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Fantasy: Morris will be Patriots' top beneficiary

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008

Matt Cassel has not started a game at quarterback since high school.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Now, before you blurt out, "Yeah, but Tom Brady was a no-name quarterback before Drew Bledsoe got hurt!" think about the other odds Cassel will have to overcome:

• a team, the New England Patriots, whose motivation was already under question after it lost an undefeated season in the Super Bowl this February;

• a No. 1 wide receiver with a reputation as a mercurial, at best, personality; and

• a running back who has alternated between a spot in Bill Belichick's doghouse (on his good days) and irrelevance.

With Cassel at the helm, the Patriots scored only 17 points against a Kansas City Chiefs' defense that should be average, at best. No, Cassel isn't Brady, the sequel. He might be quite passable, but there's another Patriots offensive player you want on your roster these days -- Sammy Morris.

The running back was on his way to establishing himself as the No. 1 scoring option in New England's backfield last season when a shoulder injury ended it. He was the red-zone back for three games, scoring twice while starter Laurence Maroney failed to reach the end zone. Morris also ran for more than 100 yards in each of his two full games as starter while Maroney was injured.

With Brady out, the Patriots' philosophy is bound to change. So don't be surprised if Morris reaches double-digit touchdowns.

Fantasy fill-ins

Brady's high-profile injury in Week 1 wasn't the only one. Here are some suggestions of how to fill in the gaps if one of your players was injured:

Nate Burleson, WR, Seahawks -- The kick returner/de facto No. 1 receiver in Seattle is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, making him the third Seahawks pass catcher to go on the shelf. Once you get past hyped Week 1 pickups Eddie Royal (Broncos) and DeSean Jackson (Eagles), you can consider Sidney Rice (Vikings) or Antwaan Randle El (Redskins).

Maurice Morris, RB, Seahawks -- He won't play until at least Week 5 after spraining his knee against Buffalo. High-potential players who you can consider as replacements include Jerious Norwood (Falcons), Ray Rice (Ravens), Steve Slaton (Texans) and Shaun Alexander (free agent). Alexander has been working out with teams and figures to get a shot somewhere as the first batch of running backs goes down.

Dallas Clark, TE, Colts -- He could be out a couple of games, but tight end is a deep position this season. Not only are Tony Scheffler (Broncos), L.J. Smith (Eagles) and Randy McMichael (Rams) suitable options to replace Clark, they could also be realistic options at a flex position as a replacement for Burleson. Tight ends catch touchdowns.

Bumbling Bengals cause owners woe

Rushing: 37 yards for Chris Perry. Passing: 99 yards for Carson Palmer. Receiving: three catches for T.J. Houshmandzadeh and one for Chad whatever-his-name-is-this week. Zero touchdowns among them.

The Ravens have a good defense; a very good one, in fact. But Baltimore made the Bengals' offense look like a Pop Warner team during Week 1, and that is unacceptable for a unit that features a trio of Pro Bowlers and a former first-round pick at running back.

That the Bengals will get better is a given; they couldn't be much worse without signing those middle-aged guys from the Wrangler commercials. Cincinnati hasn't had an offense in the bottom half of the league since Dick LeBeau was calling for plays that Corey Dillon was running in 2002, but that's where they are headed.

With a poor offensive line and distractions so big they make Casey Hampton seem tiny, many signs point to a team ready to bottom out. Trading high on stars such as Palmer, Houshmandzadeh and Ocho-Cinco/Johnson is risky, but could leave you in better shape come Week 10.

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