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Target Practice, playoff edition: Prelude to a fantasy title

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (Matthew Emmons/US Presswire)

In this installment of Target Practice, our last of the 2011 season, we're taking a look at three weeks worth of numbers. Generally speaking, more data is better. We'll still discuss the Week 15 target totals where appropriate, but the objective here is to review December usage.

Let's begin with the cowpokes pictured above...

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WR targets - Weeks 13-15

Wide Receivers

In the two games since Miles Austin's return, Dez Bryant has seen just six targets, an alarmingly low number. (He still made the leader board here because Tony Romo looked his way 14 times in the Arizona game in Week 13). To Dez's credit, he's caught five passes on those six chances and he's found the end zone twice. In fact, Bryant, Austin and Laurent Robinson have each scored in back-to-back games, so fantasy owners haven't really had anything to complain about ... yet. The Cowboys face the Eagles in Week 16, and you might recall that Jason Garrett unveiled the season's most gutless game plan the last time these teams met. Neither Bryant nor Austin saw a target in the first half against Philly back in Week 8, and Dallas trailed 24-0 at the break. The rematch has shootout potential, and there's no reason to think the Cowboys will utilize the same script, but I'm nonetheless a worried Dez owner.

AJ Green was on his way to a huge day against the St. Louis secondary in Week 15, but he suffered a shoulder separation, and the injury sidelined him briefly. It's clearly a problem, but the rookie apparently intends to play through the pain (and did so on Sunday). His match-up this week with Arizona corner Patrick Peterson should be a fun watch. ... Denver's Demaryius Thomas has seen 33 targets over the past three weeks, and Tim Tebow has only thrown 77 passes. Eric Decker has only had 13 chances during the same three-game stretch. ... Eli Manning owners, you really need to direct some (or all) of your frustration toward this dude...

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Hakeem Nicks' first drop

...because Hakeem Nicks was a minor disaster on Sunday. He allowed a potential 50-plus-yard touchdown pass to bounce off his face (pictured), and later whiffed on another score. Eli also lost TD passes due to penalty and replay review. Just an ugly way to lose. ... If you're a Dwayne Bowe owner who happened to make it to Championship Week, then you have to be feeling awfully good about the upcoming Kyle Orton surge. The Chiefs' passing game has an extremely friendly match-up in Week 16, at home versus the Raiders. Oakland's defense has allowed 243.8 passing yards per game this season, ranking 23rd in the league, and this group has given up the second-most touchdowns via the air (27).

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RB targets - Weeks 13-15

Running Backs

Even if Willis McGahee (hamstring, knee) participates in practice this week and plays in on Saturday, you have to assume that Lance Ball will still get some work. Please take note of the receiving workload Ball has seen in recent weeks. Denver travels to Buffalo, where they'll face a defense that allows 4.8 yards per carry and 139.5 per game. ... Chris Johnson reportedly sprained an ankle late in the Titans' unexpected loss at Indianapolis, but his head coach expects him to be active this week, versus Jacksonville. This from Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean:

"[Johnson] will be questionable this week, but we saw him [Monday] and we don't think there's any reason he'll be out for the game," [Mike] Munchak said. "But he is definitely sore, so we'll see how he is this week."

[...]

"He is a little sorer than I thought," Munchak said, "but not something [trainers] are concerned about."

Kevin Smith was clearly not operating at full capacity for Detroit on Sunday, but he still handled 16 touches and there's been no indication yet that he aggravated the ankle issue. He has a neutral match-up this week, at home versus San Diego. No reason to embrace, no reason to avoid. Definitely no reason to start any other Lions RBs. ... Roy Helu is dealing with knee and toe injuries, apparently, which complicates his outlook for Week 16 against Minnesota. Also, his coach is kind of a maniac. Helu still handled 26 touches on Sunday, so let's wait for the practice reports before panicking. Evan Royster had 10 carried for 36 yards for the 'Skins in Week 15. ... Just in case you missed Monday's CJ Spiller discussion, here's a link. Spiller was targeted 11 times on Sunday against Miami, and he caught nine passes for 76 yards and a score. ... If you're looking for a Kahlil Bell endorsement, I'll refer you to this week's pickup video:

Bell saw more snaps and more touches than Marion Barber in Week 15, and he looks like an acceptable PPR play in the Christmas match-up at Green Bay. Obviously you'll need to keep your expectations low, because the Bears offense has a Cade McNown vibe right now.

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TE targets - Weeks 13-15

Tight Ends

Consistent double-coverage on Rob Gronkowski led directly to a big day for Aaron Hernandez, who caught nine passes on 11 targets in the Denver win. Hernandez is might be the No. 2 tight end in New England, but he's actually third at his position in per-game fantasy scoring this season. That's crazy. Here's the up-to-date list of the top 10 TEs:

1. Rob Gronkowski, 14.6 PPG
2. Jimmy Graham, 12.2
3. Aaron Hernandez, 9.1
4. Antonio Gates, 9.0
5. Tony Gonzalez, 8.9
6. Jason Witten, 8.2
7. Fred Davis, 8.1
8. Jermichael Finley, 7.5
9. Vernon Davis, 7.0
10. Dustin Keller, 6.7

Again: It's insane that two Patriots are scoring like this. Gronk and Graham both still rank among the top-five scorers among all receivers. ... Finley saw 10 targets in Week 15, but only caught three of them for 83 total yards. Multiple drops ruined what should have been a big day. ... Jake Ballard is dealing with a knee injury, and seems unlikely to play in the Week 16 match-up against the Jets. Ballard has been a nice find this year, but he's a drop candidate this week. Drat. ... Brent Celek was a monster in Week 15, catching five passes on six targets for 156 yards and a score. Over the past five weeks, he's actually been the fifth highest-scoring tight end in fantasy. Dallas' defense has allowed the ninth-most points to TEs this season, so the match-up ahead seems friendly enough. ... Jared Cook has been a non-factor most of the year, but he saw 11 targets on Sunday, catching nine for 103 yards. All of those numbers were career highs for Cook. He closed the 2010 season with a mini-binge, and it looks like fantasy history may repeat.

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