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Monday Dinner: Swing for the fences, and start with Ben Tate

The Texans and Browns were supposed to play a football game Sunday. It turned into a clinic, an instructional video. If you like watching a beautiful power running game at its best, Reliant Stadium was the place to be in Week 9. This looked like a father-son game, the varsity schooling the jayvees. The Browns defense was probably thrilled when the game was over.

Arian Foster(notes) is the headliner of the Texans backfield, of course. When I reshuffle all of the fantasy backs on Tuesday, he might land at the No. 1 spot. He can run through and past people, he can catch the ball, he's working behind a super offensive line. He's the full package.

But is Foster a better pure runner than teammate Ben Tate(notes)? That's open to debate.

Tate was just as impressive as Foster on Sunday, rolling up 115 yards and a score on just 12 carries. This wasn't a case of one run skewing the stats, either — Tate was getting to the second level on most of his carries, bouncing off the initial contact, getting more yards than the blocking provided; a perfect mix of speed, power, vision and decisiveness. He's now averaging 5.7 yards a pop for the season, and he's managed at least one breakaway run (12 yards or more) in each of his games this year, despite a modest workload. Tate's worst one-day YPC of the year was a 4.3 showing in Week 3.

Tate is still unowned in about 43 percent of Yahoo! leagues as we go to press, and that's a number that needs to change. If something were to happen to Foster, Tate would immediately jump into my Top 10 at the position, perhaps the Top 5. He's that talented, the Houston offensive line is that good, and the Texans schedule is that friendly.

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And this leads to a broader point, how fantasy strategy changes at this time of the year. The bye weeks are just about over — everyone plays in Week 10, and just four teams rest in Week 11. Setting a starting lineup will get a lot easier, and our expectations from any starting player will get a lot higher too. With that in mind, it's time to put your best starting lineup on the field, with your bench made up largely of high-upside lottery tickets who could pop in the right situation (hello again, Mr. Tate).

Depth was nice in September, and it's essential in October. Upside wins in December. Time to give your fake football roster a thorough audit, gamers.

If you have a handful of weekly starters to consider, it's time to upgrade that depth into better starters. Locate the teams in your league that have the most injury concerns (or Week 11 bye-week concerns) and the teams that are the most desperate simply to make the playoffs. They might feel forced into a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 deal where you're scoring the best player. Generally no one likes parting with the big-ticket item in any fantasy deal — we've all been trained to recognize that three 5s don't equal a 10 — but desperation has a way of changing the dynamic. See if you can work that angle.

And in the meantime, you better make sure Tate is long gone in your pool. Watch those highlights again, check the Short Cuts and the Game Rewind. The plays jump off the screen.

As for the rest of the league, let's get to some bulleted content:

Monday Dinner: Swing for the fences, and start with Ben Tate• Third. Tenth. Fifth. That's the Tim Tebow(notes) story for 2011, so long as all you care about is the bottom line. Those are his Yahoo! basic-scoring ranks at QB over the last three weeks.

A tip of the cap to the Denver coaching staff, which did a masterful job with Week 9's game plan. Tebow was put into a speciality offense that he knows how to run, the read-option. The downfield throws were quick and simple reads, nothing too tricky. The Raiders were happy to help, of course; there was no safety help on Eric Decker's(notes) touchdown, making it the easiest of throws. But Tebow looked like an effective NFL player in Week 9, and of course he posted all we really care about, juicy stats. We're just in it for the numbers.

Tebow was ranked in the mid-teens on the last Shuffle Up and Pass, despite the threat of a possible demotion. Again, it's a case for upside; it's an instance where you're trying to identify what could fall right with the player. If he crashes and burns, so what? Go to the waiver wire and find another QB. But we've already seen what a running threat like Tebow can do for you in crunch time: go look at the 2010 fantasy playoffs again, which essentially were the Tebow Show.

It could be a good time to sell on Decker, however. He's scored in the last two games but Tebow only threw 21 passes at Oakland; if games are competitive, the Broncos would love to keep that number as a target. This will never be a passing fancy with Tebow at the controls. No receiver is going to be fed a wealth of targets on a weekly basis.

Let's also give it up for Willis McGahee(notes), who overcame his hand injury and ran like a man possessed in Oakland (163 yards, two scores). He's added a surprising, useful final act to his career; the jaw-dropping speed is gone, but McGahee is still a power runner and a reliable and versatile player. So long as McGahee can stay on the field, the Broncos should have a capable offense. He's that important.

• Remember the bye-week panic a few weeks ago? Bye-week clubs started off 3-9 in their get-back games this year, which opened up speculation that the new practice rules were turning the bye week into a disadvantage. But the big picture was lost to some: mostly bad teams had the early bye weeks in 2011. With better teams getting their week off and then returning, things have normalized: bye teams are 8-3 in their get-back games over the last two weeks, putting the ledger at 11-12. There's nothing to see here.

• Bill Belichick is the best head coach of his generation and probably the wisest head man the NFL has seen since Bill Walsh. His legacy is undeniable, his place in history secure. But it's time for someone in New England to accept that Belichick is wearing too many hats, asked to do too many things. The horrendous 2011 Patriots defense is made up of the players Belichick wanted to draft and the players Belichick coaches on a daily basis. Even a genius needs a little help sometimes.

Until the Patriots can get a key stop when they need it, they're not going anywhere in the playoffs, no matter how great Tom Brady(notes) usually is (most of Week 9 to the side).

Monday Dinner: Swing for the fences, and start with Ben Tate• I can understand why some underestimate Jake Ballard(notes). He wasn't drafted, and he ran a lumbering 40 time for pro scouts. No one drafted him in any of my leagues in August. Most fantasy players didn't know who he is. Look at his celebration picture to the left; he jumps like an offensive lineman.

But at some point we have to accept that on-field production trumps any of that pedigree stuff.

Ballard gave the Patriots fits in the Week 9 upset, securing four passes for 67 yards and the game-clinching score. He also drew a key flag on the final New York possession. Ballard now has three touchdowns in his last five weeks and he's making 17.2 yards per catch. He's posted a gain of 21 yards or more in five straight games. He's on Eli Manning's(notes) radar now and he's on ours, too.

I don't care how fast Ballard is. I don't care what his reputation was three months ago. All I care about is that he's producing consistently, and he's respected in his own huddle and organization.

Laurent Robinson(notes) would be a starter for at least half of the teams in the league. He's going to be a star while Miles Austin(notes) is out. Make Robinson a waiver priority. Tony Romo(notes) loves him, too.

• Thursday football is back in our lives, dropping this week (Chargers and Raiders) and carrying through Week 16. Adjust your routine, start reworking your schedule. We'll need to make quicker decisions in a lot of instances. The Thursday schedule is a beautiful thing at the end of the day, a trade-off worth making: the more stand-alone games, the better.

Nothing is solidified on Darren McFadden's(notes) status yet, but the Contra Costa Times isn't confident McFadden will play. The takeaway never changes in these instances but it's worth repeating: hope for the best with your injured players, but be realistic about the worst. Everyone in the NFL has injury risk, but it's a variable risk: there isn't one standard level that fits everybody.


Images courtesy of US Presswire

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