Last week I joked around and asked if we are still living in America. Leave it to the NFL to answer that question for me. Apparently, the answer is a resounding, "No."
Suspending all players for helmet-to-helmet hits? Is that what we've resorted to? Listen, I'm all for player safety. I get that. I understand players today are bigger and stronger than ever and we need to protect them to a certain extent. I have no problem with that. The problem I have with suspending first-time offenders for playing football with instincts.
Let me throw a phrase out to you: "malicious intent." I've been inside of NFL locker rooms and these guys are a fraternity. No player is out there purposely trying to hurt anyone. OK, maybe Joey Porter is but other than him most of these players are human beings with families. Also, with all the moving around players do today, a majority of them have friends on other teams. No player wants to see what happened to DeSean Jackson. Trust me on that.
I agree with James Harrison. No matter how vicious the hit, no player is intentionally trying to hurt anyone out on the football field. They are just playing the game, and make no mistake about it, this is a violent game. I don't believe there is malicious intent 99.9 percent of the time. It's just football. So I'm fine with the flags and the fines. I can live with that but I think the suspensions are taking it too far.
If we want to talk about suspending repeat offenders that makes more sense. If you do it once in the heat of the game, I think the NFL is opening up a can of worms by suspending that player. However, if a player has a history of violent hits, then a suspension is warranted. It's just this idea of suspending all players for every helmet-to-helmet hit that scares the heck out of me. I think there is a lot of gray area there.
Let me give you a scenario: The Steelers are fighting for a playoff spot. In Week 16 Troy Polamalu hits someone hard. It's deemed by the league that he must serve a suspension and miss the next game. The Steelers need to win that game to make the playoffs and now they're without one of their best players. Keep in mind that Polamalu didn't go out to initially hurt someone; he just went to make a play that ended in an illegal hit. He had not been called for a helmet-to-helmet hit all season. This is his first offense for a hit to the head. Is that fair? I don't think so.
You know what my biggest beef is with this whole thing, though? The knee-jerk reaction to one week. This is how our society fixes everything today in general. Instead of the NFL brain trust sitting down for a week and really discussing player safety, debating different solutions and coming up with a solid long-term plan, they just react and say they're going to start suspending everyone.
In all honesty, I don't think this is going to do anything to protect the players. Guys will still get knocked out, so in the long run, what did the NFL really fix?
If the players were in agreement I wouldn't say a word, but even a great many offensive players, the ones on the receiving ends of these hits, think suspensions cross the line. That should tell you all you need to know. Ronnie Lott has said he couldn't even play in today's NFL. So there you go. One of the greatest defensive football players of all-time believes he wouldn't be able to play in the league in 2010. Does that make any sense?
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Now, on with the Fire Sale:
• Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB/Lee Evans, WR Bills -- I'm sure a lot of people will have Steve Johnson going up this week, but that's old news for readers of the Fire Sale. I had him going up a couple of weeks ago. Evans had been dropped in a lot of leagues but dare I say both Bills receivers are worth owning now?
I think I dare. We all know my feelings on Chan Gailey. I'm against him. However, I like this Ryan Fitzpatrick. I don't know if he's Buffalo's long-term answer at quarterback but I like the cut of his jib.
Fitzpatrick has added a boost to the Bills passing game since replacing Trent Edwards and he can really fling the ball around the yard. Thanks to Fitzpatrick, Evans now has fantasy relevance again.
You know, Fitzpatrick could be fantasy football's second half version of Kyle Orton. I'm talking about the Kyle Orton two weeks ago just before I traded for him, obviously. Against the Ravens Fitzpatrick tossed for 374 yards and four scores. That's a 40 point fantasy week against one of the NFL's better pass defenses.
The Bills defense is awful and they can't run the ball consistently. You add all that up and Fitzpatrick, Evans and Johnson are not just all going up, they are going way up. I just picked up Fitzpatrick in my league and I'm honestly going to consider starting him if he has a good matchup.
If Fitzpatrick or Evans is on your waiver wire, I advise grabbing them. Bills players may not put up huge points every week but with that defense Buffalo will need to throw the football a lot the rest of the season. Remember, garbage points count in fantasy football.
• David Gettis, WR Panthers -- Gettis is a guy I've had my eye on since the summer. I had talked with a couple of guys from Carolina who follow the Panthers and they told me from what they saw, Gettis was going to be a player. They just weren't sure how long it would take. Apparently it took until Week 7 of the NFL season.
Gettis had a monster game on Sunday, catching eight passes for 125 yards and two scores. While I'm encouraged by that performance I'm not totally sold on Gettis becoming an every-week fantasy star. If you watched that game you saw the Panthers lining up Gettis and Steve Smith on the same side a lot. They had Smith run shorter routes to draw the coverage and Gettis would run deeper once the safety committed to Smith.
I think Carolina did this because Smith was coming back fast from his ankle injury and they didn't want him working it too hard. In the future, I expect Smith to resume his role as the Panthers' big-play receiver. That's not to say Gettis won't become a nice complement to Smith. At least with Matt Moore under center guys like Smith and Gettis actually have a chance to put up decent fantasy numbers every week.
Gettis is a little like the Rams' Danario Alexander, a player I talked about last week. I don't think you can count on Gettis every week but if you're looking to grab a receiver off the waiver wire who has some upside, Gettis is certainly worth picking up and stashing on your bench.
• Dexter McCluster, RB/WR Chiefs -- I loved McCluster in college but when I did my rookie report after the draft, I questioned how much fantasy value he would have this season because I was unsure what his role would be in the Chiefs' offense. To be honest, I think it took a few games before the Chiefs themselves were sure how they were going to use McCluster.
Watching McCluster in Week 7 it appears to me they finally figured it out. With Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones already in the backfield, McCluster's biggest contribution this season will be as a receiver. McCluster didn't have a huge game on Sunday, catching five balls for 41 yards, but I like his prospects going forward. I think now that he's settled in at receiver McCluster is only going to become more dangerous in the coming weeks.
The other good thing about McCluster is that some leagues list him as a RB/WR, so he gives you a lot of versatility. Now that K.C. knows where McCluster is most valuable in its offense, I expect him to be more valuable to your fantasy team as well.
• Anthony Gonzalez, WR Colts -- I'm not a big fan of Gonzalez, that's why I was so high on Austin Collie coming into the season. Now Collie is going to be out for a few weeks, which is a big kick in the stones to people like me.
One reason I don't care for Gonzalez is because he's an average receiver. The other reason I don't care for him is because he's the most fragile man on the face of the earth. Gonzalez is so fragile that he tweaked the ankle he was recovering from during the bye week. That's tough to do.
According to reports, the setback isn't supposed to be anything major. If that is the case, Gonzalez is a solid waiver wire addition this week. He's still available in most leagues, and if Gonzalez is healthy, I believe he will be the Colts' main slot receiver until Collie returns. Some people think Blair White will get more reps but I'm betting on Gonzalez. Peyton Manning is more familiar with Gonzalez, and with all the injuries the Colts are dealing with right now I think Gonzalez's experience in the offense will go a long way.
Don't expect Collie numbers from Gonzalez. In my opinion, Collie is a much better receiver. Still, if you play in a PPR league, Gonzalez is worth picking up for depth. You can do a lot worse at your flex position than starting the Colts slot receiver.
• Willis McGahee, RB Ravens -- Two weeks ago against New England McGahee didn't register one touch and that worried some people to the point where they cut the Ravens running back. That may have been a mistake.
There was talk that McGahee was going to be moved by the trade deadline but when that didn't happen, he resumed his normal role in the Ravens' offense. I had McGahee as a Sneaky Start last week and delivered by gaining 64 yards and scoring a touchdown. Not bad for a backup.
The other reason I think McGahee is worthy of a roster spot is because of the play of Ray Rice. Rice has been solid this season but I thought he had a chance to be the top overall scorer in fantasy football. That's obviously not going to happen. Even on Sunday against a weak Buffalo defense Rice couldn't find the end zone.
Obviously, Rice is still a better fantasy option than McGahee. Still, McGahee was dropped in a lot of leagues when it appeared he no longer fit into the Ravens' plans. If McGahee is out on your waiver wire, I would pick him up. I would rather start McGahee in a pinch than Marion Barber.
• Matt Forte, RB Bears -- Forte is always going to be a decent start in PPR leagues because he catches so many passes. However, Forte owners have to be getting sick of seeing numbers like this: 50, 29, 29, 26, 11 and 41. Those are Forte's rushing numbers in six of his seven games this season. In other words, besides his 166-yard effort against Carolina, Forte hasn't topped 50 yards in any game and has recorded fewer than 30 yards four times. Those are John Kuhn-like numbers.
Again, Forte hasn't been a total disaster thanks his pass-catching skills and the fact that he's found the end zone six times in seven games. His rushing numbers, on the other hand, have been atrocious.
It's hard to place all the blame on Forte. The Bears do have arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. Still, Forte hasn't averaged over 4.0 yards per carry in 17 of his last 24 games. That simply isn't good enough. I understand the Bears' offense has been struggling in general, but Forte needs to shoulder some of the burden, too. Take away his stellar rookie season and he's been an average NFL running back.
I loved Forte in college. When I worked at Patriots.com I tabbed him as one of my favorite players in the draft. Ironically, the reasons I originally liked Forte are now his biggest weaknesses: vision and patience. Forte simply isn't running with the patience he once did. Maybe that comes from playing behind a bad offensive line, but add everything together and the bottom line is Forte isn't getting the job done.
Forte is still worth starting because of his value as a receiver. But when he doesn't score, Forte isn't going to put up big fantasy numbers because he doesn't gain enough yards on the ground. When you start Forte it all comes down to receptions and touchdowns.
• Wes Welker, WR Patriots -- When I worked for the Pats one question we were always asked was whether or not Randy Moss made Welker. Well, since Moss was traded Welker has caught 11 passes for 76 yards in two games. That's usually a couple of quarters worth of production for Welker.
I don't think Welker's numbers are entirely tied to Moss leaving. Sure, any time you take an offensive threat like Moss out of your lineup, it doesn't put as much pressure on opposing defenses and it allows them to focus more on Welker. Having said that, I still don't believe Welker is 100 percent healthy. He's said as much and it's hard to argue with science.
Players simply aren't supposed to come back that quickly from a devastating knee injury. It makes for a nice story and we can all praise Welker for being tough, but the bottom line is I don't think it benefits the player. Guys are coming back so quickly from major injuries now I think it's almost counterproductive.
Listen, Welker is still going to put up some 10-catch games and be a solid start in PPR leagues. But Welker is no longer the PPR star he once was. Welker isn't quite as explosive as he's been in recent years, which is limiting his yards after the catch. Also, defenses can now put their best corner on Welker instead of Moss.
Expect Welker to be good but not great for the rest of the season.
• Brent Celek, TE Eagles -- Celek has been one of the most disappointing players in fantasy football. I had Celek last year and he was huge in helping me get to the title game. He was basically last year's Zach Miller. Now, he's a borderline starting tight end. That's quite a drop-off.
Celek hasn't topped more than 50 yards receiving in any game this year and he's only scored twice. In five of seven games Celek has failed to catch more than three passes, making him a below average option in PPR leagues as well. You want and try to get at least 12 points from your starting tight end in PPR leagues, and Celek has only reached that total once all year.
Right now, I think there are better options at tight end but with all the injuries recently at the position, you may be forced to start Celek. That may not be good news with Mike Vick returning. In the three games Vick has started this year, Celek has caught a total of 10 passes. Also, his two touchdown receptions came from the arm of Kevin Kolb.
Perhaps Celek will turn it on during the second half of the season but if his first seven games are any indication, Celek is on his way to being one of fantasy football's most disappointing tight ends in 2010.
• Denver Broncos -- Well, we all knew it was coming. The second I traded for Kyle Orton he turned back into a pumpkin. God does enjoy his petty tortures.
What was that on Sunday? The Broncos and Raiders each came into that game at 2-4, with the winner knowing they were right back in the AFC West race. Despite that, Denver came in unmotivated and looking like they didn't even want to be on the field. That wasn't only a bad loss for the Broncos, it was a bad loss for Orton owners. With Denver now at 2-5, it may only be a matter of time before Tim Tebow is under center for the Broncos.
In the third quarter Denver fans started chanting "Tebow, Tebow." Orton may not have played his best game but he was far from being the Broncos' biggest problem Sunday. Is Tebow going to play defense? Is he going to block on the offensive line? Orton is in a tough situation for sure.
I'm not giving up on the Broncos quite yet. I have Orton and Brandon Lloyd and I'm hoping for a big bounce back week. However, this is a huge matchup against the woeful 49ers. If Denver drops that game they will head into its bye week at 2-6. Tebow may not be the starter after the bye but the bottom line is at 2-6 you can certainly expect to see a lot more of him on the field. If you own Orton, Sunday is a must-win game for his long-term fantasy value.
• Marshawn Lynch, RB Seahawks -- Lynch didn't gain a ton of yards on Sunday but it was his 24 carries that were encouraging. Lynch now appears to be the Seahawks' workhorse back and this week he gets to go up against an awful Raiders rush defense. Expect Lynch to top 100 yards on Sunday and find the end zone at least once. Start him with confidence.
• LeGarrette Blount, RB Buccaneers -- As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before Blount took over as the Bucs' starting running back. While he hasn't totally erased Cadillac Williams from the equation, I think Blount could approach 20 carries this week. If you are in a deep league and in need of a flex play, give Blount a look.
• Anthony Gonzalez, WR Colts -- The Colts are playing the Texans this week. In other words, get any Indy receiver that's breathing into your starting lineup.
• Brandon Tate, WR Patriots -- The last time the Patriots and Vikings met I witnessed the biggest coaching mismatch of all-time. New England spread out the Vikings defense and the Vikes did nothing to stop the onslaught. The funny thing about Bill Belichick is he subscribes to the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" theory. Expect a lot of passing from Tom Brady on Sunday. Tate has done next to nothing since Moss was traded but my gut tells me that will end this week.
• Anthony Armstrong, WR Redskins -- Armstrong dropped a sure touchdown pass against the Bears, but the good news for him is he should have more chances to be wide open on Sunday. The Lions' defense is getting better but teams can still throw the ball on them. I wouldn't be shocked if Armstrong finds the end zone this week.
Tom "The Bottom Line" Casale is a featured NFL writer at Sports Grumblings and a featured guest on the "Sports Grumblings Live!" radio show on Sirius Ch. 211 | XM Ch. 147 every Saturday night from 8-11 p.m. ET.