by Jeff West
November 6, 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).

    Ladies and gentlemen, week nine is a perfect example of why they play the games on the field, and not on paper.  The defending Super Bowl Champs were throttled by a weak New Orleans team.  Only a late comeback helped make the game look close.  The Carolina Panthers fell to the Tony Banks-led Houston Texans.  The defending AFC Champs continued their freefall with an ugly loss to a bad Detroit Lions team.  Resurgent Cincinnati lost to the Arizona Cardinals.  Once-beaten Minnesota is now twice-beaten after their loss to the Packers.  There were a number of upsets, but perhaps none was more surprising than the Rams loss to the Niners.  The Rams had been a powerhouse lately under the leadership of Marc Bulger, winning their last four games.  The Niners were coming off a loss to Arizona and were without Jeff Garcia.  The Niners were clearly the better team, despite huge fantasy efforts from Bulger and Torry Holt, and won the game convincingly, 30-10.  Week nine added a good helping of credence to that old adage, "any given Sunday..."

    The head coaches and offensive coordinators of the NFL are doing their best to change the face of fantasy football.  Yes, it's true.  No longer can the fantasy owner look to the RB position as the end-all be-all of his or her fantasy team.  Gone are the days where teams had one RB to carry the load.  Remember those days when a team, the 1995 Cowboys for example, would hand the ball to Emmitt Smith 25-30 times a game.  Daryl Johnston might have one or two carries a game in a short yardage situation or to surprise the defense.  In 2003, the year of RBBC, there are only a handful of teams that look to one RB to handle all their carries: 1st down, 3rd down, and goal-line.  The San Diego Chargers are one of the few, looking to LaDanian Tomlinson on every down.  In eight games this season, Tomlinson has 156 carries, while his FB, Lorenzo Neal, is second on the team with 17 carries.  Neal has only stolen one TD, but on a team that struggles to score, that is more significant than it should otherwise be.  Another team that does it the way we fantasy footballers like is Kansas City.  On a much more efficient offense than San Diego's, Priest Holmes has 165 carries in eight games.  His fullback, Tony Richardson has only 18 carries, while the two back-up RBs (Larry Johnson and Derrick Blaylock) have six apiece.  The best scenario for a fantasy owner is the Miami offense.  Ricky Williams has 197 carries already while his backup, Travis Minor, has totaled one carry a game thus far.  Owners of these backs know that they'll get the opportunities to score points.  The backs mentioned may have a bad fantasy day from time to time, but it is generally the result of an excellent defense, not a coach's decision to use a different back than the one you have starting.

    The Carolina Panthers, early in the season, looked to be a team who had a legitimate chance to make a Super Bowl run this year.  They had the same formula that worked for Baltimore a few years back. A powerful RB (Stephen Davis) who can carry the load, take a beating, and wear down an opposing defense in the process.  A serviceable QB (Jake Delhomme) with serviceable WRs (Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith, and Ricky Proehl).  A clutch kicker (John Kasay).  And, most importantly, an excellent defense.  But the Panthers have lost two of their last three games and had to go to overtime against the Saints to avoid losing all three.  The Titans abused the Panthers defense, putting up 37 points and throwing the ball at will.  The Panthers have grabbed only five interceptions in their eight games and are the 22nd ranked defense against the pass.  A large part of this is the lack of a pass rush.  Mike Rucker has been playing out of his mind and has ten sacks already this year.  But he is the only one generating a consistent rush.  Last year's rookie phenom, Julius Peppers, has two sacks this season.  In 12 games in 2002, Peppers had 12 sacks.  Unless the Panthers defense can rush the QB and cover the wideouts a bit more effectively, they'll be hard-pressed to remain a contender.

    Has anyone else noticed that the panels in the roof of the Metrodome converge to form a giant swastika in the center?  It seems that every time a game (Vikings, Twins, Gophers) is played there, a camera pans across the ceiling of the dome and shows the symbol.

"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    Andy Reid's Eagles have always looked to use the tight end as a viable weapon in their offense.  Chad Lewis was Donovan McNabb's favorite target early in McNabb's career because he was a reliable safety valve when the WRs were unable to get open (some things never change).  Lewis has lost a few steps and is clearly nearing the end of his career.  Enter LJ Smith.  Smith was highly sought after by the Eagles in the offseason and fell to them in the late second round of the draft.  (Had the Eagles not moved up for Jerome McDougle, they likely would have selected Smith in the latter stages of the first round.) Smith is showing flashes of the skills the Eagles knew he possessed coming out of Rutgers.  His performance against the Falcons (6 catches for 97 yards) is indicative of the use he will be getting and the production he will be capable of.  A few visits to the endzone before the end of the season should establish him as a solid, second-tier TE in the NFL.

    Jeff Garcia has been battling all season.  First he battled back injuries, then he battled Terrell Owens, and now he's battling an ankle injury (partially torn ligament).  Add QB Tim Rattay to the list of battles Garcia has in front of him.  Rattay filled in for the injured Garcia against the Rams and put on quite a performance.  He spread the ball around and had a very efficient day.  Interestingly Terrell Owens had only two catches for 17 total yards (although he did score a TD on one of the receptions) yet there were no sideline tirades.  (He must still be thinking about the money he's making off of that new Nike commercial with Mike Vick.) Dennis Erickson has already come out and stated that Garcia will be the number one guy again as soon as he is healthy.  The Niners have a bye this coming weekend, giving Garcia time to heal.  Garcia will probably return to the starting lineup in week 11, but keep Rattay handy because he could be needed at a moment's notice.

    The Sunday night game featuring the Packers and the Vikings promised to be an exciting matchup with big fantasy implications.  The Pack have not played well in the Metrodome since Brett Favre has been their QB.  A major reason the Packers were able to win the game was the outstanding play of WR Javon Walker. Walker had three catches for only 42 yards, but two of the three were touchdown grabs.  Favre is beginning to develop a rapport with Walker, who leads the Pack in receiving yards and TD receptions.  With WR Donald Driver getting a lion's share of the defensive secondary's attention, and RB Ahman Green being a threat on every play, Walker should continue to get opportunities from Favre.

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    The Cowboys are still atop the NFC East at 6-2, but QB Quincy Carter has fallen well off the pace at which he started the season.  In his last four games, Carter is averaging about 150 passing yards a game and has thrown more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4, 3 of which came in one game against the Detroit Lions).  The Cowboys only lost one of those four games (Tampa Bay) largely because of the play of their defense and the running of Troy Hambrick.  Carter probably won't be pulled unless the Cowboys begin a freefall in the standings, which might not be far off with the most difficult part of the schedule still ahead of them.

    After posting incredible numbers in his first three weeks, Redskins WR Laveranues Coles has cooled off considerably.  Coles had 391 receiving yards and one TD in his first three games as a Redskin.  In the five games since that time, Coles has 267 yards and a TD.  He has not had more than 62 yards in any of those games and has seen the yardage totals slip each week.  The Skins offense has been very inconsistent of late.  They have been unable to run the ball effectively and, because of this, are getting blitzed heavily.  The offensive line has played very poorly and Ramsey is facing too much pressure.  Until the Skins are able to run the ball well, Coles will not get the opportunities he had early in the season.

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

    Michael Bennett came back from his foot injury Sunday night and showed that he has healed.  He had a quick first step and displayed his trademark speed.  His 58 yards of total offense will pave the way to increased playing time.  More playing time, however, means more opportunity for injury again. Bennett should be a decent starter, but don't rest all of your fantasy hopes on him because odds are he'll be injured again before too long.

    Travis Henry has gone over 100 rushing yards in each of his last two games.  In week nine he had a bye to further rest his bumps and bruises.  Because of this, it is too early to get excited about the activation of RB Willis McGahee. Henry's increased performance may be a result of some feeling of pressure from McGahee's return or from a return to health, but either way, don't expect too much from McGahee this year.  He is being added to the roster for the Dallas game this weekend, but could, very likely, remain inactive.  When he does get in the game, look for a few spot carries here and there but nothing to help your fantasy team win.

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