Archive for September, 2009

NFL Barometer

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

RISERS

Pierre Thomas, RB, NO – Thomas’ return from his knee injury got off to a rough start last week, as a bad case of dehydration led to zero first half carries. After halftime, he more than made up for it, gaining 126 rushing yards with two touchdowns on just 14 carries. With Mike Bell dealing with a knee injury of his own and Reggie Bush continuing to struggle between the tackles (and outside them, for that matter), Thomas should be New Orleans’ workhorse from here on out. The fantastic offense should lead to plenty of red-zone trips, but even more encouraging is the improved Saints’ defense, which should lead to far more rushing attempts than last season. Thomas is in a terrific situation, and he’s got the talent to take full advantage. He needs to be considered a top-five fantasy commodity right now.

Glen Coffee, RB, SF – Coffee wasn’t prepared to take on a full workload Sunday, but that’s exactly what he was asked to do when Frank Gore injured his ankle on the first play from scrimmage. Coffee struggled, gaining just 54 yards on 25 carries, but the schedule really eases up with two upcoming home games against the Rams and the Falcons. With few other viable options in the backfield, San Francisco is going to rely heavily on Coffee in the short-term, as it’s a ground-heavy scheme, and while it hasn’t carried over, Coffee did impress during the preseason. Moreover, there’s no guarantee Gore returns after the Week 6 bye, and with matchups against the Texans and Colts afterward, Coffee could be a factor for quite a while. He deserves a No. 1 waiver priority this week.

Jerome Harrison, RB, CLE –Harrison totaled 85 yards on the road against a tough Baltimore defense last week, which is pretty impressive playing for the Browns. His value would mostly dissipate if Jamal Lewis returns from his hamstring injury, but if the injury continues to keep Lewis out of games, Harrison is a sneaky flex option. James Davis may be the future in Cleveland’s backfield, but he’s still too raw right now, and Harrison has gotten 5.3 YPC throughout his career. He’s also a solid receiver, so he needs to be owned in deeper formats.

Joe Flacco, QB, BAL – Flacco was able to throw for 342 yards Sunday despite Baltimore winning 34-3, which is great news for his fantasy outlook. The Ravens are still a run-first team with a strong defense, but Flacco has gotten 8.1 YPA with a 6:2 TD:INT ratio over the first three games of the season. He’s even capable of adding some rushing yards as well. Flacco impressed as a rookie, and it’s clear he’s only going to get better with time. He already looks like a viable QB1 option in fantasy leagues.

Kevin Walter, WR, HOU – Walter wasted no time in his return from a hamstring injury last week, catching seven balls for 96 yards and a touchdown. And he was awful close to scoring a second time as well. Houston’s defense remains a big problem, and Matt Schaub has looked extremely sharp over the last two games, so Walter is going to be productive. He’s the team’s main target when the Texans enter the red zone.

Vernon Davis, TE, SF – Davis has shown flashes before, but Sunday may have been his true coming out party, as he recorded seven receptions for 96 yards and two scores – the second TD a highly impressive 20-yarder in traffic. With Mike Martz gone, Davis has essentially become the No. 1 option in the passing game, something new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has done before with his tight ends. With Frank Gore (ankle) sidelined, San Francisco may pass more than usual, and the 49ers have a very favorable upcoming schedule.

LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI – McCoy was solid while replacing an injured Brian Westbrook (ankle) last week, rushing for 84 yards and a touchdown. While a 4.2 YPC mark wasn’t overly impressive during a home game against the Chiefs, McCoy proved he’s worthy of playing time, so even when Westbrook returns after the Week 4 bye, expect more of a timeshare in Philadelphia’s backfield. If and when Westbrook suffers his next injury, McCoy will be a must-start playing in that offense.

Davone Bess, WR, MIA – Bess certainly isn’t an explosive receiver, but he’s reclaimed Miami’s WR2 role, and he’s not a bad option in PPR formats. New quarterback Chad Henne has a much stronger arm than Chad Pennington, so the switch figures to help Ted Ginn more so long-term. However, in the meantime, don’t be surprised if Henne relies heavily on underneath routes to Bess, as the quarterback is still learning the ropes. Henne targeted Bess frequently when he took over in Week 3.

FALLERS

Brady Quinn, QB, CLE – After another ugly performance Sunday, Quinn was pulled in favor of Derek Anderson, and although Anderson struggled just as bad, he’s been named the team’s starter for Week 4. Over 2.5 games this season, Quinn has gotten 5.4 YPA with a 1:5 TD:turnover ratio while also taking 10 sacks. Despite spending a first round pick on Quinn in the 2007 draft, the Browns are still in search of a franchise QB.

Kevin Smith, RB, DET – After playing through a minor knee injury suffered earlier in the game, Smith was eventually knocked out of Week 3 after suffering a more serious shoulder injury. His status remains a mystery, but he’s unlikely to play in Week 4. Smith was in the midst of possibly the best game of his career before going down, so it’s unfortunate.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, SEA – Through three games, Houshmandzadeh has racked up just 145 receiving yards and has yet to reach the end zone. While his 10.4 yards-per-catch mark is actually his best since 2006/07, it’s still not any good. With Seneca Wallace replacing Matt Hasselbeck (ribs) last week, Houshmandzadeh figured to benefit more than teammate Nate Burleson, but it was the latter who received more targets (12) Sunday. Next up, Houshmandzadeh faces an Indy secondary that has allowed just seven passing touchdowns over the last 20 games.

Eddie Royal, WR, DEN – After getting targeted nine times over three quarters in Week 2, there was reason for optimism regarding Royal, despite the low output. But with just three lowly targets in Week 3, Royal has now produced only six receptions for 42 yards on the season. While it’s officially time to panic, and Denver’s new scheme appears to be a big problem for Royal, this is a player with skills, so some patience would be prudent in deeper leagues. A matchup against Dallas may finally force the Broncos to throw more this week, and it made sense to avoid him last week with Nnamdi Asomugha guarding him for most of the day. Still, Royal certainly can’t be trusted as a starter right now.

Felix Jones, RB, DAL – Jones continues to exhibit both tremendous explosiveness when on the field but an inability to stay on it due to injuries. The latest problem is a sprained knee, which should shelve him for a couple of weeks. Jones is officially injury-prone, but he’s also a worthy flex play when healthy, even if Marion Barber is back in action.

Joey Galloway, WR, NE – With Wes Welker (knee) missing action, Galloway figured to be relatively productive playing in New England’s offense. Instead, he’s been highly disappointing. Whether it is his advancing age or learning a new system, he’s showed zero chemistry with Tom Brady. Galloway isn’t worth owning regardless, but he could become completely irrelevant when Welker returns.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, KC – The problem isn’t just that Bowe’s hamstring injury kept him out of Week 3 action, it’s that the problem could linger, and his status for Week 4 remains in question. Kansas City’s offense was in big trouble beforehand. Without Bowe, it’s an utter disaster.

Byron Leftwich, QB, TB – Leftwich was able to rack up garbage starts through the first two games this season, but he wasn’t even able to do that Sunday, despite a lopsided score. As a result, he’s been benched for Josh Johnson. Leftwich is nothing more than a backup in the NFL these days.

Chad Pennington, QB, MIA – With a much tougher schedule, Pennington was likely to give way to Chad Henne at some point this season, but another shoulder injury meant the move happened sooner than expected. It’s unfortunate for Pennington, as the already noodle-armed QB has a tough road ahead trying to recover from a third procedure on his throwing arm.

Podcast

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Check it out.

The Scoop

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I thought they might miss Rex Ryan more but clearly, this Ravens team is no joke. The fact Joe Flacco was able to throw for 342 yards in a 34-3 game means he’s here to stay as a viable QB1 in fantasy. Imagine if he ever had a true stud to throw to…While I didn’t think it was possible, Derek Anderson made Brady Quinn look good in comparison. Anderson starting would be better news for Braylon Edwards, but that scenario looks doubtful after that performance. Ugly. How did this guy somehow finish with 29 touchdown passes in 2007 (he even got 8.2 YPA over an eight-game stretch)? Brett Ratliff, anyone?…Jerome Harrison was shutdown in the second half, but he certainly showed some promise against a tough defense. He’d be a worthy flex if Jamal Lewis’ corpse remains out of action this week…Willis McGahee’s touches remain erratic, but his production has not.  The Baltimore running back situation is going to be a pretty big headache for fantasy owners…Down 27-0 in the fourth quarter, what was Eric Mangini thinking kicking a field goal? Was avoiding a shutout more important than attempting an unlikely comeback? What a spineless move by a coach who should be the first to get fired in 2009.

The funny thing about Washington’s loss to Detroit was that everyone saw it coming. Are you telling me the Redskins are so bad they lost even after reading all those predictions during the week? One would have assumed the Lions would have ended their losing streak in a surprise against a team overlooking them…Don’t let the victory disguise just how truly awful this Detroit secondary is. Remember, this was a Jason Campbell/Santana Moss combo that was essentially shut down by the Rams the previous week…R.I.P. Clinton Portis…Stay patient Calvin Johnson owners, better days are ahead. I promise…Kevin Smith had racked up 119 yards in basically one half of play, so his injury was especially frustrating, and it looks like it’s going to keep him out of further games as well. With lackluster backups, it’s bad news for the Lions, but more importantly, there isn’t a single player on more of my fantasy teams than Smith.

Houston is a bad defensive team, but even looking past the numbers, Maurice Jones-Drew is simply one of the five best running backs in the NFL. His combination of speed, power and pass-catching ability is rare. A ref (the umpire, specifically) may have cost him another 80-yard TD run Sunday…Coming back from injury, Kevin Walter was a risky play in Week 3, but he certainly looked 100 percent. Remember, when the Texans get into the red zone, Matt Schaub typically looks for Walter first…Mike Sims-Walker remains a big injury risk, but he’s officially Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver and is a viable WR3, if not WR2 in fantasy leagues. He saw 10 more targets Sunday and was within a foot from scoring a touchdown…While Steve Slaton didn’t have the breakout game his owners were hoping for, he did get 113 yards on just 15 touches. Slaton ran with much more authority, and his numbers would have looked much better had Jacksonville not essentially held the ball the entire second half. Hopefully Chris Brown’s game-losing fumble leads to more goal-line opportunities for Slaton as well.

While running back is probably the most fungible position on the field, some remain integral to their team’s success, and Frank Gore falls under that category for San Francisco. Since Gore, otherwise known as “the human ankle sprain,” got injured on the first play from scrimmage Sunday, the 49ers’ effort was that much more impressive. Of course, so was the Vikings’ miracle finish. At least we won’t have to hear about Brett Favre too much this week…It’s taken him long enough, but Vernon Davis has arrived. He’s getting targeted far more than when Mike Martz was around, which makes sense, considering he’s the team’s best receiver and all. In no league should he be unowned…Shaun Hill has Chad Pennington type arm strength (well, before Pennington shredded his shoulder for a third time), but he’s actually a pretty good quarterback, more capable than just “managing” games. With a defense that looks legit, San Francisco is the current favorite to win the NFC West. With an upcoming home game against the Rams, it’s crazy to think this team was one play away from opening the season 4-0…I know there were off-field concerns, but again, how in the hell did Percy Harvin last until the 22nd pick of the draft?

I avoided Michael Turner in drafts this year because he was too matchup-dependent last year and offered nothing as a receiver. However, no one could have predicted a 3.5 YPC mark through three games, and I don’t think the “370 curse” is any explanation. The Falcons have just two home games between now and Week 12, which is another pretty big concern considering Turner’s massive splits last season. Still, he’ll remain a nice source for touchdowns playing in that offense…Of course these recommendations rarely work in practice, but Fred Taylor is a “sell-high” and Roddy White is a “buy-low”…Joey Galloway has looked nothing short of awful. New England had a nice win Sunday, but they need Wes Welker back desperately. This team still has plenty of problems.

It’s safe to say Kevin Kolb would be a top-10 fantasy QB if not for Donovan McNabb returning. He’s really improved, and the team will have a very interesting decision to make in the future…Brian Westbrook owners who handcuffed LeSean McCoy didn’t miss a beat last week, but in a way, McCoy’s solid performance was bad news, at least long-term. The bye week came at the right time, but upon his return, Westbrook’s touches are going to get cut into…Maybe all those confrontations Todd Haley has gotten into in the past were a sign his personality isn’t exactly conducive to being a head coach. What a disaster. This Chiefs team is one of the league’s true doormats right now…Like Old Yeller, someone should just take Larry Johnson out back and put him out of his misery…It’s safe to say Michael Vick isn’t going to make much of an impact anytime soon…DeSean Jackson is fast. And for someone who wasn’t going to be able to play because of a groin injury if not for a cortisone shot Sunday, he might not want to celebrate a long TD catch by flipping into the end zone and landing in the splits.

It’s hard to have a more productive game while completing just 13 passes than Aaron Rodgers in Week 3. That rushing ability is what really gives him serious fantasy upside…What if Steven Jackson were a featured back on the Giants? How many yards would he total if he somehow stayed healthy? 2,000? 2,500? 3,000?…Can someone please alert Donnie Avery that the season has started…As a clear workhorse in a dangerous offense, Ryan Grant will be solid this year, but he simply looks nothing like the back who broke onto the scene in 2007. Wha happened?

Did Byron Leftwich really get 1.4 YPA on Sunday? How is that even possible? In a home game, to boot. I’m guessing Jon Gruden isn’t exactly hating the fact he was fired. Speaking of, what are your thoughts of him as a commenter on MNF? Obviously, anyone is better than Tony Kornheiser, but I’m on the fence about “Chucky” so far…It’s a legitimate question, which Steve Smith would you rather have from here on out?…Derrick Ward didn’t exactly stick it to his former teammates. Ahmad Bradshaw, however, continues to impress.

The Jets got two very fortunate fumble recoveries Sunday, but it’s not like they were unworthy winners, either. Forcing Kerry Collins to end the game with 13 straight incompletions was a pretty impressive feat…Nate Washington only had two catches for 25 yards last week, but he was targeted nine times and should be owned in all deep fantasy leagues…A strong Jets defense limits his upside, but Jerricho Cotchery is still a legit WR2 if not WR1 right now. He’s developed a rapport with Mark Sanchez that was simply missing with Brett Favre last season…After starting the year 12-1 last season, the Titans are now 1-6 over their last seven games.

Winning by 20 while on the road and with Drew Brees throwing zero touchdowns, New Orleans is officially no longer a one-dimensional team. This defense is sneaky good. Greg Williams deserves a ton of credit…Trent Edwards obviously needs to take more shots downfield, but Terrell Owens has also clearly lost a step. For someone who’s always had spotty hands, it will be tougher for Owens to remain productive when his athleticism starts failing him…In that offense and now apparently healthy, Pierre Thomas’ fantasy value is through the roof. If a draft were held right now, I don’t see how Thomas isn’t an easy first round pick.

I’m beginning to think the Bears are a better team with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Seriously, that was a clinic Sunday…I’ll repeat it one final time, although he’s a big health risk, Nate Burleson is a better receiver than T.J. Houshmandzadeh…It looks like Julius Jones is here to stay. Feel free to drop Justin Forsett…While Matt Forte’s involvement in the passing game (five catches, 44 yards) was encouraging, fantasy owners have the right to be concerned. Even with a big upgrade at QB, Forte simply hasn’t been able to find many holes. He got just 3.1 YPC last week against a Seahawks team that had been getting gashed against the run this season. Of course, a home game against the Lions in Week 4 could cure plenty ills.

If not for a coin flip, the Steelers could very well be 0-3 right now. Of course, there’s little reason for panic, although their division is much improved. As disappointing as he’s been, it’s probably too early to call Rashard Mendenhall a bust. However, the same can’t be said about Limas Sweed…Cedric Benson is officially an every week starter, regardless of matchup…In retrospect, maybe the Week 1 contest between Denver and Cincinnati featured two good teams. The Bengals are one extremely fluky play away from being 3-0, and they get the Browns this week…But enough praise for the Bengals, as this is a team that made the single dumbest decision of the 2009 season Sunday (and it will be hard to beat over the rest of the year). After completing a pass for a first down, Carson Palmer clocked the ball with 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter. At the Pittsburgh 15-yard-line. With two timeouts remaining. Please try to comprehend this. Absolutely dumbfounding. It’s safe to say Marvin Lewis is a questionable decision-maker during end-game situations…Ironically, the Bengals’ botched extra point ultimately helped out Cincinnati. If not for the miss, they would have not tried an ensuing two-point conversion (that failed), and the score would have been 20-17 at the end of the fourth quarter, meaning Cincy would have never gone for it on 4th-and-10 with 35 seconds left. And it would have most likely come down to overtime.

There’s bad. There’s really bad. There’s awful. And then there’s JaMarcus Russell. The Denver defense is obviously much improved this season, but that performance Sunday was unsightly. Naturally, Tom Cable “never even considered” replacing him…You still got to like Knowshon Moreno far more, but it’s hard to deny Correll Buckhalter’s production…It would be an understatement to say I missed with Eddie Royal so far. Don’t drop him, but he can only be started in dire situations until he shows something. I still believe in the talent, but Josh McDaniels is using him more as a decoy. Hard to argue with the 3-0 record, but McDaniels is one curious dude.

Chad Pennington has already failed in his attempt to turn in back-to-back healthy seasons for the first time in his career, and a third shoulder surgery hardly bodes well for his future. It’s unfortunate, but a team like Miami is best served going with the future (Chad Henne) earlier rather than later…In the meantime, the Dolphins’ offense obviously takes a hit, if Henne’s performance last week was any indication. Expect a weekly gameplan centered heavily on the ground attack…Vincent Jackson is a top-10, if not top-five fantasy WR. He’s going to win a bunch of leagues for those who targeted him this year.

Can someone please explain to me why the Cardinals spent a first round pick on Beanie Wells if they aren’t going to use him? What a catastrophe. Go ahead and waste carries on Tim Hightower Arizona, you’re only hurting your chances to make the playoffs in the process… Throwing so frequently with pass protection problems, Kurt Warner has been taking a beating. He can only stay healthy so much longer…Speaking of injuries, congratulations to Joseph Addai, who has somehow managed to avoid getting sidelined through three games this season.

After losing the home opener to the Giants, the Cowboys couldn’t have felt good entering halftime Monday down 7-0 to the Panthers. A strong second half helped ease concerns, and while Tony Romo gets most of the pub, Dallas’ rushing attack has been incredible so far this year. It’s too bad Felix Jones is so brittle, as he could put up astronomical numbers as a feature back. As is, he’s quite injury-prone and should never be asked to carry the ball 20 times in a game. He was well on his way to totaling 200 yards before hurting his knee Monday…It’s now clear – Roy Williams is a No. 2 type receiver getting paid like a No. 1. Even in this offense, he’s going to go down a disappointment in fantasy leagues…Call me crazy, but Carolina might want to get DeAngelo Williams more carries…Nice win by Dallas, but this team still looks better on paper than on the field.

Ranting

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

The following is nothing more than me getting random thoughts off my chest, some about sports, some not.

Make no mistake, Jason Heyward is the next big thing. You can’t overspend on him in a keeper-league. Derek Lowe looks like a pretty bad signing, but with Tommy Hanson looking like a future Cy Young winner, Javier Vazquez looking like a current Cy Young winner and a healthy Tim Hudson, good luck to the rest of the NL East next year. If Chipper Jones bounces back and they add one more bat, Bobby Cox may be rethinking retirement this time next year.

Angel Villalona – murderer? Are you kidding me? As if falling out of the wild card race while watching Madison Bumgarner top out at 89 mph wasn’t bad enough. It’s been a rough couple of weeks to be a Giants fan, to say the least. Villalona was no sure thing, and his plate discipline was a major problem, but this is a 19-year-old kid who showed huge power potential playing in leagues were he was always underage. He was due to return to the states the very next day after the alleged murder! Maybe he’s young enough to have a couple of productive seasons after his 20-year prison term, but it’s safe to say this latest situation is a knock on his prospect status. By the way, great trades for Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez, Mr. Sabean – I am shocked that Sanchez wasn’t durable, especially considering he was injured at the time of the trade, when Sanchez knew he was eventually going to need to have surgery. If Sabean gets a contract extension this offseason, I give up.

This anchorman makes Ron Burgundy seem tame.

I know he appears to cherry pick his opponents, but I’m going to say it: Floyd Mayweather is the best boxer of my generation. This coming from the biggest Mike Tyson apologist (I even named my “boxer” dog after him) you’ll ever find. Maybe Mayweather’s opponents always seem unworthy because he makes them look SO bad. He’s both a) the best defensive fighter I’ve ever seen and b) the most likely fighter to win on the scorecard I’ve ever seen. So while his fights aren’t always the most exciting, I really can’t fathom him losing. The head movement. The crazy athleticism. The ridiculous speed and sharpness. Let’s hope Manny Pacquiao handles Miguel Cotto, and Mayweather doesn’t dodge him. If so, I’m going all in on Mayweather. Juan Manuel Marquez is a very, very good fighter, ranked as the second best pound-for-pound boxer by Ring magazine entering the Mayweather “fight.” Did you check out the CompuBox numbers? Mayweather landed 290 of 493 (59 percent) blows to Marquez’s 69 of 583 (12 percent). That’s a joke. An even bigger joke than not all three refs scoring it 120-107. At 40-0, few current sports figures are already legends, but Mayweather is one of them. And as a Max Kellerman fan in general, what he did in the post-fight interview was inexcusable. The worst I’ve ever seen…PS – Can’t wait to see Kimbo Slice fight on TUF next week!

Delonte West was arrested while riding a motorcycle for carrying two handguns and a loaded shotgun in a guitar case? That sir, is impressive. Like he once said on the Jim Rome show: “snitches get stitches.”

I’m going to go ahead and go on record right now: Howie Kendrick will win the American League batting title in 2010.

Technically,” I found this video hilarious.

I’m in the minority, but I am starting to really get into “Parks and Recreation.” It’s definitely a little too much like “The Office,” but at least it’s following a winning formula.

One should avoid Taco Bell altogether, but even during a drunken state at 2 a.m., I’m going to have to take a pass on their new shrimp tacos. Really? Shrimp? They must have some sort of cross promotion with a toilet paper company.

I’m beginning to think USC sometimes overlooks PAC 10 schools.

As someone who’s been to three Roots concerts back in the day, only to see them now the house band for Jimmy Fallon, I’m not much of a rap guy these days, but even I was at least curious about Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint 3.” Not anymore after Pitchfork just destroyed it.

The Falcons are 12-1 when Michael Turner has 20-plus carries. On a related note, the 49ers are undefeated when they score more points than their opponent.

Great article by Joe Poz.

Seriously, what are the Phillies going to do about their closer situation? Has something like this ever been so tenuous entering the postseason? This is the defending World Series champs with a closer who has blown by far the most saves in baseball one year after going a perfect 48-for-48. Ryan Madson seems like a setup guy who really doesn’t like ninth inning duties, so I guess it’s either going to be J.A. Happ or Pedro Martinez trying to close out games come October.

The best craigslist ad ever.

You’re officially a schmohawk if you aren’t watching the new season of “Curb You Enthusiasm.” Even before the Seinfeld cast reunites, episode 1 got off to a brilliant start. Bam Bam!

With an unbelievable amount of hype that he’s clearly not lived up to, is it possible Matt Wieters will emerge as a profitable target next year? He’s somewhat quietly put up a .347/.412/.520 line over 75 at-bats in September. Only Joe Mauer has more upside from the catcher position.

Speaking of Mauer, this year’s MVP and Cy Young discussions seem especially heated. I’m going to hold off until the end of the season to reveal my picks completely, but it’s safe to say Mauer and Zack Greinke are quite obviously the right choices for the AL. But in the NL, things get far more muddled. The Cy Young clearly has yet to be decided, and Albert Pujols isn’t quite the slam dunk as most people think.

Thanks to Starz and HBO, it’s pretty apparent “Step Brothers” was one of the most underrated movies of 2008. Adam Scott was positively brilliant.

So I went to a Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert a couple weeks back, and I must say, it was one of the best I’ve ever been to. Small venues (and indoors) make such a HUGE difference. Plus, Karen O is pretty awesome.  It’s now almost October, and “It’s Blitz” is still my favorite album of 2009. And they were unbelievable live. I implore you all to see them live at least once.

For those in deeper leagues, Jerome Harrison is a sneaky add right now. Jamal Lewis is hurt (and has less upside). While I’d prefer James Davis, he looked like a deer in headlights during his first game last week, and Harrison, while not a workhorse, has always been extremely productive on a per-play basis. I wouldn’t be shocked if he led the Browns in receptions Sunday. Harrison has averaged 5.7 YPC while showing pass catching skills throughout his brief career in the NFL.

I won’t change my main predictions after two weeks of play, but here are some NFL thoughts: the Jets may lose this week, but they are a very, very good football team…The Vikings are not. If anyone wants to bet me even odds that Minnesota will make the playoffs this year, I’m all ears, because it’s not happening…The Rams may very well struggle to score points this season…The Saints are legit. Not only do they have the best offense in football, but their secondary has allowed a 2:6 TD:INT ratio with the lowest opposing QB rating (53.4) in the NFL. That said, don’t be shocked if the Bills win outright Sunday…I’m extremely jealous of all Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles owners. In fact, if you’re a LaDainian Tomlinson owner wanting to swap him straight up for Sproles, you better be adding more to the offer…Gun to head, I’d probably go Giants v. Ravens in the Super Bowl, but it’s a joke to even think of such things at this time of year…Since he shredded his knee at Miami, I’ve never been higher on Willis McGahee than right now…Donald Brown is going to be quite a bit more valuable than Joseph Addai moving forward…Steve Smith (NYG) is going to go down as one of the biggest steals of the 2009 fantasy year.

Week 3 Lineup Rankings

Friday, September 25th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Quarterbacks

1. Drew Brees

2. Philip Rivers
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Peyton Manning
5. Matt Schaub
6. Tony Romo
7. Tom Brady

8. Kurt Warner
9. Trent Edwards
10. Eli Manning
11. Matt Ryan
12. David Garrard
13. Jay Cutler

14. Ben Roethlisberger
15. Carson Palmer
16. Joe Flacco
17. Jason Campbell
18. Kevin Kolb
19. Byron Leftwich
20. Jake Delhomme

Running Backs

1. Adrian Peterson

2. Maurice Jones-Drew
3. Fred Jackson
4. Brandon Jacobs
5. Matt Forte
6. Steven Jackson
7. Darren Sproles
8. Felix Jones
9. Steve Slaton

10. Brian Westbrook
11. Michael Turner
12. Ryan Grant
13. Kevin Smith
14. Chris Johnson
15. Frank Gore
16. DeAngelo Williams
17. Ronnie Brown

18. Clinton Portis
19. Willis McGahee
20. Ray Rice
21. Derrick Ward
22. Darren McFadden
23. Jonathan Stewart
24. Reggie Bush
25. Pierre Thomas
26. Tim Hightower
27. Cedric Benson
28. Knowshon Moreno (check status)
29. Donald Brown
30. Ahmad Bradshaw

Wide Receivers

1. Andre Johnson
2. Calvin Johnson
3. Steve Smith
4. Greg Jennings
5. Randy Moss (check status)
6. Reggie Wayne
7. Larry Fitzgerald
8. Marques Colston
9. Vincent Jackson
10. Roddy White

11. Santonio Holmes
12. Chad Johnson
13. Steve Smith
14. Wes Welker (check status)
15. Anquan Boldin
16. Terrell Owens
17. Dwayne Bowe (check status)
18. Roy Williams
19. Santana Moss

20. Mario Manningham (check status)
21. Braylon Edwards
22. Jerricho Cotchery
23. Mike Sims-Walker
24. Lee Evans
25. Donald Driver
26. Ted Ginn
27. DeSean Jackson

28. Brandon Marshall
29. Percy Harvin (check status)
30. Hines Ward
31. Eddie Royal
32. Laurent Robinson
33. Devery Henderson
34. Bernard Berrian
35. Patrick Crayton
36. Torry Holt
37. Devin Hester
38. T.J. Houshmandzadeh
39. Johnny Knox
40. Mark Clayton

Bet on It

Friday, September 25th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

After a dreadful 5-11 Week 2, I’m left with an unsightly 13-19 through two weeks. My best bet somehow won, making me 1-1 there so far. Since I started picking every game two years ago, I swear, I’ve had an awful week early on each season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll bounce back this time like I have been able to before. But I’m sure as hell going to try.

Browns +13.5 at RAVENS

GIANTS -7 at Buccaneers

PACKERS -7 at Rams

CHIEFS +9 at Eagles

Falcons +4 at PATRIOTS

49ers +7 at Vikings

Jaguars +3.5 at TEXANS

Redskins -6 at LIONS (Best Bet)

TITANS +2.5 at Jets

Saints -6 at BILLS

BEARS -2 at Seahawks

Steelers -4 at BENGALS

Broncos -1.5 at RAIDERS

Dolphins +6 at CHARGERS

Colts +2 at CARDINALS

PANTHERS +9 at Cowboys

Comments: I recognize the Bears are a sucker bet this week, but I just can’t help myself…You know you’re going ugly when a team that is 1-25 over its past 26 games is your best bet, but I refuse to view Washington as nearly touchdown favorites on the road.

NFL Barometer

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

RISERS

Willis McGahee, RB, BAL – After totaling 75 yards with a score during Week 1, McGahee led the Ravens with 15 carries Sunday (Ray Rice saw just eight rushing attempts), leading to 89 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. McGahee has impressed, averaging 4.9 YPC through two weeks, and he’s also been more active as a receiver than ever before. Rice will remain in the mix, but he gets plenty of his touches through the air, and Le’Ron McClain has really been removed from the RB picture. Playing for a team with a strong defense and offensive line with a developing quarterback, McGahee is all of a sudden in a terrific situation, especially since he’s also been used at the goal line. He’s not a true workhorse, but McGahee can be plenty valuable getting even just 60% of the carries on a team that led the NFL with 592 rushing attempts in 2009.

Mario Manningham, WR, NYG – Steve Smith is the more consistent option, but Manningham has fast developed into the Giants’ most explosive receiver, showing a terrific ability to rack up yards after the catch. With 17 targets through two games, he’s quickly developing a nice rapport with Eli Manning, who hasn’t missed a beat with Plaxico Burress gone. Opposing defenses are loading the box in an effort to stop the run, and Manningham will continue to make them pay. Domenik Hixon isn’t a threat to take back the starting spot once he returns. Manningham looks for real.

Dallas Clark, TE, IND – With Marvin Harrison gone and Anthony Gonzalez hurt, Clark has essentially become Peyton Manning’s second read on offense, evidenced by his team-leading eight targets Monday. Clark has been a bit injury-prone in the past, but he’s missed just two games total over the past two seasons, and there’s no reason why he won’t continue to be a major part of Indy’s offense. Clark is actually quite athletic, possesses good speed and has fantastic hands. He might be the favorite to lead the NFL in receiving yards from the tight end position this year.

Cedric Benson, RB, CIN – Through two weeks, Benson is tied for the league-lead with 50 carries, and he’s even contributing as a receiver more than usual. With an improving YPC and a goal-line role, he’s going to be plenty valuable this season, especially once the offense starts fully clicking after Carson Palmer missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury. Four upcoming matchups against the Ravens and Steelers isn’t ideal, but Benson has never looked better throughout his NFL career.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, JAX – A third round pick in the 2007 draft, injuries have cost Sims-Walker his entire rookie season as well as most of the preseason entering this year. However, before suffering a leg injury in training camp, David Garrard called him a developing star, and he possesses good size (6-2, 241 lbs) and speed. He was already threatening to join the starting lineup, and a season-ending injury to Troy Williamson (shoulder) made it a formality. With Torry Holt lacking his old explosion, Sims-Walker looks like the team’s best deep threat. Since Jacksonville’s defense has been brutal so far, the Jaguars may be forced to throw frequently in 2009, leading to solid numbers from Sims-Walker.

Joey Galloway, WR, NE – Galloway and Tom Brady haven’t shown much chemistry so far, and the speedy veteran is somewhat miscast as an underneath route-runner in New England’s offense. Still, if Wes Welker’s knee injury proves serious, Galloway will be valuable, especially in PPR formats, as he saw 12 targets Sunday. The same could be said for rookie Julian Edelman, who received a whopping 16 looks in Week 2. Keep an eye on Welker’s status.

Justin Forsett, RB, SEA – While Julius Jones managed just nine yards on 11 touches Sunday, Forsett racked up 92 yards on 11 touches. Of course, much of that was a product of dump offs after Matt Hasselbeck got hurt, and Forsett is too small to ever emerge as a workhorse. Still, despite a nice Week 1, Jones has done nothing but disappoint throughout his career, and Forsett is much more explosive. This could develop into a timeshare, and with Seneca Wallace likely to be starting at least in the short-term, Forsett could continue to be heavily involved in the passing offense.

Byron Leftwich, QB, TB – In no small part because the defense has been terrible so far this year, allowing 10.1 YPA with a 5:1 TD:INT ratio in the secondary, Leftwich has already attempted 91 passes – the second most in the NFL. While he’s not always the most accurate quarterback, that kind of volume can lead to big fantasy stats, as he’s currently averaging 286.0 yards per game despite getting 6.3 YPA. In Week 2, he nearly threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns despite missing Antonio Bryant (knee) and a quite Michael Clayton, so Tampa Bay’s lack of weapons is hardly a big concern. The defense doesn’t figure to get much better anytime soon, so Leftwich is a sneaky fantasy option, at least until the team turns to Josh Freeman once the playoffs are out of the question.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – It didn’t take long for Moreno to already start getting the majority of carries in Denver’s backfield, and it looks like he’s completely recovered from the knee sprain. Expect him to dominate the ratio of carries even more moving forward, and with a strong offensive line, an improving defense and a middling passing attack, Moreno is in a pretty good situation to succeed.

FALLERS

Clinton Portis, RB, WAS – With 2,087 career rushing attempts, Portis no longer possesses much burst, but this downgrade is hardly all his fault. When an offense can’t reach the end zone playing at home against the Rams, there are big problems in store for the future. Portis gets another easy matchup this week against the Lions, so if he can put up even moderate production, it might not be a bad idea to see what you can get in return in a trade. Obviously, you can’t aim too high.

Marion Barber, RB, DAL – Barber has looked nothing short of fantastic so far this season, but it’s now safe to question his durability. He never even appeared on the injury report before taking over the starting role last season, but after an injury-riddled 2008 campaign, his latest malady (thigh) is a concern, although it appears to be minor. The injury didn’t look great when it occurred, however.

Donnie Avery, WR, STL – Just like in Week 1, Avery (six targets) took a backseat to Laurent Robinson (nine targets) in the Rams’ offense, and being the third option on such a terrible unit is unlikely to lead to big stats. It’s still too early to bail, but since Avery isn’t a great red-zone threat either, his expectations need to be tempered. At least the Rams should be forced to throw quite a bit with that defense, and more games against the NFC West will help.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA – The good news is that the newest injury wasn’t an aggravation to his persistent back problem, which would have put the rest of Hasselbeck’s season in jeopardy. However, a fractured rib is pretty serious, so don’t be surprised if he’s forced to miss multiple weeks. Seattle’s offense really struggles with Seneca Wallace under center.

Mike Bell, RB, N.O. – Just when Pierre Thomas looks ready to return from his MCL sprain, Bell suffers one of his own. A timetable hasn’t been set yet, and Bell hasn’t been ruled out for Week 3 even, but considering Thomas just missed nearly a month with a similar injury, it’s safe to expect Bell to miss a few upcoming games. The timing couldn’t have been better for Thomas owners.

Josh Morgan, WR, SF – Bad games will happen, but Morgan received zero targets Sunday, highlighting his absence in the current offense. San Francisco won’t always enjoy such success on the ground like in Week 2, but Shaun Hill’s lack of arm strength simply isn’t a great fit for a downfield threat like Morgan. Things can only get better, but Morgan’s status as a sleeper is quickly fading.

Brandon Marshall, WR, DEN – While not a bad buy-low target, Marshall’s value has taken a hit with Denver’s current rotation at wide receiver. He’s been targeted far less than when Jay Cutler was at QB, although that may change the more familiar he gets with the playbook. Still, fantasy owners were probably expecting more than seven receptions for 61 yards over two games against the Bengals and Browns.

JaMarcus Russell, QB, OAK
– Not that he was a viable fantasy QB1 to begin with, but how about a 35.2 completion percentage? Throwing to two rookies starting at wide receiver doesn’t help, but Russell needs to dramatically improve his accuracy if he wants to be a long-term starter. Teams are going to start taking Zach Miller away down the seam, so Oakland better hope those raw wideouts develop quickly.

The Scoop

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

The Falcons are going to be tough to beat at home this season, but it remains to be seen whether they can improve on the road. The season-ending loss of Peria Jerry hurts…With defenses keying on Michael Turner and the addition of Tony Gonzalez, Matt Ryan could finish as a top-five fantasy QB. Speaking of Gonzalez, he’s clearly going to cut into some of Roddy White’s value…While Jake Delhomme showed improvement, with no depth on the offensive line and a decimated defensive front, it’s going to be a long year in Carolina. It’s seemingly impossible to have a repeat division winner in the AFC South…John Fox is a good NFL coach, but he made a mistake by waiting until after the two-minute warning to call a timeout in the fourth quarter Sunday. This is simple stuff, and coaches routinely botch it.

Peter King has been so impressed by Minnesota’s two wins over Cleveland and Detroit, he has the Vikings as the No. 2 team in his power poll right now. Brett Favre’s completion percentage is sky-high, but with seven sacks taken and a 5.5 YPA mark, there’s not much to be excited about. Favre’s longest completion Sunday went for 13 yards…It’s obviously pointless to judge a QB making his first two career starts, but Matthew Stafford has looked pretty brutal so far…Over the first two games, Calvin Johnson has had penalties take away a couple of long gains and had another TD removed on a borderline call, so his numbers could look a lot bigger.

It’s safe to say Green Bay’s impressive offensive performance in the preseason hasn’t carried over into the regular season, highlighted by a surprising goose egg from Greg Jennings in Week 2. Hang in there Aaron Rodgers owners, despite a shaky offensive line, things are going to get much, much better…Last season the Bengals had the second fewest sacks (17) in the league. They currently lead the NFL with nine quarterback takedowns through two weeks. Although he disappointed during his first season in Cincinnati last year, Antwan Odom has the skills to continue to dominate…I tried to remain agnostic about Cedric Benson entering the year (great situation, seemingly awful player), but since he ended up on zero of my teams, it’s safe to say I let some bias creep in. Through two games, it looks like a big mistake, as Benson’s 50 rushing attempts are the most in the NFL, and he’s even contributed as a receiver. Cincinnati’s improved defense will be a big help as well.

With a combined nine fumbles, the Cardinals/Jaguars matchup wasn’t exactly pretty, although it did feature a record-setting performance by Kurt Warner (92.3 completion percentage). After a sluggish preseason and first half of Week 1, it looks like Arizona’s offense is back on track, although a brutal Jacksonville secondary certainly helped Sunday…With improved receiving skills, Tim Hightower should be a fine third-down back, but once again Chris Wells looked like the better runner Sunday. That is, when the rookie wasn’t fumbling, a problem that could further cut back his playing time if he doesn’t correct it quickly…Fantasy owners can’t be happy with Larry Fitzgerald receiving only five targets Sunday. Nor was his brother…With Troy Williamson out for the season, and Torry Holt lacking his old explosion, Mike Sims-Walker is a must-add in all but shallow fantasy formats. Selected in the third round of the 2007 draft, Sims-Walker has good size 6-2, 241 lbs with good speed, and the third year is often when wide receivers break out. With the Jaguars sporting what looks like a terrible defense, the team will have to throw quite frequently.

I’ve tried to defend JaMarcus Russell in the past, as he got 7.5 YPA over the second half of last season while limiting interceptions, but with a 35.2 completion percentage through two games this year, it’s pretty hard to continue doing so. Having two rookie wide receivers starting doesn’t help, but with a 51.8 career completion percentage, Russell is clearly one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in football…Getting outgained 409 yards to 166, the Raiders have to feel fortunate pulling off the win, especially on the road. But the loss of Robert Gallery (fibula), who has transformed from a bust at tackle to a solid starter at guard, was a blow…After shutting down Dwayne Bowe for most of the day, it’s a mystery why Oakland took Nnamdi Asomugha off him during Bowe’s fourth quarter touchdown, as Stanford Routt was no match…Outside of Bowe, no Kansas City player can be counted on as a weekly starter…I like Darren McFadden, but the sophomore back goes down at first contact far too often. He’s not much of a tackle breaker at all.

The Jets’ defense has now held the Texans’ and Patriots’ offenses out of the end zone this season, and this is a unit that will be getting Calvin Pace back soon. New York is a terrible opponent for your fantasy players…You’d have a hard time finding a quarterback get pressured more while taking zero sacks than Tom Brady last week. And while there’s no reason not to still consider him a top-three fantasy QB, it’s clear he’s nowhere near where he was before the knee injury right now…Since he plays for the secretive Patriots, Wes Welker’s injury is an even bigger concern. Luckily, the team doesn’t play in any later games until Week 5. If Welker remains out, Joey Galloway is a fine flex play, especially in PPR formats…Mark Sanchez is going to be a good quarterback for a long time in this league…If Darrelle Revis continues to shadow the opponents’ No. 1 WR each week, fantasy owners must take note. He’s now held Andre Johnson and Randy Moss to a combined eight catches and 59 receiving yards over two games. When not facing Revis, those two receivers have combined for 22 catches and 290 yards (with two TDs) over two contests.

There’s never been any questioning of the Saints’ offense, especially at home, but what this unit did to the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday put them on another level. It’s early, but New Orleans has to be considered Super Bowl threats, even with a middling defense. Through two games, Drew Brees has a 9:2 TD:INT ratio, a 9.8 YPA mark, a 75% completion mark, and a 132.9 QB rating while taking just two sacks. Unreal…If Mike Bell truly suffered a sprained MCL, I’m not sure why there’s still talk of him maybe being able to play in Week 3, considering Pierre Thomas is still struggling to return from the same injury that occurred August 24. Still, with Thomas seemingly ready to return, the Bell injury couldn’t have happened at a better time for Thomas owners…Even before suffering an ankle sprain, Brian Westbrook has lacked explosiveness. He’s still a must-start if he’s active, of course, especially in Week 3 against the Chiefs…If Lance Moore’s hamstring injury lingers, Devery Henderson becomes a highly intriguing fantasy option…Kevin Kolb’s final statistics are a good example of why New Orleans’ defense probably isn’t as bad as the numbers indicate…During a spot on Sportscenter, Jon Gruden said the following: “If Donovan McNabb is healthy, I believe he’ll be back under center.” Really?! You think? As opposed to what? Losing his job to Kolb? To Michael Vick?

Before Sunday’s game, Matt Schaub had a 1:3 TD:INT ratio with a 5.9 YPA mark over four career games against the Titans. He also sported a 13:18 TD:INT ratio over 21 games on the road throughout his career. Schaub was also once again without Kevin Walter, and a pregame report called for a torrential rain downpour, up to one inch over the course of the game (By the way, I can see getting a weekly forecast wrong. But how can you be so off about an event happening in 30 mins?). As one of Schaub’s biggest supporters, he’s on the majority of my teams this year. And was on my bench Sunday. Is there a worse feeling than that? I say no. Still, glad to see him shred a Titans secondary that is apparently going to be quite worse than they were last season…I’m also an ardent Steve Slaton supporter, and while I will give him a pass because of the first two opponents (who get much easier soon), I’m worried all that weight he put on in the offseason in an effort to stay durable has taken a toll on his speed. It would be very concerning if he struggles again at home against the Jaguars this week…I doubt many Chris Johnson owners lost Sunday, as that will almost assuredly go down as the single best fantasy performance of 2009. Few running backs have ever possessed both his ability to run in between the tackles and be the fastest player in the league. He became the first player in the history of the NFL to record a 90-plus yard TD run, a 50-plus TD run and a 60-plus TD catch in the same game Sunday. And the biggest news of all was his involvement in the passing game (nine receptions), which could be huge moving forward. Johnson is a top-five fantasy commodity.

When you can’t reach the end zone while playing at home against the Rams, something is wrong. Even as someone who picked the Redskins in my survivor pool, I almost found myself rooting against them (but not really). What ineptitude. In case you were wondering (and why wouldn’t you be?), through two weeks, my survivor teams have won by a combined three points. Yet still alive!…I really don’t know what to tell Santana Moss owners other than to bench him until you see signs of life…Same with those who drafted Donnie Avery. I gambled on him in a few leagues when he came at a big discount while dealing with the foot injury. And while it was great news he returned so much quicker than anticipated, I’d have much preferred a slower recovery yet more productivity when on the field. Not only is Laurent Robinson receiving far more targets, he’s also clearly the better option in the red zone…If a Clinton Portis owner can swap him for Darren Sproles right now, that’s a trade I’d make…At first, I was irate over Washington going for it on fourth down up two points with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter, but Brian Burke makes a pretty good argument otherwise.

There’s no way around it. Matt Hasselbeck’s injury is bad news for all Seahawks. The silver lining here is that a rib injury, although fairly serious, is much less worrisome long-term than if he aggravated his back problem, which could have easily happened on that play…Understanding the still small sample size, I think it’s safe to drop Josh Morgan, who received zero targets last week…Frank Gore, however, I’d probably hang onto. After getting 1.4 YPC in Week 1, he slightly improved Sunday, finishing with 12.9 YPC. This offense is completely centered around him…Shaun Hill is now 9-3 during his career as a starter…Despite his Week 1 performance, Julius Jones owners can’t feel too comfortable, especially with Justin Forsett’s emergence. Forsett is hardly going to become Seattle’s workhorse, and his nice game Sunday was partially due to game situation, but he’s definitely worth stashing in deeper fantasy leagues.

If Marshawn Lynch wasn’t coming back from suspension, Fred Jackson would have to be considered a borderline top-five fantasy player. And there simply wasn’t a cheaper source during drafts for such major production through the first two weeks of the season. Because Jackson has been so good, expect a timeshare in Buffalo’s backfield starting in Week 4…With a 4:1 TD:INT ratio and a 7.9 YPA mark, Trent Edwards is fast becoming a solid fantasy QB, giving further credence to why it’s often prudent to wait on the position. He’s even already added 49 yards rushing as well. Most encouraging, he started attacking downfield Sunday after settling for only underneath routes in Week 1, and if Terrell Owens didn’t drop a perfectly thrown sure 80-yard touchdown Sunday, Edwards’ numbers would have been even better. Lee Evans has barely been involved in the offense so far. With a matchup at home against the Saints this week, Edwards is a top-10 QB option…Speaking of undervalued quarterbacks, Byron Leftwich is going to continue putting up solid numbers with the Bucs’ defense struggling so much. He’s already attempted a whopping 91 passes through two weeks.

Pittsburgh’s defense should remain strong, but with a running game that looks even worse than it did in 2008, Ben Roethlisberger should see an increase in pass attempts, and while that’s resulted in just a 2:3 TD:INT ratio so far, it’s great news for his fantasy value long-term. The same holds true for Santonio Holmes, who continues to impress…Matt Forte owners just need to hang in there, and his five catches Sunday should ease concerns…Johnny Knox’s emergence muddies the whole Chicago WR situation, as Earl Bennett and Devin Hester become unpredictable starts on a weekly basis.

While their opponents haven’t been juggernauts, the Broncos’ defense has apparently made a major turnaround, making them a sneaky start Week 3 against the Raiders. Since the personnel hasn’t changed all that much, Mike Nolan deserves a ton of credit. In the new scheme, Elvis Dumervil looks like he’s going to be an IDP monster…Over their last eight games, the Browns have scored one offensive touchdown. I’ve never seen a team(s) hate a head coach quite like Eric Mangini…Correll Buckhalter’s 45-yard touchdown run was nice Sunday, but it looks like Knowshon Moreno has already emerged as the team’s workhorse. He’s going to be plenty valuable from here on out…Josh McDaniels’ rotation at wide receiver doesn’t help Brandon Marshall or Eddie Royal, but the latter still saw nine targets last week despite missing the third quarter while receiving an IV, so remain patient.

People continue to argue about how Darren Sproles isn’t a true workhorse, but it doesn’t take 20 carries for him to be highly productive, evidenced by Sunday’s outburst. He’s basically San Diego’s No. 1 option in the passing game, at least when LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t wasting touches. Sproles is going to help a bunch of fantasy owners win leagues this year…If Tomlinson’s injury lingers, Michael Bennett could be worth stashing, since Philip Rivers won’t be throwing 45 times every game, and as mentioned, Sproles isn’t suited for 20-plus rushing attempts…I’ve never been a big Willis McGahee believer, but he’s going to have a ton of fantasy value if Baltimore continues to use him this way. Ray Rice will retain value, especially in PPR formats, but if McGahee gets 60% of the carries (including at the goal line) on a team that ran the ball an NFL-high 592 times last season, he’s going to prove to be one of the bigger steals of 2009…I was dead wrong about Rivers the fantasy player this year. I considered him the MVP of the league last season, but with a seemingly improved defense, a head coach determined to run the ball and in a division that figured to be one of the worst in football, I simply didn’t foresee enough pass attempts to justify his ADP. Well, with Shawne Merriman not even close to 100 percent, Jamal Williams already out for the year and Tomlinson hurt, Rivers has already attempted 81 passes through two weeks, resulting in monstrous numbers. His YPA has somehow even increased from last year’s league-leading 8.4. While the team will certainly run more if Tomlinson can come back healthy, and Rivers won’t be throwing as much against the weak AFC West, it’s still an encouraging development. Sproles is a ridiculous weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. This means Vincent Jackson can be viewed as a borderline top-10 fantasy WR as well.

I’m not really sure how the Giants almost lost a game in which they scored a defensive touchdown and were plus-four in the turnover battle, but this Cowboys team continues to be an enigma. They have the upside to win the Super Bowl, but with that coaching and sloppiness, they are more likely to miss the playoffs altogether. After easily leading the NFL with 59 sacks last season, Dallas has zero entering Week 3…I know he’s not a 20-plus carry guy, but I’d love to see the kind of numbers Felix Jones would put up if Marion Barber were forced to miss time with his injury…Yes, Mario Manningham is worth a No. 1 waiver priority, but I’d still prefer Steve Smith from here on out. Either way, both look extremely impressive early on…I’ve always been a huge Tony Romo guy, but Sunday night was an excellent example of why numbers I love (like YPA) don’t always tell the whole story. You simply can’t throw interceptions like that and expect to be an elite player (or team). Eli Manning, meanwhile, has looked like a superstar through two weeks.

The Colts/Dolphins Monday nighter continued a trend of fantastic games in prime time this season, something I certainly hope doesn’t end anytime soon. How does a team win with a time of possession that’s less than one quarter?…As Peyton Manning’s No. 2 read, there’s an argument for Dallas Clark as the best fantasy tight end right now…Mostly absent in the first half, not only was Donald Brown on the field during crucial drives in the fourth quarter, he broke more tackles on his 15-yard TD run than Joseph Addai has through two weeks…Amazing what Ronnie Brown can do when given the opportunity. Unfortunately, there won’t be too many games when Miami attempts 49 rushes…I’m not even going to detail the Dolphins’ endgame clock management, which was a disaster of epic proportions.

Week 2 Lineup Rankings

Friday, September 18th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Quarterbacks

1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Tony Romo
3. Peyton Manning
4. Kurt Warner
5. Tom Brady
6. Drew Brees

7. Matt Hasselbeck
8. Matt Ryan
9. Eli Manning
10. Philip Rivers
11. Ben Roethlisberger

12. Jason Campbell
13. David Garrard
14. Carson Palmer
15. Kerry Collins
16. Joe Flacco
17. Brett Favre
18. Kyle Orton
19. Shaun Hill
20. Trent Edwards

Running Backs

1. Adrian Peterson

2. Maurice Jones-Drew
3. Michael Turner
4. Chris Johnson
5. Brian Westbrook

6. Clinton Portis
7. Brandon Jacobs
8. Frank Gore
9. Marion Barber
10. Fred Jackson
11. Ryan Grant
12. DeAngelo Williams

13. Darren Sproles
14. Kevin Smith
15. Steven Jackson
16. Larry Johnson
17. Darren McFadden
18. Joseph Addai

19. Ray Rice
20. Julius Jones
21. Jonathan Stewart
22. Derrick Ward
23. Mike Bell
24. Ronnie Brown
25. Matt Forte
26. LenDale White
27. Thomas Jones
28. Steve Slaton
29. Jamal Lewis
30. Reggie Bush

Wide Receivers

1. Larry Fitzgerald
2. Calvin Johnson
3. Randy Moss
4. Reggie Wayne

5. Greg Jennings
6. Andre Johnson
7. Roddy White
8. Steve Smith
9. Santana Moss
10. Santonio Holmes
11. Dwayne Bowe
12. Wes Welker
13. Roy Williams

14. Chad Johnson
15. Anquan Boldin (check status)
16. Brandon Marshall
17. Braylon Edwards
18. T.J. Houshmandzadeh
19. Marques Colston
20. Eddie Royal
21. Bernard Berrian
22. Justin Gage
23. Vincent Jackson

24. Nate Burleson
25. Terrell Owens
26. Lee Evans
27. Donald Driver
28. Jerricho Cotchery
29. Torry Holt
30. Patrick Crayton
31. Michael Clayton

32. DeSean Jackson
33. Steve Smith
34. Donnie Avery
35. Josh Morgan
36. Percy Harvin
37. Derrick Mason
38. Mark Bradley
39. Hines Ward
40. Ted Ginn

Bet on It

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Last week I went 8-8 to start off the season, which could have been much better considering I lost both Monday night games. My “best bet” lost, making me 0-1 so far. Here is how I see Week 2 shaking out:

Panthers +6 at Falcons

Rams +10 at Redskins

Texans +6.5 at Titans

Saints pick ‘em at Eagles

Patriots -3.5 at Jets (Best Bet)

Raiders +3 at Chiefs

Cardinals +3 at Jaguars

Bengals +9 at Packers

Vikings -10 at Lions

Buccaneers +5 at Bills

Seahawks +1.5 at 49ers

Steelers -3 at Bears

Browns +3 at Broncos

Ravens +3 at Chargers

Giants +3 at Cowboys

Colts -3 at Dolphins

Comments: Really tough slate for me this week, but I’ll back the Jets as an underdog against a New England team that has to travel during a short week.

NFL Barometer

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

RISERS

Jonathan Stewart – Stewart’s 35 rushing yards weren’t too impressive Sunday, but the key number is carries, and he had 11 compared to DeAngelo Williams’ 14. Stewart’s Achilles problem, which sidelined him for the majority of the preseason, appears to be gone, and the back has declared himself 100 percent (although he sat out Wednesday’s practice as a preventative measure). Williams is too good not to get the majority of touches in Carolina’s backfield, but don’t be surprised if the timeshare approaches a 60/40 split. Moreover, it was Stewart who was inserted during the team’s first goal-line situation of 2009. He’s a talented runner who could prove a bargain after many fantasy leaguers shied away because of the injury.

Reggie Wayne – Wayne was already going to benefit from the loss of Marvin Harrison, but now that Anthony Gonzalez is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Wayne should be viewed as a top-five fantasy receiver. While the lack of a viable No. 2 WR in Indy should lead to more double teams on Wayne, the added targets (he saw a whopping 14 Sunday) will more than offset that. Wayne’s suppressed numbers last season could partially be blamed on Peyton Manning’s recovery from knee surgery, and the QB enters 2009 completely healthy. With the NFC West slated on the Colts’ schedule, Wayne could very well post the best season of his career.

Matt Hasselbeck – The two picks weren’t great, but after getting 7.8 YPA with three touchdown passes, Hasselbeck impressed Week 1, even if it came against an overmatched Rams’ defense. He looks to be sufficiently recovered from last season’s back injury, and with John Carlson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson, Seattle has plenty of weapons in the passing attack. Hasselbeck is just one season removed from a 28-TD campaign, and playing in the defenseless NFC West certainly helps. Don’t be shocked if he finishes 2009 as a top-10 fantasy quarterback.

Earl Bennett – Bennett hauled in seven catches (and the first of his career) for 66 yards against the Packers on Sunday, and while his 9.4 yards-per-catch mark is unimpressive, he appeared to be Jay Cutler’s favorite target, as Bennett received 13 looks. Cutler and Bennett played together at Vanderbilt, and with few proven options at receiver in Chicago, Bennett could easily emerge as the WR1 throughout the season, especially since Devin Hester is more of a downfield threat opposed to over the middle. With Cutler now the Bears’ QB, there’s plenty of upside here. Bennett is already a viable WR3 in fantasy leagues, with the potential for more in the future.

Joe Flacco – Flacco threw for 307 yards with three scores Sunday, and although that came against a weak Kansas City secondary, don’t be surprised if he takes a big leap forward during his second year in the league. While Matt Ryan got most of the attention as a rookie last year (and rightfully so), Flacco was highly impressive as well. He is elusive outside the pocket and possesses one of the strongest arms in the NFL. Baltimore remains a defensive-minded, run-oriented team, and Flacco won’t have the benefit of having nearly 40 minutes time of possession like he did Week 1, but the Ravens will expand the playbook and let Flacco loose more in 2009. Todd Heap, who finally looks back to health, is another Raven who deserves an upgrade.

Darren Sproles – If it wasn’t already clear, Sproles made it abundantly so Monday night – he’s currently San Diego’s best option at running back. With LaDainian Tomlinson iffy for Week 2 with an ankle injury, Sproles’ touches are due for a big increase. He’s not going to be a true workhorse, but since he’s such a dangerous threat as a receiver, Sproles could easily put up top-10 numbers if Tomlinson is out, although Week 2’s matchup is tough. Even when Tomlinson returns to action, Sproles is looking at a bunch of touches, and on a San Diego team that should be potent on offense while plying in the AFC West, there’s huge upside here.

Adrian Peterson
– Peterson’s 64-yard touchdown run Sunday merits an upgrade alone, as it was one of the best you’ll ever see. Some more catches would be nice, but touchdowns can be fluky from year-to-year, so last season’s modest total (10) could be shattered in 2009. Over his last four games, Peterson has averaged 5.5 YPC, and he’s a threat for 2,000 rushing yards.  With all other running backs possessing question marks, he’s simply head and shoulders above any other fantasy player right now. Whatever he cost at your auction, it was a bargain.

FALLERS

Anthony Gonzalez – Untouched, Gonzalez suffered a knee injury Sunday that will sideline him indefinitely. It’s supposedly not season-ending, but with the initial timetable of 2-to-6 weeks, expect the latter, as it sounds fairly serious. Gonzalez shouldn’t be dropped in fantasy leagues, but he’s entering injury-prone territory, and it’s quite a disappointing start to the 2009 season.

Lance Moore – The Saints scored 45 points Sunday, with Drew Brees passing for 358 yards with six scores. Unfortunately for Moore owners, the offensive explosion resulted in just two receptions for 38 yards for the receiver. With a healthy Jeremy Shockey, an emerging Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson still around, there are simply too many options in New Orleans’ passing attack for Moore to be reliable on a weekly basis. The offensive philosophy is to throw to whoever is open, and that spread the wealth scheme may also result in disappointed Marques Colston owners as well. Moore’s three targets Sunday ranked sixth on his team, behind even fullback Heath Evans.

Jake Delhomme – After hearing the critics all offseason after Delhomme’s terrible playoff performance last year, he couldn’t have got off to a worse start in 2009, throwing four more picks to score a 14.7 QB rating. He’s now committed a ridiculous 11 turnovers over his past seven quarters of play, all of which have come while at home. It’s still just a two game sample size, but this is beyond worrisome, even if Sunday’s game was against a tough Philadelphia defense. Delhomme needs a big bounce back performance against the Falcons this week.

Chris Henry – Henry was terrific during the preseason, but that resulted in him going from fantasy sleeper to someone who was getting drafted too high. He’ll be a major factor in the red zone all season long, but right now, he might be considered the Bengals’ WR4, as even Andre Caldwell saw more action in Week 1. Henry received just three targets Sunday, making him a questionable fantasy play moving forward. He’ll need an injury to strike either Chad Johnson or Laveranues Coles to become truly relevant.

Larry Johnson – Johnson’s poor Week 1 performance can easily be excused since it came against a stout Ravens’ defense, but after a home game against the Raiders in Week 2, the Chiefs’ upcoming matchups include: the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Chargers with a tilt against the Steelers down the road as well. Rough sledding ahead for LJ owners.

Donovan McNabb – McNabb suffered a fractured rib during a touchdown run in Week 1, and since the TD made the score 38-10, he was likely going to be removed from the game soon afterward, making the injury all the more frustrating. His status is unknown, but it’s safe to assume he won’t be able to suit up for Week 2. With Kevin Kolb sporting a 3.7 YPA mark throughout his career, it’s also safe to downgrade DeSean Jackson as well. Kolb has only attempted 45 passes during his brief career in the NFL, so the jury remains out, but the early returns have been highly discouraging.

Antonio Bryant – Although Bryant only recorded two catches for 29 yards during the season opener Sunday, he looked good when on the field, getting open downfield only to see another errant Byron Leftwich throw. The bigger concern is that Bryant was forced to leave the game early, as his knee continues to be a problem. If surgery during the preseason didn’t fix the issue, then it’s safe to worry it’s going to last throughout the season, making him quite risky.

LaDainian Tomlinson – Tomlinson is questionable for Week 2 with an ankle injury, and injuries are only going to become a greater concern for someone with 2,670 career carries. Tomlinson looked a step (or two) slow even before the injury Monday, and with Darren Sproles becoming such a big part of San Diego’s offense, Tomlinson’s future is cloudy. Of course, none of this should come as unexpected.

The Scoop

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

While the Titans/Steelers opener wasn’t exactly the most exciting way to kick off the NFL season, it featured two teams that should remain among the elite in 2009. And like throughout last year, the Steelers just always seem to find a way to win…Santonio Holmes would be a top-10 if not top-five fantasy WR if he played for just about any other team in the league. As is, his upside remains somewhat limited in Pittsburgh’s offense, although he’s officially passed Hines Ward as the team’s No. 1 option in the passing game…Kenny Britt won’t make a major impact in 2009, but it looks like Tennessee may finally have an above average wide receiver in the future…Kerry Collins looked surprisingly good. Even at his age, maybe a collapse isn’t inevitable in 2009…Chris Johnson owners need not worry, but Willie Parker owners be afraid. Be very afraid…While passive playcalling late in the game may not have revealed it, the Titans’ defensive line will be just fine without Albert Haynesworth, as Jason Jones and Tony Brown are two beasts in the middle…I’m not a superstitious guy, but Troy Polamalu was on the cover of this year’s Madden. Just sayin…I’ve always wondered why quarterbacks don’t pump-fake far more often, and after watching Ben Roethlisberger use it so effectively, I’m more convinced than ever it’s underutilized.

Maybe Ricky Williams will be a huge drain on Ronnie Brown’s fantasy value once again after all. At age 32, Williams is still a big injury risk, but the distribution of touches in Week 1 was disconcerting. Ronnie Brown simply has to be given more than 10 rushing attempts…Jake Long was abused Sunday, which has been a theme throughout the preseason. Bad news for Miami’s franchise…Michael Turner averaged 129.0 rushing yards per game with 14 TDs at home last season, but his slow start Sunday had more to do with the Dolphins’ stacking the box than any “370 curse.” Since Matt Ryan is more than capable of making opposing defenses pay, especially with Tony Gonzalez now around, expect fewer eight and nine man fronts moving forward.

Since Baltimore had 501 yards to Kansas City’s 188 yards while nearly doubling the Chiefs in time of possession, the Ravens dominated Sunday. However, that doesn’t mean those who backed the Chiefs ATS weren’t incredibly unlucky, as that backdoor cover was extremely fortunate…Back healthy (for how long who knows), Todd Heap may once again be a viable fantasy tight end, especially with Joe Flacco looking so good…After a home game against the Raiders this week, KC faces the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Chargers – good luck Larry Johnson owners…I’m not sure what to make of Brodie Croyle’s surprising performance Sunday, because he had shown absolutely nothing during his previous eight starts in the league. It’s encouraging, regardless, as apparently Dwayne Bowe’s value isn’t totally tied to Matt Cassel’s health.

Jake Delhomme picked up right where he left off, still remaining in playoff form. You can’t write someone off because of a two game sample, but Delhomme looked simply atrocious Sunday. A strong Philly pass rush didn’t help, but Delhomme has now committed 11 turnovers over his last seven quarters of play. Think Carolina regrets giving him $20 million guaranteed over the summer?…Watching Jonathan Stewart immediately replace DeAngelo Williams at the goal-line was a good reminder of why Williams wasn’t an automatic top-five pick in drafts this year, despite having the best season of all backs in 2008. Of course, Williams’ sick 11-yard TD run shows why he can remain plenty productive, even in a timeshare, but Stewart’s apparent recovery from his Achilles problem is a big concern for Williams owners…Kevin Kolb looks really, really bad, so Donovan McNabb’s rib injury isn’t great news for DeSean Jackson fans.

The Broncos/Bengals contest set back football a good 20 years, but at least there was a crazy finish. Gus Johnson became the NFL’s first announcer to actually orgasm while making a call from the booth during Brandon Stokley’s 87-yard touchdown. Heady play not immediately running into the end zone by Stokley…Remain patient, Knowshon Moreno and Eddie Royal owners…If only there was just one more episode of “Hard Knocks” after that type of loss…Drops by Laveranues Coles can certainly be blamed, and maybe Denver’s defense will be somewhat improved this year, but it’s not encouraging to see the Bengals score just seven points at home against a team that allowed 28.0 points per game in 2008.

He’s still not a complete back, but to call Adrian Peterson the best runner in the NFL would be a massive understatement. AP’s 64-yard TD run in the fourth quarter Sunday was legendary, as he’s both the fastest and strongest running back in the league. Touchdowns are fluky, so don’t be surprised if last year’s modest total (10) is absolutely destroyed in 2009…Braylon Edwards owners could take solace in the fact he had a 35-yard TD overturned on a questionable call, but they should also be terrified by just how little Brady Quinn throws downfield…Speaking of a lack of downfield ability, Brett Favre struggles mightily in this area these days. It didn’t matter Sunday, and it might not again in Week 2 versus the Lions, but this is a team that’s biggest weakness remains the quarterback position.

Make no mistake, this Jets team is dangerous. Remember, New York was 8-3 last year after beating the Titans in Tennessee 34-13, only to see its season go down in flames thanks to an injured Brett Favre. Of course, Mark Sanchez is going to have his struggles as a rookie, but it’s safe to say he’ll be a major upgrade over last year’s late-season Favre, and the team added Bart Scott and got a gigantic upgrade at head coach. The offensive line is very good, and the defense has a chance to be special once Calvin Pace and Shaun Ellis return…The Texans were one of Week 1’s biggest disappointments, especially since the effort came at home. Again, the Jets have the makings of a dominant defense, but Houston had the third ranked offense in the NFL last season, and that unit scored zero points Sunday…Jerricho Cotchery and Leon Washington are both in line for sneaky productive fantasy campaigns.

What a typical Colts/Jaguars game. David Garrard needs to play better but don’t forget just how good Indy’s secondary was last season (6:15 TD:INT ratio)…Anthony Gonzalez seemed like one of those overhyped fantasy properties this year, but I was apparently the sucker, since he ended up on a handful of my teams. I’d feel a little better if there was at least some contact during the injury. What a disaster. As a result, don’t be surprised if Reggie Wayne competes with the “big-four” among the top fantasy wide receivers this year…Not that Donald Brown impressed, but Joseph Addai lost a fumble and got 2.5 YPC. Although since he didn’t suffer some sort of injury, that might be considered a success for him…Maurice Jones-Drew could have a monstrous fantasy season.

I’m beginning to think Drew Brees is pretty good at football. A pocket as clean as it gets helped, as did facing a Lions secondary that was historically bad last season (8.8 YPA! 25:4 TD:INT ratio), but as someone who always waits on the QB position in fantasy drafts, I admit I was jealous Sunday…Looking at the final score, Marques Colston owners had to be a bit disappointed. Then again, probably not as much as those who started Reggie Bush. As if the 2.0 YPC mark wasn’t bad enough during a home game against the Lions, Bush fumbled multiple times on the day. Still, he’ll continue to be used heavily in the passing game, so don’t go benching him just yet…There’s really no other way to put it – Matthew Stafford looked bad during his first start…Calvin Johnson had a touchdown taken away because they said he stepped out of bounds, which was questionable to begin with. The fact they couldn’t even review it was more frustrating. While it was a modest start, Johnson’s 13 targets (second most in Week 1) were an encouraging sign moving forward…Kevin Smith, meanwhile, received nine targets, which means he can remain useful even when the ground game is shutdown like it was Sunday.

Three 40-plus yard touchdowns probably isn’t sustainable each week, but Tony Romo is going to thrive without having to worry about pleasing Terrell Owens, who was inefficient and not even that productive last year (at least outside the red zone) and now 35 years old. Romo has got 8.2 YPA throughout his career, accounting for 83 touchdowns over 40 starts. Fewer turnovers would be nice, but he’s a true superstar…Antonio Bryant looked fine when on the field, but it’s not good news that he’s still dealing with the knee injury even after the surgery…With eight minutes left in a 27-14 game, Kellen Winslow’s drop on 4th-and-2 was an absolute killer…Byron Leftwich’s slow throwing motion has been discussed plenty, but why must he also throw the ball SO HARD, even on short slant routes?…Even if Felix Jones gets increased touches (part of his lack of use Sunday was a thigh bruise), Marion Barber could easily still finish as a top-10 fantasy RB with that TD potential…Continuing a trend from the preseason, Carnell Williams looked, really, really good Sunday. In fact, I’d argue he looks even better than before the two serious knee injuries (although an underrated Tampa Bay offensive line is somewhat responsible). Maybe he’ll soon go back to deserving the “Cadillac” moniker.

Did Frank Gore really get just 1.4 YPC against the Cardinals? Two touchdowns didn’t hurt, however…After a rough preseason, Arizona’s slow start wasn’t a huge surprise, and the offense really started to click in the second half Sunday, so it’s not a huge concern. The health of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, however, will remain long-term worries…Tim Hightower looked bad running the ball, like always, but an NFC-leading 14 targets led to a big day receiving, so his role as the Cardinals’ passing down back remains locked. However, Beanie Wells was clearly an upgrade whenever he carried the ball, so look for an increase in rushing attempts from the rookie moving forward.

The Santana Moss/Corey Webster scuffle was one of the better ones in recent memory, and I love a sport in which that doesn’t result in an automatic ejection. When not dealing with a hamstring injury, Moss is much better than his numbers often indicate, thanks largely to Jason Campbell’s (and Jim Zorn’s) unwillingness to throw downfield…Ahmad Bradshaw = a more talented version of Derrick Ward last year…Chris Cooley has already matched his touchdown total from 2008…After a 34-yard run on his first carry of the season, Clinton Portis ran for 28 yards on his next 15 rushing attempts, good for a 1.9 YPC mark. He’ll hardly be the only back to struggle against the Giants this season, but since Ladell Betts was on the field for almost as many snaps (19 to 24), Portis owners have the right to worry.

Football Outsiders would disagree, but looking over their schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams turn in a 1-15 type season. In fact, expect the Lions to actually be favored in Week 8 when these two teams meet. I can’t remember someone’s career changing so drastically, seemingly in their prime, than Marc Bulger’s…If he somehow stays healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked if Nate Burleson puts up a similar fantasy season to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, at least in non-PPR formats…I also wouldn’t be shocked if John Carlson finishes as a top-five fantasy tight end.

As a Jay Cutler apologist, watching Sunday night was tough. His wide receivers were at fault a couple of times, and that game was lower scoring than most expected because both defenses could very well turn out to be much better than expected, but Cutler simply can’t turn the ball over so frequently. I still like him in fantasy terms this year, as he was able to throw for 277 yards Sunday despite Mat Forte and Greg Olsen combining for eight receiving yards…I’m not saying Brian Ulracher isn’t a good player, but all this fuss over his season-ending injury is a bit much. I even heard one ESPN analyst compare it to the Patriots losing Tom Brady, which is simply mind-boggling. Linebackers can be replaced – the Bears’ defense will be fine…Earl Bennett more than justified his status as a fantasy sleeper Week 1, as although his numbers were modest, Cutler targeted him a whopping 13 times. Go try to trade for him before it’s too late…With the score 19-15 with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter, Green Bay decided to go for two, making it the dumbest decision I have seen in years. There was zero benefit if successful (which they were), but there was definitely downside if unsuccessful (as a Bears’ touchdown would have given them a three point lead opposed to two). And Al Michaels was asleep at the wheel here, saying the decision was “irrelevant,” as a “five or six point lead” didn’t change things. Of course, it was really a FOUR or six point lead. Green Bay was my pick to make the Super Bowl this season, but I’m now officially worried about Mike McCarthy’s common sense.

No one would complain about Tom Brady’s final numbers, but where were all the downfield passes from 2007? Of course, the offense can remain potent anyway, and Brady should improve as he gets more comfortable with his knee recovery…With so much uncertainty with running backs, even those who were taken in the first round of fantasy drafts, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider Randy Moss a top-five commodity…I don’t think Marshawn Lynch is bad, but I do think Fred Jackson is better. What a dual threat. Any Lynch owner who handcuffed Jackson should be rooting for Lynch to get in more trouble…As someone who took New England with my Week 1 “survivor” pick, it’s safe to say I both suffered a mild heart attack and may very well be getting a divorce soon after Monday night. Down 24-13 with 5:32 left and the Pats at the 19-yard line, things weren’t looking too good, to say the least. And even if I were a Bills fan, I wouldn’t kill Leodis McKelvin for taking that kick return out of the end zone, as the play would have ran six seconds off the clock, meaning the Pats would no longer get the two minute warning to stop the clock. However, McKelvin fighting for extra yards (which led to the fumble), now that was stupid.

The Chargers/Raiders tilt made it two Monday night games with fantastic finishes, with the heavy favorites getting mostly outplayed. The Raiders, who were a sieve against the run during the preseason, actually deserve a ton of credit defensively. And it may not have been a one week fluke, either. With Nnamdi Asomugha (the best defensive back in the NFL), Greg Ellis, Thomas Howard, Chris Johnson, Tommy Kelly, Kirk Morrison, Gerard Warren and now Richard Seymour, Oakland quietly has some big names on defense, and what if second-round pick Mike Mitchell makes a big impact as a rookie? The Raiders aren’t nearly as bad as most think…As someone who was extremely down on LaDainian Tomlinson entering the year, it occurred to me about a week ago that I was being a total wuss, as I realized I owned Darren Sproles in zero of the dozen fantasy leagues I’m in. I apparently let all those who argued against me regarding LT influence me, as I may have subconsciously kept passing on Sproles in fear of the Tomlinson backers being right. Tomlinson’s latest injury very well may prove minor, and he can remain productive even a step (or five) slow in that offense, but Sproles is so clearly the better player right now, he’s going to be a major factor in 2009. If given the choice, I’d prefer Sproles over Tomlinson from here on out.

Season Preview

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I didn’t have time to analyze the NFC like I did the AFC, but here’s a summarization of how I see the season playing out:

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. St. Louis Rams

NFC East

1. New York Giants
2. Dallas Cowboys (wild card)
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Washington Redskins

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears (wild card)
3. Minnesota Vikings
4. Detroit Lions

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers
2. Oakland Raiders
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Denver Broncos

AFC East

1. New England Patriots
2. New York Jets
3. Buffalo Bills
4. Miami Dolphins

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Tennessee Titans (wild card)
3. Houston Texans (wild card)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Super Bowl: Patriots over Packers

Week 1 Lineup Rankings

Friday, September 11th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Quarterbacks

1. Drew Brees
2. Tom Brady
3. Peyton Manning
4. Aaron Rodgers

5. Kurt Warner
6. Matt Schaub
7. Carson Palmer
8. Jay Cutler
9. Philip Rivers

10. Matt Ryan
11. Matt Hasselbeck
12. Donovan McNabb
13. Tony Romo
14. Kyle Orton

15. Trent Edwards
16. David Garrard
17. Chad Pennington
18. Eli Manning
19. Joe Flacco
20. Shaun Hill

Running Backs

1. Adrian Peterson
2. Michael Turner
3. Maurice Jones-Drew
4. LaDainian Tomlinson

5. Kevin Smith
6. Ronnie Brown
7. Matt Forte
8. Steven Jackson
9. Brian Westbrook
10. Frank Gore
11. Steve Slaton
12. Ray Rice
13. Reggie Bush
14. Mike Bell

15. DeAngelo Williams
16. Brandon Jacobs
17. Ryan Grant
18. Cedric Benson
19. Fred Jackson
20. Darren McFadden
21. Joseph Addai
22. Thomas Jones
23. Marion Barber
24. Tim Hightower

25. Julious Jones
26. Clinton Portis
27. Donald Brown
28. Knowshon Moreno (check status)
29. Beanie Wells
30. Ahmad Bradshaw

Wide Receivers

1. Larry Fitzgerald
2. Calvin Johnson
3. Randy Moss
4. Andre Johnson

5. Greg Jennings
6. Roddy White
7. Reggie Wayne
8. Marques Colston

9. Chad Johnson
10. Steve Smith
11. T.J. Houshmandzadeh
12. Anthony Gonzalez
13. Eddie Royal
14. Dwayne Bowe
15. Braylon Edwards
16. DeSean Jackson

17. Wes Welker (check status)
18. Roy Williams
19. Brandon Marshall
20. Vincent Jackson
21. Donnie Avery
22. Terrell Owens
23. Santana Moss
24. Lance Moore

25. Antonio Bryant
26. Lee Evans
27. Ted Ginn
28. Donald Driver
29. Jerricho Cotchery
30. Steve Breaston
31. Torry Holt
32. Laveranues Coles
33. Chris Henry
34. Josh Morgan

35. Devin Hester
36. Percy Harvin
37. Derrick Mason
38. Patrick Crayton
39. Chris Chambers
40. Steve Smith

The Scoop

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

With three more homers and seven RBI over his past eight games, Garrett Jones simply won’t slow down, as he’s now up to 19 long balls over just 239 at-bats on the season.  Put differently, he’s hit one homer every 12.6 ABs. Mark Teixeira has hit one HR every 15.3 at-bats this year. Since Jones has also chipped in nine steals (caught just twice), he’s been one of the most valuable free agent additions in fantasy leagues this year. Jones is 28 years old and sports a career .762 OPS over nearly 4,000 at-bats in the minors, so no one expects this type of production to continue. Still, he’s clearly earned a starting role in Pittsburgh next year, and while regression is sure to come, most will expect it, so I doubt he’ll be all that overvalued in 2010. Jones is more valuable in daily formats, as he’s someone to bench against southpaws (.225/.241/.488).

After watching Pedro Martinez struggle mightily with the Mets last year, it was hard to be too optimistic about his chances of succeeding in Philadelphia, especially since it had been almost a full year since he last pitched when he joined the team in August. Despite moving to a tougher park on pitchers, Martinez has actually thrived for the Phillies, posting a 27:4 K:BB ratio over 29.2 innings. He’s been helped by an easy schedule, but his average fastball velocity is up to 88.7 mph – his highest mark since 2004. Still, no one would argue this is the Martinez of old, as his changeup is nowhere near as effective as it used to be. However, Martinez has always been one of the smartest pitchers in the game, so don’t be surprised if he continues to succeed despite diminished stuff.

Speaking of old pitchers who can still be highly effective, I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but John Smoltz currently has a 28:1 K:BB ratio while pitching for the Cardinals. Of course, Brad Penny’s success in San Francisco highlights how important the switch in leagues can be, but it’s hard to argue that Boston wouldn’t prefer Smoltz to Paul Byrd right now. Smoltz is going to be a major factor come playoff time, giving St. Louis the best top-three starting rotation of any team in the National League.

Over his last nine games, Rajai Davis is hitting .421 with 10 runs scored, a homer and five steals. In fact, he’s recorded 23 stolen bases since the All-Star break – the most in major league baseball. Davis is quite obviously hitting over his head, but with 86 steals over 708 career at-bats, the speed is very real. Since the A’s are giving him full playing time right now, he can remain a difference maker over the rest of the fantasy season.

Huston Street’s injury was unfortunate, but Colorado hasn’t missed a beat since then. Former top prospect Franklin Morales has dominated ninth inning duties, recording five saves over the past week. After getting hurt and posting a 9:17 K:BB ratio over 25.1 innings last season, Morales is back to missing bats, as he’s currently sporting a 9.4 K/9 mark. The move to the bullpen probably has something to do with the increased velocity, but a healthy arm is likely equally responsible. After seeing his average fastball velocity drop to 90.9 mph last season, it’s up to 93.1 mph this year, which is great news for a franchise that suddenly looks loaded for years to come. Speaking of the Rockies, Seth Smith is hitting .405 with four homers, 11 runs scored and 14 RBI over his last 10 games. While he’s been as successful as any pinch-hitter in baseball this season, it’s really been a shame he’s only received 285 at-bats. His .968 OPS is by far the best on the team.

With Josh Hamilton dealing with yet another injury, he’s going to be one of the tougher guys to rank entering next year. Clearly, he’s a major health risk, so he won’t be a consideration in the first two rounds like he was entering this season. The upside remains, especially playing in that park, and he’s quietly stolen 17 bases over the last two years (more like one and a half considering his 2009). However, other than his huge home run derby performance, Hamilton hasn’t shown the same kind of power since coming to the Rangers as he did in Cincinnati. The RBI production has been there, but he’s homered once per 22.7 at-bats since joining Texas – good but hardly elite. I’ll be curious to see where he goes in drafts next year. And what about teammate Hank Blalock? Entering 2009, you pretty much knew what you were going to get with Blalock, who was someone always at risk of injury but productive when in the lineup. Well, he’s been the opposite in 2009, staying mostly healthy yet really struggling at the plate. His current OPS (.744) is more than 100 points lower than it was last season and more than 150 points below where it was in 2007.

Speaking of disappointments, what has happened to B.J. Upton? I’ve personally been guilty of drafting him aggressively in each of the past two years, but it’s safe to assume he won’t be nearly as expensive next season. Here is someone who at age 23 put up a season in which he hit 24 homers and stole 22 bases over just 474 at-bats, posting an .894 OPS in the process. Since then, his career trajectory has gone in the wrong direction, highlighted by his current .673 OPS. His contact rate remains poor (.71), but most troubling, his walk rate, which was strong last year (.15), has absolutely plummeted (.09). There’s no reason to give up on Upton, who just turned 25 years old, especially with all that SB potential, but his brother currently looks like the far better keeper commodity.

Max Scherzer has a 4.99 ERA and 1.35 WHIP since the All-Star break, but he’s pitched far better than those numbers indicate, exemplified by a particularly unlucky August in which he posted a 6.47 ERA and 1.57 WHIP despite a 10.97 K/9 mark and a 3.6 K:BB ratio. His control has really improved since the break, while his K rate has remained outstanding. Forget the post All-Star break ERA and concentrate more on his 4.3 K:BB ratio, which reveals a potential ace, possibly as soon as 2010. Calling Chase Field home is far from ideal, but pitching in the NL West more than makes up for it. Scherzer is an excellent target next year.

What has gotten into Andy Pettitte? Despite a poor outing his last time out, he’s posted a 2.88 ERA and 1.05 WHIP after the All-Star break, thanks largely to a K rate that jumped from 5.85 K/9 in the first half to 8.90 K/9 afterward. Predictably, he’s pitched better on the road than at the new Yankee Stadium, but he’s affected far less by his home park being a left-hander. Bronson Arroyo is experiencing a similarly out-of-nowhere dominant second half as well, with a 2.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. But his peripherals aren’t nearly as good as Pettitte’s.

Although he’s since been shut down indefinitely, it was almost discouraging news to hear that an MRI on Alfonso Soriano’s knee didn’t reveal any major damage, as he would have at least had an excuse for such a terrible season. Of course, the injury likely affected him adversely, but it doesn’t sound like it’s solely to blame, and of course, him suffering yet another injury isn’t exactly comforting for his long-term outlook. It’s easy to forget, but Soriano finished April with seven home runs, four steals and a .955 OPS. It now looks like he’ll finish the season with the lowest OPS (.726) of his career. Fantasy baseball will always have its busts year in and year out, but the sport is typically less volatile than say football, especially at the top of drafts. But with Soriano, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, Carlos Beltran and BJ Upton, it seems as if there have been more disappointments than usual this season.

Madison Bumgarner more than held his own during his first career start, but it was the radar readings that was the real story, as his fastball topped out in the 87-88 mph range. He typically worked in the mid 90s with ease last season, when he dominated with a 15-3 record and a 1.46 ERA with a 164:21 K:BB ratio over 141.2 innings. His fastball velocity began dipping earlier this year, which was evident by the subsequent drop in K rate (6.3 K/9). Of course, moving up in leagues was partially to blame as well, and this is still a 20-year-old with a 1.85 ERA against competition typically much older than him, so it’s not like he’s no longer a terrific prospect. At 6-4, 215 lbs, Bumgarner has a funky delivery, similar to Brian Fuentes, so his heater can remain deceptively fast, even if all those mph don’t return. Still, after Tim Lincecum suffered an injury and the Rockies seemingly never losing, the last thing Giants fans wanted to see was their prize prospect suddenly transforming from a power pitcher (especially since the secondary pitches remain a work in progress) to a finesse lefty.

Bet On It

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Last year I went 130-116-10, giving me a 260-233 record over the last two seasons. I’m so pumped football is officially back, so let’s get right into the Week 1 slate:

Titans +6 at Steelers

Dolphins +4 at Falcons

Chiefs +13 at Ravens

Eagles -1 at Panthers

Broncos +4 at Bengals

Vikings -4 at Browns

Jets +4.5 at Texans

Jaguars +7 at Colts

Lions +13 at Saints

Cowboys -6 at Buccaneers (Best Bet)

49ers +6.5 at Cardinals

Redskins +6.5 at Giants

Rams +8.5 at Seahawks

Bears +3.5 at Packers

Bills +11 at Patriots

Chargers -9 at Raiders

Comments: It’s Week 1, so with even more uncertainty than normal, why not take 12 underdogs? And as for my best bet, I actually like the Cowboys this year, but Tampa Bay isn’t nearly as bad as many think. Take the home dog. I went 11-4-2 with my “best bet” last year.

NFL Barometer

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

RISERS

Carnell Williams, RB, T.B. – It may just be coach-speak, rewarding a player who undoubtedly worked hard to return from his second torn patella tendon, but Williams currently sits atop the Bucs’ RB depth chart. Even if Williams somehow stayed healthy over 16 games this season, odds are Derrick Ward finishes with the most touches in Tampa Bay’s backfield, because although he benefitted from the Giants’ offensive line last season, he’s a talented back in his own right. Tampa Bay has an underrated offensive line, and with Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow out wide, the offense could be sneaky productive. Unfortunately, the running back situation looks like a three-headed monster. Earnest Graham is underwhelming and may play more fullback this year, and Williams looked impressive during the preseason, so he may well enter Week 1 fully healthy and as the starter. He needs to be owned in all formats but realize there’s not a ton of upside unless Ward gets hurt.

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET – It’s extremely unlikely Stafford, who has officially been named Detroit’s Week 1 starter, has nearly as good of a rookie season as Matt Ryan did last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t have a more productive fantasy year than Ryan did in 2008. The Lions’ defense figures to remain one of the worst in the league, so while not ideal, the rookie signal caller may be forced to throw frequently, especially in the second half of games. Kevin Smith is a solid option as a receiver out of the backfield, and Brandon Pettigrew immediately upgrades the tight end position. But the real reason Stafford may emerge as a fantasy option (albeit only in deep leagues) is Calvin Johnson, who enters his third year in the league as the most valuable (non-quarterback) commodity in the NFL. Stafford has shown a willingness to take risks and go downfield during the preseason, and with his arm strength, it’s an excellent fit with Johnson as a target. Stafford’s overall numbers looked poor during preseason action, but it’s worth noting he got 8.1 YPA or better in three of his four games.

Nate Burleson, WR, SEA – With Deion Branch seemingly never going to be the same receiver after multiple knee injuries, Burleson is locked in as the WR2 in Seattle. He suffered a torn knee ligament in Week 1 last year, but because it happened so early in the season, he’s fully recovered entering 2009. Burleson has always been inconsistent throughout his career, but he did catch nine touchdowns two years ago and was off to a great start before going down in 2008. T.J. Houshmandzadeh figures to be the No. 1 option in the passing attack, but he’s hardly a star, and Burleson should easily be the team’s best downfield threat. Playing in such an awful division as the NFC West, Burleson is a nice sleeper, especially if Matt Hasselbeck can bounce back.

Ted Ginn, WR, MIA – Ginn has been considered something of a disappointment after being the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft, but he showed improvement as a sophomore last season, making him a candidate to breakout during his third year in the league. At 5-11, 180 lbs, Ginn isn’t a good red-zone target, and his deep speed is hardly an ideal fit for Chad Pennington’s noodle arm, but Miami has a huge void at the WR2 spot, so Ginn should be targeted fairly heavily. His 8.5 YPA mark last season was sneaky good; to give a comparison, Terrell Owens got 7.5 YPA and Anquan Boldin got 8.2 YPA last year. Ginn should be considered a top 30-35 fantasy wide receiver entering the year.

Mark Bradley, WR, K.C. – When the Chiefs signed Amani Toomer and listed David Darling as the WR2 during the preseason, Bradley’s value took an obvious hit. After Darling suffered a torn ACL and the team released Toomer, Bradley is back listed as the Chiefs’ starter at flanker. He’s never been able to stay healthy throughout his career, but Bradley is a former high pick (early second round in 2005) and has showed flashes when given the opportunity. Kansas City could have a decent passing attack, with Matt Cassel upgrading the QB position, and Todd Haley taking over as coach. Dwayne Bowe will be the main target, but Tony Gonzalez is gone, so those extra looks could go to Bradley. With a poor defense, the Chiefs will be forced to throw frequently, something that could result in nice numbers playing in a weak AFC West division.

Brady Quinn, QB, CLE – To no one’s surprise, Quinn has officially been named the Browns’ starting quarterback. Well, not “officially,” since Eric Mangini plays by his own rules, but the word is out that Quinn is Cleveland’s QB1. Quinn hasn’t shown much promise during his two years in the NFL, but with just 97 attempts, the sample size doesn’t reveal all that much. This news could be considered bad for Braylon Edwards, who thrives downfield, which is Derek Anderson’s main strength. Quinn, meanwhile, showed a huge reluctance to throw the ball even 10 yards through the air when he got the chance to play last year, but he does have sufficient arm strength to change that mentality if he so chooses.

FALLERS

Pierre Thomas, RB, N.O. – Thomas, who has been dealing with a sprained MCL, recently suffered a laceration that required stitches to an unspecified part of his body. While that injury doesn’t seem too serious, the knee has been slow to heal, and he looks unlikely to play Week 1 against a Detroit team that looks like a terrific matchup. Thomas originally suffered the injury August 23, and it was expected to keep him sidelined just 1-to-2 weeks, but it’s clearly become a bigger concern since then. It’s always better to think long-term and not panic, but for now, Thomas gets the downgrade. As a result, Mike Bell becomes a fine plug and play for Week 1.

Jamal Lewis, RB, CLE – Lewis has been a repeat customer on the downgrade list, and although he was able to avoid getting cut by the Browns, the mere fact this was even an issue reveals plenty. He averaged 3.6 YPC last season and has looked markedly slower during the preseason. Think about that. He’s now 30 years old and has 2,399 career carries. Not only has rookie James Davis impressed in camp, but what happens when Jerome Harrison is back in the mix as well? Spend a roster spot on a second defense instead.

Devin Thomas, WR, WAS – Not that Thomas was high on many draft lists to begin with, but it’s disconcerting he was unable to earn a starting job during the preseason, as Malcolm Kelly is Washington’s official WR2. Thomas, who was taken 17 spots ahead of Kelly during the 2008 draft, was considered by many to be the best wide receiver coming out of college that year. Instead, he’s lacked focus and been a huge disappointment. Kelly doesn’t have Thomas’ speed or upside, but at 6-4, 219 lbs, he could be a nice target in the red zone.

Miles Austin, WR, DAL – Austin continues to miss time with a hamstring injury, and his status for Week 1 is in doubt. He was no better than Dallas’ third wide receiver, but with Roy Williams something of a question mark and the middling Patrick Crayton as the No. 2 WR, there was an opportunity for Austin to carve out a bigger role in the offense. That won’t happen if he can’t stay on the field.

Kevin Jones, RB, CHI – Jones tore a ligament in his left ankle during Thursday night’s preseason finale and has been placed on IR as a result. Surgery will be required, and he’ll need 10 months of rehab. It’s a tough break for Jones, who had looked good during the preseason, further removed from knee surgery. He simply can’t stay healthy at this stage of his career, and the Bears’ RB depth just got a lot thinner.

Kevin Walter, WR, HOU – Walter is still missing practice while dealing with a lingering hamstring problem, leaving his availability for Week 1 in doubt. At 6-3, 218 lbs, Walter is actually Matt Schaub’s preferred option in the red zone, so his absence would be felt. As long as Andre Johnson stays healthy, Walter won’t rack up the receptions (or yards), but he could easily repeat last season’s eight touchdowns regardless. But his hamstring has to cooperate.

AFC South Preview

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Indianapolis Colts

Quietly, it seems as if the Colts are actually getting overlooked, something uncommon during Peyton Manning’s career. The way I see it, the team upgraded its WR2 and running game and will have a healthy Manning from the beginning of the season, so why won’t they be much improved over last year’s 12-4 version? Maybe even a coaching change can rejuvenate a franchise that was becoming somewhat stagnant. The defense isn’t great, but the secondary allowed just 6.7 YPA with a 6:15 TD:INT ratio in 2008. Another Super Bowl run isn’t out of the question.

2. Tennessee Titans (wild card)

The loss of Albert Haynesworth hurts, and it’s probably a stretch to ask Kerry Collins to last another full season healthy. Still, the offensive line is a strength, and few teams are better coached, even if the defensive side lost Jim Schwartz. Remember, Tennessee was probably the NFL’s best team last season, only a couple of fluky fumbles make it seem otherwise. Chris Johnson has to be more involved in 2009, and the receiving corps should be better with the additions of Nate Washington and Kenny Britt. It’s truly remarkable Collins took just eight sacks over 16 games last year.

3. Houston Texans (wild card)

One of these years, this playoff prediction has to turn true, right? The Texans’ defense remains a huge problem (although there are some big names on that side of the ball), and the team is pretty soft, considering how much they rely on homefield. And Matt Schaub must stay healthy, something of a long shot. Still, the system has remained constant, and the offense has huge potential. Over the last two years, Schaub has got 7.8 YPA and 8.0 YPA, respectively, so an MVP type season isn’t out of the question if he can somehow stay on the field. Baltimore could easily beat out Houston for the final playoff spot, but the Texans get the benefit of playing the NFC West this year, which could prove the difference.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars aren’t that bad and could even surprise coming off such a disappointing year. The team addressed the offensive line through the draft, but that could result in some short-term struggles before the long-term gains take effect. Getting Maurice Jones-Drew more touches will help, and Torry Holt, even at this stage of his career, likely upgrades the receiving group. And while David Garrard isn’t as good as his 2007 season suggests (7.7 YPA, 18:3 TD:INT ratio), he’s better than his numbers indicated last year. Still, Jacksonville is stuck in a highly competitive division, so even though the team would likely win the NFC West, they are probably relegated to a last place finish in the AFC South.

AFC North Preview

Monday, September 7th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s not often you find a team as dominant as the Steelers with such a shaky offensive line, but the defense can carry this team, and it’s also safe to expect a better season from Ben Roethlisberger – the separated shoulder he suffered in Week 1 last year was a big reason for the huge drop in YPA. The running game doesn’t look dangerous, but that didn’t prevent Pitt from winning the Super Bowl last year. Mike Tomlin is a terrific coach, and while teams will be gunning for the defending champs, it would be a surprise if the Steelers aren’t contenders again in 2009. Only a serious Roethlisberger injury can prevent it from happening.

2. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens lost Rex Ryan and Bart Scott during the offseason, but the additions of Michael Oher and Matt Birk should help, as should the continued maturation of Joe Flacco. John Harbaugh has all the makings of a very good head coach, but Ryan’s loss could prove serious, and with more tape available, Flacco may end up taking a step backward before forward. Still, this is a very good football team, and with the plan to get Ray Rice more involved, the offense should be improved. Baltimore is the best AFC team I don’t have making the playoffs, and that decision was far from easy.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals played sneaky good defense toward the end of last season, and with a healthy Carson Palmer combined with a dedicated Chad Johnson and Chris Henry, this team should be greatly improved in 2009. Getting Andre Smith signed earlier would have helped (as would have shedding 40 pounds), as the offensive line remains a problem. If Bernard Scott can improve his blocking, don’t be shocked if he eventually becomes a better RB than Cedric Benson. Two side notes: How cool is the Palmer brothers’ Web site? And “Hard Knocks” is a great show. I still refuse to believe Liev Schreiber is the narrator though. I pride myself on knowing voices you can’t see on TV, but I swung and missed here.

4. Cleveland Browns

Didn’t Cleveland learn its lesson with former Patriot coaches already? I guess anyone with a pulse qualifies as an upgrade over Romeo Crennel. Still, I don’t care if the starting quarterback is Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn or this guy, the Browns are in a whole lot of trouble this season. Braylon Edwards will probably bounce back, but put a fork in Jamal Lewis, he’s done. And Cleveland fans just have to hope last season’s regression by Joe Thomas was a one-year thing. I hate picking the AFC North in the exact same order as last year, but I promise I’ll make it up to you with my NFC predictions.

AFC East Preview

Monday, September 7th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. New England Patriots

The Patriots lost Tom Brady seven minutes into the season last year, yet still went 11-5. Without a doubt, I’d take Bill Belichick ahead of any player in the NFL if starting a franchise. Still, it’s worth noting just how easy New England’s schedule was last year, something that shouldn’t be the case in 2009. Their division is pretty weak, however, so they are the huge favorites. The defense should be better with improvements in the secondary, and the front seven got a lot younger fast. The offensive line is a question mark, and it’s reasonable to expect Brady not to reach his past level of performance until the second half of the season. The team still doesn’t have a featured running back, but that means nothing. There’s simply no reason not to consider the Pats the Super Bowl favorites.

2. New York Jets

With a fantastic offensive line, a defense that has potential to be really good (although that may not be apparent right away, learning a new system and without Calvin Pace for the first four games), the Jets are probably better than many people think. Rex Ryan will be a massive upgrade over Eric Mangini, and while no one should expect 31-year-old Thomas Jones to repeat last year’s performance, if that means Leon Washington gets 100 more touches, New York will be better off. The receiving corps is a problem, but Dustin Keller is a fine target at tight end. It would be unfair to ask Mark Sanchez to put up a Matt Ryan (or even Joe Flacco) type rookie season, especially with his lack of experience starting in college, but he won’t be asked to make a bunch of plays, and the Jets could surprise.

3. Buffalo Bills

While firing your offensive coordinator a week before the season starts can’t be considered a good thing, it’s better than keeping one who isn’t working out well. Buffalo doesn’t have a very good defense, and the offensive line is a huge question mark, starting a different player at all five positions from last year. Terrell Owens and Lee Evans look good on paper, as does the hurry up offense, but it all comes down to Trent Edwards’ development. The battle for last place with Miami should come down to the end of the season.

4. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins weren’t as bad as their 1-15 record indicated in 2007, but Miami certainly isn’t as good as last season’s 11-5 mark suggests. Special teams has been a real problem, and neither Chad Pennington nor Ronnie Brown has ever turned in consecutive healthy campaigns during their careers. Ted Ginn could turn out to be a nice player, but he’s hardly an ideal No. 1 WR, and don’t be surprised if the team turns to Chad Henne over the second half of 2009.