- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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You won't find quite as many names below as you do during the fantasy regular season, because now is not the time for flyers. Yes, we'll deal with the major injury implications from Week 14. But first, some thoughts about the cruelty of the first week of the fantasy playoffs:
• Those of you following LARGE (the League of American Recreational Gridiron Enthusiasts) from way back this summer know that I amassed quite a squad in this 16-team league, by virtue of trading for draft picks. I also added Arian Foster by giving up my own first-round pick in 2012. My squad consisted (note the past tense) of Tony Romo, Foster, Ray Rice, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Antonio Gates. This is a 16-team league. And yes, I lost my playoff game this week. Maurice Jones-Drew's four TDs, Mason Crosby going batty, and Christian Ponder's largesse to the Lions D did me in, despite the fact that I scored 96-plus points in a league where the weekly average is around 60 or 65. Do I really have to do this job for the rest of the season?
• In non-me-related news, Dez Bryant is shut out completely for 3½ quarters, and his fantasy opponents nationwide rejoice. Then it takes one utterly blown Giants coverage, Dez has a 50-yard score, and angels weep. On the flip side, how about Romo blowing that wide-open throw to Miles Austin that would've salted away many fantasy games and the Giants' season?
• Marshawn Lynch looks like he'll be un-Beasted Monday night with a decent-but-unspectacular 19 carries for 85 yards. Then the Seahawks put him out there to kill the clock and the Skittles fly freely, as Lynch breaks two long ones and scores on his final carry of the night. (I have one particular friend who lost his playoff game on this last play, at the hands of ex-ESPNer and current MMA impresario, Jon Anik.)
• Mike Wallace's knee scrapes the ground as he's going in for a TD on Thursday night, Ben Roethlisberger gets trucked and hobbles around the rest of the day, but Antonio Brown still manages to take a back-shoulder sideline reception to the house to topple the Steelers' order of things.
• Ben Tate, not Foster, gets a goal-line carry in the second quarter, and he fumbles it away. That doesn't stop Gary Kubiak from distributing six more touches to Tate the rest of the way, compared to 10 for Foster. And Foster gets "credit" for a fumble on a catch he never made, and which the Texans actually recovered.
• In the midst of his meltdown, Marion Barber "makes" a lovely catch in overtime that gets the Bears into deep field goal range, setting up Barber's decisive fumble. But replays show Barber didn't actually catch the ball. If it's ruled incomplete, maybe history reads differently.
• I held out as long as I could, but even I was tricked by a Bill Belichick running back last week. I rated BenJarvus Green-Ellis 21st among fantasy rushers, which I felt was restrained, but captured the possibility of some short scores. There are many Law Firm owners standing around staring at their feet much the way BJGE did last week on the way to five total carries in the game.
This is just an anecdotal canvasing of a week's worth of bad beats. Feel free to tweet me with your own horror story from Week 14, if it'll make you feel any better.
ESPN standard-league finds
Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys (owned in 71.6 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Yes, Jones is owned in more than half of ESPN leagues, which usually disqualifies a player from being mentioned here, but he's also at the epicenter of Week 14's biggest injury, so I figured I'd list him just in case. DeMarco Murray's fabulous rookie year ended with a thud versus the Giants, as Murray broke his ankle. It sounds as though Sammy Morris (0.1 percent) will sign with the Cowboys as soon as Tuesday, but certainly Jones will be the workhorse. He looked much better against New York than at any other time this year, managing 137 total yards on 22 touches. Add him.
Chris Ivory, RB, New Orleans Saints (0.6 percent): But assuming Jones is owned in your league, Murray owners' best chance to get something out of your RB spot (assuming guys like Marion Barber (46.1 percent) and Kevin Smith (58.2 percent) are gone) might be Ivory. Is this situation ideal? Of course not. Mark Ingram's toe injury isn't thought to be overly severe, and he might be active again as soon as this week against the Vikings, which would push Ivory right back to the "healthy scratch" list. Plus, of course, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas are still on hand. But Ivory did get 13 carries against the Titans last week and racked up 53 yards. There's not much upside with Ivory because the Saints go spread so frequently, but he's probably the main candidate for short scores when Ingram doesn't play.
James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers (58.6 percent): The other major injury of the week, Greg Jennings' knee sprain, pushes Jones into Green Bay's starting lineup, and as such he should certainly be owned in all leagues. But the Packers go three- and four-wide far more often than they go two-wide; according to Stats LLC, in their past four games the Packers have thrown passes out of a two-receiver set 17 times, compared to 67 out of three-wide and 53 out of four-wide. Because Jones can sometimes have maddening hands and he isn't the open-field runner Jennings is, he's not a straight-up replacement for Jennings. Jordy Nelson figures to be the top dog in this offense now, and Jones will fight with Donald Driver for looks after that. He's addable, but his production will continue to be a roller coaster.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos (9.7 percent): Make it back-to-back strong games for Thomas at the expense of Eric Decker (who has five catches for 58 yards the past two weeks combined), and anyone who watched the latest Tim Tebow miracle knows that Thomas dropped a couple of potential long passes that could've made his seven grabs for 78 yards and a TD even better. When your QB completes three of his first 16 passes, well, the potential for disaster looms every week. But heaven knows (literally?) that Tebow and the rest of the Broncos' passing game have the best possible matchup this week versus the bedraggled Patriots secondary. If Greg Jennings owners can't get their hands on James Jones, Thomas is probably their next-best option.
Kahlil Bell, RB, Chicago Bears (0.9 percent): It's not that I think Marion Barber will get demoted because of his disastrous fourth quarter and overtime last week. If Barber is available in your league, he's the best DeMarco Murray (and Matt Forte) replacement around, but I didn't focus on him in this column because I highlighted him so strongly last week. Bell is worth a look, too. He had 14 touches for 64 yards from scrimmage versus the Broncos, and looked very effective as a change-of-pace back, especially in the first half. Barber will get the short scores, but especially in a PPR league, Bell is worth adding.
And yes, you should also add my season-long binky Antonio Brown (59.8 percent) if you haven't done so yet. I'm just rather tired of listing him here.
Tennessee Titans defense (16.5 percent): There isn't a slam-dunk lightly owned defense for Week 15. Yes, if you can pick up the Falcons or Bengals, I'd do so. But those units are owned in more than half of ESPN leagues, so I'll turn my attention to the inconsistent Titans. This group has scored five fantasy points or fewer in four of their past six games, but in those other two games they went crazy to the tune of 21 and 19 fantasy points. They also scored 16 fantasy points when they played the Colts in Week 8, and Indy is their opponent Sunday. I grant you that the Colts' offense has looked more respectable with Dan Orlovsky under center, which is why I'm not sure Tennessee's D will be in my top 10 this week. But they'll be close. Indianapolis is still a winless squad with a desultory look about them.
Rex Grossman, QB, Washington Redskins (8.9 percent): As I mentioned in last week's Hard Count, Grossman had the best schedule in the 2011 season's final month of any QB. Even now that he's through with that terrible Patriots secondary, he's due for some favorable matchups. This week he gets the Giants, who have been eviscerated by the pass for three straight weeks. In Week 16, he'll face the Vikings, who keep giving it up to opposing QBs in droves. And even Week 17 against the Eagles isn't horrible. Using Grossman and his scattershot arm in the fantasy playoffs is a frightening prospect in a 10-team league. But go deeper than that, and he's an option.
Donald Driver, WR, Packers (18.1 percent): Don't look now, but Driver is showing signs of life. He's had eight catches over the past two weeks, and scored twice in Week 13. With Jennings out, that uptick is likely to continue as Driver puts the finishing touches on a solid NFL career. I think he and Randall Cobb (6.8 percent) are likelier to be thorns in the sides of Jordy Nelson and James Jones than they are to be a fantasy factors on their own, especially in 10-team leagues. But Driver is still worth a speculative add in deep leagues, in case his late-coming production continues.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins (34.5 percent): If Rex Grossman has a good schedule, it's a rather safe bet that his wideouts do, as well. Santana Moss (63.7 percent) figures to be Washington's best target and is startable in 10-team leagues, but Gaffney isn't bad. He had six grabs for 92 yards and a score in Week 14 versus New England, and should benefit from a cake matchup against a depleted Giants secondary Sunday. He won't be inside my top 30 receivers this week, but he'll almost certainly be in my top 40.
Montario Hardesty, RB, Cleveland Browns (20.3 percent): The end of Peyton Hillis' time in Cleveland isn't going well. The impending free agent was mostly an onlooker for the final three quarters of the Browns' maddening loss in Pittsburgh last Thursday, managing 10 carries and 25 yards (seven of those looks came in the first quarter). Hardesty wasn't any better, it's true: 24 yards rushing on 11 carries, and Chris Ogbonnaya (13.5 percent) was on the field a bunch. Hillis' hip is reportedly feeling better, and he practiced Monday. Still, the Browns have way more incentive to see what Hardesty can give them, making him worth a deep-league add.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans (0.4 percent): When Matt Hasselbeck tried to knock down a batted pass and hopped around on one foot after a non-contact injury, my first thought was "Achilles." But apparently Hass suffered only a calf injury, and as such is questionable to play this week against the Colts. If I'm Tennessee, though, I've really liked what I've seen from Locker in his two cameos this year, and I want to get him some starts. I realize the Titans are still in the playoff mix at 7-6, giving them an outside shot. Maybe Locker won't get this sweet matchup, but I do think he'll be starting games before the year ends, and in deeper leagues, that could be worth something, especially because Locker has shown an ability to run the ball.
Keiland Williams, RB, Detroit Lions (0.4 percent): No, I don't think this guy is even an average NFL running back, and yes, I assume that Kevin Smith will be back this week against the Raiders, which makes him a viable pickup for those who lost DeMarco Murray. But Maurice Morris (68.4 percent) injured his chest last week and overall showed why he's not a reliable week-to-week player (five touches, 16 yards), and if Smith and Morris are both banged up it's not inconceivable that Williams could see double-digit touches, as he did in Week 14. I'm not saying he'll do much with them. I'm just saying
Jamie Harper, RB, Titans (0.2 percent): This is really just a note to mention that Javon Ringer broke his hand last week and is out for the year. That means Chris Johnson's handcuff is now Harper, a rookie who has only eight touches from scrimmage this year. If CJ1K does suffer an injury, though, the keys to the "kingdom" (such as it is) would be handed over to Harper.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.
13hK. Lee Davis