(To be crystal clear, this is not an 'N Sync tribute.)
We bid adieu to bye weeks in this, Week 10 of the fantasy football season, as the final four teams in the league -- the Bengals, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Redskins -- get their much-needed vacations before entering the stretch run. (Not that the stretch run really matters much to the Bengals; they barely squeaked out their first victory in Week 9.)
One of our experts, too, gets his much-needed vacation, as Erik Kuselias must be out on some sunny beach somewhere, dreaming of an astonishingly strong finish by his main man, Mr. LenDale White. Erik, we envy you.
But fantasy football must proceed! Fortunately, even one man down, Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris and Eric Karabell were happy to join me for a little chat about their Week 10 rankings. Ah, I love these sessions, in which all three men stop by to chat about their rankings and the upcoming week simultaneously.
Cockcroft: With the three of you here, I'd like to address the group right off the bat. I've noticed a trend this week of picking an unexpected quarterback for your top 10 ... thereby making them clear starts in a standard league. Matthew, we'll start by asking you about yours: Joe Flacco, at No. 10?
Berry: He has averaged 19 fantasy points in his past two games and now gets the Texans. Houston is tied for the seventh-most fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. He's thrown for at least 200 yards and a touchdown in his past two road games. I've watched him play and he looks good. Derrick Mason is having a great year and even though we won't know who is getting the rock for the Ravens, we do know they will run the ball well.
Cockcroft: That they do. Baltimore ranks fourth in rushing yards per game (148.8) and second in rushing scores (11), though I think you just supported Ray Rice's cause more than Flacco's. It's a bold ranking, though, I'll give you that.
Christopher, you had Trent Edwards at No. 8, despite a road assignment at New England. I'd think he'd be terrified of a trip to Foxborough.
Harris: If an opposing quarterback is terrified of Foxborough, he needs to get his head checked. The Pats do a terrific job against the run, but they're still awful against the pass. The past five weeks they've allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. I grant you, Edwards is risky because he just hasn't looked that good for two straight weeks, but he's good at both taking what the defense gives him -- a la Pennington -- and, for example, hitting Lee Evans deep when the Patriots make the mistake of matching Deltha O'Neal on him man-to-man. I think Edwards will bounce back -- but I thought that last week, too -- and the Bills will be able to move it via the air. By the way, New England also has only 14 sacks in eight games, which is a five-way tie for 21st in the league.
Cockcroft: Just to throw the numbers out there, in four home games the Patriots have held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 230.8 yards and allowed only three touchdowns, four interceptions and 37 fantasy points, with Marc Bulger the only one to go for double-digits -- he had 14 in Week 8. I guess I'm just hesitant when I see those figures.
Eric, for you it was Tyler Thigpen, at No. 9. Wait a second, Tyler Thigpen?!
Karabell: When I look at Thigpen I see 21 points in consecutive weeks and a tasty matchup with the San Diego Chargers, a team with a brutal pass defense that allows the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. But it goes deeper than that: Why oh why does everyone assume that the road not traveled is a bad one? What if Tyler Thigpen really can play? We assume he can't because he couldn't beat out Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard, but I'm not exactly trusting Herm Edwards when it comes to player evaluation. Maybe Thigpen stinks, maybe not. This week, with this matchup, and with nobody having more quarterback points in fantasy the past fortnight, he makes my top 10!
Cockcroft: Actually, no one at any position has more points in fantasy the past two weeks than Thigpen! Though Kurt Warner is tied with him. Amazing how this crazy game works sometimes. By the way, Flacco is four points behind them.
OK, now let's look at the flip side. While each of you boldly ranked an under-the-radar quarterback in your top 10, each of you also ranked a typically sound quarterback beneath that cut-off ... effectively declaring them a sit candidate. Matthew, again, we start with you, as you had the No. 1 year-to-date quarterback, Philip Rivers, at No. 12. You're really suggesting owners in ESPN standard leagues should sit him?
Berry: Yeah, I am. He's the top quarterback based mostly on an amazing first couple of games. In the past five games, he's had three games -- or more than half -- in which he has scored exactly 10 fantasy points. Ten. Against such "easy" opponents as the Raiders, Dolphins and Bills. Now, I'll grant you, he's played a lot better at home than he has on the road this year and coming off a bye and getting Chris Chambers back helps. But considering the finally healthy LaDainian Tomlinson and how bad the Chiefs' run defense is, I expect a ton of handing off in this game. The Chiefs currently give up 11.4 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. All of that makes me rank him 12th.
Cockcroft: Did you know Rivers has 14 touchdowns compared to one interception in his past six home games? Just saying, though I'd agree with the point that Tomlinson will be the focal point of San Diego's offense for that game.
Christopher, he's no Rivers, I admit, but Chad Pennington gets a second consecutive cakewalk matchup, hosting the Seahawks. Now, he did disappoint last week in Denver, but still, shouldn't the matchup earn him higher than a No. 12 ranking?
Harris: Rewind the tape. He's Chad Pennington. Dink-and-dunk does not fantasy greatness make. My logic from last week holds. This week I felt a little dirty making him a fantasy starter in a 12-team league, to be honest, but you're right, it's a good matchup.
Cockcroft: That it is. Marcus Trufant might be about the only thing the Seahawks have going right for them in the secondary this season.
Eric, your sit-'em quarterback pick is Jake Delhomme, in spite of a matchup against an Oakland defense that has been vastly overrated against the pass. I'll heap all the credit in the world upon Nnamdi Asomugha, but does the rest of that defense really scare you?
Karabell: Delhomme is the No. 17 quarterback for fantasy, so it's not like it should be expected that he's worthy of being started. The Raiders are a mess, but mostly against the run; it's why DeAngelo Williams ranks No. 2 in our running back projections this week. In Week 9, Matt Ryan did fine, but Michael Turner was the one who went off. I don't think Delhomme will need to have a 20-point fantasy game, and there were others I just liked better this week, including the rookie Ryan.
Cockcroft: I love Ryan's matchup this week as well. Did you know that Chris Redman went off for nearly 300 yards with two scores the last time the Saints and Falcons met? And I'm sure you'd agree with me that Ryan is, uh, a tad more talented than Redman.
Speaking of hotshot rookies, Matthew, I see you're awfully optimistic about Tim Hightower's chances in his second career start, ranking him fifth. He's a must-start in my book, sure, but you really see only four running backs being stronger starts?
Berry: Are you serious? Why not? Prior to last week, he had six touchdowns in seven games. Only LenDale White and Ronnie Brown have more rushing touchdowns than Hightower does and Brown's total is inflated by one big game. Now you add in the fact he's the starter and getting the ball 20 times a game? Against the 49ers, who give up 23.5 fantasy points a game to opposing running backs, fifth-most in the NFL? He's the starting running back on the highest-scoring team in the league against a terrible run defense and, uh, where were we? You're asking why I liked him so much? Really?
Cockcroft: Yes I am, though to be fair, I'd call him top-12 worthy. I think it just surprises me that you prefer him to his counterpart, Frank Gore, whom you ranked eighth. Gore has scored a touchdown in each of his past five games against Arizona, and in three of those, he managed at least 150 yards from scrimmage.
Now, allow me a moment to profess my love of the Dolphins' defense this week, or, perhaps more accurately, my dislike of the Seahawks' offense, as well as the long plane ride they'll need to take, the time-zone difference and, perhaps most importantly, the terrible South Florida pizza they'll have to deal with this weekend. Apparently, Matthew, you're not with me on that one, because you had them ranked below the "start-'em" threshold?
Berry: Well, I have them 12th right now, so it's not like I hate them. In four home games this year, they've averaged seven fantasy points a game, so it's a case of them playing better real-life defense than fantasy defense. I admit, they've definitely played better recently, putting up double-digit games in their past two and maybe I'll move them up a notch or two in my Friday rankings. And Seneca Wallace did have over 200 yards and two scores in his last road game. So, yeah, that's why.
Cockcroft: How about that. Successful Seneca Wallace. Will wonders never cease!
Christopher, Thomas Jones rolls off four straight solid outings, draws the Rams as an opponent in a home game and he manages but a No. 22 ranking by you?
Harris: Ha. You're hilarious. A month ago, you were killing me for ranking Jones so high. Now you're coming back the other way. Make up your mind, young squire!
Cockcroft: I have. Actually, a month ago, I was on your Jones bandwagon, saying "I find it awfully curious that no one else is as big on Thomas Jones for this week as you and I" -- and that was back in Week 6, fresh off his bye! I will say this: I'm edging ever closer to the "jump-off" point on the Jones bandwagon. It's nearing. But with the Rams next on his schedule, I can't. At least not just yet.
Harris: OK, well, maybe back then it felt like you were needling me about my generous Jones rank, because it sure seemed like everyone else was. But I did write a couple of weeks ago that once Jones' easy schedule ended, he'd come back to earth. He's got 54 and 69 yards the past two weeks, plus he only got 12 carries to Leon Washington's seven against the Bills last week. The Rams have toughened up a bit against the run under Jim Haslett -- they're much more vulnerable via the air -- so while I can't account for a random touchdown like last week's for Jones, I don't think he's going to be a featured player worthy of a top-10 rank.
Cockcroft: Well, I'd sure be quick to pawn Jones off first thing Monday morning, before people start thinking about that upcoming trip to New England, that's for sure.
Cockcroft: Eric, you're the one of our three this week who prefers Torry Holt to Donnie Avery, and not only that, you're calling Holt effectively a must-start by having him No. 17. Why Holt ahead of Avery, exactly?
Karabell: Everyone loves to jump on board the hot rookies and forget about the veterans. People still over-rank DeSean Jackson, even though Kevin Curtis is clearly -- I think -- the top fantasy wide receiver in the same town as the team that just won the World Series. (Yeah, baby!) With the Rams, Avery has one game all year with more than 12 fantasy points. So does Holt, and he comes off the better game. I'd agree Avery is legit, so this isn't meant to rip him, but I don't think the torch has officially been passed. Holt is not the wide receiver version of Edgerrin James. He's constantly double teamed, and now that Avery has broken out, I think that trend ends and Avery draws just as much attention. And what's so special about the Jets' defense? Only nine pass defenses have been friendlier to fantasy quarterbacks.
Cockcroft: Admit it, you still have parade hangover, don't you?
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.