Archive for October, 2006

NBA Preview

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

I included the playoff seeding next to each postseason bound team, but remember the NBA switched to a new playoff format; the first four seeds in each conference will continue to be given to the three division winners and the team with the next best regular season record. However, the four teams will now be seeded in order of their regular season records once the playoff’s start, so San Antonio won’t inevitably meet up with Dallas in Round 2.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Southwest Division

1. San Antonio Spurs (1)
2. Dallas Mavericks (4)
3. Houston Rockets (6)
4. New Orleans Hornets
5. Memphis Grizzlies

Northwest Division

1. Utah Jazz (3)
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
4. Seattle Supersonics
5. Portland Trail Blazers

Pacific Division

1. Phoenix Suns (2)
2. L.A. Clippers (5)
3. Sacramento Kings (7)
4. L.A. Lakers (8)
5. Golden State Warriors

EASTERN CONFRENCE

Atlantic Division

1. New Jersey Nets (3)
2. Philadelphia 76ers
3. New York Knicks
4. Boston Celtics
5. Toronto Raptors

Central Division

1. Detroit Pistons (1)
2. Chicago Bulls (4)
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (5)
4. Indiana Pacers (6)
5. Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

1. Miami Heat (2)
2. Orlando Magic (7)
3. Washington Wizards (8)
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Atlanta Hawks

MVP = LeBron James
ROY = Brandon Roy

Western Conference Finals
SPURS over MAVERICKS

Eastern Conference Finals
HEAT over PISTONS

NBA Finals
SPURS over HEAT

Bets of the Week

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

After a great start, I’ve struggled a bit picking winners the last couple of weeks. This week I hope to rebound by teasing Seattle (-8 at home against the Raiders) and Jacksonville (-9.5 at home against the Titans) 7 points. In moneyline bets I like the Colts (+137 at New England), and I especially like Cincinnati (+159 at Baltimore), as I view both of those games as tossups. While the Pats’ impressive performance last night has shifted the spread on next week’s game significantly, don’t forget the whole Monday night short week issue.

The USC Trojans, after a promising start to the season, have yet to cover in the conference and has looked lackluster to say the least over its last five games, topped off by a disappointing loss against Oregon State. However, after the OSU loss, I fully expect the Trojans to be pissed off and looking to make a statement, and they’ll have to look no further than the Stanford Cardinal. I’ve seen enough of Stanford this year to know that this season’s squad could go down as one of the worst teams in Pac-10 history, and almost certainly will become the first Pac-10 team to go winless since Oregon State in 1980. Not only are they 0-8 overall, but they are 1-7 against the spread (0-5 in the conference) and, only a couple of weeks ago, lost their starting quarterback, Trent Edwards, for the season. So ya, take the Trojans (-29) at Stanford this week.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday, October 30th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Like all rookie QBs, Matt Leinart was bound to struggle at some point. Still, I expected bigger numbers against matchups such as Green Bay. He’s a QB2 at best. After a performance that saw him get 4.5 YPA Sunday, that Chicago game feels like it was months ago.

I’m a huge Maurice Jones-Drew fan. The draft pundits missed the boat on this kid, letting him fall way too far. He simply never goes down on first contact. Once Fred Taylor gets injured, Jones-Drew is going to have top-10 RB value.

Speaking of Jacksonville, the team is the biggest enigma in the league right now. Even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde blushes when watching the Jaguars play. I’m not sure if they’d rather face Houston or Chicago at this point, but I am sure I’ll never bet on or against this rollercoaster of a team.

Don’t jump, Tatum Bell owners. The Colts may go undefeated while having the worst run defense in the NFL.

The most underrated fantasy quarterback so far has to be Drew Brees. Don’t jump, Nick Saban.

Unless you’re in a PPR league, Reggie Bush really isn’t that great of an option.

Tony Romo makes Dallas an interesting and potentially dangerous team moving forward.

With the schedule setting up nicely, Alex Smith and Antonio Bryant could be fantasy factors down the stretch.

There’s something clearly not right with Ben Roethlisberger’s melon.

Tell me the Raiders didn’t just beat the defending Super Bowl champions while completing five passes on the day. Five!

The New York Giants are legitimate NFC contenders.

If Michael Vick continues to look downfield while scrambling, he might just turn into a great NFL quarterback after all. Seriously.

Are we entirely sure that Art Shell is even alive?

If Donovan McNabb’s owner in your league has a short-term memory, go make an offer right now.

Sorry Bucs fans, Bruce Gradkowski is not the answer. At least this year anyway.

What happened to Travis Henry this weekend?

It’s past time to start giving Damon Huard some credit. He’s not just winning games, but a completion percentage of 65, along with 7.8 YPA and an 8/1 TD/INT ratio are legit numbers.

It’s hard to fathom Tiki Barber having scored zero touchdowns on the year.

Will someone get Randy Moss some stick’um, please.

Has anyone filed a missing person’s report on LaMont Jordan’s behalf?

Lost in Ahman Green’s resurgence was Vernand Morency’s impressive day. With Green being one of the more likely backs to break down over the second half of the season, Morency should be owned in every league at this point.

If you’re a Larry Johnson or LaDainian Tomlinson owner, congratulations – you’ve won the fantasy football lottery, akin to owning Google stock.

Hope you didn’t miss Joseph Addai’s coming out party Sunday. If you know an owner who did, go get him. For all Addai owners out there, you’re sitting on a gold mine – trust me.

Game Capsules

Friday, October 27th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: The following is written for RotoWire’s weekly “game capsules;” I cover the NFC home games.

Arizona (+3.5) at Green Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: While the Packers are winless at home, the Cardinals are still looking for their first road victory, so something’s got to give Sunday. Green Bay has won a couple of road games, however, including a victory at Miami last week. The Packers’ offense has been able to score, but it’s the defense that’s been the major problem, ranking dead last in the NFL in yards allowed (389 per game). Brett Favre’s 6.2 YPA is a career-low, but he’s throwing the ball so often the yards accumulated are still there. He’ll be throwing to a banged up receiving corps Sunday, as Greg Jennings (ankle, doubtful) looks unlikely to play. Expect Donald Driver to get targeted a ton…Matt Leinart exemplified life as an NFL rookie quarterback by following a terrific performance against the Bears with a terrible effort against the previously winless Raiders. Continued inconsistency can be expected, but Leinart has a terrific matchup this week, facing an awful Green Bay secondary. He’s in store for a big day, as is Anquan Boldin. With Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring, doubtful) unlikely to suit up, Bryant Johnson should have a productive outing as well. Edgerrin James can complain all he wants about getting the ball more, but the fact remains he leads the entire league in touches. Since Green Bay is allowing just 3.7 YPC on the year, don’t expect a turnaround from James this week…Ahman Green (knee, probable) is expected to play for the Packers, while the Cardinals list Kendrick Clancy (ankle, doubtful), Karlos Dansby (hip, doubtful), Antrel Rolle (hip, probable) and Adrian Wilson (groin, probable) on the injury report.

Predictions: Brett Favre continues to sling it with great frequency, resulting in two interceptions but also two touchdowns as well. Donald Driver goes off for 110 yards and catches both of the scores. Ahman Green gets 95 yards and also reaches paydirt. Matt Leinart counters with a big effort himself, throwing for 260 yards and three scores. Anquan Boldin hauls in 10 catches for 120 yards and two TDs, while Bryant Johnson adds another 90 and a score. Edgerrin James remains an afterthought, but Arizona gets the upset. Cardinals 27-24.

Baltimore (+2) at New Orleans, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: After starting the season 4-0, Baltimore has dropped two straight games and its offensive coordinator. Steve McNair (concussion, questionable) looks likely to play, but it’s unclear if that’s a good thing for the Ravens’ anemic passing game. McNair’s 5.4 YPA and 5/7 TD/INT ratio won’t get it done. It also remains to be seen if coach Brian Billick now calling the plays will have a positive effect, as he hasn’t been able to produce a competent passing attack during his entire tenure in Baltimore. The Saints can be ran on, but Jamal Lewis looks just about done…Baltimore’s defense, on the other hand, has been one of the better units in the league. Still, Carolina exposed its secondary a couple of weeks ago, revealing the group’s weakness. Look for Drew Brees and company to attack the Ravens through the air, something that will result in moderate success. The Saints are going to be tough to beat at home this year, and the Ravens struggle on the road, amassing a 2-12 record in its last 14 games away from home…Neither team is dealing with any major injury issues.

Predictions: Steve McNair has a shaky outing, resulting in a couple of turnovers, 160 passing yards and a TD strike to Todd Heap. Jamal Lewis begins to lose more touches to Mike Anderson and Musa Smith, hindering his ability to gain more than 60 yards on the day. Drew Brees answers with 220 yards and a TD toss to Marques Colston, while Deuce McAllister (hamstring, probable) gains 70 yards on the ground with a late touchdown run to seal it for New Orleans. Saints 20-16.

Jacksonville (+6.5) at Philadelphia, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Although Philadelphia comes in with a two-game losing streak, Jacksonville enters even more disappointed, having fallen to the hapless Texans by 20 points in Week 7. Both teams should be ready to play, determined to get back on track. Whether it be due to injury or inefficiency, David Garrard appears likely to replace Byron Leftwich (ankle, questionable) as Jacksonville’s signal caller this week. Garrard is much more elusive than Leftwich, something that could come into play Sunday against a fierce Philadelphia pass rush. Garrard amassed an 83.9 QB rating when filling in for Leftwich last year but hasn’t seen any game action since. Fred Taylor is having a solid season, but it would be fun to see what Maurice Jones-Drew could do if given a full load…While two of Donovan McNabb’s interceptions last week were returned for touchdowns, he was able to create big plays with his feet, got 8.6 YPA and threw three touchdowns, so it’s hard to find too much fault with McNabb’s game right now. Jacksonville hasn’t been easy to pass on, but McNabb is making plays this year no matter the opponent, and it looks like the loss of Mike Peterson (pectoral) is going to have a major impact on the Jaguars’ defense. Reggie Brown (quad, probable) is turning into quite the deep threat, evidenced by his five touchdowns already. Donte Stallworth (hamstring, probable) appears ready to return to action, making the offense that much more dynamic…Jacksonville lists Marcus Stroud (ankle, doubtful), Matt Jones (hamstring, questionable), Donovin Darius (knee, probable) and Marcellus Wiley (groin, probable) on the injury report, while Philadelphia does the same with Roderick Hood (heel, questionable), L.J. Smith (back, questionable), Darren Howard (groin, probable) and Lito Sheppard (hand, probable)… Jacksonville has beaten Philadelphia both times the teams have met but is just 1-4 in its last five games on the road.

Predictions: David Garrard throws for 220 yards and a TD to Reggie Williams. He also rushes for another 30 yards and a score. Fred Taylor gets nothing more than 70 rushing yards. Brian Westbrook (knee, probable), however, gets 120 combined yards and runs one into the end zone. Donovan McNabb throws for 260 yards and two TDs, with Reggie Brown and Donte Stallworth being the recipients, as Philadelphia ends its losing streak. Eagles 24-20.

San Francisco (+16.5) at Chicago, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: The 49ers are no longer doormats, but Chicago has outscored its opponents 111-20 during three games at home. Coming off a bye and a near disaster against the Cardinals, expect the Bears to again be tough to beat. Still, San Francisco played Chicago tough when the two teams met in Soldier Field last season, so a blowout here isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. San Francisco will need continued improvement from Alex Smith, as the Bears are yielding just 168 yards a game through the air. It remains to be seen just how much of an effect the loss of Mike Brown (foot) will have on the secondary. Frank Gore figures to be heavily involved in the offense, since the 49ers used its bye week to get the offensive line healthy, with both Larry Allen (knee) and Jonas Jennings (hand) probable to play…Rex Grossman was having a fantastic year until Week 6 saw him toss 4 interceptions while completing just 37 percent of his passes. A San Francisco secondary surrendering more than 240 passing yards a game should certainly help cure Grossman’s ills. Look for at least one long hookup with Bernard Berrian. Thomas Jones will still get the brunt of the carries, but offensive coordinator Ron Turner has stated that Cedric Benson will see increased action as well…Chicago labels Chris Harris (quad), and Adewale Ogunleye (hamstring) as questionable.

Predictions: The Bears harass Alex Smith all day, resulting in a couple of turnovers and only 160 yards passing. He does, however, find Antonio Bryant for a score. Frank Gore musters 80 yards, but the end zone eludes him. Rex Grossman bounces back with a nice performance, netting 260 passing yards and TD strikes to Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian. Thomas Jones loses some carries to Cedric Benson, but gets enough to total 100 yards and a score, helping maintain Chicago’s perfect record. Bears 24-10.

Tampa Bay (+9) at New York Giants, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Both squads come in due for a letdown, as the Buccaneers won last week because of a 62-yard miracle field goal, and the Giants enter following a Monday night victory over division rival Dallas. Since Bruce Gradkowski’s impressive first start, he’s gotten just 4.1 YPA over two games. With Tampa’s shaky offensive line having to deal with a newfound fierce Giants’ pass rush, Gradkowski will have his work cut out for him Sunday. However, Osi Umenyiora (hip flexor, questionable) looks unlikely to play, and New York’s secondary can be beat…The Giants have had arguably the toughest schedule in football so far, and yet sit at an impressive 4-2 on the year after a three-game winning streak. A streak thanks in large part to its defensive line finally pressuring the passer, along with the continued maturation of Eli Manning, who is getting an impressive 7.5 YPA. Although his accuracy has waned a bit over the past couple of weeks, he’s still improved his completion percentage from last year by more than 10 percent. It’s the Bucs’ rushing defense, however, in which the Giants should attack, as Tampa Bay is surrendering 152 yards per game on the ground. While all the buzz surrounding Tiki Barber has been retirement talk, his 647 league-leading rushing yards are getting overshadowed. Amazingly, he’s yet score a touchdown, but that’s mostly due to the fact Brandon Jacobs is an unstoppable force near the goal line…Juran Bolden (hip) and Simeon Rice (shoulder) are both questionable for Tampa Bay, while Carlos Emmons (pectoral, questionable) and Sam Madison (hamstring, questionable) are for New York.

Predictions: Bruce Gradkowski continues to struggle, throwing for just 200 yards, two INTS and one TD to Joey Galloway. Cadillac Williams is involved heavily, leading to 90 total yards. Tiki Barber counters with another big day rushing the ball, as he goes off for 150 yards while finally reaching paydirt. Eli Manning tosses two scoring strikes, one to Jeremy Shockey and the other to Plaxico Burress (heel, probable), as New York continues its winning ways. Giants 24-16.

Dallas (+5.5) at Carolina, Sunday 8:15 p.m.

Comments: A quarterback controversy has supplanted Terrell Owens as Dallas’ new problem. While the offensive line deserved plenty of the blame, Drew Bledsoe’s play was hardly inspiring. Enter Tony Romo, a virtual unknown at this point. His mobility at least makes the offense more dynamic, as Jason Witten was finally involved when not asked to block as much. It’s also clear Romo has tunnel vision toward Owens, so expect an increase in his numbers, while Terry Glenn’s production may take a slight dip. Coach Bill Parcells will limit the opportunity for mistakes, so count on a heavy dose of Julius Jones Sunday night…Although no longer undefeated, when Steve Smith plays for Carolina the team becomes incredibly difficult to beat. Targeted 14 times last week, Smith is hauling in more than 60 percent of the passes thrown his way, mostly in double coverage. It’s clear he’s one of the most valuable players in all of football. It should be a good matchup Sunday, as Dallas’ secondary is a physical one. With DeAngelo Williams (ankle, questionable) still likely to be held out, DeShaun Foster will continue to carry the load, although the Cowboys’ run defense is one of the stingiest in the league. Keyshawn Johnson will remind Dallas what its missing, as the veteran is enjoying a solid season, getting the tough catches over the middle while also blocking well…The Cowboys don’t have any major injuries, but the Panthers list Thomas Davis (ribs, questionable), Ken Lucas (hip, probable) and Mike Minter (knee, probable) on the injury report.

Predictions: Tony Romo has an up and down first start, reaching 220 passing yards but also throwing a pair of picks. He continues to make Jason Witten relevant again, while also targeting Terrell Owens at a high rate, resulting in nine grabs for 120 yards and a score. Julius Jones gets 90 yards, but Marion Barber crosses the scoring stripe. Jake Delhomme answers with 240 yards and touchdown tosses to Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith. Smith gets 130 receiving yards as well. DeShaun Foster only gets 60 yards on the ground, but his TD run puts the Cowboys away for good. Panthers 24-20.

New England (-2) at Minnesota, Monday 8:30 p.m.

Comments: After ending Seattle’s long running home-winning streak, Minnesota returns home to face a Patriots team that has quietly only lost once this year. It’s amazing the Vikings are 4-2, considering Brad Johnson has only thrown four touchdown passes on the year. He’s doing a nice job “managing” games, however, and the defense has been one of the better units in football. Chester Taylor is basically carrying the offense, already touching the football 158 times this year. The receiving unit is in disarray though, as Marcus Robinson (back, questionable) isn’t expected to play and also both Troy Williamson (concussion, questionable) and Travis Taylor (concussion, probable) are banged up…No longer relying solely on Tom Brady’s arm, New England is winning with defense and a strong running game. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney face a stern test Monday, as the 70 rushing yards Minnesota is yielding per game are the fewest in the NFL. Rookie Chad Jackson finally appears healthy and should continue to become a bigger part of the offense. While the Vikings are proving to be tough to beat, the team doesn’t have enough firepower to match the Patriots’ offense…New England lists 10 players as questionable, with Ellis Hobbs (wrist), Eugene Wilson (hamstring) and Richard Seymour (elbow) being the most noteworthy. The Vikings’ Kenechi Udeze (hip) and Pat Williams (foot) are also labeled as questionable…For what it’s worth, Tom Brady is 9-0 during his career while playing in dome stadiums and a remarkable 18-1 when playing on artificial surfaces.

Predictions: Brad Johnson throws for a modest 180 yards but finds Travis Taylor in the end zone. Chester Taylor gets plenty of opportunities and gains 90 hard fought yards with a score. The Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney tandem are held scoreless with around 100 yards total. Tom Brady throws for 240 yards and scoring strikes to Doug Gabriel and Ben Watson, ending hopes for the home team. Patriots 20-17.

Basketball Sleepers and Busts

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

There are many definitions for the term sleeper, but in this case it means players who will outperform where they are typically being drafted in fantasy leagues. The busts, on the other hand, are going earlier than their performance will justify. In other words, target the sleepers and avoid the busts.

SLEEPERS

Tracy McGrady – While not your typical “sleeper,” T-Mac will come at quite a discount after a back injury ruined last year’s season. While this sort of back injury shouldn’t be taken lightly, McGrady claims a lot of his past physical problems stemmed from emotional turmoil, which he has straightened out now. Remember, he’s still only 27 years old, and with Yao Ming primed to become the NBA’s best center, McGrady won’t see constant double-teams. There isn’t a better player to target in round 2 of fantasy drafts this year.

Gerald Wallace – Although the hype machine is already in full effect, I would feel comfortable drafting Wallace as early as round 3. Yes, he’s extremely injury-prone, but contract years tend to help those types have healthy campaigns. He’s worked on his shot all summer long even though he was already an asset in FG%. His free throw shooting, however, could use some work. His steal/block ability is positively mouth-watering.

Josh Smith – Smith possesses the same upside as Gerald Wallace without the injury concerns. Entering his third year as a pro, the 20-year-old is ready to make the leap into stardom. After the All-Star break last year, J-Smoove got 15 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg, 1 spg, 3 bpg and 1 3pg; eye-popping numbers to be sure. If you can get Smith in the third round, consider yourself lucky.

Raymond Felton – Felton’s overall numbers last year were masked by a first half that limited his time on the floor. After the All-Star break, however, Felton was one of the elite point guards in the league. Brevin Knight is sure to see action in between injuries, but that just means Felton will play some shooting guard along with running the point. He’s too talented not to be on the court 40 minutes a night. Felton will finish the year as a top-10 point guard.

Shaun Livingston – Livingston can be drafted much later than the names previously mentioned on this list, but it will likely be the last year that’s possible, as the kid is full of talent. Sam Cassell re-signed with the Clips, but it’s only a matter of time before the aging veteran hands over the keys to the offense to Livingston, who will become an assists machine once it happens.

Kenyon Martin – K-Mart was one of the bigger busts last year and has been mostly forgotten as a result. Still, with his knee injury and icy relationship with coach George Karl mostly mended, Martin can’t be totally ignored. He’s often going well past round 10, which qualifies as a late round steal when he returns to form.

David West – West broke out last year, and his game figures only to continue to improve. Entering his contract year, he even added a three-point shot to his repertoire over the summer. Chris Paul loves him and knows exactly when and where to get him the ball. West is undervalued entering the year and is one of the best free throw shooters of any power forward in the league.

Eddy Curry – It’s tough recommending a center who doesn’t rebound or block shots very well, but if you can nab Curry in the later rounds, he could easily become a viable No. 2 center for your team. For all his faults, Curry is actually one of the better scoring big men in the league, and he’s a big help in FG% as well. Last year’s disappointing numbers are more than partially due to only seeing 25 minutes of run each night, courtesy of jettisoned Larry Brown. Enter Isiah Thomas, who not only loves Curry but has too much invested in him to not give him all the playing time Curry can handle.

BUSTS

Amare Stoudemire – One of the most exciting players in the league, Stoudemire is a confounding draft choice to consider this year. One week Stoudemire is declaring himself 100 percent healed from microfracture surgery on his knee, the next week he’s sitting out a game due to knee soreness. Bottom line, owners should expect flashes of greatness with some knee concerns mixed in when dealing with Stoudemire this year. Expect 60 games played, which isn’t what you want out of your second or third round pick.

Jermaine O’Neal
– O’Neal worked hard this offseason in hopes of improving his health, but it’s an uphill battle at this point. After missing 69 games over the last two years, O’Neal’s injury concerns are legitimate. Combine that with a nagging hamstring ailment already suffered during the preseason, and O’Neal becomes someone to avoid early on in drafts. Take Dwight Howard instead.

Mike James – After a season in which he scored more than 20 a night, including a remarkable 24.6 ppg after the All-Star break, James is going awfully early in some fantasy leagues. Don’t forget, however, that those career-year numbers came when James was the top dog in a Toronto offense void of many scoring threats. James will be a solid option, just don’t expect nearly the same kind of scoring output while donning a new Timberwolves’ jersey.

Adam Morrison – Morrison carries some name recognition, and he should be able to score in the NBA game; problem is, scoring might be the only category he contributes in. There’s also a real possibility Morrison finds himself on the bench at the start of games, as the Bobcats are deeper than most realize. Unless terrible moustaches is a category in your fantasy league, it’s best to avoid Morrison this year.

Luke Ridnour – Do not underestimate Earl Watson’s presence here. Ridnour can drop dimes with the best of them, but he plays defense as if he’s a matador. Ridnour may start, but Watson will cut into his minutes and is clearly the superior defender.

Tony Parker – Parker is one of the better NBA point guards around, but his lack of steals and threes really hinders his fantasy value. He’s being treated as elite, something three-category players are not. While he sports the best FG% of any point guard, he counters that with poor free throw shooting. Let someone else overpay.

Sam Cassell – Cassell, who typically plays under one-year contracts, re-signed with the Clippers for two years, which is at least something to consider. He’s also about to be 37 years old, has Shaun Livingston breathing down his neck and looks like an alien. Already struggling with a calf injury this preseason, Cassell is someone to avoid on draft day.

Week 8 Lineup Rankings

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Byes: Buffalo, Detroit, Miami, Washington

Quarterbacks

1. Donovan McNabb
2. Peyton Manning
3. Carson Palmer
4. Michael Vick
5. Marc Bulger
6. Rex Grossman
7. Eli Manning
8. Tom Brady

9. Brett Favre
10. Matt Leinart
11. Jake Delhomme
12. Philip Rivers
13. David Carr
14. Ben Roethlisberger (check status)

15. Tony Romo (check status)
16. Byron Leftwich
17. Chad Pennington
18. Charlie Frye
19. Drew Brees

20. Brad Johnson
21. Bruce Gradkowski
22. Jake Plummer
23. Damon Huard
24. Vince Young
25. Steve McNair
26. Alex Smith
27. Andrew Walter
28. Seneca Wallace

Running Backs

1. LaDainian Tomlinson
2. Larry Johnson
3. Brian Westbrook
4. Tatum Bell
5. Tiki Barber
6. Rudi Johnson
7. Thomas Jones
8. Willie Parker
9. Warrick Dunn

10. Steven Jackson
11. Julius Jones
12. Cadillac Williams
13. Chester Taylor
14. Travis Henry
15. Ahman Green
16. Frank Gore
17. DeShaun Foster

18. Joseph Addai
19. Wali Lundy
20. Leon Washington
21. Corey Dillon
22. Edgerrin James
23. Fred Taylor

24. Deuce McAllister
25. Reggie Bush
26. Laurence Maroney
27. Reuben Droughns
28. Jamal Lewis
29. Maurice Morris
30. LaMont Jordan (check status)
31. Maurice Jones-Drew
32. Kevan Barlow

Wide Receivers

1. Steve Smith
2. Anquan Boldin
3. Andre Johnson
4. Torry Holt
5. Donald Driver
6. TJ Houshmandzadeh
7. Chad Johnson
8. Terrell Owens
9. Hines Ward
10. Laveranues Coles
11. Bernard Berrian
12. Marvin Harrison
13. Reggie Wayne

14. Plaxico Burress
15. Javon Walker
16. Joey Galloway
17. Reggie Brown
18. Darrell Jackson
19. Braylon Edwards
20. Randy Moss

21. Bryant Johnson
22. Terry Glenn
23. Keyshawn Johnson
24. Reggie Williams
25. Deion Branch
26. Eric Parker
27. Derrick Mason
28. Donte Stallworth (check status)
29. Marques Colston
30. Joe Horn
31. Drew Bennett

32. Muhsin Muhammad
33. Amani Toomer
34. Eddie Kennison
35. Doug Gabriel
36. Isaac Bruce
37. Jerricho Cotchery
38. Joe Jurevicius
39. Keenan McCardell
40. Eric Moulds
41. Mark Clayton
42. Michael Clayton
43. Rod Smith
44. Antonio Bryant
45. Troy Williamson

Thoughts Around the NFL

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Game-winning field goals aside, yesterday was easily the craziest day in the NFL. Seven of the twelve games were upsets, five teams that were 5+ point underdogs pulled off shockers, and the Raiders did the unthinkable and won. Of note. . .

Wali Lundy is back! With Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, the Texans can run on anyone, and Lundy has a chance at being the best back in the league from here on out. Seriously though, he should be worth using as a flex in a handful of favorable matchups for the Houston running game.

Leon Washington also had a breakout game and looks to be a good flex play from here on out for the surprisingly feisty J-E-T-S.

Torry Holt, Steve Smith, Andre Johnson. Those are my top three fantasy wideouts. Johnson is for real and has a great playoff schedule, and the man may still be undervalued. Chad Johnson, on the other hand, is a very good WR2, no better. See if you can get someone to ‘buy low’ and overpay for the name recognition and best ‘do in the league.

The Cardinals now have a worse record than the Raiders, and the Matt Leinart lovefest has ended abruptly. He’s still a usable fantasy quarterback, though, and should approach the top ten when Fitz comes back.

The Seattle offense could be in trouble for a while as Seneca Wallace is a huge downgrade from Matt Hasselbeck. That said, the Hawks play quite a few pushovers from here on out (Oak, SF (twice), GB, Ariz) and should still be able to put up big numbers.

The Colts offense is still the best in the NFL, and they showed it Sunday. Joseph Addai’s value should continue to climb as he outperforms a mediocre Dominic Rhodes.

Meanwhile, the Laurence Maroney bandwagon is losing steam, but he’s still the horse to have in the New England backfield. He has a pretty soft schedule coming up so see if he’s undervalued. And don’t look now, but with all the talk of the Chargers as the class of the AFC (after all those, cough, quality wins), the Colts and Patriots have a combined one loss, with a date at Foxborough in two weeks looming large.

Hines Ward, Tony Gonzalez and Randy Moss all showed flashes of their former brilliant selves. Sell Gonzo and Moss if you can, those were aberrations, but hang onto Ward.

Tatum Bell is going to lead the league in rushing from here on out.

Joe Francis’ ‘Girls Gone Wild’ franchise is now offering ‘Guys Gone Wild’ videos! About time. My favorite title has to be ‘Dude, Where’s My Pants’.

“The Departed” is good, “The Illusionist” is bad, “Nip/Tuck” has gone from bad/good to bad/bad, the Bachelor is a schmuck and “The Office” is the new “Seinfeld,” although I am so over Jim and Pam, especially with Jim’s new female coworker being played by the foxy Rashida Jones.

World Series Preview

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

St. Louis vs. Detroit

After an unprecedented run at predicting playoff outcomes, it all comes to a merciful end after one more series. While the Cardinals’ win wasn’t surprising, given the state of the Mets’ pitching staff, the Tigers’ sweep over the A’s certainly was. I’ve underrated this Detroit team all season long, never truly taking them seriously. Until now, as I’ve finally come to my senses; it’s clearer than ever Detroit is the best team in baseball. Their starting pitching is talented and deep, their bullpen is full of power arms, something that always works well in the postseason, their lineup generates runs well, and they’re this year’s team of destiny, as Jim Leyland can do no wrong. Detroit enters on a seven-game winning streak and as definite favorites. Before this year, however, the Tigers had posted 12 straight losing seasons – in 2003, they set an AL record with an embarrassing 119 defeats. Overall, they’re the losingest franchise in the majors over the past 13 years.

The Cardinals may have only won 83 regular season games, but they deserve some credit as well, and if Anthony Reyes pitches up to his ability, they won’t be doormats during the World Series. Albert Pujols will need to snap out of his slump fast, however, or this series could be finished quickly. It remains to be seen how the long layover will affect Detroit, but it certainly helped Joel Zumaya and Sean Casey. The Cardinals, however, enter with Pujols, Scott Rolen, David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds all ailing. Both teams may have stumbled down the stretch, but they certainly picked the right time to peak. Unbelievably, the Detroit Tigers are baseball’s best team in 2006.

Tigers 4-2.

Game Capsules

Friday, October 20th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: The following is written for RotoWire’s weekly “game capsules;” I cover the NFC home games.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Atlanta, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Ben Roethlisberger got back on track in a big way last week, finishing with a remarkable 153.8 QB rating and getting 12.5 YPA. While that performance is sure to ease some concerns about his health, Roethlisberger and the Steelers now have to travel to Atlanta to face a team fighting to stay in the NFC South race. Willie Parker won’t find the gaping holes he had during Week 5, but the Steelers will concentrate on attacking a run defense that was exposed by the Giants last week. Grady Jackson (knee, probable) has been solid, but John Abraham (groin, questionable) and Rod Coleman (foot, questionable) are far from full strength. Atlanta’s pass defense, however, has been one of the best in the league, and the unit as a whole has been extremely tough to score on…Atlanta’s fondness of the running game will get a stern test against Pittsburgh’s stingy run defense, especially after losing starting guard Matt Lehr to a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s steroid policy. Still, Atlanta has nearly 400 more rushing yards than any other team in the NFL, and Michael Vick (shoulder, probable) will make just enough plays to squeak out a victory for the home team…Pittsburgh lists Joey Porter (hamstring, doubtful), Kendall Simmons (foot, questionable) and Deshea Townsend (hamstring, probable) on the injury report, while Atlanta does the same with Patrick Kerney (hamstring, probable)…The last time these two teams met it resulted in a 34-34 tie, the only tie game in the NFL over the last nine years.

Predictions: Ben Roethlisberger continues his improved play, with 220 yards and two TD tosses, with Hines Ward and Heath Miller being the recipients. Willie Parker gets 95 yards but fails to find the end zone. Michael Vick continues to be more of a threat on the ground than through the air, but he does find Alge Crumpler for two short scores. Warrick Dunn manages 80 yards, as the Falcons win on a late field goal. Falcons 20-17.

Philadelphia (-5) at Tampa Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Tampa Bay was finally able to get its first win last week, while Philadelphia comes in following a disappointing loss at New Orleans. The Bucs have been terrible against the run, but the Eagles like to attack through the air, which Tampa Bay has defended reasonably well this year. The Eagles’ secondary, however, has been torched this season, something Bruce Gradkowski figures to take advantage of Sunday. Philly’s run defense has been average, and Cadillac Williams is coming off back-to-back strong efforts…The Eagles’ offense, on the other hand, is leading the entire NFL with more than 400 yards per game. Philadelphia’s league-leading passing offense faces a Tampa secondary that might be missing Brian Kelly (foot, questionable) and has depth issues, evident by the recent Phillip Buchanon signing. Donovan McNabb has struggled mightily throughout his career against the Bucs, compiling a 53.1 QB rating and just 4.2 YPA over three games. Still, McNabb is playing at quite possibly his highest level yet and figures to have a very productive Sunday. Brian Westbrook is probable and his knee appears healthier than it’s been since early in the season…The Eagles’ Roderick Hood (heel) is doubtful to play, while Shawn Barber (neck), Darren Howard (groin), Tra Thomas (back) and Donte Stallworth (hamstring) are questionable. As for Tampa Bay, Simeon Rice (shoulder, questionable) is the only significant injury concern.

Predictions: Philly’s pass rush harasses Bruce Gradkowski, resulting in numerous sacks and a couple of turnovers. Gradkowski, however, is able to throw for 230 yards and two scores, which are hauled in by Joey Galloway and Alex Smith. Cadillac Williams contributes 90 combined yards, but a TD eludes him. Brian Westbrook counters with 120 total yards and a touchdown catch, while Donovan McNabb throws for 260 yards and two other scores, which land in Reggie Brown and L.J. Smith’s hands. Tampa Bay keeps it close, but Philadelphia ultimately has too much firepower. Eagles 24-20.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Seattle, Sunday 4:15 p.m.

Comments: While the Steve Hutchinson signing has certainly worked better for Minnesota than Nate Burleson has for Seattle, this matchup could be considered the “poison pill” bowl. With no Shaun Alexander, Seattle doesn’t quite look like a powerhouse, and Minnesota’s defense has played surprisingly well this year. The Vikings’ offense has been rather productive as well, but playing in Seattle is no small task. Minnesota relies heavily on Chester Taylor each week, but Seattle enters with the league’s fourth best run defense. Brad Johnson hasn’t played terribly while leading the Vikes to a 3-2 start, but he’s only getting 6.6 YPA and has a 3/4 TD/INT ratio…Seattle was lucky to come away with a victory in St. Louis but returns home this week, where the Seahawks have won 11 straight regular season games. Maurice Morris is a serviceable replacement at running back, but Minnesota’s run defense has been quite stingy. Matt Hasselbeck, however, should be getting Jerramy Stevens back at tight end and has already formed a strong rapport with Deion Branch, who was targeted even more than Darrell Jackson last week. Since Branch is settling in nicely into Seattle’s system, the offense becomes that much harder to slow down…While the Vikings don’t list any major injuries, the Seahawks will be without Floyd Womack (knee) and Bobby Engram (illness).

Predictions: Brad Johnson throws for a modest 220 yards and a TD strike to Jermaine Wiggins. Playing mostly from behind, Chester Taylor receives fewer carries than normal, but he does run in his second score of the year. Maurice Morris counters with 80 yards, while Matt Hasselbeck throws for 250 yards and two scores. Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch each approach 85 yards and haul in the touchdowns, sealing it for Seattle. Seahawks 24-17.

New York Giants (+3.5) at Dallas, Monday 8:30 p.m.

Comments: Dallas enters boasting the No. 1 run defense in the league, while New York has the second best offense so far, eclipsing 400 yards per game. While all is well in Dallas after Terrell Owens’ three-touchdown day last week, that number masked the fact he was targeted just six times and gained a modest 45 receiving yards. Drew Bledsoe may have been able to beat a suspect Texans’ secondary, but the Giants figure to get a much better pass rush, forcing too many sacks and poor decisions from the quarterback. Julius Jones and Marion Barber, however, form the league’s third best rushing attack, which is exactly where the Cowboys should focus its gameplan…The Giants have to be thrilled with a 3-2 record following a brutal five game stretch to open the season. Eli Manning has officially arrived, and after a slow start, Tiki Barber has turned in two consecutive big games. He’s still searching for his first score of the year, however. Count on it happening Monday night, as Barber and the Giants shine in the spotlight…Carlos Emmons (pectoral) and Gibril Wilson (toe) are questionable for the Giants, while Keith Davis (ankle) is probable for the Cowboys.

Predictions: Drew Bledsoe mixes in a couple turnovers with two TD passes, one to Terrell Owens and the other to Terry Glenn. Julius Jones approaches 100 rushing yards, but Marion Barber scores from the goal-line. Eli Manning answers with 250 yards and TD strikes to Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey, while Tiki Barber gets 110 yards and solidifies a New York victory with a late rushing score. Giants 24-21.

The Wizard of Odds

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

This week I’m going with the Colts (-9 at home against the Redskins) and the Seahawks (-7 at home against the Vikings) teased 6.5 each. The Colts should roll, and the Seahawks have one of the best homefield advantages in the league. As far as straight bets go, I kind of like the Cardinals (-3 at Oakland) to bounce back and Cincinnati (-3 at home against Carolina) to easily win an important game.

Also, be sure to check out our new sponsor, Pinnacle Sports. Pinnacle Sports has the best odds of any sportsbook, offering 4% vig on football bets, as opposed to the standard 10% juice from most sites and gives an extra half point on teasers (10/11 odds on 6.5 teasers). Pinnacle Sports also offers more spreads earlier than any other site I’ve seen. Within hours of teams completing their games on Sunday, spreads and moneylines are already up for the next week, and the site offers moneylines on all games, regardless of how big or small the spread is. So ya, if you wager online, be sure to check them out, there’s really no better way to go.

Week 7 Lineup Rankings

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Byes: Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tennessee

Quarterbacks

1. Peyton Manning
2. Carson Palmer
3. Donovan McNabb
4. Matt Hasselbeck
5. Jake Delhomme
6. Eli Manning
7. Brett Favre
8. Tom Brady

9. Matt Leinart
10. Chad Pennington
11. Jon Kitna
12. Drew Bledsoe
13. Byron Leftwich

14. Philip Rivers
15. Michael Vick
16. Ben Roethlisberger
17. Mark Brunell
18. Joey Harrington
19. Brad Johnson
20. Jake Plummer

21. Bruce Gradkowski
22. Andrew Walter
23. David Carr
24. Charlie Frye
25. J.P. Losman
26. Damon Huard

Running Backs

1. LaDainian Tomlinson
2. Clinton Portis
3. Tatum Bell
4. Kevin Jones
5. Ronnie Brown
6. Rudi Johnson
7. Brian Westbrook
8. Larry Johnson
9. Julius Jones
10. Tiki Barber

11. DeShaun Foster
12. Chester Taylor
13. Fred Taylor
14. Willie Parker
15. Willis McGahee
16. Cadillac Williams
17. Edgerrin James

18. Laurence Maroney
19. Warrick Dunn
20. Corey Dillon
21. Joseph Addai
22. LaMont Jordan
23. Maurice Morris
24. Ahman Green
25. Dominic Rhodes

26. Maurice Jones-Drew
27. Kevan Barlow
28. Leon Washington
29. Wali Lundy
30. Reuben Droughns

Wide Receivers

1. Steve Smith
2. Anquan Boldin
3. Roy Williams
4. Laveranues Coles
5. TJ Houshmandzadeh
6. Chad Johnson
7. Chris Chambers
8. Terrell Owens
9. Andre Johnson
10. Marvin Harrison
11. Reggie Wayne
12. Greg Jennings
13. Santana Moss
14. Plaxico Burress
15. Darrell Jackson

16. Lee Evans
17. Javon Walker
18. Reggie Brown
19. Deion Branch
20. Donald Driver
21. Hines Ward
22. Joey Galloway

23. Keyshawn Johnson
24. Reggie Williams
25. Randy Moss
26. Terry Glenn
27. Bryant Johnson
28. Braylon Edwards
29. Doug Gabriel
30. Eric Parker

31. Troy Williamson
32. Amani Toomer
33. Wes Welker
34. Eddie Kennison
35. Eric Moulds
36. Jerricho Cotchery
37. Rod Smith
38. Mike Furrey
39. Michael Clayton
40. Samie Parker

Fantasy Basketball Draft (Rounds 9-16)

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

ROUND 9

73. David West
74. Caron Butler – My Pick
75. Ricky Davis
76. Troy Murphy
77. Tyson Chandler
78. Steve Francis
79. Adam Morrison
80. Shane Battier
81. Pau Gasol

My Pick: I was all set to take David West and then the owner right before me swoops. I’m fine with Butler, however, as he really took to playing for Washington last year. With Hughes and Butler, I certainly improved my steals category in a hurry.

Best Value: Let’s go with Murphy, who before long will be available at center in the run and gun Nelly offense.

Surprise Selection: Pau Gasol would have been a likely first round pick if healthy, but if it truly takes four months for him to return, I think he should’ve gone a little later.

ROUND 10

82. Brevin Knight
83. Damon Stoudamire
84. Rip Hamilton
85. Jamal Crawford
86. Andres Nocioni
87. Tayshaun Prince
88. Kendrick Perkins
89. Luol Deng – My Pick
90. Corey Maggette

My Pick: I really wanted to pair Felton with Knight this round, but he didn’t fall to me. Knight has arguably been the most underrated fantasy player the last two seasons, going late in drafts yet finishing top-3 in assists both years. Hopefully he doesn’t cut into Felton’s PT too much this year. Nocioni may have gone before him, but there’s no way I’d trade Deng for him.

Best Value: Damon Stoudamire is back to full strength and could surprise this year. There aren’t many scoring options in Memphis. Still, it’s hard not to like Knight’s assist potential this late in the draft.

Surprise Selection: Kendrick Perkins?

ROUND 11

91. Sam Cassell
92. Ben Gordon – My Pick
93. Morris Peterson
94. Marvin Williams
95. Danny Granger
96. Cuttino Mobley
97. Brandon Roy
98. Jarrett Jack
99. Andrew Bogut

My Pick: I was lacking some in threes, and Gordon should be a threat for 20 a night now inserted into the starting lineup. He’s worked hard this offseason and is determined to be a better defender, which will result in more burn for him this year.

Best Value: I like a few picks this round. Marvin Williams offers some pretty big upside here, while Jarrett Jack is getting overlooked as Portland’s clear-cut starting PG. Bogut’s stock obviously fell because of his injury, but he’s definitely worth taking at this point.

Surprise Selection: No huge surprises for me, but I will say ROY is going to win ROY this year. He’s another pick I liked this round.

ROUND 12

100. Darko Milicic
101. Channing Frye
102. Mike Dunleavy
103. Jason Williams
104. Mo Williams
105. Sebastian Telfair
107. Luke Ridnour
108. Kenyon Martin – My Pick
109. Darius Miles

My Pick: K-Mart’s knees are supposedly feeling much better, and he’s also healed his sour relationship with George Karl. He doesn’t come without risk, but round 12 is officially too late for him to be left undrafted.

Best Value: I like the Mo Williams and Sebastian Telfair picks.

Surprise Selection: Darko!!!

ROUND 13

110. Randy Foye
111. Alonzo Mourning – My Pick
112. Drew Gooden
113. Ike Diogu
114. Smush Parker
115. Vladimir Radmanovic
116. Hedo Turkoglu
117. Grant Hill
118. Bonzi Wells

My Pick: I had to get Zo insurance after my Shaq pick, and frankly felt fortunate to get him this late. He’s still one of the very best shot blockers in the game.

Best Value: Nothing wrong with gambling on Grant Hill here, and if Bonzi Wells was still on Sacramento, I would have taken him a few rounds ago. If he gets enough playing time, there’s not a better rebounding guard.

Surprise Selection: I like Ike Diogu’s potential, but he went a little early here.

ROUND 14

119. Shareef Abdur-Rahim
120. Marquis Daniels
121. Mike Miller
122. Dajuan Wagner
123. Bobby Simmons
124. Monta Ellis
125. Eddie Jones
126. Shaun Livingston – My Pick
127. Kurt Thomas

My Pick: Livingston could easily enter the year as a backup, but there’s no one going at this stage in the draft with his potential. It wouldn’t be a shock if he were a pick in the top-5 rounds next year. He’s a future superstar.

Best Value: I’ve always liked Marquis Daniels a lot, but I wouldn’t trade Livingston for anyone taken in this round.

Surprise Selection: Apparently, people are pretty excited about Nelly running the show in the Bay Area, evident by the Wagner and Ellis picks. Wagner looked like a future All-Star before injuries derailed his career.

ROUND 15

128. Jamaal Tinsley
129. Devin Harris – My Pick
130. Stephen Jackson
131. Kwame Brown
132. Jamaal Magloire
133. Nick Collison
134. Raja Bell
135. Erick Dampier
136. Derek Fisher

My Pick: Devin Harris is dealing with a nagging injury, and Anthony Johnson could easily cut into his minutes. If Harris wins the PG spot outright, however, he should be solid enough.

Best Value: I really wanted Tinsley with my pick. He’s one of the more injury-prone guys in b-ball, but he’s certainly worth taking here. I also think this is the year Kwame Brown becomes a startable fantasy center; he really came on at the end of last year. Raja Bell slipped quite a bit.

Surprise Selection: No egregious errors here, but it will be interesting to see if Stephen Jackson avoids jail time.

ROUND 16

137. Wally Szczerbiak
138. Kyle Korver
139. Earl Watson
140. Rajon Rondo
141. Delonte West
142. Josh Childress
143. Zaza Pachulia
144. Eddie Curry – My Pick
145. Donyell Marshall

My Pick: The Eddie Curry hype train has officially stopped. Remember, he is still pretty young, and with Thomas coaching the team, he’ll give his guy plenty of burn. At minimum, he’ll score and shoot a high fg%.

Best Value: Watson could easily win the Seattle PG job because of his superior defense, and I’ve always liked his game. Don’t forget about him. The only thing stopping Delonte West from producing solid fantasy numbers is a crowded backcourt. Wally is more than a solid last round pick here as well.

Surprise Selection: Rondo is the obvious choice, but watch out for this rookie; the kid’s got game.

My Team:
PG – Allen Iverson
SG – Larry Hughes
G – Raymond Felton
SF – Lamar Odom
PF – Kevin Garnett
F – Caron Butler
C – Shaquille O’Neal
C – Samuel Dalembert
UTIL – Rafer Alston
UTIL – Luol Deng

Bench – Ben Gordon, Kenyon Martin, Alonzo Mourning, Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris, Eddie Curry

Fantasy Basketball Draft (Rounds 1-8)

Monday, October 16th, 2006

We recently completed our draft in hoops, and the following are the results. The starting lineup consists of PG, SG, G, SF, PF, F, C, C, UTIL, UTIL, with six bench spots (16 rounds). We have a 90 game cap per position. Our scoring is a little different than most, as we don’t count FT% or TOs. I hate using turnovers especially, as it always punishes the better players who handle the ball more. The rest is standard, with PTS, REBS, ASSISTS, BLOCKS, STEALS, FG% and 3PTM. We also have weighted cats, with PTS, REBS and ASSISTS being worth the most, so guys like Peja and Ray Allen aren’t valued quite as high. We had a guy drop out, hence the awkward nine-team league.

ROUND 1

1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Garnett – My Pick
3. Shawn Marion
4. Kobe Bryant
5. Dwayne Wade
6. Tim Duncan
7. Tracy McGrady
8. Dirk Nowitzki
9. Gilbert Arenas

My Pick: I debated going with Marion but decided to go KG instead. I hope his shots per game start going back up, as they have significantly decreased for two years in a row.

Best Value: Dirk at nine is pretty much a steal.

Surprise Selection: Both Duncan and T-Mac will probably go later in most drafts, but I don’t have a problem with either of them. T-Mac’s owner got Nash with his next pick, and he could have easily selected them vice-versa, and no one would have batted an eye. McGrady says his back is 100 percent, and a lot of last year’s physical struggles were a result of emotional turmoil, which he now has straightened out. He’s my favorite guy to target in 2nd rounds this year.

ROUND 2

10. Chris Paul
11. Elton Brand
12. Steve Nash
13. Yao Ming
14. Paul Pierce
15. Chris Bosh
16. Andre Kirilenko
17. Allen Iverson – My Pick
18. Amare Stoudemire

My Pick: Although I secretly wanted AK-47, having A.I. fall into my lap was a pleasant surprise. Although he’s a candidate to break down any year now.

Best Value: I’d have to say A.I. here.

Surprise Selection: Amare Stoudemire is your classic boom or bust pick and carries an awful lot of risk for a 2nd round pick.

ROUND 3

19. Jason Kidd
20. Lamar Odom – My Pick
21. Chauncey Billups
22. Dwight Howard
23. Jermaine O’Neal
24. Carmelo Anthony
25. Vince Carter
26. Joe Johnson
27. Gerald Wallace

My Pick: I was really close to going with Dwight Howard or Joe Johnson but settled on Odom. Most considered it a poor pick, but I don’t think people realize just how good he was last year. Still, his son died over the summer, and he does come with some risk.

Best Value: Dwight Howard is not only fast becoming one of the game’s elite players, but he should also be available at center soon, since he’s set to play a lot of time there this season.

Surprise Selection: Gerald Wallace surprised me, but mainly because I wanted him badly in the fourth round. The more I think about it, the more I see Wallace as a worthy mid third round selection. He worked on his shot all summer, is in a contract year and is second to none when it comes to the steals/blocks combo. He’s injury-prone, but he also possesses top-10 upside.

ROUND 4

28. Ben Wallace
29. Boris Diaw
30. Baron Davis
31. Ron Artest
32. Josh Smith
33. Ray Allen
34. Brad Miller
35. Raymond Felton – My Pick
36. Marcus Camby

My Pick: Felton isn’t the safest choice in round 4, considering Brevin Knight’s presence. Still, if anything I see them sharing the backcourt with Felton sliding to SG, and he put up monstrous numbers over the final couple months last year. He’s only going to get better.

Best Value: If I didn’t get Gerald Wallace, then I really wanted Josh Smith in this round but was swooped on again. Not only is J-Smoove a block machine, but he’s even added a 3-point shot to his game. He is also capable of dropping 4.5 dimes a night. He’s easily a 3-4 round value.

Surprise Selection: None jump out at me here, as I pretty much like all of the picks this round. Baron Davis is probably the most risky, but like Camby, when in the lineup he produces like a top-15 player.

ROUND 5

37. Rashard Lewis
38. Shaquille O’Neal – My Pick
39. Stephon Marbury
40. Mike Bibby
41. Kirk Hinrich
42. Andre Miller
43. Emeka Okafor
44. Carlos Boozer
45. Mehmet Okur

My Pick: I needed a center who blocks shots and strongly considered Okafor but decided to go with Shaq Diesel instead. Remember, his killer FT% won’t hurt me, and it’s hard to pass up the big fella in round 5. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up weighing 425 LBS after winning the title last year.

Best Value: I like the Okafor/Boozer/Okur center trio late in round 5.

Surprise Selection: Once again, none were too surprising this round. Is Marbury going to turn back into Starbury like he promises? Either way, his $15 shoe idea is pretty cool.

ROUND 6

46. Tony Parker
47. Jameer Nelson
48. Michael Redd
49. Chris Webber
50. Richard Jefferson
51. Deron Williams
52. Jason Richardson
53. Samuel Dalembert – My Pick
54. Rasheed Wallace

My Pick: Centers were running thin at this point, and I almost went with caveman Chris Kaman. In the end, I went with Sammy’s upside, which I have been enamored with for three years now. He’ll probably disappoint yet again, but that rebound/block potential is mouth-watering.

Best Value: I like Richard Jefferson here, and if Webber and J-Rich (knee) can stay healthy, their respective owners got a steal.

Surprise Selection: I went Dalembert over Rasheed because Wallace is not center eligible, but I still say my pick might have been the most surprising and viewed as a bit of a reach.

ROUND 7

55. Manu Ginobili
56. Rafer Alston – My Pick
57. Zydrunas Illgauskas
58. Speedy Claxton
59. Mike James
60. Zach Randolph
61. Chris Kaman
62. Josh Howard
63. Antawn Jamison

My Pick: It remains to be seen if Skip to My Lou can produce with T-Mac also in the lineup, but I thought the PG options after him started to decline.

Best Value: Easily Antawn Jamison, who may not be exciting, but he slipped quite a bit after last year’s impressive campaign.

Surprise Selection: Speedy Claxton is the most unknown commodity here, but I think he’s a great sleeper and could easily be worthy of this selection.

ROUND 8

64. Andre Iguodala
65. Al Harrington
66. Charlie Villanueva
67. Peja Stojakovic
68. Nenad Krstic
69. Chris Wilcox
70. T.J. Ford
71. Larry Hughes – My Pick
72. Jason Terry

My Pick: I always like drafting players coming off down years about five rounds later than they went the previous year, and Larry Hughes fits the bill perfectly. Still, he’s one of the more injury-prone players around and hasn’t declared his finger 100 percent yet. He was too tough to pass up at this point, but I recognize it could backfire.

Best Value: I like Iguodala and Harrington, who both are pretty much steals at this point in the draft. A.I. #2 didn’t quite live up to the hype last year and won’t score a ton of points if Iverson and Webber stay healthy, but he’s only going to improve and will rack up steals.

Surprise Selection: Wilcox here is somewhat surprising, but he is available at center and has potential. Peja was going as recently as round 2/3 last year, but with our scoring format, his changing teams and injury concerns, this round sounds about right.

The second half of the draft will be posted tomorrow…

Game Capsules

Friday, October 13th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: The following is written for RotoWire’s weekly “game capsules;” I cover the NFC home games.

Cincinnati (-5.5) at Tampa Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Instead of taking yet another step backward, Bruce Gradkowski has the Buccaneers’ offense moving forward. Still, it’s common for rookie QBs to excel early, before game tape reveals weaknesses opposing defenses can later expose. Nevertheless, it looks like there is hope for Tampa Bay’s offensive skill players after all. Cadillac Williams more than doubled his season total in rushing yards with 111 last week. Look for him to build off that effort against a defense giving up 144 rushing yards per game. Expect Gradkowski to come back to earth, however, as the Bengals return from a bye angered following an embarrassing loss to the Patriots…Although 3-1, Cincinnati hasn’t exactly been overly impressive so far, with poor offensive line play and a not quite yet 100 percent Carson Palmer. Although pitted against a desperate 0-4 Bucs team, look for the Bengals to run the ball with great success, as Tampa Bay sports the 28th ranked run defense. Although Chris Henry is out due to suspension, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson give Palmer enough firepower to score more points than the Bucs can handle…The Bengals list Dexter Jackson (ankle, questionable), Rashad Jeanty (foot, questionable) and Levi Jones (ankle, probable) on the injury report, while the Bucs do the same with Brian Kelly (foot, questionable), Simeon Rice (shoulder, questionable) and Davin Joseph (knee, probable)… Tampa Bay has taken four straight games between these two teams, but Cincinnati is 6-1 in its last seven road games.

Predictions: Bruce Gradkowski tosses his first pick of the year but also a TD strike to Alex Smith. Cadillac Williams has a successful day on the ground, racking up more than 100 yards and a score. Rudi Johnson counters with 110 yards and a TD of his own, while Carson Palmer throws scoring strikes to both T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, as Cincinnati’s offense proves too powerful. Bengals 24-17.

Tennessee (+10) at Washington, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Despite being 18.5 point underdogs, the Titans nearly upset the Colts last week. Still, Tennessee sits at 0-5 and now travels to face a Washington team that will be focused after a lackluster effort against the Giants. While Vince Young kept the Titans in the game last week, his passing numbers haven’t been pretty, highlighted by his 3.0 YPA against the Colts. He still qualifies as more of a runner than passer, which is bad news for fantasy owners of Drew Bennett (ankle, questionable) and the promising Brandon Jones. Travis Henry remains the primary ball carrier, but LenDale White (stomach, questionable) will continue to see his involvement in the offense increase…The Redskins focus on the ground game, as Clinton Portis shreds the NFL’s worst run defense, which is yielding 172.4 rushing yards per game. Mark Brunell has been inconsistent, but he’s finding Chris Cooley more and should have a productive day looking to Santana Moss, as the Titans have no answer for the speedy wideout…David Givens (hand, out) and Benji Olson (ankle, questionable) show up on Tennessee’s injury report, while Shawn Springs (groin, questionable) is the only significant Washington injury.

Predictions: Vince Young turns the ball over a couple times and throws for less than 150 yards but runs for over 40 and a score. The rest of the offense gets held mostly in check. Washington centers its game plan around Clinton Portis, who rumbles for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Santana Moss hauls in another score from Brunell, making it a Washington route. Redskins 24-10.

Houston (+13.5) at Dallas, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Coming off a win and then a bye, Houston travels in-state to face a Dallas team predictably dominated by Terrell Owens headlines. The biggest story for the Texans, however, has been the play of David Carr. Despite his team’s struggles, Carr flashes a 108.9 QB rating and is mustering 7.8 YPA. It’s clear he’s taking Gary Kubiak’s new system well. Andre Johnson has been football’s most impressive wide receiver so far and faces a secondary that was mauled by Philadelphia last week. Houston’s ground game, on the other hand, remains one of the worst. Ron Dayne and Samkon Gado form an uninspiring duo, allowing opposing defenses to focus on stopping the pass…It’s hard to tell who has actually looked worse, Drew Bledsoe or Dallas’ offensive line. Either way, both have played rather poorly, especially during last week’s loss to the Eagles. Houston’s defense should cure most of their ills this week, however, as it’s a unit ranked dead last in the league, surrendering 435 YPG. Julius Jones has ran effectively this year and is in line for a huge day Sunday, even if Marion Barber continues to get the goal-line looks. Terrell Owens complained about his lack of action last week, but 13 targets suggest he was the center of the game plan. Look for more passes to be accurate this week, as Owens figures to abuse a shaky Texans’ secondary.

Predictions: David Carr continues to impress, with 240 yards and two TDs, with Eric Moulds and Andre Johnson being the recipients. Johnson also adds 120 receiving yards as well. Houston’s running game remains stagnant, however, as Dayne and Gado get relatively shut down. Julius Jones, on the other hand, has a huge day, running for more than 130 yards and a score. Drew Bledsoe bounces back with a solid performance, resulting in 260 yards and two TD passes, one to Terry Glenn and the other to Terrell Owens, who also gets 130 receiving yards, helping Dallas finish the Texans. Cowboys 27-17.

Buffalo (-1) at Detroit, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: While personnel and the coaching staff change, the Lions’ losing ways continue just the same, as Detroit enters Week 6 with a record of 0-5. The Bills’ defense will look to force more turnovers from Jon Kitna, who has been able to produce nice yardage totals but has already lost three fumbles and thrown six picks on the year. Kevin Jones is still looking for his first 20-carry game, but he continues to produce with his receiving skills. Detroit’s 59.6 rushing yards per game ranks last in the NFL. Don’t expect the ground game to get on track this week, however, as the Lions’ offensive line is in shambles. Damien Woody (foot, out), Rex Tucker (knee, questionable) and Ross Verba (hamstring, questionable) aren’t expected to play. Roy Williams (back, probable) has missed practice throughout the week due to personal reasons, but Mike Martz expects him to suit up Sunday…The Bills’ offense has been sputtering, but a trip to Detroit can certainly change that in a hurry, as the Lions are giving up more than 265 passing yards per game. Expect Lee Evans to exploit this weakness, as the third year wideout led all NFL receivers with 14 targets last week and should have a productive day Sunday…The Bills’ Nate Clements (quadricep) and Takeo Spikes (hamstring) are listed as questionable.

Predictions: Jon Kitna again struggles with turnovers, but he does find both Roy Williams and Mike Furrey in the end zone. Kevin Jones gets 95 combined yards but doesn’t find paydirt. J.P. Losman puts up a similar line to Kitna, with the help of Lee Evans, who catches eight balls for 120 yards and two scores. Willis McGahee helps run the clock out, but he doesn’t score in the process. Bills 23-20.

Seattle (-3) at St. Louis, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: The Rams’ 4-1 record is misleading, and Seattle will be fired up after losing their last game 37-6. Marc Bulger, who has thrown 214 straight passes without an INT, is off to a terrific start this year. Still, it’s been mostly against weak competition, and Seattle easily qualifies as St. Louis’ toughest opponent yet. Steven Jackson is enjoying the new coaching regime, as he has yet to receive fewer than 22 carries in any game this year, which has resulted in a tie for the lead in NFL rushing yards at 465. Against Seattle’s strong front-seven, those yards will be hard fought Sunday…Shaun Alexander (foot) remains out, which means Maurice Morris gets to abuse St. Louis’ porous run defense. Jerramy Stevens returns to start at tight end, while Deion Branch is expected to move into Seattle’s starting lineup. Although Matt Hasselbeck and company may be missing Bobby Engram (illness, questionable), the offense has had two full weeks during the bye to prepare for this divisional matchup and should be able to put plenty of points on the board.

Predictions: Marc Bulger gets picked off for the first time, but manages 240 yards and two TDs, one to each Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Steven Jackson rushes for 90 yards, but Scott Linehan’s affection for passing in the red-zone prevents a TD. Matt Hasselbeck counters with 250 yards and TD passes to Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch. Maurice Morris surprises with 110 yards, but Mack Strong runs one in from the goal-line to seal it. Seahawks 24-20.

New York Giants (+3) at Atlanta, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: The Giants struggle defending the pass, but the Falcons can’t throw the ball. As far as New York’s run defense and Atlanta’s run game goes, it’s strength against strength. Still, it’s Atlanta’s defense that may be the difference here, as John Abraham (groin, questionable) looks likely to return to an already stout pass rush. Eli Manning has made major strides, and he’ll be tested yet again in a harsh Georgia Dome environment. He’s going to have to produce, as Tiki Barber and the Giants’ ground game faces the NFL’s second stingiest run defense, which is allowing a paltry 70.5 yards per game…To illustrate just how feeble Atlanta’s passing attack has been, Alge Crumpler leads the team in receptions but has caught just 41 percent of the passes thrown his way. What the Falcons lack through the air, they more than make up for on the ground, as their 234.3 rushing yards per game easily lead the NFL. Michael Vick is averaging 8.8 YPC and went for more than 100 rushing yards last time he met the Giants. Jerious Norwood (shoulder, questionable) is expected to play, but Warrick Dunn continues to get the brunt of the work…The Giants’ Jeremy Shockey (foot) is probable, while Atlanta’s Wayne Gandy (shoulder), Ed Hartwell (knee), and Allen Rossum (hamstring) are all questionable to play…Atlanta has beaten the Giants the past three times the two teams have met.

Predictions: Atlanta’s pass rush continues to hurry Eli Manning, but he’s still able to put up solid numbers. Expect 240 yards passing and a TD strike to Amani Toomer. Tiki Barber scampers for 85 yards, but Brandon Jacobs crosses the stripe. Michael Vick barely throws for 150 yards, but he does run for another 70 and a score. Warrick Dunn gets 60 yards and finds the end zone, while Jerious Norwood scores a TD as well, putting the Giants away in the process. Falcons 24-20.

Philadelphia (-3.5) at New Orleans, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: New Orleans has to feel disrespected being 3.5 point underdogs with a 4-1 record playing at home. Especially when you consider it’s to a team that’s played a relatively weak schedule. Still, the Eagles have beaten inferior opponents in an impressive fashion and look like one of the NFL’s elite teams so far. Drew Brees has been solid this year and faces a secondary that has given up big yardage totals. It’s a secondary returning to health, however, as only backup Roderick Hood (heel, doubtful) is at risk to miss the game. With Lito Sheppard (ankle, probable) back, look for continued improvement out of the Birds’ pass defense. When the Saints use Reggie Bush as a decoy, Deuce McAllister is often left with gaping holes, and he’s taking full advantage of it (4.8 YPC and 4 TDs on the year). Bush, meanwhile, finally scored his first touchdown and has the most receptions of anyone in the NFL…Praising Donovan McNabb’s play so far has become redundant, as we are running out of superlatives to describe his performance. It looks like Donte Stallworth (hamstring, doubtful) won’t get a shot at his former team, as he appears unlikely to suit up Sunday. Brian Westbrook (knee, questionable), on the other hand, has returned to practice this week, as the swelling in his knee has started to subside. He’s expected to play and once again presents a matchup nightmare for the Saints… Philadelphia is 5-0 in its last five games against New Orleans.

Predictions: Drew Brees throws for 240 yards and finds Marques Colston and Joe Horn in the end zone. Reggie Bush is again active in the passing game, but it’s Deuce McAllister who gets the rushing score. Donovan McNabb once again impresses, with 280 passing yards and two touchdown tosses, one to Reggie Brown and the other to L.J. Smith. A healthier Brian Westbrook goes off for 110 combined yards and a TD run, putting Philadelphia on top for good. Eagles 27-21.

San Diego (-10) at San Francisco, Sunday 4:15 p.m.

Comments: The Chargers look like legit contenders, with a stout defense and a more than capable Philip Rivers at the helm. San Francisco, however, is no pushover, especially when playing at home. Alex Smith has progressed nicely but faces a tough task in Week 6, as San Diego features both the No. 1 ranked pass D (138 YPG) and rush D (66.5 YPG). It should be a good battle between the D and Frank Gore, who is tied for the NFL lead in rushing and also leads the 49ers in receptions. He also went his first game without fumbling last week, and with Michael Robinson struggling at the goal-line, Gore may get the short yardage carries this week as well…Is LaDainian Tomlinson really a part of a running back by committee? While fantasy owners are frustrated with Michael Turner’s emergence (6.8 YPC), it does increase the likelihood of Tomlinson’s prolonged health. Antonio Gates can relate, as he’s seen his number of targets decrease significantly this year. Once their competition starts to improve, expect Rivers to look for Gates with greater frequency, as San Diego will have to start passing more. This Sunday presents a juicy matchup against a suspect 49ers secondary, but expect the ground game to be heavily featured once again, as another early lead appears likely…San Diego doesn’t have any major injuries, but San Francisco lists Larry Allen (knee, doubtful), Jonas Jennings (hand, questionable) and Derek Smith (hip, probable) on the injury report.

Predictions: Alex Smith mixes a couple turnovers in with a TD strike to Antonio Bryant. Frank Gore gets 100 yards total and finds paydirt as well. San Diego again limits Philip Rivers’ pass attempts, resulting in 220 yards and a scoring toss to Antonio Gates. LaDainian Tomlinson goes off for 150 total yards and a score, while Michael Turner adds another 50 and a TD for himself, en route to a San Diego victory. Chargers 28-20.

Chicago (-10.5) at Arizona, Monday 8:30 p.m.

Comments: Matt Leinart had quite an auspicious start to his NFL career last week, as he opened the first quarter with two TD passes right off the bat. It didn’t go quite as well after that, but it was still a step in the right direction for the franchise, as he looked Michael Vick-like compared to lead-footed Kurt Warner. This week, however, he’s going to be playing without Larry Fitzgerald, who is out with a hamstring injury. Bryant Johnson will move into the starting lineup during Fitzgerald’s absence and is a capable replacement. Although home-field on Monday night is on their side, facing the Bears’ defense should be pretty overwhelming for a rookie quarterback missing one of his main playmakers…Rex Grossman just keeps on getting it done and has an ever growing fondness for finding Bernard Berrian deep. While Berrian is averaging 21.7 yards per catch, once defenders start giving him more room at the line of scrimmage, expect the wideout to take advantage and increase his catches on underneath routes, something he’s more than capable of doing. Cedric Benson may have finally scored his first two NFL touchdowns last week, but he was still held to less than 3.5 YPC. Thomas Jones, meanwhile, has seen his YPC steadily increase throughout the year and should excel Monday against a suspect Cardinals’ run defense…Arizona lists Kendrick Clancy (ankle) as doubtful on the injury report, while Chicago lists Chris Harris (quadricep, out), Adewale Ogunleye (hamstring, questionable) and Desmond Clark (foot, probable).

Predictions: Matt Leinart doesn’t attempt too many deep routes facing the toughest defense he’s ever seen, but it still results in an INT and a lost fumble. Anquan Boldin is able to rack up nine catches for 90 yards, but Edgerrin James struggles to amass anything more than 70 combined yards. Neil Rackers provides all of the scoring for the Cards. Rex Grossman throws for 240 yards and a TD strike to Bernard Berrian, while Muhsin Muhammad gets 90 receiving yards as well. Thomas Jones adds another 100 yards on the ground and scores a touchdown in the process, making the Bears’ lead insurmountable. Bears 20-6.

Week 6 Lineup Rankings

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Byes: Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England

Quarterbacks

1. Donovan McNabb
2. Marc Bulger
3. Matt Hasselbeck
4. Eli Manning
5. Michael Vick
6. Drew Bledsoe
7. Carson Palmer

8. Rex Grossman
9. Drew Brees
10. Chad Pennington
11. Philip Rivers
12. David Carr
13. Jake Plummer

14. J.P. Losman
15. Jon Kitna
16. Mark Brunell
17. Ben Roethlisberger
18. Alex Smith
19. Joey Harrington
20. Jake Delhomme
21. Steve McNair
22. Bruce Gradkowski
23. Vince Young
24. Andrew Walter
25. Matt Leinart
26. Damon Huard

Running Backs

1. LaDainian Tomlinson
2. Julius Jones
3. Clinton Portis
4. Tatum Bell
5. Brian Westbrook
6. Rudi Johnson
7. Thomas Jones
8. Ronnie Brown
9. Cadillac Williams
10. Larry Johnson
11. Steven Jackson

12. Tiki Barber
13. Warrick Dunn
14. Frank Gore
15. Kevin Jones
16. Willis McGahee
17. Deuce McAllister
18. Willie Parker

19. Maurice Morris
20. Reggie Bush
21. DeShaun Foster
22. Edgerrin James
23. LaMont Jordan
24. Michael Turner
25. Leon Washington
26. Jamal Lewis
27. Marion Barber
28. Ron Dayne
29. Travis Henry/LenDale White
30. Cedric Benson

Wide Receivers

1. Torry Holt
2. Terrell Owens
3. Andre Johnson
4. Santana Moss
5. Plaxico Burress
6. Lee Evans
7. Steve Smith
8. Chad Johnson
9. Roy Williams (check status)
10. Darrell Jackson
11. Anquan Boldin
12. TJ Houshmandzadeh

13. Terry Glenn
14. Bernard Berrian
15. Laveranues Coles
16. Javon Walker
17. Reggie Brown
18. Chris Chambers
19. Joey Galloway
20. Hines Ward
21. Muhsin Muhammad

22. Antonio Bryant
23. Randy Moss
24. Derrick Mason
25. Marques Colston
26. Deion Branch

27. Joe Horn
28. Amani Toomer
29. Isaac Bruce
30. Jerricho Cotchery
31. Rod Smith
32. Eric Moulds
33. Eddie Kennison
34. Keyshawn Johnson
35. Drew Bennett
36. Wes Welker

ALCS/NLCS Previews

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

After my impressive Division Series performance, I look to continue my streak with some Championship Series predictions. First, we’ll start with the American League:

Detroit vs. Oakland

Comments: While I wasn’t surprised to see Oakland advance, I was rather shocked to see Detroit knock off the Yankees – in an impressive fashion I might add. The Tigers proved me wrong in the regular season and continue to do so in the postseason. I finally believe. Their pitching just plain gets it done. Their similarity to last year’s White Sox’ team is uncanny; they weren’t even close to favorites, jumped out to a big AL Central lead, faltered the final six weeks, but then regained momentum come playoff time. The comparisons might have to stop there, however, as Oakland is going to be tough to beat. Detroit won the regular season series 5-4, but their decision to throw Nate Robertson Game 1 might be a series-costing mistake. He’s a notorious poor second-half pitcher and has a 5.46 career ERA against the A’s. The decision also means Kenny Rogers, who is 23-1 at Oakland since 1995, doesn’t pitch until Game 3 in Comerica, and Jeremy Bonderman (arguably their best hurler) will only be available once throughout the series…Placido Polanco absolutely owns the A’s, batting a career .493 against them (33-for-67)…Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander each allowed only one steal all season, but the A’s don’t run anyway…Jeremy Bonderman may have some extra incentive; remember, he had a prominent role in “Moneyball.” Billy Beane allegedly threw a chair at a wall when the A’s scouting director selected Bonderman – a high school pitcher – in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft. Beane traded Bonderman to Detroit a year later in a three-team swap that brought Ted Lilly to Oakland…Esteban Loaiza gets the call Game 2, and since he’s 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA since Aug. 1, it’s probably the right move…Rich Harden is the series’ biggest wild card. He again had a subpar performance in an instructional league game Monday and hasn’t pitched in a big league game since Oct. 1. He’s capable of dominance, but is a bit of an unknown at this point. The A’s are actually still undecided if he’ll go Game 3 or Game 4; the thinking being, if Harden goes Game 4, there’s no chance he’ll be available Game 7, but if Dan Haren goes Game 4, both he and Harden would be available Game 7, since Haren is more likely to be able to go on short rest. It allows them to have much more flexibility…Detroit is no joke, but Oakland ultimately takes the series.

Athletics 4-3

St. Louis vs. New York Mets

Comments: Both teams enter far from healthy. While the Mets are missing Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez and possibly Cliff Floyd, the Cardinals are without Jason Isringhausen, Mark Mulder and have a banged up Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen. Expect a high scoring series here, as both Jeff Weaver and Oliver Perez might get starts in a series deciding the National League champion. New York won the regular season series 4-2, but this will be the Cardinals’ third consecutive trip to the NLCS. Still, this team hardly resembles those squads, as the Cardinals finished with just an 83-78 record this year. They won’t be doormats, however, as they will make a series out of it…The Cardinals are throwing Jeff Suppan Game 2, even though his home/road splits (3.18/5.36 ERA) suggest they should do all they can to give him a start in St. Louis…Tony La Russa’s decision to throw Chris Carpenter Game 4 of the NLDS wasn’t a bad one, but it does mean Carpenter won’t be available until Game 3, although that means he could go in a possible Game 7 as well…The Cardinals’ bullpen was considered a weakness heading into the playoffs but tossed 11 1/3 scoreless innings during the NLDS…I know Anthony Reyes has been largely disappointing, but I still say he has the talent to spin a gem during this series…The Mets led all of baseball in scoring and face a poor road team with homefield advantage, it’s New York’s series to lose.

Mets 4-2.

Power Rankings

Monday, October 9th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

I know power rankings are incredibly cliché, but I’ve never done them before and figured I would give it a shot. Now I’m never quite sure what ‘power rankings’ actually mean, but my way of looking at it is taking two teams and deciding whom I would favor in a neutral setting, then ranking the favorite ahead of the underdog. So while the Saints have been impressive this year, there is no way I would favor them over the reeling Steelers. Without further adieu. . .

32. Oakland Raiders
0-16 anyone?

31. Tennessee Titans
The Titans v. Colts result was the most shocking score of the season. The Titans are still awful.

30. Houston Texans

29. Green Bay Packers

28. Cleveland Browns

27. Miami Dolphins
Harrington or Culpepper? Who cares.

26. San Francisco 49ers
Easily the most promising team going forward in this bottom tier.

25. Detroit Lions

24. Buffalo Bills

23. Arizona Cardinals
Matt Leinart looked pretty good, but he’s still a rookie and losing Fitz hurts. Humm, maybe ’07 will be their year.

22. New York Jets
The Jets have been surprisingly competent this season (the Jacksonville debacle notwithstanding), but I can’t put them any higher than this.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

20. Washington Redskins

19. Kansas City Chiefs

18. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are a great story, but they are not making the playoffs.

17. Minnesota Vikings

16. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have only played one impressive game, their first week win over the Broncos.

15. Baltimore Ravens

14. Dallas Cowboys

13. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are struggling mightily, but I still wouldn’t bet against them versus the majority of teams in the league.

12. New York Giants

11. Atlanta Falcons

10. San Diego Chargers
Marty took the kid gloves off Rivers, and he looked good.

9. Carolina Panthers

8. Denver Broncos
This ranking will drop if the Broncos don’t impress this evening like I expect them to.

7. Philadelphia Eagles
Donovan McNabb looks unstoppable, but the defense needs some work.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

5. Seattle Seahawks
Who needs Hutchinson when you have the best #4 receiver in all of football?

4. Cincinnati Bengals

3. New England Patriots

2. Chicago Bears
Wow. The Bears are pretty good. They still need to prove themselves on the road, although they may not have to in the playoffs.

1. Indianapolis Colts
This may seem indefensible after the Colts looked terrible beating the Titans at home, but I’m still taking the Colts over any team in the NFL in a neutral environment. I would put the Bears at -3 at home against the Colts and the Colts at -4 at home against the Bears.

Dalton Says: I actually like these rankings, as mine wouldn’t differ much at all. I think Kansas City is better than most realize, while I’m still not buying the Rams or Ravens. Something is clearly wrong with Ben Roethlisberger, but I refuse to count Pittsburgh out. The San Diego Chargers are legit. While the Bears are undeniably the NFC’s best team right now, and Seattle the likely No. 2 seed, it wouldn’t shock me if one of Atlanta/New York Giants/Philadelphia ends up going to the Super Bowl. Although winning in Soldier Field come December might be close to impossible.

Deep Thoughts

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

Can someone please explain to me why SportsCenter doesn’t show full boxscores?…You know things are getting bad for Daunte Culpepper when Mike Mularkey calls for Ronnie Brown to throw the 2 point conversion pass with the game on the line…The Ravens still suck…When someone starts talking about “Moss,” it’s time to assume they mean Santana…In hindsight, this is what I should have been writing about in college…Thank you Ron Gardenhire. You have a top-5 relief pitcher in all of baseball at your disposal and use him 2/3 innings during a three-game sweep. Good thing Joe Nathan will be well rested this winter. It’s OK to use your best players before the ninth inning and not always with the lead…Barring a Padres comeback, looks like I went 0-for-4 in my postseason predictions. Bravo, Dalton, Bravo. In my defense, I was THIS close to picking the Cards and both bet on and picked the A’s to win the World Series before the season started, so I have some consolation. The Tigers have proved me wrong time and time again this year…Joe Torre sits Gary Sheffield in favor of senile Bernie Baseball in Game 3, followed by benching Jason Giambi for the immortal Melky Cabrera in Game 4 against a righty? As those dudes from Guinness Beer would say: Brilliant!

Will someone please explain to me why so many fantasy magazines had Reuben Droughns as a top 10-15 back? There really needs to be an inquest…Carson Palmer is not fully recovered from his torn knee. Not even close, really…It’s official – I have a man-crush on Laurence Maroney…I see the Broncos dominating on Monday night this week…Has there even been a more anticipated player vs. team/city matchup than T.O. and Philly this week? Sure, the media coverage is tiresome, but I can’t wait to see this train wreck waiting to happen. Really, nothing would surprise me. That said, I say Philly runs away with the game…Kevin Jones, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop proving me wrong each week…Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne have a combined ZERO TDs this year…Can’t believe how much Deuce McAllister is killing Reggie Bush’s fantasy value…Call me crazy, but my favorite bet of the week involves the 49ers and giving 3.5 points…Last week I gave you the Patriots upset, this week I offer you the Steelers. Take the money-line.

First Quarter Awards

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

By Jeff Chudnofsky – Staff Writer

Four weeks into the NFL season, we’ve learned (once again) that not everything goes as planned. We’ve seen playoff teams become cellar dwellers and doormats become legitimate forces. We’ve seen Daunte struggle in his new environment while Donovan is back on the scene. We’ve been introduced the rookie of the year in the Big Easy, and his name isn’t Reggie Bush. Although the regular season still holds 13 more weeks, let’s take a time out to appreciate what was the first quarter of the 2006 season.

MVP Candidates – Peyton Manning, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb

Manning and McNair sit atop their respective divisions at 4-0, while McNabb is leading the league in passing with 1,248 yards. Manning is second in passing yardage (1,112) and has added two rushing scores to go along with his six TD tosses. While Manning has put his team on his back, McNair has been fortunate to ride the AFC’s best defense. While his numbers aren’t gaudy, don’t look past McNair’s consecutive game winning drives in weeks 3 and 4. In a close race, I’d go with Peyton Manning.

Offensive Player of the Year – Donovan McNabb

This one is easy, as McNabb has thrown for nine touchdowns and has ran for two more. He trails only David Carr (108.0) and Damon Huard (106.9) in passer rating. Yes, David Carr and Damon Huard.

Defensive player of the year – Bart Scott

If you had to guess which Baltimore defender would crown DPOY honors at the start of the season, most bets would be placed on Ray Lewis or Ed Reed. While he is not a household name, Bart Scott has been a catalyst for the dynamic Ravens’ defense with 42 total tackles, five sacks, one interception and four passes defended.

Offensive Rookie of the year Candidates – Marques Colston, Laurence Maroney

Once again, the big surprise in New Orleans is not Reggie Bush. Colston is currently sixth in the NFL in receiving yards with 336, while he has converted three of his 20 catches for scores. Maroney has been electrifying, currently 11th in rushing with 294 yards, a 4.9 average, and three rushing touchdowns. While both players are difference makers on their respective teams, my vote is going with Colston until he slows down.

Defensive Rookie of the year – DeMeco Ryans

Nothing flashy here, but Ryans is currently tied for fifth in total tackles along with 0.5 sacks.

Comeback Player of the year – Chad Pennington

Who would have thought that Pennington would be eighth in passing yardage with a 102.3 passer rating, much less survive four games? He has led the Jets to a surprising 2-2 record and has them believing in a playoff run.

Biggest Disappointment – Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss

I’ll admit, I was drinking the Fish-flavored Kool-Aid at the start of the season, but C-Pep reminds us again that he is nothing without Randy Moss. Speaking of Moss, his play versus Cleveland last week resembled the speed of Joe Paterno running across the field to use the john. In Moss’ defense, he is stuck in no man’s land, and unless he is shipped off to Jacksonville, he will continue to misjudge Andrew Walter’s ducks.

Game Capsules

Friday, October 6th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: I write half the coverage of RotoWire’s weekly “game capsules,” hence only the NFC home games here, and figured I might as well share them with the loyal RotoScoop readers. While extensive, maybe I touched on one of your favorite teams; dissenting opinions welcome…

Washington (+4.5) at New York Giants, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: After having not thrown for more than 200 yards for nine straight regular season games, Mark Brunell has now done it two weeks in a row, getting a remarkable 11.0 YPA last week. It’s possible Brunell continues riding the way back machine this week, as the Giants have had trouble pressuring the passer, totaling a pathetic two sacks thus far. In order to do so, Brunell needs to continue getting Santana Moss the ball in the open field, where he’s able to break big plays. Clinton Portis’ shoulder problem is officially a thing of the past. Still, the Redskins likely won’t be able to match New York’s offensive output…After a bye, look for the Giants to return having solved some of their early season problems. Eli Manning needs to get New York off to a better start, as the team has found itself in big holes early during their last two games. Washington’s defense has been beatable, and Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey return from the bye completely healthy, looking to exploit a secondary that is badly missing Shawn Springs (groin, doubtful)…Last year when these two teams met in New York, it was a 36-0 Giants’ thrashing. While it won’t be that lopsided, the Giants are tough at home and will handle their easiest opponent of the year so far.

Predictions: Mark Brunell had his worst game of the season last year in New York, but fares better this time by attempting more throws downfield, resulting in 250 yards and a TD strike to Santana Moss. Clinton Portis rumbles for 110 yards and a score. Eli Manning gets 250 yards but throws less than normal, since he’s not playing from behind. He also tosses two scores, one to Plaxico Burress and another to Jeremy Shockey. Tiki Barber gets 120 total yards, but Brandon Jacobs pilfers a late score to seal it. Giants 24-17.

Detroit (+6.5) at Minnesota, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: Detroit’s lack of running game, poor defense and Mike Martz calling the shots have all resulted in Jon Kitna becoming a viable fantasy option. It’s a formula that should continue, as Detroit’s defense looks like one of the league’s very worst, especially against the pass. Roy Williams is finally cashing in on his vast talent and more touchdowns are sure to follow. Unheralded Mike Furrey, a former converted safety, is all of a sudden on the fantasy radar, while Kevin Jones is quietly turning into the versatile back everyone envisioned him being last year. Word is Mike Williams is impressing during practice, but he’s still got a long way to go before producing on Sundays…Brad Johnson has done a nice job managing games but has just two TD passes to show for it. Look for that to change this week against Detroit’s secondary, which has been nothing short of terrible. Troy Williamson should easily exploit the Lions’ weakness downfield. While his numbers haven’t shown it, Williamson is getting targeted more than eight times per game, which means bigger numbers are in store. Chester Taylor can’t help but accumulate big stats with all of his touches, but don’t be surprised if he breaks down later this season…The Lions list Kenoy Kennedy (foot, out), Rex Tucker (knee, questionable), Ross Verba (hamstring, questionable) and Dre Bly (illness, probable) on the injury report, while Darren Sharper (quadriceps, questionable), Jermaine Wiggins (hamstring, questionable) and Ryan Longwell (illness, probable) are listed for the home team…Minnesota is 9-1 in its last ten games against Detroit.

Predictions: Jon Kitna throws for 230 yards, two INTS and one TD while playing catch up most of the day. Roy Williams hauls in the score and gets 100 yards as well. Kevin Jones continues his early season success with 90 total yards and a score. Brad Johnson has his biggest day of the year, throwing for 270 yards and two scores. Troy Williamson goes for 120 yards and catches one of the TDs, while Travis Taylor corrals the other. Chester Taylor is active in both the passing and running game, resulting in 110 yards and a score, as the Vikings roll. Vikings 24-17.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at New Orleans, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: It goes without saying Tampa Bay didn’t envision their season going this way, as rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski starts his first NFL game for a squad reeling at 0-3. Not that Chris Simms was playing well, but things in Tampa may actually get worse before they get better. When Cadillac Williams was taken in the first round of fantasy drafts this year, owners probably expected more than 2.5 YPC; it’s taken three games for him to eclipse 100 yards on the ground this year. Maybe most disconcerting of all, Tampa Bay’s defense has underperformed as well, yielding 170.0 rushing yards per game. While the Buccaneers are unlikely to become a doormat, a huge turnaround seems at least as improbable…It’s time to start taking New Orleans seriously. While last week’s game in Carolina could have easily been a letdown after the re-opening of the Superdome, the Saints stayed competitive until the very end. After a perfect 4-0 start against the spread, it’s hard to figure out why New Orleans is giving less than a touchdown to a winless team at home. While Drew Brees only has four touchdown tosses on the year, his 7.8 YPA indicates many more to come. Reggie Bush’s season has been viewed by some as somewhat disappointing, and while it’s true he’s still looking for his first TD, he is on pace for more than 90 catches and 750 receiving yards…Tampa Bay’s T Kenyatta Walker is out for the year following knee surgery, while G David Joseph (knee) and CB Brian Kelly (foot) are questionable. The Saints only relevant injury is Devery Henderson (shoulder, questionable)…The fact the Bucs have won four out of their last five matchups with the Saints will be irrelevant Sunday, when New Orleans marches to victory.

Predictions: Bruce Gradkowski is conservative in his first start, resulting in 150 yards and no scores, negating any fantasy value for Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton. Cadillac Williams gets into the end zone, but again only musters 60 yards on the ground. The Saints attack Tampa mostly on the ground, which means Drew Brees throws for fewer than 200 yards and a TD strike to Marques Colston, who once again outshines Joe Horn. Reggie Bush gets 110 total yards and reaches paydirt for the first time in his career, giving New Orleans a lead that won’t be relinquished. Saints 20-13.

St. Louis (-3) at Green Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: St. Louis may be 3-1, but they haven’t been as impressive as their record indicates. Especially on the road, the Rams are extremely vulnerable and have no business giving points on the spread. In a battle of porous defenses, expect a busy day for the scorekeeper. Marc Bulger figures to have his third straight big statistical day, as Al Harris and company are getting shredded through the air. Orlando Pace’s (concussion, questionable) expected return should be a boon to their red-zone woes, as Jeff Wilkins has been their biggest offensive weapon so far. Torry Holt’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s been targeted 52 times, pacing the entire NFL. Don’t be surprised if he finishes as fantasy football’s No. 1 wide receiver…While the Rams’ secondary has shown improvement, look for Brett Favre (head, probable) to exploit it. Coming off an embarrassing Monday night debacle, Green Bay’s offense will get back on track, as Donald Driver (ribs, questionable) and Greg Jennings shape a formidable receiving duo. Ahman Green (hamstring, questionable) is expected to return, but it appears he’s already breaking down, so expect Vernand Morency to remain heavily involved in the running game from here on out…Robert Ferguson (foot) is doubtful to play…Green Bay is 6-1 in its last seven home games against St. Louis; expect home-field to be the difference yet again on Sunday.

Predictions: Marc Bulger goes off for 320 yards and two touchdowns, with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce being the recipients. Holt also adds 140 yards as well. Steven Jackson gets close to 110 total yards, but doesn’t reach the end zone. Brett Favre counters Bulger with a big day of his own, passing for 270 yards and three scores. Donald Driver gets over his problem with drops and catches one of them, while Greg Jennings hauls in another. A late field goal wins it for the home team. Packers 24-23.

Buffalo (+10.5) at Chicago, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: While the Bills are off to a surprisingly solid start, the Bears have been the NFL’s most impressive team so far. J.P. Losman could be in for a long day playing in Soldier Field, where Chicago is nearly unbeatable. Still, Buffalo’s defense figures to at least keep them in the game. Willis McGahee’s 105 touches lead the NFL, in part due to his improved blocking enabling him to remain on the field at all times. Fantasy owners would surely like more than one touchdown (he has two in his last 14 games), however, and life certainly won’t be any easier come Sunday…Rex Grossman is getting 8.5 YPA and has thrown for eight touchdowns already. Against a stout Bills’ secondary, expect Grossman’s early season success to be tested. Bernard Berrian is averaging a ridiculous 21.1 yards per catch and is fast becoming one of the NFL’s best deep threats, while Muhsin Muhammad is enjoying a revival season as well. Thomas Jones may only be getting 3.3 YPC, but expect that number to grow as opposing defenses are forced to account for the Bears’ newfound passing attack. He’s making Cedric Benson irrelevant…Takeo Spikes (hamstring) is questionable for the Bills, while Desmond Clark (foot, questionable) and Adewale Ogunleye (hamstring, questionable) are for the Bears.

Predictions: J.P. Losman is shut down, managing just 160 yards through the air without a score. Willis McGahee is featured heavily, which results in 90 yards but no TDs. Rex Grossman doesn’t light up the scoreboard, but he does get 200 yards and a TD strike to Muhsin Muhammad. Thomas Jones garners 90 hard fought yards, while also reaching paydirt en route to a Chicago victory. Bears 17-9.

Cleveland (+8.5) at Carolina, Sunday 1 p.m.

Comments: The good news is Cleveland finally won its first game last week. The bad news is now they have to travel to Carolina and face a Panthers team starting to find its groove. Charlie Frye has become a viable fantasy option with his three rushing TDs, but his seven INTS and 6.9 YPA still need work. The Panthers can be beaten on the ground, but Reuben Droughns (shoulder, questionable) may not be healthy enough to fully exploit the opportunity. Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow both look healthy and like future stars but have a tough matchup this week…Jake Delhomme and the Panthers’ running game should crush an already suspect Browns defense with Leigh Bodden (ankle, questionable) and Gary Baxter (pectoral, questionable) banged up. While there’s talk Steve Smith still isn’t 100 percent, he’s still likely to be the most explosive player on the field Sunday. Although Justin Hartwig (groin, questionable) appears iffy to play, count on Carolina pounding the football, as the Browns have been gashed for nearly 150.0 rushing yards per game. DeAngelo Williams needs to improve his blocking if he wants to stay on the field more, but he and DeShaun Foster should have successful days on Sunday…While Carolina lists Dan Morgan (concussion, out) on the injury report, Cleveland does the same with Joe Jurevicius (ribs, questionable), Willie McGinest (calf. questionable), and Kellen Winslow (knee, questionable).

Predictions: Playing largely from behind, Charlie Frye ends up with 220 yards passing, another 20 rushing and one TD pass to Braylon Edwards. He also turns the ball over twice. Kellen Winslow continues his march toward comeback player of the year, netting 85 receiving yards. Reuben Droughns adds 60 yards and a score as well. Concentrating on the ground game, Jake Delhomme finishes with a modest 200 yards through the air, including a TD strike to Steve Smith, who tops 100 yards himself. Both DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams get double-digit carries and each cross the goal-line in the process, putting the Browns away for good. Panthers 27-17.

Kansas City (-3) at Arizona, Sunday 4:05 p.m.

Comments: The Matt Leinart era has officially begun, as Kurt Warner’s 10th fumble of the year finally brought on the switch. While the offensive line deserves most of the blame, Warner is a terrible fit for a team struggling to block. Enter Leinart, who immediately faces a defense completely transformed by Herm Edwards. In fact, the Chiefs currently have the third ranked defense in the NFL and have held opponents to a remarkable 121.7 passing yards per game. Leinart is likely to get the ball away quicker than Warner, but expect plenty of rookie mistakes along the way. Still, with their poor defense, struggling running game and Larry Fitzgerald (ankle, probable) and Anquan Boldin catching passes, Leinart may not be able to avoid decent numbers…While Larry Johnson continues to pile up big yardage totals, they haven’t come easy, as teams are stacking up to nine men in the box, daring Damon Huard to throw the ball. With Kyle Turley (back) and Will Svitek (knee) both ruled out, Kansas City’s offensive line just got that much thinner. Still, it’s Arizona’s defense lining up on the other side, a unit giving up more than 375.0 yards per game. Damon Huard, who has a surprising 106.9 QB rating, is competent enough to take advantage of the Cardinals’ weaknesses…While the Chiefs typically struggle on the road, expect Matt Leinart to open his NFL career with a loss.

Predictions: Big plays continue to elude Edgerrin James in the desert, but he does get enough touches to total 110 yards and a score. Matt Leinart has an up and down game, with the final result being two turnovers, 180 yards and a TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Anquan Boldin chips in 95 yards as well. The Chiefs limit Damon Huard’s pass attempts, but he does find Tony Gonzalez in the end zone. The gameplan runs through Larry Johnson, who totals 160 yards and two touchdowns, paving the way for a Chiefs’ victory. Chiefs 21-17.

Oakland (+3.5) at San Francisco, Sunday 4:05 p.m.

Comments: This battle of the bay would’ve been a marquee matchup a few years back; instead, it’s a contest between two of the NFL’s weakest teams, with Oakland in the early lead for most futile. Last week, Andrew Walter made Aaron Brooks look positively Hall of Fame like, as he mustered a pathetic 3.0 YPA while completing less than 40 percent of his passes. He accomplished these feats with a 21-3 lead, suggesting it might have been even uglier had he been forced to throw under less than ideal circumstances. It’s a situation we should witness Sunday, as the 49ers figure to be out in front at some point, as San Francisco is far from a doormat at home. However, San Francisco’s secondary has allowed eight touchdowns and has yet to pick off one pass this year. While it was nice to see LaMont Jordan have a big day last week, if you take away his one long run, he’s left with another pedestrian YPC average. At least he caught his first two balls of the year, as it remains a mystery why offensive coordinator Tom Walsh refuses to feature him in the passing game. This is not the same Randy Moss we know and love; not even close…Alex Smith took a step backward last week, but he had been having a solid year before that. Against a secondary missing Fabian Washington (hamstring, out) and possibly forced to start Duane Starks, expect another step forward for Smith this week. The same could be said for Antonio Bryant, who has been quiet the last two weeks. Frank Gore has lost a fumble in four straight games, and if he doesn’t start protecting the ball, expect to see more Michael Robinson. Still, look for Gore to get it corrected and start holding the ball higher, and aside from the fumbling issues, he has been a force. Against one of the worst run defenses in the league, the Raiders will have no answer for Gore, who has a monstrous day Sunday…Oakland lists Robert Gallery (shoulder), Grant Irons (back) and Lance Johnstone (knee) as questionable, while the 49ers will likely be without Larry Allen (knee, doubtful).

Predictions: Andrew Walter isn’t quite as bad as last week, but that doesn’t mean he’s good, as finishes with 190 yards and one TD pass. LaMont Jordan gets 75 yards on the ground and scores. Alex Smith gets 220 yards and connects with Antonio Bryant for a long score. Frank Gore explodes for 140 yards and a TD, while Michael Robinson runs another short one in as well, as Oakland remains winless. 49ers 24-17.

Dallas (+2) at Philadelphia, Sunday 4:15 p.m.

Comments: The headlines will be Terrell Owens’ return to Philly, but the story will be the battle between two division rivals, with the winner in sole possession of the NFC East lead. Drew Bledsoe is getting a respectable 7.3 YPA, but he’s doing so while completing a putrid 52.7 percent of his passes. Still, with Terry Glen playing well and complementing Terrell Owens, he has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Speaking of T.O., he says his injured hand is no longer a problem, but he’ll have to exact revenge against a secondary finally getting healthy, as Lito Sheppard (ankle, questionable) looks likely to return…Donovan McNabb should be equally fired up for Dallas coming to town, as this year’s Eagles are officially his team. McNabb and his 8.7 YPA is probably the league’s MVP a quarter into the season. However, the rest of Philadelphia’s offensive unit is more than a little banged up, with Donte Stallworth (hamstring, doubtful) unlikely to suit up and Brian Westbrook’s (knee, questionable) status again uncertain. After sitting out a week, coaches expect Westbrook to play, which would provide a huge boost to the offense. Reggie Brown (shoulder, probable) and L.J. Smith (shoulder, probable) are both expected to play and provide enough options in the passing game to compensate for Stallworth’s absence. While Owens figures to make his mark, the Eagles’ pass rush will ultimately disrupt Bledsoe, resulting in numerous sacks and a couple of turnovers. McNabb shines and leads Philadelphia to victory.

Predictions: Terrell Owens makes his presence felt, as he is targeted frequently Sunday, resulting in eight catches, 120 yards and one score. Drew Bledsoe also finds Terry Glenn in the end zone, while Julius Jones gets 80 yards on the ground. Donovan McNabb continues his early season excellence, spreading the ball around to reach 330 yards and three scores, one to Reggie Brown and another to Brian Westbrook, who suits up and totals 130 yards himself. McNabb runs the other TD in late in the game, putting a fork in the Cowboys. Eagles 24-20.