It's now Week 16 of the NFL season, and that means a couple of things. First, you're dancing deep into the playoffs (bully for you!). Second, it means we've run smack-dab into the holidays (please accept my best wishes to you and yours for a happy, health-filled, and victorious holiday season, whatever you celebrate).
And third, it means holiday greeting cards and emails are filled with smack-talking to those of your friends, family, and co-workers who failed to reach the postseason.
There are a number of big games on tap for this week with playoff berths at stake. We've got piles of quarterbacks either hurt or benched (here's your chance to start Joey Harrington again), and more RBs expecting to reduce their workloads. We celebrate the Week 15 performances of Mark Brunell and Kyle Boller, and their respective tight ends, Chris Cooley and Todd Heap. But mainly, we're looking forward to the semi-finals and championship games across the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football universe.
Let's break down the week, starting with our whip-around through the injury reports.
- Peyton Manning experienced swelling in one of his knees after Sunday's loss to San Diego. It's not considered to be serious, but it might factor into how long he plays on Saturday. Manning has a streak of consecutive starts dating back to 1998, so he'll certainly take a few snaps. However, Manning owners will need maximum efficiency in the several series he'll play.
- Everyone's favorite waiver-wire pickup, Samkon Gado, was lost to the Packers for their final two games with a torn MCL sustained on Monday night against Baltimore. Tony Fisher assumes the starting role for the Packers, who have seen running backs fall with alarming regularity.
- Marvin Harrison has a broken bone in his hand that kept him out of a mid-week practice. However, the bigger issue for him this weekend is how heavy a workload the Colts starters will put in during the essentially meaningless contest with the Seahawks. Harrison was expected to see only a handful of series at most. With the injury to his hand, Harrison might not suit up at all.
- Eddie Kennison missed a mid-week practice as he recovers from a strained MCL sustained in Saturday's loss to the Giants. He's currently listed as questionable for Saturday's showdown with the Chargers. With Kennison hobbled, second-year receiver Samie Parker stands to pick up Looks this weekend. Parker has averaged five catches and 70 yards receiving over the past four weeks, and offers Trent Green a speed receiver on the outside.
- Staying with the Chiefs, All-Pro tailback Larry Johnson is battling a sore collarbone but returned to practice mid-week. He'll be ready to go behind his healthy O-Line as the Chiefs battle for a possible playoff berth.
- Dolphins rookie tailback Ronnie Brown lowered his expectations for participating in Saturday's game versus Miami, citing soreness in his left ankle and knee. He was unable to practice on Wednesday, spending his time on the exercise bike instead. Brown will give it the old college try on Friday, but whether he's ready to suit up or not, expect Ricky Williams to handle the bulk of the workload against the Titans.
- Kevan Barlow has been slowed of late with cartilage damage in his left knee, and has been officially listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against St. Louis. Frank Gore is also banged up for the 49ers, with all indications that he'll have offseason surgery on both shoulders. Gore did practice on Thursday and was upgraded for Saturday's game. Maurice Hicks will likely split carries with him against the porous St. Louis run defense.
- Gus Frerotte returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to start against the Titans despite Sage Rosenfels' strong play in relief after he hurt his finger last week. Frerotte is an intriguing gamble pick for those this week who have survived within their leagues despite sub-par QB play. The Titans have allowed an average of two passing TDs per game.
- LaMont Jordan was seen wearing a protective boot at practice, which means he's unlikely to take the field when the Raiders visit the Broncos. Zack Crockett would step into the starting role in his absence, with "Son of Huggy Bear" Justin Fargas receiving some portion of the workload.
- Chris Brown has injured every body part this season (ankle, knee, shoulder, you name it), but he's taken the Monty Python-esque "Not dead yet" approach to the final games of the season. The shoulder injury kept him off the practice field on Thursday, calling his availability for Saturday in to question. Brown has yet to miss a game this year, and would love to play through the final two games against Miami and Jacksonville. If he is forced out of action, Travis Henry has rebounded nicely from his ankle injury and will serve as the starter.
- LaDainian Tomlinson has been slowed by bruised ribs over the past several weeks, and must have certainly been in tremendous pain to miss the closing minutes of the win over Indianapolis. However, he's expected back in the starting lineup for San Diego as they battle for their playoff lives against Kansas City.
Check out all of the latest injury updates as the deadline approaches with Game Day Calls.
- Zack Crockett, RB, OAK: Crockett steps into the top spot for the Raiders against a difficult Denver run defense with LaMont Jordan's turf toe. His last significant work came in Week 17 of the '04 season when he carried the ball 21 times for 124 yards against the Jaguars (whose defense ranked No. 1 for the second half of '04).
- Josh McCown, QB, Ari: McCown returns to the starting spot in Arizona with Kurt Warner's season-ending knee injury. The Cardinals feature an all-passing offense, where the QB attempts at least 40 throws. The Cardinals face an Eagles defense that has been susceptible to big plays, and being able to choose between Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin is a quandary any QB would love to have. Look for yardage in the 225-250 range with 1-2 scores this week.
- Jonathan Wells, RB, HOU: Wells accounted well for himself in the absence of Domanick Davis last weekend, rushing for 87 yards and two scores. He's compiled at least 75 total yards and a TD in each of his three starts this year in place of Davis.
- Dominic Rhodes, WR, IND: Rhodes is a waiver wire pickup as owners play the "when will Edge sit down?" game. James figures to play a few series on Saturday against Seattle, but he's virtually assured of a spectator role for the season finale against Arizona.
- New England Defense: The Patriots are rising and getting healthy on defense. The front seven shut down Carnell Williams in Week 15, limiting the rookie back to 23 rushing yards in the 28-0 shutout. The Patriots have allowed a total of 10 points in their past three contests, with one of those opponents on slate for Monday night (the Jets).
- Michael Turner, RB, SD: Turner turned heads with his explosive 83-yard scamper down the sidelines to ice the San Diego win over Indianapolis. He's proven a viable backup to LaDainian Tomlinson, averaging a robust 5.8 yards per carry on 56 attempts this year. He's scored TDs in three of the Chargers past five games, so he's no stranger to the end zone either. With Tomlinson back at practice, Turner doesn't figure to see much action unless LT is re-injured. However, if the Chargers should lose in Week 16 and be eliminated from playoff contention, he may find himself in the starting slot for the finale versus Denver.
- Tony Fisher, RB, GB: Fisher gets another crack at the starting lineup due to the injury to Samkon Gado. When last he took to the starting role, he carried the ball 17 times for 51 yards and a score versus Cincinnati. Of course, he then met with an injury of his own and watched Gado emerge as "the guy." Fisher has long been a viable receiving threat out of the backfield (34 catches in '05), but is averaging a weak 2.9 yards per carry on 47 attempts, thus far. And, it won't be easy this weekend against the Chicago defense. Proceed with caution.
- Ricky Williams, RB, MIA: The injuries to Ronnie Brown continue to pile up, giving another boost to Williams' comeback campaign. Williams has scored in three of the Dolphins' past four games (all wins), and has rushed for 70 or more yards in three of his past five games (with 78 total yards in another during that stretch). He next faces a Titans defense that surrenders 112 yards per game on the ground.
- Mewelde Moore, RB, MIN: In the past three games, Moore has carried the ball a total of four times for -1 yards, and has been relegated to returning punts. Michael Bennett is firmly entrenched as the starter despite a sub-par performance against Pittsburgh, so owners are looking to other options that may see time in the final weeks to account for injured and under-performing backs.
- Lee Evans, WR, BUF: Kelly Holcomb's return to the starting lineup decimated Evans' chances last week, as Holcomb turned to Eric Moulds will great frequency. Evans caught two passes for a season-low five yards in the loss to Denver in Week 15. He was still targeted seven times during the game, but the inconsistency of the Bills offense, and Evans' role in it, has forced him back to the waiver wire.
- Brett Favre, QB, GB: Almost anyone watching Monday night's game (save you Todd Heap and Matt Stover owners, and Ravens fans) had to feel for Brett Favre at least somewhat during that debacle. At several points, it appeared that his receivers had given up on routes, most disturbingly in red zone situations. Over the past three games, the formerly automatic Favre has failed to throw a TD pass while firing five INTs and losing three fumbles. Next for Favre is a Chicago defense that sent five members to the Pro Bowl.
- Seattle Defense: Owners of the Seahawks defense bought low and sold sky high, dumping the unit back to the waiver wire in anticipation of a less than stellar day against the Colts. Even with the Colts' starters expected to play minimal snaps, the possibility of them dropping a few scores sent Seattle owners in other directions, such as the Rams (facing San Francisco), the Jaguars (facing Houston), and the Patriots.
- Brad Johnson, QB, MIN: Johnson didn't figure to put up big totals against Pittsburgh, but his 143 yards and two interceptions sealed his return, at least as far as fantasy owners were concerned. It marked the second straight game during which he failed to throw a TD pass or reach 150 passing yards.
- Joe Horn, WR, NO: This season has certainly been trying for the Coaches and players of the New Orleans Saints, and perhaps no player has been more frustrated than Horn. He hasn't seen the end zone since Week 2, and was thrown to just four times last week in the loss to Carolina. Horn recorded a single catch for six yards while watching teammate Donte' Stallworth continue to emerge as a top option.
- Greg Jones, RB, JAC: The return of Fred Taylor to active duty last week dealt a severe blow to Jones' fantasy value for the remaining two games. He tallied 14 Touches for 54 yards against San Francisco, while ceding the majority of work to Taylor. This week sets up nicely on paper with a matchup versus Houston, but owners are banking that Jack Del Rio tries to give his veteran back a huge day against a bad Houston run defense leading into the playoffs.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
With Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and company expected to make early departures from Saturday's game against Seattle, Peyton Manning and backup Jim Sorgi will need to throw the ball to somebody. Stokley will likely be the beneficiary of their early departures, particularly because Seattle will still be playing to secure home-field advantage. The Colts figure to run their normal sets throughout, with Stokley serving as the top target.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Curtis got bad news, along with fantasy owners, that QB Marc Bulger hadn't shown sufficient improvement to his shoulder and had been shut down for the year. Curtis has become a non-factor in the Rams' passing attack, catching a total of five passes for 26 yards in the past three games. This week is promising on paper against the weak San Francisco pass defense, but it appears that Shaun McDonald has become the preferred No. 3 option. McDonald was targeted 10 times in Sunday's loss to Philadelphia.
HOT AND COLD
SWOOPING VULTURES: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
- The Falcons' bulldozer, T.J. Duckett, got upended by the Bears defense on two critical short yardage plays in Sunday's 16-3 loss to Chicago. He finished the game with eight carries for a total of -2 yards. Yes, that's a minus sign.
- Jerome Bettis carried the ball with a bit more success than Duckett, but finished the game with just 16 yards on nine carries in the follow-up to his dominant performance over Chicago. Willie Parker and Verron Haynes combined for 117 yards on 23 carries.
- With the 28-0 shutout by New England, Mike Alstott didn't have much of an opportunity to barrel over would-be Patriots tacklers. In fact, he had three Touches in the loss for 10 yards. It marked his third straight game without a TD after running a scoring streak to four games.
- Giants power back Brandon Jacobs was a non-factor in Saturday's big win over Kansas City. Tiki Barber and Derrick Ward combined to take all 32 of the Giants' carries on the day.
SAFETY VALVES: Surveying the Tight Ends
The Tight End is often the young or struggling quarterback's best friend. Sometimes, he's so dominant that he can't be denied. Here are several players making noise at the position.
- The Redskins certainly capitalized on every Dallas mistake this past weekend, be it a turnover or missed tackle, with no player benefiting more than Cooley. It marked his 13th game in 14 outings with three or more receptions, as he amassed 71 receiving yards and three scores by halftime. In his last meeting with the Giants, the Redskins' Week 16 opponent, Cooley registered only three catches for 19 yards.
- Ben Troupe continued the charge for the Titans TE corps, as he snagged six balls for 116 yards last week. For the year, the second-year TE has caught at least three passes in nine of the 12 games in which he's appeared.
- Doug Jolley complained about his role all season after being acquired by the Jets from Oakland. He finally got an opportunity to step forth with the injury to Chris Baker, and turned in his second career 100-yard game against Miami in Week 15. He also scored his first TD of the year.
- All-Pro TE Antonio Gates certainly celebrated the win against Indianapolis and picked up a pivotal first down late on one of his six receptions. But, with only 29 yards receiving and no end zone dances, he came up short for owners not rewarded for his receptions.
- Todd Heap's huge night signaled my demise in an industry experts league. I had amassed a 28-point advantage, only to watch Heap roll over the Packers for nine receptions, 110 yards, and two scores to break my back. Who'd have thought that the Ravens' passing attack would be someone's undoing based on positive stats?
- In Week 16, only eight tight ends found the end zone. Five of them likely occupied starting fantasy slots (Cooley, Heap, Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, and Jerramy Stevens), but let's give it up for Doug Jolley, Mike Bartrum, and in particular, Wesley Duke, as he contributed to the bottom line for Jake Plummer owners. Not many owners rode into the playoffs on the arms of McMahon and Bollinger.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
The playoffs are in full effect here with Semifinal matchups going off this week. Team Y! – Funston takes on team Y! – Lago in a matchup featuring Funston's Seattle-laden squad against a mix of players led by Big Ben Roethlisberger and Marvin Harrison. In the other matchup, Team KFFL – Rij, led by Jake Plummer, Anquan Boldin, and LaDainian Tomlinson faces off against Team RotoWire – Liss, who will bank on big days from Tom Brady, Larry Johnson, and an encore by Chris Cooley.