So I've got a suggestion, to spice up future versions of these "town hall" style presidential debates: Toss in a random fantasy football question here or there, just to throw the candidates a tad off guard. I can see it now:
OK, so it's not exactly realistic. One thing I could promise you: You certainly wouldn't see folks snoozing in their seats in the background! (Anyone else notice that on Tuesday?)
Maybe it doesn't work in that format, but here in "Called Out!" it does. Unlike those sleepyheads on Tuesday, you, the reader, are entirely captivated by our little weekly debate. Right? Right? (Seriously, don't make me come to your house to wave my pocket watch at you. "We're better than 'Cats.' You'll read us again and again.")
So, in presidential-debate style, let's introduce our rankings "candidates": Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Erik Kuselias and Eric Karabell! Welcome, my good men, and we thank you for your Week 6 ranks.
Sadly, now I'm going to rip them apart. Just as I will your plans for the economy.
Cockcroft: Before I begin with the individual questions, I'd like to point out that, scrolling through this week's rankings, I see a lot more varied opinion on certain players than normal. Some of our users tend to find that a little confusing and distressing, especially when paired with our projections, which oftentimes don't fall in line with your rankings. So, before we get started, I'd like to talk about a few of those players you disagreed on most to get a little additional insight into your thinking.
First: Peyton Manning. Erik, you ranked him third among quarterbacks, in spite of his matchup against the Ravens. Matthew, you had him 19th, presumably because of his matchup against the Ravens. What makes him so safe, Erik, and risky, Matthew?
Kuselias: Gee, I ranked over 200 players and the biggest beef you have is that I'm too high on Peyton Manning? Really? Can we just all agree that I have lapped the field in this "ranking game"? Do I really have to go through the exercise of pointing out that, after a bye week where the Colts needed to get their timing down because Manning missed the entire preseason, Manning completed over 70 percent of his passes for approximately 250 yards and two touchdowns?
And before we shake in our shoes over the Ravens, can we acknowledge that they have given up TD passes in each of their past three games and have faced some putrid, out-of-sync offenses including Cleveland (ouch), Cincy (winless) and Tennessee (kings of the 17-13 win). Nice work by the other fellas, betting against Peyton Manning.
Berry: Are you serious? Third? OK, well, that one boggles my mind. He's played well in the past against Baltimore, but he's not the Peyton of old and the Ravens' defense is back. I mean, he couldn't even put up big numbers against the Texans and he usually rolls them. In fact, had they not been down and had to play catch-up, his numbers would have been a lot worse.
OK, enough about how insane a No. 3 ranking is, let's discuss why I have him 19. First, he's currently the 16th-ranked fantasy quarterback according to points scored so far this season. So it's not that big a drop. He has five interceptions in his past three games. He has not thrown for more than two touchdowns all year. The Ravens are the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL, only three teams allow fewer fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and in their one road game this year, they held "Big Ben" to under 200 yards, only one score and got two turnovers. I guess you could say Baltimore has feasted on some low-hanging fruit -- Browns, Bengals and Titans are the other passing offenses they've faced. But still. I'd rather have Kyle Orton this week and most people I know agree with me.
Cockcroft: Next quarterback I'm curious about -- Philip Rivers. Christopher, Eric, you had him eighth, Matthew and Erik, 18th. Can I get each of your thoughts?
Berry: Looks like Chris Chambers won't play, the Patriots are actually eighth-best in the NFL against the pass and in his past two games, Rivers has more turnovers than touchdowns. He also has yet to crack 200 yards passing in those games. I'm just not excited about a guy coming off two straight bad games, missing his leading target and having a career of being inconsistent, especially at home.
Harris: Well, really, I look at what else is out there. The Patriots have a Smurf-like secondary, and Rivers still has the second-highest quarterback rating in the NFL. He's tied for second in touchdown passes, and is seventh in yards passing. I grant that he's slowed down a bit the past couple weeks, but the Pats aren't an elite defense right now. I'm pretty comfortable starting Rivers this week.
Cockcroft: Come to think of it, which Smurf was strong enough to keep throwing Brainy Smurf out of Smurf Village week after week? Bill Belichick might want to sign that guy. OK, that's way too many Smurf references by us.
Kuselias: I don't like the fact that Rivers has only two touchdown passes in his past two games and he's about to face Bill Belichick. Plus, he has bruised ribs, and a running back who wears No. 21 who is aching to get back on track running the football. If there was ever a stock to dump before the bottom dropped out, it's Philip Rivers, LLC.
Karabell: I assume the reason Rivers wasn't given more love by the group is because his weapons are either hurt or won't play at all. Losing Chris Chambers doesn't make me panic on Rivers, though. Rivers is the No. 4 player in fantasy through five weeks, so I think he's a top-10 quarterback at this point -- at least -- no matter the matchup. Unless it's Baltimore. And the Pats, they ain't Baltimore.
Cockcroft: Next name, and a receiver, Isaac Bruce. Matthew and Erik, you both had him ranked in the teens, as a clear No. 2 receiver. Christopher and Eric, you had him lower than No. 30, or a definite sit in fantasy. Interesting split there.
Berry: I've been on him for a while. Four touchdowns in the past three games. And over 150 yards in the game before that. In fact, starting in the second week of the season, he's tied for second in touchdowns and tied for 12th in receiving yards among wideouts. It's not a great matchup but I expect the 49ers to be down in this game. I'm just amazed others aren't as high on him.
Harris: A complete sucker ranking on their part. Bruce has 14 total catches and four touchdowns. In this week's "Big Rotowski," I mention Bruce and Chris Chambers -- pre-injury -- as the ultimate sell-high receivers right now.
Kuselias: In the past month, "Ike" had a 150-yard receiving game, followed by a TD game, followed by another TD game, followed by last week's two-TD game. He's been a consistent red zone target, a legit option in a pass-first offense, and a veteran who knows how to get open under a coordinator, Mike Martz, who trusts him like he's a family member. Plus, Dallas, Washington and even the Bears all had success throwing the ball against the Eagles, this week's opponent for the 49ers. What's not to like?
Karabell: Maybe I just don't like Ike. It all started when I voted for Eisenhower in the '60s, with his "I like Ike" campaign. Burned me forever. OK, so I'm not that old. Or close to it. I'm 24 years old! Or not. I think Bruce is fine. Baby we were born to run. Oh, Isaac Bruce? Will probably be a weekly No. 2/flex to me, and if there are a bunch of other wide receivers I like better, he'll slip. That's basically it. I might project 50 yards for the guy every week, and a score every so often. The Philly defense allows the occasional big play, but to assume this guy is a top-15 wide receiver, I think that's a bit of wishful thinking.
Cockcroft: Finally, Deuce McAllister, and I'll admit straight out that I'm not a fan. A bit of a health risk, and I truly believe Pierre Thomas could do what he does, and perhaps more, given the chance. Christopher, you seem to be in agreement on that, ranking him 37th. Erik, meanwhile, you ranked him 17th. Thoughts?
Harris: Six carries, 13 yards on Monday night. The Deuce-mania was dramatically overstated last week. I know Minnesota was a tougher matchup than Oakland, but I think McAllister is a flex right now. I wouldn't want to start him.
Karabell: I can see a scenario in which Deuce is top 20, but understand the lack of optimism as well. He's getting carries, enough to produce fantasy points, and I think the matchup is quite favorable. Why can't Deuce reach our projection of 17 fantasy points? He'll get the touches, and the goal-line looks, so it's possible.
Cockcroft: OK, an individual question this time, and I'll pose my first to Matthew. You're the only guy to have Brandon Jacobs ranked outside of your top 10, despite a favorable matchup at Cleveland. I'd have to assume that has to do with the committee situation the Giants have going on, but would you honestly play a Julius Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew or Michael Turner over him? I know I wouldn't.
Berry: Yes, clearly it's a concern about the trio in New York. Last week he had a great game, but in his three other games he's averaging nine fantasy points a game. I know for a fact that Jones and Turner will get all the carries and MJD will get the goal-line work against a terrible run defense. Cleveland is off the bye, at home in a prime-time game and the Browns be fired up. Jacobs had only 35 yards against the Bengals, which is also a great matchup. Currently, Cincy is 31st versus the run, Cleveland is 17th. I like Jacobs but I'm not crazy about him this week. Could he be a monster? No doubt. But so could Ahmad Bradshaw or Derrick Ward, and that uncertainty is enough to move him down below the guys you talk about.
Cockcroft: Question for you, Christopher. I find it awfully curious that no one else is as big on Thomas Jones for this week as you and I. You had him 10th. I raved about him in the Gridiron Challenge preview. To note: In each of his four years as a full-time starter, Jones has carried the ball a minimum of 24 times and for no fewer than 97 yards in each game coming out of the bye week, and three of those were 100-yarders. And the matchup is great. I know a lot of people are worrying about Jones' pretty sluggish start, his age, the Jets' passing tendencies. Do you agree they shouldn't, at least for this week?
Harris: The Bengals are certainly a top-10 defense you want your starting fantasy running back going against. Now I have to admit: The way the Jets used Leon Washington in their last game was worrisome, and I thought long and hard about forecasting a more even split between the two backs. But I did read about the bye information you presented, and I figured that Cincy would really be loaded up to stop Brett Favre and the passing game, the way it did last week against the Cowboys. Ranking Jones that high was absolutely an "out-on-a-limb" moment that I was aware of as I was doing it, because, well, it's good to take risks. But then again, my "risk-taking" last week entailed sticking my neck out for Maurice Jones-Drew, and he absolutely didn't deliver. So I definitely understand some skepticism here, and if Jones can't take advantage of this plum matchup, I'll be on the "comparisons-with-Shaun-Alexander" bandwagon soon.
Cockcroft: I assume you're of the mind Brian Westbrook won't play?
Harris: Same as the past two weeks, except this time he's got broken ribs. For now, I'm assuming not. Easy enough to switch him in if he is.
Cockcroft: Christopher, I tend to bust your chops a lot about tight ends, so why not stick to tradition? Last week you were pretty anti-Anthony Fasano when he went up against the Chargers, still allowing the most fantasy points to tight ends of any defense, but this week, by comparison, you're somewhat pro-Benjamin Watson, with him 13th. Watson seems entirely uninvolved in the New England offense, he's brittle and it just doesn't seem to fall in line with some of your tight end philosophy you shared in the past.
Harris: There's nothing I like more than tight end questions. Your assertion that Watson is uninvolved in the Patriots' offense is actually incorrect. Against San Francisco, he played on 77 of the Patriots' 81 offensive snaps. He got six targets, too. It translated to only two catches, but he's healthy now, and they're making an effort to get to him. I don't see Watson as a fantasy starter even during a bye week for guys like Tony Gonzalez and Heath Miller, but I think last week's game plan actually does portend more usage.
Cockcroft: Fair point, and I did see his snaps total, but I don't always find that one an especially relevant number for a tight end. Case in point, Week 17 last year, win No. 16 against the Giants: Watson played 66 of 68 snaps, was targeted six times and had four catches for 38 yards and no scores. Granted he caught two touchdown passes two weeks later in a playoff game, but for the three-game postseason he had three receptions total. Just makes me remain conservative with my expectations.
You're pro-Todd Heap too, apparently; you had him ninth! Two of our other rankers didn't even list him this week; the other had him 24th.
Harris: Name me a good fantasy tight end this year. OK, Jason Witten. Now name me another. There haven't been any. Heap had three catches on the season heading into the Titans game, and got four in that game. Until last week, the Ravens made kind of a big deal about keeping Heap in to block more, but last week they made a point of saying that they were freeing him up a bit more to participate in the passing game. Given that there's literally no one else to rely on, I'm placing the bet on a talent with whom I'm familiar. The rest of the crowd can make sweet love to John Carlson, at least for another week.
Cockcroft: I don't know what's more disturbing, that last statement or the fact that Carlson actually has as many targets as Heap this year -- 15. Oh, and three times Heap's number of fantasy points, 15 to five.
So New Orleans is a defensive sleeper for you this week? You had the Saints seventh.
Harris: Tracy Porter is out for the year, and that was announced after we did our rankings, but I still stand by the Saints as a good fill-in this week. Despite the fact that Sedrick Ellis is out for a few more weeks, they really shored up their run defense against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings last week -- Jonathan Vilma is back to being a beast in a 4-3 -- and while the pass defense is absolutely a weakness, I don't trust JaMarcus Russell to take advantage of it. No, the Raiders are a run-first team, and I like their O-line, but I don't like it that much more than the Vikings', and the Vikes just put up 44 yards rushing against New Orleans. The difference: Gus Frerotte is better (gulp) than Russell.
Cockcroft: Lane Kiffin says he loves you for making that Russell statement. He also asked if you're hiring?
Finally, a question for Eric, who plans to kiss the foul pole at Citizens Bank Park tonight for good luck: You're pretty anti-"Megatron," ranking Calvin Johnson 28th for the week. Did someone steal all your Transformers toys as a kid? Or you hated the movie, that's it, right?
Karabell: How can you not be anti-Lions at this point? I mean, Drew Stanton might be the quarterback now. Where's Eric Hipple when we need him! Hip-ple! The Vikings keep getting this rep as a sieve to opposing quarterbacks. Well, Drew Brees got his yards, but only one touchdown. The Vikings played fine on him. Will Drew Stanton be better? Calvin Johnson was supposed to be worth playing his past two games, against defenses Jon Kitna could exploit, and he ended up with five fantasy points, total. And no, I am not a fan of the Transformers movie, not at all. Like a car can really drive by itself. Like that "Lebuff" guy could get a Fox like that. Puh-lease. Talk about fantasy.
Cockcroft: I hear that in "Transformers 2," Shia wakes up and realizes it was all a dream. Seriously, it'll be better than "Cats." You'll see it again and again.
Come to think of it, please don't. I don't need to see that become a trilogy.
Good luck to you in Week 6!
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.