- Nate Ravitz, Fantasy
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Fantasy Heartbreak, thy name is Brian Westbrook.
For those who missed it, with a little more than two minutes to go in Sunday's game against the Cowboys, Westbrook broke free for an apparent 25-yard touchdown run but as he approached the end zone, he gradually slowed down and then fell to the ground, his feet touching the goal line but the ball nearly a yard short. The intent was clear: Allow the Eagles to keep the ball and kneel out the clock rather than crack open the window for the Cowboys to score, recover an onside kick and score again. The move guaranteed the win for the Eagles but cost fantasy players six points in standard leagues and more in leagues with touchdown-distance bonuses.
Can you imagine a Westbrook owner who lost his or her fantasy playoff matchup by fewer than six points? Can you imagine the rapid shift in emotions experienced in a manner of seconds, as Westbrook first broke free and then tackled himself? Let's consider some real-world parallels:
You propose to your girlfriend, she slips on the ring, tears up and then says "I just can't."
Your best friend John calls to say he has two tickets to the Super Bowl and asks if he can borrow your binoculars.
Your wife announces she's pregnant by your best friend John.
Am I overdramatizing? Of course, but that's no consolation to a lot of Westbrook owners. And as long as we're dramatizing for the sake of entertainment, let's entertain the possibility of this scenario:
Fantasy Owner X has 100.4 points and is playing against Fantasy Owner Y, who has 100.2 fantasy points. The league uses standard scoring but awards fractional points, so every rushing yard is worth one tenth of a point. Fantasy Owner X played Donovan McNabb. Westbrook's decision to fall to the ground led to three consecutive knee-downs by McNabb, each "good" for a loss of a yard. McNabb loses 0.3 fantasy points, costing Fantasy Owner X a win.
That might be a tad implausible, but what about the owner who lost by one, a margin that could have been made up by a single David Akers extra point? What about the owner who needed one more lousy point from Tony Romo, which he'd probably have gotten had the Cowboys had one more possession. Was this simply bad luck?
Luck is paramount in fantasy football, but the one thing we've always been able to count on is that professional football players will do anything to get on the highlight reels and pad their statistical résumés. Westbrook is, apparently, an exception to that rule. Or is he? Think about this for a second. If Westbrook had scored, the touchdown would have been a mere footnote to Week 15. Instead, his "unselfish act" will be replayed again and again and discussed ad nauseam. Perhaps Westbrook outsmarted us all, and Operation Collapse was actually a clever ploy by a master of self promotion, one eager to shift the focus from a team victory to an individual act of benevolence.
I see through your act, Benedict Westbrook! You may have been one of the top performers in fantasy football in 2007, but for many of your owners, your betrayal will never be forgotten!
With that said, I own Westbrook in one of my leagues but was fortunate enough to win despite his shenanigans, his chicanery and, most importantly, his tomfoolery. As such, I can appreciate his act for what it was: a selfless attempt to put his team ahead of himself. Kudos to you, Mr. Westbrook!
(Don't ever do it again.)
Stars fade away
A long-running mantra of fantasy pundits is "play your studs." Another is "dance with the girl you brought" (or "brung" in some cases). Unfortunately, anyone who followed that advice in Week 15 could well be watching Week 16 from the sidelines.
The top two players in fantasy this season are Tom Brady and Tony Romo, but both came up empty this week, right in the heart of the fantasy playoffs. Brady has scored exactly 100 more fantasy points than David Garrard this season, but Garrard easily outpaced him in Week 15. Romo has scored 200 more points than Cleo Lemon this year, but Brady and Romo were joined in infamy by Derek Anderson, the fourth-highest scoring quarterback for the season but only the 26th-best option in Week 15, so far. He may well find himself further humiliated by Kyle Orton and Tarvaris Jackson.
Unknown quantities lead the way
"So I am not about to risk major injury or deface this property for a collection of stiffs!" -- Roger Dorn in "Major League"
While Roger Dorn and the other "high-priced talent" took the week off, a collection of stiffs led the way in Week 15. Your No. 2 quarterback this week? Shaun Hill (197 yards, 1 TD, 1 rushing TD). Your No. 1 running back? Darren Sproles (122 yards, 2 TDs). Your No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 wide receivers? Roydell Williams (94 yards, 2 TDs), Greg Camarillo (109 yards, 1 TD) and Dennis Northcutt (81 yards, 1 TD). Your No. 4 tight end was someone named Kevin Boss (31 yards, 1 TD) and even the No. 1 guy, Tony Scheffler (100 yards, 1 TD) was owned in only 27 percent of ESPN leagues, and only one in five of his owners actually played him. Six of the 10 highest-scoring receivers in Week 15 were owned in less than 32 percent of leagues. A starting lineup of Brady, Barber, Shaun Alexander, Owens, Joey Galloway and Gates would have been dominated by a lineup of Hill, Sproles, Lorenzo Booker, Camarillo, Northcutt and Boss. Fantasy football it's FAAAANtastic!!!
Fargas eclipses 1,000 yards, injured
An improbable 1,000-yard season may have come to an end for Justin Fargas on Sunday, as he left the game with what the Contra Costa Times calls a sprained medial collateral ligament. Fargas is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday, but it seems unlikely that he'll play in the final two weeks. If his season is over, Fargas will finish with 1,009 yards, four touchdowns and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Fargas will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, so a serious injury will add another major question mark for the Raiders and any other potential suitors. The Raiders are expected to part ways with both LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes in the offseason and will need at least one veteran back to compete with Michael Bush, who missed his entire rookie season recovering from a broken leg suffered in his final season at Louisville. Jordan was inactive Sunday, which suggests that Rhodes is the back to get if you need help in the final two weeks, although you never can tell with Oakland. The Raiders play at Jacksonville and at home against San Diego in their last two games; neither is a great matchup on paper, but the Jags recently lost star defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and the Chargers may or may not have Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman back. As a team, the Raiders rank fifth in the NFL in rushing, so whoever starts for them is worth owning.
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: With three touchdown passes against the Steelers, Garrard now has seven in the past three weeks and 10 in the past five. He hasn't scored fewer than 15 fantasy points in a game since returning from his high ankle sprain in Week 11.
Dominic Rhodes, RB, Raiders: But if you play him, don't come crying to me.
Sinorice Moss, WR, Giants: Four of his career-high five receptions came after Jeremy Shockey left with a broken leg and dislocated ankle. With Shockey out for the season, Moss could have value in very deep point-per-catch leagues.
Studs and Duds
Stud: Drew Brees (315 yards, 2 TDs)
Honorable Mention: Ben Roethlisberger (146 yards, 3 TDs)
Dud: Tony Romo (214 yards, 0 TD, 3 INTs)
Dishonorable Mention: Tom Brady (140 passing yards, 0 TD, 1 INT)
Stud: Aaron Stecker (135 total yards, 2 TDs)
Honorable mention: Steven Jackson (170 total yards, 1 TD)
Dud: Shaun Alexander (23 total yards)
Dishonorable mention: Kevin Jones (18 total yards)
Stud: Marques Colston (8 catches, 114 yards, 1 TD)
Honorable mention: Andre Johnson (6 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD)
Dud: Terrell Owens (2 catches, 37 yards)
Dishonorable mention: Joey Galloway (1 catch, 7 yards)
Stud: Tony Scheffler (7 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD)
Dud: Antonio Gates (1 catch, 8 yards)
Stud: Mason Crosby (4 FGs, 3 PATs)
Dud: Jeff Wilkins (2 PATs, 0 FGs, 1 missed FG)
Team Defenses/Special Teams
Stud: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2 return TDs, 2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 sack, 3 points allowed)
Dud: Pittsburgh Steelers (1 takeaway, 0 sacks, 29 points allowed)
Quick thoughts on injuries not covered elsewhere. For detailed injury analysis, check out Stephania Bell's injury blog.
Tony Romo suffered a thumb injury and had X-rays taken, but the Dallas Morning News reports that the injury isn't serious.
Kyle Boller with a concussion and was replaced by 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Ravens could take a look at Smith in the final two games, even if Boller is cleared to play.
Kellen Clemens left with a rib injury after being driven to the ground while throwing his only pass -- an interception returned for a touchdown -- of the day. While the Jets called his return "probable" at the time, he never returned to the game.
There's no hotter player in the NFL right now than Fred Taylor. With 147 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries Sunday, Taylor now has four straight 100-yard games. He's averaging 6.9 yards per carry in his past four games and 5.1 YPC for the season. Taylor has never made a Pro Bowl in his career, and his recent surge is probably coming too late to get him there this year. That's not to say he isn't deserving. After LaDainian Tomlinson, Taylor should be right in the mix with Willie Parker, Willis McGahee, Joseph Addai and Jamal Lewis. I'd vote for Taylor and Addai to go with Tomlinson but couldn't fault anyone for arguing otherwise.
I can't remember the last player to go on a streak like the one Greg Jennings is on. He finds a way to get in the end zone every week, even though he isn't catching a ton of passes. Jennings is averaging a touchdown every 4.2 catches this season. Even the incomparable Randy Moss is averaging a touchdown "only" once every 4.6 receptions.
Don't get me wrong; we've seen crazy reception-to-touchdown ratios before (like Marc Boerigter's scoring eight touchdowns on 20 grabs in 2002), just not with a player who ranked among the elite fantasy options in the game.
Laurence Maroney had 100-plus yards and a touchdown in the same game for the first time all season. Late is better than never, but not much better.
Remember earlier this season when I kept referring to Cedric Benson as the worst running back in the NFL? Well, apparently, that didn't sit too well with a few people. Apparently, there are a few running backs determined to prove that they are, in fact, worse than young Cedric. So to you Shaun Alexander, and you Rudi Johnson, and you Warrick Dunn, I say this: Your objections are noted, and I hereby declare the title "worst running back in the NFL" to be vacant. The three of you have two more weeks to state your case, and the "victor" will defend the title against Mr. Benson in 2008.
Five early trends for Week 16
Jamal Lewis had 27 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals in Week 2. For his career, he has nine 100-yard performances in 12 games against Cincinnati.
Carson Palmer threw for 401 yards and six touchdowns in Week 2 against the Browns, and he has 18 touchdown passes in his past six games against Cleveland.
Brett Favre has only two touchdown passes in his past five games against the Bears.
Andre Johnson has never had as many as 60 yards in a game against the Colts and has only one touchdown in seven career contests.
Philip Rivers has thrown two touchdown passes in each of his past three games against the Broncos, while averaging 257 yards per game.
Nate Ravitz is an editor and analyst for ESPN.com Fantasy.
Nate Ravitz provides a quick-hitting summary of all Sunday's fantasy action, which included miserable performances by some of fantasy's best players and an unselfish act by Brian Westbrook that may have cost a number of his fantasy owners.