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Friday, October 12, 2007
Professional Grade: Week 6 showdowns

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Navigating the trade market is never easy. We're through five weeks of the GMC Professional Grade League, and to date, not one trade has gone down.

Not that our ownership as a whole can be faulted; a few of us have tried, if you're been keeping up with the happenings so far.

This week, it was my turn to test the trade market, with three of the game's top 10 scoring quarterbacks -- Brett Favre (fourth), Matt Hasselbeck (10th) and Eli Manning (ninth) -- and rapidly thinning depth at running back and wide receiver. Here's a quick look at my three most likely trade counterparts, and how things shook out in our talks:

" Stephania Bell (3-2, fourth, beat Matthew Berry, 97-70, in Week 5) has Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia, and a fair share of depth at RB/WR, especially with Andre Johnson and Rudi Johnson on the mend. Sadly, though, Bell stood pat.

"I'm feeling cozy at the moment and I am planning to stick it out with McNabb," said Bell. "I think he hammers the Jets. I'm worried that Favre will go back to his gunslinger ways. ... I may regret this by Monday."

" Nate Ravitz (1-3-1, 10th, lost to Nando Di Fino, 88-55, in Week 5) has Jon Kitna on bye but managed to snatch Kurt Warner off waivers on Thursday. The Warner move prevented any need for Ravitz to deal for a QB, not that he's entirely sold on the veteran.

"As Jeremy Green and I discussed on our Fantasy/Reality segment this week on Fantasy Focus," said Ravitz, readily admitting to his name- and show-dropping strategy, "teams will be better prepared to stop Warner now that they can focus solely on a game plan that accounts for only one Arizona quarterback. That said, the Panthers haven't been able to get to the passer this season, mainly because Julius Peppers apparently decided to take the 2007 season off, so I see Warner having a big game this week."

" Christopher Harris (2-3, seventh, beat Scott Engel, 105-67, in Week 5) has Vince Young and Joey Harrington, but lost Jake Delhomme for the season. Still, he has faith in his sophomore QB, and planned to use him for the fourth time in five weeks.

"All he does is win, baby," said Harris. "Okay, yeah, that doesn't really help my fantasy team, does it? I'm still hanging in there with him. He was awful last week, but he's got a history of playing well after really bad games. Tampa's defense will treat him pretty much as the Colts have done the past two seasons, so there's familiarity, and Barrett Ruud might not play for the Bucs, which would help."

OK, so back to the drawing board ... Perhaps time for a more creative approach?

Sundays With Scottie

So I finally caught up with good buddy and colleague Scott Engel (1-3-1, ninth, lost to Harris, 105-67, in Week 5) this past Sunday, our first time catching the games together this season. Quite an experience; Engel lately has been sporting his "playoff beard" (if you're a hockey fan, you know what I'm talking about). Of course, in Engel's case, I have to assume it's an inverse strategy; he's not shaving until he gets into the playoffs.

Good times were had, we debated the merits of Matt Schaub -- one of Engel's three QBs -- and his performance running the two-minute drill in Week 5, I had a great burger and then, of course, I plopped my trade offer on him: Favre for Travis Henry.

I didn't think there'd be any chance Engel would part with Henry, certainly not for what could essentially be construed as QB depth. Still, with Henry's immediate future clouded at best, I was curious. Might Engel be hoping to cash in on Henry, purging himself the late-season risk? Or, perhaps it simply would open up the avenues to a different deal involving the game's newest high-risk RB? Here's how the conversation went:

Engel: "I don't want Favre, not for Henry, because his suspension process may drag out for a while."

Cockcroft: "But that suggests you DO want Favre for something else? That true? I bet it's more that you're OK at QB, but I gotta ask..."

Engel: "I don't really have a glaring need at any position."

Ouch. Shot down cold, not even a second thought. Still, I thought quickly.

Cockcroft: "How about head coach?"

Engel: "That's the biggest strength!"

I'd return home soon thereafter, only to receive a friendly post-game e-mail from Engel regarding next week's column.

"Closed locker room -- no reporters," he wrote. "Your credential request has been denied."

I dunno; something tells me he'll still be good for a quote next week.

Digging Deep for 'D'

Three owners faced the prospect of no starting team defense/special teams in Week 6: Ken Daube (4-1, first, beat Schwab, 115-69, in Week 5), who owns the Steelers; and Nando Di Fino (2-3, fifth, beat Ravitz, 88-55, in Week 5) and Nate Ravitz, each of whom has been rotating in D/STs each week based on the matchups.

Sounds like three perfect candidates to toss us some sleeper D/STs, eh?

"I love the Giants this week," said Daube. "There's zero risk of a huge points day being put up by the hapless Falcons and the New York push rush and secondary should combine to force same bad decisions from Joey Harrington and then Byron Leftwich."

I've got to agree with you there, Ken. These Giants, fueled by a ridiculous seven sacks by DE Osi Umenyiora and two interceptions by CB Aaron Ross, have a combined 39 fantasy points the past two weeks. Of course, as a Giants fan, I've reminded Daube that I hold him to blame if all this good feeling leads to the dreaded kibosh. Statistical note: The Giants recorded four interceptions, a fumble recovery and six sacks in two games on "Monday Night Football" last season. The first one was the night then-Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe officially lost his starting job to Tony Romo, to refresh your memory.

"I will keep [the Texans] in there this week, and give them one last chance," said Di Fino. "If they fail me, I will release them, pick up another maddeningly inconsistent defense, and watch the Texans score double digits every week thereafter."

Sorry to break it to you, Nando, but you're 1-3 riding the Texans D, which has scored exactly three points in each of the past three weeks. Not that I'm complaining, as your opponent in Week 6! Statistical note: In Week 10 at Jacksonville last year, the Texans managed four interceptions, two sacks and held the Jaguars to only 10 points. Not bad!

"I'm going back to the well with Arizona," said Ravitz. "They have scored at least 10 points each of the last two weeks, and David Carr seems like a recipe for three in a row."

I'll heap loads of credit upon new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt for his improvements on the offensive side of the ball, particularly the offensive line's performance, but no one seems to be noting the team's respectable play on the defensive side of the ball. Statistical note: David Carr's D/ST opponents the past two weeks, the Buccaneers (Week 4) and Saints (Week 5), combined for 15 fantasy points in those contests.

The Showdown: QB versus D/ST

Among the most exciting matchups on the NFL docket in Week 6: Patriots at Cowboys. It's a battle of perfect 5-0 teams, a battle of top-2 offenses (Pats average 36.4 points per game, Cowboys 35.2) and a battle of top-2 fantasy point scorers (QB Tom Brady has 111 fantasy points, QB Tony Romo 110). Does that scare off the owner of New England's defense, Eric Karabell (2-3, eighth, beat Cockcroft, 70-67, in Week 5)?

"I'll stay with the Patriots over Green Bay," said Karabell. "I mean, the quarterback they're facing just turned the ball over six times. Oh wait, I have that quarterback."

Wait, Eric, you're bucking a commonly accepted notion that you don't use both a quarterback and the defense he's facing?

"Yep, I guess I am nuts," said Karabell. "I don't assume one will have a great day at the expense of the other. And how do you know which one to sit? Plus, that's how serious I am about not starting my backup, Drew Brees."

OK, now it all makes sense; I won't touch Brees, either. In addition, from a statistical angle, consider that in Week 1, Bengals QB Carson Palmer scored 15 fantasy points against the Ravens defense, which scored 12; in Week 4, Lions QB Jon Kitna had 15 points against the opposing Bears, who were good for 13. I'd call the Patriots D a tad better than those two to date, and Romo better than the QBs to date, wouldn't you?

Tough Calls: Deep Selections

" Howie Schwab (3-2, third, lost to Daube, 115-69, in Week 5) planned a wait-and-see approach to RB Ahman Green, fresh off a knee injury that cost him two games. With Green playing the Jaguars on the road, his counterpart, Fred Taylor got the start. Quarterback, though, was another matter entirely for Schwab.

"Jason Campbell plays this week because someone beat me for Derek Anderson," said Schwab, referring to his having lost out on a waiver claim to Engel.

Engel, meanwhile, planned to start Anderson, facing a Dolphins defense he termed "more vulnerable against the pass than the numbers would indicate." Statistical note: The Dolphins might rank third in passing yards allowed per game (171.6), but they're 20th in opponents' passer rating (86.9). I'd agree with Scott on this one; Anderson isn't a bad sleeper QB.

Sadly, Schwab wasn't a trade candidate for me; he's a Peyton Manning owner. No reason to deal for a backup QB when you'd never sit Manning the final 10 weeks!

Wait, I Gotta Set a Lineup Too?

This past Monday night was a particularly painful one for me (2-3, sixth, lost to Karabell, 70-67, in Week 5). Some of my readers might know I'm a Yankees fan; ironic considering I've received many a comment from angry Yankee fans calling me "you (select colorful comment not fit for print) Red Sox fan!" for anti-Yankee predictions over the years.

Well, in addition to watching my Yankees lose their Division Series Monday night, my opponent, Karabell, had a two-point lead and Tony Romo yet to play (I had Julius Jones). Heading into the night, I wrote that one off as a big, fat "L."

"Well, well, Mr. Cockcroft, I'll take my second straight win, a three-point effort," said Karabell. "Guess you needed my Tony Romo to throw two more interceptions."

Actually, Eric, what I needed was Romo to not rally his team to a victory in the final five minutes. At the time of the Yankee loss, I actually held a lead in our game, shockingly, only to lose it when Romo completed that four-yard TD pass to Patrick Crayton with 20 seconds on the clock. Without that, Karabell loses the game, incredibly.

So, naturally, I'm hoping for a rebound, and some better luck this week against Di Fino, who made the bold move of subbing Vernand Morency for bye-week Frank Gore.

"Considering Frank Gore has actually been a monstrous gaping hole even on non-bye weeks, I think this may be an improvement," said Di Fino.

At press time, I had yet to trade any of my three-headed QB monster, and despite loving Eli Manning's matchup at Atlanta, I'm even bigger on Hasselbeck against the pitiful Saints. He and Bobby Engram -- a sleeper pick of mine, albeit not on my team in this league -- have great chemistry, and I'm expecting Deion Branch's absence won't be felt as much as you'd think. The Saints rank dead last in opponents' passer rating (114.7).

In addition, my one glimmer of hope: Di Fino's math might be a tad off this week. Perhaps that could have led to a miscalculation at a key position?

"I have won two of my last three," said Di Fino, "and would also like to point out that I am 5-0 in the Mock Draft League."

Sorry, Nando, though you are 5-0 in that league, you've lost two of your last three in this one. I admire your confidence, though!

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