1. When Green Bay visited Detroit last season, Aaron Rodgers sustained a concussion in the second quarter after throwing for only 46 yards. Now consider that even if you include that early-knockout game, Rodgers has averaged 294 passing yards per game in his last seven appearances in domed venues, with a TD-INT ratio of 15-2. In two appearances at the Georgia Dome last season, including the Packers' 48-21 evisceration of the Falcons in the playoffs, Rodgers has completed 57-of-71 passes for 710 yards and four TDs, with no interceptions. That's a completion percentage of 80.3. He also had a rushing TD in each of those games.
Oh, and by the way, Rodgers has said he was slightly miffed by comments Roddy White made after that playoff game last season, when White said the Falcons were the better team but simply failed to perform at their highest level. Rodgers recently called White's comments "borderline disrespectful." One suspects that Rodgers is about to hang some "borderline disrespectful" numbers on an Atlanta pass defense that ranks 24th in the league and just gave up 319 passing yards to Tavaris Jackson.
2. Speaking of Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre needs to shut the hell up. Favre's legacy is secure, so why does he feel compelled to throw petty backhanded compliments at his successor, as he did on an Atlanta sports-radio station the other day? Obviously, Favre wishes the Packers had some sort of Alex Smith-caliber schlub at quarterback so that Packer fans would look back wistfully upon the glory of the Favre era. Sorry, Brett. That obviously isn't the case. So, instead of going on air and making a jackass out of yourself, maybe it's time to disappear from the public eye for a little while and busy yourself with golfing and hunting and lawn mowing until public goodwill toward you starts to regenerate itself.
3. There isn't a tight end I'd rather have for my fantasy team the rest of the way than Jimmy Graham. Not Jermichael Finley. Not Rob Gronkowski. Not even Antonio Gates if he were free of foot problems. Graham is on pace to put up silly numbers, and he just keeps getting better and better every week. He's coming off the best game of his career, with 10 catches for 132 yards and a TD against the Jaguars. And that came on the heels of a 4-100-1 performance against the Texans.
Graham is now far and away the most dangerous pass catcher on the Saints, a pass-crazy team with a top-notch triggerman in Drew Brees. And since the Saints have a slew of capable pass catchers they can put on the field — WRs Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson, plus RBs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas — defenses can't afford to devise exotic anti-Graham schemes, because Brees would exploit whichever defensive weakness a Graham-centric scheme created.
The scary thing is that the 6-6, 260-pound Graham didn't play high school football and played only one year of college ball for the University of Miami (Fla.), so there's still room for improvement. He's also a guy worth cheering for. As noted in a nice article by USA Today's Jon Saraceno this week, Graham had a hardscrabble childhood and was struggling to survive before being adopted by a single mother when he was in his mid-teens.
4. The websites that host fantasy leagues all have some sort of mechanism for proposing a trade to another owner. Here are two better mechanisms: email and phone. I still prefer to put forth trade proposals the old-school way. The proposals sent via league websites are cold and impersonal, and I know for a fact that some of the owners I compete with tend to regard them more suspiciously than they do a personalized offer. I realize that's illogical — a trade offer is what it is, regardless of delivery method. Maybe. There are still a lot of owners who prefer the personal touch of a trade offer accompanied by an explanation that rationalizes the trade for both parties.
If you insist on sending out trade proposals via your league's website, and the trade-proposal mechanism includes a space where you can include a message about the proposal, for heaven's sake, type out a decent message about your offer. Don't just put out a message-free proposal. Unless it's an absolute steal for the other owner, such a proposal is bound to be viewed suspiciously. The personal touch matters.
5. From: The Department of Bad Karma
To: The Philadelphia Eagles
Cc: David Akers
Subject: Alex Henery
(P.S. We don't care for the "dream team" label, either.)
6. Last week in this space it was noted that the Patriots' RB situation seemed destined to become a three-man committee due to the emergence of rookie Stevan Ridley. That was before Ridley ran 10 times for 96 yards and a TD against the Raiders. Now it would appear that an ankle injury to Danny Woodhead could make it a two-man committee for a while, with Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who had 16 carries for 75 yards and a TD last week) sharing time. But we shouldn't discount the possibility that another rookie, Shane Vereen, could work his way into the mix. Vereen hasn't been on the field for a single snap this season, but the Pats drafted him in the second round, and he was a heck of a playmaker during his college career at Cal.
The takeaway is that there's value in the Patriots' RB situation, but it's going to be hard for fantasy owners to stay ahead of the curve here. Green-Ellis is still probably the safest play, but any of these guys could score multiple TDs one week, then get only a half-dozen touches the next.
7. It's a tough time to be a football fan in Minnesota. The Vikings are 0-4 and will be under construction for a while. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are the worst team in the Big Ten and can make a strong case for being the worst major-conference team in college football. Not only that, but the Twins are coming off an uncharacteristically putrid season, and the Minnesota Wild aren't expected to make any noise in the NHL this season.
On the bright side, it looks as if the Minnesota Timberwolves' season might be canceled.
8. You can't ask for a better fantasy matchup right now than to have one of your running backs going up against the Panthers. The Bears had a grand total of 161 rushing yards in their first three games. Then they ran for 224 yards against the Panthers in Week Four, with Matt Forté racking up a career-high 205 rushing yards. A week earlier, Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 122 yards against Carolina. The week before that, the Packers' James Starks ran for 85 yards against the Panthers on only nine attempts, which works out to 9.4 yards per carry. You get the idea.
The Panthers don't have much hope of patching up the gaping holes in their run defense. Their two best linebackers, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, are both out for their year. Their DL rotation includes a pair of rookie defensive tackles, both of them third-round picks. Amazingly, the Panthers aren't last in the league against the run. That dishonor goes to the Rams, who are giving up 179.8 rushing yards per game, while the Panthers are giving up 143.8 per game. Still, because of the Panthers' personnel issues, I'd rather have one of my running backs matched up against Carolina than St. Louis. The Panthers are facing the Saints this week, and it will be interesting to see if Saints rookie Mark Ingram, who's been a flop so far, can finally get it going against a lousy run defense.
And by the way, because the Panthers are so inept against the run, it's probably wise to downgrade quarterbacks who are going against Carolina, since it makes little sense to use an air-it-out game plan against a team that's so helpless against the run.
9. Even though it FEELS as if Roddy White is off to a slow start, he isn't that far off last year's pace in terms of receptions and yardage. In 2010, he finished with 115 catches for 1,389 yards. Four games into 2011, he's on track for 104 catches and 1,208 yards. But after scoring 10 TDs last season, he has only one so far, and only one 100-yard game. He's also had an unusually high number of drops. But really, there isn't any reason for White owners to be concerned. The presence of rookie Julio Jones isn't translating into fewer throws to White, the deterioration of Atlanta's offensive line isn't having a demonstrable effect on White's numbers, and the thigh bruise that White has been dealing with isn't a significant concern. Hold steady, White owners.
10. It's mildly flabbergasting that some of the early reviews for the movie "Real Steel" have been positive. The whole boxing-robots premise seems silly (the childhood joys of Rock'em Sock'em Robots notwithstanding). I realize a lot of grade-school boys go to the movies, but not even the pre-pubescent me would have been intrigued by "Real Steel." Then again, I thought "Avatar" was going to be a flop.
11. It was strange to see the Steelers lose the battle of the trenches so decisively last week against the Texans, on both sides of the ball. There isn't any sort of quick fix at hand for the Steelers' offensive line. But I'll be surprised if the Pittsburgh defense doesn't quickly recover after letting Arian Foster run for 155 yards and a TD last week. Yes, star LB James Harrison is out for a while, and the Steelers have some aging defenders, but lack of talent on that side of the ball isn't a problem. The Titans bandwagon has been gathering steam, but I suspect that an angry Pittsburgh defense is going to make life very, very difficult for Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson and the rest of the Titans' offense this Sunday.
12. The career of second-year WR Antonio Brown appears just about ready for lift-off. Brown has quietly been putting up steady numbers for the Steelers, with at least four catches and 67 yards in each of his last three games. That his longest reception this season covered only 23 yards belies what a big-play receiver Brown is going to be. There were strong indications of it in the preseason, when Brown scored three TDs, including a 77-yarder. Noble old warrior Hines Ward is running on fumes at this point, and even if Brown doesn't replace Ward in the starting lineup at any point this season, it's only a matter of time before Brown is consistently getting the greater number of snaps per game. And with the Pittsburgh offensive line so inept at run blocking, the Steelers are going to have little choice but to air it out every week, so there should be plenty of balls to go around. (Of course, all bets are off if Ben Roethlisberger ends up hospitalized and is replaced by Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon.)
13. Are we supposed to believe that the Zach Miller currently suiting up for the Seahawks is the same Zach Miller who used to be such an effective weapon for the Raiders? Are we positive that it wasn't the other Zach Miller who signed with Seattle in the offseason? After averaging 56.5 catches and 678 yards per year over four seasons in Oakland, Miller has eight catches for 62 yards in his first four games with the Seahawks.
Not sure if it's a coincidence, but during his nine-year reign at USC, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll got only one exceptional pass-catching season out of a tight end — in 2007, when Fred Davis had 62 receptions for 881 yards and eight TDs. In eight other seasons with Carroll in command, no other USC tight end had more than 38 receptions or three TD catches.
14. It will be fascinating to see how often the Jets use CB Darrelle Revis to cover Wes Welker on Sunday. Welker owners have been spoiled by the mighty mite's early-season performances. Is he in for another big day? The Mattel Magic 9-Ball says: "Reply hazy." Welker has faced the Jets four times while Rex Ryan has been the Jets' head coach. (Welker missed a game against the Jets in 2009.) In the first of those games, Welker had 15 receptions for 192 yards. In the three games since, he's had 20 receptions for 175 yards and two TDs. That works out to under 60 yards a game in his last three games against the Jets, and to Welker owners, anything under 60 yards would feel like a famine at this point.
15. If we don't move before my two children reach their mid-teens, they'll attend the same high school that Rex and Rob Ryan attended — Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Ill. I can't help but wonder how many middle-aged male Stevenson grads have stories about getting their butts kicked by one of the Ryan brothers back in the day.
16. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers took all sorts of liberties with the Denver pass defense last week, with Rodgers throwing for 408 yards and four TDs. But it's worth noting that CB Champ Bailey is expected back from a hamstring injury this week, so it's going to get a little tougher to throw against the Broncos. Bailey is still one of the better cover corners in the league, which is worth taking into consideration if you have a top receiver going against the Broncos. The Chargers visit Denver this weekend, and Chargers WR Vincent Jackson is already dealing with hamstring and abdominal injuries. Assuming V-Jax even plays, he's not a good bet to put up big numbers on Sunday.
17. A quick update on how I'm faring in the experts league I was invited to play in this season, the 12-team Fantasy Pros Invitational:
So far, so good. I'm 4-0, and last week's come-from-behind victory was fueled by the same two guys who've been powering the engines all season: first-round pick Calvin Johnson and second-round pick Aaron Rodgers (drafted seventh and 18th overall, respectively). I don't think my team is quite championship-caliber, but I'm going to try to make it so with some additional tinkering under the hood.
My draft-day plan was to hit the WR position hard, since league rules allow you to start as many as five receivers in your 11-man lineup, and then backfill at the RB position. My WR corps isn't as strong as hoped. Megatron has been a beast, and A.J. Green has potential, but the Kenny Britt injury was rough. At the time of the draft we didn't know that Peyton Manning's neck problems were so severe, so my selection of Reggie Wayne obviously wasn't going to pay off, so I quickly dealt him for Cedric Benson — a pennies-on-the-dollar deal. Now I'm hoping for a lift from Victor Cruz, on whom I just spent more than a quarter of our allotted $100 free-agent budget. The wait-on-RBs strategy has worked out well, however. Ryan Mathews has been a jewel, and a flier pick on Daniel Thomas looks as if it might pay off.
This week's starting lineup:
QB - Aaron Rodgers
RB - Ryan Mathews
RB - Cedric Benson
WR - Calvin Johnson
WR - A.J. Green
WR - Victor Cruz
TE - Brandon Pettigrew
FLEX 1 - Marshawn Lynch
FLEX 2 - Malcom Floyd
PK - Lawrence Tynes
DEF - Pittsburgh Steelers
18. Brilliant move by the people behind "The Office" to cast James Spader as the new top dog at Dunder Mifflin. Steve Carrel did a great job with the Michael Scott character for a long time, but Michael's manic-nerd act was starting to wear thin, and the eerie, omniscient calm that Spader's Robert California character emanates provides a welcome change of pace.
19. Santonio Holmes has been doing an awful lot of talking and finger-pointing for a guy who's averaging 41 receiving yards per game. He's laid blame at the feet of QB Mark Sanchez and the offensive line, and he's talked smack about the Jets' opponents this week, the Patriots. The Jets' offense has a number of problem areas, but Holmes hasn't played like the top-20 receiver that most fantasy owners considered him to be, heading into the new season. Time for Holmes to get in sync with Sanchez and start putting some weight behind all the chatter.
20. Maybe I'm just being stubborn, but I still don't believe in Beanie Wells.
21. The death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs is sad news indeed. He was one of the few men in history who truly made the world smaller. Lord knows I'll be paying homage to Jobs this Sunday when I'm out in an orchard apple-picking with my children and occasionally peaking at fantasy football scores on my iPhone. RIP, Mr. Jobs.