- Arian Foster dispelled any concerns about his health by getting ten touches on the Texans incredible, 19-play opening drive for a TD. He's immediately back in the top 5 for fantasy purposes, while Ben Tate is relegated to a handcuff. In fact, behind a terrific offensive line, Foster still has a chance to defend his rushing title despite missing two games and most of a third.
- It's time for the Steelers to stop acting like they're a power offense. Their line is in shambles, they have a lot of talent at receiver and a Hall of Fame QB. Put Roethlisberger in shotgun, spread the field, and let Ben throw to the open guy. This approach has worked well for the Bills, who have allowed just one sack the past three games behind what was/is thought to be a subpar offensive line. Meanwhile, I'm now convinced the Steelers defense is in decline (though I realize I'm late to that party). The telling sign for me? Just one turnover forced in four games. I still see them as a playoff team, though, as a cupcake schedule (NFC West, Jaguars, Chiefs, two each with the Browns and Bengals), should push them to 10 wins despite their decline.
- The Bengals offense is as bad as their defense is good, but with mediocre or better QB play, A.J. Green is going to make many Pro Bowls over the course of his career. He's fast, tall, and a great leaper.
- Remember when fantasy owners could bank on 7-8 rushing TDs a season from Steve McNair? That's where we are with Cam Newton right now, except with better passing stats. I watched the games this week with a Carolina fan, and he's excited, justifiably so - the future is bright for the Panthers. For fantasy purposes in 2011, you have to love how bad the Panthers are on defense, as it creates garbage-time glory for Newton (who gained 7(+) fantasy points on a meaningless, final-minute drive for the second time this season).
- Who is the best team in the NFC East? You pick one, I'll take the field. Heck, I'd almost let you take two, leaving me the other two. Part of what makes this question so fascinating is the Redskins. Are they the best team in the NFC East, or the worst? You could make an argument for both, I suppose, but I'd still say "worst."
- Who are the favorites for the Super Bowl? The Packers, Saints, and Lions are obvious choices in the NFC (in that order), but what about in the AFC? I'm loathe to choose the Patriots and their last-ranked defense (especially with Mayo's injury), but who would you choose instead? The only argument I can see is the Ravens, who I ridiculed after their Week 2 road loss to the Titans, but suddenly that loss doesn't look so bad. Of course, even with the Packers, Lions, Saints, Ravens, and Patriots, it would be tough to turn down the field (Jets, Chargers, Falcons, NFC East, Steelers).
- I thought Donald Driver's career was over (as he got carted off with what appeared to be a serious knee injury), and was ready to think James Jones and Randall Cobb would become relevant, and then Driver came back and scored a touchdown. The episode was interesting, though, as it forced me to evaluate the Packers if/when Driver suffers his next injury. My conclusion? The Packers offense would be better without Driver, who has been taking playing time away from more explosive players (James Jones and Randall Cobb).
- Watching Michael Bush try the Lambeau Leap was funny, since he didn't come close to making it into the stands.
- Last week, I omitted Jimmy Graham from the conversation of fantasy's top tight end. Whoever criticized that decision, you were right. Jermichael Finley and Rob Gronkowski are still terrific, but Week 4 exposed their downsides, as both are on teams with so many other options. Fantasy's three best tight ends - Finley, Gronkowski, and Graham - play on teams with the NFL's three best QBs - Rodgers, Brady, and Brees.
- Goat, hero, goat, hero, goat. For Tony Romo, it changes as quickly as the Florida weather. If that sounds harsh, I'll restate - Romo is always a hero, just not always for his own team.
- So much for Ryan Mathews as a top-5 fantasy player. Sigh. Even with Mike Tolbert stealing goal-line touches, though, Mathews may still wind up with better numbers than Adrian Peterson.
- Ryan Grant was out, the Packers scored 49 points, and James Starks still didn't score. It sounds impossible to believe, but the high-scoring Packers don't have a fantasy RB worth starting in standard leagues, even in a good matchup. In fact, you could argue the same about the high-scoring Saints. If you were ever looking for a sign that fantasy football is no longer dominated by running backs, this is it.
- No team in NFL history had come back from an 18(+) point deficit to win consecutive games before the Bills did it in Weeks 2-3, then the Lions duplicated the feat in Weeks 3-4. Expect more crazy comebacks in today's passing-friendly NFL.
- Haloti Ngata is the best defensive player I've seen in 2011.
- I said a couple of weeks ago that Calvin Johnson would score 20 TDs, but if teams don't start double-teaming Johnson on the goal line, he could approach 30 TDs. That won't happen, of course, if only because defenses will put two DBs on him and force Jahvid Best to run it in. Best is a decent buy-low for that reason.
- I suppose the touchdown the Bills lost on replay because of the "tuck rule" was correctly called, but that's a horrible rule. When the quarterback's arm is moving forward, but he clearly isn't trying to throw the ball, that's not a pass, and if he's hit and the ball comes out, it should be a fumble, not an incompletion. With all of the rule changes in recent years that favor the offenses, this is a change that should be made to help the defenses.
- I'm writing this article just as Curtis Painter and Pierre Garcon hooked up for the second time for a touchdown, and I find myself wondering ... Tom Brady's career started when Drew Bledsoe was injured. Brett Favre got his chance when Don "Magic Man" Majkowski (a fan favorite at the time) was hurt. What are the odds that, in 12 years, we'll say Painter started his Hall of Fame career the year Peyton Manning hurt his neck? It sound nuts, and the overwhelming odds are that it is, but you never know in the NFL. Brady and Favre were no-names substituting for injured stars once upon a time, too. My point, simply, is this - don't be too wedded to prior beliefs (i.e. that Painter is a scrub); you never know when circumstances may change. For a milder example, look at Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was awful for the Bengals a few years ago and is now better than about half of the QBs in the NFL.
- Week 5 is the first week of byes in the NFL, as the Ravens, Cowboys, Browns, Rams, Dolphins, and Redskins are all on a bye. As a result, this article takes on a bit of a different theme this week. In addition to discussing players worth owning in the long-term, I'll be profiling players who are worth starting for one week only. Obviously, my choices are based largely on matchups.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: This has nothing to do with Sanchez and everything to do with their Week 5 opponent, the Patriots, who have been historically bad (through four games) at pass defense. Sanchez is a fine one-week play if you don't have a stud at QB. By way of example, I played Jason Campbell over Kevin Kolb in one league last week simply because Campbell was playing the Patriots. Campbell didn't even play very well, yet he still finished with 344 yards and a TD. If you're missing Tony Romo due to his Week 5 bye, play Sanchez this week. While you're at it, don't forget Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Shonn Greene, and Dustin Keller.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: Cutler was drafted as a borderline fantasy starter, and after last week's awful stat line, he's probably fallen south of the border for many fantasy owners. But don't fret - every player has peaks and valleys in the NFL. This week, Cutler has a chance to post a big fantasy game against the Lions in what may be a shootout.
Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins: Torain was so good in Week 4 the normally tight-lipped Mike Shanahan said he looked "possessed." That's high praise, but unfortunately Shanahan waited until after the game to say so, failing to tell anyone about how good Torain looked in practice. Before you invest in the Redskins backfield, bear in mind - that's how Shanahan rolls. Anyway, it's not surprising that Tim Hightower was benched - he's been mediocre at best for a long time. What's surprising is that Torain emerged from third string instead of rookie upstart Roy Helu. That said, Torain has been a fantasy starter in short spurts previously; his problem is that he's very injury-prone given his height and upright running style. Make Torain your top waiver claim this week and trade him after a solid outing (before he gets hurt or Shanahan changes his mind again).
Isaac Redman, RB, Steelers: Redman's ceiling has been lowered since the Steelers offensive line is such a wreck. But Redman's path to playing time seems clearer with Rashard Mendenhall's hamstring injury. Watch Mendenhall's status this week and be ready to start Redman if Mendenhall is inactive.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: We just saw the Panthers give up 205 yards rushing to Matt Forte. If you're missing Ray Rice this week due to his bye, Thomas may be worth a one-week flyer, as the Saints should run more than normal this week. If Mark Ingram is available in your shallow league, the same goes for him (moreso than Thomas, as Ingram is getting more touches).
Earnest Graham, RB, Bucs: Graham has 23 catches (and counting, the Monday night game is in the fourth quarter as I write this) through four games. He'd make a nice start in PPR leagues if LeGarrett Blount were to get hurt.
Lex Hilliard, RB, Dolphins: At age 27, Hilliard is hardly a prospect and has little upside. However, Reggie Bush is too small to get goal-line touches, so any week where Daniel Thomas is inactive, Hilliard at least has a chance to score. That's not enough to make him relevant right now, but keep in mind that Hilliard will vulture some TDs if Thomas were to be out for an extended period.
Johnny Knox, WR, Bears. Roy Williams sucks and has (finally and mercifully) been removed from the starting role. The Bears passing offense doesn't look good right now, but that's why their top receiving option may be available on waivers. Go get him - the Bears will have to throw to keep up with the Lions this week.
Randall Cobb and James Jones, WR, Packers: A recent player update for Jones said his upside was "limited." I respectfully but totally disagree. Jones has 10-TD upside on an elite Packers offense. Don't get me wrong - it's very unlikely he reaches that upside given his current place on the depth chart, but if injuries strike, he certainly could, as we briefly saw when Donald Driver left the game and Jones promptly scored a touchdown. With the number of crummy offenses in the NFL (and the significant number of players I've buried for 2011), if you have bench space in deeper leagues, I like using it on players like this - players with upside.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts: I buried Garcon a few weeks ago, but his big Monday night game required me to re-evaluate. I've thought about it, but I'm standing firm here. The stats look nice, but Garcon basically had just two plays, and one of them was a wide receiver screen. I wouldn't blame you if you stashed him in a deeper league, but I need to see more chemistry with Curtis Painter before I add Garcon.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Cowboys: The Cowboys have a bye this week and Robinson is no threat to start so long as Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are healthy. Despite a solid Week 4 (7 catches for 116 yards on 10 targers), Robinson should stay on waivers in most formats.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers: Olsen is clearly the second-best option in the Panthers passing game. Given how much they pass, he should be starting for someone in most fantasy leagues. Before you disagree, are you saying you wouldn't want to start Olsen this week against the Saints? You have to think Newton will be throwing all game long as the Panthers play from behind again.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals: Congrats, Gresham - you're the first player I've brought back from the dead in 2011. I under-estimated your height and athleticism, and while I remain skeptical of your ability to continue this on a subpar Bengals offense, you're certainly not irrelevant.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans: I've been wrong on the Titans all year, so maybe there's just something I'm missing. That said, I'm confident that Matt Hasselbeck will come back to earth and that Jared Cook's 2011 highlight will be Week 4. Yes, Cook showed some athleticism on that 80-yard TD, but I see too many good tight ends in today's NFL to start Cook in most formats. For comparison's sake, I prefer Olsen over Cook going forward.
Texans D/ST: Allowing 10 points to the Steelers has my attention. I still don't see a ton of playmakers on this defense, but the Texans offensive line will help them shorten the game, and with a favorable schedule, the Texans should have more games where they hold their opponents to low point totals.
Bengals D/ST: The Bengals have a top-10 defense (in real life). Most weeks, you can't tell because the offense is bottom-10 (in real life). This week, though, the Bengals face the anemic Jaguars offense. I don't love the matchup, since it's on the road, but with six teams on a bye this week, the Bengals shouldn't be on waivers this week.
Dead to Me:
Browns passing game: Colt McCoy threw 61 times in a blowout loss to the Titans, yet no WR or TE posted 60 yards. None of these guys are worth owning.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: There's more to a waiver article than discussing players who have performed well recently - you can do that by sorting available players by "point scored." I must also opine whether players like DeAngelo Williams, who have been fantasy gold in prior years and were drafted in every league, are worth owning or should remain on waivers given recent struggles. While I typically like stashing players who have been fantasy studs in the past, I'm just not feeling it with Williams in 2011. Regardless of his talent, there's no getting around the fact that Williams is splitting carries on a bad team. Since he's not used much in the passing game, and the Panthers are often passing since they're usually behind, this is a recipe for disappointment. Cam Newton's scrambling ability further erodes Williams' value. In standard leagues, I wouldn't blame anyone for leaving Williams on waivers. I certainly see the argument for stashing Williams on the bench (as Chris Liss suggests), but something significant will have to happen in Carolina (an injury to Jonathan Stewart, for example) for him to become a fantasy starter, and even then, I'm not sure I see it.
If you're keeping track, I've now buried the Vikings passing game, the Jaguars passing game, the Bengals passing game except A.J. Green (but I've revived Jermaine Gresham), all Chiefs except Dwayne Bowe, all Colts except Reggie Wayne, all Seahawks except Sidney Rice, all Cardinals receivers except Larry Fitzgerald, the Browns passing game, and DeAngelo Williams.