Brian Westbrook: AP
Despite that melon-sized pit in your stomach, regardless of the hurtful (but hiliarious) message-board taunts from your fellow owners, sitting at 0-2 while heading into Week 3 of the fantasy season isn't a death sentence -- nor should it feel like one. Think about it: Unless you're playing in an 8- or 10-team league where only four clubs make the playoffs (two division winners, two wild cards) ... there's still plenty of time -- at least a week or two -- to turn the ship around before making drastic changes. In other words, this isn't a time to panic or massively overhaul the roster -- just to win that 8th and final playoff spot. Be patient.
Of course, if you feel compelled to execute some form of a shakeup, here are four low-key, incredibly sane measures to make this week:
1. Trade for the back-end guy in RB handcuffs: Outside of Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, is there a hotter fantasy back than Arizona's Tim Hightower (220 total yards, 1 TD)? If he's not pulling down 12 catches for 121 yards one game ... he's bulldozing through the Jags defense the next, acting as if he -- and not Beanie Wells -- was the Cardinals' unquestioned tailback of the future. Well, as much as it pains me to see Hightower's lightning-fast start, there has NEVER been a better time to deal for the rookie Wells, whose fantasy day of reckoning will come sooner than later in '09. The same holds true for Donald Brown (Colts), Leon Washington (Jets), Justin Forsett (Seahawks), Pierre Thomas (Saints), Laurence Maroney (Patriots), Correll Buckhalter/Peyton Hillis (Broncos) and Michael Bush. These stellar buy-low options today could bring you a fantasy title tomorrow ... or Week 17, to be precise.
(FYI: Felix Jones can no longer be had for a second-tier receiver in the trade market, now that Marion Barber (quad) will be sidelined for a few games.)
2. Conceive a name-brand '3-for-1, plus one throwaway' trade for an aging star: Picture this dream scenario: Owner B has Tony Romo and Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, Brian Westbrook as their No. 2 or 3 running back and Chad Ochocinco as the WR2. Seven days ago, I could never have enticed Owner B with a deal to land Westbrook, without giving up one of my three elite-level receivers (Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings, Anquan Boldin). But in the wake of Romo's 127-yard, 1-TD, 3-INT night against the Giants, Hasselbeck's fractured-rib injury and another so-so outing from Westbrook in Week 2 ... suddenly it's the perfect time to offer Owner B Carson Palmer (a great Ochocinco handcuff and possible starter over Romo), WR Laurent Robinson (11 catches, 141 yards, 1 TD) and Leon Washington -- none of whom are regular starters -- for Westbrook (who turned 30 on Sept. 2) and the proverbial player to be named later (an unproven rookie with upside).
Is it a little too early to conceive landmark trades, especially when Westbrook has yet to prove he's all the way back from knee surgery? Perhaps. But this trade would never get done in Week 8, shortly after Westbrook regains his all-world fantasy form. And, at this point, I should have no trouble refilling the bench with some emerging stars that went undrafted (Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, etc.). The way I see it, there's a limited window of opportunity here for fantasy goodness.
3. Reserve one bench spot solely for the Flavor of the Week: The post-Week 1 golden boy was Raiders rookie WR Louis Murphy. After Week 2, it's either Manningham or Steve Smith -- depending on which guy is really Eli Manning's favorite target. And by next Wednesday, Sept. 30, you'll be shamelessly swapping Murphy's suddenly pedestrian stats for the next hidden gem from Week 3's games (Brandon Pettigrew? Jerome Harrison?). On the surface, this sounds like a silly, stuck-in-mud strategy; but it's quite healthy, as long as you're not stacking the entire bench with one-hit wonders. Guys like Felix Jones, Beanie Wells, Steve Breaston, Donald Driver, Dustin Keller and Matt Cassel should NEVER be released (barring injury), as the result of another FOTW man-crush. Simply keep rotating that Murphy/Manningham/Pettigrew/Harrison slot every two weeks, in hopes of unearthing fantasyland's next great star.
4. Replace a kicker or defensive team: Two weeks is hardly a significant sample-size for judging quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends ... but it's sufficient when classifying kickers and defenses. Take the Falcons, for example: With Tony Gonzalez (12 catches, 144 yards, 2 TDs) in the fold, Atlanta has been remarkably proficient in the red zone, which spells doom for kicker Jason Elam (2-of-4 field goals in '09). On the plus side, Joe Nedney (5-for-5 in FGs; only two PATs) -- ranked No. 3 in the SI.com & Friends league and playing for a TD-anemic club -- is universally waiting in free agency. This isn't to suggest all slow-starting kickers, like Elam, should be dumped. Have faith in the proverbial studs of this position, like Mason Crosby, Kris Brown, Rob Bironas, Robbie Gould, Stephen Gostkowski. There's a reason why they were taken far too early in fantasy drafts.
As for defenses ... be leery of high-profile teams that don't register sacks (Cowboys, Texans, Jaguars) or produce takeaways (Cowboys, Dolphins, Colts). And NEVER pick (or keep) a special-teams unit, if you cannot identify the punt- or kick-returner within 10 seconds of being asked. Name-brand familiarity (aka Josh Cribbs with Cleveland) goes a long way in this category.
1. Drew Brees @ Buffalo
2. Aaron Rodgers @ St. Louis
3. Tom Brady vs. Atlanta
4. Matt Cassel @ Philadelphia
5. Philip Rivers vs. Miami
6. Kurt Warner vs. Indianapolis
In general terms, here's a list of the 20 best available free agents for 12-team, standard-scoring leagues:
1. WR Steve Smith, Giants
2. QB Kyle Orton, Broncos
3. D/ST Arizona Cardinals
4. D/ST New Orleans Saints
5. WR Mario Manningham, Giants
6. PK Joe Nedney, 49ers
7. WR Pierre Garcon, Colts
8. WR Kenny Britt, Titans
9. QB Seneca Wallace, Seahawks
10. QB Kevin Kolb, Eagles
11. RB Correll Buckhalter, Broncos
12. WR Julian Edelman, Patriots (an NFL-high 16 targets in Week 2)
13. QB Jake Delhomme, Panthers
14. WR Brandon Stokley, Broncos
15. TE Jermichael Finley, Packers
16. QB Shaun Hill, 49ers
17. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
18. WR Johnny Knox, Bears
19. RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks
20. D/ST Atlanta Falcons
1. Clinton Portis @ Detroit
2. Steven Jackson vs. Green Bay
3. Ryan Grant @ St. Louis
4. Adrian Peterson vs. San Francisco
5. Michael Turner @ New England
6. Brian Westbrook vs. Kansas City
7. Brandon Jacobs @ Tampa Bay
8. Ray Rice vs. Cleveland
9. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Houston
10. Matt Forte @ Seattle
11. Darren McFadden vs. Denver
That Peyton Manning has averaged 274 yards, 1.75 TDs and 0.83 interceptions in his last 12 games against NFC opponents (2006-08). Perhaps this explains why Manning's a top-10 QB choice for Week 3 -- but far from a lock for monster numbers (like Drew Brees against Buffalo or even Matt Cassel vs. Philly, thanks to some garbage-time fun). And since we have the Way Back Machine already cranking, here's Kurt Warner's recent track record (2006-08) against non-conference opponents -- including last week's battle with Jacksonville and last year's debacle against New England: 239 yards, 1.7 touchdowns, 0.25 interceptions per game.
On the other hand, it's impossible to believe that both Warner and Manning will be deprived of 300 yards and/or three touchdowns in this week's prime-time, head-to-head showcase ... so if we had to choose between the pair, we'd opt for Warner and his full complement of receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston). Of course, all bets are off if the Cardinals spend 46 minutes of possession time running the Wildcat with Beanie Wells or Tim Hightower riding shotgun.
... Here's how we'd rank the receivers leading up to the August drafts:
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
3. Marques Colston, Saints
4. Calvin Johnson, Lions
5. Randy Moss, Patriots
6. Reggie Wayne, Colts
7. Roddy White, Falcons
8. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
9. Santonio Holmes, Steelers
10. Steve Smith, Panthers
11. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
12. Greg Jennings, Packers
13. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
14. Wes Welker, Patriots
15. Laurent Robinson, Rams
16. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
17. Hines Ward, Steelers
18. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
19. Steve Smith, Giants
20. Derrick Mason, Ravens
21. Lance Moore, Saints
22. Mario Manningham, Giants
23. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
24. Percy Harvin, Vikings
25. Devin Hester, Bears
26. Braylon Edwards, Browns
27. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
28. Nate Washington, Titans
29. Roy Williams, Cowboys
30. Ted Ginn, Jr., Dolphins
It's quite foolish to guarantee 100 yards and/or one touchdown with tight ends -- since their stats, stars included, tend to fluctuate wildly from week to week. Instead, here's our list for the top 10 most productive tight ends for Week 3:
1. Chris Cooley @ Detroit
2. Owen Daniels vs. Jacksonville
3. Jason Witten vs. Carolina
4. Dallas Clark @ Arizona
5. Brent Celek vs. Kansas City
6. Tony Gonzalez @ New England
7. Todd Heap vs. Cleveland
8. Kevin Boss @ Tampa Bay
9. Antonio Gates vs. Miami
10. John Carlson vs. Chicago
Brandon Jacobs: AP
@davidmosher asks: Joe Flacco or Carson Palmer to start in Week 3? Or do I try to pick up Jason Campbell or Kyle Orton?
Answer: I would rather have Carson over Flacco for the season. But how can you turn down Joe Cool's easy-cheesy home matchup with Cleveland this week? But that's not to say Carson cannot throw for 250 yards/2 TDs against the Steelers.
@amtandrew inquires: Should i pick up Laurent Robinson or Pierre Garcon off waivers?
Answer: Without a doubt, Pierre looked great in his game-winning TD catch/run on Monday night. But Robinson ranks 11th in overall receiving Targets (19 -- ahead of Larry Fitzgerald/T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and has 11 catches for 141 yards and one touchdown. He's the surer bet for the long haul -- regardless if Donnie Avery can find a cure for fumbleitis.
@BryanWinkler wonders: What do you think of these free-agent pickups? Steve Smith (NYG), Donald Driver, Mario Manningham, Percy Harvin.
Answer: The separation amongst the foursome isn't that obvious -- meaning they'll likely take turns ruling the top from week-to-week. With that said, I'd rank 'em: 1)Smith, 2)Harvin, 3)Driver and 4)Manningham.
@thrasherrr asks: Should I trade Thomas Jones for Brandon Marshall? I'd have Reggie Wayne, Calvin Johnson, DeSean Jackson to tag team with Marshall (PPR league).
Answer: As much as I believe in B-Marsh -- in terms of a week-in, week-out flex option in PPR leagues -- you'd be selling yourself way short by giving up T-Jones (161 rushing yards, 2 TDs) in a 1-for-1 swap. Have the other owner throw in a productive, mid-level talent and MAYBE we'll have a deal. Otherwise, be prepared to walk away any time.
@B4him13 wants to know: My RBs: Joseph Addai/LaDainian Tomlinson/Larry Johnson. My WRs: Vincent Jackson/Steve Smith (Giants) in a 14-team PPR league. What about this trade: Smith/Johnson for Brandon Jacobs/T.J. Houshmandzadeh?
Answer: If someone is willing to take the Giants' Steve Smith (who appears to be Eli Manning's go-to guy) and LJ (who may only be relevant at home in his autumn NFL years) for Jacobs (New York's greatest fantasy weapon) and Houshmazilla ... at face value, I'd do that in a heartbeat!
1. Joe Nedney @ Minnesota
2. Stephen Gostkowski vs. Atlanta
3. John Kasay @ Dallas
4. Lawrence Tynes @ Tampa Bay
5. Mason Crosby @ St. Louis
6. Kris Brown vs. Jacksonville
7. Neil Rackers vs. Indianapolis
Mainstream fantasy sites, like SI.com, are obviously a hit with fantasygoers. But there's always room for alternative media in the marketplace, especially when the authors are hilariously shouting from the rooftops about why Marc Bulger hasn't turned over a new leaf, or why the Detroit Lions may not win a game ... until 2012.
The first must-see blog is PigskinAddiction.com; and the site's signature page involves Snake's Takes (running every Tuesday) -- comprising a collection of unfiltered thoughts so random, so emotional, so bitter, so twisted ... you'll wonder how the man even survives an NFL Sunday, let alone write about it come Monday.
Next up ... Fantasy Football Toolbox. If you're looking for updated depth charts, weekly cheat sheets, injury reports and even -- sacre bleu! -- an updated listing of the NFL's Top 10 punters (insert joke here) ... then welcome home!
There's even a weekly podcast during the season -- although the Clemons/Ritter podcast offers more hard-hitting fantasy analysis and abject mocking of one another's lineup decisions.
1. Randy Moss vs. Atlanta
2. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Indianapolis
3. Reggie Wayne @ Arizona
4. Greg Jennings @ St. Louis (if I'm lying, I'm dying here)
5. Steve Smith @ Dallas
6. Santonio Holmes @ Cincinnati
7. Vincent Jackson vs. Miami
8. Derrick Mason vs. Cleveland
9. Marques Colston @ Buffalo
10. Anquan Boldin vs. Indianapolis
11. Andre Johnson vs. Jacksonville
For the wide-receiver slot opposite Randy Moss, Tom Brady targeted the 'Y' wideout 16 times each in Weeks 1 and 2. Wes Welker, not surprisingly, caught 12 passes for 93 yards in that role for the season-opener. But in Welker's stead for Week 2, some random cat named Julian Edelman pulled down eight balls for 98 yards against the Jets.
Now, if Welker doesn't miss any more games this season, it's quite possible that Edelman -- a rookie who played QB at Kent (formerly Kent State) -- never sees the light of day off the New England bench. But until Welker's knee problems have subsided -- making him a risky start for 4 p.m. or later games all year -- Edelman is worth keeping on your bench ... as a WR handcuff!
By my count, there are 15 viable WR handcuffs in fantasyland. This isn't a list of the NFL's best No. 3 receivers, per se; instead, it reveals the 15 wideouts with the best chance of duplicating (or exceeding) a starter's fantasy production -- if given the chance for sustainable reps:
1. Steve Breaston -->Fitzgerald/Boldin, Cardinals
2. Lance Moore -->Colston/Devery Henderson, Saints
3. Nate Burleson -->Houshmandzadeh/Deion Branch, Seahawks
4. Julian Edelman -->Moss/Welker, Patriots
5. Chris Henry -->Ochocinco/Laveranues Coles, Bengals
6. Sidney Rice -->Bernard Berrian/Percy Harvin, Vikings
7. Brandon Stokley --> Brandon Marshall/Eddie Royal, Broncos
8. Miles Austin -->Roy Williams/Patrick Crayton, Cowboys
9. Kenny Britt -->Nate Washington/Justin Gage, Titans
10. Jordy Nelson -->Greg Jennings/Donald Driver, Packers
11. Demetrius Williams -->Derrick Mason/Mark Clayton, Ravens
12. Johnny Knox -->Devin Hester/Earl Bennett, Bears
13. Bobby Engram -->Dwayne Bowe/Mark Bradley, Chiefs
14. Austin Collie -->Reggie Wayne/Pierre Garcon, Colts
15. Jerheme Urban -->Fitzgerald/Boldin/Breaston, Cardinals
The 2009 Sports Illustrated/Citizen Sports Fantasy Football Game (presented by Pepsi Max). For those who haven't accessed this amazing application yet on Facebook ... what are you waiting for? (Week 2 has come and gone) And for those whose fantasy-football lives were compromised looooooooong before Michael Crabtree skipped his first regular season game, check out Jeffrey Ma's omnipresent fantasy blog on Citizen Sports.