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

OK, everyone. It's audience participation time again. As you've no doubt noticed, the title of my column has changed for no apparent reason whatsoever. Actually, there's a very good reason why it's changed but we won't don't have room for that here. The webmeister and I put our heads together this past week hoping to come up with something unique and witty. The result? Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Bubkas. You can probably see where this is going.

Please submit your own ideas for a column title so we can do away with the very generic "Start 'Em/Sit 'Em." I PROMISE I'll use the best one. Just think. You, too, could be a contributor to this column. E-mail them to me by next Wednesday, the 29th. We're counting on you, folks.


Must Start: The Top 10

1. Steve McNair @ JAX - He made up for a mediocre day passing by running for a score against the Panthers. As if you needed further proof he's the most valuable player in the league through seven weeks. He simply does whatever it takes for his team to win. Oddly enough, if Holcombe and/or George emerges as a threat, his value could drop a little. Don't count on it against a fairly good Jags run defense.

2. Peyton Manning vs. HOU - Only the horrendous Falcons yield more yards per reception than the Texans. That spells trouble against a rested Peyton and his favorite target, Marvin Harrison. Expect the pigskin to be flying in Indy come Sunday.

3. Daunte Culpepper vs. NYG - As promised, he picked up where he left off against the Broncos last week (277 yards and two scores). The G-men have improved against the pass of late but one has to wonder about their collective mindset coming off a give-away against the hated Eagles. CB Will Peterson is out, as well, so you can count on Daunte looking in Ralph Brown's direction early and often.

4. Marc Bulger @ PIT - Bulger was prolific against the Pack (247 yards and three scores) but also mistake-prone (two picks). Not to worry. Mistakes won't kill you in fantasy ball. The Pittsburgh D is MUCH worse than the numbers would indicate (162.3 passing yards/game) and simply doesn't have the personnel to slow down Holt and Bruce. Expect another big day from Mr. Bulger.

5. Drew Bledsoe @ KC - Travis Henry bounced back from a sluggish start with a HUGE game last week. That can only help take the heat off Bledsoe and a struggling receiver corps. KC might be a big story this year but they certainly aren't winning with defense, yielding 359.9 yards per game. Yes, that was former quasi-option QB, Marques Tuiasosopo, mounting a near miraculous comeback against them Monday night.

6. Jeff Garcia @ ARI - Vaults back into the Top 10 thanks to a brilliant performance against the Bucs (253 yards and two scores). I'm not in love with him as a long-term fit for Erickson's offense, but you may as well ride him while he's at the helm. Besides, he's the fourth-highest fantasy points scorer amongst QBs. That should be reason enough to start him, whether you 're in love with him or not.

7. Brad Johnson vs. DAL - Wasn't sharp at all against the Niners (one TD vs. three INTs). I'm betting that was just an anomaly. Nevertheless, Dallas has been downright awesome vs. the pass this year (59.2 rating and a paltry 47% completion percentage). It's certainly possible Johnson will struggle again.

8. Trent Green vs. BUF - Clearly, he's more valuable when the Chiefs fall behind and need points in a hurry (see Week 6). When they don't, the running game takes center stage. That's not likely to change as most NFL coaches (even the wacky Vermeil) are more than happy to salt away victories with a punishing tailback…especially when that tailback is named Priest Holmes.

9. Jon Kitna vs. SEA - Scoff if you must but I'd take this guy over just about any other second-tier QB. His 85.4 rating is good for tenth in the league and his nine TD passes rank seventh. He's simply an experienced signal-caller who knows his limitations and doesn't cost his team victories. An added bonus? The ever-petulant Corey Dillon is grousing about PT again. Oh, another one: he's facing his former team on Sunday.

10. Matt Hasselbeck @ CIN - Speaking of Kitna's former team, Hasselbeck has the 'Hawks flying high at 5-1. Actually, "flying" probably isn't the word I'm looking for. Holmgren appears determined to win games with low-risk passes, a healthy dose of Shaun Alexander, and a solid (but not spectacular) defense. That's great for him but bad for you. Strangely, like Trent Green, Hasselbeck's numbers would probably increase if Seattle trailed more often.

Grab A Helmet:

Tom Brady vs. CLE - Brady has frustrated his owners for most of the year but he may have turned the corner in a HUGE win at Pro Player (283 yards and two TDs). His game-winning strike to Troy Brown was positively Favre-esque and might lend him the confidence he needs to get back on track. He faces a Cleveland D that, surprisingly, has given up the fewest yards per game (157.4) in the league. Should be interesting.

Aaron Brooks vs. CAR - Like Brady, he may have rediscovered his mojo in the blowout win at the Georgia Dome. Then again, you could argue he never really lost it. His numbers place him in the Top 10 in almost every category this year (89.8 rating, 1508 yards, 10 TDs, and only four picks). He goes up against a Carolina D this week that is starting to have some issues, namely the forward pass (247.5 yards/game).

David Carr @ IND - His numbers were kind of blah against the Jets but he's facing an Indy team that is sure to post a lot of points in Week 8. Lots of points mean catch-up mode. Catch-up mode means lots of yards and, potentially, some TD passes for Carr. Call it a hunch.

Byron Leftwich vs. TEN - Jacksonville is likely to fall behind Air McNair and the Titans. Falling behind means Leftwich will have plenty of opportunities to hook up with Jimmy Smith. Detect a pattern here? The rook struggled in his last outing (three picks) but Tennesee's secondary is hurting without Samari Rolle (272.3 yards/game and an 89.2 rating against).

Tommy Maddox vs. STL - He's had a week off to contemplate the meltdown and now will be paired with the Bus in the backfield. Love him or hate him, the Bus must be accounted for. That wasn't the case with Zereoue. I expect Maddox to bounce back with a solid game against a good but not great Rams secondary. This could also be a high-scoring affair.

Grab A Clipboard:

Quincy Carter @ TB - Though they may be ripe for the picking (post-Super Bowl hangover, anyone?) the Bucs are still not a team you want to face…especially after a loss. The last time Tampa was embarrassed, the young Patrick Ramsey paid the price. I suspect it will be the almost-as-young Carter this time around.

Chris Chandler vs. DET - Some are touting him as a sleeper candidate for Week 8. He'll be asleep, all right. I'll grant that Detroit is not very good against the pass (241 yards/game) but Chicago doesn't have the talent at wide receiver to take advantage. Nor do they have Anthony Thomas, it appears, to take the heat off in the running game. I've watched too many NFC Norris clunkers to assume this will be anything but a 13-10 dud.

Joey Harrington vs. CHI - He may start for my wife's "fantasy" team but he shouldn't start for yours. You thought Chicago's wide receivers were bad? The Detroit wideouts are FRIGHTENINGLY bad. Scotty Anderson, Bill Schroeder, and Az Hakim combined for just five (!!!) catches last week. Wait 'til Chas. Rogers returns.

Kerry Collins @ MIN - He will probably throw for a fair amount of yards this Sunday but, oh, those turnovers! Minnesota is a league-best +13 in the takeaway/giveaway department. Not what you'd call an ideal matchup for a reeling, mistake-prone QB.

Donovan McNabb vs. NYJ - Remember those bumper stickers that read "Rush Is Right"? I won't go there. He's been riding my bench for quite some time and he should probably be riding yours as well. Philly receivers (or should I say receiver?) caught ONE ball last Sunday. This is a West Coast offense?

Running Backs

Must Start: The Top 15:

1. Priest Holmes vs. BUF - 173 total yards and a touch on Monday night puts him back on top of the fantasy points heap. He was even robbed of another likely score by a stupid false start penalty near the goal line. Buffalo is average vs. the run (111.9 yards/game) so expect more of the same from Priest in Week 8.

2. Ricky Williams @ SD - The workload hasn't decreased (27 carries vs. New England) and isn't likely to until the Dolphins passing game shows signs of life. Fortunately, he's facing a San Diego team on Monday night that can't stop anybody from running the football (137.3 yards/game and 4.6 per carry). Expect a big game regardless of who starts at quarterback.

3. Jamal Lewis vs. DEN - His yards per carry average is still absurd (6.3), but it seems unlikely he'll keep that up against a solid Denver front seven. Then again, this is a guy who CORRECTLY predicted a record day vs. Cleveland. If he finds the end zone more often, he'll pass Ricky on this list.

4. Deuce McAllister vs. CAR - Owners who were thrilled by his Week 7 performance shouldn't forget it came against Atlanta. That said, Deuce has been pretty steady all year long (94.3 yds./game and four scores). If Brooks and the boys can get it in gear (they're starting to) he could become even more dangerous. Carolina allowed Tennessee to rush for over 100 yards last week (Tennessee!!!) so maybe that D isn't as stingy as we thought.

5. Stephen Davis @ NO - He was a non-factor last week as the Titans jumped out to a big, early lead. Nothing to be concerned about, really. He should bounce back against the marginal Saints D in Week 8, a defense he scolded for 159 yards and a touch just three short weeks ago.

6. Clinton Portis @ BAL - He was without the Snake in Minnesota. Now, he's without Beuerlein, too. If the attention wasn't focused squarely upon him before, it certainly will be now. Note to running backs: you do not want Ray Lewis' attention focused squarely upon you. Portis is talented enough to put up the numbers but a slight dropoff should be the inevitable result of a chaotic QB situation.

7. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. MIA - That sell rating I gave him a few weeks ago might have been premature. OK, it was definitely premature. He exploded on the Browns last Sunday to the tune of 221 total yards and a touch. Still, Cleveland isn't exactly stopping the run this year and Tomlinson's Week 8 opponent, Miami, most certainly is (68.8 yards/game). I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him struggle. He is, after all, Mr. Inconsistency.

8. Shaun Alexander @ CIN - He (not Hasselbeck) is the Seahawks' meal ticket. He's big, fast, and durable and we can expect many more 100-yard games in the future. Cincinnati is only average vs. the run (119.2 yards per game) so the future starts Sunday.

9. Travis Henry @ KC - Willis McGahee begins practicing and Henry runs wild against the 'Skins (31 carries, 167 yards, and two TDs). Coincidence? Hardly. Nothing motivates like the fear of being replaced. Though he has nothing to worry about this year, Henry's probably gonna be fighting for his job in '04. He could start making his case in advance by duplicating last week's performance against a susceptible Chiefs D.

10. William Green @ NE - Playing from behind, he didn't get many carries in Week 7 (14). Provided Holcomb can make something happen in the passing game, he should be good for 75-100 yards in Week 8. Regardless, it would help if he started finding the end zone.

11. Tiki Barber @ MIN - Between the twenties, he's invaluable. Near the red zone…well, you hafta GET in the red zone first, don't you? The Giants are struggling and no one is paying the price more than Barber owners. He was even replaced by Dorsey Levens at times last week, the same Dorsey Levens who hasn't been a factor since his days in Green Bay. Expect another sub-par day if the Vikes jump out to an early lead.

12. Fred Taylor vs. TEN - This isn't a good matchup for Taylor as Tennessee is yielding a paltry 78.4 rushing yards per game. Nevertheless, he's a good enough back to find some yards and, with a little luck, a TD in garbage time.

13. Domanick Davis @ IND - It's generally not a good idea to start a rookie running back who plays for a bad team fielding a terrible defense. Then again, it's DEFINITELY not a good idea to overlook nearly 200 yards of total offense. If Coach Capers doesn't pull a Fontes on us again, Davis could find the end zone against an average Indy run defense (131 yards/game). Go get him if he's still available.

14. Edgerrin James vs. HOU - He's reportedly ready to rock after a few weeks off. Facing a dubious Texans defense, 100 yards and a score or two isn't out of the question.

15. Moe Williams vs. NYG - Onterrio Smith keeps sniping carries and Michael Bennett's return is a few weeks away but Moe keeps scoring touchdowns. That's what Moe does best. Until he no longer does, you should continue starting him. The Minnesota line might be the best in football.

Grab A Helmet:

Brian Westbrook vs. NYJ - Yes, I'm actually recommending you start an Eagle. McNabb's struggles are well documented but Philly isn't out of the playoff hunt. If Coach Reid has any sense at all (he does), he'll give the ball to his most consistent back against a Jets D that can't stop the run at all (153 yards/game).

Garrison Hearst @ ARI - Picked up 117 yards and a score vs. Tampa last week. Needless to say, Arizona is no Tampa. Word is the Niners dangled Kevan Barlow before the trade deadline so expect Hearst to keep getting the lion's share of carries.

Kevin Faulk vs. CLE - I don't like him as a regular option but Cleveland can't stop anybody from running the ball (5.1 per carry and and 134.7 per game). He's also pretty good catching passes out of the backfield so I expect the TD drought to end this week.

Jerome Bettis vs. STL - The Rams bottled up Ahman Green last week but haven't really kept teams from running the ball for the most part (4.5 per carry). Bus is back in the starting lineup and if the shootout materializes, he should find paydirt. Then again, if the Rams jump out to a big lead, he could just as easily disappear.

Grab A Gatorade:

Eddie George @ JAX - No, no, no, no, no! He's still averaging 2.8 per carry and has scored all of one TD this year. He's also starting to share carries with Robert Holcombe of all people. How many ways do I hafta say he's finished?

Curtis Martin @ PHI - The Eagles were gashed for some pretty good yardage last week but is still holding opposing backs to 3 yards per carry. Add to that the fact Martin has one fewer TD than George this year and you've got an iffy starter at best. Go in another direction if you can.

Troy Hambrick @ TB - The numbers are pretty decent but Tampa is angry and Gruden won't allow Hambrick to beat them. His best games have come against lousy defenses. Some bad performances aside, Tampa's defense should not be considered lousy.

Corey Dillon vs. SEA - He's always been a bit of a malcontent but asking to be traded (after the trade deadline, no less) probably won't sit well with Coach Lewis, especially when the Bungles are finally showing signs of life. I'd steer clear until he kisses and makes up…IF he kisses and makes up.

Any Detroit RB @ CHI - The Bears rank 31st in rushing defense. Amazingly, that's not a good enough reason to start Olandis Gary or Shawn Bryson. Why? For starters, they share carries…and not in a good way.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Must Start: The Top 15:

1. Randy Moss vs. NYG - Ten catches, 151 yards, and one sweet lateral to Moe Williams in Week 7. Simply put, nobody is more dangerous. New York got well against an anemic Philly passing attack but faces a whole different animal in Mr. Moss and the Vikes this week.

2. Marvin Harrison vs. HOU - Consider yourself lucky if you faced his team last week. Houston's pass rush is non-existent and we all know what Peyton can do when he has time to throw. Look away.

3. Torry Holt @ PIT - He's not just getting open. He's getting WIDE open. That doesn't bode well for a Steelers club allowing opposing QBs to complete 66% of their passes (worst in the league). Did I mention he leads all receivers with 45 catches and seven scores? I GUARANTEE he'll score this week.

4. Chad Johnson vs. SEA - Other than Moss and maybe Harrison, is there a more dangerous deep threat in the game? Kitna found him for an 82-yard scoring strike last week, his third TD catch of 40+ yards on the year. It only takes one of those per week to make him more valuable than 99% of the receivers out there.

5. Derrick Mason @ JAX - Like his fishin' buddy, Favre, McNair likes sharing the wealth. As a result, Mason probably isn't as valuable as he could be. Nevertheless, he's still the primary target in Tennessee and has twice as many receptions (41) as any other Titans receiver. Expect him to rebound from a sub-par performance with a big game against a lousy Jags secondary.

6. Eric Moulds @ KC - If he's healthy (where have we heard that before?), he's a must start. The KC secondary is opportunistic (13 picks so far) but also vulnerable to big plays (248.9 yards per game).

7. Joe Horn vs. CAR - He and Brooks are starting to find a groove and the Carolina secondary is definitely a weak link. Expect the two to build on a fabulous performance against the Falcons last week.

8. Terrell Owens @ ARI - He's coming off a monster day against Tampa (6 catches, 152 yards, and a score) and will definitely take advantage of a crappy Cardinals secondary. Very few players can turn a simple out route into a 75-yard slalom down the field. Though I hate giving him credit for anything, he's one of them.

9. Isaac Bruce @ PIT - Holt gets most of the attention (and touchdowns) but teams who ignore The Preacher Man will pay a heavy price. He lit up the Pack for nine catches and 129 yards last week and should find the getting just as good in Pittsburgh.

10. Andre Johnson @ IND - The emergence of Domanick Davis may hurt his numbers some but he's a big play waiting to happen. I expect at least one long hookup with Carr in Indy.

11. Hines Ward vs. STL - Maddox and Co. are coming off a bye week and should post some decent numbers against the Rams. Ward is still Option #1 so expect him to be the beneficiary of at least five tosses and, if all goes well, a score.

12. David Boston vs. MIA - He disappeared almost as quickly as he re-emerged (2 catches for 10 yards last week). Then again, Brees only threw the ball 18 times against Cleveland. Surprisingly enough, Miami is yielding 258.7 yards per game through the air, probably because they're consistently stuffing the run. If the Bolts are forced to throw, Boston could bounce back in a hurry.

13. Jimmy Smith vs. TEN - He's Leftwich's favorite and, perhaps, only target. The Titans are giving up tons of yardage via the airways so you can expect a 100-yard day and a score…especially if the Jags are playing from behind.

14. Amani Toomer @ MIN - The Vikings made Danny Kanell look pretty good last week. Imagine what might happen if Collins is able to avoid costly interceptions (a big "if"). Toomer is still averaging a gaudy 18.2 yards per catch and might score in a game that promises plenty of points.

15. Tony Gonzalez vs. BUF - He finally supplants Shockey as the best tight end option…for now. The two will probably duke it out for the rest of the year but Gonzo has been on a tear of late and is still the best receiving option (outside of Priest) that Trent Green has.

Grab A Helmet:

Keenan McCardell vs. DAL - Has he made some big plays this year or what? Dallas' passing D is formidable but Johnson will want to rebound after laying an egg in San Fran. I expect him to find McCardell for at least one score.

Steve Smith @ NO - So maybe he's not so marginal after all. Last week's game got out of hand in a hurry and Smith was doubtless the beneficiary of some vanilla coverage. Still, ten catches and 151 yards is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Feel free to start him against a Saints D that has given up 12 passing TDs this year.

Koren Robinson @ CIN - I'm probably opening myself up here but, from a fantasy perspective, he's overrated. Holmgren's conservative attack is to blame. If he doesn't do anything of note against an average but improving Bengals squad, I'll stop recommending him.

Santana Moss @ PHI - It seems Chad Pennington might return for spot duty this week. He'll probably like what he finds in Moss. The kid has really taken to the starting gig (6 catches, 111 yards, and a score last week) and could find some holes in the short-handed Philly secondary.

Randy McMichael @ SD - He posted big numbers against the Pats last week (eight catches for 102 yards) and appears to have emerged as Fiedler's favorite target. Though that's not saying much, you can expect the embattled QB to go looking for his safety valve again on Monday night…provided he plays.

Anquan Boldin vs. SF - He's averaging 15.2 per catch and is racking up the yardage (fourth in the league with 592 yards). I still expect him to fade away at some point but for now, he's probably a good start. The Niners can be had through the air, as well.

Grab Some Wood:

Any Philly receiver vs. NYJ - Did you even read the blurb on Donovan? These guys combined for ONE catch and SIX yards against the G-men last week. Do not start a Philly receiver…ever.

Keyshawn Johnson vs. DAL - Has more catches than his running mate, McCardell, but fewer yards and three less touchdowns. Simply put, that means he's not the #1 receiving option in Tampa. Of course, you'll never convince him of that. Here's hoping Roy Williams does.

Travis Taylor vs. DEN - Fool's gold. He'd done absolutely nothing up until last week and you can bet your bottom dollar Denver watched plenty of film this past week. Don't forget the three TDs came after the game was already decided.

Donte Stallworth vs. CAR - He caught a bomb for a score last week but that's all. One reception from your #2 receiver (against the Falcons!) is not gonna get the job done. He has potential, for sure, but has been a major disappointment overall. Now might be the time to capitalize on the big play and deal him.

Dez White vs. DET - He seems to have supplanted the gimpy Marty Booker as Chicago's #1 option. Chicago's #1 option still isn't good enough to be your #3 option. If he has a big day against a vulnerable Lions secondary, trade him. You'll thank me later.

Good luck, folks!