1. Ray Rice and Steven Jackson cannot tell a lie. For Wednesday-Sunday of the NFL season, I typically ignore the doubletalk that comes out of players and coaches' mouths regarding injuries -- since most of 'em would rather reveal their Social Security Numbers than divulge info about elbow strains, thigh bruises or fractured patellas. But I couldn't help but notice that Rice (159 total yards, 2 TDs in Week 5) and Jackson (126 total yards) were refreshingly candid and upbeat about their knee and groin maladies, respectively. As a result, I exhibited no fear in starting either one this week, even when given similarly stellar options, such as DeAngelo Williams, Peyton Hillis, Ahmad Bradshaw, Mike Tolbert, Ryan Torain or Maurice Jones-Drew. And come Week 6, Rice (@ New England) and Jackson (vs. San Diego) will get the starting nod again.
2. Chris Johnson and Miles Austin are the fantasyland standard-bearers at running back and wide receiver ... and Kenny Britt might be the scariest player no one chooses to remember. Of course, the Britt indifference predates Sunday's impressive 4-catch, 86-yard, 1-TD outing -- his third straight week of finding the end zone -- and doesn't even include an overturned touchdown off a long reception (officials ruled him down-by-contact after the catch). Suffice to say, Britt will likely be the No. 1 waiver-wire pickup in 12-team leagues this week. As for Johnson (132 total yards, 2 TDs), he has a noticeably easier schedule than Adrian Peterson down the stretch and would never pull a disappearing act like Arian Foster -- giving him the edge as fantasy's best rusher.
Regarding Austin (9 catches, 166 yards, 1 TD), he'll remain top dog among the receivers -- until Andre Johnson is 100 percent healthy or Arizona develops a quarterback to match Larry Fitzgerald's talents.
3. Arian Foster has earned the right to have one bad game. A really bad game. There's really no positive spin for 13 touches and 27 total yards, other than saying the Texans had to ignore the league's leading rusher once their deficit swelled to double digits. There's also the happy rationale that Matt Forte had a miserable experience against the Giants in Week 4 (26 rushing yards) ... but enjoyed a seismic rebound on Sunday (166 total yards, 2 TDs). Of course, Forte had the luxury of facing the bend-and-sometimes-break Panthers in his rebound game, whereas Foster gets a date with the surprisingly stingy Chiefs next week. It goes without saying: Foster remains a must-start in all scoring formats for Week 6.
4. The sudden disappearance of Mario Manningham should leave fantasy owners shocked and confused. The Giants' pecking order among the receivers has always been Hakeem Nicks (12 catches, 130 yards, 2 TDs) and Steve Smith (6 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD); so, it's not like Manningham's success from Weeks 1-3 (at least 75 receiving yards in each game) deluded owners into rubber-stamping him into starting lineups. However, there was no forewarning of Manningham's catch-free outings against the Bears and Texans -- two middling pass defenses -- and there's no predicting how he'll fare against the Lions and Cowboys coming up. Hmmm, maybe Michael Crabtree isn't so bad as a starter after all.
5. Michael Crabtree required neither a change in attitude nor latitude to become relevant again -- just a switch in offensive coordinators. That awkward Jimmy Buffett intro aside, Crabtree is already reaping the benefits of the 49ers promoting Mike Johnson to OC (while booting Jimmy Raye). Against Philly, Crabtree extracted nine catches, 105 yards and one touchdown from double-digit targets, while earning a starring role in red-zone situations, as well. Perhaps most important, he has justified a certain fantasy writer's plea to not drop Crabtree after his darkest hour (Week 3), but simply banish him to the bench until further notice. Well, Crabtree's ship has quickly come in -- he's back to full-time starter consideration once again.
6. Spending 90 percent of your free-agent auction-bidding budget, or FAAB money, on one player is utterly ridiculous. This one goes out to the countless owners who devoted nearly all of their remaining cap space on Eagles RB Mike Bell (8 total yards in Week 5), presuming that he'd be a substantial fill-in for LeSean McCoy and his ailing rib cage. Instead, McCoy Charmin'd himself up for the Sunday nighter and bedazzled the Niners for 138 total yards and one touchdown. To clarify, Packers RB Brandon Jackson was similarly gobbled up by owners in Week 2 -- after Ryan Grant's injury -- and broke through for 140 total yards Sunday; but after three lackluster outings before Week 5, there's a good chance fantasy owners had him benched against the Redskins' sturdy rush defense. Ouch!
7. The greatness of Matt Forte conquers all. If Forte had been injured on Sunday; heck, if Forte had never been born, this would've easily gone down as the ugliest offensive performance in the Bears' illustrious 91-year history. Instead, the shocking ineptitude of backup QB Todd Collins (32 passing yards, 4 INTs) and the pass-catching corps (Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Aromashodu, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen) will merely serve as an interesting footnote to an eminently forgettable game. Plus, it makes one appreciate the many faults and talents of QB Jay Cutler (out with a mild concussion) and the all-world abilties of Forte (188 total yards, 2 TDs) when fully healthy. Speaking of which, Forte is now back on pace to meet or eclipse my lofty preseason guarantee of 1,700 total yards and eight touchdowns.
8. Only an idiot (me) would fall for Mike Shanahan's tired act, again and again. While watching an all-fantasy program on ESPN2 Sunday morning -- hosted by Matthew Berry, Eric Kuselias, Tim Hasselbeck and a cast of thousands -- I got rooked into putting RB Ryan Torain in my starting lineup (while subbing out Ahmad Bradshaw), after hearing ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio recount Shanahan's gushing about the "versatile" and "explosive" Torain ... who converted 20 healthy touches into a less-than-robust 67 total yards against Green Bay.
Apparently, even experienced fantasy savants need to remember the loathsome term Shanahan-igans, in reference to the coach's legendary disdain for fantasy football and questionable judgment with man-crushes who follow him from Denver to Washington D.C. For my own sanity, I'll prioritize trading Torain this week -- even though his trade value is considerably lower than just 24 hours ago.
9. Philip Rivers might average 300 yards passing/2.5 TDs per game from this point forward. Back in August, I lauded Rivers' chances of eclipsing 300 yards passing in his first seven games; and while that feat won't happen by the letter of the law, technically, it was a brilliant assessment (with some credit going to Rivers and San Diego's receiving corps). With the notable exception of Weeks 15 (vs. San Francisco) and 16 (at ice-cold Cincinnati on a December Sunday night), Rivers should be a shoo-in for the 300/2.5 threshold in every game, making him the preferred target over Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matt Schaub when finagling a blockbuster trade for a superstar quarterback. These are the benefits of playing for Norv Turner, having a revolving door at running back and experiencing six easy-cheesy games against AFC West foes and four NFC West lightweights.
Also, I would like to apologize to WR Malcom Floyd (8 catches, 213 yards, 1 TD) for doubting his talents in the preseason. Obviously, the man has expertly filled the void of Vincent Jackson, perhaps adding a greater element of speed than V-Jax, who likely won't see the Chargers' sideline this season.
10. Antonio Gates is the greatest tight end in NFL history ... and I'm not just talking fantasy world. Yes, Colts legend and Hall of Famer John Mackey dominated his position in an era when tight ends were more valuable as blockers than receivers; and Kellen Winslow Sr. was the main cog in perhaps the greatest passing offense in league history (the 'Air Coryell' Chargers of the late 1970s/early 1980s). But no tight end has ever approached Gates' current run of nine consecutive games with a TD reception (he can break Randy Moss's all-time record in this category next week), and no tight end from this year's crop could possibly equal Gates' value in the trade market. Hence, you'd be an absolute fool to deal Gates (508 catches/6,701 yards/66 TDs) for anything less than a top-3 quarterback, top-5 receiver or top-10 running back.
11. Matt Cassel may be an eminently replaceable asset in fantasyland, but he doesn't deserve three straight drops on his r�sum�. In my history of watching football, I have never seen a QB make three pinpoint passes to open receivers in the same series of downs ... only to see the balls helplessly fall to the turf. Unfortunately for Cassel (156 yards passing, zero TDs), this sequence occurred when Kansas City was trailing 9-6 and featured a seemingly easy TD pass to Dwayne Bowe (who bungled two straight throws).
For two years, I have maintained that Bowe (2 catches, 33 yards in Week 5) was not the AFC version of Michael Clayton (short-term dynamo/long-term flop); but now, perhaps he deserves the Crabtree treatment -- where he's good enough to roster in 12- or 14-team leagues, but not reliable enough to start in normal situations. In other words, he's merely buy-low trade fodder for the owner who thinks Bowe isn't a lost fantasy cause. After all, somebody has to catch passes in the Chiefs' offense, especially with pass-happy coaches Todd Haley and Charlie Weis calling the shots before each snap.
12. Detroit's 44-6 dismantling of St. Louis was eerily reminiscent to the club's 44-7 rout of Denver in 2007. In the 45 games since that Week 9 thrashing from three years ago, the Lions have just won four times (including Sunday). This should serve as Exhibit A to the legions of Lions loyalists (my family included) who believe the franchise is on the reasonably fast track to success. Of course, with an under-25 nucleus of WR Calvin Johnson (4 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD), RB Jahvid Best (94 total yards), TE Brandon Pettigrew (4 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD), DT Ndamukong Suh (first career interception), safety Louis Delmas (a heat-seeking missile) and injured QB Matthew Stafford (back for Week 9?) ... it's easy to see brighter days ahead. And from a fantasy standpoint, remember that backup QB Shaun Hill (227 yards, 3 TDs) throws the most catchable jump balls in the red zone -- and usually to his teammates.
13. The Jaguars' receivers and tight ends are still on double-secret probation, despite playing a key role in the in the club's 36-point output. Yes, I realize that TE Marcedes Lewis (4 catches, 54 yards, 2 TDs) and WR Mike Sims-Walker (4 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD) had solid days against Buffalo, but a thought struck me while watching the great and powerful Andrew Sicilliano on the Red Zone Channel: In eight years of fantasy football -- spanning more than 100 leagues -- I've never lost a significant head-to-head matchup because of the magic of a Jacksonville receiver.
Of course, Maurice Jones-Drew (93 total yards) has been granted amnesty from this embargo; and I feel bad that WR Mike Thomas (4 catches, 51 yards) has gotten caught in the crossfire, since he represents a consisent, albeit low-end producer in PPR leagues. If you absolutely, positively need 9.5 PPR points ... Thomas is the man!
14. Steve Johnson might be the NFL's best garbage-time receiver. Before laughing this off, just remember that 0-5 Buffalo will probably encounter four more semi-blowouts in 2010, and that alone should boost Johnson (5 catches, 46 yards, 2 TDs) into the "emergency-start" category throughout the remaining bye weeks. Don't get me wrong, this is not an endorsement to drop a quality fifth receiver or second tight end for any Bills wideout (including Lee Evans), but it's good to know that Johnson can inflict positive fantasy damageafter the home crowd has left for the exits.
15. I still think of Gary Gnu when repeating Graham Gano's name, but that's a fleeting occurence now. There's a reason why I never take a kicker before Round 12 of a standard 16-round draft. Productive legs can be found at any point, as evidenced by Gano's three field goals against the Packers and his per-game average of 2.2 field goals. All hail (perhaps) the capital region's best kicker since Mark Moseley.
16. Welcome back, Marques Colston. Oh sure, the Saints' primary receiver has yet to find the end zone this season, but optimism still abounds after his 7-catch, 97-yard outing against the Cardinals' sneaky-good defense. And now, Colston has the proper momentum to dominate the Bucs and Browns in Weeks 6/7 before encountering the Steelers on Halloween night.
Of course, it also helps that New Orleans has no running game with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush sidelined by injury ... and the occasional cameos of TE Jeremy Shockey (3 catches, 30 yards, 1 TD), and WR Robert Meachem (4 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD) are sporadic enough to be mirages -- a fitting context for a club that just lost its mojo in the desert.
Jay Clemons can be found on Twitter, day and night, accessing your fantasy questions and comments. You can read his award-winning Revelations every Sunday/Monday during the NFL season.