Fantasy owners finally put the first-half enigma of Daunte Culpepper to rest with the dreaded IR tag. Of course, the nice thing about the IR is that it is cut and dried. It takes away the gamesmanship of the injury report (Corey Dillon or Thomas Jones, anyone?). It gives owners the freedom to seek out an alternative for that underachieving star, and alleviates many headaches.
But where's the fun in that? If we're going to have the pageantry and excitement of the draft and do our celebratory dance for a big win, then I guess we need to take the frustrations of a series of bad games as well. And, in the end, at least we don't have to cut them a check for a two-catch, 18-yard performance.
Let's get ready to welcome the second-half of the season. It's time to make the moves that will cement your spot in the playoffs. Let's break down the headlines, stats and stories that make up Fantasy Football This Week .
- Fantasy owners who eyed a big day out of Ben Roethlisberger this week against the Packers will need to seek out another option. Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic surgery on Thursday and may miss as many as four weeks. Bill Cowher said in his Thursday press conference that Charlie Batch assumes the starting role for this week, and Roethlisberger's status for Week 10 will be re-assessed next Tuesday. Staying in Pittsburgh, Jerome Bettis was downgraded to doubtful for Sunday's game, meaning that Duce Staley will play a role in this contest.
- Terrell Owens ended several days of speculation about his ankle by returning to practice on Thursday. Andy Reid liked what he saw in the limited reps Owens took in practice. With a big game on tap against a division rival on national television, it's doubtful that Owens makes good on his early week comments to sit out. Donovan McNabb sat out practice again, watching Koy Detmer work with the first team. Given the myriad of injuries afflicting McNabb, owners would be well-served to review their backup situation. Just in case …
- Priest Holmes sought out a second opinion on the head injury sustained in last week's game against San Diego. Holmes still expected to be in the starting lineup on Sunday against Oakland unless test results say otherwise. In any event, Larry Johnson makes for a great play this week against a middle of the road Oakland run defense (he rolled up 296 yards and four scores against the Raiders a year ago).
- The Titans list Brandon Jones as questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury, but his inability to join the fray at practice leads one to believe that he'll sit out. Drew Bennett is still out with a broken thumb, Tyrone Calico has a calf injury, and Ben Troupe remains in a walking boot with a high ankle sprain. It's Courtney Roby, fellow rookie Roydell Williams, and Erron Kinney against the world.
- After only two games under center for the Lions, Jeff Garcia is back on the sidelines after taking several big blows from the Bears in last week's OT loss. That means Joey Harrington resurfaces as the starting QB in a favorable spot against the Vikings this week. Mariucci spoke only of this week's game versus Minnesota when naming Harrington the starter. As for the rest of what was considered to be a "breakout" offense this year, both Mike Williams and Roy Williams are listed as questionable for this matchup. The Lions received a little consolation in the return of Charles Rogers from his suspension.
- As expected with the heavy workload and stacked defensive fronts, Domanick Davis is battling inflammation in his knee. Davis is expected to play against Jacksonville, but there is some concern as to whether his body will be able to withstand another 200 Touches. Jonathan Wells is currently listed as the No. 2 man on the Texans depth chart in the event that Davis is forced to miss time.
- Bobby Engram returns to the lineup against Arizona this week after missing the last month with cracked ribs. With the normal monster production out of Shaun Alexander in these contests, it's difficult to predict big things for Engram in his first week back. Though he hasn't found the end zone yet this season, Engram has caught five or more passes in each game that he's played, including a five-catch, 54-yard performance in the first meeting with Arizona.
- The Eagles may get a boost on Sunday with the return of kicker David Akers, who has missed six weeks with a hamstring tear. He is set on returning to PAT and FG work this week, but left kickoff duties out of his plans. Unless he's able to perform all kicking duties, it will be tough for Andy Reid to utilize two roster spots on kickers (he and Jose Cortez). This smells of a game-time decision.
- Andre Johnson moved one step closer to returning to game action by stepping on a practice field for the first time in almost a month. It's tough to insert him back into a fantasy lineup given the injury status and the production of the Houston passing game, but he is still the team's No. 1 receiver. That counts for something, doesn't it?
- As usual, Bill Belichick isn't tipping his hand with the Patriots injury report. Both Patrick Pass and Corey Dillon are listed as questionable for this week's big Monday night game against New England. Dillon looked awfully solid for an emergency backup last week in the comeback win over the Bills. Look for him to get rolling and do it again this week.
- Michael Jenkins sat out practice again with a high ankle sprain, leaving his availability for Sunday against Miami in doubt. Roddy White and Dez White are expected to share his normal reps in his absence, but there are no gimmes in the passing game in Atlanta.
- Marcus Robinson became the Vikings "go-to" guy over the past week, but now lists as questionable for Sunday's tilt with the Lions. His likely absence for this week elevates Nate Burleson and Troy Williamson in the passing game.
Get all your last-minute injury information before kickoff with Game Day Calls.
- Kurt Warner, QB, Ari: Warner returns to the starter's chair for the Cardinals this week against a tough Seattle pass defense. He'll also likely do so without receiver Anquan Boldin (knee). Seattle allows only 188 yards via the air, but the problems in the Arizona backfield will keep Warner throwing.
- Ernest Wilford, WR, Jac: Wilford was the unlikely breakout performer in last week's narrow defeat to the Rams. He caught six balls for 145 yards and a score. The high yardage total was four times larger than his biggest output to date! Jack Del Rio worked him with the first squad this week, which means he'll be more involved in the offense with Matt Jones' reluctance to put two hands up for the ball.
- Jay Feely, K, NYG: Here's a matchup play for Rian Lindell and Jeff Wilkins owners. Feely follows a big performance against Washington up with a huge spot against a depleted San Francisco defense. Feely had averaged nearly two FG attempts per game through the first seven weeks of the season, so he certainly makes for a viable start here, even if he's resigned solely to booting PATs.
- Courtney Roby, WR, Ten: The winner of the "last man standing" match in Tennessee, Roby will see a bounty of Looks from Steve McNair against the Browns. He and fellow rookie combined for 23 Looks in last week's game against Oakland, and there's no reason to believe that the workload will be diminished. He's a solid plug-in play at your No. 3 receiver position.
- Brad Johnson, QB, Min: Johnson inherits a mess in Minnesota, but all pressure on this squad exited when they slapped the IR tag on Daunte Culpepper. As a result, Johnson will be loose and ready to fire to any one of his large number of targets. I expect big things for Jermaine Wiggins for the second half of the year working with Johnson. And, Johnson gets his first start on the fast track in Minnesota. He's a decent sleeper play for this week.
- Bobby Engram, WR, Sea: Even though he's still in the "do not touch this injured man" garb at practice, Engram will return to the field this week against Arizona. He is a favorite target of QB Matt Hasselbeck, and Mike Holmgren will most certainly look to get him back into the flow as quickly as possible. Temper your expectations (he hasn't scored yet), but the opportunities will be there for him to make a play.
- Jeff Garcia, QB, Det: As soon as Garcia threw the INT to lose last week's game against the Bears, owners toyed with the idea of booting him back to the waiver wire. Friday's revelation that Joey Harrington will be the starter against Minnesota effectively pushed that button, as he was released in thousands of leagues shortly thereafter. The jury is out as to how long Harrington will be back in the No. 1 spot, but my money is on Garcia reclaiming that role in short order barring some huge efforts by Harrington.
- Ashley Lelie, WR, Den: Lelie tied his biggest yardage output of the year in Week 8, hauling down three passes for 81 yards. Despite three straight productive outings, owners clearly utilized the bye week to cut the underperforming fourth-year receiver loose.
- Antowain Smith, RB, NO: With reports of Aaron Stecker moving well in practice this week, Smith's stock has fallen with a platoon situation on the horizon. Of course, this week's matchup against a ferocious Bears defense doesn't help matters. He's still a 12-15 carry back for the foreseeable future (especially now that Jesse Chatman has been dumped), which means he at least belongs on a bench.
- Michael Pittman, RB, Tam: He's got a damaged shoulder, and Carnell Williams is back to shoulder the load for the Buccaneers. He's listed as questionable, but late-week reports indicate that Mike Alstott and Earnest Graham will up their workload and that Pittman will sit this one out. Additionally, after last week's sub-par performance, it's clear that Carnell Williams is not at full strength. As a result, look for more Touches from the secondary and tertiary backs in Tampa Bay. Jon Gruden realizes how much he'll need Williams for the playoff stretch, so the "I'll run him until he can't run anymore" rhetoric is gone.
- Josh McCown, QB, Ari: McCown had a pretty good run, but now he's back to the pines in Arizona, thus ending his fantasy productiveness. I wouldn't rule out a return to the starting role so long as Dennis Green is in charge, but for now, it's safe to cut him loose.
- Jerome Bettis, RB, Pit: The news of a downgrade in Bettis' status to doubtful has fantasy owners seeking out other backfield options. In some cases, it's been a straight exchange for teammate Duce Staley. Other owners are still jumping on the Marion Barber bandwagon.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
The Giants have worked to get their No. 2 receiver more involved in the offense in the past two weeks, calling Toomer's number for the game-winner in Week 7 and then targeting him seven times in last week's romp over the Redskins. I look for Eli Manning and company to break this one open against the 49ers via the passing game (San Francisco gives up 314 yards and two passing touchdowns per game). The attention afforded to Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress, and Jeremy Shockey will allow Toomer to roam free. I look for 75 yards and a score this Sunday.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Dilfer is still residing on the benches of many a fantasy owner as of Week 9. Rookie receiver Braylon Edwards is calling for the promotion of fellow rookie Charlie Frye. Given Dilfer's horrific production over the past three weeks and the lack of continuity for the Browns offense, that change is in the offing. Turn to the recently promoted Kurt Warner or Brad Johnson for your insurance QB instead.
HOT AND COLD
Swooping Vultures: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
- As mentioned before, Jerome Bettis has been downgraded to "Doubtful" for this week's game at Green Bay. Is Bill Cowher playing possum? Maybe, maybe not. If you're looking down the list for a RB plug-in play, Verron Haynes is likely to play a big role as the backup to Willie Parker this week. We'll update Bettis' status next week.
- T.J. Duckett expects to return to the field this week on the road against Miami. Warrick Dunn has shone throughout the season, thereby limiting Duckett's touches. I believe that he's got to stay on the pines this week against a tough Miami run defense.
- Brandon Jacobs got into the action in the laugher over Washington, carrying the ball eight times and pounding in a touchdown. The short yardage work served to demonstrate Tom Coughlin's faith in the rookie and to keep him checked in mentally for the second-half grind. It marked Jacobs' first TD since Week 2.
- He's not doing the job running it in, but Kyle Johnson has become a force for the Denver Broncos in the passing game. Johnson has scored in three straight games and gets lost in defensive schemes so pre-occupied with Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson. For the year, Johnson has recorded five touchdowns.
Tight Ends: Surveying the Safety Valves
The Tight end is often the young or struggling quarterback's best friend. Sometimes, he's so dominant that he can't be denied. Here are several players making noise at the position.
- It's another week, and another pat on the back to Heath Miller. Like all components of the Pittsburgh passing game, it's not the quantity of the Looks that matter, it's the quality. Miller has scored five touchdowns in his last four outings, and is sitting pretty for another end zone celebration against the Packers.
- Tony Gonzalez finally got into the TD column this week, though he lost the battle against Antonio Gates 3-to-1. Gonzalez had his biggest output of the year with seven catches for 97 yards. With a young Oakland secondary on tap for Week 9, Gonzalez is in line to make it a streak.
- I mentioned making the most of opportunity. In Week 8, L.J. Smith and Kris Mangum scored the type of touchdown that makes you celebrate if you own them, or curse the QB for not taking it in themselves if you don't. I'm talking about the one-yard TD pass. Oh, and both players failed to record another catch in their respective games.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
In an act of bravado, machismo, desperation, call it what you will, team Y! Sports Funston defeated team Y! Sports Lago despite starting three players on a Bye and Michael Clayton (who might has well have been). That win gives Funston a one-game lead in the East over my squad.
- Daunte Culpepper
- Corey Dillon