The Breakdown: Week 11
Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings Friday.
A couple of weeks ago, I went for the cheap gag (shocking, I know) that comes with the name of Atlanta's substitute right tackle, Tyson Clabo (still love that moniker). But here's a dirty secret I've learned in the past couple of weeks: Clabo is good. The second-year undrafted Wake Forest grad was billed as a guard coming into this season, but he's a big, nasty tackle on whom the Falcons will rely for years. He stood up to Julius Peppers really well last Sunday. Clabo's emergence has something to do with Warrick Dunn's performance (as does the return of Todd Weiner at the pass-protecting left tackle spot) and gives hope to an Atlanta franchise that's won two straight.
Fantasy Up: Alge Crumpler finally got back on the field in Week 10 and scored the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left. Now, Crump had only one other catch, and Atlanta already was in game-winning field goal range, but if you started him, you're not complaining. He's usable, but realize Tampa allows the fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... If Jon Gruden is to be believed, Earnest Graham will continue to start, despite the return of Michael Pittman. (And remember, Michael Bennett might get mixed in, too.) For now, I have Graham as a very weak second running back option, simply because there have been too many times this year when a coach said one thing, then played musical backs come game time. For sure, if you can convince yourself Graham really will get a full load, he deserves to be higher against a weak Atlanta rush defense. I think it's more likely all three guys do decent work and add up to a big ground day. ... I see no reason not to keep riding Dunn. Jerious Norwood might return, but Dunn got 26 carries after having 27 in Week 9. You like seeing him score on one of his old-time draw plays, but don't make the mistake of thinking Dunn is dominant; of his final 17 runs in Week 10, nine went for 1 yard or less.
Fantasy Down: Byron Leftwich is back at practice, and as of this writing, Bobby Petrino hasn't announced his starting quarterback. I'm betting it's Leftwich, which would benefit Roddy White's downfield routes. Still, don't start either. ... I have Jeff Garcia as my No. 13 quarterback this week, so in 12-team leagues, for me, he's just outside starter-hood. The Falcons have been sixth-toughest against opposing signal-callers the past five weeks.
Maybe I need to stop writing that Willis McGahee is a good back who struggles to get in the end zone. I still believe it's true, but McGahee has touchdowns in four straight games (despite exceeding 61 yards rushing only once in that time). Long term, the Ravens probably will continue to be eminently frustrating on offense, but you keep using McGahee, who hasn't even called himself the best back in football yet this year.
Fantasy Up: Don't be afraid of Cleveland's passing game getting shut down in Charm City. The Browns' O-line has continued to play extremely well despite missing Seth McKinney. No one rushes on Pittsburgh, but this unit allowed zero sacks despite 35 Derek Anderson pass attempts. Anderson didn't play very well, but that's on him. He'll be better against the Ravens' hobbled secondary. And while Braylon Edwards caught only one pass, it was a touchdown -- and what a toe-tapping catch. Use him, too. ... With Steve McNair finally deposed, it's possible Derrick Mason and/or Mark Clayton accrue some fantasy value; I have them both as decent No. 3 fantasy wideouts this week. Indeed, those caught in a pickle with quarterback injuries could try Kyle Boller, because if the Browns proved one thing against Pittsburgh last week, it's that they still can't defend the pass. Rookie corner Eric Wright had some moments, and he looks better than he did earlier in the season, but I expect Boller to have all day to throw. This could be a shootout if Cleveland breaks ahead early.
Fantasy Down: Bench Jamal Lewis. What he gave you against Pittsburgh (16 carries, 35 yards, one lost fumble) is about what he's likely to give you Sunday. The Ravens aren't what they were on defense, but one thing they still can do is stop the run; they've allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing backs the past five weeks. ... Chris McAlister is expected to play for the first time in a month, but Samari Rolle (who isn't great anyway) probably will be out at the Ravens' other corner spot. For the first time since I've been doing this, I've got Baltimore's defense rated outside my top 12. I'd sit 'em if I could afford it.
In my eyes, the value Chris Henry brings to the Cincy offense is running straight down the field. The Bengals seem to prefer to get him way out wide and have him sprint past an opposing corner, drawing the attention of whichever safety is near him. That gives Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh room to maneuver on digs and crosses. The Arizona pass defense has given up big plays (Steve Smith, Joey Galloway and Roy Williams have lit 'em up the past four games), so I'd start Johnson and Housh, although I might sit Henry himself unless I was in a three-receiver league.
Fantasy Up: I'd also use Carson Palmer, of course, but the Cards have been stingier to quarterbacks. They have six picks in their past five games and haven't allowed a 300-yard passer in that span. Palmer should score but might make a few mistakes, too. ... After getting torched in consecutive games by Willie Parker and Marshawn Lynch, the Bengals stood up to Willis McGahee well last week, perhaps because they laughed at the notion of Steve McNair beating them deep. That won't be the case Sunday, which is why I'd definitely start Edgerrin James. ... Larry Fitzgerald will get a corner and a safety or linebacker in his vicinity on every route Sunday, because Cincy will see what everyone else has: Anquan Boldin isn't right. He can't run. Fitz scored one of his two touchdowns in garbage time last week, but hey, they all count the same. ... Shayne Graham sure won a bunch of fantasy games in Week 10 with seven field goals. But is there anything more knee-to-the-groin than losing a game that way?
Fantasy Down: The Cardinals have been Jekyll and Hyde against the run; on Sunday, I'm betting on Jekyll. Detroit wasn't even a fair test; ridiculously, the Lions ran it exactly eight times in Week 10. The Cards were good against Washington (despite Clinton Portis's two short touchdowns), but they got torched against Earnest Graham and (gulp) DeAngelo Williams. But with tackle Willie Anderson out for Cincy, I'd stay away from Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson. ... I told you Kurt Warner would be big against Detroit, and he's startable against Cincy, too, but I hate the fact that he's either too injured or too incompetent to stay in for all of Arizona's offensive plays. Tim Rattay played enough to vulture a touchdown pass from Warner. ... Defensive end Bertrand Berry is out for the season with a torn triceps, which hurts what's been a pretty good Arizona pass rush, and big-as-a-house safety Adrian Wilson sounds highly doubtful with leg injuries. I suggested you use the Cardinals' D last week, but no way in Week 11.
The latest trend NFL coaches are using to get struggling running games going: three-receiver sets. That never has been on display more than last week, when the Packers trotted Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones out on play after play, and continued to give the ball on sweeps and off-tackles to Ryan Grant (25 carries, 119 yards, after I wrote, "Leave him on your bench"). Minnesota played nickel in such situations and couldn't get Grant to the ground. Carolina is bad against the run, so I'm not ruling out another starter-worthy day from Grant, but you have to believe the Panthers won't be caught unaware by the three-receiver trick.
Fantasy Up: Brett Favre owners have horseshoes lodged in their posteriors. That last touchdown pass to Ruvell Martin last Sunday was a hilariously inept decision on Favre's part, but two Minnesota defenders bumped into one another, and the ball bounced harmlessly off them and into Martin's waiting mitts. I'm telling you: It might not show up this week or next, but Favre's erratic play will get Green Bay in trouble at some point. ... Start the Packers' D. In fact, I have them as my No. 1 option for the week. Considering Carolina's offensive line has been below average and they don't really have a viable NFL quarterback or running back, the recipe is there for another standout showing by Green Bay. You can bet Atari "Flambé" Bigby will be up near the line again as he was against Brooks Bollinger last week, daring Carolina to beat the Pack deep. ... Maybe, just maybe, if the Packers concentrate a little too much on the run, someone will get the ball deep to Steve Smith. Vinny Testaverde made a concerted effort to get the ball Smith's way in Week 10, but it rarely was very far downfield. Still, I think you have to start Smith on upside alone.
Fantasy Down: Oh, goody, multiple question marks at the Panthers' skill positions. It remains to be seen whether Testaverde, who had accuracy problems last week, or David Carr, who is very, very bad at football, will start at quarterback. In addition, as of this writing, DeShaun Foster hasn't been able to practice with turf toe, making him questionable. DeAngelo Williams will start in his place but won't be anything better than a flex play. ... Just say no to the Carolina defense.
I put Drew Brees at No. 2 among quarterbacks last week, and while he did finish 11th among fantasy signal-callers in Week 10, he played quite a bit worse than that. Two picks killed the Saints in the first half, giving St. Louis extra possessions with which to destroy corner Jason David (I say it every week, but there might not be a worse "big-money" corner in the NFL than David), and the indecision was back once again, aided by St. Louis using middle linebacker Will Witherspoon as a pass-rusher on nearly every play. The Texans got better against the pass after rookie Fred Bennett worked his way past DeMarcus Faggins, but now that Dunta Robinson is out for the season, I say you have to start Brees again.
Fantasy Up: Reggie Bush practiced without restraint Wednesday, which means he probably will be fine for a great matchup against a Texans defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing backs all season. No doubt, Houston will key on him, but it will be tough with such a decimated secondary. ... Andre Johnson is back, and I'm starting him right away. Matt Schaub, too. Schaub's concussion isn't a factor any longer, while AJ's knee might be, but the Texans have to be excited by the way St. Louis passed the ball up and down the field last Sunday. Even Kevin Walter continues to make a strong flex play. ... I'd keep using David Patten as a No. 3 fantasy wideout, too. There shouldn't be too many healthy bodies on the Houston defense, and Marques Colston will draw a crowd.
Fantasy Down: Ahman Green practiced this week and is expected to go Sunday, but many of the injured Saints defenders who missed the St. Louis game (chief among them defensive end Charles Grant) will return (although defensive tackle Brian Young won't), and I don't trust Green's knee one iota. Could this statement bite me in the butt? Sure. But I think you're crazy to use Green in your fantasy lineup Sunday. ... By the same token, I'm also nervous about using the Saints' defense. Last week, I wrote, "Late word has Grant and Young out of Sunday's game, but I can't help it: I still like the Saints." That proved to be terrible advice, as New Orleans couldn't muster enough of a pass rush to protect David. Grant's return helps, but I like Houston's offensive personnel when they're healthy. I'm benching the Saints' D.
I think I'm right about some things. You might not agree, but honestly, I believe it. One whiff of mine, though, was believing the Chiefs' O-line would stand up this season. It hasn't. Oh, they've stayed remarkably healthy. They just aren't good, especially at tackle. Damion McIntosh always was going to be the key; if he could play, they'd be all right. But McIntosh has shown exactly as much as he showed in Miami: nothing. The run-blocking hasn't been terrible -- it's the pass-blocking. Man, it nearly got Damon Huard killed last week. Now, they will set their sights on protecting Brodie Croyle. Good luck, Brodie.
Fantasy Up: What can I say? I have faith in Peyton Manning. I don't always love his on-field antics, but he'll shake off last Sunday night and pick on old nemesis Ty Law all day. ... The Chiefs' job Sunday will be to run directly at Simeon Rice for as many plays as he's on the field. If Dwight Freeney (out for the season with a foot injury) is disinclined to stay home and defend the run, Rice is a veritable "Hogan's Heroes" tunneler. I'd use Priest Holmes. He looked much more explosive than I expected. ... All that said, I think Indy's defense will make a statement Sunday and is worth a spot-start. Croyle doesn't step into his throws, which means his ball will sail. In the Dome, I think this will make for a turnover-prone game against corners who willl have to play more man than usual while Bob Sanders steps forward to defend the run. Better offenses are going to test Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. This one won't.
Fantasy Down: Chiefs offensive coordinator Mike Solari calls plays like a former offensive line coach, which is to say he doesn't act as though he's got a holistic view of his offense. The only thing working last week was the run game, so why did he come out and throw four straight times to start the second half, which led to an interception and a fumble? Why did he pick that week, against Denver's abysmal rush defense, to change his game plan and throw? I know, it's easy to criticize after the fact, and the Chiefs definitely have needed an injection of aggression in '07, but it seemed to come at all the wrong moments last week. Anyway, bench Croyle, and I'd think long and hard before using Dwayne Bowe.
Each team would like to impose its will via the running game. And each team is missing a stud defensive tackle who could stop said running game. Lost amid Quinn Gray's mediocrity is that the Jags won two of three games on their "road trip," and I believe in Jacksonville's tenacity more than I believe in San Diego's. I think both starting rushers (LaDainian Tomlinson and Maurice Jones-Drew) will be worth starting (and Fred Taylor is a good flex), but when push invariably comes to shove, the Jags will stick with what they do best longer. It'll serve them well.
Fantasy Up: Neither of these defenses lights my world on fire this week, and that's a shame. First up, San Diego won't even have NFL interception leader Antonio Cromartie in the starting lineup, although he'll no doubt see the field a fair amount if and when the Chargers ever go nickel. Quentin Jammer, who's had longer stretches of good play this season than I can remember in past seasons, returns from his hammy; Drayton Florence is the one I'm less sure about. As for the Jags, I like 'em better than the Chargers, but missing Marcus Stroud, they still scare me. I think they'll throw everything they can at LT, and if they get the lead, they'll be fantasy monsters, per usual. But the risk is high, because if San Diego gets ahead, I don't trust Jacksonville's hobbled D not to crumble. ... Antonio Gates had his second straight disappointing game against Indianapolis and was blanketed every time the Chargers got near the end zone. But you're not benching him, ever.
Fantasy Down: The opportunity should be there for Philip Rivers to do what Norv Turner seems to want him to do, which is win by throwing. Brian Williams has interceptions in three straight games at corner for the Jags, but that's mostly a product of teams picking on him and staying away from Rashean Mathis. Still, Rivers is bogged down with bad mechanics and oft-shaky receiver hands. Stay away. ... Kicker Josh Scobee is expected to return for the Jaguars, so if for some reason you've been using John Carney, make the swap.
Star rookie Adrian Peterson was on his way to another pedestrian day last week when he hurt a ligament in his knee; he'll miss this contest against the friendliest rush defense in football. That hurts. Purple Jesus is a terror, without question, but realize that 77 percent of his rush yards have come in 50 percent of his games, and 48 percent of his yards have come in 20 percent of his games. This likely would have been another of his big ones.
Fantasy Up: Chester Taylor gets the nod in AP's place, and I think he's worth starting in all formats. There's risk, obviously; we can't be positive someone like Mewelde Moore won't have the dust mice brushed off him to steal valuable touches from Taylor. But Oakland already isn't good against the run and just replaced Sam Williams with the undersized Robert Thomas at strongside linebacker. ... Should Justin Fargas start for your team? I guess so, but my endorsement is lukewarm. After all, this rush defense clamped down on LaDainian Tomlinson in a huge way two weeks ago at home, then allowed Ryan Grant to enter the pantheon of unknown fantasy killers in Week 10. Truthfully, I think the Brett Favre threat psyched out the not-so-heady Vikes D last week, and they'll be back on solid footing Sunday against Oakland. But the Raiders O-line has improved, and Fargas has some upside. ... In general, though, I think Minny's defense is worth a start in a week of strange and not-very-attractive options. I think I'm often simply blinded by them on paper; there are some really good players in that back seven, but somehow they don't come together to amount to a lot. Being freed up by the Raiders' anemic pass attack to focus on the run should make them decent at home in Week 11.
Fantasy Down: Two teams, two messes at quarterback. Josh McCown is hurt and, well, kind of bad, so Daunte Culpepper returns, a couple of weeks after Raiders insiders were saying 'Pep never would see another starting snap. The last time Culpepper faced a former team, he torched Miami for five total touchdowns. I don't expect to see that happen again and wouldn't be shocked if JaMarcus Russell saw his first action. ... Meanwhile, Brooks Bollinger is out, Tarvaris Jackson is in, and Fran Tarkenton is waiting in the wings.
Yes, Donovan McNabb's numbers against Washington were terrific: 20-of-28 for 251 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. And yes, this Monday marks the one-year anniversary of his ACL tear, and it's after one year that guys are supposed to truly "be back." I continue to rank McNabb in the Nos. 10-12 range each week, so it's not like I don't think he's a startable commodity, but neither do I believe he's suddenly awesome again, just as I didn't believe it was Kevin Kolb time last week. Having watched that Eagles-Skins game twice, I can't name you one play on which I thought McNabb made a terrific throw. And for the second straight game, he lost a stupid fumble when he held onto the ball too long. This guy is one of my favorite players. I just don't think he's playing as well as we remember he can.
Fantasy Up: Let's not get carried away by the Dolphins' defensive effort against Buffalo; J.P. Losman played horribly for three quarters. Brian Westbrook will find plenty of room to run and catch, and as I said last week, you can use Kevin Curtis and/or Reggie Brown as your No. 3 receiver. ... Jesse Chatman puked early in last week's game and later called himself Willie Beamen (referring to Jamie Foxx's character in "Any Given Sunday"). No word yet on whether Chatman will get his own music video (just one of the implausible subplots of the film), but he should be in your starting lineup as a good No. 2 back. The Eagles allowed big days to Marion Barber, Julius Jones and Clinton Portis the past couple of games, and Miami's O-line, including standout rookie second-rounder center Samson Satele from Hawaii, is performing admirably.
Fantasy Down: Don't mistake John Beck for some punk kid. The 26-year-old rookie quarterback will get his first start for Miami on Sunday, trying to help Ted Ginn Jr. erase the specter of Brady Quinn helming the Fish. Dynasty leaguers should keep an eye on Beck, but there's no reason to own him yet in standard leagues, especially against Jim Johnson's blitz-happy defense. ... Too bad James Thrash can't play against Philly nickel man William James every week, huh? On the one hand, the Eagles have to be glad they've got Lito Sheppard back if only because it means James doesn't have to start. On the other hand, they still use James in obvious passing situations, although he was benched last Sunday in favor of Joselio Hanson. ... Ricky Williams has been reinstated by the league, but his team has said his first game likely will be in Week 12. No reason to grab him yet. ... Thanks for playing, Marty Booker: 10 targets, two catches, three drops.
Eli Manning is 26-22 as a starter, the exact same record as his brother Peyton in his first 48 starts. So let's not go crazy about how the younger Manning stinks or whatever. However, last week I wrote that I was disturbed by Eli's downfield inconsistency and his second halves, and the Dallas game did nothing to dissuade that. Manning missed Amani Toomer on what would have been a long score and somehow led his team to three delay-of-game penalties. I have to admit: I'm not crazy about him in Detroit this week. For whatever reason, the Lions have been rough on opposing quarterbacks when they've been home.
Fantasy Up: A lot of fantasy owners out there (I've got my hand raised) don't understand why Brandon Jacobs, all 6-foot-4, 264 pounds of him, needs a sub on the goal line, especially when he scored nine touchdowns as Tiki Barber's understudy last season. But once again, Reuben Droughns stole a short score last week, although to be fair, Jacobs had a touchdown run called back by penalty. Either way, he's an every-week start, and I have him ninth among fantasy backs this week. & Kevin Jones rushed for minus-8 yards in Week 10, which speaks for itself. He did catch eight passes, which redeemed him in point-per-reception leagues, but he also had to leave a couple of times because of soreness in his surgically repaired foot. Jones owners can consider starting him in a tough matchup this week, but go out and grab T.J. Duckett as your handcuff. ... I expect Plaxico Burress to play, and the fact that he isn't practicing this week means nothing, considering he hasn't practiced in two months. But Plax did sound discouraged about reinjuring his ankle against Dallas. Make sure he's active for the Detroit game, and keep Toomer handy if you can. ... I know the Lions can score, but I like the New York defense a lot. Detroit has tackle trouble on its O-line, and that's something you don't want against those Giants ends.
Fantasy Down: Jon Kitna's back acted up on him in Arizona, and while he'll probably play, I wouldn't use him. It seems the only time Detroit throws45 times these days (as they did in Week 10) is when they are way behind, never a good recipe. ... The Lions' defense was bad last week (16th among fantasy defenses), but while I've been bashing them all year, I have to admit they've been far stronger at home. (I still wouldn't use 'em, though.)
I hesitate to say any rusher is a lock for production in a given week, because defenses always can load up against the run and allow themselves to be torched via the airways. Nevertheless, I predict Willie Parker will break out of his mini-funk in a major way Sunday. The Jets aren't allowing tons of rushing touchdowns lately, but they have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing backs in their past four games, including an average of 168 yards per contest. I've bashed that front three all year (Shaun Ellis, Dewayne Robertson and Kenyon Coleman have combined for 3½ sacks), and Robertson, in particular, just doesn't disrupt enough in the middle.
Fantasy Up: Ben Roethlisberger continues to be an easy start as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback, but he should thank his stars he was facing Cleveland last week. Big Ben started with what, for him, has become fairly typical inaccuracy: 10-of-19 with an interception. He caught fire late and turned in the TV-highlight touchdown run, thanks at least in part to the Browns' terrible secondary. The Jets won't get any pressure on him (they're tied for worst in the league with just nine sacks), and he'll have a very good day. But I'm a little concerned about New England and Jacksonville in back-to-back weeks during the fantasy playoffs. ... The Steelers face a quarterback making his second career start and a running back who hasn't scored a touchdown yet. Cue the maniacal and greedy rubbing-together of palms. By the way, not enough credit has been given to Mike Tomlin for not forcing the 4-3 base defensive schemes he primarily had used in the past on a team that probably has better 3-4 personnel. Pittsburgh watchers fretted about that possible change this summer, but when push came to shove, Tomlin adjusted.
Fantasy Down: If you have options other than Thomas Jones, please use 'em. The Steelers' defense is the gold standard against opposing fantasy backs. How did linebacker James Harrison go undrafted? He's a beast. ... Laveranues Coles is expected to start, and he'll be able to get open against a couple pretty average corners. The problem is, I don't expect Kellen Clemens to have any time. Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are usable as third wideouts, I guess, but if I could stay away from this offense entirely, I'd do it.
You don't stop the Cowboys these days without a healthy secondary, and Washington doesn't have one. Sean Taylor sprained his knee against Philadelphia and will miss at least two weeks, Carlos Rogers is gone for the season, and Fred Smoot has battled hammy problems all season. Remember, this unit ranked worst in the league in yards-per-attempt allowed last season. They have been vastly better in '07, but I expect to see Tony Romo light 'em up Sunday.
Fantasy Up: The Cowboys have allowed a rushing score and decent days to opposing backs three straight weeks: Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook and Brandon Jacobs (with a Reuben Droughns score mixed in). Clinton Portis is running with renewed fury, and he'll be worth starting. ... Guard Leonard Davis, a huge bust with Arizona but playing well this year with Dallas, injured a knee and ankle in practice this week, and sounds doubtful for Sunday. Amazingly, no Cowboys starting O-lineman has missed a game since 2005. ... Dallas allowed Jeremy Shockey to run wild last week, to the tune of 12 catches, 129 yards and a score. Part of that was due to overcompensation in the direction of Plaxico Burress, but it also belies occasional weakness of these linebackers in pass coverage. Shockey now has done it to 'em twice, Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen played well in Week 3, and Kyle Brady scored a shorty. I bring all this up to mention that Chris Cooley has a first down on 22 of his 32 receptions this season, and Washington would do well to rediscover him, and fast.
Fantasy Down: What the heck was up with Joe Gibbs against Philadelphia? It was the 13th time since 2004 that a Gibbs team blew a halftime lead, and it surely was one of the most ignominious. He foolishly burned timeouts, chased a two-point conversion in the second quarter after a missed extra point earlier, and for some reason refused to throw on five straight plays inside Philly's 10, when a touchdown would have salted the game away. The Washington media has complained about Gibbs's use of timeouts all season, and he sure looked foolish last Sunday. ... Santana Moss, James Thrash and Brandon Lloyd are out for this game, so the starting receivers will be Antwaan Randle El and Keenan McCardell. Jason Campbell actually outplayed Donovan McNabb last week, but I'd bench him in Week 11.
Last week, I wrote, "Marc Bulger makes for a high-upside/high-downside start." And the high upside continues against the Niners, without much of that pesky downside. San Francisco has been top-10 generous to opposing fantasy quarterbacks all year. Should a one-win team be a three-point favorite in any road game? Resoundingly, no. But considering the way Matt Hasselbeck carved up the 49ers on Monday night (27-of-40 for 278 yards and two scores, and he could have had more in a close game), start Bulger with impunity.
Fantasy Up: Steven Jackson got 27 touches in his return from a bad back; so much for easing him into action. The 49ers are almost as friendly against the rush as they are against the pass. Get Jackson in there. ... Frank Gore took himself out of Monday night's game late because his ankle was hurting. He looked good on several runs (seven of his 13 rushes went for 5 yards or more) but continues to be limited in midweek practices. As I wrote last week, the Rams have struggled defending the pass in the past month, and because teams have been so busy throwing, they haven't spent a lot of time rushing. Thus, while the numbers say Gore could find tough sledding, I don't think it's so, especially with Leonard Little gone. If Gore plays, you want him in your lineup.
Fantasy Down: In the first 18 plays against New Orleans, the Rams blitzed 16 times. That's what works against the Saints these days (Houston, as I wrote above, should take note), and it should work well against the Niners' stagnant offense, too. Bench Trent Dilfer (who'll start in place of Alex Smith) and his wideouts. Still, I'm not convinced enough by this high-risk blitz strategy to actually start the Rams' D. A couple mistakes, and you're down two touchdowns. ... Isaac Bruce had to come out of last week's third quarter with an injured hamstring. He's practiced some this week, but beware of using him despite the tasty match-up. Drew Bennett might make a safer play -- his legs are healthier. ... Nice olé by Vernon Davis on Patrick Kerney's fillings-rattling sack of Smith, eh? For a kid who complains so much about not getting targets, you'd think Davis would concentrate more on the stuff he can control.
I rate Maurice Morris a weak No. 2 fantasy rusher this week, under the assumption that Shaun Alexander will sit again (if Alexander can't practice Friday, he won't play). Even ignoring the first of Minnesota's Adrian Peterson's two 200-plus-yard days, the Bears have given up solid production to Brian Westbrook, Kevin Jones and Justin Fargas lately, and players like Mark Anderson and Tommie Harris aren't defending the run well. That said, careful examination of Morris's performance Monday night revealed a guy who runs like J.P. Losman plays quarterback: three speeds too fast. Oh, he'll jitterbug and cut and stuff, but often with little purpose. His 28 carries for 87 yards and a score was OK. I'm just not sure it was permanent-starter material.
Fantasy Up: The Bears have been much rougher against opponents' pass games, so although I'd still start Matt Hasselbeck, realize Chicago hasn't allowed a 300-yard day since Week 5. Even without Nathan Vasher, they Bears are getting it together. ... Deion Branch has made it through practices all week and will reassume his starting flanker role. Bobby Engram played some slot last week, and he'll be there all game Sunday. I still like D.J. Hackett best for now. Eighteen targets, 14 receptions and two scores the past two weeks. ... Will Heller has three touchdowns in three games. I doubt it'll continue, but if you've ridden the streak, rock on. ... Rex Grossman's return is good for whatever value Bernard Berrian might have left. Chicago's deep threat got loose for the go-ahead score late in Oakland, and he was a great weapon last season. I probably wouldn't start him unless I was desperate for a No. 3 wideout, but his value has trumped Muhsin Muhammad's once again.
Fantasy Down: The Bears beat Seattle 37-6 in Chicago last year. Think a little revenge is in order? While Seattle hasn't always been stout against the run this season, the Seahawks' pass rush has picked it up (10 sacks and eight turnovers the past three games). I want no part of Grossman in his return to starter-hood. ... Here's me, at cross purposes. On the one hand, I don't believe in Seattle rush defense. On the other hand, I really don't believe in Cedric Benson. Despite what looked like decent numbers against Oakland's pillow-soft rush defense (29 carries, 76 yards and a score), Benson was crummy after his first few carries last week. For me, he's a flex, at best.
Marshawn Lynch scored on a terrific, slashing run in New England back in Week 3 (the Bills' only points that day), but he'll sit Sunday night with a bad ankle that could keep him out multiple weeks. Anthony Thomas starts in his place, but Fresno State rookie Dwayne Wright should spell him a fair amount, sucking the value out of both. Start neither. Deep-leaguers can consider adding Wright.
Fantasy Up: The Bills lost nickel corner Kiwaukee Thomas for the season last week against Miami, which is terrible news for a secondary that's battled injuries all year. This just in: It's good to have more than two decent corners when you play New England. Expect former Ram Jerametrius Butler to get third-corner duty Sunday. Correspondingly, expect Wes Welker to have a wonderful game. ... Buffalo had a difficult time with Jesse Chatman last week but has turned in nice home rush-defense outings lately against Cincinnati, Dallas and the Jets. Laurence Maroney's realistic value is as a mediocre No. 2 rusher this and most weeks, simply because by now it's clear the Pats don't view him as an every-down option. ... Here's a hip-hip-hooray for Jason Peters, one of my favorite young tackles in football, for his heads-up recovery of Lynch's late fumble on the Bills' game-winning drive. A great bounce put it right in his gut, but still, a lot of O-lineman have feet where their hands should be. ... Tom Brady has thrown 33 touchdown passes. The Bills have scored 14 touchdowns total.
Fantasy Down: J.P. Losman was horrible against the Dolphins. Every stride he'd made, every gain he'd claimed, every breath he took (this is devolving into a Police song) was lost. Yes, he made a couple of gutty, tying-drive-saving scrambles in the fourth quarter, and he finally managed to find Lee Evans and Michael Gaines on big late throws. But it was too late to erase the memory of all the wild passes, the bad footwork, the bounced throws. He could prove me wrong, but I see him getting absolutely drilled by New England.
Fantasy Up: LenDale White injured a knee against Jacksonville last week and turned in a terrible day (eight carries, 12 yards). Don't fret; get him in there this week. On paper, Denver appears tougher against the rush lately, but I think that's a product of some lucky breaks (e.g., passing touchdowns that easily could have been rushing touchdowns). Bottom line: It's still a defense that's allowed 99 rushing yards or more in seven of 10 games. White is a Denver-area native who's emotional about coming home. I think he blows up Monday night. ... If I had to guess, I'd say Javon Walker probably won't play, although the extra day might help. Week 12 seems more likely. As such, I'd keep trotting Brandon Marshall out there every week. The Titans have given up a touchdown reception per game the past five weeks, and odds are it'll be Marshall who catches Denver's. ... If you get word that Albert Haynesworth can go on his injured hammy, use the Titans' defense. They missed him trying to stop Jacksonville's rush game, but it sounds like he'll try to play.
Fantasy Down: Henry gets his hearing with the NFL on Friday, with an announcement expected next week. I don't know what kind of legal wrangling Henry and hair-sample-man Mike Shanahan have in mind, but I'd be shocked if we see Henry playing after Week 11. The NFL doesn't like to be made to look weak, and on this Henry thing, they've looked really weak. Henry also has a knee issue. He and Selvin Young probably will split carries, rendering both quasi-useless. But please go pick up Young. He should be owned in all leagues. ... I'd rather not play either quarterback. Knowing both these sophomores' luck, it'll probably be a blinding snowstorm Monday in Denver.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Harris: Week 14 Instant Impressions
- Four Downs: Winter weather? No problem
- Week 14 sneaky pickups
- Hard Count: Best, worst defensive matchups