Happy Halloween, boys and girls!
Rich Uncle Pennybags here -- OK, kidding, it's just your friendly "Called Out!" columnist, Tristan H. Cockcroft, but this week, I'm dressed up as the guy you might know today as "Mr. Monopoly." Yeah, you know, the "Monopoly dude."
It being Halloween and all, we decided to dress up for this week's panel -- our "Called Out!" party, if you will -- and get into the spirit of things. For me, Rich Uncle Pennybags was a natural; who else has deep enough pockets to afford the PSL on my Giants season tickets? Ah, sweet piles of cash to ... wait a minute, this stuff is fake!
Oh well. Guess I'll just have to stand outside the new stadium and see if I can hear the PA to keep up with the game happenings. I bet I won't be alone in my endeavor.
Anyway, let's introduce our other costumed experts: Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Erik Kuselias and Eric Karabell! Good array of costume choices, and quite interesting Week 9 rankings they've compiled for us. Let's get the party started ...
First up, decked out in a blue blazer, tie, glasses and a Phillies hat ... hmmm ... OK, Matthew, you've got me stumped, what's your costume?
Berry: I'm Eric Karabell!
Cockcroft: OK, two Karabells ... This is going to get confusing! But your outfit does explain something: Your No. 7 ranking of DeSean Jackson. Karabell himself ranked Jackson 24th, and Harris and Kuselias had him almost exactly the same. If the Eagles fan can't even call Jackson top-10 worthy, how can you?
Berry: I don't understand what everyone else is seeing. You've got the No. 1 receiver on one of the best passing offenses in the NFL going up against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Even last week when the Eagles had Kevin Curtis back, DeSean was still the No. 1 target for Donovan McNabb. Of all of this week's active, eligible wide receivers, he's 18th in fantasy points for the season. So if he's the 18th fantasy receiver, I don't understand how you can drop him facing the No. 30 pass defense. I don't think that's crazy; I think it's crazy that people dropped him.
Cockcroft: Might it be crazy, though, that you have Earnest Graham ranked outside your top 10, in spite of his fantastic matchup with the Chiefs?
Berry: He has not scored a touchdown on the road this year, and you certainly can't guarantee that Warrick Dunn isn't going to get a lot of touches. Graham has to score to have that top-10 value, and I don't think there's a guarantee that he'll score. Obviously I like him a lot; I have him as a top-20 running back, which says he's a must-start. But in what looked like a good matchup last week against Dallas, he didn't have a good game. Dunn has only two or three fewer touches a game than Graham. It's almost a dead-even split.
Cockcroft: What about Dunn's back, though? You don't think that'd either keep him out or limit his workload this week?
Berry: Nah, he played last week.
Cockcroft: What's your take on the Indianapolis backfield? I see in your initial rankings you didn't have Joseph Addai listed, but in the 24 hours since, he has been removed from the injury report.
Berry: My feeling was when I did the rankings initially, Addai wasn't playing. Now that Addai has had two days of full practices, I'll rank him on Friday. I think Harris has them about right. I'll have Addai as a top-20 running back, and Rhodes somewhere in the 40s. You can run on New England. I mean, come on, Antonio Pittman got more than 100 total yards against the Patriots last week!
Cockcroft: What have you got against the Broncos' passing game for Week 9, since the Dolphins have been dreadful against the pass and the Denver running game is all sorts of banged up? Jay Cutler 10th and Brandon Marshall sixth makes them both must-plays, I suppose, but almost everyone on the planet has them higher.
Berry: Well, first off, I don't think the Dolphins' pass defense is as bad as you say it's been. Look at the past four quarterbacks the Dolphins have faced. They shut down Trent Edwards last week, and they had no problem with Joe Flacco. Only Matt Schaub lit them up. In the past four weeks they've held quarterbacks to pretty pedestrian numbers. So I disagree with your assessment; I think they're better than their numbers show. Beyond that, Cutler has had more than one touchdown only once in his past four games, and he's had less than 200 yards in his past two. Take out the first two games, when he was a monster, and in the five games since he has been a good quarterback, not a great quarterback. And a good quarterback with a good matchup is No. 10 in my book.
Cockcroft: Is your No. 19 ranking of Brandon Lloyd an indication that you're confident he'll play and dominate this week?
Berry: Assuming Lloyd plays, he was Kyle Orton's leading target, and now he's going against Detroit. Listen, Tristan, I'd start you against Detroit. So that's my thinking. I believe you start everyone against Detroit, especially coming off a bye. I think you play anyone coming off a bye, especially in a home game.
Besides, remember that I rank these players on Tuesday night, and at that time it looked as if Lloyd was going to play. Maybe on Friday I'll drop him if Devin Hester and Rashied Davis play, but that was the information I had then.
Cockcroft: Hester is a big-time sleeper of mine this week, actually. Boy, couldn't have a starker contrast between his speed and mine, speaking to the matchup.
Next up, it's Christopher Harris ... and for some strange reason, he's wearing a large, unpainted cube of some sort, and holding one of those oversized pens...
Harris: Writer's block.
Cockcroft: Terrible, Christopher.
Harris: So says the guy wearing the bow tie. You know, those are so out of style, even Tucker Carlson stopped wearing one!
Anyway, let's get started. Joseph Addai's status for the annual Pats/Colts battle is a serious issue heading into Week 9. Christopher, you're the only one of our four experts to have ranked Addai at all; you had him 18th, and Dominic Rhodes 40th. Exactly how are you approaching using either one? Do you see those ranks changing?
Harris: I think the other guys basically messed up and didn't realize that Addai is probable. Tony Dungy held a presser with the Boston media and said both Addai and Bob Sanders are probably going to play if they don't have setbacks. If Addai does have a setback, Rhodes is possibly questionable, too, with a bad ankle. Addai isn't even listed on the injury report, people.
Cockcroft: The only problem I have with that statement is "with the Boston media." Might that not be a smoke screen? Just a thought, but the lack of injury-report status does bode well for Addai's chances of playing.
By the way, being president of the Jamal Lewis Fan Club must keep you busy, right?
Harris: Yeah, you bashed me for Lewis last week, how'd that work out for you?
Cockcroft: Not as bad as you'd think, but 14 points, OK, you were right. No way he's going for a big game against the Ravens, though, as they make it 27 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
Harris: The Ravens are terrific against the run, there's no question. But so are the Giants, Redskins and Jaguars, aren't they? The past three weeks, against those three opponents -- two on the road -- Lewis had 88, 80 and 81 yards, a yards-per-carry average better than 4.0 in each game, and two touchdowns. Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach are playing much better, and while Lewis won't eclipse 100 yards, the Ravens will be missing Chris McAlister and will be paranoid about the pass. Lewis is an every-week starter, even if he happens to disappoint every now and again.
Cockcroft: Chad Pennington is on quite a roll and now he draws the Champ Bailey-less Broncos, who were 31st against the pass with him. You've got him 16th; you're obviously not buying whatever he's selling. I guess I'm just an impulse buyer -- or at least to the point where I'd call him a worthy start if the alternatives stink.
Harris: "A worthy start if the alternatives stink." That is what's under my definition of "No. 16 ranking." Pennington has thrown for a good number of yards the past few weeks, including 314 last week. But I watched all those games: Pennington still isn't throwing it down the field at all; his receivers had long yards after catch last week against the Bills. Pennington two years ago: 17 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. Pennington last year: 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions. I understand that the Broncos looked sick against Matt Cassel, and don't get pressure on the quarterback, but I simply can't strongly endorse a guy who dinks and dunks, and eventually will start throwing it to the other team. Hey, I don't hate him if you're desperate. I just continue not to like his upside.
Cockcroft: Yet you do like Santonio Holmes' upside?
Harris: This is completely out of left field for me. Through six games, Holmes had 360 yards receiving. While not All-Pro, that put him on pace for 960 for the season, which, if I'm not mistaken, is one Big Ben bomb away from a 1,000-yard season. Johnny Law isn't going to have its way with Holmes yet, so he'll start against the Redskins, who'll once again be without Shaun Springs. He's got a quarterback who wants to sling it down the field, and it probably would've been him, not Nate Washington, to score those two touchdowns last week against the Giants -- one, of course, was called back because of a hold. Do I have him high at No. 14? Maybe a little. But is he a good No. 2 fantasy receiver against a short-handed secondary -- and a team which will also be without Jason Taylor? Of course he is. Having him no higher than 32 is just dopey overreaction to the headlines.
Cockcroft: Wish I could remain as optimistic. Holmes is my A-No. 1 bust of the season, having pretty much been invisible since the preseason.
With that, let's turn our attention to Erik Kuselias, who appears to have gone uncostumed for our little Week 9 party? What's with that, Erik? Care to explain?
Cockcroft: But you already did.
Kuselias: Oh, right.
Cockcroft: Erik, you're about as pro-Willie Parker as it gets, with him 23rd. Everyone else has him a fringe flex play at best. Is there something you see with either his health or the matchup that has you hopeful?
Kuselias: Mike Tomlin loves Fast Willie like they are long-lost relatives. He consistently goes out of his way to proclaim Parker the starter as soon as he returns. Tomlin also loves to have a feature back whom he can feed 20-plus times per game.
That being said, Parker looked to practice this week, will probably play, and will certainly get to tote the rock if he's active. The matchup isn't great -- Skins are fifth versus the run, which is why Parker falls outside the top 20 -- but the Skins gave up 100-plus yards to Steven Jackson, a touchdown to Westbrook and 80 yards on only 19 carries to Jamal Lewis. If he is the man, Fast Willie is certainly a flex-type guy.
Cockcroft: Apparently our group is rather pro-Zach Miller this week, with everyone but you ranking him in the top 10. So why a No. 18 ranking?
Kuselias: Because when he looks in the mirror in the morning he says, "I ain't Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley or anyone who has ever sniffed the Pro Bowl." Plus he has JaMarcus Russell -- who couldn't play dead in a slasher movie -- as his quarterback. I know somebody will try to sell you that Atlanta allowed points to tight ends at the beginning of the season, but facts are facts: The A-T-L held a good tight end to two catches for 29 yards last week. Add in the fact that Miller has had fewer touches in each of the past four weeks, and you see the true reality: Anyone who loves Miller or hates the Falcons' defense is looking at old, antiquated numbers.
But who knows, maybe the pro-Miller experts will be right: After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Cockcroft: Not if you snap the hands off.
Can you possibly make the case that "Ocho Stinko" warrants a No. 26 ranking -- that's a definite No. 3 fantasy receiver! He's been awful.
Kuselias: I have to defend this guy? OK here goes: Chad has had at least five grabs in each of his past three games; he is playing his best ball of the season under Ryan Fitzpatrick -- his past three games have been his best three. Plus, Cincy is likely to be behind against everyone it plays, so there will be opportunities. And Chad scored the last time they played at home. So, if you were stuck, he wouldn't be a horrible No. 3 receiver.
Now I know how Martha Stewart's lawyer felt.
Cockcroft: Last, but certainly not least, it's Chase Utley ... er ... Eric Karabell! Sorry, Eric, you had me confused, what with the Utley outfit. What, no Cole Hamels?
Karabell: I would have chosen Hamels, but I'm just not tall enough.
Cockcroft: I think you just wanted to rub it in how you stole Utley from me in that experts league in his rookie season. Anyway, congrats to your Phils! Did the Phanatic pass out when Brad Lidge registered that final K?
I asked a couple of the other guys about the Joseph Addai situation, Eric, and first off, I'd like to get your take on the Indianapolis backfield. Like Matthew and Erik, you didn't rank Addai at all, but you had Rhodes lower than either of them did.
Karabell: I would not have ranked Addai in the same area I placed Rhodes, and I'll get to the reason why, but I don't want to assume he's playing in the first place. If we're told Addai will play, then he'll be ranked a bit better than Rhodes by me, but still in the mid-20s. I figure this has become a time-share anyway, and we know how fantasy owners feel about that. Rhodes has played well. It's not as if the Colts need to replace him. It's possible this mirrors what the Titans do a bit, except Rhodes would carry the ball more than LenDale White. If you drafted Addai in the top five, I'm sorry, I don't think he'll get the chance to earn the ranking. As for this week, if each is active, then both are in the flex range for me.
Cockcroft: In spite of the early-week news that Michael Pittman would be questionable for Week 9, you're optimistic. Doesn't the matchup -- Miami is softer in the secondary than up front -- or the impending return of Ryan Torain trouble you?
Karabell: I am not worried about Ryan Torain, first of all. I don't see how a guy who hasn't played all season suddenly becomes the team's top option. Pittman has to play. He has to know this. Miss one game and he's Wally Pipp, or buried in a three- or four-man platoon. I think Pittman is playing, and I figure our projection of 50 yards and a score is about right. I agree the Dolphins aren't sieves against the run, but I think Pittman is the only Broncos back to get 15 carries Sunday.
Cockcroft: Nice baseball reference. Shocking: The Phillies fan has baseball on his mind the day after his team wins the World Series! Hey, we'll forgive you.
Back to football, though: Surely Santana Moss' health is of greater concern than Pittman's? His status matters especially, because he plays the Monday night game. So you're saying wait on him, and don't fear the matchup with the Steelers?
Karabell: Not that it matters, but we are aware Moss is the top receiver in fantasy this season, right? I wouldn't say that trumps injury and opponent, but doesn't this earn him some of our trust? No, I do not love the matchup, and no, I haven't heard he will miss any games. The Redskins are saying he's fine, and that's about all I need to give him a decent ranking.
Cockcroft: OK, well, one health risk you are down on is Jason Witten, whom you left unranked. Interestingly enough, you didn't rank Martellus Bennett, Witten's likely replacement, either. Is that a situation to dodge entirely even if Witten plays at less than 100 percent? If he plays, where should he rank?
Karabell: I can't say what it feels like to break a rib, but when the player in question says he "hopes" to play and not a definitive "I will play" then I tend to think common sense will prevail. I mean, the whole reason Tony Romo was judged unplayable for two weeks was because of the pending Week 10 bye week, so why would Witten be any different? I obviously think Witten will sit. If that changes, then he'll make my top 10, but barely. I would just make sure you have a backup option in place, because few teams have reserve tight ends on hand. As for Witten's potential replacement, with the opponent being the Giants, I expect very little from Brad Johnson, Terrell Owens, the entire passing game. Not worth it.
Cockcroft: OK, well, time to wrap things up for today, there's trick-or-treating to do! Besides, looks like we're all out of candy corn. Boy, these guys sure tore through that stuff quick. Not that I get it; candy corn? Bleagh.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.