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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

The Trash Can Report - Spelunking for Week 9
Dennis Leonard
November 3, 2004

Hello and welcome back to the Trash Can Report. Please excuse the sticky Halloween candy wrappers, caramel apple cores, and discarded political lawn signs. I hope everyone had a safe, treat-filled Halloween Sunday and that your team(s) mercilessly crushed your opponent(s) like empty juice boxes. Furthermore, I hope everyone eligible to vote Tuesday did so.

Okay, before we get started I’d like to make two class announcements. First, as a reminder, I review my picks in the pro football forum each Monday morning. Feel free to come by and share your views, if you choose, even if you lose and have the blues. Second, please note that I typically update the Trash Can Report late in the week to account for late-breaking news relevant to my picks, as well as to include late recommendations. Okay, let’s gear up and rappel down into the cavernous landfill below.

Brian Griese – TB: If Griese is on waivers in your league, he shouldn’t be. There is too much to like about this guy and most of the factors hurting his value early in the season (e.g., the Bucs sucking, competition from Brad Johnson and Chris Simms, no receivers, no running game, marginal defense and special teams play, etc.) aren’t such problems anymore. While his upside is limited he can still consistently contribute at a borderline startable level and, depending on the match up, much better. Here are some of the reasons I think what I think:

  • Going into Week 8 he had a 70.7% completion ratio, which was the NFL’s 2nd best for QBs who had thrown more than 50 passes (Culpepper was #1, FYI);
  • He had a 104.9 QB rating, which was the 4th best out of the NFL’s regular starters at the time;
  • He had thrown for a respectable 215 yards per game average;
  • He had thrown at least 1 TD in each of his three performances;
  • He has a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio;
  • No fumbles in his first three starts as a Buccaneer;
  • He and Michael Clayton are on the same frequency;
  • Pittman is forcing opposing defenses to respect the run, which is helping to open the passing game;
  • Tampa Bay ’s defense is doing an underappreciated job of getting the ball back into the offense’s hands. Going into Week 8 for, example, the Bucs’ DEF allowed the NFL’s 3rd lowest yards per game with 266.1. That surely contributed to the Bucs’ DEF allowing the NFL’s 3rd fewest first downs per game. Furthermore, the DEF has been doing a MUCH better of job of turning the ball over because 70% of the turnovers the DEF forced occurred during the last three games when Griese was under center. Thus, the Bucs’ DEF is helping to create opportunities for Griese to get back on the field; and
  • The Bucs lost four games straight before Griese took over in Week 5. Since then they’ve won two of their last three games. So you know he has ingratiated himself to Gruden. Thus, the likelihood of seeing Chris Simms or Brad Johnson back at the helm is slim.

While I’m not recommending him as an every week play Griese makes for an attractive #2 QB who offers both efficient, stable production and some decent upside. Griese also has some favorable match ups on the horizon, which includes this week’s upcoming tilt with the Chiefs. Not only is Kansas City’s secondary beatable (they have the 11th worst DEF versus QBs) but the Bucs could be forced to pass a lot late in order to stay in the game. Other favorable match ups to come: the 49ers in Week 11, San Diego in Week 14, and New Orleans in Week 15.

Eddie George – DAL: if one of your studs is on a bye (Taylor, Dunn, Brown, Green), or your other RB options are sketchier than a hooker with an Adam’s apple, this is a good week to wheel Senor George into your starting line up. Due to his AARP mandated 3.4 yards per carry George hasn’t been very productive. In Weeks 1 through 7 he averaged a servile 12 carries per game. Then Byant went to Cleveland. Then Morgan got hurt. Then Glenn went on IR. Something wicked appeared to be on the Cowboys’ horizon in Week 8. And yet, Dallas triumphed. What gives?

For starters, Keyshawn, Vinny, and Jason Witten kicked their efforts up a couple notches. (Kudos, gentlemen). But the receiver shortage in Dallas was also a catalyst to George getting 31 carries for 99 yards and a few catches. (Richie Anderson’s .714 yards per carry kinda helped George’s case, too, I’d assume. And no, that’s not a typo. Anderson had 5 yards on 7 carries). Parcells has been trying to resurrect the Cowboys’ running game for a couple weeks now and apparently gave up on the RBBC thing that had previously made Dallas’ backfield toxic from a fantasy perspective. For the time being George appears to once again be a viable back up.

Last week George was pitted against a middle of the road Detroit run defense that is giving up an average of 107.4 rushing yards per game. (Note that George came within about 8 yards of that average). This week Saint George gallops off to Cincinnati to slay a Bengal-dragon. Yeah, the same Cincinnati that’s allowing the most rushing yards per game in the NFL (155.4 yards per game average, to be exact). Yeah, the same Cincinnati that allowed a hobbled Chris Brown to run hog-wild. *If* Parcells sticks to the winning formula he concocted on Halloween then George should be in for another heavy work load. I doubt he shoulders 30+ carries again but against Cincinnati he may not need that many to meet or exceed last week’s output. At the very least George’s up-tick in touches make his opportunity to contribute more substantial.

Oh, and George has been scoring about every other game. He didn’t last week, so there is at least some statistically superstitious upside to his chance for finding the end zone this week.

Nate Burleson – MIN : I traded for Burleson a couple of weeks ago in my Huddle league but have yet to take the wrapper off him. That’s about to change.

The most obvious reason Burleson makes a good play this week is that Randy Moss will likely sit Week 9 out. That means added opportunities for who ever is on the receiving end of Culpepper’s passes. Robinson might have been my first choice but he was hobbling around in a walking boot on Monday. So even if he does play he might not be 100%. That leaves a lot of potential opportunities up for grabs in one of the NFL’s most prolific passing games. Here are some other reasons I like Burleson this week:

  • The Vikings play the Colts who tend to rack up points in gobs. However, Indy seems to prefer playing hopscotch to defense. To be more precise, Indy is the most fertile hunting ground in the NFL for opposing WRs. In fact, neither team has a very good defense… with a capital “D” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Potential shoot out;”
  • Despite limited involvement in Weeks 1 and 5, Burleson is the most targeted Viking. Culpepper has thrown to him 53 times. Moss and Robison: only 45 and 44 times, respectively;
  • He’s hauled in 31 receptions this year, which ties him for 16th most among NFL wide receivers;
  • His reception ratio is better than Moss or Robinson’s at a respectable 58.49%;
  • He has been very consistent lately catching 6 balls in each of his last three games;
  • During those last three games he has accounted for 230 yards and 1 TD; and
  • He returns punts, if you get individual points for that.

There is an outside chance Burleson is on waivers, but I doubt it. If he is available he makes for a great pick up as long as Moss is out, which could be the next week or two. If Burleson is already on your roster play him unless you’ve got substantially better options. I’m backing this pick up with action and sliding him into my Week 9 active line up.

Kelly Campbell – MIN : got beat to Burleson? Consider Kelly Campbell. All of the same general positive indicators apply but here’s what’s different:

  • Campbell returns kickoffs. Remember that shootout I was referring to? Campbell could be a very, very busy man on special teams, assuming you get points for that;
  • Campbell saw a spike in passes last week. Campbell, who had never seen more than three passes his way in any prior game this year, got six last week;
  • Outside of Wiggins, Campbell has the next highest reception ratio of any regular Vikings’ target at 81.25% (he’s caught 13 of 16 passes this season);
  • A Viking homer informed me that local radio believes Campbell has the best chance to replace Moss within the context of stretching the field. That could mean big-play opportunities; and
  • He’s averaging a serviceable 15.5 yards per catch.

While Campbell is less of a sure thing to contribute (relative to Burleson) he still offers undeniable upside for at least the next week or two. Oh, and I’ll virtually guarantee he is on waivers.

Jerome Pathon – NO : over the last three Saints’ games Pathon has seen a linear increase in passes from Aaron Brooks: targeted twice in Week 5; five times in Week 6; ten times in Week 7. Pathon caught 10 of those 17 passes for a decent 58.8% reception ratio. Translation: Pathon is playing a lot better than he was early in the season because his season to date reception ratio is a much lower 43.8% (meaning his reception ratio early in the year was terrible). Furthermore, he chalked up 92 yards on 5 catches in Week 6 and 79 yards on 6 catches in Week 7. Don’t like math? That’s 17.1 yards per catch over those three games. Well I’ll be darned: them thars Reggie Wayne-like numbers.

Could this be a sign of a player on the rise? Possibly. But let’s not prematurely e-speculate. For starters this guy has been injury-prone: 18 missed games over the last four years. He is also technically behind Dante Stallworth on the depth chart. (Though Pathon did start as the #2 WR in Week 7). So we need to approach Pathon with some cautious optimism. But Stallworth was questionable with a rib injury going into Week 7. He played, but was ineffective. In fact, over the Saints’ last three games Stallworth has played much, much worse than Pathon. Dante Stallworth(less) only caught 6 of the 20 balls thrown his way (a flacid 30% reception ratio) for a meager 76 yards and no TDs (i.e., a much less impressive 12.66 yards per catch average).

Pathon is a fair upside pick who is capable of contributing some points every week. Right now he is playing better than Stallworth, so he’s making a challenge for the #2 WR spot. (If not on the official depth chart then at least in the eyes of Aaron Brooks). And if Stallworth can’t stay healthy then Pathon should automatically see more action. Before you go plugging Pathon into your line up you’ll need to pay special attention to Stallworth’s injury status. But even if Dante is cleared to play we could be in the midst of Pathon trending himself upwards and more into the regular passing game because Stallworth stinks lately. With the Saints facing the Chargers this weekend the point total could get high. If Pathon’s three week trend levels off or improves he’d be worth a start this week as a #3 WR.

Eric Parker – SD : I’ve been keeping an eye on Parker for a couple weeks figuring that Drees Brees’ brilliant play might make Parker somehow relevant. I now think Parker deserves a roster spot. Here are some reasons I think he makes sense for a team in a deep league, someone looking to improve WR depth, or someone willing to take a long shot on an upside play in Week 9:

  • The Chargers have scored the most points in the NFL to date, so he’s on a high-powered offense;
  • Over the last three weeks Parker has received more consistent and successful opportunities in the passing game going 6 of 8, 4 of 6, and 6 of 8 in Weeks 6 through 8. In other words he went 16 of 22 for a better than expected 72.73% reception ratio during that time frame;
  • he’s also registered some actual production over the last three weeks: 214 receiving yards and 1 TD;
  • he also does punt returns, if you get individual points for that stuff;
  • The Chargers play my 49ers in Week 9 (who couldn’t even stop the Bears last week), which could provide Parker with added opportunities both on regular offense and as a punt returner; and
  • Keenan McCardell’s presence takes some attention off Parker;

I don’t think Parker is going to replace your #2 WR anytime soon. But I do think he possesses enough value to warrant a roster spot for the right kind of team. I picked him up in my local as a bye week replacement so I’ll be sharing in the outcome of this pick up first hand.

Koren Robinson – SEA : I can’t believe I’m recommending this stiff. But by process of elimination he may wind up being the only 100% healthy Seattle wide receiver this weekend versus my poor, poor 49ers. Engram’s status is not clear, but he was out last week. Darrell Jackson tweaked his ankle in last week’s game and was walking around on crutches afterwards. While he isn’t on crutches now it could mean he’ll play at less than full strength. Then there is Rice. He torqued his ankle as well (must be something in water up there) and his status is unclear. And Alex Bannister just busted his collar bone. Yikes.

While the Seahawks will undoubtedly ramrod Alexander straight down the soft-throated 49er defense the ‘Hawks are going to have to pass the ball at some point. Robinson may see a greater than usual number of passes thrown his way. That potential spike in opportunity coupled with his craptacular play of late warrants Robinson’s coverage here at the Trash Can Report. And with no suspension announced Monday we can assume Robinson will be available come game time.

UPDATE: Engram and Jackson are both ‘questionable’ and Bannister is ‘out.’ And still no word on Robinson’s suspension, so he should be active this weekend.

Carolina DEF : Ironic that one of the top three defenses going into the draft is so wretched this year. If they are still on your roster and you’ve got no better option available then this week looks pretty good to let them loose. This week is going to be an ugly duel between two quarterbacks that are playing really, really, really badly. (Though Delhomme had a good game last week). Both Collins and Delhomme have thrown 11 picks (they’re tied for the most INTs in the NFL); Collins has been sacked 11 times to Delhomme’s 9; and Collins has fumbled twice to Delhomme’s once. I’m giving the edge to Carolina this week because Oakland is playing just a little bit worse. Carolina’s DEF should have ample opportunities to contribute something this week. But that isn’t saying much because even my local fez-headed Shriners could register a few sacks and turnovers against the Raiders. Let’s be clear, though: the Panthers’ DEF is a desperation play this week, albeit a calculated one. Hey, at the very least they have a real tough pass defense, which has limited opponents to the NFL’s 6th lowest passing yards to date.

Neil Rackers – ARI : <Insert inappropriate “rack” joke here>. I’m not real high on this guy but if you need a one week replacement he should do well enough to contribute. There are three reasons to like him this week. First, he has a monster leg. Rackers has the most 50 or more yard field goals attempted (and completed) so far. So if you get more points for long field goals he makes some sense. Second, the Dolphins are allowing the NFL’s 2nd most field goal attempts of any defense. Third, I doubt the Dolphins will go on a scoring rampage this week. Therefore, Denny Green may be quite willing to settle for field goal attempts when his offense sputters.

Prior Picks That Bear Repeating

Michael Pittman – TB : I recommended Mr. Bumper Cars going into Week 7 as a spot starter and he delivered the goods. Mike Alstott’s absence, coupled with the Bucs’ rushing schedule, elevates Pittman to an every week starter in my opinion unless you’ve got some other stellar options. The match up this weekend versus Kansas City is not particularly favorable. But it isn’t terrible, either. Pittman will get his opportunities this weekend so I’m keeping him in my active line up.

Michael Clayton – TB : it seems like ages ago (Week 4) that I first recommended Clayton as a sleeper. Later I upgraded him to a spot starter. Now I’m upgrading him again to an every week start. The Bucs have turned around their passing, rushing, and defensive game in the last four weeks. It’s no wonder that those four weeks were also Clayton’s most productive. This week in particular I believe the Bucs will pass quite a bit trying to keep up with the Chiefs; Clayton will benefit. While it may be too late to acquire Clayton on the cheap you should if you can. Then just kick back and watch him continue making his case for best rookie wide receiver of the year.

Doug Gabriel – OAK : Gabriel is tough to get a lock on. He played fairly well in Weeks 1, 2, and 3 then dropped off… until last week. I can only recommend Gabriel if you get individual points in the return game. But here is what little there is to like this week:

  • He appears to have gotten over the hamstring injury that limited him because he is returning kicks again. He had 94 kick return yards on 5 attempts last week;
  • The Oakland return game looks to be active in the near future because their defense is currently allowing the league’s most points per game with 27.9;
  • After some very inconsistent involvement on regular offense he appears to be in Collins’ cross-hairs again. He “started” at WR last week and was targeted 8 times, second only to Jerry Porter; and
  • While his reception ratio is atrocious (less than 40%) he is still coming up with decent yardage: 50 yards last week, 59 the week before.

Gabriel doesn’t offer gaudy production on regular offense but he does have some upside in that department because he is always a threat on long bombs. But between what he scrapes up there and what he offers returning kicks he’s a surprisingly decent source of points. Keep your expectations in check this week, though because as stated above the Raiders square off against the Panthers. And while little is going well for the kittens from Carolina they have done an admirable job of holding down opponents’ receiving yardage: NFL’s 6th fewest.

Any DEF that plays Miami: if you’ve got ‘em, play ‘em. The Jets proved Monday night that Miami is still the NFL’s defensive piñata. However, do not expect the same degree of success from the Cardinals in Week 9. Arizona is playing on the road and they just don’t seem to do quite as well relative to their home game performances.

Any DEF that plays Miami next week : d’oah! That blasted bye week. Well, if you’re still in the mood to plan a week in advance might I recommend the Titans’ DEF versus the Bears in Week 10? The Titans haven’t been playing well and are off this week. Ownership of the Titans’ DEF in CBS Sportsline leagues is down from its season high of 92% to a current season low of 62%. So there is a chance they might be available, especially if current owners cut them during this, their bye week, to make space for free agent acquisitions.

New York Giants’ DEF : last week I recommended pairing the Giants and Cardinals’ DEFs because when rotated properly they face a lot of soft match ups through Week 14. This week I’m calling on the Giants DEF like the power of Greyskull. I was rather impressed by their performance last week versus the lichen-less Vikings (2 INTs, 1 fumble recovered, only 13 points and 231 yards allowed). So, who are the Giants playing this week, you ask? Da Bears. Yeah, the same Bears that allowed the regularly rag doll 49er DEF to put up crazy fantasy stats last week. Need I say more?

Steve Christie – NYG : if the Giants’ offense was able to disarticulate the Vikings last week, Week 9 should be like shooting gummy-Bears in a barrel. However, with Warner and the passing game seemingly less effective of late, and Tiki Barber getting saddle sores from how hard they’ve been riding him, it might seem the Giants’ offense has become somewhat one dimensional. That assumption would be faulty. With 13 field goals and 16 extra points Steve Christie has scored over a third of the Giants’ 151 points to date: 36.42%, to be exact. He is a huge reason the Giants are winning games.

You may be muttering, “dude, enough already with your love affair with Steve Christie.” Yeah, his name has littered the Trash Can Report a couple times. (And he’s done well for us). But knowing that you, loyal readers, demand fresh, new takes on the veritable dung heap that I preside over I’ll present to you with this added morsel: the Bears’ DEF has allowed the NFL’s highest number of field goal attempts to date with 20. Couple that with what we already know about Christie – that he has made the 2nd most field goal attempts of any NFL kicker with 18 – and we’ve got ourselves a kickfest in the making. I can’t guarantee production; all I can do is point to who I think will have good opportunities to contribute. Well, this week’s match up reeks of opportunity worse than an opossum carcass.*

* Non-football note: for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, a decomposing opossum is easily one of the top 5 worst stenches I’ve ever encountered. A southern friend of mine once retaliated against a dirty practical joke by concealing an opossum corpse under the seat of his friend/victim’s car during one particularly hot and humid Mississippi summer. It took the poor guy a couple days to figure out “where that ungodly smell” was coming from. And you can only imagine the look on his face when he did. While the prank was morally reprehensible – if not illegal – the story still sent beer shooting out my nostrils. So you can’t tell me that there’s no opportunity to be had when it comes to a dead opossum.

Other guys I considered covering in more detail but opted not to:

  • Drew Brees – SD : I’ve been a huge fan of Brees this year. I’ve been signing his praises since Week 4, but he’s no secret anymore. Homeboy probably crawled out of the Trash Can a week or so ago and, truth be told, I’m going to miss having him around;
  • Josh McNown – AZ : I’d like to see how his play is affected by Boldin’s continued presence. However, I still wouldn’t play McNown unless it were a home game or the match up were a cake walk;
  • Kevin Faulk – NE : The Patriots obfuscated the details of Dillon’s absence last week. Faulk is an obvious pick up as long as Dillon’s status remains negative or unclear;
  • Tyrone Wheatley - OAK : he’s back and has a nice match up this week;
  • Anthony Thomas – CHI : if you need my help rooting this pick out chances are your team needs more help than I can provide;
  • Shawn McDonald – STL : we’ll wait and see how involved he is this week. However, with Dane Looker out of the picture for this week, at least, McDonald is looking better and better;
  • Bryant Johnson – ARI : Johnson went 3 of 7 last week versus Larry Fitzgerald’s 0 of 5. Might be nothing. But I was curious to see how Boldin’s presence would affect the pass distribution in Arizona. If we see more of the same in Week 9 Johnson will warrant further examination;
  • Darius Watts – DEN : targeting 13 times; caught 7 passes. Fluke? I dunno but we’d better keep an eye out just in case it isn’t;
  • Plaxico Burress : I debated whether to cover Plaxico or Toomer last week. Looks like I picked the wrong guy. Burress has seen a linear increase in productivity after starting this year where he left off last year. While Burress may have weaseled his way up and out of the Trash Can before I got to cover him don’t let that stop you from relying on him on a go-forward basis. Heck, if his current owner hasn’t woken up to the fact that Burress is playing good ball right now it might be worth a shot trying to pick him off on the cheap; and
  • Josh Brown – SEA : Brown was one of my first recommendations ever. Going up against the 49ers this week there should be tons of scoring opportunities. But with their receiver corps in ruins Brown, Alexander, and the Seahawks DEF could be called upon to carry the game. I thought about a more detailed analysis but in reality Brown is a great kicker and you don’t need me to tell you that.
That’s it for now. I hope everyone pulverizes their opponents this week. Well, except if I’m playing against you, of course. Hopefully some of the barnacles here at the Trash Can Report are of some use. Game on!