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Defense: The San Francisco treat
It's official: The San Francisco 49ers are the best fantasy defense in the NFL.
That is, if your offensive starters are playing against them.
The 49ers kicked off the season by giving up 362 yards and two touchdowns to Marc Bulger and the Rams. In Week 2, virtually every Eagle scored against them, including Brian Westbrook, L.J. Smith, Terrell Owens (twice) and Donovan McNabb with his five -- count 'em five -- TD passes.
The next week, Drew Bledsoe rediscovered his fountain of youth with 363 yards, two TD passes and a rushing score for good measure. Jason Witten had his best game of the season, as did Julius Jones, with 113 total yards and two end zone celebrations of his own.
In Week 4, Josh McCown enjoyed his first start of the season by tossing 385 yards and one touchdown apiece to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, who each had more than 100 receiving yards.
Ironically, their best performance came against the new-look Colts the following week. Peyton Manning threw for 255 yards and one touchdown strike as Indy leaned on its overpowering defense, which held the 49ers to three points.
San Francisco used its bye week to get psyched up for a Week 7 tilt against the Redskins, who were coming off a two-game losing streak. The extra week of preparation enabled them to hold Washington under 60 points, which had to make their mothers proud.
Mark Brunell had three touchdown passes, all in the first half. Clinton Portis had failed to visit the end zone all season, so it figures that he would notch three TD carries against the 49ers. Santana Moss had another good game, and tight end Mike Sellers turned his only two receptions into touchdowns.
In this case, statistics don't lie. Despite playing one fewer game than several teams, San Francisco has surrendered more points (212), passing yards (1,971) and total yards (2,716) than any team in the NFL. They're in the middle of the pack against the rush, but that's to be expected when opposing QBs are having so much fun throwing on them.
What does this mean going forward?
For starters, if injuries and bye weeks are causing you roster problems in the weeks ahead, look first at the 49ers' schedule for replacements. Tampa Bay is up next, so QB Chris Simms automatically vaults from afterthought to starting caliber. Joey Galloway could have his best game to date, and even a disappointing Michael Clayton is a must-start.
In Week 9, Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress and the rest of the Giants will feast at the 49ers' trough. And in Week 10, the last of the NFL's bye weeks, rookie Kyle Orton can pencil in his best day as a pro. He's still probably not worth starting, but Muhsin Muhammad will finally get to relive some of his successes from a 2004 season that must seem like ancient history now.
Houston may have a problem, but San Francisco is pathetic. Be sure to manage your starters accordingly.
FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS
To win a fantasy championship, you need to start with a good draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is equally important. Here's a look at a few players worth grabbing, and others who would look better in someone else's line-up.
Catch 'em while you can
Byron Leftwich, QB, Jaguars: A disappointment thus far, Leftwich will face the soft secondaries of St. Louis and Houston over the next two games. Expect him to come out firing.
Tony Fisher, RB, Packers: Just as he was back running with authority, Ahman Green is out for the season with another knee injury. Fisher, who has produced well in small doses, becomes the starter. At this stage of the season, healthy starting backs are priceless.
Marion Barber III, RB, Cowboys: The Dallas backup RB carousel appears to have stopped at Barber, who looked sharp in relief of Jones on Sunday. If Jones' injury persists, Barber could give the Cards a nice shave. Sorry.
Antonio Chatman, WR, Packers: Robert Ferguson proved to be a valuable addition after Javon Walker was lost for the season. Now that Ferguson is out, it's Chatman's turn to flourish as Brett Favre's No. 2 option. The third-year wideout is up to the challenge.
Don't be fooled
Jeff Garcia, QB, Lions: So he led Detroit to a win against the lowly Browns, running for one TD. Big deal. He didn't throw a scoring pass, and looked more like Joey Harrington than the Garcia of 2000-01.
Jamal Lewis, RB, Ravens: Like what you saw against the Bears? Get ready for more, as Lewis faces the Steelers (twice), Bengals (twice) and Jaguars over the next five weeks. Looks to me like he needs to run with more conviction. Sorry again.
Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins: Ronnie Brown apparently didn't get the memo instructing him to give way to Williams after he returned from suspension. Williams apparently forgot that he's supposed to gain yards, rather than lose them.