Does anyone remember the old "Super Jock" toy? You know, the kicker that you whacked on the head to try and boot it through the uprights. I couldn't get that image out of my head as I watched Week 5 waiver wire favorite Neil Rackers pound kick after kick through the uprights on Sunday night. Rackers is one of the hottest properties on the market right now, followed by able-bodied receivers in Seattle, and any offensive player lining up against the Packers.
This week is full of difficult matchups, with a lot of question marks in the Sit/Start process. Clinton Portis goes against his old team at Denver, who have been dominant against the run. Carson Palmer and the Bengals travel to Jacksonville for their first real test. We should have a better idea where their offense, and more importantly, their defense stand after facing the Jaguars. And, how can we forget the return to action by the ageless Vinny Testaverde?
Let's take a late-week tour through the injury news that has owners gripping and working for that minor tweak to the winning formula and break out the crystal ball for Week 5.
Hines Ward apparently sustained a hamstring injury during the Week 3 loss to the Patriots. Despite the Week 4 Bye, he's listed as questionable for Monday night's game at San Diego. If he's unable to go, Cedrick Wilson slides into the starting lineup.
Packers tight end Bubba Franks missed practice again due to a persistent knee injury, and his return for Sunday's game against the Saints is in doubt. David Martin played a big role in Monday's game against Carolina (five receptions, 53 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion). Martin is worth a look-see in this spot if Franks can't go.
Staying in Green Bay, Ahman Green skipped Wednesday's practice due to a sprained right knee, and is listed as questionable for Week 5. Green is averaging a miniscule 51.5 yards on the ground through four games, and may be replaced by Najeh Davenport in the starting lineup this week. In either event, the action in Green Bay is in the passing game due to the multiple scores allowed by the defense.
Rams coach Mike Martz is battling a heart infection, and not a sinus infection as initially reported. He expects to reduce his workload, which included missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but expects to be on the sidelines against Seattle. The Seahawks rank 25th against the run (116.3 yards per game), which means that Bulger will likely throw the ball another 50 times. Martz's absence from the sideline could mean a more equitable split in play-calling, but the defense will need to put forth a better effort than last week's debacle against the Giants to make that happen.
As if the Vikings defense wasn't already thinned by injury, the latest reports place defensive end Kenechi Udeze out for the season following knee surgery. Fortunately, the Vikings have a Bye in Week 5 to try and figure out a way to shuffle their cards.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh sustained a bruised left hand in Sunday's win over Houston. The injury was deemed serious enough for him to be listed as questionable on the injury report, but all systems appear go for his appearance in the lineup against Jacksonville.
Cracked ribs forced one of Matt Hasselbeck's top receivers to the sidelines. Bobby Engram suffered the injury on a hard hit from the Redskins. Teammate Darrell Jackson is listed as doubtful with a knee injury, so Hasselbeck has the tandem of Joe Jurevicius and Peter Warrick working at the wideout positions this week.
The Buccaneers remain optimistic that Carnell Williams will be available to them for Sunday against the Jets. Concern about the hamstring injury appears to have subsided, but he remains in a protective boot due to the strained muscle in his foot. With the Jets allowing 129.5 rushing yards per game, the Bucs may let Williams take another week to recover, and let Michael Pittman wreak havoc on the ground and via the air.
Isaac Bruce remains listed as doubtful for this week's tilt against the Seahawks. That means that Kevin Curtis, who was hampered slightly by vision issues against the Giants, will be back in the starting lineup. Bruce may be sidelined for several more weeks with his toe injury.
Arnaz Battle, who had a solid three-game start to the campaign, is likely to miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Johnnie Morton took his place in the lineup in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals and will do so again against the Colts. It'll be a long day for the 49ers offense against the top-ranked Colts defense (6.5 points per game), so look elsewhere for receiver help.
Michael Vick missed Wednesday's practice, sitting on the sidelines with a brace on his right knee. While no commitment has been made for his availability on Sunday, he's listed as probable and will likely hit the ground running against the Pats. The Falcons are averaging over 200 yards rushing, which means a steady diet of Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett against that Patriots front. Confirm his availability on Sunday morning, and have another option ready to roll, just in case.
Things continue to roll downhill for the Jets. Curtis Martin sat out his second straight practice with his sprained right knee. He is still listed as probable for the Week 5 game against Tampa Bay, but look for Derrick Blaylock to factor into the offensive game plan more to keep the stout Tampa Bay defense on their heels.
Joe Jurevicius, WR, Sea: Jurevicius ascends to the starting lineup with the injuries to Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram, and fantasy owners have swooped in to claim him. Despite hauling in only seven catches for 103 yards this season, Jurevicius has been a factor in the red zone, with two touchdowns under his belt. My colleague, Brandon Funston, liked the matchup against the Rams so much that he named Jurevicius his "Start" option on this week's NFL This Week program.
Ernie Conwell, TE, NO: Conwell has become a favorite target of Aaron Brooks, and there's a possibility that Joe Horn will be sidelined for the second straight week. Conwell has been targeted 24 times through four weeks. Look for that trend to continue in Week 5, as the Packers have ceded five scores to opposing tight ends.
Michael Pittman, RB, Tam: No official word has come down yet, but the Buccaneers may go to battle without banged up rookie Carnell Williams. Owners have been clamoring on the waiver wire for Pittman, who shone (126 total yards and a score) in last week's win over the Lions.
Vinny Testaverde, QB, NYJ: Desperate times call for … Fantasy owners have shown tremendous faith in the veteran QB this week, adding Testaverde to their benches in place of scuffling starters such as David Carr and Joey Harrington. With Laveranues Coles, Justin McCareins and Chris Baker in tow, owners have confidence that the battle-tested signal caller can ignite the offense.
Najeh Davenport, RB, GB: Ahman Green owners have scrambled to the waiver wire in search of the Packers' backup in the event that Green is declared out for Sunday's tilt with the Saints. Davenport continues to recover from a hamstring injury of his own, and was limited to 10 yards on four carries in Monday's loss to the Panthers. If declared the starter, and you have no better option at your disposal, he's a decent spot start against the 30th-ranked Saints run defense (130 yards per game).
Patrick Crayton, WR, Dal: In a somewhat curious move, fantasy owners in large numbers descended on the third receiver for the Cowboys this week. Crayton has been in-and-out of Parcells' doghouse with some spotty decisions on punt returns. He did catch a 63-yard TD from Drew Bledsoe against the Raiders, but it was his only catch of the day (targeted twice). I'm not convinced that better receiving options weren't available in those leagues.
New England Defense: Piles of injuries, a brutal schedule, and the lack of a consistent running game have owners chucking one of the earliest drafted defenses of the year to the waiver wire. Now comes word that Richard Seymour was injured in practice while lining up at fullback. The three-time Pro Bowler is listed as questionable for this week's confrontation with the potent Atlanta running game.
J.J. Arrington, RB, Ari: Arrington has managed a miserable 1.4 yards per carry on 20 attempts this year. Marcel Shipp is expected to shoulder the load for the Cardinals going forward, as Arrington continues to struggle mightily in pass protection.
Eric Moulds, WR, Buf: He's been dropped in a number of leagues, and one has to wonder why the veteran receiver was the one to break the news about Kelly Holcomb's promotion to the starting role. Either way, Moulds is one of your ultimate "Buy Low" options right now, having compiled only 10 catches for 80 yards this season. With the shift to Holcomb, Moulds and fellow receiver Lee Evans are worth bench positions in anticipation of the passing game getting on track.
Jerry Porter, WR, Oak: Perhaps his release can be attributed to the Raiders Bye week, but thousands of owners booted Porter to the waiver wire this week. The Raiders' No. 2 option has tallied just 16 catches through four weeks, and has yet to sniff the end zone grass. Like Moulds above, check the wire in the event that a frustrated owner in your league hastily jettisoned Porter off their roster.
Larry Johnson, RB, KC: Johnson appears to be facing reduction in his touches, based somewhat on his recent fumble issues (two straight games). This is another guy whom owners are being short-sighted on. If you drafted Priest Holmes, or even if you didn't, he's got to be on the bench. Willie Roaf returns to action after the Bye week, and the Chiefs offense should get back into gear.
Ryan Longwell, K, GB: If I'm going to highlight the brilliant kicking performances, I need to bring to light the non-factors. Longwell has attempted only four field goals (three made), and six PATs. It's looking more like a feast or famine year for the Packers, which means few opportunities ahead for the veteran kicker.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Jerramy Stevens, TE, Sea
As the winner of a WWE-like "Last Man Standing" contest among Seattle receivers, Stevens will team with Joe Jurevicius to do some damage against the Rams secondary. He's a frequent target of Matt Hasselbeck (24 times in four games), and will hear his number called often this week, as the Rams allow 255 passing yards per game. Jeremy Shockey roamed free last week in the blowout win over St. Louis. I expect much the same results for Stevens this week.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Kurt Warner, QB, Ari
Warner was efficient in his first three starts, completing 63.4 percent of his passes before being sidelined with a groin injury, but he only accounted for one TD pass despite racking up nearly 700 passing yards. Josh McCown came in, and admittedly in a soft spot against San Francisco, he tossed for 385 yards and two scores. If he can repeat the touchdown part of the equation against Carolina, then Dennis Green will have a difficult decision to make after the Week 6 Bye. McCown takes more chances than Warner will, which means potentially bigger payoffs for Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin owners. Let the sleeper dream go, and shore up your QB position elsewhere.
HOT AND COLD
Mark Brunell, QB, Was: Brunell has thrown two scoring strikes in each of his past two starts, while putting up over 500 passing yards. He faces a difficult test on the road at Denver this week, but the main focus on the day for the Broncos will be to shut down former teammate Clinton Portis. Portis will get bottled up, forcing Brunell to take to the air for David Patten and Santana Moss. I also expect Chris Cooley to be more involved in this week's attack.
Stephen Davis, RB, Car: His rushing average could use a boost, but fantasy owners aren't complaining about the production of a back likely taken as a purely speculative pick late in the draft or off the waiver wire. Davis has averaged 19 touches per week, and has already plunged into the end zone five times. There's the possibility that DeShaun Foster starts hawking in on some of his touches to make sure he stays on the field for the duration of the campaign, but until he's down, Davis is a must start second back. He faces a weak Arizona defense that has already surrendered seven rushing touchdowns.
Troy Williamson, WR, Min: Williamson sits this weekend on a Bye, but the rookie speedster has become a favorite go-to target of Daunte Culpepper. He's found the end zone in back-to-back weeks, and will stay in the mix even when Nate Burleson returns to action. With the continuing problems on defense, Minnesota will be forced to throw the ball with great regularity, and that means big-play opportunities for Williamson. He's been targeted 13 times by Culpepper in the past three weeks.
Eddie Kennison, WR, KC: Certainly, the passing game for the Chiefs has had some issues through the first quarter of the season. However, the veteran Kennison has been rock steady. He's averaging 87 yards per game, and I expect for things to begin clicking for the offense in full after the Bye. There were some glimpses of the Chiefs we expected early against Philly, but the defense ultimately betrayed them.
Brian Griese, QB, Tam: Griese owns three multi-TD games on the season (with one shutout against the Bills in Week 2). With the injuries piling up for Carnell Williams, look for the Buccaneers passing game (including Michael Pittman) to be featured more prominently in the weeks to come. Griese faces a tough task on Sunday against the Jets, who rank fourth in the NFL in passing yards at 168 per game.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG: Owners expected him to lay the hammer down around the goal line for the Giants, and he did so in the first two weeks. But, in the last two games, he's seen the ball just three times for 16 yards. There's talk that the bruising back may be shifted from Jerome Bettis-type touches and more into a traditional "Thunder/Lighting" combo with Tiki Barber. In the interim, fantasy owners are shifting their focus elsewhere.
Aaron Brooks, QB, NO: The enigmatic Saints QB continues to bewilder fans and fantasy owners alike, looking brilliant on one possession and positively lost on the next. Through four weeks, Brooks has thrown for 938 yards, but has only two touchdowns versus five interceptions to show for it. He's a spot starter this week against the Packers, but should then resume his place on the bench.
Marshall Faulk, RB, STL: Despite being banged up, Steven Jackson gutted it out and scored twice on Sunday. Faulk has tallied a mere 24 touches through four games, with nine receptions and his lone score through the air. He remains a valuable backup, but can't be considered for a starting slot at this juncture.
Eric Parker, WR, SD: with a healthy Keenan McCardell onboard and LaDainian Tomlinson back in the passing game, Parker has become a virtual non-factor for the Chargers. He's caught 14 balls for 168 yards and hasn't found the end zone. Parker did tally 51 receiving yards in Week 4, but everyone got into the party against the Patriots.
Charles Rogers, WR, Det: I decided to fire Rogers into this final spot to give those who had faith in him after the two lost seasons that emotional release. Let it out … Rogers caught five balls for 77 yards before beginning his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance policy. Wave him goodbye and let someone else gamble on the arms of Joey Harrington and Jeff Garcia.
SWOOPING VULTURES: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
T.J. Duckett continues to find the end zone. Duckett plunged over the goal line for the fourth straight week, and is a valued component of a running attack that piles up 208 yards per game. With Michael Vick playing on the sprained knee, look for his touches to increase this week.
Willie Parker owners, take note. Jerome Bettis has been cleared to resume vulture duties for the Steelers. With running game at a premium against the Chargers (91 yards per game), Parker will find running space tough to come by. And, even if he does, he better take it in, because Uber -Vulture is back to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Zack Crockett used to be an automatic option in the red zone, but has now shifted toward a change of pace role behind LaMont Jordan. He's yet to find the end zone, which means he's yet to find fantasy value.
Moe Williams was inactive for Week 4 against Atlanta with a bum knee. He's expected back on the field for Week 6 at Chicago. With Mewelde Moore as the starter, and Michael Bennett in limbo, Williams should resume his short-yardage and goal line responsibilities.
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.
Erron Kinney caught seven passes for the second straight week off the arm of Steve McNair. Though McNair has yet to make a true connection with No. 1 target Drew Bennett, the combination of Ben Troupe and Kinney have performed well. Kinney is listed as questionable for Week 5 against Houston.
Andy Reid wanted to get L.J. Smith more involved in the attack a few weeks back, and he wasn't lying! Smith caught another nine balls for 67 yards and a score in the comeback win over Kansas City. With Donovan McNabb's continuing injury concerns, he will continue to use short routes to Owens and Smith to mitigate the number of hits he absorbs.
Despite the injuries and question marks in the Jets offense, Chris Baker was a big mover on the waiver wire this week. Perhaps the steadying hand of Vinny Testaverde provided a confidence boost, but it's more likely that 14 catches for 201 yards and a score in the sort function did most of the work.
Tony Gonzalez owners continue to stress over his slow start to the campaign. He ranks 15th among tight ends with 129 receiving yards, and has yet to find the end zone. The Chiefs have been forced to shift around blocking responsibilities, which has kept the running game down and the all-world TE contained. Dick Vermeil is feverishly working to adjust the settings for Week 6.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
Five of the 12 teams have raced off to 3-1 starts. Seeking to protect his fast start, Y! Sports - Lago scrambled to the waiver wire to acquire two new quarterbacks to replace the injured Kurt Warner and Chad Pennington. Despite those early blows and the suspension of Charles Rogers, he's in the hunt.