- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 AFC teams:
Buffalo Bills: Marshawn Lynch, who missed the Bills' Week 11 game because of a high ankle sprain, might be out again in Week 12, according to the team's Web site. Coach Dick Jauron said in his Monday news conference that he wasn't optimistic about the rookie running back's chances of playing against the Jaguars. "It is a substantial sprain and injury," said Jauron. "I'm not optimistic, but I wouldn't count him out because he's young and different." High ankle sprains are generally multi-week injuries, though, meaning Anthony Thomas likely will earn a second consecutive start. Thomas ran 11 times for a disappointing 31 yards in Week 11, while backup Dwayne Wright carried once and backup Fred Jackson three times, with no better results. Unfortunately for Thomas, et al, the Bills draw the Jaguars and Redskins, who are both tough up front, the next two weeks, limiting their fantasy appeal. ... Jauron also said Monday that J.P. Losman will get a third consecutive start at quarterback in Week 12. Losman completed 15 of 26 attempts for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Patriots in Week 11, losing for the first time in his past three starts. He'll get the call for a fourth straight week in a decision Jauron said was not injury-related. "Trent [Edwards] is pretty healthy, and that wrist is pretty much back," he said. With Losman struggling the past two weeks, though, he might be on a short leash against the Jaguars. Edwards could get another look before season's end.
Miami Dolphins: Ricky Williams, fresh off an 18-month suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, began his two-week roster exemption on Monday, lifting weights at the team's training facility, according to the team's Web site. He'll practice with the team for the first time Wednesday, and coach Cam Cameron said he'll wait until afterward to make a decision on Williams' status for Week 12 at Pittsburgh. Considering Williams has been inactive for so long, it might take the full two weeks before he's in playing shape, though he said this past Thursday that he has been working out seriously for the past month and a half. He's well worth stashing on your bench in deep fantasy leagues -- think 12-team formats with six or more bench spots -- but Williams' primary value in the season's final month might merely be as a handcuff to Jesse Chatman. ... Cameron also said Monday that he was pleased enough with John Beck (9 of 22 passes for 109 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 11) that the rookie will remain the team's starter. "I thought the ball went where it was supposed to go, and that's the first thing you have to do," said Cameron. "When the ball's going in the right place, then you just improve your accuracy, and that's what I told John." Nevertheless, Beck faces a steep climb in his adjustment to NFL competition and shouldn't be used even as a "matchups option" with such important fantasy weeks approaching.
New England Patriots: As in Week 8, when his Patriots held a five-plus-touchdown lead, coach Bill Belichick defended his decision to go for it twice on fourth down in Week 11, once in the opening drive of the second half, up 35-7, and again late in the third quarter, up 42-10. "Those situations, that point in the game, I really don't like kicking field goals," said Belichick during his Monday news conference, according to the Boston Globe. "I feel like that's just adding points, so I'd rather go for it on fourth down and give them an opportunity to stop us. Our offense moved the ball well, so give them an opportunity to keep playing." Each time, the Patriots converted, the first for a touchdown and the second for a first down on a drive that eventually resulted in a touchdown and, as in Week 8, fantasy owners aren't complaining. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski's owners are the only ones who might have a gripe with Belichick's decisions, but since Gostkowski ranks sixth among fantasy kickers with 79 points, what's the complaint? New England continues to maximize its scoring potential in all situations, and it's good to know Belichick has no interest in taking a conservative approach looking forward. ... Belichick also offered no update on the status of Laurence Maroney (foot) or Kevin Faulk (head), both of whom suffered injuries during Week 11. "We'll see how those guys are when we come out on Wednesday," said Belichick. Monitor the practice reports on Wednesday; Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel are the next highest on the depth chart if needed in Week 12.
New York Jets: The Newark Star-Ledger reported Monday that Laveranues Coles suffered a high left ankle sprain during the team's Week 11 game, making him doubtful to play in Thursday's Week 12 contest against the Cowboys. Of course, the Star-Ledger also noted its source had to speak anonymously because he isn't authorized to talk about injuries. Take that for what it's worth. Still, with the short turnaround this week, fantasy owners should prepare as if Coles won't play, meaning Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith will have to fill the void. That's probably bad news for Cotchery, though, since he managed only one catch for 5 yards on three targets, one of them an interception, after Coles' departure in Week 11. Pittsburgh increased its defensive attention on him, although coach Eric Mangini said during his Monday news conference that he refused to blame that on Coles' injury. "There may have been a greater awareness [on defending Cotchery]," said Mangini. "It's hard to say for sure, but so many things are tied into where they want to bring the pressure and where they want to bring the overload. I'd say that was probably the starting point, as opposed to purely Laveranues or Jerricho." Temper your expectations for Cotchery, who should be much easier for teams to defend with the less-experienced Smith starting alongside him.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens' pass rush took a bit of a hit in Week 11, as defensive tackle Trevor Pryce suffered an injured pectoral muscle. "The biggest concern [on the injury front] is Trevor Pryce," said coach Brian Billick during his Monday news conference, according to the team's Web site. "They're doing all the imaging right now to find out. It's a pectoral muscle, strained, tore, whatever. The prognosis right now isn't very good." Pryce had 15 sacks in his last 21 games, dating back to the start of last season, so downgrade the Baltimore pass defense a bit until he returns, which Billick says should come before season's end. ... Billick also said Monday he thought cornerback Samari Rolle (illness) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (foot) would return to practice this week. "Right now, based on their workouts and what they've done, it's our anticipation that both will fully participate in practice on Wednesday," said Billick. Rolle's return would help offset the loss of Pryce, so keep tabs on his mid-week practice reports. Wilcox, meanwhile, would enter the tight end mix along with Todd Heap and Quinn Sypniewski. If Heap sits again in Week 12, expect Wilcox and Sypniewski to share time.
Cincinnati Bengals: According to the team Web site, T.J. Houshmandzadeh left the Bengals' Week 11 contest in their next-to-last drive with a back injury, not a hip pointer, as some sources reported initially. He said after the game he was "hopeful but cautious" he'd be able to play in Week 12, and coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference that the star receiver might be limited during practice but is expected to play. Chris Henry, who has 12 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown in two games since returning from his suspension, is next in line to start if Houshmandzadeh (or Chad Johnson) is forced to sit. Henry is well worth having on a fantasy roster, even if relegated to his traditional No. 3 role in Week 12.
Cleveland Browns: During his Monday news conference, coach Romeo Crennel spoke highly of Jamal Lewis, who rushed 22 times for 92 yards and a touchdown in Week 11. "I thought Jamal ran really hard," said Crennel. "He was fired up about being able to go back to Baltimore and play. I think he had 80 yards (Lewis actually had 59) at the half." It's clear that Lewis' foot is back to 100 percent, and his Week 11 matchup against his former team, the Ravens, represented his final unappealing matchup. He's an underrated No. 2 option looking forward, and looking at his schedule (Week 12 versus Houston, 13 at Arizona, 14 at NY Jets, 15 versus Buffalo, 16 at Cincinnati and 17 versus San Francisco), he might even offer No. 1-caliber numbers. ... Crennel also said Monday that cornerback Eric Wright, who left the Week 11 contest with a sprained knee, had an MRI on Monday. "We're not going to know anything until [Tuesday] at the earliest," said Crennel. "It happened early in the game and we were able to survive without him. I know that he'll do everything he can to get back as soon as he can." The absence of Wright, the team's leader in tackles (68), would further hurt a Browns secondary that already ranks 31st in the league against the pass.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Though Willie Parker managed 21 carries for 52 yards (2.5 average) and no scores in a loss to the Jets in Week 11, coach Mike Tomlin said in his post-game news conference that he refused to place the blame on the team's offensive line. "You could finger-point, but we all accept responsibility for this one," said Tomlin. "That's the reality of football. That's the way I live football. It's the ultimate team sport. You win together, you stink it up together." Expect the Steelers to be fired up to put this terrible performance behind them; they battle the Dolphins (Week 12) and Bengals (13) the next two weeks, extremely favorable matchups for an offense looking for vengeance. ... Santonio Holmes left the Week 11 contest with a sprained right ankle, and Tomlin failed to update his status after the contest. Should Holmes miss further time, Hines Ward would become an even stronger fantasy option, while Nate Washington would earn a start and be a matchups consideration for your No. 3 wide receiver spot in larger leagues.
Houston Texans: In his Monday news conference, coach Gary Kubiak said Ahman Green's knee showed improvement Monday, though his status for Week 12 remains unclear. "Is he ready to all of a sudden go back and play this week? I don't think I can sit here and say that," said Kubiak. "It's going to be a day-to-day thing and it's something that we've got to take a hard, hard look at here over the course of this next week and probably one more week to see if he's going to be able to step up and help us again." With Green sidelined the past two games, Ron Dayne totaled 42 carries for 211 yards and a touchdown, establishing himself as the most productive option in the Houston backfield. Adimchinobi Echemandu, third in line to those two on the depth chart, disappointed in Week 11, fumbling on his only carry. With Green banged up and Echemandu's performance somewhat lacking the past two games, Kubiak said Monday he might activate former Notre Dame standout Darius Walker from the practice squad in the coming weeks. "I've seen him practice, and I think he deserves an opportunity to help the team," said Kubiak of Walker. "He's practiced really, really well. ... How much a chance he gets probably has a lot to do with Ahman and what happens here over the course of the next week or two, so we'll see." Fantasy owners shouldn't bother adding Walker, instead looking to Dayne as the most worthy fantasy option. But if Walker sneaks on to the roster, he'll be worth watching in keeper formats.
Indianapolis Colts: From the sound of it, things are looking up for the Colts on the health front. Coach Tony Dungy said during his Monday news conference that Anthony Gonzalez, sidelined the past two weeks with a broken thumb, could be back for the team's Week 12 contest against the Falcons on Thursday. He might be joined by offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (neck) and tight end Bryan Fletcher (calf). "We'll have a couple of guys back and at least be able to field 45," said Dungy, referring to his team having played with less than a full roster in Week 11. For fantasy, though, owners most want to hear about Marvin Harrison's status; the star receiver has missed five of the team's past six games with a knee injury. To that end, Dungy said Monday that Harrison might be able to play in Week 13 against the Jaguars, "but we'll see." Considering the Colts have been rather conservative with their injured players to this point, Harrison's owners shouldn't count on having him available in either of the next two weeks. All that does is help boost the fantasy stock of Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Wayne has 43 targets and Clark 21 over the past four weeks, and Clark missed one of those games.
Jacksonville Jaguars: David Garrard returned to the lineup with an impressive Week 11 performance, completing 15 of 24 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, extending his streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception to 172 on the season. That marked his fifth game with a 100-plus passer rating in seven starts, and it earned the praise of coach Jack Del Rio in his Monday news conference. "David gave us a big lift," said Del Rio. "He was sharp. It's great to have him back." Garrard's healthy return should bring more consistency to the Jacksonville offense, and he actually has been a better fantasy option than he has been given credit for, topping 12 points in six of his seven starts and averaging 10.7 per start. Don't expect elite numbers from him in any given week, but he's a useful weekly start in two-quarterback leagues and a fine, low-risk fill-in when you don't like your starter's matchup in standard leagues. ... Del Rio also said Monday that the team has released kicker John Carney and re-signed linebacker Jorge Cordova. Josh Scobee reclaimed the starting kicking duties in Week 11, and Cordova will provide depth after middle linebacker Mike Peterson suffered a broken hand in the third quarter of the Week 11 contest.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans were again without defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (hamstring) in Week 11, and for the second straight week, they allowed a big point total, this time 34 to the Broncos. That put them in the minus in terms of fantasy points for a second consecutive week; they have a combined minus-2 in those contests, allowing 62 points total and recovering only two fumbles, without an interception. Coach Jeff Fisher said during his post-game interview that he planned to take a conservative approach with his injured defenders, which also included cornerback Nick Harper in Week 11. "[Haynesworth is] a little closer than he was last week, but I didn't want to risk injury," said Fisher, according to the team's Web site. "I think Nick will have a good shot at coming back this week." Keep tabs on those two, as it's clear their absences have had a major impact on the team's fantasy prospects. A Week 12 matchup at Cincinnati, for instance, would make the Titans' defense a must-avoid without either player, and the Titans then draw the Texans (Week 13) and Chargers (Week 14), teams that can bring decent offensive firepower.
Denver Broncos: Apparently, Selvin Young won't be the only one getting a chance to carry the football should Travis Henry succumb to a year-long suspension in the next week. Young, who started in the Week 11 Monday night contest, ran 14 times for 54 yards before leaving with a knee injury. Backup Andre Hall then broke off a 62-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, finishing the contest with 89 yards on seven carries. "He was our last tailback, and Andre took advantage of his opportunity," said coach Mike Shanahan during his post-game news conference. "We needed a big play at that time, and that's one thing about the running game. You keep pounding and every once in a while you break one of those." Henry was inactive for Week 11 because of a knee injury and is awaiting the league's decision on results of a positive drug test. Assuming the NFL upholds their suspension, Young would immediately top the team's depth chart, although Hall capitalized on a great opportunity, making him a sleeper for the season's final month. Consider adding him, especially in light of Young's knee injury.
Kansas City Chiefs: Larry Johnson, out the past two weeks with a cracked bone in his foot, is awaiting test results from an MRI earlier this week. In his Monday news conference, coach Herm Edwards said he isn't planning on having his two-time Pro Bowler back for Week 12. "I assume he'll be out," he said. Priest Holmes, who has gotten the bulk of the workload in Johnson's absence, has amassed an underwhelming 120 yards on 39 carries (3.1 average) yet should continue to start as long as he remains healthy. Backup Kolby Smith, meanwhile, has 19 yards on 10 carries over the past two weeks. Rumors are beginning to swirl that Johnson might be done for the season, and some of Edwards' comments Monday might back up that notion. "This is not the team that you're going to see next year. There are going to be some changes," said Edwards. "We're going through a transition phase. That's a process." Johnson's owners should keep him around until more is known on the length of his absence, but if you're counting on him for your fantasy postseason, make sure you have a reliable backup plan.
Oakland Raiders: Though ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that rookie JaMarcus Russell likely would make his debut as an NFL starter on Dec. 2, perhaps leading to a five-game trial to round out the 2007 season, coach Lane Kiffin said during his post-game news conference Sunday that that's not necessarily the case. "That's a premature report," said Kiffin. "It's news to me, at least." Kiffin added that Daunte Culpepper is his starter for Week 12 against the Chiefs, though it's unclear in what direction the team will go the following week. With the Raiders at 2-8 and going nowhere, a switch to Russell seems logical in an effort to prepare for 2008. For fantasy, though, having a rookie quarterback at the helm of a struggling offense makes it highly unlikely much can be expected from this team in December. Russell is worth watching in keeper leagues if he does start this year, but downgrade all your Raiders -- if you haven't already -- if he's elevated to starter status.
San Diego Chargers: A day after seemingly questioning his teammates' commitment, All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman took a step backward from his comments Monday, according to the Associated Press, attributing his team's Week 11 loss to "little things" and miscommunication. "Sometimes I admit that my emotions get the most of me because I'm so [angry] from the game," said Merriman. "And I guess that's why the media come in with the cameras right after to make sure somebody's [angry]. I definitely was ticked off after the game, but I was more ticked off that we lost than anything, and didn't fully understand how we lost." Merriman, who led the league in sacks in 2006 (17), has a disappointing 5.5 this season and is in the midst of a four-game streak without one. He's one of the game's most talented individual defensive players (IDPs) but has struggled, along with many of his fellow Chargers defensemen (Antonio Cromartie aside). "After a game, it's so emotional, and these guys are so competitive, guys may say something and then all of a sudden see it the next day and say, 'Well, that's not exactly how this thing was meant to be perceived,'" said coach Norv Turner during his Monday news conference. Turner attributed Merriman's struggles to a lack of opportunity. It'll be interesting to see whether Merriman plays with renewed enthusiasm following his outburst; a hot streak could be coming.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.