November 13, 2009

Here's a closer look at the fantasy surprises in Cincinnati:

I had serious doubts about the Cincinnati Bengals' fantasy cogs before the season started. Chad Ochocinco & Co. made me a believer. The fact I just referred to him by his ridiculous "Ochocinco" name shows I've come a long way.

Specifically, I didn't believe Carson Palmer's arm was healthy enough to lead the offense. I had no faith Cedric Benson finally would live up to massive expectations. Most importantly, I was convinced "Ocho" was more focused on both his Twitter and touchdown antics than his play.

It's time to "Deconstruct" how these Bengals have exceeded expectations, and project their performance going forward.

Palmer crushed many owners' titles dreams last season when he played in only five games because of a bum elbow. Palmer was one colossal question mark on draft day. There was still an injury concern because he decided against reconstructive elbow surgery. In addition, Palmer lost his blankie, T.J. Housmandzadeh, to the Seahawks. Finally, his star wideout was a loose cannon who appeared to lose his explosiveness.

Palmer hasn't posted dominant numbers like he did in 2005 (first-ranked QB) and 2006 (fourth-ranked QB). Nevertheless, he has posted solid backend QB1 numbers with 1,832 passing yards, 14 passing TDs, and one rushing score. From a scouting perspective, my knock on Palmer has always been that he never got past the second read in his progressions. Well, this year he's comfortably scanning all his options and waiting for an open receiver. Slowly, I am becoming a Palmer fan.

Palmer owners should expect a strong finish. The Palmer-to-Ochocinco connection is potent once again. The offensive line is protecting the franchise quarterback (12 sacks allowed). Further, the offense is perfectly balanced with Benson barreling through defenses. Palmer has huge games on tap with matchups against Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, and Kansas City on the radar. Enjoy.

Palmer's Week 10 outlook (at Pittsburgh): 220 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs

Palmer is sizzling hot with 457 passing yards and six TDs over the past two games. That said, this is a week to bench him if you have a better option. The Steelers only have an average pass defense (14th ranked), but they are fourth in the league in sacks and Palmer will be dealing with a hostile Blitzburgh crowd.

Okay, who predicted Benson would bust out and be an explosive RB1 this year? Spare me. Long ago, the former Bears first-rounder was labeled a "bust" and severed from fantasy rosters more than Joey Harrington. That's saying something.

Benson has exhibited tremendous vision, surprising speed, and ridiculous power in compiling 837 rushing yards and six scores through eight games. The Bears must have been wondering who that dude was with "Benson" on his jersey when he ran for 189 yards and a TD against them. Geez, talk about a sweet revenge game.

Don't expect the Benson breakout to end soon. Benson is in the perfect offense for his running style and behind a dominant run-blocking line. Did I mention he is facing bottom-tier rush defenses (San Diego and Kansas City) in the fantasy playoffs? Benson will finish the season as a Top 10 running back and single-handedly win titles for his owners. Who woulda thunk it?

Benson's Week 10 outlook (at Pittsburgh): 55 rushing yards, 0 TD, 1 rec., 11 rec. yards

Yikes, it doesn't get any tougher than this road matchup versus the Steelers' top-ranked rush defense. Give Benson a rest if you have the depth at RB to throw out another legitimate option.

The receiving artist formerly known as Chad Johnson talks more smack than any player in the league. Ochocinco didn't back it up last year with 53 catches for 540 yards and four scores. Without Palmer at the helm, Sir Ocho just didn't look like the same receiver and he lacked his trademark burst. As a result, Ochocinco plummeted down draft boards.

Ochocinco has reestablished himself as a stud WR1 with 44 receptions for 639 yards and five TDs. In fact, he's displaying crisper route running, stronger hands, and better footwork than ever before. There's no stopping Ochocinco when he's focused ... on making more money.

Laveranues Coles was supposed to step right into Housmandzadeh's role and be Palmer's numero uno underneath WR. It hasn't happened. Coles (22 receptions, 227 yards, three TDs) has looked uncomfortable in the offense, has yet to establish any type of chemistry with Palmer, and he has suffered from ugly bouts of the dropsies.

Don't give up on Coles quite yet. He had his best game of the year last week against the Ravens with six catches for 72 yards. Further, with Chris Henry being placed injured reserve, Coles will see increased snaps and targets. Coles is still a valuable reserve WR and has some solid games in the tank. Don't be shy about throwing Coles out there as a WR3 when he faces weaker opponents (i.e. Detroit and Cleveland). He will surprise down the deep stretch as "85" demands more attention.

To date, Andre Caldwell has been a slightly better play than Coles with 29 catches for 272 yards and three TDs. Caldwell is Palmer's go-to weapon on third down. Coles will outperform Caldwell in the second half because he's a superior red-zone threat. In this case, go with the savvy veteran over the new blood if you have an option.

Ochocinco's Week 10 outlook (at Pittsburgh): 8 rec., 90 yards, 1 TD

Ochocinco is a must-start even against tough defenses. The battle between CB Ike Taylor and Ochocinco will be physical and talkative. Notably, Taylor has owned Ochocinco throughout his career. However, based on how well Ochocinco is playing and how much Palmer has been looking his way (73 targets), don't be surprised when the diva WR puts up above-average numbers and makes the Steelers' pay for a blitz.

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