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The Big Rotowski: Week 14 Ranks

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It's fantasy playoff time.

If fantasy football is a cruel mistress, playoff fantasy football is a lunch lady with a facial scab peeking out from behind half-a-Band-Aid, loading Grade-D sloppy joe meat directly onto your cafeteria tray. Very, very bad things can happen to you in the fantasy playoffs.

We all have our horror stories. In 2003, a person I know (we'll call him Christopher H.) lost a conference semi-final fantasy game when the Chiefs, down 18 with :05 left in the game, scored a touchdown and decided, for some reason, to go for the two-point conversion. Down 18. If Morten Andersen kicks the extra point, Christopher wins by one, and goes on to win his league title. But this does not happen. Massive therapy bills ensue.

In 2004, another person I know (we'll call him C. Harris) lost a conference final under even more excruciating circumstances. Byron Leftwich and the Jacksonville Jaguars went into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers, 28-25. In that game, Leftwich went back to pass and was hit. The umpire blew his whistle and waved his arms frantically: incomplete pass. Jacksonville guard Vince Manuwai picked up the ball casually, as though to return it to the referee. Green Bay defensive back Darren Sharper knocked the ball out of Manuwai's hands, scooped it up, and ran for a touchdown. Which, for some unknown reason, counted. C. Harris's opponent that day started the Green Bay defense. C. lost by two. He still has a video clip of the umpire blowing the play dead. But he's not bitter. Oh, no.

Well, in the League of American Recreational Gridiron Enthusiasts (or L.A.R.G.E.), whose playoff season actually begins in Week 13, something very bad has happened already in 2006, and not to anyone whose initials are "C.H." This weekend, the owner of the Clarksville Clutter (we'll call him Tony C.) suffered the kind of loss that makes a man reconsider his passion for fantasy sports. Going into Monday night's game, the Clutter had a two-point lead, but looked to be in trouble: they had only Jake Delhomme left to play, while their opponent had Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith. However, Delhomme had a terrific game for three-and-a-half quarters, and the Clutter never trailed. As the Eagles kicked a field goal to go up 27-24, the Clutter still led by a single point, heading into Carolina's final, fateful drive. The Panthers drove. Delhomme threw. Down inside the Eagle 10, it seemed inevitable that Carolina would at least kick the tying field goal to send it into overtime, or else win the game with a touchdown. Tony C. figured the game was over. Then Delhomme lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone, Keyshawn Johnson got bumped and couldn't fight his way through, and Lito Sheppard picked off the pass. Minus-two points for Delhomme. A quick check of the score. Unbelievable. Clutter suddenly fall back by one. Further check of the score. Jake Delhomme has 269 yards passing. That's right, folks. One more yard passing for Delhomme, one stinkin' yard, and the Clutter would've had an additional point, gotten the tie even with Jake's late interception, and won his tiebreaker, and thus the game. One. Yard. Passing.

And that, my friends, is one tough defeat.

Here's hoping you suffer nothing so ignominious over the next few weeks. As always, you can check back Friday for updates in my weekly rankings, as well as ratings from the other Yahoo! Sports Fantasy experts. And don't forget to get your Steelers and Browns into your starting lineups early, since those teams play on Thursday this week.

Quarterbacks

Rank Name Opponent Week 13 Rating
1 Peyton Manning @ JAC 1
2 Michael Vick @ TB 5
3 Drew Brees @ DAL 2
4 Tony Romo NO 4
5 Carson Palmer OAK 3
6 Tom Brady @ MIA 6
7 Matt Hasselbeck @ ARI 9
8 Vince Young @ HOU 15
9 Ben Roethlisberger CLE 10
10 Jeff Garcia @ WAS 26
11 Steve McNair @ KC 7
12 Jake Delhomme NYG 17
13 Matt Leinart SEA 20
14 Philip Rivers DEN 11
15 Marc Bulger CHI 8
16 Jon Kitna MIN 14
17 Eli Manning @ CAR 23
18 Chad Pennington BUF 24
19 Brett Favre @ SF 12
20 David Garrard IND 27
21 Joey Harrington NE 16
22 Alex Smith GB 19
23 Jason Campbell PHI 21
24 David Carr TEN 28
25 Trent Green BAL 30
26 Rex Grossman @ STL 13
27 J.P. Losman @ NYJ 22
28 Derek Anderson @ PIT NR
29 Aaron Brooks @ CIN 25
30 Jay Cutler @ SD 18
31 Bruce Gradkowski ATL 31
32 Brad Johnson @ DET 32

Notes: I'll stubbornly stick with Peyton in the top spot, despite the fact that Jacksonville's pass defense often gives him trouble, despite the fact that he had more interceptions than touchdowns in a game for the first time this season last week, and despite the fact that the Jags made Harrington look foolish in Week 13. The Colts are going to be mad … Vick has a great match-up at Tampa, whose pass defense has been the most generous to fantasy quarterbacks over the entire season and over the last five weeks … The Cowboys/Saints game should be an aerial extravaganza. The Saints stop the run much better than they do the pass, and the Cowboys' Roy Williams has been known to take play-action bait multiple times in a single game … I'm not actually loving Brady at Miami, but I feel like the ratings sort of fall off a cliff after him. Hasselbeck has a nice opponent in Arizona, but he hasn't been consistently sharp. Young has been terrific, but he's a rookie coming to his hometown for the first time, and there's a chance he could throw up a stinker. Roethlisberger has 14 TDs and 20 INTs, and I have him in the top 10? Garcia comes out of nowhere to be his same efficient self, circa 1999. There's a lot of shakiness after Brady … Rivers and Bulger have difficult match-ups; the Chargers ran wild against Denver three weeks ago and will do so again this week at home, while Bulger has to throw against a Bears pass defense that's allowed less than three fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in their last five contests. You can make the argument Chicago is a little vulnerable on the ground, but they're not giving up anything via the air … I'm coming around a little more on Leinart. He played really well against what had been a fair Rams pass defense. Anquan Boldin's drop cost him a passing TD, and it was just bad luck that caused Cardinals to keep falling down on the one-yard-line, giving Marcel Shipp his career day. Seattle has stiffened a bit against the pass, but I still think Arizona will score points via the air … Any doubts about Favre needing to retire are long gone. Announcer-fawning to the contrary, he's become an utter caricature of his gun-slinging persona. It's as though he just ignores defenders; he chooses where he wants to throw it, and whips it as hard as he can, as though no corner would have the temerity to intercept The Great Brett Favre. One wonders if he isn't tempted to blow fake smoke off his index fingers each time he passes … Grossman isn't usable for the foreseeable future. It's in his head, and in the Bears playbook. Who decided throwing the ball straight up 40 yards downfield would be Chicago's bread and butter?

Running Backs

Rank Name Opponent Week 13 Rating
1 LaDainian Tomlinson DEN 1
2 Larry Johnson BAL 2
3 Frank Gore GB 4
4 Brian Westbrook @ WAS 7
5 Rudi Johnson OAK 18
6 Steven Jackson CHI 3
7 Shaun Alexander @ ARI 5
8 Ladell Betts PHI 12
9 Willie Parker CLE 6
10 Travis Henry @ HOU 9
11 Marion Barber NO 17
12 Thomas Jones @ STL 24
13 Fred Taylor IND 23
14 Tiki Barber @ CAR 10
15 Jamal Lewis @ KC 8
16 Willis McGahee @ NYJ 14
17 Maurice Jones-Drew IND 28
18 Ahman Green @ SF 13
19 Deuce McAllister @ DAL 20
20 Warrick Dunn @ TB 16
21 Joseph Addai @ JAC 11
22 Cedric Houston BUF 37
23 Corey Dillon @ MIA 29
24 DeAngelo Williams NYG 32
25 Tatum Bell @ SD 25
26 Julius Jones NO 26
27 Carnell Williams ATL 31
28 Edgerrin James SEA 21
29 Kevin Jones MIN 19
30 Cedric Benson @ STL NR
31 Chester Taylor @ DET 15
32 Jerious Norwood @ TB NR
33 Ron Dayne TEN NR
34 Leon Washington BUF 40
35 Brandon Jacobs @ CAR 34
36 Laurence Maroney @ MIA 22
37 Reggie Bush @ DAL 39
38 Ciatrick Fason @ DET NR
39 Reuben Droughns @ PIT 38
40 Sammy Morris NE 33

Notes: Gore disappointed against the Saints last week; I don't think he'll do it again against a reeling Packers squad that allowed 5.7 yards per carry to the Jets in Week 13 … Rudi Johnson goes from one extreme to another: a brutal match-up against the Ravens to a favorable game against a Raiders rush defense that made Dayne look like a Heisman Trophy winner. Oh, wait … I've a feeling that Jackson will do just enough damage on Monday night against Chicago to warrant a start. The Bears are missing a couple people up front, and Tommie Harris' absence looms large. The Rams have to know that they won't get a ton done via the air, and maybe Marc Bulger's comments will spark some life into a dreadful offensive line … Betts very quietly carried it 28 times for 155 yards and a score last weekend, and if anything, the Eagles defense is struggling against the rush even more than the Falcons'. Joe Gibbs is returning in '07, but he knows his bread is buttered with Clinton Portis, so running Betts into the ground, even when the 'Skins are losing, doesn't seem to be a problem for ol' Joe … I'm a little afraid that Chicago will begin to rest Thomas Jones more, and let Benson platoon until the playoffs. Still, you have to play Jones against a Rams defense that's been pulverized by the run of late … Taylor and Jones-Drew are next to step up and play the game that's sweeping the nation: Rush On The Colts! Week 3 in Indianapolis was Jones-Drew's coming-out party, as he rushed for 103 yards and caught another 32 yards' worth of passes, while Taylor also racked up 74 yards rushing that day. Both are good plays … McGahee had a huge day against the Jets that same week: 26 carries for 150 yards. He didn't score (naturally), and that was way back when Willis was still RB1 material. Something tells me with the offensive line hurt and the Jets thinking playoffs, the sledding's going to get tougher … Cedric Houston has come off the reserve list to star for the Jets, and against a truly terrible Bills rush defense, he's someone you can start in deep leagues, or at a flex position. I'd actually have ranked him higher, but I'm paranoid about Eric Mangini's Shanahan-esque RB management. Right now, it appears Houston's the lead dog, with Washington the third-down guy, but Mangini did come out this week and say Kevan Barlow will be heard from again. Great … Dillon bumps up even though Miami's very tough against the rush, because I'm worried about Maroney. He clearly didn't have the wind knocked out of him; he was concussed, and according to teammates was completely out of it on the sidelines, and didn't make the post-game presser … DeShaun Foster may come back from his bad elbow, but DeAngelo Williams finally submitted the kind of performance his fantasy owners hoped, and just in time. It's hard to imagine Foster getting his job back.

Wide Receivers

Rank Name Opponent Week 13 Rating
1 Steve Smith NYG 2
2 Darrell Jackson @ ARI 4
3 Terrell Owens NO 3
4 Chad Johnson OAK 1
5 Donald Driver @ SF 6
6 Roy Williams MIN 8
7 Reggie Wayne @ JAC 5
8 Javon Walker @ SD 7
9 Marvin Harrison @ JAC 13
10 Plaxico Burress @ CAR 18
11 Anquan Boldin SEA 15
12 Larry Fitzgerald SEA 14
13 Joey Galloway ATL 11
14 Devery Henderson @ DAL 25
15 Terry Glenn NO 21
16 Andre Johnson TEN 16
17 T.J. Houshmandzadeh OAK 9
18 Torry Holt CHI 10
19 Donte' Stallworth @ WAS 42
20 Reche Caldwell @ MIA 29
21 Deion Branch @ ARI 22
22 Santana Moss PHI 39
23 Laveranues Coles BUF 26
24 Matt Jones IND NR
25 Jerricho Cotchery BUF 31
26 Lee Evans @ NYJ 17
27 Chris Chambers NE 27
28 Bernard Berrian @ STL 19
29 Mark Clayton @ KC 20
30 Nate Washington CLE 30
31 Terrance Copper @ DAL NR
32 Reggie Brown @ WAS 36
33 Antonio Bryant GB 32
34 Santonio Holmes CLE 35
35 Braylon Edwards @ PIT 34
36 Muhsin Muhammad @ STL 28
37 Marty Booker NE 45
38 Michael Jenkins @ TB 40
39 Derrick Mason @ KC 37
40 Chris Henry OAK 24
41 Mike Furrey MIN 46
42 Randy Moss @ CIN 43
43 Marcus Robinson @ DET NR
44 Drew Bennett @ HOU NR
45 Isaac Bruce CHI 38
46 Arnaz Battle GB 41
47 Keyshawn Johnson NYG 47
48 Greg Jennings @ SF 33
49 Reggie Williams IND NR
50 Kevin Curtis CHI 48

Notes: Steve Smith hasn't caught a ton of passes the last four weeks, but he has caught a touchdown in each game. The Giants continue to struggle against the pass, and until they get their defensive line and linebackers healthy again, there'll be no pass rush to cover up for the sub-par secondary … The Bengals actually have a hard passing match-up against the Raiders, but considering how explosive Chad Johnson has been, I still think he'll score. Don't be fooled by his "low" point total from last week; he may not have scored a touchdown, but he caught eight passes for 91 yards before the Ravens finally decided to double him everywhere he ran. That's when Houshmandzadeh went off … I'm assuming Marques Colston and Joe Horn are going to miss Sunday night's game in Dallas. Colston would seem to be a better bet than Horn to me at this point, because he's three weeks into the healing process, and Horn has missed multiple games because of this same injury this year. Henderson and Copper would back these guys up, and be viable in what could be a shootout … Holt scored last week, but he dropped a long pass that would've been a touchdown, and seems bogged down in the lethargy that's caused St. Louis to lose six of their last seven. It's not going to get better against the Bears … I had Stallworth ranked in the 40s last weekend because I was worried about his hamstring, but his four-catch, 111-yard night, which included two spectacular long-distance grabs, convinced me he's fine. If Jeff Garcia stays committed to throwing the ball to his wideouts down the field, everyone associated with this offense can have a big day in D.C. … Matt Jones could just be this year's Patrick Jeffers. Or Chris Chambers. You know: the receiver who comes out of nowhere to make a huge fantasy impact in your playoffs. I do think we may need to see him do it again, but he played really well against Miami last week, except for a silly downfield fumble … Holmes had legal charges against him dropped, so he'll be at the Ketchup Bottle for Thursday night's game. Maybe he's super-relieved, and puts up a big game, but I think I still like Nate Washington just a little bit better; Holmes is the better athlete and is faster, but Ben Roethlisberger loves guys who wind up exactly where they're supposed to be. Washington is a fine story, sort of the receiver equivalent of Willie Parker: undrafted out of tiny Tiffin University, hung around as a sixth receiver last year, worked his way up to getting some catches in the playoffs, and now is starting for the Super Bowl champs, although his hands are sometimes a little questionable, as he's dropped at least a couple potential touchdowns. It's worth noting that Cedrick Wilson will miss this game, so Holmes and Washington both make interesting plays in deep leagues.

Tight Ends

Rank Name Opponent Week 13 Rating
1 Antonio Gates DEN 2
2 Alge Crumpler @ TB 4
3 Todd Heap @ KC 3
4 Tony Gonzalez BAL
9
5 Jeremy Shockey
@ CAR
10
6 Chris Cooley PHI 5
7 Kellen Winslow @ PIT 6
8 Benjamin Watson
@ MIA
7
9 Jason Witten
NO
11
10 Desmond Clark @ STL 12
11 Heath Miller CLE 16
12 L.J. Smith @ WAS 8
13 Owen Daniels TEN 14
14 Ben Utecht @ JAC 13
15 Bo Scaife @ HOU 15
16 Jerramy Stevens @ ARI 17
17 Chris Baker BUF 22
18 Randy McMichael NE 18
19 Vernon Davis GB 20
20 George Wrighster IND 21
21 Daniel Graham @ MIA 23
22 Bryan Fletcher @ JAC 19
23 Alex Smith ATL NR
24 Dan Campbell MIN 30
25 Jermaine Wiggins @ DET 26
26 Courtney Anderson @ CIN 25
27 Robert Royal @ NYJ NR
28 Bubba Franks @ SF 28
29 Steve Heiden @ PIT NR
30 Reggie Kelly OAK NR
31 Joe Klopfenstein
CHI
31
32 Adam Bergen SEA 32

Notes: No Marques Colston on this list until I hear he's truly back, so Gates ascends to the top spot. He actually lost the top scoring spot among "traditional" (read: actual) tight ends (excepting Colston) to Gonzalez last week, but there's still no one I'd rather have than Gates … Shockey could actually find himself being liked by fans if he'd just tone down the stupid redneck act. "Act like you've been there before" is one of the few truisms of the sport that really resonates with most fans. I mean, all LaDainian Tomlinson needs to do is not act like a jackass when he scores, and he gets reams of column inches devoted to what a great guy he is. Very few people care to see Shockey's ridiculous histrionics with referees, opponents, teammates, fans, etc. He can be such a good player, too. It's a shame. Carolina has struggled with tight ends at times this year, so he can have a good game this week … Witten is one of Tony Romo's favorite targets, and he made the catch that won Dallas their game in the Meadowlands last weekend. What dampens Witten's value, though, is that the Cowboys don't bother throwing much in the red zone these days. And why should they, with Marion Barber around? … Too many more tight-end touchdowns in Pittsburgh, and Willie Parker owners are going to come looking for Heath Miller owners. And it's not going to be pretty.

Kickers

Rank Name Opponent Week 13 Rating
1 Josh Brown @ ARI 4
2 Shayne Graham OAK 6
3 Josh Scobee IND 8
4 Robbie Gould @ STL 1
5 Adam Vinatieri @ JAC 2
6 Matt Stover @ KC 5
7 Jeff Wilkins CHI 3
8 Martin Gramatica NO 11
9 Nate Kaeding DEN 7
10 Jason Hanson MIN 24
11 John Kasay NYG 9
12 Lawrence Tynes BAL 14
13 Joe Nedney GB 13
14 Rian Lindell @ NYJ 12
15 Jay Feely @ CAR 15
16 Phil Dawson @ PIT 17
17 Olindo Mare NE 18
18 Mike Nugent BUF 22
19 Stephen Gostkowski @ MIA 25
20 David Akers @ WAS 27
21 Jason Elam @ SD 16
22 Morten Andersen @ TB 10
23 John Carney @ DAL 23
24 Jeff Reed CLE 20
25 Neil Rackers SEA 19
26 Matt Bryant ATL 26
27 Dave Rayner @SF 21
28 Sebastian Janikowski @ CIN 28
29 Rob Bironas @ HOU 29
30 Kris Brown TEN 30
31 Ryan Longwell @ DET 31
32 Sean Suisham PHI NR

Notes: Not too much excitement when it comes to rating fantasy kickers generally, and even less excitement when it comes to the end of the year. Gould and Vinatieri have tailed off a little, so I bumped 'em down slightly. Josh Brown deserves all kinds of kudos for having made four game-winning kicks, which ties an NFL record. He's also pumped in three from 50 and beyond … The only real kicker drama this week should revolve around Elam. The Broncos ran a strange fake field goal at the end of the first half against Seattle, a play on which Elam pulled his hamstring. As of this writing, Mike Shanahan claims Elam will be able to play in San Diego, but keep an eye on the situation. It would stink to head into a fantasy playoff game with no kicker.

Defenses

Rank Name Opponent Week 13 Rating
1 Chicago Bears @ STL 1
2 Miami Dolphins NE 3
3 Baltimore Ravens @ KC 4
4 New England Patriots @ MIA 2
5 Pittsburgh Steelers CLE 13
6 Cincinnati Bengals OAK 26
7 Seattle Seahawks @ ARI 15
8 San Diego Chargers DEN 5
9 Minnesota Vikings @ DET 12
10 Dallas Cowboys NO 8
11 Carolina Panthers NYG 7
12 Jacksonville Jaguars IND 6
13 Houston Texans TEN 16
14 Oakland Raiders @ CIN 11
15 New York Jets BUF 20
16 New York Giants @ CAR 17
17 Cleveland Browns @ PIT 22
18 Arizona Cardinals SEA 18
19 Kansas City Chiefs BAL 9
20 Buffalo Bills @ NYJ 31
21 Tennessee Titans @ HOU 27
22 Denver Broncos @ SD 10
23 Philadelphia Eagles @ WAS 28
24 Detroit Lions MIN 23
25 San Francisco 49ers GB 25
26 Green Bay Packers @ SF 14
27 St. Louis Rams CHI 19
28 Indianapolis Colts @ JAC 21
29 Atlanta Falcons @ TB 29
30 Washington Redskins PHI 32
31 New Orleans Saints @ DAL 30
32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers ATL 24

Notes: The whole world was wrong about the Cincinnati defense over the past couple weeks, and while another seven shutout quarters is a tad ambitious, it's easy to envision the Bengals wreaking havoc on the woeful Raiders attack. You have to ride the hot hand … The numbers tell me Cleveland's defense should be rated higher than I've got them here, as in: perhaps even in the top 10. The reason isn't so much that they're good, because, well, they're not. But Pittsburgh's offense has just been incredibly generous to opposing fantasy defenses, giving up buckets full of points. When push came to shove, though, I couldn't justify putting the Browns in the top 15, not on the road on national television in Pittsburgh … Despite all their injuries, Houston's defense is actually playing kind of well. Mario Williams is having a fine rookie year, and lesser-known rookie DeMeco Ryans leads the team in tackles (by 38), has 3.5 sacks, a pick, and has deflected five pass attempts.