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The Big Rotowski: Resetting rankings for fantasy playoffs

12/2/2008

Editor's Note: These rankings are meant to capture fantasy value from today through the end of the NFL regular season. We'll publish them every Tuesday during the season to help you decide about trades and waiver-wire acquisitions; as such, this list won't always reflect news that comes out later in the week. And remember, every Wednesday you'll find week-specific rankings from all our fantasy football writers.

Notes: After taking a week off because of Thanksgiving, the Big Rotowski is back with a playoff look. With a two-week break, I've tried to really "un-learn" some things, and focus on who's playing well and whose schedules look good. … I think the first three guys on this list have separated themselves, and if Drew Brees wasn't pretty much matchup-proof, I'd be tempted to make it a Big Two. Kurt Warner (STL, MIN, @NE, SEA) has four potentially good opponents, with the final two being particularly alluring, and Jay Cutler (KC, @CAR, BUF, @SD) isn't far off. Brees is worse (ATL, @CHI, @DET, CAR) but not horrible. … Donovan McNabb overcame his momentary benching to shine against the Cardinals on Thanksgiving, and once he gets over this week's game at the Giants, he goes CLE, @WAS, DAL, which is slightly favorable. … The Colts should have a few laughers before a potentially meaningful season finale, but Peyton Manning's play has continued to disappoint, and believe it or not the Lions, Jags and Titans (his final three opponents) have been negative matchups for opposing fantasy quarterbacks over the past five weeks. … Tony Romo is playing well, but has to run a gauntlet: @PIT, NYG, BAL, @PHI. … Brett Favre hasn't played wonderfully, but his schedule is fantastic: @SF, BUF, @SEA, MIA. … Matt Cassel was terrible against the Steelers, but he's got @SEA, @OAK, ARI, @BUF. The Seahawks and Cardinals, in particular, give you definite chances to use him again. … The best schedule for a usable fantasy player (i.e., not Marc Bulger) is Chad Pennington: @BUF, SF, @KC, @NYJ. Pennington is only the 17th-best quarterback in fantasy over the past five weeks, but he'll have a shot to make some plays. … The two big sufferers during my reset were Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Rivers has fallen off a cliff; he's 19th among fantasy quarterbacks the past five games, and gets OAK, @KC, @TB, DEN. Only the Chiefs might present a chance for Rivers to be a sure starter. As for Big Ben, he's 22nd among fantasy quarterbacks the past five weeks, and plays DAL, @BAL, @TEN, CLE. If you're still alive in Week 17, use him. … I wish I could put the surging Joe Flacco higher, but he goes WAS, PIT, @DAL, JAC. Not nice, and most definitely not the Bengals (Week 13's opponent). … All evidence points to Matt Schaub getting his job back in Week 14, which would send Sage Rosenfels back to the bench. Each of the Texans' upcoming opponents (@GB, TEN, @OAK, CHI) has been tough on fantasy quarterbacks in recent weeks. … As of this writing, it was unclear whether Trent Edwards would be able to go with his bad groin.

Notes: I'm mighty tempted to make Brandon Jacobs the top player in fantasy right now, but those injury shenanigans the Giants played in Arizona a couple of weeks ago give me pause. As it is, though, Jacobs has only failed to score once in his past nine starts, including six scores in the past four weeks. He's got a tough schedule (PHI, @DAL, CAR, @MIN), but he, too, is matchup-proof. … Lots of upheaval near the top, partly because of injuries, and partly because of good recent play and nice schedules. Matt Forte goes JAC, NO, GB, @HOU: not an elite run defense among them. Michael Turner is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns and goes @NO, TB, @MIN, STL. If the Williams boys in Minnesota are suspended, that schedule looks even sweeter. … Of all the used-to-be-elite backs, you'd think LaDainian Tomlinson would be one I bury even deeper, but he's got a kind schedule in three of four weeks: OAK, @KC, @TB, DEN. Skip the Bucs if you can, but otherwise, LT looks good for a least a cheapie score. … Brian Westbrook now has an injured toe to go with his knee and ankle. He also has all three NFC East foes left, which isn't inviting. … Marion Barber's toe could keep him out against Pittsburgh this week, and after that the schedule stays horrible: NYG, BAL, @PHI. Eesh. That's the worst schedule for an opposing rusher left this season. … Clinton Portis only carried it 11 times this week against the Giants, and spent a lot of time with Washington's trainer. He hasn't scored since Week 7, he isn't healthy, and his schedule is almost as bad as Barber's: @BAL, @CIN, PHI, @SF. Believe it or not, the Bengals and Niners are stopping the run pretty well lately, though those would be two games where you'd probably want to use Portis no matter what. … Joseph Addai has a sweet schedule (CIN, DET, @JAC, TEN), but why are the Colts using Dominic Rhodes in the red zone? … Peyton Hillis takes the biggest upward bounce. He's fantasy's ninth-highest-scoring back the past five weeks, with five touchdowns and a powerful downhill style. Methinks Mike Shanahan has settled on Hillis for the duration. … I wanted to put Ryan Grant higher, because I love his remaining schedule (HOU, @JAC, @CHI, DET), but he didn't play in the fourth quarter Sunday because of a sprained thumb. If he can't go this week in a nice matchup against the Texans, Brandon Jackson could be worth a spot start. … Ronnie Brown can't be considered a No. 1 fantasy back as long as Ricky Williams gets 12 carries to Brown's 15 every week (as happened Sunday). … Very quietly, Kevin Smith is starting to run well behind what is, let's face it, not a very good Detroit O-line. If those Vikings defensive tackles are suspended next week, a skein of MIN, @IND, NO, @GB doesn't look daunting at all for Smith. … Now that the Ken Dorsey era has begun in Cleveland, you can pretty much stick a fork in Jamal Lewis, I think. … Tim Hightower has a not-insane schedule (STL, MIN, @NE, SEA) but he has a total of 194 rushing yards in the past five weeks combined, four fewer than Cedric Benson. … Pierre Thomas figures to cut into Reggie Bush's value in a major way. I have to believe that at some point, Bush will get more than zero rushing yards (which was his Week 13 tally), but Thomas is the better player right now and will continue to be a drain. I won't be shocked to move Thomas over Bush in this list next week.

Notes: I'll go with the Cardinals duo at the top of my board. Their remaining schedule, like Warner's, should be conducive to big days. … Brandon Marshall requires something of a leap of faith; he hasn't surpassed 98 yards receiving since Week 3. But the Broncos will keep throwing, and they've got a favorable schedule. … I hiked Calvin Johnson because he, too, seems basically matchup-proof, and because he's got a whopping 50 targets the past five weeks (behind only Anquan Boldin, Marshall and Braylon Edwards). … Randy Moss was as much to blame for the Patriots' flameout against Pittsburgh as anyone; he had two unbelievably bad drops on what would have been touchdowns. But he's getting open, and New England has a kind schedule against the pass. … Reggie Wayne didn't do anything in back-to-back sweet matchups against the Chargers and Browns, and is bound to Peyton Manning's inconsistencies. I probably wouldn't sit him, but his terrific schedule doesn't look so rewarding anymore. … In my weekly ranks two weeks ago, I put Lance Moore ahead of Marques Colston, and while Moore did score a touchdown for the fifth straight game, Colston was the real star, catching six passes for 106 yards. Still, defenses pay closer attention to Colston, so I'd rather use Moore. He's the end-zone man. … Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles have been disappointing over the past month, but along with Favre's great schedule, I see big things ahead for this duo, beginning in Week 14 against the 49ers. It's a pain to figure out which one will be big in a given week, but they'll each be decent. … Donald Driver has actually out-targeted Greg Jennings 35-34 over the past five weeks, and while Jennings is the more likely touchdown-maker, Driver is an intriguing play when he goes against the Texans, Jaguars and Bears the next three games. … Wes Welker got crushed by an illegal hit from Steelers DB Ryan Clark and missed the rest of the game Sunday, so he'll likely be questionable heading to the West Coast this week. … Braylon Edwards appears well-nigh useless with Ken Dorsey playing quarterback for the Browns. … I haven't ranked Plaxico Burress, whose self-inflicted gunshot wound reportedly isn't severe, but who's in a heap of legal trouble. There's no word yet on whether Plax will be allowed to play again this year, so for the moment, I've omitted him. Amani Toomer figures to be a more consistent contributor in Burress' absence, but Domenik Hixon is a better big-play threat. … With Greg Camarillo out for the year, Ted Ginn Jr. rises, but note that Davone Bess (who just missed this list) is also worth consideration, as he grabbed six passes versus the Rams on Sunday. … Deion Branch got 11 targets on Thanksgiving, compared to six for Bobby Engram and five for Koren Robinson. … Isaac Bruce has a touchdown in two straight weeks.

Notes: Not only is Tony Gonzalez clearly the No. 1 tight end in football right now, but he also has the most favorable schedule for tight ends. He'll play the Broncos, Chargers and Bengals in the season's final month, each of which has struggled at linebacker in a major way this season. … After Gonzo, of course, we're looking at a muddle in which no one can be counted on for weekly production. I left Antonio Gates and Jason Witten in their customary high spots because they always have the potential to give you a fantasy-game-changing performance, though those have been few and far between lately. … Dustin Keller has become a must-start; he's tied for second in targets among tight ends over the past five weeks, and many of those targets have come far down the field. … Zach Miller is the only guy JaMarcus Russell feels comfortable with, so he's a borderline No. 1 fantasy tight end most weeks. … Jeremy Shockey has 17 catches on his 26 targets the past four weeks, but is still looking for his first touchdown as a Saint. I think he'll get it sooner rather than later. … Kevin Boss has four touchdowns in six games and pretty consistently gets between four and eight targets most weeks. That's pretty good, especially with the new, more circumspect Eli Manning. … Brent Celek is starting these days for the Eagles in place of L.J. Smith.

Notes: The Cowboys have a tough schedule, but DeMarcus Ware is evidently all right, and they're playing very well. The return of Adam Jones should help their corner depth, too. … The Falcons have come on strong with 12 sacks, two touchdowns and a safety in their past five contests. Plus they have a schedule mostly comprised of less-than-frightening offenses: @NO (OK, that's an exception), TB, @MIN, STL. … The Cardinals have my favorite schedule for a fantasy defense the rest of the way: STL, MIN, @NE, SEA. The Vikings make big plays, but they also turn it over like crazy. … How about the Colts' next three games: CIN, DET, @JAC? Love it. Just sit 'em in that last one against the Titans. … The Vikings would be a lot higher on this list, but I'm paranoid about the defensive tackles potentially being gone. … The Patriots are just awful in the secondary. Deltha O'Neal is maybe the worst starter in the NFL. (Jason David? Anything to say in your defense?) I had the Patriots way too high a couple of weeks ago.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.