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Thursday, October 8, 2009
Gridiron Challenge: Week 5 preview

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

Despite proving particularly adept at it, even Raiders owner Al Davis hates losing. The hate of losing can be quite a strong feeling. Whether it is in kick ball or karate, defeat can be downright unbearable.

This truth lends itself well to fantasy football. Much like golf, fantasy can often feel like something we very much look forward to but simultaneously struggle with. Even with the best preparation and maximum effort, our fantasy teams and golf games can let us down.

Herein lies the beauty of the Gridiron Challenge: You can't lose. At least not yet. With so much time left in the campaign, most teams can recover and contend in their respective groupings. Being stuck with LaDainian Tomlinson or Steve Smith "South" has hurt many a fantasy team this season, but in this format, we can move on to our next investment with a mere click of the "edit" tab.

While losing often can feel inescapable in some of our favorite pursuits, it's a matter of choice in the Gridiron Challenge.

Bull Market

Investments that should bear out as the season progresses

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (6.1 price tag): Romo affords us an ideal example of how we can excel in this game and fail in fantasy, because while owning Romo hasn't been a joyous experience for fantasy investors, he can be a great multiweek buy in the Challenge. With a statistically savory visit to Arrowhead Stadium this week followed by a home stint against the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, Romo should pay significant dividends for the next several weeks.

David Garrard, QB, Jaguars (6.1 price tag): Garrard is quietly on pace for nearly 4,000 yards and is having an all-around fine fantasy season, and it's about to get even better; he'll face suspect secondaries for about the next month. With a number of emerging targets and a stable running game to keep things open and honest, Garrard's market price should only soar as he piles up the numbers.

Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals (5.3 price tag): Despite an effective start to the season, there is decided doubt over whether Hightower is a legit commodity. His healthy per-game point production belies his price tag, and given his proficiency in pass protection and receiving, there's little threat that his backup Beanie Wells will significantly erode his value this season. Regardless of the uncertainty regarding his merits, Hightower enjoys a two-week stretch facing exploitable run defenses in Houston and Seattle.

Santonio Holmes, WR, Steelers (5.5 price tag): A brilliant start to the season has corroborated the considerable offseason hype following Holmes' Super Bowl exploits. While injury and inconsistency have since dampened expectations for a breakout season statistically, Holmes should return to his big-play ways over the next two weeks, and he makes for an ideal second receiver in your portfolio.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jaguars (4.8 price tag): Clearly a more relevant hyphened player than Heyward-Bey, Sims-Walker has rapidly established himself in the fantasy market but is still available at a steep discount in this format. With a uniquely favorable schedule and Garrard's apparent trust in him, Sims-Walker makes for a model asset.

Heath Miller, TE, Steelers (4.4 price tag): Miller's monstrous outing against San Diego in Week 4 was partially the result of the Chargers' inability to subdue opposing tight ends, but it was no aberration, either. Miller is getting more targets than ever, and now faces Detroit and Cleveland over the next two weeks. That sounds good to us.

Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers (4.6 price tag): If Davis' underwhelming play and lack of professionalism over his first several years as a pro had him tabbed as a bust, then does his recent emergence as a trusted target make him a "post-bust" breakout candidate? Semantics aside, Davis has proved to be the rare reliable target for Shaun Hill, and he's worthy of your coin as he faces a sweet schedule and enjoys a growing rapport with his quarterback going forward.

Weekly Wonders

Players who face favorable matchups and come at a discount but aren't trustworthy on a weekly basis

Brett Favre, QB, Vikings (6.0 price tag): Although he's some 17 years removed from one-week-wonder status as an NFL quarterback, Favre merits a spot in this section thanks to this week's matchup against the St. Louis Rams. The one-week element comes into play when you look past the Rams and see that the Ravens and Steelers loom on the docket. But as a one-week play, there are few better investments than Favre.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers (5.0 price tag): With names such as Larry Johnson and Derrick Ward in the same price spectrum as Mendenhall, you quickly begin to realize that he's among the best buys of the week, and possibly the season. With Willie Parker likely out this week and an inviting matchup against the Lions, Mendenhall could literally take the ball and run with it the rest of the season. A price increase is nearly guaranteed going forward for the newly respected running back.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Vikings (4.6 price tag): You likely won't get a volume of receptions or yards out of the "Shawshiancoe Redemption," but you likely will get a touchdown against the Rams, which is far better than you can assume for most bargain tight ends.

Jim's Week 5 Lineup

My defensive investment did it again last week as the 49ers wrecked shop and helped propel my team into a new echelon in scoring, giving me 508 total points and placement in the 98.7th percentile. Only my colleague Keith Lipscomb outpaces my total with his gaudy 554 points and antibacterial-esque percentile rating of 99.9.

As is the case in fantasy and the Gridiron Challenge alike, never invest much in your kicker so you can spend more elsewhere. I follow my own advice this week and get the cheapest foot on the board, spending just 2.9 on Ryan Succop, allowing me to go gourmet on defense, as I didn't like too many of the cheaper options. The weekly variations in kickers aren't very discernable, but rostering top signal-callers and position talents bears out in my point totals.

QB: Tony Romo, Cowboys: 63 year-to-date points; 6.1 (locked price)/6.1 (market price)
QB: Peyton Manning, Colts: 89 points; 6.7/6.8
RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings: 74 points; 6.5/7.2
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: 34 points; 5.0/5.0
WR: Andre Johnson, Texans: 43 points; 6.5/6.5
WR: DeSean Jackson, Eagles: 46 points; 6.3/6.3
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers: 38 points; 4.6/4.6
K: Ryan Succop, Chiefs, 16 points; 2.9/2.9
DEF: Philadelphia Eagles: 39 points; 5.3/5.3

Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro.