by Jeff West
October 23, 2003
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    This weekly article will discuss those players "Heading North" (fantasy value is rising), "Going South" (fantasy value is falling), or "East-West" (fantasy value is still undetermined, but worth watching)...

    Most fantasy leagues are now at the halfway points of their seasons.  By now the cream has risen to the top, the dreck has fallen to the bottom, and everyone else is fighting for a wild-card playoff position.  If you're the cream of the crop in your league, then your roster is probably pretty well settled.  You may want to try to deal from your areas of depth and shore up any holes you might still have.  If you're at the bottom of the standings with no hope of swiping a playoff position, now is the time to take some chances with players.  Grab Willis McGahee or Michael Bennett.  Take a chance on Michael Vick.  Your sole job now is to keep trying to win and knock other teams out of the playoffs.  By continuing to play your best lineup each week, you'll probably surprise a few teams and earn the respect of the rest of the owners.

    The rest of you in the middle of the pack still have a shot, with a strong second-half of the season, to make some noise and climb back into contention.  Look at the rosters of the better teams in the league.  Do they have four point-producers at running back, when they can only start two each week?  Help make their lineup decisions easier by liberating them of one of those RBs.  In one of my leagues I'm 2-5, but I have three quality QBs in Culpepper, Bulger, and Hasselbeck.  My goal now is to trade one or two of them to shore up one of my many other weak positions and string together some wins to sneak into the playoffs through the back door.

"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    Rookie Domanick Davis had a breakout game last week.  He finished the day with 199 total yards (although he had two TDs vultured by Stacey Mack).  While this coming week's match up with Indianapolis would seem to be a bad one for the Texans, as they’ll probably be playing from behind the entire game, Davis could still impress.  He is an active part of the passing game (something Mack wasn't) with nine receptions against the Jets.  He has the ability to score from outside the red zone, so Mack won’t get all of the TDs.

    Jake Delhomme has found his favorite receiver in Carolina.  Steve Smith has put together a couple impressive games in a row against decent defenses.  Smith has big-play ability and Delhomme has been looking his way, not Muhsin Muhammad's, when he needs a crucial catch.  I'd expect Carolina to return to the ground game for the next couple weeks against New Orleans and Houston, but it won't be long before Carolina needs to go to the air again and Smith has shown the ability to put up some big numbers.

    Brian Westbrook has scored five TDs in his last four games.  While listed as questionable with a hip pointer last week, he carried the ball for 67 yards and a TD and ran back a punt 84 yards for a game-winning TD, accounting for all of the Eagles scoring.  Westbrook has clearly emerged as the starting RB in Philadelphia and seems to be the only player who is putting up consistently good numbers.  He answered the durability question last week and should get plenty of opportunities against the weak rush defenses of the Jets and Falcons (each allowing about 150 yards on the ground per game).

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    Be very wary of the entire Cleveland Browns offense.  Three starters are missing from the offensive line.  William Green has a shoulder injury that caused a pair of fumbles last week.  The quarterback situation is still unresolved.  Tim Couch was pulled from last week's game after throwing two interceptions and having to deal with a number of penalties and dropped passes.  He also sprained an ankle, although that shouldn't cause him to miss any time.  Kelly Holcomb came in last week and led the team to a couple scores, but is 1-3 in games he’s finished and is still suffering some after-effects of his previous injury.  There is no go-to WR on the team as four receivers split catches.  Kevin Johnson leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, Dennis Northcutt leads the team in receiving yards per game, Quincy Morgan leads the team in yards per catch, and Andre Davis leads the team in TD receptions.  Do yourself a favor and avoid using any player from Cleveland this weekend.

    Tiki Barber made it through the entire game last week without fumbling.  The problem was that he didn't have much opportunity to fumble in the second half as he watched most of the game from the sidelines.  The week before, Barber asked Coach Fassel to give him a bit more rest during the games.  Barber went to the bench for a breather in the third quarter and watch Dorsey Levens carry the load the rest of the game.  Fassel indicated that he didn't put Barber back in the game because he got cold watching the game from the sidelines.  Levens played pretty well, gaining 64 yards on 16 carries, with no turnovers.  While Levens probably shouldn't expect 16 carries every week, he will probably take a few from Barber and may also show up for goal line carries.  Levens is a more powerful runner than Barber and has only 13 fumbles in 119 career games.

"East-West" – Players whose fantasy value is still undetermined

    If you only looked at the box-score for the Patriots game last week, it would appear that Troy Brown had an outstanding game.  Six catches for 131 yards and a TD is a very solid fantasy outing.  But the truth of the matter is that at the end of regulation, Brown only had four catches for 38 yards and no scores.  Sure, overtime statistics count in your fantasy scoring, but the point is that Brown tends to have more games like he did in regulation, and very rarely has games like last week including overtime.  Brown may still be the number one receiver in New England, but he is averaging only 48 yards per game and has only two TDs in 2003.

    A quick glance at the stats from the Saints game last week shows some seriously exciting fantasy performances.  Aaron Brooks threw for 352 yards and three TDs with no turnovers, Deuce McAllister ran for 116 yards and two TDs.  Joe Horn had 133 receiving yards and a TD.  Donté Stallworth had 69 yards and a TD.  Even TE Boo Williams got in the act with four catches and a TD.  The entire Saints offense seemed to put it all together and produced from every position.  Now let's consider the opponent.  The Atlanta defense is ranked 29th in the 32-team league against the run.  And that's the good news.  They're ranked dead last in pass defense, total yards allowed, and points allowed.  The Saints certainly have some potent weapons on offense, but they have been dreadfully inconsistent and with upcoming games against Carolina and Tampa Bay, we will undoubtedly see a much less exciting output from the Saints.

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