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Andy Behrens

Sunday Scene, Week 13: James Starks debuts for Green Bay, auditions for fantasy owners

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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That'd be your priority Week 14 waiver claim pictured above, avoiding a would-be tackler (and wearing a stylish 1929 Packers throwback).

James Starks(notes) hadn't played a meaningful down of football in nearly two full years, but on Sunday, he may have claimed the top spot in Green Bay's backfield hierarchy. The rookie carried 18 times in his NFL debut, gaining 4.1 yards per tote. He also dominated the rushing workload on a game-clinching 17-play drive that consumed eight minutes and 35 seconds in the fourth quarter.

Starks was a sixth-round pick back in April, and he spent the first six weeks of the season on the PUP list with a hamstring injury. The Packers could have simply placed Starks on injured reserve, but didn't. This probably tells us something about the confidence — or simply the hope — that the coaching staff has in his ability. Starks missed his final collegiate season at Buffalo due to a shoulder injury, but he piled up numbers in 2007 and 2008. Over those two years, he rushed for 2,436 yards and 28 scores, adding 92 receptions. Click here for the highlight reel. He's an all-terrain back with size (6-2, 218) and athleticism. Starks had an excellent pre-draft combine, which landed him on the Packers draft board despite the injury concerns.

Entering Week 13, the biggest criticism of Green Bay's offense — or, more accurately, the only criticism — was its lack of a reliable ground game. It's possible the Pack just addressed that concern from within. Brandon Jackson(notes) hasn't averaged 4.0 yards per carry in any game since Week 7, so he doesn't seem to be the answer.

This was Mike McCarthy's postgame assessment of Starks:

"James Starks is a really talented young man. The goal was to try to get him probably 8-10 carries. I wanted to see how he would handle it. I thought he improved as the game went on. I’m pleased with his individual performance. … I thought he performed very well and was very impressed, particularly the way he fell forward for one or two yards on a number of his carries. He’s off to a good start."

Again, Starks received 18 carries against the Niners, not 8-10. If he gets a similar workload against the Lions next Sunday, the fantasy community will enjoy the results. Starks is available in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues at the moment. Earlier this week, we discussed the advantages of fresh legs at the end of the NFL season, during the most important month on the fantasy calendar. In Starks' case, you're getting a talented, low-mileage player tied to an elite offense. Make the add.

Fourth Quarter

OK, so when I say that Starks is your priority waiver claim, I'm assuming that you're involved in a deeper league, the sort of format where Tashard Choice(notes) is long gone. If Choice is still on the board, then of course he deserves a pick-up. He rushed for an even 100 yards in Dallas' OT win at Indianapolis, and he crossed the goal line on one of the day's more impressive runs. (Video below). Choice could be the lead back for a few franchises, but he's been buried on the Cowboys' depth chart this season. Marion Barber's(notes) calf injury opened the door to playing time, and Choice was a revela—

Well, no. He wasn't exactly a revelation, because we all knew about him. Choice averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2008 and 5.5 in '09. He's a proven asset, and he's finally getting another chance to play. Next week's match-up isn't ideal (PHI), but Dallas has Washington and Arizona on the schedule in the fantasy playoffs.

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Dez Bryant(notes) won't benefit from the end-of-season match-ups, because the rookie fractured his right ankle on a kick return. Awful news, particularly for those of us who drafted Bryant everywhere. You're dropping Dez in non-dynasty leagues. Roy Williams obviously gets a value bump.

One more blurb from Dallas-Indy: Peyton Manning(notes) has thrown 11 interceptions over his last three games, including four pick-sixes. Never thought I'd write that sentence, or anything like it. Manning is still putting up significant yardage and touchdown totals (365, 2 TDs vs. DAL), so fantasy owners aren't necessarily complaining. And it's nice to know that for a change, the Colts will need to keep their skill players active through the end of the season.

The next four weeks look relatively friendly for Manning investors: TEN, JAC, OAK, TEN. That team needs Austin Collie(notes) and Joseph Addai(notes) back in the worst way. (Apologies to Javarris James(notes), who scored a pair of short-yardage TDs in the fourth quarter).

Steven Jackson was bright ray of competence in an otherwise ugly game between the Rams and Cards. He scored the game's only touchdown. (If Jackson doesn't earn high marks in the Rams Report Card for his 102-yard rushing performance, then I might not be able to link that thing anymore. Your move, Post-Dispatch). Due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness, Arizona used three quarterbacks in Sunday's loss. Derek Anderson(notes) may have been concussed; he was definitely bad (7-for-20, INT), and eventually benched.

OK, it cracked me up just then, when Al Michaels was forced to yell "The action on the field will be smokin' hot!" in his pregame tease of the Sunday night game. That seemed maybe a bit unnatural.

Antonio Gates(notes) delivered another heroic fantasy performance on Sunday, catching six balls for 73 yards and a score, despite playing on zero healthy feet. He made cuts that few healthy NFL tight ends can execute. His performance wasn't enough, however, as the Raiders simply ran all over the Chargers. Darren McFadden(notes) and Michael Bush(notes) punished San Diego's defense, combining for 192 rushing yards and two scores on 42 carries. (Ask Eric Weddle(notes) if he thinks McFadden was at all tentative on Sunday. Weddle was bulldozed at the goal line on DMC's TD). Jason Campbell(notes) had a quiet day through the air (117 yards, TD), but he managed to run for an early score. He has a terrific match-up at Jacksonville on deck, too.

There's a lot to be said for steady workload and useful match-ups. Marshawn Lynch(notes) isn't the league's flashiest back, and he entered the week with more fumbles lost (3) than touchdowns (2). But he broke the plane three times against Carolina, rushing for 83 yards on 21 carries. Lynch gets the Tampa Bay defense in Week 16, the last great match-up on his fantasy schedule.

Another week, another late scoring drive for Matt Ryan(notes). It's not even a surprise at this point. Let's make sure he's in the MVP discussion somewhere. (Big assist to Eric Weems(notes) for the win over Tampa, though. This return was crazy). You'll recall that Ryan is coming off a 24-for-28 effort in the win over Green Bay, and he passed for 316 yards in a Week 10 victory against Baltimore.

Early waiver plays for Week 14…

QB Josh Freeman(notes) at WAS (57 percent)
QB Jason Campbell at JAC (9 percent)
RB Christopher Ivory(notes) vs. STL (31 percent)
RB Marshawn Lynch at SF (37 percent)
RB James Starks at DET (3 percent)
RB Tashard Choice vs. PHI (9 percent)
RB Anthony Dixon(notes) vs. SEA (13 percent)
RB James Davis vs. TB (2 percent)
WR Roy Williams vs. PHI (46 percent)
WR Jacoby Ford(notes) at JAC (27 percent)
WR Earl Bennett(notes) vs. NE (5 percent)

Posted at 10:15 pm ET

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Third Quarter

Jonathan Stewart(notes) appears to have finally seized control of the lead role in the Carolina backfield, carrying 16 times for 73 yards and a score in the first half at Seattle. Mike Goodson(notes) has just three touches, although one of 'em resulted in a 6-yard TD. There's never really been any doubt about Stewart's talent — he'd be a No. 1 back for most teams. He'll face the user-friendly Arizona defense in two weeks, in the fantasy semi-finals, but unfortunately he'll travel to Pittsburgh in Week 16.

Tashard Choice is making the most of the opportunity to run against Indy, with Marion Barber (calf) sidelined. Choice's 20-yard rushing TD in the first quarter is one of the day's better highlights. He got the edge with ease, then humiliated a few linebackers. I'll remind you that Dallas has a terrific schedule in the fantasy playoffs: vs. Washington, at Arizona. Invest where you can.

Oakland had two rushing scores in the first half at San Diego, and Darren McFadden's owners didn't benefit from either of them. Jason Campbell and Michael Bush both crossed the goal line; Bush's TD was a terrific effort play. Highlight here. McFadden lost a fumble in Oakland territory late in the second quarter, but the Chargers were unable to score on the subsequent possession. Little has gone right for San Diego; sounds like there are a fair number of Raiders fans in attendance, too.

Tip of the hat to AP writer Steven Wine, who gave us a perfect introduction in his recap of the Cleveland-Miami game:

MIAMI (AP)—With the Browns and Dolphins looking equally inept, the question was which team would find a way to lose.

A last-minute Miami turnover gave Cleveland the win.

That's it in a nutshell. Rough game to endure. Chad Henne(notes) threw three interceptions, including the pick that setup Phil Dawson's(notes) game-winning field goal. Jake Delhomme(notes) tried to throw a game-changing interception to Nolan Carrol, but the rookie corner couldn't hold a ball that hit him in the chest. Peyton Hillis(notes) owners can't be too happy about the final series for the Browns, following the turnover. (Three knees, kick).

Dick Stockton mangled the call, but this 17-yard touchdown catch by Ovie Mughelli(notes) was impressive nonetheless. That TD would've belonged to Jason Snelling(notes), if only he were active. Alas.

Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu(notes) both suffered first-half injuries for Seattle(ankle, wrist), so the Seahawks's receiving corps is now just Deon Butler(notes) and a few scraps. Brutal news for team that was already thoroughly injured.

We now return you to Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning is pick-sixing (and Mike Hart(notes) is hurt again)…

Posted at 6:20 pm ET

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Second Quarter

Just in case you hadn't noticed, Greg Jennings(notes) is having the season that he was supposed to have in 2009. The Niners had no answer for Jennings on Sunday, as he hauled in six catches for 122 yards and two scores (one long-range, one short). He entered the day with 51 receptions, 822 yards and nine TDs. We should also note that Donald Driver(notes) looked like a man with healthy quads on this ridiculous 61-yard touchdown, breaking a series of tackles before crossing the goal line.

The Packers were led in rushing by rookie James Starks, making his NFL debut (18 carries, 73 yards). He'd been sidelined since July with a hamstring injury. Starks was a monster in college at Buffalo (1,333 yards, 16 TDs in '08), but he missed the 2009 season following shoulder surgery. Brandon Jackson managed to salvage a bit of fantasy value, catching four passes for 63 yards.

For the record: I kinda liked the Green Bay throwbacks. Unfortunate helmet, but the jersey worked.

Brian Westbrook(notes) and Anthony Dixon each received nine carries for the Niners, but neither back managed to average 4.0 YPC. Hopefully you weren't surprised by that result; the match-up was awful. You'll prefer Week 14, vs. Seattle.

Cincinnati might just have played the worst minute of football in league history. Not sure. The Bengals jumped into the neutral zone on a fourth-down play where it was clear that New Orleans was simply trying to draw someone offside. That should really never work, but it did … and it resulted in a first-down at the 3-yard line for the Saints. On the game's next play, Drew Brees(notes) hit Marques Colston(notes) for the game-winning score. Christopher Ivory — a guy who's somehow still available in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues — finished with 15 carries for 117 yards and two TDs.

The unnecessary roughness call on Ndamukong Suh(notes) is going to receive plenty of attention (in part because Tim Ryan freaked in the booth). But it legitimately looked like an attempted decapitation in real time. Shame for Detroit that the play wasn't reviewable. In any case, Suh is a bad dude (if not actually a head-hunter).

Yup, Dwayne Bowe(notes) played in Week 13, but you wouldn't know it from the box score. He was shutout by Champ Bailey(notes) and Co., in a game that didn't really help any fantasy owners. The Chiefs and Broncos combined for 78 points at Denver in Week 10; they totaled 16 points on Sunday, and neither quarterback reached 200 passing yards. Kyle Orton(notes) was really a wreck (9-for-28, 117 yards); Knowshon Moreno(notes) accounted for 175 of Denver's 247 total yards.

Brandon Jacobs(notes) led the Giants in rushing yards (103) and crossed the goal line twice, but Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) matched his fantasy production and decisively out-carried him (25 to 8). Bradshaw broke the plane twice, finishing with 108 total yards. New York's backfield committee member finished with 200 yards on the ground, destroying Washington's user-friendly defense.

The postgame report on Favre is somewhat encouraging: Nothing broken, but he couldn't have thrown if he'd been forced to return. He'll have an MRI on Monday. If he's healthy enough to play next week, he's still the starter. Tarvaris Jackson(notes) didn't quite put on a clinic in Favre's absence, throwing three picks and taking a few other unnecessary risks.

Adrian Peterson proved to be unstoppable for Buffalo's league-worst run defense. Check the move to bounce outside on this 43-yard score, then note the closing speed. Hard to believe that's what Peterson looks like with an injured wheel.

OK, this last horrible highlight is just for Brad Evans, who was forced to actually start Bo Scaife(notes) in a league today. (Injury woes, deep league). That drop is as bad as it gets. Tough break.

Posted at 4:55 pm ET

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Late game alerts: Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd(notes) and Mike Tolbert(notes) are all ACTIVE for San Diego. Seattle's Mike Williams is active, too, as expected. Austin Collie and Joseph Addai are INACTIVE for the Colts.

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First Quarter

Brett Favre's(notes) first throw against Buffalo on Sunday may have been his last for a little while. He rolled right, away from pressure, and was walloped from behind by LB Arthur Moats(notes) while releasing the ball (pictured). Favre's errant throw was picked by Drayton Florence(notes). Brett suffered a shoulder injury on the hit, and he went to the locker room for maintenance/evaluation.

Tarvaris Jackson replaced Favre, and he quickly threw touchdown passes to both teams. Florence picked off a throw that never should have been attempted, returning it for a 40-yard TD. But on Minnesota's next drive, Jackson connected with Sidney Rice(notes) on a 31-yard touchdown. The catch was insane. Highlight here. Rice was blanketed by Leodis McKelvin(notes). The pair briefly shared possession, and the receiver miraculously managed to get both feet down.

Rice added another TD reception in the second quarter, diving to snag a 6-yarder. Adrian Peterson broke the plane on a pair of short-yardage scores, too. The Vikings lead at half, 31-7. So Buffalo's offense is setup for yet another second-half binge.

Jackson looks OK, despite the regrettable throw, and Rice basically looks uncoverable.

Calvin Johnson(notes) will make your defense pay for curious coverage decisions. Megatron basically shamed the Bears' entire secondary on his 46-yard score, late in the second quarter. Detroit QB Drew Stanton(notes) looks just fine (143 yards, TD), except maybe when he dances. Jahvid Best(notes) has been surprisingly lively, gaining 86 yards on just six touches. The Lions lead 17-14 at halftime; both of Chicago's scores are via the ground game.

The Giants ran all over Washington in the first half — no great shock, as the 'Skins entered the week allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Brandon Jacobs walked into the end zone on an early 8-yard TD, then Ahmad Bradshaw took over (14 carries, 66 yards, 2 TDs). Maddeningly, James Davis is dominating the rushing workload for Washington, not Keiland Williams(notes).

Dwayne Bowe was shutout in the first half against Denver, but Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel(notes) was not. Cassel connected with six different non-Bowes in the first half, and he found Leonard Pope(notes) for a 2-yard score.

Chad Ochocinco(notes) whiffed on a perfectly catchable pass in the first quarter against the Saints (nearly resulting in an INT), then appeared to complain about the quality of the throw. Not Ocho's finest moment. He had both hands on the ball, would have been a fairly ordinary catch. Apparently if you don't hit Chad between the ocho and the cinco, you've done him wrong.

The Titans aren't exactly in competitive mode thus far. Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is headed for another 100-yard day, though Rashad Jennings(notes) and David Garrard(notes) have poached rushing scores. Both TDs were way too easy.

Check the tape on Christopher Ivory's 55-yard rushing TD against the Bengals. Note the way he waits for the hole, as if he's waiting for a walk signal. Ivory gained 94 yards on his first 10 carries, reaching the end zone twice. Pierre Thomas(notes), you can just take all the time you need to get healthy. Maybe give it another three weeks, let Ivory guide us through the fantasy playoffs.

The Dolphins-Browns game has not exactly been a fantasy buffet, but we should acknowledge the 60-yard field goal kicked by Dan Carpenter(notes). That's a number we don't see every week.

Posted at 2:50 pm ET

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Mid-FFL update: Percy Harvin(notes), Brandon Marshall(notes), Pierre Thomas are INACTIVE. Austin Collie is also expected to be OUT (so Blair White(notes) is your fantasy starter). Adrian Peterson is good to go, ACTIVE vs. Buffalo in the best possible match-up.

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Pregame

Hey der, grab a paper plate and a spork, gamers. Help yerselves. Make sure you get some of TedBell's potato salad. It's heaven.

We'll be discussing all the actionable fantasy news here in Sunday Scene throughout the day, per the usual protocol. And of course you're encouraged to join Fantasy Football Live for sketchy advice and late-breaking news, beginning at noon ET. Mr. Pianowski will drive the chat today, while I'm on the news desk, filling in for Chris Liss (doubtful, flu-like symptoms).

There's a pony keg in the pick-up and grape pop fer da kids. Getcha somethin', fer cripes sakes.

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Photo via Getty Images (meat), US Presswire (Bryant, Stewart, Favre) and AP Images (Starks, Jennings)

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