The fantasy football playoffs are fast approaching, so now is the time to take advantage of what could be one of the more exciting weeks of the NFL season. Check out which undervalued players are ready for a surprisingly big day, and the stars that may have a letdown performance. And as always, be sure to come back Sunday morning for the Spike.com breaking news update.
Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson will play today against the Seahawks.
Reggie Wayne is expected to start, despite a sore groin.
Brian Westbrook will likely sit out tonight's game against the Cowboys.
Roddy White is expected to play.
Anquan Boldin is inactive today.
Source: Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Let's not jump to conclusions here, but is there any way that the NFL intentionally scheduled one week of football with four of their worst teams not playing? Sort of like when a little league coach tells the three fat kids on the team that practice is cancelled one day just so he can go an hour without saying "No, it's ok Johnny - the run to first base can get exhausting."
Buffalo Bills - Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, Lee Evans and Terrel Owens get the week off to contemplate whether or not football is really for them.
Cleveland Browns - Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison and Mohamed Massaquoi won't be able to help any of their six remaining fantasy owners.
Oakland Raiders - JaMarcus Russell probably won't throw an interception this week, while Darren McFadden, Zach Miller, Louis Murphy, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush rest up before flushing the rest of their season down the toilet.
St. Louis Rams - Look it's more players you're probably not starting anyways. Marc Bulger, Donnie Avery, Randy McMichael will have a week off, as Steven Jackson figures out the best way to demand a trade.
Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe get a week to celebrate a big win over the Packers.
New York Jets - Braylon Edwards, Mark Sanchez, Thomas Jones, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller round off the bye week sits.
Start – Michael Turner is finally becoming the dominant running back we assumed he’d be. He has touchdowns in six straight games, a 151-yard Monday night performance, and looks like the Turner from 2008. Great news, considering that he’s facing a below-average Redskins’ rush defense that has surrendered big plays all season. Turner, along with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez will carry the Falcons to victory over a Redskins team that is now counting a 9-7 win over the Rams as a season highlight. The only Redskin worth starting here is Santana Moss in the flex spot. He’s an erratic player, but against the Falcons’ 31st ranked pass defense he’s bound to have at least one long reception.
Sit - Fox doesn’t do a bang up job with its NFL coverage, but its “Jim Zorn looks like he’s about to cry” camera shot is incredible. Every time Jason Campbell throws an interception, the folks at the network who brought you Temptation Island and Who Wants to Marry a Place Kicker (Fall 2010) already have the camera locked on Zorn while he thinks “If I were calling the plays…” Heading into week nine, Campbell has just one 200-yard game in his past four starts and is coming off of a mild ankle sprain two weeks ago. Now that Chris Cooley is out for the year, his options at receiver are even more limited, but Fred Davis is worth a look for anybody who needs a tight end for a bye. And speaking of injuries to underperforming players, Clinton Portis is hurt (not injured), which means it may be difficult for him to bank his second 100-yard rushing game this season. For Atlanta, this is the week to give Matt Ryan a rest. He threw three interceptions against the Saints, is coming off of a short week and will be playing the number two pass defense in the NFL. Logically speaking, the Falcons will stick to the run in this one. His top receiver may get him a touchdown, but the big points aren’t coming Ryan’s way this week. So sit Michael Jenkins too, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to play him.
Start – At the beginning of this season, if any of the nine rational Chicago sports fans had said “at the half-way point, the Denver Broncos will be 6-1 and Jay Cutler will have failed to throw a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in week eight,” what do you think the response would have been in the local sports bars? Cutler has looked pretty mediocre thus far, but will have a chance to redeem himself against the league’s fourth worst pass defense. He and Greg Olsen should do well against a Cardinals’ team that is not great against opposing tight ends. Johnny Knox may also be worth a start if Devin Hester sits (he’s listed as questionable). For the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald is still banking double digit fantasy points every week, and is a must-start. And now that Tim Hightower has become a goal line threat (touchdowns in his last four games) and averaging nearly five receptions per contest over that time, he has become a poor man’s LaDanian Tomlinson (a very, very poor one) and worth a start here. At this point in the week it doesn’t look as though Anquan Boldin will be in the lineup, which means Steve Breaston is worth starting as a third receiver or in a flex role.
Sit - How little faith do the Arizona Cardinals have in Matt Leinart? After five Kurt Warner interceptions last week, they still didn’t even let him put a helmet on. Does he even get a seat on the bus, or does he just ride with the players’ wives? Warner was awful last week, and is clearly struggling as teams begin game planning against the pass. Honestly, it’s remarkable that it’s taken this long for somebody to say “you know, why don’t we try and let Beanie Wells beat us?” Opposing defenses are preventing the deep ball and starting to keep the Cardinals from banking any big plays. The Bears’ top 12 pass defense should be a problem for Warner as he tries to bounce back in this one with a shaky offensive line. Matt Forte has been wildly inconsistent all year and will face one of the NFL’s best rush defenses. Forte and Earl Bennett are risky plays here.
Start – Joe Flacco is becoming a great game manager in Baltimore. Sure, it’s pretty much the most insulting thing you can call a quarterback without using the words “Cleveland,” “clipboard,” or “Delhomme,” but in this case it’s actually not that bad. Flacco is a very methodical passer and waits for his opportunities to capitalize – a strategy that should fare well against the Bengals 30th ranked pass defense. Derrick Mason (despite laying a goose egg against Cincinnati last month) is still Flacco’s top receiver and worth a start. Ray Rice is coming off of a 23-carry game in which he rushed for 83 yards and a late touchdown. It’s becoming very evident that he’s the feature back for the Ravens and will get plenty of touches this week. The other quarterback in this one, Carson Palmer, threw five touchdown passes in his last game and will be looking to add a couple more to his total against a very mediocre Ravens’ pass defense. Palmer, Chad Ochocinco (three straight 15-plus point fantasy days) and Laveranues Coles (touchdowns in two straight games) are nice starts along with Cedric Benson (121 yards and a touchdown last time these two played).
Sit - Willis McGahee was the toast of the fantasy world earlier in the year with his quick, five touchdown start. Two months later, however, and he’s coming off of a game where he touched the ball three times with a longest run of one yard. McGahee, Kelly Washington and Mark Clayton just don’t have the fantasy juice to warrant a start this week. For the Bengals, give Andre Caldwell and Chris Henry a seat – or maybe a hug. Henry has been through a lot. Todd Heap remains a consistent threat at tight end (double digit points against the Bengals earlier this season), but is listed as questionable.
Start – If you have Peyton Manning in a fantasy football league and read that he recently had a leg amputated during an Albanian midget wrestling accident after contracting a sexually transmitted disease, you’d probably think “Well, I’m sure he’ll be OK. I’m going to go head and start him anyway.” Basically, there’s nothing anybody can say that will make you think about sitting a guy who threw for 347 yards last week in his least effective fantasy performance all year. He and Reggie Wayne (the most consistent fantasy wide receiver in the NFL) aren’t going to be slowed down by a below average Texans defense. Dallas Clark and Austin Collie (who will continue to start with Anthony Gonzalez still on the shelf) are also safe bets. Joseph Adai will benefit from an increased workload against the Texans’ 20th ranked rush defense thanks to Donald Brown’s shoulder injury. And in what may be the “man up move of the week,” Andre Johnson is playing with a bruised lung and is expected to carry the load.
Sit – Did anyone know that Rex Grossman is Matt Schaub’s back-up? And more importantly, why is Rex Grossman still in the league? Doesn’t the CFL need to fill an interception quota? Schaub struggled last week against a Buffalo Bills secondary that’s very similar to what he’ll see this week against the Colts seventh-ranked pass defense. With Owen Daniels now out for the year, Kevin Walter failing to put up consistent numbers and Steve Slaton playing well enough to become Ryan Moats’ backup, the Houston offense may struggle here. Keep Moats on the bench for one week, until Houston decides how many carries it’s going to give to each guy and he proves he can put up numbers against any of the 31 teams ahead of the Bills’ rush defense. Pierre Garcon still sounds too French to start and is no longer a top three option in Indianapolis – but mostly the French thing.
Start – Tom Brady has nine touchdown passes in his last two starts, coming off of a bye week and now leads all quarterbacks in European touchdowns thrown this season. He’s becoming the fantasy stud we all remember from 2007, and along with Randy Moss and Wes Welker (four touchdowns in his last three games), Brady should continue his late MVP run against the Dolphins 21st ranked pass defense. The only thing that might slow down the Patriots passing attack is the clock. When Miami has the ball, they’ll rely on Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, both of whom should bounce back from rough week eight performances against an average Patriots’ rush defense.
Sit – Even with Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor battling injuries, Laurence Maroney will struggle against the Dolphins seventh-ranked rush defense. At tight end, Benjamin Watson now has three receptions and two touchdowns in his past two games. Not exactly worth starting, but for such an end zone threat it has to be infuriating for his fantasy owners who just need him to put up 42 yards to be worth a nod. For Miami, Ted Ginn Jr. is becoming one of the best return men in the NFL and one of the least effective receivers. He was on the field for less than half of the Dolphins offensive plays last week and didn’t catch a single ball. He’s not going to return two balls every week. Chad Henne has just one touchdown in his past two starts and will struggle against an improving Patriots’ pass rush. Bad news for Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo – both of whom are still looking for their first touchdowns of the season.
Start – Apparently, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t paying attention when Brett Favre was refusing to mentor him. The young Packers star is now 0-2 against his predecessor, despite putting up a nice three touchdown fantasy performance – numbers that should continue against the NFL’s third worst scoring defense. His top receiver, Donald Driver, appears to be fine despite a mild neck injury (yup, some people consider neck injuries mild) and should put up nice numbers down by the bay. Greg Jennings is also a nice pick to start, as he’s coming off of a 20-plus point fantasy day and will see a lot of open field here. Welcome back Greg. In the rushing attack, start Ryan Grant. He didn’t have an opportunity to contribute last week as the Packers were playing catch-up most of the game, but against the Buccaneers 30th ranked rush defense– he should look more like the Ryan Grant who rushed for 238 yards over weeks seven and eight.
Sit – The old riddle of “How many straight losses does it take for a team to start an unproven rookie quarterback” was answered in Tampa Bay last week. Apparently it’s seven – because that’s how many it took for the Bucs to start Josh Freeman, which is perfect timing considering he’s about to play the NFL’s fourth best defense. Freeman may show flashes of his potential, but the passing game is going to be virtually non-existent. If either Derrick Ward or Cadillac Williams had the ability to break 50 yards, they’d be surefire starts. But they don’t – so sit them. Jermichael Finley is expected to miss the game due to injury concerns.
Start – In a game with massive NFL Draft implications, expect Maurice Jones-Drew to show everyone what he can do in meaningless games against teams that give up an average of 130 yards on the ground. David Garrard will also get in on the action after electing to not throw a touchdown pass for three straight weeks, when he faces the Chiefs 27th ranked scoring defense. Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis should both make nice starts as well, though Sims-Walker is going to have to prove he can get it done with coverage rolling his way. He’s no secret anymore. The Chiefs will look to replace suspended running back/adorable hate monger Larry Johnson with Jamaal Charles - who is averaging five yards per carry this season and facing an awful Jaguars defense. He and star receiver Dwayne Bowe should put up nice results. For owners looking to make up for a bye week or injury, Bobby Wade may also have a decent outing.
Sit –Despite playing an awful Jaguars defense, Matt Cassel does not garner a start. Cassel has broken 200 yards just once in his past five games. Keep fringe players like Torry Holt and Mark Bradley on the sidelines too.
Start – Ever since the Lions actually won a game this season they’ve been playing with house money. It must be nice as a coach to go into your owner’s office after a 1-15 season and get a pat on the back. Much like life, sports is all about lowering people’s expectations of you – something the Seahawks are also starting to learn. Seattle is 2-5, and if for some inexplicable reason Matt Hasselbeck (listed as probable) doesn’t light up the NFL’s 27th ranked pass defense, it may be time to start wondering if he’s started his slow decent into what I affectionately call “the Bernie Kosar Years.” If Hasselbeck, Nate Burleson and TJ Houshmandzadeh (an early candidate for free agent bust of the decade) and John Carlson can’t have banner days, things are going to get Supersonics-to-Oklahoma City bad in Seattle. And now that Edgerrin James is collecting unemployment checks, Julius Jones is a smart start at home against Detroit.
Sit – Kevin Smith is coming off of a shoulder injury against the St. Louis Rams, and may be out against the Seahawks top 10 rush defense. Don’t expect Maurice Morris to fill in for more than 40 yards. With Calvin Johnson still hurt and Matthew Stafford struggling against a Rams defense that might as well replace their towels with white flags, the Detroit offense is not the formidable unit many people who still own GM stock believed it would be. Give Brandon Pettigrew and Bryant Johnson a seat until they get their second combined touchdown as well.
Start – Is there a better comparison in the “quarterback vs. running back shelf life” debate than Drew Brees vs. LaDanian Tomlinson? They were both drafted in 2001 by the San Diego Chargers, yet one is staring down the barrel of retirement and the other is entering his prime. Brees has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and should continue to impress the football world by building on his three straight, 300 yard games (OK, one of them was 298 yards). Marques Colston (three straight games with a touchdown), Devery Henderson (starting to see a lot of passes his way) and Jeremy Shockey (three straight double digit fantasy games) are all helping the 30-year-old signal caller put together MVP numbers. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell should also excel against the Panthers’ 24th ranked rush defense, but who knows which one scores? The only answer Carolina will have in this game is DeAngelo Williams, who’s had nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns in his past three starts.
Sit – Jake Delhomme tried to help his franchise by getting injured last week, but didn’t realize that Matt Moore potentially starting this week wouldn’t be a much better option. If Moore, who several coaches looked at and said “You know, Jake can probably bounce back from a four interception game” starts, it will be even worse news for Steve Smith, Donte Rosario and Mushin Muhammad. Lance Moore (questionable) and Robert Meachem are worth keeping around in case one of the Saints’ top two receivers get injured later on, but not worth starting anytime soon.
Start – Speaking of the Drew Brees/LaDanian Tomlinson rivalry, L.T. will have a chance to build on his two-touchdown performance against the Raiders when he faces a banged-up Giants rush defense that has given up several big performances lately. Phillip Rivers has been playing consistently well all season and should take advantage of a struggling secondary with the help of Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. If the Giants are going to avoid the loss and get back on track they’re going to need Brandon Jacobs (107 total yards last week), Steve Smith (double digit fantasy points in every game this year), Hakeem Nicks (always a touchdown threat), and tight end Kevin Boss to bail out their struggling quarterback.
Sit – Eli Manning has done a nice job helping us forget about the Giants’ five straight wins to open the season by losing three straight games in which he failed to throw more than one touchdown or break 250 yards – a trend he may not break against the Chargers’ top six pass defense. His favorite receiver, Mario Manningham. still hasn’t been cleared to play thanks to an injury that Tom Coughlin said may or may not be a separated shoulder. The Giants also haven’t received much help from Ahmad Bradshaw and his injured foot, as the once prolific back hasn’t registered a 50-yard performance in nearly a month. Darren Sproles is becoming the Ted Ginn Jr. of the running back world. He’s become so valuable on special teams, that he’s getting minimal carries (11 total in his last three starts) in the rushing attack.
Start – Chris Johnson is coming off of a monster 228 yard, two touchdown day that carried the Titans to their first win of the season. Conversely, the San Francisco 49ers have been shutting down opposing running backs all season and have the second best rush defense in the entire league. Something’s got to give, and at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Johnson. With an anemic passing attack whose offensive strategy has been described as “just don’t screw up,” Johnson will get at least 20-25 carries in this game – so an 80 yard day (much like Adrian Peterson had in San Francisco) should be the worst case scenario. The Niners are going to fight back in this one with a passing attack looking to exploit the NFL’s worst pass defense. Alex Smith has four touchdowns in his first two games, and with the help of Vernon Davis (also four touchdowns in his past two games), he could have his first great day since the 2005 Sugar Bowl.
Sit – Vince Young is still weeks away from serious offensive production and a clean bill of mental health. The Titans passing game will struggle to get in the end zone, and with no clear number one receiver Kenny Britt, Justin Gage, Bo Scaife, and Nate Washington are all sits. Same goes for the 49ers Josh Morgan and Isaac Bruce. Michael Crabtree is starting to show some signs, but he’s not fantasy relevant.
Start – If only certain leagues used the less conventional point-per-fan-stabbing format, this one could be a real ground gainer for certain owners. Given the Eagles recent output and the way Tony Romo and Miles Austin have been playing lately, this could be one of the higher scoring games of the week. Marion Barber has been cleared to play with a sore thumb, and should continue to be a real end zone threat, while Jason Witten will take advantage of an Eagles’ secondary that has surrendered five touchdowns to tight ends in their last four games. Expect the Eagles (who have scored over 80 points in their last two games against the Cowboys) to keep pace behind Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook (who was confirmed to start on Wednesday), DeSean Jackson (three touchdowns in his last two games), and Brett Celek.
Sit – Roy Williams is still nursing a rib injury and bruised ego after getting thrown to less than five times in each of his past two starts. Kevin Curtis may return from injury after over a month, which means Jeremy Maclin goes back to the bench. Felix Jones has only 16 carries in his last two games. Tashard Choice is probably worth dropping at this point.
Start – There’s nothing fantasy owners love hearing more than “Monday night defensive struggle,” but that’s exactly what they’re going to get here. Two of the top six defenses in the NFL will battle out an old school Eddie Shore style game in Denver. Reliable receivers Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward will catch enough balls to make them worth a start, while Heath Miller should be good enough for at least seven receptions. For Denver, Brandon Marshall will have a shot to prove his remaining critics wrong on the national stage. He should make it count.
Sit – The Broncos have allowed the least amount of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks of any team this year, so sit Ben Roethlisberger and his fourth option, Mike Wallace. Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker should struggle against the Broncos third-ranked rush defense. Sit Kyle Orton, Knoshown Moreno, and Correll Buckhalter. Pittsburgh’s defense is starting to get its Super Bowl swagger back and it’s not looking pretty for anyone who stands in their way.