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Working the Wire: Week 4 Waiver Picks

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

What a weekend. I could start this by ripping on the replacement refs, but admit it... the NFL has never been so entertaining. Three overtime games. Wild finishes in prime time. It's a drug, and we're all addicted. We're outraged, but we're simultaneously exhilirated. We're pissed at the farce that is the replacement refs, but we can't stop watching. It's the ultimate train wreck that everyone wants to see. It's always been true in sports, but never moreso now - anything can happen, at any time, and we have no idea when, so we have to watch to ensure we don't miss it.

Where to begin? The Lions converted an onside kick and a Hail Mary in succession with under 30 seconds remaining to force overtime, yet lost because they couldn't convert on fourth and inches to a team that allowed 41 points but scored three return touchdowns... and that wasn't the craziest game of the weekend. Bill Belichick melted down before our eyes, as the replacement refs basically handed a game to the Ravens... and that wasn't the craziest game of the weekend. The Dolphins missed a field goal in overtime, then lost because they stupidly iced the kicker, nullifying their block of the Jets field goal... and that wasn't even on the radar of the craziest game of the weekend. Somehow, the Arizona Cardinals are one of just three unbeaten teams, and nobody seems to have even noticed.

What we saw in Seattle was totally insane and can't possibly be repeated... until this weekend. And that's why we watch, and will keep watching, even if the officials were taken straight from Vince McMahon's WWE payroll (and even if the source of the problem is a handful of billionaire owners who won't pay a few grand per game to the only men capable of competently officiating the games in this multi-billion dollar industry).

What a game in Tennessee. What are the odds of anyone successfully converting an onside kick and a Hail Mary in succession with under 30 seconds left to play, with their backup quarterback no less? Certainly under 2%. (Call it 15% for the onside kick and 10% for the Hail Mary, multiplied together, equals 1.5%.) Of course, that's nothing compared to what we're seeing from the Baltimore Orioles, whose run differential is more than 100 runs worse than the Tampa Bay Rays, yet they're ahead in the standings on the strength of 16 consecutive extra inning victories. The odds of that are approximately 1 in 65,536 (that's 2 to the 16th power, which, if it doesn't mean much to you, is roughly the same odds as any one person picking every single game in the Week 3 slate correctly against the spread). Again, you can't make this stuff up, as nobody would believe you.

I feel like I've been on a roller coaster for 48 hours. That's what today's NFL does to people - it takes ordinary guys and drives them totally insane. In addition to the crazy real-life results, I went 11-4*-1 ATS in Staff Picks (the * is the Packers loss) - a nice high, obviously - but I lost both of my survivor pools (Saints in one, 49ers in another) and all three of my fantasy leagues. Plus, though my Bills won, I had to watch C.J. Spiller crumble to the ground, while being forced to endure constant reminders of the Music City Miracle. (I'm not sure which is worse, remembering the result of the Music City Miracle or knowing it was the last time my Bills played in a playoff game). I can scarcely recall a weekend with such insane highs and lows. Add it all up and my mind is totally scattershot, creating a fair chance this article totally sucks. Even so, I must insist that you not blame me, as I have no accountability whatsoever if it's bad.... What? You don't follow? It's a complicated concept, really, so if you don't understand, ask Chris Johnson to explain it to you.

Since the weekend was full of dredging up bad Bills memories (Music City Miracle, the Bills/Pats game from several years ago where the Pats were called back onto the field for the PAT, much like Monday night), do you know who Kyle Williams reminds me of? Scott Norwood. The year after missing what would have been the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV, there was nothing Norwood could have done that could have possibly eased the sting of that miss. Norwood was always going to be best known for "wide right," regardless of what happened the rest of his career. When I watched Kyle Williams make a decent return on Sunday, I realized that's who Williams is - Norwood. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, it doesn't matter what else Williams does - nothing can ever make up for those two fumbles in last year's NFC Championship Game, and those fumbles will always be Wiliams' legacy.

If you're searching for a way to spin the Saints suckitude, don't bother. You can't blame the schedule, as Saints opponents are 3-0 against the Saints but 0-6 against the rest of the NFL. The Panthers scored a combined 17 points in Weeks 1 and 3, but 35 points in their Week 2 victory over New Orleans. If there was ever proof that a marquee head coach is as valuable to an NFL franchise as a top-shelf quarterback, this is it. But let's not limit our concerns to the defense - Drew Brees looks nothing like a first-ballot Hall of Famer without Sean Payton (6.7 YPA, 7:5 TD:INT against three of the worst defenses he'll see all year).

Not to pile on the Saints, but the following defenses have been so bad, it's more than just a sample-size fluke. It's time to exploit these matchups for fantasy purposes:

  • Saints defense: 9.1 YPA, 5.0 YPC, 215 rushing yards/game (60 more than any other team - an insane disparity from the rest of the league), 6 rushing TDs
  • Redskins defense: 337 passing yards/game, 9.1 YPA, 10 passing TDs
  • Chiefs defense: 8 passing TDs, 114 QB rating, 4.7 YPC
  • Titans defense: 312 passing yards/game, 8 passing TDs, 119 QB rating
  • Bengals defense: 5.8 YPC, 5 rushing TDs, 8.5 YPA, 5 passing TDs, zero INTs


It's no surprise, based on these awful defensive stats, that I'm profiling some of the offensive players from these teams this week (see below).

Conversely, I attribute Aaron Rodgers' slow start, along with the rest of the Packers offense, to the schedule. Green Bay has already faced three of the toughest defenses it will face all year - 49ers, Bears, and at Seahawks. Expect the sledding to get easier from here on out (e.g. Saints and Colts the next two weeks), and if you can buy Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, or Greg Jennings for 90 cents on the dollar, do so. In fact, I'd be floored if Rodgers doesn't post the ultimate F-you game this week. It's the perfect matchup to rebound from the Monday night fiasco. 400 yards and 5 TDs are in play.

With the New Orleans backdrop in place, one could argue the most valuable commodity in the entire NFL, players included, might be Mike Tomlin. Bill Belichick might be a better coach today, but Tomlin is in the same tier and, considering his age, is a more valuable asset long-term. In other words, I'd heartily endorse my Bills giving up two first-round picks for Tomlin, if not more (not that the Steelers would agree). I guess you could say that, yes, I liked Tomlin's decision to go for it on fourth and one from his own 30 late in a tie game.

For all his immense talent, Michael Vick really lacks pocket awareness. If you're streaming fantasy defenses, it's time to start taking advantage of matchups against the Eagles. At worst, the Eagles certainly aren't an offense you have to avoid.

We've only played three weeks, yet it's time for season ticket holders in Atlanta and Houston to get their home playoff tickets lined up. We all knew the Texans would have an easy path to the playoffs, playing in the AFC South. But who'd have thought the NFC South would be just as easy for the Falcons? The NFL may be crazy and unpredictable, particularly with so many games remaining, but it's hard to imagine anyone else from the NFC South (Bucs, Panthers, or Saints) or AFC South (Jaguars, Colts, or Titans), emerging. I will say this for the Bucs, though - they're certainly improved - 3-0 ATS, and two close losses on the road against the Cowboys and Giants. I still say Tampa will finish 2012 with more wins than the Saints.

Coming into the season, I was convinced that fantasy owners who didn't splurge on a top-flight quarterback would be punished for it all season long. Instead, there's been little difference between the 12th-rated quarterback and the top guys. We all know about the rookie studs, Griffin and Luck, but even guys who weren't drafted as fantasy starters - Joe Flacco - or who weren't drafted at all - Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Jake Locker, and Ryan Fitzpatrick - have proven serviceable. I'm stubbornly insisting this will turn around, and that the top QBs will punish fantasy owners who bypassed them, but it's certainly getting harder to keep believing that.

The bye weeks are upon us already, just four weeks into the season. I've always thought having an early bye is a disadvantage... who wants a bye in Week 4 of a 16-game season? Yet it may come at a perfect time for the Steelers, who need a week of rest to get their defense (Troy Polamalu and James Harrison) and running game (Rashard Mendenhall) healthy. The Steelers defense may need more than a week off, but fantasy owners of Ben Roethlisberger will hardly be complaining if/when this trend continues. It's not just the Steelers defense that's struggling - defense throughout the AFC North has slipped and that includes, yes, the Ravens (and Bengals, above). Expect Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace, and Antonio Brown to post career highs across the board in 2012.

It would figure that Ryan Tannehill vs. Mark Sanchez came down to Dan Carpenter vs. Nick Folk. Sanchez should thank Carpenter for his overtime miss, as a loss there for the Jets may have accelerated the timetable for Tim Tebow. Instead, things are suddenly looking up for the Jets offense, at least for fantasy purposes. With Darrelle Revis out for the season, the Jets defense is not nearly as formidable, so the offense will have to throw more. Give a small boost to Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, and the universally-available Dustin Keller. Even Jeremy Kerley, who I've been loathe to mention as the third receiver on a run-oriented, defensive team, could be relevant in deeper leagues as we enter the bye weeks. And keep stashing Tim Tebow, as Revis' injury may be the start of the wheels falling off and an impending change at QB.

Fantasy analysts trying to predict a role for Andre Brown have been comparing him to Brandon Jacobs, suggesting he could carve out a similar role to that which Jacobs filled in his years with the Giants. That feels a bit too convenient for me - a way of saying "I'm not sure who's better, so I'll predict they split carries." Maybe I underrate Ahmad Bradshaw, but what I've seen from Brown is better than anything I can recall seeing from Bradshaw. I think the two will split carries at first, but when Bradshaw gets hurt again, or Brown proves himself to be the superior back over a couple of games, he'll be the feature guy.

Here are my suggested waiver claims for Week 4:

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals and Jake Locker, QB, Titans: I don't usually profile two players on different teams together, but I'm making an exception here because Dalton and Locker have so much in common. Both are young QBs, were largely undrafted in fantasy, and are on teams with bottom-tier defenses (see above) and struggling running backs (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Chris Johnson). I'd cut Jay Cutler, right now, for either of them, because both have more fantasy-friendly environments than Cutler. In Cincy, we know about A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, but the secondary receivers are also making plays, particularly Andrew Hawkins. In Tennessee, Locker has the benefit of similar playmakers - Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, and Nate Washington. Young, improving quarterbacks on teams with bad defenses, struggling running games, and multiple playmakers in the passing game means fantasy profits are coming. That's a better formula than Chicago, where Cutler is handicapped by a defense-oriented team and only one real option in the passing game.

Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings: If Ponder can have three total touchdowns and zero interceptions against the 49ers, what do you think he can do against the Lions, Titans, and Redskins the next three weeks? Kyle Rudolph is emerging, Jerome Simpson is returning from suspension... Ponder's value is on the rise.

Mikel LeShoure, RB, Lions: I profiled LeShoure last week, but I didn't envision he'd immediately be a full-time, feature back, as he was last week. LeShoure should be owned in all formats, and he's probably the top waiver claim if he's available.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins: Reggie Bush tweaked his knee on Sunday, reminding us that he's had troubles staying healthy throughout his career. The MRI came back clean, though, so Miller and Thomas aren't the "must-have" additions they otherwise would have been. That said, it's certainly worth stashing Miller and Thomas (probably in that order) and seeing how Bush feels as the week progresses.

Bilal Powell, RB, Jets: Powell is an upgrade over Shonn Greene, not that it takes much. Powell quietly got 10 carries last week, and it would hardly be surprising to see him get more work at Greene's expense in the coming weeks.

Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets: If Holmes was cut in your league after his slow start, go get him. The Jets will be throwing more than anticipated with Darrelle Revis out for the year.

Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders: Darrius Heyward-Bey got carted off the field after being concussed and knocked unconscious. In his absence, Moore got ten targets, converting one for a touchdown, and no other Raider had more than five. I see Moore as a solid WR3 as we enter the bye weeks.

Andrew Hawkins, WR, Bengals: As I said last week in the comments, I remain skeptical Hawkins can keep this up when he's only getting 3-4 targets per week, as he has the last two weeks. However, when he keeps producing like he has so far, you have to think the Bengals coaches will find a way to get him the ball more frequently. I also like Hawkins for the same reasons I like Dalton - the environment is ideal in Cincy this year.

Golden Tate, WR, Seahawks: The controversy surrounding Tate from Monday night may distract from his solid game - two touchdowns. However, he's still the second option (behind Sidney Rice) on a run-dominated team, so I see Tate as little more than a bye-week fill-in for deep leagues.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: Rudolph was really hyped in the preseason, and he's lived up to the billing so far. It's hard to see why he's unowned in 60% of Yahoo! leagues - go get him.

Cardinals D/ST: Am I a week late here? Probably. But check out the Cardinals schedule the next four weeks and tell me why this amazing string of defensive dominance can't continue - Dolphins, at Rams, Bills, at Vikings. While you digest that schedule, ponder this... can the Cardinals start 7-0?

Dead to Me:

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears: It's easy to discuss the upside of Dalton and Locker and to salivate over their favorable schedules. But if you don't put them in context, and explain who you'd cut, it doesn't really help. For me, it's time to cut Cutler. The Bears terrific defense obviously works against Cutler, and so does a mediocre offensive line and the lack of any secondary receiving options after Brandon Marshall. Don't be wedded to your preseason rankings - it's time to adjust and move on.

Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: After getting zero touches in Mikel LeShoure's first game, it seems clear that Smith is no diferent than Robert Turbin or the handful of other backup running backs who need an injury to become fantasy-relevant. Except to the extent you're able to stash high-upside backups during the bye weeks, it's safe to cut Smith in all formats.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers: Dwyer had a chance to become fantasy-relevant, with Rashard Mendenhall not yet playing and Isaac Redman struggling. Since a Week 1 breakout, Dwyer has failed to take advantage. It may be due to a turf toe, but that hardly matters at this point - Dwyer missed his chance. With the Steelers headed towards their bye and Mendenhall expected to return, Dwyer belongs on waivers in most formats.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Seahawks: Golden Tate is now like one of the villains on the WWE - half the country hates him, and he's not going away. Edwards, conversely, is.

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