On Sundays, I watch a day of football and make observations. On Mondays, I come here and empty the notebook.
• I'm astounded at how much Darren McFadden(notes) has improved in a year. He's always had decent receiving skills and impressive straight-line speed, but I've never seen him move this well laterally with the Raiders, not to mention all the defenders he's running over these days. If I knew he would stay healthy for the balance of 2010, I'd put him in my Top 10 at the running back position. And even with the injury question looming over his head, we have to consider him a must-start even in shallow leagues going forward. Michael Bush(notes), you've been shoved out of the way.
• Dexter McCluster(notes) keeps pushing his way into the Kansas City offense, finally getting a season-high nine touches from scrimmage in the win over Jacksonville (4-28 rushing, 5-41 receiving). The Chiefs have outstanding depth at the skill positions and don't need to force anything for McCluster, but he might prove to be a handy flex option over the next couple of weeks as we negotiate the worst of the bye weeks (six NFL teams sit in both Week 8 and Week 9). McCluster already has one return touchdown and one rushing touchdown as a rookie despite very limited action; more spikes are on the way.
• The Bills might be the only winless team left in the NFL but they're not lacking for excitement. Give Chan Gailey and the coaching staff credit; they've crafted an offense around Ryan Fitzpatrick's(notes) strengths and for the most part the Bills have thrown the ball very well since the QB change was made. Welcome back, Lee Evans(notes). Nice to meet you, Steve Johnson(notes).
Fitzpatrick's success underscores how critical intelligence is to the quarterback position; so much of the job is processing information and making quick and sharp decisions. Fitzpatrick's physical skills hardly qualify him to be a starter in the NFL, but you're better off with a genius that's physically limited than a combine wonder who can't handle the mental demands of the position. Fitzpatrick went to Harvard as you probably know, and he scored a 48 (out of 50) on the Wonderlic. Score one for brains over brawn.
• I've never understood why pass interference can't be reviewable, subject to the same burden of proof that any other questionable play comes under. If the refs had another look at the Mike Sims-Walker(notes) jersey grab in Kansas City on Sunday, they pick up the defensive flag and substitute a foul against the Jags. More and more it seems like the defensive backs get picked on weekly by the officials, while the offensive players get away with murder.
• Andy Reid didn't really need to make a decision with his quarterbacks going forward – Kevin Kolb's(notes) play in Tennessee eliminated all the guesswork. Kolb missed some wide-open receivers in the first half with high throws, he struggled with bodies around him in the pocket, and even the long completion to Riley Cooper(notes) off a gadget play was more luck than skill (Kolb forced a throw into double coverage, then got bailed out by Cooper's fantastic adjustment). If Michael Vick(notes) can stay healthy, no sure thing, he's set up to be a Top 10 fantasy quarterback from Week 9-onward.
• Everyone has figured out by now that any fantasy defense up against Mike Martz and Jay Cutler(notes) is a strong play right now; that horse is out of the barn. Here's another steam target to consider: Arizona. Max Hall(notes) is a long way from figuring the pro game out, Derek Anderson(notes) can't be trusted, and the Cardinals have handed out 21 sacks over six games. Your waiver wire probably includes some of their upcoming opponents: Tampa, Minnesota, Seattle, Kansas City, San Francisco, St. Louis.
• Tip your cap to Wes Welker(notes) for his toughness and his fast rehab schedule, but let's be realistic as we appraise his fantasy worth. He's averaging a mere eight yards per catch and he hasn't seen the end zone since Week 2. Sure, he's a reliable PPR option, but this isn't a star, this is a support player. If you cashed in on his name-brand value at any time over the last month, you did well.
• LeGarrette Blount(notes) once again passed the eye test in Tampa, but even if he starts later in the year, keep in mind the Bucs have a horrendous run-blocking offensive line. He'll have to make most of his yards on his own.
• The NFL is really sticking it to the Brits next week: the 49ers vs. the 59ers.
• Brandon Jackson(notes) has rallied nicely, getting up off the mat and giving us three useful fantasy games in a row. But it's important to note how he's succeeding of late; Jackson's best moments tend to come out of shotgun and spread formations, and after the Packers have established something in the passing game. He's not the type of back you can use in obvious running situations with any confidence; he's more of a gaping-hole runner.
• It's not a bad time to consider a sell-high ticket on Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) (121 total yards, one score at KC). Jones-Drew is having trouble finding any consistent rushing lanes – the 3.8 YPC is the worst of his career – and there's a messy schedule ahead. I'm not putting MJD down as a stiff, but you might get Top 10 payment for someone that's more of a secondary back now.
• A lot of roto players scoff at the idea that anyone can accurately predict fantasy scoring from defenses and kickers, but when in doubt it makes sense to handicap the game itself. Eight of the top nine kickers from Sunday were on teams that won their games, and seven of the top eight defenses were on winning teams. The logic is simple in both cases: kickers on winning teams get more chances to score (losing teams are also less likely to try a late field goal if down a considerable margin), and you want your fantasy defense playing with a fourth-quarter lead, which frees up the pass rush to take dead aim on the pocket and wreck havoc.
Granted, it was hard for anyone to see the Saints losing to the Browns, or the Raiders demolishing the Broncos. But as a general rule, try to follow a winning situation.
• If the teams don't play every year, throw team-versus-team history out the window. It's worthless.
• I don't know what goes on during the week but the Raiders have consistently played hard for Tom Cable. That's more than half the battle when you're a head coach; you've got other people making up the game plans anyway.
• Not everyone agrees with the way Bill Belichick called his endgame in San Diego, but I greatly respect someone who plays for the most viable win over the friendliest loss (we should be doing the same thing with our make-believe football games). Granted, you need a lot of self-confidence and a fair amount of job security to coach like that; Belichick is one of the few coaches in the league with the latter thing in his pocket.