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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Waiver Wire Warriors - Week 16
Dennis Leonard
December 22, 2005

Hello again and welcome back to Waiver Wire Warriors. I pulled off an upset win in my local last week, despite less than four quarters from Warner and Tomlinson. So I’m off to the semi-finals (we have a Week 17 Super Bowl in that league). Next up is a team who, despite an unassuming regular season performance, has simply been on fire for the last three weeks. I’m not sure what more I can do to improve my core players. Hmmm. Perhaps, I could use a starting quarterback; I hear that having one is all the rage with winging fantasy squads. Seeing as how I’ve now burned through (in chronological order of obsolescence) Brian Griese, Marc Bulger (twice), Trent Dilfer, and Kurt Warner I bring you…

Fifth String Quarterbacks

Jaime Martin – STL QB: No word yet on whether Martin is starting in Week 16, but he’s a logical play against my Forty Niners. Martin’s stand-alone stats aren’t bowel-shaking, but nevertheless demonstrate some merit:

  • Martin has been very accurate this year, connecting on 72 of his 104 passes thrown. That makes for a 69.2% completion ratio, which is the highest of his career and the highest of any regular QB so far this season. That’s right, better than Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer;
  • Further demonstrating his marksmanship, Martin nailed 8 of his 11 passes in limited action last week for 58 yards, no turnovers, but no scores; however
  • The Rams seem to have a more balanced offense now that Mike Martz is kicking it pool-side, as evidenced by the 36 run plays and 36 pass plays in Week 15.
  • Also, Martin has only 4 TDs to 6 turnovers this season, which is somewhat troubling.

Overall, I think Martin lacks big time upside. However, as we’ve seen time and again, just about any QB is going to produce serviceable stats against my Niners, who are:

  • Allowing the highest average yards per game (277.6);
  • Suffering through an average of 35.6 passes per game against San Francisco – 4th most in the NFL;
  • Allowing opponents to comple 64.7% of their passes– 3rd highest percentage in the league;
  • Giving up the 2nd most passing TDs – 26;
  • Taking away the 11th fewest interceptions on defense (12 all season; less than 1 per game); and
  • Are tied for 7th fewest sacks on defense (27 total; less 2 per game).

Consider Martin a strong, albeit conditional, Week 16 recommendation (conditioned on him playing, of course). The rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick – who I’ve cautioned you about several times – just isn’t playing up to snuff yet. Perhaps this week the Rams go back to Martin, who put up top 20 QB stats in Weeks 8 and 11 versus Jaguars and Cardinals, respectively. I expect about top 15 QB production from Martin this week (if he plays) as some regular starters for other teams may not see four quarters of play this week.

Kelly Holcomb – BUF QB: I suggested Holcomb might be a decent desperation play last week, assuming he got the start, and that’s pretty much what happened. With 202 passing yards, 1 TD, and no turnovers Holcomb didn’t win the day for anyone, but he contributed at an acceptable level in a losing effort against the Denver Broncos (who have allowed about the 10th most production to opposing QBs this year). This week is the same deal: *if* Holcomb gets the start (and it’s looking more and more like he will start), he’s worth a shot if you’re hurting. Let’s see what we can see:

  • Holcomb has also been very accurate this season: 86 completions to 127 passes for a 67.7% completion ratio;
  • That completion ratio is a little better than his 64.2% lifetime average, and Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, and Jaime Martin are the only other regular QBs who are completing a higher percentage;
  • Has 7 TDs to 8 turnovers, though, to his credit he didn’t turn the ball at all last week;
  • Recall that he had four solid outings in a row against some decent defenses, namely in Week 5 (Dolphins), Week 6 (Jets), Week 7 (Raiders), and Week 8 (Patriots) and during that four week stretch Holcomb actually accumulated about the 8th most fantasy points of all QBs; and
  • Has a nice 90.5 QB rating this year, which is much better than his 80.4 career average, and about the 8th best out of the current NFL starting signal callers.

I’m not in love with Holcomb’s Week 16 match up versus the Bengals, but they are hardly impenetrable.

  • The worst part of this match up is the Bengals have picked off 30 interceptions this year – by far the most of any defense in the league; however
  • They are also allowing an average of 210.4 passing yards per game – 12th most;
  • 19 TDs allowed – tied for 9th most – including one each to both Jeff Garcia and Joey Harrington last week;
  • Opposing QBs have completed about 60.3% of their passes, which is pretty high – only 12 teams have allowed a higher percentage of completed passes; and
  • The Bengals don’t collect many sacks, just 23 so far this year – tied for 3rd fewest.

All in all, the Bengals have been about the 18th or so most productive team for opposing QBs to face this season, though over just the last six weeks they’ve ironically been the 1st most productive opponent for QBs to play against. However, given how many Fifth String QBs have yet to be given the starting nod, don’t look down your nose at Holcomb if he’s still available. He might not be the prettiest option to take to the big dance, but he’s likely available on short notice and is good enough that he shouldn’t embarrass you. Plus, he has a nice personality.

Sage Rosenfels – MIA QB: Rosenfels is another guy who may or may not get the starting nod this week. Personally, if I hear Frerotte is ruled “out,” I’m picking up Rosenfels for potential use in my local this week. Because he’s playing against the Titans and most opposing passers are finding good success against Tennessee – they are about the 2nd most productive team for QBs to play against so far this year.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about this guy. He’s a fifth year player and has spent four of them with the Dolphins, so he should be familiar with the Dolphins’ offense by now. He’s got a lowish 55.7% completion ratio, which is tempered by his 4-to-3 TD-to-turnover ratio. However, he’s got some swagger in his step after engineering the inspiring Week 13 comeback victory over the Bills, as well as closing Week 15 strong enough to post some decent stats in less than 2 quarters of play (99 passing yards, 10 rushing, 1 TD, no turnovers) and collect yet another win, this time against the Jets. Rosenfels’ potential usefulness in Week 16 hinges largely on the ability of Gus Frerotte to play. However, on Monday the Palm Beach Post speculated Frerotte may not be able to go this week, as he re-injured his right index finger while attempting to tackle Jets’ cornerback David Barrett after an intercepted pass. That’s the same injured finger that caused Gus to miss Week 11 versus Cleveland. Everyone thinks it’s broken, though Miami swears it’s just a sprain.

Rex Grossman – CHI QB: I know, you don’t think of the Bears as a passing team. Orton did just enough to help win a bunch of close games. But Grossman came in off the bench to help the Bears do more than “just win;” he helped dominate the Falcons in Week 15. If you watched the game, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, you missed a great game.

I still don’t think Grossman will be called upon to do much. Week 15 was a perfect example, in which he went 9 of 16 for just 93 yards, no TDs, and one turnover. However, against Green Bay – who Kyle Boller just lit up for 253 passing yards, 3 TDs, and no turnovers – Grossman probably has a little upside. He’s my least favorite 5th string QB this week and I’d only roll the dice on him if I were absolutely forced to. But I like him more than Bollinger, Bouman, Alex Smith, and the like.

Kyle Boller – BAL QB: I mentioned the 253 passing yards, 3 TDs, and no turnovers in Week 15, right? I’m not exactly steeped in confidence when it comes to Kyle Boller (in fact, I think I went so far as to say I’d never mention him here again in a prior article), but he has strung together five decent games in which he has scored 9 TDs (at least 1 in every game), thrown 30+ passes in 4 of those 5 games, and thrown for 200+ yards in 3 of those 5 games. Granted, his completion percentage is still in the dumper (57.7%) and he has turned the ball over as many times as he’s scored in those five weeks (9). But all in all, he’s put up some pretty good numbers over that five week span, at least enough to warrant our objective consideration as a 5th String Quarterback.

Further miring Boller’s prognosis is the state of his Week 16 opponent – the Vikings. Given that the Vikings will already know the results of earlier games, including the Bears’, and could possibly have little left to play for, will the Vikings mail the rest of the season in? Impossible to say. The Vikings been one of the most schizophrenic teams to deal with this year, and their defense is no exception. For example, on the season as a whole the Vikings DEF has been about the 11th most productive team for QBs to play against. However, over just the last five weeks the Vikings have been about the 5th stingiest: that’s a wild swing in the other direction. And I just have no idea which version will show up this week. Still, if you are in desperation mode the play here looks pretty obvious: you’re catching Boller and the Ravens on an upswing as the Vikings are coming off an 18-3 thrashing from the Steelers, which severely damaged Minnesota’s playoff hopes.

Josh McCown – ARI QB: I’ve actually got McCown on my roster and I have yet to decide whether to play him. The team said he was sick going into last week (going 1 of 4 for 12 yards and an inception would certainly make anyone want to vomit). And McCown was still puking his guts out on Monday, even though he has already been named the Week 16 starter (so pay attention to his status before game time before you go blindly assuming he’ll be well enough to play this week). However, it’s easy to forget that from Weeks 4 though 8 McCown was about the 12th most productive fantasy QB, both from an aggregate points perspective as well as from a points per game perspective. He scored 6 TDs in four games and logged nearly 400 passing yards in two of them.

My biggest problem with McCown is that his accuracy isn’t very good: about 55.3%. That means he needs to throw a lot in order to be productive. (His best games came when he threw the ball 40+ times). However, we have no reason to believe the pass-first Cardinals will change their play calling with McCown back under center ( Arizona is averaging 42.1 passes per game – 1st most in the NFL; averaging 21.2 running plays per game – 1st fewest in the NFL).

This week’s opponent – the Eagles – are a tough opponent to figure out. On the one hand, they kept the Rams to a combined 127 passing yards and 1 passing TD last week. However, on the season as a whole the Eagles have been about the 10th most productive opponent for QBs to play against. For the most part the Eagles are pretty average against the pass, as far as NFL defenses go:

  • Defending a very average 31.4 pass plays per game;
  • Opponents complete a very average 59.3% of their passes against the Eagles;
  • The Eagles have snaked a very average 15 INTs this year; HOWEVER…
  • Opponents earn an above average 207.9 passing yards per game;
  • The Eagles have collected the 6th fewest sacks this season – 26; and
  • Have allowed the 7th most passing TDs this year – 21.

I guess where we come down is that an opponent who throws for an average number of passes can expect a fairly average passing game against Philly. However, because the Cardinals pass freakishly often, perhaps McCown can register an above average performance. The Eagles low sack totals and average number of interceptions tell me McCown stands a decent chance to have a good game this week. Something in the neighborhood of 300 combined yard, 2 scores, and 2 turnovers wouldn’t surprise me.

Other Recommendations

Zack Crockett – OAK RB: Lamont Jordan hasn’t improved as well as expected. He did not practice on Tuesday and will likely be listed as doubtful due to a leg ailment he suffered last week. Crockett is the only other Raider RB to see double digit carries this season: 30 times for 120 yards (4.0 YPC) and 1 TD, and 88 more receiving yards on 10 receptions. While Justin Fargas is technically on the roster, he’s only taken two carries for 4 yards all season long and can never seem to stay healthy. However, I can only point the truly desperate in Crockett’s direction, as Week 16 opponent – the Denver Broncos – are allowing a low-ish 3.9 yards per carry this season, have allowed only 9 rushing TDs all year, and allowed an average of just 84.6 rushing yards per game (2nd lowest in the league). But hey, for those of you who were depending on a guy like Samkon Gado to begin with, perhaps Crockett doesn’t sound so bad. Because the chances of him heavily splitting carries is unlikely.

Cedric Houston – NYJ RB : Hey, as I recently mentioned in the Huddle Pro Football forum, were scraping the bottom of the barrel here. There is one reason, and one reason only, that Houston makes any sense this week: he'll get the bulk of the work. Aside from the 4 carries last week by the Jets' fullback (Askew), Houston got ‘em all. By sheer volume of opportunity, Houston will have multiple chances to bust a few (lucky) long runs on a Patriots’ DEF that will likely take his lunch money after giving him an atomic wedgie.

Do I like the match up? Nope. Hate it. Do I like Houston. Nope. Not particularly. But this late in the season, finding a RB who on waivers who isn't splitting carries is somewhat anomalous. Though, it is worth noting that Houston ran for 5.6 YPC last week on a pretty good Dolphins’ DEF. So there’s some glimmer of hope here; just don’t bench a proven performer for Houston. I’ll consider this pick a hit if Houston gets 15 or more carries again this week and puts for a top 24 performance.

Eric Moulds – BUF WR: Welcome back, Mr. Moulds! I suggested last week that if Holcomb got the nod at QB Moulds would return to fantasy relevance. 12 Pass targets, 9 receptions, and 110 receiving yards later my point was made. Some owners may have prematurely dropped him in disgust due to Mould’s power of invisibility when Losman was under center. However, there’s nothing wrong with Kelly Holcomb’s vision. And if you still own Moulds, he is totally worth dusting off and using as a solid #3 WR during the playoffs, even against the Bengals this week.

  • Moulds has an okay 61.1% reception ratio on the season as a whole, but in games where Holcomb played Moulds’ reception ratio is an improved 66.6%;
  • Moulds’ only two 100+ yard games came in the 5 Holcomb started;
  • Moulds’ only three TDs came in the 5 games Holcomb started;
  • In those five games Moulds saw 48 pass targets, which was nearly double the next highest pass target (Lee Evans with 25);
  • While the Bengals have only been about the 18th most productive team for opposing WRs to play against, over the last 6 weeks they’ve been slipping. Looking just at the last six weeks Cincinnati has been the 8th most productive team for opposing wide outs to play against.

It’s pretty clear to me that Holcomb only has eyes for Moulds, which makes that duo something of a poor man’s Jake Delhomme/Steve Smith. So ride it for as long as Holcomb is under center, as he is a very accurate QB (as discussed above) and will find a way to find Moulds. Count on it. While the Bengals will almost certainly win this game, that could also mean some decent garbage time production for Moulds. Also keep in mind that Buffalo shockingly did not run the ball much last week: 15 times relative to the 35 passing plays called. If that phenomenon continues, it will only help Moulds even more.

Samie Parker – KC WR: It’s looking more and more like Eddie Kennison isn’t going to play in Week 16 due to an injury he suffered last week. Parker’s role should be augmented (as it was after Kennison left the game last week) and that spells late-season usefulness; especially in leagues that award points for receptions. I mean, just look at the steady, almost linear increase in pass targets, receptions, and receiving yards Parker has seen over the last five weeks:

  Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15
Thrown To: 2 5 5 7 10
Catches: 2 5 4 5 6
Yards: 23 76 39 79 87

Granted, Parker has only scored one TD during that five week span, but that’s a big part of why I like him more in leagues that award points for receptions. However, over those last five weeks – even before Kennison got hurt – Parker was tied for the 21st most catches for WRs in the NFL (21) and racked up the 20th most receiving yards for WRs (304). Add to that a solid 65.59% reception ratio and I like what Parker has to offer a postseason team strapped for an upside #3 WR… at least for as long as Kennison sits. (Be sure to confirm Eddie K’s status before game time, because no the Chiefs are saying his injury was “minor”). Since Parker is available in like 96% of Fanball leagues, he’s a potential solution for teams in virtually any sized league.

New England’s DEF: I love this play for Week 16. Not only is the Jets’ offense still easily dominated, but the Patriots’ defense has come alive over the last four weeks. Let’s look at the weakness of the Jets’ offense first:

  • Bottom line, they still appear as one of the seven worst teams in four of the six categories I rank consider – only the Forty Niners appear in more (5);
  • 2nd fewest points on offense – 183 this season;
  • 5th fewest average yards on offense – 255.9 per game;
  • Tied for 6th most offensive turnovers – 31; and
  • 3rd most sacks allowed – 45.

I realize that the Jets – and Brooks Bollinger especially – performed well in Week 15. But the Jets are 3 and 11 for a reason and I have little faith that they will repeat that kind of success against a Patriots’ DEF that finally got its groove back. Over the last four games New England has:

  • Scored about the 2nd most fantasy points of any team DEF;
  • Allowed the fewest points by opposing offenses – 36;
  • Tied for the 5th most sacks – 13;
  • Collected 4 INTs; and
  • Recovered 2 fumbles.

The other intangible in play here is that the Patriots’ organization has stated unequivocally that they will be playing all their starters this week. That’s a big factor to consider in these last few weeks, as some teams are resting up for the playoffs, and others have nothing left to play for at all.

Saint Louis’ DEF: No one owns the Rams. They’re horrible on defense. They’ve allowed 95 points over the last 4 weeks, only registered 8 sacks, 8 turnovers, and been about the 21st most productive fantasy defense over that time. Clearly, that is nothing to brag about. However, due to the fact that they are largely available, and their match up with my Forty Niners this week, they offer a discount solution to those of you painted into a corner as far as team defenses go. I probably don’t need to detail how bad San Francisco has been on offense this year, but I will anyway:

  • Fewest points scored – 165;
  • Fewest average yards per game – 210.1;
  • Fewest first downs per game – 11.2;
  • Tied for 4th most offensive turnovers – 34;
  • Tied for 6th most sacks allowed – 40;
  • First round pick, Mr. Alex Smith, completed a whopping 1/3 of his passes last week (8 of 24) for 123 yards, no TDs, and 1 INT, though he did gain 30 yards on the ground running for his life.

Toss in the fact that the Rams will be playing at home and that they are coming off their best fantasy defensive effort of the year (4 turnovers, 4 sacks, and just 17 points allowed last week against the Eagles) and you’ve got yourself a one week solution if nothing better is plainly available.

Washington’s DEF: Madness, you say, to play any defense against the vaunted New York Giants? Maybe, maybe not. Tiki Barber’s Week 15 performance may still be fresh in our memories, but let’s keep in mind that the Giants have predominantly played better at home this year (like last week) but will be on the road for Week 16. Plus, for those of you who haven’t noticed, the Redskin’s DEF has quietly thrown their performance into overdrive over their last four games. And given the Chargers, Rams, Cardinals, and Cowboys were their last four opponents, it’s not like the Redskins padded their defensive stats against marshmallow offenses. Let’s review:

  • The Redskins have scored about the 1st most fantasy points in the last four weeks for team defenses (in my leagues, at least);
  • Has allowed the 5th fewest points against – 52;
  • Nailed down the 3rd most sacks – 15;
  • 3rd most INTs – 8; and
  • 5th most fumbles recovered – 5.

Granted, we’re usually trying to play decent DEFs versus weak offenses to maximize upside. But that’s not to say we should ignore a surging source of strength at the team DEF position when we see it. And when you consider that over those same last 4 weeks Giants’ QB Eli Manning has completed fewer than 54% of his passes, averaged less than 250 passing yards per game, has a 5-to-9 TD-to-turnover ratio, and has been sacked 5 times, there is certainly upside to be had here.

Guys I Thought About Recommending In More Detail, But Opted Not To

Byron Leftwich – JAX QB: There are rumors/reports of his potential Week 17 return. I suppose if you have a roster spot that’s being wasted, and you might be able to use an upgrade at QB next week, then why not?

David Givens – NE WR: Two weeks ago I suggested that once Givens was back – and was needed to help win a game – he’d become involved. That rang true last week: 6 receptions for 137 yards and a TD. I stand by my recommendation that Givens makes for solid WR depth, especially in leagues that award points for receptions. You can plug him in any week and be virtually guaranteed that he’ll contribute something useful. He’s basically a top 30 WR from a points per game perspective and possesses a pretty good 59.57% reception ratio. However, I’m not wild about his match up with the Jets this week, as most teams just run on them to death (offenses are averaging 28.3 passing plays per game against the Jets – 3rd fewest in the NFL, and averaging 33.9 rushing plays per game – the 1st most). But for a solid WR, he’s available in about 49% of Fanball leagues, which means he’s probably out there for a few of you who are looking for upgraded consistency from your #3 WR or flex position.

Jonathan Wells – HOU RB: Dom. Davis owners need Wells on their roster, if he isn’t already there. Heck, at this point, if the Davis owner in my league was still in the mix I’d pick Wells off waivers just so no one else could use him.

Brandon Stokley – IND WR: It is looking highly unlikely that Marvin Harrison will play (busted up hand) so Stokley is next in line for time. The only thing preventing me from putting more force behind this recommendation is that unknown degree to which Peyton Manning will play this week. You’ll just have to excuse me if I reserve some minor trepidation about the pinning my playoff hopes on the potential Sorgi-to-Stokley connection. But, at the very least, Stokley will probably play all four quarters.

Frank Gore – SF RB: Don’t get too excited, as Gore’s Week 15 numbers were partly a product of Kevin Barlow’s being held out. If Barlow can play, expect both to split the load in a manner than likely favors Gore, but probably won’t net him the 22 total touches he saw in Week 15. That said, Barlow’s status isn’t clear yet. And Gore himself suffered a shoulder stinger in last week’s game. So until we hear more Gore is a decent speculative upside pick up against a very vulnerable Rams’ DEF in Week 16.

Nick Goings – CAR RB: He touched the ball almost as many times as Foster did: 16 carries and 2 receptions for a combined 88 yards last week. Though I don’t particularly like the match up with Dallas in Week 16, I believe Foster owners who are thin at RB have little choice but to handcuff Goings if a Week 17 Super Bowl is a possibility.

Michael Turner – SD RB: I told you, I told you, I told you this guy had crazy upside: 14.1 YPC carry last week. And a score. While all indications point to Tomlinson playing again in Week 16, Turner is still someone I’d want on my roster “just in case.” Especially if there are LT2 owners out there who might be looking towards a Week 17 Super Bowl. Tomlinson took 24 carries against a tough Colts DEF, so I’m not too worried his role will be reduced heavily. But his status seems a little fishy to me because if his ribs aren’t seriously hurt, then why is he being held out of contract drills all this week? Why couldn’t he contribute when he was needed most in a must-win game against the Colts late-game? Why is he making such a punctuated effort to say his ribs are fine? I hope it’s nothing, but I’d rather have Turner on my roster and not need him than the other way round.

The Waiver Wire Report Card (AKA, How I Got My Ass Handed To Me In Week 15)

David Garrard – JAX QB: A top 10 QB last week in most formats. A nice hit for those smart enough (i.e., not me) to pick him up as a post-season back up. Hit.

Charlie Frye – CLE QB: For fantasy purposes, he was terrible. Just under 200 yards passing, 1 INT, no scores. However, for NFL purposes Frye bagged a win and was an asset to his team. I’ll take the miss. But I’m still giving the rookie a metaphorical high-five for playing to win.

Ronnie Brown – MIA RB: Only 56 combined yards, no scores, no turnovers. But he got hurt. Miss due to injury.

Ricky Williams – MIA RB: One man’s loss is another man’s gain. For someone is a RBBC situation, Williams “lit it up” in Week 15 posting top-15 RB stats. I told you several weeks ago that Williams was worth targeting on the cheap as a #3 RB going into the playoffs. While I didn’t see this coming, he has been making the most of his limited opportunities and Brown’s injury only means that now he’ll get more of them. Hit.

Andre Johnson – HOU WR: about a top 26 play in PPR leagues, which means he was worth playing. But not nearly at the level anyone wanted him to. A reluctant and small hit.

Terry Glenn – DAL WR: Woof… 2 for 25 = miss.

Cardinals’ DEF: Barley a top 20 performance, though the absence of Warner and McCown probably affected Arizona’s ability to stay on offense. Still, 2 turnovers and 3 sacks don’t cut the mustard. Miss.

Dolphins’ DEF: A top 10 play last week. Hit.

Eagles’ DEF: Uh, well, at least I didn’t recommend the Packers’ DEF, right? Miss.

Packers’ DEF: Aw, dammit! Hey, if you predicted the Ravens smothering the Packers 48 to 3 last week, perhaps I should turn the keys to this column over to you. Biggest miss of the year.

Paul Edinger – MIN PK: Not really his fault that the Vikings suddenly became incompetent on offense. But it’s still a miss.

David Akers – PHI PK: For what it’s worth, I played him instead of Lindell and they did about the same. Miss.

Josh Scobee – JAX PK: Good lord, all my kicker picks missed this week. Miss.

Okay, that’s it for this week. I’m still licking my wounds from last week’s results, as I fell well below my .500 for the second time this year. This week we’ll turn it around. So if you’re still in the thick, good luck and game on!