The Breakdown: Week 16
(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings on Friday.)
Let's not go crazy. The Panthers were shut out until the fourth quarter, and benefited from Seattle's overreliance on the 5-yard slant. The Cowboys succumbed to Philly's blitz, but were still a couple of drops away from turning around that game. Still, this game looks more fun than it did a week ago. Of course, if you rode Tony Romo and Terrell Owens all season, there's a good chance you're not playing this weekend. If you survived, phew, that was lucky.
Fantasy Up: As of this writing, it sounded as though Romo's thumb was fine, and that he'd be OK to play Saturday night. Make no mistake, Romo was awful against the Eagles. Thumb or no thumb, failing to play better than the Kyle Ortons and Trent Edwardses of the world is unacceptable. But you have to use him unless he's inactive Saturday, and all evidence points to a bounce-back, especially against a defense that has still allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks the past five weeks. Center Andre Gurode sounds like he'll be out, meaning the Cowboys' O-line has suffered its first missed game of the season. That's not great news for Marion Barber, who'll have a tough matchup in this one. The Panthers gave up a big day to Fred Taylor in Week 14, but otherwise have been solid against the ground game for more than a month. Fortunately, Julius Peppers may be hobbled by injury, too. Steve Smith's decent day (11 targets, eight catches, 72 yards) does put him back on the fantasy radar screen, as does the fact that Dallas safeties Roy Williams (suspension) and Pat Watkins (ankle) will both probably miss this game. That said, there's an awful lot of firepower in the Dallas front seven, and against a rookie quarterback, I think you start them. By the way, I know Greg Ellis has 11½ sacks, but DeMarcus Ware is the Dallas defensive MVP (and his sack Sunday brought his total to 11). Not only is Ware a fearsome pass-rusher, but he's so quick tackling in the open field.
Fantasy Down: Matt Moore went undrafted out of Oregon State and went to training camp with the Cowboys before getting signed by Carolina. Now he gets his second career start. The dink-and-dunk results against Seattle were passable, but this is a step up in weight class. No thanks. DeAngelo Williams looked terrific on his 35-yard game-clinching touchdown run. Too bad nobody in their right mind started him. Stay away from the Panthers' run game, too. Carolina started Moore, and also made changes at guard and corner. Rookie defensive end Charles Johnson also played a lot over soon-to-depart Mike Rucker.
This became the subject of a big-time chat dustup Monday morning, but I wasn't sold on Brian Westbrook's falling down at the 1-yard line. If it had come after the two-minute warning, yes, no problem. And frankly, I'd still have been OK if the Eagles had tried to score on a subsequent play. But the difference between the play clock and the game clock by game's end was just a couple of seconds. What if Westbrook had fallen down several seconds earlier? I know you don't want to give Dallas the ball down 11 with two minutes to go, but neither do you want to give it to them at all down four. Westbrook's heart was in the right place, and it worked (though it murdered any number of fantasy owners). I'm just saying if it had happened a few seconds earlier, it might not have been a genius move, and I don't think Westbrook had that fine a sense of how much time was left when he flopped. (And let's cut out all this "most unselfish player in the history of the world" guff. This is still the same guy who refused to give back a $3 million roster bonus which the Eagles accidentally paid him twice in '05, and he complained about his contract a lot this fall.)
Fantasy Up: Donovan McNabb has a top-5 fantasy matchup against the Saints Sunday, and if you've been relying on him lately, you use him. But I'd rather have a more stable option. He's still not throwing downfield much, but he had a huge 28-yard run on Sunday's only touchdown drive. Drew Brees won't have nearly as much fun facing a resurgent Eagles pass defense, though considering how up-and-down Lito Sheppard has been, it wouldn't shock me to see him suddenly struggle again (he was terrific in Week 15). Still, Brees was 26-of-30 in Week 15. Start him. Marques Colston is the only receiver in this game I'd trust in my lineup during a fantasy championship game.
Fantasy Down: It sounds as though Reggie Bush will return, and leech a good portion of Aaron Stecker's fantasy value. Hey, Bush scored against a better Philly D last season in the playoffs (Deuce McAllister logged 143 yards rushing in that game), but all signs indicate Stecker will start, with Bush playing in passing situations. This is frustrating because Stecker has looked good, but he's a weak No. 2 rusher, and Bush is no more than a flex play. I know the Eagles did a great job containing Dallas, but this is another high-powered offense, and I'd prefer not to play with fire. Neither would I use the Saints, who continue to stink against the pass, and will be without defensive tackle Brian Young.
Really, Bills? Really? Down eight, fourth-and-5 on the Cleveland 10 with 10 seconds to go, and you run a screen? Really?
Fantasy Up: The ideal scenario, story-line-wise, has the Giants dropping this game so Week 17 against the (presumably) undefeated Patriots means something to them. But I don't see it happening. The undersized Bills defense, laden as it is with second- and third-stringers, couldn't bring down Jamal Lewis, which makes me think they'll really struggle with giant Giant Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs is back to a fantasy starter in your title game. Marshawn Lynch took back the reins from Fred Jackson in Cleveland, getting 21 carries to Jackson's seven. He struggled some in the snow apart from a 29-yard first-quarter carry, and the Giants' rush defense is very good. Still, he's an OK No. 2 runner, and a fantasy starter this week. Plaxico Burress was Washington's focal point in Week 15, as the Redskins doubled Plax the moment he stepped out of the locker room, and ceded five catches to Sinorice Moss as a result. No doubt the Bills will try the same thing, but you have to stick with Plax.
Fantasy Down: Sometimes it's hard to watch the Bills on offense. They have bizarre play calls a couple times a half. Why is Steve Fairchild calling reverses in a blizzard, when no one can cut well enough to turn a corner? New York threw too much against the Redskins Sunday night, plain and simple. Sure, they got down by 19 in the second half, but why open the game throwing incomplete passes on four of your first five plays in high winds? Eli Manning didn't pull out his traditional second-half heroics, in part because of the conditions, but after the Giants watch this tape, I can't imagine they'll put Week 16's game in Eli's hands. Jeremy Shockey is done for the season, which means Kevin Boss is the Giants' starter at tight end. Boss will probably lose just enough snaps to fellow rookie Michael Matthews to make him unstartable in fantasy championships. Lee Evans made a nice catch on Buffalo's final drive in Cleveland, but on a day Braylon Edwards fought through the elements to be a factor, Evans couldn't. He's got that amazing upside, but I think he's too risky to use.
Good Brett, Bad Brett. Against the Rams, Brett Favre was able to withstand an eight-man pass rush and find a turned-loose Greg Jennings for a 44-yard score. But he also seemed unable to locate safety O.J. Atogwe on two other deep throws, which turned into bunnies for Atogwe and killers for Favre's fantasy owners. Chicago has nothing to play for here, and should set loose the hounds. That'll mean several Bad Brett plays, but enough Good Brett opportunities to mean Favre stays in your lineup.
Fantasy Up: You can run on Chicago, Ryan Grant. Oh yes you can. And despite Nathan Vasher's successful return Monday night, Greg Jennings makes a terrific fantasy play, and Donald Driver is an OK No. 2 receiver. Trouble continues to brew for the Packers' defense. Tackles Ryan Pickett (groin) and Justin Harrell (mysteriously carted off the field because of a bad thumb?) each have a chance of playing Sunday, but Green Bay's vaunted depth along the line is just about gone. In addition, the Rams selectively abused corner Charles Woodson at times, including when Isaac Bruce torched him with a deep double-move; Woodson is a good, not great player, who doesn't appear to be healthy. Now, because the Bears will probably have Kyle Orton at quarterback, deciding whether or not to start the Packers' D is easy. Start them. But down the line, come playoff time, Green Bay has holes it didn't have earlier this season.
Fantasy Down: Vasher missed 10 games, and the benefits of his return were palpable. He delivered a crushing hit, had a pick and forced a fumble from the cornerback position, and his presence seemed to re-energize Brian Urlacher. Still, against Favre, there's no way you should start a defense that has Jimmy Kennedy playing significant minutes in the middle. Oof, Orton wasn't good. That late interception to Darren Sharper, with Bernard Berrian open toward the deep middle of the field, was awful. Unfortunately, you can't start Berrian anymore this season. And I'll admit it: I was wrong about Adrian Peterson. He's no better than Cedric Benson was. He'll have an easier time of it Sunday than he did against Minnesota, but there were plays Peterson could've made in Week 15, holes he could've used. Nine carries for 26 yards indicate he didn't use them.
Remember where you were on Sept. 16? That was the afternoon the Browns became a fantasy powerhouse. After losing to the Steelers 34-7 in Week 1, Cleveland found an aerial attack, and displayed it in a 51-45 home win over Cincy. Derek Anderson threw for five scores. Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius caught two apiece, and Kellen Winslow caught one. Jamal Lewis ran for 216 yards.
Fantasy Up: I'm betting we won't see a combined 96 points in this game, but the matchups are still highly favorable for the air attacks. The Browns give up the most fantasy points to quarterbacks in football, and the Bengals are 10th. Jamal Lewis won't have quite the same ease, because the Bengals have been the second-toughest rush defense in the league to score fantasy points against the past five weeks. But still, the way Cleveland's O-line is drilling everything in its path, Lewis starts even in six-team leagues. Anderson is four shy of the Cleveland franchise record for touchdown passes, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 66 percent of their passes against the Bengals. The great ones deal with it. Edwards made two ridiculous catches in the snow, saving his fantasy day overall with four grabs for 64 yards.
Fantasy Down: Cincy's defense took a step back this past Saturday in San Francisco. It only allowed 20 points, but the second half was terrible: The Bengals let the NFL's worst offense embark on two quarter-sucking drives -- one 12 plays, the other 11 -- that heaped pressure on Carson Palmer & Co. As improved as the Bengals' D looked the past month, and as high hopes as I had for them this past week, they regressed in tackling and covering. This just in: those are important. As of this writing, Rudi Johnson had missed Bengals practice because of his bad hammy. It's unknown if this is merely precautionary, but Johnson was all but invisible Saturday, so I'm concerned. Chris Henry is also dinged with a bad ankle. He scored a long one against the Niners, but is too inconsistent to use.
The dumbest thing I've written this season (and there are a lot of candidates) is I thought the Chiefs' O-line would be all right. Boy. Brian Waters has played well, but he's it. Casey Wiegmann will be 35 and looks cooked, John Welbourn looks as though he misses the juice, Chris Terry has already been cut, Kyle Turley is on IR and might never play again and Damion McIntosh is destined to be a right tackle. It's not impossible to revamp an O-line in a single offseason, but the margin for error is razor-thin.
Fantasy Up: I believe this talk of Larry Johnson playing Sunday is nonsense, and as of now I've got Kolby Smith as an easy fantasy starter. But this is a 1 p.m. ET start, so if you get word that LJ is active, bench Kolby. Under that circumstance, though, I'd also find it pretty difficult to start LJ, because there's no way he's in game shape. Jon Kitna actually avoided getting sacked in a game in which he threw 45 passes (and five picks). Amazing, especially from a team that leads the league in sacks allowed. Kevin Jones can start in 12-team leagues, though it's risky, since he's got three, 23 and five carries the past three weeks. But the Chiefs have been terrible (704 yards allowed, six touchdowns) against the run the past five weeks.
Fantasy Down: Speaking of O-lines that need rebuilding: hello, Lions. I wish I could get excited about Dwayne Bowe, because the Lions are so god-awful in the secondary. But he's just not running with the same zip he did in the season's first half. I'd rather not use either defense here. I'm actually more tempted by the Lions, because they do generate sacks (their 32 is tied for 11th) and turnovers (their 36 is tied for fourth), though the notion of Jared Allen taking on Jeff Backus is tempting, too. But there's way too much incompetence on both defenses. Brodie Croyle slung it 43 times in Week 15, his career-high by 13 and the most this season by a Chiefs signal-caller. In my gut, I think Croyle has a pretty good day in Detroit, but I can't recommend starting him. The Lions took Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick. And someday, that might look smart. But right now, Matt Millen passed on Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson for yet another receiver. I'm not bashing him for the pick, because I like Megatron. But Millen just can't win for losing, can he?
Anthony Gonzalez is owned in only about one-third of ESPN.com leagues. Go remedy that. He's at least a flex in most leagues, and can easily slide into a No. 2 receiver role if you have a need. Gonzalez has 17 targets the past two weeks and 27 since he returned from a broken thumb four games ago, and he's scored three times in Indy's past two outings. More to the point, if and when the Colts decide to rest their stars, I doubt Gonzo Jr. will be part of that. So maybe some of his fantasy damage will come from Jim Sorgi, but hey, it all counts the same.
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Fantasy Down: This is a pretty cut-and-dried game. Use your Colts, use Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and, in deeper leagues, Dayne, and otherwise stay away. Kevin Walter is a better player than I gave him credit for this August, but his weekly fantasy points scored stat line is an EKG. Sage Rosenfels played very well against Tampa and adequately against Denver, but these Indy corners are excellent.
Justin Fargas is done for the season with a sprained MCL, but he's definitely put himself in the mix for someone's starting gig this offseason (he's a free agent). In his absence, ghosts of free agency past, Dominic Rhodes and LaMont Jordan, will compete for carries. Jordan has complained a ton and won't be back next season, so Rhodes is my early favorite. But even without Marcus Stroud, expect Jacksonville to be pretty stout against the run. I probably wouldn't use either guy unless desperation struck.
Fantasy Up: This is one of those perfect-storm-style matchups that sometimes don't play out the way they should. The Raiders have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing backs this year (including 20 rushing touchdowns), while Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew (and the mammoth Jags O-line) are chewing up opponents. I've got both Taylor and MJD inside my top 16 for fantasy runners. David Garrard picked blustery, snowy conditions for a second straight big-time fantasy outing. He threw for three scores and one pick, giving him 10 touchdowns and two picks since his return from an ankle injury. The Raiders, and especially Nnamdi Asomugha, aren't an easy team to throw against, but Garrard is still a borderline start. Unfortunately, none of his myriad receivers are consistent enough to benefit.
Fantasy Down: Even with the Colts' O-line banged up, it was surprising to see the Raiders take down Peyton Manning for three sacks, each of which could be termed a "coverage sack." The Raiders continue to play as much man in the secondary as any team west of Green Bay, and for the most part it worked pretty well. Still, with poor defensive tackles and average linebackers that give up huge ground yards, no way you can start the Raiders' D. Nevertheless, don't sleep on defensive end Derrick Burgess. He played a great game against Indy. I was looking back at some past seasons for this week's fantasy newsletter, and came across Josh McCown's 2004 season as the starter in Arizona. He sure finished the fantasy playoffs strong that year: in Weeks 14 through 16, he tossed for 542 yards and five touchdowns. Yeah, it's 2007 now.
Just when you thought the Falcons organization couldn't go any lower. Now it seems like Bill Parcells used Arthur Blank to get what he wanted out of the Dolphins, so he could run their football operations. Now Rich McKay knows he's done as general manager, just as interim coach Emmitt Thomas has to know his career as a head coach in Atlanta will last two more games. Suffice it to say that any fantasy value we thought we might scrape out of the Falcons these final two weeks is looking scarcer and scarcer.
Fantasy Up: During my Philly radio gig, Pat Callahan asked me if I thought maybe the Falcons would show some heart after Bobby Petrino walked out on them. I said no, I expected them to get killed. Chalk up one for the redhead. And start all your Cardinals, including owie-toed Anquan Boldin, who looked good catching six passes for 83 yards in New Orleans. Maybe you start Roddy White. I don't know. I ranked him 18th among receivers on Wednesday, but I'm rethinking. Expect to see him a little lower in today's update. In deeper leagues, you do have to consider him; he's super-talented, on a bit of a roll, and the Cardinals' secondary is in tatters. They've allowed a 76 percent completion rate in the past two games. But despite those tatters, Arizona doesn't make a bad one-week fantasy defense. The Falcons' offense has been top-5 all season in allowing fantasy points to opposing defenses, and they've given up eight sacks and two defensive touchdowns and committed eight turnovers the past three weeks.
Fantasy Down: That big break Chris Redman had getting to quarterback for his old college coordinator Petrino sure went by the wayside fast, huh? Jerious Norwood continues along at 6.4 yards per carry, while Warrick Dunn is at 3.1. Heck, Dunn has just 99 more yards rushing than Norwood despite 120 more carries. What a joke this team is. Atlanta linebacker Michael Boley is a really good player. What are the odds the Falcons accidentally forget to slap the tender-offer tag on him this spring?
What am I missing? Isn't Micheal Spurlock the guy who did "Super-Size Me"? (Oh, yeah, that's Morgan Spurlock.)
Fantasy Up: The Bucs are still well in contention for the No. 3 seed, though Seattle owns the tiebreaker. So Tampa won't be resting anyone Sunday. Don't fret that Michael Bennett amassed 63 yards on nine carries this past week. That production was all in garbage time. Earnest Graham is still the man, and I have him as a top-5 fantasy option. His touchdown against Atlanta gave him at least one score in six straight games, a Bucs record. Frank Gore set a season-high with 138 yards on 29 carries against a Bengals defense that had been ultra-stingy lately against the run. While it's very difficult to trust a couple of the spare parts in the Niners' O-line, and while Tampa is the only team in the NFL not to allow a rushing touchdown during the past five weeks, I'd probably start Gore in my fantasy championship, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. But I'd definitely start the Buccaneers' defense. Guys like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks get credit, but the defensive line, starting with rotated-in super-sub Greg White, has been huge lately. And they get starter Greg Spires back from a calf injury this week. I'm not panicked about Tampa's lack of an aerial game this past week, because the score got out of control so fast. I'd still use Joey Galloway, and would consider Jeff Garcia.
Fantasy Down: Shaun Hill played very well against Cincinnati: controlled, accurate and upright. (That last part has been tough for 49ers' quarterbacks.) Plus, Hill ran for a touchdown. But Tampa's not the secondary you want your second-time starter making his bones against. The Bucs have allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks all season. (In the interest of fairness, I have to say: I quoted these same stats against both Drew Brees and Sage Rosenfels in Weeks 13 and 14, and the Bucs didn't play very well in the secondary in those games. Still, I'm avoiding Hill.) Darrell Jackson caught eight passes for 86 yards against Cincy, flashing some of his old Seattle form. No chance you use him.
Which Week 15 loss was more embarrassing? The Ravens', who refused to go for the win on the 3-inch line and instead kicked a tying field goal, then allowed the Dolphins to get their first victory? Or the Seahawks', who kicked away a five-game winning streak by racking up a whopping 217 total yards before a meaningless late-game drive against the sagging Panthers? Yeah, you're right: Baltimore's was probably more embarrassing. But I have to say, Seattle's surprised me a lot more.
Fantasy Up: Last Sunday, Matt Hasselbeck sleepwalked through the requisite West Coast slants and crosses, made bad decisions and still had a chance to win, until Maurice Morris missed a block and Thomas Davis crunched Hasselbeck, causing him to fumble away a go-ahead drive. This game really made me scratch my head. The Panthers haven't covered anyone in a month, but Hasselbeck couldn't find anyone downfield all day. Carolina was dead-last in sacks with 16, but managed three in this game. I'm vexed, but I have to go by what I see. There isn't any way the likes of Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin should be able to stay with Bobby Engram and Deion Branch. Keep rolling with Willis McGahee. The Seahawks have held up pretty well on the ground lately, I have to say, but McGahee is a consistent fantasy force. The Seattle defense makes a great play against what's sure to be a messy quarterback situation. The Ravens' defense sans Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle does not.
Fantasy Down: You should have no thought of using either Shaun Alexander or Morris in your fantasy playoffs. The Seahawks' O-line just got manhandled by Carolina's interior tackles, Kris Jenkins and Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who, to be honest, haven't done a ton of manhandling this season. Kyle Boller is sounding less and less likely to play. When your coach is asked about you and one of the first phrases out of his mouth is "oversensitivity to light," it's not a good sign. I've assumed Troy Smith will replace Boller, but Seattle's is a very difficult pass rush to play against.
Albert Haynesworth was in and out the entire game in Kansas City, never playing more than three plays in a row. After his dominating outing the week before against San Diego, this is alarming. Given that Titans run-stuffing middle linebacker Ryan Fowler hurt his shoulder and wound up on the IR this week, there's a sneaky chance here that Thomas Jones could have a decent day. I still probably couldn't start him as a No. 2 running back this week, but as a flex? Could be.
Fantasy Up: LenDale White did yeoman's work against the Chiefs, who threw everything they had at the line of scrimmage. White never broke anything big, but turned 24 carries into 93 yards. It's doubtful the Jets will play their "stand up and roam around at the line" defense for Tennessee the way they did in New England, but still, New York gives up the third-most fantasy points to backs, and made Laurence Maroney look studly this past week. There's danger, because now Chris Henry is back from suspension and Chris Brown can still steal touches, too, but every indication is White gets the rock Sunday. Roydell Williams scored twice in K.C., though the way Tennessee uses him is well nigh indistinguishable from the way they use Justin Gage. (By now, Eric Moulds is a glorified tight end.) Williams is available in over 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so deep-leaguers in need of receiver help can look his way. Jerricho Cotchery has gutted out his finger injury, and appears to be the last man standing among Jets receivers. He's a flex play this week.
Fantasy Down: Chad Pennington having to throw into a 25 mph wind Sunday just wasn't fair. A butterfly would have a better chance in a monsoon. Vince Young has turned in two straight solid games. Against the Chiefs, he mostly checked down to safety routes (the "Death By A Thousand Cuts" offense), which is cool, because it was the first time in seven games he didn't throw a pick. Still, I worry about him against a Jets defense that, even if it's not great at a lot of other things, can definitely disguise coverages. I'd probably avoid him. Laveranues Coles was ranked by all my ESPN compatriots this week, but it sounds to me like there's no way he'll go. He only got on the field for one play against New England. Don't use him.
Can Bill Parcells' meteoric rise to the helm of the Fins' football operations somehow buck history and allow Miami to pull perhaps the biggest upset in NFL history? No. In fact, if anything, Dolphins players will be edgier here, knowing they've got a two-game audition to be employed in 2008. Maybe that creates more effort, but maybe guys strain too much. For all his supposed "favorable opinions" about Cam Cameron, I think this is the death knell for the first-year coach. Parcells didn't take this job to have his team led by a half-awake cerebellum. Parcells is a blood-and-guts guy.
Fantasy Up: The weather, the Pats' play-calling stubbornness and/or the Jets' insistence on often playing one down lineman and 10 "rovers" all contributed to Tom Brady's worst fantasy day at the worst possible time. Randy Moss, too. Last week killed a lot of fantasy dream seasons. But no matter what they say, the Patriots are invested in history, which means by hook or by crook, Brady is getting at least five touchdown passes the next two weeks. Adalius Thomas finally made his presence known for an entire game against the Jets. Crushing receivers off the line of scrimmage, stuffing several Thomas Jones runs and pressuring New York's various quarterbacks, it was the first game Thomas seemed worth the Pats' big investment. That should continue against the Miami no-names Sunday; New England is my top-rated defense again this week. Laurence Maroney had it pretty easy against New York because, as I said, the Jets basically ceded the line of scrimmage on every play. That won't happen against the Dolphins, but Maroney has more fantasy value than he's had in a while. I have him rated 18th among backs this week.
Fantasy Down: Just when you thought Samkon Gado was going to lead you to another random fantasy title, Jesse Chatman might be getting healthy. OK, honestly, neither of these guys was going to set the world ablaze Sunday, but if Chatman's ankle is OK, he's probably the starter, with Gado providing solid understudy work. That would make them both worthless. Cleo Lemon logged his first 300-yard game as a pro, but of course, without the 64-yard overtime game-winner (which should never have happened, right Ravens fans?), the stat sheet would look sadder. The best news in the whole Parcells situation is that Randy Mueller won't be making personnel calls any longer with Miami.
Clinton Portis' effort against a very tough Giants rush defense (126 punishing yards and a score) makes him a harder decision this week. Normally, you bench nearly any back playing the Vikings: they've allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing rushers all season, the fewest in the past five weeks, the fewest total yards rushing and the second-fewest yards per carry. That said, few owners even in 10-team leagues have two backs better than Portis. It's a really tough call. I've got him ranked No. 22, right on the border. Twenty carries for 70 yards sounds about right; the only question is, will he score a touchdown?
Fantasy Up: Washington Linebacker Rocky McIntosh is gone for the season with a knee injury, meaning either ageless Randall Godfrey or rookie H.B. Blades will have to contribute to the mission of slowing down Adrian Peterson. McIntosh had made major strides alongside London Fletcher, so this boosts Peterson's value a little more. Not that you needed a reason to start him. Todd Collins is a prototypical caretaker, dinking and dunking, with the caveat that he'll take two or three shots down the field, pretty accurately, per game. And Vikings corner Antoine Winfield (who played a good game Monday for the first time I can remember) is out, making an already-shaky Minny pass defense even wobblier. Still, I'm using the Vikings' D. They continue to be the highest-scoring fantasy unit around, they stop what the Redskins do best, and their linebackers (especially E.J. Henderson) still don't get enough pub.
Fantasy Down: Uh-oh, Chester Taylor owners. Only five carries in a very tight Monday night game? That's not good. I've sunk Taylor to 30th on my running back list, which means he's a risky flex at best. Peterson appears to have proven he's healthy again, so we may be back to that same transition that happened around Week 8. Tarvaris Jackson was exposed by Ron Jaworski on "Monday Night Football." Jaws did a fantastic job drawing up a blueprint of what this kid does wrong: jump-throws, off-balance throws, running throws. I'm not damning Jackson forever, but his mechanics stink. Sidney Rice has a high-ankle sprain, and the rookie receiver is out for the rest of the regular season. Keep his name in mind for '08.
Get ready for your LaDainian Tomlinson highlight reel. The Broncos will know what's coming, and it won't matter. LT will probably get stopped a few times early, but then he and the Chargers' O-line will get rolling, and it'll get ugly quick. Let's rehash the facts: Denver has allowed the second-most yards per carry this year (4.5), the fourth-most total rush yards (140.2 per game) and the seventh-most rushing touchdowns (13). Tomlinson has a rushing title to win, and San Diego can still take the AFC's No. 3 seed, and avoid the Patriots until the AFC Championship Game.
Fantasy Up: Brandon Marshall is developing two reputations, one good and one bad. The good one is on the field, where Baby T.O. is a must-start in any fantasy league and a nightmare to cover in the red zone. (He has only six scores, but four have come in the past five weeks.) The bad one is off the field, where he's allegedly committed a DUI, screamed at a coach in a team meeting and was arrested for domestic violence (though the charges were dropped). Here's hoping exposure to all-class Rod Smith helps the kid. He's a great talent, but there are warning signs. Tony Scheffler was immense in Houston: nine targets, seven catches, 100 yards and a controversial touchdown. He's well worth starting against the Chargers. However, I also like the Chargers' defense very much. Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo should both be back, and despite a couple of shaky outings in 2007 (one particular afternoon in Minnesota comes to mind), this is still the third highest scoring fantasy defense around.
Fantasy Down: Travis Henry has told reporters his health is "a seven" on a scale of 1-10, but he's playing worse than that. Because Mike Shanahan is stubborn, Henry had more carries than Selvin Young when he left Thursday's game in Houston in the fourth quarter with an injury, but translated his 10 totes into just 27 yards. (Young had eight carries for 34 yards.) Trying to guess what Shanny will do makes fantasy owners weep, and I wouldn't try Monday versus a stingy-again Chargers D, especially if Castillo returns, as expected, from ankle surgery. Jay Cutler got a lot of love from a few ESPN experts this week, but not me. Yes, he produced a huge game a couple of weeks ago against the Chiefs. But the Chargers aren't the Chiefs, and Cutler has a sore knee after getting sacked five times against the Texans. For me, this isn't the time to get clever and use Cutler in your fantasy championship.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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