Around the AFC: Garrard becoming a reliable option
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: As he did a week ago, coach Dick Jauron took a conservative approach during his Monday news conference regarding Marshawn Lynch's Week 14 availability. "Marshawn has made a lot of progress, and faster than we anticipated. But we're still up to the fourth game," said Jauron, according to the team's Web site. "We're hopeful, but I don't want to overstep it right now." Lynch, out since Week 10 because of a high ankle sprain, practiced Friday for the first time since getting hurt. "Last Friday was his first practice of any sort, and he just participated on a minor basis," Jauron said. "But he did OK. Hopefully these next few days the healing will go even further and he'll start testing it on Wednesday." Keep tabs on Lynch's practice sessions this week, but if he's unable to go, Fred Jackson, who totaled 151 yards in Week 13, could get a second straight start. Considering the Bills get the Dolphins and Browns, who both have weak run defenses, the next two weeks, Jackson could be a sleeper flex option.
Miami Dolphins: Jesse Chatman left the Dolphins' Week 13 contest after aggravating his ankle injury, and his Week 14 status wasn't clear Monday. "We'll give you an update on his status as the week moves along," said coach Cam Cameron during his Monday news conference, according to the team Web site. If Chatman sits, Samkon Gado likely would get the start, although he wouldn't get all of the running work. "It's going to be running back by committee," said Cameron on Sunday, according to the Palm Beach Post. Gado would sit atop the depth chart in that kind of arrangement, with Lorenzo Booker being second in line. Patrick Cobbs, originally expected to be Chatman's backup after Ricky Williams was lost for the season, is now No. 4 on the team's depth chart. "Patrick is doing a nice job on special teams, but we like Sam," said Cameron. "We see him as a physical runner. Obviously, you saw Lorenzo Booker play in our set package." With the Miami backfield looking so shaky right now, none of the four options is a trustworthy fantasy option. Chatman's owners can only hope he heals quickly enough to capitalize on favorable matchups in Weeks 14 at Buffalo and 17 against the Bengals. The Weeks 15 (versus Ravens) and 16 (at New England) matchups, though, should be avoided, regardless of who starts.
New England Patriots: The Tom Brady of yesteryear was seemingly back in Week 13, spreading the ball around to different receivers; his 18 completions were divided fairly evenly between eight different players. In particular, he praised Jabar Gaffney, who caught the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of the Monday night contest. "They dropped eight guys, and I saw Jab out of the side of my eye and laid it up," said Brady, according to the Boston Globe. "He made a great catch. I told him it was the best catch of his career. A helluva time to do it." Gaffney has seven catches for 95 yards and two scores the past two weeks combined, a representation of how Brady isn't as locked into locating only Randy Moss and Wes Welker as he seemed to be in the season's early weeks. Not that Gaffney warrants fantasy consideration outside of deep leagues when the matchup is extremely favorable, but don't be surprised if Brady's trend to use all his receivers, as he has in the past, continues and limits Moss' or Welker's statistical potential somewhat.
New York Jets: Laveranues Coles returned from an ankle injury with a five-catch, 69-yard performance in Week 13, although coach Eric Mangini indicated during his Monday news conference that his top receiver's health will need to be closely monitored in the coming weeks. "It's going to be an ongoing process with that," said Mangini, according to the team's Web site. "It's always like that with a wide receiver and any type of injury that affects the legs. They have to run fast and hard and have to be able to run after the catch and all that stuff, so it'll be an ongoing management of us continuing to give him the rehab and prep he needs and him working at it as well." With Jerricho Cotchery perhaps out for the season, Coles is Kellen Clemens' most reliable receiving target right now, and the schedule is somewhat favorable, with a game against the Browns next up. As a No. 2/3 receiver option, Coles should be a fine fantasy start, even at less than 100 percent, given the matchup.
Baltimore Ravens: Steve McNair's 2007 season, and perhaps his Ravens career, is over. The veteran quarterback will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. He was placed on injured reserve Monday, ending his season. Kyle Boller made his third consecutive start Monday night, with Troy Smith now locked in as his backup, an arrangement that could stick the remainder of the season. Boller passed for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Week 13, helping solidify his status as the team's starter, though his schedule isn't that appealing. He'll probably get four more starts, barring a disastrous outing or two, though with the Ravens set to face the Colts (Week 14), Seahawks (Week 16) and Steelers (Week 17), Boller and his receivers shouldn't be particularly useful fantasy choices the rest of the year.
Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer endured his worst performance of the season in Week 13, completing 17 of 44 pass attempts for 183 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, amounting to seven fantasy points. That continued one of the more frustrating spells of the young quarterback's career; he has averaged 266.5 passing yards with five touchdowns, five interceptions and four fumbles in his past four games, and has 266.4-13-13-5 numbers in those categories in his past 10 contests. "He was inconsistent, and we'll let it go at that," said coach Marvin Lewis during his Monday news conference. "Carson's a fine player, and he will be fine. We just have to make sure that we're protecting him when we need to protect him, and that he's on his mark and doing his job, and that we're in the right spots, whether it be the running game or passing game." Fortunately for Palmer, he faces an extremely favorable schedule for a passer the remainder of the season; the Bengals play the Rams, 49ers, Browns and Dolphins, with Miami being the only team ranked better than 20th against the pass.
Cleveland Browns: According to the team's Web site, Jamal Lewis said Monday that he took a shot to the ribs on his touchdown catch in the second quarter of the Week 13 contest. Though he said he should be fine in time for Week 14, keep tabs on him during the team's mid-week practice sessions. After all, Lewis ran six times for 17 yards after halftime, down from 10 carries for 45 yards (as well as three receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown) in the game's first half. He faces nothing but favorable matchups the remainder of the season: Week 14 at the Jets, 15 versus the Bills, 16 at the Bengals and 17 versus the 49ers, four teams that rank no better than 22nd defending the run (Bills, 116.4 ypg). A healthy Lewis should be a No. 1-caliber fantasy back the rest of the year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Willie Parker uncharacteristically fumbled twice in a mediocre Week 13 effort, also rushing 28 times for 87 yards (3.1 average) and no scores. It marked his third game of posting lower than a 3.5 yards-per-carry average in the past four weeks. "I have a lot of concerns," said coach Mike Tomlin of Parker during his postgame news conference, according to the team's Web site. "I don't have enough time to give you the laundry list. Willie is our featured ball carrier. He's got to hold onto the ball. He is a professional and he's done a great job to this point." Parker was fortunate, though, that primary backup Najeh Davenport was unavailable for the game, battling what Tomlin called discomfort and numbness in his foot. Though Tomlin was unwilling to speculate on whether Davenport might have gotten some additional work in relief of a struggling Parker, it'll be something to watch in the coming weeks. Parker and the Steelers now face back-to-back tough matchups for a running back -- Week 14 at the Patriots, Week 15 versus the Jaguars -- so temper your expectations slightly for Parker in the short term.
Houston Texans: All indications are that Matt Schaub, who dislocated his left shoulder in Week 13, will miss at least one week and perhaps more. "It sure looks like he's going to miss some time," said coach Gary Kubiak in his Monday news conference. "Whether we're talking about the next four weeks or not, I don't think we're at that stage. I think it's very hopeful that he does come back and play some more this year, but it's going to be day-to-day, and it's not very good today." Sage Rosenfels will almost certainly get the start in Week 14, and in any other games Schaub misses. But the remaining schedule isn't all that great; the Texans battle the Buccaneers in Week 14 and the Colts in Week 16. ... Kubiak also said Monday that a decision on putting Ahman Green on injured reserve might be made shortly. "I think we're definitely at a week this week where the decision or the process needs to be sped up," said Kubiak. "We're going to see where he's at Wednesday, but I think it's pretty important that he gets on the field this week. If not, then we're probably going to have to make a decision." It's looking fairly likely Green's season is indeed over, or at least his season as a viable fantasy option, and it's not unthinkable that his Texans career could be done, too.
Indianapolis Colts: In his Monday news conference, coach Tony Dungy offered no further update on the status of Marvin Harrison, oft-rumored to be out the remainder of the regular season. Still, judging by Dungy's comments, and with the team's playoff berth all but assured, it seems there's no hurry to rush the All-Pro receiver back into the lineup until he's 100 percent. "[The Week 14] game gives us a chance to be a little more conservative with a lot of people, if we need to be," said Dungy, who did say his team will press on as the season draws to a close, so as to not lose that No. 1 or 2 seed. "One or two seed is definitely a big step up from the third seed because it gives you basically a free game," said Dungy. "I think our goals will be very clear for the last month of the season.'' With the Colts up a game on the 9-3 Steelers, expect them to keep rolling out their top lineup (not rest healthy stars) until they've formally clinched the AFC's No. 2 seed.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Coach Jack Del Rio, when asked in his Monday news conference whether his team was ready to join the elite level of NFL teams, heaped praise on his quarterback, David Garrard. "We've shown we're capable of playing with anybody. To become [elite], you have to win those sort of games," Del Rio said in reference to the team's Week 13 contest at Indianapolis. "In order to be part of that conversation, you have to have a quarterback playing at a high level. We have that right now. We're really happy with the way No. 9 is developing." Previously known as more of a game manager and less of an appealing fantasy choice, Garrard has averaged 247.3 passing yards with five touchdowns and one interception in three games since returning from a high ankle sprain. He has managed 15 fantasy points twice and 16 points this past week, each time ranking among the top 12 quarterbacks for the week. Garrard's schedule dictates how you'll use him; he draws the Steelers and Raiders in Weeks 15-16, but the way he has developed this season, he's easily a useful starter in Weeks 14 (versus Panthers) and 17 (at Houston).
Tennessee Titans: LenDale White suffered a lacerated and dislocated finger during Week 13, although coach Jeff Fisher said in his Monday news conference that he was confident White won't miss any time. "He'll probably be cranky during the week, but I don't think it will keep him from playing," said Fisher, according to the team's Web site. Chris Brown ran 11 times for 46 yards and a score in relief of White and would be called upon to start should White miss any time. White's owners should look to add Brown for handcuff purposes during their fantasy playoffs, keeping in mind the Titans face nothing but bottom-half run defenses in the final four weeks. ... Fisher said Monday that the most significant Week 13 development on the injury front was Brandon Jones, who left after bobbling a catch on the sidelines. "We'll have to do some tests," said Fisher. "It's kind of a groin-related injury that we'll have to examine. He may miss some time; we don't know as of yet." Should Jones sit out, Justin Gage and Roydell Williams would benefit, especially in light of the fact that Vince Young has averaged 36 pass attempts the past four weeks. Keep both in mind as No. 3 options with a possible boost in their number of targets.
Denver Broncos: In his Monday news conference, coach Mike Shanahan said Javon Walker saw an increase in his workload in Week 13, playing 20-25 snaps, up from about eight the week before. "He does look better," said Shanahan, according to the team's Web site. Unfortunately, Shanahan added that it's "hard to say" whether Walker will return to a full-timer's workload this season. Walker has one catch for seven yards on four total targets in two games since returning from knee surgery in Week 12, not close to a reliable fantasy wide receiver's numbers. He'll need a rebound -- and a significant boost in snaps -- in Week 14 against the Chiefs to be even a matchups play in Weeks 15 at Houston or 17 against the Vikings. ... Shanahan had nothing new Monday on the status of Selvin Young, who bruised his arm Sunday. "It's hard to tell before we get back on the [practice] field," said Shanahan of Young's Week 14 status. Travis Henry managed 15 carries to Young's seven (and nine total touches) in the game, and the two might share the workload looking forward, assuming full health for both and Henry's continued avoidance of a much-rumored suspension. That limits their appeal for fantasy.
Kansas City Chiefs: Despite his sitting out Week 13 with a back injury, Brodie Croyle is apparently viewed as the Chiefs' starter when healthy. "We're hoping he's our future quarterback," said coach Herm Edwards during his Monday news conference, according to the Kansas City Star. Croyle also told the Star that he has every intention of returning to action in Week 14. "There's no doubt in my mind," said Croyle. "I have to get cleared. I have to pass all the stuff. Hopefully we'll get cleared to go." Croyle hasn't done anything to warrant fantasy consideration to date, meaning he's not worth looking at during these key weeks, and you should temper your expectations somewhat with Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez in games he starts, too. Gonzalez, for instance, had 20 receptions for 249 yards and one score in Weeks 9 and 13, games Damon Huard played, but only 10 catches total for 123 yards and no touchdowns in Weeks 10-12 working with Croyle.
Oakland Raiders: For yet another week, coach Lane Kiffin was unwilling to name a starting quarterback for Week 14 during his Monday news conference. "There's a bunch of things to look at," said Kiffin, according to the Oakland Tribune. "I don't know the health of Daunte [Culpepper] right now. Josh [McCown] took a number of hits yesterday. We'll look at him, and I'll have more for you on that [Wednesday]." Kiffin's comments do appear to indicate that rookie JaMarcus Russell won't make his first career start, as does the fact that it's a road game (at Green Bay) with potentially poor weather conditions. Regardless of who starts, fantasy owners shouldn't want any of the three Oakland quarterbacks, nor their receivers, in such important weeks of the season. ... Kiffin was unwilling to speculate Monday on a possible increase in snaps should Russell have driven the Raiders to a touchdown in limited action in Week 13. "I don't know that answer because it didn't happen," said Kiffin. "But the only thing I can say on that is this was the plan. The plan was two series unless they were really short or one series was really long." Clearly, Kiffin is taking a conservative approach to developing the rookie, meaning we might not see much more than a few series out of him looking forward, and perhaps a start in the Week 17 home game.
San Diego Chargers: In his Monday news conference, coach Norv Turner praised the performance of fullback Lorenzo Neal, who helped LaDainian Tomlinson to one of his finest statistical efforts of the season in Week 13. Tomlinson rushed 23 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns, with his 31 fantasy points ranking second only to his Week 6 performance, when he tore up the Raiders for 198 yards and four scores on the ground. "It goes hand in hand," said Turner, according to the team's Web site. "When [Neal] plays at that level, it helps LT." In spite of a relatively disappointing season, Tomlinson remains second among running backs in fantasy points for the season (215, three behind Brian Westbrook), and his remaining schedule is rather favorable. He gets the Titans and Lions, two struggling run defenses of late, the next two weeks, then the Broncos and Raiders, who rank 31st (149.1 ypg) and 30th (148.0 ypg) and have allowed 30 total touchdowns this year.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.