About the Author
Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice
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: Salmon croquettes and crab cakes
With his 10-year NFL career split about equally between New England and Seattle, Deion Branch must know a little something about good seafood, don't you think?
I'm finding myself in a reflective mood this week with fantasy football's regular season having drawn to a close — for many of you it ended after Week 13 — so I've been pulling out my old preseason draft boards and figuring out what I hit and what I missed. Branch was one of the bigger misses.
There were 95 wide receivers listed on my first draft board of the preseason, and Branch wasn't among them. In my final draft board of the preseason, I ranked Branch 84th out of 105 receivers, in between Golden Tate and Jordy Nelson. But I'm not exactly beating myself up about it. It's hard to imagine that anyone had Branch rated as a top-50 receiver.
But that's what's so great about fantasy football: It's impossible to anticipate so many of the twists that each season will take. Had you suggested in early August that by the fantasy playoffs Branch would be an every-week starter and Randy Moss would be tethered to the benches of fantasy teams everywhere, you might have been fitted for a straitjacket. But Branch has four TD catches in his last three games, plus a pair of 100-yard receiving days, including last Sunday's 151-yard outburst on an inclement day in Chicago. Moss ... we know his story. Branch has already set a career high in TD catches with six, and he's making a bid for the first 1,000-yard season of his career. The change of venue has no doubt helped, but it's amazing how the perception of Branch has changed over the span of several weeks.
Michael Vick is the obvious choice for fantasy football's comeback player of the year, but the season Branch is having is quite the jaw-dropper.
Here's a holiday toast to pleasant surprises.
Salad: Spinach and grapefruit salad
The bitter flavors of grapefruit and spinach make for a terrific salad, provided you find one or two sweet ingredients to play against the bitterness.
Which brings me to this year's All-Disappointment team. These players left a bitter taste in the mouths of their owners, and unless those owners were able to offset the bitter taste of these duds with some other sweet ingredients, it's unlikely they qualified for the playoffs.
(Note: We can't blame players for getting hurt, so this list doesn't include players lost to major injuries.)
QB: Brett Favre — It's hard to blame Kevin Kolb for being less talented than Michael Vick, and as bad as Carson Palmer has been this season, his TD and yardage totals are actually decent. But Favre ... oh, boy. The 2009 season left some people convinced that No. 4 was ageless. The 2010 season has proven otherwise.
RB: Ryan Mathews — It's been a tough year for highly touted rookie running backs. Jahvid Best and C.J. Spiller were also disappointments. But Mathews was the most highly regarded of the rookie runners, and his rookie season was a gigantic flop.
RB: Shonn Greene — Just one TD this season? So much for the idea that Greene's power and the hole-opening ability of his offensive line would make Greene a premier TD scorer.
WR: Randy Moss — A tank job for the ages.
WR: Steve Smith (Panthers) — Yeah, a lot of this falls on Jimmy Clausen and the other scrubs who've taken snaps at quarterback for the Panthers this year, but Larry Fitzgerald has been playing with lousy quarterbacks, too, and he's still a good bet to squeeze out a 1,000-yard season. Smith hasn't had a decent game since Halloween.
TE: Brent Celek — Expectations were fairly high after his career year in 2009. Hard to figure out why he's been such a minor contributor. With the emergence of Vick, the Eagles' passing game has been prolific, and Vick used to love throwing to TE Alge Crumpler during his days in Atlanta.
PK: Ryan Longwell — He's 14-of-15 on FG attempts this season. Despite the commendable accuracy, that works out to just over one attempt per game. Longwell's point totals have fizzled along with the Minnesota offense.
Entrée: Brazilian steakhouse buffet
I was first introduced to the Brazilian-steakhouse concept at a place in Las Vegas called Yolie's, and I always make it a point to hit this off-the-Strip restaurant whenever I'm in Sin City.
For the uninitiated, Brazilian steakhouses tend to be buffet-style places, but rather than the diners getting up and walking to the food, servers dressed as gauchos go from table to table and offer diners small, freshly carved portions of assorted grilled meats. You can eat as much as you want — the gauchos keep coming until you declare no mas. Often, diners are given some sort of card that helps signal the gauchos. On one side is a green light or some other symbol that signals the servers to keep bringing the goods; on the other side is a red light or some other symbol to let them know you're stuffed to the gills.
This is a critical week in fantasy football, and perhaps you have some tough lineup calls to make. Do you signal green light, asking these gentlemen to deliver the beef? Or do you signal red light, asking these gentlemen to avoid your table? Let's look at a few borderline cases:
Ben Roethlisberger — Now here's a burly dude who looks like he's seen the inside of a few Brazilian steakhouses. But with one TD pass in his last three games, Big Ben's fantasy owners are starving. Is there a feast in store for Week 15? Against CB Darrelle Revis and the Jets, don't bet on it. RED LIGHT
Matt Cassel — Out last week following an appendectomy, Cassel is hustling back into action as the Chiefs try to hone in on a division title. The Rams' secondary can be had (St. Louis ranks 21st against the pass), but there's no way Cassel can be at peak fitness this week so soon after having his innards repaired, and I think the Chiefs will protect him with a conservative game plan. RED LIGHT
Donovan McNabb — At 34, he's becoming washed up before our eyes, and Mike Shanahan seems to be on the verge of making a change at quarterback. But for a head coach with an itchy QB finger, having Rex Grossman as a backup is like having a family-sized tube of anti-itch ointment. McNabb stunk it up against Dallas in Week One, but I think he'll do better this week, even though it won't look pretty. On nothing more than a gut feeling ... GREEN LIGHT
Felix Jones — He's scored only two TDs this season, and there are few people clinging to the idea that he'll one day be a star. But for more than a month, Jones has been a quietly steady yardage gainer. I like him this week in a home game against a bad Washington defense. GREEN LIGHT
Mike Goodson — Goodson has been a breakthrough performer this season, and he's had TD runs in three consecutive games. On one hand, Jonathan Stewart is healthy again, so Goodson is back to sharing carries. On the other hand, Goodson is facing a shabby Arizona defense. Here's the tiebreaker: The Panthers are awful. RED LIGHT
Rashad Jennings — He's backing up a guy who has six consecutive 100-yard rushing games, so could you even consider starting Jennings? Well, with TDs in three straight games, Jennings has been making the most of limited carries. This guy is a legitimate talent, and he's facing a terrible Colts run defense. GREEN LIGHT
Terrell Owens — He was putting up big numbers earlier this season, but over the last three weeks T.O. has produced only 86 receiving yards. He's also been throwing his teammates and coaches under the bus, and he's missed practice time this week with a sore knee. Despite the bad aura around the loquacious receiver, I think he puts his mitts where his mouth is this week against Cleveland. GREEN LIGHT
Mike Williams (Seattle) — The king-sized receiver is expected back from an ankle injury this week. Amazingly, the Seahawks are still in playoff contention, and they'll probably need a big week from Williams to have any chance of knocking off the Falcons in Seattle. But the ankle thing makes me nervous. Matt Hasselbeck makes me even more nervous. RED LIGHT
Arrelious Benn — He's coming off a big game, and a matchup with the Lions is tempting. Nah, too soon to trust the rookie. RED LIGHT
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — Good luck predicting whether one or the other (or both, or neither) will come through in a given week. But here's a stab at it. Gronkowski: GREEN LIGHT ... Hernandez: RED LIGHT
Dessert: Sweet potato pie
I'd never had sweet potato pie until I met my wife-to-be. It just never sounded particularly appealing. But my wife makes a terrific sweet potato pie, and when she forced me to try some, I was surprised to learn just how delicious it could be.
As a bookend to the All-Disappointment list above, Here's the All-Surprise team for 2010. The rewards were sweet for fantasy owners who drafted these guys (or picked them up post-draft):
QB: Michael Vick — Not only did he get a starting job sooner than expected, but he's been better than he ever was before. Much better.
RB: Arian Foster — It's not like he came out of nowhere; a lot of people were high on him entering the season. I don't know if Foster was a first round-pick in any redraft leagues, but he snuck into the second or third rounds of some drafts. Sleeper or not, he's far exceeded even optimistic projections. He's scored 15 TDs and is a near-lock to exceed 2,000 yards from scrimmage. He might even end up within walking distance of Chris Johnson's NFL-record 2,509 total yards from last season.
RB: Peyton Hillis — It's stunning how good he's turned out to be. There may have been some shrewd fantasy owners who had an inkling that Hillis was a pretty fair player, but I don't think anyone saw this kind of season coming.
WR: Brandon Lloyd — The Orton-to-Lloyd combo is tapering off, but Lloyd's 2010 numbers are remarkable when you consider his journeyman's pedigree. (Apropos of nothing ... a friend's wife befriended Lloyd's wife two years ago while Lloyd was with the Bears, and my friend went out for a few couples' dinners with the Lloyds. My buddy reports that Brandon is a helluva guy whose only flaw is being hopelessly addicted to video games.)
WR: Stevie Johnson — He narrowly edges out Deion Branch and Dwayne Bowe for the second WR spot. Branch at least had a track record, and people knew that Bowe had dormant talent. No one saw Johnson's big year coming.
TE: Marcedes Lewis — Before this season, Lewis had caught seven TD passes in 62 career regular-season games, and he'd never scored more than two TDs in a single season. This year, he has nine TD catches in 13 games. Jackpot!
PK: Josh Brown — The Rams as a rich source of kicker points? Who knew?