Jason Allen will play strong safety in place of out-for-the-season Renaldo Hill. Ugly.
Fantasy Up: I'd consider starting the Giants' ball boy. Certainly Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer deserve the green light, as does Brandon Jacobs. I probably wouldn't go with either Derrick Ward or Reuben Droughns unless I was hurt by byes, simply because they probably won't get enough work to be effective. But this should be a big points day for New York. ... I have the Giants' defense as my No. 1 squad. Now, I like the Miami O-line; Vernon Carey, sometimes referred to as a bust last season, has been an above-average left tackle. (He'll always be excoriated in South Florida because the Fins passed on Vince Wilfork to draft him.) But Cleo Lemon had bouts of extreme wildness last Sunday, and no Ronnie Brown means very little explosiveness, other than the raw talent of Ted Ginn Jr. Multiple turnovers and multiple sacks are coming again for the Giants.
Fantasy Down: Lemon did some fine things against New England's second-stringers and was effective in Cleveland. But he hasn't shown enough accuracy to be a viable fantasy option yet. ... Jesse Chatman plays for Brown, and while I've liked what I've seen of Chatman's limited work, especially some nice receiving hands from a burly dude, it's hard to view him as more than a flex. ... Miami's plan against New England was to throw the kitchen sink at Tom Brady and beat him up early. Unfortunately, the Dolphins simply can't muster a pass rush, certainly not against an O-line as accomplished as the Patriots'. They have to know employing the same plan against Eli and the Jints would be a disaster. Don't they?
Topic No. 1 in my Monday morning chat this week was: Why the heck did Adrian Peterson touch the ball 13 times last Sunday, while Tarvaris Jackson, who was having one of the worst days a quarterback has had in '07, threw it 19 times? I hear you, folks. The Vikings might be a better overall team than the Eagles, talent-wise, and might even be ahead of where Brad Childress thought they would be, but that makes it all the more glaring that they don't have a functional signal-caller. Jackson won't play this week; Kelly Holcomb will. As that guy in the Miller High Life commercial says, "Somebody's about to lose their privileges."
Fantasy Up: Donovan McNabb is a fantasy starter, but he still is not as good as he can be. Too many times against Chicago, he held onto the ball too long, often getting sacked or delivering a pass too late (for instance, nearly getting Reggie Brown knocked out on the Bears' goal line). Teams don't believe McNabb can beat them deep. Of course, the Vikings' safeties have played very poorly, so that might not matter. I particularly love Kevin Curtis this week. ... Chester Taylor doesn't sound like he's hurt badly enough to miss this game, but any hindrance for him will mean more action for Peterson. Even as a platoon guy, Peterson's an elite fantasy option. ... Why did Philly run just seven times (for 29 yards) in the second half in Week 7? And why did the Eagles keep throwing to Matt Schobel in the red zone? There's this guy on their team, Brian Westbrook, who's pretty good. He'll have a tough matchup against the Minnesota defense, but obviously, he's an every-week start.
Fantasy Down: Jackson broke a finger on his throwing hand in Dallas last Sunday. I'm not exactly a charter member of the Kelly Holcomb Boosters, but this probably benefits Minnesota's skill players. (You still can't start any of the receivers, though.) Jackson has been put in a terrible position and could already be done as a Viking. You have to believe Minnesota will take a quarterback in the '08 draft. ... I guess you have to use the Eagles' defense, because they still rack up the sacks and quarterback pressures. But without Brian Dawkins, playmakers are sorely lacking. ... Did you see Fred Miller hogtie Juqua Thomas on Chicago's winning touchdown last Sunday in Philly? Score shouldn't have counted. Horrible.
I talk about it every week, but the Rams' O-line situation is toxic. They will have their sixth starting combination in eight games this week: Brandon Gorin and Alex Barron at tackle, Richie Incognito and Milford Brown at guard, and Andy McCollum at center. Randy McMichael pretty much has to stay in and block, and we will know pretty quickly if Steven Jackson can handle contact, because he will be asked to pass block a ton. No one here, with the exception of Jackson and Torry Holt, is remotely fantasy-worthy.
Fantasy Up: The impression we currently have of Derek Anderson is of the guy who posted a huge game against Miami before the bye week. I'm not sure Anderson is that good, but I've got him as a top-10 fantasy option this week. The Rams are a better run defense; for a winless team not to have allowed a 100-yard rusher this season is pretty impressive. Of course, that means Cleveland will move the ball via the air. ... Braylon Edwards is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards per game, second in average yards per reception, has the season's third-longest catch from scrimmage and is fourth in receiving touchdowns. Tye Hill won't shut him down Sunday. In fact, the turf should help. ... Cleveland's defense has improved. Linebacker Leon Williams has replaced Andra Davis in the middle and has been immense, and giving up on Gary Baxter for this season was the right thing to do. This unit should produce bye-week-worthy numbers against the Rams.
Fantasy Down: Holt is No. 16 on my receiver list, his lowest mark since I've been doing this. ... As of this writing, Jamal Lewis still hasn't practiced and probably will be a pure game-time decision, based on how his foot feels. He's not a wonderful option, anyway. If Lewis is out, expect Jason Wright to start, but Jerome Harrison will get 10 carries. ... Marc Bulger's first-half numbers in Seattle last Sunday: 2-of-10 for 42 yards, four sacks, an interception and a quarterback rating of 5.0. ... The Rams' defense has produced 11 turnovers in its past two games. I definitely don't expect the Browns to roll up 40 Sunday. That said, I can't see using the Rams. The offense puts way too much pressure on this defense, and it will be without defensive end Leonard Little (toe). ... Jeff Wilkins already has missed six kicks; he missed five all last season. He shouldn't be owned right now.
Good thing this isn't an AFC West game for the Raiders. They now have lost 17 of those in a row. The angry e-mailers from the Bay certainly have quieted down about how the team was leading its division during the bye week.
Fantasy Up: I love the Titans' defense this week (and most weeks, the 29-point fourth quarter in Houston notwithstanding), but I can see using the Raiders' defense, too. Vince Young should return, but one doesn't imagine he'll be in full scramble mode, and he's been less than stellar with his arm. Oakland did a terrific job against Larry Johnson last week (LJ had one carry for 54 yards, and the other 23 carries went for 58 yards), which proved to me that defense is more capable of stopping the run than I believed, at least when it doesn't have a scary quarterback facing it. ... That said, I do like LenDale White. Tennessee should be more stubborn with White in the red zone; right now, the team has scored touchdowns just 35 percent of the time it has landed inside an opponent's 20-yard line. White is the opposite of quick, the opposite of explosive and the opposite of svelte, but even in his engorged state, he is no fun to tackle.
Fantasy Down: Kansas City plays more zone than ever, and it showed last Sunday against the Raiders: It used its safeties to take away short crosses and dared Daunte Culpepper to beat it deep. This just in: He couldn't. It sounds like Culpepper will get Sunday's start, although Josh McCown is getting healthier. Don't use Culpepper: He is woefully inaccurate and always makes the big mistake (including a pick at midfield when down two points with 46 seconds left). ... LaMont Jordan had 11 carries for 29 yards, while Dominic Rhodes had nine for 21. Multiple news outlets have reported the Raiders are thinking of trading or dumping Rhodes, which would mean Justin Fargas would go back to being Jordan's backup. But against a Titans rush defense that is the second-stingiest to opposing fantasy runners, no one here is more than a flex. ... I don't even have my old favorite Ronald Curry listed as a fantasy starter this week.
The Jets' offense has frustrated fantasy owners big time in '07, but I think they will play well Sunday. The Bills already are without Ryan Denney at one defensive end spot, and it appears his replacement, Chris Kelsay, will miss this week's game with a bad ankle. The Bills have gotten one sack apiece from their starting ends (Kelsay and Aaron Schobel) and are second to last in the NFL as a team in that category.
Fantasy Up: The Bills allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing receivers, so get Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery in there. ... New York made Kenny Watson look like Walter Payton in Week 7, so Marshawn Lynch should be a lot of fun to own this week. The Jets allow an incredible 5.97 yards per play on first down, an indication they don't have the right D-line personnel to run the New England-style 3-4. ... I'd use Thomas Jones, but boy, letting Pete Kendall walk wasn't a good idea. Left guard Adrien Clarke has been so disappointing, the Jets reportedly tried to trade for a replacement at the deadline. It didn't happen.
Fantasy Down: Chad Pennington went 32-of-39 for 291 yards in Buffalo in Week 4 and thus is an OK fill-in if you are a Tony Romo or Matt Hasselbeck owner. But be careful: The Jets are one Pennington mistake away from plugging in Kellen Clemens for the rest of the season. ... Lee Evans notched a season-high eight targets and caught five passes for 98 yards against Baltimore. Is he back? Well, he was good against the Jets the first time around, so if your starters are on a bye, you can use him. If I had a choice, though, I'd watch this game and see how Evans looks against promising rookie corner Darrelle Revis. If he performs again, I'll get him back up out of flex territory. ... Depending on whom you listen to, Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma is either just fine or about to be declared out for the season because of injury. Unfortunately, I'm betting on the latter.
Chris Chambers or Vincent Jackson? Vincent Jackson or Chris Chambers? OK, maybe it doesn't have to be either/or, especially against a Texans defense that surely will be trying to overcompensate for its rush defense inadequacies against LaDainian Tomlinson. Eventually, though, one of those guys probably will step forward, and I think (gulp) it will be Chambers. Not that he'll suddenly be an elite receiver, but he's familiar with San Diego's offense (Cam Cameron came from there) and he gets open. Whether or not he suddenly can grow a pair of hands better than Jackson's (or, it should be said, his own) is a great question. Either guy is a usable third receiver in fantasy formats this week.
Fantasy Up: In their past three games, the Texans have allowed fantasy point totals of 18 (LenDale White), 29 (Maurice Jones-Drew) and 20 (Ronnie Brown). Hello, LT! ... The Chargers have shored up a poor pass defense quite well over the past three games, allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to both opposing quarterbacks and receivers. In part, it's just better tackling, but to my eyes, the defense has been a bit less reckless with its blitz. Play gaps, don't be a hero and that very solid San Diego fantasy defense is back.
Fantasy Down: Without a game-winning, 57-yard kick by Kris Brown, Houston would be riding a five-game losing streak. The Texans have fumbled a league-high 10 times (but lost only one of those) and thrown eight interceptions, and their 3.1 yards per rush attempt is the worst in football. Suffice it to say, the O-line problems aren't solved. Ahman Green will play, but he makes a lousy starter. ... It sounds like Matt Schaub will go, but check ESPN.com this weekend. Sage Rosenfels, of the Miracle-Fourth-Quarter Rosenfelses, will get the job if Schuab does not. ... In my book, Philip Rivers still is only a bye-week quarterback. Maybe adding Chambers helps, but seven touchdowns with seven interceptions (and three lost fumbles) doesn't cut it. Rivers can look great for three quarters, but he almost always makes at least one terrible, fantasy-killing decision. ... Corner Dunta Robinson was torched one-on-one by Roydell Williams for an inexplicable 48-yard gain late against Tennessee, which set up Rob Bironas's eighth, and winning, kick. Man-on-man, Robinson was supposed to be able to stop Williams.
You really have to work to rack up 422 total yards and score just 19 points. That's what Tampa did against Detroit. At halftime, the Buccaneers had a 256-75 yardage advantage, Jeff Garcia was 19-of-20 for 197 yards and a score and they were losing. It was an excruciating defeat in which Garcia and Earnest Graham both fumbled without being touched. In the process, the Lions illustrated you can run on Tampa. Wonder if Jacksonville will try.
Fantasy Up: Maurice Jones-Drew says his knee is fine, and Monday against Indianapolis was his third straight game in which I've loved what I've seen. Jones-Drew is violent again, which probably has a lot to do with an offensive line that's gotten better at opening holes since Week 1. Tampa will stack it against the run, but I'd still play MJD. ... How about Fred Taylor? Formerly Fragile Freddy complained to reporters about his diminished role Monday, which (if Taylor's past is any indication) should be enough to get him included Sunday. He's a borderline No. 2 running back. ... Use both defenses. Tampa's revamped secondary has shown great signs of life, and Paul Spicer has helped the Jags realize a pass rush of their very own. ... Ike Hilliard has 28 receptions in four games, making him a must-start in all point-per-reception leagues. That's twice the production of Joey Galloway, although, of course, Galloway is a far greater big-play threat.
Fantasy Down: Quinn Gray is just happy Kelly Holcomb is around to take the last spot in this week's quarterback rankings. Sure, Gray has mobility, but he couldn't have looked worse Monday night if he'd forgotten to put on his uniform pants. No thanks. ... I nailed Earnest Graham's big day in Week 7, but I'm not so sanguine against the Jags. I do expect a grind-'em-out affair, but Jacksonville continues to be a top-10 team against fantasy rushers, even when you factor in Monday's shellacking versus the Colts. ... Alex Smith probably will be out again at tight end for the Bucs.
Todd Wade is back at right tackle for Washington and has done an average job, and Mike Pucillo was fine subbing for center Casey Rabach last Sunday. Nevertheless, the O-line has to be Washington's biggest concern in this game. New England rotates five players on the front three and might even get Richard Seymour back Sunday. There is no depth here for the Skins, and it showed against Arizona: just 73 yards rushing, and paranoid play-calling that never allowed Jason Campbell to take time to throw deep. Repeat that Sunday, and they will get their doors blown off.
Fantasy Up: I have relented and admit you should start both Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker, despite the fact that you never really know where Tom Brady will go in a given game. The production is just too huge. ... Laurence Maroney only touched the ball six times in Miami, but that was smart: Get his feet wet, then get him out when the result is no longer in question. I'm betting he'll get a lot more action this week. ... The Pats are 13th in fantasy points allowed to rushers in their past five games, a stat that is a bit misleading, considering how much garbage time there has been in those games. Still, don't be afraid of using Clinton Portis. Washington can't engage in a shootout, and it is one of just seven teams in the league to call more run plays than pass plays in '07. ... Tight ends have had a bit of success against the Pats, especially Kellen Winslow (eight points). Get Chris Cooley in there once more.
Fantasy Down: Do you want to be the one betting Washington's defense will be the first to hold New England to fewer than 34 points? Me neither. Bench 'em. ... Joe Gibbs has made noise this week about how his team was too conservative against Arizona, especially in the second half. I won't be surprised to see Campbell fling a few downfield, but I find it hard to believe he'll have tons of time. The big-play potential is there, but so are sacks and turnovers. I'd probably look elsewhere. ... Benjamin Watson and Sammy Morris will be out again.
The Niners' O-line is subtly unraveling as well; Mike Nolan benched tackle Jonas Jennings and guard Justin Smiley in the fourth quarter last Sunday, although both are supposed to start this Sunday. Frank Gore turned in a hugely gutty performance on a sprained ankle, carrying 14 times for 88 yards, and it sounds like he'll play in this one. But without better blocking, it's not going to go well against a Saints rush defense that is hitting its stride. New Orleans has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing backs over the past three weeks. It also hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in that span.
Fantasy Up: How much did you love the formation when Pierre Thomas scored his touchdown for the Saints last Sunday? Reggie Bush and Aaron Stecker both lined up wide, and Thomas took a handoff 24 yards for a score. Bush also showed some real toughness from in close. Here's hoping that Sean Payton keeps mixing it up. ... Drew Brees still isn't a fantasy starter quite yet, and he reverted to early-season tendencies too often on third down against Atlanta, although he did get better in the second half. He had open receivers deep several times but connected only once. Yes, it's getting better. But you're far more apt to get great work done against the Niners on the ground, so Brees probably is a bye-week fill-in Sunday. ... Marques Colston took a short pass to the house but still isn't hooking up deep with Brees. His back might still be bothering him. I've got him as a fantasy starter this week, but he's just 19th on my list.
Fantasy Down: It's been a long time since those two opening wins for San Francisco.Alex Smith returns under center, and presumably Trent Dilfer's play the past three weeks has silenced those who called for Smith's ouster. Still, unless the Niners' play-callers suppress a manic fear of going downfield, Smith won't be fantasy-relevant. ... Devery Henderson might have scored a long one against Atlanta, but it was his only target of the game. ... With Jason David returning, the Saints secondary gets all the more flammable. Still, if you have the stomach to start any 49ers receiver, you are a braver soul than I.
The sporting world's epicenter will be a square mile in Denver on Monday night: this football game, and (unless there's a sweep) Game 5 of the World Series. Could Nugget Fever be far behind?
Fantasy Up: Jay Cutler makes it onto my starting fantasy quarterback list for the first time in 2007. He was solid Sunday night, and "solid" is a word I haven't used much to describe Cutler. He also went 4-of-5 on Denver's winning drive. Despite a pair of much-heralded (although not always productive) corners, the Packers have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley also make viable No. 2 receiver starts. ... I was skeptical the Steelers would run hog-wild against the Broncos' sketchy rush defense, and I'm also skeptical about the Pack's commitment to the run. But I'd play DeShawn Wynn. It seems he's won that starting job outright; Brandon Jackson is expected to be a healthy inactive Monday. ... The Packers' defense scored 16 fantasy points against Washington before the bye, giving it four games of more than nine points this season. Denver's offense has made enough mistakes to allow double-digit fantasy points to defenses three times already this year. Start the Pack.
Fantasy Down: I'm not at all crazy about having to use Travis Henry this week. His ribs reportedly are very sore, and the Packers continue to be a rough team to run against. Considering you probably will need to make your lineup decision way before Monday, if I had other decent options, I'd use 'em. ... Koren Robinson is back from his suspension and probably will be active Monday night. He'll return kicks at first; it seems unlikely he'll get a lot of work with the first-team offense for a while. Keep him on your radar, but don't pick him up yet. ... Champ Bailey should return after missing the Pittsburgh game, and that obviously helps the Denver defense, but not enough. Sure, the Broncos' D-line looked a little better against Ben Roethlisberger, but it still only managed to hold him to 290 yards passing. We know what Green Bay will do: throw, throw, throw. I wouldn't start this defense.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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