Pat Fitzmaurice is addicted to competitive cooking shows ("Top Chef," "Chopped," Hell's Kitchen," etc.), and he also loves to eat. Since he isn't much of a cook, he's channeling his chef obsession into Fitz's Four-Course Fantasy Feast, a regular column featuring an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. Bon appétit.
Appetizer: Buffalo trio
Buffalo — or "bison," if you prefer — is lean, flavorful and more versatile than you might imagine. The Buffalo Bills are lean on talent, flavorful (though the flavor isn't pleasant), and despite a dearth of talent at nearly every position, their three-man RB committee is surprisingly versatile.
There may yet be some fantasy value in the Bills' backfield, but the situation is murky right now, with the Bills serving buffalo three ways ...
Buffalo tongue (Marshawn Lynch): Tongues continue to wag about a possible trade involving Lynch. And really, the only plausible explanation for the Bills giving Lynch 17 carries against Green Bay last week is that they were showcasing him for a potential deal, quite possibly one involving the RB-needy Packers. (A straight-up trade of Lynch for LB A.J. Hawk would make sense for both sides.) I personally know at least a half-dozen Bills fans who would gladly dig into their wallets to pay for Lynch's bus ticket out of town. Despite what happened last week, Lynch isn't going to be Buffalo's workhorse, so he's only going to have significant fantasy value if he lands on another team.
Buffalo slider (Fred Jackson): Here's your basic helping of buffalo meat, hearty but unspectacular. Jackson has the most clearly defined role in the Bills' RB committee. Now that he's healthy, expect him to get somewhere around 10-12 carries every week, and he'll score the occasional TD. If he's a fixture in your fantasy lineup, you're in trouble. But as an injury or bye-week fill-in, Jackson is a decent option.
Buffalo rouladen (C.J. Spiller): Rouladen is a German dish in which bacon, onions, pickles and mustard are wrapped in thinly sliced beef, and everything is held together with a toothpick. Thinly sliced buffalo meat works just as well as beef and gives the dish an American touch. When rouladen is placed in front of you, it's best not to think about it; just dig in. And so it is with Spiller. For goodness' sake, Bills, you spent the ninth overall pick on the former Clemson star when you had greater needs at several other positions, he looked fantastic in the preseason and generated a much-need spark of energy among your fan base, and then he gets only eight carries in the first two games of the season, with just one carry - one! - in last week's blowout loss in Green Bay. For the love of Levy, just give the kid the ball! What on earth are you waiting for, Chan Gailey? Spiller owners, try to be patient. If you play in a large-roster league and aren't forced to make a lot of adds/drops, try to wait this out. The Buffalo brass will eventually come to its senses and start playing Spiller. Otherwise, Bills fans are going to be showing up at team headquarters armed with torches and pitchforks.
Salad: Escarole and radicchio salad with sweet pepper dressing
This bitter salad and its sweet, tangy dressing make me think of Michael Vick, whose sweet, tangy performances the past two weeks are offsetting a distinct bitterness. Apparently there are some very short memories when it comes to Mr. Vick, and I'm not talking about past canine-related transgressions.
I'm talking about past quarterbacking transgressions.
Vick has a career completion rate of 54 percent. His current 63.8 percent completion rate is an absolute mirage. He will never be an accurate passer. Not even in Andy Reid's system. Not in any system. During his days in Atlanta, he never threw for 3,000 yards in a season, and he averaged just a smidge over one TD pass per start. In 2006, his last season as a full-time starter with the Falcons, he threw for 2,474 yards in 16 starts, with a completion rate of 52.6 percent. That's bloody awful.
Rushing is another matter, of course. Vick is still a dynamic runner even at age 30. He's had a 1,000-yard rushing season and a 900-yard rushing season, which is pretty amazing for a quarterback. But while he'll give you the occasional big rushing day, there are a lot of games in which he doesn't run for many yards, and you're left with just the lousy passing totals. Fantasy owners who've had Vick on their teams in the past know what I'm talking about: Owning him is a roller-coaster ride.
Conditions are right for the perfect storm of a Michael Vick letdown. He has raised expectations to unrealistic levels with his performances the last two weeks — which, under closer scrutiny, aren't quite as impressive as advertised. Yes, Vick brought the Eagles back from a big deficit in a Week One loss to the Packers, but Green Bay's defense was in bend-but-don't-break mode because of the Packers' large second-half lead. Last week, Vick chewed up the Lions for 284 passing yards and a pair of TD throws. Well, a lot of quarterbacks are going to chew up the Lions this season. And while Vick has yet to commit a turnover this season, he fumbled twice against the Lions, with the Eagles recovering both times. He also took five sacks in that game and absorbed a couple of violent hits.
Beware, Vick owners: The honeymoon in Philadelphia will not last. Vick's shortcomings will be exposed, and Philly fans will turn on him faster than they once turned on Santa Claus. I don't blame Andy Reid for waffling on his QB decision this week. He would have been public enemy No. 1 in that town if he'd stuck with the decision to reinsert Kevin Kolb as the starter. Reid and Kolb have it easier now. Vick will soon scatter-arm his way out of the job, and Eagles fans will be clamoring for a Kolb salad.
Entrée: St. Louis ribs with Oklahoma cheese grits
The Rams' offense hasn't been nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It's still a far cry from good, or even average for that matter, but it doesn't stink, and I was pretty darned sure it would stink. The St. Louis offense is still at or near the bottom of the pack in most of the worthwhile statistical categories, yet the Rams' offense has produced more points than the offenses of the Vikings and Ravens (among others), and more yardage than the offenses of the Steelers, Jets, Dolphins and three other teams.
Before the start of the regular season, it was expected that there would be exactly one member of the Rams worth having on a fantasy team: Steven Jackson. It turns out that there are three: Jackson, Sam Bradford and Mark Clayton.
I have to admit, I didn't think Bradford would be any good as a rookie, and I thought Rams GM Billy Devaney's decision to take Bradford with the top pick in this year's draft ahead of DT Ndamukong Suh was outrageously stupid. But Bradford has looked surprisingly smooth in his first two professional starts. He doesn't seem at all uncomfortable with the speed of the NFL game. He's thrown too many interceptions (four) and has taken more hits than necessary, but so far, so good. Bradford threw for 253 yards and a TD against the Cardinals in Week One, and last week against the Raiders he came out of the gate quickly, completing his first six passes and 9-of-11 in the first half before the Rams' offense bogged down.
If Bradford has been a pleasant surprise, Clayton has been an outright revelation. A perennial disappointment in Baltimore, the sixth-year veteran has thrived since being traded to the Rams for late-round draft considerations after St. Louis lost WR Donnie Avery to a season-ending knee injury. In his Rams debut, Clayton had a career-high 10 receptions for 119 yards. He was held to only two catches against the Raiders in Week Two, but both of them were for touchdowns.
It would be tempting to attribute the instant chemistry between Bradford and Clayton to the fact that both are former Oklahoma Sooners, but Clayton was already drawing an NFL salary by the time Bradford arrived in Norman. Whatever the reason, the raw rookie and career-long tease are clicking in a way that no one could have expected.
Neither Bradford nor Clayton can be considered an every-week fantasy starter right now, but there is some fantasy utility to both. In a league suddenly brimming with lousy starting quarterbacks (Derek Anderson, Matt Cassel, et al.), you could do worse than Bradford as a backup. You might even consider giving Bradford a spot start against the Redskins depending on who your starter is. (Matt Schaub is still picking bits of the Washington secondary out of his teeth.) Clayton is looking like a worthy No. 3 receiver on a lot of fantasy teams, or maybe even a flex starter in larger leagues. With the bye weeks just ahead, Bradford and Clayton will be finding their way into more fantasy lineups.
Steven Jackson owners also have to be pleased with the Bradford-Clayton combo. Before the season it was feared that the lack of a passing game would bring Jackson all sorts of extra defensive attention, but now it appears that defenses will have to play the Rams somewhat honestly. Jackson is still without a TD, but he's rushed for a respectable 156 yards in his first two games, and he had 125 yards from scrimmage last week.
Dessert: Bear claws
Two quick fantasy notes on the Chicago Bears, one of the more interesting (and surprising) of the NFL's 2-0 teams:
— With Brian Urlacher healthy again and fellow LB Lance Briggs continuing to raise all sorts of hell, the Bears have been nasty against the run so far. They basically stuffed Detroit's Jahvid Best in Week One, save for a couple of short TD runs, and last week they completely smothered the Dallas running game. The holes in the Bears' defense are in the secondary, so I suspect we're going to see a lot of teams abandon the running game against Chicago and take to the air. Be cautious about playing your running backs against the Bears unless they're top-tier performers, and consider the Chicago defense a numbers-friendly matchup for your quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.
— In case you're wondering why WR Devin Aromashodu has suddenly fallen out of favor with the Bears despite five catches for 71 yards in Week One, Aromashodu also had several drops in that game, and Bears coaches weren't thrilled with the way Aromashodu responded after absorbing some big hits in that game. His blocking was shaky, too. In other words, it's a toughness issue. Aromashodu's Week One performance got him so deep in the doghouse that he only took one snap against the Cowboys in Week Two and was surpassed on the depth chart by Jay Cutler's old Vanderbilt teammate, Earl Bennett. Aromashodu may yet resurface — Jay Cutler likes throwing to big targets and actively campaigned for Aromashodu to get more playing time last season — but it probably makes sense to drop Aromashodu if you're in a league with small rosters.