The late George Steinbrenner popularized the phrase: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
With basically half the NFL schedule now history, it's well documented who the biggest underachievers have been in 2010. The question is: Will these same guys still be on the infamous list at season's end? Today, I will use the schedule -- both past and future -- to identify which of these duds you should keep (or acquire) and which you should dump.
Steal him/Deal him
Tom Brady, Patriots. If someone told you Randy Moss would be waived by midseason, Wes Welker would have just 40 catches and three touchdowns in seven games, and the Patriots would face the fifth-toughest collection of pass defenses in the first eight weeks, you'd have no doubt lowered your expectations of Brady. But now the schedule softens a bit, starting this week with the Browns, and it appears Brandon Tate could be developing into the type of talent that could take some of the defensive heat off Welker. Brady might not be the fantasy star he once was, but he's someone certainly worthy of playing every week to lead you into the playoffs.
Matt Schaub, Texans. He's been even worse than Brady so far (more yards, but fewer touchdowns and more interceptions) without the schedule excuse. Houston's opponents have rated a cumulative 19th-hardest to pass against. The schedule doesn't get any easier, with the Chargers and Titans both top-five against the pass and a December visit to Philadelphia looming. And with Arian Foster running so well, there's less reason for Schaub to throw as much as he has in the past.
Cedric Benson, Bengals. The Bengals might be 2-5 on the field, but they've fared even worse in the fantasy game. A rugged schedule has conspired to keep most Bengals' numbers down, with Benson having suffered the biggest bruises. Alas, the league's toughest schedule to run against through eight weeks goes downhill after the Steelers' visit this week. Benson should be a fantasy difference-maker in matchups with the Colts, Bills and Saints leading up to your playoffs.
Ray Rice, Ravens. Like Benson, Rice also has a matchup remaining with the Steelers. It comes at the worst possible time -- in Week 13 perhaps with your playoff future on the line. And here's more bad news: Unlike Benson, tough run defenses are the rule rather than the exception for the Ravens in the next five weeks, with the Dolphins and Falcons -- a pair of Top 10 run-stoppers - on deck. A turnaround just doesn't appear to be in the cards.
Randy Moss, Titans. The Titans have been surprisingly decent throwing the ball this season, ranking fifth in the league in touchdown passes. This is despite the fact Vince Young has been injured and Chris Johnson hasn't had the type of season that might prompt defenses to focus an extra defender or two on him. The reason for the Titans' success? That's easy: A series of pass defenses softer than all but three teams. And that's not about to end with the Redskins, Texans and Jaguars all on the horizon. Welcome to the AFC South, Mr. Moss. No Darrelle Revis here.
Brandon Marshall, Dolphins. If you've followed my analysis this season, you're undoubtedly aware I have made numerous mentions to the Dolphins' monster schedule. Truth be told: It's been tougher on the running game than on Marshall and company, but that's about to change. Three of the top five pass defenses await the Dolphins, so there's no reason to believe Marshall's best games are ahead of him. And if you're lucky enough to survive it and make the playoffs in Week 14, Mr. Revis awaits.
Play him/Sit him
Jay Cutler, Bears. Talk about good fortune. The NFL schedule called for the Bears to visit Buffalo this season, and when the game turned up in November, there was a run on extra-long cleats in the equipment room. But the game has been moved to Toronto's Rogers Centre, which has a retractable roof. And Mike Martz has had two weeks to dissect a very bad Bills pass defense. It's almost unfair.
Michael Vick, Eagles. The Colts are far better against the pass than against the run, which you'd think would be good news for Vick. That's because Vick is a rare quarterback who can be a better runner than passer at times. But word is that Vick is talking about running less after taking a beating in his last dash toward the goal line. And with the way the Colts' pass rush can get after people, Vick might be wise to run straight to the bench and watch Kevin Kolb absorb the punishment.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets.Fantasy owners can be a fickle collection. What have you done for me lately? It's the motto of many losing teams. What has LT done lately? Little. Less than 200 rushing yards and two scores in the past four weeks (counting a bye). That's enough to get him benched ... by those who underestimate the ineptitude of the Lions' run defense.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots. Recent history tells us this about the Patriots: Just when you think you've figured out Bill Belichick's running strategy, he burns you. Green-Ellis has scored touchdowns in five consecutive games. But if he's going to rush for fewer than 25 yards (as he's done twice in the last three weeks), which is a distinct possibility against a strong Browns run defense, I'm not going to bank on getting that short TD plunge.
Jordy Nelson, Packers. For those keeping score at home, I'm crediting myself with a "win" for recommending Jacob Tamme as my ultimate-sleeper selection last week, giving me two plums in the last three weeks. Nelson is my stab in the dark this week, due equally to the Cowboys' rapidly disintegrating pass defense and Donald Driver's injury. If Nelson can catch five balls against the Jets, the sky's the limit this week.
Steve Smith, Panthers. Here's a team that just scored all of 10 points against the Rams. Are you really expecting a break-out performance against the defending champions? Recent history answers that for us: No. Smith had his worst game of the season when these teams met in Week 4, catching two balls for 11 yards. Likewise, last year he failed to prove fantasy-worthy the one time he went up against the Saints.