NFC West Fantasy Outlook
Do Not Bench List - All Positions
Leinart - It's rare to see a righty-lefty platoon affecting a fantasy football manager. Not that the throwing hand is the major issue in the decision, but the Cardinals have made a unique attempt at easing the development of their franchise quarterback. Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is using a situational arrangement - Leinart started the last two games, with Warner being inserted during more crucial junctures and finishing the game. Leinart is as frustrated at this situation as you will become if you even take a sniff in Leinart's direction. With Warner inserted for the majority of the game, remove Leinart from your game plan until you hear otherwise.
Warner - Meet the other end of the perplexing Cardinal Law. Any situation that sees a guaranteed split of playing time for a quarterback is something you should avoid. The former league Most Valuable Player brought Arizona on a gritty second-half charge in Week 3, rallying them from a 17-point deficit, going 15-for-20 with 258 yards and two touchdowns. He had similar success last week, going 14-for-21 with a touchdown throw. Despite not having thrown an interception in either game this season, Warner still doesn't give you a full-time quarterback as your optimal starter, despite him getting the lion's share of snaps. Despite his great stats, he is a weak No. 1 or a Bye-week replacement.
Bulger - After Bulger (ribs) fought through what turned out to be two broken ribs for the past two games, the Rams elevated the 14-year veteran Frerotte into the starting position Wednesday. They have also decided to let Bulger heal for several weeks - which means you should do the same. Frerotte replaced Bulger in Week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys, going 3-for-6 with 29 yards at the helm. Rams head coach Scott Linehan will reportedly resume play calling duties to try to spark the sputtering Rams' offense, which has averaged just 265.5 total yards per game - ranking 29th in the league. It might be tempting to plug Frerotte in against the Cardinals this week, but relying on him as a starter might be too much to ask for unless you need an emergency Bye-week replacement.
Dilfer - In Week 5, Dilfer will try to reestablish himself as an NFL starter against the Ravens, the team with which he won Super Bowl XXXV. With quarterback Alex D. Smith (shoulder) reported to be missing at least several weeks, Dilfer is set to make his first start since Week 12 of 2005. He didn't instill confidence in 49ers head coach Mike Nolan with his performance last week, going 12-for-33 with 128 yards and two interceptions against Seattle. Despite an underachieving Ravens defense, San Francisco will likely lean on Gore, leaving Dilfer to reignite his forte of game management with minimal participation. Keep Dilfer on your bench.
Hasselbeck - Hasselbeck is as consistently stale as they come, having tossed for over 220 yards in all four of his games this season. He has three interceptions in his past two games after resisting the turnover bug in his first two, and the Steelers could give him a bit of trouble this week. The staunch Steel Curtain, which has allowed an average of 201.5 passing yards to opposing quarterbacks so far, renders Hasselbeck as a weak play as a No. 1 quarterback this week. He should still be able to earn some points, but don't expect too much.
James - Although he has provided a stable influx of fantasy points, Edge has not fully lived up to his resurgent prognosis through his first four games. Competent defenses have been able to stack the box against him, and his own offensive line has seen its members head to the M.A.S.H. unit. However, the hapless Rams might provide the perfect antidote for his recent play. Against opposing running backs, the Rams have allowed 149 rushing yards per game, along with 3.25 receptions and 29.0 receiving yards per game. James should be able to take advantage of the Rams' weak front seven this week, and he is one of the strongest plays of the coming week as a No. 1 back given his penchant for receiving.
Leonard - With running back Steven Jackson (groin) confirmed to miss his second week of play, Leonard once again becomes relevant. His Week 4 stats didn't represent an opportunity taken, as he mustered just 58 yards on 16 carries. When he was the change-of-pace back in the first two games of the season, he had no rushing yards, but totaled five receptions for 35 yards. Now that he's the primary back, he has only had one reception per game. He wasn't a factor in his first start of the season, and since the Cardinals will likely stack against the run to force Frerotte to beat them, Leonard should remain on your bench this week.
Jackson - Jackson had 10 looks in Week 4, but he only pulled in three catches for 38 yards. He has totaled just 14 receptions on the season, hardly the impact he was slated to have as the new No. 1 receiver for San Francisco. The Niners are dead-last in the NFL with 118.0 passing yards per game, and Dilfer hasn't thrown a pass in a start since 2005. Since tight end Vernon Davis (knee) will be missing Week 5, Jackson should however remain the No. 1 target. Despite the weak passing game, he warrants a strong play as a No. 3 wideout or a Bye week replacement against the Rams.
Branch - After completely missing the stat sheet in the first game of the season, Branch has become the primary receiving target in the Seahawk offense. He is quickly developing a rapport with Hasselbeck, averaging 6.67 catches per game over his last three contests. Branch led the team with 10 looks last week, and should certainly contribute to your play this week. Unfortunately, he is facing the Steelers defense, and that alone makes him a weak play as a No. 2 receiver.
Burleson - In Week 3, Burleson had 12 looks as the major cog in the Seattle receiving corps. In Week 4, he plummeted to three looks. The emergence of Branch seems to have stripped Burleson of some of his production. While Branch might be able to break the tough San Francisco secondary, look for Burleson to have a down game as a weak No. 3 receiver.
Engram - In the Seattle receiver mix, Engram received seven looks in Week 4. He has been a steady option all season, averaging 4.25 receptions and 62.5 yards per game. Engram has emerged as Hasselbeck's second option and a valuable commodity on third downs. Against the Steelers, Engram is a weak play as a No. 2 receiver, given his increased role in Hasselbeck's repertoire.
Bruce - It does not look as if Bruce (hamstring) will be able to go in Week 5, as the injury he sustained against the Cowboys last Sunday kept him out of practice Wednesday. Look elsewhere for help, or stay updated on his status.
Bennett - With Bruce likely out, Bennett could see an increased role in the team's suddenly meager passing offense. That said, even though he received six looks in Week 4 against the Cowboys, the fact that Frerotte will play quarterback likely combats any positive effects from expanded playing time. Bennett should stay on your bench.
Pope - Pope has come up empty the past two weeks after grabbing four passes combined over the first two weeks. Over the past two games, Pope seems to have taken to more of a blocking role. His touchdown came on a 30-yard catch - his only grab in Week 2. There's nothing overwhelming to look at here, as he should camp out on your bench until he becomes a more frequent option.
Walker - In place of the injured Davis, Walker has four catches and 26 yards through two games, and had just one catch for seven yards last week. Given the state of the 49ers' passing game and Walker's lack of experience, you should be able to find better ways to fill your tight end spot. Keep him on your bench or leave him on the waiver wire.
Pollard - The former Indianapolis Colts tight end started off strong out of the gate with five catches and 43 yards in Week 1. Since then, he has just three catches over his last three games. It seems Hasselbeck has relied more on his slew of wideouts. Pollard has been utilized just twice in each of the past three games. Still, Pollard has the proven big-play ability, and despite his fading presence is a weak play as a starting fantasy tight end or a Bye-week replacement this Sunday.
McMichael - McMichael was on the end of five looks in his game this past Sunday, mustering just three catches for 24 yards. He hasn't been involved in any red zone end plays this season, and given his pattern of non-productivity, he is a weak play as a low-end No. 1 tight or Bye week replacement.
Rackers - What separates Rackers from almost all other kickers is the Cardinals' trust in him to attempt long - and sometimes bonus point-filled - field goals. Only Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski has matched Rackers' three attempts from 50 yards or more so far in 2007. He drilled his 52-yarder in Week 2 against Seattle, the same game in which he nailed a 42-yard game-winner with one second left. Rackers is also 4-for-5 from 40 yards or more this year and has made all nine of his extra-point attempts. He is only 7-for-10 total on the season because of the three attempts from 50-plus yards. Rackers offers a solid No. 1 option against the Rams this week, despite the fact that St. Louis has allowed just 6.2 kicker points per game.
Nedney - The lefty is 7-for-7 in field goals this season, and has hit a 50-yard kick. The Ravens defense hasn't done much in stopping the kicker, as they have allowed an average of 8.5 kicker points per game. With San Francisco's offense weakened by injuries to Smith and Davis, Nedney could be a last-minute No. 1 kicker or a Bye week replacement.
Brown - Brown is 8-for-8 in field goals and 9-for-9 on extra points. However, he might not get a chance to extend his perfect numbers. The Steelers have allowed a measly 4.2 kicker points per game, good for fourth-best in the league. His matchup makes him a weak play, so play him only as a desperate No. 1 or Bye week replacement.
Wilkins - The Rams might be in position to kick a bunch this week, as their depleted offense could fall short in opposing territory. Wilkins is just 6-for-10 on kicks this year, with three of his misses coming from 40 yards or more. The experienced leg worker has converted on a 50-yarder this season. He could pass as a No. 1 kicker or as a Bye week fill-in.
Cardinals - This could be a productive week for the Cardinals defense, as they face the Rams with Frerotte under center. They have had a middle-of-the-pack defense all season, ranking 12th in average total yards (304.8), 11th in rushing yards (95.5) and 10th in passing yards (209.3). Facing Frerotte presents a good opportunity to grab some takeaways, and they are a third-tier Week 5 defense that still deserves a No. 1 defensive play.
49ers - The Niners take on a Ravens offense with an ailing quarterback in Steve McNair (groin), who is probable for Week 5 but has been carrying injuries all season. Oddly enough, the Ravens are ninth in the league with 237.8 passing yards per game. San Francisco likely needs to shut down running back Willis McGahee to succeed, but the Niners' defense still stands as a mediocre No. 1 play this week.
Seahawks - Seattle's defense might see a majority of playing time Thursday, as Pittsburgh's offense has a good shot at controlling the pace of the game. The Steelers are ranked third in rushing offense at 168.0 yards per game, but they are 25th with 186.3 yards per game. Seattle has the 16th-best pass defense in the league by giving up 224 yards per game. However, with the possible absence of wide receiver Hines Ward (knee) could hurt the passing game, but only if the Seahawks can shut down wideout Santonio Holmes. They would still have to deal with stud running back Willie Parker, but Seattle can still pass as a last-ditch No. 1 defense or a Bye-week replacement.
Rams - The Rams have a decrepit run defense, ranking 29th in the league by allowing 157 rushing yards per game. This will almost assuredly be a big week for Edgerrin James, and no matter which Arizona quarterback the Rams face this week, it won't be a good sign for the Rams defense. If this is where you landed, keep searching for a defensive team.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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