(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings on Friday.)
Atlanta Falcons (2-6) at Carolina Panthers (4-4)
Crazy league-wide stat: through nine weeks, 16 teams have already started at least two quarterbacks. These are two of those teams. If the Falcons could have Byron Leftwich back, they'd be starting him, and that would bode better for Roddy White. If the Panthers could have Jake Delhomme back, well, heck, they'll have to settle for getting Vinny Testaverde back. Or Steve Beuerlein. David Carr seems unlikely to play because of a concussion, which is great news for Steve Smith owners.
Fantasy Up: The last time these teams played, the Panthers jammed it down Atlanta's throat, rushing 36 times for 175 yards. DeShaun Foster accounted for 122 of those, and while the Falcons have talked all week about not letting it happen again, I'd still start Foster. … Joey Harrington isn't good, but he did have his best game of '07 against Carolina: 31-of-44 for 361 yards and two scores. The truly desperate Tom Brady owners among us can try him. … Warrick Dunn faces a Panthers defense that's allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing rushers over the past five weeks. He notched his first 100-yard effort in 19 games last week, and Jerious Norwood is hobbled with a bad ankle. Best of all, Atlanta's young tackles looked good last week (albeit against the Niners). Tyson Clabo, in particular, was strong and won't lose his starting gig. It's possible Todd Weiner replaces Quinn Ojinnaka this week to take on the struggling but dangerous Mike Rucker.
Fantasy Down: Atlanta lost to Carolina in Week 3 primarily because DeAngelo Hall acted like an idiot. He shoved and jawed with Smith, getting two 15-yard penalties that handed the Panthers points. Smith did nothing in that game (one catch, 10 yards), but we'll see if he can get into Hall's head again. … I erroneously ranked Carolina's defense higher than I intended; I'll knock 'em down to around 13th in Friday's update. I'm not crazy about either of these defenses, actually. John Abraham has six sacks and has been disruptive, and Michael Boley is terrific. But for all his tackling, Lawyer Milloy can't cover, and teams pick on corner Lewis Sanders. … Since when has it been so easy to run straight at Julius Peppers? He used to eat up opposing backs, but now he rarely even sees a double team.
Fantasy Up: Peterson is on pace for 2,484 total yards and 18 touchdowns, and he got his starting gig only three games ago. Green Bay has been middle-of-the-pack (get it?) against the run lately, and will no doubt load up to stop Purple Jesus. And it doesn't matter, you still start him. … Don't underestimate the impact of Koren Robinson's return. Robinson probably won't have much fantasy value, but having him on the field in four-receiver sets is what won Green Bay's game in Kansas City. Robinson and James Jones occupied wide spots while Greg Jennings and Donald Driver were often in the slots. On the Pack's winning score, Jennings was lined up where Green Bay typically features a tight end, which put linebacker Donnie Edwards on Jennings. Boom: 60-yard winning touchdown. … The Vikings have decent secondary personnel, but they haven't always played well. Brett Favre torched them for 32 completions, 344 yards and two scores in Week 4, and there's little doubt the Packers will spread out Minnesota's zone to good effect again Sunday.
Fantasy Down: Ryan Grant left last week's game with a concussion. He's expected to play Sunday, but leave him on your bench. The Vikings may play their safeties back farther than they did against the Chargers, but they'll always be focused mostly on stopping the run. … Brooks Bollinger gets the nod at quarterback. Don't use him. The Packers' defense, which lost defensive lineman Corey Williams and free safety Nick Collins and is hamstrung by the erratic play of Atari Bigby, is nevertheless a must-start. … Sidney Rice made a spectacular play leaping from the 5-yard line to score last week, and he'll probably continue to play even with Troy Williamson returning. Still, I can't see starting any of these guys with Bollinger playing, though Rice could be worth stashing. … Minny's good defensive effort came despite Antoine Winfield sitting. Still, the Vikes were inches from disaster a couple times, including once where Dwight Smith was torched on a deep route but tipped the ball with a desperation leap. I wouldn't start them.
Denver Broncos (3-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)
A Fox affiliate in Denver reported, prematurely it now seems, that Larry Johnson could be out for the year with a broken bone in his foot. No official word has come yet, and you certainly shouldn't go dropping LJ. All the Chiefs will say is the star back's injured foot is too swollen for conclusive tests to be performed. Maybe he'll be fine, but Priest Holmes is the starter now, with rookie Kolby Smith set to spell him. Herm Edwards says Holmes won't get more than 15 carries, which is a shame, because Denver's woeful defensive line is ripe for the taking.
Fantasy Up: It's too bad Travis Henry is (allegedly) such a poor citizen, because if he was in there for the rest of the season, he'd have one sweet schedule: after the Chiefs and Titans (bad matchups), he'd have the Bears, Raiders, Chiefs, Texans and Chargers. At least three (and maybe four) of those defenses just plain stink against the run. All this might make Selvin Young pretty valuable in December. … Despite the fact that Jay Cutler will probably play, I love the Chiefs' defense in this game. Jared Allen is finally getting national recognition (he's been declared the unofficial midseason NFL defensive player of the year in a bunch of columns, though I'd probably give my nod to Mike Vrabel), and while he's never posted a full sack against the Broncos, you know Denver will scheme for him. … Brandon Marshall got 18 targets against the Lions. That, friends, is a lot.
Fantasy Down: I want to be excited about Kolby Smith; I actually rather liked him at Louisville, where he averaged 5.6 yards per carry mostly as the starter for a 12-1 team. But he looked lousy this preseason, and you had to be surprised when Holmes passed him on the depth chart. For now, just keep your eyes peeled. … Eddie Kennison returns, sending Samie Parker to the bench. Kennison hasn't caught a pass yet in '07, so you have to wait to use him. … Javon Walker could be back in Week 11 after knee surgery. He's worth picking up, though you'll have to see him run down the field before starting him next week.
Buffalo Bills (4-4) at Miami Dolphins (0-8)
The best part about Don Shula proclaiming that the Patriots would deserve an asterisk if they go undefeated is that Shula himself was the object of a big scandal in 1970. The Dolphins were accused by the Colts of tampering with Shula while he was still under contract in Baltimore, and when Shula jumped to the Fins, Miami was docked (you guessed it) a first-round pick. Two years later came the perfect season. Hmm. I'm guessing ol' Don didn't think people would remember that.
Fantasy Up: The Dolphins' defense has the worst yards per completion allowed in the NFL (13.2), and the fourth-worst yards per attempt allowed (7.8). So don't be fooled by the fact that they allow the sixth-fewest passing yards per game. If you want to throw on them, you can. And J.P. Losman and Lee Evans want to. I'd start both. … Of course, the reason teams don't pass that much against Miami is it's so easy to run; the Dolphins are second worst in the league, allowing 160.5 yards per game on the ground. Marshawn Lynch should have some fun. … Buffalo has improved from 32nd to 19th against the run over the past five weeks, and sophomore defensive tackles Kyle Williams and John McCargo are part of the reason. They helped hold Cincinnati to 28 yards on 17 carries in Week 9. Still, though, the one part of Miami's offense that still functions is the O-line. I'd start Jesse Chatman.
Fantasy Down: Cleo Lemon nearly lost his job to rookie John Beck in practice this week, but apparently Beck still isn't ready. I'd keep Lemon secure on my bench for now. Interesting thought (to me, anyway): What if the Dolphins had passed up Ted Ginn Jr. and taken Brady Quinn (as I thought they should've) this past April? Quinn would no doubt be starting for the Fish, rather than being trapped for the foreseeable future behind Derek Anderson. … While I'd consider using Buffalo's defense if I was stuck in a bad bye-week situation, I'd rather not. Yes, this is a gutty unit, performing admirably with multiple starters down. But starting free safety George Wilson was a wide receiver last year (he's playing pretty well), and Jabari Greer still shouldn't be a starting corner. They'll dare Lemon to beat them deep by bringing Wilson and Donte Whitner forward (that's another part of how the rush defense has improved), but it's too risky to use them.
St. Louis Rams (0-8) at New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Two weeks ago, the Rams attended a clinic put on by Cleveland's Derek Anderson, who embarrassed St. Louis in the final three quarters to the tune of 16-of-19 for 207 yards and three touchdowns. While the Rams have no doubt tried to shore up their secondary, losing tackle Leonard Little for the season with a bad toe doesn't help. Drew Brees shouldn't find anything here that he can't handle in spades, which makes him the No. 2 quarterback on my board this week.
Fantasy Up: Marc Bulger makes for a high-upside/high-downside start. On the one hand, his offensive line is signing butchers, bakers and candlestick makers off the street. But on the other hand, the Saints just let Quinn Gray throw for 354 yards. Jason David is back from his arm fracture, but neither he nor Mike McKenzie is playing well. The Rams have been outscored 114-19 on the road this year, so maybe it's folly to expect a big breakout from Bulger. Still, there's a chance. … For many of those reasons, though, I'd start the Saints' defense. It hasn't allowed an opposing rusher to amass more than 61 yards since Week 1. Charles Grant and Will Smith don't put up gaudy sack numbers, but right now they're the league's best bookends at sniffing out the run. Late word has Grant and defensive tackle Brian Young out of Sunday's game, but I can't help it: I still like the Saints. … Things couldn't have worked out better for Reggie Bush owners. Bush's critics have quieted as the kid's proved he can run inside, and he's been up over four yards per carry in three of his past four contests. … David Patten can be a No. 3 fantasy receiver going forward. He's a surprise, but he's essentially picking up the receptions Devery Henderson was supposed to get. Patten has 19 catches for 332 yards in his last four.
Fantasy Down: Steven Jackson proclaimed himself ready to go, and if you've been holding on to him all this time, with fantasy hopes flickering, I guess you have to use him. If I had an alternative, though, I'd consider it. I already chronicled how well the Saints do against the run, and Jackson is an injury waiting to happen behind a bad O-line. … Apropos of nothing, out of the Rams' five drafts from 2000 to 2004, only four players are left: three starters (Jackson, linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa and Brandon Chillar) and a long snapper (Chris Massey). They've drafted one Pro Bowler (Jackson) in the past eight years. And they drafted the following immortals: Trung Canidate (31st overall, 2000), Damione Lewis (12th overall, 2001), Robert Thomas (31st overall, 2002) and Jimmy Kennedy (12th overall, 2003). Gee. Wonder why this franchise is bad and aging?
Cleveland Browns (5-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
Lost in Cleveland's stockpiling of fantasy stats is how dead-on right the Browns were when they reassembled their offensive line. I admit: I was skeptical. But Derek Anderson has been sacked eight times in eight games (zero last week despite passing 48 times), and while there hasn't been a ton of room to run, Cleveland has definitely kept opponents honest. Eric Steinbach was worth the money, Joe Thomas was a terrific pick, center Hank Fraley looks like he did with the Eagles, and even Dolphins castoff Seth McKinney, coming off a serious back injury, has been good. Sunday, though, McKinney may be out with a bad shoulder, forcing tackle Ryan Tucker (a bad contract extension in '04) to play guard. Pittsburgh's a defense you don't want to mess around with.
Fantasy Up: In their past four games, the Browns have allowed 4.1 yards per carry and just one touchdown to opposing backs, which doesn't bode well for Willie Parker. Parker took the bullet against the Ravens last week, and he'll try and keep Cleveland honest, too, so Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller (all eminently startable) will have room to air it out against a secondary that continues to allow the most fantasy points in football to aerial attacks. Still, you have to start Willie Parker. … Since the opener between these teams, which the Steelers won 34-7, both of these squads are 5-2. In large part, that's because of Anderson, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, each of whom is, to say the least, an every-week start, no matter what the defense. … Ah, but that defense. Use Pittsburgh. With some shuffling on the Browns' O-line, expect the omnipresent Steelers zone blitz to wreak a least a little havoc. To top it off, end Aaron Smith may return from his sprained knee.
Fantasy Down: I don't want to have to start Jamal Lewis against a Steelers defense that's tied for the stingiest to fantasy backs in the last five weeks. But you may have to, especially after Lewis' vexing 37-yard, four-touchdown performance last week.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (6-2)
The Saints gave Tennessee a blueprint, but it remains to be seen if Vince Young can execute it. New Orleans spread the Jags wide, and hammered at safeties Reggie Nelson (who's too aggressive by half) and Sammy Knight (who's slower than a Matt Jones facial-hair trim). Alas, I find it hard to envision Jeff Fisher opening the playbook wide for Vince just now. VY looks lost throwing the ball. The way for the Titans to win this one going away would be to move the pocket, throw downfield and keep stuff on the edges. But that's not what the Titans do, so we'll probably see another 13-10 game.
Fantasy Up: Nevertheless, with Marcus Stroud missing, there should be a bit more room in the middle (Grady Jackson acquisition notwithstanding), which means LenDale White should have a solid afternoon. (Remember, the Titans ran for 282 yards Week 1 in J-Ville.) White's a shaky No. 1 rusher in Week 10, but a strong No. 2. … The Titans' D is my top defensive pick of the week. Granted, if David Garrard returns (he should be a game-time decision), Jacksonville's offense could be a bit more dynamic, but either way, I don't think the Jags have weapons to damage Tennessee where it can be had, which is down the field. Running the ball against the Titans hurts, and you need one heck of an offensive line to avoid the pass rush. And because I don't think the Titans will spread them out, I'd play Jacksonville, too.
Fantasy Down: Chris Brown should return this week, which could encourage Chris Henry to get his four-game suspension over with now, rather than later in the year. Don't start either guy. … Reggie Williams is the living embodiment of a fantasy tease. Sure, he's got four touchdowns. But you have no idea when he'll score them, and when he doesn't, as likely as not he'll turn in a two-catch, 11-yard performance. Pass. … Neither can you use either of these promising tight ends; '06 first-rounder Marcedes Lewis still hasn't shown anything as a pass catcher and Bo Scaife's college ties with VY haven't translated to a darned thing this year. ;As I believe I've implied, I'm staying away from VY again in Week 10.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) at Washington Redskins (5-3)
Andy Reid is fielding questions about whether he'll bench Donovan McNabb. That's all you need to know about the Eagles circa 2007. McNabb killed Philly with a fumble on his opening play and an unbelievably bad interception with less than two minutes to go in the half, which led to Dallas' death score. The Eagles will have a huge decision to make on Donny Football in '08, which is why they'll keep playing him now. He's racking up yardage (his 2,044 yards put him on pace for the first 4,000-yard season of his career), but right now he's on pace to toss only 18 scores all year. That's the total he registered in 9.5 games last season.
Fantasy Up: Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis and Captain Caveman (that is, Chris Cooley) are the only three guys you feel very good about starting Sunday. Westbrook amassed 162 total yards the first time around against Washington, and turned in 100-plus games twice against 'em last season. Portis (196 yards on 36 carries) won't find the sledding as easy against Philly as the Jets, but up the middle, the Eagles aren't the same defense you remember. Takeo Spikes looks awful out there, I honestly don't remember seeing Omar Gaither or Chris Gocong do anything all year, and when your starting strong safety (Sean Considine) is out for the season and that improves your defense? Not a good sign. … OK, I take it back: I would start Kevin Curtis and maybe Reggie Brown. The numbers are a bit skewed by the New England game, but still the Skins are allowing receivers to get open. Last week in New York, they tried blitzing like crazy and it didn't work particularly well: three sacks and one pick, but too many open receivers downfield.
Fantasy Down: I want to like Jason Campbell. He throws a sweet deep ball. But he has accuracy issues that aren't going away. If he'd hit Santana Moss on a bomb in overtime, we'd be talking about a resurgence for both. … Each of these defenses is borderline, because each has playmakers. Trent Cole continues to play like his hair's on fire (bad for a quarterback, good for a defensive end). London Fletcher is a marvel in his 10th season. You wouldn't expect Washington to have to play nickel against McNabb as much as it did against Kellen Clemens (Pierson Prioleau was in a lot), but you also have to believe the Redskins will continue to get exotic with their Cover 2 (i.e., keep blitzing).
Cincinnati Bengals (2-6) at Baltimore Ravens (4-4)
Six opposing rushers have gained 100 yards against the Bengals, in eight games. That, um, isn't good. Will Willis McGahee join the club? I think so; I have McGahee inside my weekly top 10. But I'd actually feel better about it if (gulp) Kyle Boller was the quarterback.
Fantasy Up: As of this writing, it still appeared Chad Johnson was on track to play, and considering Samari Rolle will be out and Ed Reed may be missing, that's a good thing. Also good is the return of Chris Henry; the Bengals have been struggling to find a third pass option. He'll help 7/11 and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but I wouldn't start Henry himself right away, despite the fact that he logged six and nine touchdowns his first two years. … The Ravens always bring a fierce pass rush, and that makes them a unit worth starting. This week, I've got 'em seventh, which is low. But with half their starting secondary missing, Trevor Pryce limited at best and Terrell Suggs banged up, there'll be plays to be made for Cincy via the air.
Fantasy Down: Opposing passers have a collective rating of 100 against Cincinnati, and I still can't see using Steve McNair. McNair has played in only five games, but he still leads the league in fumbles lost (five). The 63 yards for which he threw Monday night were the fewest ever for a signal-caller who connected on 13 or more passes. The Ravens' O-line is old and inconsistent (five sacks Monday), but it's made to look far worse because McNair holds on to the ball so long. … Stay away from Rudi Johnson, who's finally not on the Bengals' injury report. The Ravens have still been a top-five defense holding opposing rushers to low fantasy points. Kenny Watson rides pine, too. … Hey! Guess what! Todd Heap might play this week! Then again he might not! Yeah, I'm tired of this routine, too. Bench him until he makes it through a game. … When your defense is 27th against both the pass and run, there's a chance you're not very good, eh, Bengals fans? Here's hoping Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall are learning a lot, because right now Cincy's most recent two first-round picks look dreadful at corner.
The Lions had the second pick in this year's draft; the Cards were fifth. My, how fortunes diverge in the NFL. Having seen tape of most of these teams' games, I can honestly say: I'm not sure what the difference between them is. Each has nice skill-position players, inconsistent offensive lines and big holes on defense. Heck, the last few weeks, as Jon Kitna has thrown less, the Lions even call plays like the Cardinals. I've seen opportunism on defense for Detroit and some really lousy efforts in key moments for Arizona. Plus the Lions have Ernie Sims, who looks like a young Derrick Brooks. That's all I got.
Fantasy Up: The Cardinals average 2.91 yards on first down, which is just awful. While the offense does throw it more than runs it overall, to my eyes, the Cards run too much and too predictably on first down. I like Edgerrin James's matchup against a Lions rush defense allowing a lot of yards, if not a lot of touchdowns. But if you watch this game, see if Arizona is able to cross up the Lions by throwing more on first down. … Kevin Jones is a Mike Martz favorite, but you'd like to see Martz calling more passes to his starting rusher. Last season, Jones had 61 catches in 12 games; in '07, he's got 14 in six. Against linebackers Calvin Pace and the run-focused Gerald Hayes, expect KJ to up his production via the air. … I know Kurt Warner (10-of-30, 172 yards, two picks) was godawful in Tampa, but I'd still start him. I'm not kidding: The Lions can't cover anyone. It's noticeable every time they switch to man. If only opposing quarterbacks would stop the dumb mistakes. … I'm still using Roy Williams. He doesn't have more than 80 yards receiving since Week 3, but he's so talented.
Fantasy Down: Kitna hasn't thrown a pick in three games, yet his fantasy value is dipping. He was a disaster at Washington, but since the bye: 56-of-86 (65.1 percent) for 667 yards and two scores. Good NFL football. Fantasywise? Not a starter. … It's difficult to say the Lions' O-line suddenly got its act together giving up one sack against Denver last week, considering the Broncos' full-body meltdown. Now tackle Jonathan Scott is out with a broken thumb, so the guy he's been platooning with, disappointing vet George Foster, is full time. Put that together with the return of Karlos Dansby to middle linebacker, and Arizona's defense is almost startable. If you're in a pinch, you can use 'em.
Dallas Cowboys (7-1) at New York Giants (6-2)
These teams combined for 80 points in Week 1, and it's not as if I think the rematch will be a shutout or anything, but these defenses have changed. The Giants make fewer mistakes in their zones and blitz far more deceptively. The Cowboys have Anthony Henry back, allowing them to "kitchen sink" opponents whenever they like. I don't care for New York's corners or Dallas' safeties, but I don't think we're looking at a high-scoring game. 27-24 sounds right.
Fantasy Up: Here's a question for you: Who's a more violent runner? Adrian Peterson or Marion Barber? Barber's a missile, and anyone who thinks he's in a true platoon with Julius Jones isn't watching the games. Clearly, Dallas saves Barber for second halves and other key moments, perhaps under the assumption that no human body can take that kind of Barber-esque pounding 25 times a game. Kid's on pace for his first 1,000-yard season, and while the O-line has improved (Jones should reach 700), Barber makes 'em look better than they are. … Which rush defense has been better against opposing backs over the past month? It's actually the Giants', who started the year poorly. Not that the Cowboys are bad, but Brandon Jacobs should find some room. Guard Chris Snee is playing great; watch the line play Sunday afternoon, and you'll definitely notice him. … I'd start Eli Manning, but watch him closely. There should be opportunities for him to make plays, but he regressed the last couple games before the bye. Downfield accuracy continues to be his bugaboo. … Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey. Duh.
Fantasy Down: Roy Williams isn't the only overrated guy in the Dallas secondary. Ken Hamlin's a dog, and watch Terence Newman sometime. He can look spectacular in coverage on one play, then whiff at the line on the next. They're the reason I wouldn't start the Cowboys' defense against New York's aerial attack. … Derrick Ward should be out again, even after resting through the Giants' bye. Reuben Droughns will spell Jacobs and possibly steal a goal-line touch or two. … Neither am I using the Giants' defense, simply because Romo wears you out via the air. By the same token, I do think New York gets more pressure on Romo than many do. The Giants run those four speed rushers out there in a rotation and bet that your O-line falls to its knees by the fourth quarter. The real challenge will be keeping Romo in the pocket.
Chicago Bears (3-5) at Oakland Raiders (2-6)
You can drop Daunte Culpepper. The Raiders are toying with the idea of using JaMarcus Russell as their No. 2 quarterback this week, which certainly would signal the end of the line in silver and black for Daunte. My ESPN colleague Nate Ravitz asked me this week whether I'm "over" or "under" on one more 3,000-yard season for Culpepper in his NFL career. I unequivocally said "under." He's cooked at age 30, which is sad, but from failing to learn the Oakland playbook to making a raft of indefensible on-field decisions, I think Culpepper's had his last shot as a starter.
Fantasy Up: Hey, Cedric Benson. It's now or never, buddy. The Raiders have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing backs all season long. I'd start Benson this week with the caveat that if he can't get it together, you have to consider benching him for the rest of the year, because the Bears will consider it, too. … Justin Fargas is the starter in Oakland now, and certainly needs to be owned in all leagues. The Bears have been the fourth-most generous defense to opposing fantasy rushers this year, and second-most generous in the past five weeks. Super Bowl XLI seems like a long time ago. You can start Fargas for sure. … I've jumped aboard the Greg Olsen Express. Exactly seven targets in each of his past four games, with two touchdowns. Desmond Clark has trailed Olsen in targets in each of those tilts.
Fantasy Down: So much for the bye getting the Bears healthy. Corner Nathan Vasher won't play this week and is still out indefinitely, defensive tackle Tommie Harris still can't practice, and guard Ruben Brown is out for the year (and maybe his career) with a shoulder injury. Brown's play had fallen off since last year, but this doesn't help. … Brian Griese threw seven interceptions in two games against Detroit, including three in the Lions' end zone. I may have been overexuberant in my assessment of his fantasy worth. Griese's allure is supposed to be avoiding big mistakes. … Ronald Curry isn't right. When he cedes time to Tim Dwight, who then scores on a 28-yard touchdown pass, you know his foot's bothering him. Curry would've been such a good No. 2, possession-style receiver with Randy Moss playing at full capacity. But Jerry Porter can't stretch the field anymore. Don't start either of them. … Muhsin Muhammad has 20 targets the past four games; Bernard Berrian has 26. Berrian has 198 yards receiving and one score, while Moose has 163 yards and two scores. They're interchangeable, and not very attractive.
Indianapolis Colts (7-1) at San Diego Chargers (4-4)
Philip Rivers may have turned in the single worst performance I've seen by a quarterback in 2007. (I know, given the state of quarterbacking in the NFL, that's saying a lot.) He was horrible against Minnesota. The numbers are bad (19-of-42 for 197 yards and a pick), but they don't tell the story. Every pass he threw downfield fluttered. He blew balls over the heads of wide-open receivers. His footwork was disastrous, and thus he threw out of mechanically unsound positions. Norv Turner is supposed to be a molder of young signal-callers, but I don't see anything that indicates these two men have ever talked. I think the Colts make it very ugly on Rivers Sunday night.
Fantasy Up: Joseph Addai is a better rusher than Adrian Peterson, with a similar style. (At least at this point in their careers. There. I said it.) Does that mean Addai in turn breaks Purple Jesus' record? Of course not. The Chargers will be attuned to their rush-defense inadequacies. But I still love Addai this week. I also love Reggie Wayne, who'll be running against a Quentin Jammer-less secondary. … LaDainian Tomlinson drops to No. 3 on my list for this week. Indy's defensive line was impressive against New England; I haven't seen Robert Mathis play that well in, um, forever. You can bet that the Colts' new-and-improved form of Tampa 2 (in which Bob Sanders is given more freedom to roam forward and the corners are depended upon more than ever to be big hitters) will focus on denying Rivers the easy stuff while focusing on the run. Big downfield plays will be there for Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson, but it remains to be seen if Rivers can take advantage.
Fantasy Down: Did losing Luis Castillo to another injury (this time a knee/ankle combo) lead to Adrian Peterson's record day? I'm sure it contributed. So did AP's talent. But the Chargers linebackers have been terribly inconsistent (and, granted, pretty injured) all year. Shaun Phillips's absence contributed, too. Shawne Merriman? We don't see that dance very much anymore, do we? I think San Diego has all the talent in the world on defense, but has either lost focus or misses Wade Phillips. … It remains to be seen if Marvin Harrison will play. He's likely a game-time decision once again, but I can't imagine the Colts feel much urgency to get him in there. This is a Sunday night game, so you probably can't wait. I wouldn't use Aaron Moorehead.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6) at Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
As they run right now, the Niners might be the worst team in football. Frank Gore missed last week, and is highly questionable for Monday night. Jonas Jennings and Justin Smiley are done, meaning Adam Snyder gets Alex Smith's blind-side tackle spot (he was torched by John Abraham last week) and David Baas plays right guard. The receivers are just terrible. The defense has three or four good players (rookie Patrick Willis, Nate Clements, Marques Douglas and I guess Mark Roman). And I can practically guarantee the 49ers will make Seattle's defense look good. (It's not.)
Fantasy Up: Also, San Francisco doesn't create turnovers (five picks, five fumbles: second-worst total behind the Jets) or sacks (just 13), so Matt Hasselbeck should have a fine game. He torched a bad Browns secondary for 30 completions, 318 yards and two scores on the road, and now Mike Holmgren seems to have decided to "play to our strengths." That translates to: We can't run. … Deion Branch is still highly questionable, so both Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett are likely usable on Monday. … With Gore possibly out, you may be forced to use Michael Robinson, who'd definitely be my choice over Maurice Hicks. … Vernon Davis is showing signs. He's had 25 targets in the three games since his return, including 19 in the last two. He'll get you five or six catches for 70 yards.
Fantasy Down: Are we done making excuses for Alex Smith yet? There's a fair argument to be made that men drafted to be "franchise quarterbacks" on terrible teams are set up for failure. They jump into bad offensive situations with shaky lines and they're being paid so much, they have to play. But watch that film from the Atlanta game, and what stands out most is that Smith can't throw straight. He had Bryan Gilmore, Darrell Jackson and Delanie Walker (admittedly not exactly a murderers' row) wide open and missed badly. Gilmore and Jackson probably would've scored. Smith was 17-of-38 for 149 yards and three picks. His quarterback rating is worst in football. He does not need to be owned in fantasy leagues. … What to do with Shaun Alexander? Now Seattle seems to be preparing the world for the possibility its starting rusher will sit out. He's officially questionable with knee and ankle problems, but you're not going to know anything for sure until game time. I'd bench him.
(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings on Friday.)
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.