By Michael Salfino
RotoWire Staff Writer
Gobble up these touts and have a Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you really like your in-laws because Dolphins-Lions and Bucs-Cowboys aren't likely to offer much distraction. Make sure to eat early if you own a Denver running back because that surprise last-second deactivation is not good for digestion (Broncos at Chiefs is the NFL Network's inaugural game Thanksgiving night).
Reche Caldwell, WR, Patriots: Brady's school-girl-like crushes on No. 1 receivers have been short and sweet. Caldwell has been very productive three of the last four weeks. But a one catch, 21-yard game always lurks.
Devery Henderson, WR, Saints: Drew Brees has over 1,600 yards passing the last four weeks and rookie phenom Marques Colston was carted off last week with a high-ankle sprain.
J.P. Losman, QB, Bills: He'll remain solid only if teams continue putting their weak corner on fleet Lee Evans (200 receiving yards in the first quarter last week).
Lee Evans, WR, Bills: Wow. Anyone who owned him swore they were seeing double, were stricken with deja vu or that their stat-site of choice went haywire when they saw that second 83-yard-TD go up on the board while the first beer was still cold on Sunday. Evans had 200 yards receiving before the opening quarter ended, but visions of a day for the ages were dashed when Losman predictably got stuck in neutral for the balance of the afternoon. The fantasy lesson here is to always play a healthy No. 1 receiver who has had a productive past and is in the good graces of the coaching staff. Mix and matching places emphasis on last week's receiving heroes, who rarely meet or surpass revised expectations.
Mike Bell, RB, Broncos: Mike Bell has a 30 percent chance of being deactivated any given Sunday (or Thursday night). If active, he has a 70 percent chance of being a top 20 RB because he's been very reliable in short yardage and goal-line and will likely at least be Mike Anderson, circa 2005. He's never going to get a workhorse allotment of carries, but who does nowadays. I'd go for broke and change "top 20" to "top 10" if not for Jake Plummer's spotty play.
Damien Nash, RB, Broncos: Wipe that smirk off your face. This is right from the e-mail from Professor Hawking, who responded to last week's request. Nash has a 70 percent chance of being active any week, too. But only a 50 percent chance of being useful in most formats because he's not likely to get goal-line work (though he is a load if Shanny ever forgives him for the goal-line fumble versus Oakland). Simply multiply those percentages, add the cosmological constant, divide by the ratio of dark energy in the ever expanding universe and you've got yourself an accurate reading into Mike Shanahan's mind.
Dominic Rhodes, RB, Colts: Mr. Mellow Yellow Tony Dungy doesn't want to rock the boat by benching the veteran journeyman in favor of ascending rookie Joseph Addai. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" you say. Maybe Dungy could be U.N. ambassador. But this is no way to run a football team. Still, the Colts are going to win 14 games no matter what, and I'm tired of fighting this by arguing the obvious... But, you know, Addai is even markedly better on the subtle things like route running and blitz pickup... All right, already. I give.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: He's been Manning's No. 1 receiving most weeks. That makes him as valuable as any receiver in fantasy football. Having Harrison around is useful because Wayne always lines up on Manning's left, where teams generally place their weaker corner. You can tell where the weaker corner was after 60 minutes versus Wayne by looking for the chalk outline.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints: My friend and colleague Scott Pianowski says a fantasy QB's best friend is the pick that gets returned for a TD because then he goes right back on the field likely down seven more points. The second best friend is a Swiss cheese secondary. Add a running game that's inept after first and goal (27 rushes, 4 TDs) and you've got the makings of a beautiful relationship. I don't think losing Marques Colston will slow him down, because it's most likely Brees made Colston rather than vice versa.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: Four TD passes two of the last four weeks. Only one TD the other two weeks combined. But it all adds up to 19 TD strikes this year, which is as good as it gets. The yards per attempt (YPA), under 7.0, doesn't support this kind of productivity. But Brady has been very efficient inside the 10, with 12 TD passes on 217 attempts (the Pats throw here far more than average).
Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos: Last call for Jake Plummer. If he's in anyway responsible for another Bronco loss on Thanksgiving night, Shanahan has 10 days to try to turn Cutler into Roethlisberger in time for the postseason.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Cardinals: Matt Leinart was quietly effective last week. I know, versus the Lions, you spoilsport. But Larry Fitzgerald is still limited by the hamstring problem and Boldin is there to really sweep in with oodles of targets and catches given that Edgerrin James has turned into Late Career Eddie George Version 2.0.
Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: He hasn't been Manning's most-thrown-to receiver since Week 3. Peyton will begin balancing the ledger this week.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: St. Louis will be favored in four of its next five games and should adjust better to the devastating loss of Pace. Touchdowns will likely remain a problem given those inside-the-10 numbers.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: Such a weapon, but only has one more catch inside the 20 than teammate Brandon Manumaleuna. Teams will sell out to stop LT soon, right?
Frank Gore, RB, Niners: The Niners passing game has stagnated, and Gore doesn't get goal-line carries. Not that anyone is doing anything with them in San Francisco (5-for-29 converting rushes into TDs after first and goal). Gore also had another huge fumble that almost cost the Niners a win. That's the seventh one he's lost this year. Last year's RB leader Reuben Droughns had six total fumbles, not just counting those that were lost. Gore's fumbling is a very significant problem adversely affecting his prospective value.
Kevan Barlow, RB, Jets: Mangini is taking lessons from Mike Shanahan, giving Barlow four carries (two yards) after his biggest game of the season at New England. Start a Jets running back at your own risk. They do run the ball more after first and goal than any other team (79 percent). But they convert a below average 50 percent of these situations into TDs.
Tatum Bell, RB, Broncos: Bell has a 70 percent chance of being deactivated given Mike Shanahan said that he won't be active until he proves he's 100 percent, which he can't ever be this year with turf toes on both feet. Of course, there's a 99.5 percent chance that Shanahan is completely full of, um, Thanksgiving stuffing.
Joseph Addai, RB, Colts: He's going to be fine. So, if you shed a tear, shed it for yourself if, like me, you drafted him. You can console yourself with the absolute belief that you were right and that Addai is clearly the far superior player. That and four bucks will get you a latte at the Loser Lounge in the Fantasy Café.
Torry Holt, WR, Rams: Same as what I said last week about Marc Bulger: you can't complete deep passing plays without a solid left tackle (Orlando Pace is done for the year, of course).
Randy Moss, WR, Raiders: No catches last week. Imagine how even less happy he is now compared to how unhappy he was last week over the Raiders losing. It's hard to get up for games for a mere $7.5 million or so a year.
Chad Pennington, QB, Jets: Mangini said Pennington is his QB before adding the kiss of death, "for now." The Jets have the most one-dimensional passing attack in football. New York needs to bench Chad if he can't throw the ball downfield. I'm tired of pointing out that statistical evidence says Pennington can again make these throws. But, if the coaches don't believe it, they must find a new QB now because you can't live within 10 yards of scrimmage against 90 percent of NFL pass defenses. Fortunately for Chad, the Texans are on the yellow bus with the other 10 percent.
Antonio Bryant, WR, Niners: What's the point of having a Lamborghini if you can't open it up to over 100 MPH after a few beers? Of course, this raises the question, "What has Antonio Byrant ever done to deserve a Lamborghini?" Bryant also reportedly resisted arrest and was verbally abusive to officers. There's no truth to the rumor that, to paraphrase David Attel, his defense was, "Sometimes the kids really have to get to school."
Shaun Alexander, RB, Seahawks: Only a handful of high-mileage backs (Corey Dillon, most recently) come all the way back after major injury. Dillon, though, broke no bones. The smart money expects a steep, steady decline.
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles: The Eagles are likely crippled again without Donovan McNabb (torn ACL). Westbrook might get more catches, but he'll likely do much less with them.
Article first appeared 11/21/06