Week 7 offered a nice reality check. As a fantasy pundit, it's easy to get caught up in the hat trick of TDs posted by LaMont Jordan and Clinton Portis, or the combined 595 passing yards and four TDs tallied by Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper. But, often, what gets lost in my weekly ritual of heading down to the local watering hole and parking myself in front of several large TVs, is the intrigue of the team-versus-team competition. Refreshingly, that was impossible to ignore this week as six games were decided by four points or less, and a few of those came down to a decisive play, or kick, within the final ticks of the game clock.
As I enjoyed the best of fantasy, and reality, this week, here is what caught my attention:
Green Bay's Ahman Green left Sunday's loss to Minnesota in the fourth quarter with a knee problem. Call it adding injury to another insulting fantasy effort – 16 carries for 49 yards. Green was carted off the field, and his knee will be re-evaluated on Monday. But early reports are that he re-aggravated his previous condition that caused him to miss the New Orleans game a couple weeks ago. With the likelihood that Green will miss time, expect Tony Fisher to be a hot waiver wire commodity this week. Fisher has just 14 carries for 20 yards this season, but he is a solid receiving threat and should be a viable fantasy play for fantasy owners who will be without Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Warrick Dunn and Curtis Martin in Week 8 because of byes. If Fisher starts, he'll face a Cincinnati run defense that has allowed three 100-yard rushers, including Willie Parker (18 for 131 yards) on Sunday.
Speaking of waiver wire pickups, throw WR Antonio Chatman's name into the mix. Despite being just 5-foot-9, Chatman has hauled in a Brett Favre scoring toss in three of the past four games. WR Robert Ferguson injured his ankle on Sunday, so Chapman may find himself in the starting lineup if Ferguson misses time.
Tampa Bay, New York Giants, Chicago, Seattle. If you are wondering what those teams have in common, it's that each will play San Francisco sometime in the next four weeks. After Washington ran up 52 points on the 49ers on Sunday, it behooves fantasy owners to be cognizant of which players will get a crack at them next. I'm already betting that Carnell Williams has a strong return from injury next week. And Chris Simms' starting debut? Well, he couldn't ask for anything more.
We might finally have a definitive answer to the question, "Who is Julius Jones' backup?" I attended the Dallas/Seattle game, and from where I was sitting, Marion Barber sure looked a lot like Jones. He carried 22 times for 95 yards, many of them hard-earned. He gets extra credit for his success given the drizzly, wet conditions at Seattle's Qwest Field – a slippery track clearly affected Shaun Alexander, who slipped his way to just 61 yards on 21 carries. In total, Barber carried 16 more times than Anthony Thomas and Tyson Thompson (six carries each), and he'll likely continue to see the ball if Jones can't go in the future.
I didn't think Ben Roethlisberger would throw much this week coming back from a hyper-extended knee injury, and it turns out that I was right – Big Ben threw just 14 times, completing nine passes. But I've made the mistake before of assuming that few throws equates to few fantasy points for the Steelers quarterback. Once again, Roethlisberger proved he can get it done with quality, not quantity. With two TD passes against Cincinnati on Sunday, he now has nine TD passes in just 100 pass attempts this season, and has accounted for two TDs (he has one rushing TD) in all five of his starts. By comparison, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck has the same amount of TD passes (9) despite throwing more than twice as often (236) as Roethlisberger. And New England's Tom Brady has one less TD toss (8) while throwing 228 times. Of Roethlisberger's nine TD passes this season, eight of them have gone to WR Hines Ward (5) and TE Heath Miller (3). He'll never push the league lead in passing yards, but Roethlisberger finds a way to get the ball in the end zone.
I wrote in this column weeks ago that LaMont Jordan was going to have at least a couple monstrous outings this season. I think Sunday's effort – 28 carries, 122 rushing yards, 40 receiving yards, 3 TDs – qualifies as one of those outings. Jordan's rushing totals have been hit-and-miss this season, but he's scored in five straight games, including six TDs in the past three games. And because he's an excellent receiving threat, he's a weekly must-play for fantasy owners. I can't see any reason why you'd ever sit this guy.
This week, Randy Moss stole a page from Thomas Jones' book, suiting up on Sunday despite most reports indicating he wasn't likely to play. Moss, battling through bruised ribs, a strained groin and a pelvic bruise, managed to catch three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. With Moss apparently set on playing through the pain, fantasy owners should temper their expectations. He had a limited role on Sunday, and that is likely to continue until his health has improved considerably. But with his height, and exceptional hands, he can still be a red zone threat. Fantasy owners should set expectations for the next few weeks at about the level he performed at on Sunday – lower yardage than usual, but a decent bet for a TD.
Jeff Garcia didn't set the world on fire in his Detroit starting debut, but his fantasy results were an improvement over what we've typically seen Joey Harrington regurgitate onto the stat sheet. Garcia completed 22-of-34 passes for 210 yards. He didn't throw a TD pass, but he ran for a score. And, more importantly, at least from Detroit's perspective, he didn't turn the ball over. Garcia was also handicapped by the loss of WR Kevin Johnson to injury (ruptured Achilles'), leaving him with rookie Mike Williams and second-year man Scott Vines at wideout. When you consider that it was his first game back from a broken leg and that he had so little to work with at the receiver position, it was a good first showing for Garcia. He has a couple dates with some soft pass defenses the rest of the way (Minnesota twice, Green Bay), and he'll get Roy Williams (injured) and Charles Rogers (suspension) back soon. This should be reason enough for him to find his way onto fantasy rosters this week.
In recommending to fantasy owners that Domanick Davis should ride the pine this week, I noted that he has been ineffective in games in which Houston was trailing by at least two scores at halftime. Facing the league's top team, Indianapolis, I assumed that Davis would find himself in another early deficit. But Houston managed to keep the game close and actually went into the break tied with the Colts at 14-14. Amazingly, Davis carried 22 times in the first two quarters. Indy came out after halftime and scored an early touchdown, the first of 24 unanswered points. At this point, Davis became a wallflower, amassing just six carries the rest of the way. But a competitive first half allowed Davis to satisfy fantasy owners with 98 rushing yards and a TD.
Alright, folks, let's all just admit that Mike Shanahan has our number. Tatum Bell combined for 25 carries, 241 yards and 3 TDs the two weeks prior to Week 7. Mike Anderson's tally during the same span: 26 carries, 91 yards, 1 TD. Advantage Bell, right? Not so fast. Despite a consensus feeling that Bell was quickly gaining the upper hand in Denver's running back platoon, Shanahan threw the fantasy world a curveball on Sunday, awarding Anderson 24 carries to Bell's eight. Anderson picked up 120 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, Bell had a nifty 60 yards, but did not find pay dirt. Translation: we're back to square one.
Here's a crazy line for 'ya: J.J. Arrington reeled off Arizona's longest run of the season on Sunday (32 yards). But on his other four carries, he lost a combined two yards. So his final line was five carries for 30 yards. While only one of those carries is worth writing home about, it might be enough to earn Arrington a promotion, as starter Marcel Shipp carried 14 times for a meager eight yards. Fantasy owners in need of a back may want to add Arrington this week. It wouldn't be shocking if he starts seeing the majority of carries in the near future. In the event that happens, he's not an advisable play next week at Dallas. But if he shows well against the Cowboys, he'd be a viable emergency start at home against Seattle in Week 9.
Tennessee's Brandon Jones gained buzz throughout last week. With Drew Bennett out, he seemed like the heir apparent as the go-to guy given the amount of looks he was seeing (12 in Week 6) and the progress he was showing. He's young, but he has good size, speed and is adept at catching the ball in traffic. On Sunday, with Billy Volek behind center, Jones caught just two passes in his first game sans Bennett. But he found the end zone for the second time this season. Jones has good upside, but Week 7 brought out some downside, as well. Volek threw to Jones just five times, and Jones left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee.
Despite playing the NFL's toughest fantasy run defense, Chicago, Jamal Lewis' 15 carries for 34 yards should not be dismissed lightly. It's no secret that Chester Taylor has been gaining popularity in fantasy circles for continually outshining Lewis in a backup role. On Sunday, Taylor had just two carries, but he picked up a first down on his first carry by gaining 14 yards on a second-and-13 situation. And he added seven yards on a first-and-10 situation on the next drive. What's more interesting is that both of these carries came in the team's final two drives in the fourth quarter with Baltimore trailing 10-6. In the past, Lewis would have been called upon to grind out yards and move the team into the red zone. But this week, with the game on the line, he was on the sidelines.