Casual fans always act surprised when a league doormat like the Rams beats the Saints, but this sort of thing happens every year. Last year, for instance, the 5-11 Browns beat the 14-2 Patriots 34-14. "On any given Sunday" may be a cliche, but it's true. Even the best NFL team is never that much better than the worst, especially on the road - that's why all five of us took the Rams +14 in Staff Picks.
One of these three teams is going to win the Super Bowl: Packers, Steelers, Eagles.
Incredibly, the top 8 defenses in the NFL all play in the AFC. That may sound like a statistical anomaly, but take a look at the QBs playing in each conference. The NFC headliners are Rodgers, Brees, Eli Manning, Vick, Newton, and Romo, while the AFC has Brady, Roethlisberger, and a struggling Rivers.
If I could choose any NFL coach to coach my team in the Super Bowl, and I had a week off beforehand (i.e. two weeks between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl), I'd choose Andy Reid. Say what you want about his clock management skills, his 13-0 record after a bye week is an incredible indication of the type of coach he is Monday through Friday. If you'd have chosen Bill Belichick, then answer me this - why has it been so long since the Patriots have been good on defense? Heck, when is the last time they've had a good defensive player - just one? Remember - Belichick is the coach and de facto GM, which makes me wonder ... does he have too much responsibility? He certainly wouldn't be the first guy to struggle in that dual role, and he's not getting any younger. And if you don't think age matters, ask yourself this - if you had to choose someone to work 100-hour weeks, week after week, who would you choose - a 59-year-old, like Belichick, or someone younger?
Coaching 101 for WRs - when the defensive back is facing you (and has his back to the ball), and the ball is even slightly underthrown, slow down and run through the DB's body - you'll get the pass interference call every time.
Jim Harbaugh deserves credit for the 49ers emergence as a top team, but I'm starting to wonder how much of their resurgence is a result of having anyone besides Mike Singletary as head coach.
Stand up if you knew (before Sunday) that Kevin Faulk was still in the NFL. I didn't think so. Next thing you know, Troy Brown, Corey Dillon, and Willie McGinest will run through the tunnel in Foxboro. I kid, but Faulk's involvement doesn't help BenJarvus Green-Ellis (for obvious reasons) or Wes Welker (as Welker is supposed to be Brady's security blanket, not Faulk).
Speaking of old dudes, it's pretty funny that the Bills let London Fletcher, the Redskins starting middle linebacker, leave via free agency because they thought he was too old ... five years ago.
Maybe the Steelers aren't too old after all. They sure do look better in the spread offense - something I've been begging them to do all season. In today's NFL, if you've got an above-average quarterback, spread offense is virtually a must.
Fred Jackson looks like Thurman Thomas in his prime. Ryan Fitzpatrick does not look like Jim Kelly, though - more like Zach Galifianakis.
The Vikings finally realized it's a good idea to utilize their best player in the passing game, as Adrian Peterson caught five passes for 76 yards and a TD. In a related note, the Vikings offense looked good in a victory on the road.
Jermaine Gresham's surprise inactive serves as an excellent reminder to always check your fantasy roster for inactive players before Sunday's games begin, even if you thought your players were all healthy.
If Ndamukong Suh is the NFL player I'd take with me into a dark alley, knowing I was going to get mugged, then PacMan Jones is the NFL player I'd most like to hang out with on Halloween. Maybe it's morbid curiousity, or maybe I just know I'd be never be bored.
I wondered it at Wake Forest and I'm still wondering it - what would Jim Caldwell have to do to get fired? Make a pass at the owner's wife? Get caught publicly in a compromising position with a farm animal?
My top six for fantasy purposes in the redraft that Scott Pianowski is going to hold this week (lest his house get egged like it's Mischief Night): Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster. Honestly, though, you could shuffle these six in any order, choose randomly, and I'd be fine with any of them.
How bad is the Redskins offense? The Bills came into the game among the worst in the NFL against the rush and the pass and had just four sacks on the year. Against Washington, they amassed nine sacks and pitched a shutout. I watched Tony Dungy heap praise on the Bills defense, but despite George Wilson being the DPOY in Rodney Harrison's eyes, this had more to do with Washington than Buffalo. (Nine sacks in one game after four sacks in six games is almost always going to say more about the offense than the defense.)
Speaking of sacks, Tim Tebow just got sacked again (as I write this), and the Broncos game ended 5 hours ago. Seriously, it's one thing to have a slow delivery and lack arm speed; it's another to also struggle in the mental aspects of the game like reading defenses, feeling pressure, and throwing the ball. Struggling in both areas is a recipe for unemployment.
How bad are the Browns? Here's my subjective take ... Usually, when I'm watching Red Zone Channel and they switch to a highlight and the QB is throwing it into the end zone, I expect to see a touchdown. When RZC flipped to Colt McCoy throwing into the end zone on Sunday, I expected to see an interception, and it was.
The Eagles are the second-best team in the NFC. Maybe their record doesn't reflect it yet, but there's only one NFC team (Packers) I'd choose before them to win the Super Bowl. If only Mike Vick and Andy Reid could get a week off more often.
Which was hardest to believe, Philip Rivers fumbling that snap when the Chargers could have kneeled for the winning FG, the Chiefs defender jumping on top of the pile and somehow pulling the ball out and leaving the pile, or Norv Turner calling timeout when the Chiefs had the ball on second down in a tie game with 40 seconds left? Those were three plays you *never* see, all within a ten-second sequence.
We're through the worst of the bye weeks, as Weeks 9 and 11 are the only bye weeks remaining and each sees only four teams on the shelf, not six. As a result, it's time to start shifting your strategies and the focus of this article. I suppose we still need some one-week plug-ins, but it's time to revert back to stashing upside plays on your bench. I'm talking, of course, about players who, with an injury to a starter, could emerge as fantasy darlings later in the year - guys like C.J. Spiller, Kendall Hunter, Ben Tate, Derrick Ward, Michael Bush, Brandon Jacobs...
Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs: I expect the Saints to bounce back this week at home, and if I'm right, then Freeman is going to have to throw a lot against a pass defense that's allowed 13 TDs, just one fewer than anyone in the NFL.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals: A Week 9 home matchup against the Rams, who've allowed a league-high 14 passing TDs, should help cure what's been ailing Kolb.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs: How bad is the Dolphins pass defense? There are so many ways to explain it, but I'll take two - 14 TDs versus 2 INTs (by far the worst ratio in the NFL), and 20.2 fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs, the second-worst in the NFL. Cassel makes a fine one-week play in Week 9.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw left Sunday's game with a foot injury, and that's an enormous red flag in my eyes given the problems Bradshaw has had with his feet over the years. Even though he's returning from an injury himself, Jacobs should be owned in virtually all formats. As of my writing of this, I haven't seen a clean bill of health from Bradshaw, and if that remains the case when your waivers process, then I'd be fine making Jacobs my top waiver claim of the week.
Curtis Brinkley, RB, Chargers: Mike Tolbert did not seem close to playing last week, as he was declared "out" days prior to Sunday's game, so we can eliminate him from our thoughts in the short term. Meanwhile, while Ryan Mathews is still the starter in San Diego, but he left Monday's game with a groin injury of unknown severity. Brinkley's value just shot through the roof, especially if he starts this week in a game where the Chargers will have to score a lot against the Packers.
Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs: Cassel isn't the only Chief who should benefit from playing the Dolphins in Week 9. Battle seems to be getting most of the Chiefs running back carries and the goal line back, which poses a nice combination.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: Mark Ingram did not seem close to playing last week, as he was declared "out" days prior to Sunday's game. We'll have to follow his health as the week progresses, but if he's out this week, Thomas is a nice play at home against the Bucs in a game where the Saints should rebound (both from last week's debacle and the loss to the Bucs earlier in the year).
Kevin Faulk, RB, Patriots: Faulk very much strikes me as a guy who will steal fantasy value from other Patriots rather than have value in his own right. Belichick and Brady both seem to like him, but at Faulk's age, I can't see him being relevant for fantasy purposes except in deep leagues. I'd rather own all of the RBs listed above.
Chris Ogbonayya, RB, Browns: Peyton Hillis is suffering through the Madden curse and Monterio Hardesty's strained calf may shelve him for a while. But there's limited upside here on a bad team.
Tashard Choice, RB, Redskins: Adding another running back to a bad team coached by Mike Shanahan? Pass.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders: I really have no idea how Carson Palmer is going to perform the rest of the season. The second-half debacle against the Chiefs isn't a fair gauge - Palmer had just joined a new team after not having played or practiced in months, and since the team decided he wasn't going to start, he didn't even get first-team reps in practice. Anyway, Heyward-Bey has been the Raiders best receiver over the past month, and if Palmer can be at least as good as Jason Campbell, DHB should be relevant for fantasy purposes in a WR3 type of way.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Rams: Lloyd is pretty obviously a nice upgrade for the Rams at receiver. I'd rather own him than Mike Williams, Santonio Holmes, or any Colts receiver.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets: Holmes has been cut in a lot of leagues coming off a string of poor performances and the Jets bye, but a Week 9 game with the Bills (7.6 YPA, 265 yards/game, 10 TDs) should make him a more valued commodity at this time next week. Plaxico Burress is a fine play as well.
Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, WR, Saints: I hate starting these guys, as Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham take too many targets. But if one of them were to get hurt, Moore and Meachem have significant upside on a Saints offense that will break single-season passing yardage records.
Braylon Edwards, WR, 49ers: The 49ers have too many mouths to feed on a run-first, defensive-oriented team, but Edwards is really athletic, is back from injury, and is at least worth monitoring in deeper leagues.
Brent Celek, TE, Eagles: Celek has been disappointing in 2011 until Sunday night, when the Cowboys finally played defense the way I envisioned teams would against Philly (cover two, taking away DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin), and the Eagles responded how I thought they would (throwing over the middle to Celek). Defenses obviously won't play this way every week, but I see no reason Celek won't have more games like he did against the Cowboys. If you're deciding between two similar options, I like erring on the side of the high-scoring team. Plus, this week's opponent, the Bears, are last in the NFL in fantasy points to opposing TEs, allowing an incredible 11.4 points per contest.
Scott Chandler, TE, Bills: Donald Jones' injury pushed David Nelson from the slot to the outside, and that's helped give Chandler room to work the middle of the field. His yardage upside remains low, but Chandler, incredibly, leads all NFL TEs in touchdowns. I'd rather start him than Ed Dixon, Jared Cook, and Jake Ballard.
Raiders D/ST: I love the Raiders defense this week - they're at home, coming off a bye, in what should be a bounce-back game, against Tim Tebow, who is not only struggling, but he's a safe bet to allow 4-6 sacks to the Raiders.
Texans D/ST: At home against the Browns? Yes, please.