Remember last week when we suggested starting Rams WR Donnie Avery? He caught six passes for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots, and is hereby banned from this column for the remainder of the season because he’s too good. If you own Avery, play him until he breaks his leg or retires. Sorry, Donnie. We owe you.
Lions WR Mike Furrey is also banned from the column, but not because he’s too good. On the contrary, we recommended him last week, and he made us look like idiots by putting up a big, fat goose egg. Good riddance, Furrey.
As always, the players listed below are borderline fantasy starters or potential free agents. If one of your starters is on a bye or just has a bad matchup, give them a good look. This week, we’ve got two Cardinals in honor of John McCain, and two Bears for Barack Obama. No Delaware Blue Hens or Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves made the cut.
Chad Pennington, Dolphins — If this isn’t the feel-good story of the 2008 fantasy season, my name is "Joe the Plumber." The intermediate-armed Pennington is averaging 244 yards and a TD per game this season, which is terrific for a guy who was ignored by most fantasy owners on draft day. His yards-per-game average is better than Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Jake Delhomme and Jason Campbell. This week, he visits Denver and the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense. We wholeheartedly recommend Pennington as a bye-week replacement for either Drew Brees or Philip Rivers.
Kyle Orton, Bears — Anyone thought about Rex Grossman during the past two months? Probably not. The only reason Orton’s here is because we haven’t mentioned him before, but he’s a must-start this week and a lot of other weeks. The Neckbearded One has averaged 284 yards passing and two touchdowns in his last five games, and must be salivating at the thought of airing it out against the 31st-ranked Lions’ pass defense. Bombs away!
JaMarcus Russell, Raiders — OK, this one’s a reach, but bear with us for a minute. We know that Russell is 28th in the league in yards passing per game (179.7), and his rating (74.4) and completion percentage (50.3) are pitiful as well. However, after averaging 11 completions in 21 attempts for 130 yards in his first three games, he jumped to 17 completions in 34 attempts for 217 yards over his next four. The percentage is still bad, but so what? We’re not bullish on Russell as any sort of permanent solution, but this week, against the suspect Falcons’ D, if you can’t grab Orton or Pennington? Come on, live a little.
Earnest Graham, Buccaneers — Warrick Dunn has stolen a lot of Graham’s thunder this season, but last week in Dallas he carried only once due to a pinched nerve that caused "sharp, shooting pain," according to a Tampa newspaper. Let’s wish Dunn well, and figure that he might get another light work week against the awful Chiefs’ run defense. Enter Graham, who hasn’t had a 100-yard game since September. Time to earn your high fantasy draft status, Mr. Graham.
Tim Hightower, Cardinals — This guy has a Hall of Fame name, if not the stats to match with 2.7 yards per carry. But he’s got six touchdowns on the year, and the Cardinals are dropping obvious hints that he’s about to get more work. After Edgerrin James complained about playing time recently, head coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Hightower, “I think we’ve shown we’re going to play the players who give us the best chance to win. At a point where we feel Tim gives us the best chance to win, then absolutely. Also, Edgerrin should have never gotten rid of his totally awesome his gold teeth!”
We’ll check our sources to see if Whisenhunt really said that last part, but the Edge has carried just 16 times for 46 yards in the last two games. Get ready for a torch-passing.
Ryan Torain, Broncos — Ladies and gentlemen, meet the latest running back from Mike Shanahan’s fantasy-hating laboratory. Torain hasn’t played since the middle of his senior year at Atizona State in 2007, but he’s finally ready to go, and with Michael Pittman and Selvin Young hurting he might be the best option the Broncos have this week. Dare we play with Shanahan’s committee-loving fire, which has burned us more times than we can count? Ah, what the heck.
As with all Bronco backs, Torain could gain 16 yards or 116 against the Dolphins, and neither result would be surprising. Think of him as a lottery ticket — you might tear it up at the end of the day, but if it’s a winner, your life will never be the same. You’ll go to sleep with a big smile on your face every night, annoy your co-owners forever with stories about the day you astutely picked him up instead of grabbing Ahman Green off the waiver wire, and name your team "Runaway Torain" next season if he helps you win a championship. Then he’ll fade into Bolivian, like every other Bronco back before him.
If you want to get moderately fired up about Torain, check out this YouTube video of some of his Arizona State runs (hat tip to the Denver Post for the link). It’s not like watching Reggie Bush — Torain’s more of a bruiser than a breakaway back — but it’s not bad. Good music, too.
Steve Breaston, Cardinals — With Anquan Boldin back, is there still room for Breaston? Absolutely. Against the Panthers in Week 8, Breaston caught nine passes for 91 yards, while Boldin grabbed nine for 63 (with two TDs) and Larry Fitzgerald snatched seven for 115. Everyone already owns Boldin and Fitzgerald, but you might still be able to find Breaston in your league’s free agent pool. Since Kurt Warner appears ready to throw on just about every down — when he doesn’t hand the ball to Hightower, anyway — Breaston can be a nice No. 3 fantasy receiver against the Rams.
Greg Olsen, Bears — As we noted earlier, the Bears have a very favorable matchup against the Lions, and the aforementioned Orton found Olsen six times for 74 yards and a touchdown in the 48-41 shootout win over the Vikings two weeks ago. Ride this big tight end, Orton and the Air Bears again this week.
Steve Smith, Giants — We tried Smith a couple of weeks ago, and we’re going back to the well due to his matchup. With a depleted secondary, the Cowboys put a lot of pressure on Bucs’ QB Jeff Garcia in Week 8. If they do that to the Giants, Eli Manning will need to get rid of the ball fast, and Smith has clearly become Manning’s checkdown security blanket. Look for a half dozen possession-type catches for Smith, and pray for a TD if you start him.
Finally, don’t forget your byes this week — the Panthers, Saints, Chargers and 49ers need to wait on long lines to cast their early votes for Ralph Nader.
John Halpin covers fantasy sports for FOXSports.com, writing a morning fantasy blog Sundays through Fridays and baseball columns once or twice each week, depending on the season. His "Wide Write" appears every Thursday during the NFL season on FOXNews.com. Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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