Trendspotting: Beware Romo's schedule
As strange as it seems, the quarter pole of the NFL season is almost upon us. If you haven't taken a hard look at the players on your roster to see if you can still expect them to perform up to the expectation you had when you drafted them, now is as good a time as any.
For instance, take Tony Romo. He was drafted as the seventh-highest quarterback, going 42nd overall, and currently slots as the 15th-highest scorer at this position. Many would be tempted to roll with the punches and wait for his resurgence; you shouldn't be one of those people. Romo's year-to-end schedule is the hardest schedule in the league based on the passing defensive statistics compiled by his remaining opponents. In fact, nine of Romo's remaining 12 games are against teams that are rated in the top half of passing defense, with only two games against teams in the bottom eight. That being said, now is not the time to trade him, as those two games against teams in the bottom eight are his next two games. If you can't move him for value that's close to his preseason value, you have a few weeks to do so.
At what point does "The Other" Steve Smith become just "The" Steve Smith? During Week 4, he led NFL wide receivers with 16 targets and dominated the underwhelming Kansas City Chiefs' defense. Look for Smith to remain the No. 1 option in the New York Giants' passing game and for him to finish the season as a top-10 wide receiver.
Much was made in the preseason about how polished Cleveland Browns rookie wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi looked. Then, in the first three games of the season, he appeared to be an afterthought in the Browns' passing attack. With Braylon Edwards being dealt to the New York Jets on Wednesday, look for Massaquoi to be handed the No. 1 role for the Browns and for Mike Furrey to become the No. 2 option until Chansi Stuckey (whom the Jets sent to Cleveland for Edwards) gets fully acquainted with his new environment.
After Week 1, it looked as if Justin Gage might secure the role of top receiver on the Tennessee Titans. Now, Nate Washington is firmly grasping the responsibilities of that role. Washington was targeted 12 times this week, while Gage dropped to just five. Look for Washington to remain in this role that the Titans brought him in to fill; he has delivered so far.
Titans rookie Kenny Britt is another reason to be down on Gage. Not only did Britt get targeted 11 times this weekend, his 48 yards attained after the catch was second to only Brandon Marshall. And consider that most of Marshall's yards after catch came on a 51-yard touchdown in which the Dallas Cowboys looked like Keystone Cops.
Mike Sims-Walker has quickly risen to the role of No. 1 wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars. While that role was expected to be filled by Torry Holt, Holt was targeted only five times this past weekend compared to Sims-Walker's 11.
In two of his past three games, Johnny Knox has been the beneficiary of at least eight targets. While many would not see the potential in those targets, a closer look reveals that his game with nine targets was the second-most for the Chicago Bears this year and his game with eight tied for third.
While the Seattle Seahawks have two very good wide receivers in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson, keep an eye on Deion Branch's chemistry with Seneca Wallace in the upcoming weeks. Wallace and Branch have a history of working together, which could lead to something over the upcoming weeks. It's pure speculation at this point, but Branch did convert all six of his targets this week into catches, which is something that can be built upon.
For those of you in deeper leagues, if you are trying to figure out which wide receiver you want from the choice of Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman, the answer is now Sam Aiken. Aiken has been a special-teams ace for the New England Patriots and was the receiver not named Randy Moss or Wes Welker who was in on the greatest number of Patriots' offensive plays Sunday. Aiken is an all or nothing play, but in the deepest of leagues, that might be exactly what you need.
Big plays and up close
The dominant performance of this past week was turned in by Rashard Mendenhall. The Pittsburgh Steelers' super-sub not only converted two of his four carries inside the San Diego Chargers' 10 into touchdowns, but he also had an incredible five rushes of more than 10 yards. Mendenhall is a must-add in any league where he is available.
While the Cleveland Browns' backfield generally hasn't been a source of viable fantasy production over the past couple of years, Jerome Harrison is in a position to change that. Harrison broke off three runs of more than 10 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals, who rank in the top half of rushing defenses.
Rookie running back Bernard Scott may be in line for a few more carries next week after breaking three of his six runs for 10 yards or more. The starting gig still belongs firmly in the hands of Cedric Benson, but a couple of more weeks like this past one, and Scott may find himself on the verge of entering a time-share.
There's no question that Ronnie Brown is the half of the Miami Dolphins time-share that you want to own, but if you are stuck on the Ricky Williams ride, you should have no worries. Both running backs have shown the ability to break some big plays and have been productive inside the 10.
Sizing up the schedule
As previously mentioned, the Cowboys' passing opposition will be formidable the rest of the way. While the impact on Romo was obvious, also realize that this also knocks down the prospects of Roy E. Williams, Patrick Crayton and Austin Miles.
Ten of the Atlanta Falcons' remaining 13 games are against teams in the top 17 in passing defense, including six games against teams in the top 10. While many expected Matt Ryan to improve on his rookie campaign, it's probably best not to expect significant improvement.
By the end of the season, Pierre Thomas may very well be considered the second-best running back in the game. Not only has he dominated in the two games he has played this year, but the rushing defense performance of upcoming opponents of the New Orleans Saints is the easiest remaining in the league. Specifically, the Saints play only one game against a top-10 rushing defense and seven against bottom-10 teams.
Looking for a quarterback off the waiver wire? Try Derek Anderson, as the Cleveland Browns don't play any teams in the top-10 in passing defense over the rest of the season.
If Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson disappoint over the next few weeks, don't be shocked. Four of their next six games are against teams that currently rank in the top three in passing defense (they face the Denver Broncos twice in that span). Both are complete studs, but sometimes the matchup can be too tough to overcome.
Finally, while Larry Johnson appears to have lost it, if you can get him on the cheap, it might return some decent dividends. The Kansas City Chiefs will have only three games against top-12 run defenses from now until Week 17. They'll also have five games against teams in the bottom eight.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at myespn.go.com/KenD17.
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