Must Start: The Top 15
1. LaDainian Tomlinson @ CIN—He’s
averaging 143.9 yards per game, tops in the league. He’s
scored 14 touchdowns (again, tops in the league). He’s averaged
216 yards and three scores in his last two tilts. Feel free to
stop me at anytime, folks….
2. Larry Johnson @ MIA—While
LT’s been busy doing his ’04 Priest Holmes impersonation,
Priest’s replacement in Kansas City has been doing a pretty
good impression of himself, circa ’05. Since failing to
top the 40-yard mark in consecutive October outings, Johnson has
averaged 153 yards rushing/game and scored seven times (more than
two per contest). Perhaps he gets better as the season gets older?
The great ones do and he’s well on his way to being great.
3. Steven Jackson @ SEA—Would
you be excited if your #1 wideout grabbed 13 balls for 133 yards?
You would? How ‘bout if he added another 86 on the ground
and a touch? Those are staggering totals, my friends, even for
a guy as talented as Jackson. They also prove that the Rams coaching
staff, though still infected by Martz disease, has at least figured
out who the team’s most lethal weapon is. He’s probably
yours, too. Get him in there against the ‘Hawks this Sunday.
4. Brian Westbrook v. WAS—Jackson’s
Week 9 digits are reminiscent of this guy’s typical stat
line, equal parts rushing/receiving yardage and usually a touch
or two. Westbrook hasn’t fared as well historically v. the
‘Skins (only 72.3 total yards/game) but I suspect an extra
week to prepare and a bad loss heading into that extra week should
only intensify his and the Eagles’ desire to right the ship
this Sunday. They do as he goes for 100+ and a score or two.
5. Willie Parker v. NO—His
seven receptions for 67 yards last week were easily a career high
and seem to beg the question: why isn’t he a bigger part
of the Pittsburgh passing game? Outside of Hines Ward, the Steelers
don’t seem to have any proven targets. Not hard to envision
FWP putting up Westbrook-type numbers in that offense, if you
ask me. Get Cowher on the phone!
6. Kevin Jones v. SF—I
can’t verify this (actually, I’m too lazy to) but
I think this is the highest I’ve ever ranked Jones. Does
he deserve it or am I just rewarding him for three consecutive
weeks of stellar play (148.7 total yards/game and four scores)?
Call it a little bit of both. I think he’s still capable
of atrocities in the backfield but he’s been pretty steady
in ’06 and the competition ain’t exactly top-notch.
7. Clinton Portis @ PHI—I’m
usually on top of these kinds of things but I was surprised as
hell to find out he’s only cracked the century mark once
this season (Week 4 v. Jacksonville). Guess that’s one of
the reasons the ‘Skins are 3-5…or vice-versa. He’ll
always be hampered by that schizo passing game but, if healthy,
is always a top 10 back. This week is no exception.
8. Frank Gore @ DET—After
lighting up the Bears in Week 8 garbage time, Gore struggled to
get much going against their NFC North brethren, the Vikes, in
Week 9 (19 carries for 41 yards). No shame in that, actually,
as Minnesota leads the league against the run. Detroit is considerably
softer on defense and I think this one has all the makings of
a meaningless shootout. Get him in there.
9. Jamal Lewis @ TEN—He
hadn’t carried the ball more than 21 times until Week 8.
Since then, he’s averaged more than 27 touches per contest.
The common denominator in those two most recent games? The Ravens
were up big early. I think they will be again this weekend and
for that reason alone, Lewis gets a top 10 nod. Think close to
triple digits and a score or two.
10. Chester Taylor v. GB—You
couldn’t be blamed for wondering how the Vikes managed to
score just three points when Taylor accounted for over 140 yards
of offense. Here’s a hint, though: he outgained quarterback
Brad Johnson. That won’t happen again this week as Minny
plays host to the Pack at the Metrodump. Expect 100+ and a score
as the two Norris Division rivals square off this Sunday.
11. Tiki Barber v. CHI—Hallelujah!
I was starting to think ol’ Tiki might fade into retirement
riding a 16-game touchdown drought. Now that he’s got that
first one out of the way, it’s time to make up for lost
time. Too bad the competition gets exponentially tougher this
week, huh? He starts (you can’t sit him, can you?) but don’t
expect miracles. The century mark would still be helpful.
12. Warrick Dunn v. CLE—He
hasn’t hit triple digits since last month and has also seen
a reduction in workload thanks to the emergence of Jerious Norwood.
Nevertheless, he’s still good for about 75 yards a game
and has even scored in three of his last four tilts. Not the numbers
you were hoping for, probably, but still good enough for a #2
guy. Go ahead and slot him there this week against Cleveland’s
29th ranked run defense.
13. Ronnie Brown v. KC—After
a mostly sluggish first half, Brown has turned up the heat of
late, averaging over 146 yards per contest in his last three.
Most impressive of all was his 190-yard outing against the Bears
last Sunday, an out-of-leftfield special that must have had the
Soldier Field faithful scratching their collective stocking caps.
He doesn’t score enough but I have a hunch that might change
this weekend against the Chefs. Keep starting him.
14. Maurice Morris v. STL—Now
THAT’S more like it, no? It was only the Raiders but MoMo
finally showed us what he’s capable of on Monday night,
darting and dashing to the tune of 138 yards on an Alexander-esque
30 totes. It appears the meal ticket will sit for at least one
more week so that means the former Duck gets another shot this
weekend. Since the Rams are giving up over 140 per game and about
five per carry, he should be looking at another solid day.
15. Corey Dillon v. NYJ—The
Kid is questionable so it’s conceivable Dillon could shoulder
the whole load this Sunday at Foxboro. That could prove to be
quite fruitful for his owners as he mashed his way to a couple
six-pointers in the loss to the Colts. I’m not expecting
huge yardage but 75-100 sounds doable and another touch seems
almost guaranteed against New York’s pathetic run defense.
Grab A Helmet:
Rudi Johnson v. SD—Like
most of the Bengals, Johnson’s stock is slipping drastically.
Sure, he’s scored the last two weeks but he’s only
topped 100 yards twice this season and is averaging only 3.9 yards
a pop, the first time he’s dipped below four since assuming
the reins three years ago. Complicating matters this week is San
Diego’s fourth rated run defense, a unit that’s yielded
just over 85 yards per contest. You don’t sit him but he’s
not a surefire top 15 guy at the moment.
Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew v.
HOU—Taylor tallied 79 yards and Jones-Drew 85 in
the Week 9 shellacking of Tennessee. Now, they draw that other
weak sister of the AFC South, Houston. Though neither managed
to find paydirt against the Titans, there’s almost no chance
of that happening again this Sunday. Expect 200 bills out of the
combo and a couple six-pointers.
Ahman Green @ MIN—Batman
returns to the scene of the crime this weekend, the site where
last season went off the rails for him personally (devastating
knee injury) and for the Packers collectively. I doubt many thought
he’d return to form in this, his ninth (ninth?!) campaign,
but he looks no worse for the wear of late (three consecutive
100-yard outings) and is even being mentioned as a possible comeback
player of the year candidate. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke
it, Green haytas!
Thomas Jones @ NYG—Though
the Bears certainly were, Jones wasn’t actually that bad
last Sunday, accounting for 93 yards in the 31-13 whupping. Even
better, Chicago seems to have settled upon a 2-to-1 ratio of his
carries to Ced Benson’s. That means he can still be trusted
as a strong #2 option for the rest of the season. Give him another
look this Sunday against the G-Men.
Anthony Thomas @ IND—There’s
been an A-Train sighting! TBRBITNFL is out for up to four weeks
and that means Thomas, perennial second fiddle, gets the show
all to hisself in Buffalo. It ain’t much of a show, granted,
but he fared OK last Sunday, rushing for 95 yards and a touch
as the Bills snuck by the Pack at Orchard Park. We all know how
horrid the Colts run defense is (and how horrid J.P. Losman is)
so give him a go. He might be all they’ve got in Indy this
Julius Jones or Marion Barber III @
ARZ—After watching the Cardinals go a full sixty
in Week 8, it’s now obvious to me why they’ve failed
to fulfill expectations. Their lines flat stink. Both of them.
Dallas is good enough and angry enough to stuff the Jones/Barber
tag-team right down their throats this Sunday and will more than
likely do just that. Only question is, who’s the better
play? Well, who’ve you got? Start him. Yeah, him too.
Grab A Gatorade:
Any Oakland RB v. DEN—LaMont
Jordan needs only ten touchdowns to match last year’s total
and since the Raiders score one about every three weeks, the odds
are stacked against him. The only bright spot? He didn’t
hafta share the load with Justin Fargas last Monday night. Hey,
gotta stay positive, right?
Edgerrin James v. DAL—Edge
put together a pretty decent day two weeks back in Green Bay but
now must face a Dallas team that is seething and exceedingly stingy
against the run (3.4 per rush). Couple that with his own 2.8-per-tote
average and it all adds up to another frustrating day for the
former ‘Cane. Sit him down.
Travis Henry v. BAL—After
two mammoth efforts in Weeks 5 and 6, Henry has returned to earth
of sorts, tallying only 96 yards in his last two tilts. Now comes
a matchup against Baltimore’s scary tough defense, a unit
allowing just 2.9 yards a carry and two rushing touchdowns all
season. It was great while it lasted, huh? Now go find someone
Carnell Williams @ CAR—We’ve
been waiting for that breakout performance seemingly all season
but it’s time to cut bait, folks. Tampa’s line just
isn’t any good and Coach Chucky is abandoning the run game
sooner and sooner every week. LaMont Jordan gets chump of the
year honors but Williams is running a close second…and won’t
deserve the Cadillac appellation until things turn around. Why
don’t you take the kids out for pizza Monday night? They’ve
Wali Lundy @ JAX—He earned
the starting nod after a bust-out Week 7 effort v. the Jags (93
yards and a score) and you can bet your bottom dollar Coach Del
Rio hasn’t forgotten. It’s difficult enough beating
a team once in the NFL but almost impossible to pull the trick
twice, especially when you simply aren’t very good. Expect
a lot of nothing carries and considerably less production this
Sunday in Jacksonville for the former Cavalier.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends