Before the 2007 season started the New Orleans Saints were predicted by many, including myself, to reach the NFC championship game and have another shot at the Super Bowl. They had an explosive offense and a surprisingly solid defense. In one of my leagues the players were picked in such an order that I ended up with three Saints players among my first four selected. I was very happy about this outcome at the time. However my fantasy team (and tons of others) suffered when the Saints failed to get off to an auspicious start. In fact what transpired at the beginning was absolutely abysmal. The team lost four straight games.
The first defeat was easily understood. Though a 41-10 blowout is never a good sign, at least the team to do it was the defending champion Indianapolis Colts – on their home turf. The next week showed that the Saints were in trouble. Against the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers, again on the road, New Orleans lost 31-14. Neither Reggie Bush nor Deuce McAllister – fantasy demons a season before – could gain more than 49 yards rushing. In week three it was more of the same. The team lost by the same 31-14 score at home against the Tennessee Titans. Drew Brees had four interceptions and not one touchdown. McAllister was lost for the season with an ACL injury to his left knee. At home again in week five after the bye, the team played better but still lost 16-13 to the Carolina Panthers. Brees threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Almost a month later, the Saints have new life after defeating three straight easier opponents to pull themselves within one game of .500 on the season. In that time, their fantasy fortunes have been put back on track too. Bush and David Patten got things going in week six, while Brees reversed the TD/INT ratio from the week before. The team had a decent showing against the Atlanta Falcons in week seven before a huge game last week versus the 49ers. In that contest Brees threw four touchdowns, three of them to Marques Colston, who suddenly has a respectable five on the year.
Gone is the time to have gotten the best value in a trade for those Saints players, but if you want to ride their success in the second half of the season, strike right now. Point out that the team did well against inferior opponents. Emphasize that with McAllister out Bush will face constant pressure and could be an injury risk. Whatever it takes to grab these guys. At 2-6 in the league that features those three Saints players (Brees, Bush, Colston) it is too late for my fantasy team to rebound, but you can reap the reward if you trade fading players now for these shooting stars.
Brown bags can be taken off the heads of some other players in the league who have shown signs of kicking their fantasy game into a higher gear over the last eight or nine games of the season. Consider being the driver of the bandwagon for these guys or risk failing to find a spot to sit later on.
Maurice Jones-Drew – After a rough three-game start with no touchdowns and games of 2.8 and 2.5 yards per rush, Jones-Drew has played well for the Jaguars. Last week was mediocre but he had scored four times and gained 365 all-purpose yards in the three previous weeks. With David Garrard out, the Jaguars will need to stick to the ground if they want to win ballgames. Expect a heavy dose of both Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor (who will soon be one of the quietest players to ever reach 10,000 yards rushing) the rest of the way.
LenDale White – After watching Chris Brown get publicity at the start of the season, White has become the workhorse for the Titans. He has gone over 20 carries each of the last three games (25, 27, 25) for the first time in his career, and has surpassed 100 yards rushing (104, 133) the last two weeks.
Kevin Jones – Jones returned from his foot injury with much better energy and moves than generally thought possible. His carries and yards have gone up each game (see chart to the right) and he is proving a very consistent scorer this season, with a touchdown in all but one of the five games he’s played. The 105 yards he gained last week came against the Bears in Chicago, so clearly Detroit’s coaches have renewed faith in his abilities.
Reggie Brown – Brown was an afterthought earlier this year and a fantasy bust, but in the last three weeks he has at last been targeted with regularity. He had six catches for 89 yards three weeks ago, three catches for 44 yards two weeks ago and eight catches for 105 yards last week in Minneapolis against the Vikings.
Vernon Davis – Davis was another slow starter this season. He was just beginning to get into the flow of things when he got hurt. Last week he caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. With Alex Smith back in the lineup and Frank Gore hurting, look for the 49ers to finally use him like they should.
Brandon Marshall – Marshall is becoming very consistent, which is what you’d like from a third fantasy wideout. With Javon Walker out of the lineup, he’ll continue to get looks. He has gained 72, 77, and 74 yards the last three weeks.