Must Start: The Top 15
1. LaDainian Tomlinson v. OAK –
The last running back to win the MVP award? Marshall Faulk in
2000. The last player to win the MVP award playing for a non-playoff
team? Uhhh…. Guess we know what he has to do, though it’s
hardly disputable he’s the league’s most indispensable
performer. He sure is in our little fantasy world.
2. Shaun Alexander @ PHI –
He’s not bad, either. In fact, Alexander has a better chance
of snaring the award than L.T., especially if his Seahawks continue
piling up victories. Nobody cares how you get them when all is
said and done, after all. He’s averaging over 140 rushing
yards and two scores in his last four contests. Expect more of
the same in Philly on Monday night.
3. Edgerrin James v. TEN –
Edge has virtually no chance of bringing home the hardware this
season but watching him routinely pound away at helpless opponents,
I’m convinced me he’s every bit as valuable as Peyton.
He still hasn’t dipped below 100 yards in a game thus far
and is the primary reason Indy will walk away with the Vince come
4. Larry Johnson v. DEN –
He’ll play the unstoppable force to Denver’s immovable
object this Sunday in a game that could very well decide KC’s
playoff fate. Win and they’re right in the mix. Lose and
they’re likely one game back of every other contender, trouble
in the highly competitive AFC. I like their chances if L.J. continues
his torrid pace of late (180.5 yards per and five scores in his
5. Tiki Barber v. DAL –
Tiki and the G-Men are fighting for their playoff lives, as well,
thanks to recent slip-ups against Minnesota (not acceptable) and
Seattle (not acceptable under the circumstances). He wasn’t
terrific in the first meeting with Dallas but didn’t get
a lot of touches, either (15, a season low). Expect something
along the lines of 20 carries and five grabs as New York seizes
control of the NFC East.
6. Steven Jackson v. WAS –
The Rams trailed big in Houston but, surprisingly enough, didn’t
stray from the running game, a bad habit developed during the
Martz era. Guess it paid off (for them and us) as Jackson blasted
his way to 110 yards and a touch in the comeback win. He should
be able to match those numbers this Sunday against a Redskins
team that yielded 184 yards to L.T. last weekend.
7. Thomas Jones v. GB –
The late-blooming Jones is finally coming into his own and now
gets a chance to officially dethrone Chicago’s nemesis,
the Pack, as NFC North top dogs. Of course, the Bears have already
clinched the better record in ’05 but it’s always
fun to drive that point home on the football field, especially
when it’s your archrival. He’s averaging over 100
yards and more than six per carry in his short career v. Green
Bay and should have no problem attaining those numbers again this
8. Brian Westbrook v. SEA –
Westbrook sure had fun playing the Pack last Sunday, racking up
triple digits for the first time all season and throwing in a
touchdown scamper, a beautiful one, as well. Things won’t
be quite so cheery this Monday night but he should still be good
for 100 total yards and a score in the loss. Keep starting him.
9. DeShaun Foster v. ATL –
It’s possible you haven’t thought of starting Mr.
Foster all season, something you should definitely reconsider
as we head down the homestretch. The reason? Coach Fox has finally
decided to make him the feature guy. He’s more explosive
than Stephen Davis, faster than Stephen Davis, and more of a pass-catching
threat than Stephen Davis. So long as he isn’t actually
replaced by Stephen Davis on the goal line, his value could skyrocket
in the coming weeks.
10. Willis McGahee @ MIA –
The former ‘Cane hasn’t even smelled the goal line
in over a month and hasn’t come close to topping 100 yards
in his past three tilts. Then again, he HAS faced two of the top
three run defenses in consecutive weeks. Give him another chance
this Sunday as he returns to South Florida. He’s averaging
well over 130 yards/contest against the Fish in his short career.
11. Domanick Davis @ BAL –
Ever heard someone say this? “I know they suck but SOMEBODY’S
gotta score points for them.” Davis is who they’re
talking about, a productive fantasy option playing for a decidedly
unproductive squad. Stick with him, no matter how bad things get
in Houston (as if they could get worse).
12. Cadillac Williams @ NO –
Williams is healthy again and attempting to pick up where he left
off at the beginning of the year. So far, so good if the last
two weeks are any indication. This week, he draws a New Orleans
D that is giving up well in excess of 130 rushing yards/game.
Unfortunately, he’s giving way to Mike Alstott in the red
zone. Temper your expectations but go ahead and use him as your
#2 or flex guy.
13. Warrick Dunn @ CAR –
Other than L.T., is there a better back, pound for pound, than
Dunn in the league? He’s back to sharing carries with T.J.
Duckett but still regularly tops the 100-yard mark. Give him the
start against the Panthers this weekend and hope he breaks a long
one. Might be his only chance of scoring since the big boy does
most of the work around the end zone.
14. Rudi Johnson @ PIT –
So much for the TD drought, eh? Johnson’s scored five times
in the last three games and this despite the fact he continues
to lose touches to dynamic second-year man, Chris Perry. Hard
to forecast another 2-TD day against an angry Steelers squad (especially
in Pittsburgh) but he will still be productive enough (think 75-100
yards) to merit the start.
15. Clinton Portis @ STL –
The ‘Skins think they need five in a row to make the playoffs
and it’s hard to dispute that looking at the NFC East standings.
To get there, they’ll need to beat a mercurial Rams squad
in St. Louis first. Easier said than done if you ask me. A big
day from Portis would certainly advance that cause and I suspect
he’ll get it, though I’m not convinced it’ll
Grab A Helmet:
Mewelde Moore @ DET –
He’s carried the ball 20-plus times in two consecutive outings,
seeming proof that Coach Tice has finally (finally!) chosen a
feature back. Though he doesn’t score much, he could cross
the goal line this weekend against a Lions squad preoccupied with
the coaching change and running dangerously low on morale. Give
him a look if you need a flex guy.
Fred Taylor or Greg Jones @ CLE –
Either of these guys would make a solid option, provided you can
determine before game time who’s gonna be the main man.
Though it’s possible they could share carries, they usually
don’t split them equally, meaning you definitely wanna find
out who gets the start first. Stay tuned….
Reuben Droughns v. JAX –
He’s tallied over 100 total yards in five of his last six
games and only missed the sixth one by a single yard. Throw in
a couple scores and you have a nice #2 option. The Jags are stout
defensively but not as tough on opposing backs as you’d
think (4.1 per carry and almost 110 per game). Stick with him
and hope for a short field six.
Willie Parker v. CIN –
Coach Cowher keeps intimating he’ll use the Bus more but
hasn’t backed up that sentiment in quite some time. In fact,
Bettis hasn’t carried the ball more than 10 times since
Week 7. That makes Parker the best Pittsburgh option, especially
against a Bengals squad yielding 4.5 yards per tote and close
to 122 per game. Go ahead and start him.
Jamal Lewis v. HOU – Lewis
ripped the Bengals for 113 yards and a score last weekend, though
most of them came when the game was clearly out of reach. If he’s
the only healthy option this Sunday, you definitely want him in
your lineup. If Chet Taylor returns, you might wanna use discretion.
Houston is bad but 10-15 carries isn’t enough for a #1 or
#2 option, no matter who the opponent is. Again, stay tuned.
Grab A Gatorade:
Julius Jones @ NYG – Hard
as it is to believe, Jones hasn’t scored since late September
(Week 3) and has yet to reach the 100-yard plateau all season.
Not exactly the credentials you’re looking for as we near
playoff time. He could still be a good option but I wanna know
he isn’t gonna lose critical carries to backup, Marion Barber
III, first. Don’t forget the Giants are fairly stingy against
the run, too.
Any New Orleans RB v. TB –
All you need to know about this committee: they’ve scored
two rushing touchdowns since Deuce went down in Week 5 and NONE
since Week 6, when Antowain Smith scored two against the Falcons
in San Antonio. Week 6 is a long time ago, folks. Find someone
else to tote the rock for you.
Kevin Jones v. MIN – I
have a sneaking suspicion interim man, Dick Jauron, will lean
on Jones more heavily than Coach Mooch did, which is mildly ironic
considering the latter was canned primarily because his run-first
philosophy didn’t gibe with Matt Millen’s more pass-friendly
approach. Nevertheless, if the Lions don’t figure out how
to block someone (and fast) it isn’t gonna matter what they
wanna do on offense. Stay away until the smoke clears…sometime
Any Arizona RB @ SF –
Coach Green took a page out of Mike Martz’s book last week,
calling just 15 running plays against 50 passing plays. This in
spite of the fact Arizona trailed only 10-0 at halftime. If he
doesn’t have any confidence in his backs, how are we supposed
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends