Each Monday of the fantasy football season, we'll cut through the fantasy numbers put up by individuals and tell you what they really mean.
Two weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers went into Arizona and picked Kurt Warner off five times en route to an easy victory over the defending NFC champions. Some began to fear the old man was beginning to lose his touch. If he did, what would happen to the Cardinals' juggernaut of a fantasy football unit?
All they've done since then is score 72 points in two games and looked better than ever.
Last week, they undressed the Bears in Chicago, as Warner threw five touchdown passes. We started to see some offensive balance, though, as Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells combined for 149 yards on 28 carries. This week, the Cardinals got balance between running and passing again, in addition to the return of Anquan Boldin.
The result was 462 yards, four touchdowns and five players who were very solid starts in fantasy football: Warner (340 yards, 2 touchdowns), Wells (117 yards from scrimmage, 2 touchdowns), Steve Breaston (4 catches, 79 yards, touchdown), Larry Fitzgerald (7 catches, 73 yards, touchdown) and Boldin (8 catches, 105 yards).
Team (total defense rank/run defense rank/pass defense rank)*
Rams (28, 27, 23)
Titans (31, 18, 32)
Vikings (18, 6, 21)
49ers (19, 3, 29)
Lions (26, 17, 31)
Rams (28, 27, 23)
* - Entering Sunday
So, as you can see. It's a pretty easy road. Against this schedule -- except for Wells against the Vikings and Niners -- I would advise all five of the aforementioned starters in nearly every fantasy football league. The only real question is if the rookie Wells keeps things going, but you have to ride him against the Rams this coming week. If you can still trade, you'd be advised to acquire these guys if you can.
Ride those Cards full speed ahead, as they are going to pile up the stats. It's a fantasy football paradise!
Other Reality Checks
• Last week, I mentioned how much I love Chris Johnson the rest of the way. I'm even more confident now. In fact, I'm declaring that he becomes the first player since Jamal Lewis (in 2003) to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season. That would make him the sixth player in NFL history to accomplish this feat and -- coincidentally -- the third to do so at age 24.
• Kyle Orton left Sunday's game with an injured ankle. Last season, he injured his ankle and it completely altered his production. In 2008, Orton played seven games before his ankle injury game (home against the Lions). He threw for 1,669 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. His quarterback rating in the month of October, by the way, was 106.2. When he returned from the ankle injury, Orton played seven games. He passed for 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns. He also threw eight picks and his rating was in the mid-60s. I don't know if it was the cold, pure coincidence or his ankle, but something happened to Orton. Well, Denver gets cold late in the season, too, and Orton's ankle is hurt again.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Orton -- who entered Sunday with an eerily similar 1,838 yards, nine touchdowns and four picks -- has a bad second half again. If he's healthy enough to play. If he's not, Chris Simms -- who was brutal Sunday -- steps in. Either way, I'm selling Brandon Marshall and giving up on anyone else in the passing game. On the flip-side, the Broncos will likely have to shift to a run-and-defense plan, in which case Knowshon Moreno sees a significant boost in value.
• Last week, we mentioned how much better it is -- for the most part -- to spot-play defenses. We saw the Titans (22 points) and Dolphins (13) prove us correct. For next week, take a look at the Jags (host the Bills), Cardinals (face the Rams), Bengals (host the Raiders) and even the Lions (seriously, they pressured the quarterback well against the Vikings and they face the Browns in Week 11). The Steelers (against KC) and Saints (against TB) should already be owned in every league.
• Steven Jackson has now rushed for 414 yards in his past three games, and he's now finally hitting pay dirt, with two touchdowns in consecutive games. Sunday, he also added nine catches for 45 yards, giving him 1,146 yards from scrimmage on the season (an average of 127 per game). Next week, he faces an Arizona run defense that was just shredded by Justin Forsett. After that, he'll get Seattle's lackluster defense. The playoff schedule of Tennessee, Houston and Arizona looks pretty tasty for a man of his talent as well.
Oh, and then there's this: in Jackson's career, he has always performed best in December. He's averaging 97.9 rushing yards per game in that month. He doesn't average more than 79.5 yards a game in any other month. He's scored 19 touchdowns in 20 December games, compared to 25 scores in 56 September through November games. An added bonus is that this year the Rams are improving as the season progresses, since they are in rebuilding mode. He's gonna end up in the top five scorers for running backs and be an elite choice next year on draft day. Do 90 percent of you still want Andre Johnson instead? I know I'm happy with the trade.
• Let's hope you didn't write Tom Brady off after Weeks 2-5, when he was merely serviceable. He now has four straight games of more than 300 yards passing with 13 touchdowns in that time frame. What Brady did Sunday night (375 passing yards, three touchdowns) was no small feat, either. The Colts came into the game allowing just 195 passing yards per game and had allowed only four touchdown passes all season (and they'd faced Matt Schaub and Kurt Warner). They only allowed six touchdown passes in all of 2008. You just don't pass on them like Brady did. He's going to end up as the top fantasy passer this season -- not Aaron Rodgers, not Peyton Manning and not Drew Brees. Tom Brady will finish at the top and it won't even be close. Remember, the game result is irrelevant in fantasy football and it's not Brady's fault his coach made a terrible decision that cost them the game.