Called Out: Can Broncos buck Ravens D?
Who doesn't love a good scare come Halloween time?
Seriously, what else could explain the need for five sequels to "Saw"? Horror apparently sells -- so says the motion picture industry -- but it's not like the NFL is devoid of its horror shows. For instance, you've got:
• Terrell Owens' zero-touchdown season. How much longer before this ticking time bomb goes off? Heck, he's not even in the top 25 in terms of targets.
• JaMarcus Russell. The guy has a 46.3 completion percentage, a 47.2 passer rating and four times as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns (2). And the guy is going to start again in Week 8. What's scarier than that?
• Well, maybe having Vince Young back as an NFL starter. Still, at least his scrambling ability makes him somewhat more attractive to fantasy owners, but boy, could the Tennessee Titans' season have been more frightening to date?
• Dan Snyder. Jim Zorn needs to be terrified of the guy right now.
So turn on all the lights, lock all the doors and shut the windows. Let's take a closer look at this week's rankings, provided kindly as usual by Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Eric Karabell and Erik Kuselias, and see if we can't assuage your fears about this week's biggest disparities. And whatever you do, don't feed your fantasy analysts after midnight.
"Holt still hasn't scored a touchdown, and while I realize the Titans' defense has permitted many a player to achieve firsts, I don't assume this is the game in which Holt thrives," says Karabell. "I ranked Mike Sims-Walker in the top 10, and Maurice Jones-Drew second at running back. They should enjoy themselves. Holt had three receptions for 42 yards the last time the Jacksonville Jaguars and Titans met. The fact I even ranked Holt in the top 40 is my way of saying he's usable. Even with six teams on bye, I think it's a stretch to make him a flex choice. But hey, he might be a Hall of Famer."
9. Berry ranks Kyle Orton his No. 7 quarterback. No, the Baltimore Ravens' defense isn't quite what it was in seasons past, but this is still a road game for Orton and therefore not the easiest of tasks. I know Berry is fond of teams coming off byes, but Orton ranks 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy points, and his road opponent is a team coming off the bye! As such, top 10 seems generous to me.
"I'll quote our own projections here about Kyle Orton: 'The only week he has scored less than 13 fantasy points in a game was against the Raiders, when the Broncos ran for more than 200 yards on the ground. Orton isn't flashy, but he gets the job done, and he puts up the fantasy points,'" says Berry. "He has averaged 18 fantasy points a game the past three games and I agree with you about the bye weeks. And you'll note I ranked Moreno 19th, fairly low in a week with six teams on a bye. But the Ravens are 23rd versus the pass and give up the 12th-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. In fact, if you ignore the Cleveland game, which is such an outlier because of their offensive struggles, the Ravens give up an average of 18.4 fantasy points a game, which would be the third-most in the NFL. Orton is a top-10 quarterback and has been all year. People just don't realize it yet."
8. Karabell ranks the Buffalo Bills his No. 8 defense. Strangely enough, both Berry and Karabell are pro-Bills in Week 8, in spite of their matchup up against the Houston Texans, the game's No. 10 offense so far. Here's where I'm curious: The Bills might be without Bryan Scott, Donte Whitner and Kyle Williams, putting them at a significant disadvantage defensively. The Texans can score, so might not it be smarter to avoid them at all costs this week?
"Yes, the Texans can score. I realize that," says Karabell. "But the Bills really haven't been a bad defense this season. With 10 interceptions the past three weeks, this unit has 42 fantasy points in that span. Just a hunch pick in a week in which I didn't really see enough defenses to fill the top 10. I had to choose 10 though!"
7. Harris ranks Brandon Marshall his No. 1 wide receiver for Week 8. Not that anyone would ever sit Marshall, but a No. 1 overall ranking does make a bold statement, especially being that he's facing a Ravens defense that has allowed only the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers. Exactly what about Marshall do you like so much this week
"It's not just Marshall," says Harris. "The Ravens' secondary is a mess. Fabian Washington, supposedly their best corner, got benched in favor of Frank Walker in that loss to the Vikings a couple weeks ago. Domonique Foxworth has been picked on all year. And I envision the Denver Broncos' offensive line holding up well enough to the Ravens' blitzing front seven to give Kyle Orton enough time to get Marshall the ball early and often. Add to the mix that he's an elite red zone option, and this is a week where I like him better than the other top options. At some point, of course, you're counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin."
6. Harris ranks the Philadelphia Eagles his top fantasy defense. As a New York Giants fan, I know how terrifying road games in Philadelphia can be for that team. From that angle, not to mention Eli Manning's little mini-slump, it makes some sense. Still, I then look at your No. 6 ranking of the Giants' defense and think you either see a low-scoring, or messy, or both, kind of game.
"It's a brutal week for fantasy defenses," says Harris. "I like the Minnesota Vikings' D, but they scare me a little bit going into Green Bay. Even having the San Diego Chargers as high as No. 2 made me feel a little dirty, because they are not good, but the opponent is so one-dimensional that they should be able to focus on the run and play better than they did in that Monday night opener. The Chicago Bears just gave up 45 points, and we're going to endorse them as a must-start? Sorry, no-can-do. The Broncos and New Orleans Saints have been big fantasy point-earners, but they're going against the Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, whose offenses generally speaking haven't allowed big fantasy days to opposing defenses. So in the end, I go with the blitz-heavy team with playmakers in the secondary, a new and effective middle linebacker, and a suddenly mortal Eli Manning in a stadium where the Giants often don't play well. I don't necessarily think the game has to be low-scoring to produce decent fantasy defense days, and considering where you drafted these units, you should be playing them. They're each very, very talented -- though I worry about the Giants' secondary lately."
5. Berry ranks Julius Jones his No. 22 running back. That's a surefire flex-play ranking in most every format, and I know I don't have him close to that status. The guy has looked awful lately and the matchup, I think at least, stacks up better for the Seattle Seahawks' passing game than Jones himself.
"On the road, I expect the Seahawks to want to run the ball to control clock and take the Dallas Cowboys' crowd out if it," says Berry. "The Cowboys have given up 47 fantasy points to opposing running backs the past three weeks combined -- with two games of 19-plus points -- and Jones is the only guy in Seattle. There's no time-share. I'm guessing the Seahawks spent their bye working on improving the run game. The more Matt Hasselbeck has to pass, the more he takes hits and risks injury. They need him upright. And finally, it's a bit of a gut thing here as Jones is facing his former team in Dallas. We just saw Cedric Benson run all over his former Bears teammates and like for Cedric in Chicago, it did not end well for Jones in Dallas. Not to the extent of Benson, but still. I'm guessing Jones is super-motivated this week."
Only one problem with that: Jones already has visited Dallas, in Week 13 of last season, and he posted a miserable 37 yards on 11 carries. Benson was also running significantly better entering his game against the Bears.
4. Kuselias ranks LaDainian Tomlinson his No. 8 running back. From a historical perspective -- Tomlinson has 23 total touchdowns in 17 career games versus the Oakland Raiders -- the ranking makes sense. Still, Tomlinson is no longer the Tomlinson of old, the one who tallied most of those numbers versus a dreadful Raiders defense over the years. He's 30, he's averaging a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry and Darren Sproles really looks primed to start cutting further into his workload. I'm going out on a limb and saying that while everyone will start Tomlinson, as they should, this is more "trap play" than great matchup, à la Clinton Portis in that matchup at the Detroit Lions a few weeks back. If you can sell an unsuspecting owner on Tomlinson to dominate in Week 8 before the game's kickoff, I would absolutely do it if you're getting top-10 running back value.
"I'd like to look at LT's touches first and foremost: 7 rushes, 18 rushes, and last week 23," says Kuselias. "The team seems to be looking to get him more involved, he had eight carries inside the 5-yard line last week against the Kansas City Chiefs and while he didn't score, it wasn't for lack of effort. He had a score against the Raiders in Week 1, and he should get at least one on Sunday. Bottom line, LT destroys Oakland and I'm looking for a nostalgic performance this week. In his past five against the Raiders, he has 506 yards rushing and 9 total touchdowns. Not too many other guys in the top 10 have the history of success that LT brings into his Week 8 matchup."
3. Harris ranks Joseph Addai his No. 6 running back. That makes him a certain top play, and I guess that makes a degree of sense in that Donald Brown is out and, well, Mike Hart is Mike Hart. Still, while the San Francisco 49ers have allowed 49 fantasy points (how about that?) to the Falcons and Texans the past two weeks, I have to wonder, how is it that Addai really rivals a Michael Turner or Steve Slaton in terms of talent?
"I think you kind of just answered your own question, didn't you?" says Harris. "The big problem with Addai this year -- if there has been a problem at all -- has been that he has had Donald Brown attached to his hip. Now he doesn't. So you're asking me whether Addai, unfettered by a platoon, approaches Michael Turner and Steve Slaton in terms of talent? I really think he does, though of course, I ranked both Turner and Slaton ahead of Addai this week (they're third and fifth on my list, respectively). I also see the 49ers getting embarrassed by Turner and Slaton in their past two games, and envision Addai getting 20-plus touches, and I see a must-start."
2. Harris ranks Brett Favre 16th among quarterbacks. I can just hear the exasperation in John Madden's voice now: "Favre Favres to Lambeau to Favre his Favrer Favres. How Favre it you're Favredly Favre on Favre this Favre? FAVRE!!!"
"I'm assuming that this question is asking me why I don't have Favre as a fantasy starter in most leagues, whereas a couple of the other guys do," says Harris.
Correct, apparently your Madden-to-English dictionary hasn't failed you.
"Well, mostly I think it's just dangerous when you fall in love with Brett Favre," continues Harris. "My buddy Andrew, a virulent Packers fan, described Favre this week as the old guy at the bar hitting on a younger woman. It all sounds great at first: He's got a sweet lake house and a Porsche and he can talk a blue streak, but then the drinks keep coming, and you start to get the sense that maybe he's got a little bit of a temper, maybe he's nasty to the bartender, and by the end of the night he's out in the alley getting his ass kicked by some biker while the younger woman is long gone. In other words: Haven't we seen this Favre movie before?"
Yeah, and it's still giving me nightmares. But we're talking one-week matchups, and all the motivation in the world for Favre. I'd be stunned if he can't throw for 250-plus yards and at least two scores. He's a clear top 10 to me.
1. Kuselias ranks DeAngelo Williams his No. 17 running back. I think one of the biggest problems fantasy experts have is weighing a player's raw talent versus what the year-to-date statistics read on paper. For example, a No. 17 ranking of Williams, seventh at his position in terms of fantasy points per game (14.2), simply because his opponent ranks No. 1 in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed, seems like overthinking. Not that I love the matchup -- I'd slot Williams more like 10th -- but Brandon Jacobs, who had 43 points in his first six games this season, managed 14 versus these Cardinals in Week 7.
"The Cardinals rank first in the league in defending the run, and with Jake Delhomme throwing the ball you know the Cards are going to key in on DeAngelo Williams," says Kuselias. "I wouldn't put a touchdown past Williams, but he won't get a ton of yards. The Panthers will be playing from behind which will force them to throw the ball and Williams isn't that involved in the passing game, which minimizes his value. Ask Frank Gore (22 carries for 30 yards), Maurice Jones-Drew (13 for 66) or Steve Slaton (13 for 39) how easy it is to run on the Cardinals. Many have tried, many have failed, and I don't expect Williams to buck the trend."
That conveniently dismisses, I must point out, Gore's two touchdowns (one receiving) in Week 1 and Slaton's six catches for 59 yards in Week 5. Williams does have 18 receptions (3.0 per game), which actually does compare favorably to those of Gore (2.5) and Slaton (3.9).
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.