I will be breaking down every single football game this week. Like on NFL Playbook, they break down every single game, that's what I did, and my article is long, so be ready for a show.
Last Week's Record (16-1)
My Overall Record (111-69)
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Good Luck In Your Fantasy Football Championship
Let's get cracking.
Friday Night Football
San Diego at Tennessee
LaDainian Tomlinson upped his yards-per-carry average from 3.23 to 3.27 last week, and that number should continue to rise against a Titans run defense that isn't nearly as good as its No. 9 rank indicates. The mediocre unit (4.2 YPC, 12 rushing TDs allowed) will be severely impacted by year-ending losses of OLBs Keith Bulluck (torn ACL) and David Thornton (torn pectorals). Bulluck was the Titans' team captain and playcaller on defense. With difference-making C Nick Hardwick (foot) back, LT is a strong RB2 option. Darren Sproles remains of minimal fantasy significance. Sproles' week-to-week touch totals (14, 11, 8, 6) have declined steadily over the last month.
The LP Field forecast (mid-40s, 13MPH winds, 20 percent chance of rain) isn't a concern for passing, which is good news for the throw-happy Bolts. Still-developing Chad Henne dropped 349 yards on the Titans' No. 31 pass defense in Week 15, and Philip Rivers is fresh off torching Cincinnati's stout corners for three TDs and 308 yards. Rivers is a top-five QB play. Piping hot again, Vincent Jackson has 12 grabs for 228 yards and two touchdowns in his last two efforts. You won't find many better fantasy receiver plays for Week 16. Malcom Floyd, however, has proven his weekly ceiling is at around four catches for 60 yards. He also hasn't scored since Week 7. Tennessee struggles badly to cover tight ends and has virtually no prayer of keeping Antonio Gates in check.
In what projects to be a high-scoring affair, Chris Johnson will remain the Titans' offensive focal point. Fantasy's No. 1 player squares off with a Chargers run defense that ranks 21st and permits 4.4 YPC. San Diego's pass defense is 13th overall, but allowed struggling Carson Palmer to throw for two touchdowns and a season-best 314 yards in Week 15. Vince Young is healthy and worth a look in standard leagues as a low-end QB1. Coming off a three-touchdown performance against a Dolphins secondary that had stiffened of late, V.Y. is an elite two-QB league play.
Justin Gage's return gives Young four solid receiving options, but Titans wideouts should be avoided in fantasy championships because they can cancel each other out. Justin Gage led the way with 43 yards and two TDs in Week 15, but came off the bench and saw only three targets. Kenny Britt remains a starter, but had two passes come his way against Miami. Nate Washington caught just one ball and re-injured his ankle on the play. While TE Bo Scaife is showing signs of consistency with 4+ catches in five straight, he too is a major risk. Jared Cook and Alge Crumpler can always reappear to "vulture" targets, and San Diego has defended tight ends well recently.
1:00PM ET Games
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Coming off an upset loss, the healing Saints should be able to impose their will on the 2-12 Bucs at home. While Tampa's defense has improved slightly since Raheem Morris stripped demoted coordinator Jim Bates' playcalling duties, this is still a unit that can be gashed. The Bucs were out gained by Seattle's No. 22 overall offense in terms of both first downs and total yards despite pulling out a rare win last Sunday. Tampa also does not have the pass rush Dallas was able to generate in Week 15 to slow Drew Brees. Expect a big bounce-back game for Brees and continued strong play from Marques Colston, who led the Saints in receiving yards last week.
Robert Meachem is coming off two mediocre games, but continues to outplay Devery Henderson. Lance Moore saw only two targets (catching one) in his Week 15 return from injuries, and appears to have aggravated his high ankle sprain. He probably won't face Tampa Bay. Meachem clearly remains the No. 2 fantasy wideout in New Orleans. David Thomas led the team in targets versus Dallas, but is a weak bet to repeat, especially if Jeremy Shockey (toe) returns. Mike Bell came back from his knee injury in Week 15 to gain just eight yards on four carries, but rudely vultured a goal-line touchdown. Pierre Thomas saw 11 touches—his fewest since Week 7. The Bucs can't stop the run, but it's still difficult to trust any Saints RB.
The Bucs' unpredictable backfield usage took another twist at Seattle. Carnell Williams, the workhorse in Weeks 13-14, got 13 touches compared to backup Derrick Ward's 20. Entering Week 15, Ward had not seen the ball more than 14 times in a game all year. The Saints don't have a good run defense, particularly when DT Sedrick Ellis (knee) is out, but Tampa's backs are too untrustworthy to start in fantasy title games. The Bucs got their second win of 2009 despite Josh Freeman. Morris has scaled back Freeman's aggressiveness after a pick-plagued beginning to December, limiting the rookie's fantasy upside. He's still worth a two-QB league play.
The Bucs' new conservative, run-based attack features Kellen Winslow. K2 resumed pacing the team in targets last Sunday, catching six for 93 yards. With slot man Sammie Stroughter (broken foot) done for the year, Winslow will get even more looks down the seams. He's a confident top-eight TE1. Antonio Bryant will naturally take a bit of a backseat in the last two games, but is still a quality WR3 in an indoors matchup that could get pass-heavy if the Saints take an early lead. Look for the Bucs' deep threat to mostly see up-and-down rookie Malcolm Jenkins in coverage.
My Pick- Saints
Kansas City at Cincinnati
Cincinnati's No. 3 rush defense rank looks swell on paper, but the NT Domata Peko-less unit has been lit up by running backs in three straight weeks. Kevin Smith, Adrian Peterson, and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson/Darren Sproles rotation have combined for three TDs and 391 total yards on 73 touches (5.34 average) during that span. Jamaal Charles is legitimately a top-12 NFL running back and can't possibly be benched. Brad Cottam posted a rare decent fantasy game by a Chiefs tight end in Week 15, catching four balls for 62 yards. But the awesomely injury-prone former Tennessee Vol landed on I.R. Wednesday with a cracked bone in his vertebra.
The Paul Brown Stadium conditions (34 degrees, 12MPH winds, 30 percent chance of snow) won't deter passing, but Matt Cassel is no more than a two-QB league option despite coming off his best game of the year (331 yards, two TDs against the Browns). While Dwayne Bowe's return helps Cassel's cause, he'll face a much stingier pass defense this Sunday; Cincinnati allows just 6.6 yards per pass attempt and a 17:17 TD to INT ratio, compared to Cleveland's marks of 8.2 and 20:6. The box score says differently, but Bowe retook his No. 1 receiver role immediately in Week 15. He easily led the Chiefs with ten targets and would be a much better WR3 play than Chris Chambers this week.
The Bengals will take a run-first approach against a Chiefs club that served up the third best all-time rushing performance to career third-stringer Jerome Harrison in Week 15. Cedric Benson's 15-carry, 53-yard effort at San Diego was disappointing last Sunday, but the Bengals had to resort to the pass after falling behind 24-13 early in the third quarter. The Chiefs aren't going to jump out to a lead like the Bolts. The Bengals will perhaps get Larry Johnson more work than usual (he touched the ball four times in Week 15) against his old team, but don't bet on it in fantasy. Marvin Lewis' priority is earning the AFC's No. 3 seed, not pleasing his mid-season running back pickup.
Carson Palmer broke out of his six-game funk in Week 15, throwing for a season-high 314 yards and two TDs against a strong San Diego pass defense. He still isn't a top-12 QB when the Bengals will likely run on 35-40 of their 60-or-so snaps. K.C. is also better at defending the pass than the run. Chad Ochocinco—not Palmer owners—is the biggest beneficiary of Palmer's improvement. The Ocho has scored in three straight and is an elite WR1 against a Chiefs secondary short on speed. We can safely chalk up TE John Paul Foschi's seven-catch, 82-yard Week 15 as a fluke. But increased usage of Foschi would cut into Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell's numbers.
My Pick —Bengals
Houston at Miami
The Texans have an edge in this one because they can stop what Miami does best (run), though the unpredictable often results when two lopsidedly-different teams do battle. Houston is second in the league in passing; Miami is 23rd. The Fins have the No. 4 rushing offense; the Texans are tied for dead last. Ricky Williams is still a quality RB2 with 10 TDs in his last nine games and at least 20 touches in six straight. It doesn't hurt Williams' matchup that Texans leading tackler Brian Cushing is dealing with foot, rib, and knee injuries. He'll play, but clearly isn't 100 percent.
The Texans' top-12 pass defense is legit, having not allowed a single opposing wide receiver to top 52 yards in the last three weeks. No Fins wideout is worth consideration. Chad Henne showed that he remains a work in progress last Sunday by throwing three picks against a Titans defense that ranks 31st against the pass. Henne will benefit from one of the most favorable non-domed weather forecasts in Week 15 (73 degrees, 30 percent chance of rain, 9MPH winds) but is only a QB2.
Dolphins LCB Vontae Davis was victimized on two of Vince Young's Week 15 TDs and numerous other big plays. His confidence is surely shaken, so look for Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson to pick on the rookie early at sunny LandShark Stadium. Overall, the Fins rank 23rd against the pass and give up the league's third-highest YPA average (8.1). The matchup seemingly makes Kevin Walter a more interesting WR3 than usual, but his lack of big-play ability crushes his upside. He's a possession receiver/blocker and only Gregg Rosenthal's No. 36 WR option this week.
Arian Foster was poised for a big Week 15 early, getting most of the action on Houston's opening drive and generating 20 yards on his first three touches. However, he was benched for the day after fumbling at the end of an otherwise impressive 13-yard catch, badly burning fantasy owners. What made Foster such an attractive fantasy play last week was his matchup against the Rams. Miami is much better in run defense, making the Texans' backfield one to avoid. Foster will probably wind up with a bigger workload than Ryan Moats or Chris Brown, but you don't want to bet on it.
My Pick- Dolphins
Seattle at Green Bay
Weather at Lambeau is set to be mild (28 degrees, 6MPH winds, 30 percent chance of flurries), allowing Green Bay to maintain a pass-first approach if coach Mike McCarthy so chooses. Opting to avoid the Steelers' No. 1 run defense last week, the Pack tried a whopping 48 throws against eight runs for Ryan Grant. Rodgers accounted for four all-purpose touchdowns and 405 yards to reassume his ranking as the No. 1 QB in fantasy football. Along with Donald Driver (as a WR2), Jermichael Finley (TE1), and Greg Jennings (WR3), Rodgers is a must-start against Seattle's No. 29 pass defense.
Most likely, though, Green Bay will be more balanced offensively this week. Grant is a potent late-season runner (4.6 YPC since the halfway point), and Seattle's run defense pales in comparison to Pittsburgh's. With three TDs in his last two games and Seahawks SLB Aaron Curry (stinger) out, Grant is a rock-solid RB2. Don't get cute when analyzing the Packers' favorable matchup and use No. 3 receiver James Jones. With Finley coming on, Jones has just 36 yards in his last two outings. Jones is also playing with torn ligaments in his hand. The Seahawks don't defend tight ends well. Finley, now leading the Packers in targets on a weekly basis, is a legit top-three TE play.
Deion Branch gets another start with Nate Burleson (ankle) out, but was nothing short of awful in his Week 15 opportunity. Finishing with just 28 yards, Branch gave poor effort on two of Matt Hasselbeck's interceptions and couldn't explode off his surgically repaired knee for deep balls. The 30-year-old may be done. T.J. Houshmandzadeh did capitalize on Burleson's absence (7-73), but probably won't again this week. The Packers figure to shadow Housh with Defensive POY candidate Charles Woodson. Look for something like four catches for 30 yards from Houshmandzadeh.
John Carlson has scored in back-to-back games, but few teams defend tight ends as well as Green Bay. You can do better. Same goes for Matt Hasselbeck, at least in standard (one-QB) leagues. Hasselbeck is coming off a four-pick performance, and without Burleson lacks big-play ability in his receiver corps. Julius Jones aggravated his rib injury in the Seahawks' Week 15 loss. Green Bay boasts the NFC's top run defense, making the Seattle backfield one to avoid in fantasy title week. Justin Forsett will only be a FLEX option in PPR leagues if Jones misses the game. Julius is expected to play.
My Pick —Packers
Carolina at NY Giants
Matt Moore's rapport with Steve Smith is real. The duo has hooked up on four bombs of 40-plus yards in the last three games, including 42 and 45-yard explosions last Sunday night against a Vikings defense built to limit big plays. Smith is a high-upside WR2 as he takes on a Giants secondary that is routinely serving up huge holes deep downfield. New York will also be without top CBs Corey Webster (knee) and Aaron Ross (hamstring). Moore has starting-caliber tools in the long run, though he's not a safe two-QB league bet yet. The Giants' pass rush finally came alive in Week 15 at Washington, and Moore is on this week's injury report with a mysterious "shoulder" issue.
Carolina's backfield presents possibly the biggest injury situation of fantasy championship week. In Week 15, DeAngelo Williams aggravated the ankle sprain that's nagged him for much of the season's second half. He didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday and will be a game-time decision. D-Will's talent makes him an every-week RB1 when he's active, but we won't know his status until around noon ET on Sunday. If Williams is inactive, Jonathan Stewart becomes an elite RB2 against a Giants run defense that's given up the third most rushing touchdowns in the league.
Eli Manning is hot (6:0 TD to INT ratio, 659 combined yards, 10.3 YPA in his last two games), but now squares off with a Panthers pass defense that ranks No. 4 overall and held both Tom Brady and Brett Favre under 225 yards with one total TD in Weeks 14-15. Trust Eli if you believe he's a stud (Rotoworld doesn't). Otherwise, feel free to explore other options. At least the Meadowlands forecast (43 degrees, 9MPH winds, 20% chance of precipitation) won't hurt him. Hakeem Nicks is expected to play, but pulled his hamstring in Week 15 and has dealt with injuries to the same muscle since February. In a tough matchup at less than 100 percent, he's an extremely risky play.
Mario Manningham will be worth a look if Nicks is a late scratch, but hasn't had 50 yards since Week 11. Steve Smith remains easily the Giants' best fantasy receiver. He's scored and/or posted 70-plus yards in six straight games. Another factor working against Eli: the prospect of New York going run-heavy against Carolina's terrible rush defense (No. 26 overall, 4.6 YPC allowed). Brandon Jacobs remains a big gamble, despite an on-paper mismatch against an undersized Panthers front seven. Jacobs is being outplayed by Ahmad Bradshaw, who even vultured two first-half touchdowns on the goal line last week. You could argue that Bradshaw is the better fantasy play at this point.
My Pick —Giants
Oakland at Cleveland
A matchup of teams with a combined 8-20 record has large fantasy implications, with Michael Bush and Jerome Harrison coming off huge games. Harrison, in particular, likely has a stranglehold on featured back status in Cleveland. With Derek Anderson forced to start because Brady Quinn went on I.R., we should safely expect another 20-plus touch effort from Harrison against Oakland's No. 28 rush defense. Sure, Eric Mangini is capable of ridiculous decisions, but he's treading much more lightly after the Browns hired his new boss. Harrison's contract is up after the year, and new club president Mike Holmgren needs to determine if he's consistent enough to potentially be a lead back in 2010.
Anderson, on the other hand, is as good as gone. His $2 million March roster bonus won't be exercised, and D.A. already lacks the accuracy to be marginally effective in the precision-based West Coast offense Holmgren will install during the offseason. More than 25 pass attempts would be surprising.
t goes without saying that Browns pass catchers aren't worth using in fantasy title games. Evan Moore and Mohamed Massaquoi combined for 10 yards on two catches last week. Joshua Cribbs returned two kicks 100-plus yards for touchdowns, but saw just four touches on offense.
Michael Bush is far riskier than Harrison because he's got better talents to fight off for carries. Harrison only has former University of Arizona backup Chris Jennings behind him. Bush will not even be worth consideration if Justin Fargas (knee) is active Sunday, but is a worthwhile FLEX or desperate RB2 if Fargas sits out. Having allowed Darren McFadden to touch the ball no more than 12 times since Week 3, the Raiders' coaching staff clearly sees its 2008 first-round pick as a pace-change back at best. Bush is the team's best all-around ball-carrying option and was given the backfield reins when Fargas tweaked his knee last week. Bush also got the goal-line work.
Charlie Frye gets his starting QB job back despite a Week 15 concussion. Bruce Gradkowski is still out with two torn MCLs, and coach Tom Cable has given up on JaMarcus Russell. Frye gave no reason to think he'll salvage any of Oakland's wide receivers in terms of fantasy value with a pathetic 68 yards and one interception on 17 pass attempts last week. He is not accurate and has no poise. Don't be surprised to see J.P. Losman early in this game. Zach Miller is expected to return from his second concussion of the season, but caught just two balls for 17 yards a week after his first. Don't trust Raiders with a fantasy title on the line.
My Pick —Browns
Jacksonville at New England
The Jags played the Colts tough in Week 15, losing by four when Reggie Wayne exploded down the sideline for a 65-yard score and Reggie Nelson alligator-armed the would-be tackle. The same pass defense that served up 300-plus yards and four TDs to Peyton Manning has been a cure for struggling QBs all year (e.g. Kurt Warner and Matt Schaub after slow starts, Matt Hasselbeck's four-touchdown game). A 100 percent chance of rain at Foxboro may assist Patriots wideouts as the Jags' corners struggle to backpedal. Tom Brady is setup for his first big game in three weeks, and Randy Moss and Wes Welker are elite plays against the league's No. 27 pass defense.
Laurence Maroney maintained his grip on the Patriots' featured back job in Week 15, seeing 23 touches to Sammy Morris' five and Kevin Faulk's two. New England's run-first game plan worked perfectly against Buffalo's No. 32 run defense. A more pass-heavy approach is likely this week, however, because Bill Belichick is one of the best at exploiting his opponent's weakness. The Jags are much stronger against the run (only 3.9 YPC allowed, ranked No. 12 overall) than the throw. Fred Taylor's return from ankle surgery also makes Maroney a riskier play than usual.
NFL touchdowns leader Maurice Jones-Drew found the end zone twice again last week while confirming that he is not slowing down at the tail end of his first season as Jacksonville's every-down back. He racked up 140 total yards against Indianapolis and showed plenty of burst on inside runs. New England is not tough in run defense, serving up 4.4 yards per carry and ranking 15th overall. He's a top-three RB start. Torry Holt still hasn't scored a touchdown in a Jaguars uniform and managed just 38 yards against the Colts. He's started every game this season, but is the No. 57 overall fantasy receiver.
The Pats appear to have worked out their pass-defense issues, supplemented by improved pass rush. In back-to-back wins, New England has combined for eight sacks while allowing an average of 187 passing yards and two touchdowns. With just 13 TDs in 14 games, David Garrard is only a two-QB league asset. Mike Sims-Walker is off the injury report and returning from a six-catch, 64-yard, one-touchdown game (his best in a month). When 100 percent, MSW is an every-week WR2, even if his quarterback is likely to struggle. He's always a good bet for 8-12 targets.
My Pick —Patriots
Buffalo at Atlanta
Trent Edwards (ankle) is on I.R. and Ryan Fitzpatrick (ankle) is questionable at best. Next up is Brian Brohm, who has never appeared in an NFL game, lost confidence in Green Bay after plummeting to No. 56 overall in the 2008 draft, and will debut as a starter behind an injury-ruined offensive line. Needless to say, he is setup to struggle. Expect a decidedly run-first game plan from Buffalo with Fred Jackson continuing to lead the way. In the last two weeks, Jackson has totaled 234 yards on 42 touches (5.57 average) compared to Marshawn Lynch's 119 yards on 23 touches (5.17). Jackson is a quality RB2, especially in PPR leagues, against Atlanta's No. 20 run defense.
Lynch had just eight carries last week and no catches. He isn't a fantasy option. Terrell Owens and Lee Evans both have favorable on-paper matchups indoors at the Georgia Dome against a leaky Falcons pass defense, but there's no way to know if Brohm will be able to get them the football. With a ceiling of something like 25 pass attempts, Brohm isn't remotely a two-QB league option. Owens and Evans would both be extremely dangerous WR3 plays, and are pretty safely hands-off in fantasy title week. Brohm has been on Buffalo's active roster for just over a month.
Ranked third overall, the Bills' stingy secondary has not allowed an opposing QB to top 224 yards since Week 8 (Matt Schaub). More amazingly, they have not given up more than one passing TD in a game since Byron Leftwich had three against the Bills in Week 2. The loss of S Jairus Byrd (groin) would seemingly hurt, but he wasn't even in the starting lineup. Matt Ryan, coming off an uninspiring, 152-yard return in Week 15, is not a good bet this week in standard leagues. Neither is Michael Jenkins, who has started every game in 2009 but has just one receiving touchdown.
Coordinator-turned-HC Perry Fewell's scheme makes Buffalo's pass defense so tough, but Roddy White has factors working in his favor. The Bills placed top CB Terrence McGee on I.R. this week—along with Byrd—and White's speed is deadly on the Georgia Dome turf. He's difficult to sit no matter the matchup. Tony Gonzalez will finish as a top-four fantasy TE for a fourth straight year. He's a must-start. Michael Turner (high ankle sprain) is almost certainly out again, setting up a favorable matchup for Jason Snelling against Buffalo's No. 32 run defense. Snelling probably won't top 70 yards while sharing work with Jerious Norwood, but is a near-lock for a touchdown.
My Pick —Falcons
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Steelers-Ravens in a throw-happy affair? Quite possibly. Both teams' weaknesses are in pass defense, and both QBs are coming off season-best games. Benefiting from the emergence of deep threat Demetrius Williams, Joe Flacco threw for four touchdowns last week against a Bears defense that ranked in the top eight against the pass. He won't be hindered by the Heinz Field weather (35 degrees, 0 percent chance of snow, 10MPH winds), and is expected to get back WRs Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington from injury. Flacco would need more than one big fantasy game in his last eight to be a recommended QB1, but he's an excellent two-QB league play again.
Pittsburgh ranks 17th against the pass and is playing musical chairs at RCB (Deshea Townsend appears to be the new starter), but still isn't bad enough for Clayton, Washington, or Williams to be fantasy options. The Ravens' only receiver/tight end worth using is Derrick Mason, who has 11 grabs for 181 yards and two TDs in his last two outings.Todd Heap's Week 15 (56 yards, two scores) came out of necessity because Clayton and Washington were inactive. Heap will return to mediocrity against the Steelers. Ray Rice is an every-week play, even against the NFL's No. 1 run defense. Bad matchups don't faze Rice; he dropped 155 yards on Pittsburgh in Week 12.
After looking shell shocked in a 201-yard losing effort to lowly Cleveland the Thursday night prior, Roethlisberger rebounded big against an excellent Green Bay pass defense for 503 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He's a strong QB1 again, and now faces a Baltimore defense that will be without its top cornerback (Lardarius Webb - torn ACL) and safety (Ed Reed - hip). Santonio Holmes was Big Ben's go-to guy in the Steelers' last meeting with Baltimore, racking up 74 yards and a touchdown on six catches while Hines Ward had just 47 yards on three grabs. Ward's hamstring remains slightly balky, so Holmes is the better fantasy bet of the two.
Heath Miller returns from a season-best 118-yard game to square off with a Ravens defense that covers TEs well and brings enough pressure that he may be forced to help block All-Pro Terrell Suggs rather than run routes. He's not a safe option.Mike Wallace is another weekly dice roll. He made a terrific game-winning touchdown catch against the Pack, but banged his knee on the play and was limited in practice this week. His role in the game plan is unclear. Rashard Mendenhall lacks big upside in a matchup with the No. 7 run defense, but is benefiting from increased usage in the passing game. He also had 117 total yards at Baltimore in Week 12.
My Pick —Ravens
4:05PM ET Games
St. Louis at Arizona
Many fantasy owners stockpiled Cardinals players in anticipation of this title week matchup. It should pay dividends. Conditions at U. of Phoenix Stadium are expected to be ideal (58 degrees, 0 percent chance of rain, 3MPH winds), and the Cards' offense is coming off a 31-point effort. With Rams top pass rusher Leonard Little (knee) unlikely to be active, the Rams' No. 22 pass defense has little chance of slowing Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin. Warner is safely a top-seven fantasy QB. Gregg Rosenthal smartly has both Fitz and Boldin as top-ten WR1 plays.
Steve Breaston's usage is way down from last year. He's averaging just 17.4 yards per game in his last five outings with no touchdowns. Tim Hightower vultured a goal-line score from Chris Wells in Week 15, but there's no doubt which back is a better bet for big-time numbers. The clear leader in Arizona's backfield, Beanie has 497 total yards and five TDs since Week 9 compared to Hightower's 304 yards and two touchdowns. Hightower is no more than a weak FLEX option in PPR leagues at this point, while Wells is a high-upside RB2 against St. Louis' No. 27 run defense.
The Rams, choosing between rookie Keith Null and Kyle Boller, still haven't named a starting quarterback for Week 16. We won't know which player will get the nod until Sunday afternoon. Either way, Donnie Avery, rookie Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, and Randy McMichael are safe to bench. None of the above has topped 48 yards in the last month, and they've combined for just three touchdowns during that span. The Rams are utterly incapable of moving the football through the air, even in a matchup with a Cardinals defense that ranks 24th against the pass.
Steven Jackson (back) is "questionable" on the injury report again, but is fully expected to start his 15th game of the year. The Cards have allowed 160-plus rushing yards in three of their last four games, while also serving up a rushing touchdown per week over the last month. S-Jax dropped 116 yards and a score on Arizona in their last meeting. Cautious owners should prepare with late-game options in case Jackson is a surprise inactive, but he's a must-start if he plays (likely).
My Pick —Cardinals
Detroit at San Francisco
Searching for a high-upside quarterback because you fear Peyton Manning may only last a half against the Jets? Try Alex Smith. The Lions rank 32nd against the pass, have given up the most passing touchdowns in the league (30), and have ruled out top CB Phillip Buchanon (shoulder). The Candlestick weather is also working in Smith's favor, with mid-50 degree temps, a 10 percent chance of rain, and 5MPH winds in the forecast. Smith is a top-12 QB1, while Michael Crabtree is a borderline WR2 and No. 2 overall fantasy TE Vernon Davis remains a obvious every-week play.
With at least six catches in three of his last four games and a growing role in San Francisco's red-zone offense, Josh Morgan qualifies as a solid WR3. He also drew praise this week from Niners playcaller Jimmy Raye, who talked up Morgan's "burst, power, and speed." The Lions amazingly surrendered eight combined rushing touchdowns to Baltimore and Arizona in Weeks 14-15. They have also allowed an opposing running back to go for at least 110 yards in each of their last three games. You won't find a more desirable RB1 play than Frank Gore in fantasy championship week.
Drew Stanton won't get Detroit its third win of 2009, but is a superior option to Daunte Culpepper if only because the third-year QB creates on the move and is aggressive downfield. Stanton offers a better chance of getting the ball to Calvin Johnson in the vertical game and making plays when the pocket collapses. At 6'5"/235, there aren't many NFL defensive backs that Johnson isn't able to box out on broken plays. Calvin is a risky WR2 whenever Matthew Stafford isn't starting, but his outlook improved when coach Jim Schwartz gave Stanton the nod over Culpepper this week.
Maurice Morris' 161-total yard effort in Week 15 was the best of his career. At age 30, however, it's probably not a sign of things to come. Now facing San Francisco's No. 5 rush defense, Morris is more likely to post something like 50 yards on 17 carries than build on the performance. It's also worth noting that Morris was removed in favor of fullback Jerome Felton in three short-yardage situations. Morris is no lock for goal-line carries if Detroit moves into scoring position.
My Pick —49ers
4:15PM ET Games
Denver at Philadelphia
Donovan McNabb has a difficult matchup against Denver's No. 3 pass defense, but the Broncos lack secondary depth stop Philadelphia's bounteous, now-healthy receiver corps. Able to trot out DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Kevin Curtis, and Reggie Brown in a five-wide set, the Birds possess dangerous means to spread a defense out. Nickel CB Ty Law (hamstring) is a game-day decision and second-rounder Alphonso Smith has been an early bust, so Denver may be forced to use 175-pound undrafted FA Tony Carter as its top sub-package corner. With plus conditions in the forecast (45 degrees, 7MPH winds, 0 percent chance of rain), don't bench McNabb.
D-Jax is the only Eagles wideout that can be used confidently. The rest will share snaps and limit each other's upsides.Same goes for the backfield as it gets back Brian Westbrook (concussion). We don't know who will start or get goal-line carries. Both LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver have worked in scoring situations of late, but Weaver may do more lead blocking with Westbrook available to pair with McCoy. We just don't know who will get the football when. Brent Celek is the No. 5 overall fantasy tight end and no longer on the injury report. He's an every-week starter.
It was always in him at 6'4"/230, but Brandon Marshall's No. 1 improvement under Josh McDaniels has come in the red zone. His 10 TDs are easily a career high. McDaniels has also used Marshall in the "Randy Moss role" more lately—giving him increased jump-ball and deep-route chances. Playing often in the slot, Marshall is essentially McDaniels' "new Wes Welker" too. It's hard to argue that there's a more complete receiver in the league, and Marshall may pick up a few extra targets with Eddie Royal (neck) ruled out for Sunday. Marshall is a top-seven fantasy wideout.
Kyle Orton is a mediocre QB2 against an Eagles pass defense that allows the fifth fewest yards per throw in the league, ranks third in interceptions, and is fourth in sacks. Correll Buckhalter's (ankle) deals a sizable blow to Knowshon Moreno's value. Moreno, coming off a disappointing 42-rush yard game against Oakland in which he struggled in short yardage for a second straight week, is a poor play vs. Philly's top-nine run defense. The Eagles are susceptible to tight ends, but Tony Scheffler still isn't worth a fantasy title week play. Scheffler hasn't topped 53 receiving yards since Week 6.
My Pick —Eagles
NY Jets at Indianapolis
Investing in Colts skill players during fantasy title week will be extremely risky because we have no idea how long they'll play. In his Goal Line Stand column, Gregg Rosenthal made a strong case for benching Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, and Dallas Clark. Pierre Garcon (hand) is already ruled out. While Manning & Co. will start, they may only last a quarter or two against New York's No. 1 pass defense. The Colts' backups are still hands-off because fifth-round rookie Curtis Painter is Manning's backup. Obviously, the downgrade is significant. Only Austin Collie is worth a WR3 look. Tom Santi, Jacob Tamme, and Hank Baskett aren't options.
Addai is probable and will start but is on the injury report with a "knee" problem, indicating that he'll be among the Colts resting if coach Jim Caldwell opts for that approach. Mike Hart, rookie Donald Brown, and unsung third-stringer Chad Simpson are candidates for carries in reserve. Brown is coming off a chest injury and the most explosive runner. The Colts may want to "get him going" before the playoffs with something like 10-12 touches, but this isn't a situation you want to bet on. The Jets aren't resting their starters, and are a top-ten team against the run.
Likewise, the Jets will benefit if key Colts Kelvin Hayden, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and Gary Brackett rest. Impressive rookie CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring) definitely won't play. Braylon Edwards separated at will against Atlanta last week, going for 105 yards and a TD. Consider him a borderline WR2 and Jerricho Cotchery a WR3 indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mark Sanchez is still a low-end QB2 with three passing scores in his last five games. He can get the ball to Edwards and Cotchery, but isn't playing well enough to use, even against backups.
Look for ultra-consistent Thomas Jones to rebound from his disappointing 52-yard Week 15. The Falcons loaded the box to stop the run and were successful. The Colts, however, figure to stay in mostly base sets when their backups go in. The Jets still have an outside shot at the playoffs and will ride their most reliable player in a game they should be able to dominate for the final two quarters. Dustin Keller still isn't an option because his role in playcaller Brian Schottenheimer's offense is seemingly in decline. He has just five catches combined in his last three efforts.
My Pick —Colts
Sunday Night Football
Dallas at Washington
The Redskins' offensive line was mostly to blame, but Jason Campbell's hot Week 12-14 run was proven a fluke last Monday night against the Giants. Hit relentlessly, sacked five times, and injuring his throwing shoulder in the 45-12 blowout, Campbell was held under 200 yards for the first time since Week 10 and intercepted off twice. The Cowboys executed a similar demolition of Drew Brees in Week 15 and have brought more pressure than the Giants all season. There's not much reason for hope that Campbell will resume playing well, or that Santana Moss will break out of his near season-long funk. Moss hasn't had 68 receiving yards since Week 7.
Moss will be easy to slow with a safety over the top because the Skins' Quinton Ganther-led run game is putrid and unexplosive Malcolm Kelly will replace Devin Thomas (out, ankle) at flanker. Kelly hasn't shown the ability to separate at this level. Ganther has lucked out with three one-yard touchdown runs in the last two games, but lacks speed to get outside and now goes against Dallas' No. 6 overall run defense. He's not a fantasy option. Fred Davis is the only recommended Redskin this week. He is crisp getting off the line of scrimmage and dominates in the red zone.
FedEx Field's forecast (40 degrees, 10percent chance of rain, 4MPH winds) is favorable, helping Tony Romo. The Skins' secondary has been highly susceptible to big plays of late, and only five teams in the NFL have more 20-plus yard completions than Dallas. Along with Miles Austin (suddenly a top-eight receiver in the game), Romo is a must-start. The Skins routinely hold tight ends in check, however, so Jason Witten is a low-upside play on paper. Since back-to-back 100-yard outbursts in Weeks 12-13, he hasn't topped 50. Witten also still has just one touchdown on the season.
Roy Williams was an afterthought in last week's crucial win at New Orleans, showing what Dallas playcaller Jason Garrett thinks of him. Clearly, Austin is going to dominate targets. Williams isn't nearly reliable enough for fantasy use this week. Marion Barber showed explosive power and his trademark bounce en route to two touchdowns in Week 15. The Skins are considering not starting DT Albert Haynesworth, which makes Barber a slightly more intriguing RB2. He's in a committee with Felix Jones and probably not going to top 100 yards, but is always a solid bet to score.
My Pick —Cowboys
Monday Night Football
Minnesota at Chicago
The Bears' "No. 7" ranked pass defense is a Jekyll and Hyde unit, and may be forced to start two new safeties with Al Afalava and Kevin Payne injured. But Brett Favre is still not a recommended play in standard leagues because his typical late-season, cold weather-related swoon may be in effect. With the left side of his offensive line collapsing, Favre has a 4:4 TD to INT ratio in his last three games while averaging 6.77 yards per attempt. His YPA for the season is 7.8. Not helping matters is a Soldier Field forecast calling for near-20MPH winds and sub-30 degree temperatures.
NFC receiving yards leader Sidney Rice still can't be benched. He has at least 69 yards and/or a touchdown in six straight weeks and projects to benefit from Chicago's musical chairs at safety. Percy Harvin is also a quality WR3. The Bears lack speed in the back end to contain him, and Minnesota may focus on short passes to Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe to counteract the weather. Harvin is off the injury report. Adrian Peterson will undoubtedly remain the focal point of Brad Childress' game plan, however. The Bears surrender 4.4 YPC and rank 25th in run defense.
Presumably frustrated with Ron Turner's playcalling, Jay Cutler appears to have packed it in for '09. So bad he had to be benched with over 7:00 left last week, Cutler generated 94 yards on 27 throws and chucked three more picks to pad his league lead against an Ed-Reed less Baltimore secondary. He's tanking, and bringing the Bears' pass catchers with him. Case in point: Devin Aromashodu led Chicago with ten targets against the Ravens. He finished with 10 yards on two connections. Leave Devin Hester, Greg Olsen, Aromashodu, and Johnny Knox benched.
Now being outproduced on a per-play basis by undrafted backup Khalil Bell, Matt Forte remains a highly undesirable option against a Vikings run defense that ranks No. 4 in the league and has yielded the fewest touchdowns in the NFC. Forte never did break out of his "slow start" and has just three games of 70-plus rushing yards all season. They've come against the Rams, Browns, and Lions. At least he gets to face Detroit one more time (in Week 17) before season's end.
My Pick —Vikings
San Diego at Tennessee: My Pick—Chargers
Buffalo at Atlanta: My Pick—Falcons
Kansas City at Cincinnati: My Pick—Bengals
Oakland at Cleveland: My Pick—Browns
Seattle at Green Bay: My Pick—Packers
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: My Pick—Ravens
Houston at Miami: My Pick—Dolphins
Jacksonville at New England: My Pick—Patriots
Tampa Bay at New Orleans: My Pick—Saints
Carolina at NY Giants: My Pick— Giants
Detroit at San Francisco: My Pick—49ers
St. Louis at Arizona: My Pick—Cardinals
NY Jets at Indianapolis: My Pick—Colts
Denver at Philadelphia: My Pick—Eagles
Dallas at Washington: My Pick—Cowboys
Minnesota at Chicago: My Pick—Vikings