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Week 9 Sleepers

This article is a weekly look at players generally ranked outside the realm of every week starters. The players covered here usually fall into two categories: those with a good matchup or those who have an opportunity to start because of an injury to a teammate. On the other hand, sometimes a player may be considered if he is normally a starter, but has a bad matchup. Each position is covered in descending order beginning with the players who are better gambles and finishing with those who are certifiable reaches. Your mileage may vary, but the idea is to discuss these players and provide you with some analysis that might help you make those difficult lineup decisions a bit easier. Good luck and always keep in mind that your feedback and comments are welcome.


Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

QB Brad Johnson - MIN (vs DET)

Brad Johnson isn't the same QB he was in his last stint with the Vikings, but he's still capable of finishing out the season and hopefully making far fewer mistakes than Daunte Culpepper was. The Lions are without their ballhawking Pro Bowl corner Dre' Bly and Kyle Orton threw for 230 yards and a TD against them in Detroit last week. Four of the last five QBs to face Detroit have thrown for 230+ yards with at least a TD. Three of them threw 2 TDs. Johnson should be a relatively safe play this week with a decent upside as well.

QB Eli Manning - NYG (at SF)

Eli is on the fringe of being an excellent backup and a borderline starter. This week, he has an outstanding matchup against the 49ers. The only thing that would make this week's outlook for Manning any better is if the game were in New York. The 49ers allow 315 yds/gm through the air with 2.3 TDs (2nd most) and 1.0 INTs per game. They've allowed the most 20+ yard completions, the most 40+ yard completions, the most TDs and a completion percentage of 68.3%.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

QB Byron Leftwich - JAX (vs HOU)

The Texans have played 7 games and have only two interceptions. Opposing QBs are completing 67.2% of their passes and they have only 11 sacks. Leftwich should have time to setup in the pocket and find his receivers downfield. Perhaps the biggest risk of playing Leftwich is the Jaguars running the ball too well, jumping out to an early lead and then running the clock out conservatively in the second half. Otherwise, he's a low risk play this week with a good chance of making some big things happen with his receivers.

QB Chris Simms - TB (vs CAR)

The Panthers are allowing 246 yds/gm through the air with 10 TDs and 7 INTs. They've done a relatively good job in the last two games against the pass, but then again, they were facing Minnesota and Detroit. Before that, Josh McCown lit them up for 398 yards and two TDs. The Panthers are giving up big plays (7 completions of 40 yards or more – 2nd most) and Simms has a guy who is breaking long TDs on a fairly regular basis in Joey Galloway. Look for Simms to have a productive game and be a solid sleeper if you're looking for someone beyond your normal starter this week.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

QB Trent Dilfer - CLE (vs TEN)

With Dilfer, you have a serious gamble on your hands. He could throw for 250 yards and a pair of TDs or throw 2 INTs in the first half and ride the bench in favor of rookie Charlie Frye in the second half. The Titans are allowing 221 passing yds/gm, 2.1 TDs (17 TDs allowed is most in the league) and 0.6 INTs per game and a completion rate of 66.5%. The only two QBs who failed to throw for 210 yards or more are David Carr and Josh McCown. Anthony Wright even threw for 212 yards and a TD. The way the Browns season is going; this could be Dilfer's last stand.

QB Vinny Testaverde - NYJ (vs SD)

Every QB that has played the Chargers this year has thrown for 224 yards or more. The last three (Green, McNabb and Collins) have thrown for 287 yards or more. Granted, the Chargers have not faced many poor passing teams like Baltimore, Detroit or the Jets. So, it's hard to compare apples to applies when discussing Testaverde and the Jets. Vinny can still make plays, but he's vulnerable to a good pass rush and he's not doing a great job of protecting the football lately either. The Chargers have 24 sacks (2nd most) but only 6 interceptions. You'd have to be desperate to go with Vinny considering the Jets have just 3 passing TDs on the season and none of them belong to Vinny. If anything, he should be good for some decent yardage.

If you're desperate (worth a look in deeper leagues)

QB Joey Harrington - DET (at MIN)

It's difficult to expect much production out of Harrington if he's thrown back into the fire this week, but Jeff Garcia is banged up and there's a real chance the Lions could be forced to go back to the well. In this case, it's more like the wishing well. The Vikings have allowed three 300-yard passers this year, but that was to Delhomme, Favre and Palmer. Neither Harrington nor Garcia is in that class. On a positive note, the Lions should have Roy Williams back this week and Charles Rogers returns from suspension. The Vikings are allowing 232 yds, 2 TDs and 0.9 INTS per game.

QB Cody Pickett - SF (vs NYG)

Yeah, the 49ers are reduced to starting Pickett, the former rodeo clown, this week. When it's all said and done Pickett just might breathe some life into this offense. He can run around in the pocket, keep plays alive and he did play relatively well briefly last week. He's obviously a huge reach, but the Giants secondary is vulnerable allowing 283 yds/gm with 1.3 TDs and 1.4 INTS per game.

Running Back

Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

RB Chris Brown - TEN (at CLE)

The Browns are allowing 134 yds/gm on the ground, but only 3 TDs. Domanick Davis combined for 116 yards last week and Kevin Jones 84 yards the week before. Brown is playing pretty well over the last few games, but he remains an injury risk nearly every time you play him.

RB Kevin Jones - DET (at MIN)

The Vikings are allowing 138 rushing yds/gm with 1.3 TDs/gm. They've allowed 9 runs of 20 yards or longer (2nd most). The Lions are starting to show signs of a running game now that Corey Schlesinger is back in the lineup. Who knows? With Williams and Rogers also returning, maybe Jones will have some running lanes. Jones is itching for his first breakout game of the year and this week could be the first among several better matchups for him in the 2nd half of the season.

RB Mewelde Moore - MIN (vs DET)

It's hard to get a read on the Lions defense. They look statistically sound, but they haven't exactly been playing Denver, Indy and Seattle each week either. Reuben Droughns cracked 100 yards against them two weeks ago, but they did a nice job (for the most part) on Thomas Jones last week holding him to 72 yards on the ground. Moore's a dual-threat back so he should be able to garner at least 100 total yards and he's getting into the end zone in recent weeks, too.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

RB Ronnie Brown - MIA (vs ATL)

Two weeks ago the Falcons allowed 88 yards to Antowain Smith and 86 yards to Aaron Stecker. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are a little more talented than that tandem, so look for the Dolphins to hammer the Falcons between the tackles as much as possible to keep Michael Vick off the field and control the clock, if possible. Atlanta's allowing 4.7 yds per carry and 120 rushing yards/gm with 1 rushing TD/gm.

RB Ricky Williams - MIA (vs ATL)

Two weeks ago the Falcons allowed 88 yards to Antowain Smith and 86 yards to Aaron Stecker. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are a little more talented than that tandem, so look for the Dolphins to hammer the Falcons between the tackles as much as possible to keep Michael Vick off the field and control the clock, if possible. Atlanta's allowing 4.7 yds per carry and 120 rushing yards/gm with 1 rushing TD/gm.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

RB Travis Henry - TEN (at CLE)

Henry didn't get much action last week, but you just never know when Brown might get a hangnail and Henry will be needed for 10 to 20 carries a game. The Browns are allowing 134 rushing yds/gm, and with McNair banged up, look for them to run the ball as much as possible to avoid further punishment to their leader.

RB Brandon Jacobs - NYG (at SF)

The 49ers have allowed 10 rushing TDs (2nd most in the league) so far. That happens to be Jacobs specialty. Tiki Barber remains the Giants primary back, but if this game gets out of hand (and it very well could) then Jacobs has a chance to see extended carries and an better than normal chance to score.

RB Alvin Pearman - JAX (vs HOU)

Pearman ripped off a 45 yard run last week. This week, he and the Jags face another soft run defense in Houston. The Texans are allowing a league-high 165 rushing yds/gm, 5.0 yds per carry (also worst in the league) and 10 TDs. For what might be a valid comparison, think back to week 6 when Maurice Morris mopped up for Shaun Alexander and rushed for 104 yards and a TD.

RB Chester Taylor - BAL (vs CIN)

Taylor continues to look better than Jamal Lewis each week, but Brian Billick continues to stay loyal to Lewis. The Bengals are allowing 4.7 yards per rushing attempt and 125 yards/gm on the ground with 6 TDs. Taylor's a better option in PPR leagues as he tends to get more catches playing on third down, but otherwise he remains a gamble until he starts seeing the rock as much as he deserves to get it.

Wide Receiver

Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

WR Antonio Bryant - CLE (vs TEN)

Some weeks, Bryant is a top 15 fantasy receivers and other weeks he simply disappears. The Titans have been somewhat the same defensively. Two weeks ago, Pacman Jones did a marvelous job holding Anquan Boldin to zero catches. Last week, Jerry Porter torched them for 123 yards and 2 TDs while Randy Moss was held to 26 yards. The Titans have allowed 12 TDs to opposing receivers (2nd most) and 17 passing TDs overall (worst in the league). Chances are, if Bryant doesn't explode then Braylon Edwards will. One of them is bound to have a big game.

WR Bobby Engram - SEA (at ARI)

Earlier this year, Bobby Engram produced 54 yards against the Cardinals, but that game got out of hand and the Seahawks didn't throw the ball much in the 2nd half either. Then again, Darrell Jackson produced 125 yards in that game and he's not available this week. Engram's been on track to return this week, but whether he plays or not, isn't known at this time. If he's able to start, then he's a good player to insert as your WR3. Joe Jurevicius is also a fine bet, but he's been producing consistently since Jackson/Engram both got hurt. He remains a solid start regardless of Engram's status.

WR Amani Toomer - NYG (at SF)

It won't get any better than this week for Amani Toomer. The 49ers secondary has been beaten badly this year on a regular basis. They've allowed 10 TDs to opposing WRs (third most) and 238 yards/gm (the worst). Seven different receivers have gone for 100 yards against them. Fifteen different receivers have produced 50 yards against them in seven games. Obviously, Plaxico Burress is a great start this week, but Toomer could also get into the action and produce a nice game himself.

WR Ernest Wilford - JAX (vs HOU)

Wilford blew up last week with Reggie Williams knocked out early with a concussion. This week, Wilford is expected to start in place of Williams. He's been the hot target for Leftwich lately and that could very well continue into this game. With Dunta Robinson covering Jimmy Smith most of the time, Wilford has a HUGE size advantage against the other Texans corners. He and Matt Jones could both find the end zone again this week and be quite productive.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

WR Bryant Johnson - ARI (vs SEA)

Anquan Boldin will probably be sidelined this week though nothing has been made official yet at the time of this writing. Johnson is expected to start. Of course, Johnson is a former 1st round pick who hasn't lived up to his billing yet, so this will be a big opportunity for him to show what he can do in a starting capacity.

WR Brandon Lloyd - SF (vs NYG)

The Giants pass defense was beaten badly through the first five games, but the last two weeks they've settled down. They held the Broncos and Redskins in check for the most part as Ashley Lelie's 64 yards represent the highest total in those two games. Lloyd may or may not benefit from a new QB this week. It will be the third different QB throwing to him in as many games. Lloyd is known for making big plays and the Giants have allowed 25 receptions of 20 yards or longer. If Arnaz Battle is finally able to play, he might deserve some consideration, too.

WR Justin McCareins - NYJ (vs SD)

McCareins is the team's better deep threat at wide receiver and the Chargers have allowed 27 completions of 20 yards or longer (3rd most in the NFL). It's tough to expect much from the Jets knowing how weak their pass offense has been this year, but if there's a week they might surprise and produce some decent yardage, this would be it.

WR Marcus Robinson - MIN (vs DET)

The Lions seem to give up a big passing play each week for a TD. Last week Mark Bradley had a long catch (but failed to score) while Muhsin Muhammad has scored in both games he played them. Robinson seemed to have Brad Johnson's eye when he stepped in for Culpepper, so maybe these two can connect again this week.

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

WR Braylon Edwards - CLE (vs TEN)

See Antonio Bryant's analysis above. The Titans have allowed 12 TDs to opposing receivers (2nd most) and 17 passing TDs overall (worst in the league). Chances are, if Bryant doesn't explode then Braylon Edwards will. One of them is bound to have a big game.

WR Matt Jones - JAX (vs HOU)

Jones isn't catching enough balls to be a consistent fantasy receiver, but he keeps making big plays every other game or so and he's only going to get better with experience. He and Ernest Wilford have huge size advantages over the Texans corners likely covering them. If you're in a TD-only league, Jones is quite an intriguing option in this spot.

WR Courtney Roby - TEN (at CLE)

For Roby, this week's game is all about getting another opportunity to produce. With Drew Bennett, Brandon Jones and Tyrone Calico all banged up, Roby could once again be the team's primary receiver. He caught 7 balls for 83 yards and a TD last week. It's hard to say if he can do it again this week, but there's just as many reasons to believe he can as to think he won't.

If you're desperate (worth a look in deeper leagues)

WR Justin Gage - CHI (at NO)

An injury to Mark Bradley has opened the door for Justin Gage. The Saints haven't allowed a ton of yards or TDs to opposing WRs mostly because offenses have great success pounding them on the ground, so there's less of a need to throw the rock. If you're looking for a guy you might be able to pluck off waivers and start, then Gage is a decent, but not great candidate. Keep in mind, we're talking about the Bears passing game here.

WR Chris Horn - KC (vs OAK)

Samie Parker is the team's starter but he's been hurt. Last week it was Chris Horn who came out of nowhere to have a solid game. I wouldn't expect that to happen again, but it certainly is possible. Keep an eye on this situation. There might be some fantasy points to steal here if you're in a bad pinch.

WR Charles Rogers - DET (at MIN)

Rogers is back in the saddle after serving his four game suspension for smoking the hippie lettuce. The Vikings defense is a decent matchup and Rogers seemed to have better rapport with Jeff Garcia in the preseason. Of course, Garcia's questionable to play this week, so that might matter. Keep an eye on the Lions QB as this game approaches and Rogers' status. If he gets his starting job back and Garcia is able to practice by Thursday, then Rogers might be a decent shot in the dark.

Tight End

Prime Cut (Great matchup, strong sleeper)

TE Heath Miller - PIT (at GB)

Miller is on fire right now as far as TEs go. Just in case you haven't noticed, he's on pace for around 10 TDs this year, most of which have come in the past three games. The Packers are also getting torched on a regular basis by opposing TEs. The only TEs who didn't produce against them were Ernie Conwell, Matt Schobel and Anthony Becht. If you're sitting on Miller, then you know what to do. Start him!

TE Marcus Pollard - DET (at MIN)

We don't want to put a hex on Pollard, but EVERY tight end seems to score against the Vikings. It's literally been like clockwork. It's almost to the point where I can't even make the claim that whoever starts against the Vikings is a decent sleeper. They always score a TD. We're not talking Gates, Gonzo and Shockey each week either. It's been more like Kris Mangum, Desmond Clark, Ernie Conwell, Matt Schobel and Alex Smith. As Pollard's teammate, Charles Rogers says, "if you got 'em, smoke 'em"… Uh hum, I mean, start him if you got him.

Worth a Gamble (Good matchup, solid sleeper)

TE Courtney Anderson - OAK (at KC)

Anderson is definitely turning into a decided gamble as a starter. One week he catches 2 TDs or puts up nice yardage and the next week or two he lays a goose egg. The Chiefs have allowed more fantasy points to opposing TEs than any other team. Maybe that's what happens when you play Antonio Gates, it certainly didn't help their numbers any with him exploding on them last week. Still, Chris Baker, L.J, Smith and Chris Cooley all had big games against them, too.

TE Daniel Graham - NE (vs IND)

I hate to use the worn out euphemism, but it's true. Graham is due. He is. We all know his routine. Blow up for 100 yards and a TD, then skip along for a few games without a peep. Last year, he faced the Colts and caught 7 balls for 57 yards with a TD. We know Brady likes to spread it around and keep the defense guessing, so maybe it's Graham's turn this week. The Colts have allowed TDs to Cam Cleeland, Daniel Wilcox and Bo Scaife this year. Do you think the Patriots coaching staff might possibly notice that?

Solid Reach (backup / situational player with upside)

TE Alex Smith - TB (vs CAR)

Smith had a decent showing last week catching two balls for 43 yards. With Chris Simms under center there's a chance he could see more targets than he did previously with Brian Griese. The Panthers have been vulnerable to opposing TEs all year, too. Every single week the opposing TE has either scored a TD or produced at least 35 yards against Carolina.

TE Ben Watson - NE (vs IND)

See Daniel Graham's analysis. Both of these guys are long overdue for some big plays. The Colts are allowing big plays to much lesser talented tight ends, too. The trick with the Patriots dynamic duo is guessing which week it might happen.

If you're desperate (worth a look in deeper leagues)

TE Zachary Hilton - NO (vs CHI)

Ernie Conwell is out for the next few weeks making Zach Hilton the Saints starting TE in his stead. The Bears aren't a good matchup by any stretch, but if the waiver options are thin in your league and you're in a pinch, give Hilton a shot. Every single week but one (hello Matt Schobel!) the starting TE on the other team has produced 30 or more yards against the Bears. Unfortunately, none of them have scored.

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