Posts by Jay Clemons

Mixed blessings

One Last Ride On The Merry-Go-Rant
This brief diatribe (spliced into a potpourri column) has nothing to do with the great city of Indianapolis or the two iconic franchises (Giants, Patriots) playing on Super Sunday. It has everything to do with the mindless chatter you'll have to endure between now and Friday

One Last Ride On The Merry-Go-Rant
This brief diatribe (spliced into a potpourri column) has nothing to do with the great city of Indianapolis or the two iconic franchises (Giants, Patriots) playing on Super Sunday. It has everything to do with the mindless chatter you’ll have to endure between now and Friday on Media Row.

Tom BradyPatriots quarterback Tom Brady is always the top draw at Media Day.

The one black mark against Super Bowl Week used to be Tuesday’s NFL Media Day, a tension-filled battleground pitting traditional sports and news media vs. clueless on-air talent from MTV, Telemundo or any other attention-seeking, non-sports network that could entice a bold employee (or hired gun) to ‘propose’ to an unsuspecting star like Tom Brady or Eli Manning — while donning a wedding gown. Or those who conduct semi-serious interviews with secondary players or assistant coaches … dressed in a clown suit or costume headgear that would make Massive Head-Wound Harry blush. But over time, both sides have learned to peacefully share that spotlight for one day — bringing us back to Media Row, the most organized hot mess of Super Bowl Week.

On paper, a summit of local and national radio/TV stations performing their jobs under one roof during Super Bowl Week seems like a noble pursuit. In fact, whoever hatched the concept of Media Row — sometime after the explosion of sports radio in the mid-1990s — probably deserved a raise many years ago. But Media Row, on the whole, has outlasted its usefulness, devolving into a contrived marketing showcase for five groups of interview subjects:

1. Current athletes shilling for name-brand deodorant, pet food or foot-powder companies — with little interest of discussing their careers or personal lives.
2. Former athletes rehashing great moments of Super Bowls past — while promoting their own proprietary take on bleu-cheese salad dressing.
3. A-list celebrities promoting bad movies coming out in July.
4. B-list celebrities promoting good movies that no one has time to see on Super Bowl weekend.
5. C-list celebs, aka reality-TV stars, keeping their 15 minutes of fame alive with well-timed walks through Media Row, before being hounded by show producers who are always desperate to fill air time in 5-minute intervals.

Disclaimer: I am blissfully aware of how most people view sports radio the other 51 weeks of the year — as a vast wasteland of pointless babble, canned jokes, thoughtless rants, shallow analysis and hourly formats that are painfully formulaic; and for the most part, they’re right. But at least during the spring, summer and fall months in radio markets across the country, relaxed conversations organically spin into sparkling debates or classic comedic bits. However on Media Row, there’s often little comedy and zero chemistry during these interviews … through no real fault of the radio host, who gets MAYBE five minutes with a subject, while delicately adhering to the draconian measures of all p.r. hacks:

1. Is my star being badgered with pointed questions that don’t involve a Super Bowl prediction or his/her latest acting role?
2. Is Joe/Jane Radio Host trying to steal one extra second of their allotted five-minute window?
3. Is my client not getting ample time to endorse the deodorant company that’s paying for his/her and MY flight, hotel, meals, expenses and tickets to exclusive parties during Super Bowl Week?

Bottom line: IF you’re going to subject yourself to Media Row this week, and have access to the glorious TuneIn or I-Heart Radio apps for the iPhone, stick with hosts who gleefully share raucous accounts of one-star hotel stays, celeb sightings while trying to score dinner reservations at The Capital Grille, Harry & Izzy’s or Morton’s … or their most debaucherous tales from some of Indy’s finest watering holes and/or adult-entertainment venues. At least they’re trying to liven up four days of broadcasting misery with personalized stories of legendary fun — none of which occurred at a corporate event sponsored by anti-dandruff shampoo makers.

The Crystal Ball Rules All, Part I
Here’s an updated list of my Top 60 fantasy footballers for 2012 (sans Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall or Peyton Manning). For argument’s sake, let’s pretend Peyton (neck surgery) sits out the season:

1. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
2. RB Arian Foster, Texans
3. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers (my days of ignoring QBs in Round 1 are over)
4. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
Calvin Johnson, Lions
6. QB Drew Brees, Saints
7. RB Chris Johnson, Titans (a relative free pass from last year’s debacle)
8. RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
9. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (could easily vault up the list with a healthy spring)
10. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (the Jags’ inept playmakers fuel this middling ranking)
11. QB Tom Brady, Patriots
12. TE Rob Gronkowski>, Patriots (no one would say boo if Gronk went in Round 1)
13. RB Matt Forte, Bears (Free Agent)
14. RB Fred Jackson, Bills
15. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
16. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders (the biggest risk-reward candidate of the top 30)
17. WR Andre Johnson, Texans
18. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (no way Seattle lets Skittles walk in free agency)
19. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (he’ll probably be in the top 15 by August)
20. QB Cam Newton, Panthers (a must-have dynamo in keeper leagues)
21. RB Frank Gore, 49ers
22. WR Roddy White, Falcons
23. RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
24. WR Greg Jennings, Packers
25. RB Steven Jackson, Rams
26. RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals (may share the running spotlight with Ryan Williams)
27. TE Jimmy Graham, Saints
28. RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (still bitter about his knucklehead effort against Dallas in Week 14)
29. WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
30. RB Roy Helu, Redskins

The Crystal Ball Rules All, Part II
… And here are the next 30, spilling over into Round 5 for 12-teamers:
31. QB Eli Manning, Giants
32. RB Michael Turner, Falcons (Jacquizz Rodgers is a must-handcuff for Turner owners)
33. WR Jordy Nelson, Packers (needs one more Prove It season in fantasyland)
34. QB Michael Vick, Eagles
35. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants
36. WR Wes Welker, Patriots (Free Agent)
37. WR A.J. Green, Bengals
38. RB Trent Richardson, Rookie (Alabama)
39. WR Victor Cruz, Giants
40. WR Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (a safe ranking for Mr. Pro Bowl)
41. RB Darren Sproles, Saints
42. RB Reggie Bush, Dolphins
43. RB Mikel Leshoure, Lions (the perfect fantasy back for Detroit’s offense)
44. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (my favorite unsung hero from last year)
45. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (on the verge of a breakout — again)
46. RB Shonn Greene, Jets
47. RB Toby Gerhart, Vikings (assuming AP won’t be his typically stellar self until November)
48. RB Isaac Redman, Steelers (someone has to benefit from Pittsburgh’s renewed commitment to the run)
49. WR Miles Austin, Cowboys
50. WR Marques Colston, Saints
51. RB Michael Bush, Raiders (Free Agent)
52. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys
53. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers (a reputation fantasy pick)
54. TE Vernon Davis, 49ers
55. WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (don’t fall asleep on 2010’s breakout receiver)
56. RB LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
57. RB Peyton Hillis, Browns (Free Agent)
58. WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers (Free Agent)
59. WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
60. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers

The Next Wave
Quarterback: Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman

Running Back: Javhid Best, C.J. Spiller, Mark Ingram, Montario Hardesty, Ryan Grant, Willis McGahee and rookie Lamar Miller

Wide Receiver: Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith, Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Julio Jones, Mike Williams, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon

Tight End: Jermichael Finley, Jason Witten, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, Jermaine Gresham

Super Prediction
Since 1970, the Super Bowl combatants from a particular year also met 12 times during that regular season — with the team seeking revenge on Super Sunday posting a 7-5 record. This stat, apropos of nothing, fits perfectly into my declaration of New England 31, N.Y. Giants 20. Enjoy the game!

Jay Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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The Biggest Losers

The Quick Introduction
We've crunched the numbers from 46 glorious NFL seasons to identify the 25 Greatest Teams To Not Win The Super Bowl (plus two special mentions) -- a list that rewards overall record, per-game point differential, turnover margin, blowout victories, strength of schedule ... and any other bits of extra

The Quick Introduction
We’ve crunched the numbers from 46 glorious NFL seasons to identify the 25 Greatest Teams To Not Win The Super Bowl (plus two special mentions) — a list that rewards overall record, per-game point differential, turnover margin, blowout victories, strength of schedule … and any other bits of extra credit that would help vault teams into the countdown. So, in advance, we’d like to apologize to the 1967 Cowboys, 1974 Raiders, 1979 Oilers, 1981 Bengals, 1986 Bears, 1990 49ers, 1991 Lions, 1997 Packers, 2005 Seahawks and 2008 Titans, among others, for bypassing their significant contributions to NFL history.

1. 2007 New England Patriots

Regular Season Record: 16-0
Home: 8-0 … Road: 8-0
Per-Game Point Differential: +19.7
Turnover Margin: +16
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 12
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Giants)

OVERVIEW: The Patriots’ perfect regular season in 2007 was more than just an unblemished record; it was an across-the-board reckoning for a club that genuinely wanted to win every game 45-7, no exceptions. How else does one reconcile otherworldly production in point differential (19.7), turnover margin (+16), wins by 10 points of more (12) and a 6-0 mark against playoff teams — including three division winners? But alas, there’s a fine line between being universally hailed as the greatest club in NFL history (on the precipice of 19-0) … and begrudgingly accepting the National Football Post‘s award for Best Team To Not Win A Super Bowl. But that’s a reality of the ultimate bittersweet season. On the positive side, Tom Brady set an NFL record with 50 TD passes, with Randy Moss collecting an NFL-record 23 touchdown receptions. And realistically speaking, only the Ravens and Giants had fourth-quarter opportunities to spoil the Patriots’ run of perfection during the regular season — a stunning achievement in a parity-driven era. But a loss in Super Bowl XLII slightly downgrades New England’s once- in-a-generation dominance from September-December … to a mere footnote.

2. 1983 Washington Redskins

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +13.1
Turnover Margin: +43
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 11
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Raiders)

Joe TheismannThe Raiders proved to be too much for Joe Theismann and the ‘Skins.

OVERVIEW: Forget the near-meltdown against the 49ers in the NFC title game (up 21-0 in the fourth quarter). Forget the futile showing against the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII (losing 38-9). From a regular-season perspective, the ’83 Redskins trump nearly all comers in this countdown — even the high-powered Vikings of 1998. Looking at the numbers, Minnesota had a better overall record, more points scored and one additional blowout victory. But the Redskins, led by QB Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Art Monk, rookie Darrell Green and head coach Joe Gibbs, prevailed in the end, thanks to an eye- popping turnover margin (+43), a 5-1 mark versus playoff teams, two one-point losses and an actual Super Bowl appearance. There’s also this consolation prize: The 1983 Redskins are the greatest defending Super Bowl champs to NOT repeat the following season.

3. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

Regular Season Record: 15-1
Home: 8-0 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +16.2
Turnover Margin: +14
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 12
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW:The Vikings were a viable powerhouse in that 1998 season, amassing a then-NFL record 556 points (predating the ’07 Patriots), registering 12 blowout wins and dismantling the opposition by 16.2 points per game. (This explosion coincided with rookie WR Randy Moss‘s NFL debut: 69 catches, 1,313 yards and 17 TDs.) Perhaps more impressive, the offense didn’t supremely click until after backup QB Randall Cunningham (3,704 yards passing, 35 total TDs) took over in Week 3 (due to Brad Johnson‘s injury). Of course, Minnesota ‘s championship hopes were dashed by Atlanta in the NFC title game — remember Gary Anderson‘s only missed field goal in a two-year span? — precluding a titanic clash with the eventual champion Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII (John Elway‘s triumphant swan song).

4. 1968 Baltimore Colts

Regular Season Record: 13-1
Home: 6-1 … Road: 7-0
Per-Game Point Differential: +18.4
Turnover Margin: +7
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 11
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Jets)

OVERVIEW: We could break down the Colts’ Super Bowl III loss to the Jets in myriad ways. But it’s more fun to wonder how NFL history might have been written if Baltimore had not been party to the most storied upset of all time. Something like …
1) The AFL never earns the pre-merger respect of the NFL.
2) Coach Don Shula never feuds with Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and ends up leaving Baltimore for the still-in-expansion-mode Dolphins in 1970. (The Shula-led Colts slumped to an 8-5-1 finish in 1969.)
3) Newly minted celebrity QB Joe Namath never gets the chance to visit Bobby Brady, on his phony death bed, in a campy but memorable episode of TV’s The Brady Bunch.
4) Even worse, Namath never inks a landmark deal to endorse pantyhose for Beauty Mist in the mid-70s.

5. 2011 Green Bay Packers

Regular Season Record: 15-1
Home: 8-0 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +12.6
Turnover Margin: +24
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 6-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3.5
Playoff Extra Credit: None (although that will change if the Giants win SB XLVI)

OVERVIEW: The No. 5 ranking seems great … until you realize that heading into December, many pundits were hailing Green Bay as a viable candidate to go 19-0 and assume the mantle of Greatest Team In NFL History. But a Week 15 loss to the lowly Chiefs and Divisional Playoff home defeat to the Giants quickly softened the perception of these Packers, who were an offensive juggernaut throughout the year but mere mortals on the defensive end. Still, what’s not to love about 560 seasonal points (just shy of the 2007 Patriots), 11 games of 30 or more points, a stellar turnover differential (+24) and sterling 6-0 mark against 2011 playoff clubs? Of course, that unblemished status doesn’t include the devastating postseason loss to the Giants … but the Packers aren’t the first dominant team to be snakebitten by New York in the NFL playoffs.

6. 2010 New England Patriots

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 8-0 … Road: 6-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +12.8
Turnover Margin: +28
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 6-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: None

Tom Brady & Wes WelkerTom Brady and Wes Welker couldn’t get past the Jets in the AFC Divisional Round.

OVERVIEW: Tom Brady has reached the Super Bowl five times in his career (including next week’s opportunity), but the 2010 Patriots might have been his most complete and balanced club over a 10-year period. Brady threw for 3,900 yards and 36 TDs (against only four INTs) and cruised to NFL MVP honors. Tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 TDs — while deftly sharing the rushing load with Danny Woodhead, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Pass-catchers Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez finished with 700 yards or six touchdowns. And the typically bland New England defense allowed only 313 points — with 7 or fewer points in four of its last five regular-season games. But the true greatness of the 14-2 season lies with Brady, who led the Patriots to 30-plus points in the last eight games — which has to be a consecutive-games record.

7. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Regular Season Record: 10-4
Home: 6-1 … Road: 4-3
Per-Game Point Differential: +12.7
Turnover Margin: +15
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 0-3
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 5
Extra Credit, Part I: NFL modern-day record of 5 shutouts
Extra Credit, Part II: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Raiders)

OVERVIEW: At the very least, the 1976 Steelers are the greatest team to start 1-4 in any NFL season. In their final nine games that year — all Pittsburgh victories — the famed Steel Curtain defense surrendered a TOTAL of 28 points (or 3 per game), a ferocious, awe-inspiring run that included three consecutive shutouts (an NFL record). And in the playoffs, the Steelers demolished the Colts in Baltimore, 40-14 … before bowing out to the eventual champion Raiders in the AFC title game, a consequence of playing without injured running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Of course, this ranking comes with some controversy, as Pittsburgh is the only club in the countdown to lose every time against playoff competition during the regular season, and it was a pedestrian 4-3 away from the friendly confines of Three Rivers Stadium. But for us, ’tis better to stay on Jack Lambert‘s good side.

8. 1969 Minnesota Vikings

Regular Season Record: 12-2
Home: 7-0 … Road: 5-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +17.6
Turnover Margin: +12
9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Chiefs)

OVERVIEW: The 1969 Vikings achieved the rare triple crown of leading the NFL in points scored (379), points allowed (133) and per-game point differential (17.6). Throw in nine blowout victories, a perfect mark against 1969 playoff teams and three outings of 50-plus points … and we’re talking about one of the greatest single seasons in league history. But just like the 1968 Colts, the ’69 Vikings will forever be stained by a Super Bowl loss to a seemingly inferior team (Kansas City) from a seemingly inferior league (AFL); and while the Chiefs get full props for taking down the Vikings when it mattered most — 65 Toss Power Trap, anyone? — it’s important to include one gut-wrenching footnote: In Week 1 of the 1970 season — the first official year of the NFL-AFL merger — Minnesota exacted some revenge on Kansas City, rolling to an emotional 27-10 win in Bloomington.

9. 1984 Miami Dolphins

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +13.4
Turnover Margin: +8
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 10
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (49ers)

OVERVIEW: The 1982 Dolphins reached Super Bowl XVII on the strength of a dominating defense, affectionately dubbed The Killer B’s. But when Miami reached The Big Game two years later, it had seamlessly morphed into an offensive machine, coinciding with the emergence of receivers Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and QB Dan Marino, who would break new ground with 48 TD passes in 1984 (an NFL record that stood for 20 years). With Marino (the sixth QB taken in Round 1 of the heralded ’83 draft) leading the charge, the ’84 Fins were virtually unstoppable, notching 10 blowout victories and a sizable point differential (13.4). The only drawbacks: In Week 11, Miami suffered its first loss to an underwhelming San Diego club (in overtime); and in the AFC playoffs, the Dolphins were lucky to avoid the defending champion Raiders (knocked out in the Wild Card round).

10. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers

Regular Season Record: 15-1
Home: 8-0 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +7.6
Turnover Margin: +11
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Patriots)

OVERVIEW: The NFL has churned out only five 15-1/16-0 teams since the league expanded the regular season to 16 games in 1978. So, the following statement shouldn’t be constituted as a slap in the face to the Steel City faithful: The ’04 Steelers are the worst 15-win team of the bunch. (how droll) With that said, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the balance between the Pittsburgh defense, ranked No. 1 in scoring that season, and the offense helmed by rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger (2,621 yards passing, 18 total TDs) and veteran RB Jerome Bettis (13 TDs). Following a Week 2 defeat to Baltimore, Big Ben and Co. ripped off 14 straight victories to finish the regular season. The Steelers were similarly stellar in three major areas: Turnover margin (+11), blowout wins (8) and 3-0 against playoff teams. And just like the 1979 Chargers, Pittsburgh posted easy regular-season wins against the future Super Bowl combatants — New England and Philadelphia (back-to-back weeks).

11. 1992 San Francisco 49ers

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +10.4
Turnover Margin: +7
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Cowboys)

Steve YoungSteve Young and the Niners would go on to win a Super Bowl by blowing out the San Diego Chargers.

OVERVIEW: The 1992 Niners were as dynamic as their dynastic forebears of the 1980s, with Steve Young succeeding Joe Montana at quarterback and George Seifert seamlessly handling the coaching reins after Bill Walsh retired from the pro game in February 1989. Looking at the numbers, the ’92 Niners earned strong marks in point differential (10.4), turnover margin (7), blowout wins (8) and overall record against playoff teams (5-1). For good measure, Young and Co. capped the regular season with eight straight victories — a necessity for holding off the eventual champion Cowboys in the race for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Not that Dallas needed it to capture its first Lombardi trophy in 15 years.

12. 1990 Buffalo Bills

Regular Season Record: 13-3
Home: 8-0 … Road: 5-3
Per-Game Point Differential: +10
Turnover Margin: +14
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 4-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Giants)

OVERVIEW: The 1990 Bills ruled the AFC through fear … and a devastating, quick-strike offense (27 points per game) that had no peer. Behind Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith (sorry, Andre Reed — for now), the ’90 Bills enjoyed a problem-free run to the East title and AFC championship, thumping the Dolphins and Raiders in the playoffs before suffering a gut-wrenching loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV. But that franchise-defining defeat — capped by kicker Scott Norwood‘s wide-right miss at the gun — doesn’t obscure double-digit excellence in point differential and turnover margin, the nine blowout victories or a 4-2 mark against playoff teams (including the Giants in December). Unfortunately, New York got its revenge in January.

13. 1998 Atlanta Falcons

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 8-0 … Road: 6-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +8.6
Turnover Margin: +20
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Broncos)

OVERVIEW: There’s plenty to love about the 1998 Falcons, from their perfect home record and monster turnover margin (+20) … to the eight decisive victories against top-notch competition. Throw in a major upset win in the NFC title game (over the juggernaut Vikings) and a respectable loss to John Elway’s greatest Broncos team in Super Bowl XXXIV … and you have one of history’s most undervalued clubs. How unsung was this group? The team’s three biggest offensive weapons were QB Chris Chandler (3,154 yards passing, 25 TDs), RB Jamal Anderson (2,165 total yards, 16 TDs) and WR Tony Martin (1,181 yards, 6 TDs).

14. 1967 Los Angeles Rams

Regular Season Record: 11-1-2
Home: 5-1-1 … Road: 6-0-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +14.4
Turnover Margin: +16
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 10
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Packers)

OVERVIEW: The 1967 Rams, led by QB Roman Gabriel and the Fearsome Foursome (Lamar Lundy, Roger Brown and Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones), enjoyed a sublime regular season — 10 blowout victories, one signature win over the eventual champion Packers, plus impressive margins with point differential (14.4) and turnovers (+16). Simply put, this might have been the Rams’ second-greatest team of their 48-year tenure in Los Angeles (after the 1951 NFL champions — led by the immaculate QB tandem of Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield).

15. 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +11.2
Turnover Margin: +12
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 10
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 0-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: It’s not a stretch to draw eerie parallels between the 1999 Jaguars and 2007 Patriots, the kingpins of this countdown. Both clubs proffered double-digit excellence in point differential and turnover margin, while winning at least nine games by 10 points or more. The two head coaches, Tom Coughlin (Jags) and Bill Belichick (Patriots), were direct descendants of the Bill Parcells coaching tree. And both teams, excruciatingly, lost to only one franchise during their near-flawless campaigns. Of course, New England lost to the Giants in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII … whereas Jacksonville went 0-for-3 against division rival Tennessee. That, in a nutshell, explains why the Jags aren’t sitting at No. 2.

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Top 10 Championship Sundays

The Grand Introduction
For the casual American sports enthusiast, nothing compares to the pomp and circumstance of Super Sunday -- complete with red-carpet celebrity appearances, big-budget, industry-changing commercials, endless food spreads, uplifting halftime musical extravaganzas and oh yeah, the Super Bowl itself. But for the hard-core NFL fan,

The Grand Introduction
For the casual American sports enthusiast, nothing compares to the pomp and circumstance of Super Sunday — complete with red-carpet celebrity appearances, big-budget, industry-changing commercials, endless food spreads, uplifting halftime musical extravaganzas and oh yeah, the Super Bowl itself. But for the hard-core NFL fan, the best football day likely occurs on Championship Sunday — a long-standing tradition of determining the two Super Bowl entrants in a clean seven-hour window every January. Well, this column caters to the fan who fondly recalls the efforts of Len Dawson, Dave Osborn, Dwight White, Mike Renfro, Ken Anderson, Dwight Clark, Mark Moseley, A.J. Duhe, Charles Mann, Merton Hanks or any other major contributor who helped make Championship Sunday the spectacle it is today.

Top 10 Championship Sundays Of The Super Bowl Era
1. 1987 Season — Washington 17, Minnesota 10/Denver 38, Cleveland 33
The Skinny: If not for the heroic efforts of Redskins cornerback Darrell Green (robbing Anthony Carter of a game-tying touchdown in the waning seconds) and Broncos safety Jeremiah Castille (famously stripping Browns tailback Earnest Byner before a game-tying score in the final minute), this Championship Sunday would have produced two overtime classics, thus crushing its competition in this category by the largest of margins. Instead, we’re left to celebrate two amazing games that titillated TV viewers from the first whistle to the final gun — while perpetuating the notions that Vikings and Browns fans are a cursed bunch, resigned to never experience the enduring dream of just one Lombardi Trophy.

Dwight Clark“The catch.”

2. 1981 Season — Cincinnati 27, San Diego 7/San Francisco 28, Dallas 27
The Skinny: And now for the most memorable pairing of Championship Sunday games, starting with the Freezer Bowl at Riverfront Stadium, where the Bengals and Chargers encountered stifling crosswinds and a wind-chill factor of minus-59 … and ending with Joe Montana‘s game-winning pass to Dwight Clark to upset the Cowboys, aka The Catch game. Eight days prior to the AFC title game, San Diego outlasted Miami 41-38 in perhaps the greatest playoff game of the Super Bowl era, withstanding warm temperatures, high humidity and intense cramping (see Kellen Winslow) to trump the Fins. (Dolphins-Chargers also featured two 400-yard passers — Dan Fouts/Don Strock.) For Dallas-San Francisco, this game marked the beginning of the 49ers’ dynasty under Bill Walsh … and Montana’s reign as the most dominant quarterback of the 1980s.

3. 1967 Season — Green Bay 21, Dallas 17/Oakland 40, Houston 7
The Skinny: Let’s be honest. Oakland could have eked past Houston 3-2 in the AFL championship … and this Sunday pairing still would have grabbed a top-5 finish — thanks to The Ice Bowl, the Packers’ most significant victory of all time and one that cemented Lambeau Field’s status as an iconic sports venue. Who can forget the images of CBS announcers Ray Scott, Jack Buck and Frank Gifford standing on the sidelines before kickoff, half-heartedly pretending not to be affected by the minus-15 temperatures? Or Cowboys receiver and future Hall of Famer Bob Hayes running pass patterns with hands in pockets? Or the sight of Jerry Kramer executing the most famous block in NFL history — enabling Bart Starr to win the game on a QB-sneak touchdown in the final seconds? The Ice Bowl eventually produced 14 Hall of Famers — including coaches Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry and Cowboys GM Tex Schramm — a list that curiously doesn’t include Kramer, arguably the most celebrated offensive guard in all of pro football.

4. 2007 — New England 21, San Diego 12/N.Y. Giants 23, Green Bay 20 (OT)
The Skinny: The first half of Championship Sunday brought to light two significant feats: Tom Brady and the Patriots becoming the first 18-0 club in NFL history … and Chargers QB Philip Rivers earning Jack Youngblood-esque toughness points for playing the entire AFC title game just a week after suffering an ACL knee tear. The nightcap did wonders for the legacies of Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and their transformation from underachievers to conquering heroes … while giving Packers fans one unseemly snapshot of Brett Favre‘s last pass in green-and-gold — in the form of a crucial overtime interception in Green Bay territory. NFL fans with a non-rooting interest also snapped an enduring photo from this classic — Coughlin’s frostbitten face on one of Lambeau’s c-c-c-coldest days in recent memory.

5. 1995 — Pittsburgh 20, Indianapolis 16/Dallas 38, Green Bay 27
The Skinny: Leave it to <strong>Jim Harbaugh, aka Captain Comeback in his playing days, to almost steal the spotlight from Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Reggie White, Robert Brooks and Favre on this Championship Sunday. Had Colts receiver Aaron Bailey cleanly corralled Harbaugh’s Hail Mary pass to end the AFC title game in Pittsburgh, it might have marked the second-greatest occurrence in postseason history — right after Franco Harris‘s Immaculate Reception against Oakland in 1972. Instead, we’re left with the amazing sight of Bailey losing full control of the Hail Mary pass at the last possible second, under a sea of Steelers defenders trying to jar the ball loose. For Packers-Cowboys, Favre and Aikman combined for 562 yards passing and five TDs … with Smith, Irvin and Brooks amassing 372 total yards and seven TDs in one of the more entertaining championship bouts you’ll ever see. For once, the actual game exceeded its preceding megahype.

John ElwayDespite winning two Super Bowls, John Elway may be remembered best for “The Drive.”

6. 1986 — Denver 23, Cleveland 20 (OT)/N.Y. Giants 17, Washington 0
The Skinny: We couldn’t post a list of unforgettable Championship Sundays without a salute to John Elway‘s most legendary playoff appearance, via The Drive — a 98-yard TD journey against the Browns to force overtime in the AFC title game. If there’s been a more pressure-packed drive in NFL history — where the opposing quarterback was deep in his own territory and hounded by inhospitable fans — I can’t think of it. Which brings us to the controversial kick in overtime: If anyone can produce hard video evidence that Rich Karlis‘s game-winning field goal actually sailed through the uprights … please let me know. (HA!) For the New York-Washington game, NFL nation learned of the awesome power of Giants Stadium when near-Gale-force winds and one of the modern era’s stingiest defenses join forces. In the Giants’ two NFC playoff games that season, they outscored the 49ers and Redskins 66-3.

7. 1968 — NY Jets 27, Oakland 23/Baltimore 34, Cleveland 0
The Skinny: Steelers and Vikings fans, circa 1974, might dispute this particular Championship Sunday ranking, given the Colts’ road rout of the Browns in the NFL title game. But a closer look reveals the following: The Jets’ thrilling comeback win over the Raiders stands as the most significant occurrence in AFL history … giving Joe Namath the platform to make the most famous guarantee in sports. It also perpetuated the myth the Colts were an indestructible machine, worthy of being 20-point favorites in Super Bowl III and incapable of falling to a pass-happy club from a supposedly inferior football league. If Baltimore had to scrap and fight to beat Cleveland in the NFL title game … perhaps the David v. Goliath buildup to the Super Bowl wouldn’t have been so pronounced; and maybe, just maybe Namath doesn’t get provoked into guaranteeing victory at some random banquet in Miami, four days prior to kickoff. (Strange but true: Miami Herald scribe Edwin Pope was the only writer to publish a story immediately off Namath’s impromptu prediction.)

8. 2009 — Indianapolis 30, N.Y. Jets 17/New Orleans 31, Minnesota 28 (OT)
The Skinny: This underrated Championship Sunday would have merited a higher ranking if the Jets hadn’t buckled under the weight of newly minted expectations after rolling to an early 10-0 lead over the heavily favored Colts (not unlike the Jets’ 10-0 halftime lead over the Broncos in the ’98 AFC title game). But this Sunday garners its fame from the Vikings-Saints clash, where Favre (310 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs) was one ill-advised, across-the-body interception away from leading Minnesota to its fifth Super Bowl. On this day, Drew Brees only threw for 197 yards; but his three TD passes were enough to set up the Saints for overtime … and the subsequent game-winning drive immediately after the coin flip. Vikings fans will recall this game for Adrian Peterson‘s inexplicable fumbles and Favre’s last-minute INT; but NFL execs will remember this one for being the impetus of revised scoring rules for overtime playoff games.

9. 2006 — Chicago 39, New Orleans 14/Indianapolis 38, New England 34
The Skinny: Don’t let the final score of Saints-Bears fool you. Heading into the fourth quarter, Chicago was clinging to an 18-14 lead and desperately seeking a way to control the New Orleans troika of Brees (354 yards passing, 2 TDs), RB Reggie Bush (151 total yards, 1 TD) and WR Marques Colston (5 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD) … before pulling away with three late scores to seal the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth in 21 years. The second game obviously takes the cake, though, with Peyton Manning orchestrating the greatest comeback in Championship Sunday history. Down 21-6 to New England, Indy rallied for 32 second-half points and broke the Colts’ 36-year Super Bowl drought. Strange but true: Manning threw for 349 yards and one touchdown — but no receivers or tailbacks caught his lone TD pass. That honor went to a defensive-tackle-turned-eligible-reciever-at-the-goal-line, former Patriot Dan Klecko.

10. 1974 — Minnesota 14, L.A. Rams 10/Pittsburgh 24, Oakland 13
The Skinny: How’s this for cool synergy? From 1972-77, the Raiders and Steelers met on the same field 10 times — including four legendary playoff battles. And from 1973-79, the Rams and Vikings — the NFL’s second-best rivalry of the 1970s — also played one another 10 times … including the infamous Mud Bowl (January 1978). Going back to the 1974 season, both the Vikings and Steelers got regular-season revenge on Championship Sunday, with Minnesota capitalizing on five Rams turnovers in the NFC title game and Pittsburgh pulling off a road shocker in the AFC championship — just a week after the Raiders ended the Dolphins’ three-year reign as AFC champions in the iconic Sea Of Hands game … or ‘Super Bowl 8 1/2′ to some in the media. In the Steelers’ victory, rushers Rocky Bleier (123 total yards) and Franco Harris combined for 234 total yards and two touchdowns, while QB Terry Bradshaw completed only four passes to Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Over 70 seasons, this upset stands as the Steelers’ sweetest road triumph.

Honorable Mention
1998 — Falcons upend Vikings in OT thriller/Broncos overcome 10-0 deficit to beat Jets
1985 — Bears blank Giants, notch second straight shutout in NFC playoffs/Pats topple Marino‘s Dolphins in 31-14 upset
1992 — Bills sprint past Dolphins/Cowboys get 11-year revenge on 49ers, win NFC title at Candlestick
2001Bledsoe relieves Brady, spurs Pats’ upset of Steelers/Warner outduels McNabb in Rams’ shootout win
1994 — Chargers stifle Steelers at the goal line to win AFC crown/49ers cruise past Cowboys after blazing 21-0 start
1975 — Steelers outlast Raiders on icy Three Rivers turf/Cowboys pummel Rams by 30 in L.A.

Jay Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Finish strong

Week 16 Rules To Live By
1. Don't fall in love with one-hit wonders. Indy's Donald Brown (163 total yards, 1 TD), Chicago's Kahlil Bell (108 total yards, 1 TD) and Arizona's Andre Roberts (6 catches, 60 yards, 1 TD) all posted surprisingly stellar performances last week ... creating the illusion they'll

Week 16 Rules To Live By
1. Don’t fall in love with one-hit wonders. Indy’s Donald Brown (163 total yards, 1 TD), Chicago’s Kahlil Bell (108 total yards, 1 TD) and Arizona’s Andre Roberts (6 catches, 60 yards, 1 TD) all posted surprisingly stellar performances last week … creating the illusion they’ll be solid fantasy bets again for Week 16. But in my mind, the biggest weekend of the NFL season — and perhaps the most important fantasy Saturday/Sunday of your life — is NOT the best time to experiment with flawed, inconsistent assets. Yes, Dwayne Bowe, Beanie Wells, Rashard Mendenhall and LeGarrette Blount have mellowed out somewhat in recent weeks, but they’re still more palatable Fantasy Bowl options … especially when facing the Raiders, Bengals, Rams and Panthers.

2. It’s OK to run counter-intelligent moves to your Fantasy Bowl opponent. During the regular season, I can be rather indifferent about my head-to-head competition for a given week — especially when lording over 11 leagues, plus commissioner duties. (I’m more consumed with Total Points For and Power Rankings.) But during the playoffs, it’s imperative to maximize your points, while minimizing the impact of your opponent’s star players. For example, if Owner B has Tony Romo at QB … I highly recommend starting Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson or Jason Witten as a savvy reflex. The reasoning is simple: If Romo is going to roll for 3-4 touchdowns against the Eagles, there’s a strong chance all the TD passes will go to the above foursome. On a smaller scale, the same holds true for quarterbacks and defenses. If Owner B has Eli Manning as his/her QB1, make every effort to start the Jets D/ST — just in case Manning tosses three interceptions and one pick-six in Saturday’s Big Apple battle.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff, like kickers and defenses. It’s real simple here: If you have a top-10 kicker, don’t mess with success. And if you have a top-7 defense or one that gets to haunt Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis or Jacksonville in Week 16 … therein lies the key to playoff success!

Tony GonzalezICONMake sure Tony G is in your starting lineup this weekend. No sense in sitting at this juncture.

4. Start all productive players from the Falcons, Eagles, Saints, Chargers, Cowboys and Lions this weekend. The scheduling gods sometimes smile on fantasyland … and when that happens, act accordingly. For all-important Week 16, you likely can’t go wrong with starting regulars from Chargers-Lions, Eagles-Cowboys and Falcons-Saints — a game where pass-catching stars like Roddy White, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Lance Moore and Julio Jones each possess the potential for 85 yards and/or one TD on the lightning-fast surface of the Mercedes-Benz Louisiana Superdome. (Let’s hope these naming rights stick longer than Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium, er, Pro Player Park, er, LandShark Stadium, er, Sun Life Stadium, er, “Insert Name Here” Stadium.)

Week 16: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Drew Brees vs. Atlanta
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. Chicago
3. Tom Brady vs. Miami
4. Philip Rivers @ Detroit
5. Michael Vick @ Dallas
6. Matthew Stafford vs. San Diego
7. Tony Romo vs. Philadelphia
8. Rex Grossman vs. Minnesota

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Arian Foster @ Indianapolis
2. Chris Johnson vs. Jacksonville
3. Ray Rice vs. Cleveland
4. Adrian Peterson @ Washington
5. Willis McGahee @ Buffalo
6. Michael Turner @ New Orleans
7. Ryan Mathews @ Detroit
8. LeSean McCoy @ Dallas
9. DeAngelo Williams vs. Tampa Bay
10. C.J. Spiller vs. Denver
11. Michael Bush @ Kansas City

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson vs. San Diego
2. Mike Wallace vs. St. Louis
3. Brandon Marshall @ New England
4. Jordy Nelson vs. Chicago
5. Santana Moss vs. Minnesota
6. Roddy White @ New Orleans
7. Hakeem Nicks @ N.Y. Jets
8. Marques Colston vs. Atlanta
9. Dez Bryant vs. Philadelphia
10. Earl Bennett @ Green Bay (super-sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Mason Crosby vs. Chicago
2. Billy Cundiff vs. Cleveland
3. Neil Rackers @ Indianapolis
4. Shaun Suisham vs. St. Louis
5. Stephen Gostkowski vs. Miami
6. Mike Nugent vs. Arizona

Opportunity Knocks
For those seeking redemption from a failed regular season or inexplicable postseason flameout, I offer a chance to join me (and countless friends from the Seattle area) in an established postseason fantasy league — once the NFL playoff pairings are announced. Please hit me on Twitter in January, if interested.

Tomorrow Never Knows … OK, Maybe It Does, Part I
I have brainstormed an admittedly rudimentary estimate of the Top 50 fantasy players for 2012 (non-PPR). Here are the first 25:
1. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
2. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3. RB Arian Foster, Texans
4. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
5. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
6. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
7. RB Chris Johnson, Titans
8. RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
9. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
10. QB Drew Brees, Saints
11. RB Fred Jackson, Bills
12. RB Matt Forte, Bears
13. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
14. RB Michael Turner, Falcons
15. QB Tom Brady, Patriots
16. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
17. TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
18. WR Andre Johnson, Texans
19. RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
20. RB Frank Gore, 49ers
21. WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
22. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
23. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
24. WR Roddy White, Falcons
25. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

Tomorrow Never Knows … OK, Maybe It Does, Part II
… And here are the next 25, spilling over into Round 5 for 12-teamers:
26. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
27. WR Greg Jennings, Packers
28. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants
29. RB Steven Jackson, Rams
30. RB Roy Helu, Redskins
31. QB Michael Vick, Eagles
32. QB Eli Manning, Giants
33. TE Jimmy Graham, Saints
34. RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals
35. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys
36. QB Cam Newton, Panthers
37. WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
38. RB Shonn Greene, Jets
39. WR A.J. Green, Bengals
40. RB Trent Richardson, University of Alabama*
41. RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
42. RB LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
43. TE Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
44. QB Peyton Manning, Colts
45. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
46. RB Peyton Hillis</strong>, Free Agent (not likely to return to Browns)
47. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers
48. RB Jahvid Best, Lions (Mikel Leshoure works here, as well)
49. QB Matt Schaub, Texans
50. RB Michael Bush, Raiders (high-end handcuff to D-Mac)
* – likely to turn pro before the NFL draft in April

YouTube Memory Lane
1. 1979 — <i>Monday Night Football … Let’s rehash one of my favorite chestnuts of the year: Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert unleashes a nasty high-elbow shot on Broncos receiver Haven Moses. Two things make this clip eminently watchable: Howard Cosell shamelessly lampoons Moses for not making a leaping, in-traffic catch of a substandard Craig Morton pass … and ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith expresses little sympathy for Moses getting flattened by a future Hall of Famer. If this play had occurred last week, the NFL mini-universe would be up in arms over Lambert not getting flagged for “hitting a defenseless receiver” — with ESPN subsequently playing the Is Lambert a dirty player? card with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith the following Monday. And yet, in 1979, there were greater safety concerns for Lynn Swann leapfrogging a car, curiously placed near the end zone. What, Three Rivers Stadium didn’t have adequate parking then?

2. 1979 — Seattle fans might want to avert their eyes from this all-time disaster, with the Rams holding the Seahawks to -7 total yards and one first down in a 24-0 rout at The Kingdome. As you may have guessed, the ‘minus-7′ still stands as the NFL record for Fewest Yards By One Team In A Single Game; remarkably, though, the Seahawks’ one first down was never an NFL precedent … as five teams — the 1933 Eagles, 1933 Steelers, 1935 Eagles, 1942 Giants and 1966 Broncos — all went an entire game without gaining 10 yards in 4 downs or less. Ouch! Postscript: Six days prior to the Seahawks’ historic meltdown, the franchise garnered a level of never-before-attained fame on Monday Night Football … by stunning the Falcons on Efren Herrera‘s fake-kick/go-route reception to set up the winning score — prompting the awesome Cosell quote: (Head coach) Jack Patera is giving the nation … a lesson in creative football!

3. 1980 (Oilers-Steelers) — In the 1979 AFC Championship Game (played on Jan. 6, 1980), Houston’s Vernon Perry shocks the black-and-gold Pittsburgh faithful with a 75-yard pick-six off Hall of Famer-to-be Terry Bradshaw. This game marked the zenith of the Oilers’ Luv Ya Blue era, highlighted by head coach Bum Phillips, QB Dan Pastorini and Earl Campbell, the Hall of Fame back who rushed for an incredible 6,457 yards and 55 touchdowns in his first four pro seasons (1977-80). From a more historic standpoint, thanks to Mike Renfro‘s non-scoring touchdown catch in the third quarter — where all of America could plainly see that Renfro had two feet inbounds in the end zone — the NFL might have been motivated to experiment with instant replay in the 1980s … before fully adopting it for modern-day use. Could you imagine the social-media outrage today, if a crucial call in a championship game couldn’t be overturned, via instant replay? Let’s give a tiny bit of credit to Renfro and NBC announcer Dick Enberg for planting that technologically advanced seed on a cold, blustery day in Steel City. (Cue the disco-themed outro)

Goodbye … And Good Luck!
Well, here it is … perhaps the last fantasy football-related paragraph of my lifetime; and as part of that, it’s been my sincere pleasure to share unsolicited advice, anecdotal stories and YouTube memories apropos of nothing to the fantasy masses this season. (Hopefully my July-based guarantee of Make The Playoffs … Or Your Money Back came through, as well.) I would also like to thank the National Football Post powers-that-be — Andrew Brandt, Jack Bechta, Matt Bowen, and especially Elise Menaker (the omnipresent intern) and Joe Fortenbaugh — for providing a twice-a-week forum to celebrate the game/hobby that has effectively consumed my life for the last 10 years. I’ll leave with five parting words: Don’t ever bench Larry Fitzgerald!

Jay Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 15 Revelations

The Grand Introduction
With a large segment of the populace no longer contending for a fantasy championship -- either from a disheartening playoff exodus or substandard record during the regular season -- we'll simplify today's Revelations to include only the key events from Sunday. That comment isn't a referendum on the uniquely

The Grand Introduction
With a large segment of the populace no longer contending for a fantasy championship — either from a disheartening playoff exodus or substandard record during the regular season — we’ll simplify today’s Revelations to include only the key events from Sunday. That comment isn’t a referendum on the uniquely unheralded talents of Indy’s Donald Brown or Arizona’s Andre Roberts or an excuse-making venture for Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson; it’s more of the time-tested rationale that Brown and Roberts aren’t consistent enough to start in your Fantasy Bowl lineup … and Rodgers and Peterson should recapture their superstar form in Week 16. And now, our final Revelations of the 2011 season:

Week 15 Revelations
1. When I hailed Matthew Stafford as The Next John Elway back in 2006 (his freshman season at Georgia), it wasn’t in the context that he would someday pull off 98-yard miracle TD drives in highly pressurized situations. Stafford deserves every last word of that long intro after amassing 391 yards passing and four touchdowns against Oakland and vaulting the 9-5 Lions (the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff race) to the franchise’s most thrilling comeback victory of my lifetime. For all we know, this game might have been Stafford’s coming-of-age experience as a star quarterback, a signature event that launches the Lions’ candidacy for the next six Super Bowls; but since this is a fantasy column … let’s stick to two primary proclamations: For standard-scoring, 12-team drafts in 2012, WR Calvin Johnson (9 catches, 214 yards, 2 TDs) is a surefire Round 1 pick and Stafford (4,145 yards/33 TDs) could be slotted ahead of Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo — leading the second wave of elite fantasy QBs after Rodgers, Brady and Brees. Speak of the devil …

Drew BreesDrew Brees is headed for Dan Marino’s passing record.

2. Drew Brees is clearly in a rush to obliterate Dan Marino’s NFL record for seasonal passing yards. It wasn’t enough for Brees (412 yards passing, 5 TDs vs. Minnesota) to modestly average 239 yards passing in his final three games to eclipse Marino’s 27-year-old mark of 5,084 yards; apparently, he wants the full 717 yards in Weeks 15 and 16 … with a possible chance to rest in Week 17. Assuming that’s the case, Brees (37 TDs) is a no-brainer starter against the Falcons next week, with the same holding true for WR Marques Colston (8 catches, 91 yards), TE Jimmy Graham (7 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD; team-high 10 targets), RB Darren Sproles (112 total yards, 1 TD) and even RB Pierre Thomas (85 yards, 1 TD). Bottom line: If the Saints are a healthy lock to post 27-plus points against Atlanta, doesn’t it stand to reason there will be plenty of fantasy juice for everyone above? There might even be some left for tailbacks Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory (74 yards) — depending on Ingram’s lingering toe injury.

3. LeSean McCoy should be the next No. 1 overall pick in standard-scoring drafts. It’s a vicious cycle, for sure. Elite running back enjoys monster season right before he’s eligible for a contract extension … prompting a lengthy holdout the following summer and subsequent slow return to dominance in September, once the ink dries on the new deal. But with the 23-year-old McCoy (97 total yards, 3 TDs vs. the Jets), I have a feeling the Eagles will take care of business before training camp starts, enabling Shady to continue building a scintillating resume that, historically speaking, has few peers amongst running backs after three seasons. Now, is it reasonable to believe McCoy (1,579 total yards, 20 TDs in 2011) will easily roll for 20-plus TDs in the coming seasons? Uh, probably not. But that’s hardly a deterrent: Adrian Peterson has rumbled for 18 touchdowns just once in his stellar career … and he’s usually the de facto choice for the top spot in August. Next summer, though, AP may have to settle for the 2-slot.

4. Expect Arian Foster to be the alpha male among running backs in Week 16. Thank god this is a fantasy column … otherwise, we’d spend too much time lamenting how the 10-4 Texans could never reach the Super Bowl with T.J. Yates at quarterback or a painfully mediocre receiving corps when Andre Johnson‘s in street clothes. But we’ll spare Yates (227 total yards, zero TDs, 2 INTs vs. Carolina) and WR Kevin Walter (2 catches, 26 yards) of any Monday mocking and simply revel in Foster’s brilliance against the Panthers (167 total yards, 1 TD) … and how he’s a lead-pipe cinch to dominate the Colts next week. Especially now that Indy has little motivation — professional pride aside — to earn its second victory and miss out on drafting Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in April. At this point, Foster (1,667 total yards, 9 TDs in 2011) is a solid bet for 155 total yards and one score on Christmas Eve. (Ho ho ho)

5. Fantasy GMs might have to erase all memories of Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller from Sunday. Obviously, it will be difficult to forget Bush racking up a career-high 203 rushing yards (and one TD) against Buffalo or Spiller chalking up his finest day as a pro (167 total yards, 2 TDs). And yet, it’s the prudent thing to do for a few reasons: In Bush’s case, the Dolphins are searching for a new head coach, who may feature a bigger (and younger) back like Daniel Thomas (42 yards) next year; and with Spiller, the Bills are likely in no rush to end his highly productive timeshare with RB Fred Jackson (a fantasy MVP candidate before his season-ending injury). If this dilemma sounds familiar, it’s the same gut-wrenching assessment/projection that owners had to make with Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart after both backs rushed for 1,000 yards in 2009 — and Stewart punctuated the Week 16 championship round with 206 rushing yards and one TD against the Giants. Regarding the situations in Miami and Buffalo, it’s best to embrace the RB handcuff next August … or ignore it in the early rounds.

6. Don’t be surprised if Greg Little takes a Greg Jennings-esque fantasy leap in Year 2. To be fair, Jennings had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks for that 2007 breakout campaign (53 catches, 920 yards, 12 TDs) … whereas Little (5 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD vs. Arizona) currently fields passes from Colt McCoy (DNP in Week 15) and Seneca Wallace (247 total yards, 1 TD). But there’s a reason why Browns personnel czar Mike Holmgren tapped Pat Shurmur as the franchise’s head coach: Shurmur has a track record of developing QBs in progressive offenses, indicating that either McCoy or a high-end rookie (Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III, Landry Jones) will help Little (87 targets in his last 10 games) become a top-15 receiver next season. Clip and save: If you’re looking for Round 3 value at a Round 8-or-later price in the preseason, Little serves as the perfect low-risk, high-yield commodity.

Revelations, Book II
7. In the curious case of Ryan Mathews … are you not being entertained? OK, so maybe Mathews (119 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Baltimore) didn’t possess a Toucan Sam-like nose for the end zone prior to the Ravens game, scoring just four times from Weeks 1-14. But that really shouldn’t hinder his preseason standing for next year (or the foreseeable future): Simply put, is it possible to hold a grudge against an explosive back who could flirt with 1,800 total yards for the next six seasons … if he only hits end-zone paydirt 6-7 times a year? (Rhetorical question … no need to answer.) Of course, it helps that Mathews has WR Vincent Jackson (93 total yards), WR Malcom Floyd (5 catches, 96 yards, 1 TD), TE Antonio Gates and QB Philip Rivers (270 yards passing, 1 TD) as true-blue/powder-blue allies; but regardless of whether coach Norv Turner stays in San Diego beyond this season … Mathews holds the key to the club’s future production. Even if Mike Tolbert (58 total yards, 1 TD) remains one of fantasyland’s most effective goal-line vultures.

Tom BradyTom Brady got the best of Tim Tebow in their first-ever showdown.

8. Tim Tebow will neither be celebrated nor disparaged in Revelations this season … despite his uncanny knack for making (only) one receiver very happy every Sunday. Sure, we could handle Tebow’s spirited day against the Patriots (287 total yards, 2 TDs) in a variety of ways, but let’s focus on seven of his 11 completions going to WR Demaryius Thomas (116 yards; team-high 13 targets). How is that possible? Not even Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or Andre Johnson commanded such a huge market share of a quarterback’s success in their prime. For what it’s worth, Thomas is close to earning a top-12 ranking in receiving targets, yards and touchdowns for the season’s latter half; and with that metamorphosis, WR Eric Decker (1 catch, 22 yards vs. New England) has essentially become an afterthought in the Broncos’ charmingly archaic offense. Without a doubt, Tebow has made some interesting fantasy strides in the last six weeks, exceeding 220 total yards at nearly every turn. But in 12-team leagues, he’s still a preferred-status backup. As far as Denver runners go, Willis McGahee (70 total yards) remains the best starting option — when toting the rock more than seven times a game.

9. Don’t sleep on Aaron Hernandez as a Round 5/6 pick next year. The assumption goes that if Hernandez (9 catches, 129 yards, 1 TD; team-high 11 targets vs. Denver) wasn’t playing second fiddle to Rob Gronkowski, he’d be an elite fantasy asset at his position. But a closer look at his portfolio reveals that Hernandez (68 catches, 736 yards, 6 TDs) already merits supreme mention with the likes of Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, Fred Davis (when he’s not suspended) and Jermichael Finley. In fact, Hernandez could be the third tight end taken in standard-scoring drafts for 2012 … and fourth in Points Per Reception leagues (behind Gronkowski, Graham, Witten). This out-of-the-box thinking has everything to do with Tom Brady (320 yards passing, 2 TDs) and that New England will likely devote its draft/free-agent resources to rebuilding the defense this spring — allowing for Hernandez to be the Patriots’ No. 3 playmaker (behind Gronk and Wes Welker).

10. Let’s accentuate the positives from the Titans’ desultory loss to the previously winless Colts. OK, so this exercise may be a tough pill to swallow for every fan who assumed Tennessee would coast to victory; but from a numbers perspective, it’s hard to complain about Chris Johnson (109 total yards, 18 PPR points), QB Jake Locker‘s sneaky-good relief appearance (117 total yards, 1 TD) or that CJ2K, TE Jared Cook (9 catches, 103 yards), WR Nate Washington (7 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD) and WR Lavelle Hawkins (8 catches, 88 yards) combined for 44 targets on Sunday — a sign the Titans’ passing game (presumably under Locker) will garner much fantasy respect in 2012, particularly when Kenny Britt returns. As for next week, start Johnson in all scoring formats … and expect something in the ballpark of 125 total yards and one TD against the Jaguars.

11. Darrius Heyward-Bey is closer to becoming a top-20 receiver than you think. Heyward-Bey (8 catches, 155 yards, 1 TD; team-high 8 targets vs. Detroit) has posted admirable numbers in two four-game spurts this season — 22 catches, 39 targets, 385 yards, 1 TD from Weeks 4-7 and 20 catches, 38 targets, 298 yards, 2 TDs from Weeks 12-15. For a full 16-game slate, we’re potentially talking about 84 catches, 154 targets, 1,376 yards and six TDs — stats befitting of a top-10 wideout and Round 3/4 pick. Now comes the reality check: Given the futile production of his first two years in Oakland, Heyward-Bey will surely encounter one more offseason of fantasy indifference, as GMs adopt a Prove It Again philosophy before buying into the hype of ANY Raiders wideout evolving into a week-in, week-out dynamo for QB Carson Palmer (367 yards passing, 1 TD). Plus, running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush (135 total yards) are still Options 1 and 1a. One last thing: Before anyone asks … yes, I plan on drafting DHB slightly higher than Michael Crabtree next summer.

Hakeem NicksHakeem Nicks and the Giants put up a stinker on Sunday.

12. Blame ESPN for jinxing Hakeem Nicks against the Redskins. By now, you’ve probably seen Nicks’ unfortunate drop of an easy TD from Eli Manning in the first half, perilously setting the tone for the Giants’ shocking home defeat. But perhaps you missed the ESPN Sunday Countdown feature decrying that Nicks (5 catches, 73 yards; team-high 12 targets vs. Washington) possesses the NFL’s best pair of hands — in the company of Hall of Famer-to-be Cris Carter. Lucky for Nicks, we’re not going to equate one blown touchdown to getting suspended in the first half of a crucial intra-division game (ahem, Ahmad Bradshaw) or throwing three ugly interceptions against a 4-win team (Manning). As for the Christmas Eve clash with the Jets, we’re guaranteeing 110 yards and/or one TD for Nicks — without or without Darrelle Revis tracking his every move.

13. Steven Jackson is a victim of circumstance … on so many levels. Let us count the ways in which Jackson (143 total yards, 23 PPR points vs. Cincinnati) is wasting the best years of his professional life in St. Louis: The Rams have won only 13 of 75 games since 2007. Their franchise QB (the injured Sam Bradford) will apparently be on the trading block in the spring (ESPN speculation). Head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney may be sent packing by season’s end. The pass-catchers — Brandon Lloyd aside — are a hot mess (although Danario Alexander deserves kudos for an amazing TD reception). And when presented with the option of starting Tom Brandstater, A.J. Feeley or Kellen Clemens against the Bengals … the Rams chose the QB who had been with the club for 11 days and hadn’t thrown a TD pass since 2007 (with the Jets). Back to Jackson: If the above indignities weren’t punishment enough for the all-star back, S-Jax has the untimely misfortune of facing two of the NFL’s stingiest run defenses (Steelers, 49ers) in Week 16 and 17. It goes without saying: Jackson should only be a flex-starting consideration next week.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday of the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16). Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Double trouble

The Grand Introduction
It can only mean one of two things if you're reading today's column, cover to cover: Either you've reached the semifinal round of the fantasy playoffs (congrats!) ... or you simply can't get enough Brent Musburger or Jimmy 'The Greek' Snyder' clips from yesteryear, via YouTube. There's also one

The Grand Introduction
It can only mean one of two things if you’re reading today’s column, cover to cover: Either you’ve reached the semifinal round of the fantasy playoffs (congrats!) … or you simply can’t get enough Brent Musburger or Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder’ clips from yesteryear, via YouTube. There’s also one more ancillary reason for tuning in just 10 days before Christmas: You’ve been a tireless devotee to the Fantasy Philanthropist, forsaking friends, family, office gossip and work-related assignments every Monday and Thursday afternoon … for which I humbly, happily say, Thank you, and please get a life. HA! Moving on to the next round …

Week 15 Rules To Live By
1. Ride your studs for Weeks 14-16. At the risk of repeating popular refrains from weeks past, Round 2 of the playoffs is NOT a time for overthinking or experimentation. Unless your star is severely limited by an injury … owners must assume elite talents will bring their typical A-games to the weekend party (uh, except Ahmad Bradshaw). If you’ve been riding Percy Harvin (38 catches, 445 yards, 5 TDs since Week 10) as a flex starter for the season’s second half … there’s no point in deviating from that savvy stance. If you’re convinced that Michael Bush is the Raiders’ only hope for victory — or avoiding 30-point deficits at halftime — keep throwing him to the wolves (and Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, who’s back from a two-game supspension). But if you’re thinking about benching Larry Fitzgerald because of his made-for-TV clash with Browns CB Joe Haden … perhaps you should stop reading and head back to the mall. Bottom line: Stars are stars for a reason; so let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that Arian Foster cannot dominate the Panthers on Sunday. OK?

Tim TebowCan Tim Tebow muster up a big performance against a shaky New England defense?

2. Don’t assume fantasy greatness for Tim Tebow against the pass-friendly Patriots. New England may have the NFL’s worst pass defense, but it would be foolish for Denver to abandon its run-first, run-second strategy in this spotlight game. The Broncos, for all their many warts, are an above-average running team when Tebow’s deftly operating the read-option and Willis McGahee isn’t hindered by knee, hamstring or ankle injuries; and it’s a primary reason for the club rebounding from a 45-10 debacle in Week 8 to post six straight victories. (Not to mention taking America and Twitter Nation by storm.) Unless Tebow has plenty of time for garbage-scoring passes on Sunday, he’s still only a lock for 235 total yards and one touchdown. Decent numbers for a QB2.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff, like kickers and defenses. It’s real simple here: If you have a top-10 kicker, don’t mess with success. And if you have a top-10 defense or one that gets to play Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis or Jacksonville in Weeks 15 or 16 … therein lies the key to playoff success!

4. Start all productive players from the Ravens, Vikings, Giants, Chargers, Redskins and Saints this weekend. The scheduling gods sometimes smile on fantasyland … and when that happens, act accordingly. For all-important Week 15, you likely can’t go wrong with starting regulars from Ravens-Chargers, Saints-Vikings and Giants-Redskins — a game where QB Rex Grossman could become a last-minute addition to the ‘QB Locks’ list for 275 total yards and/or three touchdowns … and Roy Helu and Brandon Jacobs may hit the 100-yard/1-TD threshold.

5. Think of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green as surefire springboards to the championship round. By all accounts, Dalton (at least one TD pass in 10 straight games) and Green (55 catches, 891 yards, 7 TDs) have exceeded expectations for NFL rookies to this point; in fact, their progress has been nothing short of remarkable. But for the first time since Week 8, we’re guaranteeing prolific numbers for the tandem — against the Rams on Sunday and Cardinals for Week 16. Simply put, if St. Louis couldn’t handle Doug Baldwin (7 catches, 93 yards, 1 TD last week), what chance does it have against Green — a possible Round 4 pick in next year’s standard-scoring drafts?

Week 14: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Tom Brady @ Denver
2. Aaron Rodgers @ Kansas City
3. Drew Brees @ Minnesota
4. Philip Rivers vs. Baltimore
5. Andy Dalton @ St. Louis
6. Cam Newton @ Houston
7. Michael Vick vs. N.Y. Jets
Eli Manning vs. Washington

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Michael Turner vs. Jacksonville
2. Chris Johnson @ Indianapolis
3. Arian Foster vs. Carolina
4. Ray Rice @ San Diego
5. LeSean McCoy vs. N.Y. Jets
6. Frank Gore vs. Pittsburgh
7. Michael Bush vs. Detroit
8. Roy Helu @ N.Y. Giants
9. Marshawn Lynch @ Chicago
10. Beanie Wells vs. Cleveland

Tale Of The Tape … Apropos Of Nothing
At the time of this writing (Wednesday morning), I still haven’t gotten over two crushing defeats from Round 1 of the playoffs — the SI.com & Friends and Downriver Celica Supra leagues, where I twice cleared 100 points yet lost to a lower-seeded club that suddenly found religion in Week 14. That isn’t to say Cory McCartney and Tony Bahu don’t possess championship-caliber rosters, they do; but in standard ESPN leagues, cracking the century mark is usually a means for playoff advancement.

Michael VickThe Philanthropist is looking for a big day from Michael Vick.

Moving on, I have a great semifinals matchup in the 16-team ‘Philanthropist #4’ league against No. 3 seed John Lorge IV — a Northwest-based software tycoon who, back in September, brazenly rebuffed my pitch to create/develop a phone app that would dramatically enhance the viewing experience inside a stadium/ballpark for any of the four major sports. (The pitch is near the bottom of this column). So, as you can imagine, knocking off the cold-hearted, practical-minded Lorge would be a nice piece of revenge. (cue evil laugh) Here’s our tentative lineups for Week 15:

Lorge
QB: Drew Brees
RBs: Michael Turner, Darren Sproles
WRs: Mike Williams, Wes Welker
Flex: Greg Little
TE: Jimmy Graham
PK: Stephen Gostkowski
D/ST: Pittsburgh Steelers

Clemons
QB: Michael Vick
RBs: Ryan Mathews, Frank Gore (with Ahmad Bradshaw forever banished to the bench)
WRs: Victor Cruz, Laurent Robinson
Flex: Roy Helu
TE: Jason Witten
PK: David Akers
D/ST: Arizona Cardinals
For what it’s worth: ESPN projects a 103-100 victory for Lorge’s Seattle Seacocks.

Running With The Moon
Here is my always-fluid top-40 listing of tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues — from this point forward:
1. Ray Rice, Ravens (needs 124 total yards per game to hit 2,000)
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (a consistent fantasy dynamo … just like we predicted back in August)
3. Arian Foster, Texans (expect a big-time bounceback this week)
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (care to repeat the 4-TD odyssey from last week?)
5. Chris Johnson, Titans
6. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
8. Michael Turner, Falcons
9. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
10. Roy Helu, Redskins (a solid bet for 100-plus yards in Weeks 15/16)
11. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
12. Shonn Greene, Jets
13. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (the West Coast version of Helu)
14. Michael Bush, Raiders
15. Steven Jackson, Rams
16. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
17. Willis McGahee, Broncos (deserves 24 touches per game, when healthy)
18. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
19. Darren Sproles, Saints
20. Cedric Benson, Bengals
21. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
22. Reggie Bush, Dolphins (second-half resurgence bodes well for 2012)
23. Felix Jones, Cowboys (opportunity knocks once again for this speed demon)
24. Marion Barber, Bears
25. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (persona non grata with yours truly … but still has value)
26. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
27. Ryan Grant, Packers (easily the most coveted free agent this week)
28. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
29. C.J. Spiller, Bills
30. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots (paying the price for the passing game’s near-perfection)
31. Kevin Smith, Lions
32. Peyton Hillis, Browns
33. Mark Ingram, Saints
34. Darren McFadden, Raiders (on the very-remote chance he returns for Week 16)
35. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
36. Toby Gerhart, Vikings (Gerhart and earn major backup props for 2011)
37. Joseph Addai, Colts (an injury-ravaged disappointment — again)
38. Pierre Thomas, Saints
39. James Starks, Packers
40. Matt Forte, Bears (I don’t expect him back until the wild card round)

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Roddy White vs. Jacksonville
2. Vincent Jackson vs. Baltimore
3. Calvin Johnson @ Oakland
4. Percy Harvin vs. New Orleans
5. Wes Welker @ Denver
6. Marques Colston @ Minnesota
7. Jordy Nelson @ Kansas City
8. A.J. Green @ St. Louis
9. Brandon Lloyd vs. Cincinnati
10. Dez Bryant @ Tampa Bay
11. Victor Cruz vs. Washington
12. Mike Williams vs. Dallas (does this count as a sleeper pick?)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Ryan Longwell vs. New Orleans
2. Stephen Gostkowski @ Denver
3. Sebastian Janikowski vs. Detroit
4. Dan Bailey @ Tampa Bay
5. Josh Scobee @ Atlanta
6. David Akers vs. Pittsburgh

The ‘In-Stadium Convenience’ App That’ll Never See The Light Of Day
I. Welcoming video from home team’s star player (or local celebrity), introducing the unique features of the “in-stadium convenience” app

II. Outside: GPS-style format for marking the location of vehicles in massive stadium lots

III. Inside: GPS-style map of stadium
a. Color-coded moving dots tracking the roaming concessionaires (beer, sodas, pretzel, hot dogs, ice creams, etc.)

IV. Wi-Fi-like access to stadium officials for pre-ordering concessions, merchandise, special meetings with on-site team representatives

V. ‘Binoculars’ app (w/infrared sensors) for getting a better view of the action (less expensive sets)

VI. Real-Time cameras outside the men’s/women’s bathrooms … and at certain concession stands (tracking user/customer lines throughout an event)

VII. Take Detroit’s Comerica Park for example: When parents are watching their kids at the famous ferris wheel (within stadium confines), they’ll get the closed-circuit game feed that can usually be viewed near the concession stands

VIII. Sport-specific metrics:
a. Baseball — A device that tracks real-time “pitch speed,” “bat speed” and distance of a fly ball/home run
b. Football — A device that tracks real-time speed of quarterback throws, hang time for punts, wind variables for field goals, etc.
c. Basketball — A device that tracks a player’s vertical leap on dunks/blocks
d. Hockey — A device that tracks the speed of slap shots, person-to-person checks and running time for line-shift changes

YouTube Memory Lane
To conclude our last full Philanthropist column of the season, here are two epic NFL clips from the 1970s, via YouTube:

1. 1976 (Rams-Dolphins) — Here’s something you don’t see very often — legendary CBS (and later FOX) announcer Pat Summerall calling a regular season game at the Orange Bowl in Miami (this site is the new home of baseball’s Miami Marlins). Two interesting nuggets stand out:

a. To open the second half, Summerall qualifies the Rams’ 19 first-half passes as essentially their total passing output for the entire season (3-plus games at the time), an homage to head coach Chuck Knox‘s stubborn and highly successful commitment to the running attack (except this game). Incidentally, Knox won five straight NFC West titles in five seasons with the Rams (1973-77) … but never led Los Angeles (or any other club) to the Super Bowl. Simply put, in the history of decorated coaches who routinely sparked previously moribund programs and won far more games than they lost but didn’t make it to Super Sunday … Knox was Marty Schottenheimer before, uh, Marty Schottenheimer.

b. When promoting the slate of next Sunday’s games, Summerall mentions how the Giants will host their inaugural game at the new Meadowlands Stadium. In that turbulent ’76 season, New York opened with nine consecutive losses, including a 24-14 defeat in the home opener against Dallas (Week 5).

2. 1978 — The original broadcast from Earl Campbell‘s famous bulldozing run against the Rams (and through Isiah Robertson). How awesome was The Tyler Rose’s display of tearaway-jersey power and fury? In the countless clips I’ve seen of George Allen as an announcer … this is the most excited he’s ever been. And for those who don’t remember old George, he was always pumped! At the end of the clip, play-by-play icon Vin Scully happily reports that Campbell quickly got a brand-new jersey from the Oilers’ equipment staff … begging these pertinent questions for some 33 years later: How did the Houston staffers know Campbell would require a second #34 at a moment’s notice? (It’s not like they were playing on wet grass that day.) And who has a squeaky-clean, fresh-smelling alternate jersey on hand for games played indoors? I bet the Bad News Bears didn’t have alternate jerseys when they visited the Astrodome one year later.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here on Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 14 Revelations

With roughly 60 percent of fantasy owners eliminated from championship contention on this Monday of Week 14 -- either from a disheartening Round 1 exit or missing the postseason altogether -- we're going to handle the season's final two Revelations in a slightly different manner.

Week 14 Revelations
1. The one-man

With roughly 60 percent of fantasy owners eliminated from championship contention on this Monday of Week 14 — either from a disheartening Round 1 exit or missing the postseason altogether — we’re going to handle the season’s final two Revelations in a slightly different manner.

Week 14 Revelations
1. The one-man wrecking crew of Maurice Jones-Drew either made — or ruined — your fantasy weekend. If only the bumbling Buccaneers had some advance warning that Jones-Drew (136 total yards, 4 TDs) was the Jaguars’ best player and greatest week-to-week hope for victory … perhaps this timely devastation could have been curtailed. But only team personnel equipped with newspapers, magazines, computers, Web capabilities, satellite sports radio or access to NFL Films highlight videos would have known that Jacksonville’s supporting cast meekly comprises zero elite wideouts, an occasionally relevant tight end (Marcedes Lewis — 2 catches, 77 yards) and embattled rookie quarterback (Blaine Gabbert), who’s hardly a lock to be the opening-day starter next season, Sunday’s decent effort notwithstanding (217 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs). Can you tell that I’m one of the hundreds directly scorned from MJD’s monster afternoon against Tampa Bay (37 standard points, 43 Points Per Reception league points)? It goes without saying: Against Atlanta and Tennessee (Weeks 15/16), Jones-Drew is a potentially explosive asset for 10-, 12- and 14 team leagues.

Eli ManningICONEli Manning continues to pile up the points for savvy fantasy owners.

2. Eli Manning has earned the right to be drafted ahead of his famous brother next summer. Remember back in early October, when Eli had finally broken his seven-year drought of passing for 300 yards in consecutive games? Well, it has now gotten to the point where fantasy owners should be shocked if Manning (400 yards passing, 2 TDs vs. Dallas) isn’t hitting the 330-mark every week, even if the Giants’ three-headed rushing attack (Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Ware) appears stronger than ever. That’s the confounding thing about New York’s offense: Head coach Tom Coughlin may look like the most conservative man in America … but he also allows his coaches freedom to ride the golden arm of Manning and stellar hands of WR Hakeem Nicks (7 catches, 154 yards; team-high 10 targets), WR Victor Cruz (7 catches, 83 yards), WR Mario Manningham (2 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD) and TE Jake Ballard (4 catches, 52 yards, 1 TD) during crucial games. As for Eli (4,105 yards passing, 25 TDs in 2011), you already know he’s a top-5 quarterback and automatic starter for the stretch run (even Week 16 vs. the Jets) … but he’s also a likely Round 4 gem next August — roughly 12-18 picks ahead of Peyton Manning (perhaps the greatest QB of all time). How’s that for progress?

3. Good luck slowing down the Saints for Weeks 15 and 16. Playing outside and on a notoriously uneven surface at LP Field in Nashville, neither QB Drew Brees (343 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Tennessee), WR Marques Colston (7 catches, 105 yards, 2 TDs) nor RB Darren Sproles (91 total yards; 16 PPR points) were expected to be high-end fantasy achievers this weekend; and yet, that’s exactly how things broke for the Big Three, with tight end Jimmy Graham (5 catches, 55 yards; team-high 9 targets) and tailbacks Christopher Ivory (53 yards) and Pierre Thomas (57 total yards) assuming secondary roles against the Titans’ formidable defense. The expectations for Weeks 15-17, in turn, have been restored to their typically ambitious levels: With three straight dome games to finish the season (@ Minnesota next week, two home games), fantasy owners should expect modest-to-monster numbers from the above Saints — particularly Brees, as he approaches Dan Marino‘s NFL record for seasonal passing yards (5,084).

4. Rob Gronkowski has already cemented his standing as a Round 2 pick next August. Just like the Saints, there really isn’t much mystery to the Patriots’ fantasy travails: QB Tom Brady (357 passing yards, 3 TDs vs. Washington), WR Wes Welker (7 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD; 10 targets) and Gronkowski (6 catches, 160 yards, 2 TDs; 10 targets) are rubber-stamped starters regardless of opponent or weather … with everyone else — including RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (19 total yards) — serving as week-to-week considerations. But prior to Sunday, very few gurus had taken an official stance on Gronkowski (15 receiving TDs this season — the most for a tight end in NFL history) and his 2012 stock: Forget loading up on running backs in Rounds 1-3 (usually an admirable strategy). If Gronkowski is available in the first 24 picks, you grab him and Brady (4,273 yards passing, 33 TDs) in consecutive rounds — creating the perfect QB-TE handcuff — and let everything else fall in place. Is Gronkowski a lock for 15 touchdowns every season? Of course not. He may collect 20 someday.

5. Faithfully ride Shonn Greene’s hot streak for another two weeks — even if no one can really explain it. Perhaps Greene (187 total yards, 1 TD vs. Kansas City) found the Poor Man’s Chris Johnson label insulting (or flattering), or maybe the Chiefs are simply one of the NFL’s most inept clubs. Either way, it was great to see Greene roll for season highs in rushing (129) and receiving (58) for Round 1 of the playoffs, while giving QB Mark Sanchez (185 total yards, 4 TDs) some wiggle room to flourish, as well. Which brings us to this: With games against the Eagles and Giants on the horizon, Greene is a healthy lock for 250 combined yards and one touchdown — numbers befitting of a flex starter in 12-team leagues … and RB2 in 14-teamers. Unlike TE Dustin Keller (4 catches, 34 yards; team-high 5 targets), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (64 total yards, 1 TD), WR Santonio Holmes (2 catches, 12 yards, 1 TD) or even the schizophrenic Sanchez, only Greene stands as the Jets’ lone lock from this point forward.

6. You simply don’t bench Larry Fitzgerald in a highly pressurized setting. Ever. There’s a reason why Fitzgerald (7 catches, 149 yards, 1 TD vs. San Fran) is a surefire Hall of Famer and perhaps the greatest receiver of the new century. Regardless of whether Kevin Kolb (injury casualty) or John Skelton (307 total yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) sits behind center for Arizona, there’s an excellent chance Fitzgerald (team-high 9 targets) will rise above it all to post stellar numbers. Similar to RB Beanie Wells (30 total yards), Fitzgerald isn’t immune from the occasional clunker; but fickle fans and skeptical experts can really do damage by trying to guess when Fitzgerald will be a dud — like when he ravaged the Eagles’ all-world secondary (7 catches, 146 yards, 2 TDs) or mystified perhaps the NFL’s best defense on Sunday. Bottom line: Fantasy GMs shouldn’t outsmart themselves on Fitz … even though they’ll probably do it again next week for CB Joe Haden and the Browns’ rock-solid pass defense.

Arian FosterOne questionable game does not a season make.

7. Let’s not overreact to Arian Foster’s so-so day against the Bengals. Yes, Foster (74 total yards vs. Cincy) didn’t carry any fantasy owners to a Round 1 victory, but he didn’t kill your team’s chances for advancement, either. Since returning from injury in Week 4, Foster has notched at least 80 total yards in every game — often going way above that arbitrary number of acceptance — while collecting nine touchdowns. And on a day when third-string QB T.J. Yates (336 total yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and RB Ben Tate (97 total yards) were surprisingly immaculate … 74 yards suddenly doesn’t seem like a bad throwaway day. Verdict: Foster (1,500 total yards/10 TDs in 2011) absolutely cannot fail next week against the Panthers, the NFL’s leader in rushing touchdowns allowed.

8. Roy Helu and Marion Barber will be difference-makers at the flex spot. Since this is a fantasy column, we’ll conveniently ignore Barber’s ill-advised method for draining the clock (running out of bounds) or game-changing fumble in overtime … and focus on his 140 total yards and one TD against the Broncos. With Jay Cutler and Matt Forte out for the foreseeable future, Barber is now the Bears’ only starting consideration in 12-team leagues. Expect him to roll for 120 yards/one score against the Seahawks next week. The same kind of optimistic thinking applies to Helu (132 total yards vs. New England), minus the fumble problems. With Rex Grossman as his shepherd, Helu will continue to be a standard-league stalwart and PPR menace for Weeks 15 (@ NYG) and 16 (vs. MIN) — to the tune of 245 combined yards and two TDs during that span.

9. Tim Tebow will neither be celebrated nor disparaged in this column — even if he has the Broncos on track for the AFC West title. To clarify, we’re blissfully aware of Tebow’s 7-1 record, five comeback victories and Denver’s stunning worst-to-first transformation since mid-October; but that real-world turnaround holds little water in the stats-driven world of fantasy football. Sure, Tebow (285 total yards, 1 TD vs. Chicago) has been an emerging talent his last two games, and yes, he has singlehandedly boosted the stock of WR Demaryius Thomas (7 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD; team-high 13 targets) — at the expense of Eric Decker (3 catches, 33 yards). But when choosing a can’t-miss QB for Rounds 2 and 3 of the playoffs, Are you going to side with a guy who was 3-for-16 at one point against Chicago? Are you really leaning toward the quarterback who often flirts with the middling range of 190-230 total yards per game? On the bright side, Denver draws New England’s horrible pass defense next week; but from our view in the bleachers, it’s still not enough to covet Tebow over Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan or even a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger. When fully healthy, Willis McGahee (knee) remains the Broncos’ strongest fantasy play.

Head over to Page 2 for more Revelations!

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Matters of survival

Playoff Rules To Live By
1. When in doubt (or all things being equal), always flex a running back in standard-scoring leagues ... and receiver in Points Per Reception leagues. This rule is pretty simple: It's best to play the percentages when stuck in a quandary at the flex spot. For standard

Playoff Rules To Live By
1. When in doubt (or all things being equal), always flex a running back in standard-scoring leagues … and receiver in Points Per Reception leagues. This rule is pretty simple: It’s best to play the percentages when stuck in a quandary at the flex spot. For standard leagues, I’d rather have Chargers RB Ryan Mathews over Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall — since Mathews (8 games of 100-plus total yards in 2011) will likely see more touches in Week 14. On the flip side, Marshall’s probably a lock for 6-7 catches against the Eagles and could notch a few points higher than Mathews (just 2.25 catches in his last 4 games) in PPRs. We’re talking delicate strategies here … but ones that mathematically make sense.

Ray RiceStick with the studs that got you to this point.

2. Ride your studs for Weeks 14-16. Round 1 of the playoffs is NOT a time for overthinking. Unless your star is severely limited by an injury … owners should assume the players will bring their typical A-games to the weekend party. The best example of this is LeSean McCoy: Prior to Eagles-Seahawks last Thursday, the NFL Network’s Stacey Dales unwittingly sounded the fantasy siren by reporting that McCoy, gingerly running on a sore toe during warmups, wasn’t sure how long he could go for Philly (then 4-7). Well, after one quarter of hit-or-miss execution, McCoy ran wild in the final three quarters and finished with 133 total yards and two touchdowns. There’s a reason why he’s the top-ranked non-quarterback … just remember to keep the faith, regardless of what the NFL Injury Report entails.

3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T cold, blustery weather when choosing a starting QB. I don’t want to psych anyone out here … this is merely another friendly reminder that bitter-cold temperatures and stifling crosswinds can be a fresh hell for quarterbacks in the Northeast or cities such as Green Bay, Denver and Kansas City. So, be sure to bone up on NFLweather.com before cementing your lineups for Thursday, Sunday and Monday. Obviously, you’re NOT going to bench a stud QB like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford or Eli Manning in anything short of gale-force winds or 10 inches of snow … but fantasy GMs should also be weary of blindly giving starts to non-elite QBs (like Andy Dalton, Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, Dan Orlovsky) — who may face uncomfortable weather conditions on Sunday.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff, like kickers and defenses. It’s real simple here: If you have a top-10 kicker, don’t mess with success. And if you have a top-10 defense or one that gets to play Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis or Jacksonville in Weeks 14, 15 and 16 … therein lies the key to playoff success!

5. Use ‘Targets’ when stuck on pass-catchers for your starting lineup.There’s a reason why we focus on targets for wide receivers, running backs and tight ends in just about every Philanthropist article (including today’s). Players who see the ball 30-to-40 percent more than their peers are more likely to experience success on a given Sunday … and that peace of mind goes a long way toward maximizing your playoff points. Of course, it’s not a foolproof plan. Prior to Week 13, Rams WR Brandon Lloyd was the NFL’s runaway leader in targets from Weeks 8-12 … and yet, he only caught backup QB A.J. Feeley‘s eye twice in a pitiful shutout loss to the 49ers. (Rumor has it that St. Louis only crossed the 50-yard line once in the game.) But for the most part, a receiver who’s enjoying consistent success … tends to remain hot from week to week. Unless A.J. Feeley is directing that offense.

6. Start all productive players from the Cowboys, Lions, Chargers, Vikings, Bills and Giants this weekend. The scheduling gods sometimes smile on fantasyland … and when that happens, act accordingly. For all-important Week 14, you probably can’t go wrong with starting regulars from Giants-Cowboys, Vikings-Lions and even Bills-Chargers — a game where QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Philip Rivers won’t incur any weather-related obstacles … and the playmakers from this non-playoff-contending showdown should have ample motivation to let it all hang out on Sunday afternoon. Simply put, Buffalo vs. San Diego could be the highest-scoring game of the week.

Larry FitzgeraldThe Philanthropist demands that you ride with Larry Fitzgerald in Week 14.

7. DO NOT bench Larry Fitzgerald. Yes, San Francisco boasts perhaps the NFL’s stingiest defense, but plucky Arizona is catching the NFC West champions at an ideal time. Think of it: All-pro linebacker Patrick Willis (hamstring) will likely miss the trip to the desert. The 49ers (10-2, 8-1 in-conference) possess a one-game lead over the Saints (9-3, 6-3) — but two-game edge for the in-conference tiebreaker — in the race for the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed (wild-card weekend bye) … and Fitzgerald (55 catches, 943 yards, 6 TDs), in case you weren’t already aware, is one of the greatest receivers of our time. Round 1 of the playoffs is NOT a good time to doubt Fitz’s skills.

8. Unless there’s breaking news, don’t change your lineup AFTER 12:45 p.m.</strong>: Take it from someone who barely missed the National Football Post fantasy league playoffs last week. Changing out A.J. Green for Deion Branch right before kickoff — even though Green was nursing a leg injury — probably isn’t a capital idea. Rule of thumb that eerily resembles #2: Stick with your gut when it comes to matters of the star playmaker.

Week 14: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Eli Manning @ Dallas
2. Aaron Rodgers> vs. Oakland
3. Philip Rivers vs. Buffalo
4. Matthew Stafford vs. Minnesota
5. Cam Newton vs. Atlanta
6. Tom Brady @ Washington
7. Tony Romo vs. N.Y. Giants

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice vs. Indianapolis
2. Chris Johnson vs. New Orleans
3. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Tampa Bay
4. Michael Turner @ Carolina
5. Marshawn Lynch vs. St. Louis
6. Roy Helu vs. New England
7. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Cleveland
8. Frank Gore @ Arizona
9. LeSean McCoy @ Miami
10. Ryan Mathews vs. Buffalo
11. Arian Foster @ Cincinnati

Tale Of The Tape … Apropos Of Nothing
I made the playoffs in eight of my 11 football leagues this season, with four division titles to boot. But here’s the weird part: As the No. 8 seed of the 16-team ‘Philanthropist #1’ league — where I had to perform some Week 13 magic just to leapfrog two teams for the final spot — I’m also somewhat confident of advancing past the No. 1 seed (Jacob Sudek‘s Confident Crocodiles) and into the Week 15 semifinals. Here’s our tentative lineups:

Sudek
QB: Matt Ryan
RBs: Ray Rice, Michael Bush
WRs: Mike Wallace, Wes Welker
Flex: LeGarrette Blount
TE: Benjamin Watson
PK: Olindo Mare
D/ST: New York Jets

Clemons
QB: Matthew Stafford
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Rashard Mendenhall (with Roy Helu, Peyton Hillis riding the bench)
WRs: Percy Harvin, Damian Williams
Flex: Ryan Mathews
TE: Jermaine Gresham
PK: Mike Nugent
D/ST: Houston Texans
For what it’s worth: ESPN projects a 120-111 victory for my squad, Count Chocula’s Henchmen.

Passing Fancy
Here’s a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (might as well pencil Green Bay in for 16-0)
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Drew Brees, Saints (there’s a noticeable discrepancy between his outside/inside numbers)
4. Eli Manning, Giants
5. Matthew Stafford, Lions
6. Cam Newton, Panthers (an absolute machine … and unimpeachable mainstay for 2012 keeper leagues)
7. Michael Vick, Eagles
8. Tony Romo, Cowboys
9. Ben Roehthlisberger, Steelers
10. Philip Rivers, Chargers (had no trouble with Jacksonville’s respectable pass defense)
11. Matt Ryan, Falcons
12. Andy Dalton, Bengals
13. Carson Palmer, Raiders (‘garbage-time scoring’ is just as sweet as first-quarter paydirt)
14. Mark Sanchez, Jets
15. Alex Smith, 49ers
16. Christian Ponder, Vikings (making great strides as a rookie … could be a Round 9/10 fantasy pick next year)
17. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
18. Joe Flacco, Ravens
19. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
20. Tim Tebow, Broncos
21. Matt Moore, Dolphins (judgment call on whether Moore should be the Fins’ starter in 2012)
22. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
23. Colt McCoy, Browns
24. Sam Bradford, Rams (should make a sizable leap next season … IF Josh McDaniels stays)
25. Rex Grossman, Redskins
26. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals (LaRod Stephens-Howling says, “You’re welcome!”)
27. Dan Orlovsky, Colts
28. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (a sneaky-good play for sizable numbers Monday against the Rams)
29. Caleb Hanie, Bears
30. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars (if only he could shuttle-pass his way to respectability every week)
31. T.J. Yates, Texans
32. Tyler Palko, Chiefs (hard to believe he’s even on this list)

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Week 13 Revelations

Week 13 Revelations
1. Let the good times roll for Chris Johnson all the way through Christmas. The NFL talking heads must be racking their brains today, trying to find a viable reason -- separate from Johnson's recent explosion -- for the Titans' 7-5 mark and prominent place in the AFC playoff

Week 13 Revelations
1. Let the good times roll for Chris Johnson all the way through Christmas. The NFL talking heads must be racking their brains today, trying to find a viable reason — separate from Johnson’s recent explosion — for the Titans’ 7-5 mark and prominent place in the AFC playoff push. Matt Hasselbeck throwing for only 140 yards and zero touchdowns? Damian Williams leading receivers with just four catches and 62 yards? Tennessee’s offense converting on just 2-of-11 third-down opportunities … and the defense surrendering 397 net yards to a Buffalo team that doesn’t have Fred Jackson? Lucky for us, this stanza begins and ends with Johnson (157 total yards, 2 TDs), whose per-game average of 133 total yards since Week 9 (including a 28-yard debacle against Atlanta) represents a fair baseline of expectations for Weeks 14 (vs. New Orleans), 15 (@ Indy) and 16 (vs. Jacksonville). In other words, with all apologies to Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster, Johnson will be the most devastating rushing talent during the fantasy playoffs — bar none. How’s that for a reward to every fantasy owner who stuck by Johnson during the lean months of September/October … or stealthily traded for him just seconds after Tennessee’s Week 5 loss to Pittsburgh?

Aaron RodgersAt this point, what more can we say about Aaron Rodgers?

2. We’re running out of superlatives to describe Aaron Rodgers … and the Giants’ triumvirate of Manning, Cruz and Nicks. Before we dive into the fantasy aspect of Sunday’s classic at MetLife Stadium, let’s acknowledge the following: With Oakland, Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit left on the docket, 12-0 Green Bay is a 100-percent lock to finish the regular season undefeated … even if head coach Mike McCarthy sits Rodgers (401 total yards, 4 TDs vs. New York) after three quarters of every game. The Packers are simply too good and too deep to fall against four clubs that aren’t necessarily finishing with a bang. But since this is a fantasy column, we won’t debate the pros/cons of Green Bay pulling an Indy, circa 2009, and depriving its fan base of the rare opportunity to become the NFL’s second perfect club in the Super Bowl era; instead, we’ll happily report that Rodgers, WR Greg Jennings (7 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD; team-high 14 targets), WR Jordy Nelson (4 catches, 94 yards), TE Jermichael Finley (6 catches, 87 yards, 1 TD; 11 targets) and even venerable wideout Donald Driver (4 catches, 34 yards, 2 TDs) are excellent plays for Weeks 14-16. (Rodgers, by the way, led the Packers in rushing Sunday — 32 yards.) As for the Giants … Eli Manning (347 yards, 3 TDs, one ill-advised pick-six), WR Victor Cruz (7 catches, 119 yards) and WR Hakeem Nicks (7 catches, 88 yards, 2 TDs) are automatic starters — regardless of scoring format. The same may hold true for RB Ahmad Bradshaw (47 total yards), who played admirably in his first game back from a nasty foot injury. Assuming there are no setbacks leading up to the Week 14 clash with the Cowboys, Bradshaw should fare markedly better the second time around.

3. You better have a darn good reason for benching Percy Harvin during the fantasy playoffs. Here’s a simple message for anxious GMs who put wayyyyyyyyyyy too much stock into players missing a midweek practice in December: Specific to Harvin’s case, stop reading the injury reports on Wednesday … or Thursday … or Friday! At this point in the season, especially with Adrian Peterson out with an ankle injury, no bout with the flu or tweaked rib cage or general soreness can prevent Harvin (175 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Denver) from being a reliable fixture in the Vikings offense. Harvin’s simply too good, too fast and too focused to be slowed by anything that doesn’t rhyme with schmigraine; and as a result, fantasy owners would be foolish to sideline him for Round 1 of the playoffs. In fact, with upcoming games against Detroit, New Orleans and Washington, Harvin (9 targets on Sunday) should be a no-brainer starter in all scoring formats. Unfortunately, the same stance doesn’t apply to RB Toby Gerhart (133 total yards), QB Christian Ponder (393 total yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) or WR Devin Aromashodu (6 catches, 90 yards; team-high 15 targets). Yes, they’re making noticeable strides at such a crucial juncture, but none of the trio has cultivated a sustainable level of excellence and should only be considered emergency starters in deeper leagues.

4. Fantasy owners could do worse than Tim Tebow at QB; they could also do a lot better. The following comments have nothing to do with Tebow’s 6-1 record as a starter, Denver’s first five-game road winning streak in ages, Tebow’s beautiful sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas late in the fourth quarter, or that the Broncos are tied for first in the AFC West. From a fantasy perspective, Tebow’s upside for this season doesn’t extend much beyond Sunday’s production against the Vikings (215 total yards, 2 TDs) — respectable numbers, but none that should hold great value when choosing starting lineups for Weeks 14 (vs. Chicago), 15 (vs. New England) or 16 (@ Buffalo) … unless Rex Grossman, Caleb Hanie, Tarvaris Jackson or Kevin Kolb are entrenched starters. Bottom line: Tebow may have located another weapon outside of Eric Decker for one three-hour stretch — namely Thomas (4 catches, 144 yards, 2 TDs; team-high 7 targets) — but it’s far too late to develop a man-crush on a talented, but still-erratic receiver for the fantasy playoffs. Especially with offenses that boast only 10 completions over 60 minutes. Right now, a healthy Willis McGahee (111 total yards, 1 TD) is the only fantasy must-start against the Bears and Patriots.

5. And now for the Masters Of The Obvious portion of today’s Revelations … when discussing Lions-Saints. Do we even need to assess the fantasy planes of QBs Drew Brees (342 yards passing, 3 TDs vs. Detroit) or Matthew Stafford (408 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT) after Sunday’s air assault? Each star has the capacity to singlehandedly advance teams in next week’s playoffs … which should frighten their Week 14 fantasy foes. Here’s another scary thought: Calvin Johnson (6 catches, 69 yards) and Marques Colston (6 catches, 54 yards) have gone a combined 13 straight weeks without recording multiple touchdowns — suggesting a monster effort can’t be too far away. On a relative scale, the same holds true for tight ends Jimmy Graham (8 catches, 89 yards) and Brandon Pettigrew (2 catches, 13 yards): Assuming Pettigrew doesn’t get suspended for illegally touching an official … both pass-catchers should collect scores against the Titans and Vikings in Week 14, respectively. Speaking of improper contact, it’s probably best for fantasy owners to focus on Nate Burleson (5 catches, 93 yards) making nifty receptions on all three calls for offensive pass interference — and not the senseless infractions. That level of concentration has some value, right?

Revelations, Book II
6. Hmmmm … perhaps Ray Rice will fulfill my summertime prophecy of 2,000 total yards after all. You know we’re having a superb Revelations when Rice rolls for 214 total yards against Cleveland … and only gets to bat leadoff in Book II. But then again, it’s not like his 204 yards on the ground came as a complete surprise. Prior to Sunday, the Browns ranked 29th against the run; and Rice’s next two opponents (Colts, Chargers) rank 31st and 25th in the same category. That’s essentially a license to steal chunks of yards at a time for Rice (11 TDs in 2011) and the conservative Ravens, who have a knack for morphing into a run-first, run-second superpower when the calendar hits December. That isn’t to say QB Joe Flacco (158 yards passing, zero TDs), WR Anquan Boldin (2 catches, 32 yards; only 4 targets), WR Torrey Smith (1 catch, 32 yards) or even TE Ed Dickson (3 catches, 47 yards) won’t be starting considerations during the fantasy playoffs … it just means they’ll be taking a backseat to Rice (and maybe Ricky Williams) during the money-time phase of the season. There’s no more bankable asset than Rice.

7. Roy Helu is the Redskins’ only fantasy hope if Fred Davis waves bye-bye to the final four games. That bolded introduction isn’t necessarily a death blow to WR Santana Moss‘s chances for sneaky-good success during the fantasy playoffs; after all, Moss (5 catches, 42 yards) drew 12 targets against the Jets and will likely serve as Rex Grossman’s favorite wideout for Weeks 14-17. But let’s be honest: Neither Moss nor Jabar Gaffney> (zero catches vs. New York) possess the game-breaking, defender-separating acumen of Davis (6 catches, 99 yards; team-high 13 targets), who’s reportedly done for the season after allegedly failing a pre-CBA-agreement drug test a few months ago. (For what it’s worth, Davis will rank no less than the No. 6 tight end heading into the 2012 fantasy drafts.) And with that, the burden of responsibility shifts to Helu (142 total yards, 1 TD), who’s seemingly a lock for 100 total yards/1 TD in the next three weeks (Patriots, Giants, Vikings) — if not 120 total yards in each game. Of course, this star-like production can only occur if Grossman (221 yards passing, zero TDs — only 19-of-46 completions) and head coach Mike Shanahan acknowledge that Helu should average 22-25 touches during that span. Assuming that occurs, Helu is a must-start in all scoring formats — especially Points Per Reception leagues.

Shonne GreeneShonne Greene ripped off a monster on Sunday.

8. Our thumbs-up endorsement of Shonn Greene for the fantasy playoffs has little to do with his 3-TD explosion against the ‘Skins. Frankly, I’m surprised the Jets notched 34 points against a respectable Washington defense, including 21 in the final quarter. It’s a confounding breakout for a big-name club that really doesn’t have a glut of bankable fantasy assets (aside from the defense). Sure, Santonio Holmes (4 catches, 58 yards, 1 TD; team-high 8 targets vs. Washington) is rock-solid in clutch situations and QB Mark Sanchez can never be counted out for three or four touchdowns on a given Sunday; but there’s just too much sporadic production from WR Plaxico Burress (3 catches, 33 yards) or TE Dustin Keller (3 catches, 12 yards) to warrant starting consideration for Weeks 14-16. Which brings us to Greene (114 total yards on Sunday) … who has posted respectable-to-stellar numbers in seven of his last eight games and serves as a poor man’s Chris Johnson from this point forward. Bottom line: Forget about Greene’s September/October malaise and focus on his capacity for 90 total yards/1 TD against the Chiefs, Eagles and Giants.

9. The Colts may have found their quarterback of the future — as in the next four weeks. There are many positives to derive from Indy’s performance against New England … without even detailing how easily the Colts covered the Vegas betting line of 20.5 points. Not only did Indy tally better numbers in total yards (437-362) and first downs (26-24), but QB Dan Orlovsky (353 passing yards, 2 TDs — only seven incompletions) likely clinched a spot on an NFL roster next year, a significant assumption since the Colts probably won’t have room for an expensive third-string quarterback in 2012, when both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck come into play. But that’s a conversation for February. Right now, fantasy owners are only worried about whether Orlovsky, RB Donald Brown (56 total yards, 1 TD), Pierre Garcon (9 catches, 150 yards, 2 TDs), Reggie Wayne (5 catches, 55 yards), Austin Collie (7 catches, 70 yards) or even TE Jacob Tamme (5 catches, 49 yards) are starter-worthy assets in the next few weeks. The across-the-board answer for Weeks 14 (@ Baltimore) and 16 (vs. Houston) is no. But for Week 15 against the Titans, feel free to start Garcon, Brown or Wayne in the flex spot for 12-, 14 and 16-team leagues. That game has scoring aplenty written all over it.

10. There are no easy answers for Steven Jackson’s recent vanishing act. OK, so no one expected Jackson (583 rushing yards, 3 TDS from Weeks 6-10) to break the century mark in rushing yards against the 49ers, the NFL’s stingiest defense; but 30 total yards … on a day where QB A.J. Feeley (156 yards, zero TDs, 1 INT) and the Rams absolutely needed a running game to be competitive? If Jackson’s not injured, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hasn’t been incapacitated when calling plays, then how does S-Jax only have 173 total yards since Week 11 (on 49 touches)? Before this slump, he was a lock for the RB2 or flex spots in 12-team leagues — no questions asked; but now, it’s fair to wonder if Jackson should even be a no-brainer starting consideration for the lucky owners who reach Rounds 2 and 3 (Weeks 15-16). In the meantime, start S-Jax against the Seahawks in Week 14 and pray for a rebound; and then start Brandon Lloyd (1 catches, 34 yards) … once the sting of Sam Bradford‘s Sunday absence (ankle) and Lloyd’s microscopic two targets against San Fran dissipate.

Rob GronkowskiAnother week, another big effort from Rob Gronkowski.

11. Thank goodness no one’s losing sleep over the Patriots’ running game. Let’s keep this one short and sweet: Heading into the fantasy playoffs, it’d be criminal to bench QB Tom Brady (296 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Indy), WR Wes Welker (10 catches, 110 yards; team-high 11 targets) or TE Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 64 yards, 3 total TDs) for any reason, shallow or substantive; and on the flip side, none of the New England tailbacks deserve your full attention when contemplating the all-important starting lineups for 10- or 12-team leagues. Not BenJarvus Green-Ellis (14 total yards, 1 TD), not Shane Vereen (DNP on Sunday), not Stevan Ridley (team-high 33 rushing yards). On the surface, that seems like a harsh stance to take with Green-Ellis (3 TDs in two weeks) … at least until we can view Gronkowski’s rushing TD in the proper light: For those scoring at home, Gronkowski (65 catches, 928 yards, 13 TDs in 2011) is now a red-zone vulture for Deion Branch (3 catches, 37 yards), Aaron Hernandez (7 catches, 43 yards) … and Green-Ellis.

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Tricks of the trade

Week 13 Rules To Live By
1. If your league allows it, don't hesitate to make a pre-deadline blockbuster. As stated many times in previous columns, there is little or no value in having starter-worthy depth on your bench, since these productive benchwarmers serve no purpose during the fantasy playoffs -- other

Week 13 Rules To Live By
1. If your league allows it, don’t hesitate to make a pre-deadline blockbuster. As stated many times in previous columns, there is little or no value in having starter-worthy depth on your bench, since these productive benchwarmers serve no purpose during the fantasy playoffs — other than breaking ties. In the SI.com & Friends league, for example, I made every possible effort to unload Michael Bush, Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Bowe last week for a superstar like Arian Foster, Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy, but was rebuffed by owners of marginal squads who viewed the 4-for-1 or 5-for-2 offers as too good to be true. (Seriously.) As a result, I’m left with the ambivalent luxury of choosing amongst Mathews, Bush, McCoy, Ingram and Chris Johnson over the next four weeks at running back. Ugh. Which brings me to this …

LeSean McCoyRide your studs like LeSean McCoy no matter what the situation.

2. Don’t overthink starting lineups: Play your studs! As great as Mathews (career-high 137 rushing yards last week), Bowe (19 TDs the last two seasons), Ingram and Michael Crabtree have been with the SI.com & Friends club this year, there’s no way I’m sitting McCoy, Chris Johnson, Bush, Marshall, Brandon Lloyd or Laurent Robinson (7 TDs in his last five games) for the playoff drive, barring injury; and if I should get knocked out before the Week 16 Fantasy Bowl, then so be it. My stubbornness is borne out of the thinking that, absent of a last-minute pickup or blockbuster trade, you dance with the stars who earned a division title and No. 1 playoff seed … and cross your fingers for a championship. Do Mathews or Bowe have a 50-50 chance of usurping Bush or Lloyd in any of the next four weeks? Absolutely. But aside from an injury or Storm of the Century, I pledge not to overthink my way to a blown title.

3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T cold, blustery weather when choosing a starting QB. Strong winds or heavy rains don’t concern me in September or October. Most quarterbacks can throw the ball with relative ease amid warm and windy conditions. But bitter-cold temperatures and stifling crosswinds can be a fresh hell for quarterbacks in the Northeast or cities such as Green Bay, Denver and Kansas City. The greatest example of this will forever be Tom Brady during his record-breaking season of 2007: Yes, Brady threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns that year; but on a cold, soggy, windy, miserable day in Week 15 — traditionally the semifinal round of the fantasy playoffs — he rolled for 140 yards and zero TDs … likely dashing the title hopes of every fantasy owner who rode his out-of-nowhere awesomeness to a wire-to-wire division crown. To be fair, the Jets defense had something to do with Brady’s middling outing that day; but it still should make GMs think twice about starting non-elite QBs like Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rex Grossman, Matt Moore, Joe Flacco, Colt McCoy and even Andy Dalton in crappy, blustery weather. (Obviously, Brady would never be benched under any circumstances, simply hope for the best.)

4. Start all productive players from the Saints, Packers, Lions, Patriots and Giants this weekend. The scheduling gods sometimes smile on fantasyland … and when that happens, act accordingly. For all-important Week 13, you absolutely cannot go wrong with starting regulars from Packers-Giants, Lions-Saints, Cowboys-Cardinals and even Colts-Patriots — a game where Indy principals like Reggie Wayne, Donald Brown, Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme and even QB Dan Orlovsky should have ample opportunities for garbage-time scoring. And once again … we’re back to the time-tested principle of Don’t Overthink Your Lineups In Crunch Time.

5. It’s OK to tank your Week 13 matchup … if it will lead to a better setup in next week’s fantasy playoffs. This has nothing to do with ethical responsibilities or possessing a holier-than-thou moral compass: If you have a golden chance to play a lesser opponent in Round 1 of the playoffs (Week 14) by losing this weekend, there’s really no crime in doing so. Simply put, you’ve earned the right to control your own playoff fate … so tank away!

Week 13: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Tom Brady vs. Indianapolis
2. Drew Brees vs. Detroit
3. Eli Manning vs. Green Bay
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Tennessee
5. Aaron Rodgers @ N.Y. Giants
6. Tony Romo @ Arizona
7. Matthew Stafford @ New Orleans

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice @ Cleveland
2. Marshawn Lynch vs. Philadelphia (LeSean McCoy would be an iffy ‘lock’)
3. Chris Johnson @ Buffalo
4. Matt Forte vs. Kansas City
5. Willis McGahee @ Minnesota
6. Frank Gore vs. St. Louis
7. Beanie Wells vs. Dallas
8. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. San Diego
9. Michael Bush @ Miami
10. Arian Foster vs. Atlanta

Talking Points
1. Ray Rice is on pace for only 1,829 total yards this season … short of my August guarantee of 2,000. If Rice (10 TDs in 2011) was averaging only 11 more yards per game, he’d be right on track for 2,000, so it’s not like I’ll have to eat a super-sized bag of crow after Week 17. But then again, who’s to say Rice can’t go off against the Browns (twice), Colts and Chargers in the next four weeks — ranked 29th, 31st and 25th against the run? As the calendar reads December and the weather turns colder, Baltimore will likely lean on Rice (and Ricky Williams) to carry the club to a 4-0 finish, 13-3 overall record and possible No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. It’s the perfect recipe of success for a franchise that has a great shot of making the Super Bowl, while boosting the profile of Rice (beyond Energy Sheets), QB Joe Flacco (2,737 yards passing, 13 TDs) and a defense that can truly bring the wood, whenever necessary. But right now, fantasy owners should only be concerned with Rice’s touches and capacity for hitting 120 yards and one TD in every remaining game.

Bill BelichickICONBill Belichick and the Patriots are monster favorites this Sunday.

2. Vegas bookmakers have installed the Patriots as 20.5-point favorites against the winless Colts. According to R.J. Bell of the excellent Web site Pregame.com, nine NFL teams have been favored by 20 or more points since 1978, with the favorites going 9-0 straight up but only 2-7 against the spread. This bodes well for Indy in one respect: While I’m sure that head coach Bill Belichick won’t show any mercy on Sunday, directing New England to at least 38 points, there should be a ton of garbage-time scoring possibilities for the Colts in the second half. After all, Dan Orlovsky has some nice physical tools (stop thinking of that safety!), and Indy’s full range of playmakers (aside from Dallas Clark) will be available to him; and let’s not forget that New England has a below-average pass rush and one of the worst passing defenses in the league. So please, don’t ignore Reggie Wayne or Donald Brown. You may be sorry on Monday morning.

In Case You’re Wondering …
By my research, the two largest betting lines for regular-season games since 1970 (the NFL-AFL merger) are:

1. 1976: Buccaneers @ Steelers — Pittsburgh, favored by 24 points, cruised to a 42-0 rout of expansion Tampa Bay.

2. 1993: Bengals @ 49ers — San Francisco, favored by 23 points, pulled out a sluggish 21-8 victory over Cincinnati.

The Hands That Built America
Here’s my always-fluid listing of the top-40 wideouts in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions (still the gold standard of wideouts, despite a recent mini-slump)
2. Wes Welker, Patriots
3. Mike Wallace, Steelers
4. Victor Cruz, Giants (remember when everyone attributed his 3-TD night in the 2010 preseason opener to dumb luck?)
5. Greg Jennings, Packers
6. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
7. Jordy Nelson, Packers
8. Steve Smith, Panthers (let’s hope Cam Newton doesn’t hit the proverbial rookie wall)
9. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
10. Roddy White, Falcons
11. Brandon Lloyd, Rams (you don’t bench WRs averaging 12 targets/0.8 TDs in their last five games)
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
13. Andre Johnson, Texans
14. Laurent Robinson, Cowboys (easily one of the three biggest undrafted studs of the year)
15. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
16. Marques Colston, Saints
17. A.J. Green, Bengals
18. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (let’s not overreact to his last-minute alligator arms against the Steelers)
19. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (don’t let the middling ranking fool ya … he’s a sleeping, ahem, giant)
20. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
21. Miles Austin, Cowboys
22. Percy Harvin, Vikings (don’t lose sight of the Vikings’ only big-time offensive hope right now)
23. Reggie Wayne, Colts
24. Steve Johnson, Bills
25. Mike Williams, Buccaneers (behold … four straight games in presumably warm southern climates!)
26. Greg Little, Browns (a preseason top-20 receiver next year — regardless if <strong>Colt McCoy’s his QB)
27. Deion Branch, Patriots
28. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
29. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (out for Thursday against Seattle)
30. Julio Jones, Falcons (no worries on last week’s double goose egg)
31. Santonio Holmes, Jets
32. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
33. Eric Decker, Broncos (does Denver even need to line up three receivers?)
34. Nate Washington, Titans
35. Jabar Gaffney, Redskins (wouldn’t make the list if John Beck was helming the offense)
36. Antonio Brown, Steelers
37. Steve Breaston, Chiefs
38. Johnny Knox, Bears (let’s exercise patience from last week’s 4/145/1 explosion)
39. Jerome Simpson, Bengals (one of the most confounding receivers in fantasy … oh, how I loathe him sometimes)
40. Torrey Smith, Ravens

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Week 12 Revelations

Week 12 Revelations
1. It's hard to feign surprise with Chris Johnson's recent run of fantasy success. We'll kick off today's Revelations with a simple, but memorable premise for handling Johnson at this point: He's too good and too fast and too necessary to Tennessee's playoff chances to be benched in 10-

Week 12 Revelations
1. It’s hard to feign surprise with Chris Johnson’s recent run of fantasy success. We’ll kick off today’s Revelations with a simple, but memorable premise for handling Johnson at this point: He’s too good and too fast and too necessary to Tennessee’s playoff chances to be benched in 10- or 12-team leagues … so why even flirt with the possibility of missing out on 190 yards rushing from week to week? OK, so maybe Johnson (193 total yards vs. Tampa Bay) had the luxury of playing in near-monsoon conditions Sunday — essentially de-emphasizing the Titans’ passing attack — and maybe the offensive linemen were highly motivated to reverse head coach Mike Munchak‘s candid thoughts about their blocking acumen; but whatever struggles Johnson endured in the season’s first half have long been replaced by realistic thoughts of 120 total yards and 1 TD for Weeks 13-16. With dates against Buffalo, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Jacksonville on the horizon, Johnson (110-plus yards in three of his last four games) is a good bet for 530 total yards and four TDs in the next 26 days — even if Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck fires off a few more scoring beauties like this.

Beanie WellsBeanie Wells went to work on Sunday and put up some monster numbers.

2. Beanie Wells would like the fantasy universe to know his once-balky knee is A-OK. Short of the NFL granting a third Cardinals-Rams clash for the regular season (not going to happen), Wells likely won’t repeat his franchise-record 228 rushing yards again this year. But that shouldn’t be a concern in fantasyland: For the GMs whose trade deadlines have yet to pass, there will never be a better time to sell-high on Wells (just 300 rushing yards from Weeks 5-11); and for Beanie’s prospective owners, a fantasy back is only as good as his last outing. (How’s that for rationalization?) Simply put, everyone should be excited about Wells’ prospects for the next four weeks — three straight home games against Dallas, San Francisco, Cleveland and one trek to Cincinnati — especially if QB Kevin Kolb returns to the lineup and adds value to WR Larry Fitzgerald (3 catches, 55 yards; team-high 9 targets). Which brings us to this: In the wake of John Skelton‘s brutal Sunday performance (132 total yards, zero TDs, 2 INTs), why didn’t the Rams continually put eight or nine defenders in the proverbial ‘box’? Were they fearing a breakout from Early Doucet (1 catch, 14 yards) and Andre Roberts (2 catches, 14 yards) … or just another twice-deflected TD reception for Fitzgerald?

3. Reports of Roddy White’s fantasy demise have been greatly exaggerated. On a day when Michael Turner (64 total yards) and rookie WR Julio Jones (zero catches) were mere mortals, in a game where the Falcons raced to a quick 17-0 lead and could have easily gone ultra-conservative in the second half, White (10 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD; team-high 13 targets vs. Minnesota) still dominated the competition and justified his standing as a high Round 2 pick in August. Is it too late for White (back-to-back 100-yard games) to reclaim his status as a top-5 receiver by season’s end? Probably. But it’s also reasonable to say that Roddy should average 7 catches/85 yards/0.5 TDs in the next four weeks (Houston, Carolina, Jacksonville, New Orleans) — with only one of the games played outdoors. A few reasons to believe: QB Matt Ryan (262 yards passing, 3 TDs) has racked up 300 yards or multiple TDs in his last four games and TE Tony Gonzalez (9 catches, 69 yards) and WR Harry Douglas (2 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD) are wreaking enough havoc to discourage any White double teams or many 8-men-in-the-box fronts to combat Turner.

4. If only the Redskins could commit to Roy Helu on a week-in, week-out basis. Head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have a real opportunity for growth in Week 13 … even if it belies their reputation for over-thinking and outsmarting themselves when preparing a game plan: Ride Helu (162 total yards, 1 TD vs. Seattle) when running the ball, target TE Fred Davis (4 catches, 58 yards, 1 TD) as much as possible in the red zone … and everything else will seamlessly fall into place. For a club that employs QB Rex Grossman (314 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) and WR Jabar Gaffney (5 catches, 72 yards) on a regular basis, the Redskins should feel obligated to feature Helu and Davis at every turn; and yet, we’re left to wonder if Helu or Ryan Torain or Evan Royster will log the most tailback touches against the Jets next week? It’s this kind of uncertainty that relegates Helu to the fantasy bench … even if he’s a more explosive option than Indy’s Donald Brown — or the New England back who rode Tom Brady‘s coattails to two gift-wrapped TDs near the goal line.

Wes WelkerICONAfter a quiet few weeks, Wes Welker exploded against the Eagles.

5. It’s hard to get a read on the Patriots’ expansive fantasy potential for Weeks 14-16. Under no circumstances would anyone bench Brady (389 total yards, 3 TDs vs. Philly), TE Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD) or Wes Welker (8 catches, 115 yards, 2 TDs; team-high 12 targets) during the fantasy playoffs; but it is fair to wonder if RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (44 total yards, 2 TDs), WR Deion Branch (6 catches, 125 yards; 10 targets) or TE Aaron Hernandez (6 catches, 62 yards) warrant a similar courtesy during that crucial stretch (@ WSH, @ DEN, vs. MIA)? All three games will be played outdoors — perhaps in blustery winter weather — and the Broncos and Dolphins have been particularly stingy on defense since Week 8 (less than 16 points allowed per game). Perhaps we’ll spend another week chewing on that question, as the Patriots prepare to bludgeon the winless Colts … while titillating Vegas with a point spread that could exceed 20. Whoa!

Revelations, Book II
6. Thank goodness this is a fantasy column … and not a forum for mocking Steve Johnson’s immaturity. It was never my intention to lecture or degrade Johnson (7 catches, 85 yards, 1 TD) for his inappropriate TD dance or deflating drop of a likely TD pass in the fourth quarter of the Bills’ tough loss to the Jets. (NBC’s Bob Costas already took care of that.) But it also bears noting that, prior to Sunday, Johnson had pulled down only seven catches for 291 yards in his previous seven games — an eminently forgettable stretch that should have humbled Johnson enough to prevent an ill-advised (and spontaneous?) mimicry of Plaxico Burress‘s gun-arrest incident from 2008 … resulting in a crucial 15-yard penalty on the subsequent kickoff (fueling a Jets TD). In the course of Buffalo’s four-game losing skid, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (297 total yards, 3 TDs vs. the Jets) has also taken his lumps; but fantasy owners should also be heartened by Fitzpatrick’s efforts to pull off Sunday’s near-upset … and willingness to rely on RB C.J. Spiller (70 total yards), TE Scott Chandler (6 catches, 50 yards), WR David Nelson (5 catches, 47 yards, 1 TD) and Brad Smith (4 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD) during crunch time. Verdict: Fitzpatrick would be a sneaky-good starter for Weeks 13 (vs. Tennessee) or 14 (@ San Diego).

7. There is no excuse for benching Brandon Lloyd in PPR leagues. Think of all the love Lloyd (5 catches, 74 yards, 1 TD vs. Arizona) would be getting if he played on a pass-happy playoff contender … or if the Rams had a quarterback who wasn’t worthy of the curiously apropos moniker, Binary Code. For Lloyd to amass 71 targets in six games (tops in the NFL) and four TDs in his last five games (ranking 3rd among wideouts during that span) has been nothing short of spectacular, and yet, I’m still flooded with Twitter questions of whether Lloyd deserves a flex-starter slot over Shonn Greene, Denarius Moore, James Starks or Earl Bennett. The short answer is, of course, yes. The more definitive answer is this: As long as Steven Jackson (78 total yards) is operating at full capacity and Sam Bradford (203 yards passing, 1 TD) has complete use of his right arm/shoulder, Lloyd will remain a threat for 8 catches/90 yards/1 TD in a Josh McDaniels offense — regardless of the opponent or how replaceable Austin Pettis (3 catches, 45 yards), Lance Kendricks (3 catches, 37 yards) or Brandon Gibson (2 catches, 30 yards) may seem at this stage of their development. Which brings us back to Bradford: He’ll undoubtedly be a stud someday; but there’s no rhyme or reason to the current 14-game malaise of zero or one touchdowns. As a result, there is just cause for keeping him on the fantasy bench for Weeks 13-16.

8. Tim Tebow will neither be celebrated nor disparaged in this column … even if he leads the Broncos out of the doldrums and into the playoffs. As stated in previous Revelations, Tebow (210 total yards, 1 TD vs. San Diego) is essentially a lock for 180-230 total yards and 1.5 TDs every Sunday — numbers befitting of a fantasy backup and usually not a potential real-world MVP IF Denver rallies from a 1-4 start to capture the AFC West title. But that’s the confounding nature of this unwavering energy source: Tebow may struggle to notch 10 completions in a game, but he’s also responsible for the ascension of RB Willis McGahee (117 rushing yards) in recent weeks. Tebow may have unwittingly devalued the prospects of wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal (zero catches for both), but his favorite target, Eric Decker (3 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD), has morphed into a flex-start consideration in 12- and 14-team leagues for Weeks 13-16 — since we already know that Decker (8 TDs in 2011) is the primary beneficiary to Tebow’s lone scoring pass for the week.

Mark SanchezICONSanchez quieted some of his critics on Sunday, throwing four touchdown passes.

9. Mark Sanchez deserves more fantasy respect by the day. While it’s true that Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes both hit end-zone paydirt against the Bills and Shonn Greene played admirably without LaDainian Tomlinson (knee) sharing the touches … one can’t shake the feeling of, Are these big names dependable contributors in the fantasy realm? Dustin Keller (4 catches, 61 yards, 2 TDs), a notorious feast-or-famine asset at tight end, hadn’t scored since Week 2 (prior to Sunday) and already has four games of two or less catches. Plax and Holmes combined for only six catches and 76 yards on Sunday … and Greene (90 total yards) produced just his third-best yardage day of the season. Which brings us to Sanchez (180 yards passing, 4 TDs): Yes, he’s thrown some horrible INTs this year — last week’s game-changing pick-six comes against Denver comes to mind — but he also ranks in the top half of signal-callers throughout the league. Looking for a stealth QB during the playoffs? Sanchez (21 TDs in 2011) is a good bet to dissect the Chiefs, Eagles and Giants in Weeks 14-16 … even if Burress, Holmes, Greene and Keller are merely complementary pieces along the fantasy bench.

10. Don’t fall asleep on Mike Williams during the fantasy playoffs. As detailed in the Brandon Lloyd stanza, targets are everything to gurus who make a living predicting the future; and by subtracting Weeks 2 and 10, Williams (6 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD vs. Tennessee) has attracted at least eight targets in every other game — including 22 the last two weeks. Bottom line: The Bucs (4-game losing skid) may be headed for a desultory finish to the season, but Williams, RB LeGarrette Blount (159 total yards) and QB Josh Freeman (209 total yards, 1 TD) shouldn’t be taken lightly down the stretch. The same holds true for Kellen Winslow (5 catches, 52 yards) in a top-heavy, middle-soft tight end class. Each playmaker is capable of posting monster numbers at some point in the next four weeks — particularly the two dates with the Panthers … a defense that’s surrendered rushing TDs at a noticeable rate and boosting duds like Curtis Painter on gray November afternoons.

11. Let’s keep a little perspective on Reggie Wayne and DeAngelo Williams. There’s a reason why Wayne (5 catches, 122 yards, 1 TD vs. Carolina) currently resides on waivers in my 14-team PPR experts’ league for Yahoo! Sports (although that will change on Wednesday) … and there’s a reason why Williams (69 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Indy) has been running a distant third with the Panthers’ ground attack this season. Neither star has enough power to reverse the trends of the first 11 weeks … and one stellar Sunday in Indy probably won’t bring substantial change to their overall situations. After all, Wayne only has one double-digit targets effort since Week 3 — the time when Painter (226 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) took command of the Colts offense — and Williams must continually wrangle for touches with QB Cam Newton (261 total yards, 1 TD) and RB Jonathan Stewart (82 total yards). That aside, Wayne and Williams are certainly roster-worthy from this point forward; and who knows … perhaps Wayne will notch a TD or two against the Patriots next weekend — given the seemingly plentiful opportunities for garbage-time scoring in the second half.

Check out more Week 12 Revelations on Page 2!

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Run to daylight

A Pre-Holiday Introduction
Don't let the size of today's Philanthropist fool you. There's really nothing more to say about this phase of the fantasy season -- assuming your trade deadline passed before the time of this posting (Week 12 is typically the end date). Yes, from this point forward, it's all about

A Pre-Holiday Introduction
Don’t let the size of today’s Philanthropist fool you. There’s really nothing more to say about this phase of the fantasy season — assuming your trade deadline passed before the time of this posting (Week 12 is typically the end date). Yes, from this point forward, it’s all about making stealth waiver claims, maximizing points in your lineup and psyching out your fellow owners, in terms of who they’re starting on crucial Sundays. Kind of sad, huh? We spend hours upon hours studying other teams’ rosters, exchanging emails or IMs with owners, getting flummoxed by the pace of negotiations, all in the hope of concocting a blockbuster deal before the playoffs … and boom, we’re left with one final stage to the football season: Fingers crossed on winning a championship.

Talking Points
1. Philip Rivers is averaging 281 yards/1.8 TDs/2 INTs during the Chargers’ five-game skid. The days of Rivers hanging with the pre-lockout Big Five (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning) may have passed; but he still has plenty of redeeming value in fantasy leagues — especially if you’re starting the D/ST that’s facing the Chargers on a particular Sunday. With the trade deadlines trickling in Rivers would be a starting upgrade over QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer and of course, Tim Tebow.

2. Of all the NFL teams currently holding losing records … the Seahawks (4-6) have the BEST chance of running the table. The previous statement has little to do with fantasy, other than saying Marshawn Lynch (745 total yards, 6 TDs in 2011), Sidney Rice (484 yards, 2 TDs) and QB Tarvaris Jackson should be primed to post strong numbers over the next six weeks — including three straight home tilts for Weeks 12 (Washington), 13 (Philadelphia) and 14 (St. Louis). It bears repeating: The Rams-Seahawks clash on Dec. 12 (Monday Night Football) could be a 35-point explosion for Seattle, with the club going all-in on one last playoff push … and St. Louis just playing out the string.

Mark SanchezICONSanchez is starting to feel the heat in New York.

3. Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell are splitting QB reps during practice this week. Outside of head coach Rex Ryan exercising a needless power play over Sanchez, or Jedi Mind Trick, the 5-5 Jets have NOTHING to gain by creating the illusion that Brunell (at 41 years old) is a threat to lead the franchise during the stretch run. Remember the top-end speed (for a QB) that Brunell flashed in the 1996 AFC playoffs? Gone. Remember his powerful, accurate left arm from 1996-2001 with Jacksonville? That’s been phased out, as well. Sure, Sanchez (2,333 yards passing, 14 TDs in 2011) is far from a fully developed passer; but New York has no chance of winning five of its final six games with Brunell under center … so why deprive Sanchez of vital repetitions?

Morality Play
Here are a few quick personal rules — ethically speaking — when conducting pre-deadline trade negotiations. Obviously, no one should feel obligated to follow these to the letter (or at all).

1. For non-keeper leagues, NEVER consummate a Week 12-or-later trade with a team that’s already out of playoff contention.
2. For non-keeper leagues, NEVER trade an injured player who’s rumored to be done for the season — without the other owner having full knowledge of it.
3. NEVER block or veto another owner’s fair and reasonable trade — IF only to prevent them from improving in the standings.

Week 12: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers @ Detroit
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Green Bay
3. Tony Romo vs. Miami
4. Drew Brees vs. N.Y. Giants
5. Eli Manning @ New Orleans
6. Cam Newton @ Indianapolis
7. Christian Ponder @ Atlanta
8. Tom Brady @ Philadelphia
9. Michael Vick vs. New England

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. LeSean McCoy vs. New England
2. Marshawn Lynch vs. Washington
3. Arian Foster @ Jacksonville
4. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Houston
5. Ray Rice vs. San Francisco
6. Jonathan Stewart @ Indianapolis
7. Cedric Benson vs. Cleveland
8. Chris Johnson vs. Tampa Bay
9. Michael Turner vs. Minnesota
10. Michael Bush vs. Chicago

Cedric BensonICONBenson could be in line for a big game on Sunday.

It’s A Largely Known Fact …
That in his four-year Bengals career, RB Cedric Benson (663 total yards, 4 TDs in 2011) has enjoyed the most success against the Browns — when grouped in with AFC North foes. Against the Steelers, spanning six games, Benson has averaged 64 total yards and 0.33 TDs. Against the Ravens, spanning six games, Benson has averaged 76 total yards and 0.33 TDs; and when facing Cleveland — this week’s opponent — Benson boasts per-game averages of 116 total yards and 0.4 touchdowns.

Running With The Moon
Here is my always-fluid top-40 listing of tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues — from this point forward:
1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (we’re splitting hairs between Shady and the No. 2 stud on this list)
2. Arian Foster, Texans
3. Ray Rice, Ravens
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (ankle injury brings him down a notch or two)
5. Matt Forte, Bears
6. Frank Gore, 49ers
7. Michael Turner, Falcons
8. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys (a primary reason why Dallas should win the NFC East)
9. Steven Jackson, Rams
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (bringing his A-game every week to a D-level offense)
11. Michael Bush, Raiders
12. Chris Johnson, Titans (let’s accept last week’s clunker and move on)
13. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
14. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (just swung a Wednesday trade for him in my homeboys league)
15. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
16. Cedric Benson, Bengals
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders
18. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (fingers crossed on a Week 13/14 return — not feeling it, though)
19. Willis McGahee, Broncos
20. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
21. Ben Tate, Texans (would be a top-15 asset as a starter … pretty much anywhere)
22. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
23. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
24. Chris Ogbonnaya, Browns
24a. Montario Hardesty/Peyton Hillis, Browns (they’re still worth rostering … I think)
25. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
26. Kevin Smith, Lions (will K-Smith rack up 201 yards again? Meh, doubtful)
26a. Jahvid Best, Lions (just like Bradshaw — an injury risk with great December potential)
27. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
C.J. Spiller, Bills (opportunity knocks … after Fred Jackson‘s season-ending injury)
30. Mark Ingram, Saints
31. Jackie Battle, Chiefs
32. Darren Sproles, Saints (recent regression fuels drop in rankings)
33. Joseph Addai, Colts
33a. Donald Brown, Colts (I didn’t have the cobbles to list him as a RB “lock” against Carolina)
34. Shonn Greene, Jets
35. James Starks, Packers
36. Pierre Thomas, Saints
37. Felix Jones, Cowboys
38. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
39. Kendall Hunter, 49ers
40. Roy Helu, Redskins

YouTube Memory Lane
Here’s my pre-holiday way of spreading more YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1970s and 80s:

1. 1978The NFL Today‘s Brent Musburger directs traffic while handling halftime-highlights duty for the 1 p.m. games. A few things stand out from this early-November clip: The charmingly archaic scoreboard wall, Jayne Kennedy‘s awkward tease for the Tom Landry-Don Shula piece and Packers punter David Beverly‘s whiffed punt against the Eagles. How is that blown kick not in every NFL Films ‘Follies’ show?

2. 1979 — CBS provides blanket postgame coverage of the Cowboys’ 28-0 road rout of the Rams in the 1978 NFC title game (played on Jan. 7, 1979). From Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder installing Pittsburgh as an early favorite in Super Bowl XIII to Pat Summerall and Frank Glieber getting tremendous access into the Dallas locker room … this clip is one for the books! (Check out legendary Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman, aka Dr. Z waiting for the Cowboys players and coaches to settle into the locker room.) My favorite part: Just seconds after Summerall laments how Rams fans must be devastated from the blowout home defeat … a cheerful blonde smiles and heartily waves for the CBS cameras, as if she was leaving a Beach Boys concert. Good stuff!

3. 1983Monday Night Football: Here’s an excellent opening from Howard Cosell for Cowboys-Vikings — the final game of the strike-shortened 1982 season (played on Jan. 3, 1983). Cosell details the Metrodome roof collapse from four days prior … and the subsequent lightning-speed repairs to the stadium just before kickoff. (Which begs the question: Why did it take so long to fix the roof from last year’s collapse?) Aside from the Metrodome troubles, there are two major storylines to follow: In the pregame, Ahmad Rashad confirms his injury-hastened retirement from the NFL (and new job at NBC). During the game, Tony Dorsett rushes for a 99-yard touchdown … prompting the memorable Don Meredith quote: 99 yards … and a half!

4. 1983 — Here’s the second half of a seemingly innocuous game between the Giants and Falcons. (New York wins in OT.) This clip is endearing for a few reasons:
1) This is the only time I can recall iconic announcers Jack Buck and John Madden working in tandem. ( Summerall must have been handling U.S. Open tennis duties for CBS on that day.)
2) Madden states his preference for Scott Brunner over Phil Simms/Jeff Rutledge in the Giants’ three-man QB competition.
3) Check out the awkward football design for old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta (my adopted hometown). Today, the old pitch is the wine-and-cheese-crowd-endorsed parking lot for Turner Field (and baseball’s Atlanta Braves).
4) This game served as Bill Parcells‘ first victory as an NFL head coach … and only one of three wins for the ’83 season. Can you imagine if Parcells had been fired after going 3-11-1? Who knows if he ever gets another shot at leading an NFL team? And for that matter, what happens to linebackers coach Bill Belichick‘s career trajectory — if Parcells gets booted after one year?

5. 1985 — Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple gets clobbered by Buccaneers defender Scott Bradley … in what proved to be Hipple’s first and last naked bootleg/weak-side rollout while being pinned deep in his own zone. As for Bradley’s bone-crushing, helmet-separating hit … it was perfectly clean!

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson vs. Green Bay
2. Anquan Boldin vs. San Francisco
3. Marques Colston vs. N.Y. Giants
4. Victor Cruz @ New Orleans
5. Brandon Marshall @ Dallas
6. Larry Fitzgerald @ St. Louis
7. Steve Smith @ Indianapolis
8. Dez Bryant vs. Miami
9. Jordy Nelson @ Detroit
11. Damian Williams vs. Tampa Bay (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Matt Bryant vs. Minnesota
2. Mason Crosby @ Detroit
3. David Akers @ Baltimore
4. Dan Bailey vs. Miami
5. John Kasay vs. N.Y. Giants
6. Josh Brown vs. Arizona

Target Practice
Here are the 27 wideouts who have accrued at least 30 receiving targets since Week 7 (at least 6 per game):
1. Brandon Lloyd, Rams — 61 targets
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 49 targets
3. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 47 targets
4. Anquan Boldin, Ravens — 45 targets
5. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 45 targets
6. Vincent Jackson, Chargers — 44
7. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 41
8. Victor Cruz, Giants — 41
9. Greg Little, Browns — 40
10. Roddy White, Falcons — 40
11. Steve Breaston, Chiefs — 38
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 38
13. Torrey Smith, Ravens — 38
14. Dez Bryant, Cowboys — 36
15. Steve Smith, Panthers — 36
16. Mike Williams, Buccaneers — 35
17. Jabar Gaffney, Redskins — 34
18. Sidney Rice, Seahawks — 34
19. Damian Williams, Titans — 34
20. Pierre Garcon, Colts — 33
21. Andre Caldwell, Bengals — 31
22. Early Doucet, Cardinals — 31
23. Andre Roberts, Cardinals — 31
24. Plaxico Burress, Jets — 30
25. Laurent Robinson, Cowboys — 30
26. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 30
27. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 30

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 12:
QB Drew Brees
RB Arian Foster
RB LeSean McCoy
WR Marques Colston
WR Larry Fitzgerald
RB/WR Cedric Benson
TE Rob Gronkowski
PK Dan Bailey (Cowboys)
D/ST Seattle Seahawks

Andrew LuckICONAndrew Luck as the first overall pick? Sounds about right.

One Big Lookahead
We’re roughly 156 days away from the 2012 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a quick peek at who may go where — even though things will change greatly AFTER the November/December games … all-star classics in January … scouting combine in February … crush of media hype in March … and hilarious games of Franchise Draft Chicken in April. To wit, here’s the first of many mock drafts, courtesy of FOXSports.com’s Peter Schrager:

1. Indianapolis: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. St. Louis: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
3. Miami: QB Matt Barkley, USC
4. Carolina: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
5. Minnesota: OT Matt Kalil, USC
6. Washington: QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
7. Seattle: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
8. Philadelphia: DT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
9. Jacksonville: WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
10. Cleveland: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
11. Arizona: OT Jonathan Martin</strong>, Stanford
12. Tampa Bay: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
13. San Diego: DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson
14. Kansas City: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
15. Denver: DT Devon Still, Penn State
16. Tennessee: LB Dont

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Week 11 Revelations

Week 11 Revelations
1. Kevin Smith's rags-to-riches comeback story makes for great holiday-week media copy -- even if it won't necessarily boost his long-term fantasy stock. If the Lions weren't such a pass-heavy outfit (Exhibit A: Matthew Stafford's 335 yards/5 TDs against Carolina), if RB Jahvid Best (concussion) wasn't a good bet

Week 11 Revelations
1. Kevin Smith’s rags-to-riches comeback story makes for great holiday-week media copy — even if it won’t necessarily boost his long-term fantasy stock. If the Lions weren’t such a pass-heavy outfit (Exhibit A: Matthew Stafford‘s 335 yards/5 TDs against Carolina), if RB Jahvid Best (concussion) wasn’t a good bet to return for Week 13, perhaps Smith’s Sunday shakedown against the Panthers (201 total yards, 3 TDs) would be viewed in a different light. But it’s hard to envision this street free agent (in 2010 and 2011) catching opposing defenses off guard for Weeks 12-16 … to the tune of 150 yards and/or multiple touchdowns. Detroit has pass-catching obligations to fill with Calvin Johnson (5 catches, 89 yards; team-high 8 targets), Nate Burleson (7 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (4 catches, 37 yards, 1 TD) before promising 20-plus touches to Smith or Maurice Morris (37 total yards). But that still won’t stop owners from making Smith the No. 1 waiver-wire pickup this week … on the hopes that he’ll become the next out-of-nowhere asset to carry flawed teams to a fantasy title. Just like Jerome Harrison did with Cleveland in 2009 (561 rushing yards, 5 TDs in three games) — the same Harrison whose unplanned absence from the Lions’ active roster last month (brain tumor) paved the way for Smith’s second tour-of-duty with Detroit.

Vincent JacksonVincent Jackson exploded against the Bears on Sunday.

2. If only fantasy owners had the chutzpah to start Vincent Jackson every other week. It has been since December 2009 — spanning 16 games — when Jackson (7 catches, 165 yards, 1 TD; team-high 9 targets vs. Chicago) last registered back-to-back 100-yard games; and yet, no one seems to question his status as a permanent starter in 12-team leagues or semi-regular lock for the minimum star threshold of 110 yards and/or one touchdown. Along those lines, no one seems concerned about the Chargers’ real-world tailspin (five straight losses) and its fantasy effect on QB Philip Rivers (280 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs). Here’s why: For every ill-advised San Diego punt/kick to Devin Hester, giving Chicago excellent field position … for every baffling Rivers interception that sets up opposing teams for a quick score, it serves as yet another chance for the Chargers offense to right a previous wrong and pile up the yardage. That’s why, during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16, GMs must believe that RB Ryan Mathews (51 total yards), RB Mike Tolbert (38 total yards), WR Vincent Brown (1 catch, 8 yards) and TE Antonio Gates (4 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD) will bring the wood in December. With four fair-weather games during that time (three in warm climates, one indoors) … it’s a low-risk leap of faith for everyone involved.

3. Torrey Smith will be a November-December handful for any NFL defense that doesn’t deploy bump-and-run coverage. Officially, Smith may not be the fastest player in the league (Chris Johnson?), but try rationalizing that to the helpless defenders of the Bengals secondary after Torrey’s lightning-fast devastation (6 catches, 165 yards, 1 TD). Not bad for a kid who routinely plays the role of Option #3 when RB Ray Rice (147 total yards, 2 TDs) and WR Anquan Boldin (1 TD) are actively involved in the offensive game plan. It also speaks to the substantial improvement of QB Joe Flacco (270 yards passing, 2 TDs), in the wake of his Week 7 meltdown against the Jags. In a short period of time, Flacco has helped make Smith a weekly flex consideration in 12-team leagues (regardless of scoring) and a stealth home-run pick for owners who desperately need upside on a particular Sunday. Looking at the calendar, Smith’s next day of fantasy reckoning (something like 120 yards/2 TDs) could come at Week 14 against the feckless Colts.

4. There may be no stopping the Victor Cruz Fantasy Train To Unheralded Success. It blows the mind to think of the fantasy all-star team one could have acquired without the use of a single draft pick from Rounds 1-10: Cam Newton, DeMarco Murray, Willis McGahee, Ben Tate, Jordy Nelson, Eric Decker, Jake Ballard and of course Cruz, whose 44 catches, 783 yards, 72 targets and five TDs since Week 3 merit a top-10 ranking amongst receivers. And while it helps his case that RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and WR Hakeem Nicks (3 catches, 69 yards vs. Philly) have been battling injuries all season, Cruz (6 catches, 128 yards, 1 TD on Sunday) has easily morphed into one of football’s best WR2s and arguably Eli Manning‘s favorite target during crunch time — two observation-based facts that shall be noted before Wednesday’s trade deadlines. Here’s another thing to remember before the wheeling-and-dealing madness begins: If Brandon Jacobs (32 total yards) was such a perfect fit against the Eagles’ suspect run defense, how did he garner only 15 touches on the night, sans Bradshaw? It’s enough for fantasy GMs to wonder if rookie runner Da’Rel Scott is in line for sizable reps in the coming weeks.

Michael BushMichael Bush has been one of the fantasy world’s top producers since Darren McFadden went down.

5. Darren McFadden owners should move heaven and earth to acquire Michael Bush this week. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Web. But is it possible that McFadden incurred a mid-foot sprain in Week 7 (Lisfranc injury?) and serves as a prime candidate for season-ending surgery? Is it possible the Raiders are squatting on an atomic bomb of big news until January? If not, what other explanation could be given for a star runner who didn’t break his foot (or toe) being sidelined for the last four weeks … with no timetable for return in the offing? The above worry-rant is precisely why any owner connected to Bush (129 total yards, 1 TD vs. Minnesota) would be crazy to trade him, without getting a star-laden haul in return. Bush is a top-10 back in standard-scoring and Points Per Reception leagues in McFadden’s stead — especially with QB Carson Palmer (164 yards passing, 1 TD) having no go-to receiver in a pinch. Do you know how many ankles have been broken in recent weeks with people jumping off the bandwagons of Darrius Heyward-Bey (4 catches, 43 yards), Chaz Schilens (1 catch, 11 yards, 1 TD) and now Denarius Moore (1 catch, 14 yards; only 2 targets)? Here’s a reminder of something we already knew: Oakland is a run-first, run-second club; hence, your desire to keep (or trade for) Bush at (essentially) any cost.

6. Cam Newton is the fantasy gift that keeps on giving — even on sour days. OK, so maybe Newton (317 total yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs vs. Detroit) threw for only one score and posted a career-high in interceptions; and maybe he played a prominent role in Carolina surrendering a 17-point half lead and not earning its first road victory of the season. But on the bright side — the fantasy side (duh) — Newton helped both Jonathan Stewart (109 total yards) and DeAngelo Williams (105 total yards) crack the century mark in yards … and guided four different pass-catchers — Stewart, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Legedu Naanee — to 40-plus receiving yards. Bottom line: Slowly but surely, and sometimes painfully, the Panthers are evolving into a balanced attack, one that maximizes Smith/Stewart/Williams’ diverse talents between the 20s and then feeds off Newton’s uncanny nose for the end zone to finish drives. Through 10 games, Newton (9 rushing TDs) has eclipsed the minimum star threshold of 275 total yards and/or three TDs eight times, clinching his top-7 standing among quarterbacks. In other words, there will likely be no ‘Rookie Wall’ for this no-brainer starter in 10- or 12-team leagues.

Revelations, Book II
7. The Caleb Hanie era has started in Chicago — like it or not. The news of Jay Cutler‘s broken thumb and likely need for surgery was a crushing blow to Cutler and Matt Forte owners, so much that Forte (81 total yards vs. San Diego) is no longer an automatic lock for the minimum star threshold of 120 total yards and/or two TDs; and whatever mojo that Johnny Knox (3 catches, 97 yards, 1 TD) and Earl Bennett (3 catches, 75 yards; team-high 9 targets) accrued on Sunday has been washed away, as well. With Hanie (66 career passing yards in two-plus seasons) running the offense, everything essentially starts from scratch. Yes, Forte and Marion Barber (23 rushing yards, 1 TD) should get more looks, and maybe backup receiver Dane Sanzenbacher incurs a scout-team fantasy bump from the Cutler-to-Hanie transition … but there’s no guarantee that Hanie (a hero of sorts in last year’s NFC title game) will be on commensurate fantasy levels of Alex Smith or even Tyler Palko.

Michael CrabtreeICONHere comes Michael Crabtree.

8. Michael Crabtree’s maturation as a bankable fantasy asset is nearly complete. It’s common knowledge that Crabtree (7 catches, 120 yards vs. Arizona) sits third on the 49ers’ fantasy food chain, behind RB Frank Gore (94 total yards) and TE Vernon Davis (6 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD); but no one knows if Crabtree is actually OK with that arrangement. Yes, the kid has demonstrated some diva tendencies in previous years, and yes, clunkers like last week’s 1-catch outing against the Giants remain fresh in the mind; but from a mental and physical standpoint, Crabtree might have reached the point where 100-yard games and 10 weekly targets are demanded. Perhaps he’s finally ready to dominate the scene. After all, it’s not like the Niners are going to lean on Braylon Edwards (zero catches) or Kyle Williams (5 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD) during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16 — even if San Francisco has three easy clashes with St. Louis, Arizona and Seattle. It’s Gore, Crabtree, Davis (10 targets), QB Alex Smith (284 total yards, 2 TDs) and nothing more … which is weird to say about a viable Super Bowl contender.

9. Only Ice Bowl-like conditions at Lambeau can stop Jordy Nelson from killing it during the fantasy playoffs. We could chalk up Greg Jennings‘ Sunday disappearance (2 catches, 7 yards) to the Aqib Talib Effect or the Packers’ willingness to jump-start a middling running game (James Starks racked up 91 total yards before spraining a knee). But the most plausible answer might be one that seemed inconceivable just six weeks ago: Jordy Nelson is Green Bay’s best non-QB playmaker. In his last five games, Nelson (6 catches, 123 yards, 2 TDs vs. Tampa Bay) has amassed 22 catches, 457 yards and six TDs — numbers that surpass Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Wes Welker in that span and re-confirm Aaron Rodgers‘ brilliance in any kind of weather. Speaking of which, a certain fantasy guru needs to stop discounting Rodgers’ potential during the blustery-weather period of Thanksgiving to the first Sunday of 2012. There’s a reason why Rodgers (327 total yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) is a lock for NFL MVP; there’s a reason why the Packers are cruising at 10-0 (and 16 straight overall); and there’s a reason why Rodgers will be the No. 1 pick for NFL-playoff fantasy leagues come January. He’s the rare fantasy Godzilla who meets or exceeds the hype every single week.

10. Who needs Manning, Brady or Vick for the fantasy playoffs when Andy Dalton can bring home a title, too? The bolded proclamation has less to do with Dalton’s ambitious outing against the Ravens (405 total yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) … and everything to do with the Bengals’ fortuitous schedule for Weeks 15 (@ STL) and 16 (vs. ARI). How can a high-end rookie who racked up 373 passing yards against one of the NFL’s best defenses, without A.J. Green, possibly fail against two NFC West pretenders? It’s the type of easy-cheesy slate that should motivate risk-taking GMs to deal Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger before the trade deadline — getting an elite back or receiver in return — and put all their championship stock into Dalton’s capable hands. Of course, it remains to be seen if WR Jerome Simpson‘s monster day (8 catches, 152 yards; team-high 13 targets) was the result of Green’s one-game absence (knee), or the red-zone viability of RB Cedric Benson (41 rushing yards, 2 TDs)? Or both. Or maybe Simpson (either 100 yards receiving or 1 TD in his last four games) just grew weary of being lauded one week … and a huge disappointment the next.

11. Sunday’s Jags-Browns clash was a study in fantasy roadkill … and one more example of NFL Red Zone‘s versatility. If we could get Factory of Sadness Guy to stand outside Jacksonville’s EverBank Field and replicate his Browns rant from two weeks ago … then we’d have all the bases covered with the two worst teams in fantasyland. Outside of Maurice Jones-Drew (118 total yards, 1 TD), there’s not one speck of usefulness with the Jags — including Blaine Gabbert (210 yards passing, zero TDs), WR Jason Hill (3 catches, 49 yards), WR Mike Thomas (3 catches, 23 yards; 11 targets) and even TE Marcedes Lewis, who established season-highs in catches (7) and receiving yards (64) on Sunday. (Ouch.) The same holds true for the Browns, especially if Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis (possible Week 12 returnees) can successfully cut into the touches of third-string RB Chris Ogbonnaya (134 total yards, 1 TD vs. Jacksonville). At this point, perhaps Cleveland should run the ball 50 times a game — splitting carries amongst Hillis, Hardesty and Ogbonnaya — before letting the goal-line defense seal the victory.

12. Let’s keep the Dolphins’ 35-point explosion against the Bills in perspective. Not to be the cousin of Debbie Downer here, but how did Miami roll for 35 points and a 27-point spread on only 242 total yards … and one catch for Brandon Marshall (5 yards)? It’s almost like the imploding Bills were waiting for the first sign of trouble before packing it in against the Dolphins, who saw modest gains from QB Matt Moore (160 yards passing, 3 TDs), Reggie Bush (66 total yards, 1 TD), RB Daniel Thomas (50 total yards), WR Davone Bess (2 catches, 25 yards, 1 TD) and fullback Charles Clay (4 catches, 69 yards, 1 TD) in their third straight win. But since this is a fantasy column, it’s best to focus on Marshall’s prospects for the stretch run: Sunday’s 1-catch, 3-target snoozefest may have come at a perfect time, as savvy owners now have wiggle room to acquire Marshall (54 catches, 747 yards, 2 TDs in 2011) for pennies on the dollar … even though he was the fantasy equal to Anquan Boldin, Jeremy Maclin, Roddy White and Vincent Jackson heading into Week 11.

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Let’s make a deal

Trade Deadline Rules To Live By
Welcome to the biggest 6-day frenzy of the fantasy season -- the precious 140-hour window before the Week 12 trade deadline ... which, for most people, occurs on Nov. 23 (Thanksgiving Eve). Simply put, this period could easily be the difference between making/missing the playoffs or

Trade Deadline Rules To Live By
Welcome to the biggest 6-day frenzy of the fantasy season — the precious 140-hour window before the Week 12 trade deadline … which, for most people, occurs on Nov. 23 (Thanksgiving Eve). Simply put, this period could easily be the difference between making/missing the playoffs or winning/losing a league championship. Here are seven essential tenets for pre-deadline success:

1. Never approve a same-position deal (WR-for-WR, RB-for-RB, etc.), unless it’s a blowout in your favor. Think about it: When Owner B offers you Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (2 TDs last week) for Titans RB Chris Johnson (284 total yards, 1 TD in his last two games) … he/she is essentially sending this hidden message: Johnson will get more overall points than Mendy … and since overall points are the only thing that matter in fantasy football, perhaps you’ll be foolish enough to make the move. Even if you’re slightly more confident that Mendenhall will post better finishing numbers than Johnson, what’s your motivation for doing the deed? There’s been no substantial roster upgrade, no viable handcuff opportunity in case of injury and the emotional connection to a highly coveted draftee from August would be lost. Plus, Johnson has the most fantasy-friendly schedule of any stud running back from Weeks 11-16 (@ ATL, vs. TB, @ BUF, vs. NO, @ IND, vs. JAX) … which is probably why Owner B broached the deal in the first place.

If Owner B is truly serious about prying Johnson from your RB-heavy squad, subtly steer them in the direction of stud receivers like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace or elite QBs Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning. Be militant — but diplomatic — about this seemingly routine negotiation … and you’ll walk away richer from the experience.

Felix JonesICONFelix Jones is back, but in a supporting role.

2. Never surrender a full-time fantasy starter for a part-time starter … unless it’s for DeMarco Murray. I remain skeptical that Dallas will suddenly put Murray (601 rushing yards since Week 7) into an awkward timeshare with Felix Jones (ankle), justifying the old adage that a starter never loses his job to injury. Sure, Felix will get a few touches here and there, but the Cowboys’ recent run of good luck (3-1) started when Murray humbly took center stage and electrified a once-stagnant offense with carries that often yielded chunks of yards at a time. No right-minded team, especially one that’s currently outside the playoff picture, would turn its back on that type of all-world production … just to satisfy a talented (but erratic) back who’s returning from injury. Perhaps Murray will flame out next season, not unlike Jerome Harrison did with the Browns after a scorched-earth finish to 2009 (561 rushing yards, 5 TDs in three games); but right now, the Dallas coaches should feel obligated to blindly, brazenly ride Murray’s hot streak as long as possible — including through the playoffs. I’m sure QB Tony Romo (only three incompletions last week) wouldn’t mind one bit.

3. Actively seek out the owner who’s one player away from making the playoffs or winning a championship — even if you’re on the brink of a title, too. Short of having top-3-rated players at every position, fantasy GMs should NEVER stop trying to improve their playoff roster, particularly the starters; and sometimes, establishing a Cold War alliance with another superpower is the best avenue for shrewd wheeling-and-dealing. Appeal to Owner B’s need to bolster their receiving corps with Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, or how they simply can’t reach the Fantasy Bowl without a QB upgrade from Josh Freeman, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jay Cutler. Keep driving home the point that a win-win blockbuster trade will surely get both clubs to the Week 16 championship round … and anything that happens after that is a matter of luck anyway. Bottom line: You don’t have to like every owner in your league to make a great trade … just respect ’em enough to create the opportunity.

4. Do your homework, dammit! I’m always chagrined with owners who pose lazy questions on Twitter like, Who should I trade Drew Brees for? or Which top-10 running back should I trade for down the stretch? These queries are usually the calling card of a fantasy owner who hasn’t taken the time to look at their league rosters/standings … as a means of figuring out:

1) Which playoff hopeful needs a quarterback for the final six weeks?
2) Which owner desperately needs a victory this week — and cannot afford to be saddled with byes to Houston, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Indy?
3) Is there a way I could block a title contender from making a momentum-changing trade?
4) Which owner requires a serious talent infusion — courtesy of a 3-for-1 or 4-for-2 trade — and can no longer afford to keep Aaron Rodgers, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster or Calvin Johnson?

Ray RiceHow much would Ray Rice fetch on the open market?

5. Be the instigator in trade talks. Let’s pretend your 5-5 squad features Mike Wallace, Ray Rice, Cam Newton, Jimmy Graham, but little else, and the only way to make a serious run for the playoffs involves dealing a superstar. To maximize your return, try posting a short, sweet and non-specific message to every owner saying, “Rice, Wallace, Newton and Graham are available. Only serious offers will be considered before the deadline.” As soon as two or three attractive offers come down the pipe (assuming the other owners care about their rosters), you’re in position to play each participating owner against one another — keeping them on the hook through personalized IMs or emails. What’s the point of this dance? Divide and conquer. (duh)

6. There’s nothing wrong with exploiting friendships to make mutually beneficial trades before the deadline. Ever hear of the “1-4 vs. 2-3 Method” for trading … or The Big Schmooze? Simply put, this involves a 2-for-2 swap where Owner A gives up the best player (#1) and worst player (#4), while Owner B surrenders the second- and third-best players (#2, #3). In real terms, say I wanted to ship either Eli Manning/Matthew Stafford to a friend who needs an elite QB and has solid depth at receiver. I would simply give him/her one premium quarterback (Manning) and one respectable WR (Stevie Johnson) for one premium WR with slightly less value than Eli (Brandon Marshall) and one solid emergency starter at QB (Matt Ryan). The result: A win-win trade for both parties, satisfying two weaknesses. (Note: The 1-4 vs. 2-3 Method works for any positional trade combination — just make sure Owner A is clearly forsaking the best and worst players in the swap.)

7. Always be willing to sacrifice talent on the bench for a proven star. In the SI.com & Friends league, where I’m knee-deep in high-quality running backs (LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Michael Bush, Mark Ingram) and possess strong receivers (Marshall, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson, Michael Crabtree), I am fully committed to the notion of giving up Bush, Mathews, Bowe and Crabtree for Ray Rice, Arian Foster OR Adrian Peterson — as part of a 4-for-1 megadeal. The message here: The blockbuster deal is a moral imperative at the trade deadline … because, as we all know, bench depth means jack squat once the playoffs begin.

Week 11: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Tampa Bay
2. Eli Manning vs. Philadelphia
3. Cam Newton @ Detroit
4. Tom Brady vs. Kansas City
5. Carson Palmer @ Minnesota
6. Philip Rivers @ Chicago
7. Matthew Stafford vs. Carolina

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice vs. Cincinnati
2. Adrian Peterson vs. Oakland
3. DeMarco Murray @ Washington
4. Chris Johnson @ Atlanta
5. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Cleveland
6. Michael Bush @ Minnesota
7. Steven Jackson vs. Seattle
8. Matt Forte vs. San Diego
9. LeSean McCoy @ N.Y. Giants
10. Marshawn Lynch @ St. Louis
11. Shonn Greene @ Denver

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Week 10 Revelations

Week 10 Revelations
1. Who needs Andre Johnson when you can bludgeon teams with Arian Foster? Should we attribute the Texans' scintillating run to a 7-3 record -- largely without the help of Johnson -- to zen-like patience or a successful bout of riverboat gambling? Either way, Houston should be commended for

Week 10 Revelations
1. Who needs Andre Johnson when you can bludgeon teams with Arian Foster? Should we attribute the Texans’ scintillating run to a 7-3 record — largely without the help of Johnson — to zen-like patience or a successful bout of riverboat gambling? Either way, Houston should be commended for giving Johnson a full eight weeks to recover from a hamstring injury and get ready for the stretch run … which may include an easy jaunt to the AFC South title. Not only is Foster (186 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Tampa Bay) the No. 1 tailback in fantasyland right now, he’s also the Texans’ best receiver (4 catches, 102 yards Sunday) — a declaration that undoubtedly pleases backup rushers Ben Tate (87 total yards, 1 TD), Derrick Ward (36 total yards, 1 TD) and QB Matt Schaub (242 yards passing, 2 TDs on only 11 completions) … who hardly broke a sweat in Houston’s 28-point road rout. Foster’s ascension may also comfort Jacoby Jones (2 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD), Owen Daniels (3 catches, 31 yards) and Kevin Walter (1 catch, 6 yards) — none of whom will see double teams again once Johnson hits the the ground running for Week 12. (On Monday evening, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Matt Schaub is out for the season with a foot fracture.)

DeMarco MurrayDeMarco Murray continues to roll up RB1 numbers for owners.

2. DeMarco Murray has the stuff to carry a struggling fantasy team to a title. It’s gotten to the point where Murray is no longer a fantasy Flavor of the Month, or even a guy who should fear for his job once the previous starter (Felix Jones) returns to the field. For four straight games, Murray (171 total yards, 1 TD vs. Buffalo) has been a top-five playmaker; in that span, Murray has also done enough to evoke realistic comparisons to Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett, while lending credence to the Cowboys’ Super Bowl aspirations over the next few seasons. And yet, there’s still some trepidation about his fantasy prospects in the short term: Can Murray be a top-5 back when sharing the spotlight with QB Tony Romo (270 yards passing, 3 TDs), WR Dez Bryant (6 catches, 74 yards, 1 TD), TE Jason Witten (5 catches, 37 yards), Miles Austin (out with hamstring injury) and Austin’s current successor, Laurent Robinson (3 catches, 73 yards, 2 TDs)? That’s a lot of playmaking mouths to feed every week; and we can’t assume that Dallas will post 433 total yards every game. Correct? After all, the Bills only adorn the Cowboys’ schedule once in a four-year cycle.

3. Are you not entertained by Matthew Stafford … even on his worst day ever? Here’s where it’s necessary to qualify the distinction between real-world and fantasy football: Yes, Stafford threw four brutal interceptions — including back-to-back pick-sixes in the third quarter — and in many respects, the Lions resembled a fraternity flag football team that had already tapped a second keg. And yet, no one should be demoralized by Stafford’s 329 yards passing (on 63 pass attempts!) and one TD … or the upside to Calvin Johnson‘s seven catches for 81 yards (19 targets!). And GMs from 12- and 14-team leagues should relish the potential viability of pass-catchers Nate Burleson (8 catches, 83 yards), Titus Young (7 catches, 74 yards) and Brandon Pettigrew (5 catches, 38 yards) — all of whom drew nine targets — when thinking of short-term replacements for Week 11, the NFL’s last bye. As for Stafford, there’s no way to sugarcoat Sunday’s meltdown, so why bother? For one day, broken finger and all, the kid channeled his inner-Scott Mitchell and looked nothing of a top-10 asset at his position. But hey, it’s only one game it’s not like you’re going to bench him against Carolina, Green Bay, New Orleans or Minnesota from Weeks 11-14.

4. Rob Gronkowski isn’t ceding anything to Jimmy Graham in the race for Fantasy Tight End of the Year. As stellar as Graham (62 catches, 873 yards, 6 TDs) has been with the Saints, Gronkowski (8 catches, 113 yards, 2 TDs on Sunday) has been the class of his position in recent weeks, collecting 30 catches, 382 yards, three TDs and 42 targets in the last four games. He’s also the Patriots’ redoubtable star in the red zone, an occurrence that should alleviate any concerns about Tom Brady (329 yards passing, 3 TDs) for the stretch run, even if it slightly deflates the values of WR Wes Welker (6 catches, 68 yards), WR Deion Branch (5 catches, 58 yards, 1 TD) or TE Aaron Hernandez (4 catches, 41 yards). Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (8 yards) also took a hit against the Jets, unless you thought his chances of repeating the 139-yard, 2-TD day effort from Week 5 weren’t strong (like yours truly). Bottom line: Neither Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead nor rookie Stevan Ridley should be viewed as anything more than flex starters for November and December; they’re part of a dynamic offense that unabashedly defines “balance” as equal touches for tight ends and receivers.

5. Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson have relatively clear paths to fantasy success for the stretch run. OK, so maybe Jackson (151 total yards on Sunday) will encounter a few obstacles against the Niners (the No. 1-ranked defense against the run) on Dec. 4; but at this point of the season, no team is a lock to contain Jackson (484 total yards, 3 TDs since Week 8) when he’s healthy, explosive and primed to take advantage of the low-key help that QB Sam Bradford (155 yards passing, 1 TD) and WR Brandon Lloyd (4 catches, 48 yards, 1 TD) provide. The same holds true for Chris Johnson (174 total yards, 1 TD on 31 touches): If Titans WR Damian Williams (5 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD) and QB Matt Hasselbeck (240 total yards, 1 TD) can absorb some of the heat, Johnson (back-to-back 100-yard games) easily has the most fantasy-friendly schedule of any running back from Weeks 11-16 — so much that he’s a healthy lock for the minimum star threshold of 120 total yards and/or two TDs at every turn. Simply put, it’s not too late to do whatever’s necessary to land him, via trade.

6. Thank goodness this is a fantasy column … otherwise we’d be required to mention the Falcons’ 4th-and-inches meltdown in overtime. As someone who detests the Wussification Of America in today’s politically correct culture, it’d be hypocritical to lampoon Falcons coach Mike Smith for riding his gut and going for it on 4th down — deep in Atlanta territory. I’ll just ask one question before moving on to Harry Douglas: Was that your best can’t-miss, bread-and-butter play for Michael Turner? Regarding Douglas (8 catches, 133 yards; team-high 14 targets), he may have been the fantasy equivalent of The Invisible Man prior to Sunday’s game … but with Roddy White struggling (19 of 20 games without 100 yards receiving) and Julio Jones aching once again (hamstring), Douglas has a golden chance to be an underrated star during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16. Think about it: As long as Matt Ryan (351 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT), Turner (106 total yards), White (4 catches, 62 yards) and Tony Gonzalez (6 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD; 10 targets) are on the field for the Falcons (30 first downs against the Saints) … Douglas will never draw double coverage and will be very dangerous on medium-range and deep crossing routes. Bottom line: In auction leagues, Douglas is worth up to 50 percent of your remaining bidding bucks for free-agent waivers — especially in PPRs.

Revelations, Book II
7. Larry Fitzgerald is Exhibit A as to why fantasy owners should never bench healthy studs. Let’s keep this one short and sweet: Unless Ed Asner or Mickey Rooney are under center for the Cardinals, you don’t sit supremely talented, eminently bankable talents like Fitzgerald (7 catches, 146 yards, 2 TDs; team-high 13 targets) — on the road, in a snowstorm, on a cement playground or against top-notch cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. You’re simply wasting 20 points on the proverbial bench every week. Obviously, Fitzgerald is prone to the occasional bad day at the office; but even then, it’s up to random QBs like John Skelton (310 yards passing, 3 TDs, 2 INTs vs. Philly) to continually feed the bulldog, in hopes that a fortuitous tipped pass at the goal line will result in a crazy Fitzgerald touchdown. On the flip side, non-Fitz owners should feel emboldened to take a trade risk on him, as well. He’s a lock for 100 total yards/1 TD three times in the next six weeks.

Frank GoreICONWith Frank Gore (above) banged up, Kendall Hunter will become a hot commodity on waivers this week.

8. Kendall Hunter may be the most coveted free agent this week. Seriously. Even if Frank Gore‘s early exit from a twisted knee was a precautionary move — have you heard the 49ers can clinch the NFC West before Thanksgiving? — it still feeds the perception that Fragile Frank will struggle to finish the season in one piece. Enter Hunter (1 TD on Sunday), whose future value goes deeper than a pedestrian 44 yards against the Giants: If Gore should miss any games down the stretch, Hunter could step right in and be a threat for 90 total yards and/or one TD every week — with big-time numbers slotted for Week 14 against Arizona. You know who’s not a threat for 90 yards every Sunday? Tight end Delanie Walker (6 catches, 69 yards; team-high 7 targets) … but only because Vernon Davis (3 catches, 40 yards, 1 TD) roams the turf at Candlestick Park and the ultra-conservative 49ers have yet to entrust QB Alex Smith (269 total yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) with 35 passes in a game this year — a smart move, considering Braylon Edwards, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Michael Crabtree combined for seven catches and 105 yards against New York.

9. Not even LeSean McCoy can save the Eagles’ sinking ship. If Vince Young had never dropped an ill-advised ‘Dream Team’ tag on the Eagles wayyyyyyyyy back in August, would the national media still cover Philly’s implosion with the dogged spirit of a title contender? Or would McCoy’s 9-game TD streak be enough to overshadow a soul-crushing season? While the fantasy world looks to Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Aaron Rodgers for salvation — and rightfully so — McCoy (1,102 total yards, 12 TDs) might hold the most reasonable trade value for GMs who need a blockbuster deal to make the playoffs or complete their championship puzzle. Yes, McCoy has been a consistent force in PPR and standard-scoring leagues, but he also has to fight (figuratively speaking) Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, Brent Celek and Michael Vick (207 total yards, zero TDs) for touches — although Maclin (injury) and Jackson (DNP – coach’s decision) weren’t factors against the Cardinals. With the Week 12 trade deadline looming large, Sunday’s comparatively modest showing might serve as a teeny-tiny window to make a stealth play for McCoy — something in the 2-for-1 neighborhood of Rashard Mendenhall/Greg Jennings or Vincent Jackson/Michael Turner for McCoy.

10. Tim Tebow will neither be celebrated nor disparaged in this column — all season. Is there a right or wrong way to address this, ahem, classic? In one respect, the Broncos should be commended for sticking to their run-heavy game plan and walking out of Arrowhead Stadium with their third victory in four games — all Tebow starts. But on the flip side, there’s nothing positive to glean from Tebow’s 0-for-4 production at halftime, two total completions or 69 yards passing … other than saying the 56-yard TD strike to Eric Decker was a surprising thing of beauty, especially with Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee sidelined to injury then. Which brings us to this: Third-string running back Lance Ball (96 rushing yards) will be a hot commodity on next week’s waiver wire, but do you really want to start a guy who needs Tebow and Decker (team-high 3 targets!) to take pressure off the running attack? The best course of action: Upon grabbing Ball off waivers, immediately flip him into a sizable blockbuster that helps a RB-needy contender … who just happens to be knee-deep in quality receivers.

11. ‘Tis better to remember the versatile excellence of Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch before the trade deadline … but that’s not necessarily the case with Ed Dickson. The bolded intro is not a referendum on Dickson’s Sunday production (10 catches, 79 yards, 2 TDs; team-high 14 targets) or imposing stature within the red zone (6-foot-4); it’s based off our skepticism that Dickson (an Oregon alum) was given a sort-of-homecoming gift by the Ravens coaches in the midweek game plan. After all, what are the chances that Rice (82 total yards, 1 TD; 8 catches) would throw as many touchdowns (1) as QB Joe Flacco (263 total yards) … or that TE Dennis Pitta (4 catches, 49 yards), WR Torrey Smith (3 catches, 28 yards) or Ricky Freaking Williams (3 catches, 24 yards) would tally more receiving yards than Anquan Boldin (2 catches, 22 yards on 9 targets)? It was a surreal day in defeat for Baltimore, which became the latest team to fall prey to the alluring talents of Marshawn Lynch (167 total yards, 1 TD).

Rex GrossmanWhether it be John Beck or Rex Grossman (above), the ‘Skins offense continues to struggle in the points department.

12. The Redskins are only an offensive line and quarterback away from being fantasy-relevant. If we’ve learned anything from the Redskins’ revolving-door competition between Rex Grossman (215 yards passing, zero TDs, 2 INTs on Sunday) and John Beck this season … it’s that both quarterbacks enjoyed mentoring rookies during scout-team practices: Beck loves connecting with Roy Helu (14 catches/17 targets last week) in real-world situations, and Grossman revels in hitting Leonard Hankerson (8 catches, 106 yards) in key spots. So, when choosing whether to ride Helu or Hankerson in the flex spot for Weeks 11 and beyond … look no further than Washington’s starting QB for that particular Sunday. Luckily for Fred Davis (3 catches, 28 yards), he’s a rock-solid safety valve for either Grossman or Beck — although it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be punished for this apparent misstep during the lockout. With Santana Moss out and Tim Hightower/Chris Cooley shelved for the year, Davis is the only ‘Skins veteran worth starting in 12- or 14-team leagues. Sure, you’ll want to roster Jabar Gaffney (3 catches, 37 yards) or Ryan Torain (24 total yards) … but that’s where the experimentation ends. (Editor’s Note: Leonard Hankerson is reportedly done for the year with a torn labrum.)

Revelations, Book III
13. So, this is why Pizza Hut staked its marketing reputation on a horse named Bush. When healthy and not clumsily distancing himself from the Dolphins’ previous failures, Reggie Bush (51 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Washington) is an ideal complement to Brandon Marshall (7 catches, 98 yards; team-high 9 targets) and QB Matt Moore (223 total yards, zero TDs). He’s also a prime example of why fantasy owners should move past RB Daniel Thomas (42 total yards) in any pre-deadline trades. Verdict: Miami may not win any beauty pageants with supporting playmakers like Anthony Fasano (3 catches, 60 yards) or Davone Bess (4 catches, 37 yards) … but the club is savvy enough to maximize Marshall and Bush at every turn — even if their expanded roles in victory don’t pave the way for Andrew Luck or Justin Blackmon becoming franchise game-changers in 2012. The coaches are also sage enough to recognize that Bush (293 total yards, 3 TDs since Week 8) just completed the best three-game statistical run since his rookie year (2006). Respect the hot streak … even the modest ones.

14. A certain fantasy guru might have been too quick to dismiss Marques Colston’s effectiveness after breaking his collarbone. So much for the half-baked thinking that Colston (8 catches, 113 yards vs. Atlanta) would be reluctant to mix it up with opposing defenses just weeks after recovering from a clavicle fracture. Not only is Colston a dynamo in PPR leagues, he’s also the perfect flex option in standards, while allowing for TE Jimmy Graham (7 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD) to flirt with 1,400 receiving yards — the prospective NFL/tight-end equivalent to breaking the sound barrier. Of course, all this glory stems from the ho-hum brilliance of QB Drew Brees (322 yards passing, 2 TDs), who engineered the Saints’ most crucial win of the year on a day when Mark Ingram (14 yards), Pierre Thomas (38 yards) and Darren Sproles combined for only 55 total yards. Speaking of Sproles, let’s throw out his 3-yard performance from Sunday … just like we’re inclined to erase his 107-yard, 2-TD performance from Week 7. By removing his best and worst outings, it’s easier to label Sproles as a RB2 in PPR leagues … but flex-only option in 12-team standard leagues.

Big Ben’s recent TD slump is no reason to panic.

15. Let’s keep Ben Roethlisberger’s recent TD slump in perspective. As viewers of NFL Red Zone can attest, Roethlisberger (245 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT vs. Cincy) barely missed on two passing touchdowns against the Bengals — one because Jerricho Cotchery (2 catches, 29 yards, 1 TD) momentarily paused on a route and one from a behind-the-defense overthrow that Mike Wallace (85 total yards; team-high 10 targets) nearly corralled anyway. So, it’s not like Big Ben (12 outings of zero or one passing TDs in his last 16 games) isn’t close to recapturing his greatness from Week 5 against the Titans (5 TDs); he’s merely playing a secondary role in the red zone to Rashard Mendenhall (70 total yards, 2 TDs), who notched his first multi-TD game this season. Looking ahead to Weeks 15 (@ SF) and 16 (vs. STL), only injuries or blustery winter weather can preclude Roethlisberger from reaching 300 yards and riding athletic gems like Wallace and Antonio Brown (5 catches, 86 yards) to fantasy greatness in December.

16. Maurice Jones-Drew must have a sore back from carrying Jacksonville. It’s not hard to figure out why the Jaguars must scramble to avoid a local TV blackout for 7-8 Sundays every year. Yes, the club has the indomitable Jones-Drew (147 total yards, 1 TD vs. Indy) and a down-the-road potential franchise QB in Blaine Gabbert (118 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT); but what’s the excuse for fielding an eminently forgettable receiving corps? Chastin West (3 catches, 39 yards)? Mike Thomas (1 catch)? Jarett Dillard (2 catches, 30 yards)? Jason Hill (zero catches)? Would any of these wideouts start at Oklahoma State or USC? And how does one explain the disappearance of tight end Marcedes Lewis (1 catch, minus-4 yards), who’s only 35 fewer receptions and 10 touchdowns off last year’s superb pace. Look, no one’s questioning the coaching prowess of Jack Del Rio, who has a knack for making winners out of modestly talented squads. But there’s nothing stopping him or GM Gene Smith from drafting NFL-quality playmakers who don’t line up at nose tackle or defensive end. They’re allowed to pick potential stars on offense, too.

17. Fred Jackson knows how to bring sunshine to a 37-point drubbing. Even if the once-mighty Bills are falling to earth at an alarming speed, it’s good to know Jackson (115 total yards) could satisfy fantasy owners with solid stats … although he must have been super-motivated to score at new Cowboys stadium, built on a plot of land that once served as the boyhood home of Jackson’s family. (Raze The Roof?) Instead, the lone Buffalo touchdown went to WR David Nelson (4 catches, 31 yards, 1 TD), whose ties to Dallas came in the game-ball form of dating one of the Cowboys cheerleaders — a notable accomplishment on its own. In terms of stars for the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16, Jackson stands alone as the Bills’ big cheese. At this point, it’s hard to view QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (146 yards passing, 1 TD, 3 INTs), WR Steve Johnson (2 catches, 8 yards) or WR Scott Chandler (3 catches, 34 yards) as anything more than flex starters in deeper leagues … although it’d behoove Fitzpatrick to embrace the sneaky-good skill set of WR Donald Jones (6 catches, 51 yards; team-high 10 targets). Jones could be an out-of-nowhere difference-maker for the stretch run, not unlike how Steve Johnson burst onto the scene last year.

18. It’s tough to nitpick the Giants, fantasy-wise. OK, so maybe Brandon Jacobs (72 total yards) could have been a bigger factor in the running game Sunday (even though San Francisco hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Gale Sayers — or something like that); and maybe WR Hakeem Nicks (2 catches, 32 yards, 1 TD) could have drawn more than four targets in such a crucial game. But even with the Schedule From Hell in the season’s latter half, Jacobs, Nicks, QB Eli Manning (311 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs), WR Victor Cruz (6 catches, 84 yards; team-high 11 targets) and WR Mario Manningham (6 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD; 10 targets) all deserve weekly starting consideration in 12- and 14-team leagues — at least until Ahmad Bradshaw returns from a foot injury. Interestingly enough, I cannot find one trade suitor for Manning (four 300-yard games in 2011) in the 16-team Fantasy Philanthropist & Friends League … where QBs who complete two passes in a 60-minute window curiously hold greater starting cach

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Passing the buck

A Family Guy-Style Introduction
We had fun last week handing out (meaningless) midseason awards to the biggest and brightest fantasy stars ... and next week's column will go super-heavy on Jedi Mind Tricks to handle the Week 12 Trade Deadline. So, that doesn't leave us much to discuss for today's

A Family Guy-Style Introduction
We had fun last week handing out (meaningless) midseason awards to the biggest and brightest fantasy stars … and next week’s column will go super-heavy on Jedi Mind Tricks to handle the Week 12 Trade Deadline. So, that doesn’t leave us much to discuss for today’s Philanthropist — aside from weekly locks, talking points and one rare window to reveal my Three Biggest Pet Peeves With Other Fantasy Owners.

It Really Grinds My Gears When Fantasy GMs …
1. Consistently waste big-name talent on the bench. By most accounts, Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant and Roddy White have fallen short of sizable preseason expectations. But a quick look at Fantasy Football Today reveals that Fitzgerald (13th), Nicks (17th), Bryant (19th) and White (20th) still garner top-20 rankings amongst wideouts for the season. That means, on any weekend in 12-team leagues, Fitz, Nicks, Bryant and White should essentially be no worse than the WR2 or flex starter for every club. In other words, every Sunday these stars ride the bench before the trade deadline … is a missed opportunity to maximize the long-term value of one’s starting lineup. The same holds true for Philly’s DeSean Jackson: If you are aghast over his middling production for the season (two 100-yard games, zero outings of 7 or more catches), that’s fine. But trade him to somebody who sees that game-breaking, playoff-fate-altering potential in December. Capitalize on Owner B’s utopic perception of a player who’s struggling. Verdict: Having Jackson or Fitzgerald or White languishing on the bench before the deadline serves no purpose for anyone — even if Roddy has only reached the 100-yard mark once in his last 19 games.

DeMarco MurrayCowboys rookie DeMarco Murray has been running wild as of late.

2. Ponder dropping quality running backs for Flavors of the Month at receiver. In the absence of substantial injury, tailbacks with a track record of fantasy success should never get booted from rosters — unless they’re being replaced by the second coming of Eric Dickerson (hint: DeMarco Murray). Most leagues allow GMs to roster up to five or six rushers; and with only four NFL teams being affected by the last remaining bye (Week 11), there aren’t many plausible excuses left for making hard cuts at fantasy’s most valuable position. Sure, Peyton Hillis has been a recurring nightmare for the good people of Cleveland; and yes, QB Curtis Painter should never outrush Indy backs Joseph Addai, Delone Carter, Donald Brown at any time. But even with their noticeable flaws … useful, productive fantasy backs simply don’t grow on trees. The best resolution: Include Hillis, Addai, Cedric Benson or even Chris Johnson into the package of a 2-for-1, 3-for-2 or 4-for-1 blockbuster deal before the deadline. Do everything in your power to maximize their value!

3. Keep three quarterbacks on standard-sized rosters in November. As a passing reference in Point #2, only the Texans, Saints, Colts and Steelers have yet to take their byes (Week 11). So, if you currently own superstars like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton or Eli Manning, what’s your motivation for holding two extra QBs who won’t see the light of day in starting lineups from this point forward — barring injury? Obviously, Stafford (2,179 yards passing, 19 TDs through eight games) has to go through an entire season to prove he’s not “injury-prone” (an absurd label); and East Coasters Manning, Brady, Vick or Green Bay’s Rodgers will surely encounter one or two brutal weather days in the next eight weeks … but that’s no reason to bench ’em. You play your healthy studs during crunch time, no exceptions. As for the bold GMs who house three mediocre quarterbacks, like Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, I understand your mix-and-match, hope-and-pray platoon approach to fantasy success; but it still may be a case of wishful thinking. My advice: Pick the two quarterbacks with the best skeds for Weeks 12-16, and use that extra roster spot for a running back or receiver. Or … make a trade with the one GM who’s been squatting on Matt Ryan for all but one week this season.

Week 10: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Drew Brees @ Atlanta
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota
3. Michael Vick vs. Arizona
4. Cam Newton vs. Tennessee
5. Ben Roethlisberger @ Cincinnati
5. Jay Cutler vs. Detroit
7. Tony Romo vs. Buffalo
8. Matthew Stafford @ Chicago
9. Philip Rivers vs. Oakland

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Indianapolis
2. DeMarco Murray vs. Buffalo
3. Michael Turner vs. New Orleans
4. Arian Foster @ Tampa Bay
5. Ray Rice @ Seattle
6. Matt Forte vs. Detroit
7. LeSean McCoy vs. Arizona
8. Adrian Peterson @ Green Bay
9. Reggie Bush vs. Washington
10. Fred Jackson @ Dallas
11. Cedric Benson vs. Pittsburgh
**Special mention goes to Chargers RB Ryan Mathews … although I’m stopping short of “lock” status

It’s A Little Known Fact …
In his six-year career, Reggie Bush has broken the 100-total-yard mark in consecutive weeks just four times — with the production from Weeks 8/9 (242 total yards, 1 TD) serving as his greatest two-game spurt since rolling for 330 yards and five TDs at Weeks 12/13 in 2006. This all begs the question: Can Bush break new ground and eclipse the century mark for a third straight time? I think so.

The Hands That Built America
Here’s my always-fluid listing of the top-40 wideouts in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions (still the gold standard of WRs … by any measurement)
2. Greg Jennings, Packers (a likely candidate for two TDs against the Vikings)
3. Mike Wallace, Steelers
4. Wes Welker, Patriots
5. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
6. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (double-digit targets in his last four games)
7. Steve Smith, Panthers
8. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
9. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
9a. Andre Johnson, Texans (hard guy to slot … since he may not be back until Week 12)
10. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
11. Marques Colston, Saints (NFL’s receptions leader — among wideouts — since Week 5)
12. Dez Bryant, Cowboys (gets a bump up the rankings, in the wake of Austin’s absence)
13. A.J. Green, Bengals
14. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
15. Julio Jones, Falcons (welcome to the Top 15, rookie!)
16. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
17. Roddy White, Falcons
18. Victor Cruz, Giants (would be ranked higher if teammate Nicks wasn’t on the mend)
19. Jordy Nelson, Packers
20. Steve Johnson, Bills
21. Brandon Lloyd, Rams (double-digit targets every week + Sam Bradford = GREAT pre-deadline pickup)
22. Miles Austin, Cowboys (those damn hammys!)
23. Santonio Holmes, Jets
24. Antonio Brown, Steelers
25. Pierre Garcon, Colts
26. Eric Decker, Broncos
27. Reggie Wayne, Colts
28. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (could regain fantasy traction with a strong outing vs. the Cards)
29. Sidney Rice, Seahawks (mark him down for 12 targets against the Ravens)
30. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
31. Steve Breaston, Chiefs
32. James Jones, Packers
33. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
34. Jason Hill, Jaguars (easily the Jags’ No. 2 playmaker … as weird as that sounds)
35. Laurent Robinson, Cowboys (excellent short-term buy for owners who desperately need to make the playoffs)
36. Mario Manningham, Giants
37. Lance Moore, Saints
38. Torrey Smith, Ravens (how good is this kid going to be in Years 2-5?)
39. Jerome Simpson, Bengals
40. Nate Washington, Titans (so much for that September run of glory carrying over to November)

Talking Points
1. It’s impossible to get a read on Joe Flacco and Tarvaris Jackson this week. While it’s true Flacco has eclipsed 300 yards passing in three of his last four games — temporarily quieting chants of Suck-O from Ravens fans — his per-game TD production since Week 4 still resembles something out of binary code: 0, 1, 1, 0, 1. So, it’s hard to predict how he’ll perform three time zones away in Seattle, against a Seahawks defense that ranks 18th against the pass. Will Flacco relax and bring the A-game that proffered a road upset of Pittsburgh last week? Or will he repeat the sluggish effort against the Jags in Week 7 (137 yards passing)? The same damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don’t questions apply to Tarvaris Jackson. Sure, he’s a trainwreck in games played away from Qwest Field (a weird occurrence, considering Jackson’s in Year 1 with Seattle); but for home games, he’s demonstrated a capacity to flirt with 300 yards and two TDs (even if it comes during garbage time). The key to T-Jack’s success lies with WR Sidney Rice, who’s averaging 6 catches, 93 yards and 10 targets in three home games this season.

Matthew StaffordLions quarterback Matthew Stafford will lead Detroit into a big-time showdown this Sunday.

2. Sunday marks the biggest Lions-Bears game since Paul Edinger charted a course for the Matt Millen era to begin in 2000. I’m writing today’s Philanthropist from my boyhood state of Michigan, and the locals are all fired up about Sunday’s clash of NFC wild card entrants — IF the playoffs started in 48 hours. It also elicits memories of Calvin Johnson‘s four-feet-and-one-knee non-TD catch in Week 1 of the 2010 season — the same afternoon that Matthew Stafford incurred a significant shoulder injury, thanks to a clean, but powerful blast from Julius Peppers. Unlike the Baltimore-Seattle game, this one’s rather easy to call on a fantasy level. Stafford, Johnson, Matt Forte and Jay Cutler will roll for big-time numbers … but one of the two quarterbacks will also be responsible for a fumble or interception that directly leads to a defensive touchdown. On a smaller scale, it’s like last week’s Packers-Chargers clash: Every prominent Lion or Bear will profit from the experience, with either Stafford or Cutler building up the opposing defenses, as well.

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Greg Jennings vs. Minnesota
2. Anquan Boldin @ Seattle
3. Marques Colston @ Atlanta
4. Vincent Jackson vs. Oakland
5. Dez Bryant vs. Buffalo
6. Steve Smith vs. Tennessee
7. Reggie Wayne vs. Jacksonville
8. Calvin Johnson @ Chicago
9. Roddy White vs. New Orleans
10. Jason Hill @ Indianapolis (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Nick Novak vs. Oakland
2. Graham Gano @ Miami
3. Mason Crosby vs. Minnesota
4. Billy Cundiff @ Seattle
5. Sebastian Janikowski @ San Diego
6. David Akers vs. N.Y. Giants

Questions From The Audience
KevinA092: Fred Jackson/Hakeem Nicks for Arian Foster … which side do you like better in a trade for the rest of the season?

Answer: One could make a strong case for either end of this blockbuster. In some leagues, Jackson (1,194 total yards, 6 TDs) is the No. 2 tailback in fantasyland; and Nicks can be a monster when completely healthy. But if push came to shove, and I was theoretically one player away from a fantasy championship, I’d definitely want Foster in the mix. Have you seen the Texans’ schedule for Weeks 14, (@ Cincy), 15 (vs. Carolina) and 16 (@ Indy)? Foster has a quite-realistic capacity for 450 total yards and three TDs during that span; and his potential for greatness during the Week 16 Fantasy Bowl is off the charts. Bottom line: This looks like a classic win-win for both parties.

tbic: Time to give up on Vernon Davis? He’s been a little underwhelming. My other options are: Brandon Pettigrew, Dustin Keller, Marcedes Lewis, Kellen Winslow. Thanks!

Vernon DavisTime to give up on Vernon Davis?

Answer: Let’s attack this in two parts: For starters, only six tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Fred Davis, Jermichael Finley, Tony Gonzalez) have been consistently impressive this season, making Davis (31 catches, 339 yards, 3 TDs) among the best of a curiously mediocre lot. Besides, as long as Alex Smith is helming the 49ers offense, Davis will always be a threat for 2-3 TDs on any given Sunday. I’d take my chances on at least December breakout. On the flip side, I’d rank the other options: 1) Pettigrew 2) Winslow 3) Keller 4) Lewis.

Where Mountain Men Runneth, Catcheth
Next up, we have a list of pre-deadline trade tiers involving tight ends, detailing the six classifications of players at this vital position — from this point forward (standard leagues). In other words, if you have designs on trading Jimmy Graham for a RB2 and Tier-3 tight end … feel confident in asking for the five names comprising that grouping below:

Tier 1
Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten

Tier 2
Jermichael Finley, Fred Davis, Antonio Gates

Tier 3
Aaron Hernandez, Greg Olsen, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels

Tier 4
Kellen Winslow, Heath Miller, Jake Ballard, Brandon Pettigrew, Ben Watson, Jermaine Gresham, Dustin Keller

Tier 5
Ben Watson, Jared Cook, Dallas Clark, Brent Celek, Visanthe Shiancoe, Joel Dreessen, Jeremy Shockey, Lance Kendricks, Marcedes Lewis

Tier 6
Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Anthony Fasano, Delanie Walker, Daniel Fells, Tony Scheffler

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 10:
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Arian Foster
RB Matt Forte
WR Greg Jennings<br /> WR Steve Smith
RB/WR LeSean McCoy
TE Antonio Gates
PK David Akers (49ers)
D/ST Miami Dolphins

YouTube Memory Lane
I cannot end today’s Philanthropist without spreading more YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1970s and 80s:

1. 1977 — A lightning-fast clip of Bucs vs. Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome … at a time when the NFL allowed smoking in indoor stadiums. At the mic, we have legendary announcer Don Criqui; and at the forefront, we have high school cheerleaders (L’Anse Creuse?), who were the only source of sideline entertainment at Detroit games for decades upon decades — at least until someone had the bright idea of putting four female baton twirlers in each corner of the end zone, and have them perform for the audience without taking a break … or looking back to view the on-field action.

2. 1979NFL Films‘ account of the infamous Chiefs-Buccaneers game … played in a rainstorm of biblical proportions. Tampa Bay needed this 3-0 victory in the worst way, clinching the franchise’s first-ever NFC Central title (and subsequent playoff berth) in the final week, while confirming its amazing worst-to-first turnaround … after losing 26 straight games in 1976-77.

3. 1980 — The replay to one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups in Monday Night Football history, with the injury-ravaged Steelers hosting the eventual champion Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium. The quirky, enlightening interview between ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith and Terry Bradshaw notwithstanding, ABC took a serious, scaled-down approach to this high-scoring affair, which served as the de facto end of the Steelers’ dynasty (four Super Bowls in the 1970s) … and beginning of the Raiders’ multi-city run (Oakland, Los Angeles) as an AFC power and two-time Super Bowl champion in the 80s.

4. 1982 — The opening clip of an 11-part series detailing a classic Giants-Redskins game at old RFK Stadium. Three things stand out here: 1) CBS announcers Jack Buck and Hank Stram execute a pitch-perfect opening. 2) New York head coach Ray Perkins had already agreed to leave the Giants for the University of Alabama, in the wake of legendary coach Bear Bryant‘s retirement (and death about 6-7 weeks later). This also led to the eventual hiring of Bill Parcells with the Giants. 3) For clip #11, you won’t see the postgame interview where ‘Skins QB Joe Theismann regales Buck/Stram as to how a Giants defender accidentally caved in two front teeth on a tackle — a move that could’ve easily squashed a burgeoning TV career after his “early” retirement in 1985 (spurred on by another Giants defender, Lawrence Taylor).

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 9 Revelations

Week 9 Revelations
1. Philip Rivers is the quintessential fantasy gift that keeps on giving. While the masses were thrilled to see Aaron Rodgers (302 total yards, 4 TDs) fill the blue-gray skies above Qualcomm Stadium with touchdowns to four different pass-catchers (Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, James Jones),

Week 9 Revelations
1. Philip Rivers is the quintessential fantasy gift that keeps on giving. While the masses were thrilled to see Aaron Rodgers (302 total yards, 4 TDs) fill the blue-gray skies above Qualcomm Stadium with touchdowns to four different pass-catchers (Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, James Jones), Rodgers couldn’t match Rivers’ direct accountability for six TDs on Sunday — three to Vincent Jackson (7 catches, 143 yards), one to Antonio Gates (8 catches, 96 yards) and two to the Packers defense (Charlie Peprah, Tramon Williams). This game emitted so much positive energy on the passing side … it’s easy to forget that Bolts RB Mike Tolbert amassed 142 total yards and one touchdown in Ryan Mathews‘ injured stead and that Green Bay’s James Starks (75 total yards) may be on the verge of a breakthrough in the not-too-distant future. Speaking of prospective breakouts, if you’re looking for a PPR sleeper in 14- or 16-team leagues, look to San Diego rookie Vincent Brown, who caught four balls for 79 yards (6 targets). Even with his athleticism and top-end speed, Brown will never see double coverage as long as Jackson, Gates or Malcom Floyd are patrolling the field — genetic predisposition for red-zone goodness and all.

2. Roy Helu is the ultimate PPR weapon with John Beck as the Redskins’ starting QB. Seriously. That bolded intro isn’t a referendum on Helu’s skill set — he clearly has the requisite speed, toughness and hands to be a fixture in Washington for years to come. But with Captain Checkdown now leading the offense (and failing to locate downfield receivers), Helu (146 total yards; 14 catches for 105 yards) immediately vaults into a starring role in Points Per Reception leagues … where the tipped-at-the-line, accidental pass to safety-valve backs reigns supreme. Seventeen targets? Seventeen targets? How does Beck (254 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT) even remember Helu’s name or number 17 times over 60 minutes? We’re talking about a rookie back, who prior to Sunday’s game, had 16 targets for the season and was lagging behind RB Ryan Torain (9 yards vs. San Francisco) and TE Fred Davis (4 catches, 42 yards) on the Attention Stimpmeter. But all that changed, in the wake of Mike and Kyle Shanahan finding a new way to compensate for the loss of Tim Hightower, Chris Cooley and Santana Moss — while depressing Torain’s fantasy value in the trade market and artificially boosting Beck’s stock with GMs who only saw the box score from this anemic showcase.

Julio JonesJulio Jones sliced and diced the Colts secondary on Sunday.

3. Julio Jones only needs to see the ball once per quarter to be dominant. What are the odds of a rookie receiver — with hamstring issues — scoring two touchdowns (and eclipsing 100 yards) on just three catches and four targets after a month-long absence? To quote Paul Reiser‘s character from the twisted comedy, The Marrying Man … “you couldn’t place the bet.” To say that Jones (164 total yards, 2 TDs) was a pleasant surprise in Week 9 would be a vast understatement; and to say that RB Michael Turner (78 total yards, 1 TD) might have posted his lowest yardage output for November and December may be a little too ambitious for this forum. After all, QB Matt Ryan (275 yards passing, 3 TDs) is always a viable threat for monster numbers when Jones, Roddy White (4 catches, 76 yards; team-high 9 targets) and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD) are healthy and focused. And yet, it’s hard to envision Turner falling short of 90 total yards from this point forward — even if Jones should morph into a top-10 receiver week in/week out.

4. PPR owners may be on the path to a championship with either Anquan Boldin or Antonio Brown. Boldin has racked up at least 88 yards or one TD in his last four games — while collecting an NFL-high 43 targets during that span. Since Week 7, Brown has tallied 21 catches for 278 yards and one TD — while drawing an NFL-high 35 targets during that span. Simply put, Boldin and Brown (5 catches, 109 yards, team-high 11 targets vs. Baltimore) are peaking at a time when most teams are bearing down for the cold-weather-inspired transformation to conservative play-calling; and yet, QBs Joe Flacco (300 yards passing, 1 TD) and Ben Roethlisberger seem comfortable with carrying their respective clubs on nights when star tailbacks Ray Rice (86 total yards) and Rashard Mendenhall (55 total yards, 1 TD) aren’t registering all-world numbers. Funny thing about the quarterbacks: Flacco has cracked the 300-yard barrier four times this season, whereas Big Ben has eclipsed the hallowed mark three straight times; and yet, they’re still a few more character-defining, highlight-reel TDs away from being automatic starters for the playoffs.

5. DeMarco Murray might be the Cowboys’ offensive MVP — just two games in as a starter. If Murray (186 total yards vs. Seattle) had burst onto the scene earlier in the season, perhaps the Cowboys — and Tony Romo — wouldn’t be feeling the sting of devastating September defeats to the Jets and Lions. Perhaps Murray would be challenging Carolina’s Cam Newton (2,712 total yards, 18 TDs to date) for Fantasy Rookie of the Year honors. And perhaps Felix Jones (and not the inexpensive Tashard Choice) would be wearing the uniform of an NFC East foe (Redskins). Instead, the fantasy world is going ga-ga over the NFL’s leading rusher since Week 7 (416 yards) — and rightfully so, now that Murray has put the Cowboys’ vaunted passing game on the backburner … and that was before Miles Austin‘s hamstring injury from Sunday. Sure, Romo (279 yards passing, 2 TDs), Austin (2 catches, 53 yards), Dez Bryant (4 catches, 76 yards), Laurent Robinson (5 catches, 32 yards, 1 TD) and tight end Jason Witten (4 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD) racked up respectable numbers against the Seahawks, but Murray is the undisputed straw that stirs the proverbial drink (thanks, Reggie Jackson), grabbing chunks of yardage on every carry. He’s also the reason fantasy GMs are suddenly embracing the club’s run-friendly slate from Weeks 14-16: Giants, Bucs, Eagles. You want Murray in a trade? Be prepared to pay through the nose.

Revelations, Book II
6. It’s a good time to sell reasonably high on Brandon Jacobs. Obviously, Jacobs (100 total yards, 1 TD vs. New England) makes for a great flex starter in standard-scoring leagues during Ahmad Bradshaw‘s absence (cracked bone in foot); but fantasy owners should also feel emboldened to float a trial balloon to every owner in their league, declaring that Jacobs could be had for a low-end No. 1 wide receiver (think big). After all, if Eli Manning has to attempt 39 passes in a close-knit game, what’s stopping him from exceeding that number as New York continues its sojourn through the Schedule From Hell for Weeks 10-17 (@ SF, vs. PHI, @ NO, vs. GB, @ DAL, vs. WSH, @ NYJ, vs. DAL)? Of course, it helps that Manning (250 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT vs. New England) has a decent fleet of playmakers even when Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks are sidelined — like Victor Cruz (6 catches, 91 yards; team-high 11 targets), Mario Manningham (3 catches, 33 yards, 1 TD) and the rapidly improving Jake Ballard (4 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD). Perhaps that’s why dealing Jacobs from a position of strength makes sense.

Rob GronkowskiICONGronk racked up 15 targets in Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants.

7. There is no downside to going all-in on Rob Gronkowski for the stretch run. No fantasy owner would bat an eye over Gronkowski (8 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD) collecting eight catches or drawing 15 targets for the pass-happy Patriots; and yet, the Giants seemed woefully unprepared to handle Gronkowski’s easy-as-pie TD catch late in the fourth quarter — a score that seemingly clinched New England’s revenge win over New York … before Eli Manning calmly reprised his Super Bowl XLII role of conquering hero. Which brings us to an interesting two-part question: Are you prepared to make a pre-deadline play for Gronkowski — easily the AFC’s best tight end — or do you have the chutzpah to ask for the moon, and expect the stars, when soliciting offers for him? The best remedy for improving a sluggish team usually calls for trading a high-end quarterback, running back or receiver; but right now, Gronkowski holds similar currency — especially in PPR and TD-heavy leagues. The same could be said about Welker (9 catches, 136 yards) or Brady (342 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) in any scoring format, but not necessarily BenJarvus Green-Ellis (63 total yards), Stevan Ridley (12 total yards) or Kevin Faulk (zero yards).

8. Shonn Greene is a pair of soft hands away from generating more fantasy buzz. At this point in the season, the Jets’ most palatable starting options in fantasyland rest with the defense/special teams and kicker Nick Folk; and yet, Gang Green might be the AFC’s most balanced team for December and January — especially with Greene earning at least 74 yards rushing in his last four games. With that modest run, it’s fun to project whether Greene has the easiest Weeks 13-16 slate of any back in the AFC East — including Fred Jackson (120 total yards on Sunday). With four East Coast games against the Redskins (22nd against the run), Chiefs (20th), Eagles (17th) and Giants (25th), the Jets will undoubtedly lean on Greene and RB LaDainian Tomlinson (48 total yards, 1 TD) to carry the freight.

9. Tarvaris Jackson is a notch above ‘fantasy roadkill’ when playing away from Qwest Field. Jackson’s per-game averages for road tilts aren’t pretty: 186 yards passing, 0.75 TDs and 1.25 INTs — numbers befitting of John Skelton, A.J. Feeley, Charlie Whitehurst, Kyle Boller or JaMarcus Russell back in the day … not Pete Carroll‘s handpicked choice to lead the Seahawks back to sustainable respectability. And yet, here we are, trying to make fantasy sense of a Seattle club that offers Marshawn Lynch (143 total yards, 1 TD), Sidney Rice (3 catches, 69 yards; team-high 8 targets) — and little else from week to week. Where’s Doug Baldwin (3 catches, 31 yards) or Ben Obomanu (2 catches, 6 yards) when you need ’em? Why does Jackson (221 yards passing, zero TDs, 3 INTs) always resemble a career backup when playing on enemy turf? It’s enough to baffle owners in 14- and 16-team leagues who rely on QB2 prospects, like the strong-armed Jackson, to rescue a bye-ravaged weekend — at least to those who are carrying Jackson for more than just one game: The Seahawks’ Week 14 home clash with the Rams, a primetime showcase for a hot-and-cold franchise that will surely bring Super Bowl-like juice to the Qwest party. Barring injury, T-Jack’s a lock for big stats five weeks from now.

10. Ben Tate is a flex starter in 14- and 16-team leagues … even when Arian Foster is healthy. What’s the more impressive stat about Tate: He’s currently the NFL’s ninth-best rusher (623 yards) despite starting only once in eight games … or that he garnered the lofty spot while ranking just 20th in rush attempts? No one is saying that Tate is a threat to Foster’s job security; after all, Foster (150 total yards, 1 TD vs. Cleveland) has been the most dynamic fantasy back since Week 4 and could easily be the top-rated rusher heading into the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16. But Houston’s coaches have brainstormed the perfect way to dominate opponents while Andre Johnson remains sidelined with a hamstring injury: Feed Foster and Tate (115 yards on 12 carries) as much as possible … before letting QB Matt Schaub (119 yards passing, zero TDs) manage the rest with low-key reps to pass-catchers Owen Daniels (3 catches, 32 yards), Jacoby Jones (2 catches, 28 yards) and Kevin Walter (1 catch, 5 yards). Speaking of Walter, we’re willing to give him a free pass against Browns cornerback extraordinaire Joe Haden, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth rostering in 10- or 12-team leagues, either. Think about it: If Walter can’t average more than 5.3 targets during Johnson’s absence … how will he attract similar looks once AJ returns (hopefully next week)? Plus, the Texans still have their bye in Week 11, making Walter an eminently droppable asset until Week 12.

11. Perhaps we should worry about Darrius Heyward-Bey’s re-calibrated place in the Raiders’ passing offense. Apparently, Carson Palmer didn’t watch a lot of Raiders games on DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package before being traded to Oakland before Week 7 … otherwise, he would have known that Heyward-Bey was one of the NFL’s most underrated wideouts during October (22 catches, 385 yards, 1 TD, 39 targets for the month) — and deserved more than one target (and zero catches) against the Broncos. Palmer (332 yards passing, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) would have also known that rookie WR Denarius Moore had fallen by the wayside after a hot September; but after one full start as the Raiders’ purported savior, Palmer’s preferred pecking order appears to be Moore (4 catches, 61 yards, team-high 12 targets), Jacoby Ford (5 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD), old friend T.J. Houshmandzadeh (1 catch, 28 yards) and then Heyward-Bey. Of course, that list doesn’t even factor in Marcel Reece, Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens or whichever Raiders tailback gets an unfettered crack at the opposition. In Sunday’s case, backup RB Michael Bush (129 total yards, 1 TD) tore through the Broncos — as predicted in Thurday’s Philanthropist — and gave Darren McFadden (foot) another ounce of motivation to return to the Raiders lineup, sooner than later. Either way, Heyward-Bey is going to have to fight tooth and nail to reclaim his spot in Oakland’s offense, just like the club must work diligently to recapture its mojo in the AFC West.

Revelations, Book III
12. Fantasy owners, your chance to buy Drew Brees for a less-than-elite trade price has arrived. The optimistic owner would laud Brees (278 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Tampa Bay) for throwing at least one touchdown in every game this year, while giving legitimate chase to Dan Marino‘s NFL record for seasonal passing yards (5,084 in 1984). They also have fond memories of Brees’ Week 7 dismantling of the winless Colts, to the tune of 325 yards passing and more TD passes (5) than incompletions (4). The fantasy pessimist, on the other hand, could tweak the numbers to say (read: complain) that Brees has cooled off from a red-hot September and has thrown three TDs or more only once since Week 4. They’d also point to the tangible gains made by the rushers — namely Darren Sproles (99 total yards, 1 TD), Pierre Thomas (91 total yards, 1 TD), Mark Ingram — as evidence the Saints will be more conservative than usual down the stretch. And with that, prospective Brees owners have a limited window to pry him away from the pessimistic GM, who apparently hasn’t peeked at a New Orleans schedule that includes only one game outdoors from Weeks 10-16 (Dec. 11 at Tennessee). In other words, there’s a slim chance that Brees, TE Jimmy Graham (6 catches, 78 yards), WR Marques Colston (5 catches, 52 yards) or WR Lance Moore (3 catches, 20 yards, 1 TD) will be affected by cold, wind or even precipitation when it truly counts. Bottom line: Do whatever it takes to acquire Brees or Graham before next Sunday.

Andy DaltonSecond-round pick Andy Dalton is quietly putting together an impressive rookie season.

13. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green won’t hit the dreaded ‘Rookie Wall’ during the fantasy playoffs — I think. As stated in this column numerous times, GMs should strongly consider starting Dalton (217 yards passing, 3 TDs vs. Tennessee) and Green (7 catches, 83 yards) during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 15 (@ St. Louis) and 16 (vs. Arizona) — based on their fortuitous matchups with NFC West lightweights. But that statement fails to account for Dalton and Green possibly being worn out by the extended pro schedule or immense pressure to carry the 6-2 Bengals to the AFC North title. It also doesn’t recognize the prospect of blustery winter weather taking over southern Ohio on Christmas Eve — wreaking havoc with the passing games of the Cards and Bengals. Lucky for us, WR Jerome Simpson (3 catches, 43 yards, 1 TD; team-high 10 targets) is slowly gaining more fantasy traction, and RB Cedric Benson, historically speaking, has a great finishing kick in December.

14. The Chiefs have a deep corps of eminently replaceable pass-catchers — after Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston. I’ve never seen an NFL box score that featured seven players from one team (Jonathan Baldwin, Jackie Battle, Dexter McCluster, Le’Ron McClain, Leonard Pope, Keary Colbert, Jake O’Connell) catching only one ball each on the day, and yet, that’s where we stand with the Chiefs. If only Baldwin (12 yards) had produced this clunker before his 5-catch, 82-yard, 1-TD breakout against the Chargers last week … maybe his relative disappearance would have been a blip on the Week 9 radar; but with great expectations comes greater responsibility, meaning that a sizable number of fantasy owners who were burned from Sunday will probably think twice (next time) about starting a rookie wideout from a schizophrenic club that’s already committed to Breaston (7 catches, 115 yards; 11 touches) and Bowe (6 catches, 88 yards; 10 targets) during blowout situations. That’s how Kansas City QB Matt Cassel (291 total yards, zero TDs) likes his garbage-time stew to be served.

15. Brandon Marshall should own the flex spot in standard-scoring and PPR leagues. In a bit of full honesty, we should be focusing on the great Sunday works of Dolphins QB Matt Moore (244 yards passing, 3 TDs) and embattled RB Reggie Bush (142 total yards, 1 TD) in this space, but it’s hard to locate 10 people off the street familiar with Moore’s history — let alone identify a group of GMs who genuinely gave him the starting nod in 10- or 12-team leagues; and Bush owners likely chalked Reggie’s 120-yard effort against the Giants last week to random luck or a short-term bump off the hoopla from Kim Kardashian‘s most recent divorce proceeding and didn’t want to start him against Kansas City. For Week 9, Miami’s epicenter of attention should be Marshall (8 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD), who is now 3-for-3 this year in collecting 100-yard games when drawing double-digit targets, and has done enough to secure his standing as a universal flex starter in standard leagues — and surefire WR2 in PPRs. After all, Marshall (team-high 11 targets) was the only Dolphins wideout to catch a pass against the Chiefs, complementing Bush, a bruising tight end (Anthony Fasano) and some random cat named Charles Clay (3 catches, 50 yards).

16. Let’s accentuate the positives from Larry Fitzgerald’s mediocre fantasy day. To his credit, Fitzgerald (4 catches, 43 yards, 1 TD) was the only Ram or Cardinal to haul in a touchdown pass on Sunday. He also drew a team-high 12 targets against St. Louis, confirming the notion that whoever Arizona starts on a given week — John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Richard Bartel, The Ghost of Neil Lomax, etc. — that signal-caller will prioritize The Franchise at every turn. Of course, hitting Fitz at a 33-percent clip isn’t necessarily the best way to capture a GM’s fantasy heart before the trade deadline, although it does serve as an indirect endorsement for Early Doucet (6 catches, 78 yards) in deeper leagues and direct message to owners of Beanie Wells (33 total yards on 12 touches): ‘Tis better to sell reasonably high now than be stuck with an erratic back who gets the stingy 49ers and stout Bengals for Weeks 14 and 16.

17. Fantasy owners should move heaven and earth to acquire Willis McGahee before the trade deadline. The oft-repeated creed of Tim Tebow will neither be celebrated nor disparaged in this column translates well from Sunday’s performance (241 total yards, 2 TDs): Yes, Tebow rushed for 117 yards and played a significant role in the club’s second straight road victory; but the Broncos’ real-world fortunes have stronger ties to McGahee (163 rushing yards, 2 TDs), a viable candidate for the unofficial (but nonetheless flattering) title of Fantasy MVP Drafted After Round 12 (along with Cam Newton). Now that McGahee has allayed all fears about playing with a broken hand — while simultaneously diminishing Knowshon Moreno‘s non-handcuff trade value — it’s time for GMs to grab him before Week 12. With games against the Bears, Patriots and Bills for Weeks 14-16, McGahee could easily reach the minimum star threshold of 120 total yards and/or two TDs three times in that span … especially if Tebow has difficulty locating receivers Eric Decker (3 catches, 47 yards, 1 TD), Eddie Royal (2 catches, 25 yards, 1 TD) or Demaryius Thomas (1 catch, 25 yards) in a Denver or Buffalo-based snowstorm come December.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Midseason Awards Apropos Of Nothing
We'll keep today's Philanthropist relatively short and sweet -- allowing for certain gurus to rest up for their annual tailgating trek to Michigan State University ... and then a full Sunday slate of intriguing NFL games. But first, a few midseason awards to hand out:

Top

Midseason Awards Apropos Of Nothing
We’ll keep today’s Philanthropist relatively short and sweet — allowing for certain gurus to rest up for their annual tailgating trek to Michigan State University … and then a full Sunday slate of intriguing NFL games. But first, a few midseason awards to hand out:

Top Fantasy Rookie: Cam Newton, Panthers: It’s hard to overstate the impact Newton’s had with Carolina, guiding a moribund franchise out of a three-year funk and transforming the Panthers into one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. In some fantasy leagues, Newton (2,712 total yards/18 TDs) is the current No. 1 overall player — that says it all.

Most Surprising Rookie: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys Murray’s 253-yard explosion against the Rams in Week 7 — breaking the Cowboys’ single-game rushing record — will likely stand as the season’s greatest coming-out party … although Newton’s 422-yard debut against Arizona in Week 1 takes a close second. Both stars should play integral roles down the stretch and into the fantasy playoffs.

Aaron RodgersRodgers has been delivering the goods for fantasy owners each and every week.

Top Fantasy Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Packers: We could have selected a few candidates here (Newton, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford), but Rodgers has consistently been the most dynamic signal-caller in fantasyland, while vaulting the real-world Packers to an undefeated record (through eight weeks). Looking ahead, Rodgers is an easy mark for 300 yards passing or three TDs in every game from Weeks 9-15; but be weary of Green Bay’s Week 16 date with Chicago at cold, blustery Lambeau.

Best Single-Game Performance From A QB We Expected: Rodgers — Week 4 against the Broncos (444 total yards, 6 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A QB We Didn’t Expect: Newton — Week 4 against the Bears (409 total yards, 3 TDs)

Top Fantasy Running Back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Yours truly took a lot of heat in August for hailing McCoy (892 total yards, 10 TDs) as the No. 6 overall player during the preseason; and now, it seems I may have undersold McCoy’s explosive talents. To be fair, this award could have easily gone to Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (923 total yards, 10 TDs) or Buffalo’s Fred Jackson (1,074 total yards/6 TDs), underscoring how superb the elite backs were in the season’s first half.

Best Single-Game Performance From A RB We Expected: McCoy — Week 8 against the Cowboys (200 total yards, 2 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A RB We Didn’t Expect: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots — Week 5 against the typically stout Jets (149 total yards, 2 TDs)

Top Fantasy Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson, Lions: No need to carry out the suspense here, as Johnson (47 catches, 804 yards, 11 TDs) has been the most dominant figure in fantasy and deserves all the perks usually extended to elite quarterbacks or high-end tailbacks. Everybody knows about Calvin’s quite-realistic run at Randy Moss‘s NFL record for TD passes in one season (23); but of equal importance, Johnson has racked up 96 or more yards in six consecutive games — against double and triple coverages.

Best Single-Game Performance From A WR We Expected: Miles Austin, Cowboys — Week 2 against the 49ers (9 catches, 143 yards, 3 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A WR We Didn’t Expect: Torrey Smith, Ravens — Week 3 against the Rams (5 catches, 152 yards, 3 TDs)

Top Fantasy Tight End: Jimmy Graham, Saints: At this point of the season, Graham ranks 1st in receptions (49), 1st in targets (74), 1st in receiving yards (713) and 2nd in TDs (5). In other words, he’s the Calvin Johnson of Tight Ends.

Best Single-Game Performance From A TE We Expected: Jermichael Finley, Packers — Week 3 against the Bears (7 catches, 85 yards, 3 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A TE We Didn’t Expect: Scott Chandler, Bills — Week 1 against the Chiefs (7 catches, 53 yards, 2 TDs)

Top Fantasy Kicker: Jason Hanson: The Lions have been a model of instability in my lifetime, dating back to the mid-1970s. But let’s give Detroit major props on one front: Since 1980, the club has had only two permanent kickers — Eddie Murray (1980-91) and Hanson (1992-present), who at the ripe age of 41, has nailed 17 field goals (1st-place tie with Dan Bailey/Billy Cundiff) and 26 PATs (3rd overall). Bottom line: The indefatigable Hanson could be the Lions’ ace in the hole for two or three more seasons.

Best Single-Game Performance By A Kicker: Dan Bailey — Week 3 against the Redskins (6 field goals)

Top Fantasy Defense/Special Teams: Baltimore Ravens

Best Single-Game Performance By A D/ST That Came Out of Nowhere: Seattle Seahawks — Week 5 against the Giants (3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 safety, 3 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown)

First-Half Fantasy MVP: Calvin Johnson

First-Half Fantasy MVP That Probably Wasn’t Drafted Before Round 12: Cam Newton … with honorable mention going to Saints RB Darren Sproles

Scare Tactics
Here are six simple clues to determine if your 6-2 juggernaut MAY be ripe for a Round 1 exit from the fantasy playoffs in Week 14:

Steven JacksonICONSteven Jackson has been on a roll.

1. You only have one top-20 tailback in the regular starting lineup. Quarterbacks and receivers get a ton of fantasy love during the weather-friendly months of September, October and even November; but come December, it’s usually up to running backs to bring home the fantasy bacon. And for the standard-scoring-league GMs who’ve been cruising along with a WR primarily at the flex spot … Week 14 could be a time of comeuppance. Go ahead and check your standings: Are there any 4-4 clubs with Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews as starters 1, 2 and 3? Or what about Darren McFadden, Steven Jackson, Willis McGahee? Despite their mediocre records, these kind of teams will be very dangerous during the playoffs — assuming they make it.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Andy Dalton are entrenched starting QBs. Big Ben (vs. Cleveland), Fitz (@ San Diego) and Dalton (vs. Houston) will face top-5 pass defenses in Week 14; and to enhance the degree of difficulty, Roethlisberger and Dalton may be subjected to harsh weather in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for that weekend. Now, this isn’t to say the three signal-callers are doomed for a 150-yard, zero-TD outing on Dec. 8 or 11 … but fantasy owners shouldn’t expect the minimum star threshold of 275 total yards and/or three TDs, either.

3. Beanie Wells is your unsurpassed anchor at running back. Talk about bad luck for Wells (518 total yards, 7 TDs), one of the biggest fantasy surprises of the young season. For Week 14, Beanie meets the 49ers, who haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in something like 27 or 28 games and could easily be playing for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs on that weekend — regardless if San Francisco clinches the NFC West title before Thanksgiving.

4. Be afraid, be very afraid of the Peterson/McCoy/Rice troika. It would be a great upset if Adrian Peterson (@ Detroit), LeSean McCoy (@ Miami) and Ray Rice (vs. Indy) didn’t roll for 130 yards and two touchdowns for Week 14. In fact, I’m willing to bet that one of the three superstars will notch 170 total yards or three TDs that weekend — the kind of monster production that catapults a middling fantasy team into the Week 15 semifinals.

Knowshon MorenoKnowshon Moreno could have some nice value come playoff time.

5. Your Week 14 opponent features starters from the Seahawks or Broncos. Assuming the good people of Seattle and Denver aren’t blitzed by blizzards on Dec. 11, modest contributors like Sidney Rice, Ben Obomanu, Tarvaris Jackson, Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and even Tim Tebow could post big numbers against the Rams and Bears, respectively. Most fantasy owners can reconcile a playoff loss when elite players are leading the opposition; but to get bounced on a day when Obomanu collects 102 yards and two TDs would be devastating. And yet, that’s exactly what might happen.

6. Your 15 minutes of fantasy fame are up. Fantasy gurus can digest every article, crunch every number, do every bit of research that goes into acquiring players and filling out lineups; but at the end of the day, it’s still a crapshoot, which explains why so many dominant teams fall to lesser lights during the fantasy playoffs. The best example of this comes from Tom Brady, who threw for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns in 2007 … but could only muster 140 yards and zero TDs in a windswept quagmire against the Jets in Week 15, essentially ruining the fantasy lives of every GM who rode Brady to a wire-to-wire division championship and No. 1 seed.

Week 9: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Tom Brady vs. N.Y. Giants
2. Matt Cassel vs. Miami
3. Tony Romo vs. Seattle
4. Drew Brees vs. Tampa Bay
5. Eli Manning @ New England
6. Aaron Rodgers @ San Diego
7. Philip Rivers vs. Green Bay
8. Tarvaris Jackson @ Dallas

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Michael Turner @ Indianapolis
2. LeSean McCoy vs. Chicago
3. Arian Foster vs. Cleveland
4. Beanie Wells vs. St. Louis
5. Matt Forte @ Philadelphia
6. Fred Jackson vs. N.Y. Jets
7. Frank Gore @ Washington
8. Ray Rice @ Pittsburgh
9. Michael Bush vs. Denver

It’s A Little Known Fact …
… That in five regular-season games against NFC North teams (Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Green Bay), Chargers QB Philip Rivers has per-game averages of 234 yards passing and 1.2 touchdowns — lower marks when compared to his complete-game averages against the NFC South (249 yards passing, 2.5 TDs), NFC West (272 yards passing, 1.9 TDs) and NFC East (234 yards passing, 2 TDs). (NOTE: Rivers only played a few series against the Redskins in Week 17 of 2009, given the Chargers’ 13-3 record.)

Running With The Moon
Here is my always-fluid top-40 listing of tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues — from this point forward:
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (has a better Weeks 14-16 sked than our No. 2 guy)
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
3. Arian Foster, Texans (the NFL’s most productive tailback since Week 4)
4. Ray Rice, Ravens
5. Fred Jackson, Bills
6. Matt Forte, Bears (does Pro Football Talk really believe Forte would do an in-season walkout? No way)
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
7b. Michael Turner, Falcons
8. Darren McFadden, Raiders
9. Steven Jackson, Rams (looks unstoppable at the goal line these days)
10. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (would rate slightly higher if nagging injuries weren’t a weekly ritual)
11. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
12. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
13. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (a great buy-low candidate before the trade deadline)
14. Willis McGahee, Broncos (injured hand might have been a one-week deterrent)
15. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
16. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (has risen from the September ashes to become a possible November gem)
17. Chris Johnson, Titans
18. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
19. Darren Sproles, Saints
20. James Starks, Packers
21. Jahvid Best, Lions (would rate higher if Detroit had more clarity on his concussion problems)
22. Jackie Battle, Chiefs (still not a big fan … but the results are impressive)
23. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
24. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
25. Brandon Jacobs, Giants (opportunity knocks …)
25a. Ahmad Bradshaw>, Giants (… now that Bradshaw’s out indefinitely with a cracked bone in his foot)
26. Mark Ingram, Saints
27. Shonn Greene, Jets
28. Cedric Benson, Bengals (Bernard Scott was an admirable replacement for Cincy last week)
29. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
30. Ryan Torain, Redskins
31. Peyton Hillis, Browns (the NFL’s poster boy for bumbling through a contract year)
32. Felix Jones, Cowboys
33. Pierre Thomas, Saints (don’t let the middling ranking fool you … Thomas still has good value)
34. Michael Bush, Raiders
35. Ben Tate, Texans
36. Montario Hardesty, Browns (his window of opportunity to supplant Hillis is wide open)
37. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
38. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
39. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
40. Stevan Ridley, Patriots (fantastic upside pick who should never be dropped for some WR/TE flavor of the week)

Talking Points
1. Andre Johnson will likely be a game-time decision for Sunday. While Johnson (25 catches, 352 yards, 2 TDs in limited action) is obviously an excellent source of fantasy goodness for Weeks 14-16, owners should exercise more patience with the Houston star for another week — even if he gets quality reps against Cleveland. Receivers with recuperating hammys are typically conservative in their first game back from injury — especially when making cuts after medium- to long-range sprints. Give Johnson some time to regain his sea legs … and recapture his all-world form for Week 10. (Note: The Texans have a Week 11 bye … so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Johnson sits until Week 12.)

2. The Redskins pulled off a sneaky-good waiver pickup with Tashard Choice. It’s funny how Choice swung wildly from a reasonable threat to unseat Felix Jones with Dallas before April … to an expendable afterthought once DeMarco Murray blitzed the Rams for 253 rushing yards. Well, one NFC team’s trash … is another’s treasure, as Choice joins a recently wretched club that’s without Tim Hightower (season-ending knee injury) and may not view either Ryan Torain or rookie Roy Helu as workhorse backs; and now the burden of proof shifts to Choice, who amassed 424 total yards and two TDs for the Cowboys in a three-pack of games to close out the 2008 season. During that span, Choice caught 16 balls — which should thrill PPR owners in search of a low-key, high-upside acquisition for Week 10 and beyond.

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Miles Austin vs. Seattle
2. Greg Jennings @ San Diego
3. Jeremy Maclin vs. Chicago
4. Sidney Rice @ Dallas
5. Larry Fitzgerald vs. St. Louis
6. Brandon Lloyd @ Arizona
7. Vincent Jackson vs. Green Bay
8. Hakeem Nicks @ New England
9. Dwayne Bowe vs. Miami
10. Wes Welker vs. N.Y. Giants
11. Mike Wallace vs. Baltimore
12. Greg Little @ Houston (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Alex Henery vs. Chicago
2. Mason Crosby @ San Diego
3. Ryan Succop vs. Miami
4. Billy Cundiff @ Pittsburgh
5. Mike Nugent @ Tennessee
6. Nick Novak vs. Green Bay

Questions From The Audience
jrellis2: I can swing a trade for Arian Foster, giving up Chris Johnson and Andre Johnson. Sound good? Dez Bryant and Hakeem Nicks are my other top receivers, and I need RB help.

Chris JohnsonWill Chris Johnson ever turn it around?

Answer: Jake, two weeks ago, I would’ve done everything in my power to prevent you from parting with both Johnsons, given CJ2K’s (seemingly) doable schedule from Weeks 7-16 … and A-Johnson’s apparent lightning-fast recovery from a substantial hamstring injury. But right here, right now, that’s a fair price to garner the services of Foster — the No. 1-ranked running back since Week 4 (809 total yards, 5 TDs in that span). And now, the next course of action lies with securing the rights to Houston backup Ben Tate, just in case Foster incurs any more injury setbacks. To be perfectly frank, this is a brilliant trade on your part — even if someone else pitched it to you!

FingerGuns99>: ‘Owner B’ wants Wes Welker/Jahvid Best for Calvin Johnson/Kevin Walter. My other WRs are Larry Fitzgerald, Malcom Floyd, Doug Baldwin, and my other RBs are Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and DeMarco Murray.

Answer: Your fellow competitor must be a Lions fan, Cal-Berkeley graduate or practicing neurologist … what other explanation could there be for him surrendering Calvin and Walter for Best, who may return to Detroit’s lineup at Week 10 OR may be sidelined until December with lingering effects from a concussion. Which brings me to this: The other owner is aware that Calvin is almost on pace to tie Randy Moss‘s all-time mark for receiving TDs (23) in one season, right? Even if Walter (23 catches, 287 yards, 2 TDs) wasn’t a nice throw-in … I’d still assume the trade risk for Calvin. But oh well!

Radio Daze
You know what makes the stuck-in-a-cubicle workday run smoothly during the fall months? Podcast after podcast after podcast! Here are my favorite football-specific podcasts/radio shows:
1. ESPN — “Fantasy Focus” with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz
2. CBSSports.com — “Fantasy Football” with Dave Richard and Jamey Eisneberg
3. KFAN in Minneapolis — “Fantasy Football Weekly” with Paul Charchian
4. Yahoo! — “Fantasy Blitz”
5. RotoWire.com — “Fantasy Sports Podcast”

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 9:
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Michael Turner
RB Arian Foster
WR Miles Austin
WR Vincent Jackson
RB/WR Dwayne Bowe
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Nick Novak (Chargers)
D/ST Kansas City Chiefs

YouTube Memory Lane
I cannot end today’s Philanthropist without spreading more YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1960s, 70s and 80s:

1. 1967 — Broadcasting icons Jack Buck (left to right), Ray Scott and Frank Gifford focus on the C-O-L-D temperatures at Lambeau Field … just moments before the Cowboys-Packers NFL Championship game, dubbed The Ice Bowl. Most people forget that Green Bay still had another game to play after this landmark victory — Super Bowl II against Oakland. (Dallas also participated in something called The Runner-Up Bowl in Miami — the last of its kind — but that’s a story for another day.)

2. 1972Monday Night Football: The Raiders whitewash the Oilers 34-0 in Houston, sparking one infamously derisive remark from a bored (and perhaps plastered) Astrodome patron.

3. 1975 — CBS Sports essayist Jack Whitaker does a quick intro for ‘The NFL Today’ — on-site before the Cowboys’ Hail Mary victory over the Vikings in the NFC playoffs. During Minnesota’s decade of dominance in the NFC (1969-1978), the ’75 squad — which started the season 11-0 — may have been the Vikings’ best of that era.

4. 1977 — The Vikings and Rams partake in the famous Mud Bowl at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Rams’ home digs before moving to Anaheim in 1980. (Vin Scully hasn’t changed a bit, huh?)

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 8 Revelations

Week 8 Revelations
1. Ray Rice picked the perfect time to break new ground. What's the more impressive statistical occurrence from Sunday: Rice collecting a career-high three rushing TDs (and 99 total yards) after the Ravens fell into a 24-3 hole ... or WR Anquan Boldin (7 catches, 145 yards)

Week 8 Revelations
1. Ray Rice picked the perfect time to break new ground. What’s the more impressive statistical occurrence from Sunday: Rice collecting a career-high three rushing TDs (and 99 total yards) after the Ravens fell into a 24-3 hole … or WR Anquan Boldin (7 catches, 145 yards) tallying large numbers, in between drawing crucial pass-interference penalties against the Cards? Since we’re partial to high-end tailbacks, we’ll side with Rice (and his realistic pursuit of 2,000 total yards), although we also feel comfortable saying that Boldin should be a top-10 receiver for Weeks 10 (@ Seattle), 13 (@ Cleveland), 14 (vs. Baltimore), 15 (@ San Diego) and 16 (the Browns again) — presumably boosting QB Joe Flacco‘s stock for the fantasy playoffs, as well. Flacco is quite the enigma, racking up 351 total yards (and zero TDs) just six days after the Jacksonville debacle — his seventh straight extreme performance of the young season. It’s almost like Flacco revels in being the Sybil of fantasy QBs.

2. Perhaps Cam Newton should be the holder for Olindo Mare kicks, too. We can apologize for underestimating Newton’s preseason potential and over-publicizing his in-season greatness only so many times, and yet it bears repeating: With the rare exception of playing in monsoon conditions, Newton (343 total yards, 3 TDs vs. Minnesota) is a lead-pipe cinch for the minimum star threshold of 275 total yards and/or three TDs every week, regardless of the opponent. He’s also a rubber-stamp starter every Sunday — minus next week’s bye. That bankability trickles down to WR Steve Smith (7 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD), TE Greg Olsen (4 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD) and running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, all of whom should be very productive in the season’s latter half. It even bodes well for Panthers kicker Olindo Mare … whose blown chip-shot field goal to force overtime was hopefully a one-time exercise in futility. Speaking of one-timers, did you see Jeremy Shockey‘s one catch for one yard and one touchdown against the Vikings? It was a fine cameo for fantasy owners who sought bye-week relief … unless they chose Shockey over Brent Celek.

LeSean McCoyLeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson have been destroying opposing defenses this season.

3. Fred Jackson and LeSean McCoy owners should ask for the moon — and expect it back — when conducting trade trade talks. Outside of Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson, no one can match the respective statistical powers of Jackson (194 total yards vs. Washington) and McCoy (200 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Dallas), so much that it would be a fantasy travesty to part with either tailback in a 1-for-1 swap before the trade deadline (typically Week 12). And at this point, even the 2-for-1 megadeals (top-5 receiver/top-10 rusher) should be heavily slanted in favor of Jackson and McCoy owners. That rationale only applies to struggling clubs in need of a quick and dramatic talent infusion to make the playoffs; GMs who already have a postseason spot (and high seed) locked up are prepared to ride Jackson (San Diego, Miami, Denver for Weeks 14-16) and McCoy (Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys for Weeks 14-16) all the way — come hell or high water. Of course, it also helps that both superstars play in East Coast markets, where running the ball in December is paramount to success. It also helps that both Ryan Fitzpatrick (262 yards passing, 2 TDs on Sunday) and Michael Vick (329 total yards, 2 TDs) love targeting their backs … presumably more than making household names of tight ends Scott Chandler (2 TDs vs. Washington) and Brent Celek (7 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD; team-high 9 targets).

4. Let’s not overreact to Steven Jackson’s monster performance against the Saints. Prior to Sunday, Jackson hadn’t registered a 100-yard rushing day since last December (Week 13); and he’s now gone 13 consecutive games without hitting the 50-yard mark in receiving. Those figures can easily be ignored on a day when Jackson (191 total yards, 2 TDs) dismantled one of the NFL’s pre-eminent teams — while eliminating chatter of St. Louis going 0-16 on the year — but it’ll play a significant role in determining Jackson’s true value for the stretch run. And we’ll probably be singing the same tune after Jackson (532 total yards, 5 TDs) crushes the Cardinals next week. Simply put, one amazing upset isn’t enough to alter the Rams’ current standing as a bottom-feeder club — and one that will likely be on the business end of a few more blowouts this year, minimizing the running game. The key to Jackson’s fantasy greatness lies with QB Sam Bradford rallying from an ankle injury and fighting to keep the Rams respectable for November/December … which seems plausible when Brandon Lloyd (6 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD; 14 targets) and Greg Salas (5 catches, 47 yards) are progressing at an accelerated rate.

5. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are the best QB/WR combo in fantasyland — duh! We’ve seen this stat sheet before: Stafford (288 total yards vs. Denver) tosses three touchdowns against an inferior defense — one to a secondary receiver (Titus Young), one to a tight end (Tony Scheffler) and one to Calvin (6 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD) … who is now on pace for 22 receiving TDs (one short of Randy Moss‘s seasonal NFL record). And with that bankable consistency, fantasy owners are encouraged to move heaven and earth to complete the Stafford-Johnson handcuff before their respective trade deadlines, even if Maurice Morris (65 total yards, 1 TD) remains Detroit’s RB1 or TE Brandon Pettigrew (3 catches, 8 yards) can’t shake the pre-bye blues. From Weeks 11-16, the Lions will play five games indoors (Detroit or New Orleans) and one in sunny California. How’s that for a favorable slate?

Revelations, Book II
6. Eli Manning can carry teams to the Week 16 Fantasy Bowl; but after that, who knows? The Giants may have the real-world Schedule From Hell for Weeks 9-17 (@ NE, @ SF, vs. PHI, @ NO, vs. GB, @ DAL, vs. WSH, @ NYJ, vs. DAL) … but from a fantasy perspective, it’s a golden opportunity for Manning (349 yards passing, 2 TDs vs. Miami) to finish as a top-6 quarterback, while establishing a new baseline standard of seasonal excellence. But we’re a little concerned as to how Week 16 — Christmas Eve Day — will shake out against the Jets. Let’s pretend Manning vaults your club to the fantasy title game then: Would you ride the hot hand, regardless of Darrelle Revis/Antonio Cromartie … or would you start someone like Matt Ryan (@ New Orleans), Josh Freeman (@ Carolina) or rookie Andy Dalton (vs. Arizona) on the ultimate fantasy weekend? Without a doubt, Manning has a generous allotment of big-name playmakers like Ahmad Bradshaw (88 total yards in limited action), Hakeem Nicks (6 catches, 67 yards; 10 targets), Victor Cruz (7 catches, 99 yards, 1 TD) and Mario Manningham (6 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD) … but all bets are still off for Dec. 24. And that’s before the first weather forecast hits the wires.

Ben RoethlisbergerICONBig Ben ripped apart the Patriots…while targeting Antonio Brown 15 times.

7. Antonio Brown’s breakout against the Pats shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. While it’s true that Brown (9 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD; team-high 15 targets) had the good fortune of facing the NFL’s worst pass defense, the seeds of his Week 8 content were sown a long time ago. The guy possesses amazing speed, off-the-charts athleticism, soft hands and never has to worry about double-team coverage — at least when fellow Steeler Mike Wallace (7 catches, 70 yards) is on the field. Throw in the fact that QB Ben Roethlisberger (365 yards passing, 2 TDs) loves targeting him … and it’s easy to see why we’ve been trumpeting his eventual success all season. But ay, there’s the rub: Prior to Sunday’s showdown, Brown hadn’t found the end zone, indicating that he was nothing more than a mere bench stud in roughly 70-80 percent of fantasy leagues. But that’s OK. Even if the Steelers morph into a conservative operation for the winter months, with Rashard Mendenhall (92 total yards) and TE Heath Miller (7 catches, 85 yards) flourishing around the goal line, Brown shall remain a weekly starting consideration in PPR leagues (and standards during bye weeks). He’s too good, too fast and too accessible to be ignored at this stage.

8. Adrian Peterson raised his stock in Points Per Reception leagues. We could attribute Peterson’s career day in receiving yards (76) and first TD catch since Week 1 of his rookie season (2007) to poor tackling from Carolina or the Blind Squirrel Syndrome; but it’s more fun to credit Vikings QB Christian Ponder with AP’s versatile transformation. As if being the No. 1 tailback during the August drafts on rushing prowess alone wasn’t enough, Peterson (923 total yards, 10 TDs in 2011) may be Minnesota’s second-most reliable receiving threat from this point forward — behind Percy Harvin (4 catches, 58 yards) and ahead of boom-but-more-bust talents like Michael Jenkins (2 catches, 30 yards), Devin Aromashodu (2 catches, 20 yards), Kyle Rudolph (2 catches, 15 yards) and Visanthe Shiancoe (3 catches, 37 yards). Regarding Ponder (240 total yards, 1 TD), Sunday’s stats might not have reflected the following gush … but I love the kid’s fearlessness when making downfield throws, a trait that could lead to fantasy viability for Weeks 14-16 (Detroit, New Orleans, Washington).

9. Michael Crabtree can be a difference-maker during Weeks 14-16. Seriously. Wouldn’t it be something if Crabtree (5 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD) and Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Beyforever linked by the 2009 NFL Draft — both made quantum leaps in November/December? At this point, it’s hard to minimize the progress Crabtree and Heyward-Bey have shown in recent weeks, leading their respective teams in catches and targets. Sure, Crabtree (16 catches/29 targets in his last three games) enjoys the luxury of single coverage with RB Frank Gore (134 yards, 1 TD vs. Cleveland) and TE Vernon Davis garnering the defense’s full attention; but he’s still an emerging force on an offense that looks good when QB Alex Smith (199 total yards, 1 TD) stays within himself and Braylon Edwards keeps his head. Factoring in the 49ers’ slate for Weeks 14 (@ Arizona), 15 (vs. Pittsburgh) and 16 (@ Seattle), a combined 17 catches, 250 yards and two TDs are well within Crabtree’s range of production.

10. The Texans are about as subtle as a punch in the face … and that’s a good thing. The Don Shula reference aside (circa 1970), Houston deserves plenty of love for not messing around with an inferior team, like Jacksonville, and feeding Arian Foster (123 total yards, 1 TD on 34 touches) as much as possible. Foster right. Foster left. Foster up the middle. Repeat … it was the perfect game plan for an offense that’s essentially killing time before Andre Johnson returns from a hamstring injury (Week 9?). It was also a good showcase for WR Kevin Walter (5 catches, 70 yards; 9 targets) and Owen Daniels (4 catches, 60 yards), whose fantasy values may actually increase once Johnson returns … and instantly draws double and triple coverages for the stretch run. Speaking of which, fantasy owners would be wise to trade for QB Matt Schaub (225 passing yards, 2 total TDs) in the coming weeks, on the strength of his undeniable talent … and great fortune for drawing the Colts in Week 16.

Andrew LuckICONIs Andrew Luck headed for Indianapolis?

11. Let’s accentuate the PPR positives with the winless Colts. I realize things look bleak in Indy right now — ‘bleak’ being a relative term since the club has Peyton Manning in its past and (maybe) Andrew Luck in its future; but for PPR owners, it’s hard to be disgusted with a club that targets its four main pass-catchers (Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie) 45 times in a three-hour window. It’s also difficult to characterize QB Curtis Painter (329 total yards, zero TDs, 2 INTs) as a colossal failure in fantasyland. Yes, he should never be a starting consideration during non-bye weeks; and yes, he should be flogged for missing Wayne (5 catches, 61 yards; 13 targets) eight times on a crisp, sunny day. But at least he’s trying to feature Clark (6 catches, 77 yards; 10 targets), Garcon (7 catches, 66 yards; 15 targets) and Collie (5 catches, 44 yards) with admirable frequency. After all, it’s not like the Colts rushers are bringing much to the party these days … as evidenced by Painter’s team-high 79 rushing yards against the Titans.

Revelations, Book III
12. It’s too early to formulate any long-lasting opinions of Tim Tebow. Echoing the theme from last week’s Revelations, Tebow (235 total yards, 1 TD vs. Detroit) will neither be celebrated nor disparaged as a fantasy quarterback this season — regardless of the extreme highs and lows of real-world play. After all, what’s the point of overreacting to someone who will consistently finish between 215 and 240 total yards and 1.5 TDs per game? In the fantasy realm, Tebow has value as a bye-week starter in 12-teamers and backup QB the rest of the time; but he’s also an eminently replaceable asset … meaning that most fantasy owners could find a similarly skilled, yet equally flawed talent on waivers at any point. Unfortunately, the same holds true for receivers Eric Decker (6 catches, 72 yards, 1 garbage-time TD), Eddie Royal (6 catches, 41 yards; 13 targets) and Demaryius Thomas (1 catch, 10 yards), all of whom might garner more fantasy cred if Kyle Orton or even Brady Quinn were flinging the ball in Denver. Bottom line: The most appealing aspect of the Broncos lies with their three-headed rushing attack of Willis McGahee (hand injury), Knowshon Moreno (74 total yards) and of course, Tebow.

13. A certain fantasy guru might have misjudged Beanie Wells as a home-only starting option. Wells (83 yards, 1 TD vs. Baltimore) has racked up at least 93 total yards or one touchdown five times this season; so obviously, the kid has talents that extend past the cushy lair of University of Phoenix Stadium. But until Sunday’s sneaky-good outing — amid lingering questions of a sprained knee — I had never viewed Wells (518 total yards, 1 TD) as a coveted trade-deadline prospect. His schedule for Weeks 13-16 (Dallas, San Francisco, Cleveland, Cincinnati) is reasonable, and the Cardinals desperately need a diversion away from the mediocre adventures of QB Kevin Kolb (153 yards passing, 1 TD) or any pass-catcher not named Larry Fitzgerald … although Fitz (3 catches, 98 yards) is hardly setting the numbers world ablaze in 2011. Verdict: It’s rare to suggest a teammate-on-teammate trade in fantasy, but if you have the means to swap Fitzgerald with Wells in a 1-for-1 switcheroo … pull the trigger. As stated last week, the Kolb-Fitzgerald dynamic is probably best viewed from a dispassionate standpoint, with neither anchoring your lineups in December.

Chris JohnsonChris Johnson (right) is no longer in the same class as Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.

14. Chris Johnson has been downgraded from his AAA+ fantasy rating. We have jumped through countless hoops to defend Johnson at every turn this season — from his post-lockout lethargy to recent concerns about conditioning or a lack of chemistry with the offensive line. But with only 51 total yards against the embattled Colts, there’s nothing more to say, really. If fantasy owners want to trade Johnson (411 total yards, 1 TD) right now … by all means, do it. If they want to ignore Johnson’s seemingly easy schedule for Weeks 9-16 … that’s fine, too. And if the Titans should feel emboldened to start Javon Ringer (102 total yards) next week against Cincinnati … perhaps that’s not a bad idea. While few doubt Johnson’s 2012-and-beyond viability, he’s no longer an automatic starter in 10-, 12- or even 14-team leagues. The same holds true for QB Matt Hasselbeck (224 passing yards, 1 TD) and WR Nate Washington (2 TDs). In Nate’s case, we’re not going overboard about a fantasy day that yielded only four catches and 34 yards. Call it the Plaxico Burress Rule.

15. The Redskins and Browns may soon get the fantasy-roadkill treatment. What’s the point of rostering Cleveland QB Colt McCoy (271 total yards, 1 TD vs. San Fran) in 12-team leagues, if he has no one to throw to? And what’s the use in keeping Washington TE Fred Davis (8 catches, 94 yards) past the fantasy trade deadline … with John Beck (208 yards passing, zero INTs vs. Buffalo) and/or Rex Grossman as his quarterback options? It’s disheartening to see the Redskins’ season disintegrate so quickly. No more Tim Hightower (year-ending knee injury). No Santana Moss (broken hand). It’s equally disappointing to see zero consistency from Browns pass-catchers like Greg Little (4 catches, 28 yards; 11 targets), Jordan Norwood (5 catches, 32 yards), Mohammed Massaquoi (DNP – injury) and even TE Ben Watson (only two TDs in 2011). Put it all together … and fantasy owners are left with two teams that offer little hope at the receiver or running back slots. Even kicker Graham Gano has been rendered moot.

16. Tarvaris Jackson knows how to make an entrance — and exit. Can you imagine the damage Jackson (323 yards passing) might have inflicted if he hadn’t been holding a clipboard until midway through the second quarter? Or if the Seahawks hadn’t botched a slam-dunk opportunity for a gimme field goal or air-assisted TD at the end of the first half? That aside, Jackson was a welcome sight for Seattle’s playmakers and fantasy owners everywhere, hurling 40 passes in 37 minutes and reinvigorating the modest values of WR Sidney Rice (7 catches, 102 yards; 14 targets), WR Ben Obomanu (4 catches, 107 yards), Doug Baldwin (5 catches, 73 yards) and maybe RB Marshawn Lynch (24 yards, 1 TD). He also boosted the Bengals’ fantasy cred with a last-minute pick-six to Reggie Nelson (75 yards) — even though Cincy already registered a punt-return TD just three minutes prior (courtesy of Brandon Tate). Verdict: When healthy (and playing at home), Jackson is a sneaky-good starting consideration in 14- and 16-team leagues.

17. Don’t read too much into Reggie Bush’s 100-yard outing. If only Bush could play against the Giants every week … perhaps he’d be viewed as more than a RB4 in PPR leagues (and free agent in standards); instead, fantasy owners can only bask in the short-term glow of Reggie’s second 100-yard rushing effort of his career (both against New York) — assuming they got the pregame memo that Daniel Thomas (hamstring) was an injury scratch. Otherwise, they likely missed out on Bush’s signature performance of 2011 — from a total yards perspective (120). Looking at the schedule, Bush could post solid numbers Week 10 against the suddenly wretched Redskins … conveniently before most trade deadlines. You know who wouldn’t make an exorbitant pre-deadline pickup? Brandon Marshall. Not because he struggled against Corey Webster (4 catches, 55 yards) or that Matt Moore (169 total yards, 1 TD) is the Fins’ QB for the foreseeable future; his schedule for Weeks 14 (vs. Philly), 15 (@ Buffalo) and 16 (@ New England) is simply plagued by high-end cornerbacks or the (very likely) threat of brutal East Coast weather in December — not unlike the classic Nor’easter that attacked many states this weekend.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 8

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 8 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 8 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 8 (mp3)

CLICK HERE to check out more Starts & Sits for Week 8 (will be published Saturday afternoon).

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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Calm before the storm

A Pre-Trade Deadline Checklist
Here are seven simple steps for fantasy GMs to follow for the weeks leading up to the trade deadline (traditionally Week 11 or 12):

1. Perform an honest assessment of your roster. Consider this a must-do ritual from this point forward -- at least twice a week.

A Pre-Trade Deadline Checklist
Here are seven simple steps for fantasy GMs to follow for the weeks leading up to the trade deadline (traditionally Week 11 or 12):

1. Perform an honest assessment of your roster. Consider this a must-do ritual from this point forward — at least twice a week. Do not get fooled into believing marginal players will magically turn on the jets; and if you’ve had a hole at QB, RB, WR, TE or the RB/WR flex the first seven weeks … you’ll likely be exposed in Weeks 8-16, as well.

1a. Perform an honest assessment of your fellow owners’ rosters. Keep in mind that not every owner obsesses about improving his/her starting lineup; and not every GM has the capacity to pull off a creative trade. That’s where you come in: Do their homework and concoct a win-win deal for both parties.

Darrius Heyward-BeyICONGet aggressive if a player like DHB lands on the waiver wire.

2. Take advantage of a GM’s bye-week desperation. With byes to the Falcons, Packers, Bears, Raiders, Buccaneers and Jets, be on the lookout for an owner stealthily placing talents like Julio Jones, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Bush, Josh Freeman, Mike Williams, Dustin Keller, or James Jones on waivers for just one week … to fill a short-term hole at kicker, defense, quarterback or wide receiver. And if your lineup is set for Sunday, feel free to grab the productive names above, as a means of stashing ’em for the stretch run. Tell me you wouldn’t love Julio Jones (17 catches/254 yards/24 targets for Weeks 3/4) as a WR4 … with the intention of starting him during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14 (@ Carolina), 15 (vs. Jacksonville) and 16 (@ New Orleans)?

3. Never let an owner with a losing record control the tone of trade negotiations, especially when dealing with superstars. Before the downtrodden, perhaps desperate GM submits a blockbuster offer, let them know which star player(s) absolutely must be included in their proposal. Rule of thumb: A club that’s destined for a lonely Week 14 should never hold the hammer when haggling … and don’t be afraid to use your hammer when things get sticky.

4. Be the aggressor when offering trades. There’s nothing worse than NOT having control of an intense negotiation. Don’t let the other owner gain the upper hand by throwing out names, in hopes that you’ll bite out of desperation (or boredom).

5. Make full use of technology during trade season. There’s obviously nothing wrong with exchanging offers, via email. But in this age of texting, iPhones, IMs and Twitter — where immediacy reigns — it’s likely more productive to initiate real-time, back-and-forth dialogue when invoking serious talks. Plus, it allows for owners to be upfront with their intentions, asking specific questions like: What will it take to get Greg Jennings? OR Do you prefer to have Ryan Fitzpatrick or Matt Ryan during the fantasy playoffs? OR … Of your three main flex options — BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Santonio Holmes, Steve Johnson … which one is untouchable? And with these complex questions come immediate answers, with very little time wasted on roundabout trade offers that don’t cut to the core of what Owner A wants … or Owner B needs. At the very least, this form of communication sets the table for future discussions … enabling owners to put a face (or voice) on a previously faceless (or voiceless) owner in their league.

Darren SprolesDarren Sproles could make for a valuable piece of trade bait.

6. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice your bench. The lesson here is quite simple: Amazing bench depth will serve you no purpose during the playoffs. So, if you have three high-end running backs (Rashard Mendenhall, Darren Sproles, Steven Jackson) and the DeMarco Murray/Felix Jones handcuff, Weeks 8-9-10 represents the optimum time to package that enviable depth into a blockbuster deal that addresses other key starting slots. Sure, you’ll be sweating bullets if a stud runner goes down to injury … but hey, there’s a risk-reward aspect to every challenge in fantasyland — just don’t look back!

7. Don’t hesitate to ask the real burning questions. If the playoffs started today, could my squad hold up and flourish for three straight weeks? Can my starters realistically catch fire at the right time and win a championship? If the answer’s ‘No’ … then it’s time to get to work!

Week 8: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Drew Brees @ St. Louis
2. Cam Newton vs. Minnesota
3. Eli Manning vs. Miami
4. Tom Brady @ Pittsburgh
5. Ben Roethlisberger vs. New England
6. Michael Vick vs. Dallas
7. Philip Rivers @ Kansas City

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice vs. Arizona
2. Arian Foster vs. Jacksonville
3. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Miami
4. Fred Jackson vs. Washington (Toronto)
5. Frank Gore vs. Cleveland
6. Jonathan Stewart vs. Minnesota
7. LeSean McCoy vs. Dallas
8. DeMarco Murray @ Philadelphia
9. Knowshon Moreno vs. Detroit
10. Chris Johnson vs. Indianapolis
11. Ryan Mathews @ Kansas City

It’s A Little Known Fact …
… That in five regular-season games against the Steelers, Tom Brady has averaged 337.5 yards and 2.4 TD passes. Using the same sample size, Ben Roethlisberger boasts per-game averages of 233 yards and two TD passes against the Patriots.

Passing Fancy
Here’s a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (still the gold standard of fantasy signal-callers)
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Drew Brees, Saints (should feast on another Suck For Luck squad this week)
4. Michael Vick, Eagles (the last iconic face for our QB Mount Rushmore)
5. Tony Romo, Cowboys
6. Cam Newton, Panthers (a virtual lock for 275 yards and/or 3 TDs every week — monsoons aside)
7. Eli Manning, Giants
8. Matthew Stafford, Lions
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (789 yards passing/9 TDs in his last three games)
10. Matt Schaub, Texans
11. Philip Rivers, Chargers
12. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
13. Matt Ryan, Falcons
14. Mark Sanchez, Jets
15. Jay Cutler, Bears
16. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers (should see a spike in passing numbers while the Bucs search for a tailback)
17. Joe Flacco, Ravens
18. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin need to step it up)
19. Sam Bradford, Rams (a potential fantasy gem for the stretch run … if he can get on the field)
20. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
21. Tim Tebow, Broncos
22. Andy Dalton, Bengals
23. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans (has lost a sizable chunk of fantasy goodwill in recent weeks)
24. Colt McCoy, Browns
25. Alex Smith, 49ers
26. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks
27. Carson Palmer, Raiders (strange but true: Darrius Heyward-Bey holds the key to CP’s fantasy livelihood)
28. Christian Ponder, Vikings
29. Curtis Painter, Colts
30. Matt Moore, Dolphins
31. John Beck, Redskins
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars (a cannon-armed rookie can only do so much when throwing to Jason Hill)

Week 8 Pre-Revelation
Sunday’s Bengals-Seahawks clash might be the perfect litmus test for Andy Dalton. For 14- or 16-team leagues where franchise quarterbacks are at a premium, Dalton (1,311 yards passing, 7 TDs) represents a rock-solid play during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 15 (@ St. Louis) and 16 (vs. Arizona). Throwing out his marginal NFL debut in Week 1, Dalton is averaging 15.3 fantasy points per game — a respectable number that can easily be duplicated against the Rams and Cardinals, if A.J. Green (29 catches/453 yards/4 TDs), Jerome Simpson (22 catches/353 yards), TE Jermaine Gresham and RB Cedric Benson are running at full capacity in December. So, why is this weekend’s cross-country trip so vital for Dalton’s future? Well, Seattle’s pass defense has surrendered 250 yards per game (13th worst in the NFL) … and 263 at Qwest Field. If Dalton can hit that ballpark range — while accounting for two TDs — it’ll serve as more evidence that he deserves a Week 15 start over Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Kevin Kolb or Matt Cassel.

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Dwayne Bowe vs. San Diego
2. Steve Smith vs. Minnesota
3. DeSean Jackson vs. Dallas
4. Wes Welker @ Pittsburgh
5. Larry Fitzgerald @ Baltimore
6. Mike Wallace vs. New England
7. A.J. Green @ Seattle
8. Anquan Boldin vs. Arizona
9. Marques Colston @ St. Louis
10. Malcom Floyd @ Kansas City (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Neil Rackers vs. Jacksonville
2. Billy Cundiff vs. Arizona
3. Rian Lindell vs. Washington (Toronto)
4. David Akers vs. Cleveland
5. Josh Scobee @ Houston
6. Lawrence Tynes vs. Miami

You Gotta Be Cruel To Be Kind
As much as I enjoy answering round-the-clock texts, emails and Tweets (@ATL_JayClemons) from the fantasy masses … here are three questions that will gleefully go unanswered:

Ray LewisRay Lewis anchors a Baltimore defense that has been outstanding for fantasy owners this season.

1. “Which do you like — Defense A or Defense B?” — Unless we’re talking about the Ravens, Jets, Bears, 49ers, Packers, Lions or Patriots … every D/ST is a dime-a-dozen entity from week-to-week. Sure, kick-returning dynamos tend to inflate a middling defense’s value … but everything is relative over the course of 17 weeks — so why even try to speak intelligently about crapshoots? Personally, I like to grab a free-agent team that has the good fortune of facing the Rams, Colts, Dolphins, Seahawks or Browns on a given Sunday. Short of trading for the Magnificent Seven above, it’s the only bankable strategy for D/ST viability.

2. “Which kicker do you like during the byes?” — While every point certainly counts in fantasyland, it’s quite unnecessary to speculate on kickers from week to week; if you’re really jonesing for a Sunday steal in free agency … simply go to your league page and click on “Players” then “Kickers.” Once there, you’ll see a listing of talents — either ranked by seasonal points or projected points for that particular week. Either way, you’re golden with pretty much anyone topping these lists. One last thing: If you can spare the Week 8 bench space, I highly recommend grabbing Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski (on bye) — easily the most bankable asset among his positional peers.

3. “What do you think of this trade — Defense A for Defense B?” — For starters, I wouldn’t want to be in a league where owners execute 1-for-1 swaps involving defenses. Seriously, what are you trying to accomplish here? Are you really trying to outfox a fellow owner … on the hope/prayer that Minnesota might convert a Cam Newton sack/fumble into a touchdown this weekend? Really?

Target Practice
These 30 wideouts have collected at least 30 receiving targets (at least 6 per game) since Week 3:
1. Wes Welker, Patriots — 52 Targets
2. Roddy White, Falcons — 52 Targets
3. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 50 Targets
4. Mike Williams, Buccaneers — 49 Targets
5. Pierre Garcon, Colts — 43
6. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders — 42
7. Greg Jennings, Packers — 42
8. Steve Smith, Panthers — 40
9. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 38
10. Anquan Boldin, Ravens — 37
11. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 37
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 37
13. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 36
14. Michael Crabtree, 49ers — 35
15. Plaxico Burress, Jets — 34
16. Brandon Lloyd, Rams — 34
17. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 33
18. Early Doucet, Cardinals — 33
19. Jason Hill, Jaguars — 33
20. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles — 33
21. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 33
22. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 33
23. Danario Alexander, Rams — 32
24. Michael Jenkins, Vikings — 32
25. Greg Little, Browns — 32
26. Steve Johnson, Bills — 31
27. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 31
28. Eric Decker, Broncos — 30
29. A.J. Green, Bengals — 30
30. Devin Hester, Bears — 30

Pennies On The Dollar
Here are 10 preseason stars who can be had, via trade, for less than 60 percent of their August values:
1. RB Chris Johnson, Titans (too much talent to ignore down the stretch; the easy schedule helps, too)
2. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (a true safety blanket for Christian Ponder)
3. RB Peyton Hillis, Browns (no major injuries here … and Colt McCoy needs his 2010 production)
4. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers (Tampa Bay will have no choice but to air it out in the coming weeks)
5. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers (there’s still time to pry Gates from skeptical owners)
6. WR Mario Manningham, Giants (eventually … he’ll break out of his 5-catch, 56-yard, zero-TD shell)
7. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers (gotta love San Diego’s sked from Weeks 14-16: Buffalo, Baltimore, Detroit)
8. RB Shonn Greene, Jets (it’s not like LaDainian Tomlinson will bump Greene anytime soon)
9. WR Roddy White, Falcons (a targets machine … despite missing the 100-yard mark in 14 of his last 15 games)
10. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (pass-happy Pittsburgh will get conservative during the winter months)

Inside The Numbers
In odd-numbered games this season, Ravens QB Joe Flacco is averaging 306 yards passing, 2 TDs and 0.33 INTs; in even-numbered outings, Flacco’s averaging 166 yards passing, 0.66 TDs and 1.33 interceptions. This week’s clash with Arizona is Baltimore’s SEVENTH game of the year … so, start him with confidence!

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 8:
QB Drew Brees
RB Arian Foster
RB LeSean McCoy
WR Mike Wallace
WR Dwayne Bowe
RB/WR Frank Gore
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Billy Cundiff (Ravens)
D/ST Houston Texans

YouTube Memory Lane
I cannot end today’s Philanthropist without spreading some YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1970s and 80s:

1. 1976Monday Night Football‘s Alex Karras croons the Jets’ theme song, penned by first-year coach Lou Holtz.
2. 1979 — Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert unleashes a nasty helmet-to-helmet shot on Broncos receiver Haven Moses.
3. 1979 — The Raiders stage one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history … against the Saints on Monday Night Football.
4. 1983 — Redskins rookie (and future Hall of Famer) Darrell Green sprints past five teammates to halt Tony Dorsett‘s potential breakaway TD. If memory serves, Dallas rallied from a 23-3 deficit to win 31-30 at old RFK Stadium.
5. 1985 — The famed ‘Snow Bowl’ at Lambeau Field, as the Packers stifled Steve Young and the Bucs amid blizzard conditions. One fan’s sign reading, We Must Be Nuts says it all here.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 7 Revelations

Week 7 Revelations
1. So, this is why a certain fantasy guru ranked Drew Brees as the No. 1 QB in August. I'm not a mathematician -- nor do I play one on TV -- but how did Brees NOT score a perfect QB rating against the Colts? Brees (31-of-35 passing for

Week 7 Revelations
1. So, this is why a certain fantasy guru ranked Drew Brees as the No. 1 QB in August. I’m not a mathematician — nor do I play one on TV — but how did Brees NOT score a perfect QB rating against the Colts? Brees (31-of-35 passing for 325 yards, 5 TDs) led his club to single-game franchise records in points (62) and first downs (36), while only netting four incompletions on the night (Curtis Painter‘s total after one quarter) — shouldn’t that be enough to earn a perfect score of 158.3? At the very least, can someone explain what was so special about the times Y.A. Tittle, Joe Namath, Craig Morton, Vince Evans, Steve Bartkowski, Trent Green and some guy named Mike Buck pitched perfect games — compared to Brees’ domination in Week 7? It makes no sense. Sabermetric rants aside, there wasn’t much to find fault with here: Marques Colston (7 catches, 98 yards, 2 TDs) and TE Jimmy Graham (6 catches, 54 yards, 2 TDs) maintained their standing as pass-catching dynamos, while Darren Sproles (107 total yards, 2 TDs), Mark Ingram (97 total yards before injuring his heel/foot) and Pierre Thomas (125 total yards) raised the fantasy bar for future three-pronged rushing attacks. Bottom line: Brees, Colston, Graham and Sproles are automatic starting considerations from this point forward; and hopefully, Ingram will be healthy enough for Week 8, when the Saints likely pillage and plunder another Suck For Luck candidate — the winless Rams.

Arian FosterOn Sunday, Arian Foster reminded fantasy owners why he’s one of the best in the business.

2. Forget about wondering who’s the AFC’s best tailback. On a day when Darren McFadden sprained a foot, Rashard Mendenhall got swallowed up by the Steelers’ passing attack, Ray Rice chilled in a Jacksonville-area hotel and Chris Johnson brought a whole new meaning to the term uninspired mediocrity (more on him later) … RB Arian Foster enjoyed perhaps his greatest day as a pro, racking up 234 total yards (115 rushing) and three TDs in Houston’s surprisingly easy road rout of Tennessee. How great was Foster? The distance between himself and the aforementioned stars might be greater than the separation that exists between a Tier II rusher and Texans backup Ben Tate, who pounded the Titans for 104 yards on just 15 carries. Obviously, Tate can’t be expected to go trolling for 100 yards every week, but Sunday’s effort may have solidified his standing as one of the better RB2s in fantasy — along with Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, Knowshon Moreno, Jonathan Stewart, Brandon Jacobs, Michael Bush and the latest Cowboys playmaker to set the NFL world on fire.

3. DeMarco Murray has likely earned another start with the Cowboys — and your fantasy team. If Felix Jones or Murray haven’t heard the legend of Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig, they’ll get an earful of it before the Cowboys’ Week 8 showdown with the Eagles. And now, it’s fair to wonder if Jones (out with a knee injury) may have unwittingly ceded his spot as the team’s feature back, after watching the rookie Murray torch the Rams for a franchise-record 253 rushing yards — which included a 91-yard touchdown run in the first quarter? OK, so maybe Jones would have accrued similarly stellar numbers against the porous Rams defense; but there’s no disputing that Murray should be given every chance to prove Sunday’s monster outing wasn’t a one-time occurrence. The same holds true for fantasy owners: Even if Dallas wasn’t facing Philly’s flailing run defense, they’d be advised to stick with Murray in all scoring formats, no matter the situation. But since the Eagles are on deck, it’s fun to dream about Murray’s capacity for 150 total yards … while perhaps doing the unthinkable for a second straight week: Making the fantasy accomplishments of QB Tony Romo (166 yards passing, 2 TDs vs. St. Louis), TE Jason Witten (5 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD), WR Miles Austin (2 catches, 16 yards) and WR Dez Bryant (5 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD) go largely unnoticed.

4. Matt Forte has unlocked the key to playing great in London: Sleep on the plane! It’s scary to think where the Bears would be sitting right now if Forte wasn’t dominating the scene every week … so much that Sunday’s windfall (183 total yards, 1 TD) was only his second-greatest performance of the young season. Take away Jay Cutler‘s middling day (226 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) and that no Bears wideout collected five catches or 60 yards … and we’re left with an anxious Wembley Stadium audience hanging on Forte’s every move, every against-the-grain cut, every long run that looks ridiculously smooth. But that’s how fantasy owners want it anyway, since neither Cutler nor Devin Hester (4 catches, 46 yards), Johnny Knox (3 catches, 53 yards), Dane Sanzenbacher (2 catches, 13 yards) are entrenched starters; and only superstars like Forte could command top dollar — and then some — during their upcoming bye week.

Roddy WhiteMatt Ryan and Roddy White all already behind last year’s pace.

5. The days of Roddy White being a lock for triple-digit yardage may be over. While fantasy owners undoubtedly cheered White’s over-the-shoulder TD catch against the Lions, Sunday’s output (5 catches, 52 yards, 1 TD) marked the 14th time in 15 games that Roddy failed to tally 100 receiving yards; and to put this slump into context, White amazingly cracked the century mark 16 different times from 2008-10. But with friends like Michael Turner (122 yards vs. Detroit), Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 62 yards) and Matt Ryan (220 total yards, 2 TDs) sharing the grunt work, it’s hard to be completely dour after the Falcons’ crucial NFC victory. Speaking of Ryan, did you notice that his decent stats were remarkably similar to the media world’s biggest hero for Week 7? Here’s a hint: Rhymes with Slebow.

Revelations, Book II
6. Tim Tebow’s fantasy day should neither be celebrated nor disparaged. Seriously. In this golden age of DirecTV Sunday Ticket and NFL Red Zone (on two channels, no less), may I recommend the best course of action for the faint-of-heart Tebow owner: Don’t watch his games on TV! Think about it: If you took the kids to an apple orchard from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday and checked out Tebow’s line after Denver’s incredible comeback victory, you’d be happy — but not overjoyed — with the 226-yard, 2-TD outing (plus a 2-point conversion) in Tebow’s starting debut for 2011. But if you passed on that family-bonding opportunity for perhaps the worst 56 minutes by a QB since Ryan Leaf (circa 1998), followed by the most thrilling 10 minutes from a left-handed quarterback NOT named Steve Young … you’re now in the awkward position of guessing, ‘Which Tebow will show up for Lions-Broncos next Sunday?’ Bottom line: No current starting QB has more train-wreck potential than Tebow; but he also possesses that je ne sais quoi quality, that certain something that reassures fantasy owners everywhere: I will get my 220 total yards and two TDs … no matter how many overthrows and 8-second scrambles it takes!

7. There’s no middle ground with Plaxico Burress. Fantasy GMs should only view Plaxico’s 3-TD effort against the Bolts in two ways: Either he represents the ultimate red-zone weapon for Jets QB Mark Sanchez (198 total yards, 3 TDs) and deserves to be a weekly flex starter in 12- and 14-team leagues … OR fantasy owners should feel obligated to “sell high” on Burress this week, knowing there will never be a better time to get top dollar in the trade market. (I’m siding with the latter.) If Burress was an actual tight end trapped in a receiver’s body, perhaps I’d want him for the remainder of the season; but I cannot commit to a wideout who, on his greatest fantasy day since 2007 (8 catches/144 yards/3 TDs in Week 1), only pulled down four catches for 25 yards. And given the relative strength of playmakers Shonn Greene (117 total yards vs. San Diego), TE Dustin Keller (4 catches, 53 yards) and WR Santonio Holmes … I cannot envision Plax rolling for three scores again this year. As a Michigan State alum, it pains me to view Plax in this prism; but then again, what right-minded fantasy owner could pass on the opportunity to bilk a die-hard Jets fan out of a RB2 or RB3 — for a guy who hasn’t caught five balls since George W. Bush‘s presidency?

8. There’s something Favre-ian about Kevin Kolb’s game … and that’s not a good thing. Oh, how I wish NFL.com had the clip of Kolb missing a wide-open receiver (Rob Housler, I think) in the first half of Steelers-Cardinals. It may have marked the first time I have ever seen a QB underthrow an unfettered pass-catcher on a simple seam route — for a coulda/woulda/shoulda touchdown. That shaky play best encapsulated Kolb’s Sunday struggles: Yes, he tallied 286 total yards and two touchdowns against a top-notch defense, and yes, he had to make do without RB Beanie Wells (sprained knee) in the second half; but it was the kind of erratic performance that leaves one to wonder if Kolb (272 yards passing) needs 1-2 more years of seasoning before developing into a weekly starting consideration in 12- or 14-team leagues — let alone leading the Cardinals to a winning record? As a direct consequence to Kolb’s inefficiency, Larry Fitzgerald (4 catches, 78 yards; team-high 10 targets) caught 50 percent or less of his targets for the third time in seven games … which wouldn’t be such an ominous sign if Early Doucet (5 catches, 30 yards, 1 TD), Housler (2 catches, 28 yards) or Andre Roberts (1 catch, 8 yards) were capable of posting rock-solid numbers on a consistent basis. And looking at the Cardinals’ slate during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14-16 (San Francisco, Cleveland, @ Cincinnati) … Fitzgerald’s greatest gift to his current owners may come in the form of a pre-deadline trade to another team.

Matt CasselCassel frustrated fantasy owners in Sunday’s big win over Oakland.

9. Let’s not overreact to the subpar efforts of Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer — for different reasons. Outside of Kansas City’s first drive (three plays and out), Cassel and Co. were playing with house money the entire game, benefiting from a silky-smooth pick-six (off Kyle Boller) and an early injury to Raiders RB Darren McFadden (6 total yards). Throw in a couple short-yardage touchdowns from Le’Ron McClain and Javier Arenas … and Cassel (161 yards passing, zero TDs) was unwittingly a productive bystander who brought very little fantasy spice to the Chiefs’ shutout rout. On the flip side, Cassel targeted Dwayne Bowe (6 catches, 76 yards) and Steve Breaston (5 catches, 64 yards) 19 times — so at least his fantasy heart was in the right place, boding well for next week’s clash with the Chargers. As for Palmer (116 yards passing, zero TDs, 3 INTs) … what did you expect from a guy who’s been sitting on a couch for the last 10 months and had only three days to bond with teammates and learn a complicated offense? Bottom line: The Raiders have a bye next week; and in the 14 days before their next game (vs. Denver), I fully expect Palmer to perfect timing routes with Darrius Heyward-Bey (5 catches, 89 yards; team-high 11 targets) and Jacoby Ford (2 catches, 13 yards) … while getting full-time support from McFadden and RB Michael Bush (111 total yards). But then again, it’s not like we endorsed starting him in the first place. HA!

10. Someone not named Kregg Lumpkin stands to benefit from Earnest Graham’s Achilles injury. Depending on how many more weeks LeGarrette Blount misses with an MCL injury, it’ll be very interesting to see how Tampa Bay handles its latest devastating injury (Graham will reportedly miss the season). Will the club try to make a temporary franchise back out of Lumpkin (52 total yards vs. Chicago) … or solicit the help of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Tiki Barber to come off the street and work miracles for a bruised and battered playoff contender? Whatever the case, WR Mike Williams (6 catches, 75 yards), WR Dezmon Briscoe (6 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD) and TE Kellen Winslow (4 catches, 25 yards) need to dramatically step up and help lift QB Josh Freeman (264 yards passing, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) from the icy depths of mediocrity. We loved the 33 combined targets for the trio … but neither Williams, Winslow nor Briscoe (a decent free-agent pickup before/after the Bucs’ bye) are anything more than roster-worthy assets in 12-team leagues.

11. It’s time to eat some crow on Chris Johnson. Let’s keep this one short and sweet: I was wayyyyyyyy off on my midweek assertion that Johnson was a certifiable lock for 100 total yards from Weeks 7-16; and I may have overvalued Nate Washington‘s impact in the fantasy realm … short of one catch for 10 yards (and three measly targets) becoming the new standard of acceptable mediocrity. But at the same time, let’s not browbeat the Titans too much for treating Sunday’s showdown with the Texans like a drab, meaningless game in late December and NOT a litmus test to determine the new AFC South favorite. Just wait until Matt Hasselbeck (104 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs) connects with a coveted secret weapon like Terrell Owens … and Johnson (411 total yards, 1 TD in six games) finally gets in shape for the stretch run. That’s when amazing happens!

Revelations, Book III
12. Fantasy owners should spend the week trying to land Greg Jennings, via trade. The optimist would point to Jennings’ phenomenal effort against the Vikings (7 catches/147 yards/1 TD) as another example of his bankable excellence, whereas the pessimist might chide Jennings for falling short of last year’s production at Mall of America Field (7 catches/152 yards/3 TDs). Either way, there’s ample reason to pursue a pre-deadline deal for Jennings — especially with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (335 yards passing, 3 TDs) destroying all comers … and Green Bay’s rushers struggling to reach the end zone with semi-regularity. (Although James Starks did finish with 99 total yards.) The only nit-picky strike against Jennings: With the emergence of James Jones (4 catches, 63 yards), Jordy Nelson (4 catches, 52 yards) and TE Jermichael Finley (2 catches, 13 yards, 1 TD) … it’s unreasonable to think that Jennings (6 TDs) can remain within shouting distance of Calvin Johnson‘s record-setting touchdown pace. Right? Could fantasy owners be happy with Jennings only giving 1994 Sterling Sharpe (18 TDs) a run for his money?

13. Steve Smith is the perfect complement to Cam Newton — and vice versa. By mid-October, Newton and Smith (7 catches, 143 yards vs. Washington) may already be the most prolific Round 10 or later QB/WR duo in the history of fantasyland. That’s the highest compliment one could give this pairing of supreme talents … who were either too inexperienced or too old just two months ago. In case you’re scoring at home, Newton (315 total yards, 2 TDs) has eclipsed the minimum star threshold of 275 yards and/or 3 TDs in every game that wasn’t played in monsoon-like conditions; and Smith, bless his indefatigable heart, is the only NFL receiver to post at least four games of 143 yards this season. In case you’re peeking ahead to Carolina’s schedule, fantasy owners should explore floating a few trade-trial balloons involving Newton (non-keeper leagues only) before or immediately after next week’s juicy encounter with Minnesota, for three reasons:

1. The Panthers are among the second-to-last grouping of bye teams (Week 9).
2. Even bankable stars in September/October aren’t immune from hitting the proverbial ‘rookie wall’ in December.
3. Carolina has four tough dates with Atlanta, Houston and Tampa Bay (twice) from Weeks 13-16.

14. The Rams’ garbage-time offense may be horrible, but there’s reason for optimism here. OK, so maybe QB A.J. Feeley (196 yards passing, zero TDs) isn’t a reasonable facsimile of Sam Bradford (out with high-ankle sprain); and perhaps Steven Jackson (73 total yards, 1 TD) has wasted his prime NFL years on a club that’s 13-57 in their last 70 games. But with five double-digit losses this season alone, it’s quite reasonable to believe that 0-6 St. Louis will eventually figure out how to produce in garbage-time situations. With respected talents like Bradford, Jackson, WR Greg Salas (2 catches, 33 yards), TE Lance Kendricks and now Brandon Lloyd (6 catches, 74 yards; team-high 12 targets), their red-zone efficiency during blowouts has to improve down the stretch; and that stance alone makes the above playmakers roster-worthy in 14- or 16-team leagues. After all, it’s not like the Rams and Dolphins play this season.

Brandon MarshallBrandon Marshall isn’t the only receiver in Miami.

15. Please don’t ignore Davone Bess in PPR leagues. I can only write about Brandon Marshall (6 catches, 61 yards) and his relative interest — or disinterest — in catching balls so many times. So, for once in Miami’s hopeless season, we’ll explore the viability of Bess (7 catches, 52 yards) in deeper PPRs. Was his team-high 12 targets from Sunday a product of the Broncos “rolling” under/over coverages on Marshall — thus pressuring the Dolphins rushers to seize control of an eminently winnable game? Or has QB Matt Moore (197 yards passing, 1 TD) begun to realize that Marshall, Daniel Thomas (53 total yards) and Reggie Bush (46 total yards) are incapable of carrying one of the NFL’s most anemic offenses? For fantasy owners who would kill for consistency during the bye-ravaged weeks, Bess represents an intriguing “safety play” for 13-16 PPR points every week — even if he finds the end zone with noticeable infrequency.

16. Christian Ponder likely won’t be an anchor on Adrian Peterson’s fantasy value. Considering that no rookie quarterback had earned his first NFL start against a 6-0 (or better) club since 1967 (Steve Spurrier), we’re perfectly content with handing Ponder (250 total yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) a free pass against the Packers — even if he acquitted himself just fine, numbers-wise. It’s not like 12-team owners will require Ponder to start during the bye-ravaged weekends; and it’s not like his promotion to Minnesota’s QB1 will dramatically improve the values of Michael Jenkins (3 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD), Visanthe Shiancoe (4 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD), Devin Aromashodu (1 catch, 13 yards) or even Percy Harvin (2 catches, 15 yards). Yes, Jenkins and Shiancoe were solid against Green Bay, but they’re nothing more than roster-worthy benchwarmers in 12- or 14-team leagues — barring a rash of unforeseen consistency. As for Peterson, he’s a weekly lock for 23-26 touches in non-blowout situations … with the customary expectation of 115 total yards and one touchdown. Bank on it!

17. There’s no more Revelations space to address Mike Wallace’s 95-yard TD or potentially damaging injuries to Tim Hightower and Matthew Stafford. Thank god for our Thursday column … and a Twitter feed that answered 739 fantasy questions last week alone!

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 7

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 7 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 7 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 7 (mp3)

CLICK HERE to check out more Starts & Sits for Week 7 (will be published Saturday afternoon).

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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Passing fancy

The Trade Heard 'Round The World
It's customary to open my Thursday column with a subject or event that's both momentous and relatively simple to break down; but today, we'll begin with a hot-button topic that's impossible to measure: Carson Palmer's fantasy effect with the Raiders, after 'The Greatest Trade

The Trade Heard ‘Round The World
It’s customary to open my Thursday column with a subject or event that’s both momentous and relatively simple to break down; but today, we’ll begin with a hot-button topic that’s impossible to measure: Carson Palmer‘s fantasy effect with the Raiders, after ‘The Greatest Trade in Football’.

In the event that you’ve been fixated on the Cyclops Albino Shark or Zanesville Exotic Animals Breakout sagas, Oakland executed a mind-blowing swap for the 32-year-old Palmer on Tuesday, just hours before the NFL trade deadline passed. As their penance for losing Jason Campbell for the season (broken collarbone) and suddenly scrambling to find a QB savior for a playoff contender, the 4-2 Raiders surrendered a Round 1 pick next year and conditional 1st- or 2nd-rounder in 2013, based on the club’s playoff success (or lack thereof) in the next 15 months. But since these real-world nuances have little bearing on fantasy football, let’s move ahead to questions that matter:

Question: Can Palmer quickly evolve into a weekly-starter consideration in 12- and 14-team leagues?

Carson PalmerHow long will it take Palmer to get up to speed in Oakland?

Answer: In 97 career starts, Palmer (22,694 career passing yards) has accounted for three or more TDs in consecutive weeks only five times — with none of the occurrences coming after 2006. So, even in his prime with the Bengals, Palmer was never a no-brainer starter during non-bye weeks — unless faith-based fantasy owners were convinced his powerful, yet sometimes-erratic arm could produce five-plus TDs on any given Sunday — a two-time occurrence with Cincy (2007, 2009). Going one step further, if Palmer had been dealt to the Raiders before the 2011 season, I would have ranked him somewhere behind Matt Cassel/Sam Bradford and ahead of Mark Sanchez/Kevin Kolb … basically preferred-status backup QBs.

Question: Will emerging targets like Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, Kevin Boss adjust to the stark differences between Palmer and Campbell?

Answer: Campbell and Palmer possess similar arm strength when competing in the made-for-TV Quarterback Challenge during the offseason, but the two are disparate figures on NFL Sundays. Palmer (100 career INTs) has no fear when throwing the deep ball in traffic or conscience when trying to squeeze tight spots on intermediate routes. Palmer is also less mobile than Campbell, likely obligating speedsters Heyward-Bey and Ford to run cleaner, quicker routes against sack-happy defenses. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how quickly everyone — including Oakland’s power backs — assimilates to Palmer’s high-profile arrival.

Question: Will Darren McFadden‘s starring role in the Raiders offense increase or decrease on Palmer’s watch?

Answer: Fantasy Football Today tabs McFadden (761 total yards, 5 TDs) as the No. 3 tailback in fantasy, despite only 21.5 touches per game; and prior to his season-ending injury, Campbell was averaging 27.5 passes per game. Bottom line: It may not matter that Raiders head coach (and de facto GM) Hue Jackson is ready for full-bore passing with Palmer. McFadden (100-plus total yards in 14 of his last 19 games) has quickly become one of the most efficient elite backs in the biz; and if he can endure Michael Bush vulturing a few goal-line touches … surely a Palmer uptick to 30 passes per outing won’t kill D-Mac’s current standing as a top-5 asset. He may even catch more balls out of the backfield.

Question: Does Palmer deserve a fantasy start this weekend against the Chiefs?

Answer: Yes, Palmer has been working out with noted QB guru (and former Jet) Ken O’Brien in the last few months; but it’d be foolish to think he could dominate the Chiefs in Week 7 … without any pre-existing chemistry with the Raiders’ playmakers or the benefits of a full training camp and six weeks of the NFL grind. So please, if you’re going to devote waiver-wire resources to Palmer during the bye-ravaged weeks — praying he’ll be a fantasy force — make it a low- or medium-risk investment. Simply put: Palmer should not be a starting consideration this weekend … when compared to Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Matt Hasselbeck, Kevin Kolb, Matt Schaub or even Sam Bradford. (Note: Palmer went for $41, $37 and $34 in three of my blind-bidding auction leagues on Wednesday.)

Week 7: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Drew Brees vs. Indianapolis
2. Aaron Rodgers @ Minnesota
3. Tony Romo vs. St. Louis
4. Ben Roethlisberger @ Arizona
5. Matthew Stafford vs. Atlanta
6. Philip Rivers @ N.Y. Jets
7. Cam Newton vs. Washington
8. Kevin Kolb vs. Pittsburgh

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Chris Johnson vs. Houston
2. Michael Turner @ Detroit
3. Willis McGahee @ Miami
4. Arian Foster @ Tennessee
5. Darren McFadden vs. Kansas City
6. Steven Jackson @ Dallas
7. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Baltimore
8. Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay
9. Ray Rice @ Jacksonville
10. Matt Forte vs. Tampa Bay (London)

It’s A Little Known Fact …
… That of the top-50 wideouts or tight ends in receiving targets through six weeks, only six have yet to register a touchdown: Kellen Winslow, Julio Jones, Jerome Simpson, Jason Avant, Antonio Brown, Michael Crabtree.

The Hands That Built America
Here’s my always-fluid listing of the top-40 wideouts in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions (float a Calvin trade balloon to your fellow owners … just to gauge their reaction)
2. Mike Wallace, Steelers
3. Wes Welker, Patriots (his dominance is too great to ignore for the stretch run)
4. Greg Jennings, Packers
5. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (red-zone efficiency must improve to maintain ranking)
6. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
7. Miles Austin, Cowboys
8. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
9. Roddy White, Falcons
10. Andre Johnson, Texans (will he return before the Texans’ Week 11 bye?)
11. Steve Smith, Panthers
12. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
13. Vincent Jackson, Chargers (took a lot of heat in August for his preseason ranking — #14!!!)
14. Steve Johnson, Bills
15. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
16. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (needs longer cleats for when Miami visits MetLife Stadium in Week 8)
17. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
18. Reggie Wayne, Colts
19. A.J. Green, Bengals
20. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
21. Pierre Garcon, Colts (a stunning turnaround after Weeks 1/2 disappearance)
22. Santonio Holmes, Jets
23. Julio Jones, Falcons (demonstrated stellar fantasy acumen — before the hammy problems)
24. Marques Colston, Saints
25. Sidney Rice, Seahawks
26. Brandon Lloyd, Rams (St. Louis’s NFL/MLB clubs will both be in Dallas Sunday — how convenient!)
27. Mike Williams, Buccaneers (reasonable ranking more on reputation than actual production)
28. Nate Washington, Titans
29. Jordy Nelson, Packers
30. Victor Cruz, Giants
31. Percy Harvin, Vikings (SHOULD benefit from the Ponder switch)
32. Deion Branch, Patriots
33. Santana Moss, Redskins
34. Eric Decker, Broncos (how he’ll fare with Tim Tebow at QB is anybody’s guess)
35. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (more on him later)
36. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
37. Malcom Floyd, Chargers (has too much talent, athleticism to fall below the fantasy radar)
38. Steve Breaston, Chiefs
39. Jerome Simpson, Bengals
40. James Jones, Packers

Watch List
Greg Little, Browns (12 catches/20 targets in his last two games)
Torrey Smith, Ravens (fantasy owners would kill for another 3-TD outing)
Mario Manningham, Giants
Danario Alexander, Rams (still a viable deep threat with B-Lloyd in the mix)
Mike Thomas/Mike Sims-Walker/Jason Hill, Jaguars
Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns
Kevin Walter, Texans
Lance Moore/Robert Meachem, Saints
Devin Hester/Dane Sanzenbacher, Bears (great hot-and-cold/cold-and-hot pairing in deeper PPR leagues)
Early Doucet, Cardinals (anybody who can draw 16 targets in one game deserves cursory mention)

Talking Points
1. Brandon Marshall gets his long-awaited reunion with the Broncos. Even with Champ Bailey tracking his every move, I love Marshall’s potential for fantasy goodness against the team that drafted and traded him. And since this game won’t be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey — where the field tends to tilt downhill when Marshall (28 catches/422 yards/1 TD) is running for the end zone, untouched — there’s reason to believe B-Marsh will rack up at least 100 yards and one TD on Sunday. On the other sideline, second-year wideout Demaryius Thomas has been thrust into the spotlight after Denver dealt Brandon Lloyd to the garbage-time-happy Rams … prompting a ton of fantasy owners to devote precious waiver-wire consideration to a guy whose fate rests in the hands of Tim Tebow. Ouch!

Chris JohnsonChris Johnson has a very favorable schedule coming up.

2. Chris Johnson kicks off a 10-game stretch of expected fantasy greatness on Sunday. As often stated in Revelations, Johnson could not have asked for a better setup from Weeks 7-16: Houston, Indy (twice), Cincinnati, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Jacksonville. It’s the type of easy-cheesy schedule that transforms a so-so campaign into a great one … and vaults struggling fantasy teams into championship contenders. Has Johnson (366 total yards, 1 TD) been painfully mediocre the first six weeks? Without a doubt. Is Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck (1,414 passing yards, 9 TDs in five games) a viable threat for 250 yards and/or 3 TDs every week? Apparently so. But I’m not backing away from my Day 1 proclamation: Please move heaven and earth to get CJ2K, via trade. To justify this prediction of can’t-miss fantasy glory, I sent out eight Johnson-focused trade offers to owners on Thursday … just hours before this column goes LIVE on National Football Post.

3. Percy Harvin stands to benefit from Christian Ponder taking over the Vikings. If Percy had two or three touchdowns to go with his pedestrian 25 catches for 261 yards … perhaps I wouldn’t be such an alarmist here. For a Vikings team that’s devoid of big-time receiving talent — and infamously enjoys passing while holding fourth-quarter leads — I’m shocked that Harvin can’t crack the top 50 in targets, top 30 in receptions or top 50 in receiving yards. Which brings us to a simple conclusion that’s probably a tad unfair to Donovan McNabb: Harvin has nowhere to go but up in the hearts and minds of fantasy owners … so why not engineer a buy-low trade before he gets a piece of the Packers’ bend-and-sometimes-break defense?

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson vs. Atlanta
2. Brandon Marshall vs. Denver
3. Dwayne Bowe @ Oakland
4. Miles Austin vs. St. Louis
5. Vincent Jackson @ N.Y. Jets
6. Sidney Rice @ Cleveland
7. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Pittsburgh
8. Mike Wallace @ Arizona
9. Steve Smith vs. Washington
10. Brandon Gibson @ Dallas (super-sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Dan Bailey vs. St. Louis
2. Nick Novak @ N.Y. Jets
3. Sebastian Janikowski vs. Kansas City
4. Ryan Succop @ Oakland
5. Rob Bironas vs. Houston
6. Robbie Gould vs. Tampa Bay (London)

The Early Bird Gets The Fantasy Worm
The following is a Public Service Announcement for the ambivalent fantasy owner who cannot make a waiver-wire pickup or trade without consulting with me on Twitter first: If another owner drops Ahmad Bradshaw or Peyton Hillis for god knows why … please, please don’t wait for my thumbs-up before doing the transaction. Just do it!

Last week, just three days before Bradshaw blitzed the Bills for 130 total yards and three touchdowns, a Twitter follower (who shall remain nameless, but not blameless) sent me an overnight Direct Message, asking for Bradshaw approval; and during that six-hour window of not responding to the inquiry, Bradshaw had already been plucked by another team. Fast forward to this week, where a different follower asked if Hillis was worth grabbing in free agency, at the risk of dumping some random cat like Robert Meachem or Antonio Brown. Bottom line: NEVER pass on an opportunity to add a high-profile back to your roster — short of a season-ending injury — even if you have ’em riding the bench in the short term. The same goes for an elite receiver or tight end. Keep stockpiling assets. There’ll be no time for consensus opinions from fantasy gurus who are happy to help — but ultimately don’t bear the responsibility of your team’s success or failure.

Radio Daze
You know what makes the stuck-in-a-cubicle workday run smoothly during the fall months? Podcast after podcast after podcast! Here are my favorite football-specific podcasts/radio shows:
1. ESPN — “Fantasy Focus” with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz
2. CBSSports.com — “Fantasy Football” with Dave Richard and Jamey Eisneberg
3. KFAN in Minneapolis — “Fantasy Football Weekly” with Paul Charchian
4. Yahoo! — “Fantasy Blitz”
5. RotoWire.com — “Fantasy Sports Podcast”
6. WDFN-AM in Detroit — “Fantasy Sports Geekly” with Sean Baligian

Questions From The Audience
saintjonah: I got offered a trade, giving up Chris Johnson/DeSean Jackson for Darren McFadden. Thoughts?

Answer: Jonah, in today’s Philanthropist, I go loco about how fantasy owners should do whatever it takes to corral Johnson, via trade, before his 11-game stretch of fantasy brilliance starts Sunday; so kudos to being aggressive so quickly. However, let’s go over this one with a fine-tooth comb: Without a doubt, D-Mac (or DMC, whichever nickname you prefer — like it matters) possesses the stronger trade value right now; those are the perks that go with being the 1st-, 2nd- or 3rd-ranked running back in all of fantasyland (scoring rules vary). So, on the back end, getting a top-15 receiver like D-Jax (or DJX, whichever nickname you prefer — like it matters … HA!) would certainly balance out the transaction. Sure, Jackson (only two 100-yard games in 2011) represents a bit of a risk; but in leagues where kick-return TDs are celebrated, we can reasonably assume that he’ll pad the year-ending stat sheet with 2-3 more TDs in that realm. On the flip side, Owner B is potentially getting the last piece of a championship puzzle with McFadden … even if he/she unwittingly owned that difference-maker in Johnson. There’s a chance I’ll be wrong on CJ2k by season’s end … but I doubt it. Good luck!

worthy_one77: If Jahvid Best sits, will backup RB Keiland Williams start over Maurice Morris?

Jahvid BestBest was having a terrific season, until he suffered yet another concussion.

Answer: In the event that Best (677 total yards, 3 TDs in 2011) misses games to a concussion (his track record with this injury goes back to the Cal days — and no, I won’t be showing THE PLAY here), I fully expect Morris to log every start within that span. But with the voided trade of Ronnie Brown going back to Philly (thanks to Jerome Harrison‘s apparent failed physical) … opportunity knocks for Williams to be a sneaky-good fantasy menace — especially in the red zone. In a three-game stretch with the Redskins last year (replacing injured back Ryan Torain), Williams racked up 266 total yards and three TDs — a respectable audition that showcased his speed and inside-rushing prowess. And while Morris (3,352 career rushing yards, 12 TDs) is certainly the more accomplished NFL back, I’m quite confident in Williams’ ability to finish plays and drives, if called upon. Make no mistake, the Lions are more dangerous with Best on the field; but I’d also argue that Morris and Williams — as a platoon — would fare better than Ronnie Brown right, Ronnie Brown left. So we’ll see how things go. Thanks!

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 7:
QB Matthew Stafford
RB Chris Johnson
RB Ray Rice
WR Calvin Johnson
WR Mike Wallace
RB/WR Willis McGahee
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Rob Bironas (Titans)
D/ST Dallas Cowboys

The Quiet Ones … And Tony Romo
After six weeks of NFL action, fantasy owners should realize that a sizable chunk of playmakers have already tipped their 2011 hand, production-wise. Aaron Rodgers is essentially a weekly lock for 295-315 yards and three TDs … but may feel inclined to call off the passing dogs late in games (nursing big leads). Adrian Peterson (537 rushing yards, 7 TDs) may be the No. 1 running back in standard-scoring leagues … but he’ll never match the PPR viability of Matt Forte. In other words, to steal a popular Bill Parcells saying: You are what your fantasy track record says you are.

As established fantasy machines, Rodgers and Peterson always get the benefit of the doubt when owners are filling out starting lineups or submitting midseason trades. But the following players don’t always get that respect, even though they’ve earned the right to be viewed as sturdy assets:

1. RB Willis McGahee, Broncos — If fantasy owners could get past Tebowmania in the Broncos’ backfield, they’d find only one of two NFL backs to rush for 100 yards in three of his last four games (along with Frank Gore) … and one of a tiny few to record at least one rushing/receiving TD in that span. Not only is McGahee (433 total yards, 2 TDs) an absolute lock for monster numbers against the Dolphins in Week 7, he has managed to eliminate a healthy Knowshon Moreno from primary fantasy discussion … while reminding us that Denver’s brain trust was right to pursue McGahee — and not DeAngelo Williams — after the 132-day lockout.

2. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys — Don’t let coach Jason Garrett‘s lack of trust in his quarterback during the final minutes of Cowboys-Patriots fool you; and try to block out all negative thoughts of Romo’s stomach-churning, game-changing interceptions against the Jets and Lions. In the wonderful world of make-believe numbers, Romo (1,590 yards/8 TDs in 2011) should be given the ultimate respect — especially in leagues where INTs inflict minimal damage. Anyone who can surpass 300 yards at an 80-percent clip is worth your full attention during Pre-Deadline Trade Season.

3. TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals — If the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green combination hadn’t been such a rousing success after six weeks — leading the very-young Bengals to a 4-2 mark — perhaps team owner Mike Brown would not have consummated the Palmer trade. And if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hadn’t nixed the Bengals’ trade request for tight end Marcellus Bennett a few years ago … maybe Gresham never sniffs an opportunity to star in Cincinnati. It’s funny how life works, huh? At his position, Gresham ranks 4th in TDs (3), 7th in targets (42), 8th in catches (25) and 16th in receiving yards (231) — distinctions that will likely maintain or improve when it really counts … as Cincy battles Houston, St. Louis and Arizona during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14, 15 and 16. BOOM!

Darren SprolesSproles continues to produce for fantasy owners.

4. RB Darren Sproles, Saints — There’s nothing about Sproles’ stature that screams prototypical fantasy back, but it’s hard to mock one of only two tailbacks with 30-plus catches after six weeks; and for PPR nuts, he’s the only NFL back to collect 50-plus targets during that span. Bottom line: Sproles (512 total yards, 2 TDs) is the perfect complement to QB Drew Brees; unfortunately, he has to share the end-zone spotlight with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and all the Saints pass-catchers who have tallied long-distance touchdowns.

5. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders — In the last three weeks, Heyward-Bey has posted more targets (28) than Greg Jennings, Steve Johnson, Reggie Wayne, more catches (17) than Carolina’s Steve Smith, Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams, Percy Harvin and more yards (296) than A.J. Green, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace. It’s almost like the fighting spirit of Al Davis, the late Raiders icon, can be found in Heyward-Bey — one of the most maligned first-rounders in recent draft history. Are three superb showings an indication of sustainable fantasy relevance? Sadly, no. But it sure beats the heck out of people posthumously mocking Mr. Davis for allegedly grabbing DHB (over Michael Crabtree) on the singular merit of straight-line speed. Heyward-Bey’s a good player … get over it!

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 6 Revelations

Week 6 Revelations
1. Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Arian Foster are primed for Decembers To Remember. For 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2 owners, it's fun (and quite essential) to peek ahead at the matchups for the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16 and see that Rice (161 total yards vs. Houston) and Boldin

Week 6 Revelations
1. Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Arian Foster are primed for Decembers To Remember. For 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2 owners, it’s fun (and quite essential) to peek ahead at the matchups for the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16 and see that Rice (161 total yards vs. Houston) and Boldin (8 catches, 132 yards) could easily be top-10 picks against the Colts, Chargers and Browns (twice). As a result, savvy GMs should start making immediate inroads to landing either star for the stretch run — even if it involves parting with supreme talents like Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Beanie Wells, Peyton Hillis or Jahvid Best in non-keeper leagues. But no tailback can match the expected December greatness of Foster (101 total yards vs. Baltimore), who’ll encounter the Falcons, Bengals, Panthers and Colts from Weeks 13-16 — four matchups where 120 total yards and/or two TDs shall serve as the baseline measure, not a tipping point. Of course, that fearless prediction allows for some wiggle room with the fantasy prospects of Houston QB Matt Schaub (220 yards passing, 1 TD) — assuming that Andre Johnson and Foster (11 targets on Sunday) are worry-free in the hamstring department for the season’s final month.

Calvin JohnsonAnother week, another big performance from Megatron.

2. Calvin Johnson does a spot-on impression of Larry Fitzgerald. Johnson deserves much credit for changing the narrative away from his touchdown streak ending at five games, the Lions suffering their first loss of the season or head coach Jim Schwartz‘s all-bark/no-bite brouhaha with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after the postgame handshake. For only the third time in his brilliant career, Calvin posted back-to-back games of 100 yards and quietly reserved his spot on the updated Mount Rushmore of PPR Receivers (along with Fitzgerald, Wes Welker, Andre Johnson). On a slightly smaller scale, Jahvid Best (110 total yards), TE Brandon Pettigrew (8 catches, 42 yards, 1 TD; 14 targets), QB Matthew Stafford (302 total yards, 2 TDs) and WR Nate Burleson (4 catches, 34 yards, 1 TD) warrant plenty of Week 6 love … although we’re left to wonder how Burleson’s completing-the-process TD catch was OK’d by referees but Calvin’s completing-the-process (non-)TD catch from 2010 didn’t count in the eyes of replay officials? If the NFL Competition Committee hasn’t wavered on the Completing The Process rule in the last 15 months … how come Calvin’s acrobatic “catch” hasn’t been retroactively documented in the record books? Weird.

3. Rashard Mendenhall apparently doesn’t like the term time share. There are two ways to look at Mendenhall’s excellent Sunday adventure: The optimist would point to the 146 rushing yards and one TD against the scrappy Jags as an indication that Mendy steadfastly refuses to be in a 50-50 touches split with either Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer (Week 5’s rushing dynamo) … and that he’s a solid bet to wreak havoc on the Cardinals in Week 7. The pessimist would attribute the monster day to one sterling run of 68 yards, followed by 22 largely pedestrian carries for the other 78 yards. He/she may also identify Jacksonville as one of the NFL’s least intimidating clubs and that Redman (24 total yards) or Dwyer (8 total yards) could have inflicted similar damage. Well, call me Captain Blue Sky for believing that Mendenhall can recapture the form that made him a top-10 pick during the August drafts. I also attest, without reservation, that QB Ben Roethlisberger (200 passing yards, 1 TD) and WR Mike Wallace (2 catches, 76 yards, 1 TD) will raise their fantasy games against Arizona, as well.

4. Blame Michael Turner for Roddy White’s recent fantasy shortcomings. That bolded comment comes with tongue in cheek, now that Turner (147 total yards, 2 TDs) has again dissected a defense that’s seemingly powerless to stop him. (Prior to Sunday, Turner was averaging 97 total yards/1.6 TDs against the Panthers.) As good as Turner has been since coming to Atlanta in 2008 (4,699 total yards, 45 TDs), he’d be on the fast-track to Canton if he faced Carolina more than twice a year. As a result, his “RB lock” prediction of 120 yards and/or two TDs might have been the easiest call of the fantasy season; on the flip side, we badly missed on the assumptions that White — only one 100-yard performance in his last 13 games and way behind last year’s torrid pace of 115 receptions — and tight end Tony Gonzalez (3 catches, 29 yards) would post stellar numbers at the Georgia Dome. Perhaps they’ll re-establish their power in Detroit next week, although Gonzo might be needed as an extra blocker to combat the Lions’ frenetic pass rush.

5. The Rams really need to work on their garbage-time offense. From a Points Per Reception perspective, there’s much to like about Steven Jackson (125 total yards), Danario Alexander (6 catches, 91 yards) and Greg Salas (8 catches, 77 yards) earning double-digit points against the Packers; and we can certainly appreciate QB Sam Bradford (321 yards passing, zero TDs) targeting Salas, Alexander and WR Brandon Gibson 10 times each. But how could St. Louis fail to hit end-zone paydirt against Green Bay’s often-bend/sometimes-break defense … in a game where the outcome was never in doubt and garbage-time fun should have been an absolute given? As one who believes in O-coordinator Josh McDaniels, it’s hard to trust any Rams playmaker (aside from Jackson) in 12-team leagues — even with expected blowout losses to the Cowboys and Saints on the docket for Weeks 6 and 7.

Revelations, Book II
6. LeSean McCoy is the fantasy gift that keeps on giving. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the Eagles’ practice facility when the coaches formulated the midweek game plan for their must-win clash against the ‘Skins: Was it a conscious decision to dole out 30 touches to McCoy (139 total yards, 1 TD) — easily the most of his young NFL career? Did they expect QB Michael Vick (291 total yards, 1 TD) to repeat his six-touchdown bonanza against Washington last year? And were they fully prepared for Vince Young making one of the most unfulfilling cameos since Burt Reynolds showed up at the end of Smokey & The Bandit 3? Yes, it was an interesting day for Vick, Young, McCoy and WR DeSean Jackson (3 catches, 46 yards) — all of whom played integral roles in Philly’s good-half/bad-half outing, where only McCoy and WR Jeremy Maclin (5 catches, 101 yards) brought consistent fantasy goodness to the table. Speaking of which, expect great numbers from Vick, Maclin and McCoy after the Eagles’ Week 7 bye, as they’ll have three straight home games against the Cowboys, Bears and Cardinals.

7. A certain fantasy guru may have underestimated the talents of Earnest Graham. Prior to Saints-Bucs on Sunday, I would have attached greater odds to head coach Sean Payton blowing out his knee on the sidelines than Graham rumbling for 131 total yards (on only 19 touches). That’s how much I doubted the 31-year-old’s capacity to carry Tampa Bay to a huge divisional victory over New Orleans (my Super Bowl pick). After all, we’re talking about a guy (Graham) who’s done very little since that breakout campaign in 2007 (1,222 total yards/10 TDs) and a Bucs offense that looked anemic and deflated against the 49ers last week (and that was before LeGarrette Blount got hurt). But for one day, Graham conjured up images of solid Bucs runners past (Ricky Bell, James Wilder, Cadillac Williams) … while suspending any pie-in-the-sky thoughts of Kregg Lumpkin (13 total yards) becoming the franchise’s next intriguing back. Speaking of the future, let’s not go overboard on Josh Freeman‘s big passing day (303 yards, 2 TDs) and his value for the coming weeks. The rule of thumb: Until WR Mike Williams can break the spell of eight consecutive outings with 66 yards or less … Freeman shall remain a quality backup QB in fantasyland.

Marques ColstonICONTime to unload Colston while his stock is still high.

8. Fantasy owners should consider trading Marques Colston this week. I cannot recall the last time an NFL wideout broke his collarbone … and then dominated the competition just five weeks later. Either Colston (7 catches, 118 yards, 1 TD vs. Tampa Bay) has the world’s greatest clavicle surgeon, or his recovery time from a major injury is way above that of most humans. And with that glowing recommendation comes this dour announcement: Thanks to Colston’s huge day against the Bucs — which included a blown-coverage TD — fantasy owners have been granted a short window to capitalize on the receiver’s upward trade value and improve their roster in other areas. Yes, Colston (11 targets on Sunday) remains the best wideout option for QB Drew Brees (383 passing yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs); but given the lightning-fast progress of Saints TE Jimmy Graham (7 catches, 124 yards) and RB Darren Sproles (8 catches), it’s reasonable to think that Colston may only post 3-4 more games of 90-plus yards this season. Besides, you don’t want to be left holding the proverbial bag the next time Colston dives for a low ball or incurs a bone-crushing tackle — allowing for a re-break of the collarbone.

9. In 12-team leagues, Andy Dalton may be a sneaky-good starting QB for the playoffs. Seriously. Obviously, owners of Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Rivers, Vick, Stafford, Newton, Romo and Roethlisberger would garner immunity from the previously unconscionable notion of entrusting Dalton (264 passing yards, 1 TD vs. Indy) with a playoff start. But aside from those rubber-stamp starters, Dalton deserves to be in the conversation of potential playoff gems — especially Week 15 (@ St. Louis) and Week 16 (vs. Arizona). In his last five games, Dalton has either eclipsed the 260-yard mark or accounted for two touchdowns, respectable numbers that rival such luminaries as Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman during that span. Of course, for Dalton to max-out any December consideration, he’ll need the full support of A.J. Green (5 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD), Cedric Benson (62 total yards, 1 TD), tight end Jermaine Gresham (4 catches, 23 yards) and enigmatic wideout Jerome Simpson, who amassed team-highs in catches (6), yards (101) and targets (9) against the Colts. They’re essential components for a quarterback who has averaged 35 passes since Week 2.

10. Reggie Wayne and Brandon Lloyd owners stand to benefit from their players’ possible change of scenery. In July, who could have imagined that Wayne (5 catches, 58 yards against Cincy) would be a relative afterthought on an 0-6 club that’s floundering in Peyton Manning‘s absence … or that Lloyd (bound for St. Louis) would be expendable on a Broncos team that’s curiously devoid of big-time playmakers? (Apologies to Willis McGahee, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno.) And yet, that’s where we stand with two free-agents-to-be who could provide a much-needed boost to a playoff contender (or young team with cap room). In the fantasy realm, Wayne and Lloyd owners would be wise to wait three days before proffering any sell-low trades; on the flip side, prospective owners should feel emboldened to broker a deal that’s heavy on upside.

11. It’s pointless to debate the merits of Torain vs. Hightower vs. Helu when Rex Grossman stinks up the joint. Just so we’re clear here: Sunday’s invisible efforts from running backs Ryan Torain (22 total yards), Roy Helu (17 total yards) and Tim Hightower (zero touches) had nothing to do with Shanahanigans — the unflattering term used to describe coach Mike Shanahan‘s infamously quirky treatment of tailbacks — and everything to do with the Redskins’ 20-0 hole in the first half, forcing the club to abandon the run and seek out Grossman (143 yards passing) for heroism. And of course, that plan failed miserably — sometime between Rex’s fourth interception and John Beck‘s arrival from the bullpen. In other words, we’re not going to overreact to one game that went terribly awry from the opening kickoff. If Washington has any hopes of winning the NFC East, Torain, Helu and especially Hightower (bad shoulder) need to be integral parts of the offense — regardless of who gets the starting nod. The Redskins’ bread-and-butter lies with their typically stout defense, tight end Fred Davis (6 catches, 95 yards; 11 targets) and a trio of talented backs … all of whom can now be had for pennies on the dollar in trades.

Revelations, Book III
12. Fantasy owners should accentuate the positive from Felix Jones’ Debbie Downer day. There’s no upside to exaggerating Jones’ impact in Sunday’s high-profile meeting with the Patriots (33 total yards on 10 carries), but we can certainly extract some good news from the experience: With consecutive games against St. Louis, Philadelphia, Seattle, Buffalo, Washington and Miami on the horizon, there will never be a better time to buy-low on Jones and/or handcuff DeMarco Murray (39 total yards) — now that QB Tony Romo (317 yards passing, 1 TD) has all-star receivers Dez Bryant (4 catches, 78 yards) and Miles Austin (7 catches, 74 yards) back in the fold. Yes, while the real world focuses on the Cowboys’ inability to finish games — despite Romo’s glowing passing stats and the defense’s sack-happy nature — you, the savvy GM, are free to make a stealth deal for Jones … knowing that he may dominate six Charmin-soft defenses from Weeks 7-13.

Frank GoreICONGore played a big role in the 49ers upset of the Lions.

13. Michael Crabtree may be the most coveted free agent in 12-team leagues this week. What’s the greater miracle from Sunday — QB Alex Smith (125 passing yards, 1 TD) knocking off an unbeaten power on the road on 53-percent passing … or Crabtree (9 catches, 77 yards) emerging from the icy depths of obscurity to draw 15 targets? Of course, Frank Gore (146 total yards) and the crunch-time defense deserve a hefty share of credit for vaulting San Francisco to a stunning 5-1 record; but for the sake of looking ahead, it’s fun to ask if Crabtree warrants more waiver-wire consideration than receivers Steve Breaston, Doug Baldwin (Week 6 byes) or any Rams wideout who stands to benefit from weekly garbage-time goodness? Admit it: Welcoming Crabtree onto your team with open arms feels like a needless guilty pleasure … but aside from Vernon Davis, who else are they going to throw to?

14. Proceed with caution when trading for Devin Hester. We’ve never doubted Hester’s potential to occasionally rise up and roll for five catches, 91 yards and two TDs on a given Sunday (one receiving/one kick-return). After all, Hester is easily the greatest punt/kick returner in NFL history and likely the Bears’ most explosive receiving threat (excluding Matt Forte); and then there’s the old saying that Blinding speed kills … eventually. But after those generic platitudes, things get tricky: Hester doesn’t really pack a punch in PPR leagues (185 catches in five-plus NFL seasons) and hasn’t posted back-to-back games of 60 yards receiving since November 2009, a major deterrent in standard-scoring leagues. And for leagues that only reward kick-return TDs — and not kick-return yardage — does it really make sense to start Hester at the flex spot on a weekly basis? Bottom line: On nights when Jay Cutler (267 yards passing, 2 TDs) has time to throw the ball and Forte (123 total yards) has ample room to run, Hester can be an excellent complementary piece in the fantasy realm. Unfortunately, that’s not something you should expect in Week 7, especially if the Bears and Bucs must trudge through a soggy pitch at London’s Wembley Stadium. (Is it ever rain-free for these England games?)

15. The Raiders need Carson Palmer … and vice versa. Assuming the 31-year-old Palmer sincerely wants to end his early retirement from the NFL, he may not encounter a better match than Oakland and its eclectic mix of young playmakers. OK, so maybe Darren McFadden (93 total yards, 1 TD vs. Cleveland) would easily survive and flourish with Kyle Boller or rookie Terrelle Pryor as the Raiders’ full-time signal-caller, but emerging talents like Darrius Heyward-Bey (6 catches, 82 yards), Jacoby Ford (181 all-purpose yards, 1 TD), Denarius Moore, Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and TE Kevin Boss (1 catch, 35 yards, 1 TD) are at crucial stages of their development and stand to benefit from a Palmer trade, courtesy of enigmatic Bengals owner Mike Brown. That isn’t to say Boller (8,870 career passing yards) couldn’t pull a Jim Plunkett and morph into a former-first-round-pick-turned-franchise-savior-on-his-third-NFL-stop … but with Jason Campbell done for the year (broken collarbone), who’s the better option? Which quarterback preserves the 4-2 Raiders’ standing as viable playoff contenders … and which QB immediately becomes roster-worthy in 12-team fantasy leagues? The educated guess lies with Palmer.

16. Greg Olsen shall remain a top-10 tight end in fantasyland. At first blush, there was nothing special about Olsen’s Sunday outing (5 catches, 42 yards); but a closer look reveals just how far he’s come with Panthers QB Cam Newton in six short weeks: In his last four games, Olsen (3 TDs) has racked up 32 receiving targets — including 10 against Atlanta — while finding his new-kid-on-the-block niche amongst Carolina playmakers Jonathan Stewart (72 total yards, 1 TDs), DeAngelo Williams (46 total yards) and Jeremy Shockey (4 catches, 60 yards). All this bodes well for Olsen and Newton — who still eclipsed the minimum star threshold of 275 total yards on arguably his worst day as a pro — during the stretch run, as they develop a chemistry that’s prolific between the 20s and in the red zone. (As a matter of convenience, we’re ignoring Newton’s Week 2 numbers in that monsoon … and in a fit of stubbornness, we’ll never back down from saying that Newton is a rubber-stamp starter in all scoring formats.)

17. ESPN may live to regret wanting Dolphins-Jets for Monday night … instead of Bills-Giants. While it’s true that ESPN has access to five amazing pregame clips involving the Jets and Dolphins — 1) Dan Marino‘s fake-spike-to-stop-the-clock TD pass; 2) Nat Moore’s‘s helicopter catch; 3) A.J. Duhe‘s pick-six return in the 1982 AFC Championship; 4) the Marino-Ken O’Brien 51-45 shootout in 1986; or 5) the Jets’ Monday Night Miracle from 2000 — they would have also enjoyed the Sunday fireworks at MetLife Stadium. Ahmad Bradshaw (130 total yards, 3 TDs) and Fred Jackson (147 total yards, 1 TD) killing it at running back; Steve Johnson (5 catches, 39 yards, 1 TD), Naaman Roosevelt (60-yard TD catch/run), Hakeem Nicks (4 catches, 96 yards) shining at wide receiver … and Eli Manning (292 yards passing, zero TDs) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (244 yards passing, 2 TDs) adding spice to the passing game — in stiff Meadowlands winds, no less. The only fantasy marvel who didn’t really produce was WR Victor Cruz (2 catches, 12 yards) … but that’s no reason to bench him for Week 8 (after the Giants’ bye) against — guess who? — the Dolphins.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 6

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 6 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 6 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 6 (mp3)

CLICK HERE to check out more starts & sits for Week 6 (will be published Saturday afternoon).

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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A matter of trust

Mr. Vick Goes To Washington
The last time we saw Michael Vick playing in our nation's capital (yes, I know FedEx Field is in Landover, Md.) ... he was busy carving up a division rival for 413 total yards and six touchdowns -- easily this decade's greatest fantasy outing for

Mr. Vick Goes To Washington
The last time we saw Michael Vick playing in our nation’s capital (yes, I know FedEx Field is in Landover, Md.) … he was busy carving up a division rival for 413 total yards and six touchdowns — easily this decade’s greatest fantasy outing for a QB until Aaron Rodgers (433 total yards, 6 TDs) went loco on the Broncos two weeks ago. Last year’s performance — on a wet field, mind you — was so dominant and so transcendent, that it even prompted a number of fantasy experts to hail Vick as the No. 1 fantasy asset during the preseason. (Fantasy Football Today — one of my favorite sites from July-December — has Vick as the No. 5 QB.) But for today’s Philanthropist, we’re not concerned with season-long prospects … we’re dying to know if Vick can break the 1-4 Eagles’ real-world slump with monster numbers in Week 6 — the club’s first boom-or-bust clash of the season?

Michael VickICONVick destroyed the Redskins in Washington last season.

This year’s Redskins (ranked 4th in sacks; 8th in passing yards allowed) are no chumps on the defensive end, especially with Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, DeAngelo Hall and safety LaRon Landry operating at full power. Throw in the emergence of Eagles superstar LeSean McCoy (553 total yards, 7 TDs in 2011) … and we’re left to wonder if Philly will consciously take a conservative tack with Vick in such a vital game. After all, the Eagles shouldn’t be expected to repeat the philosophies and tendencies of the last four games (all losses) — even if Vick (720 passing yards, 4 TDs in Weeks 4/5) has nothing to do with the club’s woes against the run (140 yards per game — 30th in NFL). Right? Verdict: On reputation alone, Vick has earned the right to be a “lock” for the minimum star threshold of 275 yards and/or three TDs — a mark he’s reached in nine of his last 12 games. Just don’t expect 30-plus passes or an outing that sniffs 400 total yards.

It’s A Little Known Fact …
… The Eagles are actually favored to win Sunday’s clash with the Redskins, prompting this declaration: In the history of Vegas betting for the month of October, Philadelphia is likely the first one-win club to be road favorites over a one-loss team in consecutive weeks. Think about that for a moment. (pause for quiet reflection) In fact, from what I hear, the Eagles are the first 1-4 team to be favored on the road since 1983. Wow!

Week 6 Rules To Live By
1. If you can absorb the short-term hit of trading for emerging stars who are slightly injured or on a bye … do it! In standard 12-team leagues, most owners won’t waste time bidding for good-but-not-great receivers on a bye; but for the GM who’s largely unaffected by the Cardinals, Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Seahawks and Titans being on the sidelines, why not make a savvy free-agent play for WRs Doug Baldwin, Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd or Damian Williams? The same holds true for quarterbacks and tight ends … if Matt Cassel, Tim Tebow, Jared Cook and Antonio Gates (remember him?) can be stealthily stashed for the stretch run. This principle details exactly why teams that go all-out for talent and depth on draft day (ignoring kickers and defenses in the middle rounds) are often rewarded with stress-free bye weeks; and with that depth comes previously unforeseen windows to land premium, but struggling talents, via trade — like Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Shonn Greene, DeAngelo Williams, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice or Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams. Opportunity knocks.

2. Don’t be afraid to exploit an owner who’s running out of FAAB money. In a CBS league headed by Golf.com guru Jeff Ritter, I am behind the proverbial 8-ball on three significant fronts: 1) A 2-3 record, 2) Strapped for free-agent cash ($15 out of $100) and 3) Sporting a starting lineup that’s so devastated by Week 6 byes … I’ll have no choice but to start Steve Breaston (currently on a bye) — outside of a trade involving backup QB Josh Freeman. In other words, I am extremely vulnerable to making a desperate trade this weekend — since only six teams make the playoffs and winning percentage, not Points For, is the determining factor with Wild Card teams. How does this translate to your league? Well, take a look at every roster … and find that flailing-in-the-wind chump who’s quietly/secretly dying to execute a blockbuster that will rescue him/her from Bye Week Hell. And if you can’t find him/her right away … perhaps you’re the league chump? (vague Rounders reference)

Ben RoethlisbergerIs Big Ben headed for another monster week?

3. Respect the red-hot veteran when filling out starting lineups. Just four days after Ben Roethlisberger threw five TDs against the Titans — on a bad foot — you’d think he would get the proper respect heading into Week 6; and yet, I’ve received numerous Tweets from owners who are worried about starting him against the Jags. To which I reply: Unless we’re talking Brees, Brady, Romo, Vick, Stafford, Newton as his direct fantasy competition, Big Ben is a rubber-stamp starter on Sunday. So, spare me any rationalizations of Andy Dalton, Colt McCoy, Rex Grossman or Matt Schaub against the Ravens … none of whom can touch Roethlisberger’s ceiling for five TDs on this bye-ravaged weekend. (Note: Schaub amassed 393 passing yards and three TDs against Baltimore last year; but do you really see that happening on the road — without Andre Johnson?)

Running With The Moon
Here is my always-fluid top-40 listing of tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues — from this point forward:
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (still the gold standard of fantasy studs)
2. Ray Rice, Ravens
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
4. Darren McFadden, Raiders
5. Arian Foster, Texans (excellent litmus test against the Ravens)
6. Matt Forte, Bears
7. Fred Jackson, Bills
8. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
9. Michael Turner, Falcons (averaging 97.3 total yards/1.5 TDs against the Panthers)
10. Chris Johnson, Titans
11. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
12. Jahvid Best, Lions (the 49ers haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since 2009)
13. Frank Gore, 49ers (slowly becoming a weekly hunch for 130 total yards)
14. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
15. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
16. Steven Jackson, Rams
17. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
18. Peyton Hillis, Browns (a reputation-defending weekend for the bowling-pin rusher)
19. Willis McGahee, Broncos
20. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (looked slow even before hamstring injury)
21. Felix Jones, Cowboys
22. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
23. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (could drop if alleged knee injury is significant)
24. Darren Sproles, Saints
25. Cedric Benson, Bengals
26. Tim Hightower, Redskins (this is no time to fear Ryan Torain — I think)
27. Shonn Greene, Jets
28. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
29. James Starks, Packers
30. Michael Bush, Raiders
31. Mark Ingram, Saints
32. Mike Tolbert, Chargers (recent spate of injuries moves him down a few notches)
33. Pierre Thomas, Saints
34. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
35. Ryan Torain, Redskins
36. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
37. Joseph Addai, Colts (low ranking solely based on likelihood of missed games)
38. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
39. Kendall Hunter, 49ers
40. Stevan Ridley, Patriots (the future of the Pats … but limited in the meantime)
40a. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets

Week 6: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. St. Louis
2. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Jacksonville
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick @ N.Y. Giants
4. Tom Brady vs. Dallas
5. Michael Vick @ Washington
6. Tony Romo @ New England
7. Drew Brees @ Tampa Bay
8. Mark Sanchez vs. Miami
9. Cam Newton @ Atlanta

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice vs. Houston
2. Matt Forte vs. Minnesota
3. Steven Jackson @ Green Bay
4. LeSean McCoy @ Washington
5. Frank Gore @ Detroit
6. Adrian Peterson @ Chicago
7. Darren McFadden vs. Cleveland
8. Michael Turner vs. Carolina
9. Arian Foster @ Baltimore

Talking Points
1. Sam Bradford has already posted three sub-200-yard games this season. Be honest: The day Josh McDaniels was tabbed as Rams offensive coordinator, you thought Bradford would have an immediate chance to be a top-10 QB … and the presumptive steal of all August drafts — lockout or no lockout. Well, it’s been a so-so start for McDaniels, Bradford (849 yards/3 TDs), RB Steven Jackson (143 total yards, 2 TDs on 27 touches) or any of the other misfit toys in St. Louis. In fact, as I look at the Rams’ depth chart, it’s hard to pinpoint one wideout who’s an educated-guess lock for back-to-back weeks of fantasy goodness before Thanksgiving. Danario Alexander? Eh, maybe. Greg Salas? Austin Pettis? I have no use for low-end rookies. Brandon Gibson? Great athlete, but too inconsistent. Mike Sims-Walker? Perhaps I have a fantasy death wish … because that’s my horse in this lame race. Ouch!

Mike WilliamsICONWilliams has been a complete bust so far in 2011.

2. Bucs WR Mike Williams has challenged himself to step up against the Saints. There’s no way to sugarcoat the dismay over Williams’ sophomore slump (19 catches/183 yards/1 TD). Five straight games of 66 yards or less … and seven dating back to last season? But given the dearth of quality Tampa Bay receivers, LeGarrette Blount‘s injury situation (out for Week 6?) and the intriguing potential of QB Josh Freeman (1,154 yards/3 TDs), fantasy owners have no choice but to wait for Williams’ breakout — which may occur on Sunday. After all, if Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Kevin Walter

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Week 5 Revelations

Week 5 Revelations
1. Let's start with an obligatory Written In The Stars parallel: In the course of reading today's Revelations, you may encounter a few less-than-household names (Jason Avant, Jackie Battle, Jonathan Dwyer, Chaz Schilens, Early Doucet) garnering casual kudos for Week 5. But the hallmark of a truly memorable fantasy

Week 5 Revelations
1. Let’s start with an obligatory Written In The Stars parallel: In the course of reading today’s Revelations, you may encounter a few less-than-household names (Jason Avant, Jackie Battle, Jonathan Dwyer, Chaz Schilens, Early Doucet) garnering casual kudos for Week 5. But the hallmark of a truly memorable fantasy weekend lies with superstars and their uncanny ability to redefine greatness every Sunday. For the 1 p.m. games, we had Adrian Peterson bowling over the Cardinals for 122 yards and three touchdowns. At 4 p.m., we saw Tom Brady/Wes Welker light up the Jets’ high-end cornerbacks; and in prime time, we watched Aaron Rodgers fleece the Falcons for 396 yards and two TDs — just four yards shy of back-to-back 400 games. But perhaps nothing could compare to Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe wrapping up this week’s nomination for Greatest Catch Ever!

Matt CasselMatt Cassel has finally started to roll up some numbers.

2. Don’t pull a hamstring jumping onto the Jackie Battle bandwagon. For the record, I have nothing against Battle (career-best 140 total yards vs. Indy) and his recent candidacy to become the Chiefs’ top tailback in 2011 (Jamaal Charles will reclaim this spot in ’12). After all, if certain governors/ex-governors from Texas, New Jersey and Alaska can garner fame for entering (or not entering) the Republican presidential race long after the ‘season’ began … why can’t Battle pull a Ryan Torain and make a strong October pitch for a job that Thomas Jones (62 total yards) and Dexter McCluster (18 total yards) haven’t already clinched? For starters, Battle’s monster day came at the expense of the 0-5 Colts, who ranked 27th in run defense before Sunday (133 yards per game); and then there’s the matter of QB Matt Cassel (257 yards passing, 4 TDs), Dwayne Bowe (7 catches, 128 yards, 2 TDs) and WR Steve Breaston (4 catches, 50 yards, 2 TDs) having a stronghold on the Chiefs’ red-zone attack. Throw in the notion Kansas City could always audition a slew of tailback prospects during its Week 6 bye … and there are viable reasons to support Battle being a one-hit fantasy wonder. As if his previous career-high of 44 rushing yards (from 2007) didn’t already indicate that.

3. There’s no downside to the Patriots’ season-long streak of 30-point games … unless you bought the farm on Stevan Ridley. I have the Tweet log to prove it: Heading into Week 5, a sizable number of fantasy owners were willing to bench — or even purge — BenJarvus Green-Ellis from their rosters … thinking that Ridley (100 total yards, 2 TDs in Week 4) would supplant BenJarvus sooner than later in New England’s up-tempo, high-octane offense. But a funny thing happened on the way to Ridley’s premature coronation, as Green-Ellis dissected the Jets defense for 149 total yards (136 rushing) and two TDs — in what might have been the grittiest (and greatest) performance of any tailback this season. How superb was it? For the second consecutive week, the dynamic duo of Brady (321 yards passing, 1 TD) and Welker (5 catches, 124 yards) took a backseat to the Pats’ backs — although there’s no debate to which one warrants a RB2 slot in all scoring formats (Green-Ellis).

4. On the way to channelling his inner-Newton, Michael Vick found his inner-Romo in Philly’s loss to Buffalo. Being a dispassionate observer of the Eagles has its perks. Yes, the team committed five turnovers — including four INTs from Vick — and one major defensive blunder late in the game; but aside from the final score — and Philly’s unexpected fall to a 1-4 record — what’s not to like about Sunday’s effort? Vick (395 total yards, 2 TDs) finished a whisker shy of back-to-back 400-yard outings and DeSean Jackson (5 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD), Jeremy Maclin (6 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD), LeSean McCoy (117 total yards, 1 TD) brought their A-games to a sun-splashed shootout. For deeper leagues, even Jason Avant titillated owners with nine catches for 139 yards, maximizing his 10 targets on the day. (The chances of that happening next week are remote.) Of course, the good people of Philadelphia might view the Eagles in a different prism today, expressing doubts over Vick’s real-world viability or coach Andy Reid‘s long-term sustainability; but it’s still better to be a fan of a 1-4 team that’s oozing with talent than a 1-4 club that’s flailing in the desert. Right?

5. There’s no rhyme or reason for Early Doucet collecting 16 targets on Sunday. I had originally planned to devote this segment to Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb and how he missed a golden chance to capitalize on the Mother of All Garbage-Time Scoring Opportunities (with Arizona trailing 28-0 in the first quarter). Instead, it’s probably best to explore the fantasy phenomenon that could be Doucet (8 catches, 92 yards) on days when RB Beanie Wells (60 yards, 1 TD) and WR Larry Fitzgerald (4 catches, 66 yards) are marginal, at best … which may be the case whenever the Cards hit the road. Seriously, when did Arizona become so schizophrenic away from University of Phoenix Stadium? And when did Kolb (232 yards passing, zero TDs, 2 INTs) become a doppelganger to John Skelton or Max Hall, in terms of on-field proficiency? It’s enough for frustrated fantasy owners (like me) to lower their weekly expectations for Fitzgerald, and downgrade Wells to flex-only consideration on the road — in between fuzzy memories of Doucet (78 career catches) apparently getting open 16 times in a three-hour span.

DeAngelo WilliamsDeAngelo Williams emerged from witness protection to post a monster stat line against the Saints on Sunday.

6. It’s hard to get a handle on DeAngelo Williams’ value within the Panthers offense. How does one interpret D-Will’s excellent effort against the Saints? Yes, he tallied 115 yards and one TD on just nine carries; but how does a big-name back who’s averaging 13 yards per carry collect single-digit touches in a relatively close game … especially when he had amassed 509 total yards and four TDs in his last four meetings with New Orleans? The answer is simple: Carolina backs are essentially left to pick up the red-zone scraps of QB Cam Newton (251 total yards, 3 TDs on Sunday) … and will likely need to break off more 69-yard scoring runs to find the end zone with any regularity. Yes, it’s a brave new world for Williams and Jonathan Stewart (33 total yards), as they adjust to Carolina’s metamorphosis from a run-heavy attack to a Newton-pass/Newton-run system. For everyone’s sake, though, we could do without the college-boy option calls in the pros (even the ones that work). Protecting Newton should always be Job-1.

Revelations, Book II
7. Fred Jackson adds new meaning to the term slippery. Apropos of nothing but quirky nonetheless … Jackson (196 total yards, 1 TD) had never rushed for 100 yards in October, prior to Sunday. Quirky of nothing but apropos nonetheless … the Bills did little to disguise their primary objective in Week 5: Run, run, run on the vulnerable Eagles … and when that stopped working, feed the ultra-quick Jackson for six catches and 85 yards. On the same day when Buffalo rocked Philly for five turnovers and Naaman Roosevelt (5 catches, 41 yards) drew more receiving targets than Steve Johnson (4 catches, 29 yards) and David Nelson (1 TD), it was Jackson who stood alone as the Bills’ big cheese, racking up his fifth straight outing of 100-plus total yards and cementing his status as a RB1 in standard-scoring and PPR leagues. Of course, that also makes F-Jax an intriguing sell-high candidate … for the owners who’ve already peaked ahead to the Bills’ next four opponents (Giants, Redskins, Jets, Cowboys). On the flip side, Jackson absolutely cannot fail during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14-16 (Chargers, Dolphins, Broncos).

8. San Fran is more dynamic in the real world than fantasyland — and that’s a good thing. A quick look at the 49ers’ Sunday box score suggests nothing of a 48-point explosion. Sure, RB Frank Gore (143 total yards, 1 TD) was his usual stellar self, TE Vernon Davis registered two TD catches and WR Josh Morgan (5 catches, 75 yards) almost hit end-zone paydirt before breaking his ankle; but to hang 48 on Tampa Bay without any plays of 45 yards or longer seems a tad unsettling. Could QB Alex Smith (170 yards passing, 3 TDs) be a weekly fantasy starter if the Niners win 11 or 12 games? Will wideouts Michael Crabtree (2 catches, 36 yards) and Braylon Edwards carry any weight with fantasy owners in November/December? And will RB Kendall Hunter (65 yards on nine touches) serve as anything more than a highly qualified injury-replacement tease to Gore in the coming weeks? Hmmmm … after re-reading this paragraph, it’s almost like San Fran isn’t getting enough respect for its success; but that could easily change after next week … when the 4-1 Niners face the only other team to enjoy a 45-point drubbing in 2011 (Lions).

9. Curtis Painter and Pierre Garcon have a nice thing going in Indy. It’s not like Garcon (5 catches, 125 yards, 2 TDs vs. Kansas City) required Peyton Manning‘s presence to be a fantasy success this year … he just needed anyone but Kerry Collins throwing him the ball. How else should we explain Garcon’s three-week whirlwind in catches (13), receiving yards (353), TDs (4) and targets (26), other than focusing on his lack of chemistry with Collins, who had little or no grasp of Indy’s playbook, tempo or receivers before Week 3 of the preseason? Ah, perhaps Reggie Wayne (4 catches, 77 yards) was right to stump for Painter (277 passing yards, 2 TDs) in Manning’s injured stead; and perhaps many fantasy owners were wrong to jump ship on Garcon (8 targets) after a horrid start — as part of a then-plausible/now-futile plot to acquire Devery Henderson off waivers. Yikes!

10. Jimmy Graham may be the most bankable tight end in fantasyland. Drew Brees might be on track for 5,000 yards passing (and Dan Marino‘s single-season record), but Graham (8 catches, 129 yards) has been the Saints’ most valuable playmaker of the first five games, racking up more catches (32), targets (48), 100-yard games (3) and receiving yards (496) than any other star at his position. (To be fair, Cowboys TE Jason Witten had a Week 5 bye.) More importantly, Graham has brought stability to a pass-catching corps that has been plagued by injuries (Marques Colston, Lance Moore) and woeful inconsistency (Devery Henderson/Robert Meachem), prompting this out-of-nowhere prediction: Graham is a lock for 400 yards and five TDs from Weeks 6-10 … so don’t be afraid to move heaven and earth to land him, via trade.

LeGarrette BlountICONThe 49ers did a nice job keeping Blount in check on Sunday.

11. OK, so maybe LeGarrette Blount wasn’t the ultimate foil to the 49ers’ run defense. There’s no way to avoid the Monday shame of predicting that Blount would notch 120 total yards and/or two TDs on a defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in something like 25 games … so why go there? Simply put, it was a dreadful forecast on my part. In Sunday’s blowout, Blount (65 total yards) was nothing more than a hulking decoy for a Bucs offense that looked ill-prepared for a much-hyped battle between playoff contenders, and now fantasy owners are left to wonder if one-time studs like QB Josh Freeman (187 yards, zero TDs), WR Mike Williams (4 catches, 28 yards) and TE Kellen Winslow (5 catches, 54 yards) can quickly rebound from an abomination that may have been worse than the 48-3 score. As for Blount, he’ll be fine, assuming he collects more than 12 touches in Tampa Bay’s intra-division clash with New Orleans in Week 6 … which no longer feels like a showdown.

12. Somewhere in football heaven, Al Davis is smiling about Darrius Heyward-Bey. Roughly 30 hours after Davis — a Raiders icon for 48 years and the American Football League’s second-to-last commissioner — passed away at the age of 82, one of his most controversial draft picks came through with a career-high in catches (7), targets (12) and TDs (1 — shared personal best), while racking up 99 yards in his team’s emotional comeback victory in Houston. Heyward-Bey’s breakout was the perfect tribute to a great football innovator (Davis) … but it was hardly his last hurrah in the fantasy realm. With back-to-back stellar weeks, Heyward-Bey (115 yards in Week 4) has passed the One-Hit-Wonder Test with flying colors, and should now be rostered in 12-, 14- and 16-team leagues. Of course, DHB was a direct benefactor of RB Darren McFadden‘s middling outing against the Texans (68 total yards) — pedestrian numbers that D-Mac (the top-ranked tailback in some leagues) only posts once every 10-12 weeks.

Revelations, Book III
13. Eli Manning made a little history at the new Meadowlands. Not that Giants fans celebrated the event on Sunday evening, but Manning threw for a career-high 420 yards (and three TDs) in the team’s home loss to the Seahawks, while notching back-to-back 300-yard outings for the first time in his career. Think about that for a moment. For a club that routinely airs it out 35 times a week, Manning had never crossed the 300 threshold in consecutive games. And amid this bankable success, fantasy owners must now decide if Manning, RB Ahmad Bradshaw (85 total yards vs. Seattle), WR Hakeem Nicks (4 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD), WR Victor Cruz (8 catches, 161 yards, 1 TD) and WR Mario Manningham (5 catches, 56 yards) are safe bets for monster numbers against the Bills, Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Redskins, Jets, Packers, Saints and Cowboys (twice) — starting Week 6.

14. Maybe Big Ben should play on a bad foot every week. I feel guilty for giving Ben Roethlisberger the Book III treatment here. After all, it’s not every day that an embattled quarterback — operating behind a patchwork O-line — throws for five TDs (the second time of his career) against one of the NFL’s best defenses. And it’s an even rarer day when the Steelers are on the cusp of a legitimate running back controversy, starring Rashard Mendenhall (missed Sunday due to injury), Isaac Redman (61 total yards) and Jonathan Dwyer (113 total yards) — all of whom would be dynamite fantasy options in the coming weeks … if we knew who was starting AND who’d be getting prime touches during garbage-time play. But at least there are no illusions about Mike Wallace (6 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD) and Hines Ward (7 catches, 54 yards, 2 TDs): One is a rock-solid star … the other’s a sneaky-good WR4 in PPR leagues from this point forward.

15. Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin makes his own luck. The cynical fantasy owner might chalk up Baldwin’s game-turning, 27-yard touchdown against the Giants to ‘busted coverage’ or ‘the defense wasn’t ready to make a play.’ But it’s not like Baldwin (8 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD) has been the only fantasy WR to benefit from New York’s injury-ravaged, talent-deprived secondary this season — and probably won’t be the last, either. But gift TDs notwithstanding, Baldwin (three games of 80-plus yards) has shown some consistency as Seattle’s WR2 — taking pressure off Sidney Rice (4 catches, 38 yards) — while demonstrating his worth as a roster-worthy asset in 12-team leagues. His presence has also been a saving grace for RB Marshawn Lynch (131 total yards, 1 TD) and QB Tarvaris Jackson, who left Sunday’s game with an upper-body injury. As for Ben Obomanu (6 catches, 51 yards, team-high 10 targets), never underestimate the relationship between a scout-team QB (Charlie Whitehurst) and scout-team wideout (Obomanu) — especially if Whitehurst gets pressed into a starting role in Week 7, after the Seahawks’ bye.

Tim TebowICONWill Tebow surprise owners who acquire the Denver quarterback via waivers this week?

16. Surprise! Tim Tebow is now roster-worthy in 12-team leagues. Whether or not Tebow (117 total yards, 2 TDs) has the passing IQ, arm strength and accuracy (4-of-10 vs. San Diego) to be an elite winning quarterback in the NFL is irrelevant to the fantasy aficionado. Bottom line: If he should earn the starting nod in Denver, Tebow will likely have a direct role in 90 percent of the Broncos’ offensive touchdowns from this point forward, and any guy who’s a solid bet for two TDs every Sunday — regardless of their efficiency, throwing mechanics or awkward pocket presence — should never be overlooked. Even with solid goal-line finishers at tailback like Willis McGahee (125 total yards) and Knowshon Moreno (40 yards, 1 TD). Unfortunately, there’s a downside to Tebow’s quirky play: Wideouts Brandon Lloyd (1 catch, 20 yards) and Eric Decker (2 catches, -4 yards) have diminished value whenever Kyle Orton‘s holding a clipboard on the Denver sidelines.

17. There will be no ‘rookie wall’ for A.J. Green in November and December — I think. As stated before in these Revelations, there is no substitute for opportunity in fantasyland, especially with freakishly athletic talents, like Green (5 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD vs. Jacksonville), who must remain an integral part of the offensive game plan. Simply put, given Cedric Benson‘s recent struggles (53 yards on Sunday) and the steep learning curves of TE Jermaine Gresham (5 catches, 21 yards, 1 TD), WR Jerome Simpson (4 catches, 40 yards) and rookie QB Andy Dalton (179 yards passing, 2 TDs), Green is already the Bengals’ most consistent playmaker … and deserves 8-12 targets per game, without exception. Of course, that isn’t to say Green (24 catches, 402 yards, 3 TDs in 2011) is immune from the occasional clunker — an unavoidable rite of passage for all first-year stars; it just means that he’ll encounter little rest while being asked to carry a Cincinnati club that shouldn’t expect 30 points from 13 first downs every week.

18. Ryan Mathews picked the perfect time to hurt his calf … and wrist. If the Chargers had a game next week, perhaps we’d be more worried about Mathews’ capacity to bounce back from separate maladies, Philip Rivers‘ third straight game of zero or one TD passes or Vincent Jackson‘s sluggish outing (3 catches, 34 yards). Instead, we’ll happily reflect on Mathews’ career-best rushing day of 125 yards, Rivers’ recaptured chemistry with WR Malcom Floyd (3 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD) and that V-Jax won’t see Broncos CB Champ Bailey again until Week 12 — in sunny San Diego. Speaking of blue skies … fantasy ignorance is the ultimate bliss, dontcha think?

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 5

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 5 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 5 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 5 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 5 (mp3)

CLICK HERE to check out more starts & sits for Week 5 (will be published Saturday)

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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The Buc stops here?

The Bye-Week Conundrum
Ah, so this is why sites like National Football Post, Yahoo!, ESPN, CBSSports, Rotoworld and Rotowire had omnipresent listings for bye weeks on draft day ... so fantasy owners wouldn't make the tragic mistake of selecting multiple quarterbacks or tight ends with the same bye, or aces like Ray

The Bye-Week Conundrum
Ah, so this is why sites like National Football Post, Yahoo!, ESPN, CBSSports, Rotoworld and Rotowire had omnipresent listings for bye weeks on draft day … so fantasy owners wouldn’t make the tragic mistake of selecting multiple quarterbacks or tight ends with the same bye, or aces like Ray Rice, Tony Romo, Steven Jackson, Santana Moss and Brandon Marshall (all on byes) could not devastate a team’s starting lineup in Week 5. In other words, balance must be the key to championship success, huh? Eh, maybe.

Actually, there are different schools of thought as to which seasonal “bye-week strategy” is more effective in the long run: 1) Spreading out your stars’ byes, proffering the opportunity to be competitive for Weeks 5-9 and 11 … or 2) Intentionally constructing a roster that’s certain to fail for a particular weekend, but one that’ll be fully loaded in the other five bye weeks. For example, owners could conceivably boast a regular combination of Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, Willis McGahee, Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews — all Week 6 byes — that has the potential for domination in Weeks 5, 7, 8, 9 and 11. Bottom line: Would you be willing to sacrifice one wretched Sunday for a chance at posting the league’s highest score the rest of the time?

Week 5 Trade Rules To Live By
1. Never let a 1-3 or 0-4 owner control the tone of trade negotiations, especially when dealing with superstars. Before the downtrodden, perhaps desperate owner submits a blockbuster offer, let them know which star player(s) absolutely must be included in their proposal. Rule of thumb: A team not destined for the playoffs should never hold the hammer when haggling … and don’t be afraid to use your hammer when things get sticky.

2. It’s never too early to start planning for the playoffs. No one likes to lose at any point during the season, but if you’re sitting at 4-0, it might behoove you to sacrifice Week 5 or 6 for the sake of landing stud running backs or receivers on their bye week, via trade. Simply put, 1-3 owners can no longer assume the risk of getting killed from byes; in turn, they might consider forsaking a quality player on a bye for the chance to post serviceable lineups until Week 11.

Adrian PetersonThinking about dealing Adrian Peterson?

3. Before trading superstars like Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden or Aaron Rodgers, make sure there are no other studs in the blockbuster. The value of D-Mac, Rodgers or AP alone is enough to tilt a seismic deal in Owner B’s favor, so don’t fall for some sob story of how they’ll need a top-12 quarterback, top-15 wideout or top-25 tailback to balance out the transaction. Bottom line: Any Peterson/Rodgers/McFadden-centric trades must essentially be a 3-for-1 swap, with two throw-ins to consummate the deal, when applicable.

Passing Fancy
Here’s a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (fresh off the greatest QB fantasy outing in Lambeau history)
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Drew Brees, Saints
4. Michael Vick, Eagles
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers (on pace for more passing yards than last season)
6. Tony Romo, Cowboys (pick-six warts and all)
7. Matt Ryan, Falcons
8. Matthew Stafford, Lions (should be a notch higher — conservative thinking)
9. Cam Newton, Panthers (Yahoo’s Andy Behrens says he’ll win the fantasy-points title)
10. Eli Manning, Giants
11. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
13. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
14. Joe Flacco, Ravens (let’s not overreact to one gawd-awful game against the Jets)
15. Matt Schaub, Texans (should rise when A-Johnson returns)
16. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
17. Mark Sanchez, Jets
18. Jay Cutler, Bears
19. Kyle Orton, Broncos (might be higher if the Sword of Damocles, er Tebow, didn’t hang over him)
20. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
21. Sam Bradford, Rams
22. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (could re-enter the top 20 if K.C.’s running game goes kaput)
23. Colt McCoy, Browns (needs Mohammed Massaquoi/Greg Little to come alive)
24. Alex Smith, 49ers
25. Andy Dalton, Bengals
26. Rex Grossman, Redskins (recently passed the Torch Of Bold Proclamations to Tim Hightower)
27. Jason Campbell, Raiders
28. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (can he build off a stellar Week 4?)
29. Donovan McNabb, Vikings
30. Curtis Painter, Colts
31. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars (great arm … but simply not ready for prime time)
32. Matt Moore, Dolphins (left to anchor a no-win situation in Miami)

Week 5: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Michael Vick @ Buffalo
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Chicago
3. Aaron Rodgers @ Atlanta
4. Matt Ryan vs. Green Bay
5. Eli Manning vs. Seattle
6. Drew Brees @ Carolina
7. Cam Newton vs. New Orleans

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ryan Mathews @ Denver
2. Fred Jackson vs. Philadelphia
3. Matt Forte @ Detroit
4. Joseph Addai vs. Kansas City
5. Adrian Peterson vs. Arizona
6. LeSean McCoy @ Buffalo
7. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Cincinnati
8. Michael Turner vs. Green Bay
9. Darren McFadden @ Houston
10. Arian Foster vs. Oakland
11. LeGarrette Blount @ San Francisco (bold prediction on our part)

Talking Points
1. Darren McFadden and Arian Foster are primed for a supreme battle in Houston. I’m pumped about the season’s first hyped clash of elite tailbacks, pitting two playoff hopefuls from pedestrian passing offenses (Andre Johnson‘s absence hinders the Texans) and two clubs shamelessly built around the notion of feeding their stars early and often … and milking the clock with defense-deflating drives. Last week against Pittsburgh, Foster had 166 total yards and one score on 33 touches; against New England, McFadden churned for only 123 total yards — his lowest output of 2011 — in a game where the Raiders racked up 504 yards. All this sets the table for a showdown where D-Mac and Foster are both “locks” to eclipse the superstar threshold of 120 total yards and/or two TDs (above).

LeSean McCoyPhiladelphia’s LeSean McCoy found little breathing room against the Niners last Sunday.

2. Is the Niners’ run defense really this good? The numbers speak volumes: Marshawn Lynch (Week 1: 47 total yards), Felix Jones (Week 2: 40 total yards), LeSean McCoy (Week 3: 52 total yards), Cedric Benson (Week 4: 64 total yards) have all posted season-lows in yardage against San Francisco. However, it’s fair to wonder if this quarter-pole dominance is the result of prodigious tacklers like LB Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman announcing their presence on every play, a team defense that’s allowing only 18.8 points per game (7th in the NFL) … or the circumstantial assertion the Niners’ first four opponents (Seahawks, Cowboys, Bengals, Eagles) had no interest in — or couldn’t devote time to — achieving offensive balance against San Fran? It’s a little too early to make any definitive judgments here … but the ultimate litmus test may be upon us in Week 5, as San Francisco hosts Tampa Bay in a clash of surprising 3-1 clubs. Sure, the Bucs have QB Josh Freeman (969 passing yards, 5 total TDs in 2011) and pass-catchers Mike Williams/Kellen Winslow, Jr. … but their bread-and-butter lies with RB LeGarrette Blount, who has collected 49 touches and 235 total yards in his last two outings. Game on!

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Larry Fitzgerald @ Minnesota
2. Reggie Wayne vs. Kansas City
3. Jeremy Maclin @ Buffalo
4. Steve Smith vs. New Orleans
5. Calvin Johnson vs. Chicago
6. Vincent Jackson @ Denver
7. Brandon Lloyd vs. San Diego
8. Sidney Rice @ N.Y. Giants
9. A.J. Green @ Jacksonville
10. Roddy White vs. Green Bay
11. Steve Breaston @ Indianapolis (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Sebastian Janikowski @ Houston
2. Matt Bryant vs. Green Bay
3. Alex Henery @ Buffalo
4. Nick Folk @ New England
5. David Akers vs. Tampa Bay
6. Josh Scobee vs. Cincinnati
7. Neil Rackers vs. Oakland

We Interrupt Today’s Philanthropist …
… To report that, as of 9:23 a.m. Thursday, while doing the final proof of this column, I OK’d an out-of-nowhere trade with Yahoo! fantasy guru Scott Pianowski, swapping Marques Colston with Andre Johnson in our experts’ PPR league. My record in the Friends & Family League is 3-1 (tied for 1st in a division) … but with the acquisition of Johnson (hamstring injury), I am now one starter short, with nothing but bye guys on the bench. And since they’re all worth keeping, it’s entirely possible that I’ll take a “0” in Colston’s displaced starting slot for Week 5. Hmmm … thank god I have 48 hours to chew on this dilemma; more importantly, thank god I’ll have Johnson’s healthy services sometime around Week 8 or 9.

Target Practice
These wide receivers drew 24 or more targets (8+ per game) from Weeks 2-4:
1. Wes Welker, Patriots — 45 Targets
2. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles — 33 Targets
3. Julio Jones, Falcons — 32 Targets
4. Roddy White, Falcons — 32 Targets
5. Eric Decker, Broncos — 31 Targets
6. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 31
7. Steve Johnson, Bills — 30
8. Steve Smith, Panthers — 30
9. A.J. Green, Bengals — 29
10. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 29
11. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 29
12. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 28
13. Vincent Jackson, Chargers — 27
14. Santana Moss, Redskins — 27
15. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 27
16. Andre Johnson, Texans — 26
17. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 26
18. Greg Jennings, Packers — 25
19. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 24
20. Austin Collie, Colts — 24
21. Donald Jones, Bills — 24
22. David Nelson, Bills — 24
23. Nate Washington, Titans — 24

Inefficiency Experts
And now for the downside of lending too much credence to receiving targets: These seven wideouts posted dreadful targets-to-catch ratios in Week 4:
Jason Hill (Jags) — 2-for-9 (23 percent)
Santonio Holmes (Jets) — 3-for-12 (25 percent)
Pierre Garcon (Colts) — 2-for-8 (25 percent)
Legedu Naanee (Panthers) — 4-for-11 (36 percent)
Danario Alexander (Rams) — 3-for-8 (38 percent)
Plaxico Burress (Jets) — 3-for-8 (38 percent)
Donald Jones (Bills) — 3-for-8 (38 percent)

It’s A Little Known Fact …
… That in four career games against the Vikings — his favorite team while growing up in suburban Minneapolis — Larry Fitzgerald (23 catches, 461 yards, 3 TDs; 35 targets in 2011) has racked up 31 catches for 474 yards and one TD … or 7.8 receptions/119 yards per game; and with the sudden emergence of RB Beanie Wells (3 TDs last week), Fitzgerald is a pressure-free bet for 12 targets, one touchdown and maybe 145 receiving yards on Sunday.

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 5:
QB Michael Vick
RB Michael Turner
RB Darren McFadden
WR Larry Fitzgerald
WR Calvin Johnson
RB/WR Fred Jackson
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Neil Rackers (Texans)
D/ST New York Giants

Questions From The Audience
Matt_Martins: Do you like Felix Jones or Santonio Holmes more for the rest of the year? I have a steak dinner riding on it.

Answer: Are we talking about the ribeye at a local steak joint … or the Surf and Turf platter at a high-end place like Morton’s? Because that’ll go a long way in my decision. All kidding aside, I’d break it down like this: For standard-scoring leagues, I’d lean toward Felix and the incremental progress he’s making as the Cowboys’ undisputed RB1; but for PPRs, I’m inclined to believe that Santonio will win out by season’s end, barring injury. Which brings me to this: How is that you have a steak dinner riding on this bet … but you get to set the terms? Doesn’t the other guy have any say? You know what, nevermind … I can see we’re already going down a pointless road here.

ckow123: Is Devery Henderson a viable flex start in PPR leagues? I’ve got a potential trade of Brandon Pettigrew/Willis McGahee for Henderson/Fred Davis.

Marques ColstonICONColston is reportedly 100% healthy and ready for Sunday.

Answer: As I boldly — and perhaps, carelessly — predicted last week, Henderson would continue to enjoy success in the Saints passing offense, even with the return of Marques Colston. But that was before Hendo’s zero-catch, one-target disappearance against the Jags … setting off a fantasy panic attack like no other. My misguided faith in Henderson notwithstanding, I’d still want Pettigrew (22 catches, 240 yards in 2011) and McGahee (273 total yards, 2 TDs from Weeks 2-4) in a PPR format — especially if Knowshon Moreno has a diminished chance of reclaiming in his once-prominent role in the Broncos offense.

InYourGhoul: Would you trade Mike Wallace for Chris Johnson? Or what about Jeremy Maclin for Ben Tate/McGahee? I have Maclin/Wallace/Wes Welker/Plaxico Burress/Victor Cruz and need a second running back.

Answer: This is interesting. Owner B is willing to sacrifice Chris Johnson — who has a cake schedule after Week 5 — for a shot at landing a top-10 receiver in Wallace (25 catches, 454 yards, 2 TDs); and Owner C is trying to entice you at the top end of McGahee’s resale value. Well, in the interest of balance, I’d be willing to accept Johnson … but nix the deal involving Maclin (26 catches, 334 yards, 2 TDs) — but only as a means of extracting better talent than Ben Tate. For the Johnson trade, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to make it a 2-for-2 swap, where both owners walk away with a running back and receiver; for the Maclin one, you should never feel pressured to keep a wideout who’s making major strides at his position. Wait out this staredown, and you’ll be fine.

GimmeDatP55: Help me out, please. I have been offered Darren McFadden/Tony Gonzalez/Mike Williams (Bucs) for Frank Gore/Jermichael Finley/Vincent Jackson. Gore, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Mike Tolbert are my backs. What should I do?

Answer: Here’s my dilemma, GimmePat. At the top of today’s column, I implore readers to not accept any trades involving McFadden if he isn’t the only “star” on their end of the deal; but in your case, you’d probably be getting the better end of this blockbuster with Gore (323 total yards, 2 TDs in 2011), Finley (3 TDs in Week 3) and V-Jax (20 catches, 374 yards, 3 TDs). (Assuming V-Jax’s latest malady is harmless.) Obviously, Owner B has a major jones for D-Mac (No. 1-ranked RB in most standard-scoring leagues) and might consider Williams and Gonzo as window-dressing pieces to this swap. How about rejecting this trade informally — via email, not on your official league page — with the intent of submitting a counteroffer for a receiver that’s a notch below Williams’ talent. The Finley-for-Gonzo switch is definitely doable; the deal-breaker, to me, lies with Williams. Or, you could always make Owner B do an upgrade from Gore … just in case you think his excellent outing against the Eagles’ Wide Nine defense was more fluke than trend.

I Cannot Leave Without Showing …
To honor the every-four-years clash of Eagles vs. Bills (thanks to NFL realignment in 2002), I wanted to relive one of the most underrated touchdowns in league history: Randall Cunningham‘s eyes-in-back-of-his-head move to avoid a sack/safey in the end zone … turned 95-yard TD bomb to WR Fred Barnett! On that day, Cunningham tallied 302 total yards and three TDs — his second-best fantasy outing of the 1990 season.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 4 Revelations

<b>Week 4 Revelations
Aaron Rodgers destroyed the Broncos ... to the surprise of no one. This might have been the easiest call of the young season, with Rodgers (408 yards passing, 6 total TDs) working his late-afternoon, nationally televised magic against a work-in-progress defense; and sure enough, Rodgers responded with the

<b>Week 4 Revelations
Aaron Rodgers destroyed the Broncos … to the surprise of no one. This might have been the easiest call of the young season, with Rodgers (408 yards passing, 6 total TDs) working his late-afternoon, nationally televised magic against a work-in-progress defense; and sure enough, Rodgers responded with the greatest fantasy performance at Lambeau since you-know-who (aka Brett Favre) threw for 336 yards and five TDs against the Bears in 1995. The carryover effect from Rodgers’ red-letter day was significant as well, with Greg Jennings (7 catches, 103 yards, 1 TD), Jordy Nelson (5 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD), Randall Cobb (141 all-purpose yards), James Jones (3 catches, 48 yards, 1 TD) and RB James Starks (101 total yards) reaffirming their fantasy relevance in 12-, 14- or 16-team leagues. In fact, Jermichael Finley (3 catches, 28 yards) was the only Packers star to struggle against the Broncos … but it wasn’t gloomy enough to sound any warning bells for Weeks 5-7. With Rodgers’ help, Finley (18 catches/243 yards/3 TDs in 2011) could tally three TDs against Atlanta, St. Louis and Minnesota.

Matt ForteICONMatt Forte continues to destroy opposing defenses.

Matt Forte should be considered ‘untouchable’ in PPR trade talks. Given the Bears’ deep corps of eminently replaceable receivers and Jay Cutler‘s inconsistency from week to week, O-coordinator Mike Martz essentially has no choice but to ride the versatile Forte (228 total yards, 1 TD vs. Carolina) every Sunday. Otherwise, Chicago would struggle to stay relevant in the NFC North and Martz might begin to fear for his cushy job of watching Forte amass 92 total yards in eight of his last 10 games, while collecting 26 catches in 2011 (tops RBs). Bottom line: Forte has too much game-breaking value for a standard 1-for-1 or lackluster 2-for-1 trade in Points Per Reception leagues … and only a 3-for-1 blockbuster might clinch the deal. Forte’s a real keeper … just like Cam Newton and his 374 passing yards and three total TDs in Week 4.

There’s no place for Tony Romo’s real-world shame in fantasyland. In a nutshell, Romo’s schizophrenic day against the Lions (347 passing yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) embodies what’s best about our parlor game … and why so many anti-fantasy bullies are quick to mock the millions of fantasy “nerds” who are only consumed with numbers: Every Romo triumph (Laurent Robinson‘s 7 catches, 116 yards; Jason Witten‘s 8 catches for 94 yards and one TD; Dez Bryant‘s two TDs) had a positive consequence; and every Romo failure (helping the Cowboys blow a seemingly insurmountable 27-3 lead) also yielded a positive consequence — in the form of the Lions’ defense/special teams racking up two pick-six TDs and 12 fixed fantasy points on the same afternoon that Robinson (one career 100-yard game prior to Sunday) zipped through the Detroit secondary, virtually untouched, as if he was playing against a Division II college team that could ill-afford to use bump-and-run press coverage on the bigger, faster SEC receivers. Fast forward to Monday night: While some real-world pundits are busy questioning Romo’s ‘elite’ status … you, the fantasy owner, should move heaven and earth to land a QB who’s very good at spreading the wealth.

You honestly can’t go wrong in the Julio vs. A.J. debate. Ah, so this is why the Falcons mortgaged a substantial part of their draft back in April … for a golden chance to acquire rookie Julio Jones (11 catches, 127 yards; 17 targets vs. Seattle) and cultivate arguably the NFL’s most dangerous receiving duo — along with Roddy White (6 catches, 78 yards). And now we know why the Bengals gleefully grabbed A.J. Green (4 catches, 118 yards vs. Buffalo) at No. 4 overall — as a pre-emptive strike against the Falcons taking the former University of Georgia star. (At least that was the rumor at the time.) Just like Beatles vs. Stones … or Coke vs. Pepsi … or Kramer vs. Costanza … there’s really no point in debating the pluses/minuses of Jones and Green. After all, we’re talking about the most prolific rookie wideouts since Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Irvin in 1988; and for fantasy purposes … two rubber-stamp starters at the WR2 or flex spots — regardless of league size or scoring. And good luck trading for either one in PPR leagues; you might have a better chance at getting a Tier II running back who’s usually a threat for 1,600 total yards.

Frank GoreICONGore busted up a shaky Eagles defense in Week 4.

Reports of Frank Gore’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Hmmm, perhaps Mr. Gore should make the amazing daily transformation from “doubtful” and “questionable” to “iffy” and “set to start, primed to dominate” every week. In what might have been Kendall Hunter‘s coming-out party became the ultimate comeback win for the 3-1 49ers … and the greatest “Frank”-related coup since actor Frank Bonner beat out Tom Selleck for the shady role of “Herb Tarlek” on WKRP In Cincinnati. OK, so maybe Bonner didn’t outlast Selleck for that iconic TV character, but Gore’s last-minute power play over Hunter was very real, with a few media outlets reporting on Saturday that he’d miss the game with an ankle injury. But there he was, rumbling for 139 total yards and one touchdown and helping San Fran produce a stunning road victory. As for the other Niners, like Hunter (100 total yards), QB Alex Smith (291 yards passing, 2 TDs), TE Vernon Davis (4 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD), WR Michael Crabtree (5 catches, 68 yards; 9 targets) … they played complementary roles to Gore, who became the fourth straight tailback to amass 139 total yards or more against Philly. And with that, Gore has returned to his regular spot as an entrenched RB2 in all leagues.

Hakeem Nicks is becoming exactly who we thought he’d be. In this Revelation, I will TRY to avoid any second references to Giants WR Victor Cruz (6 catches, 98 yards) or one of the lamest non-fumble calls in NFL history … and direct all the fantasy attention to Nicks (10 catches, 162 yards, 1 TD) and the Dennis Green-inspired introduction (the ghosts of University of Phoenix Stadium demanded that I show this clip). With two 100-yard outings sandwiched between two middling performances it’s fair to wonder if Nicks can maintain last season’s prodigious pace of 11 touchdowns; but TDs aside, Nicks has posted better numbers in receptions (24), targets (38) and receiving yards (347) than this time last year — while essentially flying under the fantasy radar in 2011. Well, those days are over: Nicks is a shoo-in for hefty stats in Weeks 5-6 (Seattle, Buffalo), before the Giants’ bye kicks in.

Revelations, Book II
Matt Schaub isn’t a starter in 12-team leagues without Andre Johnson. If only someone could inject Texans coach Gary Kubiak with truth serum on Sunday night … to find out if the coaching staff honestly had RB Arian Foster (166 total yards, 1 TD) tabbed for 30 catches and five targets. That’s an incredible workload for any back in a non-playoff setting, let alone a guy with a balky hamstring. But once Johnson (4 catches, 36 yards) crumpled to the turf off a flare screen — untouched — Houston assimilated to the mini-crisis by feeding Foster the rock as much as possible, while hoping the defense and special teams would do enough to overcome two TDs that were nixed by needless, bone-headed penalties. OK, so Schaub (138 yards, 1 TD) survived the Steelers in a crucial real-world victory; but his fantasy situation will likely be downgraded in the coming weeks, with only Foster, Ben Tate (20 yards before injury) and TE Owen Daniels (5 catches, 69 yards, 1 TD) being counted on for reliable chunks of points — in Johnson’s stead. It’s simply a burden too great for Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones or Joel Dreessen.

Frank GoreCan Dwayne Bowe be trusted moving forward?

Dwayne Bowe owners might soon be at a crossroads. For the third straight game, Bowe (5 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD vs. Minnesota) registered either 100 receiving yards or one touchdown, perpetuating the notion that his stats won’t suffer amid Jamaal Charles‘ season-long absence, the Chiefs’ cast of average playmakers or underwhelming QB play from Matt Cassel (just 4 TDs in 2011). But it’s fair to wonder how long Bowe can sustain this run of fantasy goodness — especially on days when WR Steve Breaston (4 catches, 91 yards) doesn’t provide a spark. On the flip side, perhaps Kansas City’s first victory will inspire more sideline shenanigans with Cassel and head coach Todd Haley (lucky omens should never be underestimated) and maybe, just maybe, it’ll motivate rookie Jonathan Baldwin to make his NFL debut next week against Indy. Bowe needs a lot of help over the next 12 games … whether he realizes it or not.

Ryan Mathews is the West Coast version of Ray Rice. There are only so many ways to re-brand Mathews (149 total yards vs. Miami) as a fantasy dynamo, especially for those who saw his greatness coming in Week 17 of last year or since Day 1 of training camp — after Mathews “failed” a conditioning test, Haynesworth-style. Sure, Vincent Jackson (3 catches, 108 yards, 1 TD) may be the team’s most explosive receiving option, and RB Mike Tolbert (68 total yards, 1 TD) may draw more targets (8), but the lightning-quick Mathews is the proverbial straw that stirs the Chargers’ drink … and the perfect savior for when QB Philip Rivers is only good for 307 yards passing and one TD against the downtrodden Dolphins. At this point, Mathews is a top-10 running back in PPR and standard-scoring leagues; perhaps more importantly, he’ll be a top-8 projection during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-16 (@ Jacksonville, Buffalo, Baltimore, @ Detroit).

Brandon Marshall cannot be stellar in PPR leagues without a healthy Chad Henne. If Matt Moore couldn’t develop long-term chemistry with the always-open Steve Smith in Carolina, what chance does Moore (167 yards passing, 1 INT) have of appeasing Marshall (5 catches, 52 yards) once the Dolphins’ sinking ship finally capsizes? If you had to guess which franchise will undergo complete change at the GM/head coach/QB slots for next season, Miami would be the quarter-pole leader; and the next 12 games could easily be an exercise in disinterest and futility if Moore and Marshall are joined at the hip. Now, that isn’t to say that Henne (left shoulder injury) deserves to be feted for “leading” the Dolphins to a winless start … but at least with Henne, Marshall and RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, there was a hint of a future foundation that didn’t necessarily include college megastars like Andrew Luck, Justin Blackmon, Trent Richardson. But should Henne miss significant time, there’s no reason to start any Dolphin in 12-team leagues — including Marshall and Thomas (when healthy).

Where was this Ryan Torain during the preseason? During the 132-day lockout, most fantasy analysts had Torain (135 yards, 1 TD vs. St. Louis) pegged as the lead back in the Redskins’ three-headed rushing monster, along with Tim Hightower (28 yards) and rookie Roy Helu (35 yards). But a funny thing happened on the way to preseason fun … as Torain struggled to keep pace with Hightower and Helu in August, and then toiled in anonymity for the season’s first three weeks. Bottom line: We could spend time breaking down QB Rex Grossman‘s medicore showing (143 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), Hightower’s pedestrian nine touches or Santana Moss‘s PPR viability on so-so days (5 catches, 39 yards, 1 TD); but the real storyline lies with Torain’s capacity to capitalize on Sunday’s strong showing. After all, Torain has only tallied back-to-back 100-yard efforts once … and he won’t see the Rams again in 2011.

There are only three fantasy tidbits to glean from Jets-Ravens … and one involves Ed Dickson. Let’s start with the obvious mention of Ray Rice rolling for 130 total yards and one touchdown, before discussing how painfully ordinary QBs Mark Sanchez (119 yards passing, zero TDs) and Joe Flacco (163 yards passing, zero TDs) looked on Sunday night. But on the bright side, neither quarterback will have to face the Jets or Ravens defenses for the rest of the regular season … which may be bad news to Baltimore’s Dickson (4 catches, 45 yards), whose 12 targets will likely be the most of any Tier III tight end this season.

Revelations, Book III
Beanie Wells and Larry Fitzgerald are the only Cards worth starting in 12-team leagues. Arizona QB Kevin Kolb (237 yards passing, zero TDs) can inflict only so much fantasy damage when Wells (138 yards, 3 TDs) posts the greatest outing of his pro career. But that is what’s so vexing about the situation: Kolb missed a golden chance to expose perhaps the NFL’s most vulnerable secondary, while adding to the legend of Fitzgerald (8 catches, 102 yards) and asserting his own standing in the fantasy community. And for that nitpicky assessment, Kolb is nothing more than a QB2 for teams that employ Ryan, Fitzpatrick, Freeman, Flacco, Newton and Stafford as starters.

Chris JohnsonChris Johnson owners finally have something to smile about.

Chris Johnson is back, baby! Please don’t mistake Johnson’s Book III placement for a lukewarm reception to his first 100-yard rushing day of the season. This modest reversal of fantasy fortune holds great value to the owners who believe that Johnson is a good bet for 100 total yards in 11 of Tennessee’s next 12 games — with only one potential roadblock against a typically stout run defense (Pittsbrugh in Week 5) — and that Sunday’s effort was the first major step in a memorable fantasy campaign. Of course, it’d be nice if QB Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t so incredibly efficient, extracting three passing TDs out of 10 completions against the Browns. Nevertheless, Johnson is a firm RB1 in all leagues from this point forward.

The Broncos may be the NFL’s best garbage-time team. Thank goodness QB Kyle Orton (273 yards passing, 3 TDs) can handle a prevent defense, eh? Otherwise, we’d be left to focus on his 12-20 mark as Denver’s starter and why Tim Tebow deserves a chance to rescue the Broncos from another basement finish in the AFC West. The same holds true for RB Willis McGahee (113 total yards), WRs Eric Decker (5 catches, 56 yards, 2 TDs) and Brandon Lloyd (8 catches, 136 yards): When the scoreboard turns ugly for the Broncos, it’s their time to shine. But since there’s no discernible difference between “first-quarter points” and “garbage-time fun” in fantasyland … there’s no reason to lose faith with any of the Big Four right now.

Stevan Ridley and Darrius Heyward-Bey shall hold sneaky-good value in 12-team leagues from this point forward — for different reasons. Instead of detailing the bankable excellence of QB Tom Brady (226 yards passing, 2 TDs vs. Oakland) and WR Wes Welker (9 catches, 158 yards, 1 TD), let’s delve into the interesting battle between Ridley (100 total yards, 1 TD) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (84 total yards, 1 TD). Both tailbacks are obviously roster-worthy talents … but only one can garner flex-starting consideration from week to week. The smart money says that Green-Ellis remains a reliable threat for another double-digit TD season; but at the same time, Bill Belichick would not have devoted such a high draft pick on Ridley — while ignoring the pass rush — if he didn’t foresee unlimited potential in the rookie rusher. Sounds like the perfect handcuff scenario. As for Heyward-Bey (4 catches, 115 yards; 7 targets), we’ve seen these short-term flashes before; but for the first time since joining the pro ranks, it’s reasonable to believe that DHB could piggyback off the successes of Darren McFadden (123 total yards), Michael Bush (81 total yards, 1 TD) and rookie Denarius Moore (3 catches, 19 yards, 1 TD) and evolve into an effective, low-key fourth option for QB Jason Campbell and the Raiders (504 total yards on Sunday).

Calvin Johnson probably won’t break Randy Moss’s record — I think. It’s amazing to see that Johnson (8 catches, 96 yards, 2 TDs) is on pace for 32 receiving TDs and can eclipse Moss’s record of 23 from 2007. But for every alley-oop touchdown that Calvin collects — courtesy of Matthew Stafford</strong> (240 passing yards, 2 TDs) — that once-unthinkable notion inches closer to reality. And for Calvin owners, that should be enough motivation to never part with him, via trade — in the absence of a one-sided blockbuster.

I may have to eat a big bag of crow on Devery Henderson. One game does not a meltdown make, but I have no explanation for Henderson’s disappearing act against the Jags (zero catches, one target) — in a game where Drew Brees (351 passing yards, 1 TD) had a big day and WR Marques Colston tallied a pedestrian 1-catch, 8-yard outing in his return from a Week 1 collarbone injury. At the risk of ending today’s Revelations with needless hyperbole, Hendo’s Week 5 clash with Carolina may be the most important game of his life. It could be his last shot at keeping my unconditional love for the season.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Means to an end

A Beach Bum's Ambivalent Introduction
Greetings from Hilton Head, S.C., birthplace of the first experimental steam cannon (pre-World War I) and prominent home to some of the most picturesque beaches on the East Coast ... which should explain why today's Fantasy Philanthropist is shorter than usual.

Titanic Conundrum

A Beach Bum’s Ambivalent Introduction
Greetings from Hilton Head, S.C., birthplace of the first experimental steam cannon (pre-World War I) and prominent home to some of the most picturesque beaches on the East Coast … which should explain why today’s Fantasy Philanthropist is shorter than usual.

Titanic Conundrum
We must be living in a parallel universe or Fantasy Bizzarro World. Heading into Week 4, what other rational explanation could justify a healthy and still lightning-fast Chris Johnson trailing Ricky Williams/Danny Woodhead in rushing yards, Cadillac Williams/Ben Tate in rushing attempts, Earnest Graham/Jonathan Stewart in receiving yards, and for the love of Rodney PeeteJohn Kuhn, Kendall Hunter, Isaac Redman and C.J. Spiller in touchdowns? Johnson’s surprising lack of seismic production (189 total yards, zero TDs) — against two middling defenses and the Ravens — is enough to drive fantasy owners batty, especially those who desperately need a victory this weekend. It may also be enough for some GMs to explore the previously unconscionable notion of trading Johnson while his value remains reasonably high. Here are four plausible options for handling Johnson’s sluggish start:

Chris JohnsonWill Chris Johnson turn it around in 2011?

Option #1: Stand pat … and hope for the best. Assuming he trained like a fiend during the offseason, it stands to reason that CJ2K (great nickname … but one that creates sky-high expectations) will find his groove sooner than later. After all, Johnson is essentially running behind the same O-line that dominated opponents during his explosive 2,509-yard, 16-TD campaign of 2009; and with Matt Hasselbeck (932 yards, 5 TDs) recapturing his passing mojo in Nashville, Johnson will seldom encounter eight defenders in the “box” on first and second downs. Plus, Johnson has the benefit of facing 12 less-than-dominant defenses in the next 14 weeks — starting this Sunday with Cleveland, ranked 29th against the run.

Option #2: Trade Johnson as a 2-for-1 centerpiece. To maximize value here, simply send an email to every owner in your league — leaving no one out of the loop — detailing Johnson’s availability on the open market. The quickest, least insulting responses will likely involve Owner B surrendering a Tier II tailback (Matt Forte, Tim Hightower, Ahmad Bradshaw, LeGarrette Blount, etc.) and one low-end Tier I receiver (Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Johnson) for Johnson. By involving every owner in the process, you’ll likely avoid the prolonged haggling that comes from dealing with a single owner who simultaneously professes his love for CJ2K … while discrediting him as an all-world back, based on three middling weeks. Simply put, Johnson owners still hold the proverbial hammer in all trade talks.

Option #3: Go get Nate Washington, via trade. Factoring in Kenny Britt‘s season-ending knee injury and tight end Jared Cook‘s slower-than-expected rise to fantasy relevance, the Titans offense will surely rest on the shoulders of Hasselbeck, Johnson and Washington (21 catches, 258 yards, 1 TD) this season. And acquiring Washington, for a stealth price, would serve as a de facto insurance policy against any short-term struggles that Johnson might endure.

Option #4: Throw the baby out with the bath water. This scenario typically involves the owner of a 1-2 or 0-3 club who’s hell-bent on blowing up their core — as a boom-or-bust means of rolling the dice on a substantial turnaround with someone else’s stars; and Johnson serves as a major bargaining chip to the expedited renovation. For keeper leaguers who are in ‘contract years’ with Johnson … the risk-reward proposition holds intriguing appeal. For owners who are convinced that Johnson won’t return to his top-5 standing in 2011 … this might be your last golden parachute!

Week 4: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Denver
2. Matthew Stafford @ Dallas
3. Drew Brees @ Jacksonville
4. Philip Rivers vs. Miami
5. Ben Roethlisberger @ Houston
6. Matt Ryan @ Seattle
7. Eli Manning @ Arizona

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. New Orleans
2. Tim Hightower @ St. Louis
3. Darren McFadden vs. New England
4. LeSean McCoy vs. San Francisco
5. Adrian Peterson @ Kansas City
6. Ray Rice vs. N.Y. Jets
7. Matt Forte vs. Carolina
8. Peyton Hillis vs. Tennessee
9. Ryan Mathews vs. Miami

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson @ Dallas
2. Mike Wallace @ Houston
3. Roddy White @ Seattle
4. Wes Welker @ Oakland
5. Greg Jennings vs. Denver
6. Dez Bryant vs. Detroit
7. Hakeem Nicks @ Arizona
8. Dwayne Bowe vs. Minnesota
9. Andre Johnson vs. Pittsburgh
10. Larry Fitzgerald vs. N.Y. Giants
11. Donald Jones @ Cincinnati (super-sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Sebastian Janikowski vs. New England
2. Rob Bironas @ Cleveland
3. Mike Nugent vs. Buffalo
4. Mason Crosby vs. Denver
5. Jason Hanson @ Dallas
6. Neil Rackers vs. Pittsburgh
7. Dan Bailey vs. Detroit

Talking Points
1. Arian Foster is slated to get the Week 4 start for Houston. Here’s how it breaks down in 12-team leagues: Whenever Foster is healthy enough to play for the Texans, fantasy owners are essentially obligated to start him — no matter the opponent — out of fear of missing a breakout on the level of last year’s all-world production (2,220 total yards, 18 TDs). For Ben Tate owners, they should feel emboldened to start him at the flex spot in 12-team leagues … on the two-part assumption that 1) Tate (341 total yards, 1 TD) is a cinch for 17-plus touches in a healthy time share with Foster or 2) Foster shall remain a weekly 50-50 bet to re-aggravate his hamstring injury, in the absence of significant rest.

Anquan BoldinBoldin is looking at a big Week 4 matchup vs. Darrelle Revis and the Jets.

2. Anquan Boldin ranks 9th in receiving targets … but 25th in receptions. How can Boldin only have 14 catches on 28 targets with Joe Flacco (62-percent passer from 2008-10) as his quarterback? Something doesn’t add up here. It’s not like opposing defenses can afford to ignore RB Ray Rice as a rushing/receiving maestro or disavow any knowledge of athletic young stars like Torrey Smith (152 yards, 3 TDs in Week 3) and TE Ed Dickson; and yet, that strangely seems to be the case with Baltimore’s sneaky-good offense. So many mixed messages … and not enough time to justify how Boldin drew 14 targets in a 30-point road rout of the Rams.

3. Adrian Peterson got plenty of national run this week for collecting only five second-half carries in Minnesota’s meltdown loss to Detroit. If I was a gambling guru, I would happily bet the farm on Peterson (342 total yards, 3 TDs in 2011) garnering 26 or more touches for Vikings-Chiefs — regardless of the score and irrelevant to whatever pre-huddle plays are coming in from the sidelines. Amazingly, 0-3 Minnesota has blown three straight double-digit leads in the second half, while feeding Peterson the rock just 18.2 times per game (including passes). But we all know that things will change on Sunday … if for no other reason than the Vikes should never call on QB Donovan McNabb and WR Michael Jenkins to save the day for road games.

Target Practice
Here’s a list of PPR-friendly tailbacks with at least 12 seasonal targets (4 per game):
1. Matt Forte, Bears — 28 Targets
2. Darren Sproles, Saints — 28 Targets
3. Mike Tolbert, Chargers — 23
4. Earnest Graham, Buccaneers — 22 Targets
5. Jahvid Best, Lions — 20 Targets
6. Ray Rice, Ravens — 20
7. Chris Johnson, Titans — 19
8. Ryan Mathews, Chargers — 18
9. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs — 16
10. Cadillac Williams, Rams — 16
11. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers — 15
12. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets — 15
13. Willis McGahee, Broncos — 14
14. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants– 12
15. Reggie Bush</strong>, Dolphins — 12
16. Peyton Hillis, Browns — 12
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders — 12
18. Jason Snelling, Falcons — 12

When Cedric Benson’s Suspension Kicks In …
In the two career games where Bengals RB Bernard Scott garnered at least 18 touches … the 27-year-old from Abilene Christian averages 119 total yards per outing.

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 4:
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
RB Matt Forte
WR Greg Jennings
WR Roddy White
RB/WR Darren McFadden
TE Rob Gronkowski
PK Mason Crosby (Packers)
D/ST Baltimore Ravens

Talking Points, Part II
1. Matthew Stafford finally gets his homecoming game in Big D. Perhaps you’ve heard that Stafford and Bobby Layne — the Hall of Fame quarterback who allegedly put a 50-year championship hex on Detroit after getting traded in the late 1950s — attended the same high school in suburban Dallas? (Didn’t Beavis & Butt-Head go to Highland High, too?) And perhaps you’ve read the occasional blurb about how the 3-0 Lions are Super Bowl contenders, as long as Stafford (977 passing yards, 9 TDs) stays upright for the full season? Well, consider Sunday’s Lions-Cowboys clash a statement game for Stafford, who wants to be included among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks and likely dreams of torching his hometown team.

Antonio GatesICONGates has been hobbled by more foot pain.

2. Antonio Gates doubts he’ll play in Week 4. It’s very difficult (and somewhat disingenuous) to spin positive news from the headline of “Star Player Visits Another Foot Specialist” … so I won’t even pretend that Gates is merely doing his due diligence with the latest round of exploratory discussions with medical experts. When healthy, Gates (7,079 career yards, 69 TDs) is a Hall of Fame-bound tight end at the top of his class; but when saddled with a significant injury that may have been a direct consequence of turf toe, it’s hard to envision how Gates will start — and dominate — in at least 10 games this season. Bottom line: At this stage, Gates has little high-end trade value … and Randy McMichael — Gates’ understudy in San Diego — is nothing more than a roster-worthy, yet eminently replaceable asset in 12-team leagues. Basically, Gates owners are in fantasy limbo … with little chance of an immediate resolution.

3. Donnie Avery has a chance to fill Kenny Britt’s very-large shoes in Tennessee. Call me crazy, but the ex-Rams burner has the athleticism, hands and route-running acumen to be a productive NFL receiver; and I am shocked that St. Louis dropped him back in August, minus a reasonable explanation for doing so (sorry, Austin Pettis and/or Greg Salas don’t count). But the Rams’ loss is the Titans’ gain … especially since the club is painfully thin at receiver (after Nate Washington) and may need to offer Avery a battlefield promotion — sooner than later. For 16-team leagues, Avery could become a sneaky-good WR5 as soon as he gets up to snuff with Matt Hasselbeck’s delivery … and as soon as Hass adjusts to Avery’s blazing speed.

The Hands That Built America
Here’s my top-40 listing of wide receivers in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions (on pace for 32 receiving TDs — HA!)
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
3. Roddy White, Falcons
4. Mike Wallace, Steelers (an unstoppable force in a versatile offense)
5. Greg Jennings, Packers
6. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
7. Wes Welker, Patriots
8. Miles Austin, Cowboys
9. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
10. Steve Johnson, Bills
11. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (his targets from Weeks 1-3 are the same as last year)
12. Reggie Wayne, Colts
13. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
14. Steve Smith, Panthers
15. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
16. Nate Washington, Titans
17. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
18. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (primed for the challenge of carrying the Chiefs)
19. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
20. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
21. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
22. Devery Henderson, Saints
23. Sidney Rice, Seahawks (could move into top-20 with another big game against Atlanta)
24. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
25. Santonio Holmes, Jets
26. Santana Moss, Redskins
27. A.J. Green, Bengals (could rack up 100 yards and 10 targets against the Bills)
28. Lance Moore, Saints
29. David Nelson, Bills
30. Julio Jones, Falcons
31. Denarius Moore, Raiders
32. Eric Decker, Broncos (in the realm of gauging Decker’s progression level … targets don’t lie)
33. Marques Colston, Saints
34. Deion Branch, Patriots
35. Mike Thomas, Jaguars (the NFL’s Hail Mary King)
36. Percy Harvin, Vikings
37. Torrey Smith, Ravens
38. Robert Meachem, Saints
39. Plaxico Burress, Jets
40. Antonio Brown, Steelers (major breakout forthcoming)

Questions From The Audience
LouPros: Which two receivers would you pick for Week 4 — Anquan Boldin, Denarius Moore, Brandon Lloyd, Mike Thomas or Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams?

Answer: Boldin probably deserves more respect for this question, since he burned the Jets for seven catches in 110 yards in Week 1 of last year AND drew 14 targets last week against the Rams; but for standard-scoring leagues, I have the greatest confidence in Lloyd (@ Green Bay) and the rookie Moore (vs. New England). In Lloyd’s case, I love his chances against the Packers’ surprisingly vulnerable pass defense AND capacity for garbage-time fantasy goodness. On the latter hunch, as his team’s best playmaking receiver (not counting Darren McFadden), Moore (9 catches, 180 yards, 2 total TDs) must be a fixture in the game plan IF the Raiders are going to score 25-plus points and flirt with an upset victory over the Patriots.

Nick_Agr5: Would you rather have Nate Washington or Marques Colston for the rest of the year?

Answer: I cannot answer this question right now. For starters, I am stunned that Colston (6 catches, 81 yards in Week 1) has returned so quickly from a broken collarbone, so much that I didn’t expect him back earlier than Week 9; and Washington (21 catches, 258 yards, 1 TD in 2011) is well on his way to a breakout campaign — thanks to his uncanny chemistry with Matt Hasselbeck. With a proverbial gun to the head … I’d lean toward Washington — on the hopes that Colston will be easy trade bait before mid-October.

JefferyKnows: Convince me why Steelers WR Antonio Brown should start over Chicago’s Johnny Knox in my 12-team league.

Answer: For the record, I never suggested to the masses that Brown (10 catches, 128 yards) be a starting consideration in 12- or 14-team leagues; I merely encouraged — or begged — fantasy owners to roster him from the get-go … while remaining patient about Brown’s impending breakout as the Steelers’ WR2. His off-the-charts athleticism is simply too good to ignore, especially when Brown (23 targets) has more catches and targets than Knox (9 catches, 189 yards). One last thing: As an NFL wideout, I’d pin my hopes to Ben Roethlisberger (942 passing yards, 3 TDs in 2011) over Jay Cutler.

FlynKn33K: I play in a 2-QB league. Which two should I start in Week 4 — Philip Rivers, Rex Grossman, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning?

Answer: Let’s handle this in two stages: Step 1 — You NEVER bench Philip Rivers, especially after a poor outing. Step 2 — When deciding between “locks” for 275 yards and/or three TDs in Week 4 (Ryan and Manning) … opt for the guy (Eli) playing in a climate-controlled environment (Arizona’s solar dome) and who’s facing the same team (Cardinals) that surrendered 422 passing yards to Cam Newton — in his NFL debut.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 3 Revelations

Week 3 Revelations
1. Drew Brees and Matt Schaub are remorseless scoring machines in fantasyland. CBS should be ashamed for burying Sunday's Texans-Saints shootout in the huddled mass of 1 p.m. games, featuring two of the NFL's most prolific passers -- Brees (370 yards passing, 2 TDs) and Schaub (373 yards passing,

Week 3 Revelations
1. Drew Brees and Matt Schaub are remorseless scoring machines in fantasyland. CBS should be ashamed for burying Sunday’s Texans-Saints shootout in the huddled mass of 1 p.m. games, featuring two of the NFL’s most prolific passers — Brees (370 yards passing, 2 TDs) and Schaub (373 yards passing, 3 TDs). Even during the 132-day lockout, this Superdome tilt screamed real-world and fantasy fun for everyone; and yet, only a modest-sized sampling of the country witnessed the week-in, week-out greatness of (7 catches, 128 yards) … and stealth goodness from tight ends Jimmy Graham (4 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD)/Owen Daniels (5 catches, 76 yards, 1 TD), running backs Darren Sproles (95 total yards, 1 TD), Mark Ingram (1 TD), Ben Tate (90 total yards without Arian Foster) and receivers Lance Moore (9 catches, 88 yards, 1 TD), Devery Henderson (3 catches, 62 yards) and Robert Meachem (5 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD). And if that weren’t enough made-for-TV action, Houston’s James Casey (5 catches, 126 yards, 1 TD) and Kevin Walter (twice-tipped TD reception) had excellent cameos on Sunday. Bottom line: Texans-Saints was the second-best TV event this week … only taking a backseat to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s hilarious salute to the Jersey shore, under-the-Boardwalk first kisses and, of course, alcohol-drenched rum hams.

Wes WelkerICONWes Welker is killing it this season.

2. Wes Welker laughs in the general direction of every PPR owner who snubbed him on draft day. Leave it to Welker (16 catches, 217 yards, 2 TDs) to steal the spotlight from QBs Tom Brady (386 yards passing, 4 TDs, 4 INTs)/Ryan Fitzpatrick (369 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs), RB Fred Jackson (161 total yards, 1 TD), TE Rob Gronkowski (78 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs) … and fellow receivers Donald Jones (5 catches, 101 yards) and Stevie Johnson (8 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD) in the most surreal fashion possible. Time will tell if Buffalo’s thrilling 34-31 victory over New England stands as the AFC East’s most explosive fantasy clash of the season; but there’s no point in waiting to count the votes for the greatest individual performance — in PPR leagues: From September to December, no non-quarterback will touch Welker’s 50-point day … and you, the fantasy owner, won’t encounter a better time to sell high on Welker in standard-scoring leagues.

3. Fantasy owners should proceed with caution when breaking the bank for Torrey Smith in free agency. Consider this your fuddy-duddy warning of Week 3: Yes, Smith pulled down five catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns in just his third NFL game; yes, the kid is blessed with Denard Robinson-like speed in the open field; and yes, the Ravens are desperately seeking a viable No. 2 wideout in Lee Evans‘ tenuous stead. However, Smith is also the same prospect who didn’t catch one ball in Weeks 1 and 2 … and coming out of college, he was favorably compared to another blazing-fast Maryland receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey. That said, I fully understand that some fantasy owners will move heaven and earth to land Smith this week … on the hopes that another 152-yard, 3-TD performance is in the offing. Even on days when Ray Rice (162 total yards), QB Joe Flacco (389 yards passing, 3 TDs) and WR Anquan Boldin (7 catches, 74 yards; 14 targets) bring their A-games to a real-world laugher.

4. Darren McFadden will not be stopped from this point forward. If McFadden can rack up 178 yards (171 rushing) and two touchdowns on the Jets, perhaps the NFL’s stingiest defense, what chance do the Chargers, Chiefs, Patriots, Packers or Lions have against the early-season Fantasy MVP? In his last 16 games — a full NFL season — McFadden has amassed 2,141 total yards and 14 touchdowns, while cracking the yardage century mark 13 times. Simply put, if redrafts were held this week throughout the country, McFadden would be no worse than No. 4 behind Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy … with an outside chance of going No. 1 in PPR leagues. Of course, D-Mac would be an even greater cinch for fantasy success if RB Michael Bush (57 total yards, 1 TD) and rookie WR Denarius Moore (67 total yards, 1 TD) weren’t so proficient in the scoring zones.

5. The Packers are a fascinating study in random fantasy greatness. Green Bay wideout Greg Jennings may have posted team-highs in catches (9), yards (119) and targets (10) against the typically stout Bears … but his across-the-board production shall only serve as a humble footnote to tight end Jermichael Finley‘s three-touchdown whirlwind — a feat that included scores in the first, third and fourth quarters. Jennings’ great day may have also been obscured by Ryan Grant‘s 92-yard revival and Aaron Rodgers‘ ho-hum magic of 300 total yards and three touchdowns. Yes, it’s hard to be a dynamic featured performer for the Packers every Sunday. Just ask Jordy Nelson (3 catches, 40 yards), James Jones (4 catches, 24 yards), James Starks (14 yards) and Randall Cobb (1 catch, 13 yards). Remember them?

Revelations, Book II
6. Mark Sanchez deserves your full fantasy attention … even if LaDainian Tomlinson might not. LT is easily one of the five best running backs of the last 25 years (along with Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin), but at age 32, it’s fair to wonder if Sunday’s effort (154 total yards, 1 TD on 11 carries) will represent his seminal performance of the season. (Give Shonn Greene quiet props for his 106 total yards.) If that’s your hunch on Tomlinson, then it’s time to sell high on arguably the Jets’ best playmaker when playing from behind. On the flip side, Sanchez (369 passing yards, 3 TDs) may be scratching the surface of his season-long potential and could be acquired for a reasonable price on the trade market — especially when playing second-fiddle to a redoubtable QB star, like Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Schaub or even Matthew Stafford.

Calvin JohnsonJohnson has found the end zone twice in every single game this year.

7. Calvin Johnson won’t break Randy Moss’s NFL record for receiving TDs — I think. The inimitable Johnson (7 catches, 108 yards) is equal parts devastating and consistent (two TDs in all three games this season) … and that doesn’t necessarily cover the awe of his Willie Mays-esque, over-the-shoulder grab of a Stafford deep fade in overtime, essentially clinching Detroit’s first 3-0 mark since Billy Sims‘ rookie season (1980). To deify Johnson as the NFL’s best receiver would be a subjective (and perhaps fruitless) exercise — given the extended excellence of Andre Johnson; but for one season, Calvin has a legitimate shot at eclipsing Moss’s mark of 23 touchdowns (2007). Verdict: Calvin is worth virtually any price in a 2-for-1 blockbuster trade and could be the NFC North’s unofficial MVP at year’s end … if Stafford (378 yards, 2 TDs) keeps bringing the heat every Sunday.

8. Ahmad Bradshaw does a spot-on impersonation of LeSean McCoy. On the same day that Eli Manning (254 yards, 4 TDs), Michael Vick (right hand contusion) and lightly regarded WR Victor Cruz (3 catches, 110 yards, 2 TDs) turned the NFL mini-universe on its head … Bradshaw (139 total yards, 1 TD) and McCoy (141 total yards, 1 TD) ended up collecting the most fantasy cred in the latest Giants-Eagles clash. And why shouldn’t that be the case? Fantasy championships, by and large, are the result of great running games; and McCoy (394 total yards, 5 TDs) and Bradshaw (297 total yards, 2 TDs) have already justified their Round 1 and Round 3 pre-draft values, respectively. As for the Philly/New York receivers who struggled on Sunday, Jeremy Maclin (5 catches, 69 yards) is obviously safe from public admonishment … but now may be the time to explore trades involving DeSean Jackson (2 catches, 30 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (3 catches, 25 yards) — while they still bear full-market prices.

9. Vernon Davis injected a little Red Bull attitude into an absolute snoozefest in Cincy. And to think that, prior to Sunday’s games, Davis was trailing Leonard Pope in targets, Scott Chandler in receptions and some random cat named Jake Ballard in receiving yards … leading some to wonder if the dream of owning a high-end talent at tight end should ever be a priority? But somehow, some way, Davis (8 catches, 114 yards) emerged from the primordial ooze of 49ers-Bengals and reaffirmed the faith of fantasy owners everywhere — especially those in thin-bench leagues who can ill-afford to carry a second tight end. Speaking of thin benches … Frank Gore owners should definitely find a way to add Kendall Hunter (38 total yards, 1 TD) as a handcuff this week (injured or not) — just in case Gore (42 yards on 17 touches) is on the path to an inevitable, yet seemingly instantaneous decline … not unlike Shaun Alexander, Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson suffered in recent years.

Kenny BrittICONWith Kenny Britt (left) possibly done for the season, look for Nate Washington to step up.

10. Mark it down: Nate Washington will be a top-20 receiver by season’s end. Unfortunately, this proclamation is bolstered by the sad news that Titans WR Kenny Britt may have sustained a season-ending knee injury against the Broncos; but it also speaks to Washington’s remarkable chemistry with Matt Hasselbeck (311 yards passing, 2 TDs) and how the QB-WR combo may be the best thing going in Tennessee. At this point, fantasy owners should expect 9 or more Washington targets for at least 10 of the next 13 games — as the Titans continually strive for offensive balance and attempt to resurrect RB Chris Johnson, who fell just 77 yards and one touchdown short of my 152-yard/1-TD midweek prophecy. Obviously, Johnson is too good to be this mediocre for the entire season; but that compliment comes with a caveat: His next ‘window of greatness’ might not kick in until Week 7 — after Tennessee’s bye.

11. Sidney Rice may actually be the real deal in Seattle. Think of all the money you could have made in Vegas on Sunday, betting the ‘over’ on Rice’s projected output for Week 3, aka his Seahawks debut. Eight catches for 109 yards … or 64 percent of Tarvaris Jackson‘s final production against Arizona? Perhaps most impressive, Rice drew a team-high 10 targets and helped RB Marshawn Lynch trudge for 75 total yards — a substantial improvement from Weeks 1 and 2 and something that could inspire TE Zach Miller (2 catches, 9 yards) to end the worst three-game stretch of his five-year career.

Revelations, Book III
12. Ryan Mathews has Philip Rivers’ back on so-so days. Of the last two times Rivers failed to record a TD pass (including Sunday’s struggle against the Chiefs), Mathews has picked up the slack with 269 combined yards and five touchdowns. Not bad for a runner who’s been 1) Victimized by Coach Norv Turner‘s ill-conceived prediction of “300 carries” in 2010 … 2) Haunted by comparisons to Albert Haynesworth after failing San Diego’s post-lockout conditioning test … 3) Stunned by Mike Tolbert‘s nuclear blast of three touchdowns in Week 1. Bottom line: Through all the adversity, through all the premature claims that Mathews (149 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Kansas City) was an overhyped asset coming out of college, he remains a rubber-stamped starter on 10-, 12-, 14- and 16-team leagues. It’s as simple as that!

Matt RyanICONWill the real Matt Ryan please stand up?

13. It’s hard to get a read on Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman these days. Obviously, Freeman (215 total yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) is more concerned with winning than fantasy stats; and making a post-Super Bowl pitch for Disney apparently holds greater appeal than starring in one of NFL.com’s hilarious fantasy commercials, previewing the 2012 season. That isn’t to say Ryan (330 passing yards, 1 TD) doesn’t value winning or post-championship Disney spots; nevertheless, it’s odd to see him attempt 47 passes for the second time in 14 days — something that never happened from 2008-10 — while Michael Turner (20 total yards) accepts a subservient role in a game that was reasonably close the whole way through. But then again, it’s not like many teams can match the 1-2 receiving combo of Roddy White (9 catches, 140 yards; 17 targets) and rookie Julio Jones (6 catches, 115 yards). At this point, the Buccaneers might settle for back-to-back 50-yard outings from WR1 Mike Williams (5 catches, 43 yards) … while asking the defense to carry the brunt of their NFC South title hopes.

14. The Vikings passing offense is more ‘train wreck’ than a ‘work-in-progress.’ While Minnesota’s Michael Jenkins (9 catches, 88 yards; 11 targets) deserves kudos for a stellar Sunday, he simply doesn’t possess the consistent traits of a quality No. 1 receiver … and, in a bit of total honesty, neither does Percy Harvin. In my warped fantasy mind, I tried to rationalize Harvin (88 total yards) as a near-equal to RB Adrian Peterson (97 total yards, 1 TD); but if that was the case, Percy would’ve touched the ball more than five times … BEFORE exiting the game in the fourth quarter (injury? illness?).

15. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are the Steelers’ best receivers. I have a two-tiered assignment for fantasy owners this week: Step 1 — Move heaven and earth to trade for Wallace (5 catches, 144 yards, 1 TD) in standard-scoring and PPR leagues. Step 2 — Stealthily pluck Brown (4 catches, 75 yards) from the waiver wire … just days before Ben Roethlisberger (364 passing yards, 1 TD) and the Steelers hit serious paydirt with the often-targeted and supremely athletic Brown.

Maurice Jones-DrewLook for Gabbert to lean heavily on the workhorse that is MJD.

16. Maurice Jones-Drew will be a saving grace for Blaine Gabbert … and vice versa. Before we break down MJD’s excellent effort in Carolina, did you see Gabbert’s first career touchdown pass — a crop-duster-esque ‘Hail Mary’ to WR Mike Thomas right before the first half ended? It was a bizarre coming-out moment for the rookie, but one that’ll hopefully lead the Jaguars players, coaches and fans to believe they’ll have a blue-chip franchise quarterback sooner than later — and one that won’t be unceremoniously dumped before Week 1 in 2015. On Sunday, Gabbert threw for a pedestrian 139 yards and one TD; but his cannon-armed presence alone helped Jones-Drew amass 167 total yards … with a good chunk coming during the near-biblical rainstorm that engulfed Charlotte sometime in the second quarter. I guess the statue of limitations for worrying about Jones-Drew’s balky knee have expired, huh?

17. Reggie Bush is no longer roster-worthy in standard-scoring leagues. Wow! It took the Dolphins coaches only three games (and three head-scratching defeats) to realize that Bush (36 total yards) is a flare-pass receiver dressed in a running back’s clothing; and after Sunday’s one-target outing against the Browns, it’s fair to wonder if Tony Sparano and Co. have lost confidence in Bush’s capacity to augment a middling passing offense, as well. Whatever the case, there’s no point in exhausting a roster spot for Bush in 12-team standard leagues; and his short-term standing as a flex-starter consideration in PPR leagues has vanquished too, especially if rookie Daniel Thomas (122 total yards, 1 TD) can triple Bush’s targets on a semi-regular basis. My empathy for Bush owners runs deep … but it cannot compare to my shared sorrow for the good people of Pizza Hut, who built an entire marketing campaign around Bush — thinking the Heisman-turned-Bayou-hero-turned-reality-star-turned-feature back would sell a ton of pizzas this fall. Ouch!

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 3

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 3 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 3 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 3 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 3 (mp3)

CLICK HERE to check out more AFC Starts & Sits for Week 3.

CLICK HERE to check out more NFC Starts & Sits for Week 3.

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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Breaking Loose

How To Shake The 0-2 Blues
Whether you've incurred two gut-wrenching defeats, or served as cannon fodder for a pair of seismic blowouts, there's a singular shame that goes with starting a season at 0-2. In a matter of speaking, it's the fantasy equivalent of walking around with a Scarlet

How To Shake The 0-2 Blues
Whether you’ve incurred two gut-wrenching defeats, or served as cannon fodder for a pair of seismic blowouts, there’s a singular shame that goes with starting a season at 0-2. In a matter of speaking, it’s the fantasy equivalent of walking around with a Scarlet Letter on your favorite NFL jersey. (Marketing idea for Madison Avenue?) But all hope is not lost for the momentarily downtrodden … provided they accept the grim reality that — in highly competitive 12- 14- or 16-team leagues — an 0-3 club faces long odds of winning a championship. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and focus on a few quick tricks for Shaking The 0-2 Blues … and getting a much-needed victory in Week 3:

1. Trade for back-end guys in RB handcuffs. While some jittery 0-2 owners are busy conceiving unrealistic, low-ball offers for Rashard Mendenhall, LeGarrette Blount or even Chris Johnson (on track for a big-time Week 3 breakout), how about brokering deals for less-heralded talents like Jonathan Stewart, Michael Bush, C.J. Spiller, Dexter McCluster, Thomas Jones, rookies Delone Carter, Roy Helu and the Mile High version of Wally Pipp, Bronco Knowshon Moreno? Now, in some leagues, McCluster only has WR-eligibility … but he still may possess the greatest backfield potential for the Chiefs in Jamaal Charles‘ season-long stead. Whatever the case, these eight players have the skills, time and opportunity to become flex-spot difference-makers from this point forward.

Jamaal CharlesJamaal Charles owners have fallen on tough times…which could make them a bit desperate.

2. Throw a lifeline to the guy/gal who lost Jamaal Charles for the season. By no means am I suggesting that you try to fleece Charles’ owner with an insulting offer. After all, it’s only Week 3, and in standard 12-team leagues … a resourceful, creative individual should be able to compensate for the punch-in-the-gut effect of Charles tearing a knee — virtually untouched — against the Lions. In my diplomatic world, I advocate trading viable bench depth at RB in bulk — like Helu, Ben Tate, Joseph Addai, James Starks as a tandem — to land a premier receiver. For example, in one 12-team league — where the other owners are all lifelong acquaintances — I’m happy to help one of my best friends bolster his post-Charles rushing corps (two backs + Percy Harvin) … as a means of extracting Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings from his deep group of receivers. In September, it’s beneficial to craft win-win trades for both sides — even when you’re holding all the cards. You may need that owner again at the November trade deadline.

3. Explore a 2-for-1 blockbuster with an elite running back. There’s nothing desperate about trading away a great back (Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy) for a high-end receiver (Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Larry Fitzgerald) AND secondarily elite runner like Mendenhall, Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ahmad Bradshaw, Frank Gore or Ryan Mathews. It’s the cleanest, simplest way to diversify your starters with prime RB/WR talent — as long as the shipped-off superstar doesn’t rush for 1,700 yards in the next 14 games.

4. Consider trading name-brand receivers with inefficient catches-to-targets ratios. Yes, two weeks does not a season make; but it’s an adequate sample size for gauging which QB-WR relationships might be less fruitful than originally expected back in August. Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon (91 combined yards) are flailing in Indy; Devin Hester, Lee Evans and Plaxico Burress are likely more bust than boom; Jerome Simpson, Mike Sims-Walker and Mohammed Massaquoi are prone to bouts of wild inconsistency; Dez Bryant (thigh) may not be healthy enough to carry the freight during Miles Austin‘s unplanned break (hamstring); and while Dwayne Bowe (5 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD in Week 2) is now the Chiefs’ undisputed star … fantasy owners should be disturbed by Kansas City’s frightening 0-2 start, QB Matt Cassel‘s meek progression curve without Charlie Weis and the volatility surrounding head coach Todd Haley and O-coordinator Bill Muir (whose potential pratfalls have already been documented here).

5. Replace a kicker and/or defense on your roster. Scared to take a flier on Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent (5 field goals) or San Francisco’s David Akers (11-for-11 in FGs/PATs)? Both kickers have workable schedules (full of NFC West opponents) and they’ll likely serve as clean-up hitters for offenses that struggle to consistently reach the end zone. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to immediately forsake big names like Lawrence Tynes, Jay Feely, Ryan Longwell for emerging legs such as Alex Henery, Josh Scobee or Graham Gano — not to be confused with the immortal Gary Gnu, of The Great Space Coaster fame. (Old joke wasted on young viewers.)

As for defenses, be leery of high-profile teams that aren’t prodigious in sacks (Ravens, Chargers, Colts, Buccaneers) or creating takeaways (Saints, Rams, Steelers); and don’t fall in love with a special teams if you cannot identify their punt- and kick-returners within 10 seconds.

Week 3: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Tom Brady @ Buffalo
2. Drew Brees vs. Houston
3. Matthew Stafford @ Minnesota
4. Matt Ryan @ Tampa Bay
5. Cam Newton vs. Jacksonville
6. Philip Rivers vs. Kansas City
7. Kevin Kolb @ Seattle
8. Michael Vick — IF he plays vs. N.Y. Giants

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Chris Johnson vs. Denver (mark him down for 152 total yards and 1-2 TDs)
2. LeSean McCoy @ N.Y. Giants
3. Adrian Peterson vs. Detroit
4. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Carolina
5. Rashard Mendenhall @ Indianapolis
6. Matt Forte vs. Green Bay
7. Ray Rice @ St. Louis
8. Michael Turner @ Tampa Bay
9. Shonn Greene @ Oakland
10. Ryan Mathews vs. Kansas City

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Larry Fitzgerald @ Seattle
2. Kenny Britt vs. Denver (fingers crossed on hammy)
3. Deion Branch @ Buffalo
4. Vincent Jackson vs. Kansas City
5. Devery Henderson vs. Houston
6. Calvin Johnson @ Minnesota
7. Andre Johnson @ New Orleans
8. Reggie Wayne vs. Pittsburgh
9. Preston Parker vs. Atlanta (super-sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Rob Bironas vs. Denver
2. Rian Lindell vs. New England
3. Nick Folk @ Oakland
4. Mason Crosby @ Chicago
5. Ryan Longwell vs. Detroit
6. Sebastian Janikowski vs. N.Y. Jets
7. John Kasay vs. Houston

Talking Points
1. Antonio Gates has been reduced to a mere mortal so far — but that’ll change. Yes, Gates attracted only one target (and zero catches) in the Chargers’ made-for-TV showdown with the Patriots in Week 2; but he also had eight catches and 13 targets in San Diego’s opener against Minnesota. So, there’s no point in sounding any warning bells just yet. Assuming Gates (537 catches/69 career TDs) and his foot problems of last year are no longer a concern, there’s zero reason to believe the future Hall of Famer won’t recapture his typically stellar form. He’s too freaking talented and a major part of the Chargers offense to fall off the map at age 31. As a result of his sluggish start, Gates’ trade-market price has diminished since August — perhaps more than Dallas Clark — and that’s great news for the fantasy owner who waited until Round 10 to grab a decent tight end and has sufficient RB/WR depth to execute an early blockbuster. Better act fast, though, since Gates has 32 catches, 393 yards and four TDs in his last five games against the Chiefs (the Chargers’ Week 3 foe).

Sidney RiceIs former Viking Sidney Rice ready to make his debut for the Seattle Seahawks?

2. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says Sidney Rice is running at ‘full speed’ and looks ‘phenomenal’ in practice. Thanks to Carroll’s candid interview with Pat Kirwan/Tim Ryan of Sirius NFL Radio on Wednesday, I am suddenly optimistic that Rice (labrum damage) can overcome his shoulder woes and attempt to resurrect the dormant Seattle offense in Week 3 (home opener vs. Arizona). Which begs the questions: What are the chances of Rice drawing at least eight targets and scoring one TD against the Cards’ susceptible pass defense? Should I give Rice a week to find his proverbial sea legs — a la Jeremy Maclin after a truncated preseason? The conservative verdict: In 16-team leagues, Rice is a solid play as the WR2 or WR3; for 12-teamers, he’s only a flex consideration … until Week 4.

3. The 2-0 Jets are mired in fantasy limbo. It’s not like anyone had QB Mark Sanchez (517 yards/4 TDs — ranked 13th), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (104 total yards) or WR Plaxico Burress (zero catches in Week 2) tabbed for consistent fantasy greatness this early in the season … and WR Santonio Holmes (9 catches/112 yards/1 TD) and RB Shonn Greene (88 total yards/1 TD) have been marginally proficient, to date, in starring roles. But right now, the club’s greatest contributors are at tight end (Dustin Keller — 11 catches/162 yards/2 TDs), kicker (Nick Folk — 5 field goals) and defense/special teams (ranked No. 1 in some standard-scoring leagues) … which isn’t a bad thing. As one of the league’s most athletic tight ends, Keller has already scored two more TDs than Weeks 5-17 of last year, and his 14 targets through two games isn’t that far off from his per-outing average of 8.3 in his final six games last season. If any Jet starter needed to blaze a quick start, it’s Keller; and if any runner could use an ideal opponent for Week 3, it’d be Greene against the Raiders. Incidentally, in two career games within the state of California, Greene has amassed 276 total yards and three touchdowns.

Target Practice
These 24 wideouts have accured 16 or more seasonal targets (at least 8 per game):
1. Miles Austin, Cowboys — 24 Targets
2. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 24 Targets
3. Steve Smith, Panthers — 24 Targets
4. Kenny Britt, Titans — 23 Targets
5. Wes Welker, Patriots — 23
6. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 21
7. Andre Johnson, Texans — 20
8. Steve Johnson, Bills — 20
9. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 20
10. Deion Branch, Patriots — 19
11. David Nelson, Bills — 19
12. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 19
13. A.J. Green, Bengals — 18
14. Vincent Jackson, Chargers — 18
15. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles — 18
16. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 18
17. Jerome Simpson, Bengals — 18
18. Nate Washington, Titans — 18
19. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 17
20. Santana Moss, Redskins — 17
21. Roddy White, Falcons — 7
22. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 16
23. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 16
24. Greg Jennings, Packers — 16

How To Succeed In Fantasy Without Really Trying
I added this mini-section to today’s column at the last second: On Wednesday night, my Twitter bud CLykinsBlog dropped a bombshell of a question: I was offered this 1-for-4 trade. I would give up Tom Brady for Ben Roethlisberger, Roddy White, Matt Forte and Santana Moss. What should I do? Here’s my reply:

Unless Brady is primed for another 50-TD season, you roll the dice on getting four immediate starters at three crucial positions! Even if this trade didn’t involve Forte (324 total yards, 1 TD; 15 receptions) … I’d still ponder a blockbuster that offers Big Ben (17,574 yards/112 TDs in his last 75 games), one top-3 receiver (White) and arguably the best fantasy talent on a vastly improved offense (Redskins’ Moss). But alas, Forte is the key component to this megadeal, for which I say: Run, don’t walk, to accept this one … because Owner B either had the greatest draft in the history of drafts (calling for Brady to be the final piece of the championship puzzle) OR that Brady man-crush will inevitably mark his fantasy demise in 2011. Whatever the case, enjoy the fantasy 4-pack of immediate starters, and feel free to use the ‘old’ starters as trade chips. Perhaps to land a quarterback in Brady’s class. HA!

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 3:
QB Philip Rivers
RB Chris Johnson
RB Ray Rice
WR Andre Johnson
WR Larry Fitzgerald
Adrian Peterson
TE Rob Gronkowski
PK Mason Crosby (Packers)
D/ST San Diego Chargers

Questions From The Audience, Part I
broOUTbro: Should I trade Hakeem Nicks/Big Ben for Fred Jackson/Miles Austin — since I already have Matthew Stafford and good WR depth?

Fred JacksonICONF-Jax has opened up the 2011 season red hot.

Answer: Unless your squad has an easy walk to the fantasy playoffs, I don’t see the rationale in prioritizing F-Jax (257 total yards, 2 TDs) and Austin (likely out until Week 6) over a top-5 receiver (Nicks) and top-10 quarterback (Roethlisberger). Am I missing something here? Do you have supreme confidence this buy-low swap for Austin (three TDs in Week 2) will be the Steal Of The Year come Week 16? It’s an interesting proposition on both sides … but I’d want Nicks and Big Ben for the time being.

yinzers85: Pierre Garcon is getting dropped like crazy and I badly need help at wide receiver. Who should I drop him for — Eric Decker, Denarius Moore, David Nelson, Lee Evans, Danario Alexnder, Jerome Simpson, Nate Washington, Brandon LaFell?

Answer: In the wake of Simpson’s package-based run-in with police officials, perhaps we should take him off the board in the interim, huh? After that, I’d prefer D-Moore (5 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD in Week 2), Washington (11 targets and 99 yards last week) and Nelson (14 catches, 149 yards, 1 TD) over the Peyton-deprived Garcon.

The_Blue_Team: Someone just dropped Brandon Lloyd for Eric Decker. I have no WR depth. Do I drop Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, Darren Sproles, Jonathan Stewart to get Lloyd?

Answer: To me, this is only a scenario of dumping either Grant or Sproles; and with that, I’ll pose a better question: When the rash of bye weeks hits next month, which back will have greater meaning to your fantasy life — Sproles or Grant? If this was a PPR league, Sproles would be the no-brainer keeper choice. But for standard leagues, I’m inclined to retain Grant … and hope that his time-share with James Starks includes goal-line touches. As for Lynch … let’s give him a home game first before signing the death certificate. Thanks!

DrewJunior2: should I trade Reggie Wayne for Steven Jackson in my PPR league? I have LeSean McCoy/Jahvid Best at RB and Calvin Johnson, Santonio Holmes, Santana Moss at receiver.

Answer: Let’s assume Jackson returns for Week 3, and that he’ll be a prominent part of the Rams’ passing offense under O-coordinator Josh McDaniels. Even at 28, Jackson is a reliable threat for 1,650 total yards, 7 TDs and 51 catches … but it’s still not enough to unseat Wayne (11 catches, 172 yards, 1 TD; 19 targets), who remains a solid block of PPR gold even with Kerry Collins as his quarterback. At this point, 95-100 receptions remains a possibility for Wayne … and that’s enough to gain a slight edge over Jackson.

Running With The Moon
Here’s my top-40 listing of running backs in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Ray Rice, Ravens
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (my preseason love for Shady wasn’t misguided)
4. Darren McFadden, Raiders
5. Chris Johnson, Titans (don’t sleep on your only chance to buy-low on CJ this season)
6. Matt Forte, Bears (NFL-high 20 targets amongst rushers)
7. Michael Turner, Falcons
8. Peyton Hillis, Browns (the lone wolf in Cleveland’s middling offense)
9. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
10. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
11. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
12. Jahvid Best, Lions
13. Arian Foster, Texans (low ranking has everything to do with Hammy-gate)
14. Tim Hightower, Redskins
15. Fred Jackson, Bills
16. Steven Jackson, Rams
17. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
18. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
19. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots (excellent nose for the end zone)
20. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
21. Frank Gore, 49ers
22. Cedric Benson, Bengals
23. Ben Tate, Texans
24. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
25. Joseph Addai, Colts
26. Shonn Greene, Jets
27. James Starks, Packers
28. Felix Jones, Cowboys
29. Pierre Thomas, Saints
30. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers (still finding his niche with Mr. 400, Cam Newton)
31. Willis McGahee, Broncos
32. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
33. Michael Bush, Raiders
34. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
35. Mark Ingram, Saints
36. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
37. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
38. C.J. Spiller, Bills
39. Darren Sproles, Saints
40. Roy Helu, Redskins

Questions From The Audience, Part II
fanfootballpro: Someone offered me Larry Fitzgerald/Shonn Greene for Michael Turner? Should I make this move? My wideouts are Percy Harvin, Lee Evans, Sidney Rice and my other tailbacks are Steven Jackson and Ben Tate.

Answer: If Ben Tate (251 total yards, 1 TD in 2011) should buckle under the pressure of leading the Texans’ rushing attack, while Arian Foster deals with a dicey hamstring, then this trade could be a Debbie Downer by season’s end. But I think that Fitzgerald and Greene can easily surpass Turner’s production in 2011 … with Greene being in the same ballpark as Turner (yardage-wise) and Fitzgerald returning to the realm of 95 catches/1,200 yards and double-digit TDs. This is probably a win-win for both sides, and yet, it’s eminently doable for your top-heavy squad.

Matthew StaffordStafford’s stock is sky high right now.

mjnorton19: I have Tony Romo/Matthew Stafford as my QBs and feel like Stafford is wasting away on the bench. I’m willing to trade either; who would you deal?

Answer: Norton, you shouldn’t have to apologize for drafting well in August; you also don’t need to reward your fellow owners for their questionable selections at such a crucial spot. Romo (687 yards/4 TDs) and Stafford (599 yards/7 TDs) are both top-10 QBs and will likely retain their lofty statuses throughout the season. Yes, it’s a bummer that only one can start each week … but there’s also no need to rush into a trade. Bottom line: Deal whichever one yields the bigger haul in return (3-for-1 deal?) … but don’t move mountains to broker an immediate swap. Simply post a message to every league owner, detailing how Romo and/or Stafford are available … and then sit back and watch the offers eventually stream in. Unless you’re in love with one specific team’s roster, give everyone a chance to drive up the price, Scott Boras-style. (In the interim, Stafford should be starting over Romo and his fractured rib.)

MoharvII: I put Tom Brady up for sale and was offered Maurice Jones-Drew/Greg Jennings in return. Should I pull the trigger? I need RB/WR help, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is my backup QB.

Answer: Comparatively speaking, this Brady return is a pittance for what one owner may get for the game’s most prolific QB (Big Ben, Matt Forte, Roddy White, Santana Moss). But that aside, you could do worse than MJD (204 total yards/1 TD) and Jennings (9 catches/144 yards/2 TDs) in 12- or 14-team leagues — especially with Fitzpatrick coolly riding the bench. My advice: If you absolutely, positively need this deal to replenish your roster and strengthen the starters’ base … accept it and don’t look back. However, given Brady’s otherworldly pace in the first two weeks, you should expect one more significant piece to seal the deal. Namely a top-10 quarterback.

ScottBSheldon: Where do you have Fred Davis and Kellen Winslow ranked for the season? I’m thinking of picking Davis up and dropping Winslow on potential alone.

Answer: I currently have Winslow ranked ahead of the lean-and-mean Davis (11 catches, 191 yards, 1 TD); but at this point, it’s a virtual coin flip between the two on a weekly basis. In a perfect world, I’d want both players to solidify a position that’s absolutely crucial to title contention come November … but if I could only choose one, I’d cautiously stick with Winslow (10 catches/110 yards), who’ll remain the Bucs’ No. 2 receiving option for the foreseeable future.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 2 Revelations

Week 2 Revelations
1. Cam Newton has earned the right to start in 12-team leagues. Holy ... freaking ... crap! That was my exact quote immediately after seeing Newton throw for a career-high 432 yards against the Packers -- topping last week's, ahem, modest NFL debut of 422 yards; and

Week 2 Revelations
1. Cam Newton has earned the right to start in 12-team leagues. Holy … freaking … crap! That was my exact quote immediately after seeing Newton throw for a career-high 432 yards against the Packers — topping last week’s, ahem, modest NFL debut of 422 yards; and that didn’t even cover my appreciation for his 53 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In two short games, the supremely gifted Newton has successfully re-branded the Panthers from a staid, run-oriented group into a pass-happy offensive force, one that suddenly deserves special treatment from the TV networks … and fantasy owners everywhere. Worried that NFL defenses will eventually adjust to Newton? Concerned that 0-2 Carolina will re-emphasize the running attack to improve the team’s chances for victory? Well, don’t be … because Newton has arguably accrued more goodwill with Panthers fans in seven days and two losses than Jake Delhomme racked up in seven years and three NFC South titles. He’s that good! As a result, Newton has leapfrogged the likes of Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and dare I say Tony Romo to become an entrenched fantasy starter — regardless of opponent. Unless you’re waiting for one more 400-yard outing?

Tom BradyBrady is just 60 yards shy of 1,000 passing yards for the season…and he’s only played two games.

2. The Chargers and Patriots delivered on all their ambitious fantasy promises. From Tom Brady (423 yards passing, 3 TDs), Philip Rivers (378 yards passing, 2 TDs), Ryan Mathews (126 total yards, 1 TD), Mike Tolbert (83 total yards), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (75 total yards, 1 TD) … to pass-catchers Vincent Jackson (10 catches, 172 yards, 2 TDs), Malcom Floyd (2 catches, 59 yards), Wes Welker (7 catches, 81 yards), Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 86 yards, 2 TDs), Aaron Hernandez (7 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD) and Deion Branch (8 catches, 129 yards), fantasy owners everywhere could have won their Week 2 matchups with the principals from this game alone. How great was this made-for-TV showdown? We don’t have time to lament the combined three targets for Antonio Gates and Chad Ochocinco or castigate the legions of haters who are blind to Mathews’ sublime fantasy talents.

3. A certain fantasy guru might have undersold Darren McFadden as a top-8 tailback. Can you imagine how dynamic McFadden (143 total yards, 2 TDs) might be if Michael Bush (23 yards, 1 TD) wasn’t one of the fantasy realm’s most effective goal-line vultures? In his last 15 games, McFadden has eclipsed the 100-yard mark 12 times, while amassing 1,963 total yards and 12 touchdowns — the kind of prodigious numbers that would make Arian Foster, Chris Johnson or Ray Rice blush. As a byproduct of D-Mac’s otherworldly success, Raiders QB Jason Campbell (326 total yards, 3 TDs) had the Sunday confidence to pursue a new favorite target in rookie WR Denarius Moore (5 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD; one 25-yard run), whose Swann-like touchdown grab — over two Buffalo defenders — may stand out as Week 2’s most thrilling highlight. Moving forward … I expect Moore to be the most coveted receiver in free agency this week. Just know that most rookies aren’t locks for consistent fantasy success.

4. A.J. Green’s NFL learning curve apparently isn’t that steep. There’s no substitute for opportunity in fantasyland — especially with freakishly athletic rookies like Green (10 catches, 124 yards, 1 TD). Fourteen targets in his second pro game? Who does that? In the real world, the Bengals are probably nothing more than an 8-8 club; but the fantasy upsides of Green, Andy Dalton (332 yards passing, 2 TDs), RB Cedric Benson (76 total yards), WR Jerome Simpson (4 catches, 136 yards) and TE Jermaine Gresham are off the charts … primarily because Cincinnati (one of the NFL’s youngest teams) needs the above quintet to be consistently great. And this, in a nutshell, details why the Green vs. Julio Jones debate from August held little water: As the Bengals’ best receiving option, Green will likely draw 9 or more targets each week, whereas Jones is a highly paid decoy for Roddy White, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta — and won’t be required to carry the Falcons at any point this season. Viva la difference!

Calvin JohnsonMegatron and the Lions are 2-0.

5. It’s hard to glean much from the Lions’ 45-point rout of the Chiefs. Seriously. Perhaps I should explain the context of that bolded comment: I’m thrilled that Matthew Stafford (294 yards passing, 4 TDs), Calvin Johnson (3 catches, 29 yards, 2 TDs), Nate Burleson (7 catches, 93 yards), WR Titus Young (5 catches, 89 yards) and RB Jahvid Best (123 total yards, 2 TDs) had seismic fantasy outings in Week 2. But at this point, I’m left to wonder if every opponent on Kansas City’s schedule will post similarly stellar numbers, as the Chiefs make a surprising run at Andrew Luck (more on that later). Stafford and Johnson (on pace for 32 touchdowns in 2011) are obviously rubber-stamp starters in 12-team leagues; but is Best really on the level of Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Peyton Hillis, and can Burleson be PPR gold into the latter half of the season? My Detroit-native head screams “Yes” … but my cold fantasy heart says, “Eh, maybe.”

6. Fantasy owners will continue to be hamstrung by hamstring injuries. The owners of Arian Foster and Miles Austin face two potentially season-defining choices this week: Keep Foster (40 total yards and 12 touches) and Austin (9 catches, 143 yards, 3 TDs) and hope their respective hamstring woes only serve as minor inconveniences for the rest of the season … OR attempt to sell the commodities at the top of the trade market — Foster on reputation/expectations and Austin on reputation/expectations/actual production. At this point, I can’t decide if the emergence of backup RB Ben Tate (135 total yards) is a good or bad thing for Foster: On one hand, the Texans aren’t compelled to rush him back onto the field — maximizing his effectiveness for October/November/December — and yet, it’s quite clear that a healthy Tate is more prolific than a nicked-up Foster (likely to play in Week 3). Unfortunately for the Cowboys, there is no reasonable wideout facsimile of Austin roaming the Dallas sidelines — excluding TE Jason Witten (10 catches, 102 yards) from the conversation … and including Dez Bryant (thigh injury), the enigmatic wideout with one nine-catch game, one 100-yard game and zero three-touchdown games on his career resume.

Revelations, Book II
7. LeSean McCoy remains the Eagles’ greatest — and most reliable — fantasy draw. Yes, Jeremy Maclin (13 catches, 171 yards, 2 TDs) looked phenomenal in his unofficial season debut, and QB (242 yards passing, 2 TDs) could have cleared 360 total yards if he hadn’t suffered a concussion in the third quarter against the Falcons. But aside from McCoy (116 total yards, 2 TDs), it’s very difficult to project another Philly star for greatness on any given Sunday — especially when Vick doesn’t take the field. Is DeSean Jackson (21 yards; 3 targets) a top-20 receiver? Without a doubt. Is TE Brent Celek (4 catches, 43 yards) an occasional threat for 10 catches or 90-plus yards? Probably. Can backup QB Mike Kafka (79 yards passing in relief duty) produce Kevin-Kolb-in-2009-like numbers against the Giants in Week 3 — if Vick doesn’t play? Yes. But none of these question marks apply to McCoy, who has averaged 113 total yards and .75 TDs in his last 12 games. He’s pure fantasy gold!

Stevie JohnsonStevie Johnson had another big game on Sunday.

8. It’s time to eat a little crow on the Bills. Immediately after the team’s Week 1 road rout of the Chiefs, I strongly urged fantasy owners to exercise patience with every Buffalo playmaker NOT named Fred Jackson (140 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Oakland) or Stevie Johnson (8 catches, 96 yards, 1 TD) on the waiver wire. I even made a joke about how David Nelson and Scott Chandler wouldn’t get recognized at a Buffalo-area supermarket … if you told store patrons that two Bills stars were on the premises. Well, I’m not too proud (or obnoxious) to do a full-blown mea culpa on Nelson (10 catches, 83 yards, 1 TD), Chandler (2 catches, 16 yards, 1 TD), C.J. Spiller (69 yards on only five touches) and especially QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (287 total yards, 3 TDs), whose flair for leading the very-young Bills to an impressive 2-0 mark cannot be understated. Even if he universally can’t crack the starting lineup in standard 12-team leagues. (Too many great QBs.)

9. There is nothing flukish about Kenny Britt’s recent run of fantasy greatness. In his last 11 games, Britt has collected either 120 receiving yards or one touchdown in 10 of the outings — a mind-blowing occurrence that leaves one to ask, How did he universally slide all the way to Round 8 in standard-scoring drafts? OK, so Britt’s well-chronicled personal problems played a key role in his predraft minimization … but as long as the kid keeps his nose clean and head on straight, he has the goods to carry teams to a fantasy title — with or without Chris Johnson‘s rushing glory. Speaking of which, there may not be a better buy-low trade candidate than Johnson (65 yards) … whose belated breakout will occur next week in Denver. My CJ2K promise to you: 148 total yards and one touchdown against the Broncos — if not more — and that’s factoring in Britt’s expected brilliance.

10. Matt Forte is the PPR gift that keeps on giving. If it wasn’t for Forte’s rushing/receiving greatness on Sunday (166 total yards; 10 catches for 117), I’d be left with the uncomfortable task of explaining Devin Hester‘s shockingly inefficient one catch out of nine targets. Obviously, some of the blame lies at the happy feet of QB Jay Cutler (19-of-45 passing for 244 yards, 1 TD) … but how does Hester leave the Superdome with only one reception? On the flip side, fantasy owners should no longer be in the dark about the prospects for receivers Johnny Knox (2 catches, 45 yards), Earl Bennett (1 catch, 9 yards), Sam Hurd (1 catch, 13 yards), Roy Williams (inactive vs. New Orleans) and, of course, Hester. Verdict: None are roster-worthy at this point … thus identifying the magnetized Forte (14 targets) as the passing game’s singular hope for fantasy success.

11. There’s nothing Kardiac about the kids in Cleveland. Similar to Forte with the Bears, the Browns would be irrelevant in fantasyland if not for the all-world exploits of RB Peyton Hillis (117 total yards, 2 TDs), likely the AFC North’s most indispensable playmaker and certainly the best friend to QB Colt McCoy (221 total yards, 1 TD). From a real-world perspective, McCoy may have the ideal temperament to guide the green Browns through their most recent youth movement; but in the fantasy realm, he’s barely roster-worthy in 12- or 14-team leagues. At least until Mohammed Massaquoi can break through that 3-catch-per-game glass ceiling … or WR Greg Little (4 catches, 38 yards) and RB Montario Hardesty (1 measly yard) can adjust to the speed and intensity of NFL life. Yikes! That may take a while.

Bill CaldwellThe Colts are off to an 0-2 start…and have looked terrible in the process.

12. The Colts offense should be close to bottoming out. Is it just me, or is Peyton Manning steadily collecting more votes for the “NFL’s Greatest QB of All Time” in absentia … compared to his previous 13 seasons of bankable excellence? Apparently, Dallas Clark (4 catches, 32 yards, 1 TD), Pierre Garcon (3 catches, 28 yards), Austin Collie (3 catches, 24 yards) are mere mortals when No. 18 isn’t under center — not unlike the evil troika’s drastic reduction of superpowers AFTER Clark Kent>’s famed power-crystal switcheroo in Superman II — and WR Reggie Wayne (4 catches, 66 yards) and RB Joseph Addai (91 total yards) may not yield full return on the trade market. But as stated last week, I refuse to believe that Indy’s offense will remain stuck in neutral for much longer — once Kerry Collins (191 yards passing, 1 TD) finds his groove or if/when the Colts entertain the seemingly unconscionable notion of giving Brett Favre an extended gander for the final 14 games. For owners with deep benches, I beg you to consider Indy’s playmakers at rock-bottom prices.

Revelations, Book III
13. The Jaguars’ black hole at quarterback may be an anchor on Maurice Jones-Drew’s trade value. The fact that MJD racked up 107 total yards against the ball-hawking Jets defense is one thing … but to be that proficient with Luke McCown (59 yards passing, 4 INTs) running the Jags offense into the ground is a miracle of near-biblical proportions. Seriously, how is McCown collecting an NFL paycheck … while David Garrard watches his DirecTV ‘Sunday Ticket’ package from home and waits for a phone call that may never come? If coach Jack Del Rio and GM Gene Smith were truthful in declaring that McCown earned the starting nod for Weeks 1 and 2 (for reasons completely separate from money) … how bad must Garrard have appeared during training camp? (deep sigh) But hey, at least fantasy owners can boldly pursue Blaine Gabbert on waivers this week, knowing the touted rookie’s starting debut will likely come in Week 3. And while Gabbert will have limited playmaking options — MJD and Marcedes Lewis aside — he might not face a more daunting defense than the Jets from this point forward. Speaking of the Jets, I have a question for the stat geniuses at the Elias Sports Bureau: Has an NFL team ever won a game by 29 points or more with only 15 first downs?

14. The Redskins are the on the cusp of having five bankable stars in fantasyland. Washington’s brain trust could not have had better timing with the transfer-of-power of Chris Cooley — perhaps the greatest tight end in franchise history — to Fred Davis, one of the league’s most athletic talents at his position. Of course, it helps that Cooley (zero catches) has not fully recovered from offseason knee surgery … and that the ‘Skins have RB Tim Hightower (106 total yards) and WR Santana Moss (5 catches, 61 yards, 1 TD) to secondarily create unobstructed route/passing lanes for Davis (6 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD) and QB Rex Grossman (291 yards passing, 2 TDs). And if that weren’t enough good news for Grossman, there’s the arrival of RB Roy Helu, whose 112 total yards on 13 touches served as an unplanned gift for fantasy owners who steadfastly refuse to drop the rookie from their roster.

15. Proceed with caution when assessing the values of Willis McGahee and Eric Decker in standard leagues. Without a doubt, McGahee (106 total yards, 1 TD) and Decker (5 catches, 113 yards, 2 TDs) can be terrific assets in short-term bursts; but their fantasy greatness for future Sundays is inexorably tied to the health of RB Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and WR Brandon Lloyd (groin) — both of whom missed the Cincinnati game. If/when Moreno and Lloyd take the field, McGahee and Decker shouldn’t merit starting consideration in 12-team leagues.

16. Devery Henderson made a little history on Sunday afternoon. Just nine days after yours truly warned fantasy owners that — in the wake of Marques Colston‘s indefinite stay on injured reserve (broken collarbone) — the mercurial Henderson (3 catches, 103 yards, 1 TD) had never registered touchdowns in back-to-back regular season games … BOOM! the kid hits paydirt again in the Saints’ big win over the Bears, while racking up a team-high amount of yards. So, now that we have that annoying ‘consistency’ knock out of the way, what new frontier will Hendo conquer next week? How about the franchise’s single-game records for receptions (14, Tony Galbreath) or receiving yards (205, Wes Chandler)? Hmmm, maybe Henderson will break Chandler’s mark against Houston in Week 3 … and RB Darren Sproles (8 catches vs. Chicago) will threaten Galbreath’s 33-year old stronghold on the Saints’ record books.

Jamaal CharlesCharles owners are a disgruntled bunch this morning.

17. The Seahawks and Chiefs are slowly putting all their eggs in Andrew Luck’s basket. It breaks my heart that Jamaal Charles — the Fantasy Philanthropist’s de facto man-crush of the last three years — will miss the season after apparently tearing his knee against Detroit. But on the positive side, Kansas City is now a viable contender to post the NFL’s worst record … thus creating a previously unforeseen opportunity to collect the No. 1 pick in next April’s draft. The same can be said about the sad-sack Seahawks, who are stunningly below-average at quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson), receiver (especially when Sidney Rice sits), tight end (Zach Miller looks painfully ordinary) and even running back (12 total yards for Marshawn Lynch … REALLY??). But alas, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with the two reigning division champs melting down in 2011 and then duking it out to grab the seemingly flawless Stanford QB in 2012.

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QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 2

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 2 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 2 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 2 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 2 (mp3)

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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No rush to judgment

Opening Statement
I apologize, in advance, for today's relatively brief Philanthropist, as yours truly has been crushed by projects that have nothing to do with fantasy football; and that's a shame, since I desperately need a platform to address the misguided owners who accept the far-fetched notion that whatever happened in Week

Opening Statement
I apologize, in advance, for today’s relatively brief Philanthropist, as yours truly has been crushed by projects that have nothing to do with fantasy football; and that’s a shame, since I desperately need a platform to address the misguided owners who accept the far-fetched notion that whatever happened in Week 1 — good or bad — will play out the same way for Weeks 2-17. On the flip side, I’ve actually dealt with one person who’s willing to bench San Diego’s Mike Tolbert against New England … on the hunch that he won’t score three touchdowns in consecutive games. Gee, you think?

Listen, I know fantasy owners want to stay ahead of the curve when constructing rosters and choosing lineups; but just like Week 1, it’s important that no one becomes paralyzed from overthinking. And short of Tolbert breaking his leg while parachuting into the Boston metro area on Saturday night (from the Chargers’ team plane) … you start him in Week 2 before tackling more pressing issues. As I mentioned in the National Football Post‘s Week 1 Revelations, Tolbert is one-half of fantasyland’s best 1-2 running punch (along with Ryan Mathews) and warrants starting consideration every week — until further notice.

Pros And Cons
1. What’s up with Frank Gore? If this segment was a retro Frosted Mini-Wheats commercial, “the kid in me” would tout the 28-year-old Gore (8,775 total yards, 44 career TDs) as a great bounce-back candidate for Week 2 … whereas “the adult in me” would point to Gore’s middling production against Seattle (78 total yards on 25 touches), his track record for getting hurt and that he still seems peeved about his revised contract from last month. I’m no expert in the field of analyzing body language … but did you happen to catch Gore after QB Alex Smith‘s rushing TD against the Seahawks? Upon Smith crossing the goal line, Gore half-heartedly raised his arms in triumph before trudging back to the 49ers bench — without congratulating Smith or any of the O-linemen for a job well done. Call it a baseless, yet educated hunch, but Gore’s days as top dog on coach Jim Harbaugh‘s watch may be numbered … and backup RB Kendall Hunter‘s shot at glory might come sooner than later.

Rex GrossmanWill Rex Grossman continue to produce big numbers for fantasy owners?

2. Rex Grossman was in a history-making mood on Sunday. Of Grossman’s 38 NFL starts, he has thrown for 300 yards in consecutive games just once — and against the same team. For Week 17 last year, Grossman capped the season with a 336-yard effort against the Giants; and then for Week 1 last Sunday, Grossman again torched the Giants for 305 yards and two TDs — this time leading the Redskins to an impressive home victory. I bring this up not to mock Grossman for past failures or exaggerate his current standing as a decent QB2 in fantasyland. It’s merely a prime example of how fantasy owners should not expect another record-breaking week from quarterbacks. (For Week 1, 14 different QBs threw for 300 yards or more — an NFL record.)

3. Statistically speaking, Cam Newton has nowhere to go … but down. Newton could play 15 NFL seasons and lead the Panthers to five division titles, two Super Bowls and one championship. It’s hard to imagine that Newton will again collect 422 passing yards this season — if ever. Think about it: To break the 400-yard barrier, a quarterback (not named Tom Brady) traditionally must 1) be playing from behind, 2) connect on four catches of at least 40 yards OR 3) compensate for a barren, non-existent running game. In other words, Week 1 was a perfect storm for the high-upside rookie QB. And while DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart certainly struggled against the Cardinals (56 combined rushing yards, zero TDs), they remain a solid bet for 2,000 rushing yards by season’s end.

4. Donovan McNabb can’t be this bad, right? There’s no way to put a positive spin on 39 yards passing … especially on a sun-splashed SoCal afternoon. So why even try? (Ryan Leaf‘s 1-completion, 4-yard meltdown from 1998 occurred in a monsoon.) But I will say this: In his first game with the Redskins in 2010, McNabb threw for only 171 yards and zero TDs … only to rebound for a 426-yard performance in Week 2. Simply put, the man has too much pride (and tangible talent) to fall on his face in consecutive weeks, especially for Minnesota’s home opener; and once he figures out how to best utilize Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph, he’ll be spared the Steve Blass Disease or Johnny Unitas-as-a-Charger (circa 1973) references.

Week 2: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Matt Schaub @ Miami
2. Chad Henne vs. Houston
3. Philip Rivers @ New England
4. Tom Brady vs. San Diego
5. Drew Brees vs. Chicago
6. Michael Vick @ Atlanta
7. Tony Romo @ San Francisco
8. Matt Ryan vs. Philadelphia

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Jamaal Charles @ Detroit
2. Matt Forte @ New Orleans
3. Peyton Hillis @ Indianapolis
4. Adrian Peterson vs. Tampa Bay
5. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Seattle
6. Darren McFadden @ Buffalo
7. Tim Hightower vs. Arizona
8. Ray Rice @ Tennessee
9. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. St. Louis

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Andre Johnson @ Miami
2. Calvin Johnson vs. Kansas City
3. Reggie Wayne vs. Cleveland
4. Miles Austin @ San Francisco
5. Roddy White vs. Philadelphia
6. Greg Jennings @ Carolina
7. Hakeem Nicks vs. St. Louis
8. Larry Fitzgerald @ Washington
9. Malcom Floyd @ New England (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Sebastian Janikowski @ Buffalo
2. Ryan Succop @ Detroit
3. Nick Folk vs. Jacksonville
4. Ryan Longwell vs. Tampa Bay
5. Graham Gano vs. Arizona
6. Matt Prater vs. Cincinnati
7. Neil Rackers @ Miami

Would You Like To Play A Game?
The National Football Post has once again partnered up with the good folks at FanDuel.com to offer weekly fantasy football contests throughout the regular season. Here’s a breakdown of how the FanDuel Game works: Players are given a $60,000 salary cap to assemble a starting lineup comprising 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 kicker and 1 D/ST. Most points wins; and if you put up more points than NFP honcho Joe Fortenbaugh, you’ll be eligible for big cash prizes. Enter today!

Where Mountain Men Runneth, Catcheth
Here is my revised top-30 listing of tight ends in standard-scoring leagues:

1. Antonio Gates, Chargers
2. Jason Witten, Cowboys (could rise to No. 1 with another top-flight effort)
3. Jermichael Finley, Packers
4. Vernon Davis, 49ers
5. Dallas Clark, Colts (Clark’s drop has everything to do with Kerry Collins)
6. Kellen Winslow Jr., Buccaneers
7. Jimmy Graham, Saints
8. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
9. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
10. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (a red-zone magnet)
11. Owen Daniels, Texans
12. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
13. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (on the cusp of being fantasy-relevant every single week)
14. Greg Olsen, Panthers
15. Dustin Keller, Jets
16. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
17. Fred Davis, Redskins (a freakish athlete who has noticeably slimmed down)
18. Benjamin Watson, Browns
19. Zach Miller, Seahawks
20. Scott Chandler, Bills (let’s see how Chandler handles his newfound fame against Oakland)
21. Ed Dickson, Ravens
22. Heath Miller, Steelers
23. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
24. Lance Kendricks, Rams
25. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
26. Jared Cook, Titans
27. Chris Cooley, Redskins
28. Brent Celek, Eagles
29. Leonard Pope, Chiefs
30. Todd Heap, Cardinals

Philip RiversPhilip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers came through in Week 1.

Survivor Act Of Self-Preservation
Fantasy gamblers, there’s still time to enter survivor pools, where contestants are asked to select one lead-pipe cinch for wins in Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. — with the caveat of only using a particular club once per season (in victory, at least). For example, I astutely had San Diego defeating Minnesota at home in Week 1. By virtue of that, I cannot designate the Chargers to win in Weeks 2-17. The same holds true for Dallas (over Washington) in Week 3; after that game, I can no longer pick the Cowboys to prevail the rest of the way. Any incorrect picks automatically knock a contestant out of the pool; and if anyone should be left standing by Week 17 — an impossible task for me last year — they’re entitled to all or some of the winnings (which can be quite lucrative in some leagues).

My revised survivor locks:
Week 1 — San Diego over Minnesota (CORRECT)
Week 2 — N.Y. Giants over St. Louis
Week 3 — Dallas over Washington
Week 4 — Chicago over Carolina
Week 5 — Pittsburgh over Tennessee
Week 6 — Oakland over Cleveland
Week 7 — Miami over Denver
Week 8 — Baltimore over Arizona
Week 9 — Houston over Cleveland
Week 10 — Philadelphia over Arizona
Week 11 — Green Bay over Tampa Bay
Week 12 — Seattle over Washington
Week 13 — New Orleans over Detroit
Week 14 — N.Y. Jets over Kansas City
Week 15 — St. Louis over Cincinnati
Week 16 — New England over Miami
Week 17 — Arizona over Seattle

Survivor Rules To Live By
1. Above all, target a home team to win that week.
2. When in doubt, exploit bottom-feeder clubs on the road (Seahawks, Vikings, Jaguars, Bengals, Panthers, etc.).
3. Don’t be afraid to pick the champion Packers to lose on the road — especially when playing indoors.
4. It’s best to avoid primetime games between teams of similar stature.
5. Don’t use the Packers, Ravens or Saints in Week 17 — after they’ve clinched playoff spots.
6. Avoid picking against the Lions early in the season (with Matthew Stafford wreaking havoc).
7. Avoid picking against the schizophrenic Raiders at any point of the season.
8. Only pick home upsets from games involving intra-divisonal opponents.
9. Don’t be afraid to pick against the Giants in the latter half of the season (big run of daunting opponents).
10. Don’t get sucked into revenge games involving Kevin Kolb, Albert Haynesworth, Steve Smith (Eagles) or Donovan McNabb — either in victory or defeat.

Questions From The Audience, Part I
Crabuki: Of Roddy White, Santonio Holmes, Robert Meachem, who would you sit for Week 2?

Answer: I don’t care if Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel are double-teaming Roddy from the opening kickoff to the final gun, you HAVE to start White at home against Philly. Yes, he’ll encounter a few obstructions on Sunday, but a top-3 receiver like Roddy should get the call every week, regardless of opponent. Besides, you don’t think he’ll want to play a starring role in the Falcons’ revenge grudge match with Michael Vick? As for the other spot, I’d start Santonio at home against the Jags.

joffreyorquia: Same scenario as last week. Please pick three from Frank Gore, Jahvid Best, Tim Hightower, Felix Jones, Ben Tate.

Answer: This is obviously a solid quintet of backs — all of whom will be attractive trade pieces sooner than later, if you should take that route; but the hierarchy, from week to week, still involves playing Gore, Best and Hightower over Felix and Ben Tate (unless Foster sits). For PPR and standard-scoring leagues, this trio remains the greatest weekly threat for 20 touches and 100 total yards each.

nategrover8: I just traded Eli Manning to Peyton Manning‘s owner and need a new backup for Matthew StaffordColt McCoy, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne?

Answer: As I’ve been saying for months, I have great confidence in Henne and WR Brandon Marshall enjoying bounce-back campaigns in 2011; and after watching Miami’s anemic goal-line offense on Monday night, I’m even more convinced that Henne is a stealth candidate for 3,500 yards and 20-plus TDs.

Miles Austin and Tony RomoWill Romo get Austin more involved in the offense this weekend?

FredrickNijm: For PPRs, would you trade Miles Austin/Steven Jackson to get Chris Johnson? I already have Ray Rice, Mark Ingram, Brandon Lloyd, Steve Smith, Julio Jones.

Answer: With PPR-friendly stars like Rice, Lloyd, Steve Smith and Julio … I’d probably take the chance on Johnson here. And while I don’t have grandiose expectations for CJ against Baltimore this week, I would be shocked if he didn’t launch a sustainable run of 100-yard games in Week 3 (Denver). The Titans are best built for success when Johnson is running at full capacity … and for you, he’s worth the risk of losing Austin and S-Jax, even when healthy.

fanfootballpro: Should I trade Ben Tate for Austin Collie … now that Arian Foster is practicing again? Foster’s owner offered it. He also owns Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree.

Answer: I don’t see the rationale in immediately shedding Tate (116 yards rushing, 1 TD vs. Indy) for a good receiver (Collie) who’s suddenly trapped in a bad offense; and the fact that Owner B has Arian Foster makes me despise this potential trade even more. Make the other guy/gal sing for their fantasy supper … make ’em go all out just for the opportunity of handcuffing Tate to Foster.

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here’s my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 2:

QB Matt Schaub
RB Peyton Hillis
RB Jamaal Charles
WR Calvin Johnson
WR Andre Johnson
RB/WR Adrian Peterson
TE Antonio Gates
PK Neil Rackers (Texans)
D/ST N.Y. Jets

Target Practice
Here are the 30 wideouts who drew at least 8 targets in Week 1:

1. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 13 Targets
2. Roddy White, Falcons — 13 Targets
3. DeSean Jackson, Eagles — 12 Targets
4. Wes Welker, Patriots — 12 Targets
5. Andre Johnson, Texans — 11
6. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos — 11
7. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 11
8. Steve Smith, Panthers — 11
9. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 11
10. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 11
11. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 11
12. Kenny Britt, Titans — 10
13. Santonio Holmes, Jets — 10
14. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 10
15. Mike Williams, Buccaneers — 10
16. Miles Austin, Cowboys — 9
17. Deion Branch, Patriots — 9
18. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 9 (VERY encouraging sign for wideout on the cusp of prominence)
19. Plaxico Burress, Jets — 9
20. Marques Colston, Saints — 9 (I’m not expecting him back in 4 weeks — broken collarbone)
21. Devery Henderson, Saints — 9
22. Jerome Simpson, Bengals — 9
23. Hines Ward, Steelers — 9
24. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 8
25. Dez Bryant, Cowboys — 8
26. Malcom Floyd, Chargers — 8
27. Greg Jennings, Packers — 8
28. Robert Meachem, Saints — 8
29. Santana Moss, Redskins — 8
30. Jordy Nelson, Packers — 8

Questions From The Audience, Part II
DaveWelty: Hey Jay, I was offered Antonio Gates for Beanie Wells. My starting tight end is Greg Olsen, and my other running backs are Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Maurice Jones-Drew, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Any thoughts?

Answer: As much as I love Beanie’s potential with the Cardinals, it’d be foolish to turn down a healthy Gates for a RB3 or RB4 — especially since you’ve got the all-important Foster/Tate handcuff in Houston. As you may recall, Gates tallied 10 TDs in only 10 games last year … and any glimpse of that all-world form would be enough to overtake Wells, on his best day. It’s hardly a no-risk venture, but I’d ride with Gates here.

HankStorm: I need 2 running backs, 2 receivers and a RB/WR flex from Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Cadillac Williams, Steve Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Jordy Nelson, Jeremy Maclin, Johnny Knox, Antonio Brown.

Answer: I realize you’re giving me the full picture with your squad, but there’s really no need to mention Charles or Hillis when choosing lineups. When fully healthy, they are rubber-stamp starters against any opponent; and for Week 2, they might post the best numbers of any other superstar tandem. For the WR slots, I’d go Nicks, Nelson and Steve Johnson. Let’s give Jeremy Maclin another week or two to shake off the training-camp rust and find his proverbial sea legs in the Philly offense.

RespectableNeal: Jacoby Jones or Robert Meachem as my WR2? And what about Cadillac Williams, Fred Jackson, Willis McGahee at the flex spot?

Answer: I sincerely doubt that Cadillac will amass 140 total yards in two or more games from Weeks 2-17 — even if Steven Jackson is sidelined for a sustained period. That leaves us with F-Jax and McGahee … for which I’d start Jackson every time. When he gets 18 touches, he’s essentially a lock for 105 total yards. As for the receivers, I’m not a Jacoby Jones fan … and I love Drew Brees‘ potential for a big game on Sunday. Go with Meachem.

NickDblU: Tim Hightower or Dez Bryant at the flex? And what about Jimmy Graham or Brandon Pettigrew at tight end?

Answer For my Week 2 “locks,” I am expecting big things from Hightower (97 total yards, 1 TD last week) — and not because he wants to exact cold, hard revenge on his old team (which can never be underrated). I simply love how well Hightower fits in the Redskins’ zone-blocking scheme … and admire how quickly he’s garnered the trust of Mike/Kyle Shanahan.

MrCorreia619: For a non-PPR league, I just traded Matthew Stafford/Marshawn Lynch for Jahvid Best, Miles Austin and Kyle Orton. What do you think?

Answer: If you have faith that Orton will throw for 22-plus touchdowns and remain the Broncos’ starter until at least Week 16, this isn’t a bad deal for the owner who needs Austin and Best. That said, Lynch’s success with the potentially dormant Seahawks will probably determine the trade winner by season’s end.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Week 1 Revelations

Week 1 Revelations
1. Ray Rice successfully launched his campaign for 2,000 total yards. This revelation is neither new nor surprising, since I've been guaranteeing Rice's 2K prophecy since July 5 ... and that he amassed 2,041 yards just two years ago. And truth be told, I'm hardly shocked that

Week 1 Revelations
1. Ray Rice successfully launched his campaign for 2,000 total yards. This revelation is neither new nor surprising, since I’ve been guaranteeing Rice’s 2K prophecy since July 5 … and that he amassed 2,041 yards just two years ago. And truth be told, I’m hardly shocked that Rice racked up 149 total yards and two TDs on Sunday, partly because he’s crossed the “140 yards and/or 2 TDs” threshold three times in his last five clashes with the Steelers. That aside, it’s cool to see that Rice is still the dominant figure of Baltimore’s offense, and that QB Joe Flacco (224 yards passing, 3 TDs), WR Anquan Boldin (4 catches, 74 yards, 1 TD) and TE Ed Dickson (5 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD) are eminently capable of following Rice’s golden path to fantasy success — and a possible Super Bowl berth.

2. Let’s hold off on touting Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson as the NFL’s pre-eminent QB-WR handcuff in standard-scoring leagues … until Week 3. The football gods work in mysterious ways, don’t they? As a long-overdue reward for enduring the Matt Millen-GM era (2001-08) and historically bad 0-16 campaign in ’08, Lions fans have suddenly been blessed with the presence of head coach Jim Schwarz (five straight wins), Ndamukong Suh, RB Jahvid Best (114 total yards) and superstars Stafford (305 yards, 3 TDs) and Johnson (6 catches, 88 yards, 2 TDs) — the type of five-man foundation that sparks championship runs sooner than later. And through this convergence of real-world viability and fantasy celebrity comes a gentle reminder that Stafford (14 career starts) will undoubtedly encounter a few bumps and bruises in Year 3 — hopefully more of the former — on his way to a top-7 QB fantasy ranking next summer. As for Calvin and his unmatched flair for acrobatic Opening Day touchdowns … he’s the wideout fraternity’s next best bet for 15 touchdowns.

Mike TolbertICONTolbert posted an impressive 93 total yards and three touchdowns on Sunday.

3. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are the best 1-2 running punch in fantasyland. The NFL may be trending toward committee approaches with tailbacks, as a means of extending a player’s unique talents for a few years; but you’d be hard-pressed to identify a platoon that actually yields two rubber-stamp starters in 12-team leagues. Enter Mathews (118 total yards) and Tolbert (93 total yards, 3 TDs), both realistic threats for 100 total yards/1 TD every week — regardless of the Chargers’ opponent, or how many times Philip Rivers (335 yards, 2 TDs) flirts with 50 passes this season. Incidentally, I’m willing to bet that San Diego scores 24 points or fewer only three times in 2011 … which should be enough juice to keep Mathews and Tolbert’s owners fat and giggly for the foreseeable future.

4. Matt Forte and Michael Turner are the fantasy gifts that keep on giving. It’s hard to believe that any running back could steal the spotlight on a day when Jay Cutler (312 yards passing, 2 TDs) and Matt Ryan (319 yards passing, zero TDs) combined for 79 passes … and Bears LB Brian Urlacher (10 tackles, one INT, one fumble recovery, one TD) flashed his Hall of Fame potential. And yet, Sunday’s one-sided, real-world affair was all about the highly efficient work of Turner (140 yards on 13 touches) and Forte (158 total yards, 1 TD on 21 touches) — two indispensable fantasy stalwarts who were inexplicably short-changed during the August drafts (Turner with PPRs; Forte in standard-scoring leagues). Bottom line: For the few (and proud) owners of both Forte and Turner, Week 1 won’t be the only time when The Brothers Carry-a-mazov launch your team to a landslide fantasy victory.

5. LeSean McCoy is the Eagles’ most valuable fantasy asset. The previous statement wasn’t a referendum on the all-world talents of QB Michael Vick (285 total yards, 2 TDs) or WR DeSean Jackson (6 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD); it simply accounts for the devastation that McCoy can bring on only 17 touches (137 total yards, 2 TDs) … and how most fantasy owners will soon regret passing on this Westbrook-in-his-heyday clone after the 7th pick in standard-scoring or PPR drafts (health permitting). Speaking of Vick (14-of-32 passing for 187 yards), 42-percent efficiency isn’t going to cut it against stingier defenses in October, November and December — especially when Jeremy Maclin (1 catch, 20 yards), Steve Smith (zero catches) and TE Brent Celek (1 catch, 13 yards) are nowhere to be found on gameday. But all in all, not a bad way to ring in the new year for Philly.

6. Let’s not overreact to Chris Johnson’s bad day … and underscore Luke McCown’s pedestrian play. Any rational person could have predicted Johnson’s 15-touch, 49-yard outing in Week 1. After all, even the fittest and fastest of human beings need time to recapture their all-pro mojo — a mere 10 days after concluding a nine-month stay on the proverbial couch. Like it or not, fantasy owners, the Titans were wise to treat Johnson with kid gloves on Sunday, out of precautionary fear of a leg injury (pulled hammy, strained quad, etc.) and the educated guess that no AFC South club will likely run and hide from their division brethren by Halloween. Look for Johnson to struggle again next week against Baltimore; but for Week 3 in Denver, CJ2K is an even-money bet for 120 total yards and/or two touchdowns. As for Jacksonville’s QB du jour, McCown (185 total yards, zero TDs), he holds zero fantasy value in 12- or 14-team leagues and is merely keeping the QB seat warm until Week 5 or so … when rookie Blaine Gabbert gets the keys to the franchise.

Revelations, Book II

Cam NewtonICONRookie learning curve says who? Newton threw for over 400 yards in his debut on Sunday.

7. Cam Newton deserves immediate respect in fantasyland. Rookie quarterbacks are usually treated like red-headed stepchildren in our little parlor game — and rightfully so; but there’s no way to spin Newton’s prodigious day against the Cardinals (440 total yards, 3 TDs) — including an NFL-rookie-debut-record of 422 passing yards — other than saying this is no ordinary rookie … and that Newton should garner weekly starting consideration for teams that don’t have entrenched franchise QBs (Brees, Rodgers, Brady, Vick, Rivers, Romo, Schaub, Stafford, Ryan, Roethlisberger). As for Steve Smith (8 catches/178 yards/2 TDs) … welcome back to the elite strata of wide receivers; and for WR Brandon LaFell (4 catches, 70 yards) and TE Greg Olsen (4 catches, 78 yards) … enjoy the fruits of single coverage, thanks to the distracting talents of Smith, Newton and Carolina’s two-headed rushing monster (DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart). Speaking of Newton, his over/under for rushing touchdowns is now 7.5. (We’ll take the over.)

8. You could do worse than Kerry Collins as a QB2 in 12- or 14-team leagues. Without a doubt, Collins (197 yards passing, 1 TD) looked old and slow in his Colts debut, seldom pulling his new teammates through Houston momentum swings and never showing a sense of urgency with the Indy offense. But then again, what did you expect from a 38-year-old quarterback who had been happily retired as of two weeks ago? Bottom line: The Colts have too many offensive playmakers to average seven points per game while Peyton Manning recovers from a third neck surgery; and in due time, Indy may slowly gain traction as a real-world contender for a wild card spot. In the meantime, feel free to take advantage of the rock-bottom trade prices for Dallas Clark (4 catches, 39 yards), Pierre Garcon (3 catches, 39 yards), Joseph Addai (52 total yards), Austin Collie (zero catches) … and even the redoubtable Reggie Wayne (7 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD). Apparently, Wayne can only catch 100 balls with Peyton at his side.

9. Tight end Jermaine Gresham warrants weekly starting consideration — regardless of who’s playing QB for Cincy. There’s a reason why the Bengals invested a 2010 first-rounder on Gresham (6 catches, 58 yards, 1 TD) … and why Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are no longer vulturing red-zone touches in the process. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Gresham serves as the ideal safety net for rookie Andy Dalton (81 yards passing, 1 TD) and veteran Bruce Gradkowski (92 yards passing, 1 TD) and represents the perfect the complement to RB Cedric Benson (123 total yards, 1 TD), whose running style is eerily reminiscent to that of embattled Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson. (The comparisons obviously end there.) As for rookie receiver A.J. Green … congrats on posting your first NFL catch and touchdown on the same play — even if it involved the Browns inexcusably falling asleep on defense. For what it’s worth, Green would’ve had an easy-cheesy TD in the first quarter … if Cleveland’s Sheldon Brown hadn’t wisely committed a holding penalty on the flare toss. Bold prediction: If Gresham and Benson can operate at full capacity, Green is a sneaky-good candidate for 7-8 touchdowns … even with only 50 catches.

10. The Bucs’ running attack looks atrocious. During the offseason, I might have been the only guru to publicly chide Tampa Bay for putting its rushing eggs into the baskets of two bulky runners (LeGarrette Blount/Earnest Graham) and a sleek, but tremendously raw athlete as the third back (Kregg Lumpkin). This, in a nutshell, explains why I believe the Buccaneers are headed for a noticeable downturn from last year’s 10-6 mark … and why fantasy owners and Bucs backers should pray that WR Mike Williams (4 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD) and TE Kellen Winslow (6 catches, 66 yards) can bring the wood every single week. Otherwise, I shudder to think how QB Josh Freeman (285 total yards, 1 TD) will survive the season in one piece — let alone lead Tampa Bay into playoff contention. On the bright side, the franchise has plenty of cap room to restock the cupboard with playmaking street free agents.

11. Cadillac Williams is the fantasy version of Rasputin. Try as they might, owners cannot kill off Williams (140 total yards) as a viable candidate in 12-team leagues — especially when Steven Jackson incurs quad injuries while sprinting for 47-yard touchdowns — untouched. Admit it: When Caddy signed with the Rams on the back end of the Great Free Agent Frenzy of 2011 … you quietly murmured, “Oh dear, he’ll be relevant by October … if not sooner.” And given the state of the injury-ravaged Rams (Jackson, Sam Bradford, Danny Amendola, Jason Smith), it’s quite possible that Williams and Jerious Norwood (10 yards) will be asked to log 25-plus touches next week against the Giants. Speaking of injury replacements, WR Donnie Avery (recently cut by the Rams) and ex-Jags QB David Garrard should probably turn their cell-phone ring volumes to “High” this week — if Amendola (dislocated elbow) and Bradford (possible nerve damage with finger) should miss significant time. As for the other Rams, a word to the wise: Let’s wait for rookie Lance Kendricks (1 catch, 18 yards — two drops) and WR Mike Sims-Walker (1 catch, 5 yards) to not embarrass themselves first … before forecasting any fantasy relevance for Week 2. Just a thought.

Revelations, Book III
12. The Chiefs’ air brigade is on the path to nowhere. In this pass-happy era of professional football, I am incredibly skeptical of any team that taps a 69-year-old offensive line coach to call plays — like Kansas City has with Bill Muir, the franchise’s longest-tenured assistant. Now, for all we know, Muir’s duo designation may simply be a public ruse to disguise head coach Todd Haley‘s fingerprints being all over what’s called and when; but the public perception is this: Either Haley gave former O-coordinators Chan Gailey and Charlie Weis the boot out of spite and/or jealousy … or the club is completely committed to beefing up the running game, starting with Jamaal Charles (65 total yards, 1 TD) and Dexter McCluster (67 total yards) — but not necessarily Thomas Jones (3 yards). Whatever the case, I have deflating confidence in QB Matt Cassel‘s capacity to eclipse last year’s numbers (3,116 yards passing, 27 TDs), and I weep for the immediate futures of wideouts Dwayne Bowe (2 catches, 17 yards), Steve Breaston (2 catches, 26 yards) and even Jerheme Urban (zero catches). Yikes!

Colt McCoyICONColt McCoy and the Browns looked unimpressive in their home loss to Cincinnati.

13. The Browns are hard to watch on DirecTV. It’s nice to see QB Colt McCoy (224 total yards, 2 TDs) and WR Mohammed Massaquoi (3 catches, 77 yards) take baby steps to fantasy relevance. But right now, only RB Peyton Hillis (87 total yards) and TE Ben Watson (3 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD) deserve consistent props in fantasyland; and even Watson (seven targets) must be somewhat weary of Evan Moore (3 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD) detracting from his preseason value in 12-team leagues. At this point, if any AFC club deserves the ignominious distinction of being fantasy roadkill, it might be Cleveland’s band of underachievers and not-ready-for-primetime players (Greg Little, Montario Hardesty, Brian Robiskie, Jordan Norwood).

14. Fred Davis is a potentially dynamic receiver trapped in a tight end’s body. Hmmm, looks like someone purchased P90X during the 132-day lockout. What other explanation could satisfy my highly plausible assertion that Davis (5 catches, 105 yards) and suddenly invisible Packers wideout James Jones switched bodies during the offseason? At risk of dipping into the hyperbole pool here, Davis (72 catches from 2008-10) could become the next Jermichael Finley of the tight-end circuit, shaking off a humble start to his NFL career before blossoming into an undeniable — and indefensible — force at the position. Of course, Davis’ success is partly due to Chris Cooley‘s ongoing recovery from offseason knee surgery and the Redskins’ noticeable dearth of high-end receivers (sorry, Jabar Gaffney — 3 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD); but hey, talent AND opportunity are the constant keys to one’s fantasy success. Just ask QB Rex Grossman (305 yards passing, 2 TDs) and RB Tim Hightower (97 total yards, 1 TD).

15. The Cowboys — even with their many creative ways to lose games — are still fantasy gold.</strong> You absolutely cannot go wrong with the star-crossed quartet of QB Tony Romo (345 yards passing, 2 TDs), TE Jason Witten (6 catches, 110 yards) and wideouts Miles Austin (4 catches, 83 yards, 1 TD) and Dez Bryant (3 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD) in fantasy circles. They’re so bankable, so dynamic in standard-scoring, PPR and TD-only leagues, it stands to wonder how any other Cowboy can be fantasy-relevant on any given Sunday (like Felix Jones — 76 yards, 1 TD). For Week 2 against the 49ers, I already have the Cowboys’ Big Four pegged for five combined touchdowns … and maybe one gut-wrenching defeat.

16. The 49ers owe Ted Ginn Jr. a huge debt of gratitude. That’s the most polite way of masking San Francisco’s foibles on offense (209 total yards) and minimalistic contribution from QB Alex Smith (146 total yards, zero TDs) — extend all the credit to a stingy 49ers defense (219 yards allowed) and the lightning-fast Ginn (268 return yards, 2 kick-return TDs). But still, I can’t help but wonder: Prior to Sunday, has an NFL club ever scored 33 points on just 12 first downs?

17. Don’t expect multiple TD passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick again … until Week 5. Fitzpatrick may have been razor-sharp against the Chiefs (208 yards passing, 4 TDs), but it’s important to note the following: Of the two times Fitz has thrown for four TDs in his 37-start career (excluding Sunday), he endured separate-but-equal slumps of one passing touchdown in the three successive games after hitting 4-TD paydirt. And before you passionately defend Fitzpatrick’s prospects for Weeks 2-4 and the Bills’ supporting cast on offense, if TE Scott Chandler (5 catches, 63 yards, 2 TDs) and WR David Nelson (4 catches, 66 yards) were shopping at a Buffalo-area grocery store this week during ‘rush hour’ … would you identify ’em on the first try? Thank goodness for Fred Jackson (117 total yards, 1 TD) and Steve Johnson (4 catches, 66 yards, 1 TD), eh?

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Thursday Revelations

Thursday Revelations
Pegging Rodgers (312 yards passing, 3 TDs) and Brees (419 yards passing, 3 TDs) for fantasy greatness might have been the easiest call of Week 1 ... and perhaps the season. After all, we're

Thursday Revelations
Pegging Rodgers (312 yards passing, 3 TDs) and Brees (419 yards passing, 3 TDs) for fantasy greatness might have been the easiest call of Week 1 … and perhaps the season. After all, we’re talking about the last two Super Bowl MVPs and heavily involved caretakers of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. Rodgers’ first-quarter run at perfection (14-of-15 passing, 3 TDs) was remarkably efficient and Brees’ Joe Montana-like patience during the Saints’ final drive was something to behold … just weeks after a 132-day lockout. And while New Orleans must reconcile the bitter taste of a last-second defeat, the club can quietly celebrate that it won’t play in any cold-weather games all season — unless Nashville encounters a record chill on Dec. 11. (The Saints play 11 of their next 15 indoors … with the four outdoor games occurring in southern climates.)

Randall CobbRandall Cobb had one hell of a coming out party.

2. Rookie Randall Cobb may be too hot for television. With his breakout performance in the Packers’ high-profile win, Cobb (two TDs) may have unwittingly raised his fantasy expectations to an unsustainable level. Can you imagine the blind-bidding auction money that’ll be spent on Cobb next week, especially in leagues that reward individual kick-return touchdowns? That 108-yard scoring return — breaking several tackles along the way — may have been the beacon moment of a highlight-heavy classic. Without a doubt, Cobb (2 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD) is an electrifying talent who may have vaulted the Packers into the No. 1 fantasy slot for defense/special teams; but when surrounded by Green Bay’s healthy playmakers, he’s likely the sixth-best bet for consistent weekly stats. And that assumption may not include James Jones (more on him later).

3. Mark Ingram fell one yard shy of justifying his standing as a flex-option starter. Herein lies the razor-thin difference between a good and bad fantasy outing: Had Ingram crossed the goal line on the Saints’ final play of the game, his 41 yards and one TD would’ve merited 10 points in standard-scoring leagues. Instead, he finished with a pedestrian 40 yards and became an albatross for owners who’ll likely spend the next three days lamenting the decision to start Ingram over Joseph Addai, Tim Hightower, Marshawn Lynch or even Michael Bush. But that’s what makes fantasy football so great: Owners living and dying with their choices every Sunday … and their unconditional willingness to experience the same agony the following week.

4. Prospective owners should proceed with caution when pondering the fantasy viability of Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem. If you had canvassed 100 relatively sober fans after Thursday’s game on “Which non-quarterback finished with the most yards from scrimmage?” … I’m guessing that less than 10 percent would have tabbed the mercurial Henderson for that honor. Henderson (6 catches/100 yards/1 TD) was stellar in place of the injured Lance Moore, making the most of the Packers’ rolled coverages against Marques Colston (6 catches, 81 yards) and TE Jimmy Graham (4 catches/56 yards/1 TD). But now, I feel obligated to report the following: In 88 regular-season games, Henderson has never scored a touchdown in consecutive weeks. On the flip side, Meachem (5 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD) has tallied touchdowns in consecutive games five times since the midway point of the 2009 season. At the very least, he deserves flex-week consideration for Week 2 against Chicago … as long as owners understand that Meachem’s fantasy success comes in surprisingly short bursts — like a supernova.

Greg JenningsICONGreg Jennings had a big night, but James Jones was nowhere to be found.

5. James Jones caught one more ball and gained one more yard than yours truly on Thursday. When forecasting “Wide Receiver Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD” each week, I like to mix one long-shot selection in with the normal parade of superstars (Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks, Greg Jennings, etc.) — just to walk the proverbial plank for no particular reason. And while that boom-or-bust tradition should continue for Weeks 2-17 … Jones will no longer be tabbed for unexpected dominance from this point forward. For starters, Greg Jennings (7 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD) is an unimpeachable force as Green Bay’s WR1, Jordy Nelson (6 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD) gets better explosion off the line, tight end Jermichael Finley (3 catches, 53 yards) is a magnet for red-zone targets … and the ageless Donald Driver has apparently morphed from human to cyborg. What other explanation can be made for Driver quickly rebounding from Malcolm Jenkins‘ rib-spreading, teeth-rattling hit in the second quarter? The Verdict: He’s a machine.

QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs — Sunday/Monday Edition
1. Philip Rivers vs. Minnesota
2. Tom Brady @ Miami
3. Kevin Kolb vs. Carolina
4. Matt Schaub vs. Indianapolis

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Adrian Peterson @ San Diego
2. Frank Gore vs. Seattle
3. LeSean McCoy @ St. Louis
4. Ray Rice vs. Pittsburgh
5. Matt Forte vs. Atlanta
6. Beanie Wells vs. Carolina
7. Steven Jackson vs. Philadelphia
8. Ryan Mathews vs. Minnesota
9. Darren McFadden @ Denver

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Andre Johnson vs. Indianapolis
2. Brandon Marshall vs. New England
3. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Carolina
4. Calvin Johnson @ Tampa Bay
5. Roddy White @ Chicago
6. Vincent Jackson vs. Minnesota
7. Mike Wallace @ Baltimore

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Shaun Suisham @ Baltimore
2. Ryan Succop vs. Buffalo
3. Nick Folk vs. Dallas
4. Robbie Gould vs. Atlanta
5. Sebastian Janikowski @ Denver
6. Josh Scobee vs. Tennessee

Passing Fancy
Here’s a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:

1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
4. Michael Vick, Eagles
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
6. Matt Schaub, Texans
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys (a supreme fantasy test against the Jets on Sunday)
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
9. Matt Ryan, Falcons
10. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
11. Eli Manning, Giants
12. Joe Flacco, Ravens (could realistically throw for 27 TDs this season)
13. Matthew Stafford, Lions
14. Jay Cutler, Bears
15. Sam Bradford, Rams
16. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals (expect hefty numbers against the Panthers in Week 1)
17. Kyle Orton, Broncos
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
19. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (O-line coach Bill Muir will also be calling the plays)
20. Mark Sanchez, Jets
21. Chad Henne, Dolphins
22. Donovan McNabb, Vikings (threw for 450 yards/2 TDs against San Diego in 2009)
23. Colt McCoy, Browns
24. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
25. Kerry Collins, Colts
26. Alex Smith, 49ers
27. Jason Campbell, Raiders
28. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (Sidney Rice‘s presence would help on Sunday)
29. Cam Newton, Panthers
30. Andy Dalton, Bengals
31. Rex Grossman, Redskins
32. Luke McCown, Jaguars (Really? Seriously?)

Questions From The Audience
davdchapman: If Kerry Collins gets the nod for the Colts … do I start Collins or Raiders QB Jason Campbell?

Answer: I’d ride Collins in Week 1, for no other reason than Indy will likely throw the ball a lot in the second half against Houston. On the flip side, the over/under for Campbell pass attempts in the fourth quarter against Denver is “6.”

MrDjackels: Should I go with Chargers RB Mike Tolbert or Giants RB Brandon Jacobs?

Answer: Jacobs has 464 total yards and four TDs in his last six games against the Redskins (2008-10), so he’s obviously a sneaky-good play for Week 1. But if we’re talking about the best pure handcuff of 2011, my vote goes to Tolbert, who’ll have a front-row seat for Ryan Mathews‘ expected breakout … but still may shine in games where the Chargers rack up 25-plus points. Like Sunday against the Vikings. It’s close, but I’d go with Tolbert.

jsmarts333>: Peyton Manning‘s out forever. I have Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Should I pick up Kerry Collins, Alex Smith, Chad Henne or Jason Campbell for the year to alternate with Fitzpatrick?

Answer: I’ve devoted a tangible amount of ‘Philanthropist’ editorial space to how the Dolphins desperately need consistent production from Henne (one of six QBs to attempt 46-plus passes in three games last year) and WR Brandon Marshall; and this question serves as the perfect opportunity to reaffirm the courage of my convictions. If Peyton is really out for the season, then Collins should garner plenty of consideration; but I have greater confidence in Henne’s ability to rebound from a shaky season — which curiously included seven Miami road wins but just one home victory.

HalKodnerLMT: I’ve been offered a 2-for-1 trade … getting Matt Forte and giving up Knowshon Moreno/Fred Jackson. My tailbacks would then be Forte, Jahvid Best, Thomas Jones, Danny Woodhead, Jerome Harrison. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Knowshon MorenoThe Philanthropist says stick with Knowshon Moreno (above) and Fred Jackson.

Answer: Meh, I’d rather have Moreno and Jackson solidifying your solid, but unspectacular corps of running backs than heaping all the pressure onto Forte and Best. Obviously, Forte is one of my favorite players in fantasyland and a good bet for 1,800 total yards, but he’s not dominant enough — touchdown-wise — to cover the production of Moreno and Jackson as a tandem. I could easily have a different answer in four days; but right now, my gut says stay with Moreno and F-Jax. Or at the very least … make Owner B up the ante on this potential mini-blockbuster.

JimboSaysWhat: I have a 2-for-2 trade offer … Fred Jackson/Donovan McNabb for James Starks/Joe Flacco. Jamaal Charles, Ahmad Bradshaw, Pierre Thomas are my three top backs.

Answer: Pierre Thomas is a solid flex option at running back and would arguably start ahead of Jackson roughly 5-6 times this season … making this deal an isolation between McNabb and Flacco. And for that QB battle, I’d ride Flacco for at least 13 weeks. This is a close decision in Flacco’s favor … with Starks thrown in for good (or great) measure.

rocknwitdblest: Which three RBs would I start in a 1/2-point PPR league for Week 1 — Shonn Greene, Cedric Benson, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall?

Answer: Felix Jones will probably catch the most passes of this foursome by season’s end. But for Week 1 against the Jets, he’s a minimal play in any league — even PPRs. Let’s ride the ground-and-pound trio of Mendenhall, Benson and Greene this weekend.

rssp55: Who would you start in the flex for Week 1 — Mike Tolbert, Jeremy Maclin, Anquan Boldin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Plaxico Burress, Percy Harvin?

Answer: I’m sure that Maclin, a Missouri native, desperately wants to have a great game in front of the St. Louis folks, but he’s not an automatic flex option at this point (training camp rust); and Boldin would be a greater consideration in any other week that didn’t list the Steelers as the opponent. My head and heart say that Harvin’s the strongest play against the Chargers. Good luck!

crackalackas: Would you trade Aaron Rodgers/Rob Gronkowski to get Arian Foster/Josh Freeman? The other owner is a ‘Green Bay homer’ and already has Greg Jennings for this league (6 points per passing TD).

Answer: At face value, I’d want the Foster/Freeman side of the ledger — just barely. But if Owner B is really a Packers sycophant, then you should exploit that homerism … and make him/her raise the stakes as part of a larger 6-man swap. This is why it’s fun to play against owners who wear fantasy blinders for a real-world club: They develop the illusion that cheering for their favorite player (Rodgers, for example) won’t be as much fun … if A-Rodg isn’t on their fantasy team, as well.

AcmeCocktailCo: Would you want Felix Jones/Beanie Wells for Greg Jennings in a PPR league 2-for-1 trade?

Answer: Here’s the breakdown: If Jennings is the final piece of a championship-contending team — one that has all-world starters from QB to kicker — then the trade makes perfect sense. And if you’re constructing a roster for the long haul — with the assumption that injuries WILL happen — it’s wise to add Felix and Beanie to the running-back stable. As the saying goes, you can never have enough quality tailbacks in fantasy.

ericmd83: I’ve got a big 1-for-3 offer on the table … giving up Andre Johnson and getting Matt Forte/Anquan Boldin/Julio Jones. Should I ask for more? Miles Austin/Vincent Jackson are my No. 2 and 3 receivers right now … and my running backs after the trade would be Forte/Rashard Mendenhall/BenJarvus Green Ellis. (10-team league, standard scoring)

Answer: I would hate to surrender Andre Johnson (673 catches/9,164 yards/77 career TDs) in any season — especially when the Texans are overwhelming favorites to capture the AFC South title. But for my overall rankings, Forte is just a half-notch below AJ … and Boldin and Julio Jones would be enough to make up that difference. And on the flip side, you’ll have three rubber-stamp starters at tailback in Forte, Mendy and BenJarvus. It’s probably a win-win deal for both sides, but I’d still do it. Take the leap!

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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Running Back & Wide Receiver fantasy locks for Week 1

Jay Clemons' Week 1 Running Back locks:

Take 2: RB Locks For Week 1 (mp3)

Jay Clemons' Week 1 Wide Receiver locks:

Jay Clemons’ Week 1 Running Back locks:

Take 2: RB Locks For Week 1 (mp3)

Jay Clemons’ Week 1 Wide Receiver locks:

WR Locks For Week 1 (mp3)

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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Star System

Opening Salvos
It's funny how the euphoria of a 132-day lockout ending in July couldn't infuse the tedious agony of exhibition ball in August. But an uninspiring preseason Week 4 provided tangible relief in one respect: It afforded us one last chance to debunk a few fantasy misconceptions about the

Opening Salvos
It’s funny how the euphoria of a 132-day lockout ending in July couldn’t infuse the tedious agony of exhibition ball in August. But an uninspiring preseason Week 4 provided tangible relief in one respect: It afforded us one last chance to debunk a few fantasy misconceptions about the stars of today and tomorrow:

1. Vincent Jackson only deserves Top-15 love amongst his fellow receivers. In his last four reasonably healthy seasons (2006-09), V-Jax increased his receptions each year (27-41-59-68) and tallied 25 total touchdowns. But at age 28, there’s no guarantee that a pronounced uptick in catches/TDs will occur in 2011. Yes, he had 114 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers to highlight last year’s holdout/suspension-filled campaign; but in the Chargers’ most crucial game of the playoff chase — a desultory loss to the Bengals in Week 16 — Jackson finished with a pedestrian 4 catches/54 yards. Plus, there’s the little matter of Jackson’s NFL existence not taking place in a vacuum: His track record of injuries or suspensions must carry some weight when doling out preseason rankings. Hence, the No. 13 spot in standard-scoring leagues … for which I deem more than fair.

2. Mike Sims-Walker only warrants Round 8-or-later consideration in 12-teamers. Various media reports have praised Sims-Walker for developing immediate chemistry with Rams QB Sam Bradford during the preseason, a great first step in a potentially dynamic relationship. However, in MSW’s final 16 games with Jacksonville (2009-10), he registered 3 or fewer receptions 10 times. That kind of invisible production just screams a mid-to-late-round pick in 12-team leagues — even for the owners who ignore Sims-Walker’s two catches (and one TD) in four exhibition games with St. Louis … and forget that Rams O-coordinator Josh McDaniels has plenty of playmaking options, starting with alpha male Steven Jackson (3,362 total yards, 10 TDs from 2009-10).

Joe FlaccoICONFantasy owners don’t seem too excited about Joe Flacco.

3. Joe Flacco’s draft-time freefall is hard to explain — or justify. When considering his progression from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3, it’s quite reasonable that Flacco (63 career TDs) could tally 27 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions in Year 4. And yet, his lack of sex appeal or humble place in the Ravens’ rock-solid offense has lulled prospective fantasy owners into a state of slumber on draft day. Yes, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning can reach the 30-touchdown summit at any point in the future (a big-time factor in keeper leagues); and yes, there’s something alluring about Josh Freeman working his magic when wearing the Buccaneers’ retro-creamsicle uniforms. But in fantasyland, where only numbers matter, Flacco has inexplicably slipped a notch below the above names in standard leagues. For those who preach draft-day patience with quarterbacks, say hello to Flacco in Round 9!

4. Brandon Marshall will reclaim his elite standing with wideouts this year. If Marshall had played the full 16 games last season, he likely would have collected 14 receptions in the missing two games to clinch a fourth straight 100-catch campaign. So, it’s not like he completely fell off the earth with 86 catches, 1,014 yards and three TDs in 2010; he simply had a poor year for someone named Brandon Marshall. And at 27, I’m willing to give B-Marsh a relative free pass here, now that his personal life appears stable and the spate with Miami QB Chad Henne has seemingly been rectified. Throw in the Dolphins’ lackluster power-running game (Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lex Hilliard) … and the stars are once again aligned for Marshall racking up 100 receptions and 7-8 TDs.

5. Tim Hightower and Roy Helu should live long and prosper in Mike Shanahan’s offense. In July, I listed the Redskins as the prohibitive NFC favorite to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes in next year’s draft. But that came before the Washington brain trust stealthily traded for Hightower (23 TDs with Arizona from 2008-10) and immediately entrusted Helu (team-high 220 total yards) with primetime touches during the preseason. The result: The tepid QB competition between Rex Grossman and John Beck may not matter … if Hightower, Helu and veteran Ryan Torain, a Shanahan favorite, collectively earn 50-plus touches per game. And if that’s the case (fingers crossed), the ‘Skins will surely pass last season’s deplorable rushing total of 1,461 yards … sometime around Week 10.

6. Don’t rule out James Jones for 60 catches and/or 7 TDs. If Jones (50 catches/5 TDs in 2010) had signed with a bottom-feeder club during the abbreviated free-agency period in July, he’d be a WR1 in the real world and Round 6/7 pick in fantasyland (12-teamers). But after re-signing with Green Bay, he’ll have to sing for his fantasy supper each week against the likes of teammates Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson, Ryan Grant, James Starks and potentially explosive rookie Randall Cobb. Still, he’s a lead-pipe cinch for at least four games of 85 yards receiving and one TD — and a sneaky-good pick for Week 1 greatness.

7. Andre Johnson cannot be slowed by the notion of turning 30. Johnson has amassed 465 catches, 6,358 yards and 38 touchdowns in his last 70 games (2006-10); and last year, he drew nine or more targets in 10 of his 13 games, while collecting 86 catches, 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns. Bottom line: Until Johnson starts showing some serious wear-and-tear, I will confidently mark him down for 102/1,375/11 in a full 16-game campaign. NEXT!

The Tao Of Dwayne Bowe
It should surprise no one that Dwayne Bowe (72 catches/1,162 yards in 2010) is a regular threat for 80 catches and 1,100 receiving yards, given his immense physical tools, Matt Cassel‘s emerging QB prowess (when healthy) and the aggressive nature of head coach Todd Haley. But how to explain Bowe’s league-leading 15 touchdowns? More importantly, is there reason to believe he’ll sniff that number in consecutive seasons?

Dwayne BoweIs there any chance Bowe duplicates last year’s numbers?

Going back to the prolific days of Hall of Famer Don Hutson, a player has amassed 15 or more receiving TDs 27 times — covering 18 different wideouts (such as Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Sterling Sharpe, Mark Clayton, Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards, Andre Rison, Carl Pickens). And in the 27 follow-up years to 15-plus TDs, only Jerry Rice has surpassed the previous year’s level of scoring greatness (22 TDs in 1987) … and only one wideout (Marvin Harrison) annihilated the previous season’s benchmark (143 catches/1,722 yards/11 TDs in 2002). Translation: Bowe may have a Toucan Sam-like nose for the end zone … but the odds are stacked against him repeating 15 TDs — let alone pulling down 12 or 13.

My modest Bowe prediction for 2011: 79 catches, 1,091 yards, 9 TDs.

Week 1: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. New Orleans
2. Drew Brees @ Green Bay
3. Philip Rivers vs. Minnesota
4. Tom Brady @ Miami
5. Kevin Kolb vs. Carolina
6. Matt Schaub vs. Indianapolis

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Adrian Peterson @ San Diego
2. Frank Gore vs. Seattle
3. LeSean McCoy @ St. Louis
4. Ray Rice vs. Pittsburgh
5. Matt Forte vs. Atlanta
6. Beanie Wells vs. Carolina
7. Steven Jackson vs. Philadelphia
8. Ryan Mathews vs. Minnesota
9. Darren McFadden @ Denver

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Andre Johnson vs. Indianapolis
2. Brandon Marshall vs. New England
3. Marques Colston @ Green Bay
4. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Carolina
5. Calvin Johnson @ Tampa Bay
6. Roddy White @ Chicago
7. Vincent Jackson vs. Minnesota
8. James Jones vs. New Orleans
9. Mike Wallace @ Baltimore

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Shaun Suisham @ Baltimore
2. Ryan Succop vs. Buffalo
3. Nick Folk vs. Dallas
4. Robbie Gould vs. Atlanta
5. Sebastian Janikowski @ Denver
6. Josh Scobee vs. Tennessee

Keep It Simple, Stupid
This quick Public Service Announcement goes to the owner who prepped for and drafted a superb fantasy team … only to be paralyzed by fear and anxiety when consummating his/her Week 1 starters: Don’t Overthink Your Lineups!

If you have stud receivers like Hakeem Nicks (@ Washington) and Reggie Wayne (@ Houston), they’re automatic starters — regardless of who’s throwing ’em the football. On the next tier, please don’t bench Dez Bryant (@ N.Y. Jets) or Percy Harvin (@ Minnesota) for Emmanuel Sanders or Plaxico Burress … off a misguided hunch that Plax is ripe for a big game against Dallas — even though he’s been killing time in a jail cell the last two NFL seasons. Is it possible that Sanders could score higher than Harvin? Of course, anything is possible in fantasyland. But the odds of Harvin falling flat against the Chargers are pretty slim — especially in PPR leagues.

Bottom line: You’ll have all season to tinker with your rosters and lineups. But Week 1 — when dealing with healthy players — is the one time to sit back and play your bankable stars, with no real worries. Win or lose. And it’s the only Sunday when you can’t feel the internal pressure of avoiding a two-game losing streak in a highly competitive 12-team league. The rule of thumb: Ride your studs … until they give you reason to think otherwise. (cough — Michael Crabtree — cough)

Radio Daze
You know what makes the stuck-in-a-cubicle workday run smoothly during the fall months? Podcast after podcast after podcast! Here are my favorite football-specific podcasts/radio shows:

1. Yahoo! — “Fantasy Blitz”
2. ESPN — “Fantasy Focus” with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz
3. CBSSports.com — “Fantasy Football” with Dave Richard and Jamey Eisneberg
4. KFAN in Minneapolis — “Fantasy Football Weekly” with Paul Charchian
5. RotoWire.com — “Fantasy Sports Podcast”
6. WDFN-AM in Detroit — “Fantasy Sports Geekly” with Sean Baligian

Into The Great Wide Open
For those who haven’t completed their drafts yet (a savvy move, by the way), here’s a revised listing of my Top 40 wideouts in Points Per Reception leagues:

1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Roddy White, Falcons (don’t expect another 30-catch jump in 2011 — HA!)
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
4. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (an annual threat for 87 catches/10 TDs)
5. Calvin Johnson, Lions
6. Reggie Wayne, Colts (takes a slight hit amid Peyton Manning‘s expected absence)
7. Miles Austin, Cowboys
8. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
9. Greg Jennings, Packers
10. Mike Wallace, Steelers
11. Marques Colston, Saints
12. Wes Welker, Patriots (should recapture 100-catch form in 2011)
13. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
14. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
15. Mike Williams, Buccaneers (expect an uptick in catches … and reduction in TDs)
16. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
17. Dez Bryant, Cowboys (needs a few 10-catch, 100-yard efforts before dominating next year’s rankings)
18. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
19. Santonio Holmes, Jets
20. Percy Harvin, Vikings (only migraines and injury can preclude Percy from flirting with 85 catches)
21. Sidney Rice, Seahawks
22. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
23. Kenny Britt, Titans (mark him down for two games of at least 160 receiving yards)
24. Steve Johnson, Bills
25. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
26. Santana Moss, Redskins
27. Mario Manningham, Giants (a potential No. 1 … mired behind Mr. Nicks)
28. Austin Collie, Colts
29. Pierre Garcon, Colts
30. Chad Ochocinco, Patriots
31. Lance Moore, Saints
32. Mike Thomas, Jaguars
33. Davone Bess, Dolphins (a silent, flex-option killer in PPR leagues)
34. Hines Ward, Steelers
35. Lee Evans, Ravens
36. A.J. Green, Bengals
37. Julio Jones, Falcons
38. Mike Williams, Seahawks
39. Antonio Brown, Steelers (I plan on stealing Brown in my three Tuesday drafts)
40. Danny Amendola, Rams
40a. Mike Sims-Walker, Rams

Practice Makes Perfect
Here are six of the best sites for round-the-clock mocking — covering standard-scoring and keeper leagues.

**ESPN Mock Draft Lobby
**Mock Draft Central

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The Big Countdown

Commence The Countdown
I'm not a fan of one-size-fits-all fantasy rankings on Web sites and publications. It just seems like an incredibly shallow method for selecting players, without prioritizing the need to find 'value' at every round (through countless mock drafts). However, since not everyone has 4-6 hours per day to spend

Commence The Countdown
I’m not a fan of one-size-fits-all fantasy rankings on Web sites and publications. It just seems like an incredibly shallow method for selecting players, without prioritizing the need to find ‘value’ at every round (through countless mock drafts). However, since not everyone has 4-6 hours per day to spend on fantasy football — corporation CEOs are not immune to our addictive game — there is a market for the following undertaking: My Top 160 players in standard-scoring leagues. (Updated positional rankings can be found in Tuesday’s Fantasy Philanthropist.)

Top 160: 1-50
1. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
3. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
4. RB Arian Foster, Texans
5. RB Chris Johnson, Titans
6. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
7. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
8. WR Andre Johnson, Texans
9. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
10. QB Drew Brees, Saints
11. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
12. WR Roddy White, Falcons
13. QB Tom Brady, Patriots
14. RB Michael Turner, Falcons
15. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
16. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
17. RB Frank Gore, 49ers
18. RB Peyton Hillis, Browns
19. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
20. QB Michael Vick, Eagles
21. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants
22. RB Matt Forte, Bears
23. RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
24. WR Miles Austin, Cowboys
25. WR Greg Jennings, Packers
26. WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
27. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
28. RB Steven Jackson, Rams
29. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers
30. WR Reggie Wayne, Colts
31. WR Marques Colston, Saints
32. RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
33. QB Matt Schaub, Texans
34. TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
35. WR Brandon Marhsall, Dolphins
36. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys
37. RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
38. TE Dallas Clark, Colts
39. WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
40. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
41. WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers
42. WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
43. QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
44. RB Jahvid Best, Lions
45. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers
46. QB Peyton Manning, Colts
47. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
48. TE Vernon Davis, 49ers
49. RB LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
50. TE Jermichael Finley, Packers
50a.RB Shonn Greene, Jets

Chris JohnsonICONJohnson currently checks in at No. 5 on Clemons’ top 160.

Would You Like To Play A Game?
The National Football Post has once again partnered up with the good folks at FanDuel.com to offer weekly fantasy football contests throughout the regular season. Here’s a breakdown of how the FanDuel Game works: Players are given a $60,000 salary cap to assemble a starting lineup comprising 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 kicker and 1 D/ST.

Most points wins. And if you can put up more points than NFP head honcho Joe Fortenbaugh, you

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Targets Acquired

Ask ... And You Shall Receive
Now that fantasygoers have been granted clearance (Clarence?) to snare a superstar or two in fantasy drafts -- without fear of exhibition-game injury -- I thought it'd be proper to include the updated rankings for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in one tidy

Ask … And You Shall Receive
Now that fantasygoers have been granted clearance (Clarence?) to snare a superstar or two in fantasy drafts — without fear of exhibition-game injury — I thought it’d be proper to include the updated rankings for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in one tidy Philanthropist column. But before we get to that, it’s story time!

No Guts, Some Glory
Mike Wallace or Marques Colston?

This was the question posed by my wife during the ‘Philanthropist & Friends League #3’ draft on Sunday afternoon — the third of four fantasy leagues hosted by yours truly, starring only loyal readers of this column. Why would a woman whose only interest in football lies with 1) Who is Auburn playing? 2) Who has a chance to knock off Alabama? and 3) maybe the Super Bowl ask about two top-15 receivers … while sitting poised over the laptop, eagerly awaiting a reply? Let’s do this in a timeline:

1 p.m. — The League #3 draft room officially opens 62 minutes before the first pick. While lying on the couch, I ask my fellow owners, via Twitter, ‘Which spot do I have?’ in the 16-team megadraft.

Arian FosterArian Foster’s hamstring has become a hot topic.

1:02 p.m. — En masse reply of “3rd,” which means I’m now stuck with gauging whether Arian Foster and his heightened hamstring woes are worthy of an elite pick. Twelve minutes prior to Saturday’s game against San Francisco, Foster would have been a no-brainer at No. 3.

1:38 p.m. — Just seconds before putting down the trusty iPhone and walking to the laptop to host/participate in the League #3 draft, a rush of negative, strength-sapping energy zooms from the stomach to my brain, causing the dizzy spell of all dizzy spells … and one of the most sweat-inducing panic attacks of my young life. What is the cause of such nausea? Do I have a concussion? Where did that immense pain come from? … and How am I going to sit at a computer, making draft picks and starting lively debates with the other owners, without taking a header into the glass table?

1:42 p.m. — After repeated attempts to open my eyes without squinting or even sit up on the couch, I’m faced with the hard truth that I cannot handle the seemingly mundane rigors of a 90-minute draft, and that my wife would have to execute the task in my honor.

— At this point in my sudden illness, I’d have a better chance of explaining geometry to a dog than helping the wife enter a draft room, just minutes before it starts.

1:58 p.m. — Hallelujah … she’s in! But the momentary exultation is quickly dulled with the realization that I’m on the cusp of vomiting … and that Patricia has no experience with the “Player Queue” box — a method of lining up candidates for drafting while on the clock — which is crucial, given the 60-second time limit for picks.

2:02 p.m.Adrian Peterson is the first stud off the board. No surprise there.

2:03 p.m. — Next up, Jamaal Charles … leaving me the awkward, three-pronged choice amongst a petulant holdout (Chris Johnson), my consensus No. 1 in PPR and standard leagues when healthy (Foster) and my personal lock for 2,000 total yards (Ray Rice).

2:04 p.m. — Ray Rice it is! Ich bien wuss.

2:15 p.m. — Armed with the 30th pick in Round 2, I ignore the treasure trove of receivers to grab my highest RB on the board, Ahmad Bradshaw. So far, so good. Until …

2:18 p.m. — My wife and I spend approximately 212 seconds debating the merits of Marques Colston/Dez Bryant/Mike Williams/DeSean Jackson … before I grab a plastic shopping bag to do something I hadn’t done with that much intensity since 1991 (how Seinfeldian!). With no time to ask the wife if running backs Ryan Mathews, Knowshon Moreno or Shonn Greene were still on the board, I was left with the ultimate multi-task assignment of remembering the precise order of Colston/Bryant/Williams/Jackson while uncomfortably filling up a bag that was primarily designed to harness boxes of Frosted Flakes. The last words I hear are “Mike Wallace or Mar-keese Colston?” And with one final breath before being incapacitated for the next 18 minutes, I meekly murmured “Colston.”

… And that’s the story of how a woman who had no interest in her husband’s livelihood became versed in the art of enduring a 16-team draft, where every other owner knows your likes/dislikes, sleepers/dead weight. All in all, she did a great job. Here’s how she fared in the megadraft:

Team #3
Round 1 — RB Ray Rice, Ravens
Round 2 — RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Round 3 — WR Marques Colston, Saints
Round 4 — RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
Round 5 — WR Sidney Rice, Seahawks
Round 6 — QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
Round 7 — TE Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars (one of two default/time-expired picks …)
Round 8 — WR Antonio Brown, Steelers
Round 9 — RB Jerome Harrison, Lions (… and Mr. Short Screen to Almost Paradise was the other)
Round 10 — WR Jerome Simpson, Bengals
Round 11 — RB Stevan Ridley, Patriots (completing the BenJarvus handcuff)
Round 12 — QB Matt Hasselbeck, Titans (should have a good game against Cincy in Week 9 — Stafford’s bye)
Round 13 — WR Mohammed Massaqoui, Browns
Round 14 — PK Alex Henery, Eagles
Round 15 — D/ST St. Louis Rams
Round 16 — WR Donnie Avery, Rams (shocked that he survived the first 253 picks)

The Weekend That Was
Here are some mini-Revelations from a surprisingly bland preseason Week 3:

Matthew StaffordIs Stafford poised for a big year?

1. Matthew Stafford is singlehandedly disrupting draft boards. My fantasy ambivalence knows no end after watching Stafford (200 yards passing, 2 TDs) dissect the Patriots’ first-teamers Saturday night. As a native Detroiter and current Georgian who’s been foretelling Stafford’s greatness since his first collegiate pass in 2006, I’m happy for his preseason success (24-of-31 for 356 yards, 5 TDs); however, from this point forward, there is a zero-percent chance of landing Stafford in Round 8 of a 12-team draft … and that’s disappointing news for owners who preach ‘value’ at every turn. On the positive side, Joe Flacco, who may throw for 27 touchdowns, can now be had for a rock-bottom price in Round 8 or 9.

2. Prospective drafters ought to buy whatever Antonio Brown is selling. It’s not in my nature to go loco about a second-year wideout with 16 career catches, but who among us can possibly resist the temptation of Brown after his two highlight-reel-worthy TDs against the Falcons? We’re not talking about garden-variety scores in a meaningless August exhibition; his speed, athleticism and insane body control draw immediate comparisons to Mike Wallace … and his recent production should be enough to warrant a Round 9 flier pick in 12-team leagues. It also helps that QB Ben Roethlisberger loves targeting Brown in a pinch.

3. The over/under for Jaguars wideouts and 45 catches stands at 1.5. Outside of Mike Thomas and tight end Marcedes Lewis, the Jacksonville receiving corps reads like a list of past/future Arena League all-stars. Jason Hill? Cecil Shorts? Jarett Dillard? Armon Binns? Kasim Osgood? Dontrelle Inman? It’s enough to audibly wonder if Jimmy Smith (age 42) and Keenan McCardell (age 41) are willing to come out of retirement? After all, Smith (12,287 yards/67 career TDs) and McCardell (11,373 yards/63 TDs) hold the Jaguars’ top-14 marks for receptions in a single season. So much for franchise depth. Yikes!

4. Vernon Davis will hopefully survive the 49ers’ shaky transition of power in fantasyland. I have all the confidence in Jim Harbaugh‘s ability to someday transform the 49ers into a championship contender, but the 132-day lockout was an absolute death blow to San Francisco’s title chances in 2011. From a fantasy perspective, injury-prone Frank Gore is on the verge of a holdout or possible trade demand, Michael Crabtree has devolved into the NFL’s Invisible Man and Alex Smith (2-year average: 2,360 passing yards, 16 TDs) is a living testament to fantasy mediocrity. Which brings us to Davis (134 catches/20 TDs in 2009-10) … whose pre-existing rapport with the veteran Smith is enough to preserve his standing as the No. 4 tight end. For now.

Passing Fancy
Here’s a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:

1. Drew Brees, Saints (the golden arm with the golden schedule)
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
4. Michael Vick, Eagles
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers (a cinch for 4,000 yards passing)
6. Matt Schaub, Texans
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (can’t go wrong with Wallace, A-Brown and Hines Ward)
9. Matt Ryan, Falcons
10. Peyton Manning, Colts (avoided the PUP list — no surprise there)
11. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
12. Eli Manning, Giants
13. Joe Flacco, Ravens
14. Matthew Stafford, Lions
15. Jay Cutler, Bears (IF only the team could settle on a No. 1 receiver)
16. Sam Bradford, Rams (ditto for Mr. Bradford)
17. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
18. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (the ghost of Charlie Weis, where art thou?)
19. Mark Sanchez, Jets
20. Kyle Orton, Broncos
21. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
22. David Garrard, Jaguars
23. Chad Henne, Dolphins (one of only six QBs to throw 46-plus passes in three games last year)
24. Donovan McNabb, Vikings
25. Colt McCoy, Browns
26. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
26. Alex Smith, 49ers
28. Jason Campbell, Raiders
29. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks
30. Cam Newton, Panthers
31. Andy Dalton, Bengals (the Dalton/A.J. Green connection has a bright future)
32. John Beck, Redskins

Tiers Of A Clown: Tight Ends
Tier 1 (1,000 total yards and/or 8 TDs)
Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley

Tier 2 (800 total yards and/or 6 TDs)
Kellen Winslow, Jr., Owen Daniels, Tony Gonzalez, Brandon Pettigrew, Rob Gronkowski, Marcedes Lewis, Jimmy Graham, Dustin Keller, Jermaine Gresham, Chris Cooley, Greg Olsen, Zach Miller (Seahawks)

Aaron HernandezICONAaron Hernandez could be a steal as a Tier 3 tight end.

Tier 3 (675 total yards and/or 5 TDs)
Benjamin Watson, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Moeaki, Visanthe Shiancoe, Brent Celek, Todd Heap, Heath Miller

Tier 4 (500 total yards and/or 4 TDs)
Lance Kendricks, Ed Dickson, Kevin Boss, Jared Cook, Dennis Pitta, Travis Beckum, Jeremy Shockey, Tony Scheffler, Fred Davis, Jacob Tamme, Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, Shawn Nelson

Tier 5 (375 total yards and/or 3 TDs)
Kyle Rudolph, Kellen Davis, Joel Dreessen, Daniel Fells, Bo Scaife, Evan Moore, John Carlson, Andrew Quarless, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Graham, Luke Stocker, Randy McMichael, Delanie Walker, Rob Housler, Zach Miller (Jaguars)

<p> Running With The Moon, Part I
It took some time to settle on a list of Top 50 running backs (standard leagues):

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (4-year average: 1,445 rushing yards/13.5 TDs)
2. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
3. Ray Rice, Ravens
4. Arian Foster, Texans (still a top-4 pick, hammy injury and all)
5. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
6. Chris Johnson, Titans (his penance for a nasty holdout)
7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
8. Darren McFadden, Raiders
9. Michael Turner, Falcons (mark him down for 1,200 rushing yards)
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
11. Frank Gore, 49ers
12. Peyton Hillis, Browns
13. Matt Forte, Bears
14. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (a major fantasy wild card for risk-taking owners)
15. Steven Jackson, Rams
16. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
17. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (don’t be afraid to embrace his 2011 greatness)
18. Jahvid Best, Lions
19. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
20. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (Earnest Graham comparisons fuel this low ranking)
21. Shonn Greene, Jets
22. Cedric Benson, Bengals
23. Joseph Addai, Colts
24. Fred Jackson, Bills
25. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
26. Tim Hightower, Redskins

Would You Like To Play A Game?
The National Football Post has once again partnered up with the good folks at FanDuel.com to offer weekly fantasy football contests throughout the regular season. Here’s a breakdown of how the FanDuel Game works: Players are given a $60,000 salary cap to assemble a starting lineup comprising 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 kicker and 1 D/ST.

Most points wins. And if you can put up more points than NFP head honcho Joe Fortenbaugh, you’ll win $5 right off the bat. Oh, and for Week 1 … there is NO entry fee! You’ll have a chance to take home a slice of $300 in prizes without having to put anything down. Enter today!

Running With The Moon, Part II
27. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots (double-digit TDs is doable again)
28. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
29. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
30. Pierre Thomas, Saints
31. Ryan Grant, Packers (a make-or-break year in the eyes of the Packers’ brass?)
32. Felix Jones, Cowboys
33. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
34. Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
35. Michael Bush, Raiders
36. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
37. Mark Ingram, Saints (flashed some goal-line brilliance against the Raiders)
38. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
39. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
40. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
41. James Starks, Packers
42. Roy Helu, Redskins (one half of the preseason’s most prolific rushing duo)
43. C.J. Spiller, Bills
44. Jerome Harrison, Lions
45. Ben Tate, Texans
46. Jason Snelling, Falcons
47. Stevan Ridley, Patriots
48. Thomas Jones, Chiefs (rock-solid rusher who doesn’t get his fantasy due)
49. Anthony Dixon, 49ers
50. Ronnie Brown, Eagles

Watch List
Kendall Hunter, 49ers
Javon Ringer, Titans
Cadillac Williams, Rams
Taiwan Jones, Raiders
Joique Bell, Saints
Isaac Redman, Steelers
LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals
Ian Johnson, Lions
Jamie Harper, Titans
Chris Ivory, Saints
Delonte Carter, Colts
Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons

Tiers Of A Clown: Kickers
Tier 1 (29 field goals)
Sebastian Janikowski, Neil Rackers, Nate Kaeding, Stephen Gostkowski, Mason Crosby

Tier 2 (27 field goals)
Rob Bironas, David Buehler, Josh Brown, Robbie Gould, Matt Bryant, David Akers, Alex Henery

Tier 3 (25 field goals)
Graham Gano, Ryan Succop, Rian Lindell, Josh Scobee, Jason Hanson, Nick Folk, Garrett Hartley, Lawrence Tynes, Matt Prater, Dan Carpenter, Adam Vinatieri, Ryan Longwell

Tier 4 (22 field goals)
Jay Feely, Phil Dawson, Olindo Mare, Connor Barth, Billy Cundiff, Jeff Reed, Mike Nugent, Shaun Suisham

The Real Thing
Here are my squads from the first two ‘Philanthropist’ drafts — both 16-team leagues. For Draft #1, I was in an experimental mood and wanted to grab as many top 50 running backs as possible — setting the table for sneaky-good trades around Week 5. Of course, by doing this, I’m putting a great deal of pressure on my thin corps of wideouts to carry the freight. This is a classic boom-or-bust draft … with the potential of failing miserably:

Round 1 — RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
Round 2 — RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (passed on V-Jax/Knowshon Moreno)
Round 3 — RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Round 4 — WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (passed on Mario Manningham/Dallas Clark)
Round 5 — WR Sidney Rice, Seahawks
Round 6 — RB Rashad Jennings, Jaguars (passed on Stafford/Josh Freeman)
Round 7 — QB Eli Manning, Giants
Round 8 — RB Roy Helu, Redskins
Round 9 — RB Ben Tate, Texans (passed on Stevan Ridley/Mark Sanchez)
Round 10 — TE Zach Miller, Seahawks
Round 11 — QB Kyle Orton, Broncos
Round 12 — WR Donnie Avery, Rams
Round 13 — TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
Round 14 — D/ST St. Louis Rams
Round 15 — PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings
Round 16 — WR Brandon Tate, Patriots

For Draft #2, I had the clear objective of taking the best player available at every turn, regardless of position. The lone exception came in Round 6, where I splurged for Matthew Stafford, knowing he’d never make it to Round 7:

Round 1 — RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
Round 2 — WR Calvin Johnson, Lions (an absolute steal at No. 20)
Round 3 — WR Marques Colston, Saints
Round 4 — WR Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (highway robbery with the 52nd pick)
Round 5 — RB Michael Bush, Raiders (wanted the D-Mac handcuff)
Round 6 — QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
Round 7 — RB Rashad Jennings, Jaguars (passed on Jimmy Graham/Steve Smith)
Round 8 — RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Round 9 — TE Zach Miller, Seahawks
Round 10 — WR Jerome Simpson, Bengals
Round 11 — WR Donnie Avery, Rams
Round 12 — RB Donald Brown, Colts
Round 13 — QB Chad Henne, Dolphins
Round 14 — PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
Round 15 — D/ST St. Louis Rams
Round 16 — TE Heath Miller, Steelers

Into The Great Wide Open
Here are the revised rankings for my Top 51 wideouts in standard-scoring leagues:

1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Calvin Johnson, Lions
3. Roddy White, Falcons
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
5. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
6. Miles Austin, Cowboys
7. Mike Wallace, Steelers
8. Greg Jennings, Packers
9. Reggie Wayne, Colts
10. Marques Colston, Saints
11. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
12. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
13. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
14. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
15. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
16. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
17. Percy Harvin, Vikings
18. Sidney Rice, Seahawks
19. Kenny Britt, Titans
20. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
21. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
22. Santonio Holmes, Jets
23. Pierre Garcon, Colts
24. Mario Manningham, Giants
25. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
25a. Santana Moss, Redskins

Pet Peeves ‘R’ Us
I’m happy to take questions and respond to hate-filled messages on Twitter; but in return for the advice, I must ask one favor: Please refrain from including NFL players’ Twitter handles when crafting a reply to one of my predictions — positive or negative. Take Ray Rice, for example: I sincerely doubt that Mr. Rice cares about some yahoo in Atlanta guaranteeing 2,000 total yards this season; on the flip side, I doubt Tony Romo has any interest in my breakdown of why Matt Schaub might post slightly better fantasy numbers by season’s end. Seriously, what’s your angle, Twitter dude? Are you trying to curry Rice or Romo’s favor by serving as their social-media watchdogs? It’s not like this tattle-tale correspondence will be the first brick in a budding relationship between NFL star and Joe Six-Pack.

This time last year, some random Twitter honk had the gall to run to Chris Johnson after I said on national radio that Johnson would not rush for 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons. His Tweet: “Yo Chris, this guy doesn’t think you can do it. What an a***ole!” To which I retorted, “So, I’m the bad guy for saying that Johnson will ONLY rush for 1,600 yards? You know double 2Ks has never been done before, right?” For the record, Johnson rushed for 1,364 yards on 316 carries in 2010. Hmmmm.

Into The Great Wide Open, Part II
26. Wes Welker, Patriots
27. A.J. Green, Bengals
28. Steve Johnson, Bills
29. Antonio Brown, Steelers
30. Chad Ochocinco, Patriots
31. Steve Smith, Panthers
32. Mike Thomas, Jaguars
33. Lee Evans, Ravens
34. Julio Jones, Falcons
35. Lance Moore, Saints
36. Braylon Edwards, 49ers
37. Austin Collie, Colts
38. Malcom Floyd, Chargers
39. Mike Williams, Seahawks
40. Hines Ward, Steelers
41. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
42. Robert Meachem, Saints
43. Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns
44. Jerome Simpson, Bengals
45. Steve Breaston, Chiefs
46. James Jones, Packers
47. Mike Sims-Walker, Rams
48. Davone Bess, Dolphins
49. Earl Bennett, Bears
50. Nate Burleson, Lions

Watch List
Danny Amendola, Rams
Harry Douglas, Falcons
Donnie Avery, Rams
Arrelious Benn, Buccaneers
Donald Driver, Packers
Taylor Price, Patriots
Eric Decker, Broncos
Marcus Easley, Bills
Brandon Gibson, Rams
Jason Hill, Jaguars
Donald Jones, Bills
Terrence Austin, Redskins
Denarius Moore, Raiders

R.I.P. Killer Kowalski
Today’s column is dedicated to the memory of Tom “Killer” Kowalski, the longtime Detroit Lions beat reporter/columnist for MLive.com and Booth Newspapers, who died Monday at the age of 51. Kowalski, who debuted on the Lions beat in 1980 (the first full season I can recall as a youth), was a larger-than-life institution in Detroit, known for his candor and humor in print and gentle nature when confronting/motivating cub reporters in the late 1990s and early 2000s, like myself. He was also a charismatic hero on the radio airwaves of WDFN, bringing life to the “Sean, Terp and Killer” show and reviving the credibility of a once-dormant sports station.

On a personal note, Killer was also a closet fantasy football nerd; and on Sunday, I awoke to a note from Killer that threatened my existence via bodily harm — if my soothsaying advice didn’t bring him a fantasy championship. If only I could’ve made him a winner! (cue deep, sad sigh) There will never be another media giant like Tom Kowalski in Detroit. Godspeed, Killer!

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons’ Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

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A Colt Influence

The Weekend That Was
Given the deadline constraints of Friday's column, I didn't have a chance to tackle the other 14 games from preseason Week 2 -- until now. Here are some mini-Revelations from the action ... minus any definitive judgments about Plaxico Burress's much-ballyhooed return from a two-year absence

The Weekend That Was
Given the deadline constraints of Friday’s column, I didn’t have a chance to tackle the other 14 games from preseason Week 2 — until now. Here are some mini-Revelations from the action … minus any definitive judgments about Plaxico Burress‘s much-ballyhooed return from a two-year absence — diving TD catch and all.

1. Peyton Manning has slumped in the QB rankings. No one doubts Peyton’s capacity for 300 yards and/or three TDs once the November and December games kick in. But given the slow-healing nature of nerves in the neck and his zero preseason reps (practices or games), it’s foolish to assume that Peyton will maintain an elite level of play in the first month; and when quantifying a QB’s seasonal worth in August, that’s one-quarter of his overall grade. As a collateral effect, Colts receivers Reggie Wayne (111 catches/1,355 yards/6 TDs last year), Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie should be dropped a notch or two during Manning’s period of uncertainty — although Dallas Clark‘s value remains the same (No. 4 tight end). The wideouts’ fantasy greatness might not be fully realized if Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky are getting full-time reps in Indy’s opener against Houston.

Colt McCoyICONFormer Texas standout Colt McCoy is having an impressive preseason.

2. Colt McCoy deserves a modicum of draft-day respect. Think of it as a chicken-or-egg kind of debate. Is McCoy (4 TDs in two preseason games) showing signs of life with the Browns in Year 2 because it’s his nature to make big improvements off a so-so rookie season (7 TDs, 9 INTs)? Or, is McCoy taking a major step forward because head coach Pat Shurmur is there to guide him through this process? Not to denigrate the Browns’ offensive staff last season, but McCoy couldn’t have asked for a better new leader in Shurmur, Sam Bradford‘s QB guru with the Rams last year. On Friday night against Detroit, McCoy had the Browns briskly in and out of the huddle and exhibited a previously unseen flair for making downfield throws. But the ultimate proof’s in the pudding … or the regular season, where Cleveland has an interesting mix of daunting defenses (Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice) and potential pushovers (Oakland, Miami, Houston, Cincinnati, Seattle, Arizona). With 12-team leagues, McCoy has earned a promotion to preferred-backup status.

3. Tim Hightower has risen to a Round 8/9 value in standard-scoring drafts. This recent change of heart has less to do with Hightower’s homecoming to the D.C. area … and more to do with coach Mike Shanahan‘s impressive track record of converting ho-hum running backs into 1,200-yard rushers. Plus, it helps that Hightower (23 career TDs in three seasons) is a prototypical one-cut back and will likely remain an annual threat for 50-plus catches, no matter the offense. On the flip side, Hightower (129 total yards, 1 TD in the preseason) must compete for touches with rookie Roy Helu and veteran Ryan Torain (a Shanahan favorite), while likely navigating the choppy waters from the most desultory quarterback controversy since Jeff Komlo vs. Jerry Golsteyn — in the form of John Beck vs. Rex Grossman. Nevertheless, Hightower is an ideal flex consideration in 12-team leagues.

4. Carolina’s Steve Smith will struggle in fantasyland, regardless of who wins the QB battle. I defy anyone to derive something positive from the Panthers’ ugly loss to the Dolphins on Friday, short of applauding how QBs Cam Newton/Jimmy Clausen and RBs DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart/Mike Goodson/Tyrell Sutton evaded injury. With god as my witness, late in the game, I wondered aloud if Carolina (199 net yards, 22 minutes of possession) had even been in Miami territory all night, before Fins TV announcer Dick Stockton confirmed the grave truth: Not one trip past the 50-yard line for the first three quarters. If I was a Carolina fan, I’d be encouraged about the club’s long-term rebuilding project on offense, spearheaded by the charismatic and superbly athletic Newton; but the seeds of development won’t be sown any quicker with a 32-year-old receiver drawing half-hearted double teams from opponents. At best, Smith is a max candidate for 55 catches, 700 yards and 4 TDs.

Ryan MathewsICONWill Mathews rebound from last year’s disappointing rookie season?

5. Ryan Mathews has returned to the good graces of most fantasy owners. Granted, it’s just one preseason run — and doesn’t quite erase the stench of failing a conditioning test during training camp, Haynesworth-style — but Mathews showed the grace and explosion of a third-round fantasy pick in that 15-yard touchdown against Dallas. By all accounts, Mathews floundered as an overhyped rookie (823 total yards, 7 TDs), but his 120-yard, three-TD effort in Week 17 may have been the launching point for sustained success — not unlike Jamaal Charles‘s 262-yard, two-TD explosion in Week 17 of the 2009 season … setting up his amazing campaign last year (1,935 total yards/8 TDs). Verdict: Don’t let Mathews slide after the 40th pick.

6. Terrelle Pryor is now property of the Raiders. Even if Pryor (the Raiders’ 3rd-round pick in Monday’s supplemental draft) immediately abandons his quarterback dreams to play wide receiver or tight end, he’s still not fantasy roster-worthy in Year 1. And for every owner who believes that Pryor’s obvious athletic gifts will lead to a smooth transition at a new position — and I’m talking consistent success here — then you probably don’t have much respect for every other tight end who’s spent a lifetime trying to be relevant in the NFL.

Passing Fancy
Here’s a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:

1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Tom Brady, Patriots (moved up to No. 2 around 8:45 p.m. EST on Thursday)
3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
4. Michael Vick, Eagles (let’s pretend the 3-INT flameout vs. Pittsburgh didn’t happen)
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
6. Matt Schaub, Texans
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
9. Matt Ryan, Falcons (No. 3 wideout Harry Douglas has recaptured his lethal speed)<br /> 10. Peyton Manning, Colts (the breaks of the game)
11. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
12. Eli Manning, Giants
13. Joe Flacco, Ravens (history tells us that 27 TDs is eminently doable)
14. Matthew Stafford, Lions (has the perfect cannon for 20-yard seam routes)
15. Jay Cutler, Bears
16. Sam Bradford, Rams
17. Mark Sanchez, Jets
18. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (one of the most indispensable NFL talents … given K.C.’s shaky backup QBs)
19. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
20. Kyle Orton, Broncos (still flourishing without former puppet master Josh McDaniels)
21. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
22. David Garrard, Jaguars
23. Alex Smith, 49ers
24. Colt McCoy, Browns
25. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
26. Chad Henne, Dolphins
27. Donovan McNabb, Vikings
28. Jason Campbell, Raiders
29. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (curiously entrenched as Seattle’s starter)
30. Cam Newton, Panthers
31. Andy Dalton, Bengals
32. John Beck, Redskins (a longtime favorite of ‘Skins O-coordinator Kyle Shanahan)

Would You Like To Play A Game?
The National Football Post has once again partnered up with the good folks at FanDuel.com to offer weekly fantasy football contests throughout the regular season. Here’s a breakdown of how the FanDuel Game works: Players are given a $60,000 salary cap to assemble a starting lineup comprising 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 kicker and 1 D/ST.

Most points wins. And if you can put up more points than NFP head honcho Joe Fortenbaugh, you

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Delayed Patriot Act

Revelations, Book I
There were only two preseason games on the Thursday docket, but there's plenty of Revelations material here -- without the obligation to detail Michael Vick backtracking from a GQ interview or Eli Manning's overblown appraisal of his own place in the NFL universe.

1.

Revelations, Book I
There were only two preseason games on the Thursday docket, but there’s plenty of Revelations material here — without the obligation to detail Michael Vick backtracking from a GQ interview or Eli Manning‘s overblown appraisal of his own place in the NFL universe.

1. Tom Brady has no patience for preseason drudgery. Last year in this column, I marveled at how Brady and the Patriots marched into Atlanta (no William Tecumseh Sherman pun intended) on a mundane August night and drubbed the Falcons in the most efficient way possible; and that performance, in turn, set the tone for Brady’s 3,900-yard, 36-TD campaign. Well, after watching Brady (118 yards, 2 TDs) dissect the Tampa Bay defense with relative ease, it finally dawned on me: In five years of ranking the QBs, I have never listed Brady higher than No. 3, due to the incredible depth at that position and the Patriots’ lack of superstar receivers. Well, for once, I’m going to be ahead of the curve, meaning that Brady has usurped Aaron Rodgers at No. 2 … even though Rodgers (32 TDs last year) did nothing to deserve the demotion. (As stated on Tuesday, we’re really splitting hairs here.)

2. Stevan Ridley has secured his pre-draft standing as a top-40 running back. In two preseason games, Ridley has cracked the 100-total-yard barrier twice and scored three total TDs — the kind of production that commands respect on draft day, even if RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2 TDs vs. Tampa Bay) is a threat for double-digit TDs and the Patriots use a shotgun formation on 60 percent of their offensive plays. From my seat in the peanut gallery, the explosive Ridley is a candidate for 32 catches, 980 total yards and six TDs, with the upside to eclipse Ryan Williams, Daniel Thomas and Mark Ingram as the best rookie fantasy back by season’s end.

LeGarrette BlountICONHow high would you be willing to draft LeGarrette Blount?

3. LeGarrette Blount is not a RB1 or RB2 in 10- or 12-team leagues. This revelation has nothing to do with Blount’s 4-carry, 1-yard performance against the Pats. It merely endorses my reluctance for ranking Blount (1,021 total yards, 6 TDs last year) among the top-15 backs — despite having zero competition in Tampa Bay. Truth be told, I envision Blount (who was axed by the Titans last year before Week 1) as a 2.0 version of former one-year-wonder Earnest Graham (who’s still on the Bucs’ active roster). This isn’t to say Blount won’t rush for 66 yards in 16 straight games this season (16 x 66 = 1,000 yards), or score six TDs again; but he should never be rubber-stamped as a starter every Sunday. He’s a flex consideration.

4. Hines Ward may be more valuable than DeSean Jackson in PPR leagues. On the surface, that statement reeks of blasphemy, since Jackson is one of the NFL’s five most electric talents when running with the ball … and Ward (1 TD vs. Philly) recently turned 35. But unless Jackson (3-year average: 57 catches/1,045 yards/6 TDs) can pull down at least 70 receptions this year — while balancing kick-returning duties — I like Ward’s chances of racking up (slightly) more catches and touchdowns. Especially if Ben Roethlisberger attempts 470-510 passes in a 16-game slate.

5. Out-of-the-box fantasy owners should consider handcuffing Aaron Hernandez to Rob Gronkowski on draft day. Hernandez (3 catches, 42 yards, 1 TD vs. Tampa Bay) and Gronkowski (10 TDs last year) are the NFL equivalent to identical twins in grade school. No one can tell ’em apart … and no one can predict — with great confidence — how they’ll fare on any given Sunday. Might as well be safe and grab ’em both — the Patriots’ Week 7 bye be damned!

6. Put Chad Ochocinco down for 75 catches and 1,200 yards. Gone are the days when Ochocinco was a top-10 receiver and a major cog in 7-player megatrades involving Peyton Manning and Brian Westbrook (2005). But now that he’s aligned with Brady, Bill Belichick and the expertly focused Patriots, he’s a comfortable lock for his baseline numbers when completing a 16-game season — 72 catches, 1,166 yards, 5 TDs.

7. Michael Vick did the fantasy world a pre-draft favor on Thursday night. Sure, Vick’s three-interception flameout against the Steelers will likely have zero impact on the upcoming season. But when constructing cheat sheets at quarterback, it seems a little silly that some prospective owners might have Vick ranked higher than — and slotted 1-2 rounds above — Tom Brady in standard-scoring drafts, huh?

The Hands That Built America
I purposely waited until Preseason Week 2 to debut my top 50 list of wide receivers in standard-scoring leagues — to prevent readers from carrying outdated cheat sheets to their respective drafts. As a disclaimer, these rankings are subject to change over the next two weeks:

1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Calvin Johnson, Lions (the superstitious NFL doesn’t recognize his 13th TD from last year)
3. Roddy White, Falcons
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (still a fantasy prince … thanks to the Kevin Kolb trade)
5. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
6. Miles Austin, Cowboys (his fantasy dominance runs in direct correlation to Tony Romo‘s health)
7. Mike Wallace, Steelers
8. Greg Jennings, Packers
9. Reggie Wayne, Colts
10. Marques Colston, Saints
11. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (this year marks his greatest challenge at 100 catches)
13. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
14. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
15. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
15a. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
16. Percy Harvin, Vikings
17. Sidney Rice, Seahawks
18. Kenny Britt, Titans
19. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos (last year’s garbage-time king will have a slight market correction in 2011)
20. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
21. Santonio Holmes, Jets
22. Pierre Garcon, Colts (a reasonable threat for eight TDs … if Peyton‘s healthy)
23. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (still has time to reclaim his top-20 slot)
24. Mario Manningham, Giants
25. Santana Moss, Redskins

March Of Progress
On Wednesday, I held a Twitter-based contest, where Philanthropist-only readers could join a 16-team fantasy league IF they correctly identified a code/password on Twitter … between 7-8 p.m. (no heads-up about specific time). Well, with zero promotion outside of this column and no Twitter references to the contest before it started … we received 67 unique entries in the first 18 seconds after releasing the codeword and 94 within 60 seconds! How cool is that?

So, instead of having only one “Fantasy Philanthropist & Friends” league to occasionally write about here … there are now four ‘Philanthropist’ leagues of 16 teams. Thanks to everyone who played along on Twitter!

The Hands That Built America, Part II
… And here’s the bottom half of the Top 50 wide receivers:

26. Wes Welker, Patriots (perpetually undervalued by yours truly in standard leagues)
27. A.J. Green, Bengals
28. Steve Johnson, Bills
29. Chad Ochocinco, Patriots
30. Steve Smith, Panthers
31. Mike Thomas, Jaguars
32. Lee Evans, Ravens (perpetually overvalued by yours truly)
33. Mike Williams, Seahawks
34. Braylon Edwards, 49ers
35. Lance Moore, Saints
36. Austin Collie, Colts (the mediocre ranking is concussion-based … not stat-justified)
37. Malcom Floyd, Chargers
38. Julio Jones, Falcons (stealthily moving up the fantasy boards)
39. Hines Ward, Steelers
40. Michael Crabtree, 49ers (I can only say three words in Italian: receiva non grata)
41. Robert Meachem, Saints
42. Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns (sleeper pick of the just?)
43. Jerome Simpson, Bengals
44. Steve Breaston, Chiefs
45. James Jones, Packers
46. Mike Sims-Walker, Rams
47. Davone Bess, Dolphins
48. Roy Williams, Bears
49. Donnie Avery, Rams
50. Arrelious Benn, Buccaneers

Tiers Of A Clown: Tight Ends
Tier 1 (1,000 total yards and/or 8 TDs)
Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley

Kellen WinslowICONKellen Winslow is currently a Tier 2 tight end.

Tier 2 (800 total yards and/or 6 TDs)
Kellen Winslow, Jr., Owen Daniels, Tony Gonzalez, Brandon Pettigrew, Rob Gronkowski, Marcedes Lewis, Jimmy Graham, Dustin Keller, Jermaine Gresham, Chris Cooley, Greg Olsen, Zach Miller (Seahawks)

>

Tier 3 (675 total yards and/or 5 TDs)
Benjamin Watson, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Moeaki, Visanthe Shiancoe, Brent Celek, Todd Heap, Heath Miller

Tier 4 (500 total yards and/or 4 TDs)
Lance Kendricks, Ed Dickson, Kevin Boss, Jared Cook, Dennis Pitta, Travis Beckum, Jeremy Shockey, Tony Scheffler, Fred Davis, Jacob Tamme, Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, Shawn Nelson

Tier 5 (375 total yards and/or 3 TDs)
Kyle Rudolph, Kellen Davis, Joel Dreessen, Daniel Fells, Bo Scaife, Evan Moore, John Carlson, Andrew Quarless, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Graham, Luke Stocker, Randy McMichael, Delanie Walker, Rob Housler, Zach Miller (Jaguars)

Good News/Bad News Propositions
Good News: Chris Johnson‘s prolonged holdout hasn’t yet diminished his preseason ranking.
Bad News: A few missed practices and film sessions with coaches cannot change the fact Johnson (5,606 total yards/38 TDs in three seasons) remains the epicenter of the Titans offense and torch-bearer to the club’s AFC South title hopes. But if Johnson doesn’t end his contract-based absence by next Wednesday — presumably enough time to suit up for the third preseason game against Chicago — I’ll have no choice but to downgrade him one or two spots in the RB rankings. And I’m probably not alone here. The longer Johnson sits on his couch waiting for his agent’s phone to ring … the greater risk of pulling a hamstring or tweaking a quadricep in the first 10 days of returning. Yes, preseason games are meaningless, but even highly conditioned athletes still need practice reps … and Johnson (No. 3 behind Adrian Peterson/Arian Foster) is on the verge of losing that luxury.

Terrelle PryorDon’t expect any legitimate fantasy production from Terrelle Pryor this season.

Good News: Terrelle Pryor will probably be in the NFL this season.
Bad News: Unless you’re in a league that assigns points to backup QBs and their proficiency as regular-season scout-teamers, Pryor will have zero impact in 2011 — real world and fantasy. He’s a big name (thanks to ESPN), a great athlete and an interesting option near the goal line, but he’s not worth rostering in leagues that go 16, 18 or 20 players deep.

Good News: Colt McCoy is slowly moving up the preseason QB charts.
Bad News: If Browns wideout Mohammed Massaquoi is indeed ready to take a quantum leap in production this season (as some well-meaning fantasy gurus claim), then by extension, McCoy (1,576 yards passing/6 TDs last year) should encounter a noticeable bump in numbers, as well — especially if tight end Ben Watson (68 catches/763 yards last year) and RB Peyton Hillis are operating at full capacity. But it’s still too early to make any definitive judgments on McCoy — although it helps to have new head coach Pat Shurmur and omnipresent czar Mike Holmgren at his side. For those who aren’t familiar with Shurmur, he called 55 pass plays for the Rams in Week 1 last season — Sam Bradford‘s NFL debut.

Practice Makes Perfect
Fantasy owners should soon begin the process of mock drafting. Here are some of the best sites for round-the-clock mocking.

**Mock Draft Central

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The Next Big Thing

Prose And Cons
For obvious reasons, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles have garnered the lion's share of fantasy attention this summer, as owners rack their brains to rank the Fab Four in Points Per Reception and standard-scoring leagues. But for me, the real intrigue with lies with the

Prose And Cons
For obvious reasons, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles have garnered the lion’s share of fantasy attention this summer, as owners rack their brains to rank the Fab Four in Points Per Reception and standard-scoring leagues. But for me, the real intrigue with lies with the next wave of superstar backs — Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, LeSean McCoy, Michael Turner, Frank Gore — any of whom could rocket to the top of the charts by season’s end and lead you to a fantasy championship … or crumple under the weight of great expectations. To kick off today’s Philanthropist, let’s focus on The Somewhat Magnificent Seven … in their quest to be the No. 5 consensus tailback.

(in alphabetical order)
**Frank Gore should be the No. 5 back because … he’s still the 49ers’ go-to option between the 20s, on 3rd-and-long and at the goal line.
**Gore should be the No. 11 back because … he has scored double-digit TDs just once in his six-year career (2009).

Maurice Jones-DrewMJD says his knee is feeling fine.

**Maurice Jones-Drew should be the No. 5 back because … he’s an annual lock for 1,500 total yards/13 TDs when healthy.
**MJD should be the No. 11 back because … stud-in-waiting Rashad Jennings is ready for 150-plus touches.

**Rashard Mendenhall should be the No. 5 back because … 1,700 total yards/15 TDs is within reach for Year 4.
**Mendenhall should be the No. 11 back because … the pass-friendly Steelers should have Big Ben for all 16 games.

**LeSean McCoy should be the No. 5 back because … he’s a reasonable play for 1,850 total yards and 8-10 TDs in Philly’s dynamic offense.
**McCoy should be the No. 11 back because … he’ll have to share the wealth with Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, etc.

**Darren McFadden should be the No. 5 back because … he’s Oakland’s only home-run threat on every snap — rushing or receiving.
**D-Mac should be the No. 11 back because … he’s seldom a lock to play 16 games in a given season.

**Ray Rice should be the No. 5 back because … he’s MY lock for 2,000 total yards (and maybe double-digit TDs).
**Rice should be the No. 11 back becauseRicky Williams has the capacity to vulture 4-6 short-range TDs from Rice.

**Michael Turner should be the No. 5 back because … he has maybe 2-3 more 1,300-yard rushing campaigns in that bulldozer-esque body.
**Turner should be the No. 11 back because … he’s sneaking up on 30 (the Logan’s Run expiration age for star backs) … and Jason Snelling is primed for a breakout.

Media Circus
In case you’re wondering … here are four prominent preseason projections involving The Somewhat Magnificent Seven:

YahooSports.com
1. Rice: 1,591 total yards/11 TDs
2. Mendenhall: 1,429 total yards/13 TDs
3. Jones-Drew: 1,593 total yards/9 TDs
4. Turner: 1,403 total yards/12 TDs
5. McFadden: 1,512 total yards/10 TDs
6. Gore: 1,328 total yards/8 TDs
7. McCoy: 1,191 total yards/7 TDs

ESPN.com
1. Rice: 1,887 total yards/9 TDs
2. McCoy: 1,749 total yards/10 TDs
3. Jones-Drew: 1,692 total yards/12 TDs
4. Mendenhall: 1,507 total yards/13 TDs
5. Gore: 1,510 total yards/10 TDs
6. Turner: 1,359 total yards/12 TDs
7. McFadden: 1,658 total yards/7 TDs

Rotowire magazine
1. McCoy: 1,777 total yards/12 TDs
2. Rice: 1,844 total yards/8 TDs
3. Turner: 1,481 total yards/14 TDs
4. Mendenhall: 1,599 total yards/12 TDs
5. Gore: 1,774 total yards/9 TDs
6. Jones-Drew: 1,435 total yards/13 TDs
7. McFadden: 1,695 total yards/10 TDs

CBSSports.com
1. Rice: 1,770 total yards/9 TDs
2. McFadden: 1,628 total yards/10 TDs
3. Jones-Drew: 1,605 total yards/10 TDs
4. Turner: 1,405 total yards/13 TDs
5. Mendenhall: 1,456 total yards/11 TDs
6. McCoy: 1,519 total yards/9 TDs
7. Gore: 1,486 total yards/9 TDs

Running With The Moon, Part I
I purposely waited until Preseason Week 2 to debut my top 50 list of running backs in standard-scoring leagues — to prevent readers from carrying an outdated cheat sheet to their respective drafts. As a disclaimer, these rankings are subject to change over the next two weeks:

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (4-year average: 1,445 rushing yards/13.5 TDs)
2. Arian Foster, Texans
3. Chris Johnson, Titans (his holdout-proof ranking’s safe for another week or so)
4. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
5. Ray Rice, Ravens
6. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
8. Darren McFadden, Raiders
9. Michael Turner, Falcons
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
11. Frank Gore, 49ers
12. Peyton Hillis, Browns (not buying the ‘bust’ prediction in fantasy mags)
13. Matt Forte, Bears (the quietest lock for 1,800 yards in fantasyland)
14. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
14a. Steven Jackson, Rams
15. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers (had a nice burst in the preseason opener)
16. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
17. Jahvid Best, Lions (not a goal-line back, even with Mikel Leshoure‘s injury)
18. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
19. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
20. Shonn Greene, Jets
21. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
22. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (there’s no reason he can’t rush for 1,200 yards)
23. Fred Jackson, Bills
24. Cedric Benson, Bengals
25. Joseph Addai, Colts

Who Wants To Join The Twitter-Only League?
I’ve been inundated with requests from loyal Philanthropist readers to join their open fantasy leagues — which I greatly appreciate. However, given my busy schedule of writing columns, hosting Facebook chats, recording podcasts for NationalFootballPost.com and already being committed to eight high-pressure fantasy leagues, there’s little time for more competition with the masses. However, I will be hosting a 16-team, standard-scoring, Twitter-invite-only league again this year … with the draft coming at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Mark it down!

Here’s how you can score a league invite: Sometime between 7-8 p.m. EST tonight (Aug. 17), I’ll float the single code word “Fantasy” on Twitter … and the first 15 respondents to specifically reply “Freakout” (after my posting) will earn automatic entry into the 16-team league. Now, if there is absolutely no way you can make the Aug. 24 draft date/time — which is set in stone — please don’t waste anyone’s time by trying to gain entry. Why so secretive about the process, you ask? I would like the 15 owners to be regular Philanthropist readers, and this method effectively separates those who enjoy/hate the column … from those who are blindly joining a random league.

Running With The Moon, Part II
… And here’s the bottom half of the Top 50 tailbacks:

26. Pierre Thomas, Saints
27. Tim Hightower, Redskins (the preseason’s biggest mover and shaker)
28. Ryan Grant, Packers
29. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
, Patriots (the rookies will surely cut into his 13 TDs)
31. Felix Jones, Cowboys
32. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
33. Rashad Jennings, Jaguars (ready for his fantasy closeup … will that matter?)
34. Michael Bush, Raiders
35. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
36. Ryan Williams, Cardinals (my pick for best rookie back by season’s end)
37. Mark Ingram, Saints
38. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
39. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
40. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
41. C.J. Spiller, Bills
42. Stevan Ridley, Patriots (makes the list thanks to last weekend’s three TDs)
43. Jason Snelling, Falcons (a lock for 105 total yards anytime Turner sits)
44. Ryan Torain, Redskins
45. Thomas Jones, Chiefs
46. James Starks, Packers
47. Anthony Dixon, 49ers (a necessary handcuff to Gore in 17-round drafts)
48. Bernard Scott, Bengals
49. Willis McGahee, Broncos
50. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

Vincent JacksonThe Philanthropist likes Vincent Jackson and the Chargers in Week 1.

Survivor Act Of Self-Preservation
Ever heard of a survivor pool? It’s a simple game where contestants are asked to select one lead-pipe cinch for wins in Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. — with the caveat of only using a particular club once per season (in victory, at least). For example, I have San Diego defeating Minnesota at home in Week 1. By virtue of that, I cannot designate the Chargers to win in Weeks 2-17. The same holds true for Dallas (over Washington) in Week 3; after that game, I can no longer pick the Cowboys to prevail the rest of the way. Any incorrect picks automatically knock a contestant out of the pool; and if anyone should be left standing by Week 17 — an impossible task for me last year — they’re entitled to all or some of the winnings (which can be quite lucrative in some leagues).

My 17 survivor locks:
Week 1 — San Diego over Minnesota
Week 2 — N.Y. Giants over St. Louis
Week 3 — Dallas over Washington
Week 4 — Chicago over Carolina
Week 5 — Pittsburgh over Tennessee
Week 6 — Oakland over Cleveland
Week 7 — Miami over Denver
Week 8 — Baltimore over Arizona
Week 9 — Kansas City over Miami
Week 10 — Philadelphia over Arizona
Week 11 — Green Bay over Tampa Bay
Week 12 — Seattle over Washington
Week 13 — New Orleans over Detroit
Week 14 — N.Y. Jets over Kansas City
Week 15 — St. Louis over Cincinnati
Week 16 — Indianapolis over Houston
Week 17 — New England over Buffalo

Survivor Rules To Live By
1. Above all, target a home team to win that week.
2. When in doubt, exploit bottom-feeder clubs on the road (Redskins, Bills, Bengals, Panthers, etc.).
3. Don’t be afraid to pick the champion Packers to lose on the road — especially when playing indoors.
4. It’s best to avoid primetime games between teams of similar stature.
5. Don’t use the Packers, Ravens or Saints in Week 17 — after they’ve clinched playoff spots.
6. Avoid picking against the Lions early in the season (with Matthew Stafford wreaking havoc).
7. Avoid picking against the schizophrenic Raiders at any point of the season.
8. Only pick home upsets from games involving intra-divisonal opponents.
9. Don’t be afraid to pick against the Giants in the latter half of the season (big run of daunting opponents).
10. Don’t get sucked into revenge games involving Kevin Kolb, Albert Haynesworth, Steve Smith (Eagles) or Donovan McNabb — either in victory or defeat.

D-Mac The Knife
As if today’s column hasn’t offered enough Darren McFadden sightings — remember this mad-dash TD against South Carolina? — here are some mini-Revelations detailing D-Mac’s fantasy potential with the Raiders … you know, the only team since the NFL-AFL merger (1970) to sweep its division games and still miss the playoffs.

What He’ll Like: In a surprise to few, the Raiders went 6-2 last year in games that QB Jason Campbell attempted 26 or fewer passes. For 2011, that same pattern would translate to plenty of touches for McFadden and Michael Bush (8 TDs last season) … and less pressure on Campbell (61-percent career passer) to carry Oakland against the AFC West and NFC North — arguably the NFL’s toughest divsion this season.

Darren McFaddenICONCan McFadden duplicate last season’s numbers?

What He’ll Like, Part II: Very few clubs could lose a top-flight offensive guard like Robert Gallery without missing a beat, but the Raiders’ foundation — on paper — appears to be rock-solid. Stefen Wisniewski, Joseph Barksdale and left tackle Jared Veldheer, the pride of Hillsdale College, are high draft picks and long-term keepers. And guards Roy Schuening and Cooper Carlisle possess a keen flair for road-grating. And then there’s Bruce Campbell, the

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The Air Apparent

Serenity Now
In the last 40 years of NFL scheduling -- dating back to Val Pinchbeck's supreme reign as master scheduler -- no star quarterback has enjoyed a more attractive slate of ideal-weather games than what Drew Brees should encounter in 2011. For Weeks 2-17, Brees will only play games

Serenity Now
In the last 40 years of NFL scheduling — dating back to Val Pinchbeck‘s supreme reign as master scheduler — no star quarterback has enjoyed a more attractive slate of ideal-weather games than what Drew Brees should encounter in 2011. For Weeks 2-17, Brees will only play games in indoor stadiums (New Orleans, Minnesota, Atlanta, St. Louis) or southern climates (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Jacksonville); and the lone outdoors tilt in a northern city comes Week 1 at Green Bay (Sept. 8), where it’ll most likely be 70 degrees and clear skies.

Factor that in with the Saints’ stellar offensive line, veteran fleet of receivers and deep corps of talented running backs, and it’s easy to see why Brees has a realistic shot of eclipsing Dan Marino‘s single-season record for passing yards (5,084 in 1984). Here are some mini-Revelations detailing Brees’ perfect storm of a season:

What He’ll Like: By most accounts, Jimmy Graham (four TDs in Weeks 15-17) appears ready to carry the freight as the Saints’ No. 1 tight end. But even if Jeremy Shockey is no longer Bourbon Street’s favorite son, it’s still too early to assume that Graham will make a Jermichael Finley-like leap up the fantasy charts in Year 2. Yes, Graham may never be covered by the opposing team’s fastest linebacker; and yes, Graham has similar physical gifts of Chargers great Antonio Gates, but modesty prohibits us from prognosticating anything past 49 catches/543 yards/6 TDs. Perhaps his Gates-like jump will come in 2012.

Lance MooreThe return of Lance Moore gives Brees yet another weapon.

What He’ll Like, Part II: I was somewhat suprised to see receiver Lance Moore re-sign with New Orleans during the Great Free Agent Frenzy of 2011. After all, Moore could be a No. 1 receiver in some markets (Carolina comes to mind) … and an Anquan Boldin-esque No. 2 in Arizona — behind Larry Fitzgerald, of course. And yet, Moore’s commitment to Brees and a satisfactory contract were enough to continue his role in the Saints offense: In his last two healthy seasons (2008/2010), Moore has 145 catches and 18 total touchdowns. The Nos. 3-4-5 receivers on the depth chart, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Adrian Arrington, also have immense potential within coach Sean Payton‘s aggressive play-calling. In fact, the 26-year-old Meachem is only 22 months removed from a 7-TD explosion in six games midway through the 2009 season.

What He’ll Love: The Saints had the makeup of a potentially dominant offensive line (Jermon Bushrod, Jon Stinchcomb, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks) even before former All-Pro center Olin Kreutz signed with the club. But with Kreutz in the fold, New Orleans could challenge its own mark for fewest sacks allowed in the Brees era (13 in 2008).

What He’ll Love, Part II: Chris Ivory had 733 total yards and five TDs last year, and yet, he’s no better than the Saints’ No. 4 running back this summer, trailing Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and rookie Mark Ingram. If he wore a uniform for 6-8 other clubs, Ivory might be celebrated as a RB2 in real-world circles and Round 9 pick in fantasy drafts. Instead, he’ll only be a fantasy consideration if Thomas, Sproles or Ingram gets injured. Tough crowd.

What’ll Blow His Mind Every Sunday: In seasons where Marques Colston has started 14 or more games, he’s averaging 81 catches, 1,084 yards and nine TDs. If he should do that for 5-6 more seasons, Colston will easily be in the discussion of Hall of Fame candidates at receiver. Not bad for a 7th-round pick out of Hofstra … who was mistakenly touted as a “tight end” by Yahoo! Fantasy for his rookie year of 2006.

Passing Fancy
Here’s a listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:

1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (splitting hairs at 1 and 2)
3. Tom Brady, Patriots (has never increased his passing TDs in back-to-back seasons)
4. Michael Vick, Eagles
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers (temporarily gets the nod over you-know-who at No. 6)
6. Peyton Manning, Colts
7. Matt Schaub, Texans
8. Tony Romo, Cowboys
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
10. Matt Ryan, Falcons (the new golden boy in ESPN’s revised QB-rating system)
11. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
12. Eli Manning, Giants
13. Joe Flacco, Ravens (his progression curve puts 27 TDs within reach)
14. Matthew Stafford, Lions (hopefully he spent the lockout period learning how to fall correctly)
15. Jay Cutler, Bears
16. Sam Bradford, Rams (a shoo-in for 45-plus pass attempts in at least four games)
17. Mark Sanchez, Jets
18. Matt Cassel, Chiefs
19. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals (a major fantasy wild card during the preseason)
20. Kyle Orton, Broncos
21. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
22. David Garrard, Jaguars
23. Alex Smith, 49ers
24. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
25. Chad Henne, Dolphins
26. Donovan McNabb, Vikings (essentially rebuilding his fantasy rep at Destination #3)
27. Jason Campbell, Raiders
28. Colt McCoy, Browns
29. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks
30. Andy Dalton, Bengals
31. Cam Newton, Panthers (assuming he’ll be the Week 1 starter)
32. Rex Grossman, Redskins

Who Wants To Join The Twitter-Only League?
I’ve been inundated with requests from loyal Philanthropist readers to join their open fantasy leagues — which I greatly appreciate. However, given my busy schedule of writing columns and features, hosting Facebook chats (more on that Tuesday), recording podcasts for NationalFootballPost.com and already being committed to eight high-pressure fantasy leagues, there’s little time for more competition with the masses. However, I will be hosting a 16-team, standard-scoring, Twitter-invite-only league again this year … with the draft coming at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Mark it down!

Here’s how you can score a league invite: Sometime between 7-8 p.m. EST on Aug. 17, I’ll float the single code word “Fantasy” on Twitter … and the first 15 respondents to specifically reply “Freakout” will earn automatic entry into the 16-team league. Now, if there is absolutely no way you can make the Aug. 24 draft date/time — which is set in stone — please don’t waste anyone’s time by trying to gain entry. Why so secretive about the process, you ask? I would like the 15 owners to be regular Philanthropist readers, and this method effectively separates those who enjoy/hate the column … from those who are blindly joining a random league. See ya Wednesday night!

Air Force Rules
Here’s an interesting listing from Fantasy Football Today: The 22 healthy locks to pass for at least 3,200 yards:

Drew Brees— 4,475 yards
Peyton Manning — 4,465 yards
Philip Rivers — 4,436 yards
Matt Schaub — 4,288 yards
Aaron Rodgers — 4,287 yards
Tom Brady — 4,268
Tony Romo — 4,260
Eli Manning — 3,913
Joe Flacco — 3,777
Sam Bradford — 3,725
Michael Vick — 3,652
Jay Cutler — 3,567
Matt Ryan — 3,565
Ben Roethlisberger — 3,562
Matt Cassel — 3,475
Ryan Fitzpatrick — 3,459
Matthew Stafford — 3,452
Chad Henne — 3,422
Mark Sanchez — 3,405
Josh Freeman — 3,329
Kyle Orton — 3,250
Kevin Kolb — 3,245

Thursday Revelations
1. There’ll be no lockout-related rust from Philip Rivers. The quarterback/surgeon needed only six passes (and five completions) to dissect the Seahawks defense and let the fantasy world know that Drew Brees isn’t the only QB who might flirt with 5,000 yards passing this season. Rivers’ picture-perfect bomb to Vincent Jackson (2 catches, 54 yards) and sneaky-good checkdown TD pass to Mike Tolbert were the two standout plays from a relatively brief cameo under center. But in a preseason opener, that’s all it takes. Speaking of Tolbert, he is noticeably bulkier than starting RB Ryan Mathews (14 total yards), but demonstrated more quickness and escapability against Seattle. Should we get used to that occurrence in the regular season?

Philip RiversPhilip Rivers looked sharp in his first preseason action.

2. Danny Woodhead is a long shot to replicate last year’s numbers. In real-world football, every successful team needs a go-getter like Woodhead to do all the little things flawlessly. But from a fantasy perspective, Woodhead (926 total yards, 6 TDs in 2010) will surely have trouble vulturing carries from BenJarvus Green-Ellis (13 TDs last year) and rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley — with the latter racking up 111 total yards and three TDs against the Jaguars. Whether Ridley, the 15th running back taken in April’s draft, can build upon his Thursday explosion remains to be seen; but there’s a reason why the Pats devoted two of their eight picks from Rounds 1-4 to running backs: It was time for an upgrade.

3. It doesn’t matter which Seahawks quarterback wins the preseason battle. Empirically speaking, Charlie Whitehurst (113 yards passing) had a stronger game against the Chargers than starter-to-be Tarvaris Jackson (13 yards). But amid this lockout-ravaged summer, it would’ve been a shock if Jackson (who’s only been with Seattle for 16 days) had outplayed the incumbent Whitehurst in the preseason opener; and it’d be a greater surprise if either Jackson or Whitehurst thoroughly dominated this competition in the Seahawks’ remaining three exhibitions. Bottom line: Seattle may have a promising offensive line (with Russell Okung) and a slew of big names at the skill positions (Sidney Rice/Mike Williams/Zach Miller/Marshawn Lynch/Golden Tate), but neither QB will likely be consistent enough to garner coach Pete Carroll‘s trust for the entire 16-game slate.

4. Knowshon Moreno may be the luckiest son of a gun in fantasyland. A few weeks ago, there was constant chatter of DeAngelo Williams or Ahmad Bradshaw coming to Denver and booting Moreno (31 yards vs. Dallas) from atop the Broncos’ depth chart. Fast forward to the present, as Moreno must only worry about sharing goal-line carries with Willis McGahee while charting an otherwise unobstructed course to fantasy goodness. Within this new reality, Moreno is a solid Round 3 or 4 pick.

4a. Tim Tebow is the unluckiest pied piper in fantasyland. In the last 30 years, I cannot recall one first-round QB who replaced the healthy veteran starter for multiple games in his rookie season … only to lag behind the same veteran signal-caller the following training camp. And yet, that’s where we stand with Tebow (106 total yards vs. Dallas), who is inexplicably trailing Kyle Orton (37 yards passing) on the Denver depth chart. Look, no one’s disputing that Orton is a more advanced pure passer than Tebow right now (although Thursday’s bomb was a beauty); but given the Broncos’ extensive rebuilding, Tebow’s decent rookie campaign (11 TDs/3 INTs) and the new coaching regime in the Mile High City (John Fox), the Broncos literally having nothing to lose by trading Orton while his value’s high … and rolling the dice on Tebow for the next 1-2 seasons. After all, he is the people’s champion.

5. The Ravens desperately need a viable No. 2 receiver to fulfill my Super Bowl prophecy. I still love Anquan Boldin’s game, even at the age of 30; and I’m already on record about Ray Rice amassing 2,000 total yards (and maybe 10 TDs) in his newly expanded role. But there’s simply no way Baltimore can emerge as the beast of the AFC with David Reed (who?), Marcus Smith and/or Justin Harper logging significant time at the WR2 slot. Short of adopting a full-time look of two tight ends — Dennis Pitta (4 catches/47 yards vs. Philly) and Ed Dickson — the Ravens need to get creative and find an outside weapon or two for QB Joe Flacco (60 yards passing). Perhaps Lee Evans via trade … or Terrell Owens via reality-TV show pitch.

Maurice Jones-DrewICONHow will MJD perform in Jacksonville this season without Mike Sims-Walker?

6. Jacksonville may be the new Bermuda Triangle for wide receivers. I doubt that many non-fantasy NFL fans can name one Jaguars receiver, let alone recall their depth chart of castoffs, free agent door prizes and in-house talents who simply haven’t developed. Seriously, is there any reason to believe that Jason Hill (3 catches, 37 yards vs. New England), Kasim Osgood (1 catch, 13 yards), Deji Karim (1 catch, 4 yards) or my personal favorite, Jarett Dillard (1 catch, 10 yards), will quickly morph into a formidable complement to No. 1 wideout Mike Thomas this season? Thank god the Jaguars are built from the inside out with running backs Maurice Jones-Drew (DNP) and Rashad Jennings (28 yards on six carries); and thank heavens that Thursday’s 35-point drubbing wasn’t the real thing for the Jacksonville defense or rookie QB Blaine Gabbert (85 pedestrian passing yards).

7. Riley Cooper may be the most indispensable Eagle for the first six weeks of the regular season. Yes, Philadelphia did a wonderful job of signing all-star talent during free agency; and yes, the club stands as the prohibitive favorite to win the NFC East. But with Jeremy Maclin battling a mysterious illness, and recent signee Steve Smith still recovering from offseason knee surgery, it’s fair to wonder if the ‘Dream Team’ Eagles truly have a sturdy No. 2 receiver to take the pressure off DeSean Jackson and QB Michael Vick. At least for the September slate. Enter Cooper, Vick’s final target in Philly’s home playoff loss to Green Bay last January, who needs to beat out Jason Avant and Johnnie Lee Higgins to earn that coveted WR2 spot … at least until Maclin’s health improves (fingers crossed on that one).

8. Any TV announcer who mutters the phrase ‘Super Bowl preview’ during a preseason game deserves to be punched. For the record, I’ve been a great admirer of Chris Berman‘s work with ESPN since the first day I ever saw SportsCenter on cable (my grandparents’ house in 1983); and football just wouldn’t be the same without Boomer. However, there’s no need to hint of a ‘Super Bowl preview’ for August games. It’s pointless, somewhat trite … and even if Berman was right about the Eagles and Ravens playing in Super Bowl XLVI, no TV talkie worth their salt would hearken back to a meaningless exhibition before making definitive judgments of Baltimore and Philly. Especially a pro’s pro like Berman.

Handcuffs ‘R’ Us
It’s basically impossible to develop a universal criteria for prioritizing RB handcuffs, since drafts are subjective and highly personal to fantasy owners. So let’s qualify the following list like this: Here’s how I would rank the necessity of drafting an understudy in standard-scoring leagues:

1. Maurice Jones-Drew/Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
Verdict: I’m willing to reach for Jennings in Round 7 to secure this must-have handcuff.

2. Ryan Mathews/Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Verdict: Tolbert represents valuable insurance for those who are expecting greatness from Mathews this year.

3. Darren McFadden/Michael Bush, Raiders
Verdict: Like Tolbert, Bush can be had for a sensible draft price (Round 7/8) … and has Round 4 potential.

4. Ryan Grant/James Starks, Packers
Verdict: For the many owners who don’t trust Grant’s durability for 8, 12 or 16 games … Starks is a necessity.

5. Jamaal Charles/Thomas Jones, Chiefs
Verdict: Jones is not a threat for 6 yards per carry, like the speedy and swift Charles; but you’d still take 4.3.

6. Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller, Bills
Verdict: Spiller is probably a season or two away from a legitimate breakout, but that could change in an instant.

7. Shonn Greene/LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Verdict: Even at age 32, LT’s a lock for 1,000 rushing yards with full-time or three-quarter touches.

8. Beanie Wells/Ryan Williams, Cardinals
Verdict: Arizona may be the most-watched team during the preseason — thanks to this duo and Kevin Kolb.

9. Joseph Addai/Donald Brown, Colts
Verdict: History tells us that both backs will get plenty of first-team reps during the season, due to injury.

10. DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
Verdict: Stewart is obviously the most talented handcuff of the group, but who wants to draft him and DeAngelo in back-to-back rounds? Not me.

11. Cedric Benson/Bernard Scott, Bengals
Verdict: Scott’s window for being a heavy-workload back is closing, but he’s still an excellent substitute for Benson.

12. Chris Johnson/Javon Ringer, Titans
Verdict: Ringer is certainly not in Johnson’s class, but he’d be good for 75 total yards and 0.4 TDs every game — if given full-time reps.

Practice Makes Perfect
Fantasy owners should soon begin the process of mock drafting. Here are some of the best sites for round-the-clock mocking.

**ESPN Mock Draft Lobby
**Mock Draft Central

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The Second Coming

Silent Running, Part I
Last Friday, we detailed Phase I of The PPR Spectacular on National Football Post (and YahooSports.com), an annual rite of August that only covered wide receivers. Well, in the interest of fair and balanced analysis, here's a look at Phase II of the, ahem, PPR bible

Silent Running, Part I
Last Friday, we detailed Phase I of The PPR Spectacular on National Football Post (and YahooSports.com), an annual rite of August that only covered wide receivers. Well, in the interest of fair and balanced analysis, here’s a look at Phase II of the, ahem, PPR bible — running backs and tight ends:

1. Arian Foster, Texans (69 catches, 2,462 total yards, 21 TDs in his last 18 games)
2. Chris Johnson, Titans
3. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (hasn’t reached his peak as a fantasy dynamo)
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (probably underrating him at No. 4)
5. Ray Rice, Ravens (a lead-pipe cinch for 2,000 total yards)
6. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
7. Darren McFadden, Raiders
8. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
9. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
10. Matt Forte, Bears (mark him down for 1,800 total yards/8 TDs)
11. Peyton Hillis, Browns (can he top the 61 receptions from last year?)
12. Frank Gore, 49ers
13. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
14. Michael Turner, Falcons
15. Steven Jackson, Rams
16. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (one of fantasyland’s biggest wild cards)
17. Jahvid Best, Lions
18. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
19. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
20. Fred Jackson, Bills
21. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
22. Shonn Greene, Jets
23. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
24. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (another boom-or-bust fantasy talent)
25. Felix Jones, Cowboys

Silent Running, Part II
26. Joseph Addai, Colts
27. Cedric Benson, Bengals
28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots (10 TDs is within reach … but not 13)
29. Pierre Thomas, Saints
30. Tim Hightower, Redskins (sneaky-good trade from a club not known for sneaky-good trades)
31. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
32. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
33. Ryan Grant, Packers
34. Michael Bush, Raiders
35. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
36. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins (opportunity knocks, rookie)
37. Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
38. Mark Ingram, Saints
39. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
40. Beanie Wells, Cardinals (the Williams-Wells battle could be a dead heat)
41. Ryan Williams, Cardinals
42. James Starks, Packers
43. Ryan Torain, Redskins
44. C.J. Spiller, Bills
45. Thomas Jones, Chiefs
46. Roy Helu, Redskins (one of the 5 biggest rookies to watch in the preseason)
47. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
48. Darren Sproles, Saints
49. Jason Snelling, Falcons
50. Ronnie Brown, Eagles (could’ve gotten a bigger payday with injury-ravaged Lions)

Tiers Of A Clown: RBs
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