Late Night Fantasy Chat: 10 pm EST

21 Oct
by in General

There's no need for a hard sell on this one. The Steelers and Bengals will be throwing haymakers, while the Cardinals and Giants will be throwing benders. Let's get both games on the telly and talk about it.

We can digest Week 7 in the NFL, and take a peak at Week 8. We'll take polls and get silly; discuss music, wine, women, song. The usual nonsense applies. Your presence and participation are requested mandated. Your performance tonight makes up 35 percent of your final grade.

The chat will open when the football game hits the second half. Get your popcorn ready. The chat applet is yours after the jump.

Tags: , , Late Night Fantasy Chat, , need, , Night Fantasy Chat, peak, , , , , wine
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Injury Wrap: Waiting game for Ahmad Bradshaw; Jimmy Graham ruled out

19 Oct
by in General

We get one break with the Week 7 Sunday schedule: most of the games are early. As things sit right now, only three games will come after the first segment (the Pats and Jets, the Raiders and Jaguars, and the Bengals and Steelers). So game-time decisions and Sunday calls won't be as hairy this week as they normally are.

Let's get to the clipboard. Please have your copay ready.

Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) missed all of Friday's practice after doing some work Thursday. He's questionable on the injury report and seems like a game-day decision for the match against Washington. Bradshaw's level of play has been stellar in recent weeks and he's one of the toughest pound-for-pound backs in the league, but nonetheless he's been a high-attrition player for most of his career. Andre Brown (post concussion/probable) and rebounding rookie David Wilson are good options if the Giants find themselves in a pinch.

Sunday AM Update: Kimberly Jones of NFL Network is reporting that Bradshaw will play.

• Good news if you own Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers passing options this week: they should be plenty busy Sunday night at Cincinnati. The Steelers have already ruled out their top two running backs, Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle). There's no clear backfield winner for Pittsburgh: they'll probably give the start to Jonathan Dwyer, but Baron Batch and Chris Rainey are also around to steal snaps (especially on passing downs). I'll be surprised if Roethlisberger doesn't wind up chucking it 40 or more times.

• The bye week didn't do much for Jimmy Graham's ankle — the stud tight end was limited in the last two days of work (after sitting Wednesday entirely) and is a game-day call for the Sunday game at Tampa Bay. If you saw Graham hobbling around like Fred G. Sanford back in Week 5 against San Diego, you have every reason to be concerned now. Your depth at the tight end position will determine how you handle Graham. The modestly-talented Dave Thomas will pick up extra snaps if Graham cannot play, but I'd look for someone else to gain the target boost, perhaps slotman Lance Moore or satellite player Darren Sproles.

Saturday Update: Graham has officially been ruled out for Week 7. Get thee to the waiver wire. Go. Now. (Is Scott Chandler still floating around? He's the winner of the Tennessee tight-end lottery this week.)

Trent Richardson (ribs) had a limited Friday but should be able to go against the Colts. The plan is for him to wear a flak jacket on game day. Based on the New York-Indy tape from last week (Shonn Greene's monstrous game), Richardson might not need any padding at all.

Dez Bryant (groin) did not practice Friday and is questionable for Sunday's game against Carolina. It sounds like he'll be a game-time decision, but context clues point to him playing in Week 7.

Those are the big-ticket items. Now for the rest of the news, in usual QB-RB-WR-TE order.

Jake Locker (shoulder) has been practicing and is still aiming at a Week 8 return. Matt Hasselbeck, meanwhile, gets the call Week 7 at Buffalo. The Titans have made it clear that Locker is the starter when he's ready to play again.

Branden Bolden (knee) didn't practice this week and is an iffy Week 7 option. Sounds good if you own Stevan Ridley, or if you need Danny Woodhead as a bye-week spec play.

• With Brian Leonard (ribs) out, Cedric Peerman is the backup to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Peerman caught eight passes in the loss at Cleveland; not a bad flier if you're desperate in a deep league.

Pierre Garcon (foot) is probably going to need another week. He's listed as doubtful and didn't practice over the past three days. Have fun picking between Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson.

Vincent Jackson's calf was barking Friday but he's still expected to go against the Saints. Again, it's an early game, something we appreciate.

Greg Jennings (groin) is already washed out for Week 7 (at least we get to see him 457 times every weekend on commercials). But the Packers fully expect Aaron Rodgers (calf), Jermichael Finley (shoulder) and Alex Green (shoulder) to play at St. Louis — they're all listed as probable.

Laurent Robinson (post concussion) is out for another week. It will be interesting to see if Justin Blackmon, off the bye, can do anything at Jacksonville.

Jerome Simpson (leg/back) is healthy enough to be considered a Week 7 starter in Minnesota. He's termed probable on the injury report. Send it in, Jerome.

• The Patriots are listing a bunch of passing options as questionable, notably Wes Welker (ankle), Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Rob Gronkowski (hip). They're all expected to play, barring some hidden situation or game-day setback. Julian Edelman (hand) is also questionable but it seems more legitimate in his case - he hasn't played in several weeks.

Todd Heap (knee) remains questionable and hasn't played in over a month.

• The Bills remain without two key offensive line starters, tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle) and guard Kraig Urbik (ankle).

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Throwing Darts: Can Washington trip up the Giants again?

19 Oct
by in General

You should know the rules by now. We'll make five picks against the Yahoo! Pro Football Pick-Em line, and we encourage you to do the same. Let's get to the Week 7 clipboard.

Redskins +6.5 at Giants: It's time for a sell high on the Giants, especially when you consider the emotions of the situation: big upset win on the road, likely to be followed by a flat performance. When you punch the situation into Spreadapedia's database (an upset win at +6 or more, then favored by 6 or greater the next week), the team in question only covers around 45 percent of the time. Mike Shanahan found a way to steal both of these games last year, and now he actually has some weapons.

Patriots -10.5 vs. Jets: Most of this pick's rationale in the Breakfast Table, if you care to mosey over there. The Jets don't have enough secondary depth to match all of New England's targets. If New York wants to run Shonn Greene into the ground, New England is capable to stop it. You can throw over the top of the New England defense, but where is the scary part of the Jets offense? Who's the Sidney Rice or Torrey Smith likely to take over this game? I don't see it. The Patriots will win, and it might be comically lopsided.

Bills -3.5 vs. Titans: The metrics I trust show Buffalo as a team somewhere in the middle of the NFL parity scrum, while Tennessee is truly one of the bottom dwellers of the league. My eyes, my scouting, say the same thing. Buffalo also has a legitimate home field advantage, one of the few teams that can still boast that. This true line should be in the six range.

Steelers -1.5 at Bengals: Mike Tomlin is one of those coaches who has a very strong track record in bounce-back games, and Ben Roethlisberger has four straight wins in this series. I'd feel better if the Steelers had their full complement of guys back on defense, but how can anyone trust a Bengals secondary that was just embarrassed by Brandon Weeden?

Lions +6.5 at Bears: The historical trends actually favor Chicago here, but it feels like a lot of points to give in a divisional game where the underdog is no walkover. And there's always a chance Jay Cutler could throw a few to the wrong-colored helmets.

Last Week: 4-1
Season: 21-9
2011: 41-39
2010: 49-34

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Breakfast Table: Hatfields and McCoys; Antonio Cromartie and Cam Newton

18 Oct
by in General

For the last decade or so, Michael Salfino and Scott Pianowski have been putting together an email exchange centered around (but not limited to) the NFL. You might enjoy listening to them haggle. You might prefer a swift kick into the stomach. The Table isn't for everyone; we hope some of you enjoy it.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 8:49 AM
Subject: rivalry breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

Even with six teams on holiday in Week 7, we've got a lot to chew on. The Niners-Seahawks play an important Thursday game, the Giants-Redskins meet up on Sunday, Houston-Baltimore collide for the AFC yellow jersey, and the Hatfield-McCoy feud (Pats-Jets) fires up again. We even have Salfino-Pianow squaring off in the Stopa Law Firm League (I've added New England's defense as a thematic play; I demand you start one of the Jets).

The Thursday additions are starting to annoy me. I like having an additional stand-alone game for viewing and scouting purposes, but it stinks to have teams playing it on an absurd three days of rest; every game has been sloppy and I don't think it's a coincidence. Three days can't be enough time for teams to rest and plan for another game. When I am appointed NFL Czar, every team will get two bye weeks per season, with one of the byes earmarked to precede any Thursday match. Season goes longer, the competition is more legitimate, everyone wins.

Seattle's home/road splits are at play again, as we'd expect. Russell Wilson's QB rating, small sample and all, crashes 56 points on the road. Do the Seahawks deserve more than the usual tax for any road game? Does the short turn around favor one team between the Niners and Seahawks? Seattle has to travel (albeit a modest trip), but the schemes of Jim Harbaurgh are blunted when there's no time to implement a game plan.

There's been some "sky is falling" talk with the Patriots, which I don't buy. Their three losses all came with flukes attached - and against teams that are collectively 13-5. New England's going to right the ship and win the division easily, right? The Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis injuries are convenient excuses to distrust the Ravens, but I disliked their defense even before last week. The Ravens and Texans will compare overrated name brands on Sunday - Baltimore's defense against Houston's offense line (the Pro Football Focus spreadsheet tells the story there).

You get the first extended reply; work off my order or go off the menu if needed. Last week's Chargers-Broncos game might be worth a word. I'd love to hear your AFC power rankings. Have the Dodgers made a bid on Alex Rodriguez yet?

Week 7 Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: rivalry breakfast
To: scott pianowski

I think the Patriots have screwed themselves by trying to emphasize the run so much in the offseason and in the early part of 2012. Their passing game does not seem sharp, especially where it matters most - in the red zone. They've gone from fourth to 14th in red zone TD percentage. The Jets are 16th. This is killing them in losing close games.

This year, GB, Denver and NO are 1, 2 and 3. Last year, Detroit, GB and NE were in the top four. It used to be that running well was the key in the red zone. Now I think it's passing well, especially given how teams try to run it down there, by lining up with big personnel in tight formations. The Patriots lead the league in red zone scoring attempts per game (4.8). So you figure with their rate down abut 10 percentage points, they are leaving about 3.4 points on the field. Those 3.4 points would have come in handy last week. And what's with NE kicking field goals on fourth and 1 in close? Come on, man. We know the sabermetric play is to go for it there, and so does Bill Belichick.

The one thing the Jets are doing well now is pass defense. The last three games, they have a 62.9 passer rating allowed. That's better than their 69.6 rating allowed last year. Only Chicago is better than 62.6 this year, too. And the Jets haven't done it against passing chumps -- the Niners, Texans and Colts. All the games were at home though.

Now, the ultimate test if the Patriots crank it up. But will they try to run it on the Jets? Gang Green fans hope so. And I think we've settled whether Antonio Cromartie is a shutdown corner. He's been on the island the last three weeks on most snaps and he's allowed a 34.3 passer rating -- and that includes a touchdown allowed to the Texans that I'm convinced in watching the game tape wasn't his responsibility. He released him to LeRon Landry, who completely bit on the play fake. That was zone, to my eye. But still, even with that, 34.3 in three games mostly covering Michael Crabtree, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne is impressive.

I think Wilson is too inexperienced to look at home/road splits. He can learn very quickly at this point. It's possible last week was a breakthrough game for him. But this isn't really the week to be looking at home/road anyway because the Niners are tough everywhere. As for Harbaugh's scheming, he better figure out a way to get his best player, Vernon Davis, the ball when they are behind and need to score. You can't just keep lining him up with his hand on the ground and force him to fight through the scrimmage scrum. I'm more worried if I'm a Niners fan about Alex Smith against the Seahawks defense after last week's disaster than I am about Russell Wilson against the Niners. But maybe I'm overreacting to one terrible, 10th-percentile game.

Houston is much better than the Ravens, and the Houston offensive line much better than Baltimore's front seven, too. But Houston has got to get the passing game and Andre Johnson going. They are not much of a threat to come back if you get up on them like the Packers did last week.

The Broncos are good because Peyton Manning is still great. He's on pace for 600 attempts and about 4,900 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. So the Broncos clearly knew what they were doing, medically, as did Peyton in deciding not to retire. This is no farewell tour. He's at the top of his game.

There is no favorite right now in the AFC. That's pretty much the point of the first six weeks. One of the two teams with a winning record (the Ravens) isn't even good.

This is a fine day to be a Mets fan, with the Yankees facing elimination and having the $100 million A-Rod problem to deal with either this offseason or for the next five years. This is a now team, and now ain't happening this year.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Subject: A.J. Sparano
To: Michael Salfino

I'm not worried about the Patriots at all. They're the second-best team in the AFC, after Houston (peeps who disagree, we can discuss backstage). New England dominated the important stats in the Arizona loss and the Pats left so many points on the field last week, the city of Seattle issued a littering citation. Look at the win expectancy chart from last week. Fluke losses can't be taken that seriously. (I refuse to discuss the zebra game in Baltimore).

The matchup against the Jets comes at a perfect time. The Jets have the personnel to stop a team with 1-2 decent receiving options, a Houston or an Indianapolis (who cares about the Niners game, a 34-0 loss). The Patriots have four problem guys: Gronkowski, Welker, Hernandez, Lloyd. Cromartie can't cover everyone. Someone's getting a juicy matchup. And this Patriots team can also run the ball down your throat if you load up on defensive backs - consider the trampling of the Bills.

New England's biggest weakness is the secondary, specifically on the deep ball. This is one area where the Jets simply don't have the players to hurt the Patriots. Maybe Mark Sanchez could thrive in this situation a few years ago, but he's in an offense largely devoid of playmakers and the team has done all it can to strip him of confidence. You can't have some players looking over their shoulder in sports: the goalie, the quarterback, the point guard. You need to empower those guys, build them up. Sanchez is the only quarterback in the league who has to look to the sidelines after every play.

I'll say this for Rex Ryan: he seems to understand underdog game theory. His theoretical decisions in the Houston game were wise: fake punt here, surprise onside kick there. That's what you do when the other guys have the talent edge. Don't try to soft shoe through the game; instead, take a swing at the bully. The Jets will do the same thing this week but too many matchups favor the Pats, and Brady/Belichick have insane numbers in the bounce-back spot. New England by 17.

Shutting down Andre Johnson, by the way, isn't a big deal anymore. He had 16 broken or missed tackles in 2008-2009, per Pro Football Focus. From 2010 to today, he has a whopping two. I'm not saying he's a stiff or someone the Texans should kick to the curb, but he's no longer even remotely close to the "best receiver in football" discussion. There's a new dominant A.J. in the world - A.J. Green. (Who I might take over Calvin Johnson right now, given the option.)

How do we explain Peyton Manning's splits, first half and second half? His rating jumps from 85.2 to 124.0 in the second half. His YPA spikes by half a yard. The TD/pick ratio is 3/4 before intermission, 11/0 afterwards. Do some quarterbacks start games too conservatively, then play better when they take the training wheels off? I feel that way about Matthew Stafford sometimes - he needs a hypnotist to convince him that it's always the fourth quarter and the Lions are down two scores.

Heck, some writers can't do their best work until the deadline waves a (theoretical) gun in their face.

This feels like a week where the Giants let everyone down: big upset win on the road, then come home and lay an egg. The six points look like a gift for the Redskins; I think they have a legitimate chance to win outright. And keep in mind Mike Shanahan somehow swept this matchup last year, despite his quarterback problem.

Cam Newton will be a key to our fantasy matchup (where you are the heavy favorite, per the stat projections). Where are you on Newton these days? I watched all of his snaps from the Seattle game and saw someone confused and inaccurate, and there are so many things I don't like about that Panthers offense. Steve Smith certainly isn't done but you'd like your best receiver to be younger than 33. Brandon LaFell deserves more looks but they ignore him for extended stretches.

The Panthers have all that talent in the backfield and no idea what to do with it. I also don't like too much read option; sometimes it results in late pitches the backs aren't used to or prepared for (this led to the DeAngelo Williams fumble in Week 5). Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is done for the year.

Newton's 23rd in quarterback rating, which underscores how he's struggling this year. And yet, he's first in YPA. Talk about a crazy split. Dallas-Carolina feels like an elimination game; I selected the Panthers in the Rotowire Picks (subscription required) but only because the number (Dallas favored on the road?) pushed me there.

Niners by six. Panthers by three. Redskins upset the Giants. Texans get past the Ravens. Salfino edges Pianow.

And A-Rod's in the National league next year, maybe the Marlins or the Dodgers. I can't see how the Yankees bring him back now.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Subject: Re: A.J. Sparano
To: scott pianowski

The Patriots defense is not good again so they can be beaten if they are not sharp with their offense, as they haven't been in key moments in their losses, mainly by failing to execute in the red zone.

What's so scary about Gronkowski and Lloyd? The former is 8.3 yards per target and the latter is 7.0. That's 40th and 63rd among receivers. Andre Johnson, who you may be right about, is 35th (8.5). And I do think Jeremy Kerley is a downfield threat (10.9 per target), plus Stephen Hill is healthy and has the physical skills to overmatch most corners if he can catch the ball. Welker is dangerous still and I do agree with Hernandez, if he's 100 percent. But the Jets will put Cro on Hernandez and hope Kyle Wilson, who has performed well this year, can somehow contain Welker. I think the game will be contested. Call it 30-21 Patriots.

It seems odd to judge wide receivers by broken tackles. If they're working outside the numbers, they're going to go out of bounds on a lot of catches. Maybe there's something to it but even the 16 missed tackles those two years you cite don't seem that impressive.

The passer rating with Manning in the first half is gummed up by those three early picks in Atlanta. I'm not a fan of breaking down bigger numbers into smaller ones, ever. To me, that's just looking to find what you want to find. But a little bit of a problem in Denver is that they don't want to throw early in games, running about 64% of the time on first and 10 in the first quarters. I think they should be about 60% pass early, get on top of teams, and then reverse those splits in the fourth quarter. If John Fox made such a point about what his record would be if he got those 26.1 points per game Manning averaged in Indy, then you have to let Manning get those points the way he produced them - by attacking early and often via the passing game.

Stafford's problem is that he's just an average quarterback. It's a joke to be 24th in YPA when you have Calvin Johnson on your team. Speaking of which, I think we can end the "who is the best rookie QB?" debate. Luck's YPA of 6.7 is 26th. Griffin's 8.3 is second. Only first-year starters in league history to beat that YPA in the 160-plus attempts that RGIII already has: Otto Graham, Greg Cook, Bob Waterfield, Ben Roethlisberger, Y.A. Tittle and Marc Bulger. But only Roethlisberger and Tittle were 22 that rookie year, like Griffin. The others were 1-3 years older.

There are off-field issues with Newton, who appears to need a really good sports psychologist. But his 8.5 YPA does lead the NFL as you say, so it's hard to find too much fault with his overall performance. I'll take YPA over passer rating when judging a QB because rating is heavily influenced by TD and INT rates, which are so volatile. He's averaging 14.4 yards per completion, which is a very big number though nowhere near the mid-17s by Cook and later Namath (1972). But for this era, it's pretty incredible. Dallas's secondary can be very tough though. But Newton is difficult to project because you do not know how his running ability is going to impact coverages, so I don't think Dallas's general stoutness versus the pass matters as much here.

I like the Seahawks outright and the numbers support the Redskins pick. I want to pick the Cowboys but they make it so hard given the creative ways they consistently find to lose.

Tags: Antonio Cromartie, , , , , , Michael Salfino, , , ,
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Shuffle Up: Waiting for Doug Martin; yellow jersey for Tony Gonzalez

17 Oct
by in General

If you could have the answer key for just one fantasy position, you'd probably opt for running back. It's a high-volatility spot, and it's a place where virtual unknowns often turn into superstars. (Somewhere, Priest Holmes is winking back at us, in-between his checkmate move.)

The lists below are not Week 7 ranks. Instead, the Shuffle Up objective is to gauge value for the balance of the fantasy season. How would I draft if I had a new league forming today? How should we rank the players for trade and pickup purposes? What's happened to this point counts as an audition, but this isn't intended to be a bland reciting of the leaders to this point. We want to figure out the next step.

Try not to flip out when players are ranked next to one another; in many cases, there's little to no difference there. And the commenting breaks are made for the spacing of the article; they don't really reflect tiers. Most of all, be sure to consider the golden rule: no one gains 10-20 percent of bonus value simply because they're on your roster.

Full commentary will follow shortly, in addition to tight end ranks. And in the even-numbered weeks, we'll sort through the quarterbacks and wide receivers. I'll tweak this list during the day; win the intelligent debate, and you might just win the rank. I also encourage your Tweets on this series; I'm at @scott_pianowski, and use the hashtag #shuffleup.

1. Arian Foster
2. Ray Rice
3. LeSean McCoy

I don't see a big difference between the top two guys. Foster's YPC has cratered and the Houston offensive line has mediocre numbers in the Pro Football Focus metrics, but he's also getting run into the ground and receiving a ton of goal-line carries. McCoy's results from the first six weeks were mildly disappointing as well, but I suspect the Eagles offense will be more McCoy-centric (and less Vick-focused) out of the Week 7 bye. Say whatever you want about Andy Reid when it comes to in-game management; he's still a very good head coach the other six days of the week.

4. Adrian Peterson
5. Jamaal Charles
6. Maurice Jones-Drew
7. Marshawn Lynch
8. Trent Richardson
9. Matt Forte
10. Ryan Mathews
11. Alfred Morris
12. Darren McFadden

McFadden is the trickiest call of the Top 12; it hasn't been injuries derailing him thus far, it's been ineffectiveness. Perhaps the fine play of Carson Palmer lately, and the healing progress made with the receivers, will help to open some running lanes. I realize McFadden is struggling with the new Greg Knapp offense and zone blocking scheme, but it shouldn't be that difficult for a back of this talent to eventually adjust. Then again, McFadden has never played more than 13 games in any pro season — when does the other cleat drop on that angle?

13. Reggie Bush
14. Stevan Ridley
15. Doug Martin
16. C.J. Spiller
17. Willis McGahee
18. Frank Gore
19. Darren Sproles

I wanted to see something from Martin and the Tampa Bay offensive line after their bye and I was not disappointed. Martin went for 76 yards on 13 carries against Kansas City last week (a zesty 5.8 yards a pop), and had receptions totaling 42 and 13 yards. A cozy 131 yards for the day.

Some fantasy owners noted LeGarrette Blount's day (7-58, touchdown) and worried about a pending time share, but consider when Blount made his hay. He only had two carries (for a piddly five yards) until a late possession (less than five minutes to go, Tampa ahead by 24). Blount tacked on 53 yards on five straight carries and scored a touchdown, garbage time production all the way. Does it count? Sure. Is it repeatable? I wouldn't bet on it.

The Bucs have a cushy rushing schedule in the next few weeks: New Orleans (Week 7), Oakland (Week 9) and Carolina (Week 11) highlight that stretch. Minnesota is a challenge in Week 8 and San Diego is close to neutral in Week 10.

I know there's a passionate Spiller lobby in Yahoo! Nation, but I think I've given a fairly lofty rank to someone who doesn't have a starting gig to call his own. If Fred Jackson were no longer in the mix, I'd call Spiller a Top 5 back immediately. But I can't call the plays for Chan Gailey, or dictate his substitution patterns.

20. Ahmad Bradshaw
21. Michael Turner
22. DeMarco Murray
23. Chris Johnson
24. Fred Jackson
25. Rashard Mendenhall
26. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
27. Steven Jackson
28. Mikel Leshoure
29. Michael Bush
30. Pierre Thomas
31. Alex Green
32. Shonn Greene

Greene had just one broken or missed tackle through the opening five weeks (per Pro Football Focus), then he collected eight of them in the romp over the Colts. I suspect the Indianapolis PR staff will keep that out of the press notes. Here's why the Greene revival is a near-lock to stop: NE, MIA, bye, SEA, STL, NE, ARI are the opponents in waiting. Hellish schedule for a running back. There isn't one plus matchup in that mix.

I really don't want to say much nice about Chris Johnson, but he is a starting back with little competition behind him. And although the Tennessee offensive line has been a major disappointment, at least it did move some people against Houston (shocker) and Pittsburgh in the last three weeks. … Bradshaw is terrific when healthy enough to play, and no one questions his toughness. But I can't see him withstanding the punishment for a full season, or anything that close to it.

33. William Powell
34. Daryl Richardson
35. Jonathan Stewart
36. Felix Jones
37. Ben Tate
38. David Wilson
39. Mike Goodson
40. Kendall Hunter

I'd like to go higher on Powell, a sneaky low-power runner who should be the primary man in Arizona. But the Cardinals offensive line is clearly the worst unit in the league, and the schedule isn't friendly (Minnesota, San Francisco, Green Bay, bye). … Goodson looked dynamic in the Atlanta game (96 yards on five touches), making it clear he's Oakland's second-best back. He's a little undersized at 210 pounds, but he should nonetheless be snapped up as a spec play in medium and deeper groups.

41. Donald Brown
42. Isaac Redman
43. Brandon Bolden
44. Vick Ballard
45. DeAngelo Williams
46. Jacquizz Rodgers
47. LeGarrette Blount
48. Robert Turbin
49. Montario Hardesty
50. Toby Gerhart

While I don't think Mendenhall is a poor receiver, Redman is probably a better fit as Pittsburgh's third-down back and hurry-up back. Redman had a superb day receiving (4-105) in the loss at Tennessee. … Maybe someday we'll understand why Carolina dumped a ton of money into its backfield, only to ignore it on Sundays. Williams seems like the third option at best in the Panthers rushing game (after Newton and Stewart), and the loss of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is a significant hit.

51. Ronnie Hillman
52. Shaun Draughn
53. Andre Brown
54. Ronnie Brown
55. Joique Bell
56. Rashad Jennings
57. Mark Ingram
58. Danny Woodhead
59. Jackie Battle
60. Bernard Pierce
61. LaRod Stephens-Howling
62. James Starks
63. Bryce Brown
64. Phillip Tanner
65. Peyton Hillis
66. Shane Vereen
67. Evan Royster
68. Daniel Thomas
69. Bilal Powell

1. Tony Gonzalez
2. Rob Gronkowski
3. Jimmy Graham

You can go any order on this Top 3 and it won't look out of place. But with Gronkowski and Graham clearly nicked up at the moment (it worries me that Graham didn't practice immediately after a full week off), I decided to promote Gonzo to the top spot. Gonzalez has a score in four of six games, and his two "bad" games still totaled nine catches for 93 yards. He never takes a Sunday off.

4. Vernon Davis
5. Aaron Hernandez
6. Kyle Rudolph
7. Owen Daniels
8. Antonio Gates
9. Jason Witten
10. Brent Celek
11. Jermaine Gresham
12. Heath Miller

I've always respected Miller in a "he won't hurt you" sort of way, but maybe there's extra upside for him in 2012. Miller leads all tight ends in red-zone and goal-line targets (10 and 7, respectively), despite the early bye week. Rudolph is second in red-zone targets, as you might have guessed. … With Vick struggling to see development with intermediate and deep routes (the secondary bust on the Maclin touchdown last week doesn't count), Celek becomes more important than ever in the Philadelphia offense. … How many touchdowns would Davis score in a pass-first offense, tied to a franchise QB? The world may never find out, and that's a crying shame. A Brees, Brady, Rodgers or Manning could make a Hall of Famer out of Davis.

13. Jared Cook
14. Greg Olsen
15. Fred Davis
16. Brandon Pettigrew
17. Jermichael Finley

Finley runs sloppy routes, his hands are a mess, and he's had some curious comments in the press — taking shots at Aaron Rodgers. Other than that, he's an absolute gem. … You can't trust Pettigrew so long as he keeps dropping sure catches (and sure touchdowns). And it's not as if he's some seam-wrecking monster: his career YPC is a modest 10.0. He's been overrated for a while.

18. Martellus Bennett
19. Dennis Pitta
20. Scott Chandler
21. Jacob Tamme
22. Brandon Myers
23. Coby Fleener
24. Joel Dreessen
25. Anthony Fasano
26. Dustin Keller
27. Marcedes Lewis

It's a shame Lewis has fallen off the map so much, because he's looking at some nifty matchups for a tight end over the next three weeks. Oakland and Detroit are giveaways, and Green Bay is also on the plus side. Someone tell Blaine Gabbert that a young quarterback is supposed to gravitate towards a veteran tight end. … Why don't the Broncos throw to Dreessen more often? He's snagged 17 of 23 targets, and he's capable of running through a defender or two.

28. Dwayne Allen
29. Lance Kendricks
30. Zach Miller
31. Tony Moeaki
32. Jordan Cameron

Hang on, gamers, we're not done. Settle in for Mr. Brad Evans and the Yahoo! Fantasy Minute, breaking down the Thursday night affair between Seattle and San Francisco.

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Monday Dinner: Brave new world for AFC North, Houston Texans

15 Oct
by in General

The AFC North used to be three yards and a cloud of dust. These days, it's 30 points and the wink of an eye.

Has the fantasy public adjusted? Or are we still clinging to those hard-to-remove name brands?

The Houston Texans entered the year with the consensus No. 1 running back and a well-respected offensive line. These days, Arian Foster has a 3.8 YPC and the Texans line is buried in the Pro Football Focus metrics.

Has the fantasy public adjusted? Why did I see the Texans line ranked No. 1 on a fantasy site last weekend? Are analysts still clinging to those hard-to-remove name brands?

The Texans and Ravens will play an important, and fascinating, temperature game in Week 7. Baltimore's defense was already without Terrell Suggs (the only pass rusher of any consequence), and now Ray Lewis (the run-stuffer and emotional leader) and Lardarius Webb (the best cover corner) are down for the season. Even those slow to accept a changing of the guard will figure out that the Ravens are in a new place now. Baltimore used to beat you up in the sandlot; now, it's all about pinball scoring in the arcade.

[Related: Devastating news for fearsome NFL star Ray Lewis]

Will Houston be able to run over the wounded Ravens? A year or two ago, this would be a slam dunk. But the Texans front line hasn't been reliably opening holes this year. At last check on Pro Football Focus, the Houston offensive line stood 17th in run blocking and 16th in pass blocking.

Foster's fantasy value is still riding high due to the volume, of course. He's scored seven times. He's collected an insane 149 carries, tops in the league — that's 21 totes ahead of second-place Marshawn Lynch, and 31 rushes ahead of third-place Stevan Ridley. I might not have Foster at the top spot in this week's Shuffle Up, but you can't slide him down too far. He's still a fairly safe fantasy play, no matter how the efficiency stats look.

Back to the AFC North, let's have a quick check-in on Baltimore's three rivals and how their current identify differs from what we might have expected back in training camp.

The power-football theme of Pittsburgh is as good as dead. The Steelers defense has been riddled by Matt Hasselbeck and Carson Palmer in recent road losses, and Pittsburgh's run blocking is third-worst in the league according to Pro Football Focus. I'm not chasing the dream of Rashard Mendenhall, but I'd be happy to ride with Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown anywhere. Heath Miller has been a steady third-tier tight end as well.

Many of us expected Cleveland to stay conservative this year, try to win games with a solid defense while its inexperienced quarterback got comfortable. Sounded nice on paper, anyway. Brandon Weeden stands fifth in the league in pass attempts, and the Browns have allowed the second-most passing yards in the league. Getting corner Joe Haden back is a boost, but his presence didn't stop the Bengals passing game Sunday (Andy Dalton went for 381 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown to A.J. Green that came on Haden's watch).

Dalton has taken a step up in class during his second season. His YPA has jumped from 6.6 to 8.0, he's throwing for 75 additional yards per game, and his rating has spiked 11.3 pointed. Dalton threw for 20 scores as a rookie; he's on pace for 32 this year. No one's hiding him in this offense, and that's important when the Cincinnati secondary is allowing 7.9 YPA and a 99.6 rating. Whole lotta spiking going on.

[Related: Winners and losers from week 6 in the NFL]

This is the strangest year, like every year is. Welcome to the NFL. Let's live in the present, gamers.

• When fantasy pundits and players talk about the Raiders, the conversation often starts and ends with Darren McFadden. Run DMC didn't show his best form at Atlanta (27-70 rushing, 3-28 receiving, one score, one fumble lost) but at least the volume bailed him out.

But let's not leave town before we examine some of the other fun options here. Denarius Moore looked dynamite against the Falcons (5-104, touchdown) and could be a Top 25 wideout if he can stay healthy. Tight end Brandon Myers is on pace for the quietest 928-yard season you ever did see. And running back Mike Goodson (4-59 rushing, 1-37 receiving) has emerged as the clear No. 2 back; if you view a McFadden injury as an inevitable part of life, Goodson needs to be on your radar (or better yet, on your roster).

• Chan Gailey made Peter King's "Coach of the Week" and Bill Barnwell's "Thank you for not coaching" in the same Sunday. Let's stop and appreciate that. Obviously these are two writers who have different views of the game.

On my clipboard, Gailey is the poor man's Norv Turner. He's still a creative and interesting offensive mind — perhaps to his detriment at times (the Brad Smith pass late in the fourth period Sunday was a horrendous choice). But Gailey seems overmatched when he's the head man for an entire football club. The Peter Principle seems to apply here.

Shonn Greene's 161-yard, three-touchdown game came out of nowhere, and initially I rolled my eyes when the boiler plate "sell high" recommendations rained down from the Internet. Where does a fantasy owner find someone who's actually willing to put a lofty value on Shonn Freaking Green? Is there truly a sucker born every minute?

That noted for the record, the Week 7 slate might provide the backdrop the Greene owner is looking for. As we discussed last week, it's a monster of a sit-down session — six teams are off, most of them good ones — and the backfield in particular is getting crushed. Consider the running backs who won't be playing next weekend: Shady McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Mathews, Reggie Bush, Michael Turner and Willis McGahee. That's not a bye week, that's a wildcat strike.

Your homework is clear, Greene owner. See who's shut out from the Week 7 schedule. Maybe someone in your pool is down a bunch of good stuff, including one of the premier backs mentioned above. You're not going to hoodwink any rational owner into thinking that Greene is a star all of a sudden, but this very well may be the best time you'll ever get to sell him. So many fantasy trades are build out of timing and desperation; use those things to your advantage this week.

And even if you sell Greene "moderate" as opposed to some crazy return, you probably did well. Think back to how you valued him a week ago. His next stomach-punch game can't be far away.

• New England's 3-3 record might be a blessing in surprise for fantasy owners. The Patriots will probably need to sing for their supper all through Week 16, so there's no trickiness to account for. I'll be flabbergasted if the Patriots don't wind up winning the division eventually, however. I realize you can say this about a bunch of teams, but New England is maybe three plays away from being 6-0. There's no AFC East club that's close to them on paper, and they should make quick work of the Jets in Week 7.

[Also: The surprising, yet obvious best team in the NFL]

No need to sweat the pass-heavy approach New England took at Seattle, Stevan Ridley owner. Every Patriots game plan is constructed from scratch. Blueprint X has nothing to do with Blueprint Y or Blueprint Z. That's one of the signature moves from this intelligently-run organization.

Mind you, the Patriots did their share of dumb things in Week 6, too. Tom Brady flushed away too many points with red-zone mistakes. Bill Belichick mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half. Nobody's perfect.

The Jets and Patriots are basically a stand-alone Week 7 game — only the Raiders and Jaguars will be playing at the same time unless an early game gets pushed back. Fox is on baseball for the late afternoon. Get your popcorn ready. This is the Hatfield and McCoys of the NFL.

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Tags: , AFC North, , , , , , , Houston Texans The AFC North, , Pro Football Focus, , Shonn Greene,
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Sunday Fantasy Chat: 9:30 pm ET

14 Oct
by in General

There's a lot to digest as we wind down a blistering Week 6. Comebacks and brickbats, surging New York teams, the logjam in the AFC East, the silence of the Niners. Worried about Darren McFadden or the Ravens defense? Excited about the Bucs or the Seahawks or the upstart Browns? Did Dez Bryant make your day or break your heart? Are you ready to name your next child after Bob Griffin? I'm here to help you sort it all out.

The chittering and chattering starts at 9:30 pm ET. Bring a good attitude, a room-relevant question and the drink of your choosing; I'll provide answers, clarity, inane polls and random comments. The Texans and Packers will provide the backdrop (with a baseball check-in now and then). When it's all over, we'll test everyone for concussion symptoms and then call it a night.

You have about an hour to get in character. See you soon. The chat applet is yours after the jump.

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Turn Off Your Hartline: Miami wideout takes bagel against the Rams

14 Oct
by in General

Although the Dolphins escaped with a 17-14 victory over the Rams on Sunday, it was far from an artistic success. Miami won the ballgame despite a puny 12 first downs, and the Rams found a way to lose despite a 462-192 edge in total yards. St. Louis collected 6.7 yards per play, the Dolphins just 3.9.

And Brian Hartline, you ask? He didn't have much to do with Miami's victory, either. Winning smile, no stats.

Two weeks ago, it was Turn On Your Hartline as the Dolphins wideout went ballistic in Arizona (12 catches, 253 yards). Sunday, it was Turn Off Your Hartline. Miami's No. 1 wideout went without a catch and without an official target for the afternoon. Oh, there was one pass aimed his way — it turned into a pass interference call — but otherwise there's no trace of Hartline in this game.

I don't want to say too much about Hartline's no-show until I review the game tape. Ryan Tannenhill handled Hartline's absence just fine, going 21-for-29 for 185 yards and two scores. Unheralded Marlon Moore and Anthony Fasano collected the touchdowns, and Reggie Bush (5-44) and Davone Bess (6-42) had passable days in PPR formats. It wasn't the 1980 Chargers, but it was good enough.

The Rams aren't an easy bunch to beat on the outside, with cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins playing well. I'm eager to see how much those guys had a hand in the Hartline bagel. But name-brand cornerbacks generally aren't enough to steer fantasy owners away from a sound option. A.J. Green carved up Joe Haden and friends in Cleveland on Sunday, posting pinball stats (seven grabs, 135 yards, two scores). Reggie Wayne scraped together a 5-87 day in the Meadowlands. The Patriots went for 395 passing yards against Seattle's well-regarded secondary, with Wes Welker (10-138-1) leading the way.

We also have to accept that every quality receiver will have a few stinkers. Larry Fitzgerald was held to four yards at New England in Week 2. Calvin Johnson still hasn't caught a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford. Julio Jones has been inconsistent all year. The list goes on and on.

Hartline isn't in the same class as those guys I just mentioned, but he's still a reasonable WR3 or WR4 in most pools going forward. It's okay to be frustrated by what just happened, but let's see the forest for the trees. He can't help you in Week 7 (bye) and the Jets will be a challenge in Week 8, but he looks good against the Colts, Titans and Bills after that.

Wide receiver is the variance position of Fantasy Football. Nat Moore said there'd be days like this. Share your bagel talk in the comments. We'll get through this together.

Tags: Anthony Fasano, , , , Hartline, , , Ryan Tannenhill, , , , , wideout
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Throwing Darts: Can the desperate Packers spring an upset?

14 Oct
by in General

The public's out there throwing darts at a board, sport. I don't throw darts at a board.

Wait a minute, yes I do.

Packers +3.5 at Texans: How good is Houston, really? Arian Foster is currently a 4.0 YPC back, and the much-ballyhooed offensive line (still ranked No. 1 on some subjective lists) doesn't look good on the spreadsheet; Pro Football Focus has the Texans 18th in run blocking this year and 15th in pass blocking. Houston comes into this game on short rest and without Brian Cushing, and the Packers are the more desperate team (an angle Bill Parcells would often bring up).

Dolphins -3.5 vs. Rams: While I have much respect for the Rams defense, I'm having trouble seeing how St. Louis scores more than 10 points on the road (unless something fluky happens on defense or special teams). Sam Bradford has once again been sold out by his receivers and offensive line. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill is the best rookie quarterback that you're hearing almost nothing about. His familiarity with the offense, dating back to the Texas A&M days, clearly shows on the tape. Miami rolls.

Broncos +1 at Chargers: You'll have to give a point or so with the Broncos in some other spots, but we use the Yahoo! Pro Football Pick-Em lines in this column, thus you see the plus-one here. It's not really a big deal crossing the equator. Peyton Manning looks more in sync with his offense with each passing week, and the Broncos pass rush might have a field day against the spotty Chargers offensive line (especially with LT Jared Gaither expected out). The Norv Turner offense still likes to throw those pretty intermediate and deep routes, but will the protection hold enough for those plays to develop?

Seahawks +3.5 vs. Patriots: As sharp as the Patriots have been on offense the last few weeks, it's a different challenge going on the road and taking on the Seahawks nasty defense and formidable home-field edge. Seattle can crash the pocket with or without gimmicks, and the secondary is the deepest (and the biggest) in the league. So long as Russell Wilson plays a clean game - and that's obviously no guarantee - I trust Seattle to keep things close or pull off the upset.

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 1-4
Season: 18-8
2011: 41-39
2010: 49-34

Tags: , Bill Parcells, Brian Cushing, , , , Good, , offensive line, , Pro Football Focus, ,
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Injury Wrap: Jermichael Finley and Aaron Hernandez play the waiting game

12 Oct
by in General

The tight end position has become a critical part of pro passing games in recent years, and with that in mind, it's also a position that can fluster us on a Fantasy Friday. We'll focus on the big targets as we kick off the afternoon version of the Week 6 Injury Wrap.

• Jermichael Finley has been more mouth than muscle in the last year and change, and he's no sure thing for Sunday night's game at Houston. He's dealing with a shoulder injury and is tagged as questionable. If Finley's production and attitude don't change radically in the next couple of months, you can be pretty sure he won't be back with the Pack in 2013. And even if he's a go on game day, I'm not considering him a Top 10 tight end in Week 6. You need to do better. The Pack is also expected to go without Greg Jennings (groin), though he's not completely ruled out as we go to post.

• Aaron Hernandez (ankle) didn't practice Friday and looks like a game-time decision for the tricky visit to Seattle. Given the late starting time to this match, and Hernandez's modest rehab pace, I don't see the point of risking him in a Week 6 fantasy lineup. Rob Gronkowski (hip) is expected to go, though he's carrying the team-preferred questionable tag.

• Martellus Bennett is one tight end who should be on the field this weekend. He's dealing with a sore knee but the Giants list him as probable. Teammate Hakeem Nicks (foot/knee) was active in the last two practice sessions and has a solid chance to play at San Francisco, though he's carrying the questionable tag. The Giants have a late game on the coast, obviously, so you want to be careful with this one. Your depth and the timing of your alternatives will have a large say in how you handle Nicks this week.

Now that we're up to speed with those tight ends, let's take the full lap around the clipboard, checking in with all positions in the usual order (QB, RB, WR, TE . . . and the rest).

Robert Griffin (post concussion) had a strong week of practice and should be good to go against Minnesota.

[Related: Video: Robert Griffin III gets some pointed advice]

The Titans are hoping Jake Locker (shoulder) will be good to go when Week 7 rolls around. Matt Hasselbeck played well in Thursday's victory over Pittsburgh, but he's clearly a placeholder. Buffalo and Indianapolis come calling for the Titans in the next two weeks, definitely plus matchups for somebody.

Matt Cassel (post concussion) won't play at Tampa Bay. Are you ready for your closeup, Brady Quinn? The Chiefs are off for Week 7.

Adrian Peterson (ankle) is listed as probable, so he's ready to go, barring a surprise game-day setback. The Redskins front seven (4.0 YPC allowed) will be a good challenge for him.

Ben Tate (turf toe) might be a factor Sunday against Green Bay, but given how sporadically the Texans have used Tate this year, I can't say he's playable for fantasy owners right now. Volume king Arian Foster (knee) is listed as probable.

Andre Brown (post concussion) won't play in Week 6, opening the door a little more for David Wilson as the looming No. 2 back. Wilson had 44 rushing yards and a touchdown on two carries last week, and he's been explosive on returns.

The Patriots usually skip the probable tag, so I'm not going to worry too much about Brandon Bolden (knee/questionable). But a road game at Seattle is obviously a concern for the Patriots offense.

Peyton Hillis (ankle) is out again, which means Shaun Draughn will be the caddy to Jamaal Charles.

[Related: Video: Week six fantasy monsters]

Daniel Thomas (post concussion) is out indefinitely, with opens up the door for Jorvorskie Lane to possibly get some goal-line work. Lamar Miller is also in the mix behind Reggie Bush.

Brandon Jacobs (knee) was active at practice all week, though the Niners still consider him questionable for Week 6. With Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter running well, there's no pressing need to get Jacobs on the field.

• Jahvid Best (post concussion) remains in limbo with the Lions; he's yet to be cleared for practice work. He's wasn't going to play at Philadelphia anyway, but the optimists in the crowd were hoping Best might be able to give it a go against Chicago a week from Monday.

With Ryan Williams done for the year and Beanie Wells out for several weeks, William Powell is expected to be the primary tailback for Arizona this Sunday against Buffalo. Powell was impressive in the preseason, you might recall (42-249 rushing, that's 5.9 yards a pop, with three touchdowns). LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip/probable) is another Cardinals option, though he's more of a third-down back. The offensive line won't do anyone favors here; it's probably the worst in football.

Rashard Mendenhall suffered an Achilles injury at Tennessee on Thursday night, heading to the sidelines prematurely. Andy Behrens has the full story on the hobbling Steelers; click through here for the info.

Andre Johnson (groin) is listed as probable. He's fully expected to go against the Pack, and this might be a week where he's not on a careful pitch count, given the opponent (Johnson has participated in a modest 79 percent of the snaps this year).

Jordan Norwood (foot) had a brief breakout and now he's off the grid again - he's been moved to injured reserve (with the designated to return tag). Travis Benjamin and Mohamed Massaquoi are also out of action for Week 6. If you need to roll the dice on any Cleveland wideout, your choices are Greg Little (drops everything) or Josh Gordon (little experience, but scored twice last week).

• Pierre Garcon was added to the injury report Friday; he can't seem to shake this foot problem. Minnesota's underrated defense (and improving secondary) is on tap for Sunday. Check back before kickoff on game day; in the meantime, I've moved Garcon down a tier on my wideout board.

Jon Baldwin (hamstring) had a full workout Friday, which leads you to believe he'll go at Tampa Bay despite the questionable tag. He's taken his share of reps with Brady Quinn; it will be interesting to see if it translates on the field.

Wes Welker (ankle) and Julian Edelman (hand) are both listed as questionable. It's the Patriots. It's Belichick. There are no straight answers. I've pushed Welker outside the Top 20 at wideout but it's really about the matchup. I won't consider Edelman for a roto role until he has a full game back.

Jerome Simpson (foot/back) had partial workouts on Thursday and Friday; the Vikings tag him as questionable. He's too risky for most owners to consider in Week 6. Percy Harvin (hamstring) is listed as probable.

[Also: Jim Harbaugh fires back at Giants quips]

• Dustin Keller (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (hamstring) both had limited practices Friday and hope to play against the Colts on Sunday. While neither player is a world beater or automatic fantasy starter, Mark Sanchez will take any help he can get. Bottom line, if I have to start one New York receiving option this weekend in the Meadowlands, give me Jeremy Kerley.

Todd Heap (knee) is considered a game-time decision for Week 6. I've yet to field a Todd Heap question in 2012.

Brandon Pettigrew (knee) is listed as probable. The Eagles have been strong in tight-end coverage this year, a Top 5 unit.

Nate Kaeding (groin) isn't ready yet, so Nick Novak works Monday against Denver.

Sebastian Janikowski (groin) is listed as probable. Barring a setback in warmups, he should be fine at Atlanta.

Shayne Graham (calf) is listed as probable.

The Chargers need to patch things up on the offensive line, with LT Jared Gaither (groin) expected to miss Monday's game. Gaither could hardly move at the end of the Week 6 loss at New Orleans, leading to a gift sack that sealed the Saints win.

Buffalo offensive linemen Cordy Glenn (ankle) and Kraig Urbik (ankle) aren't expected to play at Arizona. Good luck finding running room, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

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