The Breakdown: Week 14
(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings on Friday.)
Last week against the Jets, you could see John Beck going through three stages of being a rookie quarterback, all in one game. First there was exuberance: He came out and ran for a first down on a fourth-and-1 on the Fins' first drive, he dumped off short stuff, he hopped around. Then came the flattening: He got crunched a couple times, and made an ill-advised pass that fellow rookie Darrelle Revis picked off. He appeared to be staring at his primary targets, and the Jets noticed. Finally came a meltdown (I like to call it "the Losman"): He held onto balls too long, took big hits, fumbled three times, threw two more picks including a killer before halftime, and basically looked nothing like Miami's answer under center. Ugliness.
Fantasy Up: Buffalo is in full Jauron mode, meaning they're not stretching the field, they're checking down to short receivers, and they're running. Against Miami, which will be without Zach Thomas for the season, it should work. The only question is who'll do the damage. Marshawn Lynch has practiced this week, and reportedly plans to play, but that's subject to change. Even if he goes, I'd imagine he'll be spelled by Fred Jackson a bit. Unfortunately, in shallower leagues you might have to avoid this tasty matchup. Buffalo isn't far behind in run-defense awfulness (last week's 50 yards allowed to Clinton Portis on 25 carries notwithstanding), and Miami's O-line is strong. But again, an injury muddies these waters. Jesse Chatman is limping around with a bad ankle, but expects to play. Samkon Gado and Lorenzo Booker would probably share the job if Chatman can't go. Again, there's a lot of risk here. In a pinch, the Buffalo defense isn't an awful start in deeper leagues, just because Beck's been so bad.
Fantasy Down: Not that Trent Edwards is Joe Montana. He's still thrown just one professional touchdown, compared to five picks, and Jauron doesn't trust him to go downfield much. That makes Lee Evans a no-go for fantasy teams, too. Ted Ginn Jr. has passed Marty Booker as Miami's top receiver; he's gotten more targets in each of the past three games. You don't want him, but that's interesting information to file away, and indicates Cam Cameron doesn't view Ginn as quite the bust that Dolphins fans do.
The Rams have won three of four, mostly because their defense has performed well. Part of that is good play by what's left of the D-line, including rookie first-rounder Adam Carriker and 33-year-old La'Roi Glover, and by Will Witherspoon at linebacker. But some of it has to do with the opposing offenses in their past couple wins: San Francisco and Atlanta. St. Louis's tackling is still suspect in the secondary, they'll miss their top corner, Tye Hill, for the rest of the year with a broken wrist and they travel to Cincinnati. If the weather holds, expect a high-scoring game.
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Fantasy Down: Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe has an interception in each of the Rams' past four games, which corresponds to St. Louis scoring the third-most fantasy points on defense the past three weeks. But I don't think you can touch either of these defenses Sunday. Rumor has it there's a chance tackle Willie Anderson comes back for Cincinnati in this one; his knee has kept him out since Week 5. He'd be a boon, but I've got my doubts. As of this writing, Week 15 seemed more likely.
Here's what Jon Kitna said about the Dallas defense after the Lions shocked the Cowboys near the end of '06: "We didn't feel like their interior linebackers were very effective. There were some times that we were watching on film before we played Dallas that we really felt like No. 56, sometimes I don't know that he knew where he was at." No. 56 is Bradie James, who's played quite well in '07, outside of the Parcells system that requires middle linebackers to plug holes at the point of attack a lot. James has made noise this week about payback, and one thing the oft-sacked Kitna does not need is a pass rush with added motivation. I'm probably benching him.
Fantasy Up: The Cowboys are the NFC's version of the Patriots, only the NFC stinks. That means you never bench any of their stars. I wouldn't use Julius Jones, but he's about it. Those who wrote off outside linebacker Greg Ellis because of his torn Achilles (I have my hand raised) should eat a little crow: He recorded sack number 10é last Thursday, tying him for second in the NFL. Ellis is turning in his best season in his 10th year, and deserves Pro Bowl consideration. The Dallas defense should have a fine time in this game. With Roy Williams probably gone for the year thanks to a knee injury, the burden of moving this offense falls to Calvin Johnson, Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald. As of this writing, it now sounds as though Johnson will occupy the all-important flanker spot, while McDonald will be on the other side with Furrey in the slot. They all have value, though I expect Johnson to finally take over and be Megatron.
Fantasy Down: Maybe Mike Martz thinks he's blown any chance of returning next year. Maybe he thinks his opportunities to be a head coach have dried up. But Martz threw caution to the wind in a blowout last week, rushing it just seven times (compared to 46 passes). Kevin Jones is a fantasy afterthought. Perhaps it was a bit harsh to drop Detroit to dead last among fantasy defenses in my ratings this week, but the point is that this unit's play has caught up with its skill level. Lucky breaks and huge-turnover games aren't coming, and what's left is a bad tackling team with some talent in the middle and a below-average secondary.
An unheralded key to Green Bay's surprise resurgence is impressive depth along the D-line. Guys like Justin Harrell and Ryan Pickett have the first-round pedigree, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is a former star, lower-round guys like Aaron Kampman and Corey Williams are on their way to becoming huge names, and undrafted guys like Cullen Jenkins and Colin Cole are really good players. Unfortunately, attrition has hit. KGB couldn't go against Dallas because of an ankle, Cole and Johnny Jolly are on IR, and Harrell and Michael Montgomery aren't operating at full health. Jenkins and Kampman are among the best end tandems in the NFL, but they're better when they get in-game rest. Something to watch in a game that shouldn't be all that close.
Fantasy Up: If the Raiders had lost last week, my guess would've been that they'd play everyone up and stop the run, no matter what the cost. But because they upset the reeling Broncos, they'll probably keep things the way they are, which is great news for Ryan Grant. Except for his long touchdown run in Dallas, Grant wasn't particularly effective last Thursday; expect that to change in Week 14. Brett Favre should be fine to play, and one hopes he learned from his "Bad Brett" performance in Big D. Hey, I admire the Green Bay game plan last week: stretch the field, see how a couple poor-covering safeties react. Problem was: they reacted by backpedaling furiously at the snap, so neither Greg Jennings nor Donald Driver could get to the deep middle uncovered, but Favre kept chucking 'em downfield anyway. The Raiders have consistently been the second-hardest pass defense to score points on, but in a bounce-back game, Favre will get his. Justin Fargas is trying like heck to work his way into Oakland's 2008 plans. They're already counting on Michael Bush getting healthy, and one imagines they'll be glad to spend LaMont Jordan's money someplace else (Julius Jones, maybe?). But it's hard not to love what Fargas has done: 863 yards, a 4.8 yards-per-carry average, plus 22 catches for 181 more yards. The Packers don't give up many rushing scores, but you should stick with Fargas anyway.
Fantasy Down: The key to Josh McCown not killing his own team, it appears, is setting him in motion on bootlegs and rollouts. He didn't do a ton against the Broncos (14-of-21 for 141 yards), but he threw three scores and seemed to be moving away from the pocket nearly every time he completed a pass. Of course, you shouldn't have been considering starting him (or, um, owning him) even before it became apparent that JaMarcus Russell would start stealing snaps.
Speaking of McCowns, I'm not sure at this point that Tampa isn't the second-best team in the NFC, and I am sure their defense would present the biggest challenge to the Cowboys. If they can survive a game without Jeff Garcia against a New Orleans team gasping for its playoff life (even if the Saints did hand Tampa the win on a silver platter), Jon Gruden has something going on here.
Fantasy Up: How about that Earnest Graham? Too small, they said. Too slow, they wrote. Not enough burst, they shouted. Maybe the undrafted University of Florida product is still more proof of how easy it is to find an effective NFL running back, but he's sure been fun to own in fantasy leagues. And it shouldn't get worse for him facing a Texans defense that's only failed to give up 100 yards rushing once since Week 4. Graham has a touchdown in each of his past four games. You have to start Andre Johnson every week because he's that big a talent. Still, I like Joey Galloway a bit better in this game. Mario Williams (2é sacks) had a big day against Vince Young last week, but to watch a Texans game is basically to watch Houston get pushed around on both sides of the ball. That doesn't figure to get any better after guard Fred Weary's gruesome season-ending broken leg and guard Chris White's torn MCL. Meanwhile Galloway turned in a huge game with Luke McCown at the helm. He's feast-or-famine, but with young corners and old safeties on him Sunday, I'm betting on feast.
Fantasy Down: Look at all those O-line injuries, look at the fact that Tampa has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing rushers the past five weeks, look at Ron Dayne's body of work, and tell me how you can start the guy. Matt Schaub dislocated his left shoulder in Tennessee and won't play this week. Sage Rosenfels has shown glimpses, and I don't think he's so clueless as to render AJ or Owen Daniels irrelevant. But you'd have to be mighty desperate to nibble a pinch of this Sage. As a result, I really like the Buccaneers defense, which continues to be owned in only 37.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues. By the way, in a related point, the Texans have turned the ball over more on offense than anyone else in football.
Boy, the Jags played well against Indy. They held the ball for 35 minutes. They outgained the Colts by 69 yards. They ran with aplomb, they regularly pressured Peyton Manning, and their quarterback only threw five incompletions on 24-of-29 passing. But they made just enough mistakes to lose, blew a few deep coverages and had a crucial instant replay call go against them. How they respond this week will say a lot about their playoff chances. Fortunately for them, the Panthers are coming to town.
Fantasy Up: I'll be honest: Fred Taylor continues to look better to my eyes than Maurice Jones-Drew on a regular basis. MJD will get the goal-line looks, as he did in the second quarter at Indy. But it's not just the total numbers; Taylor is running with a fury we haven't seen from him in a few years. Maybe he knows he's nearing the end, or maybe Fragile Freddy is finally healthy. Either way, while MJD is the more valuable fantasy commodity, don't be embarrassed about using Taylor as a flex, even if Carolina has stiffened against the run of late. Marcedes Lewis is turning into the big-league option the Jags thought he would when they used a surprise first-rounder on him out of UCLA last year. George Wrighster got hurt, and now whatever tight end action there is in this offense will go Lewis' way. With 15 targets and 10 catches the past two weeks, he's a borderline start most weeks. Use Jacksonville's defense; they're my top play this week. The Panthers' air attack scares no one, and big defensive tackle Marcus Stroud returns from his suspension this week. Will he be a little rusty? Maybe. Will he crush a running back or two? Count on it.
Fantasy Down: Three hundred seventy-eight days later, the Panthers finally won a home game. It took a visit from the 49ers, but it counts. Yes, the defense produced six turnovers, six sacks and a defensive touchdown in Week 13, but this week they'll be playing against the varsity. Don't get clever: I wouldn't want any part of this fantasy defense right now. DeShaun Foster missed practice early this week, but should be fine, and DeAngelo Williams' good performance once the game was under control (17 carries, 82 yards) won't change the carry disbursement. With Stroud back, don't start either guy. I've wasted enough breath on Steve Smith this season. I wouldn't use him again until 2008.
It's a race to see who can get re-injured first! In this corner, we have the Syracuse shambler, the conked quarterback, the lost-ligament-lulu himself: Donovan McNabb! And in this corner, the jumbled Giant, the back-broken behemoth, the hammy from about 1,000 miles west of Miami: Brandon Jacobs! Each of these former fantasy filaments returns from his respective ouch this week, but who will last an entire game?
Fantasy Up: You probably do have to use Jacobs if you've been waiting on him, and don't have good alternatives, especially with Derrick Ward out for the year. Hey, when he's stayed healthy, Jacobs' been about as good as anyone could've expected: 5.2 yards per carry, tough, good blocking, the works. You can start either of these fantasy defenses, but I'm more comfortable with the Giants because they muster a somewhat more consistent pass rush. (Compare Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora to Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard, though to be fair, Trent Cole is the main guy in Philly.) Each team has trouble brewing in its secondary; the Giants will definitely be without free safety Gibril Wilson and corner Aaron Ross didn't play last week (though he's expected to go Sunday), while Lito Sheppard reinjured his bad knee a week after playing so well against Randy Moss, but will play.
Fantasy Down: The last time he faced the Giants, McNabb was sacked 12 times back in Week 4. Granted, Winston Justice was forced into duty at left tackle, which was an unmitigated disaster, and the Eagles will certainly be motivated not to have that happen again. Still, how good can you really feel starting McNabb? Nor would I use Eli Manning. I spent quite a bit of time apologizing for his performance against Minnesota, which I didn't think was nearly as bad as the stat sheet indicated. Then he went out and played three quarters of absolutely terrible football in Chicago: inaccurate throws, bad mistakes, terrible mechanics. To his credit, Manning pulled himself together for two fourth-quarter drives and won that game. Still, I want no part of him right now. He's in his own head way too much. This tilt strikes me as Philly's last stand. They're probably not making the playoffs anyway, but lose this one and you're definitively done. Given how old the offensive tackles are, the fact that McNabb is 31 and Brian Westbrook will be 29, the turnover that's about to take place on the D-line, the likely departure of L.J. Smith and the vastly uncertain shape of the secondary, and the Eagles might decide to bite the bullet and blow it all up.
Who's got the disappointing quarterback again? For me, the best stat that indicates San Diego's problems in 2007 is this: They're 26th in time of possession (while the Titans are fifth). Vince Young leads all NFL quarterbacks in total yardage over the past four weeks; while Philip Rivers showed signs of life against the Chiefs, he still has just 15 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. (Young has seven touchdowns against 14 interceptions, so let's not get carried away about him, either.) Both defenses will load up against the run; the signal-caller who plays better, wins.
Fantasy Up: LaDainian Tomlinson pulled out a vintage 2006 performance in Kansas City: He had one nice run in the first quarter but otherwise was bottled up in the first half (13 carries, 60 yards, 25 of which came on one play), but he visibly wore down the Chiefs' defense, and destroyed them in the second stanza with runs of 34, 31 (touchdown) and 28 (touchdown). With Albert Haynesworth in their lineup, the Titans are 7-2 and allow just 72 rushing yards per game, which means Rivers will have to do something, but I was heartened by Norv Turner's emphasis on the run in Week 13. Justin Gage is the most fantasy-viable wideout in this contest. OK, here are some smelling salts, now I'll say it again: Justin Gage is the most fantasy-viable wideout in this contest. The former Bears property has at least 64 yards receiving in four straight games, and has scored twice in that span. He's also out-targeted every other Titan (including security blanket Bo Scaife) by at least five passes during that span. He's a deep-league flex option. Antonio Gates had one catch for minus-one yard in Kansas City, and the Titans' linebackers are maybe even a little better. Still, you have to use him. I also think both defenses are worth a try. Antonio Cromartie continues to be a ball magnet in the Chargers secondary, and enough has been written about Haynesworth.
Fantasy Down: LenDale White should be able to play with his dislocated and lacerated finger, but Jeff Fisher enjoyed using Chris Brown in the second half last week. Could a "thunder-and-lightning" split, like the one Tennessee used to start the season, be in the offing? White's fumble-prone anyway (he's lost four), so this doesn't help. You can use him, but I've got him 20th among fantasy backs this week. As much as I love VY's potential, it'd take guts to start him this week.
Joe Staley isn't playing awful in his rookie year. Carolina's pass rush got healthy off the Niners last week, but they focused much of their attack on left tackle Adam Snyder, while Staley had some OK moments at right tackle. Unfortunately for Staley, he'll forever be linked to the New England Patriots. The Pats traded their '07 first-rounder, the 28th overall pick, to San Francisco for the 49ers' No. 1 in '08. The Niners took Staley, and proceeded to stink. Now the Pats are staring a top-5 pick in the face (they lost their own first-rounder in SpyGate), and Staley won't even be the answer on the all-important left side. Eesh.
Fantasy Up: The most attractive thing about this matchup is the presumptive Offensive Rookie of the Year (Adrian Peterson) rushing against the presumptive Defensive Rookie of the Year (Patrick Willis). I'm quite sure Willis will keep making a bunch of tackles (he's had a ridiculous 18 in each of the past two weeks), but AD will be huge again. The real question is whether to start Chester Taylor at your flex spot again. I say yes. The Niners allow top-10 fantasy points to opposing rushers, and Taylor will keep up his ration of carries and catches. Arnaz Battle continued his shocking run of targets: six more against Carolina, which gives him 60 over the past seven weeks. He's questionable with a sore ankle, but if I get confirmation he'll play, I'll be bumping him up to legitimate flex territory in my receiver rankings. I recall that during the season's first half, the game seemed too fast for Sidney Rice. But unlike a lot of rookies, he's adjusted quickly -- and remember he just turned 21. It's hard to justify starting him in any but the deepest leagues, but keep the name filed.
Fantasy Down: In a 10-team league, if I have other options, I'm benching Frank Gore. First off, there's a chance the Niners get away from the run early again if Minnesota breaks quickly. Next, there's the fact that the Vikings have allowed just 316 yards rushing in their past five games (second only to Jacksonville). Trent Dilfer gets his fourth straight start after a disastrous four-interception outing in Carolina. So much for any hope engendered by the Arizona game. Did I mention Dilfer has a Super Bowl ring?
This is a huge game for Arizona to get within a game of the NFC West lead, and (I'm surprising myself here) I think they've got a pretty decent chance of sweeping the Seahawks. Their formula will look the same as last week: a lot of running on offense, a lot of laying back and playing Cover 2 on defense. Seattle's defenders have made two big goal-line stands the past two weeks, and Lofa Tatupu has apparently mastered the art of invisibility to quarterback eyes (or at least A.J. Feeley's). But the Seahawks have also allowed mighty good days to opposing rushers in four straight games. What I'm mostly saying here is, I think a touchdown is too many points to give in this one.
Fantasy Up: Boy, I loved how Edgerrin James and the Arizona O-line looked on the Cards' final drive against the Browns. Eight rushes, 40 yards (a Cleveland personal foul thrown in) and a lot of attitude. For the day, James had 24 carries for 114 yards, and the last time he faced Seattle he had 24 for 128 and a score. Anquan Boldin is almost definitely out with his bad toe, and Larry Fitzgerald missed Week 13 with a sore groin. As of this writing, he hadn't practiced, and is considered questionable. That means Bryant Johnson suddenly gets thrust into a potentially starring role. I actually might not start Johnson if Fitz plays, but if he doesn't, there's really nobody else to catch Kurt Warner's passes. That said, the Seahawks are quite a bit stingier with receivers (two touchdowns in five games), and they're second in the NFL in sacks. If I have options besides Warner, I'm using them. If Matt Hasselbeck takes the spaces in the Arizona zone and doesn't force things (a la Derek Anderson last week). He, Bobby Engram (a whopping 55 targets the last five weeks) and Deion Branch are all easy fantasy starts.
Fantasy Down: The two-headed Seattle rushing attack was every bit as messy in Philly as I imagined: Shaun Alexander carried it 20 times for 65 yards and Maurice Morris carried it five times for 64 yards. Morris was, like, better. Listen, it's Alexander's gig, I guess, but I defy anyone who watches this tape to agree that it should be. Alexander continued his frustrating habit of running straight down the line of scrimmage, looking to fold his shoulder pads into a seam, often finding nothing, while Morris was explosive and elusive, though (as is his wont) often out of control. Alexander makes the better start, but I probably wouldn't use either.
Are the Pats suddenly vulnerable against the run? I wouldn't go that far. It was one game; before Willis McGahee gouged them repeatedly, the Pats had success against Brian Westbrook and Anthony Thomas. For me, this clash of the titans does come down to whether the Steelers can re-establish the run behind FWP (Fumbling Willie Parker). In his past three games, Parker has 220 yards on 73 carries, 3.0 yards per carry, and that's against the Dolphins, Jets and Bengals. Say what you want about the Patriots' run defense; they're better than the Dolphins, Jets and Bengals.
Fantasy Up: You start all your Patriots every week, no matter the opponent, but as I predicted in my midseason newsletter, Tom Brady was never going to be the top fantasy point-getter in the second half, too. Defenses adjust. The opponents are tougher on defense. And while I wouldn't go so far as to call it a blueprint, you know the only chance you have to slow Brady down is send the house after him. Pittsburgh will fling six and seven men at the New England offense all night, a particularly effective strategy when the Pats are in three-wide. What it comes down to then is that extra second of pass protection while the receivers get downfield. Get Ben Roethlisberger in there, too. Remember, after the Philly game all anyone could say was that the Pats were vulnerable against the pass. Now it's the run? I don't think so. I have a feeling Big Ben makes a bunch of very nice plays Sunday to keep this one close. That feeling also indicates Roethlisberger will do a good job spreading his passes around. Hines Ward will be the leader, but Heath Miller will have success, too.
Fantasy Down: It remains to be seen if Santonio Holmes really will be able to go. If he can, he'll get Ellis Hobbs most of the night, which is a very favorable matchup for Pittsburgh. As of now, Holmes isn't on Pittsburgh's injury list, but that could change by Friday, so keep your ear to the ground. As great as James Harrison has played this season (he was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month), and as many sacks (fourth-best in the NFL) and forced fumbles (third-best) as they create, I just can't see myself starting the Pittsburgh defense. Yes, New England's offense suddenly looks mortal. But why take the chance when there are acceptable alternatives?
When you're wrong, you're wrong. I've been sounding the bell on Travis Henry for nearly two months now, assuming his suspension would come down any day. If you held onto him, good for you. Except suddenly, it might be bad for you. Do you start Henry? Even with the chaotic Broncos backfield that's made no less chaotic by Henry's return to health? Selvin Young bruised an arm against the Raiders, but he's fine to play, so Young and Henry will split time against a Kansas City rush defense that held up well against LaDainian Tomlinson for 35 minutes before falling apart. I'd use Henry over Young, but preferably as a flex, not as a No. 2 fantasy rusher.
Fantasy Up: In a sea of inconsistent fantasy options, Brandon Marshall stands out as usable in most leagues. He'll get you between seven and 13 targets (he's done so in 12 of 13 games), between 60 and 90 yards (he's failed to do so just once since Week 4), and he's scored twice in the past three weeks. Javon Walker just isn't going to be a threat. He hasn't shown a ton since he scored in back-to-back-to-back weeks early this season, but rookie wideout Dwayne Bowe continues to merit flex consideration, if only because he's the only wide receiver to whom the Chiefs consistently throw. Yes, he has one touchdown in eight weeks. But Kansas City targeted him 11 times in Week 13, giving him double figures in three of his past four. Watch the kid play and you know he belongs. As I intimated above, there's a pretty decent matchup waiting for a Denver runner. I just don't know which one. Kolby Smith has no such problems. He's the man in KC, and Denver just gave up on Sam Adams in the middle of their D-line. Justin Fargas ran for 146 against the Broncos last week. Get Smith in there.
Fantasy Down: Tony Gonzalez and Damon Huard work well together. Gonzo and Brodie Croyle? Not yet. In Croyle's three starts, Gonzo has 18 targets, 10 catches, 133 yards and no scores. Croyle should be ready to go in this one, which means you have to downgrade Gonzalez a bit. Neither quarterback should start here. Jay Cutler may just need another good receiver, but I haven't seen a lot of development from him in his first full season as a starter. The Chiefs may be missing both Derrick Johnson and Donnie Edwards, but I just don't trust Cutler.
The last play in Cleveland's 27-21 loss in Arizona killed Kellen Winslow owners. Winslow had converted his previous seven targets into just three catches for 35 yards, but from the Cardinals' 37 in the final seconds, Derek Anderson heaved a pass to Winslow in the end zone. The stud tight end caught the ball and took a huge hit, which propelled him out of bounds. Now, you might not like the rule that says a forced-out player who would've come down in bounds should be called in (I hate it), but if that's the rule, Winslow's catch should've counted. And why isn't that play reviewable? The only way I know it should've been a score is I watched it on my lil' ol' TV.
Fantasy Up: Anderson submitted his worst performance since Week 5, pulling a mini-Favre against a defense that was dead set on not getting beaten deep. Expect to see the Jets play similarly, though Darrelle Revis gets a little less help than Arizona's current corners need. New York has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in their past five, but I'm willing to give Anderson a mulligan. Jamal Lewis makes for a better play. The Jets have allowed only two rushing touchdowns during the past month, but have given up 143 ground yards per game. Laveranues Coles did play last week, to the tune of five catches for 69 yards, but he wasn't healthy, and probably won't be this week, either. Still, he can be your third fantasy receiver against a Browns secondary that made Bryant Johnson look like star.
Fantasy Down: Our long national nightmare is over: Thomas Jones scored a touchdown. That's the good news. The bad news is Leon Washington scored twice versus Miami, and stole a dozen touches. This is about the best it's going to get for Jones this season, and the Browns are a bit tougher than the Dolphins against the run. Joe Jurevicius is 6-foot-5, had a 10-touchdown season as recently as 2005 and has a respectable 65 targets this year. So why doesn't he make a splash in fantasy leagues? Anderson is transfixed by Winslow and Braylon Edwards, and frankly could throw it Joltin' Joe's way more. As long as he doesn't, though, stay away. Jerricho Cotchery might not be done for the year after all, but he's highly questionable this week.
Willis McGahee is the fifth-highest-scoring fantasy back of 2007. Wow. Didn't see that coming. Until the Ravens' fateful two drives against New England, McGahee was unstoppable, making great decisions, finding what looked like fairly small holes, blasting over tacklers and basically running inspired. He can do it again this week, and he'd better, because the Colts are clicking on the deep ball. With defensive tackle Raheem Brock out for Indy, McGahee will be huge again if Kyle Boller keeps the Colts honest.
Fantasy Up: I have Peyton Manning ahead of Tom Brady for the first time in months. At some point, you're splitting hairs, but the Ravens' secondary is a shell of its former self without Chris McAlister on board. The Colts' pattern is the same every week. Teams come out vowing not to let Reggie Wayne get deep, so Manning smartly checks down to Dallas Clark again and again, until the opponent gets angry and tries to stop it. Problem is, Manning is the best signal-caller in the league at making a snap judgment on a deep route: he's almost never wrong. The way Indy's corners Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden have developed is impressive, but they're not the kind of guys you want playing man all day. That means a precise route-runner like Derrick Mason should be able to make a bunch of short receptions, and be fantasy-relevant. The problem is, Jackson and Hayden hit like mad, and a receiver stops wanting to catch little ins and crosses. The Colts will bend a little, but they'll also exert their will against Boller and the receivers. I can definitely see using the Indy D.
Fantasy Down: Every week we hear Marvin Harrison exercised his thumb muscles in practice, and are sent spiraling into questions about whether he'll play. He's not playing. The Colts will wait to see how Pittsburgh fares against the Pats, and if the Steelers lose, you won't see Harrison again in the regular season. I've pushed Joseph Addai down to No. 12 on my running back list, lowest I've had him all year. Obviously he's still a starter, but the Ravens are one of those rare teams that refuses to give in against the rush even when all hell is breaking loose in the secondary. Todd Heap was just dropped in my 16-team league. How's that for diminished fantasy value?
New Orleans should be 6-6, fighting for their playoff lives. Instead they're cooked, because of the ill-fated reverse Sean Payton called up 23-20 with 3:30 to play. You've seen the highlight, you've heard the talking heads bashing Payton, but I say give it a rest. It was a fine call. The same play yielded a touchdown against Atlanta last year, and Tampa has the kind of overpursuing defense against which such reverses work. Payton won't say it, but botched execution isn't the coach's fault. Reggie Bush completely messed up, and shouldn't get a free ride. Aggression is a good thing. Bad hands aren't.
Fantasy Up: Drew Brees, caretaker quarterback? For most of the Tampa game, Brees played it safe, checking down time and again. Some of that can be attributed to a good Bucs secondary. But I have a feeling Brees got a talking-to about his gunslinger ways. He did hit two bombs (a 40-yarder to Marques Colston on a flea-flicker, and a 45-yard score to Devery Henderson), but otherwise he was 15-of-21 for 94 yards. Brees fared poorly against the Falcons the first time around, and I expect him to play it conservatively again Sunday. His fantasy owners would rather see the wild-and-crazy Brees, of course. Jerious Norwood submitted three highlight plays against the Rams, and (how many times have I written this?) may finally have gotten in Bobby Petrino's good graces. Petrino's stubborn adherence to Warrick Dunn has been one of his worst moves as head coach. I'm guessing Norwood is flex-worthy this week. He's a big gamble, of course. I think I helped make a dent in Roddy White's poor ownership numbers in ESPN.com leagues; he's jumped from 56 to 65 percent owned since I mentioned him early this week. Still, he only started in 45 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 13. He's the 17th-highest-scoring receiver in our game. You need him in against the bad Saints secondary.
Fantasy Down: Late word out of New Orleans has Bush out for at least the rest of the regular season with a torn PCL in his knee; don't go dropping him just yet, because he's getting a second opinion from the ubiquitous Dr. James Andrews. But it sounds highly unlikely he'll go in this game. Aaron Stecker will take his duties, and with Pierre Thomas still out with a bruised kidney, you'd have to imagine Stecker will play a lot. He's a pretty decent flex play. Chris Redman will start for Joey Harrington. No, thanks. The Saints defense made a couple very big plays against Tampa: a long interception returned for a touchdown by Mike McKenzie, and a safety from Will Smith. Otherwise, though, they were their typical disastrous selves against the pass. Even against Atlanta, I don't think you can use them. ESPN has had some really fun games on Monday night. This is not one of them.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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- Call-up Springer already a top-20 outfielder
- Bell: Reyes, Josh Johnson injury update