The mailbag is busting at the seams with letters regarding sit/start questions, underachievers, overachievers, injured fantasy heroes, and calls for second-half surprises.
This week, a number of readers chimed in with questions about the Washington skill position players, the Dallas running game, and where to find help for the inopportune bye week.
Let's rip open a few letters.
I'm plagued with injuries: Marc Bulger, Joe Horn, Julius Jones, and Carnell Williams. I'm going to have to start Caddy, I think … but I have to decide whether to start Horn or a healthy Eddie Kennison. Do you think Horn will make it through the game? — Paul in Kansas
First, Williams has been cleared to play, so he has to be back in your lineup in a favorable matchup against the 49ers. As for the receivers, I'd be looking to Kennison. Reports from around the Saints indicate that Horn's hamstring is still tender, but that he did go through his second full practice on Thursday. I'm always hesitant to throw a receiver back into the lineup coming off such an injury, particularly when your other option (Kennison) is in such a solid matchup. There's always a chance for injury to any player on any play in any NFL game, but given how quickly Horn left the field in his last attempt, I'd wait it out a week with him.
The Chargers defense has been susceptible to deeper pass patterns all year, and I look for the running game of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson to soften things up for Trent Green. Yes, Kennison has been slowed to minor production in the past two outings, but I believe he takes a step forward this week.
Am I getting too cute in considering a start for Ronnie Brown at New Orleans in place of Clinton Portis at the Giants? The Saints have given up 10 rushing TDs and Brown is averaging 4.8/carry. Plus, he busted off a 65-yarder last week. But Williams is still poaching carries. Portis has been solid yardage-wise all year, but his only TDs were last week versus San Francisco. And I'm pretty sure YOU could take it in from the one against the 49ers. — Rob in Anytown
I appreciate your confidence in my short yardage prowess. My low center of gravity and years of squats should certainly help me to get the push I need in the pile. But, since Joe Gibbs is unlikely to dial me up for this week's game (he already has a guy named Rock to do that work), let's look at these backs.
Portis has been a solid workhorse for the Redskins, if not fantasy owners, behind a great offensive line and the resurgent Mark Brunell. He's consistently in the 20-Touch area and will certainly see his share of activity between the 20s. However, it's Chris Cooley and Mike Sellers who get the love from Gibbs around the goal line. Their presence makes me consider Brown a stronger play this week, despite Portis' three-touchdown outburst to break his drought.
Ronnie Brown has shown the capacity to bust off a long run and leave defenders in his dust, scoring in three of his past four games. Like you, I'm somewhat concerned about Nick Saban's desire to increase Ricky Williams' workload, but I like Brown in this week's matchup against the Saints. The Saints are allowing 116 yards per game on the ground, and have already given up 10 rushing touchdowns. There is the possibility that Saban tries to motivate Williams by increasing his touches, particularly around the goal line, against his old team. I'd take that risk, and look for Miami to pound the rock this week.
I'm in a sticky situation: My two main running backs are out this week: Edgerrin James and Julius Jones. My backups are Reuben Droughns, Marion Barber, and DeShaun Foster. What should I do? — Jim in Miami, FL
I like Droughns and Barber this week, with Foster relegated to the bench. Foster is still recovering from a bruised knee, and though he is expected to play this week against Minnesota, he will continue to split time with Stephen Davis. Right now, your only hope for a TD is if he breaks off a long run after a reception, and given his smaller workload in comparison to your other options, I don't like his prospects.
Droughns has a very solid matchup against a soft Houston run defense that allows 166 yards per game. He's still the unquestioned starter in Cleveland and will look to follow up his first 100-yard day of the year with another big effort. I also think he finds the end zone for the first time in '05 this week.
Barber showed tremendous quickness and toughness in relief of Jones last week, putting up 95 yards on 22 carries. I expect Bill Parcells to call his number often once again and for him to approach the century mark against Arizona.
My question concerns whom I should start at TE, Chris Cooley versus the Giants or Ben Troupe versus Oakland? — Richard in Fresno, CA
It's tough to go against the offensive juggernaut that is the Washington Redskins right now, but I'm looking for a big day out of Ben Troupe this week. Chris Cooley stepped aside in last week's burial of the 49ers and watched Mike Sellers perform multiple end zone dances. Cooley scored in both of last year's games against the Giants, and they'll look to shut him down this week.
So, my attention turns to Troupe this week. The Titans are left thin at wideout due to a ton of injuries and top tailback Chris Brown is also injured. That means more opportunities for Troupe to line up as a wideout against smaller defensive backs. Though Travis Henry returns from suspension to aid the running game, I look for Steve McNair to throw more frequently against the banged up Oakland secondary. Troupe will be the target of 10-12 balls this week and will find the end zone at least once.
I'm in a pretty enviable position this week with my lineup, and after a couple narrow loses I want to make a statement to my league with a huge win. So who do I go with at QB, Drew Brees or "Big" Ben Roethlisberger? — Bobby in San Diego, CA
You have to love the efficiency of Roethlisberger this season, making the most out of few passing attempts With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed sidelined for Monday night's game, it's tempting to start him, but I think the running game will prove the difference. I'd turn to Brees.
Brees gets his shot at the 30th-ranked Kansas City pass defense at home. The Chiefs have allowed 263 passing yards per game and have ceded 10 passing touchdowns to date. Brees has already thrown multiple TD passes in four different contests, and I look for this to be his fifth. He'll work the ball to Antonio Gates often in the battle for TE supremacy against Tony Gonzalez, and there's no question that LaDainian Tomlinson wants to atone for last week's miserable outing. I expect a shootout this week in San Diego.
I have to make a decision to start either Kevin Jones against a tough Chicago D or Mewelde Moore playing here in Carolina. Moore has been playing well lately, and with his first TD last week he seems like a viable play in relation to Jones. Which way would you go? — B-Storm in Charlotte, NC
Both players face uphill battles this week against tough defenses, and neither figures to post huge totals. I'd run with Moore against the Panthers, and here's why. The Bears continue to dominate on the defensive side of the ball, ranking fourth against the rush (83 yards per game) and they've yet to allow a rushing touchdown. The insertion of Jeff Garcia into the Lions offense stands to increase the reliance on the passing game, where Jones is typically not a factor. He's also still banged up.
As for Moore, he's clearly established as the No. 1 guy in Minnesota. Even without Kris Jenkins on the D-Line, the Panthers still rank third against the run, allowing a paltry 77.7 rushing yards per game with three total touchdowns. But, I think Moore's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is what makes him a play this week. There's no guarantee of a score, but he has topped 100 combined rushing and receiving yards for four straight weeks while hauling in 16 passes over that period.
Both players are certainly in less than ideal matchups this week. Pittsburgh ranks in the middle of the pack against the pass (206 yards per game, but only four TDs), and is still battling through a myriad of injuries plaguing the defense. However, the continuing struggles of the Baltimore run game, now more complicated with the loss of Alan Ricard to the IR, will allow Ben Roethlisberger and the dual running game of Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis to dominate the game and time of possession. Mason hasn't scored since Week 2 and will be a long shot again this week.
I'd run with Bryant against the Texans. Though I believe that Houston will finally find the Win column, I like the lengthy receiver against the Texans secondary. The key to this game will be whether Reuben Droughns can run wild on the Texans run defense as all previous opponents have (166 yards per game allowed). If he can, the undermanned secondary will struggle to contain Bryant. I look for 80-100 yards and a score.
Should I start Tony Fisher or Marion Barber this week? — Scott in Anchorage, AK
I'd run with Barber this week against the Cardinals. The Packers had been unable to establish the run with Ahman Green, watching his streak without a 100-yard game reach double-digits prior to his season-ending injury. I don't expect Fisher to reverse that trend and rise above the piles of injuries on the offense against the Cincinnati defense. Yes, Pittsburgh ran wild last week, but Fisher has only carried the ball more than 10 times in a game on four occasions, and the Packers place little emphasis on the running game.
That turns my attention to Barber. Bill Parcells certainly loves to establish the running game early, and with Julius Jones expected to grab some pine again ahead of the bye week, that means a big workload for Barber. Arizona sits in the middle among NFL run defenses, allowing 103 yards per game and has already surrendered eight rushing touchdowns. I expect Barber to top 20 Touches again and find the end zone.
Thanks to everyone for posting their thoughts and comments again this week. Here's hoping for a dominant Week 8 on the fantasy gridiron.