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Archive September 2007

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Position Battles

While the NBA promotes its brand worldwide in training camps across the globe, fantasy players are looking for something completely different from training camp. It's a time when players compete for starting positions and good draft preparation can give a fantasy owner an edge over the competition. The drafts may be a few weeks away, but your work starts now. With that in mind, let's look at the emerging battles entering camp.

Point Guard:

Houston. Because Tracy McGrady initiates much of Houston's offense, the Rockets point guard isn't going to be used as a traditional point guard. He'll bring the ball over half court, pass to McGrady and be asked to knock down the occasional jump shot to create space for McGrady and Yao Ming. Rafer Alston has the edge as the incumbent, but this looks to be a situation tailor-made for Mike James. Steve Francis may get some work there in training camp, but this will be James' job before long.

Atlanta. The Hawks will be improved this season, but not playoff improved. The need for a veteran point guard, like Speedy Claxton, is not vital. I think a healthy Claxton will come out of camp with the job, but Acie Law will take over during the season.

Memphis. Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni is modeling his team after his former club, the Suns, and that means a true point guard. One who will give himself up to make teammates better. While we like Damon Stoudamire's ability to shoot the rock, being a selfless leader is not his calling card. Mike Conley will be leading the Grizzlies opening night with Kyle Lowry and Stoudamire getting what's left over.

Portland. Like Houston with McGrady, the Trail Blazers rely heavily on their shooting guard (Brandon Roy) to distribute offense. Jarret Jack did some nice things last season, but it looks like he'll have to fight Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez for minutes. There's nothing flashy to Blake's game. His outside shot is getting better and he knows how to find an open man. Rodriguez is more suited to changing the pace coming off the bench and should get more minutes this season, but not the starting job. Neither Jack nor Blake is a game-changer or game-dominator, and there'll be limited value because Roy will dominate the ball.

Cleveland. The Cavs could really use a point guard that can take the pressure of LeBron James while hitting his outside shots consistently. They toyed with Larry Hughes at the point last year, but he may be needed at shooting guard if Sasha Pavlovic follows through on his threat not to report to camp. That would open the door for Daniel Gibson. He's not a true point and will never run a team, but as LeBron's helper, he should be fine.

Shooting Guard:

Utah. The Jazz has an interesting battle going on with any of four guys in the mix for the starting job. Since morphing the best qualities of all four into one good shooting guard is not yet possible, the Jazz will have to choose the one with the least blemishes. A perimeter threat is what Utah requires most from the position, and Gordan Giricek's the most dangerous weapon they have. Giricek has held the job for various stretches the last four seasons, but has also played his way out those chances. Poor defense and shot selection have mostly been the issue. First-round pick Morris Almond won't be given the job, though he does pass the scoring test. Ronnie Brewer could make it an easy decision if he were a better shooter. His athleticism and defense are not in question; his outside shot is. C.J. Miles could be the answer, but his refusal to show up for summer league leaves him in coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse. Miles wants a contract extension, but the Jazz are not in the mood to give him one. In the end, it may not be who starts the game for the Jazz, but who finishes it. More often than not last season, it was Matt Harpring on the floor with Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams.

Small Forward:

Portland. Ideally, the Trail Blazers could use someone like they had last season when Ime Udoka defended hard and knocked down threes. The competition is between Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw. Webster has more offensive game, while Outlaw is the better defender. Darius Miles is reportedly healthy and has a new attitude, but he'll have to prove that to coach Nate McMillan. I think this will be Outlaw's job once the season opens. His outside shot needs consistency, but he defends the perimeter, runs the floor and is more versatile than Webster.

Power Forward:

Los Angeles Clippers. The Elton Brand injury leaves a huge hole in the lineup. Entering training camp, any of three guys are in the mix. Tim Thomas, Ruben Patterson and rookie Al Thornton will all get looks during training camp. The Clippers were bottom-half of the league in offense last season, so that dictates Thomas getting the first crack at replacing Brand. But he can't touch Brand on the defensive end. That's where Patterson has the edge. Thornton won't be much of a factor until later in the season. I suspect coach Mike Dunleavy will patch the hole with Thomas and Patterson for now. But stay tuned for changes as the season progresses. (By the way, I love Corey Maggette this year because of Brand's injury).

Center:

Toronto. The Raptors would like Andrea Bargnani to start at center, but I have doubts whether that's the best fit for him on this team. Ideally, someone who could help Chris Bosh with the defensive aspects of playing center would be the best fit. He's not a great rebounder or shot blocker for a 7-footer. This team won the division with Rasho Nesterovic at center and I'm betting he'll be there again this year.

Detroit. Nazr Mohammed is penciled in as the starter, but I expect Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace will see a lot of action there. McDyess is not a full-timer at this stage of his career, so look for Wallace to slide over to center with Jason Maxiell ready for the prime time at power forward.

Washington. The on-going saga of Etan Thomas and Brandan Haywood. Haywood provides the best offense for the position, but with Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison on board, offense is not what's needed from Washington's center. Neither will "win" this battle and it will be a wasteland for fantasy owners. If I had to choose one, I'd go with Thomas, who hasn't ticked off coach Eddie Jordan.

Seattle. The early off-season talk surrounds Robert Swift, who won the job in camp last year before a knee injury wiped out the season. With so much change in Seattle, I think new coach P.J. Carlesimo would be better served leaving the seasoned Nick Collison at center to start the season. Swift, who's played in 63 games over two seasons, will get his minutes as the primary backup and gradually move into the starting assignment.

Yankees to make playoffs

I hope none of you were under the assumption I'm above saying "I told you so." Now, I need to go ice down my arm, it's sore from patting myself on the back.

Learning to love the Celtics

As many of you already know, I’m probably the biggest Kevin Garnett supporter that you’ll ever meet. The Timberwolves became my favorite team because of KG, despite the fact that I’ve never even been to Minneapolis. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Kevin Mchale decided to trade KG to his former team for a package of Al Jefferson and six guys that don’t start. I knew it was coming. I sat at the Vegas Summer Basketball league arena in July and watched Mchale and Celts GM Danny Ainge talk for hours in the stands with a bad feeling in my stomach, thinking “no way. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. KG already told them ‘no’.” Then, a couple weeks later, KG is in green. Oh yeah, did I mention, I’ve always HATED the Celtics. For a kid that grew up as a fan of Dr. J and Magic Johnson, the Celts were right there with brussell sprouts and trips to the dentist on the “things I hate” list. But, with the events of this summer, I have to make a confession.

My name is Andre’ Snellings, and I am pulling for the Boston Celtics to win the title.

I NEVER thought I’d be writing that sentence.

But now I find myself pulling for the previously hated Celtics. What really sucks about it…I mean besides the obvious, “I hated that team” thing, is that I was pot-committed to the Timberwolves. I’ve got Wolves jerseys, I’ve got about a hundred Wolves games on tape, I’m a regular on Wolves message boards, and I’ve invested into young Wolves players like Randy Foye and Rashad McCants as the Blueprint of the Future. Do I just leave that behind? Of course not. No, in the words of Bill Simmons, I’m now a basketball bigamist. But it’s ok, because the Celtics and Wolves really aren’t even really competing with each other. One is firmly in “win-now championship contention” mode, while the other is squarely in “youth movement/rebuild” mode. As a fan, that gives me leeway to be able to pull for both to achieve their goals with a clear conscience.

I also have a clear conscience about loving the Celtics for roto purposes, as they look to be the most fantasy friendly team east of Phoenix this year. The Celtics have three bona fide blue chippers, one potential breakout player, and at least three or four definite sleepers on it. The composition of the team is built for fantasy success. There are three dominant scorers surrounded by role players, a format that should allow Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce to each get enough shots to maintain their 20+ ppg averages. By the same token, with defenses focused on the Big Three there should be plenty of open space for Rajon Rondo to get into the lane and create offense for himself and teammates (Dalton did a great job making the case for Rondo to break out ). With KG drawing big-man double teams, Kendrick Perkins should get plenty of easy dunk and rebound opportunities around the rim for as long as his health holds up. James Posey has always been an underrated fantasy player, and though he is unlikely to start he should still pull down almost 30 minutes a night backing up the SG through PF slots. And Eddie House should thrive in the 3-point gunner role, with plenty of wide open looks due to his star teammates.

My personal fantasy draft card fort the Celtics:

Garnett - #1 overall. The last time KG played with two strong scorers, a true point guard, a defensive/banging big man, and a team full of role players he led the NBA in total points and rebounds, set a career-high in blocked shots, and was by far the best player in the league on his way to the 2004 MVP.

Allen – early second round. Like KG, Allen has had experience playing with two other dominant scorers from his days in Milwaukee. Allen set his career-highs in field goal percentage (48%) and 3-ptr percentage (43%) while playing next to two 20 ppg scorers (Glen Robinson 20.7 ppg, Sam Cassell 19.7 ppg) with the Bucks in 2001-02.

Pierce – mid/late second. Of the big three, the one I’m most worried about. Pierce has always been the number one option on offense, and will probably have to modify his game the most to fit his new teammates. But if his 3-pt shot is strong, he’ll be solid enough in the other categories to remain dominant.

Rondo - Seventh round. If he does break out, could be as valuable as a fourth rounder. But if he doesn’t, a mid-round pick doesn’t hurt so much.

Posey and Perkins: 11th – 13th round. Once you’ve got your fantasy starters in place, these two make nice guys to have off the bench.

House: Last round/undrafted FA. House may not be worth drafting outside of deep leagues, but keep an eye on him. If he catches fire, could be a nice hot FA pickup.

Others to watch: Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis. The Celts are dangerously thin up front, and Perkins has a history of injury. Both Davis and Powe are young second round picks with the physicality to play in the NBA, and each have the ability to potentially step in and produce before the year is out. Don’t draft them, but keep them in mind.

Undervalued Players

With the pennant races heating up in baseball and football season in full effect, it’s easy to forget basketball season is fast approaching. But fear not, as I’m going to tackle some players who are likely to be undervalued during upcoming fantasy drafts. Without further ado:

Rajon Rondo – Rondo is still raw, and it’s going to take some time before he truly develops a jump shot. He won’t be a major asset in the scoring department, but he enters the year in prime position to be among the league leaders in assists. He handed out nearly four dimes per game in just 23.5 minutes last season, and when starting, that number jumped to 5.8 apg. Entering 2007 with a year of seasoning under his belt and as Boston’s unquestioned starter at point guard, Rondo’s numbers should take a big leap with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett as teammates. During the final month last season, Rondo averaged 5.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.5 spg and shot 55.3 percent from the floor. Lost among the other stars now playing in Boston, Rondo will be an affordable option on draft day who will reward you with excellent assist and steal totals.

Rudy Gay – After an up and down first year, Gay flew somewhat under the radar compared to other rookies around the league. However, there is a lot to like here, as Gay offers the rare ability to contribute in the hustle categories from the guard position; he averaged 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in limited action last year. He can also hit the three, making him a well-rounded fantasy asset. Also, after Mike Fratello was fired, the team’s offensive production really picked up, and new coach Marc Lavaroni came from Phoenix’s run-and-gun system, so expect a more up-tempo approach this year in Memphis, always good news for fantasy stats.

Andrew Bynum – It’s easy to forget, but Bynum is still just 19 years old. He’s battled inconsistency, and most notably, foul trouble during his limited time on an NBA floor. Still, he’s shown flashes that suggest much better things are to come. At 7-0, 275 LBS, Bynum is a physical force who could be unstoppable once he develops a few more low post moves. The 1.6 blocks in 21 minutes per game reveals major upside in the swat department as well. Bynum’s overall numbers don’t look great, but he’s a major candidate to break out; he had a three-game stretch last season where he averaged 11.7 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 4.0 blocks, so there’s significant potential here.

LaMarcus Aldridge – During March, Aldridge put up 14.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.9 spg, 1.6 bpg and shot 52 percent from the field. He no longer has Zach Randolph to share touches with, nor Greg Oden for that matter. Aldridge tore up the summer league and looks primed for a huge breakthrough in 2007. If he’s center-eligible in your league, he has to be considered in the early to middle rounds of your draft. With very few scoring options in Portland, Aldridge is going to be the man in the middle.

Danny Granger – Continuing the theme of youth on this list, Granger didn’t take quite as big of a leap last year as many expected, despite seeing his floor time increase by nearly 12 minutes per contest. Still, that doesn’t mean a major uptick won’t take place during his third year in the Association. Granger started to really figure it out during the season’s final month last year, averaging 17.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 threes while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor. He also really improved his free throw shooting, making 84.6 percent of his freebies after the All-Star break. Granger won’t excel in any one particular category, but he’ll contribute in all of them while limiting the turnovers, something becoming increasingly rare. Also, the exit of Rick Carlisle is good news, as new coach Jim O’Brien will let the team run more frequently and will give Indiana a lot more offensive freedom.

Sorry Monday Night Football Coverage

Besides Mike Tirico hesitatingly stating the obvious: "I'm almost willing to say this is the best drive the Saints have had all year" when they scored their first touchdown (The only TD they scored against the Colts was of the defensive variety, and against the Bucs it was in garbage time) among his many other inane observations, ESPN's coverage was poor across the board. They broke into the game twice to tell us that train-wreck Mike Tyson had been sentenced for drug possession - (is that really newsworthy enough to tell us, or is it just that your opinion of your audience is so low that you assume our appetite for that sort of thing is insatiable) - to their shilling for FEMA (of course the reconstruction is taking a long time, nothing of this scale has been done before), to their beating the Katrina thing to death to tell us how much ESPN cares. Look, just because it's never been done before doesn't mean you're doing a good job, either. Maybe there's nothing to compare it to, AND you're still dragging your feet. Why is Suzy Kolber suddenly making FEMA's case? And if ESPN cares, then they should help out quietly, not try to tell me, the viewer, 20 times how much they care. I don't care how much you care. And the more you tell me, the more I suspect you don't care at all and are merely exploiting the venue for cynical self-promotion.

Between how poorly the Saints played, to the billion stoppages of play, to the horrible coverage, I found myself switching to Weeds and Californication for most of the game. Not literally, unfortunately, but the shows.

Luck of the Draw?

Let's say you had the No. 2 pick in a 12-team draft. You might have ended up with the following:
  • 1. Steven Jackson
  • 2. Brandon Jacobs
  • 3. Deuce McAllister
  • 4. Lee Evans
  • 5. Drew Brees
  • 6. Reggie Brown
  • 7. Tony Gonzalez
  • 8. Donte Stallworth
  • 9. Terry Glenn
  • 10. Reuben Droughns
  • 11. Matt Leinart
  • 12. Chargers Defense
  • 13. Matt Jones
  • 14. Josh Scobee

Conversely, if you picked No. 5, your draft might have gone like this:

  • Joseph Addai
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Adrian Peterson
  • TJ Houshmandzadeh
  • Plaxico Burress
  • Braylon Edwards
  • LaMont Jordan
  • Kellen Winslow
  • Tony Romo
  • LenDale White
  • Eli Manning
  • Dwayne Bowe
  • Vikings defense
  • Matt Stover

And you could be using the same exact cheat sheet.

Obviously, it rarely lines up that badly or that well, but I found that in a lot of my drafts, where I was slotted in large part determined my team - almost as much as what players I liked. Because even if I was high on a player, I might not have been high enough on him to take him a round early. And by the time my next pick came around, he was gone.

Luckily, I don't own Steven Jackson, Deuce McAllister, Brandon Jacobs, Drew Brees or Tony Gonzalez in any league, but some of that is due to luck - I certainly would have picked Jackson at 2.

NFL Notes

If Matt Leinart doesn’t start taking football more seriously, he’s never going to realize his potential…If you own Anquan Boldin in your fantasy league, you want Kurt Warner starting. If you are a Larry Fitzgerald owner, you’re begging for Leinart under center…Steve McNair has officially become a liability…I guess Derrick Mason’s career isn’t over, after all.

What in the world has gotten into Brett Favre? Not only is he throwing like it’s 1997, but he’s doing so with no semblance of a running game to help…59-84-1 – Norv Turner’s career record as a head coach…Make sure your offer is legitimate, but I think it’s at least worth trying to see how fed up LaDainian Tomlinson’s owner is.

Joseph Addai is no doubt going to finish as a top-5 fantasy player this year, but he’s more a product of his environment than a truly special player. Don’t get me wrong, he’s solid – he does all the small things well like pass protection and he’s also an adept receiver – but there’s no game breaking ability here. I’d be mildly shocked if he had a run for more than 40 yards this season.

Adrian Peterson accounted for 60 percent of Minnesota’s total yardage Sunday, consistently revealing better receiving skills than most expected…I’m not that surprised the Vikings’ run defense held Larry Johnson to 1.8 YPC, but I did expect him to be more involved in the passing game. There isn’t a player in the league who is more of a focal point of an offense than Johnson, so he’s going to eventually produce decent numbers. However, it’s going to have to come as a result of pure volume, with quantity beating quality.

If I’m a Marshawn Lynch owner, I’m seeing what his solid start brings back in trade this week…Ben Watson might finish with 25 catches and 12 touchdowns this season…OK, this New England team looks pretty good.

Ronnie Brown filled up the stat sheet Sunday, but one of the most encouraging numbers was zero – the number of touches by Jesse Chatman…However, Brown has dominated the Jets throughout his career, so it would be nice to see him do it again against different competition next week.

You have to love the Lions – Jon Kitna attempted 46 pass plays, and the team’s leading rusher had five carries…If he stays healthy for 16 games (a very unlikely scenario), I actually think 5,000 passing yards is likely for Kitna…Tatum Bell is going to prove to be a complete waste of a pick from fantasy drafts this summer…Are we entirely sure Reggie Brown is still alive?…For each of the past few preseasons, I’m always too scared to draft Brian Westbrook. And during each of the past few seasons, I really wish I had drafted Brian Westbrook.

My preaseason pick to win the difficult NFC North, the Steelers have looked very good so far, but please, wake me when their competition starts. It looks like they’ll be 5-0 heading into their bye…San Francisco might want to try a run off tackle at some point. The team has literally called every single run play straight up the middle.

It’s still very early, obviously, but through three weeks of the season, Tampa Bay looks like the best team in the NFC South…And the Rams easily look like the worst team in the NFC West.

Brandon Marshall is an absolute beast, and no one looks forward to trying to tackle him…I get it Jacksonville, expect a disappointing performance against weak competition but your “A” game against the league’s better teams. It took me a few years to understand this.

Lost amidst Oakland’s vastly improved offense is the fall off on defense. That’s three straight subpar performances. I would not be surprised if the Raiders finish 1-15 this season; 2-14 looks like their ceiling…However, LaMont Jordan looks like the steal of fantasy football drafts through the first three weeks of the season.

The Bengals going for a two-point conversion while up 21-17 with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter Sunday was the single-dumbest decision I’ve witnessed in years. Absolutely brain-dead. With so little time left and the Seahawks down 4, clearly Seattle was going to go for a TD. Please explain to me the difference between being up 5 and being up 6? I can tell you the difference between 4 and 5, as a field goal would have won it instead of tie it after the inevitable Seahawks TD made it 24-21 (an extra point would have made it 24-22). And yes, I’m bitter because this cost me a cover (I had Cincy +3), and with my picks so far this season, I need all the help I can get.

Steve Smith may have only 10 yards to show for his effort Sunday in the box score, but he absolutely abused DeAngelo Hall to the tune of 67 penalty yards during a third quarter drive. And after a sideline tirade with coach Bobby Petrino, word is (inside information!), Hall was beat up by teammates in the locker room after the game. He’s just lucky Smith wasn’t one of them.

I’m not sure if Joe Gibbs or Jason Campbell is more to blame, but common sense once again took a back seat during Sunday’s final minute. First, Campbell spiked the ball on second down with 1:07 left at the Giants’ 21-yard line – this after a botched snap on first down that was going to be a spike. Why don’t teams just call a play no-huddle? Call me crazy, but isn’t a down more important than 5-8 seconds? There was more than one minute left and they were at the 20-yard line! The preposterousness doesn’t end there, my friends, as it gets even worse. On first and goal from the one-yard line with 51 seconds left, you guessed it, they spiked it again. Good thing too, because they barely got the fourth down play off – with just 31 seconds to spare. No team deserved to lose more Sunday than the Washington Redskins.

This just in – Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman are not very good…If Marion Barber is "The Wire,” then Julius Jones is "The Big Bang Theory.”

NFL Notes

Matt Schaub is better than David Carr, this much is already apparent. Now, let’s all hope Andre’ Johnson doesn't miss too much time…Do not forget about Ron Dayne. He won numerous fantasy leagues with a big finish last year and is in line to get most of the carries should something happen to injury-prone starter Ahman Green…Is there a worse run-blocking unit in the league than Carolina’s?…It looks like Steve Smith will go down as the best second round value in fantasy leagues this year. Running backs are scarce, but he’s clearly more valuable than any RB2 right now.

The wide receivers help, but Cincinnati’s awful defense is a big boon to Carson Palmer’s statistics. And anyone who used the Bengals in their survivor pool was asking for trouble – that was a classic trap game. Road team traveling during a short week…Kellen Winslow should be treated as the No. 2 fantasy tight end from this point forward…You know what I’m going to say regarding Jamal Lewis’ monster effort – sell-high. Do yourself a favor and go look at his career numbers. His 2003 season is a bigger outlier than Adrian Beltre’s career-year.

With that offense and Warrick Dunn getting goal line carries, it’s officially time to start worrying about Jerious Norwood’s fantasy prospects this season…R.I.P. Joe Horn…Dennis Northcutt is a boring option, but any team’s No. 1 WR deserves some fantasy consideration.

That Packers defense is legit…Brandon Jackson blew a big opportunity to take that job and run with it, no pun intended…Derrick Ward has been rather impressive and is worth starting as a flex as long as Brandon Jacobs remains out.

The matchups haven’t been easy, but J.P. Losman has been bad thus far…Fantasy owners don’t want to hear it, but for what it’s worth, Lee Evans had just four catches after two weeks last year as well…The numbers may not show it, but Marshawn Lynch looks legit. He’s going to be a very good NFL running back, starting this season…Santonio Holmes is going to lead the league in yards-per-catch this season.

Unfortunately, Alex Smith might be who we thought he was, and that’s not a good thing – especially for Vernon Davis.

Drew Brees has posted three consecutive poor games against teams that run Cover 2 defenses, dating back to last year’s postseason. It’s a concern, to be sure, but he makes for a better trade target than he does offer…Joey Galloway might still be the fastest man in the NFL when he’s 50…Reggie Bush owners, stay off that ledge – he’ll be fine.

It looks like Tennessee’s defense is not going to be nearly as bad as expected, especially against the run…Dallas Clark may have been the most undervalued fantasy tight end entering the season…Vince Young looked good passing the ball Sunday, and he’s only going to get better.

It doesn’t get much uglier than Tarvaris Jackson’s performance Week 2…Roy Williams running 20 yards sans his helmet was one of the coolest plays Sunday, and that aerial attack is legit in Detroit…Minnesota is going to have a very good fantasy defense this season, creating numerous turnovers. They are a must-start next week against Kansas City.

Watching Marion Barber share carries with Julius Jones is comical at this point. I guess it doesn’t matter with Dallas winning, but Wade Phillips would like to keep his job I assume, and the easiest way of doing that is by putting his best players on the field. If Barber is a Kobe beef hamburger from Bradley Ogden’s, then Jones is a McDonalds’ Filet-O-Fish.

It probably won’t happen for some time, but Kellen Clemens gives the Jets the most long-term potential. He can make throws Chad Pennington physically cannot…Actually, the same can be said for Kyle Boller and the Ravens…Mark Clayton has negative yardage on the season.

I’m beginning to think Rex Grossman just isn’t a very good quarterback…He should already be owned in keeper-leagues, but Dwayne Bowe could even be considered in deep redraft leagues…This may sound crazy, but Cedric Benson owners may want to think about trying to sell-high this week.

I apologize Ronald Curry owners, I guess Denver’s secondary really is that good…LaMont Jordan is for real – he’s running with the same tenacity he did two years ago, when he was a top-15 fantasy player…Selvin Young is going to have legit fantasy value at some point this season.

I’m still having a hard time fathoming what Randy Moss has done so far…Antonio Gates looks like a steal for those who drafted him in the third round…LaDainian Tomlinson was held scoreless in two of the first four games last year and only rushed for 100 yards in one of the first six games last season, so he’s used to slow starts. Don’t go dropping him just yet.

Dynasty leaguers, feel free to use your top waiver priority.

Why You Should Expect Upsets in the NFL

After Week 1, it was almost inconceivable to most people that the Browns, a perennial doormat who just got destroyed at home by the Steelers, would beat the Bengals who just beat the division-champions Ravens.

But the line was only seven points, and the moneyline was just +350/-290, i.e., 320. That's just 3.2 to 1, meaning that even Vegas thought there was a 24 percent chance that Cleveland would win. There are 16 games a week, and usually at least four or five have spreads of seven points or more. The biggest spread was in the Bears-Chiefs game, in which Vegas gave the Chiefs a 12.5 percent chance to win. But with four or five teams ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent capable of pulling off an upset each week, you should actually expect one or two. Each is relatively unlikely, but collectively, it's probable.

It's hard to see it coming because we don't know which teams will lose - only that one or two probably will, and also because we invest our current perceptions of teams with far too much reality. People will actually believe the Steelers are a good team this year after two weeks, or that the Browns are horrible after one. It's better just to note that one team played well, and the other played poorly, or was out of sync. There are no bad teams in the NFL - every one of them is a billion dollar organization with virtually super-human athletes working dedicatedly with highly-paid professional coaches to get better at football and win games. It should not surprise you that a quarterback who is more accurate and has a better arm than the best players you've ever played a pickup game with, should get the ball to athletes like Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards down the field. This isn't No. 16 vs. No. 1 in college hoop (though I'd take even money that it happens in the next 20 years).

What does this mean for us? A few things: (1) Don't overplay matchups when setting your lineups, (2) Don't look at schedules too much when ranking your players (3) all things being equal, bet the underdog and (4) Don't get cute in survivor - take the Pats and the Colts as soon as you can because given what little we know, we need to get behind the surest of unsure things on the board.

Is Oden's injury devastating to the Blazers?

I'm a big Oden fan, and I was definitely on the "Oden" end of the Oden/Durant debate. So my first reaction to seeing that he was done for the year with the infamous microfracture knee surgery was the same horror that I've seen/read/heard all through the sports media today. But as I hear more and more "the sky is falling" talk for the Blazers, I wonder if it is really THAT bad.

Of course there are obvious negatives. Oden was to be the centerpiece for their future championship aspirations. Oden is the new face of their franchise, and was likely to be a face of the NBA. Everyone was excited to follow Oden vs. Durant as rookies.

But on the other hand, the Blazers weren't playing for a title this year. They have flooded their team with young talent, and with Oden, ROY Brandon Roy and last year's 2nd pick LaMarcus Aldridge they have at least 3 should-be franchise guys...but it was going to take them some time to season before they were ready for the big time. And though they have an intimidating young front-line in training, the Blazers still lacked punch from the perimeter outside of Roy. They could still use some more talent on the wings.

So now, minus Oden, the Blazers will be built around Roy and Aldridge this year. They'll likely stink, but Roy and Aldridge should both be able to answer some questions about just how good they can be...maybe even answer them better than they could have this season if they had to adjust to playing with Oden. Plus, young bigs like Channing Frye and Josh McRoberts will get the chance to see if they're keepers once Oden comes back. Finally, because they'll stink, the Blazers could be looking at yet ANOTHER top-5 pick in next year's draft...which could be as loaded as this year.

So yeah, in the short term this sucks for the Blazers...but this could be their David Robinson injury/Tim Duncan draft situation, and if they enter the 2008 season with an added Oden AND O.J. Mayo they could still get the last laugh...

Observations on Thursday's Game

Has Sean Payton Lost His Mind? Payton just punted on 4th and inches from his own 30 down 17 to Indy with 13 minutes left. Why not just hand the headset to an assistant and beat the traffic? Of course, the Colts struck two seconds later for a game-sealing touchdown. What an idiot!

Also what's up with Andrea Kramer comparing Tony Dungy to Martin Luther King? Dungy's a successful NFL football coach, not someone putting his life on the line for social justice. Did she and Payton take a hit from the same pipe?

And how about John Madden's Bob Sanders analogy - "when the cat's away, the mice will play?" Is that the best he can come up with? I know he's a former Super Bowl winning coach, a broadcasting legend and has his name on a best-selling video game, but do we just give him a free pass for that kind of drivel?

Anybody else who owns Addai in half their leagues feel like vomiting after the first play? Speaking of which, he looks every bit the top-five pick. And so far it looks like we screwed up ranking Reggie Wayne No. 2 overall - should have been No. 1.

Can't be too happy if you own Brees right now. He'll bounce back, but you're up against it in Week 1.

Eric Johnson's sure getting a lot of looks. Worth an immediate pickup I'd think.

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