Frank Gore: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
1. There's a reason why Alex Smith hadn't won a game in two years: I should be forced to undergo some kind of water-torture punishment for thinking Smith had a 50-50 shot at equaling or surpassing his career-high in touchdowns (3) on Thursday night, solely based on the Bears' Swiss-cheese-like pass defense in recent weeks (five TDs each against Carson Palmer/Kurt Warner). Once again, Smith reinforced the notion that he's a serviceable NFL quarterback, at best ... and a third-string fantasyland QB in 10- or 12-team leagues. It goes without saying: Smith (118 yards passing vs. Chicago) is no longer a starting consideration from this point forward -- including the all-too-tempting home clash with Detroit in Week 16.
2. Jay Cutler deserves a fantasy mulligan for Thursday's debacle: Believe me, I'm not overlooking his 0/5 night against the 49ers; but at the same time, we're talking about someone who's thrown for 300-plus yards in three of his last five games. We're talking about a cannon-armed quarterback averaging 24 completions per outing. And we're still talking about a devil-may-care veteran with a penchant for using all of his weapons -- Forte, Greg Olsen, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox -- no matter the game situation. There is one daddy-downer caveat, though: Cutler doesn't have one sweet matchup during the fantasy-playoff weeks (Green Bay, Baltimore, Minnesota) ... and his trade value will certainly be minimized right after the San Francisco meltdown.
3. Vernon Davis could still finish as a top-3 tight end: We're willing to give Davis (7 TDs in '09) a one-time-only free pass for catching just three balls for 16 yards. After all, that 3-TD day against Houston and 10-catch, 102-yard performance against Tennessee remain fresh in our minds. On the flip side ... Vernon has to know that teams are gunning for him now -- which, frankly, may have not been the case back in September. And he has to realize that 3-catch, 16-yard outings will never get the 4-5 Niners within a country mile of the NFC playoffs.
4. Gore and Forte deserve your full respect: I've been asked by a few radio stations to name my "fantasy disappointments" at the season's midpoint; and try as they might, no one is going to bait me into declaring Forte (161 total yards vs. San Fran) or Gore as overrated stars. Yes, they've had bouts of middling production; but I steadfastly maintain both studs will finish among the top-12 running backs at season's end -- if not higher. Look, we were all wrong to buy Forte as a stronger fantasy option than Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner or Maurice Jones-Drew back in August ... but if Forte had been earmarked for the latter half of Round 1 during the preseason, NO ONE would be upset with his current production (861 total yards, 3 TDs through nine games). The same holds true for Gore (125 total yards, 1 TD), who has racked up 417 yards and three touchdowns since Week 8 and could singlehandedly carry a fantasy team to the championship at Week 16 against the Lions. With that in mind, why aren't you already moving heaven and earth to obtain him, via trade, in the next 5-7 days? Get cracking!
Check out V.D.'s remarkably disparate stats for the '09 season:
**In odd-numbered weeks (1/3/5/7/9), Davis has 34 catches for 482 yards and 5 touchdowns.
**In even-numbered weeks (2/4/8/10), Davis has 11 catches for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Here are seven players who could post season-highs for fantasy points in Week 10:
1. QB Chad Henne, Dolphins (could easily achieve 270/3 TDs vs. Tampa Bay)
2. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions (break out the invisible ink -- 2 TDs @ Minnesota)
3. RB Joseph Addai, Colts (he's a lock for 80 rushing yards/1 TD)
4. WR Malcolm Kelly, Redskins (6 catches/54 yards/1 TD is very doable)
5. RB Michael Bush, Raiders (look for 70-plus total yards vs. KC)
6. RB Ladell Betts, Redskins (he's a must-start in place of Portis)
7. QB Carson Palmer, Bengals (he's certainly NOT a lock for 5 TDs in Week 10 ... but we love his potential for 275-plus passing yards against the Steelers)
1. Carson Palmer @ Pittsburgh
2. Drew Brees @ St. Louis
3. Kurt Warner vs. Seattle
4. Aaron Rodgers vs. Dallas
5. Donovan McNabb @ San Diego
6. Philip Rivers vs. Philadelphia
7. Peyton Manning vs. New England
8. Tom Brady @ Indianapolis
1. Philadelphia @ San Diego
2. New England @ Indianapolis
3. Dallas @ Green Bay
4. Detroit @ Minnesota
5. New Orleans @ St. Louis
Believe me, I loooove spending 1-2 hours a day -- from Wednesday to Sunday -- answering emails, texts and Tweets (@SI_JayClemons) from the masses regarding fantasy dilemmas. But I absolutely CANNOT stand getting questions about which kicker or defense/special teams to start. Even worse, I've had to endure a few trade suggestions ... involving defenses only!
So, please allow me to use this forum while detailing, The Three Fantasy Questions I Dream Of Never Answering Again:
1. "Which do you like -- Defense A or Defense B?" -- Unless we're talking about the Steelers ... every NFL D/ST is a dime-a-dozen entity from week-to-week. Oh sure, kick-returning extraordinaires Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Cribbs give the Dolphins and Browns more fantasy respect than they probably deserve ... but everything's relative over the course of 17 weeks -- so why even try to speak intelligently about crapshoots? Personally, I like to just grab a free-agent team that has the good fortune of playing the Rams, Browns, Buccaneers or Lions. Now, that's a bankable strategy!
2. "What do you think of this trade -- Defense A for Defense B?" -- First of all, I wouldn't want to be in a league with owners who execute 1-for-1 swaps involving defenses. Seriously, what are you trying to accomplish here? Are you really trying to outfox someone else ... on the assumption that Minnesota might convert a Matt Hasselbeck sack/fumble into a touchdown in Week 11? C'mon, dude (or dudess), stop it!
3. "Should I offer (Owner B) Donovan McNabb/Matt Forte for Philip Rivers/Steven Jackson?" -- I'm not saying my time is extremely valuable -- especially since Wednesday is a 12-hour day couch day (it's my only off day that I don't write Clicks) -- but are you really sending me offers that have not been formally proposed? At the very least, email me your roster ... and I'll fire off a suggestion of two for improving your club (especially during the fantasy playoffs). But please, I'm begging you, please reserve all Tweets until a deal is officially on the table.
OK, I'm done venting ... back to Clicks.
1. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
2. QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs (fantasy-playoff sked -- Bills, Browns, Bengals)
3. WR Kenny Britt, Titans (should benefit from Justin Gage's broken back)
4. WR Santonio Holmes, Steelers
5. RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills
6. WR Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
7. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders (if healthy, he's a certifiable steal right now)
8. WR Donnie Avery, Rams
9. RB Tashard Choice, Cowboys (Felix might be a lost cause in '09)
10. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions (before season's end, he will show flashes of his eventual brilliance -- sometime in 2011)
@cincygator wonders: Which side of the deal would you rather have -- Peyton Manning/Kevin Smith or Adrian Peterson/Carson Palmer?
Answer: Without knowing who's on your team or which twosome you'd be getting, I'd rather have the Peterson/Palmer side, based on the following criteria: Peterson will likely win the total yards AND touchdowns battle against Smith ... whereas Manning will likely throw for more yards than Carson -- but could easily lose the head-to-head TD competition. Plus, I am NEVER going to pass up a chance to land a healthy Peterson, via trade. I do have one caveat, though: Please, please consummate this blockbuster before All Day gets a shot at the Lions on Sunday.
@BryanWinkler asks: I have Santonio Holmes, Anquan Boldin, Greg Jennings, Miles Austin. Any thoughts on whom to start?
Answer: I'd rank your WRs 1)Austin 2)Jennings 3)Holmes 4)Boldin for Week 10. In a perfect world, Boldin would be top dog against the suspectible Seahawks ... but his gimpy ankle has been a major downer this year.
@ddmjr has an unusual question: I need to know -- do I start Tom Brady or Peyton Manning for Week 10?
Answer: Unless you're playing in a two-QB league, why on earth would anyone own both Brady and Manning in the same league? Please tell me you're going to trade one or both studs at the trade deadline, right? If not, do you even understand the concept of fantasy football? Running backs and wide receivers make the fantasy world go 'round! (deep sigh) ... OK, now that I've composed myself, I really don't have an answer for you. Brady and Manning should finish in the top-3 passers for Week 10, and their point differentials will likely be negligible. But if I had to choose, I'd go with Brady (since the Pats are MOST LIKELY to be playing from behind).
@davekobe wonders: Who do you feel will have the better game -- Cedric Benson or Rashard Mendenhall? The Bengals' and Steelers' run defenses are stout.
Answer: I shouldn't be disrespecting Cedric -- who's been amazing this year (837 rushing yards, 6 TDs) -- but I think Mendenhall has the better game in Week 10. Simple as that ... thanks!
@SportsFanEli asks: So, what do you think of this trade -- DeSean Jackson for LaDainian Tomlinson/Michael Crabtree?
Answer: I know LT has been a borderline flameout in non-Raiders games this year ... and I (now) realize that Crabtree isn't immune to the wild inconsistencies of NFL rookies. However, I think I'd rather own LT/Crabtree over D-Jax and whatever running back can be snatched off waivers. In a minor concession, though, I will acknowledge that Jackson is the best player of the trio right now ... so holding pat on D-Jax might be the sensible way to go. How's that for waffling? HA!
Wes Welker: Elsa/Getty Images
A receiver is only as good as his quarterback ... and the number of opportunities he gets to make a catch (known as Targets -- an absolutely critical stat for PPR leagues). This underrated category is the best way to safeguard against one-hit wonders during a looooong fantasy season. To wit, SI.com presents a list of the 30 wideouts with at least 30 Targets since Week 5:
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- 57 Targets
2. Andre Johnson, Texans -- 55 Targets
3. Reggie Wayne, Colts -- 46 Targets
4. Wes Welker, Patriots -- 46 Targets
5. Roddy White, Falcons -- 45
6. Steve Smith, Giants -- 43
7. Brandon Marshall, Broncos -- 40
8. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- 39
9. Devin Hester, Bears -- 39 (excluding Week 10 stats)
10. Greg Jennings, Packers -- 37
11. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals -- 37
12. Eddie Royal, Broncos -- 37
13. Steve Smith, Panthers -- 37
14. Miles Austin, Cowboys -- 34
15. Nate Burleson, Seahawks -- 34
16. Torry Holt, Rams -- 34
17. Vincent Jackson, Chargers -- 34
18. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles -- 34
19. Randy Moss, Patriots -- 33
20. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals -- 32
21. Marques Colston, Saints -- 32
22. Steve Breaston, Cardinals -- 31
23. Derrick Mason, Ravens -- 31
24. Hakeem Nicks, Giants -- 31
25. Hines Ward, Steelers -- 31
26. Donald Driver, Packers -- 30
27. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks -- 30
28. Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns -- 30
29. Terrell Owens, Bills -- 30
30. Sidney Rice, Vikings -- 30
1. Reggie Wayne vs. New England
2. Randy Moss @ Indianapolis
3. DeSean Jackson @ San Diego
4. Vincent Jackson vs. Philadelphia
5. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Seattle
6. Donald Driver vs. Dallas
7. Marques Colston @ St. Louis
8. Devery Henderson @ St. Louis
9. Hines Ward vs. Cincinnati
10. Derrick Mason @ Cleveland
For owners in 16-team leagues who absolutely, positively need a backup running back this week, one with a serious chance of scoring double-digits through the magic of garbage time ... look no further than Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain. The promise of tomorrow (or more to the point, this Sunday) has never been greater for McClain (20 carries, 78 yards, 1 TD in '09) ... who's a viable candidate to score not one, but TWO goal-line touchdowns against the Browns in Week 10. So, enjoy this one-time gift from the fantasy gods, Le'Ron!
1. Adrian Peterson vs. Detroit
2. DeAngelo Williams vs. Atlanta
3. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Cincinnati
4. Ronnie Brown vs. Tampa Bay
5. Thomas Jones vs. Jacksonville
6. Pierre Thomas @ St. Louis
7. Chris Johnson vs. Buffalo
8. Ray Rice @ Cleveland
One good turn deserves another. Here are the 22 RBs with 11 or more Targets since Week 5:
1. Ray Rice, Ravens -- 32
2. Tim Hightower, Cardinals -- 27
3. Joseph Addai, Colts -- 23
4. Steve Slaton, Texans -- 23
5. Matt Forte, Bears -- 22 (excluding Week 10 stats)
6. Reggie Bush, Saints -- 21
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars -- 20
8. LeSean McCoy, Eagles -- 20
9. Frank Gore, 49ers -- 18 (excluding Week 10 stats)
10. Steven Jackson, Rams -- 18
11. Kevin Faulk, Patriots -- 16
12. Marshawn Lynch, Bills -- 16
13. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs -- 15
14. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers -- 15
15. Adrian Peterson, Vikings -- 14
16. Kevin Smith, Lions -- 14
17. Justin Forsett, Seahawks -- 13
18. Brandon Jacobs, Giants -- 13
19. Brian Westbrook, Eagles -- 13
20. Correll Buckhalter, Broncos -- 12
21. Chris Johnson, Titans -- 11
22. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos -- 11
Last but not least ... here are the 16 tight ends with at least 20 targets since Week 5. If your preferred guy isn't on the list, perhaps it's time to choose someone who actually sees 4-5 balls per game:
1. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons -- 41 Targets
2. Dallas Clark, Colts -- 40
3. Vernon Davis, 49ers -- 39 (excluding Week 10 stats)
4. Owen Daniels, Texans -- 30 (out for season -- torn ACL)
5. Antonio Gates, Chargers -- 29
6. Jason Witten, Cowboys -- 29
7. Brent Celek, Eagles -- 28
8. Dustin Keller, Jets -- 28
9. Greg Olsen, Bears -- 26 (excluding Week 10 stats)
10. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers -- 26
11. John Carlson, Seahawks -- 25
12. Zach Miller, Raiders -- 25
13. Heath Miller, Steelers -- 23
14. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions -- 21
15. Jeremy Shockey, Saints -- 21
16. Todd Heap, Ravens -- 20
What can I say? Outside of my lovely bride, family, friends, work and reruns of Family Guy, fantasy football IS my life from July-December. If I'm not re-reading one of the 12 fantasy magazines that engulf my coffee table, or mindfully watching old DVR'd broadcasts of Fantasy Fix (starring John Hansen and Scott Ferrall) ... I can probably be found listening to (or downloading) one of the many fantasy-related podcasts on the Web. In fact, here are my top 5 favorite football-specific podcasts/radio shows (excluding this shameless plug for my own show on Blog Talk Radio, "Your Fantasy, Our Reality," with SI.com colleague Jeff Ritter from 4-5 p.m. EST every Monday):
1. CBSSports.com -- "Fantasy Football" with Dave Richard and Jamey Eisneberg
2. Sirius Radio -- "Sirius Fantasy Football" with John Hansen and Adam Caplan
3. ESPN -- "Fantasy Focus" with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz
4. KFAN in Minneapolis -- "Fantasy Football Weekly" with Paul Charchian
5. Fox2Detroit.com -- "Fantasy Geekly" with Sean Baligian, Scott Bischoff and Gregg Kanner
... CBSSports.com's Jamey Eisenberg for his HILARIOUS podcast quote of the week when revealing that David Garrard has yet to throw a TD pass on the road ... and WR Mike Sims-Walker, obviously, hasn't caught a touchdown pass on the road all season (although he certainly scored on Jacksonville's infamous trip to the Great Northwest).
"He might as well pull a Seattle and not show up." Ka-boom!