- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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(Remember, you can find my weekly positional rankings in The Big Rotowski. Also, all ESPN.com fantasy columnists will update their rankings on Friday.)
San Francisco 49ers (2-5) at Atlanta Falcons (1-6)
Joe Nedney: hero to millions. After pushing a kickoff out of bounds, Nedney chucked his kicking tee and helmet and flipped the finger to a fan. Just think, kids: Even if you're not a steroid-addled behemoth, you can act like a jackass in front of tens of thousands of people, and earn a sweet living doing it.
Fantasy Up: Yeah, sorry to lead with a kicker, but there isn't a ton to be excited about here. Roddy White is usable in fantasy leagues, but I'd be more interested in him if Byron Leftwich was playing, which he isn't. White did catch all eight of his targets against the Saints, for 110 yards and a touchdown. Jerious Norwood could be a sneaky start, because eventually he has to get more carries than Warrick Dunn, and it could happen now, after the Falcons' bye. Norwood has 5.8 yards per carry, while Dunn stands at 3.1.
Fantasy Down: For as much ineptitude as there promises to be on offense, you probably shouldn't start either defense. In particular, the Niners are incredibly disappointing; they're second-to-last in interceptions (four), have zero defensive touchdowns, 12 sacks, and are in the lower echelon in all yards-allowed categories. Meanwhile, the Falcons dumped nose tackle Grady Jackson, and have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing rushers over the past three weeks. Normally, I'd be all over Frank Gore, but with an O-line that couldn't open a can of pineapples and an ankle three times its normal size, the inconvenient truth is I'm losing faith in ol' Mr. Gore. Alex Smith sounds like he'll tough it out despite his injured shoulder. Just call Joey Harrington "McLovin." He's tall, gawky, has a weirdly impenetrable smile and the eyes of a man who doesn't have a clear picture of himself in the universe. Please don't use him. Alge Crumpler is still questionable with his bad knee. He's been awful anyway. And that Atlanta offensive line continues to be comprised of 60 percent no-names. The starting tackles? Quinn Ojinnaka and Tyson Clabo. I thought "Clabo" was that robot Lisa Simpson invented that fixed your grammar.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-5) at Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Since they started the 2006 season 3-0, the Bengals are 7-13 in their past 20 games. Fantasy players have a bit of a blind spot for them, because they'll throw it so much. But this isn't a good team. The defense is awful once again, the rushing game's consistency disappeared with tackle Willie Anderson, and Carson Palmer evidently can't win games by himself. Yet the 2-5 Bengals are a road favorite? Those glasses Vegas is wearing aren't rose-colored. They're orange.
Fantasy Up: Hey, the Cincy O-line held the Steelers to no sacks and let Kenny Watson get 88 more rushing yards, so there's that, and you can't expect a Buffalo defense that's managed just eight sacks on the season to go hog-wild sacking Palmer. So yes, you start Palmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the mercurial Chad Johnson. (The Bills allow the fourth-most passing yards per game.) However, I'm avoiding the running game (more below on that). I have Marshawn Lynch as the No. 5 back in fantasy this week. Sure, he gains just 3.6 yards per carry, and has only two rushes of more than 20 yards this season, but Cincy allowed 18 fantasy points to Willie Parker last week, 17 to Larry Johnson three weeks ago, and 18 to Sammy Morris the week before that. Lee Evans has posted a couple of good games in a row, though he was on his way to four catches for 53 yards before the silly bomb J.P. Losman threw him at the end of the Jets game. Still, Losman's back, and that bodes well for Evans.
Fantasy Down: Watson suffered a mild concussion against Pittsburgh, and is questionable for Sunday. It sounds like he'll play, but so will Rudi Johnson, and Marvin Lewis has said he plans on rotating carries to keep both backs fresh. As such, neither is much better than a flex. If you're in dire straits because of byes, I don't hate the Bills' defense. While I just finished ragging on them a bit above, I was impressed by how thoroughly they confused the Jets' O-line. By coming out in nickel and sending various personnel on blitzes, the Bills actually opened up the middle for their defensive tackles to have very nice days; Larry Triplett had a couple of tackles for loss, and Kyle Williams had a huge sack deep in Buffalo territory.
Denver Broncos (3-4) at Detroit Lions (5-2)
Let's see. So far, I was wrong about Andre Hall potentially stealing carries from Selvin Young. I was wrong about Javon Walker being a top-5 receiver. I was wrong about Travis Henry's appeal not taking this long. And I was wrong when I guessed Henry would play Monday night. So yeah, I've definitely got my finger on the pulse of the Broncos. That said, as of this posting, it sounded like Henry (who has two games left before his suspension should finally be final) would be able to go against the Lions. If that's true, you'd have to start him.
Fantasy Up: Calvin Johnson has worked his way into Detroit's lineup, and he's becoming more of a red zone threat every week. Despite his balky back (he should play this week), Megatron ran for a touchdown and made a scintillating catch in the end zone, but barely failed to get his feet in bounds. That vaunted Broncos secondary has been torched by Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers in its past three games. I also love Kevin Jones this week. Truth told, Denver really is better against the pass than the run; they've allowed the fifth-most points to fantasy rushers, and made Ryan Grant a fantasy star on Monday. And Jones has 16 and 15 fantasy points in his past two games, since taking over the Lions' starting gig. It's hard to figure the Detroit defense, but I guess if you've been riding them, keep at it. The personnel doesn't scream "23 turnovers!" or "league-high 11 interceptions," and the scheme is honestly a rather vanilla Cover 2 most of the time. I mean, Fernando Bryant? But still.
Fantasy Down: Did anyone else hate that Mike Shanahan call with 22 seconds left in regulation? Third-and-goal on the Green Bay 4, and Jay Cutler runs a quarterback draw? Too conservative for me. As I just indicated, I remain unconvinced by the Detroit D, and I have Cutler rated 11th among fantasy quarterbacks this week. Still, it's hard to fear the Broncos much when they don't draw out their big-play dagger much anymore. Maybe next time Jon Kitna should wear a Halloween costume of a sanctimonious, prayer-mongering quarterback who talks out the other side of his mouth when it comes to humiliating his coaches.
Green Bay Packers (6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)
What can you say? James Jones undressing Champ Bailey followed by Greg Jennings humbling Dre' Bly on the game winner was pretty eye-opening, and Brett Favre put both throws on the money. So much for Favre not being able to throw the long ball (he missed four open deep routes against Washington, which started the talk). The Chiefs have played conservatively with their back four in recent weeks, leading to speculation that they don't trust Ty Law much anymore. While Jared Allen will make life tough on the Pack's O-line and Favre, I expect the Green Bay air game to get some good work done.
Fantasy Up: Larry Johnson had two easy games before the bye, but this one's much tougher. The Packers (as do most teams) will force Damon Huard to beat them, and plug gaps to stuff LJ. Over the past three weeks, Green Bay has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing rushers (the Chiefs are third-fewest). You always play LJ, but beware. I like both defenses here. The Packers continue to play well, and scheme fancily because they love their corners so much (they love 'em more than I love 'em, but that's neither here nor there). But while safety Atari Bigby may have one of the coolest first names in sports, he needs to play much better, and more under control. In one first-quarter drive, Bigby committed a personal foul on a late hit out of bounds, committed pass interference in the end zone, and allowed a scoring pass. Ugly. Dwayne Bowe is a big, handsy receiver, and not a guy the Packers' corners will be able to muscle at the line. I think Bowe has a fantasy-worthy day. Jared Allen is making himself a lot of money.
Fantasy Down: Ryan Grant has the starting gig for Green Bay, but don't assume because he found room against the Broncos he'll automatically do it against the Chiefs. I'd be happier playing Grant as a flex than as a No. 2 rusher. Huard is hamstrung more by Herm Edwards than by opposing defenses. His 6.8 yards per attempt puts him 25th among starting quarterbacks. Seven interceptions to go with six touchdowns is no good, either.
San Diego Chargers (4-3) at Minnesota Vikings (2-5)
Adrian Peterson's first start wasn't the stuff dreams are made of. He did have a 22-yard run wiped out by a silly holding penalty on Visanthe Shiancoe, and was strong on Minnesota's first drive (its only touchdown drive), with six carries for 34 yards. Thereafter: 14 carries for 36 yards. The Chargers are fifth-toughest for fantasy backs to score against, but the fact that Peterson's role is growing only hikes his value. Keep playing him. Heck, trade for him. He'll post a few more mind-boggling games before 2007's out.
Fantasy Up: Starting center Nick Hardwick will miss another game Sunday, and while it didn't show much against Houston, expect the sledding to get tougher for LaDainian Tomlinson in Minnesota. The Vikes' D-line, specifically Kevin and Pat Williams, pretty well bottled Brian Westbrook (21 carries, 46 yards), though Westbrook did have two very short scores. LT is still my No. 1 back because, well, he's LT. But the yards should come hard. When I thought Brooks Bollinger would be Minnesota's starting quarterback, I licked my chops and ranked the Chargers' defense No. 1. Then I heard Tarvaris "Nine Finger" Jackson would get the nod instead, and I licked my chops and ranked the Chargers' defense No. 1. This is the rare week when I say start Philip Rivers. You saw the 11 pass attempts against Houston coming a mile away, but the Chargers will have to throw to win this game. Antonio Gates (surprise!) should be a huge target against safeties who just aren't very good.
Fantasy Down: Don't completely give up on Vincent Jackson. I know he was held without a catch in the blowout win against Houston, but the Chargers only threw it 11 times. He'll re-emerge eventually, though I don't have him as a fantasy starter this week. Now it appears Tarvaris Jackson will be able to play quarterback for Minnesota. The happy thing is, his broken finger probably doesn't make a bit of difference. The sad thing is, his broken finger probably doesn't make a bit of difference. Clearly no Minnesota wideout should be anywhere near your starting lineup. Bobby Wade, the "leading" target (43 targets, 23 receptions), has a hyperextended knee, and may not go. Rookie Sidney Rice would take his place. I'm not sure why the Vikings' O-line is pretty good run-blocking, and so terrible protecting the quarterback. You'd suspect it's because these signal-callers hold the ball too long, but that's not what my eyes tell me. The Eagles had way too many free runs early in plays last week.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (3-4)
Regular readers know how big a Rashean Mathis fan I am; I've been waxing rhapsodic over him for three seasons (except when he plays the Colts). Last week, he saved the Jags' butts. He blasted Ike Hilliard to prevent Tampa from getting in winning field-goal position, popping up the ball and giving Reggie Nelson the easy pick. Mathis on Marques Colston will be awesome to watch Sunday. Don't be misled by the fact that David Patten and Devery Henderson started; Colston was the main target, and wound up with three scores.
Fantasy Up: Reggie Bush came out of the Saints' win over San Francisco with bruised ribs, but should lace 'em up Sunday. His matchup got easier when Marcus Stroud was suspended for four games (as of this posting, Stroud wasn't expected to appeal). Sure, the addition of 1,000-pound Grady Jackson is well-timed (could the Jags have had prior knowledge of the looming suspension when they signed Jackson?), but make no mistake: Jackson ain't Stroud. Welcome to 2007, Drew Brees. Brees threw a 43-yard pass on the Saints' first play in San Fran, showing aggressiveness and decisiveness he's often lacked this season. Deep throws and a wide-open playbook helped, but Brees was simply a different guy: up-tempo, solid over his feet, sticking throws and avoiding the scatter-gun that's plagued him. I'm ready to say he's back, and if Aaron Glenn has to play a lot of corner for the Jags this week, look out. Glenn scored a touchdown picking off Jeff Garcia last week, but relying on him is a losing proposition. Maurice Jones-Drew had only 10 carries and two receptions versus Tampa, but that was because Jacksonville wanted to protect his dinged-up knee. As much as the Saints' rush defense has improved, I'd still start MJD as a No. 2 runner.
Fantasy Down: There's not too much in this game I don't like. It's got a good blend of potential offensive stars and two defenses that are riding high. Quinn Gray is an easy fall guy, but here goes: The Jags don't want him losing the game, so they're saddling him with a super-conservative game plan. He was 7-of-16 for 100 yards in a very close contest. As such, you can't use him, Dennis Northcutt, Matt Jones or anyone else involved in the aerial attack.
Washington Redskins (4-3) at New York Jets (1-7)
When you're focused on an offensive guard for intrigue in a matchup, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. Pete Kendall held out for more ducats this summer, and was dealt from the Jets to Washington, where he's played well (and he's been terribly missed in Gotham). Joe Gibbs' crew is getting healthier up front (center Casey Rabach has returned), but you'd never have known it during the jailbreak in New England last week. Things should get easier for Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis against an awful front seven.
Fantasy Up: Portis will finally be a strong play again. The New York media is on this bandwagon, but I've been there for a month: Dewayne Robertson is miscast as the nose man in a 3-4 defense. Offenses aren't worried enough about him to send a double-team his way, which means the Mangenius loops and stunts and blitzes to little effect, because there are usually enough offensive linemen to protect. In short, Robertson isn't disruptive, and you can run big-time on the Jets. As exposed as Washington's defense looked against the Patriots, they're still a borderline startable unit Sunday. Look at any Jets game tape from '07, and you'll find multiple plays in which a stunt absolutely confused the pass-blocking, and led to pressure and/or sacks. It'll happen again this week. I can see using Campbell as a bye week fill-in, though I like the Jets' secondary personnel. The problem is no pass rush (all told, New York's D-line has a combined four sacks in eight games).
Fantasy Down: In his past 43 possessions, Chad Pennington led the Jets to five touchdowns. So that explains what Kellen Clemens is doing practicing with the first team. I like Clemens' arm, but Washington isn't a good first opponent (Pittsburgh and Dallas aren't good second and third opponents, either). As much as I like the receivers, I wouldn't play Clemens, though he's worth owning. It's sounding more like Laveranues Coles won't play because of a concussion, though check ESPN.com throughout the weekend to be sure. Brad Smith might start in his place. I'm sitting Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El for the time being. They're 75th and 37th, respectively, in fantasy scoring among receivers in standard ESPN leagues. Moss is hurting, and Randle El just isn't that good. Chris Cooley's the guy to start in this passing game.
Arizona Cardinals (3-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4)
A pair of calves will influence the action Sunday: Greg Spires of the Bucs will be out, so rookie Gaines Adams will have to help slow down Edgerrin James, while Cardinals left tackle Mike Gandy might be out, too, which would slide rookie Levi Jones to Kurt Warner's blind side. Whichever rookie plays better could help determine this game.
Fantasy Up: Coming off their bye, Arizona leads the NFL in total penalties and penalty yards, and they also have been outscored in the first quarter, 30-6. That's what gives Jeff Garcia hope; big deficits aren't Garcia's specialty, but he can be extremely effective, and fantasy-worthy, with a lead. Larry Fitzgerald gets the Randy Moss comparisons, but Anquan Boldin is almost without parallel in today's NFL. He's not super-fast, but you can't bump him at the line, and he's as hard to tackle as any receiver in football. His hip is fully healthy, I have him as the No. 6 receiver in fantasy this week, and if he gets Phillip Buchanon on him, watch out. Warner's elbow isn't fixed, and he'll still hand off with his right arm Sunday. I'm on record as loving Warner's potential for the rest of '07; the only thing that holds him down to my 12th-place rating is Tampa allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks over the past five weeks. You can run it on the Bucs' defense (124.5 yards per game), but they're second-best against the pass. The six passing touchdowns they've allowed are second-best in football, too.
Fantasy Down: Will Michael Bennett vulture Earnest Graham's value? Jon Gruden has been tight-lipped, and for the moment, I still have Graham higher than Bennett, but I'm starting to believe neither is much better than a flex play (and Michael Pittman is close to returning, too). Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett has been really solid, and is second (to Tommie Harris) in sacks by an interior lineman, with six. He's also a factor in the run game. Ike Hilliard got picked up in a lot of leagues last week, and he disappointed with just three catches. But rest assured: He got nine targets, and still hasn't received fewer than seven targets for five straight games.
Fantasy Up: Jeff Fisher is one of those coaches who doesn't double-talk a lot. So when he says Chris Henry is playing very well, I take him at his word, and expect Chris Brown on the bench again this week. That doesn't mean Henry's a very good start; LenDale White is the man in Tennessee. But the desperate can use Henry and hope for a bit more third-down magic. Jeff King definitely benefits from Carr's presence. King had 13 targets and 10 receptions against the Colts, and that was while the Panthers were getting blown out. Start him. Tennessee is my No. 2-rated defense this week. They'll focus everything they've got on Steve Smith, let their mad-dog D-linemen take care of the run, and sack the living heck out of Carr. Your chops should officially be licked.
Fantasy Down: The Panthers didn't breathe on Peyton Manning and still only have four sacks this season. Carolina end Mike Rucker doesn't have a single sack. That means Vince Young will turn things around this week, right? No. The Titans are all-world in drops, and I can't see using Young until he wakes up (and his quad limbers up). You can run on the Panthers (fourth-most fantasy points to rushers in the past five weeks), and I think the Titans will do just that. I don't like DeShaun Foster rushing against the strongest run defense in football, and I hate DeAngelo Williams. Carr is just awful. He doesn't look downfield even a little. Steve Smith is clearly a must-use, but his value couldn't be lower. I have to assume John Fox spent the week trying to convince Carr who his lone offensive playmaker is. Brandon Jones may be back this week, which would push Roydell Williams to the bench. I wouldn't start any Titans receiver.
Seattle Seahawks (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (4-3)
Because Cleveland's defense is easier to beat via the air than on the ground, the Seahawks' receiver situation deserves high scrutiny. Deion Branch is now only 50-50 to play because of his injured foot, while D.J. Hackett has reportedly made all sorts of spectacular catches in practice, and isn't listed on Seattle's injury report. For now, then, Hackett needs to climb on your list, while Branch needs to fall.
Fantasy Up: If I'm getting invested fantasy-wise in this game, it's via these two aerial attacks. Derek Anderson is my No. 3 quarterback of the week; his 8.3 yards per attempt is tied with Mr. Downfield, Tony Romo, for second among starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady is first). And while you have to be careful about Matt Hasselbeck's oblique, it sounds like he'll play, and rookie corner Eric Wright is burnable. Braylon Edwards is my top receiver this week. It's probably unrealistic to expect him to produce at this level every game (since a scoreless Week 1, he's got nine touchdowns and averages over 100 yards), but you watch him get off the line so cleanly and streak past D-backs so effortlessly, and you wonder how anyone will ever stop him. Kellen Winslow is essentially a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and when the Browns line him up that way, defenses can't stop him. Two of his touchdowns this season have come when he's split wide and is the only receiver on his side.
Fantasy Down: Mike Holmgren threatened his O-line during the bye, and now appears set to reinsert Pork Chop Womack into the lineup, possibly benching Chris Gray or Rob Sims. But that's rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: Shaun Alexander isn't finding the seams through which he likes to slide those big shoulder pads of his, and while a breakout here or there isn't impossible, I'm definitely not relying on him in fantasy leagues right now. In particular, watch linebacker Leon Williams stalking Alexander all day. Jamal Lewis still isn't healthy, despite his 17 carries in St. Louis, and now the Browns are threatening to limit his touches for a few weeks. Jerome Harrison has clearly looked stronger than Jason Wright in consecutive weeks, so I rated him a bit higher as Lewis' backup.
New England Patriots (8-0) at Indianapolis Colts (7-0)
There's not a whole lot here to break down. The Patriots are crushing people, but they probably won't hold off Indy's pass rush as easily as they've done other opponents'. As such, they'll run more than we've seen lately. And the Colts face essentially the same defense they torched in the AFC championship, so expecting them to curl into a ball is silly. The only thing I know for sure: don't start either defense.
Fantasy Up: Tom Brady's line of 30 touchdowns and two interceptions is ludicrous, and he'll take his shots downfield in this one. But I won't be surprised if he throws, say, 25 passes in this one. Peyton Manning won't have a healthy Marvin Harrison, regardless of whether Harrison plays. That makes Reggie Wayne against Asante Samuel the matchup to watch, but it also means New England has to do a far better job accounting for Dallas Clark than it's ever done. Maybe Adalius Thomas can help, but I don't love Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson (who may miss the game with a bad ankle) or James Sanders in coverage. Joseph Addai will have to contend with Richard Seymour, but I can't believe Seymour's 100 percent. The Colts' game plan will be invested in keeping the ball, which means Addai gets a ton of work and Kenton Keith spells him. The Patriots have saved Laurence Maroney for this one. I've written it a couple of times this week, but I actually rather expect New England to come out with a two-tight end, one-wideout look and try and smash the ball down Indy's throat. Everyone knows the key to the Colts' defense is Bob Sanders; once the Pats draw him down out of his Cover 2, they'll bomb. It's sounding more and more like Ben Watson can play in this game, too, and he'd be a must-start as well. Carolina's Jeff King went nutty (at least in terms of catches) against the Colts in Week 8.
Fantasy Down: Did I mention don't start these defenses?
Houston Texans (3-5) at Oakland Raiders (2-5)
Andre Johnson is close. He proclaimed himself 85 percent to reporters, and was listed as a "full participant" on Houston's Wednesday injury report. However, at the moment it still sounds as though the going-nowhere Texans would rather play it safe with AJ, and rest him in their Week 10 bye before bringing him back. Unfortunately, this is a 4 p.m. game, so you probably won't know anything for sure by the time you have to make your lineup decisions.
Fantasy Up: You can run on both of these defenses. Oakland has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing rushers this season, and Houston has allowed the third-most. The problem is figuring out who'll benefit. With Ahman Green hurting, Ron Dayne and Adimchinobi Echemandu would figure to split carries (as they did in Week 8), but Echemandu has a sore hammy, so he could be limited as well. Does that mean rely on Dayne? Ugh. He's got 2.9 yards per carry, and lacks explosiveness to a degree that makes the latter-day Eddie George look like Barry Sanders. Echemandu would be my pick if you can get word he's feeling OK. On the other side, LaMont Jordan has 87 yards in his past 41 carries, and can't be healthy. Lane Kiffin said Justin Fargas would get more work going forward, and he did turn his 12 carries against Tennessee into 61 yards, while Jordan rushed 12 times for 16 yards. I guess I'm talking myself into valuing Fargas more, but he's such a squirt, I can't imagine him as a full-time back.
Fantasy Down: Ronald Curry has a bad foot, and ESPN's own John Clayton reports Curry has a "decent chance" of missing this game. That's a shame, because Houston's beatable over the middle. Jerry Porter would become Daunte Culpepper's top target. Sage Rosenfels sounds like the starter at quarterback for Houston, because Matt Schaub is still sore from the pounding he's taken in two straight weeks. The Raiders are the hardest team for a quarterback to score fantasy points against over the past five weeks, so bench Rosenfels. Ahman Green needs to ride pine, too. It's unclear exactly what's going on with his knee, but he was a surprise inactive against San Diego and he sounds doubtful for Oakland. The Texans maintain Owen Daniels has a chance to go, but he's got a high-ankle sprain, so I think that's wishful thinking. Rookie Michael Bush (broken leg) has finally made it on the practice field, but he's miles away from seeing game time.
Dallas Cowboys (6-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Tons of injury news in these secondaries. Philly free safety Brian Dawkins should return from his serious neck injury, while Lito Sheppard, who tweaked his injured knee ligament against Minnesota, will play but could be slowed. On the other side, Dallas' best corner, Anthony Henry, swore up and down he'd play in this Sunday night tilt, but Wade Phillips sounds less than convinced, and Henry probably won't start. Terence Newman is healthy, and thus, should start again, which isn't always a good thing for the Cowboys. The Eagles, in particular, benefit from all this shuffling; not only are they glad to miss a full-speed Henry, but they'll need five and six defensive backs, and Quintin Mikell has done a more-than-respectable job replacing Dawkins.
Fantasy Up: Yeah, and all that said, go ahead and use Tony Romo, the $67.5 million man. If he thought he got attention from "American Idol" ladies before this week. And I'm quite sure Terrell Owens will get another friendly reception at the Linc. Brian Westbrook was shut down by Minnesota, and still managed to score twice. That's the mark of an elite fantasy back. I'd use Kevin Curtis most weeks, and I'd give Reggie Brown a go as a flex against Dallas. Brown made two highlight-reel catches in Minny last week, and also caught a flea flicker that helped seal the game. The Eagles did a fine job on Adrian Peterson after the Vikings' first drive, but I'd still use a rested Marion Barber, whose per-carry average is second-highest (behind Peterson) among starting backs.
Fantasy Down: I like the Philadelphia defense pretty well, but not this week. Trent Cole is having a Pro Bowl season (he was named the NFL Defensive Player for Week 8, and leads the league with nine sacks), but I guess still isn't ready to be full-time (he rotates out regularly). The Cowboys put so much pressure on a defense via the air; despite the healthier secondary, I'd rather not take the chance on the Eagles. Nice to hear Wade Phillips chime in on Britney Spears' new album, huh? (Apparently Spears may have stolen some dance moves from Phillips' choreographer daughter.) The Boys are clearly in full concentration mode with their senile-uncle head coach.
Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
The Ravens have tried to get everyone healthy in advance of this game, and frankly may have sacrificed the Buffalo loss before their bye. The move may not have worked. As of this writing, Todd Heap still hadn't practiced, and is officially questionable. Tackle Jonathan Ogden should get in this game, but isn't expected to play a full complement of downs. The same can be said for defensive end Trevor Pryce, who'll be limited to passing situations. Corner Chris McAlister and quarterback Steve McNair should be back, but are those good things?
Fantasy Up: Willie Parker actually did something in the first half against Cincinnati. Wow. Normally one of the slowest starters in football, FWP racked up nearly 80 first-half yards and a short score in the first stanza Sunday. Baltimore's a beast to run against, though, not surprisingly, as much of a beast as the Steelers. Either way, you have to use both Parker and Willis McGahee. With defensive end Aaron Smith still questionable because of his injured knee ligament, expect the Ravens to run right at Nick Eason with McGahee. Cincy did, and it worked. The left side of Pittsburgh's O-line, Marvel Smith and Alan Faneca, is dominating. Second-year end Haloti Ngata will be tested all day for the Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger was at his scrambling, confusing best in Cincinnati. He'll have a harder task Sunday, but I can see the Ravens' overrated corners getting burned if and when the Steelers pass deep out of two-back sets.
Fantasy Down: McNair probably could've played before Baltimore's bye, but the Ravens kept him out to be sure he'd be ready for this one. He's gutty, he's tough, and he'll make Derrick Mason a usable fantasy commodity, but McNair won't stretch the field enough to be fantasy-worthy. Remember, though, the Ravens routed Pittsburgh twice in '06. I like Santonio Holmes a lot this week, if he plays. As of this posting, Holmes had missed Pittsburgh's practices with an injured quad. He's expected to go, especially because he'll have an extra day of rest, but if you can't take the chance, and have other great options, you might bench Holmes.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
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Christopher Harris provides his weekly breakdown of each NFL game from a fantasy standpoint.