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Fantasy Football Week 7 Preview: Sleepers and Busts


I've become addicted to winning in my money leagues, and that addiction feels stronger than crack.  Which means that on weeks where I don't go 2-0 in those leagues, I have to smoke crack!  Pretty soon I'm going to need a fantasy football intervention.

Jahvid Best, your injury has affected me in the following ways:

I could win $1000 in the league I own you in, but in a 14-team league, it's hard to ever find anything on the waiver wire.  Especially when the waiver order resets every Monday based on standings. 

I am 3-3 in the league, but the 2nd highest scorer.  Now if you miss a significant amount of time, I'll be left having to start Mark Ingram every week. 

I don't appreciate that you got a boo-boo, and I need you on the field at all times.  Please don't sit out the rest of the season, I've got some advil.

The Five Sleepers

5. Keiland Williams versus the Falcons

It's been a tough year for Detroit running backs.  I don't know whether to put him here as a sleeper, or give him 2-to-1 odds in the NFL injury pool. 

Mikel Leshoure was the first big fantasy casualty of the year before the season ever started.  Jerome Harrison has a brain tumor.  Jahvid Best has more concussions than Troy Aikman.  It's scary stuff. 

That means that Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams have to step up and provide some semblance of a running game.  Morris is the known product, a 32-year-old whose prime has passed and wasn't all that exciting.  Williams is the wild card.  He was an undrafted free agent out of LSU and signed by the Redskins in 2010. He didn't play last season, and after they needed to pick up a running back, the Lions grabbed him off waivers in September to plan for this very situation.

The Falcons aren't a pushover run defense, ranking 7th in the NFL in run defense, but if Williams get 10-15 carries he could provide 40-60 yards and a touchdown.  Somebody has to.

4. Curtis Painter versus the Saints

I'm sure this is just the Super Bowl rematch that NBC was picturing when they scheduled this game for Sudnay Night. 

Painter has performed reasonable well in the last three games for the Colts, throwing for five touchdowns against one interception and 746 yards.  He now gets to face a Saints defense that is allowing 256 passing yards a game with a league-high 12 touchdown passes allowed and only 3 interceptions.  The Colts should find themselves losing early and Painter is going to have plenty of opportunity to throw the football.  He may have his first career 300 yard game.

Painter still has some room to improve to be considered an NFL starter, but it will be interesting if the Colts do wind up with the #1 pick, they could draft Luck and trade Painter for a good draft pick as well.

3. Tim Tebow versus the Dolphins

This is a special two quarterback edition of the Five sleepers, something that I don't think has ever happened.  But there's some pretty good QBs on a bye this week, so maybe you need it.  Tebow lands softly in his first start of 2011, facing a Miami pass defense that is allowing two passing touchdowns per game and ranked 29th in the NFL against the pass with nearly 300 yards allowed. 

I have my doubts about Tebow like a lot of people do, but you can't deny the numbers he's put up.  Especially touchdowns: 7 rushing scores and 6 passing scores in "10 career games."  I put that in quotes because in some of the games, Tebow gets maybe 1 or 2 carries.  In his four games with at least 10 pass attempts, he has nine touchdowns.  Yes, that's right, nine.  He's not unlike Cam Newton or Michael Vick, he's just a far less-talented passer. 

Tebow may score three times against Miami.

2. Roy Helu versus the Panthers

I could go Ryan Torain, still a relative unknown, but I'll try to go deeper than that.  Helu hasn't really been any worse than Torain has this season.  After Tim Hightower fell out of favor with Mike Shanahan, he turned to his boy Torain, and Helu is still left as a change-of-pace back.  But he does something that Torain doesn't do as much of: catch passes out of the backfield.  So far Helu has 7 for 66 yards, and Torain has none.

John Beck in at quarterback could mean more time for a back that is able to run a nice screen pass.  At the very least, the Redskins play a Panthers team that's 31st in rushing defense and allowed a tied-for-worst eight rushing touchdowns.  I'd play Torain this week, and I'd keep Helu around if you're in a really tight bind.

1. Steve Breaston versus the Raiders

He's slowly become more relevant this season and caught two touchdowns against the Colts in week five after topping 90 yards in week four.  This week the Chiefs play a Raiders defense that's 28th against the pass and has allowed 12 TD passes.  Oakland is also facing several key injuries in the secondary this week.  Expect a good day from Matt Cassel, and though Dwayne Bowe is the star, Breaston is playing a nice number two option lately.

The Five that Struggle

5. Montario Hardesty versus the Seahawks

Though he's been a hot add this week and will probably find his way into some starting lineups (thanks to Jahvid Best, Hardesty found his way into mine!) he's facing a Seahawks defense that's first in the league in yards per carry against.  I've said all year long that you shouldn't start backs going against Seattle while that defensive line is still healthy.  They were dominant against the run when they were healthy last year, and they've been pretty dominant this year too.

While Peyton Hillis  has caught a lot of flack this season for underperforming, it's not like Hardesty is banging the door down either.  The injury prone back out of Tennessee is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry on 40 attempts.  The Browns will probably lean heavier towards passing the ball this week.  Even in the case of my own team where I basically have to start Hardesty, I'm praying he gets a touchdown.  (As a Hawks fan, I'm praying he gets a garbage time touchdown while the Browns are behind 42-0)

4. Cam Newton versus the Redskins

It's tough for me to put Newton on this list because he can do more with his legs, sometimes enough to overcome a bad day by scoring twice on the ground.  But this week he faces a Redskins defense that allows 215 passing yards per game and only 4 touchdowns against 5 interceptions in five games.

Washington has faced players like Eli Manning, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo, but they haven't allowed a 300 yard passing game yet.  Newton is also now tops in the NFL in interceptions.  I expect about 200 yards, 2 interceptions, and maybe 1 TD on the ground and maybe 1 in the air.  Ugh, is that struggling?  I guess for Newton it is.  I honestly would start Tebow over Newton.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew versus the Ravens

MJD scored 54 touchdowns over his first four years in the league.  Just an incredible number that vaulted him to being a sure first-round pick every season.  Unfortunately he's scored just nine of them over his last 20 games dating back to last season. 

The good news is that MJD has his 2nd best YPC number (4.8) since his rookie year.  It's not that he's not performing, we just miss those touchdowns.  Now he faces a Ravens defense on Monday night that has allowed only one rushing touchdown all year.  Ray Lewis and the crew will pride themselves on shutting down MOJO and it's not like they have to concern themselves with Blaine Gabbert or any other Jags QB. 

2. Vincent Jackson versus the Jets

Darrelle Revis and company have built up quite the reputation for shutting down opposing passers.  Though not ranked #1 in the league against the pass by yardage, there's not really a defense I'd rather avoid than New York.  Even though I think Antonio Cromartie has been kind of bad this season, Revis does such an impressive job of shutting down the opposing teams #1 WR that it doesn't really matter.  The Jets have allowed only three passing scores and have nine interceptions.  I didn't put Philip Rivers on this list because he might get his somewhere, but I decided instead to caution against playing Jackson, who was also on the injury report this week.

1. Steven Jackson versus the Cowboys

If Sam Bradford misses this game, it will give a Cowboys defense that's already #1 in the NFL against the run just more of an opportunity to stack the box against Jackson.  Dallas has allowed only one rushing score on the year and they are giving up less than 70 yards per game.

I am also pretty sure that Rob Ryan is the most famous, or at least most televised, coordinator in the history of football.  I know that his brother Rex is one of the most famous coaches in the league right now, I know that Dallas is always in the news, I know that he's done a good job with the Cowboys, but seriously how much are they going to show Rob Ryan whenever the Cowboys play?  You'd honestly think he was the head coach if you didn't know better.  And I'll just go on record right now and say that Rob Ryan is a head coach by next season.

The Five Good Guys

5. Mark Ingram versus the Colts

How about the first career 100-yard game for Ingram?  Though he's struggled to really get going, Ingram has improved over the last several weeks and found the end zone a couple of times too.  The Colts allow 136 yards per game on the ground and have given up seven touchdowns.  If the Saints pull out to an early lead like they should, you'll see a lot more of Ingram than you will Pierre Thomas or Darren Sproles

4. Tony Romo versus the Saints

Still feeling a little touchy with his ribs, Romo will play and start on Saturday against a not-that-great Rams defense that's given up 11 TDs/4 INTs through the air this season.  With Felix Jones out, the Cowboys may not run it as much as they're used to (but the Rams run defense is so bad that it could be a nice day for Demarco Murray too) and now Romo also has a healthy Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

I've given Romo a lot of crap in his career, but he's a pretty good quarterback.  He just chokes a lot.  I predict 350 yards and a minimum of three scores for Romo.

3. Ryan Mathews versus the Jets

Can't pass on the Jets?  Fine, just run on them.  That's worked out for fantasy owners and the Jets have given up eight rushing touchdowns this season and 132 yards per game.

Mathews is breaking out in a big way in 2011 and with Tolbert a little limited with a concussion lately, it's even more goal-line opportunity for the lead back.  I expect 120 yards and at least one score for Mathews in what should be a really good game.

2. Brandon Marshall versus the Broncos

While not a big fan of Marshall, especially after that low-light reel they showed on Monday night, he does find himself a favorable matchup this week.  Marshall has a lot of drops, but he's also benefits from a lot of targets and now he faces his former team at home.  The Broncos allow two passing touchdowns per game, and I could see Marshall calling for the ball, and getting it, plenty of times on Sunday.

Facing Denver is nothing like facing Darrelle Revis.  Marshall will get 10 catches, 110 yards, and 2 TDs.

1. Rashard Mendenhall versus the Cardinals

He broke out last week for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars, and he's got a more favorable matchup this week.  Arizona is 20th against the run, but they are another team that has allowed a league-high eight touchdowns on the ground.  Even when they "shut down" Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to low yardage totals in week four, each of those players scored a touchdown.

Mendenhall gets 120 yards and two touchdowns this week, and maybe gets AFC Offensive Player honors again.

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  • The Bears play the Bucs this week in London.  Though they are tied for first in the NFC South, Tampa doesn't look like a playoff team to me.  If they win this game though, who knows.  They'd at least have a two-game lead over Chicago in the wild card.  If the Bears lose, they'd be in hot water in the NFC North behind Detroit and Green Bay.  No way the Packers don't make the playoffs and the Lions could be at six wins after Sunday. 
  • Typically Tampa Bay versus Chicago would be a "defensive slugfest" but neither is dominating this season.  Rather than a 13-10 final score, it might be 31-30.  I'll take Chicago on the road to win.  (In London though, the conditions made for a terrible game last year.)
  • Broncos at Dolphins is "Suck for Luck" game of the week.  Nobody is really considering Denver yet this year for grabbing the number one pick, but they don't play defense, they can't run the ball very well, and they just went to Tim Tebow.  I think Tebow will score a few times but I'm taking the Dolphins to get their first win of the season. 
  • The Broncos would find their next John Elway at least.
  • If the Chargers can't find a way to win at the Jets, then you might be seeing the Raiders in first place with Carson Palmer.  What the hell?  Who would have thought I'd be saying that before the season started?
  • The Lions are a better team than the Falcons and are at home, but I'm nervous for Detroit in this game.  After they blew the game against the Niners last week, and then after Jim Schwartz blew his temper, this would be right about when Detroit implodes on their whole 5-0 start.  Atlanta is desperate for a key win and they'll come in fighting.  I hope the Lions show more fight than they did on their last two drives last week.  I'll take the Lions, 23-20.
  • The Redskins just turned to John Beck, a guy who lost a preseason battle to Rex Grossman.  Could the Redskins, now at 3-2, finish at 3-13?  No.  But they aren't going to make the playoffs no matter how good that defense is. 
  • Nobody is yet taking the Panthers seriously as the team that could finish with the worst record in NFL, but they play in a pretty tough division and they're still running a rookie out there at QB, and they play no defense.  The Panthers would be in a great position to fill a lot of needs if they finish 1-15. 
  • The Seahawks play the Browns and the only reason I know that is because I'm a Hawks fan.  I have no problem saying this is probably the least notable game of the week.  There may not be a lot of good fantasy games out of this one either.
  • Texans at Titans wouldn't have seemed like a game with a lot of playoff implications before the season started, but one of these teams needs to grab the division by the balls.  I'd say Houston should win it, but they're getting hit hard with injuries.  I would have guessed that Tennessee would have started talking about Jake Locker by now, but Matt Hasselbeck is playing really well and the defense is stout.  I'll take the Titans in a close one.
  • Steelers at Cardinals.  Any given Sunday, and all that jazz, but the Cardinals are terrible.  They're also in a serious fight to win maybe 2 or 3 games this season.  They'd need to take Luck. 
  • Are the Packers in a trap game at Minnesota?  I like the Vikings more with Christian Ponder than with Donovan McNabb and I like Percy Harvin this week too.  Aaron Rodgers should have a field day, but I think this game will be a lot closer than expected.  Every year one of the NFL's worst beats one of the NFL's best.  Happens all the time actually.  I'll say the Vikings might pull out a shocker. 
  • Because its so impossible to make predictions in the preseason, we are left with the Colts on Sunday night and the Jaguards on Monday night.  Actually, why the hell did they ever schedule the Jaguars on Monday night?  I expected better out of you guys.
  • Patriots, Bills, Niners, Bengals, Eagles, Giants on a bye week.  Are those all playoff teams?  I'd say they're all in the hunt, with the Bengals being the longest long shot but I don't think Cincinnati is nearly as bad as we thought.