This week's mailbag reflects fantasy owners' collective frustration with the Philadelphia Eagles. Separate questions inquire about Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, and the receiving duo of Terrell Owens and Greg Lewis. Green Bay's Tony Fisher has risen to the ranks of No. 2 starter for many owners due to bye weeks and injuries. Is he worth a start? And, of course, comeback kid Mark Brunell is weighing heavily owners' minds. Can he rebound from last week's dismal outing?
All these topics and more make up this week's trip into the mailbag. Game on.
Warrick Dunn against the Dolphins or Larry Johnson against the Raiders? Dunn's been a yardage fool, which leaves room for scoring, but LJ has the opportunity to get involved, especially with a banged-up Priest Holmes. I'm stuck … – David in Illinois
Dunn has certainly been as productive as any back in the game this year, with five games of more than 97 rushing yards. He's also riding a streak of two straight 100-yard games, and put up 155 on the Jets. However, he has scored only twice despite those big yardage totals. That turns my attention to Larry Johnson this week. Priest Holmes is banged up, Trent Green has missed a few practices for his father's funeral, and Johnson has been openly critical of his role in the offense. Those three components spell big playing time and scoring opportunities for him this week. In three games against Oakland, he's run for 238 yards and four touchdowns. I expect no less than 85 yards and a score from him this week.
I need to start two running backs. Do I go with Brian Westbrook, Curtis Martin, Marcel Shipp or Tony Fisher, or pull someone out of free agency like T.J. Duckett or J.J. Arrington? – Paco in Philadelphia
Westbrook is a must start. Even though the Eagles haven't been able to get the ground game going (an anemic 60 yards per game – oh, for a Correll Buckhalter!), Westbrook has become an integral part of the passing attack. I look for him to pile up 15-20 touches this week. Of the remaining options (including those you mention in free agency), Curtis Martin rises to the top of the heap. I must mention that I don't like his matchup at all. San Diego has a stout run defense that allows only 78 yards per game on the ground, he's averaged less than three yards per carry in five of seven games, and with the struggles in the Jets passing attack, he'll see eight men in the box all day long.
With that said, the remaining options are worse starts. Marcel Shipp has been virtually useless for the Cardinals, and Dennis Green remains enamored with J.J. Arrington. Tony Fisher didn't wow anyone in his first game as the starter, but he did make it until the end of the game and found his way to the end zone. Fisher faces a rough matchup against Pittsburgh.
I have both Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck on my fantasy squad. Normally, I start Brady, who has been doing a little better this year in terms of fantasy points. However, the Pats are up against the Colts tough defense, and the Seahawks are facing the relatively soft Cardinals defense this week. Should I start Hasselbeck to try to take advantage of the matchup, or hope that Brady will rise to his historic dominance over the Colts on Monday night? – Jared in Fresno, CA
I like Brady of this duo. Call it a lark, a hunch, whatever, but he always rises to the challenge in big games. I think he and Patriots offense pick their spots against the young but talented Indianapolis secondary and make some plays downfield. I'm looking for a 250-yard, two-TD performance out of him this week.
I'm a bit nervous about Hasselbeck, if only for the fact that Shaun Alexander tends to blow up in these games. Given his recent dominance over the Cardinals, I think he'll be the fantasy king again this week, leaving Hasselbeck with only scraps. In their previous meeting this season, Hasselbeck played the role of care-taker. He threw for 242 passing yards, but did not record a TD pass. I don't expect but one this week, either.
I am in a tough spot. I have Terrell Owens on my team. With him more than likely not going to play I don't know what to do. I have a couple of options at backup WR. I don't know who to start in his place. I was able to get Greg Lewis off waivers, and I also picked up Roy Williams as well. Who would be the better start? Also I have Fred Taylor, Chris Brown, and Kevin Jones, who would be the best two out of those running backs to start this week? – Joe in Girard, OH
Don't be so quick to rule TO out for Sunday. Think about it. Division rival in a battle to avoid last place on national TV . Owens' return to practice on Thursday leads me to believe that he'll be ready to play in front of the prime-time audience. If TO is ultimately ruled out, you'll need to play Lewis by default. I'm not a huge fan of Lewis this week, with or without Owens. He's been virtually non-existent since Week 3, doesn't play well on the road, and will be locked against the top-ranked Washington pass defense.
Your other option, Roy Williams, returned to practice for Detroit, but is still listed as questionable with his quad injury. The matchup against Minnesota is strong on paper, but the specter of him leaving after several plays (see Joe Horn's hamstring a few weeks back) following a three-game absence has him riding the bench until he proves able to get through a game.
As for your running backs, Fred Taylor is a lock to pile on the yards and a score against the Texans (165 yards rushing allowed per game), and I love Kevin Jones against Minnesota. With Joey Harrington back under center, I'm expecting a heavy workload for Jones. He has been running with more authority the past two weeks, and I'm looking for his first 100-yard game of the year and at least one TD. I like Brown's matchup and outlook as well, but he's just a notch below your other options this week.
I have a couple questions. Drew Bledsoe is on his bye week, and I have quarterback controversy. Should I start Aaron Brooks or Brad Johnson? I also have trouble on the WR end. Terry Glenn is on his bye, which three should I start between Joey Galloway, Derrick Mason, Marcus Robinson, Chris Chambers, and Antonio Bryant? – Ben in Eugene, OR
Neither Brooks nor Johnson has a very favorable matchup, but I think Johnson has the bigger upside this week. Brooks faces the Chicago defense (second in total defense, allowing only 11.6 points per game). In fact, this Bears defense is tracking better than the legendary 1985 squad. I think New Orleans struggles in the passing game this week. As for Johnson, he inherits the train wreck in Minnesota, but has proven to be a capable QB with similar talent around him in the past. I expect him to utilize Jermaine Wiggins and Mewelde Moore with great frequency this week, and for the speedy Troy Williamson to once again be a factor against the Detroit secondary. I'll go so far as to predict a touchdown reception for Nate Burleson in this one. Wow, that's confidence!
On your receiver question, I'd run with Galloway, Bryant, and Mason. Robinson is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury, and it is believed that he'll be ruled out before kickoff. Chambers is part of a Miami passing attack that is going nowhere, and Nick Saban has said repeatedly that he'd run 40 times per game if given the opportunity.
Here are quick hits on the starters:
Galloway: Though Chris Simms is a less than ideal QB option, Galloway continues to make plays. It'll be a little more difficult against Carolina with their ability to slow the run, but other than Steve Smith, there haven't been many more consistent receivers this year.
Mason: He kind of gets the start here by default, but it looks like the coaching staff is working on ways to get the ball in his hands. Seven catches for 91 yards against Pittsburgh is an encouraging start.
Bryant: Tennessee runs out a young secondary. OK, they're running out youth all over. I don't see these teams piling on the points this week, but it's hard to ignore the fact that the Titans have already surrendered 17 passing touchdowns this year. That narrowly edges the 49ers for the highest total this season.
I'm in a pickle. I had Todd Heap and Tony Gonzalez on my roster. Gonzo has struggled and Heap has consistently performed better than he has. Who should I use as my TE on a regular basis or in the upcoming matchups in the next few weeks? – John in Charlotte, NC
I would be looking to deal one of these guys if I were you. But, so long as they are on your roster, Gonzalez needs to be the man in your lineup. The Chiefs have finally turned his way more frequently in the past two weeks, and the fact that Priest Holmes is banged up means more opportunities against the Oakland secondary in Week 9. He's caught seven balls in each of the past two games, and finally found the painted grass last week. I expect his role to stay at this level going forward.
As for Heap, there's still too much inconsistency in the Ravens offense to ink him into the starting lineup without fail. He faces a tough stretch of pass defenses in the coming month, and Brian Billick remains committed to solving the woes of the running game. Stick with Gonzo and dangle Heap to find some extra depth at RB or WR.
This week my team takes a hit as my star running back Willis McGahee is on a bye. Right now I have Antowain Smith and Ricky Williams starting, with Tony Fisher on my bench. I am not at all confident with the combinations of my RB's so I was wondering if you could tell me which of the two to start, and if there might be sleeper RBs in the league worth picking up and starting? – Osher in Gaithersburg, MD
You're left in a tough spot this week, with two part-timers and anything but a sure thing in Tony Fisher. Of the three, Ricky Williams appears to be the safest play, with Nick Saban committed to getting his two-back system 30-plus touches each week and a Week 9 matchup against a mediocre Atlanta run defense. The same cannot be said in New Orleans, where Aaron Stecker returns to pilfer carries from Smith, Joe Horn's presence elevates the passing game, and they run up against the very difficult Chicago defense. In Green Bay, spotty offensive line play and piles of injuries conspire to hold the running game down. While Fisher will factor into the passing game against Pittsburgh, banking on a repeat of last week's TD run is a dicey proposition.
You might want to check the waiver wire for Chester Taylor (whose better than five yards per carry average begs the question of why he doesn't see the ball more). I'll assume that Mewelde Moore and Chris Brown are already spoken for. If not, rush to pick them up.
Finally, here's the most often submitted question in the mailbag this week. I need to run the numbers on the percentage of owners that are conflicted by this QB decision.
Okay, here's a fun one, which QB will have a better performance in their game on Sunday: the injured and TO-less Donovan McNabb or last week's flop Mark Brunell? – Charlie in Oakland, CA
It's always tough to suggest the benching of a player selected so high in the draft, but I think Donovan McNabb sits on the sidelines for your team this week. The injuries for McNabb continue to mount, and Terrell Owens is playing possum about his availability for Sunday (though he did practice on Thursday). Washington leads the NFL in pass defense, allowing a meager 152 yards per game and ceded only five TD passes all year.
I look for a rebound game out of Brunell at home against a banged up Philadelphia defense. Philly has allowed 30 or more points in three of their past four outings and have been obliterated by opposing QBs on the road. The shutout pitched against Brunell (the first in the NFL) broke a streak of five straight multi-TD performances for the veteran QB. The key will be Clinton Portis getting the ball rolling against the 21st-ranked run defense (123.7 yards per game). If they can follow the blueprint of controlling the ball set forth by previous Philly opponents, the passing game should open up.
Thanks, as always, to everyone for taking the time to send their thoughts, analysis, queries, and critiques my way. I truly enjoy reading them and of course, I appreciate your support.