Commentary

Called Out: Need for (last-second) info

Updated: October 15, 2009, 7:35 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Rough times, Week 5 presented.

I can't remember a week in which following the up-to-the-minute news was of greater importance -- and I'm talking right up until each game's kickoff. Sure, you might have entered all your weekly waiver claims on Tuesday or Wednesday, but come Friday or Saturday, your plans might have required shifting.

Cases in point: Miles Austin and Jeremy Maclin were declared starters Friday. Eli Manning was declared the starter minutes before Sunday's kickoff, but with his foot not 100 percent, it was clear the New York Giants would focus on their ground attack (Ahmad Bradshaw!). Mike Sims-Walker unexpectedly was declared inactive -- one hour before his team's 4 p.m. ET kickoff!

That's one of the drawbacks to prognosticating on Thursday -- a necessary evil for us -- as opposed to Sunday. This game can change on a dime, and if you flip back to last week's "Called Out" (a Thursday column), you'll understand how.

Check this list of Week 5 blown calls of mine:

Seneca Wallace: He sat; Matt Hasselbeck returned.
San Francisco 49ers defense: It stunk. Hammered by the Atlanta Falcons.
Mike Sims-Walker: held out, violation of team rules.
Ronnie Brown: schooled Rex Ryan's boys with two touchdowns.
Fred Jackson: Yeah, this was a bad call. Heck, it's a bad team.

That's half of last week's "Called Out," and I won't bother with excuses/explanations. It was a bad week. Hope yours went better, and that you paid attention through the weekend, instead of simply through our Thursday post date. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to catch the Austin news and grab him on a couple of teams for his Week 5 outburst; hope you did, too.

Not that having been wrong in a few spots has me letting up on busting on our experts, Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Eric Karabell and Erik Kuselias, this week. Oh, they'll have their blown calls too, and now it's time to pinpoint exactly where they might be heading into Week 6:

Chad Ochocinco
Larry French/Getty Images Seems Chad Ochocinco's weekly ranking has been debated a lot lately by our experts.

10. Berry ranks Chad Ochocinco 16th among wide receivers. Considering what Larry Fitzgerald just did to the Houston Texans, I can't help but think Ochocinco is in for a huge game. It's a soft matchup for him and a home game; the Texans have hit the road for back-to-back tough contests.

"It's less a belief in Chad and more a belief in -- Lord help me -- Cedric Benson and the Cincinnati Bengals defense," Berry says. "With the Bengals' defense playing as well as it is and the fact that they're at home, I don't think this game is a huge shootout, which will result in more running and less passing for the Bengals. In fact, as I mentioned in my Love/Hate this week, no team in the NFL has allowed more touchdowns to opposing running backs than the Texans. Plus we've seen the emergence of Andre Caldwell and Chris Henry somewhat."

9. Karabell ranks Brandon Jacobs eighth among running backs despite Jacobs' current No. 26 ranking at his position in terms of fantasy points to date. Karabell has faith in the veteran, something that would surely please Jacobs, who probably is sick of all the knocks on him for his slow start. Still, it seems overly optimistic to me, and although I'm a Jacobs fan in general, I can't place him in my top 10 against the league's No. 7 rush defense.

"A week ago, I trusted Roddy White, ranking him fifth at wide receiver when there wasn't obvious reason to, and that worked out very well," Karabell says. "Some might say I'm too trustworthy of top players who aren't performing at a high level, but is Jacobs' start really that sluggish? He's not scoring touchdowns, but he is ninth in the NFL in rushing. He's third in attempts. He'll get going, and I don't sit my studs. I refuse to expect the Saints defense to shut down the Giants running game."

8. Berry ranks Mike Sims-Walker fifth among wide receivers; he's willing to go there after I got burned last week. I'm right back on the bandwagon myself, but a No. 5 ranking … that's awfully bold. It's must-start status!

"He missed the game not because of injury but because he's a knucklehead," Berry says. "And he and the Jacksonville Jaguars learned some lessons. The Jaguars learned they need him on the field, and I think Sims-Walker learned an important lesson that he's not above the law. I expect both to be on the same page against a terrible St. Louis Rams defense. Sims-Walker has had at least six receptions and 80 yards in the past three games he has played."

7. Karabell ranks Ryan Grant 15th versus the miserable Detroit Lions. C'mon, isn't everyone a must-start facing the Lions? Hard not to see Grant's being worthy of at least top-10 status against a defense that has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.

"Sure, he's playing the Lions, and good things should come," Karabell says. "But we also rank Aaron Rodgers as the top quarterback of the week. You mentioned the Lions' No. 8 ranking, but no team is easier to throw on. Rodgers will go off. Grant should have a good enough day to be a top-15 running back, but it's going to take more than a great matchup for me to make him a top-5 running back."

Well, that's true, I do like Rodgers a heck of a lot better. Still, I see points, points, points coming from all Packers in that contest.

6. Neither Harris nor Kuselias ranked Calvin Johnson, obviously concerned that his knee injury will keep him on the sideline. It's probably the right call, being that Johnson seems almost certain to be limited if not sidelined entirely, but as I pointed out in my "Instant Replay" column Sunday, Johnson did total 15 receptions for 231 yards and four touchdowns in two meetings with the Green Bay Packers in 2008, scoring two touchdowns in each. It's understandable, then, that his owners might be curious about Johnson's exclusion.

"I don't think he's playing, so I didn't rank him," Harris says. "I don't think it's all that useful for me to rank him as though he's starting. If he winds up starting, he belongs in the top 10, and in his fantasy teams' lineups, because presumably the Lions wouldn't take chances with him. I think it's more useful for me to show what I'd do if he doesn't play, which is to say: I'd only use Bryant Johnson in an utter emergency -- I ranked him 43rd among receivers -- as he appeared to have next-to-no chemistry with Daunte Culpepper last week."

"With Calvin, one week it's the thigh, the next week it's the knee," Kuselias says. "I think when you have so much invested in a player like Calvin Johnson, you're not going to risk a bigger injury. The Lions aren't going anywhere fast, so the safe bet is for the Lions to sit him and play it cautious. Plus, the Lions are off next week, so sitting him makes sense.

"He's great against the Packers, but he didn't practice on Wednesday, and coach Jim Schwartz seemed to hint that other guys may have to step up on Sunday. No one on Detroit really catapults up my list at the wide receiver spot. Brandon Pettigrew could get some more looks at the tight end spot, but with Matthew Stafford potentially returning from injury at quarterback, I don't expect a lot of chemistry between quarterback and wide receiver in the Motor City."

Philip Rivers
Kyle Terada/US PresswirePhilip Rivers has been great, but should he really be ranked No. 2 among quarterbacks this week?

5. Harris ranks Philip Rivers his No. 2 quarterback. Surely that's a sign of sheer confidence in Rivers' skills, being that the Denver Broncos are a perfect 5-0, have allowed an NFL-low 43 points (20 fewer than anyone else), rank fifth defending the pass and rank second in the league in sacks (16). I'm a Rivers fan too, but I have to think matchups for similarly talented passers, such as Rodgers, Matt Schaub and Tom Brady, are more attractive than his!

"Rivers is just bombing it downfield, and in a national TV home game against a division rival, I don't think that stops," Harris says. "Right now he belongs to a three-man tag team who need to be at the top of the ranks just about every week: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Rivers. The fantasy points per game among quarterbacks right now look like this: Manning (21), Aaron Rodgers (19.5), Ben Roethlisberger (18.2), Rivers (17.5). I don't mean this rank to disrespect the Broncos' defense -- though they were a couple Tom Brady blown throws from giving up quite a lot of fantasy points through the air last week -- but rather to say that I consider Rivers among the top tier of signal-callers, and thus relatively matchup-proof. Could he fail? Of course. But more weeks than not, I think he'll succeed in a big way."

I think you disrespect Rodgers more than anything, being that he's two fantasy points per game better than Rivers thus far and the Packers have yet to truly hit their groove passing. Rodgers is my cuh-leer No. 1 for the week.

4. Harris ranks Chris Johnson No. 5 among running backs. Have to admit I side with the others, who have him more in the teens. It's a road game at Foxborough, versus the New England Patriots' No. 11 run defense. Johnson has great talent, but he has it rough with no help from his teammates.

"Weren't we having this same conversation about Cedric Benson last week against the Ravens?" Harris says. "In fact, don't we have this conversation just about every week when I stand by great players? I admit that when the Titans get down by a lot, they give up on the run, and that's definitely what happened last week against the Colts. And I acknowledge that the majority of Johnson's high point total (he has the third most among fantasy backs) came in a single game. But the fact remains: He's one of the few players in the NFL uniquely qualified to give you such games. Against the Jets it was how dare I start a running back against the world's most dominant defense?! Then he went out and ran for a respectable 97 yards. Listen, I can't control whether Johnson gets touchdowns. But I think I have a pretty good idea how many touches he's getting -- 20-plus -- and what he's capable of on any given play. For me, that makes him a no-brainer every-week start."

Drew Brees
Derick Hingle/Icon SMIDrew Brees, No. 8 QB? Hey, the TMR does have his reasons.

3. Berry ranks Drew Brees, fantasy megastud, No. 8 among quarterbacks. It's a bad matchup on paper, yes, and I have my doubts about Brees' week. Still, Berry had David Garrard ranked higher at the position, a bold call indeed. Doubt I could be so bold, though I second his ranking Schaub higher than Brees.

"Let's start with why I like Garrard," Berry says. "When he has played at home, he has been terrific. In two games, he has more than 600 yards passing and five touchdowns. By all accounts, he will get Mike Sims-Walker back this week, and he's playing the St. Louis Rams, 25th in the league against the pass, 31st in terms of total points allowed.

"Now let's address Brees, whom obviously I like, as I have him in my top 10. But you can't blindly tell me that a guy who has gone two straight weeks without a touchdown doesn't have a question mark, especially considering he's going against the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. No team has allowed fewer passing yards per game than the New York Giants -- 104.8!

"I see that Christopher has Brees No. 1. I also saw that Christopher last week in this column took a shot at my Cedric Benson ranking, saying that I'm too matchup-dependent, and that players don't fluctuate that much. How can you have a guy who has thrown zero touchdown passes in two straight games going against the No. 1 pass defense as your unquestioned No. 1? That's a reputation ranking if I've ever heard it. Secondly, take a look at Brees and where he's finished in fantasy points among quarterbacks in the four weeks he has played: first, second, 28th, 23rd. So here's Drew Brees, Mr. No-Brainer, Mr. No. 1 or 2 Quarterback Overall, Mr. Superstar Fantasy Player, and he is all over the board. So how can you look at those numbers for Brees -- or any other player -- and tell me matchups don't matter? I love Christopher, but he's drinking a glass of crazy juice on this one."

2. Harris ranks Matt Hasselbeck 14th among quarterbacks. The Arizona Cardinals have served up 45 passing touchdowns in their past 20 regular-season games, Hasselbeck just returned to the lineup with a monstrous four TDs, and he's not limited in practice this week. I'm huge on Hasselbeck this week accounting for that matchup; how does he not warrant top-10 status?

"First of all, Tristan, hopefully you and all the 'Called Out' readers took in the 'Big Rotowski' this week," Harris says, "in which I talked about how little of a difference there is in the second tier of quarterbacks, to which Hasselbeck belongs. Second of all, I hardly think the Seahawks will toss a stinker. However, I also think a couple of the other rankers tend to get carried away week to week. That the Seahawks were able to protect Hasselbeck against the league's worst pass rush (the Jags) was predictable. The Cardinals will be a greater challenge for an offensive line that'll be starting second-year undrafted free agent Kyle Williams at left tackle to protect Hasselbeck's blind side. No Walter Jones. No Sean Locklear. No Brandon Frye. Heck, they just signed Dolphins and Chiefs bust Damion McIntosh. There'll be no languid pauses while receivers try to get open this week."

Ah, the shameless plug, and of course I always take in the "Rotowski." Where else can you find today-forward fantasy rankings? Fair points on the Seahawks' offensive line, but I still see this being a throw-happy day for the team.

1. Kuselias ranks LaDainian Tomlinson a group-low 25th among running backs. Most people who have read my columns this season know how low I am on Tomlinson, but I stand firm in thinking that if there's any good matchup for him this season, one versus the Broncos is it. In his past nine games versus the Broncos, LT2 has 17 total touchdowns and four 100-yard rushing efforts. Surely Tomlinson warrants No. 2, not simply flex, status?

"These aren't last year's Broncos. In fact, they're a very different team," Kuselias says. "Tomlinson has had great success against the Broncos in the past, but Josh McDaniels' bunch are ranked sixth in the NFL against the run. LT had 55 yards and a score against the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, and to me that doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers he had just seven carries for 15 yards -- not exactly eye-popping fantasy numbers. I'm more of a 'What have you done for me lately?' kind of guy, and right now LT has done nothing."

To be fair, though, Tomlinson did have that ankle injury sagging his numbers in the Steelers game. With the bye week's rest and the motivation of a critical division affair on "Monday Night Football," I can make the case for him as a top-15 back. (At least for this week; I remain down on him for the long haul.)

Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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