Fantasy Fever is a weekly piece that provides fantasy advice on lineup calls, sleepers, waiver-wire moves and rookie spotlights, along with the occasional ramble or four. Enjoy.
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QB: Matt Cassel, Chiefs
Five turnovers in the past three weeks may trigger trepidation in starting Cassel, not to mention the butt-kicking at the hands Miami last week. Still, Kansas City’s QB has thrown for 250 yards or more in four of the past five ball games. (Not bad for a man who moonlights as MFCEO Kenneth Powers’ head of marketing.) Expect that trend to continue against an atrocious pass defense in Denver that has surrendered 17 touchdowns and an average QB rating of 103.6, both figures ranking second-worst in the NFL. As he continues to get complementary receivers Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin acclimated to the aerial attack, Cassel could be an undervalued asset in the second half of the season.
Other starts: Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford
RB: Reggie Bush, Dolphins
Full disclosure: I am petrified by the rumors that Bush reconciled with Kim Kardashian. That femme fatale is kryptonite to any athlete she dates; basically, she is the real-life version of Kim Basinger from The Natural. In fact, it should be no surprise that Bush’s long-awaited fantasy fruition coincided with his separation from that socialite derelict.
Bad omen aside, Bush has posted strong outings in three of his past four games. Daniel Thomas returned to the Dolphins, but looked sluggish and apathetic against the Chiefs in Week 9. Thomas and Lex Hilliard may abduct some opportunities from Bush. However, the former Heisman winner is projected as the primary back, and his participation in the passing game could provide dividends to those in PPR formats. Started in just 37.1 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, look for Bush to exploit a Washington defense that’s surrendering 122.6 yards per game.
Other starts: Jackie Battle, Shonn Greene
WR: Dez Bryant, Cowboys
Miles Austin’s anticipated absence for the next few weeks has made Laurent Robinson a fantasy commodity, but Bryant is the Cowboy receiver that has the most to gain in this predicament. The second-year man out of Oklahoma State has yet to submit a breakout game, although Bryant has finished with 76 or more yards in three of the past four contests. A run-of-the-mill Buffalo secondary could provide the platform for Bryant to blow up.
Other starts: A.J. Green, Antonio Brown
TE: Brent Celek, Eagles
Apparently Michael Vick just received the heads up that Celek’s services are at his disposal. After bursting onto the fantasy scene in 2009 with 76 receptions for 971 yards and eight scores, the Philly tight end’s production was cut in half last season when Vick took the reins as field general. An inauspicious start from Celek (nine receptions, 73 yards in Philadelphia’s first five games) seemed to indicate that 2011 was going to be more of the same. So the sudden reintegration of Celek into the air assault has been a pleasant surprise, with the Cincinnati product hauling in 18 catches for 196 yards in his last three games. As long as DeSean Jackson’s struggles persist, Celek should continue to see targets in his direction.
Other starts: Tony Gonzalez, Jake Ballard
DEF: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags may be 2-6, but that’s no consequence of the defense. Jacksonville is fifth in overall defense, conceding 307 yards per game, and opposing offenses are averaging only 20.4 points per outing (eighth-best in the NFL). Envision those figures to lower against the train wreck known as the Indianapolis Colts.
Other starts: Philadelphia, San Francisco
QB: Carson Palmer, Raiders
To fantasy detractors, Palmer’s performance is a prime example of how they can’t comprehend the fascination with the game. For all intents and purposes, the newly-acquired Raider reminded one of Shane Falco rather than Joe Flacco, hitting just 54.3 percent of his intended targets and tossing three picks (with three other errant passes that could have been intercepted) in Oakland’s loss to Denver. Despite this disastrous display, Palmer still produced in the fantasy realm thanks to 332 yards and three touchdowns. Do not await this type of harvest against a San Diego unit that’s holding quarterbacks to 191.6 yards per contest.
Other sits: Eli Manning, Andy Dalton
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
The Pittsburgh running game’s motto for the first half of the fantasy season can be summed up in the abridged words of Otter from Animal House: “You (messed) up, you trusted us!”
Mendenhall has obtained exactly 13 carries in each of the past three games, hardly enough opportunities to make a meaningful impact. Throw in the fact that Pittsburgh takes on a Bengals’ squad that is relinquishing an AFC-low 84.5 yards per contest and it’s a no-brainer: Mendenhall is best suited for the bench in Week 10.
Other sits: LeGarrette Blount, Willis McGahee
WR: Brandon Lloyd, Rams
Lloyd’s been solid in his short stint in St. Louis, grabbing 17 receptions for 207 yards in three games. Alas, the Browns’ Joe Haden is quietly becoming one of the league’s best shutdown corners and is a major catalyst for Cleveland’s top-ranked pass defense (177.4 receiving yards per game). If other adequate options are available, considering sitting Lloyd when the Rams travel to Cuyahoga County.
Other sits: Mike Williams (TB), Sidney Rice
TE: Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
Winslow has recorded 40 yards or less in five of the last six games. The improved play of Josh Freeman offers a glimmer of hope that the tight end’s production might be on the rise, and Winslow has found the end zone in each of the past two games. That said, Winslow mustered just 29 yards against a vulnerable New Orleans secondary and faces a stouter LB corps in the Houston Texans this week. Better alternatives are available on the waiver wire (Ed Dickson, Benjamin Watson, Jared Cook) than starting Winslow.
Other sits: Marcedes Lewis, Heath Miller
DEF: Green Bay Packers
The two pick-sixes in San Diego were nice, and a matchup with rookie QB Christian Ponder may sound enticing, but the Packers are still granting a NFC-worst 315.6 yards per game. Plus, I never like betting against Adrian Peterson. Stay away from the Pack.
Other sits: New York (Jets), Dallas Cowboys
The Armageddon Head Scratcher of the Week
Granted, a movie based on a team of rag-tag drillers saving the world by detonating a nuke on an inbound asteroid should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there remain a few storylines that defy logic and reason that need to be examined with greater scrutiny. These preposterous plot points will be analyzed along with a questionable call from the previous week of football.
Though Bruce Willis and company succeed in drilling the 800-foot requisite hole to destruct the asteroid, their celebration is short lived, as the detonator to the nuke is disabled. This troubling news means one will have to stay behind to personally discharge the bomb. The crew decides the most apropos thing to do is “draw straws.” As ridiculous as this proposition is, That Guy from Heat (or to the younger generation, That Banker from the beginning of The Dark Knight) somehow has five straws on him. Why the hell does Captain America have straws on him in space? Did a NASA official grab him out the door and go, “Hey, uh, listen, in the remote chance one of you has to stay behind and manually blow this baby up, you better take these straws,” or did he simply need them to drink his Tang? My head hurts.
Speaking of making your head hurt, how about the AFC West? San Diego, Kansas City and Oakland all had the opportunity to take the division lead with wins over the weekend. Instead, the trio fell flat on their face. The Chargers were undone by Philip Rivers (again), the Chiefs were manhandled by the previously o-fer Dolphins and the Raiders were “Palmered” by Carson’s three interceptions. How bad is the West? The Denver Broncos, who were proclaimed one of the league’s worst franchises after Detroit dismantled the squad 45-10 in Week 8, sit just a game back in the standings. Luckily for the division, the NFC West still takes the crown for worst assembly of “professional” pigskin talent.
Waiver Wire Watch: Chris Ogbonnaya, Browns
Ogbonnyaya was a popular pickup last week thanks to injuries to Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, and boy, did he disappoint: 13 carries for 28 yards and a fumble. Even Chris Johnson had to shake his head in dismay at that putridness.
Despite this failure of fantasy fulfillment, I am giving Ogbonnaya one more roll of the dice for two reasons: a lack of better options in the Browns’ backfield (Hillis and Hardesty are both expected to be sidelined this weekend) and a favorable matchup against the Rams (who are giving up a league-worst 153.6 yards per game). True, inserting Ogbonnaya is somewhat of a risky gamble, but his activity in the passing game (10 receptions in the previous two games before Week 9) makes the juice worth the squeeze.
The Real Debate
Indianapolis’ 0-9 start has ignited fierce finger-pointing throughout the franchise, with a scathing article on G.M. Chris Polian servicing as the catalyst for this fire. But while there’s some merit to playing the blame game, the Real Debate should be this: how does Peyton Manning’s sabbatical explain the Colts’ league-worst defense? Indianapolis is surrendering 31.4 points per game, unfathomable since the unit has most of their integral pieces in play. I get that Manning was the conductor of a finely-tuned offensive orchestra, but his no-show shouldn’t correspond to a total breakdown on the other side of the ball, no? Of course, I suppose I would be disenchanted on defense too if I realized Curtis Painter was my starting quarterback.
Fantasy Flyer: Damian Williams, Titans
Nate Washington has filled in nicely as the de facto No. 1 receiver for Tennessee in the absence of Kenny Britt, but Washington suffered a hip injury in the Titans’ loss to Cincinnati. Enter Williams, a 2010 draft pick out of Southern California. Williams has four or more receptions in three of the past four games and has a team-high three touchdowns this season.
Washington is projected to play this weekend, albeit in a limited capacity. This development, along with a porous Carolina secondary, could be the perfect storm for Williams to make his presence known. Owned in less than 1.1 percent of leagues, give Williams a go.
Any Given Sunday Pep Talk
Sometimes NFLers need a little inspiration, or even a kick in the behind, to get properly motivated. Luckily for us, Al Pacino will be reprising his Coach Tony D’Amato character to provide players the necessary pep talk to enable fantasy success. This week’s recipient: DeSean Jackson.
“Ain’t exactly been a fall to remember, has it DeSean? Am I reading this right: five games with three receptions or less? Holy cow, they aren’t kidding by labeling you a fantasy bust!
“Normally I give receivers a little breathing room, mostly because your performance is predicated by others doing their job: the line has to block, the running back has to keep the defense honest, the quarterback needs to not only look your way, but make a solid throw…hell, even the presence of another viable wideout is imperative to give you some room to roam!
“But it seems like that’s not necessarily the case here, DeSean. Your line, while maligned in the preseason, has been alright. You have one of the best running backs in the game, LeSean McCoy, giving opposing defenders nightmares. Michael Vick can be erratic at times, but he’s giving you over seven targets a game, and Jeremy Maclin is a top-10 receiver! Seems to me you might be the weak link in this rodeo, cowboy.
“Here’s the thing, DeSean: you still have eight games to do your fantasy owners right. They put their faith in you to go out and perform. I think it’s time you validated that trust, son.
“You’re getting the opportunities, all you have to do is something with ‘em! And I promise ya, you accomplish that, and the second half of your season will be cream cheese.”
Rookie Review: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
Ok, so maybe Peterson is irrelevant to 99.99 percent of the fantasy community who neglect to utilize individual defensive players in their league. But did you see that 99-yard house call in OT? Dude had some major cojones to take the catch at the one-yard line. Or he simply lacked field awareness and got away with a rookie mistake. For narrative purposes, let’s go with the former.
This Week in Kevin Walter
A quick glance at the Houston-Cleveland box score would indicate that K-Money was put in his place by the Brownies. In reality, Sunday’s soiree was illustration of the adage, “Looks can be deceiving,” as Walter was blocking the bejesus out of the sorry souls that stood across the line from the Houston wideout. K-Walt’s road-paving proficiency led to 261 rushing yards for the Texans on their way to a 30-12 whooping. Don’t ever say the Pride of Ypsilanti isn’t a team player.