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Friday, September 28, 2007
Professional Grade: Week 4 showdowns

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Heck of a wild season it's been so far, eh?

The craziness extends well beyond the gridiron. In Week 3 of the GMC Professional Grade League, flukes, upsets and injuries weren't the only stories. No, the scoreboard had two of the wackier results we've seen through three weeks:

Game 1: 98-98.

That's right, Scott Engel (1-1-1, 6th) and Nate Ravitz (1-1-1, 5th) tied. TIES?! Ties are for the NHL … Oh, wait, they changed that rule a couple seasons back, didn't they?

"I hate ties!" Engel said.

Of course, Engel's frustration might have been partly fueled by my having previously ribbed him about cutting Philip Rivers a few days earlier. Rivers rattled off 22 points in Week 3 -- fourth best among QBs -- but he did it as a bench player for Nando Di Fino (1-2, 8th; lost to Ken Daube, 120-74, in Week 3), who scooped him up on waivers on game day.

Game 2: 123-110.

That was the score of my matchup with Matthew Berry (3-0, 2nd), now one of only two undefeated teams. The good news, for those of you who read to the end of last week's column: I'm still here! The bad news: I lost to the league's highest-scoring team, despite managing the fourth-most points of our 10 teams.

That's fantasy football for you! Pardon me a moment while I curse the schedule makers …

Meanwhile, many of you might be cursing the fantasy football gods for different reasons. LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Drew Brees were still relative disappointments, while we lost fantasy stalwarts Steven Jackson, Rudi Johnson and Deuce McAllister to injury, in Week 3. The bye weeks, now upon us, cause enough headaches when preparing our weekly lineups. Now we've got added, unexpected question marks!

And that, my friends, is the name of the game for our league in Week 4.

It all starts with Christopher Harris (0-3, 10th; lost to Stephania Bell, 118-43, in Week 3), bruised and battered and now facing the prospect of his starting QB, Vince Young, on bye. Nevertheless, Harris, in dire straits with backup Jake Delhomme doubtful with an elbow injury, remains optimistic of turning things around.

"Oh, don't you worry, I'm coming back," Harris said. "Sure, I have everyone on bye. Sure, everyone else is hurt. But before Sunday morning, I'll have replaced all my injured/resting players brilliantly off the waiver wire. I'll need a quarterback, but it's a 10-team league, so there are plenty out there."

Mere hours later, Harris made his QB pickup: Joey Harrington.

"I actually have Jay Cutler rated higher in my weekly rankings (by one spot), but when push came to shove, I kept Joey's big yardage day at home in mind, held my nose, and tried Harrington," Harris said. "Of course, there's a chance Delhomme will play (albeit a decreasing one), so I could put him in the lineup late if he's OK."

Harris isn't the only one in desperate need of a "W" in Week 4. Eric Karabell (0-3, 9th; lost to Howie Schwab, 108-72, in Week 3) shares the distinction of being tied for last, and in his case, he faces a brutal matchup, against league powerhouse Ken Daube (3-0, 1st; beat Nando Di Fino, 120-74, in Week 3).

"There have been times in the past I've been embarrassed with last-place teams, but this isn't one of them," Karabell said. "I chose LaDainian Tomlinson first. What, I should've gone with LaMont Jordan? My running backs looked solid, my wide receivers are solid, I don't see what I could have done to prevent this."

Bad luck has been the story of Karabell's season: Drew Brees, his QB, has 13 points for the season. Tomlinson ranks 13th in points among RBs. Thomas Jones was limited the first two weeks by a calf strain. Javon Walker had a disastrous one point in Week 3. Still, with Tony Romo joining the latter three, Karabell's lineup is a surprisingly respectable one going into a matchup in which most might call him the clear underdog.

"Because of byes and season-ending ACL injuries (thanks, Deuce), I didn't have many choices to make, but I did pick up the Packers' defense and sit New England," Karabell said. "I like Green Bay's chances against whoever slings the ball for the Vikings. Maybe Fran Tarkenton will come back for this one."

Daube, apparently, has a good share of respect for his Week 4 opponent, too.

"Jamal Lewis goes to the bench in favor of Sammy Morris," said Daube of his strategy. "The reasoning is simple, with tough matchups at quarterback (Carson Palmer versus New England) and wide receiver (Steve Smith versus Tampa Bay), I think I need to increase my upside potential within the flex lineup slot."

Interesting side story to their showdown: Daube recently pitched Karabell a trade: Tomlinson and Greg Jennings for Jordan, Mike Furrey and Morris. Standing by his team leader, Karabell respectfully declined. Can you blame him?

"I respect the offer," Karabell said, "but LT's gonna lead me outta this. Or else."

Tough Calls: Deep Selections

• In two of the past three weeks, Howie Schwab (2-1, 3rd; beat Eric Karabell, 108-72, in Week 3) has had one of the top two WRs in terms of fantasy points sitting on his bench (Randy Moss was second with 24 in Week 1). In Week 3, it was Kevin Curtis (40!), yet incredibly, he pulled off the victory regardless. With RB Ahman Green nursing a bruised knee, Curtis gets the start at flex for Schwab, marking the first time he has had his WR triumvirate -- Deion Branch is the third -- all active. "Not that tough," Schwab said of his Week 4 decisions, the first time he's been able to say that this year.

• Di Fino appears to have found his "diamond in the rough" in terms of team defenses. "I'm sticking with the Texans for a while now," said Di Fino, who will be relying on them for a third consecutive week. "I really do like them. Plus, they get the Falcons this week, so there really isn't any reason to drop them."

• Despite Vikings coach Brad Childress' frequent pledges this week that a healthy Chester Taylor would be his Week 4 starter, Engel remained unconcerned about his rookie flex option, Adrian Peterson. "The return of Taylor won't cut into Peterson's numbers, really," Engel said. "Peterson has looked so good he will still get enough touches to post fine totals. If anything, Taylor's presence will ensure he doesn't get overworked, and will give Kelly Holcomb a much-needed target since all his receivers stink or are unproven."

Leave it to Engel to toss a little trash talk into his Week 4 matchup with Berry, though.

"I'm not afraid of the TMR," Engel said. "Sure, I respect him, but I like my own team a lot, too, and it's better than my record would illustrate."

• Ravitz offered a different take to the Taylor-Peterson conundrum. "I still have questions about Adrian Peterson's durability," Ravitz said. "I do think Chester could make a good flex start on the bye weeks, although my depth at wide receiver may make starting him unnecessary." Ronald Curry got the call in Taylor's place at flex for Ravitz.

The Sup-IR Bowl

Injuries are the name of game in my Week 4 matchup with Stephania Bell (1-2, 7th; beat Christopher Harris, 118-43, in Week 3), one I'm dubbing the "Sup-IR Bowl." I own Steven Jackson; she has Brandon Jacobs, Andre Johnson and Rudi Johnson. I'm 2-1, in fourth place.

"Have you ever seen so much red -- "O," "D" or "Q" -- next to key players?" Bell asked.

"I moved a receiver into my flex because I have exhausted my running back options -- and in this league, there are no good running backs to pick up off waivers. I feel better with a Derrick Mason matchup against Cleveland."

Sorry to break it to you, Stephania, but I scooped up Ron Dayne and Kenny Watson on Thursday, partly as a preventative measure, but also for some depth in light of Jackson's injury. Engel nabbed Brian Leonard off waivers on Thursday; Berry got Aaron Stecker. Even the less-desirable options go flying off the free-agent list!

While Bell is also banking on a healthy, big day for Derrick Ward, I'm going with DeShaun Foster as my No. 2 RB, and Vincent Jackson as my flex option. Dayne could sneak in a start depending on the Sunday morning news regarding Houston RBs, but for now, the safe play is Foster, still earning John Fox's trust in Carolina. As for Jackson, watching the Chargers' passing game begin to click in Green Bay last week, I'm pretty sold on a big hot streak for them now that they're back home, kicking off the division part of the schedule.

Now, sticking with the theme of our matchup, time to rest my aching fingers …

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.