Ready ... set ... no!

This column is all about tiering players for the upcoming week; that part is easy enough to understand. But what you need to keep in mind when looking at the actual names in the following groups is, who are these guys right now?

Clinton Portis isn't the runner that averaged 78.9 yards per game last year. He's better. Braylon Edwards isn't the man that caught 16 touchdowns in 2007. He's worse.

Now that we're entering the halfway point of the season, last year's numbers are no longer relevant. That doesn't mean that we can't use the previous season as a marker for what we're looking at this year, it just means that we need to change the names around. Like my 11th grade history teacher always said (in between grossing us out with stories about him copulating with his wife on a bearskin rug), history repeats itself. The players may change, but the results stay the same. So to help you see past the names, let's take a look at a few guys that bring to mind a perceived notion of who they are, and reveal them for what they really are in comparison to last year's performers.

Ready ...

Drew Brees vs. San Diego Donovan McNabb vs. Atlanta Phillip Rivers @ New Orleans Matt Schaub vs. Cincinnati Jason Campbell @ Detroit Trent Edwards @ Miami Kurt Warner @ Carolina Peyton Manning @ Tennessee Ben Roethlisberger vs. New York Giants Jake Delhomme vs. Arizona Brett Favre vs. Kansas City Jeff Garcia @ Dallas

Set ...

Eli Manning @ Pittsburgh J.T. O'Sullivan vs. Seattle| Matt Cassel vs. St. Louis Chad Pennington vs. Buffalo David Garrard vs. Cleveland Marc Bulger @ New England Ryan Fitzpatrick @ Houston Brad Johnson vs. Tampa Bay


Derek Anderson @ Jacksonville Matt Ryan @ Philadelphia Matt Hasselbeck/Seneca Wallace @ San Francisco JaMarcus Russell @ Baltimore Kerry Collins vs. Indianapolis Joe Flacco vs. Oakland Tyler Thigpen/Damon Huard @ New York Jets Dan Orlovsky vs. Washington

Matt Schaub: We all know Schaub as the former backup to the kind-hearted, dog enthusiast Mike Vick, who was drafted as a QB2 entering the season based on his sleeper potential. Well guess what? After a tough start to the season (Pittsburgh, Tennessee and an explosive case of diarrhea that sent him to the hospital), the toughened Texan is awake and performing at the level of last year's fantasy darling, Derek Anderson. The similarities are striking: he's got the tall, physically gifted receiver in the midst of a career year; he has the productive running game to keep opponents honest; the below-average defense that allows him to remain in throw-mode all game; and, the same risk-taking, borderline sloppy style of quarterbacking that results in big plays, and not so infrequent interceptions (Anderson had 19 picks last year). If an average of 317.6 yards-per-game and six touchdown passes over his last three games isn't enough to convince you that Schaub needs to either be entrenched as your starter, or immediately traded for value befitting of the top 10 QB that he is, well, then I'm not sure what you need. Schaub is the real deal, and after he dismantles the Bengals this week, hopefully you'll see that the lone star in the Texas flag represents the Houston QB ... for this year anyway.

Derek Anderson: If Schaub is this year's Anderson, what does that make the beleaguered Browns signal caller? Try Chad Pennington. Like Anderson this year, Pennington entered the '07 season as the starter for a team coming off a 10-6 record with serious playoff aspirations. He subsequently led his team to a 1-7 mark (the Browns are 2-4), and amid a chorus of calls for him to be replaced by a highly-drafted, second-year quarterback (Kellen Clemens), he was finally given the hook after the team's Week 8 contest. Truth be told, Anderson isn't even putting up as good of numbers as Pennington did last year. After completing only 37.8 percent on 37 pass attempts against the Redskins, it's time to forget about the high pick you spent and start focusing on getting value, any value for Anderson (a half-eaten ham sandwich and some AutoZone coupons would suffice at this point). Because with the Jaguars defense looming, and Anderson teetering on the edge, one ill-advised pick or a hard forearm swat from John Henderson may be enough to send him plunging into the dark abyss of the free agency pool.

Other notables: There's an old saying among fantasy owners that goes, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again (or something like that). Anyway, remember what happened the last time you thought about benching Peyton Manning against a good defense? He torched the Ravens for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Don't get fooled again ... Someday Ryan is going to be a very good fantasy QB. Unfortunately for owners that plucked him out of free agency after his 301-yard performance against the Bears, that someday will not be this Sunday against the Eagles. To put it simply, consistency is to rookie quarterbacks what sobriety is to Adam "Pacman" Jones ... Against the Colts on Monday night, Collins may be the first quarterback to play an entire game, get the win, and not attempt a pass since Keith Molesworth accomplished the feat in 1932 (OK, I just made that up, but you get the point)...

Ready ...

Clinton Portis @ Detroit Brian Westbrook vs. Atlanta Chris Johnson vs. Indianapolis Steven Jackson @ New England Thomas Jones vs. Kansas City Marion Barber vs. Tampa Bay Frank Gore vs. Seattle Steve Slaton vs. Cincinnati Marshawn Lynch @ Miami LaDainian Tomlinson @ New Orleans LenDale White vs. Indianapolis Willis McGahee vs. Oakland Michael Turner @ Philadelphia Brandon Jacobs @ Pittsburgh Jamal Lewis @ Jacksonville Cedric Benson @ Houston

Set ...

DeAngelo Williams vs. Arizona Jonathan Stewart vs. Arizona Ronnie Brown vs. Buffalo Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Cleveland Earnest Graham @ Dallas Warrick Dunn @ Dallas Deuce McAllister vs. San Diego Dominic Rhodes @ Tennessee Julius Jones @ San Francisco Maurice Morris @ San Francisco Tim Hightower @ Carolina Darren McFadden @ Baltimore Aaron Stecker vs. San Diego Kevin Faulk vs. St. Louis Mewelde Moore vs. Giants Willie Parker vs. Giants Kevin Smith vs. Washington BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. St. Louis


Justin Fargas @ Baltimore Fred Taylor vs. Cleveland Edgerrin James @ Carolina Pierre Thomas vs. San Diego Le'Ron McClain vs. Oakland Kolby Smith @ New York Jets Jamal Charles @ New York Jets Sammy Morris vs. St. Louis Ahman Green vs. Cincinnati Leon Washington vs. Kansas City Derrick Ward @ Pittsburgh Ray Rice vs. Oakland Fred Jackson @ Miami Patrick Cobbs vs. Buffalo

LaDainian Tomlinson: I'm not here to tell you that Tomlinson has lost it, or that he's a guy you should ever consider benching, but I think it's time we stopped being polite, and started getting real about what we're dealing with here. Blame the toe, blame his blockers, blame the ineptitude of his head coach. It doesn't matter. The fact is that Tomlinson just isn't the same guy who has been a consensus top-three pick over the past six seasons. He's topped 100 yards just one time, and is averaging nearly a yard below his career average of 4.5 yards per carry. Most telling is the lack of big plays that he's been able to generate. Last year he led the league with 13 carries of 20 yards or more. This year? He has two. And only five times has even broken one for more than 10 yards. He's on pace for career lows in yards (1,019), touchdowns (9), and receiving yards (342). Does that make him a bad fantasy back? Absolutely not. What it does make him is Marion Barber III from last year. Now may be a good time to try to deal him for max value before the rest of your league realizes that he's simply a good, top-tier back and not the monster performer of years past.

Aaron Stecker: Here's a twist for you, Stecker is ... Stecker from last year. It would have been easy for me to say Pierre Thomas is this year's Stecker, but as Leon Washington once said: "I cannot tell a lie" (wait, was that Leon or George Washington that said that? I think I watch too much football.) Thomas is more of a McAllister clone, while Stecker could be considered the hobo version of the pass-catching, scat-back, Bush. Most owners in your league will flock to McAllister, but I'm not so sure that his role will be much different than it already is. As his name suggests, Deuce is a No. 2 man, no longer capable of carrying a traditional workload. Essentially, he's a burst-less back that benefits from the gaping holes that the wide-open approach of the Saints offense induces. He needs a complementary runner to split-out and spread the defense, and that's where Stecker comes into play. With Bush out last year, Stecker averaged 82.6 yards on the ground, adding four touchdowns and 12 catches for 84 yards in three games. While he may not be able to match those numbers, he'll come close, making him a very intriguing RB3 against the struggling Chargers defense.

Other notables: I watched a Tony Robbins inspirational video, read a copy of Barack Obama's convention speech and traded e-mails with Lou Holtz before finding the motivation to endorse Benson as a "Ready" player, but I'm in a good place about the decision. Only the Chiefs have surrendered more rushing touchdowns than Houston ... I know this seems like an obvious fact, but the disparity is so great that I figured it was worth mentioning. In four games against teams ranked in the bottom half in rush yards allowed per game, Williams and Stewart have combined to average 144.2 yards-per-game. In three games against teams ranked in the top half, they're averaging just 63 yards. In case you were wondering, Arizona is ranked 11th ... If Cobbs owns a fantasy team, do you think he's picked himself up? I say no ...

Ready ...

Andre Johnson vs. Cincinnati Steve Smith vs. Arizona Randy Moss vs. St. Louis Larry Fitzgerald @ Carolina Terrell Owens vs. Tampa Bay Santana Moss @ Detroit Laveranues Coles vs. Kansas City T.J. Houshmandzadeh @ Houston Reggie Wayne @ Tennessee Lee Evans @ Miami Calvin Johnson vs. Washington Santonio Holmes vs. New York Giants Hines Ward vs. New York Giants Plaxico Burress @ Pittsburgh DeSean Jackson vs. Atlanta Chad Johnson @ Houston Wes Welker vs. St. Louis Roddy White @ Philadelphia Braylon Edwards @ Jacksonville Dwayne Bowe @ New York Jets

Set ...

Vincent Jackson @ New Orleans Jerricho Cotchery vs. Kansas City Anquan Boldin @ Carolina| Marques Colston vs. San Diego Derrick Mason vs. Oakland Marvin Harrison @ Tennessee Antwaan Randle El @ Detroit Antonio Bryant @ Dallas Steve Breaston @ Carolina Muhsin Muhammad vs. Arizona Roy Williams vs. Tampa Bay Steve Smith @ Pittsburgh Kevin Walter vs. Cincinnati Greg Camarillo vs. Buffalo Torry Holt @ New England Malcom Floyd @ New Orleans Isaac Bruce vs. Seattle Donnie Avery @ New England Devery Henderson vs. San Diego Josh Reed @ Miami


Reggie Brown vs. Atlanta Kevin Curtis vs. Atlanta Amani Toomer @ Pittsburgh Anthony Gonzalez @ Tennessee Nate Washington vs. New York Giants Mike Furrey vs. Washington Javon Walker @ Buffalo Patrick Crayton vs. Tampa Bay Josh Morgan vs. Seattle Chris Henry @ Houston Tedd Ginn Jr. vs. Buffalo Bobby Engram @ San Francisco Lance Moore vs. San Diego Hank Baskett vs. Atlanta Donte' Stallworth @ Jacksonville

Dwayne Bowe: Imagine for a moment that you're a big-time corporate lawyer with millions of dollars riding on every decision that you make. It's a stressful environment for sure, but thanks to a competent support staff that includes a highly-qualified paralegal, a veteran secretary and a tireless intern, you're able to reliably perform your job at the level that warrants your hefty salary. Now imagine that you replace that paralegal with a Clown College dropout, the secretary with a speech-impeded octogenarian and the intern with a pothead. Do you think you'd still be able to do your job? Welcome to Bowe's world. Somehow, despite a deplorable three-man QB rotation, a running game that's in shambles, and some guy named Devard Darling occupying the second receiver spot, Bowe continues to churn out productive fantasy days. The weird thing is that what he's doing isn't unprecedented.

Remember what Roddy White did last year? He had Chris Redman, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich throwing him passes, a pre-rejuvenated Dunn running the ball, and Michael Jenkins as the only other pass-catching option, and yet he managed to put up 83 catches for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns. Ironically enough, those numbers are nearly identical to what Bowe is on pace for. I don't care who the Chiefs are playing, or who's quarterbacking for them, Bowe should never be out of your starting lineup.

Torry Holt: Funny thing, Holt entered the league trying to match the production of Isaac Bruce, and after catching and surpassing him, he once again finds himself trying to better Bruce's numbers. Only this time, he's attempting to equal the stats that the 35 year-old put up as the Rams' second wide receiver last year, and Holt's not doing a very good job of it. Owners keep waiting for him to break out of his funk, but even as St. Louis has flourished over the last two weeks, the steadiest of the steady receivers over the past decade continues to disappoint.

The Patriots have done an excellent job of shutting down their opposition's top receiving threat (only Vincent Jackson managed more than 80 yards), so if guys like Brandon Marshall, Laveranues Coles and Bowe can't get anything going against them, why should you expect Holt to? You shouldn't. I know it looks sacrilegious to see his name sandwiched in between Greg Camarillo and Malcom Floyd, but that's the reality of what Holt has become this year: an aging Bruce with stylish glasses.

Other notables: Quick, who's leading the Giants in receptions? Plax ... Amani ... Steve Smith? Yep, the second-year receiver is quickly replacing Toomer as Manning's most reliable possession receiver. He's averaging 5.5 receptions and 55 yards over the last four contests, compared to Toomer's 3-for-40. Worth a look in point-per-reception leagues ... Henderson is the Adam Dunn of fantasy football. He knows one thing, and one thing only ... go deep! And like Dunn, when's he's hot, ride him till he's not. Four straight games with a 50-plus yard reception? Keep pluggin' and playin' ... Wait a week before you decide to start Curtis. Receivers coming back from a long layoff don't have their timing down, or their legs under them. We've seen it with Harrison, we saw it last week with Colston, and we watched Brown go without a reception in his first game back with the Eagles ...

Ready ....

Chris Cooley @ Detroit Jason Witten vs. Tampa Bay Owen Daniels vs. Cincinnati Antonio Gates @ New Orleans Tony Gonzalez @ New York Jets Dallas Clark @ Tennessee L.J. Smith vs. Atlanta Zach Miller @ Baltimore Heath Miller vs. New York Giants

Set ...

Jeremy Shockey vs. San Diego Anthony Fasano vs. Buffalo Steve Heiden @ Jacksonville Bo Scaife vs. Indianapolis Marcedes Lewis vs. Cleveland John Carlson @ San Francisco David Martin vs. Buffalo Billy Miller vs. San Diego Robert Royal @ Miami Jerramy Stevens @ Dallas Dustin Keller vs. Chiefs Benjamin Watson vs. St. Louis


Todd Heap vs. Oakland Chris Baker vs. Chiefs Alge Crumpler vs. Indianapolis Dante Rosario vs. Arizona Martellus Bennett vs. Tampa Bay Alex Smith @ Dallas Vernon Davis vs. Seattle Ben Utecht @ Houston

Notables: Smith's statistical output of 10 catches for 77 yards has been more than underwhelming, but he does have two touchdowns. The addition of Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown back into the lineup could go a long way in directing the Falcons defense away from him ... If you're feeling like a used piece of meat after the Browns suspension of Kellen Winslow, picking up and starting Heiden may help restore your teams feeling of self worth. He did have five catches for 59 yards in Week 6 when the "soldier" was out ... Maybe Monday night's three-catch, 40-yard outing was the first indication that Watson is pulling a reversal from last year, where he started the season as a top-tier tight end and ended the year as waiver-wire fodder. Or maybe he just got lucky when the Broncos blew coverage on his 29-yard reception. Either way, he's not a terrible option against the Rams this week ... On the bright side, Bennett's four catches of 20-plus yards has him tied for the third most among tight ends. On the down side, he only has five catches on the year ...

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