"Some days are diamonds. Some days are stones." – John Denver
Elmo is the LaDanian Tomlinson of toys.
For over a decade the little furry Sesame Street monster has brainwashed children with babble talk and songs of proper toilet use. Naturally, his media presence has created an unrivaled merchandise explosion. And it drives all parents batty.
As if stores were selling shirtless George Clooney clones, millions of soccer moms across the country pulled hamstrings and threw stiff arms in a mad dash to acquire the highly sought after Tickle Me Extreme Elmo over the holiday weekend. Countless reports of frenzied shoppers made headlines, convincing me, as The Terminator taught us all, that the lovable dolls are really intelligent machines hell-bent on destroying humanity by thermonuclear war. For our sake, let's hope Grover is John Conner.
Like determined Elmo-minded moms, playoff bound fantasy owners are in a desperate search to reach for the shelf for hot commodities. Without the non-stop convulsions and hideous laugh of TMX Elmo, here are my top-five "December diamonds-in-the-rough" that could lead you down the yellow brick road.
5. Santonio Holmes, Pit, WR
Y! Availability: 94 percent Notes: Nate Washington gets the start with Hines Ward out, but Holmes is the guy you want on your fantasy team. With three games of five targets and 50-plus yards or more since Week 9, Ben Roethlisberger's confidence in the rookie grows.
4. Sammy Morris, Mia, RB
Y! Availability: 99 percent Notes: Reports from South Beach say Ronnie Brown could be out up to three weeks with a broken left hand. With Brown out, No Whammies Sammy could be a fearsome fish in Week 15 at Buffalo. The Bills have allowed the most fantasy points to runners this season and 172.5 rushing yards-per-game in their past four.
3. Wali Lundy, Hou, RB
Y! Availability: 84 percent Notes: "Wali World" will do a Texas two-step against four defenses in his last five that rank in the bottom six in the league against the run (at Oak, Ten, Ind, Cle). The timeshare with Samkon Gado will take away carries, but his role as a pass-catcher gives him the edge over the Nigerian Nightmare.
2. Ladell Betts, Was, RB
Y! Availability: 57 percent Notes: Ok, I'm back on the Betts bandwagon after his 100-yard performance last week. Possibly the cushiest finishing schedule for a runner, Betts faces four defenses from Weeks 13-16 that have yielded a combined 166.2 yards and 1.2 rushing touchdowns-per-game in their past four. Still, deep down, I think T.J. Duckett starts stealing goal-line carries. Count on Betts as a productive flex option down the stretch.
1. Jay Cutler, Den, QB
Y! Availability: 99 percent Notes: Yet to suit up for a regular season game, Cutler is venturing into uncharted man-crush territory. His sensational skills set and ample weapons could mimic Billy Volek's late-season rise in 2004. Juggernaut Jay should average close to 230 yards and 1.5 touchdowns-per-game with four defenses (Sea, at Ari, Cin, SF) that rank 21st or lower in pass defense remaining.
WEEK 13 FANTASY FLAMES
Do you want to look like a pigskin prophet? Each week the Noise will dig deep for five no-so-obvious names to turn you into a gridiron guru. Here are this week's flame candidates:
Fearless Forecast: 272 YDs, 2 TDs, INT
Notes: Downright ugly in Week 12, "Sexy" Rexy's game will rebound with a Heidi Klum-hot effort against the sinking Vikes. In games after throwing two or more interceptions in the previous week, Grossman has averaged a roaring 243.3 yards-per-game and sported a superb 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The purple people eater tandem of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams has feasted upon running backs, forcing teams airborne. Matt Leinart proved that last week, plundering the Vikes for 405 yards and a touch on 31 completions. Since Week 7, Minnesota has allowed a staggering 296.6 passing yards-per-game and eight passing touchdowns. With Bernard Berrian back at full strength, the bi-polar Bears signal caller will make fantasy owners feel elated en route to a borderline top-10 day.
Fearless Forecast: 229 YDs, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 21 rushing yards
Notes: If you imagine "Big" Ted Washington belly flopping in a backyard pool, that's the splash Cutler will make in his NFL debut. The 11th overall pick in last April's draft, the rookie is a future franchise quarterback who has all the tools to be an instant impact player. A born leader with a rocket arm, Cutler should thrive out of the box against a Seattle defense that has yielded the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Much more effective in the vertical game than the rubbery-armed Jake Plummer, Cutler will connect with high-riser Javon Walker for a couple of giant gainers on Sunday night. Marcus Trufant and Kelly Herndon have played better of late, but this kid is a "cut" above the rest. Look for Mike Shanahan to soften the poor-tackling Seahawks via the run, paving the way for juggernaut Jay to beat them downfield. Available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he might be the best of the rookie QB bunch.
Fearless Forecast: 21 carries, 101 YDs, TD, 4 receptions, 27 YDs
Notes: Anytime a running back lines up against the Rams, gold grills go platinum. Drafted eighth overall on average in Y! drafts, Edge has been the biggest fantasy bugaboo this year, failing to eclipse 100-yards in a game. The century mark won't allude him this week against a Rams front that has surrendered an astonishing 195 rushing-yards-per-game and five ground scores since Week 8. The blinged-out James had arguably his best fantasy game of the season in Week 3 versus St. Louis, rushing for 94 yards and a score. Carrying the rock a career-low four times in Week 11 against the Vikes, James will have his appetite for carries fed. Of all the weeks to put your playoff trust in Edge, this is it.
Fearless Forecast: 15 carries, 79 YDs, TD, 3 receptions, 24 YDs
Notes: Ok, so his 86 total yard effort in the nation's capital didn't cause me to spontaneously combust, but the fire extinguishers are still at arms-length. The wingless Eagles D-line has given up a drool-fostering 200.3 rushing yards-per-game and six ground touchdowns in their past four. Last week, another marquee rookie, Joseph Addai, had a coming out party at the Eagles expense, plowing for 171 yards and a Colts franchise-record four scores. With DeShaun Foster still a question mark with a bum elbow, it will be another turn for Napoleon this week. Given Jake Delhomme's deplorable air efforts, look for John Fox to establish the run early to alleviate pressure in the passing game. Even if Foster were to start and a 50-50 timeshare were implemented, D-Will would still be a quality No. 2 play in deeper leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 6 receptions, 104 YDs, TD
Notes: "Kick 'em in the Cotchery" is ready to dish out Pack-age shots at Lambeau. As good as Al Harris and Charles Woodson can be on an individual basis, the continued lack of safety help continues to punish the Packers. Green Bay has allowed the most fantasy points to receivers this season and a whopping eight passing touchdowns in their past three. When Chad Pennington has time in the pocket, Cotchery performs admirably, as his seven receptions for 110 yards versus Houston in Week 12 attests. The quick-footed, hard-nosed Jets receiver should have little trouble finding open seams in a vulnerable Swiss cheese secondary. Anticipate numbers to creep just over 100 yards, making him an exceptional No. 2 play.
Fearless Forecast: 7 receptions, 79 YDs, TD
Notes: "Word Up?" Holmes is ready to hip-hop his way to a phat fantasy day. Reported on Monday that All-Pro receiver Hines Ward will miss at least this week's tilt versus Tampa Bay with a knee injury, Holmes becomes the flavor of the week for Ben Roethlisberger. Quietly, the former Ohio State Buckeye has topped the 50-yard mark in three of his last four contests, averaging six targets and four receptions-per-game over that span. Defensively, the Bucs have walked the plank since Week 9, yielding an insane eight touchdowns to wide receivers. Although he has had fumble issues when running with the ball, Holmes is a fluid, sure-handed receiver oozing with big-play potential. Tampa Bay has surrendered eight air strikes of 40-plus yards this season and, due to Holmes' dynamite speed, it would be no shock if another tally mark was added in Week 13. Still available in 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues, it's time to snag Santonio.
Fearless Forecast: 6 receptions, 63 YDs, TD
Notes: This week, Michael Vick may brandish a couple of dirty birds in Cooley's general direction. "Buckwheat" has played brilliantly of late, scoring five times in his past six games. The ultimate safety valve for the juvenile Jason Campbell, Cooley has notched eight catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns with the rookie calling the shots. Atlanta is anemic in pass defense, giving up 267.4 yards-per-game in their past five. The second-best fantasy tight end since Week 8 and an unheralded consistency king, Cooley is primed to scalp a feeble Falcons secondary.
WEEK 13 FANTASY LAMES
Worried about your awful matchups this week? The Noise lists five players that should be relegated to clipboard duty for your fantasy team. Here are this week's lame candidates:
Fearless Forecast: 201 YDs, TD, INT
Notes: With Drew Bledsoe no longer a starter, the "Doo-Doo" moniker might just pass to Delhomme. Widely considered a bargain mid-round pick in drafts, Delhomme has floundered, averaging a mere 187 yards and one touchdown-per-game in his past four. Lito Sheppard and his fellow defensive brethren are the only bright spots on an otherwise downtrodden Philly D. The Eagles have surrendered the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and a staunch 121.4 passing yards-per-game in their past five. The Eagles are clearly most vulnerable in the trenches and John Fox will call numerous run plays to exploit it. Of course, that leaves Delhomme in the dark. Like Eli Manning, his statistical mediocrity will again leave a bitter taste in owner's mouths.
Fearless Forecast: 17 carries, 68 YDs
Notes: Outshined by Barber, Jones' value continues to crumble. Just as I had projected back in August, Barber has become the ultimate goal-line gremlin. Since Week 7, double-J has averaged a paltry 59.3 yards-per-game and 3.4 yards-per-carry. If Bill Parcells wasn't so infatuated with a platoon, Jones would easily be a top-10 fantasy back. Despite devastating injuries to Michael Strahan and Lavar Arrington, the Giants have controlled the run, yielding 102.4 yards-per-game over their past five. Jones rushed for an awful 30 yards on 13 carries versus the G-Men in Week 7 and is set for another sorrowful fantasy day.
Fearless Forecast: 19 carries, 76 YDs
Notes: Emails from readers and text messages from friends reminded me that frolicking around in a banana hammock in the Buffalo cold is still a very real possibility. Sidelined by a rib injury for two weeks, McGahee tripled his season touchdown output crossing the chalk twice and totaling 71 yards versus a stiff Jags defense last week. Although bendable, without run-stoppers Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo, San Diego allowed 113.4 rushing yards-per-game and four ground scores from Weeks 9-12. Last week, the Chargers jolted an Oakland ground game, albeit a weak one, to 84 yards. The self-proclaimed best back in football has only averaged 3.9 yards-per-carry this season and will be electrocuted by an amped Merriman in his return.
Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 43 YDs
Notes: As a Chambers owner in two leagues, I am more annoyed by his lack of production than the overplayed Jessica Simpson "I don't know what it is, but I want it" DirecTV spots. If only she were mute. Most casual fans would assume Marty Booker, and not Chris Chambers, is Joey Harrington's weapon of choice based on pure numbers, but that's not entirely the case. Compared to Booker, Chambers has 3.7 more targets-per-game, but has caught only 40.5 percent of his intended passes versus 60.9 percent for Booker. Unfortunately, it will be the same ole' song and dance in Week 13. The Jags have given up the third-fewest fantasy points to wideout in their past five.
Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 52 YDs
Notes: Bruce Gradkowski has gone from Polish prince to pauper. Galloway's explosive downfield speed has left him wide open on numerous occasions, but B-Grad and his ragged arm have been unable to cash in. On paper, Galloway makes a good play as the Steelers have been troubled by the pass and are without the services of 80s hair-band roadie Troy Polamalu. However, the young and inexperienced Bucs O-line will be pressured incessantly by the classic 3-4 Steelers scheme. The Bucs will try to spread the field to create mismatches, which makes Galloway a fair No. 3 play, but his odds of finding pay-dirt are long. He has scored only one touchdown in five road contests. With the run stymied and due to Gradkowski's inadequacies, Joey G needs to ride the pine.
Scanning media reports with a fine-toothed comb, the Noise puts his fantasy spin on various tasty tidbits.
In his second game back from a foot injury, reigning MVP Shaun Alexander rushed for 201 yards on a Seattle franchise-record 40 carries versus Green Bay on Monday Night.
Spin: In unusually cold, wintry conditions that would of inspired Kurt Cobain to write lyrics for a Nirvana double album, Alexander snowplowed his way back into the hearts of fantasy owners. It's about friggin' time. The cut-back ability, elusiveness and, most importantly, the swagger that Alexander exuded a year ago returned to form. For those that listened to my endless buy low rants, a playoff payoff is just around the corner.
In a confluence of perfection, several key components of the Seahawks offense are slowly emerging from the infirmary. This week, Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck could return from a hip abscess and right tackle Sean Locklear may also see action. Many are concerned over Matt Hasselbeck's non-throwing hand, but Mike Holmgren reiterated Wednesday his signal caller will not miss any time.
LT and Larry Johnson are undoubtedly the two best backs in fantasy this year, but Alexander may pack the most lethal playoff punch. "The Great" will give owners an espresso double-shot in Weeks 14 and 15 matched against two defenses (at Ari and SF) he has thumped for a combined 24 touchdowns in 18 career games.
As for this week, Alexander will again shine under the prime time lights against a Denver Broncos frontline that has been tattooed by the run. Nearly inflexible earlier this year, they have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to runners in their last three. With the high-octane Seattle offense close to full strength, Alexander stampedes the Broncos for 100 yards and a touch.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
Hey Brad, real nice work with the Lee Evans analysis. Your O.J. comment was priceless, just like your column. He had the BIGGEST day receiving of the ENTIRE year and you recommend people to sit him. Nice work. Can't wait to read the updated column. Man, how do guys like you get hired.
– Jason G, Atlanta, GA
Noise: Emails like Jason's are typical of what bombards my inbox on a regular basis. Normally, for every positive response, I receive five negative ones. Hey, that's the nature of the game. And I love every moment of it.
If you write something thoughtful and/or intelligent, I generally send a reply regardless if you call me a mindless chimp or a gridiron genius. I replied to Jason's email and, as almost always is the case, an apologetic response followed. It amazes me how so many people in the virtual world act as though they are Bald Bull, but when they look in the mirror, Don Flamingo stares them back in the face.
To J-Gizzle's (Hey, he lives in the dirrrty South) credit, he actually ridiculed my pick prior to Lee Evans' Week 12 clash with the Jaguars. Usually, the barrage comes in hindsight. In case you missed it, here is what I wrote:
"Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 50 YDs
Notes: Evans should be pulled out of your lineup faster than O.J.'s publishers yanked "If I Did It" off the market. After falling five measly yards short of the NFL record for receiving yardage in a quarter with 205, Jack Del Rio may sweat through his blue suit stewing over Evans. But he shouldn't be worried. Evans is a rollercoaster ride of inconsistency, totaling six games of 70-yards or less this season. The loss of defensive leader Donovan Darius puts a significant dent in the Jags secondary, but the frenetic, aggressive play of the Jacksonville D collectively suggests a cumbersome day for J.P. Losman and the vertical attack. Keep him in your lineup as a No. 3, but disappointment is inevitable."
Obviously, my swami hat was cocked slightly to the side as I missed my prediction by a lousy eight yards. Shucks! Evans finished with five receptions for 58 yards. Hey, every once in a while even that dorky guy in IT gets lucky and the Big Noise hits on a prognostication.
Whether you think I'm the biggest boob or the coolest cat around, please keep bringin' the noise.
- Jay Cutler