East Coast Offense
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
It's a Wasteland
Can you name any first-round pick that's exceeding expectations? Larry Johnson? Not unless you count getting stuffed by the Cardinals for most of Sunday's game. LaDainian Tomlinson? On the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Steelers in a tight game while Michael Turner was running out the clock. Shaun Alexander? Hurt. Tiki Barber? No touchdowns. Clinton Portis? Limited in Week 1, missed Week 2, did little against the Giants on Sunday. Ronnie Brown? Doing nothing on the ground. Steven Jackson? All yards, but one touchdown. Same with Willis McGahee. Cadillac Williams, LaMont Jordan? Only Rudi Johnson is doing what we expected (88 yards per game and four TDs), and it's not like he's going crazy. (Brian Westbrook has six TDs in four games, but he's been hurt, and you probably got a zero from him when he sat out the Monday night game against the Packers).
Meanwhile, Julius Jones leads the NFL in rushing yards per game with 97, Tatum's Bell's second with 96 and another player not likely chosen in the first round, Frank Gore, is third. There were four players last year who averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game over the full 16, (Alexander, Barber, Johnson and Edgerrin James), and this year there are none setting that pace even after just four or five. James, who I almost forgot about, is averaging a paltry 68.6 yards per game and 3.1 per carry this season.
But lest you think this problem is limited to running backs, take a look at the wideouts. No receiver stands out from the pack, and of the top-10, only Torry Holt (and maybe Santana Moss, thanks to one big game) are living up to their draft slots in both yards and touchdowns. Quarterbacks are even worse. Unless you took Donovan McNabb - the only major force at any position in fantasy football thus far - there's almost no one doing particularly well at the top. Eli Manning's off to a good start, but even if you have Rex Grossman now, you probably didn't use him until Week 3 at the earliest. Tight ends? No one stands out there, either - unless Marques Colston qualifies, and even then, no one took him in the first 10 rounds of any draft. Robbie Gould and Jeff Wilkins sure are kicking ass, though. Be sure to draft a kicker early next year, because it's the only position where players are differentiating themselves from the pack. Problem is, not even God knows which kicker to draft.
Around the League
Let's get caught up quickly on the major developments of the last few days:
If it's a strain, it could be two weeks, a tear, five, though I'm sure RotoWire's Orthopedic Clinical specialist, Stephania Bell, will remind me when she reads this that a strain IS a tear, and it's just a matter of degree. Either way, Anquan Boldin will be as heavily targeted as any receiver in the league the next few weeks, and Bryant Johnson will likely start opposite Boldin. (Coach Dennis Green is toying with the idea of using journeyman Troy Walters instead, which would be stupid, but that doesn't rule it out as a possibility). Against the Bears this week, we'd probably steer clear of anyone but Boldin, but after that the Cardinals draw Oakland and Green Bay, and Johnson is worth a look.
Let's consider the numbers he's put up: 320 passing yards per game (On pace to break Dan Marino's record), 11 touchdown passes, three rushing touchdowns, one interception, 9.1 yards per passing attempt. The odd thing about McNabb's stats is his pedestrian 58.5 completion percentage. To average 9.1 yards per attempt (better than most Hall-of-Famers in their prime) with that low of a completion percentage means McNabb's connections are occuring far down the field. I don't think that's sustainable because too many things have to go right to complete deep passes, but that doesn't mean McNabb won't continue to be the best fantasy quarterback in the league this season. The Eagles throw more than anyone else, McNabb's top running back is essentially a wide receiver and McNabb is likely to get a few more rushing touchdowns. At this point, I wouldn't deal McNabb for Peyton Manning (though I'm not positive I'd deal Manning for McNabb, either.
Even though he fumbled Monday night, and even though the Broncos were playing a stout Ravens defense in bad weather, Mike Shanahan gave the ball almost exclusively to Bell (Mike Bell didn't record a carry). For now, that means Tatum Bell is the full-time back under all conditions for what's been the best run blocking team in football for the past half-decade. We're looking at a home run threat who should have big holes to run through. Don't be surprised if Bell is a top-5 back by season's end, health and ability-to-hold-onto-the-ball permitting.
Every back yields some carries to his backup, so that Turner gets occasional carries means little. But the thing that separates a clear starter/backup arrangement from a timeshare is when the backup is permitted to play. An odd series here or there is okay. Garbage time is standard. But pounding the defense with the game on the line is the stuff of a timeshare. This isn't Rhodes/Addai or even Dillon/Maroney just yet, but that Turner got 11 carries to Tomlinson's 13, was on the field in the fourth quarter with the game on the line and was more effective than Tomlinson is something to take note of. Tomlinson is still the undisputed starter, but given how effective Turner has been, it wouldn't surprise us to see Turner spell him more often this season, in an effort to keep Tomlinson fresh for later in the year. This would limit Tomlinson's upside, as running backs often gash tired defenses for big plays in the fourth quarter of games.
Below the Radar
Looking at the Yahoo! numbers from Saturday, it turns out that the Jerious Norwoods (6.4 percent), LenDale Whites (14.5 percent) and Michael Turners (6.2 percent) were still not owned in most of your leagues, though they should be - these are the kind of reserves who can win you a title if things (or, more specifically, particular players) break a certain way.
Here are a few more:
Drew's only about 5-7, but he weighs 205 pounds, and is very solidly built, particulary in the lower body where his leg strength allows him to drive defenders back after contact. As a result, we might be looking at the smallest goal-line back in the history of the NFL. And if anything happened to Fred Taylor, it would be interesting to see what kind of workload Jones-Drew could handle.
I mention LenDale White above because Tennessee has to look to the future sooner rather than later, but right now Henry is the team's starter. While he won't get to play the Colts every week, he will get 15-20 carries so long as he keeps the job, and in this "Year of the Timeshare", that's worth something.
Even with Larry Fitzgerald out, I like Leinart's chances to be productive going forward (not this week against the Bears, mind you) because the Cardinals will have to throw a lot, and Boldin, Bryant Johnson and James, as a receiver out of the backfield, will give him enough to work with. After Chicago, the Cardinals get the Raiders and Packers, and as the season goes on, Leinart will improve and presumably get Fitzgerald back.
Beating the Book
We had an odd week, going 3-8-3 against the spread, but 3-0 on what we eventually settled on as our best bets. In case you don't believe me, you can check out our Thursday afternoon Podcast. We picked the Dolphins here (I have to get this pick in by Tuesday night), and they pushed. We're now 38-30-6 on the season and 2-2-1 in this forum.
Cardinals +10.5 vs. Bears
Home dogs on Monday night are good as gold, and especially in this case where everyone wants a piece of the Bears, and no one in their right mind wants to back a rookie quarterback against that defense. But the book isn't giving money away, and so we're going the opposite way of what we suspect the herd will do. This game is Arizona's Super Bowl, while for the Bears, it's just a trip to the desert. Back the Cardinals
Bears 16 - 9
For the rest of this week's slate, check out Beating the Book
Surviving Week 6
Everyone won again last week, so there's once again no point in rehashing except to say that the Colts were the biggest lock I've seen in a while, and they actually almost lost. Which just goes to show that no team is more than 95 percent safe against anyone.
For this week, I'd probably take Denver at home against the Raiders, but Dallas at home and coming off a loss and playing Houston isn't bad, either. The issues with the Broncos are fourfold: (1) They're coming off a big Monday night win - short week, emotional letdown and have a quarterback who's capable of making a big mistake or two; (2) This is a big division rivalry; (3) Two years ago, I won my survivor pool when the Raiders improbably beat Denver in Denver, so I just have a strange vibe about it; and (4) Finally, I prefer not to go against winless teams because they're so desperate. Of course, the odds of Andrew Walter doing anything against that defense at Invesco Field are slim, so we give the Broncos an 83 percent chance to win this game. We also reserve the right to switch to the Cowboys before our Survivor Column comes out on Thursday night.
Article first appeared 10/11/06