FFToolbox Blog: Ben's Brain : NFL Football

Monday Morning Observations From the Press Box

Those Sunday night games can make for a late night for any east coaster, especially if you are working said game and do not leave the stadium parking lot until 3am. Now that I am home from the Cowboys-Redskins tilt and have sufficiently downed enough coffee to get the neurons firing, here are my observations - fantasy and otherwise - from the SNF clash and the rest of the NFL


1) The Cowboys plan of screens and passes to the flat over runs – especially when the ground game was working – and deep middle passes - when the Redskins were using their backup free safety who can't cover – made no sense. Jason Garrett's stock continues to plummet from his once lofty perch of Cowboys head coach in waiting.
2) It wasn't just that Dez Bryant was targeted a team-high 12 times, but the Cowboys clearly game planned to get him the ball.
3) Injury is the only thing that will hold Miles Austin back from another monster year. Or unless he uses all his energy trying to keep up with the Kardashian's.
4) The Cowboys offensive line is in such shambles that they can't even bench – or cut - Alex Barron – after three holding calls, including the crushing one that negated the winning score on the final play.
5) Plenty of folks already looooove rooting against Dallas and if possible that intensity grew stronger when the TV cameras showed Ohio native and now Miami resident LeBron James in the house rooting on his favorite team.
6) The preseason talk about Marion Barber looking refreshed entering the season were accurate.
7) The preseason concerns that Barber nor Felix Jones would receive enough touches to be a weekly fantasy starter were not removed and perhaps ratcheted up since neither had more than 11 in a game where the Cowboys dominated time of possession.
8) Dallas entered the season as a sexy pick by some to reach the Super Bowl and they were a 3-point road favorite Sunday night. Even though said game was against a hated division rival and thus you can, as they say, throw out the record books when these teams play, it did represent the Cowboys best chance for a road win for a while. Their next road game is at the Texans in week 3, followed by games at the Vikings, Packers, Giants and the Colts. Dallas will likely not be favored on the road again until Week 16 when they travel west to face the Cardinals.


1) Chris Cooley and Santana Moss each had six grabs, the rest of the team had three total. It will be that way most weeks.
2) DeMarcus Ware got the best of Skins LT Trent Williams on some plays, but it wasn't all bad for the rook, not at all.
3) Clinton Portis' ability to pass block makes him invaluable, or at least Shanahan thinks so, which is all that matters.
4) The winning ugly performance by Donovan McNabb, who alternated laser mid-range throws with low or bounce passes, only enhanced his reputation as the best worst quarterback in the game, maybe ever
5) Devin Thomas looks to be joining the Redskins long list of WR busts, but like Desmond Howard, he is finding his niche as a kick returner
6) The final holding call was accurate, but it also shows that Brian Orakpo's reputation as a premier pass rusher is such that he gets that call.
7) Whether you want to give all the credit to new coach Mike Shanahan or not – and granted the rug was almost pulled out from under them at the buzzer – the Redskins would have lost this game under the previous regime.
8) Say what you want about Albert Haynesworth's attitude, but it continues to make no sense for the Redskins to play him at nose where clearly is not comfortable. Here is the truth that nobody is willing to say; Mike Shanahan is building this team for a 2-3 year (before he flips the keys to his son Kyle). The reason he has not cut Haynesworth is not because of the money. It is because Shanahan's best chance at winning is with 92 on the field and because he knows this to be true, he is embarrassing and taking it out on the big man whenever he can.


1) No breakout fantasy free agent running backs this week - unless you are in a truly shallow league and Darren McFadden is available - but Packers backup Brandon Jackson is the number one waiver wire pick up this week. Starter Ryan Grant suffered an ankle sprain and has already been ruled out for week two against the Bills, who ranked dead last against the run last season. Jackson has RB2 appeal.
2) No team is as pass-heavy as the Eagles and they might even be more so now that they lost FB Leonard Weaver (knee) and C Jamaal Jackson (triceps) for the season. Those losses will hurt the Eagles pass protection, but will crush their ability to run inside, not to mention around the goal line. All of that could mean that using a mobile QB, say Michael Vick, is their best bet going forward. Big decision for Andy Reid right off the bat, one I think sooner or later ends with Vick under center at the start of games, not just as a change of pace.
3) Arian Foster was the fantasy headliner as the Texans RB went over 200 yards and scored three times against the Colts. In between patting themselves on the back for drafting him, fantasy owners should give a shout out to the group that really made Foster shine, the Texans much improved offensive line. Somewhere David Carr is manically laughing at that thought.
4) The Hakeem Nicks breakout season has begun. Obviously three touchdowns a week won't be the norm, but the talented receiver making big plays each week will be
5) San Fran, let's call that your mulligan. As I queried during the preseason, how can receivers Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree be so highly thought of and yet everyone questions the play of their QB Alex Smith.
6) Considering his combination of production and explosiveness, Chris Johnson might be the most fun fantasy player to own of all-time. Still, didn't his 142 rushing yards and two-TD performance seem rather casual. I mean, who outside of Tennessee is even talking about him today? Maybe the most ho-hum major statistical game ever, especially for week one. Wow is his bar set high.
7) At some point doesn't someone need to remind Brad Childress that he has Adrian Peterson on his roster and he needs to make All Day the focal point of the offense. Let Brett Favre pout if need be, but especially without Sidney Rice, that offense needs to run through Peterson, literally and figuratively.
8) Kudos to Pittsburgh for getting a win over an improved Atlanta squad and doing so without Ben Roethlisberger. However they will now need to play without another starters as LT Max Starks (high anke spain) is out for a month. As for the Falcons, I am still waiting to see with my own eyes this great quarterback named Matt Ryan I keep hearing about. Not saying he can't play, but NFL MVP, really?

NFL Picks: Week 1

Who will win, step up and get beat down in Week One of the NFL season...

Fantasy might be what revs up my football passion each and every year - it used to be the Washington Redskins, but if you have lived through the Dan Snyder era like I have, you know that is not so easy anymore - but I loooove making picks!

So while the straight up calls, all the way through the Super Bowl (though I had the Colts), were rather solid (177-97), the actual picks against the spread were literally middle of the road (135-134-5). However, where I once again rose to the occasion was with my "Survivor" pool picks. For the second straight season, I made it all the way to the end with one of my entries (I typically enter two) still in tact. That's right, two straight seasons navigating each and every NFL week and coming out on the other side with a correct call 17 straight times. Of course this means I will get punted by Week 3 in the most painful of ways; Peyton Manning gets knocked out of a game, Randy Moss stops shy of end zone for a game-winning score as a protest to not getting a new deal or the Rams actually win a game in a week I pick their opponent, something they failed to do five times last season.

As a reminder, email any questions, be it about lineup fantasy decisions, trades, strategy or free agents, to podcast@fftoolbox.com and I will respond before the start of Sunday's action. Also do not forget to check out the weekly FFToolbox.com podcast - hosted by yours truly - every Tuesday or anytime via ITunes.

As always, these fantasy musings do not reflect the opinion of FFToolbox.com, but just a solo fantasy writer with too much time on his hands now that he is all caught up on "Entourage". Could not be happier that the show FINALLY figured how to make Vincent Chase interesting. Have him date a porn star! Genius...and of course, the picks are for informational purposes only...

Home Team in CAPS

NEW ORLEANS 27 (-5.5) Minnesota 20 (Thursday): If this NFC Championship rematch was in another week, I might have backed the dog, especially one that is as talented as the Vikings. But I want to see what this offense - and specifically Brett Favre - looks like without Sidney Rice. Plus, defending Super Bowl champions typically win the home opener and I expect the Saints fans - plus that Drew Brees fella - to provide the extra emotional lift.

NY GIANTS 24 Carolina 20 (+6.5): The Panthers throttled the Giants in New York's home finale at the old Meadowlands last season and are back for the regular season debut of the new joint. Expect Tom Coughlin to have his crew off to a good start after a brutal end last season and the Giants pull out the battle of the ground games...Fantasy Angle - I've been out in front of the Ahmad Bradshaw hype, talking about him and putting my money where my mouth is when possible. Against a Panthers defense that was much better against the pass than run, feel comfortable starting Bradshaw as a flex or low-end RB2.

Miami 23 (-3) BUFFALO 13: Since I see the Detroit Lions moving from perennial cellar dweller to borderline .500 team, someone needs to fill the void at the bottom. Enter the Bills, who have the deadly combination of hideous offensive line, inability to stop the run and a QB who does not look like the long-term solution. Miami on the other hand is the most underrated team in the powerful AFC East and they take their first step towards making it back to the postseason, especially now that Chad Henne is ready to breakout...Fantasy Angle - Big day for the Dolphins backfield as the duo of Ronnie Brown (RB2) and Ricky Williams (flex) combine for 250 total yards and two touchdowns against a sorry Bills front seven.

PITTSBURGH 17 (+2) Atlanta 14: If Byron Leftwich were taking snaps for the Steelers this week, I would likely lean towards the Falcons, but I saw enough spark in Dennis Dixon during his one start last season for me think he gets the job done. More importantly, the Steelers defense is once again fully loaded now that Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith are back from injury...Fantasy Angle - Michael Turner was drafted ahead of Rashard Mendenhall much, much more often than not, but the Steelers runner will be the better fantasy play in this one.

Detroit 26 (+7) CHICAGO 20: The most impactful newcomer in the NFC North this season will be the Lions powerful rookie DT Ndamukong Suh. The presence of the former Nebraska star - along with ex-Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch - will over the course of the season turn the Lions laughable defense into a formidable unit. In the opener, they show glimpses of that future by harrasing Jay Cutler into enough mistakes (shocker) to pull off the road win...Fantasy Focus - Of course, Suh will not even be the most exciting rookie on his own team, not with the electrifying Jahvid Best around. The rookie scat back explodes for one long score and racks up 130+ yards in his NFL debut.

NEW ENGLAND 20 Cincinnati 17 (+4.5): I want to see Carson Palmer be aggressive - and successful - down the field before I am ready to buy into the Bengals re-tuned passing attack. Still, their defense will look better than the one that wore down as last season went along, enough so to keep the game tight before Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski boots the game-winner at the gun...Fantasy Angle - Despite the fact that Wes Welker is not terribly far removed from injuring his ACL and MCL at the end of last season, he is expected to start the season for the Pats. Fantasy owners have bought in, drafting the slot receiver in the 4/5 round range, but the PPR dynamo himself is saying that he feels a "long way off". If you have him already, no need to panic. However, if I had comparable options, I would let him sit this week, especially against a strong Bengals secondary.

TAMPA BAY 21 Cleveland 20 (+3.5): All I can is that at least the opening game hoopla will add some sizzle to what is otherwise a battle of NFL bottom feeders. The home team gets it done, but the Browns cover the line, something they did seven straight weeks to close out 2009. Jerome Harrison is the top fantasy play as he hits triple digits on the ground... Fantasy Angle - of all the young starting QB options, Josh Freeman might be the most overlooked by fantasy owners. We all know Kellen Winslow is top-10 fantasy TE and nearly everyone is ready to buy into rookie wide out Mike Williams breaking out, but they also ignore the strong armed passer throwing them the ball. No, we are not talking fantasy star this year, but Freeman will start showing enough scoring potential to warrant QB2 consideration in short order...

JACKSONVILLE 23 (-3) Denver 17: What symmetry, having Tim Tebow play his NFL game back in the area where he became a star. Look for the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner to get in for a few plays, but even Tebow's magic will not be enough to save the Broncos in this one or from enduring a losing season...Fantasy Angle - it will be the starting QB on the other side that makes the difference. With the Broncos unable to mount a pass rush, Jaguars QB David Garrard will have time to find the diminutive speedster Mike Thomas for a couple of big plays. Both are risky to start this week and Garrard's limited scoring potential makes him little more than a QB2, but Thomas will start becoming a viable WR3 threat by the quarter pole of the season.

HOUSTON 28 (+2) Indianapolis 24: The young kid finally stands up to the school yard bully. If this is going to be the year the Texans finally make the playoffs, they need to beat their division tormentor. Behind the passing of Matt Schaub, they will and they do...Fantasy Angle - once Bob Sanders is done with him, owners might be wondering if they overdrafted Arian Foster this season. The answer - assuming he was not selected in the top-30 or so - is no, but the Colts safety will keep the Texans main runner in check.

TENNESSEE 20 (-6.5) Oakland 12: The Raiders are my sleeper pick to win the AFC West and they will stay tight with the Titans for a while, but as Dan Patrick would say, you can't stop Chris Johnson, you can only hope to contain him...Fantasy Angle - Assuming Titans coach Jeff Fisher sticks to his guns about limiting or sitting talented but unfocused receiver Kenny Britt, look for Nate Washington to receive the bulk of Vince Young's targets, making him a WR3 option this week.

Green Bay 31 (-3) PHILADELPHIA 24: At the start of the preseason, I was believing enough of the Kevin Kolb hype to take the Eagles in this game of potential NFC contenders. Now, well, let's just say I am of the opinion that Kolb will not show Pro Bowl from minute one, though he and the Eagles offense will soar at times. On the other sideline, Aaron Rodgers will be making the first start of his MVP season...Fantasy Angle - Other than Rodgers, there will be no bigger star for the Packers than TE Jermichael Finley, who burns an Eagles defense that typically struggles to cover the tight end position for not one but two touchdowns in what will be one of many dominating performances this season.

San Francisco 26 (-3) SEATTLE 17: The Niners are the class of the NFC West and come up large on the road with more Frank Gore than Michael Crabtree. The Seahawks should start prepping to take University of Washington QB Jake Locker with what is sure to be a very high 2011 pick...Fantasy Angle - Six games this year the Niners defense will face Sam Bradford, Derek Anderson and an aging Matt Hasselbeck. You will likely start the Patrick Willis led unit in all those games and this one is no exception.

ST. LOUIS 20 (+4) Arizona 17: No Kurt Warner. No Anquan Boldin. Maybe no Beanie Wells. All of that equals no win against what is sure to be a fired up Rams squad coming off an NFL-worst 1-15 season. Steven Jackson rushes for over 100 yards and Sam Bradford is good enough in his NFL debut...Fantasy Angle - if Wells is limited or the bad vibes about his knee continue to swirl and force him to the sideline, look for Touchdown Tim Hightower to post RB2 numbers against a Rams defense that allowed 24 rushing scores last season, which tied them with the Raiders for the most in the league.

WASHINGTON 14 (+3.5) Dallas 13: The Donovan McNabb/Mike Shanahan era in Washington begins with a win, in large part due to a defense that held a potent Cowboys offense to 24 points in two games last season. Dallas still managed to win both of those games and they had their with McNabb last season when he was still slinging it for the Eagles, but the veteran QB - with some major defensive help - knocks off the NFC East favorite. Fantasy Angle - Redskins OLB Andre Carter has struggled in previous stints when he played outside in a 3-4 scheme. FS Kareem Moore (knee) will miss the opener, plus others. All of that means Cowboys TE Jason Witten and RB Felix Jones should have plenty of opportunities to shine if their coaching staff gets their weapons into opportunistic scenarios.

Baltimore 17 (+2.5) NY JETS 14: The J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets will drop the first game in their new digs to a Ravens squad that has surely being gearing up for this defensive. Joe Flacco looks sharp in his opener, even against the Jets dynamic defense, while Ray Lewis toys with Mark Sanchez, helping to force the Jets QB into throwing two interceptions... Fantasy Angle - Will the Ravens target Darelle Revis? Reputation aside, yes. The guy missed the entire preseason and the level of his playing shape has to be determined. Still, tread lightly on starting Anquan Boldin, though you should only sit him if the potential statistics for your other options are within close proximity to the former Cards star receiver.

KANSAS CITY 27 (+4) San Diego 24: The Chiefs are still a year or two away from competing in the AFC, but they will show vast improvement over the previous year in their home opener while the Chargers once again come out of the gates slowly...Fantasy Angle - Dwayne Bowe kicks it off with a 5-93-1 line. Solid.

Survivor Picks: These are my personal picks each week for my various (cough, cough) pools

***The only rule that I follow almost religiously involves taking home teams. Most of the upsets occur when the favorite goes on the road, so other than in scenarios where I have no other options or say the Colts are at the Rams, I am taking home favs.

Week 1 - Tennessee, NY Giants. The Titans got off to brutal start last season and it cost them a playoff berth, but they get it done against the Raiders. The Giants are actually the highest spread on the board and while that is odd, I'll roll the dice with them against the one-dimensional Panthers.

Recapping the offseason and a fantasy look ahead, AFC West

With the completion of the NFL Draft and the main portion of free agency in the books, it is time to start review the moves made and start looking ahead to the regular and fantasy seasons. Today I turn to the AFC West, looking at the best draft related move teams made, holes remaining, fantasy sleepers, players that have had a change in value and what is the top question for fantasy owners to ponder with training camp still about two months away. Catch previous posts on the NFC East and stay tuned for the NFC North...

Denver Broncos

Best Use of Draft Pick - Eric Decker:
Unlike his fellow rookie receiver Demaryius Thomas, who still needs to learn how to run NFL quality routes, Decker enters the NFL as a near fully formed receiver. Even though he was often a one-man-gang with the Golden Gophers, Decker has shown the ability to produce (in 2008 he went hauled in 84 passes, scored seven touchdowns and went for over 1,000 yards) and make both the easy and tough catches. To illustrate that last point, here is a great stat from CBSSports.com: Minnesota quarterbacks have targeted Decker for 354 passes during his career and he dropped just three in 45 games (0.085%). In other words, Braylon Edwards he is not. The 6-3 Decker slid in the draft due to a foot injury that cost him time last season and that - plus the normal rookie receiver curve - limits his 2010 fantasy value. Once healthy, he could easily become the Broncos leader in receptions for years to come.

Still in search of - Stability:
From the firing of their Super Bowl winning coach to trading away their two most productive, albeit disgruntled offensive stars, it is almost amazing the Broncos have not completely hit rock bottom over the past 12-18 months. The way the Broncos need to look at the situation is what one of my favorite characters on "Lost" says; whatever happened, happened. The Tim Tebow pick had as much to do with the notion of adding a player that won't rock the boat as much as anything. Almost regardless of record, this season will be a success if the Broncos can simply avoid another confrontational type offseason and use that to build upon going forward.

Fantasy Sleeper - Jabar Gaffney:
So Marshall is gone, now what. Eddie Royal is coming off a brutal season and while he would benefit by moving to the slot, the Broncos have yet to say if this will happen. Brandon Stokely is nothing more than solid depth and the two rookies will likely have at least some level of adjustment. That leaves the Gaffney as the Orton's likely top outside target to start the season. While the nine-year vet has never been anything close to a fantasy star, he did catch at least three passes in 10 games last season, including hauling in 14 receptions for 213 yards in the final game when Marshall was suspended. Gaffney also has a shot to get off to a quick start as the Broncos play porous secondaries (Jags, Seahawks) to start the season and will likely need to throw plenty against the Colts the following week.

Focusing on the fantasy value of - Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn:
In this context, we are talking about keeper value. For any rookie QB, I think the wise course of action is to sit them on the sideline for at least one full season and the case of Tebow, who has much in the way of adjustments to make, that should be the case regardless. I'm with those that question his style in a pro offense, but at some point the Broncos are going to give him a shot. Considering it is in his football DNA to be a runner, I think it's reasonable to assume that he could augment potential so-so passing stats with yards and scores on the ground so in deep dynasty leagues, I might roll the dice if roster space permits (though Jimmy Clausen is in the best situation of the rookie QBs). For Quinn, it is hard to judge because odds are his next legit chance at a starting gig comes on another team as Kyle Orton is the starter and Tebow the long term hope. While I was not a fan of the former Notre Dame star coming out of college, he has still only played in a grand total of 14 games in three seasons and I expect some team (Buffalo? Washington) to make a play for him, maybe as soon as this season.

Biggest Fantasy Question - Without their top playmaker, will Denver be a viable fantasy offense?
Two seasons ago the Broncos had a prolific offense directed by the offensive "genius" Mike Shanahan and staring two up-and-coming young stars in Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Now that Marshall has followed the other two out the door - and do not forget TE Tony Scheffler was also traded - they have the unproven Josh McDaniels, the ordinary Kyle Orton and nothing resembling a Pro Bowl receiver at this moment. One piece they do have to build around is Knowshon Moreno, who had a solid all-around rookie campaign and the Broncos drafted two offensive lineman to help him improve upon his 3.8 ypc average. If Moreno can become the focal point, then Broncos will not need to rely heavily on Orton, which is a good thing as he is a more is less kind of passer. There is enough here to project their offense being fantasy competent most weeks and Moreno has a shot to be a Top-20 player at his position, but there are unlikely any other weekly fantasy stars here unless Royal finds his 2008 mojo.


More Entries