Run to daylight

A Pre-Holiday Introduction
Don't let the size of today's Philanthropist fool you. There's really nothing more to say about this phase of the fantasy season — assuming your trade deadline passed before the time of this posting (Week 12 is typically the end date). Yes, from this point forward, it's all about making stealth waiver claims, maximizing points in your lineup and psyching out your fellow owners, in terms of who they're starting on crucial Sundays. Kind of sad, huh? We spend hours upon hours studying other teams' rosters, exchanging emails or IMs with owners, getting flummoxed by the pace of negotiations, all in the hope of concocting a blockbuster deal before the playoffs … and boom, we're left with one final stage to the football season: Fingers crossed on winning a championship.

Talking Points
1. Philip Rivers is averaging 281 yards/1.8 TDs/2 INTs during the Chargers' five-game skid. The days of Rivers hanging with the pre-lockout Big Five (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning) may have passed; but he still has plenty of redeeming value in fantasy leagues — especially if you're starting the D/ST that's facing the Chargers on a particular Sunday. With the trade deadlines trickling in Rivers would be a starting upgrade over QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer and of course, Tim Tebow.

2. Of all the NFL teams currently holding losing records … the Seahawks (4-6) have the BEST chance of running the table. The previous statement has little to do with fantasy, other than saying Marshawn Lynch (745 total yards, 6 TDs in 2011), Sidney Rice (484 yards, 2 TDs) and QB Tarvaris Jackson should be primed to post strong numbers over the next six weeks — including three straight home tilts for Weeks 12 (Washington), 13 (Philadelphia) and 14 (St. Louis). It bears repeating: The Rams-Seahawks clash on Dec. 12 (Monday Night Football) could be a 35-point explosion for Seattle, with the club going all-in on one last playoff push … and St. Louis just playing out the string.

Mark SanchezICONSanchez is starting to feel the heat in New York.

3. Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell are splitting QB reps during practice this week. Outside of head coach Rex Ryan exercising a needless power play over Sanchez, or Jedi Mind Trick, the 5-5 Jets have NOTHING to gain by creating the illusion that Brunell (at 41 years old) is a threat to lead the franchise during the stretch run. Remember the top-end speed (for a QB) that Brunell flashed in the 1996 AFC playoffs? Gone. Remember his powerful, accurate left arm from 1996-2001 with Jacksonville? That's been phased out, as well. Sure, Sanchez (2,333 yards passing, 14 TDs in 2011) is far from a fully developed passer; but New York has no chance of winning five of its final six games with Brunell under center … so why deprive Sanchez of vital repetitions?

Morality Play
Here are a few quick personal rules — ethically speaking — when conducting pre-deadline trade negotiations. Obviously, no one should feel obligated to follow these to the letter (or at all).

1. For non-keeper leagues, NEVER consummate a Week 12-or-later trade with a team that's already out of playoff contention.
2. For non-keeper leagues, NEVER trade an injured player who's rumored to be done for the season — without the other owner having full knowledge of it.
3. NEVER block or veto another owner's fair and reasonable trade — IF only to prevent them from improving in the standings.

Week 12: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers @ Detroit
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Green Bay
3. Tony Romo vs. Miami
4. Drew Brees vs. N.Y. Giants
5. Eli Manning @ New Orleans
6. Cam Newton @ Indianapolis
7. Christian Ponder @ Atlanta
8. Tom Brady @ Philadelphia
9. Michael Vick vs. New England

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. LeSean McCoy vs. New England
2. Marshawn Lynch vs. Washington
3. Arian Foster @ Jacksonville
4. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Houston
5. Ray Rice vs. San Francisco
6. Jonathan Stewart @ Indianapolis
7. Cedric Benson vs. Cleveland
8. Chris Johnson vs. Tampa Bay
9. Michael Turner vs. Minnesota
10. Michael Bush vs. Chicago

Cedric BensonICONBenson could be in line for a big game on Sunday.

It's A Largely Known Fact …
That in his four-year Bengals career, RB Cedric Benson (663 total yards, 4 TDs in 2011) has enjoyed the most success against the Browns — when grouped in with AFC North foes. Against the Steelers, spanning six games, Benson has averaged 64 total yards and 0.33 TDs. Against the Ravens, spanning six games, Benson has averaged 76 total yards and 0.33 TDs; and when facing Cleveland — this week's opponent — Benson boasts per-game averages of 116 total yards and 0.4 touchdowns.

Running With The Moon
Here is my always-fluid top-40 listing of tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues — from this point forward:
1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (we're splitting hairs between Shady and the No. 2 stud on this list)
2. Arian Foster, Texans
3. Ray Rice, Ravens
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (ankle injury brings him down a notch or two)
5. Matt Forte, Bears
6. Frank Gore, 49ers
7. Michael Turner, Falcons
8. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys (a primary reason why Dallas should win the NFC East)
9. Steven Jackson, Rams
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (bringing his A-game every week to a D-level offense)
11. Michael Bush, Raiders
12. Chris Johnson, Titans (let's accept last week's clunker and move on)
13. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
14. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (just swung a Wednesday trade for him in my homeboys league)
15. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
16. Cedric Benson, Bengals
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders
18. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (fingers crossed on a Week 13/14 return — not feeling it, though)
19. Willis McGahee, Broncos
20. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
21. Ben Tate, Texans (would be a top-15 asset as a starter … pretty much anywhere)
22. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
23. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
24. Chris Ogbonnaya, Browns
24a. Montario Hardesty/Peyton Hillis, Browns (they're still worth rostering … I think)
25. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
26. Kevin Smith, Lions (will K-Smith rack up 201 yards again? Meh, doubtful)
26a. Jahvid Best, Lions (just like Bradshaw — an injury risk with great December potential)
27. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
C.J. Spiller
, Bills (opportunity knocks … after Fred Jackson's season-ending injury)
30. Mark Ingram, Saints
31. Jackie Battle, Chiefs
32. Darren Sproles, Saints (recent regression fuels drop in rankings)
33. Joseph Addai, Colts
33a. Donald Brown, Colts (I didn't have the cobbles to list him as a RB “lock” against Carolina)
34. Shonn Greene, Jets
35. James Starks, Packers
36. Pierre Thomas, Saints
37. Felix Jones, Cowboys
38. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
39. Kendall Hunter, 49ers
40. Roy Helu, Redskins

YouTube Memory Lane
Here's my pre-holiday way of spreading more YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1970s and 80s:

1. 1978The NFL Today's Brent Musburger directs traffic while handling halftime-highlights duty for the 1 p.m. games. A few things stand out from this early-November clip: The charmingly archaic scoreboard wall, Jayne Kennedy's awkward tease for the Tom Landry-Don Shula piece and Packers punter David Beverly's whiffed punt against the Eagles. How is that blown kick not in every NFL Films 'Follies' show?

2. 1979 — CBS provides blanket postgame coverage of the Cowboys' 28-0 road rout of the Rams in the 1978 NFC title game (played on Jan. 7, 1979). From Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder installing Pittsburgh as an early favorite in Super Bowl XIII to Pat Summerall and Frank Glieber getting tremendous access into the Dallas locker room … this clip is one for the books! (Check out legendary Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman, aka Dr. Z waiting for the Cowboys players and coaches to settle into the locker room.) My favorite part: Just seconds after Summerall laments how Rams fans must be devastated from the blowout home defeat … a cheerful blonde smiles and heartily waves for the CBS cameras, as if she was leaving a Beach Boys concert. Good stuff!

3. 1983Monday Night Football: Here's an excellent opening from Howard Cosell for Cowboys-Vikings — the final game of the strike-shortened 1982 season (played on Jan. 3, 1983). Cosell details the Metrodome roof collapse from four days prior … and the subsequent lightning-speed repairs to the stadium just before kickoff. (Which begs the question: Why did it take so long to fix the roof from last year's collapse?) Aside from the Metrodome troubles, there are two major storylines to follow: In the pregame, Ahmad Rashad confirms his injury-hastened retirement from the NFL (and new job at NBC). During the game, Tony Dorsett rushes for a 99-yard touchdown … prompting the memorable Don Meredith quote: 99 yards … and a half!

4. 1983 — Here's the second half of a seemingly innocuous game between the Giants and Falcons. (New York wins in OT.) This clip is endearing for a few reasons:
1) This is the only time I can recall iconic announcers Jack Buck and John Madden working in tandem. ( Summerall must have been handling U.S. Open tennis duties for CBS on that day.)
2) Madden states his preference for Scott Brunner over Phil Simms/Jeff Rutledge in the Giants' three-man QB competition.
3) Check out the awkward football design for old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta (my adopted hometown). Today, the old pitch is the wine-and-cheese-crowd-endorsed parking lot for Turner Field (and baseball's Atlanta Braves).
4) This game served as Bill Parcells' first victory as an NFL head coach … and only one of three wins for the '83 season. Can you imagine if Parcells had been fired after going 3-11-1? Who knows if he ever gets another shot at leading an NFL team? And for that matter, what happens to linebackers coach Bill Belichick's career trajectory — if Parcells gets booted after one year?

5. 1985 — Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple gets clobbered by Buccaneers defender Scott Bradley … in what proved to be Hipple's first and last naked bootleg/weak-side rollout while being pinned deep in his own zone. As for Bradley's bone-crushing, helmet-separating hit … it was perfectly clean!

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson vs. Green Bay
2. Anquan Boldin vs. San Francisco
3. Marques Colston vs. N.Y. Giants
4. Victor Cruz @ New Orleans
5. Brandon Marshall @ Dallas
6. Larry Fitzgerald @ St. Louis
7. Steve Smith @ Indianapolis
8. Dez Bryant vs. Miami
9. Jordy Nelson @ Detroit
11. Damian Williams vs. Tampa Bay (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Matt Bryant vs. Minnesota
2. Mason Crosby @ Detroit
3. David Akers @ Baltimore
4. Dan Bailey vs. Miami
5. John Kasay vs. N.Y. Giants
6. Josh Brown vs. Arizona

Target Practice
Here are the 27 wideouts who have accrued at least 30 receiving targets since Week 7 (at least 6 per game):
1. Brandon Lloyd, Rams — 61 targets
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 49 targets
3. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 47 targets
4. Anquan Boldin, Ravens — 45 targets
5. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 45 targets
6. Vincent Jackson, Chargers — 44
7. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 41
8. Victor Cruz, Giants — 41
9. Greg Little, Browns — 40
10. Roddy White, Falcons — 40
11. Steve Breaston, Chiefs — 38
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 38
13. Torrey Smith, Ravens — 38
14. Dez Bryant, Cowboys — 36
15. Steve Smith, Panthers — 36
16. Mike Williams, Buccaneers — 35
17. Jabar Gaffney, Redskins — 34
18. S
idney Rice
, Seahawks — 34
19. Damian Williams, Titans — 34
20. Pierre Garcon, Colts — 33
21. Andre Caldwell, Bengals — 31
22. Early Doucet, Cardinals — 31
23. Andre Roberts, Cardinals — 31
24. Plaxico Burress, Jets — 30
25. Laurent Robinson, Cowboys — 30
26. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 30
27. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 30

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here's my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 12:
QB Drew Brees
RB Arian Foster
RB LeSean McCoy
WR Marques Colston
WR Larry Fitzgerald
RB/WR Cedric Benson
TE Rob Gronkowski
PK Dan Bailey (Cowboys)
D/ST Seattle Seahawks

Andrew LuckICONAndrew Luck as the first overall pick? Sounds about right.

One Big Lookahead
We're roughly 156 days away from the 2012 NFL Draft, but that doesn't mean we can't take a quick peek at who may go where — even though things will change greatly AFTER the November/December games … all-star classics in January … scouting combine in February … crush of media hype in March … and hilarious games of Franchise Draft Chicken in April. To wit, here's the first of many mock drafts, courtesy of FOXSports.com's Peter Schrager:

1. Indianapolis: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. St. Louis: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
3. Miami: QB Matt Barkley, USC
4. Carolina: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
5. Minnesota: OT Matt Kalil, USC
6. Washington: QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
7. Seattle: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
8. Philadelphia: DT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
9. Jacksonville: WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
10. Cleveland: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
11. Arizona: OT Jonathan Martin</strong>, Stanford
12. Tampa Bay: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
13. San Diego: DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson
14. Kansas City: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
15. Denver: DT Devon Still, Penn State
16. Tennessee: LB Dont

Let's make a deal

Trade Deadline Rules To Live By
Welcome to the biggest 6-day frenzy of the fantasy season — the precious 140-hour window before the Week 12 trade deadline … which, for most people, occurs on Nov. 23 (Thanksgiving Eve). Simply put, this period could easily be the difference between making/missing the playoffs or winning/losing a league championship. Here are seven essential tenets for pre-deadline success:

1. Never approve a same-position deal (WR-for-WR, RB-for-RB, etc.), unless it's a blowout in your favor. Think about it: When Owner B offers you Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (2 TDs last week) for Titans RB Chris Johnson (284 total yards, 1 TD in his last two games) … he/she is essentially sending this hidden message: Johnson will get more overall points than Mendy … and since overall points are the only thing that matter in fantasy football, perhaps you'll be foolish enough to make the move. Even if you're slightly more confident that Mendenhall will post better finishing numbers than Johnson, what's your motivation for doing the deed? There's been no substantial roster upgrade, no viable handcuff opportunity in case of injury and the emotional connection to a highly coveted draftee from August would be lost. Plus, Johnson has the most fantasy-friendly schedule of any stud running back from Weeks 11-16 (@ ATL, vs. TB, @ BUF, vs. NO, @ IND, vs. JAX) … which is probably why Owner B broached the deal in the first place.

If Owner B is truly serious about prying Johnson from your RB-heavy squad, subtly steer them in the direction of stud receivers like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace or elite QBs Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning. Be militant — but diplomatic — about this seemingly routine negotiation … and you'll walk away richer from the experience.

Felix JonesICONFelix Jones is back, but in a supporting role.

2. Never surrender a full-time fantasy starter for a part-time starter … unless it's for DeMarco Murray. I remain skeptical that Dallas will suddenly put Murray (601 rushing yards since Week 7) into an awkward timeshare with Felix Jones (ankle), justifying the old adage that a starter never loses his job to injury. Sure, Felix will get a few touches here and there, but the Cowboys' recent run of good luck (3-1) started when Murray humbly took center stage and electrified a once-stagnant offense with carries that often yielded chunks of yards at a time. No right-minded team, especially one that's currently outside the playoff picture, would turn its back on that type of all-world production … just to satisfy a talented (but erratic) back who's returning from injury. Perhaps Murray will flame out next season, not unlike Jerome Harrison did with the Browns after a scorched-earth finish to 2009 (561 rushing yards, 5 TDs in three games); but right now, the Dallas coaches should feel obligated to blindly, brazenly ride Murray's hot streak as long as possible — including through the playoffs. I'm sure QB Tony Romo (only three incompletions last week) wouldn't mind one bit.

3. Actively seek out the owner who's one player away from making the playoffs or winning a championship — even if you're on the brink of a title, too. Short of having top-3-rated players at every position, fantasy GMs should NEVER stop trying to improve their playoff roster, particularly the starters; and sometimes, establishing a Cold War alliance with another superpower is the best avenue for shrewd wheeling-and-dealing. Appeal to Owner B's need to bolster their receiving corps with Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, or how they simply can't reach the Fantasy Bowl without a QB upgrade from Josh Freeman, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jay Cutler. Keep driving home the point that a win-win blockbuster trade will surely get both clubs to the Week 16 championship round … and anything that happens after that is a matter of luck anyway. Bottom line: You don't have to like every owner in your league to make a great trade … just respect 'em enough to create the opportunity.

4. Do your homework, dammit! I'm always chagrined with owners who pose lazy questions on Twitter like, Who should I trade Drew Brees for? or Which top-10 running back should I trade for down the stretch? These queries are usually the calling card of a fantasy owner who hasn't taken the time to look at their league rosters/standings … as a means of figuring out:

1) Which playoff hopeful needs a quarterback for the final six weeks?
2) Which owner desperately needs a victory this week — and cannot afford to be saddled with byes to Houston, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Indy?
3) Is there a way I could block a title contender from making a momentum-changing trade?
4) Which owner requires a serious talent infusion — courtesy of a 3-for-1 or 4-for-2 trade — and can no longer afford to keep Aaron Rodgers, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster or Calvin Johnson?

Ray RiceHow much would Ray Rice fetch on the open market?

5. Be the instigator in trade talks. Let's pretend your 5-5 squad features Mike Wallace, Ray Rice, Cam Newton, Jimmy Graham, but little else, and the only way to make a serious run for the playoffs involves dealing a superstar. To maximize your return, try posting a short, sweet and non-specific message to every owner saying, “Rice, Wallace, Newton and Graham are available. Only serious offers will be considered before the deadline.” As soon as two or three attractive offers come down the pipe (assuming the other owners care about their rosters), you're in position to play each participating owner against one another — keeping them on the hook through personalized IMs or emails. What's the point of this dance? Divide and conquer. (duh)

6. There's nothing wrong with exploiting friendships to make mutually beneficial trades before the deadline. Ever hear of the “1-4 vs. 2-3 Method” for trading … or The Big Schmooze? Simply put, this involves a 2-for-2 swap where Owner A gives up the best player (#1) and worst player (#4), while Owner B surrenders the second- and third-best players (#2, #3). In real terms, say I wanted to ship either Eli Manning/Matthew Stafford to a friend who needs an elite QB and has solid depth at receiver. I would simply give him/her one premium quarterback (Manning) and one respectable WR (Stevie Johnson) for one premium WR with slightly less value than Eli (Brandon Marshall) and one solid emergency starter at QB (Matt Ryan). The result: A win-win trade for both parties, satisfying two weaknesses. (Note: The 1-4 vs. 2-3 Method works for any positional trade combination — just make sure Owner A is clearly forsaking the best and worst players in the swap.)

7. Always be willing to sacrifice talent on the bench for a proven star. In the SI.com & Friends league, where I'm knee-deep in high-quality running backs (LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Michael Bush, Mark Ingram) and possess strong receivers (Marshall,
Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson, Michael Crabtree
), I am fully committed to the notion of giving up Bush, Mathews, Bowe and Crabtree for Ray Rice, Arian Foster OR Adrian Peterson — as part of a 4-for-1 megadeal. The message here: The blockbuster deal is a moral imperative at the trade deadline … because, as we all know, bench depth means jack squat once the playoffs begin.

Week 11: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Tampa Bay
2. Eli Manning vs. Philadelphia
3. Cam Newton @ Detroit
4. Tom Brady vs. Kansas City
5. Carson Palmer @ Minnesota
6. Philip Rivers @ Chicago
7. Matthew Stafford vs. Carolina

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice vs. Cincinnati
2. Adrian Peterson vs. Oakland
3. DeMarco Murray @ Washington
4. Chris Johnson @ Atlanta
5. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Cleveland
6. Michael Bush @ Minnesota
7. Steven Jackson vs. Seattle
8. Matt Forte vs. San Diego
9. LeSean McCoy @ N.Y. Giants
10. Marshawn Lynch @ St. Louis
11. Shonn Greene @ Denver

Head over to page 2 for more!

The envelopes please…

Midseason Awards Apropos Of Nothing
We'll keep today's Philanthropist relatively short and sweet — allowing for certain gurus to rest up for their annual tailgating trek to Michigan State University … and then a full Sunday slate of intriguing NFL games. But first, a few midseason awards to hand out:

Top Fantasy Rookie: Cam Newton, Panthers: It's hard to overstate the impact Newton's had with Carolina, guiding a moribund franchise out of a three-year funk and transforming the Panthers into one of the NFL's most prolific offenses. In some fantasy leagues, Newton (2,712 total yards/18 TDs) is the current No. 1 overall player — that says it all.

Most Surprising Rookie: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys Murray's 253-yard explosion against the Rams in Week 7 — breaking the Cowboys' single-game rushing record — will likely stand as the season's greatest coming-out party … although Newton's 422-yard debut against Arizona in Week 1 takes a close second. Both stars should play integral roles down the stretch and into the fantasy playoffs.

Aaron RodgersRodgers has been delivering the goods for fantasy owners each and every week.

Top Fantasy Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Packers: We could have selected a few candidates here (Newton, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford), but Rodgers has consistently been the most dynamic signal-caller in fantasyland, while vaulting the real-world Packers to an undefeated record (through eight weeks). Looking ahead, Rodgers is an easy mark for 300 yards passing or three TDs in every game from Weeks 9-15; but be weary of Green Bay's Week 16 date with Chicago at cold, blustery Lambeau.

Best Single-Game Performance From A QB We Expected: Rodgers — Week 4 against the Broncos (444 total yards, 6 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A QB We Didn't Expect: Newton — Week 4 against the Bears (409 total yards, 3 TDs)

Top Fantasy Running Back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Yours truly took a lot of heat in August for hailing McCoy (892 total yards, 10 TDs) as the No. 6 overall player during the preseason; and now, it seems I may have undersold McCoy's explosive talents. To be fair, this award could have easily gone to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (923 total yards, 10 TDs) or Buffalo's Fred Jackson (1,074 total yards/6 TDs), underscoring how superb the elite backs were in the season's first half.

Best Single-Game Performance From A RB We Expected: McCoy — Week 8 against the Cowboys (200 total yards, 2 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A RB We Didn't Expect: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots — Week 5 against the typically stout Jets (149 total yards, 2 TDs)

Top Fantasy Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson, Lions: No need to carry out the suspense here, as Johnson (47 catches, 804 yards, 11 TDs) has been the most dominant figure in fantasy and deserves all the perks usually extended to elite quarterbacks or high-end tailbacks. Everybody knows about Calvin's quite-realistic run at Randy Moss's NFL record for TD passes in one season (23); but of equal importance, Johnson has racked up 96 or more yards in six consecutive games — against double and triple coverages.

Best Single-Game Performance From A WR We Expected: Miles Austin, Cowboys — Week 2 against the 49ers (9 catches, 143 yards, 3 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A WR We Didn't Expect: Torrey Smith, Ravens — Week 3 against the Rams (5 catches, 152 yards, 3 TDs)

Top Fantasy Tight End: Jimmy Graham, Saints: At this point of the season, Graham ranks 1st in receptions (49), 1st in targets (74), 1st in receiving yards (713) and 2nd in TDs (5). In other words, he's the Calvin Johnson of Tight Ends.

Best Single-Game Performance From A TE We Expected: Jermichael Finley, Packers — Week 3 against the Bears (7 catches, 85 yards, 3 TDs)

Best Single-Game Performance From A TE We Didn't Expect: Scott Chandler, Bills — Week 1 against the Chiefs (7 catches, 53 yards, 2 TDs)

Top Fantasy Kicker: Jason Hanson: The Lions have been a model of instability in my lifetime, dating back to the mid-1970s. But let's give Detroit major props on one front: Since 1980, the club has had only two permanent kickers — Eddie Murray (1980-91) and Hanson (1992-present), who at the ripe age of 41, has nailed 17 field goals (1st-place tie with Dan Bailey/Billy Cundiff) and 26 PATs (3rd overall). Bottom line: The indefatigable Hanson could be the Lions' ace in the hole for two or three more seasons.

Best Single-Game Performance By A Kicker: Dan Bailey — Week 3 against the Redskins (6 field goals)

Top Fantasy Defense/Special Teams: Baltimore Ravens

Best Single-Game Performance By A D/ST That Came Out of Nowhere: Seattle Seahawks — Week 5 against the Giants (3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 safety, 3 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown)

First-Half Fantasy MVP: Calvin Johnson

First-Half Fantasy MVP That Probably Wasn't Drafted Before Round 12: Cam Newton … with honorable mention going to Saints RB Darren Sproles

Scare Tactics
Here are six simple clues to determine if your 6-2 juggernaut MAY be ripe for a Round 1 exit from the fantasy playoffs in Week 14:

Steven JacksonICONSteven Jackson has been on a roll.

1. You only have one top-20 tailback in the regular starting lineup. Quarterbacks and receivers get a ton of fantasy love during the weather-friendly months of September, October and even November; but come December, it's usually up to running backs to bring home the fantasy bacon. And for the standard-scoring-league GMs who've been cruising along with a WR primarily at the flex spot … Week 14 could be a time of comeuppance. Go ahead and check your standings: Are there any 4-4 clubs with Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews as starters 1, 2 and 3? Or what about Darren McFadden, Steven Jackson, Willis McGahee? Despite their mediocre records, these kind of teams will be very dangerous during the playoffs — assuming they make it.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Andy Dalton are entrenched starting QBs. Big Ben (vs. Cleveland), Fitz (@ San Diego) and Dalton (vs. Houston) will face top-5 pass defenses in Week 14; and to enhance the degree of difficulty, Roethlisberger and Dalton may be subjected to harsh weather in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for that weekend. Now, this isn't to say the three signal-callers are doomed for a 150-yard, zero-TD outing on Dec. 8 or 11 … but fantasy owners shouldn't expect the mini
mum star threshold of 275 total yards and/or three TDs, either.

3. Beanie Wells is your unsurpassed anchor at running back. Talk about bad luck for Wells (518 total yards, 7 TDs), one of the biggest fantasy surprises of the young season. For Week 14, Beanie meets the 49ers, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in something like 27 or 28 games and could easily be playing for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs on that weekend — regardless if San Francisco clinches the NFC West title before Thanksgiving.

4. Be afraid, be very afraid of the Peterson/McCoy/Rice troika. It would be a great upset if Adrian Peterson (@ Detroit), LeSean McCoy (@ Miami) and Ray Rice (vs. Indy) didn't roll for 130 yards and two touchdowns for Week 14. In fact, I'm willing to bet that one of the three superstars will notch 170 total yards or three TDs that weekend — the kind of monster production that catapults a middling fantasy team into the Week 15 semifinals.

Knowshon MorenoKnowshon Moreno could have some nice value come playoff time.

5. Your Week 14 opponent features starters from the Seahawks or Broncos. Assuming the good people of Seattle and Denver aren't blitzed by blizzards on Dec. 11, modest contributors like Sidney Rice, Ben Obomanu, Tarvaris Jackson, Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and even Tim Tebow could post big numbers against the Rams and Bears, respectively. Most fantasy owners can reconcile a playoff loss when elite players are leading the opposition; but to get bounced on a day when Obomanu collects 102 yards and two TDs would be devastating. And yet, that's exactly what might happen.

6. Your 15 minutes of fantasy fame are up. Fantasy gurus can digest every article, crunch every number, do every bit of research that goes into acquiring players and filling out lineups; but at the end of the day, it's still a crapshoot, which explains why so many dominant teams fall to lesser lights during the fantasy playoffs. The best example of this comes from Tom Brady, who threw for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns in 2007 … but could only muster 140 yards and zero TDs in a windswept quagmire against the Jets in Week 15, essentially ruining the fantasy lives of every GM who rode Brady to a wire-to-wire division championship and No. 1 seed.

Week 9: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Tom Brady vs. N.Y. Giants
2. Matt Cassel vs. Miami
3. Tony Romo vs. Seattle
4. Drew Brees vs. Tampa Bay
5. Eli Manning @ New England
6. Aaron Rodgers @ San Diego
7. Philip Rivers vs. Green Bay
8. Tarvaris Jackson @ Dallas

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Michael Turner @ Indianapolis
2. LeSean McCoy vs. Chicago
3. Arian Foster vs. Cleveland
4. Beanie Wells vs. St. Louis
5. Matt Forte @ Philadelphia
6. Fred Jackson vs. N.Y. Jets
7. Frank Gore @ Washington
8. Ray Rice @ Pittsburgh
9. Michael Bush vs. Denver

It's A Little Known Fact …
… That in five regular-season games against NFC North teams (Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Green Bay), Chargers QB Philip Rivers has per-game averages of 234 yards passing and 1.2 touchdowns — lower marks when compared to his complete-game averages against the NFC South (249 yards passing, 2.5 TDs), NFC West (272 yards passing, 1.9 TDs) and NFC East (234 yards passing, 2 TDs). (NOTE: Rivers only played a few series against the Redskins in Week 17 of 2009, given the Chargers' 13-3 record.)

Running With The Moon
Here is my always-fluid top-40 listing of tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues — from this point forward:
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (has a better Weeks 14-16 sked than our No. 2 guy)
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
3. Arian Foster, Texans (the NFL's most productive tailback since Week 4)
4. Ray Rice, Ravens
5. Fred Jackson, Bills
6. Matt Forte, Bears (does Pro Football Talk really believe Forte would do an in-season walkout? No way)
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
7b. Michael Turner, Falcons
8. Darren McFadden, Raiders
9. Steven Jackson, Rams (looks unstoppable at the goal line these days)
10. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (would rate slightly higher if nagging injuries weren't a weekly ritual)
11. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
12. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
13. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (a great buy-low candidate before the trade deadline)
14. Willis McGahee, Broncos (injured hand might have been a one-week deterrent)
15. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
16. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (has risen from the September ashes to become a possible November gem)
17. Chris Johnson, Titans
18. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
19. Darren Sproles, Saints
20. James Starks, Packers
21. Jahvid Best, Lions (would rate higher if Detroit had more clarity on his concussion problems)
22. Jackie Battle, Chiefs (still not a big fan … but the results are impressive)
23. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
24. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
25. Brandon Jacobs, Giants (opportunity knocks …)
25a. Ahmad Bradshaw 26. Mark Ingram, Saints
27. Shonn Greene, Jets
28. Cedric Benson, Bengals (Bernard Scott was an admirable replacement for Cincy last week)
29. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
30. Ryan Torain, Redskins
31. Peyton Hillis, Browns (the NFL's poster boy for bumbling through a contract year)
32. Felix Jones, Cowboys
33. Pierre Thomas, Saints (don't let the middling ranking fool you … Thomas still has good value)
34. Michael Bush, Raiders
35. Ben Tate, Texans
36. Montario Hardesty, Browns (his window of opportunity to supplant Hillis is wide open)
37. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
38. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
39. Mike Tolbert, Chargers
40. Stevan Ridley, Patriots (fantastic upside pick who should never be dropped for some WR/TE flavor of the week)

Talking Points
1. Andre Johnson will likely be a game-time decision for Sunday. While Johnson (25 catches, 352 yards, 2 TDs in limited action) is obviously an excellent source of fantasy goodness for Weeks 14-16, owners should exercise more patience with the Houston star for another w
eek — even if he gets quality reps against Cleveland. Receivers with recuperating hammys are typically conservative in their first game back from injury — especially when making cuts after medium- to long-range sprints. Give Johnson some time to regain his sea legs … and recapture his all-world form for Week 10. (Note: The Texans have a Week 11 bye … so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Johnson sits until Week 12.)

2. The Redskins pulled off a sneaky-good waiver pickup with Tashard Choice. It's funny how Choice swung wildly from a reasonable threat to unseat Felix Jones with Dallas before April … to an expendable afterthought once DeMarco Murray blitzed the Rams for 253 rushing yards. Well, one NFC team's trash … is another's treasure, as Choice joins a recently wretched club that's without Tim Hightower (season-ending knee injury) and may not view either Ryan Torain or rookie Roy Helu as workhorse backs; and now the burden of proof shifts to Choice, who amassed 424 total yards and two TDs for the Cowboys in a three-pack of games to close out the 2008 season. During that span, Choice caught 16 balls — which should thrill PPR owners in search of a low-key, high-upside acquisition for Week 10 and beyond.

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Miles Austin vs. Seattle
2. Greg Jennings @ San Diego
3. Jeremy Maclin vs. Chicago
4. Sidney Rice @ Dallas
5. Larry Fitzgerald vs. St. Louis
6. Brandon Lloyd @ Arizona
7. Vincent Jackson vs. Green Bay
8. Hakeem Nicks @ New England
9. Dwayne Bowe vs. Miami
10. Wes Welker vs. N.Y. Giants
11. Mike Wallace vs. Baltimore
12. Greg Little @ Houston (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Alex Henery vs. Chicago
2. Mason Crosby @ San Diego
3. Ryan Succop vs. Miami
4. Billy Cundiff @ Pittsburgh
5. Mike Nugent @ Tennessee
6. Nick Novak vs. Green Bay

Questions From The Audience
jrellis2: I can swing a trade for Arian Foster, giving up Chris Johnson and Andre Johnson. Sound good? Dez Bryant and Hakeem Nicks are my other top receivers, and I need RB help.

Chris JohnsonWill Chris Johnson ever turn it around?

Answer: Jake, two weeks ago, I would've done everything in my power to prevent you from parting with both Johnsons, given CJ2K's (seemingly) doable schedule from Weeks 7-16 … and A-Johnson's apparent lightning-fast recovery from a substantial hamstring injury. But right here, right now, that's a fair price to garner the services of Foster — the No. 1-ranked running back since Week 4 (809 total yards, 5 TDs in that span). And now, the next course of action lies with securing the rights to Houston backup Ben Tate, just in case Foster incurs any more injury setbacks. To be perfectly frank, this is a brilliant trade on your part — even if someone else pitched it to you!

FingerGuns99'Owner B' wants Wes Welker/Jahvid Best for Calvin Johnson/Kevin Walter. My other WRs are Larry Fitzgerald, Malcom Floyd, Doug Baldwin, and my other RBs are Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and DeMarco Murray.

Answer: Your fellow competitor must be a Lions fan, Cal-Berkeley graduate or practicing neurologist … what other explanation could there be for him surrendering Calvin and Walter for Best, who may return to Detroit's lineup at Week 10 OR may be sidelined until December with lingering effects from a concussion. Which brings me to this: The other owner is aware that Calvin is almost on pace to tie Randy Moss's all-time mark for receiving TDs (23) in one season, right? Even if Walter (23 catches, 287 yards, 2 TDs) wasn't a nice throw-in … I'd still assume the trade risk for Calvin. But oh well!

Radio Daze
You know what makes the stuck-in-a-cubicle workday run smoothly during the fall months? Podcast after podcast after podcast! Here are my favorite football-specific podcasts/radio shows:
1. ESPN —
“Fantasy Focus” with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz
2. CBSSports.com — “Fantasy Football” with Dave Richard and Jamey Eisneberg
3. KFAN in Minneapolis — “Fantasy Football Weekly” with Paul Charchian
4. Yahoo! — “Fantasy Blitz”
5. RotoWire.com — “Fantasy Sports Podcast”

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here's my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 9:
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Michael Turner
RB Arian Foster
WR Miles Austin
WR Vincent Jackson
RB/WR Dwayne Bowe
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Nick Novak (Chargers)
D/ST Kansas City Chiefs

YouTube Memory Lane
I cannot end today's Philanthropist without spreading more YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1960s, 70s and 80s:

1. 1967 — Broadcasting icons Jack Buck (left to right), Ray Scott and Frank Gifford focus on the C-O-L-D temperatures at Lambeau Field … just moments before the Cowboys-Packers NFL Championship game, dubbed The Ice Bowl. Most people forget that Green Bay still had another game to play after this landmark victory — Super Bowl II against Oakland. (Dallas also participated in something called The Runner-Up Bowl in Miami — the last of its kind — but that's a story for another day.)

2. 1972Monday Night Football: The Raiders whitewash the Oilers 34-0 in Houston, sparking one infamously derisive remark from a bored (and perhaps plastered) Astrodome patron.

3. 1975 — CBS Sports essayist Jack Whitaker does a quick intro for 'The NFL Today' — on-site before the Cowboys' Hail Mary victory over the Vikings in the NFC playoffs. During Minnesota's decade of dominance in the NFC (1969-1978), the '75 squad — which started the season 11-0 — may have been the Vikings
' best of that era.

4. 1977 — The Vikings and Rams partake in the famous Mud Bowl at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Rams' home digs before moving to Anaheim in 1980. (Vin Scully hasn't changed a bit, huh?)

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

Week 8 Revelations

Week 8 Revelations
1. Ray Rice picked the perfect time to break new ground. What's the more impressive statistical occurrence from Sunday: Rice collecting a career-high three rushing TDs (and 99 total yards) after the Ravens fell into a 24-3 hole … or WR Anquan Boldin (7 catches, 145 yards) tallying large numbers, in between drawing crucial pass-interference penalties against the Cards? Since we're partial to high-end tailbacks, we'll side with Rice (and his realistic pursuit of 2,000 total yards), although we also feel comfortable saying that Boldin should be a top-10 receiver for Weeks 10 (@ Seattle), 13 (@ Cleveland), 14 (vs. Baltimore), 15 (@ San Diego) and 16 (the Browns again) — presumably boosting QB Joe Flacco's stock for the fantasy playoffs, as well. Flacco is quite the enigma, racking up 351 total yards (and zero TDs) just six days after the Jacksonville debacle — his seventh straight extreme performance of the young season. It's almost like Flacco revels in being the Sybil of fantasy QBs.

2. Perhaps Cam Newton should be the holder for Olindo Mare kicks, too. We can apologize for underestimating Newton's preseason potential and over-publicizing his in-season greatness only so many times, and yet it bears repeating: With the rare exception of playing in monsoon conditions, Newton (343 total yards, 3 TDs vs. Minnesota) is a lead-pipe cinch for the minimum star threshold of 275 total yards and/or three TDs every week, regardless of the opponent. He's also a rubber-stamp starter every Sunday — minus next week's bye. That bankability trickles down to WR Steve Smith (7 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD), TE Greg Olsen (4 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD) and running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, all of whom should be very productive in the season's latter half. It even bodes well for Panthers kicker Olindo Mare … whose blown chip-shot field goal to force overtime was hopefully a one-time exercise in futility. Speaking of one-timers, did you see Jeremy Shockey's one catch for one yard and one touchdown against the Vikings? It was a fine cameo for fantasy owners who sought bye-week relief … unless they chose Shockey over Brent Celek.

LeSean McCoyLeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson have been destroying opposing defenses this season.

3. Fred Jackson and LeSean McCoy owners should ask for the moon — and expect it back — when conducting trade trade talks. Outside of Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson, no one can match the respective statistical powers of Jackson (194 total yards vs. Washington) and McCoy (200 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Dallas), so much that it would be a fantasy travesty to part with either tailback in a 1-for-1 swap before the trade deadline (typically Week 12). And at this point, even the 2-for-1 megadeals (top-5 receiver/top-10 rusher) should be heavily slanted in favor of Jackson and McCoy owners. That rationale only applies to struggling clubs in need of a quick and dramatic talent infusion to make the playoffs; GMs who already have a postseason spot (and high seed) locked up are prepared to ride Jackson (San Diego, Miami, Denver for Weeks 14-16) and McCoy (Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys for Weeks 14-16) all the way — come hell or high water. Of course, it also helps that both superstars play in East Coast markets, where running the ball in December is paramount to success. It also helps that both Ryan Fitzpatrick (262 yards passing, 2 TDs on Sunday) and Michael Vick (329 total yards, 2 TDs) love targeting their backs … presumably more than making household names of tight ends Scott Chandler (2 TDs vs. Washington) and Brent Celek (7 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD; team-high 9 targets).

4. Let's not overreact to Steven Jackson's monster performance against the Saints. Prior to Sunday, Jackson hadn't registered a 100-yard rushing day since last December (Week 13); and he's now gone 13 consecutive games without hitting the 50-yard mark in receiving. Those figures can easily be ignored on a day when Jackson (191 total yards, 2 TDs) dismantled one of the NFL's pre-eminent teams — while eliminating chatter of St. Louis going 0-16 on the year — but it'll play a significant role in determining Jackson's true value for the stretch run. And we'll probably be singing the same tune after Jackson (532 total yards, 5 TDs) crushes the Cardinals next week. Simply put, one amazing upset isn't enough to alter the Rams' current standing as a bottom-feeder club — and one that will likely be on the business end of a few more blowouts this year, minimizing the running game. The key to Jackson's fantasy greatness lies with QB Sam Bradford rallying from an ankle injury and fighting to keep the Rams respectable for November/December … which seems plausible when Brandon Lloyd (6 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD; 14 targets) and Greg Salas (5 catches, 47 yards) are progressing at an accelerated rate.

5. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are the best QB/WR combo in fantasyland — duh! We've seen this stat sheet before: Stafford (288 total yards vs. Denver) tosses three touchdowns against an inferior defense — one to a secondary receiver (Titus Young), one to a tight end (Tony Scheffler) and one to Calvin (6 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD) … who is now on pace for 22 receiving TDs (one short of Randy Moss's seasonal NFL record). And with that bankable consistency, fantasy owners are encouraged to move heaven and earth to complete the Stafford-Johnson handcuff before their respective trade deadlines, even if Maurice Morris (65 total yards, 1 TD) remains Detroit's RB1 or TE Brandon Pettigrew (3 catches, 8 yards) can't shake the pre-bye blues. From Weeks 11-16, the Lions will play five games indoors (Detroit or New Orleans) and one in sunny California. How's that for a favorable slate?

Revelations, Book II
6. Eli Manning can carry teams to the Week 16 Fantasy Bowl; but after that, who knows? The Giants may have the real-world Schedule From Hell for Weeks 9-17 (@ NE, @ SF, vs. PHI, @ NO, vs. GB, @ DAL, vs. WSH, @ NYJ, vs. DAL) … but from a fantasy perspective, it's a golden opportunity for Manning (349 yards passing, 2 TDs vs. Miami) to finish as a top-6 quarterback, while establishing a new baseline standard of seasonal excellence. But we're a little concerned as to how Week 16 — Christmas Eve Day — will shake out against the Jets. Let's pretend Manning vaults your club to the fantasy title game then: Would you ride the hot hand, regardless o
f Darrelle Revis/Antonio Cromartie … or would you start someone like Matt Ryan (@ New Orleans), Josh Freeman (@ Carolina) or rookie Andy Dalton (vs. Arizona) on the ultimate fantasy weekend?
Without a doubt, Manning has a generous allotment of big-name playmakers like Ahmad Bradshaw (88 total yards in limited action), Hakeem Nicks (6 catches, 67 yards; 10 targets), Victor Cruz (7 catches, 99 yards, 1 TD) and Mario Manningham (6 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD) … but all bets are still off for Dec. 24. And that's before the first weather forecast hits the wires.

Ben RoethlisbergerICONBig Ben ripped apart the Patriots…while targeting Antonio Brown 15 times.

7. Antonio Brown's breakout against the Pats shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. While it's true that Brown (9 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD; team-high 15 targets) had the good fortune of facing the NFL's worst pass defense, the seeds of his Week 8 content were sown a long time ago. The guy possesses amazing speed, off-the-charts athleticism, soft hands and never has to worry about double-team coverage — at least when fellow Steeler Mike Wallace (7 catches, 70 yards) is on the field. Throw in the fact that QB Ben Roethlisberger (365 yards passing, 2 TDs) loves targeting him … and it's easy to see why we've been trumpeting his eventual success all season. But ay, there's the rub: Prior to Sunday's showdown, Brown hadn't found the end zone, indicating that he was nothing more than a mere bench stud in roughly 70-80 percent of fantasy leagues. But that's OK. Even if the Steelers morph into a conservative operation for the winter months, with Rashard Mendenhall (92 total yards) and TE Heath Miller (7 catches, 85 yards) flourishing around the goal line, Brown shall remain a weekly starting consideration in PPR leagues (and standards during bye weeks). He's too good, too fast and too accessible to be ignored at this stage.

8. Adrian Peterson raised his stock in Points Per Reception leagues. We could attribute Peterson's career day in receiving yards (76) and first TD catch since Week 1 of his rookie season (2007) to poor tackling from Carolina or the Blind Squirrel Syndrome; but it's more fun to credit Vikings QB Christian Ponder with AP's versatile transformation. As if being the No. 1 tailback during the August drafts on rushing prowess alone wasn't enough, Peterson (923 total yards, 10 TDs in 2011) may be Minnesota's second-most reliable receiving threat from this point forward — behind Percy Harvin (4 catches, 58 yards) and ahead of boom-but-more-bust talents like Michael Jenkins (2 catches, 30 yards), Devin Aromashodu (2 catches, 20 yards), Kyle Rudolph (2 catches, 15 yards) and Visanthe Shiancoe (3 catches, 37 yards). Regarding Ponder (240 total yards, 1 TD), Sunday's stats might not have reflected the following gush … but I love the kid's fearlessness when making downfield throws, a trait that could lead to fantasy viability for Weeks 14-16 (Detroit, New Orleans, Washington).

9. Michael Crabtree can be a difference-maker during Weeks 14-16. Seriously. Wouldn't it be something if Crabtree (5 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD) and Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Beyforever linked by the 2009 NFL Draft — both made quantum leaps in November/December? At this point, it's hard to minimize the progress Crabtree and Heyward-Bey have shown in recent weeks, leading their respective teams in catches and targets. Sure, Crabtree (16 catches/29 targets in his last three games) enjoys the luxury of single coverage with RB Frank Gore (134 yards, 1 TD vs. Cleveland) and TE Vernon Davis garnering the defense's full attention; but he's still an emerging force on an offense that looks good when QB Alex Smith (199 total yards, 1 TD) stays within himself and Braylon Edwards keeps his head. Factoring in the 49ers' slate for Weeks 14 (@ Arizona), 15 (vs. Pittsburgh) and 16 (@ Seattle), a combined 17 catches, 250 yards and two TDs are well within Crabtree's range of production.

10. The Texans are about as subtle as a punch in the face … and that's a good thing. The Don Shula reference aside (circa 1970), Houston deserves plenty of love for not messing around with an inferior team, like Jacksonville, and feeding Arian Foster (123 total yards, 1 TD on 34 touches) as much as possible. Foster right. Foster left. Foster up the middle. Repeat … it was the perfect game plan for an offense that's essentially killing time before Andre Johnson returns from a hamstring injury (Week 9?). It was also a good showcase for WR Kevin Walter (5 catches, 70 yards; 9 targets) and Owen Daniels (4 catches, 60 yards), whose fantasy values may actually increase once Johnson returns … and instantly draws double and triple coverages for the stretch run. Speaking of which, fantasy owners would be wise to trade for QB Matt Schaub (225 passing yards, 2 total TDs) in the coming weeks, on the strength of his undeniable talent … and great fortune for drawing the Colts in Week 16.

Andrew LuckICONIs Andrew Luck headed for Indianapolis?

11. Let's accentuate the PPR positives with the winless Colts. I realize things look bleak in Indy right now — 'bleak' being a relative term since the club has Peyton Manning in its past and (maybe) Andrew Luck in its future; but for PPR owners, it's hard to be disgusted with a club that targets its four main pass-catchers (Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie) 45 times in a three-hour window. It's also difficult to characterize QB Curtis Painter (329 total yards, zero TDs, 2 INTs) as a colossal failure in fantasyland. Yes, he should never be a starting consideration during non-bye weeks; and yes, he should be flogged for missing Wayne (5 catches, 61 yards; 13 targets) eight times on a crisp, sunny day. But at least he's trying to feature Clark (6 catches, 77 yards; 10 targets), Garcon (7 catches, 66 yards; 15 targets) and Collie (5 catches, 44 yards) with admirable frequency. After all, it's not like the Colts rushers are bringing much to the party these days … as evidenced by Painter's team-high 79 rushing yards against the Titans.

Revelations, B
ook III

12. It's too early to formulate any long-lasting opinions of Tim Tebow. Echoing the theme from last week's Revelations, Tebow (235 total yards, 1 TD vs. Detroit) will neither be celebrated nor disparaged as a fantasy quarterback this season — regardless of the extreme highs and lows of real-world play. After all, what's the point of overreacting to someone who will consistently finish between 215 and 240 total yards and 1.5 TDs per game? In the fantasy realm, Tebow has value as a bye-week starter in 12-teamers and backup QB the rest of the time; but he's also an eminently replaceable asset … meaning that most fantasy owners could find a similarly skilled, yet equally flawed talent on waivers at any point. Unfortunately, the same holds true for receivers Eric Decker (6 catches, 72 yards, 1 garbage-time TD), Eddie Royal (6 catches, 41 yards; 13 targets) and Demaryius Thomas (1 catch, 10 yards), all of whom might garner more fantasy cred if Kyle Orton or even Brady Quinn were flinging the ball in Denver. Bottom line: The most appealing aspect of the Broncos lies with their three-headed rushing attack of Willis McGahee (hand injury), Knowshon Moreno (74 total yards) and of course, Tebow.

13. A certain fantasy guru might have misjudged Beanie Wells as a home-only starting option. Wells (83 yards, 1 TD vs. Baltimore) has racked up at least 93 total yards or one touchdown five times this season; so obviously, the kid has talents that extend past the cushy lair of University of Phoenix Stadium. But until Sunday's sneaky-good outing — amid lingering questions of a sprained knee — I had never viewed Wells (518 total yards, 1 TD) as a coveted trade-deadline prospect. His schedule for Weeks 13-16 (Dallas, San Francisco, Cleveland, Cincinnati) is reasonable, and the Cardinals desperately need a diversion away from the mediocre adventures of QB Kevin Kolb (153 yards passing, 1 TD) or any pass-catcher not named Larry Fitzgerald … although Fitz (3 catches, 98 yards) is hardly setting the numbers world ablaze in 2011. Verdict: It's rare to suggest a teammate-on-teammate trade in fantasy, but if you have the means to swap Fitzgerald with Wells in a 1-for-1 switcheroo … pull the trigger. As stated last week, the Kolb-Fitzgerald dynamic is probably best viewed from a dispassionate standpoint, with neither anchoring your lineups in December.

Chris JohnsonChris Johnson (right) is no longer in the same class as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

14. Chris Johnson has been downgraded from his AAA+ fantasy rating. We have jumped through countless hoops to defend Johnson at every turn this season — from his post-lockout lethargy to recent concerns about conditioning or a lack of chemistry with the offensive line. But with only 51 total yards against the embattled Colts, there's nothing more to say, really. If fantasy owners want to trade Johnson (411 total yards, 1 TD) right now … by all means, do it. If they want to ignore Johnson's seemingly easy schedule for Weeks 9-16 … that's fine, too. And if the Titans should feel emboldened to start Javon Ringer (102 total yards) next week against Cincinnati … perhaps that's not a bad idea. While few doubt Johnson's 2012-and-beyond viability, he's no longer an automatic starter in 10-, 12- or even 14-team leagues. The same holds true for QB Matt Hasselbeck (224 passing yards, 1 TD) and WR Nate Washington (2 TDs). In Nate's case, we're not going overboard about a fantasy day that yielded only four catches and 34 yards. Call it the Plaxico Burress Rule.

15. The Redskins and Browns may soon get the fantasy-roadkill treatment. What's the point of rostering Cleveland QB Colt McCoy (271 total yards, 1 TD vs. San Fran) in 12-team leagues, if he has no one to throw to? And what's the use in keeping Washington TE Fred Davis (8 catches, 94 yards) past the fantasy trade deadline … with John Beck (208 yards passing, zero INTs vs. Buffalo) and/or Rex Grossman as his quarterback options? It's disheartening to see the Redskins' season disintegrate so quickly. No more Tim Hightower (year-ending knee injury). No Santana Moss (broken hand). It's equally disappointing to see zero consistency from Browns pass-catchers like Greg Little (4 catches, 28 yards; 11 targets), Jordan Norwood (5 catches, 32 yards), Mohammed Massaquoi (DNP – injury) and even TE Ben Watson (only two TDs in 2011). Put it all together … and fantasy owners are left with two teams that offer little hope at the receiver or running back slots. Even kicker Graham Gano has been rendered moot.

16. Tarvaris Jackson knows how to make an entrance — and exit. Can you imagine the damage Jackson (323 yards passing) might have inflicted if he hadn't been holding a clipboard until midway through the second quarter? Or if the Seahawks hadn't botched a slam-dunk opportunity for a gimme field goal or air-assisted TD at the end of the first half? That aside, Jackson was a welcome sight for Seattle's playmakers and fantasy owners everywhere, hurling 40 passes in 37 minutes and reinvigorating the modest values of WR Sidney Rice (7 catches, 102 yards; 14 targets), WR Ben Obomanu (4 catches, 107 yards), Doug Baldwin (5 catches, 73 yards) and maybe RB Marshawn Lynch (24 yards, 1 TD). He also boosted the Bengals' fantasy cred with a last-minute pick-six to Reggie Nelson (75 yards) -- even though Cincy already registered a punt-return TD just three minutes prior (courtesy of Brandon Tate). Verdict: When healthy (and playing at home), Jackson is a sneaky-good starting consideration in 14- and 16-team leagues.

17. Don't read too much into Reggie Bush's 100-yard outing. If only Bush could play against the Giants every week … perhaps he'd be viewed as more than a RB4 in PPR leagues (and free agent in standards); instead, fantasy owners can only bask in the short-term glow of Reggie's second 100-yard rushing effort of his career (both against New York) — assuming they got the pregame memo that Daniel Thomas (hamstring) was an injury scratch. Otherwise, they likely missed out on Bush's signature performance of 2011 — from a total yards perspective (120). Looking at the schedule, Bush could post solid numbers Week 10 against the suddenly wretched Redskins … conveniently before most trade deadlines. You know who wouldn't make an exorbitant pre-deadline pickup? Brandon Marshall. Not because he struggled against Corey Webster (4 catches, 55 yards) or that Matt Moore (169 total yards, 1 TD) is the Fins' QB for the foreseeable future; his schedule for Weeks 14 (vs. Philly), 15 (@ Buffalo) and 16 (@ New England) is simply plagued by high-end cornerbacks or the (very likely) thre
at of brutal East Coast weather in December — not unlike the classic Nor'easter that attacked many states this weekend.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

Calm before the storm

A Pre-Trade Deadline Checklist
Here are seven simple steps for fantasy GMs to follow for the weeks leading up to the trade deadline (traditionally Week 11 or 12):

1. Perform an honest assessment of your roster. Consider this a must-do ritual from this point forward — at least twice a week. Do not get fooled into believing marginal players will magically turn on the jets; and if you've had a hole at QB, RB, WR, TE or the RB/WR flex the first seven weeks … you'll likely be exposed in Weeks 8-16, as well.

1a. Perform an honest assessment of your fellow owners' rosters. Keep in mind that not every owner obsesses about improving his/her starting lineup; and not every GM has the capacity to pull off a creative trade. That's where you come in: Do their homework and concoct a win-win deal for both parties.

Darrius Heyward-BeyICONGet aggressive if a player like DHB lands on the waiver wire.

2. Take advantage of a GM's bye-week desperation. With byes to the Falcons, Packers, Bears, Raiders, Buccaneers and Jets, be on the lookout for an owner stealthily placing talents like Julio Jones, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Bush, Josh Freeman, Mike Williams, Dustin Keller, or James Jones on waivers for just one week … to fill a short-term hole at kicker, defense, quarterback or wide receiver. And if your lineup is set for Sunday, feel free to grab the productive names above, as a means of stashing 'em for the stretch run. Tell me you wouldn't love Julio Jones (17 catches/254 yards/24 targets for Weeks 3/4) as a WR4 … with the intention of starting him during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14 (@ Carolina), 15 (vs. Jacksonville) and 16 (@ New Orleans)?

3. Never let an owner with a losing record control the tone of trade negotiations, especially when dealing with superstars. Before the downtrodden, perhaps desperate GM submits a blockbuster offer, let them know which star player(s) absolutely must be included in their proposal. Rule of thumb: A club that's destined for a lonely Week 14 should never hold the hammer when haggling … and don't be afraid to use your hammer when things get sticky.

4. Be the aggressor when offering trades. There's nothing worse than NOT having control of an intense negotiation. Don't let the other owner gain the upper hand by throwing out names, in hopes that you'll bite out of desperation (or boredom).

5. Make full use of technology during trade season. There's obviously nothing wrong with exchanging offers, via email. But in this age of texting, iPhones, IMs and Twitter — where immediacy reigns — it's likely more productive to initiate real-time, back-and-forth dialogue when invoking serious talks. Plus, it allows for owners to be upfront with their intentions, asking specific questions like: What will it take to get Greg Jennings? OR Do you prefer to have Ryan Fitzpatrick or Matt Ryan during the fantasy playoffs? OR … Of your three main flex options — BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Santonio Holmes, Steve Johnson … which one is untouchable? And with these complex questions come immediate answers, with very little time wasted on roundabout trade offers that don't cut to the core of what Owner A wants … or Owner B needs. At the very least, this form of communication sets the table for future discussions … enabling owners to put a face (or voice) on a previously faceless (or voiceless) owner in their league.

Darren SprolesDarren Sproles could make for a valuable piece of trade bait.

6. Don't be afraid to sacrifice your bench. The lesson here is quite simple: Amazing bench depth will serve you no purpose during the playoffs. So, if you have three high-end running backs (Rashard Mendenhall, Darren Sproles, Steven Jackson) and the DeMarco Murray/Felix Jones handcuff, Weeks 8-9-10 represents the optimum time to package that enviable depth into a blockbuster deal that addresses other key starting slots. Sure, you'll be sweating bullets if a stud runner goes down to injury … but hey, there's a risk-reward aspect to every challenge in fantasyland — just don't look back!

7. Don't hesitate to ask the real burning questions. If the playoffs started today, could my squad hold up and flourish for three straight weeks? Can my starters realistically catch fire at the right time and win a championship? If the answer's 'No' … then it's time to get to work!

Week 8: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Drew Brees @ St. Louis
2. Cam Newton vs. Minnesota
3. Eli Manning vs. Miami
4. Tom Brady @ Pittsburgh
5. Ben Roethlisberger vs. New England
6. Michael Vick vs. Dallas
7. Philip Rivers @ Kansas City

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ray Rice vs. Arizona
2. Arian Foster vs. Jacksonville
3. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Miami
4. Fred Jackson vs. Washington (Toronto)
5. Frank Gore vs. Cleveland
6. Jonathan Stewart vs. Minnesota
7. LeSean McCoy vs. Dallas
8. DeMarco Murray @ Philadelphia
9. Knowshon Moreno vs. Detroit
10. Chris Johnson vs. Indianapolis
11. Ryan Mathews @ Kansas City

It's A Little Known Fact …
… That in five regular-season games against the Steelers, Tom Brady has averaged 337.5 yards and 2.4 TD passes. Using the same sample size, Ben Roethlisberger boasts per-game averages of 233 yards and two TD passes against the Patriots.

Passing Fancy
Here's a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (still the gold standard of fantasy signal-callers)
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Drew Brees, Saints (should feast on another Suck For Luck squad this week)
4. Michael Vick, Eagles (the last iconic face for our QB Mount Rushmore)
5. Tony Romo, Cowboys
6. Cam Newton, Panthers (a virtual lock for 275 yards and/or 3 TDs every week — monsoons aside)
7. Eli Manning, Giants
8. Matthew Stafford, Lions
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (789 yards passing/9 TDs in his last three games)
10. Matt Schaub, Texans
11. Philip Rivers, Chargers
12. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
13. Matt Ryan, Falcons
14. Mark Sanchez, Jets
15. Jay Cutler, Bears
16. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers (should see a spike in passing numbers while the Bucs search for a tailback)
17. Joe Flacco, Ravens
18. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (Steve Breaston and Jon
athan Baldwin
need to step it up)
19. Sam Bradford, Rams (a potential fantasy gem for the stretch run … if he can get on the field)
20. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
21. Tim Tebow, Broncos
22. Andy Dalton, Bengals
23. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans (has lost a sizable chunk of fantasy goodwill in recent weeks)
24. Colt McCoy, Browns
25. Alex Smith, 49ers
26. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks
27. Carson Palmer, Raiders (strange but true: Darrius Heyward-Bey holds the key to CP's fantasy livelihood)
28. Christian Ponder, Vikings
29. Curtis Painter, Colts
30. Matt Moore, Dolphins
31. John Beck, Redskins
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars (a cannon-armed rookie can only do so much when throwing to Jason Hill)

Week 8 Pre-Revelation
Sunday's Bengals-Seahawks clash might be the perfect litmus test for Andy Dalton. For 14- or 16-team leagues where franchise quarterbacks are at a premium, Dalton (1,311 yards passing, 7 TDs) represents a rock-solid play during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 15 (@ St. Louis) and 16 (vs. Arizona). Throwing out his marginal NFL debut in Week 1, Dalton is averaging 15.3 fantasy points per game — a respectable number that can easily be duplicated against the Rams and Cardinals, if A.J. Green (29 catches/453 yards/4 TDs), Jerome Simpson (22 catches/353 yards), TE Jermaine Gresham and RB Cedric Benson are running at full capacity in December. So, why is this weekend's cross-country trip so vital for Dalton's future? Well, Seattle's pass defense has surrendered 250 yards per game (13th worst in the NFL) … and 263 at Qwest Field. If Dalton can hit that ballpark range — while accounting for two TDs — it'll serve as more evidence that he deserves a Week 15 start over Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Kevin Kolb or Matt Cassel.

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Dwayne Bowe vs. San Diego
2. Steve Smith vs. Minnesota
3. DeSean Jackson vs. Dallas
4. Wes Welker @ Pittsburgh
5. Larry Fitzgerald @ Baltimore
6. Mike Wallace vs. New England
7. A.J. Green @ Seattle
8. Anquan Boldin vs. Arizona
9. Marques Colston @ St. Louis
10. Malcom Floyd @ Kansas City (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Neil Rackers vs. Jacksonville
2. Billy Cundiff vs. Arizona
3. Rian Lindell vs. Washington (Toronto)
4. David Akers vs. Cleveland
5. Josh Scobee @ Houston
6. Lawrence Tynes vs. Miami

You Gotta Be Cruel To Be Kind
As much as I enjoy answering round-the-clock texts, emails and Tweets (@ATL_JayClemons) from the fantasy masses … here are three questions that will gleefully go unanswered:

Ray LewisRay Lewis anchors a Baltimore defense that has been outstanding for fantasy owners this season.

1. “Which do you like — Defense A or Defense B?” — Unless we're talking about the Ravens, Jets, Bears, 49ers, Packers, Lions or Patriots … every D/ST is a dime-a-dozen entity from week-to-week. Sure, kick-returning dynamos tend to inflate a middling defense's value … but everything is relative over the course of 17 weeks — so why even try to speak intelligently about crapshoots? Personally, I like to grab a free-agent team that has the good fortune of facing the Rams, Colts, Dolphins, Seahawks or Browns on a given Sunday. Short of trading for the Magnificent Seven above, it's the only bankable strategy for D/ST viability.

2. “Which kicker do you like during the byes?” — While every point certainly counts in fantasyland, it's quite unnecessary to speculate on kickers from week to week; if you're really jonesing for a Sunday steal in free agency … simply go to your league page and click on “Players” then “Kickers.” Once there, you'll see a listing of talents — either ranked by seasonal points or projected points for that particular week. Either way, you're golden with pretty much anyone topping these lists. One last thing: If you can spare the Week 8 bench space, I highly recommend grabbing Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski (on bye) — easily the most bankable asset among his positional peers.

3. “What do you think of this trade — Defense A for Defense B?” — For starters, I wouldn't want to be in a league where owners execute 1-for-1 swaps involving defenses. Seriously, what are you trying to accomplish here? Are you really trying to outfox a fellow owner … on the hope/prayer that Minnesota might convert a Cam Newton sack/fumble into a touchdown this weekend? Really?

Target Practice
These 30 wideouts have collected at least 30 receiving targets (at least 6 per game) since Week 3:
1. Wes Welker, Patriots — 52 Targets
2. Roddy White, Falcons — 52 Targets
3. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 50 Targets
4. Mike Williams, Buccaneers — 49 Targets
5. Pierre Garcon, Colts — 43
6. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders — 42
7. Greg Jennings, Packers — 42
8. Steve Smith, Panthers — 40
9. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 38
10. Anquan Boldin, Ravens — 37
11. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 37
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 37
13. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 36
14. Michael Crabtree, 49ers — 35
15. Plaxico Burress, Jets — 34
16. Brandon Lloyd, Rams — 34
17. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 33
18. Early Doucet, Cardinals — 33
19. Jason Hill, Jaguars — 33
20. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles — 33
21. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 33
22. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 33
23. Danario Alexander, Rams — 32
24. Michael Jenkins, Vikings — 32
25. Greg Little, Browns — 32
26. Steve Johnson, Bills — 31
27. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 31
28. Eric Decker, Broncos — 30
29. A.J. Green, Bengals — 30
30. Devin Hester, Bears — 30

Pennies On The Dollar
Here are 10 preseason stars who can be had, via trade, for less than 60 percent of their August values:
1. RB Chris Johnson, Titans (too much talent to ignore down the stretch; the easy schedule helps, too)
2. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (a true safety blanket for Christian Ponder)
3. RB Peyton Hillis, Browns (no major injuries here … and Colt McCoy needs his 2010 production)
4. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers (Tampa Bay will have no choice but to air it out in the coming weeks)
5. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers (there's still time to pry Gates from skeptical owners)
6. WR Mario Manningham, Giants (eventually … he'll break out of his 5-catch, 56-yard, zero-TD shell)
7. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers (gotta love San Diego's sked from Weeks 14-16: Buffalo, Baltimore, Detroit)
8. RB Shonn Greene, Jets (it's not like LaDainian Tomlinson will bump Greene anytime soon)
9. WR Roddy White, Falcons (a targets machine … despite missing the 100-yard mark in 14 of his last 15 games)
10. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (pass-happy Pittsburgh will get conservative during the winter months)

Inside The Numbers
In odd-numbered games this season, Ravens QB Joe Flacco is averaging 306 yards passing, 2 TDs and 0.33 INTs; in even-numbered outings, Flacco's averaging 166 yards passing, 0.66 TDs and 1.33 interceptions. This week's clash with Arizona is Baltimore's SEVENTH game of the year … so, start him with confidence!

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here's my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 8:
QB Drew Brees
RB Arian Foster
RB LeSean McCoy
WR Mike Wallace
WR Dwayne Bowe
RB/WR Frank Gore
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Billy Cundiff (Ravens)
D/ST Houston Texans

YouTube Memory Lane
I cannot end today's Philanthropist without spreading some YouTube cheer, courtesy of a few epic NFL clips from the 1970s and 80s:

1. 1976Monday Night Football's Alex Karras croons the Jets' theme song, penned by first-year coach Lou Holtz.
2. 1979 — Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert unleashes a nasty helmet-to-helmet shot on Broncos receiver Haven Moses.
3. 1979 — The Raiders stage one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history … against the Saints on Monday Night Football.
4. 1983 — Redskins rookie (and future Hall of Famer) Darrell Green sprints past five teammates to halt Tony Dorsett's potential breakaway TD. If memory serves, Dallas rallied from a 23-3 deficit to win 31-30 at old RFK Stadium.
5. 1985 — The famed 'Snow Bowl' at Lambeau Field, as the Packers stifled Steve Young and the Bucs amid blizzard conditions. One fan's sign reading, We Must Be Nuts says it all here.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

QB, RB & WR fantasy locks for Week 7

Note: Jay’s audio locks are the very same selections that appear in his Thursday Philanthropist column. CLICK HERE for the text version.

TOP QUARTERBACKS

QB Locks For Week 7 (mp3)

TOP RUNNING BACKS

RB Locks For Week 7 (mp3)

TOP WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Locks For Week 7 (mp3)

CLICK HERE to check out more Starts & Sits for Week 7 (will be published Saturday afternoon).

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

Passing fancy

The Trade Heard 'Round The World
It's customary to open my Thursday column with a subject or event that's both momentous and relatively simple to break down; but today, we'll begin with a hot-button topic that's impossible to measure: Carson Palmer's fantasy effect with the Raiders, after 'The Greatest Trade in Football'.

In the event that you've been fixated on the Cyclops Albino Shark or Zanesville Exotic Animals Breakout sagas, Oakland executed a mind-blowing swap for the 32-year-old Palmer on Tuesday, just hours before the NFL trade deadline passed. As their penance for losing Jason Campbell for the season (broken collarbone) and suddenly scrambling to find a QB savior for a playoff contender, the 4-2 Raiders surrendered a Round 1 pick next year and conditional 1st- or 2nd-rounder in 2013, based on the club's playoff success (or lack thereof) in the next 15 months. But since these real-world nuances have little bearing on fantasy football, let's move ahead to questions that matter:

Question: Can Palmer quickly evolve into a weekly-starter consideration in 12- and 14-team leagues?

Carson PalmerHow long will it take Palmer to get up to speed in Oakland?

Answer: In 97 career starts, Palmer (22,694 career passing yards) has accounted for three or more TDs in consecutive weeks only five times — with none of the occurrences coming after 2006. So, even in his prime with the Bengals, Palmer was never a no-brainer starter during non-bye weeks — unless faith-based fantasy owners were convinced his powerful, yet sometimes-erratic arm could produce five-plus TDs on any given Sunday — a two-time occurrence with Cincy (2007, 2009). Going one step further, if Palmer had been dealt to the Raiders before the 2011 season, I would have ranked him somewhere behind Matt Cassel/Sam Bradford and ahead of Mark Sanchez/Kevin Kolb … basically preferred-status backup QBs.

Question: Will emerging targets like Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, Kevin Boss adjust to the stark differences between Palmer and Campbell?

Answer: Campbell and Palmer possess similar arm strength when competing in the made-for-TV Quarterback Challenge during the offseason, but the two are disparate figures on NFL Sundays. Palmer (100 career INTs) has no fear when throwing the deep ball in traffic or conscience when trying to squeeze tight spots on intermediate routes. Palmer is also less mobile than Campbell, likely obligating speedsters Heyward-Bey and Ford to run cleaner, quicker routes against sack-happy defenses. It'll certainly be interesting to see how quickly everyone — including Oakland's power backs — assimilates to Palmer's high-profile arrival.

Question: Will Darren McFadden's starring role in the Raiders offense increase or decrease on Palmer's watch?

Answer: Fantasy Football Today tabs McFadden (761 total yards, 5 TDs) as the No. 3 tailback in fantasy, despite only 21.5 touches per game; and prior to his season-ending injury, Campbell was averaging 27.5 passes per game. Bottom line: It may not matter that Raiders head coach (and de facto GM) Hue Jackson is ready for full-bore passing with Palmer. McFadden (100-plus total yards in 14 of his last 19 games) has quickly become one of the most efficient elite backs in the biz; and if he can endure Michael Bush vulturing a few goal-line touches … surely a Palmer uptick to 30 passes per outing won't kill D-Mac's current standing as a top-5 asset. He may even catch more balls out of the backfield.

Question: Does Palmer deserve a fantasy start this weekend against the Chiefs?

Answer: Yes, Palmer has been working out with noted QB guru (and former Jet) Ken O'Brien in the last few months; but it'd be foolish to think he could dominate the Chiefs in Week 7 … without any pre-existing chemistry with the Raiders' playmakers or the benefits of a full training camp and six weeks of the NFL grind. So please, if you're going to devote waiver-wire resources to Palmer during the bye-ravaged weeks — praying he'll be a fantasy force — make it a low- or medium-risk investment. Simply put: Palmer should not be a starting consideration this weekend … when compared to Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Matt Hasselbeck, Kevin Kolb, Matt Schaub or even Sam Bradford. (Note: Palmer went for $41, $37 and $34 in three of my blind-bidding auction leagues on Wednesday.)

Week 7: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Drew Brees vs. Indianapolis
2. Aaron Rodgers @ Minnesota
3. Tony Romo vs. St. Louis
4. Ben Roethlisberger @ Arizona
5. Matthew Stafford vs. Atlanta
6. Philip Rivers @ N.Y. Jets
7. Cam Newton vs. Washington
8. Kevin Kolb vs. Pittsburgh

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Chris Johnson vs. Houston
2. Michael Turner @ Detroit
3. Willis McGahee @ Miami
4. Arian Foster @ Tennessee
5. Darren McFadden vs. Kansas City
6. Steven Jackson @ Dallas
7. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Baltimore
8. Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay
9. Ray Rice @ Jacksonville
10. Matt Forte vs. Tampa Bay (London)

It's A Little Known Fact …
… That of the top-50 wideouts or tight ends in receiving targets through six weeks, only six have yet to register a touchdown: Kellen Winslow, Julio Jones, Jerome Simpson, Jason Avant, Antonio Brown, Michael Crabtree.

The Hands That Built America
Here's my always-fluid listing of the top-40 wideouts in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions (float a Calvin trade balloon to your fellow owners … just to gauge their reaction)
2. Mike Wallace, Steelers
3. Wes Welker, Patriots (his dominance is too great to ignore for the stretch run)
4. Greg Jennings, Packers
5. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (red-zone efficiency must improve to maintain ranking)
6. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
7. Miles Austin, Cowboys
8. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
9. Roddy White, Falcons
10. Andre Johnson, Texans (will he return before the Texans' Week 11 bye?)
11. Steve Smith, Panthers
12. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
13. Vincent Jackson, Chargers (took a lot of heat in August for his preseason ranking — #14!!!)
14. Steve Johnson, Bills
15. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
16. Bra
ndon Marshall
, Dolphins (needs longer cleats for when Miami visits MetLife Stadium in Week 8)
17. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
18. Reggie Wayne, Colts
19. A.J. Green, Bengals
20. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
21. Pierre Garcon, Colts (a stunning turnaround after Weeks 1/2 disappearance)
22. Santonio Holmes, Jets
23. Julio Jones, Falcons (demonstrated stellar fantasy acumen — before the hammy problems)
24. Marques Colston, Saints
25. Sidney Rice, Seahawks
26. Brandon Lloyd, Rams (St. Louis's NFL/MLB clubs will both be in Dallas Sunday — how convenient!)
27. Mike Williams, Buccaneers (reasonable ranking more on reputation than actual production)
28. Nate Washington, Titans
29. Jordy Nelson, Packers
30. Victor Cruz, Giants
31. Percy Harvin, Vikings (SHOULD benefit from the Ponder switch)
32. Deion Branch, Patriots
33. Santana Moss, Redskins
34. Eric Decker, Broncos (how he'll fare with Tim Tebow at QB is anybody's guess)
35. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (more on him later)
36. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
37. Malcom Floyd, Chargers (has too much talent, athleticism to fall below the fantasy radar)
38. Steve Breaston, Chiefs
39. Jerome Simpson, Bengals
40. James Jones, Packers

Watch List
Greg Little, Browns (12 catches/20 targets in his last two games)
Torrey Smith, Ravens (fantasy owners would kill for another 3-TD outing)
Mario Manningham, Giants
Danario Alexander, Rams (still a viable deep threat with B-Lloyd in the mix)
Mike Thomas/Mike Sims-Walker/Jason Hill, Jaguars
Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns
Kevin Walter, Texans
Lance Moore/Robert Meachem, Saints
Devin Hester/Dane Sanzenbacher, Bears (great hot-and-cold/cold-and-hot pairing in deeper PPR leagues)
Early Doucet, Cardinals (anybody who can draw 16 targets in one game deserves cursory mention)

Talking Points
1. Brandon Marshall gets his long-awaited reunion with the Broncos. Even with Champ Bailey tracking his every move, I love Marshall's potential for fantasy goodness against the team that drafted and traded him. And since this game won't be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey — where the field tends to tilt downhill when Marshall (28 catches/422 yards/1 TD) is running for the end zone, untouched — there's reason to believe B-Marsh will rack up at least 100 yards and one TD on Sunday. On the other sideline, second-year wideout Demaryius Thomas has been thrust into the spotlight after Denver dealt Brandon Lloyd to the garbage-time-happy Rams … prompting a ton of fantasy owners to devote precious waiver-wire consideration to a guy whose fate rests in the hands of Tim Tebow. Ouch!

Chris JohnsonChris Johnson has a very favorable schedule coming up.

2. Chris Johnson kicks off a 10-game stretch of expected fantasy greatness on Sunday. As often stated in Revelations, Johnson could not have asked for a better setup from Weeks 7-16: Houston, Indy (twice), Cincinnati, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Jacksonville. It's the type of easy-cheesy schedule that transforms a so-so campaign into a great one … and vaults struggling fantasy teams into championship contenders. Has Johnson (366 total yards, 1 TD) been painfully mediocre the first six weeks? Without a doubt. Is Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck (1,414 passing yards, 9 TDs in five games) a viable threat for 250 yards and/or 3 TDs every week? Apparently so. But I'm not backing away from my Day 1 proclamation: Please move heaven and earth to get CJ2K, via trade. To justify this prediction of can't-miss fantasy glory, I sent out eight Johnson-focused trade offers to owners on Thursday … just hours before this column goes LIVE on National Football Post.

3. Percy Harvin stands to benefit from Christian Ponder taking over the Vikings. If Percy had two or three touchdowns to go with his pedestrian 25 catches for 261 yards … perhaps I wouldn't be such an alarmist here. For a Vikings team that's devoid of big-time receiving talent — and infamously enjoys passing while holding fourth-quarter leads — I'm shocked that Harvin can't crack the top 50 in targets, top 30 in receptions or top 50 in receiving yards. Which brings us to a simple conclusion that's probably a tad unfair to Donovan McNabb: Harvin has nowhere to go but up in the hearts and minds of fantasy owners … so why not engineer a buy-low trade before he gets a piece of the Packers' bend-and-sometimes-break defense?

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson vs. Atlanta
2. Brandon Marshall vs. Denver
3. Dwayne Bowe @ Oakland
4. Miles Austin vs. St. Louis
5. Vincent Jackson @ N.Y. Jets
6. Sidney Rice @ Cleveland
7. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Pittsburgh
8. Mike Wallace @ Arizona
9. Steve Smith vs. Washington
10. Brandon Gibson @ Dallas (super-sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Dan Bailey vs. St. Louis
2. Nick Novak @ N.Y. Jets
3. Sebastian Janikowski vs. Kansas City
4. Ryan Succop @ Oakland
5. Rob Bironas vs. Houston
6. Robbie Gould vs. Tampa Bay (London)

The Early Bird Gets The Fantasy Worm
The following is a Public Service Announcement for the ambivalent fantasy owner who cannot make a waiver-wire pickup or trade without consulting with me on Twitter first: If another owner drops Ahmad Bradshaw or Peyton Hillis for god knows why … please, please don't wait for my thumbs-up before doing the transaction. Just do it!

Last week, just three days before Bradshaw blitzed the Bills for 130 total yards and three touchdowns, a Twitter follower (who shall remain nameless, but not blameless) sent me an overnight Direct Message, asking for Bradshaw approval; and during that six-hour window of not responding to the inquiry, Bradshaw had already been plucked by another team. Fast forward to this week, where a different follower asked if Hillis was worth grabbing in free agency, at the risk of dumping some random cat like Robert Meachem or Antonio Brown. Bottom line: NEVER pass on an opportunity to add a high-profile back to your roster — short of a season-ending injury — even if you have 'em riding the bench in the short term. The same goes for an elite receiver or tight end. Keep stockpiling assets. There'll be no time for consensus opinions from fantasy gurus who
are happy to help — but ultimately don't bear the responsibility of your team's success or failure.

Radio Daze
You know what makes the stuck-in-a-cubicle workday run smoothly during the fall months? Podcast after podcast after podcast! Here are my favorite football-specific podcasts/radio shows:
1. ESPN — “Fantasy Focus” with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz
2. CBSSports.com — “Fantasy Football” with Dave Richard and Jamey Eisneberg
3. KFAN in Minneapolis — “Fantasy Football Weekly” with Paul Charchian
4. Yahoo! — “Fantasy Blitz”
5. RotoWire.com — “Fantasy Sports Podcast”
6. WDFN-AM in Detroit — “Fantasy Sports Geekly” with Sean Baligian

Questions From The Audience
saintjonah: I got offered a trade, giving up Chris Johnson/DeSean Jackson for Darren McFadden. Thoughts?

Answer: Jonah, in today's Philanthropist, I go loco about how fantasy owners should do whatever it takes to corral Johnson, via trade, before his 11-game stretch of fantasy brilliance starts Sunday; so kudos to being aggressive so quickly. However, let's go over this one with a fine-tooth comb: Without a doubt, D-Mac (or DMC, whichever nickname you prefer — like it matters) possesses the stronger trade value right now; those are the perks that go with being the 1st-, 2nd- or 3rd-ranked running back in all of fantasyland (scoring rules vary). So, on the back end, getting a top-15 receiver like D-Jax (or DJX, whichever nickname you prefer — like it matters … HA!) would certainly balance out the transaction. Sure, Jackson (only two 100-yard games in 2011) represents a bit of a risk; but in leagues where kick-return TDs are celebrated, we can reasonably assume that he'll pad the year-ending stat sheet with 2-3 more TDs in that realm. On the flip side, Owner B is potentially getting the last piece of a championship puzzle with McFadden … even if he/she unwittingly owned that difference-maker in Johnson. There's a chance I'll be wrong on CJ2k by season's end … but I doubt it. Good luck!

worthy_one77: If Jahvid Best sits, will backup RB Keiland Williams start over Maurice Morris?

Jahvid BestBest was having a terrific season, until he suffered yet another concussion.

Answer: In the event that Best (677 total yards, 3 TDs in 2011) misses games to a concussion (his track record with this injury goes back to the Cal days — and no, I won't be showing THE PLAY here), I fully expect Morris to log every start within that span. But with the voided trade of Ronnie Brown going back to Philly (thanks to Jerome Harrison's apparent failed physical) … opportunity knocks for Williams to be a sneaky-good fantasy menace — especially in the red zone. In a three-game stretch with the Redskins last year (replacing injured back Ryan Torain), Williams racked up 266 total yards and three TDs — a respectable audition that showcased his speed and inside-rushing prowess. And while Morris (3,352 career rushing yards, 12 TDs) is certainly the more accomplished NFL back, I'm quite confident in Williams' ability to finish plays and drives, if called upon. Make no mistake, the Lions are more dangerous with Best on the field; but I'd also argue that Morris and Williams — as a platoon — would fare better than Ronnie Brown right, Ronnie Brown left. So we'll see how things go. Thanks!

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here's my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 7:
QB Matthew Stafford
RB Chris Johnson
RB Ray Rice
WR Calvin Johnson
WR Mike Wallace
RB/WR Willis McGahee
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Rob Bironas (Titans)
D/ST Dallas Cowboys

The Quiet Ones … And Tony Romo
After six weeks of NFL action, fantasy owners should realize that a sizable chunk of playmakers have already tipped their 2011 hand, production-wise. Aaron Rodgers is essentially a weekly lock for 295-315 yards and three TDs … but may feel inclined to call off the passing dogs late in games (nursing big leads). Adrian Peterson (537 rushing yards, 7 TDs) may be the No. 1 running back in standard-scoring leagues … but he'll never match the PPR viability of Matt Forte. In other words, to steal a popular Bill Parcells saying: You are what your fantasy track record says you are.

As established fantasy machines, Rodgers and Peterson always get the benefit of the doubt when owners are filling out starting lineups or submitting midseason trades. But the following players don't always get that respect, even though they've earned the right to be viewed as sturdy assets:

1. RB Willis McGahee, Broncos — If fantasy owners could get past Tebowmania in the Broncos' backfield, they'd find only one of two NFL backs to rush for 100 yards in three of his last four games (along with Frank Gore) … and one of a tiny few to record at least one rushing/receiving TD in that span. Not only is McGahee (433 total yards, 2 TDs) an absolute lock for monster numbers against the Dolphins in Week 7, he has managed to eliminate a healthy Knowshon Moreno from primary fantasy discussion … while reminding us that Denver's brain trust was right to pursue McGahee — and not DeAngelo Williams — after the 132-day lockout.

2. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys — Don't let coach Jason Garrett's lack of trust in his quarterback during the final minutes of Cowboys-Patriots fool you; and try to block out all negative thoughts of Romo's stomach-churning, game-changing interceptions against the Jets and Lions. In the wonderful world of make-believe numbers, Romo (1,590 yards/8 TDs in 2011) should be given the ultimate respect — especially in leagues where INTs inflict minimal damage. Anyone who can surpass 300 yards at an 80-percent clip is worth your full attention during Pre-Deadline Trade Season.

3. TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals — If the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green combination hadn't been such a rousing success after six weeks — leading the very-young Bengals to a 4-2 mark — perhaps team owner Mike Brown would not have consummated the Palmer trade. And if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hadn't nixed the Bengals' trade request for tight end Marcellus Bennett a few years ago … maybe Gresham never sniffs an opportunity t
o star in Cincinnati. It's funny how life works, huh? At his position, Gresham ranks 4th in TDs (3), 7th in targets (42), 8th in catches (25) and 16th in receiving yards (231) — distinctions that will likely maintain or improve when it really counts … as Cincy battles Houston, St. Louis and Arizona during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14, 15 and 16. BOOM!

Darren SprolesSproles continues to produce for fantasy owners.

4. RB Darren Sproles, Saints — There's nothing about Sproles' stature that screams prototypical fantasy back, but it's hard to mock one of only two tailbacks with 30-plus catches after six weeks; and for PPR nuts, he's the only NFL back to collect 50-plus targets during that span. Bottom line: Sproles (512 total yards, 2 TDs) is the perfect complement to QB Drew Brees; unfortunately, he has to share the end-zone spotlight with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and all the Saints pass-catchers who have tallied long-distance touchdowns.

5. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders — In the last three weeks, Heyward-Bey has posted more targets (28) than Greg Jennings, Steve Johnson, Reggie Wayne, more catches (17) than Carolina's Steve Smith, Tampa Bay's Mike Williams, Percy Harvin and more yards (296) than A.J. Green, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace. It's almost like the fighting spirit of Al Davis, the late Raiders icon, can be found in Heyward-Bey — one of the most maligned first-rounders in recent draft history. Are three superb showings an indication of sustainable fantasy relevance? Sadly, no. But it sure beats the heck out of people posthumously mocking Mr. Davis for allegedly grabbing DHB (over Michael Crabtree) on the singular merit of straight-line speed. Heyward-Bey's a good player … get over it!

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

Week 5 Revelations

Week 5 Revelations
1. Let's start with an obligatory Written In The Stars parallel: In the course of reading today's Revelations, you may encounter a few less-than-household names (Jason Avant, Jackie Battle, Jonathan Dwyer, Chaz Schilens, Early Doucet) garnering casual kudos for Week 5. But the hallmark of a truly memorable fantasy weekend lies with superstars and their uncanny ability to redefine greatness every Sunday. For the 1 p.m. games, we had Adrian Peterson bowling over the Cardinals for 122 yards and three touchdowns. At 4 p.m., we saw Tom Brady/Wes Welker light up the Jets' high-end cornerbacks; and in prime time, we watched Aaron Rodgers fleece the Falcons for 396 yards and two TDs — just four yards shy of back-to-back 400 games. But perhaps nothing could compare to Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe wrapping up this week's nomination for Greatest Catch Ever!

Matt CasselMatt Cassel has finally started to roll up some numbers.

2. Don't pull a hamstring jumping onto the Jackie Battle bandwagon. For the record, I have nothing against Battle (career-best 140 total yards vs. Indy) and his recent candidacy to become the Chiefs' top tailback in 2011 (Jamaal Charles will reclaim this spot in '12). After all, if certain governors/ex-governors from Texas, New Jersey and Alaska can garner fame for entering (or not entering) the Republican presidential race long after the 'season' began … why can't Battle pull a Ryan Torain and make a strong October pitch for a job that Thomas Jones (62 total yards) and Dexter McCluster (18 total yards) haven't already clinched? For starters, Battle's monster day came at the expense of the 0-5 Colts, who ranked 27th in run defense before Sunday (133 yards per game); and then there's the matter of QB Matt Cassel (257 yards passing, 4 TDs), Dwayne Bowe (7 catches, 128 yards, 2 TDs) and WR Steve Breaston (4 catches, 50 yards, 2 TDs) having a stronghold on the Chiefs' red-zone attack. Throw in the notion Kansas City could always audition a slew of tailback prospects during its Week 6 bye … and there are viable reasons to support Battle being a one-hit fantasy wonder. As if his previous career-high of 44 rushing yards (from 2007) didn't already indicate that.

3. There's no downside to the Patriots' season-long streak of 30-point games … unless you bought the farm on Stevan Ridley. I have the Tweet log to prove it: Heading into Week 5, a sizable number of fantasy owners were willing to bench — or even purge — BenJarvus Green-Ellis from their rosters … thinking that Ridley (100 total yards, 2 TDs in Week 4) would supplant BenJarvus sooner than later in New England's up-tempo, high-octane offense. But a funny thing happened on the way to Ridley's premature coronation, as Green-Ellis dissected the Jets defense for 149 total yards (136 rushing) and two TDs — in what might have been the grittiest (and greatest) performance of any tailback this season. How superb was it? For the second consecutive week, the dynamic duo of Brady (321 yards passing, 1 TD) and Welker (5 catches, 124 yards) took a backseat to the Pats' backs — although there's no debate to which one warrants a RB2 slot in all scoring formats (Green-Ellis).

4. On the way to channelling his inner-Newton, Michael Vick found his inner-Romo in Philly's loss to Buffalo. Being a dispassionate observer of the Eagles has its perks. Yes, the team committed five turnovers — including four INTs from Vick — and one major defensive blunder late in the game; but aside from the final score — and Philly's unexpected fall to a 1-4 record — what's not to like about Sunday's effort? Vick (395 total yards, 2 TDs) finished a whisker shy of back-to-back 400-yard outings and DeSean Jackson (5 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD), Jeremy Maclin (6 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD), LeSean McCoy (117 total yards, 1 TD) brought their A-games to a sun-splashed shootout. For deeper leagues, even Jason Avant titillated owners with nine catches for 139 yards, maximizing his 10 targets on the day. (The chances of that happening next week are remote.) Of course, the good people of Philadelphia might view the Eagles in a different prism today, expressing doubts over Vick's real-world viability or coach Andy Reid's long-term sustainability; but it's still better to be a fan of a 1-4 team that's oozing with talent than a 1-4 club that's flailing in the desert. Right?

5. There's no rhyme or reason for Early Doucet collecting 16 targets on Sunday. I had originally planned to devote this segment to Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb and how he missed a golden chance to capitalize on the Mother of All Garbage-Time Scoring Opportunities (with Arizona trailing 28-0 in the first quarter). Instead, it's probably best to explore the fantasy phenomenon that could be Doucet (8 catches, 92 yards) on days when RB Beanie Wells (60 yards, 1 TD) and WR Larry Fitzgerald (4 catches, 66 yards) are marginal, at best … which may be the case whenever the Cards hit the road. Seriously, when did Arizona become so schizophrenic away from University of Phoenix Stadium? And when did Kolb (232 yards passing, zero TDs, 2 INTs) become a doppelganger to John Skelton or Max Hall, in terms of on-field proficiency? It's enough for frustrated fantasy owners (like me) to lower their weekly expectations for Fitzgerald, and downgrade Wells to flex-only consideration on the road — in between fuzzy memories of Doucet (78 career catches) apparently getting open 16 times in a three-hour span.

DeAngelo WilliamsDeAngelo Williams emerged from witness protection to post a monster stat line against the Saints on Sunday.

6. It's hard to get a handle on DeAngelo Williams' value within the Panthers offense. How does one interpret D-Will's excellent effort against the Saints? Yes, he tallied 115 yards and one TD on just nine carries; but how does a big-name back who's averaging 13 yards per carry collect single-digit touches in a relatively close game … especially when he had amassed 509 total yards and four TDs in his last four meetings with New Orleans? The answer is simple: Carolina backs are essentially left to pick up the red-zone scraps of QB Cam Newton (251 total yards, 3 TDs on Sunday) … and will likely need to break off more 69-yard scoring runs to find the end zone with any regularity. Yes, it's a brave new world for Williams and Jonathan Stewart (33 total yards), as they a
djust to Carolina's metamorphosis from a run-heavy attack to a Newton-pass/Newton-run system. For everyone's sake, though, we could do without the college-boy option calls in the pros (even the ones that work). Protecting Newton should always be Job-1.

Revelations, Book II
7. Fred Jackson adds new meaning to the term slippery. Apropos of nothing but quirky nonetheless … Jackson (196 total yards, 1 TD) had never rushed for 100 yards in October, prior to Sunday. Quirky of nothing but apropos nonetheless … the Bills did little to disguise their primary objective in Week 5: Run, run, run on the vulnerable Eagles … and when that stopped working, feed the ultra-quick Jackson for six catches and 85 yards. On the same day when Buffalo rocked Philly for five turnovers and Naaman Roosevelt (5 catches, 41 yards) drew more receiving targets than Steve Johnson (4 catches, 29 yards) and David Nelson (1 TD), it was Jackson who stood alone as the Bills' big cheese, racking up his fifth straight outing of 100-plus total yards and cementing his status as a RB1 in standard-scoring and PPR leagues. Of course, that also makes F-Jax an intriguing sell-high candidate … for the owners who've already peaked ahead to the Bills' next four opponents (Giants, Redskins, Jets, Cowboys). On the flip side, Jackson absolutely cannot fail during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 14-16 (Chargers, Dolphins, Broncos).

8. San Fran is more dynamic in the real world than fantasyland — and that's a good thing. A quick look at the 49ers' Sunday box score suggests nothing of a 48-point explosion. Sure, RB Frank Gore (143 total yards, 1 TD) was his usual stellar self, TE Vernon Davis registered two TD catches and WR Josh Morgan (5 catches, 75 yards) almost hit end-zone paydirt before breaking his ankle; but to hang 48 on Tampa Bay without any plays of 45 yards or longer seems a tad unsettling. Could QB Alex Smith (170 yards passing, 3 TDs) be a weekly fantasy starter if the Niners win 11 or 12 games? Will wideouts Michael Crabtree (2 catches, 36 yards) and Braylon Edwards carry any weight with fantasy owners in November/December? And will RB Kendall Hunter (65 yards on nine touches) serve as anything more than a highly qualified injury-replacement tease to Gore in the coming weeks? Hmmmm … after re-reading this paragraph, it's almost like San Fran isn't getting enough respect for its success; but that could easily change after next week … when the 4-1 Niners face the only other team to enjoy a 45-point drubbing in 2011 (Lions).

9. Curtis Painter and Pierre Garcon have a nice thing going in Indy. It's not like Garcon (5 catches, 125 yards, 2 TDs vs. Kansas City) required Peyton Manning's presence to be a fantasy success this year … he just needed anyone but Kerry Collins throwing him the ball. How else should we explain Garcon's three-week whirlwind in catches (13), receiving yards (353), TDs (4) and targets (26), other than focusing on his lack of chemistry with Collins, who had little or no grasp of Indy's playbook, tempo or receivers before Week 3 of the preseason? Ah, perhaps Reggie Wayne (4 catches, 77 yards) was right to stump for Painter (277 passing yards, 2 TDs) in Manning's injured stead; and perhaps many fantasy owners were wrong to jump ship on Garcon (8 targets) after a horrid start — as part of a then-plausible/now-futile plot to acquire Devery Henderson off waivers. Yikes!

10. Jimmy Graham may be the most bankable tight end in fantasyland. Drew Brees might be on track for 5,000 yards passing (and Dan Marino's single-season record), but Graham (8 catches, 129 yards) has been the Saints' most valuable playmaker of the first five games, racking up more catches (32), targets (48), 100-yard games (3) and receiving yards (496) than any other star at his position. (To be fair, Cowboys TE Jason Witten had a Week 5 bye.) More importantly, Graham has brought stability to a pass-catching corps that has been plagued by injuries (Marques Colston, Lance Moore) and woeful inconsistency (Devery Henderson/Robert Meachem), prompting this out-of-nowhere prediction: Graham is a lock for 400 yards and five TDs from Weeks 6-10 … so don't be afraid to move heaven and earth to land him, via trade.

LeGarrette BlountICONThe 49ers did a nice job keeping Blount in check on Sunday.

11. OK, so maybe LeGarrette Blount wasn't the ultimate foil to the 49ers' run defense. There's no way to avoid the Monday shame of predicting that Blount would notch 120 total yards and/or two TDs on a defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in something like 25 games … so why go there? Simply put, it was a dreadful forecast on my part. In Sunday's blowout, Blount (65 total yards) was nothing more than a hulking decoy for a Bucs offense that looked ill-prepared for a much-hyped battle between playoff contenders, and now fantasy owners are left to wonder if one-time studs like QB Josh Freeman (187 yards, zero TDs), WR Mike Williams (4 catches, 28 yards) and TE Kellen Winslow (5 catches, 54 yards) can quickly rebound from an abomination that may have been worse than the 48-3 score. As for Blount, he'll be fine, assuming he collects more than 12 touches in Tampa Bay's intra-division clash with New Orleans in Week 6 … which no longer feels like a showdown.

12. Somewhere in football heaven, Al Davis is smiling about Darrius Heyward-Bey. Roughly 30 hours after Davis — a Raiders icon for 48 years and the American Football League's second-to-last commissioner — passed away at the age of 82, one of his most controversial draft picks came through with a career-high in catches (7), targets (12) and TDs (1 — shared personal best), while racking up 99 yards in his team's emotional comeback victory in Houston. Heyward-Bey's breakout was the perfect tribute to a great football innovator (Davis) … but it was hardly his last hurrah in the fantasy realm. With back-to-back stellar weeks, Heyward-Bey (115 yards in Week 4) has passed the One-Hit-Wonder Test with flying colors, and should now be rostered in 12-, 14- and 16-team leagues. Of course, DHB was a direct benefactor of RB Darren McFadden's middling outing against the Texans (68 total yards) — pedestrian numbers that D-Mac (the top-ranked tailback in so
me leagues) only posts once every 10-12 weeks.

Revelations, Book III
13. Eli Manning made a little history at the new Meadowlands. Not that Giants fans celebrated the event on Sunday evening, but Manning threw for a career-high 420 yards (and three TDs) in the team's home loss to the Seahawks, while notching back-to-back 300-yard outings for the first time in his career. Think about that for a moment. For a club that routinely airs it out 35 times a week, Manning had never crossed the 300 threshold in consecutive games. And amid this bankable success, fantasy owners must now decide if Manning, RB Ahmad Bradshaw (85 total yards vs. Seattle), WR Hakeem Nicks (4 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD), WR Victor Cruz (8 catches, 161 yards, 1 TD) and WR Mario Manningham (5 catches, 56 yards) are safe bets for monster numbers against the Bills, Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Redskins, Jets, Packers, Saints and Cowboys (twice) — starting Week 6.

14. Maybe Big Ben should play on a bad foot every week. I feel guilty for giving Ben Roethlisberger the Book III treatment here. After all, it's not every day that an embattled quarterback — operating behind a patchwork O-line — throws for five TDs (the second time of his career) against one of the NFL's best defenses. And it's an even rarer day when the Steelers are on the cusp of a legitimate running back controversy, starring Rashard Mendenhall (missed Sunday due to injury), Isaac Redman (61 total yards) and Jonathan Dwyer (113 total yards) — all of whom would be dynamite fantasy options in the coming weeks … if we knew who was starting AND who'd be getting prime touches during garbage-time play. But at least there are no illusions about Mike Wallace (6 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD) and Hines Ward (7 catches, 54 yards, 2 TDs): One is a rock-solid star … the other's a sneaky-good WR4 in PPR leagues from this point forward.

15. Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin makes his own luck. The cynical fantasy owner might chalk up Baldwin's game-turning, 27-yard touchdown against the Giants to 'busted coverage' or 'the defense wasn't ready to make a play.' But it's not like Baldwin (8 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD) has been the only fantasy WR to benefit from New York's injury-ravaged, talent-deprived secondary this season — and probably won't be the last, either. But gift TDs notwithstanding, Baldwin (three games of 80-plus yards) has shown some consistency as Seattle's WR2 — taking pressure off Sidney Rice (4 catches, 38 yards) — while demonstrating his worth as a roster-worthy asset in 12-team leagues. His presence has also been a saving grace for RB Marshawn Lynch (131 total yards, 1 TD) and QB Tarvaris Jackson, who left Sunday's game with an upper-body injury. As for Ben Obomanu (6 catches, 51 yards, team-high 10 targets), never underestimate the relationship between a scout-team QB (Charlie Whitehurst) and scout-team wideout (Obomanu) — especially if Whitehurst gets pressed into a starting role in Week 7, after the Seahawks' bye.

Tim TebowICONWill Tebow surprise owners who acquire the Denver quarterback via waivers this week?

16. Surprise! Tim Tebow is now roster-worthy in 12-team leagues. Whether or not Tebow (117 total yards, 2 TDs) has the passing IQ, arm strength and accuracy (4-of-10 vs. San Diego) to be an elite winning quarterback in the NFL is irrelevant to the fantasy aficionado. Bottom line: If he should earn the starting nod in Denver, Tebow will likely have a direct role in 90 percent of the Broncos' offensive touchdowns from this point forward, and any guy who's a solid bet for two TDs every Sunday — regardless of their efficiency, throwing mechanics or awkward pocket presence — should never be overlooked. Even with solid goal-line finishers at tailback like Willis McGahee (125 total yards) and Knowshon Moreno (40 yards, 1 TD). Unfortunately, there's a downside to Tebow's quirky play: Wideouts Brandon Lloyd (1 catch, 20 yards) and Eric Decker (2 catches, -4 yards) have diminished value whenever Kyle Orton's holding a clipboard on the Denver sidelines.

17. There will be no 'rookie wall' for A.J. Green in November and December — I think. As stated before in these Revelations, there is no substitute for opportunity in fantasyland, especially with freakishly athletic talents, like Green (5 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD vs. Jacksonville), who must remain an integral part of the offensive game plan. Simply put, given Cedric Benson's recent struggles (53 yards on Sunday) and the steep learning curves of TE Jermaine Gresham (5 catches, 21 yards, 1 TD), WR Jerome Simpson (4 catches, 40 yards) and rookie QB Andy Dalton (179 yards passing, 2 TDs), Green is already the Bengals' most consistent playmaker … and deserves 8-12 targets per game, without exception. Of course, that isn't to say Green (24 catches, 402 yards, 3 TDs in 2011) is immune from the occasional clunker — an unavoidable rite of passage for all first-year stars; it just means that he'll encounter little rest while being asked to carry a Cincinnati club that shouldn't expect 30 points from 13 first downs every week.

18. Ryan Mathews picked the perfect time to hurt his calf … and wrist. If the Chargers had a game next week, perhaps we'd be more worried about Mathews' capacity to bounce back from separate maladies, Philip Rivers' third straight game of zero or one TD passes or Vincent Jackson's sluggish outing (3 catches, 34 yards). Instead, we'll happily reflect on Mathews' career-best rushing day of 125 yards, Rivers' recaptured chemistry with WR Malcom Floyd (3 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD) and that V-Jax won't see Broncos CB Champ Bailey again until Week 12 — in sunny San Diego. Speaking of blue skies … fantasy ignorance is the ultimate bliss, dontcha think?

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

The Buc stops here?

The Bye-Week Conundrum
Ah, so this is why sites like National Football Post, Yahoo!, ESPN, CBSSports, Rotoworld and Rotowire had omnipresent listings for bye weeks on draft day … so fantasy owners wouldn't make the tragic mistake of selecting multiple quarterbacks or tight ends with the same bye, or aces like Ray Rice, Tony Romo, Steven Jackson, Santana Moss and Brandon Marshall (all on byes) could not devastate a team's starting lineup in Week 5. In other words, balance must be the key to championship success, huh? Eh, maybe.

Actually, there are different schools of thought as to which seasonal “bye-week strategy” is more effective in the long run: 1) Spreading out your stars' byes, proffering the opportunity to be competitive for Weeks 5-9 and 11 … or 2) Intentionally constructing a roster that's certain to fail for a particular weekend, but one that'll be fully loaded in the other five bye weeks. For example, owners could conceivably boast a regular combination of Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, Willis McGahee, Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews — all Week 6 byes — that has the potential for domination in Weeks 5, 7, 8, 9 and 11. Bottom line: Would you be willing to sacrifice one wretched Sunday for a chance at posting the league's highest score the rest of the time?

Week 5 Trade Rules To Live By
1. Never let a 1-3 or 0-4 owner control the tone of trade negotiations, especially when dealing with superstars. Before the downtrodden, perhaps desperate owner submits a blockbuster offer, let them know which star player(s) absolutely must be included in their proposal. Rule of thumb: A team not destined for the playoffs should never hold the hammer when haggling … and don't be afraid to use your hammer when things get sticky.

2. It's never too early to start planning for the playoffs. No one likes to lose at any point during the season, but if you're sitting at 4-0, it might behoove you to sacrifice Week 5 or 6 for the sake of landing stud running backs or receivers on their bye week, via trade. Simply put, 1-3 owners can no longer assume the risk of getting killed from byes; in turn, they might consider forsaking a quality player on a bye for the chance to post serviceable lineups until Week 11.

Adrian PetersonThinking about dealing Adrian Peterson?

3. Before trading superstars like Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden or Aaron Rodgers, make sure there are no other studs in the blockbuster. The value of D-Mac, Rodgers or AP alone is enough to tilt a seismic deal in Owner B's favor, so don't fall for some sob story of how they'll need a top-12 quarterback, top-15 wideout or top-25 tailback to balance out the transaction. Bottom line: Any Peterson/Rodgers/McFadden-centric trades must essentially be a 3-for-1 swap, with two throw-ins to consummate the deal, when applicable.

Passing Fancy
Here's a revised listing of my always-fluid rankings for starting QBs, 1 through 32:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (fresh off the greatest QB fantasy outing in Lambeau history)
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Drew Brees, Saints
4. Michael Vick, Eagles
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers (on pace for more passing yards than last season)
6. Tony Romo, Cowboys (pick-six warts and all)
7. Matt Ryan, Falcons
8. Matthew Stafford, Lions (should be a notch higher — conservative thinking)
9. Cam Newton, Panthers (Yahoo's Andy Behrens says he'll win the fantasy-points title)
10. Eli Manning, Giants
11. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
13. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
14. Joe Flacco, Ravens (let's not overreact to one gawd-awful game against the Jets)
15. Matt Schaub, Texans (should rise when A-Johnson returns)
16. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans
17. Mark Sanchez, Jets
18. Jay Cutler, Bears
19. Kyle Orton, Broncos (might be higher if the Sword of Damocles, er Tebow, didn't hang over him)
20. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals
21. Sam Bradford, Rams
22. Matt Cassel, Chiefs (could re-enter the top 20 if K.C.'s running game goes kaput)
23. Colt McCoy, Browns (needs Mohammed Massaquoi/Greg Little to come alive)
24. Alex Smith, 49ers
25. Andy Dalton, Bengals
26. Rex Grossman, Redskins (recently passed the Torch Of Bold Proclamations to Tim Hightower)
27. Jason Campbell, Raiders
28. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (can he build off a stellar Week 4?)
29. Donovan McNabb, Vikings
30. Curtis Painter, Colts
31. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars (great arm … but simply not ready for prime time)
32. Matt Moore, Dolphins (left to anchor a no-win situation in Miami)

Week 5: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Michael Vick @ Buffalo
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Chicago
3. Aaron Rodgers @ Atlanta
4. Matt Ryan vs. Green Bay
5. Eli Manning vs. Seattle
6. Drew Brees @ Carolina
7. Cam Newton vs. New Orleans

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Ryan Mathews @ Denver
2. Fred Jackson vs. Philadelphia
3. Matt Forte @ Detroit
4. Joseph Addai vs. Kansas City
5. Adrian Peterson vs. Arizona
6. LeSean McCoy @ Buffalo
7. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Cincinnati
8. Michael Turner vs. Green Bay
9. Darren McFadden @ Houston
10. Arian Foster vs. Oakland
11. LeGarrette Blount @ San Francisco (bold prediction on our part)

Talking Points
1. Darren McFadden and Arian Foster are primed for a supreme battle in Houston. I'm pumped about the season's first hyped clash of elite tailbacks, pitting two playoff hopefuls from pedestrian passing offenses (Andre Johnson's absence hinders the Texans) and two clubs shamelessly built around the notion of feeding their stars early and often … and milking the clock with defense-deflating drives. Last week against Pittsburgh, Foster had 166 total yards and one score on 33 touches; against New England, McFadden churned for only 123 total yards — his lowest output of 2011 — in a game where the Raiders racked up 504 yards. All this sets the table for a showdown where D-Mac and Foster are both “locks” to eclipse the superstar threshold of
120 total yards and/or two TDs (above).

LeSean McCoyPhiladelphia's LeSean McCoy found little breathing room against the Niners last Sunday.

2. Is the Niners' run defense really this good? The numbers speak volumes: Marshawn Lynch (Week 1: 47 total yards), Felix Jones (Week 2: 40 total yards), LeSean McCoy (Week 3: 52 total yards), Cedric Benson (Week 4: 64 total yards) have all posted season-lows in yardage against San Francisco. However, it's fair to wonder if this quarter-pole dominance is the result of prodigious tacklers like LB Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman announcing their presence on every play, a team defense that's allowing only 18.8 points per game (7th in the NFL) … or the circumstantial assertion the Niners' first four opponents (Seahawks, Cowboys, Bengals, Eagles) had no interest in — or couldn't devote time to — achieving offensive balance against San Fran? It's a little too early to make any definitive judgments here … but the ultimate litmus test may be upon us in Week 5, as San Francisco hosts Tampa Bay in a clash of surprising 3-1 clubs. Sure, the Bucs have QB Josh Freeman (969 passing yards, 5 total TDs in 2011) and pass-catchers Mike Williams/Kellen Winslow, Jr. … but their bread-and-butter lies with RB LeGarrette Blount, who has collected 49 touches and 235 total yards in his last two outings. Game on!

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Larry Fitzgerald @ Minnesota
2. Reggie Wayne vs. Kansas City
3. Jeremy Maclin @ Buffalo
4. Steve Smith vs. New Orleans
5. Calvin Johnson vs. Chicago
6. Vincent Jackson @ Denver
7. Brandon Lloyd vs. San Diego
8. Sidney Rice @ N.Y. Giants
9. A.J. Green @ Jacksonville
10. Roddy White vs. Green Bay
11. Steve Breaston @ Indianapolis (sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Sebastian Janikowski @ Houston
2. Matt Bryant vs. Green Bay
3. Alex Henery @ Buffalo
4. Nick Folk @ New England
5. David Akers vs. Tampa Bay
6. Josh Scobee vs. Cincinnati
7. Neil Rackers vs. Oakland

We Interrupt Today's Philanthropist …
… To report that, as of 9:23 a.m. Thursday, while doing the final proof of this column, I OK'd an out-of-nowhere trade with Yahoo! fantasy guru Scott Pianowski, swapping Marques Colston with Andre Johnson in our experts' PPR league. My record in the Friends & Family League is 3-1 (tied for 1st in a division) … but with the acquisition of Johnson (hamstring injury), I am now one starter short, with nothing but bye guys on the bench. And since they're all worth keeping, it's entirely possible that I'll take a “0” in Colston's displaced starting slot for Week 5. Hmmm … thank god I have 48 hours to chew on this dilemma; more importantly, thank god I'll have Johnson's healthy services sometime around Week 8 or 9.

Target Practice
These wide receivers drew 24 or more targets (8+ per game) from Weeks 2-4:
1. Wes Welker, Patriots — 45 Targets
2. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles — 33 Targets
3. Julio Jones, Falcons — 32 Targets
4. Roddy White, Falcons — 32 Targets
5. Eric Decker, Broncos — 31 Targets
6. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 31
7. Steve Johnson, Bills — 30
8. Steve Smith, Panthers — 30
9. A.J. Green, Bengals — 29
10. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 29
11. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 29
12. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 28
13. Vincent Jackson, Chargers — 27
14. Santana Moss, Redskins — 27
15. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 27
16. Andre Johnson, Texans — 26
17. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 26
18. Greg Jennings, Packers — 25
19. Antonio Brown, Steelers — 24
20. Austin Collie, Colts — 24
21. Donald Jones, Bills — 24
22. David Nelson, Bills — 24
23. Nate Washington, Titans — 24

Inefficiency Experts
And now for the downside of lending too much credence to receiving targets: These seven wideouts posted dreadful targets-to-catch ratios in Week 4:
Jason Hill (Jags) — 2-for-9 (23 percent)
Santonio Holmes (Jets) — 3-for-12 (25 percent)
Pierre Garcon (Colts) — 2-for-8 (25 percent)
Legedu Naanee (Panthers) — 4-for-11 (36 percent)
Danario Alexander (Rams) — 3-for-8 (38 percent)
Plaxico Burress (Jets) — 3-for-8 (38 percent)
Donald Jones (Bills) — 3-for-8 (38 percent)

It's A Little Known Fact …
… That in four career games against the Vikings — his favorite team while growing up in suburban Minneapolis — Larry Fitzgerald (23 catches, 461 yards, 3 TDs; 35 targets in 2011) has racked up 31 catches for 474 yards and one TD … or 7.8 receptions/119 yards per game; and with the sudden emergence of RB Beanie Wells (3 TDs last week), Fitzgerald is a pressure-free bet for 12 targets, one touchdown and maybe 145 receiving yards on Sunday.

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here's my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 5:
QB Michael Vick
RB Michael Turner
RB Darren McFadden
WR Larry Fitzgerald
WR Calvin Johnson
RB/WR Fred Jackson
TE Jimmy Graham
PK Neil Rackers (Texans)
D/ST New York Giants

Questions From The Audience
Matt_Martins: Do you like Felix Jones or Santonio Holmes more for the rest of the year? I have a steak dinner riding on it.

Answer: Are we talking about the ribeye at a local steak joint … or the Surf and Turf platter at a high-end place like Morton's? Because that'll go a long way in my decision. All kidding aside, I'd break it down like this: For standard-scoring leagues, I'd lean toward Felix and the incremental progress he's making as the Cowboys' undisputed RB1; but for PPRs, I'm inclined to believe that Santonio will win out by season's end, barring injury. Which brings me to this: How is that
you have a steak dinner riding on this bet … but you get to set the terms? Doesn't the other guy have any say? You know what, nevermind … I can see we're already going down a pointless road here.

ckow123: Is Devery Henderson a viable flex start in PPR leagues? I've got a potential trade of Brandon Pettigrew/Willis McGahee for Henderson/Fred Davis.

Marques ColstonICONColston is reportedly 100% healthy and ready for Sunday.

Answer: As I boldly — and perhaps, carelessly — predicted last week, Henderson would continue to enjoy success in the Saints passing offense, even with the return of Marques Colston. But that was before Hendo's zero-catch, one-target disappearance against the Jags … setting off a fantasy panic attack like no other. My misguided faith in Henderson notwithstanding, I'd still want Pettigrew (22 catches, 240 yards in 2011) and McGahee (273 total yards, 2 TDs from Weeks 2-4) in a PPR format — especially if Knowshon Moreno has a diminished chance of reclaiming in his once-prominent role in the Broncos offense.

InYourGhoul: Would you trade Mike Wallace for Chris Johnson? Or what about Jeremy Maclin for Ben Tate/McGahee? I have Maclin/Wallace/Wes Welker/Plaxico Burress/Victor Cruz and need a second running back.

Answer: This is interesting. Owner B is willing to sacrifice Chris Johnson — who has a cake schedule after Week 5 — for a shot at landing a top-10 receiver in Wallace (25 catches, 454 yards, 2 TDs); and Owner C is trying to entice you at the top end of McGahee's resale value. Well, in the interest of balance, I'd be willing to accept Johnson … but nix the deal involving Maclin (26 catches, 334 yards, 2 TDs) — but only as a means of extracting better talent than Ben Tate. For the Johnson trade, it wouldn't be a bad thing to make it a 2-for-2 swap, where both owners walk away with a running back and receiver; for the Maclin one, you should never feel pressured to keep a wideout who's making major strides at his position. Wait out this staredown, and you'll be fine.

GimmeDatP55: Help me out, please. I have been offered Darren McFadden/Tony Gonzalez/Mike Williams (Bucs) for Frank Gore/Jermichael Finley/Vincent Jackson. Gore, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Mike Tolbert are my backs. What should I do?

Answer: Here's my dilemma, GimmePat. At the top of today's column, I implore readers to not accept any trades involving McFadden if he isn't the only “star” on their end of the deal; but in your case, you'd probably be getting the better end of this blockbuster with Gore (323 total yards, 2 TDs in 2011), Finley (3 TDs in Week 3) and V-Jax (20 catches, 374 yards, 3 TDs). (Assuming V-Jax's latest malady is harmless.) Obviously, Owner B has a major jones for D-Mac (No. 1-ranked RB in most standard-scoring leagues) and might consider Williams and Gonzo as window-dressing pieces to this swap. How about rejecting this trade informally — via email, not on your official league page — with the intent of submitting a counteroffer for a receiver that's a notch below Williams' talent. The Finley-for-Gonzo switch is definitely doable; the deal-breaker, to me, lies with Williams. Or, you could always make Owner B do an upgrade from Gore … just in case you think his excellent outing against the Eagles' Wide Nine defense was more fluke than trend.

I Cannot Leave Without Showing …
To honor the every-four-years clash of Eagles vs. Bills (thanks to NFL realignment in 2002), I wanted to relive one of the most underrated touchdowns in league history: Randall Cunningham's eyes-in-back-of-his-head move to avoid a sack/safey in the end zone … turned 95-yard TD bomb to WR Fred Barnett! On that day, Cunningham tallied 302 total yards and three TDs — his second-best fantasy outing of the 1990 season.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.

Means to an end

A Beach Bum's Ambivalent Introduction
Greetings from Hilton Head, S.C., birthplace of the first experimental steam cannon (pre-World War I) and prominent home to some of the most picturesque beaches on the East Coast … which should explain why today's Fantasy Philanthropist is shorter than usual.

Titanic Conundrum
We must be living in a parallel universe or Fantasy Bizzarro World. Heading into Week 4, what other rational explanation could justify a healthy and still lightning-fast Chris Johnson trailing Ricky Williams/Danny Woodhead in rushing yards, Cadillac Williams/Ben Tate in rushing attempts, Earnest Graham/Jonathan Stewart in receiving yards, and for the love of Rodney PeeteJohn Kuhn, Kendall Hunter, Isaac Redman and C.J. Spiller in touchdowns? Johnson's surprising lack of seismic production (189 total yards, zero TDs) — against two middling defenses and the Ravens — is enough to drive fantasy owners batty, especially those who desperately need a victory this weekend. It may also be enough for some GMs to explore the previously unconscionable notion of trading Johnson while his value remains reasonably high. Here are four plausible options for handling Johnson's sluggish start:

Chris JohnsonWill Chris Johnson turn it around in 2011?

Option #1: Stand pat … and hope for the best. Assuming he trained like a fiend during the offseason, it stands to reason that CJ2K (great nickname … but one that creates sky-high expectations) will find his groove sooner than later. After all, Johnson is essentially running behind the same O-line that dominated opponents during his explosive 2,509-yard, 16-TD campaign of 2009; and with Matt Hasselbeck (932 yards, 5 TDs) recapturing his passing mojo in Nashville, Johnson will seldom encounter eight defenders in the “box” on first and second downs. Plus, Johnson has the benefit of facing 12 less-than-dominant defenses in the next 14 weeks — starting this Sunday with Cleveland, ranked 29th against the run.

Option #2: Trade Johnson as a 2-for-1 centerpiece. To maximize value here, simply send an email to every owner in your league — leaving no one out of the loop — detailing Johnson's availability on the open market. The quickest, least insulting responses will likely involve Owner B surrendering a Tier II tailback (Matt Forte, Tim Hightower, Ahmad Bradshaw, LeGarrette Blount, etc.) and one low-end Tier I receiver (Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Johnson) for Johnson. By involving every owner in the process, you'll likely avoid the prolonged haggling that comes from dealing with a single owner who simultaneously professes his love for CJ2K … while discrediting him as an all-world back, based on three middling weeks. Simply put, Johnson owners still hold the proverbial hammer in all trade talks.

Option #3: Go get Nate Washington, via trade. Factoring in Kenny Britt's season-ending knee injury and tight end Jared Cook's slower-than-expected rise to fantasy relevance, the Titans offense will surely rest on the shoulders of Hasselbeck, Johnson and Washington (21 catches, 258 yards, 1 TD) this season. And acquiring Washington, for a stealth price, would serve as a de facto insurance policy against any short-term struggles that Johnson might endure.

Option #4: Throw the baby out with the bath water. This scenario typically involves the owner of a 1-2 or 0-3 club who's hell-bent on blowing up their core — as a boom-or-bust means of rolling the dice on a substantial turnaround with someone else's stars; and Johnson serves as a major bargaining chip to the expedited renovation. For keeper leaguers who are in 'contract years' with Johnson … the risk-reward proposition holds intriguing appeal. For owners who are convinced that Johnson won't return to his top-5 standing in 2011 … this might be your last golden parachute!

Week 4: QB Locks For 275 Yards and/or 3 TDs
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Denver
2. Matthew Stafford @ Dallas
3. Drew Brees @ Jacksonville
4. Philip Rivers vs. Miami
5. Ben Roethlisberger @ Houston
6. Matt Ryan @ Seattle
7. Eli Manning @ Arizona

RB Locks For 120 Total Yards and/or 2 TDs
1. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. New Orleans
2. Tim Hightower @ St. Louis
3. Darren McFadden vs. New England
4. LeSean McCoy vs. San Francisco
5. Adrian Peterson @ Kansas City
6. Ray Rice vs. N.Y. Jets
7. Matt Forte vs. Carolina
8. Peyton Hillis vs. Tennessee
9. Ryan Mathews vs. Miami

WR Locks For 110 Yards and/or 1 TD
1. Calvin Johnson @ Dallas
2. Mike Wallace @ Houston
3. Roddy White @ Seattle
4. Wes Welker @ Oakland
5. Greg Jennings vs. Denver
6. Dez Bryant vs. Detroit
7. Hakeem Nicks @ Arizona
8. Dwayne Bowe vs. Minnesota
9. Andre Johnson vs. Pittsburgh
10. Larry Fitzgerald vs. N.Y. Giants
11. Donald Jones @ Cincinnati (super-sleeper pick)

Kicker Locks For 3-Plus Field Goals
1. Sebastian Janikowski vs. New England
2. Rob Bironas @ Cleveland
3. Mike Nugent vs. Buffalo
4. Mason Crosby vs. Denver
5. Jason Hanson @ Dallas
6. Neil Rackers vs. Pittsburgh
7. Dan Bailey vs. Detroit

Talking Points
1. Arian Foster is slated to get the Week 4 start for Houston. Here's how it breaks down in 12-team leagues: Whenever Foster is healthy enough to play for the Texans, fantasy owners are essentially obligated to start him — no matter the opponent — out of fear of missing a breakout on the level of last year's all-world production (2,220 total yards, 18 TDs). For Ben Tate owners, they should feel emboldened to start him at the flex spot in 12-team leagues … on the two-part assumption that 1) Tate (341 total yards, 1 TD) is a cinch for 17-plus touches in a healthy time share with Foster or 2) Foster shall remain a weekly 50-50 bet to re-aggravate his hamstring injury, in the absence of significant rest.

Anquan BoldinBoldin is looking at a big Week 4 matchup vs. Darrelle Revis and the Jets.

2. Anquan Boldin ranks 9th in receiving targets … but 25th in receptions. How can Boldin only have 14 catches on 28 targets with Joe Flacco (62-percent passer from 2008-10) as his quarterback? Something doesn't add up here. It's not like opposing defenses can afford to ignore RB Ray Rice as a rushing/receiving maestro or disavow any knowledge of athletic young stars like Torrey Smith (152 yards, 3 TDs in Week 3) and TE Ed Dickson; and yet, that strangely seems to be the case with Baltimore's sneaky-good offense. So many mixed messages … and not enough time to justify how Boldin drew 14 targets in a 30-point road rout of the Rams.

3. Adrian Peterson got plenty of national run this week for collecting only five second-half carries in Minnesota's meltdown loss to Detroit. If I was a gambling guru, I would happily bet the farm on Peterson (342 total yards, 3 TDs in 2011) garnering 26 or more touches for Vikings-Chiefs — regardless of the score and irrelevant to whatever pre-huddle plays are coming in from the sidelines. Amazingly, 0-3 Minnesota has blown three straight double-digit leads in the second half, while feeding Peterson the rock just 18.2 times per game (including passes). But we all know that things will change on Sunday … if for no other reason than the Vikes should never call on QB Donovan McNabb and WR Michael Jenkins to save the day for road games.

Target Practice
Here's a list of PPR-friendly tailbacks with at least 12 seasonal targets (4 per game):
1. Matt Forte, Bears — 28 Targets
2. Darren Sproles, Saints — 28 Targets
3. Mike Tolbert, Chargers — 23
4. Earnest Graham, Buccaneers — 22 Targets
5. Jahvid Best, Lions — 20 Targets
6. Ray Rice, Ravens — 20
7. Chris Johnson, Titans — 19
8. Ryan Mathews, Chargers — 18
9. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs — 16
10. Cadillac Williams, Rams — 16
11. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers — 15
12. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets — 15
13. Willis McGahee, Broncos — 14
14. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants– 12
15. Reggie Bush</strong>, Dolphins — 12
16. Peyton Hillis, Browns — 12
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders — 12
18. Jason Snelling, Falcons — 12

When Cedric Benson's Suspension Kicks In …
In the two career games where Bengals RB Bernard Scott garnered at least 18 touches … the 27-year-old from Abilene Christian averages 119 total yards per outing.

The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection
Here's my idea of a perfect fantasy lineup for Week 4:
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
RB Matt Forte
WR Greg Jennings
WR Roddy White
RB/WR Darren McFadden
TE Rob Gronkowski
PK Mason Crosby (Packers)
D/ST Baltimore Ravens

Talking Points, Part II
1. Matthew Stafford finally gets his homecoming game in Big D. Perhaps you've heard that Stafford and Bobby Layne — the Hall of Fame quarterback who allegedly put a 50-year championship hex on Detroit after getting traded in the late 1950s — attended the same high school in suburban Dallas? (Didn't Beavis & Butt-Head go to Highland High, too?) And perhaps you've read the occasional blurb about how the 3-0 Lions are Super Bowl contenders, as long as Stafford (977 passing yards, 9 TDs) stays upright for the full season? Well, consider Sunday's Lions-Cowboys clash a statement game for Stafford, who wants to be included among the NFL's elite quarterbacks and likely dreams of torching his hometown team.

Antonio GatesICONGates has been hobbled by more foot pain.

2. Antonio Gates doubts he'll play in Week 4. It's very difficult (and somewhat disingenuous) to spin positive news from the headline of “Star Player Visits Another Foot Specialist” … so I won't even pretend that Gates is merely doing his due diligence with the latest round of exploratory discussions with medical experts. When healthy, Gates (7,079 career yards, 69 TDs) is a Hall of Fame-bound tight end at the top of his class; but when saddled with a significant injury that may have been a direct consequence of turf toe, it's hard to envision how Gates will start — and dominate — in at least 10 games this season. Bottom line: At this stage, Gates has little high-end trade value … and Randy McMichael — Gates' understudy in San Diego — is nothing more than a roster-worthy, yet eminently replaceable asset in 12-team leagues. Basically, Gates owners are in fantasy limbo … with little chance of an immediate resolution.

3. Donnie Avery has a chance to fill Kenny Britt's very-large shoes in Tennessee. Call me crazy, but the ex-Rams burner has the athleticism, hands and route-running acumen to be a productive NFL receiver; and I am shocked that St. Louis dropped him back in August, minus a reasonable explanation for doing so (sorry, Austin Pettis and/or Greg Salas don't count). But the Rams' loss is the Titans' gain … especially since the club is painfully thin at receiver (after Nate Washington) and may need to offer Avery a battlefield promotion — sooner than later. For 16-team leagues, Avery could become a sneaky-good WR5 as soon as he gets up to snuff with Matt Hasselbeck's delivery … and as soon as Hass adjusts to Avery's blazing speed.

The Hands That Built America
Here's my top-40 listing of wide receivers in standard-scoring leagues … from this point forward:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions (on pace for 32 receiving TDs — HA!)
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
3. Roddy White, Falcons
4. Mike Wallace, Steelers (an unstoppable force in a versatile offense)
5. Greg Jennings, Packers
6. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
7. Wes Welker, Patriots
8. Miles Austin, Cowboys
9. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
10. Steve Johnson, Bills
11. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (his targets from Weeks 1-3 are the same as last year)
12. Reggie Wayne, Colts
13. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
14. Steve Smith, Panthers
15. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
16. Nate Washingto
n
, Titans
17. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
18. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (primed for the challenge of carrying the Chiefs)
19. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
20. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
21. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
22. Devery Henderson, Saints
23. Sidney Rice, Seahawks (could move into top-20 with another big game against Atlanta)
24. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
25. Santonio Holmes, Jets
26. Santana Moss, Redskins
27. A.J. Green, Bengals (could rack up 100 yards and 10 targets against the Bills)
28. Lance Moore, Saints
29. David Nelson, Bills
30. Julio Jones, Falcons
31. Denarius Moore, Raiders
32. Eric Decker, Broncos (in the realm of gauging Decker's progression level … targets don't lie)
33. Marques Colston, Saints
34. Deion Branch, Patriots
35. Mike Thomas, Jaguars (the NFL's Hail Mary King)
36. Percy Harvin, Vikings
37. Torrey Smith, Ravens
38. Robert Meachem, Saints
39. Plaxico Burress, Jets
40. Antonio Brown, Steelers (major breakout forthcoming)

Questions From The Audience
LouPros: Which two receivers would you pick for Week 4 — Anquan Boldin, Denarius Moore, Brandon Lloyd, Mike Thomas or Tampa Bay's Mike Williams?

Answer: Boldin probably deserves more respect for this question, since he burned the Jets for seven catches in 110 yards in Week 1 of last year AND drew 14 targets last week against the Rams; but for standard-scoring leagues, I have the greatest confidence in Lloyd (@ Green Bay) and the rookie Moore (vs. New England). In Lloyd's case, I love his chances against the Packers' surprisingly vulnerable pass defense AND capacity for garbage-time fantasy goodness. On the latter hunch, as his team's best playmaking receiver (not counting Darren McFadden), Moore (9 catches, 180 yards, 2 total TDs) must be a fixture in the game plan IF the Raiders are going to score 25-plus points and flirt with an upset victory over the Patriots.

Nick_Agr5: Would you rather have Nate Washington or Marques Colston for the rest of the year?

Answer: I cannot answer this question right now. For starters, I am stunned that Colston (6 catches, 81 yards in Week 1) has returned so quickly from a broken collarbone, so much that I didn't expect him back earlier than Week 9; and Washington (21 catches, 258 yards, 1 TD in 2011) is well on his way to a breakout campaign — thanks to his uncanny chemistry with Matt Hasselbeck. With a proverbial gun to the head … I'd lean toward Washington — on the hopes that Colston will be easy trade bait before mid-October.

JefferyKnows: Convince me why Steelers WR Antonio Brown should start over Chicago's Johnny Knox in my 12-team league.

Answer: For the record, I never suggested to the masses that Brown (10 catches, 128 yards) be a starting consideration in 12- or 14-team leagues; I merely encouraged — or begged — fantasy owners to roster him from the get-go … while remaining patient about Brown's impending breakout as the Steelers' WR2. His off-the-charts athleticism is simply too good to ignore, especially when Brown (23 targets) has more catches and targets than Knox (9 catches, 189 yards). One last thing: As an NFL wideout, I'd pin my hopes to Ben Roethlisberger (942 passing yards, 3 TDs in 2011) over Jay Cutler.

FlynKn33K: I play in a 2-QB league. Which two should I start in Week 4 — Philip Rivers, Rex Grossman, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning?

Answer: Let's handle this in two stages: Step 1 — You NEVER bench Philip Rivers, especially after a poor outing. Step 2 — When deciding between “locks” for 275 yards and/or three TDs in Week 4 (Ryan and Manning) … opt for the guy (Eli) playing in a climate-controlled environment (Arizona's solar dome) and who's facing the same team (Cardinals) that surrendered 422 passing yards to Cam Newton — in his NFL debut.

An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday and Thursday during the regular season. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter.