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Friday, November 9, 2007
Professional Grade: Brady on bye

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Week 10 brings an interesting dilemma to one owner in every league in the fantasy football universe: How to survive Tom Brady's bye week?

Matthew Berry (5-3-1, 2nd, lost to Ken Daube, 120-80, in Week 9) is the unfortunate soul who owns Brady in the GMC Professional Grade League. But really, can any Brady owner be called "unfortunate"? No one has any sympathy for a Brady owner in the quarterback's bye week; it'd be the effective equivalent of feeling sorry for Godzilla if he stubbed a toe crushing a car.

Check the stats: Brady to date has 236 fantasy points in standard ESPN leagues, 70 more than any other player (Adrian Peterson is second). Only twice has Brady accrued fewer than 20 points in a week, Weeks 4 and 9, when he totaled 19. Still, despite "down" efforts, he finished no lower than fourth at his position or 18th overall in either of those weeks.

That puts Brady on a 420-point pace, which would shatter LaDainian Tomlinson's record of 410, set only a year ago. Pretty remarkable, eh?

Nevertheless, despite the absence of Brady, Berry enters the week confident, with exceptional matchups at both running back (Marshawn Lynch at Miami, Willie Parker versus Cleveland) and wide receiver (Santonio Holmes versus Cleveland and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at Baltimore). He'll make do in his one Brady-less week.

"I'll find a guy on waivers," said Berry. "There's a few free agent quarterbacks that'll all produce low double-digit numbers for Brady this week."

Among free agents, Kurt Warner (16 projected points), Brian Griese (14), Damon Huard (14), Steve McNair (14) and J.P. Losman (11) rank among the five strongest fill-ins, so say our own Hector and Victor. Griese, despite his matchup against the Raiders' fourth-ranked pass defense (179.0 yards per game), was Berry's first choice.

Our experts, and fellow GMC Professional Grade League participants, seemed pretty divided. In their Week 10 rankings, Scott Engel (3-5-1, 9th, beat Stephania Bell, 106-62, in Week 9) and Nate Ravitz (3-4-2, 6th, beat Eric Karabell, 148-84, in Week 9) also tabbed Griese the best choice; Christopher Harris (4-5, 8th, lost to Cockcroft, 113-78, in Week 9) picked Warner, and Karabell (4-5, 7th, lost to Ravitz, 148-84, in Week 9) chose Losman. I'd opt for Losman, then Warner, faced with the same decision.

The Long Journey

One of the most fun aspects of covering the GMC Professional Grade League for you this season has been the little trash-talk sessions I get to experience with the owners while conducting our weekly interviews. Sometimes, a humorous quip or two gets tossed my way, but nothing like this little nugget I learned this week:

"Did you know that Nando once named one of his fantasy teams 'Nandon't Stop Believin'?" said Ken Daube (5-4, 3rd, beat Berry, 120-80, in Week 9). "One should not be permitted to play in such a prestigious league as ours if he has defiled the sport by using a Journey song as the basis of a team's name."

Turns out Daube is accurate; among other creative team names used by Nando DiFino (2-7, 10th, lost to Howie Schwab, 84-56, in Week 9), like "DiFino Grigios" and "Filet MigNandos," was that Journey-inspired moniker. The "Journey" continues this week, as bottom-ranked DiFino holds out hope at a miracle comeback facing, who else, but Daube?

To that end, DiFino welcomed Priest Holmes, the week's top waiver claim, with open arms. It's the second time in three weeks he has nabbed the week's hottest free agent running back; he added Jesse Chatman in just the same way following Week 7. It's Nando's sort of trial by fire strategy; building depth and exploiting matchups. Besides, if he should break your heart, Holmes, that is, you can always cut him.

"I think Holmes is going to make an impact, or at least more of an impact than the guys dangling at the end of my bench," said DiFino, in the top waiver position each of the past three weeks after the fall he experienced earlier in the year. "He's not like one of these undrafted guys who pops up every week on the Packers or Texans out of desperation. He's Priest Holmes!"

Suffice to say, if DiFino can't tame the lion that is Daube's points-leading team, by Week 11, it'll be too late for him to go all the way. With another loss by DiFino, the party's over.

DiFino also had a message of love for yours truly entering the week: An e-mail titled "I hate you" after Clinton Portis, whom he traded to me a week ago, went off for 196 yards and a score in Week 9. Who's crying now? Nando, apparently; he's not all lovin', touchin', squeezin' when it comes to his feelings for yours truly.

The only solutions? Exacting a bit of revenge on this columnist; he picked up Julius Jones only six days after I had cut him. Jones and I went our separate ways on Oct. 28, as I faced a roster crunch. I'll be alright without you, Julius, really I will. Even if Nando likes what he sees, taking a look into the future.

"I really feel as though Marion Barber is due for an injury," DiFino said faithfully.

I've been feeling that way a bit myself. OK, no, I haven't, but at least it helped me sneak an 18th Journey song title in there. Ah, why can't this night go on forever? (Now it's 19!)

Tough Calls: Deep Selections

Jamal Lewis' Week 9 performance -- four touchdowns but a mere 37 yards on 20 carries (a 1.9 average) -- is one of the toughest to read in recent memory. Did his success in the red zone in that game encourage you, or are you worried about his awful yards-per-carry number? Daube, apparently, leans towards the former.

"I'm still a believer in Jamal," he said. "Have you seen his upcoming schedule? He's a great flex option the rest of the way."

Granted, the Browns' schedule is exceptional for a running back the final six weeks of the season: Versus Texans, at Cardinals, at Jets, versus Bills, at Bengals, versus 49ers. None of those teams ranks higher than 18th against the run, so there's something to Daube's statement that Lewis makes a fine flex play. In fact, that might be underestimating him. The next two weeks, though, when Lewis plays road games at the Steelers and Ravens, the fourth- and third-ranked run defenses, I'm much more skeptical about his chances.

• Eric Karabell has been fairly stable at his top running back spot, filled by No. 1 overall pick and No. 3 fantasy running back for the season LaDainian Tomlinson, but his No. 2 spot has been a revolving door, one now left wide open with Thomas Jones on bye.

"I had no bench running back to put in for Thomas Jones. I mean, hasn't Jones been on a bye for a month now?" said Karabell. "I can't trade him, he was active for me! Drafting Deuce McAllister and Brandon Jackson never quite worked out. I had Michael Turner on the bench as a handcuff for LT, but cut him Thursday and signed Brian Leonard and Ron Dayne. I figure the former could get a few points this week, and the latter is for later on when Ahman Green never returns."

Karabell also had to dig deep to find a one-week sub with the Patriots defense on bye.

"The Seahawks were out there, and they make a nice one-week fill-in for the Patriots, and possibly for the final week or two if the Pats don't care," he said.

• Howie Schwab (7-2, 1st, beat DiFino, 84-56, in Week 9), coming off a four-game winning streak, now has a 1 1/2-game lead on the rest of the league. This week, he might get back Deion Branch, his highest-drafted wide receiver (fourth round, 31st overall), from the injured list. Still, Schwab plans a wait-and-see approach with the recovering Seahawk.

"As of now I am not playing my guy Branch," he said. "Seattle has a lot of weapons with Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson, etc."

• Stephania Bell (5-4, 4th, lost to Engel, 106-62, in Week 9) has some serious concerns about the Ravens defense, despite having picked it 76th overall in the draft, first among team defenses, and despite having counted on it in each of its eight non-bye-weeks.

"Did you see the Monday night game?" said Bell. "Right. I thought so. Hence the benching of the Ravens D versus Cincy. I played the Bills D once versus the Jets and got 16 points. They have a decent matchup and they have some playmakers."

This week, Bell battles Nate Ravitz, coming off a 148-point performance in Week 9, the best single-week total by any team in the league all season.

"I'm playing 'Nate the Hate' this week and his team is stacked," she said. "Adrian Peterson beat me single-handedly last week. My injury-plagued roster required me to make some desperation moves."

• Ravitz, meanwhile, faced a similar dilemma regarding his defense. Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed the Lions are now the second-ranked team defense in terms of fantasy points in standard ESPN leagues (97). Ravitz rode a 29-point performance from the Lions to victory, and he plans to keep riding that hot streak.

"I honestly picked them up only for last week, but I'm planning to stick with them against the Cardinals," said Ravitz. "Going forward, I'll probably play the matchups between Detroit and Minnesota unless something really appetizing shows up on the waiver wire."

• Sticking with the theme of team defenses, Christopher Harris has faith in the Giants' surging defense, despite its tricky matchup against the offensively loaded, division-rival Cowboys.

"I absolutely fear Tony Romo, but I can see an argument that the four Giants edge rushers will rotate in all game and wear down the mammoth Dallas tackles," he said. "You can be sure they'll be invested in keeping Romo in the pocket. Plus, I have Larry Johnson out. You'd have to say my chances to upset Berry are slim and none."

Wait, I've Gotta Set a Lineup, Too?

Hoping to extend my two-game winning streak, I battle long-time rival Scott Engel for the second time this season. To that end, in a tough call between my two remaining quarterbacks, Matt Hasselbeck got the call against the 49ers, against whom he has 19 touchdowns in 11 career games. Three other things stood out with him, though:

• Hasselbeck is the quarterback of Engel's favorite team. Is there anything better than having your opponent rooting for one of your players?

• Hasselbeck has been a monster on Monday Night Football in recent seasons; he has seven touchdown passes in his past three such contests.

Shaun Alexander's performance has declined so steeply, Hasselbeck has had to take on most of the offensive load. He has averaged 42 pass attempts his past three games.

We'll see how it pays off!

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