Injuries can alter fantasy team lineups

Last Saturday night I made a friendly wager with another editor on The Herald sports desk on what big-name running back would be felled with a season-ending injury that week.

I said Jamal Lewis; he took Rudi Johnson.

We were both wrong — Deuce McAllister, who is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, was the right choice — but the bet serves to show what makes fantasy football so interesting: the violence of the game can take your stud players at any moment.

And this week was a doozy. The list of injured includes: McAllister, Rudi Johnson (my co-worker was closest to the pin on that bet), J.P. Losman, Steven Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Shaun Alexander, Ahman Green, Kellen Winslow, Vernon Davis, Hines Ward and super-rookie Calvin Johnson. Even Larry Johnson tweaked his hammy. The injuries don’t even take into account Rex Grossman, who was benched because he can’t throw an out-route.

So what do you do if (insert name here) was one of you big-ticket starters? Good question:

How can I replace my big-name running back?

Answer: First look to the backups of the fallen. Start in St. Louis where Brian Leonard will take over for Jackson. The rookie out of Louisville was impressive in preseason and so far has played well in relief of Jackson in the first three weeks. But only start him if you’re desperate. Remember Jackson is one of the best backs in the league and he had trouble posting good numbers behind that ramshackle O-line. A better place to look might be Ron Dayne in Houston. The Texans play a winless Falcons team, which can’t seem to stop anybody right now. Other good options include: Kenny Watson if Rudi Johnson can’t go, Aaron Stecker in New Orleans or Correll Buckhalter in Philly if it looks like Westbrook won’t go.

Why are the Bears turning to Brian Griese?

Answer: Well, maybe the offensive coordinator is tired of crossing his fingers every time he calls a pass play. Look, Grossman was never going to be a good NFL quarterback, he’s too short and too erratic. Plus he’s always got that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look going that really instills confidence in the huddle. The question really becomes, is Griese a good fantasy option. I say, yes. The guy has shown flashes of strong play as recently as 2005 in Tampa. Plus Grossman put up nice numbers a year ago in Chicago’s offense. The Bears defense isn’t what it once was — 34 points to Dallas at home — so the Chicago coaching staff knows they need more from the offense, which bodes well for Griese.

Who were those guys in baby blue and yellow on Sunday?

Answer: Your 1933 Philadelphia Eagles everybody. It was almost like those putrid unis blinded the Lions, who couldn’t seem to find Kevin Curtis all day. Donovan McNabb, Westbrook and Curtis all had their best games of the season Sunday, but I think that may have had more to do with a bad Lions defense than a rejuvenated Iggles team. McNabb looked bad against Washington the Monday before and I’m guessing he’ll return to that form once again when he plays a team that can pressure the quarterback (like say Week 6 against the Jets). Play him Sunday against the Giants and then deal him high.

What is up with Bills, Rams and Saints?

Answer: Every year there are a few supposedly solid teams that just stink up the joint at the beginning of the year. All three of the teams in question fit that mold. Most of the time one of those teams turn it around and play well down the stretch. The Bills and Rams will not be that team. Both are reeling from injuries and are looking 4-12 seasons in the face. The Saints looked like the Aints on Monday night and lost McAllister in the process, but I believe their offense will improve. Following the bye week, their schedule softens up with four home games in six weeks, including games against the Falcons, Rams and the susceptible Panthers.

Where can I find some points this week?

Answer: Besides the running backs mentioned above and Griese, here’s a few other players who should have strong weeks. The Panthers pass defense is giving up 250 pass yards a game, so dust off Jeff Garcia and give him a try. I like Darrell Jackson against his old team, which is giving up close to 275 pass yards a game. And if you’ve been burned by the end-zone allergic Laurence Maroney so far, stick with him one more week — he should run wild against a Bengals defense he lit up for 140 total yards and two TDs in ‘06.

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