MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Thus far these twoteams have combined to go 5--0 by rolling over inferior opponents. So whathappens when one of the game's best running backs collides with the league'stoughest run defense? Something's got to give.
LADAINIAN TOMLINSONRB CHARGERS
Tomlinson's noslouch against tough run stoppers. Last year he ran for more yards against top15 rushing defenses (100.4 yards per game, with four multiple-TD games) than hedid against bottom-tier units (79.7). This is the first time QB Philip Riverswill face a premier pass rush, so more dump-off receptions could also be comingLT's way. (He already has 10.)
RAY LEWIS AND THERAVENS' DEFENSE
Since ranking ninthin run defense last season Baltimore has added a blue-chip tackle (HalotiNgata), a four-time Pro Bowl end (Trevor Pryce) and a former Defensive Playerof the Year (Lewis, back from injury). The results through three games: 20points and an average of 197 total yards allowed--and no foe has run for morethan 38 yards.
THE VERDICTBaltimore bars the door. Tomlinson won't get free to grind out 100 yards. Butwith Antonio Gates blanketed by Ed Reed, LT will be a popular target. Expectsix or seven catches--but nothing long. (The Bucs threw to Cadillac Williamsfive times in Week 1, and Lewis held him to five yards a catch.)
THE INSIDE MAN
Let Them Pass!
O.K., it's nolonger the Greatest Show on Turf, but Torry Holt and the Rams can stilldeliver
OWNERS OF Rams widereceiver Torry Holt had their patience rewarded in Week 3--to the tune of 120yards and a touchdown--but don't expect those huge games every week. Under newcoach Scott Linehan, St. Louis's balanced offense will make Holt lessproductive than he was in the wide-open attack of Mike Martz, the Rams' coachfor the last six years. After averaging 1,450 receiving yards and eighttouchdowns from 2000 through '05, Holt had produced only 110 yards and onescore in his first two games.
Martz's offensefavored deep routes and aggressive throws. Under Linehan, quarterback MarcBulger is being asked to throw the ball away or check off to a running backwhen pass coverage is too tight. The adjustment so rattled Bulger that hemissed an open Holt on two deep passes in a 20--13 loss to the 49ers in Week2.
The good news forHolt owners is that the Rams will pick their spots to be aggressive as the yeargoes on. After all, Linehan did run a prolific offense in Minnesota from 2002to '04, and he also helped the Dolphins' Chris Chambers develop into a Pro Bowlreceiver last year. But the days of the Greatest Show on Turf are over.
THE JOY OF REX Forall those owners who are excited about the fast start of Bears quarterback RexGrossman--and the 41 passes he threw against the Vikings in Week 3--here's someadvice: Don't look for Chicago to keep throwing the ball like the Colts. Thisis still a run-first team; in fact, even with Grossman's pass-happy performanceon Sunday, the Bears have run the ball 91 times and thrown it 96 times throughthree games. Expect that balance to tip back toward the run over the rest ofthe season.
COMFORT FACTOR SanFrancisco WR Antonio Bryant probably lasted until late in most drafts, but hecould be a more productive receiver in the offense of new coordinator NorvTurner than a lot of owners thought. Bryant and quarterback Alex Smith havedeveloped a strong chemistry that's evident in Bryant's stats (281 receivingyards through three games). Smith also says he's not concerned about Bryant'sreputation as a me-first player. Smith says that Bryant is like allreceivers--he just wants the ball. And Smith has improved enough to get it tohim. So the 100-yard receiving games should keep coming.
PLUG IN SUGGS Ifyou're combing the waiver wire for help at running back, consider the Dolphins'Lee Suggs. Miami claimed the former Brown off waivers earlier this month, andhe could steal a backup job from Sammy Morris, who started the season on afour-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Dolphinscoach Nick Saban likes a two-back system and is not committed to giving starterRonnie Brown the lion's share of the workload. Even though Suggs isn't yetcomfortable with Miami's offense, he's still getting some carries (five in hislast two games). He'll get more if Brown wears down or gets injured.
...you have tooutthink your league when your stars have a bye
Let's say MattHasselbeck is your quarterback and Warrick Dunn's your top running back. TheSeahawks and the Falcons have Week 5 byes. How can you stay competitive againsta tough team that has no players sitting out that week?
I use Week 5 as anexample because you've got to start planning for your bye problems a weekahead. So you're watching Chargers-Ravens in Week 4. In the second quarterJamal Lewis limps off (an annual event, sometimes a monthly one), and MusaSmith comes off the bench. He goes for nine yards on his first two carries. Youlook at your league's rosters; Smith is available. You search for "MusaSmith Brian Billick" online, and you find two or three recent items withstrong praise from Billick about Smith. Lewis doesn't come back for the rest ofthe half, and after the game you hear he's getting an MRI on his knee. You lookat the Week 5 schedule: The Ravens visit the Broncos, who are 19th in theleague in rushing defense. This is a no-brainer. Claim Smith as soon as youcan.
Now for yourquarterback fill-in. Your choices are J.P. Losman (Bills), Andrew Walter(Raiders) and Damon Huard (Chiefs). Less than ideal, to say the least. Losmanplays well against the Vikings, and he seems to be gaining confidence. Walterstumbles around behind a bad line against the Browns. Huard looks the best,throwing for 230 yards and a score against the 49ers.
The choice? Walter.He's got San Francisco in Week 5--the Niners' D hasn't exactly been stingy whenit comes to the air--while the Bills are at Chicago and the Chiefs at Arizona.You'd take Huard if you knew he'd play, but there are rumors that Trent Greenwill be back from his concussion.
So it's Musa Smithand Andrew Walter starting for you in Week 5. Not great, but successful fantasyowners have to know how to improvise.
Maurice Jones-DrewRB JAGUARS Rookie from UCLA torched the Colts for 135 total yards and a TD--andthere'll be more to come.
Jon Kitna QB LIONSHe's finally on the same page with soon-to-be superstar Roy Williams.
Roscoe Parrish WRBILLS Slippery and fast, he's emerging as a threat to go all the way on everytouch.
Alex Smith QB 49ERSHe has passed for at least 200 yards and a touchdown in all three games, withno interceptions.
Greg Jennings WRPACKERS Not only should he be on your team, but he's also getting close toweekly must-start status.
Daunte Culpepper QBDOLPHINS The Titans finally found a QB they could contain, which is a bad omenfor Culpepper owners.
Brandon Lloyd WRREDSKINS Plenty of wideouts on your waiver wire average more than Lloyd's onecatch per game.
Josh Scobee KJAGUARS His two missed FGs weren't the difference in a loss to Indy, but theydidn't help matters either.
Ben RoethlisbergerQB STEELERS Mr. Efficiency in his first two years, he has thrown no TDs withfive picks in two games.
Keary Colbert WRPANTHERS Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith will gobble up Carolina'sreceptions.
Read Peter King's 10 Fantasy Things I Think I Think andanalysis from David Sabino at SI.com/fantasy.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
SOLID GOLD Holt has averaged 1,450 receiving yards over the past six seasons.
LOUD AND PROUD The outspoken Bryant is emerging as his quarterback's primary target.
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