1. Should Chad Pennington be starting at quarterback for the Dolphins?
Steven: No. I think this benching is a bad move by the Dolphins. Chad Henne's career numbers aren't great - 20 touchdowns and 24 interceptions - but the Dolphins need to know if he is the long-term answer at quarterback. I didn't think Henne was particularly awful and it seems like an overreaction to Sunday's loss to Baltimore. Changing quarterbacks isn't the answer in Miami - it's getting back to establishing the run with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
Braden: Certainly the Dolphins would like to see better play from their starting quarterback. And Chad Pennington has knack for winning football games. Yet, Henne is the future for the Dolphins under center. It is a brutal year in the AFC East, and the conference in general, so some growing pains are expected for a guy who has only 21 career starts under his belt. He has a huge arm and has gone toe-to-toe with the league's best in primetime settings in the past. Let the young porpoise sink or swim on his own — he needs to be under center to get better, doesn't he?
Nathan: Call the Supreme Court, there are hanging Chads in Florida. This could get even uglier. The move from Chad Henne to Chad Pennington is a mistake, both for the short and long term. The Dolphins are essentially saying that Henne is not their franchise quarterback. And obviously Pennington is not the solution, either. I respect the two-time Comeback Player of the Year Award winner and maybe he can win the trophy a third time this season. But this is a panic move of desperation that does not bode well for the future in Miami.
2. Will Matthew Stafford ever be healthy enough to play a full season?
Steven: It's concerning for Stafford and the Lions to see shoulder problems end his first two years in the NFL, but I doubt every season will be ended year by injuries. At some point, Stafford will stay healthy for the full 16-game season. A big part of Stafford's future is tied to the Detroit offensive line and the targets around him. The Lions need to upgrade at receiver and build a better offensive line to take some of the pressure off of Stafford. As Stafford gets more experience, expect him to get rid of the ball quicker and eliminate some of the hits he is taking now.
Braden: It is very concerning that Stafford continues to have the same injury. Could they be related and not fully healed and therefore impacting his ability to stay healthy? Sure. Could this be an isolated incident in which a player experiences an unlucky set of events to start a career? Let's hope. Stafford has the makings of a great quarterback and could save a franchise, but he has to be on the field to do so. It is interesting that the likely Rookie of the Year (Sam Bradford) was supposed to be the player who had glaring injury concerns.
Nathan: I thought the Rams’ Sam Bradford was the quarterback made of glass, after this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner injured his throwing shoulder twice at Oklahoma last season. Instead, it looks like the Lions’ Matthew Stafford is the one who needs a Medic Alert bracelet. After healthy, productive careers at Highland Park HS in Dallas and at Georgia, there were no warning signs prior to the thus-far injury-riddled NFL career for the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. Throwing shoulder issues are the worst kind for a professional passer. But he’s only 22 years old and has shown flashes of greatness, so I’d be willing to invest my money in Stafford.
Cowher will be a hot commodity this off-season.
3. Who would you target for the Cowboys job?
Steven: Although Wade Phillips wasn't the greatest coach in the NFL, there are a lot of other problems for this team that you could place on for the struggles of 2010. However, Dallas needs someone who can command respect in the locker room and isn't necessarily a player's coach. Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden would be a good fit, but could they co-exist with Jerry Jones? I also think the Cowboys need to hire a true general manager and keep Jones from making the day-to-day decisions about the roster.
Braden: Bill Cowher is the flashing name who would succeed and make the Cowboys, who have loads of other problems, instantly better. However, he appears earmarked for the Carolina Panthers job and I am not sure how his personality would mesh with Jerry Jones. In fact, Jones might be the issue. The Dallas War Room has been run by Jones for years — not well at that. The drafting, free agent signings, trades and coach selections have largely been mediocre-to-subpar, and that is all on Jones. It might not matter if Vince Lombardi walks through the doors at Valley Ranch, the Cowboys might be in trouble as long as the meddling owner is still involved in the daily operations. Otherwise, Jon Gruden, Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Gregg Williams and Darrell Bevell would all get calls from me.
Nathan: I would go after Jim Harbaugh. He may not want to leave the Farm at Stanford. And if he does, he may prefer the Chargers gig on the beach (you know, hypothetically, if Norv Turner doesn’t return in 2011) over the Cowboys job in the psych ward. Harbaugh — whose brother, John, coaches the Ravens and whose father, Jack, coached Western Kentucky to a I-AA national title — played at Michigan, was a quarterback in the NFL from 1987-2001, had a 29–6 record as coach at the University of San Diego and has gone 25–21 at Stanford 8–1 this season). For me, there’s no better candidate — unless Jerry Jones can steal Jeff Fisher away from the Titans, which has long been rumored.
4. Who will lead the NFL in rushing at the end of the year?
Steven: I don't see Arian Foster, Ahmad Bradshaw and Darren McFadden slowing down much if they stay healthy, but I'll take the proven commodity in Adrian Peterson. Peterson ranks second in the NFL with 857 yards, and with Sidney Rice giving the receiving corps a boost, the passing attack could open up more over the final half of the season.
Braden: The best, most physically gifted running back on the planet is Adrian — A.D. not A.P. — Peterson. Let's go with him. The Giants appear to be working the re-energized Brandon Jacobs more and more into the game plan, so Ahmad Bradshaw is a tough pick. Arian Foster is off to a great start but can he sustain it in his first full season come Weeks 14-17? Chris Johnson is certainly not the CJ2K (as my counterpart likes to say) of last fall — and will never be again in my opinion. Keep an eye on one Mr. Frank Gore. The Niners' schedule isn't bad at all, and you know he will get the rock plenty.
Nathan: CJ2K may not get back to the 2,000-yard mark, but Titans track star Chris Johnson should lead the league in rushing — especially now that Randy Moss is in Music City, forcing teams to respect the deep threat rather than load the box with eight (or even nine) to stop Johnson.
5. Who is the best team in the NFC South?
Steven: Atlanta was my preseason pick to win the NFC South, and I've seen nothing to change my mind. I like the Saints as a playoff team, but the Falcons already have a win in New Orleans and their only losses are to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - two very good teams. Once the Saints get Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas back in the lineup, it should help Drew Brees and the passing attack. Both teams are likely playoff bound, but I'll give the edge to the Falcons to win the NFC South.
Braden: I picked the Saints in the preseason to return to the Super Bowl. I picked the Falcons, also in the preseason, to win the division however. Removing the overachieving Bucs from the coversation, the division might come down to Week 16 and the Saints trip to the Georgia Dome — where Matt Ryan is virtually unbeatable. If the Falcons survive the three-game road trip to Tampa, Carolina and Seattle (nothing too scary), then those final two games at home could give them 12 wins and a divison crown. That being said, the question said "best," and until proven otherwise, the Super Bowl champs are still tops.
Nathan: The Super Bowl Saints are the most reliable team, but the Falcons have the biggest bandwagon and the Buccaneers are the biggest surprise. Still, I’ll ride with a coach who has no fear (Sean Payton), one of the coolest passers under pressure (Drew Brees) and an aggressive coordinator (Gregg Williams) with a loaded defense (Will Smith, Sedrick Ellis, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, etc.). Plus, New Orleans has invaluable experience; they’ve been there, done that and can do it again.
Mario Manningham is a tough fantasy play due to New York’s crowded receiving corps. Hakeem Nicks has been a world-class fantasy receiver this year and Steve Smith is starting to gain momentum. Good thing for Manningham that Eli Manning averages 34 attempts a game, leaving plenty of balls to go to “secondary” receivers in the New York passing game.
This week’s opponent (Dallas) has not given up many yards through the air, but ranks second-to-last in the league in touchdowns allowed (18). In his last three games against the Cowboys, Manningham has caught 14 passes for 200 yards and two scores.
When New York last played Dallas Manning threw four touchdowns. This game could be just as kind to the receiving corps, and fantasy owners can expect Manningham to steal a piece of the pie.
Here are a few other fantasy players facing favorable matchups in Week 10 (all of the players listed are considered backups or ‘fringe’ starters in most fantasy league formats):
Ben Roethlisberger vs. New England’s pass defense
Big Ben’s numbers have been so-so the past two weeks. Fortunately for him and his Steeler teammates, this week’s contest provides a favorable matchup. The Patriot defense is ranked 29th in average passing yards allowed and tied for 21st in touchdown passes allowed (13). In a game that will help to determine the AFC playoff picture, fans can expect plenty of passing from both clubs. And based on the statistics, Roethlisberger should have his most efficient game of the year – New England ranks dead last in the league in terms of opposing quarterback completion percentage (70.1).
LeGarrette Blount vs. Carolina’s run defense
Blount stalled last week but should rebound against a Panther run defense ranked 25th. And, in terms of carries, only two NFL teams have been run on more than Carolina – Buffalo and Denver. Blount and the Buccaneers would love nothing more than to control this game on the ground, perhaps mimic what they did in their Week 2 victory (34 runs, 25 passes). Blount wasn’t in the backfield for that contest, so the Panthers have no clue what they’re in for. Here’s a glimpse: #27 using all 247 pounds to crash into linebackers and defensive backs, all afternoon.
Tim Hightower vs. Seattle’s run defense
For as long as Chris Wells is banged up, Hightower is expected to see the bulk of the carries in the Cardinals offense. That doesn’t always mean Hightower is a fantasy consideration, but he should be for this week’s game against Seattle. In Week 7, Hightower averaged 9.8 yards against the Seahawks, and in 2009 he caught nine balls over the two meetings. Seattle has allowed seven rushing touchdowns this season (tied for 21st in the league) and last week surrendered almost 200 yards on the ground to the Giants. For those fantasy owners who are shaky at the position, Hightower might be a worthwhile risk for Week 10.
Mike Sims-Walker vs. Houston’s pass defense
Any time a player faces the league’s worst run or pass defense, it should cause fantasy owners to perk up. For Sims-Walker, a meeting with Houston (298.3 passing yards allowed per game) sets the stage for a perfect encore from last week’s 153-yard effort. The Texans allow 8.2 yards per attempt and are the only NFL club to allow 20 or more touchdown passes through eight games. To top it off, last week Houston allowed an unknown (Seyi Ajirotutu) to record 111 yards and two scores. Sims-Walker was less-than-spectacular in his two starts against Houston last year; he’ll make up for it on Sunday.
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.
Okay, I could take the easy way out this week and just recap some of the top unexpected performances from Week 9, like Brett Favre reigniting the flame and leading the Vikings to a win over Arizona, or jocking San Diego's Seyi Ajirotutu and anointing him the next Colston — but I’m not going to do that. Mainly because Favre won’t take on the Cardinals again this season, and Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson are all likely expected back shortly after the Chargers’ Week 10 bye. There are some legit risers, however, that are worthy of analyzing.
RISING Dez Bryant, Cowboys WR - I’ve constantly jocked the rookie WR since draft day from a dynasty perspective. The future number one WR in Dallas, with a solid QB like Tony Romo, looked like he was long term gold. What I didn’t expect, however, was for him to start producing at a high level halfway through his rookie season. He has 22 catches for 255 yards and four TDs in his last four games, and is looking like a viable starting option each week. Check that, a mandatory starting option each week. The Cowboys are getting blown out, and with Interim Head Coach Jason Garrett now at the helm, expect Bryant to see even more snaps and more targets. Seasonal owners take note, he could be clutch during your playoff run.
Jimmy Graham, Saints TE - Another guy that dynasty owners who have read my stuff often know that I’ve been high on - is Graham, the collegiate basketball project from Miami. New Orleans took him in the third round as what appeared to be an eventual replacement for Jeremy Shockey. My eyebrows raised when he caught all four of his targets in Week 7, and now he hauls in three balls including a score in Week 9. With Shockey nicked up, Graham’s time could be now. I recommend stashing him now in dynasty leagues and considering him a decent flyer TE moving forward in seasonal leagues.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins WR - While his role is still up in the air in terms of starter vs. reserve, the second year man from Ohio State is getting on the field enough to make a consistent impact each week despite the presence of Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess. 14 team leaguers should consider Hartline a solid WR3/flex play in PPR leagues, as he's caught three or more balls in each game since his Week 1 goose-egg.
Javarris James, Colts RB - He may just be a flash in the pan, as Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Donald Brown are all still technically on the depth chart in front of him, and the Colts just signed Andre Brown for additional depth, but James scored on each of his two goal line carries in Week 9 against Philly and may have carved out a role for himself moving forward. While he's not worth an add in any format just yet, keep a close eye on him, as stranger things have happened in the NFL.
Jacoby Ford, Raiders WR - There’s a new Jacoby in town. Ford, not Jones. The speedster made a big impression in Week 9, catching six balls for 148 yards and returned a kick for a score. Not only should return yardage leaguers be excited about his new role on offense, but dynasty owners should snag this guy now. As Oakland improves, there will be an opportunity for a WR on that squad to blossom. So far, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey haven’t been consistent, meaning Ford is now in the running.
Sidney Rice, Vikings WR - Word is that the 2009 breakout star very well could return in Week 10, just in time to seriously help some owners vying for playoff berths, and his dynasty owners will breath a sigh of relief when he catches his first TD. If he’s available in your seasonal league, snag him now, while long term owners need to get ready to watch his value rise once again.
Pat Angerer, Colts LB - In Week 6, the second rounder from Iowa started in place of an injured Gary Brackett and was extremely active, racking up 11 tackles (four solo), a sack and two passes defensed. In Week 8, he started in place of SLB Phillip Wheeler and judging by his seven solo tackle Week 9 performance, it looks as though he may have won that job. Angerer could be a viable IDP option with upside heading into 2011.
DeAndre Levy, Lions LB - The 23 year old from Wisconsin is finally healthy after battling a groin injury all season. He returned to limited work in Week 8, and recorded four solo tackles against the Redskins. In Week 9 against the Jets, he not only recorded nine solo tackles, but he also displayed solid speed all game, especially when catching Santonio Holmes from behind on a 50-plus yard reception. If he’s available in your league, I’d recommend snagging him.
FALLING Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter Texans WRs - Where have these guys disappeared too? Despite Arian Foster taking over the offense, there was an opportunity for both of these guys to step up with Andre Johnson injured, but Joel Dreessen was the only pass catcher worthy of fantasy lineups in Houston this week, as he hauled in five balls for 66 yards. They have been relegated to fantasy wasteland and no longer roster worthy in any format.
For more risers and fallers, check out our weekly rankings on Wednesday.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website nooffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
This week strikes me as a time of particularly obvious waiver-wire adds. The names jumping out or being thrown around are either guys who have probably been picked up in at least half of the serious leagues or players whose Week 9 numbers scream “Own me!”
Because of that, I go through the list of players below not to recommend adding each guy listed, but to give my expectation for what he will actually provide going forward. Each probably has some circumstance in which he makes sense to pick up, but not everyone will be particularly useful in the season’s second half.
Jacob Tamme, TE, Indianapolis
Tamme was worth a shot before his first start and looked like an obvious pickup after that game resulted in six catches, 64 yards and a touchdown. His performance at Philadelphia on Sunday made him an absolute no-brainer for any league of any size in which he’s still available.
Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, San Diego
This was one of those semi-predictable breakouts. The Chargers had Houston and its horrible secondary with no healthy receivers and Antonio Gates out. On top of that, Ajirotutu spends most of his time on the side of the field away from Glover Quin, the better of the Texans starters at corner. The result was a huge game, and he should obviously be claimed in pretty much any 12-team league. Unfortunately for those claiming, Ajirotutu figures to head back toward irrelevance pretty soon after the Week 10 bye. Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee will heal at some point, and Vincent Jackson is due back for Week 12. Claim Ajirotutu just in case something goes wrong with one of those guys, but don’t expect to have a fantasy starter for the stretch run.
James Jones, WR, Green Bay
There hasn’t been much doubt about Jones’ ability, and he had to be one of last week’s most popular pickups in leagues in which he wasn’t already owned. Jones headed into 2010 with plenty of fantasy folks expecting him to surpass Donald Driver, but he had yet to deliver. That changed Sunday night. Frankly, it’s not a shock that Jones had such a game in him, and it’s even less shocking to see it come against a Cowboys defense that just finished allowing David Garrard four touchdown passes. The Week 10 bye likely means that Driver will be back when next the Packers take the field. Jones will still be the No. 3 receiver and see plenty of work, but I’m sure we just saw his best game of the year. Jones figures to be in the discussion as a starter at No. 3 fantasy spots or in the flex but isn’t yet a must-start.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland
Ford looked really good in Sunday’s victory over Kansas City, but he’s not the first Raiders wideout to enjoy a big game this season. Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey have each put up 100-yard lines and let down fantasy owners who picked them up as a result. Murphy reportedly says he’ll be back in Week 11 (after the bye), so Ford might not even be in the starting lineup when next we see the Raiders. Based on that, the fact that he’s a rookie and that we’ve yet to see him play with Bruce Gradkowski – who is also expected to return to the huddle soon – this game seems more like one to tuck away for next year’s projections than a sign of what’s to come for the rest of 2010.
Bernard Berrian, WR, Minnesota
Welcome back, Mr. Berrian. We’ve had a table waiting for you since draft time. Actually, that’s not true. We had all sat another patron there by at least Week 4 after you came out invisible. In fact, Berrian caught no more than two passes in any game before Week 9, which means he has to do it at least one more time before it would be wise to trust him. Unfortunately for Berrian, Sidney Rice looks about ready to return – perhaps for Week 10 – which will leave only so many balls for anyone other than him and Percy Harvin. I’m not chasing Berrian this week.
Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota
Rice, on the other hand, I’ve been hanging on to all year anywhere that I drafted him. NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi Tweeted before the Arizona game that Rice looked healthier in warm-ups than Percy Harvin did. Of course, all Harvin managed in the game was nine catches, 126 yards and five kick returns. The connection Rice had developed with Brett Favre by the end of last year makes plausible the possibility of starting Rice in his first game back – depending, of course, on one’s other options.
Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego
Jackson’s in the same boat as Rice for me. I only drafted him in one league, but I’ve kept him on that team this long. Jackson will return to not only find the best quarterback of 2010 (inarguably), but also injuries to pretty much every other wideout on the roster. Jackson is a dynamic talent who should be good to go as long as he’s in shape. The time he will have had between returning to the team and returning to the field should make that easy.
Shaun Hill, QB, Detroit
We don’t yet know the results of Matthew Stafford’s Monday MRI as I write this, but he has already said that he at least doubts his availability for Week 10. Enter the guy who tossed eight touchdown passes in his four full games in relief of Stafford earlier this year. (Hill entered in Week 1 after Stafford’s injury and left early, himself, in Week 6.) Hill returns – assuming he’s healthy enough -- to face a Bills team tied for third most touchdown passes allowed this year. If he gets another start after that, it’ll come at Dallas. No word yet on whether the Cowboys will be in attendance for that one.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com.