East Coast Offense
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
I screwed up with "Cramming for Kickoff". The word "cramming" is the problem - it connotes studying for a exam at the last minute. But getting ready for Sunday is hardly like an exam - it's something we look forward to. Plus, if it were really cramming, the article would come at at 2:00 am Sunday morning just under the gun for people to wake up and adjust their lineups. But the article comes out on Wednesday. And "cramming" is just too dorky for my taste generally - I know we're already stuck with "fantasy" football as if our whole endeavor were some puerile little role-playing daydream where we pretend to be real GMs and owners. But no one is really pretending to be a GM - instead we're engaging in a strategic contest based on player and team evaluation. It's my football expertise versus your football expertise. It's a test of our observational and analytical skills. "Fantasy" - to hell with fantasy. Long before any of us played fantasy football, we were fans, and we argued about who was the best running back or wide receiver then. Now we get to back up those arguments and declare a winner thanks to this game, whatever you want to call it. We're stuck with "fantasy" - there's no going back, but hopefully it's not too late to get rid of "cramming." They had the engineers over at Yahoo! create a template for me with that title, so it's my own fault, but it's making me ill.
If you're sitting at 0-2 thanks in part to Cadillac Williams, Reuben Droughns or Lee Evans, don't panic. That the Bucs have started off slowly doesn't mean they'll be that way all year, and Williams is still the featured back and likely to see a heavy workload every week. Williams was a consensus top-12 pick for just about every web site, and nothing has transpired to change that except that the team had two poor games. Williams did have back spasms in Week 1, but they didn't seem to be a factor in Week 2.
Droughns hasn't found much room to run, either, but he's getting the short-yardage and goal-line carries, he's not in a timeshare and he's even catching a few passes. The Browns offense can only get better as second-year quarterback Charlie Frye gets more experience and young receivers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow get healthier and log more games. And the team should get another boost when Joe Jurevicius returns in a couple weeks.
Lee Evans has struggled to get open at times, but last week, he got behind the defense, and likely would have scored had he not been interfered with. Expect J.P. Losman to look for Evans consistently, and occasionally down the field.
Around the League
Let's get caught up quickly on the major developments of the last few days:
Owens had surgery on the finger Monday, and there's some chance Owens could return after Dallas' bye week and not miss a single game. If Owens does miss a game or two, expect the entire Cowboys offense to suffer. Without Owens, it's a mediocre unit, with an aging and immobile quarterback and an unspectacular running game. Terry Glenn becomes the featured receiver, with Jason Witten likely getting more looks in the red-zone. But it's essentially the same group as last year's, and that squad didn't make the playoffs. When Owens does return, he should be considered a top-5 receiver again - consider that coming into the year, he had 71 touchdowns in the last six seasons, and that includes the half season he missed in 2005 due to his suspension. And Drew Bledsoe is a top-10 quarterback with Owens in the fold. Forget about the Jacksonville game - you saw what they did to Pittsburgh, and forget about the Redskins game, Owens was playing much of it with the broken finger.
DeShaun Foster had 13 carries for just 26 yards while Williams had 13 carries for 74 and a touchdown Sunday. While coach John Fox insists that Foster is still the starter, he also said that he'll use the two backs based on the flow of the game. When the game starts flowing such that Foster is getting stuffed, and Williams is hitting the hole more quickly and with more explosion, we expect Williams to get the majority of the carries. For now, Williams is a risky play because it's unclear how many carries he'll get, but that should change before long.
Much like Williams/Foster, Addai has outplayed Rhodes over the first two games. Moreover, Addai is already the better pass blocker, and poor pass-blocking is usually the area that holds talented rookie runners back. In short, there is nothing that Rhodes does better than Addai at this point, and it's only a matter of time before Addai takes a bigger portion of the timeshare.
You might want to write off all the Raiders' skill player based on their performance for the last two weeks, but it would be foolish to do so. They're not likely to be a good team at any point this year, but they have to get better, and they will score some touchdowns. With Brooks out, the 6-5 Andrew Walter takes over, and, long term, that might be a blessing. Even though the numbers don't show it, Walter played with poise against a tough Ravens defense on the road, and he's got a big arm and should eventually be effective getting the ball downfield to Randy Moss. In the near term, Walter will make mistakes, but if he plays decently, he could keep the job all year. But no matter who's quarterbacking the team, Moss will come around once the Raiders get in sync, and LaMont Jordan is likely to be serviceable, even if he never quite lives up to his draft-day projections.
Below the Radar
Jackson caught two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown Sunday, and though he missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, he's as likely as any Patriots receiver to emerge as Tom Brady's top target. At 6-1, 212, Jackson has good size, and he ran a 4.38 40 at the combine, so his physical skills are not in doubt.
Frye is still raw, but he's working with two of the most dynamic athletes in the league at their respective positions in Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, he'll get red-zone target Joe Jurevicius back soon, and he'll get some yards on the ground as well as some rushing touchdowns.
Calhoun hasn't gotten much of a chance to play, but were Kevin Jones to go down, or merely continue to struggle, Calhoun could see a bigger role in Mike Martz's offense. Calhoun is just 5-10, 195, so there's little chance of him grabbing an every down role, but he could turn into an effective passing-game weapon out of the backfield and rack up yardage between the 20s.
Beating the Book
For the second week in a row, we chose a team that looked awful, and at this point, I'm not even going to joke about it. We went 7-9 against the spread in Week 2 to put us at 17-15 on the season.
Ravens -6.5 at Browns
The Ravens have looked good defensively against two horrendous teams, but no team averaging 4.9 yards per passing attempt and 3.7 yards per rush should be laying big points on the road against anyone. The Browns haven't looked great, but they're not a total doormat, either, and as discussed above, their young offensive nucleus should improve as the year goes on. Back Cleveland at home who keeps it close and possibly wins outright.
Browns 17 - 16
For the rest of this week's slate, check out Beating the Book
Surviving Week 3
We told you to take the chalk, and Indy won easily, but so did virtually everyone else - the Chargers, Ravens, Bears and Bengals. The only team that cut it close was Denver, but they, too, pulled it out. If we could go back in time, we'd save the Colts, but there was no way to know that all those other teams would win. Hell, if we could go back in time, we would have picked the Bills.
This week is a bit tougher, but we're going with the chalk again and taking 11-point favorite Miami at home against Tennessee. We don't feel great about the game, as Daunte Culpepper is donating games to opposing teams early on, but Miami is at home and absolutely desperate for a win against a Tennessee squad whose starting quarterback, running back and head coach know they won't be around the next time the team makes the playoffs. Essentially, Miami needs the game and should get it at home against a directionless opponent. We give the Dolphins a 79 percent chance to win this game.
For the complete take on Survivor, strategies and rules, check out Surviving Week 3
One Final Note
Yahoo! Sports Editor Brandon Funston recently sent some of us a list of the Yahoo! Fantasy Football "Percent Owned Numbers", i.e., a list what percent of leagues particular players were rostered in. For example, it might not surprise you that there is no Yahoo! league where Torry Holt is available as a free agent. Plaxico Burress is owned in 99.99 percent of all leagues, but apparently there is at least one out there where he can be added off the waiver wire. Again, not surprising - there are some odd leagues out there, and that Burress would slip through the cracks in one of them isn't inconceivable. Chad Pennington is owned in 56.05 percent of all leagues - that's about what I'd have guessed - some people believe after two games, and some don't. But as you go further down the list, there are some curious findings Someone apparently owns Craphonso Thorpe, for example. Others (.06 percent) own Tim Duncan, the kicker, who worked out but failed to make the Titans in 2004. And a few people (.08 percent) are holding out hope that Brian Finneran makes an unprecedented recovery from his ACL tear and gets the NFL to change its rules about reinstating players placed on injured reserve.
I guess it's for the best, though - if everyone knew what they were doing, I'd be out of a job.
Article first appeared 9/20/06