1. Back in grade school, my friends and I often traded lunch items, usually desserts. The school-lunchroom equivalent of the Raiders' trade for Carson Palmer earlier this week would be trading a pair of Hostess Twinkies for a granola bar. The granola bar might be good for you, but you still made an absurdly lopsided trade that your friends are going to razz you about.
It's easy to understand the Raiders' desperation. After losing Jason Campbell to a serious shoulder injury, they didn't want to squander a 4-2 start and understandably didn't want to move forward with Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor or some currently unemployed roustabout at quarterback. There were reportedly discussions about a trade for Vince "Dream Team" Young, but the Raiders wisely shied away. Instead, they acquired Palmer from the Bengals in exchange for a first-round draft pick in 2012 and a conditional draft pick in 2013 that could be a first-rounder but will inevitably be a second-rounder when Palmer fails to lead Oakland to the playoffs.
At the height of his career, Palmer was a very good (but not great) quarterback. He is no longer anywhere close to the height of his career. Oakland fans and other Palmer supporters will note that Palmer compiled good numbers for the Bengals last season, throwing for 3,970 yards and 26 TDs, with a respectable completion rate of 61.8 percent. But Palmer also threw 20 interceptions, and according to Football Outsiders, he tied for second in the league in dropped interceptions with nine. Palmer's arm has never been the same since he partially tore a ligament and tendon in his elbow in 2008. Watching Palmer in 2010, it was almost sad to see how much zip he'd lost on shorter throws, particularly the quick outs that he used to throw so well. The lack of zip on those passes makes it easier for defenders to drive on the ball, and that's evident by the high interception and near-interception totals.
The Raiders gave up a king's ransom in draft picks to tread water at quarterback. Palmer is not a significant upgrade over Campbell. Both are functional but limited passers incapable of winning games without a great deal of help from their teammates. For fantasy purposes, Palmer will be a backup-caliber performer, not a guy you'll want to plug into your lineup every week. The good news for the owners of Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, et al., is that these guys aren't going to lose any value as a result of the Campbell/Palmer switch. But to expect any of them to gain value based on the addition of Palmer would be naive.
2. And by the way, the Bengals could be a powerhouse in two or three years if team boss Mike Brown plays his cards right. The Andy Dalton-A.J. Green combination will be in full flower by then, the defense should be strong as long as ace coordinator Mike Zimmer is still around, and the team will have cashed in the collection of high 2012 and 2013 draft choices it now owns in the wake of the Palmer deal. It may not be long before the Bengals truly restore the roar.
3. By now we're all starting to tire of the Harbaugh-Schwartz handshake story, but I still can't get over the level of jackassery to which Jim Harbaugh descended in that moment. His overenthusiastic handshake was entirely inappropriate, but it would have been forgivable in and of itself. The shove in Schwartz's back that followed it was just plain disrespectful (and replays clearly show that it was a shove rather than an innocent hand to the back). Schwartz has taken some heat for chasing down Harbaugh and nearly touching off a brawl, but I can't blame him — I'd have been royally miffed, too.
In fantasy football, we've all dealt with crybabies who don't handle defeat well, who whine incessantly about their bad luck. But sore losers aren't nearly as obnoxious as those who fail to demonstrate grace in victory. Victorious fantasy owners who revel in shoving it in the faces of the vanquished are complete chowderheads. The line between friendly needling and rubbing someone's nose in it isn't such a fine one; the difference is obvious. It's obnoxious to call a losing fantasy owner to gloat immediately after you beat him. It's equally obnoxious for a winning owner to brag to a losing owner about how much better his team is. And it's the pinnacle of poor form to engage in a demonstrative victory celebration in the presence of your defeated foe — which is exactly what Harbaugh did.
Win with class and allow your victim his dignity. Your reputation in your league ultimately means more than your current record.
4. The Rams' WR situation has been a confounding puzzle for fantasy owners. Now that some of the pieces have changed, will assembly get any easier? Uh ... maybe.
The big addition is Brandon Lloyd, acquired in a trade with the Broncos that cost the Rams only a conditional low-round pick in next year's draft. (Are you taking notes, Raiders?) Lloyd is reunited with Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who helped turn around Lloyd's career during their two years together in Denver. Lloyd is obviously familiar with McDaniels' offense, so it shouldn't take the receiver long to settle in with his new team. This was a terrific deal for the Rams. Sam Bradford needed a reliable go-to target, and Lloyd fills the bill. The Broncos deemed Lloyd expendable not because of any shortcomings as a player, but because Lloyd has been seeking a new contract and doesn't fit the Broncos' rebuilding plans. I think Lloyd can contribute to the Rams immediately, and it wouldn't surprise me if he had a good game against the Cowboys this week - even if Sam Bradford's high ankle sprain keeps him out of the lineup and forces the talent-challenged A.J. Feeley into action.
Also joining the Rams' WR mix is Mark Clayton who's coming off the PUP list. Before tearing up his knee last October, Clayton had been the favorite receiver of Bradford, a fellow ex-Sooner, with 23 catches for 306 yards and two TDs in five games. As of this writing it was still unclear whether Clayton would be active for the Rams' road game against the Cowboys, but since Clayton is a Dallas native, you know he'd love to play. If you have room on your roster and Clayton is available, it might make sense to stash him on your roster for a couple of weeks. Even if he plays this weekend, he probably won't get a ton of snaps. But in two or three weeks we might see a Lloyd-Clayton combo in the starting lineup, and the St. Louis passing game might finally start to take flight.
As for the rest of the Rams' receivers, the Lloyd acquisition and Clayton activation muddy the waters. Danario Alexander, who came out of temporary hibernation to catch six passes for 91 yards against the Packers last week, has been hard to peg all year. As of Monday, he was the best downfield threat the Rams had. Lloyd's arrival could very well kill whatever fantasy value Alexander had. The same can probably be said of Brandon Gibson. It's not as if Gibson had a ton of fantasy value to begin with. But whereas Gibson was vying for a high perch in the Rams' WR pecking order just a few weeks ago, he's now clearly behind Lloyd and will almost certainly be behind a healthy Clayton. Rookie Greg Salas remains far more intriguing to fantasy owners in dynasty leagues than those in redraft leagues. He may still get some snaps this year, but you don't want him anywhere near your fantasy lineup.
5. I'm still clinging stubbornly to my belief that Sam Bradford will prove himself to be a good fantasy quarterback this season. The Lloyd trade adds a needed shot of hope.
6. After trading for Lloyd and activating Clayton from the PUP list, the Rams released the perennially disappointing Mike Sims-Walker, who was promptly picked up by the very team with whom he first learned how to be a professional tease, the Jaguars. MSW figures to be the No. 3 receiver in Jacksonville behind Mike Thomas and Jason Hill. There's really nothing to see here for fantasy owners. The Jaguars have the lowest-ranked passing offense in the league, and by a wide margin. (Jacksonville is averaging 137.7 passing yards per game; the next-lowest total belongs to the Vikings, who average 168.7 passing yards per game.) Things aren't going to get much better as QB Blaine Gabbert continues to grope his way through what's destined to be a bumpy rookie season. Even if Thomas or Hill were to go down, Sims-Walker wouldn't be worth a roster spot on a fantasy team.
7. The NFL trade deadline brought a couple of deals with fantasy implications, but we also saw an interesting non-deal that would have sent Ronnie Brown from the Eagles to the Lions in exchange for Jerome Harrison and an undisclosed 2013 draft pick. However, the trade was voided after Harrison was found to have previously undisclosed medical issues. Two interesting takeaways from the deal that didn't happen: (1) It's an indication that the Eagles have a ton of confidence in rookie Dion Lewis as LeSean McCoy's backup; (2) the Lions aren't wildly confident in their current crew of backup running backs, which includes Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams. Morris is the best bet to have some sort of fantasy value while Jahvid Best recovers from a concussion, but one suspects that the Lions are going to rely heavily on the arm of Matthew Stafford and the pass-catching talents of Calvin Johnson while Best is out.
8. Last week, the Lions were nearly involved in a repeat of the infamous call that robbed Calvin Johnson of a TD catch at the end of a Week One game against the Bears last season. Nate Burleson caught a Matthew Stafford pass in the back of the endzone, got both feet inbounds, fell out of the endzone, then let the ball squirt away as he lay on the ground. Under any sane interpretation, Burleson had clearly completed the catch before losing possession, and yet last season's illogical ruling to disallow the Megatron catch created a moment of doubt. Ultimately, the Burleson touchdown was upheld by referee Mike Carey, providing further evidence that Carey is far and away the NFL's best ref. A lesser official may have cited the Megatron precedent in taking away Burleson's obvious catch, but Carey is way too good to make that sort of brain-dead ruling. Bravo, Mike Carey.
9. Cam Newton owners should be at least mildly concerned that the Panthers have put starting ORT Jeff Otah on injured reserve. The Otah injury could also take at least a small nibble out of the fantasy value of Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.
This is the third time in four years that Otah has gone on I.R. He missed the entire 2010 season and had missed two of Carolina's first six games this year. But Otah is an elite blocker when healthy, and the Panthers' offense will miss him. Otah didn't play last week against the Falcons, and Newton had a rough day. In the four games Otah played this season, Newton had six TD passes and three interceptions. In the two games Otah missed, Newton had one TD pass, six interceptions. (Newton was also sacked four times in Week Two, when Otah missed Carolina's game against Green Bay.) The Panthers will try to replace Otah with Byron Bell, an undrafted rookie, and the next option behind Bell is another rookie, seventh-rounder Lee Ziemba. If the drop-off is significant — and most likely it will be — the Panthers could be forced to use their tight ends to help in pass protection, which could put a dent in Olsen's and Shockey's numbers.
10. I suspect that we're about to see a multi-game demonstration of why it was a mistake for the Vikings to select Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in this year's NFL draft.
11. Under new coordinator Rob Ryan, he of the flowing locks and demonstrative sideline demeanor, the Cowboys' defense is turning into the sort of nightmare fantasy matchup that the Ravens and Steelers have posed to fantasy owners for more than a decade. The Cowboys currently rank fifth in total defense and first in run defense. Dallas is allowing 69.6 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry, and it has yielded only a single TD run. The Cowboys are also averaging two takeaways per game and better than three sacks per game. Why is Ryan's system working so much better in Dallas than it did in Cleveland? That's easy: (a) He has better overall talent to work with now; (b) he never had the sort of toy in Cleveland that he now has in all-world OLB DeMarcus Ware; and (c) his defense is now paired with a competent offense. That last item is significant. It's easier for a defensive coordinator to dial up play calls when his defense isn't constantly playing from behind.
12. Kickers are so often an afterthought in fantasy football, as they should be. But every so often a kicker's big day helps you steal a victory. That was the case for me last week, when Billy Cundiff's five-FG day helped me pull a win out of my rear end in one of my leagues. Cundiff has kicked 14 field goals through five games and leads the NFL in scoring average with 11.2 points per game. Atta boy, Billy.
13. Is Brandon Marshall allergic to the endzone? The mercurial receiver turned in a strange performance in the Dolphins' 24-6 loss to the Jets on Monday night, spending much of the game muscling around premier CB Darrelle Revis in a way that most receivers can only dream of, yet blowing what should have been a pair of easy touchdowns. On one play, Marshall snuck behind coverage (Antonio Cromartie was supposed to be on him this play, not Revis), caught a pass from Matt Moore and turned up the sideline with clear sailing ahead, only to inexplicably careen out of bounds on his own. Later, he got open in front of Revis but let a potential five-yard TD catch squirt through his hands. Marshall finished with six catches for 109 yards, but he left an epic performance on the table.
Marshall has had four straight 1,000-yard seasons, but the only time his TD total was in line with his yardage total was in 2009, when he had 1,120 receiving yards and 10 TDs while with the Broncos. His next-best TD total for a single season is seven, and that was in a year ('07) when he had 1,325 receiving yards. It's weird how Marshall so often dominates outside the red zone but then botches potential scores. Is there an allergist in the house?
14. There are so many good things to be said about the month of October. There's wall-to-wall football every weekend. The fall TV season is in full swing. Here in the Midwest, we're enjoying spectacular fall colors. And then there's one of the underrated pleasures of October: apples. It's peak apple season, and after raiding a nearby apple orchard with our kids (legally, of course), we have more delicious apples in our house than we know what to do with. My wife makes a phenomenal apple crisp, and there are few things better than kicking back and watching football while enjoying a plate of apple crisp a la mode. Pure heaven.
15. Earl Bennett's impending return from a chest injury could have some fantasy significance. Bennett is practicing again and could be active for the Bears' game against the Buccaneers in London this weekend. There's a good chance he'll put up better numbers the rest of the way than Devin Hester, who had five catches for 91 yards and a TD last week but sustained a chest injury of his own. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising at all if Bennett produced the best numbers of any Chicago receiver from now through the end of the season.
16. Just when it appeared that C.J. Spiller's fantasy value was as lifeless as Col. Gadhafi, Chan Gailey began to milk some value out of the former first-round draft pick by moving him to wide receiver. The position change makes perfect sense for the Bills. Fred Jackson has established himself as an elite, three-down running back, and Donald Jones' high ankle sprain has left the Bills thin at wide receiver. The resourceful Gailey says it's a short-term move, but for now it gives Spiller potential flex value in fantasy leagues. (I assume that Spiller will remain eligible only at running back in most leagues, though commissioners with micromanagerial tendencies might give him WR status.) Not that anyone expects Spiller to start throwing up big numbers as a receiver, but hey, we're in the middle of the bye weeks, and sometimes a warm body is the most you can ask for.
17. With Cedric Benson's suspension reduced to a one-gamer, it's probably time to cast away any notions that Bernard Scott might supplant a healthy Benson in the Cincinnati lineup. I've always been high on Scott and have wondered what he might be able to do if given a chance to play a featured role, but apparently the Bengals don't share my curiosity. Benson will serve his suspension in Week Eight, which means he'll miss a road game in Seattle. Perhaps Scott could force the playing-time issue with a monstrous performance in Benson's absence, but that seems unlikely against a Seahawks run defense that ranks eighth in the league and is yielding just 3.1 yards per carry.
18. You've probably noticed that there are a lot of good wide receivers on bye this week: Wes Welker, Hakeem Nicks, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Stevie Johnson, A.J. Green.
Here are some of the wide receivers I'm starting this week in my various leagues: Hines Ward, James Jones, Malcom Floyd, Jacoby Ford, Antonio Brown, Denarius Moore.
19. As the current season of "Survivor" starts to gather steam, I'm stunned that Brandon Hantz, the unhinged nephew of past "Survivor" supervillain Russell Hantz, hasn't been voted out of his tribe yet. Russell was merely cold, calculating and manipulative. Brandon seems to be in dire need of professional help, what with his seemingly daily emotional swings and his constant references to his ongoing battle with demons. I wonder if Brandon actually applied to be on the show, or if the "Survivor" producers recruited him. I'd be willing to wager heavily on the latter.
20. Redskins TE Chris Cooley has a fractured index finger and is having ongoing knee problems, so he's probably going to be out for a while, possibly for the rest of the season. First thought: This really boosts the fantasy value of Fred Davis. Second thought: Karma is not treating Mr. Cooley well after his comments about how pleased he was to watch Tony Romo self-combust with those costly interceptions in the Cowboys' loss to the Lions a few weeks ago.
21. The woebegone Colts are scheduled to take a Sunday-night beating in New Orleans, and you can bet that Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and their producers have been strategizing over how to fill time should NBC have a nationally televised blowout on its hands. On Monday night, ESPN will serve up a thoroughly lopsided matchup between the 4-1 Ravens and the 1-5 Jaguars. Here's what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the network executives at NBC Sports and ESPN have to be thinking: "Thank god for fantasy football."
In weeks when the prime-time games feature mongrel matchups — and we've had an inordinately high share of lousy prime-time matchups so far, haven't we? — there are two viewer constituencies that can be counted upon: degenerate gamblers and degenerate fantasy football players (and not necessarily in that order). How many people are actually interested in seeing the Jaguars play? But there will be tens of thousands of people who tune into Monday night's Ravens-Jaguars game because they have Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew or Anquan Boldin on their fantasy teams.
Say it again, Mr. Goodell: "Thank god for fantasy football."