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The Shot Caller's Report
Your Weekly Guide To Fantasy Lineups

I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who participated in the “Name My Column” promotion last week. We got a lot of good responses and…um…some not-so-good ones. Unfortunately, the boss and I are having a hard time deciding on a winner. We just don’t think any submission really nailed this piece on the head. The format is probably to blame (my fault) but we’re gonna need something more to go on. That means we run it back, people. You’ve got one more week to come up with something brilliant, something knock-our-socks-off, something that will permanently grace these pages. Submit all suggestions to me and I promise (I mean it this time) that we’ll choose a winner for the Week 10 column. While you’re brainstorming, here are this week’s must start, should start, and don’t start players.


Must Start: The Top 10

1. Peyton Manning @ MIA - Air McNair takes a breather this week so Peyton inherits the top spot. He might just keep it, too, if he puts up big numbers against a tough Miami D. The Fish are yielding heaps of yardage through the air but very few touchdowns (four in seven games).

2. Daunte Culpepper vs. GB - He finally threw an interception last week (actually, two of them) but everyone's entitled to a clunker now and then. Besides, he still threw for almost 250 yards and a couple scores. If he doesn't match those numbers against a questionable Packers secondary, you might have cause for concern. That's a roundabout way of saying "rest easy."

3. Marc Bulger @ SF - The Greatest Show on Turf is lethal once again and this guy is the reason why. We expect more than one touch when he throws for 375 bills but who's complaining (other than TD-only folks)? The Niners won't contain him any better than they did in Week 2, when he passed for 236 yards and two TDs.

4. Brett Favre @ MIN - Why isn't his consecutive starts streak compared to Ripken's more often? I don't remember Cal Jr. getting decked by 300-lb. headhunters on a regular basis. He makes it 181 straight Sunday night in a place he'd just as soon never visit again (the Metrodump). Expect a loss and some mistakes but also a bushel of yards and at least two scores.

5. Brad Johnson vs. NO - The Saints are actually pretty decent vs. the pass (187.1 yards/game) but don't force many turnovers (only seven so far). Not that Johnson, the consummate pro, commits many. He'll put up a fair amount of yards and a couple scores at Raymond James.

6. Jon Kitna @ ARI - The Cards are becoming a tough out at home and the Bengals are on a roll. In related news, denizens of Hell are bracing for an unusually frigid winter. If you had the nerve to start Central Washington's finest last week (240 yards and two TD tosses), congrats. Show me what you're really made of and do it again.

7. Matt Hasselbeck vs. PIT - The shackles were finally removed in Cincy and Hasselbeck exploded to the tune of 347 yards and three scores. Unfortunately, he also threw three picks. Expect more of the former and less of the latter if the pathologically conservative Holmgren doesn't rein the kid in versus an atrocious Steelers secondary.

8. Kerry Collins @ NYJ - I never said he wasn't capable. I just didn't expect him to go off against the Vikes in a historically inhospitable stadium. The Meadowlands can be equally inhospitable…especially for the home teams when they stink the joint up. Be wary of a letdown in Gotham as the Jets defend the pass (159.5 yds/game) much better than they do the run (153.0).

9. Tom Brady @ DEN - Though not having a great year, Brady has outperformed such luminaries as Gannon, Bledsoe, and Maddox. He faces a Denver secondary on Monday night that is pretty efficient but not opportunistic. Expect a decent game out of him and a touchdown pass or two.

10. Tommy Maddox @ SEA - Try as I might, I can't bring myself to give up on him. He has the arm, the weapons, and the motivation (Cowher's right boot). If he doesn't make something happen against a slightly overrated 'Hawks secondary, he may be on the way out. I have a feeling he will make something happen.

Grab A Helmet:

Donovan McNabb @ ATL - How far has he fallen? Dan Reeves replaced his entire secondary for this tilt and I STILL can't recommend Don without reservations. If ever he was gonna turn the ship around, it will happen in the Georgia Dome. He might even find one of his bum receivers open in the endzone.

Chad Pennington vs. NYG - Looked just OK in his return last week but should be fully up to speed against the G-men in Week 9. When healthy, he's one of the most efficient QBs around. Santana Moss is also emerging as a deep threat so look out if those two guys establish a rapport.

Tim Rattay vs. STL - Banks, Chandler, Kanell, Tuiasosopo, and now Rattay. Anyone still think the NFL babies its QBs? Believe it or not, he might be the best of the bunch. He looked good in mop-up duty vs. Minnesota and the Niners didn't sign him to a three-year extension 'cuz he's a good guy. If I were in a pinch, I wouldn't be afraid to start him.

Brian Griese vs. IND - In the least cleverly disguised demotion of the week, Fiedler took a seat and Griese Jr. took the helm. That's probably a good thing for owners of Ricky Williams as opponents will now be forced to respect the long ball. Whether it's a good thing for owners of Brian Griese remains to be seen. I'm guessing he'll do a serviceable job but won't win anyone a fantasy championship.

Chris Chandler vs. SD - Normally, this would be an unconscionable recommendation. Nonetheless, San Diego's secondary is awful (15 TDs yielded) and Chandler is just savvy enough to take advantage. Don't expect big yards but a couple scores isn't out of the question, especially if A-Train starts and takes the heat off.

Grab A Clipboard:

Tony Banks vs. CAR - What, Dan Pastorini wasn't available? This guy got more shots than he deserved to prove he's a legitimate NFL starter. He failed miserably every time. Nothing has changed except that he's a little older (not wiser) and playing for a crappier team. Leave him on the waiver wire where he belongs.

Kurt Kittner vs. PHI - Making matters even worse (is that possible?), the franchise, Mr. Vick, is behind schedule on his rehab. It's time the Atlanta brass pulled the plug on this season and handed the ball to Kittner for good. If you feel like euthanizing your own squad, do the same.

Aaron Brooks @ TB - His numbers are surprisingly good this year (1695 yards, 12 TDs, and five picks). However, the Bucs play much better when they're angry. Since they haven't beaten New Orleans in almost two years, I'm guessing they'll be angry…and Brooks will probably struggle as a result.

Danny Kanell vs. NE - His parents could only land nosebleed tix in Baltimore. Lucky them. Plummer returns in two weeks so if you're stuck with this guy in the interim, hang in there.

Joey Harrington vs. OAK - Simply put, he has no one to throw the ball to. Things will get better but probably not this year and definitely not this week. Go in another direction if you have that luxury.

Running Backs

Must Start: The Top 15:

1. Jamal Lewis vs. JAX - Even with a rook at quarterback and facing defenses designed to stop him, Lewis manages 139.6 yards per contest. That's outtasite. If he scored more touchdowns, he'd be giving Priest a run for his money as fantasy's golden goose.

2. Ricky Williams vs. IND - He only tallied 95 total yards against the lowly Chargers and it took him quite a few touches to do that. Is something wrong? Let's give him another look now that Griese is firmly established as the starter. The Colts aren't very good against the run, for the record (4.7 per carry and 131.0 per game).

3. Ahman Green @ MIN - It's not a good enough reason to sit him (ever) but bear in mind that Packer coaches are wearying of his fumble-itis and intend to give Najeh Davenport more carries in the second half of the season. Of course, Davenport has a reputation for butterfingers, as well, so that plan could be short-lived.

4. Stephen Davis @ HOU - New Orleans had no answer for him last week (178 yards and two touchdowns). They're not alone. The Texans D is even more brutal (31st in the league) and stands very little chance of slowing Mr. Davis down.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson @ CHI - If not for a gift touchdown on Monday night (recovered fumble at the one-yard line), his numbers would have been disappointing. Still, he's obviously the show in San Diego and will continue to be until Brees gets some decent protection. Expect heavy dosages of LaDainian against a Bears squad that can't stop the run (4.7 per carry and 144.3 per game).

6. Shaun Alexander vs. PIT - Steady as she goes. Alexander is a cinch for 100 total yards every week. He probably won't give you too much more than that but it's awful nice knowing what you'll get out of a guy on a consistent basis.

7. Deuce McAllister @ TB - Not as steady as Alexander but definitely more explosive. He's having a hard time finding the endzone this year and that's why he hovers outside the Top 5. Tampa is getting stingier against the run by the week so he could be in for a long day on Sunday.

8. Clinton Portis vs. NE - The Pats are tough to run the ball against and have no reason to fear Danny Kanell. That means Portis will hafta earn everything he gets on Monday night. Because he's so talented, that'll probably be enough to warrant starting him. He's no sure thing to score a touch, however.

9. Tiki Barber @ NYJ - He's coming off a pretty large game against Minnesota (122 total yards and a touch) and now faces the Jets, a team that can't seem to slow anyone down on the ground. Even Philly's committee attack racked up almost 200 yards last week. Look out if Tiki is able to hold on to the football.

10. Domanick Davis vs. CAR - It happens every single year. A guy comes out of virtually nowhere and sets the league on fire. Davis is that guy in '03 and there's no reason to think he'll fade away. He's physically gifted, he has soft hands, and he's getting the opportunities. Ride him 'til he poops out…IF he poops out.

11. Fred Taylor @ BAL - The Ravens have only allowed three rushing TDs all year so it might be a stretch to expect Taylor to score. Then again, it's Week 9 and he's still playing. Isn't that a good enough reason to put him on this list?

12. Michael Pittman vs. NO - He's as dangerous in the passing game as he is toting the rock and he faces a 'Nawlins squad that got steamrolled by Stephen Davis last week. I expect big things out of him as a result.

13. Charlie Garner @ DET - The touchdown problem (only two so far) could be resolved this week against a pitiful Detroit defense. Coach Callahan won't put too much on Tuiasosopo's shoulders either, so he's a good start in the Motor City.

14. Edgerrin James @ MIA - He's turning into an enigma, of sorts. He can still move the football (104 yards last week) but often becomes a second option in the red zone, which stands to reason when your quarterback is named Peyton Manning. If you're thinking of sitting him against a stellar Miami D, I won't try to dissuade you. He's still a better option than most, however.

15. Anthony Thomas vs. SD - He's not a lead pipe lock to play but if he does, you gotta start him. The Bolts are giving up 4.4 yards per carry and Chicago doesn't have a better option on offense. Check the injury report before making a final decision.

Grab A Helmet:

Marcel Shipp vs. CIN - San Francisco was pretty good against the run…until last week. Shipp pulverized them for 165 yards and could do the same against a Cincinnati defense that is good but not great (120.9 yards per game).

Rudi Johnson @ ARI - Speaking of Cincinnati, the Corey Dillon saga got even weirder last week as he missed the Seattle game due to multiple car wrecks (one he was involved in and another he witnessed). He's officially listed as questionable so if he sits (likely), Johnson becomes a tempting option.

Garrison Hearst vs. STL - The Cardinals shut him down but his numbers have been stellar all year long (515 yards and three scores on the ground). If the Rams jump out to a big lead, he may be neutralized again. Still, Rattay is relatively inexperienced and Coach Erickson may want to lean on a strong running game to help him out.

Moe Williams vs. GB - The already crowded backfield becomes even more crowded with the return of Michael Bennett. That means this may be the last week you wanna use Moe. The crippled Green Bay front can be pushed around, though, and since Bennett will need some time to get acclimated, Williams is still a decent option.

Correll Buckhalter @ ATL - It doesn't appear Westbrook will play so Buckhalter likely gets the nod. Good thing for him because Atlanta is a fun team to run the ball against (149.7 yards per game).

Grab A Gatorade:

Marshall Faulk @ SF - He's back but don't assume he'll pick up where he left off. At least, not yet. The Rams intend to use him sparingly since Arlen Harris has proven to be a very capable fill-in. Wait a week or two.

Curtis Martin vs. NYG - The end is nearing for Martin and even though he still puts up decent numbers (110 yards last week), he's losing goal-line carries to Lamont Jordan. That is never a good thing.

T.J. Duckett vs. PHI - You're probably tempted to start him as long as Kittner is under center. That's not a bad idea most weeks but Philly is stout against the run (3.0 per carry and less than 100 per game). He's an iffy start at best in Week 9.

Any Detroit RB vs. OAK - For the second consecutive week, the Lions face a horrible defense. For the second consecutive week, I implore you to resist the urge to start Gary or Bryson. The committee approach doesn't work for most teams. Why would it work for Detroit?

Onterrio Smith vs. GB - He has a bright future in the league but he's got way too much competition right now. He could steal a carry or two (maybe even a touchdown) but you don't wanna count on that as you head down the homestretch.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Must Start: The Top 15:

1. Randy Moss vs. GB - His numbers against Green Bay alone would comprise a career for lesser receivers. Expect nothing to change on Sunday night as Culpepper will look to him early and often…and deep. Gulp!

2. Torry Holt @ SF - I promised he'd score last week and he did. If you're keeping track at home, that's 3-0 for yours truly on guarantees this year. I probably wouldn't be going out on a limb to predict another score but let's play it safe and say he'll put up 100 yards at the very least.

3. Marvin Harrison @ MIA - Miami isn't a favorable matchup, even for someone as great as Harrison. Still, there's no reason to sit him. He'll get his yards and, with any luck, a touchdown as well.

4. Chad Johnson @ ARI - Like his more famous cousin (Meshawn), he's one cocky mofo. Unlike his more famous cousin, he backs it up most of the time. Though he had me worried, a 53-yard catch and sprint sealed the deal against the 'Hawks last week. Expect another big play (or two) in the desert.

5. Isaac Bruce @ SF - Holt's second fiddle is good enough for first chair on your team. Hopefully, Bulger will realize he's good enough to catch a TD every once in a while, too.

6. Hines Ward @ SEA - When Maddox isn't throwing the ball to opposing defenders, he's usually throwing it to this guy. Ward tallied 90 yards and a pair of scores against St. Louis and could duplicate those numbers against a Seattle secondary that is a year away from being great.

7. Terrell Owens vs. STL - With Garcia on the shelf, it might seem logical to bump T.O. down a notch or two. I think that would be a mistake. Young QBs often rely on #1 receivers and there's no question who the #1 receiver in San Fran is. Just ask him.

8. Joe Horn @ TB - He's been a touchdown machine so far (six on the year) and Brooks is running out of options with Stallworth hobbled. Tampa isn't a good matchup but somebody will catch something this week and it will more than likely be Mr. Horn.

9. Jimmy Smith @ BAL - Leftwich is experiencing the usual growing pains but doesn't have many options aside from Smith. He can still get deep (a 49-yard TD grab last week) and will likely put up better numbers as the kid matures.

10. Amani Toomer @ NYJ - Would you believe he's averaging more per catch (19.7) than any other receiver on this list? Hilliard took away the scoring opportunities last week but Toomer is still the main man and Collins' favorite target.

11. Donald Driver @ MIN - The numbers say he doesn't belong in the Top 15 but the upside says he does. He's still relatively young and also had a week off to (finally) get healthy. Expect a big night at the Metrodome in (alas) a losing effort.

12. Keenan McCardell vs. NO - Keyshawn sniped a score but McCardell was clearly the go-to guy last week (six catches for 68 yards). New Orleans gives up plenty of touchdowns (12), too, if not a ton of yards through the air.

13. Steve Smith @ HOU - Ever since I jumped on the bandwagon and called him "marginal," he's gone nuts. Guess he showed me, huh? He'll probably add insult to injury vs. a Texans secondary that's truly awful against the pass.

14. Laveranues Coles @ DAL - He belongs in the Top 5 but I won't put him there until he finds the endzone again. That isn't likely to happen this week against the top-ranked (!!!) Dallas D. Yes, you heard me right.

15. Chris Chambers vs. IND - With Griese in the fold, his stock increases exponentially. Teams that focus on Ricky (and who wouldn't?) will likely pay the price when this guy goes deep…especially now that his QB can reach him.

Grab A Helmet:

Jerry Porter @ DET - He adds an entirely new dimension (speed) to a Raiders attack that sorely needed it. Facing a pitiful Detroit secondary on Sunday, he could explode…provided Tui can get him the ball.

Darrell Jackson vs. PIT - The Steelers are a sieve on defense right now, decent numbers to the contrary. Next to Toomer, he's averaging the most yards per catch (19.1) of anyone with more than 20 catches. Expect big things this Sunday, maybe even a long touchdown grab.

Terry Glenn/Joey Galloway vs. WAS - Take your pick here but one of these guys will score a touchdown against the reeling Redskins. Glenn seems to be the receiver du jour but Galloway is just as capable and a better deep threat.

Peerless Price vs. PHI - Call me a glutton for punishment but he's suiting up for my squad this weekend. Brian Finneran should take some heat off and the Eagles aren't very good vs. the pass (236.2 per game).

Todd Heap vs. JAX - He got jobbed by the replay gremlins last week but is fast becoming Boller's most reliable target. He's also facing a Jaguars secondary that doesn't provide much in the way of resistance (221.3 yds./game and 12 touchdowns).

Santana Moss vs. NYG - It shouldn't have taken so long to make him an integral part of the passing game but there's no use lamenting that fact now. He faces a Giants secondary that is both hurting and susceptible to big plays, Moss' specialty.

Grab Some Wood:

Plaxico Burress @ SEA - Has anyone noticed he could pass for Darius Miles, the Cavs' waif-ish shooting guard? Unfortunately, he's putting up Miles-like numbers of late (one snatch for six yards last week). Worse yet, he's questioning Cowher's play-calling. You don't mess with the dean of NFL coaches and get away with it…usually.

Koren Robinson vs. PIT - I must be insane since he faces the horrendous Steelers secondary this week. Call it reverse psychology. He simply must contribute more to be considered a viable option in fantasy leagues.

Any Denver receiver vs. NE - The Pats have yielded only three TD receptions this year and it seems unlikely Kanell will break that trend. Smith and Lelie will instantly become good options two weeks from now so if you can afford to sit them down until then, do it.

Any New England receiver @ DEN - Don't get me wrong. These guys can play. Unfortunately, that's precisely the problem. Brady likes spreading the rock around and when the rock gets spread around, individual stats suffer.

Good luck, folks!