Every Friday during the NFL season we'll review the Yahoo! weekly position ranks. If an expert breaks from the herd, they'll be asked to show their work. We try to focus on names near the start/sit line in public leagues, or on complete acts of lunacy. Let's play the feud…
I'm heavily invested in the gold market this week, despite the improvement of the Titans secondary. The return of corner Cortland Finnegan(notes) and safety Vincent Fuller(notes) in Week 8 was exactly what the doctor ordered for Tennessee’s battered D. The added help crippled the Jags' passing attack, limiting standout receiver Mike Sims-Walker(notes) to his worst performance since becoming a starter (2 catches for 9 yards). But David Garrard(notes) has struggled on the road and when the Titans were at full-strength earlier this season, they were slapped around routinely.
Though he’s played in just six quarters, Alex Smith has made tremendous advancements in his development. More poised and aware, he’s turned to Crabtree early and often in back-to-back games. The first-round wideout, who’s unbelievably transitioned seamlessly despite an extensive holdout, has attracted 7.5 targets totaling 11 catches for 137 yards in two games. This week, I'm confident he snags his first career TD reception. Tennessee has surrendered 15 scores to WRs on the year, the most in the NFL. -Noise
At some point during Chris Johnson's 228-yard annihilation of the Jaguars, I made sure to check Jacksonville's upcoming schedule, looking for add/trade opportunities. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles gets to face the Jags in Week 9. (Larry Johnson(notes) is taking his annual team and/or league-mandated break due to chronic idiocy). You can reasonably think of Charles as Chris Johnson Lite, since he has 4.38 speed and he's averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He's in line for a full workload against a defense that's allowing 128.3 rushing yards per game. Charles has received double-digit carries only once in his NFL career, and he converted them into 106 yards against the Bucs ('08, Week 9). Considering the talent of the player and the quality of the matchup, Charles isn't one of those wait-and-see fantasy pick-ups. You should start him now. -AB
The matchup against the San Diego front seven seems tasty at first glance, but take note that the Chargers rushing defense has improved since the national TV beatdown in Pittsburgh. San Diego has found a rotation at defensive tackle that works and over the last three games the Bolts are allowing just 3.3 yards a carry (some weak opponents helped, but Denver was also in that mix). Okay, the Chargers rushing defense appears sieve-like when you examine the gross yards allowed, but YPC allowed tells a much fairer story. In that stat, San Diego is at the league median, 4.2 a pop.
And then there's Bradshaw himself, a No. 2 runner who's coming off two nothing games (21 carries, 53 yards, one fumble lost, one late-game meltdown against Arizona). The Giants have stopped using him as a receiver (two catches in six weeks) because they don't trust his pass blocking, and then there's the cracked bone in Bradshaw's foot, a time bomb if there ever was one. If you feel painted into a corner and want to use Bradshaw that's one thing, but this isn't a proactive play in Week 9. -Pianow
Hell hath no fury like Hines Ward following a one-catch performance. Over the past 10 seasons, Ward has averaged 6.1 receptions, 76.5 receiving yards and has scored five TDs in the eight games that have followed outings in which he only caught one pass. OK, so there’s some flimsy logic attached with that argument and I probably could have used the time it took to look that up a bit more constructively. But I actually do think the Monday night game sets up well for Ward. Denver is second in the league in QB sacks and it is among the stingiest in the league in terms of the number of deep passes allowed – just 15 pass plays of 20-plus yards and only one of 40-plus yards. Pittsburgh is suspect in pass protection, but it won’t be able to just squat on the ground game, as the Broncos have allowed the second-fewest yards per carry in the NFL (3.4). So I think QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) is going to have to utilize Ward often in the short-to-intermediate range passing game. I’m putting him down for something like 7 catches, 90 yards and a TD. -BFun
Fully rested and itching to take the field, Carson Palmer is more than ready to battle Baltimore once again. Five weeks ago he played fairly well against the Ravens, totaling 271 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Although Ray Lewis(notes) and company played with marked vigor last week versus Denver, this is still a vulnerable unit, especially vertically. Over the past four weeks, Baltimore has yielded 239.8 yards per game and a 5:1 TD-to-INT split. And on the season, the Ravens have allowed the ninth-most 20-yard pass plays.
With Chris Henry finally at 100 percent and given Palmer’s recent hot hand at home (6:1 TD-to-INT in his last two), the former Trojan should drive a short-sword into the heart of his archrival. Expect roughly 260-280 yards with 2-3 touchdowns. -Noise
Boss made a nifty catch for an 18-yard TD against the Eagles last week and he finished the game with 70 receiving yards, but this rank has nothing to do with his recent performance. This ranking is strictly a matchup thing. Boss faces San Diego in Week 9. To no one's surprise, the Chargers currently rank among the most generous teams to opposing tight ends; their defense allowed the most fantasy points to TEs in both 2008 and 2006. If you're among the many fantasy owners who just lost Owen Daniels(notes) (ACL) for the year, Boss is a widely available option who can contribute, at least for a week. -AB
Rookie QB Josh Freeman(notes), making his first start on Sunday, understands what to expect this weekend. Said Freeman this earlier week, "Teams are probably going to bring a lot at me as far as blitzes, which I’m prepared for because that opens a lot of stuff up down the field and in the middle of the field." That middle of the field is the domain of Winslow and we’ve already seen earlier in the season when the Bucs had an inexperienced QB (Josh Johnson(notes)) facing a blitz-happy opponent (Philly in Week 5) that Winslow became a major point of emphasis (9 catches, 102 yards, 2 TDs). Tampa Bay is talking about letting Freeman take his shots in the passing game this week, and I expect Winslow to be a very attractive security-blanket target for the rookie. -BFun
When we examine fantasy stocks, it ultimately comes down to a Tale of the TOE – talent, opportunity and environment. Mike Bell doesn't grade out very highly in the first part of that equation, but his workload and supporting cast in New Orleans have turned him into a sneaky-reliable fantasy option in 2009.
The undefeated Saints provide plenty of opportunity in the running game, especially in the fourth quarter as they're looking to drain the clock and salt away victories. Bell has 89 carries in the five games he's dressed for and he's seen as one of the two main options (along with Pierre Thomas(notes)) when the Saints get close to the goal line. Carolina might not put up much of a fight here; the Panthers are handing out 4.5 yards a pop on the ground and they head to the Big Easy as 13-point underdogs.
Don't worry about the presence of Reggie Bush(notes), it's not going to hold Bell back – Bush has just 17 touches over the last three weeks. Fullback Heath Evans(notes) used to steal some short-yardage looks but that's over now, Evans is on IR and done for the season. Thomas is clearly the most talented back the Saints have but Sean Payton shows reluctance to overuse Thomas; the head coach will make sure Bell is a part of the plan. In the messy time-share world of Fantasy Football 2009, don't underestimate the importance of a safe and projectable workload, something Bell offers every week he plays. Here's a forecast to help you sort through your Bell-related decisions: 17 touches, 83 yards, 0.75 touchdowns. -Pianow
Photos via AP Images