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

There's no such thing, almost any inveterate gambler will tell you, as a sure thing in the world of professional football. The marble floors of Vegas are strewn with the souls of those who disregarded this first immutable law of football forecasting. Sadly for us, and perhaps not surprisingly, this same law applies in the parallel world of fantasy football. Thought you were gonna ride herd with LaDainian Tomlinson or Donovan McNabb this year? Thought you couldn't lose? Welcome to reality, folks. If it's any consolation, you're not alone.

Luckily, fantasy football championships aren't usually won with "can't miss" players. After all, almost every league owner can lay claim to a superstar or three on his/her roster. Though an underachieving star might submarine one's efforts, a lack of overall depth and lousy luck will almost certainly do so. This is another way of saying that solid, consistent professionals-more so than top five performers-will form the backbone of any contending squad. Of course, identifying these players and knowing how and when to put them in a position to succeed is easier said than done.

The following is a list of must-start players (in order) and should-start players (in no particular order) for Week 3. We'll update the lists on a continual basis since everyone surely knows by now that nothing is forever in the NFL.


Must Start: The Top 10 Plus 1

1. Drew Bledsoe at MIA - We thought the loss of Peerless Price might hurt Bledsoe. Turns out it's the other way around.

2. Tommy Maddox at CIN - He's not throwing to Swann and Stallworth but he may as well be. Ward and Burress are the best tandem in the league and Maddox has the gun (596 yds. in two games) to find them.

3. Daunte Culpepper at DET- Five touchdowns against no INTs and 30+ rushing yards per game? Daddy likey.

4. Peyton Manning vs. JAX - Slow out of the gate (1 TD and 2 picks) but a rejuvenated Edge makes him dangerous in the long run.

5. Steve McNair vs. NO - If you think he's gonna miss a game because of a dislocated ring finger, think again. This guy's a warrior. Monitor the situation if you own him, though.

6. Donovan McNabb (Bye) - We can't give up on him just yet but the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. Here's hoping a week off will help Don right the ship.

7. Jeff Garcia vs. CLE - Like Culpepper, a dual threat. He's scored with his arm and his legs this year.

8. Kerry Collins at WAS - He's likely to slide down this list through no fault of his own. Only Chicago's injury woes prevent the Giants' offensive line from being the league's worst.

9. Brett Favre at ARI - Have the years caught up with this ol' gunslinger? Don't bet on it. He faces a horrid Cardinals' secondary this week and gets his favorite target back next week.

10. Rich Gannon at DEN - He misses Jerry. No, not that Jerry. Nonetheless, he's a stud and a must start every week.

11. Michael Vick (inj) - House rules: nobody loses a top 10 spot because of an injury. Slated to return in mid-October. We can hardly wait.

Grab A Helmet:

Matt Hasselbeck vs. STL - Hate to say we told you so, but…we told you so. With Koren Robinson back in the fold, Favre Protégé No. 3 will soon bump someone off the above list.

Marc Bulger at SEA - Anybody else get the feeling we've seen the last of Kurt Warner? The surrounding cast is still deadly and Bulger is talented enough to make this circus go.

Brad Johnson at ATL - Care to guess which defense is dead last in yards per game this year? Last we checked, Michael Vick doesn't play DB. Johnson's arm may soon fall off (97 attempts through two games), but without a reliable running game and facing a lousy Falcons D, he's potentially flammable.

Aaron Brooks at TEN - The most enigmatic player (not quarterback) in the NFL. He looks like Randall Cunningham but has fewer rushing yards than Tom Brady this year. Still, he's facing a suspect Tennessee secondary and has some greyhounds to work with at receiver.

Tom Brady vs. NYJ - Speaking of Mr. Brady, we're willing to let him off the hook for a miserable Week 1 performance. He flambéed the vaunted Eagles' secondary in Week 2 to the tune of 255 yards and three scores and should encounter significantly less resistance against the Jets this week.

Patrick Ramsey vs. NYG - While we're on the subject of the J-E-T-S, think they're kicking themselves for letting Lav Coles slip away to Washington? Ramsey's Week 3 opponent, the G-men, allowed Quincy Carter to pass for 321 yards on Monday night. Quincy Carter.

Jon Kitna vs. PIT - No, we haven't been drinking. Carson Palmer's seat-warmer is throwing for nearly three bills a game and the Bungles seem to be playing a perpetual game of catch-up (read: throwing the ball a lot). None of this is likely to change on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Grab A Clipboard:

Kelly Holcomb at SF - If you thought one good performance against a crappy Steelers' secondary warranted the starting nod…well, our league is looking for another owner. The resurrection of Tim Couch's once-promising career can't be too far off.

Drew Brees vs. BAL - David Boston is the most overrated player in the league. There…we said it. Drew will continue to struggle as long as teams load up to stop Tomlinson. In case you were wondering, the Ravens will load up to stop Tomlinson.

Jeff Blake vs. GB - You need us to tell you this? You should try fantasy basketball or something.

Jake Plummer vs. OAK - Jake the Flake isn't changing any minds in Denver. Don't be fooled by the three TD performance against the Bolts, either. San Diego's secondary is unsightly and this guy is still an interception waiting to happen.

Doug Johnson vs. TB - Unless of course you drafted him as insurance for Mr. Vick… like we did. Sigh. Tampa's defense is still eminently stingy (105 passing yds./game) and more than likely seething after last week's dud versus Carolina. Avert your eyes…and make sure Kurt Kittner is still available on the waiver wire.

Running Backs

Must Start: The Top 15:

1. Priest Holmes at HOU - There isn't a more valuable fantasy player…period. The injuries are worrisome but, when healthy, he's worth 150-200 all-purpose yards and at least a couple scores.

2. Ricky Williams vs. BUF - Buffalo is much-improved on defense. That shouldn't matter to you. This guy doesn't sit.

3. Shaun Alexander vs. STL - St. Louis isn't stopping the run. For that matter, they aren't stopping the pass, either. Alexander could be in for a big day this Sunday.

4. Ahman Green at ARI - When you play with Brett Favre, you get overshadowed. Nonetheless, Batman is worth 150 yds. and a score every week. He faces the Sun Devils…er, Cardinals this week.

5. Clinton Portis vs. OAK - We're not convinced he won't eventually be hurt by an erratic Plummer. For now, he's a lead pipe lock every Sunday.

6. Jamal Lewis at SD - No way he goes for 295 large this week. Then again, he is facing the Chargers.

7. Marshall Faulk at SEA - Starting to fade somewhat (less than 100 yds./game) but Bulger's emergence likely means better numbers are on the horizon. Beware of Lamar Gordon, however.

8. Stephen Davis (bye) - If you needed a reminder that Davis is a top 10 fantasy back, check out last week's numbers against the big, bad Bucs: 33 carries (!) & 142 yards.

9. Deuce McAllister at TEN - Needs to find the end zone more but the Saints' meal ticket keeps churning right along.

10. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. BAL - He's just not finding paydirt and a horrific defense will likely put the Chargers in catch-up mode for the rest of the year. That spells trouble for the back some pegged as a legitimate #1 pick on draft day.

11. Edgerrin James vs. JAX - Serviceable and occasionally spectacular. Picked up 120 yards on a workmanlike 30 carries and added a score last week.

12. Charlie Garner at DEN - He's the best receiving back in the league but an ordinary runner. Still, when Oakland's offense comes around, he'll probably be the reason why.

13. Travis Henry at MIA - He's scored five touchdowns already but is barely averaging two yards per carry. What gives? As long as Bledsoe & Co. continue to stake early leads, he'll remain valuable.

14. Corey Dillon vs. PIT - He only has 11 more carries than backup Brandon Bennett this year. If that keeps up, he'll be banished from this list quicker than you can say "Bengals suck!"

15. Fred Taylor at IND - Hello, endzone? Have you seen Mr. Taylor? He might be supremely talented but the iffy QB situation in Jacksonville means Taylor will likely lose this spot soon.

Grab A Helmet:

Kevan Barlow vs. CLE - Faces a defense that just yielded a record-setting performance. Think he's not tingling with anticipation? It's time this bruiser earned the starting gig full-time.

Garrison Hearst vs. CLE - Until he does, however, we still like this guy. The committee attack normally frustrates us to no end but there are more than enough yards to go around against the Browns this week. Not to mention, Hearst has been pretty darn good thus far, racking up over 200 all-purpose yards and two scores.

Amos Zereoue at CIN - He's nothing special (which says a ton about Jerome Bettis) but neither is Cincy's run defense (giving up 159 yds/game). We like the Steelers to get up big and stay up big with Zereoue toting the rock and killing the clock.

Moe Williams at DET - Reminiscent of the mid-90s Denver squads, Minnesota seems to gain yards on the ground no matter who's carrying the ball. Williams seems to be getting the lion's share of the work, although…

Onterrio Smith at DET - …isn't a terrible option if you're short a back this week. He's shifty and capable of scoring against a lousy Detroit defense. We wouldn't be overly surprised to see him in the starting lineup at some point this season.

Grab A Gatorade:

Stacey Mack vs. KC - This guy was a trendy sleeper pick before the season began. Why? He's averaging three yds./carry and has scored precisely zero touchdowns so far. With Houston likely to be playing from behind on Sunday (on most Sundays), expect Mack to disappoint again.

William Green at SF - Don't get us wrong. He's an exciting young back. Unfortunately, the Browns' rushing attack will be hampered by the poor play of Kelly Holcomb. San Fran's only giving up 71.5 yds./game on the ground, as well.

Emmitt Smith vs. GB - Some people quit while they're ahead. Others…well, ouch. We will never suggest starting Smith this year. We promise.

Eddie George vs. NO - D-O-N-E. He's under three yards/carry and hasn't even sniffed the endzone this year.

T.J. Duckett/Warrick Dunn vs. TB - Remember what we said about that seething Tampa defense? Don't even think about it. We smell shutout.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Must Start: The Top 15:

1. Randy Moss at DET - He torched a decent Packers secondary in Week 1 and played decoy in Week 2. It's anybody's guess which role he'll play against Detroit. Then again, does the name Anquan Boldin mean anything to you?

2. Terrell Owens vs. CLE - Hasn't exploded yet but don't forget he's playing for mega-millions next year. Though it pains us to say it, he's worth every penny.

3. Marvin Harrison vs. JAX - The numbers are down for Ol' Reliable but if you sit him, you're nuts.

4. Laveranues Coles vs. NYG - In a word? Wow! He's lightning fast and is leading the league in receiving yardage.

5. Hines Ward at CIN - Catches like Largent. Hits like Lambert. What's not to like about Mr. Ward? Did we mention he's playing Cincy this week?

6. Plaxico Burress at CIN - Him too. The Pittsburgh duo is sitting third & fourth in receiving yardage. Expect more of the same in the weeks ahead.

7. Chad Johnson vs. PIT - Disregard the Bengals uniform in this case. The guy is a superstar. He's good for 100+ yds. per game and a touchdown every two out of three weeks.

8. Eric Moulds at MIA - He's David Boston minus the bad attitude and the supplements. Averaging nearly 20 yds./catch even with a bull's-eye squarely on his back.

9. Torry Holt at STL - Ike Bruce has more yards but Holt is the red-zone option. In somewhat of a twist, the QB change in St. Louis could actually make him more productive.

10. Amani Toomer at WAS - A gaudy per-catch average of 24+ so far. He's criminally underrated.

11. Donald Driver (inj) - Would you believe we're winning without Vick and Driver? Starting next week, Favre's favorite target will be back in our lineup.

12. Joe Horn at TEN - Still Aaron Brooks' favorite hook-up. Will score more touchdowns as the season progresses.

13. Tony Gonzalez at HOU - OK. We're officially starting to worry. He's caught four balls for 26 yards in two games.

14. Derrick Mason vs. NO - Makes up for a low yards-per-catch average with more catches. Guess there's more than one way to skin a cat.

15. Jeremy Shockey at WAS - Voted most likely to get liquored up and run his mouth. No, wait. That was Mike Vanderjagt. No denying this kid's got talent, though.

Grab A Helmet:

Javon Walker at ARI - For the second consecutive week, we're predicting a breakout game by Walker. According to our highly scientific calculations, Brett Favre v. Arizona secondary = trouble.

Andre Johnson vs. KC - David Carr is getting better by the day. If KC busts out to a big lead (very likely), he'll be looking for the rook early and often.

Chris Chambers vs. BUF - Was a semi-bust last year but has been busting loose this year. He's over 200 yards so far and has put it in the end zone twice. Could soon bump someone out of the top 15.

Peter Warrick vs. PIT - Could it be? Is Warrick finally starting to emerge? We know Pittsburgh is tough but Kitna has put up some big numbers against the Curtain in recent years.

Deion Branch vs. NYJ - It's always a crapshoot with New England's receivers but Branch has speed to burn and looked fantastic against Philly. He's a solid start in larger leagues.

Jerry Rice at DEN - Plays Monday Night against Denver. You need another reason to start him?

Keyshawn Johnson at ATL - With his running mate, Jurevicius, out, Meshawn could go apestuff on the Falcons woeful defense. We're hoping so since we'll be starting him.

Grab Some Wood:

Antonio Freeman at ARI - A trendy snatch off the waiver wire in Week 2, he's likely to see only spot duty against Arizona. Robert Ferguson is fighting through his injuries and Javon Walker has more upside. Translation? Stay away.

Eric Parker vs. BAL - He's been a huge surprise through two weeks but huge surprises have a way of coming back to earth (usually with a thud) in the NFL. This is especially the case when good defenses watch two games worth of film.

Anquan Boldin vs. GB - See above, although the Packers aren't in the same league as the Ravens when it comes to defense.

Santana Moss at NE - The numbers (8 snags for 154 yards) aren't bad until we consider 142 of those yards came mostly in garbage time against Miami last week.

Bobby Shaw at MIA - His numbers are skewed by a 54-yard touchdown catch. Go with Josh Reed if you're gonna start a Buffalo receiver other than Moulds.

Peerless Price vs. TB - It pains us to say it (yes, we own him) but he's a lousy start this week. For that matter, he hasn't been a stellar start in the first two weeks, either. He needs Michael Vick more than we do.

As always, good luck, folks.