NFC West Fantasy Outlook
Do Not Bench List - All Positions
Warner - Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt relied heavily on Warner last week during a 21-19 loss against the Washington Redskins. The veteran went 24-for-41 for a season-high 282 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he didn't have the chance to complete a successful two-minute drill. Backup quarterback Tim Rattay came in at the 1-yard line merely to throw a touchdown pass before wide receiver Anquan Boldin took a direct snap before tossing an incomplete pass on a possible game-tying two-point conversion. After the game Whisenhunt reportedly said he wanted to use the more athletic Rattay in goal-line situations because he felt the backup could adapt to close quarters better than the less mobile Warner. The Buccaneers should make Warner uncomfortable in the pocket. He is a weak play as a No. 1 this week and should be left on your bench if you have a more reliable option.
Smith - Smith also had an exorbitant amount of attempts Sunday against a vulnerable pass defense, and his frequent activity may have jeopardized his productivity for Week 9. Playing for the first time in three weeks after a shoulder injury, he went 22-for-43 with 190 yards and one touchdown. He complained of shoulder soreness after putting his injury to the test. Besides tight end Vernon Davis the Niners don't offer him much help, but a quarterback who aggravates a shoulder injury in his first game back shouldn't be at the top of your play list. Smith rates as a lower-tier No. 1 quarterback and should only be played in an urgent situation.
Hasselbeck - Wide receivers Deion Branch (knee) and D.J. Hackett (ankle) are both expected to return the Seahawks after participating in practice this week. This reunion would boost Hasselbeck, especially against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9. Opponents have attacked the Browns frequently through the air over the last three weeks, attempting an average of 40 passes with 281.0 yards and 2.00 touchdowns against. Hasselbeck is a strong play as a lower-tier No. 1 starter.
James - Edge has rushed for at least 77 yards in each of his last four games; he's nothing if not a stable option. Usually a threat in the passing game, he hasn't caught a pass in two weeks. He could find the end zone against the Bucs in Week 9 as Tampa Bay allows 1.25 rushing touchdowns per game against running backs. Tampa Bay will most likely be worried about Fitzgerald and Boldin to allow an opening for James. He is slated as a strong play as a lower-tier No. 1 or a higher-ranked No. 2 back.
Gore - Adding to his list of frightening traits in a lost season, Gore (ankle) says he won't be at 100 percent for Week 9. He has been utilized in just 30.14 percent of the team's plays and has averaged just 14.5 carries over his last four games. Gore has not been able to take focus off the Niners' passing game since he hasn't scored a touchdown in five weeks. Even with all these discouraging statistics, Gore has a viable opportunity against the Atlanta Falcons. Smith's injury could prompt the Niners to lean on their running back. Over their last four games, the Falcons have allowed 1.33 touchdowns per game and 6.00 receptions per game against running backs. As a No. 2 or No. 3 back, a healthy Gore is looking at a strong matchup.
Jackson - Expect Jackson's role to decrease further with Davis returning from injury and fellow wide receiver Arnaz Battle stepping up in the passing game. He did not receive a single look last week while both Davis and Battle were sought 10 times on Sunday. Until he factors into a game, Jackson should be left on your bench this week and for the near future.
Burleson - Burleson did most of his damage away from the offense in Week 7. He hauled in just one catch for 12 yards but had a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Burleson felt a little less useful as his stats plunged from 13 looks in Week 6 to just six looks in Week 7. In an already crowded receiver corps that could see the return of both Branch and Hackett, Burleson might find himself relegated to kick returns. Kick return yardage is usually considered a bonus, though, and he could serve as a No. 3 receiver or Bye week replacement this week against the decrepit Browns pass defense.
Engram - Engram has had 15 catches and 22 looks over the past two games, but his share will also be chomped into by the return of Branch and Hackett. This might not have an immediate impact as Engram was Hasselbeck's favorite target in their absence. He might keep his role for one more week as the pair works back from injury. Engram serves as an effective No. 3 receiver with a strong play this week.
Pope - In Week 9 the 6-foot-8 Pope grabbed one-third of his total output this season in one game by grabbing three passes for 35 yards. He also snagged a one-yard touchdown catch to bring the Cardinals within a two-point conversation of tying the game. His physical gifts have not translated into statistical production, but his use in such a crucial situation could be a sign that the Cardinals wish to incorporate him at a more frequent pace. He could be used as a lower-tier No. 1 tight end or as a Bye week replacement.
Heller - When starting tight end Marcus Pollard (knee) closed his door, Heller opened his own window with two touchdown catches. That might not matter this week; both Branch and Hackett will come back in Week 9 and Pollard should reenter the game plan in Week 10 after having arthroscopic surgery last week. Heller should be left on your bench as he will quickly return to his non-relevant role.
Davis - Davis reestablished his spot in the offense in Week 8 with six catches, 71 yards and a touchdown catch. Smith's return under center increased his look total to 10 after receiving six in Week 7. Davis will now be the go-to guy unless the rest of the offense can pick up the slack. He's a lower-tier play as a No. 1 tight end against the Falcons this week, but he should be a part of your plans for the coming weeks.
Rackers - The Cardinals couldn't start their offense against the Redskins in Week 7, and Rackers suffered by only earning two extra points. The Buccaneers won't likely provide for much improvement as their defense has been their backbone this season. They have allowed 1.75 field goal attempts per game through their last four contests. Rackers stands as a weak play this week, and you should find another option.
Brown - Brown booted four field goals against the Rams in Week 7 including a long of 48. He was a stable force for big points with three field goals in the 40-to-49-yard range. The Browns have allowed 3.33 field goal attempts per game over their last three contests, but he has not had these big weeks all season. He has had just two games of double-digit kicker points, and if the Seahawks open up their passing game successfully he won't receive many field goal chances. He's a Bye week replacement at best since you should be able to find a better matchup on the waiver wire.
Nedney - Nedney should have had a chance to contribute against the New Orleans Saints defense, but he only gathered a 29-yard field goal and an extra point. He has totaled just nine kicker points through his last four games. You would not be helping your team if you started him. Keep him on your bench.
Cardinals - If you don't mind settling for a mediocre defensive performance, this could be your week as the Cardinals will face an efficient but dull Buccaneers squad. Quarterback Jeff Garcia has only eight touchdown passes this season, but his three interceptions all came in last week's game against the Jacksonville Jaquars. His proven decision-making can hurt a defense without putting up large numbers. This game will most-likely be a low-scoring affair, and you could get away with playing the Cardinals as a desperation No. 1 defense or a Bye week replacement.
Seahawks - The Seahawks come off a 33-6 stomping of the crumbled St. Louis Rams offense to face one of the most improved teams in the NFL. The Browns could give Seattle a tough time as quarterback Derek Anderson has surprised the critics as one of the most consistent fantasy quarterbacks this season. Seattle has averaged more than three sacks per game in their last three contests, so they will have some chances to add to a fantasy total that way. However, wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow have become one of the more athletic and productive receiving pairs in the league and will be sure to test Seattle's secondary. Seattle is a lower-tier No. 1 defense for the week or a Bye week replacement, but you could certainly find better options out there.
49ers - A resurgent Atlanta offense will not be a welcome sight for the Niners. The Falcons seem to have found a passing game by rotating quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich as wide receiver Roddy White has stepped up as a No. 1 threat. Running backs Jerious Norwood and Warrick Dunn will keep San Francisco's weaker front seven off balance. The Niners have not been much for defense as a team this year, and should remain on your bench as a weak play.
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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