Your depth carried you through the lean weeks (hopefully) and here
you sit, in Week 11, ready to make that final push toward the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the larger talent pool means tougher decisions, even
more so, oddly enough, for those of you with top-notch talent. My
rule of thumb? Dance with the ones that brung you, even if they
smell like dad’s Old Spice and occasionally make you wish
you’d stayed home to watch Matlock reruns. Speaking of Matlock
reruns, you might wanna cue some up. There are some truly atrocious
games on tap this weekend, meaning you’ll need to pay extra
special attention before submitting that final lineup. Class is
in session, folks. Look alive.
Must Start: The Top 10
1. Peyton Manning @ CIN –
The slow start? Ancient history. The arch-rival Pats? In the rear-view
mirror. A trip to Detroit and a date with destiny? Dead ahead.
There are a few potholes left for the undefeated Colts but nothing
they can’t manage, especially if Peyton continues building
upon his recent momentum (ten TDs in his last four games). You
know what to do.
2. Carson Palmer v. IND –
One of the aforementioned potholes and the only quarterback putting
up Peyton-like numbers at the moment, aside from Peyton himself.
He crashed and burned in his first big test of the year (the Week
7 loss to Pittsburgh) but now gets a chance to make amends against
the Colts in the marquee game of the week. His main target is
hogging all the attention (as usual) but that might be just what
the mild-mannered Palmer needs as he readies himself for the pivotal
3. Tom Brady v. NO – Did
somebody say “pivotal game?” He’s won more pivotal
games than the two guys above him have even THOUGHT about playing
in. Of course, when you’re 5-4 and playing in the AFC, they’re
almost ALL pivotal from here on out. First up, the hard-luck Saints
and their 29th-ranked defense. Time for that patented late-season
surge, I suspect. Start him.
4. Jake Plummer v. NYJ –
Very few players change their stripes nine years deep into an
NFL career. Obviously, Plummer is the exception to that rule.
Once free-wheeling and undisciplined, The Snake has morphed into
the steady, mistake-free signal-caller folks in Denver have been
waiting for since Elway retired, seemingly overnight. He’s
lost only once since the season-opening debacle in Miami and,
more importantly, has only thrown one pick since then. Impressive,
to say the least.
5. Jake Delhomme @ CHI –
The other Jake is still prone to an occasional lapse in judgment,
but has his Panthers on a big-time roll of late (six straight
wins) and is clearly the guy that can take them where they want
to go. The competition will be stiff in the next month or so but
if they emerge relatively unscathed, Carolina will be the odds-on
favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XL.
6. Matt Hasselbeck @ SF –
Then again, Hasselbeck and the ‘Hawks are looking an awful
lot like Super Bowl contenders these days, as well, something
they’ve purportedly been for the last several years. A watered-down
NFC West hasn’t hurt their cause but two big wins against
playoff-caliber squads (Atlanta and Dallas) tell me they’ve
got the right stuff to challenge come January. Another gimme in
San Fran this weekend puts them in line for a division title and
a playoff bye.
7. Brett Favre v. MIN –
Nobody’s talking playoffs in Titletown right now but you
can bet your bratwurst Favre hasn’t ruled out a return trip
to the postseason. Hey, stop laughing. This is the NFC North,
where an 8-8 mark might just be enough to vault somebody into
the second season. If you don’t believe it’s possible,
check out the Pack’s remaining schedule. When you’re
done, take a look at Chicago’s. Stranger things, people…stranger
8. Marc Bulger v. ARI –
Bulger returned after a month on the shelf and picked up right
where he left off, throwing for 304 yards and a score in the Week
10 loss at Seattle. This week, he faces former mentor, Kurt Warner,
in a game the Rams simply must have if they hope to stay competitive
in the NFC. They’ll get it, especially if the former Boilermaker
isn’t forced to throw 40+ passes again.
9. Eli Manning v. PHI –
In case we’d forgotten he’s only in his second year,
Eli provided a painful reminder last weekend, tossing four (awful)
picks in the demoralizing loss to the Vikes. Can’t say I
was caught completely off-guard (see the write-up on Tiki in last
week’s Report) but it was still a little surprising to see
the G-Men play so poorly. They’ll need to be better this
weekend with the bruised and battered Birds coming to town. It
starts with Eli.
10. Kerry Collins @ WAS –
Figures. I laud the guy for playing mistake-free football this
season and he promptly goes out and tosses three INTs, one of
which turned into an instant six for the Broncos. The Raiders
aren’t capable of absorbing those kinds of mistakes so if
he doesn’t turn things around (and quick), it’s gonna
be a nightmarish finish to an already underwhelming campaign.
Grab A Helmet:
Drew Bledsoe v. DET –
He’s now thrown 24 passes in three consecutive contests,
a statistical oddity if ever there was one. Unfortunately, 24
passes is on the low end for an NFL QB and Bledsoe’s recent
numbers reflect that (184 yards and a score per game in his past
three). Don’t expect a huge spike in production this week,
but 200 yards and a couple scores seems reasonable with the Lions
and their banged-up secondary coming to Big D.
Drew Brees v. BUF – Brees,
on the other hand, hasn’t thrown for fewer than 270 yards
in his past three tilts, and has also managed to toss six TD passes
in that same span. Fresh off a bye week, he and the Bolts prepare
for a critical stretch run that will either propel them into the
playoffs or secure their legacy as the most talented team never
to reach the postseason. I’m betting they make it, though
they might need a little help from...
Byron Leftwich @ TEN –
…this guy and the Jags. Unfortunately for San Diego, Jacksonville’s
season-ending slate looks less than daunting, starting with a
very winnable Week 11 contest against the rebuilding Titans. Expect
his usual 200 yards and a score or two as the boys from J-Ville
keep the Chargers at bay, at least for one more week.
Mark Brunell v. OAK –
Washington’s playoff hopes are flagging (as predicted) and
though it wouldn’t be fair to blame Brunell, he’s
certainly part of the reason. He’s turned it over five times
in his last three games and still doesn’t possess the arm
to bring his boys back when the chips are down and time is of
the essence. Luckily for the ‘Skins (and his owners), he
won’t have to this week. Expect 250 yards, a score, and
no turnovers against the very un-opportunistic Oakland secondary.
Kurt Warner @ STL – If
losing is indeed a habit, then Warner is the NFL’s inveterate
losing junkie, addicted to the agony of defeat, it seems, since
he made the trek west to the desert. We may never know why Denny
Green sticks with him but it might have something to do with the
321 yards per tilt figure he’s posted in games he’s
played from start to finish. Maybe if he threw a few TD passes
every once in a while, we could really get excited about him.
Grab A Clipboard:
David Carr v. KC – There’s
simply no way you’ve made it this far with Carr as your
primary quarterback, so why start now? He’s shown incremental
improvement of late but still doesn’t throw for enough yards
or enough scores to merit starting consideration. Wait ‘til
next year when, we hope, a new coaching staff will figure out
how best to utilize his obvious natural ability.
J.P. Losman @ SD – HIS
natural ability finally surfaced last Sunday, just in time to
keep the Bills in the thick of the playoff mix. One good performance
doesn’t mean he’ll reclaim the starting spot, however,
and I think we’ll see why in San Diego this weekend. The
Bolts are leading the league in run defense and will likely force
Losman to beat them through the air. Simply put: Not gonna happen.
Ken Dorsey v. SEA – I’ve
watched a lot of football in my day (too much, according to Mrs.
Shot Caller) but I have NEVER seen a QB put up the kind of numbers
Cody Pickett did in Chitown last weekend. The weather was atrocious,
for sure, but one completion? ONE??? I promise you this, Niners
fans, and this alone: Ken Dorsey will complete more than one pass
this Sunday against the ‘Hawks. Beyond that? No guarantees.
Tommy Maddox @ BAL – If
you like poor decision-making, unfulfilled potential, and generally
abominable quarterback play, do yourself a favor and tune into
the Steelers-Ravens game this weekend. I’m not convinced
Maddox and Kyle Boller could even COMBINE to post top 15-worthy
numbers. At least the former gets to bring along his solid rushing
attack and stout defense.
Kyle Boller v. PIT – The
latter? Let’s just say he doesn’t have those luxuries
anymore. The Ravens have scored a mere 100 points this season
in nine games. It doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out
how many per game that amounts to: not nearly enough, especially
when your defense is missing the last two defensive players of
the year. Expect nothing to change against a tough Curtain D this