- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Notes: The recently anointed Sportsman of the Year, Mr. Favre, is expected to play despite injuries to his nonthrowing shoulder and his throwing forearm. The Raiders have consistently been the second-toughest team against the pass all year, but I have to believe at home coming off a terrible game, Favre will produce. ... The Rams have gotten a lot stingier overall on defense, but losing top corner Tye Hill for the season hurts the effort against Palmer and his band of Bengals. ... Bulger passed his concussion exam, and is cleared to play. ... I've assumed Garcia will play; he swears up and down that's the case. But his back is still the subject of great consternation, and just because he begins a game doesn't mean he's necessarily going to end it. He's a high-upside, risky start in the fantasy playoffs. ... I'm not particularly fond of Warner's matchup. Seattle has stiffened against the pass since the Cleveland game, and Warner will be without Anquan Boldin (while Larry Fitzgerald may not be in peak condition). ... Let's face it: I may be the world's foremost Vince Young apologist. Every time he looks good, I bump him way up. He looked terrific against Houston in Week 13. When he can be a steady, consistent pocket passer, he's got such awesome upside, because teams can't cheat toward the line as much, freeing him up for those patented scrambles and draws. ... Kitna spoke harshly of Dallas' defense when the Lions shocked the Cowboys late in 2006, and the Cowboys remember. The thing that saves Kitna's value, such as it is, is that Mike Martz is living out his own private fantasy of never ever rushing the ball. ... McNabb should return for A.J. Feeley, just in time to face a Giants defense that sacked him 12 times in Week 4 (albeit when Winston Justice was playing left tackle for the Eagles). ... I thought Eli Manning actually played a worse game in Chicago than he did in the four-interception tilt against the Vikings. He saved the Giants' bacon with a fourth-quarter rally, but before that looked gun-shy and inaccurate. ... Grossman makes a sneaky start Thursday against a thoroughly exhausted and undermanned Redskins defense. ... I don't feel great about using him, but Tarvaris Jackson is 28-of-36 for 333 yards, three touchdowns and one pick his past two games. ... Rosenfels will almost certainly start for Matt Schaub, and early indications are that Bobby Petrino is leaning toward Chris Redman.
Notes: I know Albert Haynesworth has returned for the Titans defense, but Tomlinson is hitting his stride. There's no other back I'd rather have for the fantasy playoffs right now. ... Surprise entry at my No. 2 spot: Ryan Grant. I'm not misled by his output against Dallas; his 62-yard touchdown was the result of some terrible Cowboys tackling, and otherwise he amassed 32 yards on 13 carries. But the Raiders rush defense is a king-maker. ... I'll take Graham this week, too, against an abysmal Texans rush defense that's failed to yield 100 yards rushing only once since Week 4. ... McGahee's ankle looked dandy against the Patriots. No worries there. ... Lewis hurt his ribs in the first half against Arizona in Week 13, but returned and should be OK to go. ... Kolby Smith is for real, which once again proves how easy it is to find NFL-caliber rushers. Nothing against Kolby, but this dude was horrible in the preseason, and is a fifth-round rookie. Also, Denver is back to its generous ways against fantasy backs. ... Seattle has allowed nine rushing scores the past five weeks, second-most in football (after Oakland's 10). That makes James a very nice start. ... A month ago, I rated Addai my favorite overall fantasy football player for the season's second half, but that was before injuries and lethargy befell the Colts. I'll admit it: Marvin Harrison's knee has sapped value from just about everyone on this team except Reggie Wayne. ... Bush gets an extra day before the Monday night game, and his leg injury didn't feel nearly as bad in Week 13. Still, he's not 100 percent. ... I'm done waiting for Parker. You have to keep starting him, and McGahee sure made the Pats' rush defense look vulnerable. But something is wrong with the Steelers' run game. Maybe it's nothing that a non-quagmire game won't fix (giggity-giggity), but I've reduced my touchdown expectations. ... The health situation that could affect the most fantasy playoff games this week is whether Portis can play on Thursday. He had to leave in the fourth quarter against Buffalo with an ankle injury, and of course, it's a short week. I haven't heard anything conclusive on the situation, but Ladell Betts would get bumped up to Portis' spot against a shaky Bears rush defense. ... It sounds like Jacobs will return just as Derrick Ward broke his leg, and is out for the year. Still, those relying on Jacobs' health over the season's final four games are due for a letdown. ... Henry won his appeal not because he didn't smoke pot, but because the NFL admitted it made mistakes handling his testing. As such, Henry will be in the NFL's drug program for another year (he was due to be out of it right around now), meaning one more "second-hand smoke" incident, and he's a goner. He's probably the leading Denver back Week 14, but don't assume he's invulnerable. He looked crummy but vultured two touchdowns Week 13 in Oakland. ... I assume Lynch will return, but I'm skeptical he'll get a full load Sunday.
Notes: Chad Johnson has pushed beyond his teammate Houshmandzadeh on this list again. Suddenly Carson Palmer has rediscovered "7-11," having targeted Johnson more than Housh in each of the past two games. Johnson also seems to be the new primary red zone target. They're both great options against the Rams, of course. ... Engram started in only about half of ESPN.com leagues Week 13. Get with the program, people! Engram ranks 17th in fantasy points (tied with Roddy White) among receivers for the year, and he's second in targets in the entire NFL over the past five weeks, just one behind Braylon Edwards. He's a starter in all leagues. ... I've ranked Fitzgerald as though he'll be able to go with his balky groin. If he can't, Bryant Johnson zooms about 15 spots up this chart. ... Galloway proved me wrong in Week 13; I contended that because Luke McCown was Tampa's quarterback, Galloway wouldn't turn in a big day. Seven catches and 159 yards later? Oops. ... In these rankings, I've guessed Santonio Holmes won't play because of his high-ankle sprain, though the Steelers have said they're hopeful (that's what they said Week 13, too). Maybe I should have Hines Ward higher, but I've got a feeling Ben Roethlisberger spreads it around a little more against New England. ... I keep saying this, but watch Bernard Berrian. He's a free-agent-to-be, has a healthy receiver schedule the rest of the way (@WAS, @MIN, GB, NO) and is clearly on the same page as Rex Grossman. ... With Roy Williams out (possibly for the season), Calvin Johnson takes over as the Lions' top target. He's getting healthy at the right time, and makes a very promising start against a Dallas secondary suspect against balls down the deep middle (Brett Favre's hopeless Thursday-night heaves notwithstanding). Furrey gets the start opposite Megatron, and McDonald is startable in deeper leagues, too. ... Burress is just the 26th-leading fantasy receiver over the past five weeks, a far cry from his six-game touchdown streak to begin the year. ... As Vince Young's accuracy goes, so goes Gage. As I said last week, he's the only Titans pass-catcher without serious hands issues, and he's a top-20 fantasy receiver the past three weeks. ... Sidney isn't the first guy named Rice to visit San Francisco as an up-and-coming receiver, but he's still too callow for me to rely on in the fantasy playoffs. ... In the same game, I'd have Battle higher, but I'm worried about his ankle. He might not play.
Notes: At this point in the year, you shouldn't have too many internal debates about your starting tight end. ... Tony Gonzalez would much rather see Damon Huard in there than Brodie Croyle, but that's not going to happen, so I've bumped Gonzo down a few notches. ... Crumpler got 12 targets and caught seven passes Week 13, both season highs, so you'd have to believe he'd be glad if Chris Redman gets the call. ... Marcedes Lewis got a vulture score in Indianapolis, and as I said this past week, he's about the only tight end game in town for a Jacksonville offense that likes to play close to the vest. ... I got asked this week in a chat who is my favorite Miller: Zach or Heath. I still have to rank Heath higher, though he's been ice-cold through the sloppy Steelers games. Rookie Zach is making a fine impression in Oakland. ... I know Des Clark was the man both in overtime against Denver and Week 13 against the Giants, but I've decided to stay away from the Chicago tight end situation altogether without Brian Griese in there.
Notes: Another week, another weird top of this list. The Vikings continued to perform well for me against Detroit, so I'll give 'em another nod against the Niners. The Jags scored negative fantasy points against the Colts (to the surprise of few), but I won't hold that against them when they play the limping Panthers. Seattle, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis are all in the top six all because I'd rather avoid the one-game defensive meltdown in your fantasy playoffs that can occur because of a bad matchup. ... Steelers, Ravens, Patriots and Bears are all outside my top 11. Eesh.
Don't forget to read The Breakdown on Fridays, for more detailed thoughts on every team and every game.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.