- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Notes: The difference between Brees now and in the season's first month is tangible. It's as if he spent the offseason hating the fact that he was labeled a gunslinger, and came out determined to prove he could play it conservatively, checking down again and again over the course of the first few games. Since then, he's back to his daredevil ways; sometimes it bites him, sometimes it doesn't. Arizona's secondary injuries have finally caught up to them; they've allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks over the last five weeks, including the massacre up in Seattle last week. How many rain games is Palmer going to play? The weather in Cincinnati was frightful last week, but hopefully will be delightful Saturday against the Niners in San Francisco. Warner made mistake after mistake trying to come back on the Seahawks last week, but he also tallied 46 pass attempts. Do that against the Saints, and you're looking at a huge day. He has a sore knee, but should play. Get him in there. Garcia should return against the Falcons, but Jon Gruden has admitted to playing fast and loose with the facts surrounding his quarterback's back. It's a sweet matchup if you can get confirmation Garcia will go. Yessir, I have Eli Manning back in starter territory for 12-team leagues. Washington's secondary has understandably been undermanned, and on average Manning is making more good plays than bad (especially if you forget the Minnesota game). Cutler was immense against the Chiefs, and this is the highest I've had him all year. The Texans don't create many turnovers and have holes without Dunta Robinson in their secondary. They don't give up a ton of aerial touchdowns, but they've allowed nearly a 66 percent completion percentage the past five weeks. This is also Edwards' high-water mark. The Browns are feast-or-famine in their secondary, picking off a bunch of passes lately but also allowing big plays. Opposing signal-callers have averaged more than 250 yards against Cleveland the past five weeks. Bulger told reporters he's feeling a lot better, so I've rated him as though he'll play, but as always, just because a guy starts a game doesn't mean he'll finish it. A whole lotta "huh?" names toward the bottom of this list. Redman, Rosenfels, Orton, Collins and Hill are all clipboard warriors getting a chance, and rookie John Beck has been benched by the winless Dolphins, who are going back to Cleo Lemon. Good luck, psychic friends.
Notes: If you're an Addai owner who's made it this far, here comes the good stuff: The Raiders made Ryan Grant look like Walter Payton on Sunday (causing every talking head in the free world to proclaim Grant a "great back," which isn't true), and Addai gets next. After that, he'll take on woeful Houston. Told you Tomlinson would wear down the Titans. He looked like a bust for a half, but he puts so much pressure on the opposing team. One mistake, and he's gone. I know the Vikings' Peterson was disappointing against the Niners, fiddling with his knee brace all afternoon, but I trust him to get it together on the national stage Monday night, against a Bears defense that's allowed the fifth-most points to opposing rushers the last five weeks. The last time Purple Jesus ran against the Bears, he put up 224 rushing yards. McGahee's injured toe flared up against the Colts, so keep an ear to the ground about him. I love his matchup against the undermanned Dolphins if he's healthy. Jamal Lewis, I apologize. I was the loudest mocking voice in the room when you proclaimed your healthy ankles would suddenly make you relevant again, and that Cleveland's spanking-new O-line would be the difference. You were right. As a reward, you get your first top-five rating on my list, for a must-win match-up against a Buffalo defense that's still injured and has been among the 10 easiest to run against all year. Man, would you just look at this top 10? Lewis, Graham, Grant, Kolby Smith? What a year. White showed no ill effects from his finger injury, and ran very well against the Chargers. Kansas City is suddenly getting torn up on the ground, having allowed huge days to Justin Fargas, LaDainian Tomlinson and Selvin Young the last three games. Plus the Titans have to be peeved after blowing that one last week. Rudi Johnson looked good in the muck. He's got a rushing touchdown in each of his last three, is clearly fresh due to all the missed time and isn't losing carries to Kenny Watson or DeDe Dorsey anymore. The Niners don't give up a ton of yards per carry, but teams run a lot against 'em, presumably because they often have big leads. I'd play Rudi in all leagues. Parker performed admirably in a losing cause against New England, but runs against a far tougher defense this week: Jacksonville's. Plus the Steelers just aren't invested in seeing him score touchdowns. Am I blinded by Stecker's excellent performance against the horrible Falcons? Maybe a little. But he's a good pass-catcher, didn't lose touches to Pierre Thomas and should get lots of chances against the Cardinals. Selvin Young over Travis Henry. Fred Taylor over Maurice Jones-Drew. Darius Walker over the injured Ron Dayne.
Notes: The Cardinals had better plan on having three guys hanging off Colston at all times, because two isn't enough. Brees repeatedly looked Colston's way Monday night, especially near the end zone, and the big-bodied sophomore out of Hofstra simply won't be denied with multiple guys hanging off him. I'd say he's bound for the patented third-year wideout improvement next season, but how much better can he get? Galloway had an injured toe last week, but still caught six passes for 87 yards. Did I mention the Falcons couldn't stop anyone? Fitzgerald wore a girdle against the Seahawks, and came through all right. He should be healthier against a truly terrible Saints pass defense, and I'm skeptical Anquan Boldin will be able to go. Ward has 44 career receptions and three touchdowns against the Jags. I believe Santonio Holmes will play, but that the Steelers will realize they're best when Ward is productive. He became a forgotten man in New England, except for that ill-fated goal-line running play. Welcome back, Plax. (That's not just a salutation to a New York Giants receiver; it's also an elevator pitch for a new WB show, in which a tough-guy elementary school teacher ships out to Iowa to become the headmaster of a farm town's school for troubled teens.) Burress got healthy before the Eagles game last week, and it showed: seven catches, 136 yards and a score. He has a favorable match-up against Washington. My faith in Engram was rewarded with that crazy-good end-zone catch against Arizona. He'll keep doing it. Holt probably deserves to go a little higher on this list if you can convince yourself that Bulger really will play, and make it through an entire game. The Eagles have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing receivers in the past five games. The Cowboys will get it to Owens to prove last week was a fluke, but there'll be enough residual love for Crayton, too. Coles and Cotchery are a fantasy mess. Will they play? Won't they? Coles has a high-ankle problem, Cotchery wasn't supposed to play with a finger issue but then caught six passes for 119 yards and a score. I've assumed both will go, and it isn't ridiculous to think the Jets might move the ball a bit on the Pats. Lee Evans is just awesome when his team is up by at least three touchdowns, isn't he?
Notes: Gates saved a lot of fantasy bacon with his last-second touchdown in Tennessee; before that, he'd spent much of the day on the trainer's table with an injured back. He should be okay for a very favorable matchup against the Lions. Speaking of tight-end happenings in Detroit: Witten set a record for catches by a tight end, primarily because the Lions decided anyone but Terrell Owens was going to beat them. Philly is a lot harsher on opposing tight ends (best in the NFL for the past five weeks), but you don't bench Witten now. The Broncos have allowed 302 yards receiving and two scores to opposing tight ends in their past five, which bodes well for Daniels on Thursday night. Tony Gonzalez sprained an ankle against Denver, but returned and notched a score with Brodie Croyle playing quarterback. So much for Crumpler loving Chris Redman as Atlanta's starter. Once again, Crump was mostly a blocker Monday night, though he did get seven targets. He's a borderline starter.
Notes: The contrarian in me wants to think that the Jets will keep this game close, simply because everyone expects such a blowout. And I wouldn't be shocked to see New York keep it within that magical 27 points. But still, the Patriots want to tee off on this undermanned O-line in the worst way. Tampa let me down big time against Houston; the Texans took advantage of a couple killer Bucs fumbles, but seemed to be able to convert good field position into touchdowns way too easily. But against a Petrino-free Falcons squad in chaos, I have to think there'll be some plays to be made for Tampa. The Colts D makes for a solid start against Oakland, despite the mounting lack of depth on the D-line. Yes, the Steelers are back to a solid fantasy start again, though I haven't ratcheted them all the way back to their traditional top-three spot. Jacksonville's grinding, nasty offense can present problems, especially if the field conditions are icky once again. You start them, but adjust expectations. Gulp: I think you can consider using the Bengals. I resisted the urge last week against the Rams, but Cincy has been very strong against the run lately, and does anyone here think Shaun Hill's got a huge game in him? It's pretty simple: Don't consider using the defenses going against Colts (Oakland), Cowboys (Eagles) or Patriots (Jets). Just don't.
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.
Christopher Harris provides his player rankings (and accompanying rationale) for Week 15 of the NFL season.